Boys Will be Boys (more catching up)

This one is another catch-up post. It was the weekend after Roberto’s Christening. A group of my friends had been planning a trip to Spain for months. The reason was a 50th birthday celebration.  The last one of the group to reach the 5-0 mark in fact. Any excuse eh? And why not? 

Another First for the boy…

As Dani’s mum was supposed to be going on another business trip to Australia it left me with two choices. One was to stay in Madrid for the weekend with Dani. The other was to take him down south to Torremolinos and a weekend with the boys. I know which one I preferred but I wasn’t sure about Dani. A weekend away with the boys. A lads weekend. Dani’s first.

We couldn’t get a return train journey to Malaga so we booked an early internal flight. A turboprop plane much smaller than the other aeroplanes Dani was used to. A bit of a roller-coaster ride on the approach to landing at Malaga airport too. A short taxi ride to the hotel and we were there before the main party arrived. It was a few hours before they arrived so we went for a walk to the seafront for some breakfast then had a dip in the hotel pool.

“All Inclusive” 

The hotel deal was “all-inclusive” so there was sure to be some steady poolside drinking during the day. Plus the odd dip in the pool of course. I was concerned that Dani might get bored or worse still that he might bother some of the lads . But I needn’t have worried. He enjoyed himself and never really made a nuisance of himself. All of the lads were used to dealing with young kids like Dani. Some are even grandads. Blimey!

There was even a group of hotel entertainers doing their best to ensure the kids and adults alike had fun.

Having fun with the hotel employees

There was never any danger of myself and the lads not getting value for money with either the “free” drinks or the extensive spread of food on offer at meal times. I never really got value for money for Dani’s stay though. He still eats like a . Practically living on just air. Still he ate enough.

     

Above: Neil (doing a good impersonation of Willie Nelson) looks like he is trying to form the Torremolinos chapter of the Hell’s Grandads. Meanwhile Dani tries to get in an early application for membership.

Dani takes a ride on Ady’s shoulders

Inclusive Hangover?

One good thing about taking Dani on a trip like this is that my responsibilities trumped any urge to stay out late in the evening. While the rest of the lads were sure to make the most of their short holiday and be out late, I would be fast asleep. Some would stay out very late. I have done it myself many times in the past. Not getting back to the hotel until the early hours of the morning. Hangovers were guaranteed. But not me this time.

We did go for a couple of early evening drinks but soon returned to the hotel. The little fella soon tired.

Another free ride. This time on Phil’s shoulders.

Time to leave…

We had to return to Madrid on the Sunday afternoon but the lads were there for one more night. After we said our goodbyes by the pool we went to collect our bags and order a taxi. Dani was noticeably upset. “I don’t want to go dad” he said, just about holding back the tears. He had really enjoyed his first lads trip. I am glad he did. There will be others.

Poolside before saying our goodbyes

One of the older chaps is 60 in the not too distant future. A 60th to celebrate? Why not? Any excuse for a get together and the ensuing piss up. Then one of the lads joked; “Then there is always Dani’s 7th!” Any excuse…

And 8th, and so on….

Roberto’s Christening

It has been very busy these past few weeks. For myself work has been busy – and not before time. Weekends are even busier as Dani is always doing something. I will try to capture what’s been going on in the next few blog posts. Here is the start of a quick catch-up of the last few weeks that I either didn’t have time to write about or forgot. (Probably the latter. It’s an age thing I think.)

Bautismo – Roberto’s Christening

A few weeks ago it was the Christening of Dani’s little cousin Roberto. His parents asked myself and Dani’s mum if we would be god-parents. Not being religious and also not being catholic I was not overly keen. I thought it might be a bit hypocritical as I know very little about the workings of the catholic church and am sure to hardly ever go into a church unless I really have to. But then I thought about it.

Firstly, the priest had said it was OK for a non catholic to be one of the godparents. Secondly, and more importantly, if Roberto ever needed me, it would not matter that I was not particularly religious. It would not even matter whether I was his godfather or not. I would be there for him. No questions asked. So; yes I thought; why can’t I be his “official” godparent?

What to wear….

After struggling to find a decent shirt I decided to try on an old sports jacket. It still fitted. It had been hanging in the wardrobe for years and I really do not recall the last time I wore it. What I do know is the year I bought it. I also remember clearly that I first wore it when I was godfather to my friend’s daughter Emily. That was over 20 years ago in 1997.

I thought I would have put on a few pounds since then. And I have of course. But the jacket is a good fit. Maybe it buried me back in 1997. That, I honestly do not remember.

Dani & Susana Read in Church

The kids did themselves proud. They took turns in reading out lines for the service. I, and everyone present, was very impressed. With Susana’s dad holding the microphone for them they took turns reading out in public. Susana had even written (OK, copied) the lines so she was reading her own handwriting. Very impressive for five year olds.

Celebration & Tall Tales

After church there was a celebration in a nearby hotel which had a garden area for the kids to play in. Not only that but Roberto’s parents had organised something for the many kids in attendance. None other than Superman and Supergirl. The kids’ entertainers.

Not all of the kids were completely impressed but the super-heroes they did manage to keep most of them occupied – most of the time.

At one point they all sat in a circle and Supergirl asked them to tell a story. Moving round the circle each child would tell a few lines. Each one following on from the previous kid. Not an easy thing for a youngster but someone had to start. It was Susana.

After a little pause she came out with it: “There was a unicorn and it had a long tail”. I really don’t remember the exact words but as she loves unicorns it was both funny and predictable. As was the next child’s input. The boy – probably a year or so older than Susana – turned this loveable unicorn into a flesh-eating zombie who went on some kind of rampage. Typical boys versus girls stuff.

After that there were several girls who somehow managed to turn the story around again. It was just about back to a fairy-tale complete with castle when it was Dani’s turn.

What do you know? The castle miraculously grew wings. Flew off and exploded. At that point even though I was laughing I noticed Supergirl grabbing Superman’s arm and checking his watch. As if to say, “how much longer do we have to do this?” Her face said it all. That was as funny as the kids.

And they all lived happily ever after…

Swim, Judo, Chess – A Modern Triathlon?

This weekend was even busier than normal. Saturday certainly. Sunday was busy again in the streets of Madrid. Yet more elections. This time there were two things to vote for; the local Madrid townhall and of course the European wide EU elections. So many elections yet nothing ever seems to change. Odd that eh? But I digress (as I tend to do) …

Swim, Judo and Chess

We usually start Saturday morning with a swimming lesson. I am sure I have written about this before so thought nothing of it and so took no photos. Anyway the swimming lesson went well. Dani is improving as is his cousin Susana.

In the changing rooms after the swim, instead of changing into his usual daytime attire, I dressed him in his judo outfit. We headed straight off to his school for a judo exhibition. Yes. No need to read that again. Dani took part in a judo exhibition. It was actually to show the parents what their kids were learning and also an excuse for an awards ceremony. It ended when the kids were handed their judo diplomas for the year by the three senseis (‘martial arts teachers’ in Japonese for the uninitiated). Sensei Fran (apparently a 7th Dan),  Sensei Maria and Sensei Cristina.

All the time I was thinking that there was something familiar about that Sensei Fran… Hmm…?  It will come to me.

I have to admit that I was expecting to need a needle and thread to stitch up my sides. The expectation was that it would be hilarious. But as usual these little kids proved me wrong. Ok, there was some funny things. They are only 5 and 6 years old. In the main however it was quite impressive. The photo above shows that there is a disciplined side to judo as well as the physical aspect.

This video shows Dani executing a basic judo throw. Koshi guruma – so Dani tells me.

At the end of the exhibition a proud old dad watched his little boy walk proudly up to collect his diploma.
  Wait a moment. I have seen that man before. Has anyone seen Breaking Bad?

When the kids had all received their diplomas they celebrated with a team photograph shoot. Plus all the usual antics you would expect from a group their age.

Then I realised.. That bloke; the 7th Dan sensei. It is definitely Hank. The DEA agent from Breaking Bad. Dopplegänger if ever there was one.

Chess Tournament

After all this physical effort it was time for some lunch. Then after a short rest we were off again. This time to another school for a chess tournament. It was held at the “sister” school to the one Dani attends, and in a different part of Madrid. The tournament was split up into age (school year). There were only 5 in Dani’s age group but there were plenty just a little older. It was organised by the lady who teaches chess to the children in after-school activities.

As the start of the chess tournament drew near the excitement levels rose. The noise levels rose even more. It all started well but descended into chaos as the kids in Dani’s age group started receiving help from older brothers and sisters. The adults had to remind them it was a competition. Kids being removed from the board area. In one of Dani’s games his opponent was winning but was clearly being helped by his older sister. Dani reacted as his old dad would have. He pushed over his pieces in frustration; effectively conceding the game. Not so much a ‘bad loser’ though. To his credit he had been cheated but even that was not the fault of his opponent. Over-enthusiastic siblings eh… I would have probably thrown the pieces if something similar had happened to me at that age.


Dani won his first and last game but lost the other two. He finished 4th but all five received a medal – as is the way these days. However to be fair they did announce the winners as such and everyone knew them. The winner in Dani’s age was quite an impressive player I have to say. In fact I was amazed how good they all were. I do not recall anyone playing chess at age five and six.

A Modern Triathlon?

Physical exertion against one of Mother Nature’s elements followed by hand to hand combat,  then finally a good dose of cerebral exercise. This could become a modern triathlon. It was certainly a great combination.

At this point I have to make a mental note plus one on this Blog… I must remember to write something for the previous few weekends. I know I still need to write about Roberto’s baptism. Also last weekend Dani came with me on a trip to Torremolinos with my friends. More on both of those to come…

Return to the Tree. San Isidro Weekend

This time of year is the Feria de San Isidro in Madrid. This year there was a slightly different kind of event for the kids. More on that below But first a return to an old post for Dani…

Return to the Tree…

Way back in March 2016 I wrote a post called Plant a Tree, Have a Son, Write a Book. This weekend – over three years later we returned to the Parque Felipe Sexto (the park named after King Philip 6th) where Dani planted his tree.

Amazingly, three years ago we never took note of the exact location of his tree. In these days of GPS coordinates we did nothing. When we planted the tree in 2016 I remember that the weather was awful. Wind and rain. At least that accounts partly for us not making a proper note of the tree’s location.

So it turned out to more of a guess than anything. We found two possible suspects but probably neither was his tree. Still he seemed happy enough to pose beside both. Judge for yourselves below…

     

The first one seems a little big for three years old while the second seems too small. Not to worry. We decided it was the first one. I am sure he will see the funny side when he is old enough to read this.

Interestingly there were plenty of new trees with names and dates written on the supports, planted last January. It gave me the idea that maybe we should do this again – properly this time – with his cousin Susana.

Speaking of whom….

Susana joined us in the park slightly later. There is an area with large kids slides built into the natural contours of the park and  zipwire (tirolina in Spanish). That part of the park was packed with families as you might expect. The cousins enjoyed the slides and burned a fair bit of energy.

Inner City Agriculture – Huertos Urbanos

The Spanish call them huertos. In the UK they are called allotments and are as British as tea and biscuits. However, they are a relatively new phenomena in Madrid. I had noticed a few some years back but now it seems wherever there is enough space between recently constructed apartment blocks the town hall is allowing these places to spring up. During San Isidro this year the town hall has advertised events for kids at selected huertos. So off we went.

The kids learn to recognise what the plants they eat actually look like. They get to water the plants; or at least are allowed to believe that they are watering them. They even prepare some simple snacks with some of the produce.

The day was hot just like the one in the park. It looks like summer is finally here.



A Load of Bull – Bullfighting: Part Two

In part one of this double bill I summarised some of the basics of bullfighting and made the widespread arguments for those against it. Here I will make the case for the other side of the argument. So stand by your beds. This will be no-holds-barred…

But first another Hemmingway Quote…

“The chances are that the first bullfight any spectator attends may not be a good one artistically; for that to happen there must be good bullfighters and good bulls; artistic bullfighters and poor bulls do not make interesting fights, for the bullfighter who has ability to do extraordinary things with the bull which are capable of producing the intensest degree of emotion in the spectator but will not attempt them with a bull which he cannot depend on to charge…” — Ernest Hemingway, from Death in the Afternoon.

It is more than likely that any bullfights seen by tourists will fall into the “poor” category in Hemmingway’s explanation. On that basis it is no wonder most (if not all) tourists will leave with a negative opinion of the subject. Most foreigners will almost certainly not have experienced what Hemmingway describes as a great spectacle. Of course he was a big fan and there are many who do not like to see blood.

What I do like.

I am not a bullfighting aficionado. I am not even an avid fan and I hardly ever go to a corredor. Therefore, it is hard to say exactly what I like about it. Maybe it’s more accurate to say why I do not object to this ‘sport’. Here goes:

The artistic side of it is one that surely cannot be questioned. The ritualistic ceremony, the wildly over the top suits, the colours, the sounds of the crowd and the bands all combine to create a true spectacle. It is a traditional Spanish event. If we are to celebrate so many cultures and traditions from around the world then why not this one?

Most of us still eat meat; although admittedly that could be a whole other debate. The bulls are killed and are eaten. Overall these bulls live a much better life than almost every other animal that ends up on your plate. A short bloody end could be considered insignificant to its full life. All other animals bred for your plate definitely do not have such a grand life. One could almost sum it up by saying that unless you are a vegetarian (who refuses to wear leather shoes) you are not really in a position to criticise. I can agree – to an extent – with the anti bullfighting arguments of a vegan. Or at least see their point of view.

Perhaps the anti bullfighting brigade should be protesting halal slaughter or slaughter houses in general. All equally as bloody as bullfighting.

Art and Danger Combined

Another pro bullfighting argument is that the whole thing is an artform. Once again Hemmingway summed it up quite well in Death in the Afternoon: “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.”

I challenge any of those who think it is a cowardly spectacle to get in there and do it. I certainly would not.

A quick note is probably needed here: Despite quoting him in these posts I am not at all a fan of Hemmingway’s books. I read one once and did not think much of it. I possibly picked the wrong one; which just happened to be about the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

But here’s the real reason…

The main reason I would not like to see it banned? Quite simple and it has nothing to do with cruelty or eating meat (or not) or even traditions.

Above all I do not like it when people say that it should be banned because they do not agree with it. Despite their arguments (some of which I can agree with) this is where many of them stand.

I cannot stand TV soap operas (telenovelas) and I liken them to giving the masses some kind of lobotomy. But I do not call for them to be banned. I just choose not to watch them. I eat meat but I do not call for vegetarians to be banned from restaurants. It is up to them.

What is certainly true is that you cannot have a fair debate (or indeed any debate at all) when the two sides do not agree on a common end goal. Bullfighting is one such subject.

It is not like war for example. Pacifists and military men alike can agree that war is horrible and possibly crazy but they will disagree on how to make the world safer. A pacifist may say certain weapons should be banned or at least controlled but a soldier will appreciate the classic Tszu Ghun quote: “If you want peace then prepare for war”.

There are those who oppose bullfighting bitterly and those who like it; love it even. There are also a large number who do not care much either way. Of this last group there are probably two camps. Those who would not care if it was banned and those (like me) who think it should not be banned.

Recortes anyone?

Recortes is a form of bloodless bullfighting and increasing in popularity. Basically it is a  style of “fighting” in which the fighter gymnastically dodges the bull’s charges. This is the kind of bullfighting you might see in Portugal and France but it is also widely practiced in the Basque area of Spain. The main difference between recortes and (normal) bullfighting, is the most obvious. The animal lives. There is no blood shed – unless the “bullfighter” is unlucky. After the “fight” the bull goes back to whatever field he was in. Great eh?

However, if you believe that this same bull’s meat does not end up on the plate and its skin does not end up in some market stall as a bag or jacket then you are probably deluding yourself.

Your comments on bullfighting are more than welcome. Tell us what you think.

A Load of Bull – Bullfighting: Part One

You won’t have to look far on an internet search for Bloggers (et al) writing about Spain. Subjects such as Tapas and touristy places abound. What you will not find people so keen to write about are the more contentious subjects. Like bullfighting for example. Regular readers (if there still are any) will know that this old dad does not shy away from such topics. Far from it. I embrace them.

Bullfighting

And so to the divisive issue of bullfighting. A subject long overdue being given the Old Dad treatment.

In the previous post about the Spanish elections I noted that there is a party for animal rights which polled almost one third of a million votes! Animal rights is maybe a bit too general a description because their main aim is actually to ban bullfighting. Is this really the most  important issue in Spain at election time? (or any other time for that matter). It does make you wonder eh? But I digress…slightly.

It is often said that any discussion for or against bullfighting would be incomplete without some mention of the opposite view. This is what the famous author Ernest Hemingway understood when he said; “anything capable of arousing passion in its favor will surely raise as much passion against it.”

Naturally this is a tricky subject so I believe I need to deal with it in two parts. Firstly, I shall deal with the arguments against bullfighting. Later, in part two, I will cover the pro-bullfighting stance.

Firstly….

Let’s look at the numbers. How many corredores (bull fighting tournaments) are there per year? Roughly? Well, depending on your sources there are about 400 official bullfights a year in Spain along with up to (at least) 1,500 smaller village events. In each event there are normally six bulls (so 6 actual “fights” per corredor).

It’s estimated that about 10,000 bulls are slaughtered. Some reports say that each year, in Spain, 24,000 bulls are killed in front of an audience of some 30 million peoplered in the ring annually.

Then there are the famous bullfighting events. Examples include the running of the bulls in Pamplona (made famous by Ernest Hemmingway in his book ‘Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises’)  and the bullfights in Valencia to coincide with the month long Las Fallas fiestas in Valencia (again made famous by Hemmingway in ‘Death in the Afternoon’). Hemmingway is being referenced a lot here because he was of course a big fan of bullfighting. He admired the whole ceremony and he was responsible for putting bullfighting on the map (so to speak) for many people from non-Spanish speaking countries. another big example is the San Isidro bullfights this time of year (early May) in Madrid.

In Catalonia the regional government banned bullfighting in 2010. This was almost certainly more of an anti-Spanish action rather than an animal rights-based decision. “Look at us! We are not Spanish!”

The Case Against…

It is bloodthirsty for sure and most people opposed to it plainly see it as cruel. The bull is weakened by the horse-riding picadores who spear the bull’s shoulders. Then by the banderillas  who stick dart like objects in and around the wounds. The bull loses blood and the damage to the neck and shoulder muscles cause its head to drop for the final stage. The third and final stage is when the matador drains the last energy from the bull – the only true “bullfighting” part as such. When it is finally out of breath the matador finishes him off with a thrust of his sword between the shoulders and into its heart. Pretty gory stuff eh?

What I do not like.

Personally I have to make the following points and suggestions…

It’s certainly not a contest as there can be only one ‘winner’. Although bullfighters can and do get killed every year  (and even some spectators – espontáneos – who jump into the ring to try their hand) it is really always the bull that loses.

There is no doubt that the bullfights are too one sided. Give the bulls more of a chance I say. This could be done by just having the matador facing off against the bull. My suggestion would be to remove the first two stages of the “fight” (see above).

I agree that it is blood-thirsty but I cannot say that it is somehow uniquely cruel. After all I am a meat eater. A meat lover in fact! I know that some forms of slaughter (for meat) are just as cruel. I also find it boring after a couple of bulls have been killed. There are usually six in a corredor so the whole thing does get rather repetitive. Even the rejoneos (bullfighting on horseback) fights can be a little tedious after a few, although I do enjoy those a lot more.

What about my son?

Will I take Dani to a bullfight? Maybe. Maybe not. I certainly would not stop one of his family from taking him to see it first hand (not that they are bullfighting enthusiasts). But only when he is older. Old enough to make his own mind up. In other words his first bullfight may be his last. Who can say?

 

 

 

Elections and Homage

The weekend was one of those busy ones with plenty of things to write about. So, I will start where I left off in the last post. A quick review of George Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’

Where do I start? It is hard to know. All I can really say is that it is a fantastic book that should be made compulsory reading in schools across the world. But then I do have a certain interest in the region and the subject.

Homage to Catalonia

Orwell went to Barcelona to join one of the mythical ‘International Brigades’, makeshift militia of idealistic young men who thought it was a good idea to go and fight a war in another country in the name of either socialism or anti-fascism or maybe pro-democracy. Take your pick. There were Marxist/Trotskyist, who considered themselves true workers socialists and consisted (among others) of various trade unions and the group Orwell joined. The communists had more than one faction and there were also the Anarchist groups. All supposedly fighting under the ‘Republican’ banner.

The Barcelona he describes when he arrives as some kind of workers/Marxist utopia. Then after a few months on the front line he returns injured to find things have changed. The various groups of ‘left-wing’  socialists, Trotskyist, Marxist, communists, anarchists, unions and government forces (believe me they are all there) are squabbling amongst themselves and fighting breaks out.

Orwell becomes disillusioned as he thought they all had a common enemy – Franco’s nationalist forces. But things get much worse. The militia he was a part of is rounded up and hunted down by the heavily communist influenced government (official) forces and police. In the end he is fortunate to survive and escape to France. While the idealist Marxists groups were fighting for revolution (in all its ‘glory’) the communists were really backing a more liberal left agenda.

End Results…

In the final chapters Orwell tries to understand if was right to rationalise all the different forces of the left. The thought being that the main aim should be to fight fascism and not each other. However, it is also clear that even had they beaten Franco’s side things would have got a lot worse shortly after.

Orwell manages to dissect a lot of what went on but was (and still is in some cases) incorrectly reported by the media outside of Spain. Most of the books I have read on the Spanish civil war tend to be Republican biased so Orwell’s first-hand account from the trenches (literally at times) of the Republican side is even more interesting as it tells some uncomfortable truths.

It is very interesting to read his initial excitement at the Marxist ‘paradise’ he finds on arrival. Very hard to equate the dullness of such a place to the vibrant tourist trap that is the Barcelona we have known for many decades. I cannot see how anyone would visit the place Orwell describes in in first chapter. Another interesting aspect is how some of the things he saw and wrote about inspired his later (and far more well-known) fictional works; Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” is one of his most famous lines and you can certainly see where this came from when you read ‘Homage to Catalonia’.

Elections…

This brings me nicely on to the Spanish elections on Sunday. I have to say there were a lot of people out and about. There usual are on Sundays especially if the weather is fine. This Sunday however places seemed to be very busy. It turns out that there had been an increase in voter turnout of 9.3%. Quite an increase.

In the end the (nominally) socialist PSOE won the most seats but not enough to form an outright majority. Basically this election that was forced by the opposition parties failed to make any change. As expected nothing changed in Catalonia so it will be interesting to see what the latest PSOE government does with that situation.

One notable difference is that on of the newer parties (Vox) made a breakthrough and won their first seats. Apart from that the congress is more or less the same as it was before the election. Such is political life these days eh?

Going to Vote…

Myself and Dani accompanied his mum when she went to vote. While I was in the school – internationally the building of choice for elections it seems – I picked up some leaflets for most of the parties I had never really heard about. The list is an interesting one as is normally the case.

Here are some of the more interesting examples:

Humanist – Part of the Humanist International movement (I think). It’s not that this lot are void of nice ideas. There are some. It’s just more like a fantasy of utopian ideals. Sadly, or naturally (depending on your views) there are more people who believe in unicorns than those who think such policies are workable.

Por un Mundo más Justo (a party ‘for a fairer world’) – No. Me neither. I guess it kind of speaks for itself (?)

Animalist Party against the mistreatment of Animals. (Partido Animalista Contra el Maltrato Animal; PACMA) Yes; the usual suspects. Once again, some nice ideas but this lot seem to focus almost exclusively on bull-fighting, which is not an issue that particularly bothers me. In fact, I should thank them for reminding me. I have been wanting to write a post about bull-fighting for some time. I wonder where they stand on Halal meat? These groups never seem to talk about that topic do they? Amazingly almost one third of a million voted for this lot but that failed to translate into any seats in Congress.

Two Communist parties! One calling itself the people’s communist party while the other goes by the name of the worker’s communist party. Message to Mr. Orwell: They are still at it, George!

Actúa (aka PACT) – this party was formed from what remained of the United Left party after it had joined forces with Podemos to be the new socialist option. Yes, really George! Not much has changed has it? They did not win any seats.

Curious Voting

What I still find odd, is how there can be regional parties in a nationwide election. Should that not be allowed? What is you wanted to vote for a Catalan party but lived in Madrid? Or you want to vote for a Basque party but live in Andalusia? As it is a general (national) election, should the parties all be obliged to stand on country-wide issues only? Afterall they already have their own regional governments. It is an odd thing but is certainly not peculiar to Spain. It is the same in most countries as far as I know.

It is certainly the same in most of the UK – albeit to a slightly lesser extent – with the Scottish National and Welsh Nationalist parties. And of course, the party divisions in Northern Ireland are (at least) as complicated as the Catalan situation.

Some famous (or should that be infamous) London based politician once said “If voting changed anything they would ban it.” Interesting quote if applied to this latest Spanish election. Even more interesting in the wider context…

Reading. Books worth the Effort.

Easter came and went. Dani spent a week in the village in Andalucia where his grandfather (abuelo) comes from – Benadalid. Meanwhile I worked and stayed in the UK. I did manage to acquire a few books to help Dani’s reading. We can work through them together this weekend. Which brings me nicely on to a subject that should be close to any parent’s heart…

Reading…

Reading is such a great skill that we can easily take it for granted. I know that I am guilty of not reading enough. So recently – probably spurred on by my son’s rapidly increasing reading ability – I have tried to make a start on some well known ‘classics’.

I am currently reading ‘Homage to Catalonia’ by George Orwell (review to follow in a future post) which is more than interesting given the number of posts I have mentioned that region in Spain. Even more so when you consider that there are general elections in Spain at the end of this week. Maybe I will include that in the same post.

A True Classic, Finished

I finished a book I have been meaning to read for some time. That book is The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. I think I read somewhere that this was one of those books you should read before you die. Maybe I am confusing it with several others? Who knows?

That said it was quite an interesting read. We all know the basic story right? Man gets shipwrecked as the only survivor. Lives on the island for several years then rescues a local native man from cannibals. That man – he names ‘Friday’ – remains his companion on the island until they are rescued by a passing ship.

Well. Not quite. There is a lot more to it than that: And not all of the adventures are on that island. I will not spoil it if you intend to read this classic, but I can certainly recommend the book. First published in 1719 it is a little difficult, even odd to read in places, still being in the original old English style. But it is worth the extra effort (in as much as there is any).

What I will say however is that he spent over twenty-eight years on the island. Far more than I had thought. I will probably read an abridged version to Dani some time soon.

Crusoe or Moby?

On reflection I may have been confusing Daniel Defoe’s classic with ‘Moby Dick’. There are ships and lots of sea in both. Moby Dick generally does appear in those ‘top 100 books you should read before you die’ lists.

So, I decided to do some quick research. Defoe’s book does appear in many lists – as you might expect. Here is a light-hearted look at just a few of them… with my comments. Some with links to the list.

  • Must read Classics : Defoe’s tale came in at 157.
  • Books That Everyone Should Read At Least Once : 187th out of 20,242 books — Clearly a long list but it had 92,525 voters
  • Best Books of the 18th Century :3rd out of 217 books — Was there that much competition?
  • 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 77th out of 1,325 books — In the top 100 in this list
  • Best Survival Stories: 16th out of 1,018 books — In a list with this title I would have expected it to be in the top 3 at least. Untill that is, I saw the list. Modern books such as the ‘Hunger Games’ series doing very well.
  • Books Set on Islands: 7th out of 656 books — Again a top 3 spot should have been expected in this one eh? Beaten by a few I had heard of including, incredibly; ‘Anne of Green Gables’! Really? Was that set on an island?
  • Stories Set On Remote Islands: 1st out of 59 books – now that’s more like it eh?
  • The Worst Books of All Time: 265th out of 6,969 books — Odd one, if not amazing.
  • Adventure, Fantasy, and Sci Fi Before 1923: 5th out of 158 books — About right.
  • The Guardian’s “1000 Novels Everyone Must Read”: 73rd out of 1,019 books — in the top 100 for this British newspaper
  • Desert Islands: 3rd out of 118 books — An obvious one
  • Best Wilderness Survival Books: 4th out of 156 books — obviously should be highly rated in this list
  • 100 Must-Read Books: The Essential Man’s Library: 18th out of 100 books – Would this list be considered sexist in this day and age? Who cares?

And then…. I found this one!

The Greatest Fiction of all Time  :  This list is generated scientifically from 107 “best of” book lists from a variety of sources. An algorithm is used to create a master list based on how many lists a particular book appears on. Some lists count more than others. Or so they say…

The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe comes in at 39th  place in this super-list; so I was not mistaken. And what do you know? Moby Dick appears in 37th place in the same list. Yet this tale of a whale does not appear on my imaginary (and ever changing) ‘must read’ list.

The Problem with Schools these days

Schools…and Indoctrination

Ok. This is actually a bit of fun on my part. However, there is a serious side to it as you will see. So; first the serious bit…

We live in an age where schools are becoming increasingly politicised. They are trying to teach kids certain things from a very early age that would never have been discussed when I was in school. Even at a school leaving age.

One recent example in the news concerned parents protesting and getting some of these so called “lessons” stopped. In this particular case it concerned “lessons” aimed at telling kids about trans-sexuality. Even I don’t know too much about that and neither do I want to really. It turns out that the parents were all of one particular religion and basically stuck to their principles. So far they appear to have won. I admire them for that.

Anyway, all that is a bit heavy for these pages so I will just finish the explanation by saying what teachers were allowed to tell us all them years ago when I was in school. The answer? Nothing. Nothing at all. If you ever asked them, they would not even tell you which party they voted for in the elections. They weren’t allowed to. Politics and anything politicised was out of bounds in those days. And I believe it still should be.

Collecting helps you learn.

Dani is as close to being interested in collecting something as he can be at his age. Collecting things like coins or stamps is great for kids.

He now has a fair collection of coins. I found a load of old money I had accumulated from years of visiting different countries and that was a good starting point for his collection. Occasionally he gets the coins out and we look at them and – obviously – he asks me about them. On this particular occasion he was separating them by country.

A Little bit of fun with old coins

Collecting coins and stamps is a great way for young kids to learn about the countries and geography in general. I actively encourage this. But after several coins had already been separated I decided to have some fun…

“Where is this one from dad?”

“Brazil.”

“This one?”

“That one is Belgium. You can put it in any pile you like because Belgium is not a real country.”

“What? It’s not a real country?”

“No. It is basically a made-up country really.”

“Where is this one from?”

“Portugal. Escudos. Before the Euro.”

“And this one?”

“Portugal again. Before Germany stole their money.”

“Germany stole their money?”

“Yes. Well, sort of. They made everyone use the Euro so the countries didn’t have their own money any more. Spain too. Spain used to have its own money, the Peseta.”

Enough… For now.

Counter-Indoctrination

Clearly I was having a little fun; for my own benefit. But there are two points to make here. Firstly some kind of balance is needed to counteract the continuous crap people get thrown at them. Even if it is half said in jest. Let’s call it counter-indoctrination.

Secondly; I would never tell him complete lies. There is a lot of truth in what I told him -albeit peppered with a little mischief.

There is another thing. And this is a combination of mischief and curiosity. I just wonder what they would tell him in school if he repeated any of these things. That could prove interesting. I may find out soon…If he ever tells me.

Chess, Judo and Oz

Games of Kings

Dani wanted to have a game of draughts with me yesterday. This was the first time I had played the game in years and the first time ever against Dani. Amazingly Dani did not know how to play properly. I thought he had played in school. I knew he was interested in chess. I knew that he knows how to play that more advanced game as I had helped him.

For some reason, and totally under my radar, he has skipped the draughts phase. Jumping straight up to the trickier, real game of kings. It was quite odd trying to play draughts while also teaching him. Knowing all the time he was just waiting to beat his mum at chess. Smart-arse kid….

Not only is he playing chess: Apparently he is the best in his class now. That honour used to belong to his best friend Jaime who goes to after-school chess classes. Now Dani has been told that he is the best chess player in the class. Or so he tells us

After school Judo

When Jaime goes to chess classes Dani goes to Judo – after school, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He had been moaning a little in recent weeks about not progressing. Meaning he knows that he still has the beginner’s white belt. Then out of the blue – for me at least – he announced that they had done their first grading. From white to a yellow and white (striped) belt. Next step (full) yellow belt. Then yellow and orange. Then… Well let’s see how it goes for the rest of this school year.

Either it crept up on him too or he kept it quiet. He has been doing it now for over 6 months; so that is slow but steady progress. I think it gives them the time to really learn the techniques to the point where they become second nature. I also think this half belt grading step is a better way for the young kids. Going for a full yellow belt would take too long and they might lose interest. It’s a great way of doing it.

When did they bring that in? Does anyone know?

Dani doing his belt grading. About to throw his much bigger classmate Jacobo.

From what little Dani tells me about his judo classes I get the impression that he does listen carefully to his ‘sensei’, who just happens to be a 7th Dan. That’s a lot of Dans! I think if he told me to do something, I might just do it.

Down Under a Step Closer?

Meanwhile… Dani’s mum returned from another trip to Australia and he was a very excited little boy.

This next week could determine whether or not the Australian adventure becomes reality. I get the impression that Dani wants to go. It certainly seems that he is not against the idea. The thing is, what of his parents? Will the deal be right? Does it even need to be? When will it begin? So many questions still to answer…

And finally…

I have written about these little parrot like birds some time ago (see here). But this weekend I got closer than ever to them. The monk parrakeets were too busy to bother about me although they are usually quite shy.