SuperZings Invasion

SuperZings – More than Superheroes (they say).

The latest craze sweeping kids’ brains at the moment is the SuperZings (pronounced in Spain Super Things). An ever growing collection of (now) several hundred characters an inch or so high.

It’s all in the Name

They remind me a little of Cutie Fruities which were around when I was in school in the 70s. Little fruit (and vegetable) characters that you stuck on top of your pens and pencils. Are such things known as pencil toppers?

The marketing angle is not unlike the huge Pokemon craze of the 90s (which of course made several returns). Multiple whacky characters to collect and swap with your friends. The names tell you what the character is and clearly there is no end to what they can make (and sell) as any ‘thing’ can be a Superthing.

Their names are as crazy as the toys. Naughty Socks, Joe Cookie; and Frenetic Fries  – basically looking like a box of French fries from that place with the golden arches and some clown.

Like Taking Candy from a Baby…

The photos below show some other examples. It’s easy enough to realise that this can go on and on. Not unlike the Lego minifigures in that respect.

The Superzings come on their own for 70 cents. With a “vehicle” for €2 and with some kind of tower/prison cell (or similar accessory) for €4. All-in-all it’s a great way to take the kids’ pocket money.

We each bought one the other day. Mine was Choc Shock, Dani’s was Battle Butter and his mum’s was Hoops (basically a basketball hoop with a face etc).
Battle Butter vs Choc Shock – Sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen.

Over 4s Only?

The marketing geniuses have been setting up Superzing play areas in shopping centres. We accidentally happened across one while doing a supermarket shop. As the play area was about to open we decided to let Dani enter. They had a strict age policy. One of the adults in charge was asking the smaller kids how old they were. If they said “three” they were not allowed in. When the parents complained (more like questioned) they were shown the wrapper the little toys come in which does clearly display (if you look for it) that sign. The one that shows these toys are not suitable between the ages of 0-3.

One little girl had to wait outside with her dad while her older brother played inside with Dani and the other kids. A little harsh I thought as that sign is only for guidance and is not legally binding. Still, in this age of litigation what group open to the public is going to take the chance of a youngster swallowing a small toy under their supervision. Also, it surely means up to 36 months ld. O the kids of 3 years old are actually outside this boundary, even if only by a month or so. Otherwise why doesn’t the symbol say “4 years and over”?

None of this debate bothered Dani of course. He was in his element. As were plenty of other kids. These toys, incredibly simple in their concept, have really struck the right chord.

Here is a link to a two page poster of some of the Superzings characters:
Superzing characters1

Electric cars – Do me a favour

One of the aims of this blog was to capture hopes and fears for my son in the years to come. This is a long one but please stick with it. It has a humorous side too. So what will his future look like? Here is one thing that may or may not transpire….

Electric Dreams

We are constantly being bombarded with news items about how in the very near future we will all be driving electric cars.

What do you think this old dad thinks about that one? Simple: Not in my lifetime. But here’s why I believe it will not happen in Dani’s either.

Unwittingly helped by Tesla…

Probably the biggest and most well-known electric car company is Tesla. Owned by the brilliant entrepreneur who goes by the name of Mr. Elon Musk.

I had heard that their car batteries could be charged in about 20 minutes – just enough time to top up at a motorway service station while having a coffee eh? So while I was browsing their website I got into an online conversation with one of their “experts” (the unlucky Alec). This is the exact conversation as emailed to me following its abrupt end.

The online chat…

Alec: Have a question? Chat with a Tesla expert.
Me: How long does it take to recharge battery?
Alec: Hi At a supercharger 45 minutes or at home about 7/8 hours
Me: So how would that work if everyone (or a lot of people) owned an electric car? For one thing the grid would never cope with it. Between 5 and 7pm when everyone plugs in the substations would crash.
Alec: They could install batteries in their household to store the energy from day time and charge their cars with this  Or alternatively energy companies could load balance using battery storage systems, a lot like Australia do at the moment
Me: But if everyone was doing that or some mix then local substations would be tripping all hours of the day. There are not enough power stations anyway without this. They are closing the larger power stations in the UK. It is not only that. The type of power stations required would need to be either nuclear (decades away in time to build etc), hydro (do-able but not on any politicians radar) or pumped storage (like the one in North Wales – which took 10 years to build in the 60s, so would take about 20 nowadays!). Infrastructure is so way off, so far off that the electric car thing will drop off a cliff edge some time in the near future. Probably when that critical number is sold and power cuts abound.
Alec: It would take those timelines or even longer for the nation to shift away from petrol and diesel cars to electric. The government and energy companies have time to sort this.
Not really, the government have put plans in place for all cars sold to be fully electric by 2040, times are changing now
Me: No they don’t. Mostly because governments have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. They play to the gallery – which at the moment wants to hear about an electric car future, or at least possibility thereof. Not all good ideas are feasible unfortunately. When the reality check kicks in (power cuts etc…) people will demand their old cars back.
Thank you for contacting us.
Chat session disconnected.

Oops… No more of that.

And that was that. They cut me off. (And who can blame them I hear some of you say.) Admittedly I was being a little mischievous. But that was the point. The questions did not fit with the standard answers. That online live chat thing now seems to have disappeared from their website. I guess that tells a story in itself. Don’t get me wrong. As an engineer I am full of admiration for most of the things Tesla are building (or attempting to build).

Who are you calling a Cnut?

My main point is not only where will all the electricity come from but how will the surge in demand be handled? Wind and solar power we are often told. But guess what? You can’t control the wind or the clouds. Mind you there was once a Danish monarch who thought he could control the ocean’s waves. He went by the name of King Cnut. More like stupid Cnut if you ask me. But he is now in good company. With a myriad of politicians; half believing, some lying to us about the prospect of everyone driving all electric cars in about 20 years time.

Nah… Even with greatly improved battery technology the problem is what happens when everyone tries to charge their car after work? At the same time!? The reality is, not only do we not have realistic new power sources; the government (in the UK certainly) are doing absolutely nothing about replacing the existing power sources. This inability to address a known  problem while simultaneously telling us that we will all have to drive electric cars is something that should concern everyone.


While trying to avoid getting too political I do maintain a healthy (engineering based) enquiring mind. A questioning attitude. Nobody should take what they see or hear in the mainstream media at face value. There will always be something else. Another angle, another side to the story. Isn’t it  ironic that that our wonderful leaders hardly ever mention the one source of power that perhaps could be harnessed and never ever stops. The very same waves that stupid Danish Cnut failed to stop.

 On that note, I suppose there is yet another side to this. Maybe there is something Mr. Musk knows that we are not being told. Perhaps the secrets of safe and abundant nuclear fusion are about to be uncovered???

Footnote: To be fair to King Cnut (aka Canute) he was king of England and Norway as well as Denmark. A powerful man back in his day – the 12th century. 

Happy Birthday – 3 years old

Happy Birthday (to this blog)

Today this blog is three years old. A little older actually but today marks the third anniversary since the first article was posted. How time flies. It almost seems like only a few weeks ago.


Just as I intended from the off-set; I am doing this for Daniel. Nobody else (although I do find it fun sometimes). So that when he is old enough he can read the articles, see the photos and watch the videos. There are plenty of thing that happen that I just never get around to writing about. I realise that I do not write nearly enough posts – by so called “professional” bloggers’ standards at least. But what the hell? I do it as and when I can; and whenever something happens that I want to record online…

Another intention was that I wanted to highlight things that may affect my son. Even way past my own time… There are a couple of things I have thought about recently that I need to capture in a post or two. Things that often pop up in the news. One such thing is the progress of the electric car. While my opinions are obviously personal on such matters I did manage to get the unwitting help of a well-known electric car manufacturer on this particular one. More to follow on that one…

Sad Hill Film

As I was thinking about writing this ‘birthday’ post, I re-read one of my favourite posts (from last October to be precise). The one about the visit to Sad Hill cemetery. Then I found something on Netflix. There is a documentary film available now called “Unearthing Sad Hill”. It tells the story of how the place was restored by fans of the film. It is quite interesting and anyone who likes that film – and that will surely include most people who have seen it – is sure to find it interesting. If you never saw the post about our visit to Sad Hill cemetery then you can see it here: The Good The Bad and The Ugly post

Strikes and Surprises

I went to see Dani’s new baby cousin Roberto the other day. He was born in the same hospital as Dani. Oddly I remembered nothing about the place. It all seemed new to me and yet just over 5 years ago I spent several days there.


One thing I definitely remember was the strike (huelga). Right now, the Madrid taxi drivers are on strike. They are protesting against what they see as unfair competition from online taxi companies such as Uber and Cabify. When Dani was born the local (council) bin men were on strike.

Just before he was due to arrive I took a couple of weeks off work. I definitely recall that the streets of Madrid had litter being blown everywhere. It was the same story all over the city including around the hospital. It was like a third world country. Really very odd. I suppose if we don’t like the term ‘bin men’ we can call them rubbish collectors or even sanitation workers if we want to be PC about it. But hey; there was rubbish and crap everywhere.

Arriving in Madrid right now my main problem is having to take the metro (subway/underground train). Hardly as bad. Having said that I do support the taxi drivers. They have a genuine point. They have to be fully licensed and pay for the right to be ‘official Madrid taxis’. It seems that these online taxi firms can get away with a lot less regulation. It makes a mockery of the so called “official” taxi system.

Similar strikes have hit Barcelona and other major cities in Spain. The problem is that this strike in Madrid has been going on for over week and there is no end in sight. People who support their cause may lose patience. Which brings me neatly on to another thing…

Life is full of surprises

Meanwhile; Dani’s nana came over last weekend and made a comment that was totally out of the blue. She said that she was really surprised how patient I am with Dani. I am not quite sure whether she was referring to Dani being hard work at times or if she meant that I was generally not famous for my patience. Probably the latter. I suppose I took it as a compliment.

She is not the only one to be surprised. I have discovered – much to my own surprise – just how much I enjoy reading stories to him. It is actually good fun. Well I try to make them fun. Let’s face it; some of the stories are not exactly exciting are they? Even the ones I make up myself are often awful. I doubt I will be reading stories on Jackanory an time soon. Is that still on TV? He seems to like them though and that’s what matters.

Back to the strike…

Which brings me ack to the taxi strike. We went to the airport to pick up his mum after her business trip to Australia. He asked why there were no taxis so told him the taxi drivers were on strike. Naturally he asked what ‘on strike’ meant. That was a difficult one to explain but after a few minutes of questions and answers he got it. Or maybe he gave up.

And he was so excited to see his mum…

Cheating at Cards

A little bit of cheating at that age is just funny. For some reason little kids cheat. I would have done the same. I am sure there are plenty who don’t but there are definitely plenty that do.

Dani decided we should play with one of his Christmas presents recently. A pack of Star Wars cards. They were not normal playing cards neither were they the ‘Top Trumps’ type. They were a simple set of Star Wars drawings/paintings in about 8 groups of five cards, numbered 1 to 5. Basically, just another excuse to sell something with the Star Wars logo on.

Rigging the deck…

The game is simply to deal out all the cards and each player turns over a card the player with the highest number wins those cards. And so on… easy right?

Dani decided he would deal out the pack. I watched him. He thought I wasn’t looking. It was obviously looking at the cards and ensuring that every card he put in my pile, his was higher.

I decided to do a little cheating of my own. I looked at the next card. It was a “1”. I also looked at the bottom card. Which was a “4”. Dani obviously had at least a “2” for his next play. When he played it I pulled my “4” from the bottom of my cards. He was about to pick up the two cards so convinced was he that he was going to win. Well he had rigged the deal. Hahaa….The look of surprise on his face was fantastic. It was all I could do to stop myself laughing. He had gone too far. If I hadn’t cheated he would have won every round.

The Switch

On the next game he did the same thing. So just before we started the game, I distracted him.
“Look Dani. What are those Lego bodies doing on the floor there? Best pick them up or you’ll lose them.”
When he turned around, I swapped the two hands of cards. When we started the game he turned over a “1”. Mine was a “5”.
I win” I said about to pick up the two cards.
Looking confused for only a short time he said.:
“No wait. You have the wrong cards.”
Then he swapped the two hands. Of course, he went on to win every round.

The funniest part of this tale is that even though he obviously knew that he was going to win he still seemed to enjoy it as if playing for real. It is crazy why we things like that at that age. Boys definitely. When do we grow out of it? I can’t seem to put my finger on that one.

I don’t encourage him to cheat at these silly games but sometimes I let him do it. Or I simply let him win. But having said that I also make sure he knows what it is like to lose. Life is full of ups and downs and losing is a big part of growing up. Especially if it makes you try harder next time.

Art Appreciation for 5-year-olds…

The other day Dani’s cousin Susana went on a school trip. To the Reina Sofia museo (Queen Sofia Museum) no less. Blimey I remember my first ever school trip – if you can call it that! It was to a local park. I think we got a school bus there. However, it is certainly walkable – albeit we were only about 5 or 6 at the time. I also recall vividly that I enjoyed it. Especially seeing the young frogs jumping around near the lake.

For those who do not know the Reina Sofia museum is best known for being Madrid’s main modern art gallery. Among the famous paintings on display is Guernica by Pablo Picasso.

Apparently she now knows about the top three Spanish modern artists. Picasso, Miró and – my particular favourite – Salvador Dalí. She seemed reasonably impressed by it all. As much as a five-year old can be I suppose.

Meanwhile her new born brother, and Dani’s latest cousin, has arrived. Roberto. Dani already has a cousin called Robert in the UK. Now he has a Spanish equivalent. Congratulations to Dani’s auntie Flora and uncle Javi. And of course Susana.

Scarface (Not the movie)

Absent Parents = Bad Parents?

Dani had an accident today in school. He fell during gym/physical education class and cut his forehead. It must have been fairly bad as it needed three stiches. As if that wasn’t bad enough both his parents were in other countries. I had just arrived back in Kent while his mum is over in Australia checking on that job again. More on that one to come.

I am not sure what feels worse. The fact that he now has three stitches in his head or the fact that I was not there. If it’s any consolation the school told us that he was very brave when it happened and also in the hospital. Better still he was happy enough when he returned back to school. As if it never happened. Thankfully the school has qualified nurses on hand and the hospital is more or less across the road.

So, does that make us bad parents?

History Repeating Itself…

Well not quite but…

I had stitches in my forehead when I was not much older than Dani is now. Only two though. Messing about throwing bottles with my friend who lived next door. I bent down to pick something up and when I stood up one was already winging its way to me. Crash. Typical accident when young boys do things they probably shouldn’t. And of course not so young boys…

The difference is mine were in the corner of my forehead almost hid by the hair line. Dani has his right smack in the middle of his forehead. I hope they did a neat job otherwise he is going to have a noticeable scar there. See below (photo courtesy of his grandmother).

I am tempted to call him Scarface. Then when I present him to people I can use that famous movie quote; “Say hello to my little friend!” OK. That was a crap attempt at a joke. And yes, he is definitely too young to watch that film with me. However, when he is old enough, he will love it. Classic.

Watch out Al Pacino!


Lazy Sunday morning and Women’s Rugby

A quiet Sunday Morning

While mum was away the boys had a lazy Sunday morning. Dani played on the iPad. While it keeps him quiet and seemingly happy, I am well aware of all the recent talk about ‘screen time’ and whether computer games are good or bad for kids. More on that one later – I know I must blog about it and I will. In this case he was playing with a programme called “Star Wars – Studio FX”. It is a kind of short movie maker package where he records a person or scene and superimposes it with intergalactic action using some well-known characters and spacecraft. Basically, it always ends in violent explosions but at least it is semi-constructive. (Well, sort of.)

Majadahonda vs Hortaleza – Women’s Rugby on Live TV.

I decided to have a look what was on TV and found something that first intrigued and then amazed me. The programme is called Un balón para ellas – which literally translates as ‘A ball for them’ [women]. This was the first I had seen it but clearly it intends to give coverage to lesser known female sports. Today it was women’s rugby. I decided to take a look.

My instant reaction was; WTF?!. Women’s rugby doesn’t even qualify as a minority sport in countries that play rugby. It’s simply too small and virtually nobody – apart from the infinitesimally small number of women who actually play it – are in the slightest bit interested in women’s rugby. Really. This is the truth. Despite the media trying to push it down our throats. A little like women’s football – which you can read about in a previous post by clicking the link. Although compared to women’s rugby that one does attracts a relatively huge audience. But this is Spain where even men’s rugby is considered a minority sport.

Surprisingly good…

Then I actually watched it properly – while Dani continued to mess about on the iPad – and I was quite surprised how good they were. For those of you who do not know much (or anything at all) about the game: apologies. But here goes…

They played a running game. That is to say, there was virtually no kicking the ball upfield. It was fast, open rugby. There were no continuously collapsed scrums. All this meant that compared with a lot of men’s games I have seen in the past it was actually quite good to watch.

One of teams (Hortaleza) is quite local to us. I already knew there was a rugby club in the area but never gave any thought to the fact that there might be a women’s team. Why would I? As it turned out they were thrashed 27-0 by Majadahonda. Yet despite the skewed score-line they never stopped trying. Another thing that made it far more watchable than I would have ever expected.

Why do they do it?

That said; why on earth would any of these women want to play rugby? Search me! I have no idea. If most of the media, movies and magazines are criticised for promoting some “perfect” image of the female form then this sport could be accused of promoting the acceptance of being a larger or even fat woman. Well at least that’s the way it seems to be in the UK and other so called ‘rugby playing nations’. Not so in this case. These women did not seem any where near as large as the ones I had seen on TV in the UK – albeit only a fleeting glimpse. I really have no idea why they should want to choose rugby over other sports.


While I was watching young Spanish women bashing each other over an oval ball Dani continued playing on that iPad game. I think I had the better deal. But does that mean I am a convert to the game of women’s rugby? In a word: No.

A Very Peculiar Spanish Institution

I saw something a few weeks ago that immediately put a smile on my face. Something I hadn’t seen or thought about for over 10 years.

The Frock Coated Debt Collector

Ladies and Gentlemen let me introduce you to El Cobrador del Frac. Basically translating to the frock-coated (or tail coated)  debt collector. This is one of those crazily different and peculiarly Spanish institutions. Like many other forms of debt collection it is a booming business in a time when thousands of businesses are going to the wall.

Since the early 2000s business has been booming. It was back in 2003 that I first heard about this odd operation. I had almost forgotten about them until a few weeks ago while out doing some Christmas shopping. I passed near one of their offices in Madrid and noticed the signs. How could I not break into a broad smile?

It is so simple and demonstrably effective. You may see a man dressed in top hat and tails, carrying a black brief case with “Debt Collector” written on it in large letters. If he is standing outside an office, a house or next to someone’s table in a restaurant, you know that person has not paid their debts. In effect, they are being named and shamed.

These characters are so well known in Spain that they do not have to say anything to succeed at their job. If a creditor owes money they just follow them around. It’s great.


They made me smile when I first found out about them and they still do.

What are the rules?

He is not meant to be intimidating but he is meant to stand out and be noticed. That, after all, is the name of the game.

The industry seems barely regulated so I wonder how do they stand legally? What I would like to know is what are the boundaries? Where does following a creditor around become stalking (something which is defined as a crime in most countries). Where can El Cobrador go and where can he not go? Surely the creditor’s workplace will be, in many cases, private property?

It does not seem to matter much in any case as this business is thriving. In fact, its success can be seen to mirror the rise in corruption in the Spanish political and business sectors. And trust me: Corruption in Spain is at an incredibly high level.

Some say that the idea first came from Ecuador where a group of business people tried to shame their creditors into paying by having them followed by a man dressed as a chicken. Now this successful form of debt collection has spawned many imitators who dress in a variety of odd costumes. There is even a story of one similar debt collector playing his bagpipes until the debt is paid. Surely enough to make most people cough up?

It Couldn’t Happen here….

“It Couldn’t Happen here” I hear everyone in the UK saying. They would be right. Such a level of borderline harassment would certainly lead to a rise in assaults and even some savage beatings.

In complete contrast, debt collection in the UK is basically seen as full on intimidation. Not nearly as subtle as these well-dressed actors. What a much better and peaceful way of settling one’s debts. Something many other countries can surely learn from Spain.

Hmm… I have just had an idea…

Another Christmas post

Tonight is 12th night. The twelve days of Christmas over. The night that Christmas decorations and trees are traditionally taken down in the UK. In Spain it is the night that the Three Kings (Los Reyes Magos) visit with presents for the boys and girls.

But first a little aside…

Summer of ‘69

I got my first real six-string
Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played it ‘till my fingers bled
Was the summer of sixty-nine

The opening words to that well-known rock ballad by Bryan Adams. It was also the opening number by a rock band who played at a Christmas party I was at the other week. Everyone sang along (as you do). It was only later, with the tune still in my head, that I thought about the year. In the summer of 1969 I was the exact same age as my son is now. Five years old.

Six Christmases…

His sixth Christmas has been and gone. Not that he would remember the first few. In December of ’69 I can honestly say that I do not remember anything. I can remember lots of bits and pieces from various Christmases when I was young but I could not pin any specific memories to the one when I was five years old. That’s odd because Dani seems so alert. If you were to ask me whether he will remember specific details about this year’s Christmas I would say “yes”. Also, this was his first real Christmas Day. I mean the morning when kids receive their presents in the UK (and many other countries). As I have mentioned in past posts in Spain it is the three Kings Day on January 6th. We have always tried to give Dani the best of both cultures but this was his first real Christmas morning.

Double Celebration

Dani’s ‘best of both worlds’ Christmases will soon be enjoyed by his friends. It is now more or less official in Spain. The kids will almost certainly have two days of presents around the Christmas holidays.

While we were in the El Corte Inglés department store recently I picked up their Juguettes (Toys) catalogue. Near the back  of the book there are two letter templates. One for Papa Noel (aka Santa Claus, aka Father Christmas) and one for the three Kings (aka Los Reyes Magos). Clearly it suits large toy (and other gift) sellers like  El Corte Inglés  but this is a new phenomena. Dani was always going to experience the Christmas Day that kids in the UK are used to, plus the Three Kings day (January 6th) that has always been the big day for gifts in Spain. Now it seems all Spanish children are set to benefit from a double set of presents. One day either side of new year’s day.

I know it’s all commercial but they are kids… More Lego anyone?

And so; here we go again. Another Three Kings day is upon us. What will they bring?

Oh What a Christmas…

I have been relaxing and not writing for the Christmas and New Year period. But what an eventful time it was… Let’s start with that “drone incident”.

Well I spoke too soon when I gave Gatwick airport the big thumbs up (see Hats off to Gatwick). What a f**king fiasco! Bloody circus!

Let’s get this into perspective…

It was the classic kiss of death I know. I spoke too soon. However, to put it all into context, I was really only referring to the security company operating at Gatwick that checks your baggage (and person) before you enter the departures area. Usually the biggest pain in the arse for a regular traveller like myself. They are indeed the best I have encountered in my many and varied airport experiences.

I would have been directly affected by that collective incompetence had I been flying back to Madrid for Christmas. Fortunately, as Dani and his mum came over to the UK, I was spared all that hassle.

What a bunch of pr***s!

From the Sussex police chiefs to the airport management and even possibly the army. Pathetic! Below par performances all round. How can a toy helicopter (for that it what is was – supposedly!) bring the country’s second airport to a halt?

Sussex Police later said that the drone that was spotted could have been one of their own. Apparently, they use them to look for rogue drones!!?? WTF?! This, after they were trying to blame it on some poor guy (some might say a patsy) only to find that the man had a perfect alibi. He was in work! Sadly, I believe that the police force in the UK is no longer fit for purpose. But where do you go with that?

How long before someone drives down the airport runway in a multi-coloured car and all the doors fall off….?

Send in the clowns.

Dani’s First Real Christmas Day

Well, not exactly. But as I have explained before the giving of presents on Christmas day has traditionally not been the norm in Spain. We have tried to replicate the British Christmas over in Madrid but this time there were more presents and more people involved. He loved it. And he got a lot of presents. Including more Lego. A lot more Lego. Great!

We did the whole ritual. Mince pie, milk and biscuits for Santa. Carrots for the reindeer. Stocking hung up next to his bed for a few small gifts and the bigger presents under the tree. It is such a great age because he is still a genuine believer in Santa Claus. We even watched a great Christmas film called The Christmas Chronicles on Netflix which reinforced his belief in Santa. If you haven’t seen it then I can highly recommend this movie. It is as much for parents as kids.

Then of course Dani had his first Christmas Day Christmas dinner – traditionally eaten in Spain on the evening of Christmas Eve (Noche Buena). Not that he ate much. This kid seems to survive on fresh air most of the time. Where does he get all that energy from? What are his lungs filtering out of the air that mine are not?

Which reminds me. I need to make more of an effort to get fit in 2019. Last year flew by so quickly (I am sure it was only 6 months long!?) I never really got into any fitness regime. More on that to follow….