Birthday Bash

Fifth birthday party in the mad house….

Dani had an eventful birthday party in one of the many animal houses in Madrid. Let them loose in the caged and padded area and leave them to it. Well, you can do. I prefer to keep an eye on things from time to time. You never know when something will happen. After an hour of non-stop calorie burning it was time for a top up. Pizza, hot dog or burger with some unhealthy side-snacks. It was almost impossible to keep them from running back in to the play area. In fact they had to be dragged back out for the cake and happy birthday song. And of course for Dani to open his presents. Then they were gone again.

The Fight

Soon after the calorie fix (and for some a sugar burst Coke fix) a little fight broke out. Some of the mothers were immediately concerned. The ones who had little boys. The mothers of the girls seemed like they couldn’t care less. I knew something was up when I saw that Dani had noticed something and scampered up to the top of the monkey house in double quick time. There was a stand off and Carlos (twice the size of the rest of them) was looking particularly angry as he confronted Yago (one of the few smaller than Dani). Not that little Yago was worried. Fair play, he stood up to him. He had just punched Jaime in the mouth and he was crying (Jaime that is). Carlos’s mum shouted up at them and amazingly managed to get the three of them to come down to ground level and out of the cage. After a short lecture all three did the right thing and patched up their differences. Whatever they may have been. It was all forgotten in a three-way handshake.

Who knows how and why it started? Who cares? It was ancient history within a minute.

Grudge Free Existance…

Isn’t it great at that age. No grudges. At what age do people start harbouring resentment and bitterness. It is an odd thing. Easy going, quick to forget kids just get on with life. Adults carry all sorts of baggage around with them. It can be bloody heavy. Why do they do it when kids do not? I think that remains one of life’s mysteries.

The day of his actual birthday was the Monday. I had to fly early in the morning. It is hard enough any Monday I have to return to work. This one was even more difficult. At least I had been there to see him celebrate with his class-mates.

There will be another party soon. When he flies over to the UK to see his family there.

Annual Road Race

Race Day

Every year in Madrid there are series of road races and fun-runs to rise money for a well known children’s hospital opposite Retiro Park. The Hospital del Niño Jesus. Last Sunday was the day this year.

This time last year I was preparing to go on my first trip to Korea. Was that a year ago? Wow! Scary. Meanwhile Dani was taking part in his first 2km run/walk for this noble cause.

Corre por el Niño 2018

There are 10km and 4km races for the more keen runners. Then there is the 2km fun-run or “marcha familiar” . This year I ran with Dani. And fair play to the lad, he did run the full 2km. There were plenty of other participants. Thousands actually.

Intergalactic fund-raising…

There was some help on hand to occupy the kids. None other than Darth Vader and a collection of other Star Wars characters. Vader is not widely known for his charity work. More associated with terrorising that far away galaxy. However, he did a great job of cheering the kids, the participants and the spectators. I always thought he received bad press….

Accompanied as usual by his band of stormtroopers. There were other Star Wars characters on hand to give the kids a high-five as they jogged off around the 2 km circuit. There was even a Jawa and one of the sand people (aka Tusken Raiders). I should have got more photos, I know…

Dani won. I came a close second. In third place was Dani’s mum. Then came Susana and her dad Javi. Not that Dani was trying to win as such. He just has more energy than the rest of us. But when t was all over the two cousins shared the top spot on the podium.

Now I am waiting for a flight to Madrid from Gatwick. A long weekend for myself because this weekend is Dani’s 5th birthday. Where did those five years go? Sunday is party time….

Fantastic Castle

All young children love castles. Dani certainly does. So, this weekend we took a relatively short trip to one of the best in Spain.

Manzanares El Real

Manzanares El Real is a small town in the foothills of Sierra de Guadarrama, about 40km from Madrid Like all small towns in the mountains it has its own charm. But what sets this place apart is the best-preserved castle in the region and surely one of the best in Spain.

The Castle of Manzanares El Real is a real gem. From the outside it looks every bit the classic 15th century castle. Inside you can walk through the well-preserved function rooms where 17th and 18th century artwork adorn the walls.

   First built in 1475 by Diego Hurtado de Mendoza in Elizabethan Gothic style the castle was initially a military fortress. But within a few years the Mendoza family made it their home. Diego’s eldest son Iñigo finished the build. However, in less than a century, following Iñigo’s death, the castle was empty.

The castle is bounded on one side by the Santillana reservoir with the panoramic views of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain ridge to the other. The reservoir was constructed in 1906 with a second higher dam built in 1969. It is an important source of Madrid’s water supply. Incidentally, when you look out across the reservoir you can just make out a much more modern kind of castle. Built to keep people in, rather than keep them out. The Soto de Real prison, built in 1995.

The renovation and restoration work began in 1914 and it is clear that the improvements have been both extensive and effective. The work continues. Funded by the Community of Madrid.

Now there’s a Coincidence!

As luck would have it there was a craft beer festival in the village square the very same day. Dani’s second beer festival – if anyone is counting. Not that he samples any of the produce of course.

It was not a huge event – only 8 beer makers’ stalls – but something different. I had only ever heard of one of the brewers so definitely worthwhile. Naturally a few beers were tasted. It would have been rude not to. Then, after a short walk it was back to Madrid and an early night. Because tomorrow is the annual road race in aid of the Hospital de Niño Jesus, children’s hospital located opposite the Retiro park near the centre of the city. Dani’s second time but my first…

Bits n Bobs

Odds n Sods….

 A few bit and pieces I thought I should write about….

I have been thinking lately about this Blog. Hardly anyone reads it but I am not doing it for the glory (as many people seem to do). The reason I am writing it is for Dani (plus it is sometimes good fun of course). So he can read it when he is able to . That will not be much longer the way he is progressing. But mainly to read again when he is a fair bit older and will appreciate it a lot more. Generally I have written about one specific topic or day out. But it occurred to met that there are lots of little things happening all the time and that I should try to capture them. So here goes with some of that…

Working in Kent

I have settled into my new job in Kent. Tucked away in the corner of England, south of London, it is one area I have never spent time in before now. Despite the south-east of England being one of the most densely populated areas on earth this part of Kent is actually quite countryfied. My plan (as much as there is one) is to try and last another nine or ten months but it is hard only seeing my boy at weekends. That said I travel Friday afternoons and Monday mornings so I do get to be with him all weekend. As much as most working dads I suppose. And it is short(ish)  term.

As and when he comes to visit me here there are plenty of interesting places to take him. Like all young boys he loves castles. There are two fantastic castles in Leeds and Rochester, plus the medieval city of Canterbury all very close. Then of course there is the big “smoke”. London. Only an hour on the train.

More Fantasy/Dream Fights…

I love all this. It can run and run. At least until he hits his teenage years – by which time he may hardly be talking to me; if what most people are telling me is correct.

“Dad. Who would win a fight between Chewbacca and Paul Stanley?”

You may recall that I wrote about the Lego Paul Stanley (the singer of 1970s – and beyond -rock band Kiss) a few months ago.

If you were a gambler you would put your money on the crossbow wielding Wookie; right? That’s what I thought. I was wrong. As Dani demonstrated. Paul Stanley clearly has hidden skills apart from his glam-rock/shock-rock singing.

“Look dad. Paul Stanley battered Chewie.” And so he did. I saw it with my own eyes. We live and learn…. Long live rock n roll eh? Although that was Rainbow not Kiss.
Chewie mercilessly slain at the hands of Paul Stanley.

Jaime’s visit… Chess games to come…

While on the subject of Chewbacca…

Dani’s brought his (latest) best friend from school home with him the other day. Jaime. Dani gave him one of his Chewie Lego characters. He did have two. A very generous statement I have to admit. Even if the one he gave him was actually not real Lego but one of the many fake Lego compatible versions out there. It looks set to become a theme now. Visiting friends’ houses after school and reciprocating the invites. I vaguely remember such things from way back when…

Jaime goes to after-school chess lessons while Dani does Judo. I prefer he continues with the Judo but the ultimate strategic board-game has been mentioned a lot recently. It means that I will have to teach him how to play the checkered game of kings, queens and pawns. Something I had been looking forward to but wasn’t expecting to happen so soon. Now, what are the rules again?…

Rook takes bishop.

Medieval Tale

Medieval Market

A couple of weeks ago we went to a medieval market in Alcalá de Henares; a large town about 25km to the east of Madrid. It is where I was working when I first met Dani’s mum. Although I spent about two years in Alcala de Henares I never realised this medieval market was an annual event. I had never heard of it and certainly would have remembered attending it. Whatever…

It turns out that this is the biggest market of its kind in Europe. And it certainly seemed to be.

The kids get in the medieval mood

Uncanny Coincidence….

Apart from this large well attended festival the town is famous for being the birth place and home of one Miguel Cervantes (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra to give him his full name). Possibly the most famous Spanish writer and one of the world’s pre-eminent novelists. It is said that his most famous novel, Don Quixote, has been translated into more languages than any other book except the Bible. That said it is still a book I have never even felt like reading – literary philistine that I am.

The town of Alcalá de Henares is a little like Stratford on Avon in England. While both have other things to see and do their main source of tourism derives from their famous writing sons.

Will Shakespeare: 23 Apr 1564 – 23 Apr 1616 (age 52)
Miguel Cervantes: 29 Sep 1547 – 23 Apr 1616 (age 68)

They died the same day! An odd coincidence. It was far too crowded to get into Cervantes house but we had been before and will probably go again.

A Hard Day’s Knight

The medieval fighting was held inside the old town walls. The crowd was split into 4 groups by the master of ceremonies with the idea being that each section would cheer one of the four knights. Our quadrant was to support the Grey Knight. As luck would have it he was the clown. An absolute cheat and master of dirty tricks. It was all good fun though. The kids loved it. So did I.

It was hot and they must have been burning up in their armour. Well done to the actors.

As expected, after all his antics he met with a timely defeat.

There you go kids. Cheats usually lose.

Licenced to Print Money…

One stall seemed to be making more money than any other. In more than one sense. This guy was punching out “coins” non-stop. At 5 Euros a pop. Literally making money. He had a big selection of coin designs. All he had to do was place the blank “coin” between two stamps and hit with his sledgehammer. Hey presto artificial “money” made; real money paid.

 Dani went for Darth Vader on one side with Superman “S” on the other. While Susana chose Disney’s Elsa (Frozen). Hey. Boys and girls. They are different. No matter what the lunatics out there try to tell us. Dani’s coin went straight in his treasure chest when he got home.

Knocking out the money

Dark Knights to Dark Nights…

The clocks go back an hour this weekend. The weather is turning cooler. Much cooler. There will be few days as warm as this for a while. Dark nights and dark mornings to come. At least in the northern hemisphere.

Meanwhile Dani’s mum has gone to Australia again with work to try and win a contract. ‘Down-under’ winter is over and it will soon be summer. If his mum does well Dani could be learning to surf in Oz this time next year. Maybe… Just maybe…

Into the Valley – of the fallen

 Another weekend, another excursion. This time to a place closer to Madrid. Closer not just in miles (or kilometres) but in the minds of many Spaniards. We visited El Valle de los Caídos – The Valley of the Fallen.

The Site…

Located about 54 km from the centre of Madrid just off the A6 road that leads to Galicia this site can be visited in the same day as a trip to the picturesque nearby town of El Escorial. Set in a huge area of natural beauty construction started in 1940 and was completed in 1959. The most striking feature is the 15- metre high cross, the biggest in the world and clearly visible from 20 miles away. Entering the building is both eerie and spectacular. The long crypt tunnelled some 260 metres through the mountain leads to the main basilica and place of worship. Behind this and outside is a monastery (Benedictine abbey) and hotel.

Beneath the valley floor are the remains of thousands of people, both nationalist and republican, who died during the civil war. Numbers vary up to as much as 40,000. It is impossible to say exactly how many but there are many.

The Controversy…

This place is famous. It is also infamous. It all depends on which side of the political spectrum you stand. For this is where the body of Francisco Franco is laid to rest.

The biggest problem however is that the debate is not really about that. There are now people on the left of politics who want to re-write history. At least in as much as they can get away with.


There is no doubt it. This was; and still is, a vanity project by Franco. ‘To the victor belong the spoils’ as the saying goes ** It would have been no different had the other side won. What also cannot be denied is that it is a fantastic work of art. A magnificent feat of engineering. On any side of the argument nobody can deny it is impressive. It is also a working church and people are buried in such places. It is hard to see why some groups are so determined to exhume a 40 odd year corpse. Are there really so few problems at this moment in time that they have to dig up the past? (both literally and metaphorically).

The main reason given for opposing the place is that its construction used prison labour. Including prisoners who just happened to be on the other side in the civil war. Political prisoners no less. And on this the voices of dissent have a point. Some 10% of the workforce were convicts who, in exchange for a reduced sentence agreed to cooperate.

A Common Sense Approach?

The counter-argument is that the place was built to honour all those who lost their lives – from both sides. There are a couple of things inside which state as much (see photo). Not the best way to honour those who helped build the place though. Something larger and more visible would be better. Another important point is that such forced labour was also used to build huge infrastructure projects such as dams for the supply of fresh water to many large towns and cities. Should those be taken down also?

Surely the best and least disruptive thing would be to build a monument to those who actually constructed this magnificent site. Build it alongside the entrance. There are plenty of places lining the entrance where such a memorial could be located. Under those huge arches for example.

My advice to anyone – especially those who have not seen this place – is to visit before it is changed into a new and different political vanity project.

Dani and the 150 metre cross in context

** “To the victor belong the spoils” is a phrase famously used in a Congressional debate in 1831 by New York senator, William L. Marcy.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Take a look at this video. Then read on….  (Tip: Much better with sound)

You will have almost certainly seen the film. The late, great Eli Wallach´s character Tuco, finds himself in Sad Hill cemetery where he searches frantically for one specific grave. Can you remember whose grave it is?

Sad Hill Cemetery

I had heard some 16 years ago that the Sad Hill cemetery  scene was filmed somewhere just north of Madrid. Well in fact it is a fair bit north of the capital and difficult to find. But find it we did.

The site is in the province of Burgos. Almost in the middle of nowhere, between the small towns of Santo Domingo de Silos and Contreras. In 2014 a group got together from all the small local towns in the area with the idea of preserving – or in the case of Sad Hill, unearthing – several locations in the area used by Sergio Leone for his trilogy of films that became known as the Spaghetti Westerns.

Sad Hill was literally just left after filming. Totally abandoned and forgotten about. Over the years the grass and plants just grew and the place was unrecognisable. But the group painstakingly restored the site to its former glory. The goal was to have the site ready for 2016; the 50th anniversary of the film. People came to help from all over the world at one point once they heard what was going on. Such is the popularity of Leone’s films. There are plenty of items on the internet about this and the place has become famous once again..And now, here is another article about it….

Oddly, the film is called El Bueno, El Feo y El Malo in Spanish (literally The good the ugly and the bad). Either way it is as famous in Spain as in any other country. After all, the three main spaghetti westerns were all filmed here. Eli Wallach passed away fairly recently in 2014 and Lee Van Cleef died way back in 1989. Only Clint is left of the three title characters.

The Good

The film is not just good. It´s great. Everyone who has seen it would probably agree to that. One that has stood the test of time. Over 50 years of time. Half a century! The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was first shown in 1966. Blimey. I was not even as old as Dani back then. There were two men from Texas there when we first arrived. Both about my age I guessed. It had taken them 3 hours to find the place also. They both agreed that when Dani is older he will love the film and look back on the photos of his first visit to this location. I think he will appreciate it in about a year or so.

The Bad….

Getting there is not easy. It is about two and a half hours drive from Madrid. Even then you need to know where you are going. The road from Contreras is a rough track and lasts for some 4km. It’s hard to imagine how the site was first constructed. Back in 1966 this would have been barely even a donkey track.

The Ugly…

It is an amazing site. There is nothing ugly about the place now. OK, it is hard to get to but I suppose that makes it all the more appealing and definitely worth the effort when you arrive. It must have been in a really bad state when they started work on the restoration. Almost a total reconstruction.

When we arrived Arch Stanton´s grave was not in the best of states. Naturally I repaired it like any true fan of the film would do. Poor old Arch. Nobody left to tend his resting place. In the film, the grave marked ´Unknown´ at the side of Arch was full of gold. And that was the prize the three main characters were after.
Before and after shots of Mr. Stanton’s grave…

Now you know the story behind the location for that famous scene. Now it´s time for the remake. Starring Dani in the role of Tuco. Sit back and enjoy…


Queen Concert Weekend

You start a new job and immediately it is hard to go back to it. A young son can do that to you. So too can crap jobs but that is not the point of this post (and besides it’s too early for that one).

The busy weekend started with his swimming lesson. He is getting good now. I am quite a good swimmer. Now. But when I was Dani’s age I was close to petrified of water. It is great to see him improving week by week.

There is what the British call an ‘Indian Summer’ in Madrid. Despite the unusually high temperatures all the outdoor pools are closed. End of season. By date, if not temperature. The end of summer means the start of swimming lessons and Dani is back in the indoor pool every Saturday morning. He is a happy, improving little swimmer and his dad is proud of him. (Did I just refer to myself in the third person?)


Sunday: Off to see a Queen tribute band in the Rialto Theatre in the city centre. What a great little theatre!

On the way Dani and I had a little conversation.

“I want to go and see Led Zeppelin dad.”

“Oh well we can go and see a Led Zep band soon. I will look into it.”

“But we only know one song”: He means ‘Rock and Roll’ the one he has heard on the radio many times.

“Well you do mate. But I know all of their songs.”

“All of them?”

“Yes. I have all their albums. We can listen to some more songs and then you will know them when we go and see Led Zeppelin in concert. But today we are going to see Queen”.

We sat in the theatre and the band came on stage. A five-piece tribute act. Spanish lads playing bass, guitar, drums and the frontman A keyboard player making it five; allowing “Freddie” to concentrate on the singing and prancing around stage.

The second song was one of the obvious ones. Bohemian Rhapsody. I thought Dani would be totally into it, but the band started the song part way through. Being a long track I understood this. But for one little boy -in the manner of Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) – it just did not compute. I think he expected it to be just like the records he has heard so much. While he wasn’t too keen on singing along, he watched intently. It was all well done and in between songs the singer spoke to the audience – as they do.

About half way through the concert Dani said, partly surprised; “Dad. Freddie Mercury speaks Spanish.”

“It’s not the real Freddie Mercury Dan. This is not the real Queen”

And the instant I had said it I thought ‘oh shit!’. His face changed. Puzzled expression. What had I done? I might as well tell him that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Right now; and get that one over with! Oh, what an idiot!

I regretted it immediately. But that’s how things happen in the blink of an eye. Poor Dani. I don’t think it stopped him enjoying the rest of the show however. He joined in later.

Kent and Australia?

Later in the day Dani’s mum had to leave for the airport. Only a short business trip. To Sydney Australia no less. He knew she would be away until Friday but took it well I thought.

The biggest problem for me was that soon after I had to fly to the UK. This new job in Kent is only a week old but it is so hard leaving the little man. He would be staying with his grandmother but that didn’t make it any easier. I put him to bed and thought he was asleep. But I received a text message form his grandmother that he woke up ten minutes after I had gone and cried. He would be fine. I knew that. But it hurts when things like that happen. Such a great weekend but a tough end.

If it doesn’t get any easier how long will I last in this new job? Time – as always – will tell.

Gaucín and Return to Madrid


Among the thousands of white villages in Andalucia there are a few that stand out from the crowd. Casares was possibly one of the first world famous due to its precarious positioning on  the cliff-faces of the hills and its proximity to the coast. Comares is the undisputed king of the Axarquia region sitting proudly atop a 700m high mountain. Frigiliana is famous for its pristine, colourful streets thanks mainly due to its close proximity to the increasingly popular and growing resort town of Nerja.

Another notable village is Gaucín. Some 10 minute drive from Benadalid on the Algeciras road this village sits high up overlooking the coast. On a clear day you can see Gibraltar and north Africa. At one end of the village is the impressive Eagle’s Castle (Castillo de Águila).

The road down to the coast passes close to Cásares and appears between Estepona and Sotogrande. From that road the village looks both impressive and imposing. Easily the biggest of the white villages of the Serranía de Ronda region, Gaucín has been home to artists from all over the world and there are many small galleries. It is easy to see why artists are so inspired when they arrive.

The kids acting as if they are doing a catalogue shoot…

No more holidays…

A day later and we had to make the long journey back to Madrid. Seven hours with two short pit-stops. Tiring for everyone.

Within a few days Dani was back to school. His third year. Time is flying by…

Meanwhile it was also back to work for dad too. More on that to come.

Return to the Rio Genal

Return to the Rio Genal

That sounds like a western film starring John Wayne doesn’t it?

But if you read the previous post you will know that this is the river we wanted to fish in – properly.

Unfortunately the local shops only had a very minimal collection of fishing tackle. The smallest hooks were, I thought, too big but just might be OK with a little luck.

This time it was a boy’s trip. Dani and myself got up early so we could at least have an hour of peaceful fishing before the noisy tourists turned up. We had no fishing rods so I improvised, attaching hooked lines to a couple of long branches I found. We used sweet corn for bait direct form the tin. The thing with sweetcorn is that it stays on the hook even when the small fish try to nibble it. Only the bigger fish take the whole corn – hook and all! I am sure we could catch lots of the larger fish if we use smaller hooks.

Despite the hooks being a little too large we did manage to catch a couple of decent sized fish. For Dani they were huge as they more than filled his hands. The fish were barbel (barbo). Also in the river is the bordallo (a type of chub local to these parts) and boga (straight mouthed nase). The tiny “minnows” I have since discovered are called pejerrey (sand smelt).

All in all I think it was a great first fishing trip. Dani certainly thought so. Just look at his proud face here with one of his fish.

Júzcar – The Blue Village

Another day and another trip. This time to a village two valleys away. Júzcar. In an area dotted with the famous pueblos blancos (white villages) there is one that stands out. The reason is that they have painted the town blue. Literally. All houses and buildings were painted blue back in 2011 when the first Smurfs movie (Pitufos in Spanish) was released. The village was chosen by Sony Pictures for the world premiere of the movie.

Not only that but they built large mushroom (Smurf houses) and adorned the village with large paintings of the characters, souvenir shops and Smurf related play areas. They did a good job too. As a result the village gained some level of fame and became a bit of a tourist trap and the place was marketed as the world’s first Smurf village. Life-size at least.

Then just as tourism was rapidly rising the film company decided to pull the official plug and told the townhall that they could not use the Smurf images. All quite odd as this place is out of the way to say the least and if anything the village should be charging the copyright/trademark holders for using the whole village as one huge advert for their product. It was clearly a win-win situation but the film company decided otherwise. The world really is one odd place. And this village is definitely part of that.

Despite Sony offering to cover the cost of repainting the town white the villagers voted to keep the buildings blue (mainly due to the huge increase in tourists) and all that remains of those halcyon days of Hollywood collaboration is the plaque on the wall of the church (also painted blue of course) plus a couple of large Smurf statues. They still prefer to stand out from the crowd and call themselves the Pueblo Azul (Blue Village). Not quite as good as ‘the Smurf Village’ but still a curious place to visit.

A New Image…

Fortunately, the village is now gaining some attention for its local winemaking. It has recently attracted more attention from Hollywood in the shape of Antonio Banderas and a few of his film industry pals who visited the wine making factory (bodega) which now advertises itself as a Wine, Bed & Breakfast establishment. The site was the former Fábrica de Hojalata (tin factory); the first factory in Spain.

Back to School

Tomorrow is the first day back to school. Dani’s third year of full time school. I have not quite finished writing about his summer holidays. How time flies…