Schools Out! – Again

Today was the last day of Dani’s second year of full time school. I expected it would be easier to wake him this morning; but it wasn’t. It took me nearly fifteen minutes. In the end it was the sound of Ben 10 on the iPad that did it. Bleary-eyed and still half asleep he managed to drag himself into the living room to watch one of his favourite TV shows. The long summer holidays begin today. Twelve weeks off school!

Long Hot Summer…

There is a very good reason that Spanish schools have such a long summer break. It is way too hot already. The temperatures soared to 38 degrees today. The poor kids are exhausted. Unlike in the UK – where schools have a week off in the middle of each term (trimester) – the schools here go right through. From September to the Christmas holidays and then January to the Easter holidays. In the final term they work through to whatever date in June the particular school chooses. Saving the weeks for summer.

Just as well. Picking him up in the afternoon heat is difficult enough. The kids in Dani’s class will be both excited and tired today. They had a birthday party yesterday straight after school that lasted to 8pm. Probably another reason he was so dog-tired this morning. And boy; he really was tired. When I picked him up from school he fell asleep before getting home and I had to carry him. Still, he has all that time to recover before his next school run.

A Problem for the Parents…

The problem for parents at this time of the year is what to do with the children. Of course, most people here take the majority of August off work to go on a long summer holiday with their families. But that still leaves July and the end of June. Many parents enrol their kids in some kind of summer camp or leave them with grandparents for part of the long vacation.

This year I hope to be able to spend most if not all of the summer with my boy. Tomorrow, Dani’s nanna and cousin are coming over and we will have a week’s holiday with them. Then the following week I will take him over to the UK for a week.

August Options…

After that however the plans are a little sketchy. He may spend a week in Marbella at the apartment of his Spanish grandmother. Another week or more in a small village in the mountains just south of Ronda where his abuelo (grandfather) grew up. A little place called Benadalid.

Despite being quite remote by modern day standards there is plenty to do in and around Benadalid in August. There are many other villages dotted around the mountain range to explore. There is even a river within a 15 minute drive, deep in the valley, that never runs dry even in the height of summer. You can even swim in the river which is very much needed in order to cool down. I might even introduce him to a spot of fishing in that river. As if that wasn’t enough, the coast is about an hour’s drive away so the odd day at the beach is also an option. Then there is the village Feria which takes place at the end of August. Celebrations and activities last for over a week.

Let the fun begin…

Not bad options for a little boy eh? His dad had to make do with a week in a Welsh seaside resort either in a caravan or camp chalet. Not that we didn’t enjoy those holidays. That is the best thing about being a kid. Any holiday is great. I still have fond memories of the holidays when I was very young.

So, all in all, I am sure we will find plenty to occupy an active and inquisitive boy before he starts his third school year. The fun begins tomorrow.

A Spooky Resemblence

Growing kids changing taste in TV shows.

PJ Masks and similar TV shows have made way for Ben 10. A cartoon which was first on TV from 2005 to 2008. Ten years ago! I never really saw it – I had no reason to – but I had heard of it. I will not go into the story but you can look it up online.

The thing that struck me was how transfixed Dani becomes when he watches an episode (or two). It certainly works on kids his age. He loves it.

Who does that character remind me of?

Now for anyone who knows British TV personalities this may come as a bit of a shock It may even seem funny. One of the recurring villains in Ben 10 is a certain Dr. Animo. When I first saw him I immediately thought I had seen him before. It was that classic déjà vu thing. Now where had I seen him?

Then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. Dr Animo must have been modelled on Jimmy Savile. A former “star” of the BBC. Probably their highest paid celebrity for decades back in the 1970s and still all the way up to about the 1990s. Since his death in 2011 the truth about Savile came to light. And it was not nice. Worse still his dark past was hidden by certain people at the BBC. I will not go into the horrible details here but for those reading who are not from the UK it should be easy enough to find online. For those in the UK you will already know.

Judge for yourself…

Does anyone else see the resemblance between Dr. Animo and the disgusting animal that was Jimmy Savile?

  

 

Dr. Animo assaulting a child…
Savile doing the same…

My old dad saw through him…

Fair play to Dani’s grandad – my dad – who passed before Dani was born. He always said there was something wrong with “that big-headed weirdo” (he actually called him worse than that). He hated the sight of him and generally refused to watch him on TV – which back in the day was quite difficult because Savile seemed to be on TV all the time. He even made a habit of saying that all Savile’s “charity work” was a smoke-screen. A mask for whatever else he was up to. Well dad: You were right. So right!

Another sad thing is that in death, Savile escaped justice. No doubt there are still plenty still alive at the BBC who knew all about his evil doing and covered it up. Shouldn’t they be held accountable in some way? I think so; but as far as I know nobody has been.

There have been plenty of Savile jokes – in that typical British sick sense of humour – so I suppose this Dr. Animo resemblance is just another.

Those Bloody Spanish Banks – Again!

Questions:

How on earth did the banking system in Spain survive the supposed global financial crisis of 2008? How the hell does it manage to retain so many branches and staff?

I only wanted to pay the tax for my Spanish car. This is not like the paying of certain other bills as I have written about previously (see here…). This tax could be done any time and any day of the week. I had the paperwork printed off from the internet so what could go wrong?

Let’s see….

The first bank I went into (actually a “Caja” – see below) was my own bank. That is to say; I have an account with them. Sometimes that makes a difference – even in the UK. In this case the paperwork listed 12 banks and Cajas that, in theory, could be used to make the payment. Mine was one of them.

There were four people working in this branch. One dealt with me but seemed to be having problems.

“The bar code does not register.”
“Eh?”
“And manually entering the reference numbers also does not work.”

He tried again. A few times. Or so it seemed. Then he told me I should try another bank. Like the one next door. Ok, I thought. Here we go again.

I went next door. This time there was a queue of one. Me. And it seemed that the person being attended to would be there a long time. Before I knew it there were a few people behind me.

When I finally got the chance to pay in the car tax money the same thing happened. The lady “working” in this bank could hardly be bothered trying a second time before telling me the bad news.

Temperature rising, I left to try another bank.

Fortunately there are loads of these financial institutions along the same stretch of road. Seven within just over 100 metres and all on the same side of the main road. Great eh? The third bank I entered was one of the big two in Spain. This one would work I thought.

I thought wrong. The same result and even less courtesy. I couldn’t get out quick enough.

And another…

Onto the next. Santander no less. They have a large presence in the UK having bought out some old bank or other… They also have a fairly poor reputation in the UK I am told. They are equally as hopeless in Spain. I walked in and straight up to the counter. Then the lady the other side pointed me in the direction of a machine. It was one of those that prints out numbers to wait to be called. What do you call those things?

“Really?? You have got to be kidding!” I said. “There is nobody else here (for feck sake)!”

I looked at the machine then the lady. Then the door, which I moved towards and out. I was not even going to give her the pleasure of telling me the barcode and numbers do not work.

Onto number 5…

I was about to give up and get another paying-in paper or at least check the numbers etc. on line. But as I am now telling my son to keep trying and remembering that old English adage “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again” I thought I would give it one more go. There were three other banks to choose from. I chose the one at the end of the line.

Success

Fifth time lucky. Just like all the other banks there was hardly any activity. Four people visible and only one working. That was the man seeing to my payment. Initially he said the same as all the other but he persisted. He deserves great credit for that. And it paid off. After a few attempts it seemed to all work and he took my money and gave me the official receipt.

The bank? It was none other than Caixa (pronounced Ky-sher – well, more or less). That well-known Catalan bank. Proving, at least in one way, why the Catalans think they can go it alone with independence. At least their banking system would work better than the rest of Spain’s. I have to agree. Fair play to Caixa bank. They deserve a lot of credit for that.

Footnote:
Spanish Cajas are similar to banks but different. I am not exactly sure how or why, but similar to the way Building Societies differ from banks in the UK. Following the ‘global financial crisis’ most Cajas either converted into banks (After which they miraculously carried on as if nothing had happened!?) and only two survived in their original format. Apparently many of the Cajas had been colluding with regional governments and had gotten up to all sorts of unscrupulous financial dealings. Well; T.I.S. (This is Spain!)

Spanish Politics Rocked

Political Merry-go-round.

Almost two years ago the then PSOE leader Pedro Sanchez failed to defeat the useless Rajoy and his Partido (Un)Popular in the Spanish general election. A few months later he resigned. Back in October 2016 I wrote: “The well-groomed Pedro Sanchez – he looks more like a film star than a politician – was forced to resign as more than half of the party’s executive committee had already resigned. So Sanchez, who once seemed destined for stardom, fell on his sword.”

Wow what has just happened? Returning from the political wilderness Sanchez has just become Prime Minister. Capitalising on the chaos surrounding Partido Popular officials. This happened after I wrote the piece below but before I had chance to post it. Here it is anyway…

Spanish politics has been rocked this past two weeks. And we are not talking AC/DC or Led Zeppelin. Not even the Casbah! This past week or two the main news story has been the sentencing of some of the ruling party’s top officials. The main protagonist is one Luis Barcenas who was the treasurer of the Popular Party (PP) from 1990 to 2009. He was accused of having received the usual pots full of money as kickbacks from companies seeking to receive large government contracts.

Qué Cara Tiene  (what cheek this man has)

Incredibly he denied any wrong doing even though he tried to implicate the present PM Rajoy by saying that he gave him numerous payments of cash – i.e. loads of money! So, let’s see. “Not guilty your honour. But I did give the Prime Minister loads of dodgy cash to play with. Of course, I have no idea where that cash came from.” It’s great stuff isn’t it?

Remarkably the prosecution rested on handwritten documents of payments – albeit slightly coded – which dated between 1990 and 2008. Didn’t any of these people ever see the movies about Al Capone and how his handwritten accounts got him jailed for tax evasion? You would think it is a very basic and naive mistake. Right? Wrong! These people get away with it for so long they think they are invincible. They start to believe their own lies.

National newspaper El Pais broke the story back in January and even printed the papers in question. I have been wanting to write about it ever since.

Repeat Offender?

As if all this is not crazy enough, and to prove yet again that life is indeed stranger than fiction, this Barcenas bloke seems to be a repeat offender. He used to be a senator and had to step down from that position in 2009/10 because he was implicated in a separate corruption case. That one involved some 48 million Euros being stashed in a Swiss bank. You really could not make this shit up. Some people never learn do they?

You would like to think that the party leaders who are actually in government (rather than just party officials) are not stupid enough to get wrapped up in such illegal actions. That they had nothing to do with it. Maybe. We may never know for sure. But meantime the other parties are trying to capitalise on the political scandal and oust the Prime Minister. Not that they are squeaky clean. They certainly are not. This kind of thing knows no party boundaries in most countries.

Endemic in Spain…

But this is Spain. Here, it is endemic and almost acceptable at some levels. This is a country where a surprisingly large number of local small-town mayors regularly go to jail for such crimes. Not only that: They come out of jail and get voted back into their cushy positions by the people. Then they probably continue fiddling the figures and taking brown envelopes stuffed with cash from some local property developers. Some have even been found with thousands of Euros stuffed into their mattresses.

Really! I have no fear of any libel action here because this is totally common knowledge in all of Spain. Everyone knows it goes on and for the most part the people don’t give a stuff. Well I suppose they do but they are so used to it and so used to those involved getting away with it (in many cases) that they just don’t care. Are things about to change?

Is the message getting through?

Great message to the children of Spain eh? Basically, it seems to be; do it but just don’t get caught. I guess not keeping records of all the transactions is a good place to start. Eh kids? Well maybe things are changing…. In all 29 officials and businessmen have been found guilty.

This time however the punishments do fit the crimes. Barcenas received a 33 year jail term while one of his main accomplices, businessman Francisco Correa, was sentenced to 51 years in prison. Yes, I know. Odd numbers aren’t they? Don’t ask me because I have no idea.

Is the UK any different? I seriously doubt it. We either do not get to hear about the corruption or – these days at least – they just blame it all on the Russians.

All in all yet another example of how our leaders are setting a great example for the kids. Not!

Korea; Over and Out!

The main point of this post is to raise some serious questions. What do we tell our children to prepare them for the world of work? Is it even something parents should be solely responsible for? I doubt schools can prepare them for the kind of people they will meet in the big bad world. Therefore it has to be mainly down to the parents. While bullying is rightly frowned upon in schools this does not prepare young adults for the real thing.

Persona Non Grata?

I returned from Korea with the job up and running. At least from my side of things.

Oddly, my leaving the job site at this time did not go down well with the company I was working for. It seems getting the job done on time (or sooner as it was in this case) is not what some people want.

They preferred I stayed there – doing little or nothing – while the client was willing to pay for my time. Needless to say; the project “manager” was making more money than I was out of such a deal. Yet nothing more was offered to tempt me to stay longer. It was all assumed that I would just agree.

It’s funny how these people can quickly drop the nice guy act as soon as you do not conform to their way of thinking. What are we to teach our kids about such people? Because you can be sure they are everywhere. Permeating every walk of life and involved somehow wherever you may work. All I can suggest is to make my boy aware that these fools are out there. It is a sad fact of life and, as in this particular case, it can leave a bitter taste in the mouth when you are somehow made out to be the villain.

I have seen this kind of thing too many times, so in some ways it is like water off a duck’s back to an old dad like me. It is quite another matter for a recent school leaver or someone with far less experience than myself. Sadly, such people are targets for this kind of workplace bully.

Here’s an interesting fact…

Unfortunately (if that is even the correct word), I am old enough to remember when many projects were done on time and on budget. That no longer happens and I defy anyone to prove otherwise. The interesting thing is that those were the days before personal computers, emails and mobile phones. So much for the modern world of communication eh?

Long Haul…

I flew back via Hong Kong with a 5 hour wait for my next flight. I was in two minds whether or not to go not the city. Partly put off by the seething mass of humanity that awaited I decided to take the train into the centre of Hong Kong.  I was pleasantly surprised. It was far less crowded than I imagined and things were far worse when I returned to the airport. It was manic.

It’s odd how things turn out isn’t it? I twice had the chance of working on big projects in Hong Kong way back in the 1990s spanning the handover of the former British colony to China. One was on the then new (Chek Lap Kok) airport and the other on the expansion of the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) system. For various reasons I turned down both opportunities. I was now suddenly experiencing both.

Only having a short time, I maximised it by going up the tallest building in Hong Kong, the International Commerce Centre in Kowloon. The building offers the best views of the town. The city was big but not as big as I had thought. Still, nothing to get me too excited and no obvious reason for me to want to go back there for an extended stay. It was however far more interesting than stopping at the airport.

In summary…

So: A short visit to Hong Kong aside what can I tell my son about my work in Korea. Sure, I can explain the immense scale of the ship-building operations there. But what about work in general? And more specifically the typical people who “boss” the jobs? Would I work for these people again?

I have always maintained that the jobs are always very simple. Really! The problems are always the politics and the people running the projects. Then I recall that well known saying: “Never say never”. Time will tell…

School Experience Days

Korea, Over and Out!

Last week I returned from Korea with the job up and running. At least from my side of things. Despite this I have become persona non grata with the company that employed me. My “crime”? Getting the job done ahead of schedule it seems. More on this later however…

One reason I wanted to get back to the UK is that I had (kind of) planned to spend the week in a local school. It was, dare I say it; educational.

Career Changer

I have been looking at the possibility of a complete career change and the chosen path could not be more different from what I have been used to for the past 30 odd years. Teaching.

I can still recall how certain topics of my ‘O’ Level Physics course had inspired me to go into engineering. Surely, I thought, I could inspire kids to follow a similar path after their schooling?

There are also selfish reasons of course – aren’t there always? If I become a teacher it means that I can have the same holidays as Dani. It means I could even try for a job in one of the so called “international schools” in Madrid which all teach through the medium of English. (Apparently, they prefer someone with a British teaching qualification – Post Graduate Certificate of Education or PGCE. That remains to be seen.)

The long path to Teaching begins here…

It is a complicated process and there are many hurdles to cross. For me the first one was completing the “school experience days”. You need to complete 10 days in school(s) observing – and when possible assisting – the science classes. Finding out if this is something you genuinely believe you can do. It is compulsory and the colleges will not allow you to apply for the one year teacher training course (PGCE) unless you have completed these experience days. The theory being (I guess) that if this is really not for you then after two or three such days you will probably know it. You will probably not bother completing the rest of the required days. On the other hand, if you still think it is the right career for you then you will happily complete the rest of your experience days and move on with your application.

This works both ways. First of all, it should tell a person who is honest with themselves whether or not this is something that they really want. It also means that the colleges are not wasting valuable time and resource (i.e. money) on a person who is not 100% sure they can or even want to do it.  After that first week of school I can tell you that I saw nothing to put me off. I still think I can do it and I still want to do it.

What’s in a Name?

I often hear it said how children today grow up or mature faster than when we were in school. How much more aware they are at an earlier age etc… Well; if ever there was an example of how kids today are definitely slower than when I was in school it is this little tale…

I soon discovered that within the school database each child is registered not only with their given name but also with their preferred name. This means they can be called whatever they want. Incredible right? Even more incredible is that the school (i.e. the teachers) are obliged to call them by that name. Seriously! They have to use that ‘preferred’ name.

There were only a few examples of this that I came across. A few preferring to be called what seemed more like a nickname or alternative (real?) name. There was also one gender identity related name change – something like a boy called Robert preferring to be known as Natasha (not the real names).

I will not name the school but it hardly matters. It is my understanding that this is now official policy in all state run schools in the UK. I could not believe how this system has not been totally abused by the kids. Where were these smart-arse street-wise kids? Where are the jokers? The class clowns? Have they really become so dumbed down?

Oh what fun WE would have had….

If you are of a certain age then this will be easy to understand. Cast your mind back to school. Imagine the headmaster announcing in morning assembly (the usual start to every day back then) that pupils can now be referred to by their chosen and preferred names.

Myself and everyone I hung out with would have looked at each other with eyes widening. Grins growing into huge smiles until we could barely stifle the laughter. And then, after assembly, the fun would really begin….

“Right. I am going to be Ozzy Osborne”
“I will be Floyd. Pink Floyd”
“OK. I will be Johnny Rotten.”

“I ‘m Batman and you can be Robin.”

“I can’t decide if I want to be Bruce Lee or Jimi Hendrix.”
“Steve is already gonna be Hendrix so you will have to be Bruce Lee.”
“OK.”

“You can be Cassius Clay. But if you want to change your name again later to something like Muhammad Ali then that’s fine. And there will be nothing to stop you doing that cos it’s already been done.”

“Excuse me Sir. I am Darth Vader and this is my friend Chewbacca.” (Laughter)

The possibilities are endless. The scope for schoolboy pranks enormous. A school kid’s dream. We would have got it immediately. And yet, right here, right now, they just don’t seem to be able to see it. It’s right there in front of their noses. An ideal opportunity to completely take the piss and they are not doing it. “Why?” you may ask. Are they really that well behaved now? Clearly this is not the case from some of the other things I heard last week.

No: I honestly believe it is because they are so used to being pandered to like this. It is all part of the ‘new normal’ for these kids. They have come to expect this sort of thing too easily and in so doing they now more or less ignore it. It is as if they have been so over indulged that it has killed part of their sense of fun. That mischievous gene – once present in most school kids – is on the verge of extinction. That is only my take on it; but whatever the reason, it isn’t good.

A Typical Day in Class?

“Ziggy Stardust! What are you doing?”
“Sir. Bob Marley and Tina Turner are throwing things at me.”

Then – and this has to be the best one – a blonde girl (probably Marilyn Monroe) enters class with a message from the Head.

“Sir. The Headmaster wants to see Spartacus.”

Then, right on cue…

“I’m Spartacus.”
“I’m Spartacus.”
“No. I’m Spartacus.”

And so on…

That little social experiment would not have lasted a single day.

Candaleda

First Proper Bike

The weekend before flying out to Korea we stayed at the house owned by Dani’s abuelos (grandparents). On the way we stopped at one of those large supermarket sports stores Decathlon to buy his first proper bike. Not long after arriving he was keen to get pedalling. We found a quiet area for him to try out his new mode of transport where the road was just like a small circuit. Perfect. He took to it immediately.

Candaleda is not very famous in Spain. In the UK most people will not have heard of it. Despite this there is one reason that some in the UK will know about the town.

British Connection…

Its biggest claim to fame in the UK is that one of the main roads leading in to the town is named after a former Prime Minister of Great Britain. A certain John Major. Yes there is street called Avenida de John Major!

At the time he was arguably the worst elected Prime Minister ever. He has since dropped to 4th worst ever due to the three subsequent PMs since his time in Government. How on earth did this come about you may be wondering?

Well it is because of a man called Tristan Garel-Jones. A close friend and former colleague of Major who owns a house near the town. Major made regular visits to the town and the mayor obviously thought this was great publicity for the relatively little known place. Amazingly in his (or her) wisdom the town council decided to name a street after the former PM.

Starman and another Major…

Lately Dani can be heard singing to himself. It happened the weekend in Candaleda.

“There’s a Starman waiting in the sky,
He’d like to come and meet us…bla bla bla… ”

Cleary he doesn’t know the words yet. Then a little later:

“Ground control to Major Tom.
Ground control to Major Tom.”

How many four year olds sing David Bowie I wonder? He did not get it from me although once I hear him singing such songs I naturally join in. Encouraging him and teaching him the lyrics. If I know them.

I think it will be a while still before I can introduce him to the likes of Hawkwind, Led Zeppelin ….

Meanwhile…

I am packing my bags to leave Korea. More anon…

Korean Unity?

And so back to Korea….

I flew back to the Korean peninsula at an incredibly historic time. The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has become the first leader of his country to visit the south in over 65 years. Along with his wife Ri Sol Ju, North Korean leader Kim has been spending a lot of time with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife Kim Jung-sook (I am not making these names up. Really.). The two leaders have even been seen holding hands listening to some trashy K-pop music. Scenes almost unthinkable only a few months ago.

While the war between north and south was never officially declared over it seems that we may now be on the brink of that huge step. The North has even reset their clocks to line up with the South – who incidentally do not alter their clocks like we do in the UK/Spain. That means this time around I am only 8 hours ahead of the UK and 7 ahead of Spain.

Odd Coincidences…

On my first visit to Korea the President of the USA Donald Trump was in the country. Much sabre rattling followed with Trump and Kim trying to show who was the toughest. Well, all that seems to have been a charade now. Time will tell of course. Suffice to say that President Trump is not getting any credit from the main stream media (in the UK at least) for these historic events. Despite his firm stance, visible support of his allies in South Korea and Japan; plus of course his visit to China (almost immediately after he was elected). No surprises though. Heaven forbid the media suggest that he may have had a hand in any of this.

My second visit coincided with the winter Olympics in South Korea where the two countries put out a joint North/South team.

This visit I will be here with North Korea’s leader. Or at least just after; and who knows?….

And even more…

Since I arrived the powers that be have organised a meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Supposedly set for Singapore. An even bigger surprise was the release of U.S. prisoners form North Korea. Is this the first step to a unified Korea? If it is the end result will be a long way off.

The North Koreans have even synchronised their clocks with the South. Who knew they were ever an hour different? Possibly the North wanted to be in synch with their one ally in Beijing. It’s a little like Spain. Why is Spain an hour ahead of UK time. The Greenwich meridian passes through part of Spain and Portugal and the Canary Islands are on UK time. Admittedly that pat of Spain is Catalunya. Maybe the Catalans could do the opposite of North Korea and un-synch their clocks with the rest of Spain to follow Greenwich Mean Time. Now there’s a thought…

New Book

Another little coincidence: I bought a new book to read on the long journey and while over in the far east. It is “The Korean War” by Bruce Cumings. It is almost a forgotten war for us in the West due in no small part being over-shadowed by the war in Vietnam just over a decade later. I shall be reading it with one eye on the current news. And naturally there will be a quick review in a future post.

This is NOT Engineering…

I had only been here a few days when disaster struck. The sole of one of my site safety boots came off. It was raining heavily as well. How typical!

Fortunately I was able to make a quick repair using some blue tape I found on the ship. Hardly good engineering eh? Still, it did the job until I made it back to the support centre where I managed to acquire a set of partly worn boots that fitted perfectly. They are mine now.     

Back to Korea

UK and Madrid. In Limbo.

After a week of hanging around in the UK waiting for news of another imminent trip to Korea I decided to take the bull by the horns. I flew to Madrid so that I could spentd a few days with Dani while waiting for confirmation of the next work assignment.

As a small surprise I bought a small Lego set featuring D.C. Comics characters Nightwing and Batman’s nemesis The Joker.

“Right” I said. “You already have Batman so now you have The Joker. Plus, this Nightwing dude”

“Did you bring me anything else?” came the almost immediate response.

Once kids get a taste for you bringing so called surprise presents there is no end to it. Unfortunately, the cat is out of the bag. Pandora’s box has been opened. The dam has burst. (Anyone know any similarly appropriate sayings?)

As most people know there are hundreds if not thousands of Lego characters and a four-year-old can never have too many. The way they are churning out the superhero and Star Wars films that number is only going to grow. Exponentially. This is what happens when you expose them to something that you yourself like and show an interest in. But it is great fun.

Banana Splits…

Speaking of Great Fun…. We intended watching one of his favourite DVDs at the moment (Small Soldiers) but could not find the disc. Then I saw the Banana Splits complete season 1 DVD. I had bought it some time ago when he was too small to appreciate it. Not any more I am glad to say. He is just the right age to be captivated by that late 1960s show with cartoons and those four lunatics in animal suits. Older readers will know exactly what I mean. For everyone else please check it out on Youtube. Nuts!

More on the Banana Splits later. I feel an in depth report coming on….

More Tears…

I braced myself for more tears from my little boy. The one thing that will console me (if not him) is that I intend to make this my last trip so far away.

As it was he was not so bad this time. I am not sure that is such a good thing but it did make it slightly easier for me. Finally after a few days back on the East Asian peninsula I have time to write about it.

Before I left we spent a weekend in the small town of Candeleda about 200km from the centre of Madrid in the province of Ávila. Dani’s abuelo (Spanish granddad – my dad passed away before Dani was born) has a lovely little house there with a decent sized garden. I also bought him his new bike which he loves. More on that weekend to follow….

All Birthdays in Korea…

Just as I predicted in a previous post from Korea it is now certain that I will spend my own birthday there. Dani’s birthday was during my first trip. His mum’s during my second trip. Now my 54th birthday will slip by during a third trip to the far east ship-builders.

Bicycles. No Stabilisers Required – Ever!

About 10 months ago I wrote a post about buying Dani’s first bicycle. A huge landmark in any child’s life and equally emotional for the child’s dad I might add.

It really didn’t take long for him to get the hang of his “training bike” and much to my surprise he was zipping along fairly rapidly after only a few attempts. After only a few visits to the park he was confidently pushing himself up to a suitable speed and lifting his feet while maintaining balance. Even managing to steer around some slower kids on stabiliser supported bikes.

Fast forward to last weekend…

He has decided it was time for a proper bicycle. Pedals and all… And he has spotted the one that he wants.

To prove that he was ready he decided to showcase his cycling skills. Using his cousin Susana’s pink-ish bike he promptly demonstrated that he now has all the necessary skill and balance to ride a normal bicycle – see video.

Sceptical? Me?

Now as regular readers will be aware, as an old dad, I reserve the right to be sceptical of any new fangled ideas when it comes to raising kids. “It wasn’t like that when I was a lad” – well actually you are very unlikely to hear me say that phrase but you can surely put yourself in my shoes for a moment. This scepticism extends to children’s toys and even their bicycles.

Hardly a new idea I know. I believe the scoot-along, pedal-free training bikes have been around for some 20 years now. Still it was new to me because of course I had learnt to ride a bicycle the old fashioned way. Tricycle followed by bicycle with stabilisers. Then finally my dad removing the stabilisers and being on hand while I wobbled into some form of free cycling.

Dani managed to skip the stabilisers stage with the help of his training bike. Am I proud? Absolutely. Amazed? Yes. And not only by his rapid, and more or less self learning. It is also because my sceptical view of these pedal-less bikes has now been destroyed. And I am glad it has. Once I have bought him a new all bells, whistles and pedals bicycle I will be passing his balance-mastering,  training bike to his little cousin Stan. So hopefully he too can learn to ride  without needing stabilisers.

There is a bit of a down-side to this however. I feel as though Dani’s rapidly rising cycling career has deprived me of something every parent surely looks forward to. Holding on to the bicycle seat then releasing it while your son or daughter still thinks you are there holding them upright. Then; Hey Presto! They are riding!

The World Awaits…

There will be no stopping him now.

I can vividly remember how learning to ride a bike opened up a whole new world. First it was riding around the neighbourhood in an out of alleys and over man-made (or should that be child-made) ramps. Venturing further and faster as the size of bicycle increased with age.

Later when I had my first adult sized bicycle it meant freedom. Freedom to roam miles during those long summer holidays looking for fishing spots. Stretches of river or any farmland that had a pond that might contain fish. Mobility. Not forgetting a quick getaway if you didn’t have the farmer’s permission.

Oh, those halcyon days of mid-adolescence. Still a long way off for young Daniel. But for a child, being able to ride a bicycle is most definitely the gateway to some of life’s great adventures.

Now to spend some cash.

I have managed to find a great second hand bicycle in the UK for only £40. Forty quid! Bargain. I may need to spend a little more than that in Spain. He has seen one costing €100 and that seems reasonable… Watch this space.