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.

Converted?

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….

More Bits and Pieces

Lego and Star Wars

The Lego collection just gets larger. It is past the point of no return now anyway. The boy loves it and why not? It is still probably the best toy out there. His mum says things like “Stop buying him Lego he has too much”. Since when was there such a thing as too much Lego?

There are two sets of Lego characters vying for top spot in our house. The Marvel super-heroes and the Star Wars mob. Right now it seems Darth Vader and his pals are out in front. I seem to recall reading of how the Star Wars franchise more or less saved Lego from certain collapse. Not sure if it was really that bad but the introduction of the Star Wars models certainly was a tuning point for the plastic brick company.

Then of course Star Wars was bought out by Disney. Then they bought the Marvel franchise – another great Lego set seller. Lego also happen to do a great range of classic Disney (cartoon) sets. It got me thinking. I wonder how long it is before Disney just buy Lego. When you read about that just remember where you heard it first. Hardly insider trading though is it? Almost inevitable.

Visit from Mexico.

A couple of weeks ago Dani had a surprise visit from his Godparents (padrinos) Fersie and Andrés. They had flown over from Mexico for a quick trip to Europe taking in Madrid (as well as London and Paris). It was only a quick visit but Dani thought it was great. It just reminds me that we need to plan a visit to Mexico to see his family out there. He has baby cousins there none of us have met yet.

The (not so) Incredible Hulk.

Yet again the Kiss singer surprised me. I was reading something the other day when I heard Dani singing one of the more well known Kiss hits.

I was made for loving you baby. You were made for loving me.”

Then a sudden crash, bang, wallop. Then came the little voice.

“Dad.”
“What?”
“Paul Stanley just battered the Hulk.”
“What? How did that happen?”
“He was singing to him and when he relaxed he started changing back into Bruce Banner. Then he battered him”.

Classic child’s logic on how to beat the odds. The evidence was there for all to see. The Lego version of Paul Stanley had yet again punched above his weight. The Hulk toy was about 6 times bigger and far more menacing. But clearly that counts for nothing if your opponent has a wealth of daft rock songs in their armoury.

Spoke too soon…

When I wrote about how efficient Gatwick airport is I should have known better… It’s called tempting fate. The next time I flew from there I was delayed. I have to say however that it was the airline and not the airport. For some reason Easyjet seem to get it wrong all too often these days. I can’t quite understand why or how? They hardly ever depart on schedule and their airport based staff do not seem able to handle things very well. Of course I am really only talking about Madrid and Gatwick as these are my start and end points these days. Mind you they still have a long way to go though before I would choose Ryanair.

 

Update – This Crazy Game of Football

Weighing up the cost…

When the price of a ticket is at least €200 and none of the teams is one you support it is just not worth it.

Add to that the fact that out of two squads of players I only know of one player. A certain Carlos Tevez, who has played for several European football clubs and now plies his trade at Boca Juniors. And as it turned out he never even made the starting line-up! I do not follow football much these days, but it turns out that Dani’s auntie Natalia – who does follow it – also did not know any of the other players. In the end there were a couple of other players who came on as substitutes had played in Spain. I only half knew them.

We tried. We went to the stadium a few hours before the game and witnessed some of the build-up. The atmosphere would be tremendous. That was a certainty. Argentinian fans are equally famous for that. They were always going to create an atmosphere the likes of which the Bernabéu has (quite possibly) never seen.

Mega Clásico

They usually refer to this fixture El Super Clásico. – presumably the term El Clásico not being enough. That is for the league meetings between these two teams. This one however had been deemed far too important. La Copa Libertadores at stake. This one has been called El Mega Clásico!

Before we left the area we had a drink in a bar opposite the stadium. It was amazing to see fans of both teams drinking beer in the same place. I am sure that would never happen in Buenos Aires. I even heard a River fan wishing some Boca lads good luck.

We did buy Dani a souvenir scarf. He didn’t seem too concerned about the game. Thankfully he is still too young. All that will come later.

River Win, but so does Madrid

The final score was 3-1 to River. A decent game that was decided in extra time. It was a great victory for the club but there was another winner. Madrid had managed to pull this thing off. At relatively short notice. If there was a FIFA World Cup (mundial) to be held at short notice then Spain could just be the place to do it thanks to this effort. And who knows? The next World Cup is due to be in Qatar in 2022. A lot has been said about the chances of that not happening…. I wonder; do the power players in Spanish football know something we don’t?…

One more thing about the game. Dani correctly predicted the winners. He is bloody good at that. I need to start placing bets on his forecasts.

No Trouble. Yet.

Up to the game all was fine. If anything is going to happen it will be after the game when one side has lost. The other set of fans will be celebrating. That may be late into the night and early hours. As I left for the airport first thing this morning there was no news of trouble. Which has to be seen as a minor miracle.

It has been said that Argentinian football is like its politics. Chaotic. While the fans at last night’s match would have been surprised to share the stadium with the opposition supporters they would have also been confused at not being caged in. Mind you that is as much for the protection of the referees in Argentina as it is about hooliganism… An interesting weekend.

Football Fiasco

Attention all football fans.

Well; and non-football fans. Indeed, everyone!

Here is a tale so incredible I would not believe it myself if I hadn’t just witnessed the reality of the build-up.

Tomorrow (Sunday 9th December) we may go and watch the South American version of the European Champions League football cup final. The Copa Libertadores de América (Liberators Cup). We are not jumping on an aeroplane having just won the lottery.

No: The game will be played just down the road – from Dani’s school actually – in the Santiago Bernabéu stadium in Madrid. We were there walking around outside of the stadium today and the South American fans were already in evidence.

Copa Libertadores

For the first time in the cup’s history the two biggest teams in Argentina (both in Buenos Aires in fact) Boca Juniors and River made the final. The final is played over two legs, one game at the stadium of each finalist. A few weeks ago, I watched the first game played at Boca Juniors stadium La Bonbonera. It was live on Spanish TV and the game ended in a 2-2 draw. Being effectively a local derby between teams whose fans quite literally hate each other there were no “away” fans allowed. The same was to be true in the return game a week later. However, the River fans had other ideas. With no Boca fans to attack the River hooligans decided to launch a full-scale assault on the Boca team bus. Several players were injured. Enough to cancel the game. A few weeks later, unable to rearrange the match, it has been moved to Madrid.

This is the South American football club cup final! Why couldn’t they find a suitable location in that continent you may wonder? Well; anywhere in Argentina would attract both sets of fans – and other club’s hooligans no doubt. Brazil? You must be joking. The Brazilian’s and Argentinians hate each other when it comes to football. There would surely be serious trouble. And so Real Madrid’s stadium was chosen to host the final. With the first leg ending in a draw this is now in a fact a one-off final.

Crazy Idea?

Who thought that was a good idea? Who thinks the weekend will pass without some violence? Myself and Dani’s mum have both been to football matches in the stadiums of Boca and River. We know how volatile it is.

Admittedly, most of the hooligans from both clubs will not be able to afford the trip to Spain for this football match. But there will several thousand supporters for sure. An estimated six thousand have flown in in the past two days. Come to think about it, who would deal with any violence on board the aeroplanes? Maybe they are travelling on separate aircraft? Crazy.

Like all South American countries Argentina is well represented in Spain. There are estimated to be more than72 thousand Argentinians living in Spain. You can bet the real number is higher. They are expecting 50 thousand fans in total at the game. Another figure worth a mention is the four thousand police that will be on duty in and around the stadium tomorrow.

Will we go? Will there be trouble? Update tomorrow….

Hats off to Gatwick

Airports can be Run Properly

Since I have been working in Kent my airport to Madrid has been Gatwick airport. I have travelled through so many airports that I hesitate to say it is a joy. But compared to my normal airports of choice (Liverpool or Manchester) I have to say that Gatwick airport is somewhat of a pleasant surprise. The horrible experience of getting through security at.  Manchester and the pathetic arrival at Liverpool mean that both of those airports easily kill that (almost) mythical “joy of travel”.

Gatwick is refreshingly different. They have an efficient security system and friendly, competent security staff. I am sure it can get quite hectic during summer months but the evidence I have seen first hand suggest that even then they will be able to cope.

I have been meaning to complement them for a while and finally this is it. This is how travelling via an airport should be. Well done Gatwick airport.

First Visit to see Santa

This weekend Dani visited his nana and also met up with Santa for the first time in the UK. We went with his little cousin. Stanley is now a chatty three-year-old and he made no attempt to hide his Christmas wish-list. Dani was first to sit down next to Santa Claus. When Santa asked what he wanted for Christmas Stanley dived straight in. “A Thomas train” he shouted.

Santa did his best not to get side-tracked and offered Dani a second chance. He thought for a short time and said, “A train. But not Thomas”. He thinks that Thomas the tank engine stuff is for babies now. How quickly he has moved on. It doesn’t seem five minutes since he was a Thomas nut himself.

Next visit to see his nana will be for Christmas. His first in the UK. He will enjoy it.

11oz Burger!

On a completely different subject…. I have just eaten an 11 ounce (oz) burger topped with pulled pork and cheese. So effectively a 12oz burger. That is three Burger King (?) quarter pounders! It was a struggle but I managed it.

Now I need to rest. This working away is quite hard sometimes…