Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Merry and Piper

So, what do you do after you’ve moved country and school and job and home in the last year? When you’ve started to settle into your new home and community, when routines at work are beginning to feel more familiar...when you have a good relationship with your neighbours and when, as a family you are finally beginning to feel at home? Yes, you get a pet!!
We’ve finally made the plunge, we are adding to our family next week. We are putting another boy and girl into the equation and hoping that all will be well. Yes, we are getting not one, but two dogs....we are full of nervous trepidation as to the changes this is going to bring to family life. Two additional responsibilities for us to think about, plan around. Life is busy enough already....
I think my daughter’s managed to telepathically hypnotise us from our-
Yes perhaps we should think about getting a dog
to a –
 Yes, let’s get not just one but two dogs!
We’ve been thinking about it for months and researching breeds and suitability and finally we think we’ve found the perfect solution, Spanish Water Dogs. They are clever, can run (when they’re old enough they will accompany husband on his morning runs), they are good with children and they don’t shed their hair, instead growing long ringletty dreadlocks. They need a hair cut every six months and they look a bit like sheep!!! Even cooler, they can swim. In fact, they have webbed feet...how cool is that? They are used for herding in Spain but we'll just be using them for herding the children...

We were advised by a number of friends to get two dogs, as we are all out of the house for three days of the week and the theory is that the dogs will keep each other company and play....as opposed to a lonely dog on its own....so they are on their way. Apparently the girl is the boss, she is going to be called Piper and the boy is going to be called Merry. We are very excited and looking forward to meeting them next Wednesday....Let’s hope they don’t lead us a merry dance...what an adventure

Friday, June 10, 2011

Children´s birthday parties....Spanish style

How do Spanish birthday parties differ from British ones?
The best advice I ever read about children's parties was this: the number of children invited to a party should normally reflect the child´s age. So, for a 5 year old, it is appropriate to limit the number to 5, and 8 year old, 8 etc etc etc. It´s sage, wonderful advice and I would recommend it to any parent. The problem is that it´s a very difficult rule to follow!!
My daughter is quite happy with numbering 5 friends and she would be quite happy to just invite 6 people to her next party. The only problem is that, this year her class mates have been the most sociable bunch in the world, and, therefore, she has been invited to about 20 parties. It seems churlish if not rude to not reciprocate with our own big party with all class mates invited. The venues for these parties have been pretty predictable, there are two popular venues in Alicante for the under 7s. Both are versions of indoor ball parks, with staff in attendance to monitor loud and noisy kids in big rooms with noisy acoustics. The benefits are clear, plenty of running around space, catered, some organised games, a familiar environment (after the first visit, the routine is pretty easy) a dancing adult in a tiger suit, what more could a girl want?
The difference between this sort of party and the ones we are used to holding in the Uk are many. In the Uk, we´d usually have a small party at home, the parents would usually drop the child off at the house and return for them a couple of hours later. There would be party games, balloons, a cake and singing. We would normally open the gifts later, in the peace and calm of home after the party.
In Spain, there´s a big fanfare over the presents, with gathered parents and children excitedly watching the party boy or girl open the gifts (this came as a big surprise to my daughter who comically wiped away every kiss given to her by her friends and opened her presents with excitement but also an air of polite bemusement as if to say: “Why are you all watching me? They´re just presents...)
The volume levels at any party are normally high, but if you´ve ever been to a Spanish party, you will recognise that noise levels seem decibels higher. The Spanish are energetic, enthusiastic, vigorous and loud. Some Spanish people speak very quickly, particularly if they´re telling you a funny story. The parents like to stick around to socialise...so add all these elements together, throw into that equation a Welsh woman with a limited grasp of Spanish and you have a very interesting party combination! It could be your definition of heaven or hell really!!
My son’s birthday was this week; he was eight, so theoretically 8 friends yes? Well actually no, as with my daughter, this year, our first in Spain, has been a social whirlwind for our son, who was invited to his first party three days into the new school year and has been to too many parties to count since then. He plays after school football on Thursdays and in a sports league on Saturdays. He gets on with the football boys in his class but also likes collecting cards and little toys that boys find so cool, so he has a broad group of friends. He also wanted a football party, so we had to invite at least ten people.
We sat out and wrote the list of friends he would like to go, it numbered 17....most of whom we have met at their own parties or at football. I was about to ask my son to cull a few names when he said: “I’ve invited Charlie because he hasn’t been invited to any other parties this year.”
How could I ask him to cull names after that?
We found and booked a suitable venue (actually my very kind Spanish neighbour did most of the legwork for me), invites were sent. Gifts were purchased and wrapped. I baked the cake and husband decorated it. Party bags were made (with son as helpful assistant) and sweeties wrapped to share with the rest of the class and teachers (another Spanish tradition, to take sweets and cakes to share at school on your birthday.) Balloons were blown up to decorate the house, the venue confirmed and rough numbers given (by this time I had lost track of attendees confirmed or not...)
The day of the party dawned, nice and cool with a minor threat of rain. It did rain a bit but the venue thankfully had a roof. The boys (and two girls) all arrived, with three extra kids in tow (an older brother, a younger brother and a younger sister who all wanted to come to Owain’s party too or could not be left at home...)
Husband was great referee for the hour of football, I tried to play too, it is fun playing football with eight year olds but not when they outplay you so comprehensively that you are mortified by your hopelessness...
My son had a great time, and I think his friends did too. In the chaos of monitoring kids, looking after my daughter (who had become mud splattered and banged her head on a swing within half an hour of arriving), trying to keep track of who wanted hamburgers and who wanted hot dogs, putting presents in a safe place and trying to have a drink, making sure the parents were ok...all my Spanish flew out of my head and I found I could barely make conversation at all....nonetheless, the parents were lovely and sociable and helped with the presents when my son was mobbed by his friends who tried to smother him in parcels...
The cake was a great success, the presents were lovely and thoughtful, the parents were complimentary about how settled my son was at a new school after only a year. The eight year old boys outplayed me at football, called my husband Mr. Green (he is Head of Secondary at their school) and kissed us on both cheeks as they left for home. It was a party that was meant to go from 5.30 to 7.30 (that's what we optimistically said on the invites, liking to stick to British style bedtimes in the Green/ Davies household)...in Spanish style the other parents started leaving at 8ish and we probably saw out the final guests at 8.30
It was a great party, a noisy, chaotic Spanish party. A tiring, expensive party..It was my son’s eighth birthday, it was a good day.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Honesty is the best policy

People make mistakes, often. I work in a school and I encounter mistakes every day, be they minor grammatical, spelling or punctuation. At school we also encounter some of the bigger mistakes;
Kid: “I didn’t punch him, my arm just slipped”
Teacher: “OK and your friend Billy told me that you said this morning you were going to punch him today, whatever happened”
Kid: “I didn’t copy my homework”
Teacher: “Even though you’ve made exactly the same mistakes as your friend? So either you copied or she did?”
Kid: “I didn’t paste my whole essay from the internet”
Teacher: “Even though I just found the entire first paragraph on this website when I googled the first sentence?”
Kid: “Miss, have you marked the homework yet?”
Teacher: “Yes, but I’ve left it at home.”
Kid “You said that last time miss....
We forgive young people mistakes every day because we hope and pray that they will learn a lesson. Teachers lie to kids but I find it more difficult to lie to a class of twenty five 14 year olds who know the value of a good lie and also know me well enough to read my face. Over time, I’ve learned that honesty is often the best policy with kids, even if you don’t like admitting that you haven’t marked their homework...
Honesty is best because we have to set an example for the kids...I would much rather say: “I can’t discuss that with you” or “It would be inappropriate for me to gossip about that with you.” to a student rather than get in some flummox about a juicy piece of gossip that they know. Children may be smaller than us (and increasingly, they are bigger than me) but they are not stupid. They will know, within a few weeks of you teaching them, if you lie, if you’re strict, if you are happy, if you mark the homework, if you expect homework on time. Within a term they will know if you get on with other teachers, if you have a family and how you respond when asked a difficult question!!
I’m a terrible liar most of the time, if asked a direct question I find it very difficult to lie...I go a bit red and probably have a million ‘tells’ to show that I’m lying. I can’t tell a joke well either because I always laugh before the punch line. I would be a crap poker player. I don’t mind, I’m never going to win at poker, that’s my life. I’m destined to tell the truth or look stupid trying to lie and I can’t tell a joke well unless I try really hard...I still enjoy a joke though and honesty is not a bad thing!
The lesson that we hope the kids will learn is that life is hard and the truth can sometimes be a very difficult and bitter pill to swallow. Also, if you’re a bad liar then you will be found out. If anyone saw what you did, you’ll be found out, if anyone heard what you said, it won’t be a secret for long. If anyone can gain from your secrets, they will. Life is tough and the human instinct is to share, pleasure and pain and joy and sorrow, we want to tell the world.
Footballers and their follies.
So, the flaws and vanities of Ryan Giggs and other footballers are in the public forum, affairs, hair transplants...Who cares? The great British public cares because we all love a good old gossip. Rooney had the good grace to go public about his hair (not really a surprise, some sportsmen have made lucrative deals to promote the hair restoration process).What strikes me is why Ryan Giggs even tried to keep his ‘relationship’ a secret? No-one really knows if he had an affair or not, but now millions of people are speculating that he is no longer such a squeaky clean family man. Did he do it? I don’t care but I do wonder if he ever learned any lessons at school...he certainly never learned that the truth will out...and that truth can be a bitter pill. Why couldn’t he just be honest with his beautiful wife and lovely children and confess that he had sexual feelings for another...was it too much for his pride to admit to being too weak to keep his wedding vows? Did he fear losing his wife or his contracts? Was he even unfaithful at all? We’ll never know, but perhaps he has learned the lesson about truth now.

Friday, June 3, 2011

North of Africa

If you want to be rude and disparaging about Southern Spain, you can refer to its geographical location as being north of Africa, as opposed to south of Europe. It’s a strange expression with colonial undertones of disrespect about the standards of life in the African continent as well as numerous cultural assumptions about superiority of standard of life there and here. North of Africa not south of Europe sets two opposing parts in contrast to one another; the sense of two competing elements with a winner and a loser. The loser in this case clearly being the minority party, Africa’s inferiority claiming a right to the negative things about living in Southern Spain.
Ironically enough I heard this expression for the first time from a man who has lived in Alicante for more than twenty years. He is Northern European by birth yet intends to spend the remainder of his life here, tied by bonds of an ex wife, a new wife and three children and also drawn to the chaotic beauty of southern Spain. Why did he use the expression? We had been discussing water quality (it’s very poor here, lots of calcium deposits in the water) and that fact that you can go to the pharmacy with a sample of your tap water and they can tell you whether it’s safe to drink or not!
We have a water deposito here (a massive underground water tank) and we buy our water because we’re not connected to the mains yet. My friend Karen, who lives up the street, gets water from the local dam, which is very calcified, when she washes her pots and pans she has to wipe them clean immediately, none of that letting the dishes dry on the draining board, otherwise she gets filmy white calcified water marks everywhere. The water'spretty horrible. We don’t drink it, we buy bottles of stuff. When we are connected to the mains (the process has started...they’ve dug the road and put in pipes but not connected to the house yet!) we’ve been advised to get a water filter, which will make the water drinkable and kinder to our clothes and skin.
North of Africa is also used as a negative descriptor when you encounter seemingly mad paper work, when things take a long time to complete and when it’s extremely hot. All of those things in stark contrast with the supposed efficiency, aloof competence and cold associated with the rest of Europe. Personally, I’d rather have sun, unreliable water and inefficiency than drinkable tap water and the mythical efficient social services...anyone who has filled in a form for the Inland revenue (and God help you if you want to apply for child tax credit) knows that paper work is not necessarily easy in Northern Europe. As for the weather....give me sun and blue skies any time....I love many things about Britain, but the weather is not necessarily on top of my best things about Britain list! At the moment I'm happy to be living right here, whether we call it South of Europe or North of Africa, I don't really care.