Feeding the Ducks: British and Brazilian Culture

duck life

Mummy and daddy ducks (katdaned)

What do you do with a toddler on an afternoon when you have got nothing planned, but your pride and joy is going stir crazy in the house?  The weather probably isn’t good enough to slap on shorts and T-shirts and just play outside in the garden, but it isn’t absolutely tipping it down or below zero either.

In the UK the answer is pretty easy: get some stale bread and go and feed the ducks at the local pond.  And it isn’t just ducks, but also geese and swans who just love the taste of stale bread.

It was one of the great pleasures of our recent trip back home, and one we indulged in quite a bit.  Our son, Mr. T, not only had a whale of a time with the ducks, he also found muddy puddles to fall over in, sticks to walk with, stones to throw in streams and, on one special occasion, even a few fairground rides to play on.

We were happy because an hour or two outside calms everyone down and helps to burn off some of that excess energy every two-year-old has and so make sleep a bit easier in the evening.  Apart from having some bread to hand, it didn’t require any forward planning and there is almost nothing quite like watching a child gain enormous pleasure from jumping up and down in a muddy puddle.

Luckily, Mr T is still too young to wonder what the male and female ducks were getting up to as they made all that noise in the bushes, but it brought a smile to my face.

For us, there was also a whole host of language learning opportunities.  This was where Mr. T learned to shout out ‘Muddy puddle!’ tell the ducks to ‘Stay in the water!’  and practise some imperatives as he ordered his nana to follow him wherever he wanted to go.

Gaggle of ducks, waiting for bread.

No gaggles of ducks in Brazil (Wikipedia)


But now we are back in Brazil and, unfortunately, there just isn’t the same culture of going to the park and feeding the ducks.  There are a few parks near us with water birds, but I have never seen anyone bringing their own bread, so I don’t feel right doing it.

Maybe people don’t feed ducks here because it is bad for their diet.  Or perhaps the ducks wouldn’t eat the bread because they wouldn’t have a clue what we were doing.   Or is there a possibility that it could upset some precarious ecosystem between the ducks and who knows what?  Or is it just the fact that they have different water birds down here?

Whatever the reason, feeding the ducks is something that both my son and I are missing.  But then again, it is just another reason to plan the next trip back to Birmingham.


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Stupid Things on Planes

Português: Airbus A319 da TAM no Aeroporto de ...

This is exactly how we had to get on and off the plane.

As part of my recent trip back home to the UK with my son to see my family and go to IATEFL we obviously had to fly from Curitiba to London via Sao Paulo.  I chose a night flight in the hope that Mr. T would sleep most of the way and I think it was, mostly, a wise choice.

On the way to the UK the plane left at midnight and my pride and joy was asleep not long after.  He slept for 8 hours and then watched Toy Story so that I only had to keep him from crying at the sheer boredom for the last half an hour or so.  On the way back to Brazil he was even better as he slept nearly all the way.

I like to think that this is down to my planning and preparing for any contingency, but it is probably more to do with the fact that he is now a seasoned traveller with this being his 3rd trip to the UK, as well as many flights within Brazil to see family and friends.

There were two things that more than slightly annoyed me and threatened on more than one occasion to wake my son up and thus guarantee an awful flight for anyone within earshot of his powerful crying.

Burning With the Light of a Thousand Suns

When was the last time you smoked on a plane?  When did you last hear of anyone who thought they were allowed to smoke on a plane?  In my case it is about 15 years ago, and since that time we are pretty much all aware that it is now illegal to smoke anywhere on a plane especially (or particularly, according to the cabin crew on TAM) in the toilets.

I therefore don’t understand why we have to have the no-smoking signs on planes anymore.  We know we can’t do it, just as we know we can’t murder that obnoxious German in the row in front of me who insists on listening to some crap music all night long on his earphones at full blast.

But maybe we have to have these signs just in case somebody feels the need to light up at 10,000 feet.  But do the signs have to burn with the brightness of a thousand suns making it impossible to sleep unless you have an industrial scale mask over your eyes?  I think not.  Every time my son turned over he saw the lights and threatened to wake up with a howl so I had to keep shading his eyes so that everybody else could get something resembling sleep.

Brass Monkey

No, not that type of brass monkey

Brass Monkeys

Maybe my analogy of the lights burning as bright a quite a few suns is off, because if it were true then the cabin would be a few degrees warmer than it was on the trip to the UK.  I don’t know about you, but I never have never felt the need to have the air conditioning on so high that I can see my breath when I breathe, never mind have icicles hanging off the end of my nose.

Perhaps TAM was just preparing us for the Baltic conditions that awaited us in the UK.

Fortunately, I knew about this from previous flights with TAM, so I made sure that both my son and I had plenty of clothes at the ready because those flimsy blankets they give out just don’t do the job.

Dinner at 2?

As I mentioned, the flight to the UK took off at midnight.  By that time I was exhausted and just wanted to follow my son into a deep sleep, or as deep as it can be while sitting at a 95° angle.  The lights were all off (apart from the thousand suns up and down the cabin) and silence reigned, only punctuated by the odd snore and terrible Euro Disco from the row in front.

And then, at about 2am, all the lights were switched on again and the cabin crew started trundling down the aisles serving dinner.  At 2am in the morning!  The smell alone was enough to make my stomach turn over.  Who in their right mind wants to have dinner at 2 in the morning?  There were a few people not in their right minds, but nearly everybody near me just looked fairly put upon as they turned their noses up at the rubbery chicken in a mild and bland curry sauce.


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Learning to Fly Solo

Plane taking off

Here we go (Wikipedia)

The thing I was least looking forward to from our recent trip to the UK was coming home again.  The problem was that my wife had to come home a week early because of work commitments, which meant I was going to be doing a 24-hour journey with our 22-month old.  This journey included 2 flights, one of 11 hours and the other a measly 1 hour.  Both of the flights would consist of Thomas (now about 13 kilos) sitting on my lap for the duration.  What was I thinking? Here are some of the things I learned.

1. Don’t do it

Is there any way you can avoid flying with your little one on your lap?  Could you drive?  Pay for somebody else to accompany you?  Stay at home?  Believe me, even if everything goes well, you are not going to have a good time.  Everything went as well as it possible could for me, but I swear I would never do it again.  If you can find any alternative, grasp it with both hands.

2. Leg space

When I was booking my flight I decided to pay a bit more and get the front row so that I had a bit more leg space.  i think I paid $50 for it (about 15% of the total) and it was worth every penny.  It meant I could leave some stuff in front of me instead of having to get it from the overhead baggage space.  It gave me a bit of freedom and I could even pop Thomas on the floor for a few minutes to let him stretch his legs while I prepared some food or had a mini-breakdown.

3. Be very, very nice at check-in

English: Dublin International Airport, Ireland...

Find a real person to talk to (Wikipedia)

When I got to the airport I was asked to check in via one of the computerised stands that many companies have.  I made it look like a hassle to juggle my son and find the papers and everything so I was directed to a real person behind the desk.  This is what I wanted all along because I wanted to see if it was possible to get a free seat next to me.  I was all smiles and very polite to the man who was doing the check in.  Towards the end I asked if the flight was busy, which it was, and then I wondered if it might be possible to leave the seat next to me vacant so I could use it for Thomas.  The man smiled back and said it wasn’t possible, but he would see what he could do (this type of answer is very common in Brazil).  It turned out that there were half a dozen empty seats on the plane, and one of them was next to me.  I don’t know what the name of the man was who did my check in, but I would like to thank him from the bottom of my heart as this was a lifesaver.

4. Be prepared

If you aren’t sure whether you’ll need it or not, put it in your hand luggage.  I had a fully charged tablet with games and videos on it.  Lots of nappies.  Plenty of food and snacks and drinks (I had 8 different drinks cartons but I still had to stock up again in Sao Paulo).  Some favourite toys.  A thermometer.  Two drinks bottles. Spare clothes.  A blanket.  Crayons and paper.  A Peppa Pig Sticker book.  And probably lots of other stuff as well.  It means you won’t have any space for your own books or anything, but then this isn’t about you.

5. Aisle or window?

Plane Flight to Singapore

The same view for 11 hours (Amy Dianna)

Aisle.  A thousand times.  You may get a view which will keep your child happy for the few moments during take off and landing, but the rest of the flight will be a nightmare as you look at the never-changing sky or the wing of the plane.  If you have an aisle seat you have just that little be extra leg room and you can put your kid there for a minute while you find his favourite toy.  It also makes it easier to get to the toilet quickly in case of emergencies.

6. Make friends

I let Thomas charm as many people as possible when we first got on the plane.  My thinking was that if they like him at the start they will be more forgiving later when he wakes them with his piercing scream at 3 in the morning because he can’t sleep properly.  I needn’t have worried as this never happened, but it did provide a certain amount of entertainment later in the trip when he was able to play peekaboo with the other passengers.

7. How small is that changing tray?

The changing tray for babies in the toilets was designed for the smallest baby ever to be born.  It was just impossible to get a slightly-above-average-height two-year-old onto it and change his nappy without doing some serious damage either to the plane or Thomas.  My wife told me about this before so I had pull-up nappies instead of the more conventional ones.  it still wasn’t exactly easy, but a lot less hassle than it could have been.

8. Food and drink


Your two-year-old will love it (Scoobyfoo)

It isn’t exactly news to tell you that the food you get on a place is crap.  Utter filth, usually.  Don’t rely on the food they serve to satisfy your child.  Bring lots of snacks and easy to prepare food that you know your kid will enjoy.

9. Take your time

Everything takes longer with a two-year old in tow.  This is true in life generally, but especially true when trying to get through customs, do security, find your seat on the plane, etc.  Give yourself plenty of time because you don’t want to be rushing to the gate in order to board.

10. Plan the other end

Make sure you have a plan for when you finally arrive at your destination.  My wife was coming to pick us up so we had decided beforehand exactly where she would be standing outside the door so that I could quickly slip out, hand Thomas over to her and then go back in for the bags.  This was one of the best things I did as my suitcase was the last to appear.

To be honest, the flights couldn’t have gone any better.  Thomas was as good as gold and slept, if fitfully, for most of the first flight.  The TAM staff were courteous and helpful, although there are never tested that much.  It was, however, a long and exhausting journey and while I would do it again I would definitely pay to get an extra seat for Thomas and not even contemplate having him on my lap again.

Language learning on holiday


You wanna be where everybody knows your name (Wikipedia)

Just before we went on holiday to the UK and Ireland for the best part of 4 weeks I wrote about how I thought Thomas was on the verge of stepping up his language skills.  I wasn’t sure how the trip would affect this because it would be throwing him into a whole new language environment.

Before we left he was saying mais  whenever he wanted more of something.  After a couple of weeks’ holiday this had morphed into a combination of the English word and the Portuguese word and he would say ‘mais more’.  Lots of people, including this hardened cynic, thought this was one of the cutest things ever.  In the last week, when my wife came back to Brazil and we stayed on in Birmingham, he seemed to drop the ‘mais‘ and started to only say ‘more’.

He created a new name for my dad.  The last time we were there he never called him anything and we tried to get him to say ‘gog gog’ as this was the word that I used for my granddad when I was the same age, but it never really caught on.  This time around he started calling him ‘doe doe’ and we have absolutely no idea why.  This caused a problem for a while as Thomas would be shouting ‘doe doe’ but my dad was totally unaware that he was being shouted at.  After a few days of his one and only grandson yelling at him he soon learned.


Raising a glass (Auburn Skies)

Whenever we had a meal together we raised our classes and said ‘cheers’ to each other.  Thomas thought this was a brilliant game and insisted on doing the same with his bottle.  The only problem was that he forgot to take a drink from it afterwards.

One new word that he seems to be experimenting with is ‘nice’.  I am not sure he knows exactly what it means yet as it is almost as if it slips out without him realising it when he is excited about something.  I will be looking out for how this word progresses in the future.

Other than that, he didn’t really pick up any new words.  There was the hint of him saying my brother’s girlfriend’s name, but this was never confirmed.  Most people also thought that his pronunciation became clearer over the course of the three weeks.  This might be true but it might also be the fact that everyone else got more used to his language and he got more comfortable around them.  It is true, though, that he had no problems understanding what people wanted him to do by the end so that his passive understanding was probably on a par with that of Portuguese.

So all in all, the trip didn’t see the surge in Thomas’ language ability that I might have been hoping for.  However, I am convinced that it did he bilingual skills the world of good and that, sooner or later, it is going to start paying off in both languages.

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Great British Food


Bangers (Another Pint Please…)

Thomas tried some new food while he was in the UK.  Some were more of a success than others.


This was the biggest success of the whole holiday.  By the end he could very easily wolf down three sausages without even blinking.  The biggest problem with sausages is that he had to wait for them to cool down before he could scoff them.  We soon found out that we had to give him other food before showing him the sausages, because as soon as he saw them he wouldn’t eat anything else.  While we have linguiça here in Brazil they aren’t the same so I don’t know what we are going to do now we are back.


Not a particularly British type of food, but one thing I noticed this time around was the different marketing for healthier foods aimed at kids.  One company that seems to be doing very well is Organix which has lots of healthy food alternatives aimed at kids with bright packaging and decent advertising.  It still isn’t as sophisticated as Coke or McDonald’s, but it is at least a start.  Their raisins were particularly well-received by Thomas, but he also liked some of their other stuff as well such as carrot cake, gingerbread men and juices.

A better snack than some

A better snack than some

Potato Bread

When I was a kid my granny used to make potato bread for us.  Basically it is made out of potatoes and flour, is an Irish recipe and is amazing when fried for breakfast.  After a couple of years of experiments, my mum now makes her own mean potato bread, although she never seems to make enough of it.  Thomas took a bit of time to decide he liked potato bread, but after a few attempts he decided it wasn’t too bad after all.


We took Thomas to a couple of curry houses in Birmingham.  At the first one, called Masalla Merchant in Stirchley, we asked the waiter for a lamb shish kebab which he assured us wasn’t spicy.  As soon as Thomas tried it his eyes watered up and his cheeks turned red.  He couldn’t get the meat out quick enough.  He then tried some chicken that had come with the kebab and this went down a treat.  A few days later he went to Kababish in Moseley and was very happy with the naan bread and the pilau rice.

Salt and Vinegar Crisps

These were a huge hit.  When he got his hands on a packet he treated it like a job of work.  He sat there and slowly munched through them one by one and would have kept doing so all afternoon until he had finished the bag.  Unfortunately for him the salt content is way high so I had to take them off him after a while.

Salt and vinegar should always have a green packet.

Salt and vinegar should always have a green packet.


I wasn’t in the room at the time, but apparently a packet of bite-sized twirls was opened in front of Thomas and he wanted to try them.  Once he had one in his mouth he couldn’t stop eating them.  Much hilarity ensued and I made sure I wasn’t the one who had to clean his nappy the next morning.

Ice cream

Thomas has had ice cream on a couple of occasions in Brazil, but this was the first time he had whipped ice cream in a cone with a flake, also known as a 99.  He was  a bit suspicious at first, but he soon got the hang of it and lapped it up.

English: 99 Ice cream

99 Ice cream (Wikipedia)


Ribena is basically a blackcurrant squash that you add water to.  I used to drink it as a kid and especially liked it with hot water on cold winter nights.  Unfortunately we had a few cold summer nights so Thomas got to try it out both hot and cold; the cold version was appreciated more.

Looking at this list of different foods that Thomas tried it looks as if he ate most unhealthily.  I would like to stress that we did give him decent food as well; he still loves his broccoli and he had plenty of fruit and other vegetables.  And compared to me, he had a very healthy diet as I ate practically nothing but junk.

The Fields of Athenry


Feeding the Donkeys

On our recent holiday we went to Ireland for a few days.  It is about 10 years since I was last there and my wife hadn’t been since she was a kid.  We stayed in just outside the town of Athenry, the biggest town close the village of Attymon where my dad comes from.  We stayed in a hotel called Caheroyan House & Farm, which is literally in The Fields of Athenry.

The place could do with a bit of TLC, but it was the right place to stay because of Thomas.  It gave him the chance to get out an about and see donkeys, cows, dogs and horses.  There was plenty of space for him to play without us having to worry too much.  He was in awe of the donkeys: at first we fed them with grass but when we got some carrots for them he was beside himself.  He kept trying to tell us that he had fed the donkeys but just couldn’t get his words out.

English: A modern 4-wheel drive farm tractor. ...

A Blue Tractor (Wikipedia)

No matter how great the donkeys were, though, nothing could compare with the tractors.  There were some toy tractors that he could sit on and play with, but once my brother took him up onto the big blue working tractor that was it.  Every morning he wanted to go and sit on it and drive it.  I think we could have just left him there in the morning, gone away for the day and come back in the evening and he probably wouldn’t have noticed.

We can now add tractors to the list of things he is obsessed with, to go along side busses planes and trains.

We did a bit of drinking in the town as well.  One of the pubs, the Square Inn, is owned by the husband of one my dad’s Square Inncousins so we spent a couple of nights there.  I heard one of the greatest stories ever about a photograph in which practically everyone was dead, including one man who was killed by a horse in a medieval themed hurling match.  I haven’t laughed so much in years.

Irish cottageOne thing that I really wanted to do was to show my wife my grandparents’ old house where my dad grew up and I spent a couple of weeks every summer.  It has been abandoned since he died and is now in a sorry state.  As we drove around Ireland it was noticeable how many ruins of old cottages there are and this one might soon be another ruin to add to them.

We also did a bit of sightseeing, including going to Connemara and The Burren.  While we were on the way to the Burren we stopped off at a small beach for a walk around.  unfortunately my wife hadn’t been able to come with us because she had some work to do and my Thomas had fallen asleep.  This meant that they missed out on a very rare ting in Ireland: a visit to the beach when it is sunny.  This photo is the only proof that it actually happened and I swear it isn’t doctored.

It's a beach, it's sunny, and it's in Ireland!

It’s a beach, it’s sunny, and it’s in Ireland!

While it was sunny it was also bitterly cold.  There was a very sharp wind and one night it got dow to about 3C.  With my beer jacket on this wasn’t a problem and it even gave us an excuse to burn some peat and create the smell that I remember from many a wet and cold summer holiday.

Back in Brazil

Stone Roses Lemon

After nearly 4 weeks in the summer of the UK and Ireland we are now back in the winter of southern Brazil.  This means more sunshine and hotter days as a British summer isn’t much to be proud of and winter hasn’t arrived yet in Curitiba.

I am going to be writing more about our trip over the coming weeks, but for now I just wanted to write something to get back into the swing of things.  We had a great time in Ireland visiting family and driving around the beautiful west of the country.  We took Thomas to Drayton Manor Park and Zoo to see Thomas Land and enjoy a few of the rides there.  We went down to London for a couple of days to meet friends and had the wettest two days of the journey.

We had a brilliant barbecue with lots of kids playing in my parents’ garden.  Lots of good talk and decent food.  What more can you ask for?

For the last week my wife came back to Brazil because she has to teach at university and I stayed with Thomas and my parents.  I gave them some quality bonding time for a great trip to London to see one of my all time favourite bands, The Stone Roses, with my brother and then I took all his money off him at a poker session the following night.

I ate far too much and drank even more.  Stayed up too late some nights and got up far too early on  more than a few mornings.

Last, and by no means least, the two of us we survived the 23-hour trip back from Britain without any serious mishaps.

So now it is back to teaching and writing.  I would like to say that I have fully re-charged my batteries and I am raring to go. As usual, I am almost as tired as before I went and could do with another few weeks sitting around doing nothing except listening to the cricket.

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