Saturday, April 30, 2005

An advert for Rover cars in today’s papers offers a huge discount and stresses that this is only available until the end of next month. I guess the subtext is “at which point we’ll offer a further massive cut to try to move our valueless stock.” You have to admire their nerve. Or sympathise with their desperation.

This blog has long been visited by men [I guess] looking for brothels in Spain. But after my recent trip to Merseyside in the UK, I‘ve now been hit by someone interested in a ‘Wallasey brothel’. And I didn’t even know there were any.

As has been said by many others, you don’t need to be in Spain very long to appreciate that they take a different view of risk here from elsewhere. Just down the hill from me, workmen on a construction site have been creating a bulwark for a supporting wall which they had [illegally] left exposed. Needless to say, they didn’t do this out of the goodness of their hearts; the council was fining them 6,000 euros a day until they solved the problem they themselves had created. Anyway, a small hill of earth and boulders has been constructed between the wall and the pavement. The men responsible for this either have a deep understanding of what they are doing or absolutely no concept of risk. Especially those who have been supervising the work at the bottom of the hill. If you want to see what it all looks like, go to the first section of the Photo Gallery at the bottom of my home page on www.colindavies.net

As part of their strategy of creeping secession, the Catalan government has demanded responsibility for collecting all local taxes, after which they will give Madrid a ‘maximum of 50%’. More insidious, perhaps, is their plan to make the speaking of Catalan compulsory for all residents. Catalunia today, the Basque Country next year. And Galicia in a decade or two.

And talking of Galicia, it comes as a bit of surprise to learn that – after waves of emigration years ago – only two cities here have more people entitled to vote in the upcoming elections than Buenos Aires in Argentina. So we can expect Mr Fraga to risk a South American trip or two before June. Not very good news for the local deer, I suspect.

Friday, April 29, 2005

The latest census figures reveal a Spanish population of around 44 million and a “foreigners” component of 8%, or 3.5 million. The biggest group of these is the Moroccans [usually referred to by the codeword ‘immigrants’], followed by Ecuadorians, Romanians, Colombians and Brits [at 225,000]. The fastest rate of growth is amongst the Rumanians. I wouldn’t have thought there were that many windscreens to wash or cigarette lighters to sell at traffic lights.

Things you’re unlikely to hear in the UK: One of the Galician mayors opposed to gay marriages has given us the benefit of his views. “Everything will degenerate.” he says. “Everyone is going to want to try everything as it’s well known that, though many homosexuals are born with the inclination, many others do it through error. They get tired of women and so fall into it. With this measure they’re fostering homosexuality. And that goes against nature. Yesterday, I saw some birds in a nest. The female was sitting on the nest and the male was out getting food. This is what’s natural”.

I see that – in the latest case involving the Beckhams’ home life – a UK judge has decided that ‘public interest’ means ‘whatever the tabloid-buying public are interested in reading’. It may, then, be some consolation to Mr B. to know that, after a difficult patch, he’s now seen as having returned to his footballing best. He puts it down to more rigorous training under the fourth Real Madrid manager in two years. And I guess this is why he’s no longer talking of the paparazzi hounding him out of Spain.

Finally, The Organisation for Women has asked the relevant TV channel to alter the words of this year’s Spanish entry, on the grounds that they’re sexist. The ditty in question is a ‘love song’ from three Andalucian sisters, containing the words ‘You dominate me with just a look” and “You don’t need ropes to tie me down.” With sisters like this, who needs macho mayors?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Well, The Battle of Gay Marriages has begun. Several mayors around the country have declared they’ll refuse to preside over them and some have even said they won’t delegate the responsibility either. The first victim has been the mayor of a town in Catalunia who announced he wouldn’t marry people he felt were “suffering from some sort of physical and/or mental incapacity”. He was promptly expelled from his party. In contrast, several socialist or communist mayors have said they’re bent on being the first in the country to officiate at a gay marriage. [Sorry, the pun was totally accidental, at least on a conscious level.] The recalcitrant mayors claim they have a right under the Statute of Conscientious Objection to refuse to obey the new law but it’s highly unlikely that it covers situations like this, as opposed to the military draft. But we will see.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe what you’re reading. One of today’s local papers reports that the Portuguese police have arrested twenty members of a large gypsy clan and charged them with kidnapping mental defectives in north Portugal and forcing them into slave labour in the vineyards of La Rioja. I suspect it’s considered wrong to write ‘mental defectives’ these days but, in the context, this seems a very small crime.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The President and the Leader of the Opposition are exchanging letters about the ETA terrorist challenge, with Mr Zapatero accusing Mr Rajoy of ‘disloyally’ eschewing a bipartisan approach. I suppose this is newsworthy in itself but, for me, the real interest lies in the fact that these may be the only two people in Spain who ever get a reply to their letters. Perhaps it’d help if I made mine public as well.

Talking of Mr Zapatero, he’s finding out the hard way that anti-American rhetoric and unsolicited protestations of love for Old Europe don’t necessarily butter any Franco-German parsnips. Led by France and Germany, a group of five EU countries has quashed the Commission’s acceptance of the case for decelerating the run-down of Spain’s enormous grants. Tough talking ahead, then. Subject to there not being bigger things to worry about after the French referendum in May.

The geriatric Galician President, Mr Fraga, has declined to debate with his opponents during the upcoming general elections here. This has led one of the latter to suggest that the only thing he has the courage to face is a roe deer which is considerably less armed than him.

Closer to home, I’m delighted to say that my nice-but-noisy neighbour, Tony, is still away on his oil tanker. However, I’m somewhat less pleased to add that his equally nice wife, Amparo, has taken to leaving the radio on all night. Perhaps she was suffering withdrawal symptoms. But at least the radio doesn’t talk to the plants in the garden.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Reality programmes are a money-spinning godsend for what passes for prime-time TV in Spain. For not only can you churn out endless variants on the basic voyeuristic theme but you can build on these by involving friends and family of the inmates in a studio discussion of every banal development, secure in the knowledge they'll end up hurling abuse at one another. Usually en masse. If you want to get some idea of what this is like, take a look at the interchanges on the BBC’s Strictly Dance Fever between the 'nasty' judge, Arlene, and the female dancing coach, magnify the volume and intensity by ten and then imagine it going on for hours on end.

The trial has begun of the men accused of committing the Madrid bombings of last year. The Prosecutor has demanded 70,000 years in jail for each of the two ringleaders. I suppose you’d have to regard this as a stiff sentence, at least compared with that given to the ex head of national security who diverted millions into his own bank accounts. After a few weeks of real prison, he’s now allowed to go home during the day, so long as he’s back for story time before bed. Ironically, this is called ‘third degree’ punishment in Spanish.

The Spanish President, Mr ‘Bambi’ Zapatero, has said that he will address the final rally of the No faction, just before next month’s French referendum on the EU Constitution. The French being harangued by the Spanish! That should do the trick. One way or another.

Monday, April 25, 2005

In a surprise move, the President of the Galician government has brought forward the provincial elections by several months. A number of astute political reasons have been adduced for this but it seems to me that, when you're pushing 83 and seeking re-election for another 5 years, every day counts.

The new Pope’s first press conference has not gone down too well in Spain as he spoke only in German, English and French. But you can hardly fault this sense of grievance when over half the world’s Catholics have Spanish as their first language.

It’s unlikely that Spanish cuisine will ever be much of a threat to that of its northern neighbour but this is not to say there’s an absence of culinary passion. At dinner last night, I was advised that there are 16 key criteria for the preparation of perfect octopus. These include the copper cooking pot, the wooden serving tray and the precise angle of tentacle slice. Even more surprising was the assertion that the best octopus in Galicia is not to be found along the coast but in a town way up in the mountains, a full hour inland. I can’t help wondering whether this is due to its proximity to a village which is said to have become fabulously wealthy on the back of the prostitution trade in Argentina. I must go up and ask.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Vatican has responded quickly and roundly to the legalisation of gay marriages in Spain. It has said that that civil servants should refuse to process them, even if this costs them their jobs. There’s nothing quite like asking someone else to have the courage of your convictions, is there? But I suppose there’s some logic to this stance if you believe that this life is of absolutely no importance compared to the next. Plus it’s an easy view to take for someone in a lifetime job in the luxurious surroundings of the See of Rome. Anyway, it’s not hard to predict that the suggestion will be comprehensively ignored. Perhaps there’ll then be a few high-profile excommunications.

Meanwhile, the government has announced its latest brave social reform. As of next January, it will – in theory at least - be difficult to smoke in public in Spain. And tobacconists selling cigarettes to anyone under 18 will face a fine of 10,000 euros. As with motoring offences, it’s a complicated law and it will surely provide a real test for the legendary ability of the Spanish to ignore any rule which is personally inconvenient.

Since it joined the EU in the mid 80s, Spain has proved the most successful of all members in negotiating grants and subventions. So I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that the EU Commission has accepted that the run-down of these should be delayed for two years. God knows what they’d have done if economic growth hadn’t been steaming away at 4% a year.

I read an article today about a plastic ball that can be inserted in your stomach to fool it into believing it’s full. Sounds just the thing for ex-civil servants who can’t afford to eat because they’ve lost their jobs for refusing to comply with irreligious man-made laws.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Spanish parliament has now approved bills for bringing in gay marriages and reducing the separation requirement for divorce. It seems rather unfair to me that homosexuals should have both starting and ending marriage made easier at the same time. Why can’t they be made to wait, like the rest of us?

Scenes you are unlikely to see in the UK: The 82 year-old President of the Galician government – who’s about to stand for another 5 years – has responded to opposition suggestions that he’s an invalid by saying that he can’t be, as he shot a roe-deer from 350 metres only last week. The deer was not asked for its view. And it probably won’t be standing in the election. Or, indeed, anywhere.

The Minister of Housing has been under attack for the last week for his proposed policy of building tiny flats of only 30-40 square metres. Not the best moment, one would have thought, to have a couple of walls knocked down so that he could enlarge his office to 77 square metres.

With the start of the fiesta season not far away and with finance being required from any source, this is the time of year when the police start to get officious about parking offences. My café was agog today at the sight of a traffic cop booking a postman for having the temerity to leave his scooter outside the Post Office.

An internet search today for “GB8372 China National Toothpaste Standard” threw up my blog. If you want to know why, you’ll have to go to the post of 30 January 2004.

Friday, April 22, 2005

El Pais managed to reduce its papal coverage to only 9 pages yesterday. Not bad for a left-wing newspaper. El Mundo’s was as low as a mere 7 pages but then they have the satisfaction of knowing that the Opus Dei candidate was elected and so don’t need either to crow or to moan.

As a Rover 45 owner, I was rather distressed to read yesterday that the Administrators of this bankrupt company had walked away from the 3-year-warranty obligations. Or at least the first two years. Theoretically, the third year is the responsibility of the local dealer but I can’t help wondering whether mine will see things this way, as he stares into the abyss.

Parliament has now finalised the points-based driving licence system that’s aimed at reducing Spain’s high road mortality rate. The number of offences has been reduced from 45 to 31 and a table of penalties established. My first impression is that you’d need an IQ of at least 150 to get your head around this but the one thing that does seem clear is that it will remain impossible to lose your licence unless you are caught at least twice on the same day driving at 180kph with a bottle of Rioja in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. As expected, the law enshrines the principle that you need to be doing 150kph on an autopista before you risk losing even a quarter of the points you started with. I guess if you then drive off at 150 you might just lose a few more. But you need to be doing 180kph [113mph] to lose half your points. The most worrying comment I’ve read was that the highest penalties are reserved for “kamikaze” drivers. I don’t know what the definition is but, if you’re planning to drive on Spanish roads, you’ve been warned.

Someone arrived at my blog today having put ‘yobs with potatoes’ in their search engine. The latter asked whether they hadn’t meant ‘jobs with potatoes’. Of course.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Right on cue, I read last night of a young man being prosecuted for driving down the wrong side of the A6 autopista while blind drunk - at 5.30 in the afternoon. He was jailed for 6 months and had his licence withdrawn for 15 months. Or 9, in practice.

On Monday evening, Sky News told us that 1 billion Catholics were waiting anxiously for news of the papal succession. Then, yesterday morning, they reported that 1.1 billion Catholics were rejoicing at the election of PapaRazi. Boy, these people know how to celebrate. And with what precision of timing!

The Spanish press certainly couldn’t be accused of under-covering the events in Rome. El Pais yesterday devoted its first 12 pages to the story, followed by its Leader and Opinion pages in their entirety. I couldn’t bear to check El Mundo. Let’s hope that this Pope defies his age and ill health and lives long enough to allow us all to recover from the hysteria of the last few weeks. It would certainly help if he could refrain from making himself as much a celebrity as the last one. And spend more time praying, would be the suggestion of this lost soul.

The government of Catalunia has demanded that its status be changed from that of un nacionalidad [‘an autonomous region’, according to the dictionary] to that of un nación, or nation. I wonder what next year’s demand will be. Its own embassies in Brussels and Madrid, perhaps.

Back down on earth, I read yesterday the first report I can recall of someone suing a local council after they’d tripped over a paving stone. Whatever happened to the old Spain where the very thought of taking a local authority to court was too laughable for words? Is this the thin end of the wedge of a litigious society? Are we now to be visited by a plague of lawyers? Perhaps there’s time for a Papal indulgence. A fenestra of opportunity. We can but pray.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The gas man cameth today, to inspect my set-up and pronounce the previous clean bill of health ‘erroneous’. I’m now charged with punching another hole in my kitchen wall and fitting a new valve in the garage. Though I doubt that anything will happen if I don’t. Actually, the death rate from faulty boilers is so high in Spain I was relieved to be given some way of spending money to secure greater safety. And I don’t say that very often, as my daughters will happily attest.

Spanish TV was advertising a 5 CD history of the late Pope even before he’d had time to settle in his grave. The background music is from Verdi’s La Traviata so I guess it must have escaped the publishers that this is the story of a prostitute who didn’t quite come good. I imagine the Pope is having a good laugh, forgiving the sinner if not the sin.

Quotes of the Day

He’ll look great in white; he’s got the hair for it - Sky News contributor, minutes after the announcement of the election of PapaRatzi

Pope On a Rope: Any soap on a rope has to be a good thing. But if you really want to cleanse away your sins in the shower you need some Papal assistance. Guaranteed to clean even the grubbiest of souls. This truly is a gift from the heavens – Advert in my internet newspaper today

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Well, the Basques yesterday had the local elections that their President had turned into a plebiscite on his plans for secession from Spain. In short, his gamble failed and the only real winner was the communist party which fronts for the ETA terrorists. So, as in Northern Ireland, attempts at appeasement of the nationalists have roundly backfired and it’s anyone’s guess what happens next. The only certainty is months of political horse-trading between the numerous local parties in search of a working majority in a hung parliament. With any luck, things will become clearer just as the French referendum on the EU Constitution is taking place and so the Basque nationalists will know whether there’s still a Europe in which to seek equal representation with Spain.

The pace of road expansion in Spain is such that, whenever I travel, I’m thrown into confusion at some point by an autopista that wasn’t there last time I went that way. Last week it was a new highway – quite possibly two – linking Palencia with Benavente and Santander. In contrast, Spain’s high speed train [the AVE] is taking an eternity to get to Galicia. Forecasts for 2007 have now been pushed back as far as 2015 and no one is too confident of this date. It must be the mountains.

In a town not far from here, a 55 year old local councillor fell to his death in the early hours of yesterday when trying to leap from the balcony of his neighbour’s house back to his own. The 80 year old neighbour couldn’t think what he might have been doing on her premises but no one seems to have enquired whether her live-in niece could come with anything.

Monday, April 18, 2005

I’ve mentioned that my cleaner is both clumsy and slow to advise me of breakages. So, although pretty annoyed, I wasn’t too surprised – minutes before I left for the UK - to find one of my favourite artefacts in pieces on a shelf in my study. Rather more astonishing was her contention today that she knew absolutely nothing about it. Which means either that I’m going mad or I have a poltergeist. On the other hand, it might be significant that 30 minutes later she volunteered her first ever confession, albeit only about something as prosaic as a corner of the fridge door.

In last week’s anti-speed campaign, the police clocked an Audi driver doing 190kph [119mph] on the autopista near La Coruña. This might have shocked even them if they hadn’t earlier stopped a Mercedes driver for doing 200kph [125mph]. As with all the other 1,998 offenders, both of these heavy-footed transgressors were passing through an area replete with electronic signs advising of radar controls. But at least they were on the right side of the motorway, which can’t always be taken for granted. Especially after a wine festival.

And now a plug for my young Spanish friend, Manoel, who’s now working in Madrid and who has finally restarted his blog An Spaniard in London. Click on www.theremon.blogspot.com and enjoy his ingenuity with the English language.

WordWatch

El toothing – This is not in the dictionary so I’m guessing it’s new and means contact via blue tooth technology.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Here in Spain, many large companies still operate a commercial strategy which can best be summarised as - Get customers by whatever means you can; Make it hard for them to leave; And then abuse hell out of them. The worst offenders are the banks, the utility companies and, of course, the state telephone company, Telefonica. Thus it is that the government has had to introduce a specific law this week to force the latter to comply with its legal obligation to allow customers to depart quickly and without penal costs. In defence of these institutions, this is probably a decent strategy where customers think all operators are as bad as each other and so don’t have much incentive to move anyway. And where people can be persuaded, in return for a couple of cheap Portuguese towels, to open a deposit account paying only one per cent interest.

The national traffic policy yesterday reported that, during their most recent campaign, only a mere 2% of drivers had been caught exceeding the speed limit. The explanatory comment was that the police allowed a 20% excess, taking the effective limit from 120 to 144kph. Or 90mph. The spokesman helpfully added that, if they’d used 120, they’d have had to stop everyone, including the unmarked police cars. This, of course, endorses an earlier comment of mine that the most relaxing thing you can do on a Spanish road is to drive on the legal limit, as this means you’ll never have to overtake anyone.

Which reminds me – I couldn’t help noticing last week that cars bearing GTi or something similar were far more common in Spain than in either France or the UK. It’s salutary to know that these are mostly bought by young men who live at home until they are in their 30’s, making no contribution to their upkeep along the way. Putting this another way, Spanish parents finance much of the road carnage.

WordWatch

Un scalextric – A particularly bad road junction. Priceless.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

I’ve been asked to draw some comparisons between Merseyside and Spain. So..

The most obvious similarity is that both Scouse and Spanish women look rather brown. In the former case this owes less to the sun than to the tanning salons that dot the more depressed areas of Wallasey, Birkenhead and Liverpool.

On a similar theme, the most obvious difference is that, whereas Spanish women have faces that are colour-coordinated with, say, their legs, Scouse women sport a leery orange hue above the neck. Maybe this is the cosmetic fashion. Or perhaps cigarette smoke reacts with the tanning creams.

In both places, young women display a considerable amount of flesh, especially around the midriff. However, Spanish women wisely leave this until summer, whereas Scouse women eschew coats and even jackets when the temperature is as low as 7 degrees and an icy wind is blowing through St John’s market.

Finally, both places are noisy, reflecting the ebullience of the local/national character. If you got on an EasyJet plane for Liverpool thinking it was going to Luton, you’d soon become aware of your mistake. Likewise a train from Euston to Lime Street. Spaniards probably love Liverpool. But, then, everyone tends to. Once they can understand the irreverent locals.

Well, that’s quite enough of that. And as my return to the fray has resulted in a precipitous drop in the number of hits to my blog, I’m retiring from the field for today and will return with weightier comments on life in Spain tomorrow.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Firstly, my apologies to those who were expecting the regular blogs I was hoping to write while in England; one of the things that the UK gets worse than Spain is the availability of internet cafés. In Wallasey, at least.

In compensation, here are a few of the random observations made during the road trip up through the north of Spain and the whole of France. Not to mention the bloody M25 round London, en route up to Merseyside……

Our first Eddie Stobart truck was spotted within a few miles of entering France, though I was a tad confused by the new [to me] green livery. Our first sighting in the UK took place only a few miles out of Folkestone. I appreciate this comment will make little sense to most readers but what the hell. You can always ask.

The standard of driving in France seems to have improved considerably since my last experience 5 years ago. This must be down to the draconian new laws centred on the sort of points-based system currently being diluted in the Spanish parliament. It was a nice change to lose the flashing-idiots-up-the-bum so common in Spain, as well as the drivers who go past at 160-180 kph regardless of the conditions.

The French place macabre, life-size, black models of people at the scene of fatal crashes. This strikes me as a brilliant move and it can be suitably salutary on a bad stretch of road. But I imagine some Spanish drivers would find it hard to resist the temptation to swerve off the road to knock them over.

Petrol prices in France can vary by as much as 16% and the basic rule seems to be that you will be fleeced on both motorways and A roads. As you’d expect, the large supermarkets on the edge of town sell the cheapest stuff.

The EuroStar service is excellent but, if you are dumb enough to eschew pre-booking and drive up to buy a ticket for the next available train, you will need a small mortgage.

The sanity and courtesy of drivers in the UK are quite astonishing. I’m told that the French have a current ad campaign, suggesting that drivers there acquire a few of the British manners. Gratifying and understandable. In eleven days, I had only one annoying incident and this was when I was approaching Folkestone at the end of our stay. A truck driver signalled and immediately pulled out in front of me, causing me to brake dangerously. I will leave you to guess at his nationality.

If you stay off the motorways and drive through the countryside of southern France, you will pass through village after village remarkable for both their beauty and their eerie inactivity. During one half-hour period, the number of people we saw equalled the number of wild boars observed grazing near the verge – at one apiece. My companion felt these villages should have their pavements confiscated and donated to others where they might be of more use. My observation was that the speed limit could be quintupled without the slightest risk to any village life. Assuming there was some. This would have the advantage of legalising most Spanish drivers rocketing through.

More anon.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Well, I arrived back in Pontevedra in the early hours of this morning, having driven three days from Liverpool. Almost my first thought on [happily] crossing the French border near Pamplona was that Spanish driving was more, shall we say, competitive than that of both France and the UK. So I wasn’t too surprised to later see an electronic sign, exhorting drivers not to treat the autopista as a racing circuit. Fat chance. God help us if the young Spaniard, Alonso, builds on early success and goes on to win the Formula 1 championship this year.

More of this – and other things – in due course but first I want to record the brief conversation I had outside my house just as I was about to drive off two weeks or so ago. You may recall that my neighbour, Tony, is a nice but noisy chap who likes to bellow just for the sake of it. So I naturally treasure the long trips he makes on his oil tanker. His (equally nice) wife, Amparo, had been summoned by another neighbour to move her car from the front of his garage entrance and was slinking back into her garden. So I took the opportunity to say I’d be away for a while. “Then I’ll be alone” she said, “as Tony went off on a long trip last night”. I was mortified at the prospective waste of at least two weeks’ silence. Still am.

Two very Spanish items awaited my return. The first was a new membership card from my health insurance company, delivered after the expiry of the old one. Happily, I hadn’t been aware that the card I was carrying in France and the UK was totally useless. The second item was a debit for 65 Euros from my account in the name of a company I’ve never heard of. A search suggests it’s a water company in Barcelona. So I guess it’s possible that my previous supplier has sold out or been taken over. Nice to have been informed. And to have received a prior invoice.

Oh yes, and Amparo had now parked her car across the front of my garage.

My thanks to all those who checked my blog in my absence. And to whoever it is who’s been trawling through the archives in the last week.

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