Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Firstly, an apology for a Freudian slip in yesterday’s blog. The name of the Spanish Formula 1 driver is, of course, Fernando Alonso. By pure coincidence, Carlos Alonso, is the friend who sent me the stuff on police radar traps. And whom I didn’t want to cite by name in case it embarrassed him! The best laid schemes of mice and men….

The French referendum decision seems to have produced a state of shock in Spain. And perhaps not a little discomfort at the fact that something approved without a scintilla of debate here has provoked wide rifts of opinion in France and Holland. To say nothing of the UK. Mr Zapatero has said the ratification process must continue, which suggests he knows very little about how Tony Blair works. No wonder he’s criticised for naivety.

Well, I duly got a letter from my insurance company yesterday telling me the bank had rejected their demand for 5.84 euros so could I please come into the office and pay them in cash. See my blog of 12 May for the background to this classic waste of paper and time.

I was doing some research in Tui today for my web page on Galicia. The chap behind the Tourist Office desk appeared to be at least 100 and my immediate thought was that it must be President Fraga’s father. Like son, like father – determined to die in office. So I left quickly, before he could manage it.

Finally, just one comment on the filming of last Friday. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of an interesting day was the heights of coquettishness achieved by one of the female members of the film crew. This is an art at which Spanish women excel but I’ve never seen it done better. Sadly, it wasn’t directed at me but at the other British shipwrecked corpse. I rather got the impression that, if I hadn’t been there, she’d have been only too pleased to administer the kiss of life until the poor man expired again of other causes. He just seemed bewildered.

Monday, May 30, 2005

So, another impressive forecasting failure on my part, this time in predicting a narrow success for the Yes vote in the French EU referendum. Mind you, I can't feel as bad as President Chirac about this; on TV this morning, he had the look of a startled turkey about him. And now we await developments, as both Paris and Brussels struggle with the new problem of a disobedient electorate in a major member. First signs are that President Chirac is pushing Prime Minister Raffarin in the general direction of an upturned sword.

Spain has come late to such everyday irritants as traffic wardens and police radar controls. In fact, I can only recall seeing the former in one city, Valladolid. But as for the latter, well they're cropping up everywhere now, suggesting that the government is at last taking road mortality seriously. Spanish drivers, of course, see no connection between accidents and speed. So I wasn't surprised to receive recently an email file from a friend, containing photos of speed cameras, together with advice on how to both recognise and disable them. The outraged commentary suggested that money would be better spent on making the roads safer. Which, of course, means straighter and more like a racing track. It's as if it's all a game, with one set of players - the drivers - being upset at the other set - the police - for being "ignoble" enough to change the rules without their permission. But, then, ignoring traffic restrictions is a game in Spain. And so it's depressing to learn of another Carlos Alonso victory in the Formula 1 championship yesterday. Fat good it will do him appearing on TV to endorse the message that the roads should not be treated as a race track.

I must get off this subject. I am beginning to bore even myself.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Well, I’m home from [near] the sea. It was a memorable day but I’ll say no more now as I’m writing it up. Meanwhile, there are a couple of pictures in the Photo Gallery on the Home Page of my website [colindavies.net].

Back on land, another new experience this afternoon. The woman in front of me at the supermarket check-out thought it would be a great idea if she went to get some cash after she’d had her shopping bagged for her. To add insult to injury, she came back from the cash-point without enough readies and had to make a return journey. So.. did she offer any comment? I leave you to guess. Suffice to say, I wasn’t surprised to later see her husband/partner/lover/chauffeur parked where he shouldn’t have been. That old Spanish individualismo again. Dual in this case.

The place I shop in is converting itself from a Champion supermarket into a Carrefour Hypermarket. Four years’ experience of their consumer relations has amply prepared me for the main consequences. It’s taken 3 weeks longer than the ‘couple of days’ they said it would; the major innovation has been to move the trolley park outside the mall so we all have to walk further to get one; several products lines are no longer available; and stock-outs have reached a new high. If I thought it’d make any difference, I’d complain. Tesco it ain’t. Or even KwikSave. But it’s exceptionally convenient for me as a place to park my car this side of the bridge into town.

Quote of the Day.
Agapistic towards his subject, he is yet capable of appreciating Johnson’s many solecisms, though he is, at worst, only ever subderisorious. The overall effect is one of agreeable concinnity, likely to appeal to all but the analphabetical.

A reviewer of a book on Johnson’s dictionary. Possibly tongue in cheek.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

For those in search of irony, the struggles over the EU constitution are fertile ground. The French populace believes it enshrines 19th century capitalism [‘ultraliberalism’] which will destroy the comfortable, self-important way of life they’ve enjoyed for decades at everyone else’s expense. Ditto the Spanish, at least from a purely economic point of view. The British, however, see the 400-odd page document as an attempt to foist discredited French dirigisme on the successful Anglo-Saxon socio-economic model. They can’t possibly all be right, of course, and may all be wrong. But most amusing of all, the British eurosceptics are praying that the French don’t say No next Sunday and hole the project below the waterline; for they fear this will allow Tony Blair to wriggle out of his commitment to a UK referendum which they’re confident of winning. On a local scale, the French No camp is said to be delirious that President Chirac will appear on TV to make a last minute appeal to the French to do what their betters have instructed them to do; such is his unpopularity, on each of the previous 3 occasions he’s done this their support has then leapt upwards. What fun. My prediction – the French will narrowly say Yes and the Dutch will say No. But then I thought Liverpool were dead and buried at half time in last night’s match and told Andrew we might as well leave the bar in which we were watching it. And then I left after extra time rather than see Liverpool lose the penalty shoot-out.

A gruesome tale from Asturias, connected with the Madrid bombings of last year. One of the dirty aspects of this tragedy is that an informer had told the police well in advance about the sales of explosives from one of the local mines. And about plans to use them in connection with mobile phone detonators. This information was ignored and later the man’s wife was found drowned in strange circumstances. This week he received graphic pictures of her autopsy in the mail, together with warning about keeping his mouth shut. Astonishingly, these are suspected of coming from the ‘police mafia’ in the region.

We used to have a grocers in the old quarter which had a backroom bar so down-at-heel that, if they thought you were important [i. e. not a drug addict] they’d put a newspaper on the table as a cloth. Walking past yesterday, I was amazed to see it’d been transformed into a posh café, complete with the light wood furnishings that are currently de rigeur. Happily, the owners still seem to be Mrs Thatcher’s look-alike and her one-prawn-short- of-a-paella son and I’m told the previous clientele have not abandoned the place, even though they must look [and feel] totally out of place. Assuming they are sentient. I must make a visit, if only to have some of their staggeringly powerful – and surprisingly tasty – raisin wine.

Meanwhile, though, on to the Cemetery of the English near Camariñas for the filming of the docudrama!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

No rehearsal today, of course. But the filming on Friday is ‘probably’ still on.

A new experience this evening. As I was reading my paper before the Champions’ League Final, a woman came up and asked if I was Jose Luis somebody or other. Is this a foretaste of what will happen when the film is released? Anyway, as she wasn’t particularly attractive, I said I wasn’t.

When people die here they are interred within a day or two and the usual procedure is to display the body in the undertaker’s premises for several hours before the burial. My good friend Elena’s aunt passed away on Monday night and she and her cousin attended such a ceremony today. Both of them are Spanish but were born and raised in France and so are creatures of French culture. They were somewhat surprised to find that things bore far more of a resemblance to a social event than anything else, complete with characteristically loud, simultaneous conversation. But there was some light relief – as they were consoling each other during a rare quiet period, they heard the following exchange through the walls of the adjacent room:-
“So. How are your cabbages this year?”
“Fine. How about your carrots?

Another of my unscientific surveys suggests that we have moved into Phase 3A of seat belt compliance – almost all children on the back seats are now belted up whereas nearly all adults aren’t.

This survey was prompted, of course, by Sunday’s horrendous road crash. On Monday I described this as an emblematic event for Spain. I guess its British equivalent was the 3 sisters in Derby – aged 12, 14 and 16 – who had babies within a few months of each other. The mother blamed inadequate sex education in the school. And the state gave them 10,000 pounds each of someone else’s money. Car crashes caused by stupid driving occur in Britain but this sort of thing just couldn’t happen in Spain. How unprogressive the country can sometimes seem.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

After 2 days of glorious sun, the director has decided that he’ll risk filming his docudrama in the Cemetery of the English on the north coast ‘at the weekend’. This turns out to be Friday morning for me and the other British corpses. And we may even have a rehearsal tomorrow, though I rather doubt it.

Which reminds me, my bank’s PFA naturally failed to find the time to implement my transfer instructions yesterday, as promised. An exhausting excess of chatting and coffee sipping again, I fear.

Well, The Battle of the EU Trough is warming up and getting personal. Britain has refused to countenance a reduction in its rebate and said it ill behoves Spain to demand a postponement of the agreed cuts in its grants when it hasn’t paid a single penny into the EU coffers in 25 years. France, Germany and 4 other countries insist on reducing their payments into the till and show no sympathy whatsoever for Spain’s claim that its economy will be hard hit by these reductions

Topically, there was a wonderfully vitriolic article in El Mundo today by a director of a Spanish think tank. Addressing the looming French referendum, he heaped scorn on everyone in sight – Chirac for protecting ETA terrorists for 2 decades; Giscard d’Estaing for being, well, an arrogant bastard with the blood of thousands on his hands; France and Germany for not supporting an easing of the reductions in Spain’s EU grants; Brussels for being an undemocratic cesspit of corruption; Zapatero for naively presiding over both the break up of the Spanish state and the resurgence of a crushed ETA; and a few others I can’t recall. His basic conclusion what that it would be an unmitigated blessing for Spain if France and Holland said No to the constitution. This is because Spain has a stronger negotiating capability under the Treaty of Nice, which would continue to guide EU processes and procedures. Plus, funds might not then flow to the East for the new members. One is used to seeing this stuff in British papers, of course, but never here, where the impression is given that criticism of the EU is a mortal sin. But I believe I’m on record as saying that things would surely change once the money stopped flowing this way. Or even before, it seems.

Talking of mortal sins, the Catholic Church has complained about the 3 leading Catalan politicians playing around with a crown of thorns on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. This seems to me to be an overreaction but it’s hard to quibble with their point that the 3 men would never have poked fun at symbols of the Muslim or Jewish faiths.

The horrendous crash I mentioned yesterday was even more emblematic than I thought. The vehicle that swerved across the road was a long wheel-based 4x4 being driven in 2 wheel mode; it was doing 140kph on a 70kph stretch and no one was wearing seat belts. And, yes, the driver was killed. Along with his wife, their 3 sons and one of their friends. The children in the saloon car were wearing belts and survived. At least the publicity from this dreadful accident should lead to better rear-seat discipline. But what a price.

In a cosmic irony, the saloon car that was hit was a Citroen Evasion.

Monday, May 23, 2005

I saw a set of Chinese horoscopes on a shop counter today – separate ones for the year of the Dog, Horse, Tiger, Armadillo, etc. For each of them the Spanish word used was the male of the species, except for the Goat, where it was the female form. I guess this is because calling someone a Billy goat is the biggest insult imaginable in Spain. I’ve never understood why, though someone has recently suggested it involves an implication of cuckoldry. As you may recall, the female form of goat also means ‘slut’ but this must have been considered the lesser evil.

There’s a little village in the hills of Galicia called Cans. Oddly enough, this means ‘dogs’ in Gallego and - unlike the Spanish word ‘perro’ - is derived from Latin. Anyway, around this time of year the village’s population of 200 swells to 10,000 as they hold a festival parallel to that of its namesake in the south of France. Needless to say, this is a little less serious and features more ‘agroglamour’ than is probably evident on the Cote d’Azure. But it sounds like fun. So, next year in Cans?

I have recently re-grown my beard and was told by my hostess at lunch yesterday that it made me look ‘more intelligent’. I am still wrestling with the significance of this comment.

I don’t often get the opportunity to use the English equivalent of a popular Spanish word but, sadly, a chance has now arisen. Yesterday, there was an emblematic car crash in the south of the country. A 4x4 was driven too fast round a bend and swerved into the path of a saloon car coming the other way. Of the 13 occupants, 6 were killed and 5 seriously injured. Of the 6 dead, 4 were children in the back of the 4x4, including 3 brothers. One can only hope, for his sake if nothing else, that the driver of the latter was among the adults who died. And pray that Carlos Alonso doesn’t win the Formula 1 championship this year. Or any year, for that matter.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

On the outskirts of Madrid is a notorious area called Barranquillas. This is a shanty town of 90 huts and 5,000 drug addicts, where business turnover is estimated at around 18,000 euros a day. I can’t quite decide whether this is a scandal and a national disgrace or an exemplary bit of Spanish pragmatism.

At the other end of some scale or other, here in Pontevedra construction is nearing completion of a large house down the hill from me. It has an imposingly tall stone crucifix in the garden and what looks like a chapel behind the house itself. I’m told it belongs to the head honcho in the town’s branch of Opus Dei, which sounds eminently plausible. This is the Spanish-founded, secret [but powerful] religious organisation regarded as right wing even by Catholics. And of which the British Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, is a member. I wonder what she has in her garden.

A local newspaper reports that a woman driver suddenly left the road and crashed through a shop window. ‘As yet,’ it adds ‘the reasons for this are unknown but it is thought that she lost control of the vehicle’. Well, yes. Either that or she chose to top herself in a somewhat unorthodox manner.

My nice-but-noisy neighbour, Tony, has started to add tuneless caterwauling to his pointless bellowing. If this blog suddenly stops, you’ll know I’ve driven my car into a shop front. Either that or Opus Dei have paid me a visit.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Yet another hurrah for the Spanish media. This may be a country even more obsessed with celebrity than most but the news headlines of the past few days have not been dominated by Kylie Minogue’s breasts and Saddam Hussein’s underpants.

More madness from Catalunia last week. The local government has demanded that the region be given the web dominion ‘ct.’ as if it were a real country. And in Israel one of the leading politicians walked out of an event when only the Spanish flag was flown. I guess we can expect more of this childishness.

Back in the Galician political arena, President Fraga has said he only went to Argentina to help those of the Galician Diaspora there. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the looming elections in which many thousands of emigrants are entitled to vote. He also said he was a young man of 82. So you can form your own view of his credibility.

I mentioned months ago that I was involved in a docudrama about the sinking of a British ship along the Galician coast in the 19th century. This has been the most haphazard activity in which I’ve ever been involved. In an attempt to increase the chances that the director and I would actually meet again before the filming now scheduled for next week, I started to give him my commitments over the next few days, "Oh, don’t bother," he said, character- istically, "I’ll just keep phoning until you are available"..... Magnify this by the number of people involved and then you can get some idea of why things just don’t happen.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Oh dear, another banking tale. I went today to follow up a letter of instruction I’d taken on Wednesday. As I had to wait 10 minutes outside the cubicle of my ‘Personal Financial Adviser’ I couldn’t help hearing that most of this was spent in social chit chat with the previous customer. I mention this because, after greeting me effusively, my PFA advised that he’d been just too busy to deal with my letter. He assured me of this repeatedly as he put on his jacket prior to departing for his mid-morning coffee with one of his colleagues. Sometimes I feel I haven’t so much changed countries as planets. What left me truly astonished is that he not only genuinely felt he hadn’t had the time but also that I’d be impressed with this excuse proffered as he was about to take his sacrosanct break. Perhaps, if I were Spanish, I would be. As it is, I’m just moving my money to another bank. Which will probably strike anyone Spanish reading this as a completely pointless gesture.

Anyway, that’s it for today. Saturday looms and, from the stats, I get the impression that most of my wonderful readers don’t own their own computer and so take advantage of their office facilities to read my blog during the working week. Or perhaps, as my elder daughter put it, “Let’s face it, Dad. Most people have much better things to do at the weekend than read your crap”. And she should know; she’s the professional writer [i. e. penniless], whereas I’m just an amateur mired in luxury.

Oh yes, for anyone interested in buying property in Galicia, I’ve just added information on the Lower Miño region to my web page [colindavies.net]. Plus a short dissertation on weather patterns here.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

One of the major accountancy firms has announced that, when you adjust average disposable income for the cost of living, the Swedes are the poorest in Europe. And the Spanish are the richest. So… the lion’s share of EU funds goes to the country with the richest inhabitants. No wonder we have such good roads. And just as the [apparently] wealthier countries are demanding that they pay less into the EU coffers for the future benefit of the likes of Spain, the government here has admitted that economic growth was higher than previously reported because the black market was understated. Meaning Spain wasn’t entitled to everything it got. So, what odds on some of it being given back?

Two fascinating articles on France this week. The first, in Prospect magazine, pointed out that the government-controlled media there conspires to maintain the myth that Britain is a place of red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism with a socio-economic model inferior to that of France. Consequently, the French are nonplussed that UK economic growth rates and employment levels are significantly higher than theirs. And dumbfounded that a government which presides over this hell on earth can be returned to power. In the second article, in El Pais, a director of a Paris think-tank explained how the country’s No-to-the-EU- Constitution camp are unable to grasp that they’re the only people in Europe clinging to an obsolete economic model and are prepared to destroy France’s [privileged] place in the EU fighting for something which no one else wants and which is, in fact, already lost. Sic transit gloria. All this vainglorious stupidity must be driving the enarqués hairless. At least now they know what it’s like to do business with the French. As a survey published last week showed, this view of the way the French go about things is one of the few things that everyone else in Europe has in common.

The Galician authorities have trumpeted that they have stamped out the smuggling of cigarettes. Funny but I read three years ago that, after Spain finally started to take action against this activity, the smugglers felt that they might as well move to something easier to transport and a lot more profitable. Cigarettes were for cissies.

Changing Spain: The local police report that in recent spot checks only 12% of motor cyclists were above the permitted noise levels, against 45% last year. Still too bloody high but great progress nonetheless. Perhaps we are moving towards another brief Golden Age for Spain, when all the social evils of the past have been eradicated but the country is not yet as anally retentive as elsewhere. What joy it will be to be alive. If I am.

Wonderful World: A Berlin undertaking firm will convert your remains into diamonds. I can’t think of a nicer way to go. Or stay behind. And down in Tasmania they are making paper from kangaroo dung. It’s called Roo Poo and you need 25 kilos of it to make 400 sheets of A4 paper.

Finally, after nearly 500 years of killing each other, it’s nice to see that the Anglican and Catholic communions have decided that their differences over the virginity or otherwise of Mary were not so significant after all. How ludicrous it all looks in retrospect.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Because there’s little ‘clear blue water’ between the parties, British politics is frequently dismissed as boring. Not a problem here. Sometimes there’s the Atlantic between the government and the opposition and sometimes the Pacific. And nowhere more so than on the question of how to deal with the ETA terrorist group that everyone agrees is at its lowest ebb, thanks mainly to [very belated] post 9/11 assistance from Spain’s French neighbour. The government intends to try to negotiate them out of existence, whereas the opposition feels this betrays those murdered over 40 years and merely invites ETA to again play the games they have in the past. British readers will be aware of the precedents from Northern Ireland. Worryingly, the President may actually have the Good Friday Agreement in mind as a model.

I took a bottle of wine back to the supermarket yesterday. To say that things were dealt with swiftly and with good grace would be something of an overstatement. But I least I didn’t have a fight. Which reminds me, I have to go back to the bank today as it’s not possible to give instructions and sign the mountains of paper on the same day. And as for a simple phone call to move money between accounts, well…..

It’s remarkable how engrained cultural norms are. After five years, I can just about live with the fact that no one here makes any attempt to give way to anyone else until fractionally before they bump into them; or that no one indulges in the Pleases and Thank-yous of the over-polite Brits. But I still find it hard to accept that – in a country noted for its slow pace of life - none of my neighbours in our narrow cul-de-sac can wait for me to complete a 3-point turn before racing past me. No wonder the Jesuits used to say – and may well still say – ‘Give us a child for the first five years as he’s ours for life’.

Down into Portugal last night, for a Chinese meal. I guessed there might be problems when I saw the starters included Batatas Fritas. Or chips/french fries to you and me. The duck was off and they’d never heard of ginger, the bedrock of Chinese cuisine as far as I’m concerned. Finally[and dejectedly], I went with the fried chicken - only to find that it came with both rice and chips. I was reminded of an observation that the defining characteristic of Portuguese cooking is carbohydrate overload. We won’t be going back, even though the chicken itself was quite good.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Yet another survey to make the Spanish feel bad about themselves. The World Economic Forum places the country only 27th in a list of 58 countries, developed and not so developed. In fact, things would have been much worse if Spain’s average hadn’t benefited from its top five ranking for ‘Health and Wellbeing’. Within the devilish detail, Spain fared particularly badly for ‘Equality between the sexes’. El Pais has suggested this is because the country is still struggling with the family/work split. Things will only improve, it says, if men take a greater role in housework and child-minding. Quite an obstacle, I fear. Though the gay marriage and adoption statute should help.

Incidentally, the UK’s ‘Health and Wellbeing’ rank was 28th out of 58. No wonder the NHS is the ‘envy of the world’.

Meanwhile, over in ‘Galicia’s fifth province’, Mr Fraga has taken time off from shooting roe deer to address a few more election rallies in Buenos Aires and to promise work in Spain for grandchildren of Galician emigrants. Quite how he will do this when the region’s unemployment level is even worse than the national average is anyone’s guess. At 83, I suspect he’s counting on being dead before any of them start complaining about broken promises.

There are 2 parallel roads which link Pontevedra and Vigo, the old 2-lane National road and the newer 4-lane motorway. The latter is controversial as the toll on it is high. The Galician government has responded to demands for a reduction by announcing that a third parallel road will be built, a little further inland. This, too, will be both a 4-lane motorway and a toll road, allowing the charge on the current motorway to be lifted. This seems to me to be planning madness and I’m left wondering what lies behind it. I suppose one factor is that it isn’t the Spanish taxpayer financing it. What the other factors might be, I can’t begin to guess.

A reader has written expressing astonishment that I completed two banking transactions in a single day and asking to which saint I pray. Well, in truth only one of the successful transactions was at my bank; the other was at one of the local tax offices. And tomorrow morning I must gird my loins for another trip to the bank. Once again, I will give them instructions for the rollover of my maturing deposit and once again I will be told that – in my interests – this can’t be done for a day or three. So, on the way out. I might just kick over the table of crockery.

Monday, May 16, 2005

A new sight on the Vigo to Pontevedra road this afternoon – Santiago-bound pilgrims on those aluminium scooters that were all the rage for kids a few years back. At first I thought the things were motorised but then noticed their ‘riders’ were free-wheeling downhill. God’s Holy Rollers, I guess. I hope they had more than prayer for brakes. Air brakes, perhaps.

One of Sunday’s local papers featured the Santiago fashion shops of the Italian girlfriend of one of the area’s drug barons. The article made no bones about these being used to launder money and, if the lady in question was at all worried about this exposure, she hid it well. There were two photos of her beaming broadly from the doorway. Mind you, unlike his wife, she’s still alive. She died a couple of years ago when her 4x4 suddenly left the road and hit a brick wall.

The President, Mr Zapatero, has said he’ll talk to the Basque terrorist group, ETA, if it gives up its arms. Given that Basque secessionist aspirations are already being progressed by both legal and [probably] illegal political parties, it’s hard to imagine what purpose ETA would serve without arms and, therefore, what would be on the agenda for any discussions. This seems to be a view shared by ETA themselves, as they demonstrated yesterday by fire-bombing four local companies who’d refused to pay protection money.

Yet another prototypical car crash on Sunday morning – a SEAT Leon [the sports version, of course] left its side of the motorway, crossed the central reservation, crashed through the roadside barrier and plummeted down a bank, killing both of its occupants. These were 22 and 23 years-old, no other car was involved and it was at 5.30 in the morning. Which says it all.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

In an editorial yesterday, El Pais noted that, whereas the EU couldn’t continue without France, the “British people need to know that it certainly could survive without the UK”. I think this may have something to do with Britain’s [partial] rebate from Brussels, which El Pais has somehow convinced itself is damaging to Spain, the EU’s largest beneficiary. Whatever, it sounds like an invitation to me.

Such is the pace of [EU funded] road building in Spain, it can be very confusing to know which bit of tarmac you’re actually on. This is because, for one reason or another, the multiple numbers with which major Spanish roads are blessed can change overnight. This usually happens after the upgrading of a road and/or the construction of another one alongside it. Thus, the highway from Vigo to Portugal used to be the N120/N550/E1 but is now the A55/N120/N550. I don’t know where the E1 has gone but, as it’s an EU road, I don’t really care.

The unscientific evidence of my own eyes suggests that most of Pontevedra’s drivers have progressed from Phase 0 [no seat belts on in the car] to Phase 1 [All front seat belts on] but have yet to flirt with Phase 3 [everyone in the car with belts on]. I guess this belated but impressive advance must be put down to recent campaigns from the Ministry of Traffic. But I fear it will be a while yet before it gets through to parents what it means to have a human missile hit you in the back of a head when the car brakes suddenly. Not to mention what it does to your unbelted kids, as they either come up against you or sail through your windscreen. Especially if they were standing on the console between the front seats when the brakes were applied.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

After 6 weeks of silence, Tony is home from the sea and back to his bellowing best. But it was actually a more female sound through the bedroom wall last night that alerted me to his probable return. To be honest, it’s not so much the noise from him [or even his wife] which is most disturbing but the whingeing of their 4 year-old, who turns into a relentless cry-baby when his father’s home from the sea.

During a trip to my bank this week, I saw they had a special offer of a dinner service for anyone opening a 3 month deposit account. I could hardly not notice – there were boxes piled up all over the place. The bank looked less like a marbled hall of finance than Spode’s seconds shop in Stoke. A little later, I passed another branch and saw a table in the lobby set with the porcelain on offer. This bribe of a single set of crockery for a term deposit seems truly pathetic to me. So when I roll over mine next week, I shall ask for several of them.

I chanced a purchase from the fish van this week, buying 4 “small pescadillas”. Not recognising the little creatures, I checked with the dictionary and found pescada to be hake. So what I’d bought were “small, little hakes”. I suspect the correct Spanish word for these is ilegal. Hmm. Incidentally, hake is revered in Spain but thought little of in the rest of Europe, especially France. I have a fondness for it born of the fact that one of the French words for it is colin.

Changing Spain?: I read occasionally of steps being taken to reduce the country’s high levels of ‘acoustic pollution’. This week, the Pontevedra council said it will introduce automatic control of noise levels in the hundreds of all-night bars that populate the old quarter. I struggle to see how they’ll actually do this; perhaps some sort of regulator on the hi-fi system. Meanwhile, the town’s Association of Women has been taken to task for booking their annual party in a bar which has been served with a closure order for persistently exceeding permitted noise levels. Perhaps the Chairwoman is the lady who told me ‘No noise, no life!”.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Someone has kindly pointed out that, for this blog, I’ve written 50,000 words, the equivalent of a short novel. In fact, this is Blogspot’s never-changing number and a word check of my 2004 and 2005 scribblings reveals a true total of 94,800 so far. Like everyone else, I’ve always thought I had a novel in me; I just didn’t know it had got out.

Well, that estimable geriatric, Mr Fraga, has made the trip to South America that was so easy to forecast. And, whilst it naturally “doesn’t have anything at all to do with the imminent elections”, it seems that Buenos Aires is decked out with PP party posters of his luminous, wrinkle-free face. I imagine Galicia will now be deluged with Argentineans looking for his plastic surgeon.

In an El Pais report on the post-election UK political scene, one of Gordon Brown’s promoted acolytes is referred to as a Brownista. This is a perfect rendition of the English term Brownite but somehow seems much more sinister to me. And possibly to Tony Blair.

On the doors of many garages in town, there are official signs saying that the entrance must be kept clear by law. They’re issued by the local council but I’ve often wondered whether I could just get one knocked up in some tool shop or other. Now I know. A check has revealed that more half of them are illegal.

Astonishingly, the Vatican has reminded the King of Spain that his oppo in Belgium many years ago refused to sign an abortion decree and suggested he think about doing the same with the gay marriage statute coming his way soon. I suppose this madness is to be expected when your last great client state is slipping away but it will surely be self-defeating and counterproductive. Juan Carlos is reported to have replied that he is the King of Spain and not the King of Belgium. Mind you, like the rest of us he probably still has to do what Brussels tells him to do.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

During a parliamentary debate yesterday, the President and Leader of the Opposition blew up a hurricane of insults over the so-called Plan for Galicia. The former insisted that the government was spending unprecedented sums on the region, while the latter accused them of paralysing the Plan. One of them must be wrong; they can’t both be lying, can they? But wait a minute, don’t we have regional elections in June?

A local traffic policemen has been arrested for offering to waive a parking fine in return for a date. Is this the same chap, I wonder, who let Andrew’s wife off a minor offence and then commented she was rather young for a widow. So will he, when he reads this.

Yet another survey on national sex attitudes. 73% of Spanish men and 71% of Spanish women profess to being happy with their sex lives, though in each case a slightly higher percentage thinks their partner gets more out of it than them. Not sure what, if anything, we can read into this. Except that the women are more accurate about their partners. Possibly even their husbands.

I decided to process 3 bill payments this morning and, as cheques are unknown in Spain, this involved a trip into town. At the bank, my tax return was processed quickly and pleasantly enough. And payment of the annual car tax was similarly expeditious, though I was surprised that the cashier who does nothing but calculate each and every day could give me insufficient change. But at my insurance agents I ran into problems. The challenge was to pay 6 euros for an extension to my policy but it transpired that they’d already sent a direct debit demand to my bank for said amount. This is despite the fact I don’t have such an arrangement with them and every year for the last 4 years they’ve written to me to say that the bank has rejected their demand for the annual premium so could I please come in and give them cash. No matter, I said, I’ll just give you the cash now. Oh no, they said, we’ll have to wait until the bank writes back to us, then we’ll send you a letter and you can come in again and pay us then, in about 15 days. This is a classic example of Spanish bureaucracy in action – senseless, rigid, paper-strewn, wasteful of everyone’s time and presided over by people who lack either the initiative or the courage to change things. Or am I being too harsh? After all, 2 successful transactions out of 3 is not a bad morning’s work in Spain. And I’ve got 15 days’ interest on 6 euros.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

One of the great things about life in Spain is that we’re visited regularly by the bread sellers and the fresh fish van. I remember when this used to happen in the UK. And when there was a fish seller in Knutsford market. And a fishmonger in Congleton High Street. Now there are just supermarkets. We have these in Spain too but it will be a long time, thank God, before the city-centric Spaniards totally forsake their wonderful small shops for these.

Up until last week, I would have said that the one thing lacking here was newspaper deliveries. But now one of the local papers has offered to drop copies off before 8 each morning, the equivalent of 6am elsewhere. This sort of progress I can live with.

And still on a positive note – I’ve stumbled across the quickest and most efficient web site in Spain. Sadly, it belongs to the Inland Revenue. They kindly sent me a draft of my tax return and invited correction via the internet. Needless to say, I had problems getting access to my file as I don’t have the ‘First Surname’ they demanded. But experience told me it was likely to be one of my forenames and so it was. Plus they didn’t really want the tax number they requested but my identity card number. But as these are usually the same thing in Spain and I am the exception, this was easy to forgive. And, once into my file, the process couldn’t have been easier or quicker. What a terrible waste of efficiency. Well almost, as they owe me money, not the other way round.

Galicians, it seems, are second only to Andalucians in the fatty stakes, with 69% of men and 53% of women said to be either overweight or obese. Not in Pontevedra they aren’t. In this self-regarding, fashion-conscious little city, the evidence all around suggests it’s a hanging offence to be above average weight. That said, as I was walking across the bridge into town tonight, I came up behind a young lady who certainly was on the wrong side of the line. She had SOC printed on one buttock and CER on the other but, such was the disarticulation, I never got to read the whole word.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I don’t think I’ve mentioned the C de E for a while, which is a shame. For, in the interim, it’s progressed from being ‘The Queen of Vigo’ to become ‘The Queen of All Europe’. Plus it has 2 new suittes – a Suitte Japon and a Suitte Arabe. And its own website. Its advert in the local press leaves even less to the imagination than ever but what I love most is the prosaically helpful line that follows the address – ‘Next door to the Train Station’.

One of the oddest things about Spanish society is the way that male terms are used for both sexes. So the King and Queen are referred to as ‘The Kings’ and the Crown Prince and his newly-pregnant wife as ‘The Princes’. And children are called sons’, parents ‘fathers’, grandparents ‘grandfathers’ and grandchildren ‘grandsons’. It can all be very confusing. Something will have to be done about it in due course. But it’s hard to see what, when Spanish lacks the neutral collective terms that would do the job.

Still on the theme of strange aspects of Spanish society, the words guapa [beautiful] and guapo [handsome] are thrown about with gay abandon here, along with several other common superlatives. But I was a bit knocked back to hear a local politician being greeted onto the podium last night by cries of Guapo! Guapo! from the audience. Needless to say, it wasn’t the geriatric President Fraga, who bears no resemblance to his airbrushed campaign poster. In fact some wag has commented that it’s a reverse Dorian Gray story – the man himself may already look like a corpse but each election produces a picture of him looking even younger than before.

Four teenagers from the same tiny village were killed at 6am Sunday morning, when their car veered off the road, hit a wall and caught fire. Just about the only thing discernible about the car was its expensive sports wheels. I wonder how many more young deaths it will take before indulgent Spanish parents stop financing this slaughter.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Crown Prince and his wife, the lovely Letitia, have announced that they’re having their first child in November. El Mundo responded to this long-awaited development by devoting its first 14 pages to the subject. Indeed, its front page headline was that the gender of the child would impact on the revision of Spain’s Constitution. If it’s a boy, discussions can continue at a leisurely pace as he will succeed under any circumstances. But, if it’s a girl, her accession can only be assured by quickly correcting the sexual inequality enshrined in the existing Constitution. At least, I think this is what it said. I was a bit punch drunk from all the saccharine coverage when I plunged into the details of the political aspects.

In my blog of 3 May, I mentioned a sign near the Royal Palace. Here’s the exact [though less-than-perfect] English text, kindly supplied by our friend, Amber:- Attention: It’s commend all visitors of these gardens to pay attention to your wallet, bag, cachpack, etc. It’s not always policemen here. For policia municipal 112. But in Spanish, it reads: Warning: You are recommended to take care of your wallets, bags, backpacks, etc. in these gardens. There are Moroccan, Rumanian, etc. crooks operating here. And there aren’t always policemen here. For the city police, call 112. No beating about the Spanish bush, then.

You may or may not know that today was the Feast of the Holy EU. A flier in my newspaper advised that – as well as an anthem, a flag, a currency and one or two other things, the EU now has this fiesta day in commemoration of the Schuman Declaration of 9 May 1950. I suppose we can look forward to an EU Catechism next year.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

There’s a special driving school in Pontevedra for those having difficulty acquiring the knowledge needed for the theory exam. A newspaper article today helpfully explained that students with ‘learning difficulties’ included illiterates, dyslexics, immigrants and gypsies. Intriguingly, the owner tells us that the last mentioned often arrive late because they’ve had difficulty parking their cars. “They can all drive’, she added “but they can’t understand the signs and have difficulty with sentences beginning ‘You can’t…’”. As there are two permanent gypsy encampments on my side of the river, I can’t say any of this came as much as a surprise. Except the bit about them wanting to pass the exam.

I see that one can now buy a zapper which will [surreptitiously] switch off every TV in the world, though not all at once of course. It’s called TV-B-Gone and seems ideal for Spanish cafés and bars where no one is watching the intrusively loud box in the corner. Or even where they are.

My Spanish lady friend has complained that everyone gets mentioned in this blog except her. So there you have it, folks. Nelson Mandela next, I suppose.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

A judge has sentenced a couple of ETA terrorists to 2,775 years in prison. Each, that is. I guess there must be some sort of logic to these surrealistic terms but I have to admit it escapes me. I wonder how many years you have to do before you come up against the parole board. Only to be told – this being Spain – that a key photocopy is missing from your application form so you have to go back to the beginning.

Talking of missing logic – I'm lost as to why three of the five dearest cities for petrol are in Galicia, one of Spain’s poorer regions. The other two are in mega-rich Catalunia. My guess would be a cartel. Though there just might be some connection with the right of the largest operator to veto the construction of new service stations.

After a month of piano lessons, I can now play a few scales and one or two chords but I haven’t yet been introduced to anything as useful and interesting as a tune. So it’s doubly worrying that my teacher warned me today that the next month will be ‘more abstract’. So, email me in a week or two if you want to know anything about the construction of 18th century pianos.

Quotes of the Day:

Patience in enduring inconsistency and contradiction - an awareness of the contingency of all things - is the soul of irony; it is also what makes Englishness both so enduring and so difficult to grasp.
Germaine Greer, finding a way to use ‘enduring’ twice in one sentence, albeit once as a gerund and once as an adjective. And confusing us all in the process.

The penalty that good men pay for failing to participate in public affairs is to be governed by others worse than themselves.
Plato, commenting on the recent British general elections

Friday, May 06, 2005

Time for my regular plaudit for the Spanish press. Their coverage of the UK elections has been impressive and way beyond anything that might appear in the UK on matters Spanish. Mind you, I took exception to a hagiographic article today suggesting Tony Blair was a political genius in his prime. As opposed, I guess, to a busted flush who’ll be handing over to the real leader of the Labour party very soon.

It was 30 degrees here both yesterday and today and I have been hugging the shadows so as to keep the sun off my melanin-poor skin. The sun and its warmth are welcome of course but spring temperatures at this level are clearly confusing the locals. The young women don’t know whether to stay in their winter coats of go for what we might call the ‘almost nothing’ look. Happily, several of them have opted for the latter.

After a sunny, dry winter, we’ve had a warm and wettish spring here in south Galicia. So everything in the garden is blooming. Everything, that is, except the young Leylandi-like trees I planted last October and which are reputed to grow at the rate of dozens of metres a year. These were installed after my elder daughter demanded a screen between us and the noisy Catalans next door so that she could concentrate on her career as an author. But as she’s since buggered off to live in Madrid, I don’t suppose all this matters very much now. Anyway, we’ve got two months or so before the screaming grandchildren arrive from Barcelona to take over the pool. Which reminds me - I suspect Tony is back from his tanker today. Let the bellowing begin. The joy of Spanish neighbours.

Talking of my daughter, she’s now into her fourth month of getting herself registered at the town hall in Madrid so that she can secure the state health cover we failed to get here in Pontevedra. Having read that 600,000 illegal immigrants are being allowed to register under an amnesty which ends very soon, I suggested to Faye it might be quicker if she got herself down to Andalucia and sat on a beach until she was arrested. Valuable material for a novel, if nothing else.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The ruling PP party of Galicia has kicked off the regional elections with a poster bearing the head of the 82-year old president bathed in so much light he looks at least 20 years younger. The strap line is ‘More President’, though it should read ‘More President, Fewer Wrinkles’. In El Mundo today there’s a wonderful cartoon showing his illuminated visage with an arrow pointing to it labelled Votox. This is even better in Spanish, where ‘v’ is pronounced ‘b’.

The papers continue to report that only 2 or 3% of Spanish drivers are found to be over the tough alcohol limits. But what they [apparently] lack in quantity, they can certainly make up for in quality. This week the police in a nearby town chased a drunken youth through the old quarter - after he’d smashed his way through a road block - and finally caught him after he’d wrapped his car round some bollards. The impressive thing is that he’d done all this with one of his wheels clamped. The police also stopped one driver doing 161kph in a 50kph zone and another at 223kph [139mph] on the autopista.

I read that Tehran is now the nose-job capital of the world. Hardly surprising, really, when this is all you’re allowed to show.

I also read, to my surprise, that the age at which one can marry in Spain is 14. This was in the account of a Supreme Court acquittal of a 30 year-old teacher of having illegal sex with a 14 year-old pupil, on the grounds that she’d been a willing partner.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

ABC is possibly Spain’s most right-wing newspaper. In a recent edition there was a column in which the writer defended his right to call homosexuals ‘poofs’, as it was the activity which was wrong, not the word. And because he didn’t intend to insult anyone. This is a similar argument to that still heard here that ‘nigger’ can’t be insulting, as it only means ‘black’. Anyway, I highlight this not to comment on the content of the article but merely to point out that the writer’s name was Jaime Campmany. You couldn’t make it up.

Down the road, the artificial hill has a acquired a flimsy wooden palisade between the rocks and the equally useless metal rail. The other developments are that a legal suit has now been initiated against the builder, while the council has announced it’ll keep the adjacent road closed until the situation is safe. What no one seems to have realised is that the roundabout even closer to the avalanche-in-waiting is still open. Any vehicle going round it would surely be crushed. But I suppose we must be grateful that at least some degree of risk has now been recognised.

I watched the Liverpool-Chelsea game last night in a bar with Andrew. As he is a Reds supporter and I’m an Evertonian, I’d planned that a Liverpool victory would result in him buying drinks for all the customers. Especially as they’d clearly favoured Liverpool because of the various Spanish connections. And because Mourinho is Portuguese. But, by the time I was able to scrape Andrew off the ceiling, everyone had rushed off home for a 10.30 dinner. Blasted Spanish practices.

Nice cartoon in one of the national papers – an exhausted bull is looking into the eyes of his tormentor and saying – “Now that the Socialists have introduced sexual equality, don’t you think you could occasionally take on a cow!”

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

As far as I know, there’s only one classical music channel on Spanish radio. This is a pleasure to listen to for most of the day but, come the evening, it’s taken over by people who clearly regard Stravinsky as too traditional. The result is atonal, cacophonous tripe. I suppose this is a form of stuff-the-proles elitism that, in other areas, I would wholeheartedly support. But not in this case.

The Spanish seem to love comparing themselves with other countries, particularly those in Europe. I suspect this is a hangover from 30 years ago - when the lags were sizeable – and so may reflect a continuing [if slight] inferiority complex. Closer to home, the statistics must be welcome material for local newspapers that need to be filled every day. So today, for instance, I learned that Galicia is 1st in Spain for giving blood; 5th in the number of agricultural workers; and 6th in the obesity rankings. Who’d have thought it?

I’m more confused than ever on whether prostitution is legal in Spain. I suppose it must be when the public prosecutor is seeking 8 months in jail for a chap in Lugo who declined to cough up the 600 euros he’d promised to a lady who’d stayed the night with him. On reflection, I can see why this might be a civil offence [breach of contract] but am hard pushed to see why it would be a criminal offence justifying a prison sentence. Another of my unfortunate phrases.

A friend has told me of a sign near the Royal Palace in Madrid which reads something like ‘People with bags should be careful as there are gangs of Moroccans and Romanians operating around here’. At least, it does in Spanish. In the English version no mention is made of nationality. “Racist, us? Nunca!’

Monday, May 02, 2005

It’s often said in Spain that 80% of undergraduates are only at university to have a ball, amply supported by the ability to retake exams for years on end and by boundless parental indulgence. The other 20% work as hard as anyone in the world. I think I must have one of the latter as my piano teacher. After 7 hours of lessons, I know an awful lot about the musculature of the arm and quite a bit about harmonics. And I’ve even learned a few scales. But as for tunes – there’s nothing on the horizon. And this is despite me telling him at the outset that I just wanted to be able to play a little blues and boogie.

As I approach roundabouts [circles], I frequently wonder how on earth the driver in front passed his or her test. Now I know that it’s quite possible they didn’t. The police have arrested driving school principals all across the country, having discovered a nationwide fraud aimed at helping those with more cash than intelligence to sail through at least the theory exam. This centred on the simple ruse of sending answers to mobile phones. Given this morality, it’s easy to imagine some impersonation going on for the practical exam.

Galicia is a truly beautiful part of the world but it’s a sad fact that human aesthetics still lag behind those of nature. My local paper reports today that the various building laws introduced since 1985 have done little to stem the tide of ugliness. One of the main problems is that, until not so long ago, the ground floor in Galician homes was dedicated to animals. And it seems that the locals can’t shake off this concept, meaning that a [relatively] handsome first floor often sits atop a ground floor of raw brick and metal. I’ll be putting one or two of these monstrosities on my web page in a day or so.

Final word - my elder daughter tells me that the statistics about Spanish students quoted above apply equally well to British kids these days. O tempora, o mores.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Two things Spain is blessedly free of are a tabloid press and a greetings card industry. But I suspect it’s only a matter of time before the latter, at least, blights our lives. That said, most Spanish families still live cheek by jowl so there’s not a great deal of incentive to send a card to someone you see at least once a day.

Meanwhile, though, I read today that in the UK one can buy a wide variety of cards which would have been scandalous only a generation ago. These include ‘Happy Christmas to my Mum and boyfriend’ and ‘Happy Wedding to my Parents’. Personally, I am shocked. Why should ‘Mum’ merit a capital letter, whereas ‘boyfriend’ doesn’t? Is British society now so emasculated that this sort of thing is allowed to happen without street riots?

Today is Mothers’ Day here and, although we may not yet have a card for the occasion, we do have advertising campaigns in all the media. There is a cartoon in one paper today which highlights the rampant commercialism of all this by showing a businessman sucking on a breast while hundreds of shoppers stampede into a store. IKEA possibly. As ever, we know it’s a greedy businessman because he's wearing a tailcoat and a very tall stovepipe hat. This image of the 1930s has cleared seared itself into the Spanish collective consciousness.

At the bottom of the artificial hill down the road [see yesterday’s blog], there’s now a flimsy barrier closing off the pavement and road in what I suspect would be a futile attempt to protect pedestrians and drivers in the event of a landslide. This appeared very shortly after I took the photo that’s on my web page. A coincidence, no doubt. No one thought it necessary during the previous 6 days of work

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