Thursday, April 30, 2009

I said the other day that cabrón was the worst thing you could call anyone here but a more acceptable serious insult is mal educado. Which means badly brought up, rather than badly educated. I thought of this when driving down the hill this evening and negotiating my way around the cars waiting for the kids from the private school. This was because one of them – unable to get onto the chevrons because these were fully occupied – had double parked alongside them and entirely blocked my side of the road. When I gave the driver a long, hard stare, she responded with an imperious exhalation of smoke. So, in one fell swoop, at least four subliminal lessons for her child – 1. Don’t bother to walk 50 metres; 2. Ignore the law; 3. Don’t worry about inconveniencing others; and 4. Smoke yourself to an early death. Poor kid. Still, as I say, this probably happens in Chelsea as well.

Talking of smoking . . . at lunch today with Spanish friends, I asked one of them whether she was going to continue doing this now that the food had arrived. Her reaction suggested she felt it was ruder of me to say this than it was for her to smoke while I ate. But, if I’m right that the basic rules of Spanish life are Have Fun and Live and Let Live, then there’s a certain logic to this view. I should have let her do what she wanted to do with her life, even if it adversely affected mine. Which philosophy underpins individualismo, I guess.

Here’s a surprise news item – “It was World Anti-Noise Day on Wednesday, an event generally ignored in Spain, the country considered to be the noisiest in Europe.” It looks as if the sound of any media report was drowned out by the ambient noise. Also very logically.

The list of eminent people calling for structural reforms in Spain grows longer by the day. “Now the EU has joined the calls suggesting a later retirement age or a reduction in pension levels to ensure their future.” President Zapatero shows no sign of changing his obdurate stance and insists that “The worst is behind us’. Optimism is, of course, a fine virtue. But a strategy . . ? Is anyone giving him a rough ride on the TV? Or is government control proving effective in this regard?

Many thousands of people around the world do die each year because of ‘flu. Several thousand hospital patients in the UK do die from infections caught there. But these aren't considered newsworthy. However, billions could die from the new variant of swine 'flu so the world is in turmoil again. As Simon Jenkins says in The Guardian today, “We appear to have lost all ability to judge risk. Risk aversion has trounced risk judgment.” I occasionally say the attitude to risk is rather lax here in Spain but sometimes I’m tempted to conclude this is better than a mad, headlong rush to the other end of the spectrum. Where, as someone else put it, “People seem helpless in navigating the gulf that separates public information from their daily round. They cannot set a statistic in context. They cannot relate bad news from Mexico to the risk that inevitably surrounds their lives. The risk of catching swine flu must be millions to one."

Ah, well. Where’s me face mask?

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Well, at last a reaction from the Spanish to the dire economic situation . . . 76% of those surveyed said that unemployment was now their main concern, the highest number ever.

Not a huge shock, of course. What was more surprising, to an Anglo, was that 73% felt the State was mean when it came to paying for care of the aged. Isn’t this all supposed to be done by loving children in Latin societies? Perhaps it is but they feel the entire cost shouldn’t fall on them.

I see that, in the side show around Carla Bruni's visit to Spain, President Sarkozy has said the high-speed train link between Barcelona and Lyon will start in 2012. Which was nice to hear only a week after reading that the AVE to Galicia will be delayed until 2015-7 as a result of a decision to ensure it doesn’t have to slow down from 300 to 200kph when it reaches our mountains. The minister in charge explained that it was better to delay things than inflict a ‘second-class’ service on the region of his birth. As if any of us were really expecting it before 2018, six years late. Presumably it will be at least 2020 now. Difficult not to sympathise with the Galician view that they're hard done by.

I’ve just finished an amusing account of Labour’s years in the political wilderness before 1997 – "Things Can Only Get Better” by John O’Farrell. The quote that follows reminded me of my own point of a few weeks ago, to the effect that one of the problems in dealing with those from the Left of the spectrum is their belief they hold the moral high-ground and that, by definition, it’s evil to disagree with them. Talking of himself and his young socialist colleagues, O’ Farrell writes - “While we condemned anyone who did not share our view of the world as ‘fascists’, we had developed a special fascism of our own, which excluded and condemned people because of what they believed in. Voltaire said ‘I do not agree with what you say but would die for the right for you to say it.’ We said ‘I do not agree with what you say, so you are not allowed to say it because you’re a fascist.’"

It also very much reminded me of political discourse in Spain, where anyone who doesn’t agree with you is a fascist, wherever in the spectrum you're standing. And where hard-line nationalists of one persuasion invariably accuse those who don’t share their opinions of being hard-line nationalists of another persuasion.

But on to more important matters . . . There was a nice report in The Telegraph this morning on last night’s Barca-Chelsea clash. Of which this is an extract – “Messi was mesmerising, joining Iniesta in running the show, delighting Barcelona fans and all who love the Beautiful Game. Here was an exhibition of how football should be played: with hunger, energy and sumptuous skill, taking on an opponent with a feint here, a flick there and no end of dribbles. Camp Nou was a canvas and Messi’s vivid brush-strokes were all over it.” All very true. Yes, Chelsea were impressive in defence but also pretty lucky. And it was a penalty. When viewed from behind.

As I’m in town for other things, I thought I’d drop into my normal wi-fi café and finish off this blog. Not a good idea, as it appears to be Bring-Your-Baby-and-Let-it-Scream Hour.

Finally, I’d just like to add my tuppence-worth to the media frenzy and say that Letizia edges it for me, over La faux-doe-eyed Sarkozy. Assuming I was forced to make a choice. Otherwise, either would be OK.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Well, it was Hebrew in the carving I showed yesterday. But, thanks to reader Victor, I now know that the book was, in fact, the slabs of stone containing the 10 Commandments, being held by Moses. The horns in his head are the result of a mis-translation of the Hebrew for rays of light.

On to weightier matters, on which I was going to write on Friday but held off to see what the weekend would bring . . . Spain’s economic data is too awful to repeat. President Zapatero has said he won’t change his policies in the face of it but I, for one, am not clear what these actually are, other than increasing public expenditure while rejecting demands from employers that it be made less expensive to both hire and fire people. The Opposition has claimed there’s no ‘socialist way’ out of the crisis, to which President Z has replied it’s either that or nothing. So, the Opposition is trying to turn the imminent EU elections into a vote of censure, which rather assumes a significant percentage of hacked-off Spaniards will bother to turn out to vote. Which I rather doubt. President Z may well believe, in his heart of hearts, that tough measures and structural reforms are required but he gives not the slightest evidence of doing so. He may, of course, regard admissions of the harsh truth as potentially suicidal ahead of these elections. So, we continue to have a sort of phoney peace, in which nothing is happening – as far as I can see – apart from the transfer of large sums of money to the cash-strapped regional governments, who may or may not be spending it less profligately than in recent years. And possibly for the benefit of their citizens.

As for protests on the street . . . I continue to be surprised - more accurately, astonished - at the restrained reaction of the Spanish to an unemployment rate rising towards 20%, which is the highest in Europe and which is widely forecast to be heading for 5 million. Is it resignation and fatalism on the part of a people who feel they didn’t really deserve the good times? Or is it, say, because the greatest impact has been on the 5 million or more immigrants who came in to provide hands for the (phoney) construction boom? I really haven’t the faintest idea, especially as Pontevedra appears to be rather immune to the cold draughts. At least in the café I’m typing this in.

Which reminds me . . . The 11am cacophony is greater than ever this morning, partly because all the 7 thirty-somethings at the next table appear to think screaming is compulsory. A few minutes ago I decided to counter this by playing some Blues through my computer using the excellent Spotify program which has now reached Spain. But, believe it or not, I couldn’t hear a bloody thing from the computer, even at max volume. Happily, I remembered I had the earphones from my MP4 in my bag. Not perfect but at least I can now hear both the Blues and myself think.

Finally . . . I’m a bit disparaging about Galician cuisine from time to time. So here’s a laudatory comment from a blog which made Google Alert this week. Unlike mine, needless to say – “Not all Galician cuisine is seafood based and the region can lay claim to some quite gorgeous recipes and provincial dishes which are all well worth trying out. Here is one for Galician beef sirloin." Que aprovechen.



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Monday, April 27, 2009

There were two peaks in hits to my blog during the past few days. Firstly, when I referred to Basque terrorists. And, secondly, when I quoted the word ‘fuck’. Now, if I could only think of a sentence combining all of these, I’d have it made.

Talking of the word ‘fuck’ or, rather, of its Spanish equivalent ‘joder’, reader Ferrolano writes to say, in effect, that we shouldn’t be too judgmental as it doesn’t have the same force as its English equivalent and really means something like merely ‘screw’. Putting this another way, the word ‘joder’ doesn’t have the same taboo status as the English word ‘fuck’ just about still has. But this cuts both ways. The worst thing you can call anyone in Spain is ‘cabrón’. Or ‘billy goat’ to us Anglos. I think I’m right in saying this has nil taboo status in English anywhere in the world. And so is unlikely to produce the same reaction as it does here.

I believe that the effect of ‘cabrón’ is related to the connotation that the insultee has been cuckolded by someone with whom his wife is enjoying a spot of horizontal jogging. In other words, he’s had the (goat-like) horns put on him.

Which, oddly enough, takes us back to Salamanca. For I was surprised to see this bas-relief on one of the wonderful plateresque facades there. All of its many companions seemed to be saints but, personally, I’m not aware that any of these either had real horns or was notorious for having an easy wife. So I’m left wondering whether it isn’t really meant to be the devil. Who did (does?) have horns but is not known to have ever got married. The rather disturbing aspect of this head and shoulders is that the book being read seems to have Hebrew characters in it. Could this possibly be right? Can anyone provide a welcome insight or two?


Finally . . . This afternoon I’ve received two messages from a bank with which I don’t have an account saying my credit card has been used for purchases in local shops. They quote the last number of the card, which bears no relation to mine. I assume it’s some sort of scam designed to make me respond and incur a hefty phone charge. At least, I hope it is as, otherwise, I’m already 450 euros down.


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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Well, I’ve managed to avoid tripe for eight years in Galicia but finally ate it by accident in Salamanca last night, when it was cunningly disguised as something else. Not content with this, I then moved on – rather more consciously – to deep-fried cow snout, in a place (La Vega) which clearly specialised in bits of various animal heads. My English and German colleagues were rather more constrained, at least until we moved on to my favourite tapas place in the city. I would reveal its name but they were so impressed they swore me to secrecy.

Talking of our four-footed friends . . . Between Zamora and Benavente in Castilla y León, there are several stretches where you’re warned to keep an eye out for ‘Loose animals’. I guess this refers to deer and, perhaps, wild boar but I was regularly troubled by the image of some seductive creature dressed in a basque and fish-net tights, trying to lure me into one of the ‘clubs’ which litter Spain’s highways.

And talking of highways . . . The condition of the road towards Zamora from our lunch spot of Ledesma was initially poor but suddenly improved. At the same time, the name of the road changed and the kilometre posts started counting down, rather than up. This was because we’d crossed the Salamanca-Zamora line and Spain’s localism demanded that the road number now began with ZA, rather than S, and the distance had to be measured not from Salamanca but to Zamora. As I regularly say, I guess this makes sense to someone.

Finally, it amused me this morning that only one of our party of four had been irritated by people noisily returning to their hotel rooms at 7 this morning after a night on the tiles. This was because she was the only Spaniard among us. The foreigners had all thought ahead and brought ear plugs.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

It’s always a great pleasure to visit Salamanca and to be reminded of the wealth and artistic genius of 16th century Spain. And to enjoy a range of tapas not available in Galicia. Including farinato, which I’d much appreciate the recipe of, if anyone knows it.

I won’t bore you with any of my pix except this one . . .


What with the sashes, the hair-dos and the gorgeous dresses, one could be forgiven for thinking this was a beauty contest. In fact, it was a graduation ceremony.

A few seconds after I snapped this, someone issued an instruction to move to another staircase, whereupon several of the lovely ladies treated us to the traditional Spanish response of “Joder!” Or “Fuck!”. The beast within the beauty.

Friday, April 24, 2009

As I’m travelling this evening, here’s an early hotchpotch of stuff that will hopefully interest or amuse. But don’t overlook last night’s post. Even if it is rather long . . .

There are now four Spanish restaurants in the world’s top ten, with El Bulli again nabbing the top spot. But I must say I don’t see much evidence of this hegemony in my corner of the Iberian peninsula.

Not very surprisingly, 53% of Spaniards are reported to feel they’d be better off if they still had the peseta, instead of the euro. Only in Portugal, apparently, is the degree of dissatisfaction with the level of protection provided by the single currency greater than it is in Spain. I guess many people feel an inevitable devaluation would have saved the day, not understanding that this is exactly what joining the eurozone was intended to prevent. I wonder how many of them are aware of the painful restructuring of the Spanish economy that was/is also planned but which Sr Zapatero naturally seems unwilling to engage with just now. Mañana, perhaps.

Great to see old Ambrose back, taking a view on the plight of the UK. Apparently, the good news is that Britain goes into the slump with a lower level of sovereign debt than some G7 countries. Though perhaps things don’t look quite as rosy after the recent Budget announcement.

As my stints in the wi-fi cafés show, it takes a lot to stop the Spanish eating and drinking out. But, in this, they still rank behind the Greeks and the Portuguese. As Portugal’s recession started several years before everyone else’s, this is a bit of a mystery to me. Perhaps it’s another reflection of the ‘submerged economy’ (black market) which thrives in each of these.

Finally, another depressing portrayal of British society. You don’t have to be a rug-chewing fascist to have deep regrets about what has been done to the UK culture in the few years since I was a boy. Or to fear that there are no easy ways to reverse the situation.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I mentioned that the two wi-fi cafés I use don’t mind if you use their electricity, even as one of five cybernauts plugged into an extension cable in one case. I also said that I doubted this would be looked on kindly in the UK. But, of course, we’re talking about two very different cultures. In one, they couldn’t care less if you stayed stooped over your laptop for five hours and only bought one small coffee. And in the other, they certainly would. The difference centres on views of time. Not to mention the purpose of life.

As it happens, I was at my morning café early today and this gave me the chance to observe some of the rigidities of Spanish life that one can very profitably – as with herd-like beach behaviour – use to one’s advantage. Crudely, then . . .
10-11: Pretty empty and quiet. The loudest distraction is likely to come from the 1-5 TVs on the wall, especially if it/they are tuned to MTV
11-12: Starting to get busy and noisy as families come in, talk simultaneously, and try to make themselves heard over the TV(s) which have been turned up over the customer racket.
12-1: Pandemonium as the families are joined by office workers on their hour-long 15 minute break, and the TVs are turned up to their max to compensate.

I exaggerate, of course. But not much.

What can you say about Mr Darling’s utterly depressing budget numbers, other than they might just kick-start the stagnant Spanish property market as Brits decide to flee the implications for themselves and their children over the decades ahead. If so, it might cause an early revision to the statement I read yesterday that “Given the current rate of demand, homes on the Costa del Sol will take between four and eight years to sell.” It’s an ill wind. Meanwhile, I think I’ll give up on my bet on the pound rising to 1.25 against the euro. Or staying there, at least.

The right-of-centre newspapers naturally go to town on Messrs Brown and Darling but even the left-of-centre Guardian mocks their ludicrous optimism – “From the bridge of HMS Fantasy Island everything looks fine. . . Gordon Brown still nurtures hope that Labour will win in 2010, but has left a poison pill for David Cameron, just in case.” How admirable.

Click here for a selection of commentaries from the UK press. As ever, Polly Toynbee of The Guardian has the capacity to bring a smile to one’s face. Though this is not exactly her intention, of course.

Here’s a photo I took the other day, as I drove down the hill past the entrance to the street where there’s a private school for the offspring of Pontevedra's pijos. It’s of recently installed Don’t-Park-Here chevrons.

I guess they’ve been put there to stop the mothers-in-waiting making it virtually impossible for the school buses to come out of the road and turn left. This afternoon I happened to drive up the hill shortly before this daily ritual and noticed – needless to say – that the space was occupied by three cars, driven by ladies who are either blind or couldn’t be bothered to park 50 metres away. But I guess this happens in, say, Chelsea, as well. And it strikes me it could be yet another revenue initiative by the local council. As they say – Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean no one is following you . . .

Despite the overhang of a million or more unsold properties, building work hasn’t stopped in Pontevedra. There are several new blocks of flats going up around the city and, in the centre, they’re barely past the stage of digging out the foundations on one large site. My guess is that – with a lead time of 5 years or more – the constructors are betting on an upturn in the cycle before they’re completed. Nearer to home, however, work appears to have been suspended on the terrace of houses across from my front gate. The huge crane was dismantled last week, when I was out. Which was disappointing as, not having seen it mantled in the first place, this was something I’d wanted to watch. Anyway, as you can see, the properties nearer ‘my’ end of the block have been left without window frames and glass. But my neighbour, Tony - who is not only noisy but an expert on everything - assures me the crane is not needed for these. Should work ever start again.

And talking of properties . . . Here’s a dossier on my house in the hills I’m renting out this summer. And for which there are still a couple of weeks left in July and August. Write to me on colindavies@terra.es, if you’re at all interested. Actually, I’m happy to rent it out for longer – eternity even – if anyone is tempted.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Governor of the Bank of England recently torpedoed the British Prime Minister by publicly doubting the wisdom of his fiscal measures. No doubt Mr Brown fumed in private but he refrained from, say, caricaturing the Governor as a lackey of the Secret Society of Baby-eating Plutocrats. Or at least as someone keen to terrify the country’s actual and future pensioners. Things are a little different here, where lèse-majesté is seen as akin to treason. As it would have been by Franco, I guess. Click here for more.

In each of the two wi-fi cafés I use down in town, there’s an electric socket in the corner which is used by the first person to get to it. I suspect - perhaps wrongly - that this wouldn’t be looked on kindly by café owners in the UK but it’s clearly acceptable here. Anyway, I was rather surprised a couple of evenings ago when a young woman – seeing I’d commandeered the socket – asked for an extension cable. And I was even more taken aback last night to see we’d arrived at the logical extension of five surfers plugged into the café’s electricity supply. Very pragmatic and sensible and, as I say, hard to imagine happening in the UK.

Here’s how the new bus-stop is taking shape down at the large roundabout at the bottom of the hill.


As you can see, the construction has temporarily swallowed the bay in which the bus stops. So, does this mean that the people who normally park in it have stopped doing this until things are back to normal? Of course not. Now they occupy one of the two lanes of the roundabout. Which means, of course, that drivers can’t obey the primary rule of only using the outside lane. So, if the police were to park nearby, they could have a field day, fining not only the large percentage of people who negotiate the roundabout while on the phone but also every single driver forced to use the inside lane. At a pinch, they could also fine the folk who illegally park on the roundabout itself. Now, that would be revolutionary.

By the way, the above photo accidentally captures an example of a van parked half on the pavement, just before the zebra crossing, and obscuring the latter in the process. Just after I’d taken it, another van drew up and completed the job by parking right on the crossing. Both drivers clearly felt this was a better alternative to using the car park of the shopping mall they were visiting. I suppose the police could fine these too but now we’re talking serious implementation of the law - not to mention regard for safety - and this may be going too far. It could only end in the local police chief being prosecuted for being drunk of an afternoon.

Finally . . . Gorrillas are clearly newsworthy this week.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

One of the aspects of life in Spain about which I’m ambivalent is the scruffy men and women who collect money for guiding you into parking spaces that are, in all senses, free. These are apparently called gorrillas, from their habit of wearing a cap, or gorra. Part of me resents paying and part of me thinks that, if this really helps to prevent drug addicts from stealing my radio, then the council is being admirably pragmatic and sensible. But there’s a straw in the wind from Sevilla, where the town hall has counselled drivers against giving money to these unofficial parking attendants. Further, it says it’s going to start fining them 120 euros for importuning drivers. Even if they can’t pay. Along, I guess, with drivers who can pay for parking where they thought it was legal to do so. And indeed was until this week.

Talking of money – I see the British supermarket, Tesco, has today announced record profits of 3 billion pounds for 2008. My guess is they had to work pretty hard for this. Unlike, say, the two promoters of a new airport down in Ciudad Real who made the very similar sum of 3 billion euros when the rural land they’d previously bought was re-classified as industrial and sold to the local authority. What lucky chaps. And what unlucky taxpayers.

Using a golf buggy – or boggie – at my local course for the first time today, I was surprised to see all the instructions were in English only, even though they stressed an understanding was essential for safe use of the vehicle. Worse, the bit warning about risk of serious injury or death was half plastered over with a sticker giving the buggy’s number. Now, one can take this as a good example of the relaxed Spanish attitude to risk but what it really is is evidence of the fact it’s hard to successfully sue someone for negligence in the Spanish courts. If and when things change, I guess we can expect some tightening up. Meanwhile, I noticed that foreigners (extranjeros) have to pay a green fee 10% higher than the locals. The word ‘insurance’ was written in brackets after the fee but I, for one, am dubious. Anyway, next time I will strenuously deny I am foreign. Insured or not.

Finally, I was approached today by a Chinese publisher of on-line bibles, on the basis that they’d “noticed that you are the Biggest Bible Publisher and Christian product sales channel in your country, and we would like to know if there is a possibility for us to introduce our product to your market.” Damn. My cover’s blown. I hope they didn’t copy it to the Hacienda.

God be with you.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I occasionally mention the speedboats abandoned on our Galician beaches. There may now be rather fewer of these, as “The members of the leading smuggling gang operating in Galicia, a well-travelled gateway for cocaine into Europe, were arrested and their boats seized in an operation which involved scores of officers from the police and the Civil Guard. The so-called lancheros - launch men - were under contract to Colombian cocaine cartels to bring ashore large consignments of the drug. After getting it on dry land, the lancheros hid the drugs to await transport to Britain and other destinations in Western Europe.” Now, this may seem like very good news to you, but spare a thought for our local economy. Times were hard enough already.

I’m used to reading odd female names inspired by the Catholic religion – like Penitencia, Imaculada and Purgatorio (though I may have made up the last of these) – but pickings are less rich when it comes to males. However, I see the father of the new president of the Galician Xunta is blessed with the name Saturnino, Which translates as, well, saturnine. Or melancholy, grave or gloomy. Which seems a lot to load a kid with. I wonder if anyone’s called Diablo. Or even just Lucifero. If so, it'd have to be recent development, as it’s only a few years since the Spanish state withdrew the obligation to name your children after saints. But Santo Saturnino? Well, yes, actually.

Roundabouts again . . . It’s struck me that, in the article I cited, there were no instructions about what signal to give when entering or exiting one of these. Perhaps this is just as well, as any signal, absence of signal or combination of signals seems to be perfectly acceptable. Which leads to the superordinate rule on any roundabout – Don’t trust any signal made by any other driver.

Apart from several Chinese and Italian restaurants, Pontevedra doesn’t offer much by way of international cuisine. The Korean restaurant closed down after only a few months and two Indian restaurants didn’t last much longer either. But the city is now overflowing with kebab places. I guess it’s the perfect dish for hungry souls patronising the dozens of bars and discos of the old quarter. Coincidentally, I’ve heard today that a kebab house in Santiago is offering Thai dishes. Which will have to be investigated.

Meanwhile . . . Hits to this blog have soared today. I’ve suggested this happens if I refer to sex, brothels or prostitutes but, in this case, it looks as if it’s because I cited ETA and terrorism. Perhaps there’s a horde of angry Basques out there tracking the blogosphere for any reference to these. Actually, most of Spain’s Basques seem angry but I guess this is because they’re the ones who get the media attention. They wouldn’t, of course, regard themselves as angry Spaniards.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Leading lights of the ETA terrorist organisation continue to fall into the hands of the French and/or Spanish police. These successes began in 2002 when the French government, after the Twin Towers atrocity, finally decided to stop turning a blind eye to activities on its territory designed to destabilise a fellow-EU member. But, anyway, perhaps it’s not too soon to see the effective evisceration of the organisation. ETA, I mean. Not the French government.

An El Mundo leader this week used the expression ‘a Scottish shower’. My guess was this wasn’t a reference to, say, Celtic football club but to the action of chucking cold water on some aspiration or other. But apparently not. According to this, it’s alternating streams of hot and cold water. Healthier. And, of course, cheaper.

Another nice word seen this week was obus, to describe the 40 yard shot from Ronaldo that put Oporto out of the Champions’ League semi-finals. I took this to be a poetic reference to a medieval cannon but the dictionary gives the more prosaic ‘howitzer’. En passant, here's one - slightly caustic -view of The Portuguese One's achievement. And of him generally. Highly amusing. And valid.

Well, it’s official. A local newspaper this week confirmed that, whether there are two approach lanes or just one to a roundabout (circle), we’re all supposed to funnel down to the one outside lane, whatever exit we’re taking. Even if there are two exit lanes going straight on. The second cardinal rule is that, if you do use the inside lane, you must give way to anyone on your right, in the outside lane. Of course, this is only theoretically possible if you’re executing the one exception to the primary outside-lane rule and are using the roundabout to make a U-turn. The article was about police plans to jack up their campaign to reduce accidents on these hazards. So I guess we can expect them to start parking nearby and fining anyone whom they allege is in the wrong lane. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to get done one of these days. Meanwhile, I’m genuinely interested to know whether these rules apply anywhere else in the world. I’ve driven in 20-30 countries and don’t recall this ever being the case. But it obviously makes sense to someone Spanish.

Finally. . . If there’s one thing the writer of this article should never do, it’s move to Spain.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

One of the features of Spanish life is that no one seems to really trust the national mail service. After eight years of waiting – sometimes vainly – for overdue magazines from the UK, I can certainly sympathise. Not to mention the packages that never did arrive.

The economic news continues to be bad. But not universally so. The (French) Carrefour supermarket company has announced a 10% fall in sales here. I knew I‘d be setting a trend when I decided never again to set foot in any of their stores after the printer saga of a couple of years ago.

And talking of France . . . I don’t know whether Brussels will again fine the French government for not stopping the disruption of their ports this week by various strikers. But I am sure that, if it does, the fines will never be paid. Perhaps they all think this is very funny in Paris and Brussels. Rule of law? What rule of law? Some rules are clearly less rule-ish than others. I believe Spain adopts much the same approach. And why not? If it’s good enough for the core members who wrote the bloody rules, why not for everyone?

Someone arrived at this blog yesterday after googling lesbians in Galicia, where do they go? Not to Pontevedra, I’d hazard a guess.

En passant, it may or may not be the right time to consider Spanish property again. Especially as the pound is creeping towards the rate of 1.25 to the euro on which I think I‘ve staked a bet. But remember, everything’s cheaper in Galicia, where the summers are glorious and the countryside magnificent.

I’ve finally corrected the malfunctioning links on my Galicia web page. So, if anyone wants to see pictures of dove chicks developing or of the Medieval Fair fiestas of 2006 and 2007 in Ponters, click here, here and/or here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Much media attention has been given today to a new Spanish product hailed as the elixir of youth. It’s said to have the equivalent goodness of 45 bottles of wine or 45 kilos of grapes and its name was prominent in the TV news bulletins this morning. One wonders what clinical testing it’s been through and whether it would be allowed on the market in the USA – or even, say, France. But no matter. It’s now had millions of euros of free advertising and it was no surprise that the company executive looked pleased with himself, when interviewed. It will presumably now fly off the pharmacy shelves.

Talking of France . . . I see that President Sarkozy has been indiscreetly critical of at least three national leaders, including President Zapatero of Spain. The oddest thing, though, is that he’s said to have put forward the Italian buffoon, Berlusconi, as the model to follow. Perhaps it was all a bit of black Gallic humour. But it’s certainly being taken seriously here, where it’s well known that some French folk take the view that ‘Africa begins at the Pyrenees’. There was a nice cartoon in one of the national papers showing a worried Sarkozy asking an angry-looking Zapatero “You’re not stupid enough to think I really said you aren’t intelligent, are you?”.

I talked yesterday of the slower pace of life here. Or at least of the lack of urgency. Today I received bills from my medical insurance company relating to dental appointments last October. Good job I’m not dead.

It seems that Telefónica have started their nuisance 1452 calls again. I hope they like listening to my radio. But the more interesting news is that the company’s CEO is in court on charges of insider dealing with his previous company. Perhaps I should give him a call to offer support and to ask whether he wants to change his internet provider.

As I occasionally bang on about the universal Spanish commercial practice of fleecing your customers - or even prospective customers - by forcing them to use a premium phone line, I was pleased to see that a number of airlines operating here – including Easyjet – have been criticised by the Consumers’ Institute for being less than honest and clear with their customers. That should do the trick.

En passant, I see it’s the time of year when the Euroblog awards are adjudicated. And I’m always in favour of anything with Euro in the title . . .

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Regular readers will know I occasionally say the British are too polite and the Spanish not polite enough. This, of course, is a personal view. Of someone who – as with Catholicism – may not agree with all he’s had to take on board but is still a victim of it.

Essentially, the Spanish are less fussed and more pragmatic than the British and, so, much less annoyed – if at all – by what would be considered unacceptable in some other societies. Whether this makes them rude or merely makes them seem rude, is for each individual to decide. There was a case in point this morning, when I was taking a coffee in the wi-fi café I use. Not once but twice, a couple came in and moved their chosen table – to accommodate their respective be-prammed babies – in such a way that it blocked an exit. The first exit was to the terrace and the second was to the changing room of the staff. In the UK, this would be considered bad manners and both customers and the staff would probably show irritation when (politely) asking the people to move so they could go through the door. Not so here. What happens is that the (unannoyed) customers and staff make some non-committal remark or just smile, the blockers apologise as only the Spanish can and then move out of the way. Much the same happens when people feel they need to park in front of a garage door while taking a coffee.

On balance, I suspect this is a better way of doing things, though this may be because I am assimilating. And because I know that the ‘offenders’ are not consciously ignoring one of the norms of polite society. Because there is no norm. The rule is give and take. As to why it happens, I suspect it has a lot to do with the Spanish concept of time. Which is that it’s simply not important, unless you’re waiting at traffic lights. Or there’s someone in front of you on the motorway piddling along at a mere 119kph. More normally, when you feel you have as much time as anything takes – or, to put it another way – you lack any sense of urgency, what does it matter that someone is preventing you from going through a door for a few seconds? As long as they apologise profusely. This,in essence, is the Spanish deal.

Later in the morning, I was taking my wine and tapa in my favourite café-bar. Sadly, it’s also the preferred midday meeting place of the ageing Ponters Pijas. And, if there’s one thing nosier in Spain that a table of teenagers, it’s a table of grandmothers. But today was particularly bad and I asked my favourite waitress, Teresa, whether they were perhaps all deaf. “Possibly.” she said. “But they also all operate the basic Spanish rule – If you shout and talk over me, I will shout louder to talk over you.” You can imagine the outcome. Or, as Teresa said, “They’re like a cage of hyenas”. Which she probably wouldn’t say to their faces. But, then, they do summon her – and her colleagues – by hissing. Now, that does seem rude.

If you follow British politics, you’ll be aware that a new low has been reached in what is, anyway, a dirty business by the revelation of email correspondence between two Labour heavyweights who were planning a campaign of atrocious smears against members of the Opposition and their families. Regular readers will know I’ve long seen the New Labour administration of Blair and Brown and one to which history will be very unkind. So, you’ll understand why I see this development as a fitting epitaph for it. The British media comes out of it badly too. Click here for a comment from the blogger who blew the gaffe on it all. The article he quotes by Alice Miles will explain how the media was implicated. And click here for an honest view from a woman who is sympathetic to Brown but who can clearly see that the core problem is the long-standing, to-the-death enmity between the Blair and Brown factions of the New Labour artefact. It's an odd feature of politicals (and life?) that such things occur more frequently on the Left than on the Right. I suspect it stems from the feeling of moral superiority that always drives ideologues to the conclusion that the stupid people don’t deserve them and that the end, therefore, justifies any means. Which reminds me . . . . but, no, I’ll leave the EU for another day.

And I’ll leave you with this follow-up to the comment yesterday about gay male marriages in Spain being between two husbands . . . . Following the first case of fatal domestic violence between two married men in Spain this week, the President of the court has pronounced it could only be called a gay ‘domestic violence’ incident if it had happened between two lesbians. He ruled out the case being considered as one of 'domestic violence' if two men are involved. So the case must be considered as ‘an ordinary crime against life’. Under Spain’s current domestic violence law, the victim is described as 'female', while the sex of the aggressor is left blank.

Oh, brave new world. Bloody lawyers!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The English expression Ne’er cast a clout til May is out has its Spanish equivalent in Hasta el 40 de mayo, no te quites el sayo. Just in case you don’t know, sayo is the masculine form of the (obsolete?) word for ‘petticoat’ and must mean something like ‘smock’. I mention these because, after two months of summer-like weather even here in Galicia, the winter has returned with a vengeance. Temperatures have plummeted, there's rain all around and many towns are on snow alert. The only compensating news is that this seems to be happening in the UK and France as well. But, as you would expect, this is comfort of a cold kind.

Still on language – Gay men who live together in the UK are usually referred to as ‘partners’. Here in Spain, if they contract a civil marriage (possible in the UK yet?), they're each referred to as a ‘husband’. Which, however logical, sounded decidedly odd when I heard an item on the radio last night about a Moroccan man stabbing his Spanish “ex husband” in Adra, Almería, before committing suicide. I guess lesbian partners are both called ‘wife’ but as this is the same word in Spanish as for ‘woman’, perhaps it grates less on the Anglo-Saxon ear.

The figures for road deaths here in Spain over the last two years are well down on previous years, suggesting an impressively serious response to tougher laws and harsher penalties. But I guess it’ll be a while before we cease to have cases like the macho cretin of 18 driving at 179kph (112mph) on a local road where the limit moves between 60 and 100. Not to mention the chap arrested last week when blind drunk and stationary in the middle of the A9 autopista. On a horse.

Even though the pound is rather lower that it’s been for years – but climbing today – prices in the UK can still come as a shock. Sometimes it’s obvious why things are far more expensive than in the rest of Europe and sometimes it isn’t. Train tickets are scandalously high because a private monopoly is always going to bleed the customer more than a state monopoly. And anything pleasurable in the UK – booze and alcohol, for example – always have massive taxes loaded on them. But why would the price of a 2 gigabyte USB pen be 18 pounds, when I can get one for 8 euros (say 6-7 quid) here in Spain?

I did return to the used clothes bin in the supermarket today. But only to chuck in the partner to my daughter’s boot thrown in yesterday, found pining in the garage this morning.

Finally, traffic to my blog shot up a bit yesterday. I wonder if this is because it contained words like oral, sex and brothel. I guess we’ll know the answer if the same thing happens today.

Finally, finally - A big welcome to Follower no. 18.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Following on from yesterday’s report on the celebratory party for drug smugglers in a brothel, here are a couple more Only in Spain? items from the national press:-

1. “A drag queen has been pardoned by the Spanish Government after being found guilty of carrying out oral sex ‘without consent'.”

2. “An inspector with the Catalan police force has been arrested for renting out his flat as a brothel for 2,000 euros a month.”

I was going to leave it at that for today but three things happened in the space of a few minutes this afternoon and, as they shared an underlying thread, I thought I’d relate them . . .

- Firstly, as I drove down past the pharmacy recently closed after protests from the pharmacists’ guild, it occurred to me that at least we don’t now have to negotiate our way past the gypsy vans that used to park outside it, on the zebra crossing.

- Secondly, as I got to the roundabout at the bottom of the hill, I was able to watch a rules-defying, garish blue car cause havoc by simply driving into and through the traffic that was either already on the roundabout or entering it from the side.

- Thirdly, as I tipped a bag of my elder daughter’s clothes into a special bin in the car-park of the Carrefour supermarket, I recalled her suggesting I looked for a charity shop instead, as the bins were raided every night by the gypsies.

Now, when I re-read the above, I understand why some readers think I’m too negative about Spain. But the truth is I write about whatever impacts my emotions. Whether they make me smile, leave me intrigued/confused or just irritate me. Like the driver in front of me this evening who approached the roundabout signalling right (despite the fact there was no right exit), then didn’t go straight on but drove round the roundabout and took the next exit. By which time he’d switched his indicator off.

This just made me laugh, shake my head and wonder, for the nth time, what on earth was going through his mind. But sometimes, of course, the only possible emotion is anger. Like tonight when the woman walking on my right decided she wanted to go up some steps on my left and promptly crossed a couple of centimetres in front of me, forcing me to stop and nearly blinding me with a spoke of her umbrella. Needless to say, she seemed completely nonplussed by my expression of exasperation. I fear it will be many years before the Spanish understand that this is one of the main reasons why people from other cultures regard them as rude. And possibly many more before they care. But it’s their country and I’m sure I’ll get used to it one day. Meanwhile, in the UK recently, my younger daughter warned me I was displaying dangerously similar tendencies. So I do seem to be assimilating.

By the way, the gypsies can raid the clothes bins because the ‘security’ mechanism for taking them in and dropping them down – the clothes, not the gypsies - doesn’t work unless you get clever with it. Otherwise, they just stay in an easy-to-reach compartment at the top. Now that I know this, I’m tempted to go back myself tomorrow.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spanish banks are now operating at the country's largest estate agents (realtors) and are inevitably resorting to notional discounts and easy finance to get shut of the thousands of properties taken onto their books as settlement of loans made to developers and builders. Not everyone is convinced that the prices are yet realistic.

Still on construction . . . It seems that the flow of new - but unwanted - properties onto the market has finally begun to slow down. That it's taken this long reflects, of course, the long lead time on the buidling of flats and houses here. Those in front of my house are now in their fourth year of construction and, alas, the end is not yet in sight. At this rate, someone might actually want to buy one when they're finished.

Only in Spain? Here’s the opening paragraph from a report I read in one of today’s national papers:- The gang of drug smugglers who stole 600 kilos of cocaine from the port in Barcelona, in a raid which uncovered a racket involving the National Guard and the national police, celebrated their achievement with a two-day party in a brothel which was made exclusively available to them.

Here’s The Economist’s take on the cabinet changes announced last week. I always enjoy the dialogues these generate between Spaniards of a different stamp. Until, that is, they descend into tribal mud-slinging. Which, sadly, sometimes doesn’t take very long. Anyway, the magazine endorses my own comment that President Zapatero is only now beginning to pay the price for a downturn which started some time ago.

I also wrote that, as a result of EU membership, President Z’s room for manoeuvre was severely restricted. But a major development was, in fact, trailed today. If I understand it, the intention is to extend unemployment pay from the current two years to three. One wonders, firstly, where the money will come from and, secondly, whether this really is the best start that could be made on re-structuring Spain’s economy. But it certainly fits with a socialist administration and it might restore a bit of popularity before the EU elections in the summer.

Financed by the funds flowing from property transaction taxes, the town council of Pontevedra has been carrying out disruptive public works (obras) for at least the eight years I’ve been here. And they’re still at it. In fact, the area in front of the town hall and the Alameda which stretches away from it down to the old port are totally obscured by temporary metal fences surrounding excavations in respect of a new underground car park. A complete mess. So, if you intend to visit us this summer, you have been warned. If you read anything suggesting it’ll all be finished by the time you come here, don’t believe it for a second.

Looking ahead, and pondering an ‘adventure holiday’ - Has anyone produced an advance guide to the summer riots of 2010?

To end of a positive note - Road deaths over the Easter holidays were 39, against 58 last year. A real success.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Passenger numbers through Galicia’s three small, would-be international airports last year were way down on 2007 with Vigo showing the biggest drop, at 26 %. I thought of this when I made the three-hour round trip to Oporto in Portugal this morning so that my daughter could fly to Liverpool, rather than to one of London’s inconvenient airports. I suspect Hell will freeze over before the Xunta gets its act together and overrules parochial and self-defeating local rivalries. By which time it will be far too late for everyone in at least southern Galicia.

Talking of flying . . . My two adult daughters separately asked me this week for a nail file and tweezers. This, of course, is because these are now classed as dangerous weapons. Or that’s what they told me, at least.

When I was in the UK recently, it was impossible to find a private wi-fi connection unprotected by a password. In contrast, I have at least 5 neighbours here who don’t bother to secure their connection. I wonder what this says about the respective cultures

Dining on seafood in Praza de La Leña today, I noticed that all of the women at the next table were smoking, whereas none of the men were. This, I suspect, is not totally unrepresentative of modern Spain. Where ‘sophistication’ can come in some strange forms

My congratulations to any reader other than my old friend Rick in New Orleans who realised that this location was a major break with Sunday tradition.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Galicians have always been good at exporting themselves so I wasn’t surprised to read that the two big new cabinet appointments were both from Galicia. As it happens, the first meeting for each of them in their new roles was with the other. Which raises the question of whether they chatted in Spanish or in Gallego.

Which reminds me . . . Both the form for the renewal of my library card and the letter I got this week from El Consumo about my dispute with Ya.com were only in Gallego. Fine, but I wonder whether things will change now that the Galician Nationalist party no longer has a (disproportionately heavy) hand on the reins of power.

Finally, can I say a big Hello to the 17 Followers to this blog. I understand this is Google’s version of a social network and you are a ‘community’ but I haven’t yet been able to figure out how it all works. And a big thanks, too, to the 66 lovely folk who have an RSS feed via Google Reader from [to?] my blog. Happy Easter to you all. And to all other readers, of course.

But isn’t the number 66 connected with the Devil? Or is that 666? Long way to go, if so.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

For those of us living in one of the troubled peripheral members, it’s good to read that, thanks to the long-suffering German taxpayer, it’s unlikely the EU will suffer an existential crisis. Probably.

Just before I left for the UK, I took a book out of my local library and was told I’d have to renew it by internet during my two week absence. But I forgot to do this and so expected a fine when I returned it this week. Instead, I was told I was barred from taking out any more books for three days. Try as I might, I can’t think of the logic for this. Other than the library fears that, if a system of fines were introduced, they’d never see either the lender or their books ever again.

As everyone knows, the Spanish take a flexible, individualistic approach to rules. Especially to those – the majority – seen as personally inconvenient. Here’s a beauty from the Catalan city of Gerona – The local council will be fining dog owners up to 400 euros for not giving their pets a 20 minute walk each day. Presumably the canines will be tagged and/or fitted with GPS devices. Or at least pedometers or stopwatches.

Which reminds me . . . Having occasionally been surprised at the contents of the blue, green and yellow containers in my street, I wasn’t exactly astonished to read this week that only a small percentage of Spaniards know much about recycling household stuff. And even fewer care. Whether this is due to media inattention, wilful ignorance or just a national distaste for regimentation, I wouldn’t know.

Nor was I surprised to read this morning that a significant percentage of young people here think they can have six drinks before they risk being over the limit for driving. This would be bad enough for glasses of wine or beer but, if it’s spirits they’ve got in mind – and assuming the bar-owners haven’t diluted the gin or whisky – this would equate to about 20 glasses in many other countries. No wonder so many of them have fatal nocturnal meetings with lampposts, trees and other inanimate but solid objects at the side of the road home.

Down at the Poio end of the bridge into Pontevedra, there’s a large roundabout with a bus stop on one side of it. You might like to pause a second and think about this concept. But, anyway, it’s currently being renovated. My guess is the new facility will be much snazzier than its predecessor but I’m pretty sure it will be no more of a bus stop. For the truth is the spot is really a car park, into which drivers occasionally allow a bus to intrude. With predictable consequences for traffic flow. I leave you with this pic of a typical scene . . .

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The backcloth to the cabinet reshuffle here has two key elements:- 1. (To quote someone else) - “The recent corruption scandal involving senior figures in the PP does not seem to have had any effect.”; and 2. Thanks to his masterless inactivity, President Zapatero's popularity rating has finally fallen and is now on a par with that of the hapless leader of the Opposition. He’s now said to have got his closest allies around him – including the Emperor of Andalucia – but I’m confident there’ll be another big change by the middle of next year, when it’s become obvious this lot are just as powerless as the last one. And a few more banks have failed, despite Spain’s much-vaunted superior regulatory environment. Rules, Shmules.

On the latter, there’s an interesting dialogue in the comments at the end of this FT report of several days ago on Spain’s soaring unemployment figures. You have to start at the end and work upwards. Spain really is a case-study in what happens if, for political reasons, you hose money at a country with corrupt politicians, an inappropriately low interest rate and a total disregard for the environment. After the phoney boom comes the suffering. Not that this will affect the corrupt politicians, any more than it will affect the money-grubbing MPs and feather-bedded bureaucrats in the UK. Is all this really the inevitable consequence of a long period of peace? Do we need the occasional war to ensure that we maintain perspective? Answers on a postcard, please.

And why am I reminded of the eternal question around development aid as to whether it does more harm than good in the longer run, while making a small proportion of the population a great deal richer on the back of someone else’s money?

And what does it mean that the ECB is criticising the measures hailed as a breakthrough at the G20 meeting last week?

Questions, questions, questions. But few clear answers.

Meanwhile . . . In the small town of West Kirby, on Britain’s Wirral peninsula, there are three chemists (pharmacies) within 10 metres of each other. And another round the corner, a hundred metres or so away. And a fifth in the big supermarket 400 metres further on. I guess they must all be profitable, assisted by the average age of the population and the presence of a large medical centre in the centre of town. Putting it another way, in a free market they respond to customer need and demand. Here in Poio, we used to have just two pharmacies, after a second one opened last year. But, against the protests of the residents, the latter was closed down a month or so ago at the request of the pharmacists’ association. Inevitably, it lacked some piece of paper or other. Most vociferous in their complaints about its opening were, of course, the owners of the existing pharmacy. But, to raise our gaze, I see that the new Ministress of the Economy has been charged with developing a new model of economic development for Spain. God knows she needs it. Though one is, of course, on very thin ice at the moment in pointing to the UK as an example of what should be done. Except perhaps when it comes to being aware of what customers want and giving them the required level of service. Back to WingMirrorMan. And the guy in London who fixes laptop connection sockets in less than a day for 80 quid, compared with the 350 euros that PC Box demand here. But, to be fair, this does include securing you more storage space by wiping your hard disk of much that you wanted to keep.

Actually, in my really pessimistic moments, I do sometimes wonder whether Spain will still be open for business in ten years’ time. Time for tiffin.

Finally, a reader to a column in a British paper I read this morning commented that “There are thousands of youngsters in Britain today who's education is/was substandard.” Well, yes. Obviously. But perhaps Atlas just nodded. As he does when I write too.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The tightening of the law and the penalties attached to breaches have certainly led to a better standard of driving in Spain in the last few years. And it was a full four hours after leaving Santander yesterday before we witnessed the first episode of insanely stupid overtaking - just as we left the straight coastal road of Asturias and entered the bends, hills and dangerous curves of northern Galicia. Of course, we later saw several examples of local idiosyncrasies but, in truth, these paled into insignificance against the antics of the maniac in the 4.2L Audi 4x4 earlier in the afternoon.

As they say in the business world, if you can’t think of anything else to do, have a personnel reorganisation. When it comes to addressing Spain’s economic woes, this is the position in which President Zapatero finds himself. And so, after days of rumours, today saw the inevitable cabinet reshuffle. According to Sr Z, its objectives are:- To work towards the recovery of the economy and employment; to strengthen Spain’s territorial cohesion; and to bring about all the reforms and changes which the second decade of the 21st century demands. Which is as meaningless a bunch of words as you could get. But it gives the illusion of action. Even if it’s only activity. The biggest head to fall is, naturally, that of the Minister of the Economy. He’s being replaced by a senior member of the PSOE socialist party, who is the proud owner, I believe, of a lovely flat in an illegal building along the coast here in Galicia. But, such has been the inconsistency in the application of the relevant law, I imagine that all he’s guilty of is the confusion which affects us all. And so I doubt that El Pais, for example, will be mentioning this. [Correction: The gentleman in question has not been given the Economics brief but that of Development/Fomento].

I guess it had to happen - and maybe I’m slow in picking it up – but I see that the word ‘application’ has now suffered a typical Anglo-Saxon contraction and become ‘app’. At least when it comes to your mobile-phone-cum-pocket-computer.

During the 10 days I slept at my parents’ flat in the UK, my towels were washed three times. I regard this as being above and beyond the call of duty and find it hard to imagine either of my daughters going to this trouble for me. Nor me, for that matter. What’s most remarkable is that, at the time my mother’s generation of women developed these habits, there were no automatic washing machines. But perhaps that’s why she now goes to the extremes she does. The pure joy of it all.

Finally, I am a late-coming acolyte at the court of the Times columnist, A A Gill. If you’ve never read him, here’s a good introduction to his style, on the G20 ‘riots’ in London. More usually, he’s the paper’s restaurant critic. Sort of.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Nice comment by Martin Johnson in yesterday’s Times. Talking of the bravery of the Grand National riders, he wrote:- “You have to hand it to these jockeys, some of whom took terrible tumbles yesterday, and yet most of them got up in about one twentieth of the time required by Cristiano Ronaldo after being propelled to the turf by a passing breeze.”

In his wonderfully incisive book “Our Culture, What’s left of it”, the social commentator Theodore Dalrymple contrasts the bureaucracies of Britain and Italy. In a nutshell, the former is large and incorruptible, whereas the latter is just large. This, he claims, explains why Italy’s economic performance has far outstripped Britain’s in the last 50 years and why Italy is much richer than bare GDP statistics suggest. Not to mention more aesthetically pleasing. As Dalrymple puts it, “The use of personal influence or bribery by a petitioner at the bar of bureaucracy may actually represent an increase in efficiency.” Britons, he says, regard their state bureaucracy as honest and therefore benign and so misguidedly rely on it for almost everything. Italians, on the other hand, see the state as an enemy against whom personal initiative must be used on every conceivable occasion. I couldn’t help but think of Spain when reading all this. Regular readers will know I’ve long seen British bureaucracy as corrupt in a different way from its Continental cousins – only too willing to feather its own nest at the cost of soaring national and municipal taxes imposed on the supine masses, whose only form of revolt in to vote in another set of similarly-minded rogues every 15 years or so. But perhaps things will change when Mr Cameron and the Tories retrieve power next year. And pigs finally take off. Meanwhile, here’s a final quote from Mr Dalrymple:- “The vast and seemingly benevolent state has completely eroded the proud and sturdy independence of the British population, once remarked upon by visitors. . . . It helps to explain the degradation and lack of self-respect that is so obvious on the streets of Britain and so absent from those of Italy. . . . What can be the future of a country whose government believes that the population needs to be told [in a brochure] that marriage can sometimes result in marital disharmony?”

Meanwhile, as an example of what the British state goes in for these days, here are some of the road signs on a short stretch of road between West Kirby and Heswall on the Wirral peninsula . .
- Don’t phone and drive. Police enforcement.
- Speed kills. Police enforcement.
- Drive more slowly. 30mph speed limit.
- Accident record on the A5504. 83 crashes in 3 years
- 3 deaths in 2 years.

Once wonders whether any accident occurred while someone was distracted by reading one of these. The philosophy behind it all, of course, is that We are entitled to raise and spend whatever money it takes to bring the accident rate down to zero. And to keep ourselves in employment by relentlessly pursuing this Holy Grail inperpetuity. In Spain – and, I guess, in Italy – one would merely assume the mayor had a relative in the sign-writing business. But in the UK, the situation is far worse. There it’s the Age of the Bureaucrat, honest but self-interestedly corrupt.

I guess something needs to be said about last week’s G20 meeting. But, even (especially?) in these difficult times, it’s hard to take seriously a one day-event in which the wives of global politicians are feted like footballers’ wives. Having now read thousands of words on it all, my conclusions are that it was a PR success; that it might just provide a confidence boost – surely what it was all about; and that the Franco-German axis probably got the best headlines, certainly back home because of the Sarkozy-Merkel verbiage. Any suggestion it redefined capitalism is, of course, quite ludicrous. As we ex-lawyers say, an agreement to agree amounts to nothing. And it certainly won’t save Mr Brown’s skin, no matter how many plaudits he got from his grandstanding colleagues. Most notably of all, it did nothing to address the key problem of toxic debts on balance sheets around the world. As the Venezuelan economist, Hernando de Soto has put it, “No amount of fiscal stimulus or new international regulation will get the banking system fixed until we know how much poisonous paper there is in the balance sheets of the banks. The G20 leaders have given the world a blood transfusion but now they need to get on with the operation, if they are to save the patient’s life.” Of course, the EU leaders may be a little distracted by a separate need to stop their political creation from imploding because of unforecasted economic conditions. Just blaming everything on the Anglo-Saxons is surely not going to prove enough. As for Spain, she can only stand and watch while her fate is decided by the big boys in the club. One almost feels sorry for President Z, as he gazes into his crystal ball and sees the spectres of deflation, wage falls, even higher unemployment figures and social unrest. Still, he lied his way back into the job so any sympathy must be decidedly limited.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

I mentioned a week or so ago that the ladies of Liverpool seemed - facially speaking - to be of a strange orange hue. Or, as the Daily Mail columnist put it when writing about Friday's Ladies' Day at Aintree . . . "They came in all colours of the rainbow - but particularly orange. Once again, the aroma of fresh fake tan must have been as heady as the thunder of hooves." And this, I believe, from a fellow sister - Jaya Narain.

There are pictures but, sadly, they down seem to be in the on-line edition.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

I should, perhaps, point out that the comment at the end of yesterday’s post was a reference back to this sort of article in the British press this week, to the effect that men find it easier to get laid if they’re funny. Which is why every lonely-hearts ad from a man - even a committed psychopath - will claim he has a GSOH. Anyway, I didn’t get any emails. So this will be my last post for a while . . .

Another article which caught my eye in my mother’s (not-purchased-by-me) Daily Mail was one from Tom Utley, picking up on the alleged value to males of having sisters. Or, as he puts it:- “Over the years, I've often thanked my lucky stars I turned out to be such a well-balanced, sociable, cheerful, charming, outgoing, optimistic, capable and - above all - modest sort of fellow. Today, all is explained. My sunny disposition, my gift for coping with problems, my all-round good-eggness - these admirable qualities have little or nothing to do with my genes or my lucky stars. If we're to believe a study published this week, I owe my robust mental health, in 'significant' measure, to the fact that I have two sisters.” Every word of which is as true of me as it is of him. Honest. Well, the two sisters bit at least.

The good news of the day is that my new wing mirror arrived, just in time for me to take it back to Spain tomorrow. So, if you live in Spain and don’t want to pay through both nostrils for a replacement mirror, try Wingmirrorman on the net. He does what he says, at a fraction of the cost.

Talking of cars, I realised today I’ll soon be back to wondering what the driver in front of me is going to do next. And what exactly - if anything - his/her signal means. Swings and roundabouts. Especially roundabouts.

Friday, April 03, 2009

A conversation at the counter of the coffee shop in Debenham’s in Liverpool today . . .
Hello. How are you today?
Fine. Two regular black coffees, please.
No problem.
That’s a relief.
OK, that’ll be 4 pounds please.
No problem.
Here you go. Enjoy your coffees.
Thanks. We will. But it's a good job neither of us had any problems.

Cue rather nonplussed server and severely embarrassed sister. Need I say that the big smiles and the specious bonhomie came with very slow service?

It’s a joy travelling on the Merseyside underground this week of the year. For the wildly popular Grand National Steeplechase takes place on Saturday and there are races at the Aintree course every day this week. So, you can see sartorially-enhanced young men and women catching the train to Aintree from every stop along the route, the former in ill-fitting suits and the latter in dresses just right for Benidorm in August but which invite hypothermia in temperatures of 7 degrees in windy Liverpool at the end of March. And then there are the ridiculous ‘hats’. But they’re a happy crowd and they made me smile. Plus the weather warmed up during the day. So few of them will have had to be put down.

Finally . . . Hoylake - like much of the Wirral peninsula - is resplendent with buildings of red sandstone or red brick. Like this one opposite my mother's flat. It's got a bar on the ground floor now but I imagine it used to be the County Hall. And I suppose the lettering has been left as it is to remind us that politicians speak little but cant. Probably.



Women who are sufficiently amused and incentivised by this frivolous post should send invitations - and relevant details - to colindavies@terra.es

If I get none, I will be topping myself some time tomorrow evening. A solution which invariably appeals to me towards the end of my visits here.

Meanwhile, here are 13 fotos of the the dresses at Ladies Day at Aintree today. I see Coleen had her work cut out.

God, I hope none of these write . . .

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Here’s something notable I missed a few days ago - Old Ambrose being almost positive about the European Central Bank. Reading between the lines, he appears to have joined the group of observers who believe the EU won’t now break up because German resistance to bailing out profligate Club Med members (the PIGS?) via a debt union has been worn down by the enormity of the current crisis. If so, I guess EU members will soon have even more pressing issues to attend to than capping the remuneration of their bankers.

One of the points made in this article is that, at 31%, the fall in industrial output in Spain is greater than anything suffered over a 12-month period during the 1930s. As employment is now said to be approaching 20%, one wonders where the social unrest is. Will it start when the dole stops at the end of its 12 months? Or is it being unduly pessimistic to expect it at all? Ever the Jeremiah - but possibly right - Ambrose touched on this a couple of days ago - “Do not be misled by apparent normality. Unemployment lags, and social devastation lags further. Do not compress the historical time sequence either. Life seemed normal in early 1931 when the press reported ‘green shoots’ everywhere. Part Two of the Depression was the killer. Part Two is what we risk now if we botch it. The European Central Bank is still standing pat. It is partial to medieval leech-cures – and hamstrung by the lack of EU debt union.” Well, maybe. But at least those awful bankers make nice chivos expiatorios and we’re going to give them a good, heart-warming thrashing.

Yesterday saw the 70th anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939. Spaniards tend to think foreigners are obsessed by this gruesome period in their history. But this is inevitable when, as the (hispanophilic) Daniel Hannan points out, the topic is rarely raised here. Let alone discussed. Though, as DH says, things are now changing. His final - respectful - comment is that “Spaniards had good reason to want to bury the whole foul business. Now that they have decided to unearth it, they are doing so in the manner of an archaeological dig: gently, reverentially, and with patient brushwork. Foreign observers occasionally ask why they don't make more noise about it. The answer is that they won't wave their fathers' shrouds as political banners. The dead have suffered enough.”

British politicians have fought tooth and claw to stop details of their expenses being published. You can understand why when it’s now revealed that the average gross income last year of Northern Ireland’s 16 politicians was £290,000. Before expenses, of course. Which may or may not have included the salary of one or more of their relatives. Perhaps it’s clearer now why members of the EU parliament have recently vetoed publication of their expenses. But I guess we’ll see them one day. Meanwhile, all these politicans are not beyond lambasting ‘greedy’ bankers. Who might just have done a tad more for wealth creation than most of the parasitic politicos. But, anyway, it’s endorsed my decision to stand as a Euro MP one of these days.

More importantly, I read this week that women can be enticed into bed by a sense of humour. Perhaps I should give it a try before all relevant faculties finally desert me.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

There’s bad and good news on the British economy, it seems. The OECD now says the reduction this year, at 3.7%, will be greater than previously forecast. On the other hand, the USA (4%), Italy (4.3%), Germany (5.3%) and Japan (6.6%) will fare even worse. One wonders what all this will mean for the pound. Meanwhile, click here for informed commentary.

The Spanish papers were full yesterday of details of the shenanigans at the savings bank (caja) which the Bank of Spain has taken control of. Withdrawals of 18m euros a day in March; a Chairman who hid developments from his Board; Bad debts doubling from 5 to 10% in a couple of months; Declarations of profits despite huge losses; Technical insolvency; Investments in a local airport which will never see the light of day . . . You name it. I guess it’s this sort of news which makes some of us wonder just how stable Spanish financial institutions really are. Especially those controlled by regional politicians - a group of folk not generally known for their probity. As of this week, the bank’s management has been sacked but I doubt there’ll be any prosecutions for, say, the criminal offence of trading while insolvent. Not to mention false accounting, etc., etc.

Meanwhile, the Finance Minister has warned us to expect more BoE ‘interventions’, which isn’t a huge surprise, of course. Is it a sign of desperation on the part of one of them that I today received a text message offering me additional benefits on an account I don’t even hold with them?

Someone has issued a list of the hundred ‘most attractive’ companies in Spain. This is headed by Inditex (Zara, etc.), followed by Telefónica, El Corte Inglés and Banco Santander. One wonders who is doing the assessing. Presumably investors rather than customers. Though it’s quite possible Inditex has the unique distinction of pulling off the difficult trick of pleasing both constituencies simultaneously. Quite an accolade in Spain.

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