Thursday, September 30, 2010

Here’s a funny thing . . . The general strike might have been more effective in this non-industrial-and-not-very-commercial little city than in Spain’s major conurbations. In the latter, life seems to have continued rather more as normal than it did here. Perhaps our legions of civil servants – and the café and shop owners who depend on them – simply decided to have another day off. Actually, this is probably an unwarranted slur as one of our local newspapers suggests that, thanks to the efforts of pickets, the strike closed most private sector businesses but few public sector operations. The big surprise for me was to find the Chinese restaurant I patronise closed, depriving me of their menú del día in place of the tapas I normally have. In the end it was meat balls in the wi-fi café I’d expected to be closed but which wasn’t. Presumably the pickets never got round to it as it’s outside the city centre.

As to whether the strike was a success in turnout terms and whether it will affect government policies, the answers appear to be No and No. Unless you’re a union organiser or the editor of a left-wing newspaper. My own suspicion is that the majority of Spaniards are well aware who the unions really represent and are also prepared to accept that pain must follow the pure folly of the boom years. Which were not all down to greedy capitalists and bankers. Or even to EU politicians who ushered in an economic regime inappropriate to Spain. There was a lot of personal greed and corruption. And most Spaniards, after all, are very used to the concept of Penance. Even if there’s been no prior Confession. Especially not on the part of Sr Zapatero. Which is not to suggest, by the way, that poorly-paid, innocent people aren’t being badly hit by the consequences of it all.

So, the EU Commission won’t be backing up its angry Commissioner and taking action against France in respect of her expulsion of Romanian gypsies. One can’t help wondering if they’d been as lenient if the boot had been on the other foot and the Romanian government had expelled French gypsies en masse. Some members of the club are more equal than others, it seems. And France has always been more equal than most.

Final word on the new Labour leader, Ed Miliband . . . In the form of a nice comment on him from the ex Tory MP and columnist Matthew Parrish:- “I’ve always had the impression he’s one of those North London Labour intellectuals who find it genuinely difficult to believe there could exist people of sound mind and humane instincts outside the circle of light in which the intelligent Centre Left feel they are bathed.” I’m sure we all know someone like that.

Well, almost the last word . . . A senior member of his party summed up Miliband’s big speech at the national conference as “The Three Fs Strategy: To his predecessors, F---k you. To his party, We’re F-----d. And to his brother, F---k off.” I suspect this doesn’t work quite as well in Spanish.

Finally . . . It’s reported today that Attention Deficit Disorder is primarily genetic in origin and that 10% of kids suffer from it. Well, all I can say is that they must have been well hidden from view when I was a kid. Or the fault has only recently found its way into our DNA.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published six chapters of a novel which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here. And, if you enjoy it, please tell her. It’s tough being an aspirant novelist.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Well, thanks to the general strike, there wasn’t much going on down in Pontevedra today. Virtually all the shops - and even many bars and cafés - were closed and shuttered. As this included my regular lunch-time place, I took myself down into Vegetables Square to relax in the September sun with a glass of wine and a good book. Only to find myself joined at the next table by a group of Gallegos which included two large women with foghorn voices which they used to dominate the conversation - indeed the entire old quarter – without stopping to take breath. My guess was these were mother and daughter but I couldn’t make out which of the four wordless men was the husband and father. It could have been any of the poor, cowed sods.

One noticeable effect of the strike was the impact on the normally pristine streets of the non-collection of last night’s rubbish. This was augmented by the stickers and graffiti everywhere in support of the strike (Pechada por Folga Xeral usually). And the net result was that Pontevedra suddenly looked rather more neglected and down-at-heel than it usually does. 

Anyway, the Spanish labour market is something on which I am less than expert, so it was good to see this article  (by Charles Butler of IBEX salad) in Qorreo this morning. Essentially, the up-in-arms unions seem to represent the cosseted, well-paid workers on permanent contracts, not the young and the immigrants on low-salary, temporary contracts. The government has said it’s going to do something about this basic division but we will see. Meanwhile, there are some fascinating statistics in the article on how the downturn has affected the constituent elements of the labour market over the last couple of years.

On a wider front, a columnist in The Times today spoke of the confusion arising as a result of the “inability of professional economists in Britain and America to agree on something as important as whether reductions in government deficits will accelerate or slow growth.” As he rather neatly put it . . . “What is the use of economics if it cannot answer even such a basic question?” Anyone got a good answer?,

Back to the issue of life in Britain, particularly to the charge I regularly lay against it after my trips there, viz. that there’s far too much regulation and surveillance. It’s reported today that a British think-tank has warned that, within five years, every parent will have to pass a paedophile check under the proposed vetting and barring scheme, which expects adults to have a licence to spend time with other people’s children. Including those who visit to play with their own kids. As someone has written, “David Cameron must discover a way to make people feel better, and giving personal responsibility back to people is a way to do it that won’t cost much. Freedom is what they want: liberation from petty restrictions and repressive rules.” Perhaps the British should simply adopt the Spanish approach and just ignore them all.

Finally . . .  Much as I love Iran and the Iranians (having lived there for three years in the early 70s), I feel rather encouraged that the Israelis (it’s presumed) can damage their computer capability via ultra-clever viruses. But something tells me I shouldn’t really feel like this.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter is net-publishing her second novel which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here. And, if you enjoy it, please tell her. It’s tough being an aspirant novelist.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ahead of Spain’s general strike tomorrow, it was interesting to read this comment from a famous left-wing UK columnist in the country’s leading left-wing newspaper:- “Strikes against the public are an insane way for unions to respond to public service cuts: imaginative protest will need to stand on the side of citizens, not against them: soliciting support, not alienating it.”

But the real political news in the UK is, of course, the election of the younger Miliband as the new Labour leader. He’s had a lot of labels attached to him in the last few days but the one I haven’t seen is ‘Jewish’. In fact, I didn’t even know he was until my mother mentioned it last night. Which I think says a lot for public discourse in the UK. If he gets to be Prime Minister, he won’t, of course, be the first Jewish PM in Britain, as this accolade went to Disraeli, more than a hundred years ago. I wonder how long it will be before there’s a Jewish president in Spain. Or a gypsy leader in either country. Or, indeed, a Romanian president in France.

The left-wing columnist I quoted above also had this to say on the theme of the looming Left-Right clashes in the UK:- “He [Ed Miliband] has to prove that he is not in the pocket of the trade unions. . . He has to reject the politics of envy and stay firmly in the centre ground. Yesterday his older brother declared that the purpose of the Labour Party was 'not to practise class war but to end it'." Quite.

In like vein, Spain’s main left wing paper, El País, yesterday called for the country’s ‘grandes centrales’ to counter any union extremism. If there’s a definition of who the former actually are, I’d be pleased to hear it.

A sign of the times? Down in Pontevedra’s old quarter I today saw one of the rarest of beasts here in Spain – a second-hand shop. Called “Vintage”, naturally. I guess it’s possible the stuff inside is new but just looks used. I must go in and have a better look.

Much of the past ten years must now look like a dream to many Spaniards, with public money (from a variety of sources) being sprayed around as if there were no tomorrow. For those who speak Spanish, here’s a commentary from todays's Voz de Galicia on where some of this manna went and on the abrupt change that’s recently taken place. In Galicia at least. From feast to famine, in a word.

Which reminds me . . . The excess airport problem isn’t confined to Galicia, it seems. No doubt reflecting the consequences of devolution and regionalism, there's a total of 48 around Spain.

Finally . . . One of those headlines: “One third of Spaniards who use a condom do so incorrectly”. How exactly?


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published six chapters of a novel which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here. And, if you enjoy it, please tell her. It’s tough being an aspirant novelist.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Yesterday I cited the report suggesting France is the best place in Europe in which to live. One factor, of course, is a retirement age there of only 61, compared with 65+ in the UK and, indeed, in Spain. My blogger colleague, Lenox, agrees Spain is a superior place to Britain but this post of his might be seen as scraping the bottom of something to prove the point.

One aspect of Spanish life that seems to be far worse than in the UK and France is political corruption, something which almost certainly grew during the decade of a property-driven boom. The worst case to come to light so far is quite possibly this one. En passant, as I write this, it’s reported on the TV that M. Chirac is paying back a huge amount to the Parish municipality to avoid a corruption case against him.

Edward Hugh takes a cold look at the Spanish economy here. Referring, of course, to the endlessly Pollyannish President Zapatero, he insists the last thing we need is “to be told by someone who manifestly has no idea what he is talking about that the danger has already past, even as we slide, inch by inch, onwards and downwards towards the chasm that gapes beneath.” Looking forward, EH stresses “The real issue is how to restore growth to highly-indebted and structurally-distorted economies, since without growth the debt to GDP ratios will not come down and the burden of the debt will not be reduced. . . What the countries involved all need is more exports and larger industrial sectors, and no one seems to be very clear how they are to achieve them.” Ain’t that the truth.

There are reports of a spat between opposing EU groups led by Germany and France respectively, over the issue of how tough to be on members who don’t abide by the fiscal/budgetary rules. The interesting background fact to this is that only three of the twenty-seven members currently do so. This was ignored for years, of course, especially when Germany and France were the offenders, but we’re living in more serious times now.

Talking of extreme measures . . . In its desperation to get replacement revenue, the Galician government has taken to using aerial reconnaissance to identify illegal houses in the region. They’ve also announced today that more than 50% of private properties here lack an occupation licence. Which is presumably the prelude to some sort of crackdown. What’s interesting is that it’s theoretically impossible to get water, gas and electricity without such a licence. So, you tell me. I assume the companies are turning a blind eye to the lack of these. Rules is rules and we even have the Spanish president saying that those memebers who break them should be punished. Which may or may not become a domestic policy of his as well. If he's got the time before he's defenestrated in 2012. If not before.

Finally . . . Two new Spanish words for me today. Liza and Lid, meaning ‘battle’ and ‘fight’, respectively. Which was something of a coincidence, given that they came from different articles.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published six chapters of a novel which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here. And, if you enjoy it, please tell her. It’s tough being an aspirant novelist.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

So, it’s official. On the basis of parameters such as pensions, holiday entitlement, retirement age and healthcare spend, Britain is the worst place in Europe in which to live. France is the best and Spain comes just after that. Although there’s a ring of truth about this, it does take some believing that life in the UK is quite this bad and one wonders how much the fall of the pound has affected the numerical data. Anyway, more here.

Not everyone in Spain is deliriously happy, of course and one group with a gripe is that of grandparents. These, as Giles Trimlett says, “provide the childcare that working parents cannot give and the state does not offer”. As I wrote the other day, the unions have asked them to stop doing this on the day of the general strike (29 Sept.), so that the parents are forced to take time off work. You can read more of what Trimlett says here but it didn’t surprise me to hear it’s not done for grandparents to complain.

Nor, I suspect, is it done for anyone to complain that young people very often stay in the family home until well into their thirties, unable to afford any degree of independence or any real privacy.

One other aspect of life here with which few can be happy is the ridiculously long working hours, born of a day which is still split into two around a very long midday break. But I’m guessing neither this factor nor those above featured in the survey.

The Galician nationalists - or at least the extremists among them - would like Galicia to be an independent state. Quite how it would then be run can perhaps be seen from the way the airports issue is managed. As I’ve said several times, we have three international minnows here, instead of one big fish. The local Faro de Vigo went to town on this in an editorial today, stressing that Galicia is a perfect place for low-cost airlines, as all these facilities can be played off against each other in a situation characterised by localism, hypocrisy and a morass of people claiming or disclaiming local/regional responsibility. The end result is that flights have gravitated to the smallest, least-equipped facility on the north coast (at La Coruña) to the detriment of those in the capital (Santiago) and in Galicia’s largest and most commercial city, Vigo. And all three of these are overshadowed by Oporto’s rapidly developing airport down in North Portugal. The paper’s leader writer calls for coordination, strategic thinking and a level playing field. Fat chance, I fear.

Back in the UK, it seems Ed Milliband was (narrowly) elected leader of the Labour Party there on the back of a process which allowed union members up to 12 votes each. Quite how, I’m not sure but I guess it’s a reflection of how many unions and “associations” you belong to. Though it’s not clear you need to be a member of the Labour Party to have even one vote, never mind twelve. It’s notoriously difficult to come up with a satisfactory system of electing a leader in any broad church – does the PP party here even have one? – but this one certainly looks like it could do with a re-think. I guess it’s even possible that right-wing members of the unions cast their single/multiple votes for the candidate furthest to the Left, so as to damage the electoral chances of the Labour Party. For this is the majority view in the UK media today of what the main outcome of the election has been.

Finally . . . I’ve finally seen a prediction which merits serious thought on how to reduce global warming. If it continues, Galicia’s Albariño grape will lose aroma and acidity. Which is pretty damn serious, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Finally, finally . . . My apologies to those readers who logged on during the European night. I did write a post yesterday but then neglected to publish it! This I did early this morning, datelined late last night. So you might want to scroll down for this.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published six chapters of a novel which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here. And, if you enjoy it, please tell her. It’s tough being an aspirant novelist.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

As the concept of time is not the same here in Spain as it is elsewhere, my basic advice to everyone coming here is Carry something to read while you’re waiting. But there’s another aspect to living here which is related but which can’t be dealt with by carrying reading matter. This is the regular need to repeat things you were expecting to achieve the first time round. Like taking my jackets to the shopping mall the day before yesterday and finding it closed. And then going to the plumber’s place yesterday evening to find that shut as well. Ditto with the computer repair shop this morning. In this last case, a note on the door said they’d be open this evening. So I resolved to come back to the city tonight and, at the same time, do the other shopping I’d planned – a gift for someone’s birthday tomorrow. Which I duly did. And had a successful ten minutes at the computer shop, only to then find the five leather goods shops I tried were all closed. Only clothes shops, cake shops and sweet shops are open on a Saturday evenings here in Pontevedra, it seems. From which you can tell I’ve never previously tried shopping at this time in ten years here.

But there was one interesting development arising from all this wasting of time. I discovered the brothel next to the plumber’s shop down on Poio’s main street is now called Plan B and that it offers a Relax Lounge. Quite why Plan B, I can’t begin to guess. But it’s surely better, as a name, than Working Girls, further up the road.

Putting my jackets in to be dry-cleaned, I was momentarily stumped when the girl asked me for my apesheedo. But then I realised it was a version of the word for address, apellido, normally pronounced these days apeyeedo. Thank God for my Argentinean piano teacher, for this is where she hailed from.

But, anyway, all’s now well with the world as the little six year old playing with cards and building bricks at the next table in this wi-fi café has been engaging me in conversation during the last half hour. Fortunately, she speaks standard Spanish. Albeit through teeth that are unhelpfully bucked . . . .

Finally . . .  I’ve received a new version of my credit card, complete with a chip. However, my bank goes to great length to assure me nothing’s changed and that I’ll still have to show my ID and sign the voucher, as before. Why? one wonders. Just as I did when, checking on the procedure for a reader, I found that when you send a letter to El País you have to supply not just your address but also your ID or passport number. As I regularly say, I guess it makes sense to someone. If not me. “Because it’s there”,  I guess.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A casual visitor to Pontevedra – say from a cruise liner docked in Vigo – could be forgiven for thinking the recession hasn’t hit us. True, if you look hard enough, you’ll see the evidence in the form of retail outlets boarded up. But, against that, my walk into town takes me past three new places opening up - A ladies’ clothes shop (as if the town needed another of these); a store specialising in doors (replacing one that specialised in duvets); and yet another chocolate-cum-sweets shop (replacing a bank branch). I guess these better meet the needs of the large number of civil servants who give Pontevedra its wealth.

The Galician government – the Xunta – has proposed that the current Holy Year (O Xacobeo) be extended into next year. No doubt for sound religious reasons and not because it’s brought so much money into the region in general and Santiago in particular. The Vatican, though, has vetoed the proposal. And, since this rules out the extra indulgences which bring the Faithful here, this has kaiboshed the idea. Which will leave Purgatory a little fuller for a bit longer, I guess. But what’s that compared with an eternity of happiness? For the non-Faithful, the good news is that hotel rooms will be cheaper next year.

As I suspected myself, the Consumers’ Association has said that all this talk of electricity rising by 2,3 or 5 % is misleading. According to them, they’ve risen by more than 30% over the last three years. And elsewhere?

In the ABC newspaper yesterday, Thomas More was referred to as Tomás Moro. Now, most Spaniards would know this surname denotes a Moor from North Africa but I wonder how many Brits think of, say, Berbers when seeing the name More. Not many, I guess. Unless they’re reading Othello at the time. En passant, I also wonder if President Zapatero is referred to as President Shoemaker in the British media.

The other odd British item in yesterday’s press was a picture of Marty Feldman at his exopthalmic best, adorning the front cover of some tract issued in connection with the imminent general strike. He’ll be spinning in his grave.

Here in Pontevedra, the odd sight today was a group of visitors from the Archdiocese of Madrid taking in the delights of our old quarter. I know because, like a troop of geriatric Scouts, they were all sporting a bright yellow neckerchief revealing their origin. Personally, I’d rather have walked naked through the streets.

Bloody Spanish fiestas! I decided to take two heavy winter jackets to the dry cleaners today, ahead of the winter cold. Only to find I had to lug them back to the car as the shopping mall was closed because of a fiesta in Poio municipality on this side of the river. Don’t ask me what we’re celebrating because no one I asked had the slightest idea. And were just as surprised/annoyed as I’d been that the place was closed. And then I scraped my car – again! – when getting out of the tiny space I’d managed to find for it. Not my week.

Finally . . . . Here’s the take of my Dutch friend, Peter, on the usefulness of the term ‘working class’. The question is whether it’s an accurate summary of the Spanish situation as well:- Of course the working classes still exist in our society but the concept no longer plays a prominent role in socio-economic discussions among experts. Except in England, where it seems to be kept alive by barely- reformed Marxists burrowed deeply into state agencies, education, local boards, etc. In Holland and Germany the working classes have become so affluent and so protected in their labour rights that they no longer behave, politically and economically, like their predecessors of a 100 years ago. The emphasis is no longer on the right to strike, increases in pay, organisation of unions, and the formation of a monolithic political block against the right-wing establishment of the owners of the means of production, etc. What we’re dealing with is really a large layer of petty middle class, who’ve considerably more to lose than their chains. And the true proletariat is now mainly made up of immigrant workers who have little, if any, tradition of political organisation, and other troubles on their minds. So they don’t exactly behave along traditional lines either, even if their living circumstances do largely correspond with those of the old-style working class.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published six chapters of a novel which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here. And, if you enjoy it, please tell her. It’s tough being an aspirant novelist.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Like most countries (and people), Spain is a hive of contradictions. So it’s no great surprise that the same Catalan politicians who voted a short while ago to ban the [Spanish] custom of bullfighting have now voted to keep the [Catalan] custom of Correbous, or letting bulls run at people with lighted flares on their horns. More here, if you want it.

I referred yesterday to President Zapatero’s abiding optimism in respect of the Spanish economy. Well, it seems he’s equally positive about house prices. They’ve reached rock bottom, he asserts, and are about to start rising again. Which rather conflicts with the survey reported here. In which 83% of Spaniards expressed the belief they’ll keep falling for at least the next year.

I mentioned gypsies the other day and the mess Sr Zapatero has got himself in with his natural constituency by supporting President Sakorzy in his spat with the EU Commissioner who’s taking France to court over her “illegal” expulsions. This is all comprehensively covered by Guy Hedgecoe here in QorreO. Living as I do near to two gypsy encampments – and having had my laptop lifted in Madrid - I’ve a little bit more ambivalent on this issue than I was ten years ago. Though I wouldn’t go as far as the common Spanish refrain – “I’m no racist but I hate gypsies”. This attitude, by the way, in certainly not confined to supporters of the right-of-centre PP party.

Talking of being here for ten years . . . I wonder if during the next ten we’ll reach a point where one part or another of Pontevedra city isn’t beset by road-works. There certainly hasn’t been a second in the last decade when this has been true. And I still wonder where all the finance is coming from.

And talking of obras . . . I checked and discovered it’s ‘only’ four years, and not six, since they started work behind me on a house-building project that’s yet to be completed. This is what I wrote in June 06:- Only 3 metres from my front gate, they’re dismantling a long granite escarpment which – over at least the next 2 years – will be replaced by a total of 18 houses. The dust and noise levels are intolerable for 8 hours a day but we’ve been offered no apology for this disruption to our lives. Nor even an explanation of what’s going on. And the sole concession to safety is the helmet-less chap in the T-shirt waving cars past the active pile-drivers, bulldozers and trucks. But I suppose it could be worse; they could be dynamiting the granite. Of course, the estimate of two years has proved laughingly short and it may yet be five. I seem to recall telling a reader who bet me there wouldn’t be a recession within eighteen months of mid 2006 that we’d drink the champagne he’d have to buy me as and when the houses were completed in 2008. How funny that seems now.

Finally . . . No sooner had the Spanish Consumers’ Association railed against the pre-announced 3% rise in electricity prices than the government advised us the average increase would actually be 5%. It must be a doddle running a utility company here. Or have I already said that? And even easier running Telefónica. The only real challenge you have in the latter is keeping down the level of fines issued by the EU for abuse of a dominant position. And then avoiding paying them.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published six chapters of a novel which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here. And, if you enjoy it, please tell her. It’s tough being an aspirant novelist.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

In a recent Comments exchange, reader Moscow suggested the class factor is stronger in the UK than in Spain and elsewhere in Europe. This is certainly true but, firstly, things are nothing like what they were, say, 50 (or even 25) years ago and, secondly, they’re perhaps not quite as bad as Moscow thinks. 

However, it’s undeniable you can still scarcely read any social or political commentary in the UK without stumbling across the phrases “middle class” and working class” as handy references for the main social strata in British society. This may be true of the USA as well, as I’ve just read an article which referred to the “white working class” there - though the race divide may well be even greater than that of class. 

Here in Spain the phrases “working class” and “middle class” certainly exist – indeed, I heard the latter on the radio only today – but they’re used much less frequently than in the UK. And the Spanish unions currently preparing for a general strike at the end of this month seem less strident about the plight of the working class than the (alleged) Trotskyist in charge of the major UK union. Who appears to be hell bent on re-introducing the concept of class war into British politics, ably assisted by one or two of the candidates for the Labour party leadership currently being contested. Who'll promptly dump class-based terminology, if they succeed. And ramp it up, if they fail.

This, of course, is open to challenge by Moscow and anyone else but my impression is the main (but overlapping/contradicting) dividing lines in Spain are between:-
Right and Left
Rich and Poor
Catholic and Non-Catholic
The Madrid Centre and the Regions
Spanish Nationalists and Regional Nationalists
Pontevedra and Vigo

Which, even ignoring the last one, is quite a lot of tension(s). No wonder I regularly say I wouldn’t want to be president of this fissiparous place. Being British prime minister – whatever class you’re from – must surely be the easier challenge.

A final word on this, with reference back to the UK . . .  This is what one left-wing writer had to say this morning in The Guardian, Britain’s leading left-wing paper:- The old class identities and cultures that were once the bedrock of Labour support have largely gone. Labour has to build a new political coalition from a diverse range of identities, classes and interests. To do this it needs a political relationship with people based on a vision of the good society, and an economy of wealth creation and fair distribution. Which rather takes me back to my first point, viz. that things are not as antediluvian as they seem in the UK. Though not before time.

Back to mundanity . . . Autumn appears to have arrived this morning, just as the papers were telling us what we all knew – that this had been a pretty good summer in Galicia, especially in August and September. All the Galician cities had more sun and higher max and min temperatures than the 30 year average, though not spectacularly so. And all of them also had less rain than usual, with the exception of Lugo, up in the hills. There, summer rainfall was almost 65% more than the average.

Living up to his reputation for optimism, Spain’s president Zapatero has told financiers in New York that Spain’s debt crisis is over and the Spanish economy won't shrink either in this quarter or the next. Let’s hope this confidence proves well-founded.

Finally . . . One reads of some strange religious festivals and processions here in Galicia but few can beat yesterday’s pilgrimage to the chapel of A Santiña de Trasufre, near Muxia, where the faithful bathed their verrucas in water from the fountain and beseeched the relevant Virgin (de Las Verrugas?) to miraculously eliminate them. Some folk clearly have even more faith than Sr Zapatero.

Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published six chapters of a novel which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here. And, if you enjoy it, please tell her. It’s tough being an aspirant novelist.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I drove up into the mountains with my neighbour Pablo today. He of the wife who’s recently started to greet me after ignoring me for years. Anyway, it was inevitable we’d get on to Galician cuisine and equally certain he’d tell me he didn’t like spicy food and found it quite incredible I could enjoy this without being as keen as he is on octopus. Or raw razor clams. There were other odd comments – well, odd if you haven’t heard them a hundred times – but perhaps the strangest one was his reason for not liking mackerel. Eating this, he insisted, was like trying to swallow a wool ball because it’s so dry. And here’s me thinking it’s an oily fish and that there’s little tastier that fresh mackerel. For the record, we also disagreed on the attractions of a ton of potatoes covered with a sauce made of oil and sweet paprika. Which is ubiquitous here. As is the opinion it’s the pinnacle of culinary achievement.

Incidentally, Pablo is not alone in his disregard for mackerel; almost no one rates it here. Which is why it's the cheapest fish in the market, selling at around 2 euros a kilo. Or 80p a pound. Which is great for the rest of us.

Back down in Pontevedra, I see that the sign-writers are having another field day. This is because all the city roads are now limited to 30kph, or about 20mph. It’ll be interesting to see if this makes any difference at all to the accident statistics. And whether any action is taken in respect of the numerous drivers who use a mobile phone while on the move.

Still on cars . . . I saw one tonight with the licence plate - 0000 GST. Which struck me as odd. And possibly not what you’d want on a getaway car. I wonder if, as in the UK, it’s valuable because it can be traded.

Electricity . . . The bad news is that prices will rise 3% in a month or two, just in time for the winter bills. The good news is that my electricity supplier is now estimating my usage every second month at only 10% more than the actual.

Finally . . . Seeing a picture of a mangled car in the paper, with only the sports wheels identifiable, it’s pretty easy to guess the sex and age of the driver and the day and time on which he/she met his/her destiny with a tree. Male, 18-30, Sunday morning and between 4 and 6am, to be exact. So it was with the latest example I saw yesterday. Surprisingly, the driver was not over the alcohol limit and must have been delighted he'd survived and probably won’t be prosecuted. However, he might spend the rest of his life feeling bad about his mate in the passenger seat losing both his legs.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published five chapters of a novel which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. Click here, if this entices you. If you enjoy it, please tell her. It’s tough being an aspirant novelist.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Well, this blog duly passed 250,000 hits yesterday. So I celebrated by not writing a post.

Not really. I got home late from one of those great Spanish lunches that start around 2 and go on until 10. And I was distracted by attempts to fix a non-functioning sound card.

This morning my life – neither for the first nor, I guess, the last time – was dominated by women. Firstly, now that she’s broken the ice after a mere ten years, Pablo’s wife gave me a cheery wave from her car as I walked my dog towards the forest. Then my new next-door neighbour demonstrated she either doesn’t appreciate or care that her shower room is directly opposite my bathroom. (Fortunately, unlike her predecessor, she's young and pretty. But not, it would seem, a natural blonde.) Then, finally, there was the lady who screeched her car to a halt within a couple of inches of my legs in the middle of a zebra crossing on the way into town. I needed the glass of Rioja when I made it to my regular bar.

Talking of roads . . . I wasn’t surprised to read today that there’s no regional law on the height of traffic bumps. The national regulation gives a maximum of 10cm, or 4 inches. But, as the paper confirmed, even in the city of Pontevedra alone, there are many that are well above this. For some of them, you’d be well advised to have an oxygen tank handy. Quite why, only God knows. But it’s amusing seeing drivers trying to avoid getting at least two wheels on them by driving in the gutter.

Pessimism about the European economy is back from its summer vacation, it seems. Here’s the ineffable Ambrose on the financing difficulties facing the peripheral economies.

One of these is, of course, Portugal and it looks as if one victim of further cuts there will be the Lisbon-Madrid high speed train. We know all about delays with the Spanish version of this here in Galicia, of course. But this is not the only link between us and our southern neighbours today. It seems the Portugal-Galicia euro-region is somehow disadvantaged by its small (if trans-national) size in getting its nose into the EU trough. So, lo and behold, a new macrorregión is to be formed, comprising Portugal, Galicia and Castilla y León. That’s how it’s done. If the committee wants a camel, not a horse, extend the latter a bit and give it a hump. Presumably somewhere in East Europe (or perhaps Liverpool!) will lose out, if this stratagem pays dividends.

Finally . . . A letter writer in El Mundo today complained of media commentators using pelota and balón as if they were equivalent in meaning ‘ball’. I was quite happy thinking they were but now have something else to worry about getting right. Great.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published five chapters of a novel which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here. And, if you enjoy it, please tell her. It’s tough being an aspirant novelist.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It was no great surprise to read today that the PSOE socialist party here is unhappy about the support given by Spain’s (socialist) president Zapatero to France’s president Sarkozy on the issue of expulsion of Rumanian gypsies. I was rather more astonished to see a leader in the right-of-centre El Mundo yesterday adding to the barrage of criticism levelled at M Sarkozy. As the paper is not known for any liberal leanings whatsoever, I’m guessing this a back-handed slap at Sr. Zapatero. Especially as Spain, it’s reported, does go in for a bit of this activity itself.

As for Spain and its own gypsies, I was a little surprised to read that the integration model here is seen as a reference standard in the rest of Europe. I live near two gypsy encampments and the degree of integration appears to be nil. However, there are other gypsies who live in one of the city’s other suburbs and these may be closer to the national norm.

Ahead of the general strike called for the end of this month, the unions have asked Spanish grandparents to hold off looking after their grandkids that day. This is presumably to put pressure on the parents to stay off work. On this, I was surprised to read today that 50% of grandparents here spend an average of six hours a day on this task. Six hours! I imagine the UK daily average can be measured in minutes. If not seconds.

The pre-general strike issue of how many idle union officials there are hasn’t gone away yet. Today we’re told that Galicia has 18,000 of these and that they cost employers 50 million euros a year. Or c. 2,800 euros each. This, incidentally, allows me to correct yesterday’s suggestion that these liberados sindicales are paid for by the state. If they’re in the public sector, they are. In the private sector, the employers cough up. I’m wondering if this is one of those things called ‘Spanish practices’ in the UK.

Life in Galicia 1: The Voz de Galicia likes to ask its readers to vote on an issue every day. Here’s the results of two of this week’s surveys:-
- 63% of Galicians say they’re unsatisfied with their sex life. There must be a business opportunity here. A sex-counselling service, at the very least.
- 94% of Galicians believe Spain should desist from holding all the many, many fiestas which involve maltreatment of animals. Which wouldn’t actually cost much here as, apart from Potevedra’s annual bullfights, there are none in this region. Unless you include dogs being tied up 24/7.

Life in Galicia 2: Yes, there is indeed a committee of bureaucrats making the decisions for the three small international airports here. It’s called, naturally enough, The Committee for Galicia Routes and it’s part of the Ministry of Development. My guess it operates on the basis of what the Spanish call coffee-for-all principles, rather than on the basis of what would make a sensible, single airport for less than 3 million people. And so it is we’re told that Vigo airport ‘deserves’ (and may well get) two new routes – one to London and one to a continental city. Let’s hope so, even if it is daft.

Life in Galicia 3: For six years now, they’ve been building 17 houses just behind mine, on the hillside above Pontevedra. Quite possibly illegally but that’s another issue. During all this time, we’ve been subjected to high levels of noise and dust, in part because the houses are on a granite escarpment. The only days when there’s no disturbances are Saturday and Sunday. I mention this because this afternoon I went up to my little house in the hills to sit on the terrace for a couple of hours, partake of a glass of wine and read a book. Imagine, then, how I felt to find that, at 5pm of a Saturday, there were works right outside my gate. Their purpose is to lay a new water pipe for the village and need I add that the trench-digging necessitates the breaking up granite rocks? Not quite what I had in mind for the evening. But at least the dogs didn’t bark.

Finally . . . Trying to get out of the narrow lane to my house in the hills, and to avoid the holes created for the pipe-laying, I managed, first, to get my car stuck and, then, to scrape its wing on the gate of the neighbours helping me out. Hey, ho. It's only metal.

Finally, finally . . . . This is only for those who know about computers. I’ve inadvertently disabled the sound card in my laptop and now Vista tells me it doesn’t exist. I’ve tried everything advised both in the manual and on the web – other than use the recovery disks to reinstall all the drivers and return the computer to its original state – but without luck. If anyone’s got any tips, could they please use the Contact Me button above to pass them to me. Very many thanks.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published five chapters of a novel she describes as “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. Click here, if this entices you. If you do go and you enjoy it, please comment. It’s tough being an aspirant novelist.

Non-Google Advert: Looking for accommodation for the ETU triathlon European championships in Pontevedra next June? Click on the Contact Me button above for details of a great place just outside the city.

Friday, September 17, 2010

According to the Spanish government, after a couple of years in the doldrums, house prices have now begun to rise. Mark Striklin, for one, is sceptical of this. And he sees particular risk in official bodies giving credence to the data. If so, as he puts it here, “Any conclusions they might reach regarding the Spanish property market and its impact on the economy will be as flawed as the figures they are based on.” All I can say is that, as an owner of two houses and seller of one of them, I certainly hope the observation is true. But not exactly confident.

As I clock more and more shops closing in Pontevedra, I wonder how long it will be before people here stop blaming things on la crisis – which suggests something quite ephemeral – and start referring to el estancamiento. Or ‘stagnation’. I guess it depends on how well or badly the economy performs next year. On which opinions seem pretty pessimistic right now.

There’s a bit of a dialogue taking place in the Comments to this blog on the issue of whether Spain has the sort of “working class” that exists in the UK. Whether this is so or not, she certainly does seem to have a “non-working class”. These are the union officials – los liberados sindicales – who are paid by the state (I believe) to do little more, it’s said, than sit at home. Some on the Right say there are more than 300,000 of these and some on the Left say there are only around 500. Perhaps the truth will come out over the next few weeks but it’s certainly a live issue right now, as we head towards important regional elections next year. Perhaps even a general election, if the government loses the support of the Basque minority party keeping it in power.

The issue of what class divisions there are in Spain is, of course, part of the question of where power lies here. This post from Lenox down in the South suggests that, in his neck of the woods at least, it lies where the money and the patronage reside. Nothing too surprising there, I guess.

Over in the UK, it’s reported that the medical profession is in a bit of a mess, thanks to a “bureaucratic determination to impose a rigid job culture on a profession that has evolved its own ways of doing complex things. Doctors are having their work defined for them by people who have no idea what that work entails.” I can’t help wondering whether a similar sort of bureaucratic zealotry lies behind the fascinating clash between France’s president Sarkozy and the EU Commission over the expulsion of (illegal) Romanian immigrants. The EU, after all is nothing if not a zealous bureaucracy, stuffed full of people who believe they know best. And who probably don’t. But are hardly accountable for their errors.

Finally, I hesitated today before taking a flier from a man in town who, years ago, would in Liverpool have been referred to as a “smoked Irishman”. But I was glad I did so. For this is what it said:-

AFRICAN HIGH MAGIC

The solution to your problems

PROFESSOR SUARES

HAPPINESS WITHIN YOUR REACH

 GREAT AFRICAN CLAIRVOYANT
INTERNATIONALLY KNOWN FOR HIS EFECTIVENESS VIA HIS MAGICAL POWERS AND HIS INFALLIBLE SPIRITUALITY

GETS RESULTS WHERE OTHERS HAVE FAILED

 Will help you solve all your most intractable problems
Amarres[????]: Whatever matrimonial problem, recover your partner and attract the people you love within a maximum of three days. Removal of the evil eye. Work. Protection. Luck. Justice. Chronic illnesses.

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EASY PAYMENT TERMS

This, I guess, is the itinerant version of the Nigerian phishing email. Can it really be possible he’ll make money? Or even that it’s legal. Yes and No is my guess. Wonder if he’ll still be there tomorrow.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published five chapters of a novel she describes as “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. Click here, if this entices you. If you do go and you enjoy it, please comment. It’s tough being an aspirant novelist.


Non-Google Advert: Looking for accommodation for the ETU triathlon European championships in Pontevedra next June? Click on the Contact Me button above for details of a great place just outside the city.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I wrote a short while ago about how everyone here suddenly seemed much more friendly towards me than previously. The latest example of this occurred yesterday, when the wife of a chap I meet in the forest when walking my dog, stopped her car and spoke to me, for the first time in ten years. Addressing me by name, she told me how upset she’d been to hear my dog had gone awol on Monday and how relieved she’d been he’d turned up. In effect, she chatted as if we were old friends. And this after years of driving past me and not looking at me as I prepared to wave a greeting if she did. My friend Peter’s explanation of this is that the Galicians need an excuse to talk. And she hadn’t had one until now. In his case, he says, it’s his own dog, as he walks it through the village. But it could just as well be the weather, as it usually is in the UK. So, do the Galicians suffer the same social ‘dis-ease’ as the Brits? Or at least the English. Alright, those from the anally-retentive South.

What all this means, of course, is that things change over time, as more and more excuses to start up a conversation happen along. Particularly, I guess, having children. Though this hasn't applied to me.

I’ve also mentioned how the portions of tapas and wine I get in my regular places seem to be increasing over time. My suspicion is that the young ladies are ‘mothering’ me. And I’m not sure this is a compliment. It must mean I’m approaching the seventh age of man.

I complained yesterday about a lack of economic vision for Spain on the part of both the president and the leader of the opposition. Right on cue, Guy Hedgecoe over at Qorreo supplies this insight into the latter’s stance. Or lack of it.

And that’s it for tonight, because I’ve left my notebook at home. I was hoping to let you have a promised Alfie rant against the Galician educational establishment but he must be still working on it, as it hasn’t arrived. Tomorrow, I hope.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published five chapters of a novel she describes as “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. Click here, if this entices you. If you do go and you enjoy it, please comment. It’s tough being an aspirant novelist.


Non-Google Advert: Looking for accommodation for the ETU triathlon European championships in Pontevedra next June? Click on the Contact Me button above for details of a great place just outside the city.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I walked 13km to lunch with my Dutch friend Peter today. And, after it, 13km back to my car. I’m not sure why. But, anyway, one of the things we discussed over the meal was whether there’s a “working class” in Spain and, if so, what it’s called in Spanish. Peter’s view was at one with that of reader Mike, viz. that the basic dividing line here is not between ‘classes’ but between Right and Left, with the overlay of a religion (Catholic, of course) which favours the former. Meaning that the Right comprises both very rich and very poor. As to whether Spain’s (pallid?) version of the industrial revolution had thrown up what’s called in the UK a working class, we weren’t sure. But it certainly seems as if (as reader Moscow has said) the label is not commonly used here.

But the real discussion was of bullfighting, as Peter represents the Contra side of the dialogue I mentioned the other day and which will be featured here soon, after it’s reached a conclusion and I can post it in an easy-to-follow format. As it happens, this is a dialogue between two foreigners, both of whom have lived here some time. As and when it’s posted, Spanish readers will be free to contribute as they wish. Plus everyone else, of course. Except, need I say, the ineffable Cade.

In The Times today, Anatole Kaletsky claims that, in the two years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Anglo economies have failed to draw the appropriate lessons and to make the changes introduced elsewhere. Possibly because most forecasts made two years ago have proved over-pessimistic. Contrary to expectation, for example, public opinion moved to the right, not to the left. And the demise of ‘free-market fundamentalism’ has yet to occur. Instead . . . “Business as usual has prevailed. Not only have the banks escaped any wide-ranging regulation, but politics has reverted to the language of the Thatcher-Reagan period.” This Anglo complacency, says Kaletsky, is not shared by China, India, Japan, Korea and Continental Europe, where “the Lehman crisis has inspired new thinking about alternative approaches to managing a capitalist economy.” “In short, the rest of the world appears to be learning from the mistakes that led to the financial crisis and is beginning to forget some of the prejudices instilled by the market fundamentalism of the 1980s and 1990s, which served their useful purpose under Thatcher and Reagan but have now run out of time. The US and Britain, by contrast, seem to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing from the past two years.” Assuming this is true, where would Spain lie in the spectrum, one wonders. If either the government or the opposition has tabled a vision of the future – whether Leftist or Rightist - I must have missed it.

Finally . . . Does anyone still reply to things like this – “You have been awarded the sum of 850.000.00 USD. in the EXXON-MOBIL OIL AND GAS COMPANY AWARD 2010”. I guess they must.

An apology: Sorry about the 352 in yesterday's post. My brain was obviously thinking of both weeks and days when I typed it.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published five chapters of a novel she describes as “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. Click here, if this entices you. If you do go and you enjoy it, please comment. It’s tough being an aspirant novelist.

Non-Google Advert: Looking for accommodation for the ETU triathlon European championships in Pontevedra next June? Click on the Contact Me button above for details of a great place just outside the city.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

For my sins, I today read a Guardian article about Camille Paglia’s views of Lady Gaga. Given my age (and my two marriages), I’m naturally more familiar with the former than the latter. Anyway, I was most interested in the comment that the feminism of Paglia’s era had “rejected female sexuality as patriarchal imposition”. Whereas “post-feminism reclaimed it.” Meaning, I guess, that women are back to flaunting their sexuality. Some commentators have said Spain didn’t see much of the first (or, indeed, any) wave of feminism. Whether it did or it didn’t, there doesn’t ever seem to have been any rejection of female sexuality here. Anyway, you can read what Ms Paglia said here. And a Wall St Journal commentary(sic) on it here.

I went to a (different) Vodafone outlet today to ask for a copy of their contract, to read at home before signing up. I particularly wanted to see if there was a reference to the message translation service my daughter’s partner had ended up paying for, despite knowing nothing about it. To be honest, I was expecting a fight and had my arguments (and sarcasm) lined up. But the charming young lady happily handed me a blank contract, complete with the completion instructions meant for the agent. Life can be a real bitch sometimes.

When I was a kid – and I think for many years after – the Mars TV ad featured a jingle that went “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play.” OK, it didn’t refer to certain tooth decay from eating 352 of these treats every year but at least it was catchy. And, to a degree, creative. Today’s ad on British TV went “Mars. 45% less saturated fat. But still the same great taste.” Which should have them walking out of the shops. At least it must have saved them the cost of an ad agency.

There was a review in El Pais yesterday of the diaries of James Lees-Milner, who seems to have chronicled the worst excesses of the decadent British “upper, upper classes”. The writer claims he is Britain’s most famous diarist, though virtually unknown outside the UK. Well, I have a confession to make – never heard of him. And I don’t appear to have missed much.

For those following these things, here are the latest EU forecasts for economic growth this year:-
Germany – 3.4%
EU 27 – 1.8%
Eurozone - 1.7%
The UK – 1.7%
Spain – (0.3%)
Which is a bit depressing.

It’s fascinating – in a Spanish context – to see Real Madrid’s Ronaldo criticised for individualismo. That said, no team could better represent the fusion of individual talents than Spain’s. And Barcelona are doing a great job of the same – against Panathinaikos – as I write this. If you ignore the penalty that Messi just muffed.

Finally . . . Here’s a Galician recipe, intended for concoction in the very early hours of a Saturday or Sunday morning: Take an 18 year old youth and mix him with alcohol. Sit him in a high-powered Series 3 BMW and put him on one of Galicia’s many bendy roads, preferably when it’s raining. Throw in an immovable object such as a tree, a lamppost or a wall. And cook until ready. Which is when the youth takes a bend too fast and hits one of the latter. Phone the parents and ask who bought him the car. Attend the funeral later that day.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published five chapters of a novel she describes as “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. Click here, if this entices you. If you do go and you enjoy it, please comment. It’s tough being an aspiring novelist. And the father of same.


Non-Google Advert: Looking for accommodation for the ETU triathlon European championships in Pontevedra next June? Click on the Contact Me button above for details of a great place just outside the city.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I went on a shopping expedition this morning. As ever, this was about 75% successful. But it did include a trip to my favourite shop in the city – the ironmongers (ferretería) in the old quarter where you can buy a single screw. Or, indeed, a single little spring and a single ferrule for the end of your walking pole. At a total cost of 20 cents. Elsewhere, I finally managed to get something to get rid of the mould stains on the inside of the (cold) northern wall in my ático. ‘Mould’ is moho in Spanish and I was not keen to tackle the pronunciation of this word. I knew the ‘h’ was silent but unsure whether the ‘o’s were separated by a (semi) glottal stop and whether they were pronounced exactly the same and were of equal length. So I had some fun in my regular bar, practising with one of the staff, before I went off to ask for it. I finally got it right. But still sounded like a cow with a cold.

One of the other shops I visited was the kitchen goods store which sold me a сafetière on Saturday. This was to tell them the plunger was two inches (5cm) too short, making the machine useless. There was no problem getting this changed, of course. We took a replacement from the display item and I left the inadequate plunger with the shop assistant. I’ll now try to resist the temptation to go back and check whether it’s simply been put back on the shelf. Which is a Carrefour speciality, in my experience.

There was a useful spread of forecasts for the Spanish economy in one of the papers today. The range for this year was -0.1% to -0.7%, with an average of -0.4%. For 2011, the range was 0.4 to 1.3% growth, with an average of 0.75%. Need I say that the Spanish government is the most optimistic for next year, forecasting 1.3%.

As for politics, the right-of-centre PP party is now reported to have a lead over the governing PSOE party of almost ten percent. What’s not clear is whether this lead would be bigger but for the huge corruption cloud hovering over the PP party leadership in Valencia. I guess it’s conceivable it could be smaller, such is the accommodating attitude to corruption here.

I think I suggested a week or two ago that this month’s Medieval Fair (the Feira Franca) was our last big event of the year. But I now recall we have an Oktoberfest in Pontevedra. A google search didn’t throw up much on this today but I was interested to read that there’s an annual “Anglogalcian cup”. Which appears to be a football match. Does anyone know anything more about this? All of which reminds me . . . I seem to have again missed the tripe festival in my barrio of Poio again this year. Damn.

It’s ten years today since I took up residence in Spain. Time, I guess, for a review to replace the document I wrote after only nine months here – Welcome to Another Time and Somewhere Else. So, watch this space.

Meanwhile . . . and Finally . . . Sometime this week, the counter I’ve been using longest will record the 250,000th hit to this bog. There’ll be a huge prize for whoever this is, on production of proof.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published five chapters of a novel she describes as “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. Click here, if this entices you. If you do go and you enjoy it, please comment. It’s tough being a novelist. And the father of a novelist.


Non-Google Advert: Looking for accommodation for the ETU triathlon European championships in Pontevedra next June? Click on the Contact Me button above for details of a great place just outside the city.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Referring to tabloid interest in the Rooney sex shenanigans in the UK, El Mundo yesterday referred disparagingly to “19th century Puritanism.” I wonder if this is worse that sophisticated 20th century Catholicism, where the sin is hated but the sinner loved. And no one reports anything, even when it concerns priests and young boys.

Which reminds me . . . The latest ladies in Rooney’s life have publicly apologised for the grief they’ve caused his wife. Whores and tarts apologising for doing what they do best! What is the world coming to? Can money possibly have changed hands?

Christopher Booker is an inveterate British eurosceptic. Click here for his latest gripe against Brussels. As I’ve frequently voiced similar sentiments myself, I could hardly disagree with his final comment that the institution will eventually collapse under the weight of its contradictions. Incidentally, can one – in any circumstances – imagine the French or German government rolling over if its leading industry were clobbered by Brussels? No, I didn’t think so.

Still on the EU . . . It’s interesting hearing French fruit farmers on France24 complaining about being ruined by cheap Spanish imports. Here in Spain, the enemy is the French dairy industry, which is prone to exporting cheap milk. That’s free trade for you. It comes with all the politics. Once upon a time, it was said to be more important than the politics. But those days are long gone.

Nice to have El País confirm today that “Data on the Spanish economy are rather confusing and don’t show a clear trend”. So, plenty of room for disagreement. It was even nicer to have confirmation from reader Moscow (an economist) that he didn’t understand IBEX Salad either. If he saw it, I guess Moscow was pleased to read in the same paper an article showing that Spain’s international competitiveness is not as bad as it’s usually painted. But, economics being what it is, there’s probably someone who can prove the opposite.

I referred the other day to the high level of anti-Americanism here in Spain. I was reminded of this when reading this trenchant attack on the nonsense generated by the absurd Koran-burning pastor in the USA. As the writer says, “The world (and not just the Muslim parts of it) must be very eager indeed to find a plausible excuse for casting America as a cartoon country whose heartland is dominated by bigoted know-nothings. Never mind that this is the same America which, only two years ago, was being hailed by ecstatic European liberals for having elected a black president, whose father and stepfather had been Muslims.” All too sadly true, I fear.

On a lighter note . . . We have a new attraction in Pontevedra – Apipolis. Or Bee City. As it’s on the route to my house in the nearby hills. I shall visit it and report back.

Finally . . . British TV tonight carried - on one of the commercial channels - a program celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. This, of course, was guaranteed to garner viewers of my father’s age. So, I guess it wasn’t too surprising we were treated to regular adverts for a product against nocturnal pee-ing. Which is a bit of a come down from flying Spitfires. Even if, for rather different reasons, you did suffer a similar problem at the time.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published four chapters of a novel she describes as “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. Click here, if this entices you. If you do go and you enjoy it, please comment. It’s tough being a novelist. And the father of a novelist.


Non-Google Advert: Looking for accommodation for the ETU triathlon European championships in Pontevedra next June? Click on the Contact Me button above for details of a great place just outside the city.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

There was an odd little incident in Pontevedra yesterday, reported in today’s Voz de Galicia. At 9 in the morning, in a street I use most days, a young man parked his scooter on the pavement - for maximum convenience for himself and maximum inconvenience for pedestrians. Nothing terribly unusual in this, you might say. And you’d be right. This time, though, the pedestrians – parents taking their kids to a nearby school – asked him to remove the machine. And when he refused, they called the police. Now, I don’t know whether it was the national, regional, provincial or local force which responded but they can’t have been all that busy, as three of them turned up. The young man proved equally impervious to the arguments of the police and, after an hour, an official “Witness Wagon” was summoned, he was booked and his scooter was carted off to the pound. Clearly, then, he was one of those people I cited yesterday who feel the rules are not really for them. And was determined to prove it. Apparently on the grounds that his law-breaking wasn’t doing anyone any harm. I don’t, by the way, know what function the Witness Wagon (Furgoneta[?] de Testigos) serves but I guess it operates as a mobile office in which people are interviewed and statements taken.

I was rather taken today by this 1815 list (by Byron, no less) of the eight stages of a drinking bout – these being silent, then talky, then argumentative, then disputatious, then unintelligible, then altogethery, then inarticulate, and finally drunk. Now, I’ve never heard of “altogethery” but my guess is it corresponds to the Spanish custom (obligation?) of everyone talking or arguing simultaneously. So, if we assume that there’s no silent phase in Spain and that “altogethery” is a permanent overlay for all the others, there can only be six stages to a Spanish drinking bout. Possibly only five if, as is often the case, inebriation is avoided. And, these, days we can probably add a ninth to the British version – aggressive.

So, the French are up in arms because their retirement age is being raised from 60 to 62. Have they no idea how lucky they are, compared to their EU compatriots? Do they care? I imagine not.

En passant, I did check my utility bills. It was the gas unit prices which increased by 21-32%, not the electricity unit prices. The speciality of my electricity supplier is grossly over-estimating my usage every second month, despite having ten years of data. Thank God they're not responsible for predicting the performance of the Spanish economy.

Finally . . . The Voz de Galicia today reported that the Galician Xunta is trying to ensure there are places in Spain to buy the boxes for the new Portuguese toll roads. It also answered my need for data on the alternatives for getting to Oporto airport, once the Portuguese put tolls on the trunk road. So, for those with an interest in this, here it is, from the border at Tui:-
Via the A3: One hour, Euros 7.05
Via the A3, A27 and A28: One hour, 24 mins. Euros 4.04
Via the N13: Two hours 45 mins. Free.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published five chapters of a novel she describes as “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. Click here, if this entices you. If you do go and you enjoy it, please comment. It’s tough being a novelist. And the father of a novelist.

Non-Google Advert: Looking for accommodation for the ETU triathlon European championships in Pontevedra next June? Click on the Contact Me button above for details of a great place just outside the city.

Friday, September 10, 2010

I’ve always rather envied people who can take up unequivocal positions at one end of the spectrum of attitudes around an important issue. Whether this is bullfighting or the state of the global economy. On the former, a couple of close friends are about to start a dialogue which I will observe as an ambivalent bystander. On the latter, I was pleased – well, relieved really – to read today that “One of Britain’s most successful industrialists” had admitted to a columnist that he had “no idea what’s really going on.” The writer went on to add that “The message from financial markets is horribly ambivalent.” Which was music to my ears, as I reeled from Charles Butler’s latest post over at IBEX Salad. I mean, I’m sure Charles is right but – not for the first time - I wish I could understand why. Or even the point he’s making.

Talking of both conviction and the Spanish economy, the Vice President responsible for the latter says she’s sure Spain won’t return to recession. So, does she know something we don’t? If so, I think we should be told. Perhaps she's been reading IBEX Salad and understands it. If not, God help us.

The Spanish I contend – are rather un-ruley, giving the impression they don’t have much truck with regulations they find personally inconvenient. Or as Angel Ganivet once put it “Every Spaniard’s ideal is to carry a statutory letter with a single provision, brief but imperious: ‘This Spaniard is entitled to do whatever he feels like doing.’” The other explanation, of course, is that they do comply with laws, but only those they think there’s a fair chance they’ll be penalised for breaking. I think of this whenever I see one of the (countless) drivers with a mobile phone to his or her ear. My suspicion is most of these simply don’t accept this is dangerous. But here we come up against an attitude towards and an assessment of risk which are rather more pragmatic than in Anglo cultures. Rightly or wrongly.

Another thing I’m confused about is the number of police forces in Spain and what they do. There seem to be at least four, possibly five, ranging from the very local to the very national. With the Traffic Corps on top of all these. I pondered this again when I read today that one police officer had fined another (possibly from a regional, provincial or local force) for not having his seat belt on when chasing some alleged gangster along a road near Sevilla. A propos – the Galician Nationalist party (the BNG) has just suffered another reverse in its campaign to establish that Galicia/Galiza is a real (de facto, at least) nation by virtue of the delegation from Madrid of responsibility for traffic control. I believe this is already the case in the Basque Country. And possibly in Cataluña as well. If not, it soon will be.

I’ve just checked and the officer stopped and fined was with a/the national police force and his nemesis was with the Civíl Guard. Tráfico Department, I guess. Not the most popular of folk.

Finally . . . As my blog-friend Anthea and I regularly say, the airport at Oporto down in North Portugal continues to thrive while Galicia’s three international minnows continue to struggle. Taking sensible (but irritating) advantage of this, the (bankrupt) Portuguese government is now putting tolls on all the fast roads to both Oporto and its airport. Worse, these won’t have pay booths. You’ll have to buy a ‘box’ and charge it with pre-payments before you make your journey. If not, you’ll be hit with a massive 600 euro fine. Understandably, the Galician Xunta sees this as an unfriendly act. So do I but I’m rather more worried about where/if I can get the box here in Spain and how to pre-charge it. Or, alternatively, how long it would take me to get to Oporto via the country roads. Which may now be rather more crowded than previously. Could be the bus or train to Vigo for all my future visitors.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published four chapters of a novel she describes as “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. Click here, if this entices you. If you do go and you enjoy it, please comment. It’s tough being a novelist. And the father of a novelist.

Non-Google Advert: Looking for accommodation for the ETU triathlon European championships in Pontevedra next June? Click on the Contact Me button above for details of a great place just outside the city.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Here’s a thing . . . The Andalucian parliament may have to consider the banning of bullfighting down there. It all rather depends on whether the Association for the Protection of Animals and Plantas (CIMA) can get enough signatures on a petition, within four months. If they do, the politicians have said they “will give it some thought”. Anyone like to bet on the outcome?

Prompted, no doubt, by the reaction to Stephen Hawking’s dismissal of God’s role in the Big Bang, the Times columnist, David Aaronavitch, has penned these rather incontrovertible comments – “Surely the most useful perspective from which an atheist or a light agnostic should look at religion is an anthropological one. That is to say, what functions in human society do religion and the institutions of religion fulfil? Any intelligent non-believer must note the universality of a creation myth. And similarly there is a near-universality of societies, priesthoods and associations organised to deliver the ethical and social rules said to derive from the supernatural. Fellow atheists (and friendly agnostics), if I may address you directly, once we have agreed on secularism — that no religion may dominate political life — we should take note of why zillions of our fellow human beings require churches, mosques or meeting houses. And we should think very hard about whether life would really be better without them. We may not, in that sense, need religion, but we do seem to need something. I am not saying that Man is “naturally” selfish and bad and requires correction, but simply that it can be easier to live well if you have a framework to help you. If that’s right, then an atheist assault on religion is harmful — because what the intelligent atheist wants is not no religion, but good religion.”

Bankers are not the most popular of people at the moment. But, as Anatole Kaletsky wrote today in The Times, “Banking and finance will always be among the most important and profitable business activities in any market economy. The prosperity of banks and bankers follows inevitably from their role in allocating capital in a market economy and converting personal savings into commercial investments. Just as politicians and state planners are always among the richest and most powerful people in communist states or corrupt oil-producing dictatorships, so financiers will always be among the rich and powerful in a market economy.” That said, he goes on to admit that things are being made pretty easy for them to make a packet right now – by borrowing at low rates and getting risk-free returns at a lot higher rates. Results – “A large part of the guaranteed profits racked up by this simple strategy is then distributed to their employees as salaries and bonuses. These false prescriptions will shift the pain of economic adjustment from financiers on to relatively low-paid public sector workers and beneficiaries of the welfare state. Meanwhile, the bankers will be laughing all the way to their ever more powerful banks.” In the UK, at least. Though much the same may be happening elsewhere.

Here in Spain, it doesn’t get any easier to understand what’s happening in the area of local government expenditure. And the debts required to finance this. The central government, it seems, has done a U-turn and announced that many urban and local administrations will, after all, be allowed to take out loans to permit them to go on spending. Though perhaps not those – Madrid and Valencia – which are of a different political stamp from the government.

At the national level, it looks like Sr Zapatero will only be able to get his government’s 2011 budget approved by parliament with the help of the PNV Basque nationalist party. Which will presumably lead to some horse-trading and pork-barrel politics with a Basque flavour. In the worst case (for Sr Z) his administration will forfeit this support, lose a key vote and then be forced to call elections next year. Which no one would bet on them winning. Interesting times. Especially as 76% of Spaniards are reported not to want either the current president nor the leader of the opposition to stand.

And, talking of (alleged) percentages of Spaniards . . . . More than a third admit to being anti-Semitic and more than half of them don’t much like Muslims. But everything’s relative; far higher numbers admit to being anti-American.

Finally . . . Filling up with petrol this evening, I asked the attendant whether she knew the meaning of what she had across the front of her T-shirt – YOU make me happy. “No idea”, she said. “I don’t speak much English.” So I told her and it made her very happy.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published three chapters of a novel she describes as “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published one chapter per week. Click here, if this entices you. If you do go and you enjoy it, please comment. It’s tough being a novelist. And the father of a novelist.


Non-Google Advert: Looking for accommodation for the ETU triathlon European championships in Pontevedra next June? Click on the Contact Me button above for details of a great place just outside the city.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A few years ago, Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python cartoon fame) tried to realise the dream of a lifetime and film his (characteristically odd) version of Don Quixote here in Spain. I know this because his DVD of the calamity this became – Lost in La Mancha – was available for 5 quid in a Liverpool record shop a couple of years ago. And now he’s trying again. Or perhaps he isn’t, as the promised finance has evaporated. I wish him luck. If it ever gets made, it should be a good watch. More here.

Incidentally, I was surprised that Terry Gilliam was described as being British, as I’d always thought he was American. Turns out he took out British citizenship in 1968.

Here in Spain, a lot continues to be written about the latest developments with the Basque terrorist group ETA. The problem is that both the Spanish government and ETA are on the ropes and room for manoeuvre seems to be small. Though this may, in fact, be an opportunity, should the PP opposition refrain from taking a narrow, party-political standpoint. Of which there is, I suspect, fat chance. Anyway, here’s James Badcock over at Qorreo, with a much more informed view than mine.

Talking of the Basque Country, they’re about to introduce the toughest anti-smoking legislation in Europe. Under this it’ll be a crime to smoke in private in front of your own kids. Even someone who detests smoking as much as I do has difficulty with this infringement of liberty. Though one can see the logic. Meanwhile, the Spanish state appears to have resiled on its promise that the tougher law intended for the rest of the country will be with us in January next. Hardly surprising really, as it’s already moved back from “Early in 2010” and “During the second half of 2010”. Apparently, the stricter Basque law will remain in place there even after the Spanish law has (eventually) arrived. You’ve been warned.

I’m interested to see the media talking of probable utility price increases – still dictated by the government here – in the region of 3 to 5%. This hardly squares with the details of my last electricity bill (from a Catalan gas company), which showed unit prices to be 23 to 32% above what they were this time last year. Without any explanation, of course. Or perhaps I've got the decimal point in the wrong place. Must check . . .

Finally . . . It’s not all bad news. I had my day in court yesterday, against my ex internet provider Ya.com. Well, my day in arbitration at El Consumo anyway. Ya.com failed to turn up, of course - well, would you for 39 euros? – and things seemed to go smoothly for me, after the inevitable delays in getting started. The young lady who presided over the proceedings was far prettier than she should have been and the other good news was that she thinks they’ll be ordering Ya.com to give me some money back. Albeit in another two years or so.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published three chapters of a novel she describes as “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published one chapter per week. Click here, if this entices you. If you do go and you enjoy it, please comment. It’s tough being a novelist. And the father of a novelist.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

One of the things I always try to instil into my visitors is not to over-tip here. Views vary on what the Spanish ‘rule’ might be but, generally speaking, it’s not often that a tip of more than 5% is needed. Unless, of course, things have been ruined by foreign tourists. I thought of all this morning when I saw a local family had left 10 cents on a bill of more than 6 euros. Or rather less than 2%. Better than nothing, they’d surely retort.

If asked, I’d have said the Spanish were quick to aggressive words, rather than aggressive actions. But this tale of a pugilistic priest has left me wondering whether I’m right on this.

The Spanish – possibly like most Continentals – take a world-wearily dim view of the Anglo obsession with sexual peccadilloes, the latest case being Wayne Rooney’s dalliances with a prostitute during his wife’s pregnancy. One rather gets the impression that, as with corruption, they feel more mature and sophisticated societies take these things in their stride and endeavour not to get too interested in them. At least when politicians are involved. Which is nice for politicians.

Talking of Spanish society . . . There was a nice cartoon in El País yesterday. It showed a mother taking her child to school and saying to him “Remember, it’s not what you learn that’s important for your future but who you sit next to.” I was reminded of the English woman who told me years ago that, when she’d set up an ‘academy’ here, she couldn’t understand why all the mothers were asking her if little María or Marta could sit next to the kids who shared surnames with the names of the town's main streets.

There was a headline in one of the papers today about Spain fearing it would lose some of its cash transfers from Brussels because it had breached the rule on deficits. The Minister of the Economy was reported as saying that she supported the non-sanctioning of those members who’d trangressed. Hang on, I thought. Wasn’t such a measure the cornerstone of President Zapatero’s headline proposals for change when Spain took over the presidency of the EU last year? Perhaps circumstances have changed principles.

I suggested last week there was a lack of political will here to address the issues of prostitution and women-trafficking. Well, the city of Alicante has announced it’s not only making prostitution in public places an offence but will also prosecute the clients. A similar provision is already in effect, it’s reported, in Valencia. However, I imagine these measures will have little effect on the graphic advertising in the back pages of local, regional and even national newspapers. Even though they seem pretty public to me.

I suspect it does nothing for Spain’s image that the president of the national association of businessmen is in court for neglecting to pay the salaries of the staff of his then-moribund now-defunct airline, Air Comet. Or he would be, if he could be bothered to turn up.

Finally . . . It’s half-time in the match between Argentina and Spain and the former are leading 3-0. Which rather raises the question of why anyone thought it would be a good idea for Spain to fly 15 hours for a mid-week pointless friendly match, where they'd be on a hiding to nothing. Money spoke, I guess. And it was a hiding which they got.


Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published three chapters of a novel she describes as “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published one chapter per week. Click here, if this entices you. If you do go and you enjoy it, please comment. It’s tough being a novelist. And the father of a novelist.

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