Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Best of Spain; Spanish nurses; Spanish language abilities; GCOP; Amazon; & The EU.

If you ask any foreigner who's lived in Spain a while what the best thing about the country is, they're likely to reply "The Spaniards". I thought of this this week when, on my return from the nuptials in the UK, I was greeted with affection by all the staff in my regular cafés and tapas bars. Indeed, one of them messaged me saying they hadn't seen me for a while and were wondering if I was OK. Plus there was a Thanksgiving dinner of great bonhomie at Pontevedra's English Speaking Society. In short, it's much harder to feel alone here than in the UK, I imagine.

Talking about welcomes in the UK, the National Health Service - in its desperation to increase nurse numbers - has upped its campaign to recruit them in Spain and elsewhere in the EU. Trouble is, the NHS doesn't appear to be too fussy about their level of English and leaves this to the hospitals to check. Or not. In fact, there seems to be some 'freedom of movement' norm which prevents the testing of English. My impression is that would-be Spanish nurses need high marks in the nation's pre-university exam. So, what they lack in English facility they should make up for in intelligence. Not that this will impress any patient given the wrong medicine.

Relatedly, Spaniards are reported to be falling behind other EU nations in the learning of foreign languages and may now be almost as bad as the Brits. The average EU citizen of working age is said to speak 3 languages, including their own, but the Spanish achieve only 2. Which is possibly double the British average. Of course, if you live in the Basque Country, Galicia, Cataluña, Valencia and the Baleares, you have no choice but to speak the 2 co-official languages. Which skews the Spanish results at least a little.

There's a new Facebook page I've joined - GCOP, or Get Cyclists off Pavements. Well, I felt I had to, as I'd set it up. 'Pavements', by the way, are 'sidewalks' in the US of A. I don't know that the law is about this (frequent) irritant here in Spain but, back in the UK, you face a fixed fine of 30 quid. Or prosecution and a fine of up to 500 quid, if you hurt a pedestrian.

Amazon - A Warning: Think twice if you're ordering a book and it's said to be published by Amazon itself. I've received 2 books recently in which the print was miniscule. And I mean miniscule. And one short item in which the print was gigantic, to make a pamphlet look like a book.

Finally . . . The EU. Yesterday's Times had a leader which I can't just link to because of the paywall. So, you can see it below, if interested. After this latest wedding foto for Richard et al:

Entering the chapel:



Europe’s Paralysis

Enthusiasts for European integration have long couched their arguments in the ideals of peace and fraternity. If only they had paid equal attention to the most fundamental principle of economics: things add up.

Through bad policy, economic ineptitude and bureaucratic hauteur, the governments of the eurozone have consigned its member states to stagnation and widespread political disaffection. It is a record of fecklessness in the service of ideology, at the expense of real people’s living standards. Even a change in policy is doomed to failure, however, until the eurozone comes to terms with its fundamental problem. A misconceived currency union has frozen in place an inflexible and dysfunctional economic model. Europe needs radical supply-side reforms.

The numbers are alarming. At the beginning of this year, the eurozone appeared at last to be recovering, if weakly, from its banking collapse and debt crisis. In reality, it is barely growing at all. GDP across the 18-member eurozone was stagnant in the second quarter and recovered to an annualised rate of 0.6 per cent in the third quarter mainly because of a technical effect of companies building up inventories. Aggregate GDP in the eurozone is still below the level of 2008.

It may get worse. Figures released yesterday showed that the annual rate of inflation in the eurozone had moderated to 0.3 per cent. Partly this is an effect of declining oil prices. Yet it is also due to a severe shortage of demand and shows how close the eurozone is to a state of deflation.

If deflationary pressures become entrenched, they will impose great hardship. Expecting prices to fall, consumers will defer their purchases and companies will postpone their investments. Weak demand will become self-reinforcing.

At the same time, the unemployment rate in the eurozone is stubbornly high at 11.5 per cent. In Italy, it has hit a record of 13.2 per cent. In Spain, youth unemployment is at an extraordinary 25 per cent. This is all a phenomenal waste of economic resources as well as a human tragedy. Worse, it could have been predicted.

A single interest rate and a single currency across Europe have removed an essential safety valve for economic growth: the exchange rate. They have yoked together very different national economies while depriving them of the option of restoring competitiveness by devaluing the currency. Currency depreciation would not in itself be enough to resolve the weaknesses of the heavily indebted southern European economies, but without that option their only course is a sustained squeeze on living standards.

Even with weak growth, debt levels in the eurozone remain dangerously high, and thereby limit the room for fiscal expansion. France, Italy and Belgium were yesterday given an extension of three months by the EU to cut their bloated budget deficits. That is likely merely to reinforce Europe’s downward spiral. Policymakers have relied on low interest rates to get Europe out of its crisis. That is not enough and it is not working.

There is a key to promoting growth in the eurozone. It requires removing the structural impediments to business expansion. Without supply-side reforms, a loosening of fiscal policy in the indebted economies would be self-defeating and dangerous. A spurt in demand would be strictly temporary and would be accompanied by a rise in these countries’ debt-to-GDP ratios.

A proposal by Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, to boost investment by €315 billion will not be effective while these weaknesses exist, as the plan relies on attracting private investment. Simplifying national tax systems and making it easier for business to hire the right people (and shed under-performers) are essential to Europe’s prospects. All else is detail.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Reforming Spain; Living happily; Unhappy youth; Heating houses; New houses?; Spanglish; & Fotos.

Well, maybe there's really going to be a sea change in the way the Spanish government and judiciary treat corruption here. A major offender (Fabras) has been denied the standard avoidance of prison. Someone in Madrid is finally getting the message. And is, by the by, demonstrating again just how politicised the judicial system is here.

As expected, the promise of the Spanish PM to clean up politics has been greeted with scorn from the opposition parties. As has his claim that Spain is not corrupt, just has some corrupt people whose misdeeds are coming to light. I'll say! But, anyway, his reforms will 'go a long way to preventing future scandals', he says. With some justification, the leader of the PSOE opposition replied that Sr Rajoy lacked both the capacity and the legitimacy to renew democracy. True, but a bit of a cheek from the leader of a party also embroiled in corruption scandals. So, who can do it?

Hard as this may be to believe, the Happy Planet has produced an index which puts the UK higher than Spain as a happier place in which to live. At positions 41 and 62, respectively. A big clue for this comes from the fact that 1 of the 3 criteria is a county's 'ecological footprint', the others being life expectancy and wellbeing. Taking this to its logical extreme, if you lived surrounded by wind turbines, you'd be the happiest person in the world. Just in case you're asking, the worst place to live is Botswana. No turbines at all. And the best - Costa Rica. Of course.

A countervailing bit of news is that the number of Spaniards signing on to the UK's national insurance scheme fell 9% in the year to September. There are even suggestions that those already there are beginning to leave.

But can this be to return to Spain, where youth unemployment has just been labelled the worst in Europe? Well, yes in the case of those who went to the UK ill-prepared to do anything but the menial jobs which don't give them the chance to improve their English. Said youth unemployment rate in Spain is now 54%, higher even than that of Greece and 7 times that of Germany.

Talking about the UK . . . My (superficial?) observation from my stays in 7 places is that the old (i. e. my mother) can afford to heat their houses to furnace levels, whereas the young can hardly afford to heat them to adequate levels. Or am I just less hardy than I was when I lived there?

Maybe young Spaniards can take comfort from the fact that both building permits and mortgage applications have recently shot up here. That said, the construction industry is still languishing at 4% of GDP, against 12% back in the 'fat cow' years.

Back home, I can again watch Moscow's TV channel, RT. This has allowed me to invent a new expression to replace "When Hell freezes over". It's "When RT reports on Russia".

Spanglish: The word 'toffee' has made its way into Spanish, as part of a dessert. Technically, it should have been transmuted into tofi but we saw it as toffe. Which is a nonsense really. Neither fish nor fowl. But maybe it was just a typo.

A puzzle: Should there be any punctuation between Thieves and Beware? If so, a full stop (period) or a comma? And does anyone know what Police Aware means?


Finally . . . For Richard, and anyone else who might be interested:

En route to the Nuptial Mass:


Friday, November 28, 2014

Corruption; Sex abuse; Cataluña; Taps; Human Ponters; Bloody Black Thursday; & My Girls.

With a general election only a few months away, the Spanish Prime Minister has found a new - and revolutionary - line on corruption: "The corrupt must pay the price". This came hot on the heels of the resignation/dismissal of the Ministress of Health and Social Services, who's going to be charged with benefitting from her husband's financial shenanigans. This is part of a huge trial which seems to have been meandering through the courts for an eternity now. Of course, there's always a chance the State Prosecutor will follow precedent and persuade the next judge in the series that the lady has no case to answer. But, anyway, I look forward to the Prime Minister sacking himself for receiving black cash in addition to his salary. As if.

The Pope has very publicly sacked a Spanish bishop for covering up sexual abuse of minors by a club of priests (Los Romaneros) in his diocese. My friend Dwight told me tonight that all the offenders were members of OpusDei but that this fact is no longer reported, demonstrating the residual ability of this right-wing/fascist organisation to muzzle the entire Spanish media. Readers may recall me citing a while ago a Spanish wine called - in Galician - The Priest and the Altar Boy. Time for a change of label, I'd have thought.

As for Cataluña . . . The President is facing charges of, grave disobedience(!), abuse of power and misuse of public funds. This is because he went ahead with a voting exercise on independence even though the Constitutional Court had ruled it illegal. This'll be an interesting trial, should it ever come to court.

After almost 3 weeks in the UK, staying in 7 different places, I have to say I share the Spanish amazement that the 2-tap system is still universal there, even in new places. There used to be a rationale for this - something to do with risks from the hot water, I believe - but now it's an anachronism and must reflect a bizarre cultural preference. See here for more on this and for some amusing solutions for frustrated foreigners. And foreignised Brits like me.

Thanks to the 'humanisation' measures of the last 10 years, Pontevedra has been awarded the prize in the Europe category of the Dubai International Award for Best Practices to Improve the Living Environment. This is because it's a 'city centred on people'. Of course, you'll find this hard to believe if you're hit by a cyclist doing 20kph.

The American shopping experience of Black Thursday is well established in the UK and attempts are now being made to replicate it here in Spain. As Christmas arrives here at least a month later than it does in Anglo cultures, I wonder if this will catch on. I rather hope not.

Finally . . . I can't resist posting these fotos of my beautiful daughters. I should stress they get their looks from their mother, not me. Though Faye does get her curly hair from my father.




Thursday, November 27, 2014

The return to Spain; & Fotos.

Arrived home this evening and was delighted to find my internet was even slower than that of Brittany Ferries. Down to an almost useless 0.1 megas. Against the 10 to 25 megas I'd become used to in the UK.

But the driving from Santander was an absolute delight. There was no rain and the roads were virtually empty. Plus there was the magnificent Cantabrian, Asturian and Galician scenery. Best of all, it was all of 2 hours before the first car was up my backside, with its indicators flashing.

We stopped for lunch in a place offering a tremendous Menu of the Day for €9, served by possibly the most endearing waiter in all of Spain. Another absolute delight. But I can't help feeling the presence of my fluent and pretty (elder) daughter was a factor. Anyway, it's called El Rancho and it's somewhere in Asturias. Quite possibly here.

While this was going on, the Spanish Ministress of Health was resigning over corruption allegations, after many months of denials.

But anyway, here's a foto or two of my daughter, the bride:-

With preparatory champers. And worried look:


En route to the chapel:



Signing the register:



Incidentally, my daughter's new surname is Lomas. Which I shall always write as Lo Más.

Normal service tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

More on the wedding.

My elder daughter and I spent the night in Chew Stoke with friends and then left early for a cross country drive to Portsmouth for the ferry. It was just as well I'd added an hour to the nat-sav's estimate of a 2 journey time, as all of the UK's evils were thrown at us - country lanes, school traffic, slow trucks, slower buses, even slower tractors and a jam-strewn drive through the centre of Salisbury. Finally, speed restrictions on the M27. We made check-in with just 5 minutes to spare, feeling rather frazzled by the experience.

BTW . . . "Stoke is one of the most common place names in the UK. Originally from the Old English 'stoc' meaning 'place', it came to be used in two special senses, 1) a religious place and 2) a secondary settlement."

So, more reflections on the wedding:-
  • It went off very well, despite the (at times) chaotic planning of the bride. Thanks are due to all those who acted as Hannah's Little Helpers in the run up to the event. Special mention must go to Melanie, who flew in from the USA and, inter alia, played a lovely violin during the service.
  • Apart from the nuptial Mass, it was all very informal and clearly enjoyed by everyone, especially the Mancunian mob on the dance floor.
  • I had a whale of a time, largely because I was looked after all evening by a beautiful young lady who danced her socks off with me and didn't look embarrassed once.
  • Talking of dancing . . . My daughter took her first with her husband, not with me as dictated by tradition. The end of an era.
  • All the speeches met with much gratifying laughter. I tried to use my laptop as a crib but came unstuck in the middle of it when this message appeared on the screen - "This program has unexpectedly closed". Fortunately, the hotel had printed out a copy 5 minutes before things began.
  • Unhappily for the groom, the bride found that a glass or two of champagne calms her down quite well.
  • As I've said, it was a great joy to reestablish old friendships, especially with (ex) in-laws.
Things said

When my sister called my mother, who's coming up for 90, to tell her she'd found her an outfit for the wedding, my mother asked for the name of the shop and then said "I've never bought anything there. I've always thought it was for the older woman."

As my daughter and I were getting out of the wedding car at the chapel, the Best Man (with rings) ran past, asking: "Is this the place?"

When the groom, in his speech, thanked his mother for all the advice she'd given him over the years, she exclaimed, with feeling: "Which you never took!". I (silently) hoped the comment didn't cover marriage to my daughter.

The exaggeration of the evening, from the mouth of the beautiful young lady when we re-met for the first time in 15 years: "You haven't changed a bit!". 


Oh, how I wish.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The day after

A day of lovely farewells over breakfast and lunch. I fear I've invited more than a hundred people to visit me in Galicia. And that most of the buggers will turn up.

Woke at 5.30 this morning to find I'd lost my reading glasses. Waited until 7 to knock on the door of room 160, where my bag and back-up glasses were. But, without glasses, I knocked on 140 instead. The occupant was not at all happy. But I did meet her later and apologised. Anyway, I then proceeded to knock on the door of room 160 but, as I did so, recalled it should have been 162. Fled.

With luck, I'll be able to post one or two fotos of the wedding tomorrow. 

Meanwhile, I won't bore you with details of a 4 hour drive to Bristol, through heavy traffic and endless 50 or 60mph restrictions on the motorways. Instead, here's the latest Local list:- 10 (allegedly) great quotes about Spain. Some with long beards on them.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Weddings and stuff

Well, the wedding of my younger daughter, Hannah, is over and I doubt there was ever a happier bride. She looked truly stunning and there can't be a sliver of doubt she'd have given Grace Kelly a run for her money.

For me it was huge delight to meet friends - young and old - I hadn't seen for 15 to 20 years. I hadn't realised how much I'd missed them. But perhaps they'll now come to visit and taste the real Spain with me.

Special mention must go to young Jack, a friend of Hannah's who excelled himself with a poem of his own devising, albeit in the style of a Mancunian poet I've never heard of.

Favourite moment of many - Hannah corpsing during the exchange of vows. She's always had a keen sense of humour but perhaps this wasn't quite the right moment to indulge it. But the priest was very indulgent.

So now I head back to Spain with my elder daughter, Faye, stopping off in Bristol en route to visit a couple of friends of hers from university. 

And normal service will resume soon, depending on internet access.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Wedding prep.

I went for a haircut this morning. Well, it is my daughter's wedding tomorrow and all the females in the family had commented on its length. On entering, I posed the question normally put in Spain - "OK. Whose last in the queue?". Being a British establishment, those waiting were thrown into obvious but silent confusion. Not helped by the fact I'd mistakenly asked "Whose next?". Eventually, though, someone raised his hand and admitted to being the one before me. On the positive side, to my surprise, the barber's shop had free WiFi, with the amusing password Grade1allover. I finally got it to work and passed the time writing my speech for tomorrow.

To get to my daughter's flat in Headingley, I usually pass through a student quarter, up from the Headingley cricket ground. Ten or fifteen years ago there was hardly a car parked on the streets. Now there's hardly a free parking spot. And these are students paying up to 30,000 pounds for tuition fees. Loan finance, perhaps. For the cars, I mean. The fees are all financed by student loans which - we learned this week - will never be fully repaid.

Trawling youtube for blues and boogie performances at the barber's, I came across Aker Bilk's Stranger on the Shore. This was huge hit in the UK in, I think, the winter of 62/63, when it was no. 1 for around 35 weeks. It's a haunting tune, originally called Jenny, after Bik's daughter of the same name. If you'd like to hear it again or for the first time, click here.


Finally . . . .Today I took my daughter's car to be valeted. When I asked her if there was anything to take out of it, she told me there was just a white plastic bag behind her seat. In fact, there were more than 20 items - including 2 pairs of shoes, a cake tray, a spanner, an overcoat, a couple of flower vases and an orchid. Yep, I think she's ready for marriage.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

An amusingly sad death; Ugly builings in Spain; More clerical criminals; At odds beliefs; A bad school; & Serial.

So, the Duqesa de Alba has died at 88. This woman was famous for being exceptionally rich, for having 52 titles, for marrying a man 24 years her junior and for being a darling of Spain's 'pink press'. Most of all, though, she was notable for having chosen to subject herself to the world's worst plastic surgeon. That said, I don't know what she looked like before she was smothered in molten plastic and put in wind tunnel. By this time, you'll want some pix, so type duquesa de alba in Google Images. And stand back. Some of the fotos are offensive to dogs and baboons. All that said, having contributed to the gaiety of life, she will be much missed. See the DT obit here.

With all the publicity this death will attract, it's probably a good time for the Spanish media to quietly report - if at all - that the EU has lambasted Spain over the tactics she's deployed on the border with Gibraltar. These were apparently designed to annoy everyone - British and Spanish - living on or near the Rock.

Talking of eyesores . . . Here's The Local's view of the 10 ugliest buildings in Spain. I'm surprised to see Bilbao's Guggenheim included. But not my neighbour's Bar-B-Q.

Who'd have thought the pope was so powerful? After a phone call from him to the Bishop of Granada, 10 priests have been suspended from their pastoral work because of allegations of sexual abuse. This is not the way the Catholic church has traditionally done things and I suspect this is another pontifical step on the road to assassination by the old guard. Or at least an early death.

Talking of religion . . . Only around 30% of Brits are said to believe in a god. But 50% believe in some form of after-life. Not sure how one squares this.

A village school in England has been reprimanded by the inspectorate for not having an appropriate racial/religious mix. Possibly because of its rural location. In the words of the do-gooders, the school wasn't 'outstanding' because its pupils’ cultural development was limited by a “lack of first-hand experience of the diverse make up of modern British society”. Perhaps they should ship in day-pupils from the nearest inner city. Or re-locate to Rotheram. 

Finally . . . I wasn't going to cite this but someone let the cat out of the bag in the British media the other day - There's a marvellous American podcast called Serial. Spread over several episodes, it tracks the investigation of a journalist int the murder of a schoolgirl and the (suspect?) conviction of her ex-boyfriend. More on it here. And you can access it here. Riveting stuff.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

House de-building; Tirot Lo Blanc; & Another UK gripe.

Take a complex set of local, regional and national land laws, throw in some corrupt lawyers and even-more-corrupt local politicians and you're bound to come up with people - Spanish and British - not owning the properties they thought they did. Then take a regional judiciary determined to punish someone and you get houses being demolished and court orders being made for compensation that will only be paid, as the judges well know, when Hell freezes over. Meanwhile, the guilty parties will, if they're unlucky, get short jail sentences which will then be suspended. Moral hazard? The question doesn't arise. Thus, the British Embassy in Spain estimates that 4,000 Brits with homes in Spain are now fighting to save them. As well as thousands more Spaniards and other foreigners. All of which is a hangover from the carpetbagger decade before 2007. This doesn't apply to those Brits who fell foul of a crooked lawyer or even a bent notary but it's a fact that an astonishing number of foreigners fall for the agents' spiel that a lawyer isn't necessary, no matter what they've been told. As they say here - They leave their brains at the airport. Caveat emptor and all that.

For no good reason, I'm ploughing my way through 650 pages of the medieval novel, Tirant Lo Blanc. I'm reading it in English, of course, but I expect my net colleague Trevor of Kalebeul has read it in the original Catalan. Anyway, I wouldn't go so far as to recommend anyone read it - except as an aperitif to Don Quixote - but it certainly does have its moments. Like the description of a woman being dragged around the town while being beaten with a cow's bladder. BTW . . . I bought this book 29 years ago and have only just got round to reading it. Which is probably a record for me.

Finally . . . Another gripe about the UK - The quantity of junk mail is phenomenal. Especially if, like my daughter, you've signed up for a charity and they've sold your (known sucker) details to all the others. But this does have an upside. The marketing men are in charge, so - along with all the heart-rending fotos - there's always a little gift. Of money even. Some people may not be capable of taking this without contributing but, on the other hand, some of us can. While chucking all the paper in the bin.

UK negatives; UK positive; Science and God; English improvement; Enshrined wisdom; & Mad daughter.

I cited a list the other day of Britain's Third World aspects, as seen by a Spaniard living in London. Frankly, I felt it hard to argue with his complaints. In addition, here's a few things I really dislike about the UK:-
  • Petrol stations are nothing like as good as they are in Spain. First of all, you always have to fill your own tank , and secondly the staff inside aren't a patch on their friendly opposite numbers in Spain.
  • The currency is ridiculous. The 1p piece is bigger than both the 10p piece and the 5p piece. And the 2p piece is bigger than all of them. The 50p is far too big and heavy but is nothing compared to the 2 pound coin. Worst of all, you can easily double your weight by getting a pocketful of this stuff.
  • Parking meters (in Liverpool anyway) deal only in hour segments and don't give you change. So, parking for 20 minutes when you only have a (humungous) 2 pound coin can be costly when the rate is 1.60 (€2) an hour.
  • You can't use a bank card to go through toll booths. At least for the Mersey tunnels.
  • Drink prices are spectacularly high.

Against that, as often noted, the drivers are pretty courteous. And there is no tail-gating at all. Drivers just patiently wait 20-30 metres behind you until you move into the middle lane. You almost feel like getting out and thanking them.

I heard a Christian astro-physicist say today, in the context of the comet landing, we should thank God for the wonders of science. An interesting view, given how long Christianity was violently opposed to science. Now it's just any science which conflicts with Christian beliefs. But since Biblical beliefs about the creation and development of man and the earth have been abandoned and since Christianity now fits itself around emerging science, episodes of conflict are rare. Not sure this is true of Islam. Or even Judaism. They may still believe the Red Sea really did part for Moses et al.

Changing English: Here's a list of the few past participles that came to mind today, as companions for kept, crept, slept, wept and lit:
Bookt
Cookt
Duckt
F---t
Hackt
Laught
Lookt
Milkt
Smokt
Talkt
Walkt
etc, etc..
Please use them when you can.

Somebody asked the web for citations of books containing the most page-for-page wisdom. Here are the main contenders. Of which I've read but 3:-
Seeking Wisdom, by Peter Bevelin
Cosmos by Carl Sagan
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Do the Work! by Steven Pressfield
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell
This is Water by David Foster Wallace
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
Dr Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin
The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Finally . . . As you may recall, my younger daughter is getting married on Saturday. So, I was a tad surprised this afternoon to hear her asking a professional busker friend of hers if she could sing with him in the centre of Leeds on Friday night. Youth!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Nation states v. the EU; Spanglish; Taxation and God; & Lovely Cheshire.

Spot the difference:
Britain, etc.: A nation state, with sovereignty over its citizens and managed by people whose well-paid jobs are held at the whim of the people and which will certainly end within a defined period.
The EU: A pseudo-superstate with increasing sovereignty over 28 nation states, and managed by people whose even better paid jobs are at the whim of themselves and their cronies and who cannot be voted out of power by the people.

Spanglish: Un tupper is not, as you might think, a ram but a plastic box for food. For obvious reasons. Pronounced tooper.

Speaking of Spanish . . . For the word 'mixture' I have always used mezcla but I noticed recently that the bird seed I buy is called a mixtura and wondered whether this was a bit of Spanglish. Possibly not, as the Royal Academy gives 'mixture' as its meaning.

Listening to a podcast about the morality of taxation today, I was struck by the thought that the cost of both personal and general disasters should be borne by those who believe these are the will of God. A 'God Tax', if you will. Or a 'Divine Social Services' contribution. This would compel the faithful to put their money where their beliefs are. All faiths, of course. I'm an equal opportunity atheist.

Finally . . . Here's a nice slide show on my patria chica, the county of Cheshire. 

Sputnik reborn; Funny map; British madness x 3; 3rd World Britain; & J&Ms galore.

If you can't get the Russian TV channel, RTV, don't fret. For now there's Radio Sputnik to give you Moscow's fascinating take on world affairs. Yesterday its lead items were 'Humanitarian aid' is heading for Ukraine; Western sanctions are folly; Winston Churchill wanted the Americans to nuke Russia; and Analysis of world leaders’ body language shows that Vladimir Putin is happy, while David Cameron is contemptuous and Angela Merkel is insecure. You couldn't make it up.

Back in Spain, someone has produced a map of corruption there, showing how widespread and deep it is. Not just a case of "a few bad apples", then. Lest you get carried away with the impressive police activity, it's noteworthy that, while more than 1,900 people have been charged, only 170 have been convicted so far.

A man in the UK was last week barred from entering a falconry display because he was alone and there would be children present. Such is the paedophilia obsession there. And my daughter and her fiancé were told they couldn't serve hot chocolate at their wedding reception as it might go cold and thus present a health risk. Such is the reach of the Health & Safety empire.

On the subject of British madness . . . The road sign for old folk likely to be crossing the road is a stooped individual with a stick. This may have to be changed - at some cost - because objections have been made about this influencing employers not to take on anyone over 50.

One of the things that fascinate/amuse Spaniards about the UK is the use of separate hot and cold water taps. To them, this denotes the absence of the modernity so visible in Spain. Glossing over the state of Spain only 50 years ago, here is Guirilandia's list of the 5 Third World things about London. If you can't read Spanish, the pictures tell the story well enough.

Finally . . . In Steinbeck's book Sweet Thursday, there's a character called Jesus and Mary. As I recall, it took me a while to figure out this was one person, not two, but I digress. Today I learnt that, not only are my future in-laws called Joseph and Mary but that almost everyone else in the family is called either Joseph or Mary. Catholics, of course. Happily, my future son-in-law is called Michael. Or Baz for short . . .

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Construction; Priestly booze; Best dog; Corruption; word of the day; & Hill trouble.

That smart chap, Mr Soros, is said to have invested in the Spanish construction industry, ahead of its Phoenix-like rise from the rubble. I must say I was surprised to read this. With more than a million properties around the country still to be sold (including 40 visible from my window), it's hard to see where the work is going to take place. Perhaps down in Andalucia, where wealthy Russians and Arabs find life so conducive.

As I may have mentioned, my younger daughter is getting married next Saturday. As they are both strong Catholics, today was their day for what I have unkindly labelled their pre-nup priestly prattle. It's in two parts. The first was late morning and the second is in an hour from now. In between, I've been instructed to go to the supermarket for the priest's favourite tipple - Not a French or Spanish wine but bottles of real ale. What is the Church coming to? He's actually a monsignor, I'm told, but doing him justice would have ruined my alliteration.

Having had a border collie for 17 years and another before that - I wasn't terribly surprised to read today that they'e considered - on 5 criteria - to the the top dog. I was pleased, moreover, to see that my opinion about the (British) Bulldog was endorsed - a short-living waste of time and space. Sorry if that offends. Pontevedra's favourite cur - the French Bulldog - is almost as bad, being slightly less ugly.

Yawn . . . A new police operation against political corruption in Spain swooped into action on Tuesday, with arrests of 30 people in 13 provinces. Politicians, public employees and technicians were among those detained in the regions of Andalucia, Canary Islands, Extremadura and Madrid. The target is an alleged “criminal scheme” dedicated to rigging public contracts covering park and garden maintenance. According to investigators, the main companies involved had created a network of corrupt public employees and civil servants who would ensure the firms won contracts in exchange for kickbacks.

Word of the day: Flagitious - Shameful, vicious, scandalous. It's fallen out of use only in the last century, it seems. Please help to bring it back. 

Finally . . . I'm intrigued that the British voice on my nat-sav mangles English almost as often as it does with Spanish. She seems to have particular trouble with the word 'hill', which she gives in a  number of ways. One of these is 'vil' and the other is 'll' tacked on to the end of the previous word - as in 'Long'll'. Odd.

Xmas ads; Spanish spots; & Corporate exculpation.

The launching of the ads for Spain's vast Xmas lotteries are a national event, especially after last year's saccharine effort was ruthlessly lampooned. This year's are now out and can be seen here. Meanwhile, back in the UK (where Xmas starts a lot earlier) here's the Sainsbury's ad that's causing a bit of controversy. Much to the supermarket's delight, I imagine.

Spanish Spots
  • According to a worldwide survey, Spaniards think that, when it comes to success, a good education is far more important than working hard. Presumably they weren't asked how important it was to have a relative in the company. Correction: It was rated equally with working hard.
  • The EU says Spain's early school dropout rate, though improving, is still the worst in Europe. Which seems a little at odds with the last paragraph.
  • Spanish women are now having their first baby at the average age of 32, says a new study.
  • 300,000 Spanish drivers are being pursued by the Portuguese government for unpaid tolls which now total €80m. I await a letter about my €50's worth.
  • Inevitably, spending on R&D in Spain has fallen to only 1.2% of GDP, the same as it was back in 2006. Korea's was 4% in 2012 and both Germany and Denmark spent 3%.                        
Finally . . . In a podcast I heard today, it was noted that chief executives of corrupt companies always deflect criticism by insisting all transgressions were down to "a few bad apples". Guess what President Rajoy last week called the PP party members now up before the beak for large scale corruption. The theme of the podcast was the syndrome known as 'wilful blindness'.


My apologies for a typo yesterday, when the quotation (for early readers) should have read: I'm enchanted by humanism; it's the humans I can't stand.

Friday, November 14, 2014

That non-referendum; Corruption; Bleating sheep; Humanism; Coffee shops; & Bloody cyclists.

As obdurate as ever, the Spanish President/Prime Minister has repeated that he's willing to talk to the Catalan President about constitutional reform but only on the basis of legality. He's dismissed the recent 'democratic exercise' as a complete failure and a farce. Which is probably not how it's seen up in Cataluña.

Corruption in Spain: Here's The Economist's view.

If you were in Madrid this week, you might have found yourself confronted by about 2,000 sheep. This happens every year - albeit on a smaller scale - under a 700 year old law granting rights of passage to shepherds. But his year the sheep were dragooned into participating in a protest (bleat) against the threat to traditional herding of modern agriculture and urban expansion.

Hat tip to Lenox of Business Over Tapas - "A bleak and powerful song about Spain today, subtitles in English: España de mi Infancia".

Nice quote: I'm enchanted by humanism; it's the humans I can't stand.

Britain seems to be awash with coffee shops. Not just the ubiquitous Starbucks and Costa chains but also small private places. My elder daughter and I passed one on Monday that caused her to laugh out loud; it had a name which she and an ex had once invented as a parody - SIPS. I thought of this in Manchester yesterday when my younger daughter and I passed one called GOS-SIP. This way lies COFFEE BREATH, I fear.

Finally . . . Imagine my pleasure at finding that my host, a very old friend, is as annoyed as I am about cyclists on the pavement (sidewalk). And that he resorts to the same stratagem as me - a walking stick. In fact, he's so angered by this nuisance that he's formed GECOP or Keep Cyclists off the Pavement. Watch out for the Facebook page. That said, we've found there's a Gecop Baptist Church in the USA, with the motto: God loves a cheerful giver. So, we may have to go with KECOP - Keep the etc. Or possibly Kill the Cyclists on the Pavement.

Oh, and my hosts have an internet speed of 20.4 megabytes, against my 0.8, at best. For which they pay less than me.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A comet cookie?; Spanish food; Spanish names; Brothel bills; Spanish English; & Another apostrophe?

The European Space Agency today announced they'd landed a probe on a comet travelling at 34,000 miles (or was it Km?) an hour. To me it looked like a meringue, so there'll doubtless be a few conspiracy theories on the net tomorrow. If not already.

In the latest of its lists of 10 Spanish things, The Local offers the Spanish dishes you should eat before you kick el cubo. The first of these is the vastly overrated and ludicrously priced bits of salty rubber called percebes. After seeing the picture, I didn't get to see the other nine.

Here's a list from me - Strange female names. I found them in my notebook, so apologies if I've posted them already:-
Purificación
Anunciación
Concepción
Dolores - Pains
Lágrimas - Tears
Milagros - Miracles
Rocio - Dew
Penitencia
I may have made up one or two. On the other hand, I may not have. There are others but they don't come to mind right now.

Talking of The Local . . . It reports that "A former executive with Spain's main copyright organization has been sentenced to two and half years in prison after he spent €40,000 on 'buying drinks' for prostitutes using a corporate credit card". That's some going. Or coming.

Spain is rising in the English Language Proficiency Index, from 23rd last year to 20th this year. This puts it close to the High Proficiency category. Italy languishes at 27th and France, of course, at 29th. At this rate, within 20 years, Spain will have a President who speaks the world's current lingua franca. Though not Mandarin.


Finally . . . And talking of English . . . Last week I came across the line: And every sweet-lipp’t thing. In a poem, of course, from earlier times. It got me wondering whether we couldn't profit from using this convention in similar words to 'lipped'. As in stop't, look't, cook't, etc. Or would it just mean more apostrophe confusion?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Corruption latest; Motorway madness; Begging letter; Adolf in Scouseland; & Paste problems.

Spain's latest corruption scandal involves 30 civil servants around the country (in 13 of the 17 regions) who were allegedly bribed to grant gardening contracts to a particular company. The case has been given to a lady judge who's already famous for being elegant and attractive. And so much photographed each day she arrives at court. To give her her due, she never plays up to the cameras.

Drivers who head down the autopistas are known in Spain as kamikazes. Reports about their errors are quite regular there. This is the first I recall seeing in the UK, where it was front page news, complete with video.

Some French letters will soon come under an auctioneer's hammer in Paris, including one from Brigitte Bardot to her hubby. But the star document will be a 1529 Spanish document, a plea from Catherine of Aragon to a Spanish cardinal, begging him to ask the Pope to intercede to save her marriage with Henry VIII. What she wanted was an annulment that would obviate the looming schism over a divorce with Henry. The rest is hisory.

You couldn't make it up. As I passed through Toxteth in Liverpool today, my brother-in-law pointed out the pub in which Adolf Hitler is said to have drunk when he stayed in that city for 6 months between 1912 and 1913. He was draft dodging, apparently, and living with his half-brother and his Irish wife. He even had a job at the Adelphi Hotel in the city centre. Or this is what the lady says in her memoirs. Here's the BBC's take on it anyway. The big irony is that the house in which he's said to have lived was the last one to be bombed during WW2.

Funny Fuji: I got my faulty camera back from this company today. Or, rather, I didn't. The note said they'd repaired a faulty shutter but the camera they sent me was a new one. And a later model. I think I'm impressed.

Finally . . . Travel broadens the mind, they say. And indeed it does. For example, on the ferry to Portsmouth on Sunday, I learned what happens when you use 'Savlon' antiseptic cream instead of toothpaste. It kills all known germs. But doesn't froth up.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Catalan vote; An honest builder; Weird place names; New words; & A bridge too low?

Well, 34% of the Catalans turned out to vote and 80% of them voted in favour of independence from Spain. The President there has vowed to carry on, unless he's arrested for civil disobedience. Madrid has snorted it won't attach any importance to the exercise since: 1. it was unofficial; 2. it was a farce; 3. it had no electoral census; and 4. it lacked proper state control. By which I guess they mean from Madrid. Some analysts felt the turnout didn't suggest enough support for independence but it did strengthen the hand of the Catalan President in his pursuit of Devo-Max.

My daughter told me she'd been highly pleased with herself recently when executing a perfect parallel park in a tight space. But she'd also felt disappointed there'd been no one there to witness it. As she got out of the car, though, a guy on a nearby building site applauded her. As she said, this was certainly as advance on traditional builders' greetings to young women.

Which rather reminds me . . . 25% of young Andalucians are reported to believe that a woman's place is still in the home. Well, it is further south than the rest of us.

Weird place names, anyone? Here's The Local's view of the 10 oddest in Spain.

Travelling by boat for 24 hours gives you plenty of time to read. Or to twiddle your proverbials. As a result of which I learned 3 new words:-
1. Sesquipedalian - 'Characterised by long words; long-winded'. It was used in an article on Russell Brand. If you've ever heard him talk, you'll know why.
2. Slub: 'A lump or thick place in yarn or thread.'
3. Shizzle: ??? As in "When she met the Pink Dragon, she completely lost her shizzle."

Finally . . . My mother told me something odd tonight. That my father had damaged a Spitfire while trying to fly under a bridge and so was sent to Sheffield as a punishment. "Which was where", she said, "they all went if they'd done something wrong". I couldn't help wondering:- Is this really true? And Wouldn't he have told me this himself, if it were? And Why poor bloody Sheffield?

Monday, November 10, 2014

This is a post I wrote on Saturday, before travellig to Santander and catching the boat to Portsmouth, after a delay of 3 hours because of bad weather . . .

On the eve of the Catalan independence exercise - it's not a referendum - the Spanish president has emerged from his bunker to say it's OK to go ahead, provided that the Catalan government isn't involved. I guess this is a technicality which can easily be accommodated. So no tanks or troops. Or even police.

A court of 3 judges has accepted some of the charges against Princess Cristina laid by the instructing judge. Those of money laundering have been dropped but those of tax evasion stand. She will be tried for these, unless the injured party declines to proceed. As this is the Spanish state, I think we can all be sure what the outcome will be. I mean the State Prosecutor has consistently tried to stop judicial action. Meanwhile, there are demands from some quarters that she relinquish her right to the throne in the event that the 5 people ahead of her kick the royal bucket.

As for corruption on a broader front . . . One of the VPs of the governing PP party has had us all in pleats with her claim that the party had "done everything it could against corruption."

Here's a surprise - a consumers' organisations says the electricity boards are charging us for things we don't get. "Thieves in white gloves" is the nice Spanish term for such institutions. More here.

Which reminds me, Telefónica has been fined €26m (a fleabite) for imposing abusive contracts on small and medium-sized companies. What about those of us forced to pay the same internet charges as those who get speeds hundreds of time better than mine?

Some very good news - crime in Spain (already relatively low) has fallen in all categories this year. This is an infamous area for statistics so let's hope these numbers aren't the result of some clever legerdemain. After all, you'd normally expect them to rise in times of hardship.

I drove from Pontevedra to Santander today, to meet up with my elder daughter and then to take the Brittany ferry to Portsmouth. The outstanding event was covering the 3 or 4 km of viaduct across the valleys near Mondoñedo. This was remarkable for 3 things: 1. It was open, not closed because of frequent fog, 2. It took us between pre-existing wind turbines, and 3. It confused the hell out of my satnav, which went into panic mode and tried to persuade me to drive over the edge on to some minor road below. And this despite me updating my maps only a few months ago. Said satnav outdid itself in Santander, trying to send me down a one-way street to the station and then directing me round the same block 3 times before I switched it off. Later, it suggested I turn right into another one way street, towards an approaching police car. But at least my daughter and I had the pleasure of listening to the mangled pronunciation of the British voice. So, not a complete dead loss.

Finally . . . A new beggar has approached me twice in the last couple of weeks in Pontevedra - a well-turned out woman in her 40s. Last night she was carrying a bag full of shopping and was clearly on her way home. If it happens again, I'm determined to ask her if things are really so tight at home that she's reduced to begging. Could be an interesting conversation.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Podemos, the view from London; Riots or not; RTL; & A cheeky beggar

Well, The Times has come out against Podemos, the new political party here which has caused a lot of feather-fluttering in Madrid's dovecots. Here's what they say today:-

Perilous Populism

In only ten months, Spain’s newest left-wing political party has grown from an idea to a national force that could not only decide the outcome of next year’s general election, but win it.

Podemos — “we can” — is the response of a country still reeling from years of austerity, corruption and paralysing unemployment. It is the brainchild of a charismatic pony-tailed university lecturer, Pablo Iglesias, who brings more than a whiff of Latin American populism to the Iberian peninsula and would nationalise half the Spanish economy if he could.

Mr Iglesias has energised the young, the poor and the disgruntled as no leader of Spain’s two other main parties has in nearly 40 years since the Franco era. “We have gone from being people who were bored by elections to those who are dying for them to arrive,” one supporter said.

Passion keeps democracy alive just as apathy kills it. Protest channelled into politics is better than protest that fills the streets with rioters and tear gas. The trouble is that Mr Iglesias’s policies, from lowering the retirement age to 60 to a mandatory 35-hour week, would throw Spain’s faltering recovery into reverse and saddle the country with debts it could never repay. Spain can certainly thrive again. Just not this way.

Podemos has elbowed its way into contention for power in two new polls. In one, it emerged six points ahead of the ruling centre-right People’s Party and three ahead of the socialist PSOE. That followed a survey that the newspaper El Pais called a “political earthquake” showing that if an election were held now, Podemos would win.

A majority next year for the People’s Party and its leader, Mariano Rajoy, now seems impossible. Such is his reward for forcing through parliament painful but essential reforms without which Spain would still be in recession. Mr Rajoy has slashed public spending, restructured Spain’s banks and cut unemployment and the cost of hiring to the point that the
OECD recently hailed Spain as an example to France and Germany.

Mr Rajoy’s problem is that respect for the political class he represents has been destroyed by graft and cronyism. Last month dozens of political appointees to the board of a big banking group bailed out by taxpayers were found to have run up more than £10 million in expenses on undeclared credit cards. In Andalusia 51 officials were arrested in a separate £200 million embezzlement scandal. Thanks to such cases there is a perception among the foot soldiers of Podemos that austerity has been inflicted on them by a corrupt elite, rather than championed in their name by tough but well-intentioned reformers.

Podemos has drawn support from both left and right. In this respect it bears comparison with Ukip, but it shares most common ground with the hardline Greek socialist grouping Syriza. Both parties have harnessed a broad and deep resentment towards European politics. Both articulate a loathing of lectures from German central bankers. Both have flirted with defaulting as a way of dealing with a ballooning national debt.

Such a policy would be economic suicide. There are plenty of reasons to scrap the euro, but crashing the eurozone economies with a manufactured debt crisis is not the way to go about it. The rise of Podemos is a serious rebuke to Spain’s political establishment, but it does not offer a serious prospectus for Spain’s future.

In Belgium, where the unemployment rate is probably 8-10%, there are riots in the streets of Brussels against the austerity regime there. Here in Spain, where the rate is 24% and the austerity regime just as bad, things are still relatively quiet and my forecast revolution is yet to start. But we do have Podemos. I suspect this is no coincidence. Podemos, I'm guessing, is a creation of the casta, designed to act as a conduit or lightening rod for unrest. Right now, this seems to be a successful strategy but we await the results of next year's elections to see whether or not it's backfired. 

An interesting perspective from RTL today. The Berlin Wall - which apparently had nothing to do with Russia, was a chance for world peace. But the West in general and NATO in particular blew this opportunity and are now threatening world peace by surrounding Russia with military might. Oh, and there were no Russian troops sent into the Ukraine yesterday. It's all lies. As susual.

Finally: A cheeky beggar: The bishop of San Sebastián was yesterday asked by a Romanian gipsy if she could kiss his hand, Before he had time to think about this, she'd done so. And in the process relieved him of his ring. Moral: Beware of Romanian women asking if they can kiss your ring.


P. S. Apologies for writing caldo last night when I meant cocido.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Communication; God; Podemos; Justice; Taxes; & A letter.

I wrote a bit about Spanish discourse yesterday and today I came across this: If we wanted to explain to someone what communication is like here, it'd be enough to put the TV on for a bit and let them see that what they see and hear has nothing to do with communication. The "You're worse!" of our politicians, the round-table discussions on any channel in which everyone talks at the same time, presidents who communicate through a plasma screen . . . all examples of anti-communication. It's aggressive communication - attack and defence, in which the objective gets lost. It's not a question of listening but of winning the contest. This is not much different from our day to day experience. Sometimes in our personal relationships we lose lose perspective and engage in a field battle even when the objective is shared - to understand each other so that things will improve. I rest my case.

Cocido is a Galicia dish I can take or leave. It's based on bits of the pig (plus a cabbage leaf) and an Englishman has actually written a book about it (Everything but the Tail) which details its various manifestations. I mention it simply because it's reported to be what the ex Ebola patient asked her mum for as she was leaving hospital. Said lady is also reported to have thanked God for her 'miraculous' recovery. Shame about all those coloured folk down in Africa whose entreaties went unanswered. Maybe she's led a more Catholic life than these unfortunates.

Now that the government's own survey has confirmed that 9 month old Podemos party is in the lead ahead of next year's elections, the Spanish media is in quite a tizz. For me, the outstanding question is - Will next year see the election of the first Spanish President to sport a ponytail? Or will that be Sr. Iglesias's first bow to convention? Meanwhile, here's El Pais on the phenomenon, in English.

Just a bit on corruption today - The president of the Galician government is saying zilch on the subject. Which is odd as there's a least one case here in the country's current Top Ten and you might have thought he'd want to disassociate himself from it.

Some say that justice is slow in Spain but I beg to differ. The invaluable Codex Calixtinus was stolen from Santiago cathedral in mid 2011. The (alleged) (inhouse) thief was arrested in mid 2012 and the trial begins as promptly as next month. The perp may get 15 years, or about 10 times more than the average corrupt politician. Plus he might have to stay in jail for a while, without a pardon. It's tough for the little crooks.

These are hard times for both taxpayers and the people charged with squeezing the pips until they squeal. Spanish inheritance tax is one of those things which would be labelled a 'postcode lottery' in the UK. It differs from region to region and can be either very high or zilch. Where it's high, people are now declining to inherit (unsellable?) property rather than cough up a substantial sum here and now. As for the collectors, they've taken to hovering in helicopters to identity home improvements which have increased value but haven't been reported to the tax office. I wonder what they do if they see a pool that's been filled in or a conservatory knocked down. Nothing, I imagine.

Just following up on the citation of setear yesterday. . . .There's no evidence that Spanish has borrowed 'to set' to give setear. But, then, resetear ('reset') isn't in the dictionary either. Yet.

Finally . . . The best source of public views is perhaps the Letters page of the press. Here's one example from today's El País:

In Spain, everyone steals in his own way

I was one of many young people forced to register falsely as self-employed, with a low income and total dependence on the employer. Unable to move to another job, you tolerate all they throw at you - they pay you in black money, your work is poorly paid, and they demand more and more for less and less. Now I find they haven't paid my last salary. They've taken advantage of my youth and innocence to trick me. After all that I've endured. Why do politicians steal? I don't see it as strange, since in Spain everyone steals what he can. What is needed in Spain are not new politicians, but the moral and social reform of Spaniards. A change in our values, which can only be done through education. I hope the cheeky Spaniard who jumps the queue on the bus or in the metro ceases to represent us. In the end, our politicians are a reflection of what happens in our day-to-day life.

Patricia Benito Castro.

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