Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scotland; Spain; & Daughters.

So, Scotland - or the majority of it, anyway - has today shown common sense and voted to stay in the United Kingdom, doubtless effecting a massive sigh of relief around Europe and the rest of the world. Now we wait to see whether Cataluña shows its own famous common sense - seny - in November. Assuming a referendum ever take place there. Or even just a plebiscite.

As for me, the three-quarters of me which is English, Irish and Welsh is delighted. But the quarter which is Scottish is ever so slightly disappointed. On the other hand, all of me is impressed at the accuracy of my prediction. Give me a call, Mr Gallup.

I'm not sure Britain has ever had a Constitutional Commission but there may well be one now, as the commitment to "Devo-Max" is fulfilled. Not just for Scotland but for all the other UK constituent parts. Perhaps the famous West Midlothian Question will finally be answered. Interesting times. A curse for politicians.

There will be hundreds of questions arising now but, for me, one obvious one is whether Glasgow will declare UDI, on the back of significant majority for independence. In sharp contrast with Edinburgh.

Back here in Spain, things proceed as normal. A diplomat who sold visas in the Congo has been arrested and now faces prison. And a senior tax official down in Andalucia has been nabbed for a multi-million fraud around EU subventions for training courses. Hey ho.

Finally . . . My elder daughter is visiting for a couple of weeks. On the evidence of 20 corpses among the ashes, she suspects there's a hornets' nest in the chimney. "With daughters," I told her "you always have a hornets' nest in the house." "And a plentiful supply of serpents' teeth". She was decidedly unamused.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scotland again; Cataluña; Cultural traditions; Orwell; & Beggars.

Well, thank God the shouting's over. Now we await the verdict. And my prediction of a 5-10 point margin for the No camp stands. 

Looking back 3 months - before it all got frantic - here's the view of the estimable Simon Heffer. As he says, some of us saw the Labour party' cynical initiation of the devolution process as inevitably leading to the break up of the United Kingdom. And, as someone has said, this is now going to happen whatever the result announced Friday. 

Perhaps the most amusing aspect of a depressing saga is that, if Scotland becomes independent, the Orkney islands will then seek independence from Scotland. Blame oil. The same thing will surely happen in parts of Cataluña and the Basque Country which wish to stay Spanish.

A here's a nice list of the 5 consolations the rest of the UK will have if Scotland goes it own way.

Spain's government warned on Wednesday that fellow European Union members would not welcome a yes vote in Thursday's referendum on Scottish independence, and a new state could not expect swift readmission to the bloc. And today the President upped the tempo by saying independence movements were torpedoing the EU. Not much comfort there for Scotland if it breaks loose of the UK and seeks EU membership. And government.

Spain's Foreign Minister, Motormouth Margallo, insists the Spanish government will use "all means necessary" to stop the planned independence referendum in Catalonia, including stripping the region of its autonomous powers. But they won't be sending in the tanks because "it's not in the Constitution". There's a surprise. 

It's a funny thing, the EU. It seems that, though it can tell you and me what strength vacuum cleaner to use, it can't do anything about cruelty in the shape of cultural events which centre on lancing a bull to death or setting fire to kindling tied to its horns. Or chucking fighting cocks together. The issue of animal cruelty, like health, is delegated to nations and the Spanish nation - as opposed to the Spanish people - doesn't want anything done about these 'cultural traditions' from previous centuries. 

Which sort of reminds me . . . The military dictatorship in Thailand has made the reading of Orwell's 1984 a criminal offence, being an act of 'passive resistance'. You couldn't make it up. 

Finally . . . There's no greater indication that summer's over than Pontevedra's beggars doing their rounds quicker than ever. Which means you have little time after refusing one before the next one is at your table, with his/her hand held out. As with flies, winter will bring some relief from these pests, when we're driven indoors.

Francophilia; New words; Driving around the world; & Scotland.

It been illegal for quite a while to display symbols of the Franco regime in Spain. But here in Galicia alone there are more than 50 on walls in the major cities. Here's one of those still remaining here in Pontevedra:

Talking of signs . . . One town in Galicia had had to replace all its wooden yellow-arrow Camino signs because they were being stolen as quickly as they were replaced. They're going with granite. Something similar happened at the bottom of Penny Lane in Liverpool. Where the street name is now painted in black on the red sandstone wall. 

I don't read many novels but I've just embarked on one - Arnold Bennett's The Old Wives' Tale. In the first 20 pages he's used 5 words I didn't know:-
Gimp:- 'Twisted silk, worsted, or cotton with cord or wire running through it, used chiefly as upholstery trimming.'
Doxology - 'An expression of praise to God.'
Unliable - 'Not liable'.
Cheval glass - 'A tall mirror fitted at its middle to an upright frame so it can be tilted.'
Drugget:- 'A heavy felted fabric of wool or wool and cotton, used as a floor covering.' 

Bennett also calls the North Sea 'the German Ocean". Perhaps everyone did back in 1904, before the First World War. As with the Alsatian dog. 

On the past 2 mornings, as I've walked into town, I've nearly been hit in the middle of a particular zebra crossing. OK, it's a new one and it's placed at the top of a side road, as it slopes down, making it slightly hard to see from the main road, but there was no excuse for nearly mowing me down and one of the drivers had the decency to apologise. But, anyway, these 2 near-injury experiences got me thinking about driving in different cities around the world. The conclusion - Where it's terrible (Tehran and Jakarta, for example) you take this as the norm and just deal with it, taking on local practices in order to survive and prosper. Where it's good (say the UK), you take this for granted and get annoyed at the occasional lapses by other drivers. Here in Spain, where there's a mixture of the two extremes, your reaction also gets to be mixed. Sometimes (e. g. bizarre signalling) you just shrug but sometimes (e. g. tail-gating) you get annoyed. Así son las cosas. Maybe one day I'll just shrug at everything. 

Finally . . . Scotland: As D Day approaches: 

1. "If the UK survives on Friday, new powers for Scotland will be necessary but not sufficient. England itself must change too. And so must the way we all do politics. Back under the duvet is not an option".

2. Here's a beautifully crafted cri-de-coeur from Melanie Reid, in the un-citeable Times:- As I write this in the sun, overlooking the mountains of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, hearing only the mewl of buzzards and the bleat of sheep, I reckon I’m in one of the most idyllic places possible. To my left, beyond the wee wood, is the village, a happy, peaceful community where everyone knows everyone, where our children went to primary school and where our community-owned shop thrives.

Yet right now all I feel is wretched. Scared and absurdly powerless, like a child in trouble. The way you might feel if you heard your parents quarrelling every night or observed a really bad patch in the marriage of dear friends. In Scotland, you see, we’re at the point where the time for rational arguments and the counselling has passed: all that’s left is a slender hope that they decide to stay together. For their sake, yes.

But mostly, if you’re honest, for yours.

For those of us lucky enough to live in this lovely country, who are emotionally British, the threat of divorce from the UK is genuinely devastating. For us it is the forced destruction of our personal national identity. It’s terrifying. The news a week ago that the Yes campaign was ahead in the polls was seismic. I actually felt my world jolt. I felt physically queasy; found myself looking around the room for reassurance. Other friends said they burst into tears, overwhelmed with a sense of impending loss. Suddenly, all we could see was upheaval. Our future. House, pensions, jobs, savings. Every security that I had worked for as a UK citizen, taken for granted in one of the most tolerant, benign, democratic, prosperous and, yes, bloody wonderful countries in the world, was no longer secure.

Suddenly this was personal. It was about me and mine.

Let me tell you about my grandfather because he’s my touchstone on this. William Reid was born in 1883 into a dirt-poor crofting family in the northeast of Scotland. Real poverty-porn stuff. When he was 11 his father died, leaving William to support his mother and five younger siblings. My grandfather went to work straight away as a millwright’s apprentice to feed the whole family. In the evenings his mentor, the village schoolteacher, gave him lessons.

William was a man driven by brains and social purpose. He became a travelling millwright; always saving, sending money home to his mother. From his boyhood he was aware of the rampant poverty around him, the hordes of indigent women, unwanted children, limited horizons, the ruin of alcohol on men. He never drank. By the 1910s he was a successful engineer based in Liverpool and Belfast, installing passenger lifts on the Titanic and her sister ships. As soon as he could he bought his mother and sisters a house. By the 1920s my grandfather was rising, literally, in the employment of the multinational engineering company Waygood-Otis. He was in charge of putting the lifts in the liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth and in the Empire State building.

Between the wars he did the same on much of the London Underground. He never learnt to drive and family legend tells how he was chauffeured all over the city through the night, the only time the work could be done, supervising those very escalator shafts that today millions tread. By the end of his career the humble man from rank poverty, one of Kipling’s Sons of Martha, was managing director.

For an autodidact he was knowledgeable in literature, painting, religions, finance, gardening, world affairs. In his retirement in Harpenden, my sister remembers his unfaltering quotations from Shakespeare next to the strawberry patch. He had socialist leanings, but feared anarchy. Self-betterment was the way to fight poverty and the degradation that went with it. He told my sister she should become a social worker.

Without overplaying it I think you could say he and his wife, my grandmother, a farmer’s daughter from his home area, were part of the Scottish diaspora that helped to build the modern world. I’m proud of what he constructed for Scotland, for Great Britain, for shared values of humanity. He was possibly the least inward-looking man you could ever imagine: he loved his country but saw it for what it was: a small, tough, poor place, integral to a larger whole. I think we can safely say, on both intellectual and emotional grounds, he would consider independence wilful madness.

The thought of blaming Westminster, or by extension the English, for Scotland’s plight would never have occurred to him. Life was about outreach, enlightenment, opportunity, not seeking someone to hold responsible for his plight. I bet there are several million families in Britain with similar stories to mine of intermingled lives and the export and input of enterprise. 

William Reid brought his family prosperity. His son, my father, was born in England. My father married a Northern Irish woman and I was born in London with a deep sense of British, Northern Irish and Scottish heritage. The way the wheel turns, I chose to go to university in Edinburgh. My parents were pleased: I think it satisfied my father’s romantic yearning to return. As a naive 18-year-old, I expected the Scots to understand that I was pretty core Scottish as well. I thought I’d fit in. I wasn’t some aristocrat’s daughter: I was descended from soil and grit and graft. I got a shock. Because I have a neutral accent I was automatically labelled 1) posh and 2) English by ordinary Scots. The deadly double whammy. Always an outsider. 

I’ve been here nearly 40 years. I married a Glaswegian, for God’s sake. You can’t get more Scottish than that. I stayed because it’s a wonderful place and hopefully over the years I have put something of my grandfather back into the country. But because I don’t sound like them I’ve come to realise that Scottish was the last thing I would ever be allowed to be. Yes, that kind of ignorance, that two-bob racism, prevails. 

Research in 2003 to mark the 400th anniversary of the Union of the Crowns indicated that one quarter of English people living in Scotland were victims of antagonism, harassment and prejudice. One third considered the Scots basically Anglophobic. I wonder what the figures would be if you did the same poll right now. 

Being reasonable can be a curse. Despite my comfortable middle-class life I have always tried to walk a mile in other people’s shoes. Today I understand perfectly why young Scots, newly enfranchised 16 and 17-year-olds, are being seduced by political fantasy as surely as the children of Hamelin were lured from their town by the pied piper and led deep into the mountain never to be seen again.

I fully grasp why the Labour voters in Glasgow, taken for granted as electoral fodder for generations, are beginning to follow the piper too. The siren call that says forget the rotten housing, life expectancy lower than the Gaza Strip, intractable social problems and 50 per cent unemployment, just come and vote “yes” and we’ll transform your lives. Of course anyone in their situation would follow the music. The young and the poor, those that don’t know better and those who have nothing to lose will project on to Alex Salmond’s deliberately empty canvas all their dreams. But they are being conned. It’s economic fantasy. They’re being led over a cliff. The teenagers are the poor saps that will have to pay for everything when they hit the ground. How dare the Yes campaign infect our children’s generation with the insanity of their false promises, their la-la land? The clever ones will simply leave; the rest will be trapped. 

How can nationalists be so inward-looking at a time when this tiny world of ours has never been more threatened by dark forces? And how dare they imply that No supporters, by setting out the realities of global finance, are somehow blocking greater social justice? As if we are all fat, neoliberal, poor-bashing Tories. I mean, grow up! If we are going to talk about social injustice, then the Yes campaign is surely guilty of cruelly manipulating the least wise, educated and articulate people in society. 

Almost 40 years from the day I first arrived in Edinburgh, completing a sentimental family circle of immigration, and unpacked my suitcase, I’m scared. I love this country for all it has given me: quality of life, people, peace, humour, beauty, freedom, roots. I am both British and Scottish. I am my grandfather’s descendant. The Yes campaign has no monopoly on passion. I have the right to care. Scotland is mine too.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bull baiting; English toilets; El Corte Ingjés; Spanglish; Abortion; & Injudicious judges.

Tordesillas is a Spanish city famous for several things. One of them, sadly, is annual 'festival' based on the torture until death of a terrified bull which is chased and lanced continuously by braves on foot and horseback. Even aficionados of the bullfight (La fiesta nacional) find this disgusting and the good news is that there was a huge demonstration against it in Madrid at the weekend. With luck and a fair wind, its days are numbered.

Just when you thought the Portuguese were our friends, an academic returning home there has produced a book in which he has painted the English as promiscuous, dirty and drunken. Everywhere he went, he says, the toilets were filthier than his grandma's hen coop. Well, I must have visited thousands of toilets in England over the years and I can honestly say I don't recall meeting a filthy one. And if you were to ask me about Portuguese public toilets, I'd reply that it's not uncommon to find (as in Spain) that they are without paper. Nor, sadly, have I come across much promiscuity in England. Nor drunkenness, for that matter. Maybe we haunt different places. Or he was getting down and dirty only with students. More here.

Another doyen of Spanish commerce has died in the last few days - the president of El Corte Inglés. As with the president of Santander bank, he was of an age (79) well past that of normal retirement. And he is to be succeeded by a relative. El Corte Inglés is Spain's biggest department store, essentially because it's the only one. Even little Cyprus has two. Luxembourg also has only one. I suspect without a hint of irony, it's called Monopol.

Bits of Spanish.
1. To separate the wheat from the chaff - Separar el grano de la paja
2. A lobbyist - Un lobist
3. Relay switch - Un relé

The EU: One of Spain's top politicos-cum-eurocrat has pronounced that the new government of Mr Junker is 'revolutionary'. Ye gods!

With a general election next year, Spain's PP government - as I predicted - has scrapped its plans for a controversial abortion bill. God knows why it ever thought it was smart to initiate it in the first place. The relevant minister should be sacked. But won't be.

Finally . . . An association of Spanish judges has warned the Catalan president that he could face up to 15 years in jail if he goes ahead with the vote on Catalan independence in November. Since when did judges involve themselves in a political process? Or perhaps the question here should be - Since when didn't they?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Scotland v. Scotland; England v. Scotland; Carolina Ortera; & Welsh news.

Scotland: A couple of views from the media:-
And here's a view from me . . . Not long now until we know what the Scots have decided. If they do, at the last minute, plump for independence, then this is a list of all the things that should immediately be implemented in London, in no particular order:
  • All Scottish MPs at Westminster to be sent home.
  • All Scottish broadcasters and journalists to be sacked - Kirsty Walk, Andrew Marr, Andrew Neil, etc., etc.
  • All government posts manned by Scots - quite a lot - to be immediately vacated. Can't have foreigners in these.
  • Bagpipe music to be banned, on penalty of death.
  • Similarly the wearing of tartan, especially in the form of kilts.
  • Importation or manufacture of haggis to be banned (a long-standing goal) and offenders hung, drawn and quartered, with their guts then being made into haggises, to be sold to the Scots.
  • A ban to be introduced on the import of Scottish products such as whisky and shortbread.
  • All RUK customers of Scottish banks and insurance companies to be compelled to quit them, even if they move their head offices to London.
  • All Scottish bands and groups to be banned, especially that one with the trousers that ended mid-calf. Oh, and Annie Lennox and the bloody Pretenders.
  • All MPs in RUK who are Scots to resign immediately to that they can be replaced by citizens of the RUK
  • Scotland - like Ireland - to be removed from the RUK weather forecasts.
  • All BBC transmissions to Scotland to be stopped, especially Strictly Come Dancing and the X Factor.
  • A ban to be introduced on all Scottish comedians, even Frankie Boyle, but especially the ones I can't understand. Which is most of them.
  • Toll booths to be set up on the England-Scotland border, with free entry into Scotland but a toll of 100 pounds for Scots who want to come to England. Who cares if the Scots retaliate? No one will be going there except returning Scots no longer wanted in England.
  • A ban on all Scottish students at RUK universities. With transitional arrangements, obviously.
  • Closure of the RUK's submarine base in Scotland and the transfer of its 3,000 jobs to RUK.
  • A death sentence on Alex Salmond, to be implemented if he ever sets foot in the RUK.
Watching both Alex Salmond and George Galloway on TV this morning, something strange happened. I came away with some respect for the latter. Never thought I'd write that.

And here's a courageous (foolhardy? reckless?) forecast: The No camp will win by more than 5 points, quite possibly even 10.

Now, it's time to give long overdue recognition to Carolina Ortera, of Pontevedra province, even if I'd never heard of her until this today. She seems to have been quite a gal around the turn of the 19th century. I quote:- Ortera grew to be the most sought after woman in all of Europe. She was serving, by this time, as a courtesan to wealthy and powerful men of the day, and she chose her lovers carefully. She associated herself with the likes of Prince Albert I of Monaco, King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, Kings of Serbia, and Kings of Spain as well as Russian Grand Dukes Peter and Nicholas, the Duke of Westminster and writer Gabriele D'Annunzio. Her love affairs made her infamous, and the envy of many other notable female personalities of the day. Here she is in a famously scandalous film of 1898. You'd have to say tastes in women have clearly changed. At least in my house. You can also see a film based on her life on Youtube, in parts. Here's Part 1.

Finally . . . Here's a headline you don't see very often, on 4 counts: Hundreds of micro pigs shot after running wild in Wales.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The least popular EU member; The popular EU; Pontevedra news; A new camino; & Ad nonsense.

A decade or two ago, I read of a European survey of attitudes towards businesspersons of other countries. There was no real uniformity around which country had the best people to deal with but there certainly was unanimity on the worst. France. I thought of this yesterday when I read that only 1 out of 27 EU members didn't want the UK (in whatever shape) to remain a member. Guess which. L'exception française, I guess.

Talking about the EU . . . President Junker has announced his new Commissioners, essentially the "better than ever" government of the burgeoning superstate. Needless to say, none of them is known and even fewer have been elected to their powerful positions. Essentially they're gravy-train riders, bent on increasing the size of the locomotive and all its carriages. Not to mention salaries and pensions you and I can only dream of. After all the lawyers, they should be second on the scaffold. Or guillotine, if you want to make an exception for the French individual who has the Economy portfolio. Why not? Look how well France is doing right now.

And talking of France and the EU . . . I see that Paris is again making a mockery of the EU limit budget deficit of 3%. And refusing to take stock of Brussels' edict that they lower it. As Groucho Marx might have said of the EU - "Who'd join a union that would have France as a member?"

With only a couple of minutes reflection, I can think of 16 places in Pontevedra city where parking has been reduced in the last 14 years. The latest is Reina Victoria street, where the town hall insisted a few weeks ago that changes there would cost only 3 parking places. This assurance seems to have lacked: ' . . . on one side of the street and about 6 on the other'. "What is truth?" said Pilot, and departed smiling.

There's scarcely a road in Galicia's Rías Baixas which isn't designated a Ruta de Vino. Or 'Wine Route'. And now we have a proliferating Camino de Santiago, or 'Way of St James'. It's all about tourist cash, of course, and there's nowt wrong with that. But I was amused to see you can now leave Pontevedra in one of two directions as you head for Santiago on the Portuguese Route, up from Oporto or Lisbon. The first is the old one, which goes up through Caldas de Reis and Padrón and the second is the new "Spiritual Variant", which passes through previously-deprived places such as Meis, Cambados, Ribadumia and Vilanova de Arousa. My suspicion is that most Galicians would think these places already do OK from the occasional importation of Columbian produce, for distribution throughout Europe. Especially the last one.

Talking of the Camino . . . Passing the city's pilgrims' hostel today, I thought I'd take a look at it. And pretty clean and impressive it was too, if you don't mind sleeping in the same room as 40-60 others. One confusing thing was that the large plaque outside giving historical details of the Camino was entirely in Gallego, whereas none of the notices inside were; they were in 6 other languages. Maybe the Xunta paid for the plaque..

Finally . . . In July this year, the Spanish traffic police lowered the permissible margin above the official speed limits. The objective was to ensure they reached their annual fines target of close to €350m. They just forgot to tell the public. Which would certainly increase their chances of success. But, anyway, what I really want to say is that this relentless campaign against drivers contrasts markedly with the lack of one against those cyclists who ride on pavements or on roads without lights. Or ride the wrong way down one-way streets. I can only assume it's because cyclists have less money and/or would be a hassle to prosecute.

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