Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Ponters Pensées 29.6.16

Spain and The Brexit: The Local tells us that Spain is the country in Europe that is most against Brexit; that 64% of Spaniards want Britain to remain within the European Union; that Spain is the nation most against Brexit; and that Spain is the country which would be least likely to vote in favour or breakaway from the EU. It offers these as the main reasons for these attitudes:-
  • A Brexit could derail Spain's fragile recovery
  • The Spanish tourism industry could suffer
  • British expats might have to go home, taking their money with them.

Details here.

The Spanish Election Results: The Economist gives its take on these here. It says this about Sr Rajoy, the Galician President: In appearance stolid and unimaginative, Mr Rajoy is unflappable and a shrewd strategist who has repeatedly defied rivals and expectations. Sadly, he now looks secure in his position.

Britain and The Brexit: As the pound and the stock markets bounce back from the panic response of Friday and Monday, the tiny face of common-sense is just visible at the window, trying to peek in. At the end of this post there's a nice Times article. The egregious Mr Juncker, they say, is a busted flush. Junk Juncker, say I. Here's a fascinating - left-wing - take on the EU and on Brexit. The debate about Brexit, the author says, was never about values or principles – it was about money. It still is. The Remainers are talking only about the threat to their pensions. The Brexiters are talking only about the role of immigrants in driving down wages. I recommend the reading of Jonathan Cook's 2 articles cited in the text. Especially this one, predicting that the Brexit won't be allowed to happen. Finally on this theme, here's The Local again, giving its view on why there's good news in the Brexit development for Brits in Spain.

Madrid's Many Whores: These are being offered money for training that will help get them off the streets. I wonder what the process is and how phony prostitutes can be stopped from getting their hands on some of the cash. Sure as eggs is eggs, there'll be some.

Bull Goading: In a very welcome step, the relevant regional government has refused to give a licence for the annual Torre de la Vega scandal in which a bull is stabbed and lanced by a baying crowd before being left to bleed to death. Sceptics continue to believe a way will be found around this blow to the bloodthirsty mayor and residents of the town. One hopes not.

Galician Ugliness: Sadly, there was plenty of evidence of this feismo during my camino of last week. But the regional government has finally decided to do something about it . . . by issuing a guide to the colours and materials you're allowed to use in finishing off your house. A guess it's something.

Finally . . . . That English Ignominy: See the very end of this post for 2 articles on this. If you can bear it. Meanwhile . . . .

Post Brexit Common Sense

We should ignore Juncker and talk to Merkel.  Roger Boyes, The Times

Unlike the EU chief, Germany’s pragmatic chancellor knows this isn’t the time for punishment

In the grand investigative tradition of diplomatic journalism, reporters at EU summits are sent out to discover the top-table dinner menu. The point is to contrast the extravagant taste of leaders with their less well-nourished voters. They were saved the trouble yesterday. As David Cameron sat down with his soon-to-be-former colleagues in Brussels, it was pretty clear what was going to be served up: humble pie, sour grapes and Eton Mess.

Some leaders would have preferred his head on a platter. Not Angela Merkel. Germany is undergoing a fit of righteous indignation about Brexit; in particular her Social Democrat partners in government think the British should be placed in the stocks for their temerity and ingratitude. Up to a point Chancellor Merkel agrees: she was sure from the outset that Cameron’s referendum was a reckless gamble. Rather than In/Out, say the Germans, he could have launched a narrower question. For example: should Britain support further EU enlargement?

The German leader though understands that this is not the time for recrimination or punishment. If mishandled by the EU, Brexit will be like the barely visible thin crack in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher that ends up splitting the building in two. So out of an acute sense of danger she is being flexible about the start of negotiations. Whether this will translate into a greater understanding for Britain remains to be seen. Her priority is to head off a more general dismemberment of Europe and its core policies. For now at least it is important for her not to make a pariah out of Britain but rather find it a place, short of full membership, that slots us into a broader plan for a continent that is already operating at drastically different speeds.

Here’s the problem: it’s not just Boris Johnson who has mislaid his plan. Despite decades of white papers and leaked memos, the EU does not have a realistic masterplan. Once upon a time the destination may have been a European super-state, driven by France, Germany and some core states. Now it’s just a jumble of competing ideas.

So both Britain and the EU are in flux. That is why Britain should be talking to Merkel, not to the busted flush Jean-Claude Juncker, who as president of the European Commission has set himself up as the lord high executioner. Not difficult to imagine his contribution to future negotiations: Britain will have to suffer, and suffer publicly, in order to scare off any other EU members (France, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark are part of the long queue) from consulting their citizens.

It cannot be business-as-usual for angry Eurocrats. No one (apart from the plucky Inuits of Greenland) has ever voted to get out of the EU. The talks then have to be not just about customs duties but about a fundamental repositioning of the EU. Merkel grasps that in a way that Juncker does not. He takes the Hotel California view: you can check in but you can never check out.

Merkel-watchers say she has a personal stake in stopping a European break-up. Her mentor Helmut Kohl constructed today’s EU. In order to get the top job she had to push him aside. That carried with it a responsibility to make Kohl’s Europe bloom. Now that Europe is disappearing fast — she had to compromise some basic German principles of good housekeeping to keep the eurozone intact and stave off a Grexit. Then came the challenge of Putin’s war on Ukraine — should Kiev be offered a European perspective or not — and the huge influx of migrants that has blown holes in the Schengen zone.

To these fractures in the south and east of the EU comes Brexit now in the west. They impact not only on how the EU will shape its present and future, but also on Germany itself. Brexit — perhaps this is the origin of current German anger — shackles Merkel closer to France, the sick man of Europe. François Hollande thinks that the French and Germans should re-commit to a deeper political union to demonstrate the EU’s vitality. It is difficult to imagine a more pointless act.

As Europe gets smaller, so German dominance becomes more evident. Merkel is profoundly uncomfortable with that. The Obama administration is suggesting the Germans will now become the primary US conduit into the EU. That’s a headache not a boon for the German leader. It will mean demands to step up Germany’s contribution to active defence.

Worse still, the impact of Brexit on the eurozone’s fortunes may tip Italy over the brink. The prime minister, Matteo Renzi, faces a referendum on constitutional reform in October. Judging by the insurgent mood in Italy, he may lose. If he does, he has promised to resign. Even if he doesn’t there will be an election at a time when the country’s banking system is looking wobbly. The Five Star Movement populists are on the rise and they want a referendum on, yes, membership of the eurozone. The euro would go into a tailspin.

Merkel’s eye then is as much on Italy as it is on Britain. The next crisis is just around the corner, even before we have engaged on Brexit. The calculation of the Leave team is that Britain is too important to overlook. The fact is, though, that the whole of Europe is erupting with problems and the buck is all too often stopping with Merkel. We need to engage her fast and explain that a fair, undogmatic compromise on the single market and freedom of movement is not only possible but also in the wider interests of a troubled Europe.


The Day That English Football Died. Again. Only Even More Than Before . . . 

Nothing in England’s 144-year history compares to this ignominy. Nothing. Not even losing to the United States in Belo Horizonte in 1950. Not even the Wembley draw with Poland in 1973. Not even the defeats by Norway in 1981 and 1993. Not even that wretched night at Windsor Park in 2005. England’s 959th game was the nadir. This was a disgrace.

This was the worst because of the huge investment in resources the FA had put into preparing England for these Euros at a time when they were laying off staff. This was the worst because England do have talented players, like Harry Kane, who underperformed here. They were shadows of their strong club selves.

This was the worst because of the immense support who managed to find tickets, sort travel and plead with loved ones, employers and probably bank managers to make it to Nice’s Allianz Riviera in time and then be treated to a display lacking organisation, belief and commitment.

At the final whistle, as the Icelandic hordes were singing “England’s going home”, the patience of the England supporters finally snapped. Jeers and boos poured forth like bile from a broken sewer. “You’re not fit to wear the shirt,” came the chant, time and again. Incipient revolution filled the Riviera air. After showing restraint at the World Cup in Brazil, they finally let rip here and those players fully deserved the catcalls.

England were so predictable, playing similar passes time and again, playing into Iceland’s hands time and again. They were so profligate in possession, finding an opponent or a ball-boy rather than a team-mate. They lacked the leadership, ideas, composure and guile to break down the massed ranks of the Icelandic defence. They lacked a decent Plan A, let alone a Plan B. They lacked shape. It was all wearyingly familiar to seasoned England watchers. Plus ça change, as they say in these parts. Déjà vu. Encore.

The players deserved the chorus of disapproval. They will go back to their clubs, to their comfort zones. Roy Hodgson, their manager until he resigned, humiliated after the final whistle, was also deeply culpable. It was his decision to rest Wayne Rooney against Slovakia that so backfired on England. It was his failure to organise and inspire the players that proved so expensive. The Lions were lambs to the slaughter.

Departing the scene deeply chastened, England had arrived actually looking calm with Rooney hugging a laughing Jack Wilshere, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge walking together, smiling, sharing a joke, while Hodgson sauntered in, his jacket slung over his shoulder, like a City exec returning from an agreeable lunch in the sun.

“Roy Hodgson — he’s taking us to Paris” sang the thousands of England fans. Optimism ruled. The Free Lions’ fanzine even devoted a couple of pages, “Looking ahead to Paris, our quarter-final venue, if England win in Nice.” Iceland had other ideas. More ideas. More hunger. More sharpness.
Yet England actually took an early lead. Sturridge floated the ball above Birkir Saevarsson, for Sterling, who had timed his run perfectly. Hannes Halldorsson, the Iceland goalkeeper, came flying out, rashly, ploughing into Sterling, presenting Damir Skomina, the referee, with the most straightforward of decisions.

The Slovenian pointed to the spot and Rooney accepted the responsibility. England have been practising penalties with greater frequency since reaching the knock-out rounds. Even though Halldorsson guessed the right way in every sense, Rooney’s penalty was too quick, too well-placed and it hurtled past the diving keeper for his 53rd England goal on the day he equalled David Beckham’s outfield record of 115.

All seemed well. The supporters had enjoyed their day by the sea or in it. They were in good heart and voice, unleashing an almighty roar when Rooney struck. The autoroute to Paris seemed to be opening up nicely, invitingly. But they had forgotten that England’s defence is weak, that the centre back pairing of Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling lacks conviction and concentration.

England themselves had forgotten about one of Iceland’s weapons, the long throw of their captain, Aron Gunnarsson, whose popularity at Cardiff City will have grown even more. Maybe England were intoxicated by taking the lead. Maybe they are just not very good. Maybe they had not been paying attention in team meetings.

Hodgson had warned of Gunnarsson’s threat, comparing the Icelandic captain’s long throw to Rory Delap’s. He’d explained it in terms that his players would understand. The ball came speeding through the warm Mediterranean air, demanding that a defender showed some strength of character, and attack it.

Kari Arnason simply wanted the ball more than Rooney, reaching it and flicking it on for the onrushing Ragnar Sigurdsson, outpacing Kyle Walker, to slide the ball past Joe Hart. Rooney lost his man. Walker lost his man. Smalling and Cahill lost their bearings. Iceland’s supporters almost lost their voices such was their ecstatic reaction.

England were rocked back, their famously brittle confidence rattled again. Where was the leadership, the tactics, the organisation — even a semblance of it. Iceland were more of a team, well drilled in their 4-4-2 shape, each player knowing his task and working over-time. They kept closing down England players, drowning them in a sea of blue.

Walker ran into traffic. Sturridge saw a pass was picked off. Kane’s shot was blocked by Gylfi Sigurdsson. Danny Rose had a pass intercepted. Kane tried to work the ball but Ari Skulason was too defiant.

England were creating chances but not taking them, a theme of the group stage. Dele Alli chested the ball down and sent a half-volley just over. Kane powered a drive over. England’s radar was askew. Iceland’s wasn’t. Their fairytale was a horror story for England. After 18 minutes, Iceland seized the lead. Sigurdsson’s lay-off was judged neatly for Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, who controlled the ball calmly and played it across for Kolbeinn Sigthorsson. Again England were too sluggish, too anaemic. There were more holes in the England defence than in the shadow cabinet.

Smalling and Cahill belatedly slid in but Sigthorsson was too quick. He shot low and with reasonable power but Hart should have done so much better. Occasionally vulnerable down to his left, Hart was caught out badly. His left hand reached the ball but was not strong enough and the ball carried on over the line. “Iceland 2, Poundland 1” as some wit tweeted. England were being outwitted by 4-4-2 and occasional set-pieces.

England were staring into the abyss. Kane met the delivery with a right-foot volley that Halldorsson pushed over. Hodgson sent on Wilshere for Eric Dier. At the break, those watching at home were treated to a particularly ill-timed dandruff ad featuring Hart when England were at risk from having their heads separated from their shoulders in the land of the guillotine.

England hunted an equaliser but Iceland still threatened a third on the counter. Ragnar Sigurdsson almost scored with an overhead kick. The magnificent Iceland fans loved it, never stopping singing. Outnumbered, Iceland were never outsung.

Iceland were so mature, so determined. Hodgson acted again, removing Sterling for Jamie Vardy on the hour mark. England fans hoped the cocky cavalry was arriving. Vardy did sprint through, charging down the inside-left channel but Ragnar Sigurdsson, the man of the match, put in a marvellous saving challenge, sliding in to steer the ball away from under the forward’s feet.
Iceland broke again, Saeversson powering down the right, turning into the Cafu of the North Atlantic, and shooting just over. Gunnarsson muscled his way past Wilshere but Hart managed to save. Hodgson’s last card was Marcus Rashford, the teenager replacing Rooney, but Iceland were too determined, too disciplined and England too abject. This was truly the worst.

England ratings: all zero from The Times
JOE HART (Manchester City) Beaten too easily for their second goal but made two good saves from point-blank range 0
KYLE WALKER (Tottenham Hotspur) Gave impetus with his runs and crosses but at fault for the opening goal as out of position 0
GARY CAHILL (Chelsea) Too slow to close down Bodvarsson in the build-up to Iceland’s second goal 0
CHRIS SMALLING (Manchester United) Hesitant on the edge of his area and worried in the air by Sigthorsson and Bodvarsson 0
DANNY ROSE (Tottenham Hotspur) Made the odd dart down the left, but has gone backwards since opener against Russia 0
DELE ALLI (Tottenham Hotspur) Provided the most drive from midfield and linked well, but finishing let him down 0
ERIC DIER (Tottenham Hotspur) Arguably England’s best player at Euro 2016 so half-time substitution was harsh 0
WAYNE ROONEY (Manchester United) Beaten in the air in the build-up to Iceland’s equaliser and gave ball away far too frequently 0
DANIEL STURRIDGE (Liverpool) Threatened intermittently with some dangerous shots but too peripheral 0
HARRY KANE (Tottenham Hotspur) Went close with an acrobatic volley and header, but hasn’t been at his best 0
RAHEEM STERLING (Manchester City) Won the early penalty, but faded, and looked bereft of confidence in shooting positions 0
JACK WILSHERE (Arsenal, for Dier, 46) Produced a couple of probing passes, but unable to dictate pace of play 0
JAMIE VARDY (Leicester City, for Sterling, 60) Struggled, and any understanding with Kane remains elusive 0
MARCUS RASHFORD (Manchester United, for Rooney, 87) Brought brief hope with an electric run that won a corner 0
ICELAND (4-4-2): H Halldorsson 7 — B Saevarsson 8, K Arnason 8, R Sigurdsson 8, A Skulason 8 — J Gudmundsson 8, G Sigurdsson 8, A Gunnarsson 9, B Bjarnason 9 — K Sigthorsson 8 (sub: E Bjarnason, 76), JD Bodvarsson 8 (sub: A Traustason, 89). Booked: G Sigurdsson, Gunnarsson

Another (funny) article:

Somebody in Nice who knows his onions said: “It does something to them.” Playing for England, he meant. And he drew an image of 18-year-old Marcus Rashford galloping onto the scene without fear but with only five minutes to make a difference. Good point. Rashford must have looked around and wondered what the hell was wrong with team-mates he had idolised. Why was Harry Kane blasting shots into the crowd and chipping crosses straight into touch? Why had the ball bounced off Raheem Sterling just about every time, making every second-touch a tackle? All across the pitch in Nice, you could smell fear, anxiety, confusion.

For the five minutes he was given by a manager who seemed to have a mid-life crisis at this tournament (it would have been better for Roy Hodgson to just buy a Harley Davidson), Rashford buzzed around and attacked Iceland. Yet the same old chasm of fatalism opens in front of him. Does he leave France excited to be an England international, or thinking – ‘I could do without this in my life.’

Sooner or later there will be a generation of England footballers who approach the job the way they do in Italy or Germany. They will be tactically literate, technically accomplished and mentally strong. But that day receded again at Euro 2016. Any chance that Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier would make the big breakthrough in France was destroyed by Roy Hodgson’s management, which featured confusion about England’s best starting XI, too many changes from game to game, an apparent aversion to Jamie Vardy and excessive loyalty to old friends who had helped him qualify: Jack Wilshere and Sterling especially.

Hodgson’s stewarding of this England squad was a form of dad dancing. Late in his career, he decided to go with the flow of youth and promise without having a clear idea of how to organise the opportunity he had been given. He turned against his basic ideas about football management as a man in a casino throws all his chips on a single roulette number. A senior figure in the England camp confirmed even before the tournament started that Hodgson had decided to give the public what they wanted, perhaps in the hope of staying on beyond Euro 2016.

The result was calamity. England won one of their four games – in the dying moments, against Wales. They drew with Russia and Slovakia and lost to Iceland. They took five strikers and scored four goals. They fell to the most basic set-piece in the book, and one which they had planned for and rehearsed: Iceland’s long throw and flick-on to a goalscorer in the six-yard box. Then they did what so many England teams have done before. With 72 minutes left to overturn Iceland’s 2-1 lead, they choked. Euro 2016’s walls closed in on them. They took pot shots from silly distances. They grew flustered on the edge of Iceland’s penalty area when they needed to be ruthless and composed.

After 50 years of this – half a century without a final appearance – England fans are entitled to ask why their country bothers to enter tournaments. That may sound childish, but it feels hard to avoid the thought on this latest Inquest Day. It, as they say, déjà vu over all again. And the mind turns to all the time and energy wasted in qualifying campaigns. Games in Estonia and Poland and Switzerland. All those friendlies that interrupt the club programme, from which English spectators derive far more pleasure.

For what? So England can win all 10 games in qualifying, as they did for Euro 2016, and then go out to Iceland in the second-round?

On a personal level, summarising another early English exit is grindingly familiar. I, like many others, have addressed this task in France, Belgium, Japan, Portugal, Germany, South Africa, Ukraine, Brazil and now France again. That is a lot of inquests. Others can trace their post mortems even further back. The good news typing stopped for them in 1966.

When the nihilism wears off – of course England will keep throwing their hat in the ring – we will face the sheer unacceptability of this level of failure. Heaven help, for example, anyone who piles into qualifying for Russia 2018 pretending none of this ever happened. Because some will. Amnesia is one of England’s sins. They never stop to confront the endemic weaknesses of the English game. They just pay another manager £4m a year and feed off Premier League hype to over-inflate the next wave of players.

The England job has broken many men. Even Don Quioxte would think twice before taking it on. In the last two decades alone it has confounded Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren, Fabio Capello and now Hodgson. It will confound the next one too, unless he is able to break the pattern of players shrinking on England duty. The talent in this squad (Eric Dier, for example, showed flashes of real authority as a holding midfielder) will be lost to international football unless the next man in can achieve something in the ballpark of rugby’s Eddie Jones.

The most persuasive argument for hiring an English or British coach is that England is a highly distinct football culture that requires its leader to understand its kinks and quirks. Capello for example was completely baffled by the country he found himself working in for such a lavish salary. For a while we thought Hodgson was an ‘old English football man’ who understood the chemistry. Then he lasted eight days at the Brazil World Cup and lost to Iceland in Nice.

Unless all the England managers of the last 50 years have been incompetent (not so, by any means), there is a congenital flaw in the way English football is played, and certainly in its self-image. Many of Hodgson’s players came through the mixed-zone in Nice with minders, like superstars fearing stalkers. Only Rooney and Joe Hart stopped to answer for what had happened.

Over the last three decades we have made cultural giants of Premier League footballers, so no wonder their self-image is distorted. The bigger they get, the softer they become, on the international stage at any rate. In club sides they are capable of great tenacity. Together, in an England shirt, they seem to sense the ensuing disaster and surrender to it.

When Rob Green made a goalkeeping error in the first game of the 2010 South Africa World Cup, the feeling in the England camp, one insider said, was: “Here we go again.” The Iceland defeat was another self-fulfilling prophesy. Failure becomes a habit, a demon that cannot be exorcised.

Here we go again. But Marcus Rashford, for one, deserves better.

My View: I always expect England to fail to win a competition. So I prefer them to go out sooner rather than later, so as to save me stress. But I want to see fighting performances in their matches, most of all in the one that sees them depart. Monday's match displayed such ineptitude, inaccuracy and headless-chicken-ness that - after numerous groans - I finally switched off 30 minutes before the end. After Rooney's latest gift of the ball to an Icelander. I just couldn't imagine England even tying the match with a single goal. Defeatism or realism? Or both? Does it really matter??


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ponters Pensées 28.6.16

The UK and Spain: As expected, the Spanish Foreign Minister - Motormouth Margello - has reacted to the Brexit vote by stepping up the demand that Britain agree to shared sovereignty of Gibraltar. Although the UK government would readily agree to this and although Margallo dresses it up as something that would benefit the inhabitants of The Rock, it's hard to see the latter voting for it. And there's the rub.

Amazon España: I recently ordered a book on Spain and yesterday took delivery of this.  I now have to investigate why they've sent me me 2 copies and, more importantly, how many they've charged me for.

The EU: I noted the other day that the President Junker didn't seem to get it. And he's still (not) at it. He's now showing the petty spite and the thirst for vengeance of the inadequate, autocratic, minor politician he really is. But at least there are people who feel the debacle is his fault and that he should go. And there's a relevant article in The Times this morning which I've added at the end of this post.

The Empire Fights Back: Can you really believe that some cretins are demanding the end of the use of English in Brussels? To lighten the mood, here's one Italian economist's take on the Brexit. But, if you really want to know what the issues are, you should follow Richard North's blog, where the ignorance of so many commentators is regularly exposed. By the way, although the majority of Brits residents in Spain see nothing but negatives in the current situation, I feel I should point out that we should eventually be able to get back the laminated Residence Card now only given to non-EU nationals. So, not all bad. 

UK Politics: What can one say? Fascinating times. Outright civil war in the Labour party, as predicted by some of us when the pathetic ex-Marxist Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader. If it wasn't so serious, it woud be beyond hilarious. And then there's the governing Conservative party, riven by differences not now over the EU but over the next Brexit step. As if that weren't enough grounds for humour and despair, there's the prolix leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Scottish government saying she'll move heaven and earth to break up the UK so that Scotland can go on taking the Brussels shilling. From the frying pan into the fire. From one perceived yoke to another real yoke. Despite this mayhem, there are several people - surely psycopaths - who want to stand for the positon of the (dis)United Kingdom Prime Minister, after David Cameron's departure. There's nowt as queer as folk, as we say oop north.

English Football: Bad beyond mere words. See your local media for the obituaries.

Finally . . . . Here's the latest ad from the Australia Sex party. It probably shouldn't be watched by any Catholic readers. Assuming I haven't alienated all of them.


Seeking revenge will only make things worse, EU leaders warned: Bruno Waterfield, Brussels

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, emerged from a meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker warning the European Union against “half-cocked, scatterbrained or revengeful” responses against Britain.

The comments, as Mr Kerry finished talks yesterday with the European Commission president and Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, provided a window into the febrile and furious world of Brussels officialdom since the British vote.

“I think it is absolutely essential that we stay focused on how in this transitional period no one loses their head, nobody goes off half-cocked, people don’t start ginning up scatterbrained or revengeful premises,” Mr Kerry said.

Since the Brexit referendum results the European Union’s institutions have struggled to hold the line between two camps. The first, backed by Mr Juncker, is pushing for a punitive reaction by demanding Britain triggers exit procedures amid domestic chaos and threats by the Scottish Nationalist Party to hold a second independence referendum.

The other more conciliatory approach, led by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, aims to give Mr Cameron time to avoid a major political crisis, perhaps prompting a rethink of the vote.

On Friday morning Mr Juncker had alarmed Mr Tusk and other national diplomats by repeating and emphasising the word “swiftly” in a joint Brussels statement putting the pressure on Mr Cameron to immediately begin Article 50 negotiations to leave the EU.

During a press conference Mr Juncker could barely hide his anger. When asked if the vote meant “the end of the EU” by a journalist he snapped “no” and stormed off the stage.

Later that afternoon Mr Juncker held a 15-minute telephone conversation with the prime minister, talks that were officially described as a “polite and friendly conversation”.

The reality was rather different.

The commission president lashed out at Mr Cameron, who had announced his resignation that morning, for delaying the exit procedure until after a new prime minister takes office in the autumn. He told Mr Cameron that the government was being carefully watched and that “any unilateral action in breach of the EU treaty” would be punished with financial and political sanctions.

Eyebrows were raised yesterday when Mr Juncker announced, according to a press statement, “his decision to dissolve the task force for strategic issues related to the UK referendum” despite the commission’s role in future negotiations on withdrawal.

The hardline stance taken by the former prime minister of Luxembourg, whom Mr Cameron had tried to block from the EU’s most powerful job, is said to have been a factor in the resignation of Lord Hill of Oareford, who stepped down as British commissioner on Saturday. MEPs close to Mr Juncker had called for Lord Hill to be stripped of his financial services role.

Mr Juncker has a firm ally in Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, who has threatened Britain with consequences designed to stop any other European country from following the “dangerous path” of a referendum on EU membership.

Last night Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister and the leader of liberal MEPs in the parliament, called on Mr Juncker “not to allocate a portfolio to the new UK commissioner” when Lord Hill is replaced by the government over the next three weeks.

During a debate today MEPs will demand, according to a resolution backed by Mr Schulz, that Britain’s exit talks “must take place immediately” alongside moves to strip British deputies of key legislative posts in the EU assembly.

“Britain has to be taught a lesson. It has to be made an example of to deter others from following the route of euroscepticism and national egoism,” a senior MEP from a eurozone country said.

In a highly symbolic development on Sunday afternoon Brussels ambassadors and “sherpas” representing EU leaders met without a British seat at the table for the first time since Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973.

Officials representing the commission and parliament, with initial French and Italian support, called for a punitive approach to Britain unless Mr Cameron began withdrawal talks at a summit dinner in Brussels tonight.

German and Dutch diplomats swung the debate with arguments that the political crisis engulfing Britain after the vote meant that the government could not be expected to begin exit talks.

As talks went on, a German-led consensus emerged for allowing a delay that, amid financial market and political turmoil, might prompt Britain to back away from triggering the Article 50 withdrawal clause.

“Will they ever do it?,” said a source. “There is a significant camp that believes that if Article 50 is not triggered on Tuesday then it never will be.”

The Brexit crisis has left Mr Juncker badly damaged.  EU diplomatic circles have been particularly alarmed by his and the commission’s attempts to woo the SNP in order to put pressure on Mr Cameron.

“I will talk to the Scottish first minister in the following days,” Mr Juncker told Luxembourg public television on Sunday night. Yesterday his spokesman said that there was an “a very open door” to talks with Nicola Sturgeon.

Central and eastern European countries were last night pushing for Mr Juncker to step down in response to criticism that he was encouraging separatist movements across Europe. “The situation is evolving by the hour,” a senior EU diplomat said


Here are the 2 lovely French ladies whom I met on the camino and who are currently staying with me here in Ponters. And proving to be excellent, considerate guests. One of them is so exhausted from months of walking that she slept for almost 24 hours yesterday. And went back to bed an hour or so after she finally got up. We're hoping she can stay vertical for at least a bit longer today. . . .


Monday, June 27, 2016

Ponters Pensées: 27.6.16

The Spanish Repeat General Elections: Well, as I expected, the far-left Podemos ploy of uniting with the communist party has backfired and the right-wing PP party has emerged stronger from these, though still with isufficient seats to form a government without a coalition partner or two. Meanwhile, some commentators are blaming the Brexit for forcing some voters to choose the devil they knew, rather than risk things with untried parties of the Left - despite all the corruption in which the PP party is dripping. Well, why not? Brexit's being held responsible for everything bad right now, including global warming. But, anyway, there'll be more weeks, even months, of uncertainty here now. Not that the last 6 months of it has done us much harm.

Texting in Spanish: Young(ish) Spaniards use a bewildering series of obbreviations for this. Then they make spelling errors, such as using B instead of a V, because they're pronounced the same. And then there are folk, such as my neighbour, the lovely Ester, who doesn't bother to correct her mistakes. It can be very confusing.

Rumanian Crooks: Lying down in the square opposite the Santiago cathedral entrance on Friday, I was approached by 2 of the 3 women there defrauding happy pilgrims by claiming to be collecting for the national association for the deaf and dumb. All of this within 100 metres of the central police station. Then on Saturday I was approached by the same women while sitting on a café terrace. I made it clear I knew they were criminals and asked the café staff to call the police. who never turned up, of course. Your guess is as good as mine as to why not.

The Brexit: The UK media line is that there's no plan for going forward. Well, there is, of course, and it's called The Flexcit. Here's the exasperated author of it - Richard North - on this subject: Sky News's Faisal Islam "reveals" that Vote Leave doesn't have an exit plan. The apparent absence of any such plan is adding to the uncertainty but, in terms of the media narrative, this is undoubtedly deliberate. Faisal knows full well of the existence of Flexcit. Yet he – and even journalists who have previously mentioned it - are studiously ignoring its existence. There is a certain wilful stubbornness about this, which defies rational expectation. Even MPs and others, anxious to block the ascendency of Mr Johnson, and who are thus determined to produce their own plans, are ignoring the material in front of them, preferring to reinvent the wheel, mostly in any shape but round. We thus see all around us the beginnings of the debate that we should have been having before the referendum, but at so basic a level that issues we were discussing four or five years ago are now only just being aired.

The EU: Can there be anyone more arrogant and stupid in Brussels than the president, Mr Juncker? He just doesn't seem to get it and continues to treat the British people like ignorant, uppity kids. And to do nothing about immoral/criminal banking back home Luxemburg.  A classic tehnocrat, of the sort we've all come to hate. And presumably now very worrried about his job and his gold-plated pension.

Finally . . . . Rail Travel in Spain: If you're over 60, you can get a discount card from the national operator, RENFE. This is called La Tarjeta Dorada. In English, The Gold Card. Or, rather, this is what it should be. But RENFE apparently use an 11 year old with a dictionary for their English translations. He or she has given them The Sea Bream Card. You can guess why.


Camino Note: Interesting to see that the Spanish Post Office (Correos) is taking bags forward to your next stop for only €3 each. At least on the English Way. This compares with €10 to 16 we were paying on the Coastal Way 2 weeks ago.


Having struggled for years with very old, small contenadores, we at my end of our street have now been given not one but two sets of big new ones, 50 metres apart. There must have been an election imminent . . .



Ponters Pensées: 27.6.16

The Spanish Repeat General Elections: Well, as I expected, the far-left Podemos ploy of uniting with the communist party has backfired and the right-wing PP party has emerged stronger from these, though still with isufficient seats to form a government without a coalition partner or two. Meanwhile, some commentators are blaming the Brexit for forcing some voters to choose the devil they knew, rather than risk things with untried parties of the Left - despite all the corruption in which the PP party is dripping. Well, why not? Brexit's being held responsible for everything bad right now, including global warming. But, anyway, there'll be more weeks, even months, of uncertainty here now. Not that the last 6 months of it has done us much harm.

Texting in Spanish: Young(ish) Spaniards use a bewildering series of obbreviations for this. Then they make spelling errors, such as using B instead of a V, because they're pronounced the same. And then there are folk, such as my neighbour, the lovely Ester, who doesn't bother to correct her mistakes. It can be very confusing.

Rumanian Crooks: Lying down in the square opposite the Santiago cathedral entrance on Friday, I was approached by 2 of the 3 women there defrauding happy pilgrims by claiming to be collecting for the national association for the deaf and dumb. All of this within 100 metres of the central police station. Then on Saturday I was approached by the same women while sitting on a café terrace. I made it clear I knew they were criminals and asked the café staff to call the police. who never turned up, of course. Your guess is as good as mine as to why not.

The Brexit: The UK media line is that there's no plan for going forward. Well, there is, of course, and it's called The Flexcit. Here's the exasperated author of it - Richard North - on this subject: Sky News's Faisal Islam "reveals" that Vote Leave doesn't have an exit plan. The apparent absence of any such plan is adding to the uncertainty but, in terms of the media narrative, this is undoubtedly deliberate. Faisal knows full well of the existence of Flexcit. Yet he – and even journalists who have previously mentioned it - are studiously ignoring its existence. There is a certain wilful stubbornness about this, which defies rational expectation. Even MPs and others, anxious to block the ascendency of Mr Johnson, and who are thus determined to produce their own plans, are ignoring the material in front of them, preferring to reinvent the wheel, mostly in any shape but round. We thus see all around us the beginnings of the debate that we should have been having before the referendum, but at so basic a level that issues we were discussing four or five years ago are now only just being aired.

The EU: Can there be anyone more arrogant and stupid in Brussels than the president, Mr Juncker? He just doesn't seem to get it and continues to treat the British people like ignorant, uppity kids. And to do nothing about immoral/criminal banking back home Luxemburg.  A classic tehnocrat, of the sort we've all come to hate. And presumably now very worrried about his job and his gold-plated pension.

Finally . . . . Rail Travel in Spain: If you're over 60, you can get a discount card from the national operator, RENFE. This is called La Tarjeta Dorada. In English, The Gold Card. Or, rather, this is what it should be. But RENFE apparently use an 11 year old with a dictionary for their English translations. He or she has given them The Sea Bream Card. You can guess why.


Camino Note: Interesting to see that the Spanish Post Office (Correos) is taking bags forward to your next stop for only €3 each. At least on the English Way. This compares with €10 to 16 we were paying on the Coastal Way 2 weeks ago.


Having struggled for years with very old, small contenadores, we at my end of our street have now been given not one but two sets of big new ones, 50 metres apart. There must have been an election imminent . . .



Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Camino Inglés: The Final Event-Packed Day.

I caused a lot of laughter at the Santiago bus station yesterday. Twice.

The first time was when I again lost my temper with stupid replies being given to me - this time at the Monbus ticket office at the bus station - and was looked on as a crazy guiri. Albeit one who could shout in Spanish.

I should point out that there's no information given there as to which platform the many incoming buses arrive at. Your ticket tells you it will be between numbers 10 and 18 and also gives you the number of the bus. But, as the buses arriving don't portray numbers, people mill around, trying to find what destinations are shown in lights on the front of each bus.

I was looking for one showing 'Ferrol' but never saw one. So, at 4.20, I went to the ticket office, where this ensued:-
What happened to the 4.pm bus?
It went.
How come? I didn't see a bus saying Ferrol.
Yes, it was showing 'A Coruña and Ferrol'.
Isn't that two different directions? There were 3 buses down there at 4 0'clock and none of them indicated Ferrol.
Well, I took the passenger details down to each bus so I know one went to Ferrol.
But there was no indication of this. Either for me or for the guy who spoke to you before me because he never saw a bus to Ferrol either.
Well, when you're not sure, you should aways ask the driver where a bus is going.
Why isn't there screen saying where the buses are going, as there used to be.
There was one but there isn't one any more.
I know that.
[At this point a Monbus driver got involved, really getting my goat up]
There definitely was a bus going to Ferrol. I spoke to the driver.
Maybe there was but it wasn't showing Ferrol, only A Coruña.
No, it showed A Coruña and Ferrol. I saw it.
Why would you be looking for the destination of a bus? And, more to the point, do you think I'm blind or stupid? I was watching all the buses and their destinations and none of them had a rolling screen saying it was going to La Coruña and Ferrol. There was only a fixed one saying 'A Coruña'.
Are you calling me a liar?
[At this point, I turned back to the woman at the counter and asked for my money back. There was no resistance to this. I returned at 5.45 for the 6pm bus and picked up the conversation.]
So, when you go down to each bus, do you give the driver details of tickets sold and the number of passengers getting on?
Yes.
So, why doesn't he/she correlate that with the number of people who get on. Or don't, like me and the other guy?
Because many people don't turn up.
So, why do you do it?
So we know how many are on the bus if it crashes and everyone burns.
But that total won't be right if there are no-shows!
What do you mean?
Well, the 4pm bus [assuming it ever really existed] will have had at least 2 passengers fewer than the list, being me and the other guy. No?
I guess so. But we have to do it.
. . . . .
How long does the bus take to Pontedeume?

Not long after this, I gave those present another reason to laugh, when I tried to go back up a down-escalator after only going down a metre or so.

I would advise against this even when you're lightly encumbered but certainly not when you have a heavy rucksack on your back and are carrying 2 walking poles.

I fell and then stupidly tried to do it again. Having fallen again and hurt my knees, I gracefully accepted defeat and decided to remain prostrate until the bottom, when 2 people kindly helped me gather both myself and my things.

Then I noticed I no longer had my ticket and realised it had gone into the maw of the escalator. So, in an even fouler mood, I limped back up the stairs to try to blag my way to another one. Or pay for it, if necessary.

Happily, I saw it on the floor at the top of the escalator. A crumb of comfort.

I have a strong suspicion the 4pm bus was cancelled, and was strengthened in this belief by the care taken by a Monbus employee to tell me where the (late) 6pm bus was coming from and where it was going to.

Which - need I say? - was direct to Ferrol, without first going to A Coruña.


By the way, I tore my trousers and bloodied my knees in my fight with the escalator. But I won't allow this to spoil my highly enjoyable week. Especially because of this little tale:-

During our walk along the Coastal Way a couple of weeks ago, my companion and I met two young French women while waiting for a bus out out Unquera. As they said they were bound eventually for Vigo, I said I could pick them up a week later in Oviedo and they could wash all their stuff in my house in Pontevedra and sleep in proper beds for  night or more. During the next 2 days, I tried but failed to get calls and messages of confirmation to them by phone and email but nothing got a response. So, I concluded they hadn't been serious when they'd said they'd definitely come.

Yesterday at midday I was sitting on the terrace of a Santiago cafe, waiting for some friends. But I was actually in the wrong place. I looked up from El País to see to a young woman looking at me. When she asked, in effect, if I was me, I said yes but admitted I didn't recognise her. She was, it transpired, one of the 2 French women from Unquera and she told me they'd sent me messages galore trying to find out if they could still come. Once we got over our surprise and pleasure at this remarkable chance meeting, we agreed I'd pick them up in Santiago after I'd got my car from Pontedeume. In view of previous difficulties, we agreed a fixed time and place. Which is just as well, as I was, of course, rather later than agreed and all attempts to contact them again failed completely.

So, there might be a god, after all. At least if you live in Santiago de Compostela.


Normal service resumes tomorrow.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Camino Inglés: The Final Day

A relatively comfortable walk of only 16km today, though rather hilly at times. Especially at the start.

Here's the usual fotos of a city (Sigueiro) left behind in a river valley as we climb to a nearby peak.





Why no one has ever invented a camino which just follows a river or three, I will never know. But I assume it's because this would deprive villages and towns of camino income. Or because you'd end up in, say, Burgos.

Before I continue with yesterday's account, I just want to show you this contraption, which was beside the toilet in my room in the excellent Hostel Sigueiro. It's in place of a bidet, space being limited.


I suspected, and confirmed, a strong jet of water. In fact, so powerful I fear that, if you didn't have piles before you used it, you'd certainly have them afterwards.

Apart from the receding city, there really wasn't much to snap yesterday, especially as the last 6km passed through, first, an industrial park and, then, the outskirts of the city of Santiago. But we did take a pic of this chap in the village just before the bar at the edge of the Timbre polígono.



He informed us it was a quote from the guy who founded the Inditex chain, of which Zara is the flagship. He should know.

This is a place on the outskirts of Sigueiro which I'm thinking of buying as a pied-a-terre near Santiago. Lots of potential, as they say:



And here's a church at the start of our climb, with my colleagues doing a bit of a Dutch Bastard act on the inevitable incline.


But I have to admit I'm still slow on the hills. And every time I raced to catch up with them on the flat, a new hill loomed in front of us, separating us again. I'm designed for stamina on the level, not for fell or hill walking.

All in all, a great week, with very a companionable couple of companions. True, they found my sense of humour a tad too much at times. But who wouldn't?

Haveing missed a right turn and then hitting the main drag down into Santiago, I walked fast and actually arrived before my two friends who'd left the bar before me. So I lay down in the square in front of the cathedral to await them. A Polish couple asked if they could take a foto of me and explained it was "because you look exactly like someone should after a long and difficult walk." I wasn't sure how to take that. But I was sure how to deal with the 3 Rumanian women criminally pretending to be collecting for a deaf and dumb society and constantly hassling all the happy pilgrims. Why the local police permit this is beyond me. The station is only a hundred metres behind the square.

I then minded all our stuff while my friends went to get their Compostelas, or certificates of pilgrimage. This afforded me plenty more time to listen to the bane of Santiago - the bagpiper who plays in a short tunnel on one side of the cathedral. It's high time his cats were put out of their misery.


So, now it's back to the daily grind - or non-grind, in my case. Above all to the Brexit and its ramificactions. As if anyone really knows what these will be. Meanwhile, ahead of tomorrow's repeat general elections here in Spain, here's the FT on acting-President Rajoy. A man we could all do without except, it seems, his supine PP party. With 4 more years of him in prospect, I might well be induced to take Irish, rather than Spanish, nationality so as to stay comfortably here in Spain. But there's torrents of water to flow under that particular bridge as yet.

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