Friday, December 31, 2004

After a visit to my bank today, I now know what tipped me into an overdraft. It was a bill from my local council for refuse services. As with the gas bill, this is normally sent to me in January or even February, a full 6 or 7 months after the provision of the service. So, simultaneously both the gas company and the local council have sharpened up their act. This is a bit of a shock to the system. Much more of this rampant efficiency and I will have to reconsider my decision to retire to Spain. I mean, I could get this sort of treatment anywhere.

Meanwhile, Happy New Year to everyone.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

In the pre-dawn dark of this morning, I flashed at an oncoming car, to tell the driver that he didn’t have his lights on. Rather to my surprise, he responded immediately. But, then, I suppose one should expect this of a police car. Especially one belonging to the Traffic Branch.

The government and car drivers are locked in recriminations about responsibility for the widespread chaos brought by snow storms which hit most of Spain on 26th December. The drivers felt that the government should have been more prepared. The official response to this was that drivers should not have gone on the road in bad weather. There seemed to be an implied rider to this along the lines of … ‘as you know we are incompetent and will have all the snow ploughs in the wrong place’. An editorial in El Mundo asked why the arrival of bad weather was always such a tremendous surprise both to the authorities and to the national train company. Sounds familiar.

The government and the nationalist parties are still embroiled in discussions as to what to call both Spain and its constituent bits in the Preamble to the about-to-be revised Constitution. The latest proposal for Spain seems to be ‘Nation of nations’ but the leader of the Opposition has said that this would be over his dead body. I suspect that one of the problems here is that, being a virtually pure Latin language, Spanish is less bastardised than, say, English and so lacks alternatives from other languages that allow greater nuancing. Of course, there are some words of Arabic origin in Spanish but, even if one of them fitted the bill in this case, I don’t suppose it would be awfully acceptable.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Crimes of violence against partners or ex-partners feature prominently in the Spanish media. I’d assumed this was because the incidence was high in a macho country where a significant proportion of males were struggling with female emancipation. Not so, it seems. For the rate of such crimes in the UK is more than double that of Spain. And Germany’s is not far behind. Even more astonishing is that all the Scandinavian counties feature at the very top of the European list. You know, the ones which tend to come top of the Quality of Life surveys.

Spain’s highest court has taken what might be the first step towards the legalisation of prostitution. It has said that the Ministry of Labour must recognise an association of hotel owners whose business is letting out rooms to people who ‘enter into contracts with third parties’. Only there must be no pimping and everyone must be acting of their own free will. There seems to be some confusion as to how this all fits with the prohibition on people – hotel owners, for example – from profiting from prostitution. More Spanish pragmatism?

A friend of mine was given a handsome poker set for Christmas. I mean the card game, not a collection of things with which to poke the fire. Anyway, it came with a note which thanked the purchaser for having the sense to buy it and ended with the sentence ‘Its feel is obviously larruping’. As far as I can tell, this is an old English word for ‘beating’ or ‘striking’ which has transmogrified, in American English, into ‘delicious’. Either way, its use points up the dangers of relying on a dictionary – in this case Chinese-English – to make translations that are not going to be checked by a native speaker. Or of employing a relative who claims to be fluent. I guess.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

A Christmas tale of human frailty, courtesy of El Mundo – The priest of the parish of Colmena in Madrid was stabbed in the neck by a local resident after an argument about the execution of an expert’s recommendation for the restoration of the image of the patron saint of the Brotherhood of the Virgin of Candelaria.

In accordance with tradition, seafood prices soared in the days before the big meal on Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve. By far the most impressive surge was registered by camarones, a type of shrimp. These achieved a ceiling of €260 a kilo. Or £83 [$160] a pound. It would have been a real tragedy to have choked to death on one of these. Or, worse, on two.

Returning from the USA last week, my friend Andrew and his wife spent two hours passing through chaotic baggage security checks at Newark airport. These, of course, are designed to relieve you of things as innocuous as a nail file. All the more impressive, then, that Iberia later gave everyone metal knives and forks with their dinner.

The latest new expression for ‘Spain’ is Estado Confederal. Or Confederated State, I guess. Which reminds me, the nationalist parties throughout Spain have taken exception to the King banging on about the indivisibility of Spain in his Christmas address. What a cheek.

My neighbours celebrated Christmas Eve with communal singing that, in the Spanish way of things, started after dinner at midnight and went on until 5am. Retiring to bed at 1.30 with a pre-hangover headache, I was obliged to put on the radio to drown the cacophony. It was supposed to be the classical music channel but I was woken at 4 by some bloody Andalucian gypsy wailing a flamenco dirge. It was a relief to return to the sing-song.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Regular readers will know that I’m ever so slightly obsessive about the Spanish making no allowance for the fact that there are others on the same pavement as them. In fact, I’ve concluded that none of them has any peripheral vision or antennae whatsoever. It’s as if man’s struggle for survival in Spain has resulted in the survival of the blindest. Musing yet again on this theme today, I wondered how they ever managed to avoid each other during the obligatory evening paseo. And then my mind flashed back to Calle Real, an old-ish film which involves a great deal of evening perambulation. And I recalled being surprised at how the human traffic kept in parallel lanes, rather like cars. Now I know why.

The winning number in yesterday’s Christmas lottery paid out €390million. Given that the most any punter can get is €2m, I’m not at all sure how this happens but the result is that the winnings are well spread, both in terms of people and locations. Fascinatingly, the winning number was sold in a place in Catalunia which not only provided last year’s winner but also two others in the last decade. An editorial in El Pais today commented on the astronomical odds against this and spoke of the triumph of chance over logic. I’m not entirely sure we weren’t expected to read something between the lines. But perhaps the most interesting thing about yesterday’s draw is that the organisers issued a list of winners that was wrong. Oh dear.

Spain has come late to campaigns against drunken drivers so it’s not too surprising that the law is still being developed. The Constitutional Court has found for a man who was prosecuted for being three times over the legal limit. They took the view that one has to be more than four times over the limit for this alone to be incontrovertible proof that an offence has been committed. This is equivalent to 4 glasses of wine. Below this, the police have to obtain evidence that ‘one’s capacity to drive has actually been affected’. I guess the case law will develop along the lines of standing one one’s leg and or reciting the alphabet backwards. In other words, just the sort of thing that the breathalyser was supposed to dispense with. But that’s Spain.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The draw for the Christmas lottery - El Gordo – was made today. Of the €2.3billion receipts, €1.8billion [yes, billion] was returned to punters and €0.5billion retained by the Treasury. This windfall for the government possibly explains why the process for arriving at the winners is more complex and formalised than the state opening of Parliament by the British Queen. And, at over 4 hours, quite a bit longer. With the biggest prize being only €2.0million and the smallest around €100, there are an awful lot of lucky numbers to generate and announce. The worst aspect of this is that the latter is done by teams of kids who sing out the numbers in plain chant. This is clearly a long-standing tradition and I suppose that, if you’ve grown up with it, it might have some appeal for you. Personally, after ten minutes, I felt like machine gunning the entire crew. This would have been particularly bad form as some of them had Arabic-sounding names.

The Galician police have announced that a recent series of spot checks netted only 167 people over the alcohol limit. As this was out of more than 10,000 drivers randomly tested, I assume they did most of the checking outside the churches on Sunday evenings.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Socialist government of Mr Zapatero seems far more willing than Mr Aznar’s to play the word games initiated by the Basque and Catalunian nationalist parties. So, we are all becoming increasingly familiar with phrases such as ‘Spanish Nation’, ‘Associated State’ and [my favourite] ‘Plurinational State’. Or ‘Spain’ to you and me. I fear it can only end in tears.

In the small hours of this morning, my blog received its 1000th hit. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’d been hoping that this honour would go to yet another frustrated Spaniard searching for more details of the C de E in Vigo. Alas, no. It was someone who’d entered ‘things to do in Galicia’ into Google. The really gratifying thing about this is that it brought up both my blog and my web page.

Christmas in Spain brings us the biggest lottery of the year – El Gordo, The Fat One. Lured by the humongous prizes [and the chance to buy as little as a tenth of a €200 ticket], Spaniards will spend an average of €76 on the chance to secure enough money to devastate their lives. It must make sense to someone. Or a lot of someones, apparently.

Monday, December 20, 2004

There was a terrible killing in Iraq yesterday, when several gunmen ambushed 3 members of the organisation responsible for the January elections. If you were in Spain, you’d be able to see newspaper pictures of the unfortunate men actually being shot in the head. And, lucky us, we’ll probably get a video of the action on TV tonight, provided the murderers had the foresight to take along a camcorder as well as a still camera.

Much to the consternation of the locals, Chinese ‘bazaars’ are springing up all over town. These are very much family concerns, of course, and are open all hours. My friends can quite understand the former aspect, as this is usually the same with Spanish businesses. But they can’t get their heads round people aiming for profits beyond what is required to provide an easy and comfortable life. Nor the willingness to give up leisure time in order to achieve this. It all smacks far too much of both hard work and excess consideration of the customer. I’m reminded of the comments of Gerald Brenan in his book, The Spanish Labyrinth – “The famous individualism of the people does not apply to economics. The Spanish are essentially anti-capitalist and uncompetitive; they have neither the bad nor the good qualities, neither the attachment to money for its own sake nor the suppleness and perseverance required for success in the modern capitalist world.”. Mind you, this was written in 1940 and things have moved on. To a degree.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Three men are cutting down [and up] the eucalyptus trees on the other side of the road from my house. Although they’re using power saws, none of them is wearing safety glasses or ear plugs. Nonetheless there have been no reports of death or even injury so far. On the one hand, this may prove that they know what they’re doing. On the other, it may not. So I’ve moved my car 50 metres down the road, just in case they miscalculate with the huge trees directly opposite that have somehow rooted themselves right on the edge of a granite escarpment. This may not save the house but at least I’ll be able to drive down to my insurance company.

Here’s two things you may not know about Christmas cards in Spain:- 1. They’re not a local custom, and 2. It’s difficult to deliver them by hand to flat dwellers. The former is a blessing but the latter is a nuisance. It arises from the fact that all the mail boxes are inside the front door. If I were less English, I’d press one [or possibly all twenty] of the intercom buttons and shout ‘Postman!’ as soon as I got a response. But I’m not. Not this year, anyway. Roll on Xmas 2005.

Good to read that the teaching of Spanish is rising rapidly in the UK, at the expense of French and German. I’ve beaten into my two daughters that, with English and Spanish, you can go anywhere in the world. I'm pleased to say they can now cry in both languages.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

My next-door neighbour, Tony, talks to his plants and calls his young kids los enanos. This means dwarves, midgets, runts or, at a stretch, the little ones. But I’m sure he means it affectionately. When I got back from my coffee early afternoon today, I clocked said enanos sitting in the front seats of his Seat Ibiza, pretending to drive. As the car was right behind mine, I took the liberty of checking the key was not in the ignition before coming indoors. I suppose banishing your noisy kids to the car in the street is an unusual way to solve a problem but, on balance, it has my support.

Thinking further about the weaponry I saw on display last week in Toledo, it occurred to me that the Spanish government would certainly have some justification for a UK-type crack-down on knives. This was prompted by the latest in a scandalously high incidence of husbands stabbing their, usually separated, wives to death. But I guess that Spanish pragmatism leads to the conclusion that, once you have decided to do away with your ex, a carving knife would be just as effective as anything else.

I see that, once again, a citation in my blog has been the kiss of death for something. Donegal’s Cavern is no more. The love affair with all things Irish may finally be at an end. The place I mentioned only a few days ago now calls itself a tapas and wine bar and signals its trendiness with bright chrome sign-writing. Why, even the Guinness sign has been half dismantled.

Six solid weeks of sun came to an abrupt end yesterday, with the departure of a persistent anticyclone for its Christmas holidays. Most of us will regret its passing but not, I guess, the dowagers of the town who have sweltered through the last two weeks in the statutory fur coats of December. I imagine they will be swarming through the streets and cafés after Mass tomorrow, smug with seasonal satisfaction.

Friday, December 17, 2004

A leader of one of the Catalunian ‘nationalist’ parties this week urged fellow Catalunians not to support Madrid’s candidacy for the 2012 Olympic Games. Apart from whatever else it was, this was a masterpiece of poor timing. In the run-up to Christmas, the immediate reaction from the rest of Spain was a boycott of the Spanish version of champagne, cava, which is only brewed in the north east. Under pressure from the producers, a humiliating retraction was hastily arranged, leaving most of Spain in one great smirk.

Good to see that common sense continues to prevail in the tripartite discussions over Gibraltar, with the colony being given a right of veto over any proposed developments. Despite this being a reflection of reality, the President of the PP [Conservative] party has reacted with apoplexy to what he seems to consider an act of treason. No wonder nil progress was under the last government, despite the British Foreign Office’s long-standing desperation to get shut of the place.

Such is the prevalence of nepotism and cronyism in Spain, anyone who gets a job is normally assumed to have been enchufado, or plugged-in. If enchufes [plugs] could be sold on the open market, their value would be enormous. So the resignation of David Blunkett for helping his lover’s nanny get a quick visa leaves most Spaniards utterly dumbfounded. Doing favours for your family and close friends is the essence of responsibility in Spain, whatever job you are in. Funny people these Anglo-Saxons.

A court in Valencia this week ordered a wife and her lover to pay €100,000 to the ex-husband who had not, it turned out, fathered 3 of her 4 children. Payment covered reimbursement of his expenditure and compensation for both damage to his morale and psychological consequences. Plus, naturally, damage to his honour. The judge criticised the couple for being negligent in conceiving the kids in the first place and then deceitful for not owning up to their real paternity. I have never heard of a case like this under UK family law and am left wondering whether, as in car crashes for example, it’s possible to plead ‘contributory negligence’ on the part of the cuckolded husband. Nice prospect, though.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Well, you’ll all be wondering whether I owe you a drink because my medical insurance company did actually reply to my letter about their web site [11.11.04]. Don’t be silly. They haven’t even responded to my earlier [and more important] request for confirmation that my daughter will be removed from the scheme at the end of the year. I went to the local office about this today. They couldn’t give me advice about the January premium but their helpful suggestion was that, if I were overcharged, I should just demand some money back. I never would have thought of this.

An investigation into video games on sale here has pronounced that the vast majority of these are ‘macho, sexist and racist’. Pretty perfectly attuned to the market then.

Astonishingly, I read today that Galicia boasts 10 local daily newspapers. God knows how any of them stays in business but I suspect that taxpayer contributions – in one form or another – play a part. There seems to be an awful lot of news about local political developments and new roundabouts. And I rather suspect none of the papers would print a letter about, say, the postprandial state of the chief of police.

As you know, it takes Google about 0.18 of a second to come up with several zillion citations for anything you type in the box. So it’s all the more incredible that, as someone in Holland discovered today, if you search for “Spanish sexual habits”, the one and only reference you will get is my blog of October 22. Fame at last.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Hats off to the French for their spectacular new – British designed - suspension bridge. I see it took only 3 years to put up, which is about what it takes for a small house here in Spain. But the contractors there might just have been concentrating on one job and not playing fast and loose with a number of over-expectant aspirants.

The parliamentary commission of enquiry into the Madrid bombings of March 11 is reaching its climax. In the past week we’ve had many hours of testimony from both the previous and the existing Presidents but neither has been exactly statesmanlike in his accusations and recriminations. One commentator has gone so far as to suggest that, between them, they've ushered in a period of political violence bordering on civil war. But perhaps the best comment came from the cartoonist in El Pais – One bystander to another: ‘Well, do you think this commission has served any purpose at all?’ Second bystander: ‘Oh, yes. It has surely ensured that, if there ever is another atrocity, we’ll never have another commission’.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

I’ve sent my mobile phone to Coventry for making unauthorised calls by itself. What a blessing it is not to have to worry whether it’s your phone ringing when taking your morning coffee. Especially for those of us who can’t for the life of us recall what our ring tone sounds like.

I see that, back in the UK, young women are becoming more like young men and vice versa. But not as was hoped. The men are spending more on grooming and the women on drink. In fact, British young women are now said to be the heaviest drinkers in Europe. Is this really what their mothers fought and died for in the Great Gender Wars of the last century?

If you want evidence of the infamously different approach to risk and safety here in Spain, just ponder the latest traffic regulation. This allows completely untrained riders to enter the roads on/in any machine of 50cc or less. If they’ve learned to drive a car [or at least passed the test], they can ride a motor bike of up to 125cc without a single second’s tuition. And without ever having to pass another test. As it would be the world’s safest bet to gamble on a rise in accident statistics, you sometimes wonder just how serious the government is about its stated intention to get them down from their current high level. And whether some of them have shares in motor bike companies. Or private hospitals.

The Tower of Babel: The Spanish government has now formally requested that Galician, Basque and Catalan/Valencian be regarded as official EU languages. They’ve even kindly offered to finance all the additional interpreters. But, then, it isn’t their money, is it? And relations need jobs. I was going to say we can expect the Irish government to seek the same for Gaelic but I was too slow off the mark; already happened, apparently. Welsh next, then. Followed by Cornish, perhaps. Or its close cousin, Breton.

Talking of things Irish, there is a new bar-restaurant in the old quarter which looks like a French bistro but serves Guinness. This gives it the right to call itself Donegal's Irish Cavern even though it couldn’t look less like one. But I suppose this means it can quickly re-brand itself in line with the next fad when all things Irish cease to be fashionable. Wales this time?

Monday, December 13, 2004

In post-Franco, more-liberal-than-thou Spain, sex is pretty much everywhere. Especially on the TV or in any space on the outskirts of town which can take a car. And Spanish women, of course, do little to downplay their sexual characteristics. So, in this environment of abandon, it's all the more surprising to find that one of the public TV channels hosts possibly the most sensible sex-education programmes in the history of the cathode tube. Being very popular, its thirty-second welcome is naturally followed by 15 minutes of [appropriate] advertising but, once it gets going, the programme is a model of how to approach quite delicate issues such as…. well, you know. That said, I have some difficulty believing that all the calls to the young female presenter are entirely genuine. Like the one from a waiter who said he reacted unusually to the electricity from the fridge he had to keep walking past, for example. The programme is naturally a talking point and, as a result of this, I get the impression that some of the information re women comes as rather a shock to the Madonna-or-whore generation of Spanish men. They do like to keep things compartmentalised.

The Spanish government has bought a battery of ground-to-air Patriot missiles from its German counterpart. These will be stationed along the south coast, on the grounds that Spain’s greatest threat will come from Islamic terrorists who have got hold of intercontinental ballistic missiles. I have some difficulty with this rationale but am more intrigued by the statement that the Spanish have saved untold millions by buying second-hand rockets. Does this mean they have already been fired? Be that as it may, the missiles will face Morocco, from whence came the Moors who invaded Spain in the 8th century and stayed for the next 700 years, until invited to leave by Isabel the Catholic in the 1490s. And who said generals always fight the last war?

The Spanish word for knife is cuchillo, which is rather similar to the word for spoon – cuchara. Why do I mention this? Only to admit that, whenever I read about someone being stabbed [acuchillado], I get the most ridiculous mental picture.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

It’s the fur coat season so lots of mink in town midday today. Under an unseasonably strong sun, the temperature was actually above 20C but such a piffling detail is of no relevance to ladies who are determined to strut.

Which reminds me – Pontevedra’s dogs range from Irish Wolfhounds, Huskies and Samoyeds right down to repulsive creatures smaller than an average cat. But the most popular breed is clearly the Boxer. Apart from thoughtless emulation, I can only imagine that this is because they have one of the shortest canine life spans.

At the flea market in Vegetables Square today, we had the novelty of a stall manned by a couple up from Valenca in Portugal. It was good to see that that our neighbours can more than hold their own when it comes to peddling complete tat.

Buoyed by yesterday’s success of my team, Everton, against their biggest rivals, Liverpool, I thought I’d attend my first match of Pontevedra FC today. These local heroes were promoted to the 2nd Division at the end of last season but, after a string of home defeats, are now firmly in the relegation zone. I thought I might bring them some better luck, especially as their opponents were the team below them. The first thing I noticed at the ground was that the pitch wasn’t surrounded by dozens of stewards sitting with their backs to the game, watching for crowd trouble. The second thing I noticed was that the game kicked off five minutes before the scheduled time of 5pm. Anyway, after a dire first half, Pontevedra finally began to resemble a team which might score but, sadly, couldn’t quite manage it. Two minutes into injury time, the visitors got a corner and you know the rest. So much for me as a talisman. As the despondent supporters left the ground, they assisted the cleaning staff by depositing their seat cushions en masse on the pitch and then moved on to giving some friendly advice to the team manager as to where he might seek his next job.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Bit of a Bad News Week for the Spanish public. Apart from finding that they pay more than anyone except the Germans for their mobile phone calls, they’ve also learned that they fare rather badly in the global education stakes. Specifically, lower government investment means fewer pupils in secondary education and lower levels of achievement. And only Portugal and Malta record a higher university dropout number than Spain’s 30%. So it’s a good thing that Spain beat the USA in the Davis Cup final and also walked off with the international handball championship. Plus Spain came a creditable 10th in the international Quality of Life rankings.

For one small group of people it’s been a disastrous week. The new government has published a Code of Conduct for senior politicians and said that details of their assets will be published, both before and after they take office.

As if this weren’t enough, the police have said they’re going to stop their ludicrous practice of only testing for drunken drivers at known times and in known spots and take a more serious approach to the problem.

I blame it all on the EU. But, then, I blame everything on the EU.

Regular readers will know that this blog is plagued by Spanish men [I assume] seeking details of a certain institution in Vigo I’ve occasionally mentioned. As pages from my blog already represent 90% of the citations these gentlemen get from Google, I will refer to it merely as the C de E. I mention it again only to report that the stakes have once more been raised in its ferocious back-page war with the other institution catering for Vigo’s clientele of alto-standing - El Piso de Sandra. Each of them now takes up half a page with its respective ad. I would say they were going head to head in this war, but with hammer and tongs might be less open to misinterpretation

Friday, December 10, 2004

Not too surprised to read today that mobile phone costs in Spain are higher than almost anywhere else in Europe. Bit more shocked to later find that, as I had been reading this, my own phone had been busy making ten quids’ worth of calls all by its little self. This is because it has only one locking button and this can resist only so much friction in my trouser pocket. If you see what I mean. So, thank-you Siemens. Last time I buy one of your technology-challenged offerings.

A Barnsley hospital is sending its X-rays to a clinic in Barcelona as they can get the analysis back within 3 days. This will reduce even further when a digital link has been set up. You have to hand it to these Catalans. If you don’t want your 32-week old foetus, they will abort it for you, regardless of legal niceties. If you do, they will give you a very quick scan of it. In the latter case, you won’t even have to leave the UK. No wonder they are famed for their enterprise in Spain.

I noted [6.10.04] that the feminine form of most Spanish animal words means ‘slut’. I learned of two more last night – leonesa [lioness] and tigresa [work it out]. On a whim, I decide to check cerda [sow]. Guess what. To be honest, tigresa is actually defined as ‘shrew’ or ‘vamp’ but this fools no one.

Only 74% of Spanish women breast feed their babies. It must do something to the figure. Or interfere with shopping and talking.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

There’s an interesting saga being reported in the Spanish papers. A ex-Minister called Vera was sentenced to jail months ago for diverting funds intended for national security measures but is still free. The last Socialist President, Mr Gonzales, is seeking a pardon for him but the new one, Mr Zapatero, is refusing to play ball. He has referred the case back to the court, which - while pondering this larger issue - has now pronounced that Mr Vera will be allowed to spend Christmas with his family. He is said to be considering a hunger strike but one can’t help wondering whether his previous threat will prove more effective, viz. that he will spill the beans on which other grandees had their hands in the till. We await developments.

The Madrid bombings of March this year are being investigated by a special Commission. This is close to publishing its findings but I don’t suppose the members were either surprised nor disappointed to read the results of a survey about the public’s expectations. Asked about whether they thought the truth would merge blinking into the daylight, the respondents gave the following confidence ratings:-
From the government 10%
From the Commission 13%
From the judiciary 22%
From the press 35%
Nice to know that it hasn’t all been an expensive waste of time, characterised by blatant political posturing on both sides. The Spanish are quick learners when it comes to democracy.

But to be positive – yesterday saw the successful first meeting of the new tripartite Forum focused on the eternal problem of Gibraltar. Hard as it is to believe, the participants dealt with day-to-day issues such as access to the airport which the Brits illegally built in the buffer zone. And not on ethereal questions as to who’ll have sovereignty and how this will be defined.

Someone has dipped into 35 of my previous blogs today. I don’t, of course, know who it is but am hoping that a publisher has finally made a serendipitous find. Meanwhile, I am pathetically grateful, even if it’s my mother.

Isn’t life odd? In one of those ‘Favourite Book’ lists which appear this time of year, I read about a novel by a Persian author called The Blind Owl. When I was in Tehran in 1974, I attended a performance of a modern symphony with the same title. It was cacophonous crap. The next day, I read a short review I wished I’d written.... “Last night I attended a rendition of ‘The Blind Owl’. What a shame it wasn’t deaf as well as blind”.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

I met my neighbour, Tony, in the supermarket last night. When he said they hadn’t seen me for a few days, I told him I’d been in Madrid. ‘You were lucky’!" he replied ‘We’ve been tearing out the old bathroom and the din has been horrendous." In noise-polluted Spain, a post-facto comment like this is the closest one gets to both an advance warning and an apology. I was touched by his concern.

The Spanish love superlatives. If you want to assimilate, this is something you just have to get used to. And emulate as best you can. On the radio last night there was a dreadful phone-tone rendition of a Mozart sonata, which the commentator then described as ‘estupendo’. Sadly, she meant stupendously good, not bad.

It’s hard to know how much further advertising can go in Spain. And just how much Spanish consumers will tolerate. Even the national channels have started to do what the cash-strapped regional channels have done for a while and run banner ads along the bottom of football matches whenever the ball is dead. Not to be outdone, the regional channels now don’t even bother to wait for this. Even worse, one of the national channels has started to show a ‘flier’ for its next programme during soccer matches, at a highly irritating frequency of every couple of minutes. And radio is no better. Driving back last night to watch a match on TV, I heard the kick-off on the radio. No sooner had the match started than the channel went into 5 minutes of advertising. A little later, the two commentators began to sing a duet about the sponsor’s products. I kid you not.

On a more serious note, all Spain’s ‘nationalist’ parties [i. e. the ones which want to see Spain broken up] boycotted Monday’s celebrations of the Constitution of 1979. Galicia, it seems, is demanding that it be called a ‘national community’, instead of ‘Autonomous Community’ as now. At least it’s one syllable less of a mouthful.

Even more serious – it seems that Mr Zapatero’s policy of cosying up to France and Germany is not paying off. The list of countries opposing Spain’s case is reported to be growing. Meanwhile, a Professor of Applied Economics in Madrid has said that it is unfair that Spain should be expected to make a 20% contribution to funds going to new members. What he seems to mean is not that Spain should actually hand over any cash whatsoever, but that it should not lose 20% of what it currently gets. I have a sister who approaches Applied Economics in much the same way.

Here’s a service announcement for accidental Spanish readers of this blog - Si estás leyendo ésta página porque estás buscando detalles de La C de E en Vigo, no vale la pena de leer más. Aún menos traducirla. Ésta página no tiene nada que ver con esa institución.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

This year’s King Canute Award goes to Spain’s Minister for Equality. She has demanded that toy manufacturers stop advertising their Christmas wares on the basis of stereotypical gender models. I would have thought there were better ways of tackling the issues of this macho society than asking companies to advertise dolls to boys. My preference would be to ban women from smoking and driving aggressively. But I hope this doesn’t sound too macho. I would ban men as well.

A TV programme has come up with an effective way to stop panel members – even during hi-brow discussions – from talking simultaneously. Each of the participants has a long, proboscis-like microphone in front of them which retracts into the woodwork when the director thinks they have said enough. So, even if everyone talks at the same time, they can’t be heard. Quite ingenious. And amusing to watch. Of course, it won’t catch on.

A 33 year-old woman who has been anorexic for 16 years has set up a restaurant in Madrid for people who are averse to eating. One wishes her well, though not with any great confidence. Perhaps she should combine it with a wine bar for AA members.

The authorities in Spain can show remarkable indulgence towards drivers who break the law, even those who regularly drive over the limit or without a licence. A man in Girona who has previously had his licence withdrawn a mere 6 times has finally managed to kill a pedestrian and has now been jailed for drunken driving.

The Spanish President, Mr Zapatero [Shoemaker] has made much of a desire to take Spain back to the heart of ‘Old Europe’. We now know what this means; Spain will support the softening of the Stability pact which France and German have made a habit of ignoring. And, in return, these two stalwarts will ensure that Spain suffers less than it should from the accession of new members who want to get into the EU trough. As the biggest beneficiary of German, British and Dutch taxpayers’ largesse, this is important to Spain. So, business as usual.

Marianne Faithful, who is touring Spain, has said that, when she heard that Bush had won the election, she wanted to die. I never thought I would empathise quite so much with anything she said.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Driving out to Toledo from Madrid on Saturday, we ran into a lengthy traffic jam. At the end of this stood 2 policemen, frantically urging drivers to accelerate now that they had the opportunity. For Spanish drivers, this is about as necessary as putting a sign for mosquitoes on your big toe reading “Please bite here”.

Still with policemen, I see that a Chief Constable in the UK has said that it’s time to give back to the people some rights of self-defence. Perhaps they will be allowed to own penknives again. I thought of this when walking past the numerous shops in Toledo piled to the gunwales with swords, scimitars, lances, axes, daggers and knives of every conceivable kind. There were even, would you believe, serried ranks of functional crossbows. It occurred to me that the entire city would be illegal in the UK. It also struck me that, by the logic of British police and politicians, there should a very high death rate in Spain from, for example, Japanese ceremonial swords. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

In the toilets of a tapas bar in Madrid, I noticed a sign saying ‘Pisar al suelo para agua’. This means, in effect, tread on the rubber bulb on the floor if you want water for your hands. But I suspect it's open to unhappy misinterpretation.

This week Spain celebrates its return to democracy in the late 70s. So it’s fitting that El Mundo today reported that 75% of Spaniards are against Catalunia being given ‘separate nation’ status via any reform of the Constitution which enshrines this democracy. Less comforting for the government was the finding that only about 40% of the population is likely to take part in the upcoming referendum on the EU Constitution. Even if 90% of these vote in favour, this will scarcely amount to a ringing endorsement by the first country in Europe allowed to take a view on it. Brussels must be even more disappointed. Not that this will change anything since – ask Austria – the will of the people counts for little against politicians with grand designs and little, if any, accountability.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

I went to the Post Office today to send some letters to the UK. As I took my number from the machine at the entrance, I noticed I was the only customer in the Letters section so went straight to the only counter open. The clerk asked me what my number was and I asked what difference it made as I was the only person there. He declined to answer, weighed my letter and gave me my stamp. On the way out, I saw that the LCDs above the desks were not working and realised that he had probably needed my number to kick-start the system. Or perhaps everyone in the Post Office has been on the same How to be Truly Officious course as the security guard.

The Spanish tax authorities have said they are going to pay more attention to certain transactions. So, where anyone buys a house with cash, they are going to ask why. In a country where tax evasion was traditionally rife, this seems such an obvious measure that one is forced to ask why it has taken so long. Perhaps it was felt to be provocative. Or, as bad as it gets in Spain, ignoble.

There have been articles in the papers this week about emails from phoney bank sites. This is called phishing elsewhere but has been transmuted into phising here.

I’m off to Madrid for a few days tomorrow. So, hasta luego, todos

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Walking down to town today, I was astonished to see that a young lady had actually stopped her car to take a mobile phone call. I was rather less surprised to note that she had parked her car on a zebra crossing, thus forcing pedestrians to go round her and the cars behind to wait until she’d finished her languorous conversation. [There are no others in Spain]. What made this a perfect example of Spanish individualismo at work was that she only needed to have gone 2 metres to pull off the main road.

Well, we nearly made it. 29 days of high pressure and sun here in Galicia but today, on the last day of the month, things reverted to the winter norm and it rained. Albeit not much. But before you pack up and emigrate, ponder on November 2000, when it rained on 28 days of the month.

On Sky News today we were told that the locusts which invaded the Canary Islands this week were ‘thought to have come from Africa’. How else, may one ask? By plane from Manchester? On a cruise liner from New York or ice floe from Antarctica? Or perhaps on a flotilla of surfboards from Venezuela? What explains this tentativeness? Is it just incompetence or have things got to such a pass that it is considered racist to say anything ‘negative’ about an entire continent, simply because most people living there are black or brown?

Monday, November 29, 2004

I had the pleasure of watching half an hour of a South American soap opera this afternoon. Despite the background music of crashing cymbals, strident violin chords and a frenetic flamenco guitar, I could just about make out what was going on ….. Beautiful young woman marries older, rich owner of large hacienda; shortly after the ceremony in the mansion house, new bride slips away to have it off [or slips off to have it away] with her real love against the fence of the adjacent bullring; sister of new husband emerges from the shadows, denounces the lovers but then collapses into the sand before she can tell the rest of the wedding party; expiring from some unknown fatal illness, she begs the couple for help but is promptly suffocated by the new bride in front of horrified but static lover; the bride then ululates with manufactured grief, bringing everyone else into the bullring; as they mill about in sorrow, a nasty looking cove with a pigtail tells new bride that she would be well advised to pay him not to inform her aristocratic new husband that, apart from being a murderess, she is [worse] the daughter of a famous whore. At this point I had to leave but I would be happy to bet that our heroine’s day got even worse. Possibly one of her legs fell off.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

A demonstration in favour of the Valencian language brought 600,000 people onto the streets of Valencia yesterday. At least, this is the number claimed by the organisers. The city authorities provided the rather lower figure of 30,000. Perhaps the larger total included bystanders and those watching from their windows. Or perhaps it was just a misprint. Anyway, the demonstration was primarily aimed at the Catalan politicians who insist that Valencian is identical to Catalan. Addressing itself to one of the shorter of these, one poster read ‘Carod, you midget, Valencian is our language’. Even so, my guess would be that he could understand the message.

A front-page picture in one of the local papers today featured several smiling hunters and 6 of the 17 not-so-happy foxes shot during Galicia’s annual fox-slaughtering competition. The accompanying text had a good laugh about the ban just introduced on fox-hunting in the UK. But this attitude would, I suspect, pale against Spanish reaction to the account I read in today’s Telegraph of a man arrested and charged with the possession of a Swiss army knife. This was not because he was brandishing it in someone’s direction or taking the scissors out of someone’s back; it had been found in his briefcase during a random check of drivers going past some government building in London. As the violent crime figures in the UK continue to soar, it must be reassuring for London residents to know that the police who can’t do anything about burglaries are not wasting their time on frivolous form-filling. Or not just, anyway.

Talking of insanity – the average amount to be spent on Spanish kids this Christmas is forecast at 200 euros, or 143 quid. Mind you, they do get two bites at the cherry, Christmas Day and the Epiphany [or Feast of the Kings] on 6 January. It used to be one or the other, but you know what kids are. Sorry, parents.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

The already-insufferable 9 year-old who won Junior Eurovision last weekend has her own two-hour spectacular on TV later tonight, at the peak viewing hours of 11pm to 1am. Yes, this really is peak viewing time in Spain. So it’s not surprising that children’s programmes finish at 10pm.

At the post office today, I was denied entry just after 2pm by a security guard who insisted it was closed. I was even denied the opportunity to buy a stamp from the machine just inside the outer door. This sort of ‘jobsworth’ behaviour is rare in Spain and the guard at least had the decency to avert his gaze out of shame for his officiousness. Dear God, I hope this isn’t the first sign of a move towards efficiency.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Here’s the sort of announcement you won’t see in the UK – RENFE, the state railway company, has said that it’s got high-speed trains coming out of its ears and will have to cancel some of the 270 it’s got on order. An embarrassment of riches, it would seem. Perhaps they could lend some to Richard Branson.

One of the presenters on a TV gossip show tonight had a miniature Yorkshire Terrier as a fashion accessory. The dog, needless to say, made a more intelligent contribution than anyone else; it sat on the notes of its owner and refused to budge.

26% of Spanish men are said to regularly avail themselves of the services of a prostitute. A busy woman, then. Of course, this isn’t what the report actually said. With admirable accuracy, it gave the percentage as 25.6%.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

In an aside about Boris Johnson today, El Pais advised its readers that he had been sacked from the Tory front bench for un asunto de faldas. Or a skirt matter. I suspect this expression accords the transgression the degree of importance that most Spaniards feel it deserves.

A full-page ad in the same paper - for a cosmetic surgery company - stressed that Beauty is also something for men. Well, what it literally said is Beauty is also a man’s thing but I felt I couldn’t write that in a family blog .

While largely ignoring what goes on amongst the supporters, the Spanish media can sometimes come across as rather arrogant about the superiority of their football over that of, say, British teams. But who can blame them, some would say, after the performance last week of the English side? Anyway, one report today compared the ‘primitive’ football of Glasgow Celtic last night with the ‘modern’ football of Barcelona. It falls to me to say that the match was tied. And it’s a very long time since the Spanish national team did well in an international competition. Even if they are pretty to watch.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

I see the shares my bank advised me to buy six months ago have almost returned to the price I paid for them. Another year or so of this and I might just be able to recover the charges made by the same bank for buying and ‘managing’ them on my behalf.

I love the ironmonger shops in Pontevedra. Without exception, they are from an earlier age, especially in their layout. But they also operate at the pace of a bygone time. If this is any reflection of the speed at which their tradesmen customers carry out their own activities, can it be any wonder that houses here seem to take at least two years to be built? It is frustrating to wait 15 minutes just to be told that they don’t stock the drive belt for an imported vacuum cleaner but it’s my own fault for being too English. If I were Spanish, I would simply interrupt the laconic conversation and demand a quick answer to a quick question. And no one would mind a bit. One day.

An army troop of 6 men last week staged a mock terrorist attack on a bar in the middle of Madrid. Trouble is, they neglected to tell anyone in advance of their intentions. Inquiries are now being made as to which imbecilic officer thought that this would be a good bit of training for his men. Naturally, he is lying low. Perhaps mock death is also part of the exercise.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Today’s papers report that the 9 year-old Spanish girl who won the Junior Eurovision contest on Saturday is being honoured by her home town in a number of ways, including having a park named after her. Meanwhile, the spoilsport Belgian press are querying the claim that she wrote her raunchy rap number herself. I wonder why. But whether she did or she didn’t, I fear we’re going to be seeing an awful lot more of this staggeringly self-assured and precocious moppet. I, for one, just can’t wait.

Isn’t it a bugger when you think you’ve invented a word and then find you haven’t? I combined ‘groin’ and ‘grinding’ to make ‘groinding’, the favourite shot of Spanish TV directors. And, although this doesn’t appear in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, Google comes up with 22 citations. Ignoring obvious typing mistakes and porn sites which seem to embrace every word ever invented, it appears to mean some sort of material. See this fascinating document – The Influence of Wheel Surface Speed on the Grindability of Groinding Material.

In a recent blog, I cited the latest offerings from La C. d. E. in Vigo as being “boats, limos and … planes”. In the automatic translation commissioned by someone in Spain today this emerged as “los barcos, los limos y … los planos”. I believe I’m right in saying that this is “boats, limos and … flatlands”. An intriguing prospect.

Monday, November 22, 2004

If you’ve been to my web site [colindavies.net], you may recall the picture of Mr. Topless in the photo gallery on the home page. Well, I saw him in town today, living up to his nickname, even though it’s the middle of November and the temperature was around 11 degrees. Quite a sight. And browner than ever. By the way, I think I can reveal here what I felt I couldn’t on my web site; he is said to be a retired pimp. This may interest the increasing number of Spaniards who arrive at this blog having typed ‘c. de e.’ into their search engine. Especially those who’ve had the blog translated by computer and so have some idea of what I’m talking about.

There’s an intriguing spat taking place – courtesy of one of the local papers – between the Dean of Santiago University and the professors of Roman Law there. The latter stand accused of making their exams so hard that pupils are fleeing the university in search of softer options. In their impressive defence, the professors have cited a number of statistics; the one that grabs me by the throat is that the number of years taken to complete the Law course ranges from 6 to 22 years. This is yet another reminder of the indulgence shown by Spanish parents to offspring who either have nil scholastic ability or a desire to sponge in perpetuity. Or both, of course.

There was a report over the weekend that a national police campaign had established that 97% of drivers were found to be complying with the safety belt law. Is it any wonder that the Spanish have difficulty in believing any statistics unless they are given to a [totally specious] three places of decimals?

If any of you are thinking of doing the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, you might like to know that, if you walk all the way from Roncesvalles, it will consume 100,000 kilocalories. The same amount of energy as expended in childbirth, apparently. There’s an image.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Driving across the bridge into town, I usually take Avenida de Colón. This is not, as you might think, Avenue of the Lower Intestine, but Avenue of Columbus. It all depends on the accent. Anyway, although it glories in five lines, these are invariably reduced to just one by legal and illegal parking. So it’s lucky it’s a one-way street. However, as I meandered along it last night, I met a car coming the other way. Happily, the driver had his emergency lights on and in Spain this makes everything perfectly OK. The universal belief is that, paradoxically, the flashing amber lights render the car non-existent.

After an excellent lunch of squid and Albariño today, I polled along to the regular Sunday flea market in Vegetables Square. Possibly because it’s winter, this has gone downhill since my last visit. Always something of a joke, it’s now dominated by gypsies offering the rakings from the house, garden and cow shed of the latest peasant to die in the mountains. Or, quite possibly, his or her rubbish tip. The place was overflowing with items that are not even at risk of being stolen in a billion years, let alone bought.

The precocious 9 year old I wrote about the other day appears to have been Spain’s contestant for, would you believe, Junior Eurovision. In fact, she won it last night. This explains why we were treated this morning to an extra dose of prepubescent groinding on the the TV.

En passant, just one person read my blog yesterday, against 20 or so in each of the previous five days. I considered shooting myself but then discovered that, when you type ‘Galicia Pontevedra’ into Google, you get 450,000 matches, of which the first two are my web page and blog. On such small threads does life hang in the balance. I must get out a bit more.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The police have announced one of their annual campaigns, this time against uninsured motorists. Time to keep these vehicles off the road for a while, then. Meanwhile, there was another depressing accident outside Pontevedra this week. Two young people died when their car hit a retaining wall at the side of the road. It was 4 in the afternoon, the weather was perfect and no other car was involved. Some evidence, one might have thought, that the police should do more to curb the high speeds on Spain’s dangerously bendy motorways.

Over in the UK, house prices may well be cooling, falling even, but here in Spain ‘el bum’ continues; the latest statistic is an annual increase of 17%.

Interesting banner at the big Barcelona-Madrid soccer game tonight. Knowing that few people would understand Catalan and preferring to die rather than put anything in Spanish, the authors had opted for English. It read “Catalunia is not part of Spain”. Which reminds me, it is now official that Catalan and Valencian are the same language. An amusing cartoon in El Pais today featured just a Catalan-Valencian dictionary.

I discovered yesterday that, in one of my blogs, I had written ‘plunging necklaces’ instead of ‘plunging necklines’. The interesting thing is that I also found, via Google, that I was far from being the only person to have made this slip. Well, I thought it was interesting.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Well, a much wider range of comments on the race issue in today’s Spanish press. Most impressively, several senior politicians – possibly aware now of the damage to Madrid’s Olympic ambitions – have expressed the sentiments to be expected of them. And it is even reported this afternoon that the Spanish football authority has finally expressed regret. At the other end of the spectrum, there are commentators who take the view that it didn’t happen; or, if it did, it was provoked by the British media off the field and Rooney on it; and that it was only a joke; and from a small part of the crowd; and the British are racists too, for calling the French ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’; and the orchestrated reaction of British politicians, especially Mr Blair, is a conspiracy to destroy Madrid’s competing bid for the 2012 Olympics. In between these two extremes, there have been some thoughtful columns and letters from people who have clearly grasped the full significance of the affair. One writer touchingly admitted that it had acquainted him with the ugly truth that he was a latent racist. So, perhaps some good will come out of it in the end.

Meanwhile, The Economist has pronounced that Ireland has the best quality of life in the world. Spain comes in at no. 10 but the UK at only 29, behind France at 26 and Germany at 28. I naturally have no difficulty with Spain’s ranking, though I confess to finding it hard to credit that Norway is in the top 3. Difficult to believe that people are queuing to get in, even from Estonia. But I could be very wrong on this.

The UK also fared badly in the EU fraud stakes. According to the Audit Office only a piffling 6% of Britain’s agricultural claims were found to be false in 2003, whereas Italy managed something like 23% and Spain 21%. Some pathetic Scandinavian countries could barely achieve 1%. Unimaginative Calvinists, obviously.

I hope you have all seen the reports of the artificial, computerised cockroach which can imitate the sounds and even the smells of an alpha 1 roach. Armed with this awesome capability, it should be able to lead millions of them over a cliff. Or at least out of your kitchen. The next challenge, they say, is a phoney chicken which prevents the panics to which they are prone when locked up with no space to move. What a piece of work is man!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Different cultures, different perceptions. Some observations on the clash last night between England and Spain:-

While the UK media regard the main issue as the racism displayed both before and during the game - by the trainer and the crowd respectively - this is a non-issue for 90% of their Spanish counterparts. The main take for them was the abject performance of the England team and the clear superiority of the Spanish eleven. The main subordinate issue was the madness of Rooney. Indeed, one paper went so far as to award the highest performance marks to the English trainer for taking Rooney off before he self-combusted.

One reason for this dichotomy is that the [rather more serious] Spanish media despise the UK tabloid press and regard any issue of importance to them as ‘sensationalist’. Their gut instinct is to reject it out of hand. One feels some sympathy for this, generally speaking.

Another, rather more serious, reason is that Spain appears to be now where the UK was about 30 years ago in terms of attitude to racial taunts and empathy with their effect. Here, a very acceptable defence to any suggestion of insult runs along the lines of – “It was all in good humour. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Don’t get upset….. Now you’re being hypersensitive and obsessive”. This helps to explain why both the Spanish trainer and the local media can’t understand why anyone reacted to him calling Henry “a shit of a nigger’. And why they were even more nonplussed about the entire UK media dismissing him as beyond the pale for later saying ‘I have black players round to dinner. They tell me there is racism in the UK whereas there is none here. And I know how the British treated people in their colonies.” As far as almost everyone in Spain is concerned, it was more than enough for him to say “Hey, it was all a bit of joke about Henry, to motivate my players. Let’s forget about it”. So, to keep on asking him questions smacks of a vicious witch hunt.

With the honourable exception of the left-of-centre El Pais, none of the national or local papers reported or commented on the disgraceful monkey-chanting of last night’s match. However, all the papers did report that the UK Football Association had formally complained to the international football authorities about the same thing at the previous night’s match between the junior teams. This was too much for both the ‘Presidents’ of the two stadiums, each of whom denied that there had been any racist chanting at all. Maybe they will change their mind when they listen to the soundtrack of the games. Or perhaps their lawyers have told them that making monkey grunts every time a black player touches the ball doesn’t technically qualify as racist chanting, unless a monkey is the claimant.

To bring this sad blog to a close, perhaps the wisest thing said about the affair was that both the dire quality of English football and the appalling behaviour of the Spanish fans should ensure that it will be a long, long time before they play each other in another ‘friendly’ match.

And for such small mercies, O Lord, we are eternally grateful. Whichever country you come from, it was truly a night of shame. How ironic that this is a tabloid cliché.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

It’s getting worse. At least 4 of the 25 hits to my blog today have been searches for information on the La C. d. E. in Vigo. Mind you, this does leave 21 which weren’t.

A mayor of one of the Galician municipalities near La Coruña has upset the Israeli Ambassador to Spain by using the town’s electric notice boards to label Sharon a beast and a Nazi. Rather more provocative [though less inane], I suppose, than putting up signs declaring that ‘Manchester is now a nuclear-free zone’. The Israeli ambassador, the mayor claims, has called him to say, in effect, ‘We know where you live’. if I were him, I’d pull the plug on the boards PDQ, before he finds one of them in his bath.

Of longer lasting significance, perhaps - a Valencian woman has won her case in the Human Rights court in Strasbourg against a council which declined to do anything about the appalling levels of ‘night time economy’ noise between 3 and 8am at weekends. Is this the beginning of the end for noise pollution in Spain? Probably not.

The trainer of the Spanish national football team has again dipped his toe – or possibly rather more – into the turbulent pool of race relations. He is now reported to have commented on the ‘colonial history’ of the English team. After the pure sophistry of his last efforts at defence, I am keen to see how he justifies his latest gratuitous comment.

Late night note: After the truly appalling performance of the England soccer team in Madrid tonight, I am consoled by the fact that I only have to wait another 6 years to take out Spanish nationality. That said, despite the woeful inadequacy of their witless and skill-deficient opponents, Spain only managed to score one goal. But this might just be because most of them had had their ankles broken in the first half.

And here’s something I never thought I would say – Thank God my team, Everton, got shut of Wayne Rooney before he self-destructs. When they say that he has his brains in his feet, they really mean it. Though 'toes' might be even more accurate.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Just when you think you’ve seen everything on Spanish TV along comes Junior Pop Idol. The couple of minutes I could bear to watch of this featured a nine-year old girl groinding ferociously in imitation of Britney Spears and her ilk, supported by several other pre-pubescent poppets also dressed as jail bait. A veritable field day for paedophiles, I would have thought. It was a relief to get back to the news and the pictures of carbonated bodies and blood pools in the streets of Falujah. Excruciating junior talent shows we have had before but nothing to match this in its dreadfulness.

The travails of Boris Johnson have been reported in the Spanish press, though I feel it was probably going a little too far to label him the new Winston Churchill, apparently on the grounds that he is a politician who can write a bit. On this basis, the famous tub of lard could have been the previous new Winston Churchill. His name will come back to me in a minute. It should; I helped him to jump start his car outside the House of Commons one night. Roy Hattersley, that’s it.

If you don’t like Bonnie Taylor belting out ‘Total eclipse of the heart’, don’t emigrate to Spain. Or keep the radio off, if you do. Or Kiss FM, at least.

Monday, November 15, 2004

The political arm of ETA, Batasuna, has called on the Spanish and French governments to ‘negotiate demilitarisation’ with representatives of the terrorist group. Given the possibly fatal damage recently inflicted on ETA, one can’t help wondering whether Batasuna isn’t showing signs of desperation here. Incidentally, no one is really sure whether this organisation is illegal. As Spain has a Constitutional Court, the government’s decree to this effect is being appealed. And then there’s always The Hague, if that goes the wrong way. Funny how such organisations appreciate legal processes when it suits them.

The Language Wars: The Catalunian government has now said they will freeze the state’s Budget process unless a central government minister pronounces that Valencian doesn’t exist and is only a variant of Catalan. Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice.

Today I came across an internet company called Websidestory Research Co. Brought a smile to my face at least. Which reminds me … While I’m delighted to be able to report that the daily hits to my blog continue to rise, I’m a little chastened by the fact that 3 or 4 a week arise from someone in Spain putting ‘c. de e. vigo’* into their search engine. As this is a brothel, God only knows what they make of the fact that this brings up my blog as the no. I item.

Nice to see a eulogy to Emlyn Hughes in one of the papers yesterday. Though I was a bit confused by the by-line of Walter Oppenheimer. I thought he was a US political columnist, not a soccer commentator.

* I've now abbreviated this so as to avoid my blog being cited to those seeking information about the institution in question.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Don’t you just love the destruction of the English language by PR ‘spokespeople’ and spin doctors? In a news item today, some joker from the booze industry described bouncers as ‘door supervisors’. And what some of us would call the ‘nightlife’ [or even ‘binge drinking’] he termed ‘the night-time economy’. Makes it all very harmless and beneficial, doesn’t it? Though not, I suppose, for those who’ve been punched in the face by a tired and emotional ‘contributor to the night-time economy’. Or ‘drunken slob’ as we used to call them.

Gibraltar has decided to follow the example of Catalunia and seek separate ‘national’ status in the world federation of ‘hockey on skates’, whatever that is. Needless to say, this has sent the Spanish government into a paroxysm of fury as it is already trying to get the Catalunia decision rversed. If this process of separate identification continues - as it surely will - within a hundred years every little hamlet in Europe will be a satrapy of Rome. Sorry, Brussels.

After a few years’ experience now, I’ve concluded that most Spanish companies take the view that you’re important until you’ve been bribed to become a customer and then don’t care a fig how much they annoy you after that. The latest example of this is the difficulty faced in changing broadband providers. As with getting rid of your leased phone, you are presented with an obstacle course which will exhaust you both mentally and financially. In the worst case, you're left without any service at all for 6 months. I don’t suppose Spain is the only country in the world where suppliers lock you in and then rely on sloth and inertia to keep you, however hacked off you are; but they’re assisted here by the fact that consumer advice bodies are, as yet, poorly developed. And newspapers don’t go in for such things as comparing the tariffs of all the mobile phone companies and warning you of the hidden – and possibly illegal – charges. By the time you’ve been hit with these, it’s a tad too late. I’m not, of course, suggesting that British or American companies are virtuous by nature; but in the never-ending battle between supplier and consumer, they do have fewer cards stacked in their favour.

And finally, a plea for help. An advert in El Mundo today for a Smartcar tells me that it is a ‘forfour’ and that it has ‘fliping’ with this feature. I guess that ‘forfour’ means ‘4x4’ and is favoured because it’s both English [almost] and snappier than ‘todotereno’. But I’ve no idea what ‘fliping’ might be. Any experts out there?


Saturday, November 13, 2004

I take back what I said recently about Christmas not arriving until December in Spain. I ventured into some shops today and found it had already arrived in all of them. Worse, the town idiot – clearly being ‘cared for in the community’ – has taken to wearing his Santa Claus hat.

I see someone’s taken the trouble to have my blogs automatically translated into Spanish by Google’s computer. I’m touched. Mind you, the translation leaves something to be desired. It’s not only Word’s spellcheck that has difficulty with curmudgeonly.

One of the best bits of news about Spain in 2004 is that the threat from the Basque terrorist group, ETA, appears to have been reduced to almost zero. The main reason is that, since the New York tragedy of 9/11, France has destroyed the bases from which ETA operated across the border. This raises two questions – 1. Why did it take France 40 years or so to do this? and 2. Why did the Irish government never get round to it with the IRA? So much for partnership within the EU.

And here’s another question – What is it about the British flag that persuades young people to wear clothes composed partially or even totally of it. Ignorance?

Friday, November 12, 2004

There was much wringing of hands this week over a UNESCO report on education which placed Spain 26th in the world, at the same level as Hungary and Trinidad & Tobago. The point was stressed that only a couple of other countries in Europe were lower in the rankings. Maybe so but, after several readings, I couldn’t find either France or Germany in the list of the top 30 reproduced in El Mundo. The UK was 13th, by the way. From memory, the top three were Norway, Denmark and South Korea. And Holland was up there with them.

The Language Wars: The government of Catalunia has published a bill under which people in Catalunia would have a ‘right’ to speak Catalan and a ‘duty’ to understand both Spanish and Catalan. This is rather like the Welsh parliament demanding that everyone in Wales learn Welsh. Rather disingenuously, they say that no one will be compelled to actually speak Catalan. Maybe not but non-Catalan Spaniards already complain that the locals refuse to talk to them in Spanish and this development will undoubtedly help to justify such bloody-mindedness. And the example will surely be followed – in the fullness of time - in both the Basque country and Galicia

I wrote yesterday that my favourite café had a ‘non-smoking zone’. As you will all have appreciated, this should have been ‘no-smoking’. Zones, by and large, neither smoke nor refrain from it. Which reminds me, the government here has today announced an intention to ban smoking in ‘closed places’. This should be interesting.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that Spanish web sites are less than consumer friendly, possibly being designed by a relative of the Chief Executive who's just failed his degree in IT. The literature provided by my medical insurance company tells me I can get details of contracted doctors on their web page. After 15 minutes of trying to achieve this today, I gave up and called the [inevitably] premium rate phone line. Then I wrote them a letter asking exactly how I could access this info on their web page. Me and my mix of cynicism and optimism! If they reply, I will buy you all a drink.

I knew it was too good to last. I go two or three times a week to a café which is uncharacteristically calm and quiet. No TV, a separate non-smoking zone and 30’s décor. A real oasis. It is patronised, naturally enough, by ageing singletons who read the papers and duos who enjoy quiet conversation. But now it has been discovered by a group of young women with screaming toddlers and crying babies, all of whom have to be shouted over by indulgent mothers who are unacquainted with the words ‘Be quiet, you brats. You are disturbing others’. And who clearly regard the place as a marvellous playground for their unsupervised infants. It all reminds me of one of my brother’s favourite sayings – ‘It’s amazing what you see when you don’t have your rifle with you’. Or machine gun, in this case.

I do hope you have found today’s blog adequately curmudgeonly.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

If you’ve read any Shakespeare, you might recall that ‘an uncle’ used to be ‘a nuncle’. But did you know that ‘an orange’ used to be ‘a norange’? This process is called metathesis, it says here. The original Arabic word also gave us ‘naranja’ in Spanish. Not just a pretty face, this blog.

The Royal Academy of the Spanish Language has been criticised for being andocentric and macho. This seems fair on the basis of examples such as this one: ‘Orphan’ – Someone who has lost both or one of their parents, especially the father.

I don’t usually cite strange film title translations any more but this one caught my fancy tonight:- County Dance ………. Not All Love is Beautiful
Beats me.

There was a report in yesterday’s papers about a couple arrested for leaving two kids in their car when they went off to a bar. This sort of things happens in other countries as well, of course. But I did like the very Spanish aspect of this particular incidence; the parents left the car parked on a zebra crossing. Talk about cocking a snook. Or snoot, as it’s apparently become in the USA. No wonder Word’s spellcheck doesn’t recognise it.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

I touched in my last blog on the pragmatic approach of the Spanish police. Right on cue, I read today that there is a massive shanty town on the edge of Madrid which houses - if that is the right word - drug addicts from all over the country. Only two organisations go in and out safely, a specialist charity and the police. The activities on the site are surely illegal but the place is government-approved as ‘part of a campaign to confine hard-drug activity to a remote region out of the way’. Exile, if you like.

I also read an article which questioned whether old-fashioned corruption wasn’t preferable to the ‘corruption of our very souls by managerialism that is turning Britain into a very corrupt little country indeed’. According to the writer, the latter is not only compatible with inefficiency, inertia and incompetence but actually promotes them. Whereas, it can be argued, straightforward financial corruption might actually contribute to human good, such as the building of a new road, or the pedestrianisation of a city centre. Especially where there is over-regulation. Something in this, I fear.

Here in Spain, children – and, indeed, adults – receive presents both on their birthday and on their saint’s day. Their saint, of course, is the one whose name they bear. We are commonly told that only 25 or 30% of Catholics attend Mass each week but I would guess that 100% of the faithful – young and old – still adhere to this tradition. As a lapsed Catholic, I feel entitled to weigh up its merits.

I have commented occasionally on the bizarre obituaries that make it into the pages of the major newspapers here. Today it was the turn of Vaughan Meader, who shot to fame in the sixties on the back of his ability to impersonate the voices of both Jack and Robert Kennedy. Fascinating. Actually, I might have misspelled both his first and last names. But who would know?

Sunday, November 07, 2004

I’ve noted a couple of times that the Spanish are very informal except when they have to be very formal. This is true even of funerals. There was a photo of one in Vigo this week at which one of the young female mourners was dressed in an off-the-shoulder white pullover. But at least the all-too-visible straps of her bra were appropriately black.

There is a sign in the forest behind my house that the tracks are forbidden to unauthorised vehicles. I doubt the car I saw there this morning fell into this category, especially as it was pulling a trailer with two moto-cross bikes on it. As the woods provide refuge for all sorts of car occupants – from drug addicts needing a fix to lovers needing a fire-hose – I wasn’t too surprised to see these vehicles. But I was taken aback to see two members of the Guardia Civil – also on motorbikes – sail right past them. One can take opposing views of such a dereliction of duty - The principled Anglo view that the police should enforce every law that comes out of London or Brussels, however daft. Or the more pragmatic Spanish view that this would prevent the police concentrating on the most important crimes. I tend towards the latter stance, whilst wishing that the local police would do a lot more to stop drunken young people killing themselves – and sometimes others – between 3 and 8am of a Saturday morning.

Hits to my blog scaled new heights this last week but you have all clearly gone away for the weekend again. My nose, though, is still close to the grindstone. Given its size, this is probably the best place for it.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

For the match in La Coruña on Wednesday night, Andrew had bought the tickets over the internet. He had been disappointed to hear that they were fifteen rows apart but had been told not to worry as no one respected the seat numbers. This turned out to be quite true, one significant reason being that all the numbers had worn off the backs of the seats. Just as well, really, as one of the nominal seats was at the very top of the stadium, behind a duct. From this eyrie, the only thing visible was the goal line at one end of the stadium. A snip at 50 euros.

In one of his blogs this week, Manoel touched on British cleanliness. This is because he knows that the Spanish regard my compatriots as rather dirty and he was looking for an explanation. He concluded that, as life in the UK is so much more frenetic, people just don’t have the time for housekeeping. Another reason is that fewer woman go out to work in Spain. Finally, many – if not most – Spanish middle class families can afford to employ a full time maid. As the supermarket notice boards are plastered with notices seeking such work, wages are not high. But I guess it’s different in Madrid.

Tower of Babel: An editorial in today’s El Pais pointed out that no one would expect Mexico or Chile to differentiate their language from Spanish at the UN and asked why Catalan and Valencian had to be differentiated from Spanish at the EU, especially as they are identical. Quite rightly, it pointed out that this madness could only weaken the acceptance of Spanish in the Community. Incidentally, the discussion of this subject has thrown up the fact that, in addition to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language, each of several Autonomous Communities has its own counterpart. Needless to say, Catalunia and Valencia have one each, even though their tongues are identical. As does Galicia. Thank God there won’t now be an Academy of Geordie.

Friday, November 05, 2004

I’m not really a cat person. And neither is Ryan, my border collie. Which makes it all the more surprising that we've been adopted by a kitten which hid in the engine compartment of my car and then cried the street down. One reason for my antipathy to felines is that I’m allergic to them. But in this case, the tables seem to have been turned, as the kitten goes in for a lot of sneezing. Either that or she has a cold.


By the time a Spanish woman gets to be a grandmother, she’s had a lot of practice at getting her voice heard above the competition. The two basic rules for this are 1. speak at the same time as everyone else, and 2. be louder. So, you can imagine what it’s like when 5 or 6 of these harridans get together, after Mass on Sunday for example. I doubt that Attila and his hordes made much more noise as they rampaged across Asia. The best of them can actually read the café’s free newspapers while they are bawling their banal thoughts. This all goes down well with me, of course.


The Tower of Babel: The Spanish government has sent two identical Catalan translations of the European Constitution to Brussels. One is from the government of Catalunia and the other from the government of Valencia, down the east coast. The purpose of this nonsense, I suppose, is to ensure recognition of separate identities. It’s as if North Wales and South Wales sent identical translations in Welsh. How satisfying, then, to read today that the people of North East England have roundly rejected the opportunity to set out on this crazy road by having a huge ‘regional assembly’. Perhaps they took stock of what has happened nearby in Scotland since they got their own parliament.


Thursday, November 04, 2004

One of the members of the last Socialist government jailed for fraud is called Colorado. As this can mean ‘blushing’ in Spanish, this seems only too appropriate.

Talking of meanings….. The wedding ceremony response ‘I do’ translates into Spanish as ‘Si, quiero’. This also means ‘I love’ and ‘I want’. And possibly a few other things as well. This must make Spanish one of the easiest languages in the world for a man to lie in when he is being asked to give an assurance that he loves the women he is trying to get into bed. ‘Do you love me? ‘Yes, of course I want you’. Theoretically speaking, of course.

Mr Fraga has now advised that Madrid’s preferred candidate as his successor will stay in his job but warned that he can’t guarantee this situation for the long term. Like beyond next week, I suppose. Meanwhile, one of the barons of the Clan of the Beret has been made Campaign Organiser for the 2005 elections. I think we can begin to detect a pattern forming here. So much for dignity. Unless this means ‘expediency’ in Spanish.

99.5% of applications for firearms in Pontevedra were approved last year. These included 411 people who said they wanted them for personal defence, compared with 5,400 who cited hunting purposes. These figures would be inconceivable in today’s UK, especially the former, as no one is allowed to go in for self defence with a pencil, never mind a rifle. Yet, strangely, gun crime is unknown in Pontevedra, whereas it’s rising rapidly in the UK.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

It seems that only 1.5% of Spanish men take up their right to paternity leave. Or 1.52%, to be speciously more accurate. This may be because it is not called ‘paternity leave’. Men here are only given the right to a part of their wives’ maternity leave. Not a good idea in a macho country. At least not if you want the men to take the leave. But a brilliant idea if you’d rather they didn’t.

Yesterday’s development in the Galician political imbroglio was a lighting trip from Madrid by the president of the PP part to have a short but ‘excellent’ meeting with Mr Fraga. As a result of this, there has been a stay of execution for Madrid’s preferred successor to Fraga. Madrid takes the position, we are told, that it would be better to run the risk of losing the next regional elections than forfeit national dignity. What dignity would this be, I wonder. Apart from an answer to this, we now await the counter response of the rural barons. Or the ‘clan of the beret’, as they are called, to emphasise their peasant origins and powerbase. And this is by colleagues in the same party.


I went to a football match in La Coruña tonight, to see Liverpool play Deportivo. Although I went with Andrew, who is a Liverpool supporter, I wore my blue and white Everton scarf. This was to both annoy Andrew and to show solidarity with Deportivo, who sport the same colours. Treading our way carefully through the happy band of Liverpool fans near the ground, it wasn’t long before I was given my first friendly Scouser greeting. “Hey, you fucking twat” were, I think, the exact words. Oh, how I miss the Liverpool wit and repartee of my youth.


Tuesday, November 02, 2004

You might want to o’erleap this short primer on one aspect of Spanish politics…. Until the 20th century, it was normal for seekers of government office to rely on local political barons to garner votes in any way possible. These were called caciques. And the system, naturally enough, caciquismo. It’s supposed to have died out decades ago but up here in Galicia the reports of its death appear to have been much exaggerated. Our friend Mr Fraga now finds himself between the rock of two such local barons and the hard place of his party’s leaders in Madrid. The former have emerged from the long grass since Fraga’s frailty became undeniable and are now positioning themselves for the succession. In this, they’re assisted by the fact that they control the rural vote that keeps Fraga’s party in power. Being a consummate politician of some 50 years standing, Mr Fraga is about to ruthlessly sacrifice his Madrid-anointed successor in order to keep them on board and to prevent an election-losing local schism. As one commentator put it over the weekend, it is like living in the 19th century, especially as one of the barons was ousted from power only 2 years ago for dodgy business practices connected with the clean-up of the oil from the Prestige tanker. Understandably, the people in Madrid are not at all happy with this local farce as it’s doing little for their image as a modern, progressive party, quite different from the corrupt Socialists. One irony in all this is that the leader of the PP, Mr Rajoy, hails from Galicia so must know a thing or two about the local personalities and their way of doing things. He professes support for Fraga on every conceivable occasion but I suspect he's praying for a fatal heart attack or stroke. Anything less than this would surely leave Fraga still in control of the reins and the reputation of the national party. On horseback, of course.

What next in Catalunia Section: The government of Catalunia has joined forces with those of Aragón, the Balearic Islands and two provinces in southern France to form the Euro-Region of The Mediterranean Pyrenees. Their sole purpose is to lobby Brussels for more money for local development. Of course.

There is enormous coverage of the US elections in the Spanish papers. This reflects the fact that all national journals here are still very heavyweight. Very middle-class oriented, it has been said. As a result, journalism in Spain ranks amongst the top professions, something which would surely be greeted with incredulity [and envy] by both British and, I suspect, American hacks. I seem to recall that, in the UK, journalists now rank just ahead of estate agents. Or was it just behind?

As I have a counter on this blog page, I can check the number of hits I get each day and also, to some extent, their provenance. Sadly, I do. One of the more fascinating aspects [honest!] is the information about how people have arrived at my blog by using a search engine. So, in the last few days, I have been ‘hit’ by people looking for information on ‘superwomans details’, the ‘C. de E. in Vigo’ and ‘roadside brothels’. Regular readers will know that La C. de E. is [according to its ads] Vigo’s premier brothel. Is it the same person in each case, I ask myself.

Monday, November 01, 2004

I collected just 300ml of rainwater on Saturday night [one mugful] but the weather has been stunningly sunny since then. And the tap water is still brown. Perhaps something will be done tomorrow, when consideration turns from the dead back to the living.

The new Socialist President, Mr Zapatero, has been presented with a ‘nice’ problem by the last one, Mr Felipe González. The latter, along with several other big hitters from the previous Socialist administration, have demanded a pardon for a Secretary of State Security jailed for mis-administering millions of Euros meant for anti-terrorist measures. Perhaps reflecting the times we live in, a survey in today’s El Mundo suggests that 52% of the population are against this, with only 19% in favour. More interestingly, 43% of those polled believe that Mr Gonzalez and his friends also had their hands in the till. If you want an almost-instant view of corruption in Spain, here it is – There is a lot of it around and everyone expects politicians, in particular, to be dishonest. But, as with parking offences down at the street level, the majority view is that, if you get caught, you should accept your punishment with grace and as much ‘nobility’ as you can muster. Unless you have well-placed family or friends.

Common sense over Gibraltar appears to be breaking out all over the place. Today’s El Pais welcomes the new conciliatory approach of the Spanish government, whilst continuing to see a British colony in Europe as an unacceptable anomaly. Naturally, it makes no mention of Spain’s two North African [“non”]colonies. Going one better, a columnist in the Voz de Galicia suggests that this is the first sensible thing done by a Spanish government vis-à-vis Gibraltar in several decades. He, too, has obviously been reading my blog.

Incidentally, after the low of a week or so ago, the hits to my blog have recently rocketed into the stratosphere. Well, relatively speaking. So, thanks to all of you out there. Eat your heart out, Manoel.

Strange happenings in my café today. One of the waitresses confided in me that – to my not very great surprise – most of the customers showed little consideration towards her. Especially the women. In fact, she suggested that they treated her like muck – or words to that effect. She then labelled them as snobs, badly educated and fascist. Any one of these is pretty bad in Spain but the combination speaks volumes for her state of mind. ‘Badly educated’, by the way, doesn’t actually mean what it seems to mean. In this case, the Spanish are using the word in its original Latin connotation of ‘brought up’. So it means ‘ill-mannered’. Needless to say, when she added, in a final flourish, that Spanish people as a whole are terribly inconsiderate of others, I had difficulty in restraining myself from citing more than just one of my own examples. At least her eyes, unlike those of my dear daughters, didn’t instantaneously glaze over. Maybe next time.

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