Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Spanish government professes to be very annoyed by events in Gibraltar. If he is to be believed, the new President - Mr Zapatero – has not been irritated by anything in his first few months in office to match the ‘triple insult’ of sending Princess Anne, a nuclear submarine and the Secretary of Defence to participate in the celebrations around the 300th anniversary of the taking of the Rock by Britain. It’s very hard – nay, impossible – to convince anyone Spanish that the UK Foreign Office has been trying for decades to get rid of Gibraltar and that British governments of any stamp would be only too pleased to see the back of it. What is required is not so much quiet as silent diplomacy. The mistake Spain makes – and will go on making – is to mark its annoyance with some futile gesture - such as temporarily closing the border - which allows the scabrous UK tabloid press to bring out the mob under the banner of patriotism. That’s a lot of voters for any Prime Minister to worry about. Can’t see things changing for decades, myself. Spanish voters demand provocative actions and UK voters demand insulting responses.

Another very Spanish tale - The owner of my favourite tapas bar joined me as I sat reading my paper last Sunday and invited himself not only for a drink but also for [another] meal at my house. We agreed on tomorrow. Except, of course, we didn’t, as this left 7 days for him to either just forget about the arrangement or to reject it for something better. I called into the bar tonight – just after buying food for an indeterminate number of people – and asked him how many might be coming for either lunch or dinner. He will call me when he knows how things stand after the arrival of his cousin from Mexico. But at least I know it won’t be lunch, though this means that the state of uncertainly will last all day. And even up to the meal itself if they do decide to come but neglect to tell me how many. Not that I would believe any forecast, of course. Así son las cosas en España. One way or another some of us will have a good night. Which reminds me, does anyone know where I can get hold of a Caja China in Spain?

Friday, July 30, 2004

Summer has brought to Pontevedra both more British tourists and more beggars than I can recall from previous years. The most impressively organised of the latter are the gangs of Rumanian women who sidle up with a child in arms, whining that they have several children and no money with which to buy milk for them. Given that the women are invariably well-dressed, amply-fed and carrying babies who are at least plump, it is hard to credit that anyone could believe this rubbish. But some must as it is clearly a profitable business. And well-managed, too. For this year the gang bosses have recruited a far younger and prettier crew than ever before. And, if I and my web site are to blame for some of the Brits, it seems that the Spanish king is responsible for bringing the Rumanians here in droves. During a recent state visit, he positively implored them to come to Spain now that they are fellow members of the EC. Though I doubt that he really meant as mendicants.

Thanks to the Spanish press, I am now aware of what Faria Alam looks like. Although she has been a constant in Sky News headlines for the past few days, we have yet to be shown even her face. Perhaps because of some sort of injunction. For my 3 readers in the USA – and for Brits living in a cave – this is the woman who is said to have slept not just with the Chief Executive of the English Football Association but also with the England Coach. The knives are now out for the latter but not really because of this [latest] dalliance. Given that he negotiated a new contract just before England’s poor showing in the recent European Cup, this is the only way they can get rid of him for his questionable strategy and tactics in Portugal. On the field, I mean. Perfidious Albion.

Talking of the Spanish press, there was a report last week of a tractor killing its 75 year old driver when it suddenly overturned. The accompanying picture was a classic of Spanish journalism. It showed us the tractor on its side but with a caption stressing that the body was hidden underneath it. The subtext was clearly – “Sorry we can’t show you the plastered body but it’s because the tractor’s on top of it. So here’ a picture of the bloody tractor. Use your imagination.” But no such imagination was needed today, in the case of the picture of the latest Palestinian assassinated by the Israelis. Nothing blocked the sight of him lying in a pool of blood on a mortuary tray specially pulled out of a storage unit for the photo shoot.

Following on from the rear-emblazoned GLADLY I mentioned a few days ago, I have today seen WHY NOT? on someone’s back. This has stimulated a resolution on my part. For your benefit, I am going to conduct a survey of odd English phrases on the T-shirts of the young women of Pontevedra. This could well turn out to be one of my better ideas.

Competition time. Big cash prizes. To what question is the answer – “No, I’m just conducting a survey”.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

I had an argument with my friend and fellow blogger, Manoel, yesterday, after I had accused him of being too harsh in including ‘cheating’ as a defining trait of the Spanish. All Spaniards lied on every conceivable occasion, he insisted. But, as all Spaniards knew from birth that no one was telling them the truth, it didn’t really matter. ‘We all know the rules’ he explained. Cynic as I am, I found this unconvincing but today my daughter, Faye, had a conversation with one of her pupils about the ‘clocking’ of car trip meters. It turns out that there was something of a scandal recently when importers of German cars were found to have been turning the clocks back by many thousands of kilometres. This had irritated the country’s Mercedes dealers as it was seen as damaging to the image of the company in Spain. ‘So the Mercedes dealers don’t do this at all?’ said Faye. ‘Oh, yes, of course they do’ was the reply. ‘But only to the reasonable extent that everyone would assume they have.’ Manoel 1: Colin 0

Or to put this in Spanish - Manoel 0: Colin 1


It was “Grandparents’ Day” in Spain earlier this week. Or here in Galicia at least. The evergreen President of the Galician Government, Mr Fraga [a mere 82], took the opportunity to urge grandparents to instruct their children to have more kids. He then pointed the finger at his own daughter – also a member of the local government, I believe – for not having made him a great grandfather. Perhaps he should give her some pre-maternity leave. Mr Fraga, by the way, is the last surviving ministerial relic of the Franco era. They love him in the hills of Galicia and he talks confidently of seeking another term at the next elections in 4 years’ time. Can it be any wonder that the rest of Spain regards Galicia as a tad backward. But with great seafood and wonderful beaches, so who cares.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

We have a young Saharan boy, Brahim, spending the summer with some of our neighbours. He cycles up and down the road, looking a bit bored. So I wasn’t surprised when he started to chat to me yesterday about my dog and then joined us for a walk in the forest. I know I go on about this but it is one of the greatest things about Spain that kids still venture onto the street and have no qualms about chatting to strangers. Even more satisfying is knowing I won’t be questioned by the police for daring to respond to his questions nor appear on a register of potential sex offenders. I exaggerate, of course, but it is certainly true that I would have cut the conversation short in the UK and would have broken out into a sweat at the thought of Brahim coming into a forest with us.


Another immensely enjoyable experience this week-end was attending one of the numerous local fiestas and watching couples of every age dancing [sort of] in the open air. Plus the inevitable village idiot, dancing alone with his arms wrapped round himself. There’s always one up at the front, near the band.


I see that the leading Spanish bank [SCH] is planning to take over the Abbey National in the UK. This should be a tremendous culture shock for both of them. I can’t see standard ‘Spanish practices’ going down well with UK customers so I hope things move in the opposite direction. If so, I’ll have an even greater incentive to move from the BBVA, who are currently where the Midland was about 30 years ago - before US competition drastically changed the UK banking world for the better.


I took some oat flakes back to the health shop today because they were full of insects. The guy was very nice but gave me two excuses:- 1. The weather has been warm. Without this I guess one would have only eggs rather than live creatures, and 2. The oats were grown organically so no insecticides were used. Perhaps so but I think vegetarians need to know that their muesli might contain animal protein as a result. Be all that as it may, I got my money back and went elsewhere.



Los boxes – The pits, as in Formula 1 motor racing

Gay – Homosexual. Pretty obvious but the interesting thing is the pluralisation. So ‘homosexual marriages’ becomes ‘matrimonios gays’.


FilmWatch: Or Lost in Translation

Stir of Echoes -> The Last Step

Chain of Fools -> Chain of Entanglements

Monday, July 26, 2004

Summer is rigidly official here. It starts on 23 June and ends on 31 August. During this period, many businesses shift to different hours. By and large, these seem to be set for the benefit of the providers rather than the customers. So, for example, my daughter’s gym has reduced its availability by 5 hours a day, making it impossible for her to use it. So she was doubly miffed to see a large sign saying ‘Enjoy our summer hours’. The sub-text, we concluded was ‘By spending more time on the beach and less working out’.

Another thing that happens in summer is that the miniscule amount of time devoted to serious TV evaporates with the sun. The kids being off school, all the early morning discussion programmes are all replaced by cartoons, films, American teenage series and endless adverts. All dubbed by the same two women and three men, regardless of the ages and roles of the actors.

If you are thinking of living in Spain, you should know that there is a good reason why Spain is considered the noisiest country in at least Europe. Apart from being ‘individualistic’, the Spanish - unlike their Portuguese neighbours – appear to have no concept of loud noise. For the most part, confined as it is to bars and restaurants, this isn’t really a problem but noisy neighbours are never fun. We have some – The Cacophonous Catalans – who seem to think they have an obligation to generate sound. This they have installed a swimming pool in their garden and this year’s speciality is 3 to 4 kids screaming in said pool, while the father sits at the side regularly shouting at them and their dog – would you believe an Old English Sheepdog – runs round the pool barking non-stop. You will not be surprised to hear that the rest of our neighbours are less than mortified that this family has forsaken the community pool for their own version. My poor daughter – who is writing her first novel – is nearly witless and is coming up with increasingly outrageous schemes to curtail the din. Watch this space. Meanwhile, suggestions welcome to

Sunday, July 25, 2004

You may have missed the media reports but the Celtic Nautical Games are being held along our coast this week. Participants include Wales, Ireland, Galicia, Brittany, North Portugal and those international maritime giants, Cornwall and the Isle of Man. In addition, invitations have been extended to honorary Celts from Cantabria, the Basque country and the Canary Islands. The big event, apparently, is Painting Your Face Red And Swimming Away from Italians Pretending to be Murderous Invading Romans.

Sipping my coffee in town this morning, I was passed by a young lady whose rear – ample by Pontevedra standards – had the word GLADLY emblazoned on it in large letters. One can’t help wondering why.

Typical Spanish evening at my house tonight. The people who said they wanted to be there by 7.30 arrived at 8.30; the people who assured me they'd be there by 8.30 [because the others were arriving at 7.30] arrived at 9.40; and the additional guest whom the first people asked me if they could bring decided that she was happier staying on the beach and never arrived at all. Also typically Spanish in that, despite everything, we had a great evening. No way to run a business but a great way to run a country.

FilmWatch: Or Lost in Translation
The Naked Spur -> Colorado Jim

Saturday, July 24, 2004

You’ll recall that two days ago the Spanish government identified ‘Driver distraction’ as one of the main causes of the country’s high road accident statistics. Yesterday they announced a new measure aimed at reducing the daily toll - large electronic signs at the side of the road for drivers to peruse as they pass. These will say things like:-








Sky News told us last night that 87 per cent of Brits think the streets are less safe this year than last. They’re probably most frightened by the sight of police men and women dressed as characters from a Sci-Fi film. There’s only one thing more frightening than seeing police like this on our street – never seeing any police at all in your ‘Crimewatch’ neighbourhood.


Talking of cars - as of this week, it’s illegal here to have children under 3 in them unless they are in a special seat. The fines are heavy. That should do the trick. Meanwhile, though, I shall count the number of seat-less toddlers over the next week, just to assure myself that this is not just another rule for the Spanish to treat with consummate disdain.


Dogs in Spain – or Galicia at least – are often very small and extremely ugly, more like overgrown rats than descendants of the wolf. I saw two such males squaring up to each other in the street last night, shoulder to shoulder, teeth barred and muscles straining. They looked like a couple of angry hamsters on steroids.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

I love ironmongers shops in Spain. They are just like shops used to be. Some of them have their smaller wares arrayed in tall rows of wooden boxes behind the counter, rather like a Chinese pharmacy. And they will sell you just a single screw, if that is all you want. Mind you, you need plenty of time to shop there. Not only are they Dickensian in appearance but also in operation. They eschew computers [or even typewriters] and write down all your purchases in longhand – looking up each product reference as they go. If the person in front of you has had a shipping order, God help you.
Given that Spain can often appear to be a very irreligious country these days, it comes as something of a shock to read that the country’s archbishops have instructed all Catholic politicians to vote against the government’s attempts to be the third European country to permit gay marriages. Will it be the threat of excommunication next?
I’m pleased to report that the number of bawling brats at the jazz concerts has markedly diminished, though not to zero.
Poolhall Junkies – The Last Play
Battle Cry – Beyond Tears
Sleepless in Seattle – Something to Remember.
As ever, I am lost for an explanation for these ‘translations’, other than someone’s need to keep a job. While we’re talking abut films, because of the universality of dubbing in Spain, the real voices of the actors are unknown here. When they accidentally hear them, Spaniards often profess to deep disappointment, as they ‘don’t fit’ the character they have come to love in her/her Spanish guise. George Clooney is said to have lost numerous nights of passion on this account. As, indeed, have I.  

When I was in the UK last week, there was a two-day festival in my parents’ home town. It is a big annual event in the town but, by Spanish standards, it ranks as a poor affair. It didn’t help that a ‘kink in the jet stream’ had blessed the UK with weather more like October’s than July’s. But what really depressed me was the state of many of the people attending it – overweight, badly dressed and with an air of aggression. And that was just the women. Given the mood of menace and the inebriated state [at 5pm] of many of the young men and women, I don’t suppose I should have been surprised to see a large, steel, mobile gaol next to the police tent but I was. Just across the way from this was another tent with a sign outside saying Lost Children. I was so intrigued by the [air-conditioned] mobile prison that, to get a good look at the inside, I considered wandering into this tent, declaring that I was a passing paedophile and asking if they had any lost kids to spare. But even on Merseyside – famous for its humour – this would almost certainly not have been the end of things, such is the tabloid-inspired hysteria around this subject. Why, even paediatricians’ offices have been attacked by some of the less literate of the tabloid press’s readers. And, boy, is that a description you would want to avoid. 

I don’t remember there being a mobile prison when I attended this event in my youth. In fact, I don’t recall there being even a police tent. And I’m certain that, back then, police officers didn’t stride purposefully around festooned in bullet-proof vests, gas canisters, American-length batons, walkie-talkies and prominent handcuffs. As if they were all members of a SWAT team on a walking holiday. I don’t suppose it’s unconnected that Sky TV today announced that over 70 per cent of Brits are afraid to walk the streets. My Spanish friends say that things are deteriorating here but, if so, there are hundreds of years of ‘progress’ to make up. On the streets of Pontevedra, the only thing that worries me is that the young women are not so much dressed to kill as to slaughter and I’m not sure my heart can take another summer. 


It’s official – the main causes of road accidents in Spain are 1. ‘Inappropriate speed’ and 2. ‘Driver distraction’. The latter could be almost anything, of course, but my 3 choices would one or more of:- a. using a mobile phone with your left hand; b. smoking with your right hand; and c. turning round to talk to someone in the back seat. Then again, it could be juggling 3 to 5 tennis balls and/or making love. I feel we should be better informed.


Second official statistic of the day – 70 per cent of 13 year olds in Spain have a mobile phone and the Spanish now spend more on mobile phones than on land lines. This is despite the best efforts of that quasi-monopoly, Telefonica, who have just upped their land line fixed charges [by an inflation-busting amount] for the 7th or 8th time in three years or so. Needless to say, they don’t advertise this. If you went by their press releases, you could be forgiven for thinking they were a charitable organisation bent on reducing their call charges to zero.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

It regularly amazes me just how much influence this blog exerts. Less than 24 hours after I criticised the local police for their failure, inter alia, to control speeding drivers, they have announced new measures to do just this. They will be setting up radar checks in sequence, in order to catch the clever bastards who slow down when they see the cop with the gun and then speed up again. I can’t help feeling this might have been more successful if they hadn’t told us in advance about their new strategy.


There are very few places to which the Spanish will not take their young children. Tonight I attended one of a series of jazz concerts in town which mark the beginning of our fiesta season. It was supposed to be held in the open but was moved to a small theatre in the old quarter because of a threat of showers. I mention this detail because without this transfer we would not have had the pleasure of several 4 to 6 year olds running up and down the aisles, screaming with boredom. Of course, this being a jazz concert, it was sometimes a little difficult to know whether the wailing was coming from the aisles or the saxophonist on the stage. But it was unsettling nonetheless. I don’t know about you but, if I had to compile a list of adult music forms that might appeal to toddlers, doubt that modern jazz would appear on it. But then I’m not Spanish.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Another horrendous local road accident involving teenagers. Seven of them – all from the same family group – were travelling in a small car which left the road and hit a tree. Two of them died and three of them are in negotiation with the Grim Reaper. As ever, the accident took place around 5.30am, when they were returning from the disco. And, as so often, the cause of the accident is ‘as yet undetermined but believed to be high speed’. Road fatalities are high in Spain and it is sadder than sad that one of the main factors is the willingness of parents to subsidise their adult children for years, so allowing them to buy high-powered cars that they could otherwise not afford. Other factors are the macho culture, all-night partying and the apparent unwillingness of the police to crack down both on drunken driving and the failure to obtain a licence, especially in tourist areas. It came as no surprise to read that no one in the car was wearing a seat belt, the law on which might as well not exist, for all the difference it seems to make.


On a lighter note – the denizens of Antzuola yesterday celebrated the anniversary of the defeat of Abd Al-Rahman III. This involved what seemed to be a genuine, be-fezzed moor [Moroccan] abasing himself in ritual humiliation below the feet of a Spanish warrior’s horse. Hard to see this taking place in Leicester or Birmingham, where all the abasing comes from the local politicians intent on obtaining the vote of the large Muslim section of the electorate. A different world.


While we are on the subject of what a world it is – I read that the Spanish Olympic team will be accompanied by a contingent of specially trained police officers. Time to call it a day? Too much to hope??

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Among many others, Ashley Cole has written to advise me it was him – and not Andy Cole – who'd been included in the Best European soccer team as Left/Right Back. Sorry, Ashley. As Andrew has pointed out, Andy Cole was left back in the UK.


I had a surreal experience on the plane from Madrid last week. After some delay in taking off, the pilot came out to explain that we had lost slots in, first, Madrid and, later, the UK. He asked for someone who spoke Spanish so that everyone could be told of the situation but, just as the volunteer was about to speak, he re-took the microphone and announced ‘For those Spanish passengers who don’t speak English, this young lady is going to tell you why we are delayed’. Touching. But even more worrying.


Prior to this, while waiting in the departure lounge, I had listened [several times] to an announcement – in very correct and plummy English – that asked smokers to refrain from the habit so that the airport could ‘have another air’. Since the speaker was clearly British, I wondered why he hadn’t objected to this bizarre usage and suggested, for example, ‘better air’. Equally odd was the dual-language sign that advised of the “Ult. Llamada/Last. Call” for the previous flight. My guess was that, taking the translation rather too literally, some non-English speaker must had decided that both ‘Ult’ and ‘Last’ were abbreviations. Or possibly the plummy but stupidly supine Brit.


After using the Merseyside underground for a week, it was unsettling to travel on the Madrid metro last night. Whereas the Merseyside carriages were old, filthy and full of rubbish and dried vomit, the Madrid carriages were new, clean and air-conditioned. And occupied by slim, well-dressed, un-menacing passengers who hadn’t felt the need to shave their heads so as to appear even more aggressive. And not one of them had a Rottweiler in tow. How utterly unprogressive Spain seems at times. What a price they have paid for missing out on the 60s [and most of the 70s] under Franco. And another thing - they still don’t seem to have realised that obesity is now compulsory in an advanced society.


Two brief comments about the Madrid Planetarium – It probably isn’t worth visiting unless you speak Spanish and have a keen interest in the heavens. And I doubt that all the rather garishly dressed women in the car park were waiting for their husbands to rejoin them with their kids. Even at 5.30 in the evening. Actually, I rather doubt that they were all women.


A classic bit of bureaucracy on the night train from Madrid to Pontevedra. They take your ticket from you as you leave and return it the next morning. When I handed the attendant mine, he demanded the outgoing ticket. ‘What on earth for?’, I asked. ‘Because,’ he said ‘it’s written here on the return ticket that it must be presented along with the outgoing ticket’. I was too dumbstruck by the simple genius of this response to do anything other than meekly hand over the ticket that I had luckily not thrown away. ‘Because I say it is’, said the Red Queen.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

I called my insurance company today, to put my daughter on my car policy. Needless to say, I had to cite the policy number and give my name and address. But, as ever in Spain, this wasn’t enough. I then had to provide the number from my identity card. Quite why, I cannot begin to guess. Who is going to impersonate me in order to add my daughter to my policy? In the end, none of it was necessary as the policy already covered any driver over 26.

I don’t know where the UK Home Secretary currently is with his attempts to bring in an identity card – trying the back door method, I think - but , once there is a card, you can be sure that it will be frequently demanded simply because it can be. And because it ‘won’t be worth my job’ not to ask for it. You have been warned.

I am off to the UK for a week. ‘November storms’ await me, apparently. Great.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Let’s hear it for Greece. They managed 2 shots at the goal in the European Cup final against Portugal and won 1-0. This was even worse than the team [Oporto?] which won the Champions’ League 3-0 after achieving a miserly three shots at the goal. One [apposite] cartoon in today’s El Mundo showed the Greek captain raising the trophy whilst a football below him committed hari-kiri. You can’t, in all fairness, deny credit to the Greeks for the scalps they took en route but what a dire state European soccer must be in for them to emerge as winners. They racked up only 7 goals in 6 matches and came away with more yellow cards than any other team. Let’s hope they fade away as quickly as they rose to prominence.

The local press here often print syndicated reports on national and international matters. Today they re-printed a ‘perfect European team’ I had already seen in the national press. Only they got it the wrong way round, suggesting that Andy Cole is Europe’s best right back. Which may come as a surprise to him as he has never been near the right side of the pitch.

Monday, July 05, 2004

A 65 year old man yesterday shot his wife with a hunting rifle and then turned it on himself. All this happened on the main street of a hilly town, providing the opportunity for a better-than-average photo shoot. The bodies were pictured lying a few yards apart, with blood from each of them cursing down the slope, though not quite intermingling.

It is one of the admirable features of Spanish life that mothers and daughters are often seen arm in arm. This can present some remarkable sights, with the daughter being 20 per cent taller but at least 50 per cent thinner. I’m told that, to achieve their low weight, the daughters subsist on a diet of cigarettes and fruit. One is left wondering at what point they throw in the towel and bow to the counter pull of at least some of the genetic factors. After the first child, perhaps.

Here’s another batch of mutilated English film titles, courtesy of the huge Spanish dubbing industry. Occasionally it’s possible to discern some sort of reasoning for the mistranslation. More usually, one is left with the conclusion that somebody has a job to justify. It’s hard to believe the exact equivalents don’t exist in Spanish. Of course, it’s possible that the nuances of the English titles are missed:-
Legally blonde – A Very Legal Blonde
Murder by Numbers – Assassin 1-2-3
Teaching Mrs Tingle – Kidnapping Mrs Tingle
The Score – Master Hit
Backdraft – A Sudden Blaze
Short Cuts – Crossed Lives
About a Boy – A Big Boy
Lost Souls – Possessed
Operation Dumbo – Operation Elephant

Un holding – A holding company
Fresh – New. As in ‘Skoda’s fresh range of cars’
Un folklórico – A folk singer
Los Airbags – Breasts

Friday, July 02, 2004

Here’s a bit of information for those considering coming to live in the parish of Poio, on the fringes of Pontevedra – Will they fine me for driving insanely? Probably not. Will they fine me for not wearing a crash helmet and/or ignoring the noise regulations on a motor bike? Certainly not. Will they fine me for not wearing a safety belt in a car? Good gracious, no. Will they fine me for putting my car wheels on the pavement? They certainly will! And not just a few Euros either. How about 160 Euros, or 110 quid? Bitter? Moi!

Talking of traffic offences, the government has just announced new measures aimed at reducing Spain’s appalling fatality count. Each driver will have a credit of 12 points and progressively lose these for specific offences. One of these will be ‘Going backwards on a motorway [freeway]’. Even in Spain it is rare to see a car coming towards you at 120kph in reverse so I assume this is the offence of backing down the hard shoulder to get to the exit road you missed as you sailed by at 180. In contrast, this is not at all rare.

In Tarragona, a young man has been arrested for dressing as a policeman and stripping off at a hen party. Unfortunately, he is a policeman and his uniform was the real thing. Stripping off is only allowed at the station, apparently. So, for his dressing down he has received… well, a dressing down. Which should nicely confuse my Spanish reader. Keep studying those infamous phrasal verbs!