Saturday, October 30, 2004

Thousands of tons of crystal-clear water fell on Pontevedra this morning. Which is a bit ironic as the stuff coming out of my taps is filthy brown. Since it’s a holiday weekend, this may continue until Tuesday so I have put pans out in the garden to catch a small fraction of the next deluge. Needless to say, the afternoon has been sunny so far.

One of the many things I appreciate about Spain is that consumerism is less advanced than elsewhere in the West. Mothers’ Day is not a big thing; Christmas actually arrives in December, not September; and as yet the country has not been conned into importing Halloween from the USA. Or Christmas cards even. But All Saints Day is a big thing here as it’s the occasion for visiting family graves, cleaning them and adorning them with blooms. Walking into the main square this morning, I found it had been converted into a gigantic flower stall. Perhaps it was late in the day but dahlias seemed to make up 99% of what was on offer. Or possibly they send the right message in the language of flowers.

After 3 years or so of virtually daily attendance, I have suddenly been accorded double rations status at my favourite café. What this means is that I get two helpings of tapas with my glass of wine. Effectively, I get my lunch for the price of a glass of Albariño. This, of course, is wonderful but quite what triggered the development I haven’t the faintest idea. It’s true that I’m a good tipper – by Spanish standards excellent – but I have been for a long time. Perhaps it’s an example of the renowned Galician conservatism. Or maybe my accumulated tips passed the tipping point this week.

The unstoppable Mr Fraga has announced that one of the politicians who have impressed him most is a Dominican gentleman who soldiered on – ‘for the sake of the people’ - until he was 89, blind and disabled. Not difficult to read the message here. Bring on the horse.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Reading the culture pages of El Pais today, it belatedly struck me that Spanish papers don’t carry reviews of the previous night’s TV. But, then, how many times do you want to read ‘It was pure bilge’?

In the local paper, my eye was drawn to an ad for the Xanadu ‘Music Hall’. This was something of a surprise as only last week I read that the owners had been arrested for using illegal immigrants for prostitution. Maybe they are out on bail. By the way, the ad for the Xanadu invites you to ‘experience a new world’. I imagine this is what happens to most of the unfortunate employees as well.

On a more global scale, I see that the Palestinians have begun to play out their version of the Galician power struggle. The main ingredient of this, you will recall, is an ageing autocrat in failing health who has ruthlessly ensured that he has no one groomed to succeed him. Of course, much the same thing is happening over in Cuba. But then Castro is of Galician descent so it’s in his blood.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

In the latest attempt to differentiate itself from Spain, Catalunia has said that it will be seeking the .cat designation for email addresses and web pages. What next, as I keep asking.

There is a large building project taking final shape down near the river that separates us from Pontevedra. I’d imagined it was luxury apartments but have learned that it’s the new local HQ of the national police, the Guardia Civil. One of the reasons it’s so large is that it will include residential quarters. I doubt that this even gets noticed in Spain but I confess to finding it a little eerie that the police have barracks. It smacks of an era when it was policy to bring in recruits from other parts of Spain so that they could be relied on to be tougher than the local boys.

Walking past a line of stationery cars today, I was assailed by the music from the car of a local marulo [chav], more accurately by the heavy bass. What intrigued me was that, even after I could no longer hear the music, I could still feel the regular vibrations on my ear drums. I thought of the punishment his were taking, and smiled.

Prompted by some recent enquiries – if you’re reading this because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, try my web site – colindavies.net

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The government and the owners of the private TV companies have reached an accord around the content of children’s programmes, specifically ‘telly rubbish’ [tellybasura]. Under this, the hours between 6am and 10pm will be free of degrading content by Christmas. Coincidentally, this is the deadline I have set myself for learning Mandarin, Thai and the click language of East Africa. It will be interesting to see who makes more progress. If the government is successful, I guess we’ll have about 15 hours of white space per day on our TV screens next year.

Having read my blogs on this subject, the Spanish government has decided to drastically revise its strategy towards Gibraltar. After spending its first few months in power on a soap box, making belligerent but totally unproductive statements about British provocation, it has now switched to a policy of shelving the issue of sovereignty, while soft-soaping the Gibralterians. They’ll start by removing the petty restrictions on their mobility which helped to make them such intransigent opponents of the failed discussions on joint sovereignty of two years ago. Ah, the power of the fifth estate.

In case you haven’t noticed from the screaming headlines in the UK media, John Peel died yesterday. No, he wasn’t a war hero or a global statesman but just a disk jockey. Excessive as this reaction is, it was nonetheless impressive to see El Pais carrying an article about him today.

The Spanish have special cakes for most big feast days. All Saints day is coming up and this is the day when everyone visits family graves. The cakes sold this week resemble little bones and, indeed, this is what they are called.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

I see that a channel especially for gays - The Pink Channel – has been launched in France. Here in Spain, the adjective ‘pink’ is most commonly used for the dire magazines and programmes which deal in celebrity gossip. Mind you, every one of the latter has a camp homosexual among its panel of six or eight nonentities so I suppose there’s a link.

More seriously, up here in Galicia, the fragile health of the geriatric President of the local government – Manuel Fraga – has unleashed a civil war in the local branch of the national party he founded, the Partido Popular. Mr Fraga has said that he will stand for another term in 2005 [when he will be 83] and has hinted that, if re-elected, he will die with his boots on. The risk of local implosion is such that Madrid – despite ridicule in the national press – has backed Fraga as the only candidate capable of restoring unity and winning the election. This seems like something of an admission to me. And I suspect things are now so desperate that, if Fraga kicks it before the elections, he will - like El Cid - be sent into battle propped up on a horse. The risk would then be that the horse would get more votes.

Spain has a big problem with illegal Moroccan immigrants arriving on the south coast in rafts, many of them dead. But it surprised me to learn today that these comprise only 10% of illegals from that country. The rest arrive with French visas. So, it’s not only the UK which receives refugees posted on, as it were, from France. Sometimes you just have to admire the French for their total lack of principle.

Monday, October 25, 2004

The taurine aficionados amongst you will be interested to know that the table of the top 30 bullfighters for last season was published today. The winner was one César Jimenez, who amassed 106 Festejos, 162 Ears and 6 Tails. Although my dictionary defines festejo as celebration, my suspicion is that it must here mean something closer to a crowd going wild in admiration. I wonder if he has a trophy room.

As one ages, the conviction that the world has gone mad grows in intensity. But when you read that David Beckham has attended a party wearing 3 sets of oversized rosary beads around his neck and that Nicole Kidman is being paid 7 million dollars for a 2 minute perfume ad, what other conclusion can be drawn?

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Well, it’s 6.30pm and not a single soul in the entire world of several billion has visited my blog site so far today. And this after a record 17 hits on Thursday. To make matters worse, Manoel has had 8. Anyway, I plough on. Or plow on, for my [abstaining] US readers.

I see that, while I plunder the Spanish press for ideas for blog entries that no one reads, the papers here are doing the same in reverse. Today we had an article about David Beckham anointing rosary beads with fashionability that had been lifted straight from yesterday’s Daily Telegraph. What goes round, comes round, it seems. But at least one person is reading the Spanish versions.

In El Mundo yesterday we had examples of the photos that will adorn packets of cigarettes sold in the EU. These are really quite gruesome. In the same edition, the paper featured only the top half of a picture taken from a web site closed down by the government for showing the mangled bodies of victims of the Madrid bomb atrocity. The paper said, piously, that the bottom half of the picture was just too dreadful to print. There were two ironies here. Firstly, even the top half of the picture would never have made it into any newspaper in the UK. And, secondly, I recall El Mundo opining only a few months ago that the proposed cigarette packet photos were excessive, as they were likely to offend peoples’ sensibilities.

As I was reading my paper today and partaking of some excellent Albariño wine and battered squid, I asked the three young boys on the next table to stop shouting while they played their army games. Impressively, they did so for about a minute but then returned to the previous noise levels. This is exactly what happens when you ask a Spanish adult to slow down his/her speech, though in this case the time period is about 20 seconds rather than a minute. So, always a totally pointless exercise but quite touching to see the attempt.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

I was passing a kindergarten yesterday when I saw a father blow a kiss to his baby strapped in the back of his stationery car. Very lovely, I thought, though the effect was rather vitiated when I realised that the man was leaving the car with the engine running while he went in to collect another child. At times like this I wonder whether the admirable Spanish capacity for pragmatism and the absence of a national fetish for safety don’t just shade over into idiocy.

Which reminds me – the hunting season started last weekend. As did the gun accident season. And yet there is no tabloid press screaming for action and no politicians insisting that ‘something’ must and will be done. Nor, I suppose, packs of lawyers scouring the country for someone to sue. Life in the UK used to be like this, as I recall.

I have a filter on my email to catch ads for Cialis. Sadly, it also catches messages with the word ‘specialise’ in. The perils of clever technology. This wouldn’t be so bad if the filter actually did stop all the ads.

While I’m moaning…. What a trivial world we live in when it’s big international news for Fidel Castro to fall over. If he had fallen on his sword, I could understand it but as it is.…

To end on a high note – Sturgeon fish have been reintroduced into the Guadalquivir river. I shall have to dig out my recipe for Blini pancakes.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Well, the pseudo-scandal of the under-dressed ball retrievers at the ATM Masters in Madrid made it to the front pages of the Daily Telegraph today. This once-upmarket journal managed to find an even more salacious photo to feature than the one used by El Mundo yesterday.

Not content with this, the Telegraph went on to display the same low professional standards as yesterday’s Sky News with a report that the Spectator magazine had claimed that the people of Liverpool were ‘hooked on grief’. It didn’t; it said that the entire country was hooked on grief and that the people of Liverpool had a victim complex. Quite a difference.

Another couple of surveys in today’s Spanish papers. One of them reported on the levels of trust in national institutions. Or lack of it, more accurately. Given that 74% of respondents identified themselves as Catholics, it was a tad surprising, perhaps, to see the Catholic Church coming in as the second worst performer, with a 63% distrust rate. Only the TV, at 68%, could beat this. Given what I have written [regularly!] about Spanish banks, I was less than astonished to see them next, with a 62% distrust rating. What a business opportunity there must be here for an efficient bank. The most trusted organisations in the country are the police and the armed forces. This must be why they merit capital letters in Spanish. I can’t imagine the British police being viewed with such favour these days. Perhaps when Dixon of Dock Green was trudging the beat. When there was a beat.

The second survey was the perennial favourite about Spanish sexual habits, particularly the frequency of activity and of orgasms achieved by participants. As ever, I will refrain from giving numbers but merely comment, once again, that an awful lot of women seem to be dissatisfied in this macho country. Another business opportunity?

Finally, back to the models retrieving the balls in the Madrid Masters. Imagine how most young women throw a ball. Now imagine how a group of fashion models would throw a ball. Perhaps you will now agree with me that we shouldn’t knock an attempt to inject some humour into the game of tennis. It has long needed it.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

I have a general view that Spain, while capitalist, is less consumerist that other societies such as the UK and the USA. But in the use of the female form to market products, the Spanish bow to no one. So I was not too surprised to read today that the government has asked the organisers of the Masters tennis tournament in Madrid to re-think their policy of using scantily dressed professional models as ball-retrievers. But the charge of sexism was firmly rejected on the grounds that the next time there is a women’s competition handsome young men will do the job. A spokesperson for Hugo Boss, whose name adorns the ample chests of the t-shirted models, suggested that it wasn’t a very serious matter. This view was clearly not shared by El Mundo, who featured the story on their fist page, next to a report on plans by Islamic militants to blow up the Supreme Court. Photos of the models were naturally included. Bending forward, of course.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

I’ve just happened upon a blog entry of June 2003 about a couple of central heating engineers who had been up on my roof, checking why there was no draw in my boiler exhaust pipe. They said they would refer their findings to the main office in Barcelona, who would come back to me. Sixteen months on, and with winter again approaching, I am wondering whether I should give them a prompt.

Does anyone out there know why Spanish TV doesn’t show the score during football matches? The consensus here is that this forces you to keep watching until it’s briefly flashed onto the screen after each 15 minutes. But I regard this as so contemptuous of the viewer that it couldn’t possibly be true. Could it?

As of today, people with a car driving licence can also drive a motorbike up to 125cc without the need for passing any theory or practical test. This is expected to do wonders for the sales of bikes – currently in the doldrums – but rather less for the road traffic statistics. Especially as the current fashion for crash helmets is to wear them with the chin guard across your brow. As if you had a small bee hive on the back of your head.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

A commentator in the Spanish press has suggested that British foxes will have greeted the recent Labour anti-hunting bill with applause. Only if they prefer being gassed, poisoned or shot, I imagine.

Talking of quotes, a bill to drastically simplify the divorce law here in Spain has allowed two people to dredge up Groucho Marx’s line that the principal cause of divorce is marriage. The second of these shameless barrel-scrapers is me.

The Spanish President has announced that Tony Blair has personally assured him that negotiations on the handover of Gibraltar will restart within the next few months. Obviously, Mr Zapatero is unfamiliar with the names and disappointments of Roy Jenkins, Paddy Ashdown and Britain in Europe, to name but a few.

Just a couple of days after the launch of the dictionary designed to root out Anglicisms in Spanish [see Sunday’s blog], a new one has taken centre stage – El bullying. See what I mean about Canute?

Monday, October 18, 2004

The government has announced the introduction of a points-based driving licence system. As of mid 2005, offences will result in a loss of ‘credits’ until the trigger point is reached and your licence is lost. This follows similar measures in many other EU countries and is designed to reduce the high mortality rate on Spanish roads, which was 5,400 souls last year. Both the major dailies have welcomed this but with reservations. El Mundo points out the theory is one thing but the practice another. Investment needs to go into the computers that will make the system workable and into the driver retraining schemes that underpin it.

This points up one of the features of modern Spain – it is relatively easy to use EU funds to construct magnificent new highways, city ring roads and rapid train systems but it is another thing to establish complex infrastructures. The internet exemplifies this. Most Spanish companies have a web site but I’ve yet to find one that is as easy to use as, say, EasyJet’s. Or even British Airways’.

Flicking through the back pages of the Faro de Vigo today, I noticed that the ad for the C. de E is now bigger than ever. Mind you, it needs to be to hold the details of all its special services and new offerings. The latter include boats, limos and - would you believe – planes. And it seems that they ‘now accept large groups’. Outings from Portugal, perhaps.

On Sky News yesterday, the presenter commented on Tony’s Blair’s alleged intention to move, she said, ‘from Christianity to Catholicism’. Can anyone really be that ignorant, I ask myself. And the answer is not encouraging.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

After several years of hard labour, the Royal Academy for the Spanish Language has issued a dictionary which aims to clear up certain linguistic uncertainties within the Hispanic world. Here are a few which caught my Anglo-Saxon eye in yesterday’s report:-

Words no longer permissible in Spanish, together with the approved word:-

Rafting – Balsismo

Airbag – Bolsa de aire

Consulting – Consultaría

Mobbing [sexual harrassment] – Acoso laboral or Acoso moral

Supermodelo – Top-model

Windsurfing - Tablavela

Words that are acceptable provided that….

Gay – To be spelled and pronounced gaí

Rock and Roll – To be rocanrol

Ranking – To be ranquín

By-pass – To be baipas

Zoom – To be zum

Spanish neologisms that need to be fully Hispanicised:-

Puenting – To be puentismo

I have to admit that every time I see a report like this, a vision of Canute springs to mind.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

It's the custom for Spanish TV presenters to hold a stack of crib cards and work their way through them. This reeks of old technology, if that is the word, and it's amusing to see what happens when they lose track of where they are. It’s hard to understand why they don’t – like the newsreaders - use an autocue. One theory I have is that, since the audience always sits behind the presenters, the director doesn’t want to run the risk of someone reading the autocue and shouting out the would-be witty commentary in advance.

A couple of months ago, I recorded that, in bullfighting, the markings used (in the Culture section of newspapers) range from ‘A Silence’ all the way up to ‘Two ears and the Tail’ - taking in An Ovation, One Ear, and Two Ears along the way. Well, the Spectator’s bullfighting correspondent [Yes, there is one] has said that there are also ‘light applause’, ‘whistles’ and ‘rage’. This is on the part of the crowd, of course, and not the newspaper correspondent. Or the bull. I’m not sure which is worse for a bullfighter – rage or studied silence - but I do know that, at this stage of the proceedings, the bull couldn’t care less.

Friday, October 15, 2004

An impressive new begging scam this week. As I was loading groceries into my car at the supermarket, I was approached by an unusually silent young woman, who sorrowfully inclined her head towards a clipboard containing a list of donations to the Spanish Deaf and Dumb Association. As I put my hand into my pocket, the cynical section of my brain moved into gear and told me that the logo was shoddy; that the woman looked far more Eastern European than Spanish; and, finally, how clever it would be to disguise the fact you can’t speak the local language by pretending to be deaf and dumb. So I told her - rather pointlessly, I suppose - that I had no change and then watched as she and a companion evaporated through the exit on the approach of the security guard.

The local police have announced that in November they are going to be targeting people not wearing belts in cars. More specifically, they have a quota to fill. I guess that, once this is achieved, things can return to their lackadaisical normal. Until the next advance warning. Or even beyond, if this relates to crash helmets.

My picture appeared in the Diario de Pontevedra yesterday, as a member of the English Speaking Society. Gratifyingly, the staff in my favourite café clearly thought this accorded me minor celebrity status. Just wait until I get my weekly column!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Interesting contrast in yesterday’s main papers – an article in El Pais highlighted the importance of Hispanics in the US elections, whereas El Mundo reported the demand from the Association of Native and Latin American students for Christopher Columbus to be arraigned on charges of Grand Theft, Genocide, Racism and Destruction of Cultures. I suppose it depends on where you are standing.

Another less-than-shattering report today – this time advising us that the anti-tobacco policies of the Spanish government rank amongst the least effective in Europe. To which my response could only be – And what anti-tobacco policies would these be, then? Principally, perhaps, allowing the maximum number of people to die early of lung cancer so that there is no one left to buy cigarettes by 2025.

Two days ago David Beckham was trumpeting that he suspected everyone thought he was too stupid to think up the deliberate-second-yellow-card-strategy. Well, David, if we didn’t think so before, we certainly do now, given that – quite predictably - the entire football world has dumped on you and you’ve been forced to make a grovelling apology. Asked today on Spanish TV about the possibility of Beckham deliberately provoking a second card, Zinedine Zidane said that he didn’t believe he could have done such a thing. And then blushed to his roots when the reporters told him that he had already admitted to it. “And I thought he was a nice guy”, he muttered. So, two idiots in the Real Madrid team, then.

Tired of Monopoly and Scrabble? Then go to the web site of the Diario de Pontevedra and send off for your free copy of Talismanes, a new board game centred on the challenge of getting from France or Portugal to the shrine of St. James The Moor Killer in Santiago de Compostela, here in Galicia. Not a big hit in the shops, I guess.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Well, over on theremon.blogspot.com our friend [and protégé] Manoel is hitting his stride with his fusion of perfect and idiosyncratically inventive English. Very amusing. At this rate he’ll soon have a successful book [“ A Dago Lost in London”?]. Or a column in a national newspaper at least. Meanwhile, I can’t even get a response from the editor of the Pontevedra Bugle to my offer to write a weekly article in any language he cares to choose. Nor from some rag called The Costa del Sol News. Says it all, really. Perhaps starting at the bottom was a mistake.

Perhaps only in the Hispanic world of Madonnas v. Whores: One of the teams playing in a women’s soccer competition in Guatemala this week is composed entirely of prostitutes. Or was. They have been thrown out on some specious ground or other. Probably too strong in the leg. Or too good with a ball. Time to stop.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

There is a period during the Spanish day – between 2 and 4pm – when scarcely anything moves. People simply disappear. But on public holidays like today, the entire day is like this. Ghostly. Only the cafes and the pastry shops open. The calm and silence are wonderful.

Which reminds me… My new neighbour, Antonio, is not at all silent. In fact, he takes the Spanish love of talking to new extremes. My first glimpse of him was down in the garden, conversing with a tree. And yesterday, I caught him talking to the drainpipe on his garage. And when he isn’t chatting to himself or some inanimate object, he is shouting at anyone who comes within his orbit. As he works on petrol tankers, I assume he has adopted this default mode because of engine noise. But he is a nice man and, despite his decibel quotient, we much prefer him to the Catalans on the other side of us, who have yet to speak to us in almost 4 years.

Given the Spanish adamantine refusal to accept that work dignifies, when a public holiday falls on a Thursday or a Tuesday, the corresponding Friday and Monday are always treated as a semi-holiday. In fact, there is a word for these days – puente or bridge. On these days, Spain is semi-quiet. Or, to put it another way, much like most other countries on a normal day.

Today is the day of the annual military parade, the one in which French cheese-eating surrender monkeys have replaced US troops because the socialist government is bent on distancing itself from America and snuggling up to the Franco-German – dare I say? – axis of the EU. So, all the more strange that the same socialist government should have invited a survivor of the Spanish division which fought with the Nazis to share the podium and so lay itself open to the charge from political parties to their left of being fascist. It’s all to do with reconciliation, they say. To which the answer has been, “Opening up old wounds is a strange way to achieve this goal”.

Monday, October 11, 2004

It was reported today that 90% of Spaniards have mobile phones, though I suppose this really means Spaniards above a certain age. Say, 8. Of course, this finding would neither surprise nor interest many people. What we'd really like to know is what percentage of the populace have phones super-glued to their ears. Or navigate roundabouts or blind corners while using them.

There aren't many traffic jams in Pontevedra midday on Sundays but I found myself in one yesterday. It was five minutes before I and a couple of other drivers realised it was being caused by someone who had decided to stop to watch a building being demolished but couldn't be bothered to park. We were not happy.

At the local leisure centre yesterday, my daughter was asked for her identity card and date of birth before she could play on the squash court. These were – slowly – entered into the computer and she was instructed to quote all this information whenever she phoned in future to book a court. My God, it’s simpler to get into the House of Commons, with or without a bomb. This obsession with proving who you are in the most pointless of situations is what awaits UK citizens if an identity card is ever introduced there, either through the front door or the back door.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Well, it’s Sunday and no one is reading this. So here’s some more Spanglish words to fill the space…

Un spot – Advertisement
Un déficit – Deficit. The plural of this is Déficits and not, as it should be, Déficites.
Un yonqui – Drug addict or Junkie. Not an American/Yankee
Un pedigrí – Pedigree
Los beats – Beatniks
Un rifirrafe – Row or shindig. Can't help feeling there is some connection between this
and riff-raff. Arabic origins?

So.. although no one is reading my blog, since I mentioned Manoel´s last Tuesday his daily average has shot up from 6 to 22 hits.

As if I care.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Both with my web page and now my blog site, I‘ve noticed that the hits fall to a low level at the weekend. This suggests that most people log on at the office or that they have much better things to do at the weekend than read my ramblings. My [alleged] elder daughter has assured me that it's the latter.

Whatever, it argues for minimal contributions from me today and tomorrow, pending a wave of demand for more. So, briefly, here is a headline for an ad in today’s Telegraph for its section on Personal Finance… Don’t pay inheritance tax when your gone. You wonder why they bother with the first apostrophe when the second, plus an ‘e’, is considered redundant. And you also wonder just how many people the text went through before being printed.

To end on a high note, I did actually achieve an average of more than 10 hits a day to my blog site during the first week of the counter. I thought you’d all want to know your in select company.

And to those of you who went to Manoel’s blog – and even more to those who kindly sent him a message – very many thanks. You have proved the validity of what I told Manoel this week… Yes, it’s true that the people in Britain don’t have any time for you in the street. But they do have time for you in their life. It tends to be the reverse in Spain.

Friday, October 08, 2004

The Catholic church fights back! Two major announcements this week. Firstly, there will be a new weekly paper for “all those who don’t think gay marriages are right, who abhor euthanasia and abortion, and who don’t want to kiss goodbye to 20 centuries of Christian culture”. Secondly, the archbishops have announced that they will be advancing the cause of Christian laicism by establishing a new Christian Congress. It’s a wonder to me that the Catholic church has to collect for the poor when it can afford such expensive initiatives. Anyway, details of the new journal can be found on www.semanarioalba.com

Meanwhile, the soccer race row rumbles on. Today’s papers report that only one Spanish journal and one brave person in the ‘football community’ have rejected the coach’s defence that he is not racist and that his comments were just a bit of fun. The captain of the Spanish team has gone even further and said that anyone who thinks the coach is a racist must be mad. This view is endorsed by the outraged sport commentators who point out that, whereas the French press has been quite muted, the British tabloid press has been rabid on the subject. Since these are known to be scabrous organs, they must be wrong, so what’s all the fuss? I never thought I would be siding with the British tabloid press, on the one hand, and sympathetic to political correctness, on the other, but ….. hang on a minute!

In the wonderland of Spanish banking, you never know what will be coming at you next. I went to my bank today, to hand over a letter from my daughter closing her account. I was told that there was a problem as the account was ‘inactive’. I queried how it could be inactive when they were taking annual charges from it. The rather petulant reply was that these were imposed exactly because it was inactive. In other words, if you lend the bank some of your money for them to make a profit, they will charge you not only when you then use it but even more if you have the temerity not to use it. It’s a very long way from this to giving you interest, however small, on your current account. But, then, someone has to pay for the legions of employees who sit down the side of each bank, waiting to satisfy any customers who might walk through the door. Or, in my case, not.

The News presenters on Spanish TV are falling over themselves to establish their ‘informal’ credentials. Off have come the jackets and now the ties. And today we had the weather forecaster in trainers. Where will it end? Presumably things will not go quite as far as the Canadian programme Naked News but we can live in hope. I speak, by the way, only of male presenters. Their female companions still dress as if they were going to a formal ball where décolletage is compulsory.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Spot of bother on the Sports pages today. The trainer of the Spanish soccer team was yesterday recorded suggesting the following to one of his players, in respect of a black member of the French team - ”Tell him ‘I’m better than you. I shit on your whore mother, nigger shit. I’m better than you, nigger’”. But no problem, It was ‘only a bit of jocular motivation’ so we are not to take it too seriously. And, in fact, most newspapers don’t. One interesting aspect of this – though hardly the most important – was that the form of ‘you’ used by the trainer was ‘usted’, which is so formal, respectful and inconsistent with the rest of the diatribe that it almost makes you believe his story. Unless it was irony, of course.

Chip, chip. At the request of the Spanish government, the Guest of Honour at the 2006 or 2007 Frankfurt Book Fair will be the ‘Culture of Catalunia’, though specifically not ‘Catalunia’ itself. I trust the Culture of Galicia will get a look in within the next decade.

Talking of Galicia, the octogenarian President of the local government fainted in the parliament yesterday. Some say it was because he had returned to work too soon after a bout of gastroenteritis. I say it was because he wears his trousers with the waistband across his nipples. Perhaps this was fashionable in 1933.

Nice to see obituaries in all the Spanish papers today for the third [but almost unknown] member of the team which discovered the DNA helix, Maurice Wilkins. A New Zealander in fact but, like me [and at least one of my American readers], an alumnus of King’s College, London.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

After the Catholic church, the new socialist government has decided to upset the Americans. They will not be asked to send a contingent to this year’s military parade. And, since there won’t be an American flag on display, the President – Mr Zapatero – won’t have to do his normal trick of sitting down while everyone else is standing up when it goes past. As if this weren’t bad enough, the American troops are being replaced by cheese-eating, surrender monkeys from France. I suppose Mr Z feels that it will do him no harm to play to the latent but widespread anti-Americanism of the Spanish populace and to the unpopularity of the Iraq war here. Perhaps next year there will be a march past of married gays. Who will shortly number amongst my best friends, of course.

The Spanish Inland Revenue have now announced that they will be setting up a fund similar to that via which Catholic archbishops and priests receive their salaries. This will be for “minority religions such as Protestantism, Islam and Judaism”. Interesting to see that they regard Protestantism as a completely different religion from Catholicism and not just another branch of Christianity. But then Catholic is taken to mean Christian in Spain so it’s understandable that it’s hard for them to acknowledge other claimants to the label.

Students have apparently been late in registering at their universities this year. This has been put down to the effect of the Indian summer of the last 5 weeks. As you would expect, sunbathing ranks above studying in the fun stakes. And, if you fail your exams, you can always repeat the year. Many times.

El playback – Lip synching. Thank-you, Sir Elton

WordWatch Special

Un perro – Dog
Una perra – Slut

Un pájaro – Bird
Una pájara – Slut

Un zorro – Fox
Una zorra – Slut

Un golfo – Rascal
Una golfa – Slut

Un marrano – Pig
Una marrana - Slut

Un guarro - Pig
Una guarra - Slut

I trust you have detected the pattern here. Good job that the animal kingdom has no clout, I suppose. And fascinating to note the rich lexicon of words for female behaviour that doesn’t comply with established – though fading – norms. How dare they think they can do what men are free to do!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Here’s a serious plea – if there is anyone reading this who is Spanish living happily in London, please go to theremon.blogspot.com and post an encouraging message to our friend Manoel. He has only been there a few days but is struggling to come to terms with the size and impersonal nature of the place. Even though the traditional greeting on the streets of Pontevedra is a valedictory Hasta luego! [See you later!], it is still a greeting of some sort. But no one says anything on the streets of London. Of course, it doesn’t help the poor chap to have several female members of his family weeping down the phone every hour or two about his absence from home. Spanish women really know how to kick a man when he is down.

In a report about what preoccupies Galicians, 42% of people in Pontevedra and 48% of people in Vigo felt most worried about Urban Traffic, Transport and Parking. Figures were similar for all other cities in Galicia, apart from Ferrol. Here, the percentage of people concerned about these things was a whopping zero. Top of their list of things to worry about, at 65%, was unemployment. I guess we can conclude from this that, if you are lucky enough to have one of the few jobs in Ferrol, you don’t have too much trouble getting around in your car or in parking it when you have finished touring the empty streets. Bit of a come-down for Franco’s birthplace.

It’s been the conference season in Spain, as in the UK, giving me the chance to note one of the biggest cultural differences between the countries. In Spain, it seems almost obligatory for male politicians to have a full beard, or a moustache at least. In the UK, the former would immediately mark you off as a weirdo and the latter as a complete nutter. I’m sure, though, that there are exceptions to this rule, though it does seem that – as with the UK Home Secretary – it helps to be blind to carry off a beard in British politics.

Monday, October 04, 2004

What can I say? Seven people have visited my blog site today and it’s still only early evening. Obsessed? Moi?

Bit of an irony this as I had decided only half an hour ago that, if I really was wasting my time writing for no one but myself, then I might as well waste it on a grand scale and write my novel. On the other hand, I am sitting facing a cartoon in which a man of about my age is saying to a woman over dinner – “I think I’ve got a great book in me. But it could be wind”. This needs more thought.

Talking again of the plague of noise in Spain, here’s a tale which may amuse my Anglo-Saxon reader[s] but leave any Spanish readers nonplussed by its lack of noteworthiness... There is only one café in Pontevedra lacking a TV blaring away in at least one corner. This, of course, is an oasis, visited by the likes of me who just want to either read the papers or have a quiet conversation. I was there this morning when a trio of young women came in and sat right next to me and my companion. Two of them had babies in pushchairs and, naturally, these began to cry and then scream. Despite the obvious serenity of the place, the women blithely ignored this and simply raised the already high level of their conversation in compensation. This, in itself, would not be worthy of comment, even by me. But when I suggested to my companion that we move to another table, she blanched and indicated that this simply wouldn’t be on. I didn’t ask why because I didn’t need to. The right to shout without the slightest consideration for people near you is so absolute in Spain that it is considered an insult to show that you are offended by this. Nice, eh? You are entitled to be inconsiderate in making noise but not entitled to be inconsiderate in showing that the noise offends you. I am beginning to lose confidence that my strategy of playing Wagner at maximum volume is going to have its desired effect on my neighbours. They are never going to ask me to turn it down so that I can then do a deal around their habit of bawling at each other.

Who would have thought that Katherine Hepburn would have been the one to sum up the Spanish in only 11 words? Viz. ..‘If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun’.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Lulled into a false sense of satisfaction by the counter on my web page, I decided to ignore my gut instinct and get Manoel to put one on my blog site before he left for England. Big mistake. It seems that readers are staying away in their millions. I had hoped for 5 to 10 hits a day – I’m easy to please – but have only achieved 3 or 4 in the first couple of days. On the other hand, it’s the weekend and my website traffic is much higher on weekdays. So hope still springs eternal. Meanwhile, I’m going off for a sulk.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Much as I love Spain, I sometimes feel I‘m on a different planet........ I went to my bank today, to see a chap who had called me after I had written complaining of mistakes that had caused me problems in the last month or so. The long list of preparatory activities this gentleman had not indulged in included reading my letter and coming up with a constructive response. So, a good half hour was spent in walking round his attempt to understand why I had been angry enough to write in the first place. At the end of this unproductive nonsense, he asked me whether I was still angry and seemed nonplussed at my answer. Needless to say, what stands out from all of this is the bank’s assumption that wasting an hour of my time was a better option than their taking the trouble to construct a considered response to my original letter. Ah well, my expectations had, anyway, been rock bottom. So I was not exactly disappointed.

Our new neighbours had visitors last night. As is customary in Spain, they put the TV on full volume, sat round it and then bellowed at each other - often simultaneously - until after one in the morning. Try as I might, I can’t think why the Spanish are so inordinately loud but I suspect it’s just something they learn to be as infants and then never stop. Next door’s kids are certainly getting off to a good start.