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.