Friday, December 31, 2004

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

Meanwhile, Happy New Year to everyone.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

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

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

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

Monday, December 27, 2004

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

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

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

Sunday, December 26, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 23, 2004

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

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

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

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

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

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

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

Monday, December 20, 2004

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

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

Sunday, December 19, 2004

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

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

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

Saturday, December 18, 2004

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 17, 2004

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 16, 2004

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

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

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

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 13, 2004

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

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

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

Sunday, December 12, 2004

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 11, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 10, 2004

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 09, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 06, 2004

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

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

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

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

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