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.

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