Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Spanish obsession with regional identity took another step forward this week, with the playing of several football matches between Autonomous Communities and international teams. Galicia, for example, played Uruguay. And won. This is impressive but, if you translate it into UK terms and envisage, say, Cornwall playing Austria, it just sounds daft. And I certainly couldn’t see Cornwall winning. Maybe, though, a baseball match between Texas and Japan wouldn’t be too ridiculous. Or Bavaria against Iceland. On second thoughts…

Yet another impressive obituary in one of the national newspapers. This time of Gordon Duncan, referred to as ‘The irreverent bagpipe player’. I don’t really know why he was awarded this accolade but I don’t suppose it means he used the instrument to make farting noises.

Finally, my best wishes for 2006 for all of those who find themselves reading this blog. Especially those whose arrival is intended.

Friday, December 30, 2005

From Sunday, we’ll have the toughest anti-smoking law in Europe. As with all comprehensive laws, there are queries about its application. Given the prevalence of smoking in Spain – where an astonishing 70% of adults claim they never smoke! – there’s widespread concern about where lighting-up will still be permitted. Here are some of places cited in the media as having been the subject of queries to the relevant ministry:-
A funeral home - Answer: No, the living merit some consideration even if the corpse doesn’t
The cabin of a lorry you are driving – Yes, you can smoke.
The balcony of your office - It depends
A prostitute’s room in a brothel - Yes, it’s private
The cubicle of sex shop - No, it’s a public place
A telepizza outlet – Yes, it’s not really a restaurant
A firework factory – Err, No.

The governments of Spain and Catalunia are nearing the end of their negotiations around a new Constitution [El Estatut] which will determine the legal relationship between them. The parties involved are so numerous and the issues so arcane, it’s impossible to say where exactly things are. The view of the left-wing paper, El Pais, is that it’s all over bar agreement on such trivial issues as finance, whereas the right-wing paper, El Mundo, feels the parties are so far apart there’s no chance of them reaching an agreement. So, take your pick.

The one thing both papers seem to agree on is that the [false] Spanish economic boom of the last few years is approaching its end and tougher times lie ahead. What neither of them has come out and said is that Spain can ill afford to be distracted by these [in every sense] peripheral games when it’s rapidly losing what international competitiveness it has. Rome and burning are the words which spring to mind.

I see the latest European rocket will be a major step in establishing a GPS just for the EU. I imagine this will prove most useful when you find yourself on a Spanish road with 3 numbers which didn’t exist last time you came this way.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

My nice-but-noisy neighbour, Tony, cut his lawn this morning, dressed in pyjamas, a dressing gown and a Santa Claus cap. This is something he’s done very regularly since he bought the lawn mower last month, though not always attired so eccentrically. The problem is that, since there’s little grass on oil tankers, he has no idea of blade height and so is scalping the lawn each time. Consequently, it’s a dull brown - against the lush green of those on either side. It’s actually all my fault; when I saw him last month cutting his metre-long grass with what looked like a pair of scissors and offered to lend him my mower, he replied he could easily afford to buy one. Obviously true; but reading the instructions was clearly beyond him.

The German Chancellor, Mrs Merkel, says she wants to increase the powers of the central government at the expense of those of the regions. Spain, of course, is trending in the opposite direction. I guess the aim of both governments is to make their countries stronger and more efficient. The difference, perhaps, is that Germany is a net contributor to the EU and has a sluggish economy that needs to be revitalised. Spain, on the other hand, has a booming economy, benefits from a bank rate which is inappropriately low relative to its economic fundamentals and [for reasons beyond me] will be a net beneficiary of EU funds until 2014. So I guess there’s a stronger case [or, at least, opportunity] here for playing constitutional games that could well render Spain even less able to compete with, say, China and India. Time will surely tell and it will be interesting to see where the two countries are – especially their economic rankings – in 10 and 20 years’ time. Meanwhile, the great irony is it’s largely unhappy German taxpayers who are funding the grants to happy Spain. Not to mention the Dutch and those dastardly British who won’t give up their rebate.

In yet another of those right-on-cue surveys, Spain has been identified as having the longest working hours but the lowest productivity in Europe. This, I’m sure, will eventually change, in both directions. But not, I suspect, until life gets a lot harder here and Spain is making its own way in the world, without handouts from Brussels.

Post Office Tale no. 37: In two parts, involving first my friend, Andrew, and then his wife, Angela:-

Part 1
I’d like to send this parcel to Venezuela
OK. It’s 2 kilos so the cost will be 35 euros.
No. According to your tariff, for Zone D it should be around 15 euros.
What tariff?
The yellow booklet published by the Post Office.
I don’t know anything about that. [Turning to colleague] Do you know about it?
So it’s 35 euros
Well, I’m not paying that [Or words to that effect]. Give me back the parcel.

Part 2
I’d like to send this parcel to Venezuela
OK. It’s 2 kilos so it’s 35 euros.
No. According to your tariff, for Zone D it should be around 15 euros.
What tariff?
This one here in my hand.
Let me have a look. Yes, but that’s only for companies.
Show me where it says that.
OK, but that’s the rate for parcels, not letters.
What the hell do you think this object wrapped in brown paper is?
OK. 15 euros.

Spanish pragmatism. The Pontevedra council last year landscaped an area in the centre of town. This involved several grassy areas alongside the paths. A fair percentage of pedestrians found it too inconvenient to use the latter and so wore out the grass taking short cuts across the lawns. This week the council admitted defeat, cemented over the bare earth and labelled them new paths. Of course, the aesthetics of the place have been destroyed but, in this practical country, everyone is now happy enough.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The day started well. I checked the 6 euro lottery ticket someone had given me against the seemingly endless list of winners and was thrilled to see I’d won 1000 euros. Then I called my Spanish lady friend and she patiently explained that each 6 euro ticket has 133 divisions. So what I’d actually won was a trifling 7.52 euros. This, of course, is better than a kick in the head but I’m glad I didn’t race down to the lottery store and demand my thousand euros. I’m pretty sure the story of the mad Englishman would have made the local papers.

Needless the say - as part of 30 page analyses in every paper - the results are always broken down by regions, provinces, towns, villages, parishes, etc. This, of course, serves to increase the envy between the less and more fortunate parts of the country. This year’s big winner was Catalunia, which garnered both the first and the third of the five humongous prizes. This should, at least, allow them to drink enough of their champagne [Cava] to compensate for the boycott which continues in the rest of the country as a protest against their anti-Spain secessionist plans.

And still on Catalunia, a parliamentary committee there has recommended that a national radio station be prosecuted for ‘denigrating Catalunia and its political representatives’. Interesting to get a glimpse of how these self-important proponents of independence for the region would operate democracy once they had total control. I have this vision of Catalunia achieving the status to which they aspire and then immediately being booted out of the EU for being a fascist state.

Possibly because there’s no jury system in Spain, we often get prosecution and defence positions stated in the media well in advance of a trial. This week three youths were arrested for killing a beggar by dousing her in a solvent and setting fire to her. The defence lawyer appeared on TV to insist they’d got the can from a nearby building site and had thought it contained only water. This might just have sounded plausible if the father of one the accused hadn’t said they’d only meant to set light to a pool of the liquid near the woman – ‘just to scare her’ – but the can had slipped. Take your pick.

Meanwhile, over in the UK – now that memories of George Best’s death have faded – the main item on Sky News over the past few days has been the plight of a bloody penguin stolen from a zoo. Thank-God it didn’t happen during the funeral, creating a selection crisis for them.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The government has announced Telefonica’s fixed charges will rise by only 2% next year. For this relief much thanks. They’ve only grown 46% since I signed up in 2000, when the market was ‘liberalised’. This is what competition means in Continental Europe, it seems.

No great surprise to read that Galicia leads Spain in the percentage of road accidents attributed to excess speed. I suspect the fatal combination is speed, bends and wet surfaces but I guess the accuracy of my observation makes little difference to those who end up dead. Or, worse, bereaved.

As regular readers will have appreciated, there’s no shortage of surveys in Spain. And one of the consequences of the regionalism/localism I often talk about is an obsession with ranking oneself against everyone else, even to the point of absurdity. So, in one if today’s headlines, we read that ‘Galicia is the 7th worst region in Spain as regards loss of students from public universities’. There’s a steady stream of this sort of stuff but I suppose it’s inevitable when there are 4 or 5 local papers which bring out issues every single day of the year.

Just in case you were still wondering, the general view in Spain is that what she got from the EU budget fight was better than anything previously forecasted or expected. The opposition, on the other hand, is still trying to convince us the outcome was ‘worse for Spain than the battle of Trafalgar or the Cuban War with the USA.’ The former saw the destruction of the entire Spanish fleet and the latter the loss of Spain’s last colony. Frankly, I think they’re urinating against the wind.

Some of you might be confused by the last paragraph, in view of Spain’s continued possession of Ceuta and Melilla in Africa. This would be because you don’t appreciate that these are not colonies but enclaves. Unlike Gibraltar, of course.

In a market today, I saw jackets on sale celebrating the achievements of young Fernando Alonso, the Formula 1 World Champion. It came as a surprise to me but it seems he drives for that well-known French company, Renaull.

Today was the day of Spain’s big Christmas lottery – El Gordo, The Fat One - when vast amounts of money are distributed. The numbers are drawn in an elaborate, morning-long ceremony which involves the chanting of the number by young choristers. When I first saw this, I was quite charmed. Now I wish I had a machine gun handy. Could this be age?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The father of Julio Iglesias has died, aged 90, just a few months before the birth of his 4th child. As it was a heart attack, one wonders whether he was going for his 5th. Well, this one does, anyway.

I commented the other day on the time it takes to get anything constructed here. Right on cue, there’s a report in today’s local paper about some bridge work which is more than two and a half years delayed in beginning, never mind ending. So it’s anyone’s guess how late the latter will be.

There’s an awful lot of bureaucracy in Spain but the good news, as I’ve said before, is that, if you have any sort of personal connection with the funcionario in front of you, the barriers vanish instantly. And where everyone knows almost everyone else, this is frequently the case. Failing a personal connection, it’s always worth giving charm a try. Or what passes for charm in my case. The lady at the Post Office today refused to give me a parcel for my daughter and said I’d have to send the form to Madrid for her to write an authorisation on it and mail it back. But when I said it was a Christmas gift and [more truthfully] it’d take 2 weeks for us to do this, she relented and together we concocted a forged note from my daughter authorising me to pick up the parcel. And a good thing, too, for I was about to try tears. I can’t see any of this having worked in the UK. But then there I would never have been asked to complete any formalities in the first place. The very fact that I had the Post Office advice note would have been enough.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Banking tale no. 267: A month or more ago, I applied for a credit card and went through a process which involved me twice faxing a copy of my identity card. I eventually received the card but discovered my surname was spelled wrongly. So I went through the process again. I am still waiting for the replacement. But it’s not all bad news; they did send me the PIN two weeks ago. So, if the card ever does arrive, I’m in an excellent position to use it.

A columnist in El Mundo yesterday argued that Spain should go on receiving its traditional level of subsidies from the EU because ‘Although it appears to be a much richer country now, it doesn’t really have a competitive economy’. Well, whose fault is that?, one might ask. Not much of an incentive to improve, is there, when you can go on living off someone else’s money in perpetuity. Welfare dependency on an international scale.

Galicia is a place of myths. I wonder if these include one to the effect that some trees have magnetic properties. For, at 6am on Sunday morning, yet another car carrying two young men smashed into a tree when taking a sharp bend. Four hours earlier, a couple of women leaving a restaurant after a Christmas dinner were killed when they were hit broadsides by a car doing 160kph [100mph] on a local road. I suppose this sort of incident will reduce in time, though possibly only when there are no young men left in Galicia.

I see the Red Army Ensemble [‘of St Petersburg] will again be performing here next week. If I don’t get to see them on the stage, I will surely see them, like last time, clearing the shelves at the supermarket.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Spanish press seems well-satisfied with what Spain got from the EU budget negotiations. These include the continued status of net beneficiary until after 2013 and a new fund just for Spain. But the formulae being as arcane as they are, the opposition party is able to argue the talks were a complete failure for the President as ‘Spain will unfairly finance 25% of the EU expansion’. There seems to be a widespread view that every country conceded something in order to achieve a compromise but, for the life of me, I can’t figure out France gave beyond a vague promise to have talks in 2008, after Chirac has departed the scene. Maybe they withdrew some outlandish demand that was never going to be met. Perhaps that Tony Blair be hung, drawn and quartered. Talking of Chirac, he seems to have offended Spanish sensibilities by ditching his alliance with Spain in favour of one with Germany only 24 hours after forming it. What on earth did they expect?

I’ve mentioned that Chinese ‘bazaars’ are cropping up all over the city. These have been met with consternation and now by concern on the part of local shopkeepers. The latter, of course, are in business for themselves and not for their customers. So, as they regard hard-working, lower-priced, open-more-hours competitors as unacceptable, they’ve taken the traditional route to meet the challenge. They’ve persuaded the local council to pass a law preventing the Chinese shops from opening longer than them. Stuff the customers.

After two nights of partying next door, I can make another observation on why Spain is such a noisy country. Not only does everyone just love to talk; everyone loves to talk at the same time as everyone else. Actually, I doubt this is new observation on my part. But it did strike me in Sintra, touring a palace behind a group of Spaniards, that very few of them have the sort of reticence that others have about their voiced thoughts being thought of as stupid. You can guess the result.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Well, 77% of Spaniards support the new anti-smoking law; but 70% of them don’t believe it will be implemented. So it seems my concerns are widely shared. Vamos a ver. I hope we’re wrong. I’m tired of eating smoked tapas dishes.

Spain has been issued with the second EU court threat within a week. This time they’ve been told to start charging the Catholic Church value-added tax [IVA in Spain] on all their purchases. My guess is it’ll take years for this to happen.

And talking of sloth, I wrote some time ago of a crossing in Pontevedra where 7 roads met but there were no indications at all as to who had right of way. Over the last few months, an enormous roundabout [circle] has been under construction here and I think I can forecast accurately that the accident rate at this spot will shortly rocket up. Meanwhile, I am again astonished at just how long things are taking. One obvious reason is that I hardly ever see anyone at work there. My guess is the men are simultaneously working on several other challenges and so spreading themselves very thinly. During the sort of construction boom we’ve had for a number of years now, this must mean things actually take longer to complete than in the less frenetic times that are always supposed to be around the corner.

I can’t say I was surprised to read in a UK newspaper that about one British million couples who are in a permanent relationship live apart so as to be able make higher benefit claims. And, on the same subject of welfare-driven corruption, I also read that - among UK government employees – 39% of local government officers, 25% of teachers and 22 per cent of civil servants retire well before 60, ostensibly because of ill health. Astonishingly enough, their health then improves so as to give them higher life expectancies than people who don’t collapse because of illness. Who’d have thought it.

Sky News yesterday told us that reaching an EU budget deal had been a ‘vast achievement’ for Tony Blair. Since was this was managed by Britain being the only country to make concessions, leaving the ludicrous CAP budget untouched, I wonder what form failure would have taken.

Quote of the Week

The greatest tragedy of Tony Blair is that he has always been the instrument of somebody else’s political vision — Gordon Brown’s in his very early days, Peter Mandelson’s in the middle years and George W. Bush’s towards the end.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I said yesterday the Spanish press regarded M. Chirac as a certain loser in the current EU budget negotiations. Today’s news is that Mr Zapatero, having pocketed Tony Blair’s concession to Spain, promptly formed an alliance with France to ambush the UK over their proposals to revise the Common Agricultural Policy. Needless to say, these are the biggest beneficiaries therefrom. Given his record, I’m sure TB will slip out from between the rock and a hard place but it’ll be interesting to see how he does it. How he must regret saying in ’97 he would place Britain at the heart of the EU.

Within a couple of weeks, Spain will have the most draconian anti-smoking law in Europe, if not the world. And this in a country with close to the highest consumption of tobacco in Europe. Indeed, the penalties are so harsh, questions have naturally been raised as to whether the law is enforceable. This was, anyway, always going to be a problem in a country where laws tend to be ignored if they are personally inconvenient. My hope is that my regular café will soon become a far more salubrious place but I’m gearing up for disappointment.

The President of the Valencian government has said the pending EU court case around their illegal land development laws has nothing to do with them but is a matter for the party which is about to be prosecuted – the Spanish state. Not surprisingly, a member of the opposition has accused him of telling porkies. Yesterday it emerged that a total of 85 new golf courses are planned for the Valencian coast, which rather puts to shame the 17 ‘planned’ for Galicia.

I’ve taken to peering into passing cars to see whether the driver is wearing a dog on his/her lap. I could get arrested soon but, meanwhile, I’m pleased to report none of the canines has been using a mobile phone while in the driving seat. Smarter than their owners, obviously. Or at least more law-abiding.

Could anyone with queries about buying property in Galicia please write direct to me on colindavies@terra.es as I prefer not to use my blog for this.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Mr Blair’s latest proposal for the EU budget secures Spain’s subventions until 2014. Suddenly the media here seems full of articles admitting Blair is not really the Devil incarnate and suggesting France is now isolated and heading for defeat. And the finger of blame for obstruction is now being pointed at Poland. Perhaps this because they’re about to take over from Spain as the biggest beneficiary of Brussels’ largesse.

In 1994 a land development law was introduced in Valencia, giving the local authorities power to not only compulsorily purchase properties but to compel the [ex]owners to contribute to the cost of developing the land taken from them. Abuse of this law – for reasons we can only guess at – was so scandalously extensive it finally led to the EU Commission ordering the Spanish government to put a stop to it. As nothing was done, the Commission yesterday gave Spain a deadline of 3 weeks, after which it will be taken to court. With impeccable timing, the Galician government yesterday announced it’s considering the introduction of a similar law. Meanwhile, though, most of the local councils along the coast have announced they will be re-designating significant stretches of land so as to ‘give legitimacy to arrangements already made with developers’. Maybe we really will have the 17 new golf courses mentioned in yesterday’s press reports. To go with the 2½ we’ve already got.

A fourth Galician trawler in a month has been arrested for illegal fishing, this time by the Irish government. Conspiracy theorists here are suggesting it’s all a ruse to blacken Spain’s name before the next round of negotiations on EU quotas. I suppose this lies within the realms of possibility. Not that you’d get many takers in Spain itself, I suspect. Especially in Vigo.

After the third instance in three days, it’s clear I’ve missed the announcement that it’s now compulsory to have a dog on your lap while driving a car in Pontevedra. Thank God for the little bitch from the forest who adopted me a few days ago: Ryan would have been far too heavy. Plus he would have tried to drive the car.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I’ve been adopted by a little dog which was either abandoned or lost in the forest behind my house. Astonishingly, the ever-jealous Ryan seems to have accepted it, though it is a bitch. This morning, as I was walking them up the hill, I was greeted by a couple driving down as if I were an old friend. As I didn’t know them from Adam, I assumed this was because they were dog lovers. I wasn’t far off: both the passenger and the driver had a small canine on their laps.

The wife of my nice-but-noisy neighbour, Tony, has taken delivery of a new car. She is a doctor and so has bought an Audi A4, which seems to be the compulsory choice of all professionals in Spain. I happened to be outside when she arrived in it, followed shortly by Tony in their old Seat Ibiza. It took him all of 2 seconds – well, possibly 3 – to volunteer exactly how much the new car had cost. His wife feigned horror but Tony responded firmly that we were men and, therefore, in the habit of discussing such things openly. I refrained from saying that, even so, it might have been more couth to wait until the question had been put.

There were critical reports in the press today of the annual ‘sacrifice’ of 50,000 greyhounds once the hunting season is over. Spain is now the only country in Europe where this breed is still used for hunting. And it’s possibly the only place where anyone can be reported as saying “These dogs are not human beings but weapons. When they cease to be useful, they’re eliminated.” Though I fancy I’ve heard something similar said about fox hounds in the UK.

Can anything be more illustrative of EU madness than the name under which Macedonia now goes – ‘The ex Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia’? Whatever it’s called, it seems that France is about to veto its membership of the club, in a knee-jerk reaction to its failed referendum on the EU Constitution. Hardly worth becoming independent.

Galicia is said to have almost 50,000 illegal houses, i. e. places built without a licence. A property developer who was asked to comment justified this wholesale breach of the law on the grounds that “Galicia doesn’t have enough land zoned for building”. Presumably his response to being caught speeding at 180kph would be that Spain doesn’t have enough roads where he can drive at any speed he likes. Very Spanish. The law wasn’t personally very convenient: so I ignored it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

One of the joys of travelling in Portugal was to hear English song and film titles correctly pronounced on the radio. This rather contrasts with Spain, where they are usually contorted into unintelligibility. On the other hand, a major strike against the Portuguese is that even more of them than in Spain appear to regard it as the pinnacle of wit to have an illuminated Santa climbing up the front of their house. In one village we passed through, virtually every dwelling had one of these. Hilarious.

I mentioned yesterday I have to go to Madrid to sign papers around my daughter’s mortgage. My guess is this will take place in a notary’s office and there’ll be a cast of hundreds, if not thousands. The major reason for all this face-to-face formality – not to mention expense and waste of time – is that no one much trusts anyone else in Spain. And, if you are cheated, recourse to the courts is not usually a serious option. So there’s an enormous premium on compelling people to prove they are who they say they are and then having them sign the numerous documents that surround every transaction in Spain. It’s for similar reasons that you can’t get connected to utility suppliers without attending their offices in person, proving who you and your parents are and authorising direct debits. It’s no way to run a business in the 21st century but I guess it’s understandable.

Almost a hundred people were killed on Spain’s roads last week, when there were 2 bank holidays. The only surprising thing about this total is that it’s higher than last year’s, suggesting recent extensive safety campaigns have been less than effective. Actually, Spain’s average weekly death toll was 91 in 2004 so the reporting of these holiday figures is not as newsworthy as all the attention would suggest. For the record, Spain’s per capita mortality rate is 9% higher than Portugal’s and more than twice that of the UK. However, that’s nothing compared to the USA’s, which is almost 3 times the UK’s. A reader kindly wrote on this a few months ago but I’ve forgotten if he explained why this is so.

Accustomed as we Anglo-Saxons are to hearing that Spanish families are very much closer than our own, it came as a bit of a shock to read today that a young man had pushed his way through the police and paramedics at the scene of a car crash so that he could beat up his injured brother for taking their mother’s car without permission and then writing it off.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Following the Catalunian example, the Galician nationalist party has prepared a revised Constitution which refers to the region as a nation. Not content with this, they’ve included a provision which expresses the aim that what are currently bits of Asturias and Castile y León will one day become part of Galicia, in recognition of their ‘historical, cultural and economic character’. Perhaps there’ll be an Anschluss next. Needless to say, the Presidents of Asturias and C y L have not responded too enthusiastically to this naked land grab. It’s at times like this that one wonders when Spain will enter the 21st century and stop playing these divisive games.

And talking of ancient practices …. My daughter is finalising the purchase of a flat in Madrid. This involves a mortgage and as, at 29, she’s not considered an independent adult here, I have to guarantee this. Astonishingly, things being so face-to-face in this very personal culture, I have to make a 10 hour round trip to Madrid to sign the relevant piece of paper. I have entered into hundreds of contracts in my life but this is the first time I’ve had to travel so that all parties can sign in the same room and at the same time. Dickensian is the word which springs to mind.

Mr Blair and his EU budget proposals continue to get a very bad press here in Spain but it’s warming to see one of two commentators saying it’s time Spain recognised it no longer deserves handouts from other countries and, in the interests of a larger, stronger Europe, should move gracefully to the status of a net contributor. Maybe so but I can’t see Mr Zapatero taking this line.

It’s amazing how lasting cultural symbols can be. It an article on the demise of the London Routemaster buses, one of the Spanish papers said they are as ‘emblematic of the city as one of the dense fogs coming up from the Thames.’ Hardly, given that the last of these must have been before the Routemaster was introduced in the 60s.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A few observations on my return from Portugal:-
- Sintra, near Lisbon, is enchanting. As you will all know, Byron loved it and started Childe Harold there.
- There are more than enough palaces and gardens in Sintra to keep you occupied for a couple of days or more. But also worth a visit is the royal palace 25km further north in Mafra. This enormous pile houses one of the world’s greatest libraries, albeit at the end of a long guided tour through seemingly endless odd rooms.
- Like the Dutch, the Portuguese all seem to speak excellent English, even the kids. Perhaps it comes of an acceptance of the fact that your own language, rightly or wrongly, is not widely spoken. Whatever, it contrasts with Spain.
- On the road, there’s little to chose between the Spanish and the Portuguese but, otherwise, the latter are a quieter and more reserved people than their Iberian neighbours. Though equally friendly. The Spanish, of course, consider them even duller than the English. But dullness can be attractive, especially late at night when you’re trying to sleep. And when slamming doors and chatting at the top of your voice in the corridor can wake a baby, who then starts to cry and disturbs everyone else in the place. For example.
- One shared feature of the two countries is that restaurants are empty at 9.30pm. In Portugal this is because everyone has gone home by this time. Whereas in Spain, no one has yet arrived.
- Portuguese architecture – and their affection for gardens – has great appeal but I more than once felt it would be a good idea if the entire population could club together and buy some paint. Or at least some whitewash. The photo below is of a lovely building which rather illustrates the point.
- As in Spain, EU-financed road building has proceeded apace over the last decade. So it can be a challenge identifying exactly where you are. This is true even if you have the latest maps. However, this is speculation on my part as I make it a point to complicate my life by never having one of these.
- The Portuguese seem to like dogs. Or border collies, at least. Ryan got a lot of attention but, as ever, responded by studiously ignoring everybody who showed any interest in him. I was not given the opportunity.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

It’s a public holiday in Spain today [What’s-Left-of-The- Constitution Day] and I am about to depart for a few days in Portugal. So here’s a valedictory tale, poached entirely from a British newspaper - Prakash Parekh and his 23-year-old fiancée, Nehu, were due to be married in Gujarat this week but Prakash decided first to take Nehu for a ride in his new car. Stopping by the side of the road, he asked her how much she loved him. She replied that she would die for him. So he told her to lie down on the ground - which she did - and then he drove over her three times.

And you thought you had problems.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Perspective and principles. El Pais today opined that, if Tony Blair succeeds in his attempts to reduce the EU budget and preserve most of the cheque británico, this will be to the detriment of the ‘strengthening, cohesion and internal solidarity’ of the EU. In contrast, Spain’s attempts to reverse previous agreements to reduce from 2006 the subsidies flowing this way will, it seems, only redound to the eternal benefit of the EU. What really seemed to upset the leader writer of El Pais was the prospect that, unless Mr Zapatero gets tough, Spain could become a net contributor to the EU budget by 2013, a mere 35 years after first getting access to the trough. God forbid.

By and large, Galicia seems a pretty crime-free place. So it comes as a bit of a shock to read that 2 young man were murdered by contract killers yesterday in a ‘settling of accounts’ among drug dealers. This came two nights after the discovery of the burned-out remains of a speedboat and 4x4, the favoured vehicles of the local narcotraficos. And today there were calls for action from the local police in order to prevent Galicia becoming ‘another Sicily’. Let’s hope they’re more effective in this than the police there. Not that the local drug barons aren’t all very nice people.

Someone has made an analysis of the email services provided by the likes of Google, Yahoo and Hotmail. I can’t say it came as any great surprise to read that the provider with the slowest and least efficient offering gloried in the name of ‘Latinmail’. At least no one could say they hadn’t been warned. Though ‘Mañanamail’ might have been a bit more honest.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

One of the local papers today had a 3 page spread on the failings of the town’s drivers. Six or eight senior policemen told us, in various ways, they were ill-mannered, rule-averse and inconsiderate towards others. As this is hardly news, the only reason I mention it here is because, 5 minutes after reading it and waiting at a T-junction for a car to pass, I noticed the driver had a Yorkshire Terrier sitting on his left shoulder.

I read that the number of British men using prostitutes has doubled over the last decade from 2 to 4% of the [male] population. This is truly appalling but the figure must still be low compared with [Catholic] Spain.

Here’s another thought-provoking statistic – Spain has 4.7 doctors per 1000 people. This compares with 1.6 in the UK, which is only marginally better than Turkey at 1.2 and Albania at 1.3. No wonder British doctors work so hard and suffer such high rates of alcoholism and suicide. And all to ensure the NHS remains ‘the envy of the world’. Poor sods.

And here’s a couple of creative gems from the person employed to translate English film titles into Spanish:-
Bend it like Beckham – I want to be like Beckham
Being Julia – Knowing Julia

And a new piece of Spanglish:–
Los carvings - Curved skis, I believe.

Galicians are reported to be the least stressed people in Spain. The region also had the lowest rate of ‘industrial growth’ in 2004. I wonder if there’s a direct relationship between these facts.

British TV today reported today on an event in Liverpool which, they said, might well have given the city the world record for the ‘highest amount’ of Father Christmas’s involved in a road race. As they were all in costume, I guess they might well have produced a world record ‘number’ of sweat.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Along with all other 24 hour providers, Sky News is not averse to a little tautology in order to fill the endless hours during which they have to entertain – sorry, inform – us. So, for example, we learnt this morning that George Best’s funeral would be attended by God, the Pope, the Dalai Lama, John Lennon and ‘something like 35,000 people, or thereabouts’.

My favourite company, Telefonica, is currently running an ad for which the strapline is “The first time is always easier when you have someone to help you”. It shows a father in formal dress helping his adult son with his tie. The father is wearing a bow tie and so one’s immediate assumption is that the son is too. But he isn’t; he’s wearing a normal tie and it’s this which his father is knotting for him. My first thought was this was a stupid mistake on the part of Telefonica, quite in keeping with its approach to its customers. But then it dawned on me that, such is the informality of Spanish life, it would be perfectly possible for a male to reach 25 without ever having worn a tie. Plus, of course, Spanish adult children think nothing of living with their parents until well into their 20s or even 30s and so wouldn’t feel any embarrassment about having one of them help with their clothes. All of which was readily confirmed by Spanish friends at the English Speaking Society dinner last night. Indeed one of them – in his 40s – proudly boasted he’d never worn a tie in his life, even for his wedding.

And talking of Spanish culture, one thing you might feel you’d be sure of is that its senior citizens would be well cared for by their ‘much closer’ families. So it was a bit of a shock to read today that more than a third of women over 65 live alone and on a pension of less than 400 euros [275 pounds] a month. Or 69 pounds a week. Mind you, I fear the UK basic pension is around this and the cost of living there is 40% higher.

The Galician Xunta says it wants to make Vigo the ‘motor of the Galician economy’. This will do nothing for the long-standing rivalry between this upstart city-without-a-cathedral and Pontevedra, whose burghers tend to believe nothing much has changed since the Middle Ages as regards urban supremacy.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I see George Best has now been deified to the point of resurrection. Sky News told us this morning that he – not just his body – had been flown to Northern Ireland for what amounts to a state funeral in Stormont Castle. I know Northern Ireland has had little to smile about for the last 40 years but what on earth would they do for someone really significant to the course of human history? And I don’t deny he was a brilliant footballer, albeit for far fewer years than should have been the case.

I touched on safety the other day, expressing pleasure that we don’t have anything like the Health & Safety Gestapo here. But I did admit there was another side to this. I was reminded of this when I read today we’d had the second fatal work accident within a week here in Pontevedra. This was on a construction site, where a combination of rule-aversion and machismo seems to mean levels of risk-taking that wouldn’t be tolerated elsewhere.

And on the same theme, I read today of a car crash yesterday in which a 31 year old local civil servant was killed in at 10.30 in the morning. As is often the case, the report said his car ‘swerved into a car coming the other way for reasons as yet unknown’. But, as he was young, male, Spanish and driving a powerful BMW on a wet, winding road, I think we can be excused for hazarding a guess that he was driving too fast. The good news is that he didn’t kill the driver coming the other way. Who could have been me, of course.

And still on the subject of accidents - The President of the opposition PP party, Mariano Rajoy, escaped death yesterday when his helicopter crashed shortly after taking off from the centre of a bullring. Mr Rajoy is actually from Galicia – Pontevedra, in fact – and here the local PP is undergoing a succession process which is even longer and more confrontational than that of the Conservative party in the UK. Passions are running high, as several candidates seek to fill the gap left by the previous President, ‘Don’ Manuel Fraga, who – in true dictatorial fashion – spent several decades ensuring there was no one to take over from him. [Well, he is a friend of Mr Castro.] So imagine how fevered things would have become if Mr Rajoy had gone to meet his maker and the political spoils had increased. Mr Rajoy will be here next August for the town’s annual bullfights, by which time someone will surely have come up with some good black jokes. Perhaps these will even amuse the bulls who are about to die.

And talking of dying, I was impressed [and touched] to see affectionate obituaries of The Shadows’ drummer, Tony Meehan, in both El Mundo and El Pais. I got to wondering why The Shadows and, after them, The Beatles had developed such a wide fan base in Spain. Rightly or wrongly, I concluded it was all to do with escaping from the suffocation of the Franco years. Something which reached its apogee in the hedonistic late 70s and 80s.

My daughter Faye, who lives in Madrid, called to tell me she’d been charged extra to send a card to her sister in the UK because the envelope was yellow. ‘Put it in your blog!’, she insisted. But I’ve long given up doing what my wives and daughters tell me to do.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The education Bill passed it first stage of the parliamentary process on Monday night, with concessions on all sides. One interesting change made late in the process was that teachers of religion [paid for by the state but hired and fired by Catholic archbishops] would henceforth have the same protection against unfair dismissal as other teachers. This possibly results from the celebrated peremptory sacking a year or so a go of a teacher simply for divorcing and remarrying.

I was explaining to a Spanish friend yesterday that, though I love living here, Spain can be a frustratingly inefficient place and I wouldn’t want to be in business here. A good example of this was my attempt today to find which of the just-introduced digital TV stations I can receive. I won’t bore you with details of the difficulties I had trying to get information from the relevant web page. Suffice to say, I conceded defeat after 45 minutes. What I should have done, of course, is give up as soon as I met problems just accessing the site and gone off for a drink. No self-respecting Spaniard would have been dumb enough to persist. Pointlessly, as it turned out.

The beauty of languages. Vito Gonzaga has suggested the Spanish word exequias for the English obsequy. But it turns out English has stolen this word as well! As with exequias in Spanish and obsequy in English, the English word exequies also means funeral rites. We British are nothing if not thorough in our poaching. No wonder we boast of the world’s largest vocabulary. Not that we actually invented much of it.

Well, I’m not sure I’ll make it to gloat over my pedestrian mortality prediction. Last night I was almost hit twice crossing a zebra crossing. And I do mean ‘a’ zebra crossing. In a new low for me, having just missed being crushed on one side, I was then nearly plastered on the other. I suspect Pontevedra would be a much safer place if we shot all the policemen now busy directing us to these places of specious security.

Languageism + Localism: In a newspaper report today, witnesses to a bank robbery were reported as saying ‘They spoke Spanish is a Spanish accent’. This, of course, means ‘They weren’t from round ‘ere; they was “foreigners”.’

I took my new, bank-donated umbrella for its debut today. Within 5 minutes a not-particularly-strong gust of wind had blown it inside out and broken two of the spokes. So, when the rain had stopped, I broke the shaft in two, folded it up and shoved it in the bin beside the ATM in the entrance to the bank. I do hope the cleaners don’t remove it before the manager arrives tomorrow morning. Not, of course, that he’ll have the presence of mind to appreciate the significance of my gesture. But it left me feeling a lot better.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

We’re regularly told by the media here that Spanish state education is amongst the poorest in Europe. Not surprisingly, therefore, every administration attempts a major reform. Each of these goes under the heading of an acronym and the latest is the LOE. This was introduced recently as a Bill by the socialist government and vigorously attacked by the opposition as a measure which weakens the rights of both parents and the Catholic Church. Further, they insist it will worsen, not ameliorate, the so-called ‘Scholastic failure’ of having the highest number of A level/baccalaureate drop-outs in the EU. As ever, in this not-quite-federal state, an already contentious subject is further complicated by regional and language factors. This being the nature of the beast, several, if not all, regional governments would like more say over local education. These naturally include those where the obligatory number of hours to be spent on the national curriculum is reduced because pupils there are obliged to take lessons in the local language as well as Spanish. Who’d be the Spanish President? Or even the Minister for Education.

And talking of language issues, Spain is naturally annoyed that Spanish is treated by Brussels as only an ‘official language’, of lower status than English, German and French, the ‘working languages’ of the EU. Now Brussels has fanned the linguistic flames by announcing the number of Spanish interpreters will be reduced by a third. Can this possibly be connected with Spain’s success in having Catalan, Basque and Gallego treated as official languages, on a par with Spanish? Swings and roundabouts, perhaps. ‘Chickens’ and ‘roost’ spring to mind. In a nice touch, Spain’s Minister of Industry yesterday stressed in the European parliament that Spanish is the language of over 300m people. But he did so whilst speaking in Catalan.

Another Galician fishing boat has been arrested. This time by the Irish, for illegal trawling for hake. Can we now expect to see one EU country threatening to take another to the International Court at the Hague? Hake, by the way, is considered the king of fish in Spain and, truth to tell, untold tons of illegal young hake [cariocas in Galicia] are sold in tapas bars throughout the country. Strangely, across the Pyrenees, they regard it as rather tasteless. But that’s fish fashions for you.

I went to my bank today to pick up the gift of the weather gauge. What I was given was a bloody umbrella, costing about a tenth of the price. Or perhaps a twentieth, if they bought a job lot from the gypsies selling them in town at 5 euros for two last week. Needless to say, even to get this trinket I was obliged to sign a receipt and give them my identity number. A few days ago, for some reason I decided not to record my opinion that banks here treat prospective customers as suckers and actual customers as idiots. I wonder why.

Only in Galicia?: A local association of telephone tarot card readers is taking legal action against their boss, accusing her of pressuring them to sign a new work agreement by using black magic and voodoo. I wonder why they never saw it coming.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I’ve said a few times that Spain seems to me to be living on borrowed time and beyond its means. A bank of Spain report today rather confirms this and says, in effect, that once interest rates rise and EU transfers fall, Spain is going to be in for a rough ride. One main reason, they say, is that productivity is very low compared with international competitors, hence the record trade deficit. Separately, a leader in El Mundo today suggested it was more than time to put an end to the good-times practice of allowing people to take early retirement. Needless to say, this is widespread in the government and in the grossly inefficient and high-priced [oligarchic?] banking sphere.

Safety is not a god in Spain. This has both positive and negative aspects. For example, unlike in the UK, there is nothing like the Health and Safety Gestapo here. On the other hand, it is occasionally shocking to encounter such thing as the unlocked fuse box for all the community’s electricity on the wall outside my house. Or to read of the 11 year old stopped for riding a scooter his friend has customised by fitting a hidden hi-fi system in a false tank. Plus neon lights that light up in time with the music.

Pontevedra’s police yesterday began their campaign of ‘admonishing’ jaywalkers and pointing them towards nearby zebra crossings. And this morning I was again almost mowed down on one of these. I predict an increase in the mortality rate, further proof of the view that the result of all major reforms is the exact opposite of that intended. I just hope I live long enough to gloat at the accuracy of my prediction.

English and Spanish naturally share many words of Latin origin. Some of them mean much the same but there are also the notorious ‘false friends’. In between, there are words which have come to have a different nuance in English, largely because there are Old English, Scandinavian, etc. equivalents for the Spanish word. ‘Obsequio’ merely means ‘gift’ in Spanish but in English 'obsequy' has come to mean a funeral rite. So I was a bit nonplussed to get a letter from my bank today asking me to pop along and pick up the ‘obsequio’ due to me for filling in a questionnaire. On-the-ball readers will have guessed this is the temperature/humidity gauge that was supposed to be in the bank by October 15. But what’s 6 weeks between friends?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Of a Sunday night at this time of year, it’s impossible to get anything on Spanish radio other than continuous pop music or football commentaries. The latter are delivered with varying degrees of Latin emotion but the best/worst is a gravel-throated chap who, at times, sounds rather like a chicken in the latter stages of strangulation. Even more bizarrely, he and his colleagues regularly break off from their commentary to parrot [or even sing!] the praises of some product or other. At times like this, I’m just amazed at what the live-and-let-live Spanish will tolerate.

You might think the bickering 25 members of the EU have enough on their plate without getting involved in even larger negotiations. But, no, they’ve all been meeting along with 10 other countries in a Mediterranean Summit in Barcelona. I suppose, if the Catalunian government had had their way, this would have been 11. Anyway, they were there to discuss the challenges of immigration and terrorism and they finally decided they were all against the latter. Or they would be, if they could only agree on a definition. You can tell just how a big a failure the event was from the conviction with which Mr Blair insisted it had been a huge success. I wonder if that man would now recognise reality if it jumped up and hit him in the face with a wet kipper.

An article in one of the local papers today was headlined Those Cursed Roundabouts and its theme was the high number of accidents on these new-fangled things. It ended with the peroration – Something must be done! I think I can safely say I speak for both Andrew and myself in suggesting that a good first step would be to teach all the driving instructors how to approach and exit them. Their pupils might just then stand a better chance of learning how to negotiate them. Then they could move on to the examiners, who currently seem to pass people who have absolutely no idea what to do when confronted with one.

Inspired by the Preface to Samuel Smiles’ book ‘Self Help’, I’ve started a new blog entitled ‘The Society for the Dissemination of Useful Information’. Anyone and everyone should now feel free to philanthropically and altruistically post there whatever they feel might be useful to others. Then, with luck, I’ll be able to philanthropically and altruistically sell the blog for several million euros in a couple of years’ time.

But, before then, is anyone able to tell me where socks go when they disappear from the washing machine?

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Can I be the only person in the world who thinks the attention paid by the tabloidised British media to George Best’s last days was out of all proportion to what he contributed to the world? He was, after all, a fool who ultimately drank himself to death. But perhaps this is enough to give him iconic status in a country plagued with binge drinking among its youth. Here is Spain, El Mundo had a beautifully written obituary which said all that needed to be said and still maintained a sense of perspective.

I did once bump into George Best at London airport, when we were both waiting for the same flight to Manchester. Not only were we born in the same year, but we were of similar height and weight. This allowed me to convince myself that, if I hadn’t had to play rugby at school, I’d have been a top flight footballer. So perhaps he wasn’t all bad, even in his final years.

UNESCO has ruled that the ‘Galician-Portuguese oral tradition’ doesn’t rank as a ‘Masterpiece of world verbal and intangible heritage’. Neither does Andalucian music and flamenco dancing. But they did give the nod to the Festa da Patum de Berga, in Catalunia. This must be very gratifying for the Catalunians and pretty disappointing for the Galicians, Portuguese and Andalucians but I can’t help wondering how many lives are much affected by the decisions.

A UK milling company has been instructed by a court to install heating in its outside loading area as a Health and Safety inspector felt the lack of it contravened EU regulations. This was despite the fact the company’s offices were all heated to the required levels. It's very hard to imagine this happening in Spain. And not because it's warmer here.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Basque terrorist group, ETA, may or may not be on its last legs. But it’s still holding out against demands it abandons its weapons and enters the democratic process. However, its latest wheeze is a proposal that the EU intervenes and initiates discussion of the future of the Basque regions of both Spain and France, along with nearby Catalunia. Presumably the hope is that new, independent entities emerge from this process. I rather doubt this is what the founding fathers of the European Community had in mind. Naturally, Brussels has said it’s having none of it. As, indeed, has Catalunia. I guess the latter have enough problems of their own these days without being tarred with the ETA brand image. I haven’t read anything about the French response but it’s not hard to imagine.

Only in Spain?: A local prostitute is suing a client for the 10 euros she says he agreed to pay before forcing her to perform what’s called here ‘Frances sin’ [you’re own your own] and departing without paying. She then chased him through the local streets until they ended up [a nice touch] in the doorway of the town’s courts. Here they were both arrested.

Only in Spain?2: The town hall in Palma, Mallorca has issued a sex guide for teenagers. One section addresses the problems of young men who are worried about the size of their manhoods [menhood?]. They are advised, firstly, to “Do what porn stars do and shave off your pubic hair as this makes your member look bigger” and, secondly, to “Avoid gaining weight as your penis doesn’t follow suit and so looks proportionately smaller’. This is the sort of thing I could have done with 30 years ago!

A Norwegian court has imposed a bail bond of 1.5m euros on one of the ships caught illegally fishing in their waters. Spain says it doesn’t dispute the alleged offence but insists that the trial must take place here. If the Norwegians don’t release the two boats, then the Spanish government will take the Norwegian government to the International Court at The Hague. And you thought Lewis Carroll was dead.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Friday, November 25, 2005

Well, I guess the first thing I have to do is apologise for describing Hugo Chavez as a dictator yesterday. After doing a bit of googling, I’m aware there’s a view around that he’s a dictator in the making but, nonetheless, perhaps demagogue would have been a better word.

The British media thought the new German Chancellor yesterday frightened Mr Blair by re-affirming the Franco-German axis. The Spanish press thought she tipped the wink to Mr B by referring to the relationship with France as only a ‘friendship’. Can they both be right? Or wrong, even?

The young men and women of Spain may not be able to match their British counterparts for binge drinking and its concomitant violence but, when it comes to snorting cocaine, they can hold their heads up high. Though possibly not their nostrils. For, depressingly, Spain ranks number one and the UK number 2 in the European league table.

Matters Catalunian: Earlier this week – in the face of a continuing boycott outside the region - the CEO of a cava company stressed the product is as Spanish as it is Catalunian. For this, he was roundly criticised by the President of the local government. Perhaps he’ll be arrested for treason next. And at yesterday’s meeting of the International Ice Hockey Federation, Catalunia’s request for nation status was voted down. They did get the support of Albania and one or two obscure African states but this was possibly not unconnected with the fact the Catalunian federation had paid for the delegates’ plane tickets.

I read today the Muslim faith suffered its Sunni/Shiite schism quite soon after Mohammed died. This was essentially because, although specifically permitted several wives and concubines, the prophet didn’t manage to leave a male heir. Not for the first time, this left me wondering about God’s capacity for forward planning.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Visiting Portugal today, I noted that there, as in Spain, all the kids in TV adverts are blonde and blue-eyed, even if the mother is rather less fair. I guess the latter is meant to be someone with whom Iberian women can identify, while the kids resonate with their dreams.

It’s also very noticeable that all Portuguese commentators [and indeed quiz show contestants] correctly pronounce Anglo names, places and song titles. In contrast, in Spain these are often unintelligible. John Wayne, for example, goes by the wonderful moniker of ‘Khon By-knee’. But I suppose that, if you don’t actually know what his voice sounds like, it doesn’t matter a toss what you call him. I stress that I’m being descriptive here, not prescriptive. Spaniards are entitled to speak how they like. But I suspect the difference arises from the fact that it’s actually possible to go through 7 years of English lessons in school here without speaking a word of the language. As I’ve said a few times, the emphasis is on written grammar. Indeed, until recently, it was even possible to teach English without being able to hold a minimal conversation in it.

Spain has decided to ignore US protests and sell armaments to the Venezuelan dictator, Chavez. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, playing the popular anti-American card, says the only relevant factor is Spain’s economic interest. Funny, but when Tony Blair defends the cheque británico for, one assumes, similar reasons, the same minister accuses him of selfishly ignoring EU solidarity. But then circumstances always change principles. At least if you’re a politician they do.

I see hits to my blog are way down today. Can this be because all the exiled Gallegos in the USA are at home today because of Thanksgiving and so aren’t using their office computer? This is the hope I’m clinging to, anyway.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I mentioned yesterday that conversations can go on a bit here. I later realised the locals avoid this risk by muttering ‘See you later’ [Hasta luego] or even ‘Goodbye’ [Adiós] as they approach each other on the street. Perhaps they aren’t so amiable and chatty, after all.

Anywhere in the world it can be a trial having the builders in. But my impression is that here they’re much more likely to be out than in. Driving down the hill this morning, I noticed the Opus Dei house is finally nearing completion, a mere 6 years after the ground was cleared. And its two new neighbours continue to progress in fits and starts, suggesting it will take between one and two years for them to be completed. It contrasts sharply with a chap on one of those house improvement programs on British TV who’d bought a plot and was planning to construct – within 3 months – not just one but two detached houses. But maybe he was exceptional and it usually takes 6.

Our local garden centres are not yet the cornucopias of live produce and artefacts that their UK cousins are. When I bought some seeds this morning and asked for a tray to grow them in, I was told I’d need to go to an agricultural shop for these. At times this sort of thing can be frustrating but then I recall the absence of rampant commercialism is one of the things that makes life in Spain more sane. At least our TV ads are not yet exclusively about bloody Christmas.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Spanish government has demanded the immediate release of the two Galician fishing boats impounded by the Norwegians. They insist only the Spanish courts have jurisdiction over the alleged offences and that, if the they’re found guilty, there will be severe fines. Which is doubtless true but, old sceptic as I am, I wouldn’t bet much on this coming to pass.

One of the problems – admittedly not a big one – of living in a society where people are amiable and love to talk is that conversations can go on for rather longer than you’d want. I asked the head waiter in my regular café this morning about the implications of the imminent anti-smoking law. Twenty minutes later – and with him giving his considered view for at least the third time – I was more than keen for him to turn his attentions to another customer. If he'd gone on much longer, I'd have taken up smoking.

As I’ve said, the issue of the British EU rebate is never presented on the Continent in its full light and the picture invariably painted is that of the EU financing Britain, rather than the other way round. That said, truth is of little value when all your 24 colleagues are against you and not averse to whipping up their electorates with partial and self-serving propaganda. So it will be very interesting to see if Mr Blair can get himself out of the corner into which Mrs Thatcher and Mr Brown have painted him.

And talking of the EU, evidence has now emerged that the initial view taken by the Commission of the proposed utilities takeover in Spain was that it had international ramifications and couldn’t be left to the Spanish government to adjudicate. So maybe Mr Zapatero did do a deal with the President of the Commission when he came to Spain last week to ‘take his son to see the Real Madrid-Barcelona game’.

For anyone wondering what happened to the illegal artificial hill with the JCB perched on top of it – here’s the current state of play. As you can see, the problem of preventing the houses from falling off the cliff has now been tackled rather more seriously….

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Monday, November 21, 2005

On my daily walk into town I used to pass a pet shop. Now I pass two. But the new one is rather more up-market than the old one. Or ‘alto-standing’, as they say here. It’s clearly aimed at those residents of Pontevedra who’ve completely taken leave of their senses. Not only have they bought a dog which is only fractionally larger [and less attractive] than a rat but now they want to dress it in a pullover or overcoat. And buy it food that has ‘Royal’ in the brand name. Sadly, there must be enough of them around to make the shop a going concern. What a shame they don’t sell hunting rifles next door.

Two Galician trawlers have been arrested by the Norwegians for fishing for a protected species, Greenland halibut. The Spanish government has said they were in international waters but, given the quantities of illegal fish available in tapas bars throughout Spain, my guess is no one in Spain actually believes this. Especially in view of the clip on the news, showing tons of fish being quickly jettisoned from one of the miscreant boats.

One of the joys of the English language is its capacity to generate new words. Some, of course, are more appealing than others. I can’t say I’m taken with Sky News’s attempt to turn ‘recap’ into a transitive verb, as in ‘We’ll recap you now”. Even worse than ‘Appointment-to-view television’.

Manchester United may feel they have their problems but these are nothing compared with those of Real Madrid. On Saturday, the world’s most expensive team of over-the-hill galacticos was trounced 3-0 at home by their arch [Catalan] rival, Barcelona. Actually, it’s sad to see a player as great as Zidane struggling to compete with the best. Should have gone at the end of last season, along with a few others.

It’s 30 years since Franco died. Astonishingly, around a thousand Falangeists of all ages went on to the streets of Madrid at the weekend to mourn his passing. The good news is that more than 30 million people didn’t.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Pontevedra council has decided to do something about the high number of pedestrians injured or killed by cars on the town’s roads. They’re going to penalise pedestrians who indulge in inappropriate ambulatory behaviour. I wonder if this applies to people who are hit on zebra crossings. A fair number of drivers give the impression of believing that venturing onto these classifies as inappropriate behaviour.

There’ve been several strident calls recently for a high-speed train link to be installed between Vigo in Galicia and Oporto in North Portugal before the 12th of Never. Meanwhile, back on earth, the Portuguese government has just taken the decision to withdraw one of the two trains which currently provide a service on this route. Even though these move only fractionally faster than walking pace, this will surely be missed. Not everyone has a car and can barrel down the under-utilised autopista which connects these two cities.

I’m obliged to my friend Andrew for the sight of a local driving school which rejoices in the name of ‘Chaos’.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Galician was spoken for the first time this week in an EU meeting in Brussels, thus supplying work for around 30 to 40 interpreters who’d otherwise be unemployed. Along with the many others who translate Catalan and Basque into both Spanish and Galician. I suppose it makes sense to someone. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Spanish government doesn’t pick up the bill.

On this subject, a reader has challenged me to confirm that Galician is really just a dialect of Spanish. The honest answer to this is that, while it sometimes seems to me that this might be the case, I really don’t know and [as I live here!] I wouldn’t like to make a definitive statement in that direction. As I understand it, Galician, Portuguese and Asturian are all descended from the language which held sway over the west of Iberia after the Romans went home. So it’s surely arguable they’re sister languages and not dialects of Spanish, which is the main descendant of the Latin language of the Eastern half of Spain. Some [the Portuguese] maintain Galician is merely a dialect of Portuguese, not Spanish. And some [the Galicians] maintain that Portuguese is a descendant of the Galician that was originally spoken on both sides of the river Miño. Frankly – as in all language wars - it’s safer to be pragmatic about all this and to proffer a view consistent with the place in which you’re standing.

The Catalan bank caught giving interest holidays to two local political parties says it’s not at all unusual for banks to give preferential treatment to entities which work for the public good or social causes. This, of course, would cover an awful lot of organisations who would, if they sought it, surely be denied such largesse. Me, for example. So the bank’s contention has rightly been dismissed as specious nonsense.

The opposition party has accused the President of having a secret meeting with the head of the EU Commission so as to agree Spain will soften its grant demands in the imminent budgetary bun fight. The quid pro quo, it’s claimed, is a decision by Brussels to stay out of a Spanish takeover battle in the utilities area. Strangely, this also involves a Catalan organisation. I suspect there’s not a lot of hard evidence for this accusation but one can hardly blame the Spanish for being major conspiracy thinkers when they’re constantly hearing of such deals as that mentioned in the previous paragraph. Especially when the government seems to be in hock to the Catalan coalition whose support was critical for them in the last elections.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Friday, November 18, 2005

As some readers may know from my web page, I have a border collie, Ryan. As with all the breed, he is smart but [as he ages] a little intemperate. He could be me. Anyway, watching a news item this morning about a border collie winning a dance competition in Germany, he was infuriated to hear the winner wasn’t considered a pedigree dog. He wants to write a letter to the TV channel but I’ve refused to take him down to the notary public to have his paw print attested. If my experience this week around a divorce form is anything to go by, this could take months.

And talking of Spanish bureaucracy, I again gave the postman an erroneous ID number this morning. I wonder when they’ll be coming to cart me off to prison.

Yesterday I went to see an exhibition on the Titanic. Huge mistake. It consisted of little more than large photographs, mock-ups and sundry replica items. I could’ve learned more in 5 minutes in a local library. In keeping with the low standards of today, the idea was that – after the inevitable ‘photo opportunity’ – you spent 2[!] hours walking around while the various items were slowly described to you on a headset. In the event, I saw everything twice in less than 30 minutes. It was billed as the most successful exhibition in the entire history of the world. Since, by Spanish standards, it was far from cheap, I assume this means in terms of separating you from the contents of your wallet.

Two more ‘kamikaze’ drivers were arrested this week in Galicia. Both were driving the wrong way down the autopista and both, of course, were over the drink limit. Six times over in one case. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, though in one case several cars were written off before the imbecile was brought to a stop. By himself, of course.

The EU commission has upped the growth rate forecast for Spain for this year but warned that the economy is displaying some worrying signs, such as a poor trade balance, increasingly high domestic debt levels and no improvement in the country’s low productivity. I thought of the latter this week when one of my teacher colleagues returned from a trip to the UK and commented on just how hard teachers have to work there. But then, from what I’ve gleaned from teachers themselves, the profession must count as the cushiest number available in a country where hard work is decidedly not seen as something which dignifies.

In a nice example of ‘localism’, the Diario de Pontevedra today ran an article headlined ‘Most public works contracts in the Community go to foreigners’. By this was meant companies from other parts of Spain, of course.

I read that normality has returned at last to France, with only 100 cars being burned last night. Or about the nocturnal average, it’s said. Some normality!

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Questions are being asked in parliament about the decision of a major Catalan bank to waive interest payments due on a large loan made to one of the local political parties. This may be unfair but I rather get the impression that such secret ‘sweetheart’ deals between banks and large commercial or political organisations are not exactly rare in Spain.

I dropped into the new ‘Irish Bar’ at the entrance to our local shopping mall today. Apart from coffee, this serves a wide array of German, Belgian and Scandinavian bottled beers. Its claim to Irishness appears to lie in the Guinness sign that swings in the breeze outside. I dread to think what Dublin’s tapas bars are like.

If, like me, you’ve lain awake wondering what on earth ‘art photography’ is, then you’ll appreciate this comment I stumbled across today - ‘Art photographers manipulate the photograph’s promise of reality so as to expose the way the photographic image is as constructed as a painting’.

Below is a photo of a local roundabout in its 4th phase of its [lengthy] construction. I suspect I will be returning to this subject before the year is out but, meanwhile, here are the phases todate:-
1. Dig a huge hole
2. Fill it in and build a roundabout on top of the hole
3. Remember that you have something to do under one side of the road so close it off and dig it up.
4. Deconstruct one side of the roundabout you’ve just built so the traffic can flow in 2 directions on the other side of the road.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The government has announced they’re going to introduce new technologies which will eliminate the need for people to photocopy their identity card and certificate of local registration whenever they want to do anything. They say it will save 10 million pieces of paper a year. This is very good news. So why am I filled with apprehension? I guess it’s because – as in the post office – I suspect electronic and paper-based systems will run side-by-side. And things will take even more time.

The Pontevedra police recently decided to clamp down on the unlicensed traders in our twice-monthly street market. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have mentioned this to the police just across the river in Poio. So guess where the illegal stalls now appear. That old Spanish pragmatism again.

I see the Sky News team has had the brilliant idea of converting itself from a group of staid news readers into a troupe of 5th rate chat show hosts and guests. My already-low tolerance threshold has now reduced to around a minute before I want to put a foot through the screen. Just like watching Spanish TV.

After all this levity, a touch of gravitas. There is a Europe-wide consensus that the EU finances Britain, something which is very far from the truth. This results from the regular prominence given by the French to the British rebate – or El cheque britannico, in Spanish. For my Spanish readers [and others] who share this view, here are a few facts to chew on…
- The ruinously expensive Common Agricultural Policy was negotiated between France and Germany in the 60s. Because the CAP would be particularly bad for the British, they were kept out of the negotiations by the French. The latter, of course, ended up as the main beneficiaries of the CAP.
- When the French veto was eventually lifted in the 70s and Britain was allowed to join the EU, they took a gamble on the genuineness of a French promise they’d be compensated for the CAP via regional funds. The gamble was lost and the funds never materialised.
- So, in the 80s Margaret Thatcher negotiated the annual rebate in place of this failed French promise.
- In 2002, France [Chirac] and Germany [Schroeder] agreed to maintain CAP spending levels until 2013. They did this without consulting any of their ‘partners’ in the EU.
- Over the 30 years since Britain joined the EU, it has paid [despite the rebate] a net €64bn. This is more than twice as much as France.
- In the middle of this year, in an attempt to recover from the disastrous French referendum on the EU Constitution, Chirac again raised the smokescreen of the British rebate. But he was outsmarted by Blair [not a man I usually admire], who expressed a willingness to negotiate the rebate provided something was done about the CAP and its disastrous consequences for everyone except France and [more recently] Spain, Portugal and Greece.
But all this is history. What we now face is a pitched budgetary battle between the northern European countries, fed up of subsidising their ‘partners’, and the southern and eastern members who benefit from the CAP. In this context, France is far more southern than northern. The decisive contribution will come from Germany, whose new government will surely prove less willing to prop up a France that looks increasingly like a country which is imploding after years of high living at the expense of other countries. Or maybe they will want to subsidise France, fearing the spread of revolution from their decaying neighbour.

Whatever, the EU budget for 2007-2113 must be concluded by mid 2006. So, it’s handbags at dawn, ladies.

Meanwhile, the EU Audit Commission yesterday declined to approve the EU’s annual accounts. For the 11th year in a row. You couldn’t make it up, could you?

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

In 1979, the Spanish government and the Catholic Church signed a Concordat, under which payments from the former to the latter would run down in two three-year phases. The end result would be a self-financing Church by 1986. In the event, the first three-year phase lasted nine years and the second – twenty-six years later - has yet to end. Every year, millions of Spaniards tick a box on their tax return, under the illusion it makes a difference to what the Church receives. It doesn’t; the amount is fixed, though annually increased by inflation. But now the government has fired a shot – actually a fusillade – across the bows of the Church by announcing that the law will be enforced.

Maybe it will. Or perhaps – like the law about not building within a certain distance of the sea – it will remain a dead letter. Or ‘wet paper’, as they say here. On this issue, there are regular statements that demolition of illegal buildings is imminent but, in practice, this seems to be a rare occurrence.

Interestingly, the two European countries with the most extended family structures [Italy and Spain] have the lowest birth rates. This augurs badly for the future; after, all if you don’t have a family, who’s going to look after you in your old age? The respective governments must be terrified at the certainty of being called on to care for its rapidly increasing senior citizens. In Spain, at least, my impression is that they’ve hardly started to think about it.

A professor in Pontevedra’s School of Fine Arts has bemoaned the fact that ‘Performance art is almost non-existent here.’ Now that I think of it, this is one of the main reasons I enjoy living here.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Monday, November 14, 2005

The average salary increase in Spain over the last 12 months is 2.9%. As inflation is at least 3.5%, this tells you all you need to know about unemployment levels in an economy that is, nonetheless, one of the fastest growing in the EU.

The members of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language have been busy deciding on the correct spellings of words imported from other languages. Here are a few samples of old and new versions…
Un piercing/Un Pirsin
Un casting/Un castin [An audition]
For those who haven’t read about this in previous blogs, one of the fascinating aspects of modern Spanish is the use of an English gerund to make a noun which doesn’t actually exist in English. Here’s a few more that I’m guessing have been revised in the same way as those above:-
Un parking/Un parkin [A car park]
Un lifting/Un liftin [A face-lift]
Un listening/Un lístenin [A dictation]
Un mobbing/Un mobin [Sexual harassment]

The news from the BolboOceanRace isn’t too good. Within hours of them leaving Vigo on Saturday, a tremendous storm damaged four, if not five, of the six boats, driving most of them into Portuguese ports for repairs. Shades of the hurricane after Trafalgar, though none of them has actually sunk so far, unlike nearly all the captured French and Spanish galleons. Perhaps we won’t see an upsurge in maritime tourism after all.

When I was a child, the office opposite my school bus-stop belonged to a Commissioner for Oaths. This was a rare animal in the UK then and I suspect it still is. And a poor relative to the lawyer. My impression is the situation is reversed in Spain. Here, the equivalent of a Commissioner for Oaths is the Notary Public and these seem to be far more important than lawyers. I suspect this says something about the paperwork involved in even simple transactions in Spain. And the need to get your signature regularly attested.

Here’s a surprise – Telefonica’s profits soared in September. Possibly something to do with all those silently retracted discounts.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

You may have missed it – even in the Sports reports – but yesterday was a big day for the city of Vigo, here in Galicia. For the first time in its history, the Volvo Ocean Race [or the ‘BolboOceanRace’ as it’s called by Spanish commentators] started from a non-British port. The event seemed to go off spectacularly well, which will hopefully give the desired boost to maritime activities along Spain’s magnificent NW coast. We can surely look forward now to a lot more people messing about in boats. I’m even contemplating it myself, though with an outboard motor, rather than a sail. And on a docile river, rather than the unpredictable sea.

You don’t have to be here very long to discover that, even though the teaching of English is considered a priority, very few people can actually speak it. One major reason is that, astonishingly, there’s no oral component in any school exams. Or even in the A level equivalents. Instead, there’s an unhealthy emphasis on English grammar. In this, I understand, Galicia is no different from any region in Spain other than Catalunia. Another factor is the dubbing of all foreign language films into Spanish, which contrasts with the situation in nearby Portugal, where subtitles are used both in the cinemas and on TV. So kids there get to listen to English every day and, consequently, are much more ready to try speaking it. But it’s not all bad news. Not before time, the regional government is considering adding a dictation test [called in Spain ‘un listening’] to the exam which determines which university course you can do. I guess from ‘un listening’ it’s not too big a step to ‘un speaking’, especially among people who must rank among the most accomplished speakers in the world.

In one of the numerous ads for loan companies on Sky TV, the sign-off line is ‘Subject to conditions and acceptance’. It reminded me of the airway bill for my dog being shipped from Tehran to the UK many years ago – ‘British Airways accepts no liability for mortality caused by death’.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Saturday, November 12, 2005

You have to hand it to these Nigerians – the wife of the President is not yet cold in her [reduced-size] coffin but already her ‘Financial Adviser’ is offering me millions for helping him deal with the funds she squirrelled away before her ill-fated appointment with the Spanish cosmetic surgery clinic.

In a survey of ‘safe driving’ in 13 EU countries, Spain came 12th. But there’s no place for smugness; the UK came 11th. Mind you, Portugal came in the top 3 and, if you’ve ever driven there, you’ll know this is a nonsense as an indication of your likelihood of surviving on the country’s roads. Some clue to the structure of the survey came from a comment in El Pais that the UK – despite the lowest accident rates in the EU – had suffered because it’s not compulsory there to carry 2 triangles. Nor a full set of light bulbs and a luminous jacket, I guess.

There’s a protest march in Madrid tomorrow against the government’s plans to revise education so as, inter alia, to further reduce the importance of religion [i. e. Catholicism] in the curriculum. Although the march will be attended by a number of high-ranking clerics, the church has said the march is ’Nothing to do with us, guv.’ The problem the government has is that a significant amount of education is still provided by Church-linked schools in Spain. For which it is given vast sums of taxpayers’ money. So, my bet is on the government.

Quote of the Day

The worst imaginable world would be one in which the leading expert in each field had total control over it.
Friedrich Hayek, in ‘The Road to Serfdom’

Why have the French institutionalised the idea that you can buy your way out of trouble with higher taxes and more regulations? Because they've let the best minds take control of politics. The results have been what they always are once you let the best minds take control: disaster.
P. J. O’ Rourke

Friday, November 11, 2005

Picture a crowded street where none of the pedestrians cedes space to any other. This is Any Street, Spain. Now imagine the same scene when it’s raining and everyone has an umbrella. Anarchy. Finally, take this a stage further and visualise the effects of the pedestrians walking in and out of scaffolding on the pavement. Actually, this is misleading and unfair. As I’ve said before, although Spaniards are not usually awfully aware of the existence of others, when they’re forced to be so, they transmogrify into the politest people on earth. There’s nothing like a combination of umbrellas and scaffolding for achieving this. I feel the latter should be a compulsory street feature.

It struck me today there are similarities between the way English and Galician have developed, specifically a gap between the spoken and the formal language. The big difference, though, is that with English the fluid, flexible language of the people prevailed over that [Latin/French] of the establishment. In other words, it was bottom-up. With Galician, however, it’s the establishment in the form of the Royal Academy which is trying [and failing, of course] to impose the language from above. I suppose it keeps them in work - even if much of this seems to consist of the low intellectual challenge of devising new spellings to differentiate Galician from Spanish. This is not, I stress, to suggest Galician [and an extensive, long-established literary tradition] doesn’t exist. It’s just a jaundiced comment on the function of language Academies. I rather get the impression most Galicians would sympathise with my view.

The tales of banking inefficiency just go on and on. I ordered a credit card from my new bank. This involved several duplicate conversations and not one but two faxes of a copy of my identity card. And they still managed to get my surname wrong. So now I’ve been asked to repeat the whole process, meaning yet another fax. Why on earth did I bother when I have 2 UK credit cards? I guess it seemed a good idea at the time. The same bank has written to confirm they’ve given me a telephone banking PIN when, in fact, they couldn’t as ‘The machine isn’t working at the moment.’

Emblematic? On TV yesterday were pictures from the scene of the construction accident near Malaga, where 6 workers were killed. The coffins were being moved to the funeral home. One of the bearers was on his mobile phone.

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Although there may not be much evidence for the Galician belief that Ireland was colonised from here, there does seem to be some that post-Roman Brits came the other way. The town of Bretoña, south east of Mondoñedo, for example, is said to be the site of an ancient British settlement. To quote . . . “Links between the peoples of NW Iberia and the British Isles were much closer in prehistoric and historic times than has been the case since the 16th century. The old legend of the Irish originating in Spain was simply part of a much broader pattern of movement of peoples along the Atlantic edge of Europe.” Perhaps, then, Columbus was actually of Anglo-Galician descent. See this site for more details – http://www.peterrobins.co.uk/camino/British_Galicia.html

Despite the Madrid bombings, here in Spain the police can only hold a suspected terrorist for 3 days without charge, against the existing 14 days in the UK and the extension to 28 days agreed yesterday. Not surprisingly, therefore, Blair’s failed demand for 90 days is seen here as more appropriate to a South American dictatorship. How the wheel turns.

The death of 6 construction workers when a viaduct collapsed in the south of Spain has sadly endorsed the country’s position as the worst of the EU-15 for work-related accidents. The league table for these shows the usual north-south pattern on such issues but with some anomalies. Luxembourg, Germany and Austria rank higher than one would expect. Can this be, I wonder, because each has a high percentage of ‘guest workers’? Just a thought.

The more comments I get from the Spanish readers who are good enough to write to me, the more I sense a tendency here to hark back to an earlier ‘golden age’, either of the country as a whole [the 16th century] or, moreso, of its constituent kingdoms. For the life of me, I can’t see this is much different – in principle - from Bin Laden demanding the restoration of Al-Andalus, as the predecessor of [nearly] all of these kingdoms. And perhaps there’s some Visigoth out there who, using the same logic, thinks we should return to the last time Iberia was united, after the Romans went home. A new seat at the UN, perhaps. Visigolandia. Adios both Spain and Portugal. I wonder how much this anti-history nostalgia is unique to Spain, reflecting the long-reported [and admirable] national characteristic of a deep love for one’s patria chica.

Telefonica’s latest wheeze . . . In this month’s bill we’re no longer given discounts on provincial and national calls. They didn’t amount to much per bill but, multiplied by millions, their cancellation must represent a massive amount of pure profit. Of course, we’ve not been advised of this change. How much time now before the ‘call identity’ line has a number in place of the current zero? Oh to be rid of these ‘robbers in white gloves’.

The UK makers of toilet paper [‘hygienic paper’ in Spain] seem to be competing to see who can get the cleverest [or at least cutest] mention of ‘bum’ or ‘bottom’ into their ads. ‘Love your bum’ being one of these. I fear we can’t be very far away from ‘Arse-wipingly good!’

For new readers – If you’ve arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, you might find my non-commercial guides interesting – at colindavies.net