Monday, January 31, 2005

As I have a piano I can’t yet play, I put an ad in the town’s music school for a someone to have a go at teaching me boogie and blues. Then I sat back and waited to be inundated with calls from impecunious students desperate to earn a penny or two. After a week, the grand total of calls is nil. Clearly, I was naïve to think there were any hard-up students in Pontevedra. I had quite overlooked the fact that, as they all live at home, they'll be anything other than eager to work to keep the wolf from the door. And, if one does turn up now, I’ll be less than confident that he or she will stick at it, for exactly the same reason – an absence of hunger. I blame the parents.

Here’s the second list of search items that brought up my blog site; this time it’s those that seem [to me at least] to have nothing to do with Galicia or Spain:-

Top less
Smart car oil cooling lines
Statistic of the day – socialist
American idol nigger contestant 2005
Teenage driver insurance already covered
Mango addiction
Pudding desert
Beach boy steroids

I’m struggling to find the thread that runs through these.

Today’s local paper reports that the ‘antidisturbance’ police were out in force on Friday and Saturday nights, to prevent the sort of violence that marred the previous weekend. The less-than-impressed local residents are reported to have said “You could have fooled us”. Working undercover, obviously.

Of course, there’s a certain irony here – As Tony Blair’s government in the UK is liberalising the licensing hours in the belief that British yobs will immediately give up binge-drinking and turn into sophisticated Continental wine-sippers, the latter are doing their best to convert themselves into British yobs. Further support, I suppose, for the old cynical view that the consequence of every major reform is the exact opposite of that intended.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Here in Spain you can go onto the roads either on a small motor-bike or in a micro-car without any theoretical or practical training whatsoever. You might have thought this area of high risk was a prime candidate for EU harmonisation. But apparently not. One can’t help wondering what sort of mind reserves this for, say, the rather less dangerous practice of selling your potatoes in pounds instead of kilos. I guess it’s the kind of mind cognisant of where people won’t unduly react and endanger your job.

My mother tells me that, when she is 80 in April, her UK basic pension will go up by 25 pence a week, exactly the same amount as for my grandmother 30 years ago. In advising her of this, the DSS have warned her not to get too excited as her Pension Credit will be reduced by the same amount. I would guess that the stamp on the letter cost more than 25p. So bureaucratic madness is not confined to Spain, then? As if any of us ever thought it was.

Has everyone noticed how spam emails have rocketed up since they brought in tough new regulations designed to eradicate it?

With apologies to my regular reader[s], here is the running commercial – If you have arrived at this blog because of an interest in Galicia, you might find my web page [colindavies.net] to be of interest. I wish I could say it would profit me if you do.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Iberia are complaining about the assistance being given by the Galician government to Ryanair and Easyjet. Like the local politicians with the loss of EU funds, they are whingeing about the unfairness of it all. Since Iberia’s strategy todate has made it more expensive for Galicians to fly to Madrid than to Hamburg or even New York, there’s not a lot of local sympathy for them. Especially as the low-cost operators will now do vastly more for the local economy than Iberia has ever done. Meanwhile, the state airline has threatened to retaliate by cancelling its one [expensive] daily flight between London and Santiago. This strikes me as being as futile a gesture as my moving my shopping from a churlish checkout girl this morning.

I see that, following a 60% increase in operations in 2004, the UK Medical Council has decided to impose stronger regulations on the cosmetic surgery industry. I confidently predict that not only will this example not be followed in Spain but also that we‘ll have TV ads targeted at men by the end of 2005. We already have them in the newspapers. Thank God I’m too old to care.

Trying to get a squash court in the UK can be a challenge as you must book ahead. Here, things couldn’t be simpler. You just turn up and walk on the court. This is because booking ahead is simply not allowed as they know that people would ignore their own reservations and never call in advance to cancel.

Driving into the railway station car park yesterday, I noticed this plea, hand-painted across the barrier - Don’t take up two spaces. I suspect the next one will be Don’t park across the access lanes. These are strategically placed every 50 metres or so down the length of the car park, to allow you to exit without driving down to the end and back. Of course, neither injunction will have any effect whatsoever.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

I mentioned a couple of days ago an ad for a cosmetic surgery company that features beautiful young woman who allege they’ve had surgery and now feel much better and more attractive. So far, we’ve had three of these. The camera angle of the first was downwards, toward a bust bursting out of a white shirt. In the second, the camera appears to be on the floor and is, of course, highlighting an unnaturally long pair of perfect thighs. In today’s ad, the camera is level with the model but taken from the back, on a beach. I’ll leave you to figure out the feature du jour. One can’t help being impressed by the bluntness and crudity of the message. Not quite as artistic as today’s brilliantly updated version of Gene Kelly’s Singin' in the Rain on UK TV but doubtless just as effective. I’ve sent off for a form.

A majority of one of Spain’s senior judicial bodies has suggested that permitting gay marriages will open the way to bigamy. Mind you, they have agreed to withdraw their even more contentious claim that it would lead to men marrying animals. So it’s not all bad news.

At the other end of the age scale, the Youth Council has distributed thousands of cans of an energy drink called Referendum Plus. The apparent purpose of this is to persuade young people to get out and show their support for the EU Constitution in next month’s referendum. As I’ve said, if there’s any opposition to this, it’s invisible. The only question is whether the turnout will be merely embarrassingly low or laughably low. Hence the expenditure of taxpayers’ money on schemes such as this one.

The state phone company, Telefonica, has announced a significant increase in its dividend. Why am I not surprised at this news? Could it be because they increase their fixed costs more often than I make a phone call?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

I’m been trying to categorise the searches which take people to my blog. The easiest column is for those which are related to Spain or Galicia [e.g. ‘property in Galicia Spain’] but which are in no way amusing; I won’t bore you with these. Then there’s those with at least a tenuous connection with Spain; these may or may not bring a smile to the face. And finally there’s those which have absolutely nothing to do with Spain but which include a word or phrase that’s occurred in one of my scribbles. The funny thing about these is that my blog sometimes appears early on a in a list of zillions. I suppose this is why it then gets hit. More of these later but I guess the oddest example is ‘especially for gays’. This brought up more than 1,280,000 citations, of which mine was actually the first. I don’t know whether to feel honoured or frightened.

For now, here are some of the searches which have at least some connection with what I really write about:-
Living as an artist in Galicia
Spanish sexual habits
Brothels in Spain
Brothels Vigo Spain
Shirt importers in Spain
Film lines Spanish English translations
Spain’s chances of success in the next Olympics
Bikinis in Galicia
Galicia Spain the Greek [Don’t ask me]
El Mundo Spanish lottery
Catalunian nationalism [So, at least I have one intelligent reader]
Catalunian dictionary [Possibly him/her making a return visit]
Catalunian Mandarin
Crossbows from Spain
Louis Figo smoking
Commercial topless Spain law [No. 1 again with this one, albeit out of only 751]
Guarra [= slut] Spain
Exhibitionismo [= exposing oneself]

On a more serious note, Galicia’s economy has grown to the point where it now exceeds the cut off point for EU grants to poor regions. This threatens funds for 2007 onwards. Local politicians have said it won’t be ‘fair’ for Galicia to lose out this way. Whereas it was, one supposes, perfectly fair to receive someone else’s cash for 30 years or so.

Even more seriously, the government has roundly rejected both the Pope’s criticisms of their liberal policies and, closer to home, the suggestion from the Archbishop of Madrid that the capital is mired in sin. As if to rub things in, they have today announced grants to the Muslim, Jewish and Evangelical ‘confessions’. Implicit in this grouping is the very Spanish belief that Protestantism is not a branch of Christianity but, in fact, an entirely different religion. We’re still waiting for the Reformation here. Though the Pope may well think it has just arrived.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Confusion reigned here briefly over the Catholic Church’s attitude to condoms, after some cleric suggested that they were permissible for preventing AIDS. However, the Vatican has now overruled this rash curate and said that chastity and fidelity will do quite nicely. During the short period of confusion and elation, the 83 year old President of the Galician government – limbering up for the 2005 election – pitched for the Catholic vote by insisting that he’s never worn a condom in his life and has no intention of ever doing so. Which must come as a relief to someone.

Already concerned by earlier talk of gay marriages, easier abortion and rapid divorce, the Pope clearly saw this condom nonsense as the last straw and yesterday handed out a tongue-lashing to Spain’s socialist government, accusing them of encouraging a degree of laicism which is disrespectful to the Catholic Church. Perhaps he’d also seen the report suggesting that the number of young people practising the religion has fallen by 50% since only 2000. One can’t help feeling that he’s up against it.

More locally, no sooner do I stress that violence is not a feature of booze drinking in Spain when the riot squad is called out in Pontevedra to sort out warring gangs. The perils of being a topical commentator.

But the good news is that I’ve finally exorcised the ghost of the C. de E. from my blog site. Even Google Spain no longer makes citations. On the other hand, I did have someone hit my blog yesterday while searching for news of Celtic fans in Vigo brothels. Clearly, it takes all sorts.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Round-the-clock boozing is a big issue in the UK at the moment, where many are concerned that the proposed relaxation of the licensing laws will simply lead to more of the atavistic binge drinking for which the UK is now infamous. The Spanish equivalent of this is the botellón, which is street drinking by young people from midnight to 8am. It rarely involves violence but is always accompanied by a great deal of noise and a fair bit of vomiting. Understandably, affected residents want something done about it. Here in Pontevedra, the local council pronounced last week that this is a global problem to which no one has yet found a solution. In other words, “Tough shit.” So the residents took to the streets this weekend and blocked the traffic for 15 minutes by walking backward and forwards across one of the zebra crossings. As this is a death-defying strategy in Spain, feelings are clearly running high.

One of Spain’s leading banks – the BBVA – is under attack from a construction company which is trying to gain control via an increased shareholding. The fascinating thing about this is that everyone here seems to think it’s quite normal for the socialist government to use its ‘friends’ in the construction company to gain influence over a major financial institution. Likewise, no one seems to object to the wholesale clear-out of previous occupants of senior positions in the government owned TV companies. All part of a patronage culture, I suppose.

The President, Mr ‘Bambi’ Zapatero has said that there will be no deal with the Basque terrorist group ETA until they renounce violence and turn in their arms. Their immediate response was a car bomb in one of the Basque cities. Some see this as the last gasp of a shattered and demoralised organisation and one can only hope this is true.

On a more trivial plane, one of the country’s leading cosmetic surgery companies has initiated a remarkably direct advertising campaign. This centres on having some of the country’s most beautiful women pronounce “Yes, I too have had cosmetic surgery and now feel better and more attractive.” The chances are that this is a bare-faced lie but no doubt the campaign will be effective. As ever, evidence of any sort of feminist reaction to this is conspicuous by its total absence.

Friday, January 21, 2005

For those unversed in Spanish ways, it bears repeating that matters here can be very, very local. And that personal contacts are everything. This is a prelude to the second chapter in the saga of getting a social security number and health card for my daughter.

In short, it’s quite possible that things were successfully concluded this morning, in that she’s been given additional paper and a doctor's appointment for next week. However, she reached this point in Madrid before things went very awry.

The morning got off to an excellent start. My daughter presented all yesterday’s papers, the clerk accepted her application and then immediately began to complete the next form. As ever, this demanded details of her address, down from province, through township and district to parish. Here he stopped and pointed out it wasn't in Pontevedra but in a township across the river, all of 750 metres away from the health centre. This, he said, precluded her from seeing a doctor in Pontevedra itself. Happily, my daughter had the presence of mind to say ‘Yes, but our neighbour's a doctor here and she wants to see me’. The immediate response to this was “Well, in that case, no problem whatsoever’. And the appointment was duly given. The funny thing, though, is that the clerk didn’t ask for the name of our neighbour but gave my daughter an appointment with a different doctor. So it seems that merely the muttering of the magic words – I've got a friend here – did the trick. If you’ve read yesterday’s blog, you'll know I'd been hoping this would be our trump card. I must now steel myself to use it every time things start to become problematical.

Meanwhile, we must be getting near the weekend as C. de E hits to my blog have rocketed up.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Today my daughter and I took on the challenge of getting her a Social Security number and card here in Pontevedra. These turned out to be two different things. If not ten. She had tried to do this in Madrid but, having consummately failed, had retired hurt.

The very good news is that, whilst it took us most of the morning, we may well have succeeded.

The other thing that needs stressing is that all the offices we went to were well appointed, all the clerks pleasant and helpful and the process in each place virtually immediate and relatively quick. Plus all the offices were within walking distance of each other and the weather perfect for undertaking the task of meandering through a bureaucratic labyrinth.

For those who may face this challenge themselves, the day’s glitches included:- 1. Insufficient photocopies of every imaginable proof of identity; 2. the inability of Spanish bureaucrats to understand that in other countries people don’t have two surnames; 3. the need for my daughter to be registered in the same municipality as me, which is not where the Social Security offices are; 4. the need to have something instead of the Book of the Family which is a fixture of Spanish life and which proves family connections; and, finally, the need to ensure that, when someone is trying to find you on a computer, they use your surname and not one of your forenames. This is really a variant of No. 2 but what the hell; it was a separate problem from the issue of a provisional card [Step 1] with all my daughter’s names transposed.

But – as I say – we may have cracked it. At least we have a number, a provisional card and a host of supporting documents to go with the form we will submit tomorrow to try to get a real card and, in due course, an appointment with a real doctor. We’re concerned that name confusion means that my daughter is called different things on different forms but are hoping that we can blag our way through this. We think we will be assisted by the fact that the doctor we want to see is our next-door neighbour. In Spain, this sort of thing counts a lot.

Looking back, it has all been not so much an obstacle course or an initiative test but a mixture of both of these, played out on a snakes and ladders board. With a touch of orienteering thrown in.

But, as they say, tomorrow is another day. Fortune favours the foolhardy and obstinate.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

It’s customary in Spanish families for the children to stay at home until they find a partner to live with. At this point they finally move out, though often not very far. If no partner comes along, they stay in the parental home until they inherit at least a part of it. What this means, of course, is that very few young Spaniards experience a period of independent living. So divorce must come as an even greater shock than it does elsewhere. Except, of course, for those who immediately move back ‘home’. It also means that many young Spaniards live with their parents until they are well into their thirties. Forties even. But then I read that this is increasingly a feature of British society too, as a result of rising living costs.

Talking of families and reverting to the theme of what phrases are most terrifying to hear in Spain….. Part and parcel of the closeness of Spanish families is that parents and relatives are rather more generous to their offspring or young relatives than in Anglo-Saxon society. Even after they are married, young Spanish couples will turn regularly to their family for financial assistance. So, it is not entirely heart-warming to hear the words “You are like an uncle to us. One of the family”. For, sure as eggs is eggs, it means you will at some point be tapped. And that any loan you might make will turn out to be a lot softer than you thought. Or so they tell me.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Spain’s bureaucracy – and its affection for paperwork – are justifiably legendary. My elder daughter is currently embroiled in the process of getting registered in the social security system and it is driving her to distraction. One major problem is that the previous system for European nationals ended on 31 December, 2004 and interim arrangements are now in force. Needless to say, this creates even more gaps for things to fall through. Some of the most frightening words in English must be these I read last week - ‘A new reciprocal healthcare system is coming into force throughout Europe and Spain has been the first country in the EU to implement it’.

I am fighting my own little skirmish around my attempt to give away my old car [which is not really allowed] but this is nothing compared to my poor daughter’s problem. Especially as I have dumped my challenge on the happy recipient of the car. I just keep signing the documents she brings me.

It all reminds me of a comment in John Hooper’s book on Spain [The New Spaniards], to the effect that the only consolation available when it takes you days to achieve anything is that is used to take weeks.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Couldn’t get a copy of El Mundo today for love nor money. This was because they had a special offer – a heavily discounted edition of a book on Velasquez. On occasions like this, the newsagents have always sold out by midday, leading me to ask how this can happen when the papers are distributed to them on a sale or return basis. Anyway, there was some compensation. The alternative was El Pais, which was giving away not only an unintelligible 15th century novel but also a copy of the new European Constitution. My joy was unbridled. I gave up the novel after the first 20-line sentence and have yet to start on the Constitution.

I regularly wonder how the Spanish economy can continue to boom when levels of efficiency are low by international standards. The answer perhaps came in an article today, which reported that, whilst the domestic market [fuelled by Brussels handouts?] continues to thrive, exports don’t. EU largesse is destined to reduce from 2007 so I guess we can party for a while yet.

The counter on my blog site tells me what searches have led people to my scribblings. Many of these, of course, centre on the C. de E. and others have at least some relevance to Galicia or Spain. But many leave me slack-jawed at the capacity of the internet to identify sentences in my blogs which couldn’t be more irrelevant to the search. I intend to list the oddest ones but here’s a few samplers:-
- statistic car population Tehran diagram
- dogo fights
- faria alam
- nose stud joss

Fascinating. Well, to me at least. But I don’t get out much.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The political arm of the Basque terrorist group, ETA, has suggested that the armed struggle for independence could be forgone if only Mr Zapatero would take the ‘Tony Blair’ route forward. This, I suppose, would be to give ETA everything they wanted whilst they retained their weapons and, thus, the capacity to return to terrorism whenever it suited them. Somehow, I can’t see this happening, especially as ETA have suffered several significant reverses in the last year or so.

It would be fair to say that not all British footballers in Spain give the impression of having had a lobotomy. In particular, there’s Michael Robinson, who played for Liverpool in the 80s and now presides over the leading soccer commentary programme. He’s also one of the star puppets on Spain’s version of Spitting Image, which is quite an achievement.

I don’t know what came over me but, in the list of price increases I cited a week or so ago, I managed to overlook Telefonica, the state phone company. Maybe this is because they raise their rental charges so often it scarcely registers when the latest one comes along. Needless to say, each time this happens they trumpet the reduction in call costs forced on them by burgeoning competition; but this is little consolation when you don’t make many calls.

Good to see that RyanAir will be flying from London to Santiago from April this year. And rumours continue to circulate about EasyJet flying into La Coruña, Santiago and/or Vigo. Incidentally, if you have happened upon this comment because of an interest in Galicia, try my web page [colindavies.net] as this is dedicated to this verdant part of Spain.

Friday, January 14, 2005

We already have to put our rubbish into 3 separate bins in the street and now the council is giving us one just for cooking oil. Local ‘environment taxes’ have doubled in the last few years and this should be good for another hike. Cynic that I am, I can’t help suspecting that Kyoto has proven very profitable for people with relatives in town halls across the world.

The Spanish and Basque Presidents met yesterday. Their minds didn’t. Both are now talking Armageddon options. The only chink of light appears to be the possibility that, if one or more of the Basque provinces reject secession, then the grand plan will be abandoned. Meanwhile, the government and the opposition are dancing around the option of some sort of coalition to take on the Basque and Catalunian challenges to Spain’s very existence.

My strategy of abbreviating the name of the brothel in Vigo is having limited success. Nothing now comes up in English but the message I wrote in Spanish is still on Google Spain. Perhaps they need another few months to get up to speed.

It seems that moving from the city centre to the suburbs increases your chances of both physical and mental problems. Allegedly there is a direct correlation between illnesses and distance to work and the shops. This just the news the city-centric Spanish wanted to hear. But, if it were true, we would surely all be living in Milton Keynes.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Three quintessentially Spanish events today. At the Turismo office, I asked whether they had the 2005 version of their excellent guide to rural tourism in Galicia. The look on the face of the lady behind the counter read ‘Are you insane? Who on earth would need a guide for 2005 in January?’. Five minutes later, at the office of the organisation responsible for tourism in the lowest bit of Galicia [the Rias Baixas], I dropped off a letter for the President, offering my help for free. As I turned to go, the receptionist asked me to leave my name. When I told her that I didn’t need to as it was at the bottom of the letter, she seemed completely nonplussed, pressured as she is by the exigencies of bureaucracy. And so on to the bank, where I wanted to leave instructions for a maturing deposit and, in particular, to ask them to put the money in my current account on the day the deposit actually ended. Needless to say, I was told that, in my interests, this wouldn’t be possible. Sadly, I couldn’t immediately recall the Spanish for ‘bullshit’. I now know this to be sandeces or chorradas, though I suspect these are a little tame, meaning merely nonsense or rubbish.

I was wrong to suggest yesterday that even the heavyweight British press was ignoring the constitutional crisis in Spain that the Wall St. Journal fears bodes badly for the whole of Europe. After a search, I found that the Telegraph of 1 January contained this penetrating analysis - Spanish political parties reacted furiously yesterday to a move by the Basque regional assembly to seek greater autonomy from Madrid.

I also need to add that Sky finally changed its tune about David Beckham’s first public attempt, after 18 months here, to talk Spanish. Even Sky came to realise that it’s not actually impressive to be able to speak rather less well than a parrot of below-average intelligence.

If you have happened upon this blog because of an interest in Galicia, try my web page [ colindavies.net] as this is dedicated to this verdant part of Spain.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

As noted, both the government and the opposition are fervent supporters of the EU constitution. An editorial in El Mundo today asked why, if they could join forces to promote/defend Europe, they couldn’t do the same for Spain. This, of course, is a reference to the Basque secessionist plans, which are en route to a local referendum. Both parties regard this as illegal but the opposition is demanding a tougher response than that apparently favoured by the President, Mr ‘Bambi’ Zapatero. The problem for Mr Z is that [ignoring Islamic terrorists] he was brought to power by a coalition involving the (less extreme) nationalist parties of both the Basque Country and Catalunia. So he needs to tread carefully.

Meanwhile, the Wall St. Journal has suggested that Bambi needs to get his act together if he is not to preside over the Balkanisation of Spain. They fear this would have parlous consequences for Europe as a whole. Which makes it all the more strange that no mention of these events appears to have made it into the British heavyweight press.

Sky TV today showed us David Beckham answering a press conference question in Spanish that was even more execrable than his English. This was bad enough but I could hardly contain myself when Sky praised it at ‘creditworthy’. Suffice to say it was so bad that Spanish TV had to put subtitles below him.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

I was complaining to a Spanish friend that my favourite quiet café was occasionally turned into a children’s playground by inconsiderate young mothers. Her dismissive response was effectively, “No noise, no life!”. In this I suspect she represents the majority Spanish opinion, though I don’t know about Latins at large. I do know it’s not a pan-Iberian attitude as the Portuguese are even quieter than the English. Which is one of the reasons why the Spanish look down on them.

The word pareja in Spanish means couple or pair. And the word sentimental means, well, sentimental. An unmarried couple living together is called una pareja sentimental. A discusión means not discussion but argument. I tell you all this in case, like me, you come across the expression discusión sentimental. For, contrary to appearances, this doesn’t mean an affectionate little chat but what the British police call “a domestic”. In other words, a blazing row.

I mentioned yesterday a Portuguese airline had sent me a letter giving an impossible deadline for use of my air miles. This was worrying enough but I later discovered that they’d also misquoted their own website. However, they did thank me by return for my email advising them of this. So at least we know that, if anything does go wrong with any of their planes, the response is likely to be quick. And civil.

Monday, January 10, 2005

A Portuguese airline company has sent me a letter, dated 15 December, telling me that, if I don’t use my air-miles by November 30, I will forfeit them. Which was nice of them. Except the month in question is last November. I hope they’re capable of greater scheduling efficiency when it comes to aircraft maintenance.

The government kicked off its pro-EU Constitution campaign by distributing a laudatory leaflet at yesterday’s Madrid derby football match. Most of the fans apparently thought it was something to do with the proposed Basque referendum on secession from Spain.

On this, the President of the Galician Autonomous Community has put forward what we might call the Northern Ireland solution to the problem, viz. that the government suspends the autonomy of the Basque region. This description would make more sense, I suppose, if we had actually seen anything approaching a solution to the Northern Ireland problem. Meanwhile, a cartoon in one of the national papers has pointed up the irony of the fact that the oldest nation in Europe is still not a single entity. Spain, that is. Not Ireland.

The banner headline of one of yesterday’s local papers was that the Asian tsunami had hardly affected the coast of Galicia. With Africa in between, this shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise to its readers. I don’t suppose it did much damage to New York or Greenland either.

Nice to read that Spain has the highest rate or organ donation in the world. So, not irredeemably individualistic, then. Though I suspect family loyalty plays a part.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Well, a minimum of four bloody C. de E. searches today so my abbreviation strategy clearly isn’t working. Perhaps time is needed for Google, etc. to get up to date with my revised blogs.

My compensation is that there were more than 50 hits on Friday, most of them from one individual I would guess. Another potential publisher?? Or just somebody who is very bored?

The Spanish love to see themselves as spontaneous. As, indeed, they are. One aspect of this is that they abhor planning and committing themselves in advance. You can see this at work at the English Speaking Society of Pontevedra. This meets 3 nights a week, including a dinner on Fridays. In the 4 years I’ve been attending these, there's been a hard core of 6 members who dine every Friday almost without exception. But none of them puts his name down on the list on Mondays; instead, they leave this until Wednesday, the last moment for avoiding the higher price that comes with a very last-minute notification. I, on the other hand, always put my name down on Monday and, if I can’t then make the dinner, call to cancel. We are all boringly predictable but more spontaneously so in their case.

In a recent Spectator article, I read of a town in Norway which removed all the warning signs from an accident black spot and then saw the incidence fall to nil. What happened was that drivers stopped distracting themselves by reading the signs and, more importantly, ceased making assumptions about what other drivers would do at the crossing. This reminded me of the advice from a Spanish friend that I should stop signalling at roundabouts [circles] as this was confusing other drivers. Far better, she said, to force them to stop by making them wonder what on earth I might do next. As in Norway, the strategy was a brilliant success. No longer do other drivers accelerate to cut in front of me when I've signalled that I'm turning across their path. All very simple really. If counter-intuitive to an Anglo-Saxon.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Much as I love Spanish café society, I do find it hard to cope with the almost inescapable cigarette fumes. Most people here smoke – especially the young females – and very few of them seem to be aware that the habit is obnoxious to people eating and drinking near them. Or perhaps they are and just don’t care. I, for one, will be happy to see the government emulate the Irish and ban smoking in cafés and restaurants. But, then, one wonders just how many Spanish 'individualists' will abide by the rules.

An ETA terrorist responsible for more than 25 murders and sentenced to 3,000 years in jail, is to be released after 18 years. Personally, I find all elements of this incredible.

As I live in a solid middle class area – not that there’s much else in Spain these days – all my neighbours have a maid. If both adults work, then the maid will work full time and will double/triple as a nanny for the kids and as the cook for at least the main, midday meal. And occasionally as a dog walker. I often see my next-door neighbour’s ‘chica’ fulfilling this latter duty when I take my dog, Ryan, into the forest of a morning and afternoon. Her interesting approach is to walk their Old English Sheepdog 50 metres round the corner, sit down in the sun and chat on her mobile phone. Meanwhile, the poor dog circles her as best he can, on the end of a retractable lead. In this he is somewhat hampered by the nearby trees. Naturally, Ryan always smirks smugly at him as we head up the mountain. And, believe me, there is nothing as smug as a Border Collie with almost 11 years’ accumulated wisdom.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Needless to say, a Galician nationalist party has said that they will be making Basque-like proposals for Galicia. I very much doubt that anyone in Spain will take this very seriously, unlike the threats from Catalunian parties. For one thing, Galicia is not rich enough to survive alone.

Apart from heralding a new tax year, the first week in January brings a veritable raft of price increases in Spain – newspapers, road tolls, local council services, postage stamps, phone charges and electricity rates, to name just a few. One feels rather besieged. I can’t make up my mind whether this is sensible pragmatism or just a reflection of Spain’s infamous bureaucratic mindset.

2005 is the 400th anniversary of the publication of Cervantes’ Don Quijote. If, as a result, you feel the urge to finally get to grips with this classic, you could do worse than buy the latest translation, by Edith Grossman. I am meandering my way through this at the moment and, with only another 850 pages to go, may well have finished it by, say, the 405th anniversary. As someone who was occasionally [OK, often] accused of tilting at windmills during my working life, I can readily empathise with the ingenious gentleman of La Mancha.

Has anyone else started to receive spam in bloody Turkish? Or am I being favoured?

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Signing off for the adverts, Sky News this morning asked whether Britons lived to work or [like the Spanish] worked to live. The answer came in the very first ad. This was for a cold remedy and trumpeted that the product would help you work at home if you were unlucky enough to go off sick.

Needless to say, the Pontevedra town council has claimed that it is their enlightened policies which have kept the rate of property increases to amongst the lowest in Spain. Hmm.

The President of the Basque region has rejected the right of the Spanish parliament to kill the secessionist plan he’s already taken through the local parliament and now plans to submit to the Basque people via a referendum. He has asked the Spanish President to ‘negotiate’ with him, in preference to ‘coming to blows’. It seems to me that there is something terribly ironic about the Spanish constitution coming apart at the seams whilst the country is preparing for a vote on the supra-national EU constitution on February 20th. If I were the Spanish President I fancy I would call the Basque President’s bluff and encourage him to unilaterally secede and then prepare for an invasion.

As for said referendum on the EU constitution, the government has announced the star team that will promote a Yes vote in all the media. This consists of reporters, footballers, actors and just one ‘intellectual’. Yes, it’s true – in Spain reporters have a status even higher than that of footballers and actors. This is because there’s no real tabloid press here. As for the No team, well there isn’t one. The impression one gets is that no one in Spain believes there is anything at all wrong with the EU. Except the proposed ‘draconian changes’ that will have the effect of pushing Spain’s snout out of the trough a little bit, in favour of the poor new entrants.

I’m so tired of being hit by Spanish men looking for more details of a certain brothel in Vigo that I have been back through all my blogs and replaced the name with an abbreviation. Those in the know will immediately recognise the C. de E. and will understand why I had to stick a bit of Spanish into the abbreviation. Otherwise, I would have been labelling a house of ill repute the C of E. For non-British readers, this is the Church of England. I now wonder whether my site is going to be plagued by bishops enquiring into Church matters. That should make their day. At least it will be one group of people in colourful attire reading about another.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Gratifyingly, the number of deaths on Spain’s main highways fell 13% in 2004. In fact, every region in the country showed a reduction, except La Rioja. I was tempted to put this down to the prevalence of wine but the totals there are small, meaning that a single crash impacts disproportionately on the percentage change.

House prices rose by an average 14%, though with major differences between cities and regions. For some reason – too much bloody building going on? – the 4% increase in Pontevedra was one of the lowest in the country.

The stock market rose by 28%. And car sales were the highest ever.

And the rainfall, in Galicia at least, was the lowest for more than 50 years. But holidaymakers suffered bad luck when it rained on 21 of the 31 days of August, the only month in the year when the 30 year average was exceeded. Who says God has no sense of humour?

Monday, January 03, 2005

So what did Galicia’s leading daily paper lead on for its first issue of 2005? The devastating tsunami in the Far East? The discotheque fire in Argentina that killed more than a 150 people? Well, No. It featured the New Year address of the President of the Galician government, who also happens to be the head of the local PP party. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised that the local papers somehow manage to survive on uneconomic readerships.

The traditional day for giving Christmas gifts in Spain is 6th January. Or Los Reyes [The Kings] as it is called here. What this means, of course, is that shopping continues until 9.30 on the 5th. One positive aspect of this is that Christmas Day TV ads still feature gifts and toys, rather than summer holiday options, as in the UK. Mind you, if they did, hardly anyone in Spain would regard it as sane to think that far ahead. Plenty of time for that in June.

Spain’s referendum on the EU Constitution is on 20th February. As Spain has been the biggest beneficiary from Brussells’ largesse, it’s hardly surprising that there’s no opposition whatsoever to the proposal. And to say that there’s no debate raging in the media would be an understatement of traditional British proportions. For one thing, the Spanish have a way with rules and laws which they find inconvenient.

Ageing relatives have traditionally been cared for at home in Spain, usually by one of the daughters. But, as the birth rate is now down to 1.1 child per family, there are fewer and fewer daughters around to take on this task. Something has to happen so it’s understandable that a majority of people are in favour of the State increasing taxes to fund greater State aid. Or so they say.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

One of today’s papers contains a list of the 100 most influential people in the country. The fatuity [or at least capriciousness] of these things is demonstrated by the fact that at No. 2 is one of the female Vice-Presidents whom nobody had heard of until the surprise election results of March last year. It's rather like saying that John Prescott became the second most influential person in the UK in 1997.

More seriously, developments in the Basque region have taken Spain to the verge of a constitutional crisis. Thanks to the votes of the local equivalent of Sinn Fein, the President of the Basque government has unexpectedly obtained parliamentary approval for his secessionist plans. Previously, the political arm of the ETA terrorists had rejected the proposals as too weak. No one seems to know what will happen next but one of the Catalunian nationalist parties has said, in effect, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet. Just wait until we get going!’. In an interesting twist, one of the constituent provinces of the Basque region has said that, if the secessionist master plan goes forward, then they will consider seceding from the seceding region. Presumably to stay with Spain, rather than go it alone. Interesting times.

I read tonight that Latins are always late because they are policrónico, in contrast to Northern Europeans, who are monocrónico. What this suggests is that Latins do several things at once, whereas Germans, for example, tend to stick at one thing and do it well. And on time. Maybe so but I have to admit that, when I see a Spanish driver negotiating a roundabout with one hand whilst smoking and taking a call on his mobile with the other, policrónico is not the first word which springs to my lips.