Monday, February 28, 2005

It’s a little late now but what I should have written on the eve of the EU referendum result was The Spanish Ayes Have It. Or perhaps Chirac bedazzled by Those Spanish Ayes. Or possibly neither.

I think I experienced today a good example of the Spanish pride/nobility I cited only yesterday. En route to my morning coffee, I was approached by a man whose opening line was ‘Excuse me, Sir, could I ask you to do me ……’ Taking him to be one of Pontevedra’s several beggars, I started to walk on but then turned to check if he was only asking for directions. His response was a withering look of scorn and a dismissive hand gesture, which clearly said ‘Hell will freeze over before I sink to begging from someone as rude as you’. As he moved off, though, I thought I saw his nose fall off his face.

One of the great things about Spain is that there are still many ‘old-fashioned’ shops where products aren't bundled in threes, fives or tens. The upside of this is that you can buy just one screw or whatever. The downside is that there are no barcodes to read and so the sale has to be entered into a book. If you have several items, this can be a slow process as the catalogue numbers all have to be found. But, of course, the real delays arise when there is a computer monitor next to the till.


Recent Spanglish sightings:-

Un slip - Men’s underpants
Un mailing – Email
Soso – Insipid

And I’m indebted to a leaflet that was stuck on my windscreen for these activities, which presumably take place under a fire sprinkler:-





Sunday, February 27, 2005

In the 1830s, an Englishman called George Borrow came to Spain on a madcap scheme to sell the Protestant Bible to the ‘heathen’ Spanish. He spent four years on this vainglorious task and then wrote about his travails in The Bible in Spain. This is an engaging book and, reading it 175 years later, it is fascinating to see just how many of his comments still resonate today. He finds the Spanish - however lowly - very proud and noble but regularly refers to their localism. This is the same trait as the obsession with the patria chica stressed by Gerald Brenan more than a century later. And by me today when I say that, to a Galician, a ‘foreigner’ is someone from Asturias or Castile.

Anyone with an interest in reading Borrow’s marvellous saga, can access it via a download link on the home page of my web site - colindavies.net

Or you can read just the Galicia chapters via a separate link on the same page

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Galician police say they carried out 30,000 checks for drivers using mobile phones last week. One wonders how, as they managed to catch only 284. Or less than 1%. I guess these are the ones who ignored the flashing lights of friendly oncoming drivers. Or didn’t see the signs saying “Police checkpoint ahead”. Or perhaps they were the ones arrested while saying "I’ll have to go now as there's a bloody traffic cop banging on my window".

Which reminds me – the chief of police in Pontevedra had roundly rejected the demand from residents that he install CCTVs where the all-night revellers cavort. His view is that this would possibly be illegal and certainly ‘illegitimate”. My suspicion is that he means that it would offend the Spanish concept of nobility and ‘fairness’, the same attitude which militates against traffic wardens and has only recently allowed random breath tests on anything other than a token scale.

El Pais today reported the resignation of a French politician whom they say ‘inhabited a landscape of avarice, megalomania and total separation from reality’. Somewhat better than your average tabloid take. Or, sadly, even your average broadsheet comment these dumbed-down days. One can see why journalism remains a respected profession in Spain.

Here’s a surprise – Telefonica have been caught over-invoicing 8 million of their customers after the latest increase in their fixed costs in early February. All an innocent accident of course. Not that they actually discovered and owned up to it.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The video shop owners of Pontevedra are protesting about the number of pirate DVDs on sale in the town. Either things have changed since I last went to hire a DVD or this is a monumental piece of chutzpah. My recollection is that everything on the shelves was an illegal copy.

There’s been a lot of bother up in Barcelona about buildings that collapsed when a new Metro station was being built. And now, having investigated this, one of the leading local politicians has accused his predecessor of being responsible for systematic charging of a 3% kickback on all local contracts. I wish I could understand what is going on but since Spain is blessed with both central and local governments and as, in this case, the latter is composed of several parties in a coalition, there are an awful lot of people with long names and even more party acronyms to master. One of these days. But I think I do understand the concept of a 3% commission.

Presidents around Europe are said to be keen to employ the services of Spanish advisers in their upcoming referendums on the Constitution. I suppose this must be a reflection of Zapatero’s ‘magnificent success’ [as President Chirac labelled it] in getting 32% of the population to vote in its favour. As I’ve said before – Desperate times; desperate measures.

Quote of the Day

The trouble with Paul is that he’s so charming and courteous you forget for a while that he’s mad.

A friend of Paul Foot. His enemies are less kind.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

El Mundo is still rather agitated about the proposed changes to the TV franchises which they claim will financially benefit the leading patron of the socialist government. Strangely enough, the left-of-centre El Pais has had nothing to say on this subject. But, then, it is owned by the individual in question.

One event they do both report on is the death of a Cuban writer, resident in London, who went into hospital because of a hip injury and came out in a box, victim of the MRSA plague in the NHS. His wife, as you might expect, is not all happy with this and things have reached a pretty pass when a Cuban is critical of the UK health service. Can there be any politician left in the UK who still believes that the NHS is ‘the envy of the world’?

Talking of newspapers and politics, at least Spain doesn’t suffer from the curse of an unholy alliance between the government, a press baron and the tabloid press. This, I suspect, will be the lasting heritage of Blairism and I have thought about coining the word Politoids to describe it. If it catches on, you heard it here first. But it probably won’t as it sounds rather like a lot of haemorrhoids. A pile of piles. I’d better stop now.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

In a country where there is a lack of urgency – and, outside the Basque country, Catalunia and perhaps Madrid, Spain still fits this bill – things tend to move slowly as a matter of course. But there is a self-reinforcing aspect to this situation which means that the slowness actually feeds on itself. For, where there in no imperative to ‘make things simple as time is money’, processes are always more complex, laborious and people-intensive than they need to be. And all this breeds human error, with the subsequent need to repeat things. And incur more errors, etc., etc. A perfect example of this was my experience last night in trying to get a list of doctors for my daughter in Madrid. The web site of my medical insurance company naturally asks you to input data to get this information and the form includes the post code. Knowing that this is as unique in Spain as it is elsewhere, I didn’t bother with Province, City and Locality but just entered the postcode. No doing. Every one of these bits of information had to be added before the site would divulge the list. Problems arose when I failed to realise that by Locality was actually meant Madrid [same as the other 2 boxes!] and not the district in which she lives. So a process which should have taken seconds took many minutes and caused a good deal of frustration. A common occurrence with Spanish web sites.

But …… the slower pace of life is one of the many things that make Spain a superior place to live, at least for those of us who don’t have to deal with this challenge on a daily basis in the workplace. So I feel rather bad about banging on about it. On the other hand, if you’re thinking of working – or even just living – here, it’s something you need to know about and accept. If you’re already here, you will surely already be more than aware of it!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Here’s something to bear in mind if you’re thinking of driving in Spain – 1.7million cars aren’t insured. And 1.5million of these are being driven by someone with a phone to his or her ear.

Switching on the TV this morning, I was confronted by a pair of breasts covered in what looked like cling-foil. This turned out to be a bra-substitute called – and I’m not making this up – ‘Lift It Up’. I have written to point out that it should be ‘Lift Them Up’ but, as ever, am not expecting a reply.

The ‘Committee of the Wise’ which has been considering Spanish TV for the last 6 or 7 months yesterday came up with their recommendations. These are that the government [i. e. the taxpayer] should assume the existing debts of the TV companies and, in future, pay half the running costs. This, they say, would allow the volume of advertising to reduce to something like the level of other European countries. In addition a sort of quango should be formed to supervise the content of the programmes. The right-of-centre El Mundo splenetically pointed out today that the main beneficiary of all this would be a company owned by one of the main supporters of the socialist government.

All of which sort of reminds me - Tony Blair has only 3 syllables in his name and John Prescott 4. Their opposite numbers in Spain have 11 and 13, respectively. Could this be one of the reasons why the Spanish talk so rapidly?

Finally, there’s otherworldliness and otherworldliness. The Mother Superior of Pontevedra’s sole remaining convent has been taken to task for allowing some of its antique furniture to be exchanged for towels and other household items. These were offered by a couple who came to the door selling underwear for the 6 inmates. Not Jehovah Witnesses, then.

Monday, February 21, 2005

President Chirac of France has declared the Spanish EU referendum a ‘magnificent triumph’. As less than one in 3 Spaniards bothered to register their Yes vote, one wonders what flights of fancy would have been provoked by something better than the lowest ever turn-out in a national election.

In Galicia – you may recall – the BNG nationalist party campaigned for a No vote, on the grounds that Constitution wasn’t socialist enough. This had the effect of delivering the lowest No vote in the entire country. So I suppose Mr Chirac would regard this as only a moderate triumph.

And talking of nonsense, what on earth is one to make of the Beckhams’ choice of ‘Cruz’ as the name for their latest rug rat? Did they really not know it was a girl’s name and that it means ‘Cross’. Can they really be as stupid as they seem? As someone has commented, “Imagine what they call their pets!”

In a travel book written in 1832, an innkeeper in Andalucia expresses the wish that there were more English visitors to his part of Spain. I wonder what he would make of the place now. As the Chinese curse has it, May your dreams come true.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Well, the referendum turnout is reported to have been a fraction over 42%, just above the government’s stated ‘success’ level of 40%. They may well be happy but now I have to find either a slice of humble/umble pie or a sliver of lamprey. Less surprising was the fact that more than 70% of the voters plumped for the card that read ‘Yes. Please keep sending us money’.

Politics being what it is, the opposition party has lost no time in characterising the low turnout as an indictment of the government’s ability to organise a piss-up in a brewery. Or words to that effect.

On a more parochial level, today’s referendum ‘success’ has been completely overshadowed by the local football team’s first victory in over 20 matches this season. From the celebrations, you’d have thought they’d just won the European cup.

To give you some ideal of just how nocturnal Spain can be, here are the new closing hours for various establishments:-

Children’s areas in shopping malls – 10pm
Cinemas – 1am
Cafés and restaurants – 2am
Small pubs and karaoke bars – 3am
Casinos – 4am
Discos - 4.30am

And these are just the winter hours.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Here in Spain, Gerry Adams followed up his meeting with the [secessionist] Basque President by schmoozing with both the [fractionally less secessionist] President of Catalunia and the spokesman of Batasuna. The latter is the Spanish equivalent of Sinn Fein but with one big difference – it is illegal. It’s difficult to see how he felt all this would help sales of his book. Back in the UK today, Mr Adams denied that he’d changed his view of the big bank robbery in Northern Ireland – he still believed the IRA when they said they didn’t do it. Further, he rejected the accusations coming from the Catholic community that the IRA had committed a particularly grisly murder during a pub fight. This just couldn’t be the truth because the IRA had said it wasn’t. It’s interesting to speculate just where the logic of Mr Adam’s stance will eventually take him. Arguing with God [or perhaps the Devil] that he isn’t really dead because the IRA has denied it?

A cartoon in El Mundo summed up the EU referendum ambience – a young woman holding a copy of the Constitution is saying that Sunday will be a day of great emotion for Spain. Yes, says her male companion, thanks to some technical problem most of the bars won’t be able to show the big football match on TV.

As for the referendum itself, I see that I have been less than brave in forecasting a turnout of less than 40%; some are predicting around 20. And this in a country where you’d be hard pushed to find anyone to say anything negative about the EU – an institution wedded, in Spanish minds, to democracy and rapid economic growth. The only [mildly] interesting aspect of the campaign has been the attempts by the government to persuade people to vote but, if they do, not to vote NO as a punishment for its domestic policies. Vamos a ver.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Gerry Adams has now met with the President of Catalunia and shared with him a vision of ‘a Europe of small states’. Except in the case of Ireland, I suppose, as he would like this to get bigger by absorbing Ulster. Mr Adams took the opportunity to admit it’s possible he was wrong about the recent huge bank robbery in Northern Ireland and that the IRA perhaps lied to him about their non-involvement. I couldn’t help noticing that this complete volte-face came just the day before the Irish police arrested 6 people, at least one of whom is an IRA member. But who expects honesty in terrorists? Or politicians.

Here in Galicia a man was arrested this week and charged with being a member of GRAPA, which turned out to the local equivalent of ETA. You can tell how active and effective they are from the fact that, after more than 4 years here, I'd never even heard of the organisation.

Yesterday, I added this to the Property section of my web page on Galicia - Always remember that business in Spain is very local, very oral and very personal. Right on cue, a local paper has reported that “20% of young Galicians have to emigrate to get work.” What this turns out to mean is that they go to the extraordinary extreme of leaving the province. This, of course, is a drastic step as it means you have to leave your parents’ home and rely on your own income. In Spain, this is not usually done until one marries. Or even later.

I’m relieved that no one has written to tell me that it should have been umble pie and not humble pie yesterday. I did know this but decided to ignore it. Needless to say, Word’s Spellcheck doesn’t recognise umble. Or spellcheck.

In case you’re interested in my web page on Galicia, it is colindavies.net

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A friend in England has written to say that travel agents are beginning to refer to the Miño area as the new Tuscany. Well, I suppose somewhere has to be, until the next one comes along. Perhaps this will be Galicia after RyanAir and EasyJet have started their flights into Santiago and Vigo in late spring.

Anyway, if those in search of the new Tuscany get a move on, they’ll be able to attend the Lamprey festivals of March and April in the towns along the banks of the said Miño. I've resisted this temptation for four years now, on the advice of Spanish friends who say that the only thing worse than the appearance of this repulsive-looking fish is the flavour of its flesh.

Talking of bad taste, Gerry Adams is in Spain, promoting his book and offering his services to those in search of peace in the Basque country. I rather get the impression that his line that the British army is the largest military gang in Ireland goes down less well here than it does on the East coast of the USA. But then they have terrorists here.

Today was the last day of the EU Constitution campaign, the vote being on Sunday. I’m not saying it was entirely one-sided but living under the German Propaganda Ministry of the 1930s must have been a bit like this. Normally, serious discussions on Spanish TV are as rare as hens’ teeth after 9.30 in the morning but last night there was little else. Except they weren’t discussions, but monologues. I’m sticking my neck out and saying that, despite the barrage of promotion, the turn-out will not be much above 40%. If I’m wrong, I’ll eat a lamprey instead of humble pie.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The stamp machine in the entrance of the Post Office is even more irritating than I thought. After going through the initial 8 steps today, I was invited to put in 53 cents. So, one by one I inserted two 20s, one 10 and, finally, a 5, whereupon the machine promptly disgorged the coins and advised that it didn’t have the two cents change. It's hard to imagine how it could have been designed to waste more time. No wonder I’m the only person I’ve ever seen using it. Worse, when I finally got served at the counter, the clerk charged me double on the grounds that the envelope for my niece’s birthday card was 2.5% longer than the standard length. To arrive at this decision, she actually used a retractable tape measure. Standard issue, presumably.

Waiting at the bank today for one of those face-to-face meetings which are a staple of Spanish life, I happened upon a brochure from the Galician Nationalist Party. What was fascinating about this was that it recommended rejection of the EU Constitution. The reasons centred on the fact that Galicia didn’t have a seat on the Council of Ministers and so could not protect its own interests. Instead it had to leave this to the capitalist lackeys of the Spanish government. I can’t see the latter losing much sleep over this attempt to lift the No vote into double figures.

A Romanian girl has withdrawn a suit against her own father in which he was accused of trying to sell her baby to local gypsies for €7,000. She now says it was all a misunderstanding and that he was only trying to make kindergarten arrangements. Families!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A huge fire in one of Madrid’s tallest skyscrapers has given the Spanish newspapers the opportunity to bring us more of the superb graphics at which they excel. These are certainly an improvement on the front page pictures of victims of the car bomb in the Lebanon. If somewhat less colourful.

The justice authorities are seeking a sentence of 62,512 years in prison for the man accused of being the head of Al Quaeda in Spain. And more than 200,000 years for the entire terrorist cell. I’m intrigued as to how these numbers are reached but suspect it has to do with the Twin Towers body count.

The Law of Unintended Consequences appears to working very effectively in respect of Spam emails. Since ‘tighter’ new measures were recently introduced, not only has the volume leaped up but I am now having innocuous outgoing emails returned to me, undelivered - on the grounds that they are Spam. My email address ends in ‘terra.com’ and I am wondering whether some brilliant computer isn’t confusing this with ‘terror.com’

Quote of the Day

I have always thought a certain kind of opera singing produces the ugliest sounds that polite society has ever told itself are admirable.
Peter Phillips, Music Critic of The Spectator

Monday, February 14, 2005

A new experience on a zebra crossing today – someone actually chose to swerve round me rather than stop. Quite impressive, in a shocked sort of way.

Later in the day, I saw the same zebra crossing occupied by an ambulance. Mind you, it had little choice as the yellow line which runs down the entire length of the street was already fully occupied.

Certain aspects of today’s political scene in Spain have an almost surrealistic quality about them. The Sinn Fein equivalent here is Batasuna, which speaks for the ETA terrorist organisation in the same way as Sinn Fein speaks for the IRA. The key difference is that Batasuna is a proscribed organisation. Nonetheless, this illegal party will field candidates in the imminent referendum on the new Constitution for the Basque Country, which is itself illegal. And all this is taking place while Spain votes on the over-arching EU Constitution.

Quote of the Day

Political language is designed to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind
George Orwell

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Presidents of Spain, France, Italy and Germany met yesterday to give a boost to next week’s Spanish referendum on the EU Constitution. Or, rather, they didn’t as the last two cried off because of ‘a cold’. Strangely enough, this didn’t prevent the German President [alright, Chancellor] from appearing at a domestic event. Meanwhile, matters in Spain have reached the point where some EU body has decided that the government has overstepped the mark in spending taxpayers’ money to persuade them to vote Yes. As if this will change anything. And today there was a complaint from one of the minor parties that an encouragement to vote was even appearing on the national lottery tickets. Desperate times, desperate measures.

You’ll all know that Lent began on Wednesday, preceded by Mardi Gras-type events around the world, including Spain. But things didn’t stop there. All this week there have been various bizarre rituals around the country centring on the mock burial of some stuffed creature or other. Here in Galicia, the sardine seems to be the favourite corpse but in Pontevedra it is a huge Pythonesque parrot, called Ravachol. Fittingly, it was dressed in the colours of the local football team, who stand nil chance now of avoiding an immediate return to the third division at the end of the season. The funeral cortege set off at 9pm and weaved its way around the old quarter, accompanied by weeping mourners of all ages. As ever with this event, many of the mini-skirted widows in weeds were anything but female, raising a question or two about such zeal for cross-dressing. The other regular feature is a large number of participants dressed as cardinals, bishops and nuns, suggesting that the event might once have been used for surreptitious criticism of the religious authorities.

The Diario de Pontevedra is offering a free umbrella with one of next week’s editions. In any normal Galician winter, this would have been a sure-fire success. And, before the onset of the driest winter in over 50 years, it must have looked like a great idea. In fact, the last rain to speak of was in the peak holiday month of August, when it was rather less welcome than it would be now.

Friday, February 11, 2005

I had hoped the Spanish media would show little interest in the royal wedding. How wrong can you be. Their obsession with it is only marginally below that of the UK media. El Mundo’s contribution today was the front page headline, the first leader, a cartoon and 3 more pages of nonsense inside. Enough to make a republican out of me.

We’re now being regaled by glossy TV messages from all the political parties telling us to vote Yes in the imminent referendum on the EU Constitution. These are shown one after the other in a truly mind-numbing sequence that should do nothing for the turnout. There is, to be honest, a contribution at the end suggesting that we vote No but, as this is entirely in Catalan, its effect is likely to be minimal. A poll in today’s papers suggests that 67% of Spaniards are not remotely concerned either way with the result and that only 3% will be upset if it goes against their preference. One can see why the government might be worried that the turnout will be embarrassingly low. The truth is that almost everyone in Spain loves the EU for the money it has poured into the country but no one feels much inclined to demonstrate any gratitude. Only annoyance that the Eastern European countries will soon have their [bigger] snouts in the trough.

I went to pay our parking fine today. The office was small and lined with shelves stacked high with box upon box of dockets. Six clerks were toiling away in the centre. If not exactly Dickensian, it did put me in mind of a photo of the first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary working with his staff in his Scriptorium. En passant, the letter telling me that our appeal had been rejected contained hundreds of words on two dense A4 pages. The letter confirming I had paid was brief and to the point. Stranger still, the former was in Gallego and the latter in Spanish.

In a nearby town hall this week, there was a fight between one of the councillors and a local businessman. One of them somehow broke a leg. Yesterday, all the political parties announced that this sort of thing did little for the reputation of their members. So that’s this year’s wise statement from politicians out of the way, then.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Before the royal marriage announcement drove it into a day-long frenzy, Sky News headlined its bulletins today with the story of a midnight fracas at a new IKEA store on the outskirts of London. This came complete with dreadful pictures taken on someone’s camera, followed by an interview with a chavette whose baseball cap appeared to be covered in zircons. The latter’s beef was that she and her 65 year old mother had been left stranded in the middle of the night as there was no transport back home. This, she seemed to think, was everyone else’s fault except her own. But, you will retort, surely the Sky interviewer pointed out that she and her mother had been imbecilic to go shopping in the middle of the night without knowing anything about transport arrangements. And you would be very wrong. Instead, she was accorded victim status and given a prime TV slot that would have graced Nelson Mandela. Oh, brave new world. I must find something else to do when enjoying my first coffee of the day. Neither Sky nor the coffee are good for my blood pressure.

Another recorded delivery letter this morning. This one was from the local council, rejecting our appeal against a fine of 115 quid for ‘dangerously blocking’ an unused verge already completely blocked by 3 huge containers belonging to the same council. Clearly, we’re not as enchufado as we‘d hoped. If you‘ve read Tuesday’s blog, you’ll know what this means.

Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear that, when you get a recorded delivery letter, you have to complete a form which demands name, address, date, signature and your identity number. All this for a postman who sees you every day. And as if anyone would know if you wrote a false number. Or do anything about it. No wonder the Spanish have such a disrespect for paper forms of communication. They must be heartily sick of the stuff by the time they are 25.

Actually, the excess of paper in Spanish life has a word to itself – papeleo. The English equivalent is red tape – ironically, one of the few examples of where the English word/phrase is longer than the Spanish. Except it isn’t, on a syllable count.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Same document – different prism. A member of the government has recommend support for the EU Constitution on the grounds that it embodies all fundamental socialist principles. Meanwhile, a Catalunian politician has demanded rejection as it not only enshrines atavistic, Anglo-Saxon capitalist dogma but will also render Catalunia invisible. All this raises two suspicions – firstly, that no one has ever read the document; and, secondly, that you can make it mean whatever you like. For his part, the President has castigated the opposition party for being insufficiently fulsome in its support of a Yes vote. Now, there’s real criticism for you.

I’m pleased to report that Ellen McArthur made the back page of El Mundo today. And that I have not been assassinated by anyone from Vigo.

I was thrilled today to discover that one of the web sites which links into mine on Galicia [colindavies.net] is that of the Barnsley News. I’m not even going to try to understand why.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

How foolish and presumptuous of us [blog of 21 Jan.] to think that we had cracked the problem of a health card for my daughter just because a bureaucrat in Pontevedra finally accepted the application form and its attached mountain of paper. Today we’ve received a letter [recorded delivery – why?] from the head office in Vigo asking us to supply more information. This is 1. proof of her nationality, 2. information as to any private medical insurance anyone in the family has, and 3. a statement of the annual income of each family member. The first of these was supplied with the application form and the second two, I suspect, are not required under EU regulations. But hey, what can we do? Well, the answer to this is that, armed with the Social Security number she got here, my daughter will use the knowledge gained to return to the process in Madrid - where she actually lives - and get a card there. No, on reflection, the real answer to this question is that we will continue to do what all Spaniards do when faced with these bureaucratic hurdles and use our contacts in Madrid to extend the treatment my daughter is already getting even though she doesn’t have a card. In Spain, this is called being enchufado, or plugged in.

Last night, Spain won an international handball competition. So it was always going to be hard for lone yachtswoman Ellen McArthur to dominate even the sports headlines. In fact, she’s yet to get a mention on Spanish new bulletins. In retaliation for this flagrant lack of interest in such an astounding maritime feat, I’m tempted to suggest that Volvo moves the start of its next global yacht race from Vigo to Falmouth. On the other hand, I’m not convinced that everyone Spanish reading this would appreciate this was a joke. And Vigo is only down the road.

Sky News, at the other extreme, gave Ellen’s achievement prime spot, above the agreement of a ceasefire between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This says everything you need to know about the UK media.

Monday, February 07, 2005

As in many countries these days, English words are used in Spain to give a hint of - would you believe - exoticism in all sorts of situations. Reading the business section of El Mundo yesterday, I noticed an ad from a recruitment firm blessed with the name ‘Fittest’. One can see the logic but it’s a wonderful example of how things can go wrong when someone is unaware of the slang meaning of a chosen word. In case you don’t know, to be ‘fit’ in modern British English means to be, shall we say, physically appealing.

I also came up against the company name Makeateam. It took me a while to realise that it wasn’t an Arabic term but an English composite made up by some ex-athletes.

To point up the lack of dialogue around the EU Constitution, the government here has criticised the opposition for being insufficiently supportive of the document. If you thought this might amount to a suggestion that the opposition was damning it with faint praise, think again. But what would you expect from a party which campaigned at the last election on the theme ‘We Love Europe”? It’s all a universe away from the UK.

Quote of the Day

A satirist is both an idealist and a pessimist. He insists that we should be better but doubts that we ever shall be

Tobias Jones, pretending to be G K Chesterton

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Good to see that the Gibraltar row has been downgraded to page 13 or so, after the British government gave a written undertaking to have its sub back at sea by Wednesday. Let’s hope we don’t have a nuclear holocaust before then. Meanwhile, the Galician Nationalist Party have demanded that the government insist that British nuclear submarines refrain from sailing anywhere near the north west coast. Doubtless they’ll be asking the same thing of the French, the Russians and the Americans.

Talking of affairs of the state, the ex Secretary of State for national security sentenced to prison last September for diversion of funds is still at liberty. As you may recall, his incarceration was postponed so that he could spend Christmas with his family. He now says that he needs just a bit more time to sort out his pension. Of course, the other thing he says is that he’s prepared to blow the whistle on some of his ex colleagues. But I’m sure there’s no connection.

I’m not convinced it’s true but Spanish papers have reported on a German girl’s loss of unemployment benefit after she declined to work in a bar where the hostesses were expected to offer sexual favours. Given the prevalence of such places in Spain, this could be a dangerous precedent for many young woman here. However, it all apparently hinges on the fact that such bars are legal in Germany and my impression is that this is not exactly true in Spain. Insofar as anything is exactly true here.

This is Carnaval weekend in Spain, providing everyone with an excuse they don’t really need to dress up and have a great time. If you want an idea of what things are like here in Pontevedra, try my article Carnaval in Pontevedra on my web page – colindavies.net

Saturday, February 05, 2005

This week a British nuclear submarine limped into Gibraltar for repairs. If a similar French sub had called into nearby Bordeaux, we would never have heard a thing. But, this being a British colony ‘quite different’ from the bits of Spain in North Africa, all hell has broken loose once again. The Gibralterians are furious because the British government told the Spanish government in advance more than they advised them. The Spanish media is up in arms because they were told nothing by Madrid and now want answers to questions such as “Is it a genuine breakdown?” and “Are we all going to be blown to smithereens?” And the Spanish government is incensed because its commendable softly-softly approach to the eternal problem of Gibraltar has gone awry and it now stands accused of being naïve in the face of more perfidy from Albion. Its less-than-brilliant response has been to refuse to answer questions but to say they now believe the British government might have been lying about the extent of the damage so they are considering asking the Spanish secret service to investigate matters. Quite how this will help matters is anyone’s guess.

The good news is that some Spanish commentators see this for the nonsense it is. But imagine what it would be like if Spain had a real tabloid press.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Panel of the Wise charged with making recommendations about the future of public TV has put forward proposals that would enrich the owner of the country’s major left-wing media group. El Mundo has pointed out that this is hardly astonishing as most of the members, appointed by the socialist government, have links to this media group. As it puts it, the surprise would have come if they had recommended anything else.

There’s an article in today’s Telegraph about the tortuous process of getting a family’s passports renewed - to fly from London to Scotland, for God’s sake. It all sounded rather familiar to me. So when the writer asked what on earth it’s going to be like when there are ID cards, I was able to shout “Just the same only a lot worse!”. There’s nothing quite like the combination of an officious bureaucracy and an obsession with identity. You have been warned.

When my colleagues and I were setting up the world’s first DNA testing business in the mid 80s, we used to try to forecast just how Alec Jeffries’ invention would ultimately be used. None of us came up with anything like resolving the dispute between 8 women claiming to be the mother of a baby which survived the tsunami.

I was talking about Spanish “nobility” the other day. The example closest to home is the habit of the staff of my favourite café of giving me a double, even triple, portion of tapas with my glass of wine. This is most welcome but it can be a trifle embarrassing when my plate arrives at the same time as that of the chap next to me.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

There’s a clever new machine in the entrance to the Post Office which dispenses stamps according to the weight of your letters. As you might expect, it isn’t designed for a customer pushed for time. You have to go through 8 steps to get your stamp and, more often than not, you are then told no change is available. Call me a man in too much of a hurry but I wouldn’t have thought it impossible to indicate this before you went through the process. Especially as there’s a temptation to repeat the 8 steps to check whether the bloody thing isn’t lying.

Today comes another of those surveys designed to portentously tell us what anyone could find out from a one-night stopover in any city in Spain. This one comes from the University of Valencia and deals with noise levels in this fun-loving society. As the researcher puts it, “There are few opportunities to enjoy silence in Spain at any time of the day or night.” This is because the recommended decibel levels for each are comfortably exceeded even in restaurants never mind bars. Mention is made of a 2003 law designed to reduce this damaging noise pollution, with the rider that this has had no effect and that it will be a long time before anything changes. So, bring ear plugs. Or dine and sleep across the border in Portugal.

Quotes of the Day

Learn to like art, music and literature deeply and passionately. They will be your friends when things are bad.
Someone’s Grandad. Sadly, not mine.

I’m beginning to see that the brain counts for little but that character counts for everything.
Harold Nicholson, when a precocious 17 year old.

My mother never quite understood why we all insisted on treating life like a contest, when to her it was really more like the weather – there to be either discreetly celebrated or mildly regretted.
Sheridan Morley

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Walking back from town today, I passed a policewoman giving a parking ticket to a car left in a bus bay. Fair enough, you might say, but only 3 or 4 metres away was the normal pack of 20 or 30 double-parked cars that block at least half the road every day when the kids leave school. As none of these ever gets booked, there must be an unofficial rule about what is allowed - which seems to include parking on the zebra crossing - and what isn’t. So, if you’re going to break the law, local knowledge can be a big help.

Talking about criminal activity - today was the day when the Spanish parliament debated – and roundly rejected – the Plan submitted by the President of the Basque Country for virtual secession of this province. As expected, his response was to say that it made absolutely no difference; he will still submit the Plan to the Basque people. Things will really get interesting if they endorse it.

Here are the main points of interest from a recent survey of Spain’s 15 to 29 year olds:-
- 69% live with their parents
- 76% are not economically independent
- 90% of them have a mobile phone
- 20% admit to drinking excessively at the weekend
- 45% are still studying, and
- very few of them anticipate moving away from their town or city

If you’ve been reading my blogs, little of this should come as a surprise. Nor the comment that Spain is the only country in Europe where smoking by young people is on the increase.

The Panel of The Wise [sic] which superintends the public TV channels has proposed that the government subsidy be increased from 5% to 50%, so that the volume of ads can be reduced. If I could bring myself to watch any of the programmes, I could get quite excited about this prospect.

Quotes of the Day

The hardest thing about being a barman is working out who is drunk and who is just plain stupid

Life can little else supply
Just a few good f - - - s and then we die
John Wilkes, English radical and optimist. 1725-1797

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Needless to say, 5 minutes after I’d posted yesterday’s blog slagging off local music students, I found a message on my answerphone from one of this much-maligned group of fine young people. Worse, it had actually been recorded a couple of hours before my diatribe. Sadly, though, I can’t make out what he says as the message seems to have been delivered from the back of a motor bike. Or the front, even. So I hope he calls again.

In 1835 or so, a Englishman – George Borrow – set off through Spain to try to sell copies of the Protestant Bible. By his own admission, he wasn’t terribly successful. But he did have a great time, falling in love with Spain and its people in the process. “She is”, he wrote, “the most magnificent country in the world. And I have found much that is noble and to be admired amongst the Spanish people, who have always treated me with kindness and courtesy”. Happily for us, he recorded his experiences in “The Bible In Spain”. As a book, this is hard to get hold of but you can download the text from:-


I mention this encomium [with which I totally agree], firstly, to help counter the perception that I am unremittingly negative about Spain and, secondly, to lead into my contention that, whilst the Spanish people truly are amongst the best in the world, they make far better acquaintances than friends. By this I mean that that, while they’re fantastic to socialise with - even if you have only just met them in a bar or on train - you would be foolish to expect them to be around just when you need them. For the concept of friendship in Spain differs greatly from that in an Anglo-Saxon culture. In Spain, you owe your loyalties to your family. To everyone else you owe nothing but civility and, usually, bucketloads of bonhomie. The end result is many superficial acquaintanceships but few deep friendships. All this is driven by the logic of a culture in which few people break away from the family nexus, e. g. to attend university and then to work many miles from ‘home’. So your life is determined, on the one hand, by the obligations you owe to your family members and, on the other, by the support and assistance which you can always expect from them. Put briefly, you don’t need friends the way displaced Anglo-Saxons do. So you don’t cultivate them. If all this sounds rather brutal, I can only say that it isn’t really and add the comment of my friend, Elena, who has pointed out that, whilst all the above might well be true, the Spanish are the least likely people in the world to turn a blind eye a stranger in trouble. Perhaps this is one of the aspects of Spanish ‘nobility’ that impressed George Borrow so much 170 years ago. And still does today.