Sunday, April 30, 2006

Looking out on the construction site just below me on the hillside today, I was reminded of the waggish comment that the most common bird to be found in Spain is the Builder’s Crane. This, in turn, brought back to mind a blog of early 2005 in which I’d said two new houses near me seemed to be going up much more quickly than usual. Well, it’s 15 months later and neither of them is yet finished. At a complete guess, I’d say one of them has 3 months to go and the other maybe 6. So, pretty slow but still below the average of 2 years I’ve occasionally suggested. Maybe I’ve been too harsh.

A luxury brothel with a difference is being opened in Valencia. It’s exclusively for women, with the target clientele being ‘professional, single and free [liberal?]’. The owner says one of the major differences between men and women is that women like to stay quiet about using a bordello, whereas men like to boast of it. True enough for Spain, I would say, but not for all cultures.

I was talking the other day about nationalists not having a sense of proportion. Or of the ridiculous, apparently. The Andalucian government is reported to have set aside funds to promote the ‘language’ of the region elsewhere in Spain. Since the Andaluz dialect is impenetrable even to many Spaniards, this is akin to a Midlands government in the UK promoting the use of Brum in London. Only worse, as at least one can understand Brum.

I’m contemplating getting one of those TV-B-Gone zappers to switch off the TV no one’s watching when I’m trying to read the papers in my regular café. Though what I’d really like is an Idiot-B-Silent gadget for people who confuse shouting with talking and insist on letting us all in on the details of their lives. Even better would be a Smoker-B-Vaporised machine. But I’m possibly getting fanciful now.

And on the subject of smoking – the head waiter in my café now tells me they think they’ll avoid the need to provide a closed-off smoking area by excluding from the calculation of a ‘bar of more than 100m2’ the toilets, the kitchen, the area behind the counter and all the passageways. If you’re wondering what’s left, it’s the footprint of each table multiplied by the number of tables. It’s hard to believe this is what the legislators had in mind but I certainly wouldn’t bet on it not happening.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Today our local mayor will prove the effectiveness of the council’s river purification campaign by taking a bath in its waters. At least, this is what I thought the headline said. But then I recalled that to have a bath in Spanish is the same as to have a swim. Not many of us, though, do either of these in the full glow of a son et lumière show. Our mayor could clearly teach even Tony Blair a thing or two about ‘eye-catching initiatives’. Or possibly worm-catching, in this case.

For the 5th time in a few years, my water supplier has changed. I know this because I’ve received a letter telling me so. Surprisingly [or not surprisingly these days] the note says nothing of the premium price now being charged on water above a certain volume. But, then, I’ve never received any explanation at all for the huge price increases of the last 5 years. Somewhere there must be a happy compromise between this and the 20 pages you get each year from a British company telling you exactly where all the money has gone and is about to go. Not that you can do much about it in either case, I suppose.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that, for reasons one can only guess at, Spain has a disproportionate percentage of the EU’s 500 euro notes. These, of course, are favoured by those whose transactions are mainly in cash and I’m indebted to my friend Andrew for the news they’re called Bin Ladens here. Everyone knows they exist but no one has ever seen one.

Friday, April 28, 2006

In 2005, Galicians spent less on cars and housing than the Spanish average but more on food. All those festive seafood dinners, I guess.

I quoted the other day Samuel Johnson’s dictum about patriotism being the last refuge of scoundrels. Well, Catalan politics revolves round a tripartite coalition of nationalists and ultra-nationalists and so is naturally a veritable den of rogues. The President of the ultra-nationalist party doesn’t think the new Constitution goes far enough [perhaps because his head won’t be on the stamps] and so has instructed his members to spoil their papers in the imminent vote on it in the Catalan parliament. On the other hand, the Catholic Archbishops – whose views still count in Spain – have said they won’t issue any adversarial instructions to the faithful, even though they’re unhappy about some of the provisions. The rest of us would just like to see the wretched document done and dusted.

It’s emerged the Strasbourg council has overcharged the EU to the tune of hundreds of millions of euros for the buildings rented to it for the monthly sessions that take place there. Since these involve the wholesale, massively expensive transfer of the entire Commission and hangers-on from Brussels to this Alsace city, this is piling madness upon madness. One is tempted to say it can’t possibly go on. But, of course, it will.

I grew up in the small district of Leasowe, at the western end of Wallasey, on the Wirral peninsula. It’s hard to imagine it being the scene for a short story, never mind a novel. But now I find Malcolm Lowry lived his early years in Wallasey and set parts of Under the Volcano in Leasowe. Intriguingly, we seem to have made similar use of the golf course along the sand dunes. But you’ll have to read this magnum opus, if you want to find out how.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

I occasionally repeat the well-rehearsed observation that the Spanish have a different concept of risk from other Europeans. I was reminded of this when crossing the bridge into town this evening. The first vehicle I saw was a bicycle whose rider was carrying something large in each hand. Though these were, admittedly, on the handlebars. The next was a BMW being driven by a young woman with a poodle on her knees, giving a whole new meaning to the expression ‘lap dog’. She wasn’t, of course, wearing a seat belt but – having clocked the canine – I would’ve bet a great deal on this. My impression is the Spanish see risk-taking as integral to their famous zest for life. Or should this be – as the road fatality statistics suggest – a zest for death?

Another vignette - I went to our local town hall yesterday to return the ‘Avian ‘flu preventative measure’ form asking how many chickens, turkeys, pheasant, etc. I had on my land. The clerk confirmed I’d brought it to the right place but seemed a little incredulous that I’d bothered to submit a nil return. When I asked him for my copy, he declined and said I didn’t need it. Suspicions aroused, I turned round a few seconds after leaving the desk, to see the form being thrown into the bin. Later in the afternoon, I asked some [equally bird-less] Spanish friends what they’d done with their form. The answer was they’d effectively saved the clerk some work by throwing it in their own bin. I suppose the upshot will be that everyone who doesn’t obey the instruction to return the form will be assumed to have no birds. If, indeed, there is any upshot

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The problem with nationalists is, of course, they lack perspective. The Galician government’s coalition partner is the Galician National Party [BNG] and the President of the latter is something of a loose cannon. A few months ago he prompted a spat with the governments of Asturias and Castilla y León by suggesting certain border towns there should become part of Galicia because they spoke Gallego. And now he’s provoked a furious reaction on the part of the government of Extremadura by suggesting it’s not doing enough to preserve a language spoken in a few towns there which is a related to the Latinate precursor of both Galician and Portuguese which once held sway over the western half of Iberia. The air is rife with insults from both sides. No wonder Samuel Johnson felt patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel.

A nice Spanish vignette today – I went to the dealer where I bought my car and asked if I could book it in for a service on Friday. The guy looked at the work sheet in front of him and shook his head doubtfully. Since this was for today, I stressed I wanted to bring the car in on Friday. He looked dumfounded by the very concept of forward planning and said he’d have to go and get the boss. Which he did and the matter was quickly resolved.

Under the anti-smoking law of early this year, there are provisions relating to both kiosks and vending machines. As a non-smoker, I’m not sure what. But I was told by Spanish friends today there’s a new system in operation to get round whatever it is the law now prohibits. You pay the chap in the kiosk and he presses a remote control which releases a packet of cigarettes into the tray of a machine which is technically decommissioned. Which reminds me – we’re now 4 months closer to the deadline of end August for conversion of the large café/bar where I go every day but, as yet, there’s no sign that anyone’s even thinking of implementing the requirement to close off a smoking area.

Acedre has written to say I’ve neglected to add that drivers in the USA are also well-mannered and drive calmly, unlike in Galicia. That may well be so but, as an American reader advised last year, the mortality on the roads there is even higher than in Spain. Excessive speed and drunken driving are said to be the main causes there as well.

Here’s another stab at a bit of Spanglish – I’m told the word for someone high on drugs is espidioso. As this is pronounced ‘espeedeeoso’, I assume the root is ‘speed’. But since I can’t find any trace of the word on the web, perhaps someone is having me on. Anyone heard it?

Monday, April 24, 2006

There was a very strange incident near my home the other day. A woman who was robbed of a few coins reported the incident to the police, who followed it up and caught the thief. In the UK, with petty crime of this sort you’d be lucky to get even a police report for an insurance claim. Though you might just receive a pamphlet on how to cope with your victim status. Unless it was a ‘race crime’, in which case the police would go in with all guns blazing. Possibly against you, if you were foolish enough to make an injudicious comment about the thief.

And another local positive – the council may well be surrounding the city with vertiginous speed bumps and un-negotiable roundabouts but the verdant aesthetics of these things are truly impressive. Along with the pedestrianisation of the last 5 years, they’ve certainly made the city an even pleasanter place in which to walk, shop, eat and drink. A far cry from the UK town centres so vandalised by the local politicians, business chains and drunken yobs.

I’ve said before Spain seems to be the capital of the cosmetic surgery world. And its apogee is reconstruction of the hymen for imminent brides of Muslims and gypsies. Even for divorced women who wish to ‘make a gesture’ in the direction of the groom’s cultural/religious sensitivities. For ladies considering a more common or garden procedure, the latest in-your-face ad features a scantily dressed woman of stupendous proportions who has arrows pointing to relevant parts of her body. Believe it or believe it not, these are accompanied by Look, what a face! Look, what a chest! Look, what a bum! and Look, what great legs! You get the picture. Needless to say, the killer line is ‘You, too, can look young again’.

A survey of the cost of living around Spain puts the three Galician cities of Pontevedra, Vigo and Ourense are in the bottom five. On the other hand, both meat and fish are more expensive in La Coruña than anywhere else in the country. As the city is a port surrounded by fishing villages, this is hard to credit. At least as regards the fish. Windy, cloudy and expensive. Not a place I would choose but it seems to be popular with Brits. Must remind them of home.

Oops. Mushing turns out to be an English word and not of the same gerundive genre as footing, (e)stretching, (e)spinning and puenting. My thanks to Afonso for pointing this out. But an easy mistake, I insist.

Stop Press
Exciting news. I’ve been contacted by an important Scots woman [Patricia Ferguson] who wants me to help her deal with a large sum of money. I know how Scottish MPs operate so it must be genuine ….. Here’s her opening paragraph, in all its glory:-

How are you and the Family?I am Patricia Ferguson,Member of the Scottish
Parliament(MSP) and Scottish minister for Tourism,Culture and Sport,my
contact with you via this mail is as a matter of urgency and strict
confidentiality.This is by virtue of my status as a well dignified woman
in the society and as a Member of the Scottish Parliament,particularly as
the Scottish Minister for Tourism,Culture and Sport.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Spanish Supreme Court has dealt the government a severe blow by ruling against the merger it was promoting of two utility companies. This also has the effect of kicking into touch the attempted takeover of one of these companies by the German giant, Eon. The matter, we read, may now take 2 years to be resolved. Interestingly, the left-of-centre newspaper, El Pais, pointed out that the people most prejudiced by this surprise development were the shareholders of the target company. First battalion Innocent Bystanders.

Meanwhile, up in Catalunia the President of the regional/national government has solved a 6 month long cabinet-composition crisis by appointing someone from a minority party who’s under investigation for extortion. I’m not clear what this says about Catalunian politics. If anything. Business as usual, perhaps.

Although I attend the occasional bullfight, I can’t claim I make a habit of reading the reports in the national papers. But the laudatory headline of one caught my eye today. The praise, though, was being heaped on the bull and not on the matador. And the opening paragraph ran:-
The second bull of the evening starred in one of the most beautiful moments of this fiesta – a spectacle of bravery, nobility and class, the qualities of a majestic animal, capable of generating the fiercest emotions.
But still dead, of course. Shame it couldn’t read its own fulsome obituary.

Penultimately, another bit of Spanglish:-
Mushing – Races in which sleds are pulled by dogs. Honest.

Finally, my thanks to all those who took a look at the first 2 chapters of my daughter’s first novel. I hope you all enjoyed them as much as I did this morning. Though I don’t suppose anyone else was as relieved as I was that the sex wasn’t explicit. At least not so far. For new readers not put off by this revelation, there’s a link to Stalking Time for the Moonboys on the right of this blog. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The latest edition of the Rough Guide describes England as “a nation of overweight, alcohol-swilling, sex-and-celebrity- obsessed TV addicts” And “A country of overpriced, under-funded public transport services, where the hearts of many towns, and increasingly their outskirts, consist of identikit retail zones.” But the guide is not entirely critical, describing the English as "animal-loving, tea-drinking, charity donors who thrive on irony and BBC Radio 4". And England is seen as a haven for refugees, where individuality and creativity flourish, fuelling a "thriving pop culture and producing one of the most dynamic fashion, music and arts scenes to be found anywhere.” The guide adds that the natural beauty of England's beaches can compare with those of the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. All this seems fair enough to me. Except the bit about the beaches, perhaps. A spokesperson for the English Tourist Board pointed out the English were not alone in being "overweight and sex-and- celebrity-obsessed TV addicts". Which is sadly true.

Meanwhile, on a broader political front, it seems the feast of England’s patron saint, St George, will be celebrated tomorrow with more patriotic fervour than ever before. This, of course, is the consequence of giving devolution [and more money] to both the Scots and the Welsh. Not to mention having a government stuffed full with Scots and a parliament in which Scottish members are allowed to vote on English matters, whilst English members are denied the same right in respect of Scottish affairs. In Spanish terms, it’s as if Zapatero’s cabinet comprised mainly Catalans bored at the prospect of just running an increasingly independent Catalunia. One near-term indication of English dissatisfaction with this mare’s nest will be a significantly increased number of seats for the BNP right-wing, nationalist party in the May local council elections. Longer term, it’s not too fanciful to see a separate English parliament, though not whilst the Labour government has to rely on Scottish MPs to keep it in power.

But what do I care? I dined outside in warm sunshine this evening and there were no overweight, alcohol-swilling, sex-and- celebrity-obsessed TV addicts in the tapas bar where I enjoyed my battered squid, my zamburiñas in garlic and my glass of albariño. Except me, of course. And I don’t count.

Friday, April 21, 2006

There was a touching cri-de-coeur from a young woman in El Mundo today. It includes many of the complaints made by today’s young Spaniards. Here it is in full…

I suppose reason and logic lie behind their words. However, for some time I’ve been tired of the comments of reporters, philosophers, columnists and a variety of others about our generation – we are conformists, we don’t have values, the only thing that interests us is boozing, and if we mobilise like French youth it’s because of self-interest and not because we have values.

Well, I’ve reached the point where I’m tired of all this. I’m sorry, I was born after the crisis of ’73. Mea culpa for belonging to ‘Generation X’, in which statistically there’s more value in having a primary education than in studying to get a job. In which people like me, a graduate in History, can only find work as a door-to-door salesperson, or selling hamburgers, or working in a supermarket while we wait for you, children of the baby boom, to retire and leave us jobs which it’s clear we can’t get without the personal contacts others have, though there is always a remote chance. We are dedicating ourselves to several more years’ study so as to take the government [civil service] exams/lottery… But we have to be idealists, we have to believe the Establishment, caciquismo*, and the practice of endogamy** won’t defeat us. We have to sing in the wind and search for sand under the pebbles of the beach, thinking about Camus and Sartre.

I’m sorry, but those of Generation X no longer believe in a new world …. The now-bourgeois demonstrators of ’68 and of the Transition have showed us what happens to idealists.

* Literally, political baronies. Traditionally powerful in fixing the local vote. And much else.
** Keeping things in the family. Giving jobs only to one’s students and not, therefore, on merit.

And talking of disaffected young women . . . My elder daughter tells me she’s posted two chapters of her novel, ‘Stalking Time for the Moonboys’ on her blog page. So please rush along to and take a look.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Conversation around the horrendous accident last week in which a local youth killed five people threw up the fact it’s not permitted in Spain for learner drivers to practice on public roads, even when accompanied by a qualified driver and displaying L plates. Indeed, even practising on private land needs police permission. Opinion is decided as to whether this is sensible or merely a sop to the numerous driving schools which everyone is thus forced to use.

It’s not only me who goes on about Spanish driving. Both El Mundo and El Pais have had hard-hitting editorials on the subject this week. Each of them dismissed the government’s recent campaign - ‘We can’t drive for you’ – as patently ineffective and called for more action against drunken and high-speed driving. And both expressed hope the imminent new points-based system will have the same effect as measures taken in the neighbouring countries of France and Portugal. And when people start making unfavourable comparisons with Portugal you know things are really serious in Spain.

Meanwhile, I actually had to shout and wave my hands in the middle of a zebra crossing today to make a car stop for me. But at least the driver looked sheepish and apologetic. Once her face was turned towards the front and she could see me in front of her bonnet. [Or ‘hood’, to American readers.]

And to maintain the driving theme until the end of this post, my friend Andrew told me today of an incident on his way to the office yesterday, when a driver brought the traffic to a halt on a one-lane road and then switched on his emergency lights. Andrew naturally thought he’d broken down, until he saw him spread a map across his steering wheel. . .

On second thoughts, this might fit better under the heading of individualismo than driving.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Having recently had occasion to re-read it, I thought I’d post today this positive comment about Spain. Just to redress the balance a little. It comes from my Initial Observations on Spain, which you can find on my web page

If there is one thing which defines Spanish culture, it is - of course - the approach to time.

Someone has written that no people deal with time quite like the Spanish. To him, these admirable people have an exquisite ability to eat time - to simply enjoy themselves; to take hours over a single drink; to relax in the sun. To the Spanish the delayed arrival of something you have ordered is of no great consequence. Possibly even a good thing in that it allows you to get on with other enjoyable activities such as taking hours over a drink, sitting in the sun, etc., etc. True, this can be a tad irritating on occasions but, on balance, it is an eminently sane and healthy attitude to life. And I am trying very hard both to adapt to it and to adopt it. And such is the range of good things on offer in Spain, the turning of lemons into lemonade is surely more easily done here than anywhere else.

One aspect of the Spanish attitude to time is that people simply have the inclination to do things that seem to have dropped off the earth in other, faster societies – to wait for you so that they can give you a lift home, to chat to you about the quality of the wine they have just brought you or to stop and have a coffee with you, even if it means keeping someone else waiting or missing a train. Until you experience (or re-experience) these little things that add up to so much, it is hard to take on board just what they mean for your quality of life. To the Spanish, all time is ‘quality time’. The notion that you might specifically create it would be too ludicrous for words.

More humbly than arrogantly, the Spanish believe that they have the secret to the good life (La Vida) and they are probably justified in thinking so. This is the sixth culture in which I have lived and easily the best. If you are bored with hearing that Spanish have a sense of vitality and that they know how to live, then you need to know that repetition does not vitiate accuracy.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I saw a strange sight in town today. It was file of young kids aged 3 or 4, all dressed in the same style smock and walking along holding onto a rope stretched between two adults. I guess they were from a kindergarten - or perhaps an orphanage - and, on one level, it was a charming scene. On the other hand, the blue and white striped material of the smocks immediately put me in mind of one of those heartbreaking scenes from films of Auschwitz or Belsen. Quite eerie.

The region of Andalucia has joined Catalunia in referring to itself as a ‘national reality’ in the preamble to its new Constitution. Actually, ‘reality’ seems to me to be the one thing lacking in all these developments. But, notwithstanding that, it can’t be long now before Spain [taking a leaf out of the New Labour book] becomes The New United Nations. Or perhaps just The United National Realities plus The Canaries.

It seems my daughter got close to the truth about the plastic bottles [blog of 16.4.06]. I now learn the tops are taken off so as to prevent people urinating in the bottles, putting the tops back on and then hurling them at the players or fans of the opposing team. However, I doubt it’s beyond the intelligence of even the average football supporter [all of whom are ‘ooligans’ in Spain] to take an extra bottle top into the ground in his pocket.

Finally, I thought you might like to see what passes for English on the web page of a Galician estate agent who’s twigged that foreigners are coming but can’t be bothered to pay anyone who actually speaks English to translate his page from Spanish. There’s a prize of 1000 euros to the person who re-translates it back into Spanish and gets closest to the original. I’ve deleted the name so that you can’t cheat and get this from the web site….

X is a company of Real estate Services and Safe Integrals, that it works for you.

In X we have the best TOOLS of the market, own means of publicity, Internet of high speed, network of offices, agreements with the best financial organizations, etc. and provided a customized EFFECTIVE SERVICE, as much for the proprietor as for the buyer, that goes anywhere from the promotion adapted for the sale of a property of Spain, until the DOCUMENTS that safeguard the interests of both parts.

All our accumulated experience and our average ones allow TO GUARANTEE to HIM a professional service us, is transparent, effective express and. Really, the satisfaction of an AFFLUENT WORK DONE.

Thanks to trust X.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Today I received a form to fill in, advising the Galician government how many chickens, turkeys, geese, doves, pigeons, pheasants, quail, partridge and ‘others’ I am raising in my back garden. You’ll have guessed this is an avian flu preventative measure. For reasons one can only guess at, the accompanying letter stresses the collection of data has ‘nothing to do with the tax authorities’. This might be more convincing if the form didn’t call for one’s identity number, which always doubles as your tax number.

You may recall I quoted a few weeks ago the report that, despite not signing up to Kyoto, the big, bad USA had actually reduced its CO2 emissions since then, albeit only marginally. Today we learned Spain has increased hers by 48% during the same period, well in excess of the 15% permitted. This is the worst performance of any western European state. But all is not lost as the government has announced it will impose ‘even more stringent requirements’ on companies. That should do the trick.

Another table in today’s media gave us the not-very-surprising news that Spain’s internet broadband prices are 32% above the EU average. Actually, the figure must be higher now as a fierce price war has just broken out in the UK. Needless to say, take-up of broadband in Spain is the slowest in Europe but this appears to be of minimal concern to Telefonica, who seem prepared to forego growth so long as they can continue to operate their suck[er]-‘em-in- and-bleed-‘em-dry strategy. I guess the compensation is that, once you’ve paid their extortionate access price, you can download Skype and never make another call via Telefonica. I’ll have to bite the bullet soon.

I felt a little guilty yesterday about labelling indulgent the parents of the 18 year old who killed 5 people in a road accident near Pontevedra on Friday. But today I discovered I hadn’t gone far enough. Rather than merely allowing him to use all his wages to buy a sports car, they’d actually bought it for him. And then allowed him to drive it without a licence. But this isn’t the most wondrous bit of information doing the rounds; despite the fact his dead mother had to be cut out of the passenger seat, the youth is said to have insisted he hadn’t been driving the car.

The Galician Nationalist Party has asked the Spanish Royal Academy to omit from the next edition of their dictionary the definitions of ‘Galician’ as 1. Stupid [in Costa Rica], and 2. Stutterer [in El Salvador]. They have a point, I think. Though the first one must surely apply to parents who give sports cars to unqualified 18 year olds. Or even to qualified 18 year olds, for that matter. One of them, at least, will now live to regret it. As, of course, will the families of the 4 motorcyclists mown down.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

You don’t have to be religious to regret how much the worship of commerce has replaced that of God in British society. When I took my mother and younger daughter to church at 3pm on Good Friday, we had to fight our way through the traffic heading for the shopping centre across the road. And I see that, at least to the young, Easter Sunday no longer goes by this name. Sandwiched between the bank holidays of Good Friday and Easter Monday, it now seems to be called ‘Bank Holiday Sunday’.

English is heading, we’re told, for its millionth word. But – quite apart from ‘Easter Sunday’ – it’s also losing a few. My younger daughter, who teaches in Leeds, tells me her pupils no longer understand the word ‘dozen’. Ironically, this isn’t true for the more metric countries of France and Spain. But, then, their words for ‘dozen’ do share a root with the word for twelve.

Ryanair did manage to get me back to Oporto last night without taking me via Stanstead. I’m now engaged in the challenge of getting my expenses repaid for the cancelled flight to the UK two weeks ago. I wonder if I should add a claim for the nuisance caused last night by my adjacent Portuguese passenger. This young man seemed to lack any understanding of the niceties of travel and finally got himself arrested for smoking in the toilet. Tellingly, none of the Ryanair crew or staff on a flight between the UK and Portugal spoke a word of Portuguese. In fact, I’m not convinced they even knew where they were heading. When we landed, they wished us ‘a pleasant stay in the local area.’ I guess they say this to all their passengers. Thank God for autopilot.

The headline in the local paper this morning had a mournfully familiar ring. An unlicensed 18 year old youth, driving a black sports saloon, killed 4 motorcyclists when overtaking at 140 on a 100kph road. He himself walked virtually uninjured from the carnage. But not his mother; she died when one of the bikes hit the passenger door. My guess is the youth lives at home and has financed the car by not paying a bean for his keep. The wages of parental indulgence are often death in Spain, though it’s not usually one of the parents who pays the price. Except in life-long grief.

Friday, April 14, 2006

As I’ve said, there’s strong opposition in the UK to the introduction of identity cards. It’s a complex issue, of course, but one of the reasons is that Britons associate them with a police state. So, it must have come as a shock to them to learn today that the UK police have DNA samples for more than 5% of the population. This is the most of any country in the world, with the USA second at only 1%. Spain’s percentage is 0.01 and Portugal’s 0.0. I doubt any of us would believe this merely reflects greater police efficiency in the UK. And some would see it as further evidence of the illiberalism of the Blair government.

The UK is a far more safety conscious [or risk averse] place than, say, Spain. Indeed, no one who’s been in business in Britain can be in any doubt as to the reach of the Health and Safety Executive. This, it seems, is run by people who won’t be satisfied until there are no risks whatsoever to life in the UK. Needless to say, the intensity of their view reflects the fact their job security depends upon it. The latest example of the resulting insanity is that people are being told to take the tops off water bottles they’re taking into football grounds ‘in case they’re thrown to the ground and someone slips on them.’ My younger daughter suggests it’s really because this makes it harder to throw full bottles at the referee.

Back to Spain tomorrow. Ryanair permitting.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Writing about the Italian election results, a columnist in The Independent stressed that ‘The division that really damages Italy is not right and left, or north and south, or rich and poor. It is the division between the Italy that works and the Italy that sits on its hands - The Italy of the bureaucratic machinery [which] lives on a different planet from the rest of the country. To this Italy, it doesn't matter if the country is in economic crisis and is in desperate need of firm measures. . . . This is the Italy which makes even the simplest bureaucratic task a marathon of telephoning and queuing, which determines that it takes an hour to post a letter, and which puts innumerable hurdles before anyone thinking of starting a business. . . Berlusconi took scant interest in reforming this bureaucracy. So the two Italies stumble on, with the Italy that is vital and brilliant staggering under the weight of a bureaucracy it can’t escape and can’t find the resources to reform.’

Blimey. And I thought Spanish bureaucracy was bad! Actually, I’d already read a comment a week or so ago to the effect that both countries have enormous bureaucracies but the difference is that Spain’s - after a fashion - actually works, whereas Italy’s is chaotic.

I guess everything’s relative.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Here's a statistic which will cause a few problems for those of the We-are-about-to-perish-from-global-warming school - temperatures stoped rising in 1998, even though emissions have powered ahead over the last 8 years. But doubtless they will have an explanation, even if its scientific basis is iffy.

Liverpool humour - and it comedians - are justly famous. Here's a little story which is a paradigm of Scouse humour. It will, I suspect, leave only a few of you with heaving sides and the rest totally nonplussed . . .

When the American singer Gene Pitney died last week during a UK tour, an undertaker was summoned and asked to make him a coffin as quickly as possible. His reply was that this would take 3 days if it was to be made from oak. But only 24 hours from balsa.

I know the operative word [balsa] is the same in Spanish but am not all convinced the joke will translate. I will try it when I am back next week. Meanwhile, perhaps a Spanish reader could help me with a translation that fits the bill.

Quote of the Day

"Unlike the French red, white and blue tricolour, it works in black and white. It was unusually foresighted of its inventor to make it fully faxable."

A design consultant, commenting on the British flag, which is 400 years old this year.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

In the Alice in Wonderland world of the Welsh police, anyone and everyone is investigated at the slightest suggestion of a 'racist' remark. This not only includes you, me and the occasional TV reporter but also the British Prime Minister himself. For, truth to tell, he has been written to about some disparaging aside he's alledged to have made. I wonder, firstly, how the crime statistics are moving in Wales and, secondly, if I am guilty of a 'race crime' merely by asking this about a nation's police force. And would my 25% Welsh blood be an adequate defence?

In a survey of the world's 'best' cities in which to live, two Swiss and three German conurbations were placed in the top ten. This rather reminds me of an observation I made yesterday - that life in the UK certainly is more ordered and more 'civil' than in Spain, but less exciting. Or duller, if you prefer. This should lose me a few readers.

It snowed in the south of the UK yesterday. Up here in the north, we merely had a tornado. Though it must have passed me by, possibly during my siesta. I guess the odds on a mini ice-age will have shorrtened in the last week or so. I don't know whether to be more frightened of this than of desertifcation of the north of Spain. But I do hope I live long enough to see whichever it is.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

According to a British Sunday newspaper - 'First there was our looks. And then our weight. Now, the new western obsession is sleep - or a lack of it. Last week there were at least 4 reports saying that we're all suffering a sleep crisis.' Not in Spain, I imagine, where both adults and children have long managed with much less sleep than the rest of us. Indeed, given the crazy Spanish timetable - not shared by their Portuguese neighbours - this is inescapable. Hence the recent proposals that the schools start 2 hours later. Not that the kids go to bed earlier, you note.

As I've said before, the Spanish have many acquaintances but few really good friends on the Anglo-Saxon model. This, of course, is because few of them stray from their place of birth and so can always rely on nearby family for support. Now comes a report that, first in the USA and more recently in the UK, young people in particular are forming a framily to provide their core support network. This, of course, is a mixture of family and friends. 'Within these groups', we are assured, 'individuals play key roles that they would otherwise play within a family - an organiser, a mother figure and someone playing a child-like role'. This is another thing I can't see happening in Spain. Everybody would want to be boss.

It's the middle of April and I had to scrape ice off the car windows this morning. This global warming is really beginning to worry me.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Moans from Merseyside: Day 7

So airlines are being urged to enforce their own rules about hand luggage. I wonder if this will make any difference to things in Iberia. In contrast to the UK, even Easyjet and Ryanair staff there currently make no atttempt to check the size, weight or even number of carry-on bags. The consequences for the cabin are pretty obvious.

The author J K Rowling has, understandably, inveighed against a media which promotes skinniness in adolescent and even pre-pubescent girls. The question that springs to my mind is - If this pressure is really so great [and I believe it is], why are so many young women in the UK so overweight? Or 'fat' as we used to call it. Perhaps the only ones affected are those who figure among the increasing number that leave school here without the ability to read the relevant magazines. Though merely looking at the pictures would probably be just as effective, I guess.

Talking of illiteracy in the UK, within a few years it should only be permissible to use 'amount' instead of 'number' in the last paragraph. This is what 'people sovereignty' really means. Even a upmarket newspaper such as The Independent is prone to such phrases as 'A substantial amount of technical details...' Though they didn't compound the error by referring, a few lines later, to 'the huge number still to be done by the government'. I am saddened by this but, as a supporter of people sovereignty, have no right to complain. So this is merely an observation.

I have to say it's very relaxing approaching roundabouts in the certain knowledge the traffic in the left lane will go left and the cars in the right lane will go right. And not in any one of the various permutations on offer. In the week left to me, I will be taking to the roads as a form of therapy, prior to returning to Pontevedra's urban anarchy.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

As I'm here, a few snapshots of the UK....

A judge has thrown out of court the prosecution of a 10 year old boy for alleged racial remarks made in the playground of his school. Like the rest of us, he queried the priorities of the police against the background of rising violent crime. But, of course, British bobbies now see themselves far more as social engineers than as cops of the old school.

As if to prove the point, a nurse was stabbed to death yesterday as she took a cigarette break outside her hospital ward.

On a more macro scale, here are a few of the conclusions about the UK from the latest OECD factbook:-

The UK is not 'flooded' by immigrants. Greece, Canada and Spain top the list. Spain's ratio is 4 times greater, though I suspect there are defintion differences since returning emigres are regarded as immigrants there.

The population is barely growing. But at a higher rate than Spain's.

The educated are leaving.

Per capita wealth is high but not growing strongly. It's USD32,000 pa, against 26,000 in Spain. Though growth is even slower there.

Only Mexico has a worse regional gap than the UK's.

The UK scores highly as regards employment rates and in cutting long-term unemployment but Brits do not work excess hours, ranking behind the USA and Japan. Though above Ireland, Italy, France, Germany and Holland. Spain doesn't figure in the top 10, despite the strange working day. Perhaps they're talking about productive hours....

The UK tax burden is below the rest of Europe's but the Eurozone is catching up. Again, Spain doesn't figure in the top 10. The top 5 are Sweden, Denmark, France, Italy and the EU average, followed by the UK, Germany, the USA, Japan and Mexico.

The OECD says nothing about the quality of life, of course. These consistently place spain very high, with Norway always winning, I seem to recall. My next language?? I rather think not.

Good to see that the spanish national authorities are finally doing something about municipal corruption in Marbella. One wonders why it took them so long to attend to this very publicly festering sore on the national body. Perhaps they previously felt it was the responsibility of the Andalucian regional government. Who might just have been a tad compromised.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A reader last week asked me to explain the British attitude to identity cards. Well, I'll certainly try but not until I'm back in Spain. Meanwhile, though, here's an example of how things are simpler in the UK. I had to go to the central post office to get a package which had arrived when I was out. A little to my surprise, I was told to bring some identity as well as the delivery slip but no photo was demanded of me. And certainly no identity card. So a credit card was sufficient. This is more than used to be the case but is still less onerous than in Spain. But it's not hard to guess what will happen when identity cards have been foisted on an unwilling population.

Carving a leg of lamb roasted by my mother on Sunday, I noticed it was missing not just the knuckle but also the wonderfully tender piece of meat that used to be just alongside or below it. As this was always my [self-bestowed] reward for carving, I asked my mother why it wasn't there. 'EU regulations!' she said. Can this really be true? If so, it's surely high time to quit the doomed enterprise.

The British police are cracking down on the use of mobile phones by drivers, making use of speed cameras to get the evidence. A reporter in a national newspaper endorsed this decision on the basis she'd seen 6 people breaking the law in the space of only an hour. 6 in an hour? This is truly pathetic by Spanish standards. A mere 5 minutes would more than suffice there.

A sign of the times in the UK . . . Next to the tee of one of the holes on the municipal golf course near my parents' flat is this notice:- 'Golfers are reminded it is a criminal offence to deliberately aim a golf ball at the house of any of our neighbours'. Apparently, you can hit the residents themselves with impunity.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Well, we made it to 20,000 hits in a fraction over 18 months. So, my warmest thanks to all my readers, whether you intended to land here or not. And if you're looking for, say, 'brothels in wallasey', you probably didn't. Which reminds me, long-established readers will surely be interested to know that the infamous C d E in Vigo now calls itself just La C. The rest of you will merely be confused. For the curious [or inadequate], it also has its own web site.

It seems global warming is giving a miss to this part of the world. The temperature at 7 this morning was a mere 4 degrees. But at least the sun is shining. Though I hear this is true of Galicia again this week, after 15 days of cloud and rain. Incidentally, such arctic temperatures appear to have no effect on the hardy British youth. I've seen several of them on the streets in summer gear. Even a T-shirt and shorts yesterday.

Such is the crazy state of British commerce, a semi-literate couple like Wayne Rooney and his girlfriend can make 10 million pounds [15 million euros] in a little over 6 months. He's signed a 5-million book deal, though it's yet to be proven that he can speak English, never mind write it. And she's been given 5 million for product endorsements on the back of fame arising from being his girlfriend. O tempus, o mores. No wonder I think Spain is far more sane than Britain.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

At a cursory glance, the UK and Spain appear to be converging. The rate of car-related deaths among the British young is soaring rapidly and more than 50 per cent of kids are receiving financial assistance from their parents until well into their 30s. Perhaps global warming will result in the widespread introduction of the siesta.

My sister brought an iced fruit cake to my mother's flat for her birthday yesterday. The box contained a page of instructions - complete with 3 diagrams - on how to cut it. And the railway operators are bringing in scanning machines at stations to check for knives. And the refuse collectors ['binmen' in this part of the UK] won't take your household rubbish unless you save them time by leaving the bin with the handle facing the street. So, on reflection, perhaps there's some way to go before the cultures become identical.

April 1 is the date in the British calendar when one is allowed [though only until midday] to play practical jokes on one's friends. And, indeed, on strangers. Even the serious newspapers contain one spoof report and I have to confess I was taken in by one which reported Cherie Blair had had the door of no. 10 Downing Street painted red. I even missed the reference to a consutlant whose views they'd sought - one April Fewell. Doh.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Well, I promised Moans from Merseyside and this is what you're going to get....

My Ryanair flight from Oporto to Liverpool was cancelled and I had to fly to Stanstead, stay overnight and then get a couple of trains up to Liverpool during most of yesterday. Now that all credit card transactions in the UK are 'Chip and Pin', it was lucky I had some sterling on me - though not enough to meet the extraordinary prices of taxis and hotels around the airport. Not to mention the 50 quid for the one-way train trip. Good to be back in clinical, efficient Britain. But already missing inefficient, cheap Spain.

The only good news of yesterday was that the alleged reason for the cancellation was a strike by French air traffic controllers. So, yet another reason to boycott all products from this benighted place. Even the wine.


Standing in the Ryanair check-in queue, I misread their slogan of 'The on-time airline' as 'The one-time airline'. Accurately, in my case.

'Do you mean Liverpool in the north of England?' the ticket clerk asked me at the station. 'Unless they've moved it', I replied.

The ring tone of the phone of a young man near me on the train was the Muslim call to prayer. This was in Arabic, of course, but he spoke in Persian. Which I used to speak when I lived in Iran.