Saturday, September 30, 2006

It didn’t take long for the Catholic church to fulfil the prophecy I ventured the other day. Yesterday it announced it’s going to ‘faithfulise’ members so they remember to tick the box which hands over a small proportion of their tax. This, by the way, is my translation of a word [fidelizar] which doesn’t appear either in my dictionary or an internet search. It seems to be an extension of the marketing term fidelización, which means [customer] loyalty

Referring back to the article on the British genetic make up, another major point made by the writer was that the Celts who reached the British Isles came not from central Europe but from France. This was after migration from Anatolia along the north coast of the Mediterranean and into Spain and France. He also refutes the view there was a strong Celtic culture in England when the Romans arrived. It’s much more likely, he says, the country had already been colonised by various Germanic tribes from northern Europe, particularly the Belgae. Bloody ‘ell. Now we’re not just Basque but Belgian as well!

There was a letter in the Voz de Galicia yesterday, expressing outrage at what the writer said had been an attempt to praise the eucalyptus tree. An interesting point made was that amongst its evils is foliage so sparse it denies nesting places for birds and cover for small animals. For this reason, the writer said, forests of eucalyptus are eerily quiet places. This certainly fits with my experience of only ever seeing the occasional squirrel.

As it’s the last day in September, here’s a list of the strangest search terms which brought people to this blog in the last month. I do hope some of them stayed, even those looking for brothels, puti clubs or prostitutes in Spain, Galicia, Vigo, Wallasey, etc. etc. That said, I doubt I’d miss the departure of whoever it was looking for animal brothels in Europe. The amazing thing about this one was that there were 349,000 citations and he [I guess] had to trawl through 17 of these to get to the [very erroneous] mention of my blog:-

hand gestures in Galicia, Spain
stripped off their tops
Spanish men infidelity
love thoughts in Spanish
blond basques in northern Spain
goat tower Galicia
who were the first divorced couple in galicia spain?
legal intragastric balloon
female groins

And, of course:-
nude pics of faria alam

But my favourite was:-
pictures of ryan giggs chest

Friday, September 29, 2006

These are confusing times for us Brits. Alerted by Arturo up in La Coruña, I read a newspaper article this morning which suggested the English are not really Anglo-Saxon but as Celtic as the Irish, Welsh and Scottish and that we’re all descended from roving fishermen from the northern Spanish coast. This, of course, would make Francis Drake – hated by the Spanish as a pirate – one of their own. Then, this afternoon, I read a rather more scholarly article in the October edition of Prospect magazine which said our Iberian ancestors came very much earlier than the Celts and were, in fact, from the Basque Country. This is not going to go down well with my friend in New Zealand, I fear. The writer of the Prospect article - Stephen Oppenheimer - sums up his gene-based research thus – “Everything you know about British and Irish ancestry is wrong. Our ancestors were Basques, not Celts. The [later] Celts were not wiped out by the Anglo-Saxons. In fact, neither had much influence on the genetic stock of these islands.” And he ends his article with the following earth-shattering paragraph – “So, based on the overall genetic perspective of the British, it seems that Celts, Belgians, Angles, Jutes, Saxons, Vikings and Normans were all immigrant minorities compared with the Basque pioneers who first ventured into the empty, chilly lands so recently vacated by the great ice sheets.” What he doesn’t do, though, is explain why on earth they would want to stay in the God-forsaken place.

Here in Galicia, feathers are fluttering all over the dovecote after the announcement that a Madrid-based company is taking over a major local estate agency. Or real estate company, to our American cousins. Reading the local press, you get the impression the buyers are from somewhere as alien as Mars. Try as I might, I can’t imagine the takeover of, say, a Manchester firm by a London company causing anything like this reaction. But this is Spain and localism/regionalism – with all its jealousies and enmities – is very much a fact of life here.

But there was a truly depressing item in the press today. It seems mini-quad bikes are about to become the rage. It’s bad enough having to dodge bicycles on the pavement but God help us now. I wonder whether, if they are below 1.45 metres, the kids will have to sit on booster seats.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Firstly . . . I’m still waiting for a replacement modem and so am without internet. My apologies for erratic posts and for the delay in responding to people who’ve either written to me in the last week or made comments not yet posted. Normal service may or may not be resumed shortly. This depends entirely on Ya.com, who clearly don’t operate a ‘Be with you within 24 hours’ policy. At least not when you’re in the lowest category of individual – a customer who is tied into an 18 month contract.

El Mundo finally appears to have had some success with its campaign to prove the government is manipulating the enquiry into the Madrid bombings of March 2004. A court has ruled there’s a case to answer around a key document which appears to have been tampered with, using that white stuff which covers type. Or, in this case, signatures. Last week there were calls from other parties that the opposition be prosecuted for its attacks on the government on this issue so it will be interesting to see what this week brings.

Talking of prosecutions – the main theme of Giles Tremlett’s book “The Ghosts of Spain” is that the pact of silence which followed the end of Franco’s reign – and which allowed a peaceful transition to democracy – is beginning to break down. He cites the fact that not a single individual from the Franco era has faced any criminal charges and contrasts this with the campaign waged by Spain’s celebrity judge, Baltasar Garzón to prosecute the right wing dictator Pinochet for crimes committed in another country. This may or may not rank as cheek but is certainly ironic.

On a less serious note - I firmly believe some of the world’s great dishes have arisen from error in the kitchen. I, for example, have been responsible for Crispy Kipper - 3 minutes in the microwave instead of 30 seconds - and last night I came up with Stir Fried Chicken in Gravy Browning instead of Soya Sauce. This tasted fine – after I had thrown a lot of other things into it – and had the distinction of being, without doubt, the darkest meal I’ve ever had.

I have an Argentinean piano teacher. He is a great chap but likes to talk. Even more than me. Last week I asked him a question at the start of the lesson and he took an hour and a half to answer it. I mentioned this to a friend who told me the Argentineans are regarded here as extremely talkative because of their mixed Spanish and Italian ancestry. Bloody ‘ell. . . the Spanish believe other people are talkative! Everything’s relative, I guess. As I’m always telling my daughters.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I last wrote about the construction work at the back of my house at the start of September, saying activity was very spasmodic. Since then things have changed completely. In the last 4 weeks, they’ve worked round the clock to clear the land, to sink foundations and to start work on the walls. It’s nothing short of a miracle. Or, rather, it would be if any of this were true. Things certainly have changed but only to the extent that absolutely nothing has been done on the site since I last wrote. Zip. Zilch. Nada de nada. Even the oft-idle machinery has gone. So perhaps it really was all illegal and things have been suspended until the proper licences have been obtained and all fees and taxes paid. As usually happens.

This is the time of year when the forests behind me buzz with the sound of chain-saws being used to cut down trees for winter fuel. I am never entirely convinced all this is legal. Particularly as regards the episodes that take place in the middle of the night. But I am probably getting far too suspicious.

Yesterday I went on a boat trip through the canyon of the main river in Galicia’s magnificent Ribeira Sacra area, east of Ourense. Outside the boat all was calm and quiet and it should have been 90 minutes of pure relaxation. But, unlike their Portuguese neighbours, the Spanish abhor silence so the combination of engine noise, occasional [indistinct] commentary on the PA system and endless, loud chatter on all sides made sure it wasn’t. Fortunately, like parents with babies, one develops filters over time.

It seems I was wrong about Spain not implementing the law on booster seats for toddlers in the back of cars. A reader points out this has been a requirement for 2 years already. However, as I have yet to see a toddler or small child [as opposed to a baby] in one of these, this does tend to support my contention that the Spanish take a different approach to laws compared with the British. Even if they come from the EU. Especially if they come from the EU, perhaps.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A visitor asked me this week whether it was true that you could get nothing done in Spain without a personal introduction and that, absent this, you were fair game for anyone you came up against in business. My answer was that, whilst exaggerated, it was basically true. As I’ve said more than once, the personal factor is of paramount importance in Spain and all sorts of obstacles disappear once you’re ‘plugged in’ [enchufado]. If not, then anyone you deal with lacks the ‘duty of care’ that they have for those with whom they have a personal connection. It’s all rather black and white; either you will be extremely well treated [even given services for free] or you will regarded almost as if you were an enemy. But it’s all quite logical. If there is a huge onus on you to treat your never-far-away family and friends extraordinarily well, it’s hardly surprising you don’t have much time or sympathy for the rest of the world. This doesn’t, of course, preclude the Spanish being the nicest people on the planet if you meet them in a bar, train, plane, etc. But one should never be taken in by this shallow sociability. Especially if it’s an agent trying to sell you a house, for example.

The peace process in Spain has apparently taken a step backwards. Two or three ETA terrorists were filmed this week letting off shots and vowing they’d never give up their arms until the Basque Country was socialist and independent. Since this almost certainly includes not just Navarra but also bits of southern France, it looks like being an eternity away. Meanwhile – and in the face of strong criticism from the right-of-centre opposition party – the government continues with its probably wise policy of legalising ETA’s political arm, Batasuna. At the moment, there is the worst of all possible worlds, with the party regularly holding meetings and demonstrations which are technically illegal but about which nothing is done by the authorities. Pragmatic but not sustainable.

A correction - I wrote the other day that the amount votable by Catholics to the church via their tax forms had increased slightly. In fact, the percentage rose from around 0.5 to around 0.7%, which is quite a large percentage rise, even if the absolute amount stays small. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the church gained in the short term, possibly explaining their acceptance of the very belated deal.

Galicia Facts

Galicia’s spa towns are booming. The number of visitors has increased from 38,000 in 1998 to 100,000 in 2005. Many of these are German, apparently

The average pension in Spain is 725 euros a month, or 8,700 euros a year. Galicia’s average is as the bottom of the national table, taking it closer to the poverty threshold of 6,300 euros a year. Incidentally, 20% Spaniards [8 million] are said to live below this level, with most of these being people over 65 living alone.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Endorsed by his successor in the People’s Party. The ex-President, Mr Aznar, has said it’s about time the Muslims did a bit of apologising, e. g. for invading Spain and staying on, unwanted, for 800 years. Not exactly guaranteed to ease tensions but probably needed saying.

I occasionally refer to the several pages of small ads for male and female prostitutes at the back of most local and national newspapers. And I’ve described these as rather graphic. Here’s the text from one I saw today – “Lina. I am mature and an expert with beginners. Come and learn with me”. It may be unfair but this seems to me to be in line with the Spanish view that it’s much better to have whores around for, amongst others, young men to practice on in preference to them fumbling with your teenage daughter.

Today I had possibly the best example yet of the Spanish ability to be completely unaware of the presence of others on this planet. Taking my midday tiffin, I got a paper from the rack, put it on the bar counter next to my glass of wine and sat down to read it. Not seeing my glasses where I’d left them, I stood up to check whether they were on the floor. The man next to me – who was reading his own paper and munching on a sandwich – stuck out his left arm without taking his eyes from his own paper and put mine to the right of it. He apologised, of course, and may well have given a good excuse for this rudeness but, as his mouth was full of bread, I couldn’t tell.

Thanks to a dry summer, Galicia’s 2006 Albariño wine will be one of the best ever. The one to try is Castro Martín, available from Bebendum in the UK. OK, it’s made by friends of mine but it really is superb.

Spanish Humour Section

A cartoon in one of yesterday’s national papers had a mother and daughter talking to each other . . .
Daughter: God the Father is a man, the Son of God is a man and the Holy Ghost is probably not a woman.
Mother: So, what does that show?
Daughter: That religion is macho, sexist and written by men
Mother: Will the day ever come when the Pope is a woman?
Daughter: Before that there will have to be a female altar boy.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Under Franco, the Roman Catholic church was given an annual subvention by the state, partly to recognise the part it played in education. 27 years ago the government and the church agreed this would stop and the latter would become self-financing. Since then, taxpayers have been given the chance to tick a box on their annual return authorising a small payment to the church. But this has been a complete sham as the subvention never ceased and the amount handed over by the state has been a fixed sum, bearing no relation at all to the notional personal gifts. However, the reform is finally being implemented and the church will now lose its subsidy and, instead, receive whatever funds the faithful give via the tax option. To compensate, the amount votable to will be a slightly higher percentage than before. It strikes me this is somewhat short of self-financing in that it’s a proportion of their tax [i. e. the state’s income] that the faithful are allocating to the church but I suppose, if none of them are feeling generous, then it really will have to fund its expenditure entirely from its own resources. So, a step forward at least. But I fear we can now expect an ad campaign on behalf of the RC hierarchy. Which should be interesting.

I suppose there must be some Spaniards who resent the fact us Anglos regard them as a pretty law-avoiding lot. Though I wouldn’t bank on it as everyone here seems aware of the general norm that you don’t obey any rules which you find personally inconvenient. And then there are the very visible examples such as the flagrant ignoral by the TV companies of the law obliging them to give at least 11 days notice of a change of program. This offence is committed frequently and with complete impunity, most often as ‘counter-programming’ designed to torpedo the first episode of a competitor’s new series. Which is what was done to Ana to Obregon last week. But the government has said it’s had enough of this abuse and is going to put a stop to it. Demonstrating yet again that core Spanish quality of pragmatism, it’s announced the 11 day notice requirement will be reduced to 3. This will do wonders for the statistics and, of course, send out the message that crime doesn’t pay. As if. What it also means is the TV schedules will now be even less useful than they were before. But this, of course, is the very essence of Spanish planning; it’s not to be taken too seriously. There’s always teletext if you want to know what’s possibly coming on in the next 5 minutes. What more do you need?

A final word on the Ana Obregon program. Well, two. Firstly, it’s now been described as the Spanish version of Sex in the City, as well as the Spanish version of Desperate Housewives. Though both of these were rather more successful, of course. Secondly, one of the 6 women in the hostel for betrayed females is a nun. I wonder who cheated on her. As they’re traditionally regarded as being married to God, there seems to be only one candidate.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Having spent an hour on the phone with my good friend Manu last night – establishing that my modem is crocked after only two months’ use – I was thrilled to have to waste another hour on the phone this morning with my ADSL provider before they would accept this and agree to send me another. It will be at least 5 days before I get a replacement so there may well be reduced service this week.

For today, I will confine myself to giving you one critic’s views of the Ana Obregon program I mentioned a couple of days ago. This was a failure, by the way, achieving much lower audience figures than expected. But I will return to this theme tomorrow. . .

This program is so bad I can well believe Ana Obregon wrote the script herself. What a lot of stupidities and pedantries and what rancid, hackneyed humour. The series is an insult to the sex which she claims to set herself up to protect and, in the end, offers an aberrant simplification of the relationships between partners, with an argument which is coarse, banal, empty, backward, unfair, lamentable, puerile, naïve, insulting, poor, atrocious, weak. . . I could go on reciting a string of disdainful adjectives covering more than two pages, so ready am I to completely ridicule such rubbish. But it’s not my intention to bore you, dear reader.

This new series at times recalls, unhappily, the ill-fated ‘Ana y los siete’ and gives an excessive response both to the incomprehensible interest of ‘la fantastica’ in frequently appearing semi-naked and to her unforgivable need to have everyone constantly telling here how marvellous she is. What have we done to deserve this Calvary? What sins have we committed? Do we Spanish really deserve such punishment however stupid we are? Probably yes, for according to Gustavo Bueno “You get the TV you deserve”. Amen to that.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Today was the the day that hurricane Gordon took revenge. My boiler ceased to work; my water pump gave up the ghost; and my internet connection went AWOL. So I am writing this in a cyber cafe. !Que dia fatal! And now I can't even find out how to type accents on this computer.

Which reminds me - a couple of Spanish readers have been kind enough to point out that my example of the double negative in Spanish was based on an error in the Spanish text. Fair enough. But I stick to my point that the double negative is not an uncommon feature of Spanish.

And that was a good example of its rare use in English. I hope.

As I type this at midnight in the cyber cafe, I am the only person here apart from the young lady who is manning the place. She is moving from machine to machine, her high heels clacking distractingly on the wooden floor as she goes, typing a few words and then moving swiftly on. I guess this is a good a job as any for someone with an obsessive compulsive disorder. Or should that be compulsive obsessive disorder? As if it matters.
Second post of the day . . .

Well, reports say hurricane Gordon hit the Galician coast hard near La Guardia in the south and La Coruña in the north but folks in Vigo, Pontevedra and Muros, amongst others, swear they saw and heard very little. It must have been shaped like half a donut.

The UK government is, naturally, implementing a recent [and ridiculous?] EU directive demanding that kids up to the age of 12 - unless they exceed 134cm - sit in special booster seats fixed on the rear passenger seats of cars. As you would expect, sales of these have hit the roof in law-abiding Britain. It’s just a guess but my suspicion is there won’t be such a rush to either implement or obey this directive here in Spain. Constraining/restraining kids is anathema to the average Spanish parent, whether it’s in the back of a car or during a classical music recital. Incidentally, the UK government predicts that this measure will save the lives of 1.5 children per year.

Out of the blue, my favourite café has decided to designate the rear of the premises a smoking area, though it’s still a long way off from complying with the regulation that this be closed off. This leaves the main area as a no-smoking zone, including the bar and all the stools. So I will be amazed if this division is respected. But delighted.

After 6 years, I’m still thrown by the informality [or unreliability] of Spanish meeting arrangements. Yesterday, I agreed to meet a friend at 1 but was a couple of minutes late. As he’d been and gone, I feared I’d upset him and called to apologise. He didn’t answer his phone, leaving me all the more concerned. But he called this morning and was highly amused at the very idea he’d been upset. He reminded me it was Spain and suggested we meet today at the same time. Then didn’t turn up. I suppose we’ll get it together one of these days.

It won’t come as much of a surprise to those of us living here but Spain is now the second largest importer of cement, after the USA. And it's most common bird is still the builder's crane.

In English, double negatives are as rare as hens’ teeth. Not so with Spanish, where they are common. Here’s a good example from one of today’s papers:- El Partido Popular pedirá explicaciones al ministro de Exteriores, y si las que éste no ofrece no son suficientes . . Meaning:- The People’s Party is to seek explanations from the Foreign Secretary and if those that the latter doesn’t offer are not sufficient . . . No wonder it took 37 years to get agreement over Gibraltar.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hurrricane Special

Well, Gordon came in like a lamb and went out like a church mouse. The crane is still standing and I am still alive.

I woke at 5.45 to find the trees beginning to stir. Dozing off, I re-woke at 8 to see levels of wind and rain that would be below par for an average winter day here on the Atlantic coast. By 8.15 it was all over. Not that here had been very much of it in the first place. Going downstairs I found my biggest problem was that my dog, Ryan, had – for the first time in his 12 year life – defecated inside the house. Not just once but twice. God knows why but I doubt it was from fear. Plus, of course, we’d had the power cut we get every time the rain gets above drizzle levels.

I tried to take a picture of the crane at midnight without success. So here it is, as of this morning. Labourers are working on the site but the nesh teachers and pupils were all given the day off school. In case they were hit by flying textbooks, I guess.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Even the right-of-centre paper, El Mundo, has praised the Spanish government for its ‘pragmatism’ over Gibraltar. Even more noble – a quality much admired by the Spanish – was a letter in El Pais today which not only expressed admiration for the government but also sympathy with the Gibraltarians for hundreds of years of maltreatment at the hands of Spain, whilst offering a constant refuge for her free thinkers. Now, that really is noble.

A week or so ago, Jesus and Alex gave us differing Spanish views on the issue of how independence-shy young Spaniards are. This is Giles Temlett’s take on this question in ‘Ghosts of Spain’ - Young men and women remain at home, if they can, until they are forced out by circumstance - usually marriage. . . Young Spaniards complain that a lack of jobs, cheap housing and university grants are to blame for this situation. But, with Spaniards getting wealthier at such a dizzying rate and new jobs attracting millions of immigrants, this does not wash. The truth is most only leave their parents’ home when they think they can move into something as good, or better. It is not at all uncommon, by the way, for this to be in their thirties.

Ana Obregon is a paradigm of Spanish TV – a reconstructed ‘blonde’ in at least her 50s who always seems to play women of more tender years. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if she was the voice of all the female parts in the numerous dubbed teenage dramas imported from the USA. Anyway, she stars in a much-hyped, new series tonight. A Spanish version of Desperate Housewives in which she runs a sort of hotel for women who’ve been cheated on by their husbands. Promising. If you’ve got absolutely nothing else to do with your life. A preview in one of this morning's papers described the show as 'high comedy'. I'm sure it will be; but not quite how the writer meant.

Returning to the question of Gibraltar and the common sense/pragmatism of the Spanish government. Am I being too cynical to wonder whether the first flight from Madrid to The Rock’s airport will be full of Senegalese illegals who’ve just landed in the Canary islands? Now, that would be pragmatism!

October approaches and I’m reminded that Tricking or Treating has even reached Spain. So I was interested to read today that its British precursor, Hallowe'en, is not a religious festival. In fact, it’s not even a British tradition but “an Irish pagan ceremony that has been repackaged by the Americans to sell cards and skeleton costumes”. Does anyone else still remember Duck-Apple Night?

It never rains but it pours . . . We await the arrival of the fading hurricane, Gordon - due to hit the coast in the small hours of tonight, albeit as only a ‘tropical storm’. A mere 15% of Galicia’s recently-burnt forest has been protected against heavy downfalls and, if the rain is as torrential as expected, it will be a severe setback to the attempts to prevent soil erosion.

Closer to home, if there’s no blog tomorrow, it will be because the huge crane on the building site at the back of my house has blown down and crashed through my bedroom window. Maybe I should move to one of my absent daughters’ rooms.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

This may say something about the different cultures or it may not. The gesture of two fingers made behind Cherie Blair’s head a couple of days ago was described as ‘rabbit fingers’ in the UK but as ‘horns’ in Spain. The latter implies the target has been cuckolded, which is about as serious as things get here. Relatedly, the Spanish swear word most calculated to enrage a man is cabrón, which literally means merely goat. Other nuances include bastard, brothel keeper and, of course, cuckold. By the way, relatedly seems to be a word I’ve invented. Move over Shakespeare.

A woman turned up at La Coruña airport on Monday and tried to check in carrying her husband’s ashes in a casket. When told she’d, naturally, have to fill in numerous forms and so miss her flight, she went outside and scattered them on a patch of grass adjacent to a small pond. That’s showing ‘em. Airport staff are said to be still in shock.

In one of those bizarre judgements that seem to come down regularly in respect of motoring offences here, a judge has ruled that an unlicensed, uninsured youth who killed 5 people, including his own mother, was guilty only of a single misdemeanour punishable by a fine. The public prosecutor had felt there were 5 serious offences, calling for a prison sentence or two. He, too, is said to be still in shock. As are we all.

Finally, possibly the worst aspect of the problem I had with the bank yesterday was that, when I finally got through to a human, she treated the conversation not as a chance to help a customer but as a telemarketing opportunity to sell me bank products. In the end, I just put the phone down on her. That’s Spanish banking. Either not commercial or too commercial. But never customer oriented. I read that the HKSBC is one of the favoured suitors for BBVA, one of Spain’s largest banks. Good luck to them in cleaning out the Augean stables, if they are unlucky enough to succeed.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Well, after decades of stupidity, it’s good to see a common sense solution has finally emerged on the thorny issue of Gibraltar. Praise must surely go to the government of Mr Zapatero for accepting the problem of sovereignty wasn’t going to be resolved against the wishes of the inhabitants and that an interim agreement would be of most benefit to Spain. In particular to those Andalucians who work in or live near the colony.

The thought struck me today that the secret to happiness in Spain is that when something really annoys you, you should sit down for a while with a glass of wine. Or do one of those relaxation exercises. Only then can you venture out onto the street and face all those things - people walking into you, kids racing their bikes along the pavement, vans parked on pedestrian crossings, etc. - that you’ve learned to take in your stride. If not, they will increasingl feel like painful lance jabs instead of pin pricks. Of course, if you’re at all irascible, you should never come to work or live here in the first place. You will simply explode.

This may seem like a strange comment – sandwiched as it is between the last paragraph and the next one – but, when I’m asked why I live here in preference to the UK, I usually say it’s because this is a more sane society. As if to prove my point, there were reports in the UK media yesterday that Cherie Blair had been investigated by the police for making a mock slapping gesture at a youth who put two fingers up behind her head. And then there was this little vignette – which no Spaniard would believe – in one of the papers:-
We in the UK are inundated with petty-minded health and safety gibberish, applied to everything from dangerous doormats to life-threatening hanging baskets. Once, at a supermarket fish counter, I asked the assistant to gut me some quite-sizeable sardines. She appeared to be expertly gutting lots of other fish: indeed, she looked as if she would happily gut me if I stood there long enough. But the sardines, like devotees of some strict little sect, had to be cremated with all their organs fully intact.
"We're not allowed to gut those for you, I'm afraid," she said, "Health and safety rules"
The sardines, it seemed, were sufficiently small and slippery to constitute an enhanced risk to the fishmonger.

You can log off now, if you don’t want to hear another rant about Spanish banks . . .

I’ve happily used the online and phone banking services of First Direct in the UK for many years. Not only do I have no complaints about them, I’m full of praise for the speed and simplicity with which I can effect transactions. So why do I get so apoplectic about Spanish banks? Maybe it’s because I’ve just spent a very frustrating 45 minutes on line and on the phone merely trying to get an account balance. This involved at least 5 calls to the ‘Help’ line, during most of which I went round in circles* until the machine finally informed me I needed to use the asterisk for the X when giving my identity number. I ultimately discovered the on-line problem was that my security system no longer allowed ‘pop-ups’ from my bank, though it had in the past and did allow all the pages up to that point. The bank employee I eventually spoke to got close to this in suggesting my browser might be set at too high a security rating. But, you’d think that, if this is the first thing they suspect, it wouldn’t be beyond them to include after the instruction to choose the date for the statement something like – “If it doesn’t show, check your security settings. In particular re pop-ups”. But this would mean empathising with a customer. Or denying yourself the profit on expensive phone calls. Spanish banks are not very good at either of these. Even the foreign-owned ones. I wonder how a First Direct subsidiary would operate here? But I fear we know the answer to that.

Please enter the number of your identity document
Is this correct? XXXXXXXX
Please say whether you are a client or interested in any of these products . . . .
Please enter the number of your identity document
Is this correct? XXXXXXXX
Please say whether you are a client or interested in any of these products . . . .
Please enter the number of your identity document
Etc., etc., etc, ad nauseam, with my screaming at the phone in both Spanish and English

Sunday, September 17, 2006

It’s official. The dreadful August fires in Galicia were not the result of a criminal plot involving property developers, drug smugglers, timber merchants and/or paper mill owners. According to the special team sent by the Guardia Civil, they either stemmed from disputes between neighbours or were the work of mental defectives or alcoholic pyromaniacs. In each case, able assistance was supplied by the tinder-dry undergrowth and the persistent strong wind from the north east. The question left hanging is - But why only in Galicia? The wind was hardly confined to this region and other wooded areas of northern Spain must surely have their share of jealous neighbours, nutters and drunks. And today’s Voz de Galicia poses an even bigger question – Why no resignations? Is it really necessary – the paper asks – for a politician to be found with his hand in the till before he’s forced to quit? Seems so.

Galician Fact: The Spanish bury their dead in horizontal niches in a long, multi-tiered building inside a walled graveyard. Up near Finisterra, there’s a celebrated cemetery designed by Cesar Portela, one of those architects whose every work is greeted with sycophantic approbation no matter how bad it looks. In this case, there’s no walled graveyard and no long buildings. Instead, there’s a group of concrete cubes apparently placed randomly on the hillside. It was designed for 216 bodies but it’s not a popular place and no one is dying to get in. In fact, although it’s been open for 8 years, it’s completely empty and the cubes are under siege from the undergrowth. The only thing dead there is the graveyard itself. Which all seems to me to be a very eloquent testament to Mr Portela’s work. Looks like he’ll have the place to himself.

Here’s a link for those who want to see what the place looks like.

The Voz de Galicia confirmed today the selling of driving licence points is not an urban myth and claims the price can reach 600 euros a point. It also talked of the practice of family members assuming responsibility for the offences of others, citing the case of an 80 year old woman who turned up at the police station and insisted it was she who’d been clocked at 200kph in a powerful Audi. They didn’t believe her but I hope I’m treated with more respect when it’s my turn. Even if I have been going at this speed the wrong way down an autopista. Age surely brings a few privileges.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The botellón is the custom amongst Spanish youth of drinking en masse in the street until they collapse, usually on Friday and Saturday nights. The favoured drink is calimocho, an appalling mix of cola and wine/rum/whisky, etc. Unlike with any British variant of this bacchanalian pastime, there is very little violence. But a lot of noise, rubbish, urine and – needless to say - vomit. In recent years, even the hedonistic, live-and-let-live Spanish have begun to wonder whether things haven’t gone too far. Especially when they see pictures of girls as young as 12 dressed to out-whore the local prostitutes and gripping 2 litre bottles of calimocho in their hands. There has, naturally, been much talk but, so far at least, little action. But now comes news of government plans for a law placing limits on the sale of alcohol to young people and criminalising the drinking of alcohol in public places by the under 18s. Well, maybe. A similar measure planned by the last government 3 years ago was quietly dropped. By the way, a interesting aspect of the planned law is that parents will be made responsible for breaches by their kids. Imagine that in the UK!

Spain is not generally seen as a country of animal lovers. This is unfair, though inevitable given the continued existence of bullfighting. But this week the entire country has been gripped by the affair – in a Galician village - of a vet who is being variously defended and attacked by his fellow residents for blowing the gaffe on a neighbour who was in the habit of viciously beating his dog. In fact, he recorded it on video. Even The Guardian in the UK would have been happy to print the angry letters sent by aggrieved animal-lovers to the local and national papers. Apart from the dog, the biggest victim of this brouhaha has been the image of village life in ‘backward’ Galicia.

Whenever I say something is ‘typically Spanish’, I get angry emails demanding that I explain exactly how. Well, undaunted, here is another sad example . . . A young man of 21 driving on a fast national road sees his 22 year old friend coming the other way, driving his new car. He decides to swerve a little into his path as a joke. The manoeuvre goes wrong and there is a head-on collision. Both of them, plus a passenger, are killed. This, anyway, is the belief of the police, since no one is around to give a better explanation for a bizarre accident on a straight road.

Gypsies are not popular in Spain. And, putting aside possible culpabilities on either side, I can say from my own experiences over the last 6 years that I can understand why this is so. And then there are the reported incidents such as one last week of 200 gypsies walking out of a Madrid restaurant without any suggestion of paying the bill, while their kids distracted the staff by helping themselves to items on sale. Strangely, there was no police response. Though perhaps this wouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to those of us used to hearing stories of gypsies routinely terrorising nurses, doctors, consultants, anaesthetists, surgeons, etc. Nearer to home, passing a Chinese bazaar in town this week, I was assaulted – almost literally – by the sight of the owner fighting with a woman from one of the local permanent gypsy encampments. The former was holding a rather garish pink bra and noisily claiming that latter had tried to nick it. The owner’s husband came out and said he’d called the police. The gypsy woman’s response was along the lines of ‘You’d better let me go. I know where you live’. I didn’t wait to see whether the police would respond in this case. Judging from the number of times they ring my bell, the gypsies know where I live as well.

Friday, September 15, 2006

It seems the Spanish government has been forced by the EU to make a complete climb-down over the takeover of a major energy company by the German giant, EON. Not only will it take place but also without the conditions Madrid tried to impose. My initial view that this was a good thing has been rather tempered by reading in a UK paper that the EU rules on energy competition are seen by German companies as only applying to other countries.

El Mundo continues with its campaign to prove the government’s investigation into the Madrid bombings of March 2004 is a whitewash, tainted by police incompetence and deception. As I understand it, El Mundo believes there were links between the Islamic terrorists and ETA. A government spokesman in parliament this week likened this to the claim that Bush was behind the destruction of the Twin Towers. This did little for the already strained relations between the government and the opposition.

In one of those developments which seem all to common in Spain, someone convicted of massive financial skulduggery has left jail after serving only a small proportion of his sentence. In this case, I get the impression that – for one reason or another – the individual in question actually saw little of the inside of a cell before he was officially returned to the street. I speak of Sr. Vera, who was the Secretary of State for Internal Security in the last Socialist administration. In this capacity, he was able to divert into various bank accounts tens of millions of euros allocated to the fight against ETA. None of this, it is said, has since been returned. The belief abroad is that, in cases like this, the leniently dealt with criminal has a dirty-washing basket, the lid of which he is more than willing to take off if needs be. This may or may not be true but the Spanish are a suspicious lot. A survey this week showed that 83% of them believe there is ‘a lot’ or ‘quite a lot’ of tax evasion. Who’d have thought it?

In another survey, it was reported that nicotine levels had fallen an impressive 75% in the work place since January. And in bars, cafés and discos?? Well, would you believe 0%? Of course you would, if you read this blog regularly. Accompanying the report was a photo of the sign on the door of one bar – “In this bar, not only are you allowed to smoke here; you are obliged to”.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Giles Tremlett may well have answered the question I posed only a few days ago about how all the local papers finance themselves. In his chapter on Spain’s unique approach to matters sexual, he writes that even the national papers garner a significant amount of their income from the numerous, highly graphic ads for male and female prostitutes adorning the back pages. Just after the sombre gravestone announcements re the recently deceased.

In the same chapter, Tremlett reports the comment of one brothel owner that, unlike in the colder establishments of northern Europe, here you can have a drink and a chat before getting down to business. “It somehow seemed very Spanish” he adds “to put talking on a par with sex, even if both were paid for”.

They say the ranks of the caring professions are full of people who need attention even more than their clients/patients. This certainly seems to be so in the case of a 62 year old UK gynaecologist who went off for his summer holidays as Colin Bone and came back as Celia Macleod. Minus a few bits, of course.

I mentioned the other day the Spanish government was prosecuting the entire Marbella council for a wide variety of cash-related offences. Like me, you may have wondered why this had not previously been done by the Andalucian government. Perhaps it was because, based on press reports about the activities of him and his family, the president may himself have had a few difficulties distinguishing between propriety and impropriety.

A British charter flight from Scotland to the Canaries was yesterday diverted to Vigo so that a 49 woman could receive emergency treatment for alcoholic poisoning. I fear this will do little to diminish the widespread belief in Spain that all Brits are 'ooligans at heart.

It’s reported today that new evidence shows the last Neanderthals lived in Gibraltar 8,000 years ago. This confused me a little as I could swear there were still some there when I last went about 25 years ago. Maybe they were just Brits on holiday.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tonight’s blog is something of a cop out. I’ve filleted the chapter on Galicia in Giles Trimlett’s book “The Ghosts of Spain” to give the following Galician Facts and Observations. Many of these may well have already appeared in my Galicia web page, cobbled together over the last few years but, to be honest, I can’t be bothered to check. So, my apologies if any of them seem familiar . .

There are no more traditional Roman Catholics than the Galicians. There are also no people as traditionally superstitious as the Galicians.

In Galicia, a far higher percentage of the population [85%] speaks the local language than in either Catalunia or in the Basque Country. Yet only one in thirty wants a separate state. There is no real argument that, when you are in Galicia, you are in Spain.

Galicians are probably not real Celts. But they would like to be. Many, thanks to some self-interested tinkering with history by 19th century Galician romantics, are fully convinced they are. Whatever the truth of the Celtic origins – and they don’t shout out at you in the physical aspects of Galicians or in their language – people like them.

There are 5,000 Iron-Age settlements – castros - dotted on hill tops and promontories across Galicia

Some twenty Galician sailors and fishermen still die at sea every year.

Stones and rocks have a central role in the superstitions of Galicia. The magic stones of Muxía are supposed to be the petrified remains of a sailing boat belonging to the Virgin Mary.

Galicians have had a thing about drawing concentric circles since prehistory. The concept appears to have been transferred to modern administrative planning. As a visitor, however, all you see is the same name repeated, confusingly, over and over again.

With farms and communities so widely scattered, Galicia accounts for half the place names of Spain – some 250,000 of them. A single place name can be shared by up to two dozen locations.

Galicia’s peasant women have long taken pride in their role as strong-willed matriarchs with considerable power over house, farm and family.

A wall of silence surrounds the drug traffickers. Their wealth has helped pump new cash into what, until recently, was one of western Europe’s poorest, most backward regions.

It was perhaps inevitable that the first public opposition to the narcos should come from a group of Galician women.

The narcos are one of the least attractive of the modern phenomena to have appeared in a country where the juxtaposition of old and new, accentuated by the speed of progress, is a constant source of surprise and wonder. Nowhere, however, is the contrast as great as in Galicia.

Thanks to emigration, Galicia’s biggest city is still Buenos Aires and the biggest Galician cemetery is the Cristobal Colón cemetery in Havana. Perhaps only the Irish can fully understand the Galician experience of emigration. In fact, every ninth Galician voter lives abroad.

Some people believe that the bones in the cathedral of Santiago are not those of St. James but of a charismatic renegade bishop with an abundant and enthusiastic female following.

The Victorians so fell in love with the Portico de Gloria of the cathedral that a cast of it was made for what is now the V&A museum.

Tourist board planning, cheap pilgrims’ hotels and New Age esoteric superstitions have, once more, made the pilgrimage to Santiago a phenomenon of the masses.

It seems somehow appropriate that a Galician [the owner of Zara] and one so suspicious of showing off, should have so thoroughly punctured the mystique of fashion.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

It’s 4.30am, my nostrils are streaming with cold and I’m writing this sustained by a large whisky ‘hot toddy’. And this is just to ensure that I don’t miss a blog entry for yesterday. Imagine what I would do if I were being paid for this. The whisky, incidentally, is a 12 year old single malt so this is probably a crime. But, after a bout of what is now called ‘aversion therapy’ when I was 20, this is the only form in which I can approach it. Even when my nose is malfunctioning and I can’t smell it.

Spain does not have a great reputation when it comes to donkeys. So I was pleased this week to come across mention of a place which doubles as a sanctuary and as an animal-based therapy centre. I was even more pleased to find it was only 15 kilometres from my house. More accurately about 7, after I had wound round the nearby mountains in search of its out-of-the-way location. This is its website for any of you who, like me, would like to sponsor a donkey. I was thinking of actually adopting one but concluded this wouldn’t go down well with my neighbours in the out-of-town, professional barrio in which I live. And certainly not if I tethered it in the communal gardens of our urbanización, rather than on what passes for my own lawn.

Talking of my neighbourhood, everyone here – with the possibly unique exception of myself – employs a chica ['girl'] to help out in the home. Most, if not all, of these are pretty full-time employees and many sport uniforms available from a specialist shop down in town. The range of tasks they perform is enormous. Basically, they are domestic servants and – as Giles Trimlett points out in his book – middle class Spain would collapse without them. I just make do with a cleaner 4 hours a week and do my own ironing. I think it helps with the image of an English eccentric to which I aspire.

In his chapter on Galicia, Trimlett mentions the utterly confusing nature of our province, town, village and hamlet names. I can certainly sympathise. The place I was looking for today was called Barro and I was told it was near one of the two official car testing places. The other one is in Borra. And the Spanish for donkey is burro. Is it any wonder I got lost? En passant, in Spanish, barro means mud and borra, dregs

I’m nonplussed that someone would arrive at my blog after entering ‘illegal street race Pontevedra’ in Google. In Spanish, yes. But in English? And, yes, we do have them, in the business park I can see on the top of the burned mountain on the other side of the city.

By the way, don’t be fooled by the time and date tag on this blog. It really is 5.15am and I’m returning to bed.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Well, right on cue, there was a reference to Benny Hill in one of the national newspapers today. In a football report, of all things. How we laughed. Except us humourless Brits, of course.

In his book “Ghosts of Spain”. Giles Trimlett marvels at the extent of corruption along the south coast – especially in Marbella – and naturally asks why so little has been done about it. I guess he’s impressed that, since he finished his book in 2005, the national government has finally stepped in and imprisoned the entire Marbella council and their [allegedly] corrupt legal advisers. All twenty of them are now awaiting trial. On a wider front, Trimlett says the last government under Aznar put an end to the astonishing corruption of the previous socialist administration at the state level but suggests things have actually got worse in the regions. Here it’s generally believed all local governments are in cahoots with developers. Which might explain the broad boulevards and multiple traffic lights now gracing some of our smaller hamlets. Though this must rank as small beer against grander projects such as the numerous golf courses that developers from Madrid and Valencia are said to have proposed.

Today I saw the worst example yet of inconsiderate double-parking. Thanks to its anti-car policy, Pontevedra has few exit routes and today one of these was completely blocked by a car which was not only double-parked but on a zebra crossing and at least a metre away from the legitimately parked car on its left. The end result was that a coach - unable to get through the remaining gap - had brought the traffic on one side of the city to a complete halt. A cacophony of horns brightened up my walk past the jam, the loudest coming from an ambulance towards the head of the queue. I didn’t wait for the denouement but moved on past the stationery traffic. But I can safely say that, when he/she eventually returned, the driver gave no hint of an apology and, astonishingly, very few local drivers uttered any words of recrimination. That’s simply how it is here. But my guess is there were some choice Anglo-Saxon expletives from the bemused passengers in the Saga Holidays coach stuck at the head of the line.

And while I’m talking about traffic – it’s finally been confirmed the driving schools here instruct their pupils that, if they’re entering a two-lane roundabout [circle] and turning left, they must stay in the right, outside lane. And not enter the logical left lane adjacent to the roundabout. The obvious mad aspect of this rule is that it means drivers turning left will cross in front of those going straight on. The not-so-obvious aspect is that, if you take it to its logical conclusion, no driver would ever use the inner lane. Think about it.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A survey of other countries as tourist destinations has found that most Europeans regard the British as ‘insular, unfriendly and painfully unfunny’. The Daily Telegraph theorises this may because most of us have moved on from the antics of Benny Hill and Mr Bean that still seem to amuse so many of our Continental friends.

Thanks mostly to the absence of my jinxed younger daughter, there were only 3 days of rain during this Galician summer, a huge improvement on last year. And temperatures in early September have reached record highs, with 42 in Ourense against ‘only’ 37 here in Pontevedra. Not surprisingly, the albariño grape harvest is at record levels for the third year running. By all rights, this should lead to price reductions in your local wine store but my guess is this will only happen in respect of the grapes in their pre-processed, ‘commodity’ manifestation. Leaving a few others in the chain with improved margins.

The president and most of the board of one of Spain’s main banks - Banco Santander - face prosecution for financial jiggery-pokery around the acquisition of the Banco Banesto in the mid-90s. The Spanish Prosecutor General is seeking lengthy jail sentences and huge fines for each of them. This should go down well with account holders in the UK’s Abbey National, recently acquired by Banco Santander.

I was surprised to read today that only 10% of Spaniards buy a newspaper, though readership levels must be much higher because of the availability of papers in all the cafés and bars. But I’m once again moved to ask how on earth 5 or 6 daily local newspapers can all survive.

A reader has suggested that, through my guide to Galicia and links to property agents, I’m doing my best to replicate what I describe as the hell hole of the Costa del Sol. This is a reasonable point but possibly an unfair one. First of all, Galicia does not have sun all the year round; it has 5-6 months of grey and damp. So it has little or no appeal to the sun-seekers who populate the south coast. Secondly, over the last few years, I’ve responded to perhaps 200 people looking at buying here and I don’t recall a single one of them wanting to live along the coast. All were looking for something in the rural countryside. Finally, the two agents I link to operate in the hinterland and offer properties in rural areas which have been abandoned by Galicians. These are a long way from the coast and could do with the investment. If my reader wants to debate this issue with me, perhaps he or she can cast off the cloak of anonymity and write to me at the email address on my Galicia site. Where, incidentally, he/she will also find the following blunt comment - Galicia is still a place in which you can enjoy Spain at its simplest and its best. And where any foreigners you bump into are likely to be looking for the same things as you – beauty, serenity, culture and good living. Not packed beaches and restaurants which open at 5, close at 7 and serve only local variants of British ‘staples’. If this is what you want, stop reading now; you are wasting your time. Galicia is decidedly not for you.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Both M. Sarkozy and the government of Senegal have joined the crowd in telling Spain it has no one else to blame but herself for the avalanche of illegals arriving from Africa. In fact, Senegal goes even further and accuses Madrid of doing little to halt it and of defaulting on all the commitments it’s given on this to date. Not very diplomatic. But possibly true.

In his book “Ghosts of Spain”, Giles Tremlett lays into the Costa del Sol in no uncertain terms. He describes it as – amongst other things – “A brand new Mediterranean megalopolis, a single, centre-less stretch of building extending down the coast for a hundred miles, from Nerja in the east to Sotogrande in the west.” A few years ago I wrote my own impressions of this awful place, which you can see here . They’re not a million miles apart from Tremlett’s. Though I suppose even more vitriolic.

And, while I’m plugging my own stuff, here’s a short note plus photos I’ve just written on the disappearing private houses of the city of Pontevedra. Just in case anyone’s interested.

I’ve talked before of the hit-and-[more often]miss approach of the Spanish film industry to movies in English. There was a free DVD in one of the papers today - a western called ‘Rage at Dawn’. On the cover, this is printed as ‘Rage at Down’ and then translated as ‘Rabia Interior’. It’s just possible there’s a form of misplaced logic here [Dawn -> Down -> Internal] but I certainly wouldn’t bet on it. Anyway, I was astonished to see the DVD offered the original English soundtrack. But less surprised to find it didn’t work.

Hits to my Galicia page have risen quite a lot recently. I wonder if this is because thousands of Scousers are trying to find out where exactly it is that Ryanair will be flying to from Liverpool as of next month.

I’m always delighted [más o menos] to receive comments from Spanish readers, but I’m never more pleased [or impressed] than when one tells me he/she actually enjoys my stuff. So, my thanks to Xavier. Especially as he may be either Catalan or Galician. But perhaps not, as he says he’s Spanish.

Friday, September 08, 2006

I’m reading “Ghosts of Spain” by Giles Tremlett, a Guardian journalist who’s lived many years in Madrid. Here are a few of his observations on the Spanish. By the way, like me, he says this sort of thing as someone who loves living here:-

The tireless pursuit of pleasure, the tourist ghettoes flourishing on the coasts, and even those gaudily lit brothels on Spanish motorways all have something to say about the priorities and attitudes of modern Spaniards.

Spaniards generally believe it is their absolute right – even their obligation – to enjoy themselves.

Spaniards love to form groups and clans. They like to move en masse, to belong to large gaggles. They celebrate – and demonstrate – in huge throngs, their enjoyment increased by the numbers with them. Where Anglo-Saxons do things on their own or with their families, Spaniards often do them by the coachload. They like the warmth, the solidarity, the sense of belonging that groups give them. Individuality can be viewed with suspicion. There is something potentially dangerous, however, about these groups. The herd, once roused, can be far more destructive than a beast on its own.

Its several languages enrich Spain. But, instead of celebrating them, Spaniards seem intent on squabbling about them. Now more than ever, they are not a source of pride but division.

The Galician government – the Xunta – has said it will invest 500,000 euros in the countryside so as to promote ‘internal tourism’ in compensation for the damage done by the fires. Whenever terms like ‘domestic’ and ‘internal’ are used here, I never know whether they mean within Spain or just within Galicia. But one thing I know for sure is that all the brochures about the thermal springs in the mountains will only be in Gallego. Bugger the foreign Spaniards.

Which reminds me, David asked in a comment the other day whether ‘nationalists’ imagine that being small but independent will bring them mountains of cash from, say, the EU. Well, yes, the Galician nationalist party, the BNG, was the only party here to oppose the EU Constitution - on the grounds that it wasn’t socialist enough.

I see Gordon Brown was in Edinburgh yesterday, talking once again about Britishness so as to obscure the fact he’s Scottish. And, on the subject of British politics, can there be anything more obscene than a Prime Minister unloved by the public and the majority of his party clinging to the microscopic shreds of his power simply to minimise the prospect of his being succeeded by the person favoured by his own party members? In doing this, Mr Blair – not for the first time – is re-writing the [unwritten] British Constitution. This demands that a Prime Minister who can’t command the support of his own party must resign. Is it any wonder that politicians are now a despised class in the UK? Anyway, for what it’s worth, my prediction is that Mr Blair will be gone by the end of the year.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The government of Catalunia has introduced new measures that will, it’s said, reduce the Spanish content of the primary school curriculum to about 10%, the same level as in the Basque Country. In both these regions the clear objective is to reduce the national language to the status of French, German or English. And it will surely succeed, doing nothing for the employment prospects of the kids in the rest of Spain. And probably harming Catalunia’s inward investment profile at the same time. But there will be no immediate damage and this is why these measures appeal to demagogic politicians blinded by petty ‘nationalism’. I guess we can expect to see them here in Galicia within a couple of years.

An interesting dichotomy of Spanish views from Jesus and Alex yesterday. I’m sympathetic to Alex’s comments but would pose the question - “Isn’t it possible there’s a connection between the low level of wages paid to young people and the fact that Spanish parents are notoriously indulgent to their adult children, allowing them to stay free at home until they’re willing to leave and even buying them a car or two along the way?” I appreciate this is a bit chicken and egg but companies will always pay the lowest wages they can get away with. So while there is a huge pool of people willing to take an uneconomic wage because they don’t live a really independent life, this is what they are going to do. The problem feeds on itself, of course, and I don’t see how the circle is going to be broken. In an Anglo-Saxon economy, young people are desperate to become independent and are willing to take the sort of extreme measures – flat-sharing, mortgage-sharing, for example – that Jesus refers to. And, frankly, they’re also prepared to work very hard to achieve independence. And to move from a comfortable home to somewhere else in the country/world in search of it. Can this really be said of most young adults in Spain?

I don’t think many Spaniards read their daily newspaper over their breakfast. Which is just as well for readers of El Mundo. Turning to page 32 yesterday, they would have been faced by a photo of five gruesome, body-less heads delivered as some sort of warning to someone in Mexico. Lovely.

So, Gibraltar is to become a member of UEFA and will play in tournaments such as the European Cup. I don’t think one has to be Spanish to regard this development as quite ridiculous. However, I’m now looking forward to being the ageing coach of the Wirral Peninsula international team in about 15 years time.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A columnist on a major UK newspaper notes that – after a period of rampant feminism – things there have turned full circle. According to her, men are once again men and women, women. Or, as she puts it, “The dungarees have been put back in the cupboard. Even our role models are once more masculine or feminine”. Well, in Spain there never was a wheel to turn. Just as the country missed out on the Catholic Reformation, so it seems to have been bypassed by the feminist revolution. Here, there aren’t now and never have been many women prepared to wear figure-killing dungarees. Men are invariably masculine and women invariably feminine. As just as things are simpler when it comes to religion [you are Catholic or you aren’t], so they are when it comes to sex. Men are always guapo and women guapa. Unless, of course, they’re guapisima.

The determination of Spanish women to remain glamorous until they pop their clogs does at least give us the satisfaction of witnessing some sights to which words simply can’t do justice. The TV, of course, is full of them, forever reminding me of my brother’s dictum that it’s amazing what you see when you don’t have your rifle with you.

And talking of the TV, I noticed last night national TV has now adopted the practices of their cash-strapped regional inferiors and started to put banner adverts at the bottom of the screen even during the action of a football match. But the nadir was reached when in the 87th minute, a [female] commentator was introduced to give us the deathless [and breathless] comment that “Only three minutes remain for Spain to equalise against Northern Ireland. And also for you to call or text the numbers on your screen to win 10,000 euros!”. Is there no end to the tolerance of Spanish viewers?

Earlier this week, Ryanair called for a public demonstration in Madrid against Iberia, offering to give free tickets to those who came with appropriate banners. Thousands promptly did so, only to discover the hapless Director of Marketing had only 500 tickets in her handbag. A mini-riot ensued and the airline is now being prosecuted. But I doubt it will be much concerned by the adverse[?] publicity.

I recently changed my mobile phone so as to avoid the problem of a 2-key security guard failing to stop it making calls on its own in my pocket. I got one with a lid. This works very well but the bloody thing has a camera with a switch on the side. Yesterday, on a short car journey, I took 42 pictures of the inside of my trouser pocket. It was great fun deleting these one by one, when the Delete All option refused to work. Don’t you just love technology.

Galicia Facts

There are said to be 10,000 prostitutes operating here, with 97% of them being foreign. In this case, I assume ‘foreign’ means they come from overseas and not just from one of Spain’s other regions. So whores are not like banks. And banks are not like whores?

Over the summer, road deaths in Galicia fell by just under 6%. This, of course, is great news. But it compares badly with a national average of 22%. Which would be higher without the Galician component, of course.

Finally, hits to my blog rose by 50% yesterday. Either Galicia is in the news or the mere mention of Catalunia, the Basque Country or independistas means I’m hit by all those cybernauts around the world automatically tracking these words. If so, it’s about to happen again.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The avalanche of African immigrants into the Canary Islands reached a new peak at the weekend, with over 1500 arriving on the beaches there. Nearing its wits’ end [and not getting much sympathy from its EU partners], the Spanish government has said it will soon initiate mass expulsions back to the Dark Continent. I rather had the impression most illegals were already being sent back but I guess this will now be more public. And perhaps more brutal. I wonder what will happen when the immigrants start claiming they’re political refugees and so - under the European Charter of Human Rights - can’t be returned to where they’ll be persecuted. Will Spain take a more relaxed view of this troublesome statute than the UK and its legions of ‘caring’ lawyers?

The President of the Autonomous Community of the Canary Islands has said this problem is surely a matter for the state and for all the regions, not just his. “If the state can’t deal with this sort of thing,” he asked “why does it exist? Well, quite. But it’s interesting to see how much more relevant the state becomes – as in the case of the Galician fires – when a region can’t cope with a disaster.

Pressure for independence from Spain comes from within the regions, most particularly from Catalunia and the Basque Country. In the case of the UK, such pressure has traditionally been rather muted in both Scotland and Wales. Indeed, they’ve each got their own parliament/assembly and greater devolved powers only very recently. But they’re now beginning to use these to effect different policies from England. The Scots in particular have decided to give their citizens much wider and less expensive health care and tertiary education. Trouble is, the costs of all this are heavily subsidised by the English. This is beginning to stick in the English craw – especially since Scottish MP’s at Westminster vote on purely English matters – and there’s growing pressure to put an end to this largesse. Who knows, perhaps the small band of Scottish Nationalists may one day achieve their goal of independence. Not because the majority of Scots demand it [they don’t] but because the tight-fisted English thrust it on them. This, of course, is a nightmare scenario for the ambitious, thrusting Scots [Blair, Brown, Reid, Darling, etc.] who currently dominate British politics. And it at least partly explains why the Prime-Minister-in-waiting, Mr Brown, has been spouting about ‘Britishness’ for some time now. He doesn’t want to be thrown out at the next general election just because he’s a ‘bloody Scot”.

I very much doubt that independence would be welcome to the vast majority of Scots, who’d then have to be more heavily taxed. And I’ve previously compared this situation with that of Galicia. This drives the Galician independistas into paroxysms of rage, as nothing will convince them Galicia won’t become a mighty and prosperous nation once it’s liberated from the yoke of Spanish colonial oppression. So I’m happy to mention it again and now await the wave of insults from ‘independent’ adolescents sitting at their computers in a bedroom in their parents’ house.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Well, it’s more than 3 months since the building work started on the granite escarpment at the back of my house and you’ll all be interested to hear what progress has been made. I’ve been lucky enough to interview one of my neighbours and here’s a transcript:-

Q. Briefly, what has been achieved in 3 months?
A. Humongous levels of noise and dust.

Q. Surely more than that.
A. Well, using a pile driver they’ve chipped out a metre down the entire length of the escarpment and replaced it with a wall of large granite blocks that’s sometimes 3 or 4 metres high and sometimes only 2.

Q. Nothing else?
A. Yes, they’ve moved vast quantities of soil and rock back and forth on the site. And sometimes away from the site. And perhaps back to the site. And destroyed a lot of trees.

Q. But what about the houses? Or even just the foundations?
A. Absolutely nothing. Zilch.

Q. Apart from noisy and dusty, how else would you characterise the work?
A. Discontinuous and inefficient. Sometimes there are workers; sometimes there aren’t. Sometimes the huge machines are working; sometimes they’re not. Much of the time they’re idle. None of the wall-builders have been seen since the start of August.

Q. So, do you still think it will be two years before any house is finished and occupied?
A. No, I now fear it will be at least three. At this rate, it will be a year before they start laying foundations. That’s if they’re allowed to continue.

Q. What do you mean?
A. There were 2 visitors taking photos today. Their T-shirts bore the insignia of the local council. Perhaps no building permit has been issued. One can but hope.

Q. How do you feel about Spain winning the world basketball championship last night?
A. Frankly, I couldn’t care less but perhaps that’s where all the wall-builders are.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I see the suspicion I voiced a few days ago has now been confirmed – “Today the European Commission finally turned round and said Spain should take some of the blame for the surge in illegal African migration to the Canary Islands. The EU justice commissioner, Franco Frattini, said – in a nutshell – that the Socialist government helped cause this crisis, with its amnesty last year for hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants. Spain granted this without first controlling black-market labour or consulting EU leaders. This enraged countries like Germany, who suspected that many of the regularized migrants would soon be turning up in their country, thanks to the border-less Schengen zone. It also seemed likely to be what immigration officials call a “pull factor” for fresh migrants.” . . . ‘Chickens’ and ‘roosting’ are the words that spring to mind, I guess.

Having suffered from a cancelled flight and endured a long struggle to get compensation from Ryanair, I’m not that company’s biggest fan. Especially as I already viewed their flights as even more cattle-truck-like than Easyjet’s. But now I read they’re going to allow the use of mobile phones on their flights and this prospect alone is enough to force me back onto scheduled airlines. As someone has written:-“ It will certainly make for a unique selling point. ‘Ryanair: we make a short flight feel like the longest journey of your life.’"

Critical Quote of the Week

The two most striking characteristics of British society today are a voracious, invasive prurience and a controlling, intrusive state
Columnist in today’s Sunday Telegraph, commenting on the handiwork of that unholy alliance of Rupert Murdoch and Tony Blair, I guess.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Just three brief entries tonight:-

1. Today’s Voz de Galicia reports that ‘The entry into force of the obligation to physically separate smokers and non-smokers in places of more than 100 square metres passed unnoticed in Galicia.’ But you knew this already, from yesterday’s post.

2. Here are the oddest searches which brought readers to my blog in August. Obviously, I have left out the dozens which refer to brothels in various parts of the world:-
What did Hitler think of the Spanish
Colin Davies = cannabis?
The whether in spain
addresses for coffee shops in galicia Pontevedra
court cases where auto driver had dog on lap while driving
galician people being fashion conscious
how long has galician been around for
spanish love thoughts
dog toilet in Spain
spanish word chav or chao

3. Finally, here’s a reference for photos taken today at the Fería Franca I mentioned yesterday:-


Friday, September 01, 2006

Tonight saw the start of the last big festival of the summer in Pontevedra – the Fería Franca. This is an excuse to convert the old quarter into a medieval town, dress up the entire family in appropriate costumes and consume enormous quantities of roasted meat and wine on long trestle tables in the magnificent little squares. To see it now – stretching way beyond the confines of the old quarter - you’d scarcely believe it started only 6 years ago as a sort of hole-in-the-wall affair. It’s all very impressive and reminds me of two things. Firstly, the enormous capacity of the Spanish to enjoy themselves and, secondly, Francis Bacon’s dictum that money is like muck; not good except it be spread.

According to today’s Voz de Galicia, 6,000 Galician establishments measuring over 100 square metres will have posted No Smoking signs on their doors this morning, to avoid falling foul of the new law and being hit with a 10,000 euro fine. From a quick tour of the centre of Pontevedra today, I can only surmise that – whatever my eyes tell me – there can’t be any places of this size in the whole city. We wait on events. Meanwhile, the local government has said it will be inflexible in the implementation of the law, whilst not actually taking any special measures to check compliance. I’m not sure what message this is intended to send out.

August was a very poor month for Pontevedra’s hoteliers, probably reflecting the impact of the fires. What this suggests is that either there were a lot of cancellations or, more likely in this country of rampant last-minuteism, many people decided to try somewhere else this year. Let’s hope the Fería Franca brings some compensation.

Speaking of the fires, there's been a raft of announcements about money to be spent and measures to be taken over the coming months and years. The inhabitants of the mountain communities are said to have received these ‘with caution’. As well they might. Meanwhile a 52 year old man has been arrested and charged with starting 93 fires between 2002 and 2006. Quite how this will be proved I can’t begin to imagine but I think it’s noteworthy he’s described as an alcoholic loner who lived in a semi-derelict house and didn’t get on with his neighbours. My bet is he’ll be acquitted, unless he’s burned at the stake.

Finally, flies. We seem to be suffering a plague of these and it’s suggested this is another consequence of the fires. Their natural predators have been killed or displaced, meaning that, at least until the cold weather comes, they’re free to propagate at will. Where is the Seven-At-One-Stroke little tailor when you need him?