Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The poor Minister of health is rather under siege for having had the temerity to go up against the wine industry in her attempts to cut teenage boozing. Things had appeared to be progressing quite well until – a couple of months ahead of major local elections – she was hung out to dry - Blair fashion - by President Zapatero. He may yet prove to be another Bambi far more ruthless than expected. Anyway, it turns out that – driven by guess which country – the wine industry has always had an astonishingly privileged and protected position in the EU. She was never going to beat it, even if her proposals were mild and her objectives admirable. So now she’s being widely demonised and it can’t be long before she’s moved at least sideways.

I came across this [business-oriented] profile of the Spanish in a UK newspaper yesterday. I offer it without comment. Or responsibility. But with admiration for the diplomacy displayed. As readers will know, this is well beyond my capacity . . .

Introduction: Spain is one of Europe’s oldest countries and she dominated European politics and Catholicism for centuries. Remember that there are several Spains (Castile, Andalucia, Galicia, Catalonia, the Basques). Make sure you know where people’s allegiances lie.

Working hours: The working day is not an unbroken period of concentrated effort in the sense of the northern European or North American day. Coffee breaks with fellow employees, non-work conversations with colleagues and long meetings that shade into social affairs are all seen by the Spanish as valid parts of the working day.

Concept of time: Spaniards are classically multi-active, not linear-active. That is to say, the more things they can do or handle at the same time, the happier and more fulfilled they feel.

Body language: Spanish body language is among the most overt of all cultures. Flashing eyes, exaggerated facial expressions, extensive use of hands, arms and shoulders are typical. Eye contact is along with the Greek, the strongest in Europe.

Listening habits: Spaniards are not dedicated listeners. They read less than any other people in Europe and pay little attention to the content of presentations. They do, however, watch you carefully and sum you up by observing your physical characteristics, your mannerisms and your willingness to participate in the congenial and jocular socialising which will inevitably follow.

Motivation factors: Socialise as energetically (and as late) as possible. Relationship building in Spain is nearly always associated with eating and drinking.

Manners and taboos: Entry into the EU has obliged business people to align their waking and working hours with the rest of Europe and the siesta tradition is dying fast.

How to empathise: Deference to a Spaniard’s dignity, respect for his station, personality and soul, is the key to his co-operation, alliance and affection.

Galicia - Nationalism and Gallego

Those who read the comments posted to this blog will know there’s been something of a debate on these issues recently. I’ve said I dislike nationalism for its divisiveness and because I believe in freedom of linguistic choice and regard imposition of language quotas in schools as interference of the worst kind in a free society. Whether this is done from the Right or the Left. I know there are good intentions out there but I regard these as, at best, naïve and, at worst, culpably negligent. Perhaps it’s because I’ve witnessed the destruction of the British state education sector through the doctrinaire imposition of ‘progressive’ dogma. And, on that note, I close the debate from my side, leaving you with this translation of an article from yesterday’s Voz de Galicia. For my nationalist/ Nationalist readers – Please keep reading and sending your comments - they won’t be moderated. But I have said my last word on the subject. Honest.

Not so long ago Gallego was marginalised but was the vehicular social language. The majority of people used it naturally and to these was added a growing and active minority which made linguistic freedom part of its struggle for civil liberties. Then came democracy, the amnesty, the Constitution and the Autonomous State. Everyone could exercise their right to express themselves in any way they liked. Pure Utopia. Then the new guides of political correctness got to legislating, obliging, regulating, reconstructing history and turning over the language omelette. Once again two Galicias, but this time with the correlations of force inverted. Now it was Castellano [Spanish] which would be marginalised.

Gallego lost sweetness, sonority and the prestige of being an emancipator. Now it was no longer a language of liberty. Spoken by the new VIPs, it dressed itself in harshness, artificiality and an excess of imperatives. This certainly brought subventions and perks, and educational presence and recognition in the entire official galaxy. But at the same time it lost its ‘popular’ character, its appeal to the young, and its status to its followers as a superior university course.

But the Xunta of Galicia believes it can oppose the freedom to chose one’s way of expressing oneself and is tightening the shackles of the defenceless pupils. The opposition, with historical burdens, accepts the ample minimum quota of 50% - increased according to the correlation of force – in the hope that a guarantee of initiation in a child’s maternal tongue will attenuate the interventionist determination of those in power. An agreement to be ignored.

We will continue with the nonsense of children learning science and social subjects in Gallego who, on leaving the school, will change to chatting about House, Rebelde Way in Castellano or about their private matters in an extra-official jargon. And we will continue with the hypocrisy of the rulers, whether nationalists or social-progressives, sending their kids to elite private schools, with their heavy component of high-demand foreign languages. An official diglossia* – education for the clever and education for the ‘parvos’ [runts? neglected?], for those well equipped and for those condemned to undervalued work through a lack of preparation. And a lot of student indifference.

Everything is possible in schools without the freedom to teach and where parents lack the freedom of choice. No one will be able to control the effective provision of teaching – either in Gallego, in Castellano or in Esperanto. We won’t know whether our children are receiving good, bad or mediocre education. We will suspect not but will stay quiet, in case things are made worse. We will only know the marks given by the same agent of the imposed educative process. No one will evaluate the students or the evaluators.

Education is an official franchise, a regulated ivory tower. And in the future perhaps it will be a nightmare and a focus of interminable disputes. Until the next swing of the pendulum

* Diglossia: A sociolinguistic phenomenon in which complementary social functions are distributed between a prestigious or formal variety and a common or colloquial variety of a language, as in Greek, Tamil, or Scottish English.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

You’re never far from prostitution in Spain – in the media, on the road, in the street or possibly even in your own block of flats. Last week we had yet another ‘serious’ TV exposé and this week the print media has majored on the subject because of a parliamentary Commission on the subject. As in other countries, prostitution is not in itself illegal here but most of the associated activities certainly are. Though, given the number of very visible brothels, you’d be forgiven for wondering about this. Having considered everything, the Commission went for the Do-Little option, a decision which found no favour with either the left-wing El Pais or the right-wing El Mundo. But, then, the editors are not politicians two months away from elections. For those interested, at the end of this blog there’s a translation of a relevant article from Sunday’s El Mundo.

Carlos has taken me to task for assuming, when my umbrella was lifted in my favourite café, it had been taken by some selfish bastard who didn’t care whether its owner got drenched. He proposed the equally-valid alternative that it had been taken by someone who viewed it as an “umbrella that had lain forgotten there for months and decided to take it temporarily in order not to catch a cold”. Well, I may not agree with everything Carlos says but he seems a very charitable chap to me. I wonder if he's available to marry one of my daughters.

Galicia Facts

At 15,824 euros a year, per capita income here has risen to 81% of the EU average, against 101% for Spain as a whole. Technically, this takes Galicia above the 75% ceiling beyond which the region would no long qualify for EU handouts. But, as it happens, for the period 2007-2013, the Commission happily used the 2000-2 number of only 73%.

Galicia remains – after Estremadura, Andalucia and Castilla-La Mancha - one of the poorest regions in Spain. And its rise up the EU charts reflects the arrival of new - even poorer – states from Eastern Europe, rather than any impressive upturn in the local economy. These new entrants will surely be pushing Spain/Galicia from the trough when negotiations really get under way for the 2013-2020 period.

British Society

I’ve touched recently on the outrage of ever-increasing local bureaucracy and taxation. Here’s a relevant article from today’s Daily Telegraph.

And here’s the article mentioned above:-

The Whore of Oros*?

Miguel Angel Mellado

Yes, this is what they call the Jack of Oros in a Spanish pack and I don’t really know why. Perhaps it’s because with Tarot cards the Jack of Oros indicates passion, daring, generosity of devotion, etc. And, if the next card is a 5 of Oros, it means you’re pathologically unfaithful. (All of this applies only to men). Tarot apart, what’s certain is that whores, prostitutes, [+ 6 other words] . . . call them what you will, more than enriching themselves with gold, they have made many others golden.

Let’s begin with language: if any bar prohibited the use of this short and sonorous word [puta], there’d be a sudden silence. Instead of “What a pleasure!” you can say “What a whore mother!”. Which is not the same as saying “Your mother is a whore”. Such subtleties with this swearword are impossible for those trying to learn Spanish. A foreigner could never understand why one friend can say to another, including his brother, “What a son of a whore you are !” by way of praising some domestic achievement.

So, it’s not only the business of pimps which should be grateful to this holy profession (‘holy’ because it began in the temples dedicated to the goddess of love in Babylonia). In reality, we are all pimps in the primary sense of the word (proxeneta), for it’s Latin for intermediary. Newspapers are intermediaries for information in general and for prostitution in particular, via their daily contact ads. Some of these, for sure, are incomprehensible. If you read ‘Duplex 50’, ‘Prostatic enemas’ ‘Little Spanish doll’ or ‘Housewives permanently pissed off’, you would never associate these with prostitution if they weren’t in the Contacts section of the paper.

This primary question for today arises because a joint Congress/Senate Commission is producing a report on prostitution in Spain and we’ve had the case of a free paper (20 Minutes) deciding to stop putting ads for prostitutes in its pages. The Business Gazette had done this earlier. Except for the now-disappeared YA, which was good enough to end up in heaven, all the major papers daily publish one to four pages of girls, boys, transsexuals, mixtures and other types who sell themselves. Adverts whose location sometimes makes you laugh and sometimes makes you cry: periodicals with a Religious section or supplement which first show you the road to salvation and then, on the next page, show you how to get lost.

Adverts yes, but adverts not in the serious press? The debate is open. If being a male or female prostitute was a decision as freely taken as becoming a journalist (for some we are children of the same mother), publishing these ads would be normal. It would be just another service. “News you can use”. But what should make us pause for thought is that between 85 and 90% of those who prostitute themselves are forced to do so. And being an intermediary (proxeneta) for the pimps (proxenetas) is not the best road to take in serving society in its need for rigorous information.

* One of the suits in a Spanish pack of cards – golden coins.

Monday, February 26, 2007

It’s official - Spain leads Europe for cosmetic surgery operations. The Spanish spend 800 million euros a year on them. The most popular intervention is, of course, breast enhancement [breasts enhancement? breast enhancements?]. Around 20% of patients are men, who go in for eyelid or abdominal surgery and liposuction. Which is also the second most popular operation for women.

The two main parties have issued their manifestos ahead of the May local elections. The socialists [PSOE] promise to place a cop in every school and to make it an offence to bother your neighbour or abuse public spaces. The opposition [PP] party says it’ll reduce taxes and take serious measures to eliminate town hall corruption. But I suspect there’s a low level of expectation in Spain that many of the commitments will be implemented. A propos, a columnist in yesterday’s Voz de Galicia wrote of the widespread and growing cynicism about politicians here, with 60% of the populace believing they’re in it merely for themselves, their families and their cronies. But this is not a suspicion confined to Spain, of course.

One of the things I enjoy about Spain is that commercialism is not as well ‘advanced’ as it is elsewhere - the other side of the coin of poor customer service. For example, supermarkets are not as skilled as in the USA and UK in forcing you to spend more than you want to. But, naturally, things are catching up. On Saturday, for the first time, I found it impossible to buy the product I wanted except as part of a bloody bundle. Thin end of the wedge, I fear.

Bullfighting does not, by any means, have the support of all Spaniards. On the other hand, I wonder in how many other countries a major newspaper would publish an article claiming that science proves a bull [or at least one of the toro bravo variety] actually enjoys being lanced and stabbed in the ring. Even if it is true. All to do with endomorphins, apparently.

80% of grandparents here are said to look after their grandchildren at least once a week. But only 4% are involved in any volunteer work. Outside the family, that is. I wonder what the percentage is in the UK of kids who don't even know their father, never mind their grandfather.

Galicia Facts

The female Galician soldier killed in Afghanistan was buried on Saturday, with more than 2,500 mourners attending her funeral. I’d guess this was a lot more than for the young woman hit at 3 in the morning by a car doing 130kph on the streets of La Coruña and being driven by a young man three times over the legal limit. Her family wrote to the Voz de Galicia yesterday asking, like me, why more isn’t done to stop this. And pointing out that the sentence handed down was a one year suspended gaol term and a two year driving ban. Who could blame them for feeling hard done by?

The average pension in Galicia is 7,044 euros [4,728 pounds] a year. I suspect this is close to the average UK state pension, so much better in terms of purchasing power. However, it’s 14% below the national average of 8,028 [5,388 pounds].

A reader [Carlos/Xoan Carlos] suggests I’m over-set in my ways and that my attitude is “sometimes so smug, post-Imperially British ‘I’m holier than thou and know better than thou too’ that it hurts.” He adds that, in my photo, I really should be wearing a pith helmet and carrying a bible. This is very unfair. But can anyone send me one or both of these? When I’m thus armed, I’ll consider publishing my list of the shared character traits of Nationalist contributors to my blog. Right now I’m working on making it less smug.

Mind you, it could have been worse. He could have accused me of being a Daily Mail reader. Or a Blairite.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Catholic Church this week won court endorsement of its right to sack teachers of religion [i. e. Catholicism] when it disapproves of their lifestyle, even though they’re contracted to and paid by the government. El Mundo felt this was logical as religion is an optional subject. Which seemed a reasonable point. El Pais, though, felt the Church should have no rights over state employees. Which seemed even more reasonable.

On some whim or other, I decided to ask Wikipedia about the difference between a language and a dialect. Here’s the answer:- There are no universally accepted criteria for distinguishing ‘languages’ from ‘dialects’, although a number of paradigms exist, which render sometimes contradictory results. The exact distinction is therefore a subjective one, dependent on the user's frame of reference. . . Depending on political realities and ideologies, the classification of speech varieties as dialects or languages and their relationship to other varieties of speech can be controversial and the verdicts inconsistent. . . As you will appreciate, this was of little help in deciding whether Galician is a dialect of Spanish. Or Portuguese. Or vice versa. Or both. The answer is clearly Yes and No. Which will please some. But not others. Or possibly everyone. I suspect I was righter than I knew when I wrote it all depends where you’re standing [and who you’re facing] when the question is posed.

For obvious reasons, the Spanish are pretty non-militaristic these days. So the death of the first female soldier in Afghanistan naturally led to louder-than-ever calls for the return of all troops there. Ironically, I read a few weeks ago the Spanish army is now bigger than it’s ever been. Given the aforesaid anti-militarism, I was rather left wondering why. After all, you don’t need that many soldiers to occupy islands off the Moroccan coast. And military coups have long been out of fashion. But, be all that as it may, it was sad to see the funeral of the young woman being used as the latest political football between the increasingly antagonistic major parties.

It was even sadder to read she was Galician and the latest of the 11 Gallegos to die in the Middle East. Out of a Spanish total of 18. Her death naturally received a great deal of local prominence but I couldn’t help feeling this contrasts hugely with the lack of importance given to the relentless toll of teenage road deaths here. One grieving mother asked this week why they didn’t close the bars at 2am. Answer came there none. But, then, there’s never been a response to the even more acute question of why they don’t station police outside the major discos in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday. Not yet politically acceptable, I guess.

Finally, here’s a little example - for those really interested - of the language/dialect dilemma. The rest of you can log off now. . . English and Serbo-Croatian illustrate the point. English and Serbo-Croatian each have two major variants (British and American English, and Serbian and Croatian, respectively), along with numerous lesser varieties. For political reasons, analyzing these varieties as "languages" or "dialects" yields inconsistent results: British and American English, spoken by close political and military allies, are almost universally regarded as dialects of a single language, whereas the standard languages of Serbia and Croatia, which differ from each other to a similar extent as the dialects of English, are being treated by many linguists from the region as distinct languages, largely because the two countries oscillate from being brotherly to being bitter enemies. . . . Similar examples abound. Macedonian, although mutually intelligible with Bulgarian, certain dialects of Serbian and to a lesser extent the rest of the South Slavic dialect continuum is considered by Bulgarian linguists to be a Bulgarian dialect, in contrast with the international view, and the view in the Republic of Macedonia which sees it as a language in its own right.

This, of course, is ridiculous. It is simply not true that I’ve been speaking a dialect of something all my life. Xoan Carlos is right; Wikipedia is crap. I speak English and the Americans speak badly. As do most Brits.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The EU recently raised its forecast for Spain’s economic growth this year from 3.6 to 3.8%. An editorial in El Pais pointed out yesterday this was great but that things would surely end in tears if Spain didn’t stop investing in everything except its infrastructure. Which is surely right. You really don’t have to go far below the glossy surface of Spain’s truly impressive growth to find things don’t always work terribly well. Internet sites being a good case in point. My central heating boiler being another.

I guess if you asked them 99% of people in the UK wouldn’t know what a notary was. Astonishing, then, to realise these are amongst the most important service-providers in Spain. This is essentially because - from cradle to grave - there’s scarcely an important transaction you can make without their involvement. I imagine they all have a very dull but lucrative working life. And that there’s no shortage of aspirants for the restricted number of positions.

Galicia Facts

Our parrot, Ravachol, was duly despatched last night, after a mock cortege which gave the city’s young men one of their several annual chances to indulge in a bit of cross dressing. Watching the pyre blaze away amidst clouds of, surely, toxic smoke, a British visitor commented it was clear Spain didn’t yet have a Health and Safety Gestapo. But, happily, we did spot a fireman standing by the end of a fire hose plugged into a water hydrant.

As it’s Saturday . . .

British Society

There was media uproar this week over ‘illegal’ bank charges said to be driving increased profits there. As banking is largely free in the UK, this was a little confusing. The truth is these are the charges applied when customers fail to pay their credit card bills on time or to comply with their overdraft conditions. But in a world where people no longer have any responsibilities, only rights, this is adjudged to be at least morally reprehensible. Needless to say, British banks are contemplating bringing back annual charges for everyone. Who can blame them?

This is an article by that wonderful [if anonymous] chronicler of the decline of Britain in the Age of the Bureaucrat, Theodore Dalrymple. It initially depressed me greatly but then I remembered I didn’t live there any more. The relief, though, didn’t last long as I recalled my younger daughter has just started teaching there. And, after only 4 months into fulfilling her long-standing vocation, had hinted this week she was already contemplating at least semi-quitting the profession. But at least I’ll have shuffled off this mortal coil by the time the “Gogolian, Kafkaesque, and Orwellian nature of British public administration” has been fully replicated in Spain. I hope.

On a slightly lighter note, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a BBC reporter today pronounce ‘hospital’ without the Estuary English semi-glottal stop that is now de rigueur in the UK. I was less surprised to hear she had an Indian surname.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Spanish are regularly polled on, inter alia, the things that worry them most. I guess it was to be expected that, after the ETA bombs at Madrid airport in December, Terrorism would return to the top of the list.

In a second, equally unsurprising poll, it’s revealed that 57% of Spaniards don’t trust other people. Interestingly, this percentage rises with age. This same poll says the things highly rated by the Spanish are, in descending order:- the family; work; friends; free time; ‘associations’; clubs/similar activities [surely not meaning brothels here]; religion; and politics. The sexes are generally similar in their preferences, but with men rating politics above religion and women preferring religion to associations and politics.

A third survey confirms what a glance round any bar would tell you – young women here take up smoking earlier and then smoke more than young men. As you’d guess, they believe it keeps them thin.

The Spanish media rightly gives a great deal of attention to the ever-increasing problem of what is called here ‘gender violence’. In 2006, there were 77 women killed by their current or ex partner, sometimes in ways as horrendous as throat-cutting. In the past, I’ve speculated this was no worse than in, say, the UK. But, in fact, the 2006 total is 10% above the pro rata number of 70. Worryingly, 20% of Spanish doctors are said to regard domestic violence as a private affair and to be unwilling to enquire about injuries to their patients.

Galicia Facts

Auto de Fe: I have a couple of corrections to make:-

1. The Lenten immolation of Pontevedra’s parrot, Ravachol, will not take place on Good Friday but tonight. Let’s hope the rain lets up.

2. Telefonica will not be charging my friend a 50% premium for her ADSL line. It will be 100%. In other words, the already high price of 20 euros a month for 1 Mb will be 40 euros. I’d love to hear an explanation for this from Telefonica’s Consumer Relations department, if indeed they have one. I suspect that, like Ryanair, they only have a Customer Claims department. Staffed by professional liars.

Plans have been announced for the high speed train link [the AVE] between Vigo and Portugal. This will involve 2 tunnels – one more than 6km long – and it will all be completed by 2013. Perhaps.

At last some good news for Xoan Carlos in this blog – the 3 main political parties here have agreed that, as of the next educational year, at least 50% of classes in all schools will be taught in Gallego. This compares with around 30% at the moment. For those with an interest, here are some details:-

- This will apply to all schools - public, private and grant-assisted [Catholic].

- All teaching will come under this law – primary, secondary, Baccalaureate, adult education and ‘professional training’.

- In primary schools, teachers will use the maternal language of the pupils but will try to ensure they acquire verbal and written capability in the other co-official language. But speakers of Spanish will not be taught to read and write in Gallego ahead of Spanish

- In secondary schools, the subjects to be taught in Gallego will be Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Geography and History, Maths and Citizenship.

- For adult education, the initial requirement will be 50%, rising to 100% for secondary and Baccalaureate studies.

- The implementation of the law will be overseen by a team for the ‘normalisation and invigoration of the language’. The estimated cost of this will be 1.4m euros in the first year, ‘rising with the necessary training of teachers’.

Ever the cynic, I fear there will be many slips betwixt cup and lip.

And I still sympathise for the poor kids who speak [shall we say 'traditional'] Gallego at home and then are taught in not just one but two different languages at school. However bloody 'similar'.

Meanwhile, I need to check out how my piano lessons – already burdened by an Argentinean accent – will be affected.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hours after a tetchy meeting with wine producers, the government has suspended its Bill containing restrictions on alcohol advertising. Supported by medics, consumer associations and parent groups, the Health minister has lamented that the wellbeing of minors had become a political football but insisted she won’t be resigning. Vamos a ver. Meanwhile, I wonder if May’s regional and local elections could have anything to do with this precipitate development.

During the first half of the Barca-Liverpool game last night, the TV director gave us at least 15 irritating glimpses of a happy, white-suited Et’o. When things went against Barca in the second half, he had the good sense to drop shots of a morose Et’o to just 3. Which was still 2 too many for my liking. Incidentally, the match report in El Mundo today is very even-handed. As they usually are, in fact.

You couldn’t make it up . . . “Captain Euro is a public relations campaign commissioned by the European Union to promote itself. The campaign centers around "Captain Euro" a superhero character who dresses in a costume which features elements of the European Union flag, including the blue and yellow star motif.” Here’s the web page if you want to – painfully slowly – enjoy the good Captain’s fascinating adventures.

Sean Lennon recently performed in Barcelona to an audience of about three people and cat. So not quite a sell-out. Sadly, he appears to have even less talent than his insanely egocentric mother, Yoko Ono.

Galicia Facts

A lawyer friend of mine yesterday went to a town hall in the hills to make enquiries about a house being bought by a British couple. The official’s answers were given in what she called ‘TV Gallego’ and his attitude, she said, suggested he wasn’t well pleased about foreigners buying even derelict properties in Galicia. ‘Obviously a Nationalist’, was her conclusion. So perhaps they’re not all as reasonable and pragmatic as Xoan Carlos. Which reminds me, talking to a teacher of Gallego earlier this week, he surprised me with the point that most of Spain’s recent leaders had come from Galicia – including, of course, Franco. He also reminded me Castro’s family was from the region. Then he added, rather lugubriously, ‘Of course, that would be the main problem if we ever did get independence. We’d be ruled entirely by Galicans’. Trying to get another local friend to open up on the subject, I was met with the reply that all Nationalists were nutters but that, fortunately, Se cura nationalismo viajando - Travel cures nationalism. Though not for all of them, I guess. I have to confess my face-to-face experience of them is very limited. The local BNG mayor always does me the courtesy of speaking to me in Spanish. But this contrasts with my treatment by a young Nationalist who declined to speak to me in anything other than Gallego, even when I could scarcely understand Spanish. But he was only 17 and his perspective [and manners] changed dramatically when he went off to Salamanca university as a first step towards a professorship in Classical Languages.

And this is the point where I record my view that the Voz de Galicia seems to me to get the balance right. It has news and commentary in both languages but always takes a hard line against what it sees as Nationalist excesses. I fear, though, that Xoan Carlos will now tell me it’s the mouthpiece of PP reactionaries who haven’t got over the death of Franco.

Incidentally, I asked my lawyer friend why most of the Gallego speakers in the rural communities voted for the right-wing PP party, whereas the prosperous voters of Pontevedra city voted for the left-wing Nationalist party. She explained the poorer rural regions were still rife with 19th century caciquismo [political barony/despotism] and that Pontevedra’s residents had grown tired of the PP sending all the investment and jobs to the bigger cities of Vigo, Santiago and La Coruña. So they’d gone for someone who promised to pursue local priorities. Language and aspirations of independence didn’t seem to figure much in any of this thinking. But all politics are local, as they say. But enough, already.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

As the world knows, the trial has started of those accused of being behind the 2004 bombings in Madrid. I get the impression El Mundo is still flogging the deadest of horses in trying to establish some link between these Islamic extremists and the Basque terrorist group, ETA. I guess they’re struggling to find a face-saving way of letting go of the claim. Meanwhile, though, I doubt many are convinced, even on the right wing.

I’ve commented that new bank branches are sprouting like spring shoots down in Pontevedra. So I wasn’t surprised to read this week that Spain now has the highest number of branches per capita in the world. These are, of course, expensive to run, especially given the personnel needed to give the Spanish the immediate, face-to-face service they prefer. And yet Spanish banks are now amongst the most profitable in the world. You don’t need to be a genius to work out how this is possible.

Talking of low quality but expensive service – A friend of mine who lives in a village 15km outside Pontevedra has just asked Telefonica for an ADSL line. They’ve replied that the existing line is poor so, instead of 20 euros a month, the service will cost 30 euros. Translated this means ‘We can’t be bothered to invest in giving you the line to which you’re legally entitled and, if you’re stupid enough to insist on having broadband, we will take advantage of you by charging a 50% premium’. Strangely, all the other providers quoted the same monthly charge - possibly because they have to rent the line from Telefonica. Like the banks, Telefonica is also a highly profitable company. But who could be surprised? I sometimes wonder why the Spanish bother to have a Minister for Consumer Affairs. Though, in fact, I think it’s only a part of a larger portfolio. Which possibly includes Trade and Commerce.

Once again I take my hat off to the serious dailies here for their obit columns. This week for example, they’ve featured the inventor of the TV remote control, who possibly didn’t even rate a mention in his home town’s rag.

Postscript to the Tenerife fiesta problems – The lawyer for the unhappy residents asserts that – between 3 and 4 am – the decibel level in the street was between 104 and 130, against a legal limit of 55. There were a couple of opposing articles on this subject in Sunday’s El Mundo. One of these basically said no one opposed fiestas but it couldn’t be a free-for-all; there had to be limits on how much noise was generated. The nub of the second one was that ‘A lot of noise equals a fiesta; little noise equals a funeral’. Of course, in some countries this would read ‘No noise equals a funeral’. But not here, where they’re essentially another social occasion.

I said yesterday I disagreed with Andrew O’Hagan about Britain needing more individuality. But I’ve since realised he may really have been talking about eccentricity. As John Hooper points out in The New Spaniards, there’s a world of difference between genuine eccentricity – of which there is little in conformist Spain – and individualismo. Of which there’s a great deal. Your preferred synonym for this word depends on whether you’re experiencing or displaying it. In the former case, I opt for ‘selfish’. When I display it, it’s called ‘getting my own back’.

Galicia Facts

The EU has said it won’t be giving Galicia any cash in respect of last August’s dreadful fires. Perhaps it’s read that the region has the lowest per capita number of fire-fighters in all Spain and feels it needs to put its own house in order before seeking hand-outs. Actually, the Commission did say it was a tad illogical to seek compensation for a natural disaster while loudly proclaiming it was the result of a home-grown politico-criminal conspiracy. Hmmm. . . perhaps they’re a bit more sophisticated in Brussels than in the constituencies of Lugo and Ourense, for example. Thus is the Xunta hoist by its own petard.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Both the left-of-centre El Pais and the right-of-centre El Mundo agree that the low turnout for the Andalucian Constitution referendum reflects political failure. Naturally, each leading political party blames the other. El Mundo claims the whole exercise – involving the pointless definition of Andalucia as a ‘national reality’ and the parallel affirmation of the ‘indissolubility of Spain’ – was driven by a socialist regional President keen to help his oppo in Catalunia. And that it’s all part of the mindless break-up of Spain by a government which couldn’t survive without ‘Nationalist’ support. They may have a point.

I posed the question yesterday of whether the Andalucians wouldn’t prefer to vote on the issue of corruption rather than on the [arcane and irrelevant?] question of their new Constitution. An answer came yesterday in the news that, in the cesspit of Marbella, only 27% of them went to the polls. This probably represents the local council’s payroll. Or briberoll, as it should be called.

I really don’t mean this to sound patronising but one of the things I love about Spain is that it still maintains some of the institutions of my youth, long since banned in the UK. One of these is the annual Miss and Mister [or Mees and Meester] Spain contests. But there’s a bit of a fuss this week because the organisers have refused to allow the lovely Miss Cantabria to take part as she is a mother. The young lady in question – without a hint of irony – has dismissed this as ‘sexist’. And she has been backed up by the relevant lady Minister in the national government. Feathers are fluttering all over the dovecot.

Galicia Facts

The Academy of the Asturian Language [yes, there really is one] is up in arms against what it sees as ‘unfounded and damaging’ attempts by its Galician equivalent to label as Gallego the related language spoken in western Asturias. The sobering background to this nonsense is that foreign investment in Galicia in 2006 was the lowest in 15 years. And this after 3 previous bad years. The main barriers, according to our local press, are a shortage of land designated industrial and a bureaucratic mindset which is worse than elsewhere in Spain. ‘Rome’ and ‘fiddling’ are words which spring to mind.

This week saw the annual Galician ‘national’ fox-shooting competition up in the hills. The 900 contestants had to deal with two troublesome groups. The first comprised 200 ‘ecologists’ who tried to disrupt things and generally caused consternation on the part of the participants, who simply couldn’t comprehend why anyone would object to this traditional pastime. The second [smaller] group comprised the vets who had to check the foxes had really just been shot. Not defrosted after a few days or weeks in someone’s freezer. Yes, but who was guarding the guards?

UK Society

There’s concern in the UK that young girls are being sexualised at a very early age. One targeted product is the Bratz Doll, which apparently comes in cropped top, mini-skirt and skimpy underwear. Responding to the alarm, a spokesman for the company said its dolls were bought only by over-8s and that "The Bratz brand, which has remained number one in the UK market for 23 consecutive months, focuses on core values of friendship, hair play and a 'passion for fashion'." One advantage of totalitarian government is that people who talk like this can just be taken out and shot. Or, better still, garrotted.

A Scottish columnist, Andrew O’Hagan, says the great British virtue – 'too seldom recalled by those heralding the break-up of Britain' - is to live and let live. Strangely enough, this is [rightly] seen as a major Spanish virtue as well. O’Hagan adds that ‘The modern taste for hammering everyone into being and talking the same way is the great bore of the age. Fear of difference and dread of incorrectness are the twin ushers of banality and thoughtlessness in our own time’. He then calls for a return to ‘excessive individuality’ in Britain. Which is where I begin to part company with him. There’s an awful lot of this in Spain and it’s not necessarily a Good Thing.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Down in Andalucia – where they don’t have any Nationalists or even nationalists – the new Constitution yesterday received overwhelming support from the 36% of the populace who could be bothered to turn out to vote in the referendum. Thus are things quickly and easily done. Though one is rather left wondering why it was all necessary in the first place. Presumably the local politicians, at least, felt it was a higher priority than tackling the corruption for which the region is internationally infamous. Perhaps they should ask the voters for their opinion on this as well.

UK newspapers today report scientists have stumbled on weight-reducing properties in a drug already approved for other things. I would guess, though, this is not the “Incredible discovery, ‘Bio-Night’” featured in a full-page ad in yesterday’s Spanish press. Here, there’s absolutely no hint given of what Bio-Night actually is, merely a long list of truly outrageous claims, including the inevitable assertion that it ‘has been scientifically proven’. And that, miraculously, it ‘works while you are sleeping’. Like the English-teaching scams of a few years ago, this plays to the very Spanish need to achieve something very difficult while investing minimal to nil effort. The manufacturers clearly know what they're doing but, needless to say, a Google search quickly endorses the suspicion the ad is illegal, not to say massively immoral. The Federation of Consumers in Action cites the relevant laws broken and criticises the national and regional governments for their inaction. Need I say the marketing company is based in Andalucia? And my guess is Bio-Night is merely a diuretic that rids you of surplus water, so giving the impressive initial results you crave. Time to promote my one-page book on the subject, entitled “Eat less, exercise more, you gullible cretin”. Well, one line really.

I learned yesterday – from a BBC podcast – that the French ‘Department’ of Corsica has a nationalist movement prone to setting off the occasional bomb. Listening to the history of the island, it wasn’t difficult to sympathise with aspirations for independence. This got me to wondering why I didn’t have this instinctive sympathy for either Catalunia, the Basque Country or Galicia. I decided it was something to do with geographical integrity. So then I wondered why this didn’t apply in the case of Kosovo, where again I find it easy to be sympathetic to a desire for secession. So I concluded that – notwithstanding their well-established capacity for generating hugely varying perspectives - historical, linguistic and/or religious factors must somehow come into the equation. And, at this point, I wisely decided to abandon the search for overarching principles giving an easy answer to this intractable issue. And to leave it to people such as Xoan Carlos who find this no problem at all - even if their answers are unconvincing to most of us. Perhaps the secret is that you merely need to have international support for your case. By this token, the Spanish candidates for independence have a way to go. And an absence of majority support in your own backyard is probably not a good basis on which to seek this external endorsement. Il faut cultiver notre jardin, as Voltaire once put it. Final thought - these days, having Islam as your predominant religion would probably help. Time to increase immigration to Galicia?

Galicia Facts

One of the councillors arrested in Gondomar has admitted he took bribes for building licences but insisted his pockets were not the intended resting place for the cash involved. We await more details with great interest. Assuming he doesn’t have a road accident.

Taking a leaf out of the book of French farmers, who cut off access to English Channel whenever they have a domestic beef, residents of the Portuguese border town of Valença yesterday blocked the main bridge to Spain. They’re upset about the night-time closure of their emergency medical centre. Among the refrains chanted was ‘We’d be better off if we moved this town to Spain’. Well, from a health point of view, they’d certainly be able to buy miracle slimming drugs.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Needless to say, the goings-on down in Tenerife provided un-missable material for the endless TV gossip shows. The one I was unlucky enough to zap into offered us the inane musings of one of the performers who’d been received badly. Having seen the act in question, it was clear her ego was in inverse proportion to her talents so I was rather nonplussed by her celebrity status. Plus, she was rather ugly and clearly very reconstructed from her [blond] hair down. I later learned she was the ex-girlfriend of a bullfighter. And possessed of a big mouth. In Spain, this explains everything.

The Barcelona cosmetic surgery clinic which saw the death of two women under the knife this week turns out to be called Hospital Evangelico. Which is a nice touch. Presumably they were wafted to Heaven on the wings of angels. But the Devil is in the detail and the clinic has been closed down while its procedures are investigated.

One of the reasons I love to learn new languages is that, apart from everything else, it’s always good for a few smiles. A plane highjack was foiled this week when a stewardess poured scalding water on the hapless man’s crotch. In Spanish, this was given as entrepierna. Or ‘betweenleg’. In similar vein, when I was a kid, the biggest tough in the area was referred to as ‘cock of the walk’, an expression that may well have since fallen out of use. So I was amused to see that, as part of its Entroido [pre-Lent] celebrations, the town of Poio offers two competitions for young men who fancy their chances either on a pole across the river or on a vertical, greasy pole. The first is called Galo no rio [Cock in the river] and the second, Galo na vara [Cock on the bar]. Still with Gallego, I wondered what Xoan Carlos thinks of the placards hoisted at a meeting of our local council this week:-

With the BNG [Nationalists] in government, we are living in Hell


BNG: You live off the people and you screw the people [More or less]

This blogging, as I’ve said, is a rum business. A couple of days ago I was delighted to read this on the page of a popular American blogger based in Barcelona: “Colin Davies has excellent commentary on Spain and especially Galicia every day; he's one of the most regular and consistent bloggers out there. He's on my daily reading list”. But today a reader has pointed out that the net is full of comment trolls and cyber-stalkers and that you’re not really popular until you’ve got at least one of the latter. I can only live in hope.

Finally – and only for those who are interested in views on UK society – here are:- 1. Another insight into the insanity that passes for normality there, and 2. A quote from a UK columnist about the imminent anti-smoking law and the bureaucratic consequences thereof:-

Last week a mother boarded an easyJet flight with a one-year-old and a three-month-old baby. When the older child's booster seat didn't fit properly, the mother found herself in difficulties, whereupon a woman in the neighbouring seat kindly offered to hold the three-month-old on her own lap throughout the flight. This, however, awakened the suspicions of the ever-vigilant easyJet crew, who promptly ordered the mother and her children off the plane on the grounds that the baby might be subject to abuse.

“Government expands all the time whether or not there is any work. There was a perfect illustration of that depressingly universal law last week. On July 1, smoking will be forbidden in bars, restaurants, taxis, buses and all indoor public places (with the exception of hospices and asylums: if you're about to die or insane, the Government will allow you to smoke). Councils have already been given £29.5 million of taxpayers' money so they can "train staff" to enforce the ban. They could have given the money to medical research, spent it on looking after patients with cancer, or on hiring more nurses for the NHS. But no, it's going to fund local government officials so they can perform the essential task of issuing fines to smokers.

The Local Government Association has stated that at least 1,000 officers are to be trained in that task. It is not one for which special training is actually needed. Even if it were, every council already has dozens of officials who are expert in the practice: parking attendants.

But who cares about need? Certainly not the Government. The new ban is a wonderful opportunity for taxpayer-funded courses and jobs, for the production of official documents, for rules and regulations on how to issue fines, so of course officials are exploiting it to the full, regardless of the fact that it is a total waste of your and my money.

Bans on smoking in public places have proved to be almost perfectly self-enforcing. Our own Health and Safety Executive has noted that the experience in other countries has shown that there are likely to be "very few breaches" of the ban in England. In Scotland, where the ban has been in force since last summer, phalanxes of inspectors were trained on how to enforce it. They have had nothing to do. The Beer and Pub Association reports that only 11 fixed penalty notices have been issued to people who have lit up in Scotland's thousands of licensed premises in the 10 months that the ban has been in force. . . . Most of the hundreds of specially trained officials in England will do what council officials usually seem to do: nothing. But some of them will start behaving like bullies, using the power the law and their "special training" gives them to make miserable the lives of ordinary people going about their lawful business. It's a small example of the relentless tendency of officials to expand their powers. Collectively, they are on course to produce their own utopia, in which everything not prohibited is compulsory, and no one is allowed to make any free choices at all.”

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Many Spanish women would die to be thin. Two more actually did this week when they passed away during botched cosmetic surgery operations in the same Barcelona clinic. I wonder if the contract warned they might lose something more than their belly fat.

My sister stayed with me last week. As a regular traveller to the USA, Italy and Holland - and as an even more practised spender - she was confounded by the need to prove her identity whenever she made even a small credit card purchase here. Tackled for an explanation, I said the answer given by retailers was always that this was for our protection. But I added I suspected it was really to minimise risk for them, allied to an obsession with proving you are who you say you are in a country in which there is little trust of strangers.

Which reminds me . . . When your credit/debit card expires in the UK, they just send you another one in the post. Here, though, it arrives with the instruction you make a premium-rate call to your bank so you can wrestle with a machine that demands various numbers before your card can be activated. Why? After all, no one can use it without your PIN. Could it really be just a revenue exercise on the part of your bank? Yes, it certainly could. No wonder their profits are vast and they can currently afford to hoover up British and American operators.

I’m regularly asked why I stay in Spain when I find so much to criticise. Glossing over the obvious riposte that’d I’d be critical of any country I lived in, I usually reply that – for all its faults - it’s a far more sane and congenial society than the UK’s. There was a time in Britain – during the prior-Thatcher 70s – when the economy was so bad and the grip of the unions so strong that wags took to referring the UK as the ‘first country of the Fourth World’. In other words, a post-industrial basket case. In the past decade, though, at the same time as achieving impressive economic growth Britain has become the exemplar par excellence of the Age of the Bureaucrat and Meddler. For evidence of this, read Mark Sparrow’s comment to yesterday’s blog and ponder this report from today’s UK press – “Police are to train people to operate radar speed traps to catch neighbours breaking the limit. They call it Community Speed Watch but it would be better called the Nark Next Door”. And then think about this madness – “Under the imminent anti-smoking law, a home owner will be allowed to smoke at home but not if a work colleague arrives to discuss a business plan. Similarly, home owners will be able to smoke if friends are invited but not if caterers are there to help with the food and drink”. To me, the question is not why I live in Spain but why anyone stays in the UK if they’re not rich enough to live in London and insulate themselves against the grind of daily life in Britain in the 21st century.

Galicia Facts

Galicia has 12,000 hamlets with no inhabitants at all. Up in the Ourense and Lugo provinces, the number of these ghost villages has increased by 13 and 20% in the last 6 years alone, as people have died or moved to the towns of the coast. Since the rural regions have traditionally been bastions of Gallego, this must be worrying for the nationalists. Although many of the incoming Brits may well be culturally sensitive, this is unlikely to be sufficient compensation for this adverse phenomenon.

The other thing disappearing in the region is bookshops; Galicia lost 40 of these last year. If Pontevedra is anything to go by, the main reason is there are too many slow and inefficient outlets where consumer service is conspicuous by its absence - mainly because they used to survive on captive sales of school textbooks. But the dastardly socialists/nationalists have now made these free. Especially those in Gallego, I suspect. . .

To be more positive - This blog has just been awarded the Boa Vista ‘Blog of the Year’ prize and will now be entered in the English Language section of the even more prestigious Poio competition. In line with one of the town’s claims to fame, the prize is a small statuette of Cristobal Colón. Or Christopher Columbus to some of you.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tenerife has certainly had its problems with its Carnaval this year. First, the whole thing was threatened by residents wanting it cancelled because of excess noise. Then, when the show finally got on the road, it was received with boos, catcalls and jeers - doing nothing for the reputation of the famous Flamenco dancer who'd conceived it. Apparently it was too heavy on ‘celebrities’ and too light on the groups who perform satirical songs aimed at local dignitaries. To add injury to insult, the council has said it’ll not only withhold some of the choreographer’s fee but also sue him for damages. In a country in which having fun ranks far above most other purposes in life, these are serious matters.

A year or so ago, I was rightly taken to task for labelling Spain’s anti-smoking law ‘draconian’. You only have to go into almost any bar in Spain to see how wrong this was. Over in the UK, however – where having fun is merely something to be taxed – the government is taking a far more aggressive approach to the implementation of its own imminent ban. According to today’s Telegraph - “Thousands of anti-smoking inspectors are being trained up at a cost of £30 million, to be sent out to mingle with pub-goers or diners. The snoopers will take undercover photos or, if brave enough, slap a £50 fine on anyone with a lighted gasper.” In a satirical editorial, the paper asks – “Why stop there? A new arm of government must be set up to combat smoking, under the direction of the quango Offag. We need a smoking tsar. All cars will be fitted with tobacco smoke detectors. No child will be left in the care of anyone on the national Registered Smoke Offender database. New laws will be brought in against behaviour likely to provoke smoking, such as selling matches, screening old films or indulging in sexual intercourse. Council tax and stamp duty on the homes of smokers will be doubled. If one needless death can be saved, who could begrudge the cost?” . . . Well, I have never smoked in my life and regard myself as pretty virulent in my disregard for the habit but I am completely at one with the Telegraph at finding the plans deplorable. Surely there’s a middle way between Spain’s laxity and Britain’s expensive, quasi-religious zeal which will result in even more interfering petty bureaucrats in a society already overflowing with them. If I lived there, I’d move. Even to a country where the bars are filled with smoke.

On the other hand . . Events in the prettily-located Pontevedran town of Gondomar, make it a good candidate for microcosm of modern Spain. For years, there’ve been allegations of construction irregularities on the part of the [PP] authority. In fact, several developments have been declared illegal by judicial authorities. But the council has carried on regardless, handing out building licences like sweets in a [non-Tenerife] Mardi Gras procession. But this week two of the mayor’s closest aides were caught red-handed, taking cash from a developer. As is routine in the daily cases of this sort, the mayor has proclaimed the innocence of his lieutenants and insisted the whole affair is driven by the ‘personal interests’ of the opposition party. What happens next is anyone’s guess but I, for one, wouldn’t be surprised to see the mayor retaining power in May’s municipal elections. There’s a far-too-widespread attitude here that corruption is to be expected of politicians. As if we were in Africa - the traditional insult aimed at Spain by the French.

Galicia Facts

Archaeologists excavating in Pontevedra say there’s evidence of temporary global warming a couple of hundred years BC, when the level of our local rivers rose and then fell back. It seems we survived it.

Galicia has 14 dog pounds and they are taxed by the challenge of dealing with the ‘more than 14,000’ dogs abandoned here each year. But now they say they’re about to be overwhelmed by a need to cater for the growing interest in buying and then quickly dumping exotic creatures such as iguanas, ferrets, dwarf rabbits and Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs. I’ve long said we need more international cuisine here. Perhaps this presents a possible solution. Except, perhaps, for the ferrets. Unless there's a sizeable Korean community somewhere in the region.

Finally, could I ask whoever it was who wrote to me recently after arriving to live in Pontevedra to contact me again as the message was deleted when I was retrieving it from the SPAM folder. The subject was ‘Hello’, which my computer treats as highly suspicious.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The world of Spanish property development is a bewildering one. A case in point is that of a massive residential/commercial project in Vigo which – after several years of legal process – has just been confirmed as illegal by the Supreme Court. This will apparently add 2,000 flats to the existing mountain of those which are, in theory, due for demolition. As it happens, though, none of these judgments have resulted in any de-construction. In fact, it’s hard to discern whether they’ve resulted in anything at all. It must make sense to someone. Apart from the lawyers, of course.

I sometimes get the impression the Spanish word Marbella simply means corruption. The entire council from down there is currently on trial for a long list of offences and some of them might actually end up in prison. Meanwhile, it’s reported today the ex-mayoress had her plastic surgery financed by a developer in return for a building licence. A very Spanish deal.

I doubt there’s any country in the world that can match Spain when it comes to an obsession with celebrity and related trivia. Zapping through the TV channels yesterday, I hit on a gossip program entirely devoted to a discussion of the wedding cake of some diva or other. There are a lot of these here. For one man’s highly entertaining version of the Top 10 Celebs in Spain, click here. I recommend you start from the bottom.

Hidden in the detail of Spain’s low crime rate is the not-so-good statistic of an 8% increase in domestic violence. But, as with all such numbers, there are entirely different interpretations of this. The government would naturally have us believe it’s all a reflection of both a greater willingness to report violent partners, plus a higher conviction rate. And it may well be right.

Galicia Facts

Sparks are said to be flying between the governing socialist party and its minority nationalist partner over a planned law aimed at increasing the knowledge and use of Gallego in primary schools. This, of course, is the Holy Grail of those worried about the language being overwhelmed by Spanish. Apparently, the draft has been diluted from the initial objective of ensuring all kids are ‘fluent in both speech and writing’ by the time they're 6, in favour of ‘linguistic competence’ in both languages. Plus there’s been a reduction from 56 to 50 in the percentage of lessons which must be in Gallego. If I’ve got this wrong, I suspect it won’t be too long before I’m corrected . . . Meanwhile, I won’t report my Castrapo-speaking cleaner’s comments about her daughters being compelled to study Natural Sciences in Gallego as I don’t want to bring forward my assassination.

Even less seriously – On Good Friday it’s the custom in Galicia to set fire to a large, colourful effigy after a mock funeral procession ending up in the town square. Along the coast, and reflecting our maritime tradition, the creature most commonly burned is a sardine, though some favour Sir Francis Drake in view of his local depredations. But in Pontevedra it’s a parrot, called Ravachol. I don’t know what’s normally incinerated in Vigo but I’m told this year the effigy will be of our bare-breasted heroine, Ana María Ríos. Which is an excellent example of Spanish anarchistic humour.

House for Sale

Some friends of mine are selling a property in a lovely rural spot 10km outside Pontevedra. Here’s a brief description. Anyone interested can email me at colindavies@terra.es
Plot of 4,700m2.
House of 323m2, with 7 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms.
Perfect for a B&B business.
Price: around 460,000 euros.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Although some readers might beg to differ on this, I’m a little chary about stepping into an area I know little about. But I have to say reports about the ETA hunger striker – de Juana Chaos - are throwing up some bizarre numbers. Between 1989 and 1995, he was sentenced three times for various killings, receiving sentences of 2,232, 378 and 55 years respectively. This was during a time when the actual maximum sentence servable in Spain was 20 years, though this has since been increased to 30 or 40, depending on who you read. More recently, de Juana Chaos was given another 12 years for sending threatening letters to judges from his cell. If implemented, this would have kept him in gaol beyond the 18-20 years his ‘good behaviour’ had entitled him to. And it was this sentence which was reduced to 3 years, by a majority of 10 judges to 3. However, it’s emerged that at least one judge wanted the sentence reduced to zero and at least one preferred an increase to 96 years. Quite a spectrum of interpretation of the relevant law. Separately, another ETA member was this week given 467 years for attacking a police convoy. Stepping back from the detail, I can’t help wondering whether there isn’t a case for tidying up the provisions about judicial sentencing. Or perhaps I’m missing something about the handing down of sentences ludicrously higher than anything that will ever be served. Apart from tradition, I mean.

In another anomalous judicial situation, we’re told one of Galicia’s biggest drug barons is about to leave prison even though he owes the state a mere 100 million euros in fines. However, the good news in this case is that there are plans to close the legal loophole that allows this to happen. Though not retrospectively for him, of course.

When it comes to global warming, Spanish experts go even further than the international Jeremiahs. They predict the rainfall of the south will fall by 40% in the second half of the century and the rise in temperature will be double that normally quoted. Thank God I won't live to see the barbarian British hordes rampaging northwards.

A recent post to this blog offered the brief comment “Carrascos ruivos de Tamisa”. I eventually realised this was Portuguese, not Gallego, but was surprised none of my Galician friends could translate it. Anyway, rightly or wrongly I worked out that carrasco is an executioner/hitman, that ruivo is blond and Tamisa is the Thames. But then, having plunged into Book 2 of Don Quixote, I immediately came across the character Bachelor Sansón Carrasco. What were the odds on this, I wonder. As if anyone cares.

Galicia Facts

It had to happen. A truck carrying one of the vast granite blocks used in Galician house construction shed its 19 ton load as it turned a corner, crushing a passing car. Astonishingly, the car driver survived, suffering nothing worse than a broken ankle. So, happily, there was no question of taking him home and slipping him under the front door.

Spain’s crime rate is well still below the EU average and, within that, Galicia’s ranks as the second lowest in the country. So the risk of violence is correspondingly low. Unless you upset the Nationalists, of course.

Finally, for all those Irish citizens who wish to expand their carbon footprints - as of March, Aer Lingus will be flying from Dublin to Santiago.

House for Sale

Some friends of mine are selling a property in a lovely rural spot 10km outside Pontevedra. Here’s a brief description. Anyone interested can email me for photos at colindavies@terra.es
Plot of 4,700 m2. House of 323 m2, with 7 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms.
Perfect for a B&B business.
Price: around 460,000 euros.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Two interesting court decisions were reported yesterday, both of which will come as a huge relief to the local/national government . . .

Firstly, the appeal court in Tenerife has reversed a lower court’s decision to suspend the imminent fiesta. The view was this question had already been decided – against the anti-noise petitioners – in 2006. So life there can now return to its raucous normal. Which is no great surprise, given the sums of money at stake.

Secondly, the Supreme Court has reduced the [additional] sentence of a hunger-striking ETA terrorist from 12 to 3 years, meaning he could be released within months. The man in question had originally been sentenced to 2,000 years in gaol, or merely 18 in practice. The additional 12 had been imposed for sending threatening letters to judges from his cell.

Just as I decide to jump on the global warming bandwagon along comes the news that “Man-made climate change may be happening at a far slower rate than has been claimed. Scientists say that cosmic rays from outer space play a far greater role in changing the Earth's climate than global warming.” Now I just don’t know who or what to blame for everything.

At 45 million, Spain’s mobile phones now outnumber its population of 40 million. As yet, though, I’ve yet to see anyone with a phone at each ear. Whether driving or just walking.

Galicia Facts

Spain’s high speed train [the AVE] is forecast to connect Galician cities with Madrid in 2013, earliest. This is fully 3 years after connections to every other region.

Thanks to poor coverage [and an ageing rural population?], 24% of Galician families can’t/don’t avail themselves of a mobile phone.

Is it any wonder Galicians feel hard done by?

In an article about accidents involving Portuguese citizens working in Galicia, I came across the useful word gallegoluso. This has joint Galician and Portuguese connotations but it’s not in the dictionaries and even Google doesn’t recognise it. As I’d hesitate to hazard a definition, perhaps Xoan Carlos or Carlos could oblige. And give an opinion on whether it really should be galegoluso.

House for Sale

Some friends of mine are selling a property in a lovely rural spot 10km outside Pontevedra. Here’s a brief description. Anyone interested can email me at colindavies@terra.es
Plot of 4,700m2. House of 323m2, with 7 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms. Perfect for a B&B business. Price: around 460,000 euros.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Inevitably, some commentators here see the noise-avoidance measures being considered in Tenerife as the beginning of the end of Spanish society. They remind me of my neighbour who responded to an opinion I voiced with the succinct line ‘No noise, no life’. One columnist has even suggested that, if restrictions are allowed, we’ll quickly end up with the ‘silence of the dead’. Or like Britain, perhaps. But I suspect the greatest fear is of Spain turning into Portugal.

As yesterday was a slow news day, I thought I’d wheel this out:-
I recently managed to get repayment from a low-cost airline of expenses incurred after a cancellation. It hardly matters which one since the following advice is surely relevant to all of them:-
Don’t accept their insistence that they don’t have to pay you. Refer them to the 2006 EU Directive.
Be patient and don’t give up in the face of their stalling tactics and downright lies. Persist. Specifically - Don’t accept comments like ‘We have no record of …’ or ‘There was nothing included with your letter.’
Keep copies of everything you send
Most importantly, never send the original receipts. This allows them to claim these never arrived, adding that their Terms and Conditions stipulate only copies are acceptable to them. Of course, if you never kept a copy and the originals have strangely gone astray, you can’t then send them the copies they need to process your ‘accepted’ claim. Strange that, isn’t it.

Galicia Facts

After yesterday’s fiesta of cocido in Lalín, the next big gastronomic event of our year is this weekend’s fiesta of lacon con grelos in Cuntis. Yes, Cuntis. This prized dish comprises a pig’s knee joint or shoulder with turnip tops. As with said cocido, I find I’m quite capable of giving it a miss. But I’m sure they’ll both grow on me in due course. If I live long enough.

The imminence of Lent brings with it Entroido festivals throughout Galicia, the biggest perhaps being up in Verín and Xinzo de Limia. These feature masked men and women dressed up in highly colourful, mummer-type costumes of varying local designs. Sometimes, as on the streets of Pontevedra last night, the masks are black, so that the mummers look like a cross between the Black and White Minstrels and English Morris dancers. Technically, this would justify them being shot on two separate counts but, happily, they’re left alone to prance around the town, bringing joy to us all.

For those who want to know more about Entroido, here’s a useful intro.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The kafuffle over the fiesta noise levels in Tenerife has allowed El Mundo to publish a diagram showing the decibel levels of annual events around the country. The one in the Canaries causing all the current problems comes in at 47 but this is bested by Cadiz’s annual noise-fest at 49. Several cities are not much below this but these tend to be concentrated in the south and east of Spain. Galicia’s two contributors can manage only 11.2 and 13.8. But, then, what really matters is not the peak noise level but how many hours of the day and night it continues.

In the last paragraph, I referred to Spain as ‘the country’, implying it’s a single, homogenous entity. But, of course, it isn’t and many of us struggle with how to place it on the spectrum ranging from a fully de-centralised federation to a highly-centralised single-nation state. Also in El Mundo yesterday, the American historian, Henry Kamen, wrote that ‘Without a suitable definition of itself, Spain’s future generations will not develop loyalty towards the country.’ Which, I suppose, is exactly what the various Nationalist groups want.

Speaking of which . . . In Catalunia, the ERC party has accused a company of stirring up ‘Cataluniaphobia’ because it’s removed sponsorship from a player who publicly criticised the Spanish courts for their attitude towards an ETA hunger striker. This rampant paranoia is, of course, the mark of true extremists everywhere. Simply disagree with them and you are spawn of the devil.

A total of 8,500 women around Spain are being measured so that the government can issue new standard sizes for dresses and the like. I have applied for the job but, as with all letters I’ve sent during 6 years in this face-to-face, overwhelmingly oral society, I’m still waiting for a reply. Or perhaps it’s just Britophobia.

I wonder how many Brits are aware that in Spain ‘hooligan’ doesn’t actually mean hooligan but just ‘British football supporter’. Probably more than those who know it originates from the name of a particularly unruly 19th century Irish family.

Galicia Facts

The Xunta last year gave 395 courses in Gallego. But perhaps Xoan Carlos or Carlos can tell me what the reference to specific languages means in ‘La Secretaría Xeral de Política Lingüística promovió durante el pasado año un total de 395 cursos de lengua gallega, tanto en los niveles de iniciación y perfeccionamiento como en los de lenguajes específicos.’ I’m guessing it means Gallego lessons were given in English, French, etc. En passant, interesting to see that lengua is feminine but lenguaje masculine.

Not far from here, the lady who heads up the Coast Department has been accused of building a new house within the strip where such construction has long been illegal. I guess she’s in the best position to effect the post-facto legalisation which tends to be routine in these cases.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I have to admit I don’t know whether the Spanish media dealt with the suspected suicide of Princess Letitia’s sister with the dignity requested by the royal family. But a cartoon in the Voz de Galicia today suggests not. This shows her ascending to heaven pursued by a huge vulture with ‘TV’ written on its chest.

Also in the Voz today is an article on global warming which contains the sentence - Lo único que ha aumentado son los debates a la francesa, que consisten en hablar mucho de un tema y cobrar por ello, sin que nada cambie en la realidad. I’ve tried to check the highlighted phrase on the web without success. So, can any of my readers advise whether the Spanish really describe outcome-less debates as French? I would ask my Spanish friend, Elena, but as she’s also French, this might not be wise.

I may have been guilty of suggesting Spain is a noisy place. So it was interesting to read that, down in the Canary Islands, the imminent Carnaval/Mardi Gras celebrations are at risk of being suspended because some of the locals are tired of getting no sleep for 5 nights in a row. What on earth is this country coming to? We Galicians are made of stronger stuff of course but, truth to tell, some of the fine folk of Xinzo de Limia, up near Ourense, are beginning to make similar mutterings. Never one to be out of fashion, I blame globalisation. And climate change.

Galicia Facts

In the past few years, Galician couples seeking to adopt a child have favoured China as their main option, followed by Ethiopia. But now the country of choice is Nepal. I would say this was a Nepalling situation but I subscribe to the ancient view that ‘a pun should be a feather with which to tickle the intellect, not a pistol let off at the ear’.

The town of Lalín, up towards Lugo, will soon kick off the Galician Gastronomical Year with a fiesta centred on the Galician ‘national’ dish, cocido. I can’t do justice to the make-up of this but ‘Every bit of the pig plus a lot of other things in water’ might come quite close. As you may have guessed, I’m not really a big fan and will happily sail past every restaurant displaying the sign ‘Cocido here today’. But it’s very big with the locals and who’s to say they're wrong. Certainly not me. If you’re going to have a national flag and a national anthem, you’ve surely got to have a national dish. So I guess Spain has about 18 of each of these, making for a very rich and varied quilt. Although a bit frayed at the edges.

Those of us who dislike the giant windmills that increasingly dominate the Galician mountain ridges will have been depressed to read that those measuring a mere 30 metres in height will soon be replaced by more economical models of 80 metres. Time for a modern Don Quixote, surely.

Finally - a very depressing statistic yesterday. As they descended from their nude-pictures-driven surge to 200 plus a day, hits to my blog were exceeded for the first time by the number of spam messages I received, at well over 100 a day. And that’s not a sentence which would have made sense to anyone 10 years ago. Possibly only 5. I’m not sure it makes sense to me even now. But I blame globalisation. And climate change.

Friday, February 09, 2007

As is the Spanish custom, the sister of the Princess of Asturias was buried within only a day or so of her death. As it happens, I discussed respective burial customs with some Spanish friends only last week. Naturally, they’d been astonished to hear British funerals normally take place after more than a week. Various possible reasons for this difference were tabled, with the heat and the ‘localism’ of Spain being seen as two factors encouraging/allowing prompt action here. Incidentally, the Princess’s sister was cremated, which is still not common in Spain. The Spanish word for this is incineracíon. As with the word for putting down animals [sacrificar], this has unfortunate connotations when read by English speakers.

Foreigners who’ve registered here in Spain now account for over 9% of the population. Or more than 4 million in total. Catalunia – at 22% - leads the national table, followed by Madrid and then the Communities of the eastern and southern coasts. Galicia manages a mere 1.8% but this is still more than Estremadura and Cantabria. The average age of the immigrants is 34, against 41 for the natives. And, of course, they breed more than the Spanish. But this would not be very difficult. Even the non-amorous Brits manage it.

Because of a huge spat over water rights, the government of the Valencia Community has joined Murcia’s in threatening to appeal to the Constitutional Tribunal if the Spanish parliament approves the text of the new Constitution for Castilla-La Mancha. I can’t help wondering whether there aren’t better ways of dealing with national/regional matters but, of course, I can’t come up with an answer. We’re all victims of our history and these things have to be done in accordance with historical realities.

Galicia Facts

Galicia has long led the national field in the deaths of elderly residents who are crossing the road. Or even just walking along the pavement [sidewalk]. Last year, there were 38 of these but this year’s slaughter has already reached 12 in less than two months. The genius who is head of the traffic police here says the main reason is that old folk wear dark clothes. Others have suggested reckless driving might just have something to do with it. But my suspicion is that the surge in fatalities stems from Galician Nationalists mistaking other people with graveyard blond hair for me.

Finally - A reader has suggested I “walk a fine line between British humor and British irritability”. On reflection, I think I’d quite like this on my gravestone. But spelled correctly, of course. Actually, no. I’d prefer ‘irascibility”.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Switching on the TV the other day, I had the misfortune to hit one of those appalling ‘pink press’ shows involving numerous people discussing absolute trivia. Usually at the top of their voices and simultaneously. In this case, it was the relationship between an ageing TV star – Ana Obregón – and her toy-boy partner. Before I could switch off, they’d shown at least 15 times in succession a brief and fuzzy kiss between the lovers as they parted inside a car. I mention this only to highlight a concern here about what will be aired about the sad death of the depressed sister of the Princess of Asturias, wife of the Crown Prince. Grounds for optimism are not high.

After a meeting with the Minister of Health and Consumer Affairs, Spain’s wine-producers appear to be relieved that – in her campaign to reduce adolescent drinking - their product will be treated differently from other alcoholic beverages. We await details of how the acceptance of wine’s ‘singularity’ and ‘socio-cultural support’ will be translated into practice.

Galicia Facts

There are said to be 15-20,000 foreign workers – mainly Portuguese – working illegally on construction projects in the region. There have certainly been several Portuguese men working on the new houses at the rear of mine during the last year. And I think I’ve mentioned they worked very hard, whatever the weather. But they seem to have disappeared from the scene now the basic work has been done and fitting-out is required. In truth, things appear to have ground to almost a complete stop in the last couple of weeks, leading me to suspect these more complicated tasks can only be taken on by Spanish craftsmen, working in their customary way. Sometimes here, sometimes not. So I’ve revised my forecast of completion from 2 to the more normal 3 years.

Talking of TV - Our bare-breasted local heroine – Ana Maria Ríos – has reportedly rejected an offer of 8,000 euros to appear on ‘Island of the Famous’ because she can’t swim. As if. Doubtless something like 20,000 would allow her to get in a few quick lessons.

Everyone will be pleased as me to know that – after 3 days of very high numbers – this blog is no longer being hit by droves of tossers looking for nude photos of a lady with the initials F. A.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

As if things weren’t bad enough for Spain’s graduates as they enter the world of real work, a study from the University of Alcalá de Henares says 7 out of 10 bosses in Spain care little about what their employees think of them or about the climate in the workplace. I don’t have a Spanish boss, of course, but I have to say this chimes with anecdotal evidence from young friends. Allegedly, there are 3 types of ‘toxic boss’ in Spain but, in principle, these are probably the same behavioural categories as in every other country. Though they may be thicker on the ground here, where youth unemployment is high.

With exquisite timing, a court in Madrid has quashed the verdict of a sports tribunal that the trainer of the Spanish football team was guilty of a racial offence just before Spain last played England. This should heat things up a bit before tonight’s match. I imagine the planned demonstrations against him will be even larger now.

While Galicia’s remains in suspense, the new Constitution of the Canary Islands Community has now passed from the Spanish Parliament to the Constitutional Court. As far as I’m aware, there’s no reference to the Canaries being a nation or anything like it. But there is a claim to fame in the text; so far, it’s the only document to include the air and the sea as part the definition of the community. This, apparently, is to provide a base for greater powers over [illegal] immigration. Meanwhile, the Catalunian Socialist party has warned that, if the Constitutional Tribunal rejects the text of the Catalunian Constitution recently approved by the regional parliament, then the Catalan government will fall. With this distraction of a constant merry-go-round of constitutional reform, I can’t help feeling the job of Spanish President should be the highest paid in the world. He must get up every morning asking himself which group of home-grown bastards he has to negotiate with today. I don’t envy him.

Galicia Facts

The overall market for new cars grew by only 1% last year. But, within this, sales of cars costing more than 60,000 euros rose by a whopping 29%. In the national ranking for this segment, Galicia is in the unusually high position of 7th. Presumably it’s not just the narcotraficos who are doing well here. Which is nice to know. Though I do hope there are no local mayors among the happy purchasers.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

This is my second blog of the day. And – as current tradition has it – it’s on the theme of Galician nationalism. What I’m doing here – for those who retain interest – is laying out my manifesto on the subject. After that, I’m going to give it a rest. Partly because I have visitors this week and partly because, to be honest, I’m getting bored by it. So, what follows is a list of general principles which - taken together - would define the framework within which I would devise specific policies for Galicia, if I were unfortunate enough to have the responsibility of unravelling this Gordian knot. In this manifesto, I use ‘nationalist’ and ‘Nationalist’ in the way I recently defined them:-

The most important thing is the future of Galicia, not its past. The possibly arcane issue of whether Galicia is a nation or a Nation should not be allowed to go on being a hostage to fortune when Galicia faces some very tough challenges.

Things need to move forward democratically.

It’s not very relevant that Galicia was, according to Wikipedia, an independent nation for a few short years several centuries ago. Or that a group of upper class scions rebelled against someone either before or after this. Or that any other selected historical item happened or didn’t happen. One thing is for sure, Galicia has certainly not been an independent nation for a very long time and isn’t now.

Nor is it relevant that Galicia probably had Celtic tribes living in it before the Romans and the Goths/Visigoths happened along.

Nor is it even relevant that Franco [or some Castilian nobles before him] was a bastard to the Galicians, as well as to countless thousands of others. The Civil War finished several decades ago.

It’s wrong [silly even] to attribute fascistic sympathies to everyone who doesn’t display Nationalist – or even nationalist - sympathies.

Notwithstanding all these reservations – and despite the fact I don’t accept that Galicia could ever qualify as a ‘nation’ in the juridical sense – it has to be accepted that Galicia is a region with its own history and culture. It is, in short, a discrete community, just as Asturias, Cantabria, etc. are. If there really is a strong desire amongst the majority of Galicians to have this sentiment labelled ‘national’ in the Constitution, then this is OK, provided it is done [as in Andalucia*] on the basis of an acceptance of the unity of Spain and its indissolubility. So, the ‘nationalist’ view of things should be accommodated in a sensible, pragmatic way.

As for the specific of language – whilst it is acceptable to promote Gallego, it must not be forced on anyone. And while it would be wonderful if everyone in Galicia [both natives and foreigners] were equally fluent in both of the region’s co-official tongues, this must a matter of free choice. There must be no compulsion, either direct or indirect. Provided the taxpayers were prepared to foot the bill, every official document [including the tourist pamphlets and Guías published by the town councils] would again be in both languages. As would all letters from the local and regional administrators. The recent practice of using only Gallego should stop. This would not rule out a facility in Gallego being a pre-requisite for jobs where only Gallego is spoken but this would be the exception, not the rule. It would depend on local facts and not on the a priori major/minor linguistic aspirations of Nationalists/nationalists. People should not be denied employment or lose their jobs for purely doctrinaire reasons, whether they are Galician or come from other parts of Spain or elsewhere.

As for schooling - the policy of each educational establishment should be left to the institution and the parents and should reflect local realities. There might [as now] be schools in which only Gallego was used and there might be schools where only Spanish was used. Elsewhere, there would be a mix, with the ratio depending on local demographics. It might be possible to leave this to each municipal council to determine, provided the voters had the last say. Either way, it’s not something which should be dictated by the Xunta simply because the BNG is currently a power broker.

Well, that’s it. But, finally, I have something ask about the Gallego which would be promoted - Which Gallego exactly? If you take a look at Wikipedia’s linguistic map for Galicia, the challenge becomes obvious. Added to this are the following observations I made 18 months ago, possibly before Xoan Carlos and Carlos began reading my blog:-

From comments made by readers and friends, there appear to be several forms of the Galician language in operation:-
1. Literary Galician. Unintelligible to most
2. Academic Galician. Also largely indecipherable. May be very similar to 1. The preserve of the Royal Academy. Changes annually, to the confusion of both teachers and pupils.
3. Popular Galician. Understood by virtually everyone in the region and spoken by a significant percentage, albeit with major differences between provinces. And between the coast and the mountains.
4. TV Galician. This is a mixture of all these and is spoken by ambitious young people who didn’t start to speak the language until their 20s and so have a vocabulary and a [‘Castillano’] accent that amuse the real speakers.

So, asking rhetorically which of these various Galician variants the nationalists/Nationalists would impose on the wiling/unwilling populace, I now depart this scene. And I leave them to use my blog to voice their disagreement to their hearts’ content. I only ask that they eschew juvenile vitriol at my personal expense. Actually, I don’t; it makes for amusement.

Thank-you and Goodnight.

* Sorry, Xoan Carlos, I don’t like ‘Andalusia’
It’s official – Britain’s crime rate is the highest in the EU – only bested/worsted in some categories by Ireland. Spain’s, on the other hand, is among the lowest. Interestingly, the report from the UN says the only factor correlating with high crime is excessive alcohol consumption. Which rather endorses the decision of the Spanish government to do something about ballooning teenage boozing before it’s too late.

Ahead of a friendly soccer match tomorrow between Spain and England, a black ex-England player [Ian Wright] has criticised UEFA for not sufficiently punishing the Spanish coach for racist comments he made a year or so ago. Wright suggested the Spanish were surely ashamed of him. Hmmm . . ‘fraid not, Ian. Here he’s just seen as a good bloke who speaks his mind and who can’t be a racist because his comments are not intended to hurt anyone. It’s just you being over-sensitive. . . But things could well change after the dialogue which follows the about-to escalate urban violence between local and South American gangs. Which, of course, won’t do much for Spain’s low crime figures.

After a large anti-ETA demonstration in Madrid last weekend, the government has accused the opposition of arrogating to itself the national flag and anthem. It turns out the latter was introduced during the Franco dictatorship and was not replaced by a new anthem during the Transition. Right now, this is possibly contributing to the increasingly fractious nature of Spanish national and local politics, where ‘traditional’ extreme stances appear to be the order of the day. So, probably a mistake, in retrospect. Incidentally, the words of the anthem were penned by one of the few intellectuals to stay in Spain during Franco’s regime but the Spanish prefer not to sing them. Which possibly proves my point.

As someone has said, it’s one of life’s great ironies that a people as talkative as the Spanish choose to stay silent at a time when most people sing their hearts out.

Galicia Facts

The Xunta has said it’s planning huge fines for those who dump mattresses and the like in the street. It would be nice to know the revenue would go towards a municipal dump for household rubbish. Failing this, I fear this development bodes badly for the forest tracks behind my house.

I’m a little confused by statements from the President of the Galician right-of-centre PP party. While confirming his opposition to references to ‘nationalist sentiment’ or the like in the new Constitution, he’s also said that there’s no need to go so far as Andalucia and confirm the ‘indissolubility of the Spanish state’. I wonder why not? Perhaps saying both would break the logjam.

This blog received 250 hits yesterday but I’m not letting it go to my head. It has less to do with a burning interest in Galician nationalism than a prurient interest in seeing pictures – preferably nude – of the ex-squeeze of the ex-coach of the English football team. It appears she’s been prostituting herself in London for 4,000 quid an hour. Frankly, I’d do it myself for that. But I was a lawyer.

Finally, I’m about to start my blog for El Reportero Digital, a national newspaper with local variants. This has got me wondering why – after 3 years of writing about Galicia – I’ve not been contacted by any of the 5 or 6 local papers. Does this amount to arrogance? Actually, I’ve no wish to be interviewed or featured. I have to beat off enough women as it is.