Saturday, June 30, 2007

With the inclusion in the EU of poorer countries such as Rumania and Bulgaria, average GDP has naturally fallen. The result is that, for the first time, Spain now ranks above this - at 102%, to be exact. But my impression is real wealth and ‘quality of life here’ are way above whatever average you can come up with. Your guess is as good as mine as to why this should be. And, of course, I may not be right. Sometimes I’m not.

In Sweden, it costs 0.48 euros per month to get one megabit per second of internet broadband. In Turkey, it’s a staggering 88.23. Of the 21 countries between these extremes, Britain comes in at an expensive twelfth of 7.50, compared with 1.25 in France and 3.96 in Germany. Sadly, Spain is even more expensive, at 9.50. The UK’s excuse is said to be an ‘antiquated system’ of copper wires, against fibre optics in many other EU countries. My guess is it’s the same here. Except where you can get cable.

Just in case you missed it, here’s the clip of the courageous US newscaster who refused to read out the lead item on that vapid buffoon, Paris Hilton.

More to add to yesterday’s comment on the property market - The housing market will come to a painful halt this autumn, experts warned yesterday, after research showed property is at its most overpriced since the last crash, in the early 1990s. Record rises in house prices have left property far out of reach of most families, raising the prospect of imminent falls, as home buyers start to desert the market. But this is a warning about the UK market, of course.

As I sat in my garden yesterday evening – surrounded by the noise of granite-busting machines and electronically-whingeing cranes – there were but two compensations for the loss of the tranquillity I used to take for granted. First, the absentee June sun, paying us a brief visit before it departs again today. Second, a superb glass of Albariño from the Castro Martin bodega of my friends Andrew and Angela. If you’re in the UK, you can get this from Bibendum. And possibly from other suppliers. If the sun ever returns to Britain after Wimbledon, you should. Needless to say, the Bibendum write-up is pretentious nonsense. But the funny thing is – I agree with every superfluous word. And the label’s very pretty.

Finally, just two odd searches in June ending up at this blog:-
mature ladies who is looking for gigolo in spain
is ferrol ugly

There was also yet another search asking the question are the Spanish rude. This is such a regular one wonders whether it’s a single individual on a perpetual quest for an answer to this conundrum or whether it’s an issue that crops up regularly among non-Spaniards. I have my suspicions and plan to address it soon.

Friday, June 29, 2007

You may have seen reports of starving vultures in Holland and Belgium attacking domestic cattle herds. Now comes news of sightings along the Galician coast. Even more interesting than dolphins, I suspect. Unless you’re a cow, of course. This situation is said to stem from an EU law that carcases can’t be left in the hills to rot, thus depriving the birds – and the more-regularly sighted semi-urban wolves – of nourishing carrion. Who’d be surprised if this turned out to be true?

Years ago, when I advertised for a PA/Secretary in the UK, the newspaper refused to add the line that rewards would include the occasional bunch of flowers. They advised it was illegally sexist because it didn’t address itself to both females and males. I said it did as I was gay but this buttered no parsnips and I deleted the line. I think of this every time I pass a shop window here displaying a sign saying ‘Girl wanted’. This, too, is probably illegal under both Spanish and EU anti-discrimination laws. But who cares? And what would happen if you protested? Spain is different.

Once again the Spanish press has demonstrated its superiority over even the British ‘heavies’ by carrying reams of information on the outgoing Blair and the incoming Brown. It’s impossible to imagine Spanish – or even American – events being given such prominence in the UK media. Of course, I couldn’t quite bring myself to finish Mr Portillo’s eulogy to Tony Blair, though it did tend to confirm he was the best leader the Tory party never had. Mr Blair, that is. Not Mr Portillo. Whose cousin, by the way, I once met on the streets of Salamanca.

Elections Footnotes: Here in Pontevedra, the socialist and the nationalists are still arguing about the election spoils four weeks after voting took place. Or, rather, they aren’t as negotiations broke down this week, when the disgruntled socialists left the table at the refusal of their nationalist partner to accept the lessons of their reduced support. Some say it’s all linked to parallel talks taking place in Lugo. Whatever, it makes for exciting times. Honest. Meanwhile, over in the Balearic Islands, the ousted PP party is hinting that the ‘rich woman’ who heads the small block holding the reins of power chose to go with the socialists because they’re the only ones who can offer her immunity from prosecution for corruption during the last administration. Surely not. It can only be sour grapes. Especially as they were just as keen to cut a deal with her. As for Navarra, I think the situation still remains murky. But can’t be sure.

Someone finally seems to have drummed some sense into Fernando Alonso. He’s now saying there’s no civil war in the McLaren camp and that Hamilton deserves his lead. Though he couldn't resist adding that ‘His luck will change’. Must be a Scorpio. Like me.

Galicia Facts: Depending on which paper you read, ours is either the cheapest or second-cheapest region of Spain in which to rent a flat. The national average per square metre is 7.20 euros. In Madrid it’s 11.38, whereas here it’s a mere 3.39.

Finally – for those interested – here’s a longish summary on the Spanish property market from someone who seems to know what he’s talking about. True, he says that “Spain’s decade-long real estate boom is over and it is now a buyer’s market.” And true, he admits that “If housing starts continue at present levels, the chances of a price crash in the Spanish property market will increase significantly”. But, overall, he feels things have been rather exaggerated and stresses it’s a “complex situation of regional markets performing in different ways”. Sadly, he has nothing to say about Galicia. For the full report, see here . . .

The Spanish property market was incorrectly portrayed as melting down after the share price correction on the Spanish stock market. In reality, the overall market is not falling, though some regional markets are faring better than others. But the stock market jolt has helped focus people’s attention on the serious imbalances affecting Spain’s housing market.

The big risk to the market comes from over-provision, as Spanish developers build several hundred thousand more properties per year than the market needs. This oversupply is partly due to years of inappropriately low interest rates for Spain once in the EUM.

With the Spanish economy now over-dependent upon the housing sector for economic growth and employment, there is a risk that a much-needed fall in housing starts will bring about a construction-lead recession in Spain. If this happens, demand for holiday homes will be hit hard, and house prices will fall in many areas. But even in this worst-case scenario, attractive properties in desirable locations with foreign appeal should hold their value, and recover quickly as economic conditions improve.

With the Spanish economy growing at close to 4% - one of the highest rates in the developed world – and with forecast growth of 3.7% in 2007, and 3.4% in 2008, it is difficult to imagine a construction-lead recession at present. Without a recession, the Spanish housing market is more likely to stagnate over the next few years than fall.

Having said that, there are many areas up and down the Spanish coast that suffer from a serious glut of over-priced, poor quality, unattractive properties in mediocre overdeveloped locations. Property prices in some areas are starting to fall, and are likely to continue doing so.

Buyers and sellers who wish to take advantage of the situation will need to do their research, keep a close eye on the market, and study local market conditions carefully.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

So Mr Blair went out as he came in, with a consummate display of the sort of showmanship that might well be missed. If you wonder how Mr Blair can be so admired for his political skills and yet so despised for his political failures, try this for a reasoned, if right-of-centre, view of him.

I mentioned the new president of Valencia the other day and his vow to stand firm against Brussels. Well, he’ll need to. The European Commission – the executive of the EU - has announced it’s referring Spain to the European Court of Justice over the new Valencia Land Law, which it considers not much better than its notorious predecessor. But I suspect the new president won’t be losing any sleep over this development. Authorities much closer to home – in Madrid – have proved impotent in this area over a number of years. Assuming they had the political will to try.

In what may be a sign of tougher times ahead for other insalubrious operators here, the national police have broken up the Spanish branch of a network trafficking in Russian women for the numerous brothels of southern Spain. A total of 88 arrests were made. Hopefully, some at least of these will be convicted and deported.

The UN has become the latest pessimistic commentator on Spain’s property market. It warns that a housing crisis is inevitable and even goes as far as to suggest growth in domestic violence is linked to this problem. Which is plausible, I guess. Especially when you consider the latest interest rate rise will add 100 euros a month to the average mortgage.

As a very modern and dynamic country with a rapidly growing economy, Spain likes to compare itself with other leading nations, particularly its European neighbours. But the latest survey won’t give much cause for satisfaction. Spain, it’s said, now leads the European league for cocaine usage, having taken over [I guess] from the UK. In fact, consumption here is 4 times the European average, with 3% of the population between 15 and 64 said to be using the drug. Not only that - Spain also leads when it comes to interception of cocaine, reflecting the fact that most of Europe’s requirements land on our coasts. Galicia’s specifically. In fact, only the other day we had the pretty regular incident of a powerful speedboat being abandoned on a beach with its engines running, after a chase by narcotics agents. It was reported to contain cocaine with a street value of close to 150m euros. But the one thing that always puzzles me is - why don’t we have the rates of petty crime so regularly associated with drug funding in the UK. Are Spanish parents subsidising this for their kids as well as dangerous cars?

So, it’s been the wettest June in British meteorological history. Well, it hasn’t been quite that bad here in Galicia but decidedly not a good month. At least this final week seems to be trying to make some amends. I may soon be able to throw the duvet off the bed. Roll on July.

Finally - for admirers of understatement - here’s a comment from the British Medical Association on the latest large-scale IT disaster of the Blair government - "We now find ourselves in the Kafkaesque situation of having thousands of excellent doctors with no job for August and thousands of empty posts. It's difficult to see how this won't impact on patients."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I see Paris Hilton’s left prison and is to get 1 million dollars for prattling inanely to some star interviewer. What a missed opportunity. Surely enough of us could have got together to raise more than this to pay some star altruist to machine gun her as she emerged. Along with all the TV crews waiting for her. Is it any wonder the majority of the young British girls recently asked by their teacher what they wanted to be when they grew up simply wrote ‘Famous’?

The Spanish may not boast high productivity but they certainly work the longest hours in Europe. Or I thought they did. Then I read Andrew Greeley’s comment that “If number of hours worked is a sign of the Protestant ethic, then Irish Catholics are the last Protestants in Europe”. I wonder what their productivity is like.

How depressing that binge-drinking Anglos are turning the centre of Rome into a nightmare. Or evening-to-nightmare more probably. But there are public drinking problems here in Spain too. Near my daughter’s flat in Madrid, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night brings more police onto the street than you’d see in a lifetime in the UK. This is usually to prevent the ‘emblematic’ Dos de Mayo square being taken over by the night-long raucous revellers but, more recently, the aim has been to prevent a repeat of the destructive rioting there of early May. There’s always a bit of this on the anniversary of an 1808 uprising against the French occupiers but this year’s was quite serious and there are already fears about what will happen on the 200th anniversary next year. Ironically, the riots were in protest against attempts to clamp down on the growing phenomenon of street drinking. Or el botellón as it’s known here. The rioters were also said to be annoyed at the city’s plans to turn the rather Bohemian Malasaña barrio into something more commercial. Whatever that means.

Talking of the French . . . If M. Sarkozy really came to power to restore Gallic self-confidence and pride, then he’s certainly off to a flying start. First he waters down the EU’s frightening-to-the-French commitment to free competition; then he helps Mrs Merkel bulldoze through the same treaty/constitution which his own voters rejected two years ago; and finally he kiboshes Turkey’s negotiations for entry into the EU, dismissing it as an Asian nation which should only aspire to join the junior club of the Mediterranean Union. As you may recall, Mr Sarkozy set this up a month or so ago, with the willing help of Mr Zapatero. I think I voiced suspicions at the time about its true raison d’être. This now appears to be to offer a cul-de-sac for Turkey. Or holding pen, more accurately.

Looking ahead for new challenges for Monsieur Sarkozy, I have this vision in which Spain has finally broken up into its constituent parts, with each of its 17 ‘nations’ becoming a state of a 44 member EU. Or 45, if Scotland has gone independent by then. But the Basque Country – after a referendum – is demanding it be enlarged to include not only the neighbouring state of Navarra but also bits of southern France. I guess Mr S’s response will be to propose a Pyrenean Union. But I don’t rule out invasion. Especially if he’s changed his name to Napoleon by then. Actually, a cross-border anschluss would have a certain poetic appeal – the French and the Basques having to live with each other. It would certainly be fun to watch. And the French could always maximise our enjoyment by marching east and taking over the we-are-finally-not-Spain state of Catalunia. You heard it here first!

To get back to reality . . . Astonishingly, in 1944 Friedrich Hayek predicted that, as the state expanded its responsibilities, it would become sclerotic and exceed its capacity to respond to people’s demands and aspirations. As a result, they would become disillusioned with democracy and calls would be made for decisions to be “taken out of politics” and placed in the hands of experts. So, if the EU hadn’t invented itself around the same time as Hayek was saying this, we’d now being demanding it ourselves. It’s nice we were saved the bother.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The growth of the black economy in the UK mentioned yesterday is seen by some as a popular reaction to the bureaucratic and regulatory burdens imposed by officials indulging in the gold-plating I referred to the other day. Right on cue comes a citation from Mark of a report that wearers of kilts in Scotland will be asked to produce the licence proving the animal fur used in their manufacture was obtained in the correct EU-ordained way. Even then, they may still be prosecuted. You can just imagine this happening in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, etc., can’t you?

Which naturally leads us into the issue of the recent EU treaty-which-isn’t-really-a-Constitution. The unanimous view here on the Continent – and in Ireland – is that at least 90% and possibly 99% of the rejected Constitution of 2006 has been restored by this instrument. Mr Blair, however, chooses to tell the British public something quite different, in the hope of avoiding a promised referendum. Thus he exits on a high note. Though from low moral ground. For those non-British readers who can’t fathom euro-scepticism, here’s a useful article. Says the writer - Once again, we see that, as well as being undemocratic in itself, the EU traduces democracy within its member nations. Which made me wonder whether the core problem isn’t that British democracy is several hundred years older than many in Europe. Which gives the British a rather different perspective of what it is and why it needs protecting and preserving.

Returning to Spanish politics, my thanks to Duardón de Albaredo for yesterday’s clear summary of the Navarra situation. If, though, you’re still confused, this quotation should clarify all - Nai-Bai demanded that the Socialists make a public statement in favour of a PSN-Nai Bai-IU coalition and abandon negotiations with UPN. But only if you have a masters in Alphabet Soup Variations. In today’s press, the news is that the socialist party in Navarra has indeed offered further negotiations with the Nai-Bai nationalist block. Meanwhile, over in the Balearic Islands, the horse-trading finally seems to have ended, leaving the ‘ugly dancer’ PP party off the floor - even though they came within one seat of an overall majority. There will be a ‘centre-left coalition’, with the socialist PSOE candidate likely be the new President, supported by the block of various small parties described by both the PP and the PSOE as corrupt. Which, it seems, is not always a negative in Spanish politics.

Finally on Spanish politics, we had a prime example yesterday of a regional President both featuring in the national media and sparking a fight with Madrid. The new PP president of the Valencia region gave his investiture speech entirely in Valencian – which some say is indistinguishable from Catalan – and stressed he’d be firm with the central government in defending the region’s interests. He’s also going to be strong with the EU, which I take to be a reference to Brussels’ attempts to get the regional government to end the infamously widespread corruption in the construction industry which has cost many thousands of people [mostly non-voting foreigners] their homes. I guess this goes down well with the locals.

Am I the only person to think there’s something a little odd about the finding of an abandoned car near Portugal containing massive amounts of ETA explosives? Albeit only 5 hours after it had been ditched and after some local thieves had broken into it and taken what was on the seats. The story is that ETA scouts saw that there was a border patrol ahead and came back to warn their colleagues, who then left the car and drove off in a third vehicle. Within hours, the President was reported to have congratulated the police for their tremendous work [In setting up a border patrol?] and there were similarly laudatory messages in the press the following morning. Call me a sceptic, but why would ETA have little stickers on their detonators showing their ‘logo’? Could it possibly have been a set-up designed to burnish Mr Z’s anti-terrorist credentials? Perish the thought.

Finally, some good news on the Spanish economy - “New figures for productivity show an improvement in Spain for the first time in eight years, with an advance of just 0.2%”. On the other hand . . . “The average wage in Spain has fallen by 4% in real terms over the past decade, despite the economic boom over that time. Spain is the only OECD country which has seen a turndown in purchasing power over this period. This is despite the fact the increase in GDP has been greater than the European average. The Government has preferred to highlight another section of the OECD report showing the massive creation of employment in Spain – which the it claims leads to greater social cohesion.” Well, maybe. Many of the newly employed are cheap-to-employ immigrants [hence the reduced average wage] and there may be questions over mid-term cohesion.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hot foot from the UK comes more evidence of the EU-required convergence of the British and Spanish economies. Fifty pound notes are being minted in ever larger quantities and then disappearing from view. The Bank of England fears the black economy is growing and the notes are being used for non-taxed wages and ending up in Poland. Who’s to say? In Spain, of course, it’s the 500 euro note which is associated with our ‘submerged economy’. Things like this are done on a larger scale here. Currently at least.

With the exception of Red Ken, the media-savvy mayor of London, it’s exceptionally rare for any regional politician to achieve national notoriety in Britain. I’d bet a lot of money no one there knows the name of, say, the mayor of Birmingham or the head of the Cheshire County Council. By contrast, in this country of a hundred presidents, many of the men and women who head the regional governments regularly appear in our news. Usually after they’ve picked a fight with Madrid - a depressingly frequent occurrence. And they dominate the pages of the numerous local papers. I guess all this reflects the greater devolution of power in Spain, not to mention stronger local identities.

Much as it pleases me Spain is less a victim of rampant commercialism than the UK, it always discomforts me to read the national or local government has made some new pronouncement about the days or hours at/on which shops can remain open. So I found myself in sympathy with a lady who wrote to El Pais last week saying things should be liberalised and the shops left to decide whether they wanted to open on Sundays or public holidays. Mind you, I couldn’t quite accept her rationale that, if this wasn’t done, the Chinese would end up dominating the commercial life of the country. Racist? Us?

And talking of Spanish customs, I also found myself agreeing with the letter-writer [perhaps the same one] who called last week for some sanity around the Spanish working day. He/she railed against the long hours, stressing that a 2 to 3 hour lunch was hardly essential. Nor four peak-hour traffic jams per day, I’d add. Just think of all that carbon.

I went to see the film Infamous in Madrid on Saturday night. Of course, it wasn’t called Infamous in Spanish but Story of a Crime. Why? Presumably because someone didn’t think a simple translation would be sufficiently job-justifying. But perhaps there’s another explanation that someone can let me in on.

And on Sunday, we went early to the Camden Market in La Latina. Just us and tout Madrid, even at 11 in the morning. Eventually we gave up on getting into the alleyway where the stalls were located and – after an excellent glass of white wine brought by the world’s most inefficient waiter – went for lunch at the Posada de La Villa in nearby Cava Baja. This place has a Michelin rating and one of the world’s most impressive head waiters. So your bill won’t be low. But the value for money will be high. Especially if you have their roast lamb.

Talking of food, I mentioned last Thursday I’d had an excellent Wednesday evening with Spanish friends. Later that day came the realisation [again] that eating shellfish isn’t always an unalloyed pleasure. And said realisation is still with me, as it was during three days in Madrid. Plus it started to rain not long after we re-entered Galicia last night. Thank-God the sun’s shining today. So I won’t get wet taking my tax declaration to the Hacienda’s offices.

Finally, does anyone understand what’s going on in Navarra around the formation of the new government? Or why the government of the Balearics will remain, I think, in the hands of a ‘luxury-loving’ woman whom all other parties have accused of corruption? The answer appears to be that, despite this, each of them is prepared to form a coalition with her. Strange bedfellows again, I guess. With a Spanish flavour.

Friday, June 22, 2007

In today's El Pais, the British commentator Timothy Garton Ash says the likes of Holland, Poland and the UK really mustn't be allowed to stand in the way of the EU achieving a voice in the world as loud as that of the USA, China, India etc. Right now, he says, no one in the USA takes any notice of what is said in Europe. A few pages later on, there's a report of condemnation by the European Parliament of Spain's rampant coastal development. Reading this, it struck me it would be nice if the EU's voice could be heard in Europe, never mind the USA.

A lot of buildings in Spain appear to get started without formal permission, in the form of a licence from the relevant town hall. But it comes as something of a shock to read that construction of the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona has proceeded now for 122 years in the absence of this minor formality. But I don't suppose there'll be a demolition order. Or at least not until it's finished and God only knows when this will be.

I'm struggling to keep up with the pace of emerging nationalist groups. Reader Mark Sparrow has now told me of the existence, in the north of the UK, of the Popular Liberation Army of Westmorland. These are known as PLAW, allowing me to ask whether this report really is plawsible.

Thank-you and Goodnight.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

After forging a pact with his oppo M. Sarkozy, President Zapatero has said Britain’s stance over the latest EU treaty-and-not-really-a- Constitution is ‘intolerable and unacceptable’. He added that, if Britain didn’t accept the creation of an EU Foreign Minister [his mate, Sr. Solana??], then he would veto the creation of a permanent EU President [Mr Blair??]. This is all good knockabout stuff but the cynical view is it’s all for the benefit of the national media, with everything important having been decided months ago. But we’ll soon know whether the UK, Holland and Poland in particular have thrown any large spanners into the works. And in what form the EU will struggle on towards the status of a Pan-Europe superstate.

Meanwhile, the opposite trend of nationalism has taken a new turn, this time in the USA. Hard as it is to believe, there’s a group of advanced thinkers in the state of Vermont who are demanding independence from the USA. Wherever next?

Closer to home, the socialist PSOE party and its coalition partner in the Galician government, the nationalist BNG party, have fallen out over what to call our region/historical reality/nation. The BNG has demanded this be ‘Galiza’ in all official publications but this appears to be a step too far for the PSOE. At times like this, I get to wondering whether they might just have better things to discuss. Say the fact that Galicia has one of the oldest populations in Spain but provides less for its senior citizens than anywhere else except Murcia.

More than 900 schools in Galicia will be teaching English to kids as young as 3 from next September. This is impressive but it’s to be hoped there’s more of a bias toward oral communication than appears to be the case with the teaching of Galician mentioned yesterday. But I guess, if they can’t read, this is pretty inevitable.

This week, one of Pontevedra’s residents was interviewed by a local paper about the pedestrianisation work being done near her house. She complained barriers had been erected and the street closed in September 2006 and nothing had then been done for 6 months. Judging from what happens on the sites fore and aft of my house, I’d concluded this sort of long hiatus was a legal obligation in Spain. Asked what she thought of the council’s planning, she replied – with Anglo brevity – ‘Appalling’. On this occasion, I feel a longer, Hispanic-type response would have been more appropriate. ‘Conspicuous by its absence’, perhaps.

That unhappy camper, Fernando Alonso, continues to raise doubts his maturity. He’s now reported to be considering departure from the McLaren team in response to offers from Ferrari. I suspect there’s nothing more likely to condemn him to the second place in the Formula 1 championship that he so clearly abhors the prospect of. No wonder many people here consider him a bit chulo.

An excellent evening last night with Spanish male and female friends ranging from 20 to 60. As I’ve said many times, no people in the world make better company than the Spanish. My theory is this is essentially because they decline to grow old. Or even grow up. Just like me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

There’s probably not much chance of it happening but I’d certainly turn down the offer of the job of President of Spain. Poor Mr Zapatero is being threatened with EU fines because the Basque government is making illegal subventions to companies there. Given the ETA situation, Mr Z surely has bigger problems on his plate in that neck of the woods than this one. Besides, having illegally stopped the takeover of a Spanish energy company by the German giant, EON, he hardly occupies the moral ground from which to lecture the Basque president. More to the point, the Spanish Constitution possibly leaves him impotent. If not de jure, then certainly de facto.

Spain is still a Catholic country, nominally at least. So it was good to see the Vatican has pronounced bad driving a sin. Problem solved. I can now look forward to a reduction of my insurance premiums, especially here in church-going Galicia.

Traditionally, the teaching of foreign languages in Spain has been biased towards grammar and written work. Things are improving but even now there’s no oral element to the exam taken at the end of secondary school. I was reminded of this when reading a letter in El Pais yesterday. This was from a Madrid woman living in Santiago and she was rather unhappy about the way the Galician ministry for Language Normalisation goes about testing ‘foreigners’ in Gallego. In brief, unless you get something like 79% in the written exam, you’re not allowed to go forward to the oral exam and are summarily failed. Which, naturally, turns out to be the lot of most candidates. Understandably, she felt this approach did little to promote the use of the language, even among those who wanted to learn it. I can’t help wondering whether this is also a reflection of the ingrained Spanish attitude – hopefully disappearing – that a good teacher is one who makes his exams so hard most of his pupils fail. Anyway, I endorse the lady’s call for common sense. Too much to expect of romantic purists?

Yesterday’s mention of persistent rain precipitated my latest 3-year compilation of blog posts - on THE GALICIAN WEATHER. As dates are relevant, I’ve left them in this time. As you read these entries, you’ll probably get the impression things are variable and unpredictable here. And you’ll be right . . .



There were 50cm of hailstones in Sevilla one day this week. Up here in rainy Galicia, we have had constant sun and record highs. So, global warming for us and global freezing for them. A cosmic joke.


Well, the lovely Letitia married her prince today, though the rain in Spain certainly did fall on her parade, just as she emerged from the palace to walk to the church. In the end, she went the hundred yards courtesy of Messrs. Rolls and Royce. I needed to be out of the house when the morning’s proceedings were televised [on 3, if not 4, of the 5 channels] and my VCR naturally failed to function. But I was able to listen to the commentary on the car radio and so didn’t miss such gems as, ”Well, we now have a priest to tell us about the religious aspects of this ceremony. Tell us, Father, what is happening on the altar now?” “Well, they are waiting for the bride and groom to arrive.” Then there were the endless expressions of regret about the Madrid rain, which went down rather well up here in abnormally-sunny Galicia.


Here in Spain summer starts today. And so, after weeks and weeks of sun, it is raining. And the temperature has dropped 10 degrees from its high of 32. I might just as well be in the UK. Well, not really; it’s only 17 there.


Well, this is the 12th day of August and up here in Galicia we have hardly seen the sun since the start of the month. In fact, more rain has fallen in the last 3 days than in the whole of June and July combined. And the big annual fiesta has been a complete washout. So, if you’re reading this somewhere in Galicia because of anything I said on my web site, then I apologise. But it is not really my fault. Apparently – along with the UK and France – western and northern Spain are being hit by the tail end of some tropical storm which has wandered east from the Caribbean. As you will know, these are given human names and I think this one is called ‘Bastard’. Or it is in this house, anyway.


In the first half of August, we had more than double the normal rainfall for the whole month – the most for 30 years. It makes one almost nostalgic to read of the terrible forest fires of June and July. Especially as it is still bloody raining.


Olympic gloom around a low medal tally is not confined to the UK. Spain has so far only managed a single medal. The national despondency has been the perfect accompaniment to the rain that has fallen on the northern half of Spain for 18 of the 19 days so far this month. But this afternoon the barometer has risen and the sun has forced its way through the clouds. This could be the start of something big. Summer, for example.


The Basque terrorist group, ETA, yesterday exploded some small bombs along the Galician coast. There were several strange or ironic aspects to this. Firstly, it is usually foreign tourism which is targeted and there ain’t a lot of this in Sanxenxo and Bayona. Secondly, Galician tourism has already been amply devastated by the rains of the worst August in living memory and so the bombs were really a waste of time and money. Finally, having had 19 days of cloud and rain out of 21, it was going to take a lot more that what ETA came up with to keep people out of the sun when it finally arrived yesterday. The beaches were crowded again within 15 minutes of the explosions.


Finally, it’s an ill rain that brings no good. Our delugial August has been bountiful, it seems, for the sun-bed businesses of Pontevedra. These have been overwhelmed by young women desperate to go back to work in September bronzed to the colour – and in some cases the texture – of a walnut.


Yet another request for directions today. But, given that the couple in question asked me to direct them to the street they were already in, I guess we can be forgiven for concluding that their level of awareness is not of the highest order. Or perhaps it was the fact that I was carrying an umbrella even though the sun was shining that convinced them I was a super-aware local.


Up here in damp Galicia, we’ve had two weeks of glorious sun, with temperatures between 27 and 33. But it is September and therefore autumn. And the weather is irrelevant to those in the van of fashion. So I was not terribly surprised today so see several women sporting knee-length leather boots. Needs must.


Students have apparently been late in registering at their universities this year. This has been put down to the effect of the Indian summer of the last 5 weeks. As you would expect, sunbathing ranks above studying in the fun stakes. And, if you fail your exams, you can always repeat the year. Many times


Thousands of tons of clear crystal water fell on Pontevedra this morning. Which is a bit ironic as the stuff coming out of my taps is filthy brown. Since it’s a holiday weekend, this may continue until Tuesday so I have put pans out in the garden to catch a small fraction of the next deluge. Needless to say, the afternoon has been sunny so far.


Well, we nearly made it. 29 days of high pressure and sun here in Galicia but today, on the last day of the month, things reverted to the winter norm and it rained. Albeit not much. But before you pack up and emigrate, ponder on November 2000, when it rained on 28 days of the month


It’s the fur coat season so lots of mink in town midday today. Under an unseasonably strong sun, the temperature was actually above 20C but such a piffling detail is of no relevance to ladies who are determined to strut.


Six solid weeks of sun came to an abrupt end yesterday, with the departure of a persistent anticyclone for its Christmas holidays. Most of us will regret its passing but not, I guess, the dowagers of the town who have sweltered through the last two weeks in the statutory fur coats of December. I imagine they will be swarming through the streets and cafés after Mass tomorrow, smug with seasonal satisfaction.



2004’s rainfall, in Galicia at least, was the lowest for more than 50 years. But holidaymakers suffered bad luck when it rained on 21 of the 31 days of August, the only month in the year when the 30 year average was exceeded. Who says God has no sense of humour?


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


The rainfall in the west of the Iberian peninsula this winter has been so low that the Portuguese have taken to firing chemically-loaded missiles into the centre of clouds. Beats having anything to do with Iraq, I suppose.


When I came here in the winter of 2000, it rained virtually every day from November to May. This year has been so dry that yesterday I was forced to do something that is probably unprecedented in Galicia - I put on a lawn sprinkler in March. I guess it’s all down to global warming, though I’m not sure how.


Well, I should have been taking part today in the outdoor filming of a docudrama about the sinking of British ship along the Galician coast. But, with exquisite timing, the director chose the first day of rain in almost 6 months. And the project sank, appropriately enough.


Opening my car boot last night, I realised why we’ve had nothing but rain for 5 days. After 6 months of perpetual sun, I finally got round to buying a parasol the evening before the deluge began.


It was 30 degrees here both yesterday and today and I have been hugging the shadows so as to keep the sun off my melanin-poor skin. The sun and its warmth are welcome of course but spring temperatures at this level are clearly confusing the locals. The young women don’t know whether to stay in their winter coats of go for what we might call the ‘almost nothing’ look. Happily, several of them have opted for the latter.


It’s been sunny and very hot for several weeks now but officially summer only began yesterday. What this means – in this informal/formal country – is that we men can now wear shorts in town without being looked at askance for getting ahead of ourselves. Needless to say, this restriction doesn’t apply to women. Especially as what they wear here seems specifically designed to get them looked at. It certainly works with me.


Latin-root words which are similar in English and Spanish but have different meanings are called here ‘false friends’. This is a prelude to a bit of advice for all those planning to spend time in any part of Spain where it might rain. ‘Moderado’ doesn’t mean ‘light’ but ‘at least heavy and quite possibly torrential’. ‘Moderado’ thus ranks as the only bit of Spanish understatement with which I’m familiar.


One of the local papers claimed today there are 4,000 things to do when there’s no sun in Galicia. Which is just as well as we’ve hardly seen it for a week.


This summer Galicia has been hotter and drier than most other parts of Spain. As a result, we’ve been plagued with forest fires and I guess I’m not alone in praying for a little rain. But all should change when my younger daughter arrives on Tuesday next. Within the family – and now more widely - she is renowned for bringing with her not just her smile but also bad weather whenever she comes.


Forest fires continue to rage throughout Galicia, with a total of 35 registered yesterday. The media insists that 90% of these are deliberate, an assertion backed by the arrest of 277 pyromaniacs throughout Spain so far this year. Things may ease off after tomorrow, when my younger daughter arrives. As I feared, rain is forecast for her stay.


My elder daughter, Faye, has long maintained that the weather changes up here along the Galician coast alter her sleep and activity patterns. Basically, she claims she’s more lethargic when the pressure falls and the humidity rises. I’ve long poo-poohed this but now have to admit that my senior moments – such as forgetting to put water in the coffee pot – do seem to occur when, like this morning, the barometric pressure has plummeted and we’re looking out on a thick blanket of fog.


We are about to depart for Madrid. As predicted, the sun has just come out in Pontevedra.

The forecast for Madrid is clear skies and 35 degrees. Of course, they don’t know that Hannah is on her way. But I suppose she’s not as bad as a hurricane.


September’s weather has been spectacular this year. This has led to some confusion among the local beauties. Many have stayed in summer togs but a fair number have opted for autumnal jackets, calf-length jeans and stiletto-heeled boots. Appealing but hardly appropriate. But, then, come the sunny days of mid-winter, their mothers, aunts and grandmothers will be strutting the town centre in even less sensible mink coats.


Our weather in September was spectacular, with a great deal of sun and very little rain. The dark side of this, of course, is that Spain’s draught situation has worsened and water restrictions are now in place throughout much of the country. Perhaps not up in the north east, where [as in neighbouring France] the weather has become rather more unstable and stormy than it used to be. God’s punishment for secessionist endeavours?


So far at least, October’s weather has been even better than September’s. So confusion is still rife on the fashion front. Some young ladies are still in their summer uniform of very little above the hip bone and jeans below, whereas – at the other extreme - there are those determined to show off their new tweeds and boots. The former seem decidedly more comfortable at this stage.


The unseasonably hot weather continues and common sense has finally broken out amongst the young ladies of the town. Many of them are now compromising by wearing a summer top above the waist [or ribs, really] and mid-calf jeans and stiletto boots below.


Today we finally had some much-needed rain. More accurately, the Atlantic decided to rise up and drop on us. My elder daughter has always maintained that increases in humidity affect her both mentally and physically. This is one reason she’s happier in Madrid than Galicia. I’ve always tended to pooh-pooh this but have to confess it tends to be on cloudy days like today that I miss out one of the 5 stages involved in making my morning coffee. This morning it was neglecting to move the coffee from the grinder to the coffee pot before putting it on to boil. This is daft enough but doesn’t compare with taking the top off the grinder before the blades have stopped.


Spanish is a much more flowery, verbose language than English. For example, rain is never referred to as just ‘heavy’ or ‘light’ but as being of a ‘strong/weak character’. In the latter case, I have this image of clouds which are easily led, prone to drinking or gambling and generally quite unreliable. You wouldn't want your daughter bringing one home.


The ferocious rains of the last week, especially in the north east, have brought a modicum of relief to at least part of a country suffering from a severe draught. But at a price. Floods in Catalunia have caused severe damage and at least four deaths.


I drove to Vigo today in glorious sunshine. In this weather, this short trip along the bays and the ria must be one of the prettiest in the world. Of course, it’s a different matter when the Atlantic decides to rise up and drop in on us, especially crossing the Rande suspension bridge. But I can live with that. From time to time.



Not by any means for the first time this winter, I woke to a glorious blue sky and a bright yellow sun while the radio was telling me Galicia was one of the 12 regions facing severe weather today. In the event, the worst we experienced was merely the sight of snow on the caps of the more distant mountains. I love the Atlantic when it’s benign. But not, of course, when it’s depositing itself on us for days at a time.


In the 12 months to mid February, Galicia had only 50% of the average annual rainfall of the last 30 years. You might like to be aware of this if you’re reading this because you fancy the idea of moving to what the British press seems to regard as an undiscovered paradise, where the weather is wonderful.


For several years now, illegal immigrants have been arriving on Spain’s coasts in their thousands each year. Many of them don’t make it alive. Recently the numbers have risen significantly, particularly in respect of Mauritanian refugees trying to land in the Canary Islands. In fact, things have got so bad Galicia has even agreed to take a share of those who make it. The poor souls may find the weather a bit of a shock, though it was 29 in one city in today, the highest temperature in Spain.


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


We’ve been blessed with wonderful weather for the last 10 days or so but things are forecast to change tomorrow. Let’s hope we’re not in for another bout of ADD. Elsewhere this may well stand for Attention Deficit Order. But here it means Atlantic Dumping Day, when the ocean wreaks some sort of revenge on us.


I wasn’t aware that you could have a reactionary [Telegraph] and liberal [Guardian] reaction to unusually hot British weather but apparently you can. Under the former, you just tell people to use their brains and not to panic, whereas under the latter you give them detailed advice because the body starts to disintegrate when the temperature reaches 43 degrees. This should come as news to the inhabitants of Granada and Sevilla, where it frequently tops this in the summer. We even get it here from time to time.


One of the main features of the Galician weather – apart from its predictable unpredictability – is that it tends to set in for days on end – whether it’s glorious sun, heavy rains or the miserable blankets of grey cloud which mar our winters. So it has been for over a week now with the strong, dry wind gusting day and night from the north east. No wonder the fires spread from the interior towards the western coast. And how lucky of Portugal to have the river Miño as its northern border with Galicia.


Well, in one of his little cosmic jokes, God sent us the rain just after the last fire had been put out. And a few hours after the fireworks display which inaugurates the lengthy fiesta period here in Pontevedra. Happily, the rain is of the gentler kind required by the ecologists to minimise the risk of soil erosion and pollution of the rivers and estuaries. This, of course, would bring another disaster in its wake – the contamination of Galicia’s shellfish.

It was good of God to send the rain but He didn’t have to turn August into October. If there’s no post tomorrow, it’s because I’ve got pneumonia.


Thanks mostly to the absence of my jinxed younger daughter, there were only 3 days of rain during this Galician summer, a huge improvement on last year. And temperatures in early September have reached record highs, with 42 in Ourense against ‘only’ 37 here in Pontevedra.


A reader has suggested that, through my guide to Galicia and links to property agents, I’m doing my best to replicate what I describe as the hell hole of the Costa del Sol. This is a reasonable point but possibly an unfair one. First of all, Galicia does not have sun all the year round; it has 5-6 months of grey and damp. So it has little or no appeal to the sun-seekers who populate the south coast


We await the arrival of the fading hurricane, Gordon - due to hit the coast in the small hours of tonight, albeit as a only a ‘tropical storm’. A mere 15% of Galicia’s recently-burnt forest has been protected against heavy downfalls and, if the rain is as torrential as expected, it will be a severe setback to the attempts to prevent soil erosion.


Well, hurricane Gordon came in like a lamb and went out like a church mouse.

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

Later . . . Well Gordon must have been the shape of half a donut. Reports say it hit the Galician coast hard near La Guardia in the south and La Coruña in the north but folks in Vigo, Pontevedra and Muros, amongst others, swear they saw and heard very little.


A friend who has monitored the local weather for many decades tells me that La Coruña has both much less rain and much less sun than Pontevedra. The explanation, I guess, is that they have a lot more cloudy [and windy] days. And/or a lot more drizzle, compared with the mini-tropical storms we occasionally get. If you’re interested in knowing more about the Galician weather, you should go to my web page, www.colindavies.net


We’ve had so much rain in the last 2 week it’s as if the weather gods have decided to dump on us all the stuff we didn’t get in the first 9 months of the year. Naturally, the itinerant umbrella sellers have been out in force on the streets of Pontevedra. But the funny thing is, whereas these have hitherto always been gypsies, now they’re all Senegalese. I can’t imagine the former have given up this street trade and moved upmarket, so wonder whether they’ve contracted it out.


It never rains but it pours. The coast of has been hit by severe storms this week and several places are now under inches of the mud that has flowed down from the mountains, unimpeded by the trees that served this purpose before they were destroyed by August’s dreadful fires. An autumn best forgotten, then. Mind you, not everything is down to cruel Nature. Illegal house- building is said to have provided the water with new escape routes to the sea.


Here’s a few statistics about the current rainfall. The first figure is the annual average for each city over the last 30 years, in cubic metres. The second is the amount of water which fell in the first 3 weeks of this month:-

Pontevedra 1778/902 = 51%

Ourense 794/415 = 52%

Santiago 1862/545 = 29%

Lugo 958/421 = 44%


There are some new statues in the car park of the nearby School for Granite Carvers. If it ever stops raining, I’ll take some photos and post them.


After being bit hit by dreadful fires in August, some of Galicia’s coastal towns have now been devastated by floods caused by October’s unprecedented rainfall. And by the local government’s failure to protect them against the predictable tragedy of tons of ashes and mud being washed down on to the beaches and the shellfish breeding areas.


During October, nil work was again carried out on the [illegal?] building site in front of my house. In contrast, the Portuguese workers on the other side laboured mightily throughout the month, even during the 3 weeks of heavy rain. This may well turn out to be the shortest construction project in the history of Spain.


Here on the Galician coast, we seem to have finally reached the end of a month of gloriously sunny weather. This coincides with news that global warming will mean we’ll be getting the same amount of rain but over fewer days. All in all, I think we can be forgiven for a bit of ambivalence towards this phenomenon.


A reader of my web page yesterday asked me what advice I’d give about moving here. After contemplating the 5th day of continuous rain, I was tempted to say ‘Look somewhere else’. Well, today was the 6th day of the thick, grey blanket and a non-stop downpour, so suicide is beginning to look like an option. Thank God for the bright spot of the Thanksgiving Day dinner tonight at Pontevedra’s English Speaking Society. Assuming I survive the day.


Well, the endless rain of the last week was today joined by storm-force winds. These made quite a challenge of crossing the bridge into town. But we pseudo-Celts are made of strong stuff and I battled through. The rain does, of course, have a few benefits. It replenishes the reservoirs; it nourishes the vegetation that gives Green Spain its name; and - closer to home - it preserves us from the awful dust billowing from the revitalised building site a few metres from my house. Giving us rivers of mud instead.


A nice comment on the incessant rain of the last 10 days – A cartoon in one of our local papers today showed a salesman trying to interest a young man in a sports model . .

It goes from 0 to 100kph in 4 seconds.

Yes, but can it float?


Here in Pontevedra, today marked the start of a strike of the company which impounds illegally parked cars. So you can imagine what the town looked like tonight, with everyone making hay while the sun shone. Or would have been, if the bloody rain had let up for even a minute.


The heavy rains of the last couple of weeks have brought terrible floods to towns on our coast. These are blamed, in part, on the deforestation caused by August’s devastating fires but the Voz de Galicia has also pointed the finger at what it calls ‘ferocious urban development’. Those mayors again.


Spain’s big annual lotteries are almost upon us and the news is that Galicia is being flooded with requests for tickets which end in the number 27. The logic behind this is that, after the fires of August and the floods of November, the region is due for some good luck in the form of a disproportionate share of the national lottery cakes. And Nov. 27th was the day on which the heaviest rains fell.


Galicians are always telling me the weather here is just like the UK’s. Well, no it bloodywell isn’t. Ireland’s maybe but not Britain’s. There, most people have at least Ireland and possibly Wales as well as a buffer to soak up the stuff that comes from the Atlantic. Here there’s zilch and we are the ocean’s first port of European call.

In the UK, ‘sunshine and showers’ is an adequate forecast for most days of the year, pointing to a massive variability. In fact, you can have all four seasons in a single day. Here, on the other hand, the weather ‘sets in’ for days or even weeks on end. This is great when you’re talking about sun but less than welcome when it comes to rain. And, as we effectively live in the middle of the Atlantic, there’s a lot of this stuff. Especially in winter. In fact, during our ‘wet season’, we get three times as much rain as Manchester in the UK. I often wonder how this goes down with Brits who’ve blithely discounted or even ignored the comments on my web page and bought isolated properties up in mountains. The ones who haven’t killed themselves, I mean.

What has prompted this little diatribe is that – after a 4 weeks of sun – we’re now well into a third week of non-stop rain plummeting from Galicia’s traditional winter blanket of thick, low, grey cloud. And I’ve just been drenched getting some petrol for the car.

On the weather theme, it struck me the other day most forecasts here are remarkably accurate. But then I realised how easy it actually is. If the wind is coming from the west, it will rain. If it’s coming from anywhere else, it won’t and the sun will shine. Or, even more simply – If it’s coming from the left, rain. If it’s not, sun.


In the interests of balance, I should report it stopped raining for a while today. And the sun even made a pathetic attempt to peer through the clouds. But the thick grey blanket is forecast to return tonight.

I see water has been discovered on Mars. Probably a run-off from Galicia.


It didn’t rain in Pontevedra today. We had hailstorms instead.


Talking about things pouring down from the sky - In line with the comments I made recently about British weather, I’ve been in the UK for a week now but have not had to use an umbrella. In fact, I’ve seen very little, if any, rain. And none is forecast for the coming week. It’s not often you can go two weeks in a Galician winter without needing protection from the elements. On the other hand, it is 13 degrees in Pontevedra, against 4 or 5 here. Swings and roundabouts, I guess


The recent rains about which I complained so much caused severe damage to several of the region’s best shellfish beds. Thanks to the gluttonous custom here of eating four huge meals of seafood within a singe week, it’s customary for the prices of these products to quadruple around now. But this year one variety of hard-to-get clam is said to be selling for a record 123 euros a kilo. Or 40 quid a pound.


Within a few minutes of me writing that I’d seen no rain in the UK in 12 days, the heavens opened. Whereas the sun was shining brightly when I landed back in Santiago. It doesn't do to provoke the weather gods.


Until the November rains and floods, Galicia had one of the driest years on record, confirming [it’s said] the phenomenon of regional warming. Over the last 30 years, the average temperature has increased by 1.4 degrees. The future, we’re told, holds the prospect of more ‘adverse phenomena”. You have been warned.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

There are a lot of fiestas in fun-loving Spain. And urban honour demands they get bigger each year. More events, more opening and closing fireworks and, of course, more noise. And, these days, no self-respecting town is without a jazz festival. So it was surprising to read yesterday that the [brave] mayor of Oviedo in Asturias had decided to buck the trend by cancelling this year’s jazz concert because the noise would be too much for the venue’s neighbours. Here in Pontevedra, the authorities took the more pragmatic step a year or so ago of moving the ever-larger event from a small open-air square in the old quarter to the city’s capacious, modern concert hall. I guess it’ll be the football ground next. So, more and more participants and less and less atmosphere. By the way, Fernando Alonso is from Oviedo. I believe he, too, cancelled a fiesta this weekend.

It seems that, here in Galicia, the PSOE socialist party and BNG nationalist party are going to expel their respective councillors who failed to arrive at a pact by last Saturday. To me, this does rather emphasise the question raised by a reader a few weeks ago – If things are now so formal between the PSOE and the BNG in Galicia, why don’t they do the honest thing and campaign as a single party? Still on local politics, a writer in yesterday’s Voz de Galicia made the interesting point that it was fatuous for the PP party to rail against these pacts since the reason the PP lost out was that its recent rush to the right had alienated people with whom it might profitably have reached its own pacts.

Since the piper normally calls the tune, an English backlash against [subsidised] Scottish nationalism has long been forecast. This article suggests it may finally have been precipitated by the decision of the Scottish Nationalist government to charge English, Welsh and Northern Irish students university fees, while waiving them for Scots and non-British EU students. Vamos a ver.

A rolling headline on the French news channel yesterday read “The end of the Sarkozy honeymoon?”. Bloody ‘ell. If it is, it must rank as the shortest political honeymoon in history. All of two weeks.

My apologies for the typo in yesterday’s blog, when I wrote 4.5m instead of 45m for the Spanish population. And my thanks to the reader, Robert Duncan, who kindly pointed it out. It seems that, no matter how many times I proof-read my stuff, something always sneaks through. Which reminds me, as with London, the percentage of foreigners in Madrid is much higher than the national average – 20%, against 10.

Finally, In the interests of balance, I should say the sun finally shone for several hours yesterday afternoon. This morning is a different matter.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Well, this was the weekend when the newly elected mayors and councillors took office around Spain. I’d like to be able to give a summary of the recent elections – for Galicia at the very least – but I’m just too confused to do this. My general impression is that – except for Madrid and Valencia - the left wing parties made considerable progress at the expense of the right-wing parties, even where the latter gained most votes. This is because of numerous pacts between the socialist PSOE party and further-to-the-left and/or ‘nationalist’ parties. The overall picture is one of frantic horse-trading, some of which wasn’t actually consummated by Saturday’s deadline. Unsurprisingly, some commentators are calling for a change to voting mechanics so as to avoid what they see as a fraud on the electorate.

As for said Madrid and Valencia exceptions, one El Pais columnist last week explained this as a result of the Americanisation of these cities. Or of Madrid, at least. The theory runs that the economic success of the city is built on influx of aspirational immigrants who move up the ladder and are replaced by more of the same. The traditional stable Spanish working class and its voting patterns have thus disappeared. Seems plausible to me. And it must be nice for the rabidly anti-American Left to have the Yankees to blame.

It may be that the current No. 1 preoccupation of the Spanish is resurgent terrorism - especially when we’re being regularly told another ETA atrocity is imminent - but you don’t have to be Einstein to realise that ‘Immigration’ is knocking at the door. The country’s population of 45m now includes more than 4m foreigners. As others have said, this is a relatively new phenomenon here and it will provide a severe test of the Spanish belief that – except when it comes to gypsies – they’re not racist. My own perception is there’s a lot of low-level, ‘old-fashioned’ racism around and it will challenge a government of any stamp to prevent this becoming something worse. But at least they’ve had the opportunity to learn from mistakes in both Britain and France.

An interesting immigration wrinkle - Rumania is about to overtake Morocco as the primary source of foreigners. So they can’t all be pickpockets in Madrid or beggars in Pontevedra.

As I recall, April and May were quite dry and bright here. For the first two weeks of June, though, the sun appears to have gone on vacation. But what can you expect when you live on the Atlantic coast?

As my daughters well know, as an ageing pedant I’m easily irritated by the use of ‘amount’ when it should be ‘number’. As in Mr Sousa says the amount of people in the room hampered forensic work. But what chance have I got when it’s the BBC which inflicts this error on us? Where is the Royal Academy of English when you need it?

Finally, it’s reported the British theatre director Sir Trevor Nunn paid £27,000 for a Damien Hirst painting that was actually the work of the artist's two-year-old son. You couldn’t make it up.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The British practice of taking laws – especially those from the EU – and applying them with a rigour unknown in the rest of Europe is known as ‘gold plating’. I’m reminded of this by the news that, after the July 1 introduction of a ban on smoking in public places, there’ll have to be No Smoking signs in UK churches. As someone has asked, when did you last see anyone smoking in a church? And will candles be exempt?

I regularly say that what I really dislike about nationalism is its divisiveness. In Scotland, the new ‘nationalist’ government has announced the abolition of the university fees system which, ironically, only the votes of Scottish Labour MPs secured for the UK as a whole. Here’s a comment on this from today’s Telegraph - From 2009 Scottish students will be able to attend Scottish universities for free. But English, Welsh and Northern Irish students who wish to study in Scotland will still have to pay £1,700 a year. However, under bizarre EU rules that permit discrimination within a nation but not between nations, students from the rest of the EU won't pay a bean. This means a Welshman studying in Scotland will find himself considerably worse off than a German doing the same thing. It is patent madness.

The writer goes on to say The United Kingdom is slowly becoming like one of those dysfunctional families that, when confronted with a restaurant bill, starts squabbling fiercely over who ordered the starter and who held back on the pudding. This, of course, is an inevitable consequence of devolution: regional autonomy means regional inequality, and all the sniping that gradually seeps in when citizens of the same state are treated manifestly differently. Remind you of anywhere?

Economics is one of those subjects in which there are as many opinions as there are people willing to express them. Especially when it comes to the housing market in Spain. Time, as I keep saying, will tell and I have two bets on the events of the next year or two. Meanwhile, though, here’s a recent comment which merits inclusion as [almost] the last thing I’m going to write on this subject for a long while. The author, by the way, is anonymous but I suspect it’s Gordon Brown - It's hard to know what lies behind [pessimistic] commentaries like these. A good old property crash and economic crisis is definitely in some people's interest, so there's no shortage of experts willing to go on the record and make their case, in the hope of talking up the crisis. At the same time, the economy keeps growing away, and house prices remain stable in metropolitan areas - except for those sellers who put their house on the market at very optimistic asking prices. Nobody seems to be making the basic distinction between housing markets in Alicante or Murcia and those of Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao etc. The fact is that nobody knows what lies around the corner. Any crisis is going to hit not just Spain, but most of the rest of the EU where asset prices are equally inflated. Maybe UK-based analysts will be proved right, but maybe they are just making a name for themselves by playing on the fears of the hundreds of thousands of Brits who have invested in Spain? Easy way to get your name into the Daily Telegraph, nothing like a free bit of branding!

By the way, the two bets I have on are:-

Macro economic: Within 2 years, the decline/collapse of the housing market will cause considerable pain for those on the Spanish plain, and

Micro economic: No one will occupy any of the houses being built in front of mine within 12 months from 13 June. Despite more than a year’s work so far.

Finally, a possible explanation for my inability to find creosote products in my local shops. They’ve been banned by the EU. Apparently, if you want your poles treated with creosote in the UK, you have to send them over to companies in France, who will do the job and send them back to you. Possibly with a carbon footprint certificate attached. France, of course, is a founder-member of the EU.

But a question is left hanging in the air – Is this an EU law which has actually been fully implemented in Spain?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Spain has been celebrating 30 yeas of democracy this week, not to mention a couple of decades of impressive economic growth. Here are a few then-and-now comparisons from a table in one of the national papers:-
Foreigners: 0.2m – 4.2m
Minimum monthly salary: 79 euros – 571 euros
Houses built: 406,000 – 612,000 [2004]
Phones: 9.5m – 59.7m
Life expectancy: 73 years – 81 years. The highest in Europe, I believe.

Some months ago, I joked about the likelihood of there being a Cornish nationalist movement. Inevitably, we now have the Cornish National Liberation Army, which insists Cornwall is not English and threatens to firebomb the houses and cars of the ‘invaders’. I also jokingly asked where the Leonese and Asturian nationalist movements where. And now we have them. Maybe I should give up on the humour. Or at least the sarcasm.

And perhaps it’s time to stress too my link on this page to the piece on the Kingdom of Danelaw takes you to a spoof. And not to a serious proposal that I be enthroned as monarch of the restored nation.

Returning to sanity . . . Different countries take different attitudes towards risk and safety. And, while I may sometimes express concern at things I see around me here, on balance I’m happy Spain is much less of a nanny state than the UK. In the latter, hardly a day passes without news of another lunatic step from the Health & Safety zealots in the direction of eliminating all possible risks from British society. The end result, of course, will be that all babies will have to be aborted, on the grounds that life always brings with it a risk of death.

I‘ve been known to make the occasional swipe at Telefonica. But yesterday I was impressed to receive a call – albeit from a machine – asking me to indicate whether I’d been satisfied with their response to my complaint about a breakdown. Well, I say ‘impressed’ but, as I’d not had a breakdown nor made a complaint, I’m not sure this is exactly the right word. Certainly not for the customer who should have got the call. After all, you’d think getting your number right would be one thing you could rely on your phone company for.

A gentleman called Joe Gallo has kindly referred me to a site which sets out the coats-of-arms of the various Gallo clans around the world. These all feature the bird in question. But these are always described as either as a ‘rooster’ or a ‘cockerel’. So, plenty of pollos but, as yet, no polla.