Monday, March 31, 2008

It had to happen, of course. Following in the wake of Cataluña, the Scottish Prime Minister has said his government will seek to replace with .sco in internet domain names. But he’s in for a shock; I’ve already registered it for Merseyside. Being short for Scouse, of course.

I’ve noted a few times that Spain lacks the hysteria surrounding paedophilia that prevails in the UK. On the other hand, it’s beginning to seem that in this - as in other things - attitudes in Spain may be rather too relaxed. The media there has recently been featuring the case of a man who had committed two assaults but had never been jailed and who then went on to kill a young girl. And this, it’s said, is not a unique case of judicial leniency. Understandably, calls are now being made for a tougher response to convictions.

The bursting of the property bubble - Home owners could see 25% wiped off the value of their properties within two years, a leading economist has warned. ‘It is‘, he said ‘entirely plausible that the credit squeeze, financial markets' turbulence and sliding consumer confidence could lead to house prices falling by a quarter. No, not Spain but the UK. In the former, there’s a widespread view that - despite identical factors - a collapse in prices has never happened before so it can’t happen now. Needless to say, having lived through two before this one, I am not so sanguine.

When it comes to estimating Spain’s economic growth this year, you can basically pick your own number. The Finance Minister is sticking with something near 3.0%; The FT and others have reduced theirs to 2.5% or less; and now El Mundo tells us today that internal government predictions will be down to 1.8% by the end of the year. Not an exact science, economics. So, your guess is as good as mine. The paper adds that 80,000 small shops will close but, if these are estate agents, I don’t suppose many of us will care much.

I went to get a key duplicated in West Kirby last week and was rather taken aback when the chap said that, as it was patented, copying it would be illegal. That said, I do know one pharmacy in Pontevedra that won’t give you prescription items without the necessary bit of paper. The others are more obliging.

Back here in Hoylake, there’s a bar offering tapas options after 5pm. I doubt I’ll be giving it a try. For one thing, I can guarantee the prices will stretch credulity. But I might take a look at the menu. Just for a good laugh.

It’s amazing how links can arise. My brother-in-law told me last night that demolition of an unused synagogue in Liverpool had been suspended because some quango felt “not enough has been done to explore the possibility of its use by other religions“. As he said, there’s only one religion that’s growing at the moment and it’s hardly reasonable to expect Jews to open negotiations with its representatives. And then, this morning, El Mundo hits us with the report that the Vatican has admitted for the first time there are now more Muslims in the world than Catholics. Never mind Jews.

It’s a funny old world. Unless you get caught up in the Jewish-Muslim conflict, of course.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

One of the similarities between Britain and Spain is the size of their respective debt mountains. Another is that their leaders each claim that their country is better placed than most to withstand the storm winds currently thrashing through the global economy. I’m not sure what the situation is back in Spain this week but it’s clear that in the UK the public find this more than hard to believe. So it is that voters' confidence in the future of the economy stands at minus 52%, the lowest level ever recorded, and well below the minus 26% of John Major's dog days. The author of this comment goes on to warn that Britain is now emerging from a long period of unreality. Or, as he says about the prosperity of the last 10-15 years:- Of course, making ends meet remained a worry for millions, not least those who felt the pinch of fiscal drag, [municipal] tax hikes and the penalisation of the motorist. But, with Gordon Brown as the forbidding guarantor of "prudence" and "stability", Tony Blair was able to shift the emphasis of political discourse away from standard of living and towards quality of life and the creation of a "New Britain". In policy terms, this meant a spending bonanza on public services (unmatched by reform); a new focus on "anti-social behaviour" and "respect"; a slew of nannying regulations; and the promise to transform Britain into a European social democracy. There was a culture of New Age self-indulgence, self-absorption and tree-hugging. Much of the country appeared to be undergoing a decade-long course of aromatherapy. It would be hard to say exactly the same about Spain but, as some readers will know, I’ve long wondered what would happen once the good times of a phoney, property-driven boom were over. Not long to wait for an answer, I guess. I suspect Mr Zapatero will find his second administration a lot tougher than his first. And I doubt that the Spanish economy will manage the challenge as well as, say, the German economy. It all depends, I suppose, on how much below-the-surface structural reform has taken place during the good times.

But, hey, it’s not all doom and gloom. Back here in the UK there’s some excellent news this morning - The Scouse accent, one of Britain's most distinctive regional tones, is spreading across the country. Language experts, who only 10 years ago were predicting the demise of the Liverpool twang, now say Scouse is engulfing other accents and evolving as a whole new form of speech. A study has shown that the unique mix of Irish, Welsh and Lancashire tones, with its guttural and nasal delivery, is creeping out of Merseyside and along the west coast, with the Liverpudlian tongue adopted in parts of Lancashire and Cheshire.

This has come in the same week as a forecast that the English language which eventually conquers the world will be simpler than the real thing. For example the ‘s’ will be dropped from phrases such as he walks, she runs, he dawdles, etc. This will surely come as a huge relief to the millions of Spaniards who daily change thousands of verb endings in their own language but can’t get to grips with just the one change in English present tense verbs.

I once complained about the single socks that went missing in my washing machine in Spain, as they had done back in the UK. I recall that someone wrote to express sympathy and to say a German friend had claimed this never happened in Teutonic machines. I was reminded of this when buying some socks in Marks recently and noticing they had coloured toe-ends. Which means I will now be able to know for certain which of my socks is an orphan. What a marvellous development. Hats off to M&S.

The mention of the Scouse accent allows me to return to the subject of food and say:- 1. The origin of the word ‘Scouse’ is the stew of the same name. It comes in two basic forms - with meat, and without meat. Or ‘blind Scouse’ in the latter case. It was the stuff of every Saturday evening when I was a kid and, sure enough, my mother made it yesterday. I enjoyed it greatly but couldn’t help wondering whether many Galicians would find it as appetising as the caldo which does nowt for me. Or ‘which do nowt for me’ as I will have to learn to say.

My mother no longer lives on the council estate where I was brought up but in rather posher Hoylake, on the Wirral peninsula. You can see it’s more up-market from the number of ‘antique’ shops on the main street. And you can tell its population is older than average from the nature of the rest of the shops. I noticed yesterday there were three in a row catering for senior citizens. The one on the left was a Mobility Centre, offering all sorts of vehicles for the hard-of-walking. The one on the right was a charity called Age Concern. And between them was a funeral parlour. Where, I guess, they have the answer to both all your mobility problems and all concerns born of advanced age. Across the road was a jewellers offering to fit watch batteries while you waited. I wondered whether the funeral parlour couldn’t take a similar promotional line - Funerals while you wait, say. It’s an idea. And you heard it here first.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

El Mundo claims that one of the previous Vice Presidents, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega Sanz, will have an enlarged role in Mr Zapatero’s new cabinet. I guess this means we’ll be seeing not just one but two photos of her in the press every day. She’s still my bet for Spain’s first women president. Though I’m not staking a lot on this hapening during my lifetime. If she does make it, they’ll have to get bigger name cards for UN meetings and the like. I guess she could marry someone called, say, Bono and then flout Spanish custom by adopting her husband’s name. But, on balance, this is probably unlikely. For one reason and another.

Sign of the times? On a Cheshire road yesterday, there was this warning to drivers about a left turn - No way through. Do not rely on your satnav. Of course, there would be only one way to find out whether unhappy residents alongside a rat run weren't behind this. Bloody good idea, if so.

It’s hardly unexpected but property prices have started to fall quite seriously in Madrid and the national and local governments have begun to feel the pinch from reduced property-transaction taxes. Worse to come, says this Jeremiah.

The Great Heathrow T5 Fiasco: As predicted, yesterday’s tabloid Daily Mail did manage to get the Spanish identity of BAA into its coverage, both in its article and in a leader. But, to be fair, it did seem to regard both BAA and BA as equally culpable. So . . . 1. The problems were not just a humiliation for Spanish-owned BAA but also cast doubt on Britain’s ability to handle major construction programs and to deliver them on time and in one piece. And 2. So, was it the fault of British Airways or should the blame be laid at the door of the Spanish company Ferrovial, which has made such a rotten job of running the British Airways Authority since it took it over two years ago? One thing is for sure - this was a shameful day for Britain’s reputation for competence. Stepping back from the tabloid froth, there was a more measured comment in the Daily Telegraph this morning:- The failure of the baggage system on the opening day of Heathrow's Terminal 5 produced scenes of farce and irritation that hugely embarrassed BAA. "The world's leading airport company", as it describes itself, had predicted that the baggage arrangements would "work perfectly from day one". More than 100 cancelled flights later, this boast has made both BA and BAA look ridiculous. "A national disgrace", fumed politicians, newspapers and (understandably) passengers. That is going too far. There is a difference between a fiasco and a national humiliation. If the British public interprets the T5 farce as the latter, then our self-confidence is too fragile. "We can't get anything right," chorused the callers to radio phone-in shows. But they say that every time anything goes wrong. If, in a week's time, the system is working smoothly, people will forget about the computer glitch. Just as they have in Spain in respect of similar problems with Madrid’s new terminal last year. And just have they have with the much-delayed and over-budget Wembley stadium in London.

As I continue to gain weight as a result of staying, first, with my daughter and, now, with my mother, I’ve realised I’m experiencing the opposite of a Champneys-type break. In other words, I’m staying at an unhealth farm.

Galicia Facts

I’ve posted some views on food in response to Moscow’s comments to yesterday’s blog. These should cost me a few more Gallego readers.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Well, BAA did have to ‘suspend’ its plans to fingerprint domestic passengers using Heathrow’s new 5th shopping mall. Sorry, ‘terminal’. But, in the end, this was the least of their problems, as the opening day descended into chaos. I was impressed that the Daily Telegraph this morning didn’t mention that BAA is Spanish owned. And even more impressed that El Mundo did. But I suspect my mother’s tabloid Daily Mail will redress the balance. In spades.

Talking of travel problems here - Britain’s rail users get a poor service for very high prices. A professor at York University's Institute of Railway Studies said this week “It’s interesting to note that the micro-management of the railways by the state is now at arguably its highest-ever level. The problem is the lack of a clear overall transport policy." And this is 11 years after the incoming New Labour government promised us a ‘joined-up traffic strategy’ that would eradicate the hell then faced by Brits on both the roads and the railways. I thought [again] of this assurance when stuck in the traditional jams near Birmingham on the M6 at midday on Wednesday. I consoled myself by imagining what it would all be like if the government’s traffic strategy weren’t fully joined-up.

Today’s papers contain the first report I can recall of a British kamikaze driver, who went 15 miles down the wrong side of the M65 motorway last night. But at least it was a confused 81 year old woman and not a 35 year old male drunk. Not that this will have been much of a consolation to those drivers who hit the crash barrier, trying to avoid her.

It was reported yesterday they’d found the bones of the first European, who lived around a million years ago in Atapuerca, near Burgos in central Spain. And who left a message inscribed on a bone to the effect that his grandmother made the best tortilla in the world. And that his heirs would slaughter anyone who disagreed.

Galicia Facts

There was an interesting program on the food of Castile on the UK’s Channel 4 last night. It left me very regretful we don‘t get that region’s casseroles [caldos] in Galicia. Especially the one involving wild boar. But, anyway, next week’s program is about Galicia’s seafood. So I guess I’ll be reminded of how unappetising I find octopus in olive oil and paprika. Not to mention the dreadful goose barnacle [percebe]. Which should really endear me to my readers of the Galician Diaspora.

In consolation, I bring news of a new blog, brought to us by the Voz de Galicia. Here’s their write-up:- Blog colectivo: Un espacio hecho por gallegos dispersos por el mundo en el que cuentan qué hacen donde están, cómo vive un gallego por el mundo, cómo se ve Galicia en la lejanía, cómo se ve el mundo con la óptica gallega. En fin, un espacio global para un mundo virtual sin fronteras. Si quieres sumarte, escríbenos.

By the way, it's not my fault this isn't in Gallego.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Spanish press gives impressive coverage of UK events. To say the least, this is not exactly reciprocated in Britain. Today’s item on Spain in the UK papers is pretty representative of the situation - a report that Brits stand to have their houses, at best, confiscated or, at worst, destroyed even if they were legally built 30 years ago. In other words, long before the 1988 Law of the Coast and the current government’s efforts to clean up after the rampant corruption and despoliation of the last 10 to 15 years. This won’t, of course, do much for a construction industry now screaming for bankruptcy-avoiding tax breaks for the buyers who are now refusing to open their wallets. Funny but I don’t recall hearing this during the ‘fat cow’ years.

I regularly comment on the different attitude towards risk in Spain. And I’ve confessed to ambivalence about this, sometimes viewing Spanish pragmatism as more sane than the UK’s obsession with [unachievable] total safety. A nice example of the latter is today’s recommendation from Britain’s doctors that pregnant women should avoid alcohol totally. This, it seems, is far more stringent than their recommendation of only a couple of months ago and was justified by the relevant government minister on the grounds that they were really interested in absolute safety. Which, she logically said, could only be achieved by taking no alcohol at all. I guess she’ll be advising next that we stop eating, so as to ensure we don’t go down [and out] with botulism.

Another example of this madness today was the warning that kids under 2 should not be given cough medicines as:- 1. They are not as effective as a blast of steam up the nostrils, and 2. There have been 4 deaths in 50 years which might just have had something to do with the ingestion of a syrup. So, to be absolutely sure your child does not become an esoteric statistic, just keep taking the steam. And putting vinegar and brown paper on cuts in case you get an allergy from the plaster. Is this really the stamp of government to come? If it is, roll on another war to distract us from trivia. Brought to us by people whose expenses alone vastly exceed the salaries of most of the population. The trivia, I mean. Not the war.

In my hugely popular book How to Slim Easily and Cheaply, there’s only one chapter. In fact, there’s only one page. OK, there’s only one line. And it’s shorter than the title - Eat less. Exercise more. The validity of this advice has been proven yet again over the last 10 days, when I've walked little, eaten more than usual and gained 2 kilos. Or 4.4 pounds. Which will, of course, take a lot more than 10 days to shift. And I have another 10 days of excess before I can even start on this. Oh for a bit of Delhi belly.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

One of today’s Spanish headlines - Socialists call the Opposition Leader a liar as he changes his mind on investiture vote. Well, that didn’t take long, did it? Normal service resumed. Even before the new parliamentary session has begun.

It’s reported that properties on the Costa del Sol are now taking on average more than 4 years to sell. And that 45% of new properties lie unsold. I’m surprised it’s not more. What sensible Brit would buy when the euro is rising and prices have a long way to fall yet? Then again, how many Brits are sensible? And I don’t suppose members of the Russian mafia display much price sensitivity. Nor local politicians with cash in the mattress.

I’m not up-to-date on the latest developments in Pontevedra’s gypsy drama but I was interested to read yesterday that - here in Britain - a large group of gypsies had used the Easter holidays to set up a sizeable camp - complete with electricity and water - close to the home of a government minister. Most revealing was the quote from a Romany spokesperson that they knew it was all illegal but that recourse to, first, the British courts and, then, the EU courts meant that it would take up to 8 years to dislodge them.

Galicia Facts

Spain’s National Confederation of Constructors forecasts that the sector in Galicia will see growth of 3% this year. I assume this means in prices. Though it might mean in the volume of new properties reaching the market. Take your pick.

Perish the thought but I’m about to say something positive about Telefonica - They’ve financed a book on Spain’s recent progress by an ex FT columnist, William Chislett. It’s called Spain - Going Places and you should be able to download it free via the Notes in Spain link on this blog.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The new minority government in Spain is reported to be courting the PNV party as a coalition partner. This is described as a moderate Basque nationalist party. Presumably, then, the socialist party in Catalonia did veto a pact with its Catalan equivalent, the CiU.

The wintery Easter weather has at least afforded me the pleasure of learning that the Spanish for ‘snowman’ is muñeco de nieve. Or, snowdoll.

Another surprise this morning was to read that the Spanish average 7.8% hours of sleep a night. As the article said, most tourists could be forgiven for thinking the number was considerably lower than this, even if a siesta were included. Residents, too, I imagine.

Here in the UK inflation is officially 2.5%, against more than 4% in Spain and 3% in the EU as a whole. Unofficial estimates of the UK rate put it nearer 8% and I suspect a much higher number could be calculated for Spain as well. It all depends, of course, on what is put in and left out of the ‘basket’.

Before my younger daughter could take up her first post as a teacher in the UK, she had to have a police check, via the Criminal Records Bureau. If she now moves to another school at the end of two years, she will need have another one, even though her employers have not [yet] reported that she is either a predatory lesbian or a wanton seducer of 14 year old boys. But it gets worse; if she wants to be just a doler out of Eucharistic hosts at her church, this too will trigger an enquiry of the CRB. Can there be any more eloquent testimony of the madness that results from a combination of the fear-generating tabloid press and the Something-Must-Be-Done brigade? Well, yes. My daughter wants to throw away a kitchen knife set her mother and I bought 37 years ago. But the law says she can’t and, as yet, I don’t know what she’s permitted to do with the kinves. Perhaps I can take them back to Toledo, where you can buy and take home a vast array of medieval weaponry. Including, as I recall, a double-headed war axe.

And finally, in response to overwhelming demand - A printer update:-
Epson UK: The only party to emerge with credit so far. Answered my initial questions quickly and politely, even though they weren’t a party to the sale.
Epson Spain: Jury still out. Polite first response but no reply for a week now to my proof that the printer stopped working within 30 days. Let’s put it down to Easter for now.
Carrefour Pontevedra: Don’t let me start. Have given up on them.
Carrefour France: Diplomatic initial response which may or may not really mean ‘Nowt to do with us, mate. You’re on your own.’ Let’s see how they respond to my follow-up today.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Some excellent news - deaths on Spain’s roads in Holy Week were very significantly down on last year’s. Hopefully some of this is a result of safer driving, rather than reduced traffic because of the poor weather.

Heathrow’s new 5th terminal is due to open later this week but may not. Or, if it does, there may be chaos to match that of Madrid’s new terminal last year. The cause will be oppositon to BAA’s policy of fingerprinting domestic transit passengers both as they enter and leave the central facilities, where they’ll be able to mix with international passengers. This, of course, is to ensure everyone’s given the chance to max out on their credit cards in the thousands of shops. So it’ll be interesting to see whether in the new Britain rank commercial interests will once again take precedence over civil liberties.

Talking of Britain, one of the more depressing experiences of the last week has been listening to both my teacher daughter and her doctor friend listing the appalling practices carried out in the education and health worlds in order to meet targets dictated by a well-intentioned but micro-managing government which is apparently wilfully blind to reality. The most heinous practice must surely be that of giving old folk appointments for, say, hip operations, which will never be achieved and which the administrators know from the outset will be postponed shortly before they’re due to take place. Though it’s a close race between this and moving people out of the hospital into ambulances in the car park so they won’t appear on any waiting list.

Thanks to Benitez, Torres et al, Liverpool is regarded pretty much as a local team in Spain. For us Scousers, this is a useful ice-breaker when meeting people for the first time. I say this but, of course, the concept of an ice-breaker is utterly inappropriate in a country where people are invariably warm. And, on occasions, hot. That said, it’s a tad galling for an Evertonian to bask in Liverpool’s reflected glory. Which is why I didn’t feel too bad about their defeat by Manchester United yesterday.

Galicia Facts

The region is forecast to lose 320,000 inhabitants over the next 10 years, which contrasts with a national gain of 2.2 million. Other regions/‘nations’/enclaves expected to suffer a reduction in population are Asturias, Castilla & León, the Basque Country, Extremadura, Ceuta and Melilla.

Galicia boasts perhaps a disproportionate share of the nation’s chapuzas, or ugly home features. Admirably, the Voz de Galicia has been waging a war against these, asking its readers to suggest entries in a competition for the worst sight in the region. Copy and paste this for details and links to photos of the top three. Sadly, I fancy I’ve seen worse.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

This Global Warming is a bugger. I woke this morning to my first ever White Easter. Pretty but cold!

British teachers say they’re finding it more and more difficult to control the kids in their classes because they’re over-indulged by parents unwilling or unable to discipline them. But, if this were really true, no one would ever go into teaching in Spain. I doubt there are more indulgent parents on the planet than the Spanish.

It’s reported that only 23 per cent of Scots want to break away from Britain. It’s ironic, then, that, if they did decide to go, not many of the English would want to try to stop them. The British government, on the other hand, is horrified at the prospect. Even if [because?] most of the cabinet is Scottish.

I’ve mentioned in the past that one receives little by way of explanation for bills in Spain, even when there’s a large increase. Things are taken very much to the other extreme in the UK. My daughter’s Council Tax bill arrived today. Naturally, this has risen by more than inflation. The explanation for this is somewhere in a 36 page [yes, 36 page] A5 glossy leaflet, replete with pretty colour pictures. What senseless extravagance.

Down in the centre of Leeds early this evening, the temperature was close to zero, snowflakes were swirling and a stiff wind was blowing between the high-rise buildings in the shopping centre. Not quite the weather, then, for T-shirts and skimpy, bare-armed mini-dresses. But, strange to relate, that’s how some of the young people were dressed. Or under-dressed, if you prefer. My daughter explained that the bare-mid-riffed girls with angel wings on their backs were part of a hen party. And that their imperviousness to the arctic weather possibly owed something to the fact they’d been drinking all day. Who says the British don’t know how to have fun!

Friday, March 21, 2008

People in glass houses? Accused by Spain of being an uncooperative haven for the uncountable rogues who populate the Costa del Sol, Gibraltar has hit back with the comment that "In fact, Gibraltar has a much better record in relation to the regulation of financial services than Spain itself. . . It is a peculiar way to seek to increase co-operation on such matters. This is not the way to obtain Gibraltar's goodwill and continued co-operation. . . It is, in fact, Spain that appears to be in default of EU obligations on moneylaundering." So . . . Who to believe? Both? Neither? A plague on both houses?

An organisation for deaf people in the UK has argued that being deaf is not to suffer any form of incapacity. Rather, it’s simply a matter of having a different culture from a hearing person. As a columnist has said, this argument takes the mantra of equal opportunities to what might appear to be its natural, extremely mad conclusion: to be disabled is thought to be a right, when in fact it is a sad effect of bad luck and genetic aberration. But I guess - if a choice has to be made - this is better than treating them as idiots and/or outcasts.

Here’s something to make all unhappily married folk ponder a little on their options for the fuure - The rate of divorce between British lawyers specialising in divorce is remarkably low. Perhaps they know something we know too; using lawyers can only make a bad situation even worse. Almost any other option is better. Including 20 years for murder, I suspect. Or maybe just 10 for ‘a crime of passion.’ Trust me; I’m an ex lawyer. And twice divorced. Better to pay someone to jump into bed with your wife before you polish her off in a fit of simulated pique. At least you’ll then have to deal with a better class of vultures.

Good to read that the EU thinks that, although Spain remains below the European average for access, consumers are now benefitting from increased competition in the sector, with cheaper prices and an easier process to change operator. Time to test things out? Probably not.

Quotes of the Week

Most Eurosceptics want Europe to be reformed, not destroyed. However much this may annoy the Eurofanatics, they are the "good Europeans" who have Europe's long-term interest at heart. No political society survives without trust. British voters believe that they have been deceived about the Lisbon treaty, a promise has been broken, and the breach justified by lies. If the EU cannot trust the people, the people cannot trust the EU.
William Rees-Mogg, Times columnist

The lost status of Good Friday is indicated by the comically misconceived sentence, sometimes heard on television: "Have a very Good Friday.
Daily Telegraph leader today. God help us!

Galicia Facts

There are a lot of wild horses in Galicia’s mountain forests. So, if you’re planning to drive here at any time, you might want to contemplate the picture in the link below. The advice/warning given is at least equally applicable here. And, at certain times of the year, there’d probably be a foal in the passenger seat as well. Sorry about the absence of a direct link but my daughter's Mac has a mind of its own.
Be sure to close any gap between 2008/ and 03

Leeds Facts

We have a forecast of snow and freezing winds today. Happy Easter!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Just what Britain needed - It’s reported that ‘an increasing number of 50-somethings are over-indulging in alcohol and food and becoming abusive to locals in foregin tourist resorts.’ Well, I guess the young scum always had to get older so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise really. Perhaps this is the essence of Britishness that Prime Minister Brown is seeking to identify and propogate. Largely, of course, to stop himself being turfed out of power by English voters and sent back to ‘nationalist’ Scotland.

By the way, the unruly snow-tops are known as ‘Saga-louts’ in the UK. This will mean nothing to non-British readers but life’s too short for explanations.

Another aspect of British society much in the news of late is welfarism and its abuses. The first cause celebre has been that of a 32 year old woman with seven children from five different fathers, whose nine year old daughter was abducted by her uncle. The second is that of a woman who - despite being on welfare payments - managed to take her five or six kids on a six-month tour of India. Until I read she was ‘on the social security’ I had just assumed she was a middle-aged, eccentric hippy of independent means. But it turns out that a trip most of us could only dream of was financed by British taxpayers. Hard to understand how she could get away with it, especially as she was technically obliged to report any absence from home of greater than three weeks. Perhaps there’s a loophole or two in the system. As an ever richer Spain moves inevitably towards wider welfare payments, I wonder whether a tabloid press will develop here to keep us au fait with this sort of thing. If so, it’ll make a nice change from the endless news of cheating politicians, policemen, financiers, tax inspectors, abortion doctors, etc., etc. It’s surely time for the little people to have a go.

There’s been a certain amount of outrage here in the UK about the fact that, in Heathrow’s new no. 5 terminal, passengers who are flying within Britain will have to have their fingerprints taken as they move from one gate to another. Allegedly, this is because of a design fault which means there’s a risk a passenger in transit could mingle with domestic passengers and enter the UK undetected. Given how often one has to prove one’s identity in Spain, I’m tempted to put forward the theory that the Spanish owners of BAA felt that no one would much obect to such an imposition and so underestimated the adverse reaction. But I accept it’s not very plausible. Cock-ups are far more common than conspiracies.

Galicia Facts

Reading a blurb about some local beauty spot, I learned that ‘There is a wide choice of golf courses, one within 10 minuets walk’. Which conjured up a lovely image of middle-aged men prancing towards their date with the greens.

Which reminds me - What a lot of trees people have in their gardens in the UK. These are especially nice at this time of year, as the cherry blossom emerges. Just in time for the Easter gales to pulverise it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

It’s hard to get away from the tabloid press in the UK, especially when one of its members is the lead item on the BBC news. The Daily Express and its sister paper, the Daily Star, have been fined 500,000 pounds for libelling the McCanns by printing untrue stories about their involment in the disappearance of their daughter Maddie in the Algarve. I’d hazard a guess no Portuguese rag faces this risk.

The tabloid-driven sensationalist stamp of the British media made it inevitable yesterday that all other news would be elbowed aside so we could listen to Paul McCartney’s ex making a complet fool of herself - not for the first time - on the steps of the court which had just issued judgement in their divorce case. My suspicion is he’d have been prepared to pay ten times 25m quid to get shut of her. But she at least had the sense to say the British media could now concentrate on something more interesting than their divorce. Not a huge challenge, of course.

The tabloid press may well be egregious but it’s nonetheless powerful. At a time when crime is actually reducing in the UK, its scare stories account for a widespread belief it’s growing rapidly. In fact, its incessant beating of the paedophile drum probably lay behind the strange looks I got from teachers as I sat in my car today waiting for my daughter to emerge from the school where she teaches. I’m probably on a register or two by now. Or my car is. As a suspicious Spaniard!

Talking of divorce - Back in Spain, the application rate tends to rise steeply around this time of year. The suspicion is it’s driven by ambitious parents cranking up the points obtainable by their ‘disadvantaged’ kids in their school of choice. Needs must, I suppose.

The printer saga: Carrefour France have written me a non-commital sort of letter asking for more information and ending, would you believe, with Have a nice day! In French, of course.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

In Santander's Cathedral there's alleged to be a 'Pillar of Absolution', the base of which is a Muslim trough inscribed in Arabic. A trophy of war, in other words. If anyone knows exactly where this is to be found, perhaps they could let me know. After two fruitless tours of the cathedral, the cloister and the crypt, I asked an attendant and was assured it was inside the church itself. As I was completing my third tour of this, he approached and assured me it was actually the font. As this bore no relation whatsoever to the photo in my guide and was missing the Arabic verse on the purity of water, I decided it was time to give up.

Brittany Ferries have clearly hit on the idea of promoting 'mini cruises' which give travellers two days at sea and about three hours in Santander. Mostly, I'd guess, at the 'duty free' shop in the ferry terminal, where the prices are truly outrageous. At least by Spanish standards. Anyway, last time I did the Santander-Plymouth run, the ship was full of kids on half term. This time it was packed with West Country folk who appear to inhabit a time warp. I appreciate this sounds cruel but what else can you say about men who model themselves on the TV character Lovejoy? Complete with mullet hairdo. The worst of them were the loudmouths who drank and cursed like troopers. And these were the women. God knows what the impeccable French staff make of them all. It must surely make them worry about the Cornish-Breton connection.

In the USA, the gaol population stands at 750 per 100,000. No country in Europe comes close to this but Britain leads the local field at 149. Germany is 93, Turkey 91, France 85 and Italy a mere 67. Surprisingly, Spain ranks only just behind the UK at 146. More convergence.

I leave you with the key philosophical issue of the day - Am I the only Brit who can resist the temptation of a cooked breakfast? If so, this may explain why I was one of the few people on the Pont Avon who didn't appear to be at least overweight. And on that smug, self-congratulatory note, I'll leave you for the night. Put it down to tiredness.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Another gentle trip to Santander. The inevitable new motorway bit this time was a stretch of the A8 between Vilalba and the A6, near Lugo.

This may not be a long post. I'm sitting in front of a screen which is flickering so much I'll probably have an epileptic fit before my half hour is up.

A radio discussion this morning suggested 1.5m Spaniards [3% of the population] are asexual. If true, there must be numerous reasons why people would not be interested in sex. But I doubt that one of them is that Spain is still teeming with nuns. As for the priests . . . tradition has it that these have never been asexual in Spain.

The Spanish government has asked for Gibraltar to go back on the black list of fiscal havens, as it isn't helping with the prosecution of criminals on the Costa del Sol. This is bad, of course, but I wonder whether next-door Andora is any more cooperative.

Galicia Facts

You'll all be asking whether the Indian restaurant in Pontevedra has a no-smoking secion. Well . . . No.

I referred recently to the export of boats. It turns out that there are yards all long the coast and not, as I thought, just in Ferrol. Even Pontevedra [alright, Marin] has a few. I know this because the owner of one has just been arrested for having a 40 metre luxury yacht that is not compatible with his declared income and assets. As the local paper reported, some of these guys just can't resist showing off.

My eve-of-deaparture squid and Albariño were rather disturbed by the noise of one of the first processions of Holy Week. But, truth to tell, I've enjoyed religious demonstrations in Muslim, Hindu and Catholic countries and all of them fascinate me. Mostly because of the theatre and the spectacle. But there's also the spur to human creativity they provide.

Must finish and check for printer developments . . .

Sunday, March 16, 2008

It strikes me that Cataluña and Scotland have more than a couple of things in common right now, apart from the fact they’re best buddies because of shared independence goals within their governments. The left-of-centre central governments in both Spain and the UK only retain power because of seats held in Cataluña and Scotland, respectively. I guess if it weren’t for fear of the power of precedent, the PP and Tory parties would be kissing them goodbye.

The Palma politico who spent €50,000 on male prostitutes in two years, turns out to have been a pillar of the Catholic church and a man who refused to preside over gay marriages. I’d be prepared to bet he is/was a member of the Opus Dei secret society. Nice to see that hypocrisy is not confined, as the Spaniards appear to think, to Brits. By the way, his name is de Santos. Or Saintly, I guess. This explains why he has re-paid the money. Which was just lying around, it seems.

Things change. Views change. Societies change. Listening to a BBC discussion of the classic 1914 American film Birth of a Nation, I heard one critic say the people who’d made it hadn’t the slightest appreciation it was not just racist but appallingly so. Albeit astonishingly well directed. I shall think of this whenever in future anyone tells me here they’re not racist and were merely joking when they upset whomever they upset.

Galicia Facts

With the elections well over, life has returned to normal. The spat over the re-location of displaced gypsies between the mayors of Pontevedra and neighbouring Poio appears to be shifting towards outright war. The street demonstrations against gypsies – more accurately against ‘drug trafficking’ – have moved to the centre of Pontevedra. Meanwhile, the gypsies in question have moved back to the encampment near me, into houses erected where their illegal homes were knocked down a month or so ago.

The new Indian restaurant here in Pontevedra was a disappointment. Not bad in some ways but, as in the Vigo Indian, dishes described as sweet on the menu were unbearingly so. I wonder if this is an attempt to Hispanicise/Galicianise them. The usual way, of course, is to remove anything that makes the dishes hot [picante].

I seem to have got my wishes about the Portuguese workers who’ve been clogging up the street with their cars for more than two years. They appear to have disappeared from the building site opposite my house. But whether this is because their work is done, or because money has run out or because we’re in a holiday week, I can’t tell. For whatever reason, work appears to have ground to a near-halt.

The Portuguese economy has been in a bad way for some time now. So I wasn’t surprised to read that more than 50% of the workers on the nearby tracks for the twelfth-of-never high speed train [the AVE] are from Portugal. Not did I fall over when reading that 1. they’re paid a third less than their Spanish colleagues, 2. they’re denied the benefits given to the latter, and 3. the site boss was reluctant to let them be interviewed.

Asked whether they thought zebra crossing provided enough protection for pedestrians, 95% of the readers of the Voz de Galicia opined that they didn’t. Of the 5% who thought they did, 50% have since been run over.

See – Two days now without news of the printer. Which is, of course, because there isn’t any.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I occasionally write about prostitution, something which it’s hard to avoid being aware of in modern Spain. Just in case there’s any doubt, I don’t share the attitude of those of my Spanish friends who think it’s an integral part of a ‘fun’ life. And this is an article with a viewpoint I share.

Is Mr Zapatero a president or a prime minister? I ask because he’s regularly referred to as both of these, though not at the same time.

Crime News: The policemen arrested down on the Costa del Sol have been accused of various offences – stretching back over years – including those of stealing confiscated property and extorting bribes from criminals. It must be like Chicago in the 1920s down there. At a national level, there’s concern about yet more domestic murders. However, as someone has pointed out, one reason these have such a high profile is that murder generally is nowhere near as common in Spain as it is in other countries.

If you really want to, you can see Spain’s controversial Eurovision entry here. You have to scroll down the page to get to it. At least this latest version seems to centre a little less on the female rear end than the original. As I say, it could very well win.

I’ve just heard the French word ballet pronounced balette on Spain’s classical music station. Fair enough; most foreign words are Hispanicised here. John Wayne, for example, is Juan By-nay. But then I checked the Spanish spelling and found it to be ballet, in which case it should be pronounced bayette. Or, if you’re a really old Castilian, balyette. It all brought to mind the variable pronunciation of another French word chalet. This means not much more than a shack in British English but refers to a semi-detached [duplex] or terraced house [condo] here. It’s pronounced both cha-lay and chalette but is also written both chalé and chalet. Which seems a little more consistent. I won’t bore you with ticket.

Galicia Facts

In various of the regular Our Community v. Your Community reports we get in our local press, I’ve read these facts this week about our region:-
1. It’s the 5th autonomous community when it comes to exports.
2. It’s seen the highest increase in productivity in the last 20 years.
3. It rates worst for the state of health of its inhabitants, thanks to smoking and obesity.

My comments:-
1. I thought the main exports might be fish and wine but they turn out to be cars, ‘fashion’ and boats.
2. The increase in productivity may be an artefact born of a declining population. I read in a national paper yesterday that Galicia’s competitiveness had reduced over the years.
3. Smoking and obesity tend not to go together with at least Pontevedra’s young, stick-thin women.

Good news. Ponters is going international. Again. We have a new Indian restaurant down in Vegetables Square, which I shall be trying tonight. En passant, there’s a vegetarian restaurant in this square too. But, in a struggle to survive, it’s added meat dishes to its menu. Very pragmatically Spanish.

Finally, for those who are kind enough to tune in regularly - Just in case you missed it, yesterday’s post was rather late in the day. And . . . If you could all just get 20 or 30 friends – or even 10 – to read this blog today, I will be able to leave for the UK tomorrow on the back of 100,000 hits. Go on. You can do it . . . See, I haven’t written anything about the bloody printer.

Friday, March 14, 2008

With the election well behind us, the government has admitted it might have been just a tad optimistic about the inflation rate. Which has just hit 4.4%

In the UK, life continues to converge in the direction of that of Spain. A staggering 53% of British men aged 25 are now said to be still living with their parents as . . . they know that Mum will wash their clothes and lend them the taxi fare for a night out, while she fills out their job application forms.

Talking of Spanish families . . . An ex deputy mayor of Palma, Majorca has been accused of spending €50,000 on prostitutes. As if this weren’t bad enough, the money came from the public purse and the whores were male, even though he is [was?] a married man with three daughters. But the affair did provide us with one of those lovely Spanish quotes – this time from his boss, the mayoress. Defending herself against the charge of dereliction of duty, she retorted “I wasn’t his mother!”.

I was going to add a paragraph about how many/few hours €50,000 would have got him - if he'd been otherwise inclined - with Ashley Alexandre Dupre, of New York, and then compare this with how many hours he might have got - in another world - with Mesdames Aguirre and Fernandez de la Vega. But, in the end, I decided this would be in bad taste.

The latest cosmetic surgery development is reported to be something called el implante en el plano subfascial. Apparently this is situated en medio del pectoral, which a Spanish friend tells me translates as ‘Just above the tits’. But I’m a little sceptical about this. And I still have no idea what it is.

Quotes of the Day

Up betimes, this being the first morning of my promise upon a forfeit not to lie in bed a quarter of an hour after my first waking.
Samuel Pepys in his diary, 13 March 1664

This day my wife begun to wear light-coloured locks, quite white almost, which, though it makes her look very pretty, yet not being natural, vexes me, that I will not have her wear them.

The Spanish have a talent for mockery and satire. Not to mention farce. Click here for a good take on the nightmare of dealing with the bureaucracy here. Even if you don’t understand Spanish, there’s an English transcript.

As my Catholic upbringing tells me we must be close to Passion Week, it’s fitting I should write that the favourite phrase of the Spanish to describe such bureaucratic challenges is un calvario. But, really, this is just a cheap and easy way to move to my update on the printer saga. Which is that Epson Spain has pulled the same trick as Carrefour and said that I had a limited time in which to be able to swap the rubbish I was sold for a new machine. However, they did say this was 30 days, against Carrefour’s mere 15. I've told them this is not the law and that, anyway, I started the dialogue with Epson UK within 30 days. From the HQ of Carrefour in France, so far nothing. The battle continues.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

In a fascinating article in the [left-of-centre] Prospect magazine, Ernst Hillebrand tells us that The centre-left parties of western Europe are in retreat. And that One thing at least seems clear. This development marks the end of a political-ideological cycle: the centrist technocratic project known as the "third way" in Britain and the Neue Mitte in Germany. Spain, however, has just re-elected a centre-left party, albeit only with the help of Catalan voters who may or may not want to stay part of Spain. So, are we to conclude that Spain is still different? Or is it just a matter of time? If it’s the latter, perhaps that’s why the Leader of the Opposition insists he’s staying on. In the face of the advice offered to him by El Mundo, which asked whether or not he should stay and then answered its own question in exactly the way you’d have expected.

Of course, the traditional notions of Left and Right are now considered obsolete and unhelpful by many. You can learn more of this view here and, indeed, complete a short survey which will reveal where you stand in the two-dimensional model put forward by Political Compass. You may be surprised.

Talking of El Mundo, one of it columnists yesterday wrote that If hypocrisy is the tribute paid by Vice to Virtue, then over the next few years the PP party is going to resemble the Inland Revenue. As I said, shades of the Tory party.

If you come off the A52 just after Ourense to take the ‘old road’ to Pontevedra, you will shortly pass a place called Las Ninfas de Maside. I have often speculated – once in this blog – as to what it might offer. So I was not totally surprised to read yesterday that the owner had been fined €69,000 and jailed for 13 years for trafficking in women. But I was rather intrigued by the fact this had happened in Brazil. Where there seems to be more concern about these activities than here in Spain. In fact, the ‘club’ had once offered to sponsor the local football team. I think I wrote about this at the time. Though it might have been another brothel. There are a lot of them around.

Galicia Facts

As I regularly say, land has a semi-mystical status here in Galicia and, up in the hills, it’s not unknown for people to kill for it. I heard only last week that the most-reported crime here is a head injury from a hoe. Again, this may be apocryphal. But I do know that one aspect of rural life here is that it’s felt to be wrong to sell any surplus land you have, no matter how much prices have risen. This is because all your neighbours will assume you have a secret life of vice and are now heavily in debt. My piano teacher added to this knowledge last week by telling me that – in order to prevent their wastrel children selling land – ageing Galicians often leave their property to their grandchildren. At least it stays in the family.

Finally, a couple of postscripts on the printer saga:-

Epson: The UK subsidiary has now given me some helpful advice about exchanging it in Spain and I await a response from the company here. Needless to say, the phone number is premium rate, which is standard practice here.

Carrefour: I’ve just discovered – from the friend who took it in - that the reason given for the [minimum] 4 weeks delay in plugging in and testing my printer is that they will wait for other products to be returned so they can send them to the tech service people in a bundle. Could there be any clearer evidence that the business is run – in contravention of legal obligations - for its own convenience? And that customer service/satisfaction is low on their priority list?

Strange to relate, I’ve remembered an earlier example of Carrefour’s attitude to its customers. A few years ago, I took back a light fitting that was faulty. They replaced it immediately but the second one was also crocked. They were willing to replace this too and asked me to get another from the shelf. Guess what I found there. Yep, the first one. And when I went back and checked later, the second one was also there. Screw the customer. I should have known.

But not everyone in Spain is like this, of course. I had an excellent chat with Epson’s agent in Vigo yesterday. And on Tuesday, the Rover dealer treated me - as they always have - with consummate civility, while somehow parlaying a service that should have cost me €81 into a bill for 673. How did they do this? Well, 1. Oil, filter, etc at €149; and 2. ‘preventative’ replacements at €443 . You see, Carrefour – That’s the way to do it! Especially when sales of cars are down. They were even kind enough to give me a 15% discount on the parts. But they could afford to.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Probably my final comment on Sunday’s general election - Over at Iberian Notes, John Chappell has again done a fine job in listing the Anglo takes on the results. As a committed right-winger, John is worried The Guardian shares his perspective. Having read it, I think it also echoes one or two of my own points of yesterday:- The socialists cannot take too much comfort from their victory. Not only are the 169 seats they won 7 short of the 176 needed for an absolute majority but the PP gained 5 more seats and also a record number of votes. Spanish politics became very polarised and parliamentary life very vicious during the last socialist government and it looks as if this will remain so. The country is divided into two solid blocs, and the situation will not be eased by the socialists having to find a parliamentary ally and horse trade among one or more of the regional parties (whose influence on national political life is out of all proportion to their political weight because of the quirks of the electoral system). So, the times remain interesting.

It’s been said many times that the truly massive influx of immigrants into Spain over the last 5 years – up to 10% of the population of 44m – was essential for the high economic growth the country enjoyed. Very probably true but, with the bubble burst, guess which section of the population is being hardest hit by the downturn. The unemployment forecasts for immigrants – especially in the frozen-rigid construction sector – are horrendous. So it wasn’t hard arriving at the sort of view expressed in the same Guardian article:- Spaniards have so far been remarkably tolerant of immigrants who have flooded into the country over the last decade, as there has been plenty of work for them. But as unemployment rises and state schools and the public health system become even more stretched this tolerance is going to be tested. As I said yesterday, I doubt Mr Z will be enjoying his victory for very long. But neither would have Rajoy, if he’d managed to bring off the unexpected.

On a personal level, if the Portuguese workers on the building site opposite my house should be unfortunate enough to lose their jobs, I will at least be able to park in front of my house again. It’s an ill wind . . .

In the regional election in Andalucia, a fourth or fifth term was granted to the guy who has presided over all the corruption down there for many years now and who appears unable or unwilling to do much about it. Hence today’s headline from the Costa del Crime - Four top National Policemen arrested for corruption in Málaga. You can read the details here. I wonder what it will take to clean up these stables. The voters don’t appear to be terribly concerned about it.

There’s a campaign against the plastic bag in various countries around the world. If they’re banned here, what are we going to put our rubbish in every night before we deposit it in the central container down the street? Will the system have to change? Wheelie bins for all? Buy shares now.

Finally, for those who can stand it - Customer service: Carrefour- Chapter 3. The machine was taken back yesterday because Epson had not provided any helpful advice about correcting the problem. The response was it would ‘probably take 4 weeks’ for Carrefours’ tech service people to get round to plugging it in and checking whether it really is malfunctioning. In Spain - where ‘tomorrow’ can still mean anything - such an estimate is distinctly worrying. Ironically, when I got home, there was a message from Epson saying it certainly looked as if the machine was crocked and I should contact a local Epson repair centre. My resolution to never again buy anything from either Epson or Carrefour has not weakened much in the past 24 hours. But let’s see if either of the head offices respond. Can’t say I’m optimistic.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It’s far too soon for all the implications of Sunday’s election results to be fully known but it certainly looks as if Cataluña will play an even larger role in the determination of Spain’s destiny as a plural state. Which, in some ways, seems a tad ironic for a nationalist/separatist region. For one thing, the hard-left and less moderate nationalist parties both suffered a sizeable defeat there, which favours both the minority-governing socialist PSOE party and the moderate Catalan nationalist party, the CiU. On the other hand, I read this morning that the Catalan branch of the PSOE will veto any attempt by the PSOE government to forge a coalition with the CiU. So it’s anyone’s guess how strange the bedfellows will be once all the horse-trading is done. Perhaps the President of the Galician Nationalist Party really will be able to parlay his two seats into a pivotal role after all. He certainly thinks so. “The BNG will play a decisive role many times in this legislature”, he was quoted as saying yesterday. Not bad when you have the support of only 12% of the people even in your Galician heartlands. Political reform anyone?

Meanwhile, a few random observations:-
- The turnout was as high as last time, around 75%. Far more than in, say, Britain.
- The ETA shooting of a PSOE member may have contributed a little to this.
- The results were out remarkably quickly after the 8pm closure of the polling stations
- These were published in impressive national and regional detail in the papers the following morning. [Actually, I think I’ll invent ‘sub-national’ for ‘regional’, if someone hasn’t beaten me to it].
- In a telegenic age, it was always going to be No Contest between the PSOE’s ‘Bambi’ Zapatero and the PP’s Rajoy. Even without the rumours that Rajoy is slack-wristed. The TV debates were a mistake in principle and a disaster in practice.
- Commentators may be right that Spain has moved a little more towards a true two-party system. Unless the one-seat triumph in Madrid of a new centre-party is the harbinger of much bigger things to come. Which is rather doubtful.
- As ever, it’s clear that large numbers of people in Spain really do believe you can only be a socialist [and good] or fascist [and very, very bad]. I guess it’ll be a while yet before nuances are permitted.
- The disappearance of the Catholic Church – or at least its muzzling – would be useful in this regard.

Of course, the other big election of the last week was that of Spain’s contestant for the Eurovision song contest. The winner is so bizarre one’s forced to conclude the Spanish have reached the only sensible conclusion possible around this dreadful event and decided to take the piss. If not, they could well win.

Events shouldn’t take too long to wipe the smile off Mr Zapatero’s face. Forecasts for 2008 economic growth – as I’ve said before – decline almost every week. The latest are for 2% or even the EU average of only 1.8%, the first time Spain will have been this low for 10 or 15 years. I don’t suppose the Minister of the Economy here is too pleased about the rise of the euro against other currencies but, of course, there’s nothing he can do about it.

I thought I’d share with you this comment posted by a reader [Anonimo] yesterday. This may or may not be the same chap who’s been sending similar, albeit milder, thoughts recently: You don't like Carrefour? Then go to Tesco. You don't like Spain? Go to your fucking country. I don't mind immigration, but the Brits are the worst scum. If you read the comments to any blog in English on Spain, you’ll inevitably come across similar sentiments from aggrieved Spaniards. So, I wonder if Spanish bloggers writing in the UK get similar treatment from the Brits they upset. If there are any.

Anyway, his mention of Carrefour allows me to segue smoothly – for those interested – into . . . Customer service: Carrefour- Chapter 2
I send in the cavalry, in the form of my friend the lawyer.

MFTL: My friend who spoke to you on Saturday needs a printer and is prepared to forgo his demand for cash and to accept an exchange
Assistant: No, we can’t do that as he came more than 15 days after purchase.
MFTL: This is irrelevant. Under Clause 5 of the relevant Article, he has the right to opt for either a repair or an exchange.
Assistant: Well, OK. But [master stroke] we need to check that the machine is broken. So he has to bring back the printer and leave it with us, so that we can send it to our technical service people.
MFTL: But why, when he has a right to a replacement and this will leave him without the printer he needs, possibly for weeks.
Assistant: Well that’s all we’re willing to do. If it really is broken, we will replace it. [Message: There’s a good chance he’s lying. The logic of which escapes me].

This is more or less what I expected. As to the next development, my guess is they’ll say either:-
1. the machine was misused by me,
2. the machine was damaged when I brought it from my house to the store, or
3. it was indeed malfunctioning but they have fixed it.
Only in the last case will I get a working printer back, possibly weeks from now. But it won’t be the new one the law says I’m entitled to. But, then, in a place where the cogwheels of justice grind exceedingly slow, the law does not have quite the respect it does elsewhere. And customer orientation suffers as a result.

Of course, the real losers in this will be Carrefour and Epson. I can easily afford to buy another printer from another manufacturer and I will never shop at Carrefour again in my life. At 40 euros a week minimum, this is €2,000 a year. Nor will I ever buy an Epson product ever again. So, this saga-ette has been translated into French and sent to the head office of both companies. This might achieve nothing but it has cost nothing, except the time in which I am rich. And you never know. Some companies would respond immediately. Though these may well be confined to the Anglosphere.

And maybe some of you will draw a conclusion from this and buy your electrical goods from a place other than Carrefour. But, if the head office turns up trumps, I will let you know.

Monday, March 10, 2008

In line with all expectations, the socialist PSOE party won yesterday’s general election but again didn’t achieve an absolute majority. Both the PSOE and the right-of-centre PP party increased their share of the vote and each gained another 5 seats. All of this was at the expense of left-wing and nationalist parties. The most likely coalition partner for the PSOE is felt to be the moderate Catalan nationalist party CiU. Whether there’s been any substantive change in Spain’s political landscape, I’m not qualified to judge. But I suspect not. The crumbs of comfort for the PP party are the said increase in votes and seats and some inroads into the PSOE’s stronghold in Andalucia. These will probably justify Mr Rajoy clinging onto the leadership while an internecine battle for his job rages between his Madrid colleagues. The Tory party revisited.

By the way, since Andalucia is a byword for corruption, I suppose it’s clear why the government didn’t address this subject in its campaigning.

An American writer has suggested the Brits are the most unhappy people on earth. Not content unless they’re miserable. I suspect many Spaniards would go along with this, apart from those who – while disdaining stereotypes of the Spanish – see all Brits as ooligans.

Galicia Facts

The Galician Nationalist Party, the BNG, slightly increased its percentage of the vote here. This is more than any other nationalist party but their seats won’t increase from two. What will happen to the Pontevedra seat depends on the hundreds of thousand of overseas votes which won’t be known until later this week. All in all, I doubt that this will assist the BNG President’s aim of becoming a lever of power in Madrid.

These elections were seen here as a Primary for next year’s regional elections. So, for what it’s worth, the PP remained the largest party but lost votes and one seat to the PSOE. As I say, the BNG increased its vote marginally, by 0.7%. Which I would have thought would be welcome but rather disappointing for them.

As I passed the polling stations yesterday, it struck me it was perhaps a bit anachronistic these days that as a property-owning, taxpaying resident I don’t have a vote in the national elections. But I guess this is the case in most countries. On the other hand, I can’t imagine that 500,000 Australians have a vote in the British elections simply because their grandparents emigrated there a hundred years ago.

My piano teacher was rather late for the lesson on Friday evening. He then spent 20 minutes – he’s Argentinean – confessing how dumbfounded he was at how things were here. He’d been to talk to a lawyer about the consequences of the death of his mother-in-law on the property she and her husband owned. As he doesn’t read my blog, what Alex couldn’t understand was the fact the five children of the couple didn’t speak to each other and so knew nothing of their parents’ financial position. Nor were they aware they’d have to pay a tax on the inheritance of a small piece of land that would now be split into five even tinier plots. Galicia’s famous minifundios. After he’d calmed down a bit, Alex then went on to amuse me with an account of how, twenty or thirty years ago, saline coastal strips of land had been left to the idle members of a family as it was known they wouldn’t work any good land. Now, of course, this is worth a fortune and los vagos of the family are cashing in. But, in one case along the coast, a massive development was being held up because a woman in her 80s was refusing to sell – at any price – the thin strip needed for access. The reason for her rejection of all offers was that the owner’s grandfather had denied access to hers for his cows over a hundred years ago. How we laughed. I could write a book. The title would perhaps be the phrase a Galician once used to explain some extraordinary behaviour of a neighbour. Cuando son raros los Gallegos, son muy, muy raros.

Before anyone writes in, I acknowledge this tale may be apocryphal. But telling, nonetheless.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The EU Commission has announced – to no one’s great surprise – that the steps taken by the Spanish government to block the takeover of an energy company by Germany’s EON were illegal. As were the same conditions imposed when Madrid later allowed an alternative merger involving an Italian company. So, what will happen now? Probably nothing, of course. Though the Chairman of EON has mumbled about getting back the €288 million[?] spent on the abortive venture. Vamos a ver. Maybe he will content himself with his comment that, to do anything in Spain, you need political friends. Well, if he didn’t previously know that you have to be enchufado here, then he had no business trying to do business here.

My neighbour collared me yesterday to ask whether I was having problems with my ADSL as he and another neighbour were getting no line from Telefonica and, on top of that, were finding it impossible to get away from them to try someone else. I sympathised and said things could have been worse. There’d been a letter in the Voz de Galicia yesterday saying that, up in Carral here in Galicia, they’d received nothing except a phone [which they’d paid for] and the promise of a line within 15 days. And this had been three years ago. I imagine there is much gnashing of teeth here when Spaniards read of Telefonica’s success at becoming the most profitable phone operator in the world. Perhaps they have friends in politics.

Customer service: Carrefour- Chapter 1
Me: I bought a printer a month ago and it isn’t working so I’d like to have my money back.
1st Assistant: [Without talking to me, speaking into a mike] Appliance assistant to the Information Desk, please.
2nd Assistant: Yes, what’s the problem.?
Me: I bought a printer, etc. [Explain problems].
2nd Assistant: Have you spoken with Epson?
Me: Yes, I have and none of their suggestions work. So I’d like to have my money back.
2nd Assistant: That’s not possible.
Me: Yes it is. I know the law.
2nd Assistant: OK, please wait here.
Me: Why?
2nd Assistant: I won’t be long.
2nd Assistant: OK, you have to bring the printer in so we can send it to the technical service people
Me: [Unwilling to wait the weeks/months this will take] No, I need a printer now. I’d like the money back, please, so I can buy a different printer.
2nd Assistant: No, we won’t do that as it’s more than 15 days since you bought it.
Me: That’s irrelevant under the law.
2nd Assistant: Well, that’s all we’re prepared to do.
Me: That’s not good enough. I’m going to take this to El Consumo [Consumer Affairs ministry of the local government].
2nd Assistant: Fine. No pasa nada [It doesn’t matter].

More anon, after I’ve been back on Monday with my friend, the lawyer. Meanwhile, I have to say it was all done so professionally that I suspect the Assistant [for lack of a better word] must have had formal training in obstructionism. Which rather contrasts with the obvious lack of training in customer orientation for the more junior staff who pack the shelves or serve at the check-outs. Mind you, they’re better than at Carrefour’s cheap sister shop, Día. I very much doubt the French parent company would be proud of either place. Or is it me?

As I occasionally report bad things about the still-growing-well Spanish economy, I feel it’s only right I quote these lines from an observer of the British scene, ahead of the annual Budget Speech in Parliament this week: The chancellor will place all the blame [for the plight of the British economy] on the US sub-prime housing market. But the challenge for any government’s economic policy is not how it copes when the rest of world is growing strongly, as it has over the past 15 years, but rather how it copes when times are tough. The credit crunch is international in reach, but it is Britain that, according to most observers, is the least well prepared. We did not fix the roof when the sun was shining. I suspect a few people would say much the same charge can be placed at the door of Mr Zapatero and his government. So, for those Brits lining up to leave the UK and pondering Spain as an option, what they have to decide is whether they would be leaping from the frying pan into the fire. As if it wasn’t bad enough having to deal with the rise of the euro and the regular reports of Spanish land-grab measures.

Right on cue - after my mention of estate agents yesterday - I see that the one I walk past every day has closed down. Time for another mini-survey?

It hasn’t been a good day so far. I discovered this morning that my Google toolbar entries had all disappeared. And I’ve just found that all the Bookmarks/Favourites that I’ve spent years building up have also vanished. Don’t you just love technology? Or is it just me?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The final afternoon of campaigning for the general election on Sunday was suspended by all parties after ETA murdered another politician by shooting him in the back of the head, in front of his wife and daughter. The consensus seems to be this won’t have much of an impact on the results, though it will be ironic if it does. Especially if it helps the right-of-centre PP, which suffered greatly the last time round. Albeit after shooting itself in all available limbs.

I see the BBC report says it’s expected that ETA will claim responsibility for this murder in due course. Why do they use the word ‘claim’ when ‘admit’ would be a far more appropriate word? Do embezzlers ‘claim’ responsibility for the lesser crime of pocketing a few thousand? Even a few million? Do I claim responsibility for all my DIY cock-ups?

This question allows me to report that the Spanish for ‘to claim’ – pretender – is something of a false friend. Apart from ‘to claim’, it also means ‘to intend’ and ‘to mean’. The only English similar usages I can think of are in ‘I don’t pretend to know the answer’ and ‘The pretender to the throne’. Both of which have the ‘claim’ element. If you want to convey the English word ‘pretend’ in Spanish, you have to use fingir or similar. The latter clearly comes from the same Latin route as ‘simulate’ and I wonder if fingir is related to ‘feign’.

Talking of language - Back in the UK, my younger daughter is a teacher by vocation. And a very good one. But she’s thinking of quitting after only two years because of everything in British education that now gets in the way of controlling a classroom, never mind actually teaching. I was reminded of this when reading these words on the impact of the Labour administration’s socially-progressive micro-management on the work of charity trustees:- The other day, I was sitting in a very long meeting of the board of a charity. We were trying to wrestle with government requirements to show what our "policy" was on various matters. A "policy", you must understand, is not a simple thing any more. It is not just a statement like: "We aim to provide residential care for the elderly" or "We try to cure children with spinal injuries" (or whatever). Nor is it just a statement of specific rules such as "No alcohol may be consumed on the premises" or "Pupils need not wear school uniform in the sixth form". No, a policy has to be a lengthy document on anything that the Government thinks important. It must set out aims, procedures, targets, monitoring, assessment, evaluation and so on. Depending slightly on what sort of organisation you are, you must have policies on health and safety, access, disability, recruitment, transparency, energy efficiency, environmental health, etc, etc. To get money, pass inspections, avoid litigation, be accepted as a charity - virtually to exist at all - you must keep your "policies" in constant repair, all shipshape and Whitehall fashion. To survive, you really need to have a policy about your policies. . . Phrases that now come to us from government and public bodies seemed to take physical form before me. Thick and fast they crowded in. "Best practice", "diversity", "gender", "sustainability", "community", "ethnicity", "governance", "delivery", "targeting", "orientation", "timelines", "resources", "empowerment", "renewables", "compliance", "strategies" and "wheelchair access" all hurried into my mental room. "Rolling programmes", unable to maintain their "work/life balance" in the absence of a "level playing field", sprawled in the corner. All were escorted by "key workers", "work colleagues", "care workers", "user groups", "mentors" (their "mentees" trotting eagerly along behind them), "service providers", "diversity champions", "stakeholders", "key drivers" (though these seemed not to be people) and many varieties of "partners", including those with experience of the "sharp end" or the "front line". Some of them said they couldn't stay long because they were busy "managing outcomes" Once they were all present and politically correct, they became somewhat insistent in their demands. They had been "tasked", they explained, to "identify needs" by "addressing the issues around" my failure to understand the concepts adequately. They were concerned about my "skills gap", which might "adversely impact" my "life-chances". For their part, they were "committed to excellence", which must be "world-class". To "meet the challenge" I represented, they felt, required "risk assessments", "constant monitoring" and possibly a "raft of measures", "going forward". Theirs, they said, was "a stretching offer" in the "time period", as well as an "iterative process", and would require a "coherent evidence trail" in order to effect the necessary "knowledge transfer" from the "Knowledge Bank". But they thought it could all be provided at a "one-stop shop". My response "might be monitored for training purposes", and, obviously, "benchmarked" to see if I had absorbed the "learnings". If there was anything I did not understand, they were "happy to have that conversation", "non-judgmentally".

As in education, this is counter-productive lunacy. And vibrant evidence of the fact that the UK at least is living through the Age of the Bureaucrat. It will end in tears. I hope.

Whether the English language will ever recover from this assault is an open question. I only wish Orwell were here to write about it. And about idiots who’ve clearly never read his celebrated essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’. If you can’t face the whole thing, here’s an apposite quote – Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. How depressing to see how much worse things have got since he wrote this sixty years ago, in 1946. In my lifetime, in short.

Galicia Facts

To end on a lighter note – If you’re going to be anywhere near Pontevedra, you should go to the main square to visit a lovely little exhibition on the pre-Roman Iberians. Whom we would presumably call the Ancient Iberians, by analogy with the Ancient Britons. If you enter via the Entrada to follow the displays in the intended order, be warned that a percentage of the locals prefers to enter via the Salida and come the other way. God knows why. Unless it’s just an obsession with ignoring rules and norms.

But, if and when they bump into you, they will at least apologise profusely. I like to engender these clashes just for the thrill of this. It compensates for a lot.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Bit of a brouhaha today over the publication by a Catalan paper of poll results, which is an illegal act here during the week before voting. The story is covered by the UK’s Times in an article which, surprisingly, was the most read item on line at 7.15 UK time. Possibly all those Top People using blackberries [whatever they are] on the train. In the [many] Comments to this report, you can see the traditional view from the Left that anyone who criticises the socialist PSOE party must be a fascist. What comforting certainty. Interestingly, most of these comments come from Spaniards around the world. I guess this is because they still see The Times as the paper it last was a few decades ago. And, as you’d expect if you knew anything about Spanish politics, the word ‘liar’ crops up a lot.

Sorry to keep plugging the Times but there’s a worrying article there today – by the Professor of Information Systems at the LSE - about the risks inherent in the UK government’s ID card plans. If I had any plans to return, I’d scrap them now.

Down in Evora, there’s an estate agent [realtor] called OnlyWay. Here in Spain, there are many thousands of estate agents which should probably be called TheOnlyWayIsDown. But one shouldn’t make fun of the walking dead. Even if they do charge 3 to 6% for doing bugger all. And became very rich on it over the last 10 years.

Which reminds me – As with English, there’s no word in Spanish for schadenfreude. Nor in French, I’m assured. This must surely tell us something. Apart from the fact that, if it takes 20 seconds to get across the meaning in English, it must take up to minute in Spanish. Only joking. It’s alegría por el mal ajeno. As against malicious glee. Possibly.

Galicia Facts

During a BBC podcast the other day, it was suggested Shakespeare’s King Lear might not have gone down well at its first performance. This is because he’d removed the Hollywood ending from an old folktale, to leave the stage swimming in corpses and blood and the audience in numbed shock. But, when it was added that the essence of the play was a life and death struggle between family members for land, I realised it would still go down a storm in any Galician village. As more topical than any soap opera currently on TV. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were discovered that, like Christopher Columbus, Will had been born not in Stratford-upon-Avon but here in Poio. Or Chickenland to us residents.

As proof, I see that Bardo means playwright in Gallego. Ancient Gallego, that is. Apparently, the word was brought here by the British traders who settled in Bretoña, up near A Coruña, in the 6th century. Honest. Check it out here.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

It’s reported that the number of sharks off the Barcelona coast has risen significantly in the last few years. If this is a good thing, this will be down to excellent Catalan government. If it’s bad, it’ll surely be the fault of Madrid. With a nationalist government in power, the Scots are going to see a lot of this sort of thing over the coming years.

The ‘two week’ election period is drawing to a close. By Monday morning we’ll know the stamp of the government which is going to have to wrestle with the challenges of an economy growing considerably less rapidly than in the past 10 years or so and which will no longer mask other important problems. I quoted a few days ago the figures for new property permits over the last three years. And now we have those for housing starts over the last five, plus the construction industry’s forecast for this year. So . . .
03: 690k
04: 740k
05: 786k
06: 910k
07: 689k
08: 200k
It’s hardly surprising, then, that forecasts of unemployment in the construction sector are particularly bad. In fact, over the last six months they’ve gone from 239,000 to 305,000.

John Chappell over at Iberia Notes yesterday gave links to many of the Anglo takes on Spain’s election, and on the TV debates in particular. And you can get a trenchant view of the latter at the Puerta del Sol blog. I particularly liked this comment from Newsweek:- The two parties and their leaders behave "like 17th-century armies where one side shoots, then reloads while the other side shoots," says a political analyst at a Spanish bank. As a consequence, says William Chislett, the author of several books on Spain, "the level of disenchantment with the political system is at an all-time high." All in all, it hasn’t been an edifying spectacle and, if the right-of-centre PP party fails to win, it will have no one else to blame but itself for a poor campaign. Doubtless, there will then be blood on the carpet. Apart from that, perhaps the economy bombed too soon. As it were. People are still only too willing to blame the nasty, stupid Americans for the downturn, rather than Mr Z.

But, hey ho, someone else is always worse off. The Zimbabwean dollar has fallen to 25 million to one US dollar. With inflation at 100,000%, Zimbabweans now need to exchange about 19 kilos in weight of their own currency to secure just one $100 note. It would be funny if people weren’t dying of starvation there.

And talking of people suffering – though this time from self-inflicted wounds – here’s a bizarre site where you indulge a macabre desire to place a bet on the date at which Amy Winehouse finally pays the price for her own indulgences. As you can see, it has a Chose your ‘girlfriend’ link. I’m rather doubtful about this, while appreciating its appeal to some of those who hit this blog.

One gets used to reading and hearing of the extraordinary lengths to which Spanish parents will go to mollycoddle their offspring but I have to admit I was a tad surprised to see the Director of Prisons had built a flat for her daughter in the HQ of the relevant organisation. Her defence was even more astonishing – “It’s only a small flat. And I’ve got a right to live with my daughter". So it’s a good job she doesn’t have five or ten kids. Not that traditional, then.

If the EU now has a concerted foreign policy, what on earth is the French President doing trying to mediate between Colombia and Venezuela? Is he really only there because the lifts in his shoes make him taller than most of the people he will meet? Or is he compensating for the fact that Mrs Merkel has recently hit his Mediterranean Union firmly on the head?

Galicia Facts

Yet another kamikaze driver was arrested on the A6 between La Coruña and Lugo yesterday, after going 13km down the wrong side of the motorway. As he was only 42, we can probably rule out senility in this case. He was, of course, three times over the drink limit. But we can probably add tiredness to inebriation as a likely cause, as it was 6 in the morning when he was stopped.

In one of those endless region v. region comparisons which fill Spanish papers, we learn that Galicia is at the top end of the scale for wasp and bee stings. You’ve been warned. Property stings, on the other hand, tend to take place at the other end of the country. Or nation of nations, if you prefer.