Saturday, May 31, 2008

Oh, dear. Media mention of the R word [recession] has immediately been followed - logically enough - by that of the S word [stagflation]. Except that it’s the E word in Spanish - for estanflación. As a leader in El Mundo put it – “It’s not as if just some of the economic indicators were bad. They’re all bad. And at the same time”. In fact, it’s now being suggested Spain’s economic woes will be worse than anywhere else in Europe. And the pain in Spain is refusing to stay mainly on the plain. Consumer confidence is almost off the bottom of the chart, possibly because most Spanish knew in their heart-of- hearts how flimsily based their economic boom was. And they bow to no one in their ability to shift overnight from excessive optimism to panic-edged pessimism. Mind you, they do have good cause. For a start, inflation here is higher than elsewhere, partly because the increases in foodstuff prices outstrip those in other European countries. For which I’ve yet to see an explanation. All in all, the feelbad factor at the moment is in danger of becoming self-servingly overwhelming. They’ve even switched off the air conditioning in my regular bar-café. So I now sweat over my reduced-quality tapas. Was the London blitz this bad?

Fascinating – The dangerous Venezuelan buffoon, President Chavez, has actually replaced President Bush as the most disliked American politico in Spain. Quite an achievement. But thoroughly merited. Especially in view of his financial support for the FARC terrorist group in Colombia.

As I reported at the time, Telefonica recently announced it's scrapping its existing [piss-poor] broadband service to Spain’s rural communities and replacing it with something better. Asked whether they believed this would happen in Galicia, 94% of the readers of the Voz de Galicia said they didn’t. That’s a reputation to be proud of, isn’t it? But, if you’re a highly profitable quasi-monopoly used to doing exactly what you liked, why should you care?. Even if the EU is trying to get you to pay a humongous fine, levied for abuse of a dominant position. Over in the UK, that other highly unpopular Spanish monopoly - Ferrovial – looks like being less fortunate, as it faces the break-up of the BAA airports operation it bought a year or two back. But, as this was financed by ever-more expensive debt totalling almost €12 billion, this might actually be a bit of relief for them. Especially as the credit crunch has closed off refinancing options. Meanwhile, they’ve made a handsome turn on flogging off the duty-free shops to an Italian company and so turned in highly increased profits for 2007. Which looks rather like poor timing to me. But probably inescapable.

An enterprising thief recently used the scaffolding around the lovely Peregrina church in central Pontevedra to get access to and then make off with the copper wire that ran up to the lightening conductor. I guess he was eventually caught as, otherwise, we wouldn’t know he was a dastardly Frenchman. Is there any other sort?

Finally – My commiserations to those in the UK who experienced floods yesterday after I’d said May had been a very dry month there. And my congratulations to the good folk of southern Galicia, who had sun yesterday and who awoke [or returned home] this morning to a glorious dawn. Time to cut the overgrown lawns and hedges. Under one of which, incidentally, one of the local semi-wild felines has given birth to three kittens. Well, they wouldn’t be puppies, would they? Nice for the rats to have something to compete with.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Just to follow up one item in yesterday’s blog – There was, in fact, at least one very funny item in yesterday’s Spanish press. It was a cartoon in ABC which made the point that the internal manoeuvrings in the fissiparous, right-of-centre PP party are essentially onanistic. I wanted to reproduce it in my blog but it didn’t show up on yesterday’s internet edition [though other cartoons did] and I can’t get it from the archives today. I wonder why. Too hard-hitting?

And following up on the subject of British hypocrisy, here’s a teaser article by David Runciman ahead of the publication of his book on the subject. It contains some marvellous quotations from Orwell, who – says Runciman – shows us that the only escape from the most corrosive forms of hypocrisy is to ensure that other forms of hypocrisy are unavoidable.

Here in Spain, autovia [motorway] exit lanes sometimes serve as access lanes as well. As I’m a tad confused on this, I’d welcome advice from someone who’s recently passed his/her test as to who has priority when a clash looms. In theory, at least. An insight into roundabout protocol would also be of interest. And a bit of a laugh, I suspect.

By and large, I’m very impressed by Google and use their services extensively. But the organisation is clearly not perfect and it irritates me by quoting my blog output [in Google Reader] as a measly 6.1 a week. And that’s not all! When I use Google Alerts for weekly updates on news articles and blogs on Galicia, it regularly fails to cite mine. If I were paying anything for their services, I might just go elsewhere. Though this would mean foregoing the 60c a day I make from the ads. Better think about it.

Finally – Rumour has it the UK has had its best May since records began. Here in Spain, it’s been one of the worst. I guess it’s the old high pressure-low pressure thing; the former is stuck over the UK and the latter over us, inviting the water-laden south west winds to visit us on a daily basis. The Spanish meteorological office tells us today, doubtless with smug satisfaction, that this May has not been as wet as that of 1971. Which is bugger-all consolation when you’ve sat under the Atlantic Blanket for an entire month. Ryan says he’s contemplating suicide. I’ve told him he has a point. And phoned the galgo rescue centre in Benavente.

The Anglo Galician Association – open to all who speak English – now has a Forum on the web. If you have a query about Galicia, why not register and post it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Positive as I try to be, it’s getting increasingly hard to avoid mention of Spain’s rapidly deteriorating economy. ABC’s headline this morning screams that the housing market is drowning and that as many as 2.2 million jobs are at risk. The dread R word [recession] has even made its first appearance. Which probably explains why it was bloody mushrooms for tapas again today. And which, when I pulled a face, were replaced by a plate of unappetising cheese, instead of the jamon I usually get. This can’t go on. Let’s get this recession over and done with.

Talking of property – ABC also reports today that the agency set up to help young people rent flats by the woman who subsequently became Minister for the Armed Forces has turned into a fiasco. Let’s hope she has more luck in her new position. Otherwise we can forget Perejil island.

And still talking about the press – The head barman brought me the Correo Gallego today and asked me to explain a joke he was having difficulty finding funny. A man was searching for English lessons but everything was too expensive. Eventually he heard of a place charging only one euro an hour. So he called it and asked if this was true. To which the answer was [In English] – If, if. Between, between. After some reflection, I said I thought it was a play on the Spanish words Sí/Si [Yes/If] and entre [Come in/Between]. So? he asked, shrugging his shoulders. ‘Yes, not at all funny’, I replied. But I will have to leave it to experts to advise whether this is Spanish or Galician humour. Or just not humour at all. As we know it, Jim.

Recent correspondence with readers has thrown up the word hypocrisy, something which the British are said to be renowned for. Coincidentally, I’ve heard two BBC programs recently about a book by David Runciman in which he distinguishes between good and bad hypocrisy and says all societies need a modicum of the former. He says that George Orwell made a similar distinction between the good sort of hypocrisy which stopped Britain becoming a dictatorship in the 1930s and the bad sort surrounding the British Empire. The Spanish, of course, share the Continental view that the British – and not just the News of the World - are hypocrites but, for me, there’s little more hypocritical than a Spanish male who claims he’s relaxed about female sexuality but really regards all women as either whores or Madonnas, visits the former on Friday, confesses this on Saturday and then makes his weekly visit to his mother, the main Madonna, on Sunday. With his wife and kids, of course.

But talking of Britain, here’s a thought-provoking article which asks why the country has become ‘a more vicious place; fearful, suspicious and angry’. Where ‘adults are afraid of children and children afraid of nothing’.

Finally – Someone has plastered all over my letter box – and the nearby lamppost and rubbish contenadores – little green [of course] stickers advertising a dead pet pick-up service. It was hell of a job to get rid of these before Ryan could see them. I know he’s already suspicious of my plans to replace him with a Spanish galgo when he’s gone. And if there’s one thing you don’t want around your house it’s an angry border collie with a bad wind problem. Believe me. I’m an ex-lawyer.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I went to a presentation on Clickair’s imminent Vigo-London flight last night. As the slide-show began to roll – cue plane taking off – the first line of the accompanying song was ‘You are a falling star’. Which I, for one, didn’t feel was terribly appropriate. Especially to a nervous flier like me. So I was rather glad I missed out on the raffle for 10 tickets which I woke up for. But it was a close thing and I was saved by a single digit.

My recent quoting of William Chislett’s views on Spanish family life drew the comment from reader Pamela that things perhaps aren’t quite as hunky-dory as they seem. Certainly, I think it’s true that the Anglo perception that Spanish families are, on the whole, happier than those in their culture is exactly that – a perception. Spanish friends confirm that there often are problems and tensions within the family but that it’s simply not done – for reasons of honour – to wash dirty linen in public. And I can attest that any Scouse-type aggressive humour at the expense of one’s relatives tends to be met with looks of stupefied amazement, if not downright shock. It’s just not done here. Some would argue this is a form of hypocrisy but I doubt you’ll get many Spaniards to accept this. Hypocrisy is a uniquely British disease, it seems. On the other hand, it’s commonplace to hear here in Galicia that land issues are responsible for bitter and long-lasting family feuds. But no names and no pack drill. That would be at least dishonourable or, worse, ignoble.

The other comment which drew readers’ comments recently was about the quality of wines in Spain, particularly the reds of The Rioja and the reds [Mencia] and premier white [Albariño] of Galicia. I’ve now forced myself to enter my nearest Carrefour so as to check my claim that it’s possible to find poor quality Rioja and Albariño on sale. Sure enough, the lowest priced bottle of Rioja was a mere €2.55, though you could buy six in a box and bring this down to €1.60. There was also a bottle of Ribera del Duero at €2.80 but the lowest price was for a bottle of Mencia [from Xuan-Carlos’s favoured Bierzo region] at €1.35. Shocked at all this, I not only forgot to check the Albariño prices but also to put a €6.00 bottle of Mencia from our region’s Ribera Sagra area in my basket. Which was a bit of an embarrassment at the check-out. When I accused the woman behind me of stealing it. Not really. But I did have to go back for it.

And that’s the sort of day it’s been. Under a sky still laden with rain. Thank God I’ve still got 500 pages of Paul Preston’s biography of Franco with which to cheer myself up. And a bottle of Mencia, of course.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Not everyone will be aware that the Cabernet Saugivnon grape of France’s great red wines has an older sister in Cabernet Franc. Or that the latter has been used for more than 2,000 years up in Galicia’s hills to produce a wonderfully fruity red wine, called Mencia. I mention this not just to bring this under-valued wine to readers’ attention but to endorse an earlier point that an imminent recession reveals its colours in all sorts of ways. Walking past a place with a higher-than-average menú del día yesterday, I noticed the board said you’d get a glass of Mencia with it. Which is another way of saying you won’t be getting a glass of more-expensive Rioja. How much lower can things sink?

I contend Spanish banks are deficient as regards customer service and Spanish readers point out they’re very successful and profitable – in the UK as well as Spain. Yesterday, I needed the address of a bank in town but could only find a phone number in the directory. Needless to say, it was premium rate. Which seems to suggest we are all right.

Bullfighting is something I can take or leave but, whatever else can be said about it, I’m in no doubt that the men who go up against the enormous beasts are brave. I was hoping to bring you a photo of one of them with about 6 inches [15cm] of horn in his thigh from the Culture page of yesterday’s ABC but it’s not on its web page. So here's a video clip instead.

And a photo I did find. By the way, the bullfighter [Frascuelos] is 60 years old. Possibly his last corrida, if he’s got any sense. Which he obviously hasn’t.

Here’s a final reference to the Eurovision contest, albeit in the context of geo-political developments. Specifically, Europe’s eastwards drift. Which should at please the British historian Norman Davies, who’s long argued that our Continental perspective is too western-centric.

Galicia Facts

The organisation which impounds cars in Pontevedra says it towed 371 vehicles between 1 January and 20 May. Or about 2.6 per working day of eight hours or more. On the face of it, this seems to justify the obvious belief on the part of drivers here that the cost of using an underground car park is not worth it, compared with the miniscule risk of getting your car towed. Even, apparently, if you use ambulance waiting bays, bus-stops or zebra crossings. Or if you double or triple park but have hazards lights which make your car invisible when they’re flashing.

Why aren’t there parking meters, you ask. Because an earlier scheme failed when the entire population declined to put coins in them. Or so they say.

The Anglo Galician Association – open to all who speak English – now has a Forum on the web. If you have a query about Galicia, why not register and post it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

More gloomy news from a report on the housing market - House prices falling as buyers go on strike; The number of housing transactions has started to fall dramatically; home owners should brace themselves for a protracted slowdown in house prices; property values have now fallen eight months in a row; end of a decade-long boom; the mood in the market at its darkest since records began; house prices "are likely to fall further"; the housing minister warns "We can't know how bad it will get"; increasing signs that the fall in house prices is starting to have a profound effect on the economy. As you will have guessed, though, this is in the UK. But there may some similarities with Spain.

Readers Richard and Duardón have both confirmed what I’ve long suspected but never checked out – the Spanish use Buenas or Muy buenas instead of the grammatically correct Buenos/Muy Buenos when responding to the greeting Buenos días. I’m grateful to them for even more of an insight into life here . . .

The British Post Office – with its vast network of urban and rural outlets – is one of those things which used to be, as they say, the envy of the world. But not now. The best bits were long ago cherry-picked by TNT and DHL and the British government is hell bent on closing down much of what is left. On the grounds – surprise, surprise – that it’s no longer profitable. Its rationale/excuse is the EU Bolkenstein Directive which calls for a free market in postal services in member states. The irony is that the home countries of TNT and DHL – Holland and Germany – have postponed implementation of this until 2013. And I suspect that in Spain only one person has read the Directive. And then promptly binned it. Which would be about as far from the UK’s gold plating as you could get.

Echoing Plato, Shakespeare [in King Lear] dismisses man as the plaything of the gods. When I’m feeling low, my preference is for Omar Khayam’s fuller take on life:-
‘Tis all a chequer-board of nights and days,
Wherein Destiny, with men for pieces, plays
Hither and thither moves and mates and slays
And one by one back in the closet lays.

Of course, old Omar didn’t really say this exactly in his original Persian but you’re tempted to forgive Fitzgerald for his rather free translation of OK’s fatalistic hymn to hedonism. Especially when he comes up with things like:-
Myself, when young, did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint and heard great argument
about this and that but ever more
came out of the same door as in I went.

Hedonism apart, this has got bugger all to do with life in Spain. But it’s raining yet again this morning and the mind wanders.

Galicia Facts

From what is said to them, foreigners living here can be forgiven for occasionally concluding that just about everyone in Spain aspires to the comfort, income and security of a civil servant position. But to get one of these you have to go through the infamous state exam system called the oposiciones. The Galician Xunta has just kicked off the process for the 39 lower-rank jobs it’s offering this year. The total number of applicants for these was 4,155 - or 107 for each position. However, this was quickly reduced to a more manageable 53, when half of the aspirants failed to turn up for the exam.

Stories about the manipulation of the oposiciones are commonplace, allegedly arising from the fact they’re locally held and locally adjudicated. But, as I have no personal experience, I pay these no heed. However, while I'm on this subject . . .

An American scholar – Kerry Ann McKevitt – is something of an authority on Gallego and has even translated Ulysses into this fine language. She would apparently like to teach/lecture here so needs to go through the oposiciones mill. Ahead of this, she’s written to the President of the Xunta to ask why she’s only accorded a job-blocking ‘Average’ grade for her language skills on the grounds she didn’t get her qualification at a Galician university. An excellent question but I wonder how accurate the answer will be.

I semi-jocularly suggested yesterday our local banks might be awash with the proceeds of drug sales. Appropriately enough, I read last night that Pontevedra province heads the national rankings for drug-related hospital admissions.

On a happier note – Our football team is once again in the play-offs for promotion to the real Second Division. They’ve achieved this in most of the 8 years I’ve been here but have always fallen at the first fence. But they drew their first match in Ceuta yesterday – despite having had to get there by camel train, apparently – and now have a good chance of proceeding further. Their most ardent supporters must be the region’s hoteliers, as they claim success would bring them an extra 2 million euros a year. On the other hand, there’s the prospect of playing a British team supported by the sort of ooliganes who’ve previously descended on Vigo to play Celta.

‘Tis all a chequer-board of nights and days . . .

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Well, estate agent offices may be closing like petals before a frost but the long-derelict café in the prime site opposite Pontevedra’s post office is to be reborn as a bank. As you can’t swing a cat in town without hitting at least one of these, I have to confess to some amazement. But Spain’s banking industry is renowned for both taking the country’s best brains and for being very profitable, so they must know what they’re doing. Perhaps the drug industry is booming despite the economic slowdown and more black money than ever is looking for a white home.

The Spanish equivalent of ‘Good morning’ is ‘Buenos días’[Good day]. When abbreviated, these become, respectively, ‘Morning’ and ‘Buenos’ [Good]. This, I think, tells you all you need to know about Anglo and Hispanic societies. But, as it’s a slow news day, here’s a couple of random extracts on Spanish culture from Spain Going Places by William Chislett:-

Despite, or perhaps because of, the dizzying pace of social change, the family remains strong in Spain. According to official statistics, 15% of children under the age of three are looked after by their grandparents for more than 22 hours a week. The family is on the retreat throughout the developed world, particularly in Northern Europe, but to a much lesser extent in Spain.

A welfare state has been created, but its cornerstone is the extended family-based society. An estimated 60% of people aged 25 to 30 live at home, a high figure by European standards, and only 13% of households have one occupant, a comparatively low figure. The extended family looks after unemployed members, enables the young, if they wish, to live at home and save while they are beginning their working life and allows the great majority of pensioners to live with their children. In the latter case, this informal assistance from families provides older persons with living standards similar to those of the rest of the population, making up for any shortfall in pensions

The ratio of inactive elderly to the total labour force is currently projected to increase from 38.2% in 2000 to 90.5% in 2050. This would mean that for every elderly inactive person there would be only one person in the labour force. The sharp increase in this ratio is a Europe-wide problem, but substantially more acute in Spain

As for British society – Is this meritocracy or madness? My daughter in Leeds tells me that the head of the English department in her 1750-strong school is, like 11 others, to be given the new title of Deputy Head and to have her salary doubled to ₤65,000 a year. Say €85,000 euros. Which is quite a lot for a 27 year old with just 4 years experience in the profession. Salaries for teachers in Britain are clearly not what they used to be. But, then, neither are the schools. And perhaps offering such vast rewards really is the way to fix them.

As it was a big week for football, here’s the always-excellent Sam Leith posing a pertinent question, alongside some trenchant views on leading players.

Finally, the inestimable Terry Wogan showed signs last night of being sick and tired of the Eurovision farce. An elegant exit can only be a good thing. On all fronts.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Well, here’s a novelty – today’s Thoughts from Galicia will be all about Galicia . . .

It’s been a while since I last acted as your window onto the demimonde at the back of our local newspapers. So here’s a random collection of words and phrases from a large box ad in yesterday’s Faro de Vigo which suggests a couple of organisations in that fair city [DyN and PdS for the cognoscenti] have come together. If that’s the right expression:-
Luxury. TV hostesses. Top models. Executives. Sex symbols. Barbies. Unlimited hours for 40 euros. No tricks [which seems rather unlikely in a brothel]. Pure pleasure. No hurry. Convenient parking. Genuine 150cm chests. Pure vice. As affectionate as a angel. Innocent. Not professionals. Very young and beautiful waitresses. Air conditioned.
OK, I made up the bit about the car parking but that’s because it’s a major feature of a competitive ad.

Relatedly, both the Faro de Vigo and the Diario de Pontevedra yesterday reported an assault on one of the city’s street-walkers by some ne’er-do-well from up in Lugo. Each of the papers advised us – as if we didn’t know - that the ladies of the night [and day] congregate at the entrance to the underground parking at the end of the Alameda. And each accompanied its report with a photo not of the poor victim or the alleged miscreant but – would you believe – of the entrance to the car park. Very illustrative.

Tearing my gaze away from both the above ad and others, I guess it was inevitable I’d immediately clock this headline on the next page – Channel 4 to bring usBreasts size XXL’. I guess it’s their response to the hugely successful Without tits there’s no Heaven. Never mind the quality, feel the width. Or breadth, perhaps.

Looking back at this week and following up a recent comment, I feel I should report it hasn’t rained on average once every two days. No such bloody luck. But at least it's stopped me mowing the lawns.

The needs-must deterioration in tapas offerings in my regular bar-café continues apace. After mushrooms in garlic, we’re now being expected to thrill to a small dish of lentils at which a strand of jamon Serrano has been waved. Time to review my options. Even if the lovely waitresses seem to be ignoring the instruction they’ve clearly been given to reduce the amount of wine they put in your copa. Or as one said last night – ‘Drink this quick; I’ll get killed if the boss sees what I’ve poured’. Wonderful. I might just stay.

Up in the hills, the residents of Caritel have bigger problems. They’re – literally – up in arms at the decision of the Pontevedra and Poio councils to solve the still-raging issue of the moment by decanting displaced gypsies into their village. Apart from painting messages of unwelcome on the roads and buildings, the incandescent villagers have begun to sell plots of land to finance a war-chest ahead of a long battle with the authorities. Not attractive but it’s easy to sympathise with their perception that drug-dealers are being dumped in their rustic idyll by two councils who can’t sort out the problem down on the coast.

Finally, a turf battle of another sort appears to be raging in the des. res. in the bougainvillea outside my bedroom window. Although it was a pair of collared doves which was checking out the remains of the last nest two days ago, there’s now a couple of wood pigeons in situ. About which I am ambivalent as I regard these birds as flying rats and am in the process of buying a plastic owl to put on my table down in Vegetables Square of a Sunday. This needs thought. And perhaps a rifle. Meanwhile, I leave you with the ornithological observation that wood pigeons make an even scraggier nest than collared doves. Though slightly less flimsy.

The Anglo Galician Association – open to all who speak English – now has a Forum on the web. If you have a query about Galicia, why not register and post it.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The banner headline in Spain’s biggest-selling newspaper yesterday was – Don’t fuck with me. You’re not taking him. Said to be a comment about Ronaldo aimed at the President of Real Madrid by the CEO of Manchester United. OK, it was the football paper Marca but in how many other countries could this happen? And is it a good, honest thing or simply a true reflection of everyday speech? Or both?

Our resident property expert, Mark Stucklin, reports that After months of resolute denial that property prices might fall, Spain’s developers have done a u-turn and conceded they’re already down by 15%. He adds that When buyers expect lower prices in future they delay their purchase, causing the market to grind to a halt and forcing down prices. So buyer expectations can be self fulfilling, especially in an over-supplied market like Spain. I seem to recall saying something very similar 6 or 9 months ago. But as JC once said - a prophet is not without honour, save in his own country. Twas ever thus. And as Mr Stucklin concludes - If buyers expect prices to continue falling, then fall they will. Whatever the developers say. The fat lady has yet to sing. In fact, she isn’t even in the theatre.

On Saturday night, the words Europe and song will once again be redefined as we subject ourselves to that annual fiesta of tat taste, the Eurovision Song Contest. The big five countries – Britain, Spain, Germany, France and Italy – have all been given advance berths in the final, thus avoiding the humiliation of elimination from this week’s semis. This, of course, is a sop which recognises 1. they magnanimously finance the whole thing, and 2. none of them has even a remote chance of winning. This is because of the infamous block voting which disfigures an event which would in any circumstances be a joke but which thus becomes a semi-compulsive farce. Thankfully, in the UK it’s given the treatment it deserves by the incomparable Sir Terry Wogan. Anyway, I doubt this was terrifically difficult but a researcher/analyst called Dr Gatherer [sic] is said to have identified three blocks:-
The Nordic Block: Eight members; Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
The Eastern Block: Also has eight members: Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Poland, Belarus, Moldova and Romania.
The Balkan Block: The most potent block, 11 nations strong. Its heart is the former constituents of Yugoslavia; Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and FYR Macedonia. Also part of the block are Turkey, Albania, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Hungary.
So, my bet is the winner will again be from the last of these. As if anyone outside Balkania cares.

Galicia Facts

I do my best to minimise my water consumption, even going to the lengths of bucketing run-offs so I can chuck it on the plants and trees of my garden. This looked sensible last year, when we were passing through the driest autumn in history. But seems rather pointless when it rains, on average, every second day between January 1 and May 23. But at least this stops me wearing my shorts on the streets of Pontevedra.

This, by the way, is how the keffiyeh is not being worn by the fashionistas of Pontevedra these days.

And this is the nightscape from my window, showing the dominating and disfiguring lights of the ugly granite blockhouse which is our new museum. I mistakenly said these were blue in a previous post. But yellow is bad enough. Anyone selling a bazooka?

The Anglo Galician Association – open to all who speak English – now has a Forum on the web. If you have a query about Galicia, why not register and post it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sometimes the only sane response to Spanish attitudes to timekeeping, noise and consideration for others is simply to laugh. Especially when they’re all in evidence at the same time . . . A couple of nights ago, I went to see The Bicycle Thief down at the premises of the Caixa Galicia. This is a very profitable savings bank which acquits its social duty by laying on free cultural events for the well-heeled denizens of Pontevedra who could easily afford to pay for them. The film started – more or less – at the billed time of 8pm but it was a full 55 minutes before the latecomers stopped arriving, walking across the screen and scrabbling around for chairs. Each time someone arrived, this meant the drawing of the curtain giving us meagre protection from the light and noise coming from the adjacent bar, where the staff appeared to be having a party. And, to cap it all, one of the couples who arrived around 30 minutes late got up and left 10 minutes before the end, just as the denouement was about to unfold. Hard as it may be to believe, I could see the funny side of all this but my companion couldn’t resist asking out loud “What exactly was the point in coming?”. But she’s French so doesn’t have quite the same tolerance levels as me . . . So it’s a good job she doesn’t write a blog.

But all is not lost on the noise front. Asked recently whether they felt enough was being done to counter ‘acoustic pollution’ in their city, 95% of the readers of the Voz de Galicia who could be bothered to vote answered with a resounding No! So, why does it continue, most obviously in the form of imbeciles on mopeds, scooters and motor-bikes? Not to mention bawling neighbours.

I’m once again reading the history of Spain in the 20s and 30s of the last century. As ever, once can’t help but wonder at two things:- 1. How Spanish society can have changed so drastically in such a relatively short space of time, and 2. How could civil war possibly have been avoided. The other thought that occurs is that it’s perhaps understandable there remains more fear of the extremes of Left and Right in Spain than elsewhere. Though, that said, there’s not much evidence of the continued existence of violent anarchists. It’s the ghost of fascism that’s most often seen to be lurking behind the arras. Or Espe Aguirre.

So, Ryan Giggs got the reward he deserved and it wasn’t a bad match. But we’ll have to wait for reader Moscow to tell us how the English ooliganes got on in Moscow and whether the Russians are confused about the image shift from aristocrat to Neanderthal. I mean on the streets, not on the pitch in the person of the talented but brainless Drogba.

Finally, I posted a photo-special earlier, for regular readers who need pictorial evidence of some of my claims. Scroll on down, if you’re interested.

The Anglo Galician Association – open to all who speak English – now has a Forum on the web. If you have a query about Galicia, why not register and post it.

This is a photo special, for the benefit of regular readers who might like to see one or two of the things I've moaned about recently. Today's real post will follow shortly:-

First, a sign of the times. On the plot near me where expensive 'toilet-style' houses have been a work in process for three years now, the breeze-block garden wall is now being faced with cheap brick that would surely provoke suicide for whoever it is who passes for the architect of these monstrosities. It cannot possibly be what he/she had in mind before cost-cutting became the order of the day.

And talking of eye-sores, here's the carcass behind my house, where very little has happened for weeks now. I did plan to drink a few bottles of cava with Biopolitical when the first house was occupied but this could be a decade away at this rate.

And, finally, here's the offending Stop sign. As there's little to give you a real sense of perspective, I should add that the bottom of the roundel is at the level of my chest. And the top corresponds with my forehead. As I now know only too well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I’ve suggested that immigration is on the cusp of becoming the issue in Spanish politics. There’s now evidence that the government has twigged this as well. Aside from having several of its ministers issue unhelpfully tendentious statements about developments in Italy, the PSOE party has now assured us it will "guarantee respect for social norms that, before the arrival of immigrants, our society had never seen broken - in such important areas as housing, quality of life, commerce, opening hours and the use of public space, which have suffered evident tensions because of the arrival of foreigners coming from different cultures." I wonder how this code translates among the various groups at whom it’s aimed. Those incorrigible Chinese, for example, who insist on opening their bazaars at hours convenient to customers. Stand by for some regimentation in the name of cultural preservation. It will be fascinating to see whether the Spanish government has learned from mistakes in the UK and France. Unless, of course, you’re an unemployed immigrant foreigner whose way of doing things is now seen as a threat to the fabric of Spanish society. I guess we’ve all got to learn to hate real foreigners now, instead of those dreadful phoney-foreigners, the Catalans. Whom we can now laugh at because their team only came third in the League and will now have to play in the early rounds of next year’s Champions League.

Talking of cultural constructs and football competitions [and how often can one say that?], I wrote the other day that Spaniards tend to see Brits as either gentleman toffs or ooliganes. Ahead of tonight’s all-British Champions League final, this article suggests the poor Russians are still stuck with only the former stereotype. Oh dear. In for a shock.

I say ‘all-British’ final but this, of course, only applies to the [many] fans and the [few] ooliganes. There are precious few Brits in either team. And we can be pretty sure it will be the ooliganes who’ll garner all the media attention. Unless the game is a brilliant demonstration of English-style football and the fans all go home sober and happy. Some hope.

Over at Notes from Spain, Ben and Marina recently commented how un-Spanish it is to wear shorts on the streets. When I did this years ago during May temperatures in the 30s, a friend greeted me with something like “Que veraniego estás!” [How summery you are!]. Which I foolishly took to be a compliment, rather than the indirecta it was - on a par with any snobbish British put-down. But then I live in Pijolandia outside Pontevedra and don’t much care what the repressed urbanites think of me. Which is why I’ve never worn shorts in town since.

A little more seriously, this reference to sartorial norms has reminded me of earlier observations that the Spanish are the most informal people in the world, except when they’re being formal. And that they’re the most individualistic folk on earth, except when they’re behaving like sheep. Which should get me a few more fans.

A few metres from where I park my car before walking into town each morning, there’s a Stop sign which is only about 4 feet high. Two days ago I walked right into this while reading a book. Not the upright but the sign itself. If you think this is stupid, wait ‘til I tell you I managed it again yesterday, this time while fumbling for my keys. And I had thought I was the only man in the world who could do two things at the same time. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Finally, for those who were thrilled to see the photos of the collared doves raising a brace of chicks in the bougainvillea a foot or so from my bedroom window, you’ll be pleased to hear they’ve moved in again. Which means I won’t be able to raise or lower my blinds for at least a fortnight. Ah well. I have bigger things to moan about. As you probably know.

The Anglo Galician Association – open to all who speak English – now has a Forum on the web. If you have a query about Galicia, why not register and post it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Over the last ten years – for one reason and another – just under 2 million Brits have fled the UK, together with 1.6 million foreigners previously resident there. This total of 3.6 million was marginally exceeded by the 3.9 million new foreigners. I wonder how many of these were Romanian gypsies. And what Sra. de la Vega thinks about their treatment. We'll probably get to know quite soon.

Listening to the BBC this morning, I was a tad surprised to hear a woman boast “I’ve got Tom’s in at the moment”. But a moment’s reflection suggested that, as it was a gardening item, she was probably saying “I’ve got toms in at the moment”. An innocent enough mistake, I think. And an excellent demonstration of the power of the greengrocers’ apostrophe.

An economic downturn hits you both via the headlines and via numerous little things that add up to a lot – higher prices for your meals and drinks; smaller bowls for your crisps in the bar; and, worst of all, cheaper free tapas helpings. I mean, mushrooms in garlic may be someone’s idea of a decent dish but I pine for the two little ribs. Or three, in the case of this extravagant tipper. Which, to be honest, merely means more than one or two per cent in those parts of Spain not yet ruined either by tourists or misguided expats.

A couple of PSs to yesterday’s post:-

1. The water figures were, of course, per capita, and

2. Ryan has asked me to point out that, like his namesake in the Man United team, he too is a true, understated hero surrounded by prima donnas. Can he mean me?

Galicia Facts

The weekend which gave us Galician Literature Day also featured a procession in Santiago of folk who want to see more use of Gallego here. The theme on their banners and T-shirts was Gallego is a basic right. This left me rather confused as said right is already enshrined in law. So I guess what they really meant is that Gallego should be a basic obligation. Notoriously indirect, these Galicians.

The Nationalist VP of the Xunta took the stage to defend [quite legitimately] the Xunta’s strengthening of Gallego but wandered onto more contentious territory when he insisted that anyone who suggested the language was being imposed on anyone was that classic feature of Spanish politics – “a liar”. Querying this with a Gallego-teacher friend who doesn’t share this view, his response was “What else would he say?”. Very direct, these Galicians.

Finally, having developed a pathetic interest in the location of my readers, I’d like to greet whoever it is that regularly tunes in from Aylesbury and from the City of London. And, of course to regular contributor Moscow in, err . . Moscow. More anon. Meanwhile, anyone who wants to reveal him/herself can write to me at colindavies@terra.es Which is also an address for those who don’t want to open a Google account but who'd like to make comments. I try to respond to all but the most abusive ones. Even though these amuse me most.

Finally, finally – Moscow, here’s another of those Anglo articles of which you despair.

Monday, May 19, 2008

In the interests of balance, I should record that The Economist has praised the Bank of Spain’s handing of an economic situation which is turning out to be the crisis it was forecast not to be a month or three ago. Perhaps the bank never believed the pre-election assurances of the government. Or was impervious to the shower of election bribes that were offered.

Less positively, for a depressing explanation of why Germany’s annualised growth rate of 6% shouldn’t be taken too seriously, click here.

As I filled my car with petrol at €1.22 a litre [or 4.39 quid a gallon], I took to wondering who was benefiting from the incessant increases. Apart from the producer countries, of course. And the oil companies earning ‘windfall' profits. And their shareholders getting bigger dividends. And the governments – regional and central – whose tax revenues are soaring. But, these apart, it can’t be in anybody’s financial interests, can it? At least not in the short term. And at least not for you and me. On further reflection, though, the increases seem to be a bonanza for everybody but us consumers. Or have I missed something?

To brighten your day – Here’s a follow-up to yesterday’s citation of the hatchette job on Cherie Blair, this time from The Observer. It’s always fascinating to see bitchiness in full flow but this piece ends with a marvellous suggestion as to how the un-sainted Cherie might go about garnering some sympathy for herself. Tough as this might sound.

Reportedly, only 8 years ago 83% of Spaniard parents were unconcerned about their kids attending classes with ‘foreigners’. For which read not fellow EU citizens but immigrants from, then, South America and, now, just about everywhere. The point of the article was that the number would be much lower now. Reading it, I recalled something said to me when I was 19 and banging on about the need for tolerance – “Yes, but it’s easy to be tolerant when you have nothing to tolerate”. Such have been the demographic changes in Spain in the last booming decade, it was inevitable tensions would rise and take Immigration to the top of the regularly published Worry List of the Spanish populace. And that’s without considering the impact of an economic downturn. Interesting times. That old Chinese curse.

Galician Facts

The region’s language-normalisation officers are demanding more cash and resources so they can more effectively police the law requiring that kids here are taught 50% of their lessons – the more important ones – in Gallego. Which has at least the beauty of being logical. What’s the point of an un-enforced law? A question which occurs to me quite regularly.

According to yesterday’s Diario de Pontevedra, the daily consumption of water in the city is 300 litres. This compares with figures of 134 and 152 for unmetered/metered houses in the UK a few years ago. And with 166 in Spain in 2005. I wonder what on earth we’re doing with it all.

Finally, a propos nothing at all, I’d like to pay tribute to Ryan Giggs of Manchester United, after whom my border collie was named by one of my Evertonian-father-defying daughters a little over 14 years ago. He has played in the first team throughout this hugely successful period and brought nothing but credit to his team. Ryan Giggs I mean, not Ryan Davies. A true, understated hero among the prima donnas who surround him. I do hope he doesn’t become a manager and end his career in ignominy. After all, he can probably pay well for good advice. Which will be even more expensive if he ignores it.

The Anglo Galician Association – open to all who speak English – now has a Forum on the web. If you have a query about Galicia, why not register and post it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

If you come to live here, it won’t be long before one of your Spanish friends says something like “I’m no racist but I despise gypsies”. And, truth to tell, as I live not far from a couple of permanent gypsy encampments, it’s not difficult to understand this attitude. For the gypsies – or some of them at least – take anti-social behaviour to extremes. However, there are at least three grades of gypsy here in Pontevedra - the lowest being those who hale from nearby Portugal and the highest being the traders who live exactly like everyone else in one of the city’s suburbs. Down in Madrid, the lowest of the low are said to be the recent arrivals from Romania, in respect of whom ‘antipathy’ is probably a rather inadequate word. So, it was a bit of surprise to see our [gaffe-prone?] senior VP - María Teresa Fernández de la Vega Sanz – express repugnance for the action of the Italian government in taking action to rid the country of illegal Romanian gypsy immigrants. In doing so, she attributed very lofty sentiments to the Spanish government but I’m left wondering just how much she’s in touch with those of the residents of the city in which she lives. Not much, I suspect.

Having praised the serious Spanish press for their obituaries of people scarcely famous in their own countries, I should now return the favour and congratulate The Times for their obit today on Pilar López. She was responsible – the paper says - for introducing flamenco to an international audience but my guess is Pilar’s name, at least, is well known here in Spain. Even if it means nothing to me.

For one reason and another, I find it hard to imagine the wife of ex President Aznar rushing into print with a volume of kiss-n-tell memoirs. Back in the UK, Cherie Blair’s outpourings have been met with a cascade of vitriol, especially from women it seems. An excellent example is this hatchet job today from a leading female columnist, Minette Marin. I guess we could call it a hatchette job. If we were so inclined. My problem is that, having grown up on Merseyside at the same time as Cherie and then studied law in London at the same time, I might actually be in the blasted book. I haven’t always been a man of exquisite taste. But I won’t be checking.

Finally - I went to Vilagarcia by train yesterday. There are two reasons why this is [mildly] noteworthy:- 1. I’ve never done it before, and 2. I had absolutely no intention of going to Vilagarcia, by any mode of transport. So, I give you this bit of gratuitous advice – If you’re tempted to help load someone’s cases on the rack and then to stand and wait like a gentleman so that passengers can pass to their seats, don’t. Bang your way through the buggers and get off as quickly as you can. Spain’s trains – apart from the AVE - may be snail-like between stations but the doors open and close like greased lightening. However, it was sunny in Vilagarcia as I waited for my lovely ladyfriend to come and get me, delayed by only ten minutes of helpless laughter at my plight. But at least my visitors did a good impression of being mortified. And, it being the Day of Galician Literature, no one demanded I pay for a ticket and there was no parking charge for my car back at the station. I could warm to this language normalisation.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pontevedra has a Guardia Civil barracks down by the river. Driving past it last week, I was struck by how easy it would be to lob a bomb over the wall a couple of meters from the road. Or even from the adjacent pavement. This week the Basque ETA terrorists tried something rather more ambitious up in the north east. According to the media, they attempted to massacre not just GC officers but also their families. They didn’t succeed but, sadly, one officer was killed in the process. The fear is that ETA have re-established their bomb-making capability in southern France. Let’s hope the gendarmes find it soon.

Talking of violence, a Scottish columnist fears the pictures of Glasgow Rangers thugs attacking the police in Manchester this week will have damaged his country’s reputation around the world. Well, not in Spain, I suspect. Here they’ll merely be taken as confirmation that all Brits are either ooliganes or frock-coated toffs. But mostly the former. And I doubt that Scottish independence will change things much.

The figures for economic growth in the first quarter of the year make dire reading for Spain, where the achievement of 0.3% was only half that of the Euro zone average of 0.6% - a figure heavily weighted by Germany’s figure of 1.5%. This, of course, was achieved despite the rise in the value of the euro. Must say something about the fundamentals of the respective economies, I guess. But it’s an ill wind that blows no good and those of us living close to Portugal can now take advantage of the fact that poor country is now in an even worse state than it has been for the last decade of boom here in Spain. A bit of carpetbagging is surely in order.

Which is surely the most audacious link in my blogging history . . . Can anyone explain why the film The Carpetbaggers is called Los Insatiables in Spanish and not, say, Los Aventureros?

Finally - You’ll doubtless be familiar with the Cannes Film Festival but possibly not with the parallel event taking place up in the Galician hills in the village of Cans. Which actually means ‘dogs’ in Gallego, I believe. You can read all about it on its web page but here’s a snippet to give you the flavour - O Festival de Cans é un peculiar festival de curtametraxes que se celebra no mes de maio na parroquia de Cans (O Porriño), coincidindo en datas co Festival de Cannes. Precisamente a idea do festival xurdiu da similitude entre o nome desta aldea galega e a da cidade francesa. Naceu en 2004, polo que a de 2008 será a quinta edición. Este ano celebrarase do 21 ao 24 de maio, aínda que o conxunto de actividades desenvolvidas extenderase ao longo de todo o mes de maio. It would be useful for information to be in Spanish as well but that’s not the way of things these days in Galicia, where Gallego is being increasingly ‘normalised’. But I don’t think you’ll be shot for speaking Castellano/Castelano as you walk around. Though I might be.

The Anglo Galician Association – open to all who speak English – now has a Forum on the web. If you have a query about Galicia, why not register and post it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

If you'd like to know where Spain features in the international murder rankings, nip across to Iberian Notes. You might be surprised. I was. One wonders what percentage of Spain's total stems from violencia de genero, or domestic violence. This is regularly said to be an increasing problem here, despite government attempts to minimise it.

And if you'd like to see dozens of photos of this lovely part of Spain, go to Google maps, search for Galicia and then click around the various buttons until you arrive at the photos. I'm in one of those for Pontevedra. Honest.

On 15 May 1665, the rather lecherous Samuel Pepys wrote that someone's maid was very 'formosa' (handsome). Either this is a corruption of the Spanish hermosa or our Samuel was versed in Gallego. Wonder if he ever did the camino to Santiago.

Finally, here's two similar views of a mausoleum in Iran - regarded by Robert Byron as one of the great buildings of the world. You probably won't believe it when I say it was built in the 10th century. Albeit AD. Byron claims it has a character unlike anything else in architecture. Hard to disagree.

If you'd like a bit more detail, here it is, from the man himself:- A tapering cylinder of cafe-au-lait brick springs up from a round plinth to a pointed grey-green roof, which swallows it up like a candle extinguisher. The diameter at the plinth is fifty feet; the total height about a hundred and fifty. Up the cylinder, between plinth and roof, rush ten triangular buttresses, which cut across two garters of Kufic text, one at the top underneath the cornice, one at the bottom over the slender black entrance.

Having learned Persian as a young man, I can actually read the inscriptions and it's one of my few ambitions to do so in the flesh before I depart heavenwards. Or wherever.

Can you tell I don't have much to say about Spain today?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Opening with a smile – I got these two hits to my blog yesterday, within a few minutes of each other. I wonder if they are related . . .
the Anglo Galician Association
the brothel association of Spain

OK, another smile before the serious stuff – A quote from an English newspaper this morning:- The new film of Brideshead Revisited is to include a love triangle between Charles Ryder, Sebastian Flyte and his sister Julia - a scene that Waugh carelessly omitted to pen. Is nothing sacred these days?

Enough levity. On to weightier matters . . . I guess the best that can be said about Spanish racism is that it’s born of naivety and a simple lack of cultural awareness - assisted by a deep-seated Spanish belief that, if you don’t mean to hurt anyone by your words, then they’ve no real cause to be upset. My latest musing on this theme is prompted by this cartoon from yesterday’s Correo Gallego, which relates to the Nigerian episode in the recent life of our senior VP. I’m quite sure the artist would be horrified to be told it’s insulting as this is the standard way negroes are depicted here in Spain:-

The irony here is that the cartoonist is being critical of the VP for not obeying equality rules. Equality and race apparently being differently-entitled things in Spain.

The Spanish property market: A couple of years back, my good net-friend Biopolitical alerted me to the huge stake which the central and regional governments had in the continuation of a construction boom, even if it were driven by little more than speculative greed. This stems primarily from the tax streams that follow in the wake of property transfers. More recently, I’ve commented on the dreadful prospect facing town halls across the country now that the golden goose has shuffled off this mortal coil far more rapidly than either the national or any regional government seems to have even contemplated. I’m once again indebted to Mark Stucklin for putting all this in a nutshell:-Local authorities are totally unprepared for a slump in revenues, even though the present situation could be seen coming a long way off. The growth model and urban planning model many employed was short-termist and unsustainable, and failed to nourish long term wealth creation. Whilst the construction sector boomed, town halls used the revenues to finance a dramatic increase in municipal infrastructure and services that are now fixed costs that have to be paid. Increasing your fixed costs in response to a temporary rise in income is always a recipe for disaster. This municipal finance crunch will squeeze coastal towns the hardest, as construction fever during the boom raged the most on the coast. Town councils in the Valencia Region have been warned to prepare for 3 “very difficult” years. Oh, dear. Here come the increases in our annual municipal taxes, the IBI. Amongst other things. Even more public works down in town, I guess.

Meanwhile, the Association of Developers is still begging for taxpayer-sponsored aid to keep them at the level of luxury to which they’ve become accustomed. Or to quote Mark again:- The association of leading Spanish developers has called on the government to inject an extra €40 billion into the economy to stimulate the housing market and soften the “excessive downturn in the construction sector.” The general secretary of the association argues that, if present trends continue, there will only be 200,000 housing starts in Spain this year, well below a real housing demand he estimates at 350,000, and far below the 600,000 plus in recent years. Rather than drop their own inflated prices to stimulate demand and shift some of the 500,000 newly built properties they have in stock, the developers are, as usual, calling on the government to make it easier and cheaper, in the short term, for buyers to load up with debt. Vamos a ver.

But it’s not all gloom. As I say, I may have a massive, ugly concrete skeleton in front of my house [picture soon] but I can at last again park my car in front of my gate. My garage even. And my picture window is at the back of the house, giving me a rather superior view. If I ignore the unsold monstrosities in funeral parlour style to the far right. Which are not shown here . . .

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The government’s senior VP – the ubiquitous María Teresa Fernández de la Vega Sanz – was photographed in a Muslim part of Nigeria this week, next to a local entrepreneur and his three wives. When acquainted of this fact, she bizarrely pronounced herself horrified this had been allowed to happen. Not the multiple marriages, of course, but the taking of a photograph which she presumably felt would be interpreted as her personal endorsement of polygamy. One wonders what sort of message this sends out to Spain’s millions of Muslims. Perhaps MTFdLVS should stay at home until she is more culturally attuned.

Relatedly, one is forced to ask in how many countries a national paper would print a headline about 10 little nigger boys, assuming I am translating negritos correctly. But maybe I’m not, as the term is said to be ‘the name originally given by the Spaniards to the aborigines of the Philippine Islands’.

What I’ve called the PP party’s renovation by attrition continues apace. The latest departure from the senior ranks of the Opposition is a Basque lady who doesn’t like the idea of a softer line towards nationalists there and in Cataluña. And possibly in Galicia too. If she knows where it is. Helpfully, the wife of the last PP president, Sr Aznar, has chucked in her tuppence-worth by telling us she shares this concern. How much more of this can the leader of the party take before throwing in the towel so that his successor can be chosen way ahead of the next election? Or before the party tears itself apart.

If, like some readers, you doubt that British society is as violent as it is now regularly painted, here’s an article you probably don’t want to read. It’s by a youth worker in London and it talks of attitudes there among young women. Very disturbing.

Back in Spain, that old corruption issue keeps coming up. The Prosecutors’ Office is reported to be investigating seven ministers in the Catalan Government, on the grounds they’ve spent a trifling €31 million on specious studies handed out to their friends. Hard to credit. My guess is they’ll go to jail for a few months in about eight years time.

Just in case you read this blog to know how your electricity prices will be moving, here’s the latest news from ABC - The National Energy Commission will decide today on an electricity price rise of between 7 and 11%. This will come into force in July and there will be another larger increase in December. So know you know.

Statistical evidence is to hand today for my contention yesterday that the ‘overhang’ of unsold properties must increase. El Pais reports that the stock may already have grown from 600,000 to 750,000 and that, despite this, “there are still a lot of new developments under construction”. The paper also quotes me – and everyone else with common sense and basic maths – in suggesting “The worst is yet to come”. “Although planning approvals and housing starts are nose-diving”, it says, “the number of new properties coming onto the market is still rising, whilst sales have collapsed”. QED.

Telefónica has announced its Rural ADSL service will end on July 1. Does anyone know whether this is good news or very bad news?

Galicia Facts: Down in Pontevedra’s gem of an old quarter, there has been a series of archaeological digs over the last year or so. Walking past one next to our old theatre yesterday, I was surprised to see someone cleaning a ‘grinning’ skeleton lying right on the surface. This turned out to be from a 9th century cemetery and there are several more, it seems - all lying immediately below the old flagstones. Click here for a photo.

Finally - On 13 May 1665, Samuel Pepys confided to his dairy that he was a bit OCD about his new timepiece - But, Lord! to see how much of my old folly and childishness hangs upon me still that I cannot forbear carrying my watch in my hand in the coach all this afternoon, and seeing what o'clock it is one hundred times. Imagine what idiocy he’d get up to if he were writing his diary today as a blog and had a hit counter . . .

The Anglo Galician Association – open to all who speak English – now has a Forum on the web. If you have a query about Galicia, why not register and post it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The president of Spain’s constructors’ association – more cognisant than most of the devastation in front of him – tells the government that “Concrete measures are needed”. With more than 500,000 unsold properties on the market, I would’ve thought it was crystally clear we’d already had enough initiatives involving concrete.

Incidentally, if Pontevedra is anything to go by, this number of 500,000 can only increase in the next 2 or 3 years, creating even more downwards pressure on prices. Not only are 5 to 10 huge new flat blocks about to come on stream but foundations are being dug out on several vast new sites dotted about the city. No liquidity problems here, it seems. Though it’s gone rather quiet on the site in front of my house. Which has certainly eased the parking problem. It’s an ill wind . . .

Since we’re talking property today, here's a interesting comment from Mark Stucklin’s Spanish Property Insight blog. Frankly, I wouldn’t advise anyone who’s struggling to pay the mortgage on a flat in southern Spain to read the rest of the article:- But what if you are in the happy position of being a buyer in this market? Can you take advantage of rising foreclosures of holiday homes in [southern] Spain to snap up a bargain at auction? Probably not, is the honest answer. Really great opportunities still get snaffled up by insiders long before auction. And those that do make it through may be earmarked by the auction ‘mafia’, who are people you don’t want to cross. If you bid against the wrong person in a public auction in Spain, there’s no telling what might happen to your property. Your best bet is to let bank managers and estate agents in your target area know you are a solvent buyer in a position to move quickly. That way you might find a distressed vendor prepared to take a big hit for a quick sale to avoid the costs of repossession. On second thoughts, I probably should have advised you not to read this extract either.

And still on property . . . One of our numerous local papers reports that Galician constructors started investing their profits in East Europe, Africa and South America at least a year ago. Not stupid, these Gallegos. Possibly a wiser move than that of Ferrovial’s purchase of BAA and its British airports, which are hated even more now than they were before. Quite an achievement.

Finally, if you want a perfect example of the sort of thing that went on – and of the level of greed/stupidity displayed by British buyers – the latest big name to go into voluntary administration is the development company, San Jose Inversiones. As Mark reports, despite being legally obliged to do so, they didn’t give bank guarantees to people making stage payments for properties bought ahead of construction [“off plan”]. Needless to say, these are now likely to be lost.

My Sunday squid and Albariño in Vegetables Square was rather spoilt this week by two things; firstly, the arrival of relatives and, secondly, the persistent interruptions of a wide-eyed young lady seeking a donation of 10 centimos from each of us. We have several sorts of beggar here in Pontevedra but this was a new one on me. Not only was she well-dressed and not unattractive but she had a glass of something in one hand and a cigarette in the other. A class act, in other words. But it availed her nothing at our table, I have to admit. The other beggar to bother us was a regular who has the habit of tapping you on the shoulder and then putting his ugly face to within a few centimetres of your nose. I gave him my customary Anglo-Saxon greeting but was then surprised to have the lovely waitress, Olivia, not only ask me what this meant but also seek pronunciation lessons. I look forward greatly to next Sunday as Olivia is not known for her dulcet tones. She calls me Frank, by the way. But that’s another story.

Only joking about the relatives. Honest.

The Anglo Galician Association – open to all who speak English – now has a Forum on the web. If you have a query about Galicia, why not register and post it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A few weeks ago, a Spanish reader wrote to highlight the success of the Santander Bank through its Abbey subsidiary in the UK. I didn’t bother to say then that the issue I have with Spanish banks is not profitability but customer service. So why am I mentioning this now? Because, passing a Santander hoarding this morning, my visiting brother-in-law volunteered there was massive criticism in the UK press of how Abbey was treating customers it had garnered via its exceptionally attractive special offers. What I’ve previously called the traditional Spanish catch ‘em-and then screw ‘em strategy. And this on the same day it’s reported BAA will probably have to sell Heathrow.

Anyway, we were, in fact, en route to the local hospital to have his painfully crocked back attended to and I have to record that the level of service there was exceptionally good. And nearly always provided with traditional Spanish charm. But they don’t need to have attractive introductory offers and then bleed you dry, do they?

Talking of comments to this blog - There was a brief exchange recently about the continuing importance of class in British society, in contrast with Spain. This is an article – albeit from a right-of-centre paper – which argues that the main problem the Labour party now has is that, between them, Mrs Thatcher and New Labour destroyed the class-basis of support for the left-of-centre party in Britain. The author writes - If we are to make sense of our political future, we must come to terms with the enormity of what has happened to Britain since 1979: class divisions, in the old sense, are pretty much dead. Social injustice is not a matter of the privileged classes exploiting the labouring ones. It is now a direct product of the manipulations of political policy - in education, in the tax and benefits system, and in the employment market. This is a truth pretty widely acknowledged by enlightened politicians of all parties. Politics is now an open contest between conflicting solutions to real problems in which parties must convince individual voters of the force of their arguments. We just might be on the verge of a triumph of reason over sentimentality. Would it be an exaggeration to say that Spain has been at this point for a long time? Or at least since 1976?

A note for dog owners: My old border collie started to stagger around last week as if he’d lost the power of coordination. But, after I’d taken off the Preventef flea-and-tick collar I’d recently put on him, the problem cleared up. So, if you have a pet which doesn’t have a drink problem but can’t put two legs in front of the others, you might want to check what chemical it’s exposed to.

The Anglo Galician Association – open to all who speak English – now has a Forum on the web. If you have a query about Galicia, why not register and post it.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Proof positive this morning that Britain will never fit happily into the EU – The Danish chap in charge of the Eurovision Song Contest has complained about Terry Wogan’s irreverent and occasionally acerbic commentary on the grounds it makes the event look ridiculous. He adds it’s regrettable the BBC and the British public don’t treat it with the respect it deserves. I would’ve thought that’s exactly what they did do.

Only a day after I quoted the contentious view of a Madrid constitutional expert that Spain’s autonomous communities were a model for all of Europe, we read that the President of Cataluña says he and his fellow whingers are fed up with having their [economic] interests prejudiced in the name of solidarity. “We can’t wait any longer” he says. So what next? A unilateral declaration of independence a la Ian Smith? A refusal to send taxes collected to the Madrid treasury. Ya verémos. Perhaps.

I inevitably thought of Cataluña when reading this comment this morning on why things are now developing in Scotland the way they are - The answer goes back to the deeply flawed belief that constitutional appeasement will defeat a separatist movement rather than encourage it. This is the delusion under which Gordon Brown and those around him have operated for the past 30 years. Some would say Sr. Zapatero has now got five years of the same thing under his belt. In the UK, the real prospect is now of the break-up of a successful 300 year-old union. And in Spain? A formal, pluralist federation along the lines of the USA?

The relevant minister tells us electricity prices are set to rise by as much as 20 or even 30%. This, of course, is more information than we’ll get from the electricity companies when they eventually do.

As I’ve said, you have to hand it to the leaders of Spain’s troubled construction industry. Apart from demanding subsidies from the public purse, they’ve now taken to attacking the Finance Minister for making ‘frivolous’ speeches in which he rejects their thinly veiled blackmail threats to bring the entire country to a grinding halt by laying off a million workers. What fun.

Talk of blackmail takes me back to the case of the town near Madrid which the police chief operated as a personal fiefdom. Apparently it was an open secret in the place that the entire police force was utterly rotten but the authorities did nothing because there were no official complaints. This may have been because anyone who was foolish enough to make one – it now emerges – was beaten to a pulp. Though it’s not quite true there were no complaints – the police chief was the subject of 29 suits for brutality in a mere 9 years. But presumably got off in each case. Unless the problem was the courts finding time to deal with the actions.

Finally - Here’s part of a rant by a British commentator on the state of the UK, echoing my recent theme of excessive regulation and intrusive surveillance there - After 11 years of Labour, Britain leads the world in abortion, teenage pregnancy, family breakdown, burglary, spy cameras, speed cameras, parking fines, wheel-clamping, dustbin fines, green taxes, fuel taxes, stealth taxes, superbugs, binge-drinking, drug-taking, stabbing and social disorder. We may not have much in the way of engineering or manufacturing, but we can boast the planet's highest concentration of public sector inspectors, equality monitors, risk assessors, transgender advisers, climate change warriors, outreach co-ordinators, diversity managers, streetscene officers, traffic wardens, elf 'n' safety enforcers, five-a-day fascists, recycling Nazis and yuman rites lawyers.

Although almost any country in the world might sound more appealing than this [even Burma], I can vouch for the fact that you can do a lot worse than Spain. How much more positive can I be?

The Anglo Galician Association – open to all who speak English – now has a Forum on the web. If you have a query about Galicia, why not register and post it.