Tuesday, July 15, 2008

So, after the Abbey National, Spain’s giant Banco Santander is now snapping up another British building-society-turned-failed-bank. This time the Alliance & Leicester. And at a price much lower than when they first talked several months ago. As one commentator has put it:- “This is a drop in the ocean for Santander but the speed with which negotiations were concluded reflects a certain urgency. And rightly so. Last week was the scariest British banks have come through since the Northern Rock fiasco. The British banking system is in a dreadful mess”. Which is less than impressive for a sector so critical to the total economy. Of course, Banco Santander must now achieve ‘negative synergy’ with the A&L by doing what it’s done with the Abbey and ‘let go of’ a huge chunk of its staff. Ironically, I doubt it would be able to do this if it had bought a Spanish competitor. If I’m wrong on this, no doubt some kind reader will let me know.

As for the British and – for the Spanish – their defining characteristic, the new mayor of London has this to say about them – The British are at their most hypocritical when it comes to supermarkets. We extol the small shops; we pretend to yearn for the days when you queued on sawdust for someone to climb a ladder and reach for a dusty tin at the back of a darkened shelf. But in reality we love the light and the space and the ease and the affordability of the supermarkets. Happily – or unhappily – in the Social Democratic form of capitalism that prevails in Spain, the supermarkets have so far been kept in their place – on the outskirts of town. Though numerous Chinese ‘bazaars’ with relaxed opening hours have insinuated themselves into the conurbations. Pontevedra very much included.

Things may be developing well between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar but this can’t be said for the analogous Spanish possessions of Ceuta and Melilla in northern Africa. Spain does not regard these as colonies but as enclaves which are a part of Spain. As Corsica – really – is a part of France. But this is not the view taken by the Moroccans and their demands for a Spanish handover rather soured the recent short visit of President Zapatero to Rabat. No doubt things will be sorted out in the fullness of time. Probably when Spain decides it’s just too expensive to retain these anachronistic possessions on the African continent. But there are certainly no votes in this right now. Quite the opposite, I suspect.

Galicia Facts

With the sad death of 108 year-old Olive Riley, we now boast the world’s oldest blogger in Maria Amelia Lopez. Who is a whippersnapper of 97 and who’s just been given a new computer by her grandson. Hats off to both of them. Actually, she lives just down the coast road, in Combarro. I must try to meet her. I’m a bit concerned she writes in Spanish and not Gallego. Now that she’s famous, will the Xunta be knocking on her door in the small hours of the morning? Probably not. My guess is they’ll just provide a daily translation. Unless the taxpayers rebel. Or unless there’s nothing in the kitty because VAT and transfer tax receipts have plummeted with the sudden death of the construction boom.

On the latter, it’s an eerie experience driving round the edges of both Pontevedra and Vigo, where vast blocks of new flats continue to rise. One wonders, first, when they will be finished and, secondly, when they will all be occupied. And how many cheap Portuguese labourers are now out of a job. Or soon will be.

Finally, here’s a nice photo of a group of Galician musicians and dancers getting ready to perform down in Vegetables Square last Sunday. I always enjoy them, while feeling rather sorry for them sweltering in their heavy folk costumes.

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