Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In El Pais this week, their literary critics and colleagues chose Chesil Beach as the best novel of 2008. Call me paranoid but I can’t help feeling this is because it confirms the Spanish view that all Brits are sexually repressed.

Tomorrow, the presidency of the EU Commission will move from a committed Europhile – the president of France – to a eurosceptic, the president of Czechoslovakia. This is not going down well across Europe and the impression gained is that one is not allowed to disagree with what we might call the party line. This has led me to wonder who actually constitutes the Government and who the Opposition of the allegedly democratic body which rules so much of our lives. And whether it’s really regarded as acceptable for a party of opposition to be put in power by what passes for the European electorate. Actually, the answer’s pretty obvious. Any and all opposition to the great project from, say, French, Dutch or Irish referendum voters will be roundly and contemptuously ignored. There simply is no mechanism for an effective Opposition to the EU government. Which is hardly a new observation but the change of president has given us a timely reminder us of it. The Czech chap may be able to slow things down for 6 months but the project will steamroller on towards ultimate success or massive failure. And during this process Spain’s great [and understable] love affair with the EU will either continue or, like all infatuations, turn to either real love or to disappointment and even disdain. Which is a good time to note that [relatively poor] foreigners are now officially more than 10% of the [relatively rich] Spanish population. Which will surely provide the central and local governments with some real challenges in the future. Especially during a recession.

I actually wrote the above paragraph yesterday. Today I read that a mere 80% of Spaniards think the government needs to change its policy on immigration. And this is before unemployment reaches the levels it’s forecast to soar to in 2009.

The second pertinent thing I read today was this forecast for the EU – “It will be a good year for the EU despite the drama of an Irish referendum and the uncertainties of the Czech presidency for the first half of the year. Even if Ireland votes “No”, the EU will chug along.” Of course it will. What’s to stop it other than implosion?

Here’s a linguistic conundrum for Spanish speakers to mull over on their day off tomorrow, inspired by yet another look at the small ads at the back of the Faro de Vigo. Should it be “Las chicas mas sexy”, which I think is the normal way it’s done. Or “Las chicas mas sexys”, which I saw today. And has the Royal Academy of the Spanish language pronounced on this?

Just a quick comment today on the Great Galician Turbine Turmoil [the Mammoth Mill Mess?] – It seems that an added element of bizarreness to the process was that the views of the Ministry of the Environment were ignored and that the plans announced call for several ‘parks’ in protected areas. The leader of the PP party has said of the whole affair that “It smells of something rotten.” Hard to disagree. It’s either a brilliant move by the nationalist BNG that will secure it increased representation and power in March or both a reflection of just how much power has gone to its head and the highwater mark of its exercise of same. Not long to wait to see whether it has over-reached itself in mistaking its position for that of the much-better-supported Basque and Catalan nationalist parties.

Finally, the last day of the year sees me finally bringing you these pictures of the best tuning in and around town, and which I’ve been trying to snap for quite a while. When I’ve had my camera with me, it wasn’t to be seen and when it was, I didn’t have my camera. But today I came back from town and found it parked in front of me. Serendipity? Or God again? If the latter, it occurs to me he might turn out to be Jeremy Clarkson.

Actually, it now strikes me this may be the same car I photographed from afar last week. Oh well, Happy New Year, everyone.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Watching the tail end of a British TV program last night on the 100 Most Annoying People of 2008, I was delighted to find I’d never even heard of the winner, one Agyness Deyn. She’s an empty-headed model, apparently.

Talking of which . . . I’ve taken to accessing an on-line news and opinion digest called The First Post. Over the last 3 or 4 days, this has brought me nothing but at least a hundred citations of a report that the secret of fashion designer Valentino's perma-tan may have been revealed. Click here if this intrigues you.

As predicted, President Zapatero has announced that the poorer bits of Spain disadvantaged by his new system for financing the regions will benefit from a separate fund. As a result, says the government, all the regions will get more money than ever before and everyone in Spain will get the same level of services wherever they live. If you believe this, you’ll believe anything. Or at least that Spain will have full employment by the end of 2008. Anyway, President Z’s divide-and-rule strategy obviously owes so much to perfidious Albion that I’m surprised it hasn’t yet been labelled El Plan Britanico.

There’s no doubt Pontevedra is a finer city now than when I arrived 8 years ago. Assuming you’re a pedestrian. However, the price in daily disruption has been high and I had hoped this was coming to an end. So it was disappointing to see this headline in the Diaro de Pontevedra – “Get ready for a year of widespread works”. So, more road and pavement obras to avoid. Or at least negotiate. However, the good news is that much of the recession-easing cash will be spent on two more bridges over the river separating Pontevedra from my barrio of Poio. Ultimately, this will ease traffic bottlenecks but you don’t have to be a pessimist to envisage more chaos in the near term. Hey ho. I just hope they finally finish and open the monstrous glass and granite building which is destined to be the new home of the city’s fine museum.

If you’re thinking of bucking the trend and buying a property in Spain, you might want to give the developers and estate agents [realtors] a miss and head for the nearest bank or caja/caixa. As this commentary points out, they're likely to have a lot of stuff to shift. Perhaps at knockdown prices. Though I should warn you it’s a commonly held view here that bank auctions are dominated by a ruthless mafia who don’t take kindly to being overbidden on distressed properties. But this could be just an urban myth.

For one reason and another, we’re giving up the modem/dongle that allows us to get the internet on our laptops wherever there’s mobile phone coverage. Needless to say, it wasn’t enough to go back to the shop where we signed the contract. Nor just to ring the premium rate number they gave us and go through the customary time-consuming process of extrication. No, we also had to send a premium rate fax with a letter and a photocopy of both sides of an ID card. Just in case – I suppose – some twisted crook was trying to end the contract to our disadvantage. As I was walking through town later, I got to pondering just how long Santander’s business would last if they decided to introduce such Spanish practices in the UK, when I suddenly came upon this car . . . .

I may be mis-reading this but, on the surface, it looks like Santander’s acquisition of a couple of ailing UK banks has led them to try a few British practices here. But, if in fact they’ve been providing commission-free banking for some time, then I apologise for my rank opportunism. Frankly, though, it looks to me like a message from God. Who presumably reads this blog and has some sympathy with my view of Spanish banks.

By the way, the phone company from which we rented the dongle is Vodafone. Which is British, of course. It obviously cuts both ways.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Well, first off, you’ll all be wanting to know that El Fandi was the leading bullfighter of 2008, garnering the highest number of tails, ears and ovations. The last mentioned came cheaper to the bulls. Though they were probably past caring at this point.

The writer of this article reviews what went wrong in the financial and credit markets this year and offers a mea culpa which turns out to be rather more of an exculpation. As I understand it, it’s all the fault of those of us who aren’t as logical as economists feel we should be. Especially when the US government makes mistakes that the writer wouldn’t have made.

I have seen a few Pinter plays but never been a fan. Perhaps because I recall being bored stiff when watching The Birthday Party as an immature teenager. As opposed to the immature adult I later became. However, I’ve no reason to doubt the basic view of this columnist that he was a creative genius. Though I find it easier to agree with her comment that such folk often make silly political commentators.

While I may have drunk quite a lot of wine in my life so far, I can’t claim to have any great knowledge. Or, indeed, a decent nose or palate. So I was interested in this article on how to fake the ability to spout the sort of garbage we’re all familiar with. And even more so in the cited article revealing that even experts can find it difficult to distinguish between red and white wines, when denied knowledge of their colour. Makes you think.

The Pontevedra council has plans to make a permanent exhibition of the medieval ruins recently disinterred. And, understandably, to place a number of artefacts in the museum. The article on all this used the verb musealizar but it seems this has yet to be recognised by the Royal Academy. Which is a shame. Perhaps I jotted it down wrongly. Though Google gave me 5,000 citations just now.

Talking of councils in Galicia . . . The wealthiest turns out to be Beariz, up in the Pontevedran hills. I think I'm right in saying this includes the town of Avión, which [naturally enough] has its own little airport for the private jets of the descendants of the people who emigrated to Mexico and made their fortune from questionable business practices.

Which reminds me . . . Someone from one of the Madrid universities has analysed 42 films made in Spain between 2000 and 2006 and established that 31% of the male protagonists avail themselves of prostitutes. Which is hardly surprising, I guess. Cinema verité.

Those who are fed up with details of the Great Galician Turbine Turmoil should log off now. . . There are, of course, more articles in the local press today and, in this one, the writer says it was inevitable the BNG would take decisions on a political rather than a commercial basis – “It’s a nationalist and minority party; it applies linguistic rigour as it if were a mark of its symbolic identity and tries to open up real areas of influence based on economic pragmatism in its areas of influence. . . . As travelling companions, it chooses financial entities where it has political interest, rural companies where it enjoys influence, canning companies in towns where it governs or co-governs - a varied business base with which it wants to weave a middle-class nationalism.” For which you can hardly blame them as this is what has brought Cataluña to its present position. But the interesting thing to observe will be whether their unilateral – let’s-annoy-almost-everyone-important – approach on this issue will result in them reversing the trend of the last 2 or 3 elections and assure them more than 20% of the vote. Vamos a ver. Or Ya veremos. I can never remember which.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I don’t, of course, know whether it’s Christopher Booker or the scientists he rails against who are right about both Global Warming and man’s contribution to it. But I do admire his energy and his consistency in opposing and challenging orthodoxy. And I do hope he’s right that the world doesn’t need to spend the vast sums of money required to defeat the devil. Not that much of this is going to be spent during the years of recession ahead of us. Anyway, here’s his latest article, which some might find a tad triumphalist.

Talking of the so-far generously-financed great fight against Global Warming . . . Here in Galicia there’s trouble at the turbines. The Voz de Galicia tells us today it’ll be a while before the fat lady sings the final results of the tender process. Firstly, the president of the Xunta has distanced his majority party from the announcements made this week by his minority nationalist coalition partner and said that each ‘park’ will be dealt with separately. And, secondly, all the [many] companies whose snouts were left out of the trough have instructed their lawyers to initiate legal appeals. Which should be fun to observe. Meanwhile, here’s an article from the Voz in which the author questions the democratic credentials of the BNG party for unilaterally taking decisions of such importance when 82% of the electorate didn’t vote for it. Good question. But this is Spain and these things happen. When the nationalist tail wags the socialist dog.

En passant 1: The title of the article is the Spanish equivalent of Gone with the Wind.

En passant 2: The company awarded the biggest share of the spoils is described in one paper as ‘the armed arm’ of the local savings bank [Caixanova] which owns it. Which seems an odd thing for a bank to have.

To be less serious - This may or may not be a photo of something unique. It’s a bank branch on the edge of Pontevedra that’s possibly just closed down. Unless it’s merely being refurbished. Time will tell.

And, finally, here’s a building in the centre of town which may not be long for this life. It’s clearly scheduled for renovation but I’d bet there’s a fair chance of the lovely façade, at least, being retained. But we will see.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I suggested yesterday that President Zapatero might have bought off the poor regions with cash outside the main finance package. And today we learn that Sr Z is well disposed to accept the suggestion of the Galician President that regions which must promote a second official language should be given more bunce for this. So, stand by for an upsurge in the development of Asturian and Leonese. In fact, of every language except Castilian.

I never thought I’d say this but the Spanish media’s predilection for gruesome photos is nothing compared to what I saw this morning on Al Jazeera TV, following the Israeli air strikes on the Gaza strip. But then, if you’re happy to show people being beheaded, I guess there’s no limit.

Here’s David Jackson’s interesting take on the protest march I referred to in yesterday’s post. It gives an insight into how these things are dealt with in the local Spanish press. It’ll be instructive to see how the issue is covered by the national media. If it is. It’s hard to believe the central government is unconcerned about Spain’s reputation and the future flow of inward investment so one’s forced to conclude it’s impotent in the face of a regional government which, though at least negligent, is powerful and untouchable. However much noise is made either in Brussels or by local expats of any and all nationalities. One wonders how many of the latter are voting with their feet. Not that it’s easy to sell your Spanish property right now. But who could blame them for trying.

Galician friends insist that shellfish – particularly the unappetising percebes – haven’t always been the expensive fare they are these days. Not too many decades ago, they say, these were the food of only the poor. Interestingly enough, dipping into Chaucer's Canterbury Tales today, I found the Friar bemoaning that fact that, while others have better food, he and his colleagues are reduced to eating mussels and oysters.

The Galician press is today full of the details of the winners and losers in the great wind-farm bonanza. There were over 120 supplicants but only 25 of these are to be given the right to generate energy in hundreds of more ‘parks’. There seems to be general astonishment that the nationalist BNG party which holds the Industry portfolio has ignored the region’s major entrepreneurs and favoured the local savings banks [the Caixas], the milk producers, the tile quarriers and the food canners. I’m hard pushed to know what the selection criteria might have been but here’s a commentary that may or may not be ironic. Or even an example of the sarcastic Galician humour, retranca. Someone with a better knowledge than mine of the nuances of Spanish and the Galician culture might be able to tell us.

Finally, I’d like to thank the uncommunicative Catalans on the other side of me from nice-but-noisy Tony. They went away for a few days and switched off the computer, leaving us without any internet. Even more unfriendly than usual. But now they’re back and their WiFi signal is again bouncing around the ether. Maybe they’re not so bad after all. At least they never park in front of my garage.

Friday, December 26, 2008

There’s good news for Brits struggling with the financial crisis and the low pound – the atrocious summers of the last few years may well be a thing of the past. Allegedly, the cause of these has been a combination of 1. mischief on the part of the current called La Niña, 2. a weakened Gulf Stream, and 3. irregular sunspot activity. All these are now said to have got their acts together, meaning British summers will soon be as hot and dry as they've always been. Until, that is, Global Warming makes them halfway decent.

Here in Spain, President Zapatero has continued to play Santa Claus in his one-to-one meetings with the 17 regional presidents on the issue of regional finance. Apparently with some success. As El Mundo puts it today, the presidents of those rich regions where the opposition party rules have backed his per-capita-based proposals and the presidents of the poor regions where the governing party rules have imposed a vow of silence on themselves. The suspicion is that, as regards the latter, Sr Z has done what the British government did with the doctors who opposed the nationalisation of the health service in 1948 and "stuffed their mouths with gold” in some other form. Or he may just have threatened to break their legs. Either way, no one has any idea whether the sums will add up as no figures have yet been issued. And possibly won’t be until after imminent elections in the Basque Country and Galicia.

The price of crude oil is reported to have fallen to 35 dollars a barrel. This news is even more exciting than it is welcome. For regular commentator Moscow has predicted that, once it gets down to 30, Russia will start to implode. Something I felt sure we wouldn’t see. In fact, the price has fallen 78% over a relatively short period, leaving me scratching my head as to why petrol has only fallen 26% at the pumps. But I guess it makes sense to someone.

As I’ve said, it’s not exactly rare for politicians to call each other a liar in Spain. But possibly a new low was reached in the Galician parliament this week, when the president of this august institution called a member of the opposition a ‘dickhead’. Or gilipolla. The president is, by the way, a woman, though clearly no lady. Which is a sentence you can’t actually write in Spanish. Or any other language which deals in genders, I guess.

Previewing the TV offerings for New Year’s Eve, a Spanish critic today conveyed his feelings with the headline – “Another night for the DVD”. Which I’d have thought was a pretty all-purpose comment, frankly. His is certainly not a job I'd ever envy.

One sometimes gets the impression the Spanish central government and, even more so, the regional governments in Valencia, Andalucia and Murcia don’t much care about the reputation which Spain now has in the country which supplies most of its tourists and foreign residents. Whether or not this is true, things won’t be helped by the latest revenue-raising exercise described in this article.

And talking of Andalucia and concern about what’s been going on down there, if you’re reading this in that part of Spain, you might want to think about attending the event described here. Especially if it might be you next.

Things were surprisingly quiet next door last night. It’s possible one factor was Tony’s laryngitis - about which the neighbour on his other side and I had a good laugh a couple of days ago – but it’s also possible that the family was dining in La Coruña. The evidence for this was the two toll receipts I found on the pavement this morning, showing that someone left there at 5.30 this morning. Hardly unusual in a Spanish post-prandial context, of course.

Finally, here's another of the tunings I see around town. A blue companion for the red one of a few days ago. And another fan of Andalucian music, I believe.

On second thoughts . . . don't all models of this car have this ridiculous rear spoiler?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The regional finance row rumbles on, with the national newspapers giving different takes on the high-level, one-to-one meetings taking place, according to their political bias. However, the emerging consensus is that President Zapatero is going to go with a population-based formula for everyone. This will please Cataluña [socialist and nationalist], Madrid [conservative] and Andalucia [socialist but non-nationalist] but leaves Galicia, Asturias, Estremadura and the two Castillas decidedly less thrilled. As these are regions where the population tends to be older and poorer, one’s forced to ask where the much-vaunted ‘national solidarity’ is in all this. Perhaps the concept is only important now in the context of what ‘poor’ Spain deserves from the central coffers of the EU. And maybe the very right-of-centre ABC is right to say that the nationalists are now governing Spain. If even more exaggerated than my own observations.

Astonishingly, the late British slapstick comedian, Benny Hill, is still widely remembered – and possibly loved - in both Spain and France. There was a cartoon in one of the papers yesterday showing President Z saying or thinking something, with ‘the Benny Hill music’ playing in the background. It put me in mind of Norman Wisdom’s huge popularity in Iran in the mid 70s. Though the Islamic revolution at the end of the decade may well have done for that. I met NW at Manchester airport a few years back but forgot to ask him. He is/was a notorious penny-pincher and – despite his considerable fortune – was boarding the same cheap flight to Spain as me and my family. And looked even grumpier.

Talking of money – There was a photo in yesterday’s paper of one lucky winner of the big Christmas lottery, showing his bank book entry of 300,000 euros. However, consumer organisations were quick to do my job in pointing to the entries recording the high level of commissions routinely charged by his bank. Spaniards keep boasting of how wise, strong and stable their banks are and I keep saying how expensive and inadequate their services are, unless you think it’s a good idea to have a branch of your bank every few hundred metres along your town’s main streets. We’re both right, of course. And, if this is what Spanish consumers are happy with, then so be it. But it’s not compulsory for the rest of us to be overly impressed. At least not as customers, rather than shareholders.

Spanish courts are beginning to find what belonging to the EU really means. Firstly, there was high dudgeon a week or two back, when the European court found in favour of Gibraltar over some questionable financial practice. And now there’s anger that a Belfast court is interfering in the Spanish judicial process by daring to question whether a famous ETA member committed any crime here justifying his extradition to Spain. I look forward to seeing the reaction when some popular Spanish individual is arrested in, say, Bulgaria on an EU arrest warrant obtained by a publicity-seeking local judge.

The fact that the Spanish don’t feel the need to tip at American levels of 15-25% seems to me to be a good thing. The norm is probably around 10% in areas where tourism is a major factor but, elsewhere, the principle of ‘the small change from your pocket up to a max of 5%’ seems to still hold sway. That said, twice this week I’ve seen in my regular bar tips of 5 cents on bills in excess of 6 euros. Or less than 1%. I mean, why bother? No wonder I get generous helpings of wine and tapas in return for 10%. Sometimes being generous rather than my customary mean can pay for itself. If only in smiles.

Which reminds me – Merry Christmas to everyone. I might take a day off tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Just in case you’re not fed up with insights into the crook Madoff and how he did it, here’s a relevant article.

For some reason or other, the CEO of France Telecom has said that he just hopes Telefónica play by the rules. Don’t we all.

A woman writing to El País on Sunday said she’d been fined by the traffic police 341[sic] euros but didn’t know what for. However, they’d told her that, if she takes a few hours out of her life and visits one of their offices, they’ll kindly let her know. She claimed the legal speed has been reduced on many roads, so ensuring the maximum number of drivers will fall into well-laid traps. Well, there was no reason to believe the Spanish police wouldn’t be as efficient and as officious as any other once they became an arm of the tax office. As I well know.

It’s probably unfair but I occasionally visualise the President of Spain as a large Santa Claus surrounded by the loud, greedy, fractious kids which are the Spanish regions, all demanding more and more from his bag of goodies. The difference is there’s no factory behind the Spanish president producing more of the competencies/powers which the regional governments insist on being transferred to them. So one day Santa’s sack will be empty and the Spanish central government can resign en masse since it has nothing left to do. Though I suppose that, in the meantime, it could come up with more of the money being demanded by those regions which think they’re being disadvantaged against one or more of the others. Which means all of them, of course. But especially Cataluña, with whose president Sr Zapatero has recently ‘secretly’ met to talk about a new financing package for this troublesome region/nationette. The prospect of a unilateral deal seems to have all the other regional presidents up in arms – including those from Sr Z’s own party – as they feel a march has been stolen on them by the cunning Catalans. Who are admired and hated equally for their commercial nous and their successful football team. And possibly for their habit of working hard. Stepping back from the detail, I’m left with the overview that the Spanish system of government was designed to be difficult to operate when times are good but impossible when they’re bad and fear and jealousy stalk the land. Like now, for instance. Though this may not have been deliberate. More interestingly, in which direction are things heading? - a question which I think was ducked by the recent Economist review of Spain. Which, nonetheless, managed to stir up a whirlwind of protest here in Spain. Especially in Cataluña. Personally, what I’d like to see is one of the nationalist regions doing a Rhodesia and making a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Or UDI, as it was fondly called at the time. Now, that really would be fun to watch. Especially with one eye on the reaction from Brussels. My money’s on the Basque Country. Some time between now and the next recession.

The hammer blow to the capitalist system provided by the banking and financial crises of the last year has apparently not yet redounded to the favour of left wing parties. For The Economist’s explanation of this surprising [non]development, click here.

Finally, in keeping with the festive mood, here’s one of the tunings I see around town from time to time. I think I recall Andalucian music being a favourite of the owner . . .

Monday, December 22, 2008

It was an unusual night. Hits to my blog – usually around 25-30 – were 77. And one of these arrived after a search for mastodonic tits. What, in the name of heaven, can these be? And what sort of person can be interested in them?

Anyway, here’s a thought-provoking piece on global warming from that indefatigable sceptic, Christopher Booker. Who doesn’t believe in the man-made EU either.

Thank God for folk like those of the Plain English Campaign. They’ve criticised British supermarkets for the gobbledygook in which they describe Christmas food. I particularly like the term they’ve previously applied to the rubbish which comes from the mouth of every media-trained British policeman these days– ploddledegook.

The province of Pontevedra has seen its second case of domestic murder within two weeks. This time it was the mother of six kids, strangled as they slept by a husband who resented her coming back late from her waitress job. I’m not sure the incidence of these killings is any higher than in any other developed society but it’s certainly a high-profile issue for the Spanish media. As paedophilia is for their UK brethren. That said, with a week or two to go, the total for the year now looks set to pass that of the record for 2007.

The unfortunate woman in this case had worked late because Friday night was when everyone in Spain said farewell over dinner to all those they’d worked or studied with over the previous few months. Which I later realised was why the shops were remarkably empty on Saturday morning. Almost everyone in the city and it environs was sleeping late. But not my neighbour with the bloody hammer, of course.

El Pais informed us yesterday that the revenue from the new Galician windfarms will be around 431m euros a year and that the successful companies will make an eye-watering 15-20% profit a year. The paper adds that - just as in the UK - none of this would happen without grants and subsidies. It make one smile – well, me anyway – to see how those left of centre rail against avarice in the free economy but turn a blind eye to government-sponsored market distortion, greed and corruption in respect of schemes which are felt to serve some admirable political objective. Which takes us back to Christopher Booker, the EU and the infamous Common Agricultural Policy.

Some good bad news for Brits living in Europe but financed by a British income – “With Germany headed into its worst recession since the war, France contracting, Italy in the doldrums and Spain's already high unemployment soaring with the bursting of its property bubble, the Deutsche Bank expects the euro to be back down to $1.21 within a year. . . It is widely understood that the strong euro is no blessing and also that the eurozone recessions could be more stubborn and lasting than in Britain and the US because of the ECB's slowness to cut interest rates. The pound would then perk up.” Well, we will see. Meanwhile, here’s the less optimistic view.

Finally, here’s an informative article on the Galician delicacy I love to hate – the percebe. I got it from Google Alerts. Which, once again, failed to mention my blog. Happy bloody Christmas to the incompetents who manage this pathetic service.

PS. I’ve just noticed this was the second time this year someone arrived at this blog searching for mastodonic tits. You’d have thought he learned the first time they weren’t here. But doubtless it will be a recurring theme now that I've mentioned them again. Twice.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

You’d have to be an idiot – or a sublimely optimistic Leftie – to think we’re watching the death of capitalism. The truth, of course, is that we’re only witnessing the suspension of its worst manifestation, conspicuous consumption driven by rampant consumerism. Or vice versa. There are few of us, it seems, who’ve proved impervious to this. Perhaps because it helps to be mean and who on earth wants to be thought this? Apart from those of us who revel in the reputation.

And so there’s a very positive aspect to this phase of global development and those non-meanies among you can now take advantage of the relief afforded by the chance to stop showing off. As one columnist has put it this morning – “The recession has reversed the phrase 'cash-rich, time-poor' - a phrase that sums up the skewed priorities of our period of wealth. Time is almost the only thing that is recession-proof. Most of us are now more time-rich. Time cannot disappear into the ether with a dodgy derivative; in fact, time for other people is the best silver lining in the cloud of recession.”

Which is as good a link as I could hope to find for a bit of doggerel I penned a few years ago, to impress a then new girlfriend:-
Before your mind just drifts away
Reflect a while upon your day
And ask yourself if you can say
I brightened up two lives today.
The point, of course, being that you brighten up your own in doing this for someone else. At least, that’s my excuse for all the rubbish I launch into cyberspace.

The Galician government – the Xunta – has plans for a several more skyline-blighting windfarms. Given the huge subsidies and profits on offer, there’s naturally a long list of ‘green’ companies bidding for the contracts. My impression is the tendering exercise has set the socialist and nationalist coalition partners at each other’s throats. Which seems unwise three months ahead of elections but it can only reflect the fact that huge principles are at stake. Or vast sums of money. The latest development – apart from the nth postponement of decisions – is that the ministries of the Environment and Development have publicly announced their differences on the subject. This show will surely run and run. Unless it’s decided there are now higher priorities for cash than alleged environmentally-sound mega-projects.

Back down on earth, there’s an interesting [inverse?] symmetry in the fact that, while fish and seafood prices are – as usual – twice their normal prices ahead of Christmas, the Xunta forecasts that 50% of the stuff will be thrown in the bin. So, at least in this regard, conspicuous consumption will be postponed to next year. As with expenditure on the humongous national lotteries of the next two weeks. Crisis? What crisis? Carpe diem.

And talking about the price of fish, I was again intrigued to see in yesterday’s list that mackerel is so un-regarded here in Galicia that it doesn’t even figure. Which is great for those of us who love it. Even the wonderful sea bream – dorada – also seems to be out of Christmas fashion. Perfect for us meanies.

Finally, the local police say they’ve just taken delivery of a new 10,000 euro breathalyser machine. Let’s hope their infamous chief doesn’t wander anywhere near it after lunch. Or morning coffee, even.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I’ve written that it’s easy to measure the impact of the recession by the number of shops in the city now boarded up. But it’s not all doom and gloom. As I walked into the centre yesterday, I passed three places being fitted out. These were branches of La Caixa, Caixa Galicia and Caja Iberia. So, all banks. In a city which is already overflowing with them and is in the grip of a credit crisis. Must be further evidence of the truth of President Zapatero’s claim that Spanish banks are the strongest in the world. Or at least the most profitable.

The Spanish Supreme Court has pronounced it illegal for CCTV or hidden camera images of private individuals to appear in the media as this infringes their right to privacy. Would that the Spanish courts were equally concerned with a person’s right to peace and quiet. I was going to write this anyway today but the immediate stimulus has been my neighbour hammering on the wall at 7.45 of a Saturday morning. Which, by my ‘two-hour’ rule-of-thumb for coping with the unique Spanish timetable, equates to 5.45 in other countries. And I don’t mean just one big bang for, say, putting up a picture; I mean continuous hammering over 45 minutes. So far.

I’ve made a number of references to university rankings recently. Here’s some from a Dutch university, comparing places across Europe by various criteria. As the Voz de Galicia said yesterday, those for Spanish institutions are hardly in keeping for a country which boasts of being the 8th largest economy in the world. Specifically, the first appearance is at 26 [Barcelona] and the second at 45 [Madrid]. As the paper says, there’s a long way to go before Spanish universities rank with her business schools. Perhaps the Bologna process will help. If it is fully implemented.

This global warming is a bugger. I think I read it’s been one of the coldest starts to winter for ages. And now I see there’s been snow in both New Orleans and Las Vegas. What on earth can it all mean? Will polar bears start heading south for the winter?

Back in the here-and-now, the BBVA bank tells us the ‘overhang’ of unsold new properties in Spain has reached 1.4 million and that – rather unsurprisingly – there are 50% discounts in some parts of the country. What a shame the poor Brits can’t take advantage of this, thanks to their rubbish currency. Which is forecast to reach parity with the Zimbabwe dollar by the end of next year. Unless Gordon Brown wins a snap election next Spring. In which case, it could fall even further.

Finally . . . Need I add that I’ve just discovered Tony is back from sea. The first clue lay in the [adult] bawling and [child] crying that began the minute the [bastard] hammering stopped. Presumably we can lay the fault for the latter at his jet lag as he always flies home from Singapore. Anyway, on to the next, noise-laden 6 weeks. Starting with the 5 boisterous, all-night dinners between Christmas and the Epiphany on 6th January. Hey ho. Life can be such a joy in fun-loving Spain.

We're going away for a while. Well, wouldn't you?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Spanish newspapers are once again reporting that a deal has been struck to transfer Ronaldo to Real Madrid. So I was interested to see this bit of diplomatic British understatement from the Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson – “Do you think I would get into a contract with that mob? No chance. Christ almighty, I wouldn’t sell them a virus, let alone Cristiano Ronaldo. So you can take that as a No. There is no agreement whatsoever between the clubs.” It will be interesting to see what Spanish conspiracy thinkers will make of this. They are not exactly thin on the ground.

Customer Service – Spanish style. I did some gift-shopping today. Well, one has to around this time of year. Though I don’t normally start so early. I was in search of an electronic dictionary and tried eleven different shops across a spectrum of outlets - stationers, gift-shops, bookshops, electrical goods retailers and computer shops - before I found a place [book-cum-gift shop] which stocked a range of dictionaries. Here’s the summary of the responses to my query as to whether these were sold:-
‘No’ with an expression of regret – Nil
‘No’ with advice as to where I might get one – Nil
‘No’ with a smile – 1
Bald ‘No’ - 9

One gets use to this but it still leaves me wondering how Spanish companies do any overseas business. And, of course, it isn’t very fair as, firstly, Spanish customers don’t demand anything more and, secondly, Pontevedra is hardly at the centre of international trade.

But there was one shop where the treatment was fine. This was a down-to-earth place in the centre of the city which sells agricultural stuff - including live quail, plants and trees and crude but doubtless effective rodent traps. I was after a Christmas tree but they’d run out and weren’t sure if they’d be getting any more in. However, the guy was apologetic and told me of a garden centre out of town where I might just get one. It’s a shame I wasn’t in search of something he stocked for my true love. Like a partridge caught by its leg in a rat trap in the middle of a pear tree.

President Zapatero has often been criticised for his naivety in economic matters and for the ludicrous inaccuracy of his forecasts/ promises. But, undaunted, he’s now telling us employment in Spain will suddenly stop falling and even soar skywards from next April. Which, happily enough, would be just after the regional elections here in Galicia in March. Luckily for him, a week is a long time in politics and electors’ memories are short. In fact, I’d bet most Galicians won’t recall similar prognostications about imminent full employment in Spain made only a year or so ago, prior to national elections. The reality, of course, is drastically different. But do immigrants vote?

I’m trying hard to stick to a resolution not to cite bad news and to minimise references to the UK or the EU in a blog written from – and largely about – Spain. But, in a region which has Europe’s largest fishing port, it’s impossible not to be worried by a comment like this – “This week European fisheries ministers have been haggling in the annual quota-setting round in Brussels. Europe's systematic mismanagement of its fisheries, under which ministers regularly hand out quotas higher than scientists advise, was memorably described this week as akin to a ‘doctor assisting the suicide of a patient’ – for it will ultimately condemn the fishing industry to death.” But, hey, maybe that’s just alarmist claptrap. Even if we continue to turn a blind eye towards illegal fishing. Which is not an accusation which can be levelled at the Spanish government, as it regularly bombards us with ads about the size of the wee fishies we should have on our tapas plates. But don’t. Suffer little fish to come unto us.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Some good news – At last steps are being taken by the Spanish government to stimulate the property rental market by making it less difficult for landlords to take measures against defaulting tenants. Not before time. Things must be bad.

And another item to cheer us up in these straitened times – The last equestrian statue of Franco in mainland Spain has been removed from its plinth in Santander. But there is one remaining monument in Spain – albeit of the Generalisimo merely standing – in the North African enclave of Melilla. Melilla is different, it seems.

Speaking of enclaves . . . I was intrigued to learn from a BBC podcast today that Europe has far more of these than you’d think. These are landlocked places that belong to country A but are surrounded by country B. And possibly countries C, D and E. There is, for example, a Spanish Catalan city surrounded by France. And an Italian city surrounded by Switzerland. Reportedly, they all live in remarkable harmony with their neighbours but are unpopular with Brussels. This is possibly because they have no need of one of the 90-plus EU bodies which are set up in appropriate places to facilitate cross-border activities. Which apparently amounts to doing very little but paying handsome salaries to the lucky folk who man them.

I’ve just tried to access the web page of the Spanish subsidiary of FNAC, the major French books and electronics store. I'd had no problems accessing Amazon UK and FNAC France but, after 15 minutes of waiting, finally gave up on the Spanish web site. I regularly read that the incidence of internet shopping is lower here than elsewhere and I’m beginning to understand why. Of course it doesn’t help that there’s no Amazon Spain. Perhaps they know something I don’t know.

And while I’m moaning . . . My new[ish] laptop naturally has the latest Vista operating system installed but only Wordpad instead of Word. The former seems to be designed – especially when cutting and pasting - to make you so angry you’ll rush out and pay through the nose for the latter. Or, if you live here, find a friend who’ll give you an illegal copy.

Which sort of reminds me – There’s now a computer operating system entirely in Gallego, called Galinux. Needless to say, it’s been launched by the regional government and not by a commercial concern. But it’s free. Perhaps someone could give us an opinion of it.

Finally - The good news . . . After an hour or so, the FNAC Spain web site has finally come up on screen. The bad news . . . The search facility is, shall we say, less than rapid. In fact, I’ve just received the message that they can’t attend to my request right now and I should try again later. As if. Stuff ‘em.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

While waiting at the post office today for the queue of 20 people ahead of me to exhaust itself, I had fun with the stamp machine in the lobby. I couldn’t actually use it to get stamps for my cards as there are extra charges for both non-standard size and non-white envelopes these days. But it was amusing to see I got a different price the three times I tested it with one of the cards. But confusing when I switched to English and, after giving me the price, the machine gave me the choice of Go Back or Receive. Until I realised the latter was a translation of the Spanish word Aceptar. So, even the government can’t afford native speakers to check its English.

Here’s a list of what someone thinks are the funniest gags in Britain during 2008. The only one I found really amusing in print was this one, from comedian Jimmy Carr:- “Barack Obama becoming President. Lewis Hamilton winning Formula One. It's been a good week for slightly black people.” But I heard No. 3 on the TV at the time and it was very good, despite the lèse majesté. Or perhaps because of it.

Sign in a London library - Do not leave your belongings. Unattended thieves operate in this area.

All deaths on the roads are tragic, of course, but this one perhaps more than most – a local man was killed when driving too fast to get to the hospital where his daughter was lying after being hit on a zebra crossing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

If you are easily moved to tears, don’t read this beautifully written article on Iceland’s current plight. But, if you do and end up feeling a tad weepy, don’t then move on to the comments. You will end up in floods. And, if you’re British, with renewed shame for what Mr Brown did to them for his electoral advantage.

The postwoman brought me another registered letter from the Traffic Department this morning. We both thought it was my third speeding fine of the year and she kindly warned me of a notorious trap in Vigo. But, in fact, it was confirmation my payment of the fine had led to the file being closed. I wondered why they needed to send me this, especially in the form of an expensive registered letter, but I read this afternoon that only 25% of fines are paid. So I guess it was an expression of appreciation for my integrity. And possibly of surprise.

Zapping through the Spanish TV channels yesterday, I alighted on one in which a woman was imploring people whose neighbours are ‘a nightmare’ to get in touch with her. I decided mine didn’t quite qualify but suspect the lines will be quite busy.

I received this complaint by email this morning - My wife who is Spanish, learning English, with deep roots in the part of Spain where you currently reside has been on the end of one of your jokes. I do not find it funny. I have explained to her that probably it is your poor sense of humor, but if you cannot be honest about yourself please stop to consider that based on that there is no honesty in what you write. As the writer says he doesn’t want to enter into dialogue and hasn’t answered my query as to what joke this might be, I can only say I hope no one else has been upset by an anti-Galician joke I don’t recall making.

To end on a more positive note – The web page of the Anglo Galician Association is up and running. And here and here are the web pages of two Galician newspapers in Gallego.

Monday, December 15, 2008

In both Britain and Spain there's deep concern about state education. And in both countries the teachers are wont to complain their lives are increasingly difficult. If my younger daughter is to be believed, the demands on her time as a teacher in Leeds make it difficult for her to cook her evening meal, never mind raise a [future] child. In contrast, my Spanish teacher friends seem to have a remarkable amount of free time and no problems in achieving a good work-life balance. So I’m constantly suggesting to my younger daughter she consider joining her sister in Madrid. So far without any success at all. Kids! Just don’t know what’s good for them.

There is a Spanish party – or group, really – which comprises everyone left of the PSOE socialist party currently in government. It’s called the IU [Izquierda Únida] and it’s been in turmoil since it did badly at the general elections early this year. It’s just elected a new leader – after the resignation of the last one – and he turns out to be a [allegedly] hard line communist. Who’s calling for a general strike if things continue as they are. I can’t see this helping the party’s fortunes myself but we will see. I think I’m right in saying its decline has opened the door for the various nationalist parties around Spain’s fringes to become the natural coalition partner of the PSOE, with all the consequences for national unity and solidarity this has brought. De facto federalism, I suspect. Will this ever be made de jure? Probably not by the conservative PP party, if and when it returns to power. And when the EU is finally a superstate, I guess it won’t matter.

Talking of hopeless politicians – Manual Fraga is an 86 year old right-winger who used to be a Franco minister, then a co-founder of the PP party and finally ‘Mr Galicia’ as president of our regional government for 15 years. It was he who last week made the remark about nationalists being strung up so their electoral weight could be tested. It was probably a joke, of course, but it’s good to see both the right-wing El Mundo and, more locally, the Voz de Galicia suggesting it’s high time he was put out to grass. But I suspect he won’t be and will remain in the Senate until he pops his clogs. Or goes completely ga-ga. Which may not be too far off. And which would be rather undignified for a man who was regarded – ignoring everything else – as one of the cleverest of his generation. Let’s hope he’s still smart enough to listen to good advice. From his politician daughter, perhaps. I find daughters are very good at the challenge of telling fathers just how stupid and pathetic they are. Imagine what I’d be like without mine.

I see Google Alert is still not alerting anyone to the existence of my blog, if they search under 'Galicia'. I’d complain, if they had an email address to which one could send a message. Ironically, Word's spell-check doesn’t recognise ‘Google’. Though it has no problem with ‘MSN’.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Scouse comedian, Alexei Sayle, has written a sci-fi novel set in southern Spain, where he has a house. It’s called “Mr Roberts” and sounds like a good buy. He insists there’s a shop down there dedicated to British goods and called Spainsburys. Can this be true?

Talking of books, here’s the final quote from Jane Fox’s excellent treatise on Englishness – “We are no more naturally more modest, fair or courteous than any other culture but we have more rules prescribing the appearance of these qualities, which are clearly very important to us". Which explains a lot.

Here in Spain, inflation has fallen to around 2.5%. Over in Zimbabwe, by contrast, it’s currently running at 231,000,000% a year. But not to worry; the government has just introduced a 500 million Zimbabwe dollar note to help one get through the day. Though it will be worthless tomorrow, of course.

The Spanish government will be bringing in changes to the relatively new driving regulations early in the new year. Prominent among these are the removal of penalties for such things as parking in a bus-stop inset. This used to cost 2 points off your licence but won’t as of next year. Presumably the government could see as well as I could that this wasn't being policed and so the penalty wasn't seen as much of a threat. In contrast, you will now lose 4 points for having a dirty licence plate. And the fines for speeding will increase steeply, meaning - for example -that the two offences I’ve been done for this year will rise from 140 to 400 euros. Easy revenue, of course. Especially if your trap is very skilfully laid. And much easier and more cost-effective than traipsing around town to find the occasional car parked on the pavement or blocking a bus stop.

The price of fish is considered front-page news in our most local paper today. Christmas must be coming. Which reminds me that, at dinner on Friday night, a Spanish friend expressed astonishment that Brits were surprised that fish and seafood are the big items for Christmas dinner here in Galicia. Until a mutual colleague advised him that the Brits, although an island people, don’t do fish. And certainly not at Christmas.

Talking of newspapers – It’s rumoured that it’s going to be illegal for them to carry ads for brothels. If so, I don’t know what the Faro de Vigo will do for lost revenue, as it’s easily the worst offender. In the interests of research, I sullied my fingers again last week, flicking through its rear pages. And was surprised to see that the ads are more explicit than ever, if only because the photos of the girls are now much larger. Oddly, though, some of the faces are pixillated. Possibly the ugly ones who are really working there, as opposed to the unpixillated pretty ones, who aren’t.

By the way, Word’s spell-check gives me titillated for pixillated. Which has a certain logic to it. Though not one you'd expect from a computer.

Finally . . . My [French] partner has just given me this sentence from her English grammar book: - "It was a difficult decision to make but he must make it." There's a prize for anyone who knows in what context this would be correct.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I’ve decided to take a stand against the dreariness of all the news in every newspaper I plough through as research. Henceforth and for an indefinite duration, this blog will be devoted to the trivial, the whimsical and the humorous. At least, that’s the aspiration.

To kick off, I’m indebted to David Jackson [see Links] for what he says is an old joke about nepotism and cronyism in Spain’s national airline - “When does Iberia recruit new pilots? On Take Your Son To Work day”.

The Andalucian courts have found for a private clinic in its battle to force its nurses to wear skirts. The female ones, at least. According to the judge, this is justifiable in the interests of the public image of the company. Which pearl should do a lot for the image of Spain’s judges.

I heard on the BBC this week that Wikipedia has on it more than a few bogus entries that get past whoever is there to stop this sort of thing. I particularly liked the one about the irony of Van Morrison being born in a gym and Jim Morrison in a van

But to end with a bit of seriousness . . . This a nice analysis of the last two Spanish presidents from the balanced folk at 5 Spaniards. It comes as a welcome counterweight in week in which one prominent politician said anyone voting for his opponents was stark raving mad [tontos de los cojones] and another said nationalists should be strung up by their cojones. Incidentally, I only know the specifics of the latter insult because Spanish friends last night acquainted me with the subtle difference between the two Spanish verbs for ‘to hang’ – colgar [by the balls in this case] and ahorcar [by the neck].

There must be elections in the offing. So, plenty of material there.

Friday, December 12, 2008

We have a new private residential college up in the Galician hills, in the spa town of Mondariz. They’re holding presentations throughout the region right now and Pontevedra’s was last night. So, when I got the leaflet in my post-box at midday yesterday, my immediate reaction was this was yet another bit of poor Spanish planning and/or mis-timed marketing. But then I got to pondering whether the opposite wasn’t, in fact, true. There are two principles at play here. Firstly, generally speaking, the Spanish abhor planning as it vitiates spontaneity. Secondly, any commitments made here always come with the unspoken rider ‘Unless something more interesting crops up. In which case you won’t see me.” So, if the college had sent the leaflets out a month ago, very few folk would have put it on a calendar or in an agenda. And sending it out on the actual day allows anyone really interested to drop whatever other commitments they might have had in order to attend. Anyway, I tested this out with a Spanish friend over lunch and she had no doubt at all that the last-minute-delivery strategy would be the most effective with her compatriots. In fact, she laughed at the very notion of any Spaniard taking any notice of something 2 or 3 weeks in the future. Only mañana is in the future. And no-one knows what that holds. “Tomorrow? Why, I may be myself with yesterday’s seven thousand years.” Said old Omar.

In 1983, there were 740,000 people claiming incapacity benefit in the UK. Now there are 2.6 million. Even one of the more mendacious governments in history admits that more than one million of these are not really disabled and should, therefore, be registered as unemployed and have their lifetime benefits curtailed. I raise this not because this is currently a live issue in the UK but because I wonder what will happen in Spain over the next 5 to 10 years in the context of benefits for the disabled. The central government recently announced an increase in these, though I think it’s left to the regional governments to decide who gets what, on the basis of what they can afford. This, of course, is a country where there’s a widely held view that it’s admirable of you to get yourself into the position of doing little and living off someone else, whether this is your parents, the local or national government, or Germany. So there has to be a risk the incidence of depression and chronic back ache will now soar to UK levels. Especially, I would have thought, during a prolonged recession. Will the local governments have more political will than the British government in anticipating and preventing – or at least minimising – fraud? Or will they all – as on many other things – differ in their approaches, meaning that we end up with what’s considered in the UK to be the most heinous of things – ‘a postcode lottery’? And will anyone care, if it suits the local administration? A final word – in truth, someone else’s – on the UK situation: “The upshot is that taxpayers are being defrauded by a disgraceful conspiracy of shameless layabouts and gutless politicians, while the virtue of self-help is destroyed by the vice of a something-for-nothing culture.” So, could it happen here? I rather fear so.

Spanish prisoners who’ve served much of their sentence can be allowed out under a regime called here el tercer grado, ‘the third grade’. As the word grado also means ‘degree’, this always leads to confusion in my mind. I can never decide whether the prison authorities are being lenient or exceptionally harsh.

Pontevedra town council recently introduced their latest – notice I don’t say ‘a new’ – one-way traffic scheme in the city. Just in time for the Christmas shopping rush. Needless to say, this led to a good deal of confusion and quite a lot of accidents. But this may have had less to do with the new system than with the decision to put traffic cops at every junction. As a Spanish friend once said to me, there’s no snarl-up that can’t be made worse by putting one of these clowns in the middle of the road with a whistle in his or her mouth.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

If you haven’t read the comments of the German Finance Minister pouring buckets of cold water on the desperate measures being taken in London and Paris right now, click here and/or here. Don’t you just love to see the ‘greengrocers’ apostrophe’ [“Most other European government's”] in a BBC report?* If even the BBC can’t get the apostrophe right, perhaps it really is time to scrap it. Allowing us pedants to moan but at least get some sleep. Or should that be ‘we pedants’?

Actually, it gets worse. Politically, I mean. Some see the riotous events in Greece as a harbinger of things to come in other EU countries where fundamental problems have been masked by an EMU-driven artificial boom and where the recession will consequently be both deeper and longer than elsewhere. Naming no names. Though this is a bit worrying.

Overall, I can feel myself being drawn towards a bet that the crisis will weaken rather than strengthen the EU. Not that it will stop the project, of course. There are too many vested interests. And, meanwhile, who’d bet against the panicky Irish doing what they’ve been told to do and revise their ‘ignorance-driven’ attitude towards the Lisbon Treaty/Constitution next October? Interesting times. If you can hang onto your income.

Here in Spain, we now have IMF joining the chorus and telling us that, because structural reforms didn’t take place when times were good, Spain risks suffering longer than most other economies. But this is only a prediction and it possibly contrasts with the views of those more optimistic souls who thought the construction boom would never end and that property prices would never fall. But that, if they did, there’d only be [in President Zapatero’s pre-election words] a ‘light deceleration’ and people would go on buying properties when prices were falling.

A day or two ago, I waved away a young clipboard-wielding woman whom I assumed to be a Romanian crook. But, returning later by the same route, I saw four or five young women collecting in the precincts of our basilica and wondered whether I hadn’t been unfair. I shouldn’t have worried. The police arrested them yesterday – ‘Not for the first time’ – after they’d garnered 151 euros for a non-existent charity for the deaf and dumb. Probably the same place as last time.

Finally . . . I’ve been written to by the ex-Chairman of the Northern Rock bank, offering to make me a millionaire. What a lucky bunny I am. He’s clearly not Nigerian so I must be able to trust him. Strange, though, that he seems unaware of the conventions of English punctuation. But, then, if the BBC is equally ignorant, perhaps this is nothing to worry about.

* Corrected by the time I came to post this!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

So, only Italian companies are more involved in bribery overseas than those from Spain. Which is no huge surprise, I guess. Though it has to be said that Spanish companies have a bias towards Latin America and South America, where things may be different from, say, North America. Especially as Canadian companies are among the least involved in this game.

Talking of malpractice – Brussels is said to be concerned that national EU governments are using aid to strengthen their domestic banks at the expense of those from partner countries. Astonishing. But you can understand Spanish disaffection, as banks here – being sounder than any others in the world - are not getting the sort of goodies being dished out elsewhere. Especially north of the Pyrenees, it seems. Where, of course, this is a long-standing tradition. Usually disguised as something else. But no need for subterfuge right now.

And still with malpractice – A major but troubled Spanish construction company is reported to have arbitrarily hiked up the value of its assets by as much as 19,000 per cent, so as to be able to turn in good results for 2007. This appears to have had the blessing of the accountancy firm, Ernst & Young. Who must have some appetising accounting norms for property developers. Or perhaps they’d lost their calculator and had forgotten how to do mental arithmetic.

In the book I’ve already cited, Jane Fox confirms what we all know – that the English are widely admired for their courtesy, reserve and restraint but also renowned for their oafishness, crudeness and violence. These opposites, she asserts, are two sides of the same coin. Or, more precisely, they are both symptoms of the fundamental English social awkwardness. Or ‘dis-ease’, as she calls it. “We English” she explains “suffer from a congenital sociability-disorder, a set of deeply ingrained inhibitions that make it difficult for us to express emotions and engage in the kind of casual, friendly social interaction that seems to come naturally to most other nations. . . The symptoms of English social dis-ease involve opposite extremes: when we feel uncomfortable or embarrassed in social situations (that is, most of the time), then we become over-polite or courteous, buttoned-up and awkwardly restrained, or loud, loutish, aggressive, violent and generally insufferable. . . Both extremes are regularly exhibited by English people of all social classes, with or without the assistance of the demon drink.” Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is that it’s an English cultural belief that – contrary to all the evidence from other cultures – alcohol is a disinhibitor, giving them licence to go from one extreme to the other. So much so that, if you give them non-alcoholic drinks which they think are alcoholic, they will do this simply because they believe that’s what alcohol is for. Or something like that. You’ll have to get the book, if you really want to understand them. Us.

We have 11 or 12 local newspapers here in Galicia and I regularly admit I can’t understand how they all make money, though older Spanish hands suggest it has something to do with political subscriptions and advertising linked to the editorial line taken. Be that as it may, there is now to be another kid on the block – the Xornal de Galicia. Or possibly Galiza. I wish it well. Especially as it will be largely in Gallego. Which might just entitle it to some subsidies.

There are reported to be more than 400 Gallegos who’ve been the victim of el mobbing this year so far. Which is pressure from workmates or, more usually, bosses aimed at forcing employees to leave. Someone has commented that, where you can’t easily fire people, this is inevitable. So I guess the concept of constructive dismissal has yet to gain ground here.

The other interesting statistic of the week is that there are 156 kids in Galicia suffering from Emperor Syndrome and making their parents’ lives a misery. From the amount of crying, whingeing and screaming coming through my shared wall, I’d say about 2% of these are next door. Of course, things are much better when Tony is back from the sea; I can’t hear the kids for his bawling.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Traffic deaths over the holiday weekend were well down on last year and ever further down on those the last time this particular holiday was over a weekend. Hard to argue against the general impact of the tougher traffic laws, even if they are being used in some places as revenue generators.

The other bit of good news is the arrest of the latest ETA leader in France, only a couple of weeks after that of the previous one. This, I believe, is the fruit of the sort of cross-border cooperation that should have been taking place for 40 years but only really began after 9-11, when the French suddenly found it harder to justify their laissez-faire attitude.

Then there was the odd bit of news that the national rail operator, Renfe, has announced more cheap tickets on the Madrid-Barcelona route provided you buy online and use only Microsoft’s Explorer to do so. I’m guessing this is more convenient for Renfe and that customer preferences can go hang. It reminds me of the time you could only buy on line by first taking your ID to a station and when the CEO of the company said he didn’t care that other service providers didn’t impose such ridiculous conditions.

Justice may well be snail-like here but, first, it has to be preceded by equally slow credit- collection measures. It will come as no surprise that I’m in dispute with Ya.com over bills for the period after my ADSL went down. “Just pay our bill and call us on this [premium] number and we will refund it if it’s wrong”, they say. But I am holding out against the second of two dubious bills. The first one I paid on 24 November so I was rather surprised to receive a letter on Friday – ten days later - asking me to cough up. Or, rather, I wasn’t surprised. I guess it will be a pointless court summons next.

Talking of dilatoriness and news items . . . “Almost two thirds of the beach establishments along the Costa del Sol will be denied licenses when they come up for renewal next year, the regional government has warned. The Andalucian coastal authority has announced plans to enforce a 1988 law designed to prevent construction within 100 metres of the waterline.” Better late than never, I suppose. Perhaps they’ve run out of concrete.

Nearer home, the Galician government is rather concerned that the pampas grass imported to adorn the edges of the region’s spinal autopista is now colonising the coastal fringe. Not to mention my garden since I borrowed a couple of plants from the forest. And they do get big. I might just take them back.

Finally . . . I saw an ad recently for a place near Benidorm called The Villaitana Wellness, Golf and Business Sun Resort. Which just about covers all the bases, I guess. Maybe it’s even been built. Possibly legally.

Monday, December 08, 2008

I’m currently smiling and laughing my way through a book called “Watching the English”, kindly lent to me by a friend. There are so many gems in this I could quote from it until the end of time. But I just want to cite the author’s reference to English courtesy. Quite rightly, she sees this as the other side of the coin from English reserve. However, the intriguing thing is foreigners tend to approve of the former but criticise the latter, seeing it as evidence of English coldness, aloofness, arrogance, etc., etc. This, of course, is because they don’t understand what’s going on. The author cites the English ‘instinctive consideration for others’ and goes on to explain that it’s a reflection of a culture characterised by ‘negative-politeness’. Which is avoiding doing things that might upset others. Whereas in a ‘positive-politeness culture’ the emphasis is on a 'warmer, more inclusive approach'. She gives the [still Anglo] USA as an example of the latter and I imagine she’d agree that Spain is another good example. Regular readers will know that this cultural aspect fascinates me as I’m always banging on about how individualistic and inconsiderate the Spanish can be, while at the same time stressing they’re always sociable – or at least affable – and that, at times, they can be extraordinarily polite and even ‘noble’. Regular readers will also know my personal explanation for this is that you have to force yourself onto Spanish radar or into the ear-print of Spanish antennae to get this treatment. Absent this, any English person used to permanent consideration from others and numerous little daily courtesies will be regularly shocked and even irritated by life in Spain. Even if he or she knows why things happen here the way they do. Which is because, unlike the English but probably like every other race in the world bar the Japanese, the Spanish are not brought up to have an instinctive consideration for anyone outside their family circle. Which means that – to the English – the Spanish often literally deserve their own biggest insult – mal educado. But this is hardly fair as it’s all relative. And, anyway, it’s not their fault; it’s their parents’.

Oh, yes - the book is by Jane Fox and is published by Hodder. An excellent Christmas present for anyone English and anyone baffled by the English. Which is a large proportion of the world, I imagine. At the very least, you’ll get some sharp insights into English humour and its place in English/British society. Which can’t be bad. And is pretty essential for enjoying this blog.

If you want a perfect example of what I’m referring to, here it is. It happened when I was coming home from my midday tapa and wine . . . As I drove through a narrow street, a guy walked to his car, three or four ahead of mine, looked at me and then opened his door and forced me to move left so as to avoid him and his door. It appeared not to occur to him to wait for less than a second so as not to inconvenience me. As I say, it’s sometimes hard to get yourself on a Spaniard’s radar. Assuming he wasn’t just a bad mannered bastard.

What usually happens when an Anglo writes posts like this is there's a wave of comments from angry Spaniards, some of whom clearly don’t understand English very well and some of whom have even had to resort to a Google translation. If your post is remarked on in one or more Spanish blogs, you can expect to get hundreds of comments, many saying you have no right to criticise the Spanish because the English are all loud-mouthed, aggressive drunks who vomit and fornicate their way around Ibiza. And some just telling you to piss off back to your own shit hole of a country. Which – when you come to think of it – is rather rude and mal educado . . .

So . . . vamos a ver.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

I can’t say I’ve had any problems myself but I’ve heard it said a few times that Spain is a country where doctors still consider themselves to be close to God. So I was interested to read this weekend that use of the internet will allow illustrious members of the medical profession to ‘humanise’ themselves. Thus becoming, it’s said, fine examples of El Médico 2.0. However, my daughter’s experience in Madrid would suggest it’s still not wise to start your conversation with a specialist with “I’ve been looking on the internet at the latest treatment in the USA.” At least not with un médico 1.0. Or even 1.0.03

I do try to do my bit for the environment, especially when it comes to consuming plastic. But it’s tough when onions, meat, fruit, etc. are sold to you in supermarkets on a plastic tray covered with impenetrable plastic sheeting. Or when the woman in the health food shop [sic] insists on you taking a large plastic bag for your coriander seeds, even when they’re encased in plastic and you’re already carrying another plastic bag they can go in. And I wasn’t too surprised to hear that Carrefour are not selling many of the large non-plastic bags that customers are now using in their French outlets. As with other things – especially water – environmental considerations have yet to make much of an impact on the Spanish. Or should I just say the Galicians?

Talking of our region . . We’re accustomed [or should be] to coming second to last in most of the numerous surveys that are published here, just ahead of the heat bowl/ice box of poor Estremadura. But, when it comes to internet household penetration, we’re even worse off than the inhabitants of that benighted region, with only 40% against their 41%. To compensate, we have four of the cheapest cities in Spain when it comes to a representative basket of foodstuffs. Though the surprising ‘winner’ is Salamanca and the not-so-surprising loser, Bilbao. With the spread between these two being a whopping 24%. It could be another country . . .

Finally – a piece of linguistic advice for Anglos. If you’re looking for the ENT section of the hospital, it goes by the longish and tongue-twisting name of otorrinolaringología. Though I’m told it can be shortened to otorrino. But perhaps it would be best to write it out before you go.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

It’s hard to know what’s going on between British Airways, Iberia and Qantas over a two or three-way merger. Tension between the first two is said to be growing after Iberia briefed investors against BA’s prospects - seen as an attempt to push their share price down so that a merger deal would be cheaper/better for Iberia. At the same time, Iberia is reported to have told BA it must decide which bride to take to the altar as it doesn’t want a ménage-a-trois. So things should become clear quite soon. Maybe.

Depressingly, the UBS bank reckons that Spain’s recession will last until the middle of 2010, causing unemployment to touch 4 million, or 16% of the active population. “The crisis in Spain will be longer and deeper than the rest” says the bank’s strategy director here. This compares with the rest of Europe coming out of recession a year earlier. Including the UK?

Meanwhile, The Economist has reviewed the Spanish property market and makes the point that, while developers and builders may be facing up to the need to reduce prices, private owners are still in denial. What will it take, one wonders.

ETA’s latest cold-blooded murder is of a 71 year old Basque businessman. I don’t comment on these developments because I imagine most people can make up their own minds as to whether or not these terrorists/freedom fighters are men of intelligence, vision and courage. Though I seem to recall there’s a reader in New Zealand who has difficulty with this simple task.

If you want an insight into why Spain’s name stinks in the British property investment world, read this. I wonder how long it will take for the country’s reputation to be cleansed. I was going to say ‘restored’ but this begs too many questions.

I was talking about works on the street and walking under them . . . Here’s the first one I’ve come across since then. The funny thing is there’s a sort of tape parallel to the road – to stop drivers going onto the pavement? – but nothing [except intelligence] to stop pedestrians walking under the scaffolding that’s being erected.

More interestingly, here’s the latest development in the dig outside the Tourist Board offices. The smoothness of the blocks in this old wall suggest it isn’t medieval so presumably it’s either earlier [Roman?] or later. And it looks like they’ve found more of the spherical rock projectiles once hurled into the city. On a point of detail, the medieval walls run along the rear of the building. Which some will recognise as being in the Portuguese style. I think.

Finally, here’s a boutique that was a toy shop until a few months ago. There may well be money patterns along this coast which defy global trends but this investment still looks a bit dodgy to me.

Friday, December 05, 2008

According to UK report, it’s the over 60s who are hardest hit by the spread of by speed cameras. It’s certainly true around here but, more generally, one wonders why this might be.

The Madrid city government has decided to crack down on night clubs in the city, many of which have been operating for years without the appropriate licences. Of course, they didn’t just get up one fine morning and decide to do this. It follows a major scandal a week or two ago, when 3 or 4 bouncers from one of these places beat a young man to death. Needs must.

Nearer home, closure is being visited on the pharmacy down the hill, despite local protests against the development. I don’t know why this is happening. Perhaps the owners have offended one of Spain’s medieval guilds – that of the well-paid, cartelised pharmacists. Anyway, one beneficial side effect would be that idiots will stop parking on the zebra crossing outside the place but, on balance, I’d be happier for the pharmacy to stay open. But customer need and satisfaction are not the criteria here.

Universities are the theme of the week and here’s an informative article for those interested in the subject. The author says he’s attended 7 universities, which must surely be some sort of record. It’s very true that it’s common for Spanish students returning from abroad to say Spanish universities are superior. Which doesn’t, however, seem to be a universal view.

And still on this theme – One of the things that shocked me when I came to Spain was the widely-held view that 'hard' teachers who fail lots of their pupils must be good at their job. I assumed this applied more to Galicia than elsewhere. But this week the front page of the educational supplement of El Mundo carries the headline “Tough professors are a real burden on the universities – Those who fail more than 90% [sic] of their students slow down their entry into the job market and cause frustration and course abandonment.”

We now learn that that the civil servants who were supposed to be monitoring the guy released from prison who killed his girlfriend and stabbed his neighbours had switched off their console because the noise of the alarms annoyed them. Will heads roll? I have my doubts.

Finally, or those with a keen sense of humour and a burning interest in how the EU operates, this is an absolute must.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I can’t say I have a good understanding of the Spanish university system. But I was reminded recently of the comment made to me years ago that the places are rife with endogamy. Which in this context means promotion exclusively from within your own student pool. There was a rather provocative letter in El Mundo this week, from an American professor working here who noted there were calls for the country’s universities to be ranked according to merit. He said this was already being done by the rest of the world, with Spanish universities being rated very poorly. He commented on the low quality, effort and productivity of his colleagues and said things wouldn’t improve until Spain saw the end of enchufismo [cronyism] and its replacement by promotion on merit. If he’s right, this might explain why the greater tutoring workload demanded by the Bologna Process leaves some folk very cold. And afraid.

Here’s something for the philologists . . . I have now seen the word bermello – or something like it – used to mean ‘red’ in Galicia, Andalucia and Cataluña. I feel pretty sure it’s related to vermillion and is Latin in origin. So where does the Spanish rojo come from? The Latin russus?

Oh, dear. I make the occasional reference to this place – and to one of the main economic drivers along this coast – but here’s someone else’s take on the nearby town of Vilagarcia. Where I recently gave a talk on my blog to students of English at the town’s School of Languages. It was very well attended by the way, if perhaps not very well understood - esoteric elements of English grammar holding as much sway over everything there as they do in the rest of Spain. Apart from the fact their language lab is not yet functional because of electricity supply problems.

Oh, dear 2. More than 80% of readers of the Voz de Galicia who could be bothered to vote on line opined that the throwing of football matches is endemic in Spain. I suspect not. Just another bit of conspiracy thinking.

Oh, dear 3. I can’t say I’m surprised at this sad occurrence in nearby Vigo. One is regularly invited to walk through building works on Spain’s streets and it had to happen. And, much as I’d hate to see a Health & Safety gestapo here, I do things some things should be tightened up. In this case, I rather doubt any individual, council or insurance company will be effectively sued for negligence. Or even ineffectively. But let’s hope I’m wrong.

Oh, dear 4. I bought some heating oil a couple of weeks ago to test the system in the house in the hills. They charged me for 50 litres but I later decided this was double the size of the jerry can. So I went back today and they duly gave me some money back and, eventually, apologised. The trouble is that, when you live in a society which a reader [Moscow?] Has characterised as possibly-not-very-corrupt-but-of-low-ethics, you cease to give the benefit of the doubt and come to regard even genuine mistakes as fraudulent. So you become a lesser person than you were. Which is a shame. Anyway, I declined their offer to re-fill my can. They were not to know this was because there’s a leak in it and my car still stinks from the last time.

Oh, dear 5. Although I regularly hear Tony, his father, his two young sons and the woman who looks after them bawling around the house next door, I’ve never heard Tony’s wife, Amparo, raising her voice in more than 4 years. Or not until today, at least. Now she’s joined Bawlers United. It’s the beginning of the end.

Finally, I guess it had to happen – Someone has arrived at my blog today after searching for golfers brothel in Spain

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The ailing construction giant, Sacyr, has sold off its autopista division while it waits to see whether the buyer for its Repsol shares will be Russian, Spanish or, say, German. This has caused a problem for the Galician government since it’s now left with a fistful of empty promises about improvements to our local network. As the buyer is the US outfit Citigroup, we naturally have the standard Spanish cartoon of a fat American in a Stetson, saddled with bulgeing bags of cash. Much greedier and short-term-profit-orientated, of course, than the Spanish company, Sacyr, which clearly doesn’t care who it sells its assets to.

I mentioned the Valencian Land Grab Laws the other day. The EU is now threatening Spain with serious punitive measures if it continues to do nothing to stop the corruption and the widespread abuses on the east coast. All a bit late for the innocent buyers who’ve had their houses knocked down. And for those who’ve lost land and then been forced to pay for infrastructure development on it. The EU’s report is said to express concern the Spanish judicial authorities “have shown themselves to be inadequate and poorly prepared to cope with the impact of massive real estate development in the life of people”. You can say that again. Anyway, here’s Mark Sticklin on the subject.

Quote of the week: British governments increasingly resemble cleaning ladies: they break the crockery and scratch the furniture, but they never, ever own up. Or, in my case, fragile artefacts from the Far East. Which apparently throw themselves off the bookshelves with monotonous frequency. Which is why the survivors are now hidden in drawers.

I may be struggling to find a quiet pub – or even a not-very-noisy one – but down in Murcia impressive steps are being taken against acoustic pollution. The city council has fined 19 raucous places for leaving their doors or windows open and so depriving their non-customers of sleep. The fines can be up to 300,000 euros. Way to go. Much more revenue-promising than motoring fines, I’d have thought.

I see the panic has started . . . Someone arrived at my blog this morning searching under “spain to leave single currency”. Anyone got cheap pounds to sell?