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.