Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hoylake and West Kirby on the coast of the UK’s Wirral peninsula are both very genteel places, with tea rooms to prove it. Essentially, Hoylake is where you go to die respectably - like Brighton, perhaps - and West Kirby is where you go to buy a small mansion to demonstrate how much money you’ve made. Strange to relate, Hoylake is home to the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, where Tiger Woods played in a British Open Championship not so long ago. I had a round of golf myself in Hoylake today, though not at the Royal Liverpool. I played at the municipal course across the road - where the great man goes to practice - with one of my oldest friends, Mike, from downmarket Wallasey along the coast, where we grew up together a few years back. All this is by way of an intro to a joke told at my Friday dinner with Spanish friends last week and which I related to Mike as we spoilt a good walk by trying to hit a tiny ball with a thin stick. As I said to him, it’s a classic of the Spanish genre. And here it is:-

A Frenchman, an American and a Spaniard are drinking in a bar in London. The Frenchman insists his bar in Paris is superior as, after two drinks, you’re given a third one free. The American counters with the claim that in his home bar you get a free drink for every one you buy. The Spaniard - a Basque called Patxi - laughs at these claims and tells them that in his bar in Bilbao you can drink free all night and then go upstairs and have free sex. Amazed, the others ask him when he last availed himself of these bounties. “No, not me.” he says. “My sister”.

So, why is this a classic? Because it hits several buttons all at once:-
1. It’s about sex
2. The sex is illicit
3. It’s set in a brothel
4. It centres on the stupidity of someone from another region of Spain
5. It makes reference to vainglorious Basque boastfulness, and
6. Women don’t come out of it at all well.
But it does lack one standard element - no one has ‘the horns’ put on them. No one is cuckolded or cheated on.

What this says, if anything, about Spanish culture I leave to you. But one other significant way in which it differs from many of the jokes of this genre is that it's quite funny. Though you may choose to differ. Especially if you’re a woman. And who could blame you? Funny thing, humour.

I mentioned yesterday that Spain’s GDP may soon be boosted by the numbers relevant to the huge prostitution, drug-trafficking and smuggling sectors of the economy. What I overlooked was that, once this happens, Spain will not only be less entitled to hand-outs from Brussels but will also be expected to contribute more to the central coffers. Which is why, it seems, Holland has been resisting for years the inclusion of prostitution revenue in its data. With some justification, the Dutch feel they pay enough already. The Spanish, of course, pay bugger-all but receive a lot. So, I guess we can expect them to now ally themselves with the hard-hit Dutch. Strange times, strange bed-fellows. Catholic Spain and Protestant Holland, each claiming there's no prostitution of any significance within its borders, despite the evidence of one's own eyes. And ears.

Here in the UK, there is currently a media feeding frenzy over the huge expense claims of Members of Parliament. Stoked by the tabloidisation of even the quality press, the situation reeks of British hypocrisy and prurience. And the vast quantities of froth are obscuring the basic truths that 1. The expenses scheme was a back-door way of giving the MPs a huge salary increase when this couldn’t be done publicly, and 2. There are now far more MPs than can be justified when much, if not most, of the country’s legislation comes from Brussels. There’s understandable panic among the political classes here that a lot more dirty washing is to be hung on the line. And they must be right. But this is clearly blinding them to the real threat facing them, viz. that their numbers will surely now be reduced to a far smaller total of professional MPs who are so well paid they don’t need to max out on their expenses. Not that many Labour MPs will worry too much about this as there will be many fewer of these after next year’s general elections come what may. Meanwhile, click here for a brilliant commentary on all this nonsense.

And click here for an even more stupendous piece on contemporary British society, which will surely leave you weeping if you are around my age. Or even if you just have the ability to look ahead a few years.

After the bathos, the pathos. Boom, boom.

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