Sunday, May 31, 2009

There is, I think, a tendency for those on the Left to assume a certain moral superiority, convinced as they are that they have right – if not God - on their side. But, here in Pontevedra, the three café-bars I regularly frequent are currently having their communal edition of El País nicked each day. And surely this can only be by a socialist. Unless it’s a fascist, determined to ensure that contrary views are not spread. Time - and vigilance - will tell.

I went yesterday to check whether there was any news of my dead laptop. The lovely young lady in the shop laughed and said it’d only been a week and it was likely to be at least another two or three before I heard anything. Possibly four if the makers had a lot of work on. When I asked if I could track it on the internet, she smiled and said not, as it had been sent off in their name. When I asked if they could track it, she smiled again, paused and said they’d call Monday. I was less than convinced but will make another trip on Tuesday. Sadly, giving you bad news with a smile is what often passes for customer service in Spain. And they then tend to be astonished – hurt even - should you tell them this isn’t quite enough. But I guess it’s better than getting bad news with a disdainful sneer, as in El Corte Inglés. Or even good news with a sneer.

President Zapatero has said he won’t be doing a U-turn and cancelling plans to close Spain’s nuclear powers stations. What’s the betting that, like fellow greenish socialists Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, he changes his mind when the financial facts are fully explained to him? Assuming he can understand them.

And talking of betting, I should have wagered a vast sum on Chelsea winning the English FA cup yesterday. Given my run of bad luck, there was absolutely no way my team, Everton, was going to win. Especially after scoring a goal with less than 30 seconds gone.

En passant. The insult to injury of my car engine blowing up is that I will probably have to pay for it to be towed from the workshop to a wreckers’ yard, where they will refuse to give me anything for it. And then I will have to go down to the police station, fill in a form or two and pay the government around 50 euros for the privilege of taking it off the road. Is there nothing that the Spanish state will not take financial advantage of?

Finally, the outgoing President of the Galician Xunta has blamed his ridiculous forecasts for the arrival of the AVE high-speed train in Galicia on lies and omissions on the part of the relevant ministry in Madrid. Of course.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

As it can sometimes seem that Spain is a little slow in accessing new technologies, it’s good to read that she is a world leader when it comes to the provision of an electronic security card which allows you to do several useful things - such as checking the points you’ve lost for speeding offences - from the comfort of your laptop. When it’s working of course.

As my daughter and her friends didn’t want to be woken before 10 this morning, I thought I’d knock off a couple more car dealers between 9.15 and 10.00. Bad thinking. No sign of anyone in the showrooms during this period. When will I learn? You might think I could compensate by devoting some time to this urgent task tomorrow, Sunday, but you’d be wrong. This may be the day par excellence for visiting car showrooms in the UK and elsewhere but none of them is open here. In fact, the same applies to Saturday afternoon and evening as well. This is prime beach time.

Which reminds me . . . Although the central government has said that, in the interests of competition, it will relax the strict controls on the number of super/hypermarkets that can open in any zone, several regional governments have signalled that they will ignore this. As with smoking bans and various other pieces of central legislation, it seems that Madrid proposes but the regional governments dispose.

I’ve yet to find out what caused my laptop to die but I do wonder about a request for a swap of Skype contact details a few seconds before it happened. This ostensibly came from my sister but, as I feared, she says not. I’m checked to see whether there is a new virus around but can find only evidence of one which comes as an attachment to a specious chat message. So, if anyone can throw light on this for the benefit of us all, this would be appreciated.

Finally, at dinner last night, one of my daughter’s friends said she didn’t know the difference between a whippet and a ferret but was aware they were both ‘connected with northern sports.’ This would have been bad enough if she’d been from the South but, astonishingly, she hails from Accrington. All of which will mean absolutely nothing to many of you. Especially those who don’t know what either a whippet or a ferret might be. But there's always Wikipedia.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A survey by the Spanish consumers’ group OCU reveals - if that’s the right word - that the most expensive supermarket in the country is that of the department store El Corte Ingles. And that the Pope is a Catholic. I await astonishing revelations about Telefonica.

Over the years, I’ve touched on the motley groups of beggars who brighten our lives down in Pontevedra. The oddest fraternity is that of apparently middle-class, middle-aged men who sit on shop doorsteps with a cardboard placard in front of them saying they have a family but no income. Unlike several of the other groups, they don’t go in for any form of importuning, beyond a hang-dog air of sad down-at-heelness. I’ve never been too sure of their bona fides, as it were, but suspicions of professionalism were awakened on seeing them in both Pontevedra and Vigo on different days. And this week, I noticed at least two - and possibly three - of them were working Pontevedra on the same morning. Not conclusive evidence of a cooperative, I appreciate, but it helps me feel better about giving them no more than I give the Rumanian women who plaintively scream “Ajudame, senor!” every time I pass. Now, the street buskers are something else. By which I mean the talented ones, of course. Not the ragged youths with exhausted-looking dogs who murder tunes on a penny whistle or toss a pathetic diablo into the air and get their faux-smiling girlfriends to shove a filthy cap under your nose.

It was announced today that the AVE high-speed train between Barcelona and France will be running by 2012. Depending of whom you believe, this will be 2, 4, 6 or even 8 years before we here in Galicia are connected with Madrid. Which says it all really.

Talking of trains, the existing line between Vigo and La Coruna passes over a low bridge in a nearby barrio where the town’s slaughter house is situated. After yet another disruption brought about by a truck hitting the bridge, this week the local council erected a sort of frame with dangly bits, designed to warn drivers they couldn’t pass under it. Yesterday, they took this down again so that a truck full of pigs could get to its destination. The pigs were reported to be more than disappointed.

Which reminds me - The Spanish for a botched job is ‘chapuza’. And ‘chapuzar’ is to duck, and ‘una chapuzon’ a dip in the sea. The latter were very much in the news today as, after a pretty cold Monday, temperatures have soared this week, reaching the mid 30s in Pontevedra today. It being almost June, the hidebound-by-convention Spanish feel it’s now permissible to go to the beach in droves, even though it’s technically still only spring and not summer. When I mentioned to some Spanish friends last night I’d actually been to the beach several times during the surprise heatwave of February and March, they seemed dumbfounded by my solecism. It’s just not done, apparently. Not in Galicia anyway.

Finally, an apposite comment from a British columnist on the continuing scandal of MPs expense claims . . . ”The willingness of MPs from all parties to fabricate excuses, blame the system and dodge accountability reflects a wider British malaise, one which has become much worse after 12 years of Labour nannying: the replacement of personal responsibility with a culture of entitlement and grievance.” I blame Mrs Thatcher. Though I never used to.

Apologies for the lack of accents. My daughter’s Mac is a mystery to me. My own laptop is still in intensive care. And my car in the mortuary.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

In the book I cited yesterday, Simon Jenkins says of Mrs Thatcher that "In truth, she had convictions on everything but ideas on little." And he repeats someone else's comment that she was a politician of conviction but not of convictions. Jenkins claims there's a parallel here with Tony Blair and I wonder whether the same is true of President Zapatero.

Which reminds me . . it was a joy watching Barca play their wonderful football last night but Spanish TV has a bizarre habit of returning time and time again to the same 'celebrity' faces in the crowd, rather than to Mr or Mrs Any-Fan. But as least this gave everyone in the bar the chance to laugh regularly at an excited President Zapatero and to guffaw at a snoozing President Berlusconi. Possibly dreaming of other forms of play.

The other odd thing about the evening was everyone in the bar - except me, of course - applauding Iniesta off the pitch towards the end of the match. He must have good hearing if he was able to appreciate this accolade. They can be very emotional, the Spanish.

I mentioned the other day that time gets consumed in mysterious ways here in Spain, the solution to which is to manage your expectations and to always carry a book. I had another fine example this morning. Needing to replace a car which would cost me between 2,500 and 6,000 euros to fix, I took myself down to the showroom of a local dealer. As it wasn't yet open at 9.30, I asked in the workshop when it would be. "Well, he should be there now" the lady replied. "Perhaps if you wait a few minutes." After 10 minutes, I went back to her and asked if she could at least give me some brochures. Which she did. They were for the wrong car but, hey, it's a start. And it'll give me something to read when I make the compulsory second visit.

By the way . . . I still have the wood and leather chairs from Iran that I mentioned yesterday. In need of the money to buy a new car, I'd be happy to let them go at, say, 500 euros each.

Finally, I was going to say that the latest addition to my long list of woes was an inoperative lawnmower. But I gave it a good talking to and a hefty kick and this spurred it into life - whilst very effectively removing the plastic cowl from the engine pod. Sadly, though, the treatment didn't work for the DVD my daughter and her friends want to use.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I’m about to start on a book by the political correspondent of The Guardian and The Sunday Times, Simon Jenkins. It’s called “Thatcher and Sons” and his theme is that Mrs T effected not one but two revolutions in British society, the first of which was admirable and beneficial but the second not. Both of these were continued not just by Mr Major but also by Messrs Blair and Brown. The summary on the jacket says Brits are now “Prosperous but perplexed. Spoilt for ‘choice’ but less and less equal. Infantilised by targets. Drowning in bureaucracy. And bombarded by spin.” All of which I think I’ve touched on over the years. But I’ve tended to blame New Labour, rather than Mrs Thatcher. So it will be fascinating to read Jenkins’ rationale for his view that Blair and Brown were merely faithful acolytes in socialist clothing. Which is not, I think, an accusation that can be levelled at President Zapatero. His revolution centres rather more on socio-religious issues such as State-Church relations, divorce and abortion. Outside these areas he gives the impression of being rather long on optimism but short on ideas.

Closer to home, the new right-of-centre Galician government has wasted no time in relaxing some of the nationalist-inspired regulations about the compulsory use of Gallego, for example in the civil service exams. But I suspect this will be re-reversed if and when the socialist-nationalist coalition gets back in power.

Coincidentally, I dreamt last night I was living in 2109 and that the main issues of the day were:-
Whether Pontevedra of Vigo should be the capital of Pontevedra province
Whether Gallego should be just promoted or actively imposed
Whether Vigo, Santiago or La Coruña airport should be expanded at the expense of the others
Whether there were ways to stop phone abuse by various well known companies, and
Whether they would they ever finish the bus-stop down at the roundabout

Finally . . About 30 years ago, I and my then wife bought some rather cheap wood-and-leather chairs in Iran which we were later amused to see advertised for around 25 quid each in The Sunday Times. Say 28 euros. This morning, I saw some very similar items in a shop in Pontevedra catering for the wealthy of the town with an interest in anything vaguely Eastern. Not quite believing the price tag, I went and asked for confirmation. “Yes, they are 838 euros each”, said the desultory shop assistant/owner. “But,” she added, “the 20% discount would bring this down 670 euros.” Stifling laughter, I departed to tell my incredulous daughter. “I guess that’ll be in your blog tonight,” she said. And so it is. Not that she’d know, as she never reads it. She and her two friends even sat and watched me sowing the end of a pillow today. My mother would've put the needle through her own eye rather than witness this. And they call this progress.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The campaign for the June European elections apparently began at the weekend. It will be fascinating to see what percentage of the EU’s (hitherto) most pro-Europe nation actually bothers to vote.

Meanwhile, it has at least provided another opportunity for the President and the Leader of the Opposition to each label the other a liar. And it has spurred El Mundo to counter El País’s long ‘corruption’ campaign against the Opposition with one of rampant nepotism on the part of the ex President of Andalucia, now a government minister. So, all in all, not very edifying.

A few years back, I wrote about the new stamp machine in the foyer of the revamped Post Office, highlighting the fact it took you through eight steps before - usually - telling you it wouldn’t give any change. Today – having seen the long queues at the desks - I decided to forego the 3 centimos due back on my 65 and duly requested a stamp at the end of this process. But I underestimated the machine. Up came a notice saying EXACT MONEY! and my coins were spewed out at the bottom. But at least I’d got the weight of the letter and was able to buy the right stamp at a tobacco kiosk down the road, before walking back to post the letter. When I write that time often gets mysteriously eaten up in Spain, this is the sort of thing I have in mind. Thank God I have a lot of it.

Just about the only positive of last week was the number of Followers to my blog rising from 18 to 21. Which more than offset the drop in those using Google Reader from 66 to 65. So imagine my disappointment when I realised that one of the three new Followers was actually me. Which struck even me as rather presumptuous. So I spent some time today finding out how to delete myself, as it were. But I won’t be bothering to ascertain how I managed to add myself.

Finally . . . Down at the roundabout, a couple of new crews arrived today to work on the bus-stop-in-process. But these were hardier types and were eschewing safety harnesses while doing various things to the roof. Even though, in one case, this meant perching precariously atop a lofty step-ladder. And fooling around with electrics. Barring accidents, I should be able to post a photo of the finished construction by, say, end August. This year, I mean.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A short conversation between my daughter and a bar owner here in Pontevedra today:-
Do you have wifi here?
Yes, I think so. Well people use their computers here anyway.

Item on the English version of the tapas menu in the same bar:-
Prat in garlic

Of course, there was no wifi.

Portugal has a wonderfully modern airport in Oporto but it can be a strange country. The system for (pre)paying for and getting a drink in the arrivals hall café must rank amongst the slowest and most inefficient in the world. It reminded me of department stores in Jakarta where you had to deal with at least three people per purchase, so as to maximise employment. And there’s a special pen for Tourism Agents just opposite the exit from the luggage carousels area. From which I was officiously expelled, even though I was the only person in it. Unwittingly, I stress.

En passant, there were another five young people killed in car crashes in Galicia over the weekend. One might think the police would be better employed finding ways to reduce this awful toll than setting up impossible-to-avoid speed traps in 50km zones. Stationing themselves outside discos and bars, for example. Which is not exactly a new suggestion. But I guess there’s no money in prevention.

To end on a less curmudgeonly note – These were the opening paragraphs of a Tourist’s Prayer I saw in the cathedral at Tui, en route home from Oporto:-

O Lord.

I find myself in this region different from my own. I have come to relax and to get to know other plots in the garden of the world that You have given us.

I want to discover new countrysides, to listen to the sea, to breathe the pure air of the mountains, to enjoy nature in its entirety, far from the worries and irritations of my daily life. Help me to discover goodness in all this beauty which you have created for man to enjoy.

I am not alone.

It made me feel a little better. But not as much as not getting another bloody speeding fine between Tui and Pontevedra.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Well, it didn't take long for me to lose another battle in the ongoing War of Alternative Revenue ("WAR"). Having plenty of time at my disposal this morning, I decided to take the scenic route to Oporto aiport and, at 8.30 of a sunday morning when my car represented about 30% of the total traffic, I was duly fined another 100 euros for speeding on the road that runs along the river Miño separating Spain from Portugal. This was either the finale to a very bad week or an ominous start to another one.

The traffic cop told me I'd been doing 75 in a 50 area. Which struck me as almost impossible as, knowing the road well, I'd reduced my speed immediately on seeing the 50 sign. My conclusion, then, is there are only 3 ways to avoid being fined in Spain at the moment:-
1. Don´t drive at all
2. Drive everywhere at 50kph, or
3. Stamp on the brake and reduce to a crawl as soon as you see a 50 sign.

The logic of the last one is that, to record me at 75, they would have had to have had the camera just a couple of metres after the sign.

For what it's worth (not a lot), the cop was chatty and sympathetic, saying it was a shame I wasn't local as I'd have known they were at this spot every day of the year. Which rather gives the game away, I feel. And he told me I wouldn't lose any points. Which means either the police have more discretion than I'm aware of for an offence of driving 50% over the limit, or that he was genuinely wrong, or that he was lying. I guess I'll soon know. And at least I can pay through the wonderful Banco Santander.

Anyway, by agreement with my daughter - and despite her refusal to do the decent thing and pay this fine - I've decided to leave until next Sunday the decision as to whether to top myself or not. Right now, though, the omens are not good.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

On Thursday my car engine blew up.

Last night - just after I'd posted my blog - my newish laptop died on me. And it still shows no signs of life today.

I've added these to a list which includes a malfunctioning boiler, a dead water heater and a water pump down a 50 metre well which blows all the house fuses when you switch it on.

My suspicion is this is Fate taking revenge on me for the hubris of saying I knew how to get things done in Spain.

Anyway, I'm a little dispirited. My younger daughter arrives at Oporto airport early tomorrow morning. Right now, this is all that's standing between me and suicide.

Hey ho.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I wondered out loud earlier this week where the next municipal revenue-raising scheme would come from. Well, here’s one candidate - a tax on noise during the dead hours of the Spanish day. Not to mention on sex in the street. In Granada at least.

How can one hope to understand the power of the internet when one reads that a video of a baby laughing has been seen by 83 million people in two years? I wonder what the numbers would be for sex in one of Granada's streets.

There’s been bad blood between the neighbouring cities of Pontevedra and Vigo for centuries now. Indeed, you can read about it here (Chapter XXVIII) in George Borrow’s wonderful 1840 book about his journeys through Spain while trying to flog the Protestant Bible. The key to the conflict is that Pontevedra city has always been the capital of Pontevedra province but Vigo has progressively grown to be almost four times its size and surely now merits this honour. The new Xunta has recently made some sort of tiny step in this direction, resulting in a violent reaction from Pontevedra dignitaries. Including the mayor who is sitting on the next table as I type this. The result is that the economic crisis, massive unemployment and even this week’s violent metalworkers’ strike have been shoved off our front pages so that we can all appraise ourselves of the minutiae of this local distraction. God help us.

Anyway, down in said Pontevedra I see there’s a kids’ clothing shop called Neck and Neck. Ignoring the obvious question of Why, exactly?, I wonder if this will be the next place to go bottom-up, after Better and Stop.

Something else seen while walking into town today – Did I mention I don’t have a car? – On the wall of an empty plot of land guarded 24/7 by a solitary husky, someone has spray-painted “Would you like to live like this dog, if things were different?”. Being a border collie, my dog Ryan was able to respond with a heartfelt No!.

Finally, if you thought the scandal of British MPs being overpaid was bad enough, click here for a shock.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

When I was in the UK in April, I moaned about the proliferation of police notices at the side of the road. More recently I wondered whether Spain wasn’t rapidly catching up in the nannying bureaucracy stakes. Well, yesterday I saw my first Aviso del inicio de un tramo de concentración de accidentes. Followed a kilometre or so later by Fin del tramo de concentración de accidentes. A long way to say Accident Black Spot.

And talking of convergence, I wonder when the day will arrive when the people of Britain care as little about political corruption as their Continental colleagues appear to. I guess it will be when the increasingly redundant Parliament finally shuts up shop, after all legislative responsibility has been transferred to Brussels, Strasbourg or Minsk. Which will be real progress. It reminds me of the old feminist joke that you will know equality has arrived in any particular country when there is an equal number of male and female incompetents in the government. Actually, on this basis, Spain must be way up there.

I mentioned yesterday that personal connections can lead to rules being ignored. And so it was I read this morning that a local policeman has been collared for cancelling the motoring fines of one of Galicia’s biggest drug runners. As if he couldn’t bloody afford them.

Well, I now see that Plan E stands for Plan Español para el Estimulo de la Economía y el Empleo. Brilliant. Now I can get back to sleeping at night.

Two of the shops that have closed in Pontevedra were called Better and Stop. Do I detect a pattern here?

You will forgive me if this post is even less coherent than usual. I’ve just received an estimate for attending to a buggered head gasket in my car and I am, as we say, drowning my sorrows. I don’t know what a puta head gasket is but I can appreciate the sum of 2,000 euros. But, hey, at least the pound is rising.

And the other good news is that the suspension of the work on the building site in front of my house means that I can now again park my car within 100 metres of my door. Or I could if I had a bloody car.

Así son las cosas.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Talking to my Monday evening Spanish ladies about finding a new partner, I said the good news was I had the two things most sought by women in a man. I meant, of course, money and breath but, when asked what I was talking about, their consensus was ‘blue eyes’. Interestingly, while I was joking, I don’t think they were. Life should be so simple.

It must be spring. El Pais has had a series of articles on the scourge of Spain’s huge (and still growing) prostitution industry. Which reminds me, I see another ‘club’ has opened on the outskirts of Pontevedra, on the old road down from Ourense. So I guess all the adverse publicity isn't working.

Talking about crisis-beating businesses, I noticed today that, while shops and even bank branches are closing around us, two more up-market bars opened this week in Pontevedra. And this in a city already renowned for the ratio of bars to just about everything else. Can this really be because the many public sector workers here are cosseted from and impervious to economic developments elsewhere?

The other day I wondered out loud what the secret was of getting things done here. But this was disingenuous; I already knew it was to go native and piggy-back on the network of personal relationships of everyone I knew. And, as I result, this week I’ve already had two plumbers visit me and give me an estimate for immediate work and I’m having to fight off a third. As I’ve said before, people here owe no duty of care to strangers but an immense duty of care to family, friends and friends-of-friends. Using the personal connections arising from these, obstacles can always be hurdled and queues jumped. Levels of efficiency leap upwards. And you can even get people to phone you back. Of course, it helps to be a sociable, outgoing sort of person and, in Galicia for example, to speak Spanish. If not, you’re likely to find Spain a frustrating place and, if thinking of coming here, would be best advised to live in those parts of the country which are no longer Spanish. By which I mean the foreign enclaves, of course. It’s quite possible that a first come, first served system operates in these. For a price.

Finally, I note that the Speaker of the House of Commons becomes the President when the institution is translated into Spanish. But, then, almost everyone is a president of something here. Even if it’s just a community of neighbours. Of course, my border collie, Ryan, is the President of my house.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I wrote week or so ago that an astonishing 62% of Spaniards prefer to deal with their personal affairs face-to-face, instead of via snail-mail, phone or the internet. Actually, it should have been 72%. Talking about this to the five teachers of English I meet of a Monday evening, I asked how working couples could do this, as the banks and bureaucrats tend to be open/available only before midday. The first comment was that many people in Pontevedra work as civil servants and so can easily take a break of an hour or more each morning. The second comment - even less surprising - was that parents/parents-in-law are often roped in for this. So the face-to-faceness can, in fact, be rather vicarious. Of course, this in only possible if you don’t move away from your place of birth and so can rely on your family to do your errands (recados) for you. As, indeed, is the case for most Spaniards, I believe. Though I do know some ambitious, hard-working folk who’ve moved far from home in search of employment which will allow them to achieve their full potential. As you’d expect, these qualities tend to go together. Staying where your family lives certainly represents the easy option.

Another way in which the Spanish family has become relevant recently is in understanding the absence of serious protest against the high unemployment rate (now nearing 20%). Many of the job losses will have hit ‘young’ people (up to 35 in Spain) who are on temporary contracts. If they were not already still living with their parents, there’s always the option of moving back in with them. So the economic impact of a downturn is less than it would be in other cultures. And not necessarily just Anglo Saxon ones. This is good but also bad and I sometimes wonder whether the close family isn’t both Spain’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness - in that it allows harsh realities to be ignored and solutions postponed. Which even the Spanish will tell you is something of a national trait. Perhaps things will change when the easy funds stop flowing from Brussels. If they ever do.

At a lower level, I went to pay my parking fine yesterday and asked whether the category of non-serious offence actually existed. Yes, the young lady. Asked what the criteria might be, she replied gnomically “It depends.” Mostly on the state of the municipal coffers, I imagine. Incidentally, the payment of this fine was a good example of how sometimes here you have no choice but to waste an hour of your or a relative’s time. The only two options were going to the office of the collection agency or or the Post Office, to queue for a giro cheque to send them. But, then, time here isn’t what it is elsewhere.

Pondering on where the municipal revenue-raisers might strike next, it occurred to me that my border collier, Ryan, doesn’t have the compulsory microchip. As he’s getting on for a century in human terms, I’m wondering whether the 70 euros ‘sacrificio’ vet fee wouldn’t be a good bet.

Just joking. But please don’t tell him. An old border collie always knows how to make your life a misery. Even when you’re in his good books.

Monday, May 18, 2009

In today’s Times, their Economics Correspondent, Anatole Kaletsky, begins his article with this bit of punch-pulling – “Last Friday the European Commission published what were arguably the most catastrophic economic statistics produced by any official institution in the capitalist world since 1945. These showed that Germany has suffered the steepest economic collapse ever recorded in a major industrialised country; and that several of the countries in Central Europe and on the periphery of the eurozone are now in a state of economic and financial meltdown comparable with Argentina, Indonesia and Russia in the 1990s or with Iceland last year.” So . . . . why is the pound still trading at only 1.12 to the euro?

Another question I’ve had for a while and which I think El Pais voiced yesterday – If Spain’s GDP hasn’t fallen as much as that of the countries above, how come unemployment here has soared so much more than elsewhere? Can it really just be the loss of high numbers of low-wage jobs in the construction industry? El País, by the way, has joined the ranks of those calling for labour and pensions reform, even though it’s left-of-centre and considered the mouthpiece of the ‘No U-turn’ socialist government. Something appears to be going on by way of softening-up treatment. Perhaps as a prelude to Edward Hugh’s “budget from Hell”

If you’ve read the above AK article and are wondering how his fear of sovereign loan defaults fits with the recent news of the EU’s decision to buy up the toxic assets of Spanish banks so as to avoid collapse and loan default here, join the club. We need your help, Charles. Meanwhile, AK’s view is that Germany will end up guaranteeing the debts of all its delinquent partners. Which is surely what the EU Commission intends. I wonder when the poor Germans will stop paying for Adolf Hitler. En passant, the name Adolf isn’t recognised by Word’s spell check. Nonetheless, I bet there’s still a few of them around in South America.

Addressing the scandal of MP expenses in the UK, the Daily Telegraph today intones that “The public's gloomy but wholly justifiable verdict is that this country can no longer claim to have higher standards of honesty and integrity in politics than other countries.” True but it manifestly still has a public that can be surprised and infuriated at this state of affairs. Which wouldn’t necessarily be the case in all its shoulder-shrugging European partners.

Closer to home, as traffic numbers plummet and competition from Oporto grows, Galicia’s three small, uncompetitive airports have responded with a master-class in folly. Each of them is going to expand so as to take customers from the others. Talk about localism. I fear it will be a while before the likes of Ryanair and EasyJet take any of them seriously. Thank God I only live 90 minutes away from Oporto’s magnificent facility.

As I’ve mentioned Galician rain a few times, I should redress the balance and say we do also get quite a lot of sun. In February and March of this year, for example, we saw little else. And today has been lovely. It’s just that, living in the Atlantic, it’s hard to know what it will be from week to week. Day to day even.

Finally, I see that Sky TV now has a Twitter Correspondent. Who is appropriately vapid. Another reason for the public to revolt.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Finding myself alone at home at 9 last night, I had a choice between the Eurovision song contest and an hour or two of getting cat hairs off a duvet hanging in the garage. Despite an allergy, I plumped for the risk of involuntary sneezing over that of involuntary vomiting. Which was surely right as it would have been painful to see Spain’s entry come second-last. Even if it is rubbish.

It being the weekend, Sunday dawned just as wet and cool as Saturday. At 9.30 – the time of the start of the women’s triathlon – the temperature outside my house was 11 degrees and the rain was torrential. Not a lot better than last year. The men’s event started at 12.30, by which time the rain had stopped and the temperature had rocketed up to a life-preserving 13. Will they move the event to June next year? Or just forget about it? Meanwhile, I wonder what crowds they were expecting for the women’s race at 9.30 of a Sunday, a time when the only Spaniards up and about are those who haven’t yet got to bed after a night on the tiles.

Over in the UK, the scandal of British MP’s submitting any old claim in order to justify their ‘automatic’ right to 24,000 pounds a year on top of their salary has naturally led to some introspection on the theme of what it all means about the UK at large. As someone who’s banged on about the Age of the Bureaucrat, it was inevitable I’d be attracted to this sort of analysis – “There has been an inchoate sense for some time that Britain no longer functions effectively. Virtually every activity the law-abiding undertake seems to have become entangled in a web of energy-sapping orders from officialdom. What ails Britain is that we have allowed a bossy House of Commons to legislate our society piece by piece, to the point where modern life is excessively rules-based. In this obsessive culture of compliance everyone involved could point to boxes that had been ticked, to show they had followed the rules. The problem was not an absence of rules. It was that there were so many rules that they crowded out any space for judgment or the exercise of individual morality. Free individuals encouraged to act ethically are more likely to arrive at the right answers than an over-mighty bureaucracy.”

Which is OK but, absent religion, who’s to say what is ethical? And is Spanish society, on balance, a better place to live because – though generally less ethical than the UK – it has a matchless capacity to ignore rules? And/or because the morality of the Catholic Church still holds considerable sway? And/or because family life is still pretty sacred? Whatever the answers, is Spain now heading in the same direction as Britain? Or do I just feel this because I’ve been hit by speeding and parking fines for the first time in my life?

I say that Spain is a better place to live but one can overlook this when three people in a single week fail to fulfil their promises to call you back re work you want urgently done on your house. Prompting the most important existential question of the week – What on earth is the secret to getting things done here?

Finally, I now see that the hoarding next to the bus-stop-in-progress is of the blue, EU variety. Danke schön and Goodnight.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

It’s a regular complaint of the Galician tourist industry that the weather forecasts on the national news all too often have a rain cloud over the entire region when the sun is shining in at least the south of it. And so it was yesterday, when it was a gloriously sunny day until late in the evening, despite a prediction of rain for all of Galicia from early morning. Mind you, today has been horribly drizzly and I’m wondering what tomorrow will bring. And I’m not remotely alone in this as we have an international triathlon event here in the morning. This has been moved from April to May as last year the temperature was only 9 degrees and several competitors had to retire because of hypothermia. It’s only around 11 right now so there must be some worried folk in the town’s hotel rooms and bars.

Of course, as someone in this article says, the sun might be nice but it doesn’t pay any bills. And so Brits are said to be fleeing the south of Spain in droves, as one thing and another bite into their ability to survive and prosper here. Some Spanish commentators seem to think this is a good thing. Perhaps they believe the Brits are leaving their money behind.

I’ve moaned about having to pay speeding and parking fines of 100 euros as the local councils go to unethical lengths to secure revenues alternative to those lost with the disappearance of huge property transfer taxes. My Vigo friend, Anthea, reports on another development which may well have the same stimulus. The council there has begun to implement the law against letting you dog foul the pavement. And, at a eye-blinking minimum of 750 euros, this rather puts my fines in context.

I joke about standing as a Euro-deputy but here’s interesting news from Lenox of some foreigners who do. Some of the smaller parties look very appealing. I wonder if I could get outlandish expenses for setting up a Galicia branch of each of them.

One of the counter-crisis measures of the Spanish government is to transfer large sums of dosh to the regions, to be spent on public works. Each of these then has a huge hoarding alongside it, saying it’s being carried out under Plan E. This is in red, presumably to differentiate it from the ubiquitous blue hoardings telling us that it’s EU funds being spent. I don’t know what the E stands for. Perhaps España. Or Emergencia. There’s actually no hoarding at the new bus-stop being slowly built down at the roundabout. But, if there were, I guess we could rule out Exprés.

Friday, May 15, 2009

In yesterday’s post I drew a distinction between Liberal (Leftish) and liberal (loose/lax) but I wonder whether anyone noticed. Anyway, what I forgot is that here in Spain the word also has – in the business/financial context – the pejorative sense of red-in-tooth-and-claw. Naturally, it’s the term usually applied to Anglo-Saxon economies. Which is a little ironic as the word was first used in a political sense, I believe, in respect of a party established down in Cádiz in the 1830s, to indicate they were to the left of everyone else. As chance would have it, today’s El Mundo obliged us with the present-day Spanish use of the word by describing the number 2 in the Finance Ministry of the Socialist government as liberal because he advocated ‘reformist’ plans likely to be better received by the right-of-centre Opposition than by his colleagues. Perhaps this is the first sign of the accuracy of the prediction described in the following paragraph . . .

In a long and knowledgeable dissertation on the Spanish banks’ version of toxic debt (cédulas hipotecarias), Edward Hugh makes the point that the EU has, as predicted, found a way to solve the problem of the delinquency of some of its members which should, in theory, have meant them departing the eurozone and bringing the whole political edifice crashing down. At least, I think this is what he’s saying but it’s a complex subject for us laymen. Anyway, the other main point he makes is that this means the EU, like the IMF with Britain in the 70s, will now effectively control the Spanish economy – the piper and the tune – and will force the structural changes long talked about but consummately neglected by successive Spanish governments of both stamps. So it won’t matter for much longer that President Zapatero can’t even spell ‘economics’ and that his new Finance Minister is not well qualified to have a go either. Edward goes on to ask questions about how exactly the EU will go about refinancing the Spanish banks’ debts but this is much too esoteric for me and probably doesn’t matter to the hombre in the calle as much as his view that the worst year for Spain will be 2011. Or to put it in his words . . . “It’s a complete nightmare, with the only bright spot being imminent control of the political system being assumed in Brussels and Frankfurt.” Of course, he could be wrong and we won’t get the ‘budget from hell’ he predicts. Things seem pretty relaxed in this café right now . . .

Talking of Spanish tribalism . . . I suppose it could happen at a Wembley match between teams from Scotland and Wales.

Back in the UK, the scandal over MPs’ outrageous expenses has now led to the prospect of the UK Independent Party beating Labour into 3rd place in the June elections, behind the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. It’s almost unimaginable that Gordon Brown wouldn’t ‘go to the country’ after such a shock. But, that said, I wouldn’t bet against him staying. Interesting times. If also demeaning and depressing. When I wrote that the sham New Labour administration would go down in history as one of the worst in living memory, this isn’t quite what I had in mind.

Since I wrote the above paragraph, I’ve read this comment – “If the results are as bad as the latest polls suggest, Labour will be headed for disaster, with little hope of returning to office in less than two Parliaments, and the prospect of losing half their present MPs at the next election. It is even possible this might prove to be the last Labour Government, if it caused another split similar to the creation of the Social Democratic Party in the 1980s.” Probably not but it’s a sobering thought that – after such a triumphalist start - the last 12 years could turn out to be the swan song of the British Labour Party.

Which reminds me of a bit of doggerel which will allow me to end this heavy post with a smile . . .
Swans sing before they die.
T'were no bad thing
did certain people
die before they sing.

Thank-you and goodnight.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

As regards both illegal immigrants who actually made it here and citizens of the EU’s new eastern members, Spain’s policies have been unquestionably – even admirably - Liberal. As the economic crisis brings evidence of higher levels of petty crime and racism, one wonders whether these policies will, nonetheless, come to be seen as excessively liberal. It was one thing to invite or accept people when the construction industry demanded cheap labour but it’s another thing knowing what to do with them now. Hence the various bound-to-fail schemes for persuading them to go back home. Not a happy scenario. And it coincides with the news that Spain has slipped to no. 3 in the global tourism stakes, behind France and the USA. It never rains but it pours. Especially here in Galicia. In winter, I mean.

My rule-of-thumb for the word ‘solidarity’ is that the more it’s used, the less of it there is around. And so it is here in Spain. Where 'national solidarity' means squeezing more out of the EU, Andalucian solidarity means getting more from Madrid and Catalan solidarity means keeping more in Barcelona. In the context of unemployment and labour reform, union solidarity seems to mean protecting those workers already on good ‘permanent’ contracts while doing little for the many on insecure temporary contracts. “What’s ours is ours”, in other words. Especially when times are bad. I put it all down to Spanish tribalism and a form of devolved government which seems designed to entrench it.

It’s not only us guiris who think Spain is a noisy place. Apparently, many Spaniards formally complain about being disturbed by loud neighbours. But respite is at hand. New building regulations have recently come into force and will ensure greater ‘acoustic isolation’. Too late for me, though. Thank God Tony goes away to sea for 6 weeks at a time. And I have a refuge in the hills for when he’s home.

Finally . . Down at the roundabout, the construction of the bus-stop continues at its established stately pace and I think it’ll be a while before I can post a picture of the finished item. Meanwhile, I can reveal that it’s quite a work of art, where form has possibly triumphed over function. So, for example, the ceiling is of wood panelling, bolted to granite beams. Which I venture to say is a tad ambitious – even foolhardy – in Galicia’s maritime climate. But perhaps the architect is expecting repeat fees. Or owns a timber business.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Yesterday saw the start of a two-day debate in the Spanish parliament on the state of the nation. Depending on which paper you read, President Zapatero either floored the hapless leader of the Opposition (El País) or was pummelled by him against the ropes (ABC). Either way, both embraced the Spanish tradition of labelling the other a liar.

In a follow-up post on the Spanish economy, Edward Hugh gives his take on the latest slew of statistics and says the process of correcting Spain’s various serious distortions has barely begun. The Economist recently carried an article on the high levels of unemployment here and, in the absence of public discontent, stressed that “Spain is lucky that strong social networks (helped by the black economy) help to prevent civil unrest.” As ever, the comments from Spanish readers are more interesting that the article itself.

Pending the arrival of the green shoots of recovery that Edward, for one, can’t yet see, El Mundo reports that Spain’s cajas (savings banks) have stopped publishing their balances and that none has announced its first quarter results. Looks a tad ominous.

Almost three months after I got the ticket – and 17 days after the date on it – I’ve now received notification of a parking fine of 100 euros. The offence is designated ‘serious’. As I was parked outside a ruined house in a cul-de-sac and not on any yellow lines or chevrons, one wonders what the criteria for a non-serious offence are. Or whether they exist at all.

Finally . . . My house in the hills has a malfunctioning water pump, located at the end of a rope down a deep well. The plumber I finally managed to get to come to see it a few weeks ago said I needed an electrician. Today, I succeeded in getting one of these to come to the house but he took one look at the well and said I needed a plumber. I’m not sure where I go from here. Perhaps a course in Plumbing Plus Basic Electrics.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

El País today has a laudatory article on the EU’s recent condemnation of property abuse and coastal despoliation in Spain. Given that the paper is the mouthpiece of the socialist government, it was good to see the even-handed comment that the ‘pillage’ has been massive in both PP-controlled Valencia and PSOE-controlled Andalucia.

Walking into town this morning, I passed another closed-down bank branch. Things appear to be every bit as bad as this detailed analysis from Edward Hugh suggests. If this doesn’t depress you enough, you’ll be relieved to know Edward plans to review the "extent to which Spain is sliding uncontrollably towards a series of harsh budget cuts like those recently forced on another former eurozone high-flyer, Ireland.”. This should be fun.

My own theme of the moment is petty street crime in Madrid and Barcelona. Here’s Trevor’s take from the latter city. I notice today that the double-entry procedure for PIN numbers has arrived in Pontevedra, in some branches at least. Final comment on this subject . . . My Madrid friend and fellow thief-chaser, Pablo, says that, if you want to get a good idea of what goes on, stand at the traffic lights at Plaza de Sol and watch how the crowds are worked. Having first sown up all your own pockets, of course.

The Spanish government has announced an intention to allow the morning-after pill to be available in pharmacies without a prescription. Things being what they are in Spain these days, I wonder if there’ll be a separate counter on Saturday mornings so that those of us wanting other items won’t have to wait for ages in a long queue.

Thank God I’ve decided to consider a career as a Euro Deputy rather than as a British MP. The EU Commission has, I believe, made it a criminal offence to publish any details of the expense claims of the former. Which is as it should be when it comes to gravy trains. Otherwise they simply can’t function as intended.

Sorry but I laughed out loud at the news that ‘celebrities’ Katie Price and Peter Andre are to separate. Why? Because at least one British TV channel seems to consist of little but programs about their happy marriage and spectacular careers.

Then I cried that not only was this news carried on the first page of serious UK newspapers but also that I read it.

And finally I threw a shoe at the TV when Sky News said they were going to give us the benefit of singer Lilly Allen‘s views on the latest political developments in the UK.

It’s hard to keep smiling sometimes.

Monday, May 11, 2009

I guess we all have different ways of mitigating the tedium of a long car trip. So . . .

Driving back from Madrid today at a steady 120kph (75mph), I was passed by 62 cars in 3 hours. Now, this may not sound a lot to you but, firstly, traffic is very light on the motorway to the North West and, secondly, it compares starkly with the total of 5 cars doing less than 120 which I passed. A number of conclusions might be drawn from this but the main one, I guess, is that Spanish drivers treat the legal maximum as more of a minimum. No great surprise there, though.

As the majority of cars flashing past me were black 4x4s, I got to wondering whether it’s a condition of purchase of these that, instead of going off-road, you piss up and down the nearest motorway for a minimum of 10 hours a week, just to show how rich and stupid you are. Or is there, perhaps, a select group of Spaniards who spend their entire lives driving up and down the country’s motorways at 160-180kph and putting the rest of us in our place?

Stopping for a coffee somewhere in Castilla y León, I was disappointed to read that the Rumanian government had repeated its doubts that citizens of that fine country currently resident in Spain but unemployed will be happy to swap their Spanish dole for whatever is on offer back home. No great surprise there either.

It was, of course, raining heavily when I entered Galicia. But then:- 1. It usually is, and 2. It had been raining in Madrid over the weekend. More importantly, the sun was shining when I got to the coast. So I could leave Ryan to roast in the car while I gave my usual English conversation ‘class’ to the 5 lovely ladies of the Sagrada Corazón College. Or to the 2 that turned up anyway.

Finally . . . It seems cats only have 7 lives in Spain. Under EU rules of free movement, I guess they’ll all be looking to take advantage of the 9 they could have if they upped sticks and emigrated to the UK. Unless Rumanian cats have nabbed all the available places. Among other things.

Looking for a holiday place in Galicia this summer? Click here for details of a lovely cottage in the hills outside Pontevedra. Mine, of course.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Back on the theme of petty crime in Madrid - I see that at least some of the ATMs here now ask you to re-type your PIN at the end of the process. Before it will give you the cash, I mean. This, I’m told, is to reduce the chances some kid will distract you while another presses Continuar and snaffles the emerging notes. Possibly having added a nought in the process. Though I’m not sure how this works.

I finally got to see the Escorial outside Madrid today. And a lovely experience it was too, though the Basilica is closed for repairs. And they tell you when you get to them that you should've paid more to see the Royal Tombs and it's too late now.

Something else I’ve been impressed by this week is Nick Cohen’s analysis of modern liberal thinking in his fascinating book “What’s Left?”. I recommend it to everyone, whatever your political orientation. If you’re on the right – or even in the centre – it may not shock or even surprise you but it will certainly fascinate you. If you’re on the left, it may well discomfort you and force you to ask yourselves some tough questions. Cohen is a socialist of the old school and is clearly not enamoured of a modern Left which he feels has betrayed the universal values it once stood for. Allying with the fascist Right in the process. In the final chapter, he attributes this remarkable development over the last 20 to 30 years to four causes:-
1. Socialism for Shoppers: The Rise of Consumer Leftism
2. Multi-Culti Going Faulty
3. Liberal Disillusion, and
4. Fear
But you’ll have to read the whole book to flesh out these bones. Well worth a couple of hours.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

There are some for whom the Presidenta of the Madrid region – Esperanza Aguirre – is not their cup of tea. And there are others who regard her as cojonuda (terrific). I don’t know enough about her to have much of an opinion either way. However, I’d like to send her my personal thanks for setting up the services just north of Medina del Campo on the A6, just where I (and Ryan) needed them. And where the café is one of those rare beasts in Spain – a place to eat and drink without consuming someone else’s cigarette smoke at the same time.

Talking of driving . . . I’ve mentioned that one of the cardinal rules in Spain is to look out for drivers on a roundabout who take the outside lane even when turning left and then cut across you as to try to carry on straight ahead. A second key rule is - Don’t expect drivers joining the motorway to stop at the end of the slip road. Based on my experience of learners, it’s clear they’re taught that the Yield sign doesn’t apply to anyone in a car.

A number of emotions hit me during and after the adventure of my rucksack yesterday evening. And I’ll never know whether my restraining myself from physically attacking the woman who'd taken it was a reflection of my civilised values or of my subconscious appreciation she’d surely have some unsavoury friends. But perhaps the greatest emotion one was of frustration at knowing there was nothing we could about it. As the two nearby policemen readily confirmed. Coming a close second was annoyance at myself for letting it happen, after decades of being over-cautious all over the world. Sadly, Madrid now seems to be in the same league as Barcelona when it comes to this sort of thing. And there doesn’t seem to be much political will to do anything about it in either place.

Just going back to the café in the services station on the A6 – There was a sign on the window saying it was terminantemente forbidden to eat your own food there. This was a new word for me and my guess was it corresponded to ‘strictly’ in English. Rather than ‘politely’.

Finally . . . To return to driving, it's good to know that the record for speeding in Spain is now held by a Brit. Caught doing 275kph or 168mph in his Ferrari somewhere down south this week. Brit. Rich enough to buy a Ferrari. Lives on the Costa del Sol. Somehow, I doubt that speeding is the biggest offence he's likely to have committed.

Looking for a holiday place to rent in Galicia this summer?

Click here for details of a lovely cottage in the hills outside Pontevedra. Mine, in fact.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Well, I’m lucky to be able to post this on my laptop tonight . . .

As I was drinking in Dos de Mayo square here in Madrid, intensely practising my Gallego with a Madrileño friend of my daughter’s, a kind soul from a nearby table told me someone had just nicked my rucksack from around my feet. Abandoning my dog, Ryan, to his fate (and my daughter in the toilets) – Pablo and I raced round the corner, up the street and round another corner, where he noticed that a woman who looked, shall we say, Eastern European had turned round and was retracing her steps, back towards us. Looking where she’d come from, he saw the rucksack on the ground, up against a car wheel.

So, a lucky break and a valuable lesson. And it was almost amusing to hear Faye relate how she’d come out of the bar to find me and Pablo gone and Ryan wandering around free.

Back at the table and looking around, I was able to confirm what Faye then (rather belatedly) told me, viz. that every Madrileña sits with her handbag on her lap. That’s how they identify the suckers.

I wonder how the Rumanian repatriation scheme is going.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The publication of a picture said to resemble a man who spied on the McCann’s flat in Portugal for a week before Madeleine disappeared surprised me on two counts. Firstly, that it’s taken two years for this to come to light. And, secondly, that someone can be described as ‘very ugly’ these days. I suppose it helps that he’s white. If a little speckled, according to the sketch.

It’s reported that British buyers are returning to the Spanish property market, even ahead of the Germans. Who haven’t suffered a currency devaluation, of course. But I guess it comes as no surprise that the British buyers are mainly from the secure-salary-high pension public sector. Where retirement appears to come remarkably early for many. And where perhaps some are anticipating a profitable redundancy when the Conservatives get back into power next year.

If you’re an EU citizen, you’re supposed to have certain rights whichever member country you live in or travel to. It doesn’t quite work out this way, of course. Especially when decisions are devolved to regions and some are more tight-fisted than others, leading to what’s called in the UK ‘a postcode lottery’. This is prompted by a letter to the Voz de Galicia today from a couple of returned Gallego émigrés, complaining about being refused what they’re entitled to here in Galicia but not in Cataluña. It’s almost good to know it’s not only foreigners who suffer this way. Though, ironically, the situation appears to arise because the Galician authorities chose to regard them as foreigners because they lived in Germany for many years.

I’ve been wanting for some time to post a foto of the new bus-stop down at the roundabout but it’s taking an awfully long time to commission. This seems to be because only 10-15 minutes a day are spent on it by workmen operating on the basis of the Spanish (universal?) principle that you can displease all your customers all the time. However, passing the works today, I was impressed to see that the two men inserting bolts in the roof were wearing elaborate safety harnesses. And that that these were actually anchored into said roof. Even though they were only working at a height which most of us would happily risk to get something off the top of a kitchen cupboard. From one extreme to the other.

There are any number of things one can say about last night’s match between Chelsea and Barcelona. One of these is that the referee did not – to say the least - have a good match. Another is that the result was the one most neutrals would have wanted. But, given that Barca managed just one shot on target in 93 minutes, my guess is that the happiest observer must have been Alex Ferguson of Manchester United; his tactics for the final should now be a tad clearer. Meanwhile, I think it’s worth repeating a headline from one of the big Spanish football papers, in reference to the Norwegian official – “The Viking who saw nothing”. I also liked the description of him in one British paper as “calamitously unimpressive”. But así son las cosas.


Looking for a holiday place to rent in Galicia this summer?

Click here for details of a lovely cottage in the hills outside Pontevedra.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

As if Spain didn’t have enough woes right now, it’s said that she’s the EU country most at risk from climate change. I guess this is simply because we’re furthest south. Of course, it’s an ill wind that blows no good and it seems that here up north ‘it’s becoming more Mediterranean”. But, then, this can only mean we’ll shortly be overrun by the sort of expats who’ve converted the south into Clacton-con-Sol. Time to think of moving on. A Basque farmhouse, perhaps? Or an Asturian ciderhouse.

In the survey of Spanish views I quoted from recently, more than 60% of people said they preferred to deal with their household affairs face-to-face, rather than via a letter or on the phone. Or, these days, via the internet. In a society where letters are simply not treated seriously – assuming they arrive – and where no one delivers on a promise to call you back, there’s a certain logic about this. And it’s one reason, of course, why the streets of Spain’s towns and cities are awash with bank branches. But it all rather supposes that one member of the family – traditionally the wife – is available during at least the morning to invest all the time it takes to do things this way. So I’m left wondering just how possible it is these days, when more and more couples are both out at work. Perhaps the long-suffering nearby grandparents are roped in for this as well. And I’m reminded of something John Hooper wrote in his book “The New Spaniards” a few years ago about the ability of Spanish companies to compete in an increasingly digital world where wanting to do everything personally and face-to-face would be something of a competitive disadvantage. Or something like that.

On opening the Voz de Galicia this morning, this headline jumped out at me –“The trial of the cousins of the President of the Galician Xunta kicked off yesterday with a written confession from a hired killer.” Are we living in the Wild West now? Or is this what they meant when they said things are becoming more Mediterranean up in this part of Spain?

Mark Stucklin with further comment on yesterday’s topic of the banks and their property sales.

Finally . . . Last night, with football looming, I knocked off my post in 10 minutes and felt bad because it wasn’t up to scratch. But readership shot up from its normal 150-170 to over 200. So, what do I know? I suppose the answer will come if numbers now plummet to 10.


Looking for a holiday place to rent in Galicia this summer?

Click here for details of a lovely cottage in the hills outside Pontevedra.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Spanish Ministress of the Economy gave a robust response to EU forecasts for Spain’s economy which are considerably worse than those of the government itself. “We are working hard to deal with the crisis.” she said, adding “I hope the figures from Brussels will prove to be wrong.” My confidence soared.

I wrote a while ago that Spain’s banks were now the country’s largest estate agent/realtor. Naturally, they’ve been offloading properties not much above the value of the loans on them. Which has not shown much solidarity with the real developers and estate agents, in whom the banks probably have investments. The said developers and agents have been screaming about how unfair this is, forcing them to reduce prices to unprofitable levels. It’s hard to be sympathetic when you know just how much they were making in the good times and you read that the owner of one major company paid himself more than 3 million euros last year as the ship went down with all hands.

The Spanish and Rumanian governments have signed some sort of deal under which out-of-work citizens of the latter will be helped to go back home. The Rumanian minister did try to explain to his Spanish counterpart the maths of unemployment pay here being six times the Rumanian average wage but, nonetheless, we’re now expected to believe there’ll be a rapid exodus of surplus Rumanians. Passed by pigs flying the other way.

“When it comes to seeking subsidies, it’s perfectly normally to certify a project has been completed, even if it has barely started,” said some local official here recently. Well, I dare say that in Continental Europe – especially in the eurozone – it probably is. But I imagine there are quite a few other countries where it isn’t. Possibly even some in the Third World.

Finally . . . Thinking about the opening paragraph of this post – the Spanish verb ‘esperar’ is ambiguous. Perhaps she meant ‘expect’ rather than ‘hope’. Either way, though, she’s surely in cloud-cuckoo land.


Looking for a holiday place to rent in Galicia this summer?

Click here for details of a lovely cottage in the hills outside Pontevedra.

Monday, May 04, 2009

As far as I can tell, these have been the flu injunctions to date. There may be more along later:-
1. Panic.
2. Stop Panicking
3. Don’t be complacent about the fact there’s no pandemic.
4. Consider re-panicking in August, when it might really arrive.
5. Failing this, also consider re-panicking in December when we find we have stock-piled the wrong flu vaccine

I do hope you are all coping and not dying like flies.

I might have said yesterday there’ll probably be no winter of discontent here in Spain later this year but, with the rubbish piling up on the streets of both Pontevedra and Vigo because of strikes in each city, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s arrived in spring.

I went to Vigo today for a lunch with several lovely ladies. I had planned to go by train but was surprised to find none on the Renfe timetable between 9.30 and 12. I mean, what is the point of a public rail system financed by taxation if it doesn’t run at commercially unprofitable times? Anyway, I got the bus and what a magnificent experience it was. I always enjoy driving on the motorway alongside the beautiful bay featured in Vernes' Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea but, higher up in a bus, it was an even greater pleasure. And I was interested to see that buses don’t appear to be subject to the same speed restrictions as cars on the bridge taking us into the outskirts of the city. Despite the radar camera on it.

Anyway, before I got to the lunch venue, I had to negotiate a large group of school kids coming towards me on a pavement narrowed by road-works. Being boisterous and lacking antennae, they were naturally unaware of my existence. And so seven or eight of them actually crashed into me, three of them on the run. But, as I’d stopped and braced my shoulder, this probably hurt them more than it did me. Especially the five year olds.

Finally . . . Here’s an interesting comment from a lover of Spain who’s returned to find it’s not quite what it was when he left as a young man some years ago:- “Spain has opened to the great immigration of our time. It is no longer the isolated peninsula whose modest economy and society kept the hordes at bay on its beaches. It is now a pluralistic society seemingly displeased with the fact that it has become so. There is no magic or singularity in it which, I realize now, was what distinguished it in the first place. It was so different from my American society. But now, with its new found European prosperity, its problems are similar: poverty, immigration, housing, finance, obesity, decline of education, and loss of traditional values.” More than a grain of truth in this I suspect.

Holiday Home

Looking for a place to rent in Galicia this summer? Click here for details of a lovely cottage in the hills outside Pontevedra.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Those who lived through the final years of the 70s in the UK will perhaps see something familiar in the picture of the Spanish trade unions endorsing the government’s avowedly ‘socialist’ response to the economic crisis and threatening to call a general strike if there’s any relaxation in what are widely considered to be generous unemployment and pension provisions. So, will there be a winter of discontent here later this year? Probably not.

In the UK yesterday, it was considered newsworthy that the first two people to contract swine flu had recovered from it after a few days. As people usually do from flu. Of course, it wouldn’t be modern Britain if they hadn’t been able to flog the ‘story’ of this miracle to the tabloid press via the ineffable Max Clifford. Today, the medical profession is urging people not to panic. Just a tad late for that, of course. My view is we should slaughter all the pigs, along with the lawyers. And the journalists.

Only in Spain? There was a large rear-view picture of both Princess Letizia and Carla Bruni in the quality media this week, as they went up the steps of Moncloa palace. Ironically, it was re-shown in an El Mundo article yesterday in which the writer railed against the macho-sexist treatment of the visit of the La Bruni with her rather-less-well-appreciated husband. From an article in El Pais today, I gather the picture originally appeared in this – of all things – left-of-centre paper. The writer quoted the (female) editor of El País spouting the sort of justificatory guff one hears from the (usually female) editors of UK magazines that tell 12 year old girls how to satisfy the sexual demands of their boyfriends. With sisters like these . . .

It was suggested on Skye this morning that it costs around 200,000 pounds to bring up a child until he/she leaves home. And about double that thereafter, in my experience.

Some of you will know I got it wrong about the start of the match last night. It was 8pm, not 8.45. And I also miscalculated on the venue. Even the alleged gay bar was stuffed to the rafters and the screen was hard to see through the curtain of thick smoke. So I repaired to my regular smoke-free bar and gave myself a semi-permanent crick in the neck by watching it from a bar stool directly below the TV. But at least Barcelona treated us to another exhibition of their scintillating play, scoring six more goals than they managed against Chelsea last week.

Finally . . . Theft around the world:-
1. “A cardboard cut-out police constable, displayed in a Stockport (UK) shop to deter thieves, has been stolen.”
2. Why do they remove the traffic lights from the roadworks half-way down the hill into town every night? Do they think they’ll be nicked by gypsies from the nearby settlements? If so, this is surely disgraceful.


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Click here for details of a lovely cottage in the hills outside Pontevedra. Ideal for a vacation centred on rural pursuits.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

There were reported to be riots all over Europe yesterday, May Day. Or Labour Day. But not here in Spain, where unemployment is the highest in Europe. We only had demonstrations. Even stranger, those of the unions were in favour of the government, in contradistinction to everywhere else. This is because neither the government nor the unions appear to have read the script according to which Spain is supposed to undergo structural reforms in lieu of devaluations when times are bad. Or preferably before. But, as I’ve said, they weren’t tried in the good times and President Z has said he’s certainly not going to make up for lost time now that there’s a crisis. Actually, I think I know what his plan is – he’s aiming to ensure Spain’s unemployment levels are still so high by 2011 that he can make a good case for continuation of the EU subventions that are supposed to stop in 2013. Maybe he’s not as dense as he appears to be.

If you thought it might be impossible to find people more stupid that those who give free advertising by wearing clothes with the name or logo of the manufacturer all over them, then step forward the young man in Pontevedra this morning who was wearing a T-shirt with something like this emblazoned all over the back of it:-
Brand X
The Best Denim
Of course, it didn’t say ‘Brand X’ but I’m certainly not going to give them any free publicity.

Driving into Pontevedra this evening at 7.30, the traffic returning from the beaches seemed a lot heavier than it should be on a lovely warm evening. Then I realised it’s the Real Madrid v. Barca game at 8.45. This is always the biggest of the season but it's even more important this year, as the outcome will effectively decide who wins the championship. So, time to move from this wi-fi cafe to the gay bar where I'm usually the only person watching the TV and so assured of a good seat . . . Which is a bit of an ambiguous statement, now that I think about it.

Looking for a holiday place to rent in Galicia this summer? Click here for details of a lovely cottage in the hills outside Pontevedra. Ideal for a vacation centred on rural pursuits.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Courtesy of taxpayers in Germany, Holland and the UK, every time I make a long trip in Spain I bump into a new motorway stretch. Between here and Salamanca last weekend, there were actually two. One at the Ourense end of the new road to Santiago and one between Zamora and Salamanca. Though the latter is really only a continuation of the Ruta de la Plata, which comes up from Sevilla. Or possibly even Cádiz. I wonder if people in the three countries mentioned can look forward to Spanish taxpayers contributing to their highways once Spain becomes a net contributor to the EU in 2013 and the Spanish, per President Zapaptero’s prediction of only last year, will be richer than the French and possibly even the Germans. And squadrons of pigs will be executing a fly-past at the Constitution Day ceremonies.

This article shows why it’s important to Spain which way currencies move and why publicity about corruption and abuses in the south of Spain are not as irrelevant as many folk down there seem to think. In a nutshell, the Brits utterly dominate the market for expat homes. Perhaps one day they’ll be allowed to vote in both local and national elections. Not just those of the unimportant EU variety. Meanwhile, Mark’s conclusions are hard to quarrel with. It will be interesting to see whether Spain does, in fact, ‘clean up its act’ in the face of what will surely be dismissed as “arrogant British” demands. No one can be more short-sighted than an insulted and angry Spaniard. A bit of tautology for you there.

So, according to a new book, Aznar really is the father of Rachida Dati's baby. Will this mean fewer threats of libel suits? Or more?

Finally, in the interests of fairness and balance but integrity not being what it was, I’ll just sneak this positive news about Santander into my blog on a public holiday.

Looking for a holiday place to rent in Galicia this summer? Click here for details of a lovely holiday cottage in the hills outside Pontevedra. Ideal for a vacation around rural pursuits.