Monday, May 31, 2010

Today saw us completing the Porriño-Redondela leg of the Tui-Santiago comino, ending up in the stunningly lovely Pazo de Torres de Agrelo outside the latter.

Once away from Porriño, the shortish walk of 14km took us through beautiful Galician countryside until we hit the N550 just short of Redondela. It being a Monday, it proved difficult to find anywhere to eat both at midday and during the evening. But, somehow or other, we managed to end up in a – possibly illegal - furancho up in hills, where the prodigious amounts of wine and tapas cost us the princely sum of seven euros each.

I am beginning to appreciate the cameraderie one experiences on the camino. But it might just be the drink.

Up at six for the Pontevedra leg tomorrow. Maybe.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Today saw us covering the first leg of our camino fom Tui to Santiago. Initially, this passes through several kilometres of delightful Galician countryside but, nearing Porriño, it deteriorates into a long via dolorosa through an industrial park and along the busy N550. This is allegedly the ugliest bit of all the numerous Ways to Santiago and who am I to disagree?

It’d be nice to say that an afternoon and evening in Porriño makes this all worthwhile but, in truth, this must be one of the more uninteresting towns in Galicia. Especially on a Sunday, when finding a restaurant serving quality fare is a more-than-Herculean task.

But there’s always the Albariño and Ribeiro whites and the Mencia reds. Which is why I’m writing this with a headache.

On to Redondela tomorrow.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Yesterday and today were spent in picking up friends and guiding them round the many delights of the twin fortress cities of Tui in Spain and Valenca in Portugal. Not to mention re-picking up the couple whose plane never made it to Vigo on Saturday, after it broke down on the tarmac at Manchester airport.

So, not much time for reading or writing. Though I did manage to read a rather self-congratulatory piece on the Spanish economy by Edward Hugh. From which I’ve lifted these depressing observations:-

The principal difficulty facing the Spanish economy at the present time is that while the emergency measures have served to buy time, this time has not been wisely employed, and the measures have simply served to exacerbate the underlying structural problems rather than resolve them.

The need to restore order to Spain’s public finances will mean the adjustment will be even more painful than generally envisaged, and the impact of the correction on the economy generally will be more severe. Thus, it is rather unlikely that the Spanish economy will grow in 2011 as many expect.

To conclude, Spain stands at a crossroads, and important decisions need to be taken. A fiscal adjustment is necessary but the country also needs a competitiveness adjustment in the form of a substantial reduction in the wage and price level (possibly by 20%). If this is not implemented the dynamic of Spain’s debt will surely become unsustainable. Spain has two – and only – choices at this point. It can follow Finland’s example in the 1990s, take the bull by the horns and use the present crisis as an opportunity to transform the Spanish economy into a new economic miracle, or it can remain in denial about the severity of the problem, let things drift until they can do so no longer, and then follow Argentina down the road of ruin and despair. 

To cite the words of the latest IMF report: “Such a comprehensive strategy would be helped by broad political and social support, and time is of the essence.” Ladies and gentlemen, enough is enough. Nearly three years have now been wasted, and it is time to act.

You can, if you want, read the rest of the article here.

So, today finally sees the start of the Grand March to Santiago, albeit through the industrial hinterland of Porriño. Of which, more anon. Meanwhile, I leave you with this sentence from the brochure to Tui's fortress-cum- cathedral, one of many such - The floor of the church, in the form of a Latin cross, is essentially Romanesque, with cruise or transept and walls closing in this style.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Well, it was dry for 98% of today's walk. Except for lunch, of course. From my house in the hills, we marched downhill for 6km to said lunch and then 6km uphill back to the house. Which was very probably the wrong way round. Not much to do with the real camino but good training for the real thing starting this weekend.

Meanwhile, I see things have got so desperate here in Galicia that the Justice Department has written to its civil service employees asking them to try to turn up at the office at the right time, to work the hours they’re paid for and to stop being absent so often.Maybe things legal will now get a little swifter. And maybe not.

And the Traffic Ministry has introduced the changes to the speeding laws which the Automobile Association has described as little to do with safety and a lot to do with revenue collection. And possibly illegal. Can’t be long now before I get my fourth fine in two years.

Hey ho.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Today my visitor and I prepared for next week’s full camino (from Tui to Santiago) by doing the 22km Redondela-Pontevedra leg backwards. By which I mean in the direction of Portugal, not Santiago. The Galician weather Gods treated us to their speciality – the Atlantic Blanket. Worse, it was the wet version, meaning it rained non-stop from the time we set off at 9.30 until the time we left Arcade at 1pm. Whereupon we celebrated the change in our fortunes by heading off in the wrong direction. By which I mean the right direction, of course. Normally.

Anyway, there was no shortage of kind Galicians to tell us we were walking the wrong way, some of whom even stopped their cars to tell us. We hit on the right response to this when a Portuguese pilgrim heading towards Santiago asked us if we were walking to Fatima. This became a stock response to the implied question of whether or not we were mad.

Having got rather wet the previous day walking from Padrón to Santiago and having found the waterproof poncho given to me by a generous friend to be rather uncomfortable, I had decided we would resort to umbrellas for today’s wet-weather challenge. This might seem obvious to you but it’s just not done on the camino and I felt we were getting rather disdainful looks from the drenched pilgrims walking in the opposite direction from us. Which was all of them, of course.

Anyway, I now know where not to get a decent menu de día in Redondela and I have a decent idea of how to walk the right way from Redondela to Pontevedra.

And, tied up as I was, I didn’t have much time to read worrying articles like this one. In which I could have learned that “The epicentre of the credit crisis is moving to Spain where the seizure by the central bank of CajaSur over the weekend has torn away the veil on credit damage from Spain's property crash.”

Incidentally, the CajaSur is owned by the Catholic Church and it was reported last week that they’d eschewed the obvious solution of a merger with another local savings bank because this would have “delivered us into the hands of the Reds”. I rather liked the cartoon in El Mundo earlier this week, which showed a CajaSur cardinal holding the hand of a larger person, identified on the sleeve as The State. The caption read “We have a Papá”. Which means (sugar) Daddy, but is rather similar to Papa, or Pope.

I wonder how wet I will get tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

For reasons I won’t bore you with, I started my camino today by doing the final leg of the Portuguese Way – Padrón to Santiago. Arriving at the cathedral – which I’ve visited many times before – I was surprised to find that, having hauled ourselves up the two or three flights of stairs that face you at the end of a long walk – the main entrance is now only an exit. And that you can’t go in with a rucksack. Likewise at the second entrance we tried. Whereupon we gave up and went off for liquid and solid sustenance.

The reason given for this new system and for the guards on each of the cathedral’s doors was “Control of the people flow”. Which, when I arrived at 2pm, consisted of just me and my friend. I didn’t bother to ask why we weren’t allowed to go in with walking poles. But I did speculate it’d be possible to pay someone to look after your rucksacks. Sure enough, we later happened about a place offering this new service. Though I can’t categorically state it isn’t free.

Progress, I guess. But far more Anglo than Spanish. Perhaps they fear a terrorist attack. Which would explain the police van parked in one of the squares adjacent to the cathedral.

And perhaps things will return to normal after this crowd-pulling, full-indulgence Holy Year (Jacobeo/Xacobeo). Though I wouldn’t be too confident of this.

After my friend had made a post-prandial visit to the cathedral while I lay down on a stone bench with both rucksacks, we repaired to the Museum of the Galician People. Where there wasn’t a word in either Spanish or English. Or indeed in any language other than Gallego. Which, as I say, must make sense to someone, if not to me. But at least it was free. And enjoyable.

Monday, May 24, 2010

With one visitor departing and others arriving, time has been short today.

So here are the promised fotos of some of the temporary gardens in the squares of Pontevedra. Plus one of a future series on the city’s ubiquitous graffiti.

Tomorrow morning I start the Way of Saint James (the camino de Santiago). What, when and where I will be able to write is in the lap of the Gods. Or God, if I were doing the pilgrimage as a Catholic. Or even a Christian.

Hasta cuando

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Christopher Booker is a long-standing British opponent of the EU. Or at least of the way it has been set up and managed. The title of one his books – “The Great Deception” – fairly reflects his standpoint. It was inevitable he’d have some pungent comments on the latest developments and here they are. A sampler – “It was always above all a political not an economic project, to be driven through at any cost, which was why all those ‘Maastricht criteria’ laid down to bring it about were repeatedly breached. But as expert voices were warning as long ago as the 1970s, when it was first put on the agenda, there was no way economic and monetary union could work unless it was run by a single all-powerful economic government, with the power to raise taxes.”

As for our Ambrose’s basic attitude, I’m not entirely sure as to whether he thinks the EU is a good thing or not. But he certainly believes Brussels is going about things the wrong way to preserve the union. And he’s particularly critical of the German response to the crisis. His latest Jeremiad concern is the risk of the Far Left making political capital from the current/imminent social unrest in those members forced to implement what he considers to be counter-productive austerity measures. You can read him at length here but, again, these are sample quotes:-
 - The Left is starting to offer the only coherent critique of what has gone wrong with monetary union and why there can be no durable solution until the EU creates full fiscal union (which creates its own problems of permanent subsidies) or until this latter day Gold Standard is broken into viable halves.
 - The only way out is for the European Central Bank to lift Club Med off the deflation reefs by monetary stimulus, and allow these economies to work off their debt in an orderly fashion without shrinking nominal GDP. That means quantitative easing a l’outrance - not "sterilising" bond purchases it has done so far - and that in turn means that Germany must accept 5pc inflation. Will Germans tolerate such an outcome? The civil peace of Europe demands that they do, but I am not hopeful.
 - The North-South divide within EMU has been allowed to go so far that any solution must now be offensive to either side, and therefore will be resisted. The euro is becoming an engine of intra-European tribal hatred. Brilliant work, Monsieur Delors.

And here are a few more quotes I’ve noted over the weekend, though I’m not sure of their provenance now. Possibly in this article asking if/how the euro will survive.:-
 - Part of the reason why southern European nations like Spain and Greece are currently in so much debt is that the northern European nations were prepared to lend to them the cash in the first place. The construction boom in Spain, for example, wasn't financed out of nowhere: it was fuelled by enormous sums of cheap cash borrowed at very low rates.
 - There were huge imbalances within the Eurozone, so you had big export surpluses in Germany which were being channelled into housing and construction booms in the south. Most of the growth in those southern economies was built on debt, and now they can't get out of it.
 - So far only the smaller, less important economies like Greece and Portugal have been tipped for a possible exit [from EMU]. For France and Germany, the marriage will survive for better or worse, no matter how much the love affair may have cooled.

Meanwhile, down at the domestic level, I see that the cash-flushed Pontevedra council is paying for live music to be played adjacent to the temporary gardens set up in four or five of our squares. As my visitor has said, maybe last year’s budget has to be spent, however inappropriate certain expenditure looks right now.

Which reminds me . . . There was an article in a local paper yesterday detailing just how many businesses have ceased operating in the last year, against the pitiful total of start-ups. For the latter, of course, one can never be sure – along this coast – just how many are genuine and how many are fronts for money-laundering. Particularly now that property is a not very attractive route for this.

Finally . . . And to return to the North-South theme - I see that Spanish competitiveness has fallen 20% against that of Germany since 1996. Inflation here has been around 45%, against only c. 22% in Germany. And the story is the same for the nine years I’ve been here – too much cheap money, chasing too many hastily-built properties. And inflation at double the German level. Which some of us did predict years ago could only end in lots of tears. Makes it rather hard to see how Spain can export its way out of the current mess.

Fotos of the gardens tonight.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Here’s The Economist’s take on President Zapatero’s austerity package. I particularly liked their comment that “Mr Zapatero is skilled at sounding as if he means business but his record is of painful slowness to deliver.” This, it seems, leads them to wonder whether he will actually deliver on his startling U-turn.

Down in Pontevedra, the Parks & Gardens department of the Council has erected magnificent small gardens in the centres of three or four squares. In the middle of a recession. Maybe, as a friend says, it’s a case of spending whatever the budget was eighteen months ago, before things got as bad as they are. Anyway, fotos soon.

Talking of time . . . Some readers will recall I raised with the president of our community the dangerous nature of the broken boards in the walkway running behind our houses, down to the communal garden and the pool. Well, this was two months ago or more and, though I was told the work was imminent, it’s yet to be done. So, when I bumped into the gardener yesterday, I asked him what was going on. He assured me he was about to finish all the work around the pool and would be getting down to the boards this week. In other words, it was more important to spend 10 weeks on getting ready a pool that won’t be used until July, at the earliest, than on fixing a walkway with a 4 metre drop below it. Onto concrete. I regularly say I’m generally sympathetic to the common-sense Spanish attitude to risk but this is surely one of the cases where this goes too far.

Just in case you didn’t read the article I cited yesterday, here’s a quote I feel merits a citation – “As long as things were going well, economies were growing rapidly, and affluence was increasing, it was easy for politicians to pretend that when it came to economics, national borders didn't much matter any more. But now the chips are down, nationalism is back.” Which is, as a non-idealist, what I’ve always feared. And it’ll be interesting – to say the least – to see how successfully the EU deals with this existential challenge.

Meanwhile, here in Spain, there’s a growing realisation we may yet end up with two Eurozone currencies – the Northern European euro and the Southern European euro. The NEE and the SEE. An English friend suspects that, should this happens, all the black money in mattresses here will again flow into property, creating another crazy boom. And, who knows, he may well be right.

Finally, here’s a bit of publicity for a chap who has the ambition of re-creating the ancient Celtic language spoken by the Iberian adventurers he believes sailed from here to settle Ireland awhile ago. And here’s details of the dictionary he’s already compiled. All of this is aimed at addressing the problem that “We’re not accepted, nor recognised by many Celtic organizations and societies as a Celtic Nation, due to the loss of our Gallaic tongue. The comprehension of our Gallaic tongue, even though reconstructed, will complete our identity and acceptance as modern Galician Celts.” Well, maybe. But I commend his efforts and wish him well.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

One inevitably wonders Where next? for the eurozone. And, indeed, the entire world. Especially after reading articles like this one. And phrases such as “No democracy will immolate itself on the altar of monetary union for long.”

Going back to words . . . Here’s another article on the mot de jour – 'progressive'. It contains a description of Britain as “moderate, socially liberal, economically liberal and tough-minded.” Which will be a hard sentence for the Spanish to understand, given their concept of ‘liberal economics’ as 19th century laissez-faire capitalism.

President Zapatero has announced that, as part of his ("socialist") treatment for Spain’s economic woes, he'll be hitting the usual suspects of “the banks, the rich and the Church”. This is presumably aimed at retrieving some of the 7.5 percentage points he lost to the Opposition after the announcement of his first austerity measures a week ago. Below him, his ministers are playing another round of one of his government’s favourite games – Contradictory Announcements on Really Important Matters. One wonders whether this is a deliberate attempt at kite flying. Or just the incompetence of an administration in panic.

Finally . . . I’ve often said that the Spanish – whilst perhaps not the most considerate-to-others people on the planet – certainly rank as the best apologisers in the world. Which makes it all the more surprising you almost never hear this reply from shop assistants here – “No, I’m sorry. We don’t have any of those.” Frankly, the answer is normally just a bald No, without even a hint of regret. Let alone advice on where you might get the item required. I’m motivated to mention this now because I actually did get an “I’m sorry” today. Which, truth to tell, knocked me back a bit. One doesn’t like to have one’s low expectations exceeded.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Good to read that, in its search for alternative revenue streams, the Galician government is planning to tax those of us who draw water from wells we’ve paid to be installed on our land. Presumably the air above our houses will be next.

On a wider Spanish front, President Zapatero’s situation continues to deteriorate. His austerity package has cost him his cosy relationship with the unions, civil service strikes are in the offing, the Opposition’s lead in the polls has suddenly soared from 1.5 to 9% and his own personal rating has gone in the opposite direction, from close to 5 out of ten to only 3.7. That said, it’s still higher than that of the Leader of the Opposition, the seriously uncharismatic Sr Rajoy. Who really should be contemplating an alternative day job.

Meanwhile, on an even wider EU front, no one appears to know what is happening, after what most people seem to think was a series of panic announcements-cum-measures from Mrs Merkel. The markets have again taken flight. Which is ironic as Mrs M’s unilateral initiatives – which irritated all the junior partners in the EU – were meant to inspire them with confidence and to save the euro. Which immediately fell. For an interesting analysis of all this, click here. A couple of sampler comments – "For the first time in many years, the technocrats who run our economies are realising that the main barrier to resolving a crisis and reinstating business-as-usual is not so much our ability to afford it but our populations' willingness to pay. As long as things were going well, economies were growing rapidly, and affluence was increasing, it was easy for politicians to pretend that, when it came to economics, national borders didn't much matter any more. But now the chips are down, nationalism is back. . . . the continent is a hodge-podge of nations trying to disguise itself as a completely liberalised market. Unfortunately, its people have different ideas.” Which is the EU’s Achilles’ heel, of course.

Incidentally, it says something about the responsibility of politicians for this crisis when you read that “Currently 20 countries in the EU [i. e. 74% of then] are under scrutiny for their excessive budget deficits and have been asked to provide details of their austerity measures and structural reforms designed to reduce their debts.”

Finally . . . Another of those conversations that give an insight into the Spanish concept of customer service. At least among bureaucrats. This one took place yesterday in the Turismo office in Tui, down on the border with Portugal:-
Do you have this brochure in English for my visitor?
Yes, but I’ve got only one copy left.
Well, I can’t give it to you.
Why not? You can’t read it and don’t need it.
Because it’s the last one. We should have more next week.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In a statement with which my friend Alfie B. Mittington would surely agree, M. Trichet, the (French) president of the European Central Bank, has rejected the commonplace European view that (Anglo) currency dealers and speculators are responsible for the travails of the euro. It’s the poor state of Europe's public sector, he says, which is to blame for the Continent's troubles. And the fault lies with the European governments themselves. “It is not a question of an attack on the euro. It is to do with the public sector and hence to do with financial stability in the euro area,” This being so, what’s needed, he adds, is a “quantum leap” in peer-to-peer budget monitoring by European governments, and sanctions on those countries failing to meet those terms of the Stability and Growth Pact widely ignored by governments to date. Funny but I seem to recall the Spanish president, Sr Zapatero, calling for such measures earlier this year but being shot down in flames. Perhaps because his standing on matters economic is not awfully high.

I read an interesting report on attitudes to smoking in Spain today, in which it was claimed a sizeable majority are against it. Mind you, it also said that only 30% of people here indulge in the habit, which strikes me as highly questionable. Perhaps when Spaniards are asked whether they are a smoker or not they answer the question “Are you what you would consider to be a very heavy smoker?”

Tonight I had the dubious pleasure of watching an hour of the Spanish version of the BBC’s Celebrity Come Dancing. I’d quite forgotten how Spanish TV can be. In the hour which my visitor and I could stomach, at least twenty minutes were taken up by advertising and possibly more by chat between the hostess of the show, the contestants and the five judges. Of actual dancing there was not a great deal. And then there were the product testimonials given to camera by the hostess! I came away thinking what a blessing it is I can’t get reception from the aerial in my community.

Finally . . . Private Eye this month has a cartoon poking gentle fun at the multiplicity of applications (apps) available for the i-phone. Catflapp, Bathtapp, Handicapp, etc. And then there was Mishapp, illustrated by a broken screen. Very appt in my case, I thought.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Referring last week to the last-ditch attempt made by Messrs Brown and Mendelson to keep the Labour Party in power, I asked:- “Do these two not yet realise just how discredited the political class is in the UK?” One of the political analysts made a similar comment yesterday – “I wonder if the architects of that failed coup have any idea how much rage and shock they provoked out there in the world of ordinary people, who have a surprisingly competent grasp of what democracy means.”

As for the now ubiquitous word “progressive”, I liked this comment in one of yesterday’s papers – “Like all elements of political jargon, the word “progressive” has been steadily stripped of meaning. This is why Marquand’s phrase about “self-styled progressives” is so telling. It pinpoints the deep intellectual conceit of those on the left who imagine not just that they are the only people who can be described as “progressive”, but that anyone from a different political tradition has purely cynical motivations, even — or perhaps especially — as a reformer.”

In the interests of balance, here’s an article from a Labour leading light, explaining why his is the only truly progressive party.

Anyway, it’s the time of the year when I advise everyone about an alternative Cannes Festival here in Galicia. Or should I say Cans. Which is actually Gallego for ‘dogs’, as in the Latin ‘Cave Canem’. Click here for more information, in Spanish.

I was a little perturbed yesterday to find my mobile phone wouldn’t give me the second person plural of the future tense of the verb querer. Nor the first person plural. Talking to my visiting daughter about this, she claimed it happens a lot on Spanish phones. Her guess was there are just too many conjugations for the phone’s memory. Can anyone confirm this? Or come up with a better theory. If she’s right, what’s the answer to the challenge?

Actually, I have a bigger problem as of this evening. Somehow I managed to step on my laptop in the garden – damn the sun! – and now have an interesting pattern in the top left-hand corner of the screen. As it happens, I’m still able to do most things on it. Which is a bit of a comfort while I investigate how much the repair is going to cost me. And who I can trust to do it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

In The Sunday Times this morning, columnist Minette Marrin had this to say about how the lemon of austerity could be turned into lemonade – “The terrible anxiety we’re now supposed to feel about our status, appearance and taste, and generally speaking the struggle of having it all, will give way to the calm of nobody having very much anyway, or hiding it if they do. We won’t have to try so hard. Less will be calmer; at least we won’t have to suffer from choice fatigue.

I thought of this assertion this evening when reading this forecast George Orwell made in an article he wrote in 1941, in the context of ‘well-to-do women who try to stay young at forty by means of physical jerks, cosmetics and avoidance of child-bearing’:- “The impulse to cling to youth at all costs, to attempt to preserve your sexual attraction, to see even in middle age a future for yourself as well as your children, is a thing of recent growth and has only precariously established itself. It will probably disappear again when our standard of living drops."

It strikes me that George was pretty accurate on the specific of predicting Madonna but way off the mark on the general issue of women (and men) giving up on the quest for eternal youth. Come good times, come bad times - the genie is out of the bottle. The one containing the elixir.

Another columnist asked plaintively this morning– in respect of the vogue word ‘progressive’ – “Who are the progressives now? Are we going to go on pretending, for the sake of every studio discussion and political debate, that “progressive” (which should imply forward-looking and tending to bring improvement) must mean Left-wing in the most archaic sense?”.

Well, it seems that David Cameron has answered this today by labelling the Liberal Conservative coalition a ‘progressive alliance’. Let battle continue.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

In an interview with a local paper, a Galician philosopher of rather advanced age was asked whether he felt we were passing through difficult times. He replied gnomically that all times are difficult in Galicia because it’s inhabited by Galicians. He added, for good measure, that all Galicians are ‘green dogs’, which my friends tell me means they are odd. Fortunately, he said all this in Gallego so it was probably acceptable. I’m not sure it would be if I wrote it in English.

Maybe 'green dog’ is a phrase which can be used to describe the mayor of Vigo, who has let it be known several times just how much he’s against the merger of the two Galician savings banks, Caixa Galicia and Caixnova. Referring to his outpourings, another local politician has accused him of “errors, lies and calumnies”. And of calling the citizens of Vigo mad. Perhaps the next elections are some way off.

Finally – and still on politics . . . The Spanish press has given an admirable amount of space to the UK elections but it struck me that readers might be a little confused about the Liberal Democratic Party now in coalition with the Conservatives. For ‘liberal’ appears to have two very distinct meanings here. In the context of political philosophy it probably means something quite similar to what it means elsewhere. For which we can probably substitute the over-used word ‘progressive’ these days. But in the context of economic policy it means red-in-tooth-and-claw-Anglo-Saxon-devil-take-the-hindmost capitalism. Always suggested in cartoons by a man in tail-coats with a stovepipe hat on his head and a large dollar sign somewhere about his person. Sadly, I don’t know how anyone with less extreme views is portrayed.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Driving to the station this morning, I heard a spokesman for the Spanish unions complaining that the government’s only strategy was “Cuts, cuts, cuts – dictated by the financial markets.” Nothing to do with Spanish profligacy, then. Nor with the economy’s structural faults – all fiercely defended by the unions – which have been talked about for years now. And about which little has been done.

Arriving at the station, I heard from my daughter it’d been announced that work on the AVE high-speed train to Galicia had been suspended. So, bang goes my forecast for 2020. Which already compared badly with the 2012 date promised just before our last elections. The 12th of Never?

Reader Ferrolano writes to say that another thing to go will be the new anti-smoking law, as it will impact on the government’s desperate need to squeeze revenue from every conceivable stone. I’m not sure this is true but I wouldn’t be at all surprised. The government now needs to shorten the list of disaffected citizens wherever it can. And there are a lot of unhappy bar and restaurant owners out there.

Talking of phantom statutes. . . I’m guessing we won’t see any improvement in delivery on the law on Dependency Benefits. This was introduced a year or two ago but - because of recession-driven cash constraints – rapidly became an orphan. Especially as it was the regions which had to cough up the cash to meet commitments created by central largesse. And which are commission-neutral.

So, who will riot first? Possibly not the civil servants about to suffer a 5% cut in salary. Though they were reported on the radio this morning to be going on strike in early June. Will anyone notice? Surely not between 10 and 11, when most of them disappear from their desks anyway. For ‘breakfast’.

Finally . . . It was so cold this morning I had to light a fire for the sake of my nesh visitors from Madrid. I couldn’t put the central heating back on, even if I wanted to, as I’m still trying to get the new boiler installed last November to work properly. Now I’m being told that the complex system which controls the water pump and the thermostat needs to be replaced in its entirety. Which won’t be a snip, of course. Especially not to a guiri who lives in Pijolandia.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

As the middle of the year approaches, one naturally wonders when we’ll get the new anti-smoking law promised for early in the second half of the year. I would’ve been more than mildly interested anyway but then there was the episode this morning of the three smoking women at the next table to mine asking the waitress to close the small window behind me which was the only ventilation in the place. Perhaps my body odour was blowing in their direction and competing with their smoke. But I digress. My understanding is the law is wending its way through the system so that, sooner or later, the only public places you’ll be able to smoke in are prisons, psychiatric units and 25% of hotels. Which seems fair. Except for the hotel bit.

Another law revision that’s imminent is that relating to motoring offences. Word has it that – to no one’s great surprise – state income from sanctions is expected to triple as a result of the higher fines, the ‘simplified’ process and the reduction in the discount for prompt payment. Something to look forward to, then.

I’ve suggested the Conservative- LibDem coalition in the UK may well lead to a new centre-right grouping. So I was naturally interested to read the comment today that “The casualties of the arrangement are exactly whom I would want them to be. Cleggened Cameron marks the crushing defeat of the Telegraphiat and the Tory Right. In fact, the casualties are the troglodytes of all parties.” Well, let’s hope so.

Here in Spain, the Leader of the Opposition has accused the government of achieving what Edward Hugh predicted last year – viz. that Spain would cede control of its economy to Brussels and become a ‘protectorate’. Whether that’s fair or not, the question on everyone’s lips now is whether Spain can avoid the social unrest which has been conspicuous by its absence so far. I guess we’ll know by the end of summer, however hot it is.

Meanwhile, courtesy of my friend Dwight, here’s an open letter to Mrs Merkel from a Galician journalist, Manuel Molares do Val, who blogs here. Somehow, though, I doubt that she’ll be acceding to his plea that she take over the management of Spain’s economy. From the Brussels bureaucrats now, of course. Not Sr Zapatero.

Querida Angela Merkel:

Este cronista quiere pedirle que acepte ser primer ministro español, nuestra Canciller, para resolver los problemas de este desgraciado país, que sólo gozó de unos gobiernos medianamente razonables durante unos 25 años, que fueron un paréntesis entre la dictadura y la incompetencia actual.

Observamos a los políticos de países respetados y prósperos deEuropa, como usted, y nos damos cuenta de la enorme diferencia que hay con los de nuestro Gobierno.

Doña Angela: usted vivía bajo el comunismo cuando la antigua RFA, con otros países de la actual UE, modernizaban España, entregándole los ingentes Fondos de Cohesión.

Desagradecidos, los españoles olvidan ese esfuerzo alemán que ya en los 1990, caida la RDA, afrontó también la renovación de esa parte de Alemania en la que usted había nacido, que salía del terror de la Stasi, la policía secreta, y de una dictadura comunista mucho peor que la franquista.

Después, su país renunció a su poderosa moneda, el marco, y aceptó crear el euro con los dudosos avales de la peseta y otras divisas poco recomendables.

Ahora, unos políticos como la cigarra, frívolos y fantasmones –“Merkel, una fracasada, pleno empleo, hemos superado a Italia, pronto a Francia y en 2012 que nos tema Alemania”—tienen que acudir a usted, la hormiga, pidiendo ayuda para sobrevivir.

Y usted nos la concede, primero, a Grecia, y ahora a España yPortugal, al abanderar un fondo de hasta 750.000 millones de euros por si hay que rescatarnos, aún sabiendo que su gesto le haría perder las elecciones, como ocurrió, en el principal territorio alemán, Renania-Wesfalia.

Mientras, aquí, presumiendo de mayor generosidad que usted con el tercer mundo, triplicando la Administración, comprando votos sindicales, la falsa igualdad y gastando en traductores entre lenguas españolas en el Senado.

Señora Merkel: sea nuestra Canciller. Tráiganos dignidad, honradez, sentido común.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

So, President Zapatero has finally got serious about government finances and announced a series of deficit-cutting measures that go some way beyond anything ‘promised’ to date. I’m not clear how much these are a consequence of the EU’s weekend decision to set up its humungous fund for those troubled economies willing to take its medicine, but I had my friend Alfie B Mittingon on the line today claiming he’d been vindicated in his prediction that Sr Z would find some way to blame Brussels for the pain in Spain. And who can blame him. Alfie, I mean.

As for Britain . . . Now for the good news – from Simon Jenkins in The Guardian . . Cameron faces the toughest hand of cards ever dealt a new prime minister but he has orchestrated the game brilliantly so far. The first peacetime coalition since the 1930s has emerged fully formed from the electoral wreckage of the last four days. It at least hints at a political realignment on the centre-right, similar to that seen in English local government for the past five years. Without it, Cameron clearly felt he could not undertake the engineering of a massive restructuring of public finances. He may be famously unflappable. He may have a sense of humour, a capacity to listen and social assurance, but he faces the labours of Hercules. He has passed the first test. Well, I, for one, am happy at the possible emergence of a stronger centre-right and wish him the best of luck. Perhaps the mould is at least cracked, if not yet broken.

I forgot to mention yesterday that we were told – at the English Reading Club – that we’ll only be doing exercises next week (just what I need), as there’s a problem in getting copies of our next book. Lost somewhere between La Coruña and Vigo, it appears.

Which reminds me . . . the fusion of Galicia’s two savings banks (caixas) was formally announced yesterday. It seems it will have two of everything (HQs, Presidents, Boards, etc,) except same-street branches. So there won’t be many redundancies among management, it seems. Only down at the pavement level. Who says these are primarily political organisations?

We had a big raid yesterday on one of the gypsy settlements at the bottom of our hill. Managed by the Guardia Civil and not the less serious local police. There was a decent hoard of drugs, weapons and cash but it seems business simply moved uphill during the day to the other camp. The one, ironically, only a few hundred metres from the house of Judge Varela of the Supreme Court.

So, does the English ‘stevedore’ come from the Spanish ‘estibador’ or vice versa? My guess is the latter.

I see that Telefónica has dropped this name in favour of Movistar, previously used (I think) only for its mobile phones. Presumably we can now expect a raft of improvements in its customer service policies, to go with its new image.

It seems it’s not always a bad thing for governments to be cash-strapped. This, I hear, is the only thing which stopped the British government of the 1960s demolishing the magnificent Whitehall complex and replacing it with a 60s brutal ziggurat fit for bureaucrats. It's an ill wind, as they say.

Well, I began this post with Alfie B Mittington and I will now end it with what he admits is a bit of a rant against modern Brussels bureaucrats. Many readers will probably concur that a such a thing is not entirely out of place here . . . Incidentally, Alfie has a penchant for neologisms. What might appear to be a spelling error ain’t necessarily so:-

Is there honour among eurogues?(1)

Oh,  but the cheek of it! The brazen, barefaced, shameless nerve! Some days ago, lashing out at the news that Standard & Poor’s had callously lowered the Spanish credit rating from AA+ to merely AA (anybody interested in hearing MY alphabetic proposal?), one of the royally-remunerated officials irresponsible for the European monetary system asked: ‘Don’t these 30-year olds of S&P realise what hardships they cause to the poor people of these countries?’

The Bloody Nerve!!!

Those who caused the mess blaming those who are simply doing their job!?

Those guilty of murder blaming the undertakers for the funeral!?

Let there be no misunderstanding. I am no fan of the conceited, puerile Yuppie stockbrokers in their red suspenders and Gucci shoes who drive to work in their Jaguars to kindle the bonfire of the vanities in which to roast the marshmallows of our monetary system. Slick gold-diggers, they are, and worthy of a whipping. But blame them for the plight of poor Spanish workers and unemployed? These Armani Atillas are merely doing what they get paid for, in an honest, scientific way! They look at the numbers, they draw their conclusions, and their decisions Speak the Truth, from a cold, chilly profit-generating viewpoint. Too bad if that Truth is inconvenient for the Eurogues who sit in on Brussels’ committees and see their favourite hobby (fooling around with the lives of the citizenry for your own gain, amusement and prestige) go wrong. Oh, but Go Ahead, mister Beurocrat: kill the messenger who brings you the news that the soldiers have faithfully executed your orders to exterminate the enemy city! The scoundrel is guilty of Mass Murder!

What’s that? Oh, I don’t understand what’s going on, don't I? It is the SPECULATORS who are behind all this trouble! Those evil, bloodsucking, scheming, dark Speculators. Not you! No, you Beurocrats did everything right. The correct way. Honest. In an intelligent manner. With the best intentions…

Ay, it is wonderful to have a scapegoat, who is so anonymous, so faceless and so deeply concealed, that you never need to show him to the people or mention him by name(1). In the past bloodsucking Jews, scheming Masons, evil Witches, conspiring Commies, and Popish Plots all served the same happy purpose. Now we have Speculators. Curiously borrowed from the favourite terminology of die-hard Leninists….

Did our Beurocrats, our superb leaders, do everything correctly and honestly?

Let me see now… Greece was allowed into the Euro-zone although she did not meet the criteria for entry (The pet project of the Euro HAD to be the broadest possible success!) Then the Euro was forced down our throats, foie gras style, against our wills, in spite of our misgivings, at our considerable cost (the Euro was good for us, you see? Daddy knew best. It would bring us stability, growth, affluence and accountability of the less trustworthy members). As soon as the Euro was established, however, the rules of the 1997 Stability Pact were blatantly ignored and nullified, so that everyone – France and Germany foremost - could run up as big a deficit as they bloody-well liked (aggressive unaccountability, we were told, was healthy for the economy). Then Brussels affably looked the other way as Greece fraudulently ran up a debt of astronomical proportions (Am I My Brother’s Keeper?). Now Greece gets bailed out against the rules of the Euro treaties (The EURO MUST be saved! For the Euro is God! It is no longer the Means, but the Goal!). To do so, we not only fork over billions in loans (which will not cost the taxpayer a cent, we are assured by these honest officials…), but also obliges us – and I quote here – that ‘the European Central Bank [be] freed to go against its Charter’ by buying up ‘distressed national bonds’. This also, we are assured, will not cost the taxpayer a penny. But why is it that silly little me thinks that throwing good money after bad bonds will not necessarily generate profits? (Surely because I am a priggish ignorant puritan idiot!)

Honesty, Brussels style. Probity, in its Beurocrat variety….

And why did we get here? We got here, ultimately, because of the Total Democratic Deficit of the European Union. And I do not mean, for once, the blatant disregard of below-zero turn-out during European elections. I am not talking of the habitual sweeping of electoral results below the carpet if the outcome is not convenient. Or of the shameless repetition ad nauseam, of Irish elections until the Right Answer is received. No, what I have in mind is something more fundamental: the fact that there is no parliament, representing the Sovereignty of the People, which can sent the real executive packing if it misbehaves. No: the REAL Executive. Not that sad bunch of useless, burnt-out, garbage-canned politicians-beyond-their-prime who fill the seats of the European Commission; but the real ones: the Kohls, Mitterrands, Gonzalezes Sarkozys, Merkels, Berlusconis and Balkenendes who take the decisions as to where Europe goes and what it does. Since these folks cannot be toppled, they can fool around with the rules with brazen impunity. And they do so. Without a thought for tomorrow. In short: we are back at the Ancien Regime of a small oligarchy appointing itself, snugly, and not being controlled in anything it does. And therefore making a mess of things because nobody will call them to account.

Ancient Regime….

I have a dream…

In that dream, I see a Guillotine on all the main squares of the different European capitals: on Place de la Concorde, as of old; on Sindagma Sqaure in Athens and the Forum in Rome; on the Plaza Mayor in Madrid and Rocio in Lisbon; on the Dam in Amsterdam, the Alexanderplatz in Berlin and the Grote Markt in Brussels; and yes: even on Trafalgar Square and in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. As a reminder… or perhaps for Future Use.

Next time I’ll tackle the new Trillion Dollar Baby recently born in Brussels… What it spells for you citizens; what its chances are of survival; and what will happen to you if it fails like a soufflé in the draught. Unless, that is, events overtake me. Because let us face it: things are moving faster at the moment than I can write against them. Must be them damn speculators in their Jags, speeding up the traffic.

Al ‘Populin’ Mittington (former member of the British Boshevik Front)

PS Join me on the Guillotine Society on Facebook!

(1) The only speculator known by name is George Soros (a Greek!!). But sadly he don’t really qualify, does he? - because the awful spoilsport spends so much on charity and development that you cannot really hold him up to the Righteous Anger of the People as the paragon of evil, can you now?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

No British politics tonight. Other than to say that it seems the Labour-LibDem negotiations were truly Ballsed up. If you want more, scroll down to my earlier post of this morning.

In Spain, the populace is regularly asked to rate the country’s politicians out of 10. To two decimal points, would you believe. Hardly anyone ever gets above 5.0, so this is a good score. The quality of Sr Rajoy’s performance as Leader of the Opposition is reflected by the fact that above him rank not just President Zapatero but also sixteen of the government’s ministers. So, no great surprise that, despite the economic situation and the ordure regularly heaped on Sr Zapatero, the Opposition’s lead over the government has slumped to a mere 1.5%. Time to fall on one’s sword, I suspect. To give someone else a chance before the next general elections in 2012. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

A short while ago, I joined two book clubs in the town library – the Castellano and the English. After missing two sessions of the former while I was in the UK, I got an email this week telling me that, if I missed another, I’d be out on my ear. Which I thought was rather efficient. In contrast, earlier today I found it difficult to find anyone who knew anything about tonight’s meeting of the English club. “Why don’t you come by around 7, to see if it’s on”. So, I did. And, happily, it was. The first ten minutes was in Gallego but we did switch to English after that. Largely, it has to be said, because we were reading out loud from an English book. I resisted the temptation to read my bit in a Scouse accent.

Despite not looking remotely Spanish, I regularly get asked for directions. No more so than near my house, usually by folk looking for the Granite Carvers’ School. But I was a bit taken aback this evening to get this enquiry from a local police patrol. Anyway, I won’t be telling my Spanish friends about this, as it will only confirm their belief that the local police force is formed from failed candidates for the position of Town Idiot.

Finally . . . As regular readers will know, I’m used to a lot of noise from next door – where Toni lives and bawls – even at 7 in the morning. But today it was the usually silent Mrs T. With an altogether more erotic symphony. What I have to put up with!

Politics as usual?

This is an early post. Events today in Britain might make it obsolete by nightfall.

The developments last night have naturally produced a wide spectrum of responses. This is the one which most closely reflects mine:- Brown's shameless move tonight will stun the millions of voters who had expected him out pronto. The Lib Dems will look dreadful for entering talks to keep him in for the four months he craves. If Clegg is willing to enter "formal discussions" to make this Brown's voter-defying act possible, then he has brought discredit to himself and his party. Tonight's extraordinary events could strengthen Cameron's hand. It is Clegg who is aiding and abetting this lunacy.

So, is this from the right-of-centre Daily Telegraph? No, it’s not. The centrist Times? No. It’s actually from the left-of-centre, LibDems-supporting Guardian.

Perhaps the writer feels, as I do, that the inexperienced and possibly naïve Nick Clegg has been high-jacked by the formidable New Labour machine and now finds himself between a rock and a hard place. One thing’s for sure – he’s never going to be able to claim to be a man of principle ever again. But maybe he won’t care as long as his party gets what it’s long been denied. At least for a month or six.

Meanwhile, it’s encouraging - impressive even - to see some Labour MPs distancing themselves from an expedient, neck-saving deal which they know many of the voters – possibly most of them – will see both as shabby and, worse, unstable. And hugely at odds with the pious sentiments being expressed by Gordon Brown about a government that will be able to address the UK's challenges.

As I wrote yesterday, events may well redound to the eventual benefit of the Conservative Party. Or, as Andrew Gilligan writes - A Lib-Lab coalition would be democratically preposterous, defying the laws of political gravity. But for that very reason it could, in the medium term, be the best possible outcome for the Tories. It would be losers propping up losers. It would be hugely difficult to keep together, lacking a majority of its own and requiring life-support from various nationalist parties. It would be vulnerable to all sorts of unsavoury Celtic blackmail, enraging the already long-suffering English (whose own voting intentions were very clear.)

Last quote - The voters wanted a “new kind of politics”. Well, now they have got it. Though it’s almost certainly not what they expected. Or really wanted, I venture to say.

Such is politics. In which a week is a (very) long time, of course. Roll on the rest of this one. 

Bottom line – The Conservative Party is now in a no-lose situation. Either they get a deal with the LibDems now or - possibly better for them - they get a real majority at the inevitable second election in a few months’ time.

Perhaps the New Labour team isn’t as clever as I thought it was.

Meanwhile, bugger the voters.

Fascinating, if depressing.

Monday, May 10, 2010

So, over in Britain, Mr Brown has (inevitably but belatedly) placed his head on a (future) plate in order to crank up the pressure on the LibDems. Meaning that the Labour Party is putting forward an (unknown) leader as the potential Prime Minister after him. It will be interesting to see – if the Labour Party pulls off the miracle of a pact with the LibDems – how the country will react to this blatant horse-trading directed at retaining the power that the electorate clearly wanted them deprived of. Or, more importantly, how David Cameron will respond. Will he take the gamble of calling the bluff of the LibDems, forcing them to form a pact with the Labour Party that will struggle to avoid another election within a year at the most? Some, of course, see this as the best thing he could do – let his opponents drink the poisoned chalice of the country’s challenges, handing him a large majority as the next election.

The other interesting question is how the proponents of proportional representation etc. are enjoying the sight of the behind-doors political-dealing that is the meat and drink of coalition governments. And the uncertainty it produces.

Meanwhile – and more importantly – the leaders of the EU have finally decided that – hovering over an abyss – they need to go forwards in the direction of a real superstate, rather than go backwards to perdition by standing still. As our Ambrose has put it – “A European state is being created before our eyes. . . The euro's founding fathers have for now won their strategic bet that monetary union would one day force EU states to create the machinery needed to make it work. Or, put another way, that Germany would go along rather than squander its half-century investment in Europe's post-war order.” Quite rightly though – even as a (recent) advocate of such action - he adds the qualification:- “Whether the German nation will acquiesce for long is another matter”. Click here if you want to read more, including his brief detour into matters philosophical. I’ll just add that he feels that the fund on its own simply won’t be enough - “The answer - if the objective is to save EMU - is for Germany to boost its growth and tolerate higher `relative' inflation.” Which is not on the cards, apparently. So, Ambrose’s parting shot is that “While each component makes sense in its own narrow terms, the EU policy as a whole is madness for a currency union.” I guess we will continue to see if he is too pessimistic on this. Sooner or later.

Near term, I guess Portugal and Spain are off the hook and I imagine that the shares of Spanish banks rose at least as much as those of the British banks did today.

Finally . . . No great surprise to hear Gordon Brown using the phrase “progressive alliance” several times during his brief address to the nation tonight. But what was truly astonishing was to see how the UK media reacted as if his departure from office is something totally unexpected. I mean, can there really be anyone in Britain who felt he would be leader of the Labour Party for much longer?

I do hope I can stop writing about politics and economics soon. There are many things far more important in life. Though, as some Frenchman once put it - “In this world, nothing matters very much. And quite a lot doesn’t matter at all.”

Sunday, May 09, 2010

In the wake of the inconclusive British elections, I see at least one well-known British columnist has jumped on my Let Scotland Go bandwagon. Just a coincidence, I’m sure . . . Or obvious.

As for Spain finally emerging from the recession into the sunny uplands of export-led growth, if you’ve got half an hour to spare and you like charts, Edward Hugh’s analysis of trends here should interest you. I’ll eschew quotes and just say there’s enough in the article to justify the overview in El País’s business section today that, while the sun has indeed come out, it’s shrouded in clouds.

On the wider EU front, Edward writes that “As the Greek emergency has grown into a wider European sovereign debt crisis, so eurozone governments seem to have arrived at the conclusion that changes to the design of European monetary union can no longer be postponed”. But “it is still far from clear that Europe's leaders are ready to accept just how thoroughgoing the institutional changes may need to be if they are to be capable of putting the common currency on a sound and sustainable footing.” Pending this, he says, “the crisis of confidence turns on whether or not Spain’s banking system will be able to find sufficient funding in the interbank market to satisfy its liquidity needs according to the exit schedule laid down initially by the ECB.” Meanwhile, “The principal reason why Spanish debt is steadily moving into high risk territory is to be found in the impact on investor confidence of the perceived state of denial over the magnitude of the problem to be found at the highest levels of the Spanish administration, and the absence of any credible plan to address the situation”. Back to Sr Zapatero and his irrepressible optimism, I guess. Or as Edward puts it himself . . . “What is worrying people is whether or not Spain could become another Greece in the future, and whether or not the country’s present leaders have the determination needed to take the steps to ensure it won’t. Confidence in Spain’s economy is at a low level, and confidence in Mr Zapatero’s ability to do what is needed is at an even lower one. If Spain’s Prime Minister finds he is no longer able to convince external observers that he can do the job which needs to be done, then in the interest of all Spaniards and all Europeans he should offer to stand down at the and of the European Presidency in July and pass the rudder over to someone who can.” Fat chance, I suspect. He and Mr Brown may have more in common than just an unshakeable belief in Socialist solutions to economic crises.

On a lighter note . . . Here’s a picture explaining why my neighbour of three doors away has wrested from Tony’s wife the garland of Worst Parker in the Street. An easy decision really, as Mrs T tends to park a metre or two away from the pavement (sidewalk), not a metre or more onto it.

And here’s a couple of snaps of the new statue (and shadowy friends) behind Pontevedra’s town hall. I’m not yet clear who it is. So ideas are welcome. I doubt it’s the Bulgarian wrestler it looks like.

En passant, winter has returned here, the temperature has dropped ten degrees or more, and I have the sort of throat that tells me my nostrils will be streaming tomorrow. Happy days. Bring back Global Warming. And get those hot toddies mixed.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Bank shares fell considerably in Spain this week, including those of the flagship, Banco Santander. For one British commentator – speaking for the many Brits who now have accounts with Santander – this raised a critical question: – “Could it be that Santander, considered the best of the survivor banks, has finally been caught by the financial crisis it so adeptly dodged two years ago? The writer answers his own question with the reply that “Analysts think not.” He goes on to say there are three reasons UK depositors should be confident there’s little to worry about the UK operation - “First, Santander's UK business is regulated here. Second, because the bank is diversified – with operations in South America as well as Europe. And third, because its Spanish and Portuguese exposures are manageable”. But what about Santander’s exposure back home in Spain, where it has €24bn of Spanish sovereign debt and €3.3bn of Portuguese sovereign debt? The writer acknowledges that this has “spooked markets” but stresses that “The bank has options. A stake in the UK bank may be floated to raise funds for its potential acquisition of Royal Bank of Scotland's small business branches. The float would realise a capital gain at group level, in much the same way as happened when a 15% stake in the Brazilian subsidiary was listed. That gain could help offset continental losses.” So, while “The collapse in the shares may be worrying, they are still trading at a premium to book value – which means the markets prefer Santander to the British banks.” And markets, as we know, don’t make mistakes.

Another thing we all know is that modern politicians routinely devalue words and phrases in their desperate determination to deceive us – a process which began before George Orwell commented on it. I’ve previously mentioned that, since all UK parties now describe themselves as “progressive”, this is one of the latest words to be shredded of all meaning. So I wasn’t too surprised to see the desperate Labour Party on Friday calling for an “alliance of the progressive majority” to keep the Conservatives out of power.” Which would include Far Left Neanderthal Socialists and even anarchists, I guess.

Finally on the elections, here are some random quotes that appealed to me:- 

We are facing one of the worst economic crises ever faced by this country. This is not a time for Parliament to be involved in discussions on voting reform.

Although accused of delivering some unholy mess, the electorate seems to me to have got exactly what it wanted: a political class both flummoxed and humbled, who can never again take their votes in vain.

Whatever happens over this weekend, the political system will not revert to its old binary ways in a generation.

One Labour adviser said: “We don’t want to end up like the drunk girl at a party trying to get off with Clegg. You usually see her later in the car park being sick.”

As it happens, while he waits to hear the roll of the tumbrels, Gordon Brown is fulfilling his Prime Ministerial diary duties. One of these yesterday was a meeting with President Zapatero. I wonder how upbeat that was.

Here’s a pretty devastating overview of Mr Brown from the man, Anthony Seldon, who wrote a biography of him a few years ago:-
It begins:-
I did not foresee it,” Gordon Brown was heard to say on Friday. But then the Gordon Brown story is a Shakespearean tragedy of King Lear proportions. Like King Lear, he lashes out in all directions, now berating, now making sycophantic overtures, a desperate figure clinging by his nails to the vestiges of power. Like Lear, he demeans himself, and fails to see the truth, a truth evident to those all around him.
And it ends:-
Like King Lear, Brown’s core problem was that he could not 'see better.' He failed to realise how much more successful the party would have been under a fresh leader. His lack of self-knowledge prevented him seeing the looming electoral disaster, and seeing that he was not the equal of his huge ambition. He was a man who possessed greatness, of intellect and heart, but whose political career is ending in Shakespearean tragedy, not because his daughters turned against him, but because his party and the country did.

As you read this, you are forced (yet again for some of us) to wonder how he ever became Prime Minister in the first place. Will I ever feel sorry for him now that his career is ending in ignominy? Well, if he goes into depression, Yes. Otherwise, No. Just another to-be-forgotten Ozymandias. Sailing away on a sea of debt. Which others will have to pay for.

Finally . . . The really bad news of the week. Tony is home from the sea for a month or so, to bawl whenever he feels it appropriate. Which is often. I pity my visitors of the next few weeks.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Politics, here and there.

How cruel politics can be. In the end, the high-hoping LibDems actually lost a few seats and didn’t even get the 25% of my final, lower prediction - never mind the 28 to 30% being talked about only a couple of days ago. In fact they got 23%, a mere one percentage point up on the last general election. As to where the UK goes from here – as the discredited Labour Party tries to cling on to power – I guess it will be at least a couple of days before we know the answer to this. So much for the sea-change in politics that was predicted/expected/hoped for. Actually, I found the sight of Gordon Brown – never elected as leader of the Labour Party – mouthing the words of unelected Lord Mandelson as he made a naked bid to retain power via a scurrilous pact with the LibDems one of the more vomit-inducing experiences of my life. I know that capitalists must do what capitalists do and politicians must do what politicians do, but do these two not yet realise just how discredited the political class is in the UK? For good reason, it would seem. I do hope the LibDems can stretch their minds back ten to twelve years and recall how Labour (under ‘pretty regular guy’ Tony Blair) duped them over a change in the electoral system both before and after the 1997 election. That said, I regard a Labour-LibDem pact as not just an immoral betrayal of whatever message (if any) the British electorate was trying to give but also highly unlikely. Nick Clegg may just turn out to be as principled as he’s claimed. Or at least sensible. And sensitive.

Anyway, no one seems to have any idea of why the LibDems flopped on the night. Though it must be some compensation to them they’re still the king-makers they were predicted to be. But an explanation must be found. So . . . as the Spanish love a good conspiracy theory (especially when they can be portrayed as the victims), I thought I’d start one here – The LibDems lost because Nick Clegg’s wife is Spanish. And the Brits are racist, xenophobic, arrogant bastards. Who manage their elections about as well as most Third-World countries. You heard it here first.

I read somewhere last week there was unusual interest in this election in the USA, on the grounds the epoch-making emergence of a true third party could just be emulated there in due course. Well, for something to be copied, it must first happen. And it ain’t yet, much as my reader friend Moscow must have wished for it. But . . . there may yet be a degree of sensible electoral system reform in the UK. And no one can object to that. Looking at the electoral map, though, the first thing I’d do in Cameron’s shoes would be to give the Scots their independence and get rid of all the Labour MPs who represent them in London.

I should confess that - while I’m content that my counter-poll LibDem prediction proved reasonably accurate - not all my forecasts are worth betting on. Believe it or believe it not, I predicted that Cristiano Ronaldo would fail at Real Madrid. You can’t win ‘em all.

The good news here is that the Spanish economy emerged from recession in the last quarter. Or it might have done, as 0.1% is well within any reasonable margin of error. And, anyway, everyone expects thing to deteriorate this quarter. So a temporary respite. Just enough to justify Sr Zapatero’s mantra that there are reasons for optimism?

Moving to the wider picture - If you don’t understand why Spain is in the cross-wires of the people they’re forced to borrow more and more money from, try this article from Qorreo. Which basically says that a drama has not yet become a tragedy; but it still might. As ever, Sr Zapatero emerges from the analysis very tarnished. Sadly, the last sentence seems to me to be on the button – “With regional governments accounting for 57 percent of total public spending in Spain, there is a serious risk that national interests and the economy as a whole may find itself subordinated to entrenched regional interests, crowd-pleasing promises and partisan politics.” But, hey, that’s democracy. In Spain as it is in Britain. The least bad form of government we’ve yet come up with. As Graeme of South of Watford would surely agree - Shame the little people always end up paying the price for its shortcomings. C'est la guerre.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Well, yesterday’s summit meeting between the Spanish President and Leader of the Opposition doesn’t appear to have been a great success. They’re reported to have agreed on only one item - a new law relating to the troubled savings banks. Coincidentally(?), Galicia’s two caixas finally decided yesterday evening to bow to political pressure and agreed a merger. To my surprise, the Galician Nationalist Party has criticised the developments, despite previously supporting the merger on the grounds it would prevent one with a bank from another region. Possibly they see the new law as exposing the new Galician entity to a later takeover by a ‘foreign’ bank. All a bit too complex for me.

After the meeting, President Zapatero intoned his standard comment that “There are reasons for confidence”. Which I was going to say was something of a hymn for him but perhaps I mean incantation. Either way, I’m not sure it’s working.

Ambrose this morning answered my question of whether current EU decisions are really economics-based – “Markets view the package for Greece as a politically-shaped response that cannot work because it shuts off the twin cures of debt restructuring and devaluation, leaving the burden of adjustment on the Greek people. If Greeks come to view the plan as a rescue for foreign banks and funds – as many already do – there is no chance of carrying the nation through five years of harsh austerity. . . . There is mounting concern that the IMF is squandering its fire-power on a dubious plan, rather than ring-fencing Greece with a controlled default and reserving its clout to defend a more credible line on Iberian debt – which is what really matters for Europe's banks. By failing to fix achievable priorities, the IMF risks a drift into deeper crisis.”

Later today he let the havering EU politicians have both barrels – “Let me be clear, the sky will not fall — unless the EU authorities let it fall. They have the wherewithal to head off a catastrophic systemic crisis, if they can overcome their national quarrels, muster political leadership, and move fast enough. The European Central Bank must come down off its high horse and launch a massive purchase of eurozone bonds — ie QE, printing money, eurocopters, call it what you want — which means tearing up the EU rule book in the process.” Ambrose ends by citing long-standing emergency plans for imposing capital controls on the eurozone. Shades of the UK in the 70s. That’s progress!

I asked yesterday about prevailing philosophies in Greece. Well, today comes this rather scurrilous take on the question from polemical British columnist, Rod Liddle. Living happily in Spain, I couldn’t possibly endorse his views. Well, not all of them anyway.

Finally . . . A 23 year old Spanish driver has been clocked doing the fastest ever speed on a Spanish road - 248kph. Or around 155mph. In the car with him were his girlfriend and two children. Who may not have been asked for their permission.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

All bets are now off for tomorrow’s UK elections, with a hung parliament still being predicted by virtually all observers. For what it’s worth, here’s one analyst’s view of what he regards as the least bad outcome of tomorrow’s voting. Incidentally, Sky is making a huge thing about this being the first election for which their results coverage will be in high definition. As if this will make the programs any less boring.

I wonder if in Greece the prevailing philosophy is that, if someone is dumb enough to give you the chance to take money from them – by fair means or foul – you’re a fool if you don’t? Especially if it means you won’t have to work much for the rest of your life. Is so, was anyone in Brussels aware of this when Greece became a member of the EU? Ditto one or two other member countries as well. Though probably not Germany.

Anyway, here’s some common sense reasons for not gloating over the Greek tragedy, especially if you live in the UK.

As for Spain, we seem today to be a little further along the road to Edward Hugh’s Doomsday scenario. One problem, of course, is that – as with currency devaluations – a ratings downgrade based on anticipated poor economic performance is rather self-fulfilling. Sentiment and herd instinct take over and it avails Sr Zapatero but little to dismiss as ludicrous all talk of Spain needing IMF intervention. His cost of borrowing is going to go on rising until there’s a lot more clarity and certainty around. Which may be a while yet.

Meanwhile, one commentator has said – in respect of the ECB’s decision to accept Greek junk bonds as collateral – “Better to break up the rulebook than to break up the euro”. While the contrary view is that “The structural integrity of EMU, the euro, the ECB, and the IMF has been weakened, in exchange for temporary safety of Greek bonds. This is a huge price to pay to save a not-very-deserving country”. So . . . was it common sense or the epitome of panic? Was the decision economic or political? Discuss.

Well, anyone waiting to see fotos of the dove chicks emerging from the nest near my bedroom window will be as disappointed as I am. There’s been a pair of magpies swirling round the garden the last couple of days and tonight the nest is devoid of its three eggs. And the magpies have moved on. Which is a shame, as I would have liked to shoot the piebald bastards out of the sky.

Finally . . .I haven’t mentioned zebra crossings for a while. So here you go.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

A couple of readers have kindly told me of this New York Times article on the travails of Spain. Coincidentally, it begins with a reference to the on-off merger of Galicia’s two savings banks (the caixas) I mentioned yesterday. And makes the point previously noted here that, on top of his obvious incompetence, Sr Zapatero is not helped in his challenge of turning round the economy by the fact the regions spend much of the money and are notoriously difficult to control. As I think I’ve asked before – Do they do things very differently in real federal states such as Germany and the USA?

By the way . . . It’s the caixas which are responsible for most of the (subsidised) cultural events which take place in our cities, like the two classical music concerts I’ve attended in the last week. I wonder whether a single entity will maintain the spend of the two existing operations. Unlikely, I guess, as it’s an obvious area for ‘negative synergy”. Or saving money.

I hazarded a guess last week that civil servants in Greece made up 20% of the working population. Well, today comes a report from El Mundo that funcionarios now make up 20% of paid workers here in Spain. Following an increase of 215,000 in their numbers since the start of the recession. Which was doubtless rational and justifiable.

Briefly back to Sr Zapatero . . . When he finally got round to admitting there was a recession here, he boasted his response to it would be a socialist one. I assume he had something more in mind than merely increasing the number of civil servants but, whatever it was, it doesn’t seem to have impressed investors and lenders. Not many of whom are socialists, I guess. Actually, it would be hard to find anyone other than his couture-dressed Vice Presidenta who admits to being impressed by Sr Z’s responses. And it must be significant that this week he invited the leader of the opposition to a round-table discussion. Or crisis meeting, as some are calling it.

Finally . . . It’s good to see that Santiago de Compostela ranks as high as number 3 in the Trip Advisor list of the best 25 cities to visit in Spain. Granada and Sevilla took the top slots. Of course, if you’re looking for a lovely place to stay in the Galician countryside not far from Santiago . . . Click here. Or write to me here.

Monday, May 03, 2010

How the world turns. When I lived in the Seychelles for a year in the mid 60s, it was a poor, innocent place of little interest to anyone. Now El País tells me it’s a favourite venue for Saudi Arabian princes who hold ‘conferences’ to which hosts of beautiful young women are invited. Possibly not just to pour the tea. I guess things have got rather more professional than way back then, when the whores were very far from either young or beautiful. And, since there were seven women for every man in the islands, rather redundant.

Talking of folk who prostitute themselves, I think I’d better revise my forecast of the LibDems’ performance in this week’s elections. Not because of the endless polls showing them somewhere between 23 and 33% of the vote but because I’ve just read they got 22% last time round and they’re rather unlikely to fall below this, aren’t they? So, I’ll go with around 25%.

Well, the fusion of the Galician savings banks (the caixas) continues to elude the President of the Xunta, who’s been pushing for this for months now, against the resistance of the Madrid government and the Bank of Spain. Not to mention most of the citizens of Vigo, who fear their interests will be subordinated to those of La Coruña, should it come off. The latest negotiations between Caixa Galicia and Caixanova broke down on Friday when the President of the latter insisted on being President of the new entity for ten years. In normal circumstances, I guess this might have been acceptable, even if his bank is the smaller of the two. But the bugger is already 79 and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion he was taking the piss. On to the next chapter.

Meanwhile, another strange Spanish-English translation: The Holy (Turin) Shroud becomes El Santo Sudario. OK, sudario is translated as ‘shroud’ in the dictionary I’ve just checked but it comes from sudar, ‘to sweat’. So it’s really The Holy Sweatshirt. Which rather removes the mystique, I think. Not that I’ve believed in it since I was about 11.

Finally . . . One of the hits to this blog today was after a search using “Galicia is a stupid region that no one cares about”. I may be wrong but this seems to me to be the same sort of search done by those who enter something like “Spaniards have Arab blood” just so they can find someone to rant at. I believe they’re called trolls. The only sadder people I can think of are those who use troll activities as fodder for their blog posts.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

I’ve been waiting for a long time for Edward Hugh to comment on the Spanish economic situation, in the light of his forecasts months ago about how high unemployment would eventually go and his conviction that the management of Spain would be taken over by Brussels and/or the IMF. Well, here it is . . . And it doesn’t make for pretty reading. I will cite only this line and leave you to read the article in its entirety. Or not. . . “The principal reason why Spanish debt is steadily moving into high risk territory is the continuing state of denial to be found among the Spanish decision making elite, and the absence of any credible plan that is up to the magnitude of the challenge ahead.” So, it’s not just the public imitating ostriches, then. By the way, even if you don’t want to read all of Edward’s article, you might like to see the FT article cited in it, as it refers to a Spanish business school assessment of out situation here. Can't blame the arrogant Anglos this time.

Well, it had to happen and, indeed, some of us predicted it would. Articles have begun to appear in the Spanish press suggesting the EU is not all it was cracked up to be when the going was good. An article in El País today is entitled “Goodbye Europe?” and contains the statement – “More Europe shouldn’t mean more Brussels, more bureaucracy or more shameful displays of incompetence.” Well, no. Not in theory, mate. But that’s just the way it is. And always would be.

In another article (The Political Failure of the Euro) the writer makes the nice point that “The worst political consequence of the euro lacking a political government has been to turn Germany into a eurosceptic member”. Well, yes. And, again, the early sceptics predicted it would.

In another article in the same paper, it’s reported that 81% of Spaniards lack confidence in their own government and 66% feel the same about the EU. So, “Nowt to do with us, Guv. All your fault. Or theirs.”

Anyway, here’s Ambrose’s typically acerbic view of the latest developments. One has to bear in mind he’s said Germany has been wrong to take the stance it has and that the EU should have proceeded to a debt union. So at least he’s being consistent. I think

On to Britain . . . I predicted the other day that support for the Lib Debs would plummet as the British election got nearer. There’s some evidence this is now happening and here’s a similar (but expanded) prediction from a much more competent observer - “A good proportion of Lib Dem support will evaporate on polling day; the Conservatives will win with a working majority and Labour will implode after their worst defeat in living memory. The people will make a conscious decision to take a clearly marked fork in the road – and they will do it on the basis of having witnessed two passionately defended possibilities.” Click here for the pungent reasoning behind this.

After the meeting of the EU Finance Ministers today, Spain should know how much more money it will have to borrow, at inflated rates, to make her contribution to the EU bailout fund. Or maybe she can get this from the ECB, through the back door but at least at lower rates. I guess it all makes sense to someone.

All I really know – after attending a concert tonight – is that bajo continuo is the Spanish (Italian?) for double bass. And that a violoncello is a viola de gamba. Which must be Italian as, while gamba means ‘leg’ in that language, it means ‘prawn’ in Spanish. And who wants a prawn between their legs?Or a gamba entre las gambas.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

I wrote the other day about Brits with their head in sand. And earlier about politicians who were cynical because they’d learned not to trust the public any more than the public trusts them. Here’s an article from the always estimable Matthew Parris on these themes. As he says “The Argentine middle classes bang saucepans; the Greeks riot; and the British splutter that they’re so fed up they’ve a good mind to vote for that Liberal Dem-whatever fellow in the nice tie on TV who says he hates the politicians as much as they do. . . But this, the politicians know, is a democracy. The voter is boss. Those who run for office must persuade their abusers to vote for them, or perish. So they grin and take it, bowing and scraping to the electorate and trying to ingratiate themselves into their abusers’ affections. . . That’s why, for all their squawking for change, none of the party leaders will tell us what we will lose, rather than gain, under a new government. And when next week this new government is in place, and orders the cuts it must, the scream of the mob will intensify — this time with a new complaint: “You never told us.” No, they never did. And we’d never have voted for them if they had. It is we, the people, who are demanding a false prospectus. Now we’ve got three to choose from. And in due course, we’ll get the betrayal we richly deserve.”

I also touched on Britain and the IMF. So here’s a commentator putting forward what we could call The Alfie Argument for the UK. As you’ll all recall, my strange friend, Alfie Mittington, suggested Sr Zapatero actually wanted IMF intervention in the Spanish economy so he could avoid blame for the consequences of his mismanagement of the economy. This, it’s argued here, should lie behind a victorious Conservative party’s first step.

I switched on Sky News today, to get the tail end of a report about corruption, nepotism, cronyism and the absence of meritocracy. But I realised it wasn’t about Spain when the size of the black economy was given as 30% of the official one (and not a mere 20%) and that it was said to be normal to have to pay surgeons to get operations done quickly. It was Greece, of course. Where – I read this week – almost 10% of the population is a civil servant. Or maybe 20% of the working population. These, it was reported, all enjoy “generous pension benefits worth 80% of salary and early retirement.” So, should we assume the rioters are these people resisting any reduction in their benefits, or the rest of the population protesting that the civil servants will retain their cushy life while the rest of them take the pain? Or both of these? Plus everyone else who thinks the old times were fine and should be restored. At the expense of the Germans.

But back to Spain. And to an interesting post on regional unemployment ratios from my fellow blogger Trevor ap Simon, the scourge of Catalan nationalists, bureaucrats and politicians. Who could well be the same people, of course.

Still on Spain . . . I’ve long suspected that, although violence against female partners is almost as much of a media obsession here as pedophilia is in the UK, the Spanish statistics aren’t particularly bad. Relative to other countries, I mean of course. Now comes the evidence that this is so, with Spain recording an incidence of 3 murders per million women, the UK 4 and Puerto Rico 14. At the other end of the list is Ireland at 0.6. But perhaps the oddest entry is Austria at 9, against an EU average of 8. Anyone got a theory?

Here in well-off Pontevedra, the recession is finally beginning to bite. My Friday tapa is usually spare ribs. In my case three instead of the normal two, as I tip at extravagant British levels. But what did I get yesterday? A bloody plate of peas with a couple of scraps of jamón chucked in. The slippery slope, I suspect.

Finally . . . How heartwarming to see Afghanistan playing in the cricket world championship. I heard a BBC podcast about the team’s aspirations a year or two ago, when it seemed scarcely possible they’d make it. Play up and play the game, chaps. Even if you did lose to India today.