Saturday, April 30, 2011

I don't normally enjoy shopping but on a gloriously sunny spring day in the centre of Leeds, it didn't seem so bad today. Especially as I got almost all I wanted ahead of my return to Spain.

Of course, there was the additional fact that one is regularly reminded what a more appealing task shopping is here in the UK than back home in Spain . . 
  • Shop assistants who are occupied always apologise and say they'll be right with you. And they usually are.
  • You never have to wait for an assistant to finish his/her conversation with a colleague. Or with a friend at the other end of a mobile phone.
  • When they haven't got what you want, the assistants invariably apologise and then volunteer details of a shop which might have it. They don't just say “No”.
  • No one ever walks in front of you, as if you didn't exist.
Of course, it's not all plain sailing; you constantly have to deal with the bizarre British need to apologise – if they think they're in your way in a supermarket aisle; if they think they might just be in your line of sight; and, most weirdly, if you've trodden on their foot.

And then there's the driving. Which I'd better leave for another day.

Another extract from Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue – “Under the long onslaught from the Scandinavians and the Normans, Anglo-Saxon took a hammering. According to one estimate, about 85% of the 30,000 Anglo-Saxon words died out under the influence of the Danes and the Normans. That meant that only 4,500 Anglo-Saxon words survived - about 1% of the total number of words in the OED. And yet those surviving words are among the most fundamental words in English: man, wife, child, brother, sister, live, fight, love, drink, eat, sleep, house, and so on. They also include most of the short 'function' words of the language: to, for, but, and, in, on, and so forth. As a result, almost half the words in any sample of modern English writing will be of Anglo-Saxon origin. According to one study, every one of the most common 100 words in English is Anglo-Saxon. To this day, we have an almost instinctive preference for the older Anglo-Saxon phrases. We feel more comfortable getting a hearty welcome than being granted a cordial reception.”

Friday, April 29, 2011

Watching The Wedding in my pyjamas at 11 this morning I was rather surprised to see a face at the window. Nothing unusual about this, you might say, but my daughter's flat is on the first floor. Or second floor to our American cousins. Turned out to be the window cleaner, of course. Presumably a republican. And the only person in the country not watching the TV.

The Wedding was, it has to be said, was a huge success. But I was rather surprised by the comment that “This is all about two people starting life together.” After 8 years of cohabitation? Hardly.

Another extract from Bill Bryson's “Mother Tongue” - “It is a cherishable irony that a language that succeeded almost by stealth, treated for centuries as the inadequate and second-rate tongue of peasants, should one day become the most important and successful language in the world."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I touched on corruption among Spanish politicians the other day. Right on cue, the Presidenta of the Madrid region boasted that she had a 'clean' list of candidates for the upcoming elections, only to admit shortly afterwards that almost a dozen of them have been indicted. But only for 'little nonsenses', she said. Such as “The misuse of funds, bribery, influence peddling, perversion of the course of justice, environmental crimes, and the carrying out of activities banned to civil servants”. Not worth worrying about, obviously.

A few of the many thousands of words written about last night's (boxing?) match between Real Madrid and Barcelona:-

Clásico, crásico.

But for Messi remembering that football should be about joy, adventure and imagination, and Xavi also playing with style, this was the game that dignity forgot. There was no respect, no charm, no integrity. In front of a global audience stretching into the hundreds of millions, this Champions League semi-final proved more head-case than showcase. It was scarred by play-acting from both sides.

When Jose Mourinho finally disappeared into the night, it was a pity because we could not see how he then reacted on the evening when he was well and truly hoisted by his own ugly petard, the evening when his cynicism and mind games meant Real backfired like a spluttering second-hand Robin Reliant, the evening when, frankly, the Special One got found out.

Rarely has so much talent been brought together in just two teams and never has it been so wasted on stifling tactics, time-wasting, late challenges and off-the-ball incidents, with both teams guilty.

Worse than the cards, and worse than the fact that Mourinho has now finished his last five games against Barcelona with 10 men, was the complete lack of sparkling football.

Messi unlocked the doors to Wembley last night so exquisitely even Jose Mourinho had to square up to the most unpalatable fact. It is that no football coach on earth has the wit or the invention to stop the pure gusts of authentic genius.

As Messi brightened up a blighted scene, the stadium seethed, controversies lined up to run and run and the two sets of fans denounced each other as "whores". This was not really a football match. It was warped political theatre and there is more to come next week.

Arbeloa, a man who might create tension at Evensong.

For the complete demolition of Mourinho, click here.

And for the overview of someone who knows Spain better than any of the British commentators, click here.

Changing the subject drastically, I've long said that the best living arrangement for a couple would be two cottages side by side, with a connecting door that can be bolted from either side. I see that the columnist Julie Birchill has much the same view. Scroll down here.

This is Spain's entry for the Eurovision song contest, sung by a nice Galician chanteuse. Her backing players include someone on the Galician pipes. As nearly everyone will know, these have one less drone than their Scottish equivalent. Those who want to see the lyrics can click here.

Finally . . . I can't hold this back any longer. . . I got very close to Lady/Princess Diana on a couple of occasions. Once when we literally bumped into each other in a corridor in the Savoy Hotel in London. Truth to tell, she wasn't as beautiful as she was often portrayed and I'd have to give my vote to Kate Middleton. Us commoners have to stick together.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

All of us Brits who live in Spain are acutely aware of how even large Spanish companies – as in this case – decline to have native speakers check their English adverts and brochures. Indeed, some of us are aware of the reluctance to use them even when their services are offered gratis.

The Spanish phrase riff-raff means row or argument. As in this sentence "It notes the riff-raff between Mourinho and Guardiola". Which clearly wasn't checked with a native speaker.

I trained back from Sheffield to Leeds on Monday night. This gave me the chance to observe that British trains are inferior to those in Spain, whereas the prices are double. This is the exact opposite of the situation with internet services. Which is odd as the train service in Spain is more of a monopoly than the latter. Government subsidies presumably.

Just in case you missed it, today has been the 16th annual International Noise Awareness Day. Bizarrely, I've unwittingly chosen this day to start suffering – hopefully temporarily – from tinnitus. But, anyway, the real reason for mentioning this is to express a lack of surprise that “75% of Spaniards live with excessive noise, with traffic and building work being the main offenders”. I was equally un-astonished to read that “The World Health Organisation says that Spaniards suffer noise at the workplace, overnight, and even during their leisure time”.

Well, thank God for the brilliance of little Lionel Messi, who scored two magnificent goals tonight, not long after my daughter had commented that the Real Madrid v. Barcelona game resembled a pantomime more than a football match. Certainly there were more theatricals on display than quality football. But at least the score was right.

Just before the game, one of the British commentators referred to 'Different styles, different cultures and different dialects.” Which rather ignores the fact that both Catalan and Castellano (Spanish) are languages, not dialects. Except in the sense that all languages are said to be dialects of earlier languages. Though I rather doubt this is what he meant.

Regular readers will recall that my faithful border collie, Ryan, died a couple of months ago, aged 17. Some may even remember that he was named, by my daughters, after Ryan Giggs, who has been playing for Manchester United for all that time and more. And who played magnificently in last night's one-sided match between United and some German team I've never heard of. As one commentator put it - “Ageless, almost peerless, Giggs continues to be the man for all seasons.” No wonder United's manager said that he wished he could play for ever. In Premier League terms, he already has, of course.

Finally . . . Another extract from Bill Bryson's "Mother Tongue":-  "These are the Frisians, whose Germanic tongue has been so little altered by time that many of them can still read the medieval epic Beowulf  'almost at sight'"

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

One sometimes gets the impression that corruption in Spanish politicians is not merely disregarded but actually seen as a prerequisite for the job. Click here for some support for this tendentious statement.

An interesting use of words by a British police-person today, warning people not to try to cause trouble during Friday's royal wedding:- "Any criminals who attempt to disrupt the wedding . . . . " Good to know the police can recognise criminals in advance of arrest and trial. And possibly even before they've take any action.

Talking about the strange choice of words, here's The Times today on the tragic death of a human cannonball whose safety net collapsed, bringing him into fatal contact with the ground:- "The man was knocked unconscious and had blood pouring out of his mouth. Paramedics and Air Ambulance staff took him to Maidstone hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. The show's evening performance was cancelled." Perhaps they were expecting a no-show.

And here's something which most Spain watchers would probably regard as a tough sell.

As my blog has been included in a list of the 50 best blogs for folk studying Spanish, the least I can do is cite the site and seek comments. So here it is.

Finally . . . An extract from Bill Bryson's "Mother Tongue"

"Perhaps the most notable characteristic of English - for better and worse - is its deceptive complexity. Nothing in English is ever quite what it seems. . . . Imagine trying to explain to a foreigner what what means. It takes the Oxford English Dictionary five pages and almost 15,000 words to manage the task. As native speakers we seldom stop to think just how complicated and illogical English is."

Monday, April 25, 2011

To Hillsborough today with my old friend Geoff Pucci, to see Sheffield Wednesday play and beat Swindon Town. As some will recall, this ground was the scene of a terrible tragedy in 1989, when 96 people were crushed to death. I'm guessing this happened at 4.05pm, as this is the time at which the ground's large clock remains fixed.

According to Geoff, there are no sat navs in Germany which use a female voice as this is unacceptable to males there. But can this really be true?

If you've clicked on the link above, you may already have reached the conclusion that Geoff's an unusual chap. If I hadn't known this for more than forty years, I think I would have realised it the third time he told me that he'd love the job of club mascot – a challenge which demands you dress up in an owl costume and whip up the enthusiasm of the crowd. Which, incidentally, was less than half of the ground's capacity of 40,000. But, then, Wednesday don't play in the top league these days. Nor, in truth, in the second league. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Apart for the fox, the other strange sighting yesterday was of two Mormons – or perhaps they were Jehovah Witnesses – going from door to door in the next street. My immediate thought was that Easter Sunday was either the best or the worst day in the entire year to try to get people to change their religion. Or at least their Christian affiliation. I wonder which.

This video is the most viewed in history. As of earlier today, more than 300 million people had seen in. Which probably says something about humanity.

One of the shirts I bought on Saturday was an M&S offering which boasted that it was not only two inches (5cm) longer in the body but also in the sleeves. I put it on today and quickly decided it'd originally been designed for gorillas.

Finally . . . 

An extract from Bill Bryson's “Mother Tongue”

English is the only language that has, or needs, books of synonyms like Roget's Thesaurus. Most speakers of other languages are not aware such books exist.
The weather continues hot here in the UK, while floods caused by torrential rains have devastated parts of Spain. And with the forecast for the next week promising more sun, it looks like being the hottest April on record. Doubtless there'll be hosepipe bans soon.

Needless to say, the richer parts of London (and Madrid, I guess) are bucking the trend of falling property prices. In the borough of Kensington and Chelsea the average price of a detached house is now eight million pounds and rising. This compares with an average for England and Wales of 162,000 pounds and falling.

I don't possess a smart phone, but if I did, I'd be worried it was too bloody smart, given the news that those of Apple and Google have been collecting data on their owners' locations for the last twelve months. That said no one seems to be particularly concerned about this invasion of privacy.

The fashion news appears to be that the mini is out and the maxi is (back) in. My guess is that the young women of Pontevedra will pay as much attention to this as they've done to every other trend in the ten years I've been there.

Which reminds me . . . I did some clothes shopping in Leeds yesterday and, in the process, overheard a French woman tell her husband that the pink shirt he was looking at was “Trop flash!”

Finally . . . I saw the fox again at midday today. I could hardly miss it really, as it was walking down the drive to my daughter's flat as I was walking up. When we were three metres apart, it turned round and casually loped off into the drive of the house opposite. Maybe I'll put something out for it to eat tonight. Like my daughter's cat.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Switching on the TV this morning, I caught the seafood guru, Rick Stein, praising the Galician speciality, goose barnacles. Or percebes. Regular readers will know I don't share his view and see them as bits of rubber dipped in seawater. Similarly, we differ on the appeal of tripe. But I was rather more impressed with his praise for the Boqueria in Barcelona, where (according to Stein) you can experience the best of Catalan food. Click here for its web page. Incidentally, I liked Stein's comment that one tapas dish displayed the quintessential “ruggedness” of Spanish food.

I've mentioned more than once over the years that many young (and not-so-young) women in Liverpool are a strange shade of orange. This was picked up by The Times today but, of course, I can't give you the article because of the paywall. So here's the final paragraph:- “They don’t mind you staring. That’s the idea. Some girls in Liverpool now go out with their hair rollers still in, the message being: “Look at me, getting ready for a big night out.” They are used to the 'You’ve been Tangoed' gibes. It’s water off a duck’s back. Just as the teenage fan of heavy-metal music rolls his eyes as his mother begs him to get a haircut, you to them are the off-trend square. With your Factor 50, you look wan. They feel fabulous. From where they’re standing, the joke is on you.”

Incidentally, I've often felt that the comment about staring not causing offence because that's what's expected applies just as much to the young women of Pontevedra. Not that you would ever catch me staring. I'm more of sly glancer.

Talking of home . . . I live across the river in the parish of Poio. This would be Poyo anywhere else in Spain but, as there's no Y in the Galego alphabet, it has to be Poio for us. The reason I mention this is because there seems to be another Poio in the world. In the region of East New Britain in Papua New Guinea. Who'd have thought it?

We seem to be reaching the point where both supporters and critics of the EU and the euro are in agreement that their prospects of survival are reducing by the day. Here's an article by a one of the former. And here is a comment from someone I take to be one of the latter:-"What the eurozone needs now is sustained, strong economic growth. Yet this is a realistic prospect only for Germany and its immediate satellites. By contrast, the peripheral countries face years of depression. Predictably, the remedy offered by the politicians is an alphabet soup of support mechanisms, all beginning with the magical letter E, and more of the balm that supposedly overcomes all ills, namely political will. In other words: don't panic; it will be all right on the night. It won't. The eurozone is heading for the rocks."

Finally . . . If you have a business in Galicia, you might want to consider advertising on this site.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The defeated British Labour appears to have abandoned its commitment to the EU. As one commentator has put it:- “It is already safe to say that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party is considerably more Eurosceptic than at any time since 1988. The consequences for British politics are profound. For the past 20 years, the Conservatives have been the only major Eurosceptic party in Britain. This meant they felt so isolated that they were afraid to speak out. Now both the big parties are Eurosceptic. Indeed, Balls and Alexander are egging on Osborne and William Hague towards open conflict.” Interesting times. No wonder Cameron felt able to say No to an increase in the EU budget. Not that anyone will listen to him, of course.

In a graphic, if extreme, example of how many young Spaniards think, the papers there have all run the story of a judge who has obliged a ‘ni-ni’ youngster - one who neither works nor studies - to leave the family home. The 25 year old sued his parents in an attempt to get a monthly payment of €400 but the judge decided he was fit for work and that he should leave the family home, assisted by €200 a month from his parents.

Prospects for the Spanish property market continue to look depressing, especially for those of us trying to sell something. Here's Mark Stucklin – plus a Spanish expert – on the subject.

Whilst the UK has been bathed in unseasonal sunshine and temperatures in the 20s, the rain in Spain has fallen mainly on the Spaniards. Especially in Seville, where “The famous Good Friday processions were cancelled for the first time since the Spanish Civil War, bringing bitter disappointment to women allowed to participate in the religious event for the first time ever.” Perhaps God isn't a woman after all.

Back here in the UK, the BBC News tonight covered the riots in Syria and the murderous response of the security forces. They told us that a 12 year old had been killed but that the pictures were “too graphic to show”. I'm betting this wasn't the case back in Spain, where they like their gore.

Finally . . . This is the web page of an organisation which serves the needs of expats in north Portugal. And possibly south Galicia as well.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The British Consumers Association has surveyed mobile phone providers and declared that the worst – or at least the most complained about - is TalkTalk. And the best is O2. As the latter is a subsidiary of Movistar (ex-Telefonica), this might come as something of a surprise to readers in Spain. In contrast, Santander is the bank which harvests the most complaints in Britain. Possibly because they've adopted the standard Spanish catch-and-then-screw-the-customer strategy.

So, Real Madrid have finally beaten Barca and gained some silverware (the King's Cup) in the process. It seems it was an epic match that lived up its billing. The single, winning goal was scored by Ronaldo, whose success in the Real Madrid team was, in all honesty, neither expected nor predicted by yours truly.

A bad week for the EU, it was said on the BBC today, prompting the question of whether “systemic problems will [as usual] be fudged.” One commentator identified one such problem as the divergence of economies, rather than the convergence that the single currency was meant to ensure.

I mentioned Cuba last night. Today, a Guardian columnist labelled the events of this week as the theatre of the absurd. “The so-called reforms announced by Raúl Castro are illusory; a desperate, ridiculous attempt to camouflage repression”. More here.

Interesting to see the Bank of Spain is taking a controlling shareholding in several of the new entities created by the merger of various savings banks. Including ours in Galicia – Novacaixagalicia. Presumably this is to ensure it operates as a real bank and not as a local politicians' plaything.

Also interesting today to see this blog has a market value. An organisation called
Blogshares apparently attributes a “fantasy” value to [leading?] blogs. Quite why, I can't say. But shares are available, if you want to buy in. Send the money to me.

I was pleased to find on my daughter's bookshelves today Bill Bryson's book on the English language. Fascinating stuff and I'll be quoting from it over the coming weeks. Meanwhile, I'll just mention the island of Tangiers, off the eastern coast of the USA. Reading the first few chapters reminded me that . . . The tiny island community has attracted the attention of linguists because its people speak a unique English Restoration era dialect of American English.” But Bryson doesn't mention it, it seems.

Finally . . . Hits to this blog are up today. Could it be because I referred to prostitution last night?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

While the Holy Week processions in Spain are again threatened by rain, here in the UK we're enjoying temperatures said to be higher than those in Athens. The forecasters say it'll be a BBQ weekend over Easter. Which is probably the death knell of the good weather.

The phrase “lost generation” is possibly overused. Abused even. But this article suggests it might well be appropriate in the context of this generation of young people in Spain.

Well, the Spanish government has finally decided to try to do something about prostitution. But not much. As this article reports, they may or may not ban the rather explicit adverts at the back of Spanish newspapers that I've cited from time to time. But nobody should hold their breath, I suspect.

Cuba gets a lot of support from Spain, its ex-colonial master, in Europe. So I wonder what the Spanish government made of Raul Castro's appointment of an 80 year old veteran as his deputy at the head of the communist party. Only days after calling for fresh blood in the top tiers of the regime.

A new niche seems to be emerging in the depressed Spanish real estate market. In desperate need of cash, banks are selling off properties for which they don't actually have the keys and which the buyers must take sight-unseen. Prices will be appropriately lower but there'll naturally be risks. Getting the ex-owner or a tenant out, for one thing.

Finally . . . A BBC newscaster signed off tonight with “Very goodbye”. Which was a first for me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

First thing this morning I set off for the local Royal Mail depot, to pick up a camera the postman had brought to the house when we'd been out yesterday. I wasn't too confident of success as I was ignoring the instruction to wait 29 hours before picking it up. Plus, the package was addressed to my daughter (who'd financed the purchase) and the note stressed that, Spanish style, identity would have to be proved. In truth, I wasn't sure how I was going to establish I was Miss H Davies. In the event, I was given the package in exchange for the (non)delivery note - no questions asked and no formalities demanded. The whole process took about ten seconds, which all rather contrasts with the minimum of ten minutes and the signing and stamping of at least three forms at the Pontevedra post office.

A little while later, I set off for Merseyside to see my mother but immediately had to brake to avoid running over a large ginger cat that looked as if it was about to cross the road. Except it wasn't a cat; it was one of Britain's infamous urban foxes, nonchalantly scavenging for food in the Leeds suburbs in broad daylight.

Thanks to incessant tailbacks on the motorways, returning from Merseyside took me almost four hours, against the one and a half going there - a timely reminder of one of the reasons I left the UK.

According to an article in the January edition of Prospect Magazine, virtually all Britons will regard themselves as middle class by 2020. Way back in 1980, some 35% saw themselves as working class but by 2008 this was already down to less than 10%. As for the “upper class”, the article claims this is already 'nearly extinct' - “Research suggests a mere 1% of the population thinks of itself as upper class, and they are a rather eccentric bunch, many of whom report to live off modest incomes.”

Good to see that the European construction industry grew by 3.5% over the previous year. Shame that Spain bucked the trend, with a 31% fall. No wonder the jobless total keeps rising towards 5 million.

Finally . . . Here's a thought-provoking letter from the same January edition of Prospect:-


It never ceases to amaze me when people (usually English) claim the English language is hard to learn. Many for whom English is a second language have not found it so.

As there are so many people born and brought up in England who are still unable to speak their own language, I assume Viv Groskop (December) is referring to them?

Inger Collingridge, Exeter

Any Spanish (or Dutch) views on this??

Monday, April 18, 2011

I mentioned, the other day, the irritating frequency of speed cameras here in Britain. Today it's reported that convictions arising from their use fell below a million last year, for the first time since 2001. Tellingly, this coincides with the central government relieving the local authorities of the chance to use these cameras as revenue generators. So, no great surprise there.

Over in Spain, the police have arrested almost 3,400 drivers in a week-long national campaign against the use of mobile phones at the wheel. But this is a paltry number and I reckon I could get at least this many in one day down at the roundabout at the bottom of my hill. A lack of seriousness is suggested by this meagre harvest.

Talking of numbers . . . I went to my younger daughter's email today and found she had 20,432 unread messages in her Inbox. Yes, you read that correctly. No wonder I never get an answer unless I use Facebook.

Finnish politics don't make many appearances in this blog. But events at the weekend - when the True Finns party got19% of the vote - “could turn Finland's traditionally pro-EU politics on its head.” Allegedly, “The strong showing for the populist True Finns reflects growing public frustration in some EU states about footing the bill for weaker economies such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal.”

Right on cue, here's the eurosceptic British MEP, Daniel Hannan, with his 10 reasons why the UK shouldn't contribute to the Portuguese bailout currently being negotiated by eurocrats and whoever has their hands on the reins of power in our government-less neighbour.

Finally . . . I regularly say that one of Spain's great pluses is that it has nothing like Britain's scabrous tabloid press. I was reminded of this today when reading this marvellous tongue-in-cheek plea for sympathy for the country's tabloid hacks.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

With the weather today being better than that of an average summer day in England, I wandered down into Headingley to have lunch with my younger daughter and one of her friends. To find that, despite it being Sunday, virtually every shop was open for business. I'd quite forgotten about this aspect of British life and found the contrast with Spain something of a shock. In the latter, the only thing you're sure to be able to buy on Sunday is cakes. On balance, I favour the traditional quiet Sunday. But, then, being retired I can get anything I want on any of the other six days of the week. If I were working, I'd probably go for the British model.

Which reminds me . . . One aspect of British society which is happily not mirrored in Spain is the volume of litter one has to wade through from time to time. I doubt, for example, that there's a MacDonalds in Spain which could compete on this score with the one outside Leeds' ground yesterday.

Is it me or has Formula 1 racing become even less rivetting than it used to be? And has the skill of the drivers become even less relevant as Drag Reduction Systems, Rear Wing Activation and Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems have grown in importance? Not to mention the critical choice between the various types of tyres.

Anyway, here's why you should buy euros, even if you believe the euro(zone) in its current form is doomed. Perhaps Ambrose is right when he says that “
The character of the European Project has changed utterly.”

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Today I was one of 30,024 people to attend the Leeds v. Watford soccer match – an experience which left me partially deaf for fifteen minutes or so.

Plans to have a hamburger beforehand were scuppered when we were told at the MacDonalds place near the ground that they'd run out of beef. So I satisfied myself with a 'Large chips' from a nearby food stall. These turned out not to be not a large portion of normally sized chips but a small portion of oversized chips. Or French fries to American readers.

On entering the ground, I was intrigued to see the notice “Smoking is only allowed in designated zones after kick off". These turned out to be outside the stands, near the entrances/exits, and the the question arose – Is smoking therefore permitted everywhere before kick off or nowhere except in these zones and only after kick off?

Anyway, during a less-than-exciting first half, my main interest was in the the activities of the numerous police and stewards around us as they strove, I supposed, to minimise the atavistic tendencies of the supporters of both teams.

I was particularly taken by the sight of two policemen with expensive Nikon cameras taking fotos of members of the crowd meeting some criteria or other. After pondering what these might be for quite a while, I ultimately decided the police weren't in search of thugs but of that most reprehensible of creatures in the UK today – the smoker.

To change the subject rather drastically . . . In need of a new laptop, I have to decide between a Macbook or an Ipad2. So, hampered by inexperience with both of these, I'd really appreciate the views of readers familiar with their respective pros and cons. My thanks in advance.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Spanish property market – assuming we can trust the statistics – grew by 10% between February this year and February last year. Prices, though, fell a little bit more. As if this wasn't bad enough news for us sellers, some commentators feel they should fall as much as 40% more. Not in Galicia, I hope.

As it happens, I'm in the UK at the moment and, as ever, it's such a joy not to be asked to prove my identity every time I use a debit or credit card. Against that, it's so tiresome to have to deal with a speed camera every hundred yards between north Leeds and the city centre. And a constantly beeping satnav.

Which reminds me . . . Just as Spain is reducing the maximum speed on her motorways from 120 to 110kph, there are rumours here that the limit will soon be raised from 70mph(112kph) to 80mph(128kph). Which must make sense to someone, I guess. But it's good to know national governments can still take some unilateral decisions within the EU.

It's a losing battle but, rhetorically, what's wrong with this sentence from today's Independent:- “Spotify is to restrict the amount of songs that users can play without paying.” Not to mention this sentence from young Mr McIlroy, who almost won the Masters at Augusta last weekend, describing the longest drive he'd ever made:- “It must have went 400 yards . . . and it could have went out of bounds.” Perhaps it's the Gaelic influence, as with the Irish 'bring' and 'take' constructions.

Finally . . . I knew it couldn't last. Hits to this blog totalled 250 for each of the last three days, against a pre-absence average of 150-175. Tonight, though, it's back down at 150. Ah, well.
Here's your chance to use the info gained last night and answer The Economist's question as to whether or not Spain will be the next EU member to be bailed out. Once you've voted, they'll tell you where the balance lies.

The Economist also takes a look at the candidates to replace Sr Zapatero as the leader of the Socialist party, currently in power but not expected to win next year's general elections. I seem to recall asking readers a few years back how long it would be before Spain would have a female president and who this might be but I don't remember Carme Chacon being nominated. And I think I've mentioned before that I suspect Sr Rubalcaba would not be considered sufficiently telegenic for Anglo-Saxon politics.

Talking of prominent Spanish women . . . A candidate in the imminent local elections on the island of Menorca has been forced to withdraw one of her campaign posters. In this she bared her breasts, above the slogan “Two big arguments”. Interestingly, she sees herself as a feminist. Perhaps only in Spain. Click here for more on this. She is, of course, blonde.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I’ve been catching up on my reading . . .

In November, Paul Krugman declared that Spain was, in effect, a prisoner of the euro, “leaving it no good options”.

Against this, our Ambrose has realised that Spain is not the basket case he thought it was and that it has the capacity to export its way out of current difficulties. Which is what Moscow has always said, of course. “Anthropologically, you could say that Spain has refound its 14th Century creativity when it was the most dynamic society on earth, before Conquista gold corrupted the Iberian soul. Its chefs are sought everywhere, its sportsmen are triumphant. Even its boom-bust ordeal is the symptom of a thrusting nation in a great secular upswing, like Holland in the 1630s, or England in the 1720s."

Back in the negative (or anti-Ambrose) corner, there’s the Guardian:- “The notion that Spain is somehow different to Portugal is based on a somewhat fanciful belief that it is a more dynamic economy and is immune from speculative attacks by virtue of its size. In reality, it is living proof of what would have happened had Britain joined the euro in 2003; it milked the benefits of low interest rates for an unsustainable housing and construction boom that has infected its financial system. So while it may be comforting for policymakers in Brussels and Frankfurt to believe that the sovereign debt crisis comes to an end with the Portuguese bailout, it is far more likely that Wednesday night's call for help from Lisbon marks the start of a new and more dangerous phase of the crisis. Madrid is insisting that there is no reason to fret, but there is. Spain has deep-seated economic problems that make it an obvious candidate for some close attention from the bond market vigilantes. Yet, it would be prohibitively expensive and politically untenable to bail out the eurozone's fourth biggest economy. A crisis in Spain will put at risk the future of monetary union in its current form.

The third bailout of a eurozone member in 11 months is a significant event. For a start, the eurozone has reached the point where further bailouts cannot be contemplated; a lot of faith is being invested in Spain’s ability to stay out of the firing line. Such faith is not shared unanimously by economists. Everybody applauds the Spanish government's efforts to force more capital into its banks and tighten government spending. But unemployment is still rising and the country's budget deficit as a proportion of GDP is higher than Portugal's – an estimated 9.2% versus 8.6% in 2010. The vital Spanish ingredient – the one that is supposed to carry the day – is growth in exports, generated by the warm inflationary breezes originating in boomtime Germany. The story may turn out so happily – Spain, after all, has many multinational companies and is the eurozone's fourth-largest economy. But Lombard Street Research, for one, thinks that Spain can have fiscal consolidation or growth, but not both. So the effect of the ECB's rate rise now becomes critical. Does German growth reach Andalucía, which is how the single currency is meant to work to mutual advantage? Or will the Spanish recovery be squashed by its households' and companies' dependence on floating-rate loans and German fear of inflation?

But Portugal should also remind investors of the much bigger question: can the bailed-out countries ever hope to repay their debts? Reuters reported today that further upward revisions to Greece's budget gap are looming – the final number could be 10.4% to 10.7%. Is that a taste of what lies in store for Portugal, whose economy is also essentially uncompetitive within the single currency? If so, Angela Merkel will struggle to keep talk of debt-default off the political agenda. Default, or restructuring, is where the crises in Greece, Ireland and Portugal still seem to end. Don't expect the calm to last."

And then there’s the FT . . . "Getting the Portuguese rescue right matters for all of Europe, and most of all for Spain. Madrid has done all that Lisbon has not: it has taken drastic measures to cut the deficit, embarked on reforms to make the economy more efficient, and spared no effort to communicate with bond investors. There is no solid reason why Portugal’s failure should reflect on Spain. Undeserved as this would be, however, it cannot be excluded. Spanish banks are overexposed to Portugal. The mere uncertainty triggered by Lisbon could make jittery markets think twice about funding Spain. If Madrid redoubles its vigilance it is likely to retain the credibility it deserves. For the second EFSF rescue to be the last, the line in the Iberian sand must be turned into a trench between credible and non-credible governments."

So, that's all clear, then.

Less seriously . . . Having had a French partner for several years - plus a daughter who’s lived in Paris - I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the view that “Something terrible happens to the croissant, and to a lesser extent pastry in general, when you cross the Pyrenees and enter Spain." See here and here.

And now for a real pot pourri . . .

Spanish working hours Could productivity be a factor?

The Portuguese – A fascinating people? "[This] is a must-read for first-timers wanting to know more about the country, but it is also a constant delight for those already well-versed in a fascinating nation."

Spanish Bullfighting Dying?

Spain’s smoking banSenseless?

Spain’s savings banksGoodbye?

Spain’s brothelsHappy places?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Off to the municipal tip with my daughter, Hannah, this afternoon. Where there are at least 15 different places to chuck household and garden rubbish for processing in one way or another. As there's no such facility in Pontevedra, one's forced to ask what happens to the stuff there. Other than fly-tipping it in the forest behind my house, of course.

More importantly, I'm told that my favourite cafe-bar in town has closed down during my absence. I wouldn't have thought my custom was critical to them so I'm wondering what the cause can have been,

Something else to have taken place is a change of name for the excellent Qorreo journal. This is now called Iberosphere and you can read their take on sex and the single Spanish lady here.

The OECD tells us the Spanish work harder than the Germans. And everyone in Europe and elsewhere works harder than the Belgians. More data here.

Finally, can I just correct the impression I appear to have given that I'm planning to leave Pontevedra and Spain. It's my second home - the one in the countryside - that I have on the market, not my house on the hillside just across the river from the city.

Monday, April 11, 2011

In desperate need of something to say on Spain, my bacon has been saved by my friend Dwight, who's sent me this

With a house to sell, I can't say I find the prognosis comforting.

Fotos and info care of the lovely folk at One Off Places
Just a brief note tonight to thank both all those who posted kind comments here and those who wrote to me directly during my winter hibernation.

And to express sympathy to Rory McIroy on his collapse during the final round of the US Masters at Augusta.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Well, it's been a while. And, in the interim, my faithful companion Ryan has moved on to pastures celestial, after a mere 17 years. Will I now get a galgo?

I find myself in the UK, at the house of my younger daughter, Hannah, in Leeds, where the temperature reaching an unseasonal high of twenty-something has prompted the first - and possibly last - BBQ of the year. And the inevitable warnings of a drought from the newspapers. Which made it all the more surreal that I should first have had to help remove Hannah's Christmas tree from her sitting room.

Talking of daughters . . . Here's Faye's message about her novel The Second Death of Juan La Roca.

And talking of Galicia, I leave you today with a few questions from one reader which other readers might like to address:-

1. What are  the  main reasons  given by  those Galicians in favour of autonomy, and the  main reasons given by those who are  not in favour  of autonomy .

2. What are the  views  of  the central government  about autonomy, and even independence, for Galicia?

3. What proportion of Galicians are in favour of autonomy or independence?

4. Is the trend towards autonomy/independence  increasing or decreasing?

5. Do the views of the older generation and younger generation  significantly differ ?

6. Do the views differ between Galicians in the rural areas compared to those in  the urban areas?

7. What is the current  Galician position regarding bullfighting? –  will there be a referendum on the matter ?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011