Every businessman knows there's a vast difference between managing growth and managing decline, with the former being somewhat easier than the latter. Spain's President Zapatero hasn't been noticeably good at either and so it's no great surprise that one of the consequences of La Crisis is that it's showing up the stresses and strains inherent in Spain's de facto federal state. Specifically, the regions (or "autonomous communities") are showing no sign of being prepared to live within centrally dictated debt constraints. Which is worrying the markets. Especially in the case of Cataluña, which sees itself as a separate nation, of course, and is particularly defiant.
Something else which is worrying the markets - and which perhaps endorses Edward Hugh's scepticism about earlier data - is that Spain's industrial output fell for the second consecutive month in April. Which might indicate a slowing in the export-led growth so vital to the country's future. As one economist put it:- "The data is very disappointing. They are in line with other indicators suggesting the economy will struggle to beat or even match the first-quarter performance." Let's hope not.
Amongst other bad news is the figure for inflation between 2007 and 2011 of 9.3%, against salary growth of only 3.8%. Though I'm guessing things were better in the boardroom.
Still on the economy . . . There was a table in one of the papers today comparing effective pension ages and working hours among EU members. What was most noticeable was that the countries usually considered to have the best productivity also tended to have longer working weeks and fewer holidays. So a double advantage over the laggards. Which ain't going to change very quickly, I guess. Tellingly, the French are said to have the most comfortable working regime.
At a more micro level, I've been visiting a wider range of café-bars recently and have again noticed the correlation between my tipping practice and both the number of items I'm given with my coffee and the quantity of wine that's poured into my glass. Nothing is ever said but, after a week or two, the bar staff have used their discretion to triple the number of biscuits I'm given, for example. And to increase the size of the plate on which my tapas comes. All I can say is thank God the bloody foreigners haven't ruined this place with their excessive tipping, so that I stand out with mine.
Out in my garden, I have a seed container for the birds. They have to perch on the side of it to get the seeds through a hole and my assumption was that only tits did this. But I've noticed that at least one sparrow has perfected the art. That said, none of the robins have yet emulated the tits. Presumably they have a smaller brain, like most gaudy creatures.
Finally . . . The Spanish government lowered the motorway limit a few months ago - from 120 to 110kph - in the interests of fuel economy. Apparently, this is a temporary measure, albeit of uncertain duration. Which means that the thousands of signs which have been changed to 110 will have to be changed back to 120 in due course. Which would be very fortuitous for any relative in the sign-writing business, I guess.