Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Rail traffic across much of Spain was disrupted on Sunday, after thieves had damaged a kilometre of overhead cables at a station just outside Alicante. Of course, this sort of thing isn't confined to Spain; my own travel plans were disrupted two or three weeks ago when thieves stole cables somewhere between Manchester and Liverpool. And last weekend friends I was visiting told me that rogues had recently stolen all the town's manhole covers, causing closure of all the roads. Apparently, it's all owing to the high prices of scrap metal.

It seems the new right-of-centre government in Spain has decided to raise the heat over Gibraltar and to exclude the Rock's representative from what have been trilateral talks but may now be bilateral again. The Chief Minister of Gibraltar has suggested to Madrid they might have more important things to think about. Like more than 5 million unemployed, for example. Touché.

Although Greece and Italy have cornered all the media attention, things are pretty bad in Portugal, which seems to have the same road map as Greece. Or, as it says here: Portuguese storm gathers as EU leaders fight over Greece. Surging borrowing costs in Portugal have raised the spectre of a second full-fledged contagion crisis in the eurozone, eclipsing the latest efforts by European Union leaders in Brussels to agree on Europe's bail-out machinery and a strategy for Greece.

The word Sisyphean is a popular one for describing the challenges facing Europe's leaders. I've seen or heard it at least three times in the last week. You'll all recall that in Greek mythology Sisyphus was a king punished by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this throughout eternity. And that:- The word "Sisyphean" means "endless and unavailing, as labour or a task".

All of which suggests that the challenges lack solutions. And yet here, in all its entirety, is a positive answer to this question, posed by The Times:- If member states leave the Economic and Monetary Union, what is the best way for the economic process to be managed to provide the soundest foundation for the future growth and prosperity of the current membership?

And this is the answer, which assumes that it's Greece which has to leave the EU. It's from Oliver Kamm. Enjoy:-

The question how best to manage the process of a country’s leaving the euro has an answer. Most approaches have started from the wrong premise, however. The task is not realistically to effect the quickest and most decisive break with the institutions of the eurozone. The “nuclear option” of an extended bank holiday in Greece (to take the most pressing case), in which deposits of euros would be replaced with drachmas, is the simplest answer to the question, but is in fact no answer at all. It would require not only a cessation of commerce but a clampdown on people leaving the country.

Long before this point had been reached, there would have been a run on the banks. Greece, Portugal and Spain all have experience in the past 40 years of dictatorial government. An economic program that, to have any chance of working, would have to curtail liberties that citizens take for granted would stand little chance of even ameliorating the situation.

In fact, there are many historical cases of countries leaving currency unions, but none of them is applicable to today’s events. This paper explains the reasons why this is so. Moreover, the competitive boost of a new drachma would be economically marginal and overwhelmed by the increase in debt servicing costs, leading to wholesale default and the country’s being locked out of the capital markets.

Every proposal for Greece and the other indebted economies to leave the eurozone starts from the premise of this type of “Big Bang” approach, modelled on Argentina in 2001-02, yet it speedily runs into the problems of political turmoil and financial collapse. A dash for the drachma (or escudo or peseta) will hugely aggravate the problems of the eurozone if, as Greece and possibly other eurozone economies disengage, there is no floor under the new (or restored) currency.

This submission proposes instead a way of providing such a floor and thereby enabling countries safely to leave the euro. The proposal is to introduce a new currency (the “New Drachma”) as part of a currency board. A currency board is like a gold standard except that the currency is pegged to another currency and not to a commodity price. The central bank is thus committed to exchanging its monetary liabilities at a fixed exchange rate. It can issue only as much domestic currency as it has holdings of foreign currency given the exchange rate. The New Drachma would be pegged to the euro and that would be the floor.

A peg to the euro would not on its own untie the straitjacket that Greece is in owing to euro membership. The currency board should, therefore, be a dual currency board in which the New Drachma is pegged to two reserve currencies – the dollar as well as the euro. It would be at the discretion of the central bank which reserve currency it gave in return for New Drachmas – but the workings of the market, and the search for dollar-euro arbitrage by market participants in Greece would mean automatically that the New Drachma would be pegged to whichever of the dollar or the euro was the more depreciated currency in each case. This would provide an economic lubricant - a little bit of inflation and depreciation, but with the retention of the monetary credibility needed to make the structural reforms to welfare spending and labour markets that Greece in particular has avoided for decades.

A dual currency board has been seriously proposed in the case of the emerging economies from the former Soviet bloc, but more usually the peg was to a weighted basket of currencies. This has the disadvantage of not being so readily understandable and transparent when the very purpose of a currency peg, for countries leaving the euro, would be to reassure consumers, businesses and investors. For that reason, a peg to the two reserve currencies is preferable. It is a practical course by which Greece and economies with similar problems can leave the euro without sparking a banking collapse, and while keeping open also their access to capital markets and the prospects for structural reforms. The success of the scheme would depend on the willingness of international lending institutions to provide sufficient foreign currency reserves and act as international lenders of last resort to the banking system, but this is a more likely way of securing a successful international rescue than persisting with the current round of negotiations over emergency funding mechanisms.

The proposal does not resolve the problems of the heavily indebted economies; but it does provide a breathing space in which to tackle these countries’ economic difficulties and insulate the risk of contagion. Currency boards are usually interim steps on the way to either a currency union or a fully flexible rate. That would be the choice of Greek and other policymakers and voters once the board had done its work.

There remain huge complications, not least legal challenges from companies investing in Greece. But legal cases take time, whereas this step would be quick and without sacrificing monetary credibility of having a reserve currency. When the euro was launched, its supporters who recognised the design flaws assumed that the necessary institutions would be built as the currency gained credibility. That never happened. But it might happen with the proposed scheme for Greece and the other indebted economies. Exit from the euro with a dual currency board would cause an immediate shift in perception but with market credibility retained and enhanced. Thus could be established a virtuous circle in which debt servicing costs come down, the opportunity to cut costs and improve productivity is presented, without an atmosphere of constant crisis - and sustainable growth returns to southern Europe.

Monday, January 30, 2012

No sooner do I mention public myopia when it comes to footballers' obscenely vast salaries than some journalist cranks out an article on the theme. Not for the first time, I might add. Anyway, here it is.

An American gambling magnate would like to build a European version of Las Vegas in Spain, either in Madrid or Barcelona. What's stopping him is the reluctance of some politicians to alter the tax laws so as to attract investors, even though the scheme will create 261,000 jobs. The head of the Madrid regional government is in favour of the tax breaks but opposition politicians from the Socialist party are not. Which, on the surface, looks a bit odd. Given that there are around 500,000 people without a job in Madrid.

Still in Madrid - Today saw the opening of the third trial in so many weeks of Spain's crusading judge, Baltasar Garzón. Giles Tremlett does justice to the subject in today's Guardian, reporting that:- The already astonishing drama surrounding Spain's "superjudge" hit a new peak as corruption was added to the charges against him and thousands of his supporters blocked streets around the supreme court in Madrid. Click here for more.

And still in Madrid - The city has announced today that it will be bidding for the 2020 Olympics. Or perhaps the 20020 Olympics. The logo has come in for a bit of ridicule. Which is British understatement. See here for the story.

Finally . . . Europe. The Greeks appear to be not too happy about German proposals to turn their country into a satrapy of Brussels with some unelected bureaucrat as the satrap, exercising power over everything to do with taxing and spending. Odd people. Mind you, they could have avoided this development by implementing the measures they agreed to implement a year ago.

As to the wider picture, here's an overview from Sam Fleming of The Times:- Inter-governmental relations within Europe are even more tumultuous. Already the new Spanish Government of Mariano Rajoy is demanding that the country’s deficit targets are eased in the face of unemployment that has just passed the five million mark. Mario Monti, Italy’s Prime Minister, has been publicly seeking more recognition from Germany of the sacrifices his nation is making, warning of a popular backlash against Teutonic austerity. In France, the Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande has put forward a “back to the Seventies” electoral program that will dismay the Germans. While Berlin urges its partners to lower costs, trim budgets and galvanise economic competitiveness, Mr Hollande is planning a lower retirement age, higher taxes on the rich and big business, and 150,000 state-aided jobs. If he wins the election, as many analysts expect, Mr Hollande threatens to reopen negotiations on the German-led fiscal compact that European leaders are aiming to settle today. This may prove to be a hollow threat but it is still explosive. It will be formidably difficult for political leaders to avoid further fumbles as they grope their way through 2012. Despite the efforts of central bankers, we may find ourselves back on the edge of the precipice before long.

Is this really what monetary union was intended to foster?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

At last! . . . From The Times today:- "A wave of strikes and violent protests has rocked the new government of Mariano Rajoy as Spaniards rebel against the prime minister’s drive for austerity and reform." 

Except this isn't about Spain but Italy and I have changed the names. Still no sign of such unrest in Spain, despite the unemployment rate of 23% being the highest in the developed world.

So, José Mourinho - the "special one" - has had enough of the intrigues that plague the job of Real Madrid coach and will leave at the end of summer and return to England. Where he won't be short of offers. It'll be interesting to hear why he favours England over Italy and Portugal. Maybe it's just the money.

Talking about money . . . The British media is currently obsessed with the income of bankers in general and the bonus of the CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland in particular. The BBC tells us today that people think he should only get seven hundred thousand to a million pounds a year, at most. Funny thing is, no one seems the slightest concerned that footballers can get twenty-five million pounds a year.

Which reminds me . . . Carlos Tévez is going to be fined another million pounds by his club for his latest offence. This will take the money he's lost to over ten million pounds.

Finally . . . Last night's post somehow went into Drafts - not for the first time - and was only published a few hours ago. Sorry about that.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Spanish airline, Spanair has gone bust, leaving thousands of (ex)passengers stranded in Madrid and Barcelona. After Qatar airlines had decided not to play the white knight and purchase a 49% stake and the Catalan government had said it couldn't put any more money into the company, the management pulled the plug. The Development Ministress has said that Spanair could be fined nine million pounds for the way they've gone about things. Which is perhaps not much of a threat to a bankrupt company.

Cantata2 is a program designed to increase tourism in several Atlantic regions. Here is Galicia's page, featuring something called "Flavour Routes". I'm not sure any native speaker was involved in the English version. If so, they should be ashamed for missing "Chack them out!"

Astonishingly, the England cricket team has snatched a humiliating defeat from the jaws of victory. Needing only 145 to beat Pakistan, they were bowled out for a pitiful 72. Probably the most abject defeat in my lifetime. In essence, they failed to deal with Pakistan's spin bowling. Especially the doosra I wrote about last week.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The employment news in Spain continues to be relentlessly bad. The total of unemployed people (i. e. those registered as looking for work) rose to 5.3 million in December, or 23% of the working population. The figure for 16-24 year olds rose from 49% to 51%. One inevitable consequence is that young Spaniards are living in the parental home even longer than before. Which was long enough. It's hardly surprising that the number of people emigrating has also soared.

The Guardian this week featured profiles of European politicians as seen from somewhere other that their own country. Here's Sr. Rajoy, as seen - pretty accurately - from Poland.

Watching an international cricket match this week, I was struck by the thought that this game was a part of British culture which had adhered in many of her ex colonies - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand and even Ireland. In fact, in some of these the game is far more popular than in Britain. Thinking about other empires that have come and gone, I couldn't come up with anything like a parallel. Of course, it never took hold in North America, possibly because it ceased to be a colony before the game was developed in the UK. Though the Canadians may have a team. The Afghans certainly do and they were never even a colony.

Another conversation between me and my younger daughter:-
The city centre was full of young people.
Students, dad.
But how can they afford to spend time shopping? They should be studying.
Dad, they're having a good time. Just like I did. That's what university is all about.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Having cheated death several times myself, I can't say I was surprised to read today that 40% of traffic accidents involving pedestrians in Spain occur on zebra crossings or at traffic lights.

On the other hand, I was surprised to read that there are what the Spanish call kamikaze drivers in England. Or one at least. An 85 year old woman took a wrong turn at a train crossing and drove 75 metres down a high-speed train track before deciding to stop and think about things. Prompted by the train in front of her. She was rescued and treated for shock. As was her passenger.

Telefónica's UK operation, O2, is in the dock after it was discovered they'd supplied the numbers of millions of their customers to various web sites. Sales have not been going well recently and exposing their clients to spam and viruses is not calculated to help matters. Either with existing or potential customers. Especially as no explanation has yet been given.

Carlos Tévez is a football player with Manchester City. He's been in dispute with them for a while and is currently taking French leave in South America. The club announced this week that his behaviour had cost him more than nine million pounds in fines and lost income. Nine million pounds! What an odd world.

I saw an American film recently which showed 'sign holders' in New York - people who hold up signs to places where you can get a hot dog, for example. I didn't think these folk were part of the UK's street furniture. But in Leeds centre yesterday I saw a woman holding up a sign for a seamstress. And truth to tell we have in Headingley an unhealthy looking young man who carries a sign reminding us that all sandwiches are only a pound each at Mr Sandwich. Whose shop, in my view, is poorly located. It'll be interesting to see whether the business survives. If it wasn't poorly located, Mr Sandwich wouldn't need to employ the young man to stand three hundred metres away, at the traffic lights.

Finally . . . Between Headingley and Leeds centre, there are three shops dealing in fancy dress costumes. Presumably one of them supplied the duck/chicken outfits I wrote about the other day. Student partying is clearly on a different level from the one I knew.
Going through a series of BBC podcasts on my iPod (Xmas present), I was pleasantly surprised to happen on one with a Galician flavour. It was hosted by Michael Portillo, who was talking to a Galician lady who's a professor at the LSE. The subject was the English armada of 1589, the year after the Spanish one had come unstuck in the Channel. This had as its objectives the destruction of the rump of the armada and then the capture of the Azores and the interception of the Spanish bullion fleet. Apart from the sacking of poor Vigo en route to Lisbon, the mission was a multi-level failure, doing nothing for the reputation of Francis Drake. If you want to know how things went, click here and cross your fingers that the link will work.

I did wonder whether Pontevedra had been sacked as well as Vigo but was confusing this expedition with a later one of 1719, during The War of the Quadruple Alliance.

During Spain's property boom, it became clear that it was common for the lead time on construction to be three years or more. Meaning that new properties would continue to come onto the market for some time after the bubble burst. And so it has transpired. In fact, almost five years after the boom peaked in 2007, houses and flats are still coming on the market, to be added to the vast overhang of empty properties. Prices, of course, continue to fall.

I heard the name of (ex)President Gaddafi on the radio today. When this happens I always recall something I read a few months ago - along the lines that "Before he was killed, President Gaddafi was sodomised by a bayonet." Possibly the first and last time 'sodomised' has been used as a euphemism. Checking the spelling of his name just now, I saw there was a video of this. But was not surprised to read that it had been removed as "a violation of YouTube's policy on shocking and disgusting content."

Finally . . . A university lecturer in England has just been jailed for 6 months for contempt of court. Taking just about the most stupid decision possible, she told her fellow jurors that she'd googled the accused's name and found that he'd previously been accused of rape. One of them promptly told a court official. The sentence seems harsh - and career destroying - but the judge said that he wanted to send a clear message. Which I think he managed.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In 2007, there were 4,600 properties sold to foreigners on the Costa del Sol. Last year the number was a mere 600. Or 13% of the peak year of the phoney boom.

Looking ahead, the IMF has today issued revised forecasts for this year and next year. For Spain, the economy is forecast to shrink by 1.7% this year and by 0.3% in 2013. And the government is predicted to miss its deficit target by a significant margin. God knows what this means for an unemployment rate which, at 23.5%, is already astonishingly high. Or a scarcely-credible 49%, if you're young.

The inevitable question is - When is Spain going to see the sort of protests seen in, say, France? As of now, we have the Yo no pago (I won't pay) campaign. This is the indignados refusing to pay for public services, such as the Madrid Metro. Which probably won't worry the government too much.

On a wider front, the IMF today repeated its plea for another 500 billion dollars, in order to ensure a firewall that's sufficiently high to protect Italy and Spain. And if they don't get it?

Spain's most famous (and most controversial) judge - Baltasar Garzón - is facing not one but three trials. As Guy Hedgecoe writes in IberoSphere, the Garzón affair reflects Spain's tortured relationship with its past. And a few other things as well. Click here for the comprehensive article.

Someone else in court is a chap called Asil Nadir, who returned to the UK recently to face the prosecution for financial skulduggery he avoided a couple of decades ago by fleeing the country. Mr Nadir is 70, so he probably gets quite a lot of people mistaking his 27 year old wife for his daughter. Or granddaughter even. Her name is Nur, which means 'light' in Persian. As in the Koh-i Nur - Or Mountain of Light - diamond.

Finally . . . I was accosted in the café today by a young man from Bahrain. He claimed to be writing an article and asked me "How people round here interact with their families". I told him that, as it was essentially a student quarter, there probably wasn't much interaction at all. At least not until the vacations. He seemed to find this depressing. So I tried to cheer him up by telling him things were different in Spain.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Just quickly following up on a couple of things . . . King Juan Carlos is said to have even importuned Princess Diana. And Mr Romney's first name is, in fact, William. So he actually choses to favour his second name, Mitt.

I saw something odd today. A chap in his sixties was walking along both sides of the street and hauling the recently-emptied bins off the pavement and back into peoples' drives. A vigilante bin remover. Very anal.

Here are the names of several Spanish celebrities, followed by their English equivalents.
- Placido Domingo, Victoria de los Ángeles, José Carreras, Reyes de Luna, Paco de Lucia, Camerón de la Isla, José Luis Zapatero, Julio Iglesias.
- Quiet Sunday, Victory of the Angels, Joe Careers, Kings of the Moon, Lucy’s Frank, The Island’s Shellfish, Joe Louis Shoemaker, July Churches…
As Anthony Steyning says in an IberoSphere article . . . Unreal and I don’t know of many languages in which famous names, in translation, become so . . . surreal.

I would guess that, like me, you've had a slew of spam emails beginning Hi there How are you doing? I love your user profile. Are you interested to check my own private images? But I bet you haven't had one that clearly caters for Yorkshire argot and begins
Eh up! How are you doing? etc. Isn't the internet wonderful?

Finally . . . . The Spanish economy shrank in the final quarter of last year and is expected to contract further during the whole of this year. If you want a short and simple commentary on this, click here. If you want something long and complex, click here.
My apologies for forgetting that both of the Republican frontrunners have daft names and calling Mr Romney 'Matt', when his name is 'Glove'. Sorry, 'Mitt'. And sorry, Mitt, that you were unexpectedly trounced by the chap with the name of an amphibian and a reputation for an interest in extra-marital sex. Which really should have put paid to his prospects in conservative South Carolina but obviously didn't. Mainly, it seems, because of some very effective "attack ads" from his camp directed at Mr Romney. Things could get very dirty now. Mitts off, as they say.

Fascinating developments around the Scottish independence referendum. Firstly, the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, has said that England will be better off without Scotland. Of course, he's pushing at an open door, given that there's a higher percentage of people in England in favour of independence than in Scotland. 36% against 33%. Secondly, Spain has said it will 'veto' independence. Which turns out to mean it will try to stop Scotland becoming an EU member. The Scots have pointed out that Scotland already is a member and has been for almost 40 years. As I said a week or two back, the concern in Madrid is that even just the talk over the next two years will put wind in the sails of the Basques, the Catalans and even the Galicians. Though, in the case of Galicia, most people recognise the economics are wrong. But if they find oil up in the Galician hills . . . .

Spain's king Don Carlos has a reputation for being something of a womaniser. As well as for having shot his brother a while back. Accidentally, of course. In ten years in Spain, I've never seen any of this in the media. Until now. In a recently published book - The Solitude of the Queen - it's claimed he's a 'professional womaniser' and that he hasn't shared a bed with the queen since 1976. And that he was recently comforted in hospital, at 74, by a 25 year old translator. Which does sound pretty professional.

Finally . . . Coming home last night, I was passed by around twelve young men dressed as ducks, presumably on their way to a good night out. I say "dressed" but it was more than that. Each of them had yellow leggings and large webbed feet and was straddling the fore and aft parts of a (large) duck. Assisted by a pair of straps attached to the body of the duck and passing over the shoulders. Or maybe it was a chicken. Anyway, what really caught my attention was that, with the temperature at seven degrees and falling, none of the young men was wearing anything more than a T-shirt. Quite mad.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The New York Times has published a good article on the Galician wines which are much less well known than those made from the albariño grape. Specifically, the white wines made from the godello grape and the big, fruity reds made from the mencia grape. Of course, as it's an article on wine, you inevitably get prose like . . . "Yet Sorte O Soro has a shivery, lingering elegance, like the cold that settles over O Bolo when the sun sets."

Today's London Times picked up on the Newt Gingrich theme, via not one but two cartoons. The first featured two large newts each with the man's head, one labelled Flaccid and the other Erect. And the second had one newt talking to another and and making the point I made yesterday - I can't believe I'll ever see a newt in the White House. In fact, after a stellar performance this week, it seems that Gingrich is doing what no one thought possible and providing real competition to Mitt Romney.

In an article on the possible building of a runway in the Thames estuary, Simon Barnes made an interesting aside about vanity projects:- There comes a point in every political career when the politician feels an incontinent urge to leave a mark. Rather as rhinos build middens.

I was intrigued to see the by-line of a Guardian article today which claimed "Those who know about seafaring" will take pity on the wretched Captain Schettino. You can read the logic here.

Finally . . . There were 200 bagpipe players in Santiago today for the funeral of Manuel Fraga. You can see many of them here, in national dress.

And, in case you haven't heard it, here's some Galician gaita music. I wanted to give you the actual funeral performance but the link in the Voz de Galicia doesn't work.

The cognocsenti will have immediately identified the major difference between Galician and Scottish pipes; there's one less drone in the former.

Friday, January 20, 2012

I wonder if there's any other English-speaking country in the world in which a man called Newt could stand for the highest office and expect to win. After reading today of his demand to his second wife that they have an open marriage, I was going to make some reptilian allusion. But I checked and newts turn out to be bloody amphibians, not reptiles.

So, a possible reason has emerged for Captain Schettino tripping and falling into that handily-positioned life boat. He and a dining companion or two had polished off a decanter of red wine over dinner. One of these companions - the young, blond one - has confirmed that the captain was a hero, saving thousands of lives single-handedly. Before he decided to call it a night, obviously.

The IMF has cut its forecast of global growth this year and encouraged the ECB to boost liquidity in order to stop the eurozone crisis getting worse. This, of course, is not a decision for the eurozone's 27 members but for Mrs Merkel alone. Or as The Economist puts it this week:- The Franco-German tandem has become a unicycle. . . Now the very notion of "Merkozy" sounds hollow. Mrs Merkel, though seems to be unwilling to exercise Germany's power in order to save the eurozone. As the Polish Foreign Minister put it last November:- I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity.

Finally - and only for cricket aficionados - . . . One of the few pleasures of watching Pakistan humiliate England in a Test match in Dubai this week was learning there are two types of special delivery for an off-spinner - a doosra and a teesra. With the doosra, the bowler delivers the ball with the same finger action as a normal off-break but cocks the wrist so that the back of the hand faces the batsman. This gives the ball spin in the opposite direction to that for an off-break, causing it to spin from the leg side to the off-side to a right-handed batsman. The teesra is a back-spinner disguised as an off-spinner.

So now you know.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

For the second time in a row, the Spanish government today sold more bonds than it had targeted. And at interest rates significantly lower than last year. The French government also did well, shrugging off its recent downgrading. Stock markets rose on the news and everyone feels a little bit better. For now.

Next door in Portugal, things are not so good. Yields on her 10 year bonds rose to 14.39% today, taking her close to Greek levels. The forecast shrinkage of the economy over the next year or two and the prospect of a real depression raise concerns about political and social stability. The remedy favoured by the politicians - even more austerity - is expected to make things worse.

The Spanish government has said it intends to pass a law which will see jail sentences dished out to regional politicians who "spend too much." And the relevant Minister has said there'll be a provision to "impose rigour’ in the accounts of the regional governments. Who could argue against this? But, that said, the words 'stable', 'door', 'horse' and 'bolted' spring to mind.

It was with no great surprise that I read that the cost of banking has rocketed up in Spain. One wonders if we'll return any time soon to the situation of several years ago, when you were charged a percentage for moving your money not just out of but also into a bank.

I favour a font called Trebuchet MS. Today I discovered today that a trebuchet is a siege engine used between the 12th and 15th centuries. What the connection is I don't know. Perhaps each was invented by someone with the name Trébuchet. The machine was re-invented in the 1980s by a Shropshire squire who built one that would throw a piano more than 150 metres. Apparently, only the only people to find a use for the machine are rock musicians,

Finally . . . . A decent article from The Daily Mail on 'Green Spain'.

I see you can get broadband for as little as 6 quid a month here in the UK. From O2. I suspect the lowest cost option in Spain is three or four times this much. The irony being that O2 is owned by Telefónica.

Talking of expensive choices . . . if you'd like to see some of the vanity projects commissioned during Spain's phoney boom, click here. And use the arrow bottom left to move through the gallery.

"Fleeing? No, I just tripped and fell into a lifeboat." Well, the captain of the Concordia may never go back to sea but he's surely got a future as a comedian. Though possibly not in Italy.

The IMF is seeking 500 billion dollars to take to a trillion its cushion against the consequences of the European debt crisis getting even worse. Here in the UK, there seems to be a consensus that the only real option for saving the EU is for Germany to leave the currency union. I wonder if anyone is saying this in Germany. And what the odds are on it happening.

Anyway, here's a recipe for banana bread.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

 Here's a rather provocative Lexicon. I found it on my laptop, so I guess I wrote it. Not to be taken too seriously

English - A language you master the grammar of and then slaughter when you speak it

Translation - A task you give to a relative rather than pay a few hundred euros.

Zebra crossing - Pedestrian - Something you only use if there's a certainty that any oncoming driver is not only looking at you but is also within his braking distance.

Neighbours' garage - Something to park in front of, blocking both ingress and egress.

Roundabout/Circle - A mechanism by which the maximum number of both domestic and, especially, foreign drivers can be rendered confused.

Family member - Anyone from whom you think you can beg or borrow money

Friend - Anyone you've met in a bar in the last 24 hours.

Commitment - A promise to do something which you will do unless something better comes along.

Stranger - Someone who doesn't exist and, therefore, to whom you owe no duty of care or consideration whatsoever.

Traffic indicators - Lights for indicating that your car isn't really where it appears to be and so can't be causing an offence.

TV - 1. Something on which you can watch "Radio with pictures"
       2. A machine for creating noise in a bar, causing the customers to shout even louder than normal.

Fiesta - A reason for having yet another day off. Or possibly two or even three, depending on how close to a weekend the fiesta falls.

Rules - Behaviour guidelines which apply to other people, in one degree or another. See also 'Laws'.

Pavements/Sidewalks - Strips of land for you to ride your bike on, preferably recklessly so that young kids are endangered.

Noise - Nothing to concern yourself with. Make as much as you like.

Children - Little adults who are allowed to do whatever they like.

Personal space - A concept unknown in Spain.

Parking - The means by which you can scratch all four corners of your car.

Parking bays - A rough indication of where you might park. Can be safely ignored.

Conversation - Talking both loudly and simultaneously.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Possibly Galicia's most famous native son - Manuel Fraga - died over the weekend, aged 89. Fraga's political career stretched back over almost 60 years and included the Franco era, when he was the Minister for Tourism on whose watch the controversial slogan Spain is different was introduced. Here's a review of his career from Guy Hedgecoe of IberoSphere. And here, from Graeme (a man of the Left) is a rather more amusing valediction.

A survey has shown the almost 90% of Spaniards "feel uncomfortable speaking English", including many who've studied it for more than 15 years. Almost 100% of people surveyed thought that the standard of teaching English in Spanish schools was "not the best". My own guess is that the emphasis continues to be on grammar, with little time given to actually speaking the language.

I wrote about "celebrity" corruption cases the other day. Questioned during the trial of others charged with corruption, the (lady) mayor of Valencia asserted that ‘A Louis Vuitton bag is an absolutely normal gift’. Which is probably true.

In its quest for more funds, the Spanish government is looking at privatising the paradors. These are luxury hotels, usually located in magnificent old mansions. If this does happen, it can only mean higher prices.

Finally . . . Did you know that the sun is slowly getting hotter and will eventually cause the oceans to boil? The good news is that it'll be a billion years before this happens. Which certainly gives us time to consider the options. Assuming we survive this, the next problem will be the Andromeda galaxy colliding with ours. But we've got three billion years to ponder this.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

While you could almost certainly spend your entire life in Spain without meeting any corruption, at any one time there's at least one case of 'celebrity' corruption going through the courts. An ex minister or regional president, for example. Right now, though, the high-profile case that takes the biscuit is that of the King's son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, who's accused of diverting public funds into the accounts of private companies he ran. One newspaper at least is asking why the King's daughter, Princess Cristina, hasn't yet been indicted. Which would be an interesting development. Anyway, here's The Guardian with some details of the case.

And here's the always-sensible Simon Jenkins with his take on the Scottish independence issue.

Finally . . . .A conversation with my daughter today:-
Do you know that there's sometimes an awful smell in my bedroom?
Do you know what causes it?
Yes, the guy in the flat below smokes a lot of marijuana.
But isn't that supposed to smell sweet?
You're very green, Dad.