Saturday, March 31, 2012

Today was the day for the old and the new of Liverpool. The old being friends of many years and the new being two more fine Museums down at the waterfront, near The Three Graces. In one of these - museums, not Graces - there was a fine exhibition of Roger McGough's witty poetry, called Doors. Well worth a visit, if you're anywhere near the city. Roger shares a birthday with me and there may be something else; like both me and the historian of Spain, Paul Preston, he attended a Christian Brothers College near Liverpool. And he mentions a Brother Ryan, implying he was perhaps a little aggressive. Not to say brutal.This is a chap whom Paul Preston and I talked about a couple of years ago, over a lunch in Galicia. He once strapped me at the start of a class and when I asked him why, he said "It's for all the trouble you're going to cause me during this lesson." But anyway, it does seem that all three of suffered at the hands of Brother Ryan. But I will ask Roger to confirm this.

And now, something I haven't included for a while - a foto. But not just any old foto; it's one of me, standing in front of my childhood council house home. It looks a lot better than it did back then but it still has the window out of which I used to squeeze before shinning down the pole and then crossing the nearby golf course to meet my pals on the sandhills near the sea. And back up and in again sometime before dawn. Happy days.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Reader Alberto tells me that the report about the banker-averse prostitutes in Spain originated with a blogger there and is, in fact, a hoax. Ah, well. It seemed like such a good response to the crisis.

And reader Jorge has sent me this comment on the question of terms of endearment that came up a couple of weeks ago, around the nickname 'negra':- Regarding your post dealing with the term "Mi negra/o", I can assure you that it is nothing more than a term of endearment. In Cuba, where I was born and raised, it was used all the time among friends irrespective of ethnicity. Also, the term "Gordo/a" was used no matter the weight of the individual. Confused? Just make sure you know who you're calling "Mi negra gorda'. Which seems like good advice to me.

Moving on to something less tendentious . . . Doing a crossword today, I learnt there's a type of tart called 'maid of honour'. Never too old to learn.

Talking of learning . . . For any American who's confused by them, here's a guide to at least some Britishisms:-

Another reader has told me that there certainly are notaries in the USA. Many thousands of them, in fact. It seems anyone can become a notary after taking a short quiz and paying a fee. Which differs greatly from Spain - and France? - where a long and arduous process is involved.

Finally . . . It being Friday, here's a link to Alfie Mittington's latest culinary post. Except it isn't, as he's postponed this to tomorrow.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago the scandalous baby trafficking of the Franco era and beyond. Now comes the news that, forty-four years after her newborn baby was fraudulently taken from her, a woman from Sexe (seshé) in Galicia has been reunited with her daughter. Click here for more on this.

The news continues to be pretty bad for Spain's government: There was a general strike today, with many thousands out on the street demonstrating against austerity measures and demanding jobs; the latest economic data show that Spain has slipped back into recession; last Sunday's election results were not at all good for a government trying to reduce spending in the autonomous regions; the cost of borrowing is back up to worrying levels; and budgetary planning has been given to a posse of un-sackable Brussels bureaucrats (or 'technicians', whatever that means) and a German delegation. The outcome will surely be more austerity and a growing inability to achieve anything like the deficit target imposed by the EU. Not just for this year but also for 2012. And the good news? Tourism continues to do well. As do exports, I believe.

But the really good news is that the EU has confirmed the fine of 152m euros imposed on Telefónica way back in 2007, for abusing its dominant position in Spain's broadband market. I say it's good news but there's unlikely to be any change in their predatory practices.

Here's another of those Spanish headlines which are hard to imagine seeing in a UK paper - Madrid Prostitutes Boycott the Bankers. That said, I guess there are at least a couple of tabloids which would be happy to run with this one. Anyway, the angels of the night are declining the business of bankers until credit is flowing again. And the bankers, it seems, are resorting to pretending they are lawyers or architects. Desperate times, desperate measures.

In the gym I attend there's a sign saying Swimbrite Swimming School. I wonder that the Swimbrite label adds to this. Especially as it's a brand of tile polish.

Which reminds me . . . I saw a TV ad last night for a shampoo said to contain something like Agrimite. What the hell is that? Do they just invent names every few months so they can claim novelty? Was it ever thus?

Finally . . . I'm now of an age when people you've known - and sometimes loved - begin to pass away, starting with teachers and others who influenced your life. This week it was the scoutmaster of the Merseyside troop I belonged to from 11 to 17. I haven't seen him for decades but he remains large in my memory, not only as the scoutmaster but also as the guy who threw himself into organising an annual gang-show, in which I loved to perform. And for once telling me I wouldn't be bad looking if it wasn't for my nose. Bastard. But a nice one. Rest in peace, Paul.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Worrying Wines; Tendentious Turks; Galician Gaffes; Wandering Water; A Bus Boob; and a Seychellois Sage.

Down in Portugal a new wine's been launched called something like Memories of Salazar. Which is a tad controversial as Salazar was a dictator, the Portuguese equivalent of Franco. For some - possibly many - it's the equivalent of labelling a wine Memories of Hitler.

Speaking of whom - you wait ages for a mention of Hitler to come along and then two appear at once - a Turkish shampoo ad has caused ructions there. It features our Adolf saying, via a Turkish voiceover:- If you're not the type of man to wear a woman's dress, then you shouldn't be using a women's shampoo either. The country's Jewish community naturally protested and the ad has now been withdrawn. In an astonishing response, the ad company said that the Jewish community reacted more than they were supposed to. But I guess this could be a translation error.

On my Facebook page, I've been asked to join BranchOut. I've no idea what it is and the fact that it wanted permission to access all my data was fatal to the invitation. I've just checked and it seems to be FaceBook's version of the (utterly useless for me) Linkedin. Which I mispronounced for two years, albeit only to myself.

This is a canard I've probably read a hundred times in eleven years. This time from MSNBC:- In Galicia, Spain's lushly green northwestern corner where it usually rains all the time . . . No it bloodywell doesn't! Do you think we foreigners would live there if it did? Yes, the winters can be grey and wet but the other seasons aren't. Honest.

Being desperately thirsty during a train journey today, I broke one of my cardinal rules and bought a bottle of water. Apart from the high price, the most notable thing about this was its name - Celtic Pure. Briefly, I wondered if it'd come from Galicia but inspection revealed its provenance as Ireland. There are countless sources of mineral/ spring water in England and it beats me that they'd ship the heavy stuff across the Irish Sea to sell in the UK. But it must make sense (and a profit) to someone.

Getting back into Leeds, I then had to take a bus to Headingley. And a pretty crowded one it was, too. But I found a seat near the entrance and sat on it. I then stood up to do something or other - and quite forgot that the seat was one which folded up and down from the vertical. Which it had done of its own accord when I stood up. I'll leave you to imagine what happened when I sat down again. On the floor.

Finally . . . A salutary tale. When I was a young man and teaching in the pre-tourist Seychelles, I lived in a place that was on the beach of Beau Vallon bay. Taking a walk along this one evening, I happened upon a fisherman emptying his pirogue of the day's catch. And this conversation took place, in the perfect Creole I was capable of way back then:-
That's a lot of fish you've got there.
Yes, we've had a good day. Got the equivalent of five days' catch.
That's great. All that extra money to spend.
What do you mean?
Well, you've got four days' extra money.
Oh, yes, I suppose so.
So, what are you going to spend it on?
Are you going to use it to tart up your boat or to buy something for your house?
So, what are you going to do with the extra four days' money?
Nothing. I'm just not going to fish for the next four days.

I'd like to think I've lived my life according to my friend's philosophy. But I rather doubt that I have.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Binge Boozing; PP Problems; German Guidance; Noteworthy Notaries; Odd Ads; and Silly Searches

In the UK, even intelligent young people (both male and female), set out of an evening with the intention of getting seriously drunk and, quite possibly, violent. This has been a cultural aspect of the country for maybe hundreds of years - before Chaucer even - and is labelled 'binge drinking'. The government plans to attack the problem via the simple but controversial expedient of raising the minimum price of alcohol units. This, of course, will also hit the majority of drinkers who aren't a part of binge drinking even though, in the view of many, it won't make a whit's bit of difference to the problem. Interestingly, at the macro level the consumption of alcohol has fallen 20% in the UK over the last few years. From the Spanish perspective, it's inconceivable that one would set out to become uncontrollably drunk and possibly violent by the end of the night.

The markets have not taken well the news that Spain's governing party, the PP, failed to secure the expected control of Andalucia. This is a region famous, inter alia, for high levels of spend. And the failure can only complicate Sr. Rajoy's task of reining in regional expenditure.

It turns out that the EU officials sent to superintend the formation of Spain's 2012 budget will be bolstered by a delegation from - where else? - Germany. They arrive April 2 and will surely be warmly received. The good news is that Mrs Merkel has buckled under pressure from her colleagues and will now permit the enlargement of the fund meant to ensure that Spain doesn't go bankrupt when it runs out of its own money.

Notaries: Anglo readers will be asking "What on earth are they". This is because they play no part in your lives, where lawyers reign supreme. Not so in Spain, where lawyers have neither the income nor the status of their Anglo colleagues and where notaries are a regular feature of life. Basically, they're involved in almost all official transactions. Including the sale and purchase of property. An activity which made them very, very rich during Spain's phoney boom. An indication of how notaries are regarded can be seen in a recent government announcement that the 17 regions had made an undertaking to get rid of 400 public bodies this year and had done so 'before a notary'. This, it would seem, adds credibility to the promise. Though it doesn't mean it will be kept, of course.

This is getting ridiculous . . Early this morning my Facebook page had no fewer than 7 ads for dating sites. A few hours later a couple of them had been replaced by ads for car insurance companies. No idea why, except that mine comes up for renewal in early April. But how could they possibly know that . . . ? Makes you think.

I see there's a car in Formula 1 racing called HRT. Hormonal replacement therapy?

Finally . . . Two old favourites made their appearance in searches which brought folk to this blog yesterday:- 1. throw donkeys [off church roofs], and 2. faria alam naked

Monday, March 26, 2012

Comparative Corruption; Regnum Retained; Economic Events; Diverse Dating; Sun-worshipping Students; and Word of the Day.

Reading abut the endemic political corruption in Ireland, I was intrigued that the writer made a comparison with Greece and Italy but not Spain. Which is a little surprising, given the parade of court cases against (mostly) regional and national Spanish politicians. And sometimes even convictions.

Which reminds me . . . Despite a huge ongoing corruption scandal, it's virtually certain the Socialist Party will stay in power in Andalucia, one of their long-time fiefdoms. Albeit in coalition with another (even further) left-of-centre party. The conservative PP party won most seats but not enough for an absolute majority. Click here for the IberoSphere take on Sunday's elections. One thing's clear - the polls got it wrong.

Madrid will now move to publish the budget that was held back until after these elections. Since it was reported last week that quite a few Brussels 'technicians' were going through Spain's books, I guess we can assume that whatever emerges will have the approval of the EU (i. e. Germany).

Stll on the economy . . . In the wake of recent rises in the cost of Spanish borrowing, EU leaders are said to have united to urge Germany to agree to boost the "big bazooka" bail-out fund this week, amid fears that markets will turn against Spain, Ireland and Portugal if there is no urgent support. So, the debt crisis is certainly not yet over. Whatever M. Sarkozy boasts.

Inevitably, Google has brought together two of my recent subjects - dating sites and Muslim women - and has started advertising This is said to be an "International Muslim Matrimonial and Marriage site". I'd be interested to know the difference between Matrimonial and Marriage.

Britain is enjoying summer-like weather at the moment and it's bringing the students out. Literally. Today I had to negotiate my way between a sofa and an armchair on the pavement. Coming back later, I suggested to the four young men sitting on them they shouldn't overdo their studying. Three of them laughed but the fourth asserted:- "12,000 words to write by May 5th." Didn't seem too onerous to me.

Finally . . .

Word of the Day: Pwn/PwnedThis is a piece of internet slang, meaning: 'To comprehensively defeat an opponent'. HT to my old friend Rick, for finding it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

In the café yesterday, I dropped a coin on the floor. As I bent down to pick it up, both my mobile phone and iPod Shuffle fell out of my shirt pocket and clattered across the floor. As I reached to get them, I knocked off the table a mug full of sugar sachets and wooden spatulas. Which also took the opportunity to scatter all over the floor. Since my philosophy (usually) is that the only thing worse than being laughed at is not being laughed at, I turned to the (bemused) café clientele and said "I think they call that a full house". After I'd sat down, I felt I really should have said:- "As you can see, I'm contracted to provide the entertainment". Believe it or believe it not, I did get the chance to say this, after I'd repeated my entire circus act twenty minutes later!

But that was yesterday. Today I was naturally careful at the table and managed to avoid dropping anything. I just knocked a knife off as I stood up to leave.

Ads update: Today the dating sites around my text included two new ones:- One for the police(!) called Uniform Dating and one for the advanced-in-years called Silver Cupid. Is there no limit to the niches in this market?

This morning I listened to a discussion program on the BBC. The issue was whether Muslim jurors should be allowed to wear the niquab. Three veiled Muslim women felt very strongly that they had a right to wear whatever they liked. Somehow, I doubt they'd agree that a women who's a naturalist has a right to perform jury service stark naked. Unhappily, I didn't hear this put to them and the discussion centred merely on whether not they had a right to cover their face and whether this trumped any other argument whatsoever.

The program was impressive in that no one interrupted anyone else. And the adjudicator had no problem in selecting people to speak, largely on the basis of who put his or her hand up. Try as I might, I couldn't imagine this being the case in a Spanish program. Where interruptions and insults are standard fare. I recall one program years ago which introduced microphones which came up out of the desk in front of the participants and sank down again when their time was up. But it didn't work and the innovation was quietly dropped.

Talking of Islam . . . The Sunday Times today had an article on a new book - In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World. The paper suggested this is 'seismic' because it "leaves almost no aspect of the traditional story of Islam intact, as the author charts its rise to global power from the ashes of the Roman and Persian empires." No wonder they asked him is he feared a violent reaction.

As for modern times, according to The Daily Telegraph: "Whatever the politicians may pretend, governments, banks and companies continue to make contingency plans for a Greek exit from the euro. And, arguably, the terms of the latest bailout make one easier." Click here for the fascinating details.

You think you've heard it all but then you pick up El Mundo and read that the Spanish police have arrested pimps who've tattooed bar codes on the back of prostitutes.

Finally . . . Almost 600,000 Spaniards have signed a petition to Parliament urging that bullfighting be given the status of a national cultural asset. If this happens, it'll then be possible - in theory at least - for regional bans such as those in Cataluña to be overturned. I don't see this happening myself. But it might be an effective bar to bans in other regions.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Presidential Politics; Additional Ads; Bawdy Brits; Noxious Nicknames; Dubious Dung; and Word of the Week.

Just before the Toulouse denouement (debacle?), it wasn't at all clear how M Sarkozy was faring in the early days of the French presidential election. One poll had him with a 1% lead over his main rival, M Hollande, but another had the latter extending his lead to 4%. All has now changed, once again proving it's an ill wind that blows no good. Sarkozy has wasted no time in resorting to what some see as gesture politics. He won't care, if they're effective. Plus, he's the only one sleeping with Carla Bruni, who clearly has a pact with the Devil.

Talking of religion . . . The ads around my blog today are no longer of websites for adulterous couples and the like, though they might make a reappearance after I publish the next item. Meanwhile, I'm pretty nonplussed to see this one
YES to the Anglican Covenant: Uniting Anglicans worldwide

What on earth have I done to merit this, other than refer to the resignation of the Archbishop of Canterbury a week or two ago? Google works in mysterious ways, its wonders to perform.

Hang on! It's worse. I've just seen this:-
Justice for victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy

Anyway, it's reported today that over a million Brits have signed up to "extramarital websites". Which certainly tells us something. But what?

You'll all remember the recent fuss in England over a Liverpool player calling an opponent 'negrito'. At the time, there was some recognition of the fact that this sounds worse to Anglos than to Spanish speakers. But what are we to make of the fact that Lionel Messi's girlfriend is nicknamed "La Negra"? Clearly, this is affectionate and, presumably, flattering. But how would one render it in English? I'm guessing not "Nigger" but I really need the help of a bi-linguist on this. Or Dwight. Or Jorge. Moscow?

Yesterday I was shopping in a pedestrian precinct in the centre of Leeds when I came cross a pile of horse dung. Which was unexpected. And which left me wondering how came it there. Had there been a riot requiring police attendance? Or had one of the riders strayed from a nearby racecourse? I'll never know.

Finally . . .

Word of the Week: furbelow
1. A ruffle or flounce on a garment.
2. A piece of showy ornamentation.

To furbelow: To decorate with a ruffle or flounce.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Spanish consumers' association has chosen Movistar (Telefónica as was) as this year's Worst Company. Something which they'll certainly shrug off, thus proving how valid the award is. The other contenders were Bankia, CAM (another bank), Ryanair and Vodaphone, which was the runner up. I suspect this won't go down well with the British parent.

Which reminds me . . . My UK mobile is from O2, Telefónica's British operator. Well, they have a shop in the high street. Anyway, they bombard me with messages, today's being that I could get a free cup of coffee at Nero's. Apparently they don't know I've taken a lifetime vow never to go in a place which charges two pounds fifty for a cup of milk with some coffee grinds in.

BBC News today had an item about a performance of La Traviata down in Sydney, Australia. This is taking place on a platform in the harbour and the dress rehearsal last night was unfortunately hit by a rainstorm. The BBC announcer described this as 'one of the perils of performing on water.' As if they'd have kept bone dry if they'd been on land. Perhaps they were confusing a rainstorm with a tidal wave.

Public Service Section

The other day I mentioned Jonathan Swift's A modest Proposal. This (in)famous tract can be downloaded as a free ebook from here.

A week or two ago, I reported that there was going to be a coach tour of London's ring road, the unloved M25. If you've got absolutely nothing else to do, you can read a description of this here.

If you have a keen sense of humour (and enjoy Cat Stevens), then you'll love the 1971 film Harold and Maude. This flopped back then but has since become a cult movie. Despite this, I highly recommend it. 

Finally . . . It being Friday, here's Alfie, carrying out a culinary threat.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Britain's budget briefly; Alarming ads; cacophonous cars; Doubtful decimals; Property purchase; Zooming Zara; and Welcome words.

Britain's budget was presented to Parliament yesterday. No one seems to approve of it, though I guess Brussels (i. e. Germany) does. Or perhaps the British government has been allowed to put it together without scrutiny. An honour not being accorded to Spain this month.

Just following up a point from yesterday . . . Firstly, I see that, when I visit my blog to check the stats, there's nothing but ads for dating agencies there. And, secondly, that the same is true for Facebook. Except for an ad for equity release. I wonder if this is the result of once partially completing a questionnaire for one site ( before quitting out of boredom. Another site - and another bit of clever ambiguity - is Be ("For dating that lets you cut to the chase"). As if we needed to be told.

For quite a while I've wondered why the calm of Headingley is frequently shattered by blue-light-blazing, siren-screaming ambulances and police cars. I'd formed a couple of tentative theories but today it hit me - The road through the place is straight for about a mile, just after a serpentine stretch. Like the dog and his appendages, these guys do it simply because they can.

I've mentioned over the years that the Spanish have a love for numbers to two or even three decimal places, where one is more than enough. And I've speculated as to whether this is intended to give a specious veneer of accuracy to numbers which are dubious. Whatever, here's a good example of what I mean.

And here's some information that will be useful to anyone thinking of buying property in Spain. I'm citing this even though I know the vast majority of Brits foolishly believe the estate agent when he/she says "You don't need a lawyer. The notary will protect you." You can take a horse to water . .

Good to see that the Galician company Zara posted profits for last year 12% up. And this is before they enter the Chinese market, scheduled for later this year.

"Always be connected with MiFi on Three". Can anyone tell me what this means?

Finally . . . A friend used the term 'fondly' in signing off a message I got today. This is a lovely but under-used word. In Britain at least. But it may have greater currency in the USA.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Frieda the forerunner; Targeted text; Trolley folly; Pilfering presidents; Weird words; Messi magic; and A Barcelona ban.

In March 1912 - exactly a hundred years ago - the English poet, D H Lawrence, was invited to lunch at the house of Mr and Mrs Weekley. When Mr W. was late arriving and Mrs. W. was at a loose end, she suggested they went upstairs to get to know each other better. Which done, they became lovers and, eventually, husband and wife. When I heard about this today, I wondered whether the lady wasn't the forerunner of all those unhappy British wives I wrote about last night. Though clearly she needed no help from the internet.

Which reminds me . . A couple of people have told me that last night's post drove Google to surround the text with a variety of ads for dating sites for the mature person. Though it's possible - given Google's frightening capability - that younger readers will have had ads for sites catering for unhappy souls in their 20s, 30s and even 40s.

As I've noted, recessions in the UK bring an upsurge in thefts of metal from church roofs. In Spain, one Madrid-based scrap dealer hit on an alternative - supermarket trolleys. 3,000 of them, in fact. When it was suggested he could have made 290,000 euros selling them, he retorted - "Do you think I'd still be living with my mother, if I had?" Which is not an easy question to answer in Spain.

The ex President of the Balearic Islands has been sentenced to six years in prison for corruption. There are seventeen autonomous communities (or regions) in Spain and he's the eighth ex-president to go before the courts for corruption. No bad going. My guess is there'll be more.

I was pondering today how composite words lose their literal meaning and come to mean something entirely different from their components. For example, 'congratulations' is enhorabuena in Spanish. Literally 'in good hour'. Then there's Noche Buena and Noche Vieja - Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. Literally 'Good Night' and 'Old Night'. Thinking about examples in English, I came up with indeed, moreover, albeit, altogether, everyone, everybody, goodbye, nevertheless, and alright. But I'm sure there are better ones.

Lionel Messi's hat-trick [there's a good example] last night made him the club's top scorer ever with 234 goals. As your fancy takes you, all of them can be seen here. Incidentally, I didn't realise he's as small as he is. Which is 5' 5". Or something around 165cm.

Having mentioned Barcelona, I'll just pass on the news that the municipal authorities say they will completely ban prostitution on the streets of the city before the summer, backed up by greater enforcement and larger fines. Good luck to them. And tough titty to anyone sad enough to plan a holiday around this activity. You can now cross Barcelona off your list.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Predatory British women; A sexless job for life; Poaching babies, one way or another; "Prayerful"???; Madrid v. Brussels; and A Ryanair flight of fancy.

More than one newspaper gleefully reported today that the demand for domestic and foreign 'dating' (meaning adulterous) websites is driven by British women. And that peak usage occurred on the day after St. Valentine's Day. Which screams Hell, Fury, and Scorned. Someone from the cunningly entitled Marital Affairs Co. explained that "Britain is unique in its number of women trapped in a sexless marriage." If only I'd known sooner. I could've set up my own page.

Talking of things sexless . . . I mentioned the other day that the Catholic Church in Spain was taking advantage of the sky-high unemployment numbers to advertise a steady job for young males. Here's a video of the TV ad, complete with English translation. It doesn't major on the sexless bit. In fact, it doesn't even mention it. Naturally.

Still on matters religious . . . The Spanish nun who was arrested last week for her involvement in a baby poaching and selling scam, has refused to answer any questions. I'm guessing she thinks God is on her side and she'll come through OK. If so, it certainly will be a miracle. Talking of babies being poached, this raises the question of whether Swift recommended this cooking method in his Modest Proposal. Alfie Mittington probably knows.

Finally on this theme . . . A woman asked to explain why she supported a particular candidate for the position of Archbishop of Canterbury reeled off a number of qualities he possessed. The first - and presumably most important - was that he was 'prayerful'. Does anyone know what this means? Prays a lot? Is the repository of the prayers of others'. Walks round all day muttering to himself? I haven't the faintest idea myself.

An interesting tussle is developing between Madrid and Brussels. The former has 'demanded' 5.5bn euros to help mitigate the effects of the current drought. The latter has said 'We hear what you say but what about all those expensive desalination plants we financed and which are running at only 16% of capacity?" These, I assume, are the 17 plants which are operational. The other 34 aren't and so are at 0% capacity.

Finally . . . Watching the horse racing from Cheltenham last week, I saw there was a Ryanair Chase. This got me wondering how it was organised. Priority Starting for a select few, with everyone else kept back in a tight bunch for 20 seconds? The jockeys having to pay for saddle, stirrups, cinch belt and whip - all at higher prices on the course if not paid for on-line? Race continuity compromised by the jockeys having to pay to take each fence, using an i-Pad as they approach them? . . . Probably not.

Something else surely untrue is that, according to my sister today, Ryanair is now charging 70 quid to check in a case. Would they dare?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Star treatment; Iberian politics; Riot control; Water colourists; and Celtic names in Galicia

Having mentioned a brothel yesterday, it's only apt that I now cite a cautionary saw, from an age of more rudimentary medical treatment - One night with Venus but a lifetime with mercury.

Although Spain's president, Mariano Rajoy, was lionised a week or so ago for standing up to Brussels on the country's deficit target for 2012, as the smoke clears it seems he may have achieved a pretty Pyrrhic victory. He's certainly made enemies among his colleagues, upset by his timing and tactics but, worse, he's given the Commission cause for interference in the government of Spain. Meaning closer scrutiny of budgets and "zero tolerance for any more budget slippage." So, the battle won but the war lost, perhaps. More here.

Spain's western neighbour, Portugal, may yet confirm the pessimist view that it's on the same trajectory as Greece, albeit several months behind. Ambrose E. P. reports that:- The giant bond fund PIMCO has said Europe has not yet tamed its debt crisis and will soon face a “second Greece” in Portugal as the country’s economy spirals downwards. Details here. At least they now know the script.

Demonstrating his tenuous grasp of democratic politics, the London-based father-in-law of Syria's President Assad has asked why David Cameron didn't use troops to quell the city's riots last year. As, he said, his son-in-law had successfully done in Syria. He's a respected cardiologist, it seems. Though possibly one with fewer friends than last week.

Still in London . . . There's an exhibition there of water colours by Turner and his inspiration, Claude. No, I hadn't heard of him, either. Their land and seascapes are tremendous, of course, but someone has, rather bitchily, pointed out that neither of them could paint people to save his life. Hence all the land and seascapes, I guess.

There was a time when I used to get annoyed when a newscaster announced that he or she was going to read emails from people whose views were of no interest to me. In fact, it still irritates me. But now there's something even worse; bloody tweets appear on the screen while the newscaster is talking. It's enough to send me back to the radio.

The Olympics are nearly upon us in the UK and they're taking up an increasing amount of newspaper space. Where I read that one competitor - from my old stamping ground, the Seychelles - will be Gaylord Silly. I don't know what event. Perhaps the Silly Walk.

Finally . . . Here's an interesting article for those anxious to know how many Celtic place-names there are in Galicia. By the way, did you know that a colony of Britons was established in Galicia in the 5th or 6th century AD? No one knows why. Probably got lost looking for Barcelona.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Danish history; The Anglican Church; G. S.; Spanish fun; German reticence; Silly dogs; and Silly people.

Sometimes one stumbles across things that just have to be shared. Did you know that the word Bluetooth is an anglicised version of the Scandinavian Blåtand/Blåtann, the epithet of the tenth-century king Harald 1 of Denmark and parts of Norway who united dissonant Danish tribes into a single kingdom. The implication is that Bluetooth does the same with communications protocols, uniting them into one universal standard

Gay marriage is a big issue in the UK at the moment. It's interesting (nay, amusing) to hear Anglicans arguing that marriage is for life. This from the members of a Church founded by Henry VIII for the sole purpose of ending his first marriage so he could wed the "Great whore", the hapless (and subsequently headless) Anne Boleyn.

Greg Smith and Goldman Sachs. Is it a coincidence that they share the same initials? I rather doubt it.

From time to time one reads a Spanish headline you'd never get in the (less fun-filled?) UK. Like today's Three dead after shooting in Badajoz brothel. And I don't mean that there's no place called Badajoz in the UK.

Talking of having (what some would regard as) fun . . . Here's a list of Spanish fiestas during 2012. Or some of them at least.

And here's a fascinating article on how Germany is dealing with its de facto leadership of Europe. A German friend confirms its total accuracy. Which can't be completely correct as it's in a newspaper.

This is the latest canine champion at Crufts. It appears to be part of the breed standard that the poor creature can't see where the hell it's going. Incidentally, the breed is called Lhasa Apso, which sounds like a variety of tea from the hills of Tibet. Perhaps the purpose of all that facial hair is to hide embarrassment.

Finally . . .

Scene at a British Bus-stop

The man in front of me waits patiently, as I do. It's Sunday and today the buses don't come every five minutes, as they do any other day of the week. But it's sunny and warm. And springlike. So neither of us cares.

A couple come round the corner and walk towards us. Seeing the man in front of me, they both break into smiles. As they get close, the man extends his hand to be shaken. The woman - anticipating not even a single kiss on the cheek - does the same. But her hand is ignored, surely unwittingly, and so she gently retracts it and puts it behind her back. They all talk and laugh for a minute or two but the woman gradually edges away from the man in front of me and, after a decent interval, her partner says his farewells and joins her.

I'm left wondering whether she'll tell her partner about the suffered slight. But I suspect not.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Croneyism, nepotism and corruption; More religion; and Facebook friends.

Croneyism, nepotism and corruption. Spanish politics? Well, no. Not this time. It's the Vatican, of all places. Much to the Pope's distress, Italian newspapers have published a letter to him from one of his staff, making allegations that the Vatican organisation is characterised by the above sins. Is nothing sacred?

Continuing the religious theme from yesterday - The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury has thrown in the towel in the face of fissiparous elements in the Church. At the end of the year he'll return to academia and leave the Anglican Church to tear itself asunder around issues of sexuality and gender. What's strange is that the BBC and The Times felt it appropriate to give this news top billing, at inordinate length. All despite the fact that 98% of the British population couldn't care less. But I guess they do represent the Establishment.

Here's a surprise - A psychology paper finds that Facebook and other social media offer a platform for obsessions with self-image and shallow friendships. And:- Researchers have established a direct link between the number of friends you have on Facebook and the degree to which you are a "socially disruptive" narcissist, confirming the conclusions of many social media sceptics. Details here.

Finally . . . I've long wondered why court sketches never look like the person(s) on trial. I now know why; the artists are not allowed to make them in the court but have to draw them from memory. My respect for them has now risen.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spain is suffering its worst drought in 70 years and immense damage is being done to crops throughout the country. When reading of the impact on exports of vegetables, I was reminded that the Spanish perception of vegetarianism is thin slices of ham.

Nice to have The Economist endorse my view of a week or two ago that Madrid has the edge over Barcelona in the battle to bring the huge gambling complex (Euro Vegas) to the country. Let's hope it really comes off.

Which reminds me . . . It's hard to see the Champions' League being won by anything other than a Spanish team. Ditto the Europa Cup. Or whatever it's called.

On a BBC discussion tonight about gay marriage, the host(ess) of the program interjected with "Regardless of the ins and outs . . ". Which probably wasn't the most felicitous phrase she could've used.

Talking of priests . . . The Catholic Church in Spain has launched a publicity campaign aimed at raising the recruitment rate for these. There are currently about 22,000 priests in the country, which strikes me as quite high. But, then, there is an old Spanish saying which runs:-
If you want to be happy for a week, get married.
If you want to be happy for a month, get a pig and eat it.
If you want to be happy for ever, become a priest.

Incidentally, the Chinese have a similar saying but the last line runs:-
If you want to be happy for ever, get a garden.

Still on the religious theme . . . An 80 year-old Spanish nun has been arrested for her involvement in a baby-trafficking scandal which began during the Franco regime but continued until the 1980s. It's claimed that more than 1,500 babies were taken deceitfully from their mothers and either sold or given away for adoption. She didn't work alone of course; "Doctors, nurses, nuns and priests are all suspected of forming part of an organised network that told mothers their children had died during, or straight after, birth." An interesting development.

Finally . . . As it's Friday, here's Alfie Mittington's latest recipe. For ragoût. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Inquisition - The Reign of Fear

I'm the sort of person who hates to not finish a book. Especially if I've bought the bloody thing. But, in the case of The Inquisition by Toby Green, I've struggled through to page 180 and decided I just can't make it to page 360. So, by coincidence, I'm jacking it in exactly on half-way.

If anyone has read the entire book and enjoyed it, I'd love to hear from them. With reasons why, obviously.

And, if you're Toby Green, surfing the net for citations, I'm sorry about that. I know you put a lot of effort into both researching and writing the book. Your consolation is that you've garnered some nice quotes from newspapers around the world and there are several positive reviews on Amazon. And did I mention that I bought the book? So you got a percentage of that.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What a piece of work is that M. Sarkozy! Only a week after claiming that France (i. e. himself) had singlehandedly saved the eurozone, he's now making threats to breach several EU policies in order to impress far-right voters and save his domestic scalp. Little wonder that one German paper yesterday declared that "France is as baffling as ever".

In contrast, Sr. Rajoy is coming in for more plaudits, not only for securing Spain some breathing space as regards the 2012 deficit challenge, but also for "pointing out the elephant in the room: the eurozone is a monetary union, not a political one, and if members want to run their own affairs, neither Brussels nor Berlin can stop them." In doing so, "Madrid has stirred a radical retaliation of 'sinner states' against the northern putsch for austerity and central control."

Ironically, the country which may be first to follow this Spanish precedent might not be from the 'garlic belt' but from the group of northern countries who pushed hard for the fiscal pact. Would you believe Holland? There, the government is talking about a 2012 deficit of 4.5% of GDP, which contrasts with the forecast of 2.5% and the EU ceiling of 3.0%. Go above this and you get automatically fined. "Most analysts agree that the Dutch economy is fundamentally sound and that a dogmatic application of the new eurozone rules next year would do much more damage than good." So, why have them? Are they only applicable to economies judged to be fundamentally unsound? And will there be one (non)rule for northern states and another for southern states? I think we should be told.

Anyway . . . It'll come as no surprise to anyone living in Spain that noise is - by a long chalk - the most common cause of disputes between neighbours, followed by non-payment of community charges. Japan is usually said to take the global number one slot but I have doubts about this and see it as a function of densely-packed living. I, of course, have Nice-but-Noisy Toni on the other side of our shared wall. But, in truth, I find him quite tolerable. Especially when he goes away to sea for six weeks.

As I predicted - it wasn't exactly difficult - neither Mourinho nor Guardiola has any interest at all in the Chelsea job. And I don't suppose tonight's surprise victory will make any difference at all.

John Makepeace is said to be the father of British furniture design. I can't help feeling it would've been better if his surname had been Makepiece. You can see his (rather interesting) stuff here.

PC News: A group of academics advising the UN, has said that Dante's Divine Comedy is 'offensive and discriminatory' in the way it portrays punishments for Jews, Muslims and homosexuals. So it shouldn't be offered for undiluted consumption in schools. I wonder what they'd say about the Qur'an.

Finally . . . Manos Limpias (Clean Hands) is an 'independent right wing union' in Spain. It was the organisation which brought two of the three cases against the celebrated judge, Báltasar Garzón. In a development full of irony, its leader has been indicted for fraud.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A week or two ago, I mentioned a TV ad for a Spanish insurance company which featured the Liverpool goalkeeper and was seen as racist in the UK. Well, the company has now pulled the ad, after lobbying from a British pressure group. From a Spanish base, this IberoSphere article notes the different British and Spanish perspectives on racism and asks whether the Brits don't go too far at times. As in the three monkeys case I mentioned a couple of weeks ago perhaps.

Talking of attitudes . . . Somewhere in the archives of this blog is at least one list of Spanish words - such as perro (dog) and cerdo (pig) - which are innocuous in the masculine form but mean 'whore' in the feminine version. There's a lot of them and I've now stumbled on a new one. By which I mean new for me. It's hombrezuelo, which is 'short man' in the masculine form but, of course, 'whore' in the feminine form - mujerzuela. The same goes for hombrecillo and mujercilla, which I happened on when checking the Royal Academy's dictionary.

And talking of the Royal Academy, it seems the all-male Committee has decided to fight a rearguard action against those who object to the masculine form being used to cover both males and females, as in padres, (parents) niños (children) and lobos (wolves). They've had quite enough of teachers saying niños y niñas, apparently. Possibly they're a little out of touch with societal developments.

In Europe, Brussels is reported to have switched its gaze (at least for now) from Greece to Spain. It emerged a day or so ago that a team of number-crunchers had been sent to Madrid to pore over Spain's "constantly changing" deficit number for 2011. And to get a good idea of what Brussels could demand - regardless of Sr. Rajoy's little revolt - for 2012. You'll recall that the target originally set was 4.4% of GDP and Sr. Rajoy unilaterally changed it to 5.8% before the ink was dry on the new fiscal pact of a couple of weeks ago. Well, the Spanish can claim some success, as Brussels has now revised their target to 5.3%. But it could be something else next week.

Finally . . . I've long known that the qwerty keyboard came about because someone wanted to slow down the speed with which the keys hit the ribbon (we're talking ancient technology here, kids), because they were getting snagged too often. Well, there was a second reason - the typewriters were made by Remington and having the keyboard in the qwerty configuration made it easy for their sales reps to type the word TYPEWRITER, as all the letters are in the top row. This seems far too plausible to be an urban myth.

Monday, March 12, 2012

When I and my (then) wife were learning Farsi (Persian) a few years ago, we had a teacher by the name of Tavakoli. To say he was an unappetising cove would be something of an understatement. He also had some decidedly odd views, as this conversation shows. It took place after my wife had gone to the toilet:-
I'm finding this tough. I'm pretty good at languages but I can't keep up with my wife. She finds the difficult sounds easier than me and she seems to have total recall of the vocabulary. Whereas I have to spend my evening learning it.
Don't worry. It's quite normal. Woman are always better at learning languages.
Why do you say that?
Well, they have much less in their heads than men. So it's much easier for them to find space for new things.
(Laughing) That's good . . . Oh, you're not laughing. You mean it.
Well do yourself a favour. Don't mention your view to my wife when she comes back from the toilets.

I see the Pope has blamed 'liberal teachings on sexuality' for causing 'grave social problems'. Unlike illiberal teachings on contraception, which, of course, don't.

It's reported in Spain that the amount of money shelled out in the phoney pensions case I mentioned on Saturday was 933 million euros but I must say I find this implausible. Less hard to believe is that 9 million went to companies owned by the then president of the regional government.

Equally unsurprising is the claim that, with 22 days holiday and another 14 fiesta days, Spain's total of 36 free days is only beaten by the 38 of Austria and Malta. By the time you've added 'bridge' holidays to the Spanish total, it surely emerges as the winner.

Perhaps because I've never done it - and because I live in Spain - It baffles me that British youth of all classes go out of an evening with the aim of getting drunk.

Which reminds me . . . I saw this notice on a bus the other day:-

If you are eating on this bus,
not everyone will share your enthusiasm.

I found it surprising there was no exhortation along the lines of: "Don't do it!" Or even "Please don't do it". As with this second notice I saw today:-

Seats are for sitting
And the floor is for feet.
Please don't put your feet on the seats.

But my satisfaction at seeing the final line failed to compensate adequately for the disappointment that such a notice was necessary in the first place. Perhaps I'm getting old.