Sunday, April 29, 2012

Watching one of the films my sister prefers to enjoying a football match, I felt revulsion wash over me when three of the (female) actors took out cigarettes and lit them up. I felt a similar wave when I looked round the bar I was in last night and noticed a three-foot high statue of a (jet)black waiter with a bowler hat on his head and a tray of some sort on his outstretched hands. It's very hard to conceive of this being acceptable in Anglo-Saxon societies. Here in Spain it passes unnoticed. And I suspect any suggestion it should be removed as being offensive would be received with a degree of consternation born of a total lack of apprehension. Maybe in ten years' time.

Which sort of reminds me . . . One of my neighbours was yesterday executing a multiple-point turn in front of her house. With a mobile phone in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Which sort of sums up a thing or two.

The thinnest of thin wedges I mentioned the other day has now been thickened a tad. The president of the European Council has said: “Today, the growth debate is taking centre stage all over Europe, and rightly so.” He also suggested he might call a meeting of European leaders before the end of June specifically to discuss new growth initiatives. It'll be interesting to see how the Germans respond, as they've shown little sign of wanting to reduce the austerity punishment being meted out to the southern European sinners. And perhaps to that erstwhile scourge of the latter but now critic-turned-mendicant, Holland.

I enjoy only one thing more than writing and that's talking. So I read this article on texting and messaging with horror. But it does explain one or two things about my younger daughter's generation that have puzzled me about the way they communicate with each other. And with me. We have says one observer, confused connection with conversation – "the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship".

This article also contains the wonderful line - Anyone with 3,000 friends has none. I do know of one such sad individual. He was most upset when I defriended him and challenged me about it. To no avail.

Finally . . . I was sitting under the much-missed sun in Veggie Square with my sister yesterday, when she suddenly asked where the smoke was coming from. I couldn't see but, a minute or two later, I added that there was certainly a smell of burning coming from somewhere. Eventually we traced this to the El País I was reading. The sun's rays, passing through my glass of Albariño, had set fire to the edge of page 15. Incredulous, we experimented further along the edge of the page and produced another small fire in less than three minutes. So let that be a lesson to you all. Don't let the sun get on your Albariño.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Over the years, I've had a few tussles with a reader in Russia who uses Moscow as his handle. Mostly about the EU and its future. At one point Moscow reminded me the whole point of the single currency was to force the weaker members to reform their economies, so there'd be convergence with those of Germany, Holland and the Scandinavian countries. So, I thought I'd take a look at where we are, after a decade or so of the euro straightjacket:-
Do we have now an economy as strong as Germany's? - No. We're in recession again.
Do we now have an export sector anything like Germany's? - No. It's pretty small and, though it was growing, the latest figures show a decline.
Do we now have an unemployment rate like Germany's? - Not by a very long chalk. In fact, we have the highest rate in Europe.
Do we now have a budget surplus like Germany's? - No. We're struggling to keep the deficit below 6%, double what EU rules permit.
Do we have a credit rating like Germany's? - You must be joking. It's way below and has just been reduced further.
Do we now have productivity levels like Germany's? - Err . . No. Nothing near it and our level hasn't improved in 10 years.
Do we have an exchange rate with which we can easily live? - Very funny. Even the pound is now rising against the euro, despite the UK having gone back into recession.

Hmm. There must be something we share with Germany . . . Of course! Thanks to constant high inflation, we now have a cost of living at Teutonic levels. So the euro hasn't been a complete failure, then.

But there is good news. My lovely neighbour, Amparo - the other side from the divine Ester - told me last night Toni has, indeed, gone off to sea again. But only for a month or so. He'll be getting back just as return from the UK.

Back to the EU . . . Whatever the achievable/unachievable each member has for its budget deficit for 2012, all of them have 3% for 2013. Which is laughably unachievable by Spain. It's been hard to understand why bureaucrats and politicians have stuck with this nonsensical number and. But now comes some evidence that even they don't really believe it. As if they ever did. The thinnest of thin edges of a wedge?

The weather: First of all, I have to stress yesterday wasn't at all bad here in the the Rías Baixas of Galicia. And today is gorgeous. But I am about to return to a UK where the forecast is for the coldest May in 300 years. I suspect that whatever is going to cause this will also hit Galicia, at least to some degree.

Walking down to town yesterday to collect my just-serviced car, I was passed by at least ten driving school vehicles, all with their normal complement of one pupil at the wheel and two to three more in the back. So, there's another industry bucking the trend. And possibly one in which we'll see more and more entrepreneurs investing their capital. Maybe.

Finally . . . The bars in Pontevedra's old quarter were all humming last night. Especially the new ones, which can count on the in-crowd patronising them for a few months. Possibly even a year. Until the next new place opens up. Meanwhile, here's some evidence to support my claim that people are using their cash not for clothes and shoes but for having a good time and laughing in the face of austerity.

Friday, April 27, 2012

I noticed twenty minutes ago that someone was drilling a wall in a room off this café. But since then the noise hasn't registered. Does this mean that, like all Spaniards, I've developed filters? Or could it be it's because the two women on the table to my left are shouting at each other, in apparent belief this is essential to mutual understanding?

Which reminds me . . . Nice-but-Noisy Toni hasn't been around for several days. Can he really have gone back to sea? If so, his two sons - aged 14 and 8 - are more than making up for him. Which is a clincher for the Nature case, as far as I'm concerned. Anyway, talking yesterday to my neighbour Manolo, who shares a wall with Toni on the other side from mine, I referred to Toni as La Voz de Galicia, which went down well with Manolo. It's surprising I hadn't thought of this before.

So, the recession and Pontevedra. Are there more well-dressed beggars sitting on the steps of some vacant shop or other? Well, what do you think? But the recession isn't bad news for everyone, of course. It seems every street in town now has a shop in which you can trade in gold. And the wretched creatures who panhandle on the basis of an incompetent performance on a basic musical instrument can still be seen coming and going from the gypsy quarter on my side of the river. Where their daily needs are happily met.

I take it back - I can now hear the bloody drill. But, then, the women to my left have gone.

MoviStar: The Final Chapter?
My mobile rings:
Hello. This is Ana. I'm ringing about your request for an internet package.
Well, the number you provided yesterday [the 4th.] isn't the one MoviStar have got. But they are prepared to go ahead anyway.
Oh, good.
But I understand you're going away at the weekend and that it has to be delivered before Friday.
Well, I can't guarantee this will happen.
How about on Saturday?
No, I can't guarantee that either. When will you be back?
Well, we have to leave it until then.
Yes. Indeed we do.

Am I being too cynical or merely pessimistic to expect bills from MoviStar will now be delivered to my mailbox, matched by direct debit payments going out of my bank account? Another case for El Consumo building up? Vamos a ver.

I wrote a few weeks ago that it was hard to see any other team than Barcelona or Real Madrid winning the Champions Cup. Well it's a lot easier now, as both have suffered astonishing semi-final defeats at the hands of Chelsea and Bayern Munich. So, here's another prediction - Chelsea won't win it. Given my track record, though, I've just put 50 quid on them to lift the trophy. In the hands of that idiot, John Terry.

All that said, at least my all-Spanish final forecast would have been accurate as regards the Europa Cup. For Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao will face each other in this. Anyone who doesn't know why one team is Athletic and the other Atletico should search this blog for the answer, given earlier this year.

Finally . . . Carrefour. Spit. Spit. My disdain for this (French) company is well established but it's now been augmented by a big sign near their trolleys saying only 50 cent coins will unchain one for you. In Marcadona, they take not only 50c coins but also one and two-euro coins. Nothing could give you a better appreciation of their respective attitudes to their customers. You know, the ones who pay their salaries and give them their profits. But, to be honest, I'm pretty sure the French management would be shocked as well.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Two or three weeks ago, I remonstrated with those - primarily lazy overseas Anglo-Saxon article writers - for habitually claiming it's always raining in Galicia. Well, after the last 12 days, I'm compelled to offer a suspension of their sentence. For it's rained every single bloody day. And sometimes through the night. Not before time, the sun is forecast to return in the next few days. Actually, it's just deliberately come now, mocking my concerns.

Still on the weather . . . As usual, April in the UK has been the something or other in X years. Driest, wettest, warmest, longest, whatever. Well, the official prediction is that May'll be the coldest in 300 years, to be followed by a 'sizzling' summer. Given that the old joke is that summer in Britain is one sunny day and a thunderstorm, I guess we can assume there'll be two, or even three, days of sun this year. 'Sizzling' in Britain, by the way, is anything above 15 (60) degrees. My own prediction is that the forecast will only be half right. The half about May being brass monkeys weather.

The first reprise of the day . . . MoviStar: Chapter 2

Proving that I am more efficient than this phone company - but what were the chances I wasn't? - I dug out the original contract and found that the number used was none of the three discussed yesterday but my passport number. So . . .
Is Ana there, please.
No. she's left.
Well, can you give her the message that the relevant number for MoviStar is my passport number, xxxxxxxx.
OK. But why?
So she can give it to MoviStar and get them to deliver me the router I've been waiting a week for. And please remind her it has to arrive before the weekend as I'm about to leave the country.
Oh, OK.

Vamos a ver.

Walking through town yesterday, I suddenly realised I was doing what the locals do - walking in front of people as if they weren't there. The very opposite of what I instinctively do in the UK. So this is multiculturalism, I said to myself. With a smile.

Wouldn't you know it, the day I write of my own psychiatric struggles, Dr Theodore Dalrymple brightens our lives by talking of Shakespeare's amazing diagnostic skills.

Which is a nice segue into the day's second reprise . . . .

A little more on my depression. "What", some may ask, "caused the (huge) black dog to visit you and to stay so long. And then to go away and come back again?" I have no idea. All the members of my family have their pet (canine!) theories but there's only one I give any credence to. And then not a lot.

Just before Christmas 2010 I was overwhelmed one morning by an anxiety that came out of nowhere. I visited a psychiatrist that night - I have often wondered since why he was the only one in town with an empty appointments diary - and told him I feared it was a prelude to depression. He gave me an anti-anxiety drug and told me not to worry. I was back the next day, in the throes of depression. He started me on an antidepressant, stressed it'd take at least two weeks to kick in and said that within three months I'd be as right as rain and looking back and laughing at my experience. I'm paraphrasing but I still wouldn't trust his judgement on a horse race. Or much else.

As for the possible cause - For the last 10 years I've been aware that all the females in my family - my mother, my aunt, my two sisters and my two daughters - have an under-active thyroid born of Hashimoto's disease. But not me, I was sure, since it really only hit females. But last year my elder daughter insisted I have the antibody tests, as depression is one of the myriad possible consequences of a malfunctioning thyroid. Eventually I did and, guess what, there were the bloody antibodies. And a recent thyroid panel test showed up low T4, indicating hypothyroidism. So . . . like all my female relations, I'm now taking daily thyroxin. My hope is it'll keep the black dog away from my door. As, frankly, his bark is just as bad as his bite and, in truth, I've really had quite enough of him.

But if my posts don't appear for more than, say, a week, it'll be because the bastard is back. Or I'm dead.

Khoda na Khod.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Spanish experience early this morning, with MoviStar (Telefónica as was):-

Hello. My name is Débeez. We spoke last week about an internet contract.
An internet contract? I don't remember that. What's your name again?
Oh, yes. I remember now.
You told me the router would be delivered within 3 days and it's now 7. And I'm leaving the country soon.
Yeah. The problem is that your ID number doesn't coincide with the number MoviStar has for you as a client. Can you tell me what the number is on your bills?
[Thinking "So, why didn't you call me?" but not wanting to waste my time asking]
I'll call you back.

Hello. The number on the bill is xxxxxxxxxxxx.
No, that's not the number they've got.
Well, maybe they have my NIF, which I got in 2000.
What is it?
OK. I'll talk to them and call you back.
Well, perhaps you could try to do that today as, otherwise, I'm going to cancel the order.
OK. I'll try.

Overview: This is taking far more time than it should because I am an existing customer of Movistar. Not promising, is it?

Another Spanish experience mid morning:-

I tried to book a ferry passage with Brittany Ferries. The page is entirely in Spanish and doesn't offer any other language, as far as I can tell.

I get to the end of the process and have to pay. I use my Spanish credit card and get the message, in Spanish:-

The system does not accept this type of card.

So I try with my equally Spanish debit card and get the message:-

The system does not accept this type of card.

Utterly bemused and beginning to worry, I use my UK debit card. Which is accepted.

So what the hell does this mean? That, if I were Spanish in Spain, I wouldn't be able to buy a ticket? Or that BF know - from previous journeys - that I have a UK card and want to fleece me on the exchange rate? Who the hell knows.

Anyway, here's an article on Europe's Dance Macabre. Or Dance of Death.

And here's one which justifies the claim that Europeans are being hoodwinked into relinquishing their cherished democracy to a rogue band of financial pirates.

And now for something completely different . . . . . .

Some readers may have noticed that this blog didn't appear for longish periods over the last 15 months or so. A few may have wondered why not. Well, it's time to 'fess up.

During this period I've struggled with a depression which was, at times, very severe. And this is British understatement. I believe I'm out of it now. But I felt the same twice last year - most obviously through the summer - and then suffered a relapse on both occasions. No one can predict the future, of course, but, if only for the sake of my two daughters, I hope to God that this isn't going to happen again.

Against the possibility that it might, my daughters have encouraged me - another British understatement - to stay in the UK until the probabilities are favourable. Though I'll be returning to Spain from time to time. Hence my sojourn in Leeds.

So, if there've been times when you've felt this blog has been far from its best, now you know why. This will have been at times when the only positive thing happening in my mind was the posting of a blog, no matter how much below par it was.

Why am writing this? The 'negative' reason is that confession is not going to affect my material future in any way. I won't ever be looking for a job. And the 'positive' reason is that it may help others who are struggling not only to see a light at the end of a tunnel but the bloody tunnel itself.

And it may just help those who are fortunate enough never to face depression but who have to help someone who is struggling with it. If you're one of these, a word of advice - Never, ever tell a depressive to just pull his/her socks up. This is never possible, whereas taking exercise, for example, really is. My daughters, I should stress, were very much of the latter party.

One last thing - I've been trying for the last three months to think of a humorous angle on depression and haven't come up with one. Anyone with any ideas might like to post a comment. Or write to me at


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Coming back from Vigo yesterday on the superb 'middle-distance' trains on this route, I noticed a couple of things. First, work appears to be proceeding on our bit of the high-speed AVE train tracks. But it would be hard to exceed the quality of the current train and the question remains whether money wouldn't have been better spent on remedying the century-old problem that there's only one track. Meaning that one train must get out of the way on another one coming in the opposite direction. In other words, Galicia didn't need the AVE: it just needed a decent modern train track.

The other thing was a man in his 50s or 60s, dressed in a sort of three-piece suit and with tidy, slicked-back hair. With a very short pony tail sticking out of the back of it. A far as I know, this is a privilege bestowed only on bullfighters. Or, in this case, an ex-bullfighter. As is often the way with sightings like this (especially of pretty women), I clocked him again later getting into a car in Pontevedra.

In London, those phone boxes that remain are plastered with cards for prostitutes. These are taken out every night and are back in place the next morning. It keeps someone in work. Anyway, this doesn't happen in Pontevedra and when I walked past the phone outside the health clinic this morning, I noticed there was but a single card pasted to the outside of it - from a humble painter. And no one had yet torn off one of his carefully prepared little strips with his number on. Who can afford paint when you've got food and drink to buy down in the old quarter?

All of which reminds me that today I walked into the town centre using a different route from usual. And was shocked - but not surprised - to see the number and range of shops whose windows were displaying nothing but air. It contrasts with last night when I saw two male students walking out of the shopping centre and getting into two newish cars on which the insurance alone has to be between one and two thousand euros a year. Sons of funcionarios? Successful entrepreneurs? My bet is on the former.

And now I have to go and see my lovely neighbour, Ester, in her Happy Party shop. If it's still in business. So . . .

Finally . . . Dr Osler's word of wisdom for today:-

In seeking absolute truth we aim at the unattainable and must be content with broken portions.

Monday, April 23, 2012

It had to happen. Now that the pavement outside any bar is the last refuge of demon(ised) smokers, some thought has to be given to their creature comforts. And today I saw my first example of a TV which has replaced a window and which faces outside. I didn't hear any noise from it - practically unprecedented in Spain - but there was nobody outside, so maybe the sound was turned down. Or perhaps everyone is given earphones. Anything is possible these days.

As I was rifling through my desk drawer today, I came across a piece of tissue which I'd pasted to a stronger bit of paper. Written on it was the message - Scum and proud of it, you jumped up twat. I've added the comma to make it more understandable. Or at least correct. But I have no idea how or where I got this. Or even whether it's aimed at me. But it helped to make my day.

As did this article on British society by one of my favourite (and most jaundiced) chroniclers, Theodore Dalrymple. It reminds me of one of the reasons I was happy to leave British culture to those who are destroying it, assisted by various bien-pensants.

Talking of British youth, I see a couple more of them have been killed here in Spain by engaging in the activity of 'balconing', usually when high on booze or drugs. Or both. I can't cite The Times article because of their paywall but here's a relevant paragraph:- The so-called balconing craze, which has gripped the Spanish costas in recent years, involves moving from one balcony to another or sometimes jumping from a balcony into a swimming pool below.

And still on Britain . . . The farce of getting the radical muslim firebrand, Abu Quetada, out of the UK has been running for ten years now and it looks as if it has several more to go. This is because the relevant Minister seems to have committed the egregious offence of getting her deadline dates wrong. So the UK capital will continue to merit the nickname of Londonistan for some time yet. And all those foreign governments which used to complain about Britain providing a refuge for all sorts of troublemakers and rabble-rousers must now be laughing up their sleeves.

And still in Britain . . . A young footballer has recovered after collapsing in the middle of a match several weeks ago, when his heart stopped for quite a while. Someone in the UK media has suggested this is "more than a miracle". So, what would that be, then? I suppose I should ask someone who says things like - "I agree one thousand per cent!"

Turning to Spain . . . When I was valuing my house in the UK back in '95, the agent told me that, as we were in the midst of a recession, there wouldn't be a buyer for the house, as it was, essentially, too big for the times. "Technically." he added, "it's worth nothing right now." This came back to me as I was reading that Brussels was denying it was going to activate funds with which to prop up Spanish banks. Who must have many, many properties on their books which are technically worthless but which they're carrying at someone's (pure) guess at their value. Which is a problem which won't go away until all their balance sheets are sanitised. Openly.

Finally . . . Another document I found today was a page of quotations from Dr William Osler. I will post one a day for your delectation, beginning with my favourite:-

We are here to add what we can to life, not to get what we can from life.

I hope it's not to pretentious to say that I regard my daily blog - which can be a tad hard at times - as forming part of my adding to others' lives. Actually, quite possibly the only part. Ah, well. No one's perfect.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A public service announcement: If, of a Sunday morning, you want to find the cake/pastry shop in a strange town, just drive around until you see five to six illegally parked cars all with their hazard lights on. If one of them is parked on a zebra crossing, this will be a clincher. Similarly if one is parked on the road, forcing you to do a slalom to get past.

I mentioned the slow progress of the AVE high-speed train in Galicia and, right on cue, comes the announcement that the contract has been awarded for the appallingly difficult stretch between Lubián (where the land is flat) to Padornelo (where it decidedly isn't). There will be a very long tunnel but, right now, I can't recall exactly how long. Click here if you want/need to know. It will all be finished by end 2015. Sure.

There are regular announcements from the Spanish government on the self-defeating austerity measures which won't help growth at all. One of these is that the cost of a university course will significantly increase. Another is that pensioners will now have to pay for their prescriptions. According to their income, it seems. Quite how this will work is unclear, though there's been talk of a sliding scale of monthly charges. If these have to be paid even if you don't need any prescription filled, it'll just be a poll tax. And analogous to the Tory Party's "granny tax" which is causing so much trouble in the UK.

Finally, what explains the lack of civil unrest in a country with 50% youth unemployment? Can it be due to the fact that Spain has a 'black economy' variously estimated at 20 to 30%? Is it because, as someone has suggested, there is plenty of money under the mattress? Can it be that memories of civil war atrocities act as a damper on emotions? Or is it because so many of the young are living with their parents and/or extending their university courses by failing their exams? I really haven't the faintest idea but I do suspect that Pontevedra, with its solid core of bureaucrats, is unrepresentative of the whole.

Incidentally, I noticed yesterday that, ten years after the introduction of the euro and the demise of the peseta, shops here are still giving the peseta equivalent of your bill in euros. Do they know - and have they always known - something we don't know?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

After his massive elephant-hunting gaffe, the Spanish King has apologised but discounted an abdication. Understandably, rumour has it that a PR campaign is being planned to buff up the tarnished image of the royal house. And, interestingly, the capacity of the British Windsors to bounce back after the Princess Di mistakes is being studied as a model. Though not the 1937 abdication of the man who would be king but who, thanks to his taste in androgynous women, ended up as the Duke of Windsor.

As part of a formal campaign, the Pontevedra police have arrested fourteen people for having unlicensed 'dangerous dogs' on the street. One of these was a Staffordshire bull terrier, which isn't a dangerous breed but has the misfortune to look very like the American pit bull terrier, which is. Talking of campaigns, I wonder if the police will ever get round to having one against drivers using their mobile phones.

I've mentioned the shops in the city which have closed since I was last here. But friends have told me that several new bars have opened in the old quarter. So, no cash for dresses or shoes but plenty for drowning one's sorrows. But I do know of one café on the edge of the old quarter which appears to have closed. This place relied on custom in the form of civil servants working in nearby local government offices, which is why it was never open at the weekends. I guess it's possible it's been hit by the threatened abolition of the 'morning coffee' practice but I rather doubt it, so early in the austerity campaign.

Just going back to the headless goat found on a nearby beach . . . I liked the headline "A dead and decapitated goat appears on Portocelo beach." As opposed to "A live but decapitated goat etc."

I was also taken with the foto of huge 60 million year old dinosaurs' eggs found in some rocks in Chechyna. It struck me it'd be hard to get both your head and your hands around these.

On Spain's never-ending conveyor belt of questionable financial dealings, we now have the case of Ciudad Real airport, which recently featured here as the airport handling only a tiny fraction of that for which it was built. Coming hot on the heels of the news of its closure has come the announcement there's to be an investigation into the possible use of public funds. I'm guessing the conclusion will be that there was. Just a hunch.

Finally . . . When I arrived here last Sunday, I noticed molehills in my back garden. Forty-six of the bloody things. Or forty-seven including the one I found this morning. So, I set to work levelling them before mowing the lawn, while laying plans to capture the mole and to take it for a holiday in the forest. But I might have had a stroke of luck; glancing in the direction of Nice-but-Noisy Toni's garden today, I noticed a few hills had appeared there. So, perhaps the mole has devoured everything there is to eat under my lawn and moved on to greener (or browner) pastures. One can but hope. Firstly, that the creature never returns. And, secondly, that my lawn doesn't collapse onto a web of tunnels.

Friday, April 20, 2012

NOTE: This is a post I wrote a week or so ago but which then went into Drafts. Don't know why. Possibly my fault. Anyway, today's post is the one below this one.

From Hero to Zero. A week or so ago, Argentina's President, Mrs Kirchner, was being widely admired in Spain for taking on Britain over the Falklands/Malvinas. (Think Gibraltar. Though not Ceuta and Melilla.) But things changed abruptly this week when she announced plans to take over 50.01% of the shares of the Spanish company YPF, a subsidiary of Repsol. The Spanish government has said it'll interpret such a move as a 'gesture of hostility to Spain'. And that it would 'bring consequences’. Circumstances change principles, as they say. Get the gunboats out of mothballs. Though it may be tougher than the island of Perejil this time round. Argies may prove tougher than goats.

The Ciudad Real (Don Quijote) airport was built when times were not only good but looked - to some - as if they'd go on for ever. Opened in 2008, it was designed to cope with five million passengers a year, plus up to 90,000 tons of freight. Actual numbers have been a fraction of these and, unsurprisingly, it's now been closed down. It won't be the last of the Good Times airports to go this way.

There's a newcomer to the ranks of Strange American Forenames. We've had Mitt, Newt and Tiger. But now step forward Bubba Watson, the winner of this year's Augusta Masters. There's actually a word bubbing, the definition of which is not for the prudish. And in Australia bub seems to be a diminutive for baby. It's also close to 'blubbing', which possibly explains why he broke down in tears at the moment of his triumph.

An article on the Spanish economy in the New York Times spells it out starkly that Spain could be the next European economy brought down by German-led mismanagement of the euro-zone crisis. It need not turn out that way. But it surely will unless Chancellor Angela Merkel and her political allies inside and outside Germany acknowledge that no country can pay off its debts by suffocating economic growth. Austerity, the one-size-fits-all cure prescribed by Ms. Merkel, is not working anywhere. After weeks of misleading calm, and despite huge injections of liquidity by the European Central Bank, countries are slipping back into recession, unemployment is climbing and deficit forecasts are worsening. Bond markets are especially jittery about Spain and Italy, two of Europe’s largest economies. Talking of the targets imposed by Brussels, the paper says:- With no good way to achieve the numbers, Mr. Rajoy has proposed a number of bad ones, like cutting back on the public investment needed to improve economic competitiveness and worker retraining funds needed to lubricate labor market reforms. He has now proposed a second round of deep cuts targeting schools and health care. Shortchanging tomorrow’s work force to pay for yesterday’s housing bubble makes no economic sense. Finally, the paper returns to criticism of Germany:- These damaging cuts could have been less severe if the European Union had heeded Mr. Rajoy’s plea for greater short-term budgetary flexibility. They could be avoided if Ms. Merkel and her misguided partners would finally recognize that restoring the competitiveness of Europe’s economically weakened south requires more investment in reform and growth and less obsessive targeting of short-term deficit arithmetic. And will we see this investment? Not this year, I don't think. No wonder Madrid is preparing for civil unrest. All so very different from when cash-flush Spanish construction companies were buying into all sort of overseas businesses, such as BAA in the UK.

Finally . . . In which country do the citizens lose more money gambling than in any other? Time for a second mention of the Land of Oz. Where more than 50% of the population lose money on poker machines. And the rest lose it on something else, I suspect.

At last a small sign of protest! Scribbled on a window near my favourite wi-fi café: Capitalism kills. Kill capitalism! No instructions provided.

Talking of killing capitalism . . . Over in Argentina, President Kirchner has made good her threat to nationalise a majority portion of the Repsol subsidiary, YPF. Armageddon has now been promised by an irate Spain, who's calling on both the EU and the USA for support. Presumably in the form of trade-linked measures, rather than invasion.

Wednesday's Champions' League match between Chelsea and Barcelona was a one-sided affair. Barcelona completed 782 passes to Chelsea's 194. And the shots on goal were an even more unbalanced 24 to 1. The result? Chelsea 1 Barcelona 0. It'll be a hell of a return game next week, with Chelsea presumably reducing their attempts on goal to nil. And placing all eleven men on the goal line.

As I gazed down on Pontevedra from my eerie this morning, I noticed the return of two of what used to be Spain's most common bird, the Builders' Crane. It put me in mind of a time when you could see little else down there. Today's cranes, though, aren't dedicated to the construction of soon-to-be-very-empty-flat blocks but to a new bridge being thrown over the river Lerez. Long-term readers may recall that work was suspended for nine months on this after it'd been found that no building licence had been obtained. These things happen.

Well, yesterday's sale of Spanish bonds - as is the usual way of things - went better than expected and the allegedly highly significant interest rate of 6% wasn't reached. Somehow, though, I don't think this means the euro crisis is over.

In a revolutionary move, Barclays Bank has announced that senior executive bonuses - well 50% of them - will be contingent on achievement of profitability. Whatever next? Dismissal for dishonesty or stupidity? Reductions in the obscene salaries?

Finally . . . Something rather extraordinary was found on a nearby beach this week - a decapitated goat with all four of its legs tied together. A black magic ritual? A sacrifice to some ancient Celtic god? Or just a clan war among the local goats? I suspect we'll never know.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The King of Spain has been in a spot of bother this week. Despite the straitened times, he decided to swan off to southern Africa to shoot, of all things, elephants. I guess he momentarily forgot that he's the Honorary President of the International Wildlife Fund. Well, this week at least. Who knows about next week. He also chose to be snapped in front of a dead elephant and alongside a woman who, as they say here, is not his wife. Interestingly, she turns out to be German. So, not content with taking over the economic management of the country, they're now doing the same to the monarchy. Anyway, the King has said he's sorry. Though this hasn't stopped the calls for him to abdicate.

Talking of control of the economy, I see that EU inspectors from Brussels who were in Madrid have been demanding to know how the Spanish government intends to bring the regions under control. On this subject, here's an article on said regions and their debts. Suppliers are going bankrupt waiting for payment, which must be particularly annoying if you paid commissions upfront to get the business in the first place.

To be more positive, Saturday was the 20th anniversary of the launch of the AVE high-speed train in Spain. The first line ran from Madrid to Sevilla, which just happened to be the bailiwick of the then President, Felípe Gonzalez. So, two decades on, how are we doing with the AVE in Galicia? Well, none of the government's promises/predictions have ever held water and I increasingly think my pessimistic guess of 2018 is likely now to prove optimistic. If, indeed, we ever see the train at all. Perhaps our only hope is that the current president, Mariano Rajoy, is Galician and may not be averse to some pork-barrel politics.

Talking of Galician politicians . . . The mayor of Santiago is looking at criminal charges over the 291,000 euros he owes the IR as unpaid sales taxes on sixty-one properties he invested in. Apparently his timing was off and he now owes seven million euros to various "financial entities". Presumably he did all this (mis)investing in his own time.

Still on Galicia, here's an excellent site devoted to pictures of the towns and cities of this region. Aptly enough, it's called Discover Galicia.

I've read a stack of articles (well, six or seven) on the Spanish economy this week. And none of them has had even a hint of optimism about them. Quite the opposite. One was entitled "Spain marching headlong into Depression", for example. The consensus is that Spain can't achieve the deficit target set by Brussels/Berlin and that attempts to do so via 'austerity measures' will take the economy from recession to depression. And there's also agreement that it would be difficult-to-impossible to bail Spain out, should she (as expected) become insolvent. One wonders who Mrs Merkel is taking advice from. Obviously not from the writer of this comment:- "Under EU orders, Spain is promising what might be the tightest fiscal squeeze that it or any other European economy has ever faced."

This comprehensive and very readable article spells out the essential dichotomy, viz. that Spain is too big to fail and too big to save, if she does.

And here's Paul Krugman, writing from a wider perspective:- "It’s hard to avoid a sense of despair. Rather than admit that they’ve been wrong, European leaders seem determined to drive their economy — and their society — off a cliff. And the whole world will pay the price."

Finally . . . Can there be any clearer sign of the recession/depression than this? One of the wi-fi cafés I used to frequent no longer offers this facility. "Why not?" I asked. "New owners." was the reply. Well, the new broom has swept me out of the place. They'll be sorry.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Some random observations having been back in Pontevedra for three days, after a five month absence:-

- The town is as tidy and as apparently prosperous as ever. If you ignore all the closed shops.

- There are some new roundabouts to negotiate. Of course.

- People still walk straight out of shops in front of you.

- The countryside is blighted with unfinished houses and developments.

- None of the 17 houses behind mine have been bought/occupied yet.

- The Atlantic Blanket is as much a spirits-dampener as ever.


- The women are as feminine and as attractive as ever. And the men just as masculine. Which is the way it should be.

So, Plus ça change . . .

On an even lighter note, here's a little tale I heard today:-

Mrs Merkel flew into Athens and had the following conversation with the Immigration Officer at the airport:-
No, just a few days.

Short and sweet.

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's a classic, I suppose. Create a problem and then profit from providing the solution. As you approach the always-tiresome security checks at Liverpool airport, there are signs pointing to a Fast Check alternative. And above the entrance is the legend - The Faster
way to Relax. I guess this one of those services to be accessed by the sort of elite folk who are the target of the idiot who swam towards the Oxford boat in last week's varsity boat-race and almost got decapitated for his pains.

Walking through Madrid airport, en route to Vigo, two things stood out. The first was a shop built around the passageway, meaning that you literally had to walk through it on the way to your destination. And the second was a restaurant called Ars. Which might be a tad off-putting for some Brits.

At the macro level, Spain's economy has had some bad press recently. Down at the micro level, it was dispiriting to see that several more shops had closed since I was last here, as well as some estate agents and bank branches. It's hard for me to remember what the places had been selling before they closed but I do know that one of today's batch had sold upmarket dresses and another had retailed shoes.

An altogether more uplifting closure was experienced recently by a Spanish woman in her eighties. Faced with a Civil War communal grave, she was able to identify her sister's bones by the single earring found next to her body. Because of an ear infection, she had not been wearing the other one when arrested by Franco's forces, prior to being tortured and executed. The surviving sister - who had kept the second earring for just this possibility - was quoted as saying "To see the other earring was the moment of my life. To be able to take her out of the ditch has sealed my wound." How very sad she had to wait so long.

Finally . . .Spain's civil servants are famous for taking a 'coffee break' of considerable length during at least once during the working day. But, as observed above, times are tough and the government has said it'll put a stop to this practice/abuse. As said servants of the people seem to regard it as a statutory right, it'll be interesting to see how successful the government is. My guess is Not very.