Driving back from Basingstoke-cum-Reading yesterday afternoon, I tried to fool my misbehaving sat-nav into guiding me back to Headingley. As I knew the way, this was all about checking whether I could surmount the problem of the thing's failure to have a UK map in its directory. Initially all seemed well, in that it correctly showed me on the M1 as I drove north. But I started to suspect it wasn't entirely correct as regards the A roads we were passing over or under. And when we got into the outskirts of Leeds, I realised two things were wrong:- 1. My actual position didn't tally with where the map said I was; and 2. The voice and the map were not in sync. Thus it was that, parked outside my daughter's flat, the map had me stopped in the middle of the A65 a mile away. So, not a huge success. But at least I got it to acknowledge the existence of the UK. Which is a start.
My Anglo-Teutonic friend - known affectionately within my family as "German Geoff" - told me of a cheap Spanish wine which had wowed the judges in an international tasting competition, beating wines costing up to ten times more than its price of only pounds 3.59. It's a brew called Toro Loco (Mad Bull) and is produced in Valencia from the tempranillo grape used for all the Rioja reds.This sounded rather incredible so I went off to a nearby Aldi to check it out. Sad to relate, there wasn't a single bottle of Toro Loco on the shelves. So, rather than come away empty-handed, I decided to try a bottle of alcoholic ginger-beer called Fursty Ferret. But, reading the label in the check-out queue, I realised it was just plain ale and put it back on the shelf. And so did leave empty handed.
Driving back home, I recalled being a tad shocked at the prices of the drinks in the pub outside Reading station yesterday. Pounds 3.25 for a bottle of Mexican Corona beer; pounds 3.50 for a pint of cider; and pounds 3.70 for a pint of Guinness. Verily has it been said that it's cheaper to get your pleasures in Spain. By the way, be prepared to wait to get served in a pub in the UK. Especially if the people in front of you are paying by credit card or getting three pints of Guinness slowly poured for them. Or, in my case, both. It could have been worse - in Spain they would've been asked for proof of identity. And to both enter a PIN and sign a pice of paper. Belt and Braces stuff.
There's a bit of a fuss here in the UK about a judgment from the European Court of Justice that votes must be given to prisoners, presumably because their human rights have been infringed. The government is posturing resistance but will have to give away eventually, when everyone's forgotten about it. Far better would be the Continental Solution of introducing voting into Britain's prisons, allowing the inmates to place their crosses and then losing the ballot boxes on their way to the counting house. Sadly, though, this is never going to happen.
One of my Spanish intercambios - Raúl - asked me this evening why so many Leeds students were decked out in fancy-dress costumes so often. In Spain, he said, this was only done during fiestas. I had to confess I had no real idea but that I now knew there were four, not just three, shops catering for this demand in the mile or so between here and the university. Nor could I explain why the students seemed able to wander abroad on any night of the week. Especially as exams should be coming up. It's a different world, I said, from the one I'd inhabited as a student. But that was back when only 7% of the population went to university, not the 40+% that does now.
Finally . . . I was going to include a few references to articles on the woeful state of Spain's finances in general and the banking sector in particular but, as the papers are full of them, I figure anyone interested can easily find what he or she is looking for, without my help. Plus I'm not sure I understand it. The Bankia bank asked for 4.5 billion euros last week but this week upped it 20 billion. Have they got no one who can count? Or were they hoping to hide their really, really toxic assets for a while longer but ran out of chutzpah?
What I really need is for Charles Butler of IBEX Salad to tell me whether it's finally time to join the capital rush from Spain. Or anyone else who's got an inside track. I'm listening . . .