Friday, June 29, 2012

As they say, if I had a pound (or even a euro) for every paragraph like this . . . We recently went on a foodie fact-finding trip to Galicia in north-western Spain. It’s rainy and mossy, steeped in Celtic mysticism; less visited than some parts of the country (unless you’re a pilgrim headed for Santiago de Compostela). But it’s home to some absolute classics of Spanish cuisine. Yes, Galicia does have some great seafood and wines; but rainy and mossy it ain't between May and October. Nor is it shrouded in bloody Celtic mysticism. Unless you think that shops selling figurines of witches and similar tat amounts to mysticism. The writer of this typical bit of nonsense was 'hosted' by the Martin Codex bodega. Which means we can ignore anything he says about wine.

As it happens, I've just read some more deathless prose on a site belonging to a company called Northern Exposure. Their CEO had been to northern Spain and loved it. Now, I used to think CEO stood for Chief Executive Officer. But not in this company, it seems. For them it stands for Chief Experience Officer. Each to his own, I guess.

So, as logic dictated, Mrs Merkel has relented and something or other will be rapidly brought into being. By the end of the year. Only time will tell whether the comfort provided to struggling economies will last longer than usual. And whether Mrs M has really secured her quid pro quo of tighter control of the eurozone's banks. As of now, "details remain sketchy". But we're on the upswing of the roller-coaster and that's all that counts today.

If there is going to be closer EU/German supervision of banks, one wonders how many more Bankías will emerge. This titan was formed by a merger of 7 Spanish savings banks, all of which had probably been rather cavalier in its lending to builders and developers. An international team has pored over Bankía's books and come up with the number of 13.6bn euros as the size of the black hole on its balance sheet. The remedy, of course, is 100% nationalisation and injections of 19bn in July and a further 12bn in October from EU rescue funds. Will anyone be sacked? Maybe.

I'm approaching the end of Paul Preston's The Spanish Holocaust and feel I can say with both conviction and accuracy that the Catholic Church does not come out of it well. Some priests, yes. But the Church, decidedly not. As for Franco and his equally blood-thirsty generals, let's just hope that, for them, the Catholic belief in Hell is well-founded and that they're all booked into it for eternity. A nastier bunch of psychopaths you'd be hard pushed to assemble.

The Spanish are ruled by several levels of government. One, of course, is the 17 Autonomous Communities (or regions), the abolition of which - some say - would solve Madrid's fiscal problems at a stroke. This, though, is never going to happen. But one level which certainly is for the chop is that of the numerous mancomunidades around the country. God knows what these really do but they seem to be an association of local mayors and, presumably, one justification said mayors would put forward for their own existence. Which, with this measure, surely becomes more precarious. Many mayors, by the way, have salaries greater than the Prime Minister's. Not to mention the perks of the job. Which somehow grow when times are good and contracts must be signed. Some of them have even been known to be re-elected while in prison. It's a rum country at times.

We bloggers have to stick together. Here's Trevor giving due credit to Lenox for his report on a laughingly bad translation of the verb Volcar in some PR stuff from the idiots who run Mojácar's Turismo. Enjoy.

Finally . . . Believe it or believe it not, I have twice this week smelled the odour of semen when getting out of my car. And I had concluded that the guilty party must be a plant or tree. Like the dog-shit tree that I used to have in my front garden. And so it turns out to be. Click here for the proof.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I watched last night's Spain-Portugal penalty shoot-out in a bar full of rather stressed Spaniards. What surprised me, as the final shot went in, was that the females around me seemed even more excited than the males. Tonight, I'm writing as the second half begins, with the unlikely score of Italy 2 Germany 0. With both goals having been scored by the talented but unhinged Mario Balotelli.

The bar I'm in has two more TVs than usual, with one of these facing the smokers out in the street. One of the internal TVs looked rather odd and I finally realised it was the back of the one outside, explaining why it was a reverse image. With badges on the footballers' right breast, rather than the left one. For example. And all the text back to front.

Talking of outside - One thing the anti-smoking legislation has done is guaranteed that, if you eat outside, you'll be surrounded by smokers. In summer, that is; in winter the smokers are on their own.

Just going back to books briefly . . . It's not unusual - especially outside the summer months - for me to be found reading a book in one of the town's numerous café-bars, alone. And I sometimes wonder, given the Spanish love of talking, whether I'm not being pitied as Johnny-No-Mates who's had to resort to reading because he's got no one to chat to. Ah, well. I talk a lot to myself.

Coincidentally, I've been meaning for a while to talk about the word 'mate'. It's tempting to see this a synonym for 'friend'. But sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. And it's very hard to say what the rules are and when they're acceptable and when they're not. I might, for example, say "Two pints, please" to a barman but never to a barmaid. And a delivery man might say "Mate" to me but not to my daughter. But it's too simple to say the word is confined to males. I will ponder it further. Meanwhile, be aware that the word is a trap and should be avoided in all instances until you know the secret.

On the eve of yet another summit, some interesting observations on the euro:- There is no doubt that the euro, like Dr. Strangelove's doomsday machine, is an infernal device destined to blow up one day, but also so designed that any attempt to dismantle it simply detonates the bomb. It is very easy to structurally distort an economy within the framework of a currency union but very difficult to correct the distortions once generated. This is why so many rightly say that in Spain it is all pain as far ahead as the eye can see. 

Isabel Pantoja is a singer who's on trial for her part in the money-laundering activities of her (already-convicted partner), the ex-mayor of Marbella. She had a day in court today, where she was greeted with cries of Guapa! (Beautiful), rather than Ladrona (Thief). Such is the power of fame. As Ken Dodd discovered. And possibly Harry Redknapp.

Finally . . . Owl News: I suspect that, like bulls that have survived a bullfight, the pigeons are wising up to the lack of movement on Ollie's part. So, I've armed myself with a rolled-up newspaper as a back-up. Birds are not as bird-brained as you might think.

Please forgive any shortcomings in this post; I've written it with one eye on the football match. Which ended on the right note.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The eurozone: You'll be pleased to hear - well, some of you certainly will - that I've decided to follow the example of the expert on Egyptian politics who pronounced:- "I've given up analysis! There's nothing to do but watch."

Each walk around Pontevedra throws up more closed shops. But also some new ones. The place opposite the Post Office which used to be a cake shop-cum-café has finally re-opened - as an upmarket outlet(Bimba) for ladies' handbags, scarves, et al. As I've said before, I would have thought the town had a surfeit of these already. On one of the paseo streets, an expensive shoe shop is having a closing-down sale, though I suspect reductions from 150 to 130 euros may not entice many. I wonder if the owners are behind the new venture next to Burger King called simply Cheap Shoes.

As I was buying printer ink today, a young delivery-man entered and asked the dependiente two short questions. The second of these was "Which street am I in?" Simple, but we were all still in shock from the first: - "Am I in Pontevedra?" I guess his sat-nav was bust but could he possibly have failed to read any of the dozens of signs on the town's perimeter?

Tonight, of course, sees the Euros semi-final between Spain and our neighbours, Portugal. And I'm writing this just before the match begins, so that I can be sure of having something to post, come what may. On the subject of the quality of Spanish tiki-taka football, here's a nice article from Guy Hedgecoe of IberoSphere. Guy takes a slightly heretical view of things but I certainly know what he means. And I do like his description of Spain's team as containing seemingly countless pixie-like midfielders. Personally, I see nothing wrong in being pixie-like or undersized.

Talking of football . . . One British commentator suggested this week that perhaps the country should give up all aspirations and just accept that its team would never win anything because it can only ever be 'average'. Yes, but stuffed full of players being paid millions of pounds a year for this level of performance.

Books: The situation is really quite ridiculous. My visiting friend, Mike, travels light with a Kindle. Me? As has alway been my stupid custom, I'm reading six real books at the same time. These range from the 84 pages of Pedro Páramo to the 630 pages of Preston's The Spanish Holocaust. My propensity to approach books like this possibly explains why I don't remember a thing about a book five minutes after I've finished it. And why my books are full of marginal marks and are dog-eared for pages I've particularly enjoyed. In theory, this allows me to go back to bits I've really enjoyed after ten or twenty years. In practice, I never have. Too busy trying to read another six books at once. BTW - It's only five books as of this evening. I've finished Pedro Páramo and am looking forward to hearing my Dutch friend, Peter, explain why he rates this as the best novel/novella ever written.

The region of Andalucía has received 41 billion euros from the EU since 1986. The tap, though, ran dry in November last year, when Brussels detected irregularities in the 2010 accounts. The Commission has now sent a team to look further into this. At risk are funds of around 1 billion euros a year. No one in Spain will be very surprised at this news. Nor will they believe the assurances from the local government spokesman that the situation has been addressed and that the tap will soon be re-opened.

Finally . . . There's an Argentinean Archbishop who's been having it off with a parishioner for a couple of years. Or, as it's put in newspaper Spanish, he and she have been in a relación sentimental. Nice. Anyway, the Catholic Church has agreed to let him go. Which seems like a smart move to me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

There's a junction down near the A Barca commercial centre which is a thing of either true brilliance or rank stupidity. As you approach it, with an eye on the traffic coming from the left, there's vegetation on the central verge. This used to form a partial block of your view. But vegetation grows and now the block is total. So, either this is a case of potentially fatal negligence or a clever example of how to force traffic to stop because it can't see a bloody thing. You choose. I'm going with brilliance. Honest.

Ana Botín is the daughter of the chap who set up the Santander Bank empire. She heads up the UK organisation and announced a week or so ago that she wanted to 'transform banking in the UK'. Not, one hopes, in the direction of Spanish banking. Perhaps she could start by ridding Santander UK of the reputation it has for achieving the most complaints to the Ombudsman.

I read recently of a couple of giant tortoises that had split up after more than a hundred years together. The male, it seems, had turned his back (shell?) on the female. I was reminded of my first night in my lodgings in the Seychelles back in '65, when constant love-making - or efforts at it - between two of these creatures penned below my window deprived me of most of my sleep.

I've finally discovered why baby-carriers are so much bigger than the push-chairs which served my two daughters. These days you can lift child and chair out the car as a single unit and seat them in a frame with wheels. Plus, I've been assured, a vehicle like this with big wheels is easier for a jogging parent - almost said 'mother'! - to push the bairn ahead of him/her.

Some interesting facts:-
1: Rembrandt sold his dead wife's grave and burial plot to pay for the grave of his mistress.
2: London is drier than Barcelona, Rome, Istanbul and Dallas. And it gets only half as much rain as Sydney. Whatever that means in gallons/litres, it's bound to fall during both Wimbledon and the Olympics.

Finally . . . Can anyone vouch for the gentleman who sent me this message yesterday? Dear Friend, 
I am Mr. Bernard Williams, the Auditor General, Santander Bank, UK. In the course of my auditing, I discovered a floating fund in an account, which was opened in 1990 at Abbey National Bank before it was bought over by Santander Group of which I am the auditor, belonging to a dead foreigner who died in 1999. Kindly view the attached memo for more details.

Finally, finally . . . News of a book written by a fellow blogger and friend of mine. After he's sent me a free copy, I'll review it. Positively.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Well, I promised a report on the owl. In brief, it seemed to do what it was bought for, in that, firstly, it caused a fair degree of humour on the part of the bar staff. And, secondly, it caused the pigeons to move at least a couple of yards away. Indeed, some even took flight, albeit to return in a short while. More testing is clearly required.

Meanwhile, the bird station in my back garden has been provisioned with seed, peanuts and water. Our impression is that the male blackbird has been making reconnaissance sorties but we can't be sure. Again, more time is required.

Then there is the TV-be-Gone. So far I've succeeded with every TV I've pointed it at but this morning's café was indicative of what I'm up against. The noise coming from the group playing on the TV was louder than average, as I tried to catch up with my correspondence. So I switched off the TV. Only to find that the noise was coming from the bloody radio. As is often the case in Spain, they were on simultaneously and the (unwatched) TV was the quieter of the two. So not worth turning off, in short.

Talking of TVs . . . I didn't watch the final third of England's match against Italy last night. There were only two outcomes possible - a shameful, embarrassing win or an ignominious defeat - and I didn't want to be there for either of these. I heard some time after the match that England's possession for the tournament as a whole was 40%. Meaning that the figure was considerably higher before last night's encounter with Italy. Of course, all the pundits are now saying that keeping possession was a basic talent which England lacked. Well, perhaps someone should tell the goalkeeper that hoofing the ball up the pitch in the hope it might eventually arrive at a player in his own team is simply asinine. Where is the much-trumpeted intelligence of Roy Hodgson? Can't he see this and have a word in Joe Hart's ear. Like Stop!!, for example.

Walking past the religious knick-knacks shop last night, I realised it was probably the only one in town without huge discount signs on its window. I guess that's logical; as times get worse, the need for talismans rises. Especially those of the saint of lost causes - Jude? I wonder who covers redundancy and unemployment. Either in the Catholic world or the Greek Orthodox world.

A new experience for me today - As I approached some pedestrian lights in my car, a woman started to cross despite the fact they were on red for her. But, as she was rather attractive, I didn't really mind and I was quite taken by her Spanish arrogance as she sashayed across the road, head in the air. So I didn't blow my horn at her until she'd reached the other side.

As you all know, there've been quite a few bank mergers in Spain. Here in Galicia we had the fusion of our two large savings banks into a single proper bank. Today it's emerged that five of the directors of one of the constituent banks paid each other five million euros just ahead of the merger. It's just possible they'll be investigated and charged. One lives in hope.

Finally . . . The EU at its best. Do read the article before watching the video.

So, after a few months away, what are the observable changes in Pontevedra? Well, there are more shuttered shops and more beggars panhandling on the streets. In particular, there are more wandering troubadours in Veggie Square. In fact, it sometimes seems there's a conveyor belt of these. Needless to say, they add to the ambient noise, making it even more difficult to hear what's being said to you. There are a few new bars down in the old quarter and a couple of refurbished ones. One of the latter is called Chirala, which I thought might offend a Muslim or two. Given that the favoured canines here are the French bulldog and the pug, there are inevitably more ugly dogs on the streets. And there are more bikes hurtling past you in the pedestrian areas, as people try to save on petrol.

Incidentally, someone wrote to me this week, describing Pontevedra as one of the nicest cities in the world. I don't have any difficulty agreeing with that.

There were three women arrested at 8.30pm in town last week, having filled up a supermarket trolley with clothes from one of the shops just as it was closing. The report said they were from (my) barrio of Poio. This, of course, is slang for gypsies and it wasn't the first time they'd been collared. As ever, the value of the clothes fell below 400 euros, meaning they'd be done for only a misdemeanour and not a felony. They must carry a calculator. Or a mobile phone, I guess.

A bit more light has been thrown on the workings of Spain's now-notorious cajas/caixas - the locally run savings banks. One of them - El Cam - had a ballerina as chair of its Steering Committee. She admitted she had no idea how banks worked and had signed everything put in front of her. I bet she did, on the huge salary she was getting. Reports like this don't go down to well in Germany, of course.

The French ministress for Culture is determined to eradicate prostitution in France and wants a similar approach taken throughout the EU. Fat chance, I would have thought. Here in Spain, the government has - 'on economic grounds' - just scrapped plans to ban the graphic brothel and escort ads which adorn several back pages in every national, regional and local newspaper. Which doesn't even hint at eradication.

Senior figures in Spanish life - politicians above all - are not terribly good at admitting culpability and apologising for their nefarious activities. The latest example is the country's leading judge, who was fingered for fiddling his expenses and using public funds to spend weekends with a young man. Announcing to his peers that he was resigning because the pressure had become insupportable, he insisted he was not conscious of having done anything wrong. Just the sort of chap you want at the top of the judiciary, eh?

Talking of politicians . . . I saw an interview with the No. 2 in the government on Friday night. To say it was 'soft' would be a gross understatement. The interviewer confined himself to lobbing easy questions and then sitting back for a ten minute dissertation. No challenges at all. It was like British TV in the 1950s. But, then, all channels are government controlled, so what can we expect?

Finally . . . For those interested, here's an article on the dire state in which eurozone members find themselves. And here's a detailed commentary on the Spanish economy. 

Finally, finally . . . As I type this, England are putting in their worst performance yet. Their ability to give the ball away has reached vertiginous new heights. I do so hope they don't win this game against Italy. Even on penalties. Especially on penalties.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Busy day today, so I'm offering you a foto gallery.

So . . . Here's a foto of a couple heading back, I guess, from their wedding on a bike and sidecar. That sentence is a bit ambiguous but I'm sure you'll understand it. And notice that no one is wearing a crash helmet.

And here, looking the other way, is a picture of our new bridge, which opened the other day, on schedule. Well, I say on schedule but this was the revision. All work stopped on the bridge a couple of years ago when some sedulous clerk noticed it didn't have a building permit.

Looking back, here are couple of shots of one of the fancy dress shops in Headingley which cater for students with a lot of time on their hands.

I was going to give you a video of today's big race at Ascot - when the Wonder from Down Under only won by half a nostril - but, after an hour, it was only 60% uploaded and I have to go and eat, drink and jump over a few fires. God bless St. John; San Juan; San Xoán; et al.

So, finally, here are Chica and Owl, outside my usual place in Veggie Square. The latter was put to the test at midday today and I will report the results tomorrow.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Well, you wait around for a day or two and the amount needed by Spain rises from the last figure cited this week of 350 billion euros to a new peak of450 billion. Shades of the Spanish property market in 2006, when the fever reached, well, fever pitch, I guess.

Meanwhile Spain’s woes are mounting relentlessly and the collapse of confidence has at last begun to infect blue-chip companies, with groups such as Iberdrola, Red Electrica, and Gas Natural facing a jump in borrowing costs of 30 to 50 basis points since Friday.

Talking about Spain's property market - or what's left of it - Some expert has today opined that it's so far only fallen half as much as it should/will do. Some evidence for this comes in the report in the Voz de Galicia yesterday that Banco Santander was selling 76 flats at 20-30 thousand euros each. Interest is said to be high. Which is not terribly surprising, given what they would have sold for (100k+?) 5 or 6 years ago. Which reminds me . . . None of the 23 new houses behind mine seems to have been sold Or, if they have, the owners are clearly sitting on their (unused) assets.

Articles on tax declarations start to appear in British newspapers several months before the deadline for submission. Here in Spain, there was an article in yesterday's Diario de Pontevedra about changes to this year's reporting requirements. The deadline is next week. I wonder if this tells us anything about the respective cultures. And about me, as I've just started to prepare mine . . . En passant, the Guide to the Income Tax form that I've just downloaded is a mere 155 pages long.

As midsummer day approaches, along with the feast day of the patron saint of Santiago, Galicia and Spain - St James - the locals are gearing up to queue up for free sardines, drink and then jump over one of the various bonfires that have been built up for the occasion. Health & Safety? You have to be joking. We have higher priorities here.

News on the bird front: The local blackbird has strayed from Toni's demesne to eat the bread I threw on the lawn yesterday. But no attempt yet to use the 'feeding station'. Which is probably the domain of smaller birds.

Driving home late last night, I heard a chap on the radio mention Jorgito (George Borrow) and La Biblia en España (The Bible in Spain). The dissertation seemed to be a satirical jab at how Spain is perceived and several references were made to España de cañe. cañe is slang for coffee and I'd be interested to know what the expression really means. Possibly the same as café para todos.

If interested, you can get more info on GB from my web page. Must remove the ad for the sale of my ex property in the hills.

Finally . . . More on the videos of singing and dancing in Spanish banks by disgruntled customers.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

It's all funny money, isn't it. Depending on whom you listen to, Spain (more accurately, her banks) needs a handout of 16, 25, 62, 100 or even 350 billion euros. Self-evidently, no one knows any more than you, me or my deceased dog. And, as I forecast last week, we're already hearing suggestions that dates and deadlines will be set so as to accommodate Europe's long summer holidays in July and August. Confidence-inspiring it certainly ain't.

Anyway, back to the daily grind . . . Having seen some old friends in the UK enjoying a host of feathered friends using a 'feeding station' in their garden, I bought one and brought it back with me. Despite my minimal DIY skills, I managed to assemble this a couple of days ago and set it up with a supply of peanuts. Since then, nothing. Absolutely nothing! Not even one of the forty sparrows that used to live in my roof. Current theories are:- 1. The birds have been frightened off by a cat which has taken to walking through my garden since the death of said dog; and 2. It wasn't wise of me to take the big plastic owl into the garden to show it to my lovely neighbour, Ester. Worst of all, I see Toni has blackbirds in his garden.

Talking of Toni . . . I was in the front garden when a couple of gypsies came to ask for foodstuffs. Toni's excuse for not giving them anything was that his wife wasn't in. Which they seemed to find acceptable. A lot more acceptable than my response of "No entiendo." Such is life.

Well, I went to the regional tax office (the Facenda, as opposed to the Hacienda) to ask about the re-instated Wealth Tax (the Patrimonio). The chap at the Information desk was rather amused and said he'd never heard of this. He suggested I try a third office (the ORAL) but, not wanting to waste further time, I went on the net and quickly found that it had, indeed, been re-introduced (bad) but that the the threshold of one million euros was way beyond my assets level (good). So, that's that.

The Euros: Just one (third party) comment:- The events of this season cannot have left anyone in any doubt as to whether England can win the European Championship defending deep, playing cautiously and inviting pressure from their opponents. Of course they can. [God forfend!] By the same writer:- Can they win the competition? If Terry and Lescott stay strong, if their opponents continue to spurn chances, if good fortune smiles on them, they can. But it won’t be pretty to watch. No, it bloodywell won't. And who on earth wants it to happpen?

One of the internet cafés I use has come up with a new definition of 'outdoors'. Basically, what they've done is to put a large translucent plastic 'tent' over their external tables and taken away the door between this and the café itself. As there's no ventilation in the tent, cigarette smoke quickly makes its way into the café proper. Which I realised when my eyes started to smart this morning. I mentioned the probable illegality of this to the waiter, who looked crestfallen. But he always does; so this was no measure of anything. I said I knew it wasn't his fault and he smiled and thanked me. But he didn't apologise for the pain in my eyes.

Talking about apologising - this is something that comes easily to the Spanish. As it does to me these days. The simple reason is that we rarely mean it. I'd go as far as to say that the Spanish are the best in the world at apologising. Essentially because they get so much practice at it - for parking in front of your garage, bumping into you in the street, jumping the queue, etc., etc. All of these, by the way, assume the offender has been caught in flagrente and has had to say something.

Finally . . . And taking of manners . . . Here's a picture of a car which parked near us in Vigo yesterday, on a zebra crossing. Of course, the driver left the hazard lights on to show the car wasn't really there. After ten minutes she emerged from somewhere and proceeded to park parallel to the legitimately parked cars, blocking one of the two lanes. There she waited until her friend turned up twenty minutes later. Inconsiderate? Moi! Viva yo. Yo tengo un gran Audi!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I went to the tax office today to get the forms I need to make my declaration(s). Or, rather, I went yesterday and they told me the office had been moved a mile or so to the edge of town. Having gone there today and passed through the airport-style security, I approached the window where they were selling (yes, selling) the forms. I was the only customer but, once the woman there had got over her surprise that I wasn't doing this on the internet, she told me I needed to get a ticket and pointed to a machine two metres away. So I got my ticket V82 and then joined the queue at the window. Except that I didn't as there was still no-one there but me. Having got the form for my income, I asked the woman if the Wealth Tax had been re-introduced and, if so, could I have that form to check if it covered me. Yes, she said, it has. But the form was now being sold by the regional tax office in some other part of town. As I often say, I'm sure all this makes sense to someone. I suppose it does keep two people under-employed, as opposed to just one. But I preferred it when both forms were available from the same office right in the centre of town. But, then, I'm only a customer.

Which group of people do you think represents these percentages:-
  • 1% of the general population?
  • 4% of company chief executives?
  • 25% of prisoners? (And responsible for 60-70% of disturbances.)
The answer, of course, is psychopaths - infamous for their inability to empathise with others. Though some of them can fake this, apparently. Reading a few pages of Paul Preston's mammoth work The Spanish Inquisition this afternoon I found myself wondering just how high this percentage was in the military commanders who drove the 1936 uprising. The details of the numberless atrocities defy belief.

So, Greece can't meet the terms of their bailout package. Can there really be anyone on the planet who believed they would?

Talking of credibility . . . Does anyone know what the G20 Group actually decided on? In detail, I mean. Where the Devil always lurks.

Just one (third party) comment on the England-Ukraine match of Monday night - However many good habits Roy Hodgson tries to instil, England’s inability to control territory and possession turns every match into a stomach-churning ride. Do not expect Italy on Sunday to be any different. Exactly. Very unworthy winners last night. Even ignoring the goal controversy.

Celebrating the softest goal ever scored in footballing history, Wayne Rooney mimicked the application of hairspray to his expensively-acquired coiffure. It's hard to imagine that 30 years ago footballers would be using such a thing. Never mind admitting it in public. Possibly not even 20 years ago. But I knew that times had changed for ever when, about 15 years ago, I counted thirteen beauty products on the shelves of the bathroom used by my teenage stepson. And I don't mean I realised he was gay.

Finally . . . I was pleased to find in Vigo this afternoon I'm not the only one to think of buying a (large) plastic owl to keep the pigeons at bay. Here's a foto of one hanging above customers outside a café in the city. I've yet to test mine but, weather permitting, will do so tomorrow. I have, though, tried out my TV-be-Gone - with great success. I'd previously decided it probably wouldn't be wise to switch off all the TVs in the bar in which I was watching the Spain match on Monday night.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

There's quite a lot of corruption in Spain. The latest seems to involve a cove who diverted 40 million euros - yes, forty million - in the wrong direction. But the scandal which is currently thrilling the Spanish centres on the President of the General Council of the Judiciary and the Supreme Court. He's a man in his sixties who's long postured as a pillar of Catholic society and as a good husband and father. At weekends, though, he's been jetting off to spend time with his young boyfriend, one of his bodyguards. With the emphasis on 'body'. As if this wasn't dim enough, he's been using public funds to finance the trips. To the tune of 28,000 euros. Which is, of course, peanuts compared with the 40 million siphoned off by the guy I mentioned earlier. But it's like the old joke about lawyers in Heaven, we get a lot of politicians fiddling millions but we don't get many judges living a double life of such a colourful nature.

I've mentioned a couple of times over the years that Spain may be the only country in the world where yellow is considered an aggressive colour for a car. But, truth to tell, I saw a yellow car being driven very aggressively in the UK last week. Almost inevitably, though, it was a Seat León.

I thought that GLT (goal line technology) was being introduced in the Euros. Apparently not, much to the irritation of the Ukrainians. Who deserved not only to equalise against England but also to win the match. England, of course, played their traditional game of Here's-the-Ball-We-Don't-Want it, though even more than usual. Surely they can't beat Italy next Sunday. Unless they do a Chelsea.

I haven't watched Spanish TV for a long time but I tuned in tonight for the England-Ukraine game. And it was good to see that the verities are as eternal as ever. Before the game, there was minimal discussion, slotted in between endless adverts; at half time there was nothing but ads; and as soon as the ref. blew the final whistle there were yet more ads. Oh, and the commentators before the game also broke off from their pronouncements to promote the sponsors' products. It'll be a while before I watch any more.

The euro: Well, the Monday morning euphoria lasted only a couple of hours and shares came down as quickly as they'd gone up. But the news on the street tonight is that Mrs. Merkel is softening her line and that enough funds may be made available to finance a firewall for both Spain and Italy. I, for one, will believe it when I see it. Even though logic dictates that she will.

As we wait on this, why not enjoy some wine from Galicia? The one cited here sells for 8 euros here in Spain, say 6.40 pounds. Which makes it 56% more expensive in the UK. Good health!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dear reader:

To the best of my recollection, this is what I wrote for Saturday's post. I've re-written this while going up and down on Brittany Ferries' excellent boat, the Pont Aven. I mention this as it allows me to share a secret with you. When you're checking in for a ferry, time your arrival at the cubicle as close to the deadline as you're happy with. This has three advantages:-
  • You won't have to wait in a queue to get to the cubicle
  • You won't have to wait an hour or two to board; you'll go straight on.
  • Best of all, your car will be on the bottom deck (3) and you'll be first off the boat, leaving all those who diligently checked in early, to wait 30-60 minutes to get off.
But please don't tell anyone else about this.

But now the serious stuff . . .

In the never-ending saga of the eurozone crisis, tomorrow's elections in Greece and France (frections? Frogections?) are widely expected to make things worse. If only because M. Hollande's socialist party gains strength. Meanwhile, it's good to see the executive management team getting its act together, with Mrs Merkel attacking the French president on Friday for allowing the French economy to stall. Adding that his policies could destroy the eurozone by bringing the sovereign debt crisis to France itself.

Sticking my beck out, I'd say there's now a consensus that the eurozone can only be saved by full fiscal and political union. For only then will Germany release its tight grip on her purse strings. Trouble is - there's also a widespread belief that these will take so long to achieve, the Project will collapse before they happen. Putting this another way, the road to Armageddon is shorter than that to Nirvana. The timelines are out of synch. Which raises the question - Where should one have one's money on the day the collapse shakes the world? The USA? China? Germany? Mars? Certainly not Spain, I guess. In the meantime, bigger and bigger cans will no doubt be kicked down quite a few roads. But with an ever-shortening time gap between initial euphoria and eventual fear. 

But to be positive - Europe's leaders will chew over broad proposals for "fiscal union" at a summit in late June but France is opposed to any major loss of sovereignty. One EU diplomat said Germany itself seems to be schizophrenic. "If they would actually tell us what they meant by fiscal union, we may get somewhere. I don't think we will have anything beyond a roadmap from this summit," he said.

And:-The German government has begun opening the door to shared debts for the first time in a profound change of policy, agreeing to explore proposals for a €2.3 trillion stabilization fund in order to stop the eurozone’s crisis escalating out of control. Officials in Berlin say privately that Chancellor Angela Merkel is willing to drop her vehement opposition to plans for a “European Redemption Pact”, a “sinking fund” that would pay down excess sovereign debt in the eurozone.

So, it looks like we're safe to the end of June. Which, doubtless, will allow Europe's elite to take July and August off.

You wait months - if not years - for the word scatological to come along and then two arrive at the same time. After mentioning it yesterday, this morning I heard it during a discussion of Joyce's Ulysses. Naturally enough. And just as I was typing the word Naturally just now, someone on the radio used it. What, I wonder, are the odds on that.

Finally . . Shortly before I left Leeds, my younger daughter gave me a gift and a Father's Day card. The message read - Relax on Fathers' Day. To which she had added - Why change an established routine? I suspect she meant this as a bit of a dig but I rather took it as a compliment.

Finally, finally . . . It took me only ten minutes to get off the boat today. A great deal less than usual. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sorry, folks. I wrote a post for tonight but lost it on the way to publication, as a result of (mis)using my mother's irritating PC. And I don't have enough time to re-write it before retiring early so I can get up at 6 for the drive to Plymouth.

And tomorrow I shall be on the boat.

So, normal service on Monday night. I hope.

Friday, June 15, 2012

I discovered today there's a police station secreted behind the foliage near a large roundabout at the end of the long straight stretch which starts in Headingley. I immediately realised that one reason - perhaps the main one - why the police cars drive fast along this road with their lights flashing and their sirens screaming is that they want to get back for a cup of tea. One thing's for sure - I won't miss the noise they make.

Talking of noise . . . Long term readers may recall that, a few years ago, I bought a TV-be-Gone - a key-fob sized remote control which switches off every TV within a matter of seconds. I used it for silencing the TVs in Spanish bars and cafés which no one was watching and which contributed to the noise pollution in the place. Sadly, though, it could never turn off music. Anyway, I bought a new one this week and will enjoy (re)experimenting with it in Pontevedra.

I listened to an interesting BBC podcast today, on the theme of gays who cease to be gays and become straight. Or bisexual. Of their own accord, without religious pressure or the like. I was amused by the clever terms used - Hasbians for ex lesbians. And Yestergays for both sexes. Creative folk.

Talking of words . . . I assume Sunday's events in Greece can be labelled Grelections. I haven't seen this word but am sure someone beat me to it. Possibly weeks ago.

And still on words . . . One of my fellow bloggers (David Jackson? Lenox Napier?) wrote this week that the two English words scatological and eschatological are both rendered as escatológico in Spanish. This despite the fact they have hugely different meanings. As you can see here and here. I suppose that context is everything but one can still imagine some confusion. And possibly anger. On the other hand, things could come together on Judgment Day - "Shit, it's the end of the world!"

I read today of some bones unearthed recently which may or may not be those of John the Baptist. The article added these facts to my scant knowledge on this subject:-
· Most controversial of the many saintly relics in medieval Europe was the foreskin of Christ, also known as the Holy Prepuce. No fewer than 18 of these were in circulation during the Middle Ages. [Perhaps it wasn't only the loaves and fishes which were converted.]
· Frederick III of Saxony acquired more than 5,000 relics in an attempt to shorten his time in purgatory. These included a strand of Christ’s beard, threads from the Virgin Mary’s veil and a twig from the burning bush. [Understandably, Frederick also held the title of Most Credulous Buffoon in Christendom. And had a lot of friends who were estate agents.]
· The priciest relic was probably the crown of thorns acquired by Louis IX in 1239 for nearly half of France’s annual budget. One of the thorns is now in the British Museum. [In a cabinet flanked by those holding the horn of a unicorn and the Holy Grail].
· Perhaps the cheapest can be found at Sacro Monte di Crea in Northern Italy. Among the fragments of bones from holy men is a glass case relating to an Italian saint who died in the 1970s. It contains a pair of black cotton socks. [I wonder if it was these that were used to perform the miracles necessary for someone to be made a saint. Presumably more than eradicating athletes' foot.]

Finally . . . Good to see those old favourites donkey throwing and brothels in vigo still turning up in the searches which bring readers to this blog. I'm not proud. I'll take anyone.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

In Britain recently, a young footballer collapsed and technically died during a game. But he defied the odds and survived to play another day. People soon began to speak and write of a miracle and it was clear they weren't using this as a metaphor; they really meant there'd been divine intervention. A few days ago, a British parachutist smashed into the face of a mountain and, despite having a broken leg, clung to the rock face until, after three hours, he fell and died. As he'd called his fiancée on his mobile phone, I'd say it's pretty certain a few people put in some prayers during those three hours. But no one has since talked or written of an unfinished miracle; or a semi-miracle; or a non-miracle; or, finally, a failed miracle. I wonder why not. I guess it's because divine intervention can only effect a positive answer to prayers. So, absent that, we must assume God decided not to intervene. But why not? Was He busy with something else? Or in a bad mood? Or averse to the particular individual or individuals involved? Maybe he did get involved but, somehow, the Devil got the better of this particular tussle. Anyway, it strikes me as funny that one never hears a discussion of the occasions when miracles don't take place. The worldview seems myopic on this aspect of terrestrial-celestial interchange.

Back down on earth . . . In a Times leader today, the author wrote: "The European Commission has denied that it is working on contingency plans for a Greek exit from the single currency." As I wrote some time ago, "This is implausible or, if true, alarming."

Specifically as regards Spain, the country's credit rating was today reduced to near-junk status and ten-year bond yields came very close to 7%. Not good news. But even worse were the forecasts that the credit rating would soon hit the junk level. Some good news is needed soon.

Here's a bit, though I don't see it affecting the bond markets. A new bit of marine fauna has been discovered. This is Uroptychus cartesi, a crab (or, some say, a squat lobster) between 5 and 7cm in size, found in the underwater mountains facing the Galician coast. Some way away from its closest relative in the Caribbean Sea. Picture here.

Well, I finished James Michener's 940-page Iberia today. I found the book infuriating for several reasons and - to be honest - resorted to speed-reading or simply skipping many of the pages. This is not to say Michener can't write well; he certainly can. But if anyone's read this particular book and found it impressive, I'd be interested to know why.

Environmentalists in the UK - and doubtless in the USA - are going that extra mile. Or at least 6 feet. They're being buried in coffins made of wool. Honest. It puts the mental into environmentalism.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to notice that female is male with a bit of iron. I suppose Mrs Thatcher becomes the prototype female.

Finally . . . As one or two people have been unkind about my owl, I'm giving you a more head-on foto. (Or more eye-on at least). I think it's a benign face. And when I tried to scare my daughter's cat with it this afternoon, she showed nil fear and began to lick her tail. But she did move when I threw it at her.