Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A couple of days ago, Nice-but-Noisy Toni next door asked me if he could borrow my garden shears, my hedge-trimmer and my extension cable. Yesterday he brought them back and today I connected the cable to my lawnmower for what I hoped was the last mowing of the winter. Nothing happened. Likewise when I tested the hedge-trimmer. So I took the plug apart and found a loose wire. Something tells me it's unlikely the wire came loose between Toni giving me back the cable and me trying to use it. Which is a tad irritating. Especially as he then came round tonight to avail himself of my printer.

The 'bad bank' which has a ton of Spanish properties to sell has announced that this will be done at a significant discount from the market rate. They insist this won't lower prices generally. Which shows how much they know about markets. Or that, more likely, they're simply lying.

Which reminds me . . . Sr Rajoy has said that a bail-out for Spain isn't essential. Maybe not objectively but, as the markets think it is, it is.

Near Madrid yesterday, a woman chased two thieves on a scooter who'd stolen her bag at traffic lights. When the scooter fell over, she ran over the pillion driver and killed him. She claimed this hadn't been deliberate but her protestation was undermined by the fact she'd had to mount the kerb to reach the scooter. Anyway, she hasn't yet been charged with anything. But this could change.

The good news is that the accordionists have all disappeared from Pontevedra – do they fly south for the winter? - but the bad news is we're now having our ears assaulted by a bagpipe player. Who doesn't do us the honour of playing just one tune and then going round with the begging bowl. Rather, he stands in one spot and plays for 15 minutes or more, before seeking payment.

On Saturday last, I was taking a lady friend to the house of a mutual friend for lunch. We'd agreed to meet at 1.15, before driving to a place north of Pontevedra. She arrived at 1.20, with the comment - “I'm sorry I'm late. I'm just going to the cake shop to get some pastries. Won't be long.”

If you're thinking of becoming a tour guide in Spain, you need to know that every region in Spain has its own laws about who can and can't do this. Except for the Basque country, every region demands that would-be guides pass an exam before granting them a licence. Absent this, you can guide people outside buildings but not inside. In theory at least.

I posted some tablets to my daughter in the UK today, in one of those cushioned envelopes. I told the woman in the Post Office that I didn't want it to go registered mail. Which was probably a mistake as she looked at me and raised her eyebrows, as if to say “Then there's no chance of it arriving”. Which I suspect is very likely to be true, when I reflect on just how many things have gone missing in the last 12 years. It's the perfect crime, of course, as no one knows whether it's committed in Spain or the UK.

Finally . . . There's a Dutch couple who are obsessed – in the nicest possible way – with a particular road in the UK. The A272, to be exact. In fact, they've written a book about it - An Ode to a Road - which became a cult item a few years back and has now been revised. Strange folk, the Dutch.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

After the Pontecaldelas land registry, the Pontecaldelas notary, the Pontevedra Catastro and the Pontevedra Registro, we now have a 5th player - 6th if you count me – in the saga of the municipal taxes on the house in the hills I sold last November. The local office of the national Tax Office – the Hacienda – has written to tell me they accept that I'm no longer the owner of the property. Which may or may not help me avoid paying a tax which should be paid by the new owner. I guess there's still time for a 7th player – the Galician Tax Office,the Facenda - to join the fray.

Thanks to all this – and similar experiences - I have a clear vision of what happens to a newly qualified civil servant on his or her first day . . . The Induction Course consists of someone telling them - “All you need to know is that if you come across any inefficiency, never mention it to anyone. It's the glue that keeps us all employed.

There are neologisms in English which appeal and neologisms that don't. But none of us can do anything to stop them gaining currency, if they are liked. It's the market of speakers which decides. That said, I do hope the markets reject the new (to me) word I heard today – push-back. As in “When we introduce this, I expect push-back from some schools.” It means 'resistance', I guess. Strangely, I heard a second new word today, and one rather similar. It was 'dieback', as a noun. In the context of sick ash trees.

Talking of language . . . You know you've lost touch when you read something like this:- “The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council invites expressions of interest from eligible individuals to attend a five-day interactive sandpit on the theme of digital parenthood.” Last time I was in a sandpit, I was four. And not thinking much about parenthood.

Until tonight, I hadn't watched a film on Spanish TV for years. For one thing, back then five minutes after the start, there'd be 15 minutes – yes, 15 – of advertising. But things have improved. Though not by much. In the film I saw tonight there was 15 minutes of the film, followed by 6 minutes of ads, followed by 3 minutes of the film, followed by another 6 minutes of ads. God knows why people put up with it.

I mentioned cruel bank evictions yesterday. There's more on this subject here.

Smack on cue comes a case of illegal sexual relations with a 13 year old girl down in Almeria. The local prosecutor and the police declined to take the case forward as the girl, they said, had consented to sex with a 23 old man who'd, inevitably, found and groomed her on the internet. Fortunately, the provincial court decided her consent was invalid as the accused had used his 'dominant position'. The girl, they said, hadn't been in control of her behaviour. And they sentenced the guy to 9 years.

You may not know but the EU has a Cemeteries Route, which runs through the Spanish cities of Granada, San Sebastian and Santander. The little town of Finisterra has asked to be included, on the back of some truly dreadful funereal constructions designed by Galicia's leading architect, César Portela. These are so bad, not even the dead are willing to occupy them. They've now lain empty for years, possibly improved by vegetation growing over and obscuring them.

Finally . . . Here's the gen on what not to chuck down your toilet. I have to confess to throwing a wipe into the toilet after cleaning the sink with it last week. But never again. And there was that saxophone in 1985. But we don't talk about that.

Monday, October 29, 2012

I don't know whether it's generally true or whether it's confined to those who've signed a specific type of contract but there is regular reporting here of people who've been evicted after defaulting but still held liable for the loan on the house which the bank takes onto its books as a sellable asset. Indeed there was a case this week of a suicide in exactly these circumstances. It seems extraordinary that the banks don't offset the value of the house on their books but, then, they'd naturally be reluctant to do this at the inflated value attributed it

I'm now more confused that ever about flashing amber traffic lights, a common feature of Spanish streets at night. I mentioned the other day that I'd never seen a Spanish driver stop for pedestrians waiting at the lights. But I did last night. And the guy waiting waved me on.

Queen Sofía of Spain is having a bad year. Her husband has continued to demonstrate that, at 74, he's still a serial philanderer; her elder daughter's husband is a guest of the courts on charges of embezzlement; her invitation to the London celebrations of Liz's 60th anniversary was ripped up by Madrid because of some stupid manufactured tiff over Gibraltar; and now she's been forced to sue an online dating site which used her photograph in an advert without her permission. Worse, they featured her face above the slogan - “Now you no longer have to spend the night alone.”

Another lady consort is also in trouble, it seems. The North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, belatedly admitted that the woman at his side for several weeks was his wife. But now she's suddenly departed the Korean scene with even less commentary than that with which she arrived on it. Old Kim is a bit of a toughie. Three days ago, one of his military men was executed for the appalling crime of drinking alcohol during the mourning period for Kim's father. In keeping with his position, he was mortared to death. Honestly. I'm wondering whether there's a connection between these two events and the military man was guilty of something rather more serious. Or accused of it anyway. But I guess we'll never know.

With Galicia being a major portal for Colombian cocaine, there's a lot of money to be laundered here or elsewhere. I mention this because the subject's been raised twice in the last 24 hours. Firstly in respect of two large edge-of-town shops which rarely see customers – one offering pets and related products and the other bridal gowns. Then, tonight, someone told me about the surprise closure or a well-located café and it's possible sale to someone who needs a shop. Of course it could all be unsubstantiated gossip but, then, that's Pontevedra.

The worst thing about house-cleaning – especially for the less diligent among us – is that tackling Item A invariably exposes Items B to M. If you're really unlucky, to Item Z. So it is this beautiful Sunday morning that I found myself attending to the much-neglected, glass-topped coffee-table, home to a thousand crumbs (and one money-spider) in one crevice or another. And then to the fireplace, the floors, the CDs, the TV and the several machines connected to it, etc., etc. I shall be mightily relieved when the lovely Ester finally finds a chica whom she feels she can trust and shares her with me. Meanwhile, I'm almost tempted to call the one she sacked when I was away in the UK. Even though she's a tad clumsy and talks at a decibel level greater, even than Toni's. And, per Ester, can't/doesn't clean for toffee.

Finally . . . The dream I was having as I woke this morning involved my ex-wife and President Clinton. As I didn't write anything down, I can't now recall what they were doing in my dream. But it's an unlikely duo, if ever there was one.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

This may come as something of a shock but here in Spain the age of sexual consent is 13, one of the lowest in the world. Worse, It’s not a crime here to have relations with a youngster below 13, if he/she gives consent. The United Nations has suggested Spain lift the age to 15, something which could be done as part of the imminent reform of the Penal Code. But probably won't be.

I've had my new car for almost two months now and I've driven it as carefully as I could. Nonetheless, this week I scratched it a little. Trying to manoeuvre into a spot in the Carrefour underground. At first I was furious with myself for trying to get into a ridiculously tight parking space I didn't actually need to get into. Then I was furious with Carrefour for not only having stupid pillars in the car-park but also for allowing them to have serrated edges. Finally, I was furious with Honda for manufacturing a car of which you can't see anything of the bonnet(hood) or wing from the driving position. But, after only a few days, I've calmed down and can now view things philosophically and with perspective. Honest.

Talking about the Carrefour underground car-park, I always approach this in the same way. As I leave the main road to take the access road, I wait until any car waiting to exit from the ramp can see that I've started to signal as I approach it. But, in twelve years, not a single driver has driven out in the confidence I won't crash into it. They've all waited until I've turned onto the ramp. My guess is they don't trust signals. Which wouldn't be altogether senseless.

You may not be aware of this but every month the entire Brussels circus ups sticks and moves to Strasbourg. This insane and expensive idiocy is the result of some horse-trading years ago which ended with France getting its way on this. It's always been beyond parody but, against the backcloth of so much pain in several EU members, it now looks criminal. According to this article, stopping the farce would save the not inconsiderable sum of $285 million a year. Of course, it's too much to expect this to happen. Which is good news for the parasitic hoteliers and restauranteurs of Strasbourg.

Spain's latest unemployment figures were announced this week and they ain't good. They rose again, to more than 25% of the working population. Second only to Greece. Among young people – those who aren't fleeing the country to seek work elsewhere – the rate is more than double this. See here for more data.

Finally . . . The American Dad cartoon comes from the same people as the wonderful Family Guy. It's not as good but has its moments. I liked the recent board announcement outside the church the family was attending – Bring the kids. Don't worry, we're Evangelicals.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A beautiful day for a lunch with friends in Vigo. Blue skies and plenty of sun. I hadn't seen some of my friends for more than a year so the greetings and kissings were more fulsome than usual. At least from me. Greeting the señora, I found myself saying “You look lovelier than ever. When your divorce comes through, give me a call.” Now this is something I've never, ever said (or even thought of saying) before. And I hadn't had any intention of saying it now. Spontaneous, then. And possibly OTT. But one of the (few) advantages of being my age is that one can get away with this sort of thing. Probably because everyone assumes you're joking. Which I might have been.

The train back to Pontevedra at 3.45 afforded irrefutable evidence of a key element of Spanish life. The train was packed and most of the (young) passengers were lugging the sort of case you take on a plane. These, I realised, were students at Vigo University taking their dirty washing home to Mum in towns and cities all along the coast to La Coruña. Many of them got off with me at Pontevedra, to be replaced by other students from the Pontevedra campus, going north. As it happened, a train from La Coruña arrived at Pontevedra at the same time as ours did, disgorging students from the university in that city. I've never seen the station so packed. And I've never seen so much dirty washing.

Another aspect of Spanish society – The Consumer Association reports that 92% of the population thinks there's either a lot or quite a lot of fiscal fraud in the country. I wonder what planet the 8% are living on.

As you'd expect, sales of both new and second-hand cars are way down in Spain. And the number of cars on the road is inevitably down as well. It's reported that more and more people are switching to scooters and bikes as cheaper forms of transport, at least in and around towns. So I guess it's not very surprising that the theft of these is on the up as well.

Talking of cars . . . One unusual aspect of driving on motorways in Spain is that you regularly come up against large overhead signs telling you you're about to pass a fixed radar camera. In some cases the latter are, nastily, only a metre or so after the gantry but in most they're sufficiently far away to allow you to slow down, if necessary. Recently, another wrinkle has been added to this set up – the cameras at the side of the road are painted in luminous green and the speed limit is written in large black numerals on them. I confess I don't understand the logic of all this. But this isn't unusual in Spain.

My old friend Alfred B Mittington - 'ABM' to the inner circle – has reminded me that he addressed last night's question of what the EU guilty knew way back in March. Though at rather greater and more eloquent length than I did. Which means not only that Alf is ahead of the game but also remembers what he's written. For someone like me – who can't recall from one day to the next what he wrote yesterday – this is truly impressive. I suspect he also has views which are consistent. The mark of a disciplined mind. Whereas . . .

Finally . . . Facebook has gone a tad mad with the ads down the side of my page. Some are in French and the rest are in Spanish. But none of them has anything to do with meeting members of the opposite sex. The oddest is a French site which seems to specialise in cartoons of people of people (usually women) spanking someone else (usually men). I dedicated a minute or two to trying to identify what word in my emails or Facebook comments could have instigated this but gave up.

Note: Just checked. The spanking ad's gone.

Telefonica have sent me a letter congratulating me for opting to move to a paper-free billing system. Which I might be pleased about if I knew anything about it. I'm guessing they sent me a letter months ago saying they'd be taking this decision for me if I didn't reply by a certain date. The old inertia ploy. Still, my wi-fi is working OK (though never at the promised level of one mega) and that's the most important thing.

I see the Spanish Tax Office (La Hacienda) has joined me in predicting that the recent VAT increases will lead to a larger black market. But, then, you'd have to be an imbecile not to expect this.

Talking about predictions . . . Did the founders of the EU and their successors anticipate that 'an ever closer union' and 'the convergence of economies' within a currency union would lead to the degree of pain currently being felt in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain? Or did they only look so far ahead and decide to make it up as they went along from there? I suspect they knew from the outset but I may be crediting them with too much intelligence and foresight. Perhaps The Grand Plan was to do whatever it took to implement whatever would have been The Grand Plan if they'd been smart enough to define it at the outset. If you see what I mean.

Talking of Spain . . . Here's a nice summary of the political situation here, from Paddy Woodworth of the Irish Times. As he says at the end of his article - Spain’s triple crisis calls out for a leadership that speaks empathetically and compellingly across party, class and national identities. Unfortunately, that is not a style one associates with Rajoy. To which I would only add – Does one associate any style with the Great Procrastinator?

While I'm naming journalists, I'm indebted to Fiona Govan of the Daily Telegraph for two interesting snippets of news, which have a whiff of medievality about them:-
  1. In the context of two paternity test demands, the Spanish courts have said that the King can't be bothered by these as, under the Spanish Constitution, he is 'inviolable' and “cannot be held accountable”. What, not even if he shot his wife? So, no Rule of Law in Spain?
  2. A lesbian is seeking damages for her imprisonment in 1974, when the court report ran “The daughter of an honourable family, MCD shows clear signs of homosexual orientation, and has had impure relations with another young woman whom she dominates, pursues and attracts. She is a rebel and disobeys her family and threatens them when they try to correct her and bring her up properly. She is a danger to her family and to society." The rag end of the Spanish Inquisition, I guess.
One of my guests – prior to being rudely woken by Nice-but-Noisy Toni this morning - was previously disturbed by barking dogs in the middle of the night. So I was pleased to be able to show him this report from fellow blogger Lenox this morning:- A town in Huelva has issued a new municipal law - that no household within city limits may have more than one dog, two cats and a couple of budgies. Better still, dogs are not allowed to bark between ten at night and eight in the morning. I hope the town's dogs can read.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Reading the always-entertaining art critic, Brian Sewell, I was struck by this comment about Salvador Dalí - “Even in his dotage, Dalí could not live without a daily dose of hero-worship — and if it did not come, then he was quite prepared to go out on to the streets to get it.” For exactly the same thing could be said about the now-reviled Jimmy Savile, who used to 'perform' every night at the Flying Pizza restaurant in Leeds. Where he moved around the place, working each table to get the attention and approbation he needed. And I have to say – having witnessed the performance – it was done very professionally. Which is not to say he was a good man. Readers confused as to why I should stress this, should click here. Or go to the web site of any British paper.

I heard a nice Spanish phrase the other night: Describing a very young baby, a friend called her Muy bebé - or 'Very baby'.

A copa is a drink of spirits and mixer, usually served in a large glass with plenty of ice. Costing 5 or 6 euros here in Galicia. The mount of spirit is at least 4 or 5 time what you'd get in a British pub. Unless the bar owner had diluted it with water, a not-unknown practice. I mention this because, the night I heard the Muy bebé comment,I also heard a woman say that she and her husband had been stopped by the police in the wee hours of the morning, after her husband had had 7 – yes seven – copas. She, in contrast, had 'only' had two mojitos. Despite this, her husband had been driving. Anyway, the woman reported that the police had asked her husband whether he'd been drinking and he'd lied that he hadn't. Whereupon they let him drive on. Astonishing.

Reading the entrails of Sunday's regional elections, the Financial Times opined that - “Analysts and commentators agreed that Mariano Rajoy, the country’s prime minister, emerged from the electoral contest in his home region with fresh political capital. But they stressed that it was far from clear how Mr Rajoy would spend it.” On the wider issues of the Spanish economy, the paper commented - “Many economists believe that Spain’s deteriorating public finances will ultimately force the government to request a bailout, possibly in conjunction with other troubled eurozone economies such as Cyprus and Portugal. But others point out that recent economic news from Spain has not been all bad: one indicator, the yield on Spanish 10-year bonds, has fallen by about 140 basis points over the past two months to 5.45 per cent, according to Bloomberg data. And while much of that drop can be linked to the promise of ECB intervention, it also suggests that investors no longer regard Madrid’s economic prospects as bleakly as they did.” So, has Sr Rajoy's masterful inactivity really been masterful? I guess it won't be long before we know, especially if the almighty market runs out of patience and Spain's bond yields return to the heights of yesteryear.

There used to be two savings banks – or caixas – here in Galaicia – Caixa Galicia and Caixa Nova. They were forcibly fused, to become Novacaixagalicia. But I see this has now been renamed Novagalicia Banco. I was going to say that the next step was to call it NGB but, checking on Wiki, I see this has already been done! Incidentally the Wiki entry on Novagalcia uses the horrible term – bankisation. Occasionally one regrets the flexibility of the English language, while being aware that words we now find acceptable were detested when they first crept into the language decades ago. For all I know, people once hated 'plastic'.

Finally . . . For all you Catholics out there – In an episode of Family Man recently aired, Peter and his (Catholic) family go off to church of Sunday morning. The sign outside says “Come for the Mass. Stay for the Guilt”. Which I rather liked.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thirty-five years or so ago, I'm told, the pronunciation of the Spanish double L was the equivalent of an L followed by a Y. As in tortiLYa. Over the years, though, this has given way to a simple Y. As in tortiYa. So it is that Llámame (Call me) is now pronounced Yámame. And very, very occasionally it's written this way, as it was in a flier from a handyman in my mail-box today.

At lunch the other day, my Dutch friend, Peter, and I agreed that neither of us knew what was happening in the eurozone these days. Worse, we also agreed that no one else in the world did either. Though I suspect quite a few will claim they did in a few years time.

I take my hat off to anyone who sets up a business in Spain. As the World Bank reports, Spain ranks 136th of the 185 countries surveyed in its Doing Business in 2013. Meaning she's behind an awful lot of third world countries. As for starting up a business, Spain ranks 44th, with the top five countries being Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, the USA and Denmark. Presumably it would be relatively easy for Sr Rajoy to make savings in the department(s) which oversee business start-ups. But it isn't going to happen, I fear.

Just for the record – the Galician Nationalist Party (BNG) only managed to get 10% of the vote in Sunday's regional elections. Strangely, the wealthy city of Pontevedra is one of its strongholds but I suspect this is down to affection for the incumbent mayor for what he's done over the last decade. The media reported the BNG vote as 10.16%, against the AGE share of 13.99%. A degree of accuracy required by absolutely no one.

Climate change or just a lucky break?: Today was astonishingly sunny and warm and this evening was as balmy as a midsummer's night. I spent it with six Spanish ladies celebrating the birthday of one of them. A sort of Celibacy in the City.

The consequence, by the way, of three or four cold, wet days followed by this sun and heat is that today it was about ten degrees cooler inside my house than it was outside. Quite bizarre.

Three hundred and ten years ago, the largest Spanish bullion fleet ever to sail from the Caribbean was holed up in a small bay near Vigo, protected by several French men-o-war. They'd been driven up from Cádiz by severe storms and were hoping to avoid contact with a British-Dutch fleet in the area. Unfortunately, the latter learnt of their location and summarily sank all the Spanish and French galleons, sending the bullion to the bottom. Or so it was thought. Despite many attempts over the last three centuries, no one but the crewe of the Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea has managed to retrieve any of it. And the consensus now is it was offloaded from the ships before the British and Dutch hove into view and trundled down to Madrid. No doubt, though, there'll be more diving expeditions in due course. Meanwhile, the only metal visible in the bay is a statue of Jules Verne.

Finally . . . It was interesting to read that the EU Commissioner sacked for fraud will get 8,600 euros a month for three years, after which he'll be entitled to a pension based on his years of service. In the large company I worked in, if you got sacked for fraud you lost not only your job but also your pension. It's a different world in Brussels. So it's a good job we can vote the bastards out.

Like all of my neighbours, I've been known to put an unusual item or two alongside our communal rubbish bins, to be collected by the nightly truck or picked up by the local gypsies. But someone was extra cheeky last night and deposited the ex-contents of his/her bathroom – a sink, a toilet and a (broken) bidet. Someone, though, must have found them useful, as they weren't there tonight. So I think I'll make them a present of my old microwave tonight. At the moment it's an inconvenient trip-trap in the garage. Incidentally, the only dumping that really annoys me is that of bags of hedge clippings that fill up the contenador, despite the notice saying they're not to be left there. OK, there's no municipal dump so they're hard to get rid of but there must be a better way than this. A compost heap?

As I was emptying my post-box this morning, the lovely Amparo emerged from next door. Shortly after, came her husband Toni:-
Deaf apparently. How are you, Toni?
Yes, I know.
No, don't worry Tony. There's not many.

Yesterday's election results in conservative Galicia were everything that the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, would have wanted. Despite the cuts and the tax increases, his PP party not only retained its absolute majority but also increased the number of its seats in the regional parliament. Galicia is often included with Cataluña and the Basque Country as a region with secessionist demands but the nationalists have only 21% of the seats, split between two feuding parties. Their percentage share of the vote is even less.

Up in the Basque Country, things were rather different. The two nationalist parties were first and second in the voting and will now negotiate a coalition. Which will surely be more of a problem than Sr Rajoy is letting on. Especially if November's elections in Cataluña, as expected, bring a resounding victory for secessionist parties there.

As I regularly say, who on earth would want to be Prime Minister of fractious and fissiparous Spain? What chance independence referendums in 2014, at the same time as Scotland's? Whether Sr Rajoy wants them or not.

Driving in Spain
1. If you find yourself on the inner lane of a roundabout, heading straight on, and someone comes from your right, crossing dangerously in front of you, it's you who's in the wrong. The inner lane is reserved for drivers doing a U-turn. You will be fined otherwise.

2. Does anyone know what the law is relating to flashing amber traffic lights. My understanding was that one could proceed but should let people cross if there were any. But I've never seen any Spanish driver stop for pedestrians.

Finally . . . Interesting to see that the UK politician, Andrew Mitchell, has finally resigned for, allegedly, making nasty comments to a couple of policemen. Things are done rather differently here. When a town hall car was clocked at 150kph near Sevilla at a time when the mayor was on his way to a meeting there, the council said they couldn't provide details of who'd been driving the car as the records for that day were not clear. Possibly because they no longer existed.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Friday that he hasn't been pressured by other European Union partners to ask for a bailout. Presumably because he stayed in his room.

He also stayed away from Galicia – his home region – during the election campaign of the last two weeks. Which possibly explains why his party increased their majority in today's election. Masterful inactivity.

McDonalds are going to open another 60 restaurants in Spain. This is actually good news. I'd previously read these were all going to be in Galicia.

Well, I finally got to see Pontevedra FC win a match today. A double pleasure as it was against the local enemy of Celta Vigo. Or their second team to be more exact.

Stunning Historical Fact of the Week: The first book printed in England – by William Caxton in 1476 – was Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, which has never been out of print since.

New Spanish phrase: Dar en la tecla – 1. To catch on, to get the knack. 2. To get into the habit.

New Spanish (and English) word(s): Boga – (L. Sparus Boops) The ox-eyed cackerel, the mendole - “A small worthless Mediterranean fish considered poisonous by the ancients.” Which looks like this. Possibly.

Another new Spanish word: Seen in a headline today: 'Ups'. It took me a while but I finally realised this is Oops. As 'Bum' is Boom.

Finally . . . One of the ads in the Pontevedra ground today was for a petrol/gas station in town. Try as I might, I can't see the value of this.

Last night: At the scheduled 8.50 I go next door, on the expectation that the lovely Ester will be ready and that her equally lovely friend, Susana, will have arrived to take us down to town. Neither of these assumptions proves correct. I chat to the kids and watch TV with them and Ester comes down around 9. She says it's unusual for Susana to be late and I naturally wonder whose definition of this word we're using. There's an exchange of text messages. Ester expresses concern for poor Jorge, who's been standing on a street corner since 8.50 and who must now be pretty cold. Then Ester starts cooking pancakes for the kids. There's more text messaging and a few expletives are uttered by Ester, in between turning pancakes. Eventually, Susana and Maria arrive at 9.30, having driven past poor cold Jorge standing on a corner at the bottom of the hill. There are remonstrations in the street and these continue in the car as we finally set off. As I experience the sound of three voluble Spanish ladies all talking at the same time, I muse once again how ridiculous it is that I can drive with this – and more – smashing into by ear drums but not the quiet voice of a BBC podcaster coming through my ear-phones. Funny country. But anyway, we bring Jorge's almost-hour long vigil to an end and head into town, aiming to eat at a new tapería opened up as an adjunct to a well-known restaurant, Román. Being new, it's packed and we're told we'll have to wait for possibly 30 minutes for the two tables we need. But Lady Luck smiles on us and we're seated almost immediately. Even better, the menu is not the standard list of this region and we try a goodly portion of it. And are impressed. Especially as the prices aren't as high as expected. When the place has become less en boga – and so quieter – I shall return.

Incidentally, when quizzed as to why she'd told me to come by at 8.50, Ester said it was because Susana and Maria were scheduled to arrive at 8.45. So there was some logic to the time, after all. Ignoring Susana's approach to punctuality.

So Frankel didn't let anyone down. At Ascot today he beat the “second fastest horse in the world” and so ended his career with his 14th straight win. He'll now go out to stud and will, it's said, provide his services a hundred times a year. Earning many, many millions in the process. What a life.

Judging by the number – not 'amount'! - of times Toni-the-son-of-nice-but-noisy-Toni-next-door gets bawled for, he must live hidden away in the archives of the distant attic. Listening to one of these bawled summonses today, it struck me, again, that Toni hasn't been away to sea for a long, long time. And this despite telling me in June he was going away very soon. I guess he must be one of the victims of la crisis. If so, it would probably make it impolitic of me to ask him again about his travel commitments. Perhaps I could get the lovely Ester to do it for me.

Friday, October 19, 2012

There's nothing like the sun for highlighting dirty windows and spiders' webs. Now that light has returned after a few days of rain, my house appears to be full of the creations of spindly money-spiders(?). This creature doesn't spin the traditional and beautifully symmetric web. Rather, it just spews out ultra-lightweight skeins of sticky silk in a jumbled mess that can spread over a foot(30cm) or more. I'm not anxious to kill them but they are a bloody nuisance. At least when the sun shines.

For several decades now – as evidenced by official government papers no longer secret – both the Spanish and the British governments have wanted to transfer the sovereignty of Gibraltar to Spain. The problem is these days we all worship on the altar of self-determination. And then there's the scabrous British tabloid press, always more-than-ready to over-react to any Spanish measure calculated to upset the people of The Rock. Despite all this, under the last left-of-centre government of Sr Zapatero steps were taken to turn down the heat and, indeed, to move the issue to where it belongs, on the back-back burner. Even more impressively, the Gib government was brought into the process as a member of regular tri-partite discussions. But then came along the right-of-centre government of Sr Rajoy and everything went quickly into reverse. See here for the details. Most, if not all, sensible people would think Sr Rajoy has far bigger problems than the sovereignty of Gibraltar to deal with – both inside and outside Spain – but he seems to believe that pleasing his right wing extremists will garner him some advantages somewhere. Who knows, perhaps in the context of party leadership loyalties. He must know, though, that his Gibraltarian efforts are futile. And irritating for everyone trying to get there from La Línea.

I've confessed to being regularly surprised by examples of specious or hard-to-understand accuracy in Spanish life. The most frequent of these is the use of figures to two – or even three – decimal places when no one believes them in the first place. For example, the unemployment rate and the fall in property prices since the peak year of 2006/7. I was reminded of this when I got a text message from my lovely neighbour Ester this afternoon, telling me that a group of us were going to eat in town tonight. And that we'd be leaving home at 10 to 9. I can't begin to understand what form of reasoning would bring one to this time. Especially as Ester and Jacobo are always late. Perhaps a dart in the clock.

Watching a BBC video on the Galicia elections this evening, I was intrigued by the name of a young Spanish commentator – Msnica Seoane Dmaz. Now, you might think that this was a series of misprints and that the young lady's name really is Monica Simone Diaz, or something similar. But the surprising thing is that each of these three odd names can be found separately on the net but, as yet, not in this combination. Anyone got any thoughts/guesses?

Finally . . . Given all the extreme swearing I hear in comedy programs on British TV, I continue to be bemused that all cursing is bleeped out of Family Guy, shown at 11pm or even midnight. Last night, for God's sake, they even pixellated out the breasts of two women who briefly raised their tops. In a bloody cartoon! Who on earth is expected to be shocked by this?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

It was cold last night so I lit a wood fire. Nice smell and comforting flames but I paid the price this evening, when I got down to cleaning the glass front of my caset. My sister claimed last year that one of those micro-something cloths would be best and, indeed, she did a good job of proving this. But it was no good at all for a cold glass today. So I tried ammonia, Cilit Bang and even vinegar. But, in the end, I resorted to the trusted remedy of quitagrasa, metal pan scourer and elbow grease. A lot of elbow grease. Next time I'll clean the bloody glass before I go to bed. Maybe. Before that, I should just point out, perhaps, that I almost used olive oil instead of vinegar, the bottle being very similar. If anyone can vouch for it, I might well do next time.

Given the rising temperature of independence demands in both Cataluña and the Basque Country, Madrid is not at all happy about developments in the UK. Where the Scots will hold a referendum on this issue in 2014. The Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, is regularly referred to in Britain as the canniest politician on the block but he's going to need all his vaunted intelligence and wiles to convince his fellow Scots to leave the Union. The latest survey puts the percentage in favour at only 30%, which is down from 39% at the end of January and 35% at the end ofJune. Mr Salmond must be hoping that, for one thing, the 'Olympics effect' will have ceased to operate well before 2014. Madrid, though, will be hoping (and probably praying) that it won't.

Against my better judgment, I watched the England-Poland football match last night. Well, for 25 minutes at least. During this short period England gave the ball away more than 30 times. Which was enough for me and I switched over to something less irritating, reflecting that during the entire game they were destined to give the ball to Poland on more than 100 occasions. Despite this, Poland only managed a 1-1 draw. And that because of a goal-keeping error. As one commentator wrote this morning - A theme was developing here and this was a failure to keep the ball. The Spanish must laugh when they watch England. Not me, though. I cry. Thank-God I can transfer my loyalty to the Spanish team at will. Not that they did much better, drawing 1-1 with France.

An odd group of people have been arrested for large-scale money laundering in Spain – dozens of Chinese, a Spanish ex-porn star and, almost inevitably, a civil servant from the Foreigners Section of the government of Zamora. I wouldn't have thought there were that many foreigners in Zamora. Perhaps she got bored. Or saw a gap in the market.

Which sort of reminds me that the EU Commissioner for Health is being investigated for fraud.

Riveting historical fact of the day – En route to his winter stop-over in Moscow, Napoleon took 442,000 men with him as he crossed the river Niemen. On his way back to Paris, he had only 10,000 with when they reacquainted themselves with the river.

Should you wish to read a lighter take on Boney's Russian experience, click here and scroll down to the bottom of the post.

Finally . . . When I was a teenager in the last year of secondary school, I was reading my part in a play-reading when I came to the word 'misled'. Which I pronounced 'myzled'. I did so because I believed, back then, that there were two ways of writing the past participle of the word 'mislead' - missled and misled. Pronounced 'miss-led' and 'myzled'. The teacher laughed and my classmates laughed. But I had no idea why. So, I re-read the sentence again. In the same way. And everyone laughed again. But this time the teacher put me out of my consternation and we proceeded apace. I didn't feel too good, of course. But I would have felt a lot worse if I'd known I'd soon be reading aloud the name of the German philosopher, Goethe. Which I'll leave to your imagination.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

So, Spain is going for a 'virtual rescue'. Well, why not? We have a virtual European union, a virtual currency union, and a soon-to-arrive virtual banking union. And over at The Hague, we have a virtual saint in the form of Radan Karadzich, who says he's 'tolerant and kind' and that there would have been a lot more Serbian slaughter but for him. He's not bad as a comedian too. Though of the sick kind.

My favourite quiet – only quiet – café in town is now patronised by so many talkative matrons, it's become rather like the Women's Institute. The other problem is that, for some unknown reason, it closes at 2pm. Which is not good when you've arrived at 1.45. But preparing to leave today, I did have the compensation of an insight into differing – not necessarily 'right and 'wrong' – cultural instincts. When Brits answer their phones, their instinct is to whisper. For Spaniards, it's to shout. And, when it comes to the newspapers, my instinct is to put them back on the rack as I leave. Whereas the woman with the irritating ring tone of a squeaky toy left hers on the table, for the waitress to pick up. As I say, there's no question of right and wrong here. But that doesn't stop me feeling superior.

Readers may recall the appalling saga of the oil-slick from the Prestige along the Galician coast in 2002. Well, the trial of three people finally came to court this week. And will continue for at least a year. As the Director of the Institute of Marine Studies at La Coruña University remarked - “Justice in Spain is not noteworthy for its speed”. Indeed not. I guess it's lucky none of the accused died in the interim.

I read somewhere weeks ago that the big bonanza for phone companies would be advertising on our mobiles(cell phones). Perhaps this has now begun, given that this morning I received a message about the whatsapp app. At least I think that's what it was called.

Way down in the (extra)lawless south, keen observer – and fellow blogger - David Jackson reminds us that a 35% unemployment rate isn't necessarily all that it seems and that, as predicted, the black economy is growing rapidly, as people seek to avoid the taxes they fear are going into the pockets of corrupt politicians. As David says, it all helps to avoid the social unrest you'd expect from the official level of joblessness.

One of the money saving measures of the Spanish government has been the removal of 417 medicines from the items available on prescription. Most of these are OTC products and, in other countries, they'd be available from supermarkets. Here, though, they'll continue to be available only from pharmacies. Who tend to have higher prices. It's hard to see any liberalisation taking place. Which reminds me . . . Parapharmacies are a common site on Spanish high streets. When I first came here I thought it would be here I could get things like analgesics, if they weren't available in supermarkets. But, no, you can't. Frankly, I wouldn't know why parapharmacies have this name, since sun creams, perfumes and the like don't seem to justify it. Even if the shop assistants do wear white coats. Perhaps it's a Spanish joke.

I really much knuckle down to at least a page or two of my new car manual. If only to find out why my key sometimes locks or unlocks only one door and why all four windows sometimes open a fraction when I unlock the door(s). Can this really be a feature?

Finally . . . A joke. The European Commission is seeking approval of a 26% increase in its budget for Salaries and Pensions. Well, why ever not? That's our future government and it has to be of the right size and quality for the challenges ahead. But can anyone get on board the train? Or is it First Class passengers only?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I have to confess that watching Pontevedra FC on Sunday night wasn't the most riveting couple of hours I've ever spent. Possibly because I don't yet feel any affiliation to the team. Anyway, as I was watching the clock, I was reminded of the guy who attended Wagner's Ring Cycle in New York and afterwards quipped:- “It started at 6 and around midnight I looked at my watch, to find it was only 6.30.”

I also have to admit I find it impossible to watch a live football game without feeling a strong desire to take part. Which is about as ridiculous as the thought that one day I'll be the owner of a Jaguar F-type.

Galicia has at least one equivalent to Carlo Fabras, the Castellón baron/crook I cited the other day. This is the cacique or ex-president of the Ourense provincial government, José Luís Baltar. Sr Baltar resigned early this year, handing over power – predictably – to his son, José Manuel Baltar. He hasn't (yet) been convicted of any criminal act, though the EU is investigating him for fraudulent diversion of EU funds. So it could be a while before we know how he came to be the owner of numerous properties and more than one hundred vintage cars, stored in three warehouses. Inter alia.

Some readers may already be aware that the Spanish president, Sr Rajoy, has instructed the 17 Spanish regions ('autonomous communities') to confine their 2013 deficits to maximum of 0.7% of their GDP. Anyone who sees this as remotely achievable simply hasn't been paying attention. Spain's national target is also laughable, though Sr Rajoy is still pretending it's achievable. And this year's for that matter.

It's reported that a third of British men can't see their penises. Looking down, I guess. They can surely see them in the mirror. But perhaps not. I did't know this was a medical measure of obesity.

In Wales, the word for 'telephone' is telefon, I think. Possibly with an accent. Trevor will correct me, if necessary. Anyway, the word for 'a car-park' in Spain is un parking. Except in Cataluña – and possibly Valencia and the Balearic Islands – where it is un parquing. Words fail me.

I saw two nuns in the cathedral in Zaragoza. Their very low height confirmed my suspicion that either Spanish families are compelled to send any daughter under five foot to a convent or that nuns are all compressed until they're below this height.

I got up early-ish today to prepare for a round of golf that was later rained off. My compensation was being able to enjoy the full dawn chorus of Toni and his sons next door. Must buy some new ear-plugs.

This is a tale of greedy and dishonest Spanish bankers, some of whom retired on the vast proceeds of their mis-doings. When, with growing anger, you read through it, it's easy to agree with Professor Arcadi Oliveres that:- 'It is inconceivable that the banks should receive public funds when not a single banker has been prosecuted. Or hung, drawn and quartered even. It reminds me of my skirmish with the BBVA a few years ago, when I took my funds to another bank after they'd repeatedly failed to explain the low returns on a touted 'dynamic' fund I'd put some money in. They, of course, charged me a considerable sum of money for relieving them of my savings.

Finally . . . The British ambassador to Chile has had to apologise for a derogatory remark he tweeted about the Argentineans. What's truly astonishing is that he has 10,000 followers. Why, for God's sake. Is he a hidden talent we should know about? A modern Oscar Wilde? Hard to believe.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The politician Carlos Fabra is a Spanish rogue straight out of central casting, with the slicked-back black hair, the perma-tan and the impenetrable, never-off-his-face sunglasses. His was the decision to pour billions of euros into the huge white elephant of Castellón airport, which is unlikely to ever see a commercial flight. He also commissioned the massive, stylised statue in front of the airport, which just happens to be of himself. So, a modest man as well as a crook. Seeing a reference to him today, I got to wondering whether it would ever be possible to calculate the total of taxpayer funds stolen by the likes of Fabra and taken offshore to those countries where questions are never asked. Friendly little Switzerland for example. I imagine not.

Another duff 'investment' of the good years was the Terra Mitica theme park down in Valencia. This was recently referred to by Roger Cohen in the New York Times as “a product of the Valencia region’s giddy building boom fed by cheap money, venal politics and galloping illusion”. Which could easily stand as an accurate comment on Spain as a whole.

In today's Spanish property market, there's little but gloom. Residential planning approvals sank to only 4,022 in July. Which is 95% down on July 2006. Activity is now so low, it's a safe bet some parts of the country will experience property famines when things eventually pick up again. Even if there are still more than a million unsold properties on the market.

El Roto was at it again in El País today. This time there was drawing of a young child with the letters C to O across its face. The caption ran “Why learn the letters when only the numbers count?” Strangely, the only colour in the cartoon was the blue of the child's eyes.

When you get a prescription filled here in Spain, they take the box the pills are in and cut off a small, serrated portion of it. Sometimes with a knife and sometimes with scissors. This they then either staple or sellotape to a copy of your prescription. Which rather contrasts with the computerisation of the rest of the process. Surely there's a better way.

On University Challenge tonight, there was a chap from UCL with two surnames. The second was simple enough – Smith. But the first, and I kid you not, was Tyszczuk.

Much money is being invested in Vigo airport – as it is in the Santiago and La Coruña facilities. But not in the services of a native speaker. Hence the sign over the newsagent's – Kiosk of Press.

Finally . . . A brief and amusing history of the English language.