Sunday, March 31, 2013

I can't say I've noticed but for the last 10 years Spain, under instructions from the EU, has been toughening up its laws against excess noise. Plenty of info on this here, if you'd like to know more.

Talking of odd laws . . . Thanks to a drafting error, telepathy has been cited by a recent law which defines how you may apply for Spanish citizenship. I made a start on this today and will let you know how it goes. I may make my tax declaration in the same way.

Shopping for a birthday gift for my mother today, I looked at some radios which resembled those of my childhood. These were labelled 'New Classic”. Which I assume to be a replacement for 'Retro'. Or even 'Old'.

I mentioned Ladies Day of the imminent Aintree race-meeting the other day. Here and here are what the Daily Mirror felt were the best and the worst outfits of last year's event. Or maybe the other way round.

Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare's plays? Or was it some other genius? Here's why 22 experts are sure that he did. Thank goodness. 

Britain is closing down its coal-powered plants while Germany is building more. Britain is importing highly expensive wood chips from the USA to burn in her plants but Germany isn't. Britain appears to be determined to rely on wind and sun power. Germany isn't. Guess who's got it right. But at least they've both decided to jack nuclear power.

It seems the Cypriot banks were heavily implicated in corrupt practices (which, in truth, sound rather Spanish). As it says here, “This may explain why the 'colleagues' took the action they did, possibly with the foreknowledge that this was not a straightforward bailout. Awareness of deep-rooted, systemic corruption could have dictated the path." Hmm. One wonders what they'll think when they finally get their hands on the Spanish economy.

Finally . . . While dining with my younger daughter in an excellent Thai restaurant tonight, I noticed that 6 Indian ladies had established themselves at one end of a table for 12, leaving the other seats empty. The men arrived some 10 minutes later and perforce occupied the the other half of the table, leaving the sexes quite separate. A coincidence? I think not.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

In one way, I'm sorry to be leaving the UK next Wednesday. For the country's most popular steeplechase – the Grand National – is run the following Saturday, at Aintree in Liverpool. And I was planning to buy a ticket for the Merseyside over/underground railway and ride it back and forth all day Thursday. With my camera. Why? Because this will be Ladies Day and the orange-faced, ill-dressed, high-heeled beauties of the whole of Merseyside will be strutting their stuff, whatever the weather. If you want to get an idea of what this jamboree looks like, take a gander here. If you think you detect one particular woman being snapped more than any other, that's Coleen Rooney, the wife of Wayne. Both of them, of course, are Scousers, even if he did abandon Everton for Manchester United.

Talking of clowns and under-clad young women, here's an ad produced by Indian employees of Ford's agency there. Given the recent reports of gang-rape in India and the allegation that there's a rape there every twenty minutes, one can only wonder at the lack of sensitivity. While finding it basically a good idea to take the piss out of Berlusconi.

In his book, Voices from the Sea, Norman Lewis talks of a Curandero. This translates as:- Quack, medicaster, an artful and tricking practitioner in physic. Lewis has him coming to the village every autumn to guide the fishermen to the most promising grounds. I wonder if the word is still is use today and, if so, with what meaning. Anyway, here's a few more extracts from the book.
  • Medina del Campo – The Spanish equivalent of Stockton-on-Tees.
  • The fisherman remained uneasy about the suggested road, largely because, if it came to be built, people would be likely to stand on it, looking out to sea, thereby in some cases – however innocent their intentions – bringing bad luck to the fishing.
  • The public sentiment of Farol was that those who were obliged to leave the village were instantly exposed to evil influences, which increased almost mile by mile until Figueiras – seen as a huge, bewildering and utterly immoral metropolis – was reached.
  • Don Alberto used the grand old unit of measurement, caballerías – denoting the area a horse could be ridden around at a brisk walking pace in one hour.
  • It was a period when the Civil Guards had decided to renew their harassment. All the boats had to be checked to ensure that all their atheistic names were not showing through the purposely thin coating of paint with which they had been covered, and the occasional stubborn heretic who had repainted eyes or even stars on the front of his boat was called to the casa cuartel for official rebuke.
  • Don Ignacio [the village priest] thought that the democracy of foreigners was misunderstood by a people who had never encountered it before and who were encouraged by it to presumption and lack of respect.
  • In 1950 a male tourist was not allowed, in theory, to go about in shorts unless he covered his knees with handkerchiefs. . . . In the same year, a local girl was sent to a correctional unit run by nuns for wearing a two-piece bathing costume.
Sad to relate, Alfie Mittington has decided to forgo further blogs on Cyprus and the EU. You can see his rationale here. Hard not to have sympathy for/with him.

Finally . . . My mother's cleaner came today. Being of that generation, my mother got up early to clean the place before she arrived. More than that – she removed every item from every surface and placed them either on her bed or on the dining table. My first reaction was to laugh but then I realised, if I'd done that over the years, I'd have avoided breakages made by those of my cleaners who were clumsy. Viz. all of them.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I'm a tad annoyed with myself as I meant to start my last post with the news that I'd travelled to London to look up old friends. And that, in the words of the old joke, it'd been a horrible sight. But I forgot and have now lost the opportunity.

Another thing I forgot to write was that, when I was at the Williamson art gallery last Sunday, I stopped at a large picture showing British troops arriving in a home port, after service in India. I was shocked to see that the title was Return of the Herpes, before I realised I'd misread one of the letters.

One thing you notice in the UK - and perhaps in London more than elsewhere – is the relentless march of new technologies. Or at least new applications of new-ish technologies. So it was that I could check out my items in the W H Smith station shop using one of the machines you see in supermarkets. Except I couldn't, as it went haywire and gave me one pound fifty of someone else's change. Eventually I gave up and went to the counter, where there was a human who gave me a free copy of the Daily Telegraph when I bought a Times. Which struck me as odd. Like getting a free Whopper when you buy a Big Mac.

Technology also went a bit haywire on the train back to Liverpool this afternoon. After telling us elegantly about which train we were on, which station we were now at and what the next station would be, the PA system got ahead of itself and welcomed us to a Liverpool to London train. Someone clearly noticed that – still ten minutes away from Liverpool – this announcement amused the home-coming Scousers so much it'd be fun to repeat it. So they did. How we laughed!

Back in Spain, there's a new joker on the block. A professor at a Valencia university has come under fire from politicians and students for allegedly preaching that women had a duty before God to stay with unfaithful or violent husbands, homosexuality was 'curable' and that abortion following rape was 'intolerable'. She allegedly told students during a class on Social Doctrine of the Church that becoming pregnant through rape was 'something good which comes out of bad' and was effectively God's way of compensating the woman for her ordeal. 'Even if your husband is unfaithful, the proof of your love is to carry on loving him with tears in your eyes, just as Jesus wept on the Cross.' There's little need to criticise the Catholic Church when it has comediennes of this quality in its ranks.

Finally . . . The police are now so worried about so many things in the UK that they're decked out like troops in the midst of a battle in Afghanistan. Which means they can't walk but have to waddle. Even if they're not real cops but only Railway Police. There's no way they could run to catch a malefactor. But I guess they could let the train take the strain.
A few random and unconnected observations, born of a trip from Liverpool to London:-
  • The person on the train who used to be called 'The Guard' is now called 'The Train Manager'. Title creep in action.
  • The Quiet Coach on the train really seems to work; no one one makes a phone call. Or at least not until you're within 5 minutes of Euston station.
  • If you don't have an Oyster Card (whatever that is), it'll cost you four pounds fifty (say 5 euros) to go one stop on the London underground(metro).
  • Beer costs the same per pint - 4.50.
  • Almost no one who serves you in London is British. The barmaid (Bar Manager?) of the pub we went to midday today was French. And extremely pleasant. I was a tad uncomfortable when John told her that, because of this, she couldn't be French. But she has learned to laugh at customer's funnies.
  • Australian wines have names like Spitting Spider, Scaredy Cat and, would you believe?, Innocent Bystander.
  • Spanish wines appear to be priced at twice their euro price back home, converted 1:1 into pounds. So 10 euros becomes 20 pounds.
  • Contrary to expectation, it's as cold here in the South as it was in the North West.
You'll have heard that the bones of the British king Richard III ('Richard of York') were found a short while ago underneath a Leicester car-park. And you may have heard that a decision has been taken that he'll be re-interred in Leicester cathedral, rather than in York cathedral. But you may not have heard that the Richard III Society – which includes 11 folk said to be descendants of the king – has gone to court to get this decision changed in York's favour. Their claim is that the decision is a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically of the injunction that family life should be respected. Quite surreal, really. I wouldn't have thought that Richard can have had any sort of life left in him after 500 years under the sod. But I'll be fascinated to see the lawyers' arguments.

Cyprus and the EU: Our Ambrose has some characteristically trenchant views on recent developments. For a start:- The punishment regime imposed on Cyprus is a trick against everybody involved in this squalid saga, against the Cypriot people and the German people, against savers and creditors. All are being deceived. And:- The willingness of the Cypriot authorities last week to seize money from anybody in any bank in Cyprus – even healthy banks – was an act of state madness. We will find out over time whether this epic blunder has destroyed confidence in the country as a financial centre, or whether parts of the financial and legal services sector can rebound. And:- The Cyprus debacle has taught us yet again that EMU has gone off the rails, is a danger to stability, and should be dismantled before it destroys Europe’s post-War order. Click here for more.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Some good news from Pontevedra . . . A court has decided that the council must return a parking fine because the sign about loading and unloading was only in Gallego, the Galician language. A small victory for those of us trying to master the national language. By which I mean 'national' and not 'regional'.

Spain's most famous, fatal and expensive bull has popped his hooves. He'll now be stuffed and mounted, for the families of his victims to admire, I guess. More here.

Someone else who's effectively died in Spain recently is the King, Juan Carlos. Click here for why he's very much out of favour. So much so, in fact, that some are calling for abdication, for fear he'll bring the Borbon-Borbon House down.

Finishing Lewis's Voices of the Sea today, I was left wondering just how much of his riveting tale was fact and how much fiction - as with that other great traveller in Spain, George Borrow, of The Bible in Spain fame. In Lewis's case, the suspicions are endorsed by the fact that, while he spent the summers of 1948, 1949 and 1950 in the (misnamed) Spanish village of Farol, he didn't publish his account until 1984. Here's a comment from someone reviewing a biography of Lewis:- Lewis's visits, we learn from the biography, were made in a large Buick, in the holidaying company of his partner of the the time and their children. You wouldn't guess this from 'Voices of the Old Sea'. Lewis was a secretive, contradictory man who nursed his inconsistencies because they fitted his understanding of how the world worked. And here's a reasonably brief synopsis of the book:- 'Voices' conjures the elemental traditional life of the village Lewis called Farol, on the eve of its destruction by the tourist industry. This conquest was decades old by the time he wrote the book. Farol's residents were adamantly attached to a hardscrabble subsistence economy and a culture of atavistic paganism still not yielding completely to Catholicism, much less to anything called "Spain." Their cosmology was dualistic: one world was Farol, the seaside, cat-infested village whose authority figures were fishermen. Its eternal Other was Sort, an inland, dog-riddled hamlet of cork farmers and other peasant landlubbers who wore shoes rather than rope sandals (chief among Farol's superstitions was an abhorrence of leather). As land and houses are bought up to build a hotel, a kind of suspense builds slowly, even though the final outcome seems obvious. And in fact it is shocking when suddenly the villagers, once dismissive of the possibility of change, cheerfully exterminate any private habit of life once the price became irresistible, to be replaced with something palatable to visitors' expectations of Spain. It's a sobering read for anyone historically minded who has been to the Costa Brava, or any other part of Europe extensively developed for tourism, and is tempted to think they have an eye for what is "authentic" to the place. I recommend it wholeheartedly. As to whether it's all true or not, I leave you with a quotation from Barros, cited by – of all people – the parish priest:- “Why speak of truth or lies? It all depends on the colour of the glass we look through.” Personally, I prefer the glass as Lewis painted it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

To the Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead this morning, to see their Spring/Summer Exhibition. Some good, some bad. Some bloody awful. As my old friend, David, and I were studying one of the better pictures, a woman in her 80s approached him with the ineffable line . . . “Do? . . Do you? . . Do you come here often?” Foolishly, he replied Yes and she then chatted to him for about ten minutes on the subject of a particular picture which she couldn't find on the walls. I hope he learned his lesson. One can be too nice.

Mind you, I went one better at lunch in my mother's condominium, where I was button-holed by a 93 year old woman who told me she'd been a midwife, that she'd been elephant-riding in Sri Lanka in her 70s and riding to hounds at 80. She also confided she'd been out driving in the snow and ice this morning. When I asked how often she had to have her capacities tested – as you do regularly in Spain – I was rather surprised to hear she merely filled in a form every three years. Can you see the car in front of you? Yes; Do you still have the use of your legs? Yes. etc. etc. Can this really be true?

Another old friend has lent me Norman Lewis's book Voices of the Old Sea. This is a wonderful account of the adjacent Catalan villages of Farol and Sort in the late 40s and early 50s – one devoted to fishing and the other to cork farming. Both dirt poor and riddled with bizarre customs and superstitions. Some extracts:-
  • Whenever a dolphin was taken in their nets, it was not killed but wounded and then let go, as an example to its fellows of what their fate would be if they continued to damage the nets.
  • Once in a while a falcon would get entangled in a hen coop and when this happened, the fishermen would wire up its beak and release it.
  • They claimed that both the dolphins and the falcons suspended their attacks when one of their number had been treated in this way.
  • Suckers of lambs' wool” was the derisive title imposed by all those who suffered from the Fascist bureaucracy on the officials who sucked their blood.
  • A party of fisherman passed. Each man, seeing [the village priest] fumbled quickly to touch iron or, failing that, his testicles.
  • No one in Farol liked the colour yellow – possibly because it was associated with magical practices, this being the colour of the eyes painted on the boats.

More tomorrow.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I brought a little joy into my mother's life today. Using Google Streetview I was able to show her the house in Liverpool where her grandmother had lived, and also the Albany pub in which she'd lived as a child until her family moved to a larger pub 'across the water' in Birkenhead at the outbreak of World War 2. I offered to take her to see it but she replied – with some justification – that the internet had made this unnecessary. Plus it was still a rough area, she feared.

Another find today was my father's dog-tags and his flying school student manuals. With luck, I'll be able to fly a Spitfire within a day or two.

Back in Spain, the man responsible for the surplus-to-requirements Castellón airport and the statue of himself outside it – Carlos Fabra – is finally to stand trial for influence-peddling, bribery and tax fraud. Somehow or other, he's been able to delay this for nine - yes, nine - years. I've no idea how but I assume it involves endless appeals. And the sort of frivolous proceedings that the Spanish courts don't seem to punish. In a nice touch, Fabra has resigned as President of the Airport organisation.

Here's a sentence I never thought I'd write – Click here for information on the seven dwarves of Auschwitz.
Despite the snow and the freezing temperatures of an atypical British spring, I drove to an art exhibition this evening. As I crawled along the main roads, I wondered whether there'd be anyone there beyond me and the organisers. Or even that many, in fact, as I turned round and came back when I was but half-way there. By this time I was on the snow-laden side-roads and facing a long, steepish hill, on which the warning lights of a car blinked in the distance through the snowflakes. Discretion, as they say, is the better part of valour. Or, in this case, foolhardiness.

It's several years since I first heard the claim that Britain's energy strategy would inexorably lead to power shortages in 2015. Nobody seemed to take it very seriously back then and it certainly didn't lead to a change of government policy under which coal and nuclear have been run down in favour of other sources of energy. Click here for an informed view of the situation.

Spain: After months of reportage on the financial misdeeds of leading lights in the governing PP party, we now have accusations against the ex Minister for Public Works in the previous PSOE administration. The PP party will be delighted that their traditional Spanish response of Y tu más now has a bit of flesh on it but, in truth, the numbers don't yet compare. But it's a start. There's a Galician connection in that the businessmen said to have paid for pharmaceutical licences is from our region. Ill be interested to find out from where exactly, my guess being Porriño.

The EU and Cyprus: Click herefor an article entitled Southern Europe Lies Prostrate before the German Imperium. As you might expect, the author recognises that his view may well be a controversial one. And click here for Alfie Mittington's latest post on the subject. Keep your ears open for the sound of a trumpet being blown here.

I may have mentioned my mother's deafness. During the last 12 days of her relentless cough, her aural capability has not been augmented by her hearing aides, as she's opted not to wear them. Consequently I've had to shout everything and nearly always had to repeat the first attempt. And then there've been the frequent misunderstandings, such as this one as I left for Knutsford on Wednesday:-
OK. This is my UK mobile number. Please call me if you are contacted about the Probate.
What will you be doing at the toll-gate?

It makes for difficult conversation. Or nil conversation to be rather more accurate.

Finally . . . Here's Spanish Fiesta's view of the top ten cathedrals in Spain. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

A denuncia is the first step in a Spanish civil suit, involving a visit to the Guardia Civil or perhaps the court. The word seems to crop up regularly in conversation – especially in that of people who live in flat blocks and have troublesome neighbours. In fact, I've been known to suggest that the Spanish initiate denuncias at the drop of an insult. So I was interested to read this informative paragraph from Lenox's Business Over Tapas:- Spain doesn't spend much on justice. There are about 10 judges for every 100,000 inhabitants here, while the European average is over 21. The public purse spends about 1% of GNP on 'justicia', against the European average of almost double this. There are around five million cases a year entering the Spanish books (proportionally, the highest in the world after the USA) – not because of criminality, but because it's just the system in Spain – workers tribunals, small claims, 'denuncias' and so on. All this means is that a court case takes a long time to come to a resolution. But fear not, we have way more 'notarios' in Spain than the European average. Click here for information on Business Over Tapas.

Pressed for time by a heavy travelling schedule I must resort once again to the blog of my friend and fellow blogger, Alfie B Mittington. His theme is again Cyprian Criminality and the two articles he cites are also worthy of a read. The opening sentence of the Ambrose piece mirrors my own instinctive reaction to the attempted high-jacking of a significant percentage of deposits of small savers.

From time to time I get emails from people seeking information on Galicia, or even help in progressing a dream of buying property here. I try to help, when I can. A recent correspondent is a practitioner in the field of anthroposophy, about which I was totally ignorant. As you may be too, here's something to help:- The General Anthroposophical Society is an organization dedicated to supporting the community of those interested in the form of spiritual philosophy known as anthroposophy. The society was initiated during 1913 by members of the Theosophical Society in Germany. The Society was re-founded as the General Anthroposophical Society in 1923/4 "to nurture the life of the soul, both in the individual and in human society, on the basis of a true knowledge of the spiritual world." It includes an esoteric school at its centre, the School of Spiritual Science. The Society's headquarters is in Switzerland. The Society has national Societies in many countries. Its primary activities include organizing members' meetings and conferences, supporting research and providing communication channels for a variety of purposes. The Society also tries to encourage sustainable initiatives in the many practical fields in which its members are active. The society had approximately 60,000 members in 2008. More here.

Finally . . . I was once told that the self-employment fields most favoured by British men and women were window-cleaning and hairdressing, respectively. So there are a lot of hairdressers around, all - it seems - trying to be very cute with their name. I'm resolved to draw up a list of these while I'm in the UK but for now will leave you just this one, seen today . . . . Headlines.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I had to buy a new chip for my UK phone as the last one had died for lack of use. Since then – 7 days ago – I've received about 15 messages from O2 telling me to call some number or other. Today's started – Hi, It's Toby, the O2 Guru. Hope you and your phone are best buddies now. We Gurus are here to offer clear, friendly advice, and handy tips and tricks on line and in O2 shops. There was more but I couldn't go on. Still it wasn't all bad news; I confirmed that my phone is vomit-proof.

Walking through my mother's lounge yesterday morning, I noticed that the Papal Mass was on the TV. Possibly because I've been reading about Julius Caesar in a book on Shakespeare – and possibly because the predominant colour was purple - it struck me that the event resembled nothing so much as the crowning of a Roman Emperor. Insofar as I can imagine what this involved. And then there was the Roman backcloth. I wonder if Frankie 1 will also have a slave walking behind him, to whisper in his ear a regular reminder that he's mortal.

Then I got thinking about Holy Relics. These are things like bits of bone of St This and the ear of St That. And about five million pieces of the True Cross. The stimulus was someone talking about St Joseph teaching Jesus the craft of carpentry. And I thought – If good money is paid for bits of the Cross, etc., there must be a fortune to be made selling cabinets and the like made by Jesus. So, where are they all? Frankly, it's a mystery to me. Maybe Jesus failed to incorporate a symbol or even his initials on his stuff. Or maybe he was a poor carpenter and everything fell apart. I guess we'll never know. At least not until we get to Heaven and have a chance to ask him.

Going through a box of my father's stuff today, I happened upon Part 1 of Beginners Welsh. His grandfather had been Welsh but this wasn't the reason for studying the language. My father was a representative for Black & White whisky in a territory which included North Wales. Not surprisingly, he'd written in the front of the booklet Wyn Du a Gwyn. Which Trevor will confirm is Welsh for “Black & White Rep.” Possibly. For those who don't know, Welsh is the Gaelic language of the original Brits, or at least those who were pushed back into Wales and Cornwall by the advancing Anglo-Saxon hordes from Frisia and North Germany. Apart from Cornish, it's related to the languages of Ireland and Scotland and is close to that of Brittany in France, which was settled by folk from Cornwall. And it looks bloody difficult, even if the kids in Wales do speak it. The booklet is an eye-opener as it makes no concessions to modern teaching methods and, although it looks like it came out of Dickens, it was first published in 1934 and my father's edition was dated 1959. Despite that, one of the first English sentences to translate is “Where art thou going?” For a flavour of the vocabulary, I give you CERDDED, GWEITHIO, CHWARAE and BWRDD. You will have noticed that the last one contains no vowels. So, closer to Polish than English. As it happens, I'll be seeing a Welsh-speaking friend in London next week and will be able to practice my new skills with him. Or I could if he hadn't told me last year he hates the language. But I may have misunderstood him, as he said it in Welsh.

The EU: Cyprus: A view I have no difficulty believing . . .

There is one great beneficiary from all this – the Germans. Die Welt reports that the rush of investors to buy German government bonds had brought Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble an interest rate saving of at least €15 billion. This is because the federal government has to refinance annually about one-fifth of its debt €1.3 trillion debt mountain each year by issuing new securities. Servicing the interest cost around €30 billion. But for the crisis, though, this sum would be even higher. And, according to calculations by the Kiel Institute for World Economics (IfW), this so-called "safe-haven" effect will get stronger as the eurocrisis persists. By 2023, the federal government will have saved about €80 billion, from reduced interest, compared with pre-2009 levels, when the crisis started.

Effectively, this is a massive "own goal" in the part of the eurozone as, in one fell swoop, the "colleagues" have destroyed will little vestigial trust there is in the banking system. You can not blame any Spaniard, if he puts his money s under the mattress, says Die Welt. And thus is exacerbated the banking crisis.

Putting the whole affair in perspective is Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which talks of the destruction of trust. "For euro-based investors, there is no more security for their savings", the paper says.

Pointing out that Cyprus has a minute economy, smaller than the Saarland, and that the "colleagues" are claiming there is no systemic risk to the eurozone, where central bank balance sheets fall in the trillion range, it questions why such dramatic action has been over a loan of €10 billion, the amount being advanced to Cyprus.

So many things simply do not stack up that that the ECB is seen to be stoking up fear of contagion – especially as Greek savers are heavily exposed. This does not touch the banks or deal with the underlying problems. It is a tax on wealth.

Thus does Die Zeit believe that we have reached a new stage in the eurocrisis.  The rescue has turned into a "nail-biter". No one is now prepared to predict what will happen next.

And on that worrying note, I'll leave you. It's all rather like Gary Linneker's view of World Cup football – Everyone plays ninety minutes of football now and again. And then the Germans win. Though it did sound rather better ten years ago. But you know what I mean.

Monday, March 18, 2013

To Liverpool today, to do my annual – and 100% successful! – annual clothes shop. It's always a pleasure to walk through the city centre and to listen to the thick Scouse accents that contrast so much with the posh Scouse of my family. This is easiest done by walking behind young mothers with kids in strollers, as each of them is relieving the boredom by chatting on her mobile phone.

I had the impression that fewer of the young women were smoking than would be the case in Pontevedra. And that they were, shall we say, less slim. Though this could be pure coincidence.

My Ferrol friend Richard has sent me a video of a Galician man risking his life to harvest percebes from sea-tossed rocks. For those who don't know, percebes are goose-barnacles. All you need to appreciate about them is that, within living memory, they were used only for animal feed. Now they're an expensive gourmet luxury. And, of course, an aphrodisiac. I have never budged from my initial reaction, i. e. that they taste like a bit of rubber dipped in salty water. In the video, you'll see the intrepid percebero/ percebeiro say that people like them because they taste of the sea. Well, so does a mug of sea-water but this doesn't sell for 300 euros a kilo. As they say, there's no accounting for taste.

I and my friend and fellow-blogger - Alfie B. Mittington – don't always see eye to eye but it seems that on the EU rape of Cyprus we really do. Here's Alfie's nice piece on this today and you could do worse than backtrack to yesterday's post, when he first got the bit between his teeth. By the way, for the confused among you, I don't know what the title of his blog means either. And I think he once told me.

It'll be interesting to see if the recent tax developments in Spain and the shocking cash hijacking in Cyprus have any real impact on the number of foreigners buying property in Spain. Last year the number rose by 28% and is now almost up to the pre-Crisis level. One informed observer comments that “Foreign buyers are being lured back to Spain by lower house prices and fewer town-planning and property related scandals that so blighted Spain’s reputation at the tail end of the boom.” Can their memories really be so short? Are they still blithely using the notary rather than a lawyer, in the mistaken belief that he's looking after their interests? I fear so.

How topical to come across Popes Head Alley in Shapiro's book about Shakespeare, 1599. And how sad to find it no longer exists in London. But there are at least 5 roads/streets going by this name in the USA. All of them in Virginia. So possibly originating from some settler, late of London. Wouldn't it be nice to know.

I've used 'nice' at least twice in this post, despite my primary school teacher telling me never to use it, as it meant nothing at all. Probably his hobby-horse.

Finally . . . Facebook's latest ruse is to somehow link me into Dating with Friends and to send me offers to join bloody Chirpme.This wouldn't be so bad if all the women they keep telling me about weren't 10 years older than me. And I'm beyond my toyboy phase now.
Every Sunday morning on BBC TV there's an hour-long discussion of moral issues. What this usually boils down to is differing religious believers spouting their own brand of bigotry based on their reading of one 'holy' book or another. Albeit one by one and not shouting. So not remotely Spanish. But, when it comes to bigotry, there's few that can out-do the Muslim Brotherhood. Their government in Egypt – in the face of the UN's attempts to get a declaration of women's rights together - has provided 10 reasons why this shouldn't happen, stressing that its implementation would 'destroy society'. Personally, I think it's time for a schism in Islam. Above and beyond that of the Sunnis and Shiites, I mean. Leaving the 7th century Neanderthals behind in the desert.

On a lighter note, The Washington Post is said to host an annual competition for clever folk who can do amusing things with words. Click here for a full list of winners. One of the challenges is supplying alternate meanings for common words. After the week I've had with my mother, no one will be surprised to hear that my favourite is:- Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs.

Talking of words, so-called Americanisms that creep into (British) English can be sonorous or they can be – as was once said in another auditory context - 'like a pistol let off at the ear-hole.' I put the one I read today – burglarised – very much in the latter category. Especially as we already have a perfectly good (and shorter) word – burgled.

I read of the deposit theft developments in Cyprus with incredulity, seeing it as little more than institutionalised theft. And taxation without representation. Revolutions have been inspired by less. The dictum that kept recurring to me was “The effect of every major reform is the exact opposite of that for which it was designed.” So, we will see but I suspect the responses will be momentous.

Talking of the EU, a Cambridge historian writing in New Society has written on “The German Problem”, which first emerged in 1870, I suspect. Possibly earlier. Here's his final paragraph:-
Today, Germany is both too strong and too weak, or at least too disengaged. It sits uneasily at the heart of an EU that was conceived largely to constrain German power but which has served instead to increase it, and whose design flaws have unintentionally deprived many other Europeans of sovereignty without giving them a democratic stake in the new order.[Think Cyprus!] The question we face now is this: how can the Federal Republic, which is prosperous and secure as never before, be persuaded to take the political initiative and make the necessary economic sacrifices to complete the work of European unity?

One way or the other, the German question persists and will always be with us. This is because, whenever Europe and the world think they have solved it, events and the Germans change the question.

You can read the entire article here.

I did a little check on my mother's name, Barbarita, and confirmed there are few others with the same handle. Though she isn't unique. Talking of my mother . . . She may still be ill, bed-bound and 88 but this evening, as on every day for the past week, she has sneaked into my bedroom, negotiated a passage between the desk-chair and my suitcase on the floor, closed the curtains and put a walking stick along the bottom of the curtains 'to prevent a draft'. This evening, I filled in a form for her to sign, containing her bank details. Despite knowing that I have a First Class degree in law (from back when almost nobody got them!) she still went through the form line by line before signing it. As I may have said, it gets tough at times.

Finally . . . How are the polar bears faring? If you think that global warming is decimating them, you'll find this article interesting. Normally, I'd provide a link but the paywall would keep you out. So here's the whole thing:-

De rigueur though it may be to describe Sir David Attenborough as a “national treasure” and our “greatest living naturalist”, it really is time he was called to account for the shameless way in which he has allowed himself to be made the front-man for one particular propaganda campaign that has stood all genuine scientific evidence on its head. Last week yet another report picked up on the part Sir David has played in promoting what the facts show to have been no more than a colossal scare story. 
It is now seven years since Sir David was first wheeled out by the BBC as the main cheerleader in its campaign to whip up panic over man-made global warming. In two documentaries, he presented himself as a one-time “climate sceptic” who had now been convinced by the evidence. The only problem was that, as he repeated a series of familiar alarmist mantras, there was little sign that he had checked the evidence for any of them: not least his claim that, thanks to the melting of Arctic ice, the world’s polar bear population, already down by a quarter, could be facing extinction. 
Pressure groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth had already made polar bears the most iconic image for their crusade to save the planet. WWF, in its relentless pursuit of funds, was moving on from pandas to appealing to the public to “pay £3 a month to adopt a polar bear”. 
Vainly, in the face of this avalanche of propaganda, did an array of experts and bodies such as the US National Biological Service and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature point out that, thanks to curbs on hunting in the Seventies, the world’s polar bear population had, in fact, risen from 10,000 in 1966 to 25,000 or more in 2006; that all but one of their 19 main groups were significantly increasing in numbers; and that, based on observed data rather than highly questionable computer models, there was not a shred of evidence of any threat to the bears from climate change. 
Al Gore twice famously fell flat on his face in promoting the cause, first when his film An Inconvenient Truth focused on the fate of four bears that were later shown just to have drowned in a storm; then when he made big play with a picture of two bears on a half-melted iceberg, which the photographer later protested she had only taken because it was a striking image, unconnected in any way with climate change. 
But although Al Gore may have been notoriously reckless in misusing evidence, he has no pretensions to being a scientist. Sir David’s reputation, on the other hand, is that of a man with respect for science, although this did not prevent him in 2009 from supporting a ridiculous BBC publicity stunt involving a giant blow-up plastic polar bear floating down the Thames, or making polar bears a key feature of his Frozen Planet series in 2011, ending in a propaganda pitch for global-warming alarmism that somehow managed to overlook the fact that polar sea ice had recently been greater in extent than at any time in 30 years.
When, last week, the Global Warming Policy Foundation published a new report, Ten Good Reasons Not to Worry About Polar Bears, Matt (now Lord) Ridley referred in his foreword to Sir David’s bizarre determination to ignore the evidence. The report’s author, Susan Crockford, an experienced Canadian polar bear expert, explains just why there is no connection between the thriving polar bear population and climate change, and how this has been concocted into one of the great urban myths of our time. 
Nothing is going to stand in the way of Sir David’s reputation as a national treasure, even though it rests so largely on the extraordinary skill of the cameramen who make his documentaries so memorable. But for his readiness to lend his immense prestige to a scare story that defies all the evidence he deserves no respect at all.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Dealing with my father's papers has alerted me to the odd fact that neither he nor my mother used their proper first names throughout their adult lives, and possibly longer. My father's full name was David Christopher Davies. He was christened David when his father was away at sea. As he (my grandfather) didn't like this name, he called my father Sonny. Possibly inspired, if that's the word, by The Jazz Singer. Some time in his teens, my father changed his name to Digger. And some time after that, to Dai. For her part, my mother was christened – wait for it – Joanna Barbarita Bankes. And is possibly the only person in the world with this second forename. For some reason, she was only ever called Rita. Despite this, she has been very upset at ignorant people sending condolence cards to Mrs R Davies, rather than Mrs J B Davies. As for me, I was christened David Colin Davies and, in the family tradition, was only ever called Colin. Until I came to Spain and discovered that the Spanish don't believe in two forenames, but do believe in two surnames. To them, therefore, the unfamiliar second name of Colin is my first surname. For this reason, and because they recognise it, whenever I'm asked for my name I always say David. More accurately Dabeeth. By the way, some of you will have noticed that my father and I have the same initials and, of course, surname. Which has produced a fair bit of confusion over the years. Parents can be so dumb at times.

If you were asked to say what percentage the notes and coins in circulation represented of all the cash in the economy, I doubt you'd go as low as the true figure of 3%. The balance is just numbers on a computer and is created/increased whenever a bank makes any sort of loan or gives credit. Some say that this puts a certain bias into the system, especially when banks are allowed to do things they weren't allowed to do in the 70s. They also say the situation cries out for change. Which seems pretty reasonable to me.

I've said that, in need of property title certificates in the UK, one doesn't need to got to the Land Registry and talk to someone; it's all done on the internet these days. I was a little disappointed with this for the strange reason that the Registry is built on the spot where previously had stood my grandparents' pub – The Wellington. Within a stone's throw of the Birkenhead entrance to the road tunnel under the river Mersey. And I would have quite liked a reason to re-visit the locale, to spark childhood memories. But, thanks to the stupid British mania for speed and efficiency, this was not to be.

The new tax laws in Spain . . . Although you'd be forgiven for getting the impression these apply only to foreigners resident in Spain, they actually apply to everyone. And they may well have been brought in because Spaniards moved so much money offshore during the heaviest travails of the Euro. Introduced without consultation or notice late last year, they may well be illegal under EU law. They're certainly retrospective and may well amount to a Trojan horse, as was the case with the tax amnesty of last year. In that case, it was claimed that no questions would be asked but this, predictably, turned out to be untrue. With the new reporting arrangements, anything could happen and hence the concern. It would perhaps be ironic if a measure designed to catch Spaniards led to the loss of wealthy foreigners. The Law of Unintended Consequences. Anyway, here's more on this from the Round Town News of the south coast.

Finally . . . How fantastic to see the ground in Rome that normally gets 30-40,000 for football matches full of 80,000 rugby fans today. Even better to see Italy beat Ireland.

But not so good to see Wales beat England. But, then, Wales did have the ref. on their side . . . .

Friday, March 15, 2013

After coughing without cease for 6 days, my mother yesterday finally retired to her bed and called the doctor. Being of The Age of Deference and of the Everyone-Before-Me tendency, when the doctor arrived my mother firstly apologised for calling her out and then for the probate papers untidily littering her desk. And when she left, she thanked her profusely for taking the trouble to come and then castigated me for getting shut of her too quickly. “You mean a busy doctor who has lots of other sick people to attend to?” I asked, and got a malign stare in return.

My mother has still coughed throughout today. I'm full of sympathy of course, but have to admit that listening to someone cough non-stop for 7 days can be a tad wearing. Fortunately, tonight has seen some let up.

Talking of probate. The process is simple enough but it involves completing a form for the tax authorities, in case there's any inheritance tax to pay. This is 4 pages long but the guide to it comes in at 42.

It's a defence which is possibly even less plausible than that of Oscar Pitorius – An Englishman who's accused of starting the fire which killed his 5 kids, claims that his clothes smelled of petrol because he hadn't bathed for 3 months. As he's fond of threesomes and dogging, he must have been quite something to be with during this period. Assuming he's telling the truth, of course. Which I rather doubt.

Ads on British TV have long urged people of advanced years to think of spending money now so that their loved ones can get something later on. But, to my astonishment, this approach has now been extended to cats. You can actually pay for someone to look after your bird-killer once you're dead. I say 'astonished' but my guess is it's been a feature of US TV for a while.

Credit where credit is due – This is the opening paragraph of a description of the Valencia fallas from a web page called Spanish Fiestas:Today marks the beginning of the 'Festival of Fire' in Valencia. It runs from 15th to 19th March and is without a doubt the noisiest of Spain's many fiestas. Historically the event celebrates the Feast of San José, the patron saint of carpenters, but the festival has grown over the years to become one of the country's biggest fiestas which attracts visitors from all over the world. The video at the end of the post gives you some idea of the madness of this event. You can read all of it here.

I seem to have lost my battle to stop Facebook from forcing me to use their new (Timeline?) layout. In addition to that irritation, there's some nuisance called 'Pinned posts'. I edge closer and closer to exiting the whole shebang.

Talking of web pages, you may have been told that Google Reader is being killed as of July. Which is a shame. Researching alternatives this evening, I came across this bit of unintelligible jargon . . . I think users are worried they will lose handcurated feed bundles of their favourite content. Yes, very probably.

Finally . . . At 65, Emmylou Harris looks almost as stunning as she did at 25. Can this be possible?
Last night's post lies marooned on a USB pen which won't function because it's "drawing too much power from the USB port". If anyone knows how to solve this problem, please let me know, either as a comment here or by writing to me here.

Update: According to the man in the shop, my USB pen is crocked, or to use the technical term - 'fucked'. This happens when you use a pen as if it were a regular hard drive, instead of only using it fleetingly. If you do the former - as I did yesterday for the first time - it will eventually overheat. Perhaps after ten years or perhaps after only one day. As in my case.

So, I can't retrieve last night's post and will have to rewrite it from memory over the course of today.

More anon.

Update 2

In more than 68 years of marriage, my father never allowed my mother to put anything other than salt in her cooking. So you can imagine how bland our food was as kids, before we could leave home at 18 and throw ourselves into the world's vast array of spices. I thought about this tonight, as I was preparing stew for my bedridden mother, my sister and I. I was tempted to chuck in several cloves of garlic from the hands I'd brought from Spain but decided not to, just in case. But I did go to what would be the spice cupboard, to find only half a jar of dried parsley leaves. In the end I contented myself with adding just a couple of red peppers (pimientos, not chili) to my mother's standard ingredients. One step at a time.

Update 3

I have some familiarity with the way properties are bought and sold in Spain. It takes up a lot of time and involves a great deal of paperwork. This is true whether the title is registered or not and it's always done via a notary. Who is a civil servant and an institution more appropriate to the 18th than the 21st.century. In fact, I've always been surprised that he or she wasn't using a quill pen. Here in the UK, you can't get hold of paper even if you want to. All title documents are held electronically at the Land Registry and getting hold of them is as simple as filling in a form on line and sending it off. If you're lucky they'll be with you (on line) in an hour. If not, within a day. Inconceivable in a Spanish context. In this, as in other aspects of Spanish life, one feels that no one is at all interested in making the process more logical, easier or quicker. Instead, one suspects that the underlying attitude is 'It may not be perfect but it either creates or maintains employment. So we'll stick with it.' Not exactly an approach that chimes with a dynamic society. On the other hand, the tax authorities send you a draft declaration every March and you can do everything on line, quickly and efficiently. This is what I mean when I say that Spain has one foot in the 21st century and one in the 18th.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

So, we have a new Pope and the Catholic Church can start getting back to normal, if there is anything it does that can really be described as 'normal'. I am, as I've said, a lapsed Catholic but I was disturbed to hear today that, because I'm baptised and until I write to the Vatican to tell them I've lost the faith, I'm still counted among the billion plus Catholics of the world. In other words, I remain on their books. As do many of us, of course. Which doesn't seem right.

As for my daughters, one of them is very much a Catholic and the other is very much an atheist. They were sent to Catholic primary and secondary schools because their (non-Catholic) mother felt the discipline would be better there and because I felt it was essential they were exposed to one of the world's three great desert religions. If only because they're a wonderful source of humour.

One last word on the Papal election . . . Watching Pope Frankie appear was quite an experience, seated next to my Catholic mother and my extremely Catholic sister. But I was struck by the thought that the only other organisation I know that could compete with the Church in terms of male-dominated senescence would be the English Football Association. Which is not known for its fleetness of foot. Or its wisdom.

During's Spain's boom years, her population increased by more than 10%, when over 5 million immigrants took up many of the jobs being created, especially in the construction industry. Most of them, I think, are still there, possibly making up the bulk of Spain's 6 million unemployed. Which would help to explain why there's not been much violence on the streets.

If you're a Brit resident in Spain, here's what you need to know about about access to healthcare services here. But what you really need to know is whether new tax measures will affect you. Essentially, if you have assets of more than 50,000 euros outside Spain, they do. And the relevant reporting deadline in 30 April, I believe. But don't rely on me.

My father's stuff included an ID card from the late 1940s and, more interestingly, a 100 quid debenture issued by Stableford and Company Ltd. In 1923. I imagine this is worthless and that my father owned it because Stableford was a member of Wallasey Golf Club, where my father played and of which he was Captain at one point. Well, if you play every Saturday and Sunday and most evenings of the week, you get to be pretty good. If I'm wrong and the debenture has some value, bids are welcome.

Finally . . . If you're going to be in Pontevedra, here and here are somebody's idea of the best tapas bars in Pontevedra province and in its capital, Pontevedra city.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tomorrow sees the scattering of my father's ashes in the Garden of Remembrance. A friend has assured me that each day at the crematorium a single furnace is lit and all the day's coffins put in it together. I suggested, therefore, we should seek a DNA test before scattering what were alleged to be our father's ashes. But my two sisters reconciled their Catholic-Jewish differences and overruled me. The sisterhood.

The gate of the cemetery in which the crematorium is to be found is virtually opposite the gate of a park in which my father used to play golf both Saturdays and Sundays. Occasionally, under duress, I would caddy for him and when we left the park and drove past the cemetery my father would always say “You know, that's the most popular place in town. People are dying to get into it.” And then, “You know that it's the dead centre of town.” I hated this ritual. So, what do I do now when I drive past it with my daughters? You've guessed it. I enjoy the groans.

As Executor to my father's will, I spent most of the day dealing with lawyers and the Land Registry over the documents required for me to obtain Probate. Or, rather, I didn't. I actually spent less than an hour on the phone and the internet, filling in application forms and getting almost instantaneous replies. I actually spent more time chucking out 99% of the papers my mother had accumulated over the last 10 years.

What can one say about the panoply on show in Rome and the massive media attention being accorded to the Papal circus? Well, one thing at least – If he returned to earth now, Jesus would surely find the wealth and extravagance of the Catholic Church far more offensive than a few money-lenders in the temple.

Talking of the Catholic Church . . . I think we can safely assume that sexual abuse didn't just start in the 20th century and that it's been happening since whenever priests were required to suppress their sexual drive under a vow of celibacy. I believe this was an 11th century development, so let's take a thousand years at an average derived from 20th century numbers. And we arrive at 'rather a lot'. Again, surely not something Jesus would be proud of. Even if he did know it was going to happen.

Well, the multicultural linguistic tide may be turning here in the UK. Readers may recall that, when I was in Leeds last year, I noted that leaflets from the Council were available in at least 12 languages. This was always crazy but the political situation may now be such that one is finally allowed to say so. According to the Secretary for Communities and Local Government, translating documents is “very expensive and a poor use of taxpayers’ money”. I'll say. Not before time, he also said that providing translations “actually served to divide communities rather than unite them.”

Finally . . . The street I forgot last night was Hope St, where I and my friends attended the HQ of the 28th Wallasey scout troupe. And where we rehearsed for our fantastic annual Gang Show at the Floral Pavilion, down on the New Brighton seafront. Those were the days, eh KK?

Several years ago – inspired by the latest diet of my then visiting sister – I wrote here that I was having difficulty in finishing a book I was writing. I had the title - The secret to losing weight: Eat less and Exercise More – but I couldn't think of what else to write in the body of the book. So I was pleased to see the Sunday Times catching up with me yesterday. The paper claimed someone had reviewed each and every diet of the last X years and come up with the only prescription known to work – Eat less and exercise more. Sadly, it doesn't look as though I'll be making any money from my prescience.

Talking of diets . . . The author of this article says he was surprised to learn that Spanish kids are the third fattest in Europe. So am I; I thought they were number 2, after Malta at number 1.

Well, the indicted nun may have died and the subject may largely have disappeared from the Spanish media but the case of the stolen-for-sale babies has reached the British press at last. This, of course, is because one of the cheated mothers is British. And, more than twenty years on, she's seeking to find the daughter she'd been told was dead. But not getting much help from the Spanish authorities, she says. Which is not awfully surprising, given the scandalous nature of this Franco-inspired crime.

Here in Britain we have the scandal of Mr Huhne and his ex-wife, Ms Pryce. Mr Huhne was a senior cabinet minister in the current government before Ms Pryce decided to end both of their careers and destroy the family by revealing that he'd “perverted the course of justice” by getting her to confess to a motoring offence he'd committed. Her motivation was revenge but the upshot is that both of these two allegedly brilliant people today started 8 month prison sentences. And the moral of this Shakespearean tale? As someone once said “If you seek revenge, dig two graves. One for yourself.”

Finally . . . Today was a day of roads. Driving through a village I'd not visited for a while, I saw the name Orchard Road on a wall and went cold. This was where I used to be taken to the dentist at the time when British teeth were not reared on fluoride and there was no anaesthetic when you had fillings. Seeing the nameplate prompted the memory that I had always complained that the dentist seemed to be the only person who never had a day off work. Whenever we went, he was there. The sadistic bastard. The second road was Trafalgar Road, which I discovered was were my father was born in 1922. So my Spanish connection goes way back. There was a third road but I've forgotten what it was.