Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Spain's President Rajoy has assured us that his government knows what it's doing, that 'things are getting better' and that 'the economy is growing'. I'm guessing there's not a single person in the country – including Sr Rajoy – who believes any of these. As for his plea that people be patient, what choice do they have? They can't vote him out for another two years and the Revolution is yet to get off the ground. Rajoy has also insisted that Rajoy his government's economic forecasts involved "conservative but credible predictions". So credible, in fact, that no one will believe them either.

As for how the Spanish populace is taking austerity and its consequences, here's one summary of current travails, attitudes and social trends.

The euro: I rather like the way Edward Hugh puts it in his latest review of the Spanish economy - It is evident that participation in the common currency has had the perfectly foreseeable effect on Spain of making it simple to get into trouble and a lot harder to get out of it. Borrowing was cheap and easy of access during the boom years, now lending to Spain’s banks has all but dried up, and what there is available remains burdensomely expensive. Mr Hugh adds that: The currency bears an uncanny resemblance to Dr Strangelove’s doomsday machine, designed so that one day it would almost inevitably blow up the global financial system, but constructed so that any attempt to dismantle it would also produce the same outcome.

The eurozone: Reader David has kindly brought my attention to the devastating demolition of the picture drawn by Sylvie Goulard and cited in my post of yesterday. To see this scroll down a little bit until you reach the letter from Giles Conway-Gordon. Alfie Mittington will surely enjoy it. And here's an interesting account of Iceland's changed attitude towards membership of the eurozone. Not exactly a managed or unmanaged departure but certainly a broken engagement.

I was intrigued to see a foto of a couple of border collies in one of today's local papers, and delighted to read they'd given a demonstration at a horse fair up in the hills of 'harmony between man and animal without the need for leads, reins or spurs'. For those who don't know, these dogs are the most intelligent on the planet, yet also the most 'biddable'.

I thought, briefly, of posting a foto of every one of the 100+ shops that have closed in Pontevedra but decided you'd all be bored stiff. Here's one, though, that I do want to show:-

This is (or was) one of the shops in a small street in Pontevedra's old quarter renowned for the high prices of the wares on sale there. It's owned by a woman reputed to own several of the shops and it's the one which had on display an Iranian wood and leather chair for 850 euros (“To you only 680”) which I mentioned a while back. Things must be really bad when the truly affluent stop paying ludicrous prices for fashionable items. Incidentally, I've said that Pontevedra has a surfeit of ladies' accessories and kids' sweet shops but, as far as I can see, for each one that closes another one opens. I guess it makes sense to someone, possibly someone with a lot of black money to whiten.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

I attended a wedding ceremony and dinner yesterday evening. During the meal, the noise from the conversation of 40 people was so loud I could only catch maybe one word in five from the people opposite me and from my neighbours. And then the music started! I'm trying hard not to exaggerate here but it was so loud there must have been serious risk to everyone's hearing. Especially of those on the dance floor right below the speakers. Not to mention the DJ, who was listening through headphones. Or perhaps this was a defence because he at least could turn the volume down. Nearing midday today, I still had whistling – tinnitus? - in both ears. Anyway, I can vouch for the fact that, if you haven't heard bagpipes broadcast at 120db, you ain't heard anything. I tried to shove a couple of champagne (well, cava) corks in my ears but, if you're familiar with the shape of these, you'll appreciate why I wasn't too successful.

As ever, I was impressed by the Spanish capacity for fun, especially among the middle-aged women throwing themselves around the dance floor – sometimes with male partners – with all the gay abandon (as we used to say) of teenagers and twenty-somethings. I might have joined in but for the blasted, blasting speakers.

By the way, there was a seating plan for the dinner, displayed on a card on each table. In true Spanish non-conformist manner, this was comprehensively ignored, though there might have been more success if they'd used name cards. But I rather doubt it.

So, who can you mock on the BBC these days? Well, I'm pretty sure all these are fair game:- The royals; the politicians; the judges; the politicians; members of the Flat Earth Society; scientists; atheists; and deists. And probably many more. But not Christians, it would seem, in the light of the 3,000 complaints to the BBC about this relatively innocuous spoof by Rowan Atkinson. Thinking about it, you probably can't mock Muslims either. Or Jews. I wonder why people who believe in what others regard as mere superstition are so touchy. What harm can disbelief do to belief, whether it's respectful or disrespectful?

The Euro: One more negative:-
  • It has transferred billions of taxpayer euros to the pockets of bankers and the vaults of immoral and/or incompetent banks.
Someone at least is willing to stick her neck out and predict where the EU will be in 5 years time. A strong supporter of the EU, the author insists that: “Whether national politicians admit it or not, a closer union is on the agenda”. The only alternative, she believes, is chaos, disintegration and populism”. Unlike anything we've had for the past 5 years.

Finally . . . D'you remember the Spanish woman who decided to restore the fresco of Jesus on her church wall and in the process turned him into an orang utang? Well, I think I've happened upon her inspiration:-

Life imitating art. I wrote last week that the NRA in the USA were not going far enough in suggesting teachers should be armed. I felt that the kids should be too and that they should eventually be given personalised body armour. Today I read that: The pink bulletproof rucksack that 5-year-old Jaliyah wears to school every day reaches almost down to her knees and weighs 3lbs even when empty. . . Lined with ballistic material that can stop a 9mm bullet travelling at 400 metres per second, the backpack is only one of a clutch of new products making their way into US schools in the wake of Newtown school massacre. If you need it, there's more here.

Today I checked the calculation of the couple who came to persuade me to move from propane to natural gas. The source material was my bills of the last 12 months, which give the kilos of gas used to two decimal points. Ignoring this and using only rounded-up integers, I got the total to 490 kilos, compared with the 489.56 of my visitors. I cite this because it's an example of something I've mentioned a couple of times before; there seems to be no recognition here that the decimal points are, well, pointless. In newspapers, it can be worse, when numbers can be given to 3 decimal points. I've suggested this is done to give specious numbers an air of veracity. But it may be that people just don't think. Or that they're never taught to use their common sense. Other theories very welcome.

It struck me today that the Spanish press are essentially 'scandal rags'. Not because their behaviour is scandalous, like, say, the defunct News of the World, but because there's a constant procession of reports on corruption in the corporate and political worlds. The nearby city of Vigo figured in two of these today. The first was an investigation into a missing 3m euros in the port area and the second was further detail of fraudulent mis-management of the company Pescanova, whose president sold many of his shares just before the company filed for bankruptcy and saw a 99% fall in its share price. More on this here.

Needless to say, the Spanish government has now revised all its forecasts for the performance of the economy and its key elements. Growth expectations are down and taxes will rise again. Improvement in the unemployment rate has also been postponed until growth returns in 3 years time. Maybe. More here.

Gruesomely, some Spaniards are taking extreme steps to improve their financial situation. One has cut off his hand and another his lower arm, so as to make huge insurance claims. Sadly, neither of them succeeded in their cack-handed attempts to fool their insurance companies. What next? An auto-decapitation?

The EU: As I was saying, the institution has no real idea of how to defeat – or even attack – its fundamental problems. As as our Ambrose put it today: Germany’s Bundesbank has issued a devastating attack on the bond rescue policies of the European Central Bank, rendering the eurozone’s key crisis measure almost unworkable. . . . The 9m window of opportunity created by Draghi has been wasted.

Finally . . . An EU-based joke cartoon in Private Eye has Mrs Merkel addressing fellow Eurozone members and saying: A tax is ze best form of defence.

The sort of thing that makes her so popular. Another one tomorrow.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Euro Special

I promised a personal evaluation of the Positives and Negatives of the euro. They aren't in any particular priority order.

  • It has helped to avoid a third World War. [I don't actually give it credit for this but others do.]
  • It has eliminated exchange costs, so making cross-border travel easier between some member countries.
  • It has benefitted the German economy.
  • It has brought Eastern Europe closer to Western Europe.
  • It has forced the French to speak a bit more English. [OK, I'm scraping the barrel here.]

  • Because of its (inexplicable) strength against the dollar, it has made worldwide trade more difficult for most eurozone members
  • It has heightened tensions between member states.
  • It has created a North-South divide.
  • It has engendered divergence rather than convergence.
  • It has encouraged phoney asset booms in Spain and other countries.
  • It has encouraged corruption on a massive scale.
  • It has strengthened, rather than weakened, nationalist sentiment.
  • It has delivered to Germany a leadership it doesn't want and probably can't exercise.
  • It has created very high levels of unemployment in Spain and other countries.
  • It has visited on populaces the sins of the corrupt and the incompetent, leading – for example – to thousands of evictions in Spain.
  • It has wrested political and economic control from democratically elected governments and given it to an undemocratic, unelected cabal of the EU, the ECB and the IMF.
  • It has prevented troubled governments from having recourse to devaluation to help their economies improve.
  • It has condemned Spain and other countries to at least 10 years of minimal growth.
  • It has caused an increase in the size of the black economy in Spain and almost certainly in Greece and Italy as well.
  • As someone has put it – “It has crippled half of Europe”.

So, I'd have to say the net balance is negative.

But what will happen next?

I don't know.

But I do know that every commentator believes that nothing will be solved until there's a fiscal union and a real central bank.

They also seem to agree that these are nowhere in sight. Which says all you need to know about the EU - An institution burdened with huge problems but incapable of solving them.

This week a senior German figure - the chairman of a scientific council that advises the finance ministry - said: “Europe is important to me. Not the euro. And I would only give the euro a limited chance of survival.” Asked whether he thought the single currency would last five years, he replied: “Five years sounds realistic.”

Who am I to argue?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spain's unemployment rate has officially reached 27%. It's hard to imagine he needed telling but Brussels is reported to have 'ordered' President Rajoy to 'take urgent action' to reduce it. As to what this might be – when Brussels is also dictating austerity – is hard to say. I doubt Sr Rajoy has any more idea than I do. He's preparing to make a major announcement on Friday re (reduced?)pensions so I doubt he's worrying about the job rate right now.

The other big number today was Spain's population. This has fallen for the first time on record. In part, this is due to the departure of some 206,000 of the 4 million immigrants who came here during the carpetbagger years. The outflow can only grow, which might well reduce the unemployment rate.

But it's not all negatives: Here's a valiant attempt by The Local to identify the silver linings hidden deep inside La Crisis, now in its 6th year.

And here's some genuine good news - The minimum age for marriage in Spain has been raised from 14 to 16 as part of government plans to combat child abuse and exploitation. The Social Services minister added that the government also proposes to revise the age of sexual consent from the current 13 years. Not before time.

The phrase 'Brand Spain' has appeared in articles several times over the last month or three. And today it appeared on the first page of what turned out to be a special El País section on the subject of Spain's image abroad. Hard to see why this would be aimed at Spanish readers, but there you go. By coincidence, the findings are out this week of an international poll on 'Brand Spain'. In Germany, it seems, half of the locals don't trust Spaniards, while nearly as many think they're lazy. These are much higher numbers than in the mid 90s. It wasn't all bad news, though - Only 20% of Chinese thought Spain was corrupt, compared to 48% of Germans.

Talking of corruption . . . Hat tip to Lenox for this wonderful quote from a Spanish politician which rather blows the gaffe - 'Politics isn't just about corruption. It's also about public service'. You couldn't make it up. Nor could you be more honest.

I wrote ten days ago that senior government members, in characterising the escraches as 'pure Naziism,' were evincing a peculiar concept of both democracy and Naziism. Here's IberoSphere expanding on this view, opening with:- Leading Spanish conservatives are comparing recent anti-eviction demonstrations with Hitler’s Germany. This betrays a poor grasp of history and weak political acumen. Couldn't agree more.

My community is changing from propane to natural gas. A couple of representatives of the new company came round today to calculate exactly what savings I will make. Or they would have done if neither of them had had a calculator. I lent them mine and we proceeded to work our way through at least 40 pages, which involved around 9 signatures from me. Plus photocopies of my bank details and my Residents' Card. I wonder if anyone back at the office will notice this expired over 2 years ago.

Tomorrow I plan to present my thoughts on the achievements and dis-achievements of the EU/Euro. For now, I'll just report that 72% of Spaniards now say they dislike the EU, which is an astonishing number compared with 6 or 7 years ago. Though some of us back then were predicting things would change. That's even more than in the UK, by the way. But who can blame them?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

When I came back to Galicia a couple of weeks ago to find the sun shining after weeks of rain, one of the pleasures lined up to welcome me – and second only to my blooming Jasmine – was the contented birdsong echoing around the garden. But that's now been replaced by the monotonously mechanical chirping of a granitepecker(Ave Graniti Irritato), as it levels the ground for a new house on the finca directly below my house. And which sounds like this.

This is ten seconds of it. Now try to imagine 10 hours, starting at 8 in the morning, the equivalent in Spain of 6 in the UK.

It's such a shame that the construction industry hasn't entirely collapsed. But thank God it's just the one property and not an entire development. The one on the other side of my house had the granitepecker operating for at least 2 years. Pointlessly, it turned out, as the houses remain unoccupied. Unsold even.

There's a grain of comfort for the besieged Spanish government this week as it stares, aghast, at the growing momentum for ('illegal') Catalan independence – Support for Scottish independence is at an all-time low of 30%, and the No vote is 21 percentage points ahead. In fact, no one now expects the referendum there to result in a majority for independence. As I've always said, the Scots are just too damn canny to fall for it.

And talking of peoples' attitudes . . . Here's a surprise – except to those of us who predicted it - “Public confidence in the EU has fallen to historically low levels in the six biggest EU countries, raising fundamental questions about its democratic legitimacy more than three years into the union's worst ever crisis. . . . Figures from Eurobarometer . . . show a vertiginous decline in trust in the EU in countries such as Spain, Germany and Italy that are historically very pro-European.” 'Raising' here presumably means 'endorsing'. You can read more here, in the Europhile Guardian.

Walking into town as the primary schools were coming out midday today, I noticed just how many of the kids were being taken home by grandparents, who play a vital role in helping Spaniards to manage their crazy split-day timetable. Will things ever change? Possibly but not in the next 10 years.

I once stood next to Gwyneth Paltrow in the Oxford Union, when her then-boyfriend was talking there. I didn't know it was her until my daughter later told me and my recollection was that she'd been a pretty ordinary-looking young woman. But now People Magazine has adjudged her the world's most beautiful woman. I wonder what she's on. Or with whom she's made a pact.

I never understood why Arsenal let Van Persie go. Perhaps they had no choice as his contract was at an end. Anyway, he's scored some tremendous goals for Manchester United – one of them against Everton – but at the weekend he volleyed home what may be his best ever. You can see it here (scrolling down the article)

Oh, dear. Déja-vu. Borussia Dortmund thrashed Real Madrid 4-1 tonight, following the massacre of Barcelona by Bayern Munich last night. Spanish football appears to have peaked. And German teams are now cocks of the walk. As I said the other day, this ain't going to go down well and I'd advise Mrs Merkel to stay away from Spain for a few years.

Mrs Merkel, by the way, says that she doesn't like the word 'austerity'. "I call it balancing the budget." she said. "This term 'austerity' makes it sound like something truly evil." Well, I guess it depends on where you're standing. And whether you're among the 27% of the working age population who's not working.” That infamous euphemism “Arbei macht frei” sounded pretty innocuous too. "Balancing the budget" is little but a EUphemism.

Mots Justes

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.” ― Robert A. Heinlein

I suppose he has to do it, even though no one believes him for a micro-second; Spain's Minister of the Economy says he sees the Spanish economy growing 'slightly' next year. But as he's just binned the previous f2013 forecast of an 0.5% decline and replaced it with shrinkage of 1-1.5%, he's not exactly talking from credibility. We can probably safely predict 1. the decline will be at least 2% this year, and 2. there won't be any growth next year. And we can also confidently say that the people least affected by this dire situation will be Spain's underworked and over-numerous politicians. Some of whom might well be honest. Viva la revolución!

Talking of honest Spanish politicians . . . This small group presumably includes the State Prosecutor, who's said that “Corruption is the most devastating attack on democracy.” Or perhaps he's just another able liar.

Which reminds me, the latest crook with his nose in the trough is the ex-president of an NGO who managed to siphon off 7.5m euros during his 11 years in charge. He's been given 6 years in clink but these sentences usually mean little, what with pardons and the like.

Writing on the Spanish economy this week, Edward Hugh – not everyone's favourite economist – concludes with these thoughts:- Such details are doubtless lost on Mr Rajoy and his advisers, which is just my point. The current crisis – which is arguably no longer a crisis but rather a way of life – has all now got so complex that the issues involved are almost certainly, and in principle, “beyond their ken.” Spain’s economy will continue to march boldly forward towards what now seems almost guaranteed to be long term decline, while from within the captain’s tower, far from an acceptance that what is happening really is happening, we will continue to hear yet one more crazy and implausible story after another telling us “if only this”, or “if only that” even as representatives of the Plataforma de afectados por las hipotecas (or equivalents) start to assemble outside the local version of the winter palace looking for their hides. Viva la revolución!

Ironically, we all used to lay into the PSOE President Zapatero for having no idea what was going on beneath his feet or of what to do about it when it rose up and hit him in the face with a wet kipper.

I mentioned that Telefonica called me last week to try to induce me to buy their new Fusión product, at something over 60 euros. Strange, then, to read yesterday that they are bringing out soon a cheaper option for around 42 euros. Do you think, if I'd signed up for the former, they'd have allowed me to shift to the latter? No need to answer.

I watched Bayern Munich thrash Barcelona tonight, reminding myself of a recent thought that, however unpopular Germany is in Spain right now, it's nothing compared to the odium that'll accompany the exit of both Barca and Real Madrid from the Champions League at this semi-final stage - leaving the final to be contested by two German teams. Should bring the Revolution a step closer.

Galician joke:
I've just killed a mole.
Buried it alive.

Finally . . . Here's a couple of flash mob experiences from Liverpool. The first is strictly amateur in its spontaneity and its performance (on Central Station) but the second is rather more professional, being very ably performed by students of the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Spanish government is making it illegal to ride a bicycle without a helmet. Surprisingly, hardly any other European country does this and it doesn't stem from any EU Regulation. It will adversely affect various groups – such as those who hire out bikes in cities – but the government says it wants to ensure riders' safety. Which is possible, I guess. But it'll also be yet another source of revenue, I imagine. A stealth tax, then.

One area where a Directive from Brussels really will be responsible for changing Spanish society is that of the olive oil and vinegar set on every restaurant and café table. The oleaginous march of progress means these are to be banned. But not, as you might think, because they're unhealthy; it's an anti-fraud measure. And we all know how assiduously the EU and the Spanish government crack down on fraud.

Which reminds me . . . A large Galician fishing company – Pescanova – recently went belly-up, another victim of La Crisis. The president sold his vast holdings of shares just before announcements were made. Clearly a man blessed with exceptional luck. Or insight.

I'm also reminded of the reports that not only the current PP president (Rajoy) but also the previous PP President (Aznar) was receiving extra salary payments from a slush fund. Which makes a bit of nonsense of those lists of minor politicians alleged to be earning more than the top dog. They may still be overpaid, of course, but, relatively speaking, not as much as previously.

Not long after I came here to Spain I worked out that all of my utility bills were composed mostly of fixed costs, rather than variable costs in line with my consumption. This is the opposite of other countries, where your bill will relate far more to your usage. Twelve years on, things haven't changed. I've just received a water bill which comprises 96% fixed costs. But at least the company has improved its bills a tad in 12 years; as of a couple of months ago, I don't need to spend 3 seconds totting up 2 or 3 numbers so as to get the volume of water used. They now do it for me. Unlike the gas company, which has recently stopped providing either the total volume of gas used or any of the components that would allow me to do calculate it. Now, that's progress. And pretty good evidence of how Spain's effective monopolies treat their customers. No Ofgem here.

Many of us will have experienced the feeling that someone is following us. But few of us, I guess, will have feared it was the devil. Not so a chap down in Murcia who, having concluded Old Nick was after him, decided to seek sanctuary in the local church. Possibly forgetting that he was driving a car at the time. And pulling a trailer full of artichokes. That's fear for you. More here, and an HT to reader Sierra.

I've mentioned Pontevedra's Porcos Bravos a couple of times. I've now learnt that their motto is “Football, Beers and Orphans". I've no idea where the orphans come in but hope to find out tomorrow when I join these Anglophiles for their fish 'n' chips celebration of St George's Day. Which is more than can be said of most Brits. Me included, normally. Perhaps we can drum up a small military parade.

For no good reason – honest – I wanted to know what the Spanish for 'to nag' was. I came up with regañar and fastidiar but these – 'to scold' and 'to annoy' – don't really seem to fit the bill. Has anyone got a better option?

Mots Justes

A preposition is a word that you shouldn't end a sentence with.

This wine completely hit the spot. It tasted of iron and granite, like it had been raised on Emily Dickinson poetry, and it had a cool thickness to it that seemed to match the London fog coiling around the street-lamps outside my window. But it also contained, somehow, tendrils of hope, like snowdrops pushing through the frozen earth. 
- Victoria Moore: Daily Telegraph.

Finally . . . Since when did the packaging and posting costs for Amazon reach 33% of the bill?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Strange happenings in Veggie Square today. I was there with friends at 3.45 when there was the unprecedented sight of two young women staggering around pretty drunk. Presumably having been out on the town 12 to 14 hours earlier. They eventually sat down and ordered another drink, only to be followed by a third young woman, on her own but even the worse for wear. She passed through the square and disappeared. But driving back a few minutes later, we passed her teetering dangerously on her heels along the side of the road. So we took her home, gave her plenty of water and put her to bed. Her 'back story' was a little inconsistent and implausible, as if she'd learnt it. This left us with a query as to what might be going on the flat we later took her to. But, having done our good deed for the day, we left it at that.

I mentioned yesterday that an English heritage is not much celebrated in the USA. Tght on cue, today I read this paragraph in a review of 'The Lady Vanishesby A A Gill:- This was an American co-production, and it played to all the embarrassing and degrading stereotypes of English class and snobbery the Americans love to loathe us for. It's a little worrying to realise that there's a US version of 'Shameless', set in feral Manchester. Or perhaps not, as they don't get to see the original.

Spain's opposition PSOE party has come up with a scheme which is either brilliant or crackpot.With the aim of bringing into circulation the billions of euros of dirty money stashed in one place or another and so stimulate the economy, it proposes that the EU should simply abolish the favourite note of crooks and brothel owners – the 500, called for some time the 'Bin Laden', in recognition of the fact it's so rarely seen.

I happened upon a talk on Jesus's (non)existence today. It reminded of a thought I had about Christianity last week. This was that, if I were thinking - as I am - of starting a new religion, I wouldn't base it on a 33 year-old, unmarried man still living with his parents and consorting with a group of 12 men. And perhaps the occasional (transvestite?) prostitute. Not an original thought, I'm sure, but no less valid for that.

Talking of Jesus, I found myself wondering today what he would do in the following circumstances:- “A mentally handicapped seven-year-old girl has been barred from taking Holy Communion and being confirmed because the vicar says she will not understand the lessons learnt in Sunday school."  What she does understand, however, is that she's not going to be confirmed or have a 3 grand First Holy Communion do. That's Catholicism for you, showing the religious equivalent of Hitler's exclusionist approach to the handicapped.

Down on earth, in the wasteland which is the Spanish property market, prices are said to have fallen by 54% since the peak in 2007/8. Worse, they're predicted to decline for at least another five years, “as weak economic growth, high unemployment and the lack of available credit will prevent the country from a dealing with the massive oversupply of houses built before the crisis.” Which is less than encouraging. Closer to home, there was activity yesterday on the site of the 23 houses behind mine, finished 3 years ago and never occupied because of (il)legal considerations. A couple of vans came to do something to the electricity sub-station but I don't know whether they switched the supply off or on. Time will tell.

Reader SP picked up on my conversation with Telefonica the other day, giving his own example of stupid excuses for bad service. It reminded me of the most comprehensive waiver I've ever seen. It was on the airway bill for the dog I brought home from Tehran. This read:- BA ACCEPTS NO RESPONISIBILITY FOR DEATH CAUSED BY MORTALITY. Brilliant.

Finally . . . Something to please the ladies and amuse the gentlemen. Perhaps.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Several bookshop chains here in Spain are reported to be declining to sell the scurrilous(?) biography of the lovely Princesa Letizia by her cousin. So, businesses are willingly giving up profits in the midst of an economic crisis? Well, maybe but there has to be a suspicion they've been leant on.

At the top of Veggie Square – in the Casa da Luz – there's a large Turismo office, I went there today and here's the brief conversation:-
Good morning. Do you have anything on the French Way (Camino Francés)?
Well, no. This is a municipal facility. You need to go to the office dealing with Galicia.
OK, is that in Santa María Square?
No, that's only for the Rías Baixas(The Lower Estuaries).
OK, is it the one in the kiosk in front of the town hall?
No, that's run by the town hall. It's the one by the ruins of the San Domingo church. Off Michelena.
I've just been there and it's closed.
Ah, yes. It doesn't open Saturday afternoons. You'll have to go back on Monday.
(Sotto voce). Quite.
Damn this Spanish parochialism. Why doesn't common sense prevail? Is it because the four offices in Pontevedra mean four budgets and four people to exercise patronage and employ friends and family? Especially for translating stuff into almost-English.

What there isn't in Veggie Square, by the way, are there or four shops that were open before I went off to the UK for a month. I can't say I'm surprised as I never rated the chances of most of them, even in good times. Presumably they weren't money-laundering operations.

This talk of nepotism and croneyism inevitably takes us to Ourense, up in the Galician hills. Here the ex-president of the provincial government has finally been indicted for filling virtually every one of the posts at his disposal – more than 100 – with family members. Though not for engineering his son's succession to the post of president. Anyway, there's a bit of tussle taking place in the city over the possible modification of the project to build an AVE(high speed train) station at a cost of 67 million pounds(sic) or whether to dump the British architect, Norman Foster, and go for something cheaper. The president is naturally going with the original project but I'm sure this is on aesthetic grounds and not because of the commissions lost on a reduced-price project.

Odd facts:-

The Star Spangled Banner is a 'direct descendant' of a song written by an Englishman in the 18th century for a gentleman's club in London.

The tune used by most US universities for their graduation ceremonies is Elgar's very British anthem – Land of Hope and Glory.

I learned this, incidentally, from a BBC podcast which centred on the fact that just about the only heritage not celebrated by Americans is an English one. Which makes the origin of these important compositions rather ironic.

Mots Justes

[A propos the News]: More is worse.

Every Spaniard's ideal is to carry a statutory letter with a single provision, brief but imperious: "This Spaniard is entitled to do whatever he feels like doing” - Angel Ganivet

[Blues refrain] Don't care how great you are. Don't care what you're worth. When it all ends up, you got to go back to mother earth.

Finally . . . I mentioned Pontevedra's Porcos Bravos the other day. Reading their blog today I noted they'd invented a new word – Pintochear, which I take to mean 'To stop at for a pint' And this is where they've done this in Liverpool, which is far more pubs than I've been in. Or even know about - The Brewery Tap/Robert Cain Brewery; The Poste House. The Sandon; The Globe; The Ship & Mitre; The White Star; Ye Hole In Ye Wall ; The Roscoe Head; The Baltic Fleet; Lion Tavern; The Cornmarket; The Thomas Rigby´s; The Peter Kavanagh's; The Vines; Ma Eggerton's; Ye Cracke; The Philharmonic; The Central Commercial Hotel; The Crown Hotel. Should anyone know of any other good pubs in Liverpool, I'm sure they'd welcome recommendations.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

So, the American Senate has killed President Obama's attempt to revise the gun laws. I have to say, I'm with the NRA on this. As it's clearly not possible in the USA to stop heavily armed psychopaths slaughtering kids, I think Obama needs to look hard at the NRA's proposals for not only having armed guards in each school but also arming the teachers. And indeed the kids themselves. My modest proposal is that the State gifts a handgun to every newborn child and then, on its sixteenth birthday, makes another gift of whatever is then the most powerful and most rapid firing automatic rifle on the market. Perhaps even a machine gun. At 18, the new adult would be entitled to a small personal armoured car, in which to sit through university lectures. OK, this won't stop maniacs attempting to gun down everyone inside an infant school but it will level the playing field a bit. If one can imagine a playing field inside a school. I've never seen myself saying this but the truth is that the logic of the NRA just doesn't go far enough. Wimps, really.

But anyway, here's the comments of one of the parents who lost a child in the Sandy Hook shootings. His view is that “A sane man's contempt for the United States Senate must now be certain and complete.” Which is a bit silly, as it implies there are no sane men in the NRA. And it doesn't put me in a good light either. But, hey, I'll let you judge for yourselves. I'll just finish with this statistic of the number of people killed by guns in the USA in the four months since the Sandy Hook tragedy:- 3,500. Makes you think. None of these would have happened, I venture to say, if all the victims had been encased in protective armour

They say that nothing much has come out of Liverpool since the Beatles. But this is obviously calumnious nonsense as, even recently, we had the famous “Scouse brow”. Fast in its footsteps we have “titooing”, which, as you may have guessed, is the tattoing of one's nipples. I say 'one's' but at this point the technique appears to be confined to the fair sex. It's “a process which originated as a medical procedure for breast reconstruction but now serves as a cosmetic procedure for women to darken, enlarge and define their nipples and the surrounding areola. The semi-permanent treatment gives them their 'perfect nipples' and can last a life-time with regular top-ups.” Which can only be good news. And more evidence of (wo)man's essential insanity. For this we poor men lived through four phases of feminism?

I don't look Spanish, I'm told. Nor Galician. I mention this because, when buying my ticket from Vigo to Pontevedra yesterday, the guy at the counter volunteered the time of the next train as “Dez e oito con dez e oito”. When I said I didn't understand, he said it again. When I said I still didn't understand, he changed it to “Diez y ocho con diez y ocho”. Or 18.18. In retrospect, I then recognised the Galician version but I've not figured out why the guy used it not just once but twice. Perhaps he's a Galician Nationalist. They do exist and one or two of them are a tad violent. But, if so, it'd be odd he was prepared to switch to Castellano. Perhaps only for a guiri.

By rather a great coincidence, there's a letter in today's El Pais which touches on several of this week's themes. The writer says that he accepted being fined 100 euros for crossing a line on a roundabout and he understood that the police didn't want to stop him and and so interrupt the traffic flow. But what was hard to take was the letter arriving three months later which informed him he'd been fined 600 euros for not giving his name. To be followed by another letter some time later telling him this had risen 754 euros to cover police costs. An expensive roundabout. The writer asked whether this was anything other than theft. Well, it could be, I suppose. But I prefer to see it, as I've said, as a variable road tax. I mean, to think otherwise would be to suggest the Guardia Civil would stoop to state-institutionalised robbery. Surely not.

Meanwhile, I must now wait to see whether I get a further 600 euro fine for not giving my name as I drove along the motorway to Málaga with a police car next to me. Presumably by shouting it through the window.

Friday, April 19, 2013

As La Crisis drags on, everyone's getting a little testier by the day. Like the beggar who called me a tight American bastard today, when I declined to contribute to his pension fund.

Which reminds me . . . The gypsy crone who's cursed me several times over the years appeared in Veggie Square yesterday for the first time in many months. I caught sight of her giving a palm reading to a gullible (or charitable) young woman and saw she was tapping her hand vigorously. I thought for a second she was using an iPad app to peer into the future. But, no, just lines in the skin. Happily she didn't offer me insights into the yet-to-be.

Reader Perry has provided this delightful run-through of the life of Mrs Thatcher, ending with the, by now, tired cliché that the Iron Lady should rust in peace. It hails from China and its depiction of her husband as a alcoholic reminded me that Denis had once given me a lift to a lunch we were having to discuss the genetic fingerprinting breakthrough. Did he drink? Yes, he did. And he smoked, in a non-smoking restaurant. But was he an alcoholic? No idea, Milud. But he was certainly entertaining.

The Spanish don't think much of their politicians, whom one observer recently characterised as an 'extractive class'. And there's an awful lot of them to despise. Thanks to the pyramid of national, regional, provincial and local governments, there's reckoned to be one political job holder for every 115 people in Spain, compared with 1 to 325 in France and 1 to 800 in German. And a surprisingly high number of these are entitled to an official car. For a government in search of savings, this would seem to be an obvious area for cuts but I doubt anyone is betting on them. That said, under pressure from Brussels, the government has said it might do something about the high salaries earned throughout the system. So it might just be worth making a punt.

After what many of us would have thought was progress around abortions under the last Socialist administration, the governing PP party - pressured by Guess Who/What – is about to introduce regressive measures. See here for more.

The Local has produced a list of the 10 worst menu translations. I'm not convinced any of them beats my own favourite discovery - Mussels to the seaman's blouse. Based on a decision to pick the wrong option for marinera.

I always wondered . . . Some words that Brits regard as typically American – including diaper, the fall and candy – were originally British but dropped out of use in Britain between the mid 1850s and the early 1900s. 'Trash' is another of these, of course, but it may have fallen out of use earlier, though not before Shakespeare used it.

Talking of words . . . Can this be right? - Amanda Thatcher, a US college student, appeared completely unphased.

Not long after the Spanish king's extra-marital activities became the stuff of headlines, an enterprising ad agency came up with the idea of using the queen's plight (and image) to promote the services of its client. Unfortunately, this was a dating agency for those wanting to indulge in a spot of infidelity. And Sofía, like Victoria before her, was not amused. But now she's won an apology from the agency for 'damaging her honour and dignity.' The king, it seems, has not complained about the use of a foto of him draped in a couple of bikinied bimbos.

Finally . . .

More Mots Justes

[African politician] If the West starts lecturing us on governance, we'll say: 'Berlusconi'.

[Samuel Johnson] No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I noticed years ago that my daughters were not using 'taking the piss' in the way my generation did. To us, it meant taking the mickey. To them it means more like taking advantage of. I was going to talk about this tonight in the context of what's happened in Spain in the last 6 or 7 years when, purely by coincidence, I came across the word Coña, which turns out to mean 'a piss-take'. So, instead of saying the last 6 or 7 years have been one massive piss-take by Spain's politicians and bankers (or, indeed, anyone through whose sticky hands money has passed), I can now say it's been one humungous coña. Or coñazón??

Another thought on the revenue-raising capacity of the police – If they do as I suggest and station themselves down by the roundabout to catch all those drivers using a mobile phone, they can also collar all the imbeciles who – for no benefit to themselves - block my access to the roundabout and the bridge into town. By the end of the year, they'll have enough to pay off the entire national debt. By the way, during 40 years of driving in other countries before I came here, I garnered not a single fine. I was stopped for speeding once in both the UK and the US and given a gentle warning. Contrast the situation here, where I've picked up 7 fines in less than 10 years. I once wrote that the only way to avoid speeding fines here in Spain was to drive everywhere at 50kph. I would add now that the only way to make sure you don't end up paying 'road taxes' is to stay off the roads. I wonder when they'll start policing the ridiculous 30kph(19mph) limit on the road to and from the roundabout. Possibly never, as we have a judge living here.

Sticking with driving – I read somewhere an expert's view of the 5 biggest errors committed by Spanish drivers. The worst was said to be not driving through a roundabout correctly. As I've said a couple of times, the crazy Spanish law is that everyone who isn't making a U-turn has to funnel into the outer lane, even if they're leaving via, say, the 5th exit. This, I suspect, is another example of Spain being 'different'. And it's not only foreigners who are confused.

I had lunch today with my friend Fran, an Anglophile, a Liverpool-phile (in every sense) and the driving force behind Los Porcos Bravos, a football team who play against the Sheffield Stags twice a year for the Anglo-Galician Cup. We covered a lot of ground but were firmly in agreement on one item – someone needs to write at least a dissertation on the similarities (and differences) between Scouse and Galician humour. I fear it will have to be me.

I saw a bit of the Thatcher cortege. What impressed me most was the sight of policemen dressed as they used to be, without the swathes of protective clothing and the 20 bits of equipment they sport nowadays. They looked very slim. And vulnerable.

Telefonica called me this evening, ostensibly to ask how satisfied I was with their services but really to sell me their new Fusión package. I told the lady I wasn't satisfied with the low internet download speed and she said that there was nothing they could do as 1 mega was the max in my barrio. As if that were a proper answer, since the remedy's in their hands. Anyway, when I got off the phone and tried to test the speed, it was so low I couldn't get the relevant page. When I did, it (eventually) registered the ludicrous speed of 71kbps. I was tempted to try and get her back on the phone.

Finally . . .

Bon Mots

Governments have done far more to curb concealed movements of workers across borders than concealed movement of corporate money.

[On religion] Who expects a person to be reasoned out of something they were not reasoned into?

Who would have thought, in 1989, that the eastern half of Europe would survive a financial storm better than the western half?