Saturday, August 31, 2013

Spanish obscenities; More Gib madness; and Toilet roll etiquette.

Spanish, at least in Spain, is a far more robust language than English. By which I mean that, in daily discourse, you're far more likely to hear words that (just about) still retain some taboo value in English. For example joder(fuck) and even coño(cunt), which are used by adults to children and vice versa. As with my lovely neighbour Ester and her equally lovely 17 year old daughter, María. Then there are expressions such as Me cago en . . (I shit on . .) followed by one of an endless variety of possibilities. In years past, the most shocking were possibly Me cago en la hostia/Diós(I shit on the host/God) but, in these not-so-Christian times, this is almost commonplace and unshocking. Anyway, I'm by no means an expert in Spanish swearwords and profanity so here's a Wiki page on the subject. I'll just add a couple of things. 1. This para is prompted by reading an El País article which contained several swear words (including joder) and which contrasted with an article in a British newspaper which felt constrained to write the totally innocuous 'crap' as 'c+++'. At least, I think it was 'crap'. 2. There are words in Spanish which stand in for the naughty ones, as with frig/fuck and heck/hell in English. One such is jolín, which does for joder. My problem is that, if the J is not over-stressed, this sounds like Colin. Which is why I'm regularly turning round to see who's calling me.

Last comments on this theme . . . I say 'Spanish in Spain' because I've been told by shocked South Americans that things are not the same over there. And here's something that many Spaniards don't know - The word follar(to fuck) literally means to work a pair of bellows. And to speed up grapes to make wine.

For the love of God! There's some 'devout Catholic' nut from Nerja who thinks only God can resolve the Gibraltar mess. On this he might well be right - assuming for the moment there really is an omnipotent God/Goddess - but this chap has decided to try to enlist divine help by walking to Gib carrying a 3 metre, 10 kilo cross on his shoulder. And when he gets there he's going to go on hunger strike. For 24 hours at least. Meanwhile, he hopes others will join him on his pilgrimage. Which, unsurprisingly, turns out not to be his first. Notwithstanding his efforts, God had not yet delivered the “No more hunger, no more war, peace on Earth” which has been beseeched of him. Possibly sleeping.

As for said Gibraltar spat . . . The Spanish government has turned the screw of pettiness a little further by banning exports of sand, rock and aggregates needed for construction there, which I suspect is illegal under EU rules. It's also complained that its border police are being insulted by people in the queues and having 'missiles' thrown at them. Since the queues are essentially composed of people going into Gib to work, I strongly suspect this is a Spaniard v Spaniard affair. And that the insults contain some of the words cited above. Well, if you will piss on your own doorstep.

In a further blow to Spanish aspirations, the EU has refused to consider its (probably legitimate) complaint about alleged money-laundering in Gib. Mind you, this is possibly another thing the Spanish government would want to keep under a rock. It's not as if it's unknown here. Or in next door Andorra.

Finally . . . I've recently had 5 young women to stay, all in their early to mid 30s. Not one of them, it seems, was ever taught by their parents to change a toilet roll. And that, my friends, is why the world is in the state it is today! Joder!

Which reminds me . . . I'm not sure I didn't dream this but, by pure coincidence, I saw a toilet-paper ad recently which gave a name to this failure to change the roll, leaving the empty one in the holder. Can anyone help out here?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Gib, briefly; The Spanish economy; Spanish politics; The Spanish judiciary; Rugby; and American beliefs.

Just going back to the intemperate response to my 5 points about the silly mayor's Gibraltar montage (or, if you like, the mayor's silly Gibraltar montage) . . . A Spanish friend simply couldn't understand why I couldn't be bothered to reply to it in kind. She even drafted an (insulting) response and was mortified when I declined to use it. It's in the blood, it would seem.

The Spanish economy may or may not be improving. It may even, as the government claims, have bottomed out and turned the corner, promising growth by the end of the year. But it's hard to say. On the negative hand, final figures for 2012 have increased the decline in GDP, from -1.4% to -1.6%. On the positive hand, the 2nd quarter's GDP decline was much less than the 1st quarter's, allowing the government to crow that the recession was finally (almost) over. The one certain bright spot is continuing growth in exports but this is offset by a continuing decline (37 months now) in domestic demand. And the (official) unemployment figure continues to be exceptionally high at 26%, with no one predicting it's going to fall any time soon. As to public perception, one commentator reported that "Spaniards on the street scoff at proclamations of an end to the crisis." And the IMF has sharply reduced next year's growth forecast from 0.7% to zero. Which is less than encouraging. Their figures for 2015 and 2016 are growth of 0.3% and 1.2% but I suspect we can take these with the proverbial pinch of salt.

There was an interesting contrast in parliamentary politics between the UK and Spain this week. Here in Spain, delegates of the PP party rallied around their beleaguered leader, Sr Rajoy, to protect him from judicial investigation for corruption. Over in the UK last night, several members of the Conservative party voted with the Opposition to scupper David Cameron's plans for supporting the USA in an attack on Syria. As a result, some say, Cameron is now holed below the water-line and will soon be replaced as leader and, possibly, Prime Minister. It's impossible to imagine this happening In the more tribal environment of Spanish politics.

I'm not sure it has any real significance but Rajoy's PP party - having refused to do anything about a mayor who made scurrilous remarks about socialists shot during the civil war - has announced it's going to take action against party members who, one way or another, evince fascist - even Nazi - tendencies. I guess they could hardly do less, even if their heart isn't really in it.

Finally on the PP . . . It's confirmed that computers used by the ex-treasurer accused of taking and making illegal payments have all had their hard drives wiped. Just before being handed over to the investigating judge. Nothing could better show a balls-out contempt for the judicial process and for the public. Not many of whom, it's reported, believed Sr Rajoy's protestations of innocence last month. And who could blame them?

Talking of judges . . . The Spanish criminal system is founded on an initial investigation by a judge, who decides whether and how things are to proceed further. These judges thus become media figures, especially if they're young, female and pretty. And so they come under pressure both from the media and the government. Perhaps this is why the Spanish public are rather less positive about their judiciary than is the case in other countries. In a word, they see corruption there as well as elsewhere.

Well, something must be happening in respect of my mobile phone; while my previous phone languishes in the shop where it's going to be 'liberated', the one Movistar lent me tells me my September bill just rose to 9 cents. Maybe I'll understand this when I get a paper copy.

If you don't understand how rugby works or if you want to see what's claimed to be the greatest-ever try, click here.

Finally . . . Some statistics on Americans I've just read:-
76% believe in the biblical account of creation
79% believe that the miracles in the Bible actually took place
76% believe in angels, the devil and other immaterial souls
67% believe they will exist in some form after death
Only 15% believe that Darwin's theory of evolution is the best explanation for the origin of human life on earth
Wow. If you've got a humanist agenda in the USA, you're certainly up against it.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cockles & Mussels; Just muscles; Gib x 2; Bullfighting; and a Spanish insult.

You may have heard the expression 'cockles and mussels' and you may even have sung the chorus line about them from 'Molly Malone'. But have you ever seen them side by side? Well, I hadn't either until the other night, when someone at the next table to us was partaking of them:-

I swear this is one of those coincidences which must come from God . . . Here are 2 pix of muscles from ads down the side of my Facebook page:-

My question is - Can there really be anyone in the world who wants to have arms like this?

HT to Lenox for this amusing article on the benefits Gibraltar would garner from becoming Spanish. I was pleased to see the writer making the point I've stressed several times - and which the Spanish government seems incapable of grasping - viz. that the British government would love to get shut of the place. But needs Spanish help and cooperation on this. So what does the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs do? He ratchets up the nonsense that makes it ever more necessary for the British government (and the tabloid media) to defend the locals. By which I don't mean the apes. The Forlorn and Failed Franco Strategy we might call it. As it happens, I was chatting to someone last night who knows said minister (Margallo) from the time she worked in the higher reaches of the Ministry of Health. A very calm lady, she described him as cocky(chulo), coarse(burdo), proud, imprudent and 'violent'. Can't say I was much surprised, having watched his ridiculous big-mouthed performances over the summer. He not only looks like a clown but acts like one. Spanish politics at it most desperate. And mis-guided.

Taking of Spanish customs . . . Bullfighting, in truth, is only of interest to a minority of Spaniards and the number of aficionados has been falling for years. As you'd expect, the majority - though by no means all - of its supporters are right-of-centre. So it was inevitable the PP party would try to reverse the efforts of the previous socialist government to accelerate the trend of falling revenues and subsidies. And, in particular, to try to reverse the bans on bullfighting brought in by the governments of Cataluña and the Canary Islands. This will be done by making the activity ("Not a sport!") an 'asset of Spanish cultural interest'. As someone for the bull-breeders union put it:- “It is an artistic and cultural manifestation of our society and it seems absolutely natural bullfighting should be declared a symbol of cultural heritage.” Parliament will vote on the issue next month but, meanwhile, after an absence of 7 years, bullfighting returns to our early-evening TV next Sunday. Timed so that the kids can watch it and absorb some culture.

Spaniards, it can be fairly said, love to argue, but not always sanely. The story about the odd Gibraltar montage put on his Facebook page by a Spanish mayor naturally made the British newspapers yesterday. I decided to point out that:-
1. The troops are marching out of Gibraltar, not into the place.
2. The planes are about to crash into the Rock.

3. The flag has no pole.
4. The bull was the trade mark of Osborne, originally a British company.
5. It has a tail but no cojones.


It didn't take long to get a response. Unfortunately, it was in the ad hominem, abusive tone that often passes for argument in Spain:- I do understand why you are unable to see the bull balls, and this is because you have never seen any in your whole life. This could happened for mainly two reasons:
1st.- Because you have no balls and your father didn't neither 
or 2nd, because you have such a enormous belly that it impedes you to see your own kleine[small] balls.

Finally . . . You might like to know that the polite form of saying hijo de puta (son of a whore) is hijo de la gran bretaña. Something to do with Francis Drake and his ilk, I imagine. Either way, it warms the cockles . . . .

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Archbishops' rating; Gibraltar x 3; Bulls; Language oddities; And a nice cartoon.

Erratum: Apologies, I missed at least one item from the list of admired and (more) un-admired Spanish institutions yesterday. Archbishops came in at only 21%, which compared very badly with parish priests at 52%. One wonders why?

In yesterday's Voz de Galicia Gonzalo Bareño issued a plea for an end to the Gibraltar soap opera and, at the end of his article, expressed surprise it took the creation of the reef to highlight the issue of fiscal improprieties on The Rock. No disagreement with either of these sentiments but the bulk of his article was about how the 'educated and cultured' Brits he'd spent his summer with had totally and unshakeably believed UK media reports that it had all kicked off when Spain invaded Gibraltar and that several people had boiled to death in the long and unjustified queues at the border. He was even more shocked, I think, that these reports had not come from or were not confined to the tabloid press. Well, I've read the Telegraph, the Times and the Guardian throughout the summer and watched the news on the BBC and Sky and I've neither seen nor heard either of these claims. I can only conclude his friends were reading the broadsheet Daily Express (is it still a broadsheet?), which is owned by a man who makes his money primarily from porn and will allow his paper to report anything which will sell copies of it. Particularly if it has something to do with Princess Diana. If so, it raises a question about Bareño's definition of 'cultured'.

Back here in Spain, the mayor of a small town near Alicante has upset many of the numerous Brits down there by posting a mocked-up foto showing Gibraltar being invaded by Spanish (Guárdia Civil) troops. Click here for more on this adolescent episode. Which probably won't get him sacked. Or even reprimanded. But he may just make a totally insincere apology in a few days' time. Telegraph here. Guardian here.

In the real world, the Spanish government is disappointed (I'll say) that the EU has not acceded to its request to include the issue of sovereignty in its September/October review of the issues that divide the Spanish and British governments.

Unsurprisingly, the Spanish government has announced it's reviewing rail safety following the crash that killed 79 people in Santiago de Compostela last month. “We are carrying out a general review of all protocols and all security systems, as well as speed limits,” said the Minister for Public Works minister. The very least they could do.

I've just finished a fascinating book - Eastern Approaches - by one of the founders of the British SAS, Fitzroy Maclean. Once or twice, though, there was a sharp intake of breath when reading references to niggers and golliwogs. But, then, it was written in 1949, when these were pretty commonplace. I did have a query about Maclean's description of one chap as "A sallow, slightly built man with an intelligent, sensitive face." What on earth does an 'intelligent face' look like, never mind 'a sensitive face'?

Spanish bulls continue to fight back. Much good it will do them.

New-to-me Spanglish: Guárdarail. Safety barrier.

New-to-me English: To twerk: To twitch or jerk; To move the body in a sexually suggestive twisting fashion. As in Miley Cyrus.

Linguistic Query: USB dongles are called 'pens' in English but 'pencils'(lápices') en Spanish. I wonder why. Actually, their full name in Spanish is lápices de memoría. Among other things.

Finally . . . You'll all want to know what el lip-dubbing is. Click here.

Finally . . . Finally: Here's an old cartoon which someone has sent me. I offer it without comment. And certainly without endorsement:-

I'VE DECIDED TO TEACH HER TO TALK. What harm can it do?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Tour of Spain; More mobile phone madness; Bank bewilderment; and Some more Spanish.

Well, I did get to see the Tour of Spain cyclists flash past yesterday, in a little place between Pontevedra and Sanxenxo. My friends and I had been sure the police would close off the road well before the race but, in the event, they finally did so with only minutes to go. As a result, cars and even buses, were coming along the main road or turning into it from side roads until the very last moment, to be urgently pushed onto the verges by one of the 50 plus Guárdia Civil motorcyclists in attendance, most of whom seemed to have little to do but speed up and down the highway. Or perhaps there were only 10 of them, driving in circles. Of the Guárdia Civil vans, there were fewer than 20, though the occupants of these didn't seem to be doing anything at all. Perhaps there was concern about a possible terrorist attack. Anyway, it was disappointing there was no live coverage on either Spanish or Galician TV and that the highlights program on British TV last night started with only 50km to go and so omitted views of both Vigo and Pontevedra.

Yesterday, after a week off, I resumed my mobile phone calvario. Having learnt it would cost me 25 euros to liberate my phone and keep my number, I went back to Movistar(Telefónica) to see whether it'd be quicker/easier just to get a new number and a new phone from them. This was my 7th visit, including one when I couldn't wait more than 20 minutes and one when I foolishly poled up on a national holiday and found them closed. There was no one in the place when I entered but a young lady appeared when the phone rang.
Buenos días.
[3 minutes of shuffling papers and talking to someone on the phone]
Yes. What can I do for you?
Is Ana not here?
No. She's on holiday.
OK. I spoke to her about changing my phone to Movistar.
Which package did you talk about? The X euros package or the Y euros package?
Neither, it was the Z euros package. But the problem was that I needed to liberate my phone and this wasn't possible with Yoigo because Movistar had cancelled my contract with them. So now I have to liberate my phone myself and this will cost me 25 euros. So I was thinking about just getting a new number and a new phone from you instead and wonder what models you have for 25 euros.
[Consulting a chart] Nothing. The cheapest phone we have is 40 euros.
But it says here in your brochure that you have this model for 25 euros with the Z package.
Maybe but they don't send it to us anymore.
Right. So I'll have to go and get this phone liberated and come back again.

I didn't, of course, get the phone liberated today, as the shop was full and there were 4 people waiting outside it. But I live to fight another day.

Talking about shops . . . Walking through one of Pontevedra's galerías yesterday, I came upon 3 jewellers shops additional to the 18 I snapped before Xmas, all in a row. I can't swear to it but I suspect they're new. As is the fruit-shop-cum-deli in the same galería. Which I don't expect to survive. The jewellers - being possibly laundering establishments - surely all will.

I also went to my bank to ask about the strange message I'd got telling me €0.00 had been charged to my credit card. The lovely Susana advised me there was no evidence of this is my account, adding that the bank now routinely sent these messages for internet purchases. Which left me none the wiser really.

But my morning was not a complete disaster; I managed to get the batteries I needed for a torch,

Finally . . . 3 millas a poniente y 2 millas a levante. '3 miles to the setting and 2 miles to the rising'. Or '3 miles to the west and 2 to the east.'

Erratum: Apologies, I missed at least one item from the list of Spanish institutions yesterday. The Archbishops came in at only 21%, which compares very badly with parish priests at 52%. One wonders why?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Spanish institutions; The Tour of Spain; Another copy-cat owl; Spanish white elephants; And more Spanglish.

Ever so often, the Spanish are polled on their approval ratings for Spain's institutions. Here, from yesterday's El Pais, are the latest numbers. There can be little surprise that politicians are rock bottom, with half the positive rating of the second-to-last in the list, political parties. My overview is that the UK list would be rather different, with several of those at the top of the list scoring quite a lot less. And vice versa for those at the bottom. Specifically, it's hard to imagine judges and the courts scoring as low as they do here in Spain.
Scientific researchers 92%
NHS doctors 92
SMEs - 90
The Guárdia Civil (national police) - 85
Public sector teachers - 85
The police - 83
Universities - 75
NGOs - 75
The armed forces - 72
Municipal social services - 64
The Crown Prince - 62
Newspapers - 60
The media as a whole - 58
Tax inspectors - 53
Lawyers - 53
The Supreme Court - 53
Parish priests - 53
The King - 50
The judges - 50

The Constitutional Court - 48%
State Prosecutors - 46
Large Spanish companies - 46
The Catholic Church - 42
The regions - 41
The municipalities - 40
Multinationals - 33
Trade unions - 28
Parliament - 24
The government - 21
Businessmen - 21
Archbishops - 21
Banks - 15
Political parties - 12
Politicians - 6

The 2nd leg of Tour of Spain began in Pontevedra yesterday and will pass through the city today during the 3rd leg. Along with some friends, I went down to town at midday yesterday to watch the riders set off. With half an hour to spare, we went for a tiffin at a nearby bar but the service was so slow we left for another bar, where - until I complained - things were much the same. After finally getting and downing our shandies, we left and headed towards the start point in front of the town hall. To find that everything was over and that all the bikes, cyclists, cars and trucks who'd lined the Alameda 30 minutes earlier had all disappeared, leaving us this . . .

We were are a tad annoyed the service delays in the two bars had cost us our chance to see the start of the race but we're resolved to make a better fist of today's spectating.

The only consolation for waiting for the service that never materialised was that it gave me the time and opportunity to snap the latest of the town's pigeon-scaring owls . . .

This one sits atop a pedestal and can clearly be rotated. An upmarket model, then.

It's rather ironic I should mention bad service here as I've always been a great admirer of Spanish bar staff. They work long hours for low pay and almost always do so with efficiency and a smile. Only a day or so ago I read that many of them have been working 12 hour days this summer for as little as €500 euros a month. Which is scandalous.

My friend Paul has sent me this article on Spain's white elephants. I'd heard of some but not all of them. If your jaw is not on your chest at the end of it, I'd be astonished.

Finally . . . A bit more Spanglish: "Vigo se llena de skates, BMX y B-Boys". 'Vigo is full of skaters, BMXers and B-Boys'.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Wearily, Gib again; The Tour de España; Odd communications; An odd cyclist; Fireworks; and more Spanglish.

Well, I was wrong to suggest the news on Gib was finally thinning out. By rejecting the proffered olive branch and by authorising the divers' underwater flag-flying stunt, Spain has finally produced a reaction from the hitherto silent Governor of Gibraltar - "The act of diving itself constituted a serious violation of British sovereignty but this apparent interference with the reef is a new and worrying aspect." In Spain itself, people are being encouraged to boycott British products. So, one step forward and at least two back. To be positive, at the same time as engaging in a raft of actions which appeal to much of the populace, the Spanish government is still pushing for a quadripartite forum to replace the tripartite forum it abolished immediately after coming to power. Back then, it refused to sit at the same table as a 'colony'. This time round, it's willing to do this, so long as face is saved by adding a member of the Andalucian provincial government. One wonders how they're finding time to consider the pros and cons of supporting French demands for EU involvement in Syria.

To continue being positive . . . We have the second stage of the Tour of Spain starting in Pontevedra today and the third stage passing through the city tomorrow. So, with the sun shining away, there's plenty of scope for the sort of stunning aerial photography of the Galician coastline. Which has a lower concrete quotient - except perhaps in Sanxenxo - than in other parts of Spain. There is one negative aspect to the Tour; the team support vehicles - some of which are huge - take up an awful lot of space outside the hotels in which they're staying. Maybe they'll be caught by the city's new Multamóvil, which has been bought at a cost of €45,000 to catch drivers committing parking offences. It should achieve payback within a couple of weeks.

Still on a positive note . . . I got a formal email response from Correos to my complaint about my Economist magazines being delayed and bundled. Inevitably, to get to the reply I had to enter not just the reference number but also my ID number. Why?? Interestingly, there was no mention of a substitute mail-person, just the fact there was no number in the address. And no explanation of why they couldn't have got the number from other letters in my name. I would've liked to point this out to them but there was no way of responding to their response.

Talking of odd communications . . . I received a text message apparently from my bank yesterday. It was timed at 4.30am and advised me that 0.00 euros had been charged to my credit card. And it invited me to call a 902 number for more details. I thought this might be a scam involving a call costing several hundred euros but there's no evidence of this on the net. So I'll go to the bank tomorrow and take it up with the lovely Susana.

The French Way of the Camino of Santiago begins at Roncesvalles in the Alps and involves a good month's walking. But not everyone strides it. Or even ambles it. A German cyclist has just completed the 780km in just over 25 hours. He couldn't explain why, saying only it'd been an awful experience. I suspect he was an even greater irritation to walkers than the normal bloody cyclists can be.

Last Sunday night, my elder daughter left for Madrid on a bus departing a little after midnight. As we drove to the bus station, the end-of fiesta-week fireworks were brightening up the night sky. And as we approached the point on the AP9 flyover which afforded the best view of the display, we saw the traffic police were talking to the occupants of a parked car. Our first thought was that the latter had stopped there to watch the fireworks but we then wondered whether the police hadn't decided to pull someone over right there so they could have the best view of the proceedings. We will never know.

Finally . . . The latest bit of Spanglish: El paddleboarding. I'm guessing this is pronounced pad-lay-bo-ar-ding but could be wrong.

Finally, finally . . . A plea to Mac and Shuffle users. Mine are not communicating with each other, meaning I can't download podcasts or delete the ones I've listened to. Though charging does seem to be taking place. No obvious solutions on the net. So, should I just scrap the Shuffle and buy another one or is there a solution?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Gib; The Spanish Coast; The Santiago train crash; Solar power; A funny list; Spanish smells.

The Gibraltar government has held out an olive branch to the Spanish government, who promptly rejected it and then chucked oil on the fire by sending divers to take a look at the artificial reef it's so upset about. Meanwhile the guy who built the reef has told the guardian that construction on it began 40 years ago and had garnered no complaints until this summer, from a government besieged by criticisms of corruption and incompetence. He also pointed out the Spanish government had received millions of EU euros to build similar reefs along its coasts.

As the Spanish government wraps itself in the green mantle of good environmentalists in respect of Gibraltar harbour, it's salutary to take a look at what's happening under the same government to what's left of Spain's coast. Where principles come up against the potential for cash and profits. And lose out.

In the days which followed the dreadful Santiago train crash, there was a media frenzy around the driver, who was universally portrayed as a 'speed freak' who'd either deliberately or, at least, recklessly taken a curve at 200kph, with conscious disregard for the passengers. Nothing at all was said about the possible negligence of parties responsible for the design of the track and for the safety systems in operation. Or not, as it emerged, in operation. Several weeks on, things have been reversed. A member of Parliament who was injured in the crash has called for the Ministry of Public Works to be held accountable. Warming to her theme, she's said the Minister should have sacked the CEOs of ADIF and RENFE for their borderline criminality. Maybe one day.

Interestingly, the UK (which has little space and even less sun) has announced it's going into solar energy in a big way, just as Spain (which has a lot of space and even more sun) has announced it's reversing direction and will be using solar power creators merely as a cash cow. My apologies, by the way, for repeating a link on the latter development yesterday. Sometimes I write posts in a bit of a hurry. Or maybe I'm beginning to lose it. Beginning to lose it.

The Local does a good line in lists and the latest is the 10 things Spanish expats find odd about the UK. Some of these, e. g. the booze drinking and the lack of clothes on a winter night out, shock most of us Brits as well. See the list here. Someone has rightly pointed out that it omits the absence of mixer taps in the UK. Here in Spain most places have been built in the last, say, 30 years, and all have mixer taps. The other unlisted thing that probably shocks Spaniards is the absence of bidets.

Finally . . . One of the advantages of having a posse of women to stay is that they leave behind such things as a bottle of Champney's Spa Indulgence: Exotic Retreat Bubble Heaven. I took advantage of this to luxuriate in a bath yesterday evening but, sad to say, the smell from the drains won out over the mixture of coconut milk, papaya and ylang ylang. Which reminds me . . . I learnt recently that Spanish builders do without the vent pipe installed in other countries. One of them justified this cost saving on the basis that "We have windows that open and close". Not in my bathroom we don't.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Spanish economy; Gibraltar, the dying days: New defendants in the train crash case; A Brit and a Bull; A reader's views.

The Spanish Economy: Excellent news on the tourism front; numbers this July were the highest for almost 20 years. It's not clear why yet but this shouldn't stand in the way of the rejoicing. Though it's a shame most of the jobs created will disappear come September/ October. Of more permanent benefit to Spain is the continuing growth in exports. More here on this.

Talking of the economy . . . Here's an article on the conversion of Spain's once-booming solar sector from subsidy-junkie to crazy-tax victim in less than ten years. A salutary tale, as they say.

Gibraltar: News is finally thinning out. It does seem, though, that Spain hasn't yet stopped the border checks. The funny thing about these, as I've noted before, is that they're made on vehicles going into Gibraltar, on the basis that Spain wants to stop the smuggling that takes place at the border. Since this is said to be of cigarettes and since these are much more expensive in Spain than in Gibraltar, one wonders what kind of idiot is running cigarettes from Iberia into Gibraltar. I'm guessing they haven't caught him yet, hence the continued checks.

There has been one new development: The Spanish government has stopped the export of sand to Gibraltar from the municipality of nearby Tarifa. It seems the Spanish contractor was taking the sand from protected dunes but providing a certificate of different provenance to the buyers. Oh, yes, there's been a second development - cars with a Gib numberplate are being vandalised in Spain. But the less said about this the better. 

The Santiago Train Crash: The inquiring judge is reported to have said: “There was an omission of elementary precautions by those whose mission it was to guarantee the safety of railway circulation on the line, which could constitute a punishable offence.” It's for this reason that both RENFE and Adif have been told to hand over technical reports and documents in respect of security protocols, as well as internal audits and incident reports relating to the accident spot.
 Let's hope these escaped the shredder. If you've ever wanted to see a (young)bull get its own back, here's the video for you. The victim is a Brit, who didn't come well out of the encounter, needing a long spell in hospital and 150 stitches. Enough time to sober up, I guess. 

Finally . . . My internet download speed - theoretically 'up to 6 megas' - has never even reached 1 mega. Last night it was as low as 120mbps, or 0.12 of a mega. This is quite scandalous but the response from Movistar(Telefónica) is always the same -"It's because you're so far from the exchange". As if it were all my fault. Clearly, they're unwilling to do anything about this, so the only recourse is, like my work-from-home neighbour, to go satellite. I could move to the Galician cable company, R, but they can't be Rsed to lay cables up here at the top of the hill. The real frustration is that logic dictates that Movistar is the option of choice, simply because they own all the lines. And can provide the best 'bundle'. Albeit at prices which are among the highest in Europe. It's easy to understand why Movistar is such a profitable company. As, indeed, is every other pseudo-monopoly in Spain. Friends in high places, no doubt. 

Finally, finally . . . Reader Moscow - who regularly tells me how little he thinks of me and my opinions - has written to say he sees me as an über-Brit. Which is intriguing as all my Spanish neighbours and friends tell me how un-British I am. As others have over the years. Perhaps I misrepresent myself when I write. Easily done. Or perhaps his latest accusation tells us more about Moscow than about me. Either way, it gave me a laugh. The first time Moscow has achieved this. But not the last, as he then went on to accuse me, in effect, of being a pervert. Perhaps I am. For I hope to continue to enjoy looking at pretty women until the day I die. Now, there's a confession for you. It marks me out, I imagine, from . . . well, no other man. Except Moscow, presumably.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

More fun around Gib; The Santiago rail crash; Buskers and Thinnies; Golden times: And Pope chat.

Well, what do I know? The outcome of the summer spat over Gibraltar has been a triumph for Spanish diplomacy. This, at least, is how the PP-supporting paper El Mundo sees things. The rationale? Well, the group of EU officials who'll be here in September - or maybe October - have agreed to Spain's request to look at and think about all the aspects of The Rock's activities which upset Madrid. Except the most important, of course - British sovereignty over the place. Well, of course they have. Whoever heard of bureaucrats and time-serving politicos being unwilling to expand their remit and maximise their expenses? I look forward to reading their report sometime next year, long after life has returned to normal and Gibraltar has disappeared from even the Spanish media. Meanwhile, Madrid has said it's willing to discuss all relevant matters in a forum involving the governments of Spain, Britain, Gibraltar and Andalucia. The very thing which was scrapped the day after the PP government came to power. So, progress.

Having rejected independence as a neat solution for Gibraltar, I realised there's another that's even tidier. British sappers (or whatever) should cut a channel at least an inch(2.5cm) wide, so that Gib loses its terrestrial connection with Iberia and becomes an island. This will make it equivalent to the 6 or 7 islands 'owned' by Spain that lie off the Moroccan coast. This shouldn't be beyond British engineers.

Responding to recent statements of the judge investigating the Santiago rail crash, the president of the national operator, RENFE, has averred that "Security is down to politicians, not technicians." Which may actually be true. Incidentally, I had thought that RENFE was a state-owned company but, in fact, it's private. As is the company, Adif, which manages the tracks. Doubtless we'll hear from its president soon.

Bloody beggars and buskers. God how we need this in Pontevedra.

Talking of Ponters, I've mentioned several times just how thin the young - and even not-so-young - women are here. This is one such, though it's possible she was only visiting.

 And here's another one, whom I saw right in front of me yesterday. She's a major contender for the annual prize for the biggest gap between trousers and top. I didn't dare glance at how she looked from the front.

Raising the tone a tad . . . There's a short period, as the sun sets, when the city's granite buildings - i. e. all of them in the old quarter - become a rich gold. I happened to be standing near the basilica of Santa María when this happened last night and here's snap of the facade and another of the nearby house. Quite magical.

The story of Spain's attempts - initially very successful - to establish a solar energy industry is a sorry one. At the outset, investors were subsidised. Then the subsidies were withdrawn. And now, to pile on the injury, the investors - large or small - are going to be taxed. If there's anything more calculated to make Spain a no-go zone for international investors, I think we need to know what it is. More here, from The Local

Finally . . . The Pope has said he had a 'mystical experience' during a dialogue with God and that this convinced him He was telling him to resign. My question is - How on earth(heaven?) did he know it wasn't the Devil? Do they use divine passwords when they start to talk to each other? Anyway, as one reporter put it - "His remarks will do little to dampen speculation about the more worldly reasons for his departure." Which are many.

Finally . . . Finally: Back to Gib. And an official announcement from the government there: Anyone of any nationality who has been inconvenienced by the delays of between three and seven hours at the border is asked to send 'details of their experience' via email to

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Gib again; The Santiago rail crash; Driving in Ponters; And a Really funny joke. Honest

It's the gift that keeps on giving. Gibraltar, of course. Even if the gifts are rather shoddy. The latest battlefield developments in this phoney war:-
1. Straight after talking to an EU bigwig, the Spanish PM announced that the border checks which had led to 3-7 hour delays have been stopped.
2. Likewise, the Minister for Make-it-up-as-You-Go-Along announced that Spain wasn't now contemplating an [illegal] entry-exit tax. Rather, it's planning a 'Congestion' charge, "Like that in operation in London". So, create the congestion and then tax it. Brilliant. Especially as most of the victims will be Spanish.
3. The Spanish government continues to demand the removal of the 70 blocks of cement tipped into Gibraltar Bay to make an artificial reef. Apart from stopping [illegal] Spanish fishing, it says, this vandalism will inflict environmental damage. Something which apparently didn't concern it in respect of 23 such reefs in Andalucian waters. Or the millions of tons of concrete along its coast.
4. The Minister of Agriculture and Two Facedness - he who's been very critical of Gib's bunkering - turns out to have in interest in the company which is doing this here in Galicia, at Ferrol. Could you make it up?
5. Having backed off from everything else, the Spanish government is now demanding a 'global' review of Gibraltar activities by the EU - its low taxation policies, its alleged money-laundering and its lax approach to smuggling cigarettes. I don't suppose this'll  be extended to Andorra, the tax haven preferred by neighbourly Spaniards. Or the Galician coastline that leaks so much cocaine. Assisted by the occasional chap from the Gúardia Civil.
Finally . . .
6. The British government has rejected out of hand the demand of the Spanish Minister for Big Mouths, made (bizarrely) through a letter to The Wall St Journal, that the two countries open up bilateral discussions on sovereignty. You have to hand it to him. If he really did think this would work, he's even dafter than he's made himself out to be over the last month or so. So, is he desperately trying to cling on to his job? What the British government is prepared to do is to meet with the Spanish and Gibraltar governments to discuss the issue of Spanish fishing boats in Gibraltar waters. Which it would have done before all this nonsense. The Spanish government will, thus, have achieved nothing - though I doubt ABC and El Mundo will report it this way - unless it really did distract attention from both government corruption and government responsibility for the Santiago train crash.

The crash is very much back in the news today. The judge leading the judicial inquiry has imputed (arraigned?) Adif executives for failure to install safety measures. "It was clearly foreseeable" he said, "that driver inattention at the relevant curve could end in tragedy". In other words, as some of us said from the outset, it was an accident waiting to happen and several others need to be in the dock alongside the driver.

When I drive down to town, I pass a road on the left leading to/from one of the 2 gypsy settlements in our barrio. Unless you're actually directly opposite it, gypsy drivers never obey the Stop sign, creating some interesting confrontations. Or sharp braking anyway. This approach to rules I've always regarded as the basic Spanish approach taken to logical extremes.

Talking of driving . . . Arriving at the roundabout down by the bridge yesterday, I met the usual problem of cars from town failing to leave a gap for those of us going into town, so keen is their interest in beating everyone else to the beach. Having used Tehran techniques to barge my way through, I raised my hand to (sarcastically) thank the 2 drivers who'd been forced to let me in. One of them blew his horn, whereupon my fingers instinctively changed their formation, safe in the knowledge the recipient of my signal would never be able to extricate himself from the jam and chase me down.

Finally . . . This is said to be the funniest joke from the recent Edinburgh Fringe festival. Warning: It will mean nothing at all if you're unfamiliar with British chocolate bars: "I heard a rumour that Cadbury is bringing out an oriental chocolate bar. Could be a Chinese Wispa."

Incidentally, my mother insists that Cadbury's chocolate tastes totally different since the company was bought by the American company Kraft. I was going to dismiss this as nonsense but my young daughter has just told me her sister also thinks this. I'll have to do some research.