Monday, March 31, 2014

Missing husband; An exclusive tender; Huskies en masse; & Hipsters.

As I sat in my car waiting to leave the ferry on Thursday, there came the intriguing announcement on the intercom: "Would Mr Jones please return to cabin 6564, where his wife is waiting for him." I wondered how many hours previously he'd slipped out.

I was intrigued to read of a large tender for printers required by the Pontevedra provincial government. The specification matched, word-for-word, the description of a particular machine in the catalogue of one supplier. So, guess who got the business. That's certainly one way to do it.

Approaching the Hoylake promenade at the start of a morning walk yesterday, I caught sight of a couple of people walking a pair of husky dogs along the sands. Then another. And another. Until I'd counted more than 50 of the breed. I guessed this wasn't a coincidence but the internet was of no use in finding out what sort of event it was.

My car stands out in the UK - from the rear at least - because it doesn't have a reflective number plate. This is a safety measure which the Spanish police haven't yet got round to, preferring new and bigger fines in their fight against road accidents.

Finally . . . 'Hipster' is a word which is clearly back in fashion. And may have been for a few years now. My daughter gave me a definition in the car on Friday but here's what the Urban Dictionary has to say on it - at some length.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The pricks of religion; Gullible buyers; Boats and cars; & just sayings.

I decided years ago it was a great advantage to be raised in one of the 3 great desert religions, as this would provide you with an endless source of humour. Personally, I was raised a Catholic and have been dining out on it ever since. Take the subject of the foreskin of the circumcised Christ . . . Despite the fact he can't have been seen as God at the time, his circumcised foreskin was allegedly retained by someone and, by the Middle Ages, there were as many as 19 churches claiming to hold the one true prepuce. One was the cathedral in Santiago and another - wait for it - was a church in Stoke-on-Trent. After almost 2,000 years, though, the Catholic Church finally realised it was all cock and bull and in 1900 banned all talk of the object, on pain of excommunication. That said, 'traditional Catholics' still regard January 1 as the Feast of the Circumcision and I seem to recall it featuring in my catechism.

A Spanish lawyer friend of mine helps foreigners buy property in Galicia. She's so good at looking after their interests that two local estate agents (one British and the other Dutch) have refused to sell properties to one of her clients if he involves her. Title to property can be complex in Galicia and neither of these agents wants to let possible future complications stand in the way of a quick sale and receipt of their commission. They'd rather stick to their standard line that the notary's involvement is all that's needed. Anyway, I thought of the willingness to believe this guff when I read that droves of foreigners, mostly British, had now started to take advantage of the significant falls in property prices over the last 5 years. Despite all the publicity on the duplicities of the boom years, I'd be prepared to bet most of these buyers opt to trust the team of seller plus agent. And this despite the fact every web page offering advice tells them to use an independent lawyer. Horses and water. Fools and money.

My dodge for getting off and on the ferry quickly worked wonderfully well on Wednesday night/Thursday afternoon. Less than 5 minutes in each case. In fact, I was the 4th car off, saving at least an hour's frustration in the queues for getting off and through Passport Control. Sadly, I then took a wrong turn in Plymouth and wasted half an hour finding my way back to the right road. Worse, the trip from Bristol to Merseyside on Friday was dogged by road works and by 'phantom jams' and took 6 hours instead of 3. You win some and you lose some. At least it gave me the chance to stress my daughter via "constant sighs of irritation". Allegedly.

Finally . . . A new English usage? It seems you can be as critical as you like of someone these days, so long as you add "Just sayin'" at the end of your diatribe. Internet driven?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

It seems to be an iron rule that receptionists in all the hotels in England's major cities are foreign. I have no problem with this but I do wonder what factors have contributed to it. Is it really a job that Brits will no longer do? Possibly because of 'anti-social' hours.

Which reminds me . . . I like this comment in one of yesterday's papers:- We must not confuse diversity, which is good and enriching, with multiculturalism, a blind liberal creed that maintains all cultures are equally valuable. You and I might readily agree that not all cultures are equal but it's been a doctrine of faith in the UK over the last 30 years of so that they are. Happily, it appears to be dying, one sign of this being the first ever prosecution of doctors for practising female genital mutilation. On the national health service, would you believe.

I stopped in a Bristol café yesterday morning, while waiting for my daughter to join me on my drive further North. I ordered an Americano and was surprised to be asked whether I wanted milk with it. "By definition, no" I replied but, when it was finally brought to my table close to 10 minutes later, the barista/waiter asked me if I'd wanted it black or white. In contrast, I have to add, the woman on my left got her order in about 3 minutes. But, then, the woman on my right had to re-order her non-appearing toast. So, if I were to post a review about the service on the net, I'd have to say it was 'spotty', at best. But the male barista did take time out to give me directions to the Brunel museum. Sort of

BTW - There was a can of sugar on the table. Or, rather, a pile of the stuff in an old treacle tin. Given the antipathy to this foodstuff these days, I decided it needs the label The Devil's Grain. You heard it here first.

Back in Spain . . . There's a huge (and ugly) hotel built right on the beach in a national park down South. It's totemic of the coastal destruction in which Spain has long indulged in rampant pursuit of the tourist euro.Its completion or demolition has been bouncing around Spanish courts - including the national Constitutional court - for over 10 years. It's been condemned several times but, to general astonishment, the Andalucian Supreme Court has just pronounced it legal. But there are higher courts and this show will continue to run, taking with it Spain's reputation for being or not being un estado de derecho.

I am of the school that has it that Russia will be the long term loser from its Crimean adventure. Here's our Ambrose to explain why.

Finally . . . Here's an exhortation from a troll who doesn't seem to read this blog often enough to know my name or exactly where I live. Or that I enjoy living in Galicia: If you hate Galicia and it's[sic] culture so much why don't you fuck you and your family back to your shithole called Britain? Have the balls and tell the people your real name and where exactly do you live in Pontevedra. Despite demanding my (well-known) identity, he/she opts for anonymity. Nature of the beast.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Santander and Santander

I'm typing this in the the piano bar on Brittany Ferries. Not sure why, as the ample-gutted pianist appears to be learning his profession at the expense of my ears. I may remove myself to the talk on whales and dolphins that's just been announced.

This post has a Santander flavour, reflecting the fact I drove there yesterday from Pontevedra to catch the 9.30 evening ferry.

I turned off the A8 autovía halfway to get petrol and a bite to eat, ending up in a little restaurant on the side of a road which turned out to the the Camino del Norte (Way of the North) to Santiago. Perhaps I should have been warned by the sign of 2 forks outside, by the owner greeting me in his chef's gear, by the (rare) non availability of a Menu of the Day, and by the high prices on the menu. Plus I was the only person there. The owner-cum-chef did offer 3 courses for 20 euros but somehow this didn't eventuate and the bill was 24 euros for a main course of Asturian fabada (bean casserole), a dessert of banana ice-cream ('home made') and a bottle of water. I retaliated by not leaving a tip. Hard to imagine many pilgrims refreshing themselves there. But perhaps it's a famous watering hole for the gourmets of the locality and comes alive in the evenings. Or perhaps it's going bust.

Several people have just applauded the last song of the pianist. He looks stunned. As well he might.

The ferry-boarding arrangements in Santander have changed in the last year or so. Where we used to park up is now a huge building site. A placard says this will be the Centro Botín. As some readers will know, Sr Botín is the founder, owner and president of Banco Santander, one of europe's largest banks and a serial acquirer of troubled entities in the UK. So much so that you can rarely turn a corner in the country's shopping centres without seeing yet another Santander branch. But not all is plain sailing. It didn't take long after the initial acquisitions for Santander to become infamous as the bank causing the largest number of complaints to the ombudsman. And now it's been hit with the biggest ever retail banking penalty(€14.9m) - for "widespread investments advice failings." According to the Financial Conduct Agency: "Santander let its customers down badly. They trusted Santander to help them manage their money wisely but it failed to live up to that responsibility." Now, there are bad banks everywhere but one does wonder whether some Spanish practices haven't been imported into the UK. In fact, I think I forecast they would be.

The piano-playing just improved. It's now a pianola. Of the modern sort, where the keys depress themselves. I have to stop myself applauding the machine. It's that much better.

Finally . . . I've been known to criticise some aspects of Spanish driving but I'm still surprised by a report on Europe-wide standards which says Spanish drivers are "more likely to honk their horns and to insult other drivers or pass them on the wrong side than other European drivers." I wouldn't have thought this was true. Even though I provoked a fair amount of honking last night when I reversed down the outside lane of a busy road in Santander to get to a parking place. Which I never would have done 10 years ago.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

One thing and another.

Spain is in mourning for the first president under democratic rule, Adolfo Suárez. From the eulogies which have half filled the newspapers in the last couple of days, it seems he was something of a saint. And relative to today's politocracy, I guess that's quite possible. Though not everyone is prepared to fit him with a halo. From the fotos, Suárez was clearly fond of cigarettes and the occasional cigar, which wouldn't go down very well today.

Talking of death . . . It was impressive to see an obit for the recently deceased British trade unionist, Bob Crow, in El País. I can't see this being reciprocated by the British press for any of the rogues who run Spain's unions. Especially those accused of corruption.

Another small example of abuse of power by a malfeasant mayor.

In its pursuit of extra taxes, the Spanish government has raised the sales tax rate (IVA/VAT) on just about everything. One unexpected consequence has been to shove Spain down the priority list for famous musicians. These, it's said, no longer include Spain on their tours as it has ‘ceased to be competitive’. Many millions of revenue have thus been lost to Spanish promotors and venue owners. Who are not happy

I've mentioned a couple of times the speed with which 'relevant' ads appear on Google or Facebook after I've typed something. Well, the surveillance problem is even worse than I thought. Here's a revelation or two, plus some solutions.

An ad on RT this morning stressed that a 12 year old girl had had 3 miscarriages "solely because she's a girl". Not quite true, is it? The place of her birth and the prevailing religion there conceivably had a lot more to do with her plight.

Finally . . . Some Good News about Spain.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Madrid demonstrations; The personal touch; & The Rules of Polite Discourse.

Saturday evening in Spain saw the culmination in Madrid of the 'March for Dignity', in which two and a half million are said to have taken part, making it the largest demonstration in the country's democratic history. The protest, of course, was against the devastation caused to young and old alike by the financial crisis and the subsequent austerity policies of the government. There were clashes in Madrid but not much violence. Showing immense sensitivity, some politicians from the governing PP party dismissed the protest as "six columns of left-wing extremists led by an actor from Cuba, not even Spain". Presumably they see their inflation-proof salaries and pensions as safe from the mob. Sadly, they may be right.

There was another demonstration in Madrid at the weekend, this time from a pro-life group. One's used to seeing estimates of crowd numbers that don't agree but this was perhaps the largest divergence ever. The organizers claimed 100,000 people had taken part in the march, while police estimated the figure at no more than 6,000. Perhaps the pro-life group included angels of one sort or another. Incidentally, one of the speakers said "We need 280,000 children that are the victims of abortion to live as part of our generational replacement." Somehow, though, I doubt her principal concern was socio-economic.

That the Spanish prefer to do business face-to-face ('personally') is well-established. Indeed, in his book The New Spaniards, John Hooper suggested that if Spain didn't move away from this mod op, her economic growth would be affected. Me, I prefer emails, especially as I always have to ask any Spanish phone interlocutor to slow down so I can follow them. Yesterday I emailed my gestor to ask about making an insurance claim for the 615 euros' worth of water that recently leaked from my system. A guy called back and told me the only claim I could make was for the repair. Then he said he'd look at it again and asked if it'd be OK to email me. I guess this means it'll be bad news. 

Finally . . . . These are the Rules of Polite Discourse. Based on my experience of talk-shows and panel discussions on Spanish TV, I'd guess they've never been translated into the language of Cervantes:-

- Address issues promptly – If you let feelings fester, that is just what will happen: They will rot you from the inside out.

- Express your feelings and thoughts – How can you expect the other person to understand if you don't express yourself completely?

- Listen actively – Active listening involves eye contact, nods, and affirmations. Listen both for what is said and what is not said, for feelings expressed and feelings suppressed.

- Don't get upset – Allowing yourself to become driven by emotion indicates that your reason has taken a back seat. If you notice yourself or the other person becoming agitated, call a "Time Out."

- Validate the other person – Each person's feelings and concerns are important, however misguided they may seem. Realize that other people's perspectives ARE their reality, the way they honestly see the world.

- Don't get defensive – If you notice yourself becoming defensive, say so or ask for a "Time Out." If you sense the other person becoming defensive, try to ease the tension and examine what could have triggered such a response.

- Avoid "You ..." generalizations – Accusatory statements usually trigger defensive behaviour and do not promote free expression. Try to use specific examples – "always" and "never" statements are weak, needing only one exception to be disproved.

- Stay on topic – Don't allow other issues to enter into the discussion. Though important, these issues deserve to be addressed separately.

- Check understanding – Try restating what you heard to see if that was the intended message. It takes two to communicate – the speaker AND the listener. Both parties share the responsibility for clear communication.

- Don't be repetitive – If you repeat a statement to clarify a misunderstanding, be sure to emphasize the difference in meaning – otherwise you may seem to be merely grandstanding.

- Always be respectful – Rudeness is never appropriate or acceptable. Remember that to earn respect you must first show respect for others.

- Don't interrupt – No one likes to have a train of thought derailed by an impatient listener. What you have to say is very important, but listening to the other person is even more important. Frequent interruptions indicate a lack of concern for what the other person has to say.

- Let the other person respond – If you launch into a tirade, listing a multitude of offences, you are inviting an interruption. The other person surely has a response for each of your statements and, denied the opportunity to express these thoughts, will rapidly become impatient or agitated.

- Suggest solutions – It is easy to complain about a problem. Actually suggesting solutions requires much more time, effort, and thought. The very act of developing a solution requires viewing the problem from a new perspective and, possibly, realizing how difficult it is to design and implement a workable solution.

- Agree to disagree – Sometimes a solution cannot be found. In such cases, agree that you will not resolve the issue during this session and end the discussion on good terms.

It's just possible that, looking back over the years, I may not have been a perfect practitioner of these rules.