Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The essence of Spain; Santiago scandal; ID cards; & Terrorists/Tourists

Driving from Santiago yesterday with a friend who's visiting, I actually said this on one breath: "That's the new line for the AVE high-speed train. That's an infamous brothel. That's a beautiful little church modelled on the Santiago cathedral. This village is called 'Slavery' in English. And there's some pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago." Could there be a better invocation of Spain?

Prior to this, we'd passed the City of Culture, the vanity project/white elephant which adorns the eastern edge ofSantiago and which isn't getting quite the number of tourists predicted for it. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed there was something odd about the roofs. So I wasn't surprised to read today that they're being repaired because holes caused by some 'construction error' in the building of this multi-million testament to one thing and another.

As for all those Brits said to be fleeing Spain in droves . . . Here's the story of one of them.

A few years ago, the Daily Telegraph decided to outsource its editing to a team of Antipodean teenagers who'd only them cost a pittance. And so it is that we now get sentences such as: Mr Sechin began his carrier as a Portuguese and French specialist, serving the KGB in Africa. If you can't see the mistake, there might be a job for you on the DT.

I went to my bank with my visitor today to talk about opening a bank account for her. My friend Susana there steadfastly refused to believe that Brits didn't have ID cards. And she got quite panicky at the thought that my visitor wouldn't be able to supply both a passport and an ID card. As of now, we don't know how this will be resolved, as she doesn't have a driving licence either.

Finally . . . Early readers yesterday will have noticed (perhaps) that I wrote 'terrorists' instead of 'tourists'. A kind reader pointed this out to me, adding it was probably accurate to say terrorists would spoil a place.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Spain is different 8: Gibraltar: Logic: & The internet.

The Spanish - both adults and kids - get far less sleep than any northern European counterparts. One reason is that prime time TV programs start so late they don't finish until the small hours of the morning. The Minister of Health is now putting pressure on TV companies to start these programs early enough for them to finish by 11pm. All of this, of course, reflects the crazy Spanish timetable under which only 50% of people are home by 8pm and 80% by 10pm.

Spain is Different 8:

  1. The Spanish are not good tippers. The common advice is 'whatever small change you've got in your picket'. Which possibly explains the 5 cents on a 3 euro bill I saw in a café yesterday. My own rule is: 10% in the places I go to regularly and 5% everywhere else. But you may find things have been ruined in tourist haunts. 
  2. There are more syllables in the average Spanish word/sentence than in its English equivalent. You can say a lot more in a minute in English than you can in Spanish. Unless you speak much faster. Which they do. 
  3. Spanish women have never gone in for feminism very much. Consequently, they're more 'feminine' than, say, British women. And they have no problem with emphasising their sexual characteristics. No woman here wears baggy trousers and all TV announcers are beauty competition  winners. 
  4. Despite the wealth of the country, beggars are still a common sight in Spain. And there are even unfortunates displaying their leg sores or their stumps, for example. 
Under the last government, which implemented a successful policy of tripartite dialogue, there were very few 'incidents' between Spanish and Gibraltar police. Under the current (right-of-centre) government, there are hundreds every year. Go figure. The latest is a tug-of-war tussle between police vessels in respect of a boat suspected of smuggling drugs, in which a Spanish cop was injured. Naturally, there are diametrically opposed explanations of how this happened, with the Spanish version featuring aggression on the part of the Gibraltar police. Madrid could stop this nonsense overnight, of course, but it plays well with an electorate not otherwise well disposed towards it. So, it won't. And certainly not while Motormouth Margallo is the Foreign Minister. 

I asked my cleaner last night whether the TV had been on when she'd made the first of her 3 visits when I was away. "Yes," she said. "I wondered whether you'd left it on on purpose and was going to call you but then I noticed that there was no sound. So I decided you'd deliberately left it on." I didn't bother to seek the logic behind this statement. Life is too short.

Finally . . . Nice to see someone's gone from 3 megas to 10 megas download speed from Telefónica. Some of us can only dream of 3. Or even 1. My bill, by the way, says "Up to 10 megas".

Monday, April 28, 2014

Spanish healthcare; Spain is Different 7; Entrepreneurs; Ultramarinos galore; War names; & Galician free village.

I was surprised by Bloomberg's conclusion that Spain has the best healthcare system in Europe. OK, I haven't visited enough hospitals to be able to draw national conclusions but I haven't been over-impressed by what I've seen so far. And I really do wonder whether Spain's system is better than France's. Or possibly even the UK's. About which the Spanish are constantly fed a media diet of (British) criticisms and exposures. But, anyway, Bloomberg uses life-expectancy and national spend (as a percentage of GDP) to arrive at an efficiency rating and I can't help wondering 1. whether this paints a true picture, 2. whether they've taken into account the severe cuts of the last few years, and 3. how much their conclusion reflects that, as a devolved matter, healthcare in Spain is a 'regional lottery'. As opposed to Britain's 'postcode lottery'. I suspect you get a lot better treatment in Cataluña than in, say, Galicia.

Spain is Different 7:

  1. In Spain, when you've broken a rule (or even a law), charm may be enough to get you off. Not so in other countries, I suspect.
  2. In Spain, V is pronounced B, Ce and Ci and are pronounced They and Thee (almost) and D is sometimes pronounced Th. At least in most of the country.
  3. In Spain, entrepreneurs are considered a nuisance. Things are made difficult from the start and, should they surmount this, they're heavily taxed from day 1. In fact, Spain is adjudged to place more restrictions on entrepreneurs than any other country in the EU. Which is not to say that no one succeeds. Look at Zara, Banco Santander, Mango and Mercadona, for example. Not to mention Chupa-Chups. More here. Survival of the fittest, I guess.
I was reading an article yesterday about the types of shops that have closed and opened during La Crisis. One of the latter group was ultramarinos. My instinctive translation of this was overseas or foreign. But I'd forgotten that it also means greengrocers. One can only guess at the etymology. But, anyway, the thesis is true. For whatever reason, these have sprouted in Pontevedra.

At my mother's place in the UK, I found a diary I'd penned during my first few weeks here. Thirteen years ago, I was complaining about having to prove my identity and/or signing a chit when using my credit and debit cards for trifling amounts. Still am.

At last, a war which has an accurate name. In 1488 Brittany and France fought the so-called Mad War. An outbreak of honest naming, never since repeated, in the form of Mad Wars 2 to 300. Which reminds me, such is the poor understanding these days of even recent history, World War II was once termed World War Eleven by a (US?)TV announcer.

Finally . . . . Hat tip to my good friend Karen for this report of a whole village in Galicia that's going for nowt. You just have to come up with a development plan that appeals to the mayor. Perhaps financially as well as aesthetically. For the whole village, I mean . . . .

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Spain is different 6: Regional nationalism: & The best place to live.

It seems to be Put a Bike in a Silly Place Week in Pontevedra. Walking into town last night, I saw gaily painted bikes attached to trees in the Alameda and on the facade of the town hall. No idea why

Spain is Different 6: 
  1. Gypsies are quite possibly unpopular in most countries but in Spain they're detested. As the common refrain has it - "I'm not racist but I hate gypsies." I have to confess that, having seen what goes on here, I have some sympathy for the Spanish view. Though the chicken and egg conundrum is surely relevant.
  2. "Please" is not a common word in Spain. Its (Anglo?) function is more normally performed by tone of voice. It's similar for "Thank-you", though rather less so.
  3. Local and regional identities (Mi patria chica) are stronger than in other countries, especially where there are local languages, as in the Basque Country, Cataluña and Galicia. Though not in Valencia or the Balearic Islands, even though they speak a variant of Catalan.
  4. Spain operates on a clock which is out of kilter with its geographical position. This follows a decision by Franco in WW2 40s to move to Germany's clock, rather than that of the appropriate clock of Portugal below it and the UK above it.
  5. Although pretty irritated right now, the Spanish public is rather more tolerant of political corruption than elsewhere.
  6. Spain has invested more in solar energy than most other countries. Indeed it has the world's largest solar park. That said, the government has recently thrown the industry into turmoil by ending the subsidies that underlay its growth.
  7. Sometimes Spain will shock you with its inefficiency and sometimes it will shock you with its efficiency. For example, Spain's system of taxation is generally considered inefficient, whereas The Traffic Police are very impressive at relieving you of cash for offences that only exist in Spain. This might be because they have cars and the tax inspectors sit in offices.

Talking of regionalism/nationalism . . . I joked years ago that Cornwall would soon have a Cornish National Front, only to have life imitate this art. Now the UK government has given the place the status of “national minority”. This, of course, is just the thin end of the wedge and I am with Charles Moore when he writes that "Whenever a 'national minority' is given special legal status, a small attack is made on our common citizenship. . . There is something unhealthy and divisive about this obsession with legally defining minorities. People say it 'celebrates diversity' but actually it forces people into tortuous self-definitions which do not reflect modern reality". More from Moore here.

Finally . . . Britain is reported to have come last in a survey of how European countries rate themselves as a place to live. A whopping 12% of Brits are said to be so unhappy they're considering emigration. And which country gets the most votes - 13% - as the place they'd like to flee to? Spain, of course. Which came 2nd (after France) as the country with the best quality of life. Crisis, what Crisis?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The economy; Spain is Different 5; Language abuse; & Blame for the Moyes debacle.

The good news on the Spanish economy is that, after 5 or 6 years, it's finally moving in the right direction, albeit slowly. However, some commentators - most? - feel that it'll take quite some time to impact on the country's massive unemployment rate of 26%. As Edward Hugh puts it:- Many of the old doubts about the durability and sustainability of the Spanish expansion remain. The labour market is still a huge problem, the housing market is gridlocked, credit is scarce and expensive, and the population is shrinking at nearly 1% a year as discouraged workers (both nationals and former migrants) pack their bags and leave. . . The big question still remains: is this a balanced recovery, an export lead one, or simply a government financed one?

All I can add is that several more shops closed in Pontevedra while I was in the UK. And this is a wealthy city.

One bit of undoubtedly good news is the growth in the number of tourists heading to Spain. These totalled 10m in the first quarter of 2014, well up on last year. Another bright spot has been the growth in exports but this may have stalled now.

Spain is different 5:

  1. Spain is not unique in giving certain officials immunity from legal suits. The difference lies in the numbers. Hundreds in Spain, one or two elsewhere.
  2. Likewise with pardons for those (eventually) convicted in Spain.
  3. Not just foreigners but many Spaniards think that Spanish teaching methods are stuck in a past of rote learning. If so, this may account for the poor performance of Spanish teenagers in problem-solving challenges. Certainly, Spain has a higher school dropout rate that other European countries, something which got even worse during the boom, when high-paying jobs were plentifully available on construction sites.
  4. The Spanish use capital letters for some words (e. g. History) where others don't and don't use them where other do (e. g. british). I'm compiling full list for publication.
  5. In Spain there are still ironmongers who will sell you a single screw and then wrap it for you. No so in the UK, or in many countries, I suspect.
The house being built below mine continues to be in a state of stasis. But the (otherwise idle) crane, has swung round 90 degrees. In the wind.

Language abuse: If you can think of nothing good to say about your supermarket products, claim they're 'specially selected'. As in, "We need to sell some sausages. So, we won't take those lamb chops; we'll take these sausages."

Finally . . . Not everyone will be interested in this but here's Simon Barnes of The Times giving his view on the Moyes debacle at Manchester United. As I said the other day, it must all come back to Alex Ferguson. So I don't have any difficulty agreeing with Mr Barnes:-

Don’t blame David Moyes. It wasn’t his fault. He was just an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire. It’s not his fault he isn’t Sir Alex Ferguson — just as it was wasn’t Louis XV’s fault that he wasn’t Louis XIV, or that it was John Major’s fault that he wasn’t Margaret Thatcher. Moyes just had the misfortune to sound a little bit like Ferguson.

Who can we get to succeed me?” Ferguson wondered. “I know! Me!” He chose Moyes because Moyes is a thoroughly good egg and has always had the right sort of attitude to Ferguson. That is to say, deferential, awed, one step away from forelock-tugging. Put that together with the right sort of accent and what you’ve got is the footballing equivalent of the old school tie.

Fergie Lite. That’s what it amounts to. A talented, decent man without Ferguson’s mania. An absolutely first-class type — but alas, first class of the second class. It was, in short, a classic botched succession: the old tyrant installing his favourite son, Manchester United as a sort of footballing North Korea. And calamity always follows. It happens throughout history; the passing of the autocrat is almost invariably followed by chaos. It is the successor who cops the blame, but the fault is always with the autocrat who came before. And you can say what you like about Ferguson — praise him as generously and rightly as my colleague Matthew Syed did in these pages a couple of days back — but he was as much an autocrat as Louis XIV.

Le club c’est moi. “When I want your opinion I’ll give it to you,” Tommy Docherty used to tell the chairmen of the football clubs he managed, or so he claimed. Ferguson put that principle into practice. He created an absolutist state in which anyone who showed any independence of spirit was sent into exile, regardless of value: Ruud van Nistelrooy, David Beckham, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Jaap Stam, and on and on.

And it worked. My God, it worked. The city state of Manchester seized control of all England. There wasn’t a rival club who weren’t at heart deferential to Ferguson, who weren’t at bottom a subject. That carried on into his power over referees, his power over all decision-makers in football. He compelled obedience.

His record, at least in England, is staggering. It will be a long time before another manager can match Ferguson’s collection of Premier League titles. The Champions League record is the only thing that lets him down in his search for total mastery; two is very good, certainly, but doesn’t break the sound barrier into great.

Ferguson achieved almost everything he and United could possibly have wished. The only serious blemish is the succession, and the plain fact is that the succession is a calamity. Moyes has gone, United have announced that Ferguson will be closely involved in finding the next manager: like a king appointing future kings from beyond the grave. It’s a bizarre decision: Ferguson’s record of appointing managers of United is not exactly 100 per cent. At least not in the right direction.

But hear a plain fact. The problem is not that it is difficult to find the right man. It is that there is no right man. You simply can’t follow a highly successful autocrat. I mean, whoever heard of Attila the Second?

Here’s one more man who would have failed as United’s new manager — Sir Alex Ferguson. I don’t mean he would have failed in the Moyes manner if he had stayed in charge. If he had done so, given the gift of eternal life, United would be pretty much where they have always been under his command. What I mean is that if a real Ferguson clone could have been manufactured — rather than the faux clone Moyes — he too would have failed this season.

That is in the dynamics of a fully evolved autocracy — the autocrat can’t be replaced. You can’t take the keystone out of an arch and slip in a replacement, not even an identical replacement. That’s because the whole damn thing has already collapsed. If power is concentrated in a single individual, he becomes, quite literally, irreplaceable. You can put someone in to do the same job but he won’t get the same results. The thing is impossible.

Louis XIV, it is generally agreed, did a jolly effective job of being king of France. No one was ever in any doubt as to who was in charge anyway: l’état c’est moi and all that. Ferguson was very much his sort: call Fergie “le boss soleil”. But Louis XIV also botched the succession: the next Louis was only 5 when he took over, and when he reached majority he was generally recognised as a poor show: lost wars, strife, faction and feud, all the stuff that led eventually to the events of 1789. The Sun King’s legacy was, ultimately, revolution.

Scan the pages of history and the story is repeated again and again. Georgy Malenkov was the David Moyes of the Soviet empire — he held power for a full week after Stalin. They really knew how to go through managers in those days.

Modern democracies are supposed to prevent such messes. In a way, the whole point of democracy is to make it possible for successions to take place with minimal disruption to normal life. But Thatcher was as near a thing to an autocrat as anyone could be in our political system, and therefore it was inevitable that her succession was botched.Her suggestion that the solution to the problem was famously to “go on and on”, which can more or less be regarded as her famous last words. Ferguson adopted that solution himself, triumphantly unretiring and going on and on as long and as successfully as any mortal could. But there comes a time when even kings die, when even great football managers must step back.And then some kind of serious falling-off is inevitable. Of course, every autocrat thinks he — or, rarely, she — will be the one exception. Of course they do, they wouldn’t be autocrats if they didn’t think they were exceptional even by the standards of their fellow autocrats.

But again and again they make a hash of it, not because of the limitations of their successor, or even the limitations in themselves, but because to an autocrat there can be no real successor. Just the bloke who comes next.

You can follow the autocrat with a good, understanding, listening people-person and he will fail. You can follow the autocrat with another autocrat and he will fail. You can follow an autocrat with Mother Teresa or Attila the Hun, Stalin, Le Roi Soleil or Pope Francis, and they will all fail.

Autocracy is a marvellously effective system, wonderfully economical in its decision-making, gloriously tidy in the way it works. And you can get things done all right — you can certainly make the trains run on time.

But the one thing you can’t do is pass it on to the next leader. All autocrats are by definition victims of their own success.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Roads, Internet; Spain is different 4; & The evil eye and what you can do about it.

Not long after I'd arrived in Spain, I commented to a friend that the country's new roads and motorways were a marvel. "Just wait and see what happens when they need to be maintained", replied my glum friend. Well, a report's been issued claiming that Spain's roads are now in the worst condition since 1985 and forecasting there'll be an 'apocalypse' next year if something isn't done immediately. The guilty parties are, of course, La Crisis and the subsequent austerity measures and I don't expect any early change. I almost look forward to seeing what shape the apocalypse takes. Does anyone offer pot-hole insurance?

Click here if you want to know the 10 worst streets in the UK for broadband speed. And note that all of them have a higher speed than me and my neighbours. Courtesy of a couldn't-care-less Telefónica.

Spain is Different 4:
  1. Spain has bullfighting and bull-baiting. Most other countries don't.
  2. Spain is reported to be the least homophobic country in the world, except perhaps for those countries (including Sweden) which weren't included in the survey.
  3. Spain may be the only country in the world where you need to employ a professional (a gestor) to get through the reams of bureaucracy that face you.
BTW - A reader has pointed out that we all have Chip & Pin cards in Spain but that most retail outlets don't yet have the capability to operate them properly. This is why I wrote that I don't understand why this is so. It's years now.

Another reader has pointed out that Galicia(Galiza) is not Spain. This could mean a number of things, from Galicia (like Cataluña) deserving secession, to Galicia not sharing any of Spain's cultural characteristics. But I guess he/she meant that Galicia doesn't share all of these. And, possibly, that Galicia is more Celtic than anywhere else in Spain. Though this is contentious.

Which reminds me . . . A local church held the annual San Cibrán festival last Monday, during which those with mal de ojo tried to rid themselves of this by walking under a statue of the saint. Three times. I've always translated mal de ojo as 'the evil eye'. But can there really be people in this day and age who believe in this? Maybe it just means conjunctivitis. BTW - This ceremony also involves people chucking stones over the church roof - presumably from only one side. I don't recall there being anything about this is the Bible, so, maybe it's a Celtic tradition . . . Fotos here.

Finally . . . We've all had amusing experiences of odd suggestions from Google as to what we might have meant. I searched "dominic lawson black and white" yesterday and got back their question of whether I wasn't looking for lawson black nad white puffin. So, what's a nad when it's at home? Other than an abbreviation for gonad.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Shakespeare 2; Spain is Different 3; Fleeing Brits; & The Moyes affair.

I mentioned Shakespeare yesterday. It turned out to be the nth anniversary of his birthday. What are the odds? Anyway, the other coincidence was that yesterday also saw an article on the point I was making - viz. that Shakespeare's English is as tough for us today as Chaucer's must have been for him.

Spain is Different 3:
  1. I can't believe I've left this until now . . . The concept of personal space is less established in Spain than elsewhere. In fact, I suspect it's not known at all. Thus, people will indulge in a pas de deux at the last second when they approach each other. Or walk across each other's paths at a distance of only a few centimetres.
  2. Anyone can start a court action in Spain - via a denucia - for almost anything, it seems. There appears to be no legal concept of 'a frivolous suit' but a recent rise in court fees may have reduced these.
  3. The Spanish don't go in for either original language films or subtitles. All foreign programs - film or TV - are dubbed by a self-preserving industry established under Franco as an instrument of censorship.
  4. Foreign film titles are not always rendered into the exact Spanish equivalent. To say the least. Some of them defy understanding.
  5. Recognition of Chip & Pin has yet to arrive in Spain, as far as I can see. You'll still be asked to sign a chit and, quite possibly, to provide proof of identity. I have no idea why this is so.
  6. The staff in Spanish petrol stations are always clean, pleasant and courteous. Unlike their opposite numbers in the UK, who are all on the minimum wage, one assumes.
BTW - I noticed an unusually quiet couple in a café at midday yesterday. Then I realised that at least one of them was deaf and they were lip reading each other.

No one really knows how many Brits (and Germans) have left Spain in the last 15 months but let's accept it's quite a significant proportion of the around one million the British embassy believes live here. What's more important is the range of reasons:-
  • The impact of the long recession on their businesses.
  • Anger and fear at the threat of demolition of houses bought in good faith with legal advice.
  • New tax declaration measures seen as a prelude to a grab of overseas assets.
  • Health deterioration among the old.
  • The increased cost of living, following price inflation way above the rate of earnings/pension increases and the fall of the pound against the euro.
  • The inability to fit in with the Spanish culture, against the background of departing friends.
  • The "Byzantine bureaucratic barriers".
I don't actually know any Brit who's left Spain for any, some or all of these reasons but here's an account of one couple's reasons for (unwillingly) transporting themselves from Mojacar to Dubai.

The latest corruption case to come our way has a Galicio-religious flavour. It's called Operation Altarpiece and the details are here.

Finally . . . If David Moyes' reign at Manchester United really was as unavoidably disastrous as some claim, then the main responsibility for this must surely lie with his predecessor and fellow-Glaswegian, Alex Ferguson. Moyes himself, a man of dignity and honour, has been shabbily treated, even (I regret to say) by Evertonians. But, then, humour is very aggressive on Merseyside and he must have known what he was in for when he went to Goodison Park last Sunday.

Apologies to those readers for whom this is all unintelligible but, as I said, for the UK media Moyes' sacking was the leading international event a couple of days ago

Public Service Advice: I've just had a call from a guy claiming to be ringing about the problem with my computer. When I asked him why, he put the phone down. Presumably not a cold caller but someone wanting to gain control of my computer. Or insert a virus in it. Interestingly, he spoke in English, albeit with an accent.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Departing Brits; Spain is Different; & Yet more large scale corruption.

I get the occasional cold call here in Pontevedra but my mother back in England is plagued with them. She must, I guess, be on some Suckers List. Being of her generation, she used to speak to them before politely ending the call. Now, she just just puts the phone down as I do. I'm sure the technology exists to allow the phone companies to identify the companies and to warn you via a 'Cold Call' alert on your phone screen. But, then, I doubt it's in their financial interests to do so. And so it won't happen.

One of the things I listened to while driving to Plymouth and from Santander was a CD of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in the original English. As I did so, the image struck me of Shakespeare sitting in class and moaning to the teacher he didn't think Chaucer should be taught to kids.

The total number of Brits living in Spain is unknown but may be near a million, many of them unregistered with the town hall. What is known is that more than 20% of identified Brits quit Spain to go back to the UK last year. It's supposed that the reasons are economic.

But, anyway, here are a few more ways in which Spain is Different:-
  1. Customer orientation is a little less well developed in Spain than elsewhere.
  2. Ditto, inevitably, levels of customer service. You may have to fight for aisle space with a supermarket employee wielding a pallet. Though Mercadona is an exception.
  3. Kisses and hugging is practised more widely in Spain than in less tactile countries, even between men.
  4. Spain's TV advertising in greatly more adept in intrusive advertising than in other (less tolerant) countries. The latest example is transparent ads that scroll across the screen, usually as the audience is being panned.
  5. Shouting when you're talking is compulsory in Spain. And the more your interlocutors shout at you, the more you are legally bound to shout back. But noise is not a problem in Spain. Everyone accepts it as the norm. Except foreigner. In a bar yesterday, a friend and I were confronted by the worst possible scenario - six screeching grandmothers sitting at the next table. Their deafness didn't help.
  6. In related vein, it's compulsory for every café and bar in Spain to have at least 2 or 3 TVs on the wall, very possibly showing different programs. Plus maybe a radio channel. Again, the locals merely regard this as the norm and neither watch nor listen to any of them. The owners presumably fear a flight of customers if they didn't provide this aural wallpaper. Though, in some metropolitan cases, they would quickly be replaced by foreigners desperate for some peace and quiet. And the ability to hear each other talk.
  7. The Spanish demand bread with every meal and get antsy if it isn't on the table. However, this doesn't mean they'll eat any of it.
  8. The Catholic church remains powerful in Spain, even though 80% of the population don't go to church and support abortion and gay marriage. The Church is particularly involved in education, despite a decades-old intention to change this.
  9. The Catholic Church gets a percentage of our tax money, even though it was decided in the 70s that this would stop and that the church would be self-financing.
  10. It's virtually impossible to enter or leave any sizeable Spanish town without seeing at least one brothel, usually wreathed in garish pink neon lights and possibly a picture of the female form. And featuring a helpful name such as Nimfas or Working Girls.
  11. Corruption among businessmen and Spain's (disproportionate number of) politicians is endemic and considerably higher than in all other European countries, with the possible exception of Greece and Italy. That said, private individuals are very unlikely to see any corruption during their lives.
  12. Terrorist groups operate (in favour of secession) not only in the Basque Country but also in Galicia. Those in the former (ETA) may well have stopped bombing and killing but those in Galicia still occasionally blow up an ATM or a rubbish bin. Not a lot of people know this. 

Finally . . . Talking of corruption, the latest case name we have to try and remember is Operación Edu, under which police in Andalucia (a veritable byword for corruption) are investigating what may be Spain's biggest ever fraud, involving up to €2bn euros of EU funds that 'went missing' once it got into the hands of 'local officials' - regional governors, trades union leaders and employers' associations. The usual subjects, in other words. What's astounding is they thought they could get away with it. And, truth to tell, to the extent that the money will never be recovered, they have. What's a couple of years in jail for a pension pot of several millions? More here. Especially in a country in which moral turpitude is a weak concept. Don't forget it's your taxes which are lost to folk suffering from 'desert disease' - sticky palms.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spain is Different

I arrived home last night to find the TV on and the internet off. By the end of the evening, I'd reversed this situation and was enjoying a download speed of a mere 224 mbps. Which is about as low as it's ever been and compares with a 100 megabytes on offer in the UK. The TV, by the way, had been locked 24/7 on one station and I had to revert to Sky this morning to get anything else. To find that, as far as both Sky and the BBC were concerned, the only important events in the entire world were centred on Manchester United and their departing manager, the sad-but-rich David Moyes,

But, anyway . . . . Here's the first tranche of Spanish Differences, in no particular order of anything. Some of these are trivial and some of them aren't. Whether they are or not depends on which culture you come from and, above all, whether you're Spanish:-
  1. In Spain, it's obligatory to kiss on the first meeting. In the UK, it isn't.
  2. In Spain, it's compulsory to engage in eye contact: In the UK, it isn't.
  3. In Spain, it's illegal not to have the word corazon (heart) in every song. Elsewhere, it isn't.
  4. In Spain, the legal system is inquisitorial. In the UK it's adversarial.
  5. In Spain, you can touch a woman when you talk to her. In the UK, you'd be accused of attempted rape if you did.
  6. In the UK, you pay for your drinks when you order them. In Spain, you pay for them when you leave the bar.
  7. In Spain, rules are ignored if they're personally inconvenient, elsewhere they aren't.
  8. Spain has more prostitutes per (male) capita than any other country in Europe.
  9. You can drive on Spanish motorways without being terrified by trucks and continuously slowed down by roadworks of 'phantom jams'. In the UK, you can't.
  10. Not everyone born in Spain feels Spanish.
  11. Books elsewhere have their titles on the spine all in one direction. In Spain, they can be either to the left or to the right, making a trip to a book shop a pain in the neck.
  12. The Spanish usually have only 1 forename but 2 surnames. Each child has different surnames from each of its parents, who have different surnames from each other. Simple it ain't.
  13. Because of this funny name business, foreigners in Spain suffer from bureaucratic confusion about what they're really called. And what they should put on their forms.
  14. The Spanish daily timetable differs significantly from those elsewhere. The morning stretches to the time of the 'midday' meal, i. e. to 2 or 3pm. Shops open at 10 in the morning and close at 2 for 3 hours. They're then open until 8 or 9pm. Elsewhere, things are more sensible and people get home before 10pm.
  15. The Spanish eat their main meal of the day usually at 2.30 to 3pm. Only a light meal is eaten in the evening, between 9 and 10.
  16. Thanks to the lateness of everything else, the peak TV hour in Spain is between midnight and 1am.
  17. Both adults and children in Spain get fewer hours of sleep than elsewhere.
  18. Notaries are king in Spain. The law obliges their involvement - as agents of the government - in a great deal of what you do during your life, including selling or buying a house.
  19. In contrast, lawyers in Spain are low in status. The pre-university exam mark required for entry onto a degree course is far below that required for aspiring doctors, vets, nurses and physiotherapists. In the Anglosphere, things are rather different.
  20. Shower heads in Spain are nearly always loose, attached to a hose which comes up from the taps.
  21. Burials in Spain must take place within 48 hours and related ceremonies take place in an odd communal place called the tanatorio.
  22. The Spanish still prefer to do business face-to-face, rather than by phone or email.
  23. Spanish responses to invitations are meaningless. A No might really mean a Yes and a Yes means "Provided I don't get a better invitation in the meantime".
  24. Sadly, having either your arm or your leg stroked by a Spanish woman you're talking to means absolutely nothing.

Well, that's enough for today. More tomorrow.

Monday, April 21, 2014

More UK tribulations.

Have just discovered that there's free wifi on this boat. Which probably explains why the ticket price has increased so much in the last couple of years.

I finally did find a crew of East Europeans to clean my car in Leamington Spa. The operation was brilliantly efficient - inside and out - and a quick calculation based on their hourly throughput and low overheads suggested a sizeable profit for the owners. Though I rather doubt the operatives are on more than the minimum wage. If that.

My list of 27 ways in which Spain is different in proceeding nicely and will be posted tomorrow. Apologies for the delay.

This may or may not be true - it was in the Daily Mail - but it seems the UK's bureaucrats are now so ignorant of Christianity that one local council banned a Good Friday street Passion play because they thought it centred on sex. You couldn't make it up.

Which reminds me . . . Exeter's luminous cathedral is Gothic in style. As I may have said before, this word was originally applied to post-Romanesque churches to mean 'ugly'. BTW - On entering the cathedral, we were told they hadn't taken a delivery of free leaflets in English but we could have the glossy guide for only a  quid, instead of two. We opted for the free leaflet in German and Spanish.

The piano player on this trip is far better than the two on the last one. In fact, he played such good blues and jazz that I got up to congratulate him. Only to find that he'd gone on his break and the piano was playing automatically.

Finally . . . The 'headline' cabaret star last night was a Tom Jones impersonator who'd been the ('cheated') runner-up in some UK copycat competition. He was announced as 'Europe's leading tribute act'. Which does rather make you wonder what he's doing on this boat, playing to drunken motor-cyclists. Perhaps Europe is awash with Tom Jones impersonators.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Just in case anyone's interested . . .

Thursday, 17 April

Drove from Leamington Spa to Dorchester, arriving an hour later than expected. No time to write the How Spain is Different piece.

Friday, 18 April;

Walked along the beautiful Dorset coast with an old friend from law school. Saw the fascinating Durdle Door 

19.00: Arrived in Newton Abbott, to find myself in the only house in the UK without internet.

Saturday, 19 April.

Thanks to my old Anglo-German friend, I learnt that toilet paper makes an acceptable alternative to filter paper for coffee. Or kitchen paper, if you're fussy.

Visited Exeter cathedral and then went into a nearby place offering free internet. It didn't work and, when I asked them to switch the router off and back on, they refused on the grounds that their till was connected to the internet. Then they added 12.5% service charge to the bill, even though 10 is the UK norm. But tourists are their main custom so I suppose they don't give a damn that I won't be going back there

Exeter cathedral, though, was worth the money. It's possibly the lightest cathedral I've ever seen, thanks to the brilliance of the 12th century architects. On the way in, we passed a couple of men exiting via the entrance. One of them was saying to his rather resigned looking colleague: "If it was free to enter, I'd probably chuck 5 quid into the donations box but I'm not willing to pay 6 quid when it's compulsory". As he was old enough to pay the 4 quid Senior rate, I guess we can regard 'probably' as the (in)operative word of his complaint.

Sunday, 20 April

Finally found somewhere with working internet - McDonalds in the centre of Plymouth, where they charge you for parking even on Easter Sunday. Heathens.

Spanish Differences will have to wait until Tuesday.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Normal service will be resumed as soon as I get a reliable internet connection, somewhere between Newton Abbott and Pontevedra . . . .

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wellesbourne in Worcestershire.

I've been driving to and walking in Shakespeare country today and will shortly set off for Dorchester on the south coast. So here's some fotos of the village and the pub in which I had lunch. It is so old-fashioned it still allows patrons to bring their dogs in. Can't recall seeing that for decades.

Tomorrow, a list of the main differences between Spain and the rest of the world.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Attractive bacteria; Siesta deaths; Weekend rags; Language trix; Shopping; & Silly names.

At lunch with some of my young daughter's friends on Sunday, I heard one ask another: "Which is your favourite bacterium?". After which there was a 5 minute chat on the attributes of various candidates. One of them, it turned out, was a scientist and the other a doctor. Happily, I'd finished eating.

You'll forgive me for not placing any trust in the Cambridge University study which concluded that a daily siesta shortens your life. Especially as they don't know why. It's just a coincidence that Spanish longevity is the best in Europe, I suppose.

Reading The Sunday Times is a real challenge. Specifically, where to find a bin in which to dump the 9 sections you don't want to read. Spain's weekend papers have, of course, been heading in this direction for years, though the internet's impact may well have slowed down 'progress'.

Orwell would have loved this abuse of language. . . I see that the coffee my sister favours comes a third of the way along a bar labelled 'Smooth' at one end and 'Rich' at the other. What they mean, of course, is 'Weak' and 'Strong'.

I keep bumping up against the problem that shops in Britain close around 5pm, just when most of those in Spain are opening up for the evening shift of 5-8pm. Or even 5-9. Frustrating.

Finally . . . I saw recently that someone had called their child L'Wren. This is perhaps not as bad as Will.i.am and I look forward to seeing L'Wrence, L'Ora and L'Orna in due course. Inter alia.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

House sales/prices; Dubious pardons; Bye-bye monarchy?; Gurtel explained; Romanian victims.

The sale of houses and the prices thereof continue to fall in Spain, 7 years after the boom turned to bust. And yet, sales to foreigners increased significantly last year, with Brits being well to the fore in the quest for bargains. Given that prices are expected to fall still further, these are either canny souls who know exactly what they're doing or folk who - as the traditional phrase has it - have left their brains at the airport. Either way, good luck to them. One thing's for sure, unless there are very good reasons, this is not the time to accept the asking price, however reasonable the (on-commission) estate agent says it is.

The Executive arm of the Spanish government has the constitutional power to pardon criminals - something which it regularly does - without giving reasons - in respect of senior politicians and bankers. In addition, the government has a similar power stemming from nothing more than custom and practice. So it is that: " A Spanish banker jailed for stealing €30,000 ($41,000) from a client is one of 21 prisoners given a reprieve during this year's traditional Easter pardons. Every Holy Week, around 20 prisoners are freed at the request of the Catholic cofradías, the religious brotherhoods behind most of the processions which take place across the country". It's said that the tradition began with a 1759 prison riot in Malaga. So, Easter is a time when friendships really count in Spain. As if they didn't at every other time of the year!

Demonstrators took to the streets of Spain last night to call for the restoration of a republic. The current Constitutional Monarchy model has failed, they say, resulting in a two-party system mired in perpetual corruption. The 1978 'transitional model' , they add, has outlived its usefulness and needs to be replaced by something more up-to-date. And who would gainsay any of that, particularly if it means a sensible federal state? So, good luck to the March for Dignity.

HT to Lenox for the advice that you can, perhaps, get a full understanding of the vast Gurtel corruption case from this article in El País in English.

Finally . . . I don't whether this is happening in Pontevedra as well as in Ferrol but I might just have a bit more sympathy for some of our beggars in due course.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Circumnavigators; Books; E-cigs; Jew Killing; Jews killing?; & Religious riches.

If I were to ask you who was the first mariner to navigate the globe, you'd probably say the Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan. Or Fernão de Magalhãesas as he's properly known. But this is wrong, as Ferdinand was in fact wounded in the Philippines and never made it back home. The trip to the Spice Islands and back was completed - just about - by one of his sailors, a Spaniard called Juan Sebastián Elcano - a chap who'd ironically spent 5 months in chains for taking part in a mutiny against Magellan earlier in the voyage. Understandably, this is well-known in Spain, but not elsewhere. So spread the news.

The Sunday Times says that the number 1 book of the last 40 years has been Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time. This is a huge irony as it must also rank as the least read book on the planet. I think I got to page 17 before giving up. But perhaps I should try again.

I mentioned there are no beggars in Hoylake. Another thing you won't find there but which is thick on the ground in Pontevedra is a shop selling e-cigarettes. I wonder why that is. Then again, there are no charity shops in Pontevedra against  several in Hoylake. As there are in Headingley, where I am today. It's a rum world.

It's good to see that the small Spanish village of Castrillo Matajudios - Castrillo Kill the Jews - is finally getting round to voting on whether to return to its original name of Castrillo Motajudios - Castrillo the Hill of the Jews. Mind you, we don't know the outcome of the referendum yet.

Which reminds me . . . . After another stranger added me to their circle on Google Plus, I decided to see how easy it is to add myself to the circles of the high and mighty. For this I chose the Pope and quickly found myself watching a video from some nutter who 'proved' that the Israelis had bought and stored last November a twin of the Malaysian jet which may or may not lie deep in the ocean west of Australia. I think we're supposed to conclude the the Jews are behind the mystery of its disappearance, though no motive was proffered.

Finally . . . I've mentioned a couple of times that I'm contemplating starting a religion, after reading Scientology's L Ron Hubbard's comment that it's the quickest way to make yourself a millionaire. I've now edged closer to this challenge after reading the obit of one Harold Camping, who's reported to have made a fortune from claiming that his interpretations of the Bible had uncovered the true date of the end of the world. In truth, I doubt he even got it right even for himself.