Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mad Dog Horrach

Sometimes you feel that history is being made around you. The Iranian Islamic revolution happened 5 years after I left the country and its Indonesian equivalent happened 3 years after I returned from there to the UK. Here in Spain, it may be third time lucky for me. I'm encouraged in this belief by this article from a republican paper:-

In his appeal against the processing of the case of Princess Cristina presided over by Judge Jose Castro, the public prosecutor Pedro Horrach launched an infamous set of insults, accusations and defamations against the judge in which he goes so far as to say he is a deliberate perverter of justice, that he wants to be famous and that he responds to media dictates. He has even compared him to the Inquisition.

To justify putting himself on the side of the presumed criminal, Princess Cristina - and this is the real perversion of justice - Horrach - and we can suppose he is following the orders of the Attorney General, Torres, and the Justice Minister Gallardón (another prosecutor) - has appealed against the processing of the princess's case, but his manners betray him because, in his anger, he has gone overboard in his assaults, insults and defamations, instead of safeguarding the swindled public money and the current legislation, as he is obliged to do.

The most serious thing about Horrach, and about those who are now cheering him on from the extreme right, is that his attitude and manners will cause a lot more damage to the monarchy than that already caused by the Noos case. For, while the palace of King Philip VI has said that judicial independence is respected throughout Spain, there is a growing suspicion that the Zarzuela and Moncloa palaces are preparing, with the the diatribes of Horrach, an environment in which the Provincial Court of Palma can take over the case against Cristina, in accordance with a script written a while ago, in an obvious perversion of the course of justice.

The cause of the Republic does not need much political support in order to grow when the furious monarchists of the extreme right, the long arm of the government and the Public Prosecutor's office insist on saving Princess Cristina, above and outside the law. If we add the rapid placing of the ex-king above the law and remember the prohibition of republican flags at the installation of Philip VI, we can see that the Republican factory just installed in the royal palaces, in the political media and in the communication networks connected to the PP party is working at full speed.

No matter. Let them get on with it, because when it rains it pours and the crisis of the monarchy's prestige hasn't been ended by the abdication of Juan Carlos, however much many think it has. Spain, for a while now, has been a tinder box which any spark could ignite causing a large fire, however much they say at the heights of power that 'nothing ever happens'. Doesn't it? Well, for the moment the king has had to abdicate, and Rubalcaba has just announced his departure from politics and we'll see if Ruz dares, at the end of the instruction stage of the Barcenas and Gurtel cases, to call Aznar, Cascos, Rajoy and Arenas to testify - those who were at the very top of the PP during the years in which Lapuerta and Barcenas managed the accounting of the black money transactions of the party. 

As for Horrach, the first thing Torres should do, if he has a shred of dignity, is to publicly call attention to his bad manners and even suspend him. Because what this Attorney General can't do is denounce the vast sink of Spanish corruption and then side with the Infanta Cristina, while letting loose Horrach like a mad dog at the door of Judge Castro, who has left everything in evidence for everyone, including Rajoy. Though Horrach doesn't need help; he's just single-handedly disqualified himself.

And that's it for today.

June weather; The Brexit ; Argentina; The EU; & English football.

In weather-conscious Britain and Galicia, every month is a record for some reason or other. And, with a couple of days to go, I nominate this June as the least good since I came here more almost 14 years ago. It was so bad last week that, while friends in the UK were complaining they couldn't sleep because of the heat, I was putting the duvet back on the bed. Here's hoping for a decent July and August.

So, Richard North called it wrong and Mr Juncker was duly anointed President of the EU Commission. Last week I pointed out there were 2 diametrically opposed views on record in the UK - one that current events meant that a Brexit was inevitable and the other that it was now impossible. I wonder if yesterday's denouement has produced unanimity. Meanwhile, here's the take of an arch quitter - A New Career for Kim Jong Juncker.

When I saw the daft Presidenta of Argentina - Mrs Kirchner - insisting the country wouldn't pay its debts to "vulture" capitalists, I wondered if she knew what she was doing. And, since she was supping with the Devil, whether her spoon was long enough. So, I wasn't surprised to later see full page ads in Spanish papers claiming that Argentina was being prevented from paying its debts. By which, I guessed, she was offering to pay off only some of them. And now I see a US court has blocked part-payment, putting Argentina at risk of a second bankruptcy. Not a great way to run a country. Perhaps the UK could help by selling them the oil-rich(?) Malvinas. Named after Frenchmen, by the way. From Saint-Malo.

I've long thought the EU would eventually collapse under the weight of its internal incongruities. So I'd naturally warm to these comments from Christopher Booker: When history comes to be written, this reckless attempt to expand the EU’s empire right into Russia’s backyard will be seen to rank alongside the crazy gamble of the euro as the two most obvious symbols of how the “European project” eventually over-reached itself. And the choice for the most powerful post in the EU of a man so blatantly unsuitable for the job is just another symptom of how we are now looking at an increasingly dysfunctional vanity project which is destroying itself from within.

More recently I've said that the problem with English footballers is that they're simply not smart enough. As someone else has written this weekend: Some footballers need to appreciate that football is a cerebral activity as much as a physical one. They need to train the brain more. Andres Iniesta, a world and European champion, took on extra university studies to sharpen his mental faculties.

Finally . . . For English fans - and others - here's a fascinating analysis of why England are now perpetual losers. I suspect the chances of his recommendations being implemented are close to nil.

World Cup 2014: Bad football, bad capitalism - Why England lose. By David Clark

The inquest into England’s worst ever World Cup campaign has focused on the usual questions of team selection, tactics and the attitude of the players, along with the obligatory search for a scapegoat. Comparatively little attention has been given to the deeper structural and cultural factors that have inhibited England’s long-term performance on the pitch. Poor coaching? A dearth of talent? A dysfunctional league structure? Sure, but these are just symptoms. There are more fundamental reasons for England’s 48 years of hurt and they reflect the deficiencies of our society and economy more generally.

The story of football in this country is, of course, inseparably linked to the rise of industrial capitalism. It was the creation of an urban working class that provided the catalyst for football’s emergence as a form of mass entertainment. Britain’s trading empire was the transmission mechanism that turned it into a global sport. But having gifted football and capitalism to the world, Britain quickly became a second-rank power in both. By 1914, Germany and the United States were well on the way to becoming the dominant industrial economies. As Jonathan Wilson notes in his book Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics, the spirit of innovation in football moved abroad almost as soon as other countries adopted the game.

This is more than simple coincidence. In economics, as in sport, a mix of hubris, insularity and misplaced cultural superiority meant that Britain was reluctant to learn from, or even acknowledge, the extent to which other countries had taken our ideas and improved them. The footballing authorities believed there was a correct way to play the game—direct, uncomplicated and physical, corresponding to a peculiarly English upper-class notion of manliness. Signs of professionalism, like training, were frowned upon and even the Scottish innovation of passing the ball instead of rushing at the goal was resisted at first. These attitudes are still reflected in the way the sport is often coached at youth level, the cries of “shoot” whenever the ball passes the half-way line and the frankly ludicrous debate about whether England should practice penalties.

British capitalism is in many ways the economic equivalent of the long ball game. The “gentlemanly” values that permeated the City before the Big Bang may have been swept away like the Corinthian ethos in sport, but their legacy endures in a managerial culture that prefers the muscular, route-one approach to profit making over the patient style of our foreign competitors. It has produced an unstable, lop-sided economy that chooses financial engineering and credit-fuelled growth over the difficult business of making products that other countries want to buy.

The link between short-termism in football and industry becomes more obvious when you consider the emergence of the PLC as the dominant form of club ownership. One consequence has been the emergence of a hire and fire mentality that has seen the tenure of league managers halve in the space of two decades to less than 1.5 years, despite compelling evidence that sacking the manager usually does more harm than good. Last season’s dismissal of David Moyes was even timed to coincide with the opening of the New York Stock Exchange.

The proportion of homegrown players in the top-flight football has shrunk from 69 per cent to 32 per cent since the launch of the Premier League in 1992, narrowing opportunity and draining the pool of talent. Free movement and the short-term pressures of the game combine to make this inevitable. Why waste time and money nurturing a local player who may or may not turn out to be a superstar when you can buy one off the peg from abroad, especially when you’re a manager with a life expectancy of 1.5 years? The same link between rising labour mobility and collapsing training budgets in the wider economy is the reason why immigration is now a proxy issue for economic insecurity.

England’s prospects are unlikely to improve without serious reform designed to redistribute power and resources within the game. The first step should be to do something about an ownership structure that has turned our top clubs into little more than a collection of investment assets and oligarchs’ playthings. A move towards the German system, where majority fan ownership is mandatory, would create the committed, long-term ownership needed to change the priorities of football governance. Bundesliga clubs invest twice as much in youth football, have twice as many homegrown players and keep their managers for twice as long. The shift could be gradual. Why not require Premier League clubs to transfer a proportion of gate receipts each year into a supporters trust in the form of a shareholding until it reaches 50 per cent +1?

A second objective should be to redirect investment towards youth training. There is no shortage of money in the game; it’s just going to the wrong places. Premier League clubs spend 71% of their revenues on players’ wages compared to 51% in the Bundesliga. There may be little the authorities can do to stop clubs from spending money in this way, but why not oblige top clubs to contribute a proportion of their payroll to fund the youth academies of clubs in the lower divisions? Those who spend the most trying to buy short-term success should invest the most in securing the long-term future of the national game.

It would be too reductive to suggest bad football is the result of bad capitalism and more accurate to say that they share common roots in a national culture based on short-termism and laissez-faire. Building a more “responsible” capitalism would create a wider context of reform in which the game’s deficiencies could be finally addressed. The alternative would be to carry on as if nothing is really wrong until the next financial crash and the next World Cup exit.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Spanish court procedure; Corruption there and here; Galicia's banks; & Bloody cyclists.

Unlike in Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions, a Spanish criminal case starts with a court of instruction in which the judge takes evidence - sometimes over many months - and then decides whether the case should go forward and, if so, what charges will be levied. If the accused is important, what usually happens then is that the Public Prosecutor - an appointee of the government - publicly states the judge is wrong and that the accused has no case to answer. This is exactly what has happened this week in the case of Princess Cristina and her husband. He hasn't had the benefit of any public support but, as regards the princess, the Public Prosecutor has accused the judge of bias and, basically, of not knowing what the hell he's doing. So, not exactly a unified system of justice. More a case of one part of the judicial system acting as an arm of the executive in defending any and every member of the establishment. Though it has to be said they don't always succeed. Some bigwigs do end up in jail, albeit not for very long, usually. The government's last resort is always a pardon.

There was a letter in today's El País bemoaning the fact that Spain is a nest of corrupt vipers. The author suggested that laws should be brought in before corruption becomes accepted as the norm. I would have thought there were already laws in place and that this milestone has already been passed. A few minutes after reading this letter I read an article in our local paper about funeral directors formally asking the bishop to stop priests indulging in fraudulent behaviour at funerals and burials. I mean, priests, for God's sake.

Talking of Galicia - and bear with me here - we used to have 2 caixas, or savings banks. They were essentially the playthings of local politicians, as elsewhere in Spain, but they did finance a lot of cultural activities as well. They were Caixa Nova and Caixa Galicia. Anyway, they merged 3 or 4 years ago into Novacaixa Galicia. Then they became Novacaixa Bank. And now, having been acquired by Venezuela's Banesco, they've become Abanca (or //ABANCA). Which in Gallego means TheBanking. It's been a wonderful few years for sign-writers and shop-fitters. Not to mention logo designers. But hopefully the boondoggle is over now.

Today I found out 2 things from my own bank:- 1. I have a choice to use chip & pin or a signature; and 2. They're about to be taken over by another bank. So I'll probably leave the issue for now.

Finally . . . There was another letter in El País today, complaining about the plague of (rude) 'Taleban' cyclists terrorising pedestrians on the pavements of Spain. And the fact that the local police stood by and did nothing about them. I was reminded of the recent Camino I did, where the cyclists (or most of them anyway) rode as if they had prior rights to the paths. None of them seemed to possess either a bell or a horn, meaning the best you could expect was one of a variety of strange verbal warnings/commands as they hurtled towards you as if aiming for a new personal best on that stretch of the Way. A real pest. And we didn't even have any local police to sit around doing nothing. Something should be done! Before I give in to the temptation to stick a pole through the spokes of some cyclist and break his neck.

Odd finds; Regal protection; World cup; Male chicanery; Roundabouts; & Dumb answers.

Spain is proving a modern treasure trove of archeological finds, particularly at Atapuerca near Burgos. But the latest discovery comes from the east coast, where the world's oldest human excreta has been found, deposited by a Neanderthal on top of a fire. Presumably after it went out. Surprisingly, it contained fruit and vegetables, as well as meat, revealing that one of them at least was an omnivore.

As expected, the Spanish government has rushed through a law to give the discredited ex-king a high degree of legal protection. As of today, he can only be sued in the Supreme Court, which may or may not entertain the 2 paternity suits which have been floating around for years. Whether he could be prosecuted there for murder - e. g. of the 2 claimants - I'm not sure.

World Cup: As a reader kindly noted, I was a tad premature last night. Today's games saw both Belgium and the United States go through to the 2nd round, leaving Spain, Portugal, Italy and England as the sad/pathetic departees who punched well below their official weight. Plus Russia, who are (mis)managed by the ludicrously overpaid Fabio Capello. Where next for his bank account?

In the UK, a TV chef was taken to court by a male employee who accused her of sexual harassment, after he'd been sacked. Turns out he'd had 7 jobs in the previous decade and had sued 3 other employers. Although retracting his accusations, he still got something under an out-of-court payment. Did no one smell a rat when he was taken on? How did he explain away his dubious CV? And were headhunters involved? I did wonder if Mr Salter was adept at playing the race card but there's chance of this, as he's Caucasian.

Ever few years, I mention the crazy Spanish law for taking roundabouts. Here's an expert on the subject. If you're driving here, be warned.

Finally . . . The satirical magazine Private Eye has a regular section called Dumb Britain. It lists the daft answers given on TV and radio quiz shows. I rather liked this one:-
Q. The film "American Beauty" is named after a variety of what flour?
A. Self-raising.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The princess and the judge; Bloodlust; FIFA again; & Fireworks.

So, a Spanish court of instruction has finally decided that the new king's sister, Princess Cristina, and her husband must face tax fraud and money-laundering charges. We now await the, doubtless long, appeal against this decision. With the actual trial being some way off, assuming it ever arrives.

Would it be summer without a strike by the French air traffic controllers? I wonder if the ever achieve anything, other than damage to the battalions of Innocent Bystanders.

The EU: Richard North advises that he's now uploaded the correct edition of The Great Deception.

ISIS: I can't swear to it but I'm pretty sure the foto I saw in the British press of a prisoner being machine-gunned from behind, didn't have the blood gushing from his front that appeared in fotos in the Spanish press.

FIFA's Rankings
These are the Top 15 teams who haven't made it to the 2nd round:
1. Spain
3. Portugal
9. Italy
11. England
12. Belgium
14. USA
And here's someone who shares my view that the competition has "made a mockery of FIFA's rankings". Incidentally, the 'controversial' FIFA rankings he uses are slightly different from the ones I've got. Which are June's.

En passant, FIFA has just spent €27m on a film about itself, called "United Passions". It's been described as 'amazingly bad' but, if you're really stuck for something to do, you can find trailers on youtube. The hero, not surprisingly, is Sepp Blatter. What a piece of work he is, using the small change to glorify himself.

Finally . . . Oh, dear.

IT Footnote
Following my mention of my email possibly being compromised, I realised today that I've been gifted some ad/malware - . This seems to be associated with a new file - tmpinstallmc.dmg If anyone knows the best way to get rid of this/these, I'd appreciate advice.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Football special; & The lovely Letizia.

Watching England play their final (poor) match tonight and listening to the commentators, I've been forced to conclude (again) that the problem is not lack of skill or 'technique' but a dearth of intelligence. As I've said, we should ban rugby and cricket and force the middle class to play football in greater numbers.

As for the commentators . . . Andy Townsend on ITV displays a stellar ability to tell us what we've just seen and what we already know. He'd be superfluous even on the radio. I hate to think what he's being paid for this, just because he used to be a player. The BBC commentator, on the other hand, specialises in trivia which even a train-spotter would find beyond boring.

But it's good to see that, while holding off on goal-line technology for at least a decade, FIFA have been able to come up with the expedient of spraying foam on the pitch so as to ensure defenders stay 10 yards/metres off the ball at a free kick. Something which could have been done in the first World Cup 84 years ago.

The FIFA rankings going into this World Cup are a thing of wonder. France was at 16, below England at 11 and Switzerland(!) and Belgium at 8 and 12, respectively. Even the USA was ranked higher than France, at 14. Whatever system they have is clearly unreliable. Sadly, though, Spain's number one position now looks precarious.

Finally . . . For whose with Spanish who want to see a hatchet job on the new Spanish queen, Letizia, here you go. Me, I couldn't care less what she used to be or do. She's very decorative and that's all that's required of modern monarchs. That's why Queen Elizabeth wears those hats.

ISIS who? Mr Juncker or not; Mistakes; & Cleansing devils

So, no one had heard of ISIS a few weeks ago and now they're such a threat to the world that Iran and the USA might combine forces to kill them off. They must surely be in line for the Most Fearsome Newcomer award.

In the UK, Richard North continues to swim against the time in thinking the EU leaders will yet reject Mr Juncker, in favour of someone else: - "To defeat Mr Cameron, so publicly, and then rub his nose in it, is not in the best interests of the "colleagues". That alone makes one think that a deal must be in the offing. My best guess is that we will see Juncker withdraw from the race sometime this week, rather conveniently on "health" grounds." Vamos a ver.

Meanwhile, one or two readers will be interested to know that the book on the founding of the EU written by North and Christopher Booker - The Great Deception - is now available (free) in PDF format. As I've said, it's a fascinating read.

Yesterday, I got 2 emails which were not from the people they purported to be from. In other words, their emails had been taken over. One had an attachment re Barcelona which turned out to be a spiel for some miracle diet program. They get cleverer and cleverer these people and now I wonder whether my own email has been compromised.

Before I went off on the camino, I left my cleaner with a list of tasks, one of which was to take 3 bags of plastic, paper and glass from the garage to their respective bins down the road. My mistake was not to say 'But keep the bags'. It reminded me of a cartoon I saw when I was 14: The Chinese emperor - surrounded by smiling Mongols - is saying to his chief engineer: "When I told you to build a great wall to keep out the Mongols, couldn't you have checked to see what side of the wall the Mongols were on before you finished it?" Possibly by the great Mike Williams. Whom I've just discovered is Scouse. Naturally.

Which reminds me . . . On Merseyside, one can say things like "He didn't wave. He mustn't have seen me." Until last night, I hadn't realised this construction is unique to Liverpool, being of Irish origin. That said, my spellcheck recognises mustn't.

Finally . . . In a village near Burgos, the Corpus Christi celebrations have, for 400 years, included several men dressed as the Devil jumping over a group of babies. This, apparently, relieves them of the 'original sin' they were born with. More interesting to watch than baptism, I imagine.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Spanish passengers; Vigo snakes; Not junking Juncker; Ponters novelties; & A football comment.

I've heard it said more than once that Spain will never really prosper under its own steam as long as only 10-20% of the population work as hard as anyone else in the world, while the rest are happy to be carried as passengers. I'm reminded of the time the Dean of the Law Faculty of Santiago wrote to the Voz de Galicia saying they could hardly be expected to pass more than 20% of the students if 80% of them failed to turn up for the exam. And now comes this notice from a university teacher expressing anger at the pathetic efforts of her students in a Physics exam. Given that Spanish is a phonetic language, I'm struggling to understand her complaint about spelling mistakes. Perhaps V and B.

It seems a lot more snakes are being caught or run over in Vigo than ever before. Particularly the Culebra Bastarda. Or the Malpolon Monspessulanus, as it's known in the rest of the world. No one seems to know why its numbers are rising but fortunately, though venomous, it's not fatal to humans. But it can give you a nasty shock if it raises its head in your toilet. Especially if you're sitting on it, as one terrified young woman recently was.

David Cameron's (now lone) fight to stop Mr Juncker becoming President of the EU Commission has again raised and answered the question of who rules Europe. The answer, of course, is Germany. Not Mrs Merkel this time but her junior coalition partner, the SPD. She, it's said, is just as antipathetic towards Mr Juncker as Mr Cameron, but has been unable to prevail in this case. Mr Junker, of course, is the ex-president of Luxembourg, a country which has defied all EU efforts to deal with money laundering and secret bank accounts. Not much of a reformer, then. Just as Mr Cameron claims.

We had a couple of novelties in Pontevedra this weekend:-

1. A new type of beggar. A chap in a military cap, standing on a corner in front of a placard that said something like Checa + España = Skoda.

2. A fiesta gastronomica of octopus. Which I can take or leave.

Finally . . . There was a cartoon in the latest Private Eye which was funny before the events of last week but hilarious after them. It has the England team descending from their plane on their arrival in Brazil, with the Captain shouting from the cockpit: "Shall I keep the engines running?"

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Legal immunity; Corrida risks; Ana Mato's high living; A Brexit?; Football foolishness; & Book booing.

Well, the new Spanish king may have inherited legal immunity from his father but Queen Letizia hasn't. He can sue her for divorce but she can't sue him. Meanwhile, 2 people are trying to get the courts to prove they are illegitimate offspring of the old king but time isn't in their favour; the Spanish government is racing to restore the immunity he lost when he abdicated.

There comes a point in every bullfight when the matador turns his back on the exhausted bull and struts arrogantly towards one section of the crowd - usually after he's triumphantly placed his sword on the bull's lowered brow. I guess the theory is that the beast is now too confused, weakened and exhausted to take advantage of the situation offered him. But this week José Tomás - widely considered Spain's best living torero - painfully discovered he'd committed the tyro's mistake of turning his back on an angry and resentful beast who still had the strength to go for him. And poor José was severely gored as a reward for his misplaced presumption. Sic transit gloria mundi, as they say in the bull pen.

El Espía en el Congreso tells us that the Minister of Health, Ana Mato, is implicated in the so-called Gurtel corruption case, having had numerous luxury hotel bills paid for around the world, as well as the hire or purchase of 8 luxury cars for herself and her husband. None of this, he says, has appeared in the Spanish media "for fear of publicity reprisals'. Which means withdrawal of finance, I guess. A free press?

If you follow the "EU, In or Out" saga in the British media, you'll know from Richard North that a Brexit - however desirable - is almost certainly a lost cause. Which is odd. As, if you read Matthew Parris in today's Times (sorry, paywall) you'll find he's convinced that a Brexit is virtually certain. "Britain is heading for the exit", he says. "Something seriously impressive has to be achieved to change our course". Which is exactly what North believes, except in the opposite direction. Confusing or what? One possible explanation for this dichotomy is that Parris is talking about the 'promised' 2017 referendum, whereas North says this is logistically impossible, if Cameron is to achieve real changes to the British settlement with the EU. Not long now.

In tonight's World Cup game, the ITV commentator - Clive Tyldesley - informed us that "Lots of the Iranian players display their Christian names on their shirts". Really, Mr Tyldesley? Players representing The Islamic Republic of Iran have Christian names?

Talking of footballing stupidity - I see that the highest paid World Cup coach is one Fabio Capello, who gets 6m quid a year for coaching Russia, after failing with England. It must make sense to someone. The oligarchs, I assume

Finally . . . There's said to be a great to-do in Spain about the sale in El Corte Inglés of books advising parents how to prevent or stop their kids being homosexual. However unscientific these may be, it strikes me that, in a country boasting free speech, there's little one can or should do about them.

Friday, June 20, 2014

A language burden; A language lacuna; Phoney language links; New dishes; & Lo-tech toilets.

Talking to the daughter of one of my neighbours today, I learned that Galician students not only have to take an extra subject for their university entrance exams - Gallego/Galician - but also suffer a dilution of their average mark because the exam is the toughest of all. In other words, they're a victim of the local language wars. She felt that the subject should be optional but the local nationalists are surely not going to accept that, as it's easy to predict the outcome. I guess the same thing goes on in Cataluña, though the command of Catalan is much greater there, I suspect.

Talking of languages . . . My recorded guide of the Burgos cathedral told me that Alfonso X ('The Wise') had written the Cantigas de Santa María in a "Romance language". In fact, this was Gallego and I, for one, can't understand why this was obscured. No doubt there are a few conspiracy theories around.

The teaching of English has soared here in Spain during the last few years, as people seek to improve their language skills in pursuit of employment. Inevitably, there's been a degree of fraud, with organisations falsely claiming links to Cambridge University, for example. Or guaranteeing you'll achieve a certain level in a hopelessly short period. In the latter case, they're almost certainly relying on the fact most people drop out of the course before it's finished. If not, the failure to achieve the promised level can always be blamed on the pupil's performance.

A few new items from the menus of our Camino:
Oreja de cordero - Lamb's ear
Asadurillas de cordero - Lamb entrails (I think)
Cigueño - Stork.

Heard on said Camino:-
Could I borrow some of your dental floss?
Exactly how does one borrow a bit of floss?

Finally . . . One of the hotels we stayed in on our camino was part of the HiTech group. I thought of this when I noticed that half of the flush-push on the top of the cistern was missing.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The royal handover; Madrid security; A train tot; & Footballing disasters.

Someone had to say it, I guess. "A new reign in Spain" was the BBC News headline.

Listening to today's speeches, with all their obvious box-ticks, I wasn't surprised not to hear the EU being thanked for its massive financial help in securing and financing Spain's democratic and economic development since 1985. On the other hand, for those in Brussels, I guess there was relief that the EU wasn't regally blamed for La Crisis of the last 5 or 6 years.

My royal informant has analysed the body language and the various gestures of the outgoing king during the public ceremonies and has confirmed that he doesn't respect (or even acknowledge) his daughter-in-law, the new queen. Perhaps he's heard the rumours about her sneaking out at night to attend rock concerts. Which, if true, is probably at an end now.

The Madrid police furthered their reputation for zeal and selective brutality yesterday by arresting anyone wearing pro-republican T-shirts or carrying flags. Or shouting Republica!? Some reports suggest some people were handcuffed for shouting pro-republican slogans and others were questioned for wearing purple – the colour associated with republicanism.

Visiting Bilbao, Legroño, Burgos and León these last 10 days, there's naturally been a lot of highlights in some of Spain's most beautiful cities. But for me the best moment came - off piste - on a train between Burgos and León. I heard a young girl of about 3 or 4 talking to her mother in both Spanish and English. When she stood in the aisle to look up at the TV, I asked her a question or two in English. Then, like kids of that age do, she surreptitiously moved up the aisle to be parallel to my seat and we chatted about the program. As usual in Spain, her mother smiled throughout and no one treated me like a pedophile on the loose.

Finally . . . Here's the reaction of the Spanish press to Spain's depressingly early exit from the World Cup. I guess we can now look forward to the reaction of their colleagues in the English press. The Spanish commentator said that England have a mathematical chance of going through but who'd bet on it?

A mixed news day; A noisy last supper; Odd items; & PINs for some.

So, Spain has a new king (and queen) but has gone out of the World Cup in the first round. Bit of a mixed day, then. I expect tomorrow will be a tad gloomy. And, allegedly, €500m will be lost to the economy as folk stay at home over the next few weeks

Incidentally, none of the new queen's relatives are attending the handover ceremonies; they're all confirmed republicans. As she may well have been before finding her prince.

At our final Camino dinner in León last night, we were pleased to happen upon a place with a decent menú del día in a quiet dining room. As we were congratulating ourselves on this, a group of 12 local women came in, making so much noise my stunned colleagues were incredulous. As the waiter took our orders, I chose to shout mine to him, at which he was good enough to laugh. None of the women even noticed, of course.

One of the items on our menu was Tuna on a bed of suwich. Anyone got a better guess than 'sewage'? Another item had been liofilizado in Spanish and liofilised in English. Which appears to mean 'freeze-dried'.

Did I mention that León's Avenida de General Sanjuro has become an extension of Gran Via de San Marco in the last few years? Not before time.

Finally . . . Chip & Pin: The mystery deepens. All my British colleagues this week were allowed to use their PINs when paying bills, while I still had to sign a chit. So the technology really is in use in Spain. So, is it a question of banks? I will ask mine.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Who done it?; Pardons; & Apostrophes.

Having visited the wonderful Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos today, I joined my colleagues in the Centro Gallego. "Do you speak Galician", I asked the waitress, in Gallego. "Sorry", she said. "I don't understand you. I'm Romanian."

The outgoing President of the EU Commission has said it's quite untrue that the EU was responsible for the catastrophic bubble in Spain between 2002 and 2007. It wasn't the result of an ill-planned introduction of the EU, he insisted. Nor did it stem from inappropriately low interest rates. Or walls of cheap money from elsewhere in the EU. No, it was all down to the failure of Spain's Central Bank to take measures to deal with these. The bank, he ironised, saw itself as the best in the world and repeatedly rejected the EU's claims that something might just be wrong. So, it was Spanish pride which came before the Spanish fall. Yes, well. Maybe.

A member of the Guardia Civil was recently suspended and prosecuted for not just doing nothing about the sexual harassment of a woman by his friend but also filming it on his camera. He was jailed for six months but quickly given a pardon and a fine. His father is a city councillor in Asturias and a member of the ruling PP party. But this is probably just a coincidence.

Which reminds me . . . There are a staggering 20,000 afueros in Spain - people who are in some way protected from prosecution. Most of these are said to be in the judiciary but 2,000 are politicians. I'm aware that folk like Mitterand, Berlusconi and Sarkozy had legal immunity during office but does any other country in the world offer such comprehensive protection to a class which is nowhere to be trusted? If not, why?

Finally. . . Interesting to see that the 'grocers' apostrophe' has made its way to Spain - as in Cantina's and Menu's. I'm moving towards the school that the apostrophe should be completely abandoned. Chaucer didn't use any and got by nicely. Though you couldn't write I'm back then.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Camino

Watching the build-up to the (disastrous) return-match between Spain and Holland last night, I caught a glimpse of a couple of Spanish fans with mortar-style hats on which were perched a pair of monkeys. So, what was all that about? Surely not another reference to the colour of the skin of some of the Dutch players.

You certainly see all sorts on the Camino - from the ebullient souls who are your best friend no sooner than you've exchanged greetings to the shy types who can just about raise a smile and a Hello the third morning you bump into them. And then there are those doing it on a donkey cart. Or just a donkey.

And, if you stay in hostels adjacent to truck parks, you'll surely see some of Spain's numerous Clubes. Or Pub, as the one in Alesón grandiosely called itself. Talking to the owner of restaurant near to Belorado today, she laughed at the idea the nearby Club was closed because it was midday. "No," she said. "The girls all got old and it closed down."

Which reminds me . . . Having ignored it for eons, the Spanish government has now decided to bring prostitution into the tax net - along with smuggling and drug-dealing. God know how they're going to do this but it'll be interesting to watch.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Camino again.

Heading towards Santo Domingo de la Calzada on the Camino de Santiago, you come upon the golf club of Alta Rioja. This is alongside the small town of of Ciriñuela, not long before the larger town of Cirueña. The course was empty at 13.30 but there were signs of people arriving either to play or to have lunch. Opposite the golf course is what the maps call an urbanisación, or what you and I would call a ghost town. One of the many sad victims of Spain's construction madness. With block upon block of unoccupied flats, it's an eery testament to this mania.

I've never broken a bone but it can't be far off. I've fallen 3 times this week - in each case when twisting an ankle on uneven ground - but so far I've escaped without even a scratch.

We've had 3 examples of the admirable Spanish willingness to 'get involved' as Good Samaritan this week. Firstly in Logroño, when I had my first stumble and at least 5 people leaped to pick me up. Secondly in Alesón, when a young lady went out of her way to take some of us a kilometre or two to where they really should have been. And thirdly today, in Santo Domingo de La Calzada when a young woman stopped her car to ask if I was OK after falling on a zebra crossing. Missing a trick, I said 'No, thanks', rather than 'Please take me home and massage my bruised shoulder.'

Since its inception a thousand years ago, the Camino has been a money-spinner for some. Here in Santo Domingo de La Calzada, you have to buy a ticket to enter the cathedral and, for this, you have to pass through a shopful of junk. Mostly religious, of course.But you can store your rucksack for free.

Needless to say, the WiFi speed in this cafe - in the street - is immeasurably better than mine at home.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Heard on the camino:-

[Getting into the taxi] So, where is this taking us?
Nowhere. If you remember, we're walking the camino. This is taking the bags to our next hotel.

So, what do all these items on the menu mean.
What I've just said they mean. Weren't you listening?
Yes. But I wasn't taking it in.

Our waitress last night was an engaging young Rumanian lady, with a nice line in humour. Presumably she's prepared to work for less than the locals. Despite being able to speak English as well as Spanish.

Back in the Spanish parliament, 82% of them have approved the king's abdication and his son's accession. The opposition Socialist party - which has republican roots - threatened to fine any of its MPs €600 if they voted against the motion. Which doesn't really smell democratic, does it?

Finally . . . Going into the dining room at our hostel tonight, I asked the waitress to switch off the TV in the corner. After she'd got over her shock at this request, she replied: "OK. But I'll have to put it back on the minute anyone else comes in."

Dinner, by the way, comprised of 10 dishes with chips and 4 with lettuce. All the latter were fish dishes. A bit ironic for Brits.

Heard on the camino:

I told my friends I was going to Spain to do a kimono.

My sister and I are totally different. She lives off nervous energy and I'm totally laid back.
Maybe. But you're alike in one way. You both take a lot of care to look good.
No I don't.
Well, I'm just wearing a functional shirt and you've been wearing a series of lovely tops.
Yes, but that's only because they're in my suitcase.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The wonders of Burgos; Hotel staff; & Another verse.

Any one of Burgos Cathedral's stunning treasures would take away the breath of even the most ardent atheist. But to have them come at you one after the other for an hour or more is to risk dying of a-respiration. One is left pondering, not what a work of God is man, but what a work of man is God. And also where all the wealth came from at time when 98% of parishioners were dirt poor. Apart from the South American gold mines, of course.

There was a Mass taking place in the largest side-chapel. Tellingly, the 8 celebrants (4 priests and 4 rather elderly altar 'boys') outnumbered the faithful. Even before account was take of the organist. I couldn't help wondering what went through the minds of the priests as they gazed out - in the modern fashion - of the ranks of empty pews. So few people to appreciate their singing

On the mundane level, my colleagues' recorded guide in English took longer than mine in Spanish. As The latter uses more syllables and, indeed, words than the former, this could only mean the Spanish guides spoke more quickly or imparted less information.

Seven is a good number to have in group, especially so (even more so) when of you are in this world and one of you operated in a parallel universe.

I could well be wrong on this - and maybe it's a function of the number of stars and, thus, the prices - but I get the impression that hotel receptionists these days are doing the work of two before La Crisis. Not that they ever seemed overworked back in those days.

Shortly after I wrote the last paragraph we arrived at tonight's hotel in Logroño, where the 3 staff on the Reception first told us we had no bookings, then told us we did but not as per my confirmation, and then finally photocopied all our passports, rather than just write down the numbers. When I queried this, I was told it was in case the chief of police dropped by and asked to see them. Presumably a descendant of Franco

Finally . . . Another verse from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam:-
Myself when young did equally frequent
Doctor and saint and heard great argument
About this about that. But ever more
Came out of the same door as in I went.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Street names; & Menu items

Bilbao proved a hit with my London-based friends, as did the journey through the magnificent countryside from the mountains of the Basque country to the plains of Castilla y León.

Talking of León . . . The map from the 2004 Rough Guide featured a street named after the Francoist general Mola. Even worse, the map of Burgos not only contained a street named after General Sanjuro but also an Avenida Generalisimo. Like an Avenue Adolf Hitler in Berlin. I asked the taxi driver about this and wasn't too surprised to hear they'd been renamed. About which he seemed rather ambivalent. "History is history and things should be left how they are", he muttered.

We had a General Mola street in Pontevedra once. It was renamed General Gutierrez Mellado. Which is a bit of a mouthful, even for the Spanish. So everyone still calls it 'Mola', though this is probably not politically correct. But at least we don't have a street named after the appalling General Queipo de Llano.

I know this is too easy but tonight's menu contained an item called Revuelto de setas y gulas, of which the correct translation is 'Scrambled eggs with mushrooms and eels'. What we actually got was - 'In a mess of mushrooms and gluttonies'. Gula is Spanish for gluttony, it seems. Whereas gulas means eels. Go figure.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

León to Bilbao; The public; A bit of rugby; & The train.

I went to Bilbao today, to meet my camino colleagues. For better or worse, I decided to drive to León and take the train from there. It being early Sunday, the roads were empty. In sharp contrast to the train. That said, when things finally settled down at León station, I found myself to be the only person in the carriage with no one beside me. That was after I'd finally found coach no. 11. It was the one with the number 1 on it. This had confused another passenger, who'd taken it to be coach 21 and who almost caused an international incident when 4 foreigners arrived to find her on one of their seats.

One of the advantages of taking public transport is that it allows you to observe, well, the public. Like the chap in the toilets at León station who was going to inordinate lengths to get a central parting. And he was no spring chicken. And then there was the woman in front of me on the platform who had one leg shorter than the other and so was engaged in a perpetual battle to compensate for a leftwards drift.

Back in Pontevedra last night, I watched half an hour of rugby between the Andorran and Galician teams. Or I would have done if they'd kicked off on time, rather than 25 minutes late. Part of the delay, it has to be said, was due to a scrap between 2 of the Pontevedran 5 years olds who'd been chosen to hold the Galician flag. Well, it was asking for trouble to have 5 of them when there are only 4 corners.

It's 5.30 and our carriage has been de-coupled from the rest of the train, which seems to be going somewhere else. I think we're waiting for an engine, which might not have turned up because it's Sunday. One thing's for sure, there's no airconditioning now. And the evening sun is hot through these large windows.

I'll sign off now as we're approaching Bilbao. No one has asked to see my ticket since I got on 4 hours or more ago. Ironically, the train came from Vigo. So I suppose I could have got it there. But, anyway, crossing the meseta to Burgos confirmed the wisdom of our decision to give it a miss and get the train to León next week. One corn stalk looks much like another. Especially in flat terrain.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Corruption; Irresponsibility; RT humour; Entresomething or other; & Teenage angst.

After years of exposure, the stench of corruption hovers every administration in Spain - at local, provincial, regional and government level. Which is a tad unfair, as one or two might of them be quite honest. Not so the Santiago municipal authority, though, which seems to have been paralysed by the conviction of 7 of its members for prevaricación. The mayor, though, is refusing to resign. This not being standard procedure in Spain.

On the same theme . . . Sensitised by events down in Andalucia, as I walked past a flashy new office of a training organisation today, I wondered whether it really was a genuine business or yet another scam designed to siphon off EU funds.

Like English, Spanish has both responsible and irresponsible. But the latter doesn't mean 'reckless, rash, careless', etc. but simply 'not responsible'. Much more logical.

When I have nothing better to do - e. g. when I'm washing the dishes or cooking - I listen to RT, the Russian government's TV channel. Its slant on international news is, shall we say, consistent. More or less what Mr Putin would want you to hear. So, this evening, it was banging on about the absence of that fundamental right - freedom of the press - in Ukraine. An emphasis which would doubtless reduce Pussy Riot to tears.

I sometimes see the letter E on the list of floors in a list. This stands for the mezzanine floor, called entresuelo in Spanish. But the word that always springs to my mind is entrepierna, or 'crotch'.

I feel very sorry for Spain's 17/18 year old's this week. They had their end-of-college baccalaureate exams last week and the coming week they have 3 intensive days of 6 Selectividad exams. The grading seems remarkably complicated to me but you can make up your own mind after reading about here.

Finally . . . I'm off on my third (semi) camino tomorrow morning, starting in Bilbao. Service may be a tad patchy.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Censorship?; Troublemakers; The Spanish economy; Political English; Brain food; & Verse.

After treating the king's abdication with insufficient reverence, several Spanish journalists have found themselves on the street. The co-founder of Spain’s El Mundo parted company with the paper after committing the unpardonable sin of referring to the king’s relationship with German aristocrat Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. And over at Jueves, a satirical magazine, 4 members of staff left after the pulling of their front-page cartoon of the king handing over a filthy crown with a clothes peg on his nose. Good job he wasn't giving it to Mohammed.

Talking (almost) about a possible Third Republic . . . What would you say if I asked you to nominate the largest political party on the eve of the destruction of the Second Republic in 1936? Most people seem to opt for the Falange, which was in fact tiny. The answer is - the Anarchists. Who continued to be, well, anarchistic after the war had broken out. Unhelpfully refusing to join the government or to have officers for their troops, for example. The group of 50 left wing parties calling for a referendum naturally has anarchists in its ranks (the CGT) but their influence is well below that of the socialists these days. And possible even below that of the communists

One reads, on the one hand, that the Spanish economy is finally doing OK but, on the other, that the government is raiding the pension funds so as to buy government debt - raising the fear that Spain will need to seek a bailout in 2015. But what does it matter as 2016 is an election year and President Rajoy has said his government will lower personal and corporate taxes next year and will resist EU pressure to raise sales taxes. We will see.

Nearly everyone in Spain feels the country's politicians make insufficient effort to learn English and, worse, are ashamed when they hear them trying to speak it. My guess is that most of them are of the generation - perhaps the last one - to learn French as a second language. Though not for Sr Rajoy, who first had to learn Spanish ('Castellano'), then Gallego (Galician) and then French.

But this was good for him, as scientists tell us that speaking one or more foreign languages slows down the ageing process in the brain, whether you do this as a child or an adult. The oldest learner of French I ever knew was a certain Mr Warren, who was 86 and who lived next door to me during my teaching year in the Seychelles. Unfortunately, he did this out loud, driving me to distraction.

Talking of languages . . . Another verse from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam:-
Come, fill the cup and in the fire of spring
Your winter garment of repentance fling.
The bird of time has but a little way
To fly and Lo! the bird is on the wing.