Thursday, July 31, 2014

Catalan dreams; The King Son?; Annoying curs; English lessons? Gaza; & Pricey books.

Nothing emerged from the meeting between the presidents of Spain and Cataluña yesterday, apart from statements offering differing interpretations of it. So, the November 9 referendum on independence is still on, regardless of the fact that Madrid say it won't happen.

Well, we'll soon know whether the ex-king of Spain will have to sit through a paternity suit. After the rapid grant of legal protection after his abdication, only the Supreme court can hear cases against him and we now await their decision on whether they have jurisdiction. But I think we know what the answer will be.

The use of dogs at the Commonwealth Games to lead out the various teams has upset the Malaysians. They saw it as disrespectful to Muslims. It has to be said it seems relatively easy to do this. Especially during the fasting month of Ramadan. It upset me too: they were Scotties and I dislike all small dogs.

For the second evening in succession, I went down to the community pool at 6 this evening, to talk to my lovely neighbour, Ester, in English. And for the second evening in succession, there wasn't a word of English spoken. For I found her talking to my other lovely neighbour, Amparo. There then started a heated discussion - is there any other in Spain? - between them and a third neighbour, Kuki, on insurance cover. I have to admit I initiated this as I'm reviewing my policy and I need to know that the community insurance covers and what I have to cover. After more than an hour, there was total confusion on this issue.

The latest issue of the British satirical magazine, Private Eye, carries a spoof biblical section on the war in Gaza:- And they debated amongst themselves what should be done to bring peace back to the land that is called Holy due to it being wholly impossible to bring peace unto it. Ain't that the truth.

Finally . . . I ordered a few books today. Real books, I mean. Not ebooks. Anyway, one particular book was priced: Kindle 1.99. Hardback new 94.44. Used hardback 0.01. Paperback new 167.00. Paperback used 6.68. I ordered the used hardback at 0.01, in preference to the paperback at a mere 167 quid. Can anyone make sense of this? Are computers given the run of the place at Amazon UK?

Corruption; Catalan secession; Spanish life; & Cartoons.

Corruption 1: The Catalan President has managed to get the patriarch of the Pujol clan to resign all his honorary posts and give back all his titles as a result of being found to have engaged in wide-scale chicanery over several decades. It has to be said that the current Catalan President is not above suspicion himself. But then, as I may have said, he is a Spanish politician.

Corruption 2: The ex-President of the Balearic Isles has failed to get a pardon - so far, at least - and will spend 9 months in jail. Maybe. His ill-gotten millions will doubtless wait for him on the outside. He was originally sentenced to 6 years but the Supreme Court reduced this to 9 months. Which seems to be its main function these days.

As for Catalan independence, the runes are suggesting a deal which will keep it within Spain, but with a better financial arrangement. Apart from President Rajoy meeting the President of Cataluña today, the former is also going to meet the new leader of the opposition party. One wonders what Rajoy has on the Catalan president. And whether he's prepared to keep it under wraps if the vote on independence is shelved. Dirty game, politics.

Facts of Spanish Life
  • Spanish women are the world's second most likely to bare their breasts on the beach, according to a "global survey".
  • I'll be right with you is a phrase susceptible to a broad range of meanings. Just ask my handyman.
  • As with the rest of the world, if they had to choose a flag other than their own, the Spanish would go with the British Union Jack. Which is hardly surprising as half of them are already wearing it on their feet, their chest or their head. And covering their pouffes with it. As I typed that, a guy walked past in a T-shirt entirely made of the flag.
  • Spain is undoubtedly the noisiest place in the world. But some people, thank God, are trying to do something about it. Not so much at the national level but down at the urban level. This, as you'd expect, is leading to some confusion. So, one town has proscribed dominoes and bar TVs in the street, while allowing all-day firecrackers during the all-important fiestas. Likewise, loud music is still permitted for the benefit of bars and their customer but not of the poor residents above them. As I typed that, in Vegetables Square, a band started rehearsing for a concert tonight. Deafeningly.
  • The unemployment rate may be marginally down but shops continue to close. Here in Pontevedra, I went to 3 electrical goods shops last week, to find them all closed and shuttered. Strangely, one type of place to be opening up new outlets is travel agencies.

  • Talking about Britain . . . If it finally does quit the EU, what will happen to the status of English in Brussels?

    Finally . . . If you're an atheist, you're likely to be amused by this cartoon series. If you're a Christian or Muslim with a sense of humour, you might be. Failing that, you almost certainly won't be.

    Wednesday, July 30, 2014

    Apologies: I wrote yesterday's blog very early and then simply forgot to post it. A nice mix of efficiency and inefficiency. Anyway, here it is . . . .

    Spanish governments are very good at helping their corporate friends, in one way or another. One sees this with the monopolistic professions, the subsidies to favoured industries, the tolerance of abuse and poor service from larger operators such as Telefónica, and the cotton-bedding of those industries - such as taxi-driving and hotels - which are facing new forms of competition from the internet. The latest example is the so-called Google tax, a charge to be paid by those who extract information from Spain's media and pass it on to others. This is designed to provide income for Spain's struggling media companies but quite what the law will mean in practice is unclear. Will I, for example, be obliged to pay for every citation I make of an El Pais article, even if it means more people reading the paper than would otherwise be the case. With possibly more clicks-per-view.

    Speaking of Telefónica . . . The Supreme Court has just annulled a fine of €10m on them for abuse of a dominant position. What more can one say?

    There are some who feel that Spain is already a de facto federation and should be converted into a de jure federation in the face of Catalan demands for independence. I thought of this when reading these comments of a supporter of Scottish Independence - A British federation is a non-starter because a federation merely invented to head off a secession wouldn't survive, and wouldn't deserve to.

    Finally . . . I wrote this a week or two ago: As I was leaving town on Tuesday night at 10, there was a blackbird singing its throat out on the roof of the offices of the provincial administration. Can there be any more pleasant sound of an evening? So I was naturally pleased to see what Orwell wrote in 1946: It is politically reprehensible, while we are all groaning, or at any rate ought to be groaning, under the shackles of the capitalist system, to point out that life is frequently more worth living because of a blackbird's song, a yellow elm tree in October, or some other natural phenomenon which does not cost money and does not have what editors of left-wing newspapers call a class angle?

    And, after I'd typed that, I heard this bit of a poem ('Adlestrop') by Edward Thomas:-
    And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
    And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
    No whit less still and lonely fair
    Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

    And for that minute a blackbird sang
    Close by, and round him, mistier,
    Farther and farther, all the birds
    Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

    So, a bit of a coincidence.

    Tuesday, July 29, 2014

    Cataluña; Spanish life; Russia; Gorillas; & Funny English.

    The Presidents of Spain and Cataluña have finally stopped shadow boxing and will meet on Thursday this week to discuss the latter's 'illegal' independence referendum scheduled for November. The negotiating hand of the Catalan President has been seriously - possibly fatally - weakened by the recent reports of corruption among members of the region's patriarchal political clan, the Pujols. One wonders whether it's really a coincidence that the reports have emerged right now. Will demands for independence be softened in return for leniency?

    Spanish Life

    • Grandparents have always played a large role in family life here, for example looking after kids when their parents' work hours didn't coincide with the school timetable. But now it's claimed they're working many more hours a day and suffering for it. So much so that the Spanish Geriatrics and Gerontology Society has called for a halt. Older people, it says, should learn to say no and set limits to how much they can do. And they should also make sure they have time for themselves. Not very likely.
    • Spain is a wonderland for archeological discoveries. The latest of these are million-year-old tools found in Cuenca province, used by the first human settlers in the Iberian Peninsula - prehistoric humans including Homo Ergaster and Homo Antecessor.
    • For some reason, since 1995, Spain has slipped down from no. 8 in the Index of Human Development to 27 this year. Perhaps it's all the corruption. Strangely, the UK rose from 27th to 14th place. No idea why.
    • 24% of Spaniards are yet to use the internet, above the EU average of 20 percent. Spain also has lower than average rates of daily internet use. And only 32% of people had bought stuff online in the last 12 months, compared to an EU average of 47%. On the other hand, Spaniards had higher than average rates of internet use for using eGovernment services.

    Following up my suggestion yesterday that we all buy Moldavian wine to spite Putin, I've now decided to do my own bit for the cause by refraining from buying a Russian bride.

    In Vigo, as in Pontevedra, you can hardly ever get into a 'free' parking place without giving some coins to a gorrilla, but I had no idea it was an international business. Apparently, in Vigo 'demented people and alcoholic Portuguese' are being exploited as slaves. Though I don't think we've sunk to such depths here in Pontevedra.

    Finally . . . I made some hotel enquiries down in Portugal over the weekend. The English of the replies was variable but the comment I like best was - "If you don't mind to Cher 2 rooms . . . "

    Monday, July 28, 2014

    Corruption problem; To pardon or not to pardon; Hurting Putin; & A sudden collapse.

    The issue of corruption in Spain creates a quandary; how much of it to report or even just cite? For there's so much of it it could easily justify a separate blog. Indeed, there is one - El Espía en el Congreso. Last week, for example, we had the ex-President of Cataluña apologising for keeping €4m in a bank in next-door Andorra without telling the Spanish tax authorities about it. But that's not all, it seems. It's suggested that many years as the leading Catalan politician allowed him to accumulate 5-6 hundred million euros (yes, €5-600m!) in other offshore accounts. And on the day he said sorry for the lesser offence, his son resigned from political office because of accusations of corruption. This apple obviously didn't fall very far from the tree. And then there's the Malaya case down in Marbella - long a hotbed of corruption - where virtually every politician and local planning officer was involved in a humongous web of plunder totalling €2.4 billion. Same thing on a much smaller scale in Sanxenxo, just along the coast from Pontevedra. Anyway, the obvious question is - Although no one could resist temptation during the boom years, has the carousel of arrests, prosecutions and prison sentences stopped the rot? Or are politicians still gambling on the chances they won't be the ones to be caught? As with the folk who park their cars illegally in town. I guess we will see in a few years time. 

    Meanwhile, as I've said, the most relevant question is - Which of the guilty will immediately be pardoned by the government and so allowed to enjoy their ill-gotten gains. Possibly after making an illegal contribution to the party's black-money coffers.

    One person we know who's not going to get any sort of pardon is the left-wing celebrity lawyer, Báltasar Garzón. He's so upset the judiciary and political hierarchies that there's no chance the government will reduce or reverse the sentence that barred him from his main job.

    Here's one way to get back at Putin - Buy Moldavian wine. Not in Spain or France, of course, where you'll never find it. But look out for it in the UK. Why? Because, in a fit of vindictive pique, Putin's banned the import of Moldavia's wine into Russia, after the country declined to join the Russian equivalent of the EU. This despite the fact Putin owns his own cellar in the country and held his 50th birthday party there. Nasty little man.

    Finally . . . There was a lot of excitement down in Vegetables Square a few days ago. The interior of one of the old houses that border it collapsed and the facade had to be shored up, disrupting the layout of the Sunday flea market. My guess is that it'll be years before anything is done to restore the house. This seems to be the way of things in the old quarter. Which is a shame.

    Saturday, July 26, 2014

    Spanish New; Fun with the staff; The EU; & a prancing priest.

    Spain: Good/Bad News

    • The economy continues to grow, albeit slowly, and the government has increased its growth forecast (always wrong) to 1.2% for this year and 1.8% for next year. So far, none of this has done much for the country's astronomical levels of unemployment.
    • For the second year running, Spain's population has fallen, taking the total down to 46.5m. Part of the reason is that there was another 'negative migratory balance', last year, with the number of people leaving exceeding that of incomers.
    • Spain has been slapped down by Brussels over the stone blocks used by Gibraltar to create an artificial reef in what it says are its waters. The EU says it found no reason to interfere in this matter.
    • On the same subject, someone has reported that analysis of timings and flow rates confirms that Spain is manipulating things so as to slow down traffic during peak hours on the Spain-Gibraltar border. A la Franco.
    • Same subject: Although the current PP government has massively ramped up the number of incidents in and around Gibraltar - presumably for media consumption - Madrid has angrily criticised Britain for raising the temperature "between allies and fellow EU members" by regularly calling in the London ambassador for a talking to. Transference? Smokescreen?

    One of the joys of Spain is that, in Galicia at least, if you josh with waiters or waitresses, they will invariably join in the fun. None of that snottiness for which their French (and English!) brethren are famous. Of course, it helps to do it in Spanish.

    If you want to know why the EU "is not a torchbearer for human progress but a corporatist cartel divided by competing national interests. And its members are also far too myopic even to recognise what their interests really are", click here.

    Finally . . . An about-to-retire priest down in Malaga has found a way to counter the Church's problem of rapidly shrinking congregations. Or his church's at least. He dances flamenco with the ladies who attend his services. Can't see it catching on in the Vatican. Although the new Pope seems willing to try anything to recover the lost faithful. The faithless?

    Friday, July 25, 2014

    Galicia mourns, a year on.

    Today is Galicia's 'Saint's Day'. Inevitably, it's dominated by yesterday's first anniversary of the horrendous train crash at Angrois, near Santiago.

    As I mentioned yesterday, the officials and politicians responsible for an accident that was waiting to happen have obstructed the judicial enquiry at every turn. And no one has admitted anything or resigned. This is the way things are here. Which, along with the rampant corruption of the politico-corporate casta, explains why the Spanish are so cynical about not only their politicians but also their judicial system.

    As one commentator in today's Voz de Galicia put it: It is the first duty of public officials and it has not been fulfilled. To answer all the questions, however many times it's necessary. To do your duty to those who won't complete any more years because their stories ended on a curve. Galicia did respond with its love - 'Thank-you, people of Galicia, for drying our tears" was heard yesterday in Santiago. But no one could give thanks for having their questions answered. A year ago they cried "Why?", but there is only silence. For one day, for so many lives cut short, the political class should rise to the level of the heroes of Angrois and of the extraordinary common people. And Answer.

    It's at times like this that it's driven home that Spain is not the fully functioning democracy it appears to be on the surface. Perhaps that's too much to expect only 40 years after the end of a dictatorship.

    Finally . . . Here's a letter also published in the Voz de Galicia today. It's from a grieving father to his deceased son. As a father, I couldn't bear to finish it. And I certainly couldn't manage the task of correcting the usually useless Google translation.

    Carta a mi hijo virtual, héroe del Alvia 04155

    Hola Tommy, hoy me he decidido a escribirte, entre lágrimas y sollozos, triste, sí, pero orgulloso por sentir la belleza más que nunca, esa que duele, por efímera e intangible. Siento esa sonrisa permanente que tenías de pequeño y ese olor de recién bañado cuando llegaba a casa después de un día de duro trabajo y me esperabas para jugar un poco antes de dormirte. Siento lo mucho que duele perder lo más preciado que pueda tener un padre, pero me armo de valor para escribirte y contar al mundo lo que llevo dentro, con el fin de que tu muerte no sea en vano y ayude a que tu espíritu siga vivo. Desde aquel maldito día en que te fuiste, no puedo dejar de llorar tu pérdida y a la vez celebrar que tu hermana Laura se haya salvado, quizás gracias a ti, porque estoy convencido de que si tuviste algún momento de consciencia de lo que estaba sucediendo en ese fatídico momento, tu primera reacción fue proteger a tu hermana, lo sé y por eso eres un héroe para mí. Que por cierto está bien y sigue creciendo, está hecha una mujercita, ya cumplió los quince años. Ella siente también mucho la pérdida de vuestra madre y aunque aparentemente lo lleva bien, yo sé que en el fondo lo siente mucho. Pero como es tan joven y tan inteligente sabe que tiene que mirar hacia adelante y ser positiva, por lo que se encierra en el estudio y siempre tiene la mente ocupada y además saca muy buenas notas. Pero el pasado ya es una realidad que no se puede cambiar y tenemos que mirar como evolucionar con esta nueva situación, por el bien de Laura, sobre todo, puesto que tiene una vida por delante, llena de posibilidades y ahora solo me tiene a mí en el día a día para ayudarla a que se vaya creando expectativas de futuro, a través del conocimiento propio y del ajeno. En este sentido quiero centrar el objetivo de esta carta, y dado que me he convertido en un ?padre virtual? para ti, quiero plasmar algunas enseñanzas que la vida me ha deparado para que otros jóvenes como tú encuentren una fuente de inspiración para encontrar sentido a la existencia humana en una sociedad un tanto enferma y absurda como la actual. De esta manera siento que mi labor de padre continúa y tu papel de hijo permanece. 
Nada es para siempre, la existencia es efímera, eso es una gran verdad que te lleva a pensar si la cantidad de años que uno vive es realmente determinante o es la intensidad lo que realmente importa. De alguna manera tenemos que superar esta angustia existencial que nos atenaza porque conocemos la única verdad absoluta que existe y es saber que todos vamos a morir, más tarde o más temprano. Dentro de 1000 años, tanto tú como yo seremos iguales, igual que nuestros antepasados y los que están por venir, lo que hayamos vivido será lo de menos. Nadie sentirá nuestro calor, nuestro olor, nuestra energía. Lo que te lleva a pensar que todos formamos parte de un solo organismo, al igual que las células que se renuevan y contribuyen a mantener una estructura superior, y solo así todo parece tener sentido. Venimos a este mundo a aportar nuestro granito de arena y ya está. Todos somos necesarios y prescindibles a la vez, es la gran paradoja que rige el universo y nuestro destino, el principio de acción y reacción. A los humanos nos corresponde contribuir a nuestra especie como cada uno pueda. Tú lo has hecho, la vida para mí, para tu hermana, tu familia, tus amigos y la sociedad ya no será igual sin ti. Tu contribución dejará un poso que será exclusivamente tuyo y para siempre.

    Tomás López Lamas 

    The Santiago train crash; Caliphate atrocities; Sign success; & House insurance.

    It's a year since 80 people lost their lives in a train crash close to Santiago. It's now accepted that the driver's distraction by a phone call was only the proximate cause and that there was contributory negligence on the part of politicians and rail company executives. That said, none of the latter have cooperated with the investigating judge and all look like getting off scott free. Victims and heros were scheduled to receive medals tomorrow but many have refused, seeing the ceremony as political exploitation. Who could blame them? Anyway, here's the BBC's report.

    The man who would be Caliph has ordered that all women and girls over 10 in Mosul undergo genital mutilation. Or ablacion, as it's euphemistically called in Spain. ISIS has also trumpeted its intention to take back El Andalus from Spain. It takes something to be more extreme than Al Qu'eda. Cue condemnation from around the Muslim world. Maybe.

    Well, the huge For Sale sign on my neighbour's gate must have done its work at the speed of light. For now it's tacked up on the wall of another neighbour. I'm discounting the possibility that one family was daft enough to buy not just one but two expensive houses at the height of the boom.

    Finally . . . I'm reviewing my house insurance policy. Happily, I've started to do this - by chance - more than 2 months before the expiry of my current policy. For, if you don't, you'll run into all sorts of problems, under regulations that don't seem to have been drafted in the interests of consumers. See here for all the details.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

    Language; Jail-bound?; Customer orientation; Disrespect; Gib; & Vaping.

    Yesterday I re-read Orwell's essay on language that obscures meaning, including his famous statement that Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. Later, I saw this example in Private Eye's Pseuds Corner; John Osborne: I propose that Philip Larkin developed a set of techniques that allowed him to instantiate unfixity in the very fabric of his verse. These techniques include ellipsis, a four-act structure with closing reversal, asysmmetrical stanza lengths and rhyme schemes, plus a battery of disaggregative linguistic devices such as split similes, negative qualifiers, oxymora and rampant paronomasia. Together these techniques constitute the implements of a home-grown deconstructionism.

    Possibly good news: The man responsible for one of Spain's notorious ghost airports - and a lot else besides - has had his 4-year jail sentence confirmed by the Supreme Court. We now wait to see if he ever sets foot in any jail and how long it is before friends in the Cabinet issue a pardon. I doubt he's on tenterhooks.

    Spain: I sent an email to my home insurance company today. I got an automatic response which didn't just say they'd answer as soon as they could; it cited the law under which they're obliged to do do. I wonder what this adds to my satisfaction/expectation. One gets the impression that, if there were no legal compulsion, they wouldn't do it. Said law: El artículo 10.3, capítulo II de la Orden ECO/734/2004, de 11 de marzo, sobre los Departamentos y Servicios de Atención al Cliente y el Defensor del Cliente de las Entidades Financieras

    I'm told you can be arrested in Spain for a 'lack of respect towards authority', usually in the form of an unfriendly Guardia Civil officer. Who would seem to have a good deal of scope. Especially when it's his word against yours. Here and here (para 4) are a couple of examples.

    I mentioned Gib the other day. Specifically, the failure of the Spanish authorities to comply with EU instructions around the frontier queues. Here's an article which claims to provide the proof of borderline skulduggery.

    Finally . . . A new verb for me: 'To vape'. This is to smoke an electric cigarette and there are now vape cafés all around the UK. And a Vape Room in London airport. Progress?

    Gaelic Galicia?; Spanish Positives and a Negative; & Spanish walking.

    In its search for proof that Galicia is truly Gaelic - and so entitled to the membership of the Celtic Nations Group currently denied to it - Proxecto Gaelaico has had a go at deciphering something written on a the wall of a 14th century church up in Betanzos, near La Coruña. Their conclusion is that it reads An Ghaltact, which is Gaelic for "Gaelic-speaking area." This, they insist, proves Galicia's links with Ireland and Scotland. Hmm. Swallows and summer are words that spring to mind. We now await a second opinion from 'expert epigraphists'.

    Spanish Positives

    • Spain's crime rate has fallen further and is now only bested by those of Portugal and Greece.
    • Tourism receipts so far this year are the best for 5 years and a record 28 million tourists elected to come here, headed by the British and the Germans.
    • Gin and Tonic is very much the in drink in Spain these days. Not before time. I suspect it's not well known here that gin is a Dutch invention, brought to Britain by William of Orange.
    Spanish Negative
    • Outside work, the average Spaniard spends 8 hours 48 minutes a day on his/her devices. This is, by some way, the most in the EU and compares with 6 hours 54 minutes for Brits.
    Finally . . . I was looking at a list of English idioms today and came across To walk Spanish. This was new to me but apparently means to physically force someone to leave a place or to discharge them. No idea why. Suggestions very welcome.

    Monday, July 21, 2014

    Terrorists, now and then; Crazy cleric; Ukraine; Phoney bones; Gibraltar; & Urban shocks.

    Pause for thought: The UK's 2006 Anti Terrorist Act would have made terrorists out of those Brits who went to fight fascism in Spain in 1936

    In Madrid's 2nd church last week, a Mass was held to commemorate the 1936 fascist uprising. From the pulpit, the priest eulogised Franco and his forces and encouraged those of like mind today to consider emulating them, in a new coup d'etat designed to safeguard society and the Church from the rise of the "Far Left". It seems that neither the Church nor the state is minded to reprimand this outrageous cleric. Possibly because he's the only person in Spain who can see a refulgent Far Left. And because the prospects of another military rising are precisely nil. That said, he hasn't done the Church much good in Spain and I'm sure someone will be having a quiet word with him. Roll on next year's anniversary. When there'll possibly be more media representatives at the Mass than there were this year. Meanwhile, at least one organisation is taking the priest to court.

    Ukraine: As someone has asked - Where is Mrs Ashton in all this? You may recall she was the unheard of person appointed a while ago to be the EU's supremo for Foreign Affairs. Except she clearly isn't. When she steps down shortly, will anyone notice? And which unlucky sod will get her job?

    The bones of the 3 Kings(Magi) are lodged in a fancy box in Cologne cathedral and this is the 800th anniversary of their arrival there. Tests have shown that the bones are those of a child and two men from the 2nd or 3rd century. The cathedral authorities have said this is immaterial. As well they might. So long as pilgrims come to pray.

    Spain's Minister for Foreign Affairs has accused Britain of inventing incidents around Gibraltar for domestic political reasons. Crikey! You'd never catch Madrid doing that, would you? Which reminds me . . . I read recently that Britain had complied with all the instructions arising from a recent EU investigation of the conflict, while Spain had complied with . . . well, none. Delays to cross the border are longer than ever.

    Finally . . . I had a couple of a shocks in Pontevedra yesterday - A cyclist on the camino route through the town was ringing the bell on his handlebars. Plus he was moving slowly! And the motorist in front of me stopped at a flashing amber light to allow a (hesitant) pedestrian to cross. Progress.

    Sunday, July 20, 2014

    Rolling news; Russian perspectives; & Urban surprises

    Don't you just hate rolling news channels at times? Sky News: "Each of the people who died in the crash has a backstory. And we'll be doing our best to bring these to you."

    Talking of news channels . . . The latest farcical statement from Russia's RT is that the 'authorities' in Eastern Ukraine are calling for an international inquiry. In the next sentence, these rebels were referred to as 'resistance forces'. Whatever they are, they're actually preventing access and damaging such an investigation, doubtless under the instructions of Mr Putin.

    Apart from its biased news channel, Russia also has its own loony blogosphere, where discussion apparently centres on the possibility that flight MH17 was, in fact, the Malaysian Airlines flight which went missing in March. In order to discredit Russia, it was packed with corpses and brought down in Ukraine. I won't bother you with the 'evidence' for this.

    Mr. Putin is, of course, an ex-KGB man. I wouldn't like to be the Russians and/or Ukrainians who've kaiboshed his step-by-step annexation of ex-Soviet countries by mistakenly shooting down a civil airliner. Assuming they're still alive.

    Finally . . . I was intrigued to that see one of the temporary stalls in the town's main square was selling knives - something impossible these days in the UK. One even looked like the scout knife I used to have. But, anyway, I bought one with a handle made from the root of a heather plant. And so came to know that 'heather' is brezo in Spanish and urce in Gallego. Though I thought she said oorth. Hope these comes in handy.

    Saturday, July 19, 2014

    Fascinating Spain, the place to live; Summer fun; Paradors; & Easy payments

    These are someone's idea of 50 fascinating facts about Spain. Be patient, if they don't immediately emerge.

    And here's the answer to the question - Is Spain still a good place in which to retire? HT to Lenox of Business over Tapas.

    Summertime is party-time in Spain and Galicia in no exception to the rule, even if the weather here may occasionally be a bit of a damper. Which a lead into the citation of one particular fiesta - the Festival SonRías Bixas. This is a clever combination of the Spanish for 'smile' (sonrisa) and the Galician name for our Lower Estuaries - Las Rías Baixas. Well, I liked it, anyway.

    Galicia has 11 Paradors, the 4 or 5 star Government-owned hotels that were once castles, palaces or the like. Only 3 of these were (marginally) profitable last year - in Santiago, Baiona and Ribadeo. Pontevedra's lost €51,000. At least one - in Ferrol - has been closed. Though only in the winter, as I recall. This presumably an occupancy problem as they're usually good value for money. Especially if you're young or old and qualify for one of their discounts.

    Finally . . . I may still be signing debit card chits here but back in the UK, I read, folk are using their phones and wristbands to pay for even the smallest items - by scanning them across a reader. Britain is different.

    Spanish debating; Russian mis-information; Letizia pix; & Lofty Nederlanders.

    Spanish TV meets Spanish Politics: A recent letter to El País:- "Watching a televised debate on German TV between the two candidates for the European Commission, I thought about how far we are in Spain from offering candidates politely explaining their proposals without shouting, with time control, and responding to questions from citizens. In other words, a normal debate. I think Jose Ignacio Torreblanca is right when he says it would be desirable for such a debate to be shown in Spain. Until then "the sorry state of the quality of our democracy"- to quote Torreblanca - is well reflected in the cardboard debates in which each speaker merely tries to destroy the credibility of the other in the insufferably loud tone of a rabble-rouser." Truth to tell, it isn't only political candidates who 'debate' like this on Spanish TV; it's just about everybody. Including the pundits. And personal abuse - as you can see from any a blog thread - is never far from the surface.

    It was fascinating - well, interesting - to see how the Russian news channel, RT, dealt with the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner. Apparently, it was everyone's fault except Russia's and Mr Putin is disgusted at the blame game that's been initiated in the West. He's calling for an international inquiry but fears it will be politicised. I'll bet he does. Though I think we're supposed to believe by the West and the Ukrainian government, not by Russia and the Ukrainian rebels. No mention of the latter having a BUK surface-air-missile weapon. Only 'many ex-Soviet countries'.

    Later yesterday, RT came up two theories we're expected to believe:- 1. The Malaysian plane was being tailed by 2 Ukrainian jets, who shot it down, and 2. It was downed by the Ukrainians, who mistook it for President Putin's plane, which was flying back from Brazil in a similar plane. Having had enough of this mis-information, the channel's London correspondent resigned in disgust.

    Spanish media yesterday carried pictures of our new queen, the lovely Letizia, selling cigarettes when she was a Masters student in Mexico. They look genuine to me but they do come from the Daily Mail. So, maybe not.

    Finally . . . Did you know the Dutch are the tallest nation in the world? I certainly didn't. Believe it or believe it not, the USA is only 9th.

    Friday, July 18, 2014

    Spanish nurses; The Third Republic?; Guard duty; Blood & Gore; & The Caliphate.

    Looking today at the marks required for entry into Galician universities, I noted again that Nursing ranked in the top 5 in each institution. A local friend said this was a regional thing but the same thing applied at Madrid's Complutense university. There, both Nursing and Physiotherapy ranked above Pharmacy and Law. So, there must be some pretty clever nurses around Spain. And some clever pretty nurses.

    Various groups and political parties across Spain are promoting a petition for a referendum on the issue of whether the (discredited) monarchy should be replaced by another republic. Their aim is more than 500,000 signatures by the end of the year. Of course, the major parties will ignore whatever they achieve but it's certainly worth the effort.

    I finally got to see the Egyptian artefacts in Pontevedra's museum, with my friends Phil and Anthea from Vigo. We were a little unsettled to be followed from room to room by a security guard. My thought was that Phil and Anthea probably looked a bit shifty but decided it was more likely the poor man was simply bored.

    I've said that fotos in the Spanish media can be rather more graphic that those in the UK. This week there was a picture of one of the guys gored during the last bull run in Pamplona. For a few seconds, I wondered why he had a pizza on his thigh but it turned out to be mottled flesh under the skin which had been ripped off by a horn. Gruesome.

    Finally . . . I liked the description in Private Eye this week of the chap who says he heads up ISIS - The Man Who Puts the Hate in Caliphate.

    Wednesday, July 16, 2014

    La Casta; Spanish growth; Spanish prohibitions; & Road planning.

    The Spanish word casta normally 'means' caste or 'class'. But it seems to be increasingly used to mean 'the establishment'. Or perhaps that subset of it comprising corrupt politicians. Whatever, it's clearly a term of abuse. If anyone has a good handle on its current meaning, I'd appreciate hearing it.

    The International Monetary Fund has doubled its forecast for the growth of the Spanish economy this year, to 1.2%. Since their last forecast was only 6 months ago, you can see how reliable they are. Adding to the joy of the Spanish, the Minister of the Economy has boasted that he can now see the light at the end of the tunnel and that Spain is increasingly seen as a model for other economies. With unemployment still at 26%, this has naturally been met by a huge national raspberry.

    "The Spanish economy is growing more rapidly than forecast but still needs liberalising reforms." This is a headline from one of the Spanish newspapers. But which one? In fact, it's the left-of-centre El País. Perhaps it has a different definition of 'liberalising' from those Continentals to whom it mean Anglo-Saxon free market savagery.

    My internet colleague Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas makes these interesting observations on one particular aspect of Spanish life: "Spain has a lot of prohibiciones. You can't do this, you can't do that. Many national laws, many local ordinances. A journalist called Francisco Canals has been collecting them – from prohibiting owning chickens at home in Alcúdia to the prohibition against rusty beach umbrellas in Barcelona. You can't put the image of the King inside a 12th Night Cake, eat a croissant while driving, or sell cakes in schools. No laundry hanging on city balconies and no 'extravagant or peculiar names' for newborns. According to Canals, the BOE (state bulletin), published each week, uses the word prohibición an average of 5,665 times in each issue. There are, he adds, a massive 2,917,000 people in the Public Sector who can promote or sign over fresh prohibitions. In Mojácar, municipal workers may not listen to the radio and women may not walk around their apartments in high heels. As Groucho once said – Whatever it is, I'm against it!"

    Finally . . . There are a couple of roads on my route into town whose direction has been changed at least 3 times (back and forth) in the last few years. The latest has rendered the two roundabouts at the end of them inoperative and, in each case, half of the roundabout has been closed off. Town planning?

    Twitter; Telefónica;Guilds; Music; Movies; & A number.

    The world of twitter is something I've not yet entered. Maybe that's why I was surprised to see today that David Cameron used it to make his announcement about the sacking and demotion of his Education Secretary (and 'close friend'), Michael Gove. Is he trying too hard to be be hip? Assuming 'hip' means something these days.

    Telefonica has been fined more than €200m for abusing its dominant position in the broadband market. As a victim of this, I can't say I am remotely surprised. Or sympathetic.

    I mentioned Spain's professional 'guilds' the other day. The government has immediately responded with a statement that it's going to liberalise the professions and get rid of restrictive practices. Except for the pharmacists and the lawyers. Well, it's a start.

    They say that, if you get out of a car on the hard shoulder of a motorway, you're at great risk of being hit by a car or truck, as if they're attracted to you. I wonder if the same impulse lies behind the fact that most football players hit the ball directly at the goalkeeper.

    Seeing an ad today, the following question occurred to me:- How can a clairvoyant going into business ever fail?

    Turning from failure to success . . . Here's a short film that won a prize. And which is very amusing.

    And here's a great site for anyone interested in listening again to hits of the 50s and early 60s. Or if you've never heard any of them and just want to find out what it was like in less frenetic and more melodic times.

    And here's news of an international theatre event in Ribadavia, up in Galicia's hills, near Ourense.

    Finally . . . Google tells me this is my 3,500th post. Which is probably about right. Hip . . . Hip . . .

    Monday, July 14, 2014

    Caminos; Cops and ATMs; Words; German virtues; & An apt name.

    You might think that Spain's Caminos to Santiago - originally purely pilgrim routes - would be free of the chicaneries of life. But not so. I've read 2 accounts recently of people either installing false way-markers or destroying those of alternative paths which don't lead folk past their hostel or shop's door. All very disappointing. And enough to shake one's faith in humanity.

    I was amused today to see an off-duty policeman described as fuera de servicio. This is the same phrase used for, say, cash machines which aren't working. Meaning 'out of order'.

    Here's more information on the chap who used 4 years' false accounts to raise the listed value of a technology company whose sales were almost entirely a chimera. Today's news is that he's been whacked with a €600,000 bail demand.

    1. In Spanish, the word 'test' appears to be sneaking into the language, in place of prueba. At least in the world of medicine.
    2. In English, the verb 'to unpack' has become the word of choice for all sorts of things - "Let's unpack that phrase" for example - and it'll be interesting to see if it survives.
    3. God knows how it made its way into Spanish but it's been here for a while, I'm told - groguí. Or 'groggy'. Applied to one of the German players last night who'd taken a knock on the head

    Talking of last night's match . . . One commentator felt that "Germany’s envied culture of planning, skill and intelligence gained its reward." I'm not sure England's approach would score even one out of three of that trio.

    Finally . . . Could anyone be better named than Professor Brayne of the University of Cambridge?

    Sunday, July 13, 2014

    Phoney remedy; Ethics and corruption; Galicia's airports; Museums; & Teaching in the UK.

    In 2002, a product called Bio-Bac was withdrawn from the Spanish market as being ineffective. The company had claimed it cured cancer, among other things. Justice is a slow business in Spain and this month the company's owner was finally sentenced to a paltry jail sentence. As it's below 2 years, it won't be served. The judge's justification for leniency was that the product, albeit useless, was harmless. Can't say I understand this logic.

    Some years ago, a reader - possibly Moscow - insisted that Spain was less a corrupt society than a 'low ethics' society. Given the media headlines, this is harder and harder to believe. There must, though, be a connection. Because the Spanish have low ethics, they've traditionally tolerated the corruption of their politicians and businessmen. And now we see the results of this, after a period when easy money flooded into Spain after (and because of) the introduction of the euro. But will the Spanish now change their ethical approach? I'm not so sure.

    Galicia, as regular readers will know, has 3 small, unprofitable international airports. None of them - nor all of them together - can compete effectively with Oporto's large, efficient facility down in North Portugal. This week, culpability was laid at the door of 'localism' and the recommendation was made for 'coordination'. So, just the same as every other year for the past 2 decades.

    Pontevedra's museum currently has an exhibition of Egyptian artefacts. You might think Sunday afternoon would be a good time to visit it, but you'd be wrong. It ain't open. Nor tomorrow, of course, as all museums in Spain are closed on Mondays.

    Finally . . . As the father of a teacher, I shouldn't really quote this but here's an amusing comment on teaching from the cynical headmaster of The Inbetweeners: "Sorry to disappoint you, McKenzie, but teachers don't start each day by swearing allegiance to the education fairy under a photo of the queen. It's not so much a calling these days as a graveyard for the unlucky and the unambitious. Between you and me, the only reason anyone teaches these days is because they take a more relaxed view of police checks."

    Cataluña; Citizen security; More corruption; A gypsy encounter; & Exam howlers.

    The stand-off between the Presidents of Spain and Cataluña continues, ahead of the planned ('illegal') referendum in November. Each of them insists he's willing to dialogue, so long as the other makes the call. God forbid that this childish nonsense results from fear of a loss of face.

    Yesterday saw the approval of Spain's new (Orwellian) Citizen Security Law, from which some, at least, of the teeth had been drawn. But it still merits the more accurate title of The Citizen Repression Law.

    Spain's corruption carousel continues to revolve. Eleven ex-Directors of a company called Mutua Universal are being tried for a fraud of €200m. And 3 ex-Directors of NovaCaixaGalicia are charged with misappropriation of (a mere) €19m. Rank amateurs, obviously. More here.

    Driving down the hill today, I came round a bend and saw a rather large gypsy woman with her child stopped in the middle of the up-lane. Going by the insult she shouted at me, I guessed she'd expected me to stop. But I thought nothing of it and continued on to the supermarket. Where I suddenly realised I was standing next to the pair in an aisle. Worse, the child - aged about 2 - was staring at me, pointing and saying something I didn't catch. Fortunately, his mother didn't notice and I slipped away. It's not good to upset the gypsies around here. I doubt her family would have been impressed by my argument that crossing before a blind bend wasn't a smart thing to do.

    Down in Pontevedra, the 7 e-cigarette shops are now down to 5, at most. But there's been a sudden surge in nail-bars. One has to admire the optimism.

    Finally . . . A list of exam howlers, some of which are very funny. And some of which might be genuine.

    Friday, July 11, 2014

    Recycling; More fraud; Intrusive ads; Body parts; & a Joke.

    I'll bet you didn't know that the EU bases its recycling data on what bin the consumer puts it, regardless of what happens to it after that. So, considerable scope for mismatches, one would havve thought. Especially if the sceptics are right about it all being taken by truck to the same dumping spot. Meaning a lot of trouble for nowt.

    Ourense is Galicia's third city and it costs €25,000 a year to rent a café in the centre of it. Unless your the mayor's wife, when it's yours for €0.60. But this is small beer indeed compared with the case of the CEO of a Spanish public company called Gowex, who confessed the accounts were a figment of his imagination, designed to hide losses of hundreds of millions of euros.

    I've mentioned my astonishment at the lengths taken here to get ads on the TV even during the course of a program. My latest surprise came recently when the lovely lady who'd given us the weather report then launched into a 3 to 5 minute spiel for a toothpaste product.

    'Dumbwalking' is - ironically - the art of walking with your gaze fixed on a smartphone. Apparently, this is causing big problems in Tokyo, where a lot of people can be crossing a major road at any one time.

    On one of Spain's dreadful TV slanging matches tonight, one woman was asked if she believed something. To which she replied:- Con todo mi coño. Or 'With all my c**t.' But it may mean something quit innocuous in Spanish. "With all my heart", perhaps.

    I wonder how many foreigners in Spain know that the fire service isn't free. I don't think they poll up with a credit card machine but you certainly get a bill. Fortunately, your house insurance should cover it.

    Finally . . . A joke
    Hello. Is that the circus?
    Yes. How can I help?
    I'm interested in becoming a contortionist. What qualities do I need?
    Well, how flexible are you?
    I can't do Tuesdays.

    Summer clothing; Turismo wars; Spain's Canutes; The bulls: & Evolution

    Walking in and out of town once or twice a day, I have plenty of opportunity to study folk. And what I've noticed this week is that there are no young men wearing skin-tight micro-shorts. On the distaff side, however, it's another story. But, then, men don't generally wear skin-tight trousers, do they? With the possible exception of hipsters. And neither men nor women wear niqabs. What this says about modern European society I have no idea.

    Last week I showed 5 Irish ladies to the Turismo and they told me later it'd been pretty useless. I thought of them today, when I had this conversation there:
    I got some leaflets on Galician cities from the exhibition in Plaza España last week but when I got home I realised I'd picked up the Gallego versions. Have you got them in Castellano?
    No, we haven't got them at all.
    Why's that?
    Well, they were issued by the Galician Xunta Liberation Front. And we're the Pontevedra Liberation Front. [Or words to that effect].

    Certain sections of Spanish commerce act rather like Britain's medieval guilds - they combine (in associations or unions) and call on the government to stop whatever they see as unfair (desloyal) competition. And why not - it usually works. As threats to traditional business continue to arise from the internet, we'll surely see more of these attempts as self-interested containment. For now, we have the taxi drivers and the hoteliers, who both think they can not only swim against the tide but also turn it back. Fat chance.

    Despite being vicious killing machines, the bulls that run to their place of execution in Pamplona are not normally aggressive on the way down. This is because they gambol along the narrow streets in a small herd of themselves and a few cows, pretty oblivious to the crowds around them. Which is why so many people risk it, of course. Trouble arises when a bull gets separated, becomes disorientated, turns round and heads for all the unfortunate braves who've just got down from or crawled under the fences to run to the bullring in complete safety. At times like this, the chances of a lone bull killing someone soar. Today, however, something different - but almost as dangerous - happened. A bull got ahead of the cows and at the first corner/logjam scored an easy hit. Finding that he liked this, he then went for everything in his path, tossing body after body into the air. Two people were gored. But it could have been a lot worse.

    Finally . . . Did you know that only a third of the USA population believes that life evolved through natural selection.