Thursday, October 30, 2014

Corruption yet again; Samaín; Alowín; Currybanger; Niche work; Unfinished viaduct; & Juhith Durham and the blues.

Inevitably, here's the Financial Times on corruption in Spain. And here's just one example of the depths to which Spanish politicians can sink - An ex councillor of the far-left IU party faked cancer for 5 years so as to get a permanent pension. Perhaps some of the medical staff were relatives.

On happier matters . . . The end of October still sees the celebration here in Galicia of Samaín, the Celtic festival of Samhain. Perhaps for not much longer, though, as Trick and Bloody Treaters are ever more common during 'Alowín'. It has to be said that the celebration of Samaín probably hasn't been taken place continuously since Celtic days; more likely it was resurrected during the rise of nationalism in the 18th century. As it did with other pagan festivals, the Catholic Church highjacked Samhain and made it All Saints. Or All Souls. I can never remember. The cited article will surely tell you, if it's important.

And here's an article from the Olive Press on how the Spanish go about celebrating Alowín.

As if this partying weren't enough, thanks to the town's rugby club, we have the Pontevedra Oktoberfest which starts tomorrow. I'm looking forward to enjoying the currywiener which I heard about only last week. This is the sausage successfully invented in the 1940s by a German city keen to gain a place in the pantheon of sausage producers there.

Incidentally, this is the time of year when one sees quite a few cars driving round with ladders sticking out of the window. These are being taken to the cemeteries for the cleaning of niches that can't be reached from the ground. Failing one of these, you can usually rent one from the church.

Talking of cars . . . I'll soon be driving to Santander, enjoying the fantastic views from a spectacular multi-billion euros viaduct across a valley or two. Or maybe not. Since this was opened a year or so ago, it's regularly been closed as a result of fogs rising from the river below. Sometime after an horrendous accident. Now I read that the solution is going to be a tunnel. By this I suppose they mean they'll enclose the autovía from above, rather than than dig a tunnel in the ground below. So, many more millions.

Pronunciation: I've long known that you have to spit out the T at the start of Spanish words. Otherwise they just don't hear it. But I clearly still don't do this well enough. When I asked a shopkeeper today if she had any Tic-Tacs, she said Yes and pointed me at the Kit-Kats.

Did You Know?: A quarrel, apart from being what you thought it was, is also the bolt used in a crossbow. The word derives from the French carré, or 'square', from the shape of their heads.

New Spanish Anglicism: You've heard of un lifting. Now meet un antiaging.

Finally . . . Listening today to the wonderful Judith Durham of The Seekers, I wondered if she'd ever sung the blues. Turns out she was originally a jazz and blues singer and that there's a CD of her early performances. Which I've ordered. MP3, what's that?

Which reminds me . . . I have a cartoon on my study wall in which a pianist is saying to the audience: "No, I really do have the Blues. I'm clinically depressed". Been there, done that.

Bank tests; Corruption again; Poverty levels; Gypsies; Mr Putin; & Judicial humour.

The Spanish government has naturally crowed that all its banks passed the latest round of stress tests. Some commentators, though, say these were yet another farce. Essentially because the ECB ignored the risk of deflation beyond that already taking place ('internal devaluation') in southern Europe. Cynics say this is because the bank caused it.

The Spanish media has weighed into President Rajoy for the pathetic apology he made for Spain's rampant corruption on Monday. This article from the Voz de Galicia is a good example of the universal reaction. If you don't speak Spanish, have a laugh and see what Google Translate makes of it.

There's a report today that 1 in 4 Spaniards live in poverty. It echoes a report in the UK yesterday that 1 in 4 children there live in poverty. Do you sometimes wonder how 'poverty' is defined? I believe it's based on income as a percentage of average national income. So, as the latter rises, so does the poverty threshold. Today's poor are not yesterday's poor, in other words.

This is not to deny there's real poverty both in the UK and in Spain, especially here where the benefits net is pretty threadbare. That said, the only evidence I've seen of poverty here in Pontevedra are the permanent gypsy encampments down the hill from me.

Talking of gypsies . . . Their national association was pretty angry about the previous definition of 'gypsy' in the Royal Academy's dictionary as "Someone who scams or works through deceit'. So they were naturally delighted to see that, in the recent revision, this was changed to "A swindler (trapacero)".

The Russian TV channel, RT, tells us that Mr Putin is concerned about the 'dictatorship of the West'. Which is rather rich, coming from a guy who's invaded at least 3 countries in the last 10 years.

Finally . . . I couldn't resist quoting this comment from a UK columnist today: A magistrate friend with too cheeky a sense of humour has been cautioned for remarking to a defendant dressed in the full niqab as she took the witness stand: “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” I'd have given him a medal.

BTW - Did you know that 'to the utterance' means 'to the bitter end'? I didn't. Wonder why.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Catalan capers again; Presidential apologies; UK immigration; Funny fines; Words; & UK prices.

Just a day or two after President Rajoy admitted he probably couldn't stop an informal referendum on Catalan Independence in 2 weeks' time, he's now saying he hopes to stop it via the courts. He's asking the Council of State (an advisory body of Wise People) for its opinion. This is said to be a prelude to going back to the Constitutional Court. There's still no indication of what Madrid could do if the Catalans go ahead anyway. Invasion appears to be off the options list. But what remains on it, I wonder.

More significantly, the day after the arrest of 51 politicians for corruption, the President issued an apology to all Spaniards for putting such crooks in positions of responsibility. This is something he could have done long before this, of course, and probably won't butter any parsnips.

A truly significant announcement would have been that the PP and PSOE parties had reached a pact on how to deal with corruption. But this evaporated at the last moment and today the PSOE opposition published a long list of things they'd like to see attended to. Possibly.

The Mayoress of Calais, attending a parliamentary committee in London today, said the UK government could reduce illegal immigrants by ensuring the UK benefits system didn't make the place an eldorado. Rather as Mrs Merkel said some months ago - If you don't want people to come for the benefits, reduce the benefits. The catch is that these cuts would have to apply to Brits as well.

I mentioned daft fines imposed on Spanish drivers the other day. I've since read these include:-
1. Eating in the car while driving: 200 euros.
2. Drinking a soft drink, a bottle of water, or coffee. €200
3. Putting on makeup (even if stopped at a traffic light). Any such action that could be considered a distraction also entails a fine of € 200.
4. Driving without shoes. €200.
5. Going shirtless. €200.
6. Putting your elbow on the window frame. €80.
7. Putting a For Sale sign on your car. €200.
8. Loud music. €80.
9. Blowing your horn except to avoid an accident. €80 euros.
10. If the right hand lane is free and you're driving in any other. €200.
11. No ITV test certificate. €200.
12. Not advising El Trafico of a change of address. €80.
13. Expired driver's license. €200.
14. Jumping an amber light. €80.
15. Carrying a hoe in the trunk or anything which can be considered a weapon. €300. This also covers carrying a baseball bat or a club. A handmade catapult hanging on the mirror was sanctioned with a fine of €300 in 2010.
Essentially, a traffic cop can come up anything and fine you for it. Then there are concepts like "reckless driving" that are so general and vague that anything goes in their interpretation.

Word of the Week: Un test. This is the anglicism increasingly used in place of prueba. Its plural seems to be the incorrect tests. Possibly because it really should be testes. Which is already taken.

Word query: In Spain and in France, for example, the words for actor and actress are still used. In the UK, though, mosts actresses now seem to insist on 'actor'. I wonder why. Do they dislike the age-old connotations of 'actress'. Or is it a feminist thing? Is '-ess' disappearing from English?

Finally . . .When I last lived in the UK, the high prices of the supermarkets were beyond my comprehension. Some light has finally been shed on this here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Corruption yet again; The economy; Phrase of the month; F & P; Female complaints; & Nostalgic nostalgia.

Vodafone has been finding out first-hand about corruption in Spain. Several executives of a company it bought, Ono, appear to have helped themselves to more than €60m in bonuses after the sale of a company whose accounts neglected to mention off-balance sheet transactions that jacked up the profits. Oddly, it seems Vodafone weren't advised of an ongoing Spanish investigation into these when they bought Ono.

President Rajoy spoke out on corruption at the weekend, stressing that cases were confined to only a few folk and that this didn't mean 46m Spaniards were corrupt. The fatuity of his comment was highlighted by the announcement today that more than 50 people around the country had been arrested on corruption charges. Plus the First Secretary of the PP governing party. There must be quite a few worried people around Spain right now. Or possibly visiting their money in Andorra and elsewhere.

Which reminds me . . . A prominent leader if the Asturian miners, accused of corruption, has said his just-revealed offshore fortune of €1.4m is an inheritance from his parents. One that he just forgot to mention to the tax authorities. This is the same implausible explanation proffered by the disgraced doyen of Catalan politics, Sr Pujol. I suspect this has now become the defence du jour. Meanwhile, Comrade Villa has been expelled from both his Union and the Socialist Party. Which might just be the very least they could do.

The Spanish economy:-
1. Between 2008 and 2012, around 700,000 Spaniards left the country to seek employment elsewhere. Followed by a further 547,890 people in 2013 including 79,306 more Spaniards. I assume the unemployment numbers are reduced accordingly.
2. There was a time - not long ago - when Spanish teachers enjoyed not only a relatively easy life but also the best salaries in Europe. Now, after 6 years of salary cuts, they're reduced to merely the former. And it's possibly no longer true that everyone wants to be a teacher.

Phrase of the month: Montar un pollo. 'To mount a cock(erel)'. This is translated as: To kick up a row with someone; To make an exaggerated fuss/scene; and To cause a scandal. Take your pick

In some languages the letters F and P are pronounced similarly. So in Persian telephone is telepon. And, reading a bit of Chaucer today, I saw that 'flat' used to be 'plat', as in French. But has since transmogrified. 

I really would hate to be a woman. For the latest invented complaint I'd have to worry about is a 'sensitive bladder'. Whatever that is. One that easily takes offence? Or just one that leaks.

Finally . . . Nostalgia - as the Galicians well know - can be a powerful emotion. And it's possibly most frequently provoked by songs. I was hit by a brief bout of it today when hearing a song that reminded me of leaving a girlfriend behind in the Seychelles when I was 19. But this was nothing compared to the truly debilitating nostalgia for the islands that regularly hit me when studying in London over the next year. Made worse by the fact it took me all that time to figure out what was going on.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Spain's economy; France 1; France 2; Newspapers; & Beggarly benefits.

I've been a tad confused by evidence of growth in the Spanish economy, given there's no evidence around me of things improving. To the contrary, shops continue to close even in the very centre of town. So I wasn't surprised to read this article on what lies behind the stats. And to see the suggestion it's all another "illusionary mini-bubble", with the jury still out on whether competitiveness has truly returned. But we will see. I hope so.

Talking of economies . . . A French chappy - Felix Marquardt - has had some harsh things to say (in both the Spanish and British press) about his country and its governments. For example: France has oscillated for 35 years now between powerless, irresponsible and incompetent governments without ever experiencing a truly reformist one. Three-and-a-half decades of cowardice and populism across the political spectrum have led to the country’s current democratic crisis and the ascent of the Front National. You can read him in full here.

Talking of the French - Britain's traditional enemies, of course - here's a little song written a few hundred years ago by the chap who put music to God Save the Queen. It demonstrates what most of us already knew - that binge drinking by Brits is not exactly a recent phenomenon:-


Ye true, honest Britons, who love your own land,
Whose sires were so brave, so victorious, so free,
Who always beat France when they took her in hand,
Come join, honest Britons, in chorus with me.

Let us sing our own treasures, old England's good cheer.
The profits and pleasures of stout British beer.
Your wine-tippling, dram-sipping fellows retreat,
But your beer-drinking Britons can never be beat.

The French, with their vineyards, are meagre and pale.
They drink of the squeezings of half-ripened fruit;
But we, who have hop-grounds to mellow our ale,
Are rosy and plump and have freedom to boot.

Should the French dare invade us, thus armed with our poles,
We'll bang their bare ribs, make their lantern-jaws ring,
For your beef-eating Britons are valiant souls
Who will shed their last drop for their country and king.

The Diario de Pontevedra has a little exhibition of its front pages right now, celebrating its 125 years of existence. The most obvious difference between then and now is fotos. Back in 1889 there were none. Whereas now there's nothing but fotos, with a couple of lines of print and page references. Plus ads. An improvement? Not for me. One other noticeable change is that clerics no longer appear on the front page. Nor dictators, of course. And an example of the sort of story we no longer see is the announcement, under Franco, that train tickets would have to be stamped - with the image of St James.

Finally . . . We've had a truly glorious week of unseasonably fine weather and today was no exception. It seems, though, to have brought out a new breed of beggars - men in their 60s. Is it all a racket or is Spain's benefits safety net so inadequate that these men are compelled to humiliate themselves? I suspect it's the latter. If you've no family to support you, you're deep in the doodoo. No Pension Credit for you. Possibly no pension at all if you've worked on the black all your life

The EU trough; Rumours; Dilatory service; Odd beggars; Absent friends; & Some fotos.

That old EU gravy train: Despite having annual salaries of €8,000 a month (plus expenses, of course), 53% of parliamentary deputies admit to having parallel activities. Not a bad number, then.

Pontevedra is a small city with a village mentality. Gossip is its stock-in-trade. I heard of a rumour today that puts me in a rather flattering light. Although untrue, I'll be doing my best to spread it further. Like all good rumours, it has a base in logic and plausibility.

The problems I had at the Tráfico yesterday led me to muse on these facts:-
  • Some lamps I ordered in August have yet to arrive. I'll shortly make my 4th or 5th visit to the shop, because of a promised availability.
  • Two garden chairs I wanted repaired for my August visitors have just been done, after 4 visits and several phone calls.
  • A beard trimmer I ordered in August hasn't yet arrived.

Am I angry? Hell, no. You can't live here happily without learning to reduce and then manage your expectations. And everyone is always so nice about things.

I had 2 unusual begging experiences this evening. 
  • After finding my new bank card wouldn't dispense cash, I found myself having to tell a beggar I was absolutely skint. He was unamused. Even less so when I asked him for a loan. 
  • A female beggar whom I've seen every day for 14 years - sometimes several times a day - arrived at the table with a dog in tow. This is the second indication I've noted of traditional beggars aping the business model of the irritating perroflautas - the scruffy drug addicts with docile dogs who 'play' the pipes. The beggars, not the dogs, I mean.

Yesterday I realised I have friends who are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, atheist, agnostic and Bahai. What I don't have - despite living 7 years in islamic countries - is a single Muslim friend. Which is odd. And I struggle for an explanation. So . . . if you're an overlooked Muslim friend of mine, please let me know. Net friends don't count.

Finally . . . This is an interesting - and possibly sacred - garage I sometimes pass on the way into town.

And this is the sun rising directly above the river below my house on October 14 every year. A coincidence? I think not.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pointless; Secure purchases; Gibraltar; Tourism; & A strange sight?

Today I made my regular attempt to find out from the Traffic Dept. web page how many points I've lost in the last 5 years. As usual, I was told - after giving my ID and licence dates - I wasn't a registered driver. So I spent 10-15m trawling the site and elsewhere for info on how to do get registered. Then I gave up and decided to do it face-to-face, in time-honoured Spanish fashion. Down at the Trafico offices, there were notices everywhere saying no one should think of proceeding without an appointment. But I ignored these and eventually found myself in front of one of the clerks:
Hola. I can't find out how to register on the DGT page, so I can't get details of my points.
You just need to go to the page and the Points section and then give your details.
I've done that. Several times. But I'm repeatedly told my car isn't registered.
Give me your details.
[Takes my licence and spends 10 minutes going through the same iterations as me. Is joined by a colleague, who proffers advice.]
Listen, leave it; it's not so important.
[Another 5 minutes of futile effort on their part]
Look, there's lots of people behind me now. Forget it. I don't really need it.
Don't worry about them.
[Another 5 minutes]
Look, please give me my licence back and forget it. I appreciate your help.
Alright then.

And all of this without getting a prior appointment.

I see that fingerprint technology is now being used to prove identity in the UK. I guess we'll have it here soon as well. But I predict I'll still be asked to provide my ID. Even for a €5 purchase.

No sooner was it in power than the current Spanish government scrapped the tripartite discussions set up by the previous administration in respect of Gibraltar. After 4 years of counter-productive confrontation, a new body has been set up, comprising Spain, Britain, Gibraltar, Brussels and 2 other members I can't remember. Which doesn't really sound like progress but is better than nothing.

During the summer, Spain had a record number of tourists and record tourism income. A great deal of this came from Brits, all 12.3m of them. Presumably they didn't all jump off hotel balconies, binge to unimaginable levels and commit sex acts in public. Though you might get that impression from the Spanish media.

Finally . . . An odd experience this evening. A blind young man passed my table and, with his stick, negotiated his way around a chair at the next table. But he then caught his trailing foot on a second chair. Then, as he walked on, he did what you and I would do and looked back at the offending chair leg. Sightlessly.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Spain's courts; Driving offences; Sparring partners; Bad bugs; More whores; & Dismaying sex.

Well, we all knew Spain's justice system was unfit for purpose but who predicted that the country's top judge would not only state this publicly but also admit it was fit only for dealing with chicken thieves and not politicians (apparently all of them) and businessmen who commit complex crimes that Spain's investigational system is ill-equipped to handle. To rub it in, the judge stressed what we all know - There can't be a true democracy without a fully functioning judicial system. It's either that, an effective dictatorship of the rich or a revolution. The odds on the latter may have just lengthened a tiny bit. The government, of course, will now make nice noises, before retiring the judge. It's hard to imagine them tackling the massive task of changing the investigational system to an accusatorial one. Especially if they lose the power to influence judicial decisions and to grant pardons at will. So maybe we'll have a revolution after all.

Spanish law imposes fines for driving offences which 'border the surreal'. I've mentioned the one for turning your head more than 45 degrees. Another is hanging a tiny catapult ('Chinese thrower' - tirachinos - by the way) or a rosary from the rear-view mirror. I'd cite others but the Diario de Pontevedra article appears to have disappeared from the net.

Talking of Ponters . . . The Local tells us Pontevedra Province (Cap. Pontevedra City) is, like Bath, promoting its Roman spas. Which is a good idea. Ironically, though, their foto is of the thermal pool in a very un-Roman modern (and illegal) hotel. Which may or may not be there next summer.

Did you know that in 1499, many feared the world would end the following year. In the event, the 1500 Bug was as effective as the Millennial Bug of 2000. Obviously.

Yet another of those nice Spanish verbal distinctions:-
Un ramero - A young hawk hopping from branch to branch.
Una ramera - A whore.

Finally . . . I've been here 14 years and, until yesterday, I was the only person who didn't know that the society beauty Isabel Preysler was famous not only for her 3 husbands but also for falling unconscious after orgasm. Someone - not me - has suggested this makes her a perfect horizontal partner. No post-coital chat.

PS: Beware of Wazzaroo on Facebook. It seems that, if you open one of their videos sent by a friend and accept their conditions, they'll send all sorts of videos over your name to your FB friends without your knowledge. And they'll end up wondering about your tastes. And possibly avoiding you. Here's one Spanish complaint about this.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

That old time religion; First Class achievements; Pharmacists on the take; Spanish favours; & A Farsi farce.

Some people start a religion for money - L Ron Hubbard with Scientology for example. And some do so for sex - Various US Bible bashers, for example. More recently and more locally, we have the case of the founder of the Catholic association of St. Michael the Archangel, near Vigo who's been accused of, inter alia, separating wives from husbands and taking them to his suite of premises for 'purification'. He also solicited large financial donations, of course. The local archbishop has dissociated himself from the association. As well he might. The Catholic Church - the gift which goes on giving.

Forty years ago, fewer than 5% of UK undergraduates achieved a First Class degree. By 1995, this had risen to 12% and by 2011 it was 15%. Last year it reached 17%, more than 3 times the 1975 number. The same creep has occurred with 2:1 degrees. Presumably, British undergrads are getting cleverer and cleverer, as are CSE and A Level students. My research on this was stimulated by reading of a British couple who apparently died of an overdose of prescription drugs in India. He got a First in English at a Manchester Uni and she'd got one at Stockport College. I thought 2 Firsts would be a rare occurrence but it's probably not these days. By the way, the fewest Firsts are given to Law students and the most to students of mathematical sciences.

Talking of prescription drugs . . . There are criminals in all professions, of course, but I'd have thought pharmacists were towards the more honest end. However, Spanish police have just arrested more than a hundred of them for buying products to sell on at a higher price, though not to the public.

I wouldn't want to give the impression I haven't benefitted from the Spanish help-for-friends culture. I've had work done by accountants, lawyers and notaries for which no payment has been sought and all attempts to pay rebutted - simply because I was introduced by a friend. The most common of these non-exchanges is a waiter/barman friend who simply refuses to take both payment or tips from me or my daughters. Unless the bill is large, in which case he simply fails to include some items. I'm not at all sure his boss doesn't know what's going on as this practice is widespread in bars. I've still got enough Anglo-Saxonism left in me to find this embarrassing but, with each passing year, this diminishes. If you're born into the system, though, I imagine you'll never have any problem with it. Like my teacher pupils who thought their friend wasn't cheating when she asked for their help an hour or two before her exam. Horses for courses. What I've called it over the years is a favour-bank system. One which can only really function if the people you deal with don't move away from your home town. Which is much less likely in Anglo-Saxon countries, of course. Where money is, therefore, a more reliable medium of exchange. "How much do I owe you for petrol?" is a question you're unlikely to hear in Spain.

Helping you with your Spanish:-
1. The plural of virus is virus.
2. Sacar de mi cosecha means (says my friend Dwight) 'To use my own work".
4. Lobi is an Anglicism for grupo de presión. Little wonder.
3. The plural of lobi is not lobis but lobbies. It seems.

Finally . . . Filleting a box of memories in my basement yesterday, I found my old Iranian AA card. The one that names me Devil Colin Davies. In English at least.

Little Fran; Rubber stamping; Frauds; Flying from Ponters; The EU; & Spanish Romans.

If you saw a 20 year old sitting next to David Cameron on the dais at a press conference, or shaking the queen's hand, you'd surely want to know who the hell he was. Especially if he looked 15. Apparently not here in Spain, where a young tyro called Little Fran managed to, first, fool the establishment and, then, con it out of tens of thousands of euros. Inevitably he grew too ambitious and tripped himself up. Details of his escapades here. I hear Penelope Cruz will play his mother in the film.

In a stationery store today, I caught sight of rubber stamps labelled URGENTE, COBRADO, PAGADO, etc. The thought struck me that, given the endless stream of corruption cases, courts throughout the land could usefully be furnished with stamps reading; IMPLICADO, IMPUTADO, INCULPADO and ARESTADO. Not to mention INDULTADO for all the politicians processed through to early release.

Which reminds me . . . The latest twist in the Undeclared Black Cards case is that 8 chauffeurs were also give credit cards with which to buy whatever they were ordered to buy by senior execs in Caja Madrid. The range of purchases was every bit as exotic (and erotic) as that of their superiors.

Another thought I had today is that, so widespread now is the phoney training company scam, there must surely be scope for a Fraud Consultancy business, to show budding cheats exactly how to do it. False invoices, etc. Actually, I believe you can already buy lists of ghost students and all their personal details. Small fleas on bigger fleas.And so on ad infinitum.

As I've said, there are 4 international airports available to Pontevedrans, within a range of 35 to 170km. When I came here 14 years ago, none of these had a direct public transport link from the city. Not even the nearest, near Vigo. Now, just one of them does. And this is the furthest away, in Oporto, North Portugal. Go figure, as our cousins say.

Proving yet again that there's one rule for the big and another for the not-so-big, France is again defying Brussels over her deficit levels. In France's case, this is always a win-win situation as either there's no price or Paris refuses to pay it. Well, why not, if you can get away with it? There are some, though, who think it's indicative of the imminent collapse of the dysfunctional EU. One can but dream.

Seneca, Quintillian, Lucian and Martial are famous Romans born in Spain. Click here for details from The Olive Press

Finally . . . Has anyone else noticed how rotund all the clerics were who attended the recent Vatican synod on the family? And I used to think I led a good life. Without the rotundness, I should stress.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The UK NHS; Corrupt countries; Local house.building; Honesty; & That Cinking feeling.

There's an election in the UK next year. As ever, one of the key issues will be the (overstretched) national health service (NHS). And, as usual, the main parties will posture and outright lie on what they've done and will do in respect of this paste jewel in Britain's crown. The key element will be one which hardly enters political discourse in other western European countries - how much involvement will be there be of private healthcare companies? Here in Spain, as in Germany, France, etc,. this is simply taken for granted and isn't seen as contentious. Back in the UK, the Labour Party regards itself as having sole proprietary rights to the world's first national health service and, with a weak leader, sees allegations of imminent Tory privatisation of the NHS as its trump electoral card. Truth, of course, is the first casualty of this quinquennial war of nonsense. In which the most laughable claim is that the NHS is still ´the envy of the world'. If they only knew. But, of course, they do. And they realise it would be political death to say otherwise. What a farce. In which the most amusing line is always - "When we get in, we'll completely reform the NHS and throw even more money at it than the other lot." I say 'amusing' but I mean 'depressing'.

A minute after writing that, I came across this article on the NHS by Janet Daley on the NHS monster. For only those with a keen interest in it.

Corruption: Reader Las Revenants has answered my question about other corrupt developed countries. Japan, it seems, may be even worse. Which I didn't know.

The new house below me has now been under construction for two and a half years. But nothing has happened there for at least 6 months. Yesterday I saw someone taking stuff from the site and naturally suspected theft. But I checked the name on his van and found it to be an engineering consultancy in town. So I guess they're trying to recoup their losses. The owners may or may not be worried by the Galician government's recent introduction of a fine of up to €25,000 for those who leave their houses unfinished. Of which there are an awful lot in the region, helping to account for the national reputation of feismo, or 'ugliness', I mentioned the other say.

A conversation with my cleaning lady tonight:
How much do I owe you, Teresa?
Nothing. You gave me 2 weeks' money last week and I owe you 2 euros.
Very honest of you, Teresa.
Well, we're not taking about thousands, are we? It's hardly worth being dishonest for 2 euros.
Just a question of degree, then. 

Finally . . . Walking home today, I saw this Hyundai ad at the start of the bridge.

I don't know whether it's brilliant or daft. As Pensando en 5 means 'Thinking of 5', I guess it's a play on cinco, or 'five'. So, Cinking becomes 'Thinking', as the C is pronounced Th. Except it isn't in parts of Spain and all of South America, where it's an S. So Cinking is 'Sinking' there. But I'm sure it makes sense to some ad agency.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The cesspit; Portuguese tolls; & Fun at a roundabout.

A few illustrations to back up my comments yesterday about the cesspool of corruption, nepotism and croneyism on which modern Spain so handsomely floats:

1. The replacement judge - the first one was fired for excessive zeal - has pronounced that none of the 12 rail and rail-track executives implicated in the accident which killed 80 people last year should stand trial for anything. Only the hapless driver, a useful scapegoat. Perhaps there'll be a civil case for negligence. And perhaps there won't. The Victims' Association, desperate for justice, says there will be.

2. Not for the first time, Spain's central intelligence agency, the CNI, has been shown to be a hotbed of nepotism. 75% of the positions have been given to applicants related to incumbents. I suspect this is connected with the Spanish belief that the only people you can really trust are your relatives. Which may, of course, be right. Except for the black sheep.

3. Just in - The mayoress of a town in Andalucia stands accused of favouring companies belonging to her husband and her relative to the tune of many millions. Then there's the 470 examples of nepotism in her administration. Showing that corruption is an equal opportunities employer, she's a member of the United Left party. Presumably all this was an open secret before anything was done about it, as she was in power from 1999. But, then, it is Andalucia. Anyway, the lady has resigned - "To spend more time with my family" - boasting "I'm leaving with the feeling of satisfaction of having done my job and done it well." Well, that's now for a judge to determine. And not before time. But I'm guessing she won't go to jail. Doubtless she knows where other bodies lie.

To more everyday matters . . . For my 2 recent trips to Portugal. I again had to wrestle with their crazy tolls system. In an article in El País today, this was described as farragoso de mínimo. Or 'cumbersome/convoluted/involved/dense, to say the least'. On both occasions, I neglected to pay the silly tolls of 20c, 30c or even 50c which are 'collected' via cameras on overhead gantries. I reckon I must owe 20 or 30 euros by now. This is only a tiny fraction of the huge amounts owed by Spanish transport companies, it seems. A total of €11m in all. But now the Portuguese government is using a Spanish law firm to track down the offending drivers and I may just get a letter soon. I hasten to add that I pay the much larger tolls on the motorways from the border down to the south of the country. You might think this is because you can't avoid them. But, in fact, you can as Portugal's Via Verde lane doesn't have a barrier. According to the writer of the El País article, an awful lot of picaresco Spaniards go straight through this gap. Maybe not for much longer.

Finally . . . You'll all recall the road in town which has had its (single) direction changed so many times the 2 roundabouts at each each have become semi-functional. At one end, the temporary yellow barriers were last week replaced by 3 of the town's ubiquitous (€450 each) stainless steel poles. The very next day, one understandably disorientated driver tried to drive - in the right direction - between 2 of the poles and got stuck. Anyway, here they are from upstream. 

And here they are downstream. Note that the temporary yellow barriers have returned. In front of the 3 poles. Planning? What planning? 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Spanish governance; Cataluña; Galicia blots; & Yosemite.

If you came to Spain today and travelled around the entire country, you'd doubtless be amazed and impressed in equal measure. Magnificent new roads; a high-speed train system that's the second largest in the world; stunning geography; wonderful, friendly, fun-loving people; excellent food and wine; a mind-boggling historical heritage; and marvellous beaches. All-in-all, a thoroughly 21st-century country going places. Below all this, though, is a corrupt corporate-political nexus of truly depressing dimensions. Which forces you to ask how many hotels, roads, railways, airports and numerous 'vanity' projects were really necessary and how many were built primarily because of kickbacks. Is there another developed country in the world quite like this? Greece? Italy? Either way, Spain has been managed like this for centuries and one wonders how long it'll be before things materially improve. The daily litany of arrests and trials gives little cause for optimism. Meanwhile, folk like me are unaffected in our daily lives. Except to the extent that our taxes our inexorably rising to pay, inter alia, the interest on the debts run up to finance the investments and kick-backs. As yet, this isn't painful enough to spark a revolution. But one day. Maybe. One thing's for sure, absent pressure from Brussels, the politicians and their corporate friends have no incentive to clean up their act. They rarely pay for their transgressions. In fact, I wonder whether the word 'resign' appears in the latest Royal Academy dictionary issued this week.

Compare and contrast: "The IMF say Spain’s economy will grow by 1.7% in 2015. This is the fastest predicted growth of any advanced European economy. " And: 2. "The IMF says Britain will see its GDP increase by 2.2% in 2015." The only explanation for this discrepancy can be that the UK either isn't European or doesn't have an advanced economy. Or both. Or maybe it's just bad, selective journalism.

If you're truly interested in what is and isn't happening in Cataluña, this article will interest you.

Another new scandal in Galicia - a nun and two or three civil servants have been arrested for taking babies from single mothers, who were told they'd died. The nun was possibly acting out of misplaced religious reasons but the officials are thought to have had rather more pecuniary motives. But we'll see. 

Talking of Galicia . . . I think I mentioned its famous feismo the other day. This is the ugliness of buildings which mar the region's natural beauty. Well, here's something from the Voz de Galicia on chapuzas (botched jobs) that readers have told them about. Enjoy. 

Finally . . . Last week I mentioned I'd downloaded Apple's new OS, Mavericks. A day later, I learned they'd just introduced an even newer system, Yosemite. So I've downloaded this, also for free. It looks good but it's taken me a while to find out where the Reader button is. This allows you to read an article without all the crap that surrounds it and is well worth having.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Corruption again; English and Spanish; Bloody beggars; Internet in Galicia; Priests a-plenty; & Irishisms.

The two leading lights in the Black Bank Cards scandal have had bail bonds of €16m and €3m imposed. One of them is reported to have used the huge bank he headed - Caja Madrid - as a personal fiefdom. No one is terribly surprised. Corporate Caudillos are hardly rare here.

Talking of corruption . . . A group of 6 politicians in Galicia has been accused of setting up a multi-million fraud under which they siphoned off funds to ghost training companies full of equally spectral students. This scam is now so frequent, you wonder why such companies aren't treated as inherently suspect. The other notable aspect is how easy it is in Spain to get together 5 people as dishonest as you. "A country of low ethics", as one Spanish reader once said. Putting it mildly.

English/Spanish. The former says ' . . . with hardly any paper', while the latter says ' . . . without hardly any paper' (sin apenas papel). Of no great significance, I guess. Except that Spanish does seem to like double negatives.

Talking of Spanish . . . The Royal Academy yesterday published its latest dictionary, including such new words as: dron, hacker, affaire, wifi and tuit.

Summer Pests: I was amused to read that a beggar somewhere down south had a sign which said: "At least I don't inflict a bloody accordion on you". I knew exactly what he meant; last summer we had 7 accordionists doing the rounds of the old quarter all at the same time. Every night. With a very limited repertoire.

Why doesn't it surprise me to hear that Galicia has the highest number of residents without internet. We have a lot of mountain villages here. And a Telefónica which doesn't care much about customer unhappiness and is averse to spending money to improve things, even in coastal towns.

Being a convert, my Catholic younger daughter will have 5 or 6 priests at her November wedding. Mulling over how to refer to them in my speech, I thought the collective noun for prelates might be 'a parish'. Or perhaps 'a bar'.

Finally . . . I helped a couple of Irish ladies find somewhere to eat lunch yesterday by pointing out a nearby place to them. One asked if she could go to the toilet in the bar we were in and so I pointed out where it was. As they were leaving, she thanked me for allowing her to use 'your' toilet. And the other told me I spoke excellent English. Lovely ladies, en route from Vigo to Santiago.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sexy women; Cataluña; The EU; Spanish/English; Grammar rules; & Politicians.

Readers of Esquire magazine have voted Penelope Cruz the sexiest woman on the planet, which I consider to be an insult to hundreds, if not thousands, of other Spanish women. And quite a few British women too. Not that she isn't attractive, of course.

Cataluña: Who the hell really knows what's going on but it seems some sort of pro-independence jamboree will certainly take place on Nov 9. Possibly involving 'informal but legal' voting for something or other. Perhaps motherhood and apple pie.

Talking of oddities . . . I can't resist quoting this view from another Times columnist, Tim Mongomerie, on the EU: The laboratory case of a project run by elites. Whenever voters use referendums to object to ever closer union they are ordered to reconsider. After Denmark and Ireland had the audacity to question the European project they were sent back to the ballot box. And what is the result of an EU run as much by bureaucrats, central bankers and judges as by heads of government? The eurozone and mass youth unemployment; a climate change regime that has diminished manufacturing without cutting global emissions; and a system of agricultural subsidies that transfers wealth from families struggling to afford the grocery bill to rich hobby farmers in rural France and Bavaria. As I frequently say - Welcome to the Age of the Bureaucrats.

Spanish/English: In a film I saw last night, "For fuck's sake!" was translated in the subtitles as Por el amor de Diós. Or 'For the love of God'. A tad ironic, I thought.

This is a fascinating article on on the validity of certain rules of English grammar and syntax. It confirms that the less/fewer battle has been lost. By the way - Guardian comment-makers must be the politest in the world. One of them provided this gem: "The record for ending a sentence with prepositions is 5, by a small child whose parent had brought the wrong story book up at bedtime. She said 'What did you bring that book I didn't want to be read to out of up for?'

Talking of English . . . I wonder who the genius was who said "I can't be arsed with all the genders, noun-adjective agreements and verb changes in our Teutonic language. Let's do without them. Life will be a helluva lot easier." We owe him/her an awful lot.

Finally . . . Politics: Everything's relative: Here's a (justifiable) moan from David Aaronavitch of The Times about British politicians: He should be happy he doesn't live here, where politicians are equally useless but corrupt as well. Roll on the revolution. Stop that useless pan-clanging and wheel out the tumbrils!

Instead of facing up to real challenges, our shabby, short-sighted politicians fail to offer us any sort of leadership

When I was a teenager there was a fashion for something called primal therapy. The main book espousing this, by a man called Arthur Janov, was entitled The Primal Scream and had the painting by Edvard Munch on the cover. After this last few months of politics in Britain I want to let out a primal scream. I need to go down to the woods, roll around in mud, murder squirrels and yell at the Moon. Instead I have this column and it will have to do. As you read it, imagine my byline picture is in Harry Potter’s Daily Prophet and watch it shrieking and holding its face.

Our main political parties are so broken and so unable to fix themselves that you must either weep for them and all the good people in them, or you must hate them. Perhaps you can do both.

The world has changed and they have been unable to. The world needs long-term solutions and proper arguments, and they offer us nothing but bickering and sticking plasters. Little sticking plasters for big wounds. The country needs reform and they act, in effect, to block it or to enact only those changes that have least impact on them.

It is less than a month since we nearly lost the country we live in, but this week the issue of how to deal with additional devolved powers for Scotland, as promised before the referendum, turned into a jostling for advantage over the implications for England. The Conservative party has been advised by its election supremo, Lynton Crosby, that it can make English resentment of Scottish MPs voting on English questions into an election issue. So where the obvious need is for a constitutional settlement based on a debate about the nation’s governance, the Tories want to get a row going for their election manifesto.

Labour’s call for a constitutional convention is sensible but can also be read as a self-interested attempt to delay the moment its Scottish MPs have to give up influencing English decisions.

Why did we not tackle our out-of-date and unrepresentative constituency boundaries? Because backbench Tories blocked reform of the Lords that would have depleted their own powers and the Lib Dems retaliated by taking the Conservatives’ candy from them. When the referendum on the alternative vote was held the Conservatives opposed it and more Labour people campaigned against than for it. Why? As I wrote at the time, “to use the old electoral system to shoehorn voters into propping up a Lab-Con duopoly, which an increasing number simply don’t want”. Watch that one come home to roost as Ukip candidates threaten to win on 30-40 per cent of constituency votes, often despite belonging to the party that most people least want to win.

For months now political correspondents have been coming back from their whisperings on the Capitol with tales of how there will be no televised debates — whatever anyone says in public — before the next election. Never mind that such debates helped to draw voters into the discussion in 2010 — Labour and the Tories regard the involvement of third and fourth parties as threatening and will find an excuse for getting out of them.

Tearing your hair out? Are politicians such box office, is politics so popular, is the public so engaged that we can easily dispense with what few tools we have? If they took any kind of a longer view the parties would be banging on broadcasters’ doors demanding more debates.

Voters instinctively understand, I think, that politicians are terrified of them, too terrified to tell them the truth. They watch as some of the politicos flatter the obsessives among us with their attention to prejudices. More Tory MPs asked about Europe yesterday in prime minister’s questions (which was the usual embarrassing bear garden) than about anything else.

So everything is easily sorted and easily divided. Labour created the economic crisis (so what was sub-prime?), the Tories are privatising the NHS (so who will have to pay?), Lord Freud wants to murder the disabled, Ed Miliband is a closet Chávista.

The voters can see the electoral percentages being calculated by people who make a pretence of caring about good government. What problem in the United Kingdom today is, for example, solved by a further cut in inheritance tax for the children of the relatively wealthy? Yet David Cameron advances the idea as the election approaches and Labour dare not say that it’s wrong. Why call something a mansion tax when it mostly will not be levied on anything that looks remotely like a mansion?

On immigration neither the Tories nor Labour dare to say what was in the Times editorial yesterday, that immigration has been a solid benefit to Britain — although voters know very well that they think it and also believe that they can’t do anything much about it. Not without leaving the EU.

In foreign policy the parties are so spooked by possible reaction to military involvement in the war against Islamic State that they spend more time talking about what they won’t do than what they will. Is that leadership? Shall we devolve foreign policy to local neighbourhood watch groups?

Despite the growth of Ukip and the SNP and the ever-more purposeful bumblings of Boris, people know that the future does not lie in anti-politics or celeb-politics. As the Lib Dems have discovered (and in their hearts secretly knew) when you are always going to be in opposition you can promise a wish with every rub of anyone’s lamp. But who wants Nigel Farage running our policies on ebola or deciding how to deal with Vladimir Putin? Or even Boris?

Again, things have changed. In an ultra-sophisticated media-saturated society like ours, people know better how to read the claims and characters of those appealing for their support. What a bizarre misreading of his listeners was it for Ed Miliband to risk his pre-election conference speech for the gimmick of reading without notes. He confused form with content, which is what they do not do.

Lead. Tell people the truth. Listen, but always argue. No false reassurances. Offer the voters a vision of the long-term. Cut out the hack phrases and the alienating point-scoring. And if, after that, they don’t like you and vote you out, well at least you won’t have done any bloody harm. Owoooowww!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A lazy post - Spanish faults?

A lazy post today . . .

Tidying up my Mac today, I found this document. It's a Spanish resident's response to (standard) negative comments on life here. I don't have the source but the writer says he's a foreigner living here, very possibly an Italian. (S)he says the criticisms are the 'the most tendentious list that I ever saw in my life'.

1. Nobody listens in this country!: Partially true: the people here like to talk very loud. But the real problem is that Spanish speakers have to use a long line argumentation, and yes, it's the same in informal conversations. Their fault is not to be brief. 'To get to the point' is rare. If you want to have your Anglo-Saxon conversation experience here, you must to say: Vaaale. no me marees. Vete al grano.

2. Spaniards are always swearing: True: Like the Italians, the French, the Portuguese, the Brazilians and the Germans too. It's our way to express ourselves. Of course the English/North Americans do not say 'fuck' every 3 words and never say dirty words. They are all gentlemen and ladies. . .

3. Everything takes so long here. False (or not): It depends of your perception of 'takes so long'. I have done some things in minutes by internet. Others I have to get in line and wait 30/45 minutes. My personal doctor I can meet in 48 hours (max) via a previous internet appointment. Emergency cases at a moment's notice). The police, for granting permissions (I mean official papers for residence in Spain) can take 30/45 days. To me that doesn't look so bad. In Italy it is at least 60 days.

4. Do we really have to spend Sunday with your family again? False (not a real question): Sorry, if your family is crap (or you don't have one) don't blame us. If my family is a crap they are still are my family and I will see then as often as I like. And I will blame them how much I want! I love those guys. Cultural stuff. Period.

5. The food here is so fatty/greasy/salty: False: Here, you have 'healthy food', 'Mediterranean food', but, if you wish to have the most inexpensive menu you can find, you will have the same crap food as you have in your country. There is food for all tastes and pockets. By the way: fish and chips, cheese hamburgers and Eisbein with potatoes and sauerkraut are really nice models to follow)

6. Your compatriots are such drama queens. True: They are emotional people. If you don't like emotions, what are you expecting in Latin country?

7. I've been waiting for ages. Half true: In my work life here I always have the people on time. In my private life I, almost, always have people out of time (not so much; just the time to the party 'start'). You need to know the local usage: Dinner is at 22:00/23:00, after this, people go to drink at some place (And, if you wish, it will be at 10pm to 10am but it's not mandatory). 
There are exceptions. In the North people are more formal. In the South you can expect a variance. But not so much in the work environment.

8. Why can't I just go out and blow off some steam? True: To be a expat will always give you some scars. I can tell by my self. I don't have an excuse but to do the dull, as a drunk, is not far way of all English teenagers that come to Spain and Portugal in summer to avoid the pressure in their lives. People are not perfect. I'm sorry.

9. Can't we do something different for a change? ??? Also I think that's perception stuff . . . Where, in Europe, are the people who do not join to eat, drink, talk, laugh and have good moments together? I don't know all the world but the places that I know it's a sign of friendship and inclusion (I mean inclusion for foreigners like me).
But, if you want, there a lot of people who want to see French noir cinema with you.

10. People here smoke too much: Half True: It's true that the Spanish smoke a lot. Period.
It's false that the cafés and shops are smoker-friendly: We had a global master ban some years ago. So, in all places, you won't be corrupted by tobacco smoke. There are some places where, after hours, they close the door and you (and other fine people) can smoke and drink your beer.

Finally . . . I've finally figured about why I'm confused by the new Maverick OS; the touchpad and the Up and Down arrows go in opposite directions.

Bad bank cards; EU fraud; Cataluña; Ministresses; Pimping the economy; & Astronomical delights.

There were 86 bank executives, politicians and trade union reps who were given the now infamous 'black' bank cards by Caja Madrid and its successor Bankía. 84 of them made illegal hay with them, 3 spent very little and one person didn't use hers at all. One inevitably wonders if this is a representative cross-section of the population.

At an even higher corporate level, Brussels has demanded that the Spanish government do something about paying back illegal subventions made to companies such as Santander, Telefónica(!), AXA and Iberdrola. Is corruption really so institutionalised in Spain? Or do all these companies just have dumb accountants who can't follow the application rules?

The President of Cataluña has announced his region really will, after all, stage some form of public consultation on independence on November 9. This came as a shock to those who'd thought he'd cancelled it yesterday. The Spanish President has not yet withdrawn his expressions of delight of yesterday. But there's been the usual exchange of insults at lower levels.

The ('relegated') Ministress of Health has defended herself and her Department against accusations of negligence and incompetence around the treatment of Ebola patients. "We did nothing wrong", she said. "We complied with all the protocols. It's just that the protocols were inadequate". I suspect the average 4 year old could find fault with this logic.

Another Ministress, of Development, assures us that the AVE high-speed train from Madrid to Galicia will be operative by 2018. As I recall, this was the joke date I suggested back around 2004. When the promise was 2010. I don't know why she bothers. I hope I live to travel on it.

Shops, bars and restaurants continue to close in Pontevedra, 7 years after the bubble burst in 2007. And yet Spain's economic growth is said to be the best in the eurozone, even if it's pretty low. Surely it can't simply reflect the inclusion of prostitution in the 'white' economy.

Today was the day when the sun rose directly above the river below me. Consulting my records, I confirmed this was exactly the same date as last year. I guess this is how astronomy began.

Finally . . . I downloaded Apple's new Maverick OS overnight. As you'd expect, I had a lot of fun today trying to deal with the consequences. Honest. So far, the only advantage I can see is the Reader app.