Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fur; Solar power; Petrol stations; Apple again; & Liverpool pigeons.

Famous models who scorned the wearing of fur 30 years ago are now said to be happy to sport the stuff. "Fur is back" said one headline. In Spain, of course, it never went away and the donning of a mink coat around February remains an annual ritual. I sometimes wonder if the Spanish have refrained from condemning the habit because it would mean taking on their fearsome grandmothers.

One regularly reads either that there's been a huge investment in solar power in Spain or that, by changing its fiscal policies, the Spanish government has just destroyed an industry in which it had a competitive edge. I really can't say I now what's happening, or what's become of all the panels one sees - or used to see - alongside the autovías. All I can say is I was reminded of the issue yesterday when I drove past what was the first building in the world - a school - to be heated by solar power. It's now called The Solar Campus and there's data on it at this site. Lowry fans please note the line about him near the bottom.

Apologies if I've said this before but another area where Spanish service is superior to that in Britain is in petrol stations. In Spain, it's nearly alway a smartly dressed young person (possibly relieved to have a job) who greets you with a big smile and a breezy Hello. In British service stations, it's not unusual to leave feeling you've been served by someone with a serious lack of social skills. Or who might be the village idiot. Though not at the place in Arclid yesterday, where the guy was more talkative than a Spaniard. And I'd only bought a bottle of water, as I wanted to use the toilet. Bit of a waste, really, as there wasn't one.

I cited my experience at the Apple shop in Liverpool the other day, which, by the way, arrogantly eschews a name on the shopfront. Prior to this, I'd searched for the outlets nearest to me. The first was Liverpool and the second was Belfast, across the Irish sea. Handy.

Finally . . . And just following up on yesterday's Liverpool special - If you're looking for a good pub there, then try the Liverpool Pigeon, which has just won the local Pub of the Year Award, for the second year running. Admittedly it's in Crosby and so not exactly in the Liverpool heartland. But it's still Merseyside. And the accent will be much the same, with a sprinkling of 'posh Scouse'.

Monday, March 30, 2015


Some readers will know that Scouse is the dialect of Merseyside folk, most properly those in the city of Liverpool itself. But how many of you know that it's also a lamb stew, similar to a dish served in many European countries, where it's called something like Lobscouse. But back to the dialect . . . Here's a bit of Wiki on it: Scouse is highly distinguishable from other English dialects and because of this international recognition on 16 September 1996 Keith Szlamp made a request to IANA to make it a recognised Internet dialect. After citing a number of references, the application was accepted on 25 May 2000 and now allows internet documents that use the dialect to be categorised as 'Scouse' by using the language tag "en-Scouse". Many natives of northern Europe, and especially the Scandinavian region, have suggested that Scousers 'sound like they sing when they talk' due to the flowing rhythm and pitch. Which is much the same as what the Madrileños say about the Gallegos. The Celtic/Gaelic link . . ?

By coincidence, there was a BBC Radio program on Scouse last Saturday evening. You can find it here, I hope. Perhaps the most unusual fact it gives is that the 28th February is Global Scouse Day. If and when you've listened to that, here are The Spinners singing the local anthem - 'The Leaving of Liverpool' - And here are The Dubliners performing it slightly more gruffly.

And here are the famous Three Graces built over what used to be a dock.

And here's a statue of Queen Vic, on the spot where Liverpool Castle used to look out over the river and the sea,

Finally . . . the HQ of the White Star Line, owners of of the ill-fated Titanic.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Revisionist history - That bastard Drake and the pesky Armada.


There are 2 things Spanish have a very different view on from the British:- 1. Francis Drake (Draké) and 2. The 'defeat' of the Spanish Armada in 1588. They are related, of course. In Spain, Drake is seen as nothing better than a licensed pirate and his depredations of the Spanish coast - as well as his thieving down in the Caribbean - are well remembered. In Pontevedra, he's famous for destroying a church on an offshore island and chucking a statue of the Virgin into the sea. (Whence it miraculously rose and replaced itself on the altar). But anyway . . . Controversy will inevitably arise again when a new docudrama - called Armada - goes out on BBC TV - even though it'll be more faithful to the Spanish version of events than to the British. Here's a article on this from a British newspaper:

Britain's other finest hour: For the first time, the real story of Francis Drake's victory over the Spanish Armada is told in a gripping new docudrama

Ask most people in the country what the Spanish Armada was, and they would probably be able to tell you just three things. 

First, the Armada consisted of a lot of ships from Spain that wanted to invade England. Secondly, we beat them. And thirdly, we only beat them after Sir Francis Drake finished a game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe. 

Now, thanks to a landmark BBC docudrama series, we’ll no longer have any excuses for such ignorance. And furthermore, neither should we still believe that hoary old story about Drake’s game of bowls.

Armada tells the tale of those 12 fateful days in 1588 when the future of the Britain hung in the balance. 

Presented by historian and keen sailor Dan Snow, Armada tells the tale of those 12 fateful days in the summer of 1588 when the future of the British Isles hung in a very precarious balance. 

At the end of the 16th century, England was by no means the powerful nation she would become. Instead she was the equivalent of somewhere like Poland today – small, proud, but certainly not mighty. Spain, meanwhile, was truly a global superpower, with an empire that stretched from South America to Asia.
Its ruler was Philip II, a stickler for detail who at the time of the Armada was 61 years old. Philip’s béte noire was undoubtedly the English, and in particular the monarch Queen Elizabeth I. 

For Philip, Elizabeth ruled over a kingdom that encouraged the likes of Drake to seize Spanish ships and their cargoes of treasure as they headed back from South America. But Philip’s other gripe was that the English had rejected Roman Catholicism. An intensely devout man, he was concerned for the safety of his fellow Catholics under Elizabeth, and was determined to help them.

As well as providing analysis by historians, the series recreates the events in the courts of the two monarchs. The star of the show is Anita Dobson, who plays an ageing Elizabeth I. She brilliantly captures the vulnerability of the 54-year-old queen, who is worried not only about assassination attempts by Catholic agents, but that her kingdom might be overrun by the mighty fleet Philip had dispatched from Spain.

However, as the show makes clear, the Armada’s aim was not to invade Britain. With 125 ships and 30,000 men, the force was far too small to conquer an entire country. Instead, its purpose was to support an invasion army assembled in northern France by the Duke of Parma. 

Philip’s plan was for his Armada to link up with Parma in Calais, help the army cross the Channel and seize landing grounds around Margate, before sailing up the Thames providing cover for Parma as the Spanish army marched on London.

What the series portrays so well are the tensions among the senior figures in the Armada. Until now, much of this Hispanic squabbling has not been fully appreciated, but thanks to the work of Professor Geoffrey Parker, one of the experts interviewed, we are now able to understand what the Spaniards were thinking. 

A few years ago in an archive in Madrid, Professor Parker stumbled upon some old documents marked ‘Curious papers’, which contained letters between the leader of the Armada, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, and his deputy, Juan Martinez de Recalde. ‘What we can now show is that Recalde, who was a tough sea dog and a far more experienced sailor than the Duke, wanted to attack England straight away, at Plymouth where the British fleet was berthed,’ says Snow.

However, Medina Sidonia was determined to follow orders and press on up the Channel to rendezvous with the Duke of Parma in France. ‘Had the Duke listened to Recalde, and the Armada had successfully attacked Plymouth, history would have been very different,’ says Snow.

Medina Sidonia’s lack of adaptability proved fateful. As the Armada sailed up the Channel on 21 July, the British commander, Lord Howard of Effingham, and his deputy, Drake, were able to send ships from their fleet in behind the Spanish and ‘pick off’ a few ships at a time with devastating artillery fire from their cannons.

It’s at this point that the myth of the game of bowls can finally be put to rest. There is no evidence to support the notion that Drake was so calm that he would rather play a game than go into battle. If Drake did wait to go into action, then it was for a very good reason – the tide was against him. As the show reveals, the bowls story was invented decades later by historians to add patriotic spin.

For the Spanish, Drake’s unconventional methods were immensely frustrating, as they preferred their enemies to draw near so their soldiers could board their ships and fight hand-to-hand. But Drake decided to keep his distance. For the next week, the British harried the Spanish fleet up the Channel. 

On 27 July the battered Armada eventually made it to Calais, but Parma’s army was not ready to embark. The Armada was vulnerable now, so Howard and Drake sent eight blazing fireships into the middle of it, causing it to disperse. Then Drake pounced, and for eight hours the British launched a fierce artillery assault, destroying five galleons.

Medina Sidonia now took the only option open to him – escape. For two months the once-mighty Armada had to circumnavigate the British Isles in order to get back home. As a result of unseasonal violent storms, almost 40 ships were run aground, and as many as 5,000 Spaniards drowned or, if they made it ashore, were butchered by locals.

The English victory cemented Elizabeth’s grip on power, and Spain would not attack Britain again until after the death of Philip in 1598. ‘We’ll be focusing on all these exciting events in tons of detail,’ says Snow. ‘There’s never been a televised account of the Armada as rich and as complete as this.’

'Armada' will be shown later this spring on BBC1.

  • 125 Ships made up the Spanish fleet – then the largest ever seen in Europe
  • 200 English and Irish exiles were among the Armada’s 30,000 sailors and troops
  • 11m lbs of biscuits and 14,000 barrels of wine were just some of the provisions
  • 2,431 Guns were aboard, plus 123,790 rounds of ammunition

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spain's economy; Spanish trolls; Arnold Bennett; Liverpool shopping; Paradise St.; & A foto.

Spain's economic growth for 2015 is now forecast to be 2.8%, which certainly sounds like good news, as it will only be bested in the EU by Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta. There are those, though, who think things aren't as good as they seem, pointing to continuing weakness in consumer spending, for example. As ever with differing economists, I wish I knew who's right.

We know that the internet provides a pulpit for cretins who spew bile but it's always a surprise to read examples of their vomitous outpourings. Following the horrendous air crash in France, Spanish trolls have expressed the hope that compatriots who died were Catalans, Basques or Hispanic immigrants. With luck, the police will track them down and prosecute them.

I've cited the late 19th century/early 20th century writer, Arnold Bennett. Yesterday, I came across this little tale of his, dated 1925: I was walking in Selfridge's basement yesterday when I met Mr Selfridge in a rather old morning coat and silk hat. He seized hold of me and showed me over the new part of his store. Cold storage for furs - finest in the world. Downstairs to the book department. Fine bindings, etc. His first remark was, taking up a book: 'Human skin'. I had to hurry away. He kept insisting it was wonderfully interesting. And it was.

I went shopping in the centre of Liverpool yesterday. Astonishingly, it was even less productive than a morning in Pontevedra. My first port of call was Waterstones, where they siad they didn't have the book I wanted but I could either get it in London or wait a few days. Then I went to the Apple store, where there were at least 20 youngsters in blue T shirts anxious to ask me what I wanted and then pass me onto someone else. The final guy told me they could certainly help me with a new battery for my laptop if I came back in 4 hours - there being 25 people in front of me. Apparently, if I'd thought to make an appointment, things would have been better. So . . . it's the internet for me now. Thank God M&S had the sox I needed, though they didn't have the trousers I wanted. They did have a shirt I liked; but not in my size. Worst of all, when I went to pay for the sox, I didn't get the discount voucher on women's underwear and lingerie that the couple in front of me had been given. When I queried this, the assistant said these were randomly generated and, blushing but laughing, suggested I make another purchase. I did try but handkerchiefs are apparently an unknown item in British shops these days.

By what stretch of the imagination can Apple's customer service be called, well . . . customer service? But anyway, the store is in Paradise St. 'Back in the day', this was the location of Liverpool's VD clinic, as it was called then. It always struck me as rather a bizarre pairing of names. Admittedly it was in the dog-end of the street. I'm told.

Finally . . . This is the offices of the now-defunct National Bank in Liverpool. This was built at a time when companies were so confident of their eternal future that they eschewed paint and hanging signs and had their names carved into the fabric of the building. What hubris.

More fotos tomorrow.

Friday, March 27, 2015

What is sinful in Islam?

Prompted by the comment of a Palestinian musician that neither listening to nor playing music was haraam (forbidden by Islam), I searched for info on what might be included under this heading. Wiki advised that "haraam is an Arabic term meaning 'sinful'. And that "In Islamic jurisprudence, haram is used to refer to any act that is forbidden by Allah. Islam teaches that a haram (sinful) act is recorded by an angel on the person's left shoulder. If something is considered haram, it remains prohibited no matter how good the intention is or how honourable the purpose is. A haram is converted into a gravitational force on the day of judgment and placed on mizan (weighing scales)." Elsewhere I found this intriguing list of "the 70 major sins' of Islam:-
1.  Associating anything with Allah (SHIRK)
2.  Murder
3.  Practicing magic
4.  Not praying
5.  Not paying Zakat (alms)
6.  Not fasting on any day during Ramadan without an excuse
7.  Not performing the Hajj, while being able to do so
8.  Disrespecting parents
9.  Abandoning relatives
10.  Fornication and Adultery
11.  Homosexuality (this includes sodomy in all forms)
12.  Charging interest (riba or Usury)
13.  Wrongfully consuming the property of an orphan
14.  Lying about Allah and His Messenger
15.  Running away from the battlefield
16.  A leader’s deceiving his people and being unjust to them
17.  Pride and arrogance
18.  Bearing false witness
19.  Drinking khamr (alcohol/wine)
20.  Gambling
21.  Slandering chaste women
22.  Stealing from the spoils of war
23.  Stealing
24.  Highway Robbery
25.  Making a false oath
26.  Oppression
27.  Making an illegal gain
28.  Consuming wealth acquired unlawfully
29.  Committing suicide
30.  Frequent lying
31.  Judging unjustly
32.  Giving and accepting bribes
33.  Woman’s imitating a man and man’s imitating a woman
34.  Being a cuckold
35.  Marrying a divorced woman in order to make her lawful for the husband
36.  Not protecting oneself from urine
37.  Showing-off
38.  Gaining knowledge of the religion for the sake of this world and concealing that knowledge
39.  Betraying trust
40.  Recounting favours
41.  Denying Allah’s Decree
42.  Listening (to) people’s private conversations
43.  Telling tales
44.  Cursing
45.  Breaking contracts
46.  Believing in fortune-tellers and astrologers
47.  A woman’s bad conduct towards her husband
48.  Making statues and pictures
49.  Lamenting, wailing, tearing the clothing, and doing other things of this sort when an affliction befalls
50.  Treating others unjustly
51.  Overbearing conduct toward a wife, a servant, the weak, and animals
52.  Offending one’s neighbour
53.  Offending and abusing Muslims
54.  Offending people and having an arrogant attitude towards them
55.  Trailing one’s garment in pride
56.  Men’s wearing silk and gold
57.  A slave’s running away from his master
58.  Slaughtering an animal which has been dedicated to anyone other than Allah
59.  To knowingly ascribe one’s paternity to a father other than one’s own
60.  Arguing and disputing violently
61.  Withholding excess water
62.  Giving short weight or measure
63.  Feeling secure from Allah’s Plan
64.  Offending Allah’s righteous friends
65.  Not praying in congregation but praying alone without an excuse
66.  Persistently missing Friday Prayers without any excuse
67.  Usurping the rights of the heir through bequests
68.  Deceiving and plotting evil
69.  Spying for the enemy of the Muslims
70.  Cursing or insulting any of the Companions of Allah’s Messenger

And elsewhere, someone gave this list of the 10 most important modern sins:-
1. Cleavage, flashy clothes and tight jeans for women
2. Pony tails for women. Long hair for men.
3. Dental braces
4. Harry Potter books and films
5. Homosexuals
6. Social networks, emails, and video directories
7. Batman and the Justice League
8. Pet cats and dogs
9. Barbie dolls
10. Political sciences

Of course, I can't guarantee that these are lists are agreed by all the world's Muslims. Probably not. But, as you can see, listening to or playing music doesn't figure on either of them. BTW: Women will also have noticed there's no corresponding item to number 47 in the first list.

Finally . . . I ordered some walking boots this week, prior to another camino in May. They arrived today and I didn't have to give an ID number or even sign my name. Life can be so simple.  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Obesity; British pubs; Being judgmental; Attitudes to work; Galicia hotspots; Telefónica; & Happy living.

A few years ago, it was said that Spain was second only to Malta in the list of European countries with fat kids. Things must have got worse as it's now reported that Spain is second only to the USA in child obesity. Inevitably, this is linked to changes in eating habits.

Talking of food . . . Eating in British pubs is nothing like the experience it used to be 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. And it doesn't have to be a 'gastropub' for this to be true. Even the rural pub my brother and I ate in yesterday had a fancy menu, with prices to match. After we'd ordered our respective 'sandwiches', the barmaid asked if we wanted chips(french fries) with them. It was only after we'd declined that we noticed these came at just under 4 quid a portion. No wonder she asked. Anyway, the poor lady was having a great deal of trouble with a new electronic till and, to our amusement, became quite flustered. As I would in Spain, I patted the hand that was on the counter in sympathy, at which it was withdrawn at a speed which implied I'd suggested a sexual encounter behind the bar. I'd forgotten about the British aversion to being touched. A final couple of words on food in this place - 1. Above the bar was advertised a 'Sausage Board' at fractionally below 20 quid. Say €28. Neither of us knew what this was - or might be - and didn't ask. Perhaps the sausages are gold-plated. 2. 'Vegetable Chilli'(?) was described as 'That pub classic'. Since when? 2013??

Religious folk can have some very strange notions. In India recently, a nun in her 70s was raped by one of a group of gangsters who raided her convent. Talking about it on the radio, one of her colleagues said that one of the victim's greatest causes for grief was that her vow of chastity had been broken. This struck me as rather odd, as it implied that her God wouldn't take circumstances into account when deciding on her fate on The Day of Judgement. Which would be a little mean-spirited, to say the least.

A survey of work attitudes of young people in Spain, the UK, Germany and Holland says of the Spanish that: "Despite a youth unemployment rate of about 50%, they regard work-life balance and an enjoyable work environment as more important than job security." And that: "The Spanish show a willingness to do anything they can to increase employability. They change subjects at university if they find one that will increase their career options and they are very willing to change country and job if it means giving them a career advantage". In contrast: "Brits still see career as important, with only 33% seeing enjoyment of their work environment as important. Earning money and building a career is more relevant." Pick the meat out of that.

Here's someone's list of 10 good places to visit in Galicia. Obviously not the best as Ferrol is in there at no. 4. And Pontevedra isn't there at all. Outrageous. Especially as it's just been voted the most comfortable city in Europe by people who are rather better at compiling lists.

I had to laugh - rather hollowly - when I read that Telefónica is to triple its customers' broadband speeds before summer, at no extra charge. Short of running cables into my street or upgrading the centralita and the wiring to our houses, there's no way they can do this. And, anyway, by mid-year I'll have moved on to the provider of my neighbours' radio-based service. 

Finally . . . There's a personality test you can take in the UK which purports to tell you where in Britain you'd be happiest living. For me, it's the district of Dumries and Galloway in Scotland. As if.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The news; President Rajoy: Changing Spain: & Driving in Spain.

As you may know, there was an air-crash yesterday. Am I alone in regarding the obsession with it on the rolling news programs as close to voyeuristic? Ghoulish even. Though it must be a godsend to them all, of course, in their challenge of filling every minute of every day.

A well-connected Spanish commentator endorses the view that pointy things are out for President Rajoy. "Behind Rajoy", he says, " the knives are out for a president who has the personality of a clam." Taking the shellfish analogy further, he adds that "The fear of the liberals and the Christian-democrats is that Rajoy will stick to his presidential quarters like a mollusk". For Spanish speakers, there's more here.

Changing Spain: When I came to Spain in 2000, the annual road fatality number was pretty dreadful. But a minor miracle has been worked since then and it's now less than half it was back then. The statistic for cyclist deaths is also now very low. But this, of course, is because nearly all of them use the pavements/sidewalks.

Changing Spain (Maybe): For the second time in a few months, professors and students are to go on strike against the Bologna measure which will bring the university system in line with that elsewhere in Europe for first degrees and masters courses. One result of this will be to throw most graduates onto the job market a year earlier. With 50% youth unemployment, this is not what they want. But I can't see them having any choice, however much they complain.

Finally . . . Back to driving in Spain: This seems to be a useful site. I don't yet know what it says about roundabouts - the traditional ones or the new turbo-roundabouts. I do know you get nothing if you search under 'roundabout'. 'Rotonda' is more productive, though 'glorieta' isn't.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The failing Righ; The Left ; Corruption; Risk v. Safety; Bikes etc.; Palma de Mallorca; & A word.

The doubts about the leadership qualities of the Spanish President, Mariano Rajoy, have naturally been increased by the very poor showing of the PP party in the Andalucian elections. Faced with the nutcracker of declining popularity, on the one hand, and the rise of Podemos and Cuidadanos, on the other, the party's doyens must surely be looking at alternative leaders for the elections later this year. But who? Could this really be the hour of Spain's 'Iron Lady', Esperanza Aguirre, currently positioned as the next mayor of Madrid? I guess we'll soon know, as they surely won't wait until the last moment. There's actually a cavalcade of regional and local elections between now and the general elections, so maybe they'll wait on one or two more before plumping for regicide. Dressed up as sword-falling.

As for the socialist PSOE opposition . . . They gained the same number of seats in the Andalucian elections as the previous time, showing that "the corruption scandals barely dissuaded voters away from the PSOE." Is it, then, any wonder that politicians think they can get away with it? Especially as Andalucia is the most corrupt region in Spain. And the (unpunished) PSOE have been in power there for more than 30 years. What does that tell you?

To no one's surprise and after a lengthy investigation, the inquiring judge has announced that said PP party ran an illegal slush fund for 18 years, financed by payments from companies in search of lucrative contracts. Needless to say, this flourished during the years of Spain's phoney construction bum. The ex-treasurer - and personal friend of President Rajoy - will now be tried for tax fraud and embezzlement. Predictably, he suffered from 'sticky palms' during his years at the helm and amassed a Swiss-bank fortune which he found hard to explain. Sr Rajoy has denied he too got a brown envelope every month and says his only mistake was to trust his friend. No one believes him, of course. Except maybe his wife. Last October Rajoy finally showed an iota of contrition, saying "I understand that Spaniards are fed up and outraged. This behaviour is especially hurtful when they have had to endure so many sacrifices to get our country out of the economic crisis." I'll say. Is that the sound of chickens coming home to roost that I can hear?

Happily, "Health & Safety" is not the curse in Spain it is in the UK, and probably the USA too. But now and again one reads something like "Spain is the 3rd highest EU country for dangerous products" and one wonders whether things shouldn't be a bit stricter. That said, the statistic mostly relates to reports on harmful products that try to enter the country but are stopped by the customs authorities. So, more of a good thing than a bad thing. Except that it means Spanish companies are trying to import them in the first place. But not quite as much as German and Hungarian companies are.

Notwithstanding my positive comments about the risk v. safety balance in the last paragraph, there are, of course, the cyclists of all ages who treat the pavements as velodromes and the kids who career down slopes in brakeless vehicles with total disregard for people who might be coming around the corner. And Pontevedra has a lot of slopes. And uncontrolled kids

The Sunday Times - overwhelmed by its "picturesque old town, fancy shops and the slow-paced charm" - has decided that the best place in the world in which to live is Palma de Mallorca. They obviously didn't visit Pontevedra, which has all of these, plus octopus. My impression is that the paper's survey of 50 places around the world was done in conjunction with estate agents. Quel surprise.

Actually, I don't like octopus. So I'll go with Palma de Mallorca. 

Finally . . . I have the word DRIERS in my notebook and have been trying for 3 days to figure out what it relates to. Please write in if you have any ideas. Unless you're Alfie Mittington.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Teaching here & there; Andaluz elections; UK genes; Os Porcos Bravos; Kiddy complexity; & Lomas v Lo Mas.

The most desirable job for young Spaniards is that of a teacher. As someone who has experience of the quality and security of life of Spanish teachers, I must say I'm not very surprised. And, as the father of someone who quit teaching in the UK after 8 stressful years, I can add that the comparison with Britain is stark. If you're tempted to disagree, this recent (and disturbing) BBC podcast might just change your mind.

Yesterday's elections in Andalucia produced a minority socialist PSOE government which will have to ally with one of the several small parties which made a decent showing. These included Podemos(15% of the vote), Cuidadanos(9%), IU(7%) and UPyD(2%). Spain's ruling PP party saw its share of the vote fall to 27%, against 35% for the 'victorious' PSOE party. So . . . . The end of 'two-party' hegemony and the entry of Podemos into reality politics? Could well be. A harbinger of the PP's fall from national power? Let's hope so.

Those genetics tests of the UK population . . . Here's an interesting perspective on what they do and don't reveal.

Well, the valiant Porcos Bravos went down 1-6 to the Sheffield Stags yesterday, possibly as a result of keeping Spanish hours the night before. This result looked unlikely at the break, when it was only 0-1. But as some sage said, football is a game of 2 halves and in the second of these my gallant Galician friends were rather overwhelmed. Which was a tad surprising as they'd won this Away fixture 8-1 last year. Anyway, we were treated (well, I was; they probably paid) to a post-match roast lunch in a fine Victorian hotel after the match and my drive back to Manchester was via the charming Snake Pass. As ever, it was amusing to see the total disregard for set times of the Spanish contingent. I'm not sure exactly what time the 1 o'clock lunch started but it was well after 2.

Back at my daughter's house, we played a Cluedo-based board game (juego de mesa) centred on characters from the Harry Potter books. I found it far too complicated to understand so was astonished, at the end, to be told it was aimed at 5 to 8 year olds.

Finally . . . My son-in-law's (and my daughter's) surname is Lomas. On a bookshelf in their house is one of those carved wooden name-pieces they go in for in the Far East. I wondered whether it'd actually been done in China or Hong Kong, as it reads Michael Romas. I kid you not. 

Incidentally, I've tried to get my daughter to sign her new surname as Lo Más but she's not having it.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Wine; Screwing v. Corking; Negatives v. Positives; Bagpipes; Famous señoras; Os Porcos Bravos.

I asked the ladies in the stationery shop when the nearby wine shop opened up as I had some information on Galician wines for the owner."Whenever he likes", was the answer. I felt I was back in Spain. Said owner, some readers may recall, was the one who last year selling a Galician wine under the label The Priest and the Altar Boy. Another time, perhaps.

Talking of wine . . . In the UK now, virtually all bottles come with a screw top. I met these first in Australia and New Zealand in the 70s (back in the day) and it was a while before they dominated the British market. My impression is that they're yet to make a real showing in Spain, where the fight is between real corks and a plastic variety. I put the resistance down to simple conservatism. Logically, Spanish wines are sold with screw tops here in the UK, even if they still have corks back in Spain.

When you first go to live in Spain, you notice little negative things such as the tendency of supermarket staff to compete with you for the door. After years there and when visiting the UK, you notice little positive things such as the people around you having antennae which tell them not to walk across or even into you. Small things in the overall context, of course. But noticeable.

Sometimes life really is stranger than fiction.

Famous Spanish Women 1: Miriam González Durántez. Or Mrs Clegg, to most Brits. She wears trousers, it seems. In the house. And out.

And now I'm driving to Sheffield to watch a football match between Os Porcos Bravos of Pontevedra and The Stags of, well . . . Sheffield. And then I'll go to Manchester to see if my daughter's completely mastered the answerphone yet.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Podemos; Andalucia; Roundabouts here and there; Shopping or not; Daughter other Daffs.

Podemos ('We can') is the left-of-centre party which barged on to the Spanish political scene just a year ago. It's riding high in the polls for the general election due late this year. Meanwhile, though, there's a regional election in Andalucia, where the socialist party has wielded power since the transition from Francoism in the late 70s and early 80s. This is despite corruption there being the worst in the country. Which is saying something. Anyway, Podemos are forecast to get 15% of the vote there. Not bad going, then, for a new party. More, in English, here.

And there's a bit more on the Andalucian elections here.

Imagine you're approaching a roundabout in the UK with 3 exits to the left of it and 3 to the right. And imagine you're taking the 6th exit, the last on the right. If you put your satnav into Spanish mode, it'll tell you to leave by the 6th exit on the left, even though it's on your right. The British voice will tell simply tell you to take the 6th exit. If you were in Spain, you'd be approaching a roundabout with the instruction to either take the 6th exit (British) or to exit by the 6th exit on the right (Spanish), even though it's on your left. A material cultural difference? Or just bloody confusing?

There's a shop in my mother's town which sells just about everything. Rather like the Chinese bazars of Spain. On the window, there's a large sign saying "SMOKING KILLS", alongside text advertising e-cigarettes. The rest of the window display comprises cigarette papers, roller boxes, lighters, lighter fuel, flints, wicks, filter tips, matches, and pipes. Which struck me as a tad ironic.

Talking of shops . . . I got chatting to the ladies in the stationers about Galicia and one of them asked me if I was English. I thought she was referring to what my daughters call my 'Spanish voice'. But no. "I thought you might be Dutch", she said. I was devastated. Naturally. I'd even have preferred the usual 'German' which Spaniards accuse me of being.

Still on shops . . . When I walked down the main street at 5.15, it was hard to believe they'd all closed down for the day and wouldn't be opening in a quarter of an hour until at least 8.30. 

Finally . . . After months of nagging my younger daughter has finally learned how to switch on the answerphone I bought her last year. Now, if I can just get her to listen to the messages, we'll be home and dry.

And . . . . The daffodils that have yet to appear in my garden in Galicia:-

Friday, March 20, 2015

An eclipse; Fiesta fortune; Evil frases; Barmy Brits; The EU; & A moan.

There's an eclipse of the sun today - British clouds permitting - and there are endless warnings on TV about using special glasses to avoid eye damage. These are said to reduce the effect of the sun's rays by 100,000 times. 'Back in the day', when I was at primary school, we used photograph negatives but this probably wouldn't be considered wise nowadays. And you'd sued if you suggested them.

Which reminds me . . . It's not only in Galicia that fiestas are at the whim of the weather. This is a risk even as far south as Valencia, where the grand finale of this year's fiery Fallas festival was disrupted by gales and downpours. Details here. Gallegos should avoid schadenfreude.

Just going back to the retrospective 'back in the day', there's a corresponding prospective phrase - 'going forward'. Equally irritating to some of us. Basically anyone over 40.

The Brits: I overheard this exchange between my mother and her neighbour last night:
I was going to call you but I didn't want to bother you.
Oh. I was going to call you but I didn't want to bother you.
No wonder the Spanish think we're crazy. And a few others, no doubt.

The EU: I've always believed that, though founded for the best of reasons and although admirable in its aims, the EU is doomed to collapse under the weight of its internal incongruities. This is a prelude to the article at the end of this post. This appeared in El País a week or so ago and comes from Timothy Gorton Ash, a regular contributor to the left-of-centre Guardian. I have the feeling it marks a (sad) change of heart on his part, though it chimes with my own view. I wouldn't include it otherwise, would I?

Finally . . . Startled by the rapidity at which my podcasts downloaded, I checked the internet speed at my mother's house. Yep, ten times faster (at half the cost) of my Pontevedra service. In case it's not obvious, I'm not always happy with life in Spain.

Europe is being torn apart – but the torture will be slow

“If the euro fails, Europe fails”: thus spake Angela Merkel. Unfortunately, the euro is failing, but it is failing slowly. Even if Greece grexits, the eurozone seems unlikely to fall apart in the near future, although there is still a chance that it will. There is a much higher chance that it will grind along like a badly designed Kazakh tractor, producing slower growth, fewer jobs and more human suffering than the same countries would have experienced without monetary union. However, the misery will be unevenly distributed between debtor and creditor countries, struggling south and still prospering north.

These different national experiences will be reflected through elections, creating more tensions of the kind we have already seen between Germany and Greece. Eventually something will give, but that process may take a long time. “There is a great deal of ruin in a nation,” said Adam Smith. Given the extraordinary achievements of the 70 years since 1945, and the memories and hopes still invested in the European project, there is a lot of ruin still left in our continent.

I recently participated in an event in Frankfurt attended by representatives of leading European investors. A multiple-choice instant poll was taken, offering a number of scenarios for how the eurozone would look in five years’ time, and asking which we found most probable. Nearly half those present opted, as I did, for “Japan in the 1990s”. Around 20% voted for “what eurozone?”; 18% went for “the UK after Thatcher”, by which they presumably meant a leaner, meaner economy, with the policies of austerity and structural reform producing growth, but also dislocation and inequality.

The catch is that even in this last, “best” case, the inequality would not be within one country, such as Britain, but unevenly distributed between different countries. Germans and a few other north European nations would go on taking most of the gain, others the pain.

To say this is to endorse an economic analysis that mainstream German politicians and economists will fiercely dispute. Austerity and structural reform are the one true way to salvation, they insist. As Merkel put it in 2013: “What we have done, everyone else can do.”

There are at least three problems with this. First, as every wise doctor knows, even the theoretically right medicine can be disastrous if administered in too strong a dose to a weakened patient.

Second, Greeks, Italians and French are not Germans. Their economies certainly need structural reforms, which have, for example, boosted exports from Spain, but their societies and companies simply do not respond in the same way.

Third, even if the whole eurozone becomes one giant German-style Exportweltmeister, who will be the consumer? Some of the demand must come from inside the eurozone, and especially from richer countries such as Germany. If everyone else is to behave more like Germany, then Germany must behave a bit less like Germany. But Germany is not prepared to do that.

In the long term, Germany will suffer from the consequences, but not in the short term. Walk around most German cities and the feeling is: crisis? What crisis? While Germany has had to bail out countries such as Greece, much of that money went straight back to imprudent lenders, including German banks. Meanwhile, German export business has benefited greatly from the eurozone.

In Frankfurt, the misery of Athens seems very far away. Reflecting on austerity policies in southern Europe, one German banker said: “The problem with Greece is that they never tried.” This of a country where previously middle-class people are reduced to using soup kitchens, one in every two young people is unemployed and, according to the Financial Times’s Martin Wolf, since 2008 “spending by Greeks on goods and services has in fact fallen by at least 40%”.

The structural problem here is that the monetary area is European but the democratic politics are still national. It is not that there is nothing that could be done, if the politics allowed it. Everyone admits in private that Greece cannot repay its mountain of debt, so let Berlin parlay explicit debt forgiveness for continued meaningful reform by the new Greek government.

Or let German wages and prices rise, thus helping to rebalance the eurozone internally. Or agree on the kind of fiscal transfers from richer states to poorer ones that you have inside a proper federal union such as the United States, where nobody expects Alabama to perform like Silicon Valley any time soon.

But in creating a monetary union without a fiscal or political one, Europeans put the cart before the horse – and now the horse is not ready to get in front of the cart. National democracy therefore stands in a growing tension with European integration. Some leaders of the European institutions in Brussels see this. France’s European commissioner, Pierre Moscovici, talks of “the commission of the last chance”. But there is not much they can do about it, because power mainly lies with democratically elected national governments.

Let me be clear: given the choice between democracy and a paternalistic, top-down, Euro-Leninist version of European integration, I will choose democracy every time. The Finnish vice president of the European commission, Jyrki Katainen, responded to Syriza’s election victory by saying, “We don’t change policies depending on elections.” Oh yes you bloody well do. It’s called democracy and it’s Europe’s greatest political invention. The trouble is that the structural problems of the eurozone require a transnational European democratic solidarity of fellow citizens which does not exist between different nationalities in the eurozone, and is not in prospect any time soon.

And so we will struggle on, torn between national politics and European policies, while the monetary union that was meant to unite Europe pulls it apart. But the torture will be slow.

In the countries that are suffering most from this “machine from hell”, as one senior German official has described the eurozone, there is still a passionate determination to stay “in Europe”. For all its radicalism, Syriza has shown a remarkable readiness to compromise so as to stay in Europe. I suspect the same would be true of Podemos in Spain.

Domestically, these countries still have the safety net provided even by a much reduced welfare state. For unemployed young people, a further buffer is provided by the fact that their baby-boomer parents still have a place for them to live, and some life savings to help them out – aka the Bank of Mama and Papa.

The labour mobility guaranteed by the EU also provides an important safety valve, as young Spaniards with two university degrees come to work as waiters in London or Berlin. However, that migration in turn fuels the anti-EU rhetoric of parties such as Ukip and Alternative für Deutschland, which hitch their Euroscepticism to popular fears about immigration. And gradually these material and cultural reserves will be exhausted.

What then? My heart does not like what my head is telling me. But it is still up to us, and there is still time to reverse the trend. Can Europe’s 89ers – those born around and after 1989 – generate the political imagination and will that our current politics are failing to produce?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

(Not)Criminal candidates; Castles in Spain again; The Brits: A Liverpool Library; British breasts; News(?)papers; and A warm welcome 'home'.

A while back (Back in the day?) the PP party in Spain promised there'd be no imputados included in their list of possible parliamentary candidates. Against the background of relentless corruption, this seemed like a tough challenge at the time.. But fortunately (for them) the law has just been changed (by them) and the term imputado has been dropped in favour of investigado. Hey presto! No criminals in our lists. No wonder one occasionally gets the feeling one is living in a third world country.

Possibly stimulated by the long-awaited decision to stop unjust evictions and demolitions down south, the Spanish property market is on the move upwards again. As ever, Brits lead the pack, buying twice as many properties as the next contender, the French. The percentages are: Brits19%; the French 9%; the Germans 7%; the Belgians, 7%; the Italians 6%; the Russians 6%; the Swedes 6%, and the Norwegians 4%.

Talking of national percentages, the latest DNA analysis of the British throws up some fascinating points:
  • The people of Cornwall and Devon are genetically different
  • The Cornish are different from anyone else in Britain
  • The Celtic Fringe folk are different from each other
  • The southern Welsh are different from the norther Welsh
  • There's little evidence of intermarriage with the Romans
  • There was little genetic influence on the British of the Vikings (so, more pillage than rape), and
  • Many English are 45% French and 25% German. But 'French' here doesn't mean the Norman invaders of 1066; it means the people ("a mystery set of migrants") who wandered north [why??] as the ice melted 15,000 years ago. I'd previously understood these to be Basque. But perhaps they all got in on the act.
Which reminds me . . . My sister and I were treated yesterday to a tour of the library of Liverpool's Atheneum Club. This was founded in 1797 and graciously allowed women to join soon after that, in 1997. There were many fascinating books there - including a late 13th century write-up of the articles of Magna Carta and first editions of both Bradshaw's railways guide and the Kelly Directory of Liverpool. Both of these were remarkably small and slim, bearing no relation to more modern editions. There was also a first edition of George Borrow's Letters to the Bible Society of the 1830s. These are about his exploits in Spain, trying to sell Protestant Bibles there. I told the librarian this would be of no interest to any sane person but he declined to let me take it off his hands for 10 quid. This prompted his tale of an attempt to auction off a job lot of Spanish-Latin dictionaries. Some sold but some didn't. It later emerged that the ones they'd been left with were actually Basque-Latin dictionaries. So, if you know any Basques . . .

In Spanish, the letters B and V are both pronounced as a B. I thought of this when I saw that the title of one of the books on the shelves contained the word "Improbement", suggesting the opposite had been the case in England in 1656. But I can find no support for this on the internet.

The British are rather fazed by breasts. Something you could never accuse the Spanish of being. In today's Daily Mail, the Home Secretary, Teresa May, is taken to task for displaying no more décolletage than one would see on the average TV News anchor-woman in Spain. The paper compares Mrs May with a glamour model. Which would also be true of the the average anchor-woman in Spain. Judge for yourselves here.

In southern Galicia, we have 12-14 daily newspapers. Each of these contains, well . . . news. In my mother's home town on Merseyside, there's just one weekly newspaper and it contains, well . . . adverts. I've never figured out how Galicia's newspapers survive financially - especially when many people read them in cafés - but the most plausible suggestion I've heard is that they're kept alive by ghost subscriptions from town halls, in return for glowing reportage on local developments.

Finally . . . My mother has a new kettle. More of a water-boiler-cum-percolator really. You put the cafetiere or tea-pot under the spout and set it going. The boiling water then immediately runs slowly down onto the coffee or tea. I assumed it would stop running when a mugful of water had been dispensed, as with the machines on the boat. But it didn't and I found myself with kitchen surfaces awash with hot water and coffee grains. Have you seen what these can get up to when you give them their freedom? Anyway, I cleaned up the surfaces and then set about cleaning the machine, especially the drenched underside of it. And it was then that I found that, if you grip the top of the machine to turn it over, you're likely to accidentally depress one of the buttons. The one which tells the machine to send out a jet of boiling water. I didn't have anything planned for yesterday morning. So the trip to the hospital fitted right in.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Podemos & Germany; Cervantes; Male appeal; Therapists; Cheshire; & The deep south.

Podemos is the left-of-centre party in Spain which has grown from nothing in the last year or so and is currently riding high in the polls. But it will surely lose some of this support when a general election takes place later this year. In the meantime, one of Mrs Merkel's advisors has expressed concern at the rise of both Podemos here in Spain and Syriza in Greece, especially as the former has no experience of political power. Indeed, he's gone so far as to compare Podemos with Hitler's rise to power. Which is nice. And constructive. On the other hand, another German politician has said he's sympathetic to Athens' demands for war reparartions from the Germans. Who'd have thought we'd still be talking about the war so long after it finished?

Spanish archeologists strongly believe they've found the bones of Miguel Cervantes, the creator of Don Quixote. Or some of them, at least. But the bones are not in good condition and are mixed up with those of several others. Getting DNA-based evidence will be difficult. More on this here and here.

Gentlemen: These are the 8 things you need to make a woman's heart beat for you, according to my mother's Daily Mail this morning. They're based on the appeal of a chap who stars in the BBC's new production of Poldark:-
  • A seductive smile
  • Manly but not too muscular
  • A pert posterior
  • Look good in a frock coat
  • Flowing locks
  • A ravishingly rich voice
  • Arms to sweep up a woman
  • A fuzzy chest.

If you haven't got all - or any - of these, being in possession of a pile of money also seems to do the trick. This is known as the Bernie Ecclestone option. Also championed by Woody Allen, inter alia. A sense of humour (GSOH) is no longer essential, it seems.

There are at least 10 words in Spanish for 'prostitute'. I mention this because this morning I learnt from a Times article that there's a new term in English - Tantric therapist.

Facing traffic jams further north yesterday, I left the motorway and headed north westwards across countryside, between Crewe and Chester. Whenever I drive off the motorways, I try to see things with the eyes of a tourist. Nowhere is this more rewarding than in Cheshire, with its mixture of farmland and villages - hedges, lawns, ancient trees, 'classic' pubs, mansions and cottages in red brick or sandstone andthe occasional example of 'Cheshire magpie'. All very pleasant, even on a grey day. 

Finally . . . The southern United States can be a strange place. Here's a sign outside the Knoxville Baptist Tabernacle Church: "Remember: Satan was the first to demand equal rights". And he wasn't given them, of course. Time to remind everyone that we get 'satan' from the Persian word for devil, shétan. Or شیطان to my Iranian friends.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Repression; More repression; Manchester v Madrid; Lamb tagine; A phrase; Driving in the UK.

I've mentioned a time or two the draconian 'Citizen Security' law ("The Gag Law") of the current right-of-centre PP administration in Spain, some of whom must read Orwell. I've also mentioned the ultra-harsh laws on mortgage repayment, which favour the banks at the lifetime expense of the borrowers. Well, here's an article which brings both of these together. It also talks of the Second Chance Law", which, in an election year, seeks to buff up the image of the PP and is described by opponents as 'a smokescreen' and 'extremely opaque'. Worst of all, it's not retrospective. Not for the first time, I have the impression the PP party doesn't really care about private citizens. Or regards them as less important that the PP's party ideologies and their friends in banking and commerce. Of which there are very many, these being the rest homes of retiring senior politicians. In summary, from Don Quijones, It is an affront to the basic tenets of democracy, the last refuge of a government that clothes itself in the vestments of democracy while doing everything it can to resurrect the ghosts of Spain’s Francoist past. As long as Rajoy’s regime remains in power, even the simple expression of solidarity with a fellow citizen will be a crime.

And now for something completely different . . . The singer of Spain's entry for this year's Eurovision 'song' contest is married to Manchester United's goalkeeper. During an interview last week, she was invited to agree with the sentiment that the UK's 2nd city was "uglier than the back of a fridge". She admitted that perhaps it wasn't the prettiest city in the world and, for this, she has naturally been torn to shreds on the internet. But Manchester has struck back, with this opinion on Madrid. Personally, I think there's truth in both appraisals but I know in which of the two I'd prefer to live. And not just because my elder daughter lives there.

Something definitely in Madrid's favour is the safety of its streets at night for women. A survey has this city as the best in Europe for this. My daughter puts it down to the light - even in the side streets - of bars that don't close until 5am or later. Earlier? This survey also found that Madrid's women wish they had an extra 3 hours and 14 minutes in the day to get everything done. One wonders what the 14 minutes would be for. For men, it would be 2, I guess.

I am now in the Midlands, en route to Merseyside today. Driving up from Portsmouth yesterday was a drizzle-full experience, one of those journeys in which you're constantly starting, stopping or varying the windscreen wipers. But, anyway, I had an amusing experience on the boat after I'd chosen lamb tagine for my lunch. When I got to the check-out, the young lady asked me what the dish was, to which I replied: "I don't know. I was hoping you'd be able to tell me." She laughed and, to my surprise, blushed. So I was emboldened enough to add: "It reminds me of the French lady in London who was presented with a similar dish and asked: 'Eez this to be eaten or 'as eet already been?'. She blushed even more. Funny, the French.

Words and Phrases: I came across this Spanish phrase last week: Hechos son amores y no buenas razones. Which I think means 'Actions speak louder than words' but a correction would be welcome. Perhaps "Words are cheap".

Finally . . . Being half Spanish, I managed to get 2 drivers to blow their horns at me while driving up from Portsmouth. Being half British, I apologised to both of them, even though I didn't know what I'd done. The best of both worlds, really.