Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The North coast; Cataluña; Notaries; A nocturnal visit; & VW.

Cantabria and Asturias: Motoring along the coast towards Galicia on an empty autovia on a sunny day must rank as one of the most pleasant drives in Spain. With the sea on your right and the almost perpendicular mountains just beyond the verdant greenery on your left, it's impossible not to feel happy. But I would advise against detouring into Unquera and beyond for petrol and a meal. After 10km or so, someone will tell you - if you ask - that you can only get back to the autovia by doubling back on yourself, since the local road takes you a long way into the interior before it hits a northwards route. I should also warn you that, if you stop at the restaurant by the petrol station in Panes, you'll feel you're in Deliverance 2, as the natives sitting outside will all stare at you with intent, as you park your car and enter the place. Where the owner will not smile, though his wife will, when she comes out of the kitchen to ask how your  lubina(sea bass) is. Delicious, acxtually. Just the fish with no potatoes or veg. Beautifully grilled. Despite the hill-billy environment, highly recommended.

Corporate Mergers & Catalan Coalitions: In the context of the latter, someone yesterday quoted a truism of the former: If you can't see the dagger on the table, it's because it's in your back.

Notaries: These are powerful, high-status animals in Spain, whereas lawyers aren't. Needless to say, they don't have the Pope's infallibility and they make mistakes. When I asked a lawyer friend yesterday if notaries were ever sued for negligence, I merely got a hollow laugh. Be warned.

Guapo/a: This is a ubiquitous word in Spain and I think I've said it seems to mean something between 'pretty' and 'beautiful'. Every baby - however ugly - is guapo or guapa. As indeed are many unattractive old women. The words's most useful feature is that it can be used for every woman whose name you've forgotten. Not so much with men, though. With whom hombre serves quite well.

A Visit from the Boys in Green: At 12.50 last night, my doorbell was rung by a posse of Guardia Civil officers - one in mufti - who said they'd seen my gate was open and that a light had just gone out upstairs. I doubt this is special treatment because of the robbery of a few months ago and wondered whether they knew burglars were again in the area. Ironically, I'd had a problem with the front door earlier in the evening and had had to climb up to the terrace and force my way in through the window of my other daughter's room, which I'd forgotten to close. This, ironically, would have provided exceptionally easy access to any miscreants bent on mischief. But, anyway, my achievement in scaling the wall was accompanied by non-stop screams from my lovely neighbour, Ester, to the effect that I should stop as I was going to kill myself. Which didn't really help. But the ladder from the chica next door did. To some extent. Ester did take a foto of my ascent and I will try to post it tomorrow.

Finally . . . VW: I can't resist posting this foto, received this morning from friend and reader, Jennie.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sp. Weather; Cataluña; Sam Johnson; Nationalism; Sp.'s Brains; & Sp. Justice.

The Spanish Weather: It's a glorious day in Galicia, I see. The weather map for the country is rather unusual - sun for the entire North West but rain and even storms for the South East. Long may this continue.

Cataluña: What an almighty mess. The regional elections on Sunday provided something for everyone except the (declining) Podemos party. The leading secessionist party could claim their coalition gained more seats, though not that they garnered most votes. The relatively new - and allegedly anarchist and anti-capitalist CUP ('coop') - gained seats and became the country's kingmaker. But the biggest winner was the right-of-centre, anti-secession party Ciutadans. No one, of course, knows what'll happen next. Especially as President Mas's bizarre rag-bag coalition has only one things in common - a desire to get out from under the Spanish yoke and place Cataluña under the Brussels undemocratic variety. I guess it makes sense to some but it's totally beyond me. There's even a suggestion that Mas's CUP partners will prevent him staying on as president. Meaning new elections. But at least the commentariat has enough to chew on for eternity. Or at least until the general elections in December. !Que va!

Johnson on Donne: The Catalan 'rainbow' coalition rather reminds me of one of the few quotations I can recall relatively accurately - Samuel Johnson's dismissal of John Donne's Sonnets as A host of the most heterogeneous ideas by violence yoked together. Now, that was telling him! Strange to get yoke and yoked together in one post. If you noticed . . .

Nationalism: The thing about this - it occurred to me this morning - is that it's easy to see where it begins but impossible to see where it ends. A war between The Cornish National Front (which really exists) and The Devon Nationalist Front (which doesn't. Yet.)?? It's rather like rights for animals and helping the distressed of the world. If you're going to help poor Syrians what is your argument against helping even poorer Africans? Assuming shades of brown are not relevant to you.

Spain's Brain Drain: If you can access it, BloombergView has an article on this huge threat to future economic growth.

Finally . . . Spanish Justice: I see the Galician couple accused of killing their adopted child 2 years ago are still being tried - and convicted - in the local and national media. Perhaps one day they'll actually get their day in court. Meanwhile, we seem to be privy to their every word and even to their every thought. Not very edifying.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The buying Brits; Journalists; Driving in England: The French; & Seasickness.

Buying Property in Spain: Brits have bought more than 16,000 places in the last 3 years. Hopefully they all took to heart the counsel of their government that they sought advice before they bought. But I rather doubt it. My experience is that most buyers prefer to believe the claim of the charming local agent - British or Spanish - that it's a risk-free process because the notary protects their interests. As if.

Women: A A Gill is one of my favourite columnists. Writing in The Times yesterday on what he'd learnt about women, he cited the following:-

  • There's a right and a wrong way to fold socks
  • When buying clothes, you should go for a size smaller than they are, as they're always going to take them back anyway
  • If you're asked "Have you noticed anything different about me?", you'll never get the answer right even with 10 guesses.
  • Never leave a roll of gaffer tape on the passenger seat of your car on the first date
  • Flowers are a thoughtful gift but a plant pot isn't
  • Paying for a mani-pedi is thoughtful but buying her a pair of nail-clippers isn't.
  • Working for a woman is less fraught, less fractious, more cooperative and generally kinder, more forgiving and less competitive than working for a man.
  • Women find it much easier to give compliments than men.
Gill also makes the point that the irony of the women's movement is that it has benefitted men more than than it has women. Little boys now grow up in inclusive, sympathetic families that don't demand a lot of Kiplinesque manning up and emotionally stifling, competitive bollocks from them. Girls still have to navigate a society that expects contradictory things and offers equivocal support. Perhaps things will have improved by the time my new granddaughter is a teenager.

Journalists: One of these, James Delingpole, has defended himself against the criticisms he's garnered for snitching about David Cameron smoking pot at Oxford. Was this naive, irresponsible and impulsive of me, he asks. And answers: Well, of course. That's why I chose to be a journalist rather than, say, a diplomat or a senior civil servant or a lawyer. The whole point of being a hack is that you never grow up. You spend your whole life in a state of arrested adolescence, forever the cheeky fifth-former at the back of the bus, waving for attention, gurning for easy laughs and flicking two fingers at authority. Sounds about right to me. I knew early on I'd gone wrong in aiming to be a lawyer.

Driving in England: As ever, no irritations and only one minor incident, when a guy objected to my line on a roundabout. Inevitably, he was a white van driver. More to the point, he was probably right. The best news is that I didn't lose another 500-quid wing mirror in the narrow lane I had to negotiate at least 20 times, en route to my mother's flat.

France: I gratuitously slighted the French yesterday but this was before I read that, if you choose English as your preference on the web page of the national railway, you'll be charged an awful lot more than if you'd chosen French. The fault was laid by SNCF at the door of that well-known hacker, Mr T Hitch. Bien sûr.

Finally . . . Seasickness: Looking for some tablets on Saturday, my eyes fell on a pair of wristbands which allegedly prevent or cure the condition via acupuncture pressure on the relevant spot. As there were (coincidentally?) no pills on the shelf, I plumped for this and duly paid the heavy price premium. Et voilà, no seasickness. But, then, the sea was once again as placid as a millpond and it might just be they were a waste of money. This time, anyway. The good thing is you don't have to swallow them before re-using them.

Note: Sorry this is late today. I couldn't get wi-fi on the boat, though several other people could. I blame it on the boogie.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Spanish Education; The Moribund EU; & A Strange Tongue.

Education in Spain: It's good to see that Spain does well in an study of qualifications in nearly 61 countries. The winners are the usual suspects - Finland, Greece, Norway, Denmark and The Netherlands but Spain is a respectable 14th., preceded by the Philippines, Australia, Israel, Iceland, Ireland, Malaysia, Switzerland and Canada. The USA is 25th and the UK a poor 31st. Notwithstanding this ranking, the study authors write that despite Spain's high level of qualifications among the working age, very few have the 'competence and experience' needed to meet labour market demands. These are hard to get, of course, when youth unemployment stands at over 50%. More on this here.

The Moribund EU 1: It's hard not to see the ineptitude displayed over the migrants problem - particularly by Mrs Merkel - as further proof of my long-standing belief that the institution would eventually collapse under the weight of its internal incongruities. Here's what one British columnist said yesterday:- [The migrants issue] is a much bigger matter than closer EU integration or the organisation of the eurozone. It amounts to nothing less than the question: does Europe want popular democracy any more? Is it prepared to trust the people – or peoples – of the Continent to govern themselves? If the answer is “yes”, there is a lot of historical baggage that will have to be accommodated – and that might be a slow, sometimes unpalatable business involving a great deal of patient argument. There are centuries-old cultural differences and generations of suspicion that will have to be overcome. If, on the other hand, the philosopher-kings of the European Commission get their way, the final answer will be “no”, and the age of mass democracy is over. European attempts to make it work seem to have ended in one species of Terror after another. But that is not the British experience. This country has its own democratic history that is unbroken and unsullied. If the answer turns out to be “no”, then surely Britain and the EU must go their separate ways. More here. The charge against Mrs Merkel is, of course, that she has peremptorily taken action that has brought these 'centuries-old cultural differences' to the surface. Ironically while trying to paint modern Germany as the saint of Europe. If it weren't so serious, you'd have to laugh. 

The Failing EU 2: An eminent British historian added yesterday that:- Europeans have to choose, and choose soon, which enlargement they would prefer: one that seeks to stabilise and improve neighbouring states; or one that leaves those states to fall apart, driving their populations into desperate flight. The phrase “somewhat looser union” does not have the same lofty ring as the “ever-closer union” visualised in the Treaty of Rome. But a somewhat looser union is surely preferable to a union that blows itself apart. . . . Centripetal forces are not necessarily better than centrifugal ones. In nuclear physics, fusion and fission are both explosive. The EU is an experiment in fusion that has gone wrong. It is time to halt the experiment before the laboratory is blown up. With which view, as I say, I've long concurred.

Finally . . . A Strange Language: Sitting in the sun in a café outside West Kirby station yesterday, I struggled to make out the lingo of a woman nearby talking to a friend. And then I realised it was Scouse. I'm losing it, folks.

And now I'm heading south for the boat to Santander, letting the expense go hang, as I don't really want another 3-day drive through France. If only because it's full of French folk. Hasta mañana.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

English in Spain; The UK/EU; Sp. Banking; Swiss language; Pontevedra; Sarah again; & My niece.

The English language in Spain: Long known for its poor record in this area, Spain is now rapidly pulling up its socks. The level of ability among adults is still relatively low but virtually 100% of Spanish kids are now being taught the global lingua franca in primary school. Though there's still no sign of the 12,000 - or was it 120,000? - native speakers that President Zapatero talked of bringing into the country to help with the actual teaching. But there must still be plenty of opportunity for would-be teachers. Possibly even in the public schools. See here and here for more on this.

The UK and the EU: Is anyone surprised that France has suddenly decided to support the UK's 'reasonable' demands for a new treaty under which there would be significant changes to the existing set-up? Well, you shouldn't be as France's real goals are to push the UK down into Associate Membership and to restore the Franco-Germany hegemony among the inner circle of 'core members'. The resistance of several member states to Brussels' dictates on migrant quotas has given France a golden opportunity to progress these aims and, naturally, it has carpéd the diem.

Spanish banking: It's the easiest thing in the world to get the IBAN, SWIFT no. and BIC of my UK bank - but getting them for my Spanish bank has proved elusive. I got one of these from a statement but the others was nowhere to be seen on the internet, even on the bank's web page. I wonder why.

Swiss Law and the FA: I see that 'disloyal payment' is the Swiss euphemism for 'bribe'. Mind you, it might be poor translation. Desleal in Spanish means 'unfair', as in competencia desleal or 'unfair competition'. This is the label always given to anyone who threatens the market position of existing players. Like private flat renters or Uber Cars, for example.

Pontevedra: Undoubtedly has more pretty women on its streets and in its supermarkets than Hoylake. Just sayin'. Not sure about pubs. Which reminds me . . .

Another failure with Sarah: Back to The Griffin pub in Heald Green yesterday to have lunch and to try to get a foto from the intransigent Sarah. But another rebuff. She again declined, even though she had a hairstyle which made her look even more like Audrey Hepburn. So, if you're in the area, dear reader, please pop in and have a word with her about this attitude of hers. She needs to believe in herself more.

Finally . . . My niece, Rachel, is in The Guardian today. Suitable suitors should write to me, with CV and statement of financial position, at colin@terra.com

Friday, September 25, 2015

Spain: The Place to Live?: Cataluña; Sp. travel: Usted v. Tu; Business lingos; Brit Humour; & An Irony?

Spain: A Good and Bad Place to Live: Click here for The Local's assessment and for the reasons why Spain ranks 13th out of 39 countries as a place in which to live and work." As regards quality of life, Spain comes second, after New Zealand. And for most of us, is a lot closer. And first when it comes to Health and Social Life. I'll leave the negatives for you to discover, especially as they don't affect me.

Catalan Independence: Would you believe that the Catholic Church is the latest organisation to jump into this morass, announcing that:- "There's no moral justification for the region-cum-nation to seek independence"? Further, it asked its members to pray for unity ahead of a next weekend's regional election, seen as a proxy for a referendum on independence.

Investment in Cataluña; Despite the threat of succession and its apocalyptic consequences, foreign companies increased by 300% in the first half of this year. They must know something that most of us don't. Like, it's never going to happen. 

Travelling in Spain: As we foreign residents know:- Travelling by bus, metro or train is up to 30% cheaper in Spain than elsewhere in Europe. Not surprisingly, Spaniards avail themselves of public transport more than their European neighbours.

Usted(es): This is the Spanish formal word for 'You' and it takes the 3rd person. I hate it and regularly ask people not to use it for me. The latest is a Mexican lady who visits my mother. She says she can't stop as she's conditioned to use it in appropriate circumstances. As no foreigner will ever work out what these are, I never use it. So, I say tu to my doctor while he is calling me usted, possibly the reverse of what it should be. I just hope they forgive me as I'm a guiri.

Business Languages: Surprising to read that French is still the most popular foreign tongue for British businessmen, followed by German. Spanish is only third, despite its greater global importance. My guess is that UK companies don't see South America as an attractive market.

British Humour: Here's a bit more on this, in the context of David Cameron's porcine relationships.

Finally . . . An irony?: Does anyone else think it's a bit rich for the head of the wealthy Catholic Church - whose luminaries dress in gold-stitched silk - to bang on about helping the poor. Perhaps I've visited too many overflowing treasuries in Iberia. Or seen too many priests living high on the hog. And the money flowing into Santiago de Compostela on the back of a ludicrous myth that the Church cynically sustains. But at least they no longer sell indulgences there. Merely announce that every now and then there's a Holy Year, to bring in even greater crowds. But they surely mean well.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sp. Corruption; Banco Santander; The paga extraordinaria; Cameron and the pig; The British media; & Offspring.

Corruption:The last treasurer for the ruling PP party is being prosecuted in respect of illegal ('black') money payments to its bigwigs. And now it emerges - to the surprise of few, I guess - that his predecessor was doing the same during previous administrations. But it's probably too late to take any legal action against, say, ex President Aznar. Así son las cosas in Spain.

Banco Santander: In the UK this bank has - using a traditional Spanish strategy - lured hundreds of thousands of customers into new current accounts paying an astonishing 3%. Now, though, it's ratcheted up all its costs and fees. But this might not be the worst of the situation. Some 'expert' commentators fear problems with the Brazilian economy could do very serious damage to the bank. But it's not for me to give advice to any readers, of course.

The paga extraordinaria: My La Coruña friend, Eamon, tells me this also covers state pensions. So pensioners, too, get double payments twice a year. But not me, as my pension is British. Will it survive?

Prime Minister Cameron: The news that he once placed his primary member inside the jaw of a pig has naturally led to a blizzard (tsunami?) of jokes in the British media, old and new. Click here for a ribald selection.

The British Media and Breasts: One tabloid newspaper is famous for showing the latter every day on page 3. Another, this week, couldn't bring itself to print the innocuous word 'tit' and repeated the comment that someone was a '***less wonder'. Only in anally-retentive Britain?

The British Media 2: My mother yesterday expressed disgust at the campaign she thinks her execrable Daily Mail is waging to bring down the Tory government. I suggested she try The Times. She replied it was too big. I explained it was now a tabloid, smaller than the Daily Mail. Her back-up argument (there's always one) was that she didn't have the education of her children and so wasn't intelligent enough to read this 'highbrow' organ. I decided to give up at this point. But left a copy on her chair, just in case. Though the chance is not fat.

Finally . . . Kids and Grandkids: I've known for a long time that you never stop incurring expense on your kids. But now I know it gets worse. In order to get fotos of my new granddaughter, I've had to invest in a bloody smartphone. I hope she's worth it. The phone, of course, is a lot smarter than me.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Spanish practice; EUPolitics; British Politics; Questions; VW; & Snapping Sarah.

A Spanish Practice: Fair's fair, I've nicked this from Lenox's excellent Business Over Tapas Facebook page: The somewhat quixotic idea of an extra payment for the workers, the 'paga extraordinaria' – now extended to two payments, in June and December – began as a Christmas bonus of a week’s wage to workers, ordered by Franco’s Government in the winter of 1944. The edict was extended the following year and declared to be permanent. Two years later, in 1947, a similar payment was ordered to celebrate what would now be May Day, but was then the 18th of July (the date of the 1936 Coup d’état). After Franco’s death, this second payment was moved to June. In 1980, a new agreement with the unions, never altered to this day, changed the system of the ‘fourteen payments’, which could, as agreed by the workers, be paid either as twelve regular monthly or fourteen (irregular) payments, but, from a previously accorded annual payment. In reality, the workers are no longer paid more, but by spreading the payments in this way, the tax paid by the employers is actually slightly reduced. Further, as the government dropped the extra payments for the 'funcionarios' [civil servants] in 2012 (part of which they promise to make up just after the December elections), workers are effectively having the wool pulled over their eyes. One thing which we can expect from the Troika, sooner or later, will be an end to this odd system which originated as a workers’ bonus under Franco.

EU Politics: So what exactly is going to happen when several member states decline to implement the migrant quotas imposed on them by Brussels/Germany? Another nail in the supra-state coffin?

British-EU: Politics: Here's the Boiling Frog's take on the real chances of David Cameron achieving anything at all before a 2016/7 referendum on continuing membership. At best, he says, just a 'doggy bag' of Associate Membership. Cameron, he points out, has changed strategy at least three times, largely on the whim of the EU telling him what to do.

British Politics: If you haven't already scrolled down, here's an excellent overview from columnist Rachel Sylvester:-
  • Britain needs a liberal party that isn’t a joke.
  • There is a greater need than ever for a reasoned, liberal party that can question the tribalists on both left and right.
  • The terrorist threat combined with the internet age is stretching the balance between the rights of the individual and the duties of the state to breaking point.
  • Politics has become dominated by an increasingly illiberal and intolerant tone. The election of Corbyn as Labour leader has revived the “with us or against us” mentality of the hard left.
  • Anyone who disagrees with the true believers is condemned as “Tory scum” or worse. It is a politics of demonisation and division that mirrors the narrow-minded chauvinism of some on the right.
  • The Europe referendum will give the ideologues another reason to speak out.
  • The Twitter tirades of the Corbynistas, the Ukippers and the cybernats have a different political slant but the same disdain for dissent.
  • The hostility to what the Labour leader’s team call the mainstream media (MSM) is similar to the hatred of “establishment” journalists displayed by those around Nigel Farage. There is a shrillness — amplified in the echo chamber of social media — which fails to accept that decent people can simply have different opinions about things.
  • It’s all so black and white, when the truth is often fifty shades of grey.
  • Nick Clegg is right that there is a “place in British politics for tolerance, reason and compassion” and that a gap in the political market exists for a party that can offer those things.
  • If the Lib Dems are not up to it, and Labour does not come to its senses, there will be a chance for a new centre-left, liberal party to plug the gap.
  • The reconfiguration of politics may not be over yet.
British Politics 2: Reported comment from Nick Clegg:- The pig was lucky. Look what he did to me!

Question 1: Has anyone ever worked backwards from the lives of the longest-living to see just how many of today's myriad rules for a healthy life they've complied with?

Question 2: What the hell is a 'flat white'? Which reminds me, when I told a café owner yesterday it was confusing to be asked whether I wanted milk with a café Americano, she explained that no one in the UK knew the first thing about coffee terms and so she had to ask this whenever.

Volkswagen, eh?: Who'd have thought it? Well, anyone who's aware of just how many bribery scandals German firms are emboiled in, for a start. A nice comment from cartoonist Matt:-
We've found the problem. You're looking at £18 billion, plus parts and labour.

Finally . . . An Abject Failure: I took my mother to see her latest great-grandchild yesterday and to have lunch with my daughter in her local gastro-pub. The barmaid - Sarah - asked me if my mother was my wife. And this was just after I'd told her she reminded me of the gorgeous Audrey Hepburn. Sarah, that is. Not my mother. Anyway, she - Sarah again - was suitably embarrassed but nonetheless declined to let me take a foto of her face for this blog, to show that English women can be just as pretty as las españolas. Or even of just her large brown eyes. Which, ironically, look more Spanish than English. But she still refused. And my daughter castigated me for bothering her. But I'm used to castigation from my daughters, so I ignored her. I stressed to Sarah there was probably not a single woman in Spain who'd give up the chance to have her foto taken - even by me - but she wouldn't budge. Which, I fear, is your loss, dear reader. Maybe when we next go in before I return to Spain at the weekend. After she's seen this. Then again . . .

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Sp, Economy; Cataluña; The Labour Party; British humour; The Far East; & Costa confusion.

The Spanish Economy: If you can read Spanish or can tolerate Google Translate's efforts, this is a coruscating article on just how bad things are below the surface. HT to my friend Dwight for this.

Cataluña: The 'independence vote' looms. If you're seriously interested in this issue, this FT article (particularly the detailed comments) are essential reading. Assuming you can access the site. You might, like me, have to complete a short survey to achieve this.

The British Labour Party: Clearly, this is undergoing change and the main question arising is exactly where on the left-of-centre spectrum it will eventually settle. Meanwhile, I've been reminded of the old phrase that 'There's always someone worse off than you." It comes from the vainglorious leader of the 1980s miners' strike in the UK - Arthur Scargill. Jeremy Corby, he says, is not left-wing enough. And the Labour Party is in difficulties because it employs not socialist policies but 'socialist democratic' policies. Whatever they are. Oh, how we miss his nonsense.

British Humour: Did you know that it is "A central aspect of English life - the dominant role that humour plays in all social interaction and cultural affairs generally." If not, this blog post will interest and enlighten you. And there's a longish quote from it at the end of this post which might both interest and even amuse you.

The Far East: Anyone who's lived there will sympathise with the coach of the Japanese rugby team which achieved a stunning victory over the South Africans on Saturday and promptly all dissolved into tears on the pitch. They're strange people, he said. "They cry when they're happy and laugh when they're nervous". Or embarrassed, I'd add.

Finally . . . Costa Coffee: As you know, I believe there are a number of reasons for avoiding this company. I'm not sure these should include the fact it shares a name with a Chelsea football player, Diego Costa, who's got himself into hot water over his endlessly provocative behaviour on the pitch. Nonetheless, some folk are boycotting them for this reason and this has to a good thing.


The English do not have any sort of global monopoly on humour, but what is distinctive is the sheer pervasiveness and supreme importance of humour in English everyday life and culture.

In other cultures, there is ‘a time and a place’ for humour: among the English it is a constant, a given - there is always an undercurrent of humour. Virtually all English conversations and social interactions involve at least some degree of banter, teasing, irony, wit, mockery, wordplay, satire, understatement, humorous self-deprecation, sarcasm, pomposity-pricking or just silliness.

Humour is not a special, separate kind of talk: it is our ‘default mode’; it is like breathing; we cannot function without it. English humour is a reflex, a knee-jerk response, particularly when we are feeling uncomfortable or awkward: when in doubt, joke. The taboo on earnestness is deeply embedded in the English psyche. Our response to earnestness is a distinctively English blend of armchair cynicism, ironic detachment, a squeamish distaste for sentimentality, a stubborn refusal to be duped or taken in by fine rhetoric, and a mischievous delight in pricking the balloons of pomposity and self-importance. (English humour is not to be confused with ‘good humour’ or cheerfulness - it is often quite the opposite; we have satire instead of revolutions and uprisings.) Key phrases include: ‘Oh, come off it!’ (Our national catchphrase, along with ‘Typical!’) Others impossible to list - English humour is all in the context, e.g. understatement: ‘Not bad’ (meaning outstandingly brilliant); ‘A bit of a nuisance’ (meaning disastrous, traumatic, horrible); ‘Not very friendly’ (meaning abominably cruel); ‘I may be some time’ (meaning ‘I’m going to die’ - although, come to think of it, that one was possibly not intended to be funny).

Need I add that I don't suffer from the English dis-ease myself? Or not a lot, anyway. Which is why, I guess, people are always telling me I'm not very British. One of life's small consolations.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Sp. economy; Cataluña; The UK/EU imbroglio; The Evening News; & My Missing Hat.

Spanish Economic Growth and Jobs: While President Rajoy naturally bangs on about a 2015 growth rate of more than 3%, the rest of Spain wonders when the benefit of this will trickle down to them. The unemployment rate is still staggeringly high, at more than 22%, and - as I've pointed out in the case of Pontevedra - the retail scene remains devastated. House sales are on the increase but the hundreds of thousands(even millions) of empty places around the country are now regarded as unsellable in perpetuity. Hard luck for the banks, which own most of them. As one commentator puts it: Millions of Spaniards are scraping by on benefits, family handouts or working cash-in-hand as they wait for the apparent economic rebound to create the million jobs the government has promised for 2014-2015. Experts say these jobs are being created but that many of them only last a few days. One in every two eligible workers under the age of 25 is out of work. Some are even saying Spain will be back in recession next year. Gloomy times, then, despite the superficially healthy state of Spanish society. The paseo must go on.

Catalan independence plans: Don Quijones is not too impressed by the threats of the Spanish financial community about the risks posed by this. Writing from Barcelona, he provides this rationale for his scepticism and for his overview that: These latest pronouncements from the masters of Spain’s financial universe – like just about every new escalation in Cataluña’s tit-for-tat conflict with Madrid – are all bluff. But, as any two-bit poker player knows, bluffs can backfire. They can quickly get out of control and can even have the opposite of their desired effect. When all bets, he says, would be off.

The UK/EU Relationship: Dr Richard North - a eurosceptic if ever there was one - is a frustrated man. He's immensely knowledgeable on this issue and is tired of reading that what he's told his blog readers months or even years ago is suddenly being treated as 'news' in the UK media. The latest example is that Cameron won't be able to agree any sort of deal with Brussels before the 2017 deadline for a UK referendum on staying or leaving. I sympathise for the man. Dr North, I mean. Not David Cameron. He's made his bed and must now lie on it. With the emphasis on lie, of course.

The Evening News: There's a ding-dong taking place in the UK because the BBC plans to put their News program out at the same time - 10pm - as the other main channel, ITV. This situation would bemuse the Spanish. As far as I can tell, there are 5 or 6 stations there all offering up to an hour of news at 9pm. Meaning 5 or 6 very glamorous women, of course. So, it's not all bad news

Finally . . . Just before I left Spain for my UK jolly, I realised I'd once again left my Panama hat somewhere. I may have done this in one of my regular bars but, if not, I do hope it's not significant that all my Spanish friends laughed when they saw I'd written my name and phone number inside the thing. As did someone in the Prado years ago when I asked if they had a lost-property office.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Cataluña; Bull-goading; EU Migration; Google Translate: A Galician scandal; & Brian Sewell.

Cataluña: Things are not going well for independence-minded Catalans. In one short week, the EU has said Cataluña would not be a member of the EU if it seceded from Spain. And "major Spanish and European banks warned that Cataluña would put 'financial stability' at risk if it separated from Spain and the EU, potentially driving them to abandon the region." More on the latter here.

Bull-goading: This week will see a legal suit against the mayor of Tordesillas, brought by a number of groups sufficiently horrified by the recent Toro de Vega festival to want to try to stop it under existing laws. Technically, it will hinge on the danger to spectators. The fiesta's days are surely numbered, even if this action fails. As it probably will.

The EU Migration Challenge: No one could accuse the EU's response of being comprehensive and effective. Here's an interesting take from a Catholic organisation, addressing the difficult balance between compassion and common-sense. Right or wrong, at least it has the courage to address the issue of increasing numbers of Muslims from eastern Europe, Iraq and Syria. Not to mention Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Google Translate: This is still a pretty dreadful app but I was impressed by this translation of hahhahahah into Hahhahahah.

Galicia: You can't be considered a serious Spanish region if you lack a major corruption scandal. Click here for details of ours, which centres on the now well-known scam of phoney training companies implausibly sucking millions of euros of easy EU money into, in this case, a small office in a town in the back of beyond.

Finally . . . The wonderful Brian Sewell has left us for a place - as a ex-Catholic - where the art will surely be better than he ever thought it was here. These are some of his beautifully waspish comments on the gaudy false gods of BritArt:-
Tracey Emin: Art’s Jade Goody – a cunning exploitation of ignorance, irascible emotion and raw sex to draw attention to herself.
Grayson Perry: His pottery is vulgar . . . most of his pottery could be intriguingly subversive if converted into table lamps.
Damien Hirst: To own a Hirst is to tell the world that your bathroom taps are gilded and your Rolls-Royce is pink.
Anish Kapoor: When he puts some wonky Meccano structure up at the expense of £16 million for the Olympics, that’s a joke. That isn’t art.
All four: Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry and Damien Hirst and Anish Kapoor and whoever else really deserve every cruelty because it’s the only way. They are so accustomed to being told how wonderful they are and somehow it’s impossible to get through the complacency that is engendered by that.
Chris Ofili: Spurious rubbish, most of it.
Banksy: He is a complete clown and what he does has absolutely nothing to do with art.
A nice obit here.

Sewell had a link with Galicia, of course. He did an entertaining TV series on The French Way to Santiago de Compostela, though it was in an old Mercedes and, some say, in the reverse direction. He ended up(started??) on the beach at Finisterra, burning his clothes and weepily threatening a return to Catholicism. Worth the price of the BBC video. Trust me.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


I've been let off the hook today by a writer I've admired for years. He's a man of the Left and, I think, a co-founder of Prospect Magazine, to which I subscribe in order to bolster my own left-of-centre views. Goodhart is author of, inter alia, The British Dream, which is about post-war immigration, and he is a director of Demos Integration Hub. 

I've posted this on my FB page with the intro: "Another dose of reality. This time from a leading light of the Left, albeit in today's Daily Mail - David Goodhart, of left-of-centre Prospect Magazine. For my friends of the (far?)Left, read it before you biliously and contemptuously dismiss it as being the work of some 'social psychopath' or the like. You might just learn something."

Needless to say, perhaps, I agree with it. And I think that Mrs Merkel has been almost criminally naive. The road to Hell, they say, is paved with good intentions. Including hers.

"On the Hungarian border, thousands of migrants press forward against razor wire fences, chanting and screaming as lines of police stand grim-faced against them.

In Croatia, scores of others clamber through the windows of trains to hitch a ride westwards. To the south, boats loaded with people who’ve travelled up through Africa set sail from Libya heading for Italy.

They have all called Europe’s bluff. They have taken seriously the high-minded talk of European values, and now most of them will experience European hypocrisy as doors close once more, EU migration rules crumble and the continent divides.

Unnoticed by most Europeans, the asylum rules have widened since 2004 so anyone in the world at risk of ‘serious harm… by reasons of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict’ can claim protection — which in practice means permanent residence — in an EU country

Unnoticed by most Europeans, the asylum rules have widened since 2004 so anyone in the world at risk of ‘serious harm… by reasons of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict’ can claim protection — which in practice means permanent residence — in an EU country

The rich north of Europe is pitted against the poorer east, and liberal-minded, well-educated citizens diverge from the silent majority who still think that charity begins at home, even if it doesn’t end there in a crisis like this one.

How did we get to this crisis point? Unnoticed by most Europeans, the asylum rules have widened since 2004 so anyone in the world at risk of ‘serious harm… by reasons of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict’ can claim protection — which in practice means permanent residence — in an EU country.

This fine sentiment worked only so long as relatively small numbers of people were able to reach Europe to claim that protection. But when border controls in southern Europe collapsed a few months ago and word got out in the Syrian refugee camps, and among thousands of others in Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the great caravan began to roll.

Riding the wave of sympathy triggered by the photograph of drowned toddler Aylan Kurdi, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel then exacerbated the situation by unilaterally declaring all Syrians would be welcome in Germany, and not returned to their country of first arrival, as EU rules require. 

(Though official figures yesterday revealed that in the past four months, just one in five of those seeking asylum across Europe has been Syrian.)

This is the reality in which we have to think about the question of our obligations to suffering humanity. It is not a matter of discrete tens of thousands arriving in Western Europe, as was the case in post-war Britain with Poles, Hungarians, Greek Cypriots, East African Asians and others.

Today, it is potentially tens of millions, when one considers those suffering in the face of conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — not to mention the 40 per cent in poor countries who want to move to rich ones, according to a Gallup poll.

And so many more can now move thanks to the legal and physical permeability of Europe’s borders, as well as the communications and transport infrastructures that give them both windows into our societies and the means to get here.

To some on the Left, this is a cause for celebration. For the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and the tens of thousands who marched through London last Saturday calling on the Government to accept more refugees, there is no clear upward limit to the number of refugees we should take in Britain. (Despite Corbyn’s belief that our social infrastructure is on its last legs thanks to Tory austerity!)

Would 300,000 be enough —roughly the number we accepted from the Balkan conflicts 20 years ago? Half a million? A million?

Some of those marchers were modern versions of the intellectuals mocked by George Orwell for disdaining Britain while attaching themselves uncritically to the Soviet Union or other ‘progressive’ national causes.

Many, however, are genuine idealists, distant descendants of the earnest, righteous souls who helped to end slavery, kept a check on the excesses of empire, pressed for female suffrage and ended the death penalty.

No doubt some of those who marched believe we have an equal moral duty to all humans. Yet, if we did, we would have to favour completely open borders, and our resources — both emotional and financial — would be spread too thinly to make a real difference to anyone’s life.

The decent, and realistic, view of the majority in Britain is that we in rich countries do have some obligations to those less fortunate than us, but those obligations are weaker than the ones we owe to our families and friends, to our communities and to our nation.

For societies are not random collections of individuals who happen to live together. Successful nations are based on habits of co-operation, familiarity and trust, and on bonds of language, history and culture. If the European nations — so attractive to these refugees — are to survive and flourish, we require some sense of favouring our fellow citizens, and of controlling who crosses our borders to become a new citizen.

But Europe in recent years has been moving rapidly in the other direction in respect of its internal borders. Free movement across EU countries, which was once barely noticed because of similar income levels across the union, burst onto public consciousness after the poorer post-communist societies joined in 2004.

Meanwhile, little attention was paid to Europe’s external borders because — despite huge income gaps with most of the rest of the world — few people from poor countries tried to reach its shores.

Thanks to the Syria crisis, this has changed irrevocably, and the initial response of European leaders, cocooned in their borderless ideals, has been alarming.

By effectively abandoning the selection of who should and should not be allowed in at Europe’s southern and eastern borders, we are not showing compassion to the wretched of the earth. Instead, we are encouraging a dangerous free-for-all in which the fittest and nimblest — generally young men — battle their way in.

They are the kind of dynamic, determined, often educated people that the conflict-ridden societies they left behind need to rebuild them when peace at last arrives.

Most people in Britain and the rest of Europe, faced with pictures of desperate people, do feel compassion — and many act on it as individuals by donating to charities.

But most of us want to be generous without encouraging further flows, and without damaging our own country’s social infrastructure with unsustainably large inflows of people. Britain is already struggling to properly integrate incomers from more traditional, often Muslim, societies.

That is why I believe David Cameron’s ‘head and heart’ approach is broadly right. No doubt we can, and should, take a few more Syrians than the 20,000 over five years he has mooted. But our Government’s approach of investing more in the Syrian refugee camps to make them better places to live for a few years is surely right.

Most Syrians coming to Europe have been arriving from those camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, not because their lives are in any immediate danger, but because the UN refugee agency is running out of money to make them tolerable places to live.

They need more investment in schools and clinics and why not encourage businesses too?

But in the short term, we need to be far more ruthless about turning people away at Europe’s borders — maybe processing them in the way that Australia does, outside our borders, in the refugee camps themselves.

This will produce dismaying TV footage and Europe will be accused of heartlessness, but once the message gets through, it will cut the flows and reduce deaths on the Mediterranean. It will allow us to select those in most dire need, and those who are proper refugees under the narrower ‘well-founded fear of persecution’ formula dating from 1951.

In the medium term, we need to make foreign aid work better. We need more effective military interventions to stop future conflicts like the one in Syria.

That is easier said than done, but safe havens enforced by Western air power worked in northern Iraq in the war against Saddam, so why could something similar not become the norm in conflict zones?

Instead of reflecting along these lines, EU leaders are, as usual, fretting about trying to impose a ‘single European response’ — in this case a fair sharing out of the burden of taking in those refugees already in Europe.

But how do you define fair? These issues are — like security and defence policy — of fundamental concern to many countries in the EU which have different histories and national psychologies.

Hungary has announced plans to build a giant fence along the Croatian border - just days after sealing off access from Serbia with a 100 mile razor-wire barrier (pictured)
Hungary has announced plans to build a giant fence along the Croatian border - just days after sealing off access from Serbia with a 100 mile razor-wire barrier (pictured)

Even before this crisis emerged, Britain was experiencing unprecedented levels of legal immigration, and a rapidly rising population.

Partly for that reason we are focusing on financial aid to refugee camps and increasing development aid, rather than throwing open our borders like Angela Merkel has in Germany. One of the reasons she did is that Germany has a sharply falling population.

Yet it is the East Europeans who are most understandably upset about Brussels’ attempt to impose a kind of compulsory cosmopolitanism across the EU. Many in the former communist countries tend to see themselves as victims of their rapid social transitions. This makes them less likely to regard incoming foreigners as victims.

Most East European countries are much more ethnically homogeneous than western Europe, and wary of changing that. Some are also suffering a ‘demographic panic’: their birth rates are plunging and many of the educated have moved west — Bulgaria’s population is expected to fall by almost a third by 2050 — but they do not want their empty villages filled with Syrians and Afghans.

Many British and European citizens have expressed commendable empathy over the refugee crisis. But that has encouraged the politics of moral gesture, rather than clear-eyed leadership from Europe’s political class.

We cannot take the millions who would like to come here for a better life. It is far better to admit that and to restore the integrity of Europe’s borders — while selecting those in greatest need of help — than to make promises we do not really mean, and then renege on them. (On any objective basis of global need, Syrian refugees in camps come quite low. A child still dies every minute from malaria.)

In a telling radio interview, Bob Geldof said: ‘I hate what this is doing to us.’ He was agonising over the fact our bluff has indeed been called and we are unable to live up to our foolish if well-intentioned promises. 

The offer to provide protection to anyone in the world suffering ‘serious harm’ cannot be fulfilled. A more lasting and realistic refugee policy is urgently required, but it will not be a pretty sight

Friday, September 18, 2015

North v South; Old Spanish; Luis Martín Arías; Languages; JC; & A couple of songs.

The North-South divide: The UK is famous for this, with much greater wealth residing in the latter. But Spain, France and Italy have the same divide, though the situation is reversed Spain and Italy, with the north being the richer. Click here for the details as regards Spain.

Old Spanish: Long before I ever set about learning Castellano - just after I'd abandoned the harder challenge of learning Portuguese - I used to quote to Spanish acquaintances a line I'd liked in the Oxford Book of Quotations. It was from Don Quijote and it always surprised me that - even taking into account my poor pronunciation - no one ever seemed to understand it. Anyway, the quote was: Bien haya el que inventó el sueño, capa que cubre todos los humanos pensamientos. Or 'Blessed be he who invented sleep - a cloak which covers all human thoughts'. Remembering the quote yesterday, I realised the word haya makes no sense to modern speakers in this context. I think. Though it could all be down to my crap pronunciation. 

Luis Martín AríasNo, I've never heard of him either. But he's a professor of Cinema in the university of Valladolid. And an apologist for the bull-goading event - El Toro de La Vega - which featured here recently. He's asserted that: To think that humans can control themselves purely via reason is a form of madness, very dangerous but tremendously modern, totally up-to-date. There's no life without violence, hence sex. Where are they coming from those who denounce the sacred ritual moment, which has to be inviolate - the cutting of the testicles from the dead bull? Rites such as theToro de la Vega channel violence and its disappearance would be paid for by the women of the city. Perhaps he should stick to film-making. Or at least commenting on only them. If the event is eventually banned and I were his wife, I'd get the first train out of town.

Languages: I was a tad surprised to read that British businessmen still rate the usefulness of a second language as: 1. French; 2. German; and 3. Spanish. I guess it's because they don't get too involved in South America. Which might well turn out to be wise, near term.

Jeremy Corbyn: Much has been made of the fact that the new Labour leader eats cold baked bins. Well, my father used to do this, much to my youthful disgust. And then one day I tried it and have never looked back. Especially after I'd discovered garlic and put the salt version on them. I heartily recommend the practice but have to admit it's the first thing I've liked about the mess that is JC.

Finally. . . Here's what's said to be a gypsy(gitano) song sung in English. And, just for Alfie Mittington, a terpsichorean owl. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sp. v Portugal; Banco Santander; Sp. residents; Pontevedra shellfish; Internet; Driving to Merseyside; Blow jobs; & That Muslim lady again.

JuanRodriguez Cabrillo: You may not be aware of it but, for the last 500 years, there's been a dispute between Spain and Portugal over which nation could claim to be the birthplace of this chap, the first person to land in California. Much to the disgust of the Portuguese community there, newly discovered documents show this honour goes to Spain. Presumably they'll have to find something else to boast about and celebrate every year. Or prove there's been a forgery.

Banco Santander: It's rumoured that Spain's (and the EU's) largest bank will shortly scrap its generous offer of 3%pa on new current accounts. I wonder whether it's connected with reports that a severe economic reverse in Brazil will result in huge damage to the bank. Time will tell. Meanwhile, here's Don Quijones on the threat.

Living in Spain: I've been here for 15 years now but this pales against the 50 years of my American friend, Dwight. For reasons beyond my ken, the Spanish government regard both of us - and all other residents in Spain as "residential tourists". Which speaks to me of a certain lack of self-esteem and of pessimism in Madrid. It's assumed we'll all bugger off at some time. 

Pontevedra: A story to cool the cockles of your heart. A parasite has devastated the shellfish harvest in our rías. Prices increases must be inevitable. More details, in English, here in El País.

Internet acronyms: For anyone older than 30 trying to get down with the kids, here's the latest of these - LMIRL. It's for folk who've been 'meeting' on line and have decided they like each other - in so far as they know who's on the other end. It stands, of course, for 'Let's meet in real life.' As if you didn't know. ROFL.

An alternative route to Merseyside: Here's a bit of advice for those travelling from the south to Chester, the Wirral or even Liverpool. Come off the M6 at the M54 and drive north on the A41 via the beautiful countryside of Shropshire and Cheshire. It's quite a bit shorter than going via the M6, the M56 and the M53 and you miss the almost permanent jams around the Knutsford exit. Plus you get a chance to see wonderful examples of both Shropshire and Cheshire architecture. Including both magpie and glorious red sandstone examples in the latter. But please don't do this if you're a lorry/truck driver.

Nice Work?: Outside a hairdressers in West Kirby is a sign saying: BRAZILIAN BLOW DRY. I wondered whether this really was what it seemed to be. And whether it was two services or just one. Whatever, it seems like an interesting job. Not.

Finally . . . HT to my La Coruña friend, Eamon, for this foto of yesterday's lady with her tool of the trade - a lolipop. She does look happy in her work.

P. S. These fotos are suspect. Check out the background in each of them.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Cataluña; Only in Spain; YCMIU; Pres. Rajoy; Psychopaths; A muslim lady; & My thanks.

Cataluña: Two more excellent articles from Don Quijones, here and here. As he says, It seems that Catalonia’s pro-independence coalition is now moving inexorably from the realm of fanciful words to the realm of determined action. And: In Catalonia, just as in Madrid, emotion and gut feeling, rather than logic or reason, are now firmly in the driving seat.

Only in Spain Department: Cruelty to animals: It's alleged that events around the country cause suffering and, in some cases, death to more than 60,000 animals a year. The majority centre on bulls, cows and calves but there many fiestas which harm ducks, horses, donkeys and even pigs. Though the chucking of donkeys off church towers is a myth. More here.

You Couldn't Make it up Department: The guy who won the Kill-the Bull prize at the Torre la Vega 'fiesta' was disqualified for 3 reasons:- 1. The bull was killed by more than one person; 2. it was speared from behind; and 3. it died outside the designated area where it was supposed to be killed. Good to know they have such strict rules for the participants. The bull presumably only has one:- Run like shit and then bleed to death.

President Rajoy is a native of Pontevedra, where it's regularly said he's gay. I mention this only because the right wing of his right-wing party is up in arms about his plans to attend a gay friend's wedding. In part, this is because he and his party have set their faces hard against same-sex marriage, even though it's been legal here for 10 years. "Marriage has always been an institution between a man and a woman," Rajoy said in 2005, shortly before he took the issue to the Constitutional Court. "This new law", he later said, "perverts the basic institution of marriage". So, a hypocritical politician. What next? Jeremy Corbyn?

Do you ever worry that you or your partner is a psychopath? If so, here's the way to tell: Hare’s test is simple: a list of 20 criteria, each given a score of 0 (if it doesn’t apply to the person), 1 (if it partially applies) or 2 (if it fully applies). The list in full is: glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse, emotional shallowness, callousness and lack of empathy, unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions, a tendency to boredom, a parasitic lifestyle, a lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsivity, irresponsibility, lack of behavioural control, behavioural problems in early life, juvenile delinquency, criminal versatility, a history of “revocation of conditional release” (ie broken parole), multiple marriages, and promiscuous sexual behaviour. A pure, prototypical psychopath would score 40. A score of 30 or more qualifies for a diagnosis of psychopathy. So, there you go.

Finally . . . HT to Jennie. This is said to be a lolipop lady - a zebra crossing guide for schoolkids - in Birmingham in the UK. Can this really be true? Will it catch on? Will we see Kate Moss in it soon? And is there a male equivalent I could buy?

Finally, finally . . . My thanks to all those who've congratulated me on being a grandfather - it was remarkably easy - and to those who've sent me advice re dealing with diverticulitis. As regards the former, I rather like the reply of the chap who was asked if he felt good about becoming a grandfather: Yes, he said. I just don't like the idea of waking up next to a grandmother. Happily, this has yet to happen to me.