Sunday, January 31, 2016

Penultimate Madrid notes . . .

Well, the muezzin was at it again at 7 yesterday morning, even though there were no decorators with a radio next door, but he had a day off today.

I'm a great admirer of Spain's waiters and waitresses, who (by and large) work hard for not very much money and (usually) little by way of tips. I went to the Catedral cafe for breakfast again this morning and was pleasantly surprised when the lovely waitress volunteered my order of yesterday before I could voice it. Impressive, no?

My elder daughter lives in the central (and very lively) Madrid barrio of Malasaña. She's always been very happy there but is ambivalent about the replacement of old shops – thanks to rental increases? - by unSpanish fast food outlets. One of these is a hot dog bar, where they serve a Menú Elvis of 2 large hot dogs and a cola drink. Presumably one shouldn't eat this on the toilet.

Last night I went to a Milonga, to watch my daughter and her Argentinean boyfriend dance the tango. She was as beautiful as ever and they were clearly the best couple on the floor. It was a delightful event to observe and I regretted not being able to get up and trip a light fantastic. Or even do the tango with one or more of the many single ladies sitting around the edges of the floor. Where's that bloody bucket list?

Another beautiful member of my family is my first grandchild, Grace, born to my younger daughter almost 5 months ago. Astonishingly, there's a universal belief that she looks like me. Something to do with the eyes, they suggest. And, says my daughter, the occasional scowl. Anyway, I hardly think this is the best start in life for the poor creature. Hopefully she'll grow out of me.

Like me, you might not be aware that Madrid's Barajas airport has become the Adolfo SuárezMadrid-Barajas airport. Which is quite a mouthful, even for Spaniards. I must have missed the fanfare and publicity around this. Perhaps they used the same PR agency as the Hacienda did with the introduction of the vicious Modelo 720 tax law back in 2012. Which we all somehow missed.

As I've said, the computers of Google and Facebook don't seem that clever. I've just been offered a long-distance course in Hebrew. Which I can't say I've ever previously considered.

Finally . . . More fine Madrid buildings. Fine, that is, if you like what I suspect is frequently dismissed by modern architects as "wedding cake" stuff. But we all know what they're capable of, don't we.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

More notes from Madrid

The Spanish king's sister, Princess Cristina, has failed in her final bid to get the courts to stay her prosecution for alleged financial irregularities. Of course, she'll never serve any sentence she gets but the trial will be hugely interesting nonetheless. Reader Perry has described her plight as being up smelly creek in a barbed wire canoe with no implement for propulsion. Which I can't improve on.

Relatedly . . . There are an astonishing 17,621 people in Spain who have some sort of impunity from prosecution under the laws which apply to the rest of us. These are the aforados and El País here describes – in English – a state of affairs which is well past its sell-by-date. And would be even in a country of much higher ethics than Spain.

Talking of money badly spent . . . Here's a list – in ascending order of funds wasted – of Spain's dubious, even worthless, white elephants of the bum years:-
  • The Centre for the Creation of the Arts in Alcorcón. €90 million so far. Unfinished and work has stopped.
  • The Setas de la Encarnación park in Sevilla. €102m.
  • The tram system in Parla, Madrid. €255m. €134m cost with the rest in interest payments.
  • Castellón airport. €170m. Unused.
  • The Caja Mágica (multiuse tennis stadium) in Madrid. €300m.
  • The City of Culture, Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Over €300m. Finished as a smaller project. Already in disrepair.
  • The Palacio de Congresos,Oviedo. Over €360m.
  • Terra Mítica, Benidorm. €400m. Sold for a mere €65m.
  • Reform of the Palacio de Cibeles, the new town hall of Madrid. €500m.
  • Ciudad Real airport. €1,000m (€1 billion!). For sale. You might be able to get it for a hundred quid.
  • The City of the Arts and Sciences, Valencia. €1,102m(ditto). This city, of course, takes the national prize for civic corruption. To date, at least.
I touched on the touchy subject of transgenderism the other day. This relatively new development is already old hat. Now we have transpeciesism. A Norwegian woman insists she's a cat in a human body and has adopted feline mannerisms to prove it. Happily, she can still talk like a human and you can read her/its words here. Anyone got any idea where this madness will end?

According to the not-always-reliable National Institute for Statistics, the number of foreigners here is reducing. If so, can it have anything to do with the outrageous Model 720 provision, which fines you more than your overseas assets are worth if you fail – however innocently – to declare them under a 2012 law that was never publicised to said foreigners? Could well do.

It's always a good thing to look skywards in a city, especially on a Sunday when traffic is light. Here's a few of Madrid's many fine buildings near my hotel:-

And here's the splendiferous Catedral cafe, where I've had my breakfast for the last 2 days:-

It rather reminds me of the Philharmonic pub in Liverpool

Finally . . . Here's my elder daughter holding perhaps the world's smallest tea-pot. She has tiny hands, by the way:-

Friday, January 29, 2016

Notes from Madrid

Well, in the absence of both myself and a government, Spain has survived the last month.

Now in Madrid for a few days, I was taken aback at 7 this morning to be woken by the sound of a muezzin, calling muslims to prayer. This turned out to come from the radio in the room next to mine, where the decorators are in. Which was sort of a relief.

Needless to say, one of the headlines of the day is that there's another huge corruption scandal down in Valencia, involving the outgoing PP party. Another is the imminent acquittal of some defendants in a large corruption trial, merely because things have taken so long the court has run out of time under the statute of limitations. A not uncommon occurrence here - unless you're a resident with undeclared overseas assets. In which case, the tax office can go back to the dawn of time in order to calculate your fine. And then declare you guilty of a fiscal crime. Which reminds me, the ex presidenta of the Valencian government is going to escape prosecution for financial shenanigans simply because she's now in the Congress and, as an aforado(a) is immune from judicial process. By the by . . . Spain has just achieved its worst ever rating on the Transparency International annual survey of corruption around the world. Hardly a surprise.

The strangest headline concerns 3 nuns who were taken from India 17 years ago and effectively imprisoned in a convent in Galicia. But one of them escaped and blew the gaffe. There's a shortage of nuns in Spain, it seems. Both in numbers and size. The name of the order is the Mothers of Mercy. A label which apparently can't be attached to the Mother Superior of the Santiago de Compostela convent in which they were imprisoned for so long, against threats of a severe reaction if they tried to escape. Well, the Lord needs his brides, I guess

I sang the praises of Amsterdam airport the other day. Liverpool's, sadly, is towards the other end of the scale. Not in all respects but the signage is poor and the security system is the 7th. circle of Hell. Only 3 of the 6 belts were operative and one of these seemed to be reserved for non-existent 'Fast Trackers'. The result was a long initial queue which took at least 20 minutes to get through, as against about 2 minutes in Schiphol. As the sheep finally reached the end of the line, they were directed into one of the holding pens for 5 or 6 of them behind the 2 operating belts. But, yesterday - on the basis of criteria it was impossible to discern - one or two lucky ones were sent to the empty third belt. Happily, I was one these and could only assume I was perceived to be important because I was carrying a Burberry mac. I even had a pleasant chat with one of the security people over one of my items. They recognise quality in Liverpool.

Finally . . . I had the pleasure of watching Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet last night. A terrific production brought to a cinema screen in Madrid by NT Live, a tremendous initiative. Needless to say, my elder daughter and I then had something to eat at well past midnight. Good to be home.

Postscript: If says your choice is full, try direct contact. My impression is I'm the only person in this 'fully-booked' place. Apart from the decorators, of course.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Belated more . . .

As mentioned earlier, I went to Southport this morning. This is neither in the south nor a port but, anyway. I was there with old friends to see 3 exhibitions in the beautiful Atkinson Gallery. One on Victorian Dreamers, one on Japanese 'Girl Manga' works and the last on the history of the town's mile-long boulevard, Lord Street

This lovely main street was, allegedly, the inspiration behind Napoleon III's decision to order Haussmann to deliver the famous Paris boulevards. For some reason, Nap 3 lived in a flat just off Lord Street for a while back in 1846. It's unusually wide for a British street and the reason for this is rather bizarre. One side of the street – the one with largely houses – was built on a bank of sand dunes in the 18th. century. The other side – largely shops – was later built on a parallel bank to the west, closer to the sea. The distance between these eventually became the famous wide thoroughfare, lined by an eclectic mix of impressive buildings from several architectural periods. Sadly, there's the occasional inclusion from the brutalist 60s as well as one or two art deco jewels. All-in-all, well worth a visit if you're ever in the North West of the UK. On this postcard of the early 20th century, someone has opined that it was the finest street in the world. And perhaps it really was back then.

The exhibitions were all enjoyable but my reaction to great artwork of earlier times is always the same – increased hatred of Brit-Art in general and Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst in particular. But I try not to let my rancour get in the way of my enjoyment.

The leaflets in the foyer of the gallery suggested Southport is not at all short of cultural attractions – including a nearby museums of lawnmowers! But it was this ad which particularly drew my attention. Especially as I initially thought the animal at the rear – literally – was a fighting bull.

Finally . . . That missing ticket for a British lottery ticket worth 33 million quid . . . It was announced yesterday that the 400-plus phoney claimants faced a prison sentence of up to 10 years for fraud. I very much doubt this will happen, but I imagine that just the suggestion of it would reduce most Spaniards to helpless laughter.
Early to Liverpool and then Southport today. Post to follow this afternoon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

More rubbish

An imminent change of Spanish government?: You know this is about to happen when numerous shredding machines are brought into the offices of the outgoing admininstration and used round the clock until they burn out. It's probably illegal but who cares? And there are, of course, companies who'll happily do this for you. The leading one shares my initials – DCD - but has nothing to do with me. Honest. See here if you can read Spanish.

Not only in Spain: A week or two ago, I reported that over 300 impostors had claimed to have bought a missing Spanish lottery ticket worth millions. Well, the same thing has just happened in the UK, where 'hundreds of people' have claimed the 33 million quid going begging. Or lying, to be more accurate..

The sins of the father: One of Spain's bullfighters has posted fotos of himself holding his baby daughter in his arms while he tackles a bull. Cue Twitter storm. But the bull was only a calf and it was merely a training session. Can it be more dangerous than pushing a baby buggy into the road while you wait for a gap in the traffic? Plus it's a family tradition. And this counts a lot in Spain. Though there are doubtless some Spaniards who think he's an idiot.

Talking of cretins . . . Some Spanish thieves left their mobile phone at the scene of a robbery last week and then called the police to report their loss.

Spanish Transexuals: There are advantages. Madrid Metro will be offering free annual passes for them very soon. It sees itself as acting as a vehicle [Geddit?] to:-
  • encourage the integration of transsexual men and women in the city
  • raise awareness of discrimination,
  • promote respect for diversity and
  • avoid any kind of prejudice and discrimination.
Presumably the transgender folk (assuming they're different) will be next in line [Geddit?]

Spanish festivals: There's no shortage of bizarre fiestas in Spain, the chance for Spaniards to show just how efficient they really can be when they want to be. These 2 took place recently:.
  • Correfoc, meaning literally fire run in Catalan, is celebrated throughout Cataluña and Mallorca.  People dress as demons and devils and run through the crowds setting off fireworks. Spectators dress to protect themselves against burns and attempt to get as close to the devils as possible, against a backdrop of pulsating drum beats. The festival is derived from the 'ball de diables' or devil dances, said to come from medieval street theatre. The aim of the dance was originally to depict the epic struggle between good and evil. Maybe, but now the reason is purely to have fun. Spain's specialisation.
  • The Feast of Saint Sebastian, in the town of Piornal. This involves a young man dressing up as a demon being pelted with hundreds of turnips. The demon is known as the "jarramplas" or scapegoat and must stand defiant while being pummelled by the eager crowd. Here's the Daily Telegraph on it. You might like to check out the spelling in the link. My guess is that the fiesta was started by someone who had a surplus of turnips to get rid of. As with the custom of downing 12 grapes on the strokes of midnight on New Year's Eve.

Finally . . . The nationalisation of jokes. I first heard this joke more than 20 years ago in the USA, when the respective poets (more convincingly) were Longfellow and Nash. This inferior version is from today's Times:-
The Almighty has told the English and the Scots to settle their differences by electing a poet to write a four-line verse ending with the word Timbuktu. Wordsworth was chosen by the English and came up with:-
I went unto a foreign land
I came upon a silver strand
A sailing ship hove into view
Her destination, Timbuktu.
Very nice it was too, but Rabbie Burns saved the day for Scotland with this:-
Tim and I a-walking went
We spied three virgins in a tent
Since they were three and we were two,
I bucked one and Tim buck’d two.

'My' version is superior, I have to say, and has served me well down the years.

Monday, January 25, 2016

More idle thoughts.

Governing Spain. Or not: The market-worrying limbo/purgatory will continue for a while yet. There's to be more discussions this week between the king and party leaders. And the likely next president – the leader of the PSOE socialist party – is unwilling to progress coalition talks until (ex)President Rajoy is effectively voted out during early February, in absentia. Meanwhile he's accused the leader of the (further left) Podemos party of being a tad forward and uppity in wanting to talk now about the allocation of ministerial offices. “Although the PSOE and Podemos may hold similar views on the 'diagnosis' of Spain's current situation, he's said, “this is just the tip of the iceberg and, to work together, they also need to agree on policy”. Which should be fun, now that – in typical Spanish fashion – they're indulging in mild insults directed at each other. Perhaps they're uncharacteristically thick-skinned. The right wing party, Ciudadanos – considered by many to be a sort of back-up PP party – has said it won't joint a coalition of PSOE and Podemos, labelling them ´losers' of December's elections. But no one's asking them to right now. So this seems a bit presumptuous. If not entirely pointless.

Corruption: Meanwhile, life in Spain proceeds as normal. Various bigwigs in the La Coruña provincial government in Galicia – plus a town mayor - have been accused of financial malfeasance. Viz: Giving annual illegal subventions to the mayor's favourite football club. Such traditional favours are no longer handed out with equally traditional impunity. Though no one is likely to end up with anything worse than a suspended sentence.

Lonely Planet's 16 Best Value Destinations for 2016: Of Galicia, the guide says: This under-the-radar north western region of Spain generally costs less than other destinations in the country. Sample the local delicacy, seafood, in small tapas portions, without blowing a hole in your budget. Beyond Santiago de Compostela, Galicia extends to a rocky coastline, which is flanked by spectacular inlets and pristine villages. This is lilly-gilding at its worst. It's a horrible place and there's no reason why any foreigners should visit it and disrupt the life of us residents. Far better to go to Spain's only other offering, Madrid.

Homeopathic Remedies: Some of us are rather cynical - or at least sceptical - about these. Here's a comment from one such naysayer on the issue of the relentless PR aimed at establishing their alleged value: It's quite understandable that the homeopaths chose flower remedies to promote even though flowers make up a small proportion of the total substances used in homeopathic rituals. Looking at the website, the UK's leading homeopathic pharmacy, we can see remedies made using fossils, salamanders, dandruff, rats blood, hoover dust, Brillo pads, exhaust fumes, plaice, twiglets, gin, shipwrecks, goldfish, mustard gas and mobile phone radiation. Wow!

The latest Daily Telegraph gaffe: The Cambridge gradate . . .

Finally . . . Removing numerous things from the car my daughter wants to sell, I came across this item:

It's about 15cm/6 inches long and very heavy. Probably left in the car by a mechanic. Anyone know what it is? There was also a dead cat. But I recognised that.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

More . . .

Spanish Erotica: Someone in Spain has unearthed an X-rated treasure trove which illuminates the public emergence of feminism, gay love, cross dressing, psychoanalysis, masturbation, sex manuals and hardcore porn. More here, if by any chance you're interested.

Which reminds me . . . Are you - like me- wondering where all the victims of transgenderism have been up until very recently? And why they've suddenly become the cynosure of all the UK's media outlets? Well, here's Christopher Booker on the alleged number of sufferers. If that's the right word:- The latest topic to join the BBC’s ever longer list of “party line” obsessions is 'transgender. Scarcely a day goes by when they are not interviewing some chap with a deep baritone voice telling us that he now wishes to be called “Ruth”, or reporting excitably that MI5 is now the most “gay, lesbian and transgender” employer in Britain, or that a committee of MPs has warned that the “650,000 people” in Britain who are “gender incongruent” are facing “high levels of transphobia”. But I’m not sure how those MPs found that figure of 650,000 so convincing. Even in America, with a population five times larger than ours, it is only claimed that 700,000 people are “non-binary”. Another figure given for Britain cites the last UK census showing the number of people ticking both the “male” and “female” gender boxes as fewer than 5,000. While we may well have sympathy for those who, for genetic or other reasons, are confused as to which gender they belong to, the truth presumably lies somewhere between these two figures. But probably much nearer the lower end than is justified by the BBC’s obsessive interest in this problem.

A declining language?: English has borrowed words from over 350 other languages, and over three-quarters of the English lexicon is actually Classical or Romance in origin. Plainly, the view that to borrow words leads to a language's decline is absurd, given that English has borrowed more words than most. More on this here.

I read yesterday that millions of UK broadband customers suffer 'dire' internet speeds and that British MPs are demanding that BT be forced to improve the situation. I wonder if anyone in the UK has a more dire speed than my 2 megas, only recently upped from 0.5. Perhaps I should ask my MEP to raise this in Brussels.

A British Historian - Simon Sebag Montefiore - has written about the repulsively violent Romanovs, rulers of Russia between 1613 and 1918. One reviewer has noted that: The first 200 years of the Romanov dynasty was, in general, a difficult time to be a dwarf in Russia. They were forced into all manner of humiliating scenarios (usually naked) for family entertainment. Anna’s favourite dwarf delighted his patron by cavorting in bed with a lactating goat in a nightdress. 

Finally . . . Have we finally arrived at de facto mob rule in the Anglosphere? Here's the estimable Janet Daley on this question:

Take heart - the silent majority trumps the mobocracy.

This is the way to “win” in politics now: you just shout at your adversary until he falls silent in acquiescence or despair. The shouting can be metaphorical rather than actual, of course. It can take the form of a mass bellow on social media or a tidal wave of headline-grabbing outrageousness. This phenomenon, the ascendancy of noisemaking as an electoral tactic, is being used on both extreme ends of the political spectrum.

In Britain, it takes the form of Left-wing bullying in social settings, or mock-social ones such as Facebook, the object being to make any friend or family member who does not subscribe to your Corbynite (or north of the border, Scottish Nationalist) views an unspeakable pariah. There are not various potential paths to take on any question of public policy. There is just a Manichean division between Evil (Tory scum) and Good (socialism). So don’t waste time arguing with the incorrigible: just scream abuse until your benighted opponent is cowed into giving up. Except that he won’t actually give up – he will just go quiet. I shall return to this point.

Who is making the rules here? Answer: a peculiarly confident subclass of wealthy urban poseurs

In the US, the Great Noise is being made on the (sort of) Right by a hugely successful publicity machine run by Donald Trump. He has discovered that shouting louder – and more outrageously – than anyone else is the way to dominate the news. His new sidekick Sarah Palin has her own version of this, which consists of shrieking a stream of disconnected catchphrases thus creating a spectacle so startling that its very weirdness is of huge public interest. And in a celebrity culture, media coverage is everything. However absurd your belligerent mouthing-off may be, so long as it creates enough of a din, you will become the central fact around which everything must revolve – even if your position is politically so confused as to be unidentifiable. Noise wins, even when it makes no sense.

Have we finally arrived at Plato’s hellish depiction of democracy as mob rule, in which everything that is supposedly enhanced by representative government – enlightenment, genuine debate, serious thought itself – ends up being lost? Not really. What has happened is less calamitous but just as sad. Sensible choices and reasonable thought have not vanished: they have just gone underground. They are the democratic virtues that dare not speak their name. Lots of people can see what is wrong with the diatribes that confront them at London dinner parties, or in their workplaces (especially if they are employed in the public sector), or on their Facebook pages. But there is little point, they decide, in taking on the fulminating aggressors – who almost always travel in self-affirming packs – so they go silent. But then, when the time comes, they vote as they truly believe – just like they did in the last general election. In the sanctity of the secret ballot, they get their unexpected revenge.

Labour politicians are now trying to blame that famous election defeat on the misleading polls: it was the incorrect forecasting or the fearsome prospect of a Labour-SNP coalition that drove voters to the Tories, they say. What they should be asking themselves is why the idea of a Labour-SNP government was so repugnant that it pushed people into the arms of the hated Conservatives. In fact, according to the official inquest, a critical factor that led to disaster for the polling organisations was their failure to make contact with sufficient numbers of older voters who were both more inclined to vote Conservative and less likely to be online. (Telephone polling proved, until just before the end, much more accurate than online results.)

This observation is important on two levels. First, it suggests that older people are far more likely to stand up to coercive social pressure – and are thus an invaluable repository of independent-thinking. And second, that the online digital revolution is pushing this growing cohort of people out of the public conversation, and therefore distorting our understanding of political reality. The IT industry’s failure to develop computer devices that are not so perversely complex and off-putting as to be inaccessible to a large proportion of older people is now much more than an annoyance. It is socially irresponsible, rendering invisible as it does a large tranche of the population who are, as it happens, peculiarly conscientious participants in the democratic process. It is only just beginning to dawn on the grown-up governing class that the geeky under-thirties who dominate digital consumption – and run gleefully amok on Twitter – do not represent the real world.

So noise can only get you so far. It might distort the public discourse. It might even succeed in steam-rolling the impressionable few. But the vast numbers who think their own thoughts and come to their own conclusions are not daunted. Which is not to say that this is a satisfactory situation. There is something very wrong when no rational argument can be conducted – even among friends or colleagues – about the major issues of the day. It degrades a nation when every public platform – every broadcast discussion in front of an audience, every community or workplace meeting – takes on the mores of a school playground: when the views of what are, in fact, the majority of voters cannot be uttered freely. (Never has the term “silent majority” been more apt.)

It is possible for the strong-willed to hold out against this, but why should they have to? Who is making the rules here? Answer: a peculiarly confident subclass of wealthy urban poseurs. The British noise-machine is in the hands of what a private study for the Labour Party on its own changing membership has described as “high-status city dwellers living in central locations and pursuing careers with high rewards”. Such people, said the report, which was leaked last week, are “highly over-represented” in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Under-represented in historical Labour terms are “young singles/families who rent properties on a short-term basis and require financial assistance”, as well as the sort of families “who have to budget to make ends meet”.

You get the picture. A coterie of rich, self-congratulatory London elitists are imposing their born-again Marxist credo on a party that used to have real roots in working-class life and a genuine understanding of what working people wanted – which, as often as not, was not socialism but just a fair chance to get the advantages that those smug north London Corbynites take for granted. But from within the noise-making machine, this sort of absurdity is not visible. That is another aspect of the mob-driven political mind-set: it is inevitably enclosed and self-referring. Because it does not engage in open debate, it is sealed off from the world beyond its peers.

Mobocracy, with its vocabulary of infantile insult, is ugly and demeaning, which is presumably why the sensible do not deign to take part in it. But think what we are losing. I realise that it takes preternatural social confidence to confront an antagonist whose accusations are so frenzied and implacable. But as often as not, posing questions can, at least momentarily, stop the flow of invective. Next time you are faced with a ranting interlocutor, try asking him (or, quite frequently, her) who he believes that he is speaking for? What he thinks most people want from life? Why he thinks most voters are inclined to reject his solutions? Ask anything that might bring a pause to the cacophony.

Over in the US, the problem is rather different: there really are two American electorates who despise each other. Trump has unleashed the triumphal fury of the one to the despair of the other. This is a national identity crisis that is being carelessly whipped up by incoherent noise. That makes it even more dangerous than our passing political problem.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Tboughts from . . .

Governing in Spain: This week's discussions between the king and political parties hasn't resulted in a viable government. This increases the chances of a left-wing coalition carrying the day. As expected, the ex/acting President, Sr Rajoy of the PP party, declined to go through the humiliating experience of being officially voted out of office. We now await the outcome of next week's discussions. The most likely prospect is a left-wing coalition of PSOE, Podemos and the small far-left IU party. So, who will get the office goodies?

Driving in Spain: This is a bit from an article on common mistakes made by British drivers. I've adapted it for people who drive on the right, as in Spain. Everyone knows the drill at roundabouts. Signal left if your exit is past 12 o’clock, thereby sending a clear message to other road users about your intentions. But too many people forget the next part of the sequence: signalling right when they want to turn off. “You should do this midway through the junction before the one you’re taking. This will ensure everyone knows where you’re headed and will clear a path accordingly.” In a word - Nobody knows this is Spain. And, indeed, the law may be contrary to this British rule. Result? Chaos on roundabouts and a need to be very, very careful that, if you're going straight ahead, you won't be crossed by someone on your right who's signalling right, as if to exit, but who's really going on to another exit. Or even back where (s)he came from. You've been warned.

Only in Spain?: As the search for new lows in reality shows goes on around the world, Spain has come up with a corker – Who wants to be a nun? Or, as El reality is entitled in Spain: Quiero ser monja. More on this madness here. And here in Spanish. Looking at the foto, I'd say the 3 on the right of the line have no chance of 'winning', as Spanish law obliges all nuns to be under 5 feet/150cm. Or that's my impression, at least, from what I see on the streets. Good evidence for this comes from the left of the foto. Though I suppose it's possible convent life forces everyone to shrink and they all started off taller.

The Daily Telegraph: This once-great UK newspaper is in serious decline. One aspect of this is its appalling editing process, now farmed out overnight – it's said – to teenagers in Australasia who don't have a spellcheck on their computers. Today, this has resulted in a new verb, as in: Stock market carnage bolsters demand to scrap pensions cap threathening 'middle-class savers'. Good luck with it if you're foreign. Or an English-speaker, even. As if that weren't bad enough, here's the caption underneath a foto of 2 men with long beards: Asmaa Al-Kufaishi, 36, and her sister Reem, 24, praised after challenging the men who had set up a stall in Oxford Street.

Finally . . . The EU: Here's an article from Charles Moore which sets out my own view of this institution, held for a good 20 years now. 

European civilisation is in danger of succumbing to the EU empire

As we await details of the PM’s deal, we should take a different look at our relationship with Brussels

Next month, unless there is a last-minute slip between Brussels cup and British lip, we shall be inundated with detail about what David Cameron has won from the EU. He will claim that his package will create the “reformed Europe” which he seeks. Indeed, he is saying it already, before he has actually got it.

Therefore, he will continue, the British people can confidently vote to remain in the EU. His Cabinet, though technically free to advocate a Leave vote, will all have endorsed his deal in advance, so any referendum rebels will be made to look self-contradictory.

There will be time to analyse the hectares (this is Brussels, so the word “acres” sounds wrong) of small print. Before that happens, I want to stand back and look at the European referendum choice from quite a different point of view. My question is: “Is the EU good for European civilisation?”

Here in Britain, we tend to think of the EU in a “transactional” way. We set off what we get out against what we put in, and calculate the profit and loss. (In literal financial terms, we lose about £10 billion a year.)

On the Continent, this is not how it works, though most member states fight hard for concrete national advantages. For the European elites, the EU is not a transaction, but a journey towards a new state of being. They may disagree strongly about policies, but not about the big idea. It is a case of “My Europe, right or wrong.”

Their beliefs are not economic, but political. Indeed, even the word “political” does not fully express the thought. Their reasons are civilisational. To them, the EU is the solution to Europe’s ancestral hatreds and power struggle, the only viable project for peace across the continent. They also see it as a way of perpetuating European values (behind which the old word “Christendom” still lurks) against tyranny and aggression – for example, Putin’s Russia and growing Islamism.

If they are right, should Britain stand aside all the same? Should we say – as some Eurosceptics always have – that the continent means only trouble for us? Should we rate our freedom to decide our own destiny so high that we need not worry what happens across the water?

I reckon not. Much as I want to get out of the EU, I would not vote Leave if I thought that, by doing so, we would make it harder for European civilisation to survive. Different though Britain is, in many ways, from its neighbours, it is a part of European civilisation. The wider Anglo civilisation of North America, Australia etc is closer to us, obviously, than, say, Italy or Greece, but that, too, is European in character, though not in geography.

In this sense, we have no choice. We are European, so we would be mad not to want the best for Europe. When we so famously stood alone in 1940, it was not because we didn’t care about the fate of Europe, but because we did.

So is it true that the EU reconciles Germany and France, makes the powerful countries respect the small ones and secures new entries into the democratic fold? It would be odd flatly to claim that it does not, when so many member states retain their faith in it. It is striking that virtually all the countries which threw off the Soviet yoke in 1989 either are, or want to be, in the EU.

It won’t do just to jeer: “Yeah, well they want the money, don’t they?” They do – and what’s wrong with poor countries wanting more money? – but they also see it as a place of greater safety. If you are a Pole, you are just as patriotic as any Briton, but you live in a place which the distorted patriotism of others laid waste. As Putin ravages Ukraine, you start to imagine that it could happen again. One has to respect these feelings.

But the EU’s claims about what it has done need closer inspection. It is not true, for example, that it assured post-war peace. The main peacemaker was the Nato alliance, especially the determination of the United States to rebuild Germany and hold back Soviet communism. It was Nato, operating through leaders like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl, which later created the conditions in which the Berlin Wall could come down without the world falling apart.

By contrast, the EU’s price for the reunification of Germany – the creation of the single currency – has been the most destabilising act in the history of Europe this century. Germans nowadays tell Greece (and Spain and Portugal and Italy) what to do – not because they have the evil intent of old, but because the euro puts them in charge of the zone’s money. The “European Germany” which Kohl wanted thus becomes indistinguishable from the “German Europe” which he feared.

This development shows something else. The EU is a funny mixture of being too strong – imposing regulations, telling member states how to run their economies, ignoring its own laws when it suits it, thwarting the results of referendums and even elections – and too weak – lacking the mechanisms to manage members’ debts, determine tax policy, punish transgressions or defend itself.

It is not a dictatorship, but an empire, in a world where other empires have disappeared. One of its oddest claims is that the future cannot consist of nations. Yet all the main players of the future are sovereign nations – China, India, America, the countries of the old Commonwealth.

When a real crisis arises, the EU cannot act. It failed in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and finally had to let the Americans come to the rescue. Today, some say the EU is more vital than ever, because of Russian adventurism. But the miseries of Ukraine suggest that the EU cannot successfully fill the vacuum created by President Obama’s abandonment of American strength.

When the Schengen area of open borders was created 30 years ago (with Thatcher’s Britain opting out), the idea was to give reality to the shared space which the dreamers wanted to become the United States of Europe. As we are now seeing, this cannot survive the arrival of hundreds of thousands of mainly Muslims refugees from the Middle East. Yet the response of the Schengen area – and the eurozone – to every shock is to try to reinforce what already isn’t working. The EU suffers from imperial overstretch.

Mr Cameron rightly makes much of the fact that Britain is a member of neither Schengen nor the eurozone, yet does not follow his own logic. If we benefit from not being in the key features, what is the continuing reason why we should be in the thing at all? The EU is a journey, not a steady state, and the 21st-century evidence is that it is travelling in the wrong direction.

I don’t want the EU to fall apart, because I fear chaos. But I do want it to reverse its imperial direction, which ultimately imperils European civilisation. For a Eurosceptic, the referendum debate is about whether this can be achieved only by getting out.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Make up your own headline . . .

Well, it's Friday and – unless I missed something – the Spanish king hasn't got round to nominating a prime minister, despite discussions with everyman and his dog. Maybe there'll be a breakthrough over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the ex/acting President Rajoy has to decide whether he'll attend the parliamentary elections for the post, given that he'll be embarrassingly overlooked and that the event promises to descend into an anti-PP party bunfight. At the very least.

The association of The most beautiful towns in Spain – those with fewer than 15,000 people and boasting an 'impressive architectural or cultural heritage' – have added 9 more to their list:-
  • Laguardia (Álava) 
  • Liérganes (Cantabria)
  • Sepúlveda (Segovia)  
  • Sos del Rey Católico (Zaragoza)   
  • Torazo (Asturias)  
  • Trujillo (Cáceres) 
  • Ciudad Rodrigo (Salamanca) 
  • Peñalba de Santiago (Leon)
  • Zuheros (Córdoba) 
I'm pleased to say there are 7 here I've yet to visit. More on each of them here.

A headline in The Times this morning says that my brain has enough storage space to hold every book ever published 36 times over – a capacity ten times bigger than previously thought. Operating at full stretch, say the men in white coats, it could hold 4.7 billion books, or 670 million web pages. I don't know about your brain, dear reader. Maybe, like mine, it forgets an awful lot of what it takes in, simply refusing to use its storage and retrieval capability. Or the latter at least. Otherwise, I'd be able find my cars keys whenever I needed them.

Talking of headlines . . . those compiling the web page of RT TV, the Russian propaganda channel, seem to have missed today's news item about President Putin 'almost certainly' approving the murder of the dissident Litvinenko in London. Which is surely quite remiss of them. Maybe tomorrow. Meanwhile, Turkey needs to be more vilified than ever. By the way . . . The motto of RT is Question More. To which one might add But Not Always. It was the same on said TV channel, of course. No mention of the development on the News. So it didn't happen.

Finally . . . Here's today's post from a young friend of mine – the one I prematurely drenched in an ice-bucket challenge back in 2014 – on the theme of home-made tapas. He seems to have forgotten the chilli peppers for the zamburiñas al ajillo. Or queen scallops in garlic.

Postscript: Talking of chillies . . . Here's something on the hotness of these.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

News from back in the homeland.

Unemployment in Spain has been falling for several months but is still around 22%, and more than twice as high for young people. One reason is that the last government felt it imperative to take on another 30,000 civil servants during La Crisis. Taking the total up to 2.5 million of the hardworking creatures.

Against that, 471 jobs have been lost at a cigarette factory in Logroño, closed by its Anglo owners. For one reason and another, smoking is a dying habit – ain't that the truth! – though I've yet to notice this among the young women of Pontevedra. Who treat ciggies as an effective appetite suppressant.

This week it's been revealed - yet again – that half of the EU vast subventions are uncontrolled and mis-spent. Right on cue comes a report of yet another huge fraud in southern Spain, involving disappearing funds of €20-25m. The police are said to looking to prosecute at least 35 employees of a desalination company operating under the aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture. And the president of a construction company. Plus ça change . . .

Just in case you live in a cave, this is the Daily Telegraph's list of the 17 things you really shouldn't do on a plane:-

  1. Go bare foot
  2. Ask your neighbour if you can finish their food
  3. Change nappies/diapers on a seat
  4. Use ineffective headphones
  5. Sniff
  6. Put your feet up through the gap in the seats
  7. Hog the armrest
  8. Stand up as soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off after landing
  9. Make small talk with your fellow passengers when they're clearly                                               reading, sleeping or listening to music
  10. Spend half the flight stood in the aisle chatting with your friend sat elsewhere
  11. Get lairy/drunk
  12. Constantly get up and down
  13. Use the seat in front to pull yourself up
  14. Complain about lack of space on a budget airline
  15. Recline your seat
  16. Pee on the carpet
  17. Run past people to get to passport control.
There's an explanatory paragraph on each of these here, as if you really needed it.

Finally . . . These are a couple of fotos of Phase 1 of the weekly Bin Battle between my daughter's neighbours, Messrs A and B. 

Mr A has put his 3 bins, as far as he's concerned, in the required position of on the pavement next to the road. Mr B considers this part of his drive and, after they've been emptied, moves them so they block the drive to the two houses at the back of the foto. One of which is Mr A's and the other is that of my daughter and her husband. Sadly. I got back too late yesterday to be able to snap the bins in their blocking position. Both Mr A and Mr B are relatively young and live alone. Which possibly tells you something.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

More from the Badlands

Facebook, it seems, is considering the banning of pix of bullfighting and hunting because they might upset readers. Well, I'm pretty upset that Facebook keeps ignoring my requests to stop suggesting links and things I don't want but this doesn't seem to bother them. And their response that 'We don't always get things right' just results in hollow laughter.

More seriously. . . The OECD has taken a look at growing wealth inequality in developed and emerging countries and has this to say about Spain:-
  • After tiny Cyprus, Spain is where inequalities have risen the most since Crisis Year 1, 2007.
  • The growth in Spain has be almost 10 times(!!) more than the European average - and 14 times more than in Greece.
  • In 2014, 29% of the Spanish population was at risk of poverty or social exclusion, 2.3 million more people than in 2008 and exceeding the EU average by more than six percentage points.
  • The wealth of the 20 richest people in Spain rose 15% last year, while the assets of the 99% rest fell by the same percentage.
  • There has been a collapse in the average salary in Spain, with a 22% drop since 2007.
  • The presidents of the 35 main listed companies earn 158 times more than the salary of an average worker.
  • Investment from Spain to tax havens rose 2,000% in 2014.
  • Tax evasion is rife in Spain.   
  • Inequalities rose due to a combination of a huge salary gap with a backward tax system that doesn't much burden those who have the most.

At the other end of the taxpayer spectrum, as I've said, is the Modelo 720 law with its humungous fines and penalties for even those ignorant of the unpublicised 2012 measure and innocent of any attempt to defraud the tax office. Pensioners presumed guilty, whether Spanish or foreign residents there.

Oxfam, by the way, called on the next government to make the fight against poverty and tax evasion two of their priorities. Assuming we ever get a new government, of course. And that it doesn't contain any of the rich folk who are responsible for this parlous state of affairs. One wonders what more is necessary for a bloody revolt against the old and the new rich of Spain.

Meanwhile, if you're not poor, here are The Local's 11 reasons why Spain's a great country to live in:
  • The diet
  • The weather
  • The mentality
  • Family
  • The food
  • Best place for mums
  • Highest live expectancy
  • Culture
  • Exercise opportunities
  • Getting outside 
  • Partying/Festivals

See here for one of the last mentioned. And Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

More thoughts from the Borderlands.

The Spanish non-Government: The king will this week meet with leaders of the political parties and then nominate a prime minister. Perhaps this will come to something. But probably not. Meanwhile: A majority of Spanish voters oppose holding fresh polls to resolve a political impasse caused by an inconclusive general election last month and want parties to form a coalition government instead, a survey showed on Sunday.

Creature Comfort: In a truly medieval superstitious ceremony in Spain on Sunday, dogs, cats, rabbits and even iguanas, many decked out in colourful sweaters to keep warm, trooped into Spanish churches for a blessing on the Day of Saint Anthony, patron saint of animals. Lord help us! Will these lucky creatures now be healthier and holier, and more assured of an animal heaven? I don't know. But, if dogs have a heaven, there's one thing I know – Old Shep has a wonderful home. Cue tears. Elvis has left the building.

Britain and the EU: Astonishingly, David Cameron is gearing up to paint Britain's relegation to an outer circle of the EU ('Associate Membership') as a negotiating triumph. Can the populace really be that gullible? All the same restrictions on sovereignty but no power. I guess it makes sense to someone. Most obviously to those - both in London and Brussels - who want to keep their salaries and pensions. I know where I'd get a job if I were a young man again.

British assets: My daughter's 2 immediate neighbours – in admittedly larger houses – have 4 and 5 cars respectively. And decent models they are. too This wealth on wheels seems out of sync with their bricks and mortar wealth. Meaning that, a decade or 2 ago, people who could afford this many good cars usually lived in larger houses. An inevitable consequence, I suppose, of a constantly overheated property market. The other factor I can think of is that kids are staying longer at home than they used to, again because of the ever-increasing cost of a first home. So, more and more like the Spanish, in fact. In 20 years' time, British family members will live in smallish flats near to each other and have 5-10 driverless, electric cars per family. Perhaps.

Boobs-R-Us. Or Boobs To Go: Snapped along the high street:-

Finally . . . . Success: You've reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments or publicity. Of course, this usually takes money.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Further Notes from South Manchester.

Spain: Don Quijones tells us that, absent any government until there's an effective coalition or successful new elections in May, things are now getting out of hand:-
  • Business confidence, the cornerstone of any economic recovery, is beginning to crumble.
  • As political tensions escalate, the chances of establishing even a weak interim government grow slimmer by the day.
  • Things are likely to get a whole lot uglier.
  • Spain could well be on the cusp of a perfect storm.

Should I be stocking up against the possibility of street riots and even a full-scale revolt? Perhaps not just yet. Meanwhile . . . .

Corruption: Two of Spain's heavyweights are in court this week, charged with one financial offence and another. 1. The kings' sister, Princess Cristina, and 2. A senior politico, Sr Rato, who was once head of the IMF. Both of them may well be found guilty – in several years's time - but neither is really expected to do time. That's just not done to important people here, where only the 'little people' serve out their sentences. One wonders why they bother to try and convict the big people. Perhaps to give the illusion of an effective and impartial judiciary.

Russian Disinformation: Watching the RT News has given me a passing interest in this subject. Here's a site I receive info from once a week. In case you're interested too. Of course, it might be the work of the CIA.

Indonesian Culinary Delights: For those of you – the majority I expect – who haven't enjoyed the wonderful cuisine of this vast country, here's a foto of it at its best, in the form of a traditional Rijstaffel – or Rice Table. 

Twenty or more dishes, some of them prepared with spices you've never tasted before. This one took place in Haarlem, where I was visiting Dutch friends whom I'd met when they passed through Pontevedra on the Portuguese Way to Santiago last summer. A wonderful evening of great company and fantastic food. The very essence of life.

Finally . . . A Little Local Issue

This foto shows the shared entry to the back of both my daughter's house and that of her neighbour(A). The latter is out of sorts with the owner of the house behind the hedge on the left (B), over smoke from A's garden fire. And vice versa. A puts his bins out on the pavement next to the hedge but B regards this as his land, which adds metaphorical fuel to a metaphorical fire. So, when the bins have been emptied, B puts them across the drive, blocking ingress to not just A but also my daughter and her husband. I hope to give you fotographic evidence of this ridiculous spat later this week. It could end, as some of these disputes do, with a killing. But not just yet, I hope.