Saturday, December 31, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 31.12.16

Welcome to my last post of 2016 . . .

The smaller of our 2 Xmas lotteries is El Niño, The Kid. Galicians spent only a measly €16 per head on this, compared with €56 on El Gordo, The Fat one. The latter, incidentally, returned to Galicia only €5m of the €167m wagered on it. Just 3%. Or, as it would be reported here in Spain - 2.994%

On the morning of the results of El Gordo, La Voz de Galicia had 15 pages of articles, plus a huge insert with all the winning numbers. El Faro de Vigo went even further overboard, with 20 pages of articles and 10 pages of numbers. By the way, at only €56 per head, Galicia's spend on El Gordo ranked only 10th nationally. The first 3 were Castilla y León(87), Asturias(82) and La Rioja(79). The last 3 were the Balearics(36) and Spain's 2 non-colonies in Africa, Ceuta(14) and Melilla(12). Not sure what any of that means. If anything.

Note: If you're anally retentive and found that these numbers don't correlate, blame the local press, not me.

I see there's to be a new TV series called El Final del Camino, filmed here in Pontevedra. Here's the trailer. Interesting to see there were no really dirty people nor ugly women back in the 11th century. But there was a lot of sex, apparently.

Life in Spain: At 6.50 last night, I received an email from the Spanish Post Office (Correos) telling me I'd shortly (en breve) be receiving a packet sent by my new bank and giving me a link to a site.  This merely advised they'd got it from the bank and gave me a tracking number which revealed nothing more. This was followed, at 7.20, by a text message to my phone saying the same thing. So, I postponed my plan to go in town and waited in. Until 8.45, when I decided this was long enough. At dinner later with Spanish friends, I asked them what en breve means to them. The consensus was anything up to 2 weeks, though one soul insisted on as much as 2 months. So, now you know. I rather feel Correos hasn't quite got the hang of customer service via new technology but let's see what today brings. Meanwhile, I've just confirmed there's nothing in my buzón advising they tried to deliver something after 8.45.

In the USA over the past 200 years, there've been more than 700 proposals introduced into Congress to reform or even eliminate the electoral college. As you might recall, this gave victory to Trump, despite him not winning the popular vote by some way. Can't see him agreeing to any changes.

Reader Perry has kindly provided this video of bizarre foods from Portugal. It includes an early section on percebes, the seafood I love to hate. Enjoy.

Happy New Year's Eve to everyone. Here and here are recommendations on how to enjoy it here in Spain. Can't say I knew about the red underwear.

Todays' cartoon, on a Spanish theme:-

Finally . . . Here's an article by Giles Coren from The Times on the celebrity deaths of 2016. It jives very closely with my own views:-

I’m not exactly dying to see Heaven’s super-band

The pitiful handwringing over a bunch of celebrities who lived fast and died fairly young was deluded codswallop

This is the season when columnists do their best to sum up the year just gone and attempt to impose some sort of order upon it. To give it a personality. Not because they feel any especial artistic need to do so, or because they have spotted a pattern that might offer their readers genuine enlightenment, but because they plan to be away skiing and won’t have time to write anything proper.

Or if not skiing, then dossing down in the country in front of roaring fires and hearty stews and magnums of something ruby coloured and anaesthetising that was just a tiny bit cheaper than buying two normal bottles. Watching a bit of telly. Going for the odd walk. Wading into a frozen lake after the pensioner who waded in after his dog, who will climb out safely while you and the old boy drown. All that traditional Christmas stuff.

We certainly don’t want to be writing. Nobody else is working, why should columnists? If I can’t get my boiler seen to or my children babysat or my cat spayed then I’m blowed if I’m sitting down to write a topical column about an actual piece of news, such as the FTSE hitting a record high or Benedict Cumberbatch’s mum thinking his personality is changing because of playing Sherlock Holmes, which would require sitting down to write in Christmas week itself (or at the very least sitting down to fill in the line I left blank and marked with “something topical here” when I wrote it back in early December).

So we file a chatty 1,000 words — often in the form of a quiz or a set of New Year’s resolutions — that seek to sum up the year. But this year that has not been possible. Because 2016 came to us pre-summed up.

A bunch (well, millions) of feckless free media snowflakes who didn’t even bother to vote saw results they didn’t like in a couple of elections they barely understood, a handful of cross-dressing musical smack addicts popped off early and, before we knew it, 2016 was no longer a year at all, it was something that was being done to us. As if “2016” were not the arbitrarily appointed name for the period it took the earth to go most recently round the sun but a monster of some sort. Like King Kong. Or Godzilla. Except with a very specific bloodlust for hard-living crooners and the democratic process.

In its intellectual dunderheadedness and sheer paganism, this superstitious codswallop put me in mind of that speech by Edmund in King Lear on his father Gloucester’s belief in astrology: “This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeits of our own behaviour, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars; as if we were villains on necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on.”

It was Twitter and Facebook that did this. Thanks to the collective dimwittery, cliché dependence and creative laziness of social media, 2016 was reified and then vilified in a way that has happened to no other year before, around the time that Victoria Wood and Caroline Aherne died young either side of the Brexit vote.

Though it is arguable that it happened as early as January 10, when David Bowie died at 69, a pretty decent age to live to if you spend your life smoking and doing drugs. But for some reason everyone went mental. So the sort of (weak-minded, infantilised) person who falls to pieces when a pop star dies had already decided by then that 2016 was the worst year of all time (people who are into pop music like to put “of all time” at the end of pretty much every sentence). They didn’t need all the subsequent deaths — though they got them. 2016 never had a chance.

Every new death — Prince, Muhammad Ali, Howard Marks, David Gest, Pete Burns, AA Gill, Rick Parfitt, George Michael, Carrie Fisher — was hashtagged #2016 and treated as a biblical judgment on some unspecified moral failure by our online moronocracy, with its collective reading age of 12 and a quarter. There was talk of the “Rapture”, genuine discussion of the notion that an apparent lurch to the political right could see the end of the world in 2017, for which purpose the great talents were being taken early as both a warning to us and a relief to them.

There came with it all the usual vomitous talk of a “band in Heaven” with a roster of three-chord exhibitionists gathering to play some grotesque festival in the sky. The kind of consolatory gibberish you spew to console a child about the death of a pet. Not to an adult about someone they have never met. Anyone would think that the death of religion in the western world had left a gaping spiritual hole of some sort.

There is nothing especially tragic or meaningful about the cavalcade of celebrity mortality in 2016. Because they lived exactly as long as you should expect to live if you do drugs, smoke fags, drink or are overweight for most of your life. Or, in the case of Muhammad Ali, get punched in the head a lot for money. I’m not making a moral judgment. I’m obviously not saying any of them deserved to die. I’m just saying they didn’t try not to, so it’s daft to weep for them.

If these people — sad though it is for their families that they have gone — had lived modest lives in the suburbs and played a bit of golf then they would have lived as long as Ronnie Corbett. Or Terry Wogan. Or Andrew Sachs or Richard Adams or Paul Daniels or George Martin or Jimmy Perry or Arnold Wesker.

But it is a choice they made, like the 83 per cent of middle-aged Brits who, I read this week, are overweight, inactive or drink too much — and will die young and miserably as a result. Many of them are resigned to their slow suicides with the solace that “you only live once” and the example of these bright flames of 2016 who, we are so desperate to believe, burned themselves out in a grander universal cause than gluttony, excess and the solipsistic search for oblivion.

Alas, as Edmund tried so hard to tell us in King Lear, you’ll find nothing but disappointment in the stars.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 30.12.16

December 28 - the day of The Innocents - is Spain's equivalent of April Fools' Day. The owners of Burger King - pronounced here as Boorgeer Keeng - entered into its spirit by announcing it was accepting defeat and changing its name to Burguer King. Cue an (alleged) tsunami of protest from insulted Spaniards. BK's PR agency hadn't done BK any favours by issuing the press release on the evening of 27 December, and not on the morning of the 28th. How we laughed.

Talking of being amused . . . I heard yesterday that useful abbreviations in texting - from morse code - include HI or HEE for humour/laughter intended. This is essential for those of us who use a lot of sarcasm/irony. Which often goes down pretty badly outside the UK, I find.  Strangely, the international abbreviation for Goodbye is DSW For the Russian Do svidanya. See them all here.

Over in Argentina, the ex-Presidenta, Cristina Kirchner, is being investigated for the theft of €666m. Six hundred and sixty-six million! What is wrong with these people? Why isn't, say, €0.666m enough for them? Mrs K has retorted that this is just a witch-hunt. Couldn't happen to a nicer witch, IMHO.

As I've said, Pontevedra's retail scene is a perpetual mystery. I was going to advise that not just one but both nail-bars in the mall on my side of the river had closed - not to my surprise - but last night I passed a huge new one in one of Pontevedra's main shopping streets. At a place which has seen at least 4 manifestations in the last 5-10 years. Including a perfumery and a sweet(candy) shop.

Still on this theme . . . I counted the closed shops in the little, old-quarter street which runs down from my regular watering hole to Veggie Square. They totalled 7 out of 27, or 26%. And included one of the 3 or 4 expensive dress shops which I never thought would succeed. But one thing's sure . . . At least a couple of other shops will take their place relatively soon. And the place selling (apparently) new clothes for women at only €10 each item will surely close in 2017. Or I will eat my hat.

I went to a Strauss concert last night. Only one thing wrong with it - too much bloody Strauss. Thank god they included a bit of Verdi. Inevitably the drinking song from La Traviata. I woke up then.

Finally: At last . . . An answer to the question Why do divers always fall backwards into the sea? It's because, if they went forwards, they'd fall into the boat. Thank-you No Such Thing As a Fish.

Today's cartoon:-

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 29.12.16

If there's anything worse than a US president-elect who gets up every morning and shoots off an incomprehensible or stupid tweet, it's the partner of a pop star who – having found him dead in bed – immediately gets on twitter to say something inane. The internet comes at a price.

Talking about causes for early morning depression . . . I saw just now that the most-read article on today's Telegraph related to George Michael and his possible cocaine addiction. I have to say The Guardian's list was far more edifying.

On the lighter side . . . This morning's Business Over Tapas bulletin from Lenox Napier gave me a laugh with this quote from The Olive Press: [Post Brexit] Measures have been unveiled to make it easier for businesses to move from England [They mean Britain, of course] to Spain. The government’s plans include an ability to submit paperwork in English, gain fast-track authorisation for financial companies looking to relocate, and not imposing any more rules than already exist within the EU. No bloody use submitting stuff in English if no one can understand it or talk to you about it. As for 'No more rules' . . .  If you swallow that, you'll deserve everything you get.

I got another laugh from the report that this project had won the 2016 Carbuncle Cup, for being the worst new construction of the year:-

It's the Lincoln Plaza on the Isle of Dogs in London and you can see more appalling fotos of it here. Its promoters described it as a prestigious and sophisticated landmark. As someone retorted: Were anyone in any doubt as to the delusion and gall that has gripped London’s luxury housing market, then this asinine quotation should settle the matter once and for all. Adding that: Lincoln Plaza is a putrid, pugilistic horror show that should never have been built. In its bilious cladding, chaotic form, adhesive balconies and frenzied facades, it exhibits the absolute worst in shambolic architectural design and cheap visual gimmickry. Seems fair to me, if a tad understated. The response of the promoters was that it had been sold out, indicating that some people appreciated it. Not really, mate; it just means they believe they can sell their place to someone even more philistine and greedier than them. We saw a lot of this during Spain's phony economic bum.

I'd like to say the favoured new buildings of the year are a great deal more pleasing, but that would be an untruth of the first order. It's a question of degree.

Finally . .  These are Things I Have Not Become Familiar With in 2016, not in order of unimportance:-
  • Star Wars generally. Carrie Fisher in particular.
  • George Michael
  • Sombre Scandinavian crimes series
  • Depressing French crime series
  • Game of Thrones
  • Any other TV series, from whatever country
  • Frozen (from 2015?)
  • Any film issued during the year
  • The Alt-Right generally. Breitbart in particular.
  • Twitter
  • Any new fashion for men
  • The Kardashians
  • Kanye West
  • Percebes

There are certainly more of these, including not just those overlooked but also those I don't even know exist. The known and unknown unknowns. I shall expand the list in due course, in the light of immense reader interest. Other lists very welcome.

Today's cartoon:-

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Pontevedra pensées: 28.12.16

I've mentioned that my neighbour, the lovely Ester, has a concept of time that might be useful on a parallel planet. But I'm beginning to wonder. Four days ago I told her that her dog was digging up my garden and she replied that they'be home Tuesday. Well, it's now Wednesday . . .

I've often wondered whether learners here take their driving test on the streets or on a dedicated course like the one I pass every day. Some English friends recently advised it's the former and then amused me with the story of their daughter passing her test after only a few minutes on the road and without doing a hill start or negotiating traffic lights or a single roundabout. As if that matters here. But, anyway, since her 9.30 appointment took place at 11.00, our conclusion was that the examiner was anxious to have his coffee/breakfast.

The bank I'm leaving - Pastor/Popular -continues to unimpress me. I got no reply to an email of last week even after I'd handed over a copy to one of my contacts. And when I said I wanted to transfer6 my balance to my new bank, I was advised there'd be a charge of 125 euros . . . Finally, I was told the pittance Google Ads sends me every year was not being transferred from the Citibank account Pastor had taken over. Allegedly, the amounts have been returned to Google but we will see.

Our weather has been stupendous so far this winter. So much so that my elder daughter, who lives in Madrid, complained on Xmas Eve that, for the first time in her life, I was browner than her. And then she went on to say it was time for me to write a Living Will. Kids . . . Don't you just love 'em?

No cartoon today. Mac cable bust. Battery dead. Am am writing this on my phone . . . Which never does anything for my mood.

Errors will be corrected later.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 27.12.16

If you're living here in Galicia during this season of excess, you might like to know there are tough penalties for giving your teenage kids even a sip of anything alcoholic in public. The same applies in other parts of Spain, it says here. As I said yesterday, Spain is not the place it used to be. There are very good reasons for some clampdowns, of course, but one sometimes gets the impression their rationale has more to do with revenue than with improving society. Not unique to Spain, of course. But relatively more recent here.

The parties of the Left in Spain continue to set about destroying themselves with a vengeance. Witness this comment on Podemos: He was championed as being the man who could bring about real change in Spanish politics. But now, radical leader Pablo Iglesias is threatening to quit his own party Podemos after rumours of a furious row with his right-hand man. Former professor Iglesias issued the ultimatum as rival Inigo Errejon prepared to address the party’s national conference. Iglesias said he would walk away from the party if Errejon wins a key policy debate at the party’s Citizen’s Assembly. Errejon, by the way, looks like a 14 year old refugee from a Harry Potter film. Iglesias does at least look like an adult, even if he sports a pony tail and invariably dresses like an adolescent. Maturing doesn't seem to be good for either of them.

Talking about improvements to society and about the mad lengths to which these can go . . . It's reported in the Times that: A controversial “blacklist” used by British banks to identify terrorists and potential money launderers has grown so bloated that it includes details of a 3-year-old member of the royal family. And that: Hundreds of individuals were included partly on the basis of unverified blog posts and even far-right or extremist websites.

Some good news – About the saffron industry. Click here.

And some amusing comeuppance news, here.

A bit of Corruption news, here.

And some surprising news here. What number did you come up with?

Finally . . . I read this comment last night: It's highly probable that very adult in the room wants sex with someone other than the person they're currently having it with. Or just with anyone. Can this really be true?

Today's cartoon . . .

Monday, December 26, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 26.12.16

As I regularly say, the headline numbers for the Spanish economy compare very well with those of nearly all her EU partners but things are not at all great below this surface. Here's Don Quijote with some cold water. If there's one thing I'm sure everyone here can agree on, since the boom and bust of 2002 to 2011, life here has got a lot more 'petty', as the government squeezes the lower and middle classes in search of greater revenue and more savings-via-austerity. In short, Spain is not the country it was only 10 years ago. Though it still has its pluses, of course.

For example . . . New high-tech speed cameras are being rolled out across Spain to keep a closer watch on the country’s drivers. As well as detecting if a seatbelt is being worn, the cameras will also be able to check cars’ ITV [annual service] details as well as checking road safety. The first of the new ‘smart-surveillance’ cameras has been installed on the motorway between Torre del Mar and Velez-Malaga. With any luck, this might mean that all those bastards driving around Galicia without insurance might just get caught. Meaning a reduction in the highest premiums in Spain. Perhaps. 

As for the specifics of the deficit, the Bank of Spain has admitted - to no one's surprise, I guess - that the EU maximum of 3% will continue to be breached for years to come. But will any fines be imposed? My guess is not . . . So, what is the point of them?, you might ask.

And the banks are deep in dudu, thanks to an EU court decision.

But at least tourism is booming, no? Well, certainly at the moment but some see clouds on the horizon.

Nonetheless . . .  Have a lovely Boxing Day and a great 2017!

Meanwhile . . . Today's cartoon . . .

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 25.12.16

Just a couple of thoughts today . . .

Most of the raft of films on British TV this Xmas are rated only 2 or 3 stars. But one – Cannonball 2 – achieved only 1 and was described, pithily, as One of the worst films ever made. Naturally, I had to take a look. And found this to be an understatement.

I went to the Misc label in my Gmail account, to delete stuff. And was surprised to see how many people wrote to me between 2007 and 2011 about their interest in buying property in Galicia. Those were the days. None in the last few years, though.

And here's something I stumbled upon last night. First posted back in 2012, it merits re-publication. If only because, I'm still silver. Or, as my 2 daughters are wont to say: It's white, dad. White. In the UK, having 2 daughters is called A gentleman's family. Some compensation!

Somebody's 28 reasons to 'celebrate' Grey and Silver Foxes:-

1. Grey Foxes exude an understated, dignified sort of glamour. They are refined, but not prissy. They are concerned with their appearance, but they are not obsessed with it. They are well-groomed, but not vain.
2. Grey Foxes are, by definition, still in possession of their hair. This is good.
3. They look surprisingly good in pink.
4. José Mourinho (the ultimate example of the salt-and-pepper fox).
5. George Clooney. Obviously.
6. Sir Stuart Rose. The Silver Fox in M&S clothing.
7a. The Grey Fox has made peace with the ageing process. More than that, he actively embraces it, because it suits him physically, probably more than dewy youth ever did. This minimises his chances of having a midlife crisis, which is, let’s face it, no fun for anyone.
7b. As a consequence, the Grey Fox is philosophically opposed to the tedious notion of “adultescence”: teenage-hood prolonged indefinitely. He does not play Call of Duty on his Xbox. He does not have an Xbox. He doesn’t believe in the wearing of sportswear for any occasion other than exercise. (He doesn’t really believe in the gym, either. Or jogging. Though he’s possibly very good at tennis.) He grudgingly uses a smartphone, but he turns it off outside office hours.
8. Roger Sterling (the actor John Slattery) from Mad Men.
9. CNN anchorman Anderson Cooper (the gay Grey Fox).
10. Grey Foxes know how to tie a scarf (see José Mourinho for reference) . . .
11. . . . and how to wear facial hair (the reputation of which has been somewhat besmirched by the ironically bearded and mustachioed youthful hipster brigade, but the Grey Foxes are working tirelessly towards reclaiming it).
12. Barack Obama (in a certain light).
13. Obama’s former chief of staff and the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, who is definitely a Grey, as opposed to Silver, Fox.
14. Once they’re over 50, Grey Foxes automatically qualify as “venerable”.
15. They can pull off a man bag. (Although no jewellery, other than cufflinks and a wedding ring. Anything more would clash with their hair and their general sensibility, tipping them into the region of flash, at which point, their Grey Fox credentials would be suspended. See Gary Lineker for further reference.)
16. Professor Brian Cox, physicist and Grey Fox in waiting. (It’s only a matter of time. The delicious anticipation.)
17. Matt LeBlanc in his BBC Two Episodes incarnation. (NB, LeBlanc has a substantial paunch, which would normally disqualify him from Grey Fox status, but he’s Italian and Italians are genetically inclined towards becoming Grey Foxes in middle age. It’s something to do with their eyelashes and their tradition for slight flamboyance in the lining of blazers.)
18. Grey and silver hair works especially well when juxtaposed against dark tailoring.
19. It also looks really good when accessorised with a tan.
20. Bill Nighy. (An anomaly, because he was strawberry blond. Traditionally, Grey Foxes begin life as brunettes. However, Nighy’s clever use of a dark-framed spectacle to offset the grey in his otherwise blond hair allows him to qualify. And – he’s Bill Nighy.)
21. Paul Weller. You do something to me.
22. Grey Foxes can, for some reason, get away with a polo-neck. This makes them the only remaining subsection of humanity that can.
23. Artist Julian Opie. But not Damien Hirst, who is too bedraggled to qualify. (See also: Bob Geldof. These are just famous men with grey hair. Not the same thing at all.)
24. And yet . . . Benicio del Toro! Who is bedraggled, but definitely qualifies as a Grey Fox.
25. Bill Clinton (there really is no point in fighting it).
26. Jon Snow, the elder statesman of Grey Foxes. See also: American satirist Jon Stewart (a Grey Fox with a sharp tongue, a highly beguiling combination); also Jeremy Paxman, a Fox in transition.
27. Howard Jacobson. Grey Foxes especially suit the literary tradition, not least because no one can walk around with a battered paperback peeping out of their coat pocket quite as convincingly.
28. And finally, Father Christmas. (Oh, come on now, he has a certain something.)

Have a lovely Xmas Day. I will be filling in the holes in my lawn that Ester's bloody dog has dug.

Finally . . .  On Xmas Day, a religious cartoon:-

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 24.12.16

As everyone knows, Madrid is doing its utmost to prevent a planned 2017 referendum on secession in Cataluña. If not, here's The Local on the impending trial of the previous Catalan president on charges of planning an illegal referendum. So, it's not exactly surprising that Spain has immediately chucked gallons of iced water on the latest proposal of the Scottish Nationalists on Scotland staying in the the EU if the UK leaves. See this article on this 'half-baked' initiative. 

What a comic that Mr Putin is. Addressing the US Democrats, he opined that You have to know how to lose with dignity. As if he's ever likely to face that challenge! He also claimed only the Russians were sure Trump was going to win. Because they know when a politician is in tune with the people. Beyond parody.

Commenting on current events in Berlin, a German friend wrote that one problem was that his compatriots were too soft. I readily agreed that this had long been their reputation . . .

Reader Perry has asked whether the Mail Online - which boasts the world's largest circulation - is in the social media box or the MSM box. I would've thought the latter but I've just read this Guardian article about how it's published a critical article on the Snopes site. Which is one of the places you can check whether what your reading is false news or not. So, perhaps the MoL is part of social media after all, with a similar degree of reliability. The Guardian, at least, is in no doubt: The Mail has made it clear in which camp it sits.

On this topic, here's an amusingly illustrative video of what can happen on social media with a false story when nobody bothers to check obvious clues as to its baselessness. From minute 36.43.

It's widely felt, of course, that discourse on social media is beyond the pale and what everyone reasonable wants to know is how to control it, without excessively infringing hard-won liberties. There's no easy answer to this but I rather think the bigger question is how to prevent imbeciles arriving at their beliefs and attitudes in the first place. Better education might be one answer. And the progressive removal of the causes of disaffection another. So, no grounds for optimism. We'll just have to grin and bear the downside of the fabulous internet.

Blimey . . . One of Pontevedra's numerous jewellers - and a new one at that - has closed. Things must have been pretty bad for them to shut just before Xmas. Of course, I did wonder when it opened how profitable it could be. But, then, I think that about every such place that appears.

In contrast, another jewellers that opened down in the old quarter this year is still in business. Whatever its business actually is.

A week or so ago, my neighbour, the lovely Ester, told me they were going to spend Xmas in Madrid. So, I wasn't entirely surprised when - a few minutes before they were due to depart - she asked me to look after their large dog, Max. I told her that, unfortunately, I was due to go away myself. This wasn't true but the look on Ester's face was priceless. . . Max is a beautiful dog with an amiable personality. No match for the feisty tomcat who adopted me a few months ago. It's like the Softy and Hardy show when they get together. But there are no clashes. So, as said cat thinks it's a dog, I thought I'd push things and take them for a walk together on separate leads. Which went well enough until we got to the front gate, when Max decided to leap about in excitement. Cue hissing ball of fury. So, not a great success. And the experiment had to be abandoned. At least temporarily.

I might take tomorrow off. So . . . Have a very enjoyable Xmas Day. Spaniards, of course, will be having their second humungous meal within 18 hours. To be repeated on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Which reminds me . . . It's reported Galicians will be eating the lowest-calorie dinner in Spain this evening. Must be all that shellfish. Including the abominable percebes. Which used to be worthless animal fodder but now, as 'an aphrodisiac', sell at €300 a kilo at this time of year. There's one born every minute. As I've said a few times, it's like eating rubber dipped in salt water.

I leave you with this thought . . .  All modern Xmas songs were written by American Jews. I wonder if those bigoted theists who chant them realise this. It's a nice thought that they don't.

Today's cartoon . . .

Friday, December 23, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 23.12.16

A very Spanish morning yesterday:
  • I received 2 registered letters. In each case, I had to cite my ID number and sign twice. Once on the postman's PDA and then again on a piece of paper. 
  • One was from the council saying there weren't enough bits of paper attached to my appeal against my car being impounded. Naturally.
  • The other was from the Tax Office, ignoring all the points of my appeal against a fine for delayed payment and simply saying, over more than 2 pages, that my payment had been 3 days late and they'd applied the law. And that was that. But I can appeal against this, of course.
  • I called my bank, to ask my contact why she hadn't replied to an email of 2 days ago, closing my account. When I asked for her, I was told she didn't exist and that, despite calling a local number, I was talking to the central office. I was then asked for details about myself and the branch so I could be transferred to her. This done, I spoke to someone who claimed he'd never heard of my contact either and that I wasn't, in fact, speaking to the branch in Pontevedra. At which point, I slammed down the phone and resolved to go to the branch for face-to-face discussion. Which I did. But the lady wasn't there. So I left a copy of my email with a colleague. If I hadn't already decided to close my account, I certainly would have done so by midday yesterday. 
Sometimes I wonder whether anyone in Spain ever asks: Is what we're doing really as efficient as it could be? That's a lie, of course; I gave up wondering that years ago.

Happily, things got better from midday onwards.

I see there's a new acronym on the streets - TBTF. Too big to fail. Applied, of course, to banks. The one in the news today is Italy's biggest - Monte dei Paschi - which is about to be rescued by the state. I seem to recall Don Quijones predicted failure wouldn't be allowed to happen and that a way would be found around EU laws to permit a government rescue. By which is meant, of course, an influx of taxpayers' money. And so it has come to pass. The losers? Small time investors. The winners? Everyone else. Except the taxpayers, of course. Whether Italy is out of the woods remains a burning question, says our other favourite commentator, Ambrose Evans Pritchard. Btw . . . Another useful acronym is GSIB - Global Systemically Important Bank.

And a new word in the financial community is bailinable. This is described here by DQ, who terms it a beautiful name for a great scheme to bamboozle bondholders. Not before time, he says, some bondholders may finally have to begin paying the price of risk. As opposed to passing this on to taxpayers. A bailinable investment seems to be a debt the bank owes you which can be unilaterally converted into equity or even forfeited when the bank's day to day problems become really serious. But I might be wrong on this. I assume you're offered a greater rate of interest on these instruments but, again, I could be wrong. Just about anything is possible in today's financial 'community'.

In the New York Times recently, the poet Federico García Lorca is reported to have said that In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world. This, of course, is a reference to the fact that the law tries to ensure that we don't talk about what happened here between 1936 and 1976. So, no attempts at reconciliation, let alone 'justice'. One wonders how long this can continue before the floodgates open. Meanwhile, an organisation comprised of Francophiles has offered cash and advice to more than 300 municipalities to help them get round laws instructing the removal of items honouring the dictator or his ruthless generals. It's a free world. Personally, I'd section the cretins.

Broadband in the UK falls rather short of excellent but the government says it'll soon improve. Hence this nice cartoon from the Daily Telegraph:-
Here's a couple of lists from The Local:-

And, finally, here's a very funny video. It's in Spanish but understanding the dialogue is not essential for enjoyment.

The daily cartoon . . . 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 22.12.16

It's reported that €2.3billion euros was wagered this year on El Gordo, 'The Fat One' - the government's Xmas lottery. Here in Galicia - one of Spain's poorest regions - the average outlay was €61 per wishful thinker. Astonishing. Guess who's the biggest winner, even before the results are announced.

Which reminds me . . . HT to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for the news that Tax Office (La Hacienda) has advised(admitted?) that 84% of taxpayers earn less than €30,000 a year.

Another astonishing fact noted yesterday is that 64% of news is now accessed via the less-than-trustworthy social media. Even worse was the report that the 4 week-old baby of some Kardashian kouple has 760,000 followers on Instagram. Probably a million by the time you read it. Never underestimate the stupidity of the public, someone once said. I thought Mr Barnum but it turns out to have been H L Mencken.

Here in Spain, disagreements between the main parties appear to have stymied 'plans' to have a special parliamentary commission investigating corruption and the solutions to it. Anyone surprised?

Here in Galicia, El Tráfico is going to put sensors at the entrances to our autovias, to ensure they're immediately warned that a kamikaze driver is going the wrong way. Will our insurance premiums now fall? I rather doubt it.

Which reminds me . . . Vast sums of money are now being spent to deal with the consequences of frequent fog banks on our A8 near Mondoñedo. Where the highway rises above the countryside on a spectacular viaduct. Totally predictable, of course.

The AVE news is that more than 70% of the track between Olmedo and Ourense will be only single-track. Asking for trouble? By the way, people here are already betting on delays until 2021 or 2022 for completion, if current plans are maintained. I say 'plans' but is this the right word for something that might never happen?

Among the musicians on our streets this Xmas - nearly all of whom are very welcome - there are 3 from a major Moscow orchestra. They've exiled themselves after their wages fell to €100 a month there. Blimey, even cleaners in 5-star hotels here get a bit more than that.

It's never happened to me before but, watching news of a bionic eye which will restore some sight to the blind, I welled up instinctively. But, not to worry, one of those nauseatingly sentimental Xmas ads – from Apple – soon had me on the verge of vomiting.

Ever wondered what an ouroboros is? Well, wonder no more. For here's the gen on this word I stumbled on yesterday. Essentially, a dragon eating its own tail.

Finally . . .  Yesterday, I received very-genuine-looking emails from Virgin Media, telling me they'd opened my account, etc., etc. Phishing, of course. Be warned.

Today's cartoon . . .

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 21.12.16

I recently read of what was treated as an innovation - that there'd be an oral test for English in the Selectividad, the national university entrance exam. Just a few decades after my own - disastrous - oral A Level exam in French. Can this really be true?

I mentioned the decline of newspapers yesterday. Below this post is an article on the threat to it in the UK from cack-handed attempts to prevent intrusions into the lives of the rich and famous.

It's a little difficult reading Moscow's assurances of how close Russia and Turkey now are, given that merely a few months ago almost the only topic on RT TV was just how evil the Turkish state was. For reporters on other channels, doing such a volte-face might be a tad difficult or even embarrassing. But I imagine that, if you're happy to spew Russian propaganda at its best/worst on a daily basis, this won't represent much of a challenge. As it wouldn't, of course, in an equivalent case with Fox News. That's the beauty of having a cause to which truth can be sacrificed.

It seems that every EU country has not only entrepreneurs but also intrapreneurs. Emprendedores and intraemprendedores in Spanish. The former set up their own businesses and the latter are innovative within a company. And there are league tables for both. Sadly, Spain comes near the bottom of each of these - 22nd out of 28 for entrepreneurs and 26th for intrapreneurs. Click here if you want to know why. One thing is clear, Southern Europe is a lot less entrepreneurial than Northern Europe. Which isn't exactly a great surprise, of course.

Spain has a minimum legal wage of almost €800 euros a month. So, how come 4 and 5-star hotels here are paying their cleaners less than €700? Are they, along with others, exempt from the law?

I've admitted to perpetual confusion about retail trends in Pontevedra. This a new knick-knack shop recently opened:-

Right opposite one which has recently closed:-

Talking of the Pontevedra scene . . .  If there's one thing worse than a bloody bagpiper on the streets it's a bagpiper in a stupid hat. As my brother used to say: It's amazing what you see when you don't have your rifle with you . . .

Finally . . .  An irresistible comment on theist support for Donald Trump:-

A free press must not be bullied by the state: David Aaronovitch, The Times

Newspapers are being threatened with a massive stick to sign up to an unfair and unworkable system of regulation

Karen Bradley is not the woman off The Apprentice but probably wishes that she was. Instead of swanning about on telly looking theatrically unimpressed with the antics of millennial selfies-on-legs as Karren Brady does, Ms Bradley is quiet and close-cloistered in the middle of an unpublic public consultation designed to delay the moment when one side or another in the great dispute over press regulation decides that she’s a total loser. January 10 will be the end of the public (99.99 per cent blissfully unaware of their historic mission) being consulted, at which point the secretary of state for culture, media and sport — for it is she — has to make a decision.

What decision does she have to make, I hear almost no one cry. Well, a pretty important one, actually. 

To illustrate its centrality I want to let you in on the one column that I never got published in the last two years. It fell because it was decided, almost certainly rightly, that there was a real risk of a successful libel action being pursued. I knew what I’d said about the well-known individual concerned was fair comment and true, but we wanted neither the reputational problem of losing an action nor the substantial cost involved. I wrote something else.

Readers don’t know, but this happens all the time. Rich men and women threaten, companies threaten, gangsters and dope cheats threaten, aggrieved and time-rich individuals threaten; day in, day out letters before action flow like little streams of menace into our legal department. Almost every single time you expose someone or something, it happens in the context of legal threats. People don’t like it if you tell lies about them and they like it even less if you tell the truth.

Which brings me to the most important thing being considered by Ms Bradley. It goes by the tedious name of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and is something that can be invoked, or not, by the government. It is, in essence, the stick that could be used to get newspapers and publications to sign up to the new state-approved press regulator, Impress.

What it says is that any publication not agreeing to be regulated by Impress will be subject to the costs of a legal action — even where it wins. Really. That’s what it says. Call the next Lance Armstrong a drugs cheat and even if he loses the case it will cost you hundreds of thousands. Well, no one in those circumstances would take the risk of running the story. These are not days in which newspapers make much if any money and the fastest way to bankruptcy would be to fall foul of Section 40.

And that of course is why, as sticks go, it’s a knout, a knobkerrie, a bludgeon. It would have to be because otherwise the British press, from the pinkest metro-sheet to the shoutiest judge-hating tabloid, will not sign up with the government-approved regulator. Impress was given the thumbs-up by the odd panel appointed under the terms of a royal charter granted by MPs, and therefore opposed on principle by almost the entirety of the British press, which values its independence from government and the legislature above most other things.

There is lots that could be said about Impress. Space and patience forbid, however, except to point out the capriciousness of a decision that recognises a “self” regulator that no selves want to belong to, and not one — Ipso (the Independent Press Standards Organisation) — to which most do. And this despite the fact that the two have adopted very similar procedures for dealing with complaints.

This is absurd. And I don’t say that as someone who is parti pris, but wearing a rather different hat. This whole business of Leveson and press regulation has been like a driverless bus careering along a mountain road. We all got aboard because of the crime of phone hacking and now we can’t get off, despite the fact that we are long past our stops and heading for the cliff.

Leveson came about not because of weakness in press regulation but because a crime had been committed. That crime was prosecuted and people went to prison and others were rightly taken to task for having failed to notice what they should have. What business does government have interfering in the editorial decisions of an independent press on matters unrelated to criminality?
Let me be even more controversial: what business does any regulator have in seeking to intervene in any legal activity by a publication? It seems to have escaped everyone’s notice that two of our national newspapers — the Financial Times and The Guardian — have, for more than two years now, been entirely self-regulating. They’re not signed up to anyone. Has the sky fallen in on them? No. Has their readers’ trust in them collapsed? It seems not.

Me, I hate many things that are published, broadcast and said. I hate the Daily Mail with its attacks on migrants, “Enemies of the People” headlines, its conspiracy theories and cod science. I also hate the Kardashiansand Made in Chelsea and regard them both as cultural blights.

But no one ever forced anyone to buy the Daily Mail and even my daughters couldn’t make me watch the Kardashians. The right of nubility experts to publish the prurient “sidebar of shame” is the same right that underpins the existence of this column. What self-regulation should be is a compact between the publication and its readers about what kind of publications they want to read. If you desire a newspaper that has a fact-checker or a concern for fairness, then buy one like that. Buy one like this. If you don’t, don’t.

In the old days you could counter this argument with a reference to a monopolistic media which no one could escape. But the internet, cheap publishing and ubiquitous broadcasting have put an end to that. Today Macedonian teenagers can make money creating false anti-Clinton stuff to sell to pro-Trump American internet news sites. Leveson was obsolete before it began.

In addition to being a hack I’ve chaired the freedom of expression organisation Index on Censorship for nearly four years. In that time I’ve seen the variety of ways and the ingenuity of arguments that people use when looking to constrain or limit free speech. It never stops and it’s by no means mainly autocrats who seek to do it. There’s always a good and urgent reason, but to me it’s evident that freedom of speech and expression is the one freedom that underpins all the others. The ring that binds them. 

So, Ms Bradley, if I may, a politician in a liberal democracy should want to limit or control such awkward and essential freedom only in the most extreme conditions of national emergency. Otherwise be brave and let them alone.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 20.12.16

I recently sent an article to friends about what Putin is up to in the Middle East. I commented that he'd surely pay a price in the form of increased terrorism in Russia. What I meant, of course, was that ordinary Russians would face the consequences. This has happened even sooner than I thought it would, to the Ambassador in Turkey. He won't be the last to die but I doubt this worries Mr Putin. If this subject interests you, there's an article at the end of this post from Janet Daley of the Daily Telegraph, who - for my money - has been a beacon of common sense for more than 20 years. And is possibly the only decent writer left at that once great newspaper.

Still on this Russian theme . . . My friend Dwight sent me an article about how Western intelligence agencies dupe - or even directly employ - journalists to ensure we get a relentless diet of frightening news about Russia. It's probably true but, then, the last few decades have surely seen a massive propaganda battle between the West and Russia, with the latter recently getting the upper hand via RT News, Sputnik and the like. Not to mention the (alleged) hacking. All of this has been helped, of course, by the rise of the internet and the demise of the the traditional media. Now known as the MSM. Long gone are the days when I'd buy both The Sunday Times and The Observer - and a packet of jelly babies - and then spend all Sunday morning reading their articles, especially the results of what used to be known as investigative journalism. Whatever happened to that? No one can afford it these days of 'free' reportage. All of which reminds me of a thought and a question I've had several times over the years . . . Whenever I read anything on a subject I'm familiar with - say, Iran in The Economist - even the 'quality press' always gets things wrong. So, why do I bother to continue reading their output? That's a rhetorical question, by the way.

Galicia is dying. The population has been reducing for many years now. And there are numerous villages in the hinterland with fewer than 20 people. Even some with fewer than 5. You'd think there'd be an interest in attracting 'rich', retired and voteless foreigners here to replace them but there's no sign of this. And experience down South suggests the Spanish government doesn't recognise the benefits of this strategy. Quite the opposite, in fact; there seems to be a perverse intention to alienate them, in one way or another. So it's hardly surprising that many have voted in the only way they really can. With their feet. I guess it makes sense to someone.

I had an entertaining walk back from the centre of Pontevedra to my car yesterday, with a young gypsy guy who begs in town. And also door to door in my street. We talked about the 2 permanent gypsy encampments on my side of the river and about George Borrow. For the second time, I offered them a lecture on the latter from my Dutch friend, Peter, who's an expert on this famous British eccentric, though I can't see his name in this Wiki article on Borrow. I say 'friend' but, as Peter knows nothing about this proposal, this could change quite soon.

Finally . . . I've managed to get shut of Mac's new operating system, Sierra, which had been causing me endless problems. Before that, though, I played around with Siri, as it were. It had great difficulty with the word Pontevedra but eventually gave me something. Not so with my own first name, which it insisted on interpreting as call in. And then repeatedly asked me whom I wanted to call. I even tried the American pronunciation of Colin (Powell), without success. By chance, I discovered it could display some AI when I began "Who is Colin". Small mercies. To say the least, I won't miss either Sierra or Siri.

Today's cartoon  . . .

Russia is on the rampage, and the world has forgotten how to deal with that: By Janet Daley [Who might or might not be on the payroll of MI5]

Here’s a quiz question for the holiday family entertainments: what is the “peace dividend”? I’m betting that nobody under the age of thirty-five will have a clue even though that deliriously optimistic phrase was the received wisdom not so very long ago. The peace dividend was expected to be a natural consequence of the end of the Cold War.

The collapse of the Soviet Union which had been bankrupted by a relentless arms race led by Ronald Reagan’s Pentagon, and fatally weakened by a loss of internal credibility, would produce unprecedented bounty for the triumphant West. The vast amounts of national wealth that had gone into military spending would now be available for home comforts. 

Modernised public services and welfare provision of untold generosity could flourish without stint. Truly, we had arrived at an age of international good will and prosperity in which we could be sure that local skirmishes would never again become global power struggles. After all, the great ideological argument of the past century was over. Free markets and democratic government had conclusively won out over command-and-control economics and totalitarianism.

The prospect of a Third World War – which had once been thought inevitable – was now out of the question: when “little conflicts” erupted they would not be manipulated (and escalated) by opposing superpower blocs. No more puppet regimes. No more proxy wars.

Well, we all know how that went. It turned out that the global chess game with its ruthless players had very little to do with ideological argument. This wasn’t really a high-minded debate about how men should live or the best way to organise a just society: it was all about the old fashioned, down-and-dirty matters of rabid nationalism, imperial spheres of influence and revanchist political leadership. What drives Russia now is not the (half-pretended) belief that its system of government is the moral solution to all social problems. It is the naked desire to reassert its control over areas of the world where national pride dictates that it must not be eclipsed.

Vladimir Putin may be presiding over a dying population and a failing economy but if he can annex the Crimea and intimidate former satellite states in Eastern Europe without fear of Nato reprisal, as well as maintain the hideous Assad regime (with the help of his allies in Iran) then he is on top of the world. Indeed, he is, as Forbes magazine decided last week for the third year in a row, the most powerful man on the planet.

The big question is: how on earth did we not see this coming? Did nobody understand that the loss of the Soviet empire – the disintegration with a whimper, not even a bang, of what had seemed an invincible great power – would be a devastating existential crisis for the Russian nation? How could this not have ended badly? The Communist system fell, not just into disrepute, but into chaos.
So eager was the country to divest itself of the old Soviet institutions that it made a fire sale of its national assets, selling them off to a handful of oligarchs who became obscenely rich. The public services and much of the ordinary transactional arrangements simply ceased to exist so that people were left in helpless poverty, often selling their possessions in the streets. The West, or the parts of it that bothered to watch, may have been surprised by the degree of nostalgia for Communist rule but, in truth, it was scarcely surprising given the disorder and outright kleptocracy that came after.

So here we are. The Western governments have made their promises to their own populations about all that money that could now be spent at home. They have encouraged the expectation that it is their own people’s domestic problems that will be the centre of attention, rather than a constant contest for the hearts and minds of emerging nations in Africa and Asia. But while they were beating their swords into welfare programmes, Russia was on the move. In order to distract from a stagnant economy dependent on the price of oil and a society still enamoured of the Western lifestyle, Putin took the traditional path of re-establishing his country’s power abroad.

Aleppo is the grotesque outcome. It is agonisingly clear that nobody has any sort of strategy for dealing with this. At the UN last week, the US ambassador Samantha Power hurled insults at the Russian Federation (“Is there literally nothing that can shame you?”) which Russia’s ambassador returned (“[It is] as if she was Mother Theresa herself”).

Where does that get us? And how hollow does it sound after the President whom Ms Power represents withdrew from intervention in Syria after his own red lines were crossed, and has since singularly failed to make any move that would stop the Assad-Putin homicidal rampage. Putin can laugh in the face of any leader who claims the moral high ground while retreating from the battlefield.

There is a fresh dimension to this in the cyber scandals that are now creating political havoc in America. It is almost certainly true that Russia hacked the emails of the Democratic party leadership during the election campaign. What is less clear is that they did this with the specific intention of damaging Hillary Clinton’s prospects and thus getting Donald Trump elected president.

In fact, it seems to be generally believed that they hacked both parties but only handed over the Democratic emails to Wikileaks which would appear to give credence to the helping-Trump theory. But there is another plausible explanation: that what they found in the Democrats’ exchanges was dynamite (that the Democratic National Committee had deliberately set out to undermine Bernie Sanders, and that the campaign managers sometimes despaired of Mrs Clinton’s performance) while the Republican material was less surprising and newsworthy.

I think it is highly likely that the intention was not so much to help determine the outcome of the election as to discredit the whole process and so destabilise the democratic institutions of the United States. If that was the aim – to cause the US electorate to distrust its own political leadership at a time when Russia desperately wants to re-assert its global influence – then it was stupendously successful.

The doubt that it has created about the causes of Hillary’s shocking defeat has egged on the tireless campaign to review the result. There is now a video from the inevitable collection of Hollywood celebrities demanding that members of the Electoral College defy the votes cast in their states and switch their support to Mrs Clinton: a move that would create a constitutional crisis which would conveniently (from the Russian point of view) distract America from international events for the duration.

So what about the coming Trump administration? Is he really going to be Putin’s ally and apologist? His characteristic leap into Twitter motor-mouth mode would suggest it. He is defying, in a quite unprecedented way, the assessment of his own security agencies in declaring the accusations of a Russian hacking operation to be groundless nonsense. He has also appointed a Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who is reputed to be a “friend” of Vladimir’s. But on the other hand, it is widely believed that he will put John Bolton, who is very hawk-ish indeed, into the number two spot at the State Department. And he has recruited a few generals who are known to be hard line too.

Is the White House going to play hard cop/soft cop with the Kremlin? Is there a cunning plan beneath the contradictions? Or any sort of plan at all?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Pontvedra Pensées: 19.12.16

I read this comment on the UK's main left-of-centre party yesterday: Labour is truly at war, with each side trying to grind the other down. Later, I saw this cartoon in El País on the slanging match taking place between the 2 main men of the upstart 'far-left' Podemos party, watched by the similarly split PSOE party. Which used to be the main opposition to the PP right-of-centre party that's been allowed to stay in power because of internecine warfare on the entire Left. Not a good time to be on this side of the Spanish political spectrum:-

I lauded the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing yesterday and afterwards read this very apposite comment about the goings-on: For those who have likened the sweaty, flirty pyrotechnics of Strictly’s intensely physical performances to a PG form of “musical shagging”, there was plenty to ponder at last night.

On the Xmas Circular theme . . . . 1. Before I lose any more friends, I should stress I do enjoy receiving these from people I've known a long time and whose offspring I also know. Honest. And, 2. Here's the spoof message I wrote years ago. But chickened out of sending to relevant friends . . . .

God, don’t you just hate these circular letters!

But needs must. And I know you’re dying to hear how we moved onwards and upwards during 2001.

What a year! I am writing this by candlelight in a rude little house in the Montes de Malaga. I moved here in November, when I finally got the chance to achieve my lifetime ambition of becoming an Andalucian goatherd. It’s a simple life but I was astute enough to bring my border collie, Ryan, from England and he provides me with some company (in English) during the long, hot days in the hills of olive groves. As does my young and beautiful goatherdess companion during the long and even hotter nights. Ryan has adapted well to the local language and customs. Not to mention to goats instead of sheep. And I have adapted well to a young and energetic goatherdess.

Meanwhile, back in the UK both Faye and Hannah have done reasonably well. Faye is now a brain surgeon and in her spare time runs the V&A museum. She lives in a magnificent house in Hampstead, which is of course the very antithesis of my own situation. But she seems to enjoy the change when she flies here every now and then in her private jet. In fact, she is thinking of buying the Alhambra in Grenada to use as a weekend retreat. As I understand it from her, it is simply hell now trying to get in and out of London by car for the weekend. When she has a moment, Faye pursues her artistic interests. She was hoping to win the Turner prize next year with her concept of a single light bulb going off and on in an empty room but it seems that, amazingly, some other artist has had this astonishing insight into modern society.

Hannah is in her second year at Leeds, having turned down offers from Oxford, Cambridge, York, Durham and the rest. She was made a Professor at the end of her first year so must have done something right. On the strength of her English essays, she has received an offer to head up a prestigious publishing firm in the USA but is taking her time to think about it. Kids! After a few months at it, Hannah is now perfectly fluent in both Castilian Spanish and in the Andalusian dialect. She puts me to shame but I am very impressed by her facility in languages. Can’t think who she gets it from.

My sister, Barbara, in France has achieved miracles with the religious order she runs in Lourdes and is now favourite for the first ever female cardinalship. I’m praying for her. Meanwhile, my Jewish sister in Liverpool, Terry, has given up the hairdressing business and has become political adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister. I think I can detect some of her thinking behind recent events in the West Bank.

Talking about expensive Apple repairs . . .  My neighbour, Ester had got estimates of €500-1,000 to repair her daughter's Mac screen. My IT shop said they'd do it for €100-120. So, should she be delighted or worried? As well as confused. We'll soon know. Right now the said laptop is in the shop, along with the cable that Ester can't lend me.

The Spanish Corner:

  • A local driver survived unharmed after his car fell 3 metres down a bank. In Spanish, the verb was the reflexive salvarse, or 'To save oneself'. Looking it up, I found these useful phrases:-
    • Salvarse de milagro: To have a close call, or a lucky/narrow escape.
    • Salvarse de pelos: Ditto
  • Irregular verbs in English are said to be only 10% of the total but, at the same time, to be among the most common. I've no idea what the Spanish percentage is but can recall that, when I was learning them by heart years ago, it seemed to be 100.
Today's English cartoon. Strangely apt, by pure coincidence:-

Finally . . .  If, like me, you are a huge fan of AA Gill, then you'll appreciate these tributes from two other engaging writers. If not, sign off now:

O Adrian, who will make me laugh now?: Jeremy Clarkson

In 1981 there was a big working-men’s pub in Earls Court, and on Cheltenham Gold Cup day it was crammed because, unusually for the times, the race was being shown on a television above the bar.

The whole place was a seething cauldron of braying Irish labourers and sloshing Guinness and cheap cigarette smoke until, with two furlongs to go, the door burst open and a lunatic dashed in. He leapt onto the bar, turned the television off and then ran out again. Welcome, everyone, to the man who would become my closest friend: AA Gill.

He was living back then in a dog basket in Kensington, dealing drugs to pay for his colossal thirst and hanging out with a group of very posh heroin addicts who spent their days forgetting to go to the funerals of their flatmates and friends. That he didn’t croak then, in a puddle of his own urine and vomit, is a miracle.

But he has now. He died last weekend, leaving us with a body of work that beggars belief. It beggars belief partly because he didn’t start writing until he was 38 but mostly because of his profound dyslexia. He’d have had a better chance of getting his letters in the right order if he’d lobbed a tin of alphabet soup into a ceiling fan. He’d often text me to say where we were having lunch and I’d have to use a Turing decoder to work out what the bloody hell he meant. “Twersy”, for instance, was “the Wolseley”.

The way Adrian dealt with this was a lesson to all sufferers today. History was his favourite subject at school but he always got a bad mark, so he asked his teacher why. You’re one of the best in class, said the teacher, but you’ve got a problem with your writing. Adrian decided angrily that he didn’t have the problem; the teacher did. And he vowed ever afterwards to make it someone else’s problem, not his own.

Adrian struggled, too, with reading. It would take him half an hour to read the inscription on a statue or a war memorial, which is something he did a lot, and yet somehow he knew everything about everything.

Why do the lampposts on the Mall have ships on them? Who invented chewing gum? How do the pirates off Somalia operate? All of that — and all of everything else — somehow was in his head. Polymath doesn’t even begin to cover it. He was Wikipedia with a cravat.

But his real gift, as we all know, because he was the cornerstone of all our Sunday mornings, was not just delivering the facts. It was making them come alive. Once, when I was away, he wrote my motoring column and said his TVR sounded like two lesbians in a bucket. It remains the best description yet of the noise a V8 makes at tickover. And it wasn’t even his specialist subject.

He also said that an Aston Martin sounded like Tom Jones bending over to pick up the soap in a Strangeways shower. And more recently my new television show is “Top Gear in witness protection”. No one, and I do mean no one, could phrase-make like him.

And lines such as this didn’t come to him after hours of pacing up and down and sucking on the end of a Biro. They were a constant soundtrack to his life. We were flying once to Blackpool, at night, in a helicopter. And after a long period of zooming over nothing but inky blackness we passed over the sodium orange glow of a town. “What’s that?” Adrian said to the pilot. A check on the map revealed it to be Preston. Adrian looked at it quizzically for a moment. “What’s the point of that?” he asked.
Later he met a Tory cabinet minister who blustered on and on about how important it was for people to get on their bikes and make something of their lives: start a business perhaps. “That’s what I did when I was young,” said Adrian enthusiastically. The Tory went into a back-slapping, that’s-the-ticket routine, which was cut short when Adrian said: “Yeah. I was a drug dealer.”

Over the years, Adrian stopped the drugs and the booze and even the cigarettes by becoming addicted to other stuff. Mostly this involved buying trousers. I think he bought a new pair most days. And another cravat. And a cardigan or two. And perhaps another stupid suit, lined this time with all the flags of Siena’s contrade.

Which brings us on to the man. He was unfathomable, really. Because he was a screamingly camp straight man, an un-Christian believer and a potty-mouthed poet. C*** [cunt] was pretty much his favourite word.

It’s been reported that he was upset and bitter about being denied expensive treatment for the cancer that killed him. But he wasn’t. He accepted it. Because he was a terrible old leftie who thought like a Tory. Or it might have been the other way round. I never really knew.

Occasionally, when we wrote pieces together, we’d plan them so I’d have one opinion and he’d have another. But as often as not he’d get to where we were going and he’d change his mind. We went to Midland in Texas, which I knew he’d think was a hellhole, and he loved it. So I took him to France, which he had always loathed, and he decided as soon as we arrived that he didn’t.

Before he died we were planning to write a piece together about whether Italians were more interested in food or cars. If it had happened I just know he’d have said the Fiat 500 was way more important than some silly bits of fish in a tomato sauce. (Which it is, by the way.)

It sounds as if he was a contrarian but he actually wasn’t. He just had opinions, and sometimes they’d change and sometimes they wouldn’t, and sometimes they’d contradict one another. And he really, really didn’t care if you agreed with him or not.

Nor did he have an Off button. If he thought your new sofa was ghastly, he’d tell you. And if you’d put on a bit of weight, he’d bring it up. Once an artist proudly showed him their work and he said: “That’s amazing. How long have you been painting with your feet?”

I’d watch people sometimes, spooling up for an argument with him, and I’d sit there thinking: “Oh, no. Don’t poke the beast. Don’t poke it.” But they usually did, and then he’d eviscerate them, because he was faster than they were and funnier and cleverer.

It’s been said that Adrian and I were very close, and we were. But the truth is, he was close to thousands and thousands of people. If you walked down any street in what he called London — nothing with an “E” or an “N” in the postcode — you’d have to stop every 20ft so he could embrace someone coming the other way. In every restaurant it would take him 20 minutes to get to his table because of all the hugs and wide-eyed “daaaaaahlings” he’d have to do on the way. It seemed sometimes that he knew everyone.

Three days before he died, he had Hillary Clinton’s former security adviser, James Rubin, on one side of his hospital bed, reading him bits from The Guardian, and Rebekah Brooks on the other. Then in came the designer Tom Ford to talk spectacles.

He had thousands and thousands of friends because, deep down, he was kind, warm-hearted and extremely loyal. But by far and away his greatest gift was his ability to make people laugh. Me especially. When we broke our golf virginity together in Cheshire, I damn nearly hacked up my own spleen. When he decided it would be quicker to kick the ball round the course, I honestly thought: “If I don’t breathe in soon, I’m going to die.”

It was the same story when he accidentally reversed an Abrams main battle tank into an ornamental lake in the middle of Baghdad, or on shoots when we’d spend all day trying to land birds on each other’s head. Or when I opened the paper and saw the restaurant he’d reviewed had been given no stars. “Oh, this is going to be good . . .” I’d think. And it always, always was.

Yes, he was brilliant at writing serious stories about serious issues. And he was brilliant also at picking apart a television programme or telling you why it’s a good idea to put nutmeg on cauliflower cheese (which it isn’t). But he was at his absolute best when he was being funny.

Towards the end, he and I were sitting around in Whitby with the comedian Jimmy Carr. Adrian announced he’d just started to watch the Westworld series on the television.
“Ooh,” said Jimmy. “That’s a bit ambitious — it’s a 10-parter.”

It’s the last time I heard Adrian burst out laughing. And that’s what I’ll miss most of all. Well, that, and every other bit of him.

The Full English: AA Gill, 1954-2016: Mark Steyn

I can't really say I knew AA Gill, although for a brief period he was my next-door neighbor in South Kensington. He was more successful than I, which a lot of writers are, but also more glamorous, which is something more mysterious and less quantifiable, and on which I brooded from my window when I spied him sauntering the sidewalk. But he was a beautiful writer, of a kind that does not really exist in the colorless American press. Setting aside their partisan homogeneity, the principal defect of The New York Times et al is that they're so bloody boring. Gill was one of those fellows you enjoyed reading on almost any subject, and regardless of what position he took on it. Nor was he, as is generally the case today, a newspaper man who becomes known because he goes on TV and radio at the drop of a hat. For the most part he eschewed the broadcast media: He was a writer who was known for his writing.

His death at the weekend reminded me of a time in my life when you'd leave a London restaurant late on a Saturday night and pick up the first editions of the Sunday papers from a Tube kiosk on the way home - because they were such marvelous reads. Even before they entered their present death spiral, I have never felt that way about The Boston Globe or The Washington Post. As Hugh Laurie tweets:
I never met AA Gill, and cursed his name often; but he was funny, clever, honest, and wrote terrific sentences. I will miss him very much.

He "wrote terrific sentences". I'll bet, during his Hollywood sojourn, Hugh Laurie has never said that about any LA Times columnist.

No one will write AA Gill's obituary as well as he would have. Here he is delineating with absolute precision the world into which he was born:

I was born in 1954 in Edinburgh. Winston Churchill was prime minister, there was still rationing, we were the first generation that would grow up with television, pop music, central heating and a National Health Service. As a child, every old man I knew had fought in the First World War and every young man in the Second.

War still hung like the smell of a damp, grim nostalgia over everything. We played Spitfires and Messerschmitts in the playground and you could, as Kingsley Amis pointed out, walk into any pub in the country and ask with perfect confidence if the major had been in. London was still moth-eaten with bomb sites and black with coal smoke. One of my earliest memories is of the last pea souper fog.

Everyone of Gill's generation will recognize that vanished Britain, but only a few could evoke it that deftly and economically - and with the sense of wistfulness that comes from realizing that the life you're living has somehow become the life you've lived. It's one typical passage from a routine journalistic assignment:

Last week an editor breezily mentioned that as I was coming up to a milestone decade would I perhaps like to write something about it? You know, is 60 the new 40? Why do you make those little noises when you get out of a chair? Am I considering getting a shed, or a cruise, or Velcro? And what about sex?

The only people who ask about significant birthdays are younger than you. No 70-year-olds are inquiring about my insights on being 60. Age is the great terra incognita. But then, all the people who tell me to do anything are younger than me now.

It's one of those very Fleet Street pieces that America's dull monodailies can't seem to do. And, like a lot of journalism, it's as good or as bad as the writer who does it. Gill did it very well. Every so often - though not as often as in his case, I would wager - I'll come off a stage or a TV set and a young lady will approach and offer some admiring comments. And my flattered old heart will flutter - until I remember this paragraph of his:

A contemporary of mine, after a number of marriages, found a girlfriend less than half his age of a transcendent pneumatic beauty who hung on his every word — and dumped her after a couple of months. Why, I asked — she was perfect! "Too many things we didn't have in common," he said sadly. Like what? "Well, the Eighties."

Very true. One thinks of Bill Clinton pretending to share Monica's taste in music... I liked this bit, too:

Every morning, after taking our twins to school, Nicola and I read the papers over breakfast and I recite the birthday list and she will guess the ages. She's uncannily accurate. Yesterday The Guardian will have said: AA Gill, critic and baboon-murdering bastard, 60.

I share a birthday with Henry VIII and the shot that started the Great War. I've always read the anniversary roll and over the years I've watched people my age go from rarely mentioned as sportsmen and pop stars to more commonly as leading actors and television presenters and now ubiquitously I find myself in the thick of captains of industry, ennobled politicians, retired sportsmen and character actors.

As I said, all that's from just one A A Gill column, written at a far higher level than a dying industry demands, at least to judge from The New York Times or The Washington Post. It was published just two years ago, when he confidently expected to live to see another four World Cups, as he put it. 

Thus he neglected to note that another sign of the accumulating years is that more and more of your contemporaries, whether former pop stars or mighty captains of industry, migrate from "Today's Birthdays" to the obituary column. And so a few weeks ago he mentioned to his readers in the course of a restaurant review that he had "an embarrassment of cancer, the full English" - for non-Britons, that's an allusion to the huge and indigestible "full English breakfast" (which, credit where it's due, is a vegan snack next to the full Irish).

So he coined a phrase even for his death sentence, and one that's almost too perfect for a gourmand and restaurant critic. And its rueful if faintly parodic stiff-upper-lipped stoicism would have earned the gruff approval of all those long-gone Englishmen of the Fifties opening up pub doors and asking if the major had been in. Rest in peace.