Saturday, February 10, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 10.2.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here

Today I'm copping out and leaving you with 3 articles:-
  1. An article by the Times columnist Matthew Parris on a truly astonishing saga in the UK, 
  2. An interview with a Spanish judge who addresses the issue of government pressure on the judiciary and the abnegation of the Rule of Law here when it suits the PP party, and
  3. Something I wrote after attending the first Carnaval procession I attended a while back. I might do so again tonight . . 
1. This sick fantasy is plumbing new depths: Matthew Parris

As the accuser in VIP paedophile inquiry is charged, many MPs, police and journalists should hang their heads in shame

This week “Nick”, the single source for the lurid allegations about a “top people’s paedophile ring” that the police’s Operation Midland was until recently investigating, has been charged with paedophile-related offences.

Sometimes the scales fall from your eyes. You wonder what the hell your fellow-humans could be thinking. For one little boy in the storybooks that moment arrived when he saw the crowd applauding a naked emperor’s new clothes.

For me it came in 2014 when a news agency called Exaro began selling, and the respectable media began buying, stories whose anonymous source the Metropolitan police were calling Nick. Nick (claiming to be a victim of abuse when young, and helping Exaro) was naming members of an alleged establishment paedophile ring operating at the ultra-posh Carlton Club in London’s West End, and at a smart apartment block near Westminster called Dolphin Square.

Names cited by Nick included the late Sir Edward Heath, the late former home secretary Leon Brittan, the former chief of the defence staff, Field Marshal Lord Bramall, and my former parliamentary colleague, Harvey Proctor. Former heads of MI5 and MI6 were also named.

At this point the more impulsive among us would surely have snorted that the whole thing was nonsense. I did, as did my Times colleague David Aaronovitch. “If Ted Heath was a child-abuser,” (I wrote on these pages) “I am an aardvark.” Columnists can take these risks.

But even those most nervous of being aardvarks would surely have mumbled “Hmm. A bit far-fetched?” Well maybe they did, but seldom out loud. Perhaps they were waiting for the story to get sillier. They didn’t have to wait long.

Details of the allegations were published (bravely, by Mr Proctor). Nick was claiming the paedophile ring had three boys murdered to scare other victims; and that he had witnessed an orgy in which Proctor knifed a trussed-up boy for 40 minutes, finally strangling him. Nick alleged he too had been raped by Proctor (and by the late Lord Janner) but Ted Heath had stopped Proctor from cutting off his genitals with a penknife. Oh, and Proctor gave the penknife to Nick as a memento.

At a certain point in the unfolding fantasy I’m afraid my incredulity collapsed into hilarity. Among even the most cautious, one would have expected, at the very least, deep scepticism. Not so. Before any attempt to fully investigate the alleged murders, the Met’s Operation Midland inquiry called a press conference where the lead officer, Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald, described Nick’s claims as “credible and true”. One does wonder what the expression “detective” in Mr McDonald’s job description is meant to signify. We struggle with his definition of “credible” and “true” rather as the little boy confronting the emperor must have struggled with the word “clothes”.

MPs, meanwhile, were now piling onto the bandwagon. Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader (who met Nick) pronounced Leon Brittan “close to evil”, for which calumny he has since apologised. He had earlier insinuated in a Commons speech that there was a cover-up by the powerful, and that “some of the most despicable paedophiles [must not] remain protected by the establishment that has shielded them for 30 years”. On Proctor’s arrest, Labour’s John Mann tweeted that this MP was “the first of many”. Zac Goldsmith told the Commons he was “reliably informed” about paedophile orgies at a guest house involving a “former cabinet minister”.

The nonsense peaked in 2015 when Wiltshire police organised a televised press conference outside Sir Edward’s old home in Salisbury, appealing to the former prime minister’s “victims” to come forward. Chief constable Mike Veale was reported as saying later that he was “120 per cent” certain of Heath’s guilt, though he denied making the remark.

Mr Veale has just landed the job of chief constable of Cleveland. The chairwoman of the local police and crime panel, Norma Stephenson, apologised for embarrassing him by asking what he thought made him the “exceptional individual” she had heard he was. The panel did not question him about his role in the Heath farce. Barry Coppinger, Cleveland police and crime commissioner, said Mr Veale had “faced extremely difficult and complex policing challenges and has never shied away from taking tough decisions in the best interests of justice”.

Some nonsenses are pumped up until the balloon bursts. This one was not like that. The puncture has been slow, but since that Wiltshire pantomime the hiss of escaping air has become shamingly audible. Now all we’re left with is the police looking deeply unprofessional; Exaro looking . . . I’ll bite my lip; politicians looking gullible; and several innocent men smeared, some posthumously, beyond reparation.

As to these last, it’s intolerable that the police continue to use the stock-phrase “insufficient evidence” when abandoning a case. Strictly speaking, “insufficient” includes “zero” but the impression is awful. The right phrase would be “no sound basis” for a charge. And now we know that Nick has been charged. He is also under investigation for lying to the police and for claiming substantial compensation from the public purse for invented injuries. This man is the stuff of every sane person’s nightmares: a compulsive and persuasive liar whose ravings could wreck your life.

But there will always be Nicks. The evil they can do is at least in part the product of our readiness to credit. Were the British — were ordinary men and women — really gripped by a wave of madness in which it became possible to believe the rantings of a self-serving fantasist? Maybe they were; maybe millions do think Westminster and Whitehall really are like this; but the media? The reply “we must report what we hear” won’t do. Palpable or likely hogwash should be reported in sceptical voice. Too often, Nick’s exotic fantasies were reported wide-eyed.

And a final cautionary word. I shall phrase this delicately because I’m very clear that most paedophile-hunters are not latent paedophiles, most gay-baiters are not suppressing homosexual tendencies, and most of those impelled to expose satanic practices are not strangely drawn to the occult.

But some are. Few gay men will not have heard with a knowing sigh the news this week that young Ethan Stables, convicted of planning to attack a gay pride event in Cumbria with machetes, was a tortured bisexual. The most aggressive campaigners on any sex-related issue should be taken at face value and in good faith — but with just a pinch of caution.

2. ‘The Spanish government has forced some judges to make a fool of themselves’: Joaquín Urías, a former judge in Spain’s Constitutional Court

Joaquín Urías is a professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Seville and he used be a judge in the Spanish Constitutional Court. In recent weeks he has spoken out harshly against Madrid’s crackdown on Catalan secessionism: imposing direct rule via article 155 of the Constitution and pressing sedition and rebellion charges against Carles Puigdemont, Oriol Junqueras, government ministers and grassroots leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart.

Urías has also laid down several legal arguments against the interlocutory statements issued by judge Pablo Llarena, who is keeping four separatist leaders in custody because of their political views, which Joaquín Urías believes is “the state’s most outrageous move against Catalonia’s independence bid”. Thanks to his tenure with the Constitutional Court, he is well acquainted with the court’s workings and the Spanish government’s pressure to convey its will to the bench. He decried the Constitutional Court’s refusal to consider whether Article 155 has been lawfully invoked until direct rule has been lifted.

Now he is critical of the precautionary measures adopted to prevent Carles Puigdemont from being voted president and the fact that the Constitutional Court has delayed its decision to hear or reject the Spanish government’s appeal. Furthermore, Urías discusses the spiral of silence that envelops Spain’s judiciary and he explains why no more public figures like himself are speaking out against the excesses of Spain’s justice system against Catalan secessionism.

—You have been very critical of the Constitutional Court’s precautionary measures to prevent Puigdemont’s election in parliament. Have they crossed a line?
—Nobody had requested those precautionary measures. The Constitutional Court has ignored the rules it is governed by. They have overstepped the line. Until now, the court’s decisions were fair, to a greater or lesser extent, and they fell within its purview. But now the court has issued rulings on matters that are not for the court to decide.
—Why did that happen?
—I think it is the result of the Spanish government’s strategy to respond to Catalonia’s independence bid by means of the justice system. When faced with a political problem, rather than trying to offer a political response, with a political alternative or a negotiation, they have used the courts of law to ban everything. And there things that cannot be banned. The Spanish government is adamant to ban everything in a court of law and has forced some judges to make a fool of themselves. In order to meet the state’s demands, judges have taken things too far and have made decisions that violate the rule of law. Rules that were not for them to make.
—We have read that members of Rajoy’s government phoned the judges of the Constitutional Court to persuade them to agree to hear their appeal against Puigdemont’s election. You once served on that bench and are familiar with its inner workings. Are those reports credible?
—Yes, they are. They are perfectly true and that sort of situation is not infrequent. Depending on the issue, members of the Spanish government will approach the Constitutional Court to convey their concern to the judges. That is wrong in itself. But, worst of all, judges will allow themselves to be pressured. It’s not pretty when the government calls the members of the court, but it’s not against the law. But when a judge always does what the government asks, then that is unacceptable in a democracy.
—Did you witness judges being pressured by the Spanish government while you served on the bench of the Constitutional Court?
—Well, there is always some pressure. Phone calls, lunches … It’s relatively frequent for the PM to phone a member of the court and suggest lunch together. There are many ways you can apply pressure. Or, in other words, to convey to the bench what the government is hoping for. Rather than pressure, it is a way of showing the government’s intent. That is one thing; but when judges comply by overstepping their powers, it’s something else altogether.
—What are the legal grounds for the Constitutional Court to impose precautionary measures in order to prevent Puigdemont from being voted president?
—There are none. The court was able to issue the injunction partly because there is no higher-ranking court of law in Spain. Since the Constitutional Court sits at the apex of the Spanish justice system, it can’t be held to account for its decisions. That is why it has issued rulings which it legally couldn’t, they are highly suspect; but the court knows that it is not accountable to anyone, no matter what.
—Neither the Constitutional Court nor Spain’s Council of State agreed to hear Rajoy’s complaint, but the injunction was issued, nonetheless.
—That’s somewhat relative. There are many jurists working within the Constitutional Court and they do not constitute an independent body; rather, they issue reports at the request of a judge. In this particular case, the jurists that worked for the leading magistrate issued a legal report dismissing the complaint. To me that is not very important, as I am sure you could find a jurist within the Court that would hold the opposite view. But it does show us that there were judges who realised that they couldn’t possible agree to hear the complaint. The Court has done all this because it did not wish to consider the complaint or issue a ruling about it, as some of the judges didn’t want to do that. This shows that the court realised they couldn’t go ahed and do what they’ve done.
—Can the precautionary measures be appealed before the European Court of Human Rights?
—Yes, but it would be futile. Our problem is that the Constitutional Court should be the fairest, most impartial court of all. And the situation in Catalonia has proven the exact opposite. An appeal before the European Court of Human Right or some other body that might reverse the decision is possible, but the ECHR’s ruling would not be binding and would not change the current state of affairs. Spain needn’t heed the ECHR’s rulings. Besides, it could be years before a verdict was handed down.
—Could we not ask Strasbourg to lift the Constitutional Court’s injunction as a precaution?
—That is possible in some cases. But it is difficult in this particular instance because, as it turns out, the Constitutional Court hasn’t even agreed to hear the appeal lodged by the Spanish government. The appeal makes no sense at all. It was preventive and they filed it before anyone had a chance to break the law. The Court had to decide whether to hear the appeal or not and, since it was a controversial decision, it has shown a lack of respect and has gone as far as not even agreeing to consider it. Now it is in limbo and we do no know if it will hear it or not. Meanwhile, it has ordered a number of illegitimate precautionary measures. It is not useful to resort to a European court and demand precautionary measures before the appeal has been heard. You need to wait at least until the court has made a decision about the hearing the appeal or not. The ECHR is a possible avenue, but it is a complex one. All the more so, now that the Constitutional Court is a political player. It may well be that you file an appeal in Strasbourg in the current situation and the next day the Spanish Constitutional Court agrees to hear or dismisses the Spanish government’s appeal, in which case your request would no longer make any sense.
—If the Court refuses to hear the Spanish government’s appeal, will the precautionary measures remain in place?
—No, that couldn’t happen. That is the crux of the matter. The Constitutional Court is trying to avoid taking a stand. Remember: they held an urgent meeting on a Saturday because the Catalan parliament was scheduled to convene on the following Tuesday and, rather than getting down to work, they gave themselves ten days to decide whether they would agree to hear the appeal or not. That time is up but the Court has not agreed to hear the appeal yet. Deep down, the Constitutional Court does not want to address the issue, actually. If they dismiss the Spanish government’s appeal, then Puigdemont could be voted president and the precautionary measures would be lifted automatically. But I have a feeling that they will agree to hear the appeal and the parliamentary session will be suspended.
—These days a number of Catalan leaders have been summoned before the Supreme Court: Artur Mas, Marta Rovira, Anna Gabriel … Could judge Llarena have them held in custody?
—Look, at the moment I daren’t make any predictions. With all the process, we are seeing the Supreme Court issue interlocutory statements on political grounds. Judge Llarena’s issued one the other day, to keep Joaquim Forn in remand, and it was awful. He claimed that, since Forn supports independence and the independence movement is still around, he should not be released. Given the current climate, where the Supreme Court is championing against secessionism … I daren’t make any predictions. I find it hard to believe that the people you mention might have committed any crimes. Myself and 99 per cent of all jurists struggle to accept that you can have a crime of rebellion without any violence. Or that passive resistance may be regarded as a form of violence. We find it shocking, but that’s what’s happening. Individuals are kept in prison because the Supreme Court argues that you can have a non-violent rebellion. The correct course of action would be to release them and for all charges be dropped.
—Llarena’s interlocutory statements refer to the defendant’s political views to justify keeping Forn, Junqueras, Sànchez and Cuixart in prison.
—I believe that these statements would be reversed by the Constitutional Court under any other circumstances. Frankly, I think they are unconstitutional. Prison without bail is for specific cases and it cannot be used for other things. And the Supreme Court argues that these people’s views are tied to the possibility of committing those crimes. I think it makes no sense. At the end of the day, they are in jail for holding separatist views. And that is a violation of their freedom of thought enshrined in the Spanish constitution. It gets worse every day. Those interlocutory statements are the state’s most outrageous move against Catalonia’s independence bid.
—There is a general feeling that the rule of law has been put on hold. That punishment and retribution against separatists prevails over any law or court.
—Outside Catalonia there is a growing number of jurists, who also oppose independence, that can see how the state will break the law, if necessary. The state’s decided to use its physical power against Catalonia’s pro-independence leaders in a brutal manner. And when it comes to using that brutal power, the law is not a limitation. Nowadays in Spain when the state decides to take action against someone, it bends the law and looks for judges who will alter the letter of the law and it does whatever it takes for its own ends. More and more jurists are beginning to realise that —whether we like it or not— Catalonia’s independence bid has prompted a very scary use of the law whereby those in power seem to be above it. That makes it very difficult to support the notion of rule of law in Spain.
—Are you familiar with the concept of lawfare?
—I am. It’s akin to using the enemy’s criminal law against terrorists and dissidents. It’s beginning to adapt to separatism. It is worse than a legal war. The state has the power to imprison you and prevent you from doing certain things. And they are using that power beyond what the rules allow. So I think we’ve gone beyond that. Some of their actions have no legal base. At the moment Mr Puigdemont has every legal right: he can be a candidate, run in an election … The Constitutional Court has made up the idea that he cannot be a candidate unless a judge gives him permission. From a legal standpoint, that’s entirely baseless and infringes upon Puigdemont’s basic rights. But they do it anyway. Likewise, the Catalan leaders who are in prison have seen their basic right to be free violated. If you support independence, your basic rights have shrunk.
—A few days ago Spain’s Justice minister stated that the pro-independence leaders would be barred from holding office at the end of March.
—It doesn’t mean that they’ll be barred from office, but rather that their civil rights will be suspended. They came up with that rule to prevent people who had committed terrorist attacks, mainly when ETA was active, from holding public office. They wanted to stop ETA convicts from running in an election and being elected to parliament. The law applies to terror offences and the crime of rebellion has been shoved in there as an afterthought. It means that this sort of crimes merit an exceptional suspension. Terrorists aren’t allowed to run in an election. Now they want to apply that to pro-independence leaders. The thing is, that would take a while because they may appeal against it and the suspension is not automatic. I doubt if it will have been applied in a month’s time, but I am certain they will try. By being stubborn and keeping the rebellion charges, even if there was no violence, they have found the perfect excuse to try to take away the political rights of these people. If we had a snap election, I can anticipate that none of the individuals facing charges would be allowed to run.
—In the case of Puigdemont and his ministers who are in Brussels and are not a party to the case, could their rights be suspended, too?
—Things are more complicated in their case. They would see their rights suspended as soon as they were indicted. The trouble is, because they have not appeared in court, they cannot be formally charged. The warrant against them will never be firm. The way I see it, their right cannot be taken away. But I am sure the Supreme Court will come up with something to suspend them.
—Yours is one of the few critical voices speaking out against the actions of the Spanish state and justice system.
—When I speak with my colleagues, jurists, professors and member of the judiciary in private … most of them are aware that some of the measures taken are unacceptable. The vast majority of jurists realises that they have overstepped the limits to some extent. The thing is, jurists have their own political views, too. And the state blackmails them like this: we know that we are not applying the law in an ordinary way, but the challenge to the state’s integrity is so huge that we need to bend the rules. Many jurists are saying nothing in public because they feel that, even though the law is being violated, the situation is so exceptional that this is preferable to seeing the state break up because the law can benefit the separatists in some instances.
—Spain’s unity prevails over the rule of law.
—Indeed. Silence is equivalent to saying that in exceptional situations you can ignore the rules. I think it’s madness because it is precisely when we find ourselves in a tight spot that we can truly see if the rule of law prevails. It is all very easy when there are no problems, in routine situations. But many people have personally persuaded themselves to accept practically anything to avert an institutional breakaway.
—Are fingers being pointed at those who criticise the state’s actions?
—Well… it’s uncomfortable. Anyone outside Catalonia who criticises a decision by the state is quickly accused of supporting independence … But that happens in other debates, too. It’s happened quite often in the last four decades. We saw it with anti-terror legislation, with conscientious objectors, squatters … They involved minorities, but it’s not the first time that the rule of law is suspended in Spain in order to deal with dissidents. It is much more far-reaching now, more obvious and it affects many more people. But it’s not the first time. And it’s always the same. Anyone who supports dissidence quickly gets pigeonholed ideologically. It happened with ETA, when measures were taken that were hard to justify. If you criticised it in public, they immediately said you were a terrorist and supported ETA. Now it’s the same.

3.  CARNAVAL IN PONTEVEDRA

The council’s leaflet says that the parade begins at 5.30 but the town guide says 5.00. Suspecting that, even if the latter is right, it won’t start on time, I drive down to town around 5.15 and park near the 5-ways crossing on the edge of the old quarter – the one where there is no apparent right of way. I cross the road - carefully negotiating the traffic which is carelessly negotiating the junction - and head up a narrow street alongside a family group which contains a young girl dressed as Minnie Mouse. The mother asks whether anyone else felt the drops of rain so I retrace my steps to get my umbrella from the car. I am now laden with a camera, a dog on a  lead, a dictaphone and a book with which to while away the inevitable discontinuities of a Spanish event.

I pass a young man gaudily dressed as a drag queen. I know this because the previous evening I had zapped briefly into the nadir of Spanish TV, the annual national drag queen final in which 35 hopefuls dressed in eye-popping costumes mime to some aggressive pop tune or other. Atop the obligatory boots with huge soles and 9 inch heels, the young man is making slow progress. But at least he is staying upright, which is more than one of the contestants managed the previous evening, providing the only moment of interest in the 5 minutes viewing I could stomach. 

As I approach the town square, I notice that the spectators alongside the designated route are still sparse. The locals are clearly even more sceptical than I am about the time things will kick off. By now I have seen a large repertoire of characters – cardinals, witches, smurfs, red indians, Arab sheikhs, nuns and even a pope or two, one of them arm in arm with an abbess. I consider taking up an early position on the steps of the church but I know this gets very crowded, making photography difficult, so I seek a more promising alternative. Just past the church there is a raised terrace in front of an elevated house but it is surrounded by railings and the entrance gate is padlocked. However, as there are already a few people on the terrace and as the fence is only a couple of feet high, I climb over it and encourage my dog to do likewise. Having briefly considered the challenge, he squeezes between two of the railings. 

No-one on the terrace looks at me as if they might have proprietorial rights so I move to the entrance steps of the house and position myself on the top of these. I am now above my co-spectators and at the same level as the people on the balconies of the houses across the road. And my view is relatively unimpaired. My dog is doing his best to lie on one of the steps but he is distracted by a young boxer bitch which has dragged its owner over to us and which is trying to engage him in play. My dog adopts his normal approach of pretending not to even notice the boxer but when she puts two playful paws on his back, he swivels his eye balls towards her and curls his lip, letting out a low but vicious snarl. The boxer’s owner drags her back in some alarm. I act as if I have seen nothing and make some adjustment to the camera lens. 

It is now 5.45 and there is no sign of the parade. Loud music is coming from a stage in the main square, where a group is practising for the ear-shattering show that will begin around one in the morning, or perhaps as early as midnight. The large LCD screen I can see at the entrance to the square says that it is 12 degrees but then changes to 11. I am feeling a little cold. Every now and then there is a sprinkling of rain and the umbrellas go up in unison, doing nothing for my view. One by one, they then come down again. The light is fading and I wonder whether I will be able to get any pictures at all, with or without umbrellas in the foreground. I try to read my book but it is more interesting watching the toddler wriggling in its mother’s arms on one of the balconies opposite and wondering whether it is going to fall into the crowd on the pavement. 

The crowd grows and more fairy tale characters appear – Pinocchio, Robin Hood [or at least one or two of his merry men], Mickey Mouse and many others. Several men wear rubber face masks and are dressed in suits with a sash across one shoulder. I  wonder whether these are meant to be local – or even national – politicians and whether there is a satirical intent. Most impressive are the couples in rich regency costumes, many of whom have their faces covered by a sort of yashmak. I ponder whether this is a relic of a Muslim past or a way to disguise the sex of the wearer. There is a great deal of cross-dressing during these festivals and the streets are full of men in Day-Glo wigs, false breasts and mini skirts. This rather lends support to the view that, in a society where the male and female roles are so well defined, it is ironic how fascinated the Spanish are by transvestism 

The boxer bitch is becoming irritating. As well-disciplined as any Spanish child, she ignores the exhortations of her owners to sit still and strains to get close to my dog. Every now and then, one of her pseudo-handlers looks at me rather imploringly and I ask myself whether they are trying to suggest that I leave the terrace so that they can get some peace. But I ignore them and the husband finally takes her off. I hope that he is taking her home but he merely walks around the terrace a time or two. This achieves nothing except a few minutes’ respite. My dog, meanwhile, lies on one of the steps with his face in his paws. He starts to shake like a black jelly. I know that he isn’t frightened and, with his thick coat, he can’t be cold. So I decide that this is his – sarcastic – way of telling me that he is bored rigid. I ignore him too. 

Some time after 6, the faint sound of a band arrives from the direction of the parade and a shiver of anticipation runs through the crowd. Faces turn, umbrellas waver and a gentle murmur rises to our terrace. and then… the first float. To my astonishment, this is a small truck draped in the EU flag and decorated with pictures of Euro coins. Very festive, I think. Not something that would go down well terribly well in the UK. But at least it means that things can only get better. And they do. A float containing the carnival king and his retinue appears and small bags of goodies are thrown to crowd. These contain something soft like pastry, which is just as well as I am hit on the head by one as, in the rapidly failing light, I try to focus the camera. This seems to please my dog. Then a troupe of dancing girls appears and  stops below the terrace. They are dressed in wonderful costumes but no one smiles. They remind me of their bonneted, thigh-slapping equivalents in the biennial midsummer carnival of my home town in the UK.  But at least their skin is not blue with cold. In unison, they dance – if that is the word – on the spot, to the frenetic rhythm of a drum band on a float behind them. As ever with these parades, the participants are stationary for long periods, awaiting the whistle that will tell them to move on for a few yards before coming to another halt. No wonder they look bored. I can’t help wondering – with some sympathy – whether they don’t practice all year just so that they can spend 80 per cent of the parade going up and down on the same spot. 

A glance at my light meter tells me that it would be hopeless to try to get any good pictures now. Which is a shame as down below me there is a bizarre group dressed in what seems to be an exaggerated version of the Galician peasant’s wet-weather garb of thickly plaited straw. One woman is ringed with enormous pine cones and I wonder whether they are genuine or not. The group is accompanied by the first bagpipe players of the evening, who are less well protected from the intermittent rain. They are not smiling either. 

A school of mice goes past, eating huge corn cobs. Inexplicably, they are led by a man cross-dressed as a mini-skirted tart. Maybe he is their class teacher – and someone who would die rather than appear eccentric, or even unorthodox, outside the confines of a fiesta.  Especially in this conservative town. 

The rock music from the town square is now deafening but no-one seems to mind. A troupe of gaudily-dressed maracas players goes past, followed by six or seven Pierrot-type dancers in silky blue top hats, doing what I think is a sort of samba. Some of them are smiling. Then comes a little Dutch girl, complete with false blonde plaits under her white bonnet. She looks just like my sister did when she wore the same outfit for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation party in the field behind our house almost exactly 50 years ago. I look for the equivalent of me dressed as a Dutch boy in baggy pants and cardboard clogs but he doesn’t make an appearance. I am a little relieved as I would have hated to miss the photo opportunity because of the poor light. 

Given the huge variety of colourful characters filing past me, it dawns on me that it is a little odd that I haven’t yet seen anything resembling an Inca or an Aztec. Or even a Mexican. But, then again, perhaps it isn’t so strange. As I ponder this, we are joined by a man with what looks like an ultra miniature Yorkshire terrier inside his coat, possibly a puppy. Inevitably, the people around him become all maternal and I feel like vomiting. I recall my brother’s comment that it’s amazing what you see when you don’t have your rifle with you.

A man passes, pushing a fish stall with what appears to be real fish on it. At least they don’t mind the rain. And then a weaving Chinese dragon, whose occupants are similarly care-free, being very protected from the elements. And then a truly huge penny-farthing bike which is supported by what were called stabilisers on the kids’ first bikes. My hand holding the dictaphone is getting colder and colder and I wonder whether to move on, possibly home. A man leans down to stroke my dog’s head. My dog completely ignores him. It is looking less and less of a good idea to have brought him. He’s well past the stage of being impressed by any interest in him, especially when he wants to demonstrate how bored he is. I am beginning to have some sympathy for him. But decline to show it. 

Some parents just below me hoist kids on their head and look back at me on the steps, as if to ask me to give up my prime position. I adopt a Spanish - or canine - approach and ignore them. The young boxer tries to chew my umbrella. and gets smacked for her trouble. 

I decide that it would be a good idea to leave my perch and walk towards the end of the procession, in the general direction of home. I raise my umbrella and take a short cut through the town’s newly pedestrianised centre, which the mayor assured us was going to be finished for Christmas but wasn’t. And, with Easter round the corner, still isn’t. My dog seems immeasurably happier, especially as I let him off the lead so that he can sniff the piles of rubble. Heady with pleasure he walks right into the path of an oncoming car. I suppose he thought that, this being a pedestrianised area, he was safe to wander. I rescue him and try explain to him that this is Spain but it seems to make no difference. It being way past the time of his evening feed, he ignores me and, with some success, proceeds to scour the pavement for food scraps. 

In an electrical goods shop a woman is shaving her face in one of the TV screens and it strikes me that this is an ad – I suppose – that I have not yet seen. I walk on and emerge on the main street to find that I have been watching the supporting acts for the past hour or two. Here, at last, are the big floats – Eskimos emerging from igloos, a gallows enactment, a cabaret scene from the 30s, complete with Nazis, Sherwood forest [or something similar], a host of Elvis imitators, and many more. Infectious humour and great ingenuity on display. I realise that this is the way to do the parade – to compensate for the dreadful discontinuity of the event by walking along the pavement in the opposite direction to the floats. And suddenly I am no longer thinking ‘Rio or New Orleans this surely ain’t’ but ‘Well, this may not be quite Rio or New Orleans but it is certainly impressive’. I am helped by the fact that, while the rain may not be dampening the spirits of the float occupants, it has driven the spectators under the shop awnings, leaving the pavement free for me and my dog.

Fittingly, the last float depicts an Andalucian bullfight and is bedecked with Spanish flags. And a few metres behind this, two small machines are already hoovering up the considerable debris. An unexpected demonstration of civic efficiency. More content than I feared I would be, I cut through the old quarter – a place I love – in the direction of the Roman bridge that gives the town its name. I notice that there is a modern art exhibition in one of the old mansions recently converted into a branch of the town museum and I resolve to come back tomorrow to take a look. Being rather peckish, I am tempted to call in at my favourite tapas bar for some seafood. But, as I will have to leave the dog outside, I press on towards the compensatory meal of egg and chips I have been thinking about for the last hour. Quite why, I don’t know. It’s not something I eat much these days. Perhaps it’s the ‘Gras’ in ‘Mardi Gras’. 

Being even more peckish, my dog is looking forward to the same dry food he gets twice a day every day of the year. It’s a dog’s life. But what can he expect? At least he gets out from time to time.


Finally . . . . Culture Wars:-



1 comment:

Perry said...

Colin,

Your description of the procession prompted me to suggest a business opportunity for you. I gather it still rains on the pipers of Galicia from time to time? Import these perhaps?

http://www.misterantony.co.uk/

Also, the origin of the Saffron Kilt.

http://royalirishrangers.co.uk/uniform.html

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