Friday, November 30, 2018

Thoughts from Cologne, Germany: 30.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters German
  • My friend Eamon in La Coruña has kindly – and brilliantly - reproduced the final seconds of Strauss's Ein Heidenleben as heard on Sunday evening:-


Matters Spanish 
  • I've written of the dangers faced by Spanish pedestrians from inconsiderate cyclists et al. And on the Spanish attitude to risk. Now, following a death caused by an electric scooter rider, there's talk of new laws at both the national and, maybe, the regional level. See here and here on this. I'm reminded of a reader's question a while ago: Why does it always take a death in Spain? One possible answer is a lingering fear of appearing to be authoritarian/Francoist.
  • Talking of Francoist tendencies . . . It's reported that, since the right-of-centre PP party lost power a few months ago, cases of manipulation and censorship have fallen 'precipitously' at the public broadcaster, RTVE.
  • Prostitution in Spain 1: Hat tip to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for this: Following news that the High Court has annulled the statutes of the Sex Workers Union, the president of the Union of Prostitutes says: "The same politicians who want to veto us are going whoring in their spare time."
  • Prostitution in Spain 2: For Spanish readers – or non-Spanish readers who can see fotos – here's an article from reader Sierra on a particular 'club' in Galicia, plus a bit on salacious posters there. The brothel advertises itself to wives as a 'nursery/daycare centre' to send their men to, so that they can get a bit of peace at home. Only in Spain? Assuming you think Galicia is part of Spain. Which not all Galicians do. Needless to say.
  • Here's something useful if you drive in Madrid or are thinking of doing so.
The EU and Brexit
  • It's reported that Brussels is willing to postpone the April date for Brexit. Quel surprise! Anything to allow the Brits to think/vote again and to come up with the right answer this time.
The UK and Brexit
  • Richard North: It is Mr Rees-Mogg and his friends who have driven us to the brink – even if they have been aided and abetted by a weak prime minister who lacked the courage and the depth to take them on. Incompetence is writ through the establishment, like letters through seaside rock. The "great and the good" have made a complete hash of Brexit. 
The USA
  • What that benighted country has descended into. Would the woman in question ever have been heard if it weren't for social media giving her and her ilk a foghorn? Thus bringing her to the attention of the egregious Fox News channel. The bright new dawn has severely dimmed. The mob rules, at least in Fart's America. Hampered only by such trivial things as the Constitution and the courts. Sometimes. Oh, and the occasional Republican sentor with integrity.
  • Caitlin Moran: In many ways, it doesn’t pay to overanalyse the statements of Donald Trump: even over the past year, his vocabulary and syntax have become chaotic. An average Trump speech is like a snowglobe of words chucked down stairs by a petulant child.
Spanish
Social Media
Finally . . .
  • For anyone still reading this blog but unable to get posts in The Old Reader, this seems to be what you need to put in the subscription box:- http://www.blogger.com/feeds/5993007/posts/default
  • If that doesn't work, try https at the front.
  • This might also work for other readers/aggregators. Though you can subscribe via Feedly by clicking the button on the right of this post.
© [David] Colin Davies

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Thoughts from Cologne, Germany: 29.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

QUERY: Is there anyone reading this on The Old Reader? Or any other 'aggregator'?

Matters German
  • The Strauss composition I heard the other night is called Ein Heldenleben, or 'A Hero's Life'. In my description of the large orchestra for which it's scored, I omitted at least the tubas. More importantly, I wish I'd known in advance that (as reader James pointed out), the work is seen by some as a flagrant instance of Strauss's artistic egotism. And was met initially with criticisms such as: As revolting a picture of this revolting man as one might ever encounter. And: Cacophonous, blatant and erratic, the most perverse music I ever heard in all my life. The man who wrote this outrageously hideous noise is either a lunatic, or he is rapidly approaching idiocy. To which Wiki adds that: In modern times, the work still divides critical opinion. I quite enjoyed it. One man's meat etc. Youtube has it here, if you want to form your own opinion. For the full experience, imagine a phone going off a milisecond after the final dramatic chord has died at 46.36 . . .
Matters Spanish 
  • It's reported that, as regards the UK, figures for prostitution are hard to come by but possibly 11% of British men aged 16-74 have paid for sex, while the number of sex workers is estimated to be 72,800. With a much smaller population, Spain's numbers are reported to be much higher than these. But, then, it's a culturally Catholic country and things are done differently in these.
  • Spain’s Foreign Affairs minister has been fined €30,000 for insider dealing.
  • And a Spanish footballer has been fined €48,000 for a motoring offence. I thought I was hard done by. I strongly suspect - in this case - there's a provision in Spanish law for taking into account an offender's income. Which makes sense.
  • It has to be good news that the Spanish Attorney General has asked for a “serene reflection” on the subject of hate crimes, in order to come up with a judicial response to them that “is proportional to the crime, acts as a deterrent, and protects civil liberties.”
  • Spanish airlines don't do well in a survey of Spanish customer complaints over the last few years.
  • Here's more on the OTT Spanish reaction to the British suggestion that novel things be done to the virtually tasteless churros. One wit has made an amusing retaliatory suggestion on what to add to chips, as if anyone in the UK would care a jot about what anyone in the world does to 'British' dishes. One man's meat etc.
Matters French
  • This is a fascinating article on the woes of both the country and its president, M. 'Jupiter' Macron.
Matters Russian
  • When I was young, the best example of chutzpah was said to be a little boy urinating through the letter slot in a front door and then ringing the bell to ask how far up the hallway it'd gone. But now I read that Putin has accused the Ukrainian president of provoking an international incident to bolster his popularity ratings.
The EU
  • Here's 6 informed views on what will probably be the next euro crisis. And no one thinks it's Brexit.
The UK and Brexit
  • Richard North takes the British government to task here for its misunderstandings about the Efta/EEA model and its and lack of a global vision and ambition. He asks whether there's a politician capable of these but I suspect it's a rhetorical question, as the answer is crystal clear.
  • Meanwhile. . . . It has just been confirmed that Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn will take part in a live TV debate before MPs get to have their 'meaningful vote 'on Tuesday 11 December. The two worst performers in modern British political history will each get the opportunity to argue the case for a view they profoundly disagree with (May is pro-EU, Corbyn anti). It promises to be an excruciating occasion.
Spanish
English
  • Would you believe 'Energumen' - A person possessed by an evil ghost, spirit, or entity; A frantic and hysterical person. Fancy being married to one of those. Who'd be daft enough to do that. Even for just, say, 2 years . . . . ?
Social Media
  • What we need is a Royal Commission to report on mental health services and on the terrifying epidemic of anxiety among young people, which I am convinced is triggered, in many cases, by social media. But can anything really be done to rein in a monster that lacks a moral conscience? Can some hacking genius take down Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., etc.
Finally . . .
  • I guess I'm one of the few people in the world who didn't know who or what Sponge Bob was. But, after reading an obit of his inventor, I'm now in the know. Fortuitously, just ahead of spending a month or more with my 3 year old granddaughter in the UK. That said, I do know who Peppa Pig is.
© [David] Colin Davies

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Thoughts from Cologne, Germany: 28.11.18

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

REQUEST 1: I'd be very grateful if anyone who's a current or ex-user of the The Old Reader could advise me whether it's again showing my posts. It stopped doing so some time ago - I recently discovered – possibly because some shit had posted a long spam message on each of 10 consecutive days in late August. I understand that Feedly is now showing my posts again but don't know about other readers.
REQUEST 2: Can anyone tell me how to edit my RSS Feed so as to delete a line about a base64 image? This is another possible cause of the problem. Asking Blogger help and doing a google search has not proved very helpful.

On with the show . . . 

Matters German
  • It's been pointed out to me that the Cologne Philharmonic didn't exist before or during the 1,000 year Third Reich. I knew that but was really talking, analogously, about any space occupied by Hitler or Goebbels in front of the antecedents of the modern audience. Honest.
  • BTW . . . I forgot to record that, at the precise second the second half performance was brought to a climactic end and a deep silence descended, someone's phone went off. Several of the musicians, like many of the audience, found this quite funny. Who said the Germans don't have a sense of humour??
  • As everyone knows, both Cologne and Hamburg were badly damaged by WW2 bombing. But not in all districts; the suburbs largely escaping destruction. So it's here that you can see large swathes of impressive pre-war architecture. But with the occasional monstrous modern building where the odd bomb destroyed the original flat-block. Like a bad tooth in a mouthful of perfect ivories.
  • Something I read before I arrived in Germany warned me not to take desultory service personally, as this was the norm here. Well, I have to say I've been met with nothing but pleasant service. But, then, I smile a lot and laugh at my own attempts to order in German. I find this goes down well in every country. Though I've never been to Russia or North Korea. But it did work in Australia . . .
  • So . . . Why does a cappuccino always cost less than a simple black or white coffee? Does it take less of the basic ingredient? 
Matters Spanish
  • I plead guilty to only 3 of these 11 Spanish habits, despite being immersed in the culture for 18 years. Possibly a function of my age. Or independent spirit . . .
  • Here's another example of the possible application of the residual fascist laws that so impinge on freedom of expression in Spain. Something that would go almost unnoticed in other countries. Or be seen merely as bad manners. Dare one say it reflects the immaturity of Spanish democracy?
  • Here's the estimable Matthew Bennett on the recent Gibraltar developments and what they might or not might not mean in practice. Assuming Brexit goes ahead.
  • The way of the world: The Spanish government is constrained from helping tenants because much of Spain's real estate is now owned by a huge (and powerful) US fund.
  • A warning about a potentially damaging spam message on wotsap.
The UK and Brexit
  • This is a very nice article on the state of British politics, ending with this excellent summary of the near future:- Much depends on how long the turbulence lasts and how extreme it gets. England’s two main parties are sailing into a rare constitutional hurricane and it isn’t clear whether their vessels are sound. All manner of things will be thrown overboard – policies, MPs, leaders. Some will jump before they are pushed. The parties that emerge on the other side of this storm will not be the same ones we have now, even if they sail under familiar names and colours. That's democracy for you. 
  • As I've said, I don't often entirely agree with the Guardian's Polly Toynbee - a fervent socialist and Remainer - but she's spot on with her comment – previously voiced by me and others – that Mrs May sought to appease hardliners and ended up with the worst kind of deal. I also agree that: Had she proposed [a la Richard North] staying in the European Economic Area, joining the European Free Trade Association with a vision of an influential EU outer ring – she could have won wide support. Alas, she didn't. And everyone is now paying the price, including the EU. History will not be at all kind to Mrs May. But no one forced her to become Prime Minister. Indeed, no one even voted for her to become Prime Minister, even within the Conservative party. She grasped the poisoned chalice with both hands and both feet. Regrets? I guess she has a few.
Spanish
Social Media
  • An interesting development in the UK regarding Facebook – a company we will all come to hate in the fullness of time. Sell now.
Finally . . .
  1. Yesterday's missing bit . . . My travelling companion – having googled my name - came up with a citation of a 2007 comment of mine on Galician humour (retranca), in a book entitled Words that Tear the Flesh: Essays on Sarcasm in Medieval and Early Modern Literature and Cultures. It's is an enticing prospect, but not at a price of between 84 and 130 euros. BTW . . . In that way no one understands, on Amazon.com it's cheaper to buy a new copy than a 'previously owned' one.
  2. More on the stinky durian fruit. Will the Chinese eat anything at all, just as long as it's fashionable?
  3. A wise policy, ignored on this site . . .

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Thoughts from Cologne, Germany: 27.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters German
  • Here's a foto of the impressive Cologne Philharmonic Hall:-
  • I was rather surprised to find that German concert-goers – or some of them at least – take the same attitude to seat allocation as passengers on the trains between Pontevedra and Vigo. Our seats were occupied – forcing us to take whatever we could get – and the people next to us admitted they weren't in their allocated seats. Which gave me a frisson of anticipation when – during the interval – the pianist from the first concerto came up and sat – resplendent in his tails – in one of their (purloined) seats. But, sadly, no fracas ensued.
  • I was equally surprised that quite a few people got up and left while the obligatory 3-4 rounds of applause were taking place at the end of the second half.
  • This was an extremely lively Strauss composition about heroes of one sort and another – doubtless Alfie Mittington will remind me of its name – and the orchestra for this was huge. Over 100 members, comprising (from memory) at least 30 violinists, 10 violas, 10 cellos, 8 French horns, 7 double basses, 5 timpanists, 5 trumpeters, 4 trombonists, 3 bassoons, oboists and flutists, and, penultimately, 2 harpists. I felt rather sorry for the solitary saxophonist and piccoloist.
  • The other thing I noticed was that c. 15% of the musicians were Asian, leaving me wondering how long it would be before they all were . . .
  • I have to confess that, at one point, I was looking around at the audience and contemplating the fact that these civilised people probably all had parents or grandparents who'd have happily sat in the place listening to a rant from Hitler or Goebbels not so terribly long ago. Quite disturbing.
Matters Spanish
  • Some unhappy reading. Though I'm not clear how the opening paragraph stacks up with the tables in the text. I think the former relates only to verbal harassment. Possibly because touching considered offensive in other (less tactile) cultures might not lead to complaints in Spain. As an aside, I think know who'd get the blame for Germany's leading position on 'street harassment'. Which seems to be a different animal from 'disrespectful behaviour'.
The UK and Brexit
  • Brexit is corrupting and calcifying our politics in a way that risks exacerbating the very frustrations that drove many people to vote to leave the EU. 
  • So, Mrs May and Mr Corbyn might have a TV debate. Best comment yet on this appalling prospect: As others have noted, Mr Corbyn probably isn’t really for Remain and Mrs May isn’t truly for Brexit. Neither salesman believes in the product they’re pitching.
  • Here's someone's reasons why a second referendum - aimed at bringing the entire Brexit shooting match to a shuddering halt – might never happen. To go alongside the numerous articles on why it should.
Finally . . .
  • I did draft something under this heading but a first-time copy-and-paste error on my part lost me all of today's post and I can't be bothered to recall this bit. Maybe tomorrow . . .
© [David] Colin Davies

Monday, November 26, 2018

Thoughts from Cologne, Germany: 26.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters German
  • Anyone who thinks that the German rail system – a public/private monopoly – is more efficient than the UK private system should perhaps do some travelling here. That's not my impression after listening to people who live here. Of course, it is cheaper. But this wouldn't be difficult.
Matters Spanish/Galician
  • Another of those 'none-rape' trials in Spain has led to more - highly justified - demonstrations against the country's much-in-need-of-reform laws on the subject.
  • Madrid, it's reported, manged to anger most/all of the other 26 EU members over its Gibraltar-related veto threat. Not that this will worry the Spanish government, which is said to be 'gloating' over its diplomatic success in getting Mrs May to say that they wanted to hear. And who can blame them? Whether it really means anything is another question.
  • Spain's macro-micro dichotomy . . . The 2 very different real estate markets - the result of the introduction of the politically-driven euro, ridiculously low interest rates, an influx of German and French cash and the inevitable phony boom driven by excess construction and rapidly rising property values. See here on this, after this taster:- Travel a little beyond the bustling centers, to the outskirts of smaller villages, and ghost towns still litter the landscape - once ambitious developments, often started on agricultural land that was [often corruptly] converted into building lots just before the crisis hit. They still stand half finished, unable to find a buyer.
  • Here's a delightful map of the Roman roads of Iberia.
The EU/UK/Brexit
  • The U.K.’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, has succeeded in what she set out to do. She has brought the country together. Politicians of all colours, along with their supporters, are at last in full agreement. They are united in their hatred of Mrs. May’s Brexit deal. And with reason. It is a terrible deal. Full rationale for this statement here.
  • So, there were, after all, 3 documents, not just the Withdrawal Agreement/Treaty and the Political Declaration. The third document comprises several 'side declarations' on the issues – such as fishing – on which EU states will be taking a hard line. See here on this.
  • And it's not only the Spanish Prime Minister - who is in a weak position and who has an electorate to please, or at least mollify - who is using the leverage granted by the Brexit negotiations/would-be-deal. As Sky News puts it: Spain and France have exposed the brutal reality of Brexit for UK. Indeed, M Macron has already threatened that France will use said leverage in respect of fishing rights in 'British' waters. As has been noted, these pre and post Sunday summit interventions by Spain and France were not calculated to make Mrs May's task in getting the deal through parliament any easier. Quite the contrary.
  • Sticking my neck out, I'll predict that – when historians, and even politicians, look back at 2018 – they won't see this as the finest day in the the EU's history - whatever the British response ultimately is to being so royally shafted. And then shafted again in the years after 2018.  To those who say it was all so inevitable and predictable, I'd reply: Only because Mrs May pandered from the outset to the imbecilic Brexiteer fanatics like Johnson et al. And then made disastrous tactical and strategic mistakes in her negotiations. Perhaps because her heart - as well as her brain - wasn't in it, and her superordinate goal was to ensure the British had their - ridiculously entitled - People's Vote - and decided to stay in after all. I'd certainly vote for that, in preference to the deal she's crafted.
Brexit: What's Next???
  • WTF knows? But try this and this, if you really want to know what the full rane of possibilities is.
Spanish
Finally . . .
  • If you access this blog via a reader such as Feedly or The Old Reader, you'll have discovered that my blog stopped appearing in these in August in some cases and October in others. I might have fixed the Feedly problem but not that of The Old Reader etc.. In these cases, a Google search, a Bookmark or going direct to my URL – www.colindavies.blogspot.com – are your options.
  • Of course, if you gave up on my blog when it no longer appeared in the reader you were using, you won't be reading this comment . . .
  •  BTW, Feedly used to say I had 97 'followers'. Now it says I have just one, presumably reader Geoff. Who was good enough to alert me to this situation. Oh yes, I've added a Feedly button on the right of this blog, which appears to work correctly, after several abortive attempts with various 'RSS feeds'. Any readers who once used Feedly but had recourse to other access options after my blog's disappearance can now return to it. I hope.
© [David] Colin Davies

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Thoughts from Cologne, Germany: 25.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters German
  • So, I did go yesterday to a small Christmas market in Cologne and the Glühwein was enjoyable. But I much preferred the sugared almonds, which I'm told are another German Xmas tradition:-
  • Being a relatively light sleeper, I'm used to being woken by noisy guests in Spanish hotels, but it's a new experience for me to be dragged out of slumber by a couple somewhere nearby being exceptionally - and very loudly - nice to each other at 4.15am. Both yesterday and today. I was tempted to shout Get a room! But, of course, they already had one. Too close to mine.
Matters Spanish/Galician
The UK/Brexit
  • Commentator 1: As to the eventual outcome of this fracas, one can speculate but serious prediction is unwise. There are too many variables, too many people involved and enough sub-plots to keep a soap opera going for a decade. And once one factors in the range of responses and the reactions to them, the chances of making a correct call are slight. 
  • Commentator 2: If the ‘no’ vote comes [in the British Parliament in December], there is a presumption that Article 50 could be briefly extended, until July at the latest, but only to enable the British to elect a new prime minister, hold a general election, a second referendum, a Norway/EFTA negotiation - or whatever else emerges. Even this is not guaranteed.
  • Commentator 3: So, will Europe miss the UK when it’s gone? Probably not. Full article here. It ends, by the way, with a comment of one EU politician: All the big issues: fisheries, Gibraltar, will come back with a vengeance, with the backstop hanging over us. It’s not over yet. Dear god.
  • The Guardian editorial view: The intense inwards focus in Westminster on last minute Brexit dramas has tended to obscure the dire impact on Europe itself of Britain’s decision to leave the EU. It is a poignant moment. Across a continent beset by mounting internal and external problems, Britain’s departure will be interpreted by many as a stinging vote of no confidence in Europe’s collective future. With the summit in Brussels to seal the Brexit withdrawal agreements now expected to go ahead as planned, the remaining 27 member states have reached a portentous turning point that none of them ever really wanted. . . . The scale of Europe’s loss is exceeded only by our own. Full article here.
The EU
  • If you haven't already done so, read the Guardian's editorial view of Brexit for an outline of the EU's major challenges post Brexit, and the options open to it,

© [David] Colin Davies

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Thoughts from Cologne, Germany: 24.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters German
  • I am now back in Cologne and preparing to visit one of those famous German Christmas markets. And to taste, and possibly enjoy, Glühwein. Mulled wine in English, I think.
  • But just to go back to Dutch cyclists for a second . . . This article, in Dutch, reveals that the government is going to send €74m on much-needed new/expanded station bike-parks around the country, with regional governments allocating €245m for this. Wow! Will there be cars in The Netherlands in 20 years' time? Massive bike-carriages on trains? Including tandems. 
Matters Spanish/Galician
  • Some interesting uses for redundant bullrings.
  • And here's 'an alternative view of Spain's wackiest architect'. Assuming you think that Cataluña is in Spain.
  • I did a double take at a headline this morning telling us that electricity in Spain is the cheapest in Europe. The opposite of the usual view. Of course, as you can see here, it isn't exactly true. Though the signs are good.
The UK/Brexit
  • I see at least one columnist endorses my suspicion: I expect an initiative from our EU partners, opening the door to extending the negotiating period should Britain wish to conduct a new referendum.
  • Of course, there are an increasing number of people who now feel this was the intention all along of the respective British and EU 'establishments'. After all, Brussels is well versed in getting electorates to change their minds. If we can't/won't change the government, let's change the people. Or at least the way they vote. So, let's between us manufacture a deal that absolutely no one will accept in the UK and then move, via a second referendum, to a 'Better the Devil you've known for 40 years than the dreadful new one we've created'.
The EU
  • If the EU does, indeed, fall apart in the next 10-20 years – or change itself put of all recognition – then all the Brexit angst will have been largely pointless.
  • Here's one siren voice: The shocking PMI data is a wake-up call. The eurozone is weak, brittle, and once again on the cusp of trouble. See the full AEP article below, in which the current Brexit situation is reviewed against data which the EU should be worrying about.
Spanish
Social Media
  • Plans to use snipers to shoot colonies of parakeets that have multiplied across Spain have drawn the ire of animal activists in the country. Can anything sensible be done these days, in the face of the outraged-by-everything eco-warriors et al
  • But at least the London police have arrived at the solution of knocking thieves on scooters to the ground by driving into them, whether or not they've removed their helmets. The problem must have become gigantic for the police to get away with this blatant infringement of the thieves' human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of criminal happiness.
Finally . . .

HELP!
  • Reader Geoff has kindly alerted me to the fact that the Feedly reader was no long showing current posts. I then discovered this was true of other readers. Maybe all of them. The message from one of them was: Feed not found. Wrong feed URL or dead feed. Ive wasted hours trying to fix this problem, without success. So, if there's a genius out there who can give advice, this will be immeasurably appreciated. As far as I'm aware, all my Blogger settings are correct.
© [David] Colin Davies

THE ARTICLE

Rising recession risk leaves Europe acutely vulnerable to no-deal Brexit shock: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Dieselgate has led to a crisis in the German car industry


Germany and Italy are flirting with recession while eurozone business growth has slumped to a four-year low, leaving the region nakedly exposed to the possible shock of a no-deal Brexit.

The closely watched IHS Markit index of German manufacturing fell to 50.2 in November, close to the ‘boom-bust line’ that divides growth from contraction. It is the weakest level since the tail-end of eurozone banking crisis in 2013. Foreign export orders fell to a six-year low.

Germany’s data office Destastis confirmed on Friday that the country’s economy contracted by 0.2% in the third quarter. It blamed crumbling global demand and disruption in the car industry from new vehicle test standards called WLTP.

Italy’s economy has also stalled. Peter Praet, the European Central Bank’s chief economist, warned that the country is uncomfortably close to a fresh crisis as the budget showdown between Brussels and the insurgent Lega-Five Star coalition in Rome continues to escalate.

Risk spreads on 10-year Italian bonds have been stuck above 300 basis points for nearly two months, gradually tightening the noose on the economy. Italian banks are mostly unable to roll over their bonds, forcing them to curb lending. Mortgage rates are being reset upwards. “No country can sustain such high spreads for a long time,” he said.

Mr Praet told the Handelsblatt that there would be no ECB reprieve for Italian lenders at the next meeting in December, a warning that may cause alarm in banking circles. “It is too early to decide on a new TLTRO,” he said, referring to a renewal of the ECB’s €800bn (£708bn) lending window for banks.

Hopes that the economic slowdown in the third quarter would prove nothing worse than a 'soft patch' have been dashed as a blizzard of ominous figures point to further trouble in the fourth quarter. The eurozone’s open trading economyand heavy reliance on export demand makes it more leveraged to the ups and downs of the world cycle than the US economy.

It is becoming clear that the credit crunch in emerging markets - caused by vanishing dollar liquidity - is doing more damage to Europe than anticipated. So is the economic slowdown in China, where monetary and fiscal policy stimulus has so far failed to gain much traction.

Phil Smith from IHS Markit said Germany had seen a “sustained loss in underlying growth momentum”. The manufacturing sector has been hit by “falling sales in China, Italy, and Turkey”. The composite PMI survey for manufacturing and services across the eurozone dropped to a four-year low.

The abrupt downturn in Germany and Italy has echoes of mid-2008. We now know that the two economies went into recession in the second quarter of that year, leading the rest of the eurozone into crisis.

The ECB was oblivious to this at the time, distracted by the short-term ‘noise’ of oil prices. It famously raised interest rates into the storm in July 2008. This was a crucial ingredient in the strange mix of events that led to the near-collapse of the western financial system two months later.

The central bank is under more sophisticated management today but it is nevertheless taking a risk by proceeding with pre-set plans to wind down quantitative easing and halt bond purchases at the end of this year - not least because it has been the lonely buyer of Italy’s net debt issuance for almost three years.

The reduction in QE has mechanical effects on the growth rate of broad M3 money, and therefore constrains bank lending. M3 was growing at around 5% a year during the peak QE period when the ECB was buying €80bn of bonds a month. It has been slowing ever since. The rate dropped to 2.1% in September on a three-month annualized basis.

“On announced policies M3 will stop growing completely in 2019. Frankly, they are setting themselves up for a catastrophe unless there is a change of course,” said Professor Tim Congdon from the Institute of International Monetary Research.

“The eurozone is in state of monetary civil war. There is a game of chicken going on between Italy and the protestant ethic countries of the North, and Germany in particular. This is very dangerous for the whole world economy,” he said.

Italy's populist leaders are on a collision course with the EU. Italy's Minister of Labor and Industry Luigi Di Maio (left) gestures next to Interior Minister Matteo Salvini

Fabio Balboni from HSBC said the ECB’s forecast for a growth rebound late this year and into 2019 “look increasingly at odds with reality” and may have to be torn up. The European Commission’s prediction for 2.1% growth in 2018 issued just two weeks ago already looks impossible.

The clear risk for the eurozone is that a no-deal Brexit would push the region’s fragile economy over the edge, setting off an unstable chain reaction. This would be hard to counter, if allowed to happen. The ECB’s policy rate is already minus 0.4%. The apparatus of fiscal rules makes it almost impossible to respond quickly with radical budget stimulus.

The outcome would be worse if the EU chose to act on any of the threats circulated during the Brexit talks of shutting air links and transport ties, and severing the cross-Channel supply chains of European multinationals, let alone imposing a de facto blockade on their biggest export market, as some have suggested. The shock to the German car industry would be systemic. It is already reeling from multiple blows.

The EU side would have to introduce emergency “continuity measures” in the current global circumstances as a matter of vital self-interest. If it did not do so - by misjudgment, or to make an example of Britain - the eurozone would risk crashing into a deep recession. This would open a political Pandora’s Box within monetary union.

There is no sign yet that EU leaders are fully alert to this risk, just as they were slow to recognize the danger in September and October 2008, when most of them thought the banking crisis was a contained Anglo-Saxon affair with no implications for them.

The shocking PMI data is a wake-up call. The eurozone is weak, brittle, and once again on the cusp of trouble. Pressuring Britain into accepting the indefinite writ of the European Court in Brexit talks is a high-risk strategy. What if Parliament says no?

Friday, November 23, 2018

Thoughts from Hilversum, the Netherlands: 23.11.18


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. Garish but informative.

Matters Dutch
  • Still on cyclists . . . . Here's a foto of a couple of them I bumped into in Hilversum yesterday.


Matters Spanish/Galician
  • Madrid has levelled the old accusation of perfidy against the British government – around the Gibraltar issue – and continues to threaten to poop the party at the meeting of the 27 EU members aimed at approving the 2 Brexit documents 'agreed' between the UK and the EU this week.
  • Brussels is unhappy with the Spanish 2019 Budget 'blueprint'. Which might not make much difference to what Madrid actually does next year.
  • A place regarded as very nice by El País, a sentiment endorsed by my elder daughter. With luck, you could see it before tourist hordes spoil the experience.
  • An Xmas TV ad from Galicia which is said to have set the entire country a-weeping and a-wailing. Not wassailing, as they should be.
EU/Brexit
  • One or two readers might just be interested in current events, so there is a Brexit Supplement to this post, below.
THE USA
  • Here's a foto I saw in an art gallery here in Hilversum yesterday. Its real title is, I think, The Haymaker. But I prefer: A Finnish Forest Floor Raker.
  • Here's why we should all be grateful this Thanksgivingtide for President Fart.
Spanish

© [David] Colin Davies

THE BREXIT SUPPLEMENT

During this epochal week, a number of Brexit documents have been mentioned in the media:-
  1. The Withdrawal Agreement: c.500 pages long and legally binding.
  2. A Political Declaration. Originally said to be around 7 pages long. Not legally binding. Now reported as being between 25 and 36 page long. Perhaps because it now incorporates . . . .
  3. Several Side Declarations from France, The Netherlands and Spain, on issues of specific concern to these states.
It would be classic British understatement to say these have not gone down well in the UK. Here's a few descriptions of/comments on the Political Declaration:-
  • The 174-paragraph document covers everything from defence co-operation to customs checks, healthcare to fishing rights and sets the broad parameters for the mammoth multi-sectoral negotiation that will open in Brussels in April next year.
  • At the heart of the document is the concept of “balance” between rights and obligations, in which the deeper the UK wants to engage with the EU, the stronger the commitments will need to be to follow EU rules and the writ of the European Court of Justice.
  • Designedly, it includes a huge “spectrum” of possible outcomes, depending on where the politicians draw the line between sovereignty and access to markets, and as such is a mixture of warm and woolly adjectives and hard-edged caveats.
  • Vacuous waffle. Long on ambition it puts off many of the most difficult issues until after Britain leaves the bloc on March 29.
  • 26 pages of waffle that delivers a blindfold Brexit and the worst of all worlds.
  • A wish-list addendum to the [legally binding] Withdrawal Agreement saying 'and we all lived happily ever after'".
  • Gives a strong indication of the future both sides will be set to pursue under Mrs May's watch from next March but is riven with ambiguous fudge, allowing both sides to read into it what they want
  • Everything beneficial to the EU is in the (legally enforceable) Withdrawal Agreement including £39bn UK cash; everything beneficial to the UK is in the Political Declaration (legally unenforceable).
  • A template for a comprehensive free trade agreement that belies Mrs May's suggestion that she has somehow evaded the EU's attempts to confine the UK to the binary choice of Norway or Canada. 
  • As always – but more so here – the devil is in the detail, and there's an awful lot of it, enough to keep many teams of negotiators busy for many years.
  • It remains vague on how closely aligned Britain will remain to the bloc’s rules and therefore how much access it will have to its markets. 
  • 26 pages of highly aspirational prose which begs far more questions than it answers.
All in all, a classic EU document.

Here's Ambrose Evan Pritchard with his take on it all:-

Believe it or not, this is the easy part of Brexit: Talks with the EU will get harder from now on

The Walloon Parliament blocked the EU-Canada deal for months. The UK will be vulnerable to political gaming by every country, and some regions, in the next phase 


Just remember one thing. This is the easy stage of Brexit.

The Withdrawal Agreement passes by qualified majority voting. It cannot be vetoed by one country taking the accord hostage in pursuit of national goals. (Yes, Ireland has a de facto veto, but this is an EU-27 gesture of political solidarity.)

The future relationship and trade deal requires the support of every country and must be ratified by every national parliament. The Walloon parliament - which single-handedly held up the EU CETA deal with Canada - may stick in its oar.

This is a nightmare waiting to happen. The last-minute objections raised by the Spanish and the French this week are a foretaste of what it is going to be like in 2020.

All that Theresa May’s plan achieves is to postpone the showdown. The battle will be held later on far less favourable terrain.

Britain will have been in limbo for yet another two years. The public will be fractious and exhausted. The economy will be vulnerable to the corrosive effects of uncertainty and an investment freeze.

We will no longer have the leverage of the £39bn exit payment. The EU will have had more time to disentangle its supply chains and wind down exposure to the UK.

The updated text to the Political Declaration released today does not alter the core fact that Brussels will have legal veto power to block the UK’s exit from the Irish backstop.

Article 132 states that the European Court (ECJ) will have the final say on any dispute. The legal capture of the Withdrawal Agreement/Irish backstop is extended into the future relationship. I want to scream.

Article 135 establishes a punishment mechanism, with "financial compensation" for breaches of the accord.

In other words, Britain will be in the same position as Italy is right now within monetary union: facing sanctions for violation of the Fiscal Compact (which is an absurd, contractionary, deflationary law). The ECJ decides.  I scream again.

The EU will be able to keep Britain locked into its legal and regulatory orbit as a colonial adjunct, subject to the Acquis on the environment, labour law, taxation, competition, state aid, and obviously on tariff and trade policy. It will be in no rush to give up this extraordinary power.

“It sits rather comfortably with the UK in its status quo transition, with all the obligations of membership and none of the rights, and will use the prospective cliff edge to force concessions,” said Sir Ivan Rogers, Theresa May’s former chief Brexit negotiator.

The revamped text does say that the EU would “consider” the use of new customs technology and "facilitative arrangements”, along with recognition of “trusted traders”, implicitly as a way of ending the backstop at some point in the future.

This fleshes out the possibilities slightly. Yet the EU retains exactly the same veto. As I wrote in my column yesterday, the EU has set a trap and closed the door.

The EU’s objective is to “maximise leverage and tee up a trade negotiation after our exit where the clock and the cliff edge can again be used to maximise concessions from London,” Sir Ivan said in his recent Cambridge lecture.

“They have the UK against the wall again in 2020. We shall be having precisely the same debate over sovereignty/control versus market access as we are now. The private sector will still be yearning for clarity on where we are going, and not getting much.

“It will be obvious by early autumn 2020 that the deal will not be ready by the year end, and that an extension is needed to crack the really tough issues,” Sir Ivan said.

So celebrate this illusory truce if you want. The ghastly likelihood is that we will still be arguing about this in two, three, or four years time.

It would be better for our national sanity to resolve the matter now. Nothing is to be gained from kicking the can into the 2020s.

As I understand it, AEP now goes so far at to favour a No-Deal Brexit. With all its attendant risks. Whether you think there are gigantic or manageable after will depend on whom you read and whom you believe.


The knowledgable Richard North is definitely one of the pessimists. Here's today's post from him in full, headed A Vassal's Charter. Bear in mind that North is a Brexiteer who has never supported any of the proposals brought forward by Mrs May's government, and that he detests the extremist Brexiteers like Johnson and Reee-Mogg, whom he blames – along with others - for taking the UK to this disastrous point with their preposterous and unachievable demands. He has long championed the Efta/EEA option, and a gradual approach to disentanglement. Vide his Flexit plan:-

In a crowded chamber in the Commons yesterday, Theresa May told MPs: "the draft text that we have agreed with the Commission is a good deal for our country and for our partners in the EU. It honours the vote of the British people by taking back control of our borders, our laws and our money, while protecting jobs, security and the integrity of our precious United Kingdom".

And so it comes to pass that our prime minister is reduced to the status of a common liar. By any measure – other than that of Mrs May and her cohorts - the draft withdrawal agreement is a very bad deal. Not in any way does it honour the vote of the peoples of the United Kingdom – a group which our prime minister consistently fails to address, as she refers to Britain and not even Great Britain.

Unabashed, she delivered much the same mendacious message standing outside No.10 Downing Street (pictured), announcing that approval of the whole package, which now includes the political declaration, "is within our grasp".

Attempting to adopt stern, Churchillian tones, she concluded by declaring that she was "determined to deliver" this fabulous agreement. But, if she intended to inspire, she did not. All she managed to do was sound faintly ridiculous.

What isn't ridiculous is that political declaration. A mere 36 pages of double-spaced text (including the cover page), it was agreed yesterday afternoon by the EU-UK negotiating teams. But, if the sudden "breakthrough" was theatre, it wasn't very good value. They didn't even spin it out until Saturday.

The substance of this thing is very much as one might expect – a template for a comprehensive free trade agreement that belies Mrs May's suggestion that she has somehow evaded the EU's attempts to confine the UK to the binary choice of Norway or Canada.

Mrs May argues that the political declaration recognises that there is a spectrum, with the extent of our commitments taken into account in deciding the level of checks and controls. But, in more general terms, she had a binary choice between a multilateral or a bilateral agreement and she's chosen the latter. The rest is detail. The best we can even aspire to is a variation of the Canada agreement, with some tweaks and some additions.

As always – but more so here – the devil is in the detail, and there's an awful lot of it, enough to keep many teams of negotiators busy for many years. Perhaps, therefore, the most significant part of the declaration is Article 144, towards the very end.

With the intention of concluding an agreement that can come into force by the end of 2020 (Article 138), and working within the framework of Article 218 (TFEU), it is envisaged that the Parties will "negotiate in parallel the agreements needed to give the future relationship legal form".

That means that the intention is to avoid sequencing, where one part or chapter must be agreed before moving onto the next, which is the way the withdrawal agreement has been handled and the way accession treaties are negotiated.

However, while the willingness may be there (in theory), such a process is highly manpower-intensive and it may be that the Commission will not want to (or can even afford to) commit the resources necessary to secure expeditious progress.

Nevertheless, we should see some signs of where they stand very quickly after Brexit. The intention is that, immediately following the UK's withdrawal, the Parties have committed to agreeing a programme setting out the structure and format of the negotiation rounds and a formal schedule of negotiating rounds.

Setting out such a detailed timetable is rare, and represents a huge gamble on the part of the UK. It gives a venal media exactly the sort of points they can focus on, which even the average political correspondent can understand – a series of cliff-edge deadlines over which they can hyperventilate without having to address any of the details.

Drilling down into the detail, we can already see that the future agreement is built round concessions which the UK will have to make for the thing to work. Clues can be seen in the juxtaposition of multiple contradictory statements in Articles 24 and between that and Article 25. The combination rather gives the game away.

Opening Article 24, we see the "motherhood and apple pie" sentiment to the effect that the parties will be "preserving regulatory autonomy", followed by the commitment to "put in place provisions to promote regulatory approaches that are transparent, efficient, promote avoidance of unnecessary barriers to trade in goods and are compatible to the extent possible".

Of course, if "unnecessary barriers to trade in goods" are to be avoided, then there must be regulatory alignment. That means that "regulatory autonomy" on one side or the other will have to go. And we don't even have to guess which party will have to make the sacrifice. Article 25 tells us that "the United Kingdom (not just 'Britain') will consider aligning with Union rules in relevant areas".

If there is to be anything approaching frictionless trade – and the gentlemen and ladies of the press have already noted the absence of this phrase from the declaration – then the UK will have to do a lot more than "consider". Here lies the vassal's charter, with not even the tempering provisions of the EEA, which require consultation on all new initiatives.

In fact, the UK admits later on in Article 24 that we will have to go much further than mere regulatory alignment. "Disciplines on technical barriers to trade (TBT) and sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) should build on and go beyond the respective WTO agreements", the Article says.

Taking us into the spider's web of the EU's regulatory "ecosystem", it tells us that the TBT disciplines should set out common principles in the fields of standardisation, technical regulations, conformity assessment, accreditation, market surveillance, metrology and labelling.

As far as animals and animal products go, the parties commit to treating one another as single entities as regards SPS measures, "including for certification Purposes". Furthermore, they will "recognise regionalisation on the basis of appropriate epidemiological information provided by the exporting party".

Effectively, we remain within the orbit of the EU's regulatory system, with profound implications for making trade deals with other third countries outside the EU sphere of interest. This is a straight rebuttal of the claim that the "British" people will be "taking back control of our laws". We won't.

Another climbdown lies within the realms of our relationships with EU agencies. In March 2018, the fatuous Mrs May spoke at the Mansion House in London, arguing for something she had absolutely no chance of delivering.

"We will also want to explore with the EU, the terms on which the UK could remain part of EU agencies such as those that are critical for the chemicals, medicines and aerospace industries: the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, and the European Aviation Safety Agency", she said.

Burbling on, this stupid woman then declared that we "would, of course, accept that this would mean abiding by the rules of those agencies and making an appropriate financial contribution", before going on to set out what would be the non-existent "benefits" of this approach.

Associate membership of these agencies, she said, is the only way to meet our objective of ensuring that these products only need to undergo one series of approvals, in one country. The agencies had "a critical role" in setting and enforcing relevant rules, and associate membership could permit UK firms to resolve certain challenges related to the agencies through UK courts rather than the ECJ.

Coming down to earth with a bump, all the declaration will allow is for the parties to "explore the possibility of cooperation" of UK authorities with agencies of interest.

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of EU law would tell you that this had to be the case. But our brilliant prime minister knew better. And for her next trick, she will walk across the English Channel to get to Brussels. What she doesn't escape from though is "a fair and appropriate financial contribution". She doesn't get a ticket to the party, but she still has to pay the bills.

Moving on, we find customs dealt with in a completely separate section, defined by Articles 26 and 27. The Parties are to "put in place" ambitious customs arrangements, in pursuit of their overall objectives.

In what has been hailed as a resuscitation of "MaxFac", the Parties envisage making use of all available facilitative arrangements and technologies to achieve this. And that actually makes sense – the direction of travel in customs management is towards more automation.

But, in a distinction that will be missed by many, this provision applies only to customs. Technical barriers to trade and the all-important sanitary and phytosanitary provisions lie outside the scope of these Articles.

Thus, while "facilitative arrangements and technologies" will also be considered in developing any alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing, broad spectrum regulatory checks are still on the agenda.

Altogether, Mrs May's government has taken us down this laborious road to achieve so very little that even the meanest intellect must be wondering why we didn't go for the much superior Efta/EEA option. But that won't include Mrs May. She is in "broadcast only" mode, settling out to sell her package to the indolent and terminally thick.

Outside parliament, she will also have to struggle, but when a prime minister is prepared to lie, and does it so fluently, the world is her oyster. If she repeats her lies often enough, there may be enough people who will believe she has achieved something worthwhile.

In reality, she really has sold us out. But we knew that had to happen ever since her 2017 Lancaster House speech. A flock of rather bedraggled chickens has come home to roost.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thoughts from Hilversum, The Netherlands: 22.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Dutch
  • As I've said, bicycles are everywhere in this (very flat) land. Too many of the bloody things, say some. Bike parks - both those above-ground and those below it - are permanently full to capacity, it's alleged. I don't know about that but I am sure I'd have the greatest difficulty in finding my bike in, say, the immense bike-park outside Amsterdam station. Maybe that's really why the parking facilities are full – thousands of riders can't find their bikes and have effectively abandoned them there. Possibly 2 or 3 of them.
  • That said, I'm told that bike theft is a major problem here. If so, this would clearly alleviate the problem of abandoned bikes to at least some extent.
  • Anyway, for some good advice on cycling in Dutch cities, see the article below, entitled: The curious Dutch obsession with cycling – and the unspoken rules.
Matters Spanish/Galician
  • Spain seems determined to capitalise on the Brexit negotiations, with the new left-of-centre government making noises about Scotland that the previous right-of-centre (Cataluña-sensitive) government would never have made. See here and here. I doubt that either London or Brussels sees this as helpful, ahead a of key meeting on Sunday next.
  • The ever-inventive Gwyneth Paltrow thinks you might deserve a whole Galician village as an Xmas present. It is really true that rich foreigners will be attratcted to a life in 'medieval times that Galicia never left behind'? Well, maybe, if they can helicopter in and out. And pay someone to deal with the local bureaucrats. Not to mention the (allegedly 'happy-to-have-you') locals.
EU Headaches

Bigger things than Brexit to worry about . . . ?
  • Greece: Greece’s financial crisis has come back to the boil as Athens draws up emergency plans to stabilize the banking system, raising concerns that the country may ultimately need a fourth EU rescue to escape its depression trap. Global risk aversion and contagion from Italy’s parallel banking drama has lifted a lid on the festering legacy of bad debts, and exposed the implausible methods employed by Greek regulators and the EU-led troika to camouflage the problem.
  • Italy: Brussels is expected to launch its excessive deficit procedure against Italy for violation of the debt ceiling rules of the Fiscal Compact, doubling down on a fateful clash with the insurgent Lega-Five Star government in Rome. This could lead to fines against a net contributor to the EU budget, an unenforceable sanction that risks a combustible political showdown.
  • Its Future: Extracts from this interesting article, from a Brit Remainer:-
- The EU has clearly become too insensitive, too brittle, to survive for ever.
- There can be no doubt that Europe at present is growing more fragmented, separating into its multifarious identities rather than cohering into a single European one.
- A likely scenario has Europe changing and dividing, as its economic space has to adjust to the changing politics, economies and cultures of its nations.
- History suggests an EU that could evolve into a new Holy Roman Empire: a confederation of states, some big, some small, some little more than cities, like Monaco, San Remo and Lichtenstein. 

Spanish
Finally . . .
  • Amazon is a much admired operator, but not by everyone. As this article shows.
© [David] Colin Davies

THE ARTICLE

The curious Dutch obsession with cycling – and the unspoken rules: Rodney Bolt, Amsterdam resident

The bicycle is central to the Dutch psyche. People hop onto two wheels at a tender age and keep going until (almost literally) they drop. Hipsters, grannies, toddlers and CEOs all trundle determinedly through towns and swoop around the countryside. In a land of 17 million inhabitants, there are 23 million bicycles. In Amsterdam nearly half of all journeys to work are made by bike. This is a world you disrupt at your peril. Here’s how to get by relatively unscathed.

The traditional Amsterdam bicycle is a heavy black affair, more Miss Marple than Tour de France, with back-pedal brakes and no gears. In lieu of a basket up front, many come equipped with a sturdy plastic milk crate, which doubles as a pedestrian-parting bull-bar. The frame seems made of cast iron, and the rest made up of parts of an astonishing variety of vintages. Hipster taste is leading to the appearance of sleeker machines, yet the average Amsterdam bicycle would in many countries be considered a wreck.

A bicycle may be built for one, but Amsterdammers consider this a bothersome and unnecessary restriction. Parents fit little seats – one to the crossbar and one to the back carrier – to transport their offspring, and build up sturdy calves pedalling along with one child on the front, one on the back, and panniers stuffed with shopping. To others, the cycle becomes an extension of body rather than a distinct means of transport. They behave as they would if they were walking: lovers cycle hand-in-hand, dogs are taken ‘walkies’ galloping alongside, and if it rains people pop up an umbrella with one hand and cycle on regardless.

Sounds chaotic? Not so. It all functions with relative ease. Far-sighted legislation in the 1970s has provided a network of cycle paths around the city, and out across the countryside. Cyclists even have their own traffic lights (granted, not always obeyed). Whereas in cities like London a war seems to rage between cyclists and motorists, in Amsterdam most motorists are cyclists too, so come with a mite more tolerance. The real battle is with tourists.

In recent years, hotels, hire firms and tour companies have taken to renting out bicycles to all-comers. Once, renting a bike in Amsterdam was the provenance of the intrepid few, keen on an authentic local experience; nowadays anyone who-can-just-about or who had-a-fairy-cycle-once is joining a wobbling veering flock that blocks cycle paths, breaks rules and wreaks havoc. It is making Amsterdammers livid.

A bicycle is by far the most sensible, environmentally sound and enjoyable way of getting about the city, so it seems unfair to deny visitors the experience – so here are some pointers to help ensure you don’t get screamed at, sworn at, or run down.

1. Cycle paths operate like roads: don’t dawdle along in the middle. Keep to one side (the right) to allow those work or errand-bound Amsterdammers to overtake – and don’t cycle up the wrong way.
2. It’s a dreamy city, but don’t be a ‘diagonalist’: drifting almost imperceptibly from one side of the cycle path to the other, frustrating attempts to get past you or predict what you’re about to do.
3. It may be ages since you’ve been on a bike, but don’t forget the highway-code basics. Observe red lights. Don’t ride two abreast (when Amsterdammers do, they employ an internal radar and pull over when someone approaches from behind, or gives their bell a polite ting). Hand signals wouldn’t go amiss, either, especially if you’re turning left across a cycle path.
4. Be aware if you’re a bit of a wobbler that those about you have been cycling almost since they could walk, and won’t be expecting sudden changes of trajectory.
5. Amsterdam cyclists operate according to a subtle system of give-and-take when two cycles approach a point from different directions, slowing down or speeding up according to an instinctive understanding of who might have got there first, to allow each other stress-free passage. Barging ahead claiming right-of-way, or suddenly stopping with a “He’s coming straight at me!” can cause mayhem. 
6. There’s so much to see... but most other cyclists are not sight-seeing. Don’t stop on a bicycle path to take a photo, clump together with friends to admire a building, or cluster on a corner to chat about what to do next.
7. Keep that phone in your pocket. Taking videos of your friends up ahead, or selfies while cycling (it happens!) can be selfie-cide. Pull over (off the cycle lane) if you need to check a map.
8. Watch out for moped drivers – they’re currently allowed on cycle paths (despite attempts to change the legislation); many speed and can be a menace. If you think this is madness, you’ll find that for once Amsterdam cyclists are on your side.

Fiets ze!  (Happy cycling!)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thoughts from Haarlem, The Netherlands: 21.11.18

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. Garish but informative.

Matters Dutch
  • Here's something about the Dutch, clearly written by a Dutch person:-





























  • It reminded me that, last year in Haarlem, I was nearly hit by a scooter as - innocently/foolishly - I crossed a cycle path without looking far enough left and right. So, I was pleased to hear last night that, since October, these have been banned from cycle paths. But this wasn't totally true. Only if they have a blue number plate and have promised not to go faster than 25kph. Still fast enough to kill the unwitting, of course. And to mean you can still observe scooterists slaloming along the paths in and out of the slower cyclists.
  • Speaking of the paths . . . Such is the priority for cyclists here, the ratio of cycle path to footpath is often 2:1 but can even reach 150-200:1. Don't believe me? See here:-
  • Indeed, it sometimes looks as if there's no dedicated space for pedestrians at all. Though this was taken in a pedestrianised zone, albeit with quite a few cars in it.

 TBH, I think the bikes are expected to confine themselves to the road in this part of the city.
  • And talking of cyclists . . . They're a hardy breed here. Many riders are without headgear in a temperature of 5 degrees – with a sharp wind – and quite a few even eschew gloves.
  • Perhaps it's because they start young at being exposed to the winter elements here. A woman walking towards me had a very young baby in a sling on her chest. Well-wrapped up from the neck down but with its head totally uncovered. Compare this with the insistence of our maid in tropical Jakarta on putting a woollen hat on the bonce of our younger daughter for all of the first 6 months of her life. Admittedly most of the time under air-conditioning.
  • I heard my first All I want for Christmas is You yesterday afternoon. Here in a café in Haarlem. Far too bloody soon.
Matters Spanish
  • Spain seems determined to screw up Mrs May's slim chance of getting her deal accepted by the EU, never mind by her compatriots. Click here on this. I'd just give up if I were her.
  • More on the rise of the far-right Vox party, here and here. I would call them 'fascists' but this is a meaningless label in Spain. Whether you're on the right or the left there, it just means: “You are a prime shit and I violently disagree with your views”. Couple of extracts:-
  1. The event at Vistalegre marks a turning point in Spanish politics: the rise of a new far right, in a country once considered an exception to the global fascist menace. . . . A shift aligned to other global phenomena, and yet one which also has some unmistakably Spanish characteristics.
  2. Will Spain be able to take advantage of both Brexit and Mr. Salvini’s Italy to move into a leadership position in the European Union? Could Madrid offer Europe a vision for an even better future?
Brexit
  • All of us are clueless but some - the far-right Brexit extremists - are more clueless than others.
  • A propos:-

Spanish
English
  • Reader Perry picks up on the Spanish word Pasota from María (see the Comments section here) and cites an article with 30 more foreign word with no English equivalent. I wondered about antier, for anteayer but the Real Academia de la Lengua Española says that antier is la forma coloquial de anteayer, es decir es exactamente lo mismo, pero en un contexto muchísimo más informal. En passant,  desvelar also means to reveal, disclose, uncover. As well as 'to do one's best'.
Finally . . .
© [David] Colin Davies