Thursday, November 07, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 7.11.19

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

Note: A few of the items below have been borrowed from Lenox Napier's Business Over Tapas of today.

Spanish Politics 
  • Spain’s Prosecutors’ Association (the Asociación de Fiscales (AF)) issued a statement on Wednesday to remind Spain’s acting prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, of its independence, and that it does not follow the orders of the Spanish government. On Monday, during a TV election debate, Pedro Sánchez boasted of controlling Spain’s public prosecutor in his bid to extradite former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont from Belgium. Spain’s public prosecutor (or attorney general), is appointed by the Spanish government every 4 years, but the Spanish constitution stresses that the office should remain independent and impartial.
  • A nice post from María.
Spanish Life 
  • Hmm. For every Spaniard who returns home from living in the UK, 3 have recently gone in the other direction, says El Confidencial. ‘Employment here in Spain is crap’, they say. 
  • If you are in work, here's something on the days on which you can skive off.
  • And, if you can afford to buy a home, here are the main pitfalls, especially for foreigners beguiled by the agent's smile. Of a crocodile.
  • Autumn, it says here, is the best season in Spain. On the other hand . . . La Coruña in Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Bizkaia in the Basque Country are all on orange alert for dangerous coastal conditions. And Lugo, Asturias and Leon, all in the north, are all on a yellow warning for snowfall.
  • This had to happen: BBVA has joined other banks (Banco de Santander and Banco Sabadell) in charging customers €100€ pa for maintaining current accounts that don't t meet new and stricter requirements.  
  • HT to Lenox for . .   Podemos quotes figures of the political corruption in Spain. Currently, they claim, it runs at €90,000 million euros (€90bn).  A book called ‘Diccionario de la corrupción’ estimates the total loss in corruption between 1978 and 2015 at the more modest figure of €7,500 million, or only €7.5bn.
Galician Life 
  • An abandoned village in Lugo bought by a German has been turned into ‘an intellectual paradise’. In the past 18 months, around 100 people have taken advantage of The Foundry as a place to compose, write or think. Visitors are invited to help with the repairs on the hamlet.  
The UK 
  •  Words like “fascist”, which used to have a very specific meaning, are now a lazy catch-all for Anyone Who Doesn’t Agree With Us. Welcome to Spain.
  • The most unsurprising headline of the decade, or possibly century - The health service  is being used as an election tool by both parties.
  • Brexit: Richard North: Once past the actual withdrawal stage, if it ever happens, we are either in for the long haul of negotiating a trade deal with the EU, which can only give us a fraction of the market access that we have now, or we are precipitated into a no-deal situation at the end of next year. The very last thing we will be able to do is "move on" from Brexit. The failure of Mrs May, right at the beginning of the negotiations, to go for the only option that would have given us a smooth transition – the Efta/EEA option - means that we are locked in a Brexit quagmire, where the UK's negotiators will be struggling to bring back from Brussels anything of substance – with the inevitable drag on our economic performance. 
  • Middle-class suburban voters have turned against the Republicans in a series of state election setbacks; an ominous rebuke to President Trump that coincides with news that the first public impeachment hearings against him will start next week. The beginning of the end?
The Way of the World
  • 'Deepfakes' have a practically limitless power of hyperrealistic simulation as they can fabricate convincingly realistic documents that appear to be totally natural. It's the perfect device for creating and maintaining an increasingly hyperreal world. They have the potential to be especially destructive because they are arriving at a time when it already is becoming harder to separate fact from fiction. More here.
Social Media
  • Annoyingly, there’s no place to be unsociable on social media. See the amusing first article below.
  • Between the clever manipulations, the improbable news-stories and the hate-merchants who pump out crude attacks against their particular bug-bears, it’s a good time to steer clear of social media. Until, at least, next year.  
Finally . . .
  • I'm rather tempted by the second article to visit Órgiva. Even if it doesn't differ much from many Spanish places I've been to.

1. My wife asked me to join WhatsApp – and now the banality is unbearable: Anonymous .

Ping! Dave has had a terrible day at work. Ping! Amanda from over the road is preparing Fattoush for dinner, nom. Ping! F45 class is fully booked. Ping! My brother-in-law has just completed a cycle ride, here’s a screenshot of his Strava. Ping! My wife’s nephew just received a commendation for not hitting anyone in class today, thumbs up emoji. Ping! I don’t care. Ping! Please make it stop.

It started with the best intentions. My wife encouraged me to download WhatsApp on my iPhone because everyone was using it, apparently. At the time it seemed like a convenient way to call and message people over WiFi without using any data allowance. Then, I was invited to join my first group, set up by a friend whom I go to football matches with. Others in our circle joined and it was useful for planning and banter.

But then, over the months, other group invites started to appear. First there was the family group, the title of which consisted of a heart symbol and the title ‘love our fam’. I knew it wasn’t my family, because my family barely tolerate each other. It was my other family, my wife’s family. At first, I was touched to be considered part of the inner circle, and I joined. Then I joined the alternative ‘other’ family group, set up when my mother-in-law removed herself from the original group after she realised her ex-husband and her nemesis, my wife’s stepmother, were members. Then I joined the secret splinter group set up by my brother-in-law and his wife, for the sole purpose, as far as I could see, of venting about my sister-in-law and her husband. I felt conflicted about joining that one, but as I discovered, WhatsApp group invites often come with ethical implications. What if you don’t accept? And having joined, what if you decide the group is not for you and remove yourself from it? When my mother-in-law left, her exit was the digital equivalent of storming out of a room and slamming the door. Everyone noticed and commented, mainly with angry emojis.

Other invites for other groups arrived, generated largely by my wife. Terrified of making a social faux pas and causing offense, I clicked to join each one. Each click was another iron bar added to the social media prison I was building myself and each group had an annoying, infantile name. There were the ‘Gym Bunnies’, the ‘Village People’, the one which referenced an unnatural sexual act. There were groups with friends in, then groups with friends who weren’t friends with the other friends in. There was even an invite to join my wife’s work WhatsApp group.

I questioned why I would need to be included.

“You know them all and it’s nice to be involved,” she said. “You haven’t got many friends. You should be grateful.”

She was right. I joined, and the deluge of banality began and has never subsided. As more people joined the work group, the volume of messaging grew. One night we laid awake, side by side, our phones trilling in perfect calibrated unison as somewhere miles away lonely Beth from accounts cried out for attention after another night of gin, takeaways and cats. Scores of colleagues rallied to her side with messages of support. I gritted my teeth and sighed.

Recently, we were travelling, and the time difference meant that the conversations happening in the day in the UK interrupted our nights. Even with the sound turned off, the vibration alerts cut through my sleep.

The incessant pinging tickertape of triteness isn’t even the worst thing about unwanted and irrelevant WhatsApp groups. When you’ve been invited to join them by your wife who wants you be involved and engaged, you are also expected to participate in the conversations. So, I have to console Dave who had a bad day and commend Amanda for her culinary skills, and even congratulate little Timmy for not hurting any of his classmates.

Annoyingly, there’s no place to be unsociable on social media. Perhaps I’ll start a group for it.

2. The Funny Side of the Mountain: David Luddington.

The local Tourist Office invited entries for their new Guidebook. For some reason, they rejected mine.   A Tourist’s Guide to Órgiva

Entering the Órgiva valley is to invite a smorgasbord of new and authentic experiences. Even as one crosses the river over the historically maintained Seven Eye bridge, one’s senses suddenly become alive. The eyes feast upon the scattered buildings where old and new co-exist in a melody of architectural styles and where even the electric company can express their creativity, unhampered by the oppressive planning regulations which blight modern cities.

The relaxed and other-worldly feeling which permeates this town is beautifully reflected in the flow and drift of the local traffic. If you have ever mused over the seemingly random and over-zealous regulations which control traffic in the rest of Europe, you can breathe easily in Orgiva, where the only rule is to keep out of everybody else’s way. Here one can relax whilst driving. Throw an arm out of the window in joyful abandonment as you enjoy your post lunch-time drive and you will be greeted by the friendly waves of the locals as you meander aimlessly through town.

Of course, the finest way to enjoy the special nature of Órgiva is on foot. Parking in the town is a joy, as apart from three reserved places outside the Police Station, one can park anywhere, absolutely anywhere. Just stop your car next to where you want to be and leave it there.

As one wanders through the narrow streets one can easily entertain the idea that nothing much has changed for centuries. The dogs which run free could well be the descendants of those who accompanied the first Iberian tribes. They mingle freely with the townsfolk, sharing scraps of food with the human population as they have done since time immemorial. The smells which regale one’s nose remind us of much simpler times and one cannot help but marvel at the durability of Roman sewerage systems.

Like many towns, Órgiva has shops. There is a clothes shop, a chemist, twelve bakeries and a chainsaw shop. The supermarket is a delight for those who struggle with the problems of choices which overwhelm the average Waitrose customer. This supermarket has chosen to eschew the tasteless notion of infinite choice by only stocking one item of each category. With the exception of chicken nuggets where one can choose from thirty eight different varieties. The only area where the notion of choice is truly represented is to which meditating ascetic one wishes to donate one’s returned trolley euro at the end of your visit. Choose carefully and you may well be rewarded with a personal meditation or a Namaste.

If one needs a little help, then there are plenty of tradesmen eager to oblige. If one needs an expert to attempt repairs to one’s computer, car or roof, then there is always somebody’s cousin ready to have a go. Often the same person, as the locals seems to have dispensed with the archaic and restrictive notion of just being an expert in one area. It is refreshing to encounter a culture where enthusiasm and optimism counts for more than boring qualifications.

Come and enjoy a break from reality, visit Órgiva.

No comments: