Sunday, February 23, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 23.2.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
Spanish/Galician Life 
  • The newish  coalition government - in the face of the inevitable rise in gambling addiction - plans to crack down on the industry's advertising. Who can blame it, given the frequency and ubiquity of the ads? Not to mention the industry's sailing so close to the wind under the existing laws.
  • The Corner here takes a look here at the start of the EU fistfight around a 5 year budget affected by the loss of the huge British contribution. Here in Galicia, folk are reeling from the news that agricultural and structural transfers will be down €400m and €200m, respectively. Spain's EU good times are perhaps at an end. To some extent at least. 
  • It's testament to the efforts of our (Galician Nationalist) mayor that the last fatal road accident in Pontevedra city was 9 years ago - tellingly of an 81 year old on a zebra crossing. His latest initiative - alongside that of a reduction of the maximum speed from 10 to 6ph in priority pedestrian areas - is that all e-vehicles must stay at least 2m away from property entrances. Which is surely right, given that Spaniards tend to step outside without checking whom they might walk into. Or who might crash into them . . . 
  • I touched on the words alta and baja the other day, in the context of getting off and going back to work. Right on cue comes a report that here in Galicia a large number of sickness benefit claims are fraudulent. In fact, the percentage in my notes is so high, I wonder if I took it down correctly.
  • Good to see that the Pontevedra police - already famously effective at this - have managed to double the number of speeding fines levied - courtesy of new small and mobile detectors called velolasers
  • Also good to see that the Galician producers feel they can compete with champagne and cava when it comes to sparkling albariño wine. At least in quality, if not in quantity.
  • I see that the delays with the works on O Burgo bridge have been attributed to rain - which is not exactly unusual in winter here - but I see that progress is now being made in establishing a little 'park' at the Lérez end of it, complete with 2 pétanque 'lanes'. The first in the city, I think. I might just take it up.
Way  of the  World
  • There was an article in the Times yesterday about modern dating practices. I've posted it below. Essentially, every young Brit is confused. The men, it seems, because they've discovered that, not only do women like sex and want it as much as they do, but also that women can be just as callous as men in their treatment of dates and 'partners'. Which seems to have led the men - with traditional double standards - to the conclusion that all women are umarriageable sluts. Which perhaps explains the lack of commitment that young women complain about. Whatever, I'm very glad I'm only young at heart . . .
  • Is SMS spamming a new thing? I ask because the Bankia bank has(n't) sent me 3 messages in the last couple of days advising that my (non-existent) account with them is frozen. I don't recall receiving this kind of thing previously. 
Shysters Corner 
  1. Bakker is still at it, with impunity it seems. Funny country, the USA.
  2. Mind you, shysters exist in the UK as well, of course: A private clinic could face an investigation after it recommended using bleach to treat autistic children. Julia Chaplin told an undercover reporter how to use chlorine dioxide, also known as industrial bleach. Ms Chaplin is not a doctor but a podiatrist, although she said her practice was “like your GP”. She offers one-to-one consultations at £34 for 30 minutes or £60 for an hour. Ms Chaplin is a follower of Kerri Rivera, an American former estate agent who is a prominent advocate of using bleach to treat autism. I'd just make both of them consume a bottle of bleach a day. To clean out their insides and, hopefully, destroy what passes for their brains. The font of their ethics.
  • Words/Phrases of the Day:-
  1. Desavanencía:- Unpleasantness, arguments, disagreements, dissent, nastiness, etc. 
  2. Búmeran: Boomerang
  3. Tercer grado: Parole, I think. Which corrupt Spanish politicians seem to be given rather early in their jail sentences.
  4. Baladí: Trivial, paltry.
  • Update on the water situation . . . Lacking any more containers, I decided to check if I'd closed the tap into the tank that seemed to be a true cornucopia of water. In fact, I had. But, thinking this was sufficient, I hadn't turned off the main tap. Conclusion - There's a direct supply to the house as well as via the reservoir. Needless to say, the overflow stopped when I did switch off the main tap. You live and learn. My challenge now is how to use all the stored water. As well as getting the non-stop overflow fixed, of course.

From Hinge and Tinder to ghosting – millennial men, dating and gender politics: Lucy Holden

‘I don’t know any psychopath who would go up to a woman in a bar any more,” Hector McCormick, a 24-year-old actor, says, with wide green eyes. “I wouldn’t, because I’ve seen other guys do it, and you think, ‘Mate, leave her alone.’ You’re perceived as being creepy, seedy, quite … lechy. Maybe some guys still do, but you’d have to be very attractive. It’s a changing world and you have to adapt all the time. On an app, it’s already agreed that you’re game.”

It’s impossible to talk about the past decade without talking about Tinder: making casual sex as easy to order as Ocado since 2012 (not the official slogan). Anyone on the dating scene knows what it’s like to be catfished (chatted up by someone with a fake profile); cushioned (chatted up by someone in a relationship); ghosted (when someone cuts contact without reason); and zombied (when the match sporadically resurrects after ghosting you).

“What the hell is bread-crumbing?” four single friends asked me in a pub last weekend, before I explained that it’s when someone you’re chatting to drops a Hansel and Gretel-style trail of flirtatious messages suggesting you get a drink, but always fails to meet you. “Ahhhh, yeah. That’s happened to me,” they agreed – two guys, two girls.

The etiquette of modern romance is something men and women have both had to get used to. When I wrote in this magazine last month about a decade of dating, I received a lot of messages from guys who said it resonated. They’d been on as many “really awful dates” as me, they said, because girls could be as badly behaved as men could. They’d been broken-hearted and bounced like we had, but were more confused, if anything, because gender politics and sexual fluidity have changed the way women operate completely.

It reminded me of a conversation I overheard standing outside a posh restaurant in central London. A brunette, probably in her early thirties, told a friend, “I literally raped Adam while we were having a cigarette last night.” She was clearly joking, but it was jarring nonetheless, first because it was a rape joke, and second because we’re more used to men using this kind of language.

No wonder the millennial male isn’t sure where he stands any longer. The fact that it’s cooler and more exciting to be a woman in 2020 than a man has given us a freeing, boyish confidence to hold the cards more than ever. Add the very public scepticism towards men in general (fuelled in recent years by a flurry of graduate rape trials, the MeToo movement and an overdue discussion about consent). Can you still offer to buy a feminist dinner, a twentysomething guy might wonder, or is that an insult?

“Can you or can’t you approach a woman without being seen as a creep?” Johnny Cassell, 31, from Reading, asks me. His job, as a dating expert hired by men who want to do better with women, means he’s heard all the complaints. “Conventionally, men were celebrated for having sex, and in the media now there’s a lot of confusion about guys who are in pursuit of that – and those who want meaningfulness and relationships. Society has moved over the decade in now not putting so many negative labels on women. But the labels for men have become more extreme.”

That’s because men sometimes still go about things in the wrong way, he admits. “But it shouldn’t be a blanket statement that going up to someone is wrong. It’s ruining it for women who want a fairytale meeting. Lots of women I speak to say they’re frustrated about men not pulling the trigger, but many guys don’t know how they’re allowed to approach someone. The simple answer is not to pursue an unwanted interaction – it’s not difficult to be intuitive.”

The problem, possibly, is that women are confused, too. When a man in a bar I was in last year followed me to a restaurant where I was meeting friends and left his card with the maître d’, the women at my table were split 50:50 on whether it was “creepy” or not. It all really hinged on what happened next, they agreed. If I called him and “we ended up getting married”, it would be the “most romantic story ever”. If I met him and he killed me, everyone would say, “Stalker. What did you expect?” Possibly the fact that young women are aware that these extremes are still possible makes us wary of any approach, full stop.

Aneirin George, a 29-year-old actor from Leicester, agrees. “Some guys have ruined it for the rest of us,” he explains. “It takes me half an hour to write a five-minute email asking someone for coffee if they’re female, even if it’s for work purposes,” he says. “It helps my career to meet people, but as a man, I’m aware that a woman is probably asked ten times a day to have coffee by weirdos, and I’m so worried about being ‘that’ guy – that straight, white male on Twitter spouting awful stuff. A very small percentage are like that, but the worst cases get singled out as being ‘a typical man’. Society is judged often by the bad examples, not the good, so women are suspicious. I would be. You can’t ask a girl the time without it being possible that you’re using pick-up lines from The Game now.”

The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists was written by investigative reporter Neil Strauss in 2005, and documented a world in which men were taught to get women into bed with a series of innocent-seeming opening lines.

“But some men might actually need to know the time!” George adds. He’s currently in a two-year relationship but, like all men our age, tried the apps when single. “Tinder is a cesspit. Plenty of Fish seemed too much effort. OkCupid seemed … odd,” he says. “In 2015, I managed three weeks on Happn, which tells you when you’ve been near someone you’ve matched with, which seemed better because it should be easy to meet up if you work near someone, right? But I only ever got ghosted when I asked someone for a drink. I felt, after that, like I needed to apologise for being creepy on an app we’d both downloaded that tracked our movements all the time and told people where we were. Isn’t that absurd?”

McCormick – recently single, but whose longest relationship lasted around two years – has tried Hinge and Tinder, which was “the Wild West to start with”, he says. “At the beginning, it had its problems, unvetted, but it didn’t have the weirdness it has now. Now you have to pay to unlock the ‘likes’, which is quite elitist. It’s £50 a time or something. I refuse to pay to talk to someone. That feels both wrong and an admission of defeat.”

The apps are so common that everyone has a preference in the same way they would for beer or wine, and the Inner Circle (up to £260 a year) is an exception for Cassell. “Tinder felt far too saturated. It would be good if you were travelling and wanted to line up a date before you even landed,” he admits. “But when people say they’ve got 100 matches, I think, why? What are you doing wrong? I went on five dates when I was using the Inner Circle. They went quite well. One of the Russians came round to mine for dinner. Which is code for, ‘Come round for a shag,’ but I love making dinner. I’ve got an adventurous spice cupboard.”

Did you show the date? “Not that cupboard. Showed her another one. Just as spicy,” he laughs, surprisingly goofily. “For the guys that can’t afford dinner, take a girl furniture shopping but don’t buy anything,” he adds. “I’ve done that before. I love interior design.” After meeting someone who liked sofas six months ago, he too currently isn’t single.

Both sexes say the other is the worst offender when it comes to ghosting. An attractive Irish friend, who does very well with women, often starts the week with six date options and by Friday has only one still standing. “And I swear I’m not saying anything weird,” he promises, which is what divides the complaints about ghosting. Lots of the decent guys out there are so worried about overstepping lines and offending dates that they’re asking female friends either to devise the messages they’d like to receive themselves (is this a version of catfishing?), or check the message stream to see “what’s happened” when the girl disappears.

“I’ve actually asked a girl in advance whether she’s going to ghost me,” says Freddie Armston-Clarke, a 26-year-old software account manager from Bath, whose longest relationship has been four years. “She said, no, she’d just been playing hard to get and we’d go for a drink – then never messaged me again. Being ghosted is the biggest bugbear among my friends.”

“It makes you feel terrible,” says Jack Gregson, 29, a London-born creative producer for MTV and Disney, whose most recent relationship ended last year. “It’s fine if it’s a ‘no’, but it would be nice to be told, because being ghosted makes you feel like they’ve decided suddenly that you’re not worth it, which affects your self-esteem. I do often ask female friends to show me what I might have said to put someone off, because you feel like you’ve done something wrong on the apps. One woman sent me such ranty messages I didn’t know what was going on. It’s all very confusing and puts you off dating entirely.” His longest relationship so far has been around six months.

“I think boys are more open,” Armston-Clarke adds. “We definitely play fewer games. A lot of girls wait an hour to text back or set up lots of dates with men at the same time. Maybe I view it too simply, but if you really like someone and they like you, it just works and you shouldn’t have to play games at all. I think men are more loyal. Lots of guys are much more up-front, and get hurt more, but maybe women have more of a deep-seated expectation that they’ll be f***ed over by men. I believe in that theory that, if you get f***ed over, you’re more likely to f*** over someone else.”

Sometimes women use the apps for a dopamine hit, Cassell says, wanting the validation despite being in a relationship. One of his clients told him last week that a girl who’d previously ghosted him zombied herself and came round to his for dinner. Things went well and they lay, after, in crumpled sheets, when she decided to play on her phone. “I ignored that,” the guy – mid-thirties – says. “Then it rang and she picked up and screamed into it, ‘I’m at home. In bed!’ Then she threw the phone at the wall and said her boyfriend was ‘an arsehole’ for never trusting her.”

Women can be just as predatory too, apparently. Last year, Gregson found himself matched with three separate American girls, all called Jane and all working in finance. “They seem to have collectively decided they wanted English boyfriends,” he says. “But I had nothing in common with any of them.” Another match, who had set her location to London despite living in Oklahoma, started video-calling him relentlessly from America, while she was being rude to Uber drivers or lying on her bed drunk. Then she booked an Airbnb metres from his house and arrived in London with a story that her “best friend” had also met a boy in London called Jack and they were now in love.

“She was really into PDAs [public displays of affection], which I hate,” he says awkwardly, “We kissed, but I felt very uncomfortable about it. I’m a slow, safe kind of guy. When I suggested we slow down, she sent dozens of messages saying I’d made her feel like a slut, and that it was ‘very funny’ that I thought of myself as ‘a hotshot’.”

“I’ve always been aware that men can be taken advantage of too,” George agrees. “When I was at uni, I went speed-dating, matched with one of the women and had a drink with her in the bar afterwards. I was surprised when her husband turned up. I didn’t know if he knew she’d been speed-dating, or whether they’d planned for her to find someone for them. It was weird.”

Threesomes aren’t uncommon, but maybe it is taken for granted that men are gamer than they really are. It’s still assumed they have more sexual fantasies than girls. After cooking dinner for a female friend at his house, Cassell decided to message a girl he’d been on a few dates with to see if she wanted to come around after, he tells me. “Then I thought it would be nice for her to meet my friend, so we both went to her house. They got on super-well, but it got late and I was tired, so went for a lie-down. I woke to find them handcuffing me to the bed and pushing my legs apart,” he says, wide-eyed.

Were you raped, I ask, genuinely concerned.

“Oh no. No. I mean, it wasn’t the worst thing ever to happen to me midweek,” he says with a laugh. “But they horse-whipped me within an inch of my life.”

The casual nature of sex has flipped first-date etiquette entirely, with some women I know preferring to sleep with a guy before agreeing to dinner. “I want to know what I’m getting myself into,” they say, as if sitting opposite a stranger for a couple of courses and finding them boring is more dangerous than going to their house and stripping.

“Women message me saying, ‘DTF?’ a lot,” Gregson says. I’m perplexed, and look it. “You don’t know that? It means, ‘Down to f***?’ ” he explains. “I’m always like, ‘No, thank you. But I’m sure you’re very nice.’ I like to get to know a girl before I embarrass myself sexually. All sorts of girls send those types of messages. I’m not opposed to others having one-night stands. Free love is a … thing. It’s a woman’s right to choose. I just don’t want it.”

A couple of my female friends still expect everything to be paid for, an old-fashioned attitude that turns to hypocrisy when we adopt empowered attitudes elsewhere. One male friend – now 27 – often texted me, feeling depressed, after bad dates in London, when a woman didn’t offer to buy a single round or even attempt to split dinner, despite knowing that they hadn’t clicked and wouldn’t see each other again. He’d spend the rest of the week too broke to go out and feeling deflated by how difficult it seemed to be to meet someone nice. He did in the end, on Hinge, moved in a year later and couldn’t be happier.

For graduates starting life in expensive cities with blow-out rents and beginner salaries, the expense of dating is tough. George moved home last year to help fund a master’s degree. “I used to tell people I lived in shared accommodation with a live-in landlord, so we couldn’t go to mine,” he admits. “A few months in, I’d tell them that was my mum.” Armston-Clarke lived previously with his sister, and is about to move in with his brother while he waits for a new house share. “I’m not sure I’d bring anyone back,” he says. “It’s a bit rude when you’re living rent-free.” In similar situations, friends of his stop dating entirely.

The men say their confidence has taken a hit. “Online dating opens you up to constant rejection, which doesn’t help if you already have low self-esteem,” Gregson admits. “It’s left me feeling very sad. Someone once walked out of a date after 20 minutes, and I thought it had been going fine. She said she was tired and went home, then stopped replying. That really makes you feel like you’re not good enough.”

He and McCormick have both been stood up; Gregson after buying £50 tickets to a film festival for a fourth date. “That’s the kind of stuff that makes me want to curl up into a ball and not date any more,” he says. “It makes me feel very worthless. At the same time, I think men have done worse to women, so I’m paying for that. Maybe women don’t think that, but you try to justify it. It’s a way of not feeling like an arsehole.”

If you’re already feeling fragile, that can push you over the edge. “I have depression and so I have fragile moods, which definitely make dating harder,” George says. He’s working on a one-man show that will come out later this year on the depression crisis now.

The younger guys say they are more likely to ignore red flags early on. “My girlfriends kill someone off if they don’t like one thing that’s said,” McCormick says. “I think guys are more likely to go for it. I’m not confident enough to send loads of risqué, flirtatious messages and I think I’m better in person, so I try to set up a drink quite quickly, to see if we’ll get on. Once, after a bit of liquid courage, I did ask a girl to the theatre, but I didn’t know the play and the whole cast was full-frontal naked during the first act. It was basically pornography. I felt like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver – it was traumatising.”

Gregson first started using apps at 22, and has never dated anyone he’s met first in “the real world”. “I’d love to be the guy who has the confidence to go up to a girl at Burger King and say, ‘Would you like a bite of my Whopper?’ But I’m not that guy. I like theatre and cinema, and no one wants to be approached in the dark. I’m also terrible with signals, so unless women tell me they like me, I have no idea, which puts me quickly in the friend zone. Often I think it’s going well, and they say it’s not and I think, ‘Why do you keep sticking your tongue down my throat then?’ ”

The up-and-down nature of it all quickly affects self-esteem. “A lot of the time you ask questions about their life and get nothing back,” he says. “I don’t like to think of anything as a waste of time – we’re both wasting it – but it makes me think I’m so evidently boring that they don’t need to ask me a single thing about myself.”

“Women want a Saint Laurent or a Ralph Lauren, depending on whether they want a guy to f*** or settle down with,” Cassell says. “Saint Laurent is very rock’n’roll; Ralph Lauren is the guy in chinos with parental qualities who’ll take you to the country at the weekend. If you want to be a long-term prospect, turn up as Ralph; if you want to be tied to the bed, turn up as Saint Laurent. But get it right – girls will stop speaking to you if they think you’re one and you come as the other. I know someone that’s happened to.”

Gregson, possibly, has accidentally been a bit too Ralph (not that he wants to be Saint Laurent either). “A girl matched me once and her first message was, ‘Let’s skip the back and forth preamble and jump straight to being boyfriend and girlfriend.’ I thought she was joking, but it sounded good to me. Then when I cancelled a date and tried to reschedule she said, ‘You have a girlfriend now. You can’t do that.’ She video-called me and said I wasn’t putting in enough effort. I never do this, but I had to block her because she wouldn’t stop calling.”

When the women I know say men are the worst on the apps and the men blame the women, it’s hard to know what’s happening. Something that is new, though, is that the public scepticism of men makes it more acceptable for women to have an outwardly disparaging opinion of them, sometimes using feminism as a disguise.

Armston-Clarke sums it up. “The weird thing is that, as a society, we still believe that being in a relationship is the norm. It’s a race to get on Hinge when you’re newly single and in your mid-twenties. It doesn’t feel OK to be single and not be dating, because people talk about dating so much of the time.”

Gregson considers this. “Maybe men do invest too much in matches,” he says. “I’m guilty of fantasising about my own wedding, in the same way women used to be accused of doing. When a girl’s talking to me, I sometimes hear wedding bells. Then I think, ‘You’re the worst. Put me in an asylum.’ ” Or a hotel, maybe, at least.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 22.2.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
Spanish Politics
  • I've mentioned that, on your tax return here, you can tick a box indicating you'd like a small portion of your tax to go to the Catholic Church. No other 'confession' is allowed this, of course, though attempts - undoubtedly futile - have been made recently to change this. Anyway, the Church raked in €284m this way last year, even though the percentage of taxpayers obliging has fallen consistently over the years. Under a 1975 Concordat, this state-financing of the Church was supposed to stop decades ago but hasn't and, in fact, the percentage of your tax going to it, if you tick the box, has recently risen from 0.5% to 0.7%. As with monopoly suppliers, easy money. Even God might smile at all this. More than anyone, if the Catholics have got him right, I guess.
Spanish/Galician Life
  • A Bank of Spain report has it that Spain has seen a boom in both house sales and rental prices in recent years, with the latter soaring by 50% in the 5 years to last August. But, asks The Local, have the country's realtors been using algorithms on their web pages to fix prices to their advantage. Probably, answer I.
  • An interesting article on Madrid's barrios here. Now that I'm spending a week a month in Madrid, I plan to check them out.
  • So, the pre-Lenten Carnaval began last night, meaning - as one of our several local daily papers advised yesterday - that we have 8 days of fiestas ahead of us - as used to be the case in the UK before the Reformation. (See here on this). 
  • There's a big parade in the city tonight and costumes were already on display throughout yesterday. Hence this amusing story.
  • The Local reports that: As this is Spain, anything goes - whether it's dressing up as giant sex toy, imitating one of the political elite or the royal family, or making a mockery of the Church.
  • Talking of disguises . . . I confess to being a tad disturbed yesterday afternoon by having three 12 year olds come towards me dressed as pink Satisyers. Or that's what I thought at the time, but - having seen white versions of the same or similar costume - I later wondered if they'd actually been rabbits. No pun intended.
  • Our mayor has announced that the maximum speed for all powered vehicles in our 'priority pedestrian' areas will be reduced from 10kph to 6kph. Good news for out sign-writers. But, anyway, I have this vision - possibly shared by the good mayor - that in 10 years time no cars at all will be allowed in the city but will be exiled to vast parking areas on the edge of the city. Time to buy shares in e-scooters and those mobile chairs that old folk use. Was it a coincidence that the first ad I saw when I opened the Faro de Vigo yesterday was for these?
  • Meanwhile, I can't say I've noticed much fidelity to the current law of a limit of 10kph.
  • An interesting observation re the security on Pontevedra station last week. If, like me, you arrived at 12.29 there was no one manning(personning?) the X-ray machine and you could just walk straight through. But, if you arrived just 2 minutes later, you couldn't. Doesn't smack of seriousness to me. 
Finally . . .  
  • It's always good when things go wrong in the house on a Friday night . . . Noticing very late last night that there was a permanently running overflow pipe on an outside wall, I turned off the water at the mains and let the large underground reservoir tank drain away via the overflow pipe during the night. This duly stopped the overflow. When I switched the water back on this morning, the tank re-filled and the overflow problem returned. Having now switched off the water again, I've waited for over an hour for the tank to re-empty - in the process filling 3 baths and every single container I can find in the house, the garage and outside. Including 5 wine bottles and 3 very large buckets. And a lot of pans, jars andglasses. But the bloody water is still coming and I've got nothing left but earth to let it run into. Big tank.
  • Words of the Day: Tubería de rebose: Overflow pipe.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 21.2.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
Spanish Politics
Spanish/Galician Life 
  • Good news for my daughter renting out her flat in central Madrid? But not good news for Spain, I guess.
  • Talking of the capital city . . . 3 observations from Tim Parfitt's A Load of Bull:-
- “Welcome to Madrid”, said Francisco. “Where 8 o'clock means 10 o'clock.”
- In Madrid nothing is ever done half-heartedly.
- Madrid's most exuberant month is May, when the city comes spectacularly into its own. I look forward to checking this out this year.
  • In the UK, one's 'youth' stretches  - I believe - from 18 to 26. Here in Spain, it's 18 to 36, as I saw yesterday in an article reporting that our 'young' drivers are the 'least prudent' in the country. Another reason - perhaps the main one - why our insurance premiums are the highest in Spain. As to why they're so reckless? Who knows.
  • As I skirted the newly concreted area at the end of O Burgo bridge yesterday, I witnessed 4 people ignoring the temporary deviation so as to walk straight across it. Even though there was a guy operating a polishing(?) machine on it. Not for the first time, I wondered in how many other countries there'd be such flagrant ignoring of (personally inconvenient) restrictions. Independismo, as they say.
  • Oh, we now have a date for the completion of the bridge works - 'End May'. This year, I believe. About 11 months late.
  • This foto is just to support my contention that there's just as much concern here - in Galicia at least - as there is in the UK about cuts in healthcare. The system is not as perfect as some would make out. Though, given that it's a devolved matter, it might well be better in other regions than it is here:-

The EU 
  • Perfidious Deutschland? See here for an interesting account of respective performances - of the  UK and Germany - in 'the race for green energy'.
Nutters Corner
  • Words of the Day-
  1. Riña: Fight, quarrel, brawl. Often used in reports of gypsy 'account settling'.
  2. Manivela: Handle, lever
  • Here's 10 words/phrases which differ between US and British English:-
- Realtor - Estate agent
- Sneakers - Trainers
- Cilantro - Coriander
- Eggplant - Aubergine
- Blinkers - Indicators
- Chutes and ladders - Snakes and ladders
- Faucet - Tap
- Sophomore - 2nd year student at college or university. No equivalent in Brit English.
- Freshman - Fresher
- Bangs - Fringe

Finally . . .  
  • Today it's 3 months since I made my application for Irish nationality. So I thought I'd post this article I wrote a while back on this subject:-

During the 3 years since the shock referendum verdict of mid 2016, there's been a lot of talk of a Hard Brexit which would - eventually - remove from Brits all the rights they've had in the EU for several decades. These would include access to the Spanish healthcare system and visa-free travel for Brits and their kids. On top of this, there'd be new bureaucratic hurdles, including a different ID card to reflect our inferior status.

I've never believed things would come to such a pass - relying both on a belief in the power of the British Establishment to stop it and the common sense among all parties. At the back of my mind, there was also the security of knowing I could retain my rights by obtaining either Spanish or Irish nationality.

But it wasn't until early this year that I was motivated by Conservative party developments - to investigate the respective processes, influenced a little upfront by the fact I'd heard a friend complain - over 2-3 years - about how the Spanish option was what's called here un calvario. And this from a fluent Spanish speaker who'd lived here for many years. An important negative aspect was that the Spanish government doesn't allow dual nationality and so demands that you give up your British passport.

So, I took look at the relevant Spanish web page and, finding the English hard to follow, decided to have no more to do with that option and moved quickly to investigate my Irish option. This was available to me because my grandmother was born in Ireland and, thus, my father had automatically been an Irish citizen. Ironically, I don't think he ever knew he was both British and Irish. As very many folk born on Merseyside are.

Over the next few months, I got together all the certificates and photos required by the Irish government to allow me to go onto the Irish Birth Register. Once achieved, I could claim a passport. When all was ready, I took advantage of a visit to my elder daughter in Madrid to take the papers to the Irish embassy there and duly lodged them with a nice lady. I now wait on confirmation of registration. This used to take only 6 months but, such has been the rise in applications, it could now take 9 or even 12.

Below is my comparison between the Spanish and Irish processes and my caveat is that I'm much more familiar with the latter than the former. So, it's not something to rely on if you've no choice but to go the Spanish route. The government page will be a good start as regards this - if you can figure out what the English text means - but must, I'm sure, be augmented by talking to someone who knows more than I do about it. And I'm told that many people need to take at least an interpreter with them when they go to talk to the Registro Civil about their application. Possibly even a gestor.

One final point in this preamble . . . I don't know much about the challenge of getting British nationality - other than the residence requirement is 5 years, against a norm of 10 in Spain - so I can't compare it with either that of Ireland or Spain

All that said, this is my overview of  how the challenges differ. I won't be at all surprised - or upset - to be told I've got some things wrong.

The Irish process involves, firstly, an application to go on the Irish Birth Registration and, secondly, a passport application.
The Spanish process involves at least one (multi-stepped) stage and probably a subsequent passport application.

Who to Apply to?
Spain: The Ministerio de Justicia.
Ireland: The Dept of foreign Affairs and Trade.

Spain: I think on the internet but suspect visits to some offices will also be involved.
Ireland: Only on line.

Web Page Information 

Time from start to finish
Spain: 3 to 4 years, possibly even more.
Ireland: 6 to 12 months

Spain: A lot. See the web page: At least: 1. A period of residence which depends on your status; 2.Certificates of birth etc.; 3. Proof of ID; 4. A Spanish language diploma 5. Evidence of 'sufficient integration': 6. Proof of residence; 7 Criminal checks in both Spain and the UK.
Ireland: 1. A parent or grandparent born in Ireland; 2. Certificates of birth etc.; 3. Proof of ID; 4. Proof of residence.
Most importantly, there's no requirement for residence in Ireland; your entitlement is based on descendence rom an Irish native.

Complexity of the Process(Ease of Application)
Spain: High. The English of the web page is poor (What is a 'literal certificate'?); the application form will surely be long and complex; you might have to deal with a Spanish bureaucrat and, if so, the language of communication will surely be Spanish. So, as I've said, you might be well advised to pay a gestor help you.
Ireland: Low. There is a short form of only 4 pages with a 2-3 easy questions on each page;  the English of both the advice page and the application itself is very clear; you'll only have to deal with a computer. Finally, If anything more is needed beyond what you've sent, an email will be acceptable. I can't imagine this being the case with the Spanish option.

Risk of Getting Something Wrong and Slowing Things Down
Spain: High
Ireland: Low

Spain: €102, plus the costs of certificates and of everything else you have to provide or do. A language diploma, for example. The fees of any interpreter and gestor are, of course a piece of string.
Ireland: €270 plus the costs of any certificates you need to get in Ireland or the UK. An easy process, with  prices for slow or fast delivery. There are several sites which will help you identify the dates and details of the certificates you might need, becaause you don't already have them.

Keeping Your British Passport
Spain: No (in theory, at least)
Ireland: Yes

Irritation Factor
Spain: High, I imagine.
Ireland: Low

Stress Levels
Spain: High, I again imagine.

Finally, my sympathies go out to anyone who has no choice but to go the Spanish route. And, if you haven't already started on this odyssey, you might find than any transition period ends before you get Spanish  nationality.

In other words, you really should have started before the referendum was held!


Galicia Living is a new property development outfit here in Southern Galicia (As Rías Baixas), owned by a friend of mine. So, if you're looking for a house here - or to sell one - get in touch with them. And, if you're particularly interested in the lovely Miño area down on the border with Portugal, let me know on and I'll send you my write-up on it.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 20.2.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
 Spanish/Galician Life 
  • Another quotation from Tim Parfitt's 'A Load of Bull': From the last hour of doing things, the feverish football supporting, to over-eating, expressing emotions, even an instance of dressing kids in tiny sailor outfits for First Communions – everything in Spain is a bit over the top. . . In Spain, there is simply no room for anything that might fall between the piece of shit and the dog's bollocks. The best example of Spanish excess, though, had to be the number of national holidays. Even Spanish proverbs are overblown. While for the English, for example, it is better to have a bird in the hand than two in the bush, the Spanish think it's far better to have one in the hand than hundreds flying.
  • Would you want to live in a state which had a 'crime against moral integrity’ on its statute books? Well, if you're resident in Spain, you do. And a woman is being prosecuted under it in Andalucia, for taking a video of a car crash scene and posting it on line. Morally reprehensible, But criminal??
  • In the main street from Pontevedra station into the city centre, there are numerous closed shops. But there's also a new one with an odd sign:-

It seems to be aimed at the 100,00/120,000 (woke) camino 'pilgrims' who will walk through the city this year and next year. And it appears to be part of the hotel next door. The problem is that the actual camino route is in the parallel street behind the hotel. So, I expect to see this shop close quite soon.

  • Our neighbour continues to put Spain's strategic thinking in the shade: Several novel measures are being considered by the Portuguese government in an effort to minimise the disruption of Brexit to its economy, says The Guardian here.
The UK and Brexit
The EU 
  • Here's an interesting perspective on the 'empire' from a happy Brexiteer. Who doesn't think much of the French.
  • And below is an even more interesting perspective of someone who thinks the UK should simply give up on negotiating with an utterly hypocritical and moribund EU. Ironically, hypocrisy is the traditional allegation made about the British around the world.
  • Words of the Day:-
  1. Hormigonar: To concrete (over). As they're now doing at the Lérez end of the O Burgo bridge.
  2. Un satisfayer: A 'Satisfier' - the favoured costume for the upcoming Lenten festivities:-
  • Possible phrase of the day: Hormigonar las hormigas: To concrete over the ants. [In Gallego: Formigonar as formigas
Finally . . .
  • A local council - Raxo - is giving away a Satisfier as the first prize in a draw. There's a suggestion that not all the council members realise what it is.


Barnier's environmental and labour demands are a sham: Britain should stop trying to negotiate with the EU.  The EU’s stance of being the model for everything has been trashed – it’s time for UK to rejoin world trade:   Ambrose Evans Pritchard

Thirty years ago the Daily Telegraph sent me to investigate the underworld of toxic waste disposal around Naples, even then a big enough scandal to have gained attention in London.

Brave activists from Amici della Terra took me on tour of dumping zones scattered along the lower slopes of Mount Vesuvius, which were leaking deadly chemicals into the water system. Mafia scouts watched closely and wrote down number plates.  The business was controlled by the Camorra, the famously-bloody Neapolitan clan. The even bloodier Ndraghetta controlled waste dumps further south in Calabria. The hazardous loads came in lorries from the industrial centres of North Italy and Europe’s heartland. It was systematic and these networks were operating with near total impunity, and the apparent complicity of regional authorities.

Heroic anti-Mafia judges such as my late friend Ferdinando Imposimato tried to resist. He had 24/7 police protection so they assassinated his brother instead as an easier target. Ferdinando was forced into exile. His memoir was released in France because no Italian publisher dared to touch it. Un Juge En Italie is one of the most disturbing books I have ever read. Rome’s political casta is not spared.

What has changed thirty years later? Nothing. Astonishing revelations have confirmed the worst, from the Camorra pentito Carmine Schiavone, from parliamentary hearings, from Roberto Saviano’s journalism in Gomorrah, yet nothing has really changed.

The business is still booming, and it is spreading through alliances to the Balkans. A joint Europol operation last year - ‘Green Tuscany’ - shows that Camorra tentacles have stretched North and linked up with Chinese eco-criminals in a global nexus.

I thought of this gaping environment wound when the EU’s Michel Barnier told us this week that Britain cannot be trusted even with the sort of bare bones trade access secured by Korea, Japan, and Canada, unless it accepts level playing-field clauses on the environment, as well as labour standards, competition, tax, and so forth, as an extra safeguard. The pretence that there is an objective ladder of higher and lower standards - and that Brussels is the arbiter of slippage - is of course diplomatic legerdemain and must be rejected tout court.

The EU’s strategic aim is to compel Britain to swallow the Acquis even though much of this legislation is either dysfunctional or incompatible with 21st Century science and technology. It aims to pin down this country as a legal colony with no way out later other than the pariah step of treaty abrogation.

Nor does it stop there. Brussels wants ‘dynamic alignment’ on future law, starting with state aid. No matter that the UK has the best record on competition policy among major EU members, as Boris Johnson pointed out in his deliciously-defiant and uplifting Greenwich speech.  “The EU has enforced state aid rules against the UK only four times in the last 21 years, compared with 29 actions against France, 45 against Italy – and 67 against Germany,” he said.

But what sticks most in my craw is relentless EU humbug on the environment, and I watch with mounting anger as Euro-MPs and a clutch of states try to broaden dynamic alignment to this broad area as the price of any trade deal. We must endure this condescension just weeks after the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia opened Juniper’s Datteln-4 coal power station - and yes, you read that correctly - it authorised a brand new 1 GW plant to begin belching its fumes in January.

Germany is ignoring a solemn UN request that no coal plant should ever again be opened anywhere in the world, a decision that will go down in infamy. The green watchdog Sandbag says RWE’s four large plants in NR Westphalia are burning lignite - the dirtiest of coals - and spreading poisonous emissions across a densely-populated area of 46 million people. This quartet is causing an estimated 4,200 premature deaths a year. For good measure, RWE is clearing fresh forest to extend the open lignite mine in Hambach to feed these monsters. Germany will not phase out coal until 2038.

Meanwhile, the UK has largely eliminated coal from the power system thanks to its carbon price floor - tougher than the EU’s regime - and thanks to a cross-party drive for renewable energy. The UK was the first major country to enshrine drastic C02 cuts in national law with the Climate Change Act of 2008, trumped by Theresa May’s Net-Zero plan last year, another global first. Britain’s emissions have fallen by 42% since 1990, compared to 23% for the EU.

We should not be pious. Several states are grasping the nettle on climate change. But it borders on grotesque to insinuate that this country - with its pioneering tradition of green activism and its world-class centres of climate science - is a wanton ecological abuser. 

Or for that matter, a wanton violator of labour rights. As the Prime Minister said,  the UK has tougher standards than the EU minima in most areas of social policy. It offers up to 39 weeks paid maternity leave viz 14 weeks in the EU. It has one of the highest minimum wages. Several states have none at all. Etc, etc. “I dispel the absurd caricature of Britain as a nation bent on the slash and burn of workers’ rights and environmental protection, as if we are saved from Dickensian squalor only by enlightened EU regulation, as if it was only thanks to Brussels that we are not preparing to send children back up chimneys,” he said.

By Mr Barnier’s logic the UK might equally exclude EU goods from our market unless it complies with higher British standards on covert export subsidies, or social protection, or CO2 cheating.

“Will we stop Italian cars or German wine from entering this country tariff free, or quota free, unless the EU matches our UK laws on plastic coffee stirrers? Will we accuse them of dumping? Of course not,” said Mr Johnson. Britain will not do so because it is the nation of Smith, Ricardo, and the trade philosophy of comparative advantage, and because that is not how global commerce works. Yes, safeguard clauses on the broad principles of civilised conduct are normal in trade deals, but that is radically different from what the EU wants.

Mr Barnier has put forward an extraordinary doctrine, that the UK cannot have a sovereign trade relationship because it is too big and because it sits on the EU doorstep. What this really means is that Britain will be subject to special punitive terms as an ex- EU member if it opts to be a self-governing state under its own laws.

We are getting to the nub of the matter. Downing Street’s negotiator, David Frost, told a Brussels audience this week, that to accede to these demands not only defeats the purpose of Brexit but is also unworkable and would surely end in a final volcanic rupture. Indeed. How could such a disenfranchised relationship possibly end otherwise?

For 3 years Brussels told us that we had to stop fantasising, stop cherry picking, and face the hard choices before us. Now this government has done exactly that. It has chosen the Canada/Korea/Japan route with no bells and whistles. It seeks nothing special. “We only want what other independent countries have,” said Mr Frost.

It is the EU that is suddenly caught flat-footed, sputtering incoherently, unable to take a Canadian yes for an answer, and frantically moving the goal posts.

Had this UK-EU spat occurred last year, the pound would have dived against the euro, courtesy of the Pavlovian political risk trade. This time sterling has held firm. Clearly, something has changed in the way global markets view a pugnacious Borisian Brexit and how they view the unravelling credibility of the EU position.

Europe runs big risks in pursuing Barnier hegemonism, leaving aside the delicate subject of its military impotence in a dangerous neighbourhood, and the UK’s anchoring role in NATO. It is already offering so little in trade talks that the differential cost of the WTO option is trivial. Were the UK to say Auf Wiedershen and shift into the American orbit for the next half century, the consequences for Europe would be shattering on several fronts. 

Brussels has already made an unwelcome discovery over the last eighteen months. The EU was not immune to the Brexit confidence shock after all. Germany was if anything hit harder than the UK itself, and this has combined with a deeper industrial and technological crisis eating at the German business model. 

My view all along has been that the EU was never strong as it looked to those in the Brussels/ Westiminster bubble with no Fingerspitzengefühl for the world economy, and it is particularly vulnerable right now.

One can be mislead by mechanical arguments on relative size: 445m against 66m. The EU’s £95bn bilateral trade surplus (half German) and its sunk supply chains create asymmetric points of weakness. It will pay a higher price than the EU political class realizes if it treats the City as an enemy and loses its global banker.

The leaked contingency plan from Nissan suggesting that the carmaker may shut plants in Europe and instead double down on the UK in a clean Brexit confirms what I suspected, that Brussels underestimates the import-substitution impact in the UK. These effects would cushion some of the blow for British industry. The EU would face a pure trade loss, and it would have to compete toe-to-toe with cheaper world products in the UK market.

Above all, euroland remains trapped in a deflationary quagmire, with interest rates already at minus 0.5& and bond yields deeply negative, and with a paralysed fiscal machinery fixed by EU treaty law.

As Mr Frost said, the EU has “extreme difficulty in correcting wrong decisions.” And the most calamitous wrong decision - my words, not his - was to launch a monetary union without a matching fiscal union, and to do so governed by German contractionary ideology. 

In short, the eurozone is chronically incapable of generating endogenous growth and has an excruciatingly-low economic pain threshold. The next serious global downturn will reveal - again - that its political pain threshold is just as low. 

My personal reaction to the Barnier demarche - and to predictable news that Brussels is adding unrelated political grievances to the terms of any trade accord, starting with the Elgin Marbles -  is that you cannot negotiate with these people. Britain should forget about a trade deal with Europe and look to the world. It should pursue a fast-track accord with the US, given that Washington wants the same thing and is lavishing us with affection. It should throw itself into talks with the Anglo-sphere, India, and the fifteen Asia-Pacific countries of the RCEP pact. As Mr Johnson said, Britain must rediscover the Greenwich trading spirit of 1707 and seek to become laureate nation of open global commerce.

If Mr Barnier comes off his doctrinal high horse and returns with a genuine offer on sovereign terms, excellent, but this country should never again prostrate itself for crumbs from Brussels. That horrible chapter of our national life must end.


Galicia Living is a new property development outfit here in Southern Galicia (As Rías Baixas), owned by a friend of mine. So, if you're looking for a house here, get in touch with them. And, if you're particularly interested in the lovely Miño area down on the border with Portugal, let me know on and I'll send you my write-up on it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 19.2.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
Spanish Politics
  • At the moment, I believe there's no Spanish law - equivalent to those in Germany and Italy - which makes the 'exaltacion' of Franco a crime. But it's said to be coming, in line with the PSOE's electoral manifesto. Which won't please Vox voters. Or even many PP voters.
Spanish/Galician Life 
  • Very last bit on St James . . . I didn't know that the very battle of Clavijo - at which he is said to have appeared and slaughtered up to 60,000 Moors - is also a complete myth. Despite this, The supposed battle has provided one of the strongest ideological icons in the Spanish national identity. So, only whisper it, among your (foreign) selves.
  • To follow up my own recent comments on the perils of dealing with dishonest estate agents etc., here's a good article on how to avoid the top 5 pitfalls of buying property in Spain. But it's a bit of a counsel of perfection, as the suggested pre-lawyer level of enquiries would need a knowledge of both Spanish bureaucracy and the Castellano language - in most parts of Spain, at least. And I do wonder about the feasibility of delaying (the final?) payment until after your purchase has been entered into the Registro. Never heard of this. Might involve an escrow account, I guess.
  • I guess there'll be fewer of these around now, in some Spanish cities at least. 
  • The Galician interior is suffering from 2 major problems: 2. Serious depopulation, as young folk move to the towns; and 2. The hammer-blow of reduced EU agricultural subventions, as a result of the loss of the many billions in the British contribution to the Brussels kitty. One wonders how the region will look if I survive another 20 years here. And if we'll still have 3 small, uneconomic 'international' airports. I suspect so.
  • Writing in 2011, Steven Pinker noted that: All leaders must have a generous dose of confidence to become leaders and pundits often diagnose leaders they don't like with narcissistic personality disorder. But it's important not to trivialise the distinction between a politician with good teeth and the psychopaths who run their country into the ground and take large parts of the world with them. Among the pacifying features of democracy is that their leadership-election procedure penalises an utter lack of empathy, and their checks and balances limit the damage that a grandiose leader can do. I wonder if he'd write that now, after 3 years of Fart at the helm of the good ship USA.
  • Speaking of whom . . . However appealing this is, I'm not convinced it's genuine . . .
Shysters Corner 
  • The perennial question  . . . How does she get away with this?
  • Word of the Day: Acurrucarse: To curl up, snuggle, cuddle.
  • Interesting points from this El País article: In Spanish there's no word for “whistleblower” – no one-word description of a person who nobly reports illegal activity or unethical behavior      It is revealing that the closest equivalents all have negative connotations, sounding more like 'snitch', 'sneak', 'toad' or 'rat'. Another word that doesn’t appear in Spanish but is widely used in English is “accountability”. Of course, the article is more about corruption and low ethics than language. 
Finally . . .  
  • 'Mabel' (Alabama-Pearl McVey) is an award-winning singer who has British, Swedish, and Spanish citizenship. But don't tell the Spanish government, as they'd don't allow it and, in theory, will strip her of her Spanish nationality, if they know she's using a British or Swedish passport.


Galicia Living is a new property development outfit here in Southern Galicia (As Rías Baixas), owned by a friend of mine. So, if you're looking for a house here, get in touch with them. And, if you're particularly interested in the lovely Miño area down on the border with Portugal, let me know on and I'll send you my write-up on it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 18.2.20

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

The Spanish Economy 
  • Bloomberg takes a (right-wing?)look at the Spanish labour market here.
  • Spain's population is again being boosted by immigrants. One wonders where they all get jobs, in a country with 14% unemployment. It looks as if this is mainly in the 'hospitality' sector. Explaining why hardly anyone working in a bar or hotel here is Spanish.
Spanish/Galician Life
  • Last (Galician-flavoured) bit on the Santiago myth: The cult of Saint James was just one of many arising throughout northern Iberia during the 10th and 11th centuries, as rulers encouraged their own region-specific cults, such as Saint Eulalia in Oviedo and Saint Aemilian in Castile. After the centre of Asturian political power moved from Oviedo to León in 910, Santiago de Compostela[SdC] became more politically relevant, and several kings of Galicia and of León were acclaimed by the Galician noblemen and crowned and anointed by the local bishop at the cathedral, and by the end of the 11th century SdC had become capital of the Kingdom of Galicia. Later, 12th-century kings were also sepulchered in the cathedral before the kingdoms of Galicia and Asturias were united with the Kingdom of Castile.
  • It's that time of year. The reason to re-view The Local's take on Spain's zaniest Carnival celebrations.
  • Another of those big corruption cases which come along so regularly.
  • Nice to know that the high-speed train is not another Galician myth.
  • I was told yesterday that the houses behind mine I cited yesterday don't have building licences. When I suggested to my informant that she call the agent to ask if they did, her reply was "What's the point? They'll just lie". This is what it means to live in a 'low ethics society' and explains why I tell foreigners not to believe a word estate agents(realtors) say, not to trust the often-negligent notaries and, above all, to use a local lawyer of integrity. They do exist.
  • Talking of Spanish culture . . . . The concept of time:-
  1. Last Thursday night, I agreed with the son of my deceased friend to meet at 8. At 8.45, I left the meeting place to go and eat alone.
  2. Last night my ex-neighbour and I agree to meet at 9. At 9.15 she called to say she was shopping and would be there at 9.30. She polled up at 9.45. 
But perhaps these incidents aren't really representative of Spaniards as a whole . .  . Perhaps.
The EU 
  • If you're as interested as you should be, in the next EU budget, you should read this. Recipients of huge amounts - e. g, Hungary, Poland and Spain - are not happy about the initial (post Brexit) proposals
  • And, if you're positive about the EU's future, the first article below might be a bit of a counterweight to your optimism,.
The Way of the World/Social Media
  • Caroline Flack's death is the fourth suicide associated with ITV2’s reality dating show, prompting concern about the channel’s duty of care to contestants and stars. See the 2nd article below on this.
  • Phrase of the Day: Naturaleza muerta: Still life. Lit. 'Dead nature'
 Finally . . .
  • A Palm tree special . . .
These are not fast-growing trees. At least not until they reach a certain point, it seems. In my garden:-

1. A tree of about 5 or 6 metres, which has doubled in height in 19 years.

2. A self-seeded tree of about 10cm only, already about 7 years old:-

3. Another self-seeded plant/tree which I'm assured is a palm tree and which has taken at least 2 years to get to this tiny stage:-

P.S. It seems I missed the first daffodil of the year, now almost blown:-

The first lily seems to have fared better. Probably sturdier:-


The EU is fatally complacent about the crisis that is about to engulf it. There are deep problems with how the EU is working

“There is a tendency right now within the European Union to say that Brexit is all because of crazy British nationalism and life will be easier without them – but I am not convinced”. So says French academic Thomas Piketty. “There are deep problems with how the EU is working and the kind of discontent you have seen in Britain, you also see it in France and Italy... And if we don’t fundamentally change the model then anything could happen”.

Piketty is often called “the Left’s favourite economist”. In 2013, he published Capital in the Twenty-First Century, a 750-page doorstopper arguing there has been a sharp rise in Western inequality. For several years after publication, displaying Piketty’s tome casually on your coffee table, in bien pensant circles, was positively de rigueur. Now, even Piketty acknowledges the deepening rift within the EU over the extent and pace of European integration –most recently demonstrated last weekend.

“I’m impatient,” snarled French President Emmanuel Macron at the Munich Security Summit, lashing out at his German counterpart Angela Merkel. As Paris demands further budgetary integration and the creation of an EU army, Berlin remains reluctant. “We have a history of waiting for answers,” snapped Macron.

France wants reforms to the EU budget, in response to Britain’s exit. The UK paid no less than £13.2 billion into the EU in 2018 – and our departure leaves a gaping hole. Boris Johnson has made clear Britain will stop making payments at the end of 2020 – which means the 27-member bloc, over the coming seven-year period, faces a £62 billion funding gap.

Voters across the EU’s “frugal five” – stronger North European economies including Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Austria – are sick of making higher contributions per head than more profligate Southern “Club Med” countries, led by France. “We are net contributors, so why should we increase our payments,” said Dutch Premier Mark Rutte. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also flatly refuses to pay more, threatening to use his veto.

As Paris tries to strong-arm money out of other EU members, Macron faces a growing domestic crisis. After months of gilets jaunes protests, his En Marche party lags Marine Le Pen’s far-Right Rassemblement National – expected to make significant gains in upcoming local elections. En Marche has endured repeated parliamentary defections – with some of Macron’s most important allies quitting in a bid to save their political skins. Even his Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, has re-joined former party colleagues to run for mayor in his hometown of Le Havre.

Germany, meanwhile, is in no mood to fill the huge funding gap left by Britain, let alone press ahead with further budget-pooling across the eurozone and EU. Merkel is bowing out of public life as Europe’s largest economy stagnates, with her ruling coalition in tatters.

And while Macron is besieged by protesters, and losing ground to political extremists, Merkel also knows that upping Germany’s share of the EU budget will play into the hands of the hard-Right AfD – which commands almost 100 seats in the Bundestag and, despite being founded just six years ago, is now Germany’s official opposition party.

While we want our European neighbours to prosper, it is worth remembering these realities as we negotiate a trade deal. Despite Brussels’ endless mind games, and the relentless pessimism of unreconciled Remainers in the UK commentariat, Britain starts from a position of strength.

Now that Brexit is happening, a wave of previously stalled investment is set to boost the British economy. The International Monetary Fund has upgraded its 2020 UK growth estimate, despite lowering forecasts elsewhere, with Britain set to expand 1.4 per cent this year – faster than France, Germany and the eurozone as a whole. This country is seen as an increasingly stable investment destination in a world best by political and economic turmoil.

And after 10 years of tight spending, the Government is also getting set to loosen the purse strings. While Sajid Javid unveiled a considerable public spending rise last September, his replacement – the 39-year old Rishi Sunak – is an instinctive tax-cutter.

What’s more, Sunak campaigned to leave the EU ahead of the June 2016 referendum, while Javid backed Remain. Fairly or not, the former Chancellor was seen as the one senior Cabinet member who might flinch if Downing Street pursues a firm EU negotiating line of relying on World Trade Organisation terms rather than accepting compulsory alignment with EU rules. With Dominic Raab at the Foreign Office and Priti Patel as Home Secretary, the four great offices of state are now run by seasoned Brexiteers – a statement of intent to Brussels.

Leaders of EU member states and their business lobbies know that Britain’s large trade deficit translates into billions of euros of profit and millions of EU jobs. New figures show the EU27 earned a €125 billion goods surplus from the UK in 2019 – almost two-thirds of the bloc’s entire global surplus, with Britain set to account for over 40 per cent of the EU’s sales with the rest of the world.

This is seven times bigger than the EU surplus with Canada – so if Brussels can strike a trade deal with Ottawa not involving across-the-board rules alignment, open borders and fishing rights, it can do so with London. Britain must assert, as Johnson’s Chief Europe Advisor said last night, “the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country”. And if these trade talks do fail, and WTO rules are used, the EU’s UK trade surplus translates into billions of pounds in annual net tariff payments from the EU to Britain.

Since 2016, the UK has negotiated in a lackadaisical, slack-jawed manner. That must change. We need to dismiss “sequencing” from the outset, with all issues addressed simultaneously, including our ongoing defence and intelligence commitment, which in the EU’s eyes is priceless. Far too much is made of Brussels “formidable bargaining power”. Yet, amid bitter squabbling over the post-Brexit integration, the mighty Franco-German alliance is shattered – as even Piketty himself acknowledges.

2. Reality TV recklessly blurs the line between public and private. Shows like ‘Love Island’ invite us to judge strangers – sometimes forgetting they are human beings, too

Caroline Flack, the former host of Love Island, has taken her own life at the age of 40. I’m sensitive about the age because it is not far off my own, and there seems so much to live for, especially when you are as beautiful and loved as Caroline was. Her boyfriend has said: “My heart is broken.”

I used to review Love Island for the Catholic Herald (not its natural audience) and I compared the show to a wildlife documentary: here was nature in tooth and claw, and it obviously had some animal magic because it became a big hit. Then two of its former contestants took their own lives, triggering a debate about the dangers of reality television. Had the format taken a bad turn? Was it too intrusive, too intense?

No, it had just reached its logical conclusion. Love Island is not about the commodification of sex (there is barely any in it), it’s about the commodification of everyday life, and the problem with reality television is that it has blurred to the point of erasure the necessary line between public and private.

In most careers, you do the job, you go home, the job stops. In reality television, the job is being you. You go home and you are still you, so the job goes on and on. There is nowhere to hide. You are trapped in a cycle of publicity. You do well, you become famous. You make a mistake, people talk about it. You get depressed and stop going out, people talk about that too.

Television and social media have taken the place of God as the all-seeing eye, except that God balances judgment with mercy, whereas humans tend just to judge.

Caroline had talked bravely about her mental health in the past and was facing trial for the alleged assault of her boyfriend, a case that he insisted was completely unnecessary. Either way, it was none of our business. But what little people felt they knew about Caroline made her a target for comment, almost up to the moment that her death was announced.

Time, now, for thoughts and prayers, which are welcomed and treasured, no doubt – but, as Caroline’s fans have pointed out, some of them have been sent from those who make money out of criticising others and perhaps don’t think hard enough before they do it. I know I don’t. It is something I need to work on.

Suicide is a desperately private and lonely act. In the absence of information, we leap to judgment: blame the tabloids, blame the haters, blame Love Island. But from what I can make out, Caroline liked her job and was good at it because people liked her. She was everybody’s big sister.

It is easy to dismiss television personalities because it looks like they are coasting on just being themselves, but actually a lot of work and talent goes into being a human being. If it were easy, the world would be a much nicer place.


Galicia Living is a new property development outfit here in Southern Galicia (As Rías Baixas), owned by a friend of mine. So, if you're looking for a house here, get in touch with them. And, if you're particularly interested in the lovely Miño area down on the border with Portugal, let me know on and I'll send you my write-up on it.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 17.2.20

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain  
Spanish Politics
  • Encouraging comments from the prime minister, which rather contrast with those of the last one from the right-wing PP party.
Spanish/Galician Life 

Last few bits about Santiago:-
  • I thought I'd heard every version of the St James(Santiago) myth but somehow I'd missed that:-
  1. The boat that St James came in from Jaffa to Galicia - at miraculous speed - was not empty but manned by his mates.
  2. When they landed at Padrón, they went to see the local queen - Lupa - who, instead of acceding to their request for a burial place, arrested them and took them to the Roman legate, who jailed them.
  3. But they were freed by an angel.
  4. Queen Lupa then tried to trick them by sending them to Mount Ilcino to look for oxen to carry the body to a burial place, but the beasts were really savage wild bulls.
  5. By a miracle, the bulls were tamed and did no harm.
  6. They [the bulls or St James' mates?] then killed a dragon sent by Queen Lupa, leading to the mountain on which this all took place to be named ever after Pico Sacro.
  7. Shocked to her soul, Queen Lupa converted to Christianity and found a burial place for St James.
  8. People then promptly forgot where this was for several centuries. Which smacks of carelessness, to say the least. Fortunately it was rediscovered just in time for 9th century battles against the invading Moors. In which the rejuvenated St James slaughtered 60,000 of the infidels.
Really, you couldn't make it up. Or could you?
  • If you've read Ford's comments, you'll know that he drew several parallels between the Christian 9th century myth and practices arising and those of rapidly spreading Islam. In the Museum of Pilgrimage, though, they prefer to hark back to Jewish pilgrimage habits.
  • Some places in Santiago have prices higher than Madrid's. Or even Renfe's. There's a lovely old, wood-panelled café in Rúa Vilar in Santiago. But the coffee's very expensive at €2.30 for a small one. Plus, there's only one newspaper (Correo Gallego) and the wifi doesn't work. Apart from all that, I enjoyed my visit there, as the armchair was quite comfortable. And there wasn't a single TV in a large room. The other high-cost experience was €3 for glass of (Galician!) godello wine in the food hall of the (otherwise) terrific Mercado de Abastos. This might not be a lot elsewhere in Europe but the normal price here is €2.00-2.30.
  • Which reminds me . . . In the Rúa Bella bar the other night, the waiter insisted it was in a street of the same name, while I thought it was in Rúa Nova. Which he insisted was 'further down'. He was wrong, reminding me that - as you find when doing caminos - it's not uncommon for residents of a place in Spain not to know the names of local streets.  
And now back to life in Galicia/Spain . . .
  • As I know from listening to my son-in-law negotiate with them, UK internet operators  compete by increasing their download speeds and reducing their prices. But Spain is different. We already have the highest prices in Europe and (our monopoly supplier) Movistar has written to say that, because they're marginally increasing the speed, they're raising the price by 5%. Easy business, to say the least. Friends in high places. On the board, in fact. Thieves in white gloves, as the Spanish say.
  • The Voz de Galicia did a survey of attitudes towards the new O Burgo bridge. No one will be terribly surprised to hear that 72% of locals don't like its modern make-over. Even if the hidden, floor-level lighting is a world first.
  • Around 20 houses were built behind and above mine between 2004 and 2008 and came on to the (ludicrously hyped) market just as it was crashing. So nearly all of them are still unoccupied and, indeed, have suffered flood damage at least once in the last decade. But now there's a new sign on the railings and it's possible prices have fallen to a level which makes them attractive. We will see:-

BTW . . .  That wall was originally declared illegally high. But, as so often in Spain, its illegality seems to have evaporated.

  • Bearing mind the baja mean low and alta means high, I've struggled with this over the years:-
  1. If you're sick and want to get time off work, the doctor gives you a baja (sick note). Also called signing off in the UK. Or, in Liverpool, 'getting a sickie'.
  2. When you are ready to go back to work, the doctor gives you an alta. Or signs you back on.
  3. If you have to go to hospital and don't need to recuperate at home, the hospital will give you the alta.
  4. If you do need to recuperate, you need to go back to the doctor for your alta.
I think I've finally got it right anyway.

Finally . . . 
  • Could you get it more wrong, at least in English?:-


Galicia Living is a new property development outfit here in Southern Galicia (As Rías Baixas), owned by a friend of mine. So, if you're looking for a house here, get in touch with them. And, if you're particularly interested in the lovely Miño area down on the border with Portugal, let me know on and I'll send you my write-up on it.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Thoughts from Santiago, Galicia, Spain: 16.2.20

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

 A bit more on Santiago . . .
  • I pondered paying the fees for the cathedral museum and for a sight of the restored Portico de Gloria of the cathedral but decided against both of them. So, I was pleased to see this picture of the latter in the Pilgrimage museum:-

The museum also boasts at least 20 representations of Santiago on horseback, slaughtering Moors. Two examples:-

  • The amusing aspect of this is that - if you were able to see the statue of the saint in the cathedral - you wouldn't be able to clock the dying Moors, as there's a screen of lilies which prevents the feelings of visiting Muslims from being hurt. I assume it's assumed none of them will ever go to the museum next door.
  • Likewise, I learnt that, when Franco came to the city with his guard of Moroccan soldiers, the Moors were blanketed, so as not to upset them.
  • I suspect there are even more beggars in Santiago than in Pontevedra city. But the difference is that, in the former, they are more docilely sedentary - even kneeling with head down - whereas in my city they are far more in-your-face. And annoying.
  • I revisited the Museum of the Galician People yesterday - O Museo do Pobo Galego.It's a lovely place, housed in an old church building of granite and wood. The dozens of exhibits range over the whole gamut of Galician agriculture, industry and culture, and there are some enviable models of boats, houses and even villages. Well worth the euro I had two pay.
  • It's a feature of Galician/Spanish life that, when you tell, say, the woman at the ticket counter of a museum that it was hard to find because there was no sign for it, the answer is virtually always something like a blunt 'Yes'. Never anything like: 'Yes, sorry. We keep telling them about that'.
  • Some advice for visitors to Spain . .  If you're walking on a narrowish pavement(sidewalk), it's best to put yourself next to the wall or shopfront. You might well be compelled to flatten yourself against it but at least you won't be forced into the road.  
  • The other night I listened to a friend of a friend going on for 20-30 minutes about the narrow-minded, gossipy nature of Pontevedra city's 80,000 residents. Then yesterday I read that Eleanor Roosevelt had said: Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
  • Reading a local newspaper an hour later, it stuck me that if you're going to publish a local paper every day, you're going to have to print - alongside the syndicated national and global news - an awful lot of trivia. Perhaps there's a connection.
Nutters Corner
  • Words of the Day:- 
  1. Meteorism: The swelling  of the gut because of gases, as in cows and pigs.
  2. Empaste: A dental filling: 'The perfect mixture of colours and tints in a painting'. I've seen it used as regards an orchestra's playing.
Finally . . .   
  • As I got on the train at Santiago station this stormy, windy, rainy, cold morning, a group of 5 young men and 1 young woman got off, after a night out in La Coruña - all in only shirtsleeves. Not a single pullover, jacket or coat between them. I thought this sort of madness only happened in Newcastle.


Galicia Living is a new property development outfit here in Southern Galicia (As Rías Baixas), owned by a friend of mine. So, if you're looking for a house here, get in touch with them. And, if you're particularly interested in the lovely Miño area down on the border with Portugal, let me know on and I'll send you my write-up on it.