Saturday, January 31, 2009

Qué sabrosa

I'll eat anything as long as it looks good.

Yesterday I found this tomato marmalade in Mercadona. My thought was that it would be great on toast with olive oil and salt. P1000621

Normally you would use fresh tomatoes but without one to hand each day, the jar of tomato marmalade seemed like a good idea.

On the side of the jar it says for toast and for making sauces so it sounded to be just the ticket.

I tried it this morning by toasting a piece of barra rustica, drizzling olive oil on it and then spreading a layer of the marmalade on top. The result was quite delicious but not what I expected. The marmalade is sweet and smooth in texture without a strong tomato flavour. It complemented the olive oil well but not in the same way as a fresh tomato would.

Actually it would be ideal as an alternative to other types for making a jam butty*.

*We're not talking about a police car here nor the cockney rhyming slang for nutty. This is the snack that Scousers have when they feel a little peckish - two slices of Mother's Pride with a smear of butter on both and a good lashing of jam.

Imagine the conversation in the works canteen at Halewood. "Er, what's that jam you got on yer butty mate?" "Tomato". "Yer havin a laff aren't you". In Yorkshire they woud say, " you're p*****g up my back?" In the posher parts of the country they'd say, "how quaint, I must try some. Did you get it in Fortnum's?" "No Mercadona." "Is that near Harrods?" " No Lidl."

Ambitious plans for Torrevieja

The City council of Torrevieja continues to approve city-planning projects even though the construction industry is in crisis.

Yesterday, the PP and PSOE approved changes to the plan for sector 20, "La Hoya" where 7,490 houses are to be built on 1,714,137 square metres of land. Once constructed and occupied, these houses would increase the population of Torrevieja by 24,000.

The Green Party and the United Left voted against these proposals because they say the plan anticipates a supply of water from the desalination plant which the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente is building in Torrevieja.

The council have also approved a modification to section 52 ("Libertad Tipológica") of the PGOU to build a 28 storey skyscraper. In addition the Council have plans for a large commercial centre on land next to the Palace of Justice.

All these plans will now be submitted to the Conselleria de Urbanismo for approval.

Of course, even if the plans are accepted, it could be sometime before anybody has the money or the courage to carry them out. It doesn't hurt to dream though.

el Día del Árbol

Getting children to plant trees seems to be a local tradition. Eladia, the daughter of our neighbours Pepe and Eladia Grau, remembers planting a pine tree at La Pedrera when she was in primary school. It is a tradition that gives children ownership and respect for their environment and seems to me a wonderful idea.

At the house we last owned in England we had a pair of silver birch trees - one in the front garden and one in the back. We also planted a yew tree at the front. The trees gave us shelter from the wind, helped drain the soil and provided privacy. The people who bought the house from us have subsequently cut the trees down covering most of the front garden with tarmac - very sad.

On the 3rd February, 500 children from the Reyes Católicos, Molivent andEscuela del Campo de Guardamar schools will take part in celebrations of the Day of the Tree. To mark the occasion, the children will plant 800 trees and bushes in the Parque de Alfonso XIII in Guardamar.

Each tree will be labelled with the child's name so that they can identify and take care of them until the trees are fully grown. To help, the children have been given detailed information about the particular trees they will be planting.

A little bit of history

Planting trees in Guardamar dates back to 1907 when Ricardo Codorniu (nicknamed 'the Apostle of the Tree') started the process of repopulating the sand dunes at Guardamar with trees and has continued ever since.


Friday, January 30, 2009


At our Spanish class, Eduardo asked us if we had read about the general strike in France which was scheduled for yesterday. The Spanish word for strike is 'huelga'.

One of the other Spanish words I have picked up recently is 'paro' which, amongst other things, means unemployed or unemployment benefit. Sadly it is a word that you find used a lot in the Spanish press at the moment.

The Spanish justice system is notoriously slow. People will tell you that it can take 3 or 4 years to bring a case to court and then, if there is an appeal, a further 3 or four years to resolve it. I'm told that many people give up on the process out of sheer frustration.

Whether the problem is caused by the bureaucracy involved in handling cases, the fact that there are so many cases to be dealt with or a shortage of courts I can't say. I imagine it is a combination of all three. Whatever the reasons the judges and magistrates have had enough.

The provincial assembly of judges and magistrates decided yesterday by an overwhelming majority to endorse the 'huelga' planned for the 18th of February. This will be the first strike in the history of the Spanish judicature.

At the end of the summit, the holder of the Court of First Instance and Instruction 1 of Dénia, Daniel Valcarce, spokesperson for the group said, “Our objective is to dignify the judicial function; to offer a quality service to the citizen. We want an agile, modern and computerised justice”.

If they achieve their aim and cases are dealt with more quickly and efficiently then I suppose will be a good thing. I can't help but feel that it is a sad day when the judiciary feel the need to go on strike.

PS I don't think the huelga will lead to the judges becoming paro; do you?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Selling the town

In order to promote the town's image as a tourist resort, the City Council of Rojales has produced more than 6,000 promotional leaflets to take to the tourist fair FITUR, in Madrid.

In the literature, the mayor of Rojales, Antonio Martínez Cánovas, has included historical monuments such as the eighteenth century bridge of Carlos III, the La Noria (waterwheel) of 1798, the Aljibes (water tanks) of Gasparito built in 1922 and the sixteenth century Azud (water pump).

On a cultural level, the museum of the La Huerta stands out. The museum, which has a lot of articles of agro-ecological interest, is housed in buildings that belonged to the Hacienda de Los Llanos. Rojales also has an archaeological-paleontology museum located in the old town hall, which houses the most spectacular findings from the town.

Rojales boasts the eco-museum of underground living, "Las Cuevas del Rodeo” which is of great ethnological, social and cultural importance . The caves are the venue for artisan exhibitions and workshops.

The town is also keen to point out to national and foreign tourists the Supervisory Celebrations; Moors and Christians, Semana Santa and the Virgin of the Rosary.

In addition, the Rojales stand will include information about the Infant Literary Contest and the Festival of Jazz, that is now in its second year.

The City council will be taking advantage of this international fair to present the National Contest Villancicos (Christmas carols) and Polifonía (music) which has been celebrated in the town since 1975, as well as the Golf course La Marquesa, located in enviable environmental surroundings.

The gastronomy of Rojales offers visitors to the Vega Baja their first experience on the tapeo route along with a great variety of typical products of the region; mantecados (buns made with lard) , toñas (almond biscuits) and almendrados (products made from almonds).

With respect to its environmental surroundings, the municipality emphasises the park “El Recorra” and “la Laguna”.

Good luck to them, I hope they can encourage people to visit the area. If they do, then we could all benefit.

Help is at hand

La Concejalía de la Tercera Edad in Bigastro is organising a series of workshops directed to the older citizens in the municipality.

These workshops will concentrate on:

* Mental Stimulation
* Risoterapia*
* Exercises for memory
* Social skills

The workshops will start on Wednesday 28th January and run between 4pm and 6pm in the Centro Social Integrado. The council anticipates that the workshops will continue for approximately two months.

The courses are totally free. Those interested must register in the Social Services area during opening hours.

* Risotherapia - I assume that the word comes from the Spanish verb 'reir' to laugh because the therapy is based on the old adage that 'laugher is the best medicine

More than 4000 years ago in the old Chinese empire, there were temples where people gathered to laugh with the aim of balancing their health. In India there are also sacred temples where people can practice laughter.

Scientifically, it has been proved that laughter provides many benefits. Laughter releases endorphins which are responsible in large part for our feeling of well being; it rejuvenates, removes stress, tension, anxiety, depression, reduces cholesterol, leads to weight loss, relieves pain, cures insomnia, reduces cardiovascular problems and helps cure respiratory diseases.

I don't know about all that but I do know I feel a lot better after watching Peter Kay's 'Live at the town hall Bolton'.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

From famine to feast

When we first arrived at Villas Andrea we had no landline phone and there was no immediate prospect of getting one. In addition, we had no means of accessing the Internet other that going down to the library or visiting one of the Internet cafes.

Then along came Wi-Surf with their satellite based system which cost a fortune to install and turned out to be unreliable and troublesome.

VoIP telephony over a satellite system was hopeless. When you are connecting to the Internet and the system drops a package of information, your computer just asks for it to be re-sent. It causes a delay but it still works. When packages of information are dropped during a phone call you miss out parts of the conversation. It was like talking to Norman Collier*.

Just before Telefónica arrived, Aeromax installed phones for some using a WIMAX system.

For those with Telefónica lines, there are several alternatives to the Spanish company  for  call charges - all of them offer a cheaper rate.

More recently we're  been offered the Bigastel  Wi-Fi system and now we can move over from Telefónica to BT.

It is a bewildering choice and potentially a minefield. It is like comparing oranges and lemons. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages. In other words there isn't a 'one size fits all' solution. In the end it is down to what suits the individual.

* For those of you too young to remember him, Norman Collier was a comedian best known for his legendary 'faulty microphone' routine and for his amazingly lifelike chicken impressions. The guy made a forty year career in working men's clubs out of it! Later on Freddie Starr performed a similar routine.

BT phone home

Following deregulation, it has taken BT a long time to make inroads into the telephone service here in Spain.  They are now able to offer an alternative to Telefónica for the total package; line rental, calls and ADSL. They are not in a position to do new residential  installs at the moment but will be in the future.

Here is the rub; you can't deal with BT directly here in Spain, you have to use one of their authorised dealers. However, one such dealer is based in San Miguel and she has been contacting people on our urbanisation offering to visit them and explain what is on offer. I understand that several people have already signed up to make the change.

For the benefit of those who haven't been contacted, this is the deal:-

Option 1  for 13€ per month PLUS IVA you get basic line rental. Calls to UK landlines cost 3.3 cents per minute and to Spanish landlines 3 cents per minute.

Option 2  23€ per month PLUS IVA  for line rental and 400 minutes of calls to UK landlines. Calls to Spanish landlines cost 3 cents per minute.

ADSL broadband Internet with speeds up to 6Mb* - 36.50€ per month PLUS IVA. This package includes  a free wireless router which you can have personally delivered and installed for 30€ .

If you rent an existing phone from Telefónica (Domo 1 or 2) you would either need to arrange to return it** or continue to pay rental.

BT  handle all the paperwork to make the change and  notify you when each step is complete. Once the transfer is complete, which usually take between 4 and 8 weeks, you would be billed by BT. At that point you'd need to ensure that you have settled any outstanding amounts to Telefónica and cancel your direct debit with them.

The minimum contract is for 18 months.

To decide whether to change you'd need to sit down and compare the costs bearing in mind that most of us took out the Duo package which includes all local and national calls in Spain and the line rental includes the cost of the Domo 1 phone we were supplied with.

To take advantage of this offer you should phone 966 723 766 or contact Maggie directly on 675 375 866

* BT claim that you will have available whatever speed you are currently getting. However, the lady who explained all this was not sure whether the same applies to upgraded connections which use ADSL 2+.

** According to Telefónica, to cancel a rented phone you need to call the 1004 number and give them your details. They will then send you a postage paid package to return the phone. Once they have received it, Telefónica will adjust your bills accordingly.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The cost of the storms

Thousands of homeowners on the Costa Blanca spent much of Sunday cleaning up debris after the storm on Saturday. Roofs had been destroyed, trees felled and many residents suffered power cuts and phone outages for much of the weekend.

Winds on Saturday reached 190km per hour, causing utter chaos. Hospitals reported a number of incidences of carbon monoxide poisoning thought to have been caused by back-up generators being used during power cuts. Many other injuries were sustained from flying debris.

In Orihuela, a brick wall was blown down on top of a row of parked cars while in Torrevieja, one van driver had a lucky escape when a large metal billboard was wrenched out of the ground landed on the back of his van, causing minimal damage.

In Torrevieja town centre, injures were caused by several dislodged roof tiles on Calle Joaquin Chapaprieta. Electricity poles throughout the town were also knocked down and opposite the Habaneras shopping centre, a large telephone mast was ripped from the ground and smashed on the street. Police patrols set blockades up at either end of the street to prevent citizens putting themselves in danger from high voltage cables.

In La Mata, one Spanish resident acted quickly when he saw a large sheet of deadly corrugated iron travelling down the street of its own accord.
Ducking out of the way, he managed to manoeuvre himself to standing on top of the sharp metal to prevent it injuring someone else while he called for help.

Throughout the region residents had satellite dishes and gazebos wrecked and toldos and sun blinds wer torn to pieces.

In Santa Pola, most market stall holders abandoned their stalls and returned to the safety of their homes.

Further north, in Benidorm, a palm tree was uprooted along the promenade, trapping and severely injuring a lady walker.

In Alicante a 42 year old truck driver was seriously injured when his vehicle was overturned by the wind on the A-7 motorway.

Many roads were closed due to fallen trees and trains between Alicante and Murcia suffered delays of up to 70 minutes.

It is believed 12 people were killed in total in Spain, one of whom was killed in this province – a 51 year old El Campello man who died when the wall behind which he was seeking shelter from the wind was blown on top of himself and his nephew, who suffered injuries to his head and leg. Most of those who lost their lives were killed by falling trees or walls.

Clearing up is being made more difficult than in previous years because just as the wind subsides it picks up again. This storm has now raged for four days off and on and shows no sign of abating just yet.

Caution required

The City council of Bigastro via the secretaría autonómica de la Consellería de Governació  informs us of the risk of wild fires in the municipality. 

Moderate winds from the west with gusts up to 70km per hour combined with  low humidity and high temperatures put the area on a state of pre-emergency..

An all too familiar problem

There seem to be different stages of approval for building here in Spain. The first stage is where the local town council prepares a plan for development which is debated in council sessions. The plans then have to be considered and approved at regional level.

Whilst the town will have considered the impact of their plans on the town and its growth, the regional authorities have to take into account other factors such as environmental impact, the demographics of the region and the supply of services such as water and electricity.

Where towns have tried to grow too quickly they have also faced problems providing services such as refuse collection, policing and street cleaning. This is because there is inevitably a delay between the completion of houses and flats and taxes being raised from them. At the peak of the construction boom this delay could have been two, three years or more as the relevant authorities struggled to keep up with the paperwork involved.

As I understand it some towns, rather than wait for final approval went ahead with their plans assuming that they would eventually be passed. Where there were issues that might cause a delay, they expected these to be resolved. In the boom years no town wanted to be left behind allowing their neighbours to develop at their expense. In other words they gambled on final permission to be granted retrospectively. In many cases the gamble paid off and everyone was happy.

In the latest saga, it seems that the City council of Formentera del Segura allowed the construction of 300 flats in their town plan SAUR 1 instead of the 100 bungalows they had full permission for.

According to the Dirección Territorial de la Conselleria de Medio Ambiente, Agua y Urbanismo y Vivienda in their official publication (BOP) published on the 19th of January, permission was granted for houses of one floor with a maximum height of 6.6m built at a maximum of 25 houses to the hectare of land. Instead three story blocks of flats with cellars were built some of which are now occupied.

The City council approved the planning file in their plenary sessions on the 4th of February 1999 and the 3rd of May 2001, but the Territorial Commission of Urbanism decided to suspend definitive approval until some deficiencies in the plan were corrected. In 2003 the resolution file was still pending.

Quite what happens now is anybodies guess. Sadly, in many cases like this, it is the buyers who suffer as they wait anxiously for a definitive decision to be made. In Cox, for example, the people who innocently bought illegally built properties face years of wrangling before their situation is finally resolved.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Not in the brochure

So southern Spain is subject to violent storms in Winter, torrential rain in Autumn and it lies on an earthquake zone. Is there anything else we should have been told by the agents who sold us the house?

I wouldn't have minded if the salesman didn't live here. In fact he'd lived in the area for over fifteen years and must have experienced the worst that nature could throw at him during that time. Funny he never mentioned any of this. Instead he spoke of over three hundred days of sunshine, of the joy of living for up to eight months of the year in just shorts and a t-shirt.

The consolation is that Spring is on its way. Once the weather is settled and we can go back in the pool all this will be a dull memory until next year perhaps.

From wind to calm to wind again

Yesterday morning it was hard to believe that 24 hours earlier we were facing gusts of wind up to 11okm per hour (they honestly felt stronger than that). The sun was shining, it was warm and there was barely a breathe of wind to be felt. People speak of 'the calm before the storm', this was the calm after and it was eerie.

We began the task of clearing up the mess that the wind had left. It was a good opportunity to re-pot some of the plants at the front of the house and move them around.

As it happened I didn't have enough wire to re-secure the netting at the back of the garden which was perhaps just as well. By teatime the wind had picked up again and it was raining.

Although the wind last night was nowhere near as bad as Saturday night, we were still woken up several times by the sound of the furniture on the roof rattling, the wind howling through the vents in the kitchen door and the fence pole that sheared off banging against the wall.

There is still a lot to be done before normality returns to Casa El Willo.

The charred land

The fire that raged in the Marina Baixa on Saturday has finally been extinguished. In total 1,006 hectares of forest have been destroyed by the blaze which is double the area of forest burnt at Terra Mitica in 1992. Although the area now resembles a lunar landscape, very few houses were affected.

The worst fear was that wind wouldn't drop and the firefighters would still have to battle with 110km per hour gusts. Luckily the wind did subside and they were able to contain the fire and then put it out with the help of helicopters and planes. It took over 700 men 33 hours to complete the task many of them working tirelessly through the night.

The majority of the 14,000 people who were evacuated from 20 towns in the region were able to go home on Saturday leaving only 16 who had to spend the night in a hostel. They were able to sleep safely in their own beds last night to what I imagine was great relief.

The two theme parks in the area, Terra Natura and Terra Mítica, also had to be evacuated. Thankfully the fire didn't reach either park. and all the animals are safe. Both parks will be closed though because of the damage that the storm force winds reeked on fences signs etc.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fewer Brits more Germans

Four and a half million Brits arrive at Alicante airport each year. Traditionally they have formed the main stay of the region's tourist industry.

With the depreciation of the pound and the subsequent drop in the exchange rate, hoteliers are worried that the 2.3 percent decline in numbers of Brits coming to the area last year will continue and get worse.

It isn't all bad news though for the region. The overall figures actually show an increase of 0.2% in numbers which, when taken against the 2.6% fall in numbers for Spain overall, is encouraging. The rise in numbers of German tourists (up 2.4% to almost half a million), Belgians (up by 38.8%) and Swedes (up by a massive 60% to just less that 212,000) offset the fall in British tourism. 

The Costa Brava and the Costa Dorada were worst hit areas of Spain with a drop of  6.7% of tourists over the last year. Meantime the Costa del Sol saw a drop of 4.1%.

I imagine this means we will be seeing fewer of the menus outside restaurants on the coast translated into pigeon English;  hake and crisps will become hechtdorsch und späne

Wild fires

To add to the misery, firemen and members of Unidad Militar de Emergencias (UME) had to deal with two major wild fires in the region yesterday.

The worst one in La Nucia was still out of control when the newspaper LaVerdad went to press. It was apparently caused by a fallen electricity pylon which was also effecting supply to La Nucia, Benidorm, Finestrat, Polop and Alfàs del Pi. The strong gusts of wind were making the job of putting the fire out very difficult and making the use of helicopters impossible.

The second fire was in the the area between the Valencian coast and Vall d'Albaida. This was effecting the towns of Genovés, Barxeta and Benigánim. Again the strong winds and the difficulty in gaining access to the fire hampered attempts to extinguish it.

There was also a third fire in the region of L'Alcora (Castellón) in an area of pine trees and scrub which firemen were able to control.

The fire at La Nucia in the Marina Baixa region of Alicante is the one which is causing most concern. Between 14 and 15 thousand people had to be evacuated from their homes whilst firemen prepared to work all night in an attempt to gain control of the fire

Saturday, January 24, 2009

We don't want a repeat of that

What we experienced yesterday was an active Atlantic low pressure system that had swung into western France bringing torrential rain and wind gusts of up to 172km/h.

The storm system had been gathering strength last week as it moved over the relatively warm waters of the western Atlantic. It made landfall along France’s northwest coast near Nantes during the early hours of yesterday morning and then headed southeast.

The impacts of the storm were felt from the Channel Isles to Barcelona, but the strongest winds and heaviest rain were concentrated around south-west France. Here, one million homes were without power as trees and power lines were downed. The national weather service in France, Meteo France, issued high wind warnings for 9 regions in the southwest of the country.

Although this type of active low pressure system is fairly common in winter, Saturday’s storm was described as the most damaging since the devastating storm of December 1999 that killed 88 people.

Finally the storm tracked southeastwards and cleared the southeast coast of France yesterday evening. It was then heading towards northern Italy and the Adriatic, although is was unlikely to be as damaging there, as it gradually lost power over the rugged terrain of northern France.

Our thoughts go out to the friends and families of those who suffered most; the four young people who died at the sports stadium, the 73 year old lady in Burgos, the sailor in Galicia, the two who were crushed by trees in Lugo and Barcelona and the man and woman who were killed in Alicante and Barcelona.

Rachas de viento

Here in Spain there are a few words and expressions that you pick up quickly. Rachas de viento means gusts of wind. We've suffered a few occasions when the wind had blown to gale force since we moved here losing two lots of cane fencing in the process.

Today Valencia is on maximum red alert, motorists are advised to avoid the motorways and the fishing fleet remains moored in port as winds are expected to reach up 130km per hour. Alicante and Castellón provinces are on yellow alert with winds up to 110km per hour.

There is also a high risk of wild fires because of the combination of high winds and raised temperatures.

Our only option is to sit it out. No doubt our neighbours will have some tales of structural damage. The price we pay for being on a hill is that the wind hits us hard. Those below us are lucky being a little more sheltered. So far the netting at the back of our plot has lifted at the bottom, one of the posts at the side has snapped and the outside table was lifted over the bushes crashing onto the pavement narrowly missing my car.

We have our fingers and toes crossed that the wind will start to die down and do no more damage. There is not a lot else we can do. Even still it is very scary and we don't like it! For about the first time since we moved here we are totally stressed out.

A sorry state of affairs

I often wonder why universities and other research organisations spend so much time and money investigating the obvious. Anyone with common sense could give them the conclusion before they begin and save them a lot of effort.

I imagine in six months time some august body will conduct extensive research into a possible link between the economic recession and crime. After thousands of hours of work they will astonish us by declaring that there has been an increase in crime, especially burglaries, as a result of the economic downturn.

Those people with good memories often speak of 'better times' when it wasn't necessary to lock your front door let alone triple bolt it; a time when you could be out at night on a dark street and still feel safe. I have no doubt that these people exaggerate; they are looking back with rose tinted glasses. Crime isn't a twenty first century invention that came with the iPod.

What is new though are the methods for trying to combat it; the fancy alarm systems, the high security locks and the CCTV cameras. Whilst all these devices might make us feel more secure, they don't take away the need for us to remain vigilant and they don't protect us at times when we are most vulnerable - when our guard is down.

We met one of our neighbours in the town yesterday who told us the sad tale of how he had been duped the other day whilst he was out for a walk around the urbanisation. This guy regularly takes an hour's exercise and probably feels perfectly safe whilst doing so. He is on his own territory, unlikely to meet anyone other than another resident taking exercise.

En route, he was stopped by a couple in their thirties who'd got out of their car to speak to him. They were accompanied by a child and obviously looked perfectly innocent. The neighbour didn't know them but had no reason to be suspicious of their intentions when they asked him for directions to a bank.

Somehow, during the course of the conversation, my neighbours wallet fell out of his pocket. The young man kindly picked it up and seemed to be replacing the notes that he claimed had fallen out. Happy to have given some assistance, my neighbour went on his way and the couple disappeared off in their car.

It was only later that my neighbour discovered that, far from replacing the notes, the man had taken them for himself. By a slight of hand, he had managed to palm the notes into his own pocket.

Sods law tells you that, if you are going to loose your wallet it will be on the very day that is is full of cash. On this particular day my neighbour been down to the bank to draw out money to pay some bills and had his wallet with the cash still in his pocket. It was a case of bad circumstances preying against him. Normally he wouldn't take his wallet with him when he was out walking and if he did it would only have a little cash in it.

It is a sad state of affairs when you can't help others who seek your assistance for fear of being conned. Preying on people's good nature as a means to rob them is about as low as it gets. Only stealing from the elderly and infirm rank worse in my book.

If this was a one off story it would be bad enough. Unfortunately though it is one of many that you hear these days. The lesson is clear; if anyone you don't know asks for your help - you politely refuse. You don't leave yourself vulnerable by being kind spirited. It may go against your best nature but there seems to be no safe alternative.

The only good side to this story is that my neighbour wasn't hurt. Only his wallet and his pride were damaged.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The other difficulty

When you listen to a native Spanish speaker, words often sound as if they're "running together." That is because they are running together. We English speakers tend to separate words in a sentence by using pauses a little more than Spaniards do.

As I understand it; Spaniards "link" words in a sentence based on the following rules:

  • If one word in a sentence ends in a vowel and the next word begins with a vowel, linkage occurs in Spanish. For example, there is linkage between the following two words and they are pronounced as if they are one: La alfombra (the two a's blend together to sound like one: "lalfombra").
  • If one word in a sentence ends in a consonant and the next word begins with a vowel, linkage occurs in Spanish. For instance, there is linkage between the following two words and they are pronounced as if they are one: Hablas español (the s and the e blend together).
  • If one word in a sentence ends in a consonant and the next word begins with the SAME consonant, linkage occurs in Spanish. For example, there is linkage between the following two words: El lago (the two l's blend together to sound like one: "elago").

This form of linkage only occurs between words in a sentence though and never between sentences.

We find it hard to run words together like Spaniards do. More to the point, when we are listening to Spaniards speaking, we find it difficult to separate the words we hear back out. Linked words tend to sound like something we haven't come across - a completely new word which can't be found in the dictionary.

Very confusing

In all the books we have about Spanish, on the audio CDs and in our dictionary we are told that the letter 'v' in Spanish is pronounced exactly the same as the letter 'b' . At the start of a word the sound is like the b in boy, in the middle it is like the v in very but without letting the lips touch.

Yesterday our teacher was pronouncing his vs just as we would. His pronunciation of the Spanish for twenty sounded like 'venty' rather than 'benty' . We wondered if this was a regional variation.

Eduardo explained that having being brought up in Bigastro, his pronunciation was not perfect.

For example Bigastrense pronounce the 'c' sound, which when it precedes an 'e' or an 'i' should sound like 'th' in 'thin', like the 's' in 'same'. Locals also have the habit of clipping words for example - 'para' becomes 'par' and 'hasta luego' can be 'luego', 'tluego' 'talor' or even 'salor'. They also have a habit of using the future tenses of some verbs to express the past. So "I went to the market yesterday" could become "I'm going to the market yesterday".

Eduardo tells us that to hear Spanish pronounced properly you'd have to go to Castillon.

I'm begining to think that learning to converse with the locals could take a little longer than we anticipated.

Smart town to slum town

Will commented about the road works in Torrevieja:

This would appear to be good news but in other ways I find Torrevieja a disappointing town. The gratuitous graffiti tagging is endemic and really spoils the town. Sadly, this has spread to Guardamar. When we first visited Guardamar in 2001 there was no graffiti at all!

I've commented about graffiti before. All too often, the good work that town councils put in to making places smart gets destroyed by vandalism. For example, the last time we were in Torre, I noticed that the new theatre has already suffered.

Interestingly, I found this item in the news today.

An exhibition of 18 pieces of graffiti will be opened at 12:30 today in the cultural centre Virgen del Carmen. The grafiti is intended to decorate an unsightly water tower. Let's hope that it inspires the mindless vandals to be a little more creative when they get their paint cans out and confine their efforts to designated areas.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Worse than derelict


The locals have complained about this building which can be found between the urbanisations Pueblo Bravo and Lo Pepín in Rojales. They say that it represents a danger as well as being unsightly. It is not hard to see why.

However, this is not the only example of  squalor that you'll find in this area. You can find many more examples as you travel round.

If you were being generous you'd describe some of the sights you see as examples of rustic charm. In truth though they look decidedly 'third world'; totally unbefitting to life in modern Spain and it isn't just down to poverty, after all you don't need money to be tidy.

In some cases the front of the building may look respectable but the rear presents a different picture.



You do wonder how anybody could live like this. An hour or so tidying up would make such a big difference. At least then they'd be able to find their belongings.

Torrevieja transformed

Do you remember when they dug up a large section of Calle Ramón Gallud in Torrevieja? It wasn't just a case of scraping off the top layer of tarmac to apply a new surface, they dug right down and replaced the pipework, cables - the lot. Last year they did the same thing to the Paseo Marítimo.

The complete refurbishment is now scheduled to take place in other parts of the town as the council put into action their 'Asphalt Paving Plan 2009' . This ambitious plan includes 85,000 square metres of streets destined to be re-paved.

The mayor of Torrevieja, Pedro Hernández Mateo says that almost a million euros is going to be in this work which will take part in three phases.

  1. Calles Moriones, Concordia, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, calle del Mar and Patricio Zammit
  2. Sections of Calles Maestro Casanovas, Pascual Flores and Ramón Gallud
  3. Calles Galera, La Loma, Finlandia, Islandia, Mar Báltico and Suecia Asimismo along with Avenida Cortes Valencianas, Acacio Rebagliato (Industrial estate Casagrande) and Vial de Ronda Ricardo Lafuente.

Like before this is going to be more than a token layer of tarmac; they'll be replacing water and sewerage pipes, telephone and electricity cables - a thorough makeover.

Let's hope the City Council of Bigastro is taking note. There are one or two streets in the town that could do with a similar makeover - some of which are long overdue.

Tony Hart RIP

Tony Hart passed away on the 18th January at the age of 83.


For art teachers like me, Tony Hart was both a curse and an inspiration. A curse because he made children believe that they could create something wonderful in just a few minutes and an inspiration because he showed you how you could create art using recycled junk.

Like many children over successive generations, I grew up with Tony Hart; first in black and white and then colour. There were others on the box like Rolf Haris and Nancy Kominski but none of them seemed to hit the spot and inspire you in the way that Tony Hart did.

Over the course of 50 years, Hart appeared in Saturday Special, Vision On, Take Hart, Hart Beat, Tony Hart’s Artbox Bunch, On Your Marks and Smart Hart, as well as creating the iconic Blue Peter logo. From 1977, a plastecine stop-motion character called Morph began appearing with Hart on his shows and was soon to become a star in his own right.

After his wife Jean died in 2003, Hart suffered a series of strokes that left him unable to use his hands.

“Not being able to draw is the greatest cross that I have to bear,” he wrote, “for it has been my lifetime passion”.

Many of us have a lot to thank him for.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

False hopes

So much for the cut in the interest rate by the ECB making a difference to the exchange rate. The prospect of a cut seemed to have more effect than the cut itself.

I watched the rate creep up to 1.13 euros to the pound with eager anticipation only to see it slide back down to 1.06.

When the experts talk of a long term recovery just how long are they talking about? Will I live long enough to join in the celebrations?

A new era in America

Most government websites are very similar; a bit of history, a tour of the government buildings, reports of the various committees and a resume of the personnel and that's about it.

Throughout his campaign, Obama spoke of change.

Barack Obama made effective use of the Internet during his campaign. It is therefore only fitting that one of the first changes that has been made is the White House's new website, which they claim will serve as a place for the President and his administration to connect with the rest of the nation and the world. and the rest of the Administration's online programs say they intend to put citizens first. They have set out three priorities:

Communication -- The site claims that Americans are eager for information about the state of the economy, national security and a host of other issues. The site promises to feature timely and in-depth content meant to keep everyone up-to-date and educated. Americans can check out the briefing room, keep tabs on the blog (RSS feed) and take a moment to sign up for e-mail updates from the President and his administration so they can be sure to know about major announcements and decisions.

Transparency -- President Obama is committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history, and is designed play a major role in delivering on that promise. The President's executive orders and proclamations will be published for everyone to review. They say that the site will provide a window for all Americans into the business of the government. Americans can also use the site to learn about some of the senior leadership in the new administration and about the President’s policy priorities.

Participation --
President Obama started his career as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, where he saw firsthand what people can do when they come together for a common cause. Citizen participation will be a priority for the Administration, and the Internet will play an important role in that. One significant addition to reflects a campaign promise from the President to publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.

Only time will tell if all the hype that has surrounded the new President is lived up to. For the sake of America and the world I hope it is. I don't think he intends to be 'misunderestimated' like his predecessor.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sunshine in a glass

That is how Pam described the freshly squeezed glass of orange juice that she had with her breakfast this morning. Her poetic description aptly sums up the pleasure of drinking freshly squeezed orange juice.

We used to have orange juice in the UK and we have bought cartons of orange juice here to have with our breakfast. Neither comes close to the flavour of fruit that has been picked and then squeezed straight away.

Although oranges will keep if stored properly, they seem to become drier with time and loose their intense flavour. The fruit our friend brings us from his trees are bursting with juice and have the most delicious flavour.

Eating one rather than squeezing it is a very messy but rewarding process!

Los juegos

Expanding your Spanish vocabulary can be a slow and frustrating task. You pick up a few new words one day only to find that you can't remember them the next.

Every month I get an email from =elemadrid= Spanish course in Spain. It is a free lesson designed to entice you into signing up for the full course.

This month's topic is LOS JUEGOS. Lots of vocabulary there which I'm sure I will find use for someday.

For example did you know that la baraja is a pack of cards which has four suits; los corazones - hearts, los diamantes - diamonds, los tréboles - clubs and las espadas which are swords and replace the spades - no neither did I.

"El as" is the ace. I can just imagine one of the ladies, who regularly play cards together here at Villas Andrea, proclaiming , "tengo los cuatro ases" I'm sure that would raise a smile!

It doesn't help that some of the words are similar e.g. whilst los dados are dice, los dardos are darts. It would not do to get those mixed up - it's safer to throw dice than darts.

and just out of interest....

¿Sabías que el juego de la oca es un viaje simbólico? Hay varias teorías sobre su origen. Una teoría dice que su inventor fue el florentino Francesco de Medici. Durante su gobierno ofreció al monarca español Felipe II este juego y éste quedó tan fascinado que lo popularizó. Otra teoría dice que fueron los templarios en el siglo XI sus creadores. El juego consiste en un tablero en forma de espiral que representa el camino, tanto exterior como interior, hacia un estanque, que representaría la sabiduría. Hay un total de 63 casillas. Éstas están adornadas de formas diferentes: una calavera, que representa la muerte, pero entendida como un nuevo renacer porque hay que empezar el juego si caes en esta casilla; una posada, que nos ayuda a descansar del camino o que simboliza a las personas que prefieren una vida segura y sin riesgos; un puente, que simboliza la comunicación; un laberinto que representaría las decisiones que una persona debe tomar en la vida y, a intervalos regulares, una oca, que representa la fortuna, es decir el hombre proyectado hacia el futuro..

Gosh and I thought snakes and ladders was just a game for children.

What news

I got this message from Ana who used to teach our Spanish class.

Hola familia, ¿qué tal las vacaciones de navidad? Seguro que bien, disfrutando de todo, la buena comida en estas fechas, los amigos, las fiestas, etc.

Yo tambien lo he pasado bien, con la familia en casa de las dos mamas, con los sobrinos y sus juguetes de Papá Noel y Reyes Magos. Pero lo bueno siempre termina, asi que Angel ha vuelto a trabajar y yo estoy más tiempo sola en casa, bueno, con la compañia de Alma.
Mi Angel pequeño está muy bien pero mi barriga engorda y engorda cada dia más, ¡va a explotar!, jeje.

Cuidaros y un beso a los dos y tambien a todos mis conocidos: Carol, John, Ronald, Carol, Maxine, Philip, Gillian, David, Eduard, Cecilia,... Feliz año nuevo a todos, espero que el 2009 os traiga mucha salud y felicidad a todos.

Muchos besos, Ana.

For the sake of those who are struggling with this:-

Ana asks if we had a good Christmas. She says that she had a good time in the houses of both her and Angel's parents with her cousins and the presents they got from Santa and the Three Kings. Sadly though Angel has now gone back to work and she is left with her labrador Alma for company.

Ana goes on to say that the baby Angel she is expecting is getting bigger and bigger each day. She feels as if she is going to explode.

Finally Ana asks me to pass on a kiss to all the people from the class that she knows and wish them all a happy and healthy New Year.

I will certainly do that.

Monday, January 19, 2009

This would brighten up your garden

A friend of my neighbour told me that I had over planted my garden back in 2005. He was right. We've had to spend a lot of time cutting back plants this year. So far we've filled eight large bin bags and I'm sure we could fill a lot more.

A few plants have died off, some have been swamped by others and some we have had to remove.

The latest one was given to us by our friends John and Jean down the road. They had the P1000313plant in a large pot where it would grow to about three foot each year, flower and then die back.

In the ground, rather than in a pot, the plant has flourished. It now grows to about six foot each year and has a succession of flowers that last a several months.

Unfortunately I'd planted it right in front of the cycad where it was spoiling the view of this rather special plant so it has had to go.

It seems to grow well in partial shade but I'm sure could tolerate full sun. It would probably struggle in an open space unprotected from wind though.

I've split the plant into two parts - both of which are large. Anyone who wants one or both of the plants is welcome to call at my house and collect them.

PS They might look rather nice in that border that Dave Fraser and Norfolk Dave have created opposite their houses.

Finding this blog

One or two people say they have some difficulty in finding my blog. Obviously you are not one of them!

There are several ways you can find your way here.

You can type in the official address which is or you can use the redirection from my domain

You may even find your way here by typing something to do with Bigastro into Google search. You'll probably find lots of sites offering accommodation but somewhere amongst them should be ¡Esto es jauja!.

If you have difficulty with a link that has worked previously DON'T PANIC. You probably logged on at the same time that I was updating something. Go and make a cup of tea and when you come back it should all be working again.

Muchas gracias por su atención.

The votes are in

Thanks go to those of you who took the time to take part in my little survey.

Although ten people does not represent a significant sample, it is interesting to note that you concur with the readers of 20minutos who considered Alicante to be the most beautiful capital in the Community.

Of course since most of my Spanish readers are from this province that was no surprise!

Black spots on the roads

The Ministries of Public Works and the Economy and Interior have said this week that they are committed to seeking out and eradicating "black spots" on the roads in the province by 2012.

The Eurorap report in collaboration with the Royal Automobile Club of Spain and other European associations has identified 22 black spots in Alicante province of which eight are deemed to be high risk.

Forty nine kilometres of road are catalogued in the report as high risk according to the statistics for accidents on them. Two are on the N-340 - between El Siscar and Albatera and between Crevillent and Elche. The other is on the N-332 between Gata and El Verger. In addition there are two sections of average risk and twelve of minor risk.

The section between El Siscar and Albatra is considered to be the most dangerous stretch of road in Spain. Sixty people were killed on there between 2003 and 2005 alone.

The Valencian Community has 74 sections of roadway considered dangerous. Of all the provinces in the community, Valencia is the worst with 31 black spots followed by Alicante and Castellón just eight behind. The section of the N-322, between kilometers 412.3, where it crosses the AB-851, and e 424.2 in Villatoya (Albacete) poses the greatest risk. This is a mountain motorway with closed curves and very little traffic and so has a high accident rate per user.

There are a few places in Bigastro where you have to take care; unmarked junctions where you are unclear as to who has right of way and a few blind corners which you need to approach with caution. Most people drive with care in the town with just the odd boy racer or the young lads on motos posing a threat.

A comment on my blog

I received this comment from Maria who teaches Spanish in Bigastro. A number of people from Villas Andrea go to Maria for lessons and speak very highly of her.

Hola Keith.
Te escribo en español porque sé que estás aprendiendo el idioma. Me llamo María y soy profesora de español de Bigastro. Hace algo más de un año, creo, te escribí para felicitarte por tu blog. De nuevo, enhorabuena!! Me encanta ver que hay extranjeros que se preocupan tanto por la vida en España y que se involucran con el día a día de Bigastro. Gracias por tu valiosa labor. Siempre que puedo leo tu blog.

Un saludo,


Maria also speaks perfect English and so can read my blog. I am glad that she enjoys what she reads and thank her for her kind comment.

As I have said before, I originally wrote the blog to keep in touch with our friends and relatives back in England - let them know how we are going on so to speak.

Now, it seems, there are many people living in Spain who also read my daily accounts. I understand that some of them even encourage their relatives in England to drop in to keep up-to-date with the goings on here in Bigastro.

A lot of the material for my posts comes from local papers online and from the excellent official Bigastro web site that is run by Germán Martín for the Dpto. Tecnología Ayto Bigastro. I am very grateful to Germán for his help and encouragement and for publishing my photographs on his site. I must apologise to the local papers for plagerising their material and more to the point for any mistakes I make in translation.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Spring is on its way

It is the time of the year when folks start to think about preparations for summer. With the cold months of winter behind people take stock of themselves. The Third Age Aerobic class has started again and the indoor pool is open again as follows:-

Mornings 9:30 to 1pm Mondays to Saturdays

Afternoons 4pm until 10om Mondays to Fridays

Using an outdoor  pool (unless it is heated) is out of the question - you'd need a double skinned wetsuit to stand the cold. The indoor pool is a much better proposition for those wanting to tone up.

Calling all dress designers

Each year the chosen young ladies get to wear the most fabulous dresses for the coronation of the Fiesta Queens. Last year the Juvenile Queen and her Damas de Honour wore gold; the year before silver. The Infant Queen and her retinue wore coral pink and the year before turquoise.



This year, the Council of Promotion have initiated  their first "VISTE A UNA REINA" competition.

They want designers or students of design to come forward with ideas for the stunning dresses that this year's Queen and her retinue will wear at the Celebrations for San Joaquín in August.

You can download a leaflet which outlines the details here.


The Local Corporation of the City council of Bigastro sends its condolences to the relatives and friends of D. Antonio Rodriguez Guillén, who passed away on the 15th of January.

He was the paternal grandfather of the Councilman of Celebrations, D. Mateo Rodriguez, but mainly a good neighbour in Bigastro.

D. Antonio Rodriguez Guillén was president for more than eighteen years of the First Association formed in the municipality: The Third Age, and in addition was awarded the standard of honour of the Town hall in 2006 for his impeccable social work.

Those of us who are new to the town may not have known him by name but I'm sure we would would have recognised him in the street.

The economic crisis

The downturn in the Spanish economy is having a greater effect on some businesses than others.

The hardest hit seems to be the construction industry. Everywhere you see half finished projects and some that have barely been started. For example In Bigastro on Avenida Europa the land was cleared, fencing was put up roadways were set out but then nothing further has happened. It is the same further down where the plot was set out with electricity boxes and then left; the ambitious Sector D6 looks set to be a building site for many years to come; Villas Andrea II at the other end of town is at a stalemate and even work on the building between Avenida Libertad and Subida Palmeras seems to have come to a halt. Every town can tell the same story. San Miguel for example, is surrounded on three sides by a huge plot of land set out with roads, children's parks etc but not a house to be seen. You can't help but feel that it would have been better if these developments had been left as vacant land; at least they would be less unsightly.

It isn't just construction though that is suffering. All the related sectors are suffering too. We called in at Ardy, the large DIY shop near to Carrefour, on Friday. The building that housed the garden furniture is closed and all the furniture that was left has been transferred to the main building. Consequently there is a lot less room for DIY. Most of the furniture that is on sale is damaged or broken and is still at prices that you just would not pay. If that is all the shop has to offer then I can well believe that people will stop going there to even look.

Garden centres are another example of businesses that are suffering. Without new houses, there is a lot less demand for plants. I'm sure the same applies to furniture, lighting, white goods etc etc.

There are other examples which are not related to the slowdown in construction; for example the Unión RadioTaxi reports a 60% decrease in the volume of work for taxi drivers. Even our hairdresser tells us that he is suffering. The drop in trade for taxis I can understand but crisis or not you still need to have your hair cut.

In spite of the crisis, some businesses are still doing well. On Wednesday we went to visit IKEA and Primark just outside Murcia. IKEA was full and still as busy as ever but the Thader commercial centre and the one on the other side of the road where Primark is situated were near empty. I could well believe that some shops in those two centres saw no more than a dozen customers all day; even Eroski looked devoid of clientele.

Whilst the Habeneras near Torrevieja seems to be thriving, Ociopia just outside Orihuela has a lot of units empty now. It must be heartbreaking for some of these businesses that have tried hard to get it right but for whatever reason just haven't made it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Health and safety - not here mate

Whilst Britain seems to be obsessed with health and safety issues, here the attitude is a little more cavalier.

They may put up signs on building sites outlining the safety requirements but the workmen seem to disregard them. You see people using cutting tools without goggles even without gloves. You see them using a crane to transport material to a higher level without hard hats. It is almost unbelievable the risks that they are prepared to take.

We became acutely aware of this when workmen came to remove the defunct electricity pylon at the top of our road. You can see in the picture the guy has no safety harness, he isn't even wearing a hard hat. I used to park my car behind that pylon. Luckily I had parked it down the road that day.

Climbing the pylon

Last week in the town, council workers were pruning the trees on Calle Purisima. Nobody had thought to tell the people to move their cars which were parked directly underneath. The area wasn't cordoned off to avoid branches falling on to passing shoppers. Damn it they were even carrying petrol for the chainsaw in ordinary plastic water bottles. As far as I know nobody was hurt, there were no explosions and no cars were damaged.

There are plenty of accidents though; some of which are fatal. In spite of that these practices continue. Their only excuse is that at least they get the jobs done without too much fuss.

This item from Euro Weekly proves the point.

A stucco plasterer was working on the third floor of an almost- completed building in Elche when he slipped on some wooden boards he had placed between the scaffolding and the building’s front wall, falling 15 metres to his death.
His colleagues called an ambulance from a nearby bar but, by the time it arrived, he was pronounced dead.

Pascual Pascual, of Elche’s CCOO workers’ union, visited the site to establish the circumstances surrounding the accident and immediately registered a complaint that the plasterer was not wearing a safety harness. “The personal safety measures have failed,” he said, at the same time as asking, “Who will be responsible for this, given that many workers are under pressure to meet deadlines? Unfortunately, firms are applying pressure on workers regarding their productivity and penalise them if they fail to meet deadlines, regardless of whether they comply with safety measures or not.”

According to details provided by the ‘Federacion de la Construccion, Madera y Afines de Comisiones Obreras’ (the construction workers’ federation), eight workers lost their lives in work-place accidents in the construction industry throughout 2008. The industry also suffered 285 serious accidents last year.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A good time to buy but not to sell

Sometime within the next year will be the best time to buy a property here on the Costa Blanca.

Official figures show that properties along the coastline have seen their prices drop by up to 14%, the first fall after six year of considerable rises e.g. in 2003 prices increased by 21.6%.

The average prices per square metre of new and resale homes in Alicante province have dropped to 2,083 and 1,938 euros respectively. The price in Valencia province now stands at 2,106 and 2,015 respectively and in Murcia at 1,900 and 1,765 euros.

Another factor that could encourage buyers is the fall in bank interest rates.Yesterday the European Central Bank's (ECB) dropped interest rates to 2%, the lowest in the ECB's short history. The reference rate is expected to fall even more if the general economy shows no improvement. The Euribor rate (used by most banks to set mortgage repayments) has this week dropped below 2.7%, its lowest since December 2005.

The current exchange rate is seen as the only major barrier stopping potential buyers, from investing in Spain. This week has seen a glimpse of recovery with the rate increasing from almost parity at the end of 2008 to around 1.13 euros to the pound sterling today.

Experts warn the recovery will be slow, but agree the strength of the euro reached its peak over Christmas and its exchange rates against other currencies are expected to fall gradually.

Yippee! Let's not get greedy here and expect a return to the heady days when we got 1.5 and more to the pound - a return to 1.3 would help keep the wolves from the door.

The fight continues

Aurelio Murcia, spokesperson for the PP party has expressed concern that the ex mayor, José Joaquín Moya is being allowed to work in the town hall. He goes on to say that Moya is working there at night and at weekends when the present mayor, Raúl Valerio isn't present. Murcia goes on to explain that Valerio isn't even using the main office of the town hall. Murcia interprets these as clear signs that the socialist party are governing the town with a "mayor in the shadows".

The PP party have also expressed their criticism of the plans to spend the 1,165,000 Euros that has been allocated to the town according to the number of people registered on the padron. They say that the plans will not solve the problem of unemployment in the town - "bread for today and hunger for tomorrow". They claim that the dialogue between the two parties has broken down since Moya was released from gaol and therefore they have not been involved in discussions about the proposed plans.

It sounds like there may have been a return to "business as usual" at the Ayuntamiento following Moya's release.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Worth going to jail for?

At San Quentin they had Johnny Cash, in Spanish gaols they have strippers. 

Sex offenders were in the audience of 300 inmates at Picassent jail near Valencia, Spain when a young woman smeared milk on her naked body, let inmates rub against her and touched some intimately.

A warders’ union said staff feared the ten-minute show might spark a “more serious incident”. It lodged a formal complaint calling on governor Ramon Canovas to resign.

A prison source said the woman, who performed for free, was not expected to strip naked. They obviously hadn't seen her perform before nor had they read the terms of her contract.

I imagine she was just proving that she hadn't brought anything into the jail with her to pass on to the jailbirds.

How kind

Our Spanish class is now down to the faithful few. The Moroccan girls have left as have the two Rumanian girls. It is now just a handful of Brits and the two Ukrainian ladies that are keeping the class going.

Some of the Brits are in the UK at the moment for various reasons and will presumably rejoin the class on their return - we will keep their seats warm.

On Tuesday, the daughter of one of the Ukranian ladies came to the class - a delightful young lady in every respect.

Before the class started, she stood up and introduced herself in perfect English. She thenP1000615 gave us all a gift from the Ukraine.

The daughter explained that the little figures are in traditional Ukrainian costumes. They came with paper sticks that you can fix in the mouth or in the pipe and burn to simulate smoking. Obviously they don't have the same hang ups about smoking in the Ukraine that they have in Britain.

This is not the first time we have been given gifts by the Ukrainians in the class. Last year we were given hand made cushions by one of the other members of the class.

Hmm qué ricos


The eighth competition for Christmas confectionery has now been judged.

There were 21 entrants this year of which two were children. Over one hundred people attended the presentation of prizes.

and the prizes went to:

    *First prize: Jurgita Jurgaityte for la Casa y el Tren de Navidad.
    * Second prize: Mª Carmen Marcos Belmonte for her Tarta de Queso
    * Third prize: Mª Teresa Martínez Belmonte for her Tarta de Turrón de dos colores

If they ever feel the need for an English judge - I'm the man!

A bold proposal

The mayor of Bigastro wants to end the deadlock in the housing market by taking some of them into official protection which I assume means they would become council houses. He estimates that there are about 100 houses on the market which are completed but not sold of which half could be taken in to protection.

Raúl Valerio recognises that such a scheme would not be a panacea to the problems that the construction industry face but would help alleviate them in the present climate. To this end a meeting has been scheduled for the 29th of this month at 9:30pm in the Municipal Auditorium where constructors are invited to meet with the Mayor and Inmaculada Martínez to thrash out this proposal.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

95 jobs saved in Bigastro

The mayor, Raúl Valerio Medina Lorente has explained that 1,165,000 Euros has been allocated to the town by the Government on the basis of the numbers of citizens on the Padron. The proviso is that this money must be spent on new projects and not on the completion of  existing projects.

First stage of the work that will connect the Avenida Apatel to the industrial estate Apatel (300,000 Euros), an integral plan of action for the parks and gardens (150.000), relocate the Local Police to  the old building of  the  José de Calasanz school ((140.000), and work on remodelling the centre of the town particularly on Calle Purísima (200.000) will take up the bulk of the state finance that is destined for Bigastro.

Other projects include: repairs to the oldest building at the infant school Biastrin, improvements to facilities in the  Huerto del Cura park and in the Centro Social Integral.

The mayor goes on to explain that the work will create or maintain 95 jobs locally. This is one of the stipulations made to companies who will be involved in the 12 projects that have been planned. 

A cycle friendly coast road

I received the following comment in reply to  my post about the opening of one section of the new N332 dual carriageway.

This is good news. They've been doing this for ages and it should have been finished by now. Hopefully, it will make the junction with the Montesinos road a load safer (this must currently be one of the most dangerous junctions on the Costa Blanca). I wonder if it will make the road a bit more cycle friendly -doubtful!

I'm glad it isn't just me that finds the junction between the N332 and the Cv895 to Los Montesinos a tricky one to negotiate. It is potentially dangerous  if your route means crossing the N332 ie coming from Los Montesinos and turning towards Guardamar or from Torrevieja and turning towards Los Montesinos especially at peak times.

As for the N332 becoming cycle friendly - I doubt it.  You do see cyclists along the road and wonder how they survive especially at the junctions.

Kick a man when he is down

The predicted reduction of interest rate by the European Central Bank hasn't happened yet. As a consequence the pound which was starting to rally against the euro has slipped back again and is for all intents and purposes on par.

You would naturally expect that companies that trade online and offer prices in euros or pounds would reflect the prevailing rate of exchange. That is not necessarily the case. It pays to check what rate they are offering even if it means checking the price in both currencies.

There are some instances where you are not offered a choice.

We went online to book some flights to the the UK and back the other night. Because our outward flight is from Spain, the booking system gives a price in euros. There is no way we can get around that. If we then go on to book a return flight to Spain that is also quoted in euros.

The alternative of course is to book an outward journey which will be in euros and book a return journey separately which will then be in sterling. The comparison between the fares offered can be very illuminating.

Taking a random example of a return flight from Manchester to Murcia priced at 28.51€. Booking the same flight in sterling gives a price of £15.49. That means that the airline are offering an exchange rate of 1.84€ to the pound for the privilege of booking in euros.

As far as I know the commercial exchange rate has never been anywhere near 1.84 since the euro was first introduced. At the current rate this represents a profit of over 80%% on the exchange. Now I call that a rip off.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Last Saturday

Does anybody know what caused that loud noise last Saturday night?

It came in two waves each lasting a good half minute. Our first thought was an earthquake but then there was no corresponding movement. Then we thought of thunder but it wasn't like that. We went onto the roof to look but couldn't see anything.

I've checked online for earthquakes in this area and there have been none just recently. There was a quake on Saturday but it was only 1.6 on the Richter scale and its epicentre was miles away. I doubt if we would have heard it here.

I've looked in the local papers and can find no reference to anything that might have caused the noise.

So it remains a mystery until someone comes up with an explanation. 

New road open soon

One of the new sections of the N332 is near complete. Aldesa have been working in both imagedirections from Torrevieja towards Guardamar and towards Pilar de la Horadada to widen the existing road and make it a dual carriageway with two lanes in each direction.

The section towards Guadamar will open in April ready for the Easter traffic to the coast. This will provide improved access to La Mata and to the north of Torrevieja at two new roundabouts.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Brand loyalty

I don't know about you but I have a  perception of certain companies and their products which draws me to choosing them against others.

The same applies to the countries where the products are produced. When I was growing up "made in China" always meant cheap, plasticy and easily broken whereas "made in Japan" was synonymous with high tech quality. "Made in Britain" meant being loyal but putting up with a few teething problems. 

I've always had a thing about Sony. We've had several Sony TVs which have all been high quality, reliable, cutting edge products. I now have the same feeling for Skoda -VW quality at a bargain price. 

It is the same with computers. Once I'd got over my Sinclair phase (I owned a Spectrum followed by a Sinclair Q) and the limitations of an Amstrad PCW (basically just a word processor) I moved on to an Apple Classic II.

That was my first real computer and I loved it. Whilst the Head of IT at school struggled with Windows 3 and DOS, I could just get on with what I wanted to do. Of course the tiny black and white screen was limiting but the machine took up so little desk space and was a joy to use. I followed that with a Colour Classic - still small in size but with colour! The Apple Performa that followed had a 15inch screen but proved unreliable in comparison. I also had a few Powerbooks which also had faults but still they were Mac OS which suited me fine.

The last Apple I had was in fact a Motorola Starmax. Manufactured under licence to use the Mac OS, it came in a tower case with a separate screen. It felt like a proper computer; grown up like its PC competitors. After a couple of minor glitches it proved reliable as hell and lasted me a good few years.

I wanted to buy another Apple to replace the Starmax but Apple prices were way too high. For a lot less money you could buy a much more powerful PC running Windows. It was too compelling an argument for me to resist moving over to Microsoft.

I don't regret the switch to Windows but still have a great fondness for Apple - once an Apple man always an Apple man. I love the latest Mac OS system and  wish that Vista was  half as good. I still find myself drawn to the Macs in computer shops and have to tear myself away to look at the PCs. Sigh!!!

Still with all the peripherals and software I have now, buying a Mac would be out of the question. 

Which do you like most?

The newspaper 20minutos asks readers:

¿Qué ciudad de la Comunitat Valenciana crees que es más bonita?

(which city in the Valencian Community is the most beautiful?)




So far the voting is: Alicante 652, Valencia 310 and Castellon 207.

You can join in by voting in my mini poll on the left.

We like it quiet

When the Metro disco was in operation it caused a lot of problems with noise pollution during the summer months. You didn't hear the music but the bass rhythm would thump thump thump until the early hours of the morning. Obviously the nearer you lived to the club, the worse it would be and if the wind was in the wrong direction, the sound would carry.

We always wonder how the people who live in flats in the centre of the town cope with the noise particularly at fiesta time when there are nearly two weeks of late night discos to contend with. Pam and I have always been fortunate (or very choosy) in finding places to live that are quiet. Our road here at Villas Andrea has to be the quietest one we have ever lived on.

Now we have the answer to our question. In a recent study by the Valencian Institute of Estadística (IVE) it was found that excess noise was one of the main problems for people living in rented accomodation in the Alicante province. In the survey, 32.5% of renters in the province (more than 415,000) complained of excess noise from traffic, from work going on in the street and from pubs.

The other major areas of complaint were; lack of street cleaning (30.7% almost 400,000); delinquency in the area (25.6% -328,000 homes) and general rubbish e.g. graffiti (21% - 268.000).

In the study, those that live next to the A-31 Autopista (Villena-Alicante) and the N-332 coast road suffered most from excess noise with levels of above the 55 decibels limit determined by the Worldwide Health Organisation as being acceptable. Worst off were municipalities where housing has been built right next to major roads e.g. Alicante, Monforte del Cid, Petrer, Orihuela, Torrevieja and Villena. I don't know how people in those houses ever get any peace

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Rain, rain go away

We were down in Torrevieja yesterday afternoon when the skies looked decidedly ominous. You knew it was going to rain but were not quite sure when. On our way home it started. From then on it poured down all night. We could hear it bouncing off the steps outside the kitchen as it ran off the roof (we don't have guttering and drainpipes). It woke me up in the early hours of this morning as it bounced off the paving outside the bedroom.

I think we must have had nearly a month's rain in one night. The only consolation was that at least it wasn't the dirty sort of rain we get from the Sahara so there is no major cleaning up to do.

As I've said before, this area doesn't really have an effective way of dealing with rain. Rain drains from our paving down a pipe to the road below; it does the same from all the other houses. This water then meets the rain which is coming down the storm drain off the Pedrera and floods the road. I dare say the route down from where the office used to be to the collector was the usual yellow river of muddy water.

The good news is that today we have blue skies and sunshine (at least for the moment anyway). The further good news is that the forecast is for milder weather in the daytime with some sunshine to warm our bones.

Mañana Tarde Noche



Martes,13 Miércoles,14 Jueves,15 Viernes,16
2.7º/11.3º 1.2º/11.5º 2.9º/11.1º


We don't like January and February - roll on March when the weather usually picks up.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Age Concern to the rescue

The Torrevieja-based charity has found that some pensioners hit by the collapse in the value of the pound are doing without basic necessities.Volunteers have discovered OAPs in the Vega Baja area who are going hungry and others who have cancelled doctor's appointments because they cannot afford interpreter fees.

The charity believes these cases may be the tip of the iceberg - and that many more are suffering in silence. In response, Age Concern Costa Blanca Sur has launched a series of measures to combat the crisis.

Starting this week the charity, which is 100% reliant on private donations, is offering soup and bread. The home-made broth, designed to supplement pensioners' vitamins, will be available from Monday to Friday for just 50 cents at the Age Concern centre on Calle Paganini in La Siesta from 11.00-12.30. Unfortunately they do not have enough volunteers to offer soup at weekends.

Age Concern are also offering to help to solve a whole range of problems that pensioners might face e.g. interpreter fees, vet fees, minor repairs in the home, denture repairs and to buy personal home alarms for pensioners experiencing financial difficulties.

Worried that some pensioners may default on insurance premiums, Age Concern are working in conjunction Mapfre to launch an insurance scheme in which all over 50s can save up to 25% on their premiums for the home, car and travel.

The charity is  advising long-term residents that returning home to the UK may not prove to be the answer to their problems. Upon your return, It can take months to qualify for benefits and  long council housing lists mean that finding accommodation would be difficult. In any case if you still have a home in Spain you would be subjected to means testing.

Elderly people requiring assistance - or anyone who can spare time to volunteer - can call into the Age Concern centre in Calle Paganini, or phone the centre on 96 678 68 87 or email Judy Ferris at

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Snow brought chaos to Madrid yesterday. Streets were closed, there were numerous accidents and the airport was shut for five hours.

It didn't help that the three authorities; The City Council, the Community of Madrid and the Ministry of Public Works and Economy were blaming each other for not anticipating the problems that the snow was going to cause.

In the capital, it started snowing at 8am and continued until mid morning by which time the city was at a standstill. Workers at Barajas fought a loosing battle to keep the airport open with antifreeze but by11:30am the battle was lost and flights had to be cancelled until 4:40pm. Even when the airport was reopened, flights were restricted to 20 per hour.

Nine flights destined for Madrid were re routed to El Altet which remained clear all day. Luckily there was capacity on the trains from Alicante to Madrid to accommodate some of the extra passengers. However, some travellers were so desperate to get to Madrid that they took a taxi from Alicante, a journey that would have cost them at least 430 euros. To make matters worse they could well have got stuck on the motorways.

The cold snap has brought a change of fortune for some. Torrevieja has supplied between three thousand five hundred and four thousand tons of salt in the last few days to keep the motorways clear. Providing salt faster than it is produced by the lagoons has depleted the reserves. Goodness knows what will happen if the stores of salt run out but at least the salineras will have work for the future.

Of course not everyone hates the snow. Children and I dare say man adults made the best of it with snowball fights in the parks of the capital. Some even got out their sledges and skis to enjoy the most snow that Madrid has seen in ten years.

Friday, January 09, 2009

El olor de humo

Since I came back from England I've struggled to get rid of the symptoms of the cold I picked up there. One of those symptoms is a sore throat which seems to come and go. When my throat is sore it puts me off smoking my pipe which many of you would say is a good thing but to me it is a sign that all is not well.

It occurred to me the other day that my sore throat might be caused, not by my tobacco but by all the wood smoke in the air at the moment. It pervades the atmosphere up here at Villas Andrea and is particularly strong down in the town itself.

Most of the houses at Villas Andrea were built with chimneys and fireplaces. To make use of them you only needed to buy an open grate to place the wood in. Some residents have gone one step further by adding a cassette. For those who are unfamiliar, a cassette is a closed wood burning stove with a glass door. It avoids the obvious problem of smoke blowing back down into the room.

I have no intention of lighting a fire in our fireplace, whether in an open grate or a cassette. We like the chimney clean and refuse to blacken it with wood smoke. In any case, the last thing I want to do is collect firewood and then later dispose of ashes. The romantic ideal of a crackling wood fire does not appeal to me one bit. Give me the convenience of gas central heating any day.

Where is this post leading to you ask.

For a number of years there has been a campaign against smokers. We have been made to feel like pariahs with successive legislation being brought against us. I can well believe that in future, those of us who indulge in tobacco will be confined to smoking in our own homes and only then when there are no others about who could be polluted.

Once governments have achieved that aim, will they then turn on those who pollute the atmosphere with wood smoke? After all studies have shown that wood smoke contains the same harmful ingredients as cigarette smoke and is possibly more damaging. Just read this article to see what I mean.

If this cold weather persists, then I could have a sore throat until Spring.

Clamping down on the Chinese todos

The regional industry council is going to inititate an inspection campaign of Chinese shops to check whether they are complying with a new law governing opening hours that came into effect on January 1.

Under the new law stores of more than 150 square metres in size cannot open every day of the year. Previously the limit was 300 square metres. In effect it means that stores bigger than the stipulated size can no longer trade on fiesta days and must remain closed.

Stores that do not comply with the new law could face fines of up to 600,000 euros in extreme cases or between 6,000 and 60,000 in serious or very serious cases.

Other establishments have called for inspectors who are measuring up Chinese and ‘Todo a 100' shops to also report other illegal practices involving work permits, storage facilities and safety regulations.

¡Había nieve!

Yesterday was the coldest January day registered in ten years thanks to the polar air mass that has been settled on the province since Wednesday.

On the Sierra de Mariola and in Onil temperatures dropped to minus seven. Marina Alta, Baixa (Confrides), Alto and Medio Vinalopó, l´Alcoiá and El Comtat had snow. There was even snow in Almoradi , Elche and Bigastro. That is the first time in 26 years that anyone has seen snow in these areas. I'm told that locals were out with their cameras to record the event. They had to be quick though because it didn't last long.

The recommendation from the Authorities is to limit outdoor activities, to wrap up well and use a scarf to protect yourself from breathing in cold air. Keep doors and windows shut in the house and try to maintain a temperature of 19 degrees.

Drivers are recommended to avoid motorways if there is any snow on them. They are advised to drive with a full tank of fuel, a mobile phone with plenty of credit, a scraper, snow chains, a lantern, warm clothing and supplies of food.

Drivers are also warned of the dangers of patches of black ice that can linger in shaded areas of roadways.

I don't suppose there is gritting lorry in Bigastro or anywhere else on the Vega Baja for that matter. There is plenty of salt at Torrevieja but I'd rather they didn't use it. I'm hoping that the years of having to hose salt of my car are over.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The early warning system

Anyone who has tried to come down our road without being noticed will tell you it is nigh on impossible.

The first guardians of the Calle are the two dogs opposite. They know instinctively who lives here and who doesn't and will let you know which group you belong to. The message is then passed on to the dog next door but one down the road and relayed to the two "boys" across the road. Finally the team of Yorkies at the house at the bottom of the road will have their say.

By the time you reach the park, everyone on the street knows of your presence.

A few years ago we had a meeting about security. At that meeting our neighbour Aurelio suggested that having at least two dogs was the best defence you could provide for your house. He said you'd need a small dog like a terrier with sharp hearing and a yappy bark and a large dog like an Alsation to provide deterrent.

That is exactly what he has - a little terrier and two German Shepherds. It must work because, whilst he says a couple of people have managed to scale his wall, none have actually broken in to his house. With two German Shepherds baring their teeth at them, it's no surprise that would be thieves have failed.

A present from the Three Kings

The ex mayor of Bigastro, José Joaquín Moya ,who has been in prison since the 31st of October was set free on Tuesday. Surprisingly, he was granted freedom without bail. The only condition of Moya's release is that he reports to court twice a month to make a declaration.

The ex mayor was in his cell killing time when the news came. When he was told that he had a visitor, Moya thought that it was to tell him of a further denunciation against him. The news of his release therefore came as a great surprise - as the Spanish press have put it, "a gift from the Three Kings".

Yesterday, Moya went to the City council where he had worked as mayor for 25 years. His first words, when interviewed were in support of the new mayor, Raúl Valerio Medina. Amid bursts of laughter, the ex mayor then went on to explain that he was going to visit Cajamurcia where he had worked before becoming mayor to see if they would have him back. If not then he would prepare for unemployment.


Moya wanted to make it clear that he will always defend the region he has represented and was touched by the support he had received from the people in Bigastro but for now he wants to take care of his wife and children, and think a little about himself.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A mild day in Norilsk

We watch the weather on Meteo, the weather channel on Digital +. Along with the weather for Spain, they also show weather for the rest of the world. We take great comfort in the fact that most days, the temperature here is about ten degrees higher than it is in the UK. To be honest we gloat about it.

One of the cities that Meteo shows weather for is Norilsk, the northernmost city in Siberia and the second largest city above the Arctic Circle.

I don't suppose the city would exist if it weren't for the huge nickel deposits in the area. The nickel ore is smelted at Norilsk, a process that produces severe pollution in the form of acid rain. The cities claim to fame is that it manages to produce 1% of all total emissions of sulphur dioxide in the world's atmosphere.

We spotted Norilsk on Meteo because of the harsh weather that the city suffers. The average temperature is approximately −10 degrees Celsius and temperatures as low as −58 degrees have been recorded there. The city is covered with snow for about 250-270 days a year, with snow storms for about 110-130 days. The polar night lasts from December through mid-January, so that Norilsk inhabitants do not see the sun at all for about six weeks.

Today the temperature in Norilsk is a mild -21.8 degrees C which makes the high of 6.4 degrees in Orihuela seem almost tropical.

What a difference a day makes

Many thanks to all those people from the UK who offered me food parcels after reading about the plight of my pension! Please don't bother sending oranges or lemons - we've got loads of them!

You'll have noticed that the pound rallied against the euro yesterday amid speculation that the European Central Bank may cut interest rates next week. Just a pity that my pension was transferred to my Spanish account the day before when the rate of exchange was at its lowest - that cost me dearly.

Why on earth didn't the Bank of New York, who handle the transfer on behalf of Capita, wait a day. I would have been a lot better off and not quite so depressed. Damn it, we could have had meat on the table at least once this month.

The wise ones amongst you will say, "but Keith, why don't you have your pension paid into a UK account and make the transfers yourself?" That is what I did to start with. The Nat West, who we bank with, gave me what was akin to a tourist rate and charged me a fee whenever I made a transfer.

After we'd been here awhile, Teacher's Pensions cottoned on to the fact that a lot of retired teachers live abroad and decided to offer their clients a commercial rate via the Bank of New York. Their offer seemed like a good idea - a few cents more to the pound equals a lot of money over the period of a year.

The problem is that the transfer is made on about the same day each month and doesn't take account of when the best time might be to exchange currency. For three years that hasn't mattered a great deal because the exchange rate was reasonably stable - there were good months and bad months but no disastrous ones; until now!

I can hear you say, "ah but next month Keith you will be so much better off." Knowing my luck the pound will keep on rallying until the time when my pension is due and then plummet the day before just in time to make me miserable again.

As my old Deputy Head used to say, "does anybody want to buy a watch?"