Thursday, December 30, 2010

A memorable trip

All of our trips to England are memorable for a variety of reasons. This one however is turning out to be more memorable than most.

It was our granddaughter Molly’s first Christmas which we spent down in Kidderminster. Following that we had a few days with our eldest daughter in Wolverhampton. So far so good, we had had a lovely time in very pleasant company.

Yesterday we were driving back to Sale near Manchester to have more time with our youngest daughter, her fiancé and of course Molly.

Laura and Dave had set off before us from Kidderminster  and arrived home to find a burst pipe in the ceiling of their kitchen. The kitchen was awash and the water had flooded through to the dining room soaking the carpet.

The only consolation was that it could have been worse. However, it has rather put a damper on New Year and my birthday celebrations.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful to all those people who have made us  welcome and looked after us so well but this is one trip where I really will be glad to get back home to Spain. I hope we can help them sort out the majority of the mess before we leave.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Did you “touch” on the lottery?

A lottery shop in the small town of Sort – the Catalan word of luck – in the foothills of the Pyrenees sold tickets that netted 15m Euros of prize money in El Gordo – The Fat One – which boasts the biggest total pay out in the world.

The shop, 'La Bruixa d'Or' – the Golden Witch – sells more tickets than any outlet in Spain because of the name of the town and the fact it has stocked winning tickets several times in the last decade.

Prizes totalling 2.3 billion Euros  were distributed to several thousand winners across the country. The first prize number 79250 appeared on 195 tickets. At 200 Euros each, few people would have bought a whole ticket. It is likely that many had a decimo or tenth of a ticket in which case they would receive 1,950th of the first prize still a lot of money!

I am sorry to say that I was not one of them.

The snowmen of Granada

I found this fascinating account in the Guardian.

The snow that falls on the Sierra Nevada each year is vital for the economy of Granada, bringing skiers in their thousands and providing a substantial winter income for hotels, restaurants and shops as well as the ski station itself. If not enough snow falls, machines that can manufacture artificial snow are brought in to ensure business as usual.

When it melts, snow feeds the rivers and fills the irrigation channels built by the Moors to water the land. But for centuries, snow from the mountains played another essential role: keeping the city cool in summer. Before the days of refrigeration, teams of men would set out to climb the peaks of the Sierra Nevada to provide the city with ice.

Being mostly illiterate, these men left no account of their expeditions. It was the botanists and later travellers in the 19th century who documented their encounters with the "snowmen". They described how the men would set out in the early hours, accompanied by mules, and climb steadily until late afternoon, singing as they walked; and how in the summer months they would have to ascend the very highest peaks – well over 3,000 metres – to find enough snow.

Then they would set to work with picks and shovels, filling their panniers with up to 150kg of snow. At sunset they would begin the long trek down, covering the panniers with blankets to stop the snow melting. By dawn the men would be back in Granada, where the ice-sellers could begin their distribution.

Their role in keeping the city cool was essential for hundreds of years. The first blow to the “snowmen” came when the local council monopolised and sold off what was once a free activity – the right to extract snow from the Sierra Nevada and sell it. Then in the early 20th century, an ice factory was established in the city. Cheap artificial ice-cubes replaced the snow that the men brought down from the mountains..

The Sierra Nevada is now a national park, and the path taken for centuries by the snowmen is used instead by walkers for recreation – to enable them to enjoy the spectacular scenery.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Swan at Bewdley

“The Swan” is one of those classic names for a British public house. Most town have a pub by that name even if they are nowhere near any water.

There just had to be one at Bewdley on the River Severn where we visited yesterday and I had to get a photo of it.

The weather was not great, we had Molly with us and the light was failing so I snapped the real thing instead.

So there you are, just for you, here is The Swan at Bewdley.


Most chefs these days seem to have what they call a “signature dish”. Usually these are elaborate concoctions made from exotic ingredients that normal cooks would not have easy access to. There is no doubt that it takes great skill, a lot of experience and knowledge to produce a “signature dish”.

For me, though it is equally creative to make something special out of ordinary ingredients. Taking a classic simple recipe and making it your own requires the same culinary skills that bless the so called masterchefs.

Meat and potato pie is a true British staple that countless housewives make during the winter months. In my sixty odd years I must have tasted scores of meat and potato pies. I can honestly say though that none have tasted better than the one that Dave’s mother made yesterday. That includes the ones that my Grandmother used to make - she was a real expert at this dish being blessed with the cold hands necessary to make good pastry.

Joan has clearly  practised this recipe countless times, honing down her skills with the dish until it has reached perfection. The wrong variety of potatoes, lesser quality meat even indifferent pastry would spoil the end result. Luckily, Joan got it right and the pie was as tasty as it looks in my photograph.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cosy toes

There is no way that little Molly is going to feel cold no matter what the temperature outside.

This coat was a Christmas present from one of Laura’s friends. It certainly did the trick and kept her both smart and cosy.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxed off


Just look what they did to our granddaughter! After the present in the box was opened, they put her in it.

She loved it especially when my daughter took her for a sledge ride in it round the carpet.

Molly had a wonderful day, she got some lovely presents and enjoyed her first taste of Christmas dinner. Molly even got to taste some Buck’s Fizz which she turned her nose up at!


Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas to all

Tomorrow could well be a busy day. It looks like Santa is planning to be very kind to Molly for her first Christmas so there will be lots of present unwrapping. Hopefully, sometime during the day we will have the chance to eat the excellent dinner that Dave’s mother and father will be preparing for us.

In case I don’t have the opportunity, can I wish you all a very Merry Christmas. I hope you have a wonderful day full of precious memories for you to treasure.

Ten minutes is nothing

After days of the watching transport chaos that has bedevilled most of Britain for the last week or so, we anticipated the worst yesterday when we flew to Manchester. As it happened, the plane was late leaving Alicante but that was nothing to do with the weather; apparently baggage handlers in Manchester were working to rule – classic timing guys!

Even though the plane was late leaving, it made up time and eventually arrived at Manchester just ten minutes late. Then of course we had to wait and wait for our cases to arrive on the carousel thanks to those baggage handlers.

As for the temperature here – the thermometer outside has stayed below zero since we arrived and tomorrow it promises to hit 18 in the West Midlands where we are spending Christmas. Ah well, at least the beers should be cold!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A millionaire by lunchtime

With just one ticket (one tenth of a full ticket)  from one of the series that is not likely because of course there are many tickets with the same number that will share the prizes allocated to them.

Before we even get into that though, the number has to come up - however:

  • El Gordo cashes more prizes than any other draw in the world.
  • It has the bigger number of prized tickets (13.334).
  • Maximum chances to win a prize.
  • 70 per cent of the emission is assigned for prizes.

So who knows, the probability of winning some prize is 15% so there is a fair chance that I will at least get my money back.

The New Year’s resolution

No doubt many will cheer when they learn that people will no longer be able to smoke in bars, cafés and restaurants in Spain. The law, which was passed on Tuesday by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his governing Socialist Party, by 189 votes to 154 also rejected a Senate amendment to allow casinos to have smoking areas.

Starting on Jan 2, the interiors of all bars and restaurants will be transformed into no-smoking zones, bringing Spain in line with the European Union’s strictest antismoking nations and many U.S. states that ban smoking in enclosed public places.

The law will make Spain a tougher place to smoke than EU countries where bars and restaurants are still allowed to have smoking sections. It will also prohibit smoking in outdoor places such as playgrounds and the grounds of schools and hospitals.

Carols at Bigastrin

Yesterday we went down to the nursery school, Bigastrin to sing carols to the children there.

We sang a good mix of villancicos along with Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.


Afterwards they gave us biscuits, hot chocolate, cider and muscatel – a nice reward for an hour or so of singing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


imageRemember the audacious theft of artworks, which included a drawing by Pablo Picasso and a dozen works by Chillida, that were stolen from a transport lorry parked in a warehouse in the Getafe suburb of Madrid on November 28. They are estimated to be worth a combined five million euros.

One of the pieces the thieves were trying to offload  was a steel sculpture by Basque artist Chillida titled "Topos IV", valued at 800,000 euros which the thieves tried to sell to a scrap dealer for 30 Euros!

"It now appears more likely that we are dealing with amateurs," a police spokesman said.

Oh no, not more!

At the risk of boring you, here are the photos taken by my friend from the class, Irina.
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Monday, December 20, 2010

Milder weather on the run up to Christmas

image Certainly a lot milder especially at night. Today was actually sunny and very pleasant.

Looks like it will get colder again in the middle of the week but then become mild again towards the weekend.

The wind could pick up on Thursday making it feel colder than it actually is. 
image There is a chance of some light rain overnight tonight with further rain forecast for Wednesday night.

Christmas Day should be sunny if a little cold which is good news for those planning to go to La Zenia beach for the Brits party. 

We are all blushing

SONY DSC Actors are always keen to read write-ups of their performances in the hope that they will be good. 

To describe us as actors may be stretching the definition of an actor a little however, it cannot be denied that we did “perform”.

Fabulosa interpretación y excelente mérito es el que tuvieron todos los alumnos de la Escuela de Adultos de Bigastro. No dudaron en subir al escenario e interpretar una obra de teatro navideño ante más de 200 alumnos de infantil del colegio la Paz.

La Navidad como protagonista, donde cobraban vida los animales, el invierno, el sol y la luna. Todo querían ir Belén a visitar al niño Jesús que había nacido. Un cruel diablo helado intentó impedirlo, pero la voluntad de los simpáticos personajes fue más fuerte, y la historia, como no puede ser de otra manera, tuvo un final feliz.
Todos los alumnos de la EPA participaron; neolectores, alfabetización y español para extranjeros que hicieron disfrutar a los pequeños y no tan pequeños.


Fabulous interpretation and great merit by all the students from the Bigastro Adult School. They did not hesitate to go on stage and perform a Christmas play to more than 200 college students from the infant school La Paz.

Christmas was the star, where the animals came to life along with a snowman, the sun and the moon.

They all wanted to go to Bethlehem to see where the baby Jesus was born but a cruel, frozen devil tried to stop them.  However, the will of the characters was stronger than that of the devil, and the story had a happy ending (except for the poor devil of course who melted!)

The young and not so young in the audience enjoyed the performance by all the students from the Bigastro EPA courses; basic reading, literacy and Spanish for foreigners.

You can see the rest of the  photos that the lady from the Town Hall took here.

Getting into the sprit

Next weekend at the Auditorium "Francisco Grau" ,the Unión Musical de Bigastro presents its Christmas Concert:

Sunday, December 26th at 6:30pm

I haven’t seen the programme for this but I imagine it will have a strong festive sprit to it.

I wonder what the young ladies gave him for rent

Remember the story about the French farmer who said he was growing cannabis to feed to his ducks well now there is a story in the Telegraph about a British farmer caught out growing the same crop.

The farmer was caught when he unwittingly shot two suspected burglars who were allegedly targeting a cannabis factory, which he didn't know existed, on his property.

The farmer, Mr Tibbs,  who suffers from multiple sclerosis and neuralgia, told detectives he had been awoken by the sound of geese and, after going outside on his mobility scooter, had shot three times into the dark, believing he was firing at a fox.

“It was an accident as far as I am concerned. I was out shooting that night on my land and apparently two people got shot there,” he said.

“I didn’t know anyone had been hit. If I did, I would have called the police. Apparently they went to hospital and police were called and they said where it happened. It happened at 4am, but the first I knew about it was when the police came.”

Police later discovered that a cannabis factory had been set up in a rented outbuilding on Mr Tibbs’s farm and it was thought that the two men were attempting to burgle it when they were shot.

Mr Tibbs, who said he had no knowledge of the cannabis plants, was later released without charge.

The injured men, from Basildon, were arrested on suspicion of possessing a firearm but were also released without charge. Two women who were arrested in connection with the discovery of 50 cannabis plants were also freed after questioning.

Mr Tibbs complained that police had revoked his two shotgun licences following the incident. But an Essex Police spokesman said Mr Tibbs was “unfit to be entrusted with a firearm and may present a danger to public safety and peace”.

Playing it safe

imageThis is the picture on the front of the official Christmas card sent out by the  King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia this year  - a very tasteful shot of the Zarzuela Palace lit up at night.

Previous Christmas cards have shown the King and Queen surrounded by their grandchildren but for this year it has proved too difficult to get them all together for a photo-shoot.

This is not a new problem for the Royals. Five years ago they overcame this by using Photoshop. The picture for 2005 showed the King and Queen sat on a sofa surrounded by the seven grandchildren they had at that time. Unfortunately, whoever was responsible for the composite managed to amputate the King’s right leg – an easy mistake to make in Photoshop but one which you would expect someone would spot before the card was sent out.

Earlier this year the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Felipe, had photographs taken to mark his rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the army and air force and frigate captain in the navy  which appeared to use the same shot of his face juxtaposed above three different military uniforms. The Palace deny this and said that the pictures were authentic. Obviously the Prince was able to exactly reproduce the same expression three times.

Apart from the King and Queen, the rest of the members of the Spanish Royal Family are also playing it safe this year with not a hint of even airbrushing in sight.

Prince Felipe and his wife, Princess Letizia are absent from their greeting card instead choosing a portrait of their two daughters, the infantas Leonor, 5, and three-year-old Sofia.

The infanta Elena, the King and Queen's eldest daughter chose a snap of herself with her two children outside the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela after a pilgrimage at Easter.

The youngest daughter, the infanta Cristina is sending out a photograph of her four children taken while during their summer holiday on the island of Majorca.

Since it is highly unlikely that I will receive any of these cards, I won’t be able to comment on the authenticity of the photographs!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Madrid to Paris in seven and a half hours by train!

Yesterday, the King of Spain and the President inaugurated the new AVE train route between Madrid and Valencia. The train, which travels at speeds up to 320kmph, will carry passengers from the capital to Valencia in 95 minutes. The project means that Spain now has 2,665.kms of high speed track, more than any other European country. RENFE expect over 3 million passengers to use this route during its the first year.

At 11.06 from today the first French high speed train (TGV) will cross the border into the station-Vilafant Figueres, Girona. This will create the first high-speed connection between France. Barcelona and Paris and reduce the journey time to seven hours and 25 minutes saving an hour and a quarter of the previous time.

Renfe and the French National Railways (SNCF) will run two trains per day: at 11.06 and 15.02 from Figueres, arriving in Paris at 16.41 and 20.41. And from Paris Gare de Lyon, at 07.20 and 15.20, returning to Figueres at 12.47 and 20.48. From there to Barcelona you would add add up to two hours by conventional train (the high-speed section Barcelona-French border is expected to be ready by 2012).

Fifty years on

In 1960, Torrevieja was just a fishing town with a population of 9,234 (in 2008 =104,000) . Other than fishing, the main industry at that time was the salt works. There were no high rise flats and very few tourists.

When cars became more affordable, a few of the residents moved away but still called Torrevieja home. Torrevieja held its first gathering for those that had moved away in 1960. Now fifty years years later, many of those who had left returned, some for the first time and the town hall organised a full week of activities for them.

The week started with a visit to Torre del Moro.The mayor of Torrevieja, Pedro Hernandez Mateo, the Salt Reinasde Brotherhood of Alicante, with almost all the mayors of the area, municipal representatives from the cities of Mieres and Pola de Siero and a large group of Torrevejenses, led by Gil Vicente Eduardo Rizo, winner of last years "Diego Ramírez award, unveiled a plaque in honour to those who made the dream of returning to Torrevieja, a reality, exactly 50 years on.

Later on, the entourage moved to Calle Torrevejenses Ausentes, where another plaque was dedicated. The week was celebrated in style with a DVD presentation, Choirs, Orchestras, performances, theatre and dinners.

A special exhibition of old photos and artefacts, showing Torrevieja as she was over fifty years ago is on display in the Vista Alegre Exhibition Centre. Entrance is free and the exhibition is open until January 7, 2011.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Years of wisdom

If you want to know what Bigastro is about and what it is really like to live in Spain, then it is ladies like these you need to turn to.

They can tell you a tale or two about life in Spain over the last decade or so, about what has been good and what has been bad. The young may have technology and education but that is easily matched by these ladies lifetimes of experience.

Cock of the class

My photos from the dress rehearsal did not include this lady from one of the Spanish classes, she took the part of the cockerel who was going to Bethlehem with the other animals to see the baby Jesus.

By nature, this lady is quiet and unassuming almost shy but she came into her own in this role. We saw a more exuberant style to her character as she crowed across the stage.

Like all of us, she enjoyed the experience of performing for the children from the local infant school. They enjoyed our little play and so did this lady.

Just when you thought….

Things were bad – they just got worse for the farmers here in the Vega Baja.

The low night-time temperatures which dropped to zero have spoilt the artichoke crop. Estimates put the loss at three million Euros. Add to that the other crops such as beans, potatoes which have been obliterated and and citrus fruit that will have been affected and this is tantamount to a disaster. On a positive note, the more resistant broccoli, celery and cabbage should be OK.

The start of the artichoke season was good with prices at market above production costs. Many farmers, who had planted artichokes because of their good price in previous years, must now be ruing that decision.  

What the devil?

What on earth possessed me to volunteer to take the part of the devil in our Christmas production for the children from the infant school, La Paz?

We already knew that learning a new language at our age was a more difficult task than when we were younger.

We should have also realised that learning lines for a play was going to be a similar challenge.

Still we got there in the end and managed to pull it off without any major hiccups.

The main thing was, the children seemed to love it and we were mightily impressed how well behaved they all were.
Even though I was the devil, I got to take this stray cat home with me.

Once home, I gave her a saucer of milk and then put her outside for the night.

It wasn’t long before she was scratching at the door though – it was cold last night!

PS Some of the children told Pamela afterwards that they liked her as a cat but they didn't like the devil because he was evil. When she explained that I was her husband they were shocked!

Practising for the future

image009.jpgForty students from the 2nd grade at the Colegio San José de Calasanz visited the Town Hall.They toured the building, visited the Mayor’s office and went into the council chamber where they held a council meeting. I doubt if their session was as fiery as some of the real council meetings.

PS The even younger mayor does look a little serious in this photo!

Friday, December 17, 2010

A helping hand from the UK

The UK government is currently dealing with more than a dozen different action groups made up of thousands of disenchanted expats who have lost hundreds of millions in property scams throughout Spain.

The situation is so severe that the government recently appointed a special overseas property advisor to help deal with it and to better understand the problems of those involved.

As a result, contentious issues such as illegal properties which do not have correct permits, cases where off-plan developments have not been built as specified and the length of time and cost involved in resolving property disputes were recently raised by the British ambassador to Spain with the Andalucian regional government and the Minister for Public Works and Housing.

A spokesman for the British Embassy in Spain said: "The UK government has no authority to interfere in any matters relating to Spanish domestic legislation, whether national, regional or local.

"However, we continue to express concern at the impact these problems are having on the lives of some of our citizens and Spain’s reputation abroad, and we have raised property issues with ministers in Spain and regional governments on numerous occasions.

"We understand the regional government is currently working with town halls in affected municipalities to draw up inventories of illegal properties and to seek solutions.

Playing at being God

Ireland is doomed because of the credit rating system that the world economy puts great store by says so. Moody's had previously rated Ireland as AA2 – the third highest level. Today's downgrade to BAA1 leaves its sovereign credit rating just three places above 'junk status', and follows a similar move by fellow ratings agency Fitch last week.

Now we come to Spain which currently has an AA1 rating.

Who is it that decided upon that? It turns out she is German.

No, the middle-aged German woman playing God over Spain is not Angela Merkel. The German chancellor is central to the battle to defend Spain that was again being fought out at today's Brussels EU heads of government summit.

It turns out, the person whose thumbs-up or thumbs-down can shape Spanish life for a decade or more is one Kathrin Muehlbronner, a polyglot economics graduate of the university of Tübingen.

Muehlbronner is a vice–president and senior sovereign risk analyst specialising in Spain at Moody's credit ratings agency. That makes her the woman whose say-so can plunge Spain into the unknown by the simple act of declaring that Europe's fifth largest economy no longer merits its Aa1 rating.

This week Muehlbronner stopped short of actually making that decision. Moody's believes that the downside risks warrant putting Spain's rating under review for downgrade. Moody's does not believe that Spain's solvency is under threat," she conceded, whereupon both euro and markets rallied a little.

If she had decided otherwise, then many more Spaniards would have lost their jobs, many more would have been unable to pay their mortgages. The austerity measures required would have eclipsed those of Ireland and Greece. In fact the whole Eurozone would have been under threat.

You don’t get closer to playing God than that.

Must get the grapes in

On New Year's Eve about one and half million kilos of grapes from the Alicante region of Vinalopó will be consumed as the clocks strike the 12 hours of midnight.

Unfortunately, this year’s crop of grapes is drastically below that expected because of the hail which fell in this region last May which destroyed 70 percent" of the crop. The initial forecast for this year was set at 43 million kilos.

The reduction has had a disastrous effect on the labour market. In 2009, 10,000 workers were employed to pick the crop, this year, they only need 5,000. Bear in mind that harvesting is all done by hand; the clusters are picked one by one directly from the vines and are kept separate until the time of packaging. Each cluster of grapes then carries the tag “Uva Embolsada del Vinalopó con Denominación de Origen” to certify the quality and provenance.

The main growing areas are Aspe, Hondón de las Nieves, Hondón de los Frailes, Monforte del Cid, Novelda, La Romana and Agost..

Pick a bale of cotton

The EU grants aid for 48,000 hectares of cotton in Spain all of which presently grown in Andalucía.

It used to be a major crop in this region up until the 80s when farmers started to switch to citrus fruits which were more profitable at that time. Now the market for fruit and vegetables has been opened to Morocco where prices are lower, local famers are unable to compete and are having to rely upon producing a better quality of fruit. So farmers are looking to return to growing cotton as a more cost effective alternative.

In 2008 and 2009, research was conducted at the campus Desamparados of the Universidad Miguel Hernández into the feasibility of growing cotton again in the Vega Baja. Tests were made growing long staple varieties suitable for the textile industry. The ten acres of the crop that were planted yielded 30 tons of high quality cotton – a good result.

It is now up to the Ministry of Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs (MARM) to decide whether the subsidy for growing cotton should be applied to the Vega Baja. There is of course a lot of pressure from Andalucía to keep all of the subsidy there.

Growing cotton is labour intensive, it does not require the same quality of water as citrus fruit and is well suited to the soil structure of this region. The conditions are therefore right for more extensive planting here, all that is required is the green light from the Ministry.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Calling all games players

The Youth Council of the City of Bigastro has organised the 2nd Tournament of Board Games for the 3rd and 4th of January 2011 (from 4pm until 8pm).

-You can register to play up to the 28th December.
-Registration is FREE: players will get 3 free drinks (soda or beer)
-Open to anyone over 14 years of age, with the exception of ping-pong which is open to those over 10 years of age.
-You can enter for up to two different games.
-Entries will be accepted from people living in other municipalities

-REGISTER at the YOUTH INFORMATION CENTRE or VIA EMAIL at, giving your full name, telephone number and the games that you want to sign up for (maximum two).

AND THE GAMES: -Billiards
-Table Football

Damn I won’t be available on those dates and times but then I am no good at any of those games anyway!

A letter to Santa

I remember sending letters to Santa and I remember my girls doing the same (Our youngest daughter Laura went to the trouble of quoting the catalogue numbers from Argos in her letters) but they were no where near as funny as these ones printed today in the Daily Mail.

I want sausages for dinner every day, all year round.

From Elsie

I want ducks with no teeth.

Love Ellen

PS: I'll take geese if it's a hard task - but remember, no teeth!

I want to buy a spider in a pet shop, so tell me that you'll come there and pay for it. The shop closes early on Christmas Eve. Is that all right?

Regards, Nathan

I wish not to have holes in my teeth for the rest of my life so I can eat as many sweets as I want all Christmas.

Christmas hugs from Violet

I wish to remain 12 years old for the rest of my life if possible.

From Dan

I only wish for one thing and that's for IKEA to open and give me a job when I'm grown up.

From Claudia

I want a dog. But I don't know which. I hope it's obedient, but not too big. Could you please tell me what the perfect dog is?

Love Maria

Could you make me a lot ­prettier than my friend Sabrina? That's my biggest and only wish!

Love Diana

Do you have baby pigs in store? If I can have a baby pig from you, that's what I wish for -- but you have to sort it out with Mum.

Love Cicilia


Do you think Mrs Santa can come instead of you? I'm so scared of you. Sorry.

From Jonas

Mum says you won't come if I swear. Are you allergic to swearing?

Regards, Victor

When you're finished, could I perhaps become the new Santa?

Your friend, Callum

Could you call me when you're close by so I can come and say hello to your reindeer? What's your phone number?

Love Rhiannon

Could you tell me what you did in the last World War? You didn't fly around the world! Were there any presents then?

From Andy

Santa Claus, how often do you change your clothes?

Regards, Tom

How often do you take a bath?

From Elisabeth

Did you come from the basement last year? Could you say a password when you come this time? You can say 'chocolate cake' - then I will know you're the real Santa, because I don't want Dad to be Santa.

Regards, Jane

Do you say 'Ho! Ho! Ho! because you don't speak other languages?

Greetings from Pauline

When you give us money, do you print it yourself? Isn't it fake money which is against the law?

Regards, Sonny

My dad and grandad are bald. If that's inheritable, will I become bald? Are you bald?

From Jens


I know I haven't been nice this year, but I promise to be next year. So would it be all right to give me something in advance?

Regards, Joseph

If Mum and Dad have sent you a letter saying that I haven't been nice this year, it's true. But remember that I really pulled myself together two weeks ago.

Best regards, Richard

I've been good all year and I'm planning to be good next year as well. So could you throw a yo-yo in an envelope and send it to me?


Do you keep a file of all the children in the world? If so, do you store it on a computer? What program do you use?

From Luke

I'm writing to you on behalf of my little sister who's afraid to do it because she hasn't been that nice this year. But she hopes that you'll give her one or more presents anyway, because she promises to be nicer next year.

From Megan

How would you define good and not good? Is it allowed to tease once in a while? I do have four brothers and sisters.

Best regards, Amy


Will you bring me the presents I wish for this year? Last year you disappointed me. If you ­disappoint me this year as well, I'll lock the door so you can't let any more Christmases in.

From Martina

Why did you give Richard a PlayStation 2 and not me? Do you think that's fair?


Thank you very much for the presents last year. This year I would like to have twice as many.

Love Naomi

Why didn't I get a hairdryer from you for Christmas? I wanted one last year, but I didn't receive one. Now both my sisters have hair­dryers. How long will I have to ­borrow theirs? Could you tell me?

Love Eva

GPS system helps women sufferers lead a more normal life

Domestic violence which often involves a battered wife and a violent husband is an issue that Spain takes very seriously. So much so that the country has invested in GPS devices that track both the victim and the assailant.

If the battery on the device  runs flat, the assailant  tries to remove his tag or enters the safety zone of the victim, an alarm is set off in the surveillance centre in Madrid and the police contact the victim and  act quickly to offer protection.

The surveillance centre receives around 1,200 serious alerts a month (tag removal or safety perimeter intrusion), triggered by the 450 tags currently fitted in Spain, out of a total of 3,000 that the government purchased in 2009. "We need to improve the courts' appraisal of the risk before enlarging the scope of the system," says Miguel Lorente, a ministry specialist on gender-based violence. Since the beginning of the year, 63 women in Spain have been killed by their partners. Fourteen of them had already lodged a complaint with the police, but none of them had received a GPS phone.

It is hard for the majority of us to understand what prompts men to act violently towards their wives/partners. Certainly the economic crisis has not helped by depriving men of their pride in  maintaining the position as provider for their families.

Whatever the reasons for the violence, it is good to know that there is now a system that can protect these women and save them from the inevitable conclusion of this form of torture. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Next stop the real thing!

The time for rehearsal is over. Today we had the dress rehearsal, Friday we perform in front of the children from the junior school La Paz.

The costumes look great, the lines are as good as they are going to get – everything is set for a fun packed performance.

Here are just some of the actors that will be taking part.

On the left, the snowman having a last look at her words. As the star of the show with the most lines to deliver, she is damn good.

On the right are the the ladies from Bethlehem, a shepherd and the angel of the Lord in the centre.
From the left; the sun, the sheep and the moon.

The snowman looks magnificent with her colourful buttons and that top hat.
On the left; the cat, the moon and one of the directors, Ana.

On the right one of the ladies from Bethlehem and the shepherd with the moon rising from behind.

Missing from the photographs are the dog, the cockerel, the other director, Sandra and me of course as the devil.

Now it is time to wish all who are taking part to “break a leg!”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I am an admirer

When we were new to Bigastro, the town hall seemed to rely upon people like me to chronicle events and send in photos for the gallery.

Now there is a young lady, armed with a high quality digital SLR, who attends these occasions to make an official record.

At first I was only vaguely aware of her presence but now we have got to know each other, I try not to get in the way and aim not to duplicate the photos she takes which, as you will see from the albums in the gallery, are excellent. Her pictures provide an invaluable record of life in the town.

Here are a couple of the events that the official photographer has covered recently:

  • It looks like the Gala last weekend was a great show. You can see photos here.
  • Also the new Police Station was opened with all due ceremony as you can see here.

PS Note to the town hall: the built in flash on the Sony DSLR has a very limited range which extends no more than a few metres. Without an external flashgun it is a real struggle to get a decent picture in poor light. Even a relatively inexpensive external flash would help your photographer to get better shots particularly indoors.

Music to your ears

The following items form the cultural programme at the Municipal Auditorium  "Francisco Grau" this weekend:

Saturday, December 18th at 6:30pm

Christmas Festival by the students from the School of Music of the  Sociedad Unión Musical de Bigastro.

This concert will be packed with parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles etc.

Sunday, December 19th at 6:30pm

18th Century Music Concert

Four sopranos and a string quartet interpret musical compositions typical of the classical period.

PS If i am not mistaken, these singers, who are blessed with beautiful voices,  form the group “Mare Selenitas”.

Yum yum

The Department of Women in collaboration with the Progressive Women's Association have organised the Christmas Baking Workshop 2010.

The workshops will be take place on the 14th and 15th December at the headquarters of the Association, located on the ground floor of the Municipal Auditorium from 4pm.

On Sunday, December 19 at 5:30pm, in the Multipurpose Room of the Municipal Auditorium, you will be able to sample all of the desserts made during the workshops.

You know what, I think I am up for that – the tasting that is not the making!

In a town near you

imageAdverts for the Costa Blanca have now been posted on 104 billboards around Britain in areas where they will get maximum exposure to traffic.

The campaign is aiming to reach 5.9 million inhabitants in Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Nottingham, Newcastle, Derby, Leicester, Sheffield and Cardiff.

If you see one please let me know.

PS I hope they don't all come for the summer - the place might get a bit overcrowded!

Monday, December 13, 2010

No let up for the next month

Locals complaining about the cold here in Bigastro find it hard to contemplate how bad it might be in Britain this winter. So far the country has seen some of the coldest temperatures and heaviest snowfalls since 1981, but with no let up on the horizon, it could end up being the worst winter since 1910.For the next few days

A chilly and often cloudy day, locally foggy at first, though brighter in the south and the northwest with some lengthy sunny periods in western Scotland. Occasional light rain for some eastern areas, most frequent along coasts of eastern England.

Showers continuing in many eastern parts, especially near coasts. Elsewhere dry with variable amounts of cloud, with icy patches on some roads and fog developing locally under cloud breaks.

Tuesday will see showers near eastern coasts, with outbreaks of light rain spreading further inland across central and southern parts. Turning clearer and colder in southeast England later. Dry with variable cloud elsewhere.

Wednesday will be mainly dry. Heavy rain sweeping southwards on Thursday, giving way to frequent snow showers and a risk of widespread ice later Thursday and on Friday. Turning very cold again.

Friday 17 Dec 2010 to Sunday 26 Dec 2010:

Very cold and unsettled on Friday and through the weekend, with strong northwesterly winds bringing frequent snow showers to many places. Some significant accumulations are likely in places leading to some disruption, and with strong winds in places, there is a risk of drifting leading to temporary blizzard conditions. It will be very cold with icy stretches and widespread overnight frosts, these perhaps becoming locally severe through the first weekend as winds fall lighter. During the following week, it will stay mostly cold or very cold with further wintry showers in places and the risk of freezing fog. There is however a chance that some southern and perhaps central parts may become less cold for a time, but with a risk of rain, sleet and snow, particularly in the southwest.

Monday 27 Dec 2010 to Monday 10 Jan 2011:

Continuing unsettled and often windy with further wintry showers and perhaps some longer outbreaks of snow in places. Temperatures look set to be generally below average for much of the UK, with a risk of frost and ice in places. However, some milder spells are likely with rain rather than snow, especially in the south.

I won’t be posting photos of this

If you visit Torrevieja, Orihuela or even the church hall in Bigastro, you will see just how much work goes into creating a Belén. The figures, the scenes of everyday life and the attention to detail are just remarkable. It obviously takes a lot of time, effort, skill and creativity on the part of the authors of these masterpieces in miniature.

There is however one group that goes even further to create the ultimate Belén. They climb up 600 metres above sea level, almost to the Alto del Águila on the Sierra Callosa to create their depiction of the birth of Jesus. And they have been doing this for 48 years. Did they have fleece, GoreTex and Vibran soled boots back then?

Each year more an more people take part in the climb. Yesterday, four hundred climbers of all ages made the ascent and completed their work. Then of course they had lunch, a huge picnic accompanied by wine brought up in wineskins. They even raffled a leg of ham. I bet they were hungry after carrying that lot up the mountain.

PS Please don’t hold your breath waiting to see my pictures of the Belén they created. My days of climbing mountains are sadly long past. It would take a lot more than the promise of a good lunch to get me up that mountain.

Get ready for the big chill

image Just as we have got used to this mild weather with some sunny days to look forward to, it is set to change this week.
image Mid week looks like the time when temperatures will drop but then will pick up again by the weekend.

By Saturday the big chill should be over.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

New doctor

Those of you who have been to the  medical centre recently will have noticed that Dr Cartegena, who had most of the English patients on his books, has now left and has been replaced by Dr Mauriz Caratini, Grushenska Ofel who I understand speaks a little more English than her predecessor.

Pam and I had few problems with Dr Cartegena possibly because we took the trouble to try and speak to him in Spanish. The only complaint we would make is that he seemed reluctant to conduct any sort of examination: often he would prescribe for you based simply on your description of your problem. He also seemed to be of the opinion that the British drank too much and that this was the root of their health issues.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why I won’t be buying an iPad

I am a great lover of all things Apple and have been for a number of years. I had several Apple computers, I had a Newton and have two iPods including an early iPod Touch but I won’t be rushing out to buy its much bigger brother, the iPad for several good reasons.

In comparison to the Kindle book reader which I mentioned in a previous article, the iPad would seem to be a much better proposition mainly because it has a wonderful colour screen. It also has a lot of amazing features not offered by the simple book reader. With its backlit screen it would be more of a strain to use as a book reader than the Kindle with its E-Ink but for everything else it would be gorgeous.

The main stumbling block for me is the price of iPads which start at £429 for the 16Gb WiFi version and go up to a staggering £699 for the 64Gb WiFi/3G model. For that price you can get a very respectable notebook computer with a speedy Intel Core i5 or even i7 processor, 4GBs of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. A notebook might not be so portable nor as sleek as the iPad tablet but would probably be easier to use for lot of my routine tasks better especially since they come with a proper keypad and not a virtual one.

Did I mention that the iPad does not support Adobe Flash? Well it doesn’t and that is a bit of a mistake on Apple’s part. It might be tiresome to watch on some web pages especially when it overdone but without its support, there is just a blank square on the screen.

Having said all of that, if someone was to buy me an iPad for Christmas, I would be like a “pig in muck”.

Cleaning up the past

Palace of El Pardo in Madrid

The Law of Historical Memory introduced by the socialist government in 2007 was an attempt to heal the wounds of the 1936-39 Civil War and ensuing dictatorship. Fascist symbols have been withdrawn from public view and streets and plazas honouring Franco and his henchmen have been renamed.

Although the Palace of El Pardo, an old royal residence set in hunting grounds on the north-eastern outskirts of Madrid, served as el Caudillo's home following his victory in the Spanish Civil War until his death in 1975, Guided tours around the palace will no longer include a look into his private rooms.

Spain's department of National Heritage, which manages the site said tours would still be offered to those parts of the palace dating from between the 16th and 18th centuries because they had "high artistic value". But, a spokesman has confirmed that the monitoring committee of Historical Memory has decided that the tours will not include Franco's quarters, (which were redecorated in 1950s), because they say they are of no value.

This move does not extend to the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen) the vast basilica in the hills outside Madrid built by Republican prisoners, which houses the tomb where the dictator himself is buried.

National Heritage this week announced the reopening of the controversial memorial following repair works. The memorial will now have tightened security measures, including airport style scanners, after calls by victims associations for the site to be destroyed.

The Civil War clearly left deep scars on the country which the Government want to remove and that is understandable. However, I would argue that you cannot simply erase the past as if it never happened, remnants of it  should remain to serve as a lesson for the future.

Many countries have suffered from dark days of repression at some point in their history, some still do. These are the times that define their nature today.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Words fail me

From today's papers:

On the day when the vote was to be taken about raising tuition fees in Britain, up to 30,000 students laid siege on Parliament Square and, in chaotic running battles with the mob, one mounted officer was knocked from his horse, another suffered a serious neck injury and others were attacked with flares, sticks, snooker balls and smoke bombs.

One student urinated on the Winston Churchill statue in the square, which was also daubed with offensive graffiti, including messages saying “racist warmonger” and “Churchill was a ----”.

A plastic booth thrown on to a bonfire of placards exploded into flames, billowing smoke across Westminster. The riots spread to surrounding areas and several buildings were attacked, including the Treasury, the Supreme Court and Topshop, owned by the billionaire Sir Philip Green.

charles and camillaThe car in which the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were travelling through the West End was attacked. Police managed the situation and the couple were unharmed. However, demonstrators kicked the Rolls-Royce as it travelled to the Royal Variety Performance in central London. White paint and bottles were thrown over the car and a window was shattered.

The police were repeatedly attacked by surges from a hard core of mask-wearing anarchists and charged back on horseback. Several of the horses were repeatedly struck by missiles, and firecrackers were thrown in attempt to startle the animals.

Scuffles began as early as 2pm, ahead of the debate, as tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through London. One officer was seen being dragged to safety by colleagues after being hit on the head in Kingsway.

Hundreds of students pushed through the barriers, and flares were lit, as they streamed through metal gates on to the green in the square. As darkness fell, gangs of teenage vandals, some brandishing hammers, formed among the protesters.

About 20 individuals systematically began smashing every pane of glass in each telephone box despite female and male students ordering them to stop. The Supreme Court building was attacked by protesters brandishing shovels, a Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square was set on fire and, at the height of the violence, BBC news reporters were forced to don crash helmets for protection.

It is easy to understand the cause they were fighting for but not the means by which these students protested. I would hope that the majority of the students were neither involved in nor condoned the violence. It seems likely to me that there was a hard core of people, who may not even have been students, who were using the protest as a vehicle for their anarchic behaviour.

Unfortunately, they will all be tarred with the same brush and the public will not look on favourably at students and their plight in the future.

The picudo rojo is still with us

Every where you go you can see the evidence. palm trees that are dying, trees with their tops removed and gaps where the trees have been taken away. The red palm weevil, which is devastating the Mediterranean palm trees, is far from being under control.

The Government recognizes the seriousness of this pest, but rarely provides specific data about the extent of the problem.

Yesterday, the multinational cement company, Cemex shed some light on the seriousness of this problem by saying that, in the past 10 months, it had burnt around 6,000 tonnes of palm weevil affected trees in its  kilns. Translated into units that would be about 3,100 trees.

However, botanists and nurserymen estimate that the actual number of trees affected may well be  double that.

      On a positive note, the cement company says that by burning palm trees rather than fossil fuels they have reduced the carbon dioxide output from their Buñol  plant by  5,000 tons between February and November.

      It’s on its way

      Una imagen de una excavadora cargando sal.The early winter caught most of Northern Europe out. The demand for salt from Nueva Compañía Arrendataria de las Salinas de Torrevieja (NCAST), the Torrevieja company that produces salt from the lagoons is high.

      Five thousand tons a day are being shipped out by lorry and by boat.

      Hundred of trucks line up waiting to take salt to the north of Spain and the boats queue up to come into harbour to carry salt to Sweden, Norway, Denmark, France and the UK.