Friday, November 30, 2012

Strike ends

At a packed meeting last night, the pharmacists in Alicante province voted to call off their strike. There were 409 votes for the decision, 36 against and 20 abstentions.

The move came after the Ministry of Finance paid 114 million euros directly to the chemists for the first period owed to them. As long as the regional government in Valencia continue with the payments, the pharmacies will now remain open.

On behalf of the pharmacists, the President offered his apologies to the public for the inconvenience that has been caused by their action.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A British Christmas Fayre in Bigastro

On Wednesday 5th December, Darren and Hazel will be hosting a Christmas Fayre at La Terraza bar in Bigastro between 1pm and 5 o clock.

Apart from twenty stalls offering cheap items and the chance to recycle your unwanted items, Darren and Hazel are offering everyone a free cup of tea sponsored by GT Autos.

There will be hand painted glassware and jewellery, homemade pickles and jams, wood turned gifts along with shoes bags and clothing on sale. There will also be a raffle with prizes including  a complete Christmas turkey dinner and a free hair appointment.

Since there are only few Brits living in Bigastro, Darren and Hazel are hoping to attract people from communities nearby where there are larger numbers of ex-pats e.g. Entre Naranjos. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

M&S on our doorstep

Untitled-1As I have said before, we are big fans of Marks and Spencer for clothes. Their products may not carry trendy labels but then neither do they come at designer label prices. Many people in Britain, from royalty down, rely on Marks for underwear if for nothing else.

On our trips to the UK, we usually make time to call in at Marks to top up on clothing and in between we have taken advantage of their delivery service to Spain which costs £7.50 per parcel.

Now it seems, they have seen a market for their products in Spain and have a website in Spanish. I haven’t explored the site fully but I expect they carry all the lines that are included on the English version.  As a huge bonus, delivery is free if you order over 35 euros worth of goods (that is not hard!). 

M&S in Spain.

Not good

It might be windy here today but at least it is dry. Looking at the pictures of widespread flooding in England and Wales makes you realise how fortunate we are. When it rains here, it comes down in buckets full but it rarely lasts for long. Then the sun comes back out and everywhere returns to normal. In Britain, when it rains it seems to go on for days, rivers burst their banks and low lying land is flooded. No sooner do people recover from one deluge, they get another and another. 

Forecasts say that the rain in Britain should ease but will be replaced by one of the harshest winters the country has experienced in 100 years. There is even talk of temperatures as low as 20 degrees below freezing in some parts of the country.

We might be facing a severe financial crisis in Spain but at least we are relatively warm and dry for the moment!

No good news for El Altet

The figures for passenger numbers at Alicante airport do not make good reading. Last month, there were 16% fewer passengers. Last year the airport received 9,913,731 passengers, the highest in its history. It looks like this year numbers will drop by 11%.

One of the main problems has been the long running dispute with Ryanair. The company promised to bring 600,000 new passengers to the airport next year but only if they could walk onto the aircraft rather than use the airbridges. Aena says that safety concerns make that impossible at the moment. They are in the process of setting out new parking areas where passengers can embark and disembark using footbridges but that is too late for Ryanair who say they will take their business elsewhere.

You know, I can’t help but feel that these issues should have been sorted out before the new terminal was constructed or at the latest, when construction was under way so that provision could be made for airlines that want to cut costs to the bone.

From a passenger point of view, it is preferable to use and airbridge than walk across the tarmac especially in winter when it is raining, or there is a strong wind blowing but are we prepared to pay for that?

Ryanair say that using airbridges costs them more in terms of turn around time, which along with the extra charges for the use of an airbridge, reduces their competitive edge.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Have you applied?

Changes in the rules concerning winter fuel allowances in the UK mean that, even if you did not qualify when you lived in Britain, you can still apply. Pam and I sent off our applications a couple of weeks ago and are now waiting for our replies.

There are those in government in the UK that think we should not be eligible for an allowance under any circumstances. They believe that living in Spain means we don’t need assistance with our heating bills, after all Spain is a Mediterranean country with a mild climate all year round.

Let me put them straight on that - in winter it gets cold.  Maybe it is not as cold as in the UK but for those of us acclimatised to Spanish summers, winters are harsh. For example, the forecast for this week shows temperatures in the low teens during the daytime dropping to 5,6 or even 3 degrees at night. That is bitter in my book and remember we are not into the depths of winter yet.

During the summer our gas bills are in the teens of euros but in the winter they can reach three hundred euros or more when we have the central heating on all day. We don’t have cavity wall insulation nor is there a thick blanket of fibre glass in the roof. Our house is not cold in the daytime when the sun is on it but on cloudy days and at night that is a different matter.

Just like any other pensioner who happens to live in the UK, we paid our dues for the period when we were working so we should be entitled to the same benefits in retirement.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A result at last

As I have reported before, the voltage of our electricity supply has been fluctuating wildly for some time now. It caused the lights to flicker and lower and my UPS to go mad as it tried to even out the fluctuations.

What puzzled us though was, other people on our estate did not seem to be suffering from the same problem. Was it just our house?

The answer came last night when the electricity went off altogether. We could see that other parts of Villas Andrea were still lit up but that our street lights were all out and none of the houses had lights on.

Pam and I went outside to investigate and could hear our neighbours chatting about the problem in the street. Some minutes later, the electricity came back on. One of our neighbours explained that there had been a breakdown in a transformer that was only affecting our street and that now it was fixed!

Touch wood, since then the lights have been stable and my UPS confirms a steady 23 volts – let’s hope it stays that way!  

About the concert

This year's concert for Santa Cecilia was described as ‘extraordinary’ because it was mainly a tribute to one of Bigastro’s favourite musicians, Don Manuel Moya Pomares.

Born in the town, Pomares grew up in a musical family. It was therefore inevitable that he would become a musician. His first instrument was the oboe but he later went on to play the tuba as well.

During a long and distinguished career, he directed several bands including the one in Bigastro and taught music at some of the illustrious academies in the region. He also composed many pieces and received many awards for his work including two gold medals.

During the concert, two of his sons, Fernando (euphonium) and German (oboe) played solos, his cousins in Mallorca sent a video greeting and there were tributes paid to him by his son Fernando, the President of the band and the lady mayor.

For the final piece, one of his own compositions -“a mi pueblo”, he took the baton to direct the band to rousing applause.

It was a glorious evening of music and a wonderful tribute to a very proud bigastrense.

KW5D0393 KW5D0428 KW5D0508
Fernando German Manuel

Sunday, November 25, 2012

More about it later

I’ll tell you later about the concert last night, in the meantime you can see my pictures here.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

No end in sight

The strike by pharmacists is now in its fourth week and there is no sign of let up. In fact, on Wednesday, they voted 4 to 1 to continue with the strike.

Some pharmacies are just open to sell over-the-counter items and will only dispense low cost prescriptions. As they say, fulfilling prescriptions is like giving  someone a gift because they know they won’t be paid for them. These people might be caring but they can’t afford to be stupid, they have families to feed and mortgages to pay just like the rest of the country.

In desperation, some patients have decided to pay for their medication in full and of course, in those circumstances, the chemists are willing to provide the drugs. That is OK if your prescription is for a low cost item but not if it is expensive. 

The government say that drugs are freely available if you are prepared to visit the local clinic or hospital – not everyone can do that.

The fear is that it is only a matter of time before someone dies through lack of medication,what will be the reaction then?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Shopping by post

I have been a fan of this method of shopping for awhile now. Whilst it might not provide instant gratification, shopping by post does mean you can get the best deals and it saves a lot of leg work.

When we came to Spain, we were temporarily cut off from some of our favourite shops in Britain but not anymore. Many of them will now deliver to Spain for a nominal fee and in the case of Amazon, delivery is free for those items sold by them (as long as you spend more than £25).

The local couriers know where we live now and make regular trips to our gate with packages from Amazon (both in Britain and Spain), from Marks and Spencer and more recently from Argos. We’ve also had packages from countries as far afield as America. However, those have normally taken a little longer to arrive.

Of course, we prefer to shop locally when we can but to be honest there are some things that are simply not available or are cheaper sourced elsewhere. For example, we cannot wean ourselves off Marks and Spencer for clothes so we make room on our regular trips to the UK to bring back the items and in between we order online.

The latest items to arrive were floor standing cabinets for the bathrooms. We’ve looked in dozens of local shops for these and found nothing that took our fancy. Argos stocks a wide range in prices from cheap to expensive via reasonable so that is where we bought them from (in euros). They were delivered yesterday by the friendly man from DHL who I reckon will be coming again in the near future!

The threat of independence subsides

The threat made by Artur Mas’s party to seek independence for Catalonia seems to be weakening. Latest surveys show that his party may even lose seats in the forthcoming elections.

Even if they did win, a referendum seeking independence for the region would be deemed unconstitutional.

In fact, although Catalonia may be the wealthiest region of Spain, it is also the most indebted. Many business say that they would suffer by being outside of Spain but more importantly, Barcelona FC and Espanyol FC would not be eligible to play in the Spanish first division!

It seems that, although Catalans might consider themselves to be different to their Spanish neighbours, they may not be ready to break the ties that bind them. There might be something to gain from independence, however the price for that is too high for many to pay.

Introducing Pablo

KW5D0297 This is the young student that Pamela teaches English to. His parents recognised the importance of learning English and asked Pamela if she would give him a couple of hours of tuition each week.

Since, the lessons began just over a year ago, Pablo’s confidence in English has grown, his marks in tests have improved and his parents are delighted with the progress he has made.

Pamela has been approached by others who would also like their children to progress in English but to be honest, she doesn’t have the time. After all, we didn’t retire to Spain to find work!

PS You can see Pablo in action with the junior band last night by following this link.

Open at last

There are now three Media Markt stores in Alicante province since the latest one opened its doors to the public.

With an area of 2,500 square metres and 45,000 different products on sale, the store promises to be a useful source for those looking to buy e.g.  consumer electrical goods, computers or photographic equipment.

The new shop is number 63 in Spain and the latest out of a total of 925 throughout Europe and Asia.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Just a reminder

20121119_cecilia St. Cecilia Concert 2012, dedicated to the great master D.Manuel Moya Pomares will be on Saturday, November 24th at 20:00 pm at the Municipal Auditorium Francisco Grau.

Traditionally, the band pulls out all the stops for this concert and provides us with an interesting and varied programme. I imagine that there will be one or two pieces by Manuel Moya Pomares included on this occasion.

PS My photos of Tomas (the director of the band) from the 2010 concert are still attracting attention – the three photos have had 954 visitors so far – most them in the last few weeks.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Your moment of fame

KW5D0244Whilst I was down at the Auditorium making my photos, this young lady spotted me and came over to ask if she could have a photograph taken. Of course I was happy to oblige and here is the result.

I don’t know her name but I think I have taken her picture before when she took part in the floral parade during the August Fiesta.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Teresa García Belmonte

For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to visit the Auditorium in Bigastro to see the work of this incredibly talented lady, I have posted an album of photos of her designs here.

Opening the doors to buyers

If you have income of  2,100 euros a month and you want to live in Spain, then you can apply for temporary residency.

To be a normal resident you should spend six months in Spain. However, if you are an investor your stays can be as little as one month in the first ear and two in the second year. There are three ways you can qualify for this exception; by purchasing property of over 500,000 euros, by making a capital transfer of over a million or by running a company with more than 30 employees.

The government now want to extend the benefit of residency to those who simply buy a property here.

Clearly, the government are keen to shift some of the houses that were built during the boom years and see this is a way to do that. The deal is that you buy a property at over 160,000 euros and you will be granted temporary residency to live here in Spain.

There will be provisos; anyone with a criminal record in Spain or the country they live in will not be granted residency and those that qualify must have private medical insurance.

Getting your meds

List of pharmacies open in Bigastro during the strike.

  • MONDAY: Martinez Grau - C / Purisima 38.
  • TUESDAY: Antonio Medina Lorenzo - C / Aureliano Diaz 25
  • WEDNESDAY: Raquel Medina Manzano - C / Goya 7

NB They may be open other days as well.


And here is a link to the pharmacies that are open late night for emergencies.

Monday, November 19, 2012

It’s affecting my photography

All this rain and bad weather is keeping us indoors a lot more than normal. Those of you who check out my Flickr album will have noticed how many of my recent pictures were taken indoors.

I much prefer to be outside taking pictures especially street scenes – the last time I took one of those was in Norfolk when we visited our friends, Glenys and Peter and then in Manchester with my son-in-law Dave.

It looks like we will have a few pleasant days before the clouds roll back in on Thursday. I must make an effort to get out with my camera whilst I can!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A real nightmare

Living next to a building site that works normal hours would be bad enough but living close to one that works all night must be a living hell.

The work on the high speed railway line through Orihuela is causing major problems for the neighbours. The contractors are supposed to work between 8 in the morning and 10pm at night but can carry on later than that if the particular job has to be completed.

It seems they are taking liberties about which tasks need to be completed and are working regularly until 5am. Even when they are not at work, the generators and lights are left on all night.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A different viewpoint

The socialist party in Bigastro, in a press conference yesterday, criticised the mayor, Charo Bañuls by saying that the dismissal of dozens of council employees had actually increased the municipal debt because of the compensation they had to pay.

Raúl Valerio Medina cited the 70,000 euros paid to the cleaners and the 200,000 euros owed to the ex-employees at the nursery school, Bigastrin. He went on to say that they didn’t yet know how much compensation would have to be paid to the other 30 workers who had also been dismissed.

The socialist group also took the opportunity to criticise the way that services in the town had been cut for example in sport, culture, adult education and the closure of the 24 hours emergency department at the medical centre. In fact, according to the socialists, the only area where cuts have not been made is in the salaries that the PP councillors pay themselves.

Medina accuses the PP of scaremongering, a tactic which he says is designed to instil fear into the local people. He claims that, talk of bankruptcy and of the savings that need to be made, have misled people into accepting drastic cuts. For his part, the councillor for finance, Antonio Gonzalez claims to have made savings of half a million euros.  

Medina may argue that the cuts made may not have been the right way to go about turning around the finances of Bigastro but he cannot deny that drastic measures had to be taken given the enormous debt the town faced. You can’t help but wonder just what the socialists would have done if they had been returned to power. 

Santa Cecilia – coming up

There are several important concerts that the Society Union Musical Bigastro perform each year in the town; the Christmas concert, the concert for Father’s Day in March, the concert for Corpus Christi in June, the concert for San Joaquin in August and finally the concert for Santa Cecilia in November. Of course they perform other concerts as well and take part in many parades during the year.

The Santa Cecilia concert celebrates the patron saint of musicians. It is also the time when the band welcomes its new members.

santa cecilia 2 The important dates here are the 22nd of November when the Junior Band will parade from the Auditorium to the church and will then perform during solemn mass.

On the 23rd the band will again parade the streets, this time calling at the houses of the new musicians to pick them up.

The 24th is the day of the concert to honour Santa Cecilia. On this occasion the concert will be dedicated to Don Manuel Moya Pomares who was a musician in the band, was then its director and also composed music for the band to play.
santa cecilia 1 On Sunday 25th November the main band will parade around the streets and attend a special mass for Santa Cecilia. After the mass, the band will once again parade the streets back to the Auditorium.

Further dates for your diary- the Christmas concert this year will be on the 29th December. In January, the band will take part in the local phase for the competition for bands from the Vega Baja-Baix Vinalopo that will take place next June.

PS Note to my neighbour Pepe who is President of the band – thank you for including many of my photos in the program for this year.

I will be there with my camera in hand to capture the parade by the Junior Band on Thursday 22nd, the concert on the 24th and the parade and mass on the 25th.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Warm and cosy

One of our classmates was asking about the central heating system in our house. She lives in an apartment in nearby Jacarilla with air conditioning in the bedroom and a log fire in the living/dining room. Yesterday she told us that it was warmer in the street than it was in her house and asked us what it was like for us with central heating. We told her that we’d left the heating on and so would be going back to a lovely warm house.

In fact, very few houses in Bigastro have central heating because very few have a connection to a gas supply. I suppose it is possible that some of the larger houses may have oil fired central heating – I really can’t say.

When Star Sol built our estate, they installed large gas tanks to hold propane (as far as I know, there is no natural gas pipeline to the town). We therefore had the option to have central heating installed with radiators in each of the rooms. Those buyers who chose not to have heating installed, still had the pipe work plumbed in case they changed their minds at a later date (many have).

Originally, our boiler was fuelled by two gas bottles outside the kitchen. Sods law, one or other of the bottles would run out at the weekend when we couldn’t get a replacement. After we were connected to the large tanks the supply was fine and apart from when the engineers turned it off to pressure test the pipe work, it has been consistent.

Every four or five years, the system in our house has to be tested for leaks – that is the law! And every year, the boiler has to be serviced – again that is the law.

Originally, our boiler lost pressure and needed to be topped up with water on a fortnightly basis. Now though it works fine and I am pleased to say that the service reports show that it is working perfectly.

One small gripe; in England we used to have a programmer that turned the system on an off at preset times. What we have here is a thermostat to turn the boiler on and off.

I know we could have a programmer installed but to be honest, we have got used to using the thermostat to control the boiler and it is no longer an issue for us.

We escaped this time

The forecast for Tuesday night promised strong winds but thankfully they seemed to have missed us.

The Northern Costa Blanca got hit though by winds of up to 98kph which felled trees and caused widespread damage.

This report is from the Round Town News

Fishing boats in Denia, Javea, Calp and La Vila were unable to negotiate the three metre waves off the coast so sensibly stayed in port.  And the port of Denia was eventually closed.  In Javea and Denia flooding caused several roads to be closed and schools were closed in Javea, Denia and Moraira.
In the Marina Baixa, fire fighters responded to more than 20 emergency calls for help and were forced to chop away fallen trees to enable traffic and pedestrian access:  a roof was torn from a building in Callosa and part of an abandoned factory in Alcoy collapsed: luckily no one was injured.
In Altea, one of the areas most affected by heavy rainfall, schools were closed: a tree fell near the schoolyard of Altea la Vella.  Violent gusts of wind also broke the large window of the local police checkpoint.  The road between Altea and Callosa remained cut off for two hours by a fallen palm tree and the Altea boardwalk was flooded.  The fishing fleet remained at anchor as did La Vila’s.
In Benidorm, the wind affected numerous trees and awnings and caused a window to detach on the 13th floor of the Europa Centre causing the traffic below to be cut for 20 minutes.  In Callosa d’en Sarria an entire roof of a house was ripped clean off.
Beniarrés has increased its reserves by more than three hectometres from 14.32 hectometres on Sunday to 17.36 on Wednesday.   
Further south, strong wind caused the most damage with trees falling in San Miguel and in the garden of the social centre at Ibi where some roof cornices also came loose and fell.
The Costa Calida escaped relatively unharmed but municipal workers were nonetheless busy removing fallen trees and flying waste bins that caused damage to urban and also private property.  The torrential rain that lashed the Northern Costa Blanca did not reach the Murcia region where a steady downpour was inconvenient but caused few floods.
The Meteorological Agency announced that an orange alert would remain in place until the weekend.

Talk is cheap, the pharmacists want money

From the Costa Blanca News

Talks between regional health councillor Luis Rosado, the regional treasury and representatives of the region's three provincial pharmacists' colleges started on Tuesday with health officials saying that they hoped to reach a solution on how outstanding payments were to be made.

By close of play no agreement had been reached and the chances of getting the strike called off faded.

The president of the pharmacists' college in Alicante, Jaime Carbonell said that there was no solution to the problem because there was no money.

I don’t blame the chemists one bit because they have been fobbed off too many times with false promises. What they want is payment for the prescriptions they have dispensed and until they get that, they intend to hold out.

Incredible work

20121115_laboresIn the entrance to the Auditorium is an exhibition of work by Teresa García Belmonte. Even if you have no interest in embroidery and lace making, this is well worth going to see. The intricacy of the pieces, the fine detail and the evenness of every stitch just amazes me.

A very talented and patient lady! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Two sides of the coin

The unions in Spain have hailed the general strike yesterday as a great success.  They quote figures of millions of workers who took part; the police however, claim far fewer participants. Those who were in favour of the strike tell us that it was largely peaceful but there were reports of widespread violence in cities like Madrid with police firing rubber bullets at the crowds.

The bottom line though is that the President, Mariano Rajoy, has already said that, whilst he respects the views of the strikers, the policies will not change. He fully believes that the only way out of the current situation is to continue to impose increasingly severe austerity measures. Many believe that he is preparing to seek a bailout from Europe and that the measures taken will ensure that this can happen.

To be fair, it wasn’t the government that got Spain into the mess. My understanding is that it was a combination of the banks lending more and more money at cheap interest rates, people demanding wage increases that meant they were no longer competitive, regions and towns spending money like it was going out of fashion and underlying corruption at all levels.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Is it just us?

It seems that Iberdrola are finding it impossible to maintain constant voltage in our supply which fluctuates between 220 and 250 volts. The first symptoms are the lights that dim momentarily and then return to normal brightness. At the same time my Smart UPS signals the low voltage. Yesterday, it was going mad and eventually sent me a message warning me of the problem.

My question is, “does everyone on our estate suffer the same problem or is this something peculiar to our house?”.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A mini me

photoOur little Molly is turning out to be a real mixture of all of her relatives. She has many of her mother’s qualities and a lot of her father’s. Then again, she also has bits of her aunty, her uncle's sense of humour and probably a dose of her grandparents as well.

Whenever you took Jemma to a park or a wood, our eldest daughter would find the biggest stick she could and drag it around with her. When we were ready to leave, she’d ask to put in into the car to take home. I doubt whether you’d get Molly’s stick into the boot though. 

A bad, bad system

In a country where one in four people are out of work, there are many who cannot make their mortgage payments. These people live in constant fear of eviction. When that happens, they still owe the bank the balance of the mortgage even though the banks have applied for aid to cover the debt.

So far, 400,000 have lost their homes since the crisis began in 2008. The terms and conditions imposed by banks in Spain are totally in favour of the lender, giving them rights way beyond those allowed in other European countries.

When a 53 year old lady committed suicide by leaping from her fourth floor flat, the government finally sat up and took note. It was the second suicide in a month.

The proposals on the table for a moratorium do not include those who are already on the list for foreclosure and so will be no help to those who live in daily threat of not being able to return to their homes. In fact, this is a problem that the government should have sorted out three years ago when the crisis started to bite hard.

Monday, November 12, 2012

More on the weather

Untitled-1We needed rain and we got it.

After the bad weather of last week, Saturday looked promising. One of our neighbours remarked about it as she passed our house with her dogs. The lady was not best pleased though when I told her that the return to sunshine would not last.

By yesterday afternoon, the rain started and became torrential as the night drew on. Since our houses don’t have guttering, the water runs off the roof and down the gulleys from where you can hear it lashing down onto the pavement below.  You don’t need to go outside to know when it is raining hard!

By the time Pam and I were ready for bed, it had eased off but was still raining heavily. This morning, although the clouds are broken and it is dry, there is still the threat of rain in the sky. However, whatever rain we get over the next day or so should not compare with that of yesterday. What we will get tomorrow though are strong winds which will ease off by Wednesday.

I remember our first neighbours, who had arrived six months before us, said they had abandoned their winter coats when they came to Spain. They imagined that the weather here would be mild all year round and so were neither prepared for the cold of winter nor the heat of summer. Although there is little chance of us seeing snow in Bigastro, we have experienced frost and we certainly need heating in winter to keep warm.

Although our houses are not built in the same way as those in Britain with a cavity between a brick outer wall and a breeze block inner, they do have two skins of hollow brick with a waterproof thermal barrier between them. Those that have windows facing south get the benefit of the warming sun through them - even in winter. And in summer, there are shutters to keep the heat out.

Pam and I may have been fortunate (or circumspect)  in choosing a house with the right aspect because we find it comfortable to be in all year round. The only issue we have is that we pay for our open view when the wind blows hard from the west.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Email hoaxes

The Internet can be a scary place. Few of us understand exactly how it works but we do know that it is a playground for crooks, thieves and those that just want to propagate maliciousness. That is why, we install anti-virus programs which we keep up to date and sit behind a firewall to protect our computers from harm. That is why we ignore emails that tell us our bank account will be closed unless we follow a link and enter our confidential details.

We know that the bad guys (and gals) are clever and will try every which way to penetrate our defences. They send us emails that contain viruses in the hope we will install them. However, any half decent anti-virus program will spot these and remove the viruses before they do us  any harm. Almost daily, Avira spots these potential threats to my Windows computer and places them safely away in the quarantine bin. Sophos does the same on my MacBook Pro.

Sadly here are people out there who get a kick our of praying on our insecurity.  They send out hoax messages warning us of viruses that either don’t exist or have long since become defunct. These messages advise us to forward them on to everyone in our address book and of course, like the caring people we are we do just that.

Forwarding every email that asks you to is necessarily a good idea

In fact I never send on emails that ask me to as a matter of principle. Even if they are heart tugging stories about how our brave soldiers are suffering for us in Afghanistan – they are deleted. There is enough junk out there clogging up the bandwidth of the Internet without me adding to it. And, as a matter of routine, I check out any email that advises me of the threat of a virus. A few minutes on Google is enough to reassure me that these threats are not real.

Advice from Sophos – a well respected provider of anti virus software

Please don't forward an email to all your friends just because it asks you to.

You shouldn't forward chain letters even if they're true. You definitely shouldn't forward them if they're false.

The latest false warning doing the rounds is a perennial hoax - the so-called Invitation FACEBOOK/Olympic Torch virus warning.

The opening of the 2012 Olympics in London seems to have given this one a new lease of life (it has been seen intermittently for more than six years):


In the coming days, you should be aware.....Do not open any message with an attachment called: Invitation FACEBOOK, regardless of who sent it. It is a virus that opens an OlympIc torch that burns the whole hard disc C of your computer.

This virus will be received from someone you had in your address book. That's why you should send this message to all your contacts. It is better to receive this email 25 times than to receive the virus and open it.

If you receive an email called: Invitation FACEBOOK, though sent by a friend, do not open it and delete it immediately. It is the worst virus announced by CNN.

A new virus has been discovered recently that has been classified by Microsoft as the most destructive virus ever. It is a Trojan Horse that asks you to install an adobe flash plug-in. Once you install it, it's all over. And there is no repair yet for this kind of virus. This virus simply destroys the Zero Sector of the Hard Disc, where the vital information of their function is saved.


There are some tiny grains of truth in this chain letter that might make you think that it's better to forward it than to delete it.

A lot of malware, for example, asks you to install a bogus Adobe Flash plugin. And malware does exist which writes to the zero sector, also known as the Master Boot Record. (Such malware can be trickier than usual to remove, but doesn't automatically mean "it's all over", as claimed.)

This chain letter as a whole, however, is a load of rot.

Ironically, the biggest piece of rot in the email is the claim that SNOPES SAYS THIS IS TRUE.

The link to Snopes - a well-known source of anti-hoax information - is legitimate, but says exactly the opposite, confirming that the email is false:

Forwarding this hoax does more harm than good

Sophos say they received a copy of this hoax that had been forwarded seven times, counting the last hop to them. It included nearly 100 names and email addresses in the many To: and Cc: fields it had accumulated along the way.

That means that those 100 email addresses are now lying around on 100 PCs where they might be scooped up by real malware, sent off to cybercrooks, and sold on to spammers and scammers.

In short, by distributing this hoax widely, you may end up helping the bad guys - the very opposite of what you intended.

So, please, think before you click. And if you're not sure, click "delete", not "forward".

If you want to learn about the real threats on Facebook, why not join the Sophos Facebook page, where you will be kept up-to-date on the latest rogue applications, scams and malware attacks threatening social network users.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Tidying up the old quarter

The old quarter of Orihuela has some dilapidated properties which make it less attractive than it ought to be. Now the council has singled out 62 properties that they say are in need of urgent repairs.

The hope is that by making the area more attractive, people will be persuaded to return and live there rather than move out to the outskirts.

The biggest problem that the council face though is making contact with the owners. Some are deceased and it is proving difficult to trace their heirs.

UPS to the rescue

We regularly have brief power cuts which trigger my uninterrupted power supply into action. The UPS either keeps my computer and monitor working until power is restored or it shuts the computer down properly if the delay is beyond the capacity of the battery.

This morning however my UPS kicked into action three times within a few minutes. When I investigated, it seems we hadn’t suffered a power cut, this time the voltage had dropped so low that the UPS changed to battery backup to prevent any problems. Looking at the graph, the voltage had dropped from its nominal 235 to below 220.

Remember that when we came back from England, the voltage had been peeking at 250 volts, a level at which certain circuit boards can fry. Now it is running at 235 volts and dipping down to 220 volts. Maybe it was a coincidence that many of the residents got up just at that point and put the kettle on for a morning cuppa, no lo se!

A bad situation

The strike by pharmacies, now in its fourth day, is starting to bite hard. Yesterday, we went down to pick up my prescription and then called at the chemist’s to try and collect both my tablets and Pamela’s. Neither were available but they did say they might be later on in the day. We called back later only to find that they were still not available.

The lady explained that Pamela’s tablets were most important and advised her to phone 900 10 10 81. This service will either tell her where there is a chemist who has stocks or advise her to go to the hospital where they will have what she needs.

Valencia insists that nobody will be without the medication they need but that they may need to visit a hospital to pick them up. Now that is OK for us but for those without transport, do not have a telephone or are too infirm to travel it spells disaster.

The president of the apothecaries in Valencia warns that the emergency phone system is already overloaded with calls. In any case, if everyone has to start collecting their medicine from the hospitals, a) the queues are going to be horrendous an b) how are they going to cope with dispensing stocks of medicines needed.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

After the rain

I don’t need to tell those who live here that it rained all day yesterday. The good news is that it was clean rain and not that Sahara stuff that leaves a brown film over everything.

Looking at the forecast, we could have a bit more rain especially tomorrow but then things should clear up and we will see business as usual for the weekend.

The key to Obama’s success

The demographics of America are shifting, just as they are in Britain. This year is set to be the first time in recent history when the majority of babies born in the US will be to families of ethnic minority. That means that in the future, the so called minority will become the majority. It is the same pattern in Britain where it is predicted that the Muslim population will double in 20 years to 5.5 millions, 8% of the total.

Obama’s share of the white voters may have declined but that was more than made up for by the increasing hispanic vote. Romney, on the other hand took a hard line on immigrants by saying that they should leave the country. That may have pleased some of the white voters but clearly not the 24 million Hispanic voters. 

Be careful what drugs you give him

Bradley Wiggins was out on his mountain bike; meeting up with some of his mates to go for a ride near his home in Eccleston, Lancashire. As he passed a garage forecourt on the A5209 near to junction 27 of the M6, a white Astra van hit him.

Wiggins was taken to hospital in Preston where he was kept in overnight for observation. According to his team Sky, he is expected to make a full and speedy recovery. I hope so, this was the start of his winter training in preparation for the Giro d'Italia in May.

Now there is a bit of an incentive

When Pam and I visited La Zenia Boulevard, the incentive for me was Media Markt. It is about the only shop in the mall that is of interest to blokes like me.

OK, there is Leyroy Merlin for tools and stuff but then that signals DIY which means work. Media Mark is potentially far more interesting. Actually I say that but I have never visited one of their stores. I am imagining that it is like PC World, if it isn’t then I am in for a big disappointment.

Media Markt hadn’t opened when Pam and I were there, it has opened this week though. Time to go back and have a look.

PS Apparently there were 4,000 applications for the 60 jobs on offer at the store – that shows you the state of the employment market here in Spain.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

At La Terraza

Following on from the 40s night, Darren and Hazel are holding a country and western night this Friday at La Terraza (8.30pm start). Alan White will be playing CD's and explaining things. Later on, Pete Rafferty will be singing C&W songs. Folks who come along dressed the part or wearing just cowboy hats etc will get a free shot of whiskey.

Then on Saturday 17th November, there will be a 60's night in aid of the British Legion – entrance free.

Four more years with Obama

The American voting system is such that the popular vote does not always win the election. Under the US constitution, each state is given a number of electoral votes in rough proportion to its population. The candidate who wins 270 electoral votes - by prevailing in the mostly winner-takes-all state contests - becomes president. California, for example has 55 electoral college votes which are all awarded to the candidate who gets the majority of votes. There are a few states (don’t ask me which) that operate proportional representation i.e. they split their votes according to the number of  actual votes each candidate receives.

The predictions were that it would be a close call, in the end Barack Obama won 303 electoral college votes against Mitt Romney’s 206 with Florida's 29 electoral votes still undecided. The president held the White House by assembling solid Democratic states and a number of important swing states such as Colorado, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia and Wisconsin. His narrow victory in Ohio, a critical Mid-Western swing state, sealed the victory.

Meanwhile, Republicans have maintained their control of the House of Representatives whist it looks like the Democrats will retain control in the Senate.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Is this the start of a fan club?

My pictures of Don Tomás Rodríguez Gómez taken during the concert for Corpus Christi in 2010 are attracting attention. In the last few weeks they have racked up quite a few visits on Flickr. Could it be there is a growing interest in our musical director? Certainly, he is a good looking young man with a very flamboyant style of conducting.

I’ll likely get some more photos of him in action at the forthcoming concert in honour of Santa Cecilia. Let’s see then if, two years on, he is just as popular!

That’s a clear message from Romney!

"Tomorrow we begin a new tomorrow. Tomorrow we begin a better tomorrow," Romney said. "This nation is going to begin to make a change for the better tomorrow. Your work is making a difference, the people of the world are watching, the people of America are watching. We can begin a better tomorrow tomorrow." Those were his last words on the campaign trail that has cost the two parties $2bn, has taken them thousands of miles across the USA and after a year of hard work has them neck and neck in the polls. In spite of flooding American TV with advertising and there is still only a hair’s breadth between them.

Knowing that the results in the so called swing states could be both crucial and inconclusive, the two candidates have lawyers in place. What they want to avoid is a rerun of the "hanging chads" debacle in 2000. There have already been complaints in Florida and Ohio. Both parties badly want the 270 electoral college votes that will secure them the presidency. Since, polls show that the two are tied very closely, they may well get stuck at 269 votes and that is when it will become messy.

Message to Mitt, “today is now yesterday’s tomorrow and to be honest it doesn’t look any better. Maybe tomorrow will be better than both today and yesterday but we will have to wait another day to find out.”

Monday, November 05, 2012

Playing Ebay to my advantage

Those readers who wander over to my Flickr album will have probably picked up that I recently acquired a new camera body and that the old one is up for sale on Ebay. You can find it by searching for Canon 5D MkII body – mine is obviously the only one offered from Bigastro, Spain.

I’ve sold a few items on Ebay in the past and I think I have learnt how to play the auction game to my advantage.

First off, if you are prepared to sell to Europe rather than just the UK, then you attract a wider audience. Although there is a local Ebay site in Spain and I dare say in other European countries, the UK site is much larger and therefore attracts a lot more buyers.

Secondly,  I always start at a low price to encourage early bidders and don’t set a reserve price because that puts these people off. I don’t know about you but whenever I look at items on Ebay, I always look at the ones with the highest number of bids first – they are the ones that have generated the most interest and I am curious as to know why.

My auction started on Saturday and within a few hours had attracted hopeful bidders who must have thought they were going to get the bargain of their lives – a full frame Canon camera body for under £200.

Yesterday the price rose steadily by £20 per bid until one of the more serious bidders came in with £500 followed not long afterwards by someone else with £600. The highest bid (the 37th) now stands at £620.

They are way off the mark of what I hope the camera will achieve but at least we are moving in the right direction. There are still five days to go and the really serious bidders will probably be waiting until the closing hours in the hope that they snipe a bargain knowing that bidding too early on an item only pushes the price up. 

In the end it is a game which both parties hope to win at - buyers want to get an item cheap and sellers want to make as much as they can for their items on sale. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

This is the situation

situationThis is how it stands as outlined by the College of Pharmacists in Alicante. They haven’t been paid since May so they are in a situation where they cannot continue to provide medicines on prescription.

Pam and I called at the Medical Centre on Friday to pick up her prescriptions. There was a queue that stretched out to the door, presumably of people wanting to collect prescriptions before the chemists close their doors.

Unfortunately, we could not wait and so will return on Monday. However, by then it may be that the pharmacies are closed. We shall have to wait and see. 

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Looking further into these budget airlines

Looking further into this seat size business, it very much depends upon what particular aircraft you are flying on and you won’t necessarily know that until you get on board. for example fly Boeing 737-200s with 148 seats, Boeing 757-200s with 229 seats and Boeing 737-800s with 189 seats.
Both the 737-800 and the 737-200 have a seat pitch of 29 inches and a seat width of 17.2 inches. The 757-200 on the other hand has  a seat pitch of 28 inches but has 33 extra legroom seats with a pitch of 36 inches.

As for your hand luggage:

  • On Monarch you can take one bag that measures 56x40x25cms weighing no more than 10kilos or two bags that combined measure no more than 56x40x25cms and weigh no more than 10kilos.
  • On you can take one piece of hand luggage no larger than 56x45x25cm, including wheels and handles with a weight restriction of 10kgs.
  • Ryanair say strictly one item of cabin baggage per passenger (excluding infants) weighing up to 10kg with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm.
  • Easyjet say each passenger may carry one item of hand baggage only, measuring a maximum 56 x 45 x 25cm (including wheels, pockets and handles) with no weight restriction (as long as it is safe to stow in the overhead locker).
Top marks go to Easyjet there – my Think Tank roller case would fit their bins and would not be overweight. Whilst I might just squeeze it into one of Ryanair’s, it would be more comfortable in the bin.

Now let’s look at hold luggage:

On Monarch you have a hold baggage allowance of 20kgms which may be charged for. Well now that is helpful! are a little less cagey, they say the baggage allowance is 22kgs for each travelling customer per bag booked and paid for (excluding infants). When paying for additional bag(s) per person, the allowance increases by 22kgs per extra bag booked up to a maximum of 3 bags or 66kgs per travelling customer. The charge for each bag is variable depending on your destination and whether you make your booking via our website, our call centre or at the airport.

On Ryanair you can check in up to 2 bags of 15kg online – the first bag cost between £15 and £30 depending on flight – the second bag cost between £35 and £50 online. You can up the limit for your first bag to 20kgs for between £25 and £40. If you fail to check your bag in online then it could cost up to a eye watering £150 to check it in at the gate.

On Easyjet - the maximum volume for hold baggage is 275cm (length + width + height), except for sporting and medical equipment.
For a fee, you can put one bag in the hold weighing up to 20kg. The fee can be paid in one of three ways:
  • online (£9 - £17 per bag per flight, depending on the route and the season)
  • via call centre (£14 - £17 per bag per flight)
  • or at the airport where the fee is £25 at the check-in and £40 at the gate.
If you need to take more than 20kg per passenger per flight you will also be charged an excess weight fee of £10 per kg at each departing airport. You can however prebook excess weight online for £21 per every 3 kg of additional weight per flight.

I do apologise

I apologise to any of the Brits who read my blog that went down into the village to give blood.

It seems that the Spanish government passed a directive in 2003 prohibiting anyone who lived in the UK between 1980 and 1993, whether they were a UK citizen or not, from giving blood here. The reason was linked to the 90s outbreak of ‘mad cow disease’ in cattle which was proven to be transmittable to humans in the form of the variant Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease (vCJD).

Evidence shows that the disease can be passed on through transfusions and there is no test to determine whether the donor is a carrier or not, hence the ban.

This is a shame because world wide and in Valencia,  blood supplies are low and are continuing to drop.

NB Note to my neighbour whose wife went down to try and donate blood, nobody is suggesting she is a mad cow:-)

Ryanair in the news again

Pam and I have only flown twice with Ryanair and that was to Barcelona and back – a one hour flight each way and the only time we travelled with Easyjet was from Liverpool to Luton en route to London.

As readers of this blog will know, Pam and I travel to the UK roughly every three months for one reason or another. Our first choice is always to use followed by Monarch for our flights. We do check out costs with other carriers including Ryanair and Easyjet but are put off by, amongst other factors, their luggage policies. Even for just one week in the UK, 15kgs is an impossibly small amount for us to pack.

As I say, it isn’t just the luggage policies that put us off. In a recent study by the magazine Business Traveller, out of 32 different airlines, Ryanair was found to have the narrowest seats at just 16 inches.  Easyjet came 6th with 17.5 inches. but was placed 31st for legroom with just 29 inches. Ryanair came 24th in that class with 30 inches. Even just a two and a half hour flight to Manchester is uncomfortable when your knees are pushed into the seat in front and you are squashed each side by your fellow passengers.

Anyway back to the hand luggage issue. The problem is, because of the charges for hold luggage, an increasing number of passengers are travelling with just cabin baggage. The rules on Ryanair about this are strict; one piece with dimensions of 55cm by 40cm by 20cm or less and weighing up to 10kg and woe betide you if your bag is just half a cm over because they have a bin at the gate to check it. My Think Tank rolling camera case, which is made to airline cabin baggage standards, would be a tight squeeze in Ryanair’s bins. Knowing there is an issue, Ryanair offer to sell you cabin luggage which they say is guaranteed to meet their requirements –that is very kind of them.

You also fall foul with Ryanair if you try carrying any other items of hand luggage onto the plane as one passenger found out recently at Valencia airport. She was carrying two items that would not fit into her hand luggage (a scroll and a book) and so was escorted off the plane by the Guardia Civil. One passenger even made a video of the event and posted it on Facebook. Her fellow passengers offered to put the items in their hand luggage but Ryanair would have none of it.

Ryanair deny that she was removed for breach of their luggage rules, they claim she was disruptive and pushed past staff at the boarding gate without showing her identification. The other passengers would probably not agree with that version of what happened. 

Of course we all know the way low cost carriers work. They entice you with ludicrously cheap fares which miraculously double or treble by the time you get to the “pay now” button on the screen. It kind of harks back to the old days when you bought a car only to be asked, do you want a heater or a radio because they are extras.

Having fleeced you for the extra money, most are reasonably tolerant when it comes to your hand luggage but not it seems Ryanair. I understand that, when you have squashed as many seats as you can into the plane, there just isn’t the space in the overhead bins for every passenger to take on to much hand luggage. Maybe they should have thought of that when they started charging for hold luggage and squeezing in those extra seats. 

Friday, November 02, 2012

A more settled outlook

When Pam and I first came to live here we joined a newly formed community of Brits living together near a Spanish town. The residents had come from all parts of Britain and from all walks of life. Nobody really knew anyone else but we were all facing the same tasks of forging new lives in a foreign country so naturally, people started making friendships with their new neighbours and got involved in each other’s lives. Since we were mostly pensioners, we had time on our hands to get to know each other rather more than we would have done when we were busy at work in Britain.

Villas Andrea was and still is a social mix the likes of which Pam and I had not encountered before in our lives. Inevitably, we found that people’s backgrounds, their core values, expectations etc to be very different to ours and it took time to work out which, if any, of our new neighbours we would be become compatible with.

Eight years on, the residents have all got to know each other a lot better and rather than indulge in the false friendships that first formed, lasting friendships have now been established.

People come and go, some have moved on to other parts of Europe, others have returned to their native land. The gaps have been filled with other nationalities including quite a number of Spanish families. The good news is that the community is still thriving and life is for the most part peaceful.

Broken promises

The Generalitat  owes chemists 230 million euros for prescriptions that have already been dispensed. The chemists had hoped they would be paid by the Autonomous Liquidity Fund but have now discovered that only 1 in 5 of the invoices will be covered.

In a vote on Tuesday, the College of Pharmacists agreed to stage an indefinite strike until the government pays its outstanding debt. Two in three chemists will close in rotation.

We all understand the financial mess that Valencia finds itself in and we all know how that came about i.e. as a result of reckless over spending. We also understand the situation that Spain faces trying to stay afloat but to play with people’s lives by not paying chemists who then refuse to dispense drugs is unacceptable.

In our case, the British Government currently pays Spain 4,267€ for every pensioner to receive the same care as Spanish pensioners. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t expect anything different to our Spanish neighbours who have also paid into their national health scheme. Since all of us have paid for our continued health care,  we would like to see something for our money.