Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Don’t you just love the Daily Mail?

I quote

British holidaymakers heading to Spain are being warned to take extra care as the country prepares to be hit by a killer heat wave.

Scorching winds from Saharan Africa with temperatures of 43C are forecast to sweep across the country from tomorrow and are expected to last for a week.

The worst affected areas will be Andalucia and Murciain in southern Spain, but even the normally cooler areas of the north will have temperatures of at least 38 C in the shade.

Note the totally unnecessary emphatic expressions:” killer heat wave” and “scorching winds” and where in Spain is Murciain supposed to be, surely they mean Murcia.

I’d rather go to more reliable sources for weather information like AEMET who are predicting temperatures of 34 during the daytime and 21 at night – much the same as we would expect at this time of year.

A problem in the making

When AENA built the new terminal at Alicante, they predicted a growth in passenger numbers of up to 11 million per year.

So far, that has not materialised mainly because Ryanair, who were the main user of the airport, cut services when they were forced to pay for air bridges to load and offload passengers. However passenger numbers are now rising and so the target is getting ever closer to being met.

If passenger numbers continue to rise, then we will have a major problem because access to the airport via the N-338 will become woefully inadequate. The Institute for Economic Studies in Alicante says that, passengers to the airport combined with events at the future Palacio Ferial at IFA will cause immense traffic problems for the N-338 which they say urgently needs widening.

There are also calls for improvements to alternative means of transport including more bus services and a rail link. 

Back to the bad old days

In the bad old days, workers would queue up at the factory gates or the docks hoping to get a days work. It didn’t just happen in Britain, the practice was common here in Bigastro where workers would assemble at the corner by La Caixa bank hoping to be picked for a job in the fields.

As times improved and legislation was introduced, workers rights abolished those sort of practices. However, we are in a global recession and employers demand more flexibility to control their workforce.

So, in Britain at least, we are seeing the emergence of so called “zero hour” contracts.Sports Direct apparently employs 20,000 staff on this type of contract and have been lambasted by elements of the press for doing so.

However, it seems Sports Direct are not alone in offering this type of contract; Buckingham Palace, Cineworld and the Tate Gallery operate a similar system with no guarantee of working hours. No doubt there are many more companies in Britain that operate the same system for a flexible workforce.

How on earth anyone can live not knowing whether they will have work from one day to the next beats me. 

A lot of responsibility for just a few

According to the list on the town’s web site Aurelio Murcia had responsibility for: Urbanismo, Educación, Fiestas Patronales y Barrios, Cementerio, Sanidad y Salud Pública, Consumo and Camping and Fernando Moya had responsibility for: Obras, Servicios, Mantenimiento, Infraestructuras and Ecoparque.

We know, from the pronouncement made in the press that Charo Bañuls will take over responsibility for Planning and Works and Services and Sonia Belmonte will cover Education and Health but what of the other areas? They may be minor in comparison but if the PP councillors are already working at capacity, how will they cope?

The deed is done

In the past I described the alliance between the PP and the UPLC in Bigastro as unholy and it was. Given that Aurelio Murcia was dismissed from the PP before the 2011 elections in favour of Charo Bañuls, it is hardly surprising that the two did not see eye to eye on many issues. As politicians, they are very different in style. Still, she was Mayor and he was Deputy and so they tried to work together.

That was until Murcia attempted to rally the Socialists, led by Raul Valerio Medina, into a motion of censure. The Socialists were having none of it, the wounds between the PSOE and Murcia are deeper than those between Murcia and the PP.

The final blow came when Murcia told the press that he worked harder than the mayor and so should command a higher salary. For Bañuls that was a step too far and so she asked her local party if she could expel the two Liberal councillors from the government team. The local executive of the PP gave her their unanimous support.

What does that mean?

Bañuls says that she will assume responsibility for Planning and Works and Services whilst Sonia Belmonte, who will be Deputy Mayor, will take on Education and Health. Aurelio Murcia and Fernando Moya will loose both status and their salaries from August.

This whole business could not come at a worse time for the PP who now only have the support of their five councillors  against the eight in opposition. Their three million euro austerity plan will have a rough ride through council. An alternative of a further three million euro loan is being considered.

You can bet that Murcia, Moya and the PSOE will fight either plan point by point and may even decide to force a censure vote which could topple the present administration.

We know that Murcia is a very astute politician who would not risk his and his colleagues future on a whim. I would therefore not be surprised to discover that there a long term plan underlying his recent announcements to the press. Bañuls says that the door is still open to a reformation of the pact between the PP and the UPLC. If that happens, I imagine it will be very much on Murcia’s terms because, as things stand, I would say that she needs his support more than he needs hers.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The mayor fights back

The mayor of Bigastro, Charo Bañuls  could not let the remarks made by Aurelio Murcia to the press go by. Nor could she ignore the motion of censure that he was negotiating with the Socialists. As for a change to salaries – that would be impossible. She attributes Murcia’s claims about  popularity with the people to his responsibility for maintenance. People stop him in the market to complain about things like cracks in the road.

Charo Bañuls  says that the pact between the PP and the UPLC is completely broken and that the responsibilities covered by the two Liberal councillors should now be undertaken by PP members. If her provincial party leaders accept the proposal it would mean that the PP would have to govern Bigastro in a minority.

image[2] We have to remember that, in the 2011 elections,  the PSOE won 45% of the votes and have 6 seats on the council against 34% and 5 seats for the PP. At council meetings, the PP on its own would loose every vote to the Socialists. However, I think we can safely rule out a pact between the Socialists and the UPLC who together would have a clear majority.

If the wounds are not healed, then Bigastro faces two years with nothing being decided by a council that is split in three.

Monday, July 29, 2013

More problems for the Rock

The dispute over Gibraltar continues.

Last month, Spanish police on a Guardia Civil boat took pot shots at a jet ski that was close to the beach. It is not clear whether the boat had inadvertently strayed in Spanish waters or not.

David Cameron apparently confronted Mariano Rajoy over the ‘unacceptable’ threats made to Gibraltar following the jet ski incident. He warned the Spanish Prime Minister that he would not tolerate breaches of international law.

Last week, Spanish fishermen attempted to disrupt the creation of an artificial reef in the Bay of Gibraltar by weaving in between the Royal Navy boats. The large concrete blocks are being laid to protect sea life but of course they will also prevent illegal trawling by the fishermen in British waters.

The latest move is to stop every vehicle that leaves Gibraltar. The other day, 10,000 vehicles were held for up to six hours in 30 degree of heat. The Gibraltar police have been forced to create diversion and holding pens for the vehicles.

Although, Spain sees taking over Gibraltar as a very lucrative proposition, Gibraltarians have made it clear many times that they do not want to surrender their status to become part of Spain.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The price of progress

Schools in Britain are adopting the iPad and other similar tablets as a means to make learning more interesting. Many schools though cannot afford to supply the devices from their own budgets and so are asking parents to stump up the cost either outright or in instalments. The fear is that this will create a digital divide between those that can afford and those that cannot.

One of the reasons that schools are looking to tablet computers is supposedly to save on text books which are both expensive and are often out of date by the time they are published. However, they may find the tablets turn out to be a lot more expensive than old fashioned books. 

Better off schools, like academies, can afford to buy the tablets themselves. For example, Honywood community science school in Essex gave all its 1,200 pupils a tablet computer for free, although it did ask for a £50 contribution towards insurance. The cost was estimated at around £500,000.

What they found was that 489 of the tablets had to be replaced after a year and four out of 10 needed to be sent for repairs. I imagine that teaching a class where four out of ten of the pupils didn’t have a working tablet must have been extremely difficult.

Actually, what surprises me about this story is that an insurance company was willing to cover the tablets for just £50 especially if that included accidental damage.

I remember that we supplied our sixth form pupils at Anfield (age 17 to 19) with laptops at Anfield. By the end of the year, some had gone missing i.e. had been sold off to pawn shops, many had keys missing and all had to be reformatted to remove the virus ridden games and  even porn that had been downloaded to them. Supplying tablets to the whole school would have been a nightmare for the IT technicians – even servicing the teachers laptops gave them bad dreams.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

Bigastro City Council has just taken out another bank loan for 122,000 euros to cover the payment of overdue invoices to suppliers including the 90,000 that was owed to the Fire Consortium.

The  Mayor tells us that the council now has a total of three bank loans totalling 3,722 million euros. The money is needed to pay part of the town’s debt much of which she says was "inherited" from the previous socialist government.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Mick at 70

article-2379658-1B0356A2000005DC-326_306x423 article-2379658-1B0356A2000005DC-991_306x423
As he was recently at Glastonbury

The only consolation for Mick Jagger must be that Keith Richards looks worse!

Murcia’s son

The PSOE spokesman, Raul Valerio Medina, claims that Aurelio Murcia used his position on the council to secure one of the temporary jobs for his son. In reply, Murcia says that his son met the requirements of Servef and had the same rights as anyone else. He added that, during his time at City Hall. Medina did nothing to reduce the council workforce even though the coffers were empty.

As the temperature rises, so do the tempers!

Tension in the council

When Aurelio Murcia became the leader of the PP party, his hope was that they would gain the majority vote at the 2007 elections and he would become mayor. In fact, the Socialists were returned to power with an increase in votes.

In opposition, Murcia was a fierce and sometimes outrageous opponent - especially once Raul Valerio Medina replaced the disgraced Joaquin Moya as mayor. The PP clearly  regarded Murcia as a loose cannon and therefore decided to drop him and elect the more acceptable Charo Bañuls as their leader in a bid to oust the Socialists at the 2011 elections.

Murcia went on to form his own Liberal Centrist party which gained two seats on the council. Since neither the Socialists nor the conservative PP had sufficient votes to hold a majority, an unholy alliance was formed between the UPLC and the PP. Although Bañuls  was elected mayor, it is clear to all who was really pulling the strings down at the town hall. Murcia says that, whilst the mayor can walk through the Thursday market without a second glance, it takes him more than an hour because he is being constantly stopped by people. He claims that it is to him that people come to air their grievances and it is he that solves their problems –not the mayor. In other words, she carries the “cane” of office but he and his fellow councillor do all the work.

Two years on, Aurelio Murcia (UPLC) explains that the mayor is paid 2,000 euros per month and he gets 1,500. In fact, in the first year of office,  Murcia says he claimed nothing. It was only in the second year that he started to receive payments.

The proposal that he has made to the press is that the mayor should accept a reduction of 800 euros per month to allow an increase in his salary of 500 euros and that of his fellow UPLC councillor 300 euros. Their respective monthly salaries would then be; Aurelio Murcia – 2,000 euros,  Fernando Moya - 1,500 euros and Charo Bañuls – 1,200 euros.

As you can imagine, this will go down like a lead balloon with the PP and only serve to increase tensions between the partners in government. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Still not clear


Now we know where to buy our tickets from and we know that it all kicks off at 7pm but we are still not clear what the Gran Prix is all about.

It will take place on Saturday 10th outside Perales y Ferrer and it looks like there will be bulls involved but more than that “no se”.

Flex those wrists

1011490_405553692897042_1141232345_nYou need a sharp eye and fast wrist action to be any good at table football. I am hopeless at the game but I do know that a lot of bigastrese are experts. Expect to find them in action at the Disco Pub on the 29th of this month at 9pm. 

Bring on the new games

374430_405616849557393_143678791_nA literal translation of this poster might lead you to think that this is a competition for tapes  which it is but we need a bit more explanation than that.

From my research it seems that a “Carrera de Cintas” is in fact a a bit like a jousting competition. Previously this might have taken place on horses but these days it is bicycles that the competitors ride.

The aim is to ride along and collect as many ribbons as you can using a pole to catch them. The ribbons are attached to a wire stretched across the path.

Sounds like it could be a lot of fun and well worth a photo or two.

The driver: 'I want to die. I fucked up '

The engineer of the Alvia  train that crashed just outside Santiago de Compostela  killing 80 said he wanted to die.

The two black boxes from the train are yet to be investigated. However, from the transcripts of conversations between the driver and control, along with video footage, it is clear that the train was going too fast for the bend.

Although he has not been arrested as yet, the driver has been detained by the police pending a statement from him.

The question is, “why was an experienced driver travelling at such speed?” The answer might lie in the fact that the train was apparently late and I understand that RENFE policy is to repay the train fare to passengers when a train is overdue.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A chance for work

15984_133395883537885_213910669_nThe Bigastro band are looking for an administrator to work between 5pm and 9pm two days per week starting in September. 

A tragedy caused by speed

Early reports suggest that the horrific train crash at Santiago de Compostela could have been caused by the driver “overcooking” a bend. The train is suspected of travelling at 180kms per hour when it should have been limited to 80km per hour and all because it was apparently  five minutes late.

We often see drivers on the roads here take similar risks - even passing other cars on bends where they should show more caution. 

Sadly, we live in a world where speed is king. Everything has to be faster so that we can get on with our lives without having to wait. On this occasion though, at least 77 people paid the ultimate price and over 130 have suffered injuries out of a total of 247 that were on the train. I’m sure the relatives of the victims would rather have seen their loved ones a little late than not at all.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The old terminal

Since the opening of the new terminal at El Altet, you may have wondered just what was going to happen to the old building which actually is not that old.

The Alicante company Aerovillage, with support from foreign investors, have submitted plans for a 40 million euro project to the Spanish airport authority, AENA. Their aim is to build a 40,000 square metre area with 109 shops, restaurants and a hotel along with an indoor karting track, flight, skiing and racing simulators.

Although the plan was conceived back in 2011, AENA have not reached a decision about it.

Fascinating to see

20130719_libros In the lobby of the Auditorium Francisco Grau is an exhibition of programmes from the local fiestas Patronales de San Joaquín dating back to the 1930s. The books have been donated by Joaquín María Pérez Moya.

They describe the social history of the town and the changes that have occurred over the years. I hope that digitised copies will be available on the town’s web site for us to look at in the future.

Moya claims he was not to blame

In his defence, the ex-mayor of Bigastro said that locating the gas tanks on land that was designated as green space was based on technical reports.

When he was asked about the legality of such action he claimed  that, no one told him it was illegal, if he had known he would not have given permission. He went on to explain that he was only the mayor and was not omnipotent (perhaps he meant to say competent) . When he signed contracts, he was only certifying what others had either managed or controlled. In other words, the problem lay with the technician and the town clerk and not with himself.

When asked about his qualifications, Moya told the judge that he had studied economics which makes the notion that he had no idea what he was signing seem absurd. I would suggest that, after 28 years in office, Moya knew exactly what he was doing and even if he didn’t, as mayor he had the ultimate responsibility. 

The case continues today.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The battle continues

We are used to seeing Senegalese in Torrevieja selling bags, watches, DVDs etc etc. What we don’t see is the organisation behind these sellers. The eighty or so who are permanently located in the town swell to three times that number in summer and all are controlled by about 12 leaders who take the money and then send back a proportion to Senegal.

The sellers live mostly in Apollo Street; about ten to a house with a rent of 300 euros per month i.e. 30 euros per head.

The goods that they sell come from Chinese warehouses in Elche. They will pay about 3.30 euros for the bags and another 50 cents for the fake logo, the sunglasses cost them 50 cents a pair and the watches cost about 2.5 to 5 USD. On the streets, the bags sell for as much as they can get – 25, 30 or even 50 euros, the sunglasses go for 10 euros a pair and the watches can fetch up to 100 euros from unwary visitors.

Up to about 2 years ago these traders were tolerated but now the police haze a zero tolerance policy. This often leads to violent clashes on the streets.

As I have said before, if nobody bought from these people, they would soon stop trading. However, the lure of a bag of a pair of glasses that have the designer look for a knock down price is too much for many. 

Royal baby trivia

The birth of the baby prince means the monarchy now has three generations of heirs to the throne for the first time since 1894 and the birth of the future Edward VIII.

The baby is the first Prince of Cambridge to be born for more than 190 years since Prince George of Cambridge, a grandson of George III and the only son of Prince Adolphus Frederick, the 1st Duke of Cambridge. The baby is also the 41st in direct line of descent from Egbert, King of Wessex, who ruled from 802 to 839.

At 8lb 6ozs, the new baby is the largest Royal to be born in a 100 years. His father William weighed 7lb 1.5oz when he arrived in 1982, while his grandfather the Prince of Wales weighed 7lb 6oz when he was born in 1948.

Being born in 2013, a British baby's life expectancy according to UN estimates is around 80.8 years – for boys their likely life-span will be 78.9 years, for girls it will be 82.7. However, royals usually  live a little longer than the average Brit - 14.7 years longer to be precise.

Charles is now 65 and is still waiting to fulfil his destiny as King. William will follow in due course. How long the new baby will have to wait to ascend to the throne – goodness only knows.

Back in court

The ex mayor of Bigastro, José Joaquín Moya is back in court today. This time he is accused of authorizing the construction of gas tanks on a plot of land designated as parkland in Sector D6. The prosecution are asking for a prison sentence of five years and ten months for the crimes.

Also implicated are the town clerk and the town technician. 

The original date for this trial was postponed because Sr Moya claimed he faced a serious family situation – his brother was ill.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The routes through Yorkshire

Route1Larger Tour de France 2014 - Stage one:
Starts in Leeds and ends in Harrogate taking in the Yorkshire Dales.

That is beautiful countryside, I just hope it is a sunny day so that the riders can appreciate it.

Just reading the names of those towns brings back wonderful memories of times past. I was brought up in Morley near Leeds and spent a lot of time visiting those places on the map.

Although Pam and I lived on the Wirral for 34 years, I always felt that Yorkshire was my spiritual home.
Route2Larger Tour de France 2014 -Stage two:
Starts in Sheffield and ends in York. That route goes close to Penistone where I used to live before moving to the Wirral.

The riders will eventually pass through some of the posh parts of the county – Keighley, Harrogate, Knaresborough and York.
I am torn between going there to watch it live or following the progress on television with a nostalgic tear in my eye.
Already, I have this Yorkshire tune going through my head!
Where hast thou been since I saw thee (where have you been since I last saw you?)
On Ilkley Moor baht 'at. (on Ilkley Moor without a hat)
(repeat several  times just to get the idea)
I've been a-courting Mary Jane, (courting is the old fashioned term for dating)
On Ilkley Moor baht 'at.
I've been a-courting Mary Jane
I've been a-courting Mary Jane
On Ilkley Moor baht 'at,
On Ilkley Moor baht 'at,
On Ilkley Moor baht 'at. (as you will have gathered, this tune is a bit repetitive!)

Thou'll 't surely catch thy death of cold on Ilkley Moor baht ‘at; etc. (You will, for sure, catch a cold and die)

Then we shall have to bury thee;
Then worms will come and et thee oop; (the worms will eat you up)
Then dooks will come and et oop worms; (the ducks will then eat the worms)
Then we  will come and et oop dooks; (we will eat up the ducks)
Then we  will have our loved ones back.

That is impressive

Excitement mounts in London as the Duchess of Cambridge is admitted to hospital in the first stages of labour.

Untitled-1 The world’s press have been gathering for weeks in preparation and have been setting up ready to catch the all important shots of the announcement.

Being a camera geek, I’m more interested in the equipment these guys are using than the impending news. This picture from the papers of one photographer has me intrigued. I know it is a Canon L series lens like the ones I use; the red ring on the barrel and the distinctive white finish are a giveaway. But which one is it?

In a game of “mine’s bigger than yours”, this guy would probably win.

PS The part at the front is the lens hood, the actual lens starts behind that where the red ring is located.

Eee by gum and ecky thump!

The last thing on Chris Froome’s mind this morning will be next year’s Tour de France. It might be a good excuse for me to see at least part of the tour though because the first stage of the 101th edition takes the riders from Leeds to Harrogate in God’s own county. Then the tour will visit Sheffield before moving south to London and across the Channel to France.

That is for the future though. For now, we are delighted that Froome won and proud that he lost out 43 seconds on the final stage to be with the team that had supported him well over the last 20 odd days.

France promised something special for the 100th edition and they certainly delivered it. The stages took in Mont San Michel, the Basilica at Lyon and the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. We had some spectacular mountain stages in the Alps and to finish a wonderful sunset finish in Paris. Froome had a sparkly yellow jersey especially to catch that light. When the racing was all done the Arc de Triomphe was lit up with lasers from the Quatari Embassy. A beautiful climax to a wonderful tour.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The tale of the dragon

KW5D5642 Last night we had a huge mechanical bull followed by an even larger inflatable dragon that just about made it around the corners of the streets. There was a man riding an ox, a display of horsemanship and plenty of dancers some of whom were dressed as dragons for the occasion. The Pirate Buccaneers brought up the rear in their swashbuckling style.

Apart from the knights, of which there were plenty, the participants did not look at all Christian but who cares with such dazzling brilliance, it was yet another night to remember.

See my photos here.   

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A night of illusion

The solemn parade of Moors comparsas never fails to delight us and last night was no different. Apart from the dazzling costumes there were several camels, the odd horse, a wagon towed by oxen, birds of prey and a rather large albino snake which members of the public were allowed to stroke.

Of course, there were troupes of dancers and a group of rather savage men thrashing out a rhythm on drums. The float that held the Moors Ambassador was rather special and even had flowing water installed.

Bringing up the rear were the Black Egyptians in some of the most extravagant costumes of the night. In some cases, you had to look damn hard to see their faces through the intricate masks that they wore.

You can see my photos here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Fiesta for Santa Ana

20130719_santaaNext weekend marks the fiesta for Santa Ana. An important date for John and Carol because they, along with the junior and infant queens will be presented to the public for the first time. 

Crazy cars

20130719_cochesloThe very popular crazy cars competition will take place on Sunday 4th at 11am.  

Does anyone know?

967225_380089775443434_1381785905_o Has anyone worked out what the Grand Prix on Saturday 10th involves? It seems to be some sort of raffle taking place but the exact format is not quite clear.

Something’s missing

IMGThose of you who have managed to get hold of a programme for this year’s fiesta will notice that there is something missing.

The first summer that we were here, the fiesta included an International Gastronomy Day which was held in the Plaza Concordia. The idea was that the different nationalities in Bigastro would produce traditional fare from their native countries and serve it free of charge.

I remember that there was a small British contingent the first year that served sausage and mash with baked beans followed by crumble and custard. They sat alongside Moroccans who did some wonderful things with lamb. The main stay though was the Spanish contingent who educated us into the fine art of home cooking with a wide range of delicious savoury and sweet dishes. We sampled everything from suckling pig to meatball stew.

As the event became popular, long queues of hungry souls formed well before the scheduled start time. Sadly, there were a few who abused the situation by loading several plates full of food much of which went into the bin bags at the end of the event. That meant that those at the back of the queue were faced with empty tables when it was their turn to sample the food on offer.

Within a few years, it was down to just a handful of Spanish cooks and the Brits to prepare food. The Gastronomy Day had turned into a soup kitchen for the less fortunate neighbours.

At the same time, the Fiesta Committee decided to enlist the support of local bars to provide tapeo on one of the streets near the park. For just a few euros, you could enjoy a snack and a drink Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Last year, tapeo was more popular than gastronomy and so it seems that one had to go.

In a sense, it is a shame because we quite enjoyed providing the local folk with a taste of Britain and we would like to think that many found what we offered enjoyable. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Rules are rules

Chris Froome showed the first signs of cracking on the second climb of Alp d.Huez and called for his team mate to help him. He needed and energy gel which Richie Porte got from the team car. The thing is that the rules state that riders are not allowed to get food or drink from the team car during the final climb and so Froome has been penalised by 20 seconds for his action.

Was it worth it? As it happens, Froome gained a further 57 seconds on second placed Alberto Contador so even with the penalty, he still gained a further 37 seconds taking his lead to five minutes and eleven seconds.

Moors and Christians this year

Friday, July 19

At 21:30 h Moors Parade.

Saturday, July 20

At 21:30 pm Christian Parade.

and here is the route that both parades will take starting from Calle Ocarasa.


Monuments to greed and foolishness

6979394368_23470f388c_o In Tempo, Benidorm was to be the tallest residential building in Europe. Sadly, only 80 out of the 269 flats were presold.

The developer, Olga Urbana were offered 93 million euros by Caixa Galicia to build the monument but that was in the heady days when banks were awash with funds. The debts of the bank have now been assumed by Sareb, the bad bank that was set up to absorb these debts.

Sareb now want to sell the apartments and thinks there might be foreign investors who would be willing to buy the whole building at the right price but only if it was free of tenants – which of course it isn’t.

As well as thousands of unsold and half-built flats, the savings banks in Spain funded a whole raft of white elephants: the airport at Ciudad Real, with a runway that can accommodate the giant Airbus A380, and another airport at Castellón, neither of which is in operation; the high-speed Toledo to Cuenca rail link, which was shut down for lack of passengers; the City of Culture in Santiago de Compostela, which is in danger of never being completed; and the Oscar Niemeyer-designed International Cultural Centre in Avilés, which has faced a struggle to stay open.

I understand that the airport at Corvera is facing all sorts of problems as well and is unlikely to open before Easter 2014.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Another one bites the dust

Brian Charrington used to be a second hand car dealer in Middlesbrough before he realised there was a lot more money to be made from peddling drugs. He moved to Spain where, along with his son, he built up an empire that afforded him 10 homes, several expensive cars and six boats in the Marina Alta area.

The modus operandus was to smuggle cocaine from Venezuela using a fleet of boats. In total, it is reckoned that 25 tonnes of the white powder were transported this way for sale in  Europe. At the time of arrest, police found 220kg of the stuff in an apartment in L’Albir. They also impounded property and bank accounts worth over 5 million euros.

Altogether, joint operations have now caught 52 out of 65 British fugitives in Spain. Investigations continue to find the rest. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It is not over yet

It was almost inevitable that Chris Froome would be asked about doping at the press conference on Monday. He says that is it sad that, the day after the biggest victory of his life, he is answering questions about cheating. Both he and Sky deny any allegations.

Today’s stage takes the riders over some bumpy terrain.

Saxo-Tinkoff are determined that the tour is not over yet. Sky are down to seven men which limits their ability to protect Froome. Whether or not Saxo-Tinkoff try to take advantage of that to regain time that Contador has lost remains to be seen. Certainly they are the stronger team leading as they do in that classification.

On the other hand we may have to wait until the formidable stage 18 with its double ascent of Alp d’Huez. That is one stage I do not want to miss even if I have to listen to a German commentary! Following that there is the challenge of Stage 19 with two HC climbs and Stage 20 with a stiff 10.7 km climb at the end of a short ride. After that it will be a pleasant run into Paris.

Wait until 2015

The situation for the prime minister worsens as the ex treasurer of the PP reveals more of his secret papers.

Barcenas now says that deliveries of cash were made to Mariano Rajoy and the party’s general secretary, Maria Dolores de Cospedal during 2008, 2009 and 2010. The figure he quotes is 45,000 euros for each between 2009 and 2010. The “donations” were made with 500 euro notes placed in brown envelopes.

The money came from entrepreneurs who Barcenas says donated cash in return for being awarded lucrative contracts. He says that the amounts exceeded the legal limits for donations.

What of Sr Rajoy’s reaction to all this.

Understandably, the opposition have called for his resignation but then the Socialists are mired by scandal about corruption as well – like the “kettle calling the saucepan black” (a quaint English saying dating back to when kettles and saucepans were both blackened by being placed over an open fire).

The Prime Minister, for his part,  says that they received a clear and decisive mandate in 2011 and that they are going nowhere. He adds that Barcenas, who is in prison himself for corruption, is trying to blackmail him and the party. The hope is that all this will have gone away by the next election in 2015.

The problem is that each time Louis Barcenas appears in court, he reveals more evidence to support his claims. Whilst the PM may say that he is not going away, neither is the scandal. 

Information for you

Those of you who are looking for a program for this year’s fiesta in Bigastro need to visit the Centro Social Integrado go in by the door facing the Plaza Concordia – up the stairs to the second floor where you will find Jose Maria, the Councillor for Culture. She is usually there between 10am and 12am. This is the lady who has the books!

Those of you who enjoy the Moors and Christian parades in Orihuela will want to know that they will be taking place this coming weekend with the Moors on Friday 19th and the Christians on Saturday 20th.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Recovery for Alicante

069d9cd25a97d75d36212a37cf7a6f3f_XL In 2012, Alicante airport lost 1 million passengers. This year the airport has recovered 500,000 of those travellers thanks in part to the influx of Nordic tourists.

Further more, last weekend, the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner landed at Alicante.

A major source of income

Foreign investment in the Costa Blanca has brought in a staggering 4,500 million euros in the last three years.

Alicante province is leading the field in sale of houses to foreign investors – 2,485 in the first quarter of the year out of 8,940 homes sold. That is in spite of the fact that houses sold or rented long term require an energy certificate by law.

This might seem like good news and it is for the buyers who are paying on average a lot less than they were in 2010 (108,327 against 153,727). Not such good news for sellers though who are losing a substantial amount on their investment!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Eat my words

I dare say Froome did not originally plan to win on Mont Ventoux. I'm not surprised he needed oxygen at the top; he blasted away from Contador like he wasn't even there.

Forget winning the first test match, Froome winning on the mountain where Tommy Simpson died is enough for me.

Bastille Day

Today is Bastille Day today and so the French will be hoping that one of their own will ride to glory up Mont Ventoux on the longest stage of this year’s tour.

PROFILCOLSCOTES_1 Mont Ventoux is 1,912 meters high and extends 25 kms from West to East.  The lower slopes are forested and provide a home for deer, chamois and wild boar. The upper slopes are well above the tree line and are populated by rare plants like the hairy Greenland poppy and the Spitzberg saxifrage.

From a cyclists point of view, it is a real challenge. Although the average gradient is 7.5%, it is the black sections where it ramps up to 11 or even 12% that test the best of legs. If any of the pretenders to the overall classification decides to have a go here, we can expect a strong reaction from the others. I would not expect the current race leader, Chris Froome to win on Ventoux but he will be watching the likes of Mollema, Contador and Kreuziger like a hawk.

Right at the top is a metrological station that now serves as a telecommunications base. It will be a welcome sight for all the competitors, especially the sprinters who suffer on the high mountains.

The survivors of today’s climb  will have Stage 18 to look forward to and a double ascent of Alpe d’Huez. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Cool again

The air conditioning unit in the lounge was not working properly. The air from it was not cold and it wasn’t taking any water out – time for some attention.

When we first had the units in the lounge and main bedroom installed in 2005, it was Hnos Gutiérrez who did the work. Father and son came and slaved most of the day to provide us with cool comfort.

When the two units needed servicing in 2010 we called on them to do the work and so it was only natural that we should ask them again to sort the problem out for us. This time it was only the son who came with his girlfriend so we missed the humour of the father. I am pleased to say that, after a thorough test and a re-gas, the unit is working perfectly again.

Now I would not recommend someone if I did not think that they do a good job at a fair price. In this case though I have no hesitation in passing on the information.

Hnos Gutiérrez - phone 651 65 66 57 to speak to Raquel in English (or Spanish if you wish!).

It’s all our fault

_46069119_doodleweb_mauvesting_jelly7 Overfishing in the Mediterranean has reduced the natural predators for jellyfish. The ocean sunfish, the main predator, is on the decline. Without control, the jellyfish then feed on fish larvae which makes the problem even worse. All that, combined with the changing coastline which provides ideal breeding zones, means that jellyfish numbers are on the increase.

Up to 150,000 people are treated for jellyfish stings in the Mediterranean each year and whilst the stings are not deadly they can cause pain and mild reactions. The mauve stinger, which is in vast swarms of the coast of Spain, can cause pain, burning, nausea and muscle cramps. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Peeing in the wind

Pam and I have watched Jamie’s Food Revolution where he tries to change the eating habits of Americans. The programme centres on a town which Jamie says is the unhealthiest in America and the problem starts with school meals. Jamie tries to convince the authorities to give up on cheap processed food, ban flavoured milk and introduce food prepared from fresh ingredients.

Six months on, the children are back to bad eating habits as many parents opt to send their children to school with a packed lunch filled with junk food.

Prior to his American trip, Jamie tried the same thing in the UK with a similar result. There was a change in habits but it did not last. 

The fact is, statistics show that Jamie is right. Almost a fifth of UK children are obese by the time they leave primary school and the problem is worse in London. The incidence of type 2 diabetes in America is spiralling out of control. Parents are literally killing their children with kindness by giving them the wrong kind of food – sugary drinks, sugar laden sweets and high cholesterol convenience food just to placate the little blighters.

In the UK the government are now considering a plan to ban packed lunches from schools and bar pupils from leaving school during breaks. Instead, they will be forced to enjoy a healthy meal in the school canteen and the teachers will be encouraged to join them.

When I was at Anfield, the canteen was run by a commercial company who of course wanted to make a profit. We tried to ban chips and tried to introduce some healthy alternatives to the burgers and pasties that the children homed in on. Sadly though, the take up for healthy food was zero – e.g. the delicious cauliflower cheese was still there at the end of lunchtime. In fact, apart from baked beans, any vegetables that the canteen tried to serve were totally ignored. In the end we had to give up because the company could not afford to continue preparing food that was thrown away at the end of lunchtime.

Although the government are planning to do the right thing, I fear it will all end in tears and the pension problem caused by people living too long will become a thing of the past.   

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Learning music

970375_112356678975139_325247838_nThe School of Music are now enrolling classes and are offering the first month free of charge.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Turning up the heat

Everyone is feeling hot under the collar in this heat wave - especially the Spanish Prime Minister.

The Spanish newspaper, El Mundo, has published documents that show Mariano Rajoy, was paid from a slush fund whilst he was a minister in the 1990s.

The newspaper says that it handed over the documents, which are claimed to be written by the former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas, to the High Court on Monday. El Pais made similar allegations in January.

Mr Rajoy is said to have received cash payments of 42,000 euros in 1997 concealed in a cigar box followed by lesser amounts in 1998 and 1999. 

The accounts show that payments were made to other members of the PP but it is the Prime Minister who is understandably in the firing line. The Socialist party are demanding that he answers questions in Parliament about the allegations – something which the PP have refused to do several times since the El Pais articles appeared.

The Barcenas accounts also show that the three Gürtel companies, Special Events, Rialgreen and Orange Market received contracts from the regional PP in Valencia which netted them 2.7 million euros. According to Barcenas accounts, Orange Market was the leading supplier to the PP. The company was headed by El Bigotes who had a close relationship with Ricardo Costa and Francisco Camps (remember the suits).

Although not linked, the PP party in Orihuela are being accused of receiving support for their election campaign in 2007 from Angel Fenoll whose company happened to have the refuse collection contract for the city.

You could begin to wonder whether there are any “straight” politicians in Spain.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

No escape any more

Spain used to be the favoured hideout of villains from Britain. Without extradition orders, they could set up home in the sun with impunity.

Many have now been caught, thanks to joint operations including Andrew Moran who had been on the run for four years. Moran escaped from the dock during his trial for armed robbery. In spite of changing his identity, the Spanish police caught up with him whilst he was sunbathing at a villa in Calpe and arrested him.

Another villain, Mark Lilley, had been on the run for 13 years and so must have thought he was safe. Lilley, who was convicted of drug trafficking, skipped bail during his trial. Since then he has been hiding in Malaga.

During a dawn raid, police climbed over the gate and battered down his front door. Lilley was hidden in a panic room concealed behind a wardrobe. From his hideout he was able to watch what was going on via CCTV and only decided to surrender when he realised there was no escape.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Why do they do it?

For thrill seekers, a trip to Pamplona to take part in the morning bull runs that are part of the San Fermin fiesta is high on the list of things to do.

Fifteen people have been killed in the 100 years since records were kept and many more have been injured. It is inevitable when so many crowd the narrow streets and attempt to avoid the charging beasts.

The latest causality is a 44 year old man from Wolverhampton who nearly suffocated when a pile of people fell on top of him as they tried to avoid a charging bull on the first day’s run. The father of one was there with four friends. His wife had pleaded with him not to run with the bulls  but I imagine drink and testosterone made him braver than he ought to have been.  

More than a fine tune

After nearly nine years of retirement from teaching, you’d think that we would be no longer interested in what is going on in British schools and that is generally true.

However, the mental scars created by the introduction and the subsequent revisions to the National Curriculum are hard to heal. The mere mention of the topic in Casa El Willo still raises the blood pressure of both Pam and I, especially Pam. To be honest, I largely ignored it and got on with teaching the way I always had.

Since its introduction, the National Curriculum has been tinkered with by successive governments. The latest move though is more than a fine tune, it is closer to a through overall. Fractions for five year olds is just one example of the radical changes that will be made.

Each time these changes are made, teachers have to re-write their lesson plans, scrapping everything that they know works well for a stab in the dark at something which may fail completely. Added to which, publishers have a nightmare of a task revising their texts to cover the new content and often get left with supplies of out dated material. The process of change is both painful and expensive for all concerned.

To make matters worse, experience teaches us that the changes to the curriculum will either be watered down or scrapped altogether by successive governments. The new rigour that David Cameron applauds might work well in the leafy suburbs of Surrey but will be doomed to failure in the terraced areas of inner cities.

Flocking to the fatherland

With unemployment for young people in Spain at over 50%, it is no wonder that they are looking elsewhere to find work. The scarcity of skilled workers in Germany is drawing many from southern Europe there at the rate of 80,000 per year. In the boom years it was the other way round, Germans were flocking to Spain to enjoy the wealth of jobs in construction.

The young Spaniards might find employment in Germany but it does come at a price, the first of which is the climate. Those used to living in the sun find the cold winters hard to endure. They also face hostility from some Germans who regard them as parasites who only there because of the problems that Spain has brought upon itself. Germans are not best known for their hospitality and do not have the same sense of family as Spaniards. This is why up to 70%, who move to Germany, often return a year or so later.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Prodigious talent

It is an accepted fact that the Almoradí band is one of the top bands in the area – our own director, Don Tomás Rodríguez Gómez plays clarinet for them.

Almoradí band does produce some remarkable young musicians including the cellist, Irene Zamora  who was given a special award by the President of the Generalitat, Alberto Fabra, at a recent concert. The young lady will be studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Madrid next year.

Showing appreciation

KW5D5408Kim Riley (wife of one of the flautists in the band) and Pam (my lovely wife) along with our neighbours Eladia and Pepe (Pepe is the President of the Bigastro Band) showing their appreciation at last night’s concert on the promenade at Alicante.

The band were playing in the Concha de la Explanada as part of a series of concerts titled “Sigue A Tu Banda”.

Each Saturday from July through to September, a different band will play starting at 8pm.

You can see my pictures from the fabulous concert that Bigastro played by following the link in the left hand sidebar. 

Saturday, July 06, 2013

The hilly stuff

Untitled-1Today will be the stage when the real contenders for the yellow jersey in the Tour de France will want to make their mark. 

Previously we have watched these stages on Eurosport but Canal + have now dropped that channel from the line up. The only alternative is to watch the highlights at 10pm on Deportes with a commentary in Spanish. 

Good money is on Froome and Contador – an Englishman and a Spaniard. Most would agree that Froome could have won last year but was held back to support his team mate Wiggins. We shall see what transpires this year.

One year on

The Socialist Party organised a rally yesterday in the Plaza de la Concorde to further protest about the closure of the 24 hour emergency service.

The closure not only affects the people of Bigastro but also those from Jacarilla and Benejúzar who now have to travel to either the  health centre Alvarez de la Riva in Orihuela or Vega Baja Hospital for treatment.

To add to the problem, the local chemists no longer operate a rota to dispense medicines prescribed by the 24 hour service.

The PSOE say that, if they are re-elected in 2015, they will reopen the emergency service.

Friday, July 05, 2013

A heat wave

Untitled-1AEMET advise us that there will be a heat wave lasting about seven to ten days that will affect the west of the peninsula. From Galicia down to Andalucía, east to Castilla-La-Mancha and even Aragón. 

Temperatures in some areas will rise to 40 or even 44 degrees  putting those places on orange alert.

The forecast for Bigastro predicts a more moderate 34 degrees. 

Short hours

20130701_audiTo be honest, who wants to be in the library during the summer months. The children are on holiday from school and so will not be using it for homework and you see very few adults in the building at any time.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Where to get help

Those seeking help from the British Consulate services need to know that they now occupy new premises in Edificio Espacio, sixth floor, on Rambla Mendez Nuñez, near the port area of Alicante, close to the Mercado tram stop and Alicante central bus station.

However, only 10 per cent of clients actually need to travel to the British Consulate.  For help and advice visit the website email or call 965 216 022 Monday to Friday from 9am-5pm.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Selling the family silver

When there is no other alternative, you have to sell off the family silverware to solve your debt problems and that is what the Spanish government plan to do.

Over the next seven years, the government aims to sell off 15,000 properties ranging from office buildings to agricultural land. They have already sold off 90 million euros worth of state-owned buildings and made a further 37.5 million euros saving by renegotiating rental contracts.

Undoubtedly, there will be some gems in the portfolio but there will also be some real lemons. The hope is to attract foreign investment because it is felt that few Spaniards will have the cash to buy some of the more exclusive properties.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Another request


A friend of mine is looking for an English teacher, intensive course, two hours per day, 4/5 days a week. He is prepared to pay and very interested.

Do you know anybody?

Saludos Aurelio

Most of the requests for help come from parents who want their children to improve their spoken command of English. This is altogether different. Ten hours per week of intensive learning would be a tall order even for a qualified teacher of English as a second language.

I don’t know of anyone qualified and so cannot help Aurelio. Maybe one of my readers will know of someone.

Monday, July 01, 2013

No summer to look forward to

After a cold, wet winter and an equally poor spring, we were hoping for a glorious summer to make up for it.

The French weather channel, Meteo has dashed those hopes though by forecasting the worst summer on records since 1816. They say that cold maritime fronts and weak solar activity gave us the poor spring and will lead to a summer with short bursts of heat followed by heavy storms in August. By way of consolation, they say that September and October should be warmer than usual.

Our girls are coming out to visit us in August, the last thing they will want are storms!

That didn’t last

Last year was the first time Pam and I were able to claim the Winter Fuel Allowance that others have been receiving for years. We had hoped that the allowance, which amounts to 100 pound each, would be paid every year from now on but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne has other ideas.  He plans to stop the allowance to those expats who live in warmer countries than Britain from 2015. The saving to Britain is estimated at 30 million pounds per year.

I can understand the desire to save money but the scheme is flawed. After all, it is normally colder in the north of England than it is in the south so is he going to reduce payments to those living in say Bournemouth?  

I’d like to know which countries are going to be declared colder than Britain and on what evidence will this judgement be made? Mr Osborne, there are parts of Spain where the winters are worse than Britain and this year it was damn cold here on the Costa Blanca. The words, mealy mouthed followed by several expletives come to mind.