Sunday, December 29, 2013

Over for another year

After spending months looking forward to Christmas, it is all over in the blink of an eye and all that is left are remnants of the turkey and the odd mince pie. Time to think about New Year and the need to return to a sensible diet.

A nation of shoppers

It amazes me to find how many people are in the shops seeking out bargains. I understand there were folks queuing outside Next at dawn on Boxing Day. Good luck to them, wild horses would not have dragged me out of bed let alone the house at that time of day.

Following a blustery and late arrival in Manchester, the weather has been reasonable. It might be cold but at least it is mostly dry and the company is as warm as ever.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Off again

It hardly seems like a few days since we were last in England and here we are going again. Since we passed on being there for Christmas, we decided to go for New Year.

When we phoned last night, little Molly wanted to know why we couldn’t be there then. She dearly wanted us to arrive last night. I expect that means she will be pleased to see us this afternoon, eager to know what we might have in our cases for her. We have a few things but nothing to compare with what Santa delivered.

Looking at the weather report, we could be in for a bumpy landing. The wind, that has troubled Britain over the last month, has returned but this time hopefully with less force. For the rest of our stay, it looks like typical Manchester weather, a few bright periods punctuated by rain and heavy skies. It will also be cold but then we do have warm clothes in our cases to comfort us.

Hasta luego amigos.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Talking of royalty

This year, for the first time in many years, Pam and I watched the Queen’s speech - not at the time of its original broadcast but a later re-run on Sky News. When we lived in England, we rarely had chance to listen to the speeches because they coincided with lunch. Her messages carry a lot of meaning and demonstrate why Her Majesty is still held in great esteem by the majority of the British public.

In Spain, the King delivered his speech on Christmas Eve which is the traditional day for families in Spain.

Last year, at the depth of the crisis for the monarchy here, Juan Carlos’ speech reached the lowest audience in fifteen years. At that time he said that nobody is above the law in reference to the corruption charges against his son-in-law and the investigation into his daughter’s accounts.

This year he may be forgiven, however Catalonians will have missed the speech because it was not transmitted there.

Catalonia, led by Artur Mas, is pushing for a referendum on whether it should become a separate state in the same way that voters in Scotland will be choosing whether to break free from Great Britain. The difference is that the Spanish Prime Minister has said that the Catalan plebiscite would be unconstitutional whereas in Britain, the government has said that it will recognise the outcome of the Scottish vote. 

If the Catalans were allowed to vote, then it is thought that 50% would choose to separate from Spain. However, since the PM has said that he will block the referendum in parliament and in court if necessary, the whole business could come to nothing. Artur Mas’ party will lose support and an early election will be called for which he will likely lose to the ERC party. 

Returning to the speech we listened to, Queen Elizabeth referred throughout to reflection. For her, with sixty years at the helm of Britain, it is time to pause and consider how things have changed but at the same time to reflect upon those aspects of life that have remained constant. For Her Majesty, it is family values and the devotion to service which she has shown over the entire 60 years that are most important.

It is interesting that both monarchies have faced problems and scandal over the years. Of the two though, I would say the British monarchy has weathered the storm best. Quite what will happen though when Charles accedes to the throne is hard to say. 

Christmas Day

First off the weather

Most Christmas Days that we have spent here have been sunny and mild but not this year. It rained for much of the day and was cold. As my neighbour said, “it is more like England”. Not quite because parts of the south of England spent Christmas day mopping up flood water and fifty thousand were left without electricity. Many could still be cut off by the end of the week.

Today we expect it to be dry and sunny. It is however a little blustery out there so perhaps not sunbathing weather. 

Morning phone calls

We called our family who were gathered in Sale and first spoke to our 3 and 3/4 year old granddaughter, Molly. Her first words were, “I can’t believe it, Santa has brought all the presents that I asked for!”. Looking at the photos that were pasted on Facebook later, Santa brought a whole lot more besides -she is one lucky and well loved little girl.

Our presents

This year, Pam and I decided to surprise each other with some small presents which I am pleased to say went down very well. It goes to show that you don’t need to spend a fortune to spread a lot of happiness. 

Christmas dinner

Untitled-1 Having spent a leisurely morning, Pam and I went to La Herradura for Christmas Lunch. This is the third time that we have been there on Christmas Day so we are getting to know some of the regular clients.

Interestingly, one lady told Pamela that she was disappointed with her meal because it was the same as last year. Well yes it was but you already knew that from the menu shown at the time of booking and actually, if you went out for Christmas lunch in England, you’d get the same meal each year. The difference being that in England you’d have a plateful of turkey with trimmings followed by Christmas pudding. 

In fact, if you look at that menu from La Herradura, you will see that it represented great value for money. You certainly would not get anything like it for a price of less than £30 in Britain. Oh and yes, they missed out the “sopa de pollo con fideos” from the menu.  That came between the bread and the prawns. Each plateful might have been small but by the end, you knew you’d eaten sufficient.

Face time

In the evening we went on Face time to see the chaos that our family in Sale faced. Hopefully, they will have moved some of the presents away to leave some clear space in the lounge ready for our visit there tomorrow! 

Pam and I hope that you all enjoyed your Christmas Day as much as we did and that you are not suffering from too much of a hangover this morning.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Smiles all round

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KW5D8756 The face says it all. This is the director of the band, Don Thomás Rodríguez Gómez, at Sunday’s concert for Christmas.
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Santa will be there

Young Socialists in Bigastro have collected 400 toys for the 'This Christmas, no child  in Bigastro without toys' campaign organised through the charity, Caritas. The toys  will go to needy local families who are experiencing financial difficulties .

Monday, December 23, 2013

Every year – something different

The Christmas concert last night followed the tradition set to be different. In the first part, the twist came with what is described as the Sinfonia de los Juegetes  by Haydn. In the second part, the choir came on stage to be later joined by local councillors to sing traditional Christmas songs.

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Mr and Miss  Bigastro band performed a dance Members of the band played toy instruments
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Members of the council joined the choir Our friend Chris played his first solo on flute

Sunday, December 22, 2013

See you there

I’m reliably informed that the Christmas concert tonight in Bigastro will be something special - well worth missing the tele for! It all starts at 7pm and there could be a fight for the best seats.

Fingers crossed for a win

Today is the one that many Spaniards look forward to because the Christmas lottery draw is taking place at the Teatro Real in Madrid this morning. It is said that 75.3% of Spaniards take part, each spending an average of 65 euros on tickets. Even that sum is down though because in 2008 the average spend was 133 euros.

What makes this lottery special is of course the prize pot which amounts to 2,240 million euros and the number of prizes which is 24 million. Even still, the chances of winning a big prize are slim – 1 in 100,000 and there is only a 9% chance of even getting your money back.

There are two large drums, one contains the 100,000 numbered balls and the other, the 1,807 different types of prizes. The balls are made of boxwood, each precisely 3gms in weight and 18.8mm in diameter with numbers laser engraved upon them.  First the ball for the number is drawn and then the prize. Children from San Ildefonso boarding school in Madrid will sing out the numbers. It is all grand theatre as people watch and wait for the big prizes to be drawn.

The state is of course the big winner and this year even more so because in addition to the normal cut, every win over 2,500 euros will be subject to 20% tax. So, a win of 400,000 euros in 2012 will only realise 320,000 euros this year. Still, there are many who would settle for a fraction of that amount.

Am I in with a chance to win? No is the answer because I have not bought a ticket for this year.

We did buy National Lottery tickets each week in Britain at £1 a piece and hardly won a thing and we bought tickets for El Gordo on two occasions from our Spanish teacher. She was selling them on behalf of an association which charged 3 euros over the 20 euro face value of a decimo (one tenth of a full ticket). The first time I got 20 euros back and so lost 3 euros to the cause. The second time I got nothing. To be honest, I have enough vices to keep me happy without adding gambling to the pot.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Another recommendation

When we had our central heating system installed by the builder, the cost was sky high. Still, we got a working system that has given us very few problems in the nine years we have lived here.

A couple of gripes though, 1. the only control that we had was a wall mounted thermostat which acted like a simple switch to turn the system on or off and 2. we would have liked towel heating radiators in the bathrooms.

Now we have managed to resolve both of those issues.


1. Instead of the thermostat in the lounge area, we have a programmer which allows us to set times when the heating comes on either on a daily or a weekly basis. It also allows us to set a temperature at which the boiler will come on regardless and a frost protection setting for those times when we are away. There is also the facility to program the heating to stay off whilst we are away and come back on again ready for our return. Short of putting the kettle on for an early morning cup of tea, this device does everything we require of it.

The controller was installed by the technician from CAMINSTAT who I have mentioned before. Since we have a service plan with him, there was no charge for labour.


2. We had originally thought that heated towel rails would be out of the question because the pipes to our Spanish radiators fit top and bottom. Apparently this is not a problem, you just need to re-route the top pipe to the bottom of the new radiator and that is what the plumber did. The extended pipe is mostly hidden by the new radiator and so it all looks neat and tidy.

The plumber who did the job was recommended by our neighbour Pepe and turned out to be based in Bigastro. Fontaneria Aqua Azul is in the Pligono Apatel on Calle Medio Ambiente 6. For two plumbers working for almost two hours each we paid 60 euros plus IVA.

Having experienced the charges that plumbers make in Britain, I think that is more than reasonable. And yes, they cleaned up afterwards and left us with the old radiators (many plumbers in Britain would want to take those away to use on another job).

A subject of deep controversy

Abortion is understandably a controversial subject in a catholic country like Spain. When changes to the  law allowing abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy were introduced by the former socialist government in 2010, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in protest. However, since then, the number of abortions in Spain have not risen significantly showing that the changes did not spell a free for all.

The current conservative government pledged to change the law as part of its electoral programme and on Friday the cabinet approved the changes. Abortion will only be permitted in cases of rape, where there is serious foetal deformity or if the pregnancy presents physical or mental danger to the mother. Clearly, the PP have been under pressure from the Catholic Church to make these changes. The church still harbours idealistic notions about issues such as abortion and contraception which many feel are out of touch with the modern world. 

Women’s rights groups claim that this move takes Spain back 30 years and say that it will encourage “abortion tourism”. For them, the only positive aspect of the changes to the law is that it will not criminalize women who have abortions as was the case with the 1985 legislation.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Fingers crossed

Like most small consumers, we are on the tariff of last resort or TUR. There are two roughly equal parts, the cost of energy and the tolls that the government set.

The price paid for energy is set by auctions such as the one held yesterday when the price jumped up 25.6% meaning that our bills would rise by 11.5% in January. Thankfully, the Ministry of Industry and Energy have intervened and the hope is that the rise won’t happen. In fact the Minister, Jose Manuel Soria has said it will not happen and the Prime Minister says that he will try and correct the possibility of a rise.

For many in Spain, any rise in energy costs would be a disaster let alone one of 11%. Let us hope that this can be resolved for all our sakes.

Seasons greetings

PAG1The Town Hall in Bigastro has published its programme for the Christmas season online at

Make a special note of the Christmas Fair this weekend on Calle Purisima and the concert for Christmas on Sunday at 7pm.

On my behalf and I am sure the rest of our British community here, I would like to thank the Ayuntamiento for all they have done for us this year. It has been a difficult year for Bigastro but in spite of all the problems, the people of the town have shown that they can battle through together.

The message from the mayor in the programme, is both heartfelt and much appreciated. We share the hope with her that 2014 will be a better year for the town and for its people.

A good return

tumblr_molrbr0Hf61qcdzk5o1_1280(1) The International Association to Save Tyre took out a bank loan and bought the 1914 painting by Picasso entitled, L'Homme au Gibus (Man with Opera Hat). They then organised a raffle for the art work with 50,000 tickets at 100 euros each.

On Wednesday the draw took place and an American, Jeffrey Gonano held the winning ticket. He said that he was looking for something to put on the wall. Well now that he has a $1m Picasso, I hope he has good security in his house and adequate insurance! Oh and please do make sure that the hook in the wall is secure before hanging the picture.

Five million euros return on a one million dollar investment was a very good return for the charity.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Yet again

Last time we were in Britain, it was lashed by gale force winds and heavy rain – that was just weeks ago. Today, I read that winds of up to 90 miles per hour and heavy rain are again causing havoc for the country. I expect most people living there will be mighty glad when this winter is over.

All above board

The former mayor of Bigastro, Raúl Valerio Medina, gave his testimony yesterday in court regarding allegations that illegal bonuses of up to 37,000 euros had been paid to various residents in the town. The beneficiaries included his own father and friends.

In his defence, Medina said that the exemption from paying council tax and motor vehicle tax for these individuals were covered by ordinances that had been passed at council meetings at which the current mayor, Charo Bañuls was present. He added that the council had failed to send that documentation to the court which would prove his innocence.

Medina went on to claim that his father paid 2,099.07 euros in tax and benefitted from a bonus of 200 euros which he says is quite different to the sum of 1,750 euro bonus that the PP say he was given.

Of course we have to remember that, at the time that these ordinances were passed, the socialists were in power with a majority of seats and therefore were able to pass whatever they wished. I very much doubt that the PP  voted in favour of giving bonuses to residents in this way. The strength of the case now rests on whether the decisions of the council at that time were legal or not.

As I have said before, I believe that the problem for Spain during those boom years was that there was insufficient control over local and even regional government affairs. They were able to get away with passing laws and regulations that should never have been allowed. Corruption at that time was virtually endemic, allowing politicians and their friends to “feather their own nests” at will. Now, ever so slowly, “the chickens are coming home to roost” and those that were in power are being called to account for their actions. 

Ironically, the socialists in Bigastro still have control with one more seat than the party in government and so it is technically possible to out vote them. However, I doubt that they would even attempt to pass anything which whiffed of nepotism.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A worldwide problem

1471284_584936271561106_2081267557_nWe would all like to be able to put our trust in politicians but experience warns us that might be a dangerous thing to do.

Our Spanish teacher asked us whether the same issues with banks and politics exist in Great Britain as they do in Spain and sadly our answer was yes.  

The difference is that the political system in Britain is perhaps a little more transparent and open to scrutiny. For example, local politicians in Britain would have a harder time getting away with some of the scams that their counterparts in Spain pull off.

Bankers in Britain are just as bad if not worse than those in Spain. Even when they fail their customers badly with paltry interest rates and miss sold protection policies, British bankers still find a way to pay themselves obscene bonuses. 

The three Kings

20131217_rey Their Majesties, The Magi from the east, will visit Bigastro on January 5th at 6pm.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

In hot water again

The socialist leader and ex-mayor of Bigastro, Raúl Valerio Medina along with the Secretary and Treasurer are back in court. This time, to answer to charges that they deliberately informed SUMA not to claim property and vehicle tax from certain individuals without justifiable legal reasons. it is claimed that the ex-mayor’s father and friends were among the beneficiaries. The alleged fraud amounted to 37,00.86 euros.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Look out for these

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1467186_10152076468664461_1588107612_n These are some of the traditional biscuits from this area that are only available at Christmas.

If you can’t wait for the Christmas market, these are for sale now at Mi Rincon Exquisito on the corner of Calle Purisima.

Catching up with the 21st century

The systems of the Traffic Department here in Spain have been slowly catching up with the 21st century. It is estimated that out of every 400,000 vehicles in circulation there are 2,462 or 6% without a current ITV (equivalent of the MOT in Britain). The owners of these vehicles can expect to receive a letter shortly urging them to rectify the situation.

DGT are also concerned about the large number of vehicles over 10 years old on the roads that have neither a valid ITV nor insurance.

One of the measures that they are adopting is to check whether cars caught speeding by radar traps have a valid ITV certificate. Those caught this way, face a fine of 200 euros (reduced to 100 if it is paid within 15 days). If the car has failed an ITV, then the fine increases to 500 euros. At the same time, cars that are caught speeding will be checked for a valid insurance certificate. The message therefore to those without proper documentation is to avoid being caught by  radar trap.

In my opinion, the unwieldy and slow bureaucratic processes in Spain have led to a lot of people getting away with flouting the law in many different ways ranging from illegal houses to unsafe cars on the roads. Not just at government level but at local council level, laws are passed that are not strictly enforced and people know that. As the country gradually catches up, more and more should feel the hand of the law on their collars.  

Clamp down on house rentals

A lot of holiday home owners in Spain offer their houses to let whilst they are not there. It is a way to cover the bills incurred and provides visitors with a cheaper alternative to hotels.

Buyers of these houses and apartments were lead to believe that their homes would have a high rental potential. For those situated on or near the seafront, this may be true but for many it is a struggle to find customers. There are just too many to choose from and so visitors can be picky.

The main issue for Spain is that the home rental business is largely unregulated. Houses were bought and then advertised for rent without any inspection process in place. New laws will change all that. Owners will need a licence from the local authority and will also have to meet strict conditions including regular safety inspections and hygiene certificates. They will also need to be contactable 24 hours per day in case of problems such as water leaks and power cuts. There are also a number of owners who fail to declare income on their properties and therefore do not pay taxes. Clamping down is a way of recovering lost revenue for the country.

The fear for many owners is that the bureaucratic processes in Spain are ponderous requiring lots of complicated form filling and stamping. The obstacles may to too great for many who will want to try and sell rather than struggle with the local town hall. Of course, this is a Catch 22 situation because the market is already flooded with homes and prices have slumped by up to 50% since 2007.

Hotel owners are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of more bookings. The truth is that many will look at other cheaper destinations rather than pay the price of a hotel room. The result of the new legislation could well  mean that there will be fewer visitors to the country.

As the saying goes

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1473063_10152075464584461_382059345_n Two halves of an orange for a couple who met, fell in love, were married and now celebrate their silver wedding anniversary with this cake created for them by Mi Rincón Exquisito in Bigastro.

NB Two halves of an orange is how a loving couple are described here in Spain.

Although Mrs W. and I are mostly like two halves of an orange, there are odd times when a lemon might be a more appropriate fruit for us!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Highly recommended

IMGWe are fortunate to have gas fired central heating here in Spain. Although some areas have a supply of natural gas, it is not as widespread as in Britain. The other options are oil fired central heating, all electric systems and propane gas systems such as ours.

By law, you do have to arrange an annual service for the boiler which makes sense to me. A properly serviced boiler works more efficiently and should be both trouble free and safe. Caminsat offer two levels of service- 1. an annual service followed by all labour costs for call outs during the year or 2. the same but including the cost of all parts required.

When we started using the heating in November, we had a problem with our boiler. When it reached operating temperature, the boiler would continually switch itself off and on again. The only way to resolve the issue was to turn it off and let the system cool down.

Since we have the first level contract with Caminsat, we called out the technician who told us that the expansion tank needed pressurising. Unfortunately that did not cure the fault and each time he came out subsequently, the problem did not occur. Of course there was no charge for the call outs.

As it happens, we had already asked the technician to replace the wall thermostat with a programmer and so he came out last Friday to fix the new device. Luckily, the boiler was reproducing the fault when he arrived and a quick diagnosis showed that it was actually the control box that needed replacing. With that sorted, he then went on to fit the new programmer.

Now we have a lovely warm house and the ability to control the system that heats it to our heart’s content.

I am usually wary about making recommendations to people unless I am certain that they will get good service. In this case though, I am confident that you would be satisfied with the work that Jose Maria does. An ex-British Gas fitter on our estate uses the same company and he is delighted – that is good enough for me.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Eurovegas scrapped

The plan to build a $30bn resort in the Alcorcón suburb of Madrid has now been abandoned.

The resort, with its 12 hotels, six casinos, a conference centre, golf courses, cinemas, shopping malls, bars and restaurants, was supposed to create up to 250,000 jobs. The problem though were the conditions  which were set including allowing gamblers to smoke inside. The company also wanted guaranteed compensation in the event of future changes in legislation and demanded certain conditions in relation to taxes and legal protection.

Although the proposal was attractive, it met a lot of opposition from the church and other organisations who felt that the American billionaire, Sheldon Adelson was trying to take advantage of Spain’s economic situation.

Out for a run?

20131110_joaquinesxca Sunday, December 15th, the second Joaquinesca, 5 and 10 km fun run starting at 10am outside the Auditorium.
CIRCUITO2013 The route.

Christmas fair

20131211_art Get in the mood for Christmas at the Fair to be held the 21st and 22nd December on Calle Purisima.

There will be typical Christmas fare to buy along with  workshops and animation to enjoy.

NB Look out for the aniseed flavoured biscuits coated with honey and the almond biscuits dusted with cinnamon which are only available at this time of year. 

Shop locally

20131212_navAs an incentive to shop locally, the Bigastro Merchants Association presents its Christmas campaign to its customers. Make your purchases of 15 euros or more up till the 6th January in any of the 10 participating shops and you will receive a ticket. Post the ticket in the mailbox that you will find in the stores for a chance to earn prizes which can be used in those shops.

Top prize is 120 euros, 2nd prize of 80 euros and the third prize is 50 euros.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Worse than a dog

No matter how bad things seem to be here in Spain, we should count ourselves lucky that we do not live in North Korea where freedom of speech is simply not possible.

Following his trial, Jang Song Thaek who had helped the transition of Kim Jong Un into power, was executed.

The statement at the trial, translated to English, says:-

'From long ago, Jang had a dirty political ambition’. 'He dared not raise his head when Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were alive.

'He began revealing his true colours, thinking that it was just the time for him to realize his wild ambition in the period of historic turn when the generation of the revolution was replaced.'

The statement added: 'Every sentence of the decision served as sledge-hammer blow brought down by our angry service personnel and people on the head of Jang, an anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional element and despicable political careerist and trickster.

'The accused is a traitor to the nation for all ages who perpetrated anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts in a bid to overthrow the leadership of our party and state and the socialist system.

'Despicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog, perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love shown by the party and the leader for him.'

It said that while most broke 'into enthusiastic cheers that shook the conference hall' when the North Korean leader was chosen, Jang only clapped 'half-heartedly'.

It added: 'He let the decadent capitalist lifestyle find its way to our society by distributing all sorts of pornographic pictures among his confidants since 2009. He led a dissolute, depraved life, squandering money wherever he went.

'He took at least 4.6 million Euro from his secret coffers and squandered it in 2009 alone and enjoyed himself in casino in a foreign country. These facts alone clearly show how corrupt and degenerate he was.'

A hefty fine

You could not help but notice the banner across the street with the motto, “Bigastro fight for yours”. It was the socialists way of keeping the fight for restoration of the  24 hour emergency medical service open.

Now the mayor, Charo Bañuls, wants to fine the socialist group 700 euros ( just 50 euros short of the maximum) for putting the banner up.

The socialists say that this is a serious violation of freedom of expression and contravenes the Spanish constitution which allows for the right to freely express and disseminate thoughts, ideas and opinions by word, writing or any other means of reproduction.  

If posting the banner contravenes a by-law, then surely all those banners placed on the bridge from the town over the by-pass do the same. I wonder if all those people  announcing birthdays etc. were subjected to a similar fine?

An important crop for the area

Vitalgrana is Europe's largest facility producing pomegranate juice. This year, the factory in Catral, has produced about 600,000 litres of their one hundred percent natural product made ​​from fruits of mollar variety.

The company has already expanded its production to making jams, Omega 5 based antioxidant pills, different cosmetics and has increased it turnover by tenfold  in just three years. Management expects that, during the next financial year, a turnover of close to five million euros will be reached.

The manager of the company, Manuel Esclápez, says that this season they have processed 1.5 million kilos pomegranates grown in the Baix Vinalopó and Vega Baja -  two regions that account for 90% of the production of this fruit in the European continent.

The company has already started exporting to different countries including the Middle East, Japan and many other European states. Their goal is to continue increasing these exports,  opening up new markets and continuing their commitment to quality and innovation.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Another successful trip

Our pre-Christmas trip went as per plan. All the cards and parcels were posted, we had family meals together, met up with friends at the Manchester Christmas Market, had a pleasant morning at the St Joseph’s School fair and spent ‘till we dropped in Manchester.

The main purpose though was to be with our family just before Christmas. Pam and I will enjoy a quiet Christmas here in Bigastro so it was important to see people and wish them all the best for the festive season.

It was nice to find our past neighbours, Hugh and Angela in good sprits and spend the day with them at the market. We were also pleased to catch up with Joan and BC, the parents of our son-in-law.

Most of all though, we loved spending time with Jemma, Laura, Dave and Molly. We know it is not entirely convenient for them to have to put up with us but we do appreciate it and thoroughly enjoy their company.

You can find my photos from the trip in the album list on the left of your screen.

Creative accounting

When I was in charge of finance at Anfield, it was common practice to move money from one area of the budget to another during the course of the year. We did so with the permission of the school’s governing body. I dare say local councils in Spain do much the same thing. If you have over allocated in one area and under allocated in another, it makes a lot of sense to move the money around.

However, when the Spanish government allocated money to local councils under Plan E, it was for a specific purpose. Plans for the use of that money had to be submitted and approved before it was released. Once the work was completed and signed off, the government released the money to pay the bills.

One of the plans for Bigastro was the remodelling of Avenue Apatel for which a budget was set at 355,787.67 euros of which the government would fund 249,051.37 euros.

As the work was completed, the certificates were signed off and payment should have then been made within 30 days. Although the work was finally completed on the 22nd December 2010, Pastor Medina had only been paid instalments in spite of the fact that the government sent 100% of the funding to the council.

The ex mayor, Raúl Valerio Medina along with two technicians and the treasurer have had to testify in court to say exactly where the money went and why the contractor was not paid. At the time, the council was struggling to meet its debts and so it is likely that the money was used to prop up some other part of the budget. Unfortunately, the strict guidelines for Plan E money did not allow for that sort of accounting procedure.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Do not be concerned

I know that one or two regular readers of this blog get a little concerned when there are no posts for a few days.

As some are already aware, Pam and I are making our regular pre-Christmas trip to the UK and so will be away from Bigastro for a few days. Having only my iPad with me and a busy schedule to follow means that I will struggle to post items. No pasa nada, I am sure there will be plenty to tell you about on our return.

Gala this Sunday

20131204_alz The seventh edition of the Alzheimer's Gala will take place on Sunday, December 8th at 6pm in the Municipal Auditorium Francisco Grau Bigastro.

No wonder the region is in debt

With a flourish, Francisco Camps announced that he was bringing Formula 1 racing to Valencia as part of his election campaign. He claimed that it would not cost the region one euro, in fact it could even make a profit.

Well that turned out to be a lie because the cost over the five years between 2008 and 2012 will top 300 million euros. The seven year contract was cancelled in 2012 but Ecclestone still has the option to extend the contract until 2019.  Out of that sum, Ecclestone had the lions share of 115 million euros tax free. The rest was spent on building the track, disassembling it each year, on security and celebrations at the events.

Bear in mind that this was not the only big publicity event that Camps introduced whilst he was President. He also brought Volvo ocean racing and the America’s Cup to Valencia at enormous cost to the region.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

In God’s own county

Untitled-1We have just received a letter from the Woodens who used to live in the house next door to us.

Those who knew them will recall that they left Bigastro and eventually found a house in rural France. It was isolated though and they had to rely on another English couple to translate for them. To be honest, we thought they had “jumped out of the frying pan into the fire” and would struggle in their new location. 

Now they have moved to a three bedroom bungalow in Crokey Hill which is on the A19 road between Selby and York just over 5 miles from York centre. In other words, they are back in merry England.

The Woodens, who hailed from just outside London, may well find the accents of the locals a little difficult to understand – there are no long vowels in Yorkshire. They will also have to get used to Yorkshire weather which is a touch colder than here in Bigastro.

Still, they are in God’s own county and will have no difficulty finding such delicacies as Yorkshire curd tart, Wenslyeydale cheese, pikelets, parkin cake, forced rhubarb and some of the best beers in the world. 

We wish them both well and hope that they have, at last found somewhere that makes them happy.

Saving us money

On the biggest day for online shopping, the computer systems for RBS and NatWest banks crashed leaving people in supermarkets and in petrol stations with no means to pay. At least in the supermarket they could abandon the trolley and walk out; it would have been difficult for drivers to put the fuel back into the pump!

I wonder if the problem, which had now been resolved, had anything to do with outsourcing their IT services to India. 

In 2012 the bank had a similar problem which cost £175m in compensation, what it will cost this time? I eagerly  await the letter telling me that our bank charges will be going up.

We already knew that

A report in the Guardian newspaper tells us that men and women’s brains are wired differently. 

Female-brain-008 Women have more connections between left and right which gives them more social skills and equips them for multi-tasking. They are more intuitive and emotionally involved.
Men-women-brains-008 Men have more connections front to back which makes for better perception and coordinated actions. Men have better motor control. 

They didn’t need extensive research to find that out, all they had to do was ask my wife!

At long last

Finally, the tunnel into Orihuela will reopen. This should happen on Thursday but only if it doesn’t rain because the pumping station that prevents flooding has been closed. Apart from cars, it is possible that pedestrians will be able to use the tunnel. What you will notice though is the island in the roundabout that directs traffic to Bigastro, Molins, Hurchillo and Arneva has gone.

Make the best of it because the tunnel will have to be closed again when the company that is constructing the high speed train line have to prepare the trench but for the moment it will remain open.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Not a popular move

When Mariano Rajoy’s  Popular party took office in 2011, they issued a series of austerity measures and cutbacks in health and education along with labour and financial reforms in an effort to refloat the economy and stave off a bailout.

The measures triggered an increase in street protests, including several attempts to encircle parliament, some of which ended in clashes with police and rubbish containers being set on fire.

In a bid to curb these protests, the government has introduced draft legislation with fines up to 30,000 euros for offences such as; burning the national flag or causing a disturbance outside parliament. There will also be fines of up to 1,000 euros for insulting or threatening a police officer with similar fines for publishing photographs of the police that  might endanger them or hamper their operations.

With an absolute majority in parliament, the government will have no problem getting this bill passed. However, it will cause widespread dissention turning Spain into a repressed police state.

Any lengths

1385889403586This picture from one of the local papers shows the extraordinary lengths that Bigastro went to on Saturday making the film for the TV competition. I haven’t seen the result yet but I imagine it will be as professional as they come. This small town does not do things by half!

This is Southern Spain

1385898682473 You might imagine that these pictures came from one of the British newspapers but you would be wrong. They came from one of our local papers here in Spain.

The forecast was right, copious quantities of snow fell on much of the interior of Alicante province during Saturday night. Rainfall was also very intense in some areas, especially in the Sierra de Mariola, where snow caused some traffic problems. In fact, the CV-801 road was only reopened to traffic between Ibi and Banyeres Mariola on Sunday afternoon.  Between 5 and 20cms of snowfall was recorded in parts of the province.

According to the Coordination Center (OCC), other roads that were affected by snow included the CV-80 and CV-800 which were cleared quickly. In the meantime, precaution  was recommended on the  CV-780, CV-782, CV-785, CV-787, CV-794, CV-795, CV-796 and CV-797 all day.

The storm left snow not only in the province of Alicante, but also created serious complications on the coast. The port of Gandia in Valencia, was closed to shipping from ten o'clock because of the adverse weather conditions. In fact the whole coast was on orange alert including the southern coast of Castellón, the coast of Valencia and the north coast of Alicante. Wind gusts of 78km per hour were reported in Jávea and 71 in Alicante. 

1385912905378 According to the Hydrographic Confederation of Júcar (CHJ), in the last 24 hours up to 132 litres per square metre of rain fell in Callosa d'En Sarria, 104 l/m2 in Confrides and 105 l/m2 in Altea.

Aemet removed the alerts for snow, rain, wind and coastal phenomena late Sunday .

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Weather warning

Untitled-1This weather warning appears on the State Agency website.

I can confirm that there was some heavy rain overnight but at the moment it is dry out there. I can see blue sky, sunshine and there is barely a breath of wind. 

The funniest people in Spain

pueblo-divertido Spanish television is running a competition to find the funniest town in Spain. The idea is that participating towns produce a video to show just how funny they are. Yesterday, Bigastro made its film.

It started with two friends walking down the street chatting away about the competition. Then the town band join them playing “Paquito chocolatier”. They were joined by mountain bikers performing pirouettes. The parade then stopped and four dancers performed their routine after which, more people arrived with banners filling the street.

The local touch came when dozens more joined in to clap to the tune, 'La Alborada' which of course is played to welcome in the day of San Joaquin. And just to round things off and get the message over, the whole crowd then crouched to the ground shouting “we are the funniest people in Spain”. Finally, they got up and danced some more to the tune Help whilst María José Sarmiento and  Alen Ortiz  threw confetti over everyone. 

In all 22 towns are competing for the 100,000 euro prize. Even if Bigastro does not win, the people had a fun day which brought Christmas spirit to the town.

Sadly, that is not my picture – Pam and I missed it!