Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Belenes in Orihuela

The competition for Christmas Nativity scenes in Orihuela this year attracted 23 entries. 

The judges made special mention of the teachers, parents  and students from the following schools: Colegio Los Desamparados, Colegio Diocesano San José Obrero and the Colegio Público Andrés Manjón.

The ten prizes totalling 2,225€ were awarded as follows:-

1st prize, D. Enrique Hernández Cámara.
2nd prize, D. José García Lidón.
3rd prize, for the Hermandad del Cristo de la Buena Muerte which you can visit in the Calle Torretas.
4th prize, Dña. Maria del Carmen Riquelme Pérez.
5th prize, For the Parish of  Santiago El Mayor.
6th prize, D. Luis Manuel Serna Rocamora.
7th prize, for the Belén of the Parish of  El Badén, assembled  by Dña. Socorro Bernabé Rodríguez.
8th prize, D. Pedro Antonio Gómez López.
9th prize, D. Pedro Enrique López Rodríguez.
10th prize, D. Antonio Vicente Gil Lorente.

Although I am by no means a religious person, I'm pleased that the birth of Christ is still the main focus of Christmas here in Spain. Of all the cards we got this year, very few actually mentioned this.

Fun for all the family

The Council of Culture in Bigastro has organised different cultural and playful activities for us to enjoy over the next few days.

6pm- Municipal Auditorium


CONCERT OF CHRISTMAS by the Society Musical Union of Bigastro, under the direction of D. Manuel Gutiérrez.

Starting at 7pm the traditional CAVALCADE of the MAGICAL KINGS through C/ Aureliano Díaz and C/ Purísima.

Their Majestys, the Magical Kings will then visit the children at the marquee in the Parque del Cura and distribute the prizes to the winners of the Christmas Story Contest.

6pm- Municipal Auditorium



Where the traditional Christmas pantomimes are reversed. For example Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf are lovers. This performance presents lots of songs and fun for the children.

No need to take the grapes

The City Council in Alicante is determined to put the problems of 2008 behind them tonight. They have organised a disco in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento with 40,000 watts of light and 20,000 watts of sound starting at 11pm and going on until 3am in the morning.

Not only that but the Council have 1,500 bags of a dozen grapes to give out ready for the bells at midnight.

Although people can continue to celebrate, Inusa, the cleaning company will be clearing up the area after 3am ready for the next day.

In Bigastro, there will be a disco in the Parque del Cura from midnight on but I don't think the council will be supplying grapes!

Fog - I'm surprised they have a word for it


When I bought my Skoda Fabia, the salesman, keen to demonstrate the virtues of the car, pointed out the fact that it had fog lights. When I suggested that they might never get used, he said, "you never know in Bigastro".

Well four years later and on a different Skoda, I had an opportunity to try them out yesterday when a layer of fog covered much of the Vega Baja from early morning to about noon.

The occurrence was so unusual that it merited an item in the newspaper Información. If we ever get snow, it will be a front page spread.

Shop locally

To encourage people to shop locally, the Association of Commerce (ACOBI) are offering prizes to clients who shop in any of the 50  associated outlets. There are two plasma TVs (42inch and 32inch) or a Nintendo Wii console up for grabs.

You'll receive a ticket for the draw from any of the participating shops - the ones with the ACOBI sign outside between now and the night of the Three Kings on the 5th January.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My house is not a cattery

It's not that I don't like cats, I just don't want them in my garden especially when they use it as a toilet or a repository for the animals they catch.

We've had several rabbits brought in - one of which was dumped in the pool and excreta left on one of the seat pads. Not nice!

First it was just one cat then another. Now we seem to have four of them that regard our plot as their territory.

Keeping them out is nigh on impossible. You put up netting and they work their way through it. Secure that to seal the entrance off and they jump over it. I've tried cat repellent spray which smells disgusting to us but has been totally ignored by the cats.

What we need to do is borrow Luka, the dog from across the road. She gets very agitated when she spots a cat in the Calle and soon sees them off. Or maybe I could borrow the stuffed tiger that Joaquín puts outside his barber's shop along with one of the Kings.


A baby camel



In time for the arrival of the Three Kings from the East, this young  camel was born at Terra Natura near Benidorm.

Sadly the camel's mother died from complications at childbirth. So the young lady is being reared by the keepers.

When she is five years old, this camel will be a full size adult.

Maybe then she can take part in a cavalcade with the three Kings.

The plan for Torrevieja

The three Reyes Magos will arrive at Torrevieja on the 5th January in a fishing boat.

At 4pm, before the three Kings  arrive, there will be a circus spectacular in the wharf. Then at 4:45, Gaspar, Melchor and Balthasar, will enter the dock to the sound of a thunderstorm shot from the Salt Wharf.

The Kings  will then move on to the Virgen del Carmen cultural centre to begin the cavalcade which will include over 300 people. From their  floats the Kings will distribute cuddly toys and games to the children.

At19:15, the three Kings will arrive at the Imaculada church to adorn the baby Jesus and then from the balcony at the Ayuntamiento they will throw sweets to the children.

Monday, December 29, 2008

I've never heard of this tax

Residents in La Siesta and San Luis were confused by the letters they received earlier in the year telling them that they were going to be taxed for the right to drive across the pavement to their houses. The letter explained that they were also being asked to pay for a ‘Vado Permanente’ sign.

In a recent meeting with the Finance councillor from Torrevieja all was explained.  Joaquín Albaladejo said that everywhere in Spain you have to pay a tax if you want to cross the pavement in a car to get to your property. You can also apply to have a parking restriction in front of your property, the ‘vado permanente’ but this is a separate issue.

The law related to this tax was passed in 1980 by the Torrevieja council but because information about new developments has been slow to filter through to the relevant department, it is only now that the tax is being imposed on the Las Siesta/San Luis urbanisations.

The councillor went on to explain that the tax was based on the catastral value of your house which is why it would be higher for some properties than others. He also explained that it was not a tax that SUMA could collect along with IBI.

When asked about houses that didn't have a dropped curb where the owners had made a concrete ramp, Sr Albaladejo said this was illegal. It wasn't clear whether people who had a dropped curb but didn't use it would still have to pay the tax.

My comment

I've never heard of this tax nor can I find any reference to it on the Internet.  I don't know of anyone here paying a tax to cross the pavement to get to their houses. Maybe they do and the council haven't caught up with us yet. It might be yet another thing that Euro Anglo Sur neglected to tell us about.

If we ever have to pay the tax, I'd like a vado permanente sign placed opposite my driveway. Although there is a marked out parking bay on the other side of the road, when people park there it does make it difficult to get my car in and out of the drive. 

Sunday, December 28, 2008

¿Qué te viste?

So what did you watch on television over Christmas?

We struggled through Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The effects are undeniably brilliant but Pam and I have to confess that we find the stories hard to follow. Maybe it is because we have watched the films out of sequence.

image Last night we saw Wallace and Gromit in A Matter Of Loaf and Death dubbed into Spanish. Not quite the same without Peter Sallis' voice but very clever all the same. With Nick Park's films it is the little touches that you have to look out for. The subtle touches of humour are all too easily missed.

We also watched a National Geographic film "Queens of the Artic" which supposedly tracks the lives of both a polar bear cub and a a walrus cub from birth to motherhood. Like all National Geographic projects the filming was superb and the scenery breathtaking.

Of course the underlying message was that global warming and the reduction of the polar ice cap is putting the existence of wildlife in the region in jeopardy.

On Boxing Day Canal + showed the Spanish duo Amaral in Amaralconcert in Madrid. Amaral are:- Eva Amaral (vocalist) and Juan Aguirre (guitarist) accompanied by session musicians.

It was only later that we discovered that Amaral have been producing their blend of music dubbed pop rock since 1998. They've four albums and one DVD to their names and were extremely popular with the madrileno audience.

It struck us that, whilst British pop music has a strong presence here in Spain, Spanish pop music is rarely heard in Britain. That is a pity because Amaral, along with many others are well worth listening to.

What we didn't get on Canal + were the tedious Christmas specials that we remembered from the years of watching BBC and ITV. Neither did we get the angst and misery that seems to have become a tradition on British soaps.

I have to confess that we did have an hour or so of nostalgia with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire's "Holiday Inn" which Pam bought in the UK for £2.40. Pure escapism and American kitsch!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

An end to the mild weather

For folks used to hot summer temperatures when  thermometers rarely drop below the low 30s, winter temperatures are perishing cold.

When the temperature plummets to below 20 degrees centigrade, the locals complain that it is cold. Out come the  coats, the scarves and the gloves. When it gets below ten, the fur coats appear and they double up a sweater with a thick fleece. You'd think they were living in the Arctic north.

The State Agency of Meteorología (AEMET) forecasts and end to the dry and sunny weather we have had over Christmas.  For the weekend there is a high risk of snow in Girona, Barcelona, Tarragona, Castellón and Teruel which are all on orange alert. The provinces of Burgos, Alava, La Rioja, Navarre, Soria, Guadalajara, Saragossa, Huesca, Lleida, Valencia and Alicante are on yellow alert.

The Valencian Comunitat has registered temperature drops of up to 13 degrees Celsius in last the 24 hours.  Snow is expected on land over 700metres. Don't worry though, we've asked and nobody remembers seeing snow in Bigastro - ice yes but no snow.

You might want to forget the name

The saxophone group "Fukio"  will be playing tonight at the Auditorium at 8pm.

Baritone: Ángel Soria 

Tenor: J. Manuel Bañuls

Alto: Manuel García

Soprano: Joaquín Sáez

Those of you who go might not want to admit that you enjoyed Fukio on Saturday night.

Electricity cuts

Iberdrola have announced that there will be electricity cuts between 8:30 in the morning and 7pm at night on Tuesday 30th December.

The cuts will affect the following calles:- Plaza Constitución, Ramón y Cajal, Tomás Villanueva, Julián Besteiro, Pablo Neruda, País Valenciano and adjacent zones..

Friday, December 26, 2008

Pedestrian precinct in Los Montesinos.

The Ayuntamiento in Los Montesinos has decided to pedestrianise the centre of the town at a cost of 550,000 €. It is estimated that the work will take about 12 months.

In Summer, when there are fiestas and on market days - the streets are closed to traffic anyway. Even when they are open it is difficult to negotiate them especially if there are cars parked.

To close the centre of the town permanently to traffic is therefore a good idea.

Naranjas are like buses

You either have none and have to go out and buy them or you have a glut.

Our lemon trees have a graft of orange on them which produces about a dozen or so fruit. I've already eaten them. They are thin skinned, very juicy with a flavour that is on the tart side rather than sweet. P1000576

Once our own fruit were gone, our Spanish neighbours saved us from having to buy more by giving us a bag full of oranges for Christmas.

These have obviously been hand picked, they are even in size, with perfect skins and are apparently sweet in flavour. They were a very welcome gift.

This morning, one of our Spanish friends arrived with a box full of oranges from the trees on his plot in the countryside. They have a few blemishes that would make them rejects at the supermarket but I've no doubt that their flavour is superb.

Fresh from the tree, oranges have a lot more juice and a fresher more intense flavour than shop bought fruit.

Gosh with all the Vitamin C we will be getting, we should be well protected from any more Winter colds.

Christmas Dinner

I'm normally careful when recommending restaurants to people. There is always the chance that they will visit on the day that the chef is on holiday or the restaurant is short staffed. In any case what is one man's meat is another man's poison.

Two  exceptions are the Restaurant Portico Mar at Urb. Campomer near Guadamar del Segura and La Finca de Eduardos at Urb. Campoamar, Orihuela Costa. Neither are particularly cheap, especially if you eat a la carte. However, both offer a "menu del dia" and a "menu del noche" which represent better value for money.

We've eaten at both restaurants several times and thoroughly enjoyed each occasion.

In our opinion the daytime menu at Portico Mar is better value than that at La Finca de Eduardos. For an evening meal though,  the menu at Eduardos is more varied and the ambience when you eat outside in Summer cannot be beaten.  It's a close call, both are very good day and night.

Last night we chose to go for the seven course Christmas Day special at  Portico Mar . Actually we were lucky to get a table. They were booked up for lunchtime by September and only just managed to squeeze us in for the evening. We were glad they did though.

The food was excellent and the service was outstanding. We'd award them 5 stars.Us at Portico Mar

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Menjabollos Giant

In a wooden house set in the pine forest at Guardamar del Segura lives the legendary Menjabollos Giant. Throughout the year, he keeps the forest clean and prunes the trees.

giant 2 giant

Then on the 23rd December he comes into the town to announce Christmas and stays until the night before the Three Kings. While he is in Guardamar the giant gives gifts to the children and takes part in a dancing procession -the dwarves and giants dance - through the streets with the children. Afterwards in the Plaza de la Constitución afternoon snacks are served.

For those who think I may have had a drop too much wine last night and am making this up. Let me assure you this is a true story. The giant is as real as Santa Claus.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A catch 22 situation

Hundreds of residents who have been living on builders' electricity have now been advised by Orihuela town hall to pay off the debts incurred by their builders to Iberdrola in order to be able to contract their own supply.

Unless these urbanisations are completed, the town hall will not provide habitation certificates. Without a habitation certificate, Iberdrola will not give these people an electricity contract. Now will they give them a contract whilst there is an outstanding debt to Iberdrola for builder's supply.

So, some home owners have completed the building work on their urbanisations themselves and paid off the builder's debts in order to secure an electricity contract.

By law, builders have bank warrants which were taken out before work commenced. However it can take up to a year to enforce one of these warrants and in any case they do not cover the cost of completion of an urbanisation.

For the benefit of those who don't know: buying a new house is very different here in Spain to England:-

In Spain you make staged payments as the house is being built. Once your house is complete, you then have to wait for the urbanisation to be finished to get a habitation certificate which you need to get a proper water and electricity supply. Most urbanisations do not have, nor will ever have any form of mains gas supply* and in new areas you may have to wait years for a telephone line.

In the boom years, these differences were a mere inconvenience but now they have become a major concern.

For the benefit of my Spanish readers:-

When you buy a new house in England you pay a minimum deposit to secure the house and only pay the balance upon satisfactory completion. The day you move in, the house will be connected to mains supplies of water, gas, electricity etc. In the majority of cases, there will even be a phone line ready for you to contract with BT.

This is because each house is inspected individually at regular stages throughout the building process.

From the buyer's point of view, the British system is both safer and more satisfactory.

* Mains gas, where it is available, is supplied from large tanks of propane situated on the urbanisation. There is no national supply of natural gas via pipelines.

The price of fish

The Spanish say "en Navidad, las angulas estan por las nubes" (at Christmas, the eels are for clouds) which  means that at Christmas the price of fish always goes up. Fish is a traditional dish for Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) in Spain and of course you can't buy it too far in advance because it won't keep.

A survey by the newspaper 20minutos showed that, in three weeks, the price of seafood has increased by 120%. Red prawns, which were 36 euros per kilo are now 80; Norway lobsters, which were 48 euros per kilo are 150. Sea bass costs  58% more (at around 32 euros per kilo) and the more expensive sea bream is up 75% at 40 euros per kilo.

The good news is that the price of meat; goat, lamb and calf has stayed the same. Although there seem to be plenty of  legs of ham about, we haven't seem many suckling pigs this year. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bag a bargain whilst the turkey is cooking

What will you be doing Christmas Day?

When we were in the UK and the children were growing up it was a busy, busy day for us. The children would wake us at dawn to see if Santa had been. Of course he had but checking to see what he had brought would have to wait until Pam had at least had a cup of tea and time to open her eyes properly.

The process of opening the presents could take a good two hours. We always insisted that the girls kept the tags with the gifts so that they could write meaningful thank you letters. Pam would even make lists to ensure that nothing was missed. The girls would open their presents first so we could see what they had been given and then Pam and I would open ours.

Following the presents, there was breakfast to deal with. Lunch would not be until 3pmish so it was important to have a decent start to the day. When we'd roast pork for Boxing Day, much to the disgust of the girls, I'd have toast with dripping. With the lean joints that butchers prepare today that pleasure is gone.

With breakfast out of the way, all the wrapping paper had to be bundled into bin bags and the lounge tidied ready for the arrival of Granddad, Nana and Great Granny Violet. The presents would have to be arranged so that our guests could see them.

My job then was to cook the turkey. Before I had a Weber barbecue this would take up the oven which had to be vacated in good time for the roast potatoes and parsnips. Once I started cooking the turkey on the BBQ though there was less urgency. My neighbours thought I was mad but I can assure you that a barbecued turkey is a lot less dry and has a lot more flavour than an oven roasted one.

Then there was a mountain of vegetables to prepare. Peeling, slicing, cutting crosses in the sprouts - it all took time. Whilst Pam would be involved with this I would have to assemble presents that came in kit form. I remember one year that everything the girls got seemed to have parts to fix together and stickers that had to be applied.

Nana and Grandad would always be late arriving which made timing the lunch tricky. We'd be lucky to be seated for the first course by 3pm by which time we were all hungry and a little worse for wear with all the sherry we'd drunk.

By the time we'd finished the pudding and the mince pies it would be 5pm at least. Everyone was exhausted but still had to muster the energy to wash up.

By 6pm we'd all collapse in a heap in the lounge bellies full and happy. Inevitably we'd have missed all the TV programmes that the girls wanted to watch but no matter there were plenty of toys to show off. In any case the girls would have found their second wind and be ready to perform a show for their grandparents. Their performance would take us up to suppertime.

Hard as it was to find space for anymore food, the temptation of a large pork pie, stilton cheese, celery and cold turkey sandwiches was too much.

Inevitably it would be close to midnight before the Grandparents had left and we'd tidied up ready for Boxing Day.

My point is, that there was no time to fit anything else in to a very busy day. Even if we'd had the Internet, there would have been no time slot in the day to go online. A few phone calls to friends to wish them a Merry Christmas was as much communication as we could fit in.

These days things are very different. However, whilst I might consider sending a few emails rather than make the phone calls, the last thing I will want to do is shop. For us, the next time we want to see a shop after Christmas is in the New Year.

Actually I tell a lie because one year I made the supreme effort to go to B&Q on Boxing Day to see what all the fuss was about. By the time I arrived at 11:30am all the advertised bargains had gone. People had apparently been queuing outside from early morning to grab those and had beaten me to it by several hours.That was the last time I was going to get involved in that sort of nonsense. NEXT may have started its sale at 5am on Boxing Day but I wasn't going to be there.

Of course, these days you don't have to set foot outside the door to shop, you don't have to wait until January for the sales and you don't have to queue outside in the cold waiting for the shop to open. You can shop day and night in the comfort of your home. I've even heard of people with laptops shopping in bed.

Somehow it isn't the same though. It might be convenient but you don't get to see the items you buy until they are delivered several days later. There is something pleasurable about coming home with carrier bags that is sadly missing from the online experience.

According to reports from the UK, this year will see the burgeoning trend for shoppers to switch on their computers on December 25 to search for bargains. Online retailers have taken advantage of the opportunity to avoid the ban on Christmas Day trading.

So the Interactive Media In Retail Group (IMRG) in the UK predicts that online spending on Christmas Day this year will increase by 23 per cent, to exceed £100 million for the first time, as an estimated 5.2 million shoppers log on.

I tend to feel that the way we used to spend Christmas Day was much better but then maybe I'm just old fashioned. You can be sure that, whatever else I do on the 25th, shopping online will not be on the agenda.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lucky locals

imageOne of the sheets of ten tickets numbered 32,365 was sold in Torrevieja. The decimas were sold at the lottery office at 10 Calle Joaquín Chapaprieta.

Each decima sold is now worth 300,000€.

The number and prize , sung by Vanesa Sánchez and Brandon Cabrera, came out at 11:59 on table 7 of the draw

Saving a few cents

The price of diesel and petrol has been dropping with the fall of oil prices. Prices at the pump are about half of what they were in July.

However some petrol stations have been slower to respond to the change are therefore more expensive that others. Generally speaking those petrol stations that sell in large quantities are able to reflect the drop in price (and any increase) more rapidly than those who hold stocks for longer periods.

By shopping around you can save up to 6€ on a 30 litre tank of petrol or diesel.

You can now check where the cheapest fuel is to be had by clicking on this link.

For example in Bigastro the price of diesel A at the Cepsa station on Friday was 0.866€ per litre whilst 95 octane petrol was 0.859€ per litre.

Travel into Torrevieja and you can save a bit on these prices. For example at Eroski diesel was 0.832€ per litre and 95 octane petrol 0.800 per litre.

El Gordo commences

We're under starters orders. The balls have now been placed in the drums and the children moz-screenshotare drawing out the first numbers. Already some of the large prizes have been drawn so some lucky people will be celebrating a lucky win with their breakfast. Six fifth prizes of 50,000€, one fourth of 200,000€ the third of 500,000€, the second of 1,000,000€ and the 3million euro top prize are out of the hat so to speak.

Check your tickets for numbers. If you have 32365 then you have touched the fat one!!

For those of you who want to watch this can click on this link.

PS No big prizes in this area yet but the good news is that my ticket ended in a 5 (the same as the first prize number) and I will get my 20€ back.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

El Gordo

It will be hard for the children from the Colegio de San Ildefonso to get any sleep tonight. Following two and a half months of rehearsals lasting about an hour each day, the children are going to announce the winning numbers for the Christmas lottery tomorrow.


The draw has followed the same format since December 18, 1812. It will take place in the Lotería Nacional hall of Madrid where pupils from the school (formerly reserved for orphans of public servants) will draw the numbers and corresponding prizes, singing the results aloud in front of the public.

Two spheres are used for the draw. The big one contains tens of thousands of small wooden balls, each with an unique 5-digit ticket number on it. The smaller sphere contains 1787 wooden balls, each one with a prize in euros on it (1774 numbers for the small prizes la pedrea (the pebble-avalanche), and 9 numbers for the major prizes.

The numbered balls are taken from each of the revolving spheres at the same time. One child sings the winning number, the other child sings the corresponding prize. This is repeated until all of the 1787 prize-balls are connected to a number.

When a major prize is drawn, both children repeat their singing multiple times, and show the balls to a committee, and to a fixed camera. Although the drawing is obviously chance, the children who draw the higher prizes will be applauded.

To make matters more complicated, some prizes are not drawn separately, but are calculated from the winning numbers:

  • The two neighbouring numbers of the top 3 prizes are given a prize too
  • The numbers ending on the last two winning digits of prize 1, 2 and 3, receive €1,000
  • Every number ending in the same digit as the Gordo receives €200.

Due to the sheer number of prizes, the draw will take about 3 hours to complete. The children will work in about eight shifts. It is a custom that the winners donate some of the money to the San Ildefonso school.

With prizes of 2,320,000,000 € and a 1 in 6 chance of winning , you still have a chance to buy your tickets online at

Salt production in crisis

They have been producing salt in Torrevieja for two hundred years. The natural harbour of the town in close proximity to the lagoons which produce salt all year round favoured the development of the industry in the area.  Producing salt was the principle activity in the town until the mid seventies when tourism took over.


Salt production was originally heavily reliant upon manpower. Up to the beginning of this century, 2,000 people were employed in the salt works. By 1929 that was reduced to 1,200; by 1940 - 800; by 1980- 548; by 1990 - 362 and today only 150.

The French company, Nueva Compañía Arrendataria de las Salinas de Torrevieja (NCAST) which mines the salt, has been hard hit by the economic crisis. They claim that they cannot pay the agreed wage rises for 2008. In fact they may have to reduce the workforce by 40 men next year.

The salt lakes at Torrevieja produce 700,000 tons of salt per year which represents 20% of the marine salt production for Spain. Unfortunately countries like Egypt, Mexico, Germany, Australia and Senegal are able to supply salt to the traditional markets of the torrevejense operation e.g. Norway at very competitive prices.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Not a toy

Santa delivered the Acer Aspire One he'd promised for Christmas to my daughter and her boyfriends house in Sale.

When we were over there last week, it was sat waiting for me. Should I be a good boy and leave it until Christmas Day to open? Well it wasn't as if it was going to be wrapped in fancy paper and in any case if it had been faulty I would have to return it to England. It made sense to at least check it out. Actually that was all I could do because Laura and Dave didn't have their ADSL connection set up.

Once I had the notebook back in Spain though I could connect to the Internet, apply any updates and check out the wireless card inside.

Those of you who think that £170 doesn't buy you much would be pleasantly surprised at what the Acer has to offer. It feels sturdy and well constructed, the keyboard has a nice feel to it, the screen is clear and bright and it is very quick to start up ready for work. It comes with a webcam, a microphone and built in speakers all ready to go.

The downside is the trackpad which is small with mouse keys either side. It is a little tricky to get used to. A cheap notebook mouse is a better solution.

The other issue for some might be the Linux operating system which uses a command line interface for many of the system related tasks. However, if all you want to do is use the machine with its pre-installed software this is not a problem.You get Firefox to browse the Internet, an email client, a full office suite, a variety of games, a media player etc etc.

You get an awful lot for your £170.

Our best wishes in return


The City Council of Bigastro sends its best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I'm sure that we in turn would want to offer our best wishes to the Ayuntamiento.

2008 has been a difficult and challenging year for Bigastro. Let us hope that 2009 brings renewed peace, tranquility and prosperity to the town.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Counterfeit ring smashed

The Guardia Civil has carried out Operation Margarita-Kuskus in collaboration with Europol in Alicante, Valencia, Murcia, Málaga, Almería and Lugo provinces to smash a massive counterfeiting ring linked to the Calabrian mafia. They seized 150,000 euros in high-quality false 20- and 50-euro bank notes.

Twenty suspects belonging to the international criminal organisation known as the 'Ndrangheta' - a powerful and violent organised syndicate based in southern Italy and renowned for the extent of their activities abroad, were arrested.

One of the men detained was a Moroccan-Spaniard working in Torrevieja as a judicial interpreter, who has been charged with revealing secret information to the organisation about legal proceedings against its members.

Officers established that the ringleader lived in Torrevieja and that his direct collaborators were residing in Callosa del Segura.

At the end of October, the head of the organisation went to Italy to collect a significant shipment of counterfeit money. The Guardia Civil followed and intercepted him returning with two accomplices on the AP-7 motorway at Valencia. They discovered six bundles of fake 20-euro notes amounting to 20,000 euros hidden in the spare tyre of his vehicle.

The money was  held in empty flats between Callosa del Segura and Redován before being distributed throughout Spain, Portugal and North Africa. The organisation had a network of collaborators that would buy the counterfeit cash at 30-40% of its face value. When the gang chiefs obtained their legal tender they would launder the money by buying property, vehicles and other goods, often in compatriots' names to avoid suspicion.


The controversial AVE

The fight to have the proposed AVE line through Orihuela pass underground rather than over land continues with Monica Lorente, Orihuela’s Mayor announcing that neither she nor anyone from her council team would attend a meeting with Public Works Ministry officials, held on December 9.

At this meeting she was due to sign paperwork giving permission for expropriation work to commence.  The law requires the green light from the council, via her signature, as part of the process. Her absence therefore, acts as an effective delaying tactic while she fights on to win her cause.

A demonstration, planned for December 21, is seen as the first measure in her campaign to demand that the AVE be constructed underground as it passes Orihuela. The mayor and her party have made it clear that they are not against the AVE passing through Orihuela in principle, but they are concerned about how it is proposed to do so.

Of course the issue is really about cost. The cost of directing the line overland is a lot lower than underground which is why the government favour that route. As far as the local council are concerned though the environmental impact of an underground tunnel is far less than a line running through the city.

In it to win it

I may indulge in a few vices (most notably smoking and drinking) but gambling isn't one of them. When we lived in England, I  bought tickets for the National Lottery and even took part in the staff lottery but always regarded it as a waste of money. I've never been in a bookmakers nor have I ever placed a bet by any other means. Gambling just does not appeal to me one bit.


Last night I was presented with the opportunity to buy a ticket for the Christmas lottery. The spirit of the occasion and the fact that it was Ana who used to teach us selling them encouraged me to part with 20€ for one decima.

My instinct tells me that I've wasted my money. Even still I will check on the 23rd to see if my number has come up. If it has then I'll be in for 100th of the prize allocated to it. If you see me swanking around in a new Mercedes in January, you'll know I was wildly wrong.

Well that's different

The nature and animal park,  Terra Natura in  Benidorm, has installed a unique subaqueous Belen in their shark aquarium

The liturgical representation of Christmas has the typical figures of a Belen,  the ox, the mule, Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus.

The sculptures were carved in stone and weigh  between 10 kilogrammes for the figure of Jesus and 90 kilogrammes for the mule.

They are now being watched over by the 350 or so fish that live in he aquarium.

La cena


The teachers of the Adult Education classes decided to organise a meal out for the end of this term and invited students to sign up. Working on the basis of nothing ventured - nothing gained we put our names down.

Along with our friends John and Carole, we turned up at 9pm - the time we had been given. Of course none of the Spanish students arrived before about 9:30 and it was 10pm at least before we sat down to eat.

The food was very good. Typically, we had lots of bits rather than one plate full of meat and veg. There was plenty though and nobody left wanting more.

Of course the thing that makes a good night out is the company. We sat with Eduardo our teacher who is a little reserved. To make up for that we had the comedian from one of the other classes who amused everyone at our end of the room.

Although he spoke a little English, his friend was fluent having spent a few years working in Shrewsbury. So we got by with a mixture of English, Spanish and Spanglish and had a thoroughly enjoyable night.

Many thanks to the teachers and the students for providing us with such good entertainment.You can sign us up for next year.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

MEPs get tough on Spain

MEPs are preparing to get tough with Spain over town planning and construction industry abuses.

A nine-page draft report was presented to the Petitions Committee in Brussels on Monday by rapporteur Margrete Auken.

The document was drawn up after MEPs visited the Costas for an unprecedented third time earlier this year to investigate complaints from hundreds of European citizens who have become victims of illegal building practices and land grab laws notably in the Valencian region. It is a damning indictment of overdevelopment on the Costas and the ‘corrupt' practices of local politicians.

The report sets out a number of resolutions which could see Spain face the ultimate penalty of having European Union funds withheld if action is not taken to halt the abuses.

Meantime, the investigation into allegations of corruption in Bigastro continues. The Guardia Civil are currently considering whether any of the payments made to the City Council ended up in the ex-mayors personal accounts. There is a long list of payments, which total over 400,000 euros and were  made between 2004 and 2007, to sift through. The investigation will therefore take some time to complete. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Close to where I worked

The teenage killer who shot schoolboy Rhys Jones dead as he walked home from football practice was sentenced yesterday to a minimum of 22 years in jail for murder, as a trial judge condemned what he termed his brutality and cowardice.

Irwin said the offence arose from the "stupid, brutal gang conflict" which had struck the part of Liverpool where Mercer lived. "You were caught up in that from a young age but it is clear you gloried in it. It is wrong to let anyone glorify or romanticise this kind of gang conflict."

"You are not soldiers, you have no discipline, no training, no honour. You do not command respect." He told Mercer he was a selfish, shallow criminal "remarkable only by the danger you pose to others".

My comment

Sadly there is no doubt that the gang rivalry in Liverpool 11 that brought about this tragic event will still be going on.

Sean Mercer will probably not be held  up as a hero even by his friends. After all he brought a lot of problems for them with his bundled attempt to shoot at members of their rival gang. They will believe that they could have done a better job.Their disgust with Mercer will probably not be because he killed an innocent young boy but because he failed to deal with the issue at hand.

Internet Explorer unsafe (again!)

Remember my neighbour who tried uninstalling Internet Explorer? Well he could have had good reason according to latest reports.

Microsoft have admitted that a serious flaw in security has left the majority of the world’s internet users exposed to attacks from hackers hoping to steal personal data and passwords.

A loophole in Internet Explorer (IE) allows criminals to commandeer victims’ PCs by tricking them into visiting unsafe websites.

It is thought that two million computers have already been affected as Microsoft conceded that 1 in 500 internet users may have been exposed.

Computer users are advised by some security experts to switch to an alternative internet browser, such as Firefox or Google Chrome, to avoid the hackers who have so far corrupted an estimated 10,000 websites.

Microsoft’s advice for Internet Explorer users

1. Keep your anti-virus up-to-date. Microsoft has circulated the definitions of these vulnerabilities to all the major anti-virus providers.

2. Reset Internet Explorer to run in protected mode. This is the default mode in Windows Vista but not XP or the earlier versions.

3. Set zone security to high.

4. Ensure Windows is updated. You can do this manually through Windows updater or set it to automatic updates.

Christmas has arrived

You can tell it is Christmas here in Bigastro.

  • A lot of the shops have their windows decorated - there is normally a competition for the best dressed window but I haven't seen a notice about this. Still, you can see the enormous efforts that have been made even without the chance of a prize.
  • There are lights all the way down the main street - this year's are particularly good (reminder to myself: must get down and take a few photos).
  • The belen is set up in the Church Hall - well worth going to see.
  • Father Christmases are climbing up walls throughout the town. Soon I imagine we will have him (along with a tiger and a basket of sweets)  sat outside the barbers on the road up from Purisima.
  • There is a competition organised for the best Christmas reposteria.
  • The students from the School of Music are presenting a Festival of Christmas in the Auditorium on Sunday 21st at 6pm.
  • The children from the local primary schools will be presenting their nativity performances in the Auditorium.

Finally, students from the Adult Education classes (including our class) visited La Paz and Bigastrin schools to sing carols. This is now the third year that we have visited the schools to entertain the children in this way.

We normally sing a couple of Spanish "villancicos" followed by an English carol to each class in turn. This year, one of the Ukrainian students in our class finished our performance by singing a traditional song from the old country much to the delight of pupils, students, teachers and parents.

Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve in Bigastro

Once again, the the Council of Celebrations, the Council of Youth and the Council of Culture xmasare organising celebrations in the Parque Huerto de Cura on Christmas Eve and New Year's  Eve. The purpose is to save local youth from having to travel in their cars to neighbouring towns for their entertainment.


Christmas Eve- the party starts at 1am Christmas morning with local djs providing the music.

On New Year's Eve the party starts at midnight.

Bigastro Belen

The belen in Bigastro  was officially opened last Saturday, 13th of December with the help of a a group of students form the School of Music who sang carols.

This year's nativity scene, which  has taken two months to  construct, can be seen in the Parochial Hall (Plaza de la Constitución).

belen  belen 2

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Not such a tall tale after all

Maybe Eduardo's story about the plague of rats in Bigastro wasn't too far fetched.

The economic crisis and the demise of the construction industry has brought about an increase in the rat population.  In  Alicante, for example, it is estimated that there are now 231,000 rats (roughly 0.7  of a rat per head of population).

It isn't just rats though that are a problem; there are mosquitoes, processional caterpillars and even bees to control.

At the school where I taught, we had a problem with rabbits that were breeding under the mobile classrooms. You wouldn't see them during the day when the children were in school but in the evenings and at the weekends they'd come out into the yard.

Our solution was to buy a gun. Of course we didn't tell the staff; nor did we tell the Headteacher and the Chair of Governors.

At the weekends, the site managers and the CDT technician would sit in wait for the little perishers to hop out from under the portacabins and then pop them off. Mondays they would let me know the score.

Maybe, instead of using all the gunpowder for Moors and Christian celebrations, they could use some of it to exterminate the rats.  

The surprise is saved

This week a new community directive on security of  toys will be approved by the European Parliament. It will prohibit placing incorrectly packaged toys  in nutritional products.

The aim of the directive is to prevent children from inadvertently swallowing and choking on the toys that are included in some food products. image

The Spanish "roscón de Reyes" traditionally contains a surprise and a bean. The inclusion of the model of one of the three kings  could have fallen foul of the new directive.

The story behind the cake is that whoever gets the king in their piece wears the crown for the day and whoever gets the bean pays for the roscon. Spanish children know this and chew carefully on their slice of the cake '

So the traditional surprise  in  "roscón de Reyes"  has been  saved because it is not considered to be a toy. Just as well, we haven't got a full set of all three kings yet.

Help for the most needy

Local charities and the Eroski chain of supermarkets have developed a campaign to take care of the demands of most underprivileged over Christmas. 

In Orihuela, it is the Charity of the parish of Santiago who will be supplying the many families who seek aid with packages to cover their basic needs.

This venture will bring a little Christmas cheer to deserving cases.

To remain in prison

José Joaquín Moya has been deemed unfit to declare in court this morning. The ex-mayor of Bigastro was due to appear at the court of First Instance and Instruction number 3 in Orihuela to make his declaration on the investigation into the irregular hiring of workers by the City Council of Bigastro. This is a new investigations which is in addition to the other five crimes which he has already been accused of.

The ex-mayor is now suffering from bronchitis which adds to the medical problems that he had when he entered prison.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A nation driven by luck

You may have noticed that the Spanish are obsessed with lotteries. Apart from the blue shops that specialise in lotteries (Loterias y Apuestas del Estado), sellers roam the streets and bars offering tickets.

There are four different games to play throughout the week: La Loteria Nacional is played every Thursday and Saturday; the Bonoloto, is drawn every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; la Primitiva, is drawn every Thursday and Saturday and the large jackpot, El Gordo de la Primitiva, is drawn every Sunday.

Then there is the ONCE (Organizacion Nacional de Ciegos Españoles) lottery. Tickets for this are sold in the green kiosks. This is drawn daily with a larger jackpot on Fridays and Sundays. There are also special tickets for a monthly draw. The good thing about this lottery is that sale of the tickets provides useful income for thousands of disabled Spaniards.

Of all the different lotteries though, the best known is 'El Gordo' - the fat one at Christmas. El Gordo is a national obsession - with an incredible 98% of the population taking part in the draw which takes place on December 22nd. Numbers for El Gordo are prized, even reserved and passed down through generations.

Part of the reason so many play El Gordo , and the reason for it being one of the most famous lotteries in the world is due to the massive prize fund. Normally this is well over a billion Euros, with a jackpot of 20 million Euros. And you do have around 1-in-3 chance of picking up a prize as there are so many smaller prizes paid out, 30 to 40 thousand of them!

El Gordo tickets are confusing to those used to e.g. the National Lottery in England. You don't pick numbers in the traditional way, instead you buy ready printed tickets with numbers already on them.

Each ticket number is available in 10 'series' - that is, 10 lots of the same ticket number. El Gordo tickets are roughly the size of a sheet of paper, and are also split into 10 smaller tickets called 'decimas'. You can buy either the whole ticket of 10 decimas, or you can buy just part of the ticket. The amount of the prize you win obviously depends on how many decimas you bought. To win the entire prize allocated to any particular number you would need to have bought the whole 100 decimas. At 20 Euros for a decima this would not be cheap. It is therefore common for families and friends, even entire Spanish villages to pool their lottery money together to buy up their decimas and then share the prize money. Each person may have a one or two euro stake in the tickets.

It's also common to spread purchases buying a single decima across multiple different lottery ticket numbers which gives a better chances of winning in exchange for a smaller piece of the prize.

The draw, when it take place, is a very elaborate affair; broadcast on TV and watched by millions in homes and bars. Balls for all the numbers are placed in a huge machine and are drawn one by one with children singing the numbers as they come out. A second machine is used to allocate the prizes. With thousands of prizes to be won and about 85,000 numbers to be drawn from, this is a long process. When the big prizes keep people waiting until late in the draw, the suspense becomes electrifying.

For those who don't "touch" on El Gordo, there is a smaller second draw, El Niño, held on 6th January with a top prize in each series of 2 million €.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wake up Britain and smell the coffee

The British government is facing a growing backlash over its rescue package for the economy after the pound slumped to below parity with the euro on British high streets and at airports for the first time since the single European currency was launched a decade ago.

Sterling's decline to a value of less than a euro, after commission charges, is seen by economists and opposition politicians as evidence of declining faith in the British economy on global currency markets. It is an important psychological moment.

Britain first doubted the euro would be launched, then whether it would survive, then whether it would ever become a serious currency. Today the euro is  the world's second currency after the dollar. The question is not if Britain will join, but when - and how many working lives and businesses will be wrecked by ideological opposition before it does

The Treasury last night refused to comment on the problems that sterling faces and said there was no prospect of entering the euro in the near future.

Official rates showed the pound was worth €1.11 yesterday. At its high point against the euro in May 2000, a pound was worth €1.746.

Finally completed

One of the tasks which we needed to complete whilst we were in the UK the Power of Attorney over Pam's father's financial affairs.

The solicitor, who dealt with Pam's mother's will,  recognised her father's failing memory and diminished capacity to handle his affairs and recommended him to appoint the pair of us to act as attorneys. 

That was in February 2007. In July of this year we decided to register the PoA with the Court of Protection and thus start the process off. It has taken us until now to complete that process. 

Along the way we have experienced the very best and worst examples of customer service from the various banks and building societies we have had to deal with. Possible the worst example was a letter asking for confirmation of identity; addressed to Pam's father and his departed wife and sent to our address in Spain. That was a crass error for which we still haven't received an apology.

Finally we have control over Pam's father's current account and can manage it online from here in Spain. We also have access to his various savings accounts so we can monitor those as well.

For those of you who have ageing parents, taking out Power of Attorney is a sensible course of action.  From our experience it is better taken out sooner rather than later because the process can be long and protracted.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Our trip to England

We usually visit England in December to see the girls and Pam's father and maybe (if time permits) catch up with some friends.

So that is where we have been for the last week.We stayed at Laura and Dave's house in Sale.

Laura and Dave only moved in last week so there were plenty of jobs for me to do. One job, which was down to BT, was to establish their ADSL connection. The fact that it wasn't done is why there haven't been any postings to this blog since last Friday.

The company in England was warm.

We had a fabulous time with Laura and Dave who looked after us very well. We were also pleased to see Pam's father who we are glad to say is well.

Whilst we were over visiting Pam's father, we took the opportunity to visit our great friends, Hugh, Angela and Andrew. We all went out to the local restaurant for a pre-Christmas meal which Hugh very naughtily paid for.

We also had a chance to catch up with our other daughter Jemma and her boyfriend Jamie.

Whilst the company was warm, that is more than you could say for the weather. When it was dry it was frosty but pleasant, when it rained it was just wet and miserable.

The worst thing we noticed was how few hours of daylight there were. That was something we had forgotten about . It wasn't light until about 8am and then started to go dark at 3pm - some days it was just dark all day. On those occasions we had the lights on in the house from the moment we got up to when we went to bed.

By the time it had got to Thursday, my joints were aching and I was coming down with a cold. I spent most of Friday daytime asleep getting over the awful night's sleep I'd just had which meant I missed an exhausting shopping trip into Manchester with Pam, Laura, Jemma and Jamie.

After that chilling experience, I won't be rushing back to England during Winter. Forget White Christmas - give me sunshine any day.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The eagle eyed ones amongst you may have noticed that two of my albums of photographs have new addresses. 2008 Fiesta for San Joaquin and Moors and Christians Orihuela.

That is because they are now located on the Bigastro digital web server. Thanks to a lot of hard work and patience from Germán Martín at the Ayuntamiento, I got it all working at last.

I had to register a another new domain though because BritishNIC were just not answering my requests for help and was just not working.

So I signed up with Loading , A Spanish company based in Orihuela.  Not only were they cheaper than BritishNIC , they set up the DNS redirections straight away. In less than 24 hours I was up and running.

For those of you who want a smart .es domain, I can highly recommend them. Sign up and you can have your own personalised email address along with your own web site address. You can forget hard to remember email addresses like and move onto something more memorable and personal.

PS In answer to your question - no I do not get commission from Loading. I just appreciate good service when I receive it.

Call for the pied piper

I think Eduardo is now well tuned into our sense of humour. In the early lessons he was quite formal,  perhaps even a little nervous. Now though he is quite relaxed and at ease with our banter.

Eduardo told us that a technician from the town hall was coming to the the school where we have our Spanish classes to see if it was possible to get the heating working again.

A man did arrive early on during yesterday's lesson and Eduardo went to meet with him. When Eduardo returned he told us it was not the heating technician he'd met. Our teacher went on to explain that the town was suffering from a plague of rats - millions was the number he quoted. The man that Eduardo had met was in fact putting new bait into the traps to try and catch some of them. 

We do know there are rats along with rabbits, snakes, pheasants etc in the countryside by our estate but I don't think there are millions of them.

It isn't just Eduardo that has a sense of humour. Saturday 6th is a national holiday -el Día de la Constitución. You will find posters in the bars in Bigastro advertising a Royal Wedding for that day (Boda Real). We understand there is to be a wedding in the church but the couple are not royalty - that part is just a joke.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Saviours of my car's suspension

As we drove down to the town this morning we slowed down to a crawl to negotiate the ridge across the road only to find that it had been filled in.

I'm told that David, Manni and George were the community minded trio who saved us all from serious damage to our cars.

Many thanks to the three of you. You've each earned a gold star.


image image image

Rubbing shoulders with the rich

If the lowest class of hotel in Spain is a hostal, then possibly the highest are the Paradors.

There are 81 of these hotels scattered throughout the country. Some are in major cities, others in places of natural  beauty or historical interest. Perhaps the most interesting are located in castles, palaces and  monasteries. They all offer a high standard of accommodation.


You might imagine that they are expensive and they are. However, the Paradors offer special deals which can make them affordable. For example:-

For 2009, guests 55 years and older can enjoy a 30% discount on the official rate on stays including room and breakfast. The discount is applied to all rooms with exception of suites and superior in certain Paradores.

Promotion dates
Valid from Jan 2nd to Dec 29th 2009, with the exception:
- Easter Week: April, 8th to 12th (both inclusive)
- May, 1st and 2nd (b.i.)
- October, 9th - 11th (b.i.)
- December, 4th - 7th (b.i.)

Conditions of use
A limited number of rooms are available for this promotion. This promotion may not be used in conjunction with other discounts or special prices, and is subject to availability. Nor is it valid for groups.

Even if you are not contemplating a visit to one of these hotels, it is well worth having a look a them - just Google "Paradors" to find several sites.

They must be optimists

The Partido Popular (PP)  in Orihuela voted in favour of allowing 2,570 new homes to be built in the PAU7 area of Villamartin at last week’s full council meeting. Some 650 of these homes will be ‘protected’ social homes.

The move to develop this area of Villamartin was mooted shortly after last year’s municipal elections, despite promises from the Mayor, Monica Lorente, that no further development would take place in Orihuela Costa. The plans have now been formally adopted into the Partial Plan by the 14 PP councillors in Orihuela.

The opposition councillors, voted against the plan, stating that there is no market demand for additional housing, and that there is insufficient water supply to service this new development.

It is all well and good approving plans for more houses but who in their right mind would build them and who would buy them? When you see existing building sites deserted and existing houses that have been on the market for nearly two years, you realise that there is no longer the demand in this area that there was.

With unemployment at record levels, local buyers are thin on the ground. Other nationals are facing the same gloomy prospect.

In any case, with the euro at 1.162 to the pound, British buyers for example, would be insane to even contemplate buying a house in Spain at the moment. Just to illustrate the point; if we were buying our house at the current rates, it would cost us £47,000 more than it did in 2004.

Sob sob

The pound plunged yesterday, with its overall value tumbling to its lowest for 13 years, as another spate of dire economic news left markets convinced that the Bank of England will order a further, drastic cut in interest rates today.

A further one-point drop in official base rates would take them to 2 per cent, the same  level that it was in 1951. A  more radical cut of 1.5 points, for the second month in a row, would put the Bank into uncharted territory, taking rates to their lowest in its history which stretches back to 1694.

The fall in the pound has caused the exchange rate to drop to 1.162 euros to the pound. This just had to happen on the very day when my pension was transferred to our Spanish bank account. I now have almost 270€ less to spend per month than I had last year in spite of  an increase in my pension.

What is desperately needed is for the European bank to cut its rate to bring the stronger euro in line with the pound. That would make my New Year brighter!

Cheapest ever music

The price of music just got cheaper with the introduction of Amazon's online download service which was launched yesterday.

Singles from Amazon are 20p cheaper than on Apple’s iTunes website.

There are other bargains to be had for example,  Take That’s new album, The Circus, is reduced to just £3, despite only being released on Monday.

The US shopping giant obviously wants to take a bite out of Apple’s dominance of online song sales.

Better still, the three million MP3s on Amazon’s UK website also have no Digital Rights Management. This means the tunes will work on any MP3 player — including Apple iPods and iPhones — and can be copied to CDs.

To download complete albums you need to first install the Amazon MP3 Downloader which queues up all songs from an album for download, saves them all to a specific folder on your computer, and can import them automatically to your iTunes or Windows Media Player library.

There are those who still prefer to go out and buy a CD in the belief that the sound quality will be much better. I suppose if you have a few grands worth of Hi-FI equipment that might be true. After all, there are people who still prefer their music on vinyl because they feel that the analogue format is truer to the original source of the music.

Buying online is certainly a lot more convenient than trudging out to the shops only to find that the CD you want is sold out.

The files are on

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Is nothing sacred?

Those of you who are intent on saving a few bob by sending ecards rather than the real thing beware. It might cost you more than the price of a stamp.

Websense Labs claims to have detected the first piece of seasonal malware.

The campaign masquerades as an electronic Christmas greetings card from The email shows an animated Christmas scene, but links through to a file called postcard.exe that leads to a Trojan backdoor that's been used in previous malicious spam campaigns.

If executed, the file could grant hackers access to resources on the infected machine, via an IRC session.

Victims are shown a picture of a Christmas tree during the installation process in an almost laughable attempt to distract their attention.

The malware writers clearly have their fingers on the economic pulse, with e-card sites aggressively promoting their services as a cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional Christmas cards this year.

Any ecards that you get from me will have come from the excellent Jacquie Lawson collection. I can guarantee that you will not risk any virus, trojan horse or any other malware infection by opening one of my cards.

Smile the dentist

Who would have thought that a visit to the dentist could be enjoyable - even fun?

Whenever we go to Smile we are greeted by our first names and a welcome. It is more like a relationship between friends than client and dentist. 

We visited Tor, our dentist, in Torrevieja this morning. On the counter at reception was a candle burning alongside a Christmas tree. There were also Smile chocolates and on the other side of reception was a bowl of mulled wine along with biscuits.

Whilst I was waiting to see Tor, one of their other clients was called in to see the lady dentist. She greeted her client with a hug and a kiss and they went off to the surgery holding hands. From our past experience that is not unusual - she always greets clients who she knows well in the same way.

Thankfully Tor didn't greet me with a kiss but he did make me feel welcome. After my consultation, Tor shook my hand, wished me Merry Christmas and gave me more chocolates.

If only the dental clinic in the UK had shown the same attitude, Tor would have had a lot less work to do putting right years of neglect.

I know this sounds weird but we genuinely look forward to our visits to the aptly named Smile clinic.

To all our readers


Thank you for reading our blog and for your support during the year.

We hope you have a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo


The Asociación de Familiares de Enfermos de Alzheimer in  Bigastro and  the Concejalía de Bienestar Social have organised a gala.


The Beatriz Arce School of Dance will be performing  next Sunday, the 7th of December at 7pm in the Auditorio Municipal "Francisco Grau".

Those of you who attend are asked to donate 5€ to the cause.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


I met one of our neighbours this morning who told me he'd subscribed to the Bigastel wi-fi system I wrote about on the 24th October.

My neighbour was very pleased so far: he said that the speed of connection is very consistent - something that you cannot say for all Internet providers.

My neighbour had opted for the telephone package and is very pleased with the phone service so far. He told me that call quality is good and clear with none of the delays that you sometimes experience with VoIP telephony.

I hate poor service

Germán at the Ayuntamiento in Bigastro kindly offered me web space on the town's web server to host my photograph albums.

I already have  a limited amount of free web space on a server based in India but in this case Germán is offering me access to their Plesk control panel which would allow me to set up separate addresses for each album. All I had to do was register a domain name and point that to the addresses of the Plesk panel.

I registered a new domain with the company I used to register, got the DNS addresses from Germán to redirect the account to and placed a request with British NIC to redirect the domain.

That is where I am stuck. British NIC claim to answer requests within 24 hours but four days later my domain is still not directing to the Plesk control panel. I've made two requests o their support team which I'm waiting for a reply to.

It isn't life and death of course but don't you find it frustrating when companies don't deliver what they promise to do?

I would have been better off using a Spanish company I found on the net who would have redirected the DNS addresses straight away. Not only that but it would have cost me 6€ less for the two year's registration.

Traps for the unwary

There are one or two (well quite a few actually) potholes in the roads around Bigastro - some quite deep. When you remember, it is easy to avoid them. When you don't, you risk a nasty jolt and the possibility of damaging your suspension!

There is one which is impossible to avoid. It is where the workmen cut across the road down into the village by the finca San Raphael.

When the workmen  finished the job it was filled in with gravel and soil  but with rain etc it is now a deep rut across the road which you have to negotiate with care.

It would only take a few barrow loads of large gravel to fill it and make it safe to cross.  Hopefully someone will take the initiative to do that before it gets any worse.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Weather watch

Eight provinces in Spain are on alert for snow and wind until Wednesday.  For today, the State Agency of Meteorología (AEMET) is predicting light snow on land over 400-600 metres in the north and over 500-800 metres in the rest of the country with  strong winds in the Balearics and the Eastern Cantabrian coast.

There is a high risk of snow in Pontevedra, Asturias, Cantabria, in the three provinces of the Basque Country, Jaén and Granada and weak showers are predicted for the coasts of Galicia and Cantabrian, the north  of Navarre, Estrecho, Ceuta and Melilla.

The temperatures will stay stay the same with  moderate frosts in the mountain zones of the North.

Overwhelming support

Over a thousand people braved the rain and the cold yesterday in Bigastro to pay tribute to the ex-mayor, José Joaquín Moya. Members of Moya's family were there along with present imagecouncillors and the others who had been imputed with him.

The organisers of the rally were keen to stress that this wasn't about his innocence or guilt but rather about a recognition of the 25 years of work and the dedication that Moya had shown in building Bigastro into the town that it is.

There were several placards including the one in the one in the photograph which reads, "Moya, we recognise your work for Bigastro".

The speakers said many who criticised Moya had received help from him and now repaid that with ingratitude. They complained that some people have condemned him without waiting for a judgment. The speakers pointed out that in his 25 years as mayor, Moya had placed Bigastro at the forefront of towns in the Vega Baja with its superb services and infrastructure. Whether he is guilty of the crimes that are being investigated does not negate all that hard work, effort and dedication.

In conclusion the crowd shouted "¡Viva Moya!".

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Interesting conversations

There is not much point in learning a new language if you are not going to  use it. It's all very well using the Spanish you know to get you by in shops, bars and restaurants; the real challenge comes when you engage with native speakers in a conversation.

On those occasions you don't have the time to compose what you want to say in your head beforehand, you have to think on your feet. The trick of course is to think in the language you are using. Thinking in English and then trying to make a translation just doesn't work.

Of course it helps if the person you are talking to is sympathetic to the fact that you are still at the learning stage.  If they understand this,  then they will speak slowly using words that you should be familiar with.

Two recent occasions come to mind:

Last week we took Pamela's wool coat to the dry cleaners in Bigastro. We've take a few items there before so the lady in the shop recognised us. The shop attendant is keen to expand her English and was more than happy to have a conversation with us.

I can't say we understood everything she said but we got most of it. To help us out, our new friend was gracious enough to speak slowly and  re-phrase anything we didn't understand. She was particularly keen to know about our lives in Bigastro and wanted to know why we had chosen to live here rather than the more usual destinations for English immigrants.

Then, whilst we were waiting outside Hiperber last Tuesday, I had a conversation with Eduardo our teacher. The pair of us covered quite a few different topics ranging from a comparison of shopping in Bigastro with shopping in England to the problems we face with the poor exchange rate. I'd like to think that we both understood each other even if my use of Spanish grammar was a little incorrect.

I think we can fairly say, without appearing immodest, that we are making good progress. We still have a long way to go though!

Santa Cecilia

Last night, La Sociedad Unión Musical de Bigastro presented its concert in honour of the patron saint of musicians, Santa Cecilia who they describe as their "employer".

Before the concert began there was a series of photographs and video clips of musical activities in the town projected onto the stage curtain. It was a graphic reminder of the number of musicians there are in Bigastro and the importance that music plays in their lives.

As if to demonstrate the point further; 16 new musicians were welcomed into the band, each receiving their lapel pin and certificate. Included in the sixteen were two young English men Christopher Riley (tenor sax) and Jake McFarlane (trumpet).

Once the new musicians had found their places; the concert then began with "A Festival Prelude" by Alfred Reed. This was followed by "Concerto d'Amore " by Jacob de Haan.

The band then moved on to three compositions by Spanish authors:

"Katuska" by Pablo Sorazabal, "Un noche en Calatayud" by Pablo Luna and the pasadoble "Vuelta al Ruedo" by Eloy Garcia.

As an encore they played one of Francisco Grau's pasadobles.

Although Pam and I are no great lovers of classical music, we do enjoy the concerts by La Sociedad Unión Musical de Bigastro. For the most part they play compositions designed to appeal to a wide audience.

Last night was no exception. The music the band chose was good to listen to especially when it was being performed by such an accomplished group of musicians.

Thank you once again Bigastro for a great evening's entertainment.

PS You can find out about the band and its activities by following the link in the left hand sidebar of by clicking here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

British TV on a smaller dish

Digital Satellite Systems are advertising the availability of high definition TV in Torrevieja and surrounding areas on a 1.4m size dish. The company say they can do this because of advanced antenna technology.

Digital Satellite Systems claims, that with this system, you can pick up BBC, ITV, CH4, CH5, SKY, Movie channels, Entertainment channels, News channels, Children's channels plus over 200 TV and radio channels without subscription.

The cost installed is 995€. For more information call Paul on 96 585 2251.

A sorry tale

Stanley Chinman and his partner's story could become all too familiar.

They sold their property in the UK and moved to Spain to find their new home in 2007, deciding to take their time in order to buy the right house. They used the services of a real estate agent and after visiting several sites decided to buy a detached villa off-plan, which should have been completed by December 31, 2007.

The Urbanización Paola IV near VillasMaría II in San Miguel de Salinas was promoted by Costa Blanca Baleares, built by the local Unión Promotora Torrevieja SL and sold through Atlas International.

They rented an apartment in Orihuela Costa until their home was finished and bought most of the furniture and white goods for their new home. However, the first problems turned up very quickly. They had to replace their villa for another more expensive design when they discovered a two-storey property would be built in front of theirs and they would miss out on their views.

In June, six months late,  they were informed by Atlas International that the property was finished and they could move in after completing. However when  they visited the site, the house had no windows, the walls had not been fully plastered and the kitchen was not in.

Their solicitor advised them not to complete until the habitation certificates had been issued by the town hall. Only four owners have moved onto the urbanisation and they are living on the builder's supply of power and water.

In a further blow Mr Chinman and his partner have now been informed that the builder, Unión Promotora Torrevieja, has applied for voluntary suspension of payments, which has now been accepted by the mercantile court. Creditors had been given a month to apply.

The couple are afraid that if they pay the builder, they will have to live on a building site for many years, as has happened on several urbanisations in Orihuela Costa. Mr Chinman's partner is also worried the water and the electricity could be cut off anytime as the company is in suspension of payments.

It looks like the Los Altos de la Pedrera development here at Villas Andrea is in the same situation. Some of the houses are occupied whilst others stand awaiting completion. There has been no sign of work on the site since July.

The crackdown continues

All illegal properties in Valencia province will have to be listed according to a tough new measure launched by the environment prosecutor's office. The aim is to clamp down on houses built outside the law and to end the immunity they have enjoyed until now.

Local councils in the 265 towns will be required to audit and draw up a list of all properties built within protected areas or sites classed as not suitable for construction. If the owners of these properties have paid any of the bills demanded for legal buildings, such as the IBI, or property tax, that would prove that the town hall was aware of the building, and hence would place the council in a guilty light.

The environment prosecutor's office currently numbers 4,000 homes built on rustic land throughout Valencia province, although with this new investigation the figure is expected to increase dramatically. Once all the illegal properties have been pinpointed, the department will zero in on the town halls and the hands behind the projects.

"We will not let a single property that is infringing the law slip by," warned the department, promising an arduous but thorough task that could see many more councillors and town hall officials in the dock.

Friday, November 28, 2008

No gain without pain

When we had our Spanish classes at the secondary school, I.E.S. Miguel Hernández it was cold in the winter. The heating, that had been on all day for the pupils, was turned off when they left. However, the residual heat and a cup of coffee half way through the lesson kept us going.

Now we are in the old building of the C.P. San José Calasanz. The heating system in this building has been disconnected. Where the radiators should be there are just blanked off pipes. It wasn't too bad in October when the classes started but now, in November, it is freezing cold.

The other adult classes are held elsewhere, presumably somewhere warmer, otherwise the older ladies that attend them would walk out in protest.

If the weather doesn't improve we will have to resort to wearing thick coats, scarves, gloves and boots for our lessons.

The pot man in Bigastro

During a routine vehicle check in Bigastro, Guardia Civil officers observed a man in a vehicle who braked suddenly and then stepped on the accelerator, speeding past them.

Five hundred metres down the road, the driver got out of the car and ran off on foot. When officers searched the vehicle, they discovered plastic bags containing 900 grams of hashish.

Once the driver heard he had been identified, the 31-year-old Moroccan handed himself in to the police in Jacarilla.

If the local police had been involved - would it have been described as a "joint operation"?

Another confused driver

Confusion seems to be commonplace in San Vicente del Raspeig .

In another incident, a 70 year old man was spotted by the Guardia Civil driving down the wrong lane of the AP-77 near the San Vicente del Raspeig  exit close to Alicante airport.

The man claimed he had become confused at the Busot junction and had turned down the wrong lane. That meant he'd travelled in the wrong direction for 10 kilometres passing through two tunnels on the way.

Luckily there was very little traffic about at 10pm on Tuesday night.

It is what we all do when we are lost

Local Police officers were routinely monitoring pupils arriving at Principe de España Primary School in Rojales when they noticed a man in a white van who appeared to be watching the children.

Suspecting something was wrong, the police officers approached the van and were astonished to see the driver, a 32-year-old man, naked from the waist down. Upon seeing the officers, he immediately began putting on his clothes.

When the officers demanded an explanation, the man, who was a travelling salesman from San Vicente del Raspeig, nervously answered that he was making deliveries in the Bigastro and Benejuzar area when he lost his way.

The man was arrested and taken to Almoradi police station. It remains unclear why the man decided to undress just because he got lost. You can draw your own conclusions - I already have.

Helping others


The Valencian Community Centre for Transfusions along with the Council of Health in Bigastro have organised another day when you can donate blood.

Those of you who can spare a pint (or is it half a litre) need to call down to the Centro de Salud (C/ Tomás Villanueva) on Friday, 12th of December between 5pm and 8:30.

and bingo

The Council of Social welfare along with with the Association of Progressive Women of Bigastro have organised a Beneficial Bingo session in aid of the Association of Disabled "La Pedrera".

It will be "eyes down and look in" on Sunday, 14th of December at 5pm in the Sala Polivalente at the Auditorium Francisco Grau.

I wonder if the call "dos señoras gordas".


Townspeople in Bigastro have been asked to sign a petition for the release of José Joaquín Moya , the ex-mayor of the town, who was sent to prison on the 31st October. So far they have over 900 signatures.

On Sunday at 1pm people are asked to gather in front of the town hall in recognition of the 25 years of work that  José Joaquín Moya put in to develop the town. Once assembled, the gathering will then process along the  streets.

So far the present members of the council have not been asked join in because the protest is meant to be non political.

In the meantime the Guardia Civil are still collecting evidence related to the crimes that Moya has been accused of.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A weighty problem

The Mediterranean diet has long been hailed as one of the most healthy. It still is but unfortunately it seems that not everyone in the Mediterranean region follows it. In a recent study in Murcia, 20% of he people were found to be obese and 39% overweight which means that 60% of the population are above their ideal weight.

To fight the problem, people are advised to walk for at least an hour each day, to spend less time in sedentary activities and to eat more fruit and vegetables.

We regularly see ladies from the village walking up to the Pedrera. They do it each and every day. Perhaps we should join them on their way back.

Music for the weekend

santacecilia bigband



The annual concert to honour the patron saint of music, Santa Cecilia, by the Sociedad Unión Musical de Bigastro.

SUNDAY, 30th  NOVEMBER at 6:30pm


The members of Adlibitum, whose average is 21, play a wide repertoire of big band music.

The long cut

There are some weird and wacky entries in the Guinness Book of Records.

If you look in future editions you will find one for the longest continuous slice of "jamón ibérico" which was cut yesterday by Nico Jiménez in front of a crowd of a hundred people in Torrevieja.

Jiménez started to cut the ten kilogramme Guijuelo (Salamanca) ham at midday and by the time he had finished, one hour fifteen minutes later, he had a piece 19m 25cms long weighing just over 6 kilogrammes. This beat his previous record, which was set in Tarragona, by 5cms.

There were a few tense moments.

Jiménez said that it was the most difficult ham he had ever cut. When the slice was just two metres long he had to alter the technique making the slice a little thicker than normal. There were also moments when it looked like the cut would divide itself but in the end it all worked out and the crowd cheered.

As if not to be outdone, the people who make turron in Jijona have produced a world record piece of the nougat that measures 23 metres in diameter.


An early White Christmas

The first snowfalls of  autumn made for difficult driving conditions in the regions of l'Alcoià , El Comtat, Marina Alta and Marina Baixa yesterday morning. Drivers had to use snow chains on seven of the region's motorways and access to the Font Roja nature park was cut off. Six schools were forced to close because of the weather. By the afternoon it turned to rain and the snow on the ground melted.

The forecast was for snow at 800m but by morning that was reduced to 500m. The last time that there was snow in November at 500m was in 2001.  El Altet airport registered a maximum temperature of 10 degrees which made it  the coldest November  day for41 years.

In  spite of the cold rainy weather, we saw people in Torrevieja wearing flip flops, shorts and cut-offs. Some folks will obviously not concede to the fact that it does get cold here in Southern Spain

The Catalan Autonomous Government is maintaining a state  of pre-emergency for snow in the Alicante province. The meteorological forecasts indicate that the sky will continue to be cloudy with moderate precipitations, locally more frequent on the coast, with snow on land over  700 metres.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

They'd steal the shirt of your back

As if the local farmers don't have enough problems with the low prices they get for their produce at market, the lack of water and the plagues of rabbits, they now have to contend with thieves stealing their machinery.

The agriculturists in the campo at Guardamar del Segura have suffered a wave of thefts - 30 in the last two months. Although the main targets have been the cultivators or image mechanical mules as they are called, the thieves have taken anything that can be sold on - pedal cycles, motorbikes, toolboxes, solar panels and batteries etc. Added to which they have caused untold damage to fences, doors and windows. Six houses were targeted last Friday presumably by the same gang.

Quite how these thieves steal the cultivators is a mystery because they are very heavy. You'd need a crane or at least a gang of strong men to lift one and a large vehicle to carry it away.

The only solace is that none of the farmers has been injured during the raids.