Tuesday, November 30, 2010

5-0 was pretty emphatic

“El classico” matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid divide towns even families. They are games of great rivalry between the fans, the players and the managers and often end up as either low scoring wins or draws.

On this occasion, it was a match between Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Guardiola and Mourinho and 98,255 spectators were there at Camp Nou on the 111th anniversary of the club to witness the slaughter.

Mourinho, who had never before suffered even a four-goal loss as a professional football manager, said the 90 minutes did not show Madrid's true colours.

"One team played to their potential and one didn't," said Mourinho. "Loss, yes - humiliation, no. It was a defeat we deserved, we just weren't good enough.

"I have spoken to my players and I told them the season has not ended. Who knows what can still happen this year?"

That may be the case but this is one match that the Catalans will not allow the madrileñas to forget. Mourinho may describe it as a defeat, I'm sure the Barca fans will call it something stronger.

Will it ever be finished?

The desalination plant in Torrevieja is meant ot be the largest in Spain. At a cost of 300 million Euros, it should supply 80 cubic hectometres of water per year, enough to water 8,000 hectares of land and provide drinking water for 440,000 inhabitants.

However it has been dogged by delays all the way through the construction phase by wrangling's between the two main political parties. The project was the brainchild of the socialist government which faces opposition from the conservative regional government. Initially the PP opposed the plan suggesting that a transfer of water from the Ebro would be a better solution. They stopped construction of the pipeline that will take the desalinated water to the Embalse de la Pedrera  on environmental grounds because it ran close to the parkland of the lagoons. Then there were problems with the electricity supply to the plant.

Now there is opposition to the  final section of the two pipelines that will bring sea water to the plant and return saline water to the sea. The Valencian Autonomous Government are the ones who manage the port at Torrevieja and they are refusing to give permission to Acuamed to complete the pipeline on economic grounds. It seems that Acuamed are refusing to make a cash payment to the salt company.

  I’m sure the problem will be resolved but until it is there is a plant costing an enormous amount of money sitting idle.

Monday, November 29, 2010

There will be some red faces in Washington

The United States was catapulted into a worldwide diplomatic crisis today, with the leaking to the international media of more than 250,000 classified cables from its embassies, many sent as recently as February this year.

There are 251,287 dispatches in all, from more than 250 US embassies and consulates. They reveal how the US deals with both its allies and its enemies – negotiating, pressuring and sometimes brusquely denigrating foreign leaders, all behind the firewalls of ciphers and secrecy classifications that diplomats assume to be secure. The leaked cables range up to the "SECRET NOFORN" level, which means they are meant never to be shown to non-US citizens.

As well as conventional political analyses, some of the cables contain detailed accounts of corruption by foreign regimes, as well as intelligence on undercover arms shipments, human trafficking and sanction-busting efforts by would-be nuclear states such as Iran and Libya. Some are based on interviews with local sources while others are general impressions and briefings written for top state department visitors who may be unfamiliar with local nuances.

Intended to be read by officials in Washington up to the level of the secretary of state, the cables are generally drafted by the ambassador or subordinates. Although their contents are often startling and troubling, the cables are unlikely to gratify conspiracy theorists. They do not contain evidence of assassination plots, CIA bribery or such criminal enterprises as the Iran-Contra scandal in the Reagan years, when anti-Nicaraguan guerrillas were covertly financed.

How did it happen?

All this information is stored on a database that only authorised personnel are allowed to access. Users are issued a username and a "strong" password (of 10 characters or more, at least two capitals, two numbers and two special symbols), which must be changed at least every 150 days. In theory the user has to stay at the computer at all times while logged on, logging off even to go to the toilet or get a cup of coffee.

It ought to have been secure but then Bradley Manning, aged 22, who has been held in solitary confinement for the last seven months and is facing a court martial in the new year managed to copy the files to a rewriteable CD that he took into work with him at a base in Baghdad. He then passed on the files to WikiLeaks who are publishing them onto the Internet. In his own words, Manning says it was childishly easy.

Should he have done it?

Definitely not and neither should WikiLeaks have published the material. Julian Assange's claim to be performing a public duty is nonsense. Some of the material may be amusing bot a lot of it will cause diplomatic furore and may even risk people's lives. Because you can do something like that does not mean you should go ahead.

Mind you, the international press didn't have to go along with the game and publish the disclosures did they?

Here comes the rain again


Hopefully you took advantage of the pleasant sunshine that greeted us yesterday morning because today rain is forecast to return.

Never mind the rain, just look at those temperatures. Down to 2 degrees at night by next Saturday – that is almost frosty!

image That swirling mass of cloud that coming in from the Atlantic is to blame.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

That is a bummer

Remember I was having problems with email. Telefonica kindly filter out any rubbish before it is sent to me which is good. Sometimes though, they filter out messages that I do want and that causes a problem.

The Bigastro mail server, on the other hand doesn’t seem to have a filter so you get all the rubbish along with the mail you want. In fact all the spam I get comes via my @bigastro.es address.

When it arrives in my Inbox, Thunderbird does a good job of filtering it out, dumping the spam into the Trash box and then deleting it when the program closes down.

However, I now have a problem because Gmail, for example, is refusing emails from the Bigastro mail server. Having received so much spam via Bigastro emails, they have put a block on the IP address.

I don’t blame Gmail and I don’t blame Bigastro, the fault lies with the spammers who have found this loophole and are now exploiting it. What it means though is that any mail I send via my @bigastro.es address may or may not arrive and I won’t necessarily know. That is a bummer because I liked having an address @bigastro.es.

A horrid day

The rain in Spain….

Yesterday was one of those days when the rain hardly let up. It wasn’t torrential, just consistent all day.

This morning however, we have blue skies and sunshine – what a difference. Make the most of it though because rain is forecast to return tomorrow. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Friday was grey in this part of Spain

Over the last week or so I have had countless emails announcing Black Friday deals from online retailers. I’d never heard of the concept of a Black Friday so went in search of an answer.

It seems that Black Friday is the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States, traditionally the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. It is said to refer to the day that retailers start going into profit - or the black in accounting speak.

Many US retailers open very early on "Black Friday", often at 5am, and offer promotional sales to kick off the shopping season. Although this year, with consumer cutting back struggling retailers have been offering 'Black Friday' deal for weeks and some stores even opened late on Thanksgiving Day to get a jump on rivals.

I might have know it was American in origin – it seems that most things I don’t understand are.

PS When we first came here, Christmas didn't start until the beginning of December. I’ve noticed that, year by year, it is creeping further forward and gaining in importance which could spell doom for the Three Kings who don’t appear until the 6th January.

A bleak outlook

The weight of bank debt needing refinancing next year could threaten Spain's solvency and force it to become the next European country to seek a bail-out, according to a report from the investment banking arm of Barclays.

After Ireland was finally forced this week to ask for financial help from the European Union and International Monetary Fund, Barclays analysts now say it is possible that a similar fate could await Spain.

In the first four months of 2011, the Spanish government and the country's banks must raise about €70bn in the bond market, which Barclays said would be a "big test for investor appetite", adding that it was concerned with the "execution risk".

The Spanish government has set up an €99bn fund to help its banks, however only €12bn of this is pre-funded and €11bn has already been drawn down, meaning the country will have to borrow more from the bond market to fund the rest.

Spanish pensions funds could be leaned on to buy some of the bonds, but not enough to cover the entire amount the government will need to raise.

Pam needs ten hours sleep

The good news is that, as far as I know, the dogs didn’t bark last night. The bad news is that everything else conspired to spoil a good night’s sleep.

The watering on the roof started for some inexplicable reason, then Vodafone sent Pam a message and finally the electricity went off. When that happens you can hear the warning beeps from the UPS. They only stop when the electricity comes back on. Then you hear the laser printer re-starting followed by the air conditioning.

I think I will need my mid afternoon siesta more that ever today.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Caught with their pants down - again!

You would think after last year’s fiasco when Britain was caught out with inadequate supplies of salt for the roads, they would be well prepared for this year. But no, many councils are still waiting for supplies of grit to arrive.

The problem is that winter has come early with millions of commuters facing a miserable journey home for the weekend. Up to 10 centimetres inches of snow is forecast to fall across the East of the country as far south as Kent, with the same conditions expected in Wales and the South West.

And the five day forecast

Friday: Snow in East, Wales and South West. Icy in most areas. Min temp -4C 

Saturday: Widespread snow showers, mostly in the North. Min temp –2C

Sunday: Coldest in London. Cloudy with scattered sunny spells. Min temp -4C 

Monday: Still well below freezing in London. Bright in East, North West and South, snow in Wales, Midlands and Scotland. Min temp -4C 

Tuesday: Snow showers in many parts. Min temp -2C 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

As it was

Bigastro 1
Bigastro 2
Bigastro 3

Those who attended the concert on Saturday will have seen the PowerPoint presentation projected on the screen.

Amongst the pictures of Francisco Grau were these fascinating photos of Bigastro as it was. You can use the church as a reference point to work out the size of the town and the buildings that existed at the time of the photos.

Many thanks to my friend Germán for allowing me to use these. 

Get the wellies out–snow is on its way

No, not here in Bigastro. Nobody can recall having ever seen snow in the town.

Yesterday it was mild, the sun was shining during the day and yet there were people about in the town wearing thick coats, scarves and gloves. I did wonder what they would find to wear if they lived somewhere that was really cold like the north of the country or even just inland from the coast.

When it is cold or rainy here, our teachers ask about the weather in Britain. On Tuesday, I explained to Eduardo that the maximum expected temperature for Manchester was lower that the minimum for Bigastro that particular day. “That is why you live here” was his reply.

Britain is of course in the grips of a cold spell. The Met Office are predicting temperatures as low as –5C and the earliest major snowfall to hit the country since 1993. Scotland has suffered first with 10cm of snow overnight. That is expected to spread south during the course of next week with most areas getting a dusting of snow.

Any bigastrense intent on visiting England in the next week will therefore need to invest in some seriously warm clothing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More music at the weekend


The programme for this weekend at the Auditorium “Francisco Grau”

Friday, 26th of November at 8pm

VI Concurso de Solistas "Santa Cecilia"

Saturday, 27th of November at 8pm

A recital by the clarinet quartet "Las 4 Bis" :- Elena Perales, Elisa Segura, María Díaz and Virginia Belmonte.

Followed by "Los Anacrusa":- Carla Villanueva, Ana Calvo, Emilio Bañuls, Pedro Úbeda, Joaquín Sáez and Elisa Segura.

Then on Sunday there will be the next round of the competition for local theatre groups.

Should we celebrate?

So there you go. We now know that Prince William and Kate Middleton will be married on the 29th April at Westminster Abbey. We also know that the Prince plans it to be a celebration for the whole nation.

There will be street parties, a concert by Britain’s top pop stars, and a bank holiday the weekend after Easter. For many this could mean a break stretching to 11 days if they take time off between the successive four-day bank holiday weekends.

And the cost: well the Queen and Prince Charles will foot most of the £12m bill. However the Middletons have said they will make a sizeable five figure contribution. The country will foot the bill for the security which could amount to £20m.

Whilst the nation is celebrating, I wonder what we will be doing up here at Villas Andrea. Will José organise a street party for us up a La Pedrera, should we decorate the entrance to the estate with bunting and most important, who is going to make the jellies and the sandwiches?

Spain is vulnerable

Spain is now the big worry for EU policymakers because it accounts for around 10pc of the euro-zone economy, in contrast to Greece, Ireland and Portugal, which account for less than 2pc each. A bailout for Spain would take up all the available funds which would leave nothing for countries like Italy which would suffer contagion.

Spain's borrowing costs have soared this year as investors worry that its high deficit - the hangover of a property crisis that has yet to fully unwind - could push it the way of the Greek and Irish debt crises.

The country’s savings banks were hugely exposed to bad debt accumulated during the property boom, and have now undergone a restructuring process via government funding and a wave of mergers which has reduced their numbers to less than 20 from 45.

If Spain's plan to cut the deficit to 6pc of gross domestic product next year from 11pc last year shows any signs of being unattainable, it could become the next target of market concerns over debt in the euro zone periphery. 

Let us hope that the measures put in place are successful

An aspirin a day

Experts now say that taking 75mg of aspirin daily for five years reduces the risk of getting bowel cancer by a quarter, and deaths from the disease by a third. A 75mg dose is a quarter of the standard over-the-counter pill.

Earlier studies had already shown that a low daily dose could reduce the risk of developing heart disease and the onset of dementia. Cancer and cardiovascular disease are the biggest threat to our lives today.

The drawback to taking aspirin is that it doubles the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. However these is some evidence that when you take aspirin daily, your intestines adjust to the drug.

The conclusion that the experts draw is that everyone over 45 who might be at risk of either bowel cancer or cardiovascular disease should be prescribed to take an aspirin each day.

I was prescribed Adiro 100 by the specialist in Orihuela but stopped taking it when I read articles suggesting it was only a good idea for those who had actually suffered a heart attack.

The advice from the specialist was to take one tablet with food in the middle of the day. I think I will go back to following that having read further about the benefits.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

High ducks!

Police arrested French farmer, Michel Rouyer after they discovered 12 cannabis plants and about 5kg of the drug during a visit to his home following a theft.

The farmer’s excuse for having the drug on his farm was that there was no better worming substance for ducks. He said his flock was in excellent health. He was given a one month suspended jail sentence and fined 500 Euros for administering the drug to the birds.

Surprisingly, Mr Rouyer, who lives in the village of Gripperie-Saint-Symphorien on France's Atlantic coast, also admitted to smoking some of the marijuana.

I wonder, would he have been fined if he just told the police he was growing cannabis for his own consumption and left the ducks out of it.

One of those thorny questions

To be honest I have never thought much about why Easter moves from year to year; I just accepted it as a fact. However, when Pamela was asked the question recently, I thought I would try and find out. I already knew that, although Easter is ostensibly about the death of Christ, the origins are in fact pagan as are the origins of Christmas.

What I didn’t know was that the ancient Egyptians and Hebrews used different calendars. The Egyptians had one based on the movement of the sun, which was passed on through the Romans and Christian culture to become the modern world's standard. The Jews had one based on the phases of the moon – as Islam does, which is why the month of Ramadan moves round the calendar and takes places at different times of the year each year, with Muslims waiting for sightings of the moon before they know what day it will begin.

Easter is one of the festivals which tries to harmonise the solar and lunar calendars. As a general rule, Easter falls on the first Sunday, following the first full moon after 21 March. But not always.

Easter is the time when Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. Now, according to the gospels, he was killed three days before the Resurrection, around the time of the Jewish Passover. So Christians wanted to have their feast day around the same time as the Jewish festival which was fixed by the first full moon following the vernal equinox – the spring day when night and day are exactly the same length.

That is where the problem arises, because a solar year (the length of time it takes the earth to move round the sun) is 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 12 seconds whereas a lunar year is 354.37 days. Calculating one against another is seriously complicated.

There have been various attempts to reconcile this, including the famous saltus lunae (the moon's jump) whereby one of the 30-day months in the lunar cycle gets arbitrarily shortened to 29 days. But the solar and lunar years diverge by 11 days every year. Scores of formulae have been devised to try to reconcile the two as a method of marking time.

It had been decided that the vernal equinox would occur on 20 March (as it did at Nicaea) but that too varies. It was on 21 March in 2007. So the old church fathers got round this by redefining what a full moon is.

To complicate matters further, an astronomical full moon, like an astronomical equinox, is not a day but a moment in time – which can be observed happening on different days depending on which side of the international date line you stand. And waiting for an event to happen made it impossible to plan ahead.

So it was decided that the Paschal Full Moon (PFM) would not be an astronomical moon but an ecclesiastical full moon. These could be set down ahead of time, which is what happened from 325 AD. Astronomers approximated astronomical full moon dates for the church, calling them Ecclesiastical Full Moon (EFM) dates. Thus Easter was defined as the Sunday after the first EFM after 20 March. And that date was the appointed vernal equinox, regardless of whether it was or not. So we have a notional full moon following a notional equinox.

The earliest that Easter can be is on the 22nd March, as it was in 1761 and 1818, but that won't happen again until 2285. Its latest possible date is the 25th April but we haven't had that since 1943 and won't again until 2038. The commonest date is 19 April though the full cycle of Easter dates only repeats after 5,700,000 years.

Both governments and churches have tried fix the date for Easter. Secularists have suggested that Easter should fall on the second Sunday of April each year. The World Council of Churches in 1997 suggested replacing the current equation-based system with direct astronomical observation.

However, even where there is notional agreement, implementation is another matter. In Britain, an Easter Act was passed in 1928 fixing the holiday as "the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April". The law remains on the statute book but it has never been enforced.

So it seems we are stuck with the issue of Easter changing from year to year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Let’s just compare

image image

Two tables that compare the weather in Manchester and Valencia. Which climate would you prefer?

Hace frio.

imageTemperatures in the mid teens might seem mild to those of you in the UK but for those of us who have become acclimatised to Spanish weather, they are COLD.

It feels especially cold today because of the wind which should die out by tomorrow leaving it feeling milder.

Looks like we might have a drop of rain as well by the end of the week.

I suppose when you consider that the maximum in Manchester for today is no higher than the minimum for Bigastro, we should not complain but of course we will and so will our Spanish neighbours!

A wealth of talent

It is amazing just how much musical talent there is in such a small town - enough to make up two bands.

I went down to the Auditorium on Saturday morning to catch the band in rehearsal for the evening’s concert. It was an excellent opportunity to get photographs of the various sections of the band in action.

I’m not sure what the age range of the members is but certainly there was a good mix of young and old each respecting the other for their musical talent.

IMG_7544af IMG_7549af
IMG_7589af IMG_7606af
IMG_7557af IMG_7574af

You can see the rest of my photographs here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

That was a little different

The concert we normally get for Santa Cecilia is a musical feast in honour of the patron saint. Last night was somewhat different because the Unión Musical de Bigastro used the occasion to present a tribute to Francisco Grau Vegara.

Members of Francisco Grau’s family along with his friends gave us an insight into why he such a popular figure in the town. He is of course the first Musical General in the Spanish army and the Director of the Royal Band.

Among his many achievements, Francisco Grau has composed over 700 pieces of music, some of which the band played last night with gusto.

Finally the General took to the stage and conducted both the Hymmo de Bigastro and the Spanish National Anthem to a warm and rapturous applause.

Last night was a special occasion and gave us useful background into some of the history of the town and why music is held in such importance by the townsfolk.

It was a privilege to share with them their love of both music and the musician.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Removing the scars of the past

In spite of the fact that there are still followers of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, many Spaniards would like to put the memory of the dark days under his rule behind them.

A demonstration has been called at the gates of Valle de los Caidos – The Valley of the Fallen – a vast basilica carved out of living rock in the hills 30 miles northwest of Madrid to call for the monument to be destroyed. The Federation for Historical Memory said that it considers the 500ft high granite cross a "symbol of death and vengeance" and is demanding it be "blown up as a public apology to the victims of Francoism."

The complex, which includes a Benedictine monastery, was built by political prisoners during the Franco era as a memorial to those who died fighting for the dictator's cause during the 1936-39 Civil War. But among the estimated 50,000 bodies buried alongside the generalissimo and Jose Antonio Prima de Rivera, the founder of the fascist Spanish Falange party, are those of Republican supporters whose corpses were added in order to fill the huge crypt.

Campaigners have long called for the exhumation of graves at the site and for the remains to be returned to the descendants of those who were killed fighting for democracy.

The Historical Memory Law, introduced by the socialist government in 2007 in an attempt to heal the wounds of the past, banned political demonstrations on the square in front of the monument, where loyal followers of Franco gathered each year to commemorate the anniversary of his death. But victims' associations claim the law has not gone far enough and say the continued existence of the memorial is "an insult to modern democratic Spain".

Friday, November 19, 2010

A great source of confusion

We cash strapped pensioners have to watch every penny especially since the exchange rate is still low.

When we first went onto mains electricity, everyone at Villas Andrea was put onto Iberdrola Verde accounts – so called green electricity.

When they were told of a more advantageous account, many residents switched to an ordinary tariff and claimed to save a lot by doing so. We elected to stay with the original “green” electricity account because it seemed to me that what you saved on each unit (a few cents) you paid for in increased standing charges. Unless you consumed above a certain amount, you could potentially be worse off. 

At our Spanish class, one of the residents from the estate complained that his recent bill was very high and when I checked ours we’d paid a similar amount – more than normal. Speaking to others, their bills were less than half of ours. That struck me as odd until I realised that those who changed accounts pay each month; we still pay every two months.

To make matters more confusing, the person who had the expensive bill actually has two meters in a similar arrangement to Economy 7 i.e. he pays half the amount for electricity consumed at night than in the daytime.  It is a tariff aimed at those who have night storage heaters.

So what is the best deal to go for? I still don’t know. What I do know is that we changed suppliers in England which was a complicated drawn out process and saved very little if anything by doing so.

Berlusconi’s latest cock up

When your country is in economic turmoil, it is important to curb spending on non-essentials, Italy has therefore slashed millions from the country’s arts and heritage budget.

However, the cuts did not prevent the prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, from sanctioning a replacement for the penis on the statue of Mars which is currently stands in his Rome office. It wasn’t that Mr Berlusconi wanted a “better one”, the original had been removed. Apparently penises are often hacked off ancient Roman statues, either as souvenirs or out of prudishness.

And the reported cost to taxpayers of the restoration – 70,000 Euros which does sound expensive until you realise that experts had to study statues of male nudes from the same period in order to determine what the dimensions of the prosthetic penis should be. The new appendage is attached by a magnet so that it can be removed when a more comprehensive restoration is scheduled.

Even so, La Repubblica say the project was carried out in haste, without conforming to strict restoration rules, and would probably have to be undone when the statues return to the Baths of Diocletian museum in Rome.

That makes me wonder what they will use the 70,000 Euro prosthetic for when the proper restoration is completed. I will leave you to speculate on that.

Voting can give you an orgasm!

First they played the immigration card and now the political parties in Catalonia are using sex to try an encourage voters to go to the polls.

The local Socialist party's youth wing equates voting with orgasms in a campaign video for the Catalan elections that features a young woman who finds casting her vote such a turn-on that she cannot help reaching a peak of excitement in front of some bewildered polling officers.

The voting climax hopes to entice disillusioned young left-wingers to cast a vote for the region's beleaguered Socialists, led by José Montilla, who look set to lose power in the region on 28 November.

The rival Catalan nationalist Convergence and Union coalition today slammed their opponent's video as "filth", while the conservative People's party accused the young socialists "of using women and attacking their dignity".

Another candidate who heads her own party, Montse Nebrera, has also released a steamy campaign video with a backing track of climatic moaning designed to sound as if it has been lifted from a pornographic film. Nebrera warns of corruption, hefty subsidies to major parties and the 4% of taxpayers' money that allegedly goes to local media while the camera trails around a house full of hastily discarded underwear, abandoned glasses of champagne and rumpled sheets.

Nebrera appears at the end in a white towel, delivering the punchline: "If we had wanted to create a scandal in order to appear in the media I would have taken this off, but we believe that not everything goes in politics."

Well, what can I say? When I was a young man (just a few years ago!) there were many things that would arouse me but I don’t recall voting in an election being one of them.

¿Qué pasa?

For several days this week, I was unable to visit the official Bigastro web site. Whenever I clicked on the link, I got the message that the site could not be found. Then I get the message that the domain www.ebigastro.com had expired.

This could have been a real problem for me because I visit the site daily to find information about what is going on in the town.

Luckily I have managed to track down the new destination of the site which is at www.bigastro.es : a more logical location and a domain that Bigastro first registered in June 2003.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

They don’t mince words in Catalonia

They don’t like bullfighting, they don’t like to be considered part of Spain - they certainly don’t like immigrants and are not afraid to say so.

But now the Popular Party has been forced to remove a video game from its website that showed its main candidate at regional elections in Catalonia destroying illegal immigrants.

The video, in which PP candidate, Sánchez Camacho appears as a Lara Croft-style character who wipes out immigrants jumping from helicopters, was placed on the conservative party's campaign website yesterday. It provoked outrage and was taken down. People's party officials claimed its designers had not followed instructions.

Earlier this year Sánchez Camacho had to apologise for a pamphlet linking immigrants with crime, which featured a photograph of a banner saying: "We don't want Romanians." "I am concerned about whatever worries Catalans, and one of the things that most worries Catalans is immigration," she said recently.

Other Catalan parties have also come out on the attack against immigration. Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, one of the leaders of the Catalan nationalist Convergence and Union coalition, which looks set to win the vote, has complained that too many babies born in Catalonia have immigrant mothers.These accounted for more than 50% of births in some Catalan towns, he said, adding: "Things are not going well."

Every party is in on the act. In the run-up to the elections, socialist mayors in major Catalan cities such as Barcelona and Lleida led a wave of local bans on the use of burqas and niqabs in public buildings – even in towns with no Muslim population.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

That will lift the spirits

Prince-William-and-Kate-M-004There is nothing like a royal wedding to lift the spirits of a country. The announcement of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s engagement has therefore come at a good time. Instead of focussing on the doom and gloom of the economic climate and the inevitable cuts in public spending, people will focus on the “big day”.

Of course there is a lot to do, and loads of decisions to be made not least of which will be which designer is to create the wedding dress. That should keep the newspapers happy as they speculate.

It will change the lives of the Middleton’s quite dramatically but I imagine they won’t mind that as they consider the huge benefits of being the “in laws” to the future king.

The hope everyone will feel but not express is that this will be one royal marriage that won’t end in disaster. Given that the couple have known each other for so long, that is less likely than in the the case of the Queen’s children.

PS Nice ring – saved a bit of money there William!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Email too difficult?

Apparently some users find sending an email too challenging so Facebook have some up with an alternative based on online chat, instant messaging and even voice messaging via Skype. Users of the service will be given a @facebook.com address but won’t have to use that to keep in touch with their friends. The new service promises to store your messages for years meaning that you can go back and review previous conversations – not necessarily a good thing!

With 500 million users, Facebook is set to rival Hotmail with 362 million users, Yahoo with 273 million and Gmail with 193 million.

Blimey, It looks like the fountain pens I featured on my Flickr album will stay in the drawer forever!

Loony Britain

The Early Learning Centre in Britain ditched the pig from its HappyLand Goosefeather Farm toy set after it upset some customers.

One mother realised the pig was missing from the set she bought for her daughter’s birthday when she found a pig sty and a button that made oinking noises, but no pig.

When the mother complained, she was told in an email: ‘Previously the pig was part of the Goosefeather Farm. However due to customer feedback and religious reasons this is no longer part of the farm.’ In some religions pigs are seen as unclean.

Last night the retailer did a u-turn and agreed to bring back the pigs after disappointed families complained at such a move driven by political correctness.

Santa Cecilia

imageAt the weekend, the Unión Musical de Bigastro will be paying homage to the patron saint of musicians, Santa Cecilia.

This year the celebrations are dedicated to the bigastrense, Francisco Grau Vegara, the only musical general in Spain.

Events begin on Friday when students and teachers from the music school will meet with General Grau. The band will then parade around the streets with the statue of Santa Cecilia and offer an act of recognition to the general.

If you don’t go to any other concert by the local band, you really should go to this one. It starts at 8pm on Saturday in the Auditorium - better be there a little earlier though because it will be popular.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Something else they didn’t tell us

Spain is a main entry point for drugs which are then distributed throughout Europe. The problem exists along the whole of the south coast of the country. As the traffickers get wise, they move from one part of the coast to another. For now, it is Alicante that has become the place of choice for bringing illegal drugs into the Valencian Community.

Between January and June, the police intercepted 27 hauls of drugs into Alicante, ten of which arrived in the area north of Campello - chosen because of the small coves and cliffs which make detection by the police harder.

The criminals who bring the drugs in change tactics to try and elude capture. Normally they would unload the boat on the beach and then transfer the cargo to waiting cars and vans. One group were clever; they were using an all terrain vehicle which they drove into the sea, hitched the boat up and towed it out thus reducing the time they were on the beach. The police caught them though.

The radar system which was installed along the coast has proved successful in detecting the traffickers coming in. However, when the weather is bad or the sea is rough, it does loose sensitivity. In spite of that, it is helping in the fight against this type of crime.

Stopping drug trafficking is like stopping the sale of hooky goods, whilst there is a market for these things, there will be criminals intent of providing a supply.

Not bad for mid November

imageDefinitely getting cooler now, we are almost at the point where we will need the heating on for a little while in the mornings.

It is still sunny though and the skies are blue so it feels warmer than the high teens centigrade when you are outside.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A bloody Saturday night

If we had English TV, we’d have probably watched the excruciating X Factor last night. As it is, we have Digital Plus and so were able to follow the next two episodes of the last series of The Tudors. The intrigue, the smouldering sexuality and the brilliant acting make it compelling viewing for Pam and I.

For those who haven’t seen it, the series portrays the brutality as well as the passion of life in the court of Henry VIII.

Last night Henry discovered that his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, had a lover before they met and worse still, she was busy having an affair during their marriage with Thomas Culpeper, page (paje) to the king.

The previous lover, Francis Dereham, who the queen had rather foolishly employed as her secretary was tortured (they removed his fingernails) to confess to his sins. Later, as the torturer was about to remove Dereham’s teeth (without an anaesthetic), he revealed the truth about Culpeper.

Obviously all three along with the queen’s maid who had colluded with her, had to be executed.

In the bloodiest scenes in the programme so far, Culpeper had his head removed then Derehem was hung drawn and quartered*. Next was the turn of Catherine and her maid. The maid went first whilst Catherine stood and watched. When it was her turn, Catherine had to place her head on the block in the pool of her maid’s blood.

Actually when I think about it, the programmes we watched probably had a great deal in common with the X Factor except for the blood.

PS My daughters were delighted to see Take That on the X-Facor especially since they have tickets to go and see them in Manchester next year.

* To be hung, drawn and quartered was the penalty for men guilty of high treason.

The convicted were drawn by horse on a wooden hurdle to the place of execution. Once there, they were ritually hanged (almost to the point of death), emasculated, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered (chopped into four pieces). As a warning against further dissent, their remains were often displayed at prominent places, such as London Bridge.

In those days it was best to be either prudent or at least keep your mouth shut. You also had to know who your true friends were otherwise you could end up being betrayed.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Back in April I was asked to go along to the Auditorium to take photographs of a musical production by the group Percuseve entitled “Ritmos de Papel”.

Following its showing in Bigastro, “Ritmos de Papel” was preformed at the Teatro Circo in Orihuela as part of the PASION POR EL POETA. ORIHUELA 2010 programme.

Then, the company of 25 students from the Centro de Enseñanza Secundaria Severo Ochoa in Murcia, performed at the Teatro Bernal de El Palma where they picked up one of the regional Buero Prizes for young theatre 2010 presented by the Coca-Cola Foundation.

Next step was to perform for the XIV Congreso Nacional de UECOE at the Escuela Superior de Arte Dramático.

The group group were recently awarded the National Prize CreArte by the Ministry of Culture for "Ritmos de Papel" and along with it 23,000€ to further develop their work. I am sure they will use the money wisely.

Many congratulations to Miguel Sáez and Jorge Fullana for your well deserved success. Taking the photos for you was a privilege, I am glad you liked them.

“Ritmos de Papel” which was created by Miguel Sáez and Jorge Fullana is the fourth production by the group. Previous productions were: “El Ritmo de los Tiempos”, “Ritmografía de una vida”, “El agua, un ritmo compartido”; all of which gained them prizes and prestige.

Where our money goes

Whilst EU countries are desperately struggling to keep their heads above water, European Union spending carries on regardless. Here are just some of the mad projects that have been promoted with our money. 

1. In Hungary a canine project was funded by the EU's Rural Development Fund to develop a hydrotherapy system and centre to "improve dogs' wellbeing" in the Dregelypalank region.

Despite the fact that new offices built for the dog centre remained empty and overrun with weeds, the company behind the venture continued to receive EU funds for a different project.

2. Meanwhile in Austria, Tyrolean farmers pocketed £14,000 from the same EU fund to "increase farmers' emotional connection with the landscapes they cultivate".

The purpose of the scheme was to make the Austrian farmers "more aware of their emotional reactions to [the land] compared to their prevailing rational economic ones".

3. Four and a half  million pounds has been spent on extra limousines for MEPs when the European parliament is sitting in France. This comes on top of a permanent fleet maintained in Belgium and underlines the cost, of over £171 million a year, of having two seats for the EU assembly in Brussels and Strasbourg.

4. An EU officials-only cultural club was opened in Luxembourg at a cost of £4.4 million. Facilities for Eurocrats include an exclusive restaurant, Scottish Highland dancing and wine-tasting clubs.

5. And finally, Elton John was paid 600,000 euros to play a  concert in the Naples’s main piazza on Sept 11, 2009. Italian MEP have asked the European Commission to look into claims that at least some of the money came from European Union funds which were supposed to have been used to promote economic development in the region.

Justice grinds to a halt

In normal times, bringing a case to court here in Spain can be painfully slow. At the moment though, in the Alicante province, it has ground to a halt.

In olden times courts records were hand written but now they are recorded by video cameras onto DVD and that is where the hold up lies. It seems that they have run out of DVDs.

The contract to supply DVDS had ended and whilst a new contract was being negotiated, the supply has run dry. That does pose a problem because quite rightly prisoners can not be detained longer than is reasonable - they can't be kept in custody just because the courts have run out of DVDs.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A difficult topic

During our Spanish class last week we discussed the case of the ten year old girl who had given birth in a hospital in Jerez. I confess that I had not picked up this story on the Internet so knew noting of the circumstances.

It seems that the father is the 13 year old cousin of the girl and that the two children lived together as man and wife in the grandmother’s house in Romania. Following the death of the father, the girl had been abandoned by her mother when she moved to Spain to find work.

The mother has reportedly said, ‘These things are normal in our country. Girls get married at ten so we don’t understand why people are so surprised. Elena is feeling very well, just like her daughter, who’s also doing very well and is very pretty.

Andalucía had 177 children born to girls who were 14 or under in 2008 – though no one can recall a case involving a 10-year-old. The youngest mother in Britain was just 12 when she gave birth whilst the youngest mother world wide was just five.

For parents of young girls, just contemplating this story is horrifying. Many will blame TV, films, magazines etc. for encouraging young girls to explore their sexuality. However, I hardly think in the circumstances that this Romanian girl was influenced in any way by the media.

The girl’s mother might be pleased but the rest of us feel quite sad.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Very strange

When you send someone a letter you’re never sure that it will arrive. The logistics of the postal system are such that there is always the potential for items of mail to get lost. Using a courier is possibly more reliable especially if the progress can be tracked but even that can fail.

As an alternative, sending someone an email or a text message should be fool proof. As long as you get the email address or the mobile number correct, it should find its way to the recipient 100% of the time. Without the intervention of a human being in the process, the potential for mishandling has been taken away. However, my experience shows that is not always true.

Several recent emails that I have sent did not arrive at their destination. Either that or the recipients have simply not bothered to deal with them. How am I to know which is the case?

One particular email was important, it was to the solicitor who dealt with the conveyancing of a house we have recently sold. Now I am faced with the prospect of having to phone her to check if she has received my email – kind of defeats the object of sending an email in the first place don’t you think?

Maybe in cases like this, it is best to resort to the sledgehammer technique – send an email, a fax, a letter and a text message – then follow these up with a phone call to check that they have all got through!

PS I think I may have found a possible reason for my problem. Most of my mail comes via Telefonica who have a spam filter to remove junk mail before it is sent to you.

That is all well and good but the filter seems to be blocking wanted mail as well as unwanted mail. The Bigastro server doesn't do that. Removing spam addressed to my Bigastro account is down to the email program on my computer. I think I prefer that approach.

Open for business

I mentioned yesterday the lady on our estate who is a fully qualified hypnotherapist and said that I did not think she actually offered her services here in Spain.

It seems I was wrong. Rachael Hyde (nee Morgan) tells me that you can contact her in confidence by email or by phone when she is over at their house on Calle Inglaterra. Her email address is hucclecotehypnotherapy@hotmail.com and her number in Spain is 966778542.

With over 12 years experience in hypnotherapy and counselling, Rachael Morgan, D.Hyp.M. can help you to deal with a whole variety of issues including:-

  • Stress Management
  • Anger Management
  • Relationship issues
  • Addictions (smoking & alcohol etc.)
  • Weight problems

Find out more by following this link.

Well oil be dammed

They say that thieves will stop at nothing and it is true. Whatever they can lay their hands on to make money is regarded as fair game.

This tale  just proves that point.

Imagine how Pedro Fernandez reacted when he saw on the surveillance video, four men enter the warehouse of the Frusemur co-operative in Murcia, Spain where he is the technical manager. The men looked around, then drilled a hole in the side of each vat of oil and ran a pipe out of the building to tanks on trucks that were waiting in the yard. Almost 50,000 litres of extra virgin olive oil, worth an estimated $140,000, vanished on the night of 19 June.

This was not the first occasion that thieves have used this approach to steal oil. The same method was used each time. The thieves targeted small producers or co-operatives where the vats contained top-quality oil ready for bottling. Having filled their own tanks, they crossed northern Spain and the south of France with fake papers indicating they were carrying olive pomace oil, a residue product that is not fit for human consumption. Once in Italy, the precious liquid was marketed as Italian oil, reputedly better and certainly more expensive than its Spanish counterpart.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

That should be interesting

imageThere are a couple of sessions organised to inform people about how they, as individuals, can help to reduce the effects of climate change.

This particular session is about how you can reduce the CO2 emissions from your house.

First off – stop burning wood!

I know it is a cheap and efficient way to heat your house but the smoke given off is just horrendous and it isn't just the CO2 it contains, it is all the other nasty stuff that damages people’s lungs.

That should make a big improvement

imageJust to add to the chaos already caused by the work on Calle Purisima, they have started to re-lay the tarmac in various parts of the town.

Fortunately this does not involve rebuilding the roads, just scraping off the top surface and laying a new layer of tarmac over the top so the disruption should be minimal. In any case, it will be worth it because a lot of the roads are in a bad condition with the surface breaking up and large holes that you have to navigate around.

PS Tip to the mayor, I would not stand too close to where they are working in those light coloured trousers :-)

Look into my eyes

imageThe Council of Social welfare  have organised a session where the mysteries of hypnosis will be explained.

Whether you want to stop smoking, relieve stress or pain or cure your insomnia, this could be just for you.

PS Don’t confuse this  with stage hypnotism, nobody will be made to run around the stage barking like a dog. .

PPS There is a qualified hypnotherapist who has a house on the estate but as far as I am aware, she only practices in England. 

Monday, November 08, 2010

A blustery start

imageLooks like we are in for a blustery start to the week with strong winds blowing from the west.

From every other direction we are reasonably sheltered but from the west it will be hitting the back of our house testing out the netting on the fence.

This morning, I’ll have to find the pieces of foam rubber that stop the wind howling through the vents in the back door.

I hate the winter weather!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

You really don’t want this

project pics 037 project pics 038
project pics 039 project pics 040

One of my neighbours kindly sent me these photos of the grubs from a beetle which had devastated his neighbour's palm tree.

We had a similar beetle in our aloes. The grubs ate the parts where the roots joined the plants effectively killing them off.

It looks like this palm tree is a goner as well.

The Pope in Spain

imageThe Pope is currently  visiting Spain; the second time he has been here since becoming leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Another trip is planned for next year, such is the importance the church places on the country where over 70 per cent of people still describe themselves as Catholics. However, only 14.4 per cent regularly attend mass - a figure which the Vatican would clearly like to see improved.

A decade of reforms on divorce, abortion and gay rights has eroded religious influence in the country, and the church has loudly expressed its concern.

Greeted on arrival by the Crown Prince and Princess, Pope Benedict began his trip in Saint Jacques de Compostella.

Today he has moved on to Barcelona where, 128 years after construction began, he has consecrated Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia as a cathedral.The Pope sprinkled holy water on the altar before a congregation of more than 6,500 people. Following the consecration, the main nave is now open for daily Mass for the first time.

Gaudi's greatest work has been under construction for more than a century, and will not be finished before 2026.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A weekend of culture

Last night there was the audition of students for the 13th Certamen de Interpretación Vega Baja - Baix Vinalopo, tonight there will be a concert of song and on Sunday the entry for the theatre competition by the group from Los Montesinos.

Help for the young


It isn’t just the old and the infirm who receive help in Bigastro because the Ayuntamiento  has just awarded education grants to 142 young people from the town. For this year they have given 134 awards to help with transport costs, 5 scholarships for ERASMUS courses and 3 for Linguistic Immersion – a total of 6,000 Euros.

In the picture with the students are Mª Dolores Andréu (Councillor for Education), Isidro Ricart (Councillor for Health and Environment) and Raúl Valerio Medina (Mayor of Bigastro).

Friday, November 05, 2010

Confused–so was I

The naming tradition in Spain has always been very confusing for those of us from outside used to the simple Anglo-Saxon tradition.

Spaniards can have one or two given names (which would always be in composite form - there is no such thing as a middle name in Spanish) and two surnames. Under current law either surname can can come first; it is up to the individual to choose.

Traditionally though, the first apellido is the first surname of the father and the second the first surname of the mother. Surnames too can be composite linked by “de” (of) or a hyphen which makes for even more complications. For example a child could end up with a name like Juan Pablo Fernández de Calderón García-Iglesias. As you might imagine, having the same surname repeated is fairly common where the parents have the same surname so you get e.g. Moya Moya.

To make matters more confusing, Spanish women do not change their surnames at marriage. When marrying, a woman has the option of keeping all her names and adding her husband's last name or dropping her mother's maiden name. For their children though it is traditionally the father's, name that used to take priority whatever the mother decided to do.

Now, under a change in the law, unless the parents request otherwise, the surnames will be registered in alphabetical order.

A practical example:

Before our marriage my wife would have been Pamela Fenton Oliver and I would have been Keith Williamson Butterworth. Traditionally our children would take the name Williamson Fenton. But, under the new law, they would be Fenton Williamson unless we specified otherwise which would be important because when they married the first of the names would survive.

A town with ambition

Los Montesinos is one of the smallest municipalities in the Vega Baja with a population of just 4,900. However it does not intend to stay that way and has set out a plan to build a further 13,153 houses which could potentially increase the population 12 fold.

Out of the three million square metres of land in Los Montesinos , the town proposes to cover three quarters with houses and industrial development creating what they describe as a “city in which we wish to live”.

Even in the boom years of construction, this plan would have been considered ambitious; in the present economic climate it is something else.

Since the global crisis began, politicians have been saying that we would be over the worse within a few years and that Spain, Britain, America etc would return to growth by 2010 – 20111 at the latest. What else could these people say? To tell the electorate that it will take a decade at least for the economy to show real signs of recovery would have been political suicide. In politics, you have to tell the people what they want to hear even if it is miles away from the truth.

Look at what happened in the States; the Yanks pinned their hopes on a new president and then became so impatient two years on that they have just voted the largest about turn in American politics for a long time. In Britain they voted for a coalition; It will come as no surprise to find a similar change in government in Spain this next year.

My bet is that Los Montesinos (translates to the wild ones) may have to wait a good few years before they can turn their plans into reality. In the meantime, they have done a lot of work and spent a lot of money on their PGOU which you can see by following this link.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Guilty pleasures

The first time we heard this phrase was when our daughter Jemma came out with it the other week in England. We understood what it meant but wondered where it had come from.

A little bit of research reveals that it stemmed from a revolution in the London music scene where people are no longer being shy about admitting that they actually enjoy cheesy music. The concept has become a phenomena with CD compilations of those tunes that you would never admit to liking. It is now OK to admit to enjoying Hall and Oates, 10cc, Toto and ELO. Blimey if this continues then we can all confess that we actually did like Abba.

Moving on, the phrase seems to have been applied to the whole of life - there is even a film with the title about a group of people involved in the world of Mills and Boon books. Everyone from celebrities to ordinary folk are confessing to their own “guilty pleasures”, those things that they enjoy but deep down feel that they shouldn’t – fish and chips in newspaper, page 3 girls etc.

So which artists have I got in my CD collection that might be my “guilty pleasure”. Well Abba for sure but there are also CDs by Erasure and Jimmy Summerville that I really enjoy. Possibly worse than that, I liked Cameo with the outrageous John Kellogg and his red cod piece.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

We must be mad!

Each year, our Spanish class, along with the other adult classes, visits the local primary schools before Christmas to sing carols to them. However, a few years back we performed a pantomime for the children instead – which proved to be very popular. The idea of performing again has therefore stuck in the minds of our teachers.

Another pantomime would have been an obvious choice but would have been complicated – Snow White and the seven dwarfs took months of preparation.

So, our teachers have come up with something they describe as simpler for us to achieve; a story about Christmas entitled, “El Muñeco Invierno (literally the winter doll or snowman).

It is a crazy tale which involves various animals; a dog, a cat, a sheep and a cockerel who are intent on going to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus but are having difficulty singing carols because they all have different voices. Along comes the devil who is actually made of ice. He tells the animals that he is a musician who can sing.

The devil proceeds to sprinkles dust over the animals which he says will help them sing in accord. However, the magic dust actually changes all their voices making matters worse. He sprinkles dust over the snowman to help him sing and dance - the snowman is of course going nowhere.

Not pleased that the animals are still intent on going to Bethlehem, the devil threatens to sprinkle them all with more magic dust that will turn them into statues. The moon tells the devil he is bad.

The devil then tells the audience that he is going to have a sleep because the sun and he are not friends – remember he is made of ice so the sun will melt him.

Thankfully at this point a shepherd arrives who helps the animals by sprinkling yet more magic dust over them to restore their voices. He goes on to tell the snowman that he was made by the children from frozen water and that his mother had washed the baby Jesus and provided drink for him. Now contented, the animals set off for Bethlehem each offering their own particular contribution to the trip.

Now to the casting. Some of the ladies from the other adult class had already volunteered for various parts but that left gaps – principally Diablo who was originally called Helado (yes ice cream but remember he is made of ice). Following an embarrassing silence where no one seemed prepared to step up to the plate, I put my hand up.

I may come to regret this because Diablo is a main part and there are quite a lot of lines to learn. If they were in English, I could ad lib but in Spanish I stand no chance. The bit where I have to got to sleep and snore loudly I can handle because I have practised that part a lot!

Pamela, who is wiser than me, volunteered to be a cat - miau miau.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Dangerous junction

Just reading your blog regarding the CV95, my father a retired Huddersfield Police Sergeant died at the junction of the CV95 and CV945 on 22 September an accident which left mum critically injured, but who is now astonishingly recovering slowly. Are the works to include that junction?

I’m very sorry to hear that. By coincidence, my father was a Police Sergeant in Penistone, which is near to Huddersfield, before he retired. He too has sadly passed away.

The CV-95

We regularly turn from the CV-95 onto the CV-945 en route to Torrevieja and always negotiate it with care especially when returning from Los Montesinos towards Orihuela.

Whether there is a planned improvement to that junction or not, I cannot say. What I do know is that work on that road has been postponed for so long, I doubt whether we will see any change in the near future.

No problems last night

I’ve not heard any horror stories about last night as yet so I assume there was no repeat of the egg throwing. Pam and I only had three lots of children visit us so we still have supplies of sweets.

I have to say, all the children and youths that came were extremely polite and thankful for the handful of sweets we gave them.

Today, of course is when many of the older people from the town and some of the younger ones visit the cemetery to pay respects to their departed relatives and friends. It is customary to take flowers and light a candle or two. Some will have taken chairs so they can sit and contemplate happy memories of those no longer with us.

Looks like a good week again

imageSaturday was a grey and miserable day which might have led us to think that Autumn had really set in but no, yesterday was lovely and sunny. There was a strong wind blowing which calmed down by nightfall.

For this week it looks like we are going to get plenty more sunshine with the wind calming as the week progresses.