Thursday, September 29, 2011

Perhaps I did not make it clear

I have received a comment about our Spanish class. Quite rightly, my reader says that we should not expect free classes to continue during the present economic climate. As he says,if we want to continue with our lessons we could always either buy books and CDs or find a private tutor and pay.

However, the classes we attended offered much more than simply learning the language. They gave us the opportunity to integrate with the local community:

  • we went on cultural trips with the ladies from the other adult classes to visit places that perhaps we might otherwise  miss
  • we shared our experiences of life with our neighbours
  • we had sessions where we joined with the ladies to compare traditional fare for celebrations
  • we had talks about local authors and poetry recitals in the library
  • we put on plays for children from the local schools
  • and we visited local schools at Christmas to sing carols both in Spanish and English

What I am saying is that the classes we attended did a lot more than teach us the language, they opened our eyes to the culture of our town and offered a means for us to integrate with our new neighbours.

A drop of agua

Just look out of the window and you can see that we are almost certain to get some rain today. In fact we could have showers right through until Sunday when it should dry up.

Bring back the paper carrier bag

I remember a time when you picked up your groceries in paper bags which then went on the fire once you had unpacked them. Those that weren’t burnt degraded quickly and harmlessly. Then we moved into the era of the disposable plastic bag which was perhaps more convenient but did pose an ecological problem because burning them creates toxic smoke so you have to put them in the bin. Unfortunately plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to degrade on a landfill site.

Aware of this problem,  some stores have moved back to paper bags or charge for disposable bags and others sell reusable bags but still the disposable bag won’t go away. In fact, in Britain, the use of disposable plastic bags is on the increase – 333million more of them were used last year than in the previous year.

It is likely that the government in Britain will have to step in and create legislation that forces shops to reduce the use of plastic bags possibly by charging more for them.

Taking reusable bags to the supermarket  for the groceries is not a problem but are we prepared to take them with us when we shop for clothes etc.? Part of the thrill of shopping for some is being seen with designer carrier bags* – walking down the high street with reusable supermarket bags might not have the same appeal.

* Teenage girls at the school where I worked used to bring their equipment for the day in bags from upmarket shops like  Lacoste. In fact they used to go into their favourite shops and ask for them just for this purpose.

The tigers of the Vega Baja

Three years ago, the Asian tiger mosquito arrived in Torrevieja to cause misery  with its painful bite. In October 2009,  heavy rain followed by hot sunshine provided the ideal breeding conditions for this invasive species. The small pools of standing water left behind by the rain were all that the insect needed to breed in. In one day, 200 people were treated at Torrevieja hospital when the hungry females gathered blood to extract the proteins needed for the production of their eggs.

This year has been quiet in terms of outbreaks but still he insects are there and so the company that sprays the area have set traps to collect the mosquitoes so that they can study them closely in the hope that they can find a means to eradicate the problem. I hope they are successful, if I have to give blood, I want it to go to a worthy cause.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Will we have a class or not?

We still have no idea whether our Spanish for Foreigners’ class will run or not - classes would normally start next week.

In nearby Cox, adults already know that there will be no classes running this year because the new council has decided to cut them altogether. In their justification for this decision, they argue that many who have registered for courses in the past have not completed them. However, figures show that the literacy and new readers classes are well attended throughout the year as indeed they are here in Bigastro.

Needless to say, the townsfolk in Cox have not taken this decision well and have gathered 800 signatures on a petition demanding that the council reconsider its position on this issue. 

It might be expensive but it is vital that those who were not given a chance to gain a decent education when they were young are afforded that opportunity in later life. In a similar way, Spanish for Foreigners’ courses provide those of us  who are not native speakers with the essential skills required to integrate fully with our community.  Put it simply, if we can’t communicate then, no matter how willing we might be,  we can’t participate.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Getting your tickets

If, like Pam and I, you are looking forward to the special day for the elderly on Saturday, then you will need to get yourselves tickets. I enquired about these this morning and it seems that they are available from the office on the first floor at the Centro Social Integrado (through the glass doors at the top of the stairs). You will need your NIE number and of course the 10 Euros fee. What you are after are “tickets por la convivencia para personas de la tecera edad.”

Since the organisers will obviously need to know numbers for catering, I imagine that it will not be possible to buy tickets on the day.

As I said before – see you there, I am sure we will get a good meal with plenty to drink and a chance to mingle with some great people.

Almost there

The widening of the coast road between Guardamar and Torrevieja is now complete. So the N332 is dual carriageway in both directions from Torrevieja towards Guardamar and Pilar de la Horadada. However, the bottleneck is now the 8kms of single carriageway between the new sections of road so the problem for Torrevieja remains unsolved. The original agreement in 2005 was for the whole section of road right through from Guardamar to Torrevieja to be dual carriageway but then an economic crisis got in the way.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Rabo de toro

Patio Andaluz is one of those restaurants that is a must when you have visitors. Everyone we have taken there has enjoyed both the food and the entertainment. 

After a very pleasant afternoon on the beach at Campoamor, we all met up to eat at the restaurant last night.

When we first visited Patio Andaluz, I stuck with the conservative steak with a blue cheese sauce. When our eldest daughter Jemma came with us she had the ostrich which was delicious. That made me decide to explore some of the more interesting dishes on the menu.

My favourite starters are the prawns in garlic and the fried baby squid. For main courses, I like the rabbit in garlic and the one I tried  last night - ox tail.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Remember her?

Remember Viv Nicholson who won £152,319 (equivalent of £5m today) on the pools fifty years ago this weekend? She famously vowed to “spend, spend, spend” and that is what she did. Within four years all the money had gone, her husband had died in a car crash and she was declared bankrupt.

When the Nicholsons won the money, he was a miner and they lived in Castleford, Yorkshire. First things first, they held grand parties for their friends and drank themselves into oblivion. Then they started buying things, a new house in Leeds and cars – including the Jag that her husband died in and a pink Cadillac for her. 

When her husband died, VIv Nicholson was left with nothing because the courts declared that everything they had bought belonged to her husband. In four short years, she had gone from rich beyond her dreams to destitute.

Now fifty year on, Mrs Nicholson lives in a care home and says that if she had her time again, she would not do anything different – foolish woman!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

See, I told you

Looking at the sky yesterday, you just knew that it was going to rain at some point. Sure, there were patches of blue sky and it was still pleasantly warm but then as the evening drew in, the clouds started to thicken.

I’m not sure when the rain started but it was still coming down as we went to bed. This morning it is a lot clearer and the air feels fresh. However, I think we can expect the clouds to build up again next week with a strong possibility of rain on Tuesday continuing into Friday 

None of this is good news for our friends Glenys and Peter who arrived on Thursday to stay at Chris and Linda’s house in Cabo Roig. Glenys has already been on the phone to complain about the weather – I do hope she remembered to pack a waterproof!

As long as she doesn't find out that England is expecting a heat wave this next week, everything should be alright!

Rome was not built in a day and neither was this church

Bigastro embraces the philosophy of Citta Slow as a way of taming the fast pace of modern life with a healthy regard for traditional values. The principles of Citta Slow, although originally conceived as a reaction to McDonalds opening a fast food restaurant by the Spanish Steps in Rome, can be applied to almost every aspect of life from the food we eat to the way we develop our towns.

In the boom years of construction, everyone wanted to build fast, make as much money as possible and satisfy what they thought was an insatiable demand for more and more houses. In doing so they made many mistakes which are now being paid for.

As a reaction to this indecent haste, in Ireland there is now a Slow Architecture movement which  which brings the CItta Slow approach to building. The notion is, if you take your time and consider your decisions-  the result will be a better and more appropriate form of construction. I think they are right.

image Worldwide, the best current example of this considered approach to building is probably the Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona otherwise known as the Sagrada Família .

The principle architect, Antoni Gaudi, worked on its design and construction from 18883 until his death in 1926. Since then the building has continued and is still not complete.

There was a period during the Spanish Civil War when work stopped and many thought that the church should have been left in that unfinished state but no, after the war ended, funded by donations and ticket sales, the process of completing this masterwork resumed.

Now we kind of have a final date when the Sagrada Família  might be complete. By 2010, the building was half finished but still the greatest challenges to its construction lay ahead. With modern techniques and materials it is hoped that these can be overcome and that everything will be completed by 2026 or thereabouts. That date would nicely coincide with the anniversary of its principle architect’s death.

I’ll pencil that into my diary in the hope that I can visit Barcelona about then and stand in awe of the vision of the final result. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Definitely cooler

image That large bank of cloud you can see coming in from the Atlantic will make it feel a lot cooler over the next week and may even bring a drop of rain to the area.

As I have said before though, cooler is a relative term. Temperatures of 26 –27 Celsius would make for a fine summer’s day in England. However, once you are used to days when the thermometer rises to the mid to high 30s,  mid 20s does feel a bit cold – time to maybe abandon the shorts for long trousers especially at night. 

Brave souls will still go for a dip in their pools but for most of us it is time to put the cover back on.

It will be another great social occasion

Remember the tapeo on the Calle last Sunday? I learnt yesterday that the Association of Relatives of Patients of Alzheimer "Acuérdate de mí"  in Bigastro managed to raise 3,000 Euros on the day. That is a phenomenal amount of money which will now go to help the Association provide much needed help to families who are coping with Alzheimer sufferers. Many congratulations go to the people who organised the event and to all those who helped in any way.

Now for more good news, I understand that the Association are planning something similar for next spring. Pam and I will certainly look forward to that. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A clean up is in order

In the newspapers Laverdad, the socialist spokesman, Raúl Valerio Medina complains about the state of the eco-park and the industrial estate. 

The eco- park is where you are supposed to take anything other than normal domestic waste but I must confess I have not been able to find it and neither have others judging by some of the items that are left by the bins here. Mind you it would not make any difference if I did find it at the moment because, according to Medina, the gate is closed anyway and has been for weeks.

The ex-mayor goes on to say that the streets in the industrial estate are dirty and weeds ridden making it difficult for drivers to see and concludes by saying that the new mayor should ensure that these problems are sorted out ASAP.

Monday, September 19, 2011

These should keep us out of mischief

20110919_3edad Looks like the third age association and the council have organised a programme of events for us on the weekend of the 1st and 2nd of October.

Saturday the 1st at the Plaza de Concordia there will be a full day’s program laid on for us.
Starting at 12:30 with a reception, aperitifs at 1pm and a meal at 2. Dancing from 6pm until  8pm with a delicious snack provided to keep us going. All for the princely sum of 10 Euros!

On Sunday the 2nd there will be  a special mass for us in the church at midday. Then in the evening at 7:30pm there will be a gala in the Auditorium price 3 Euros.  

Finally on Wednesday 5th October there will be a workshop of memory  at 6pm.
20110919_mujeres The Progressive Ladies of Bigastro also have a program of activities:

Bingo with coffee on the 25th of September  at 6pm.
Yoga classes on Wednesdays from 9:15pm until 10:30 pm starting on the 3rd of October.  
Aerobics on Monday, Wednesdays and Thursdays 4pm to 5pm; 5pm to 6pm and 8pm until 9pm. The sessions start on the 19th September.
Ballroom dancing on Tuesdays and Thursdays 9pm until 10pm starting on the 4th of October.  
English classes on Thursdays from 9pm until 11pm starting on the 6th October.

Price of all sessions is 3 Euros.

I will have my camera warmed up ready for the party on the  1st October and for the Gala on the 2nd. See you there!

End of an era

We are told  that Ana, who has taught Spanish to Pamela and me for five years will not be appointed to teach us this year.

That is sad because Ana is an excellent teacher. As ex teachers ourselves, Pam and I feel that we are in a good position to judge on such matters. Ana has the patience, knowledge and understanding necessary to encourage her students to want to learn. Believe me, after 34 years in the job with nearly twenty years of senior management experience, those are not qualities that you find in every teacher. 

Whether we will have a class or not this year remains to be seen. Last year Bigastro received only a fraction of the subsidy that it normally gets from Valencia to run adult education in the town. The size of our class is such that the council may decide that it not viable to offer a class teaching Spanish to foreigners any more.

That would be a huge blow to Pamela and I because we regard learning the language as vital to our lives here. We feel that we have made good progress, however we know there is a lot more for us to learn and without the constant practice that we got from the class we will loose our command of the language.

I know there are other classes in other towns and there are also private teachers who we could go to but we enjoyed visiting the Auditorium twice a week for our lessons. This may sound sad but it was one of the highlights of our week.

Putting a face to the Council

imageWell not quite because the photos of them are still missing but at least we know the names of the councillors responsible for the different areas of organisation in Bigastro.

Yesterday, at the tapeo, I got to meet Maria José, the Councillor for Culture, so that I could thank her in person for the very kind email she sent me.

PS Under the previous council, we also had details of the opposition councillors, I expect they will be added later.

PPS I wonder why the two councillors for the UNPLC are described as Don whilst the male councillors for the PP are not.  

O’Leary calls their bluff

Ryanair says it will cancel flights to 22 out of the 57 destinations it flies to from L'Altet as of November. The issue is over the airport’s insistence that airlines embark and disembark their passengers via air bridges adding 32 cents per passenger to the bill. Ryanair also say that the use of air bridges adds to the time it takes to turn their aircraft around. As far as they are concerned, they want to continue walking their passengers on and off planes as they did at the old terminal.

In an attempt to put a positive spin on all this, L'Altet  says that it is normal for companies to reduce their flights for the winter season.

This is a case where nobody wins. The newspaper Información says that the airport will loose 2.5 million Euros in revenue which, having just spent a small fortune building a new terminal, would be disastrous. On the other hand, Ryanir will loose a lot more than that in fares.

It makes you wonder why this issue was not brought up whilst Aena were planning the new terminal. Surely Ryanair, the main carrier at the airport, were consulted at that time – obviously not!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A huge success

I think that most would agree that Spain does not enjoy the same reputation for gastronomy as its neighbours, France and Italy. There are, no doubt, some excellent chefs preparing food in restaurants that would rival any in the world but the average Spanish restaurant simply serves good wholesome food at honest prices.

Where Spain does excel is in its tapas. Originally produced as a cover to keep the insects out of a glass of beer or wine, these have grown into an art form.

This morning was an excellent opportunity to enjoy the very best home made tapas from this area in aid of a most worthy cause.

The Alzheimer’s Association in Bigastro organised the event to celebrate Worldwide Alzheimer's Day this Wednesday. The deal was simple, you bought tickets for 2 Euros each and that entitled you to a tapas and a drink.

Four bars were set up laden with all manner of foodstuff ranging from humble sausages to the most delightful desserts. For just the loose change in your pocket, you could feast yourself on all of these offerings.

More than that though, it was an excellent opportunity to socialise, meet up with friends and neighbours and enjoy a good chat.

Our huge thanks go to all of the people who put in so much hard work to prepare the event and of course the food. We are glad that it was such a success and hope that it raised much needed funds for the organisation.

IMG_3719 IMG_3721
Those dessert were delicious. I had to restrain myself to sample just two. Pelotas, embutidos, empanadas, tortillas, ensladas, pinchas etc etc. There was something to suit every taste.
IMG_3730 IMG_3736

All the friends come at once

We’ve had a raft of visitors to see over the last few weeks and there are more to come. Sadly our friends from Greasby, who had booked their flights could not come at the last minute. We were so looking forward to enjoying their company but I guess there will be other times when we can chew over the fat and break some bread together.

Chris (who I worked with at Anfield) and Linda have a holiday home at nearby Cabo Roig so we popped down to their house  whilst they were here and enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon followed by a lovely meal at the nearby Tai restaurant.

Since we have removed the wall of plants that separated us from our neighbours below, we’ve got to know Mick and Jane.  We treated them to a barbecue at our house by way of thanks for all the hard work they did helping us to clear the debris away. If only we’d known that the council were going to clear the land opposite their house, we could have dumped it there!

Then we got to meet up with Graham and Janet who were holidaying at Punta Prima.  We popped down to see them and enjoyed a spot of lunch by the beach and yesterday they came up to our house for a barbecue. The last time we saw Graham and Janet was in the the 80s when they were wearing Easter bonnets!

This Thursday our good friends Peter (he is the brother of Graham) and Glenys  are over and will be staying at Chris and Linda’s house at Cab Roig. I expect we will see quite a bit of them, Peter has already booked himself in for one of my special paellas and I know Glenys will want to try out that Tai restaurant we went to with Chris and Linda. 

So busy times for Pam and I but in such delightful company, the hours we have spent with our friends, old and new, have flown by.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Daylight robbery

Never mind the petty criminals who might come and steal from your house, the biggest thieves are legal.

Three years ago this week, the collapse of the American investment bank Lehman Brothers signalled the onset of the global financial crisis, which has since escalated into a sovereign debt nightmare.

In response to the financial services industry’s manic greed and incompetence, the British Government last year established the Independent Commission on Banking. On Monday, the commission published its final report, calling for Britain’s banks to be broken up, ring-fencing their retail arms from the investment ‘gambling’ operations. That sounds fine until you then read that the banks will have eight years to implement the changes. How much more of our money can they loose in eight years?

This week a rogue trader at UBS lost £1.3 billion in a string of reckless transactions. Although he has been arrested and charged and will presumably go to prison, it will be the customers of the bank who will pay; those whose pension funds were held by the bank will be the losers.

It was highly paid, bank wizards that got the world into the financial mess that it is in, it was they who invested in toxic debt in the hope that it would pay off. As a result millions have lost fortunes on their investments, that is except the bankers themselves who are still paid obscene salaries for loosing our money.

  • The two best-paid staffers of Barclays’ investment banking division, Jerry del Missier and Rich Ricci, last year earned £47 million and £44 million respectively in salary, bonuses and share-based awards.
  • The average pay per employee — which takes in secretaries and cleaners — at the five biggest American banks last year was £252,000.
  • The average pay of Barclays’ 230 best-rewarded employees in 2010 was £2.4 million.

The banks justify these amounts by saying that they need top people to handle the sums of money involved. So why is it that, when enormous sums of tax payers money have been used to bail out these institutions and in spite of the huge losses their customers face, the people who got us into this mess still earn obscene salaries?

A quick look at the interest rates that banks charge for loans compared to the rates they will give you on savings accounts tells you why. 

The con men have been arrested

Following on from the story about the gas scam, it seems that six Spaniards have now been arrested by the Guardia Civil in connection with this. The arrested men worked for a gas company in Lorca and abused their positions to con elderly residents in the area out of money. At the same time they burgled the homes of their victims.

That was some gift

The next case against the former mayor of Bigastro, José Joaquín Moya involves the gift of a Volkswagen Toureg SUV valued at 60,000 Euros which Moya received from contractors working for the town council.

At the time of his arrest by the Guardia Civil, Moya admitted that accepting the gift was a mistake. The car had been subsequently sold and a more modest vehicle had been purchased.

The Anti-Corruption Prosecutor, Pablo Romero believes that the action of receiving this gift could constitute a crime of misappropriation and public bribery and wants the case to be tried by a jury in the provincial courts.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cartagena this month

Whilst many towns celebrate the re-conquest by the Christians over the Moors, Cartagena celebrates the capture of the city by the Romans.  The festivities are based on the Second Punic War, in which the Punic city (Qart-Hadast) was conquered by the Roman general Publius Cornelius Escipón, receiving the name of Roman Carthage.

More than 5.000 revellers, grouped into 25 troops and 25 Roman Legions Carthaginesas  will recreate over ten days  the most important feats that occurred  in the city between 223 BC and 209 BC

Clic here to view

FROM 16th to 25th SEPTEMBER

For ten days, all the heroic deeds which took place during the years of the Carthaginian rule, as well as the invasion and defeat by the Roman Empire, will be performed and lived out by natives and foreigners alike.

Troops and legions will represent the scenes of events based on the city’s history. They will stage grand parades in costumes and armaments you would only expect to find in film productions.


In a huge setting, the 50 groups will  decorate “the camp” and put up bars open to all visitors. For the duration of the celebrations, the camp will become a big city, set in ancient times, with the art and symbols of Rome and Carthage, Greece, Iberia and Phoenicia all around.

Our mayor becomes president

Yesterday, the Mancomunidad of Services of Economic Promotion of the Vega Baja elected Charo Bañuls (mayor of Bigastro) as president of the organisation.

Addressing the meeting, the new president said she hopes to have the support and cooperation of all the municipalities involved regardless of whichever party they happen to support. As it happens the three councils governed by the PSOE,  (Benferri, Los Montesinos and San Isidro) were absent from the meeting along with San Fulgencio and San Miguel de Salinas.

Bañuls went on to say that, in the coming days, she will make contact with all the members of the Mancomunidad to establish priorities for projects that are either in the process of development or may be run in the future.  She placed special emphasis on continuing the commitment to training as a means to prepare people when looking for jobs.

The new president acknowledged that the economic situation for the region meant that austerity measures would have to be put in place involving cut backs on spending and an increase in the sharing of resources. The focus for sharing at present is in training, employment and promoting tourism in the area.

The Manucomunidad is made up of eleven municipalities: Algorfa, Benejúzar, Benferri, Benijófar, Bigastro, Jacarilla, Los Montesinos, Redován, San Miguel de Salinas, San Fulgencio and San Isidro. Remember that these are all small towns; only San Fulgencio has a population of over 10,000. Although the Manucomunidad has no legal standing, the towns need this network of support between themselves.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The annual dust up

Give them their due, the council regularly send someone up to clean the piece of land on the corner of Calle Alemania and Calle Inglaterra and each time they  have kindly left the garden that Scotty created at the side of his house on Calle Alemania.

To be honest there was not a lot growing on there for them to clear away. However a couple of trees had managed to spring up since last time. Well they are gone now along with all the weeds and any wildlife that might have inhabited the plot of land.

What are you doing on Sunday?

This Sunday there will be a chance to relive the balmy days of tapeo in the street as four bars set up on Calle Purisima to sell food and presumably drink. I understand that most of the food will be homemade – perfect!

The event, which starts at 12:30 has been organised by the Association of Relatives of Patients of Alzheimer "Acuérdate de mí" in Bigastro so proceeds are all going to a very worthwhile cause.

Pam and I will be down there and I will have my camera to record the event for our neighbour Eladia who does a lot of work for the organisation. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Conmen on the loose

I’d read about the “gas inspection” scam but not actually come across anyone who had experienced it until last week that is.

Pam and I were talking to an English couple who live in nearby Vistabella who told us they had been visited by a a couple of men in grey uniforms carrying clipboards and what looked like official paperwork. The two men said they were calling to make an essential check on the gas installation in their house which of course would have to be paid for in cash. The lady, realising that this was a scam, told the men that they did not have gas in the house at which point the men said they would check the electricity instead – doh!

Apparently, the men had called at other houses in the area and had become abusive when the owners told them where to go.

Of course, we do have gas on our estate and yes, our installation has to be checked periodically for leaks, However, we get a letter from the gas supplier notifying us of this and the charge comes on to the next bill.

Some months ago two men called at our house and told Pamela that, by law, our alarm system must now be connected to a security firm system. Pamela told the men that I was out and that they should come back another time which of course they didn’t.

Many of us have been caught out at sometime or other by salespeople at the door. However, once bitten – twice shy, our policy now is not to buy anything at the door and certainly not to let salespeople into the house unless we have requested them to call.

On another note: Pam and I are also very cautious about being stopped by people asking for directions or other information because again, whilst you are being distracted, there could well be a thief picking your pocket or taking your bag.

It is a sad situation where you feel that you cannot trust people anymore but that is unfortunately the way it is. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Birds put off by thrash metal

When I had the problem with the sparrows that had taken a liking to the air conditioning unit at the back of the house, Alejandro Moya Hidalgo, who reads my blog, suggested that I should hang some old CDs or DVDs by it. Apparently the birds are put off by reflections on the shiny surface.

This morning I read that the farmers in the area of the Natural Parks of La Mata and Torrevieja tried this method out to protect their grape vines and found it works. The only problem for them is that they need rather a lot of discs and so they asked the police in Torrevieja if they could have some of the ones confiscated from illegal traders.

Rather than destroy them, the police (or possibly the farmers) have drilled a hole through the CDs and DVDs rendering the discs unplayable. So far, the police have donated 11,000 of these to the farmers to hang around the vines.

Reading that story made me wonder whether there any particular genre of music CD that is more effective than others. For example; would a heavy metal CD be more effective than say one of classical music and would a DVD of the film “Out of Africa” simply lull them to sleep as it did me?

Monday, September 12, 2011

No more Bob Esponja for Molly!

When Pam and I were growing up, children’s TV (the little that there was) comprised stories  with a moral and characters that had middle class, BBC voices. They may not have excited our imagination too much but at least we were calm and quiet afterwards which was just what our parents wanted.

Was it Bill or was it Ben those naughty flowerpot men – little weed knew and I think the little house knew as well. Then there was Andy Pandy and of course Muffin the mule.

As our own children were growing up, the pace of children’s programs  increased, the voices changed and the presenters acted as though they had just been on a course of Pro-Plus and caffeine. It seemed to be all about getting the viewers up to fever pitch (remember Tiswas?). Characters in the cartoons came and went as the old brigade fell out of fashion.  The shouting got louder and the action became increasingly frenetic. 

One of the programs in vogue at the moment is SpongeBob or Bob Esponja as he is known in Spain. 

According to research by Prof Lillard, of the University of Virginia just nine minutes of watching SpongeBob can impair the ability of four-year-olds to learn.

Their “executive function”  was found to be severely compromised after watching the wacky fast-paced undersea adventures of SpongeBob. Prof Lillard, said: "A possibility is children identify with unfocused and frenetic characters — then adopt their characteristics."

She urged parents to bear this in mind when deciding which TV shows they let their kids watch. Prof Lillard said: "Executive function is extremely important to children's success in school and in everyday life.

"It's important to their psychological and physical wellbeing."

Molly is enough of a character, she does not need winding up by watching SpongeBob. Please Laura, wean her off the program before our next visit because Pam and I are too old to cope with an over active child who has lost her executive function. 

Lady luck was on my side

We invited our neighbours from below to a barbecue last night as a way of repaying them for all the work they did getting rid of my plants and netting that were encroaching onto their house. Everything was set, we would  have nibbles and drinks at the small table by the pool and then be eating at the larger table by the side of the house. I had the party lights on and the restaurant by the pool was providing background music. The air was still and warm, a perfect night for eating ‘al fresco’.

I’d already uncovered the barbecue and cleaned the lid so that it looked decent and the grill had been cleaned from the last time, The one thing I hadn’t done was check the bottle to see if there was enough gas in it. The only way I can do this is to pick the bottle up and feel the weight. The last time I did this was when Laura, Dave and Molly were over and there was plenty of gas left in it then. We have had a fair number of barbecues since but surely not enough to empty the bottle.

Wrong, the bottle felt light. The question then was, “did I have enough gas to cook the meat?” If not, it would have been better to cut my loses and light the charcoal BBQ up on the roof terrace. Not what we intended because with Pam in the kitchen and me on the roof cooking the meat,  our guests would have had to amuse themselves, so I took a gamble. The barbecue lit and so at least there was enough pressure to get it started but would it last?

Just as the meat was finished cooking, the flames flickered and then died - that was a lucky break for me.

Even worse than cooking on the roof would have been having to go up there with half cooked meat and wait until the charcoal got up to heat to finish it off. There is a lot to be said for having a spare gas bottle!

PS Many thanks to Mick and Jane for all their hard work. We hope that we didn't spoil their holiday too much.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hurricane Katia

imageThere are those who would tell you that Britain cannot suffer from hurricanes. Well normally that is true but his one is different.

Tropical hurricanes are usually slow-moving phenomena, fuelled by warm seas and humid air, which fizzle out as they move north into the colder air of the Atlantic.

In Katia's case, however, it appears that unusually low-altitude and strengthening jet stream winds between North Carolina and New York are providing the storm with an oceanic conveyor belt, speeding its passage towards Ireland and the UK and allowing it to maintain an unusual intensity.

Even though it has been downgraded from a category 4 hurricane to a post tropical storm, it will bring strong winds and sea surges especially to northern Scotland where some structural damage is being predicted.

It is time for our friends and relatives to batten down the hatches, we hope they will all be OK. On occasions like this, my philosophy is to expect the worst and hope that the reality is much better than that.

El Willo’s fruit and veg.

Aurelio Murcia is  investigating the extent of the land which the council owns in the market garden area the other side of the by pass from Bigastro. According to the records from the previous council, Bigastro owns 84,000 square metres but the land registry only shows 70,000 square metres. Whatever the figure, this land was acquired via acquisitions, exchanges and agreements with owners whilst José Joaquín Moya was mayor and currently stands derelict.

Once the council have ascertained the amount of unused land that they own, Murcia plans to rent it out to people so that they can cultivate it. 

I recall that when Moya was mayor, he had a similar plan for use of this land which he called ‘leisure gardens’. At that time, you could rent a plot for a nominal fee and grow on it what you liked as long as it was not citrus trees.

Those were prosperous times for the town and so there was very little interest. Now that times are a lot harder, Murcia believes that people might be more inclined to grow a few vegetables to feed their families or even sell .

When the scheme was proposed before,I thought about it for a brief instance but then dismissed it. Working an allotment is bloody hard work especially in the summer months when it is just too hot for labouring outside.

Sorry Mrs W., I’m afraid that the fruit and vegetables in our house will have to continue coming from Mercadona.

Friday, September 09, 2011

An important date

Pam and I are watching a series of programs on Discovery channel about the reconstruction of Ground Zero which we assume will end on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Each of the programmes features people who were affected by the worst terrorist attack on American soil and tells the story of their eagerness to put things right.

The buildings they have created will form both a wonderful tribute to those who lost their lives and at the same time make a statement to the world that America will not be beaten.

However, it seems that the forces of evil that devastated America ten years ago are determined to remind the country that they are still there. Osama Bin Laden might have been killed, but there are plenty of others ready to take his place.

This morning I read that New York is to be put into a state of heightened alert over the 9/11 anniversary weekend, with extra bomb sweeps, dog patrols, surveillance of tunnels and bridges and even vehicle check points, following what is being described as "credible but unconfirmed" information that a terrorist attack is being planned on the city or on Washington.

Only sketchy details have been given of the nature of the threat and Michael Bloomberg, New York's mayor, emphasised in a late-night press conference held at city hall that the intelligence of the threat was uncorroborated. But with the world's eyes on New York ahead of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, nobody is taking any chances.

"We know the terrorists regard the anniversary as an opportunity to strike again. We do live in a world where we must take these threats seriously," Bloomberg said.

Let us hope that all passes without incident, not just for the sake of the Americans involved but for the peace of the whole world.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The debate continues

The war of words between the politicians in Bigastro continued with the spokesperson for the PSOE, Raúl Valerio Medina speaking at the gates of the nursery school yesterday.

Amongst other things, he said the socialists believe there is already a  pact between the new council and a company to privatise Bigastrin and that the  new director of the school, who he claims was handpicked by the mayor, is in agreement with this.

In the manifesto of the UNPLC, Aurelio Murcia talked of privatising some of the councils services. To illustrate the point he said, if you only need a plumber four times a year, it does not make sense to have one permanently on your payroll. When you need a plumbing job done, you simply hire one for that occasion.

The new councillor went on to explain that there are a lot of council services that could be contracted out without compromising quality. According to his calculations, contracting out would bring substantial savings to the town. I don’t recall whether his proposals included the running of the infant school Bigastrin or not. I would have to route out my copy of the manifesto to see if that was the case.

In England, many local authorities introduced PFI (Private Funding Initiative) schemes to save them the burden of running their schools. Liverpool council, for example,  looked at offloading the dilapidated school that I worked in to a private company.

As the Assistant Headteacher with responsibility for Finance and Premises, I spent many hours looking into the proposals that were being made. The deal was that we would get the school refurbished in exchange for the company taking control of the budget for the building over a specified period of time.

Obviously the companies bidding for the scheme wanted to make profit out of the deal so the refurbishment was going to be kept to a minimum as was the cost of premises management. We had already contracted out cleaning of the school to save money and suffered the consequences of a company that could not deliver the service levels we required so we had an idea of what PFI would mean to us.

Having examined the proposals in depth, my advice to the Headteacher and the Governing body was not to accept the idea.  Eventually the scheme was scrapped for Anfield which then became part of the socialist  government’s Academy Schools scheme.

Many of the PFI schemes that did go ahead in other parts of the country proved to be disastrous for the schools involved. They may have enjoyed a bit of a spruce up initially but long term, they have suffered the dire consequences of profit led premises management.

If this is what the new council have in mind for Bigastrin, then the parents have every need to feel cautious.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

I am appealing!

There is no need to comment on the heading, it is there simply to get your attention!

The local council do a great job keeping our streets clean. The sweeper trundles up the hills on our estate removing all the debris from the kerb side on its way. Afterwards the streets look a lot tidier including the short road that goes round the top of the park where the office used to be.

Except for the section which leads from Calle Irlanda to Calle Canada de Andrea, this is hardly ever used by residents. It is however the haunt for those who come up in cars and park there for a “chat”. Some days there are as many as six cars or more parked up, their owners sitting on the wall that surrounds the park.

When they leave, there is always a trail of debris on the road – cigarette packets, empty water bottles, pizza boxes etc etc just strewn along the kerbside and in the park itself. We cannot say that these people are doing any harm whist they are here; our only real complaint is all the mess they leave.

We could understand this if it wasn’t for the fact that, just round the corner from where they sit, there are the waste bins.

Why can’t they put their rubbish in the bins, it would make us all a lot happier.

Tension between the council and the parents’ leader

It was predictable that the meeting between the council team and the parents of children at Bigastrin, held on Monday, was going to be fraught.

The meeting, presided over by the Mayor, Charo Bañuls and the Councillor for Education, Aurelio Murcia ended up in a bitter quarrel between the Councillor and the Chairperson of the Parents’ Association, Carmen Sanchez who coincidentally was the former secretary of the local socialist party.

Aurelio Murcia says, she did not show interest in the management of the nursery school under the previous socialist regime when the employees worked without pay for several months nor was she interested that the company providing catering were owed 113,000 Euros in spite of the fact that parents have paid 70 Euros a month for the service.

I would say that It is always a good idea to examine your own track record before going in for a fight because you are on a hiding to nothing if the party you are defending has so many skeletons lurking in the cupboard.

PS I just wonder how “hiding to nothing” and “skeletons in the cupboard” will come across to my Spanish readers! Maybe I should have said that Ms Sanchez did not “have a leg to stand on” because I think Spaniards might understand that better.

A top tip

If you don’t own a pool then you can stop reading this post here!

However, if you do have a pool and like me, you are having difficulty keeping the grouting clean it may be you are facing the same issue as I am.

The problem

A well informed young lady at a pool shop explained it to me very well. Believe it or not, this summer has been colder than normal. Yes, there may have been a few hot days but overall it has been cool for this area. Those cooler but yet sunny conditions were apparently  perfect for the growth of black algae in the pool and whilst regular dosing with chlorine controls the growth of green algae, it will not halt the growth of the “black stuff”. Even those 4 in 1 tablets will struggle to keep the black algae under control.

Cleaning the bottom of the pool won’t shift it either, only brushing with a stiff pool brush will remove the algae but even then it will come back within a short space of time because brushing only removes the growth, it does not kill the roots.

The solution

The young lady went on to explain that the solution to this dilemma was to treat the pool with a specific algaecide for the job. Most of her clients, who know a thing or two about pools, had been in to buy bottles of black algae treatment this year. She told me the stuff was literally flying off the shelves.

Remember that what you want is an algaecide which is specific for black algae because that is what is making your grouting look dirty. Other algaecides may remove the green variety and shock chlorine will help with that but both will leave the black algae untouched.

There are instructions on the bottle I bought which the lady suggested I should ignore.

The worst affected part of  my pool is where it curves from the floor to the walls and that is where she said I should concentrate the solution. She told me to mix about 750 mls of the chemical with roughly 9 parts of water and then pour the mix around just inside the edges of the pool: sprinkling any remaining solution into the middle. I should do this at night when the pool pump is off to allow the chemical to settle to where the algae is growing.

The next morning, I should set the pump running as usual, brush the bottom of the pool to remove the now dead algae along with its roots and finally vacuum the bottom to remove all the sediment.

In persistent cases, it may be necessary to apply a second dose. In fact, the instructions on the bottle suggest that you should dose with a weaker solution at regular intervals to keep the black algae from returning. The instructions also say that is safe to bathe in water that has been treated.

So there you have it, the solution to your problem of dirty grouting lies in a bottle of algaecide which you can get from any decent pool shop.

Since the lady was kind enough to give me a through explanation, I will mention the shop I bought mine from  - Emisan Pool Spa located in the commercial centre on the left  side of the road which takes you from the  coast road (N332) to Iceland in San Fulgencio.

Whilst you are there, stop for a coffee at the German bar/restaurant at the far end inside the centre. For 1.20 you get coffee with a little fairy cake and a small shot of Baileys topped with whipped cream – it makes going to Iceland bearable!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

It is degrading

Following on from my item yesterday about the prostitutes who ply their trade on the highways and by by ways of Spain.

It is a sad reflection on mankind that these young ladies (and some of them are very young) degrade themselves by offering sexual services to men in such an open and obvious way.

Prostitution has existed since the dawn of time which is why it is called the “oldest profession”. Men’s sexual lust is such that there is clearly a need for such services throughout the world.  In Spain, they will argue that the freedom that prostitutes are allowed reduces incidences of rape and child molestation.

Curiously, although there are no doubt gigolos who offer the same services to women, you never see one at the side of  the road. Perhaps women are more discrete about their lust. 

Whatever, the sight of barely dressed young ladies along the roadside is a constant reminder to all of us of the weakness of men and as such is degrading to both the girls and we men who have never felt the need to seek their services. As one of my neighbours put it, “why go out and pay for a hamburger when you can have steak at home?”

Strongly held views

In England everyone blames the government for the ills of the country no matter which party they support. However, here in Spain political allegiance seems to run deeper.

In Bigastro, the socialists held control for nearly thirty years and so have a hard core of devoted supporters who will find every reason they can to criticise the new council.  In Orihuela, it is the other way round, the loyal supporters of the PP will find fault with the new socialist controlled council.

The net result is that every decision that Charo Bañuls and her team makes will be open to scrutiny and criticism by the stalwarts of the socialist party. For example, Aurelio Murcia says the the decision to cut the number of staff at the nursery school has been criticised by Carmen Sanchez, the chairperson of the Parents’ Association, on political grounds.

Whether that is true or not, I can’t say. I would think it unlikely that parents would approve of staffing cuts whatever party they support so the fact that Carmen Sanchez is a socialist supporter may just be a red herring.

Who is right – it is for you to decide

The lady mayor of Bigastro, Charo Bañuls accompanied by the spokesperson for the government team,  Aurelio Murcia and the Councillor for Finance, Antonio Gonzalez went to the press yesterday to make the situation regarding state funding to the town clear.

The ex socialist mayor had accused the new council of loosing out on 1.5 million Euros of state funding by sending the annual accounts to Madrid well after the deadline. Charo Bañuls first of all pointed out that it was the socialist party that had failed to meet the March deadline and then went on to set out what she says are the true figures.

She says that Bigastro had received 355,000 Euros of funding between January and June against the 622,000 Euros it would have received if the accounts had been filed on time and went on to point out that Bigastro should receive 88,000 Euros a month which amounts to 1.06 million per year and not the 1.5 million quoted by the socialists. As I understand it, the situation is complicated by the fact that the town owes money to social security which is withheld from the funding. 

What we are seeing is a war of words in the press between the previous and the present government teams. Inevitably each will have a different take on the situation which makes it very difficult for us to know who is speaking the truth. One thing is clear though, the town has already missed out on government funding for this year, the amount it should have received is where the debate lies. As to why the town has missed out, well the blame for that lies mainly with the socialists who failed to make a return before the March deadline and then with the current government team who took from May until the end of August to file a late return.

Is it any wonder that we find it hard to  trust politicians when they provide us with such conflicting information. 

Monday, September 05, 2011

The oldest profession – the youngest girls

Ask any visitor to this area what they remember from their time here and one of the things they will say is the number of prostitutes they’ve  seen on the roadside. Whilst we men may joke about it amongst ourselves, we will admit that it is not the most attractive feature of the area.

These young girls, who are mostly from African countries and Eastern Europe, openly  ply their trade 24 hours a day. Drive down the CV-95 or along through the roundabouts on the coast road and you will see them either sitting or standing half naked waiting for customers. This is not the image that the area wants to portray of itself. Quite what we will tell our granddaughter Molly when she is old enough to notice them I am not sure.

Until last October there was an group (AMUNOD) that worked in association with the Hope and Life Association of Torrevieja to help those who wanted to leave the streets find better work. The project was funded by the Caja Mediterráneo bank. There was also a risk reduction program called "Prevenbús" which was funded between 2005 and 2009 and aimed at preventing the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases by distributing condoms to the girls. In addition there was a mobile clinic which used to make regular checks on the girls .

With the financial crisis, funding for these programs dried up leaving one of the most vulnerable sectors of society without any support. It seems that, until someone else picks up the tab, we will be faced with the sight of girls on the roundabouts for some time to come.   

You could see this coming

When you read that Bigastro council were planning to cut the staff at the pre-school Bigastrin from 22 to 13 (9 teachers and 4 assistants) you just knew that the parents would not approve.

The council has to make cuts in its budget and everyone understands that, they just don’t want the cuts to be made in areas that will affect them.

The parents regard the school as one of the best in the region and even though a court ruled that the fees charged could not be justified, they were willing to pay them. Parents now say they would rather pay the 110 Euros per month and have the same quality of provision than save 20 Euros for something which they feel will be inferior.

The other issue of concern for the parents is the reduction in hours; the council say that the deficit can be made up with extra curricular activities but for the parents that is not the same thing.

The parents’ association requested a meeting with the mayor and have been told that the Councillor for Education, Aurelio Murcia will hold a meeting with all of the parents. It is now getting close to the beginning of term and nothing has happened so far on that score.

As I see it, the council have two choices; they can either accede to the wishes of the parents and bear the cost or they can weather the storm until it rides out. If they decide on the former course of action then any plans they have for cuts elsewhere will face the same resistance and the town will be in a financial mess for ever more.

The council really are between a rock and a hard place on this one.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

A spa town on our doorstep

To develop your town, it pays to think big and that is just what Callosa de Segura is doing. A survey was conducted in the La Monsin district of the town which found a supply of underground water at 33.8 degrees with a flow rate of over 50 litres per second. That set them off thinking.

The City of Callosa de Segura has now  published a feasibility study for a project that could turn the town into one of the major tourist centres of the region. They plan to construct a hot spring resort and hotel accommodation on a plot in the neighbourhood of La Monsin with a budget of 12 million Euros provided by a private company in exchange the right to operate the facility for a specified period of time.

The plan is to build a  resort housing a spa with sauna, hydrotherapy cabins, two restaurants, a room for conferences and a hotel with a capacity for 160 guests. Specifically, the project involves the construction of a building with three storeys of which one would be a basement.

The basement would hold the underground spa facilities, including a reception area, a medical office, solarium, outdoor swimming areas, saunas, hydro massage cabins and hydrotherapy, as well as a gym with a locker room area. The ground floor would house a library, a TV room, a cafeteria, two restaurants and a multipurpose room that could accommodate congresses and exhibitions. The first floor would be reserved for hotel facilities, with a total of eighty bedrooms.

Just to remind you,  the total cost for this project is an estimated 12 million Euros.

What Callosa needs is a company brave enough to gamble that sort of outlay on the success of this type of venture. Five or more years ago there might have been competing tenders for the project but now I am not so sure. It very much relies upon people having the money to spend on this type of leisure activity. Like the planned aparthotel in Bigastro which actually failed because it didn’t have regional approval, a spa resort to compete with nearby Fortuna is a step into the unknown. However, you only make big money by taking risks so who knows, we may have a spa town on our doorstep in the future.

Got that wrong

Nobody seemed to forecast rain here in Bigastro for yesterday. However, you did not need a fancy weather recording setup to know that it was actually going to pour down. A quick look up at the sky and you could see the black clouds rolling towards us from the coast.

Black clouds mean only one thing – rain and lots of it. The Spanish call it a ‘tromba de agua’  (a water whirlwind) and that is what we got. Sods law, I believed the forecast and cleaned the pool of all that dust that came with the rain the other day. Pam cleaned the furniture which was also covered with a layer of brown dust. Our plan was to maybe lie out in the gentle sunshine and take a dip in the pool.  Mind you, with the water temperature at a chilling 28, we would not have stayed in there for long.

Then we spotted the clouds rolling in and abandoned that idea and went for cutting back the plants that have pulled the fence at the back into a horizontal position. Pam and I were making good progress with that job when it started to spit. We just got the tools back in the shed before the heavens opened dropping another centimetre or so of water into the pool.

One small consolation, taping over the holes in the bottom of the pool box does seem to have stopped it from flooding during heavy rain. We haven’t really had any heavy rain since I sealed the holes so this was a good test.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Offers you can’t refuse

Those who follow my Project 365 will have picked up the fact that I have a new computer. I know my old one wasn’t that old but, as my friend Pete will tell you, I am a sucker for something new and in my defence, the new machine does work a lot faster at handling the huge picture files that my camera takes.

Whenever you buy a new computer with a new operating system there is bound to be some fall out with either hardware or software that you own. It is my own fault that some programs now will not run because I took the lazy option of using Laplink to transfer them from old to new. Thankfully I have got rid of the traces of all but one of those that refused to uninstall. I can live with that because the redundant program is not affecting performance. 

The upshot is that I have a JVC digital camcorder that I can’t connect to my new computer because it uses firewire. I can’t tell you exactly how old but it is at least ten years since I bought it. Still it works perfectly and I have both a normal and high capacity battery for it. I also have a good supply of  digital tapes which are of course reusable.

The camcorder is now looking for a new home and is therefore up for grabs. The only thing I would remind you of is that you need a firewire card in your computer to use it.  Just to help there, I have a PCI firewire card along with the necessary cable that I can take out of my old computer for anyone who has a spare PCI slot in their machine.

The old (four years) computer is also up for grabs. For the teccy types, it is a Dell Dimension 9200 with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2Gb of RAM and a 620GB hard drive. It’s a lively beast that comes with Windows Vista and is also seeking a new home.

The last time I had a computer for sale I got silly offers for it. I’m not expecting anywhere near what I paid for my either my camcorder or my computer but to be honest I would rather take them to the charity shop than sell for a stupid price.

If you are interested, then make me an offer and I will tell you if it is acceptable! Alternatively, if you know of a shop that buys second hand equipment like this, let me know and I will take them there.

That did the trick

It was getting very hot and steamy over the last week. We like it hot but not humid: take a shower in the morning to freshen up and within minutes you are soaked in sweat again. Even for those who are acclimatised to the Spanish summers, that was not nice.

Anyway, we were expecting rain yesterday and boy did we get it. Pam and I had just got back from shopping when it started in earnest, then it eased off and started again. You knew that, after all that build up of heat there would be a thunderstorm – thankfully it didn’t last long.

After the storm passed, the clouds parted and the sun came back out.  Now, it is a lot cooler and a lot less humid so the storm did the trick moving us from hot summer to mild autumn in one day.

I’ve already posted a picture on my Flickr album of the rain hammering down on the surface of the pool. Here it is again for the benefit of those of you who do not venture on to my Project 365 pictures.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Ample reward for my efforts

I have just received this email from one of the local councillors which has left me blushing.

Muy buenas Sr. K. Williamsom: 
Soy María José, concejala del Ayuntamiento de Bigastro, y en nombre de la Sra.Charo Bañuls y la Nueva Corporación quiero agradecerle todo el trabajo que está haciendo por este municipio, porque es un gran fotógrafo y una excelente persona. Su colaboración es primordial y esencial para nosotros, puesto que ahora más que nunca necesitamos la ayuda de las personas que como usted se prestan a colaborar, por ello quiero expresar mi más sincero agradecimiento por su gran ayuda y espero que siga colaborando con nosotros.
También me gustaría que pudiéramos ponernos en  contacto y conocernos mejor, porque,  la verdad no nos han presentado y me encantaría conocerle, porque hace un ¡excelente trabajo!

For those whose Spanish might not be up to it, this is my rough translation of the email  from María José who writes on behalf of the lady mayor and the rest of the council to thank me for the work that I do for the town.

She says that I am a great photographer (I would not go that far) and an excellent person (now that is true!) and that my collaboration is both fundamental and essential because, more than ever, the town needs people like me to boost its moral (not quite what it says but that is my understanding of the sense of the statement).

Maria goes to say that she hopes that I will continue to work for the town and wishes to make personal  contact to get to know me better. 

As you know, I am retired and therefore have the time to write this blog recording my life here in Bigastro and to take photographs of events in the town. It is my pleasure to share these photos by posting them to the town hall for inclusion on their web site. 

Pam and I have been made to feel so welcome in Bigastro, we feel it is only right  we make some sort of contribution back for all the pleasure that the town and its people give us. 

I have not yet met the new mayor, Charo Bañuls even though I now have quite a few photographs of her taken during the fiesta. Pam and I are close neighbours of Aurelio Murcia and count him as a friend.

I would welcome the opportunity to meet with members of the council and of course will continue to provide photographs for the townspeople to enjoy.

María José, thank you so much for your email and your kind remarks - they  are very much appreciated.  

How bizarre

Here in Bigastro, it is the Socialist party that gets the blame for all the wrongs in the town that is because they were in power before the May elections created a turn around.

In Orihuela it is the PP that get the stick for the same reason.

Following several stories of payments that were deliberately not paid by the out-going PP it also appears that the party was hiding more than just invoices. According to government spokesperson Pedro Mancebo, a vehicle designed to carry disabled citizens has been found hidden in a municipal warehouse behind piles of wood and covered with a tarpaulin. It appears the vehicle has been there, unused since it was donated last March.

The minibus was donated by the Fundación Caja Murcia, after a previous agreement that the corporation signed in November 2010. The vehicle was delivered to the then PP-run Town Hall by the savings bank in March this year. However, in June this year when the new government team took over the administration there was, no record, no documentation, just a set of unlabelled keys.

The vehicle was behind a wall of wooden pallets, covered with tarpaulin rather than in the official fleet car park where it should have been. Questions are now being asked of the PP as to why the vehicle was hidden, why its was not parked officially and why no-one had been notified of the arrival of a vehicle donated to provide a public service.

The dark side of Ibiza

Ask anybody under 30 what the island of Ibiza is famous for and they will tell you dance clubs and drugs. Not surprising really because the two go together like a hand and a glove.

There are other aspects to the white island, like the beautiful resorts that lie dotted around the coast but the main pull for the young are the clubs of San Antonio that offer all night music.

As I said the other day, to keep going all night these days means popping a few pills so alongside the clubs you have the drugs trade –that is a feature of the island that the authorities want to clean up.

Thirteen people were arrested including 10 from the UK and two from the Republic of Ireland in a joint operation with The UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency nicknamed 'Rula'. Some 3,600 ecstasy pills were seized, along with five kilograms of MDMA - a form of ecstasy - and four kilograms of cocaine. Also found were 69,000 euros (£60,000).

In a second operation, called 'Dragones', police arrested 60 people, some of them believed to be members of Italian Camorra mafia, Those arrested include alleged heads of a crime clan on the island. Police seized 1,950 pills and 21,000 euros in 22 houses and five premises in the Dragones operation.

Those operations represent a major coup for the police. Sadly, there will be others waiting to take the place of those arrested and a fresh supply of pills will no doubt be on its way. Although the police may score a victory now and again, the war against drugs is never going to be over. 

Better late than never

Municipalities are supposed to send accounts to the Ministerio de Economía each year. The documents for 2010 should have been sent by the 31st March but of course towns were preparing for elections at that time. Since over 5,000 councils had not sent in their returns by the due date, an extension was granted until the 31st July. The government said that any town sending a return after that date would have their payments frozen.

Apparently Orihuela council sent their return in on the first day of August leaving only those from  Bigastro and Benejúzar still outstanding.

According to Aurelio Murcia, the return for Bigastro  has now been sent by certified mail. The reasons that he gives for this lateness are twofold:
1. The PSOE were in power when the documentation should have been sent.
2. For the first weeks of August, the town was busy with the Fiesta for San Joaquín

Aurelio Murcia says that he is not unduly concerned about the consequences of sending in the return late because, as he points out, Bigastro owes Seguridad Social 960,000 Euros against the 760,000 Euros that they would claim from Hacienda. The spokesperson goes on to say that the new council are working to bring the town back to a normal financial state and adds that ‘the kids’, as he calls the socialist team led by the young Raúl Valerio, have not even  left them with a Euro to achieve this.

Actually, it is interesting to note that the last budget statement  to be posted on the town's web site dates back to 2008.I am sure that Aurelio will put this right when he has the opportunity.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

On being a granddad

The years when our children were growing up were probably some of the happiest in our lives. To watch them develop, to see them progress and to help them on their way was the ultimate reward for the work we put into raising our girls.

Now that they are in their thirties, Jemma and Laura still give us a great deal of pleasure but it is not the same as when they were toddlers. Thankfully, that place has now been taken by our granddaughter Molly.

Every Wednesday afternoon, Molly’s father takes time off work to be with his daughter and most weeks he gives us a call to go on to Skype for a video chat. For Pam and I, those forty minutes or so when we are on line are just magical. To see the beam of delight on Molly’s face as she recognises us on screen would be ample reward in itself but we get much more than that.  We get to see Molly’s latest antics, hear her rehearse the latest words and see her respond to her dad’s words. Ask her the names of the children at her nursery and she will tell you, ask her how does papa walk and she will clasp her hands behind her back – wonderful.

After about forty minutes, you can tell that Molly has got bored with all this – she has had enough of a grandparents fix and is ready to move on to something else. At the end of the call, Dave encourages Molly to return to his lap so that she can blow us a few kisses, wave to us and say goodbye and then she is gone. Forty minutes seems hardly enough time to be with such a wonderful little person. 

It won’t be long though before we see Molly in the flesh and we can’t wait. The days are being ticked off on the calendar and plans for our visit are being confirmed. We are looking forward to that moment when we meet at the airport and Molly realises that we are not on the computer screen this time, we are actually there.

You know I’ve spent a lot of time at airports waiting for people to arrive. As I have stood there I’ve often seen eager young children rush to their grandparents desperate for that first big hug that says I love you and I have missed you.  For a long time I wanted to be one of of those grandparents and now I am!