Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas concert pictures

OK so here are the photos from the Christmas concert for those who want copies. Again, they are not the full size originals but should be large enough to make normal size prints from.

Thank you Apple

I  said before that we do not have access to British TV in Casa El Willo. That is not strictly true because we do have a subscription to the version of BBC iPlayer available on an Apple iPad in Spain. Although not the same as the one available in Britain (or to those who have a spoof IP address here in Spain), there is a lot of excellent content to be viewed.

Previously, we could only watch the programmes on the small iPad screen and listen through the small speakers. No more though because now we have a 3rd generation Apple TV which allows us to stream the content from the iPad to the TV in the lounge. Apple call it mirroring and it works just fine.

The diminutive box is connected to the TV with a HDMI cable and to our router via the household wiring and a pair of Home Plugs*. The iPad streams the content wirelessly to the router and from there to the TV – voila – a perfect picture and sound on the screen. Yesterday we watched the special concert for the Queen’s jubilee followed by the first part of Oliver Twist.


Although we can watch the programmes streamed directly, the picture does stutter slightly from time to time so we have found it is better to download the content to the iPad and then watch it from there. That way, both the sound and the picture are completely stutter free.

You may argue that we had to buy both an iPad and an Apple TV to achieve this. That is true - however, the cost was a lot less than a huge dish on the roof and the iPad is useful for so much more than watching BBC programmes. I already had the Home Plugs to connect our smart TV and digibox to the Internet anyway. 

* I first of all connected both the iPad and Apple TV to our router via wireless N and that worked. However, the picture and sound would stutter occasionally which was distracting. Connecting the Apple TV by Ethernet (even using the electricity cabling in the house) solved that problem.

It is possible to connect an iPad to an Ethernet switch with an appropriate cable from Apple but that means tethering it which I don’t really want to do. 

A picture I wish I’d taken

Els-Enfarinats-Festival-C-001As a keen photographer, I am often impressed by the work of others. This is one of those pictures that I wish was mine but alas it was taken by David Ramos.

What makes this photo doubly interesting though is that it was taken in Ibi and shows a reveller  taking part in the annual Els Enfarinats festival battle, which uses flour, eggs and firecrackers.

What can I say, Spaniards obviously love getting messy. We’ve read about the annual tomato throwing festival and now flour and eggs.

Great photo David, I hope your camera didn’t get too messy.

Tourist route for Vespas

Being inventive is the name of the game if you want to attract tourists to your town.

For yesterday, Orihuela organised a tourist route taking in three stops - at the church of Santas Justa y Rufina, in front of the church of Santiago Apóstol  and at Santo Domingo.

This was not for people on foot though, the route was prepared for people on classic motor bikes and scooters and apparently over one hundred turned up to take part. There was even a guide in a sidecar to explain the three points of interest.

The town hall in Orihuela, fired by the success of the venture, promises more events like this. I hope they publicise them well to attract participants and spectators alike.

A couple of replies

I asked on this blog about where we could pass on donations to charity in Bigastro:

Sheila Rowlands replies-

Torrevieja Christian Fellowship collects for Reachout, the homeless in the area and HELP, for which I am a volunteer, also collects for the needy in the locality. If anyone has a problem passing on donations, I can take them to church any Sunday morning or pass on to HELP. CARITAS, as you have said, also is very happy to receive goodies.

Muchisimo gracias Sheila.

One of my Spanish readers Stephano also replied to my item about rising electricity prices:

Have you thought about charity shops ? I feel sorry for immigrants like you who move to our country and then they cannot afford to live. I know, as I also have no job. Let us hope that 2013 be better for you.

Thank you for that. As it happens, my wife and I are the lucky ones. We were both teachers in England before we retired to move to Spain, she was an infant teacher and I was an Assistant Headteacher in a secondary school so we both have pensions. In addition, we are both now over 65 and so receive state pensions from England as well.

However, I do feel sorry for those who moved to Spain without adequate provision and of course for those like Stephano who are out of work. As I have said, my wife and I are lucky to have never been in that situation.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Soloists and the children’s choir stole the show

KW5D1285 The first part of last night’s Christmas concert featured solo performances. Mozart’s, Concert for horn showcased the prodigious talent of Emilio Bañuls Escobedo. Then we were treated to Burés, Gran Fantasia para dos clarinetes with Alejandro Guillén Alcocer and his brother, Germán Guillén Alcocer taking the lead parts.

To round off part one; Mister and Miss Music for 2012 took the floor to dance to Shostakovich, Jazz Suite number 2: waltz.

For the second part of the concert, the children’s choir joined the band. The band started with the medley of Christmas music arranged by Leroy Anderson. Then the children joined in with Arre Boorriquito followed by White Christmas, Silent Night and Campana Sobre Campana.

The evening was rounded off by everyone joining in by clapping along  with the Radetzky March by Johann Strauss.

You can see my pictures from this gala of music for Christmas here.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

What to give

Those who wish to donate food to charity are advised that the contributions must be non-perishable.

Non-perishable foods are ‘shelf-stable’ items that do not spoil or decay.  Please donate kindly from the suggested non-perishable suggestions below to help us provide a well-balanced, nutritious set of foods to those who do not have enough to eat.
Canned or dry fruits and vegetables in an array of colours will help ensure consumption of many vitamins and minerals.
•    Canned vegetables
•    Vegetable juice
•    Canned tomatoes (juice and sauce)
•    Canned fruit and fruit cups (in its own juice)
•    Fruit juice
•    Dried fruit
Whole grains provide maximum nutrition value and long-lasting energy.
•    Low sugar/high fiber cereals
•    Cereal bars
•    All pasta types
•    Rice
Lean meats and canned or dry beans provide the necessary fuel for muscles.
•    Canned tuna, salmon or chicken
•    Glass jars of beans and peas
•    Baked beans
•    Dried and canned beans and peas.

Now, all we need to know is where these donations can be made in Bigastro to ensure that they reach the people who need them most.

Brits recognised for their charity by the Consul

It is not just the town hall in Orihuela that has recognised the generosity of Brits here on the Costa Blanca.

The British Consul, Paul Rodwell and his Alicante-based team launched the ConeXiones project, an initiative to get charities and associations working alongside social services and Spanish charities. Rodwell says that he is constantly amazed at how the British community strives to help others regardless of their nationalities.

“Since I arrived on the Costa Blanca in August 2010, there has not been a day that I have not been struck by the amazing capacity of Brits to help others in need. On my visits up and down the coast, I regularly come into contact with unsung heroes who not only help British tourists and residents but anyone who is vulnerable and in need, regardless of nationality,” he told the free newspaper, Round Town News.

“I shudder to think of how we at the Consulate would cope if such a support network did not exist.”

And Mr Rodwell added: “Countless Spanish authorities have remarked to me how incredulous and impressed they are that Brits seem to have this innate ability to help others.
“What with the Olympics and Diamond Jubilee, we have lots of reasons to be proud but our volunteer sector and sense of social responsibility also takes some beating.

“Thanks from all the team here At the British consulate for all the help Brits give others – you are amazing ambassadors for our country! Merry Christmas to every one of you.”

Statistics reveal there has been a “dramatic rise” in poverty, hunger and inequality in Spain since the outbreak of the economic crisis in 2008 – while draconian austerity measures have sliced into social services, health care and education budgets. It is heart-warming to read that the British community here are doing what they can to help.

The demand for charity has tripled

With so many people unemployed, the demand for charity has increased threefold during the year. Caritas is the main provider of food to those that need it. They work tirelessly to raise support for their projects one of which was to make a collection on the coast under the banner, ‘a kilo, a litre, one euro’. The councillor for the coast, Pedro Mancebo reports that this latest campaign collected 800 kilos of food. However, as Mancebo stressed, “Christmas needs to be every month”; these collections need to continue throughout the year.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Searching for good news

I’m searching for a story for today but all I come up with are depressing ones about the number of people who have been evicted from their homes in Alcante province and a story about the Mancomunidad which owes its employees 460.000 euros. The only good news seems to be that the chemists are at last being paid.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sharing my photos

It has occurred to me that here may be some of the people who took part in the Living Belen who would like copies of my photos.

The pictures from the album I published are too small to make decent copies from so I have uploaded larger ones to my Dropbox.

All you need to do is to go to, select the photo(s) that you are interested in and download the image(s) using the tool in the bottom right hand corner (right click to find the download tool).

Although they are reduced in size from the camera originals, they should still produce normal size prints.

By way of contrast

in marked contrast to the Newsnight story of poverty in Spain, the Daily Mail reports on the chaos in Britain as Boxing Day sales started.

  • Selfridges took £1.5m in first hour - most successful first 60 minutes ever
  • Number of shoppers out across UK was up by a fifth compared to last year
  • Retailers slash prices and opened as early as 6am to entice consumers
  • Customers literally grab bargains as they are handed out by shop staff
  • Next in Leeds operated ten in, ten out policy to control massive crowds
  • Manchester's Trafford Centre enjoys 'biggest' Boxing Day sale in its history

    Police were deployed to keep 'public order' with an estimated 10million customers spending nearly £3billion on what was thought to be the busiest Boxing Day in history. Many queued through the night to secure a prime position.

    article-2253188-16A79B91000005DC-942_634x286 However, if you look at the photos that accompanied the article, it is clear that the majority of the customers were not indigenous white British and many were in fact rich visitors from countries like China, the Middle East and Nigeria.  Even still, this must be a sickening sight to Spanish families who are struggling to put bread on the table.

  • A sad tale to be told

    San Miguel de Salinas featured heavily in a Newsnight documentary shown recently on the BBC about the economic crisis in Spain. Apparently, almost half the programme was made in the nearby town to Bigastro.

    In the documentary, Spanish residents like Loli and Emilio testify to the effects that the crisis has had upon them. She is unemployed and he worked in construction for months without pay for fear of being sacked. Their daughter has had to give up on her training because the family cannot afford the fees and the grandparents provide food for the table from their garden.

    Another resident, Beatriz explains that they rely on donations from the foreign community in the town for food because after they have paid for rent, electricity and water there is no money left. She goes on to say that they even water down milk to make it last longer.

    The film goes on to show streets filled with unemployed youth, bars that are empty of customers and people begging in the streets. The film showed sports facilities are unused because nobody can afford the fees and new developments around the town that now stand empty or unfinished. One man said that he ate beef several times a week and now has to ration himself to once per month.

    The film highlights some of the causes, the wasted money on projects like the airport at Castellón and Formula 1 racing in Valencia. It talked of the way that the savings banks freely gave loans and mortgages in the good times encouraging people to spend beyond their means. Now, of course, the banks have no money to lend and lie drowned under toxic debt.  

    Wednesday, December 26, 2012

    Flaming hell


    You know Spain does have some strange customs many of which involve animals. This picture (from the Guardian) shows a horse running through a fire.

    This custom takes place at San Bartolomé de Pinares in central Spain on St Anthony’s day in January. It is meant to rid the horses of bad spirits and apparently does not spook the animals. They are soaked with water first to prevent them from being burnt.

    I can’t imagine that they enjoy the experience.

    The Christmas mist

    The unusually high temperatures combined with high humidity led to a foggy start to Sunday and to yesterday. It didn't seem to create many problems on the roads but it did cause several flights from El Altet to be cancelled.

    Then last night, we had some rain. I only became aware of this when I went to lock the door at about midnight. That has now all dried up and today should be mild and dry. In fact we should see quite a bit of sunshine over the next few days as we head into the New Year.

    Tuesday, December 25, 2012

    Feliz navidad a todos

    Those of you with children will probably have been up for hours already. Your eager tots will have torn away at all that paper to discover what delights Santa has brought them this year. If you are thoroughly organised, the turkey may well be in the oven and the vegetables will be all peeled ready for cooking. Who knows, you may even be enjoying a glass of fizz to start the day properly.

    Here at Casa El Willo, peace and tranquillity reins supreme. Mrs W is still fast asleep, there is no evidence that Santa has called and we are out for lunch so no turkey in the oven. That means I can take a little time to wish you all a Very Merry Christmas.I can hear the cockrel across the road crowing, other than that there is not a sound – it’s the price of living surrounded by older folk in a country where the visit of the Three Kings is more important than that of Santa Claus. I imagine things will be very different in Sale, Manchester at the house where my granddaughter lives!!!

    Without taking up too much of your time, I hope that your day is full of fun and maybe a few surprises (nice ones of course). 

    Monday, December 24, 2012

    Over 100 stars in one show

    Last night’s performance at the Auditorium Fancisco Grau was spectacular. It started with an angel descending from the balcony and then moved on with dancing, singing, comedy, even children playing football, tennis and basketball. There was something for everyone in one show which must have taken hours if not weeks to prepare and rehearse.

    Pamela and I were speechless at the end – we simply could not believe that we had enjoyed so much entertainment for the price of 2 euros per ticket.

    You can see my photos here and marvel at just how much talent a small town can produce.

    A proud father

    00004-Edit This is Angel, Ana’s husband, holding their daughter Ana who is now nine months old.
    00008-Edit This is of course Angel, the son of Ana and Angel.

    I know parents and children having the same names is confusing but that is the way it is.

    Angel, the father, is justifiably proud, he has a beautiful family, a wonderful house and a lot of talent.

    A must visit

    When our ex-teacher, Ana, told us that she and her sister Marisu were opening a cafeteria at their parents’ house near Orihuela we were more than curious and could not wait to see it.

    Yesterday we drove out there to find out what they had achieved and I can tell you Pam and I were amazed. We knew the house was grand and that the bar would be tasteful but we were not prepared for what we saw.

    Photo This is the road you are looking for – Maraná is at the end on the right.

    The land you can see at the bottom right of the picture is now fenced off and covered with gravel for parking.
    Bar Marana Easy to find; from Bigastro, take the road to Orihuela at the  Eroski roundabout take the exit for Orihuela and Hurchillo. At the next roundabout take the exit for Hurchillo and then turn left onto the road to Hurchillo at the following roundabout.

    About 200m on the right hand side you will see the sign and the road that takes you to Cafeteria Maraná.

    The cafeteria, which specialises in postres, cafes, tés, batidos y cocktails, is open Thursday to Sunday from 3pm.

    Inside, in what used to be the garage, is the smartest bar you could imagine; very tastefully decorated and with ample seating set out in various areas.  As you pass though the bar, you come to the children’s play area with plenty to keep the young members of the family occupied. Around the corner is the garden area with tables set out with some under a range of gazebos to protect you from the weather.

    Apart from being very smart and spacious, Cafeteria Maraná is also a very relaxed place to enjoy a drink and a cake.  Not surprisingly, Ana told me that their clientele come from far afield just to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, the beautiful views of the mountains and the plush surroundings.

    You can take it from me, Pam and I will be visiting the bar often and will make a point of taking friends.

    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    Thank you Charles

    My reader Charles Smythe replies to my item about rising fuel costs:

    Poor you... how are you going to get through the winter living in fuel poverty like that?
    You are number 300.001 according to this article:
    Better sell your Canon EOS 7D body (which according to is presently selling at 1,249€ )
    Are you yet accepting personal food donations?

    Although it was very kind of him to offer a food donation, I did not care for his suggestion that I should sell off one of my camera bodies. At least he picked the APSC body rather than the full frame one! 

    PS Charles, could you include a bottle of Krug Clos d’Ambonnay 1995 in that hamper because it is good to have a decent bottle of fizz to start Christmas Day off.

    PPS My wife asks if it is possible to stop Charles from commenting. I could but then I’d loose my spellchecker.

    Saturday, December 22, 2012

    More guns not less

    You just knew that President Obama’s promise to introduce tighter control over guns in America was going to face stiff opposition and it has.

    The National Rifle Association has now made its position clear on the issue. The executive vice-president of the NRA argues that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to face him up to a good guy with a gun. He therefore advocates that there should be an armed guard placed in every school in the USA and that means a lot more guns not less.

    Gun violence in the US kills about 12,000 people per year. As if to exemplify the issue, at the same time Wayne LaPierre  was speaking, there was a series of shootings on a quiet rural road outside Geeseytown in Pennsylvania. By the time the NRA chief stopped speaking, four more people had been added to the list of dead.

    Basket cases

    On the 27th December at 6:30pm, mayors and councillors from the Vega Baja will be taking part in a basketball game at the sports pavilion in Bigastro. The idea is that the participants and the public watching will each donate a kilogram of food which will then be distributed by Caritas to needy families.

    That sounds like such a great idea and should prove to be a lot of fun.

    Last tax free lottery

    The Christmas lottery, which will be drawn today, is the last one in Spain to be tax free. In future any prize over 2,500 euros will be taxed at source at the rate of 20%. So, for example, if you were to win 10,000 euros, then tax  would be taken on 7,500 i.e. 1,500 euros. This will apply to all of the lotteries including the state run lottery, those run by autonomous regions, ONCE, the Red Cross etc.

    A present for the New Year

    Those of us with a contracted power rating of less than 10 kilowatts (ours akin with most houses of this size is 5.75lw) are on what is called the tariff of last resort (TUR). Since 2009, this is the only tariff which is set by the Government who regulate the cost.

    Throughout 2012, the rate rose by 4% in April, by 7% in July and actually fell in October by 2.4%. However, that decrease was wiped out when VAT rose from 18 to 21%.

    The argument used to explain these continuous cost increases (since 2006 electricity  has always risen well above inflation) is the so called tariff deficit. That is, companies are spending more on producing electricity than they charge for it. Successive governments have always admitted this deficit which is currently estimated at 24,000 million euros.

    The government of Mariano Rajoy wants to end the deficit, which for 2012 may well rise to 3,452 million- twice the legal limit set at 1,500 million and they intend to introduce taxes to achieve this.

    There are two elements to the price of electricity; 50% is for the cost of generating the power and the other 50% for so called access fees which are set by the Goverment.

    Where is this leading to you ask – well the price of electricity is set to go up in January by about 3%. It could have risen more if the Government hadn’t decided to freeze the 50% access fees. Those who are high users (consuming more than 10% above the average) will pay an extra 1 to 8% on top of that. What is the  betting that those of us who live in houses with air conditioning, pool pumps and lots of modern appliances will fall into that category?

    Hurry up Britain and get my claim for “winter fuel allowance” processed, I think I’m going to need it!

    Friday, December 21, 2012

    Airport closed at nights

    In a bid to cut costs, Aena have decided to close Alicante airport at nights until April 2013. Only delayed flights and emergencies will be catered for. The airport will be shut between 12pm and 6 am.

    Since Ryanair and Air Europa started reducing flights to Alicante and Spanair shut down, the airport has been losing passengers. Current estimates show that the airport will have lost 1.5 million by the end of this year. This will affect workers who will either lose their jobs or have their hours cut.

    Are you reading this?

    Of course you are and that means that the Mayan calendar was wrong. The prediction was that the world would end today and 12 percent (25 million) of Americans believed it.

    The Mayans claimed that on December 21 2012, a 5,125-year cycle known as the Long Count supposedly comes to a close. This all started in 3114 BC when the countdown began. Since then there have been 13 baktuns or periods of 5,125 years. They believed that the end of the thirteenth baktun would be a milestone and would spell astronomical disasters ranging from explosive storms on the surface of the sun to a galactic alignment that could trigger a reversal in Earth's magnetic field.

    If you still have power to your house then the storms haven’t happened and if you are not stuck to the ceiling then the magnetic field is intact.

    People throughout the world invested in bomb proof shelters to protect themselves, they stocked up on dried foods to ensure survival and many flocked to Bugarach In France because they believed that aliens will come out of the nearby mountain to rescue them. As they exit from their shelters later today and find the world is still there outside, these folks are going to look rather stupid.

    Mind you, the world might still be here but with all the rain that England is getting at the moment, it could well be time to stock up on some wood to build an ark!

    Living Belen

    Our teacher, Antonio, told us yesterday that over 100 people will be taking part in the Nativity Play including his wife. It certainly sounds like it will be well worth watching.

    Just to remind you, performances will take place at the Auditorium Francisco Grau on Sunday, 23rd December at 5:30 pm and then again at 8pm. Tickets are available from the Town Hall this morning. Cost 2 euros.

    With so many taking part, I think you can anticipate the Auditorium being full for this event. You can also anticipate an album of photos on this blog sometime Monday!

    UPDATE: If you haven't managed to call in at the Town Hall and still want to watch this spectacular performance then your best bet is to try for the 8pm show. When Pam and I bought our allocated seating tickets for the 5:30pm showing,  there were still some left for 8pm.

    Also, according to the Councillor for Culture, Maria Jose Sarmiento Juan there are over 200 people taking part in the performance.

    Be safe on the roads

    The Directorate General of Traffic (DGT) are anticipating 16 million car journeys to take place during the holiday season, nine million* of them on the roads in Valencia.

    The first phase of "Operation Christmas 2012/2013", designed by Tráfico, will end at midnight on December 25

    The second phase will run from Friday December 28 until January 1, 2013.

    The Feast of Kings will be the third and final part of Operation Christmas beginning on Friday 4 January to midnight Monday January 7.

    The Government delegate in Valencia, Paula Sánchez de León, has stressed the recommendations of DGT "zero alcohol, zero dugs and take your time." Be warned, there will be extra patrols out there to help ease the problems and at the same time catch those who flout the law.

    Numbers of accidents during the holiday period have dropped dramatically over the last few years and the hope is that they will continue to fall this year.

    * When I read that again, I realised my mistake in just writing nine!

    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    Cheaper rail travel

    The Minister for Development in Spain says that they will adjust the price of tickets on the high speed train (AVE) because they are currently too expensive and are not competitive. It seems that there are many of the stations on the current lines where only a handful of passengers join or leave the train. She went on to say that the link between Barcelona and Figueras will open in January and then to Alicante by June.

    The AVE has been a huge investment for Spain such that the country cannot afford to see it fail. Making the tickets cheaper may bring in more passengers but it will surely cost the state dearly.

    Used but not abused

    Yesterday, I wrote about how my Flickr pictures can be used under the Creative Commons licence free of charge.

    It seems that a company called have recently taken my picture of Santa to use for a blog post about 7 weird Santas from around the world.

    Out of the seven, the Christmas goat in Sweden looks friendly enough. However, I am sure the prospect of being visited by  Krampus in Austria  would frighten children to death and even the Yule lads from Iceland have a nasty side because they are descendants of Grýla, a cruel troll hag whose favourite dish is a stew of naughty children!

    My Santa is a friendly soul who sits at the bottom of the fireplace smoking his pipe.

    Mighty Everest

    As a keen photographer, it would be impossible for me not to be impressed by the work of the filmmaker David Breashears and the non-profit organisation GlacierWorks in producing an incredible picture of Mount Everest and the Khumbu glacier. They took 477 pictures using a 300mm lens and stitched them together to make one huge image which you can view in detail.

    Untitled-1 This is just one small part showing base camp where expeditions up the mountain start from.

    You can see this project for yourselves at

    Sadly, the site uses Flash so iPad, iPod and iPhone users will not be able to view this.

    Wednesday, December 19, 2012

    We all give stuff away

    One of the great benefits of the Internet is that we can share our thoughts and pictures in a variety of ways. Our intention may be just to share those things only with friends and people we know but such is the nature of the Internet that others can easily access that information and use it without our knowing.

    Through this blog for example, all sorts of people out there learn things about the personal lives of my wife and I, our comings and goings and our thoughts on a range of issues. When I first started writing Esta es Jauja there were a lot more personal posts included. Gradually, as I saw the readership grow, I have reduced that content a) because I might not want to share all those details with the world and b) they are probably of no interest to anyone other than our family and friends anyway.

    I also have a Flickr account as well on which I post pictures, some of which reveal information about us. Many of the subscribers to Flickr use a pseudonym to protect their identity, I use my real name but of course there are many people out there with the same name as me so that does not concern me. 

    I am aware that many of my photographs have been used elsewhere. Since I operate under a “Creative Commons” license that gives people the right to use my photos as long as they attribute them to me. Many do just that, they write to me and seek permission and then use the photos for their own purposes. As far as I know, nobody has used my more personal pictures - why would they?

    It would be very naive to assume that companies like Yahoo and Google offer their services for nothing, in fact I pay to host my  photos on Flickr but not to host this blog on Google. There are many other so called free services like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram which seem to charge nothing to provide web space to us. Lots of free lunches out there for us to take advantage of.

    Let us be clear, it costs a lot of money to host millions of Facebook accounts and millions of photos on Instagram. The server farms required are huge and both expensive to set up and run. If you think it costs a lot to keep your house cool in summer, imagine what it costs to keep thousands of computers running cool.

    Facebook have come clean and told their clients that they will use the information provided to push “selected” adverts to them. Now Instagram have also come clean and told users that their photos can be used for commercial purposes without payment or permission.

    For the average person on the street, this is hardly an issue. Let’s be honest, it is difficult to imagine any commercial use for photos of your dog or cat and even pictures of your children playing in the park have little value. Where Instagram hope to make money is from the pictures that so called celebrities post. Whereas, the average user might post the odd photo, these star struck individuals revel in sharing every aspect of their lives with us and so post pictures by the bucket load. They tweet and post all day long from their diamond encrusted smartphones in an attempt to keep their profiles high. It is these people who will bring in the cash for Instagram and it is they who are are now up in arms about the change in policy.

    It is a sad fact that our openness these days leaves us vulnerable to being snooped upon, gossiped about and generally abused by people we do not even know. If we are uncomfortable about those issues, then the answer lies with the delete button.

    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    Ken and Kay

    Many who live at Villas Andrea will remember brother and sister, Ken and Kay Wooden who first owned the house next door to us.

    Just over a year ago, they sold the house to a young Spanish couple and moved to France in search of milder weather. Although we have asked those that knew them, nobody seemed to have an idea about how they were getting on with their new lives.

    Yesterday, out of the blue, we got a Christmas card from Kay and Ken along with a letter written by Kay.

    Untitled-1 It seems they live in a house on the edge of Moncontour, Vienne (not to be confused with Moncontour in Brittany).
    Untitled-1 At the bottom of their one acre garden is a stream. They have a separate one bedroom apartment to the house and three barns. Kay describes it as paradise for her cats.

    Neither Ken nor Kay speak French so it is lucky that they found someone who does that could help them out with all the formalities of opening a bank account and registering with a doctor etc.

    Although they miss aspects of their life in Spain, Ken and Kay don’t miss the weather. Even though it might have been hot where they are, it was probably cooler than here this last summer.

    We are glad to hear that they are both well and wish them a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

    Seeking a solution

    During the 60s and probably the 70s, Bigastro would not have had a problem with car parking. Now though, more people own cars and parking has become a major issue. The previous council built a multi storey car park to try and solve the problem but unfortunately the cost went over budget and so it has not opened.

    In fact, Spaniards seem to be very reluctant to pay for parking and will double or even treble park on streets without meters to avoid paying.

    One of the biggest problems for Bigastro is Calle Purisima which is the main shopping street of the town. Some of those who live in the apartments above the street have garages and so want access for their cars. Providing open access allows others to park on the street, obstructing the way for pedestrians and at the same time fouling the granite cobbles and paving with tyre marks and oil slicks.

    The council are looking into ways that could solve these issues including introducing a “blue zone” where motorists would have to pay to park. Charo Bañuls (PP) and Aurelio Murcia, (UnPLC) say that nothing has been decided yet and in fact there hasn’t even been a study made of the possible options. Both agree however that a solution must be sought.

    Speaking of the cobbles, have you noticed the state of them? In places, they were laid uneven and so were a hazard right from the start. Now the problem has been made worse because a lot of the sand that was spread between them has washed away. Ladies wearing heels must find them particularly dangerous. 

    On many of the streets in Bigastro, people will walk on the road and avoid the slippery pavings. On Purisima, the opposite is true.

    Monday, December 17, 2012

    Will the lesson be learnt?

    There are some who have a strange fascination for guns and weaponry, my brother was one of them. As a child, he liked nothing better than a toy gun or a knife to play with. For all I know, he probably still does. 

    When we lived in Canada, Brian was fascinated by the gun my father was forced to carry as a policeman on the docks in Vancouver. I’m sure, if my father hadn’t locked it away carefully each night, my brother would have sought it out to play with loaded or otherwise.

    As for me, I have never been drawn to firearms or indeed other weapons in any way. Sure, as a kid, I played cowboys and Indians but it was not my favourite game. When I asked for a high quality pocket knife one birthday, my wife and children were shocked. I keep that knife safe in a drawer and only use it when I need to – to me it is an essential tool just like a pair of pliers or a screwdriver rather than an object of fascination.

    Americans have always had a love of guns. Many own a collection of firearms which they claim are either purely for defence or for hunting. It is almost like, everyone else has them so I must. The man who shot down 20 children and six adults at a school in Newtown had access to no less than three of his mother’s guns including automatic pistols.

    If this was the first tragedy involving firearms in America, it might be considered unusual but the fact is there have been several. Access to guns and licences to own them in most states are easy which means that there will always be the potential for further instances of this sort of horror to hit our newspapers.

    Yesterday, at a memorial service, President Obama hinted that he will take steps to prevent any further mass shootings which we take to mean that he will revue the laws regarding firearms. The problem is that the National Rifle Association is a powerful lobbying group and they will be vehemently opposed to any change in the law that would prevent Americans from owing guns. However, by upholding citizens rights to freedom of choice in these matters, the gun lobbying groups must accept the stain of blood on their hands from this tragedy and any further ones that are to come.   

    Sunday, December 16, 2012

    The plan

    KW7D1044This is the plan for Bigastro during the Festive Season.
    Not to be missed: the live Nativity play on the 23rd, the Christmas Concert on the 29th and of course the Three Kings on the 5th January.

    Other ways

    Apart from putting up with a huge dish on your roof and worrying whether it will still work in six months time, there are other ways to get British TV in Spain.

    Untitled-1 1. Europa networks offer ADSL packages which include 20 channels of British TV and radio to your computer and/or to a set top box if you wish. I’m investigating this option at the moment to see if it would work for us.

    The important things to find out for me are; a) whether Europa complete the transfer from Telefonica (I don’t want to end up paying twice for the same thing), b) how reliable they are in the long term and c) whether I could still use my existing router which cost me a fair bit and gives excellent wifi coverage throughout the house (I don’t want to rely on some cheap give-away router that doesn’t do the job).

    2. BBC iPlayer is available on the iPad. Although this is not the same as iPlayer in Britain in that you have to pay for it and it doesn’t have all the programme coverage of the UK version, it works well. Obviously, if you don’t have an iPad this is a no-no!

    3. You can use BBC iPlayer and other internet TV services in the UK by subscribing to a Virtual Private Network or a proxy service. These work by directing your internet connection via a server which has a UK internet protocol address. In the case of a proxy it is your browser that is connected to the virtual IP address; a VPN directs all of your traffic through a local server.

    Although there are free VPN services, they all seem to push adverts at you and can slow down your connection. A paid for service should be more reliable and will come without adverts. With either though you may find that access to secure websites like your bank account will not work. In those cases, you would have to disconnect from the VPN and use your normal connection. Even your email won’t work through the VPN server if you use an email client rather than web based email services. 

    If anyone has experience of Europa networks, good or bad, I would be pleased to hear their comments.

    How long will it last?

    Although we are more than happy with the Canal+ satellite TV system, Pam and I did consider adding a second dish to our roof for British Freeview television. Reading some of the adverts in local papers, it seemed that we could have a dish and box installed for about 399 euros. For that price it would be worth it for the odd program we’d want to watch.

    Untitled-1 However, when I investigated further, that was for a 1.4m dish which would not be guaranteed to pick up all of the programs all of the time and an even smaller 1m dishes would only work until the channels were moved to another satellite with a tighter beam. It seems that this area is in a black spot for British TV (just look at this map) and you still need a 1.9m or even a 2.4m dish to get a reliable signal. I’m sorry but there is no way that we are prepared to have one of those monsters on our roof or in the garden. 

    Some expats, desperate for British TV, have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep in touch with their favourite programs by moving from re-transmitted analogue microwave to digital microwave and various other permutations in-between. Most seem to have given up with the illegal rebroadcasts now and have plumped for a satellite dish to either pick up free-to-air or are using a Sky card registered to a UK address to get a Sky satellite package.

    The bottom line is that, although it is not illegal to receive British TV here in Spain, the broadcasters don’t really want you to pick it up. The footprints for the satellites that broadcast free-to-air and Sky are meant to cover just the UK and the Channel Islands. Those who live close enough to Britain can obviously still pick up a good signal and because of the patterns of the broadcasts, some that live far away can get a decent signal -it all depends on the particular satellite used to broadcast the signal.

    The TV satellites are all 36000 km above the equator in a geo-synchronous orbit (the stay above the same spot on Earth). You obviously cannot pick up satellites that are below the horizon. The satellites in your field of view will generally be about plus or minus 60 degrees of longitude from where you are. However, even if the satellite is in view, the tighter its beam, the less likely you are to pick up a strong enough signal without resorting to larger and larger dishes ( you can go up to 3m and beyond). The main satellite for UK TV is Astra 2D which as a very tight footprint, other programs are broadcast on south and north beams which cover a wider area. From what I understand, most systems installed in this area use both north and south beams to get coverage.  

    The current situation is that, as from this week, those who live in the area from the north of Almeria down to southern Spain and Portugal can no longer pick up free-to-air channels. No doubt there are techno wizards working out a solution to get the signal back but it will inevitably involve extra cost for all those desperate for their weekly dose of Coronation Street.

    Friday, December 14, 2012

    Guilty of dual standards

    Statistics from last year’s census show that people from mixed race backgrounds were among the fastest growing groups in Britain. It is an issue that many assume will undermine the whole nature of Britain. Talk is that, in time, Britain will no longer be a Christian country as the Muslim population takes over. 

    This has led to the notion among some of the so called natives that all immigrants to Britain should abandon their cultural heritage altogether and adopt a ‘British’ culture. The opposite view is that people from different races should be allowed to live their separate lives and get on with things in their own way. Neither viewpoint is reality and neither will produce a properly integrated community in which people can coexist in peace and harmony.

    The crux of the problem, as identified by the Labour party is language.  Immigrants with little or no command of English are clearly disadvantaged in every way. They stand little chance of becoming fully integrated into their new country. Ed Milliband, the Labour leader, says that he would seek to address this issue if his party were returned to government. 

    Imagine if the same principles were to be applied here in Spain. How many British people on the Costa Blanca are there without even a basic understanding of Spanish? How many of our countrymen and women are there that live in glorious isolation from anything Spanish?

    We talk of the issues of integration in Britain and complain about those Johnny foreigners who do not fall into line with our views and yet we fail to see that we are equally guilty of creating the same problems living here in Spain. We create our own ‘Bradfords’ i.e. communities and even towns where only foreigners live and we cannot see any wrong in doing so. We live our lives oblivious of the language and culture of Spain and expect to be tolerated. I can’t help but feel that some of us are guilty of dual standards.

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

    Christmas Market in Bigastro

    20121213_mercado Bigastro City Council have organized a Christmas market on Calle Purisima for the 14th, 15th and 16th December.

    21st century Pope

    Can I say first of all that I don’t have a Twitter account. It takes me all my time to keep up with this blog let alone send messages to anyone who cares to read them via tweets.

    The Pope, on the other hand does have a Twitter account - @pontifex for those of you who may be interested. In fact he has eight accounts in a variety of languages but the message is the same on all of them.

    His first tweet was sent out on the 12th December at about 10:30am. His second tweet came half an hour later. In future though, his tweets will apparently be written by others.

    "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart."

    Sorry Pope but I won’t be tweeting back nor will I be following your future messages. I am sure they will be appreciated by most who read them though. Just ignore the loonies who send abuse.

    Wednesday, December 12, 2012

    The race is on

    20121212_edicto CIRCUITO-10K

    There will be a 10km race for those who are fit enough on Sunday 16th December starting and finishing at the Auditorium Francisco Grau. You are advised not to park your car on the streets where the race is taking place and that moving your car to and from those streets will not be permitted.

    Helping others

    20121203_juguetes The Department of Social Welfare in Bigastro along with the Association La Pedrera  are operating a Food & Toys collection for this Christmas.

    Dress your house up for Christmas and win a prize


    Decorate the outside of your house or balcony with lights, reindeer, Santa on a sleigh or whatever you can find and you could be in to win a prize.

    Your decorations should be up from the 14th December until the 7th January.

    PRIZES: 150 euros, 100 euros and 755 euros redeemable against purchases in local shops up to the 31st January.

    The crunch may be coming

    Fourteen thousand health cards belonging to EU and non-resident foreigners have been withdrawn in Torrevieja. These are for people who neither contribute to the Social Security system in Spain nor have proof that their status in the country has been regularised. In order to get their SIP cards back, these people will have to prove that they have residency status in Spain and that they are not entitled to health care in another EU country.

    The measure is designed to prevent what is described as health care tourism whereby people play the system by deciding which country they wish to be treated in. Basically, when you leave one country  and register for healthcare in Spain, you should give up your rights to treatment in the country you left. You can’t expect to be able to access full treatment in both countries.

    If this has happened in Torrevieja, then it is bound to happen in Orihuela Costa and possibly in Bigastro. Apparently , what you need is a) proof that you have residency here in Spain and b) proof that you have given up your rights to health care in the country you left.

    Que frio

    Yesterday was a cold start to the day as I stood outside the Premier Inn in Altrincham for my first pipe of the day. It did warm up a little as the sun broke through but not by much. Looks like it is set to get even colder in Manchester today with a top temperature of 0 and a low of –3 but then get a little warmer as the week rolls on.

    As for us, we arrived back at El Altet about 20 minutes behind schedule and then waited a further 20 minutes for our cases to arrive. So, already later than expected, we set off back to Bigastro and home. We normally go to to the airport on the motorway and come back on the coast road. Last night, for the first time ever, I missed the turning to Santa Pola and carried on the N-332 towards Alicante - so we had a bit of a detour.

    Finally, we arrived home to find that the central heating boiler was running. That has only happened once before on our return from trips to the UK and is a sign that the freeze protection on the thermostat had kicked in to prevent the system and the pipework in the house from freezing up. In fact I’d noticed that the freeze warning on my car was showing a temperature of 4 degrees (I didn’t even know I had a freeze warning on my car) so it was cold last night.

    This morning, the freeze protection on the central heating had kicked in again and the radiators in the house were warm when I got up. It will probably take most of today to warm the house with hopefully some sunshine through the windows.

    Monday, December 10, 2012

    An update

    Those of you who didn't know, will have probably guessed by now that we are on vacation. This time we are in Sale near Manchester visiting our daughter, her husband and our granddaughter.

    We left a blustery Alicante airport where locals were dressed for the cold to arrive in Manchester where some expected it to be mild. It wasn't, in fact it was bitter. The following day it rained (well we were near to Manchester) but since then we have seen quite a lot of sunshine.

    What throws us though is how it starts to get dark at 3:30 and by 4pm it is nighttime. A couple of days we thought it was 6pm only to find it was only 4pm.

    When we arrived at Manchester, we expected to have to phone Dave and ask him to pick us up. He and Molly had been tracking our flight and so he was there ready for us at arrivals with Molly. That was a wonderful surprise.

    So what have we been up to? Well quite a lot of shopping both for ourselves and for others. We've also posted all our Christmas cards for the UK and sent parcels to those on our list. Oh yes, and we went to see Santa in his grotto.

    Although we prefer the warmth of Spain, it has to be said that there is more of a Christmas spirit about here in Manchester and the chilly weather seems to suit the idea of Santa, reindeer and the North Pole where they live.

    As for what is being going on in Bigastro, I have no idea. With so much to do during our visit, I've had little time to keep up with news at home. I will have to catch up on our return.

    Wednesday, December 05, 2012

    Media frenzy

    The announcement of a new royal baby has set the papers alight with stories including those that normally prefer to keep matters concerning royalty low key.

    Ardent fans of the royals are delighted by the news and will mop up the titbits of gossip thrown at them. Others will be less interested and will moan at the constant stream of information about a child they care little about.

    Speculation about a possible pregnancy started when the Duchess of Cambridge changed her hairstyle. Many were quick to point out that women often do this sort of thing when they are anticipating a life changing event and the Duke added fuel to this speculation when he gladly accepted the gift of a baby grow on one of their recent walkabouts.

    Now the story is out and we all know that a royal baby is due sometime in September.

    The laws of succession have been changed which means that, whatever sex the baby is, it will be third in line to the throne behind Charles and William. But what if the Duchess is expecting twins? In that case, the first of the twins to be born would take precedence. But then what if the birth is by caesarean section? In that case, it is up to the obstetrician to decide which baby is delivered first. But will he want to take that responsibility? That begs the question of who would take responsibility for making the choice. Would it be William, who’s expected,  like most modern fathers, to be present at the birth? Or, would the royal family revert to the odd practices where a government minister had to be present at the accouchement to act as an observer and ensure everything was above board?

    I think we can anticipate a lot more on this story and many more in the coming months with a string of experts putting forward their views on every aspect of the royal pregnancy. By the time the due date comes, even the most ardent fan of the royals will be tired of all this. That is, until the first photos of the child hit the press, then we can expect a cacophony of cooing and awing to take over because I can guarantee, that this baby (or babies) will be the most beautiful ever born, not just to the family but to the whole nation.

    Let’s just hope (unlike in the case of Harry to Charles), it bears a passing resemblance to William!

    Mercado de Abastos

    We were talking in class yesterday about how people like to live in the centre of a town so that they have easy access to a variety of shops. They want to be able to buy all they need within walking distance of their house.

    I suggested that the market on Thursday in Bigastro is popular for this reason. Within the length of Calle Purisima, you can buy all the fruit and vegetables you require, pick up a pair of shoes, stock up on cleaning materials for our house, collect a ready roast chicken for dinner and a whole lot more.

    At that point, our teacher Antonio asked if we had visited the indoor market at Callosa de Segura.  Pamela and I visited Callosa once with our Spanish class a few years ago but we didn’t take the opportunity on that trip to visit the market. Our impressions of the town from that brief visit were favourable and we have said that we should return. In comparison with Bigastro, Callosa is more attractive.

    Antonio went on to tell us that the Mercado de Abastos in Callosa has no equal in this area. He said that the produce on sale is of the best quality, very fresh and well priced. He was particularly impressed by the range of fish, seafoods, meat and vegetables on offer and advised us to go there.

    Unlike the weekly street market in Bigastro, the newly renovated Mercado de Abastos is a permanent market, open each day including the 6th December when most shops will be closed. 

    Monday, December 03, 2012

    Getting all fired up

    No, this is not another rant about wood smoke! I’ve said my piece on that matter already this morning in the next item down.

    One of the issues that people back in Britain are getting fired up about is the avoidance of tax by large corporations. The main targets seem to be Starbucks, Google and Amazon who are said to have robbed Britain of £32billion worth of tax according to the Daily Mail. I’ve no doubt they have done something similar in Spain and indeed in every country where they operate.

    It seems though that football clubs in Britain also got in on the act. The article in the Mail goes on to say that English Premier league clubs had only paid £2.4m in tax on £150m in profits. The five top clubs that were cited include Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Fulham who between them, made £70m in profits but paid no tax at all and their excuse was that they made losses in previous years.

    The government says that, although these tax dodges are legal, they could be considered immoral. In my opinion, the fault lies not with the companies but with the loopholes in the system that allow them to happen. I’m sure we’d all pay 2% in tax if we could find a way of doing it.

    It’s that time of year again

    Remember when you were young and every house had coal fires? On a cold winter’s morning you could smell the smoke from those fires as you left the house and you could see the evidence of all that pollution on the blackened stonework of buildings.

    In the days of the industrial revolution, there were parts of Britain where the smoke was so thick from factory chimneys that people didn’t see the sun for weeks and of course their health was badly affected.

    Those were the bad old days!

    Here, in Bigastro there is no coal but there is a lot of wood and so that is what folks burn on their fires. Wood is cheap and plentiful and so it is a logical choice to use it to warm your house but it isn’t necessarily a good one.

    Some facts to consider

    Although wood smoke conjures up fond memories of sitting by a cosy fire, it is important to know that the components of wood smoke and cigarette smoke are quite similar, and that many components of both are carcinogenic. Wood smoke contains fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide and various irritant gases such as nitrogen oxides that can scar the lungs. Wood smoke also contains chemicals known or suspected to be carcinogens, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dioxin.

    The effects

    • Wood smoke interferes with normal lung development in infants and children. It also increases children’s risk of lower respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
    • Wood smoke exposure can depress the immune system and damage the layer of cells in the lungs that protect and cleanse the airways.
    • According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), toxic air pollutants are components of wood smoke. Wood smoke can cause coughs, headaches, eye, and throat irritation in otherwise healthy people.
    • For vulnerable populations, such as people with asthma, chronic respiratory disease and those with cardiovascular disease, wood smoke is particularly harmful— even short exposures can prove dangerous.
    • The particles of wood smoke are extremely small and therefore are not filtered out by the nose or the upper respiratory system. Instead, these small particles end up deep in the lungs where they remain for months, causing structural damage and chemical changes. Wood smoke’s carcinogenic chemicals adhere to these tiny particles, which enter deep into the lungs.
    • Recent studies show that fine particles that go deep into the lungs increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. EPA warns that for people with heart disease, short- term exposures have been linked to heart attacks and arrhythmias. If you have heart disease, these tiny particles may cause you to experience chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, and fatigue.

    Exposure Issues

    • The particulate matter in wood smoke is so small that windows and doors cannot keep it out—even the newer energy-efficient weather-tight homes cannot keep out wood smoke.
    • The EPA estimates that a single fireplace operating for an hour and burning 10 pounds of wood will generate 4,300 times more PAHs than 30 cigarettes. PAHs are carcinogenic.

    Of course, if it is the only means to heat your house then there is no choice. However, before you strike the match to light that cosy fire ask yourself, “do I really want to scar children’s lungs, do I really want to damage healthy people and put those who have already have respiratory or heart problems at risk?”

    Response from one of my followers

    Yes I agree with your comments / the last few years have seen the increase in Guardamar of wood burning during the winter months. A short walk around at night can leave those with a weak chest coughing and wheezing.
    We now avoid visiting Spain in the depths of winter partly for this reason.

    Sunday, December 02, 2012

    Looks like the ex mayor of Torrevieja could be going down

    The High Court of Justice of the Community has condemned the former mayor of Torrevieja and the PP regional deputy, Pedro Angel Hernandez Mateo, to three years in prison and seven years of ineligibility to serve in office for his part in the awarding of municipal garbage collection services in 2004 to Necso (Acciona). The resolution also condemns him to pay a fine of 10,500 euros and indemnify the City with another 12,000. The PP in Torrevieja say that the former mayor will appeal the sentence

    It seems that Sr Mateo ignored advice from his own people and went with that of three legal advisers, one of which had connections with the company that won the contract. He then railroaded the decision through the council at a meeting of the Tenders Committee by adding two councillors who he knew would vote favourably. And, for the first time in his 15 years as mayor, he spoke up at the meeting to avoid having to use his casting vote.

    I seem to remember that there was previous controversy surrounding the former mayor when he made a fortune out of land that he bought at rural prices and then sold a few years later once it had been approved for urban development.

    Is it any wonder that people question whether there are any honest politicians in this country!

    PS For the benefit of my Spanish readers, “going down” is an English expression which means sent to prison (as in going down to the cells which were traditionally situated beneath the courts). It also has other connotations which we won’t go into here!

    Other English expressions that refer to the same thing include; “spending time at Her Majesty’s pleasure”, “banged up” and “doing porridge” although “banged up” can also mean a lady is pregnant.

    Before we accuse Spaniards of having odd expressions, we should first of all consider our own language. 

    Oh dear

    The Councillor for Sports in Bigastro, Antonio Joaquín Sáez, has been accused of being lazy and inept by the Socialist spokesman, Raúl Valerio Medina.

    The council passed an ordinance at the meeting on Wednesday requiring people to pay to use the sports facilities in the town. Valerio says that the document submitted had been “cut and pasted” from a document used in Orihuela and as such only applied to larger towns than Bigastro. He went on to say that the document referred to organisations that do not exist.

    Looks like Sr  Sáez may have to go back to the drawing board on this one.

    Saturday, December 01, 2012

    On thin ice

    La Zenia Boulevard is gearing itself up for the festive season with an ice rink of 300 square metres. There is also a huge icicle curtain in the Plaza Major and two giant 14 metre trees to help get you into the Christmas spirit.

    To tempt you to part with more of your cash, a number of new shops will be opening soon: a pet store, DEKAN, a new young fashion store, ED HARDY, SALVADOR ARTESANOS and PWETER for shoes, a children’s shoe shop, SAXO KIDS, for leather goods and accessories, PRIMICHI and to add to the eating places, SUN RICES.