Thursday, February 28, 2013

Preparing for bad weather

Although I am not a gambling man, I would put good money on the fact that we are going to have persistent rain for most of the day. On high ground, the rain will fall as snow. The wind will start from the northwest and veer to southwest with some strong gusts on the coast.


Those who have to travel to snow affected parts of the province are advised to take it slowly, fit chains to the tyres, to carry a shovel, a flashlight and warm clothes. Make sure you have plenty of fuel for both your car and yourself (nuts and chocolate provide plenty of calories to keep you warm) and if possible delay your journey until midday when early morning ice on the road has had a chance to melt.

Those who live in areas affected by snow are advised to stock up on food to see them through a few days at least. They are also advised to ensure they have torches and fresh batteries to hand. Since many burn wood to heat their houses, they should open the windows when the sun is out to ventilate them and replenish the oxygen. If they venture outside, the best protection is several layers of clothing rather than one thick layer. It is essential to protect the head and hands and to wear waterproof shoes.

You would be right in assuming that Spaniards in this area are not accustomed to this type of bad weather which is why they need advice about how to deal with it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

As I said

Untitled-2 The forecast for Bigastro tomorrow is a bit grim. Rain and wind is a thoroughly unpleasant combination.

Our teacher Antonio, aware of the forecast, said yesterday that if conditions were bad on Thursday we would not have a class.
Untitled-1 It is a low pressure system between Alicante and Argelia that is to blame. The warm humid air will be turned to heavy rain by the cold ground temperatures.

Rain could be intense on the coast with up to 60l per sq metre dropping in just 12 hours. Similarly, the wind will be stronger on the coast with gusts “muy fuerte”.  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Helped by the Italians

Who would have thought that the Italians would have come to our rescue. It seems that the uncertainty caused by the elections in Italy have destabilised the euro again. Any wobble in the value of the euro is good news for expats like Pam and I.

I notice that this morning the exchange rate has moved back to 1.16 euros to the pound – just keep on going PLEASE, 1.25 would be good again!

Not done yet

The mild weather at the moment might lull us into thinking that the worst of winter is over for us now. That is not necessarily true though. There is a strong possibility of rain for Thursday but what that will amount to is anybody’s guess. Rain in this area can be either a deluge that lasts most of the day creating a river of yellow mud down the road or it can be nothing more that a short, sharp shower. To accompany the rain, the wind will pick up again although not to the gale force speeds that we experienced in January.

Our hope is that Easter will be fine. We have visitors from England staying nearby and they would dearly like to watch the processions. To have the full parade on Good Friday called off yet another time would not be good.

Cross that of the list

Pam doesn’t fancy the idea of cruising partly because she has an innate fear of being on or in water above her head. The possibility of being dumped in the sea to drown does not appeal to her one bit. I must admit that, the thought of being consigned to a watery grave does not appeal to me either but it would not put me off a boat trip.

On the other hand, Pam has a hankering to take a trip in a hot air balloon. Although I do not suffer as much as some from vertigo, the thought of looking down from a wicker basket suspended by just hot air makes me feel queasy.

Perhaps Pam will be put off the idea by the latest report of a hot air balloon trip in Egypt that ended in tragedy. The balloon was flying over Luxor close to the Valley of the Kings when it apparently it caught fire and exploded - crashing to the ground, killing all but one of its 20 passengers.

You don’t often hear of accidents with hot air balloons, in fact I can’t recall reading of many. Still, it looks unsafe to me and that is enough to put me off. 


Pam and I have now watched both series 1 and 2 of the BBC comedy series, Benidorm on our version of iPlayer. I understand that the programme is now on series 6 so there is plenty more to come for us.

For those who haven’t seen the programme, it is set in an all inclusive hotel and plots the frantic holidays of several groups including a family where the teenage daughter has a mixed race child, a gay couple, Johnny Vegas with his mother who he describes as his PA and a couple of “swingers” who are constantly looking out for threesomes. Into the mix, there is a Spanish waiter who thinks that all British women go on holiday looking for sex with a local and a rather more reserved couple who look out of place in the setting and yet at the same time seem to enjoy “roughing it”.

You might imagine that the programme paints a picture of the town which the locals may not want to be portrayed but apparently not. Benidorm is grateful to the programme for its contribution to tourism and has now unveiled a commemorative plaque between Morgan’s Tavern and the Sol Pelicannos hotel.

Just goes to show that it takes all sorts to make the world go round!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A rocky road ahead

During his eight year as Pope, Benedict XVI has had to face numerous claims about sexual abuse in the clergy. Now that he has announced his retirement, the Italian press claim that there is a secret dossier about a “gay network” within the church. Of course, the Vatican denies the existence of this and says that the media is trying to influence the decision of the cardinals when the conclave meets to elect a new pope.

That may or may not be true but what will cause problems for the church are the reports by three priests and one former priest claiming inappropriate behaviour by Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the most senior Catholic clergyman in Britain. The statements which detail “concerns” going back over 30 years have been sent to Antonio Mennini, the papal nuncio.

The four say they have acted now because they are troubled by the idea that the conclave will not be “clean” if Cardinal O’Brien takes part. However, according to canon law, no cardinal who is eligible to vote can be prevented from doing so.

I assume that Cardinal O’Brien took part in the conclave that elected the Cardinal Ratzinger so, I wonder,  why  were these concerns not raised then? The four say that they do not expect the church to take steps to prevent O’Brien from assuming his rights, so what are they going to gain from making these disclosures now?

Lean times

Those expats who live in Spain well remember the dark days when the exchange rate dropped to 1 euro to the pound. For years the rate had been stable at about 1.5 euros to the pound. Then, within just a few months, we lost one third of our income. People asked if we were affected. Of course were were!

Since then the rate has improved and steadily climbed back to 1.25 euros to the pound. That was not as good as before but at least we were starting to feel better with more money in our pockets. The economic crisis in Europe had forced the value of the euro down for a while. However, that has now changed; the euro has strengthened in the market as the eurozone has stabilised and the pound has weakened.

In the last six weeks or so, the rate has slipped back down. I have a widget that sits permanently on my desktop computer reminding me of the current exchange rate. This morning it says 1.147 which means we will have 10% fewer euros to spend each month. If you want to know how that feels, just try living on 90% of your income, better than 66% but still not good.

That weakening of the pound will not be helped by Moody’s down rating of the UK from AAA to AA1. It may be good for Britain’s exports to have a weak pound but it will increase energy and food bills and could increase inflation which will harm growth in the UK. Like Mariano Rajoy has had to do in Spain, the British  government will have to ramp up its austerity packages and reduce public spending to stop the spiralling debt of the country. I hope they do it sooner rather than later and that the pound quickly regains its strength against the euro. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

That’s a bit harsh

WarningHere is the warning notice from the State Weather Agency which explains why we have this cold front moving in. “Muy fria” means very cold.

As you can read, the areas most affected are to the north and in the centre of Spain where temperatures could be as low as –10 C on high ground. To add to the misery for those in the Ebro Valley and the Balearic Islands, winds with gusts up to 80 km per hour will make the air feel even colder.

By Wednesday though, normality will return as the winds drop and warmer weather moves back in.

Women have their say

20130221_galamujer The Department of Women and the Progressive Women's Association in Bigastro, invite you to the 9th Gala commemorating the international day of women. “There is something I want to say”.  From my experience, there is a lot that Spanish women want to say!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Make the best of it

It should be nice and warm today in the sun with a high of 21. But that will not last because there is a cold front moving in making the weekend cold again. By Sunday, we could be down to night time temperatures of 2 degrees or less. To make matters worse, the wind will pick up as well adding a chill factor to the low temperatures.

Into next week, the wind will continue to drive temperatures down so there will be no respite for us. At least we should see plenty of sunshine so not all bad.

Red Rum steaks – yes please!

The horsemeat scandal carries on in Britain with more raids on meat producers. It has even spread to Spain where two companies in Alicante have been found to include horsemeat in their burgers. Here though, it is regarded as a problem of labelling rather than an issue with the quality of meat.

There is nothing wrong with horsemeat. The French have eaten the stuff since the 1700s. It is a lot cheaper than beef and contain less fat and less cholesterol. Of course, consumption of horsemeat doesn’t stop in France, the Italians consume twice as much as the French and there are more restaurants selling horsemeat in Belgium than in Paris.

Horse butchers were on the decline in France until the scandal over ready made foods it the press. Now the French are visiting the horse butcher again because at least they know what they are getting from him and they are not paying beef prices for it. The range of products includes steaks, dried sausages, horse pâté and fresh mince which is eaten raw.

It really is down to the sensibilities of the people as to what they will eat. My wife is not fussy about eating rabbit which she considers to be a pet and yet rabbit paella is very popular in this area. I doubt that she would eat horsemeat if she knew what it was and she is not fussed about eating venison which she calls Bambi. My eldest daughter, on the other hand, has sampled ostrich and kangaroo which she said was delicious and I tried venison liver which was far superior to many other forms of animal liver.

Once you have got your head around the fact that the animals you eat have been reared for the table rather than as pets or items in a zoo, then your choice widens. Let’s face it, if people kept cows as pets, we’d be baulking about eating beef.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Only if you speak Spanish

If you own a Kindle Fire and you live in Spain then it will connect to Amazon’s Spanish web site for your purchases. It is the same if you have an Apple iPod, iPad or iPhone; your Apple account on iTunes will be in Spanish. The issue arises because you need to register a credit or debit card to make purchases and because your cards are tied to your address in Spain, the site you are taken to is in Spanish.

With the iTunes store, you can search for titles that you are familiar with but all the recommendations made on the site will be for Spanish ones. I imagine the same applies to the Kindle store. With hundreds of thousands of expat Brits living in Spain, you would think that Apple and Amazon would work out some way that you could have an account in Spain that was in your native language and offered you titles in that language.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A long battle ahead

The prime minister, Mariano Rajoy is intent on using his first “state of the nation” speech to spell out, amongst other things, a series of legal reforms to tackle corruption in politics. In English we would say that is like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Apart from the issue of payments made to his own party as outlined by the Barcenas papers, he also has the embarrassment of the case against the Duke of Palma to consider.

Inaki Urdangarin is to make a second appearance in court to answer further questions regarding the millions of euros of public funds that he is suspected of embezzling. The Duke claims that his partner, Diego Torres is the guilty one and that both himself and the Infanta Cristina are innocent parties. However, a series of emails have come to light that show not only was Urdangarin involved in the decision making of the Noos Institute but that his wife and even the King himself had knowledge of what was going on.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The tapas and cana route

Many towns in the area organise a tapas and cana (snack and small beer) route. The deal is that the local bars offer you a snack and a small beer for just 2 euros.

20130218_tapas Bigastro has organised its own version of this popular event to take place on Saturday 9th, Sunday 10th, Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th March.

You can see from the poster that 25 bars in the town will be taking part including Darren and Hazel’s bar – La Terrazza.

A warning

By law, all gas installations have to be inspected every five years. Unfortunately, there are people out there who take advantage of the fact and claim to be inspectors when in fact they are not.

The last time our installation was inspected, we all received notice in writing from the gas supplier and the cost of the work came on our next bill. The bogus workmen will just appear at your gate and demand payment for the work they are about to do.

Several people on our estate already report that this has happened to them this week. They first of all received a phone call followed by a visit from the bogus workmen. One of my neighbours tells me that eight of the rogue operators turned up outside his house in a white van and claimed to be from Saunier Duval who of course are not responsible for this work. He politely turned them away!

The Town Hall advises us to contact either the Guardia Civil in Jacarilla on 965 350 414 or the Local Police in Bigastro on 607 154 447 if we suspect that conmen are trying to pull this scam or indeed any other scam.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Welcome rain

If you live around these parts and you have any washing to be done, do it today because it will almost certainly rain tomorrow.

In Britain, another period of rain would be most unwelcome because the country has already suffered from many deluges over the winter. Here though, the winter has been very dry. We had a few weeks of strong winds recently but no rain to speak of for what seems like months now.

The farmers need rain for the crops and we need rain to see us through the long hot summer to come. So, although this may sound strange to those who are reading this blog in Blighty, we look forward to the day or so of rain that is to come as long as it isn’t that mucky stuff that arrives from North Africa!

Make sure your visitors are covered

Friends of ours are having difficulty in finding health insurance for their trips to Spain at a reasonable price. The lady in question has had breast cancer and underwent an operation recently to remove the tumour; she is now on Tamoxifen.The husband has raised blood pressure and takes tablets each day to control it along with tablets to reduce his cholesterol. In this way, they have similar issues to Pam and I and I imagine many others of our age.

Insurance companies offering travel policies are not in the business to make payouts so have clauses that will get them out of handing over cash wherever possible. If you want cover for every contingency and you have a pre existing condition then the premiums are going to be sky high and that is just what this couple have discovered. In fact some companies have refused to cover them.

The temptation to travel without insurance, especially if you are over 55, should be avoided. The Foreign Office warn Brits that one in ten visitors to Spain do not have cover and risk bills that could add up to thousands of pounds.

At the very least, visitors to Spain should have a European Health Insurance Card, known as an EHIC. These are free to obtain and give you access to the Spanish state health service at either no cost or low cost. However, the card does not cover everything so it is important to still have insurance.

Our situation is the reverse. Pam and I travel to the UK frequently and so we need insurance and EHIC cards as well. It took some research on our part to find a British company that would insure us for our trips. The company we use is Globelink who offer both one trip and multi trip policies. The cost of their policies is very reasonable until you reach 66 when it starts to rise considerably – still it is worth paying for the peace of mind.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cone heads

Capuchones, caperuchos, capuruchos and capirotes – all names for the cone shaped headgear that Nazarenes wear during the Easter parades. Ideally, this headgear should be light, cool and comfortable.

In Orihuela, there is an 86 year old man who works all year to make these things using plastic, mesh tape with an anti sweat band. The result is a cap that weighs just 70 grams and comes in eleven different sizes to fit anything from a young child to an adult. The cost is a very reasonable 20 euros so no wonder he is is kept busy.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Information for expat tax residents in Spain

Are you resident in Spain? Do you own any assets outside Spain worth over €50,000? If so you will need to declare them in 2013 under a new reporting requirement. Failure to do so would have very costly consequences.

The most important measure for most expatriates is the new obligation for Spanish taxpayers to report assets located outside Spain. More details were included in the Royal Decree on 15th November 2012.

This is a new, additional requirement for Spanish taxpayers. You remain obliged, as always, to also fully declare your annual worldwide income for income tax purposes, and your taxable worldwide assets for wealth tax purposes.

Reporting procedure

From now on, anyone who is tax resident in Spain must declare all the assets they own outside Spain.

You need to make the declaration on a new official form.

Reporting must be done by the end of the first trimester each year, although the deadline has been extended for reporting assets held as at 31st December 2012, so that your first deadline is 30th April 2013. For future years, the deadline will be 31st March for the previous 31st December.

Assets to be declared

If you own any of the following assets outside Spain, valued at €50,000 or more, you need to declare them.

  • Accounts held with financial institutions
  • All types of immovable property (real estate) and rights over such property
  • Shares and securities
  • Life insurance policies
  • Temporary or lifetime income generated from the lending of money, rights or other assets (including immovables) to foreign entities.

You need to declare these assets if you are the owner, the beneficiary, or an authorised signatory. This includes assets held by a trust or fiduciary.

If the value of your total assets in each class is less than €50,000, you are not obliged to report.

Once you have reported the assets the first time, you do not need to report them again each year if the value of all your reportable assets increased by less than €20,000. Where their value has risen by €20,000 or more, you will need to report them again by the next annual deadline.

Information to be reported

The value to be reported for accounts with financial institutions, shares, securities, life insurance policies and other assets is that at 31st December.

In the case of accounts with financial institutions, you also need to report the average balance over the last three months of the year. This category includes all types of bank accounts and deposits, including credit accounts, in all currencies, regardless of whether you have the right to withdraw the funds or not.

For immovable property, the value is the cost of acquisition. You also need to provide information on the type of property, its location, and date of acquisition.

Consequences of not reporting

If you fail to report any assets as required by the new law, the costs will be very high once discovered.

The undeclared income arising from the asset will be deemed to arise in the last tax year which is not statute barred – four years in most cases. This effectively abolishes the statute of limitations.

You would have to pay all of the following:

  • Income tax at the income tax scale rates where the top rate is over 50% (even if the income would normally be taxed under the savings income regime).
  • Late payment interest for the last four years.
  • Penalties, which can be as high as 150% of the total tax due on the asset.
  • A fine of €5,000 per each piece of unreported data, with a minimum of €10,000.

If the tax defrauded exceeds €120,000, it would be considered a criminal offence.

When you submit your declaration form by 30th April, you need to be sure you have filled it in correctly and included all the overseas assets that you should have, with the right values. Any mistakes or omissions, even accidental, could prove very costly.

For peace of mind, you need to speak to Spanish tax experts.

If like Pam and I, you pay your taxes in the UK (as ex teachers we have no option on this), then my understanding is that you are not affected.

Friday, February 15, 2013

They keep on coming

imageJust goes to show there are some people out there a) with very good Photoshop skills, b) a naughty sense of humour and c) way too much time on their hands.

For the benefit of my Spanish readers, the pictures refer to the ongoing scandal about supermarkets like Tesco selling so called beef products that actually contain high proportions of horse meat.

The more that the Food Standards Agency delve into the matter, the more cases they are finding of foodstuffs that contain meat from sources not described on the label. However, we are only talking about 29 items out of 2,501 tested that contained traces of horse meat and no cats or dogs so far.

Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Iceland, M&S and Asda are apparently in the clear so if you are keen to avoid eating horses that fell at Breeches Brook in the Grand National, these are the shops to visit.

Only a matter of time

Jokes about horse meat in burgers were bound to come. Apologies to my Spanish readers who will probably not make any sense out of these.

  1. I went to a Tesco café yesterday and ordered a burger. They asked me if I wanted anything on it, and I said: ‘Yes — a fiver each way.’
  2. Does anyone have a tooth pick? I had a Tesco burger last night and there’s still a bit between my teeth.
  3. My daughter has always wanted a pony, so I’m buying her a Tesco Quarter Pounder for her birthday.
  4. I’ve got some Tesco burgers in the fridge. But . . . THEY’RE OFFFFFFFFF!
  5. My doctor told me to watch what I eat, so I went out and bought tickets for the Grand National.
  6. If you think horse meat’s bad, wait until you try Tesco’s veggie burgers. They’re made of genuine uniQuorn.
  7. Scientist: ‘Sir, we’ve discovered horse meat in your burgers.’ Tesco boss: ‘Why the long face?’
  8. I won’t eat Tesco burgers. They may be low in fat, but they have a very high Shergar content.
  9. Tesco are giving treble points on your Clubcard for all burgers and petrol, starting today. The deal’s called Only Fuel and Horses.
  10. What do you call a burnt Tesco burger? Black Beauty.
  11. A motorist gets pulled over by a police officer, who asks him to blow into a breathalyser. The machine beeps. ‘I’m sorry Sir,’ says the officer. ‘You’re over the limit. Can you tell me what you have had tonight?’‘Nothing Officer,’ replies the man. ‘Just a burger from Tesco.’ ‘That explains it,’ says the policeman. ‘I knew I could smell Red Rum.’
  12. They’ve found horse meat in Tesco burgers? It’s an unbridled disaster.
  13. A Tesco burger walks into a bar. ‘A pint please. ‘I can’t hear you,’ says the barman. ‘Sorry’ replies the burger. ‘I’m a little bit horse.’
  14. I selected some burgers on the Tesco website. And then clicked ‘Add to cart.’
  15. Those Tesco horse burgers were nice, but I prefer My Lidl Pony.
  16. A woman has been taken to hospital after eating Tesco burgers. Her condition is said to be stable.
  17. I used to work on the Tesco meat counter, but it was like flogging a dead horse.
  18. Last night I ate a Tesco burger, an Iceland burger and an Aldi burger to find out which had the best taste. Tesco won by a short head.
  19. I think someone may be sending me death threats. I woke up this morning with a Tesco burger in my bed.
  20. Have you heard? Now traces of zebra have been found in Tesco barcodes.
  21. I bought an ‘award-winning’ Tesco burger. I didn’t realise they meant it had won the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
  22. I used to work for Tesco, but I was fired. I got an email about a delivery of horse meat and I marked it as spam.
  23. Horse meat in Tesco burgers? What are the odds on that?
  24. I tried to take some burgers back to Tesco but they said they wouldn’t accept them. Looks like I’m saddled with them.
  25. Husband: ‘I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.’ Wife: ‘Why don’t you go to Tesco?’
  26. Personally, I think people who don’t like eating horse meat are being a bit blinkered.
  27. Despite the recent news, Tesco says that their beef burger sales remain stable.
  28. Are you in favour of horse meat in your burgers? Yay or Neigh?
  29. I won’t be switching to Tesco Finest burgers. They’re so expensive that buying enough for a big family dinner won’t leave you much change from a pony.
  30. I was going to give up fast food for January, but I fell at the final hurdle and had a Tesco burger.
  31. Just been to Tesco and bought a bottle of Bacardi, a bottle of Lamb’s and some burgers. So that’s white rum, navy rum and Red Rum.
  32. Unused HMV vouchers are now being accepted at Tesco. Just tell them HMV means ‘Horse Meat Voucher’.
  33. Despite the recent scandal, Tesco insist they use only meat of the highest quality. A spokesman said: ‘Our meat has to clear several hurdles before it goes on sale.’
  34. What’s in this burger? It just jumped over my chips.
  35. I don’t know why there’s a fuss all of a sudden. There’s been horse meat in Tesco burgers for donkey’s years.
  36. I like my burgers with a side saddle and neighonnaise.
  37. I hope Tesco were selling those burgers at hoof price.
  38. So there’s horse meat in Tesco’s burgers. Don’t worry, it’s not the mane ingredient.
  39. Forget the Everyday Value burgers — I only eat those mini-burgers you have as snacks. You know, the horse d’oeuvres.
  40. I bought some Tesco burgers — I wanted to get venison ones, but they were dead dear.
  41. I ordered a Tesco burger the other day — but asked them to hold the dressage.
  42. Tesco would’ve got away with it if it wasn’t for the DN Neigh test.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I apologise to my son-in-law

Why, because he is a staunch Manchester United fan and will therefore not like what the Spanish press have been saying about the Champions League match tonight. They say that this will be the night for Ronaldo whom they expect to inflict pain on United in the form of goals. They say that Ferguson  may have made a mistake playing his best team against Everton to gain more of a lead over their rivals City. The aim for Jose Mourinho this year is to win this trophy and he will do his best to make sure that happens.

Time of course will tell.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The real issue

The scandal about products ranging from beef burgers to lasagne containing horse meat is gathering momentum in Britain. It seems that the meat in many so called “value” foods comes from either Irish horses or from spent nags butchered in Romania and can account of up to 100% of the content.

A lot of the blame is being placed on French companies that supplied meat to Comigel. Of course, Findus and others who used Comigel’s meat did not realise that they were being sold horse meat – right!

If they hadn’t bothered to test for horse meat in these cheap meals then the great British public would not be any the wiser. They must have been consuming horse meat for years without knowing and probably thought it was quite tasty. Pumped up with flavouring and other texture modifiers, it fooled everyone into thinking this was the real deal.

The real issue, in my opinion, is the deceit. If a product is labelled “beef”, then you expect it to be beef and not horse. If the meat mostly comes from horses then it should be labelled as such but if that was the case would anybody buy it?

“What’s for tea mum?” “Horse burgers and chips.” I don’t think so!

Supermarkets in Britain are now clearing the shelves of anything that might remotely contain horse meat but what will be left? Only the more expensive products that everyone thought were not worth the extra money. It will only be a matter of time before people want the value meals back with maybe the proviso that they are labelled “beef flavour” or just simply “meat”. In small, black on a dark background, print, that nobody can read it will say, “contains horse meat”.

Front page news

El camino para un nuevo Papa

As you might imagine, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI is front page news in all the Spanish papers.

At the time he was appointed, I thought Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was too old ( he was the oldest to be elected in over 300 years). Now at 85, the Pope says that he has neither the strength of mind nor body to continue. He will retire to a cloistered monastery and the process of electing a successor will begin. However, in effect that means that there will then be two popes with possibly different views on matters of the church.

Whoever succeeds him will have to continue facing the demons of clerical sex abuse and inadequate money laundering controls that have blighted Benedict’s 8 year papal reign.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Stuck in the middle

image The reason for the wind today is that we are stuck between a cyclone and an anticyclone. The bad news is that the wind will still be with us tomorrow and last into Wednesday. After that it will die down completely giving us nice calm weather for the weekend along with temperatures more like those we are accustomed to.

Are you safer on a plane?

Pam and I are not keen to try cruising holidays but of course we are frequent flyers going back and forth to the UK to visit friends and relatives. So are we safer in the air than we would be on a ship?

One of the first things they do on any flight is to give you the safety instructions about what to do in the event of an accident. It is noticeable that most of the information is about what would happen if you came down over water. That would be useful if you were on a transatlantic flight to say New York but on a flight from Alicante to Manchester, apart form a brief excursion over the Mediterranean as you leave the airport, the only stretch of water that you cross is the English Channel.

They don’t tell you what would happen if you came down over land. I think we all know why! 

They’re meant to save lives

Five crew members have died on a cruise ship operated by the British holiday firm Thomson after a lifeboat fell from the vessel during an emergency drill at La Palma in the Canary islands, according to Spanish officials.

According to the trade union for seafarers, more people are dying during the drills than are being saved by lifeboats. The problems include the heights involved, corroded equipment, unclear instructions and poor crew training.

What this tells me is, if we ever decided to go on one of these cruises, the chances of us surviving an incident where the lifeboats had to be deployed would be low. This incident occurred whilst the ship was berthed in calm seas; imagine what it would be like if the sea was rough, the ship was going down and all the passengers were trying to board the lifeboats at the same time. The mixture of chaos, panic, badly trained crew and corroded equipment would be lethal.

According to the seafarers union, deaths at sea are all too common; it's an inherently dangerous life, even in the 21st century. For British seafarers who tend to be working at the higher end of the industry, the workplace death and injury rate is over 50 times what it is on average for all land-based workers. Safety on cruise ships tends to be better than in some sectors, but is still patchy.

Pam and I had no plans to go on a cruise, this story just goes to reinforce that decision. The thought of ending our lives in a watery grave holds no appeal.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Not at rock bottom yet

When you read encouraging news about a slight increase in property sales on the Costa Blanca, it makes you wonder what effect that might have on the value of your home. For those who are keen to sell up and return to England this is particularly important information.

Sad to say that the prospect is still gloomy, prices are still falling and have a long way still to go. The fall so far averages out at 27% from the peak of which 10% was lost last year. Informed sources say that prices will drop a further 20% before there will be real signs of recovery.

The “bad bank” set up to mop up toxic debt has tens of thousands of houses on its books from those banks that required a bailout. It is predicted that Sareb, as the bad bank is called, will eventually hold 65bn euros of property to sell over a ten year period.

The banks in Spain are still owed 270bn euros of which a third is considered to be toxic debt. It is therefore going to be sometime before Spain needs to build any more new houses.

If prices had fallen by similar amounts in Britain then there would be no problem for those looking to return but that is not the case. Only in Northern Ireland and some parts of Britain have prices dropped by percentages anywhere near equal to those in Spain. For those wanting to move back to London, the situation is hopeless because, in the capital, prices never dropped at all and in some boroughs they have actually risen. 

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Make the best of it

imageThe wind has very kindly dropped for the weekend but just looking at this graph tells you that it is due to return on Monday and blow even harder than before.

What I would dearly like to know is, “why are we getting this pattern of strong wind followed by calm and then strong wind again?” and of course”when will it end?”

Friday, February 08, 2013

Not just San Fulgencio

Along with San Fulgencio, a number of other cash strapped municipalities are looking at building works that have been completed without their knowledge. In many cases they will be regularised and the owners will have an increased IBI bill.

On the coast for example, Orihuela council are finding lots of planning violations at the homes of ex-pats in the form of extensions, terraces covered in etc etc. Although much of this work can be regularised, in 14 cases so far, the owners have been ordered to bulldoze the illegal work. They have a choice to do it themselves or the council will do it for them and charge.

The council have also found one villa at La Murada that cannot be regularised and therefore will need to be demolished entirely.  

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Back to square one

After all the debate and procrastination regarding Sector D6 in Bigastro, it seems that the PP and UPLC have now accepted the allegations made by the PSOE against them.

The government team have accepted that the original plan, set out by the socialists in 2005, is in fact the quickest way to achieve a definitive solution to the problems. That means that the 13,000 square metres for VPO houses ( subsidised housing) will be located in D6 and not D8 as the current government team had proposed. Also the gas tanks that were deemed illegal by Charo Bañuls (PP) will now remain.

The original value for the sector was set at 4.6 million, that was increased to 5.7 million and then because of delays to 5.9 million. The overruns have now been cancelled along with the contract to Iberdrola bringing the appraised value back down to 4.6 million.

Of course, much of the development has been completed and so Raúl Valerio Medina asks about the 1.3 million gap and how it will be paid to the owners. I think we all know the answer to that one!

Oh dear

San Fulgencio is catching up with the work that has been going on in the municipality and has discovered 1,419 modifications to properties that it wasn’t aware of and 590 pools that have not been declared. For a town of 19.7 square kilometres and a population of 12,357 that is rather a lot. We also have to remember that 77.6% of the population are foreigners.

The real issue is that the town has lost out on income through the property tax (IBI) to the tune of countless thousands of euros over the years. The mayor now says that they will have to revise the valuations house by house to determine the correct valuation. This will be done using aerial photos which can be used to compare the property registered with the property as it now stands. Since they won’t necessarily be able to date when the alterations were made, I imagine that the extra tax will not be applied retrospectively. 

No doubt there will be a number of cases where the administration is to blame for not keeping up with the paperwork but there could be others where people have shown flagrant disregard for planning rules – possibly out of ignorance of them. There are a lot of companies that advertise in the British newspapers who will offer to do work and tell you that it will be completely legal when in fact that is not the case. I suppose it is possible that some of the alterations cannot be legalised and therefore will have to be removed.

I do apologise


Those of you who read this blog from England will be getting fed up of reading about the wind that we are suffering here on the Costa Blanca.

In the eight years that we have lived here, this has been the worst winter for wind so far. There might have been times when the wind was stronger but not so consistently day after day over a prolonged period.

Just when you think that we might be done with the wind. it picks up again and blows even stronger than before as you can see from this graph of the wind force and the gusts recorded overnight.

Forecasts show that the wind will continue today and then will start to calm but not for long because Monday and Tuesday of next week are forecast for even stronger gales.

Although everything seems OK at the moment, structures that are designed to stand the wind will do so for so long but with the constant battering they start to weaken and give way. 

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

A different case of corruption


Memory cards for cameras etc are generally very reliable. They will stand a lot of abuse and still perform perfectly so we tend to take them for granted.

However, even though they have no moving parts like the hard drives in a computer, they can still become corrupted as this one has. It is a lesson that needs to be remembered. I have no idea how the card became corrupted; although both the camera and my computer will recognise its presence, neither will read, write nor format the card. It is now in the bin!


A friend of mine showed me his compact camera and asked where he could buy a spare memory card because the one in the camera was full. The card in the camera had hundreds of photos dating back to when he first bought it. He hadn’t backed up any of the pictures to a computer so everything relied on the card remaining intact.

Another friend had been on a trip around the world and had taken several cards with him to record his journey. He’d left one of the cards on a plane and unfortunately had not had the chance to back the files up.

Different stories with the same possible result i.e. memorable pictures being lost without much chance of recovery.

Professional photographers do not take such chances. They use small capacity cards and do not fill them. At the earliest opportunity they back them up onto a computer and then an external drive keeping each type of media separate so if one is lost then they have the security of two further copies. 

The stain of corruption

When you thought that things could not get worse for Spain, they did with the publication of the secret accounting system of the ex PP treasurer, Luis Bárcenas. The notebooks show regular payments to members of the party including Mariano Rajoy whose share of the “pot” is said to be 25,000 euros per year. The money largely came as donations from companies hoping to win government contracts.

At the weekend Rajoy was at pains to protest his innocence even though he acknowledged that elements of the accounts were true.

The anti-corruption prosecutor is now investigating the case by comparing the last 13 year’s of public accounts with the secret accounts to determine if tax frauds were committed and whether the limits for political donations were breached.

Whilst we would like to trust Sr Rajoy, In a country where so much political scandal has been unearthed, (there are currently over 300 corruption investigations under way) it is hard to believe anything that politicians tell you.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Can we believe anything is true in sport?

We’ve had the scandal about doping in cycling. In a feeble attempt to defend his position, Lance Armstrong claimed that taking performance enhancing drugs was so widespread, you either had to join in or not bother to take part. Yeah, right Lance – innocent victim!

None of us are so naive enough to believe that doping was and is confined to just cycling. Any sport where performance enhancement techniques will reap benefits was going to be fair game to those who wanted to cheat.  Like with any criminal activity, keeping ahead of the authorities and not being found out is the name of the game for these so called “sports” people.

Football is probably one of those sports where the participants would not benefit from drugs to the same degree as they do in cycling. The problem in football is somewhat different.

Europol are currently investigating 380 football games which they claim were fixed. They have discovered an Asian syndicate responsible for coordinating around 425 match officials, club officials, players and criminals to rig games, a procedure that would have brought them 8m euros in profit from bets.

Knowing this, can you ever watch a match again where your team, who won so well the week before, suddenly lose to less worthy opponents and not suspect foul play? When the incentive to lose is stronger than the will to win, it seems anything can happen in the “beautiful game”.

View from the Shard

The Guardian newspaper has produced a 360 degree view from the latest tall building to be opened in London.

Use your mouse to move around, click on the blue dots for the names of landmarks and the orange ones for stories. At the top right you can even change the scene from day to dusk.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Strong winds effected the market

I did wonder what effect the strong wind yesterday might have had on the Medieval Market. Although the streets are narrow and have tall buildings to shelter them, they would have acted like funnels to the wind when it was in the wrong direction.

Apparently, some of the stalls were damaged and many of the the owners had to remove the awnings that would have been torn apart if left. The emergency field hospital had to be moved and street lights, antennas and even a lamp post had to be removed for safety. I imagine that a lot of those banners that stretched across the streets could have been damaged by the wind.

Today has started a lot calmer, although the area is still on yellow alert for the morning. Let us hope so because Sunday is usually the busiest day for the market.  

Saturday, February 02, 2013

It’s wild again!

After a balmy week when some took to the beach as temperatures soared to the mid twenties, the bad weather has returned to blight the weekend.

Those who visited the Medieval Market in Orihuela yesterday, basked in lovely sunshine and enjoyed the multitude of entertainment on show. Today’s visitors though will not be so lucky. The wind picked up overnight and it is gusting hard out there. In the narrow streets, the wind may not be a problem but the rain that has started to lash down will be if it continues.

For those who are intent on going to the market today, here is a foretaste of what you might see.