Thursday, October 31, 2013

Back to pen and ink

The longer this story runs about intercepted phone calls, emails, web surfing activity etc. the more aware we become that nothing is sacred anymore. New claims have arisen about the NSA tapping Google and Yahoo. However, we know that Google and Yahoo have provided data for the NSA for years and in any case they both collect information about us for their own use as does Facebook. The Daily Mail even claims that the conclave of cardinals that elected the new Pope was monitored – how absurd!

The plain truth is that, since 9/11 and possibly even before, we are being spied upon by just about everyone and it isn’t just our phone calls. The Americans are probably the most guilty of this espionage but that does not rule out other countries as well. It is hard to imagine that Russia and China are innocent, in fact they are probably more guilty of this kind of activity than any other country. The only thing that separates them from America is that nobody would dare blow the whistle on what they do. In other words, it is unlikely that there is the equivalent of Edward Snowden working in Russia or China.

It seems to me there is only one way to avoid all this spying and that is to avoid any form of communication that could possible be intercepted without our knowing. That means, no phone calls, no emails, no shopping online and definitely avoid using Facebook. In fact, disconnect your computer from the Internet altogether, throw away your mobile phone and start writing letters again. Of course we would then have to hope that they don’t find a way to examine the contents of envelopes without revealing it has been done. Perhaps my suggestion of using pigeons has some merit.

Oh and whilst we are at it, banks cannot be trusted not to reveal our transactions. The SWIFT system has already been compromised so that is a no no. Best to draw all our money out, keep it under the bed and pay only in cash for anything we buy.

And what about the television? Is it possible that the satellite services are also  monitoring the programmes we watch? Of course they are, for years they have produced data about which programmes are most popular. Ah well, the television has to go as well.

Of course, this is all fantasy. Nobody in their right mind is going to turn back the clock and return to an age without all this technology. In the end we will probably have to accept that nothing we do can be considered private anymore.

They say that only the guilty have something to hide. Perhaps that is true but then don’t we all have secrets of some sort that we’d rather not share? Friends – be aware and be safe and stop reading this blog – only kidding of course!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

All this spying nonsense

The Europeans claim that the US agency NSA has been logging phone calls made in their countries. The Americans now say that it was the countries themselves that logged the calls and then passed on the information to NSA.

The monitoring of calls is intended as  a measure to prevent acts of terrorism. In all, NSA is accused of snooping in on 130.5 million calls in France and Spain and keeping records of them. That sounds to me like a massive and very costly operation which I am sure those who are organising it can justify. For the rest of us, it is intrusive and for the most part a complete waste of time, effort and money. Out of all those millions of calls, there can surely only be a tiny percentage that are of any interest.

Will the database of all these calls prevent further terrorist attacks?

Knowing that this is going on probably means that genuine terrorists now use other forms of communication – maybe they have a loft full of pigeons on standby. I defy the NSA to monitor those!

A hidden tax

Did you know that Valencia imposes a 4.8 cents per litre tax on fuel to fund healthcare? No, neither did I.

Following a case opened by a transport company, the European Court of Justice Advocate-General has said that the tax contravenes European legislation. His decision is not binding but could be if the European court decides to uphold it. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

An end to the prolonged summer

After an unusually warm period for October, temperatures will drop today - from 30 degrees to low twenties for some parts of the region. Here in Alicante province, temperatures will hover around the 25 degree mark with a low of 16 degrees. By next Wednesday, the temperatures will drop to just 19 which is more normal for this time of year.

Along with a drop in temperature, we can expect some showers and the risk of a thunderstorm this afternoon lasting into the night. By tomorrow the skies will start to clear bringing sunshine to the area on Thursday and Friday.

Monday, October 28, 2013

St Jude’s storm

Untitled-1This satellite image from 6am this morning shows the storm passing over the south of England. After the BBC failed to predict the ferocity of the 1987 storm which caused widespread damage in the south of England, nobody was taking chances this time.

An amber alert was set for last night into this morning for most of Britain, rail services were cancelled along with ferries across the Channel.

Although this morning’s papers are showing pictures of devastation (particularly the Daily Mail who revel in bad weather), many report that the storm has been nowhere near as severe as anticipated.

Nether the less, there has been disruption as trees have fallen and houses have been left without electricity.

We hope that our friends in England, particularly the south, are OK and have not suffered. The storm is moving rapidly away from Britain now leaving a much calmer day with some sunny spells.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Floral tributes

November 1st is the feast of All Saints and here in Spain it is the day when you visit the cemetery to pay respect to dead relatives and friends.  Of course, you are not expected to go empty handed, most take a bunch of flowers and a candle or two to decorate the niches.

But where do all those flowers come from?

One major source is the Flomar cooperative in Pilar de la Horadada. It is one of the largest producers of cut flowers in Spain. Two million flowers are cut in preparation for All Saints Day representing 15% of the total production. Those huge polythene greenhouses that you see on the roadside are where all these flowers are grown.

In preparation for November 1st, the delicate stems are cut over night,  packed and dispatched within 24 hours to all parts of Spain.  In case you were wondering, the biggest sellers are chrysanthemums, daisies, gladioli, roses and gerberas.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Moya let off again

Section VII of the High Court has acquitted the former mayor of Bigastro, José Joaquín Moya, of a crime against planning, another of falsifying documents and a third of trespass. The court also acquitted the secretary Antonio Saseta and Antonio María Jesús Ferrer.

The case against the three was in relation to the authorization granted to Repsol to install gas tanks in sector D-6 on a public green area. Approval for the project was first granted in 2005. In 2006, Repsol signed a contract to install two 49,500 litre tanks along with pipelines. In 2007, the site for the tanks was determined and the work was authorised and approved.

By 2010, the problems related to planning in sector D-6 meant that the work on installing the gas tanks was suspended. In 2013, the City Council notified Repsol that the installation of gas tanks was no longer viable.

In the end, the failure of the case came down to the confusion in terminology “areas” and “plots”, “construction” and “compound”. The gas tanks were to be installed in an area not a plot and did not constitute a construction.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Four generations of royalty

It is rare to find a photo of so many generations of British royalty together.

george_2713290b In this photo taken at Clarence House following the christening of the latest member of the family, we have  (left to right) The Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Queen, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry, Duchess of Cambridge holding Prince George, Pippa Middleton, James Middleton, Duke of Cambridge, Carole and Michael Middleton

The last similar occasion was in 1899, when the 80-year-old Queen Victoria posed with her direct successors Edward VII, George V and Edward VIII.

This time, the Queen, who is 87, is pictured with her son the Prince of Wales, 64, grandson the Duke of Cambridge, 31, and three-month-old great-grandson Prince George.

A dream turned sour

Building an illegal home in Britain would be nigh on impossible but here in Spain things are very different. There are many illegal properties in the country, some of which have been subsequently legalised but others that have orders for demolition imposed upon them because they are built on protected land.

In many cases, the buyers were duped by unscrupulous builders and town hall officials into believing that all was well. Corrupt solicitors, working for the owners, did nothing to warn the potential buyers of the problems they faced. 

SPAIN_2706658c Two British owned villas in southern Spain were demolished last week as the authorities carried out their demolition orders and there are more to come. The houses were built in areas where it was forbidden and even though the owners have been declared innocent, the court has ruled that they must go.

The owners are now faced with the prospect of trying to obtain compensation from people who have already declared bankruptcy. In other words they will never get a penny back for their investments.

In Andalucía there are estimated 300,000, many bought by British owners, that face the same fate. In case you were wondering, the houses on our estate are all legal and above board.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Signs of recovery

Unemployment in Spain fell by 72,800 people from the previous quarter, a reduction of 1.2% which brings the total number of unemployed persons to 5.9047 million.

Thus, the unemployment rate now stands at 25.98%, almost three-tenths percent lower than the second quarter (26.26%), according to data from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) made ​​public by the National Institute of Statistics (INE).

Meanwhile, in Valencia 22,600 fewer people were unemployed from the previous quarter, representing a decline of 3.1 percent, bringing the total number of 701 300 unemployed people.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Welcome home

We had a great trip to the UK with lots of wonderful memories to keep us going until the next trip.

We visited the Sealife Centre, Pam went to see Wicked, I got to see Crosby, Stills and Nash, we had three days in London, watched Molly in her first dance show and then Pam went to Disney on Ice.

We met up with our very good friends Glenys and Peter, Dave’s parents and spent some time with Dave’s brother and wife. Best of all though we had time with our lovely daughters, our son-in-law and Molly.

Now we are home to recuperate ready for our next trip.

How wonderful it was this morning to wake up to a warm sunny sky; it reminds us of why we chose to live here away from the hustle and bustle of England and the grey skies that are never far away.

Many thanks go to all those who made our trip so worthwhile, we hope you enjoyed our company as much as we did yours.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Caught a cold

It seems that every time I come to England, I end up catching a cold. The symptoms are always the same; a harsh throat followed by a runny nose and a cough.

These colds generally don't last too long and are more uncomfortable rather than debilitating. Still, it is annoying to have to suffer a cold every time.

Yesterday we went to watch Molly perform in a dance show. What a little trouper she was, in step and confident.

Watching the older children perform, you could imagine what Molly will be like in just a few years.

Then we went to a nearby pub for food. Whilst we were there, the mild weather with broken sunshine gave way to a short but intense thunderstorm. The rain was driven horizontal by the wind soaking anyone who happened to be caught outside.

Within twenty minutes, the storm cleared and the sun came out again creating the second double rainbow we have seen this trip.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Trip to London

We've just had a three day break in London taking in some of the sights of the capital. You can see my album of photos in the sidebar.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The morning exodus

Where we live in Spain, most of the people are retired. Getting up in the morning is something you do when you are ready. Apart from those occasions when we have an appointment, there is no call to use an alarm clock to wake us up.

Here in Sale, most of the neighbours go to work so, from about 8am to 9, there is the exodus as people leave their houses to go to work. Cars starting up and doors closing have the same effect as an alarm clock so here I am up and awake.

Normally, I get a good two hours to myself before Mrs W. wakes up but not this morning. She too has woken up with the noise and now wants me to get started on the jobs so that we can go out to Manchester shopping. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thank you, thank you, thank you

My grateful thanks go to my son-in-law and his father for taking me to my first Crosby, Stills and Nash concert.

What a great mix of songs, some new, a few solos, the odd duet and a wonderful selection from their extensive back catalogue.

It was a good night which I am sure will go down as one of the highlights of this trip for me.

Thank you once again to Dave and Brendon Christopher for your company and for the great introduction to one of the classiest bands around.

My album of photos.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

It never rains!

For the benefit of my Spanish readers, there is a saying in English, "it never rains but what it pours". It means that when anything goes wrong, it often escalates into something worse.

Laura and Dave have a list of jobs as long as your arm. Today, we were all set to tackle some of them when Laura noticed a damp patch on the kitchen ceiling. There is obviously a leak somewhere in the bathroom above but without taking up the floor tiles, we are not going to find out where. It seems to be related to the central heating so that is now turned off. The good news is that the leak now seems to have stopped. The bad news is that it will now get cold in the house.

In the meantime, Dave and I are going to investigate the leak in Molly's playhouse. At least that should be straightforward.

Friday, October 11, 2013

It didn't last

The lovely sunshine that we have enjoyed since arriving here was never going to last. Sunshine in Manchester at this time of year is a rare treat. Heavy cloud and the threat of rain is more normal and that is what we seem to having today. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A change of climate

As we touched down at Manchester, we could see that it had been raining. Fortunately the rain stopped and we even saw some beams of sunlight during the afternoon. I can't say that it felt warm though. We are now completely spoilt by the lovely weather we enjoy in Spain and notice more and more the difference on our trips to England.

Still, when you are greeted by your granddaughter running to the gate, with a smile beaming across her face and her arms wide open it is sunshine all round.

Today, we have blue skies and sunshine which makes us feel at home. However, when I stepped foot outside, it became clear this is not Spain! 

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

It may be quiet for awhile

This morning we set off for our annual trip to England to buy Christmas cards amongst other things. That means that posts to this blog will be sporadic until our return.

I know that one or two of our neighbours get concerned when nothing is posted for a day or two and wonder if we are both well. As far as I know, we are both as fit as fiddles, maybe old ones that are showing their age but still playing a reasonable tune.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Government backs bullfighting as culture

In these harsh days of economic crisis, many towns are unable to afford to stage bullfights any more. Even if they did, the numbers of spectators would hardly warrant the expense. It seems that killing animals in the name of culture is no longer acceptable to a growing number of Spaniards.

A recent poll showed that 76% of Spaniards were against the use of public funds to prop up this ailing industry and yet legislation was passed by a congressional culture committee last Wednesday. If the vote is carried by the Senate, then bullfighting will be deemed part of the cultural heritage worthy of protection. That means it can be funded with public money.

Groups such as PETA, Humane Society International and the World Society for the Protection of Animals have all expressed their disgust with the legislation. They say this is just an attempt to get more than the 130 million euros that the country already receives from the EU budget.

Video competition

With just a mobile phone or a camera that takes video you can earn yourself a prize in a competition organised by Bigastro town hall.

The Councillor for Social Welfare, Sonia Belmonte and for Culture, Maria Jose Sarmiento,  presented the competition yesterday and explained the requirements.

1. The theme for the videos is the fight against gender violence and the promotion of gender equality.

2. Although it is open to all ages, the theme obviously focuses on young people.

3. The finished video should be no more than eight minutes long.

4. You can submit up to three entries.

5. The closing date is the 15th November.

The finished videos will be judged by a panel of experts who will pick the eight best entries. These will be screened at the Auditorium in December where the audience will be asked to vote for the winner and runner up along with a special award. First prize will be 500 euros, second prize 250 euros and the audience award will be a home theatre system.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Murcia Dance Company

Last night’s performance at the Auditorium Francisco Grau was by the Murcia Dance Company. We saw them last year and so looked forward to the performance last night.

Like last year though, the Auditorium was only just half full and we can’t understand why. If the performance was given by students from the local dance school, there would have been standing room only.

Performing to a half empty hall must be very disheartening. After all the time spent rehearsing, you’d kind of like more people to appreciate your efforts.  

All I can say is that we appreciated the show and so did those who turned up to watch it.

PS We saw just one other British couple there and even they left at the interval and so missed the second half of the show.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Man made shakes

Investigations into the earthquake at Lorca showed that pumping water from underground may have contributed to the tremor that shook the town causing widespread destruction.

It now seems that man may also be responsible for the 400 small earthquakes that have affected the coastline of Castellón and Tarragona.

Twenty two kilometres east of the town of Vinaroz, there is a 1,750 metre deep reservoir of gas – the co called “Castor” project. The site is an old oil well which is being used to store natural gas. The 1,200 million euro project was approved by the previous government, apparently without consideration of the seismic risk. The reservoir is one of four in Spain that are intended to keep the flow of gas going during a shortage.

The process of storage has been halted pending an investigation.

Ghost workers

We had heard rumours of a number of people in Bigastro being paid by the council in return for votes. It seems that there could well be some truth in these stories.

When the PP/UNPLC took office in June 2011, they uncovered  information about 48 people who had been on the town’s payroll without contracts for work with the council over a period of nine years.

It is alleged that José Joaquín Moya, who was in power as mayor for 28 years, created a network of of payments of Social Security for selected families in the town which allowed them access to benefits and eventually a pension. The practice had been going on for years and was continued by Moya’s successor when the former mayor was arrested and subsequently resigned. Raul Valerio Medina, who succeeded Moya, was in charge of finance between June 2007 and November 2008. When he took over as mayor, Medina apparently continued to pay 17 false workers and added a further 13 to the list.

Some of these people were paid for short periods, others benefitted from the payments for up to six years. It is said that many were friends or family of the council members.

The matter was placed in the hands of the Anticorruption Prosecutor in April and was taken up by the courts in Orihuela this August. Those who were responsible, along with the political officials who orchestrated or overlooked these fraudulent practices, could be charged with forgery of public documents, trespass, misappropriation of public funds and fraud.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

A special night out

If you want to experience the very best of Spanish tapas, it is a good idea to be guided by locals. That is why Pamela and I were delighted when Jaime and Paqui invited us to dine with them last night.

For two years now, Pamela has been visiting their house on Calle Principe de Asturias to help their son Pablo with his English. She now stays for an extra half hour to have conversation with Paqui. Jaime worked in Manchester during the late 80s and now in Torrevieja so his English is excellent – he does not need help. 

The restaurant that Jaime and Paqui chose for us was Angelin in Almoradí. Jaime told us it was his favourite restaurant for tapas in the evening and we soon discovered why.

Typically, there was no menu as such because regular clients know what is on offer and simply ask for it. We therefore sampled the dishes that Jaime suggested that he hoped we would enjoy. As I have said before, Pamela is not fond of seafood and is very choosey about fish which kind of limited the choices somewhat. Still there was plenty for her to enjoy whilst avoiding the fish dishes.

As we talked, Pamela and I explained that our first teacher of Spanish was Ana.  Of course Jaime and Paqui knew of her and Jaime is a good friend of Ana’s father. So, after our meal,we set off to Maraná for coffees. The route that Jaime chose for his wife to drive took us through Camponeta, Molins, Rafal, San Bartolome and eventually the road to Hurchillo where Maraná is situated. A long and torturous way to go for a cup of coffee!

Since we were picked up at 9pm to go out, it was very late when Paqui finally dropped us off at our house – I will definitely need a siesta today.

It was a wonderful evening though with excellent food and even better company. When we are asked, “what is it that you like about Bigastro?” we always say the people. It is people like Jaime and Paqui and many more who make living here so special.

Friday, October 04, 2013

It pays to check what you type

There is nobody more guilty of mistyping than me. Many of you, who read this blog, will have noticed how I often make corrections to items – sometimes days after they have been published.

Mind you, I am not responsible for publishing data about the financial status of Spain so my mistakes go largely unnoticed. The Spanish finance minister recently announced that, by 2014, the national debt for the country would be 99.8% of GDP. The actual figure should have been 98.9%, a difference of some 10bn euros. It was a simple tying error which has now been corrected.

Although a mistake is a mistake, it will not have the same catastrophic effect that was caused when a dealer at Lehman Brothers wiped £30bn of the FTSE 100 by typing £300m for a trade meant to be £3m. 

Thursday, October 03, 2013

125 years on


We take cameras for granted these days; almost everyone has one, even if it is just part of a mobile phone.

Things were very different though before 1889. If you wanted a photograph in those days, you went to a studio and visited a professional.

It all began to change in 1889 when Kodak introduced the No 1 camera which actually followed their first one which was simply called Kodak.

The wooden box , which was covered in leather, housed a roll of film that would produce 100 pictures. The camera sold for $25 which was quite expensive for the time. 

To set the shutter you pulled a string and then pressed a button on the side to release it. It had one speed, one aperture setting and a fixed focus lens. There was no viewfinder to compose with, so your best bet was to point it roughly towards your subject and hope for the best. If the light was right and the subject was beyond the minimum distance, then you got a good result. If your pictures came out well composed, that was a bonus.

Once you’d taken your 100 pictures, you sent the camera back to Kodak who developed the film and returned your 100 2.5 inch circular pictures along with the camera loaded again for the next 100 shots. 

A good chance of rain

Make the best of the weather today because there is a distinct chance of rain tomorrow followed by more rain on Sunday and Monday. The rain will bring a drop in temperatures from the low 30s down to the mid 20s – more normal for this time of year.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013


The PP in Bigastro are frustrated by the situation they find themselves in. Since they are now in the minority, every time council meetings come to a vote, they lose out to the PSOE and UPLC in opposition.

The mayor, Charo Bañuls says the other parties should submit a censure motion if their intention is to continue outvoting her party. For her part, she is not prepared to resign. Of course, none of the parties is capable of ruling in the majority on their own, the Socialists are one seat short and the Liberals have just two councillors.

So what are the chances of a coalition? The answer is simple; the fragile pact between the Liberals and the PP finally broke down when Aurelio Murcia claimed he worked harder than the mayor and therefore should be paid her salary and a pact between the Liberals and the Socialists is almost unthinkable. The answer is therefore “no chance”.

It should not be this hot

Two warm air masses, the Poniente and the Tropical marítimo, are the cause of the unusually high temperatures at the moment. Early Tuesday night was the warmest that this area has been since October 8th, 1921.

The start of autumn follows the driest September experienced since 1983. Normally, September is wet with an average of 47 litres per square metre, this year we only had 3 litres of rain.

The warm weather is expected to last until the weekend when the Levante will cool things down. 

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

America shuts down

If there was concern in Bigastro about not passing the payment plan to suppliers in time to avert a 50% cut in government funding to the town, just imagine how tense things were in Washington last night.

In Bigastro, the Socialist leader changed his mind at the last minute and voted for the proposed plan, at Capitol Hill there was no such change of heart. The Republicans in the House of Representatives tried three times to force the Democrats in the Senate to delay the plans for President Obama’s controversial Affordable Care Act but they were having none of it.

The Democrats claim that Obamacare was passed four years ago, was ratified by the supreme court and was endorsed by voters at the last election. The Republicans say that the law will cause untold damage to the American people and to the economy.

As midnight drew close and no solution to the impasse was forthcoming, the President signed the order which will enforce an orderly shutdown of Government organisations. In effect, 800,000 workers will now take unpaid leave.

Where they go from there is far from clear. The Democrats argue that, if they concede to the demands of the Republicans on this issue, they will be back within a week making further demands. That, of course, is the situation that Raúl Valerio Medina may find himself in here.