Thursday, December 31, 2015

The main event

For many Spaniards, the arrival of the Three Kings is still the main event of the festive season.

Santa Claus though is making inroads which means that the lucky ones get presents twice.

The Three Kings in Bigastro is a much lower key event than in places like Orihuela and Torrevieja and so that is where we will be heading.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Do you remember Kay?

Those Brits who live at Villas Andrea may well remember brother and sister -  Kay and Ken Wooden - who originally owned the house next door.

They arrived with four cats, two parrots and a cockatoo. Sadly, one by one, the cats died but were replaced by two delightful kittens along with a couple of feral cats they used to feed.

Although they enjoyed the winter sunshine and the relaxed lifestyle, the summer heat was just too much for Kay. The house had air conditioning installed by the builder but that proved expensive to run and so they got by with just fans.

Ken had a very serious accident some years before arriving which left him with a problem walking, Whilst here, he suffered a heart attack from which he never really recovered. It was very sad because they were good company and very good neighbours.

Eventually, they decided to move to France for its milder summers and rented a house in a small town. From there the pair planned to return to England and found a place outside of York. Sadly, before the move took place, Ken died and so Kay was left on her own with her collection of animals.

Each year we get a Christmas card from Kay letting us know how she is. In this year's card, Kay tells us that she still misses Ken's company but still has the animals for company. She also misses the house in Spain but not the hot weather in summer. I am not sure how close the house in York is to a river, I sincerely hope that she has not suffered during the recent floods that have affected that area.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Calling all gamers

Take your PC or video console along to the Auditorium to participate in a games party competing with others.

The event will take place today and tomorrow between 11am and 2pm and then again between 4pm and 7pm.

My birthday treat

The 3rd January just happens to be my birthday, how kind of the Junior Band to organise a concert especially for that day. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The last Christmas

No point in dreaming of a white Christmas here in Bigastro. You have to go back 89 years to find any real evidence of snow and even then it is only a thin coating - not enough to make a snowball never mind a snowman.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A message from the church

That's Boxing Day evening sorted

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Dream to nightmare

Many Spaniards will have their fingers and toes crossed today hoping beyond hope that the Christmas Lottery will bring them good luck.

The newspaper Informacion though warns us of the dangers that sudden wealth can bring.

1. It can generate envy among the people around who want to take advantage of your luck by asking to borrow money or demanding gifts.

2. It can tempt you into buying luxury; cars, houses and fancy clothes. And then what? You end up with a whole load of things you don't need and still you are not happy.

3. You can lose real friends and at the same time gain new ones who are only interested in your new wealth.

4. It is tempting to stop work and become a person of leisure but that can become tiresome after awhile. At least when we are young we need a purpose in life, a reason to get up in the morning.

5. Seizing the opportunity to start a business is a bad idea because inexperience can mean that you can lose money and, most importantly, feel unsuccessful if all goes wrong.

The advice is to:

1. Keep calm and do not tell anyone outside your inner circle. Above all, you must control the urge to tell the world about your news. If you do, it will only be a matter of days before sacks full of begging letters arrive at your doorstep.

2. Do not make radical decisions during your initial rush of joy.

3. Put the money in a bank trust ASAP.

4. Act as if nothing had happened and continue with a "normal" life.

5. Most important;- tell your family and friends that the money is being managed by an asset manager .That makes it easier to say no when they ask for things.

Monday, December 21, 2015


The situation in Spanish politics became a whole lot more complicated after yesterday's elections.

The PP won 123 seats in the election, with 29% of the vote, leaving them far from a majority in the 350-seat legislature.The Socialists came second, with 90 seats and 22% of the vote.
Anti-austerity Podemos finished in third place with 69 seats and 21% of the vote, while the centre-right Ciudadanos won 40 seats and 14% of the vote.

In order to be able to govern for the next four years, the PP will have to rely on other parties, suggesting a protracted process of negotiations for Spain’s political leaders.

Several scenarios are possible. In the lead-up to the election, many analysts had predicted that the new government would be made up of the PP and supported in some way by Ciudadanos. But Sunday’s election result leave the two parties together still short of a majority.

Any such alliance would now require a third partner, a scenario that shifts some of the balance of power to regional parties from Catalonia and the Basque country and will be complicated by Ciudadanos’ vehement opposition to Catalan independence and insistence on eradicating long-standing Basque tax benefits.

Another possibility is a grand pact between the PP and Socialists.  However, this option was understandably rejected by the leaders of both parties during the campaign.

An alternative would be a coalition of the Socialists, Podemos and Ciudadanos. However, Rivera said earlier this week his party would not support what he called a “grouping of losers”, diminishing the likelihood of this option.

Sunday’s results could allow the Socialists to govern with the support of Podemos and several smaller parties, such as the Republican Left of Catalonia, who won nine seats, or Artur Mas’s Convergence party, which won eight seats.

However, even if the Socialists amass enough votes to gain control of the lower house of parliament, their government’s attempts to push forward initiatives such as constitutional reform would likely be quashed by the country’s senate, where Sunday’s election left the PP with an absolute majority.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Keep the Christmas spirit going

After the feast of food and drink on Christmas Day, it will be good to get out on Boxing Day and enjoy some music courtesy of the Bigastro band. Their traditional Christmas concert is always uplifting fun and great entertainment.

PS For Spaniards the important day is Christmas Eve or Nochebuena, a time when families get together and enjoy a lavish meal which traditionally has several courses including starters, fish, seafood,  meat and desserts.

For we Brits, it is Christmas Day with our  roast turkey dinner served with all the trimmings;- roast and boiled potatoes, Brussels sprouts, roast parsnips, pigs in blankets (chipolata sausages wrapped in streaky bacon), stuffing and lashings of gravy. This is followed by  Christmas pudding with brandy sauce and  later on cold meats, cheese, pork pies and slices of Christmas cake which in Yorkshire would be accompanied by a crumbly cheese like Cheshire, Lancashire or Wensleydale.

On Boxing Day (the 26th) Pamela and I would have left the turkey to one side and  cooked roast pork with a variety of vegetables and of course Yorkshire puddings.

Get creative

Even if some Spanish restaurants recipes seem a little strange to our tastes, I don't think we can fault their desserts.

In Britain  we prepare something special for Christmas,  like mince pies, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, yule logs etc, It is the same in Spain with cooks being creative with their ingredients to turn out something just for the festive season.

Here in Bigastro, the Progressive Women's Association organise a competition to find the best on offer and award prizes to the most successful.

I must try and get myself an invite to take photos and maybe even enjoy a bit of cheeky sampling!!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Clear out the cupboards

My grandchildren will be getting more toys this Christmas, that is for sure. Like with all children, a new toy can mean that old ones become abandoned and forgotten.

Rather than having them fill up space in the cupboard, the children of Bigastro are invited to take them to the Social Centre any Monday to Friday between 9am and 2pm. From there they will be distributed to less fortunate children who may have to go without this Christmas.

The full programme for the festive season.

What's on in Bigastro

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A tight deadline

You've got until the 23rd to write your letters to Santa Claus. On that day you need to take them to the post box on Calle Purisima to ensure delivery for Christmas.

Actually, if you belong to a more traditional family, you will have to wait until the Three Kings arrive on January 6th for your presents and hope that Santa passes your requests on.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A bit of window dressing

Many of the shops in Bigastro make a special effort to dress their windows for Christmas.There is usually a great mix between traditional nativity scenes and more contemporary themes.

Just to spice things up and give extra incentive, the Town Hall are offering prizes for the best efforts.

Open for business

The work at the Holy Cross Park is now complete. With new planting, new benches and games for the children, it all looks very splendid.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Good to be back

The thing that most expats look forward to least when they return to England during the winter is the weather. To be fair, we saw very little rain in Manchester until yesterday. There were even periods when the sun shone and the temperatures were mild.

Yesterday though was wet, very wet. Thankfully we were not outside for long even when we dropped our hire car off at the Car Rental Village just outside the airport.

The flight home was trouble free as indeed was the flight to Manchester eight days earlier. That is more than we can say for the stay though. Once again Pamela was in bed for a day with some form of vomit inducing stomach bug and I had a day when I dare not stray far from a toilet.

We are either susceptible to these kind of bugs, having lived 11 years in a hot climate, or the close proximity to a lot more people brings us into contact with them. Either way, it doesn't make for a pleasant trip when you spend part of it feeling wretched.

We are not fond of the British weather any more. The cold and damp of winters in the UK is no longer a mere inconvenience, it is totally depressing. Neither are we fond of the pace of life in the UK, the roads are too crowded, the shops are too crowded and at nearing 70, we no longer want to keep up with life in the fast lane.

On the positive side though, our family and friends in the UK continue to delight us. Molly is such a treasure to be with and Rory is shaping up to be a real character. Like most parents, we get a lot of comfort from seeing how our children have developed and now our grandchildren are proving to be equally rewarding. Not all families are as lucky as us, we know that. Pamela and I have a lot to be thankful for.

Monday, December 07, 2015

You guessed

It hardly seems anytime at all since we were in England and here we are again for our pre-Christmas trip.

Those of you who keep up with UK news will know that Britain has been battered already by several winter storms. Today we have some respite from the grey sky and strong wind with a nice blue vista out there.

Judging by what we have seen on television though, we have nothing to complain about. Not that far north of us, there are scenes of devastation caused by high winds and severe flooding. It seems that the winter storms have been given names and this one was Desmond. Let us hope they don't as far as Zack.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

We need to catch up!

"Super-fast broadband is now available to more than 83% of UK homes - up from 75% in the same period in 2014.

The research found that only 2.4 million UK homes, about 8%, cannot get speeds of 10Mbps or more. Many of these homes were in rural areas."

Well I live close to a town and my speed via Telefonica is 8.5Mps.

I could transfer to a local fibre optic service which promises 100Mbs but I know from the experience of others that quitting Telefonica can be a painful process and I wonder how long the local service can survive if very few subscribe to it.

I'd hoped that Telefonica might offer a fibre optic service to replace the copper cable but that does not seem likely.

Working with the light

Those of you who have looked at my pictures from the Auditorium will have noticed how harsh the lighting is in there. The directional spotlights bleach out people's faces and at the same time cast very dark shadows. To be fair, it is pretty much the same in any concert venue.

One solution to the problem is to use flash but a) that is so intrusive during a concert b) you need to be close up for it to work and c) it also bleaches out subject that are close whilst throwing further subjects into shadow.

I normally try and sit at the back of the first section so that I can see the whole of the band and point my camera at different parts. I use a 70-200mm lens on a full frame camera and sometimes add a 1.4x extender to give me more reach.

If you were to look at the information about my photos, you would see that they are mostly taken at full aperture for that lens i.e. f2.8 and shutter speeds are nominally 1/120th of a second. At 200mm that would give me many blurred shots but for the incredible image stabilisation system of the Canon lens.

In the Auditorium I set what is called exposure compensation to bring the exposure as far into the highlights as I can without losing them into solid white. In photography speak that is "exposing to the right" because the highlights are shown on the right side of a histogram of light. "Clipped" highlights are impossible to recover whatever wizardry you try to perform later on a computer.

At those settings, I then allow the camera to choose an appropriate ISO (film speed in old parlance) to get correct exposure. In my days with film, 400 ISO was the highest speed you could buy. You had to what was called push process it to get speeds up to 1,600 ISO and the result was then very grainy.

These days digital cameras have a range of ISO speeds up to 100,000 and more. As the speed increases so does the digital noise and with noise you lose precious detail in a multicoloured blotchy mess. Looking at the speeds that my camera has chosen shows the range to be from 1,500 to about 5,000 ISO and sometimes even 6,400.

When I process the pictures in my computer there are several things that I do. First of all I correct the colour to try and bring it close to neutral. Then I reduce any noise without losing too much detail. I crop my photos to achieve a better composition and finally I try and bring back some of lost information in the shadows.

Therein lies a problem though because what I am relying upon is wide dynamic range from my sensor i.e. its ability to record detail in shadows and highlights at the same time. Dynamic range of digital sensors is always at its highest at the lower ISO settings e.g. ISO 100 and progressively gets lower as the sensitivity increases. At 3,200 ISO it is at its lowest.

These days, the cameras with the greatest dynamic range are those that use Sony sensors which includes Nikons. Canon are lagging behind in this area of design. On the latest Sony sensors you can find detail in areas that appear totally black on first sight - quite remarkable.

To make matters worse, Canon sensors also suffer from banding at low ISO settings. Banding occurs when you try to lighten shadows and show up as colour streaks across those areas. Fortunately, banding is not a problem at the higher ISO settings I use in the Auditorium.

So why did I not chose to go with Nikon? Well, when I first bought a full frame camera, the Canon 5D MkII seemed to have a better feature set than the Nikon D700 which was its competitor. Once I had lenses and flashguns to go with the camera, I was pretty much locked into the Canon system and it would cost me a small fortune to change now. In any case, we Canon shooters live in hope that new versions of their cameras will catch up and hopefully surpass Nikon and then we will be the ones with smiles on our faces.

Put this in your diary

One of the director's aims when he joined was to win some prizes with the band. Next year he will have the chance to scoop up the prestigious provincial prize in the annual competition.

Bands for this are selected by drawing their names from a hat. Bigastro was chosen because it had missed out in previous years.

The date is the 5th March, the location is the fabulous auditorium in Alicante where the band played earlier this year.

As it happens, the 5th March is my granddaughter Molly's birthday and normally we would fly over to Manchester to be there on the day. However, this is too important an occasion to miss and so we will make some other arrangements for her birthday.  

I would wish them best of luck but in truth it will be sheer hard work and hours of practise that will get them the result they deserve.