Monday, August 31, 2020

Welcome relief

When we first came to Spain, we looked forward to summer and days of sunshine. The fact that it was going to be hot didn't concern us because we were used to heat during our summer holidays. 

We still look forward to summer and temperatures in the low 30s. However, when the thermometer reaches over 35 and creeps to 40 degrees, we take shelter in the house with the air conditioning working flat out all day. 

Looking at the this week, that looks comfortable. We won't even object to the light cloud cover. 


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Spare a thought

 My friend Pete is responsible for timetabling in his school - a secondary R.C. High School for Girls in Liverpool. 

Like all schools, they have worked hard to facilitate a safe return for pupils next week following Government guidelines. 

Then on Friday night, the Government chose to announce the measures that would be taken if there was a local spike in Covid 19 cases - it is a 4 tier plan starting with wearing of masks by pupils from Yr 7 upwards and adults when moving around buildings to full school closure.

It is Stage 2 though that has my friend scratching his head. The notion is that half the pupils would stay in school and half would work from home. Sounds simple but it isn't because secondary school timetables  are complex. Do you send home whole year groups or specific classes from various year groups? Which plan would be least disruptive and at the same time best reduce the possibility of transmission. 

Just when my friend needed a relaxed weekend to prepare for the difficulties he will already face next week, Pete has the impossible task of sorting out Plan B. 

Will Johnson finally rid England of its incompetent Secretary of State for Education? Will Williamson do the honourable thing and resign? 

When Conservative MPS were seeking Williamson's resignation following the exam result fiasco, he published this photo which the Times suggested was a reminder to all that he was Chief Whip under Teresa May. The red book on top of the whip is thought to be his record of "indiscretions" by Tory MPs. 

Following the exam fiasco, Sally Collier (Head of Ofqual) resigned and the chief civil servant at the Department for Education has been sacked. Mr Slater is the fifth permanent secretary to leave his post in six months. 

Thatcher said  that "advisers advise and ministers decide" but it seems that it is the advisers that carry the can under Johnson. Pretty soon there will be nobody left to blame for the Government's mistakes. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

Have you got the app?

 Spain is using an app called Radar Covid to track and trace people with Coronavirus.. 

Like the ill fated UK app, this uses Bluetooth to record who you have been in contact with. If you then exhibit symptoms, you notify via the app and anyone who has been recorded in contact with you for 15 minutes or more is notified.  

The app is available for Apple IOS and Android. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

What is going on?

 To be fair, it is a long time since we had major problems with electricity here at Villas Andrea. When we first arrived and  were on "builder's supply",  it was a lottery. You could have periods of hours without electricity and even when it was on, the voltage varied quite a bit. Once we were connected to the National Grid, things improved a lot although there have been the odd blips. 

My Smart UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply or battery backup) has been sending messages to say that there have been a couple of power cuts over the last week or so but generally, there have been no interruptions during the daytime. 

Apart from the email messages that the UPS sends, the clock on the oven goes back to 12:00 and needs resetting. They are both sure signs that we have had problems. 

Previously, I had my Internet router connected to the UPS and so we did not lose our connection when the power went off.  Now that we have a fibre connection though, we have the supplied router in our bedroom acting as a modem and a wireless router in the spare room that connects everything to the network. Neither of these are powered via the UPS and so, when the electricity goes off, so does our connection to the Internet. 

Far more serious though, with the electricity off, we can't make that vital first cup of tea in the morning. In desperation, one time I went outside and boiled water on my gas barbecue but that needs cleaning after last night's meal. For now, the electricity is back on and I have my brew by my side, let's hope it stays that way. 


The good news is that the electricity is back on, the bad news is that the water has now gone off. The even worse news is that, now the water is back on, there is a leak in the street outside our neighbour's house. The water has found a route from there down to the pavement outside our shed creating a long crack in our walls on the way.

Friday:- we now have two men digging down to find and hopefully repair the leak. Once they have done that, I expect them to come and repair our walls.  

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Where are all the sick people

 When we came back from England in March, I needed to go to the Medical Centre in Bigastro to have my knee redressed. I went several times and on each occasion there was nobody in the waiting room. The seating had been sorted with tape on alternate seats but it wasn't needed because there wasn't anyone about apart from the staff.  

I had an appointment at the hospital for my regular checkup following radiotherapy four years ago but was told that would be cancelled and in any case I couldn't have the blood analysis that precedes those appointments. 

Realising it was essential, I made a new appointment at the hospital for next week and went down this morning for my blood analysis. 

In the past, there has always been a gathering of over a dozen people waiting for their blood analysis. This morning, I was the only one and the waiting area was still empty. 

This leads me to wonder, where are all the people who would normally be filling the medical centre? 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Whilst Rome burns

 Even in normal times, it is impossible to produce exam results that are perfectly standardised. Exams are marked by an army of teachers who attempt to agree a common standard between them. Although the marks are later cross checked by chief examiners, there is still some potential for errors. The important thing is not that the grades are correct but that the rank order of students is correct – not just in the individual school but across the country as a whole.   

What OFQUAL attempted to do this year was to standardise disparate marking by referencing back to previous years' results. They had to assume that each school would perform more or less the same as they had in the past. The problem is that A level groups tend to be small in number and so results can vary considerably year on year. Grades for subjects like Latin, Classics and History of Art, mostly taken in independent schools, were either left untouched or improved; grades in Social Science subjects, taken by state schools, were downgraded. 

To illustrate the problem of relying on past performance, I read about two schools that worked together to standardise their marks – each marking the other's candidates work. When the results were published, the results from one school were downgraded and the other school's grades were left untouched. The difference being that the one school had a history of A levels and the other was entering pupils for the first time. 

What to do? 

At first Gavin Williamson said that there would NOT be a U turn, the grades would stand. Johnson backed him up by saying that the grades were “robust”. Then the poo poo hit the fan, schools, pupils and parents were up in arms. Bear in mind that the affected students were now of voting age and Council Elections are coming up next year. 

Scotland had already back tracked, Wales and Northern Island were going to back track. That left merry England out on its own. 

Yesterday, Williamson said that he had thought about things over the weekend and had come to the conclusion that, right or wrong, the best thing to do was allow the teacher assessments to be upheld. You could argue that he was a big person for admitting he was wrong and apologising but remember that this mess was not created last week nor the week before, it was known for months what had taken place.

OK, so all is now well but unfortunately that is not the case. Many of the students that were rejected by their first choice University on the basis of their lowered grades have already gone to clearing to find a place at a different University and or possibly a different course. That process now needs to be unpicked in the few weeks before courses begin. 

Meantime, like Nero watching Rome burn, the PM is enjoying his holiday in Scotland. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

The four concerts

 For those of you who missed the concerts by various sections of the band, here are links that will take you to them. To view the videos in full you will need to download them to your computer/iPad.

Our own fireworks

 Along with music, fireworks are an important feature of celebrations here in Bigastro.

Determined that we would not miss out this year, the Fiesta Commission decided to have firework displays at various points in the town. That way, each barrio could enjoy a display and stay safe. 

From our roof terrace, I could see at least four different sets of fireworks stretching the length of the town. 

When they had finished, we then had our very own display aimed for the residents at Villas Andrea. At the end of the display, you could hear the applause and people cheering. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020


 You don't need me to tell you that this year has been extraordinary. So many aspects of our lives have been turned upside down.

Possibly the biggest upheaval for people in Bigastro has been the cancellation of  fiestas and celebrations. First it was Holy Cross, then San Isidro, Easter, Corpus Christi, Santa Ana and now San Joaquin. 

An important part of most celebrations in Bigastro is music. We have not been able to enjoy a concert by either the Symphonic Band or the Junior Band since March.  

Undaunted though, the President – Alfonso Banuls, the Director – Diego Soller and the musicians came up with an ingenious idea. They got Telfy involved and recorded four different concerts to be broadcast from the 13th to the 16th at 8pm each night. 

The first concert was performed by a saxophone ensemble, the second by a Big Band group mainly playing brass, the third was mainly woodwind and the fourth was the Symphonic Band playing a traditional concert selection for San Joaquin. 

The music selections were delightful and memorable, the standard of playing was as usual immaculate and the production by Telfy was professional.

We owe a great debt to Alfonso, Diego and the musicians who took part. You have managed to enrich our lives during these difficult times.

New changes

Some changes have been made to the regulations aimed at combating the spread of Covid-19. 

You are now prohibited from smoking on public roads unless you can keep a distance of 2m. 

Discos, dance halls and cocktail bars will be closed. Hotels and restaurants, terraces and bars must close, at the latest, by one in the morning.

In Bigastro, the police have said that they will clamp down on any attempts to have botellons (gatherings of people drinking)  in the streets. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

50 years ago today

 50 years ago I was putting on a grey morning suit ready to go to St Lukes Church in Hoylake for our wedding. I hadn't long graduated from Keele University and had spent the summer working at Hepworth Iron Works to earn money for the wedding and honeymoon. 

My good friend from college, John Wilde and I, had stayed at the flat in West Kirby which was to be Pam and my first home. We arrived at the church in good time to meet my brother Brian who was to be my best man and to have photos taken before we were went to the vestry with Morley Rattenbury who was the Minister at that time. 

 The wedding ceremony and the reception took place without a hitch thanks to Pamela's careful planning. I can confidentially say that all our guests were delighted and happy to be there to celebrate with us. It was a lovely summer day so we were able to have many photos taken in the grounds of Kings Gap Court where the Reception was held.

Unusually for that time, we had an evening reception as well as the Wedding Breakfast with the Eric Fenton Band playing a wide selection of music. As was tradition, I bought the first round in the evening and was grateful that most were drinking either beer or soft drinks. 

The next day Pam and I travelled to Slough with our good friends Glenys and John ready to go to the North London Terminal where we would check in for our flight to Mallorca and our honeymoon at Arenal Playa. As Pam reminds me, I had so few clothes, there was plenty of room in my case for souvenirs. I recall that the lock on my case was faulty and so it had string around it to keep it secure. 

When we returned, Pam and I were keen to start our lives together. We had very little money and only the bare essentials for life. It was over a month before we could afford a fridge and several months before Pam's parents let us have their 12” black and white TV. We had to wait until the end of September before I would receive my first month's pay as a newly qualified teacher. 

Over the 50 years since then we have had many triumphs and memorable moments. We have two wonderful daughters and two delightful grandchildren. Most important though, we have each other. Our love for each other is as strong as ever even if we don't always express it these days.  

Wherever you are reading this, please raise a glass to toast our Golden Wedding with us.  

Thursday, August 13, 2020

A dog's dinner

 As a retired teacher who taught both GCSE and A level students, I know what a nail biting time it is when the results come in. It is a nervous time for both pupils and staff. Your reputation as a teacher is at stake as are the pupil's futures.

This year was going to cause major problems because schools were closed during the exam season. 

As it happens, apart from GCSE and A Level Photography, the subjects I taught were mostly course work based. Even so, my students would have been short of the assignments scheduled for the Summer term. For subjects that are assessed purely on end of course exams, this was going to be much more of a  challenge. 

The solution was to ask teachers to provide assessments of how well their pupils would fare if they had taken the exams. These grades would then be moderated to ensure that standards were maintained year on year. This is a process that happens anyway, even when pupils have been able to sit their exams. 

However, what seems to have happened is that the results have also been adjusted to take account of the school's previous performances. In the case of schools in well heeled, middle class areas this may have worked - just - but for those from disadvantaged areas it could spell disaster as was evidenced in the Scottish results. 

In Scotland, there was a U turn with the teacher assessments, even if they were generous, being carried through. 

In England, the idea is that pupils can appeal and have the results of their mock exams taken into account. If they are still not happy, they can take the exams in Autumn. 

Clearly, whoever thought this plan out has never taught in schools. Mock exams are used by many teachers to prompt pupils into action. In other words they are deliberately set or marked at a higher level than the final exam. I saw this regularly in the schools where I taught. A pupil who was given a D in their mock would achieve a C or even a B in the final exam. Very rarely did they do worse.

Some say that the opposite is also true i.e. teachers are generous in their marking of mock exams to encourage pupils. I can't say that I ever saw this happen. In Liverpool, if you told a pupil that they should get a C and they ended up with a D, their parents would be at the school the next day. If you told them they's get a D and they were awarded a C, then they'd  bring you a present. 

How this will all be resolved is hard to say. What I can say is that it has the potential for not ending well. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Fiesta San Joaquin

The concerts by the Bigastro Musical Union Society will be broadcast at 20:00 pm starting tomorrow the 13th  until August 16th, via Telefy and on the Facebook pages of the City Hall and Society Musical Union of Bigastro.

Sheila Rowlands RIP

 One of the saddest things about the lockdown for coronavirus is that families and friends cannot attend the funeral of loved ones. 

As I reported, the funeral for Sheila Rowlands was on Monday at the Salt Church in Los Montesinos. I also said you could follow it via a live feed over the internet.  

The recorded feed is now available on this link.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Sad news

Those of you on our estate will have been saddened to hear of Sheila Rowlands passing away. 

Sheila was one of the kindest people you could meet and a true Christian. Always willing to help others in need even when she was suffering herself. 

Her funeral is today, Monday, leaving the house at 10.00am

Anyone that would have liked to have attended but cannot  should know that it will be streamed online by her church,

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Showing support

Modelling my San Joaquin commemorative mask. These are in different material to the original green Bigastro masks. I'd say they were more breathable and comfortable to wear plus they are shaped to cover your nose properly. 

He makes Johnson look good

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are often compared for all the wrong reasons. However, in his interview with Jonathon Swan, Trump surpassed his British counterpart.

Johnson has said that the Government's handling of coronavirus had been a “great success”. I don't think most people would agree with that.

Trump though bettered Johnson in his interview.

The coronavirus testing system in the United States has been a disastrous hodgepodge. There is no uniform standard, it is difficult for parts of the system to coordinate or communicate with each other, and even people who do get tests have to wait so long for the response that the signal is useless.

Trump presented this state of affairs as if it was good. “We’ve come up with so many different kind of tests,” he boasted. “The only thing we have now is some people have to wait longer than we’d like them to.”

Swan asked Trump why he would hold a huge maskless indoor rally during a pandemic. Trump’s reply, incredibly, was to boast about the size of the crowd and insist it was twice as large as news reports (and photos) indicated.

Trump has repeatedly said he doesn’t like coronavirus testing because it shows how many cases you have, which makes him look bad. This time he attributed this position to undefined manuals and books.

On several occasions, Trump replied to questions about the coronavirus response by insisting the U.S. is containing the virus as well as it possibly could. When Swan points out that 1,000 Americans are now dying per day, Trump replies, “They are dying. That’s true. And you have — it is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it.”

“They are dying. That’s true. And it is what it is.”


I read today that Trump has been in discussions about adding his image to those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln at Mount Rushmore. Of course he denies this but apparently he was given a 4 foot mock up of what the monument might look like with his face included and did say "it sounds like a good idea". 

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Was there a point to this?

Do you remember at school having to learn the collective nouns for groups of animals? Have you ever had to use any of them since?

We also had to learn weird units of measurement like; bushel, rod, furlong, gill, peck, fathom and chain. I remember tests where we were asked e.g. how many florins there were in so many guineas.  How many half crowns, three penny bits, farthings etc. Without a calculator, we had to rely on long division and then later, log tables. I wonder, do any of you recall how many yards there were in a mile. 

How the mighty fall

Spain's former King Juan Carlos has left the country for an unknown destination, weeks after he was linked to an inquiry into alleged corruption.

Juan Carlos, 82, announced the move on Monday in a letter to his son, Felipe, to whom he handed power six years ago.

He said he would be available if prosecutors needed to interview him.

In June, Spain's Supreme Court opened an investigation into the alleged involvement of Juan Carlos in a high-speed rail contract in Saudi Arabia.

The former king had most likely already left when the letter was released on Monday, Spain's El País newspaper reports. It is unclear where Juan Carlos is, though some Spanish media report he is in the Dominican Republic.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Viva San Joaquin!

To commemorate the centuries-old tradition of our festivities, a special edition of the commemorative book of our patron saint festivities has been published for solidarity purposes and whose pages take a tour of our history and the difficult times you lived during the last 12 months.

In these times of hydroalcoholic gels and masks,  masks with the image of San Joaquín have been designed and made with the collaboration of Eduardo Navarrete and the # Costureras_de_la_Esperanza so that we can comply with safety and hygiene regulations in a  Bigastrense style.

Commemorative books and masks are available for sale in the Bigastro City Hall Central Building and in the following collaborating establishments:



* Remember you are paying for production and donating to charity. 

Take good care of yourself to take care of everyone.
And that next year we can celebrate our patron saint festivities as San Joaquín and the town of Bigastro deserve.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Which beach is safer?

Photos courtesy of Geoff Durkin. We should note that newspapers are notorious for using stock photos. The one of Brighton is NOT from yesterday. 

Brighton beach
Brighton beach

Benidorm beach

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Geoff Durkin posted this on Facebook

You know, as much as I love living here in Spain, my heart is still in Yorkshire. For the benefit of those who have never ventured north of Watford, this is Knaresborough.