Sunday, November 30, 2008

Interesting conversations

There is not much point in learning a new language if you are not going to  use it. It's all very well using the Spanish you know to get you by in shops, bars and restaurants; the real challenge comes when you engage with native speakers in a conversation.

On those occasions you don't have the time to compose what you want to say in your head beforehand, you have to think on your feet. The trick of course is to think in the language you are using. Thinking in English and then trying to make a translation just doesn't work.

Of course it helps if the person you are talking to is sympathetic to the fact that you are still at the learning stage.  If they understand this,  then they will speak slowly using words that you should be familiar with.

Two recent occasions come to mind:

Last week we took Pamela's wool coat to the dry cleaners in Bigastro. We've take a few items there before so the lady in the shop recognised us. The shop attendant is keen to expand her English and was more than happy to have a conversation with us.

I can't say we understood everything she said but we got most of it. To help us out, our new friend was gracious enough to speak slowly and  re-phrase anything we didn't understand. She was particularly keen to know about our lives in Bigastro and wanted to know why we had chosen to live here rather than the more usual destinations for English immigrants.

Then, whilst we were waiting outside Hiperber last Tuesday, I had a conversation with Eduardo our teacher. The pair of us covered quite a few different topics ranging from a comparison of shopping in Bigastro with shopping in England to the problems we face with the poor exchange rate. I'd like to think that we both understood each other even if my use of Spanish grammar was a little incorrect.

I think we can fairly say, without appearing immodest, that we are making good progress. We still have a long way to go though!

Santa Cecilia

Last night, La Sociedad Unión Musical de Bigastro presented its concert in honour of the patron saint of musicians, Santa Cecilia who they describe as their "employer".

Before the concert began there was a series of photographs and video clips of musical activities in the town projected onto the stage curtain. It was a graphic reminder of the number of musicians there are in Bigastro and the importance that music plays in their lives.

As if to demonstrate the point further; 16 new musicians were welcomed into the band, each receiving their lapel pin and certificate. Included in the sixteen were two young English men Christopher Riley (tenor sax) and Jake McFarlane (trumpet).

Once the new musicians had found their places; the concert then began with "A Festival Prelude" by Alfred Reed. This was followed by "Concerto d'Amore " by Jacob de Haan.

The band then moved on to three compositions by Spanish authors:

"Katuska" by Pablo Sorazabal, "Un noche en Calatayud" by Pablo Luna and the pasadoble "Vuelta al Ruedo" by Eloy Garcia.

As an encore they played one of Francisco Grau's pasadobles.

Although Pam and I are no great lovers of classical music, we do enjoy the concerts by La Sociedad Unión Musical de Bigastro. For the most part they play compositions designed to appeal to a wide audience.

Last night was no exception. The music the band chose was good to listen to especially when it was being performed by such an accomplished group of musicians.

Thank you once again Bigastro for a great evening's entertainment.

PS You can find out about the band and its activities by following the link in the left hand sidebar of by clicking here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

British TV on a smaller dish

Digital Satellite Systems are advertising the availability of high definition TV in Torrevieja and surrounding areas on a 1.4m size dish. The company say they can do this because of advanced antenna technology.

Digital Satellite Systems claims, that with this system, you can pick up BBC, ITV, CH4, CH5, SKY, Movie channels, Entertainment channels, News channels, Children's channels plus over 200 TV and radio channels without subscription.

The cost installed is 995€. For more information call Paul on 96 585 2251.

A sorry tale

Stanley Chinman and his partner's story could become all too familiar.

They sold their property in the UK and moved to Spain to find their new home in 2007, deciding to take their time in order to buy the right house. They used the services of a real estate agent and after visiting several sites decided to buy a detached villa off-plan, which should have been completed by December 31, 2007.

The Urbanización Paola IV near VillasMaría II in San Miguel de Salinas was promoted by Costa Blanca Baleares, built by the local Unión Promotora Torrevieja SL and sold through Atlas International.

They rented an apartment in Orihuela Costa until their home was finished and bought most of the furniture and white goods for their new home. However, the first problems turned up very quickly. They had to replace their villa for another more expensive design when they discovered a two-storey property would be built in front of theirs and they would miss out on their views.

In June, six months late,  they were informed by Atlas International that the property was finished and they could move in after completing. However when  they visited the site, the house had no windows, the walls had not been fully plastered and the kitchen was not in.

Their solicitor advised them not to complete until the habitation certificates had been issued by the town hall. Only four owners have moved onto the urbanisation and they are living on the builder's supply of power and water.

In a further blow Mr Chinman and his partner have now been informed that the builder, Unión Promotora Torrevieja, has applied for voluntary suspension of payments, which has now been accepted by the mercantile court. Creditors had been given a month to apply.

The couple are afraid that if they pay the builder, they will have to live on a building site for many years, as has happened on several urbanisations in Orihuela Costa. Mr Chinman's partner is also worried the water and the electricity could be cut off anytime as the company is in suspension of payments.

It looks like the Los Altos de la Pedrera development here at Villas Andrea is in the same situation. Some of the houses are occupied whilst others stand awaiting completion. There has been no sign of work on the site since July.

The crackdown continues

All illegal properties in Valencia province will have to be listed according to a tough new measure launched by the environment prosecutor's office. The aim is to clamp down on houses built outside the law and to end the immunity they have enjoyed until now.

Local councils in the 265 towns will be required to audit and draw up a list of all properties built within protected areas or sites classed as not suitable for construction. If the owners of these properties have paid any of the bills demanded for legal buildings, such as the IBI, or property tax, that would prove that the town hall was aware of the building, and hence would place the council in a guilty light.

The environment prosecutor's office currently numbers 4,000 homes built on rustic land throughout Valencia province, although with this new investigation the figure is expected to increase dramatically. Once all the illegal properties have been pinpointed, the department will zero in on the town halls and the hands behind the projects.

"We will not let a single property that is infringing the law slip by," warned the department, promising an arduous but thorough task that could see many more councillors and town hall officials in the dock.

Friday, November 28, 2008

No gain without pain

When we had our Spanish classes at the secondary school, I.E.S. Miguel Hernández it was cold in the winter. The heating, that had been on all day for the pupils, was turned off when they left. However, the residual heat and a cup of coffee half way through the lesson kept us going.

Now we are in the old building of the C.P. San José Calasanz. The heating system in this building has been disconnected. Where the radiators should be there are just blanked off pipes. It wasn't too bad in October when the classes started but now, in November, it is freezing cold.

The other adult classes are held elsewhere, presumably somewhere warmer, otherwise the older ladies that attend them would walk out in protest.

If the weather doesn't improve we will have to resort to wearing thick coats, scarves, gloves and boots for our lessons.

The pot man in Bigastro

During a routine vehicle check in Bigastro, Guardia Civil officers observed a man in a vehicle who braked suddenly and then stepped on the accelerator, speeding past them.

Five hundred metres down the road, the driver got out of the car and ran off on foot. When officers searched the vehicle, they discovered plastic bags containing 900 grams of hashish.

Once the driver heard he had been identified, the 31-year-old Moroccan handed himself in to the police in Jacarilla.

If the local police had been involved - would it have been described as a "joint operation"?

Another confused driver

Confusion seems to be commonplace in San Vicente del Raspeig .

In another incident, a 70 year old man was spotted by the Guardia Civil driving down the wrong lane of the AP-77 near the San Vicente del Raspeig  exit close to Alicante airport.

The man claimed he had become confused at the Busot junction and had turned down the wrong lane. That meant he'd travelled in the wrong direction for 10 kilometres passing through two tunnels on the way.

Luckily there was very little traffic about at 10pm on Tuesday night.

It is what we all do when we are lost

Local Police officers were routinely monitoring pupils arriving at Principe de España Primary School in Rojales when they noticed a man in a white van who appeared to be watching the children.

Suspecting something was wrong, the police officers approached the van and were astonished to see the driver, a 32-year-old man, naked from the waist down. Upon seeing the officers, he immediately began putting on his clothes.

When the officers demanded an explanation, the man, who was a travelling salesman from San Vicente del Raspeig, nervously answered that he was making deliveries in the Bigastro and Benejuzar area when he lost his way.

The man was arrested and taken to Almoradi police station. It remains unclear why the man decided to undress just because he got lost. You can draw your own conclusions - I already have.

Helping others


The Valencian Community Centre for Transfusions along with the Council of Health in Bigastro have organised another day when you can donate blood.

Those of you who can spare a pint (or is it half a litre) need to call down to the Centro de Salud (C/ Tomás Villanueva) on Friday, 12th of December between 5pm and 8:30.

and bingo

The Council of Social welfare along with with the Association of Progressive Women of Bigastro have organised a Beneficial Bingo session in aid of the Association of Disabled "La Pedrera".

It will be "eyes down and look in" on Sunday, 14th of December at 5pm in the Sala Polivalente at the Auditorium Francisco Grau.

I wonder if the call "dos señoras gordas".


Townspeople in Bigastro have been asked to sign a petition for the release of José Joaquín Moya , the ex-mayor of the town, who was sent to prison on the 31st October. So far they have over 900 signatures.

On Sunday at 1pm people are asked to gather in front of the town hall in recognition of the 25 years of work that  José Joaquín Moya put in to develop the town. Once assembled, the gathering will then process along the  streets.

So far the present members of the council have not been asked join in because the protest is meant to be non political.

In the meantime the Guardia Civil are still collecting evidence related to the crimes that Moya has been accused of.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A weighty problem

The Mediterranean diet has long been hailed as one of the most healthy. It still is but unfortunately it seems that not everyone in the Mediterranean region follows it. In a recent study in Murcia, 20% of he people were found to be obese and 39% overweight which means that 60% of the population are above their ideal weight.

To fight the problem, people are advised to walk for at least an hour each day, to spend less time in sedentary activities and to eat more fruit and vegetables.

We regularly see ladies from the village walking up to the Pedrera. They do it each and every day. Perhaps we should join them on their way back.

Music for the weekend

santacecilia bigband



The annual concert to honour the patron saint of music, Santa Cecilia, by the Sociedad Unión Musical de Bigastro.

SUNDAY, 30th  NOVEMBER at 6:30pm


The members of Adlibitum, whose average is 21, play a wide repertoire of big band music.

The long cut

There are some weird and wacky entries in the Guinness Book of Records.

If you look in future editions you will find one for the longest continuous slice of "jamón ibérico" which was cut yesterday by Nico Jiménez in front of a crowd of a hundred people in Torrevieja.

Jiménez started to cut the ten kilogramme Guijuelo (Salamanca) ham at midday and by the time he had finished, one hour fifteen minutes later, he had a piece 19m 25cms long weighing just over 6 kilogrammes. This beat his previous record, which was set in Tarragona, by 5cms.

There were a few tense moments.

Jiménez said that it was the most difficult ham he had ever cut. When the slice was just two metres long he had to alter the technique making the slice a little thicker than normal. There were also moments when it looked like the cut would divide itself but in the end it all worked out and the crowd cheered.

As if not to be outdone, the people who make turron in Jijona have produced a world record piece of the nougat that measures 23 metres in diameter.


An early White Christmas

The first snowfalls of  autumn made for difficult driving conditions in the regions of l'Alcoià , El Comtat, Marina Alta and Marina Baixa yesterday morning. Drivers had to use snow chains on seven of the region's motorways and access to the Font Roja nature park was cut off. Six schools were forced to close because of the weather. By the afternoon it turned to rain and the snow on the ground melted.

The forecast was for snow at 800m but by morning that was reduced to 500m. The last time that there was snow in November at 500m was in 2001.  El Altet airport registered a maximum temperature of 10 degrees which made it  the coldest November  day for41 years.

In  spite of the cold rainy weather, we saw people in Torrevieja wearing flip flops, shorts and cut-offs. Some folks will obviously not concede to the fact that it does get cold here in Southern Spain

The Catalan Autonomous Government is maintaining a state  of pre-emergency for snow in the Alicante province. The meteorological forecasts indicate that the sky will continue to be cloudy with moderate precipitations, locally more frequent on the coast, with snow on land over  700 metres.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

They'd steal the shirt of your back

As if the local farmers don't have enough problems with the low prices they get for their produce at market, the lack of water and the plagues of rabbits, they now have to contend with thieves stealing their machinery.

The agriculturists in the campo at Guardamar del Segura have suffered a wave of thefts - 30 in the last two months. Although the main targets have been the cultivators or image mechanical mules as they are called, the thieves have taken anything that can be sold on - pedal cycles, motorbikes, toolboxes, solar panels and batteries etc. Added to which they have caused untold damage to fences, doors and windows. Six houses were targeted last Friday presumably by the same gang.

Quite how these thieves steal the cultivators is a mystery because they are very heavy. You'd need a crane or at least a gang of strong men to lift one and a large vehicle to carry it away.

The only solace is that none of the farmers has been injured during the raids.

Were they telling us something?

Last year we went on couple of trips with our Spanish class. The first was a cultural tour of Orihuela for the afternoon. The second was a day trip to Murcia which included lunch.

So when Eduardo told his we were going on an "excursión" we were quite looking forward to it . When he added we would be given a "regalo" at the end of the trip we were more than interested. Then Eduardo explained that the trip was to the new Hiperber supermarket in Bigastro. Not quite what we were expecting but still; nothing ventured - nothing gained.

As it turned out, it was most interesting. We were offered a drink and a cake which was welcome on a chilly day. The lady who talked to us explained in very clear Spanish the concept of Hiberber which is to sell good quality products at cheap prices. She went on to explain that they specialised in "productos blancos" which are own brand products.

As an illustration Hiperber had assembled two baskets with similar products - one famous makes and the other own brand. The basket of own brand products was half the price of the other. That was music to our ears. The abysmal exchange rate (1.18€ to the £) means we all have to be conscious of what we spend these days.

Hiperber in Bigastro has an aisle which specialises in British products so they had an Englishman Paul there to explain the concept. He was keen for people to let him know what products they would like to see in the shop. So far, the only suggestion he's had is for ginger cake. I'm sure we can do better than that.

Now to the present. At the shop entrance were two trolleys filled with carrier bags. We thought we'd get one bag from either trolley but no - we were to take a bag from each. So between Pam and I, we came out with four bags full of cleaning products; enough to keep us going for a month of Sundays. Casa Willo will never have looked so clean.

Now Eduardo, your next challenge is to arrange a trip to a bodega!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Be warned

A neighbour of mine came round yesterday with a tale of woe regarding his computer. He'd decided to remove some of the programs that he no longer uses and having done so found that some of those that he did use would no longer function.

Now of course it is perfectly possible to remove programs from Windows as long as you follow the correct route using the appropriate installer/uninstaller program.

Those that are correctly configured, will clean up all traces including any entries in the registry. Some will leave bits and pieces that you have to remove manually. That often requires digging into the registry which is not recommended. In time, those bits and pieces will slow your system down. At that point you have to consider biting the bullet - re-format your drive and start again with a "clean" version of Windows.

One program which you are advised not to remove is Internet Explorer which is what my neighbour did. Like me, he uses Firefox and so felt no need to keep the redundant browser on his system. Microsoft only include an uninstaller program to comply with the anti-trust ruling against them- they don't expect you to use it!

The advice from Mozilla who supply Firefox

Although uninstalling Internet Explorer from Windows is possible, you are strongly advised not to remove it, for a number of reasons.

  1. Many web sites are programmed to work only with Internet Explorer. For example, webmasters authoring a site may have not tested with other web browsers. The majority of websites on the Internet should work with Mozilla browsers, but there are some sites that appear distorted or inaccessible unless IE is used as a browser.
  2. Windows Update requires Internet Explorer. As an alternative, you may be able to manually download security updates, but it will require more monitoring and work than letting Windows Update handle this for you.
  3. Some applications depend on libraries installed by Internet Explorer. These applications may no longer work or they may behave unexpectedly if IE is removed.
  4. Some anti-virus products require IE for updates. Live updates or automatic DAT updates used by both Norton and McAfee are built on Internet Explorer's foundation. You may be able to manually update your virus signature files but it could require more work.
  5. Both removing and restoring IE is risky and difficult. IE is complex with extensive hooks built into Windows, for efficiency and functionality. Thus unplugging it from your system may impact Internet connectivity, Windows functionality, and break functionality in Microsoft Office and non-MS products.
  6. IE is more than a browser, it is the foundation for Internet functionality in Windows.

My neighbour came across most of these issues. Once he had uninstalled IE, he could no longer get onto the Internet using Firefox added to which MS Word no longer functioned.

By re-installing MS Works he managed to get Word back but not the Internet. As he found, trying to re-install Internet Explorer doesn't work. Once the hooks are broken, and the libraries are removed they are not so easily restored. As my neighbour also found, System Restore won't do the trick.

Trying to get a working system back from this sort of situation without a complete re-format is something I've never attempted so unfortunately I couldn't really help him. My neighbour has had to resort to taking the laptop down to PC Doctor to see if they can sort it out - I'm sure they will.

December 1st - Christmas starts

You can tell when Christmas is coming here in Spain. The shops are filled with all the delights of the festive season. It used to happen at the beginning of December but we've noticed it has crept forward each year.

Although as you would expect, the toy shelves are crammed full, it is in the food section that Christmas really appears.

Along with a proliferation of cooked hams, you find all manner of sweet delights that are special for Christmas. Among these, the wide selection of polvorones and turrones are the most noticeable.

This year, the Regulating Council of Jijona and Turrón of Alicante are concerned that the economic crisis will hit the sales of the traditional favourite - turrón. Last year 8.4 million kilos of the nougat along with 6 million kilos of associate products were sold.

Forecasts show a drop in sales of between 5 and 7% of the confection, so the Council are launching a 700,000€ advertising campaign to try and promote sales. There will be adverts on the TVE channels, on Antenna and Tele 5.

The campaign is being funded by the companies who form the regulatory council and the Conselleria de Agricultura. Alongside this, the major producers: Antiu-Xixona, La Fama, 1880 y El Lobo, and Turrones Picó will be mounting their own campaigns.

For those of you who have never tried polvaron and turron:-

Polvorones are "dust biscuits". When you first try one and bite into it, you end up covered in fine sugary almond flavoured dust. Eating them brings the same problems you have with cream crackers - more than a couple and your mouth ends up as dry as a bone.

Turrón is nougat with a tradition which goes back 500 years. It comes in an assortment of styles in either soft or hard varieties. The hard stuff is jaw breaking - not good if you have loose fillings, false teeth or a bridge. The soft varieties are more manageable but are only palatable for those of you with a sweet tooth.

Our favourites are the honey coated toñas. These biscuits, which are very traditional in this area, are made with flour, oil, sugar and Anis Paloma (a bit like Pernod). Hmm que rico.

Commercial greed

The agricultural organisation, La Unió conducted a study into the price markup on citrus fruits. They compared the price that growers were paid with the average price in four supermarket chains.

What they found was an extreme commercial margin between the price the growers received and the price in the supermarkets.

Take lemons, which the survey found were bought for 0.18€ per kilogramme from the growers and subsequently sold at 1.6€ per kilogramme in shops. That represent a whopping 911% markup in the price.

Oranges were bought for 0.12€ in the field and sold at 1.22€ - a markup of 917% . La Unió  found similar story applied to  mandarins which were bought at 0.15€ and sold at 1.41€ - a markup of 840%.

As La Unió says, "everyone wins in the distribution chain with the exception of the grower". They will take their case to the Conselleria de Agricultura on Monday 1st December in the hope that can win a better deal for the growers.

Actually we know exactly what would happen if the growers achieved a better deal.  Everyone else in the chain would put their prices up and blame the growers who would be made to look greedy.

Bulletin on Ken

Apparently our neighbour Ken had a rough night on Sunday in the Vega Baja.

The doctors did several blood tests during the night; the first was good but subsequent ones highlighted the problem.

It seems that Ken is suffering from a clogged artery. So today he has been taken to Alicante to have an operation where the surgeon will insert a stent.


stents used to open clogged arteries and increase blood flow

The doctor, who has been attending Ken, has assured him that he will feel much better when they have finished with him - Ken has not been well for awhile now and has been a cause of concern for Kay.

Following the operation, it is likely that Ken will remain in hospital for two weeks.

Both brother and sister are pleased with the level of care and attention that Ken is receiving.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Heh ho the wind doth blow

Don't bother telling us about the bad weather in Britain because it isn't too good in Spain at the moment.

In Cantabria they have snow and temperatures of zero centigrade. In Bigastro it's blowing a hoolie!

The last time it blew like this, we had plastic cane fencing along the back and the side of the garden. In spite of the galvanised wire I'd used to fasten it on, the wind was ripping the fencing off the wire meshing. The same type of fencing on the house below was was hardly moving whilst ours was billowing dangerously towards the car.

Once one of the steel poles started bending , we decided enough was enough. So at 9pm, in the tooth of a gale,  we had to go out with a torch and take it all down. That was no mean feat I can tell you. I had to unclip the remaining fastenings and hold the fence at the same time while Pamela directed the torch.

By the morning, when the wind had calmed down, we had hundreds of euros worth of fencing that was only fit for the bin. The houses that were sheltered below us had faired much better -their fences were intact.  I suppose it's the price of living on top of a hill

Ten out of ten for the Vega Baja hospital

We'd just settled down to eat our roast chicken, which I'd cooked on the BBQ yesterday morning, when we heard the door buzzer.

Our reaction was like the Peter Kay gag, "whose that calling on a Sunday night?" It was Kay from next door. Her brother Ken, had taken a funny turn complaining that he'd suddenly felt very unwell.

Kay used to be a nurse so she knows when someone has a serious health problem that needs immediate attention. Ken wanted to wait until the morning to go down to the doctors but Kay insisted he should be taken to the hospital straight away. She'd already called and arranged for an interpreter to meet us at the Vega Baja hospital.

So Pam quickly bundled our plates into the oven and I got the car out. On the way there, I joked with Ken that his turn for the worse was the result of Arsenal's defeat at the hands of Manchester City on Saturday. That raised a slight smile on his face and lightened the mood for a few seconds.

Ten minutes later we were in the Emergency Department at Vega Baja. The triage nurse had Ken bundled into a wheelchair before we got through the door. Seconds later he was taken through to see the doctor. Within a quarter of an hour the doctor had completed all manner of tests which were displayed on a computer screen. None of these tests revealed anything untoward so he was sent for x-rays which offered no further explanation for his condition.

There being no obvious cause for his symptoms, the doctor decided to keep Ken in overnight for observation. The interpreter who came to explain this to us said that Ken been "put in a box". Pam and I imagined the worst but of course a box is the Spanish equivalent of a cubicle.

I'm pleased to say that Ken looked very comfortable when we called to see him before bringing Kay home. He was sat up smiling, the colour back in his cheeks.; he'd regained his normal quick wit and humour. Ken even complained that he'd missed his dinner.

Before leaving, Pam and I gave him a couple of phrases he might need; "donde está el aseo" and "necesito una bebida". Hopefully this morning he'll be able to return home with at least some explanation of what had happened.

We've been told by others that the health service here is excellent. Last night, Pam and I were able to observe this for ourselves. The speed and thoroughness of the doctor really impressed us and gave us comfort to realise that, if we ever have an emergency, it should be dealt with quickly and thoroughly.

Pam and I both hope that Ken is alright. I imagine he will be short of a few hours sleep but if that is all we'll be happy.

The esoteric word of computer gamers

Enter the YoYotech Fi7epower MLK1610 a desktop supercomputer built by a small British company. The oddly named computer is nearly twice as fast as the next most powerful PC in the world.


The Fi7epower is the first computer to be built around a new Intel microprocessor, the Core i7 - hence the ridiculous name.

The i7 chip consists of four central processing units, or cores, working together. But it also supports “hyperthreading”: each core can, in effect, do two things at once, creating a virtual eight-core processor. Add a number of other advanced facilities, such as the ability to access the fastest type of memory directly rather than being routed through the motherboard, and you have a lump of silicon with the potential to shatter PC performance records.

On the motherboard sits 9GB of the fastest type of Ram and a powerful graphics card, the Radeon HD4870 X2. The Fi7epower comes with a terabyte (1,000GB) of hard-disk memory, but the operating software — the optimised, 64-bit version of Windows Vista — lives on a second, 80GB solid-state drive. This consists purely of electronic memory, so it doesn’t need to be spun up to speed or read by clumsy drive-heads. The result is a start-up time of mere seconds.

No satisfied with its native speed, YoYotech then “overclocked" the i7. By varying the voltage of the processor’s power they managed to coax the operating speed from the Intel-recommended 3.2GHz to 3.73GHz — any higher and the computer crashed. The team also housed the components in a Cooler Master case with three huge fans feeding in cold air.

So who is all this processing power aimed at? Gamers - who else. These people will pay big money for the ability to increase frame rates by even a fraction, which means the gaming market is bucking the prevailing trend in business computing, where the emphasis is on light, mobile machines. They are also bucking the trend of many consumers who want a full working PC for less that £400.

“We’ve taken dozens of orders,” says Charanjit Kohli, YoYotech’s managing director who will start shipping the machines in a few weeks’ time. “Amazingly, customers are asking us to add even more memory and a second graphics card.”

Will I be ordering one? I don't think so - it wouldn't match the decor of my room.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

An offer that is hard to refuse

Since the fall of sterling everyone seems to be gloomy.
So Restaurant El Flamenco in Alicante to counter this, is running a promotion of FREE BEER for our clients, this week from the 24th of November till Saturday ...

You want to drink one free glass - be our guest. Want to drink a litre - be our guest. Want to drink more ... hmm no problem for us, we'll call you a taxi for later   :-)

Spanish food, just a minute walk away from the British Consulate in Alicante:

Restaurante El Flamenco
C/. San Francisco 12
03001 Alicante
phone:  615 824 428

Buying locally

As far as we can, Pam and I try to buy things locally. Apart from the savings in delivery costs, we are helping to support the local economy which I'm sure you will agree is a good thing.

However, some things are difficult to find and in the odd cases it can prove cheaper to buy from England; even if you have to pay the delivery charges.

A case in point was my new DSLR camera. It was cheaper in the UK and came with a £50 cashback offer from certain British retailers. We had friends coming over who could deliver it for me so I avoided paying shipping costs. I saved close to £100 on that purchase.

When we came to Spain, we brought a battery operated carpet sweeper with us which has lasted 4 years. Pam only used it on the rugs so it didn't get hammered. However, the battery now refuses to charge up so the sweeper is effectively kaput. I suppose we could have tried to source a replacement battery but it seemed more sensible to replace the whole sweeper.

We've looked in all the local shops, even tried El Corte inglés. Although we've found plenty of portable vacuums cleaners, we only found one battery operated sweeper which was very expensive. In a country where most houses have tiled floors, I don't suppose there is a lot of demand for carpet sweepers of any sort let alone battery operated ones.

We finally resorted to ordering one from Lakeland Plastics in the UK. Lakeland will deliver to Europe so that was no problem. We ordered the sweeper online and waited for it to arrive.

After a month of waiting I contacted Lakeland who agreed that the delivery must have gone missing and so they agreed to send a second sweeper.

Nearly three weeks later and still no sweeper; I contacted them again. This time they phoned me to say that the two sweepers had been returned to them- the courier in Spain apparently could not find our address.

Undeterred, Lakeland sent a third sweeper which this time did arrive. So after over two months of waiting, we finally got our sweeper.

Yesterday, Mel, whose wife Lillian runs a Betterware concession on our estate, brought their latest catalogue around. Inside the booklet, on page 52, was a battery operated sweeper which we could have bought for less money and with a lot less aggravation. To add to which, Lillian, one of the nicest people we have met here, would have got a little bit of commission.

This is not the first time we've been caught out in this way. A while back we bought luggage scales - this time from a company based in Alicante so there was no problem with delivery. However, after we'd ordered them Mel told me that Betterware sell a similar product (you'll find them on page 95 of the current catalogue).

I'm sure there is a lesson here for us: check with Mel first before buying anything like this!

For those of you who don't want to repeat our long running saga with the carpet sweeper, you can find Mel and Lillian on Calle Inglaterra (or is it Calle Escocia !). You could save yourselves a lot of hassle and might also save a few euros as well.

PS Mel, if you are reading this, Pam would like one of the replacement grill pans on page 31 (item 17669) at 17.49€. The one that came with our oven is too big and too difficult to clean. Again we've looked in all sorts of places for one - we should have come to you!

Lower taxes for the UK

Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer in England, is poised to announce a temporary cut (for one year) in VAT from 17.5% to 15%.  This will be the first time such a measure has ever been taken in Britain, in an attempt to boost consumer spending. Estimates suggest that the move could save the average family as much as £10 a week.

The rate of VAT was last changed in 1991, when Norman Lamont, the Tory chancellor at that time, increased it from 15 per cent to 17.5 per cent.

The package of proposed measures will largely be funded by increased government borrowing which could soar to £150 billion in three years. Of course there will come a time when this has to be paid back but that is for the future.

VAT is the only British tax to be regulated by the EU, although its receipts go to the government.  Last night there were clear signals that Downing Street was hoping Britain's move would see other European countries following suit. Strong hint to Sr.Zapatero.

The Spanish equivalent of VAT is IVA (Impuesto sobre el valor añadido) and is currently set at three rates:-

  • The  standard rate of 16% for most goods and services.
  • A reduced rate of 7% for certain goods and services, e.g. if you buy a newly built property from a developer, travellers transport services, etc.
  • A super-reduced rate of 4% is applicable for goods and services considered as basic necessities; e.g. bread, eggs, cheese (essential food), newspapers and magazines, etc.

There are  certain exceptions which are free of tax:-

  • Medical services.
  • Education.
  • Cultural and sportive associations.
  • Financial and insurance transactions.
  • Renting rural or urban properties (except the rental of business premises)

New TV channel to watch

For those of you want to keep in touch with what is going on in the area, there is a new TV channel on TDT (digital terrestrial TV).

Informaciontv will be broadcast on channel 21 starting tomorrow at 9:30 pm. To receive this you need either a TV with a TDT decoder built in or a TDT box and of course a suitable aerial.

Although the main thrust of the new program will be news, they will also broadcast a mix of sport, children's programmes, films, entertainment and documentaries.

Informaciontv will also be available as a virtual service at the weekends on the newspapers' website.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

An alternative to the big dish

Watching television programmes over the internet has taken off in the past year since the introduction of the BBC's catchup service, the iPlayer

The corporation, which already makes digital channels such as BBC Three and BBC Four available online, announced yesterday that it would complete the picture by making BBC One and BBC Two available from next Thursday.

Critics said that although viewers would still need to buy a licence to watch programmes on their computers, it would become harder to ensure payment. There are also questions over whether the telephone network could cope with the expected rise in internet traffic.

A television licence is required “irrespective of what device you are using – television, computer, laptop, mobile phone or any other – and how you receive programmes, whether by satellite, cable, via the internet or any other way,” according to TV Licensing, the body that collects the fee. It also pays for BBC radio. However, existing rules mean that any website can transmit the two BBC channels, plus ITV1, Channel 4 and Five, if they have the right technology.

Online broadcasting is likely to be a boon for technologically sophisticated expatriates and other viewers who do not pay the licence fee. Although the BBC, like other broadcasters, tries to ensure that its content can be watched only in the United Kingdom, it is possible to buy software that covers up your location, making it appear that you are in Britain even when you are not.

Far be it for me to suggest that you should do something illegal; however, a quick search of the local English press will find companies here on the Costa Blanca that offer access to a proxy servers with a British IP address. Or alternatively, a quick search on Google will find you the software to change your IP address to a UK proxy.

The Daily Depressor

Looking through the posts of the last week or so, they mostly seem to be about doom and gloom; councillors arrested, flooding, the poor exchange rate, drunken Brits, Spanish drivers etc etc.

I'm not normally a down in the mouth sort of person. I'd like to think that people generally find me cheerful and jovial - "Always look on the bright side of life" , as they sang in Monty Python's Life of Brian. You wouldn't think so though after reading this blog.

I will obviously have to try harder and find some good news to pass on otherwise reading this blog will become a bit like picking up some of the  daily English papers. By the time you've got to the back page, you feel like slitting your throat. I don't want anybody to suffer depression after reading my blog. God forbid that you should have to reach for the bottle of pills -I couldn't forgive myself for that.

Now, where can I go to find some good news?

No end to the weak exchange rate

Couples who receive the basic state pension of £628 a month saw its value when converted into euros fall from €961 in January 2007 to €766 last month, according to HIFX, the currency exchange specialists. This is because the exchange rate weakened from 1.53 euros to the pound to 1.22 over the period (currently 1.18).

The continued volatility in the exchange rate means that the value of our pensions in October varied according to when in the month the money was converted into euros. The average couple's monthly state pension of £628 was worth anywhere between €766 and €816 last month, depending on when the funds were transferred, HIFX said.

Mark Bodega of HiFX said: "Britons living in Europe and receiving a fixed income in sterling are being hit particularly hard. In the last month we have seen unprecedented volatility in the currency markets, with the value of the sterling fluctuating by over 6pc against the euro, the largest monthly range in percentage terms since May 2000."

The Costa Blanca is being hit hard by the poor exchange rate. Bookings for holidays in 2009 are down and of course ex-pats living here have less money to spend each month.

To add to the misery, there are fears in some quarters that ex-pats may become the target for abuse by locals in the same way that Poles and other immigrants in the UK have. Spain, which was well known to be the most welcoming country in Europe for immigrants, may change as the economic crisis bites harder.

More go to prison

It seems that this part of Spain has entered into a new era where the "old ways" will no longer be tolerated. The days when corruption in local councils was well known and accepted are on their way out as town after town comes under the scrutiny of the Guardia Civil.

You read almost daily about new arrests; all are related to town planning irregularities. The recurrent theme seems to be of companies being awarded concessions to build in return for bribes to council officials - the infamous passing of "brown envelopes".

The latest victim is Librilla, a sleepy little agricultural municipality of about 4,000 inhabitants located on the edge of the Sierra Espuña in the region of Murcia.

The town council, which only had 11 members - six PP and five PSOE, is now without its mayor and councillor for Urbanism. Both were sent to prison on Friday by judge Andrés Carrillo in court no 6 , Murcia.

The pair of them, along with others, were arrested on Tuesday and Thursday by members the Guardia Civil in Murcia. The crimes they are accused of relate to the town's PGOU. In this case the people involved are suspected of benefiting by about 7,000,000€.

Looking at all this as an outsider, you can't help but conclude that a system for local government that allows these sort of swindles to take place must be flawed. Catching these people after the event is all well and good; surely it would have been better to have control mechanisms in place to prevent these swindles from happening (this is just my opinion you understand).

One instance of this sort of crime is a problem, this many becomes a major embarrassment.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Brit behaving badly

It was 9:30pm in Rojales and the local police were called out to a serious incident in Ciudad Quesada where a 70 year old man had been found under a car with a bloody wound on his head. The front wheel of the car was stuck in the curb so it was impossible to move the man without assistance.

Firemen were called to remove the vehicle. They sent for a crane and an ambulance was called for to take the man to hospital.

The man was transferred to the hospital in Torrevieja where he received emergency treatment. When his wife was questioned by the police, she claimed to know nothing about what had happened.

When the man was questioned the following day, he admitted that he had been drinking heavily and that was the cause of the accident.

So at least six policemen, as many firemen, a crane driver, the ambulance driver, a nurse and doctor in the ambulance along with all the personnel at the hospital were all put out to deal with a drunken Brit. Enough said!

A growing band of users (and abusers)

According to a new report, there are now 400 million broadband subscribers worldwide. Broadband subscription increased almost six-fold from 57,200 worldwide users in 1998 to more than 280,890 the following year.

Of the total, some 45 million have fibre-optic connections, up from 18,000 in 2002.

According to Point Topic senior analyst Oliver Johnson, when his company began studying the technology it was "still mostly in the technical trial stage". "Getting to 400 million subscribers in the ten years since then has been one of the fastest rollouts of a major new technology the world has ever seen," he said.

"Now we're in the early days of a new era, which is going to be much more about quality than quantity." As I commented in a previous post, this quality is there to be used not abused by the perpetrators of spam emails.

A worthy successor

Following 20 days of media silence, Raúl Valerio Medina, who will become mayor of Bigastro this afternoon, has spoken to the local newspaper, Información.

Medina says that becoming mayor will be a challenge which brings "much responsibility and hope for the future". He accepts that to take the post at this time, in these circumstances, will not be easy for him.

Medina's hope is that there will now be a greater level of unity in the Council. He hopes that there will be an end to the obstructive era which was characterised by the personal battles between the previous mayor, José Joaquín Moya and the spokesperson for the PP, Aurelio Murcia.

To this end, Medina would like to see a change in attitude from both the PP and his own party. He intends to make changes that will improve both the image and the management of the Council. Medina has already said that he will continue to be responsible for Property and Urbanism and that he will count on the support of Inmaculada Martínez as his first lieutenant who he says has an incredible ability for work.

At 30 year of age, Raúl Valerio Medina will be one of the youngest mayors in the Vega Baja. He was first elected to be a councillor in 2007 having worked previously for his family's transport company. This afternoon will therefore be a proud moment for him.

Most of the socialist mayors from the Vega Baja will attend the meeting to show their support for him.

Then on Monday Raúl Valerio Medina will chair his first proper council meeting as Alcalde.


Yet more flooding

The intense rain that fell yesterday on the Orihuela costa meant that, once again, the students at IES Playa Flamenca had to be evacuated from the centre.

The prefabricated classrooms have walls and ceilings that leak whenever it rain. According to the councillor for Education at the City council of Orihuela, the technician, who examined the buildings concluded that “it is not necessary to realise any action, since there are no structural damages, only leaks”.

The school will remain closed today.

The rain also flooded the nearby road with up to four metres of water. Drivers had to be rescued from their vehicles.


I am no expert on these matters but it seems to me that, if you cover the land with houses and roads, then the water has nowhere to drain to when it rains. If you take away the natural drainage systems then you have to replace them with a system of pipes otherwise there will always be the risk of flooding. It's no good arguing that this only happens when there is a heavy downpour. Heavy downpours seem to be the norm at this time of year.

Please stop spreading viruses

I seem to be getting more and more emails that finish off by telling me to send the message on.

I used to get dire warnings of some virus or other that was supposedly wildfire on the Internet. These virus would apparently destroy hard drives and worst of all nobody had a cure for them. The punch line was always "send this to everyone in your address book straight away". In every case the virus was the email itself.

The virus warning mails seem to have died down only to be replaced by ones which claim that passing the message on will bring me good luck or that something amazing will happen on my computer screen. They mostly end up with the emphatic statement, "don't break the chain".

These emails are usually composed in HTML using large brightly coloured lettering and often include animated pictures. Some contain sweet pictures of children or animals in an attempt to increase their appeal. A recent one had twenty eight embedded JPEG images in it.

Many of these emails are heartfelt messages of hope for a better world; an end to war and suffering. A few are fabricated tales of woe. They all have the same aim though which is to appeal to my better self.

More often than not the senders of these messages simply forward them on to me without any editing and so they include all the details of the people who have passed the message on - a bit like an audit trail. It is fascinating to see how many company mail servers each message has passed through!

People used to send chain letters through the post. They had to go to the trouble of copying the letter several times, addressing the envelopes and taking them to the Post Office to buy the stamps. Sending chain letters via email is a much simpler process and best of all cost you nothing. That is why there is such a proliferation of them.

If I followed the instructions and sent each message on to 10 people within the next fifteen minutes and then those people did the same and so on; in one hour I would have generated 1,000 emails. In a day that could become millions - all in pretty colours with little dancing pictures taking up massive amounts of bandwidth.

This may sound callous but I rarely, if ever pass these messages on. Why not, surely they do no harm? Well yes they do actually - they clog up an already heavily congested Internet.

By all means send me the emails if it makes you feel better, just don't expect me to pass them on. What I will pass on though are the brilliant jokes that you post to me but before I do, I'll remove the text formatting, the animated GIFs and most important: the audit trail of how it came to you.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Barrera comes out fighting

San Fulgencio councillor, Manuel Barrera Garcia came out fighting last week when he accused the local police in of corruption suggesting the ‘possibility’ that businesses in the area have got councillors in their pockets.

The press conference follows Barrera’s arrest and subsequent release after video footage of him allegedly showed him taking a bribe in a restaurant from two detectives., apparently employed by the Mayoress, Trinidad Martinez.

Barrera had been caught allegedly accepting a bribe in the restaurant in Valencia and was secretly filmed pocketing the cash – after counting it – by Spanish national newspaper La Verdad. The money, 5,000€, was described by police as a ‘sweetener’ for Barrera who had apparently agreed to ‘help along’ certain building projects in the area including one for a golf course and several thousand houses. Barrera admitted accepting the money, part of a total of 240,000€ that was discussed, but said that he had been accepting ‘on behalf of his party (AIM) but a spokesman for the party denied any knowledge of both the incident and the money

Red Rag
The focus of Barrera’s anger seems to be pretty much every one in the town hall, and the local police who he accused of being a ‘mafia,’ with chief Bernado Cortijo at the head. Barrera expressed his astonishment at how Cortijo and his ‘mafia associates’ were allowed to continue in their work, implying that that in itself was reason enough to suspect them of bending the laws to suit themselves. Ex-colleagues, and mayor for a day, Mark Lewis and Mick Blake did not escape Barrera’s wrath as he tore into their character, stating that they were not fit to hold the posts they were currently in. Lewis he claimed, had driven an English registered car for 25 years (the maximum allowed is 6 months) and had never paid any taxes in Spain even though he was earning a living as a musician and singer. Blake, he claimed, was not clean either and had been stopped for being drunk in the past by the police with Barrera adding that Blake had only one hobby and that was drinking. He has denounced them both as liars following accusations by the British pair that they were threatened with their lives by Barrera after their withdrawal of support when he was arrested in October.

Local Business
He accused several local businesses of ‘possibly’ being the driving force behind several councillors for their own economic interests. Something which Barrera claimed had been going on for a ‘long time.’ He went on to say that he and his fellow AIM members were ‘risking everything’ at the moment but he was confident in the outcome because he is ‘clean and transparent’ and that he follows the laws, not getting involved in corruption or the local ‘mafia.’

The current town hall, he said was ‘using everyone to get what they want’ and not taking into account the interests of the vast majority of residents who live on the Urbanisation but listening to the minority in San Fulgencio - who make up just 18% of the voting public. He suggested that the time had come for La Marina to separate from San Fulgencio in a move that he claimed would ‘solve the problems of the last 25 years.’ He said that the Urb represented the New Europe and that San Fulgencio town was something from the past that refused to recognise when change was needed. ‘the residents of the Urbanisation are a mixture of nationalities and need to be treated differently to the mainly Spanish population of San Fulgencio. On the urbanisation now we have no lights at night, no music, a police force that disappears when it gets dark, and hardly any facilities for an area with this amount of inhabitants. Just look at San Fulgencio, they have a health centre, a theatre, sports facilities, schools, and more. All the money that is collected goes to the town hall in San Fulgencio and that is where most of it stays.’

He also denounced claims in an English language newspaper that had declared, during the 2007 election, that Barrera was ‘dangerous ’ and went on to show his clean police record and other documents to support his good character.

It seems as if this is a story that is going to run and run whether Barrera is innocent, as he claims, or not there is more, a lot more, to come from this story. Whether it comes from Barrera, who implies that he has a lot more things to say about the situation, or another source, only time will tell.

This extract was taken from the Leader newspaper.

Less can be more

A total of 8.8% less grapes were harvested in Alicante this year compared with 2007. As a result fewer bottles of denomination of origin wine will be produced in the province.

However, denomination president Francisco Amorós says the wine will be of excellent vintage. The high quality of the grapes this year is down to the maturity they were able to reach due to favourable weather conditions. Also the average alcohol content of the wines has increased slightly this year to 13.10%.

In the previous four years there had been a continual increase in grape production and this had now levelled off. Viticulturists in different areas have seen large fluctuations. For example, in the Marina Alta area some cooperatives saw their production of moscatel grapes fall by nearly half compared with last year. The vineyards in the Vinalopó Medio area, which includes municipalities such as Hondón de las Nieves and Aspe, have also seen a reduction in their production of red wine.

A good time to buy

Promoters are offering discounts of up to 58 per cent at Valencia’s Urbe property trade fair this weekend.

The record 58% discount on new completed apartments by Bancaja Habitat is the biggest but other promoters are also trying to entice the few buyers that are still about.

Company Metrovacesa are using the same aggressive sales campaign they used at the Barcelona Meeting Point fair earlier this month. They are offering 25% (which could climb to 30%) discounts because of contract cancellations – passing on the money lost by buyers who put down deposits but then couldn’t get mortgages.

Meanwhile, another company, Edival is offering a straight deal of 15,000 euros discount per apartment.

Small government sponsored and low mortgage apartments for first-time buyers will be a major attraction at the show because of their low cost.

A sign of the times is that last year Urbe took up four exhibition halls and had 223 exhibitors but this year’s edition – open until Sunday – fits into one hall with its 70 exhibitors.

The new Mayor of Bigastro

Raúl Valerio, the present councillor for Urbanism, will be appointed mayor of the municipality of Bigastro at 2pm on Friday.

pleno 3

After weeks of internal debate in the socialist municipal group, the successor to José Joaquín Moya will be Valerio who has been chosen in favour of Inmaculada Martínez, the ex first lieutenant and acting mayoress at the moment.


Raúl Valerio has said that he wants to bring back normality to the valeromunicipality.

Both Valerio and Martínez have been imputed for their involvement in the crimes that Moya has been accused of which are being investigated at the moment.

Reaction in the local press ranges from those who think that Valerio is the best choice to surprise that the Councillor for Urbanism should be chosen in light of the ongoing investigations surrounding the previous mayor.

We shall see.

Spanish drivers

In a survey of 1,173 ESO and  Bachillerato students undertaken by the Universitat de València :-

  • 31% admitted to driving/riding a moped without a license
  • 20% admitted to committing offences e.g. speeding, skipping traffic lights or riding without a helmet.

In spite of that:-

  • only 5.9% had been stopped for speeding
  • and 7.6% had been caught jumping traffic lights

When the students were asked about the penalties:

  • 22% didn't know the penalty for speeding
  • 45% didn't know the consequences of having an excess level of alcohol in their blood.

According to one of the authors of the study, the women that were surveyed were more prudent and less likely to break the law than the men.

Appeal rejected

The judge in the court of First Instance and Instruction 3 of Orihuela has rejected the appeal by the layer, José Sánchez Alarcos, for the release of  the ex-mayor of Bigastro, José Joaquín Moya. The judge considers that, in spite of the fact that Moya is in poor health, he could still destroy evidence against him if he was released from prison.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ex Mayor of Alicante

The spotlight now moves to Alicante where the anti-corruption public prosecutor, Felipe Briones has asked the judge Cristina Costa to pass the Mercalicante case onto the Tribunal Superior de Justicia.

The scandal, which involves the embezzlement of the public company Mercalicante for 6 million euros, exploded in 2002, when an audit revealed irregularities in their accounting . Between 1999 and 2001 the organisation supposedly used different projects to cover up their economic movements.

The people involved in this scandal include the ex- mayor of Alicante, Luis Diaz Alperi; the Councillor for Property, Juan Zaragoza; the chief of Ciudad de la Luz, José María Rodríguez Galant- the last two members of the executive committee of the company; two representatives of Mercasa and the ex- manager of the company, José Emilio Clavero, who is the main defendant.

You can't help but notice that, whilst there may be many people now out of work, Felipe Briones, the anti-corruption public prosecutor has got more than enough on his plate.

In favour of Bigastel

I understand that Bigastel are in the process of preparing to install wi-fi connections here at Villas Andrea.

You may remember that I'd reported a comment on this blog from the United Left party in Bigastro. They were denouncing Bigastel as a "FRAUDE y una ESTAFA" - their words not mine. On Izquierda Unida's web site they complain that the service is still not available to everyone and that Phase 2 is more expensive than Phase 1.

IU are correct on both counts but of course there are very good reasons why this should be the case. You only have to examine the topography of Bigastro to understand the problems that Bigastro Telecomunicaciones S.L. face in providing wi-fi access to everybody. Wi-fi over short distances on the flat is relatively easy to achieve hence the extremely competitive price of Phase 1. When there are hills and other obstacles to overcome it is a different ball game.

Nether-the-less there are ways of overcoming the problems and Phase 2 is now imminent. However, the technology required to overcome the topography is going to be more expensive than that used for Phase 1, hence the elevated price. What Bigastro Telecomunicaciones S.L have sought to do is provide a good reliable service at the most competitive price they could achieve.

Consider the alternatives. ADSL via Telefónica is very expensive. The cheapest Duo package (phone line, local and national calls and ADSL) costs about 74€ per month. You can, of course opt just to have just a phone line and use dial up. That would reduce the cost to 18€ per month for the line rental plus the cost of the calls whilst you are on the Internet but it is going to be disastrously slow*.

Going to a different provider for ADSL can shave a few euros of the price. Sadly the market for ADSL is no where near as competitive as it is in the UK where there are some exceptional deals to be had.

Having said all that, at 29€ per month for a 2Mb connection, Bigastel provides a very attractive way to get a broadband connection especially for those who don't have a Telefónica line.

If that is the case, then why do I pay 78€ per month for my ADSL package ?

Experts agree that ADSL via cable is superior to any wi-fi solution**. I use my Internet connection A LOT and I was used to a good ADSL service back in the UK. If we had a fibre optic cable e.g. via ONO I'd be even happier because those support speeds up to 50Mbs at a much lower price (e.g. 12Mb/500Kbs for 60€ per month including phone connection).

So, if you live more than 4km from the exchange, are in an area where there is no telephone cable infrastructure or want to keep costs down then Bigastel seems to me a perfectly useable and cost effective solution. For people at Villas Andrea , it should work well because there will be relatively few people sharing the connection.

As I said to George, the installer, "if Bigastel had come before Telefónica, I would have jumped at it".

* Dial up is at best 52Kb per second that is almost 40 times slower than the 2Mb that Bigastel are offering you and a whopping 160 times slower than my Telefónica connection.

** It isn't just a difference in speed of the connection between the two. The quality of a wi-fi connection is subject to atmospheric conditions and even when conditions are good they can vary in quality. Try a simple ping test to a wi-fi server and you will see what I mean. Even if none of the pings are dropped they will vary in speed.

Ladies' darts

The ladies here do seem to be much better at organising themselves than the men. Each year they take themselves out for  a meal out and even organise taxis to take them there and back when their chosen restaurant is too far away

For today, they have booked a trip to Benidorm. They've got a coach to take them there and back and  have lunch booked at Monroe's carvery for 2pm

We haven't been to the carvery in Benidorm but if it is as good as the one we visited on an earlier trip, the ladies are in for a real treat. Monroe's is famous for providing  a Sunday type roast dinner at menu del dia prices. There'll be no evening meal for the men tonight!

The only blot on the horizon is the weather forecast for Benidorm.









En la primera mitad del día se esperan chubascos débiles. Por la tarde es probable que se registren chubascos localmente moderados

Still I doubt whether that will dampen their sprits. I'm sure the resourceful ladies will find plenty to do without getting too wet. 

I hope they have a lovely day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Students against violence

The Council of Social welfare, the Council of Education, Infodona and the Secondary School “Miguel Hernandez” will  celebrate  next Tuesday the 25th of November the "DIA MUNDIAL CONTRA LA VIOLENCIA DE GÉNERO".


This event will take place in the Municipal Audience “Francisco Grau” from 11:00am to 1pm. The Infodona Association will chat with the students of 4th grade  E.S.O  pupils from  I.E.S. Miguel Hernandez. The pupils will also participate by  reading manifestos related to the theme.

Culture at the weekend

The Municipal Audience “Francisco Grau”,  Bigastro welcomes this  coming  weekend two activities as part of the cultural programme for Autumn.

auditorium1 auditorium2

SATURDAY, 22nd at 6:30pm

Concert  featuring VIBESLAP DÚO

The group, which was formed in 2007, presents modern music for percussion and saxophone.
The members are Joaquín Sáez (Saxophone) and Lucía Carro(Percussion).

SUNDAY, 23rd at 6:30pm

A comedy musicial show - “BUENHUMORADOS” by the Group "Lokaga Falta"

A characterisation of daily situations told through songs and gags.

In court

Yesterday morning, Inmaculada Martínez (acting mayor), Raúl Valerio Medina (first lieutenant mayor) , Mari Carmen Grau (Secretary General of the local PSOE), Herminia Ortiz and María Jesús Torres (both ex councillors) along with their lawyer, José Miguel Porras went to the court of First Instance and Instruction No 3 in Orihuela to declare before the magistrate, Joaquina de la Peña and the Anti-corruption prosecutor Felipe Briones .

They had already been called to the offices of the Guardia Civil in Almoradi last week and have now been imputed for their involvement in the crimes that the ex- mayor José Joaquín Moya is accused of. Their involvement seems to centre on the fact that they were party to the approval in council of the city planning irregularities that are being investigated.

The crimes that Moya is apparently accused of include "delitos de prevaricación, la ordenación del territorio, falsedad documental, cohecho, malversación de caudales públicos y negociaciones prohibidas a funcionarios públicos" which I translate to mean "crimes of:- corruption, the arrangement of territory, documentary falsification, bribe, embezzlement of public assets and prohibited negotiations with government officials".

Testing your connection


I was pleased that some found my reference to useful for checking the speed of their connections. Can I remind you that this kind of test needs to be repeated at different times of the day because it will vary - hopefully not by too much.

If you are contemplating VoIP for your phone calls or if you currently use VoIP and want a measure of your call quality, then it might be useful to also visit this site.

The score you will get is from 1 to 5. To help you make sense of this they have given very apt descriptions of what the numbers mean:-

  • less than 2 - Forget the phone, try Pony Express
  • 2.8 - Like tin cans and string
  • 3.2 - As bad as a crummy cell phone call
  • 3.8 -As good as a decent cell phone call
  • 4.4 - Like calling next door
  • 5 - Better than being there!

This is a different type of test to that at

Monday, November 17, 2008

Good drivers!

One of my readers sent me this comment referring to my item about the police cracking down on drivers using mobile phones.

In Guardamar I saw a woman turning into the main road from a side street. There was a child of about 2 stood in the front of the car leaning on the dashboard (no seat belt on) and the woman driver was on her mobile! Methinks she would have been in severe trouble if the police had spotted her.

Unbelievable! She was presumably unaware of the great risk  to the child.

Apart from the many drivers you see on mobile phones, there are a lot of other incidences of bad driving that you see on the roads here in Spain. Let us put aside the inability of most Spanish drivers to use direction signals and the reckless overtaking manoeuvres that they make.

We've seen countless people on mopeds with a child sat in front of the rider. We even saw one instance where four people had managed to squeeze on one of these machines. How it ever got up the hill to Villas Andrea we will never know.

We've been nearly pushed of the road by drivers who clearly thought that they were in England where you drive on the left. Even the local police Land Rover forced us into the kerb once when we were travelling up Calle Le Vegan.

As for ignoring one way systems - don't let's get started on that one.

I'm not suggesting that British drivers are all good because they are not but they'd have to go a long way to be as bad as some of these locals.

My Christmas (and birthday) present


Remember last November I wrote about the Eeepc notebook computer that Asus were selling for £170. It wasn't the fastest, slickest computer on the planet but was good enough to surf the Net, write documents and send emails on. I thought it would be ideal for anyone looking for a computer just for those sort of tasks particularly if they wanted something they could take away on holiday or use in the garden.

It wasn't going to be long before Asus were going to refine that idea. Faster processors, longer battery life and larger screens have brought the price of their latest offerings up to about the £300 mark. At that price point they are verging into the territory of more powerful laptop designs.

In the meantime, other manufacturers have cottoned on to the idea including Acer with their Aspire One range.

Priced at £179 with a faster processor, larger screen, larger keyboard and better build quality than the original Asus 700 series, this seems to me to represent excellent value of money. So I have one on order along with a 16Gb SD card to boost the storage capacity.

The idea is that I'll use the Acer instead of my Dell laptop which is about eight years old now. With its top of the range specification (for the time) , it could almost be considered a desktop replacement. When I was at Anfield I used the Dell a lot. I've used it here in Spain especially when we have visitors and I can't get into the spare room.

A couple of years ago, the laptop had slowed down to a crawl taking ages to boot up into XP so I reformatted the drive and reinstalled Windows. That made a vast improvement rendering the machine useable again. The battery life is down to about 20 minutes but no matter I can still use it on mains. The problem is it is so damn big and heavy and way over the top when all I want to do is send an email, find some information from the Net or write an item for this blog.

The Acer is about the size of book (249mm (W) x 170mm (D) x 29mm (H)) and weighs a shade less than a kilogramme. It is not quite a palm top but certainly won't cook and crush my knees like the Dell does. It runs a version of Linux (the operating system of choice by my good friend Pete Brooks) which apparently loads up ready to use in under 30 seconds. So when Pam asks me a question about the bank accounts or wants me to find out what is on Digital+ at the weekend - the Acer will provide the answers in double quick time

Of course the notebook has limitations so I will still use my Dell desktop for serious work like photo editing etc.

ETA boss arrested

The military boss of ETA, Mikel Garikoitz Aspiazu, alias “Txeroki”, has been arrested this morning in Cauterets, in the southwest of France.


Cauterets is a town in the High Pyrenees, 32 kilometres from Lourdes. The locality is a well known tourist resort for skiers.

The police operation was the result of a joint investigation by the French information services in collaboration with the Guardia Civil. Agents of a special assault unit entered the house where “Txeroki” and his companion were located shortly after three in the morning. Both“Txeroki” and his female companion were armed at the time. However, the rapid intervention by the the elite French forces prevented the pair from using their arms to counter the arrest.

For five years , Garikoitz Aspiazu, “Txeroki”, was the head of the ETA commandos and was responsible for organising and issuing orders to the terrorist cells. It was “Txeroki” who ordered the car bomb in the car park at Barajas airport on the 30th of December 2006, that killed two people and broke the truce between ETA and the government.

Members of an ETA command in Pamplona, arrested by the police on the 28th of October, said that “Txeroki” had also confessed his involvement in the murder of two Civil Guards in Capbreton (France) on the 1st of December last year.

Shortly after the arrests, the French minister of the Interior, Michèle Alliot-Marie, offered his warmest congratulations to officers involved. The operation demonstrates the determination of the police services and the French gendarmerie in the fight against all form of terrorism and illustrates the excellent collaboration between France and Spain in the fight against Basque terrorism.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Pam and I enjoy doing our Spanish homework. We usually work independently and then compare notes. Sometimes (not often), this can lead to a little "discussion" which calls for the dictionary.

The problem is that there are so many words in Spanish that either have several meanings or are used in an idiomatic way that changes their meaning entirely. Take the phrase "desde luego" which cropped up in a piece of work last week. You might literally translate as "from until" but actually it means "of course".

At our last lesson, Eduardo explained something of the geography of Spain; from the Sierras to the Rios and then asked us to write something about the geography of the country we came from.

Neither Pam nor I are geographers. Apart from admiring the scenery, we took little interest in the geographical features of the area where we lived. Ask me to name the rivers in England and I can get to about five before drying up.

So the first task was to find out something about the geography of the Wirral where we lived. Then we had to simplify the information down so that we could write it in Spanish. Finally we had to go through and hopefully correct the Spanish; remembering to put in the necessary prepositions which we English often neglect.

The end result is as dry as those rivers I couldn't name but at least it is done.

Next week I hope we can write about something more "lively".

About time

On Wednesday, the DGT traffic department in Spain launched a 12-day blitz on drivers who use mobile phones while they are at the wheel.

A DGT spokesman says that 500,000 checks will be made across Spain and 200,000 will take place in Alicante Province.

Punishment if caught can be a fine of up to 300 euros, three-month suspension of licence and the loss of three points.

Government sub delegate in Alicante, Encarna Llinares, made the announcement on Tuesday saying that using a mobile phone, tampering with a car radio or onboard navigation system as well as smoking are all distractions and the cause of 37 per cent of traffic incidents.

A new broom

The penal code of 1995 legalized prostitution in Spain. As a result you see "ladies" working on roadsides, at roundabouts, in night clubs and in the streets of cities throughout the country.

There are all sorts of myths that surround their circumstances. Many believe that they are brought into the country, robbed of their passports and made to work long hours for little reward. Some indeed do look very young and a lot of them are clearly not native Spaniards. Most that you see on the roadside are well dressed (or undressed as the case may be) and look to be in good health - they smile and wave to you as you pass them by.

As the "oldest profession", prostitution continues in spite of any crisis. It manages to transcend eras and changes in ideologies. Next to arms trafficking , prostitution is the most lucrative business in the world. Whilst people might be cutting back on extra spending, on holidays or a new car etc., the girls seem to be still doing a good trade.

There is wide spread concern about the organisation of prostitutes. So, the Ministry of Equality lead by Bibiana Aído is going to take a new approach to the fight against sex Mafias and pimps. In order to fight by them, eleven ministries and a pile of experts have come up with a three years plan.

Out of the million prostitutes that work in Spain, it is those that work on the streets that cause the most problems for city councils. The "ladies" who work the streets though are demanding an end to the harassment they receive. The majority of them neither consider themselves to be victims nor slaves to anybody. In fact many Spanish ladies are now returning to the profession after having left it for foreigners for ten years or so.

There is no doubt that there is a criminal element involved in the industry but is it really possible to move prostitutes from the streets and the roundabouts and institutionalise them? Could their work ever become a regulated economic activity with pension schemes and the like?

The illegal gas tanks

Along with the investigation into the re-classification of green land to build industrial units, the Guardia Civil are also examining evidence in relation to other city planning irregularities in Bigastro e.g. the gas tanks that are located in area where the new houses are being built.

The two propane tanks in sector D-6 were constructed with out a license and without the authority to reclassify the land. The 49,500 litre tanks are located on a 1,170 square metre plot in the area which is denominated "garden JL-5" which was meant to be a public green space.

A license was asked at the time but was denied. When the issue was put to the vote in Council it was passed with the approval of the eight PSOE councillors. The company that installed the tanks paid the council 430,000€ for an agreement which gave them 50 years use of the land to store propane along with permission to build a network of distribution to the houses.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A heated session

The first plenary session for the Bigastro Town Council following the resignation of José Joaquín Moya was by all accounts a tense affair.

First off, the acting mayoress had decided to reduce the number of seats available for the public. Sensing this, some of the townsfolk waited an hour outside in the cold to make sure they got a place.

The first complaint from the PP centered round the fact that information had not been given to them 48 hours before the meeting as required by law. Following that, the meeting took the form of a sparring match between Aurelio Murcia for the PP and Raúl Valerio for the PSOE which continued after the session finished.

It was only on point six, which was an item about changes to the local tax rates (A reduction in the rate applied to IBI and a rise in vehicle taxes) that seemed to be some accord.

Inmaculada Martínez apparently controlled the debate well by allowing each three minutes in turn. By all accounts though she was merely a spectator to the bitter discussions that took place.

It seems that when one target gets taken away, another pops up to take its place.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The rain in Spain

Just as in English, the Spanish have a variety of words to describe rain. When you first learn the language, you tend to describe all forms of rain as lluvias. Our teacher put us straight on this a week or so ago.

Here are some of the words that you may hear in relation to rain.

tronar is the verb to thunder,  llovar to rain, granizar to hail, nevar to snow and nubar the verb to cloud

  • precipitaciones - rainfall
  • precipitaciones débiles - light rainfall
  • llovizna - drizzle
  • chaparrón - a shower
  • chubasco - a shower
  • lluvia - rain  
  • tormenta  - a thunderstorm
  • rayo - a flash of lightening
  • trueno -a clap of thunder
  • un aguacero - a downpour
  • tromba de agua - a cloudburst
  • granizo - hail
  • nieve - snow
  • hielo - ice
  • nevada - a snowfall

of course you also hear locals describe rain as simply agua or water.

Speaking about the sky you will hear:-

  • cielos  nubosos  - cloudy sky
  • cielos despejados- clear sky
  • nube - a cloud
  • nubes - clouds

English children sing :-

"Rain, rain go away. Come again another day".

In Spain the children sing:-

“Que llueva, que llueva,
La Virgen de la Cueva
Los pajarillos cantan
Las nubes se levantan
¡Que sí! ¡Que no!
¡Que caiga un chaparrón
Con azúcar y turrón!”

How delightful that if the clouds produce a shower they want it to be sugar and turrón.

Two caught but how many more to go?

Guardia Civil officers have arrested two men on suspicion of the burglary of properties in Los Montesinos and Almoradi. The police had noticed that since early September, the numbers of burglaries in these areas had increased and the modus operandi was always the same - entry via the smashing of windows and the theft of anything of value.

When arrested, the two men, who are both Spanish, were found with a revolver, several household appliances and audio-visual equipment, all valued at about 10,000 euros. The robberies had caused a considerable amount of public alarm in both municipalities over the last few months, especially in the more isolated farm areas. The two men have been charged with committing eight robberies.

Let us hope that the Guardia Civil go on to catch the people responsible for the recent burglaries at Villas Andrea where thieves removed the security grills before taking the windows out.

Highwaymen arrested

Three ‘highwaymen’ have been arrested in connection with a series of hold-ups and thefts on the AP-7. The suspects, of Iranian and Pakistani origin, are said to have dressed up as police officers in order to pull over unsuspecting foreign drivers.

Police began their investigations when they got wind of a number of robberies taking place in September and October at service stations and toll-booths along the Costa Blanca. The victims tended to be expatriates or tourists who, after being pulled over and shown fake police ID, were usually told to leave their vehicles. They were then relieved of any money and valuables they were carrying.

Thefts of this nature were reported as occurring on the Benissa, La Vila Joiosa and San Juan exits on the AP-7. A police raid on the home of one of the suspects in El Albir led to the seizure of cars used in the thefts. Officers say all three have a previous criminal record for similar offences in Italy, France and Germany.

Worse in San Fulgencio

The problems that the council face in Bigastro seem bad, then consider the situation in San Fulgencio where things are much worse.

Mark Lewis and fellow councillor and countryman, Mick Blake, decided to split with their fellow AIM member, Manuel Barrera amidst the chaos that has ensued in the Council at San Fulgencio and allied themselves with Trinidad Martinez the mayoress. Following this they have allegedly received death threats from Barrera, which they have reported to the police, although Barrera denies the allegations. Things seemed as if they were returning to some sort of normality when the Mayoress was arrested along with four of her councillors, although she has refused to resign from her post, insisting she will ‘see it through.’ She was arrested for apparently ‘employing’ the men - seen in the video that instigated the Barrera fiasco – who are apparently private detectives who were paid with town hall funds.

Lewis and Blake are two of just seven councillors left running the town and neither can speak the language at all well, but Lewis, from the AIM party, is the only Deputy Mayor who has not been arrested in what appears to be a hive of corruption in the Town Hall.   Lewis was fourth down the list, after the Mayoress, Trinidadad Garcia, who was arrested a couple of weeks ago, the Deputy Mayor, Manuel Barrera, who was arrested the previous week, Manuel Marti, second in command and Juan Antonio Gamuz, third in command, who have also been arrested. Lewis was probably as surprised to find himself with the reigns of power in his hands, if only for a day, as anyone else was. 

According to El Pais newspaper the arrests were made due to an alleged scheme that involved the videotaping of Barrera accepting a bribe of 5000 euros in exchange for his political support of a development project.  It is now believed this may have been a set-up of AIM councilor Manuel Barrera, who was arrested on October 20 after the video was circulated by La Verdad Newspaper. The transaction, in which Barrera could be heard saying “It’s better if you give me big bills, they take up less space,” was leaked.  After the scandal broke, Barrera turned the money over to investigators and was censured by the town council, which proceeded to approve the construction of 4,600 homes. Mayor Martínez, who denied having anything to do with the videotape scandal, was arrested along with two Socialist and two independents councillors. 

The council team found itself in a clear minority compared with the opposition.  It looks as if dissolution of the present council will be the only way to proceed now, and a temporary ruling body may have to be drawn up, similar to what happened in Marbella.  It appears that all the councilors are involved in “Operacion Barrera” except the AIM delegates.  The police chief, Bernardo Cortijo, were arrested for revealing secrets and the Security Councilor, Juan Antonio Gamuz, was latr released, but still faces charges.  The police investigation is centering on the fact that the Town Hall  changed the use of land without changing the Plan General. 

The remaining councilors are obviously worried about their own situation, and frustrated at the lack of information they are being given. 

The Spanish government may well step in and dissolve the council which will mean the town will be run by administrators until the next elections which is three years away.

Early success

Two Britons wanted on fraud charges in the UK have been arrested in Spain within 24 hours of being featured in a special Crimestoppers campaign to catch on-the-run criminals.

Anthony Kearney, 43, and his 41-year-old partner, Donna McCafferty, both from Scotland, were arrested in Alicante on Thursday. Ms McCafferty, who was using one of her aliases, Elizabeth McAndrew, is suspected of benefit fraud while Mr Kearney is accused of several fraud offences between 1999 and 2004.

The Guardia Civil say the two were picked up following an anonymous phone call. They will receive fast-track extradition to Scotland, where they are wanted by Strathclyde police.

The arrests came just a day after Crimestoppers and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) launched Operation Captura to track down 10 criminal suspects thought to be hiding out in Spain. The list includes fugitives wanted for murder, sex offences, drug trafficking and kidnap.