Monday, January 31, 2011

Only women think this way

We learnt that the daughter of our ex neighbours in Greasby had a baby girl last night – Elizabeth Mary. Many congratulations to mother, daughter and of course the father who I understand had a small part to play in the process! (the old jokes are always the best).

The only bit of information we didn’t get to start with was the birth weight but we have that now. This made me think, why are we so concerned about the weight of babies at birth? Surely, the two things that are vital to know are the sex of the child and that all is well, everything else is of little importance.

Of course, I understand that the size of the child would be important to the mother when you consider how babies are normally delivered (I don’t need to stretch the point here do I?) but it is almost an obsession for the rest of womankind to know the precise weight – why?

When these matters are discussed, as they always are, there almost seems to be an unspoken hidden message either way; nine pounds – that’s a big baby or six pounds - ooh that’s small. It isn’t like, the mother has a lot of control over the size of her offspring at birth. If she has been careful throughout the pregnancy i.e. ate sensibly, avoided smoking, taking drugs or consuming alcohol then the mother has done all she can to produce a healthy child of whatever size it is.

The fact is that mothers produce different size babies at each pregnancy, the first might be larger or smaller than the second and so on and of course babies born early will be lighter than those born late – we all know that. Babies generally come when they are ready, I don’t think they wait until they achieve a certain size.

The other obsession that women seem to have is to figure out who the new born child looks like. From my own experience of having two daughters, they don’t particularly look like either parent at birth so this to me is a futile exercise. It is only when they grow that they might start to look like some member of the family which might not even be the immediate parents. Some children end up not looking like any of their family or they might be a real mixture. I dare say many are grateful for this.

No, the important thing to know as far as I am concerned, is that mother and baby are well; that they both survived the trauma of delivery and I am pleased to say that is the case with Catherine and her daughter.

House repossessions at an all time high

The  state of the economy has brought about a record number of evictions in the Alicante area. Families unable to pay the rent or the mortgage find themselves in court being told that they must vacate their home.  This situation is causing stress on the system that can’t cope with the numbers involved and so they are looking for ways to expedite the process by removing the need for the courts to be involved. That might be good news for the people seeking to evict but not for the poor victims.

You can’t have it every which way

image On the whole it looks like it should be a much better week than last.

Plenty of sunshine, very little chance of rain after today and daytime temperatures gradually climbing.

That is what we like to see!
image Clear skies in the daytime though lead to colder temperatures at night.

It does look like it should be pleasant for the Medieval Market in Orihuela next weekend.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The mobile phone dilemma

There is no denying that mobile phones are a great thing and I would not want to be without one. From their humble beginnings they first of all shrunk in size so that they became light and pocket size and now have started to grow back again as manufacturers add more and more features.

The cool ones now are the so called smart phones with their touch screens, 3g/wi-fi connections, multiple applications even satellite navigation. They are the Swiss army knife of the phone world – everything you need in just one device. You can take pictures with them, make movies, listen to music – everything your heart desires. Best of all a smart phone is great to impress your friends and colleagues with as you slip it gracefully out of your pocket.

The thing is though, I don’t need all this computing power in one device. I already have a Palm PDA to store information which I have had for years, I have a very good compact camera, I have a TomTom sat. nav. to find my way round and an iPod to listen to music with. All I really need is a phone that makes calls and which I can send the odd message from. What would I do with all these other devices if I had an all singing, dancing smart phone?

The difficulty I am having at the moment is finding a phone that is OK cool enough to be seen with but at the same time cheap enough not to worry too much about. Unlike the 20 to 30 somethings, I am not going to spend my waking hours with a phone glued to my hand as I wait for the one call per month or the odd text that I might receive I don’t really want some fancy phone that costs me an arm and a leg, I can’t warrant that sort of expense.

Finding a reasonably priced, half decent pay-as-you go phone though is becoming more and more difficult because the phone shops don’t seem to want to sell them. They either have the cheap budget ones that you would give to a child or the out of my price bracket ones.

I thought I had found a reasonable replacement for my old Spanish phone but out of the five shops I have visited that advertise it none have it in stock. Actually that is not quite true, because most did have the phone on contract for a minimum consumption of 8 Euros a month (actually 9 Euros if I want to send cheap texts to the UK). What they don’t have though is the phone outright for 59 Euros on pay-as-you-go.

If I signed for the contract, the phone would cost me a minimum of 144 Euros (or 162 Euros) and all I would get for the difference in price would be that much worth of calls or texts which I don’t actually make too many of. For Pamela, things would be a little different because she can spend as much as 20 Euros on texts in a month on her pay-as-you-go phone.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The legacy of General Francisco Franco continues

It started as a system for taking children away from families deemed to be politically dangerous in the Franco era but then continued as an illicit business until at least the 1980s.

During the Franco regime, children of jailed left-wing opponents were stolen from their mothers with state approval and often the blessing of the Roman Catholic Church to purge Spain of Marxist influence.

However even after Franco was deposed, doctors, nurses, nuns and priests are all suspected of lying to mothers who were told their children had died during, or straight after, birth. Many of the real parents said they had been told that apparently healthy babies had died within hours of birth. They had never seen the bodies and the hospitals had taken care of the burials.

In a separate case, workers from an undertaker's in Malaga said they sometimes buried empty children's coffins that arrived from a local clinic.

A bit close to home

A 60 year old Spaniard along with two accomplices have been arrested for arms trafficking and holding of ammunition in Orihuela.

The leader of the gang ran a legitimate metalwork business but in his spare time bought unusable weapons at auctions, repaired them and then sold them on to criminal gangs at prices ranging from 400 to 1,000 Euros each. Police say he has been doing this for over 20 years without being discovered.

In the garage of the man’s house located in the centre of Orihuela police found glass cabinets displaying the weapons. Further searches of three home in Orihuela and two in Torrevieja revealed 54 weapons including; 39 pistols, 5 revolvers, 2 automatic rifles, a musket that thousands of cartridges. 

You see I was nearly right

Remember my April fool spoof about drilling for oil in Bigastro, well it seems I wasn’t a million miles off the truth.

Central government set out two royal decrees late December granting permission for Capricorn Spain Limited and Med Oil to investigate possible oil pockets off the Valencian coastline from Alicante province to Castellón.

Naturally, the Valencian government have set up a commission specifically to appeal and fight the decision which could have grave environmental impact on the whole region.

A big thank you to Joan and BC


First of all who are Joan and BC?

A. They are the parents of Dave, soon to be married to our youngest daughter Laura. There is probably a name for the relationship we will have with them which I can’t for the life of me recall.

Why is he called BC?

A. His first names are Brendan Christopher – how logical is that? However, I suspect deep down it is because his son’s always thought of him as ancient as in Before Christ. It is the same for me. My girls call me Wilf because it sounds old – in fact it was my grandfather’s name so they are right.

When Joan and BC came to Spain last August, they brought thick books with them to read. In fact everyone but me seemed to have thick books to read. When Joan and BC asked why this was, I told them that it was because I couldn’t read. That brought a withering look on their faces. They knew that was a load of b*******, after all I’d passed exams, I’d been to college and university and then spent my working life as a teacher – of course I could read.

In fact, unbelievable as this may sound, since we came to Spain in 2004, I have read only two books both of which were about bullfighting. And now I have read three. Since the weather has been decidedly dull for the last week, it seemed a good opportunity to get stuck into this Christmas present from Joan and BC and I am right glad I did.

Now here is the thing, the reason I don’t read books is the same as the reason I don’t really care for serials on the TV. I like my stories complete and finished in one go, I don’t want to have to wait for another day or the following week to find out what happens next. There are very few books that you can read in one session so I just don’t bother.

I must confess, I’d neither heard of the author nor his TV programmes about “grumpy old men” or GOMS for short. This may come as a shock to you but there have been odd times when Mrs W. has accused me of being grumpy myself; so, my curiosity was aroused to find out whether she was right. I dipped into the book to see if this was indeed true and liked what I read. Surprisingly, I found that I had some of the symptoms of grumpiness the author described.

Why, because there is a lot of what he says that I concur with and I dare say most men of any age would recognise straight away. For example how many men do you know who enjoy shopping for anything let alone Christmas presents? How many send Christmas cards and how many really enjoy putting up Christmas trees. Most poignant of all, how many of us growl in our seats when carol singers ring the door bell and demand money for singing one line of a carol.

There are things that even the grumpiest old man enjoys about the festive season but to be honest, once we have got to a certain age, most of us are glad when it is all over. For some inexplicable reason though, that does not stop everyone from making us go through the same ritual year after year – maybe that is what makes us grumpy.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blots on the landscape

imageThe collapse of the construction industry is cited as the main reason for the economic crisis here in Spain. It is also responsible for some very ugly and potentially dangerous abandoned building sites such as this one in Almoradí.

Left for over two years, the electricity boxes are wide open, manhole covers are missing, the pavements are covered in weeds and the fences are broken down. Goodness knows when workers will ever return to complete the work, there are a lot of completed houses to be sold before anyone will contemplate finishing developments at this stage of construction.

And so we are left with these blots on the landscape, reminders of what was and what might have continued to be if the world economy had not gone “tits up”. Blame Freddie Flintstone and Fanny Bright, or whatever those two American mortgage companies were called, for selling off their toxic debt.

The Bigastro ONCE ticket

Galvañ Salvador Blasco, Director of ONCE Alicante, and M ª Teresa Sánchez Cánovas, Orihuela Director presents the Bigastro version of their lottery ticket to the mayor of Bigastro, Raúl Valerio Medina Lorente.

Five million of these lottery tickets will be sold throughout Spain, each one with a picture of the Auditorium, Francisco Grau, the coat of arms of Bigastro, the slogan Citta Slow and data about the town.
But who are ONCE?

26,000 people work for ONCE which serves over three million disabled persons throughout Spain.

The Bigastro version of the tickets will be on sale from today at 1.5 Euros each. The lottery offers lots of prizes up to 35,000 Euros.

There are lots of outlets for the ONCE tickets or you can buy them online at

Why I don’t like IKEA

Yesterday we went to IKEA at Murcia. It is only half an hour down the road and should be easy to get to and back but for some reason it just isn’t. The journey there is all OK until we come off the motorway and get to the roundabout which leads to the car park. Then I always seem to be in the wrong lane except that today I’m sure I was in the right lane but still someone had to cut across me.

Coming back was perfect. One time we went, I missed the turning to the motorway and ended up in Murcia. This time though, not only did I get that right but I also avoided driving through the middle of Orihuela – that was a first.
The one good thing I can say about this IKEA is that there is no shortage of space to park your car unlike the Warrington shop where we used to go in England. That was a nightmare especially at the weekends.

Mind you, if that car park is ever full, I dread to think how crowded the shop would be.
Apart from the journey, I don’t like the fact that you have to walk all the way through IKEA and look at all of the displays before you get to the part where you want to be.

But the worst part of going to IKEA is the size of the boxes that everything seems to come in. If you only have a small hatchback then you are stuffed. This couple finally managed to get everything in by dismantling most of the car.

Companies know this is a problem and offer a delivery service from IKEA to your door in English! I think some of these companies will even assemble the articles for you which is of course the second worst thing about IKEA – everything is flat packed, comes with a bag of parts and a book of instructions that seem to bear no relation to the item you have just bought.

I always worry that there might be parts missing. But to be fair to IKEA, only once did we ever find that was the case unlike the stuff from MFI where they seemed to miss parts out of everything they sold.

So what did we go there for? A stool for Pamela to sit on in the kitchen, a picture frame for a photo we have had for nearly six months and a new door mat.

The stools they had were all either too high or were too expensive, the picture frame that we did buy is actually too big for where it has to go and we could not find a decent doormat of the right size anywhere in the shop.

It wasn’t all bad though. Pam did buy a candle snuffer for 1.95 Euros and some boxes for her make up. Oh and yes, the lunch was really good, we both had a very tender, huge ham shank with chips for 6.50 Euros each.

And now for the bad news, Pam will want to go again in about 12 months time. By then I will have forgotten all the bad stuff and only remember that wonderful ham shank.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New museum in Orihuela

The Museum of Sacred Art in Palacio Episcopal in Orihuela will open its doors late February.

The Episcopal Palace was declared a National Monument in 1975 and is located opposite the Cathedral del Salvador y Santa Maria. It was built during the second half of the 16th Century and was extended and refurbished in 1733.

The mayoress of Orihuela says that the new museum, housed in the Palace, will showcase the cities culture and that it aims to become the largest museum of religious art in the Valencian Region.. Various paintings, sculptures, gold works, textiles, furniture as well as Codices will be on display.

It is a magnificent building – well worth a visit.

Spare a thought

For all those people who have come to the Costa Blanca for an out-of-season holiday. They would not be expecting the really hot weather of summer but should have at least seen some sunshine most days. Instead, they will have looked out of their hotel bedrooms or their holiday apartments at a gloomy grey sky and wondered just what they could do to amuse themselves on cold dark days. The annoying thing is that up the coast and inland, the sun is shining and that is not normal. It is usually this area that gets the best of the weather.

If they are in somewhere like Benidorm, there will be plenty of diversions to keep them happy but more or less everywhere else it will be a struggle. The area is just not geared up for tourism on dull days. Let’s hope they have remembered to bring a pack of cards with them.

Don’t tell them because it will only upset the holiday makers but tomorrow will be worse. In fact things will not get better until about Saturday when the skies should clear but then wind will start to pick up. Anyone who tells you that the weather is good all year round in Southern Spain has never lived here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It was just a myth

We’ve all heard the myth which says that if you buy a plot of land in a remote area which has an existing building on it, then you are legally allowed to convert the ruin into a habitable house. On our journeys through the Costa del Sol and the Costa Almeria we saw many such opportunities and whilst Pam and I would never contemplate such a scheme there were those who did.

Ten years ago a British couple bought a 1,400 square metre plot of land on the Costa del Sol in an area classified as unsuitable for building, There was a 30 square metre ruin on the land which they proceeded to convert into a two-storey villa. They had obviously heard the same story as us.

Now a court in Málaga has ruled that the couple should serve an eight month jail sentence for building on protected land. They have also been fined and are forced to demolish the house.

This decision is deeply worrying for many of those who have illegal homes in all of the costas including the Costa Blanca.

Frosts at the weekend cause more misery for farmers

As I said yesterday, it was cold at the weekend and it was dry as well – a lethal combination for the remainder of the artichokes that were not affected by the last frosts. Low temperatures freeze the water in the vegetables leaving them looking as if they have been burnt. It is the same for beans and other crops like lettuces, spinach and chard. The only crop which survives these cold spells is the broccoli where growth is just slowed down. Crops grown in low lying areas are more vulnerable than those grown on high ground because the cold air settles there.

Farmers will need to check how far the damage has spread into the heads of the artichokes. With a blackened exterior they will not be saleable at market and certainly cannot be exported but might be OK for canning if the insides are not affected.

These problems for farmers only add to the misery caused by robberies. The farmers union now suspects that the thefts must be made by organised gangs because in some cases they are stealing the Provence Violet variety of artichoke which is not sold in Spain. These would have to exported to France for sale indicating that this is not the work of amateurs.

The weather continues to be cold but at the same time moist so the danger to further crops is a lot lower.

Monday, January 24, 2011

He must wear bullet proof pants

I reckon, being the prime minister or president of a country, is the hardest job in the world. As you sweep to power it must seem that all the country is behind you but then a year or so on things often start to go sour. When you can’t fulfil all the promises that were made before the election, the voters start to turn on you. Even the highly charismatic Barack Obama has suffered from this type of post election blues.

If you then add scandal into the equation, things must be a whole lot worse. Take Silvio Berlusconi for example. He is formally suspected of paying an underage prostitute and trying to cover it up by exerting pressure on the police. Prosecutors say the nightclub dancer, Karima "Ruby" el-Mahroug, who was 17 at the time, visited Berlusconi eight times at his villa, near Milan, last year. Both Berlusconi and the girl deny that sex took place but the police have taped phone calls which claim otherwise. I mean come on, nobody in their right mind would believe they stayed up all night playing cards or watching late night TV.

There is apparently plenty of evidence that the so called “bunga bunga” parties were a regular event at the Prime Minister’s Milan mansion. These have been variously described as unimaginable orgies even though one of the girls involved has described them as innocent dinner parties where they discussed politics and other topics of interest. However, as sordid as these parties might have been, they would not be illegal. No, the whole case against the PM rests on pinning down the fact that Berlusconi paid for sex with a minor and tried to cover it up. Both of these offences would earn the 74 year old time in jail.

You would imagine that all  this scandal surrounding Berlusconi would turn the whole of Italy against him but no.  A poll published by Corriere della Sera found backing for his Freedom People movement was higher than a month earlier, and less than half of Italians believed he should resign.

Renato Mannheimer, the head of the company that conducted the poll, said "even the Catholic electorate ... does not appear to have significantly altered its preferences". For the first time, the number of Italians favouring Berlusconi's resignation exceeded the number who opposed it, but they represented only 49% of the electorate.

How on earth can this be?  Even a lowly back bencher in the British parliament would be forced to resign for a whole lot less. If the Prime Minister was involved in similar sex scandals, then he would be taken to the Tower of London!  The only conclusion you can draw is that there is no credible alternative in Italian politics that the electorate are prepared to show faith in. Just to think, we considered Italy as an alternative place to retire to!

Goodbye sunshine

image Looks like we are in for one of those dull dreary weeks where the sun doesn’t bother to make an appearance.

UPDATE: It is now 11:30 and the sun has been shining for the last hour. Let's hope it stays that way.

The good news is that the cloud cover should make it feel a little milder at night.

I don’t know about you but I thought It was very cold at the weekend. I was almost expecting to see some frost on my car in the mornings.
image At least the rain should only be light and probably won’t last all day.

Let’s hope the weather bucks up for the Medieval Market in Orihuela early February and then for the Carnival in Torrevieja at the end of next month.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Torrevieja–almost a new town

When we first came to live here, nearby Torrevieja was quite frankly a bit run down, in desperate need of a face lift. The congested centre streets still allowed traffic and parking and there was graffiti everywhere. The seafront was to say the least uninspiring and there was no theatre to house entertainement. That has all changed in the six years we have been here and now the municipality is the smart place to visit that we knew it should be.

Whilst a lot of work has now been complete, the redevelopment of the town centre is still on-going. When it is complete,an estimated 10 million Euros will have been spent.

The next stage is to pedestrianize Calle Ausentes creating a direct path from the Plaza de Oriente to the Paseo de la Libertad on the seafront. The town also plans to build a new place for the market located near to the Antonio Soria park (next to Aquapolis). There are also plans to extend Avenido Rosa Mazón Valero - linking it to the CV-90, work on the commercial centre at the Torretas Urbanisations and resurfacing of many of the avenues and roads outside the city centre.

With 103,540 habitants, Torrevieja is the third largest city in the Alicante province after Alicante itself and Elche. Statistics show that in comparison with previous years, there has been an increase of residents from the European Union, in particular from the UK and Scandinavian countries. At the same time there has been a decrease in the number of residents from South American countries such has Columbia, Peru or Chile. It is a busy cosmopolitan place where 122 nationalities live in harmony.

Pete Rafferty’s birthday treat

Most people would expect a treat of some sort on their birthday. It might be a special meal at home or maybe they would be taken out somewhere nice. For my birthday this year, not only did I get a lovely lunch out but I was taken to a show in Manchester - that was a fantastic surprise.

Yesterday was Pete Rafferty’s birthday and I dare say there were some nice surprises in store for him too. Pete didn’t get to enjoy a relaxing night though – he had to work and work damn hard. Instead of going out, Pete chose his special day to give the rest of us a real treat - a journey through the music of the sixties.

When we arrived at Villas Andrea, Pete was one of the first people we met. He had a lot of experience singing in clubs, on his own and with groups and I think on cruise ships. He was going to put on a special performance up at La Predera.

That first night we saw him the place was packed, anyone who arrived after 9pm had to stand. Pete wowed the large crowd with his excellent performance as himself which was only eclipsed by his take off of Elvis Presley complete with white catsuit, black wig and sunglasses.

On a number of occasions since, Pete has performed and each time he has managed to throw something different into the mix. Who could ever forget his PJ Proby, his Freddie Mercury, his teddy boy and his Shirley Bassie – so many memorable nights. Pete worries that we will tire of him and want for something different – NO Pete – you will tire of us first.

Last night Pete was just himself, no impersonations – pure Pete and he was damned good. He performed numbers from Cliff Richard to the Who to an enthusiastic audience.

Thank you for your birthday treat to us – it was very much appreciated. We hope you enjoyed your day because we certainly did.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Only the strongest survive

I don’t need to tell you that the construction industry here has been the hardest hit by the economic crisis. Spain is littered with stalled building developments and land values have plunged as the country tries to clear an excess stock of more than 700,000 newly built homes. This has put a lot of stress on the banks that have loaned money for future housing development projects; they will not see a return on their investments for quite a few years to come.

While major Spanish banks like Santander or BBVA can comfortably cope with their bad real estate loans, there are fears that some of the cajas, the savings banks, may not be able to. High levels of bad property loans at the cajas are seen as a major risk for Spain as it slashes its budget deficit to stave off fears  that it will need an Irish or Greek-style rescue from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.The number of cajas has already been reduced from 45 to 17 by means of  mergers to try and stave off the problem.

It is hoped that private investors can be found to put money into the cajas. However, Spain's Fund for Orderly Bank Restructuring could take stakes in those that are unable to attract outside investment. In a move to prop them up, Spain is to partially nationalise the weakest of the cajas and force them to become conventional  banks with stock market listings. The cost of this is estimated to be between 25 and 50 billion Euros which is within the 88 billion Euros set aside.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fighting back

Lets get things straight. There are some smokers who feel guilty about their habit. They say that they would quit if it was easy and wish that they had never started. I do not fall into that category.

Whilst I am not proud to be a smoker, I am not ashamed to smoke nor do I feel guilty about it. It was a choice I made many years ago – if I had my time again I might make a different one but who knows – maybe not. I started smoking cigarettes, then I moved to cigars and finally settled on a pipe. Whilst some may get through 25gms of tobacco a day, I rarely smoke more than 75gms a week. 

Pamela was recently asked whether I was allowed to smoke in my own house. What an absurd question that was, of course I can smoke in my own house. If Pamela had wanted to marry a non smoker, she would have found someone else. She and I are both fully aware of the dangers that my smoking poses to both of us.

As I have said before, I would not offend anyone by smoking in their houses if they did not want me to. In fact I do not smoke in either of my daughter’s houses because I respect their wishes. Neither would I smoke in a restaurant whilst people were eating even if it were permitted. Nor would I smoke in close proximity to young children. I might be a smoker but I do think I have a sense of responsibility.

My back is broad enough to take any criticism laid at me re my habit, even still I wish some people would get off it!

A nasty minded neighbour

My theory is that most of the vehemently anti smoking brigade are indeed ex smokers. Even though they may have quit for many years they still have a craving that won’t go away. They are the ones who are most likely to complain when people smoke anywhere near them. They are the ones most likely to run to the police if they find anyone breaking the new law.

Most people here in Spain are prepared to comply with the new stricter laws about where you can and cannot smoke even if they don’t fully agree. That is not good enough for the anti smokers, now they have the law on their side, they want their pound of flesh.

A bar owner from the Los Angeles district of Alicante thought she was complying with the law when she put up a notice telling people they could no longer smoke inside her bar. Her bar is near to two schools and every morning, mothers would drop off their children and then go for breakfast and a cigar. So she placed a table and two chairs in the porch where they could sit and still enjoy a smoke. Even still, Ester reckons she has lost 50 Euros of trade each day since the law came into effect.

A local resident, who clearly knows all the ins and outs of the new law better than Ester, saw what was happening and denounced her to the local police. The following day an inspector arrived and made a report complete with drawings showing where the smoker was sat. The porch is less than a metre wide, surrounded by two walls and has a glass roof so therefore it is classed as an enclosed space. If the table had been placed at the bottom of the step instead of the top, it would have been a different matter.

So now Ester faces a possible fine of 600 Euros which she can’t afford. She says she will have to contest it. If common sense had prevailed, either the inspector or the police would have advised the lady to move the table and chairs to ensure that she complied with a law that, as yet, very few understand fully.

I don’t suppose she will be sending the “friendly neighbour” a Christmas card.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Every French schoolchild knows that Alsace is in France

You kind of expect political leaders to be astute enough not to make howling gaffes (with the exception of George Bush that is). However, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be giving George W. a run for his money.

In the Alsatian town of Truchtersheim, less than 20 miles from the German border, Mr Sarkozy said he could accepted unfair competition between China and India, but not between Germany and France.

"I'm not saying that simply because I'm in Germany," he said, before correcting himself to say: "I'm in Alsace."

The crowd immediately began jeering and then booing Mr Sarkozy, who appeared shocked by what he had said " putting his hands up in the air as if surrender.

Alsace, historically one of the most strategically crucial regions in France, was contested constantly between France and Germany during the 19th and 20th Century. It became part of Germany following the Franco-Prussian war in 1871 before being handed back to France at the end of the First World War as part of the Treaty of Versailles. You would think that Mr Sarkozy would know that.

It isn’t as if this is the first time that the French president has slipped up.

In April 2009, following the G20 summit, he reportedly told MPs that Barack Obama was "clever" and "charismatic" but was inexperienced.

He also claimed that Jose Zapatero was "not particularly intelligent", while adding that Angela Merkel had "no choice but to give in to my line."

During the height of the financial crisis, Mr Sarkozy reportedly told Gordon Brown: "You know, Gordon, I should not like you."You are Scottish, we have nothing in common and you are an economist. But somehow, Gordon, I love you... But not in a sexual way."

In November of the same year, he was accused of overstating his part in the fall of the Berlin Wall, after he claimed to have rushed with a pickaxe in hand the night it fell. Archives suggested he only showed up a week later.

Given how gaffe prone such an important politician has proved to be, I think we should maybe forgive some of the failings of our local representatives.

What a waste of public money

In our ignorance we had always assumed that Spain had just one language – Spanish but of course that is not so. An EU survey in 2005 found that 11% of Spaniards – five million people – define their mother tongue as one of Spain's regional languages, with 9% speaking Catalan or Valencian, 5% speaking Galician and 1% Euskara.To make matters more complicated, Spain has several other languages, including Aragonese, Asturian and Aranese, from the Catalan valley of Aran. The Catalan region considers Aranese to be an official language in its own area. There is even a row over whether Catalan and Valencian should be considered separate languages or whether one is merely a dialect of the other.

The official language of Spain is Castilian Spanish which everyone speaks and understands. It used to be the only language used in the upper chamber of Spain's parliament. However, now senators are allowed to debate in Castilian or any of the four other recognised languages; Catalan, Galician, Valencian and the Basque language of Euskara. The argument goes that the upper chamber is meant to represent Spain's regions and so senators should be allowed to speak in their own regional languages.

What this means is that they now need interpreters to translate from the regional languages into Castilian Spanish for the benefit of the other senators. And the bill for this comes to 12,000 Euros every day that a debate takes place.

The first orator to take advantage of this was the Socialist Ramon Aleu, who chose to speak in Catalan. Previously all his speeches were in Castilian which every body understood. His speech yesterday though had the other senators reaching for their headphones to listen to the translation. One newspaper described the senate now as being like the tower of Babel. As the leader of the PP, Mariano Rajoy said, this would never happen in a normal country.

The fuss over Spain's minority languages coincides with a growing confrontation between the national government of the Socialist prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and the more independent-minded regional governments, especially in Catalonia. Zapatero is reportedly attempting to prevent Catalonia, one of the 17 semi-autonomous regions into which Spain is divided, from increasing its debt unless it reins in a budget deficit. He also plans to harmonise some rules that vary from region to region across Spain, such as the opening hours of shops. The move to allow senators to speak in regional languages is thus one sign of dissent to the ruling socialist government.

Thieves will stop at nothing

Robberies from houses are on the decline in the area. The main targets these days for thieves are copper cable, farm machinery, tools and the crops from fields. Farmers are having to resort to either staying up all night or hiring private firms to guard crops and protect their investments.

The freezing weather in December ruined thousands of artichokes that were ready for market. Later crops have survived but of course are fetching a high price at market and the thieves know this. They arrive at night with trucks and harvest entire crops – up to 20 tons at a time, then they go on to sell the produce at markets. One farmer at Bella VIsta says his crop has been attacked eight times.

The thieves are not just targeting artichokes, they are taking beans, citrus fruit, medlars and grapes even olives which have little value at market. . It is an increasingly worrying problem for the whole of the Vega Baja and the province in general.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On the wrong side

It would be easy to suppose that living in a warm climate like that of Southern Spain you wouldn’t need to concern yourself with which way your house faces. When we bought our houses in the UK, we always took a compass with us to ensure that we would get the best of the sun where we wanted it – in the back garden.

When we bought our home in Spain we were similarly keen to know the orientation of the house. As it turned out, things could not be better. Our bedroom and the lounge face south and so get the sun all day. Three of the four windows in the lounge/dining room bring warmth and light into the house. The west facing fourth window gets the sun late late afternoon. The second bedroom, where my computer is housed faces north and so remains cool even in summer. Most important, the pool gets the sun from early morning to evening time – perfect.

I say this because there are some houses on our estate that do not get the sun at all. When the owners bought them, they were assured that it would not matter but it does. As they sit on their north facing porches, they look in envy at their neighbours across the road in t-shirts and shorts and wonder why they have to wear sweaters and trousers to keep warm.

It isn’t a problem in summer but from autumn through to spring it must be very annoying for them.

When times are hard, difficult decisions have to be made

The economic situation for Bigastro town council is biting hard. In December the town hall could not pay the 88,000 Euro monthly wage bill to their workers nor have they paid the summer and Christmas bonuses. The mayor, Raúl Valerio Medina Lorente, has promised that the workers will be paid their December wages later this month and then later, their January wages in February.

In a meeting with the staff, the mayor explained the situation and told them that the council will be looking to reduce the workforce by 22 per cent. Those with temporary contracts will have to go and those over 60 will be offered voluntary early retirement. In all, this plan affects between 16 to 18 of the 85 council workers.

Aurelio Murcia, for the opposition, says that the infant school, La Paz was without fuel for heating for days and that there wasn’t even the money available to put fuel in the tanks of the police vehicles. Remember, La Paz was hard hit when it had to run its lighting etc. from a diesel generator some months back so this must have come as real blow to the school. He goes on to say that the reason the indoor swimming pool has been closed since the beginning of the year is because the council does not have the money to pay for the diesel.

One area where the mayor says cuts can be made is in the use of municipal phones. The monthly bill for the town is very high especially for calls to mobiles. The mayor has therefore set out a plan which should reduce the bill by 30%.

Murcia claims that the mayor does not know what to do about the situation. In truth, I believe the mayor is now paying the price for the excesses of the previous administration. As with all local governments, when times were good and money was plentiful, the council spent and took on extra staff. Now that the bubble has burst, it is hard to make cut backs. However, it is relevant to point out that the opposition party were proposing a reduction in the council workforce at the time of the last election. But then, prosing a cut is one thing, implementing it is a lot more difficult.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Yet another threat to face


Red beetles, black beetles and now these striped monsters threaten to invade the area. The Valencian regional government has been warned that it should prepare an action plan against the possible arrival of the Asian giant hornet.

The arrival  of these giants would not only destroy tens of thousands of bee hives in the region due to the voracity of the species, but would also affect fruit production due to the decrease in pollination from bees.

These hornets, which have reaped havoc in Southern France for the last five year were spotted in northern Spain at the end of last year.

These beasties can devastate a colony of honey bees: a single hornet can kill as many as 40 honey bees per minute thanks to their large mandibles which can quickly strike and decapitate a bee.

It takes only a 30 of these hornets a few hours to slaughter the population of a 30,000-member hive, leaving a trail of severed insect heads and limbs, according to National Geographic.

Lots of entertainment to keep us busy in Torre.

Copies of the Cultural programme for Torrevieja covering the winter period from the beginning of January to the end of March are available from tourist offices and the rear entrance of the Municipal Theatre in the centre of the town.

First off, the hit musical ‘Chicago’ is being performed in the municipal theatre on Thursday the 17th February to Sunday the 20th of February with tickets, available now, priced at either €40 or €45 depending on which row they are booked for. Tickets can be obtained from the municipal box office outside the theatre or online through Servicam.

On Sunday the 22nd , there will be a version of ‘Annie’ the musical staged by the Escuela de Danza Mari Trini Garcia also in the Municipal Theatre with tickets priced at €5 each.

February is of course Carnival time in Torrevieja and this year the town celebrates the 25th anniversary of the carnival processions with an exhibition of the carnival through the years in the Vista Alegre Exhibition rooms which will be open to the public from Sunday the 6th of February to Sunday the 27th of February. The main Carnival processions themselves will take place on Sunday the 27th of February starting at 4.00 pm and then the night procession will be the following Saturday evening, March the 5thstarting at 10.00 pm.

The third Torrevieja drag queen competition will take place on Friday the 11th of February stating at 9.30 pm in the Municipal Theatre. The winners will once again take part in the Carnival processions.

Then we have the model boat exhibition which will be taking place in the Los Aljibes exhibition rooms at the top end of the Park of Nations. The exhibition is being opened on Saturday the 12th of March and continues to May the 1st. The exhibition,  now in its eighth year, features both static and radio controlled models of all types of vessels. Each weekend during the exhibition some of the radio controlled boats are put through their paces by their constructors. Entrance is free.

The Velvetones will be performing on Thursday the 24th of February in the Palacio de Musica starting at 8.00 pm with entrance free with an invitation and before that on Saturday February the 12th Lyrica Nostra will be on stage in the Virgen del Carmen Cultural Centre starting g at 8.30 pm with tickets costing €6.

The ‘Mago de Oz’ (Wizard of Oz) is being staged for children at the Municipal Theatre on Sunday the 13th of March with two performances, the first at midday and the second at 6.00 pm, Admission is €10 and it is on at the Municipal Theatre.

The Nottingham Trent University Chamber Choir are paying a visit to Torrevieja in March and are putting on two concerts, the first taking place on Monday the 28th of March in the Palacio de Musica and the second taking place on Wednesday the 30th in the Sagrado Corazón church. Spanish singer Pasión Vega is appearing at the Municipal Theatre on Saturday the 19th of March and tickets are priced at €22 for a programme that starts at 10.00 pm.


Monday, January 17, 2011

The US has a lot to answer for

The devastating effects of the two nuclear bombs that the US dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 are well documented. At the time it seemed to be the only way to end the war with Japan who were ignoring the call for surrender in the Potsdam Declaration. They did cause the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians both at the time and subsequently.

However, in the process of developing their nuclear might before and after the war ended, there were a number of “accidents” which are not so well documented.

In the 1966 for example, four unexploded nuclear bombs fell near Palomares, a fishing village in Almeria Spain, when a B-52 bomber collided with a refuelling aircraft. The subsequent clean up of 1,300 cubic metres of contaminated soil that was shipped to the Savannah River nuclear reservation in South Carolina still left 50,000 cubic metres, about half a tonne of plutonium, remaining on site.

Spain has nowhere to to store the contaminated soil which will take thousands of years to loose its radioactivity so they are insisting that the US completes the job. Estimates show that by sifting the soil, the contamination could be reduced to 6,000 cubic metres – enough to fill a bulk carrier.

The US is worried that, if they meet the demand to clean up the area near Palomares, then other countries where they conducted nuclear tests would make similar demands. Too bad, as my mother used to say, “if YOU make a mess, then YOU clean it up”.

Back to the nest

When your children leave home to go to university, or to find work elsewhere or to get married it is sad but at the same time, as parents, you get your lives back. Suddenly a house that was feeling overcrowded has space again, you can watch your own programmes on TV and please yourselves about what you do. Most of all though the household bills become manageable again as you consume less food, use less electricity etc. etc.

It doesn’t take long to get used to the children not being there, your renewed freedom soon makes up for missing their company. You look forward to them visiting but you don’t really want them to return on a permanent basis.

Leaving home is also good for the children because they learn to cope on their own, become independent and responsible for their own lives. It is the natural order of things throughout the whole of the animal kingdom.

That is the way that it used to be for most families before the economic crisis hit us. Sad to say that no longer can children afford to live away from their parents. Without a stable income it is impossible for them to rent accommodation let alone buy it. It isn’t that they don’t want to stand on their own two feet, they simply cannot find the means to do it.

So it is in Alicante province where another 21,000 young people have had to return to their parents homes in just one year. Students who have finished their courses at university and can’t find work, those that have lost their jobs in the service sector and in construction are all having to return to the nest. Youth unemployment is high and the prospects of an improvement are low.

Even those who do find employment are unable to buy themselves an apartment to live in. Although prices have plummeted, the average young worker would have to allocate nearly 50% of their wages to a mortgage if they chose to live alone in a modest size apartment of just 40 square metres. Even though the price of housing has dropped by just over 12% in one year, the average price of accommodation in the province is 154,00 Euros.

The upshot of this is that there are increasing numbers of homes in the province with children (actually young adults) in their 30s still living with parents and, in my opinion, that is not good. In my case, I left home to go to college when I was 19 and never returned to live permanently with my parents. At 23, Pam and I were married, living in a rented flat. By the age of 26, we were buying our own three bedroom semi. It is something that neither of us nor our parents ever regretted. In the years they had spent bringing us up, they’d done their bit and that was enough.

A foggy day in Bigastro town

image When you get a lovely week like the last one, it is easy to be fooled into thinking that winter is over and we in for nice settled weather.

Then winter comes back and bites you in the bum.

Today it is foggy out there – looking down the road, I can’t see the town and looking across I can’t see Orihuela nor can I see the Pedrera. After all that sunshine it is just glum.
image Cloudy weather with light rain is bad enough but just look at those night time temperatures at the end of the week. We don’t do 0 and we certainly don’t do minus degrees. The farmers who still have artichokes out in the fields will be crying again.

Missed it last time

Monica Lorente, the mayor of Orihuela, attended the official presentation of the 2011 Vuelta a España at the new Auditorium in Alicante. 

The 66th edition of the cycle race starts in Benidorm on Saturday 20th August with a 16km time trial at night and ends in Madrid on Sunday, 11th September. In all,  21 stages will cover more than 3,000 kilometres over the duration of the  three weeks.

Now to the important bit - the second stage of the race will follow the Costa Blanca coastline from La Nucia in the north to the beaches of Orihuela Costa in the south via Vilajoiosa, Alicante, Santa Pola, Guardamar and Torrevieja. I’m not sure where it will finish but I will find out before the date.

More than 10,000 people watched the conclusion of the Vuelta a España cycling tour last year during the Vega Baja stage.  It is hoped that as this year’s stage, which takes place on a Sunday, still more people will cheer on the cyclists. I missed last year’s stage because we flew to England on that day. I won’t be making that mistake again this year – I will be there with my camera looking for a good vantage point.  

Sunday, January 16, 2011

You never learn do you?

You would think that, at 64 I’d have the sense to read instructions before using something new. As my friend John remembered in summer, my father used to say, you might have ten GCEs (nine actually) but you haven’t got one in common sense.

Get to the point I hear you say.

Well, I bought a can of expanding polyurethane foam to do a filling job. It is marvellous stuff, a miracle of modern science, just right for what I intended to do.

Yesterday, I set out to use it, I shook the can just like it said and proceeded to squirt it into where I wanted it to go. Then I used my hands to tidy up where it had gone too far and got it all over my fingers. No problem, I wiped most off with paper towel and then went to wash the remainder off under the tap – WRONG!!!

If I had bothered to read the instructions fully on the can, I’d have seen where it says WEAR GLOVES when using this product (there was even a picture in case you could not read). If I had read further I would have come to the part where it said DO NOT CLEAN WITH WATER – use acetone.

Well I paid the price and spent the rest of the day picking off foam from my fingers. Sods law, the nail varnish remover in Pam’s bathroom does not contain acetone.

A stricken country

Britain was brought to a halt by the cold spell and snow that fell from November through to December. Now that it is getting over that, the country has been struck by a flu epidemic that has brought gridlock to many hospitals.

Desperately sick people have been left for hours waiting on trolleys, with even those requiring intensive care enduring long delays. Dozens of NHS units have cancelled surgery and clinics for outpatients. At least 10 major centres issued “black alerts” — the highest emergency warning — meaning they were at breaking point, forcing patients to be sent elsewhere.

To add to the problem, scores of hospital wards were closed due to norovirus, the winter vomiting bug, which put more than 1,200 beds out of use in one week as nurses attempted to isolate the disease.

The Government may claim that the cold spell was not predictable but the current outbreak of flu was anticipated following the swine flu pandemic of 2009.

World IPv6 Day

Potentially more important that where the next World Cup will be held is World IPv6 Day which is scheduled for the 8th of June but what is it all about?

You know that all those web addresses that you type into your computer are translated into a series of numbers – well that series of Internet Protocol addresses is set up according to the v4 formula.

The current system of providing internet protocol addresses on the internet(v4) has a capacity for 4 billion entries which in the 70s was thought to be more than adequate. However, current estimates now show the numbers will run out early November of this year. So, in preparation for that event, we have v6 which is said to have unlimited capacity.

Before v6 is unleashed on the general public though it will be trialled on the 8th June. On that date, the companies that have signed up will make their web pages available for 24 hours using the new system to enable them to identify any flaws or issues with the new naming system.

The good news for us is that we don’t need to do anything about this. Our ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are not likely to be offering v6 to residential customers just yet. When they do, those of you running Windows Vista or 7 and those with Mac OS X10.5 or higher will be fine. Anyone running a recent version of Linux will also be fine. However, anyone running Windows XP or earlier versions of Mac OS are advised to upgrade if they want to reach the new IPIv6 addresses because IP6 is not supported on these earlier systems. Also, if you are planning on buying a new router, then it is as well to check that it is IPv6 compatible.

Don’t worry though, it is not like come November you will suddenly be cut off from the Internet . There will still be plenty of material using IPv4 it is just that all the new stuff will move over to IPv6.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Inventive criminals

When you are in the drug trafficking business, you have to be imaginative and try every which way to try and conceal your drugs in order to avoid detection.

In the latest case, Spanish police found 162 kilograms of cocaine which was hidden in plastic bananas. The imitation bananas were concealed in a 20 tonne shipment of real fruit coming in from Guayaquil in Ecuador to the Spanish port of Algeciras.

In another case, a gang of Brits were arrested when police found 20 bricks of cannabis with an estimated street value of 2.5 million pounds sterling hidden inside air conditioning units destined for Britain. The drugs had been stored in an industrial unit near Alicante ready for shipment by lorry across country.

The proximity to Morrocco (a prime source of hashish) and its close ties with its former colonies in South America have made Spain a major gateway for drug trafficking into Europe. It is a real headache for the Spanish police who thankfully do make a lot of progress in trying to halt the process but of course, it is always a game of catch up for them.

Ryanair in hot water

Like all other budget airlines, Ryanair operates a so called ticketless system. The idea is that, once you have booked online, you print out your boarding pass and take it to the airport. At the check in desk at the airport you then present your boarding pass and check in any hold luggage.

If, for whatever reason, you fail to print out your boarding pass, Ryanair will charge you 40 Euros to do so at check in. They are the only budget airline to charge in this way.

That has now been challenged by the Commercial Court No 1 in Barcelona where Judge Barbara Maria Cordoba ruled that the company operates under general international law that requires companies to issue tickets to passengers. This proviso is covered by Article 3 of the Montreal Convention of 1999, Regulation 261/2004 of the European Parliament and the Council of 11 February 2004 which lay down common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding, and the Spanish Air Navigation Act 1960.

The decision in Barcelona is not final and does not force Ryanair from applying the clause that allows them to charge anyone who arrives at the airport without a boarding pass. The company has already said that they will appeal against the decision to the High Court of Justice of the European Union (TSJUE) or the European Court of Human Rights. Ryanair go on to say that, if they are prohibited from charging, then they will stop issuing tickets at check in and thus force passengers to print out their own ticket at home. They claim that this is one of the measures they have to take to keep costs low.

That is debatable. In my experience, Ryanair are no cheaper than any other budget carrier, they have a lower limit for hold luggage and do not offer an allocated seat. Pam and I prefer to use either Monarch or where you do get an allocated seat and your hold luggage allowance is either 20 or 22kg as opposed to Ryanair’s stingy 15kgs.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A great result

Continuing with the saga of our boiler, I contacted a company called CaminSTAT to see what they could do. The technician arrived today at 5pm just as we were back from shopping. We signed all the necessary paperwork and the man set to on the service.

The boiler is probably in the most awkward position possible, inside a cupboard in the corner of the kitchen. Just getting to the side covers was bad enough, removing the top cover proved to be a real challenge but the technician was up to it and completed the work in just over an hour and ten minutes.

The total charge, which includes any work that needs to be done before the next service (but not including any parts) was 85 Euros – a damn sight less that the 398 you recall that Saunier Duval wanted to charge me.

Needless to say I am now a happy bunny – my boiler is now legally certified as working correctly (in truth, as far as I was aware, it was working perfectly well before it was serviced).

I never make recommendations lightly but in this case I would highly recommend anyone in this area who has a gas boiler that has not been serviced for the past year to contact them ASAP. Google the name and you will find them on the web. Tell them I recommended you, I won’t get any discount but at least the technician will know how much I appreciated his efforts.

Percuseve go international

The theatre group Percuseve from the Severo Ochoa IES in Murcia, directed by the bigastrense Miguel Sáez, have enjoyed great success with their production, “Ritmos de Papel” based on the poems of Miguel Hernandez. I was privileged to be asked to take photographs when they performed here in Bigastro.

Having conquered Spain, the group have now been selected to take part in the eighth international festival, 'Ostrovské Soukani' in Ostrov in the Karloby Vary region of the Czech Republic. The festival, which will take place from the 27th April to the 1st May, includes schools from Lithuania, Belgium, Slovakia, Israel and Poland.

We wish them all the best of luck although, having seen their brilliant performance, they will not need it.

PS The photo in Laverdad may be attributed to someone else but it is in fact mine. You can find it along with the other photos on the Bigastro web site.

He came and went

The  engineer who was supposed to service our boiler eventually arrived yesterday morning.

When I showed him the boiler, his first words were “muy bien” which was encouraging but then quickly changed to “no es possible” and  “mal” as he saw exactly where the boiler was situated.

After a brief test to see that the boiler did in fact heat the water up (he ran the tap in the nearby sink), he told me that he could not perform the service and that the lady who had called me from their office would call again to arrange a further appointment.

About an hour later, I got the call. It was just as well I was sitting down because the work, which she had previously told me would cost 78 Euros was now going to  cost me 398 (you read that correctly -THREE HUNDRED AND NINETY EIGHT EUROS). I asked the lady twice just to make sure I had heard correctly.

She explained that the price would include all parts and labour. What parts I wondered, the man hadn’t done any more than look at the boiler casing. As far as he and I knew, there may not have been any parts required. Of course he muttered a lot whilst he was here and sucked air in through his teeth a bit so there may have been something he said in his rapid Spanish that I missed. 

So it is back to the drawing board as far as a service is concerned. There are quite a few houses on this estate that have boilers in a similar location to ours, I just wonder how they have faired getting an annual service done. I would be interested to know of others experiences.

The nasty cousin

First we had the red beetles that have devastated the palm trees in the area. Now we have the black cousin which is devastating agaves. We had two of these plants growing in pots both of which were attacked by the beetle. The agave is the plant from which the Mexicans make tequila (ours you understand were merely ornamental).

The first signs on our plants were the leaves turning yellow. Then they collapsed, you could literally pull them off the plant. As you did, the crown of the plant gave off a sweet sickly smell and when you dug down into the compost, there were large white grubs (the kind Bear Grylls would make a meal off). Further down in the compost, I found the beetles which looked like picudo roja but were black.

It seems that these beetles are now attacking parks and gardens throughout the Vega Baja where the agave plants are grown adding to the misery of their red cousins. Speaking of which, it is now feared that the red beetle, which was first thought to only attack canary palms, will move on to other species of palm trees once all the canary palms have gone. The date palms and the Washingtonians may well be next.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I hate waiting in

Even if I have nothing particular to do that day, I hate having to wait for something or someone to arrive.

Increasingly online retailers use couriers rather than the postal system to send goods. That is both good and bad. The good part is the tracking system that most couriers use which means you know which day your parcel will arrive. The bad side is that you don’t know exactly what time it will arrive. We have had couriers at our door as early as 10am and one who claimed to try and deliver a parcel at 9pm. As it happened, we had given up hope on him and gone out. I couldn't tell you which companies are better or worse we’ve had most of them deliver to us here in Bigastro: Suer, DHL, UPS, Global Express and MRW and they all seem to vary.

Today, I am not waiting for a package but rather for a technician. By law*, central heating boilers in Spain must be serviced every year. Our Saunier Duval Supermicra 23 E GB wasn’t serviced for the first four years but then two years ago we had Rocca around to service it. He cleaned out all the radiators and re-filled the system but I don’t recall seeing him touch the boiler. So, I decided to contact Saunier Duval direct and try them.

When we first moved in, we were given a letter from a company called Sauniersat Alacant, about their service and an application form for a contract. However it was all in Spanish and at that time we only knew how to order a coffee and a beer so we put it to one side. This year I dug it out and with a little more Spanish under my belt, read it through. It seems that if we had taken out a contract then it would have cost 63.80 Euros for an annual service. We also had information about a company called CaminSAT Alicante who service Saunier Duval boilers.

When the lady from Saunier Duval phoned yesterday she explained that, since our boiler is now six years old, we can only opt for an annual service at a cost of 78 Euros. That is better than nothing and at least we will be legal.

UPDATE: I have just had a phone call to say that the technician can't find our house. It seems he has arrived at the estate but gone to the wrong road (one with a similar sounding name). Hopefully he will arrive here sometime soon!

UPDATE 2: Finally the man arrived and told me that he could not get to the boiler without removing the top of the cabinet which he wasn't prepared to do at that time. Obviously, getting lost had put his time schedule out. So, we will need a further visit which the lady will phone me to arrange. What a bummer!!

* Real Decreto 1751/1999, del Julio, publicado en el B.O.E. con fecha 5 de Agosto de 1998.

A new crack down

The new year didn’t just bring in a toughening of the anti-smoking law, Spain's new Penal Code came into force as well, meaning tougher penalties and many more recognised crimes.

Motorists should beware as from now as your car could be impounded on a permanent basis if you are caught on a motorway speeding over 200 kilometres an hour and if caught driving at more than 120 kilometres an hour in an urban area. Your vehicle will also be taken away forever should you be found with more than 1.2 grams of alcohol per litre of blood, or if you refuse to participate in alcohol or drug tests. The new legislation states that breaking the town centre speed limit of 60 kilometres an hour, or the out of town limit of 80 kilometres an hour, could mean a prison sentence.

So there is not much point in me buying an Aston Martin DB9 then!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It could be you

So you didn’t touch lucky on EL Gordo nor on El Nino but you could still be a winner.

The Merchants Association in Bigastro ACOBI, held a lottery on January 5th with three great prizes at stake. All you had to do to enter was to show your loyalty to one of the participating businesses during the run up to the Three Kings.

And the winning numbers were:
- First: 9,860
- Second: 6,878
- Third: 8,684

Those lucky enough to have a wining ticket should take it to the Boutique de la Mascota (Pet Boutique) on Calle Goya before the 31st January.

21st century living

Three thousand homes in the San Miguel area still have no safe drinking water years after they were built. The residents in areas such as Blue Lagoon, El Galan, Eagle Nest and Blue Hill rely on bottled water for everything from brushing their teeth to cooking. They have to use the water from the tap to shower and to wash clothes but it leaves a white deposit. In repeated tests the tap water was shown to contain salts and nitrates (leached into the wells from farm land) above the levels considered safe for consumption.

Now we are in an election year, the local council have decided that they can make a provisional connection to the supply from Orihuela. Naturally the residents are asking, if the solution is so simple, why has it not been done before.

If this was in the middle of Africa, it would be understandable but Spain is not supposed to be a third world country. We know that town halls are suffering form a dire lack of funding at the moment but these problems date back to the “boom” years when councils were awash with money; busy making grand plans for all manner of new facilities.

In my opinion, the problem stems from greed. Town halls and builders in the boom years were eager to complete as many houses as they could without considering the impact of their work or the necessity for a proper infrastructure for their developments.

We count ourselves lucky that, here in Bigastro, at least we do have all the correct facilities. Even here though, at Villas Andrea, there are problems for some residents whose houses were built on unsuitable land – a problem that seems to be unresolvable.

I think that when the Spanish economy returns to some sort of normality and before foreigners return to buying houses here, there are a lot of loose ends that will need tidying up. Spain is and will continue to pay the price for allowing builders to construct illegal houses and develop urbanisations without the proper facilities in place before they were planned.

And the bottom line - would I advise any of my friends to buy here in Spain at the moment? Yes I would but with extreme caution. There are some incredible bargains to be had in the housing market at present and Spain is such a wonderful place to live for many reasons (not just the weather).

What you need though is to remove the rose tinted glasses and employ a good independent solicitor who will look after your interests and investigate thoroughly every aspect of your purchase.

Words of wisdom

I received this message in an email this morning. I don’t know whether it it is true that Bill Gates gave this speech but no matter, the content is spot on. This is one of the few emails that I am prepared to pass on.

Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about eleven (11) things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings has created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world. Of course Gates was talking about American children but the same applies to those from the UK and possibly from here in Spain as well.

Rule 1 : Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2: The world doesn't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3 : You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4
: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss

Rule 5
: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping:They called it opportunity.

Rule 6
: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7
: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8
: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9 : Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that in your own time.

Rule 10
: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11
: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

If I had a Euro for every child who claimed it was my fault that they had not succeeded in their exams, I would be a richer man. The fact that they hadn't attended lessons or not paid attention when they were there had absolutely nothing to do with their failure. A few out of the majority that did succeed claimed they did so in spite of me - it was a no win situation.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Add the winners were

The competition for theatre groups held at the Auditorium Francisco Grau has now finished and the winners were:

  • First prize of 900 Euros to the Grupo de Teatro Expresión from Orihuela for their play El labrador de más aire" - a tribute to the poet Miguel Hernández.
  • Second prize of 600 Euros to the Theatre Group of Dolores Belluga for "Puebla de las Mujeres".
  • Third prize of 300 Euros to the Cultural Risana de Jacarilla for their production, " Qué locura de consulta".

In all, six groups took part in the competition which has been hailed a great success. The councillor for culture, José Espinosa says that Bigastro will continue with subsequent editions of the competition which he claims has promoted culture in the form of theatre in the Vega Baja region.

The young lady from the Ayuntamiento has yet again provided us with some great photos of the event spoilt only by the fact that she either needs a more powerful flashgun or a camera which will take pictures at high ISO speeds.

My pipe is fuming at the new law

IMG_8089The Spanish media has been obsessed with the new anti-smoking laws in Spain which in theory came into effect one second after midnight on New Years Eve. Radio, newspapers and television gave the new laws massive coverage during the last week of December and during the first few days of January, interviewing people with all sorts of opinions, smokers and non-smokers alike.

According to the new law, smoking is now forbidden in all places of work, both public and private and all public buildings. Employees who want to smoke must do so outside, and must make up the time lost at work too.

The law also prohibits lighting up in enclosed public places, although hotels are allowed to reserve 30 percent of their rooms for smokers. In a particularly tough measure, outside smoking is banned in open-air children's playgrounds — even those inside parks — and at access points to schools and hospitals.

The law does allow for private smoking clubs that bar children and require registration — but they can't let people eat, drink or buy cigarettes on the premises.

Shops, supermarkets, newsagents (kioscos) etc. are no longer authorised to sell cigarettes, cigars or tobacco. The only establishments allowed to sell tobacco are licensed estancos, the traditional stamp and cigarette shops in Spain.

Television programmes are not allowed to show smokers unless it is necessary to the content of the performance.

For a full explanation click here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

No more bullfighting on national television

Radiotelevision Espanola (RTVE) has pledged not to show bullfighting on its channels given that the evening corridas usually occur during peak viewing times for children.

Live broadcasts of the top bullfights were dropped from the schedule by RTVE in 2007 – 51 years after it launched with a bullfight – when the organisation claimed it could not always afford to buy broadcasting rights. At the time, executives said they had "nothing against bullfighting" but had simply made a commercial decision.

The admission now that the spectacle is too cruel or violent for viewing by children has given hope to campaigners that a countrywide ban is within reach. Bullfighting is already banned in Catalonia.

Supporters of bullfighting slammed RTVE's decision, labelling it a "hypocrisy" driven by political motives.

"There are those in education who deny that bullfighting on television even causes any distress to children," argued Inigo Fraile, head of the Union of Toreros. "It seems hypocritical because the same criterion is not applied to other content. There are many more violent scenes, not just to animals but to people, shown in movies and television series broadcast on public channels."

A good week in store

image Looks like we are in for a lovely week weather-wise.

Plenty of sunshine, no chance of rain and nice mild temperatures.

Perfect for getting those outside jobs done that have been put off.
image Taking advantage of the good weather at the weekend, I’ve cut back the shrubs that were overgrowing the top end of the garden. There is still some tidying up to be done, then I can set to cleaning the pool and the paving round the house.

The bonus is that I should have a nice bit of colour to my face by the end of the week.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Bad news for the pescadores

In 2009, the fishing boats of Torrevieja brought in just under 3,000,000 kilograms of fish which sold for 3.15 million Euros. Last year, their catch was down to 2,405,763 kilos which sold for 2,162,850 Euros – less than a Euro per kilo.

The Cofradía de Pescadores de Torrevieja,  which fishes all the way from the north of Alicante to Alemeria, says that they hope this year will see an improvement otherwise there are likely to be more unemployed fishermen in the town. 

Very curious


Remember my spoof about the local farmer who had successfully crossed two fruit trees to get a gin and tonic flavoured fruit.Well this time the story is for real – it appears in the newspaper Laverdad (the truth).

A farmer in Elche has come across one of his trees that has produced a unique form of fruit – the lemon/orange.

This is not an experiment from the laboratory, it is the result of a natural crossing of the two fruit. Normally nature does not permit the cross pollination of different species but in this case it has broken its own rules.

So far, the farmer has not tried to eat the fruit to see if the flavours are mixed but is intrigued to see that the skin is a mixture of the two as you can see in the photo.

Apparently the other fruit on the tree are 100% oranges and there are no other similar trees on the famers plot nor have any other farmers in the region reported similar crosses. This appears to be a one off.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Do you remember?

Many of the Brits in Bigastro will remember John Reid who cleaned pools here before he moved to France. He also ran a business selling solar lights and novelty candles.

Well now he runs another business selling jewellery etc made with Swarovski crystal. I have just had an email from him wishing me a Happy New Year in which he took the opportunity to point out that Sparkling Crystals now delivers free to Europe and that they are having a New Year sale with 15% off all items during January & February.
You just need to enter Code: salesprom2011 at checkout to qualify !

Well worth checking out.

They must be mad

A_Quick_Dip_in_the_Briny_on_New_Years_Day-5_450Is it any wonder that the locals think that we Brits are mad.

Christmas Day Brits flock down to the beach at La Zenia to start the day off with barbecues and in some cases a dip in the sea.

On New Year’s Day Brits take to the sea again at Playa Flamenca. The event is organised by the New Odd Couple bar in aid of the AECC Contra Cancer charity.

This year ten brave souls took to the water. Most only stayed in the sea for a brief time before returning to the bar for coffee and brandy. A few though seemed reluctant to come out of the water and even said that it was quite pleasant once you got used to the temperature.

The lady in the aqua blue wig gets my vote.

Organic food comes to Rebate

We like the restaurant in Rebate for two reasons, the setting and the menu of the day which we feel represents good value. Now I read that the restaurant is building on its success by opening an Organic Farm Show.

Andres, Eric and Nicole who own and run the Restaurante Rebate will be selling, in their new farm shop, organic cheeses, milk, yoghurts, olive oil, rice, bread, eggs, chocolate, jam, marmalades, pickles, fresh fruit and vegetables, toiletries and much more.

The menu in the restaurant throughout 2011 will change to incorporate this delicious seasonal organic produce from the show.

The opening of farm shop and the Second Arts and Crafts Fayre to be held at the restaurant is set to take place on January 28th and 29th 2011. Menu of the day will be available but not outside on the terrace; because it is winter, lunch will be served inside.

Meals will be served from 1pm to 4pm. There will also be entertainment throughout the day and a free cava and canapé reception. The Arts and Crafts Fayre will showcase local artisans and crafts persons. Anyone wishing to book a stand should call Dawne on 676 831 836. Stands cost €75 for the two days.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

How good was that?

Last night on Canal 9 we watched the parade of the Three Kings in Alcoi.

While more and more homes in Spain receive visits from Papa Noel at Christmas, the 6th of January is traditionally the time when children receive their gifts, brought to them on the Día de los Reyes, the Day of the Kings, by the Three Kings, the Reyes Magos. Traditionally there is a parade through the streets, the so called “Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos” which takes place as dusk falls on 5th January. In towns throughout the country, crowds of children eagerly follow the processions keen to collect the rain of sweets and gifts thrown down by Sus Majestades.

melchorkissesachild2001What was special last night though was watching the cabalgata in Alcoi, the oldest in Spain, and possibly, the Town Hall says, even the world. It’s been celebrated without interruption since 1885. In fact the Three Wise Men’s first entrance into the town is documented as having taken place almost two decades previously, in 1866. Those guys must be getting old by now!

Declared a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest in 2001, the procession today involves more than one thousand locals, playing the part of pages, torch bearers, servants and soldiers from their majesties’ personal guard, the local music and dance groups …. and, of course, the most important roles of Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar, riding slowly through the town on their camels. As they parade, babies and children are hoisted up by their parents to kiss the Kings.

The fun all started the day before when the arrival of the Kings was officially announced by the Royal Envoy reading out a proclamation throughout the town. When the children heard the proclamation, they would have rushed out to post their letters to the Reyes Magos in the letterboxes carried on the backs of the donkeys that accompanied the Envoy along the route.The letters would then have been diligently read by Sus Majestades.

Last night it was the black faced royal pages, known as ‘els negres’ who had the job of fulfilling the requests by handing out the presents to the children. The hundreds of packages to be delivered were carried along in the lorries which followed the procession. The pages ran through the streets delivering the gifts in many cases by scaling long wooden ladders, climbing over the balconies of houses to the delight of the waiting children.

It was a totally unique occasion, well worth watching.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Culture vultures

image005.jpg At one of our Spanish lessons last term we visited the library for a poetry recital.

Hearing the poems of Miguel Hernandez delivered with such expression brought their meaning to life.
image007.jpg image002.jpg

A prosperous New Year!

NOT -  the government have approved a massive 9.8 per cent rise in electricity charges this week. As from January 1, 17 million users will be subjected to the rise, which say electricity suppliers is due to the high cost of crude oil. Hang on – our electricity is supposed to be 100 per cent green so how does the price of crude oil affect it?

The day rocked

Pam said we should stay over in England for my birthday and I did wonder why. I knew we were going shopping in Manchester because I needed a pair of trousers for winter. I thought that we would maybe stop in Marks & Spencer for lunch and then go back to Laura and Dave’s.

I did get to do do my shopping and found a pair of trousers. Then I was whisked of to a restaurant called Bem Brasil for a very special lunch. The deal is that you help yourself to rice, couscous etc from the buffet and then waiters bring round skewers of various meats which they carve for you at the table.

First out were delicious sausages; a foretaste of what was to come. Then there was chicken, succulent gammon, pork that melted in the mouth, the most tender rump steak, blood red venison, mouth watering lamb, more steak, more sausages and finally warm pineapple that had been coated with cinnamon.

Just when I thought it was over, the waiters brought me a chocolate cake complete with candles (thankfully not one for each year).

Amongst my cards was an envelope which had tickets for the hit show “We Will Rock You” at the Palace. So Pam and I had to hot foot it across town to catch the matinee. It turned out that Pam had booked online using the netbook I gave her – very cunning!

Many thanks to all those who made my birthday so special including those of you who sent me greetings. I am really looking forward now to my next birthday –apart from the possibility of more surprises, I will at last get my state pension.