Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Try again

20111109_observa Weather permitting, the stargazing session which was due to take place on the 3rd November has been re scheduled for Thursday 1st December.

Gale force winds and a very cloudy sky with a strong possibility of rain forced the postponement, hopefully the weather will be a lot kinder this Thursday.

Bill is right

My reader Bill says that he had already read, almost word for word, the item that I posted yesterday about fears for Brits abroad if the Eurozone collapses. Of course Bill, and others must realise that the newsy items on my blog come from somewhere else after all I am not a paid journalist. However, I do try and re write a lot of what I read but inevitably the odd sentence or paragraph will slip through in the mix. I also try and add in my own opinions, for what they are worth.

In this case, Bill says that he thought my source was the Daily Mail. Sorry to disappoint you Bill but it was actually the Telegraph.

I do glance at the Mail but rarely find anything in the online version that catches my eye. To my mind, there is very little true journalism in the Mail. Most of the so called stories are in reality articles about anything but news. And those that purport to be newsy tend to be depressing stories about the doom and gloom of modern Britain. It is a good paper to read if you want to know which B list starlet has recently bared her bosom for the press or what is going on in “the Jungle” (I’m a celebrity get me out of here). Other than that it is generally a waste of time!

The paper has several scapegoats, teachers being one of them. Any dirt that they can find about teachers who overstep the mark or who fail to provide adequate education for their pupils is a source for a major attack on the whole profession. As an ex-teacher that irritates me because I know from experience that most teachers are hard working professionals. I feel that it is unfair to cite the bad apples in the barrel as the norm.

Most newspapers have a bias towards one political party or another, the Express and the Telegraph for example are clearly pro Conservative. The Mail on the other hand seems to be prepared to slate whichever party is in power. The paper really had a down on the Labour party -Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in particular. Now the targets seem to be Liberal politicians who are hindering the Conservatives from achieving good government.

Bill,  it could be worse, I might start taking the Sun newspaper as my source of information! 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Planning for the worst case

As the Italian government struggle to borrow and Spain considers seeking an international bail-out, British ministers privately warn that the break-up of the euro, once almost unthinkable, is now increasingly plausible. Eurocrats say that they will do everything in their powers to prevent this happening but of course they may find the situation so untenable that there is no viable alternative.

Diplomats are therefore preparing to help Britons abroad through a banking collapse and even riots arising from the debt crisis.The Treasury confirmed earlier this month that contingency planning for a collapse is now under way.

Recent Foreign and Commonwealth Office instructions to embassies and consulates request contingency planning for extreme scenarios including rioting and social unrest. Greece has already seen several outbreaks of civil disorder as its government struggles with its huge debts. British officials think similar scenes cannot be ruled out in other nations if the euro collapses.

Diplomats have also been told to prepare to help tens of thousands of British citizens in eurozone countries with the consequences of a financial collapse that would leave them unable to access bank accounts or even withdraw cash. If eurozone governments defaulted on their debts, the European banks that hold many of their bonds would risk collapse.Some analysts say the shock waves of such an event would risk the collapse of the entire financial system, leaving banks unable to return money to retail depositors and destroying companies dependent on bank credit.

The EU treaties that created the euro and set its membership rules contain no provision for members to leave, meaning any break-up would be disorderly and potentially chaotic.

It is good to know that they care about us, it would be even better if they told us something of their plans to help us out.

It is your choice

Pamela and I have decided not to continue with our Spanish lessons.Since our class resumed early this month, the lessons have been, to say the least, chaotic. We therefore feel  that our best interests would be best served by continuing with the work in our books and by having conversations with our Spanish friends and neighbours instead. 

However one of our classmates, who is keen to continue with her studies, has arranged a meeting this afternoon at 4pm in the Auditorium with Eduardo, who taught us for one year whilst Ana took time off to have a baby. She is therefore inviting all interested parties to attend the meeting where they will presumably agree the times, dates and the cost per person for the lessons.

As per request, I am passing this information on to our former classmates so they can decide or themselves what they want to do.

Get your pens out

20111128_cuentos Do you have a Christmas story to tell that you are prepared to share with others? Bigastro has organised the 23rd editions of their competition for Christmas stories. This is open to all ages in the following categories:

  • Children 6 –14
  • Juniors 15-18
  • Adults 19-54 (prize of 75 Euros in cash for the winner)
  • and Seniors (that’s us) 55 and older (prize of 75 Euros in cash for the winner)

The story should be no more than five pages long: handwritten or word processed. The completed work should have a cover with a drawing related to Christmas. Completed entries to be taken to the library in the Auditorium by the 15th December. Please include your name, age and address along with your email address, if you have one. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Putting figures to the problem

At the height of the boom in September 2007, there were 74,500 people employed on construction sites in the Alicante province and now there are only 24,930. If that seems bad then the future looks even worse for this sector of industry because recent figures show that GDP in Spain will shrink next year by 0.5%. Nobody realistically expects an upturn in the economy until at least  2014 or even 2015 by which time goodness knows how few people will be employed in construction.

There is no new building work going in the region as banks struggle to sell the houses that are on their books. The only alternative for the industry at the moment is refurbishment of existing buildings. When you look around, it is fair to say that there is a lot of scope in that field. Even buildings constructed as recently  as the 60s and 70s are in need of some modernisation.

It might be hard for young people to believe but things were not always this bad. When I was in my 20s, buying your own house was considered the most sensible thing to do. After all, it was the safest investment you could make at that time. During the 70s and 80s through to the 90s, house prices in England grew steadily and so those of us who had invested in property saw a good return for our money. Here in Spain, there was a slump in the market during the 80s but then things picked up again and buying a house here became an equally safe bet.

Not so now because house prices have fallen dramatically in the last few years and so those who invested in land and property in Spain and other countries are facing a loss. To make matters worse, if your property is covered by a mortgage, then you could well owe more that your house is worth at current prices.

In England, the market for first time buyers is starting to pick up as those who are able to secure a mortgage snap up bargains. Neither is there a problem at the top end of the market which has never really faced a slump in sales. It is those in the middle who are looking to move up the ladder that face difficulties. In better times the equity from an existing property would provide a good size deposit for the next purchase. With a slump in prices that is no longer the case. 

Here in Spain, with record levels of young people unemployed and banks strapped for cash, the dream of owning your first home remains just that. And without first time buyers, the market for re-sales has slumped to rock bottom levels. Those with property therefore have to cling on as best they can and like the first time buyers, dream of owning something grander.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A morning of diversions

Yesterday, Pam and I went to the house of our ex Spanish teacher to take photos of her son and her niece in preparation for a calendar.

Since you need a picture for each month and one for the cover, Ana and her sister Marisu had planned different outfits for them to wear and activities  at the different locations around the house.  As we went along we made up a few more locations to add into the mix. WIth such a wonderful house, this was not a problem for us.

Here are a few for you to peruse:

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Sharing lollipops Squeezing oranges
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Playing with toys Dreaming of Christmas
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Chilling on the parent’s bed Reading books (Angel has eyes in the back of his head!)
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Placing an order on the computer Playing table football

It was a great photo session that lasted three hours during which the children never showed any signs of boredom. If I ever get called upon again to take photos of children< i would definitely ask these two mums to come along as assistants!


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rumours abound

Eurozone leaders were last night looking again to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help countries in distress as bond yields in Italy and Spain hit new highs and the credit-ratings agency Standard & Poor's (S&P) downgraded Belgium.

Meeting in Berlin, the finance ministers of Germany, Finland and the Netherlands even hinted at the prospect of an enhanced role for the European Central Bank (ECB) if all other steps to save the euro collapsed. But they again ruled it out as an immediate solution.

Their talks, ahead of Tuesday's meeting of the 17-member Eurogroup in Brussels, came amid reports that Spain's new centre-right government might soon apply for aid from both the IMF and the European Union's main bailout fund, the European financial stability facility (EFSF). Spanish state borrowing costs earlier leaped to the dangerously high level of 6.7%.

However, senior Partido Popular sources said reports that the Rajoy administration – not yet officially installed – would seek external aid were false. "The party absolutely denies this," a spokeswoman said.

Pool closure

In spite of the campaign to try and keep the heated pool in Bigastro open, the decision has been taken to close it at the end of this month.

The pool was built (excuse the pun) when the town was swimming in money; that is no longer the case. In fact, there were a number of ambitious projects undertaken during the “good years” that the town can no longer afford.

Two main reasons:

  1. The pool has an annual deficit of 30,000 Euros and costs, on average, 6,000 Euros per month to maintain.
  2. There were only 79 swimmers using the pool this month and 106 in October.  To make matters worse, half of the users were from towns other than Bigastro.

Management of the pool will now be put out to tender for a private company to take it over. It is hard to imagine though how a private company could make it pay given the figures. We shall see.

Friday, November 25, 2011


My reader Bill says
I don't have a VoIP 'phone, but I did think about getting one some years back, but it seemed to me like a clumsy system and likely to be superseded by better technology relatively soon.
What I did start using around that time, and still do, is Skype. As well as the free PC-to-PC calls I use it for, I also buy credit to use it for calls to ordinary 'phones (landlines or mobile). You buy credit in blocks of £10- or equivalent and as calls to landlines in most countries I am ever likely to wish to call (basically most of Europe, North America incl. Hawaii, Australasia, Japan) are only about 2p a minute, the £10- credit lasts a long time. Of course one needs to have the PC on-line to make a call, but theoretically if you have wi-fi access in say an airport or coffee-shop then one can also use Skype and my laptops last for about 7 hours on battery power; I always buy wi-fi access in my room when staying in hotels, for example, and Skype always works fine. When I first started using Skype I had a USB 'phone to plug into my laptop, but my current machines have much better microphones and speakers so it's no longer necessary. Calls are usually reasonably-reliable I find, but like all internet calls incl. VoIP are prone to fading, however hanging-up and calling again normally solves the problem.
I'm sure you already know about Skype (?)

Of course Skype uses Voip technology so basically is the same thing. There are differences though:
First there is the set up. To use Skype you only need a computer with a microphone and web camera (most laptops, netbooks and some desktops fill this requirement). The software is free and easy to install.
For Voip you need either a Voip phone or a Voip adapter to plug into your router. Then you need to contact a Voip provider to set up an account. From there you need to configure the phone to work with your provider. None of this is too difficult but may put the average computer user off.

So why would you go to all this trouble when you can set up Skype so easily. The answer is three fold.
  1. There are many more features that you can use with Voip that are not included with Skype.
  2. A Voip phone connects to your router and so works independently of your computer. Even with a Skype USB phone you need your computer on to make and receive calls.
  3. With a Voip phone you can have a landline number that people can call. We have a local Manchester number but could have a number from anywhere in the UK or Spain for that matter. 
The cost of calls with Voiptalk, who we use, are 1p per minute to UK landlines. In fact they are 1p per minute to lots of other countries as well including the US. We buy a package which includes 1,000 minutes of calls per month. Calls to other Voip users are free as long as you know their Voip number as opposed to the landline number.

It is really down to personal choice. If you want something that is easy to set up, cheap (free to other Skype users) and convenient then choose Skype. If you want a phone that is permanently connected (as long as you have an internet connection) then choose Voip. Either way you will save a lot of money compared to the cost of landline packages.

PS We use Skype to make video calls to Sale so that we can see the antics of our granddaughter, Molly.

Bigger is better - right

Those of you who were interested enough to read my post about the Panasonic bridge camera may be wondering why, if this camera is so damn good do people like me buy expensive DSLRs.

In the days of film you could buy cameras that took miniature film that were very good but for real quality, most of us had larger format cameras (35mm and above). Generally speaking, the larger the film size, the better the results you obtained.

It is exactly the same with digital, the larger the sensor, the better the quality of the pictures. Compact cameras have tiny little sensors to fit inside their slim cases. Most DSLRs have what are called crop sensors but mine has a full sized 35mm sensor. That is what makes the camera both bulky and expensive. For me, the results I get far outweigh those issues.

So whilst the Panasonic bridge camera might be very good, excellent in fact, it cannot compete for quality with my DSLR. And if I was a studio photographer taking portraits and still life for a living, I would have an even bigger medium format digital. 

Do you still have one?

When people on our estate had an internet connection via Wi Surf, many had a Grandstream Handy Tone which allowed them to use an ordinary phone to make calls using Voip (voice over internet protocol). In our case we had a bulky Grandstream Voip phone instead.

The satellite connection was so poor that you could rarely make a decent call with it so many gave up on the idea and discarded the little boxes. However, Pam and I kept our phone which we used when we got a Telefónica landline connection with ADSL. We later replaced the phone with a cordless Voip phone and gave the Grandstream to a friend of mine in England who still uses it for international calls.
The advantage of Voip is that the calls you make are very cheap. However, the system won’t work if your electricity is cut off or your internet connection goes down so it is best to have a fixed line or a mobile as backup for emergencies.

Now, we come to the point of this post. A friend of ours, who lives on the estate, called me yesterday to ask if I still had one of those little boxes, the Grandstream Handy Tone,  but as I have already said, we didn’t have one in the first place. I wondered though if anyone else had kept theirs – just in case- and could help him out.
PS Sorry Mel that I haven’t returned your call – for some reason, our Domo 2 seems only to record outgoing numbers!

Guard your gates!

Scrap metal has jumped in value over the last year making the theft of any item made from copper, steel, iron etc worthwhile for thieves. Here in Spain they mostly steal copper cable from building sites and from railway lines. However, I do know of an estate where the covers off the electricity boxes were stolen for their scrap value.

It is not just in Spain where the problem exists.  Back in England the thieves are getting quite brazen e.g in Chippenham, Wiltshire, thieves climbed on the town hall roof in broad daylight to steal the lead from the roof.

In rural areas of Britain, thefts are so common that farmers don’t even bother to report them unless the items are high value. Gates, fences and even bronze garden sculptures are the items that the thieves mainly go for.

Quiet neighbourhoods are prime targets and so, In the village of Thatcham in Berkshire, thirty houses had their wrought iron gates removed in just one night. The homes are mostly owned by pensioners who would not have tackled the thieves even if they heard them. Many of the gates were custom made pieces which will be difficult not to mention expensive to replace.

It isn’t just metal that is going though, slate from roofs and stone paving are also prime targets for thieves.

Of course, none of this would occur if the scrap dealers were honest traders but clearly they are not. If some dodgy blokes arrived with thirty sets of garden gates or large reels of copper cable at your premises, wouldn’t you ask some searching questions about where they had come from? Obviously not, you’d get them melted down as quickly as possible before someone came to recognise them. As I have said before, thieves are only successful because the rest of us are dishonest enough to buy from them.

PS As for those of you with wrought iron gates, the best advice is to have one of the hinges turned upside down and get them capped. You won’t be able to remove the gates to maintain them but neither will the thieves unless they arrive with cutting torches!

Ready for the snow

Since living here, we have only seen one tiny flurry of snow that lasted less than an hour on the ground. It therefore comes as a surprise to find that Alicante province has 17 snow ploughs along with 243,000 litres of brine and 1,650 tons of salt in readiness for this winter. They also have seven fixed weather stations, two mobile stations, eight bulldozers, four graders and a sweeper. That is quite an arsenal of equipment to guard against bad weather.
Whilst snow might be a very rare occurrence along the southern coastal strip of Spain, a little further inland, on higher ground, it is a regular feature during winters and so they have to be prepared for it.  Unlike in Britain where it may snow a lot one year but not the next, you can guarantee that there will be snow at the ski resorts of Spain every year.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Want to improve your photography?

Digital cameras are getting better and better each year as manufacturers solve the issues that bedevilled their earlier products.

The market roughly splits into three: compact cameras that sip into the pocket, large SLR cameras that come with interchangeable lenses and offer a myriad of features and the so called bridge cameras that fall between the two. Some of these bridge cameras overlap the prices of low end SLRs but this one is different. Search on the Internet and you will find the Panasonic FZ150 for as little as £310. That might seem a lot in comparison with the cheap compacts that you find in stores but this camera does offer an awful lot more as your will find from this review in PC Pro.

For anyone whose photographic aspirations lie beyond a compact camera, there are several different ways to go. For the ultimate in quality and control, you can choose an SLR, but many prefer a bridge (or superzoom) camera such as the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150.

The advantages of bridge cameras are many. They handle like an SLR, yet give you a huge zoom range without the bulk and cost. And compared to most compacts there’s a greater range of control.

So it is with the Panasonic FZ150. The zoom is longer, at 24x, than most compacts can offer, giving a huge range of 25mm to 600mm (35mm equivalent).

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 - front view

Aperture and shutter priority, full manual and program modes give you plenty of control, and it’s packed with SLR-style dials, knobs and buttons. A mode dial on top helps you flick between settings quickly, there’s a thumb wheel for adjusting settings such as aperture, and a dedicated movie button.

It captures RAW and JPEG images at 12.1 megapixels, and video at 1080p and 50fps in either AVCHD or MP4 format, and it sports a 202kpixel electronic viewfinder as well as a 3in fully articulated screen. Impressively, there’s also a hotshoe for mounting a flash, and a 2.5mm jack for connecting an external microphone.

The half-inch sensor can’t match an SLR’s for size and light-capturing capabilities, but responsiveness and performance is very good. We measured a shutter lag of 0.4 seconds and shot-to-shot performance at 0.8 seconds – as good as any compact we’ve seen before. Even with the flash on, that only drops to one second between shots, and in burst mode you can shoot 12 shots at full resolution in a second.

And quality, despite the small sensor, is stunningly good. At full zoom and full wide, shots look sharp across the board, with no fringing or distortion. Automatic exposures were consistently expertly judged and colours perfectly balanced. In low light, even at ISO 3200 noise is remarkably well controlled, although some detail is inevitably lost as the camera’s noise reduction routines battle to produce clean images.

In video mode, it’s even better. The Active Power OIS image stabilisation system works brilliantly to smooth out hand shake, to the extent that it’s even possible to walk while shooting without producing jittery footage. Autofocus is fast and the zoom motor, while just about audible in a quiet room, is silent in most everyday situations.

The quality of footage is surprisingly clean in low light, near-flawless in good light, and audio from the built in stereo microphones is excellent. An option on the mode dial, meanwhile, allows you to use the camera in aperture and shutter priority, program and full manual, and adjust the ISO sensitivity. You can’t make changes while shooting, though.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150

All in all, the new top-end bridge camera from Panasonic is a triumph. It’s the fastest camera of its type we’ve ever tested, and faster than any compact we’ve ever looked at. It’s stuffed with controls and features, and it produces excellent quality stills. The price might seem a little high at the outset, but when you consider you’re getting video quality to rival the best single-sensor camcorders, as well as a 600mm zoom lens, it suddenly looks an absolute steal.

For a more detailed review go to

Other models to consider are the Nikon Coolpix P500 which has an even longer zoom range, the newly released Fujifilm X-S1which has a larger sensor and so should produce cleaner images or the Canon SX20 IS.

PS Bear in mind that a Canon 600mm f4 image stabilised lens for my SLR would cost just shy of £11,000.

Games that they play

20111123_mesaOn the 27th and 28th of December, the town will be hosting the the 3rd Tournament of indoor games.

To register you need to send an email with your name, birth date, phone number and the game you wish to play to:

To validate the registration, you will have pay 1 € to  the Agency of Local Development.

Sorry neighbours, as many of you who may be very good at darts, ping pong, chess, cards, pool or table football – this is only open to young people!

Jobs for grabs

20111123_disneyWhen there are no jobs locally, you have to look further afield to find work. Susi, the sister of Evaristo,  told us she had taken an intense course in English to improve her command of the language. She is now in London, looking for a job there. As she told us, there is little to be found in this area, so the only thing left is to try elsewhere.

Pam and I both hope that she has found something worthwhile and is enjoying the British weather.

On the Bigastro web site this morning I spotted this poster advertising jobs at Disneyland, Paris. The main qualification, apart form a willingness to work, is that you speak French. Damn it, they are even putting on a bus to take you to the interview.

I hope that this helps some of the young people from the town who I know are desperate to find employment. It is certainly worth a try!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The turn of the Junior Band

Pam and I were down at the Auditorium last night to take pictures of the Junior Band parading to the church and also to get some shots of the mass that followed.

IMG_4682  IMG_4686
IMG_4698 IMG_4700 
IMG_4701 IMG_4702
IMG_4691 IMG_4692

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Putting a figure to it

For those who like facts and figures, the rain yesterday produced 34.8 litres of water per square metres with 123.8 millilitres falling in just one hour at 6am. The total for the day was 36.4 litres per square metre making this November an above average month for rain. This year we have already had 246.4 litres of rain against an average of 291 per year.

Rural roads in Spain are not very well designed to take away rain water. The storm drain that takes the water from La Pedrera works very well until it funnels out onto the road just where the park is. Then it meets the river of water coming down Calle La Cañada and runs down the road. Water coming off the land to the left joins it forming a yellow river of water that continues until it reaches the water collector at the junction with the road over to the reservoir.

If only the storm drain from La Pedrera continued down the road with another one  on the left, things would be a lot better. Yesterday, the intensity of the rain did not just bring mud onto the road, there were fair sized rocks littered about as well. Hit those with your car and you would have had a bad back and ruined suspension.

Monday, November 21, 2011

That was some storm

We were warned of heavy rain yesterday into today. It eventually came at about 5am this morning when we were woken by a great flash of lightening followed quickly by a huge clap of thunder. Then the rain came followed by more spectacular bolts of lightening which lasted until around until 6:30am.

No surprise that with a storm brewing , the electricity kept flicking on and off and eventually went off completely. I know this because the UPS that keeps my computer going signals to tell me that it is running on battery and each time the power resumes, I hear my laserjet printer start up again.

Thankfully, the rain has now cleared but the skies are still grey.  The forecast is for cloud to continue all week with intermittent showers or weak rain at times.

Oh and yes, the electricity is back on – came on at about 7am.

Wait and see

Bill writes:
I know it is not talked about it 'polite' circles (think of the man in the Bateman cartoons), but unless he really does have some magic aces up his sleeve, the solution for Spain is to disentangle itself from the Euro, to allow its resurrected Peseta to devalue and to regain the competitive advantage it has lost since the Euro was created. This is not of course a pain-free solution, indeed it would be extremely onerous, but it is the certain way to allow Spain to grow again in the medium-/long-term. Trying to maintain the same interest rate regime as Germany is never going to work for Spain (or Italy or Greece and a number of others).
Is there the political appetite for this, though?

I had read an article in the newspapers a few days ago along the same lines. A return to a devalued Peseta would be a bold move for Spain that would reduce the spending power of every Spaniard. I wonder if the newly elected President has this in mind, we will have to wait and see.

Even if, Mariano Rajoy does not take this bold step, he will have to bring in further austerity measures to try and achieve a similar result. Estimates say that he will need to find 18bn Euros of extra savings through cuts or tax rises. Rajoy says that he wants Spain to become part of the solution rather than the problem for Europe. That to me would indicate that he has no intention of leaving the Eurozone. 

One thing is clear this morning, Spaniards have lost their taste for socialism. A 16% lead gave the PP 186 out of the 350 seats in government.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

An eerie calm

It isn’t just the weather that has calmed down, the politicians who are taking part in the general election ceased canvassing yesterday in readiness for today’s voting.

It looks like a forgone conclusion with the conservatives set to win over the socialists. The only question now is, how much of a majority will Mariano Rajoy have by tomorrow.

A new government won’t provide an instant fix though because Spain's biggest problem remains the money owed to banks for property or land bought during a decade-long boom fuelled by cheap credit. Now the country is in crisis; growth is zero and unemployment has hit 23%.

During the boom years, children left school at 16 because they could easily walk into jobs on construction sites and earn €3,000 a month working a three-and-a-half-day week. Not any more, even those who stayed at school and gained qualifications up to and including university degrees are struggling to find employment.

To compound the problem for those who can no longer meet their mortgage payments, the value of repossessions has dropped drastically from the inflamed prices that people paid just a few years ago. And to make matters worse, they will still have to pay off their debt once their houses have been repossessed.

Rajoy and the conservatives have been very quiet about their plans for economic recovery, let’s hope they have some aces up the sleeve. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011


I have said many times on this blog that there are many talented people in this town, it is just extraordinary.

The most obvious talent is of course for music but it doesn’t stop there because we find singers, dancers, sports people etc –so many people with astonishing abilities you would not expect in such a small town.

One such amazing talent is Lola Lorente who has carved a name for herself in the field of illustration.

Pam and I were privileged to attend the opening of an exhibition of her drawings in the park by the new post office.

Let me first tell you a little about this prodigious talent.


Lola Lorente was born in Bigastro in 1980. She has published in comic magazines such as NSLM, Humo, Tos. She has collaborated as an illustrator for the Spanish newspapers "Público" and "La Vanguardia". She won the INJUVE award of illustration and she was nominated as the best new author at the International Comic Festival of Barcelona. Nowadays she lives in A Coruña and works as a freelance illustrator and comic maker.

IMG_4630 And now she has published a book of her work.

Taking five years to produce, ‘Sangre de mi Sangre’ is filled with her delightful drawings which have been skilfully produced in pen and ink. Pam and I were so pleased this morning when Lola’s brother Rafa, who has done a lot of work for at our house, came up especially to bring us a complimentary copy.

Watch out for a poster which will advertise the official launch of the book.

You can find out more about Lola at and follow her blog at

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

The former mayor of Bigastro, Raúl Valerio Medina, admitted yesterday that they did use the money from Plan E to pay for other council expenses notably the wages for council workers and taxes that were due. He says that this does not mean that he is guilty of embezzlement and that it is not his party’s fault that the new council are faced with paying back the entire grant to the Government.

Medina went on to say that he made it clear to the new mayor that there were outstanding debts to contractors which needed to be paid before the end of the year. Further more he said that the council have received 72,000 Euros for education which he claims has been diverted to pay for the work on a parking lot. In addition the council will have received 300,000 Euros in SUMA advances.

I recall that, in the days before ordinary people had bank accounts and cheque books, my mother used to have a tin with compartments labelled gas, electricity, food etc. In each she would place an appropriate sum of money every week to pay for these things. There might have been times when she was tempted to borrow from one compartment to pay for something else but she never did because she knew the consequences. For example, if she borrowed from the gas compartment to pay for a new pair of shoes  there would be insufficient funds for the gas bill when it came.  

When I was responsible for the £3.5m budget at Anfield school we worked to the same principal that my mother adopted. The funds were compartmentalised in our accounting software so that we could not borrow from one area to pay for another. There was a deputy head teacher at the school who thought we should be more creative and would overspend on, for example, supply teachers.  Fortunately, I planned for a budget surplus each year to account for this so our books always balanced.

From what we now read, it seems that local councils in Spain take a more cavalier attitude to accounting. The principal seems to be to pay only what you have to from whatever source of money you have, then later you worry about those things that you should have paid with the money in hand. Is it any wonder that  towns like ours are in such a financial mess.

PS There is no doubt that the article in the newspaper, just two day before the general election, was aimed at drawing voters away from the socialist party. I feel sure that the council have every intention of paying the contractors on time from whatever resources are to hand and thus avoid being forced  to repay the Plan E money to the government. You can accuse the council of many things but they are certainly not stupid!

Boy did it rain

It rained on and off all of yesterday and of course the roads were flooded both here in Bigastro and in Torrevieja where we went shopping. Wisely, we stayed clear of the town centre where the problems are always worse but even the road outside Carrefour had a lake across it.

Inside Carrefour was mostly dry except for the newly set out information technology section where they had to place buckets to collect the water coming through the roof. You could see the water running down by the lights and then dripping down just missing the display of laptops. It all looked a bit precarious to me.

The worst period though was between 8 and 9pm when the rain came down with such force you could clearly hear above the sound of the television. At first we wondered what it was until we opened the front door and saw it battering on the pavement.

The good news is that it will be mostly dry today but the bad news is that the rain will return tonight and tomorrow it will be heavy again. Monday it should dry up and stay dry with just the odd shower for the rest of the week.

Friday, November 18, 2011

When it rains…

It doesn’t rain very often here in Bigastro but when it does it pours down. I was woken up in the early hours of this morning by the sound of the rain pouring down outside. Like most Spanish houses, we have no guttering and so the rain cascades off the roof and bounces onto the pavement below. That was obviously what woke me up.

The rain eased off a little and so eventually I was able to get back to sleep. Now at 10:30am It is still raining intermittently and I expect it will do so all day. Tomorrow promises to be brighter and Sunday we should see the sun again. 

Our Spanish lessons

We knew that it would take time for our new teacher to get to know us and assess our levels of Spanish. Only then could he provide us with a suitable programme of work. We therefore expected the first few lesson to be a little chaotic and they were.

Originally we were going to have three one hour lessons a week on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays starting at 6pm. That was changed to two x two hour sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays still starting at 6pm and then that was brought forward to 5:30pm. In a revision agreed last night, classes will now start at 5pm.

It seems that the new hours have  caused a problem because there is no room available in the Auditorium for our class at those times. So, on Tuesday, our teacher took us to the local greengrocer’s to talk about the varieties of fruit and vegetables on sale. By the time we returned to the Auditorium there was a room free for us and so our lesson continued.

Yesterday, it seemed that there was still no room available, so we decamped to the Vai Ven bar for a coffee. En route, we met up with several friends of our teacher and inevitably got caught up in conversations.  Our teacher, who is obviously concerned for our safety, was very particular that we should walk on the pavement and use the marked crossings on our way. In crocodile fashion we therefore managed to get there in one piece!

Once we were sat down, our teacher told us he was going to make a phone call to summon up a 6 year old boy to speak with us and so off he went. In the meantime, we all ordered our drinks and settled down for a chat.

Ten minutes later, our teacher came skipping into the bar wearing a hat and one of those smocks that children in local primary schools wear to protect their clothing. To complete the effect, he had rolled up his trouser legs.

We could only assume that he was taking the part of the six year old boy. We never found out the true purpose of the exercise but as you can imagine it did raise a few eyebrows both in the bar and in the town square outside.

Although this was all very amusing, it was hardly likely to progress our understanding of the language. We are of course very grateful that our teacher has volunteered to help us but I think it is fair to say that things are not quite living up to our expectations.

There really is no good news

The country is teetering on the brink and so it seems is Bigastro.

Like all municipalities in Spain, Bigastro was awarded money by the government under a scheme called Plan E . In a bid to boost the economy,  the money was to be used to finance new works and at the same time provide employment. The work had to be signed off as completed by a specific date at which point the money would be released to pay the companies that had carried it out. The total that Bigastro was to receive was 1.3 million Euros.

According to the spokesperson for the present council, Aurelio Murcia and the lady mayor, Charo Bañuls, the town still owes almost 300,000 Euros to some of the companies that completed the work and if that is not paid by January then the state requires Bigastro to pay back 736,406 Euro and at the same time pay its debt to the companies. 

The companies affected are planning to take the council to court to recover their money in which case the town will also be faced with the bill for costs and interest on the debts. The total amount could well be 1,106,681 Euros ( 737,406 Euros owed to the government and 369,275 Euros owed to the companies).

Aurelio Murcia says that they have no idea where the money was spent and can only assume that it was used to pay for other items on the council’s budget. The previous mayor, Raúl Valerio Medina has summoned a press conference for today and says that everything has a perfect explanation. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Things just got worse

In October, Spanish ten year bonds offered a yield of 5.433%. In today’s auction, they managed to sell 3.56bn Euros out of a possible target of 4bn Euros but the interest rate payable rose to 6.975% – the highest offered since 1997. That figure demonstrates the markets lack of confidence in the country being able to pay its debts when the bonds mature.

The latest interest rate on Spanish bonds is very close to the 7% level at which other eurozone countries had to seek a bailout an compares unfavourably with similar auctions of bonds in France and Germany.

When Spain joined the Euro, interest rates fell to the much lower levels typical in Germany but while the Spanish government resisted the lure of cheap loans, most ordinary Spaniards did not.

The country experienced a long boom, underpinned by a housing bubble. House prices rose 44% from 2004 to 2008, at the tail end of a housing boom. Since the bubble burst, they have fallen 17%.

During the boom years, Spaniards earned more and spent more. Spanish wages rose to uncompetitive levels – by 36% from 1999 to the end of 2008.  That enabled Spaniards to buy bigger houses, more expensive cars etc. Now that people can no longer afford to  pay their mortgages, it is the banks who are facing the problem of holding housing stock from repossessions and the government who are having to borrow heavily to pay unemployment benefits.

Teaching takes more than just an hour in front of a class

The controversy surrounding  adult education in Bigastro continues. The issue now seems to be about the cost per teacher and the number of hours for which they are employed. 

Understandably, the Councillor for Education is looking at the total cost of running adult education classes which includes heating and lighting the room in which teaching takes place. However, this confuses matters because it gives the impression that each teacher is being paid more than they actually are. There is also controversy about the number of hours that each teacher works because the figure includes time in the classroom along with time for preparation, tutoring and marking.

The Councillor for Education wonders why experienced teachers require 5-6 hours per week to prepare for their lessons when, in his opinion, they should know their material by heart.

There may have been a time when teachers taught the same thing in the same way to their classes year after year but that is no longer the case. Every class you take is different and therefore requires a change in approach added to which the curriculum that you teach changes from year to year as you introduce new ideas and discard old ones. What worked well with one class last year may not work at all well with another one this year so you have to adapt and change and that takes time. Even with over thirty years experience in the classroom, I still had to prepare each lesson I taught carefully.

The difference between a teacher who has prepared well and one who hasn’t is the difference between success and failure in their lessons.Teaching ‘off the cuff’ is a recipe for disaster – trust me I have tried it!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated

The black marble staircase in the Auditorium is a beautiful feature but is is also a little dangerous because it is hard to see where the steps are on the way down.

Last night, as we were leaving our class, I managed to fall on the staircase because I missed the last step before the turn half way down. It was entirely my own fault, I should have either held on to the rail or been more careful to watch where I was going.

Fortunately, I only fell down one step landing rather ungainly on the platform half way down. Even so it hurt and it still hurts this morning. I will be taking greater care in future and advise you to do the same.

I must remember that I am nearly 65 not 25!

Feeling fit?

20111116_marcha At night time the landscape takes on a different perspective. It is also a comfortable time to go for a walk.

For those who would like to take the opportunity to visit the outskirts of Bigastro and see them at night, the Town Hall have arranged a walk that will take place on Friday, November 18th starting at 9:30pm from outside the Auditorium.

Participants are advised to wear a coat and to take a torch with them. Although the activity is open to all ages, children must be accompanied by an adult. 

Still learning

I commented about the photos that someone had taken in the Auditorium of the gala for ADIS and said that in the dim lighting it was difficult to get a sharp picture without using flash.

There are three factors to balance, the ISO speed at which you set the camera to, the shutter speed and the aperture. In good daylight you can set a low ISO and combine that with a small aperture and a fast shutter speed. That is the perfect combination because setting a low ISO gives you a clean image, a small aperture provides sharpness throughout and a fast shutter speed avoids the problems of camera shake and motion blur.

It is when the light is low that things get difficult.

With a powerful flashgun it is possible to get good clear pictures even in pitch darkness at relatively large distances. However, using flash in the Auditorium creates problems. First off it is very distracting to the performers and to the audience. It is also tricky to get the level right when you are sitting in the audience because that is going to be determined by the nearest object to you.  So, for example at a concert, the band members at the front would be correctly exposed but those towards the back would be in darkness.

In order to avoid these problems, I prefer not to use flash but rather rely upon the light in the Auditorium. That is where it gets awkward because even with the stage well lit I need to use almost impossible ISO levels to get an exposure.

I would like to be able to set the speed to ISO 2,000 maximum because then I can clean the images up reasonably well.  However, at that speed I have to either go for the maximum aperture of my 70-200mm lens or try and take shots at ridiculous shutters speeds that even image stabilisation finds difficult to cope with. And, even if I avoid the effects of camera shake by using a tripod, any movement of the subject will blur the images at these very slow shutter speeds.

Each time I go to a performance, I experiment with the settings that I am going to use.

At the latest concert for Santa Cecilia I set the ISO to 4,000 which gave me exposures of about 1/30th to 1/100th second at f5.6 (bear in mind I am often using my lens set to 200mm where you would normally set a shutter speed faster than 1/200th of a second). For the shots from the balcony I changed to f8 to gain greater depth of field which slowed the shutter speed down further.

The results I got were mixed.  It was impossible to get perfectly clean images even using software to remove the digital noise so inevitably  I lost some detail on all of my shots. The problem was made worse in those pictures where the light background had the greatest effect on exposure because for those pictures I had to try and lighten them up using software.  When you try and correct an underexposed picture, the digital noise increases, the colour balance is affected and you loose even more detail. You can see this in those photos where the band members suits have taken on a bluish purple tinge.

I know that I haven’t got it right yet, this is what we would call “a work in progress”.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How 62 Euros became nearly 267

In order to keep the advertised prices low, budget airlines find ways to make up the deficit in other ways. Those of us who travel regularly to and from the UK know the score and which airlines are most guilty.

  • Surcharge no 1 – Airport taxes are added on to the cost of the flight by most airlines. These can almost double the original advertised fare.
  • Surcharge no 2 – Failure to print out a boarding pass when you book online can lend you a fine at check in.
  • Surcharge no 3 – Pre booking your seat to make sure that you sit together add extra per person to the cost of your flight.
  • Surcharge no 4 – You have to pay to use a credit card and in some cases a debit card even though these are the only means to pay.
  • Surcharge no 5 -  Fuel surcharge –I do not understand how they can  know how much extra the  fuel will cost at the time of booking.
  • Surcharge no 6 – If you want to take hold luggage then you are going to have to pay for it. The cost for this has risen dramatically over the last few years.

Let me give you an example of flights that we have booked recently

  1. Fare: 62.00 Euros
  2. Spanish Departure Tax: 13.20 Euros
  3. Spanish Handling Charge: 7.20 Euros
  4. Fuel Surcharge: 45.36 Euros
  5. UK Departure Tax: 30.70 Euros
  6. Passenger Service Charge: 28.54 Euros (I have no idea what that is for)
  7. Then we need to add on the cost of hold luggage at 19.99 Euros per case each way.

The result is that we started with an advertised price of 62.00 Euros and ended up paying 266.96 Euros. To be fair that is cheap when you consider the distance we will be flying and the cost of alternative ways of travelling. It just doesn’t seem honest to lead you to believe that your flights are going to be cheap.

Of course you can avoid paying for hold luggage by only taking cabin baggage with you but you must read the small print carefully. The size of that cabin luggage is very specific and varies between different airlines. And if it won’t fit in the cage at the airport then you will be forced to pay to have the bag put in the hold.

Ryanair for example,  charge £40 for any over sized hand luggage that has to go in the hold at check in and £50 if you manage to get to the gate with it.

The Daily Mail now tells us that Servisair staff at Liverpool John Lennon airport (why did they ever change the name?) are rewarded with £5 for every ten items of Ryanair hand luggage that has to be put in the hold. That may be considered an incentive for them to be more vigilant and not let through any bags that are just a little oversized. The workers might get their 50p but it is Ryanair that benefits most with a whopping £39.50 per bag.



Monday, November 14, 2011

Bigastro’s got talent

20111111_talentosWe already know that there are some excellent young musicians in the town.

This time though, the competition is for artistic talent in other areas as well.

The 1st competition for young people started on the 10th November.

Get your dancing shoes on

An opportunity to learn to dance the Tango, Salsa and Bachata with an intensive course starting on the 23rd November in the Auditorium Francisco Grau.

Then on Friday, December 2nd you can show off your newly acquired skills at a special performance in the Auditorium. Those of us with two left feet can watch the show for the price of 3 Euros.

I guess that rules me out!

20111111_foto If you are between 12 and 24, live in Bigastro and you like photography you can take part in the 1st PHOTO CONTEST - Sepamos Convivir.

I will be looking forward with great interest to the results of this one.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Beyond all expectations

IMG_4495 We have enjoyed many excellent concerts performed by La Banda de Musica de Bigastro. However, last night the band surpassed themselves by raising their standards even higher than on previous occasions. Good music excites the soul when it is played so well.

There may have been a misplaced note here and there but you would hardly have noticed it as the band performed a program which included some superb solo performances.

It might be wrong to single out anyone in particular but it would be remiss of me not to mention Elisa Segura and Joaquin Saez who delighted us with their rendition of the Fantasia para 2 clarinetes “Fantasia” by Bures.

And what a finale: Vasa by José Suñer Oriola followed by El Relicario “Pasadoble by José Padilla.
See more of my pictures here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

So much we don’t know

IMG_4385 Every year we learn something new about our town.

We’d attended concerts in honour of Santa Cecilia for a few years now and thoroughly enjoyed them. We’d also learnt that Santa Cecilia was the patron saint of musicians and thus understood why she was important to the members of the band.

What we didn’t realise was that a special parade takes place before the concert to transfer the effigy of the saint from the Auditorium to the church ready for mass on Sunday.

Once she is safely in the church, the band then tours the streets of the town collecting the young musicians who will be joining them as they go.

Pamela and I didn’t follow the parade all the way around the town but we did catch it on its way from the Auditorium to the church.  You can see my pictures here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

We can expect even bleaker times to come

This is from today’s Telegraph newspaper:

A report by the European Commission predicted that Spain would fall short of meeting its target to reduce its deficit to six per cent of its gross domestic product by the end of year. Instead, it is likely only to reach 6.6 per cent, down from a level of 9.2 per cent in 2010.

“Further corrective action would be required to reach the deficit target this year,” the commission said in a report published yesterday. The forecast came amid fears of contagion from the problems afflicting Italy and Greece. Spain’s borrowing costs had soared on Wednesday but dropped back slightly yesterday with the interest on its 10-year bonds falling from 5.96 per cent to 5.83 per cent.

It means the conservative Popular Party (PP), which polls predict will win a resounding victory at the general election later this month, ousting the seven-year government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, will be under greater pressure to deliver austerity measures.

Mariano Rajoy, who is poised to take over as prime minister, faces having to push through the even more stringent and unpopular reforms that are deemed necessary for Spain to avoid seeking any kind of international rescue.

He will inherit a stagnant economy crippled by the highest unemployment rate in the eurozone — at almost 22 per cent Spain has close to five million jobless. “The new government must act quickly on reforms,” warned Prof Xavier Vives, of IESE Business School in Madrid, yesterday. “But, so far, the PP have not said they have a reforming agenda.”

A hot topic in the town

The opposition spokesman for Bigastro, the socialist Raúl Valerio Medina, has made a press statement about the current management of the School for Adult Education in the town.

According to Medina, the process of choosing teachers for EPA has become “a dedo”. He said that this year, it was done without regard to merit criteria and adds that even the Councillor for Education, Aurelio Murcia, will  be teaching English and Valenciano.

You know that underlies a view that Pamela and I came across several times in our professionals lives which was that “anyone can teach as long as they have some knowledge of the subject”. That is patently not true, good teaching requires so much more than just an understanding of the subject matter.

I came across many good teachers during my 34 years in the classroom along with a few bad ones, they all had adequate subject knowledge. What made the difference was the ability of the good teachers to create an environment in which their pupils both wanted to and were able to learn. That is not a skill that someone off the street can simply acquire by stepping into a classroom.

Our previous teacher, Ana Moya Gomez was good, very good in fact-  she had the skills necessary to create an effective learning environment; our present teacher has yet to prove his worth in that respect. 

The spokesman for the opposition concluded by saying that the mayor, Charo Bañuls, wants "to have an illiterate population that can not answer anything." That is a harsh comment to make which characterises the strong feelings that are being held by the previous teachers who have described the present set up as “pseudo academia”. They say that EPA in Bigastro used to be held in high esteem because of the results that it achieved. Their fear is that standards under the new regime will fall dramatically. Unfortunately, they could well be right. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Santa Cecilia

In common with many towns in Spain, Bigastro will be paying homage to the patron saint of musicians this weekend.

On Friday at 7:30 pm the statue of Santa Cecilia will be taken from the church to the Auditorium. Then on Saturday, there will be a concert to honour her in the Auditorium Francisco Grau at 8pm. This is a very popular event so it is best to be there early to grab yourself a seat.

On Sunday at midday, solemn mass will be given to honour the saint followed by a floral offering  and a parade around the streets of the town at 1pm to return Santa Cecilia from the Auditorium back to the church.

PS I will be  at all three with my camera of course.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Fun for the children in November

20111107_coches Those of you who have visited the main park in Bigastro this week will have seen the fairground being set up.

The fair will be open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, public holidays and the eve of public holidays throughout November.

And on Sunday 20th November if you pay for one ride, you will get another one free. 

Spain is noisy and that is official!

According to the World Health Organisation, Spain ranks second behind Japan as the noisiest country in the world – no surprise there then.

Exposure to excessive noise can cause numerous health problems ranging from insomnia, headaches, stress, hypertension, fatigue to an increased cardiovascular risk . The greatest danger though is to our hearing.

Now, a study conducted by Gaes, the firm of experts on issues related to hearing, shows that 45% of the inhabitants of Orihuela have trouble sleeping because of noise. I imagine that Saturday nights are worst for them and anytime during the Moors and Christian fiesta.

We are lucky because it is generally quiet where we live but imagine living in one of those flats in the centre of town especially during fiestas. With a disco playing outside at full volume until the early hours of the morning, it must be impossible to get a good night’s sleep.

The greatest source of noise is the people. Put a few Spaniards together and pretty soon the level of conversation will rise up to levels that can be heard from some distance, as they all talk at the same time. And give them something to celebrate; the fireworks come out followed by the loud disco music. Even in their cars, young Spaniards will turn the stereo up so loud that you can hear it from well outside. 

Monday, November 07, 2011

Hopes are pinned on a change

In just under two weeks, Spaniards will be voting for the government to preside over them for the next term. As ex-pats, we do not have the right to vote so we cannot be blamed for influencing the result.

According to most sources, It is almost a foregone conclusion that Marioano Rajoy’s conservative party will take control.  In 2004, his party were defeated because people believed that the centre-right government of José María Aznar had lied in its response to the Madrid bombings, blaming them on the Basque separatist group Eta and not on al-Qaida. Many are convinced that allowed José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and his socialist party to win the election.

In 2004 times were good, Spain was pouring half of all the concrete used in Europe to satisfy what Spaniards thought was a never ending market for new houses. Any politician was going to look good in those circumstances, it is only when times are tough that they need to show their mettle.

I fear that those who are pinning their hopes on a change of government bringing about a speedy return to good fortunes may well be disappointed. The Americans, who thought that Barack Obama was going to bring a return to good times in the USA, are now siding against him. Things may turn out to be much the same for Marioano Rajoy who has already lost two elections to the Socialists. I hope I am proved wrong, I really do.

Well worth the trip

The fair held at IFA near to Alicante airport in previous years was just a showcase for British companies selling goods to ex-pats. The first year we went it was interesting but then with successive years there was less to see and far fewer people there.

lifestyle_image-614x1024 This year they renamed the event the ‘International Lifestyle & Expo Fiesta’ and so we thought we’d go along. There were very few stalls selling British products this time, instead there were stalls selling food and products from Spain and South America. Along with the selling though were displays of costumes for Moors and Christian parades along with associated items like shoes. A large part of the hall was taken up by the Ayuntamiento de Villena.

At the back of the hall was an area set out for performances by various groups along with a timetable of when they would take place. We managed to catch the flamenco dancing display which had a Moors and Christian theme to it.

You can see my photos from the day here.

PS The British stall that seemed to attract most attention was Mister Magic -interesting!

PPS There was a stall advertising fireworks made in Elche including those fabulous  confetti bombs you see at weddings and other celebrations. I’d love to take one of those over for my daughter’s wedding next year but unfortunately it would not be allowed on the plane - even in our hold luggage!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

We really don’t like it

Because our house is on a hill and is open at the back, we are susceptible to the wind when it blows from the west.

In the past, we have lost fencing (both real and plastic cane) and had a table flying over the car. We therefore take precautions before winter approaches; sunbeds are folded and stacked, the table that replaced the one which flew is moved to the porch along with the chairs,  loose items are put away and I cover the ventilators in the back door with pieces of foam rubber to stop the wind howling through them.

The main change we have made this year has been to replace the green netting with sheets of powder coated, perforated steel set on sturdy posts. We might have wanted something a little less transparent but knowing how strong the wind can be, it would have been foolish. The design we chose allows the wind to pass through. Anything that offered more resistance could well have pulled the wall down.

Yesterday was very windy, getting worse as the day went on - we can expect another day of strong winds today and then it should calm down as we move into next week. 

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Where is it?

One readers says, “I didn't even know that there was a pool in Bigastro. Where is it, exactly?”

It is in the Sports Centre which is alongside the road from Bigastro to Molins. Take the Vereda de Molins  which is the road by the florists shop on the bypass (CV-95). Just before you come to the bridge over the canal you will find the Sports Centre on the left. 

You can’t please all of the people, all of the time

In relation to the comments about the privatisation of the indoor swimming pool in Bigastro, the spokesperson for the socialists, Raúl Valerio Medina, reminds us that his party drafted a specification for this very idea back in 2008. At that time, the PP, who were in opposition, rejected the proposal.

In Medina’s view, the socialists faced problems, complaints and met with the people to work out solutions to problems whereas the present government team simply make decisions, leave the people uninformed and postpone meetings with them.

The way I see it, the socialists got the town into a financial mess which the new council are trying to sort out. However, every decision that the new council takes to cut expenditure is being challenged, not by the opposition but by petitions made by the people. This is a new tactic that we haven’t really seen before in the town.

We can liken Bigastro to Greece where the people clearly do not relish the measures that have to be taken to secure the next tranche of bailout money. The alternatives to firm fiscal control in both Greece and Bgastro are much the same.  At some point the people of the town will have to accept that is the reality of the situation.

We have to ask ourselves which is worse, having the swimming baths closed during the winter or the local infant school without a proper electricity supply for months on end?

The picture I was after

2011-11-12_IMG_2011-11-05_02.18.46__SVB008VB001_201832.jpgThis picture, published in the newspaper Informacion, is exactly what I wanted for my Project 365 today. It shows low lying clouds shrouding the bottom of the mountains behind Orihuela.

Unfortunately, it was raining quite heavily at the time and I was not overly keen to test out the waterproofing on my DSLR camera.

When Pam and I returned from our weekly shopping, the rain had cleared but then so had the low lying cloud.

PS If I mention the phrase, “hay niebla”, one of my readers will understand why I was keen to take this picture. 

Friday, November 04, 2011

Is a heated pool an essential or a luxury?

When times are hard, the first cuts you make have to be in what are regarded as  non essential services. However, as I have said before, nobody wants to suffer cuts in any area that effects them.

A petition with 1,703 signatures has been passed to the council in Bigastro. The issue of concern now is the proposed privatisation of the heated swimming pool at the sports centre. On average, only 105 people pay to use the pool each month: If that number increased to between 200 and 250, then the pool would pay for itself but that is unlikely. Aurelio Murcia claims that the petition they have received  is politically motivated, driven by the PSOE in an attempt to discredit the new council.

The facts speak for themselves, keeping the pool open is costing the council 2,500 Euros per month added to which there is still a debt of 700,000 Euros to be paid for its construction along with the cost of three years supply of water.  It is also a fact that the previous socialist council closed the pool during the winter months and nobody complained.

The main cost of keeping the pool open in winter is for diesel used to heat the water which last year cost 9,000 Euros. However, some of that diesel was used to generate electricity following the supply cut by Iberdrola. Now that the electricity supply has been restored and the solar panels on the roof have been repaired, the cost may be a lot lower.

Interestingly, 80% of the users of the sports centre are from outside the town taking advantage of the subsidised cost of running the facility.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Horses for courses

One of my readers, Bill says of Ryanair, “None of this makes any difference to me - I haven't flown Ryanair for some years and won't ever again unless there is no viable alternative. Being a Scot I like to "save a bawbee or two" as much as anyone, but life is far too short to subject myself to that company's charms ever again.”

I have to confess that we have never flown Ryanair so it would be unfair of me to comment. I do know many who have and seem be have been satisfied with the level of service they recieved.  I have flown with EasyJet who operate the same sort of bun fight for seats and I didn’t much care for that.

Pam and I fly by preference. We prefer the hours of their flights to and from Manchester and we appreciate the 22kg luggage allowance. When we can’t find a flight, we usually plump for Monarch whose luggage allowance is a little less at 20kgs.

In the end it is “horses for courses”. As Bill says, if you want the cheapest possible flight then Ryanair are probably the ones to go with. 

First impressions

Last night we attended the first Spanish lesson with our new teacher, Antonio. It turns out that he is a retired teacher and so has years of experience in handling classes. Last night though he was very much at a disadvantage because he had no idea at what level we had already studied the language and of course, most of us have known each other for some time. 

Sensibly,  Antonio started by getting us to write our names on a piece of paper in front of us; that way, he could get to know us. Of course there are some names that do not lend themselves easily to Spanish translation for example the “ei” in my name comes out as a short “e” rather than the longer “ee” sound which is correct.  So I am to be known as Keth - no pasa nada – over the last seven years I have got used to that.

Antonio then moved on to find out what we knew of the basics and just how good was our pronunciation of certain letters, in particular he seems keen that we should stress the “s” at the end of words like “dos” and the “r” at the start of words like “reloj”. It is hard for us to roll the letter r - particularly at the start of words – somehow our tongues get in knots when we try it. We should persevere though because then we will start to sound more Spanish.

Originally, we were going to have three one hour sessions per week on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. That has now changed to two, two hour sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at 6pm. Antonio did say that we may want to change the starting time to 5:30pm – we shall see.

A great deal of credit must go to Antonio for volunteering. Taking over a mostly established class to teach them your language is no mean task. It will require patience on both Antonio’s part and on ours to find the right level and the most appropriate approach to enable us to progress. I am sure we will get there and in no time we will all become great friends embarking on the journey of learning together.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

A credible job

I notice that there are now pictures on the Bigastro web site of the gala held for ADIS in the Auditorium on Friday, 28th October.

Sensibly, the photographer has not used flash which would have disturbed the performance and at the same time lost the atmosphere of the occasion. It is also good to see that the pictures have been properly colour corrected for the tungsten light.

Judging by the results, the photographer has found that, in the low light of the Auditorium, their camera has set the fastest ISO speed available which has led to a a degree of digital noise. At the same time, their camera has had to set a slow shutter speed which has produced motion blur. Although image stabilisation will reduce the effects of camera shake, it cannot compensate for subject movement.

As cameras improve, so their ability to take usable pictures in low light improves but there is still a long way to go. King of the hill at present is the Nikon D3s which apparently can produce usable images at ISO 12,800 thanks in part to its full frame sensor with just 12 megapixels but that costs £3,350 for the body alone.  Mind you that is cheap compared with the suggested price of Canon’s announced rival, the IDx, which is rumoured to start at over £5,000.

I have managed to get some decent shots in the dim light with my Canon 5D MkII (also rated well for low light capability) but then I also have quite a lot of failures as well. Shooting in low light is always a compromise; you really need a very fast lens (one with a wide aperture i.e. a low f number) and a camera that will work well in low light ( less megapixels and a larger sensor helps here). Then, you can set a shutter speed that will stop motion. Of course, using your lens at its widest aperture reduces depth of field and does not get the best from the optics so there is a temptation to stop down which is what I normally do. As you can imagine, that makes the problem worse (stopping a lens down means you need to use a slower shutter speed or a higher ISO value)

Whoever took the photos the photos of the gala may  be a little disappointed with the results but I reckon they have done a decent job and captured the sprit of the occasion well.

Cat wars

I read this morning about the war that is going on between cat owners and other residents at Complejo Terrace, Los Balcones. The owners are concerned that there have been several attacks on cats. In some cases the animals have been beaten close to death and in others they have been poisoned.

The problem seems to mainly centre around a feral cat which has taken to living in the area and has already had several litters of kittens. The issue is about the amount of cat faeces that have been found in public spaces especially the area surrounding the pool.

Unlike dogs, which can be easily kept on your property, cats are not easily put off by fences and gates and will roam wherever they please. They will also use whatever area they choose as their toilet - especially feral cats that have not been trained from birth to use a cat litter tray. Pam and I have plenty of evidence of this in our garden and especially on our roof terrace from the feral cat that our neighbours looked after.

Owners of cats must accept that, the rest of us do not appreciate the smell and the mess that their pets create – it is foul to say the least. Not only that but it is unhygienic. The fact that there is a huge market for cat deterrents shows the extent of the issue and the bad feeling that non owners have towards these animals and the mess they create.

Pam and I would never stoop so low as to hurt  a cat or any other animal come to that. Whilst we are sorry that our neighbours have now left, we are pleased that we will no longer be plagued by the mess that their feral cat left in our garden. Neither will we be sorry to see and end to  the dead rabbits and birds that she brought to us.

Whilst I fully understand the distress that cat owners feel in Complejo Terrace, I can also appreciate the strong feelings of the people who want rid of the problems they cause.

Impasse with Ryanair

Ryanair’s Chief Executive Michael O’Leary followed up on the threats he made earlier in the year and reduced the number of flights that his airline schedules from El Altet airport at Alicante. He said last week that a total of 31 routes were to be cancelled and nine of the eleven aircraft that the company based at Alicante would be withdrawn.

The decision was implemented at the end of last week. The cancellations follow a long and protracted dispute with AENA, the management company of El Altet, over the use of air bridges to load and unload passengers. AENA wanted to enforce their use at extra cost and Ryanair wanted to continue using their existing methods which are to have the passengers walk across the tarmac. The decision by AENA was tested in the courts and they eventually agreed to carry out tests to check whether it was possible and safe to use the existing Ryanair method. The results of the tests showed that it would be possible from a few of the aircraft positions but not during the peak season in the summer because of safety considerations. The decision was again upheld by the courts when challenged once more and Ryanair said they would have no option but to reduce the number of flights they operated from EL Altet.

AENA now say that there are six selected positions at the new terminal which can be used for loading and unloading passengers by foot during the low season of November to April provided they are free at the time of an aircraft landing. They also reiterated that the real reduction in Ryanair traffic through the airport is 30 per cent compared to last year and the airline’s normal reduction of flights in the winter season.

And that should have been an end to it but following their meeting with the Minister for infrastructure and the associations of hoteliers, AENA started to backtrack on their previous decision and came out with what was called a compromise by offering Ryanair the option of embarking and disembarking passengers on foot for half of their flights starting on Wednesday 2nd November and running until May next year when it would be reviewed. Ryanair were quick to respond with spokesman Daniel de Carvalho saying, “Ryanair will not backtrack on their flight cuts in Alicante unless all Ryanair flights are authorized to use the loading and unloading procedures on foot, as it has done every day in most other Spanish airports and more than 160 European airports, where Ryanair operates.” He went on to point out a fairly obvious flaw with AENA’s latest position by questioning how all of a sudden it can be safe to offer 50 percent of their flights this facility when before it was not.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Molly does Halloween

This is our granddaughter Molly in her outfit for Halloween.

I don’t think she went out “trick or treating” but she did get to go to a Halloween disco followed by a party at the nursery she attends.

I may be a little biased here but I think she looks really cute in that costume.

All saints day

We are not talking about the singing group comprised of Melanie Blatt, Shaznay Lewis, and sisters Nicole and Natalie Appleton. No, this is a religious festival - a day when, traditionally, Spaniards will visit the cemetery to remember departed relatives and friends.

The two days are distinctly different.

All Saints' Day is in honour of all the saints, known and unknown. It commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven.

The next day, All Souls' Day, specifically commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been purified and reached heaven.

It is well worth visiting the cemetery tomorrow just to see the beautiful flowers that people have taken to adorn the niches and the small chapels where families are buried.