Saturday, December 31, 2011

A period of great austerity

It isn’t just Bigastro that faces austerity, the country as a whole faces a period of economic gloom as highlighted in this report which appears in today’s Guardian newspaper.

Spain's new government said on Friday that the country's budget deficit is higher than previously thought as it announced a new package of spending cuts and tax increases designed to conform to the eurozone's austerity pact and fend off attack by international financial markets.

"We are forced to take extraordinary decisions and adopt unexpected measures," the Spanish vice-president Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said as the new government opened the first chapter of what looks like being a long tale of austerity. Sáenz de Santamaría said the measures were necessary because the public deficit is running at 8%, not the 6% they were led to believe by the outgoing administration, a difference of about €20bn.

The principal measure comes in the form of an €8.9bn budget cut spread across all government departments. There are also across-the-board income tax increases and for home-owners, a one-year freeze on public sector salaries, a freeze on the minimum wage of €641.40 a month and cuts in subsidies to trade unions and political parties. Pensions, as promised, will rise by 1% next month, and the cut-off point for unemployment benefit is to be extended for a further six months.

"These measures are the beginning of the beginning of a package of structural reforms designed to cut the deficit and stimulate the economy," Sáenz de Santamaría said. Financial and employment law reform are being held back until later in January. It is rumoured that Mariano Rajoy's government may delay the really unpopular measures until the end of March, after the regional elections in Andalusia which his Partido Popular hopes to win for the first time in its history. The full budget, designed to meet Rajoy's target of €16.5bn in cuts, will not be presented to parliament until 31 March.

As well as freezing public sector wages, Spanish civil servants will find their working week extended from 35 to 37.5 hours. Vacancies will not be filled except in health, education, state security and the armed forces for an unspecified time. Cuts in subsidies to political parties are expected to save €29.7m while the reduction in trade union and other representative bodies' funding will save €55m.

Income tax on salaries of €9,500 will rise 0.75% and by up to 7% on incomes above €300,000. Property tax, roughly equivalent to the UK council tax, is also going up on all properties that are "above average value," which in reality means 50% of urban property. Sáenz de Santamaría said the increases, which "are temporary and only for the next two years," would raise €6.2bn. Rajoy's party enjoys an absolute majority so it can be taken as given that these measures will become law.

Rajoy, who won the election without promising anything at all, still seems to be holding back on deep reform. The cuts are more slash and burn than structural and the government is still ducking the issue of employment reform. Spain's employment laws have created a two-tier system of virtually unsackable employees with cast-iron contracts – doggedly defended by the trade unions – and a much larger group of workers with no job security. Employers are reluctant to offer full-time contracts because of the cost of making people redundant. Rajoy was not present at the press conference. Sáenz de Santamaría was accompanied by Luis de Guindos, the finance minister; Cristóbal Montoro the inland revenue minister and Fátima Báñez, employment.

No ministry escapes unscathed, with budget cuts of €485m at employment, €439m at the inland revenue, €409m at the health ministry, €401m at agriculture, €340m at defence, €163m at the interior ministry and €48m at the justice department. However, the biggest cuts are reserved for the ministry of works, €1.6bn, and 1bn each for the foreign, industry and finance ministries.

Amid all the austerity, there were no measures that appeared to be designed to boost productivity or dent Spain's crippling 23% unemployment rate. Indeed, the spending cuts seem certain to lead to job losses. Sáenz de Santamaría, who gave birth to her first child six weeks ago, also announced the suspension of plans to extend paternity leave to one month until 2013.

These measures will affect all of our lives. I can’t help feeling that until they make the labour reforms, unemployment will remain at a high level.

Where did the money go?

The PP and Liberal Centrist parties have now put further figures on the debt for the town by saying it amounts to 5,000 Euros per person. They say the possibility of having to go to administration like the towns of Moiá in  Barcelona or Alcorcón in Madrid, looms high.

In his defense, the ex mayor says that the socialists acted legally when they were in power. He says that the debt has been over estimated and does not appear on the documents they have been given and adds that the new government team will have to prove the accusations that they have made about him and his government team.

Like all bigastrense, we are at a loss to understand how a small town like ours could be in so much debt. When you look around, it is very hard to see just where that money has been spent. As I have said before, Bigastro is not the smartest place you could find to live; many of the roads are in bad condition, there are derelict plots scattered throughout the town and even the parks and other public places look in need of improvement. The only real evidence of spending is in the public buildings like the Auditorium, the Social Centre,  the Sports Centre and a multi story car park that has only opened for one week since it was built. Is it in those buildings where the 31 million was spent?

When we moved here, we were lead to believe that our urbanisation would be a “smart” place to live. Instead we have graffiti, half finished houses, vacant plots and weeds growing in the park areas. The palm trees in the park where the office used to be have not been “cleaned” since we first arrived. For sure, very little of that massive debt has been spent at Villas Andrea! 

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Royal Letterbox

Santa has elves to help him, the Three Kings have pages. These two were at the market yesterday with their Royal Post-box ready to collect letters to the Reyes Magos from the children of Bigastro.

Once collected, the letters are passed on to the Three Kings who will then deliver presents to the children on the 6th January.

I explained to the two pages that I did not have a letter but they said that did not matter because they had paper on pens at hand for me to write my wishes.

This year I have already been indulgent having bought a new desktop computer followed by a new laptop so I must not be greedy. All I want really for next year is good health and happiness.

Kudos goes to these two volunteers for dressing up and taking time out yesterday to sit in the market for two hours.

PS The guy on the right pops up everywhere, I’ve seen him in church parades, carrying the paso of San Joaquin during the fiestas, serving behind the bar at fairs and of course parading with his comparsa during Fiesta week. A true citizen, he gives a lot back to Bigastro.

A very bleak picture

The lady mayor of Bigastro, Charo Bañuls  along with Aurelio Murcia held a meeting last night in the Auditorium to explain the financial situation.The headline news was that the council face debts of 31 million Euros. The audience of 200 were told that the council  could not rule out the need to request intervention by Central administration to sort the problem out.

At the meeting, the blame for this was put squarely on the shoulders of the previous socialist administration and in particular the two previous mayors, José Joaquín Moya and Raúl Valerio Medina. The audit, commissioned when the Coalition took over control, highlights areas where accounts had been falsified and irregularities had been committed. The report showed a debt of 23,312,000 Euros added to which there were non payments of 8 million Euros - an example of which was 900,000 Euros for the construction of the indoor pool in 2007. The mayor said the final figure could be even higher because the council are still receiving bills for goods and services ordered before they took control.

Amongst the problems unearthed were unpaid promissory notes issued by the previous administration which are attracting interest. There were even lists of people, paid for out of public funds but who did not work for the council and two societies for which IVA (VAT) had not been paid. 

Just as in the case of Orihuela, the audit has found items that were not budgeted for and totals for income that were simply not tenable. The council have also found also plans for construction that had not been granted approval at regional level  but for which council land was sold. In the last four years, 10 million of local patrimony was sold and IVA was received but the taxes on these land sales have not been paid.

The mayor says that they will denounce the irregularities in court and will present the case to the Sindicatura de Cuentas. They will also approach the Diputación  about retaining 100% of their funding because they cannot possibly face loosing money to pay their debts to Seguridad Social and Hacienda.

This year’s budget will be very austere

Anything that can be privatised will be. The swimming pool has already been shut and the adult education classes terminated. During this year we can expect more of these non essential services to be cut. In addition, those clubs and associations that previously received money from the council will have to become self funding. Most important, the council will be rigorous in its control of the collection of taxes.  

PS Just to remind you,  in April the Council awarded themselves the Isignia de Oro (the highest award the town can give) for their hard work in getting through a difficult period of administration. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Better get writing

20111228_pajes Today, pages to the three kings will be at the weekly market in Bigastro ready to collect letters from the children. Once collected, the Reyes Magos will be preparing the presents to be delivered on the 6th January. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The travelling market

I’m not a fan of markets - especially large ones like that held on Tuesdays in Orihuela. However, I did prefer it in its previous location.

Now, the market needs to be moved again because work on the high speed train line would cause major traffic congestion in the area of the Recinto  Ferial if it was to stay there.

The favoured location is on the streets near to the Ociopia Shopping Mall. However, the Council need permission from the Generalit in Valencia to move there. Several market traders have complained that the area around Ociopia is prone to flooding which maybe why a decision is still forthcoming.

The last authorised date for the market to take place in its present location is the 3rd January. If a decision is not made before the 10th then there will be no market on that day nor in the following weeks until permission is granted.

So far, 300 traders (almost all of the ones who trade at present) have reserved licences for the market in its new location. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Let me tell you a story

20111226_cuentacuentos On Thursday, December 29th at 5:30 pm the Municipal Library will be hosting a Christmas storytelling by the Carmen Theatre Company

The stories will be told using puppets on a small stage.

The council points out that young children must be accompanied by adults.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.…’

A not so happy New Year for Orihuela

We are all aware of the financial problems that the socialist government left for the PP in Bigastro, in Orihuela it is the reverse.

In Orihuela, the new Council face huge debts left by the conservatives which they say amount to 7,665 million Euros. The daily interest on bank loans alone amounts to 21,000 Euros. The new councillor for finance calculates that each citizen will have to pay 100 Euros per year for the next ten years  just to clear the debt.

The problem, he says, was created by a government team that worked with fictitious budgets, a team that would place orders for work for which no budget had been set.  They would set a budget for say 60, claim to have spent 50 but actually would have spent 80. I imagine a large part of Orihuela’s budget would have come from work licences for building on the coast. When that source of revenue dried up, the city would have felt the pinch more than towns like Bigastro. 

To make matter worse, Councillor Bas reckons that the budget for this next year will be ten million Euros less than last year which means that average cuts of 15% will have to be made across all areas of spending. Since there are areas where cuts cannot be made, that means that even greater pressure will be placed on those where cuts are possible.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The angel’s choir

What a great treat that was. Better than watching the umpteenth rerun of The Sound of Music, the Adult and Children’s Choirs treated us to a real Christmas special. Plenty of traditional Spanish villancicos combined with classics like White Christmas, Silent Night and Jingle Bell Rock which for some reason they call Navidad Rock.

Many thanks to all those taking part for providing such a wonderful Christmas present and to Susana Vardayan for her hard work rehearsing the choir. 

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PS We even had a brilliant rendering of the Mariah Carey version of All I Want For Christmas Is You in perfect English.

I don't want a lot for Christmas
There's just one thing I need
I don't care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree
I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas is...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Why do I still get excited?

As a child, Christmas was the most wonderfully exciting time and even as a young adult it was great fun. When we had our children, it became exciting again but now the children are all grown up and somehow it still feels exciting.

There are only two presents under the tree for me of which one of them I already know the contents and yet I still can’t wait to rip that paper off and see what is inside.

Pam and I have a lovely lunch to look forward to and a choral concert tonight but best of all will be chatting with our family and especially Miss Molly on Skype this afternoon. She is not yet two but already knows that ho, ho, ho brings presents to good children. I bet she is downstairs now ripping away at all that paper. I almost wish I was there to see her. 

Anyway, enough of this, you’ve probably all got enough to do without reading anymore. I hope Santa ha been kind to you and that you are enjoying your Christmas.

Best wishes


Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas message from France

Many here in Bigastro will remember John and Gladys Reid. John used to clean pools and then got into the business of selling novelty items. They now live in France where they run a successful online business.

They still keep in touch and I know John reads my blog.

Hello Keith and Pam
I trust you are well and prepared for Santa's visit this weekend.
May I take this opportunity to wish you both and all residents that remember me at Villas Andrea a Very Happy Christmas and a Prosperous 2012.
With fond memories and best wishes
John Reid
PS. We finally sold our house in Bigastro !

That is good news, I know that John and Gladys are well settled in France and so it made sense to sell their house here. They were a very popular couple, still are, and we do miss them. I will send them best wishes on all our behalves.

What will you be doing Christmas Day?

Will you be dining with friends and family or enjoying a quiet Christmas at home? Pam and I will be here in Bigastro, out for lunch at La Herradura, carol concert in the evening and hopefully catching up with our granddaughter and family online via Skype.

One thing Pam and I will not be doing is shopping online but according to the Sun newspaper we could well be in the minority. The paper claims that bargain hunters will spend £410 million on Christmas Day and that after the £2 billion they spent yesterday in the shops and a further £2 billion they will be spending today.

The prediction is that 12.5 million people in Britain will log on to the Internet on Christmas Day as many shops start their online sales. Amazingly, 2.6 million are expected to be at their computers between midnight tonight and 6am tomorrow morning hoping to get the first pick of what is on offer. However, the busiest period is predicted to  be between 7pm and 8pm when the children have gone to bed.

Apparently Boxing Day will see even more spending: predictions show that £800 million could be spent on that day online and a further £2.8 billion in the shops.

I well remember photos of queues outside Next in Liverpool at 5am on Boxing Day and thinking those people must be mad. I also remember going to B&Q one Boxing Day hoping to pick up a bargain. I didn’t get there until 10:30am by which time all the shoppers and the bargains had gone!

At 5am on Boxing Day, I will still be sleeping off the special brandy and cigars I’ve bought for Christmas!

A merry Christmas to you all

IMG_5062 Pam and I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas.

My your hearts be filled with peace and love and your homes with joy and happiness.

Have a wonderful day tomorrow and if you live in Bigastro, we will see you at the Carol Concert at 6:30pm in the Auditorium.
Santa 2 For all the children that maybe read this blog, we hope that Santa Claus brings you all that you wish for.  

Please remember to leave him something to drink though and don’t forget the carrots for his reindeer.

PS Santa always seemed to like the brandy that I left him and drank it all up. You may leave him something different but please not orange squash because he doesn’t care for that. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

How can that be possible?

It may come as a shock to many of our friends and relatives in the UK to read that this last 12 months has been the driest on record in England and Wales. The situation is apparently so bad that South East Water has sent out letters asking people to take showers rather than baths and not to wash their cars over the Christmas period. One of the reasons for this ban is because South West water miscalculated the amount of water in one its reservoirs – DOH!.

The last time that a ban was imposed in winter was 2003 in the North West. Unless there is substantial rain in the next few months, Britain could face severe water restrictions in spring and summer.

Many of the younger generation will not remember stand pipes in the streets but Pam and I do. Having to go out in your dressing gown to get a jerry can of water for your breakfast cup of tea was not good.  

Stop ripping us off

Pam and I regularly book flights to the UK using budget airlines and have got used to the “extra charges” we have to pay. The charge that irritates us most is the one levied for using a card to pay. How on earth can they justify charging to use a card when that is the only means of payment?

It isn’t just low cost airlines that charge to use a card, the practice has become widespread on the Internet.  Annoyingly, it is only when you are about to click on the final button on the screen that the amount you will be charged to use a card pops up. In some cases, the charge is more than the item you are buying which is a nonsense.

These days it costs buttons to process debit card payments and not a lot more to process credit cards so why do the likes of Ryanair charge £12 and why do some ticket vendors charge a fee per ticket when they only pay a fee per transaction?

The answer is simple, they are ripping us off but no more because the UK Government have decided to stop the practice by imposing a ban. You can bet that low cost airlines will be smarting at that idea because charging for the “extras” is how they make huge profits. It would not surprise me to find that they shift the levy to some other item of “extras” that you can’t avoid.

Oh dear

I got that wrong yesterday.  Pam and I had agreed that the best hours for our class would be between 4pm and 6pm and not 5pm to 7pm as I stated. I do hope those hours suit others as well, I will email them today to let them know. The days that Aurelio mentioned were Mondays and Wednesdays which again I hope suits others in the class.

The biggest winner was the State

To Spaniards the chance to win a small fortune on the Christmas lottery is just too much of a temptation. They spent 2.7bn Euros, an average of  57 Euros each on tickets this year in the hope of winning one of the prizes which totalled almost 2bn Euros.

There was one first prize of 4m, a second prize of 1.25m a third prize of 500,000, two fourth prizes of 200,000 and eight fifth prizes of 60,000 Euros. In all, including the minor prizes, 27 million people would have benefited from Thursday’s draw.

Most people do not buy a whole ticket which is divided into ten parts costing 20 Euros each.  In fact many share the cost of a 20 Euro decimo so that they can have a range of numbers. If you had one 20 Euro decimo with the winning number on Thursday, you would have won 400,000 Euros.

The biggest winner though was the state which kept 30% of the money spent on El Gordo. One billion Euros represents 0.1% of GDP or 1% of this year’s budget deficit target.

Still that would not have concerned the residents of Grañén in the Huesca province where the decimos of the winning number were sold. Apparently, one lucky person bought 4 decimos just hours before the lottery shop closed. Eighty Euros is a lot to spend on such a risk but it paid off this time with a prize of 1.6m Euros.

For the unscrupulous ones, there is even a chance to make more.  Because Spaniards don’t pay tax on the winnings, the lucky ones are often offered extra by those wanting to use the tickets as a way of laundering money earned in the underground economy. “Black money” is thought to account for 17% of Spain's GDP.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Made it

One of our Spanish friends, Evaristo, asked me when my photos of the book presentation that I took last night would be posted to my blog. I told him they would be there this morning, he said, “before 8:30am?” and I replied, “I hope so”.

News is only news when it is fresh so I do try and get my photos published as soon as possible.

For concerts and fiestas, when there are a lot of photos, this is not always possible because I take my pictures in what is called RAW format. That means that they have not been processed in the camera. Taking pictures in RAW format allows me to make adjustments to colour and brightness that I simply could not make if I took them in the usual Jpeg format. However, processing each RAW image takes time which is why there is sometimes a delay.

This morning though I was up early and at my computer by about 7am. That meant that I could post my story by 8:01 beating my deadline by 29 minutes.

As well as publishing a selection of photos on my blog, I have also sent the full set to my friend Germán at the Ayuntamiento for inclusion in their web album. When he has the opportunity, he will probably publish them for all to see. I have also burnt a set of photos for Lola onto a CD and I have printed her and the family a montage of photos from the event.

So job done and now I can have my breakfast!

Aurelio has come up trumps

I had spoken to Aurelio Murcia, Councillor for Education in Bigastro, about our Spanish class and the issues we were having. He fully understood the situation and said he would endeavour to find another teacher who was perhaps more suited to our needs.

Aurelio has now fulfilled that promise and has found someone prepared to teach us for 2 x 2 hour sessions each week starting on Monday the 9th January. What Aurelio needs to know is what times would suit us best. From Pam and my point of view, 5pm to 7pm would be perfect but of course others may feel different.

I should be grateful if people would contact me to let me know what their preferences are so that we can find times that would suit us all.

Lola Lorente

Last night, Pam and I attended the presentation of Lola Lorente’s book, “Sangre de mi Sangre” in Bigastro.

First we had a résumé of Lola’s credentials as a comic artist including the various prizes that she has been awarded and the work she has accomplished.This was followed by an explanation in the form of questions and answers about what motivated her to produce the book and the underlying theme. Lola also explained what influences she drew from and the techniques that she used in drawing her cartoons.

There were then a number of questions from the audience to be answered and finally she sat down to sign copies of the book. Being an artist, Lola did not simply inscribe a brief greeting and her signature, she carefully drew a cartoon on the fly page of each book. That was a very personal touch that I am sure was much appreciated.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Car sharing

cochesWhen I lived in Moreton, a neighbour and I shared our cars with two other teachers who lived in Liscard. The four of us would go together into Liverpool dropping off at the three schools involved. My neighbour and I would take turns each week for two or three days to drive our cars.

Mostly it worked well but there were times when it broke down and I was left stranded waiting for my lift to arrive (remember we did not have mobile phones in those days). As my commitments grew it also became difficult for me to fit in with the timings and so, reluctantly I opted out and travelled on my own each day.

There was always the thorny issue of insurance because in the case of an accident, insurance companies then would not pay out if it could be shown that you were operating as a taxi – i.e. charging passengers for a lift.

Now I read that Orihuela has set up a car sharing scheme using an Internet database as a means of contact. The idea is that you simply enter your details i.e. the days, times you travel, the route, the number of available seats and the cost. Then people can choose to share with you and reduce both the cost of your journeys (most seem to be charging 1 or 2 Euros so that is not really significant) and perhaps more important, the environmental cost in terms of CO2 emissions.

From music and films to books

The market for illegal downloads of music and films has been saturated as the programs to make the downloads possible are openly available on the internet. Legislation to stop downloading has failed miserably as the pirates have found ways and means to continue. On the plus side, this activity has driven down the prices of legal downloads via e.g. iTunes but on the negative side has reduced the sales of CDs and DVDs to a trickle. To be fair, many would argue that the artists, like footballers, are vastly overpaid and that the prices of CDs and DVDs were exorbitant. There is a big difference though between paying an inflated price for your entertainment and paying nothing.  

Now it is the turn of ebooks which can be read on a computer or with an ebook reader to suffer. Once reading books in this way started to become popular, it was inevitable that people would find ways to avoid paying for them.  Although there are many free books available to download legally, recent works have to be paid for and in some cases these are as expensive as the printed copies.

Some would argue that the cost of production and distribution of ebooks is less than printed versions and point to the fact that there is no surplus to pay for i.e. there are no copies left on bookshop shelves to gather dust. However, writers have to make a living and naturally expect a reward for their years of effort. Writing might be a passion but it is also the sole source of income for most authors. Sales of books in any form hit a peak in the first few years and then tail off.

The situation of illegal downloading has become so bad that I read today, in the Guardian paper that the Spanish novelist, Lucia Etxebarria has now decided not to write any more novels until the situation is sorted out. She says that Spain ranks at the top in terms of per capita illegal downloads of ebooks. Her latest book is not available as a legal download but can be found in pdf form widely on the Internet. The print edition costs 20 Euros which some say is too expensive for them to afford. They cite that as their justification for getting an e copy for next to nothing.

The author claims that people are making millions out of online piracy by setting up in places like Belize. She says that the Spanish government have been too scared to pass laws banning illegal downloads and that in future she will only publish in French and German because in those countries the laws offer greater protection for writers.

Apparently, it is not just Spanish authors whose books are subject to illegal downloading in Spain; best selling British authors suffer as as well. The only countries with a larger problem world wide are China and Russia.

I can hold my hand on heart and say that I have never downloaded illegal music, films or books. Actually, I did once try to download a film using file sharing software but the process was taking so long on the slow connection I had in those days that I gave up and have never bothered since.

PS My wife, who is an avid reader, prefers an actual book in her hand. Although she has an iPad and can download books to it, she still prefers a printed copy.  However, she does read the online version of newspapers because a) it is convenient and b) the cost of English papers here is Spain is very high.

Racing for charity

20111220_car Today at 11:00am, the IES Miguel Hernandez, Miguel Hernandez Parent's’ Association and the Department of Education and Sports are hosting a race for the benefit of  the Red Cross Organisation.

Dance the night away in Bigastro this Christmas

20111220_djotas Christmas Eve, New Year and Twelfth Night, starting at 1am, enjoy music by DJ. Chato and DJ. Sergio Arques in the marquee installed in the car park on C / Gabriel Miró and on New Year's Eve, Dj. Billy will delight us with the music of the 60s, 70s and 80s in the Municipal Auditorium.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gymnastics display

Gráfico11The Department of Sports have organized an exhibition of gymnastics for the 23rd December at 8:00pm in the Municipal Pavilion (that is probably the marquee in the park). 

He means business

Ahead of his inauguration today, Spain's new prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, told parliament that he does not expect to be popular because the measures he has to take to reduce public spending by at least 16.5 bn Euros will be harsh.

The only people who will see rises are pensioners, all other areas of public spending will face cuts. Rajoy was not specific about exactly where these cuts would come or the extent of them.

He went on to say that he will force the countries banks to own up to the scale of losses they have on bad property loans. They will be required to reveal the full extent of their toxic debt at realistic prices. They would then be encouraged to sell off their property portfolios which of course would flood the market with more cheap housing driving prices down even further.

He also mentioned the notion of a “bad bank” which would soak up the debt but was not specific about how this would work. He also proposed a major reform of the financial sector with a second wave of mergers to maintain solvency.

Unions and employers will have to agree on labour reforms that will make collective bargaining more flexible and reduce the cost of hiring and firing. The “bridging”* of holidays will largely go and there will be measures taken to reduce absenteeism. People will be encouraged to work for longer thus reducing the pension bill.

There will be 3,000 Euros of aid given to companies prepared to offer young people their first job and rebates on social security payments for them.

He also promised reforms of the education system which would mean that all schools would be required to teach both Spanish and English and the Bachillerato will be for three years.    

* In cases where there are two public holidays separated by a work day, the holiday is bridged giving workers three days.


You can’t believe all that you read in the press, even the “serious” newspapers are guilty of scaremongering. Yesterday I picked up the story about plans for the evacuation of ex pats from Spain and Portugal in the Daily Telegraph. The same story had been apparently run in the Sunday Times.

One of our neighbours, who is out of the country at the moment, has pointed me in the direction of a web site called Typically Spanish. On that site they tell us that a British Embassy spokesperson in Madrid said:

“All British Embassies regularly update contingency planning for all sorts of scenarios, including natural disasters and internal political unrest.
“There is no Spain (or Portugal) contingency plan for a euro-based evacuation, nor do we have any intention of preparing one. It is fanciful to imagine that a major evacuation of British nationals would either be necessary or feasible.”

That makes more sense than the notion that the British Government are considering chartering ships, planes and coaches to evacuate the whole ex pat population of Spain. If the banks were allowed to collapse then it would not just be the accounts of ex pats that were frozen, all accounts of Spaniards and other nationalities would be frozen as well. The whole country would need to be evacuated or at least given assistance. 

I’m not sure what the motives of the stories in the Sunday Times and Telegraph are but if people gave them credibility there would be a panic run on banks with people withdrawing their funds just as they did with Northern Rock Building Society. If that were to happen it would cause a collapse of the banks in Spain.   

Monday, December 19, 2011

This from the Daily Telegraph

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Treasury are putting measures in place to help evacuate thousands of expatriates living in Spain and Portugal in case they are stranded no access to their savings.

The two countries, which both have sizeable British populations, were among those made vulnerable by the "sustained deterioration" in funding.

Spain was warned by credit rating agency Fitch that it was facing a debt downgrade along with Italy, while Ireland, Belgium, Slovenia and Cyprus were also given the warning.

Meanwhile, around one million Britons live in Spain with around 50,000 in Portugal.

The Foreign Office said it was concerned they could be cut off from their accounts if the countries' banks called in loans.

A source told the Sunday Times the Government was considering chartering planes, ships and coaches to bring expats back to the UK.

“The nuclear scenario would be having thousands of Brits stranded at the airports in Spain and Portugal with no way to get money from the cash dispenser and no way to get home. Who would be blamed for this? The Foreign Office," an official said.

“We are looking at how we can help evacuate them if the banks in Spain and Portugal collapse, getting people cash, things like that, sending planes. We did similar things in Lebanon in 2006. We are coordinating with the Treasury.”

Financial aid could also be sent to expats, many of whom are retired and living on small incomes.

A Treasury spokesman said: "Of course we plan for a range of contingencies. We are not going into the specifics of what we are planning for."

Last month, it was reported that the Foreign Office had asked embassies and consulates for contingency plans for rioting and social unrest in countries most affected by the eurozone crisis.

Diplomats were told to prepare for an evacuation of tens for/of thousands of British citizens as a banking collapse could mean they would be unable to withdraw cash.

An FCO spokesperson said: "Officials continue to contingency plan for a range of possible scenarios"

Let us just hope that it doesn’t come to this.

Some pictures from last night

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I’ve sent all of my photos to the Ayuntamiento who might publish them later.

Christmas started last night

Programme 1 Last night we had the pleasure of attending the Christmas concert at the Auditorium.

The programme cover included this wonderful picture by Teah Kayla Collins, winner of the competition for Christmas card designs organised by the School of Music.

As you can see, Teah’s theme was Santa’s sleigh loaded with gifts. The musical references on the sleigh and the instruments as presents were obviously what caught the judge’s eyes.

Programme 2 Those of you in the know will recognise the challenging pieces that the band chose to play in the first part of the concert. Jazz suite number 2 by Shostakovitch in particular stretched the musicians. and the soloists.

The second part of the concert started with three villancicos (popular Spanish songs for Christmas), none of which we have heard before. The children from the school of music joined the band to form a choir.

The final number on the programme was the delightful medley of Christmas tunes arranged by Leroy Anderson which did in fact include ‘Jingle Bells’. The children joined in with the Spanish version of ‘Silent Night’ which to our ears sounded strange because you didn’t get the rhymes e.g. night and bright; child and mild.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Start your Christmas well

I can find no mention of it on the Bigastro web site but I can tell you, from the programme for Santa Cecilia, that there will be a concert tonight at the Auditorium. It is, of course, a special concert for Christmas so we can expect a festive theme to it. I doubt they will be playing ‘Jingle Bells’ or ‘Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer’  but you never know. The concert starts at 6:30pm.

On Christmas Day there will be a choral concert at night and I think we can expect the odd villancico or two to be included in that programme.

Talking of singing, it is sad that this year Pam and I will not be joining with the ladies from the other Adult Education classes to sing a few carols to the children at Bigastrin. It had become a bit of a tradition that we enjoyed which, due to the collapse of our Spanish class, has now gone by the wayside.

Sick people

When Pam’s father was Station Officer at Hoylake, they had a volunteer fireman who would go out onto nearby Caldy Hill and start fires deliberately in order to earn himself the callout fee. Strictly speaking, the fireman was not an arsonist but rather an opportunist. However, I have no doubt though that Pam’s father came across a number of true arsonists during his long career in the service.

In Torrevieja there is an arsonist or arsonists who have been responsible for lighting fires in the area of the salt lakes of Torrevieja and La Mata. The fire brigade reckon they are responsible for 40 fires over the last three years and may have been responsible for the fire there yesterday because it seems that the blaze started in three different locations.

In all 8,000 square metres of bush and cane were destroyed by the fire which was first detected at 11am and was brought under control by 1pm. The operation involved crews from Orihuela, Torrevieja and Almoradi along with the helicopter from the Provincial Fire Consortium in Alicante. 

I have no idea what motivates people to start fires deliberately. However, I can imagine the cost of dousing the fire yesterday and although there was no risk to housing, there is always a risk factor for fire crews putting out a blaze.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Better stock up

We know that the Valencia region is cash strapped and has huge debts that it can’t pay. One of those is to the chemists in the three provinces who are owed 60 million Euros for prescriptions they have already dispensed. This has put the whole system into jeopardy because the chemists owe that money to the drug companies that supply them and without payment, the drug companies will no longer supply the chemists.

In November, Valencia promised to make the payment on December 10th but now say that will have to be at the end of this month. The chemists have said that is unacceptable and have decided to go on strike for three days (December19th to December 21st). They have also said that they will have to ration medicines to patients who have chronic conditions in order to reduce their debt to the drug companies.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Am I glad?

We escaped the British weather on Tuesday, a day that was supposed to be stormy but turned out to be sunny with just a light wind to cool things down.

Since then, things have got worse for Britain and this morning there are heavy snowfalls throughout much of the country. I just got an email from Dave (my daughter's fiancee) with a picture of the tram station. You can see the snow drifting down onto the tracks - not enough to stop the tram to work running but enough to make the journey miserable.

Last year, we visited the UK for Molly's first Christmas and faced some very cold wintery weather with roads covered in snow and ice. We did not want to repeat that experience again this year which is why we chose to visit a little earlier. As it was, we had a mix of sunshine, heavy rain, sleet and a cold biting wind. That was bad enough - snow would have just about seen us off. We don't do snow anymore!

Smell the coffee

How on earth are we going to get out of this crisis when our politicians can’t even talk to each other.

I know that many Brits joke about not liking the French but this is no time for the leaders of both countries to engage in a war of words. Britain has decided to veto the new EU treaty and France does not like that. It is likely that France will be downgraded from its tripe A credit status which will affect the countries ability to borrow money. The French say that is not fair and that Britain should be downgraded first: Britain naturally thinks otherwise.

In the meantime The United States and China are engaged in a tit-for-tat trade battle. China has decided to put a tariff on high performance US cars and in retaliation the US says that China ignores trade rules, subsidises its own companies, discriminates against foreign companies and has poor intellectual property protection. Interestingly, most of the things Pam and I have bought recently from clothes to It equipment have come from China. It seems that nowhere else in the world is either capable of making anything or, more to the point, everywhere else the cost of production is too expensive. I bet a lot of the things Yankees buy come from China as well!

The reason we got into this crisis is because we all became too greedy. We wanted more than anyone else, paid ourselves more, borrowed more, bought more and now we are licking our wounds. That is the reason why China is doing so well, they didn’t get greedy but that might not last.

Unless countries work together in agreement, the economic crisis will just get worse for all of us. Those countries that think they are immune and don’t need to contribute to the solution will go down with the rest. As my wife would say, “wake up world and smell the coffee”.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Back in Bigastro

Pam and I had a wonderful eight day trip to England. The weather might have been mostly rubbish but the company was brilliant.

First off we visited the Wirral and stayed in Heswall. That allowed us to do some shopping for presents and clothes in Chester. Whilst the shopping in Liverpool might have been more varied, Chester is compact and is just a magical place to be at Christmas. Sods law though, two days after I bought myself some new togs, Marks & Spencer had a 25% off men’s clothing day!

Whilst on the Wirral, Pam and I took the opportunity to catch up with some of the people that she worked with and got to know in her years as an infant teacher at Pensby. We also met up with our ex neighbours - Hugh, Angela and Andrew to see how their new kitchen was coming on.

Hugh and Angela’s new kitchen is fabulous and will make cooking for them that much easier and more pleasant. Both Andrew and Hugh are keen chefs and so had a very clear idea of what they wanted in the new layout. I’d say they got it just perfect. Andrew writes “the Redline Kitchen” blog about the food they prepare which has been in abeyance for a few weeks. I eagerly await reading about the first dish from their new kitchen. After checking out the work in the kitchen we all went for a wonderful meal at the Manor Farm in Greasby.

We visited Pam’s father a couple of times, to take him some new clothes and of course chocolates. It was good to see him looking well and he did remember who we were. He even remembered who Jemma was after a little prompting and remarked that her hair was a different colour (she was blonde when he knew her). The home where he is staying is just so good, they care for him better than we could hope for. 

Having done all we wanted to do on the Wirral, Pam and I then moved on to Sale. This time we stayed at the Premier Inn near Manchester airport because that was where the best deal was. It is only twenty minutes away from Laura and Dave’s house and so was reasonably convenient.

Our eldest daughter, Jemma came up from Wolverhampton to spend the weekend with us and cooked us a special pre- Christmas meal on the Saturday. It was good to spend some time with her. Since Molly has been born we have spent very little time at Jemma’s house and we do feel guilty about that. Having a granddaughter is obviously a distraction but it does not alter the love we share with both of our daughters.

However, the highlight of the trip was seeing Molly. Pam and I were held up on the way over to Sale and so Molly had to be patient and look at the large box wrapped in Christmas paper,  which stood before her for two hours - she knew it was a present for her! As we walked into the house, there was Molly bouncing with joy, her arms wide open, waiting to give me a great big hug and a kiss. Even the hardest man’s heat would melt at such a greeting.

The formalities of greetings over, Molly got on with tearing the paper off that big box to find her present inside. We are pleased to say that she loved the kitchen we’d bought her and played with it for hours making us cups of tea, cooking pasta and baking cakes.

All too soon, it was time for us to fly back home. It is good to be back in the sun in our own home but we will miss being with our family at least for awhile that is. Hopefully, we will get to chat with Molly and Dave this afternoon on Skype. And as for Jemma – we must make more of an effort to Skype you as well.

Lola Lorente

20111205_lolaLola Lorente will be presenting her book of cartoon drawings, Blood of my blood at the Auditorium on December 21st at 8:30pm.

At the presentation she will explain the theme of the book and how it came about. I will be there with my camera of course.

Pam and I were delighted to be given a copy of the book by Lola’s brother Rafa. It is a delightful book of the most carefully crafted drawings which tell a fascinating story. To say that it is a true work of art is the least, many hours of work have one into producing this book which we hope will sell thousands of copies and make Lola fabulously wealthy as a result.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Enough already

The break in the appalling  weather was short lived. The wind has dropped but the rain keeps coming and going and it is darned cold. Worse though is forecast as the storm that battered Scotland is set to return at the start at next week. That is not good news because we are due to fly back home on Tuesday. At best we will have a bumpy take off from Manchester.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Good old British weather

As I said, it rained hard the day we arrived. Then the wind picked up to gale force but fortunately the rain stopped. Now the wind has calmed, the rain and sleet has returned.

The weather on the Wirral was bad enough, on the way over to Manchester it was worse. It is hard to get used to darkness falling at 3pm in the afternoon!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Good old Ronald

I am not prepared to pay the £5 per hour that Premier Inn charges for a wifi connection. That is just robbery! Instead I’ve taken advantage of a shopping trip to Chester to call in at McDonalds where you get a wifi connection free of charge.

I could have been dead cheeky and just sat down but no, I have bought a Big Mac and a coffee to pay for the service.

By the way, in case you were wondering about the weather here; when we arrived on Monday, it poured with rain and the journey over to the Wirral was just awful. The gritters were out on the motorway and it was sleeting. On the WIrral though, things were much better. It has been mainly dry since if  a touch windy! Good old Briish winters are a constant reminder of one of the reasons why we moved to Spain.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Lo siento

As some of you will know, we are in the UK at the moment making a pre-Christmas visit to family and friends.

We are staying in a Premier Inn where I have two choices for an internet connection; either I pay £5 for 60 minutes of wifi or I use my Vodafone dongle. The only issue with the dongle is that it is picking up a GRPS signal rather than a 3G. FOr the benefit of those who don’t know, GPRS is slow, very slow.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

More on Clarkson

Humour takes many different forms; some of which could be described as offensive. What some find downright funny, others find sickening and distasteful. Personally, I don’t particularly care for those types of humour that make fun of minorities, disabilities, and people in unfortunate circumstances.  However there are those that do.

As I said the other day, I enjoy watching Clarkson, May and Hammond on Top Gear and take a lot of what they say with a huge pinch of salt. For me, they are at their best when they are making fun of themselves. However, there have been many times when their humour has been directed elsewhere. 

Jeremy Clarkson and his co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May have a history of making comments and causing offence.

  • Clarkson and James May got into hot water when they parked their electric cars in disabled parking bays.
  • On a show broadcast in January 2011 Hammond joked that Mexican cars reflected national characteristics, saying they were "just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat". May chipped in by describing Mexican food as "like sick with cheese on it" and Clarkson predicted they would not get any complaints about the show because "at the Mexican embassy, the ambassador is going to be sitting there with a remote control like this (snores). They won't complain, it's fine". In fact they did complain.
  • Then it was the turn of Albanians: Clarkson said, "Apparently, what happens is Albanians go to England, get a job, buy a car and then bring it back with them," In the programme he and co-presenters May and Richard Hammond went to the east European country ostensibly to road-test cars for a mafia boss. One prerequisite was that the boot should be large enough to hold a dead body.
  • Clarkson described the Ferrari F430 Speciale as "a bit wrong ... that smiling front end ... it looked like a simpleton ... [it] should have been called the 430 Speciale Needs".
  • Clarkson told Top Gear magazine that TV bosses were obsessed with having "black Muslim lesbians" on shows to balance out the numbers of white heterosexual men. "The problem is that television executives have got it into their heads that if one presenter on a show is a blond-haired, blue-eyed heterosexual boy, the other must be a black Muslim lesbian. Chalk and cheese, they reckon, works. But here we have Top Gear setting new records after six years using cheese and cheese. It confuses them."
  • At the Edinburgh TV festival, Clarkson told an audience of media types that women were often pushed to the front of the Top Gear studio audience so they were seen behind the presenters. "We get 500 people coming to the show each week and most of them are oafs," he said. "Who would you rather have in our shots?" But he added it would be a "disaster" to have a female presenter on the show. "I think a girl would be a disaster, seeing the chemistry we have now," he said. "You bring a girl in and you start taking the piss out of her, that would look like bullying.
  • Clarkson made a rare personal apology after comparing Gordon Brown to Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd during a tour of the country. "It's the first time I've ever seen a world leader [Rudd] admit we really are in deep shit," Clarkson was reported as saying, of a speech by the then Australian PM about the depth of global financial crisis in 2009. "He genuinely looked terrified. Poor man, he's actually seen the books. We have this one-eyed Scottish idiot who keeps telling us everything's fine and he's saved the world and we know he's lying, but he's smooth at telling us."
  • In an item about lorries on Top Gear, Clarkson said to the other presenters: "What matters to lorry drivers? Murdering prostitutes? Fuel economy?" A few minutes later Clarkson added: "This is a hard job [driving a lorry] and I'm not just saying this to win favour with lorry drivers: change gear; change gear; change gear; check your mirrors; murder a prostitute … "
  • The BBC2 show was actually told off by the BBC Trust's editorial standards committee for showing Clarkson and May drinking gin and tonics while driving during a Polar special.
  • And he insulted the Germans by saying; for a picnic you’d want the Germans to make the hamper and the Italians to prepare the food adding that you would not want the Germans to make the food.

When Oxford Brookes University wanted to offer Clarkson an honorary degree, there was a massive protest. He was described as a moron who spouts ignorant and antisocial rubbish, a dangerous philistine who displays and alarming lack of intelligence.  They cited comments from him e.g. describing ramblers as ‘urban communists’ and cyclists as ‘Lycra Nazis’. In spite of all the protest, the university awarded Clarkson the degree.

Just to prove his eccentricity, he has apparently questioned why Britain has so many hills, proposed that great white sharks should be eaten to distinction, got excited at the thought of Birmingham covered in a glacier, he rammed a car into a tree and drove up Ben Togue in a 4x4.

About global warming, Clarkson said, "What's wrong with global warming? We might lose Holland but there are other places to go on holiday."

Clarkson did apologise for the comments he made about striking workers on Wednesday.

However, in the same show, he also made comments about people who commit suicide by throwing themselves in front of trains and has now reiterated those comments in his column in the Sun newspaper. He says they are being selfish because they cause delays to passengers and adds that they could scar the poor train driver for life. The article then moves into the realms of extreme bad taste when Clarkson says that ‘foxy woxy and the birds’ should be left to ‘nibble’ at the ‘gooey parts’ of people who die by jumping in front of trains. Understandably, that has caused a lot of complaints from Mental Health groups who are baying for his blood.

Of course, none of Clarkson's  comments would matter if they were not widely publicised both on television and in the newspapers. Whilst we might complain about the remarks that he makes, without the media, nobody would care what he said. The truth is, we like someone like Clarkson to rant about. It does us good to vent our spleen about his latest outrageous comments - he knows that and so does the media which is why they pay him so much to write such rubbish.

As for Clarkson; he should have the intelligence to know that, “once you have been shot, you keep your head below the parapet - at least until you know that it is safe to show your face again.”

Saturday, December 03, 2011

A legacy of problems

In an article published in the newspaper Laverdad, the mayor of Bigastro Charo Bañuls  says that the method of payment used by the previous council for the work on Avenida Apatel was illegal. The money was coming from the Government under the Feil Plan E scheme and so they should not have issued promissory notes.  The lady mayor explains that promissory notes are normally only used for transactions between individuals. From my understanding, the company involved, Pastor Medina were only paid 30% of the cost of the work.

The article goes on to say that one of the notes to Pastor Medina was signed on the 11th April due to be paid on the 11th May. In spite of the fact that the council would have received the money from the Government on the 5th May, no payment was made. The lady mayor says that this signals deceit on the part of the previous administration to the government ministry involved.

The current council are also in difficulty because the previous council left them with promissory notes to suppliers dated from June to December which amount to 1,527,187 Euros -again an amount which they say cannot legally be paid. 

I confess that my limited Spanish makes it difficult for me to understand completely the issues raised in the article. However, I get the impression from what I have read that none of this is good. Whether the present administration would have been able to act differently in the circumstances is a question that I am sure the previous mayor will ask. In fairness, the Socialists, who were in power, stood between a rock and a hard place.

I’ll take a look at that

20111201_mirades The Department of Culture and the University Miguel Hernández in Elche, invites us to visit an exhibition of paintings entitled “Look” in the multipurpose room of the Municipal Auditorium. The exhibition will run from the 5th to the 21st of December 21. Hours of opening are from 16:30 to 20:30.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Sweet justice

There is a  tradition of throwing sweets to children from floats during the various parades that take place in Spain; it happens during fiestas and also when the Three Kings parade on the 6th January. There is of course always the potential for a badly aimed sweet, especially a hard one, to hit someone and cause injury. No doubt it has happened many times over the years.

In fact, I read in the Telegraph newspaper this morning about a lady who was hit in the eye during such a parade in the Huelva province of southern Spain. The lady subsequently made a complaint about Balthazar, who threw the sweet, and the case went to court.

The magistrate was very clever, he ruled that it was not possible to prosecute a foreign dignitary of unknown origin. He went on to say that the court would need to establish the true nationality of Balthazar before the rules of international law could be applied. All that is known is that the three wise men came from the east which of course covers quite a few countries and states.

Although everyone knows that the Three Kings are in fact local people dressed up, the case was brought specifically against Balthazar because the lady obviously did not know the true identity of the person in the costume.

Here in Spain, people seem to be made accountable for their own actions much more so than they are in Britain. If you trip on a pavement here it is because you were not looking where you were going rather than an act of negligence on the council’s part. By the same token, if you go to watch the Three Kings parade, you expect them to throw sweets so you either apply a bit of caution or you stay well back out of harms way.

The magistrate was right, it would be sad if the practice of throwing sweets to children during parades was banned. Actually, I doubt that there will be much sweet throwing this year in cash strapped municipalities like Bigastro.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Keeping you up to date

I contacted Aurelio Murcia, the councillor for education, last Wednesday regarding the issues that we were having with the Spanish class he had organised for us. He is fully aware of the problems and has asked me to tell all members of the class that there will be no class today.
Aurelio told me this morning that he will try and find a more suitable person to teach us and let me know when that happens.

Since I have heard nothing from our classmate regarding alternative Spanish lessons with Eduardo, I am assuming those will not happen.

I will, of course keep you informed of developments. 


It seems I was wrong, the classes with Eduardo will go ahead on Tuesdays and Fridays and the cost for two hours will be 5 Euros per person. As far as I can gather, three people have already signed up for the classes which will take place in the apartment of one of the members who lives in Jacarilla. As I have said before, Pamela and I will not be taking part.

Engage brain before mouth

I regularly watch back episodes of the BBC programme,Top Gear on the Discovery channel and whilst I enjoy most of the antics of Clarkson, May and Hammond, I do get irritated by some of the comments they make about cars. To tell viewers that an Alfa Romeo will fall to bits and is not even good to drive but then suggest that none of this matters and we should all buy one because of its looks seems crazy. It is alright for people who have more money than sense to waste it on cars that are totally impracticable but for the rest of us, we need something reliable, comfortable and sensible – the very cars that the three presenters  enjoy deriding.

I cannot for the life of me see the point in cars that are capable of jaw breaking acceleration and top speeds three times the legal limit on roads, especially when they offer little by the way of comfort to the driver and worse still any passengers that can be squeezed in. If they were just meant for use on the track, that would at least make some sense but they are not. Many of these cars are supposedly intended for people to use as everyday transport on the road.

Leaving aside the business of car, there are also times when the three presenters overstep the mark with their comments about other matters as well. For example, I recall Clarkson getting into deep water over his remarks about Mexicans.

Not one to learn from his mistakes, it now seems that Clarkson has made comments about striking public sector workers. On the “One Show”, he apparently said that he would have them all shot and went to explain that he would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. As if that wasn’t enough, he later complained about the fact that the train to London regularly stopped at Reading because someone had jumped on the line. His suggestion was that the train should just carry on because stopping would not help the person dead on the track.

Jeremy Clarkson, who enjoys a £1m salary from the public sector, clearly thought he was being funny but unfortunately many have not seen it that way. To disagree with strike action is one thing but in the present mood of Britain, Clarkson’s remarks were at the very least insensitive. There may come a time when he needs the assistance of one of those striking nurses. If that happens, I hope they don’t remember what he said about them yesterday.