Sunday, September 30, 2012

Exercising the grey matter

Having spent the summer reading books on the beach or by the pool, you’ll be in need of a fresh supply. The heavy rain on Friday brought summer to an abrupt end and even if the weather stays mild for the next few weeks, you will need something to read as the nights start to draw in.

The good news is that help is at hand because today between 3pm and 4pm you can stroll (or drive) up to the Albergue at La Pedrera and stock up on some good novels to keep you busy during the cold months to come. I’m told there is a huge selection to choose from, everything from racy stuff to something a little more serious.

PS Rumour has it that one of our Liverpudlian neighbours has donated her 50 shades of grey books to the collection for those who might be interested.

No shine from the diamonds

The Diamonds of the Opera show that was advertised on the Bigastro web site was scheduled for last night at 9pm. Pam and I had our evening meal early and I packed my camera gear ready to take photos.

Realising that this could be popular, we set off in the car in good time. When we got to the car park on the other side of the bypass we did wonder why there were so few cars there. As we crossed the bridge we could see that the auditorium was in darkness and as we reached the doors it was clear that nothing was taking place.

On our way back home we began to doubt our sanity, had we just imagined that poster or had we simply misread it. Maybe we had the date wrong or possibly the concert was at some other venue so we both checked it thoroughly. I’m pleased to say that our sanity is still intact, the poster did say Saturday 29th September at 9pm and the concert was to be held in the Auditorium Francisco Grau.

There was obviously some good reason why the concert was cancelled. However, what I cannot understand is how come everyone else but us knew that. I would have expected at least a handful of others to be waiting outside having read the same advert on the web site but no, there wasn’t another soul by the doors to the auditorium.

Hopefully someone will be able to shed some light on this mystery for us.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Not so lucky Jim

One of our neighbours, Jim, celebrated his 70th birthday in the open entertainment area that had been newly created at La Pedrera. Friends and family gathered on what they hoped would be a dry night. Luckily, there were large sun umbrellas meant to provide us with shade. Instead they kept us dry as it poured with rain for most of the evening. It was so bad that Tony Kelly, who was singing that night, took his shoes off and performed in his socks to stop himself from sliding on the dance floor.

Last night, five years on, Jim celebrated his 75th birthday at La Pedrera. This time though the party was inside so the rain was not going to spoil it. As it happened, all the heavy rain came earlier in the day – it remained dry for the whole time of the party and even stayed dry for people to go home.

Jim’s party was one of those special occasions that you would not have wanted to miss; the food was good, the entertainment excellent and the company was first class. It reminded Pam and I of the events that used to be held regularly up at La Pedrera when we first came here.

At that time there was a strong community spirit = we were all Brits working out our new lives in the sun together. With time, people have learned to make their own way, groups that formed have dissipated and the community has settled into a peaceful form of life. Occasions like Jim’s party are now just a welcome reminder of how it used to be.

Many thanks go to all those responsible for organising and preparing last night; congratulations go to Jim for looking so good at 75. Just one thing though, can you organise for better weather to celebrate your 80th birthday in five years time. 

PS Before you write to me to complain about all the mistakes I made in this post, let me explain that I have been battling with toothache for two days. The first appointment I can get with my dentist is for the 8th October by which time the problem will have either have gone or will have driven me up the wall.

An annual event

We were warned that there would be very heavy rain yesterday. Storms in this area are almost an annual event you can put on the calendar.

According to one paper, 86 litres per square metre fell In Orihuela in just one hour. Another paper puts the figure at 46 litres per square metre. Whatever amount,the effect was flooding of streets and homes and washing debris out from ditches. In Torrevieja, 53 litres per square metre was recorded with much the same result.

In an area that has infrequent rain, there is very little that can be done to prevent flooding when so much water falls in such a short time. The drains at the side of the roads have no chance of carrying that much water. They would need to be doubled or even tripled in size to cope.

The good news is that, although there is a possibility of more rain today, it will only be light in comparison. That is no comfort for those whose homes were flooded yesterday but at least they can start to dry things out. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Clear, clean water

The desalination plant in Torrevieja was completed in 2010 but has not yet opened. That is because of clashes between Central Government and the Generalit in Valencia. There has been much debate about the need for the plant in the first place and the environmental impact it will have.

The most contentious phase was the laying of the large concrete tubes that bring and take water from the sea. Now it seems that is complete and initial test are due to start in January 2013.

Let’s hope it works otherwise the plant will be another white elephant to surpass the airport at Castellón.  Although the one at Corvera has been delayed until summer 2013, they say that it will be operational and that flights will take place.

We got off lightly

The rain yesterday in Bigastro was neither torrential nor long lasting. In nearby Rojales though they had a right downpour which flooded the streets. Luckily it only lasted half an hour.  

We probably won’t fair as well today though because the area is on orange alert for rain and yellow alert for a thunderstorm. Take comfort in the fact that Andalucia is worse off, there the risk is red. What we have is an anticyclone centred over the Canary Islands pushing against the one centred over Britain. Basically, there is a lot of heavy cloud up there with a load of water just waiting to come down on us.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Now that’s a pain

Neither of us has been to see the doctor for awhile now which means a) we have not had any problems and b) we have not tried to book an appointment. Now Pam needs an appointment to continue with her medication so I went online to book one for her.

First off Google Chrome (the browser I use most these days) said the site was unavailable. What it really meant was that the security certificate was out of date.

Next I tried FIrefox and that came up with the following screen:-







Now I know that Firefox is only trying to protect my interests but I’m a big boy now. However, there was no way round this, it was either “Get me out of here” or nothing.

Third attempt with Internet Explorer still warned me of the dangers but allowed me to continue.  

So eventually I was able to make an appointment online but those of you with just either Firefox or Chrome will have a real problem.

Did I say it was going to rain?

I was right, that cloud that was tailing the anticyclone has brought rain this morning to the area. Typical, it is market day down in Bigastro and the last thing they need is rain. Tomorrow is market day in Torrevieja, it looks like we could have more persistent heavier rain for that.

In preparation for the rain, Pam and I covered the material on the gazebo and the blind with polythene yesterday and put away the poles for the sun umbrellas. We also stored the cover and the seat pad off the swing seat in the shed. If the pool cover was still decent, that would have been put in place as well.

It is sad when you clear up all the things you have out for summer in readiness for winter but experience has taught us that, if you don’t do it, by next spring the umbrella poles will be full of rusty water and the material on the gazebo etc will be dirty.

The next job is to fold up the sunbeds and stack them in case we have gale force winds this winter.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Summer has gone now

As parts of Britain prepare yet again to be lashed by storms, we face the prospect of the first rain we have had for several months. Although rain was forecast for last week, it never happened.

This time though, I think we will definitely will see some agua on Thursday and Friday tailing off into Saturday. There is a swirling mass of cloud, with its centre over Britain, pushing in from the Atlantic that has already engulfed northern Spain and much of the continent. It is the tail end of that cloud that will cover southern Spain later this week.

Even if the rain is only light, for sure, the high temperatures of summer have gone as the thermometer struggles to get above the mid twenties.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Business continues as normal

Just as there are differences of opinion between the conservatives and liberals that form a coalition in Britain, there are differences between the PP and the UPLC in Bigastro.

Aurelio Murcia (UPLC) explained that, because of the differences, the two sides of the pact hold regular meetings to redefine the agreement that they made just after the elections. He stressed though that these meetings were held behind closed doors away from the press. If there is any dirty washing, it will not be aired in public.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A living Belen

20120921_belenMany towns in Spain have a Belen or Bethlehem scene at Christmas. These are made up of models of houses, along with other buildings and of course the stable at the inn. There are miniature figures and animals to adorn the scene and often moving features like smoke from chimneys and water in streams.

This however seems to be something different – a living Belen with people dressed up performing. I am intrigued!

Smooth diamonds

20120920_diamOn Saturday September 29 at 9pm, the Municipal Auditorium, Francisco Grau will be presenting “Diamonds of the Operas” with a medley of arias, duets, trios and choirs ... and excellent staging.

Cost 3 €

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Farming is a risky business

The weather plays such a big part in the fortunes of farmers. A good summer can make for a bumper crop and low prices, a bad one leads to a poor harvest and inflated prices. Neither is good and neither is welcome. What farmers would like is a good average harvest year on year.

Last year the olive crop in Spain was very good which lead to cheap prices meaning that many farmers were left on the breadline. This year, the harvest will be poor. Frosts during the flowering season followed by a long dry summer means that the fruit produced are small and shrivelled - prices will be high.

Spain accounts for over half of the worldwide crop of olives, so a poor crop here has a devastating effect on the market. Already, the wholesale price of oil has jumped by 62% in three months and is set to go much higher.

Of course, this will have minimal impact in Britain where the average consumption is just one half litre per year but in countries like Italy where average consumption is much higher at 14 litres, it will be a major issue.

It’s not fair

The cold weather a couple of weeks ago meant that the water in the pool dropped by four degrees. In the past we would have put the bubble plastic pool cover on to warm it up but that is shot and needs replacing.

On a day like yesterday, when we had clear skies and temperatures of 32, it would have been lovely to have gone for a dip but not when the water is so cold. Admittedly, after you have been in there for a few minutes, it starts to feel more comfortable but the initial shock puts you off. When the water was at 30 degrees, we’d go in and stay there for an hour or more – until the skin on our fingers was wrinkled. Yesterday, five minutes would have been the limit.

They’re on the case

Apparently there are a lot of holiday homes for rent in the Alicante province where the owners fail to pay tax on the income. The  State Tax Administration Agency (AEAT) are on the case and are investigating the extent of this fraud. They estimate that in 2010, this amounted to 209 million euros and that 80% of owners failed to pay tax on rentals.

By consulting Iberdola, AEAT can determine when the apartments and houses were occupied and use this information to track down offenders who claim that their properties were vacant.

Top of the list for evading paying taxes and corruption are the Greeks with Spain following close behind. Is is any wonder the country is in such a financial mess. 

Actually, I blame the authorities as much as the individuals for this. Bureaucracy in Spain is both slow and cumbersome. Even the most trivial transaction requires a pile of paperwork all of which has to be stamped appropriately and signed. One piece missing or failing to have the correct stamp on it and the process is voided. It therefore comes as no surprise that the country has no clear idea of how much tax they should have collected from holiday rentals.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Courses in Spanish

A total of 140 foreign residents from Algorfa, Jacarilla, Redován and San Miguel de Salinas have enrolled for Spanish courses organised by the Mancomunidad la Vega for October. The courses will be intensive and and are offered at three levels: Basic I, Basic II and Medium. Each level will have an average duration of 30 hours.

I know only too well that learning a new language, especially when you are the wrong side of 60, is hard but it really is essential if you want to get the most out of living in a foreign country. Good luck to the new students, I hope they get a lot of benefit from their courses. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

That’s batty

One thing we definitely don’t like about the summer months are the mosquitoes. To be honest, we haven’t had one bite this year, quite why that is I don’t know.

Those who live near the salt lakes of Torrevieja get plagued by them. The lakes and the salt marshes are a natural breeding ground for the insects, so each year the town spends  lot of money trying to control them.The normal method is to spray insecticides and in particular, larvacides which are used just after period of rainfall when the insects go into a breeding frenzy.

Now, they are trying a new method of combating mosquitoes.

Bats feed on mosquitoes, an average of two thousand per night. So the town has installed bat boxes around the lakes in the hope that the mammals will take to them. It certainly sounds like a good idea.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Body combat


Dora Fitness Centre have organised a master class to be held in the Parque Huerto del Cura on September 22nd at 10pm.

Note – the poster says 9pm but the item on the Bigastro web page says 10pm. However, since my body is already beyond this sort of intense training, it doesn’t really matter much to me! 

A rough patch

The pact between the two political parties in Bigastro is going through a rough patch.  Although Charo Bañuls, as mayor, leads all of the council meetings she delegated the important areas of Town Planning, Education and Health to Aurelio Murcia. Decisions made by him do require the signature of the mayor though.

Now we come to the thorny issue of IBI, the property tax.

In his manifesto, Murcia promised a reduction in property tax. However, with a debt of over 20 million euros, the mayor has decided to increase the tax for this year. In fact, according to my bank account, Pam and I have already paid the higher sum. This could become a sticking point between the two parties who may need to renegotiate the agreement they signed following the elections in 2011.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Cuts affecting education

The new academic year has started with problems already in Orihuela.

A lot of children live too far away from their school to walk and so get bussed each day. Children who live more than 3km by direct line are entitled to a place on the bus. The problem is that there are not enough buses from some of the areas leaving 300 students without a form of transport.

 Education cuts have also reduced the number of teachers by 10% - a total of 35 teachers. The ESO ratio has gone from 30 to 35 students per class and in high schools from 35 to 40. The lack of teachers will affect SEN programs, remedial education and attention to diversity.

 I imagine the cuts will also have posed huge problems for the schools creating timetables not to mention the issue of fitting extra desks and chairs into classrooms.

 When Pam started teaching at Gayton on the Wirral she had over 40 children in her primary school class. Hearing them all read each day was a daunting task as was marking all their books.

 At Anfield, I started with classes of 30+ for art in the lower school. With time though, class sizes were reduced especially for exam classes.

Having 35 to 40 pupils in a class very much restricts the methods that you can use to teach and the amount of attention you can give to individual children.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Getting there

d6e7bc44feb1613d041d5385e5745b10_XLThe eagerly awaited La Zenia Boulevard is set to open on the 26th of this month, ahead of schedule.

Said to be one of  the largest commercial centres in Europe, it has the capacity for 150 shops along with catering facilities, many other attractions and parking for 5,000 cars. 

Last night, Pam and I went to Patio Andaluz to eat with some friends who are staying at Cabo Roig. En route we saw signs for the new shopping centre before we got  to Punta Prima that seemed to point in the wrong direction i.e. taking us into the Punta Prima urbanisation area inland from the N-332.

The most obvious way to get there is via the AP-7 coming off at the La Zenia peage. To avoid paying it looks like you need to turn off eh N-332 at La Zenia roundabout and head inland through Villamartin. Reports I have read though say take care at the new roundabouts which have already caused some near accidents for confused motorists.

Celebrating World Alzheimer Day in Bigastro

20120912_alzHere is the programme that the association, 'Acuérdate de mí' in Bigastro have prepared to celebrate World Alzheimer Day.

As they say in the title, “Esfuerzo compartido” – Shared effort.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Wonderful news

The Department of Social Welfare and the association of relatives of patients with Alzheimer's and other dementias,  'Acuérdate de mí', plan to close a collaboration agreement between them which will provide  the association with social centre facilities.

Next week, the group will hold a series of events to celebrate World Alzheimer's Day which will culminate in the signing of the agreement to launch a respite care unit for Alzheimer's patients. The association also plans to organize a charity dinner at the restaurant Charlot in the near future to raise funds for their activities.

Readers of this blog will already know that our very good neighbour Eladia Grau is a key member of the association. She and the other members work hard to provide an invaluable service to the relatives of Alzheimer suffers. Having had a close relative who suffered from dementia, Pam and I know how stressful it can be for the family to cope. We were fortunate enough to find an excellent care home for Pamela’s father but others either do not have the means of cannot find suitable care and have to try and cope in their own homes. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A lesson not yet learnt

Princess Diana was pursued relentlessly by the paparazzi in their bid to get intimate photos of her. Using an extreme telephoto lens, one did in fact get pictures of her sunbathing topless. Now that Diana’s son, William is married to the beautiful Kate Middleton, it is obvious that the paparazzi will target her in the same way.

However, the couple must have thought they were safe when holidaying in the South of France and so Kate removed her bikini top whilst sunbathing. Little did she realise that just 1,000 yards away a cameraman was armed with a long telephoto lens just waiting for some shots of the couple. He got lucky and sold them to Closer magazine who published them in the French edition. Now the royal palace are looking to sue the magazine and prevent the pictures going viral across the Internet. Too late, an Italian magazine already says it will also publish the photos and if you search for them, you will find them.

In my opinion there are two sides to this story. Yes, it is wrong to invade someone's privacy in the way that the paparazzi do but at the same time, the royal couple should have shown more discretion just as Harry should have shown more discretion in Las Vegas. They must have known there was a public road nearby with a view of the area they chose to sunbathe in. 

The magazine’s editor says that she can see nothing wrong with the pictures which show a beautiful young couple enjoying their holiday. That may be true but then Kate Middleton is the future queen of England which puts a very different slant on things.

The good news for the royal couple is that the magazine claims to have even more intimate pictures of them which they will not publish. 

It may be wrong for these two people not to be able to lead normal lives without the press hounding them but then that is their lot and they must live with it. In future Kate, keep your bikini top on – risking a couple of strap marks must be better than revealing your royal breasts to the world.

Council tax rises – different perspectives

By now, we should have all received our council tax bills and noticed that there has been a rise in the amount we have to pay. The socialist councillor, Raúl Valerio Medina complains that the average for the town is now 350 euros, an increase of 30 euros from last year.

Now of course, 30 euros is 30 euros and for households already facing a hike in VAT which rose to 21% at the start of the month it is yet another burden. As Charo Bañuls  points out though, the town is drowning in debt and that the interest alone amounts to 240,000 euros per year. She also points out that this debt was inherited from the days of Moya and then Medina and that it was they who allowed 200 households to be exempt from paying IBI.   

Putting this all into perspective, the average council tax bill in England and Wales for 2012/13 is £1,201(1,484 euros). Three hundred and fifty euros may seem a lot to bigastrense but in fact it won’t pay for very much.

Friday, September 14, 2012

23 years for the truth to be known

The latest investigation into the tragedy that occurred at Hillsborough, 15th April 1989 has now come to its conclusions. The occasion was the FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest which ended with 96 of the Liverpool fans dying.

At the time I was teaching at Anfield, within sight of the ground. Many of my pupils had either been to the match or had friends and relatives at the game. For weeks and months there was an all pervading atmosphere of grief and suffering in the school and in Liverpool itself made worse by the Sun newspaper laying the blame firmly on the fans. To this day, many Liverpool fans will not buy that newspaper.  

An accident on the motorway between Liverpool and Sheffield had delayed fans who therefore arrived after the game had started. Naturally they were keen to get into the ground as quickly as possible and so a large crowd amassed outside the Leppings Lane end of the stadium.

In charge of policing was the inexperienced Chief Superintendent, David Duckenfield. Faced with 24,000 Liverpool fans all trying to get through 23 turnstiles, he decided that the large exit gate should be opened to allow the fans quick entrance. The result was that the, already crowded central area of the terrace quickly became vastly overcrowded and as fans tried to move forward, those already in the ground were crushed against the perimeter fence.

The result was that 96 fans died some crushed to death others asphyxiated. The youngest was only 10 years old. Of the 96, 41 were apparently still alive when they were moved to the pitch but again, the emergency services failed to help them. Their response was too slow to save their lives. In all it was a catalogue of disasters that conspired together but the main problem lay with inadequate policing – many of the officers didn’t even have radios that would have at least allowed them to alert their colleagues of what was happening.

At the time, the police tried to cover up their failure by blaming the fans saying that it was drunkenness and bad behaviour that caused the problems. They also claimed that there were many fans outside the ground without tickets. In the aftermath, they even went to the extent of having blood alcohol levels checked along with criminal records of the victims. Worst of all though, the police had 116 out of the 164 statements by police officers altered to take the blame away from their failure.

Along with the police, the Football Association must take some of the blame as well for choosing a ground that did not have a safety certificate. 

For 23 years, the Hillsborough Support Group has fought to seek justice. Now they have the truth, they will be seeking for criminal charges to be brought against those responsible.

Music lessons in Bigastro

20120910_emusicaTime for budding musicians to sign up for courses at the Bigastro School of Music organised by the Sociedad Unión Musical de Bigastro.  

I think I’ll just stick to taking photos of them, that is enough of a challenge for me!

The rising need for adult education

Throughout the boom years pupils abandoned their studies at school to go and work in either the lucrative construction industry or in the service sector. In the Alicante region, where construction was at its height, up to 50% of male students failed to graduate in secondary education.

Now, those young people are flocking to adult education to gain the qualifications that they missed. In particular, they are looking for courses in English.

Since the adult school at Bigastro closed last year and the one at Redován has closed this year, students are turning to Orihuela and the IES Thader school. Numbers of enrolments have increased from 400 to 1,000 and some courses are vastly oversubscribed e.g. English.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Will I be buying one?

Apple has just launched its latest version of the iPhone - the iPhone 5. It is 18% thinner than the 4S and 20% lighter. Instead of a glass back, the new phone has a one piece aluminium back and sides (much like my MacBook Pro).

Of course, Apple claim it is faster than the previous model thanks to the new A6 processor.

There are a couple of downsides for those of you keen to have the  latest model. First of all the connector has been changed to what Apple call a “lightning connector. That means that existing docks won’t work without an adapter. Secondly the phone takes a nano-SIM card so existing micro-SIMS will have to be changed.

On the upside, when all the licences are worked out, it will connect to the faster 4G network.
And the all important price: unlocked the 16GB model will cost £529. Contract customers will pay less.

So, to answer the question – NO I will not be buying one. I have to confess that I hardly use my current phone. When I want to surf the net I have my desktop machine and a notebook computer. When I want to listen to music I have an old iPod touch. More to the point, when I want to take a casual photograph, I have a nice little compact camera that does the job a lot better than any phone can.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I’m a convert

When I first started processing digital pictures, I used a copy of Adobe Photoshop v7 which I acquired from a friend. I moved on to the CS versions up to v3 but then I needed to be able to process RAW pictures from my new camera which I found was not supported by v3. The workaround was to first process the RAW images in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional and then open them in Adobe Photoshop for further work - double the work and double the time.

Time to switch to another program that could handle the RAW uncompressed files from my new camera. That is when I bought Adobe Photoshop Elements (first v7 and then v9). At the time I looked at Adobe Lightroom as an alternative but it was much more expensive and I could not see the advantages that I would gain by spending more money.

With v4, Adobe have dropped the price by about a third so I thought it was time to have another look at Lightroom. Within a few days, I could see why so many serious amateurs and professionals choose Lightroom. There are still some things that I need a program like Photoshop or Photoshop Elements for but for most of my tasks Lighroom will allow me to work faster and more efficiently.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Your chance to support the local band as they travel to Albacete to play in the 101st National Festival for Bands.

As you can see the price is 15 euros for the trip with the option to have dinner included for a further 10 euros. 

The coach will leave from the bus stop by the tobacconist's at 5pm. And the date - Friday 14th September. 

It's been awhile

Followers of this blog might have wondered why there have been no posts since last Tuesday. Those who wander across to my Flickr album will know that Pam and I have been playing host to our daughters along with Miss Molly, our granddaughter.

At two and a half years old, Molly is as challenging as she is entertaining. You could say that she knows her own mind just like her mother did at the same age. Stil, she has kept us all amused and for sure, Pam and I have not laughed so much in ages.

Tomorrow, the three of them fly back to Manchester and so normal service will be resumed. It will be sad to wave goodbye though but it won't be for long. We already have our next trip to the UK booked and plans for a further visit later in the year. Next year, we have a villa booked in Mallorca for the whole family so we will have two weeks of fun in the sun right by the beach in Puerta Pollenca.

Many thanks go first to Molly for keeping us all so amused, to Laura for bringing her and for Jemma - the best Aunty a girl could have.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

That’s rubbish

The councillor for finance, Antonio González says that there are many households in Bigastro who do not pay their fair share for garbage collection. Some pay less than they should and some pay nothing at all.

Actually, that should come as no surprise to us since some households apparently don’t pay council tax either. A study has been launched to look into this.

Notionally,  the town divides the cost of the service by the number of houses to set a figure. Currently, those in the town pay 35 euros whilst we at Villas Andrea pay 50.

The previous mayor told us that the 50 euro figure came about because the council divided the extra cost of the service by the number of houses built on our urbanisation. I’d like to bet that other new houses, even those built after ours, pay 35 euros.

As Councillor González says, with more houses contributing to the cost, each should end up paying less. I think we'd all agree with that. 

Monday, September 03, 2012

Strictly for football fans

Whilst Pam and I were down in Darren and Hazel’s bar this morning (the terrace bar opposite the medical centre), Darren was telling me that he is showing English premiership matches on a big screen.

I can only think it is tribal thing but I’m told that even those with Sky packages in their homes like to go and watch games in a bar. I suppose the close proximity to a beer pump might just have something to do with it.

Incidentally, whilst I was there I asked Hazel about the bacon sandwiches she makes. Hazel told me that they are very popular with their Spanish customers and having seen the quality of the rashers I’m not surprised. Apparently they even like a spot of HP sauce on their bacon – well I never!!!

Apart from the tasty looking bacon, Hazel has a variety of other tapas on offer which all looked very fresh and appetising. Popping in for a coffee and a snack should make a visit to the doctor a lot more palatable. 

The all important weather


My daughters, along with Molly, arrive tomorrow for a week’s holiday. After the disastrous summer they have suffered in England, all three are looking forward to some Spanish sunshine but will they get it?

As those who were here know, July and August were hot – very hot! Most days we had the air conditioning on in the house from about midday. Even at night it was steamy especially during the first week or so of August.

In the last week, temperatures have dropped to a more reasonable high twenties to low thirties. Those temperatures will feel like bliss to our visitors who have rarely seen the thermometer rise above 20 this summer.

Although night time temperatures have dropped to the high teens and it might feel a little chilly outside, at least they won’t be tempted to sleep with the air conditioning on as our last visitors were.

PS I was considering sending my girls a text reminding them to bring fleeces but that would be both cruel and unnecessary.  

They are kidding

I read this morning that Iberdrola distributes approximately 3.4 million supply points throughout the Valencian Community through an infrastructure which consists of more than 130 substations, 23,300 transformer stations, 3,400 kilometres of high and very high voltage lines and over 57,000 kilometres of low voltage  lines.

The company say they have invested more than 1,500 million euros during the past ten years in distribution facilities, which has helped reduce incidents in supply by 59%. They reckon that individuals and businesses no longer suffer from the major blackouts of the past.

So how come we still have short power cuts on a regular basis and the lights fluctuate regularly at nighttimes? Surely it can’t be the cabling to and around the estate which is no more than 9 years old. My UPS shows a graph of the voltage which is nominally at about 245 volts but can dip to about 210 volts and go up to 255 volts in a short space of time.

As I have said before, for a desktop computer a non interruptible power supply is a must. My desktop machine and monitor are connected to the power supply via an APC Smart UPS 750. Ideally, the satellite box and TV would be connected via one as well. The fluctuations in voltage are bad enough - a sudden disconnection can do a lot of harm to computers etc.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Out to get your money

The latest scam to hit the Costa Blanca coast involves phone calls telling people that their computers are putting out messages that are affecting large numbers of other computers. In fact there are so called bots that can actually do this so it sounds feasible until you stop and think about how they came by your phone number.

Naturally the crooks can offer a solution in the form of a program that will remedy the fault but it will cost money - quite a bit according to those who fell for the trap.

The phone calls apparently originate from Liverpool and Cairo but could come from anywhere in the world. Merseyside police are aware of the scam and advise people to ignore it.

What the criminals are doing is preying on people who have insufficient knowledge to understand that they are being taken for a ride.

Most people now will ignore those emails that tell you your online banking will cease to work unless you update your settings by going to a bogus site. They will also smell a rat when they are told that a parcel from UPS cannot be delivered and are invited to open a zip file that contains a virus.

The scammers therefore have to try new ways to fleece us and these phone calls are just one way they have discovered works for them. The scam is a double hit though because the innocent people who fall for it, not only pay for the program but also have to pay to have the program removed from their computers.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

A good explanation of the problem

This article from the BBC website explains the problem that Spain faces.

Worries are increasing that Spain may become the fourth eurozone country to require a full bailout.

It has already asked for help with its banks - its main problem - and will receive up to 100bn euros ($125bn; £80bn) to be targeted at its financial sector.

But with its economy in recession it is struggling to balance its books and further pressure is coming from its regional governments, who are starting to ask Madrid for financial help to deal with their own debt issues.

What went wrong with Spain?

Spain's story illustrates the fact that the eurozone's problems run far deeper than the issue of excessive borrowing by ill-disciplined governments.

Greece, Portugal and Italy all had way too much debt.

But the Spanish government's borrowing was under control - that is, it ran a balanced budget on average - every year until the eve of the 2008 financial crisis.

And as Spain's economy grew rapidly before 2008, its debt-to-GDP ratio was falling. Germany's, by contrast, continued to rise.

When Spain joined the euro the Spanish government resisted the lure of cheap loans, but most ordinary Spaniards and its banks did not.

The country experienced a long boom, underpinned by a housing bubble, as Spanish households took on bigger and bigger mortgages.

House prices rose 44% from 2004 to 2008, at the tail end of a housing boom, according to ministry of housing data. Since the bubble burst, they have fallen by 25%.

The economy, which grew 3.7% per year on average from 1999 to 2007, has shrunk at an annual rate of 1% since then.

So, although the Spanish government still had relatively low debts, it is now having to borrow like crazy to deal with the effects of the property collapse, the recession and the worst unemployment rate in the eurozone.

What has happened at the regional government level?

Spain's 17 regional governments collectively have large debts of their own.

They run and pay for most of their own services, including social services, health and education, with the central government in Madrid funding less than 20% of national spending.

In the boom years they spent lavishly on new infrastructure and big projects like airports and swimming pools.

Valencia, which built an airport at which not a single plane has landed, asked the central government in Madrid to help it. Neighbouring Murcia is likely to follow.

Others, including giant Catalonia and Andalucia, Castilla La Mancha, the Balearics and the Canary Islands are other possible candidates.

They are under pressure from the central government to cut spending, but local politicians are reluctant to take unpopular action.

The regions collectively need to refinance 36bn euros in debt this year.

Not all of them have large debts though, the coal-mining region of Asturias in the north of the country is relatively debt-free. The region of Madrid itself has said it has already covered all its refinancing needs for the year, while Navarra, Galicia, Cantabria, Aragon and the Basque Country all seem to be on a sounder financial footing.

What is the problem with the banks?

It's another tale of high-living in the boom years followed by an uncomfortable return to reality.

Before the credit crunch, the banks had been thriving thanks to the rapid expansion of the property sector.

But its collapse brought default from borrowers who were suddenly bust and a plunge in the value of the assets the loans were based on.

Since the onset of the recession, which is expected to continue throughout this year and next, losses on loans have continued to mount as borrowers struggle to make repayments.

The situation has been made worse by the fact that the banks borrowed the money on the international markets to lend to developers and homebuyers, a much riskier strategy than using the deposits they get from savers.

They are sitting on massive losses whose size is not yet fully known - some say it could be as much as 180bn euros.

Not all of the banks are in this situation, however. The International Monetary Fund said a large part of the banking sector, including Santander and BBVA, is well run and resilient.

What has been done to help troubled banks?

Spain has begun to restructure its banking sector.

Many of its smaller, weaker banks have had to merge or have been rescued by larger ones. The number of branches has been cut by 15%, and 11% of the jobs in the industry have gone.

Up to the end of April, the government had injected 34bn euros into its banks, according to the IMF.

That is not including the 19bn euros Bankia, Spain's fourth-largest bank, asked for shortly before it was nationalised.

Bankia itself was formed when several regional banks, or cajas, were brought together because they were too small to bear the knock from the economic downturn.

With the crisis of confidence in the markets about the state of the banking sector and its impact on government finances, it has become increasingly expensive for the government to borrow on the markets.

Like credit card companies, investors demand higher interest the riskier a prospect they think you are. As a result, Spain has had to turn to emergency funding from its eurozone partners.

How will the bank bailout work?

Spain will be able to borrow up to 100bn euros. But it isn't a bailout or rescue, it insists.

The help it gets will differ from the bailouts given to Greece, Portugal and Ireland in a number of ways.

The loans will come from eurozone funds set up to help members in financial distress: the European Financial Stability Facility and/or the European Stability Mechanism, which is supposed to come on stream in July.

In previous cases, money has come from the troika of international authorities - the European Union and the International Monetary Fund as well as the eurozone.

Also, the money will be targeted specifically at Spain's banks, rather than at the economy as a whole through central government.

Spain was desperate to avoid this, as the sovereign bailouts have previously come with demands to cut spending and raise taxes and close supervision of the countries' finances.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has unveiled another set of austerity measures, including another 65bn euros of spending cuts and a rise in VAT from 18% to 21%.

At the meeting of eurozone finance ministers on 9 July, it was agreed that Spain could borrow an initial 30bn euros to support its banks.

The final figure of how much of the 100bn euros offered that Spain will want to borrow may not be known until September.

Day care

A group of former employees from the pre-school Bigastrin have formed a collective they call, Capital Coast Collective and plan to open a rival to their former employer.

11461883 La Casita Encantada opens it doors next week without a proper license. They made a request on July 2nd but as yet approval has not been granted. Aurelio Murcia explains that there are a few issues concerning ventilation, the evacuation route, emergency lighting and the lack of fire extinguishers that need to be addressed.  He also says that, what is on offer is more than a toy library and therefore comes under the jurisdiction of the government rather than the municipality. 

However, there will be those parents who have signed up for the service. It is only right that they know the situation clearly. 

NB The photo comes from a local paper.