Monday, September 30, 2013

Bigastro is the new Liverpool

To make money during an economic crisis, you have to think out of the box and that is just what a group of friends have done here in Bigastro.

They started to rent a warehouse on the industrial estate outside the town in 2011 and turned it into music practice rooms for local bands. They called the enterprise Delta and divided it up into several small rooms, each with a secure lock on the door, which can be rented out for 120 euros per month.

In all, fifteen groups practice there including Las Suicidas who used to rehearse elsewhere until the prices rose. Other groups include; 5 Sentidos and the guitarist Tony Sánchez who plays in three groups of which both the Hamers and Logan practice at Delta.

The total security is clearly important to the groups that use Delta. The fact they can leave their instruments and amplifiers in the building knowing that they will still be there next time is a big selling point. 

Remember the upsurge of music in Liverpool during the 60s? From seemingly nowhere, there were chart topping groups performing and making a name for themselves. This could be the future for Bigastro! In ten years time you will be saying, “I first read about this on Keith’s blog”.

A growing social problem

Imagine what it is like to live in Orihuela next to a piece of open land where every weekend throughout the summer you are kept awake until the early hours of the morning by the sound of motorbikes and people shouting. In the daytime you set out to be greeted by the sight of hundreds of bottles littered on the land and the overpowering stench of urine.

The Spanish call it botellón or large bottle - a common practice among young people on Friday and Saturday nights. The first stop is the supermarket to pick up large bottles of mixers, cheap bottles of sprits and plastic glasses. Then they congregate at pre determined locations with their carrier bags of booze and stay until the early hours of the morning.

Along with the graffiti artists, these young people are causing a lot of distress in the city and the situation is rapidly getting out of control.  Unless steps are taken to eradicate these problems, there is a danger that parts of the city will resemble ghettos where nobody wants to live.

The same problems exist, to a lesser extent in towns like Bigastro. Graffiti in the town is on the increase.

A few weeks ago, Pam and I saw two young men making their statement on a wall at the bottom of Avenida Europa. In broad daylight, the “artists” were touching up a previous piece of graffiti. They were dressed like urban guerrillas. armed with cans of paint, brushes and the inevitable spray paint to finish the job off. They obviously thought they were doing a public service by turning this drab concrete block wall into “art”. To the rest of the population, what they had created was an illegible scrawl. The only saving grace was that the wall did not seem to be on a house but it must belong to someone.

Further up the road, there is an old finca which has stood in ruins since we arrived here. A few years ago, a concrete wall was built around it. We thought that meant it would be reformed and lived in. That has not happened and the house still stands in ruins. The carefully built wall, which must have cost quite a bit, is now covered in graffiti making the site look uglier than it was before constructed.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Déjà vu

On Friday, when it became clear that Bigastro would lose 50% of its government funding if the council did not pass its payment plan to suppliers, the mayor held a meeting with employees to warn them that, in those circumstances, wages would not be paid and services would be cut. 

Those employees would have then put pressure on the previous mayor and leader of the socialist group, Raúl Valerio Medina to change his mind and vote with the opposition party. At the time he probably recalled the dark days when his party were in power. Faced with overwhelming budget problems, they delayed payment of salaries to employees for months on end. Clearly, Raúl  did not want to return to that situation and neither did those who work for the council.

Raúl was between a “rock and a hard place”. If he had continued to oppose the plan it would have spelt disaster for the town that is already in financial ruin so he conceded to the opposition. In return for the favour to the PP, the ex mayor got none of the concessions that he hoped for.

I imagine that Aurelio Murcia and his Liberal colleague will be bitterly disappointed with Raúl’s change of heart. They, along with three socialist councillors, voted against the motion at both meetings.

For the moment, the pressure is off the ruling party. All is not over yet but knowing that Raúl changed his mind once may make them confident that it can happen again and again. The decision he made on Friday will surely come back to haunt him at future meetings and at the next elections.

Are they tourists or visitors?

In the heyday, towns in the Vega Baja tried to develop a model of tourism, they even visited fairs to promote the idea.

In Bigastro for example, the mayor at the time sold land at La Pedrera to build an aparthotel with conference facilities and golf practice ranges. Other towns had golf courses so why not Bigastro. The fact that there was nothing else in Bigastro to attract tourists and that the route to the hotel was via a country lane was not even considered. Thankfully, the idea was squashed when the area was deemed to be parkland without proper permission for building.

Although Bigastro might be a good place to live, it hardly rates as a tourist destination. The same applies to most of the other towns of the Vega Baja. People might visit them but they are not tourists by any definition.

To support the influx of tourists that they thought would flock here, 14 Tourist Information offices were built in the area. In obvious destinations like Torrevieja, Guardamar del Segura and Orihuela these could be justified but how could you justify such offices in San Miguel de Salinas, Dolores, San Fulgencio, Almoradí or Callosa de Segura?

Since these small towns do not have tourists as such, it must be hard for anyone to argue that these offices should be kept open. Even in these difficult economic times, it seems that nobody is sure just how much they cost but estimates put the one in San Fulgencio at 55,000 euros per year.

So why do they not just close them down and save money?

The opposition parties in these towns would probably agree with that idea but the ruling parties have vested interests. These are “jobs for the boys” and so the offices remain open. I imagine that the people in them must spend all day straightening out the leaflets in the hope that maybe one or two visitors might pop in for a chat. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

11th hour reprieve

The Bigastro government team, led by Charo Bañuls  (PP), managed to pull off its Provider Payment Plan to finance 809,000 euros of arrears due to support by the PSOE spokesman, Raul Valerio Medina. The agreement was adopted at a plenary session held 'in extremis' at 17.45, just 15 minutes before the expiry of the term to justify its approval to the Ministry of Finance.

At the regular meeting held in the morning, the socialists, along with the liberals, voted against the plan. If they had maintained that position, then the council would have effectively been crippled because the Ministry of Finance would have reduced payments to the council from 100,000 to 50,000 euros per month.  The mayor met with council employees at noon to inform them of the situation and he fact that basic services would have been cut and salaries left unpaid.

The change of heart by the socialist leader came about because of pressure placed upon him. At the second meeting three of the socialist councillors along with the two liberal councillors still voted against the proposal. With just 11 out of the 13 councillors in attendance the vote was therefore five for and five against giving the socialist leader the casting vote.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Dance at the Auditorium

20130926_audi On Sunday, 6th October at 6pm, the Auditorium Francisco Grau will present a show by the Murcia Dance Company.

The show will be in two parts:


Six Spanish songs that form part of the sentimental memory of millions of Spaniards.


A presentation of flamenco which respects the original character of the dance. A modern version that remains true to the roots and purity of flamenco.

This show is sponsored by the Provincial Council of Alicante and the Department of Culture of the City of Bigastro.

Followers of this blog may recall my album of photos from the last presentation by the Murcia Dance Group. My Flickr pictures start with this one.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A modern disease

Vandalism in the form of graffiti is a social problem that many countries seem to face these days. The authors have very little regard for the annoyance that their work causes. I suppose, they would argue that their work is “art” and in any case is non destructive to the walls and buildings they use as canvasses. Mostly though, the graffiti consists of illegible scrawlings that have no artistic merit whatsoever. Removing them is both costly and time consuming.  

In Torrevieja, they have installed an ultra sophisticated system of cameras in an attempt to curb all forms of vandalism, including graffiti, and it seems to be effective.

Orihuela is now considering installing cameras in public places to try and halt the problem there. The councillor, Antonia Moreno says that vandalism and drinking in the streets is a scandal and that the treat of fines is not working. The city needs to find a better solution to the problem and that may well be cameras.

Orihuela will need permission from Alicante to go ahead and the plans will be subject to scrutiny because of the intrusive nature of cameras in the street. If the end result is a cleaner city, then it will be worth it

The disappearing outdoor phone

When we were young, the only way to make a phone call was to go to the nearest telephone box. At that time, there was very little vandalism in the rural towns where we lived and so you could almost guarantee that the phone would work. In fact, the phone directory would usually be there as well but might have the odd page torn out. In popular places, you might even have to queue up and wait to make a call whist some love stuck Romeo sweet talked his girlfriend. In Britain, the red phone box was a familiar and welcome sight.

When we were in our late teens, Pamela’s father was a high ranking fireman and my father a police sergeant so we did have phones in the house (not the norm in those days) but we could only use them for emergency private calls because they had been supplied to maintain contact with work. The fire service would not have been pleased, nor the police service, if they could not get through because Pam and I were chatting to our friends on the phone.

These days though, things are very different; a lot more houses have fixed phones and most people have a mobile phone (or two). Very few now have to rely on the phone box in the street to make a call.

In 2005, a royal decree in Spain regulated the number of phone booths that a town should have. In the case of Torrevieja, with a population of 103,000, that is set at 35. In fact there were 96 which has now been reduced to 87 because Telefónica  has removed nine of the booths in outlying areas due to their lack of use. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Young and foolish

The two young women -Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid, accused of drug smuggling have now appeared in court and admitted to being guilty of the crime.

If they had continued to claim to be innocent, they would have spent more time in jail awaiting trial and could have been sentenced to fifteen years. Because they have now pleaded guilty, their sentence will be reduced to six years and eight months. I can only assume that is the difference between the minimum and maximum sentences imposed for the crime. 

The girls hope to be able to carry out the sentences back in Britain but that is by no means certain. They will need to show they behaved well in jail, pass 'legal, social, medical and psychological tests' and fund their own tickets home. According to legal sources, a transfer could take many years, by which time they could be free. It is a very long process and Britain does not often agree to it.

Apart from their families, the girls can expect little support from Britain. For example, attempts to drum up support for Irish-born McCollum after her arrest failed to garner support with the public back in Northern Ireland. A legal fighting fund to raise cash for her defence had to be shut down after it received only about £600 from public donations.

Their only hope is to be able to help the authorities in Peru to track down those that organised the drug trafficking. From their position in prison, I imagine that will be an almost impossible task.

The two girls should be grateful that they were not caught with that amount of cocaine in Bali where things would have been a lot worse for them. In my opinion, those that are involved with drugs in any way deserve what they get. 

Cheap skates

1380024083239 Those of you who have visited Torrevieja recently and walked along the Vista Alegre will have noticed the shabby condition of the wood that provides shade along the 150 metre walkway.

The pergola was constructed in 2008 at a cost to the Generalitat Valenciana of 3.1m  euros and consists of steel arches covered with planks of wood. Originally the wood chosen for the job was Argentine kebracho but that proved to be too heavy for the steel arches to bear and so iroko was specified.

African iroko is a hardwood that is known for its resistance to bad weather so it is puzzling that the wood on this particular pergola has deteriorated so much in just five years.

The answer is simple.  The actual wood used was fir because that is three times cheaper than iroko. Even laminated spruce would have been a better choice but no, they used fir. Further more, the wood was not properly treated when it was installed.

If the company that completed the work had used iroko then it could have been restored by sanding the wood down followed by a treatment with oil. Now it looks like all the wood will have to be removed to restore it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Squatters move in

In nearby Callosa del Segura, squatters have moved in to apartments left empty after the banks have evicted owners. In the heyday many moved to new and larger flats, financed by mortgages from the banks that were all too willing to lend money. When the owners fell behind with payments, the banks foreclosed on them and took the properties over. Some of these homes have been auctioned off at knockdown prices but many remain empty.

Taking advantage of this situation, some have broken into the unoccupied flats and live in them with illegal connections to water and electricity. A few have made arrangements with the banks to pay a nominal rent. The squatters are not just from Callosa though, there are some who have come to the town from other parts of the Vega Baja. As you might imagine, the legal residents are none too happy about their gypsy neighbours.

Mayor looks for support

As expected, the mayor of Bigastro is struggling without the support of the Liberals. Without a majority, she can’t get approval for the budget and so has postponed preparation of the accounts until December.

It is vital though that she makes plans to cover the interest payments to suppliers because these must be closed before the end of the month and submitted to the Ministry of Economy.

The PSOE will only offer support to the PP if they know exactly what the plans are. In the past it was the PP who complained about the lack of information prior to council meetings – now the boot is on the other foot. I imagine the Socialists will only offer support on their own terms.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Note to Les

Les Rowlands, who lives at the other side of our estate, is a staunch Manchester City fan. He must therefore be like the cat that got the cream after his team’s 4-1 thrashing over Manchester United in the first derby game of this season.

United have had a dismal start to the season, drawing to Chelsea, losing to Liverpool and now to City. By all accounts, yesterday’s game was just awful if you were a red supporter. The only player willing to do anything was apparently Rooney which is amazing when you consider he was all set to leave the club.

This is not the first time in recent history that City have trounced United. Two years ago they beat them 6-1 at Old Trafford. Apparently though, yesterday’s game was more embarrassing because there were no freak goals this time. United were simply outplayed in every sense.

The only consolation was that Rooney’s goal was his 11th in Manchester derbies making him top scorer in these events.

I think you can take it that harsh words were spoken in the United dressing room.

More of the same

We all now know that Angela Merkel had great cause to celebrate her victory in the German elections. With 41.5% of the votes, she will continue to be the Chancellor. In fact she came close to getting an absolute majority. Whilst other leaders in Europe suffered following the economic crisis, Merkel seems to be gaining in strength. 

It is not the tradition in Germany for parties to try and rule in minority so it is thought that Mrs Merkel will probably look for a coalition partner. That won’t be the FDP though who were punished by the electorate for working in partnership during the last government. They failed to get the 5% necessary to remain in parliament this time round.  That leaves only the SPD who worked as second partners before in 2005 and then suffered in 2009 for that decision.

Thankfully, the AfD, who advocated Germany’s exit from the euro, also failed to gain the necessary 5%.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Book club

Just to remind you book worms, the book club operates on the last Sunday of every month between 3 and 4pm up at La Pedrera. Plenty of titles for you to choose from – sorry but I understand that Pauline’s copy of 50 Shades of Grey is out on permanent loan and I can’t say who to.

PS I will give you a clue – think about the men you haven’t seen about much recently who, when you do see them, look preoccupied!

Are we heavy drinkers?

I read this morning that Alicante leads the way in recycling glass with an average of 17.3kgs per person against an average for Spain of 14.5kgs.

What does this say about us? True, there are 8,513 collection containers in Alicante – a ratio of one to every 228 inhabitants which might make it easier for us to recycle our glass but that is still a lot of bottles per person. Perhaps the answer is that we drink more wine and sprits than the rest of the country!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Here to stay

The king's health, and speculation he would abdicate, were top Twitter topics in Spain after it was announced the monarch was to have his eighth surgery since 2010.

“The King has not thought of abdicating at any time,” palace spokesman Rafael Spottorno told journalists at a news conference called to give details of the surgery on his left hip, which is expected to take place in Madrid in the next few days.

Miguel Cabanela, a Spanish-born resident surgeon at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, has flown to Madrid to lead the operation.

The 75-year-old king, who uses a walking stick, has appeared visibly more frail in recent months and stumbled at a military ceremony last week. Both of his hips have been replaced and in March he had an operation on a spinal disc hernia.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Alzheimer Bigastro

Good morning, are you ready for a full weekend?

At the CASINO BAR, on Saturday afternoon you can taste Moorish tea along with desserts made by the best bakers in Bigastro.

And on Sunday morning you can sample solidarity PAELLA! RATIONS FOR ONLY €1.

Concert time

20130919_AUDI This Sunday, September 22, at 19:00 pm, the Youth Concert Band along with the band from Rafal, will be playing at the Municipal Auditorium Francisco Grau.

Third age Gala

20130920_gala3 For those of you who missed it, on Sunday, October 13 at 17:30 in the Auditorium Francisco Grau, there will be a reprise of Bigastro: The Musical. Tickets 2 €.

The first performance was held during the fiesta but started very late. The production was very entertaining and even if you could not understand all of the dialogue you’d get the gist of it. There was lots of singing and dancing with a background story.

A warning to others

When the story about the two young women arrested in Peru for drug smuggling broke, I felt very sorry for them but at the same time believed that they knew exactly what they were doing. Nobody would fall for the story that they flew from Ibiza to spend a few days in Peru just for the fun of it. I think it is likely that they were mislead by others who had gone before them that bringing cocaine from Peru back to Ibiza would be trouble free. 

It now seems that at least one of them, Melissa Reid, has decided to plead guilty in an attempt to expedite matters and reduce the prison sentence that she faces. She still claims that the girls were acting under duress but no longer states they had no idea what they were carrying or what was the purpose of the visit.

The prosecutor in Peru says that, if they plead guilty then they could be sentenced to prison within a month, otherwise the trial could last six months. And, in a report by the Daily Mail, Reid’s lawyer claimed that the girls would receive a sentence of six years and eight months if she pleads guilty but could be out in less than three years on parole. She might even stand a chance of serving her sentence in Britain. That prospect must have been tempting to Reid.

According to the prosecutor though, that is no longer the case. A new law that came into force two weeks after the arrest eliminates sentence reductions for people convicted of drug trafficking so it is six years and eight months in Peru minimum and possibly more if they were also found guilty of being paid for it.

It is a tough decision for the girls. On the face of it, their chances of persuading a judge that they are innocent are almost nil. Of course, the police would rather find the ring leaders than catch a couple of drug mules but that is a much tougher task. In the meantime, if they can make an example of these two girls, then that may at least dissuade others from following their paths.

A tragic accident

An American mother flew an Easyjet flight from Gatwick to Alicante airport on Wednesday night with her two children. She was due to meet her Canadian husband who was waiting for her in arrivals.

The mother put her five month old baby down on the carousel intended for outsize luggage. This particular carousel is activated by weight and so started up dragging the baby into the drop zone by the rollers. The mother, who was distracted, failed to notice what had happened until it was too late. Sadly, the emergency services could not resuscitate the baby.

The family, who were due to have a holiday in Denia, are receiving counselling. However, I have no idea how you could ever come to terms with something like that happening.

Car free day

Today is car free day in Orihuela.

At the Glorieta Gabriel Miró  there will be an exhibition of electric bikes and scooters which people can try out between 10:30am and 8:30pm.

According to the Councillor for Environment, Manuel Gallud, the city is considering signing an agreement with the company that supplies the electric bikes to provide them on a rental basis. They are also looking into the feasibility of establishing a cycle lane around the streets of Orihuela.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Smokers may get their way

The smoking law in Spain came into force in 2010 and bans people from lighting up in all public places such as bars, restaurants and shops.

The ban though could halt a major project set out by Sheldon Adelson to build a 17 billion euro casino in the Alcorcón suburb of Madrid. The reason is that gamblers are big smokers. When they banned smoking in Illinois, trade dropped by 20% and rose in neighbouring states. Sheldon is not prepared to take that risk in Spain. If the government don’t pass an amendment to allow individual regions to make alterations to the law, then the casino could be built elsewhere.

The project—which includes six casinos, three golf courses, a convention centre, and 36,000 hotel rooms—is forecast to create up to 261,000 jobs and attract as many as 4.7 million visitors annually. It is obviously very important to Spain and something which the country would not want to miss out on.

Of course, if they make exemptions to the law, then other regions may well decide to take advantage. 

A victim of its own success

I love fish but seldom get to eat it because my better half is not a great fan. It is the bones that apparently put her off so a fillet of cod is fine but a whole fish on a plate is a definite no no.

In my case, I don’t mind negotiating the bones by eating the flesh from one side, removing the whole skeleton and then eating the other side. That is what I do with a trout and what I do with sea bass or lubino as it is called around these parts.

roastedseabasswithch_85255_16x9  Sea bass has been much vaunted by chefs because of its delicate flavour. It can take on chilli and other pungent ingredients or it can be gently suffused with herbs. It is also a fish that anglers enjoy catching because it fights well.

The problem is that the sea bass is a victim of its own success and is now being overfished reducing stocks by 20% in the last year. True, you can get farmed sea bass but the flavour is very different. Actually, I suspect that the majority of fish in restaurants these days are farmed because they are well under size for an adult fish.  Smothered with a spicy sauce, most people (including me) would not know the difference.

No doubt there will be another species of fish that will take its place on the gourmet table and then that too will dwindle in stocks.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My son-in-law will be happy

During the summer, it looked like Wayne Rooney was all set to leave United stopped only by his new manager David Moyes who refused to sell him to a rival team in the Premier League.

In the game against Bayer Leverkusen, Rooney seemed to have made a come back to previous form and scored his 200th goal for United. That puts him in an elite group of four trailing Jack Rowley by 11, Denis Law by 37 and Bobby Charlton by 49. By the time he is 30, Rooney could pass all four given half a chance. 

Working him in tandem with Robin van Persie seems to have paid off – Rooney is happy, the fans are happy oh how fortunes have changed!

On your bike

For the first time, bikes are outselling cars in Spain as people take to two wheels. The latest sales figures show that 780,000 bikes were sold against only 700,000 cars.

In the five years up to 2007, things were very different. Over half the new jobs in the eurozone were created in Spain. With their new found wealth, people bought luxury cars by taking out loans that they can no longer afford. Mercedes, BMW and Audi were the brands of choice, now it is the humble Dacia that is the biggest seller.

In the meantime the bike has become cool; young and old are taking to them and enjoying the freedom that cycling brings.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Police recover stolen camera

Local police in Orihuela recovered a camera that had been stolen from a car on Saturday.

They spotted a man in a car park who was well known to them for several robberies in the past. As they approached him, he started fumbling about seemingly hiding something in his pockets which turned out to be a digital camera. The man claimed he had found the camera in a waste container but upon inspection the camera still worked and had several pictures on the memory card.

15032787 Having arrested the man, the police decided to scour the area and found this car with its door forced open. They have since traced the owner of the car and told him how to recover his stolen camera.

I’m not sure what type of camera it was but I would bet that the repair to the car will be a lot more than the value of the stolen goods to the thief.

How many times have we been told NEVER to leave anything which might appear valuable in clear view inside a car? Handbags, cameras, sat navs, laptops are all magnets to thieves. The damage they do stealing them will often be more than the goods they get away with.

Of course, I could be wrong, the camera could have been in the glove box but I somehow doubt it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Apple phobia

The Daily Mail complains about the fact that we can subscribe to BBC iPlayer for a lot less than viewers in Britain pay for the licence fee. The newspaper goes on to say that we have access to archive material that is unavailable in the UK and that is unfair.

It is only later in the article that the Mail points out that we cannot receive live streamed content nor can we get the catch up programmes on our version of iPlayer. OK, we may have 2000 hours of content to watch including some classic programmes but that is hardly the same as getting the full BBC service or the programmes available free on iPlayer in Britain.

Towards the end of the article, the Mail reveals its true gripe with our version of iPlayer. It is a well known fact that the Daily Mail hates everything Apple and of course iPlayer is only available through the apps. store which means that Apple receive 30% of the fee. Sour grapes?

Salty problems

If building the F1 track at Valencia was an expensive folly, consider the cost of that in relation to the desalination plant at Torrevieja.  The much vaunted project of the socialist government nine years ago cost 300 million euros and is still not fully operational.

2011-02-28-larga_vida_al_agua_int1 It was meant to provide water for irrigation and replace the transfer of water from the Tajo to the Segura. Unfortunately it still faces two major problems, the lack of a suitable energy supply and more important customers.

According to the Zapatero government, the plant needed to deliver 40 to 80 hectometres of water for irrigation. Apart from the fact that the existing power supply cannot meet that demand, the price of the water and its quality are proving to be stumbling blocks. The price of water from the transfer was 0.14 euros per cubic metre and from the plant 0.50 euros per cubic metre added to which the quality is not suitable for certain crops.

Those municipalities that were forced to sign an agreement to buy water from the desalination plant are seeking an amendment.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A positive spin

In the second quarter of this year, the Valencia debt reached 29,235 million euros, 13.63% higher than last year, making it the second most indebted autonomy behind Catalonia. In relative terms. the highest debts were Valencia (29.4%), followed by Castilla-La Mancha (28.9%), Catalonia ( 26.2%) and Balearic Islands (22.1%).

According to data released yesterday by the Bank of Spain, the total debt in the second quarter of the year was 942.758 million euros which represents 92.2% of GDP  and grew by 17.16% over the same period in 2012.

After learning this information, the Consell  tried to put a positive spin on the figures by noting that Valencia is the only Spanish autonomy that has reduced  its borrowing in the first six months of 2013.They also point out that this reduction contrasts with the increase of 8,747 million debt that has been experienced by the other Spanish autonomous communities.

The Consell say that there was a 0.7% decrease in debt for the Region during the first half of the year compared to an average of  4.7% rise experienced by all of the autonomies and increases which were close to 15 percent for some of them. As for the debt / GDP ratio in the Region, that remains at 29.4%.

However much spin they put on the situation, the fact is that Valencia is still very much in the mire. The austerity measures that have been put in place are working but the progress is very slow.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Two Calle Alemanias in one town (not Bigastro)

When it came to naming streets in the new urbanisations of Torrevieja, nobody thought to check if the names had been used before in other parts of the town. That means that there are thirty names which are used twice.

You can imagine the confusion that this causes to emergency services who can turn up at the wrong place. It is also confusing for the post office and for visitors. The only solution is to change one of the names to something else and that is what the council propose to do.

However, we know from experience that finding a newly named street can be difficult. When we first moved here and for some time afterwards, couriers would either turn up or not depending how up-to-date their sat navs were and how prepared they were to ask locals for directions. It will take some time (years not months) before people become familiar with the changed names.

Another balcony death

It seems that, almost weekly, we read about British tourists falling from hotel balconies in Spain. Recently, one fell from the fifth floor of a hotel in Benidorm.

He was at the resort on a stag weekend with friends. They had been out drinking when one of the party decided to return to his room early. He apparently got out of the lift on the fifth floor instead of the 13th where his room was located.  When he failed to get into what he thought was his room, the man decided to climb through a window and get in via the balcony. He fell onto the roof of the kitchen and was pronounced dead by the emergency services who tried to revive him.

I wonder why it is that these young men think that they can emulate Spiderman, is it just plain lunacy or the bravado that comes from having too much to drink?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Was it a sign from heaven?

The first session of the Spanish Parliament following the summer break had to be postponed for two hours.

The Palacio de Congresos is undergoing a 4.4 million euro overhaul. There are tarpaulins covering sections of the chamber, meant to keep rain out, which gave in when the weight of a thunderstorm proved too much. The speaker was forced to order parliamentarians to leave for fear of electrocution.

Some say it was a sign from heaven because Mariano Rajoy was expecting a grilling over the ongoing scandal of the secret slush fund that Luis Barcenas says operated. The ex treasurer claims that Sr Rajoy regularly received brown envelopes of cash donated by businessmen in return for lucrative contracts. The president, of course, denies the allegations. 

That’s big!

UR-82073-Antonov-Airlines-Antonov-Design-Bureau-Antonov-An-124_PlanespottersNet_293196 Visitors to Alicante airport may have spotted this giant cargo plane parked in the area normally reserved for private aviation and wondered what it was.

It is an Antonov 124 which arrived from Mitiga Airport, Libya. It bears the Ukranian registration UR-82029, has a wingspan of almost 74m is 69m in length and weighs over 400 tons. It has been parked up for 9 days waiting to fly on to Malaga to pick up further cargo.

In all, Antonov Airlines have nine of these beasts of which 7 are in active service and 2 are on loan to other companies. This one was first delivered March 1992 and changed its registration in May 1993.

These giants of the sky are used to transport large cargo including other aircraft fuselages. Before this one, two other Antonov 124s have landed at El Altet, one from Paris which was carrying cars and motorbikes for the funeral procession of an African leader and the other, the Telefónica boat that took part in the first Volvo Ocean Race. 


For such a large aircraft, the cockpit looks a bit small to me and rather austere.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Quite frankly I am disappointed

Both my daughters have iPhones (actually Jemma is still waiting for a replacement for the one that was stolen in Alicante). They have contracts that give them unlimited texts, calls and a a decent quota of data. However, over the period that they own the phones, they will have more than paid the price that Apple charge for an unlocked device.

Pamela and I already have iPads but would like smartphones for the convenience they bring. However, we don’t want expensive contracts and we don’t want to pay even the £349 (or399 euros) for an unlocked 4s.

The announcement that Apple were producing a plastic version of the phone seemed interesting. Maybe this would be an iPhone to suit both our needs and pockets but no.

Apple have just unveiled two new models, the iPhone 5S which is an upmarket version of the 5 and the iPhone 5C which comes in 5 girly colours (pink, green, blue, yellow and white). The bad news is that an unlocked 5C will cost £469 (there isn’t a price for this on the Spanish site).

We visited Media Markt last week and found the Spanish made, 5 inch screen, BQ phone, running Android Jelly Bean for just less than 200 euros. It may not have the same status as an iPhone when your draw it from your pocket but if it does more or less the same things, then it is a winner in my book.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Quiet once again

For Pam and I, it has been a hectic month. First we had the fiesta with late nights and skipped meals, then the girls and Molly came to stay. After they had gone back we had the wedding of Eladia and Kinete and lastly, our friends Hugh and Angela came to stay.

None of these events have been stressful, except the trauma of Jemma’s bag been stolen in Alicante, but put together they have been a break from our normal tranquil routine.

Now Angela and Hugh have departed for the airport and we shall miss their company. Even the blips in the weather did nothing to spoil our six days in their company.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

It seems to be at odds to me

Spain, a country where 27% of the working population are out of work, a country which required an EU bailout to support its banking sector, where thousands line up for handouts and yet one of its football clubs has just paid 100m euros for a player.

No doubt the fans at Real Madrid are delighted at the prospect of watching Gareth Bale play for them. He managed to speak a little well rehearsed Spanish as the crowd cheered him at the presentation. Their hope is that he will help them win a coveted 10th European Cup. That may or may not happen because we all know that football is a fickle game of fate.

To my mind, the world of football, like the world of pop, is unreal. The sums of money involved and the fortunes to be made bear no comparison to the lives of ordinary people. And yet, without the drip, drip, drip of ordinary people’s money, none of this could happen. We, the public, have been sucked in to providing these God like creatures with wealth beyond their dreams. I may be speaking heresy here but it all seems terribly wrong to me.

Monday, September 02, 2013

I don’t do abuse

At the wedding on Saturday, I stepped outside a number of times to smoke my pipe - much to the amusement of some of the young Spaniards there. They asked me if smoking a pipe was less hazardous to your health, whether pipe smoking was common in Britain and whether I put cannabis in my pipe. The answer to all three questions was NO.

1. Pipe smokers do not inhale the smoke like cigarette smokers do so there is a lower risk of lung cancer but that does not reduce the risk of contracting other forms of cancer. 

2. Pipe smoking used to be popular in Britain up to the 50s and 60s but has been on the decline for a number of years.

I first took to the pipe in the late sixties when I was a student and then gave it back up for the convenience of cigarettes when I was a young teacher. In 1975 I bought my first new car and at that time returned to the pipe for economic reasons. I’ve stuck to the pipe ever since.

I first smoked Clan with its heavily perfumed Cavendish tobacco. I then dabbled with Balkan Sobranie, Three Nuns, Erinmore and Condor. Finally I returned to latakia tobacco and smoked Presbyterian mixture followed by Dunhill  My Mixture 365 for many years.

Whilst we lived in Greasby, I would go into my local shop and ask for “My Mixture” at which point the owner would tell me it was “His Mixture” until I paid for it, then he would polish the tin because it was the most expensive tobacco in the shop. 

In Spain, pipe smoking is even less common than it is in Britain but I managed to find a shop in Torrevieja that sold Saint Bruno and have stuck with that ever since. The local shop in Bigastro now orders supplies in for me. I get through about two 50gm packets a week, seldom more and often less.

3. Somehow I managed to avoid smoking cannabis in the 60s. Whilst many were experimenting with weed and other substances, I was content with a pint of best bitter and my pipe of tobacco. After seeing the harm that drugs and alcohol abuse have done to many, including my own brother, I am pleased to say that I was never tempted to dabble in drugs and have managed to moderate my consumption of alcohol.

I read in the papers today that Britain has been earmarked as the leader in Europe for the use of “legal highs”. These are drugs that were never intended for human consumption but which young people have found give them a similar sensation to illegal drugs. There is also widespread concern about the levels of alcohol abuse in Britain, the so called binge drinking and the number of people who are taking drug-substitute prescriptions such as methadone over a long period.

The report in the Telegraph says that the rate of alcohol dependence among British men was second in western Europe and that alcohol dependence among women was higher in Britain than anywhere in Europe.

You can apportion the blame for all this to the economic situation, to the cheap booze offers in shops or whatever – the end result is the same – a country facing a growing problem that nobody seems able to tackle. 

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Our Spanish daughter



Ana, in the centre of the photo was our Spanish teacher in the first years that we were here. At the same age as our own children, we considered her to be our “Spanish daughter”.

We were delighted when she married the very handsome Angel (on the right) and even more delighted when they had two children (also called Angel and Ana).

They, along with the parents were the first people we befriended here in Bigastro and we have remained close ever since.

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Ana and her sister Marisu (taken from Facebook) Ana and Marisu with their parents (taken from Facebook)

Such a perfect day

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What a stunning dress The Grau family pose for a photo
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The radiant bride exudes happiness as her husband to be watches on

The sun shone but it was not too hot and with just a mere breeze, it was the perfect day for a wedding.

As I said yesterday, this was a first for Pamela and I – a Spanish wedding.

The setting was Bahia Costa at La Mata, the wedding ceremony itself was in the garden area followed by canapés and drinks in the salon. We then moved to the main banqueting room for the wedding breakfast. Later on there was a disco back in the salon with a free bar.

Fine dining

IMG Look at that list of canapés, each one delicious in its own right.  I think I managed to sample most of them!

Then move to the menu itself - seven courses starting with a refreshing tuna salad (not the tinned variety you understand) and finishing with the richest chocolate soufflé you could imagine (deliciously soft in the middle).

The Mariscada Bahia was a plateful of different varieties of prawns with a crayfish as the centrepiece. That was followed by another plate of warm red prawns (a different flavour altogether).

Then there was sea bass cooked to perfection followed by pork fillets in port wine.

The Centro de Fruta was served on a large plate with a pineapple in the centre surrounded by a selection of fresh fruit of all sorts. 

All this was accompanied by a very fruity local white wine and a delightful red. There were bottles of beer, Coca Cola and Fanta for those who preferred them.

Of course, a sumptuous meal like this would be just food if the company you ate it with was less than enjoyable. If you have never been to a Spanish wedding, I can tell you they are boisterous affairs.  There was a lot of cheering and clapping as the guests encouraged the bride and groom to kiss over and over again.

Everyone was there to enjoy themselves – a total fiesta as you might expect and far less formal than most British weddings.

From all this, you have probably gathered that Pam and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I am finding it hard to choose suitable words sufficient to thank Eladia and Joaquin for inviting us. We hope that they enjoyed their day and have a very happy and prosperous life together as man and wife.