Friday, November 29, 2013

A resolution to the problem

The controversial copayment system for medicine has left 73,000 pensioners in the province waiting for reimbursements amounting to 1.6 million euros for the last three months.

Although payments are supposed to be made every three months, they are always delayed. This mainly effects those who are chronically ill and require a range of expensive medicines.   

However, the issue should now have been resolved thanks to the new electronic  prescription system. When a pensioner reaches the limit that they should pay, the rest of the prescriptions will be free.

In the case of British pensioners living here, the situation is different. We should be entitled to free prescriptions just as we would be if we still lived in the UK. The copayment system means that we pay the 10% along with our Spanish neighbours. I wonder how the system worked for those British pensioners who exceeded the 30 euro limit. Were they able to claim back the excess? 

A bumper year for fish

Whilst a lot of local industry has suffered during the economic downturn, the fishermen have gone from strength to strength. 2013 will go down as record year for them as they netted 6.6 million euros worth of fish more than doubling the 2.4 million euros that were caught last year.

Catches of anchovy, frigate tuna and mackerel have made Torevieja the most important port in the Mediterranean for these species. In particular the fishermen brought in nearly two thousand tons of anchovies, which many had thought were on the decline. They also captured one million euros worth of sardines.

The problem now is that the port facilities are becoming woefully inadequate. The fishermen badly need a larger area in which to operate. However, they are competing with a growing market for sport and leisure craft. They say that, even the new West dam will be too small for them. 

Moya back in court - again!

This will be the fifth trial for José Joaquín Moya, ex mayor of Bigastro. So far he has eluded a prison sentence, we shall see have to wait and see what happens this time.

On this occasion Moya is accused of making payments amounting to 500,000 euros for work that the company Torrebir was supposed to have completed. Along with Moya, Manuel Nortes and José Almarcha also stand accused. Moya  says that the money was paid for maintenance and repair work. However, there seems to be a lack of documentary evidence to back up that claim. 

The judge has set bail for each of the defendants at 240,000 euros. Bail must be paid within 10 days.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


A new word for our vocabulary is “selfie”. On social network, it has become a popular thing to take a photo of yourself and then post it.

Taking a “selfie” involves holding the phone at arm’s length and snapping away. Because the images are recorded digitally, it is easy to review the results and reject any that you don’t like.

This process is only made possible because camera phones, with their minute sensors and tiny lenses, have very good depth of field. Everything from a few centimetres to infinity is rendered more or less sharp. I say more or less because in fact lenses can only truly focus on one distance at a time. In front of and behind that distance, the image is, to some extent, out of focus.

Having mastered the simple technique of taking a selfie, the next step is to perfect the pose and the lighting. The last thing you want is a photo that resembles mug shots the police take.

The photographer, Peter Hurley, suggests the “squinch” as illustrated below:



A normal look with the eyes open The squinch

Notice that Peter has used cross lighting with the main light to the left balanced by a lesser light to the right (look at the two catch lights in his eyes). Most “selfies” are taken with less than perfect light, so you cannot expect anywhere near the same results. You will also notice that the photo does not make his nose look huge. Most portrait photographers would use a long focal length lens and take the photos from about 2m away to achieve a flattering result. You are never going to get that look with a camera held at arm’s length. Lastly, watch out for the background. You can see that Peter has chosen a neutral grey for his picture. I presume that is a backdrop in his studio where the picture was taken. 

Peter says that the squinch gives you a more confident look. Although you don’t want to look like a rabbit caught in a car’s headlights, I reckon squinching makes you look perhaps a shade too moody and serious. It is all a matter of personal taste but at least Peter’s pictures look a darn sight better than 99% of the selfies that I have seen posted on Facebook. To be brutally honest, many of profile pictures on the site are just awful.

PS You get to read all the important stuff on this blog!

Strange weather

The rain yesterday morning gave way to sunshine later in the day. It looks like we had some rain overnight and the sky is grey this morning but for the moment it is dry.

However, in nearby Alicante they had a hailstorm yesterday afternoon which lasted half an hour. Those who were there say that the beaches were covered making it look like a ski resort.

Meanwhile, in Alcoy they had the first snow of winter with a promise of more to come. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What is that falling from the sky?

As children, we used to sing, “rain, rain go away, come again another day”. Nobody likes going out in the rain and we don’t enjoy torrential downpours but we do need it to rain sometimes. The farmers need it for the crops and we all use many litres of the stuff each day for many purposes.

To be honest, I am scratching my head to remember when we last had a significant amount of rain here in Bigastro. There has been the odd short shower but nothing that you could call proper rain.

That could all change today though as the forecast is for light rain during much of the day. The rain will then continue over the next few days giving the ground a much needed soaking.

A world without light

One of the clear signs of continued economic depression in Spain is the number of homes that have been cut off from electricity. The price of electricity had risen by 60% over the last five years, a situation that was not helped by Mariano Rajoy’s reform of the energy sector last July. As part of the government’s austerity plan, state subsidy for supply was cut.

Estimates show that 1.4 million households had their supply cut last year for failure to pay bills. Many were reconnected within 48 hours following payment of the outstanding amount but still, this is a disturbing figure.

When Iberdrola cut our supply for one and a half hours last Friday to perform maintenance work, we felt the impact of being without electricity. I can only imagine what it must be like to spend 48 hours or more without this vital source of energy. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

MOT for motorbikes


For motorcycles over 5 years old, an ITV is needed every 2 years. Having never seen motorbikes at the test centre where I took my Roomster, I imagine that they are not set up to do these tests there.

As it happens, people in Bigastro can have their test done in the town. The inspectors will be setting up a mobile test station in the parking lot he other side of the by-pass on Wednesday, 4th December. Inspections will be carried out between 9:30am and 2pm and then again between 4pm and 7 pm. 

Charmed lives

The clean up of corruption in Spain is a slow and tedious process and often amounts to a less than anticipated result in the end.  A few offenders get what they deserve, the rest wriggle their way out of it.

Ten years after taking up the case, the Castellon Provincial Court sentenced the president of the council and leader of the PP, Carlos Fabra, to four years in prison and fined him 1.4 million euros for four tax fraud offenses. Prosecutors had asked for 13 years in prison and a fine of 1.98 million.

The judge found sufficient evidence to show that Fabra had defrauded the Treasury in the years between 1999 and 2003. Fabra was acquitted of the other charges that had been brought against him.

Of course, Fabra will appeal against the sentence and in any case, he won’t be going to jail but will just be required to pay the fine.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Shame you missed it!

I know I keep saying this but it is true, the concerts by the Bigastro band do get better and better each time.

Last night the concert was in two parts – literally.

In the first half we were treated to some new pieces including a superb solo on bassoon or fagot as the Spanish call it. For the second half, the choir took to the stage and sang. This time the soloists were singers, bloody good they were too.

Check out my sidebar for a link to photos or click here.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A reminder

20131108_ceciliaTonight, the town band will be playing in one of the most important concerts on the calendar.

They will be also be presenting the new musicians joining the band along with Mr & Mrs (two of the young musicians that have been voted for by band members).

Friday, November 22, 2013

Back to the land of the living

Those who live here will know that the electricity company cut our supply this morning for essential maintenance work. Let us hope that what they did will prevent those little blips that we suffer from time to time.

Having no electricity meant we had no heating, couldn’t even make a cup of tea and of course had no internet connection.

The note in our box warned us of the cut which could have lasted until close to midday. Thankfully, normality was restored at about 10:30am and we are now back in the land of the living.

Every little helps

I have just noticed that Pam and I have received our winter fuel supplements from Britain. Last year was the first one where we were able to claim so this is only our second instalment.  Two hundred and thirty eight euros (£100 each converted into euros) goes some way to alleviate our winter gas bill.

How long we will continue to receive these payments is anybody’s guess. Having opened the door to all pensioners living abroad, the UK government have realised just how much they are now paying out. There is an idea being bandied about that those people living in countries where the average winter temperatures are higher than Britain should not be entitled to payments – I guess that means us.

Don’t they realise that cold is a relative thing, once you have lived in Spain for a few years, the winters feel really cold.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hard to understand

When I lived in the UK, libraries were very popular places. At peak times, you would often have to queue to return books or take more out. In the daytime they would fill up with pensioners and in the evenings with children from school. At weekends, whole families would visit the library to exchange books and read the papers.

From an early age, I would have up to six books at a time from the library, almost exclusively non-fiction covering topics ranging from art and photography to fishing and gardening.

When we first came to Bigastro, the library was situated in the Social Centre. Once the new auditorium was built, the library moved there leaving the existing room vacant for other purposes. The new location was much more pleasant and more convenient and so we might have expected it to thrive.

After school, you do find a handful of teenagers in the library doing their homework and occasionally you find older people at the computers. The rest of the time though, the room remains empty. On those occasion when we have had meetings in the room lasting a couple of hours or so, there was nobody else in the room and  seldom did anybody try to come in to interrupt us.

Why might this be I wonder?

It certainly has nothing to do with the extensive collection of books nor the will to promote the resource. The library has  consistently won awards over the few years for its efforts to encourage readers. The lady who works in the library is more than helpful. However, I imagine that she must get bored sitting for long periods without a soul in sight. What more can she do short of going out into the street to drag people in.

I recall reading somewhere that Spaniards are not book lovers. This accounts for the fact that there are very few bookshops to be found in towns and only a handful in cities. I’m told that, on average, Spaniards read only one book per year which is almost unbelievable.

Work harder for less money and reduced security

One of the root causes of the economic meltdown in Spain was high wages. Before the crisis hit, Spanish workers enjoyed much better salaries than their counterparts in e.g. Germany which made the country uncompetitive in the European and world markets.  Workers in Spain also had more favourable contracts than their neighbours which made firing them almost impossible.

To try and regain competition, the government had to make alterations to the laws governing work contracts, trim down the workforce and force those in employment to accept lower wages. Three bitter pills for Spaniards to swallow.

Of course, the second and third measures could only be applied to public sector workers, it was left to private companies to sort out the situation for themselves. Lack of competition in the market place and high unemployment which brought about reduced public spending, have made it impossible for private companies to continue as they were doing. They too have had to take stringent measures to stay in business.

In Madrid, they wanted to reduce the number of people that clean the streets by 1,134 and at the same time cut  all of the salaries by 40%. As you might expect, the workers went on strike, leaving the streets full of rubbish. On Sunday the impasse was broken when an agreement was made not to fire any of the workers but instead lay people off on a temporary basis when necessary. This more egalitarian approach was more acceptable to the union  because it will effect all and not just one section of the workforce.

When I first started teaching, the school I was at stood next to the council depot where the refuse collection wagons were housed. Each night, at about 3pm, bin lorries would line up at the top of the road waiting for their shift to finish before returning to the depot. No doubt, the workers had also taken long breaks during the day to try and keep to the excessive timings that had been set for their rounds. At the correct time, the wagons would return to the depot in convoy. This ritual  was played out every day.

I imagine that this need to waste time came about because, when the timings were set, the workers did everything according to the book. In the real situation, they obviously found ways to cut corners and save time which they could then spend sitting in the cab reading the paper. However, the bombshell dropped when the collection of rubbish was privatised. The company that took on the contract, re-employed all the workers but insisted on more accurate timings and greater efficiency. Their aim was to make profit which meant no more extended breaks.

In my opinion, with massive unemployment in Spain, nobody should expect to be able to sit about doing nothing and still get paid for it. If they can reduce the number of hours of the workforce that cleans the streets in Madrid without detriment to the service then that is what they must do. Hopefully, the savings made will allow others to be employed elsewhere in the city.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wise up Cameron

On Tuesday a Spanish state research vessel, the RV Ramon Margalef, was spotted in British territorial waters off Gibraltar. A Royal Navy fast patrol boat was sent out and the captain ordered the Spanish boat to leave. In reply, the Spanish captain claimed to have permission to conduct his survey and refused the demand. It was twenty hours later when the intruder finally left British waters and then only after intervention by the Spanish Ambassador.

Recent incursions into British territorial waters off Gibraltar have increased significantly from about 5 per month to 40 per month. This is seen by many as deliberate provocation which has incensed the chief minister, Fabian Picardo.  He would like to see the Royal Navy firing at any boat that defies instructions to leave.

When Greenpeace activists tried to board a Russian oil rig they were accused of piracy and now face the possibility of long jail sentences. It seems that Britain treats provocation in the waters off Gibraltar in a much softer way. Of course, Britain wants to maintain good relationships with Spain but surely not at any cost. The Spanish government must be laughing at David Cameron’s softly softly approach to these matters.

Oh joy of joys

Anyone who has visited Trafico in Alicante will tell you what a mind numbing experience it was. We went twice, once to change our driving licenses from British to Spanish and the second time to sort out Pamela’s license which had somehow got lost in the system. Since then, we have renewed our licenses without having to return to Alicante.

Upon arriving at Trafico, you joined a queue to make an appointment, then you joined a queue to pay. At that point you got a number and sat down and waited and waited and waited for your number to come up on the board. Once your number appeared, which was several hours later, you had a few minutes to go to the allocated window otherwise you lost your turn.

All that has changed now. Instead, you make an appointment on the Internet or by phone. For those with limited Spanish, the website is the better choice.

On the website click on, 'Cita previa Trámites' and choose the service you require. Then you fill in your personal data. The next screen offers you the available times and dates to choose from. Note that you can only make an appointment up to ten days in advance. Confirm your appointment and away you go.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

They must act firm

Pedro Hernández Mateo, who had been mayor in Torrevieja for 23 years and who was a former deputy of the Valencian PP, was found guilty of manipulating the contract for waste collection in the town and was sentenced to three years in prison.

During the trial, the court found that he had deliberately set out to make one company stand out and in doing so allowed the 97.8 million euro contract to go to UTE Necso Entrecanales-Grupo Generala de Servicios.

Yesterday, Mateo asked the High Court to suspend his imprisonment whilst the Ministry of Justice filed an appeal for clemency. The request will be resolved shortly, that could well happen today. The Green party in Torrevieja are vehemently opposed to both the request for suspension and for clemency and have gathered over 1,400 signatures in their petition.

The new broom in Valencia and in the country as a whole, are keen to stamp out corruption in politics and so they face a dilemma. If the appeal for suspension and more to the point, clemency are allowed to go through, this will be seen as weakness. No matter what the circumstances are, they need to be seen to be firm otherwise every other case that follows will take the same precedent.  Let’s face it, Mateo got caught for this one, how many other scandals did he get away with during his 23 years as mayor?

Monday, November 18, 2013

After a lifetime of work

British pensioners complain that many immigrants to the country receive more in benefits than they do. Whilst pensioners have to accept the amount they are given, it seems that many immigrants know how to play the system to their advantage. Still, in spite of their complaints, most pensioners in Britain live reasonably well.

That is not the case here in Spain. A report today in one of the local papers says that, one in four pensioners in Alicante province, lives below the poverty line.

Whilst they might have dreamt of the things they might do in retirement like go for day trips or taking holidays, the truth is that many pensioners can barely afford to live. Instead of enjoying a little leisure, they find themselves having to go to the markets when they are about to close to pick up the food that gets thrown away.

At one time the families of these retirees would support them, now it is the other way round. During the financial crisis, cash strapped families are looking more an more to their parents and even grandparents for support.

Cuts in social services and the health service have not helped one bit. The system of copayment for medicines is a real burden for many and an expensive trip to the dentist every six months is definitely out of the question.  

Ooops, missed that out

The budget for Bigastro 2013, as presented by the PP, showed figures of 3,711,079 of revenue against 3,624,462 expenditure leaving a surplus of 86,617 euros. That is good news and shows that the town has managed to curb its spending to stay in line with income.

Unfortunately the Town Clerk has found some anomalies in the accounts which make the figures a little less rosy.

For example, there is an allocation of 120,000 euros set aside this year against bills of 165,000 – the remainder will have to be included in a future year’s budget. And then there is the issue of the multi storey car park at La Paz for which the council still owe 982,086 euros. This is the building that was constructed in 2008.

Although the accounts show amounts set aside for interest payments and expenses to suppliers, the tax and Social Security payments are not included nor is the repayment of a loan of 5,784 euros from 2010.

The largest problem for the town though are the loans that the council has taken out from various banks; CAM, Caja Rural, Bankia, Banco Popular and Cajamurcia  which amount to 8,658,995 euros. Added to that, the council have credit facilities of 762,500 euros that are due to be paid. 

Presenting a simple expenditure against income budget and hoping that will pull the wool over people’s eyes clearly hasn’t worked.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

All in perfect English

Last night we went to the Auditorium for the Hammer concert. Now if I was being critical, I would say that none of the musicians were outstanding but they did play very well together and the two singers had the kind of powerful voices needed to belt out the numbers. The whole production was very slick and professional. It was a very enjoyable night. 

DSCF1570   DSCF1555
  DSCF1534 DSCF1590

To their immense credit, the two girls sang in very clear English. I doubt that the majority of the audience would have have understood one word but that did not quell their enthusiasm to get up and bop along with the band.

Hammer are: Mariola Alcocer and Andrea Casanova on vocals, Tomás Angel on guitar, Paco Escudero on bass, Pablo Sánchez on drums Tony Sánchez on keyboard and harmonica.
Fernando Sanmartín on trumpet and Sergio Pérez  on saxophone.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

You got it

Untitled-1The farmers of the Vega Baja wanted colder weather, well they got it. Yesterday, there was a cold wind which made an otherwise sunny day feel cold. Sure there were folks about in shorts and T-shirts braving the cold but most people were wrapped up in coats and scarves.

Those who live in hope that the nice weather will return could well be disappointed. The forecast is for even colder weather to come over the next week.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Too warm for some

For most of us, the warm weather in October was a bonus. Not for the farmers though and their winter crops of artichokes, cabbage and broccoli. Sunshine in the daytime is fine but at night time, these crops need the cold to harden off. Warm nights mean that the crops keep growing and that is not good for quality.

The other concern of farmers is that a late winter will effect the crops that they will be planting in spring which need warm weather.

Mind you, we are used to farmers complaining; too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry. When they have a poor crop they moan, when the harvest is bountiful and the prices are low they moan just the same. As my father used to say, “you don’t find many poor framers”. In spite of all their troubles, they all seem to drive round in fancy cars, live in big houses and have plenty of money to spend when they go out.

Changing times

When there were only a handful of channels on television and none of them showed the latest productions, cinemas were enormously popular. For a blockbuster film, the queues would stretch out along the pavement. At the weekends, cinemas would be full even in small towns.

Then came the advent of VHS which meant you could rent a film for less than the price of cinema tickets. Following that, was satellite TV with its multiple film channels and films released on DVD and Blu-ray.  Cinemas reacted by dividing up into smaller units, the so called multiplexes, giving viewers a wider choice of films to watch. There is still something about watching a film on a big screen that appeals to some.

There is a multiplex in Orihuela at the Ociopía mall but that is going to close. Rising prices and fewer clients have spelt its death. There has been a backlash on social media sites and even a protest at the centre but I fear that neither will save the cinemas in Orihuela. Let’s face it, Ociopía struggles even as a commercial centre with many of the retail units closed.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Stooping low

Although thieves are not known for having a moral conscience, most would stop at the thought of stealing from a church. 

One gang though decided that the church of San Miguel Arcangel in Daya Nuevo was a legitimate target. They got in through the rear door and managed to remove the large armoured safe from the wall that contained the church’s precious items. The safe, which weighs 500kilograms was still locked but the thieves had managed to get into it via the rusted base. The items missing included a gold crown, along with a gold medal and earrings with a total value of about 60,000 euros.

Of course, the real value of the items is much more than euros. The crown for example was purchased with donations from the parishioners over 60 years ago.  There is no doubt that the items will have been sold to an unscrupulous dealer for melting down. Let us hope the police can get to them before that happens.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Spot the differences

thumbnail (2) This is kind of what my Yeti looks like.
thumbnail and this is the new face lifted Yeti for 2014.

Make a note

20131108_cecilia One of the most important concerts that the band play is for the feast of St. Cecilia.

At this concert the band introduce the new musicians who will be joining them.

This concert will take place on Saturday, November 23ed at 8pm in the Municipal Auditorium Francisco Grau,  Bigastro.

A little bit of soul

20131108_hammers Fans of the blues, rock and roll, soul and rhythm and blues will not want to miss the concert by the Hammers this Saturday, November 16 starting a at 9pm, in the Municipal Auditorium Francisco Grau,  Bigastro.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It all finishes this weekend

Untitled-1 October was the warmest on record. The good weather continued into November but that will all come to an end this week according to the State Agency for weather.

The wind is changing direction and that will cause a drop in temperatures to somewhere around 20C (maybe even lower). At the same time, the sky will fill with clouds and we can expect heavy rain on Thursday or Friday.

For the farmers of citrus fruit, the warm weather in October has been a curse. The demand for oranges increases when we have a drop in temperatures as people take to consuming Vitamin C to ward off colds. Added to that, citrus fruit need cold weather to mature and develop their desirable sweetness.

The clothing market has also suffered because people are still going around in shorts and T-shirts rather than setting out to buy warmer clothing for autumn.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Could it get any better?

Pam and I have iPad 4s which we use for Internet browsing, reading and sending emails and most important, to view BBC iPlayer programs on our TV via an Apple TV box.

When we first got the iPads (Pam already had an iPad 2) I made the mistake of downloading the aps. that Pam used from iCloud rather than the aps. store.  Once that was sorted out, our iPads have worked flawlessly. I really like the new version of iOS. However,  Pam does have issues with the Control Centre appearing every time she swipes up from the bottom of the screen. 

When we first bought the Apple TV box, the picture did stutter as the internal buffer filled up but that problem has been sorted with software upgrades. Now, when we want to watch the iPad on our TV, it is simple process - select the correct source on the TV and turn Airplay on.  Streamed video is then transmitted from the iPad to our wireless router and from there it follows the household wiring to the TV.

Having what many regarded as the best tablet computers on the market, it was hard to believe that Apple could improve upon the design but they just did. According to all the reviews, the new iPad Air is thinner, lighter, faster and comes with free productivity software. Reducing the bezel  by 16% and making the case 10% thinner has resulted in a 28% weight loss – remarkable. Although the new battery has less capacity, it still runs for over 10 hours between charges because of the new energy efficient processor.

You know, Apple has its detractors but even they must be in awe of the achievements that the company has made with its products. I reckon it is only a matter of time before we refer to mobiles as iPhones and tablets as iPads in the same way that we talk of a vacuum cleaner as a Hoover and a ballpoint pen as a Biro.     

Well blessed

I have said it before but it bears repeating, we are extremely fortunate to have such good neighbours here in Spain.

Yesterday, Pepe and Eladia invited us around to join their friends for lunch.

Most larger houses in Spain have an underbuild or basement which is used both as a garage and an entertaining space. Normally, it is only family and close friends that are entertained inside the house. Of course, these spaces are well equipped for the purpose with tiled floors, painted walls, electricity, lighting and services for a kitchen.

The party started with the men gathering downstairs for a glass or two of beer whilst the ladies were given a conducted tour of the magnificent house.

Once we were sat down, the tables were laden with bowls of crisps, plates of langostines, pieces of toast with smoked salmon and caviar, other toasts with membrilla and cheese, olives wrapped in anchovies. and dishes of olives.

Then we had a mixed salad of tomatoes decorated with anchovies, slices of cogollos, pickled onions and olives from Pepe’s garden.

The main course was a casserole of chick peas, tripe and potatoes. This is a typical dish from the area which is often served as a tapas.

The dessert comprised pastries filled with cream or chocolate. bunuelos drizzled with honey and a rosca of sweet bread.

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Pam and I would like to thank Pepe and Eladia for inviting us, those who prepared the food for an excellent lunch and all of the guests for their company.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The grand re-opening

DSCF1489 Last night we had the grand re-opening of the Albergue at La Pedrera.

Tony Kelly was the compere and sang for us. The main act though was a Neil Diamond tribute singer who actually appeared twice – first time as himself with a bald head and then again with a full black wig as the Jazz Singer.

He was bloody good and well worth going to see.
DSCF1492 When we first came to live in Bigastro, events at La Pedrera were always packed. These days though, people are getting older and numbers of Brits are dwindling.

A lot of familiar faces were missing, maybe they were at home watching “Strictly come dancing” instead.

Tony Kelly told us that the intention of the new owners of Camping La Pedrera is to put on live entertainment every Saturday night. The cynical side of me says that will work for maybe a few weeks and then numbers will drop. That will be a shame because the new owners have put a lot of effort into reviving the original spirit of the place as a camping site that caters both for Spaniards and for the Brits who live at Villas Andrea.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Should they be going?

I read this morning that the Spanish football team have agreed to play a friendly game in Equatorial Guinea. Although they will not receive financial compensation, they will be staying in the luxury resort town of Sipopo and will be treated like royalty.

The country ranks 45th out of 52 in the index of African governance. It has suffered a regime of torture for political opponents at the hands of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo  - the longest serving president in Africa. He is accused of plundering the oil wealth of the country whilst at the same time keeping the majority of the population poor.

No matter how friendly and cooperative Obiang is towards Spain, is it right for the country to be seen to support such a repressive regime?

He must travel a lot

One of the councillors in Rojales has discovered petrol receipts that were paid by the town hall to the man in charge of fireworks at the fiestas.

The receipts, which cover the period between March 2012 and September 2013, vary between 50 and 60 euros each. For some months there is one receipt, for others there are as many as five. In total they add up to 1,950 euros. That is an awful lot of petrol for someone to just drive around and set off fireworks. I don’t know what sort of vehicle he drives but I reckon I could travel well over 25,000 kilometres on that much fuel.

The mayor says he knows nothing about the matter and added that this person has abused the trust placed in him.  If that is actually the case, it makes you wonder just how rigorous the systems of financial control are that allow such abuses to happen.

Friday, November 08, 2013

CAM bank fraud

The former CEO of the Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo (CAM) bank, Roberto Lopez Abad along with the Business Director, Daniel Gil have been sent to prison with bail set at 1.5m for Abad and 400,000 for Gil.

They had been investing in the Caribbean with loans of up to 160million euros. The money was used to finance the acquisition of  land and hotels in Mexico, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

The operation was directed through an entity based in the tax haven of Curacao (former Netherlands Antilles). In all 247 million euros was diverted to Curacao avoiding a tax claim of over 31.8 million euros in Spain.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Top tip

If you regularly order items from Amazon as I do and you live in Spain, check out their Spanish web site. Most of the items on the British site are available from the Spanish site and the prices are normally similar (the only exceptions are items from Amazon market place traders).

On the Spanish site you do have to pay for delivery though – there are three rates:

9.99 euros if you want the items next day – normally sent by courier which could be DHL UPS or SUER.

5.99 euros if you want the items within 2 to 3 working days

2.99 euros if you are prepared to wait up to 5 days

In fact, Amazon use Correos for the standard rate and normally post items out the same day you order them from Madrid. Invariably, Correos then deliver the items (signed for) the next day.

It used to be the case that the UK site would deliver items over £25 to Spain free of charge using MRW but not any more.

Is there a catch – well in most cases the description in English will find you the items on the Spanish site but there are some cases where you need to know the language. The instructions for the items might be in Spanish. However, for most items they are in several languages and of course any plugs for electrical items will be euro 2 pin.   

The risk of flooding

Autumn is the season when we normally expect rain. A warm sea during June signals the possibility of a “gota fria” or cold drop which means torrential rain. The drainage system alongside the roads cannot cope with these deluges and so we have flooding.

I am told that there never used to be flooding in Bigastro until the by-pass was built. It was understood the road would prevent water from draining across to the huerta and so a water channel was built under it but that is not sufficient to take the full flow of a downpour. Similarly, the water channel that follows Calle LeVegan drains water from La Pedrera until it reaches the entrance to our estate where it then floods onto the road.

Apart from Bigastro, it seems that 160,000 people living in the Alicante province are at risk of suffering from flooding during torrential rain.

The Vega Baja, the final leg of the Vinalopó (Elche), the beach of San Juan in Alicante and the ravines that lead to El Campello, Orihuela coast, Denia, Calpe and Ondara are the most affected areas. In the Vega Baja this includes the towns of; Orihuela, Almoradí, Callosa de Segura, Catral, Dolores, Rafal, Benejúzar, Formentera del Segura, Daya Nueva and Daya Vieja.

Recommendations have been made to classify high risk areas as land that should not be developed, However, town hall planning has not helped the situation by allowing building to take place in these areas at risk.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Things will change

This information, which comes from the Daily Telegraph, describes the changes to the demographics of Britain over the next 24 years.

  • The Office for National Statistics say that Britain's population will rise by 10 million by 2037 to 73.3 million.
  • The ONS said 60% of this increase – or 5.8 million – will be due to migration, either directly through new arrivals into the country or indirectly through the impact on the birth rate.
  • The official figures suggest that more than 215,000 immigrants will come to Europe every year, significantly more than David Cameron's plans to cut net immigration to less than 100,000.
  • The number of people aged 80 or older is projected to more than double over the same period to 6.2 million, representing one in 12 people in the UK.
  • The number of people aged over 90 will double, while the number of centenarians will rise from 13,000 to 111,000.
  • The ageing population means that despite the influx of younger immigrants, a lower proportion of the population will be of working age. At present, there are 3.21 people of working age to every pensioner. By 2037, that ratio will have fallen to 2.74 people.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

They are still around

There used to be a myth that mosquitoes are only a problem in summertime. That is not true, these insects will now breed all year and because there are more likely to be puddles in autumn and winter, they take advantage of that fact. Certainly, the breeding cycle is slower during cold weather and a sudden drop in temperature will temporarily halt their activity but they soon recover.

The other problem we face is that mosquitoes have developed an immunity to many of the sprays and creams that once deterred them. As I said in a previous item, DEET used to be very effective in warding off mosquitoes but the insects have gradually learnt to tolerate it.

We need to find ever more resourceful ways to control the spread of these insects.  In Torrevieja they have introduced bats, one of the few natural predators of mosquitoes but of course it takes time to develop a colony of sufficient size to control a plague of insects. 

Monday, November 04, 2013

Why do they complain?

In a recent survey of broadband speeds in Britain, they found that there was not one city that met the criteria set for superfast broadband. The definition is 30 Mbs/sec and the fastest found was Telford with an average of 22.99 Mbs/sec. In Manchester, where my youngest daughter lives, the average speed was 18.36Mb/sec and in Liverpool, where my friend Pete lives, 17.43Mbs/sec.

Let’s put these figures into perspective. Whilst they might fall short of the government’s target, those are a darn sight faster than the 8.43Mb/sec that I get from a contracted 10Mb/sec connection. To make matters worse, the average cost of broadband in the UK is a lot less than I pay for my Telefonica connection.

Of course, I live in a rural area where broadband speed will be lower than in cities like Madrid. 

Thanks to Bill

Yesterday I said that my friend John was a keen astrologist. Well that might be true but in reference to observing a solar eclipse, it is his fondness for astronomy that is more relevant.

Thank you Bill for pointing that out!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Living on the coast

Spain has passed several laws to protect the coastal strip. As a matter of principal, the area next to the sea should be free from buildings. Then there is an area six metres wide which should also be free from any unauthorised building. Building is permitted in the area 20 metres from the shore but is subject to certain restrictions.

Torrevieja, along with other coastal towns, are going to suspend granting any licenses for this area for the moment as a precautionary measure. That means that the owners of these properties cannot make any alterations including changing an awning until the situation is resolved. 

Information for Scout John

I call one of our neighbours scout John because he regularly finds information for me about what is going on locally. Now, perhaps, it is my turn to help him.

You see John is  keen on astronomy and is a member of a local club that observes the stars and the firmament. I am therefore sure that he will know that, this afternoon, there will be a rare hybrid eclipse of the sun* which will be observable from this region.

What he may not know though is that the Centre for Information and Youth in Alicante, along with the Mastral Project, will be setting up telescopes on the Juan Aparicio  promenade in Torrevieja  to allow people to observe the phenomena. 

The eclipse will start at 13:10 and will last approximately one and a half hours.

What is a Hybrid Eclipse?

A hybrid eclipse occurs when the moon's distance from the Earth varies with time. When the moon is a bit farther away, it becomes too small to completely cover the bright disk of the sun. This results in the sighting of a light ring (of the sun) encircling the moon.

Sometimes when the moon is a bit closer, it covers the sun’s disc, partially producing a crescent-shaped light ring of the sun.

A hybrid eclipse occurs once every 18 years.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

More than fine tuning

Successive governments have tinkered with the exam system in the UK. When I was at school we sat GCEs and the grades were 1 to 6 for a pass with 1 as the top grade.

Then when I started teaching, they introduced CSEs for lower ability students. The top grade was said to be equivalent to a C at GCE (yes they had changed the grades to letters). Later they merged the two exams into the new GCSE which was supposedly for all students.

However it  soon became evident that the exam papers were just too hard for low ability students in some subjects so they introduced tiers in those. The grades ran from A to G with U representing a fail. The magic grade though was a C or above.

At first the GCSE was exam based in the academic subjects but had an element of coursework in subjects like Art. Gradually the notion of coursework appeared in more subjects along with a modular system of assessment in for example maths. 

As attainment in the exam increased, so the exam boards responded with an A* grade for the top achievers. This was meant to allow certain universities the opportunity to pick the very best candidates for courses.

With the advent of OFSTED and league tables, schools naturally looked at ways they could improve the grades of their students at GCSE. One way was to seek out exam boards that offered easier exams and a greater reliance on coursework. The other way was to enter students in year 10 which meant that, if they did not achieve a good grade, there was time to enter them again and again. I recall pupils at Anfield who had taken English language or mathematics up to 6 times to try and get a C grade.   

However, some universities became wary of those qualifications that relied largely on coursework. There was always the notion that teachers offered rather too much guidance to their pupils completing coursework  thus inflating the grades achieved.

The rising numbers of pupils achieving high grades at GCSE caused widespread concern that the exam had been dumbed down. In order to give it more clout, the government are once again tinkering with it. This time they are changing the grades to numbers from 1 to 9 with 9 being the highest level. At the same time, they are moving towards exam only based qualifications i.e. doing away with coursework and at the same time scrapping modular courses. The exams will be at the end of the course in the summer term. They say this will reintroduce necessary rigour.

Faced with findings that showed e.g 16- to 24-year-olds in England ranked 21st for numeracy out of 24 countries, the government are shoring up English and maths by insisting on a wider range of topics in maths and putting a greater emphasis on spelling, punctuation and grammar in English.

These measures will raise the bar for schools who will struggle to meet their targets for 5 x A-C grades (or 5 x 7 –9 grades as it will be then) including maths and English. How glad am I to be well out of the system.  

Friday, November 01, 2013

A sorry picture of a country in decline

A well written article in the Daily Telegraph, paints a very sorry picture of Britain in decline.

The article cites four measures for making this assertion:

1. The decline in living standards. Although disposable income has risen, this is accounted for by population growth, lower interest rates and higher employment. The article claims that real income is actually lower now than it was ten years ago. 

2. More of the income of families is having to go to pay for essentials. The worst predictions show that, spending on these items has risen by 60%. This leaves people with far less to spend on “extras”. 

3. Standards of literacy and numeracy for school leavers in Britain are amongst the lowest in the developed world. Older people who are leaving the work force are apparently better educated than the youngsters who are replacing them.

This has nothing to do with the amount of money spent on education. The author cites widening levels of social inequality between aspiring professional parents and others as the main cause.

4. The health of the nation is also of growing concern. Obesity, female life expectancy and child mortality rates in Britain are among the worst in Europe. Again this has nothing to do with the amount of money spent on health care. Rather it is the effect of a poor start to life for too many.

The article concludes that Britain is living on borrowed time and only drastic action will address these issues. Now I ask my neighbours, “do you still hanker after returning to Britain?”

Making homes legal

The City Council of Orihuela recognises that many buyers were duped by builders into believing that their homes would be totally legal. In some cases, the builders had permission to build a certain number of houses but then went ahead and built more. Pam and I know of at least one couple who are in this situation. They rely on a connection to electricity courtesy of their neighbour. There is no threat of demolition because the house is not on protected land but without a certificate of first ownership, it is virtually impossible for them to get a connection to vital services.

The City Council are now attempting to regularise these illegal houses by creating micro urbanisations in other words small groups of houses rather than complete developments.  The first houses to be dealt with in this way are in Los Mazones.

Although these houses have a road with street lighting and connection to the sewerage system, they are having problems obtaining a connection to electricity. The cost of this regularisation, which is estimated between eight and ten thousand euros, must be borne by the owners. Apart from a resolution to the problem of getting a connection to electricity, the owners will be in a position to sell their properties once the process is complete.

Finally approved

Finally, the budget for Bigastro 2013 has been passed. At the meeting, the Socialists led by Raúl Valerio Medina  abstained and the Liberals led by Aurelio Murcia walked out before the vote took place. 

There were however three conditions that the PP had to agree to, 1) that 40% of the compensation to the dismissed workers would be paid this year 2) the remaining 60% will be paid next year and 3) the 285,000 euros of bills that are in hand will be paid.

When the PP came into power, 21 employees from the infant school Bigastrin, the EPA and municipal cleaning service were fired. Compensation for unfair dismissal was set at 312,500 euros but so far, none of this has been paid.