Thursday, March 24, 2016

Out of town

For the first time since we moved here, Pam and I will be away for Easter.

When my neighbour Manuel found out, he realised we would miss the general procession in Orihuela. You see, Manuel takes part in the parade and always looks out for us to give us some of the treats he is carrying. Realising that we would not be there,  he came to our house to make sure we didn't miss out.

I know that I have said this before but it does bear repeating. Pam and I are blessed with some of the best, most thoughtful and kind neighbours that we have ever had. Manuel's gesture was very much appreciated.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

By way of balance

This is roughly how the alphabet in Spanish is pronounced in English - the hardest one to get is G which comes from the back of the throat.

PS Spot the mistake? V is uve not ve.

A great honour

On Sunday, after the meal, the President of the Sociedad Unión Musical de Bigastro gave me this tie clip which features the ornament from the town square.

He told me that, later on, the band will be presenting me with one of their pins which are a mark of membership normally reserved for musicians who play for them. Those who have been to the Corpus Christi concerts will have seen the musicians joining the band having one pinned on them.

Of course, I do not play for the band. I can't even play a penny whistle never mind a proper instrument.

What I do though, is take photos and more recently record audio for them. My earliest photos date back to about 2005 so I have an archive of 11 years which show the development of the band and the concerts they have played. We are talking hundreds if not thousands of photos.

I feel greatly honoured that SUMB have chosen to recognise my contribution in this way. May our association continue for many years to come.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

About right

Pronunciation of letters in Spanish is quite different to English. There are also a couple of extra letters in the Spanish alphabet - ll and ñ that don't appear in the English one.

It is interesting to see how Spaniards work around this by using sounds that they can relate to.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Drowning in debt

Bigastro faces the impossibility of having 25 million euros of debt. With an annual budget of 4.1 million euros it cannot hope to ever pay off  that amount and at the same time try to maintain services.

The town owes 19.5 million euros for pending court agreements to pay short term and long term debts. On top of that there are 6.1 million euros of additional debt that the town would have to pay if it loses the pending cases involving urban issues.

How the town came to have such a high level of debt is a matter of history.  Bigastro was under socialist rule for almost 30 years, first with Moya and then with Medina. During that period the town benefited greatly from wilful extravagance which it now has to pay for. During that time anything was possible and everything was affordable. A new Auditorium - why not, a Sports Centre with a heated swimming pool - certainly, multi storey car park - but of course; the list goes on and on. However, that is all an aside. we cannot undo the wrongs of the past. The situation is what it is and no matter whose fault it was, the town has to try and resolve the problem in whatever way it can.

The town already has a plan to refinance 2016 fees for a period of 10 years with two years grace in which only interest is paid. However, that is described as just a "patch" to keep things ticking over.

The mayor says that the calculation is simple- if the town was allowed to pay 400,000 euros per year at 0% interest, it would take 48.7 years to pay off the 19.5 million euros of current debt. If it had to pay anything more than that, there would have to be cuts in services.

To this end, the town have asked the Ministry of Finance for help by means of an interest free loan of 25 million euros over a 50 year period. Their answer was to wait until the result of the General Election but of course that has left the country in stalemate and still the debt and the interest payments on it continues to throttle the town.

Even if the result of the election had been different, the proposed solution may not have been so cut and dried. It is likely that there are a number of towns throughout Spain that find themselves in similar or possibly worse situations and 50 years is an awful long time for a 25m euro loan from a government that will face re-election over 12 times during that period.

The dust has settled

The elation of winning the Certamen in Alicante has started to subside and now the sights are even higher.

Bands that win the competitions in the various provinces are invited to a grand showdown in Valencia that will take place in November at the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia.

The band members can now look forward to a lot more rehearsals and a great deal more pressure to succeed. At this stage they are competing with the best of the best - last year's winners gained 368 points which is a very high target to meet.

I am really looking forward to a trip to see that building and of course the possibility of even greater triumph for our band.


We visited the Restaurante Forteleza when we first came to Spain but for whatever reason have never returned. It is situated on the left hand side of the CV-95 at Vistabella and regularly advertises rations of paella for 9 Euros.

Yesterday, we were invited by the band to lunch there at 2pm. We fully expected paella and cooked meat from the barbecue. What we got was much more; it was all very tasty and served quickly without fuss. There was certainly no skimping on portions!

The highlights for me were the calamaris, the paella, the artichokes and of course the barbecued meat not forgetting the selection of desserts that rounded everything off.

It goes without saying that the company was superb and the welcome we received from the band members excellent. Many, many thanks for the invitation.  

Not whether, WHEN!

As you can see from this map. there is a 100% probability of rain for the whole of Spain today. It isn't raining at the moment but the sky shows that it will start sometime soon. I need to cover the BBQ over before that begins.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Viernes Dolores in Bigastro

Bigastro has traditionally held a mass on the Friday before Holy Week. This year though, the church organised a procession around the town as well.

In the procession were the statues of the Virgin Mary with her son down from the cross and Jesus on the cross. At various points en route the priest spoke and a choir of ladies chanted. The street lights were mostly switched off meaning that the sole illumination came from the torches that were carried and the dim lights on the thrones.

The atmosphere was suitably solemn and at the same time emotional - a very fitting start to the coming celebration of Holy Week.

You can see my photos in the album accessed via the sidebar.

The teccy stuff  

Since this was the first time such a procession has been held, I had no idea what to expect. How much light would there be? What route would they take? Where would be the best positions be for photos? There was lot of thinking on my feet for this one!

The first decision was, what equipment to take? I don't like to use flash for this sort of occasion so I would be relying on the ability of my camera to work in dim light. Fortunately, my 5D MkIII is good in poor light but it can't work miracles. It was then a toss up between my favourite 24-70mm f2.8 zoom or my 50mm f1.2 low light monster. The zoom gives me more flexibility for composition but loses two stops of light gathering power to the prime lens (1/4).

In the event I chose the zoom and ended up with the camera selecting the maximum ISO of 12,800 for some shots - that is insane!! There are very few cameras that can produce acceptable results at those speeds.  Please bear that in mind when you look at the photos.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Keep up with the latest fashions

Three recommendations

Without local knowledge, finding somewhere decent to eat is pot luck.

Pam and I tend to stick to a few selected places that we have tried but then feel the need to widen our net especially when visitors are here.

Our Spanish teacher is a reliable source of information and so we asked him.  These were the three places that he felt offered the best food in the area.

Top of his list was Silvino in Almoradi (Av. Príncipe España, 8, 03160 Almoradí, Tel. 966 78 05 23). Antonio said that, in his opinion, Silvano produced the best food in the Vega Baja.

He then mentioned the seafood restaurant, Bar Joaquin in Orihuela (Av de Teodomiro, 18, 03300 Orihuela, Tel. 966 74 34 15) and finally, Punto Caliente in Benejuzar (Av. de las Canteras, 46, 03390 Benejúzar, Tel. 966 19 31 11).

Easter in Bigastro

One of our classmates, Susanna, kindly provided me with this leaflet showing the events planned for Holy Week.

You will notice that there is to be a procession tonight at 10pm.

When we asked our teacher Antonio, he told us this was the first time that such a procession had been organised. Well worth a photo or two!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

In my Liverpool home

Although I worked in Liverpool for 34 years and lived on the Wirral for all that time, I never felt truly at home there.

There is no denying that it is a city with some great beauty including the "Three Graces" shown in this photo that I found this morning on Flickr.

Now we all know that the three graces, as celebrated in classical literature and art, were the daughters of Jupiter (or Zeus in Greek mythology), and companions to the Muses. Thalia (youth and beauty) is accompanied by Euphrosyne (mirth), and Aglaia (elegance).

In Liverpool they are interpreted as The Royal Liver Building, The Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building - majestic architecture that greets you as you sail up the Mersey. I still recall the awe that I felt when, as an eleven year old, we returned to Liverpool from our 18 month stay in Canada.

There are many other magnificent buildings in Liverpool but there were some dreadful slums as well. My journeys along Scotland Road and my forages into Everton, Toxteth, Speke, Norris Green and Croxteth for example were a real eye opener.

I well remember being appalled by the so called "garden developments" that were hailed as a masterpiece of social engineering. In particular, Sir Thomas White's where youths would regularly take stolen cars, race them around inside the development and then set fire to them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

For lovers of music

At 7:30pm in the church, these choirs will present a programme of religious music.

Friday, March 11, 2016

A flock of seagulls

Birds are a constant danger to aircraft which is why they have hawks at San Javier to scare them off.

I'm not sure what measures are taken at Alicante-Elche but whatever they are they did not stop seagulls from damaging a Norwegian plane bound for Munich. The birds crashed into one of the wings of the plane and although the pilot did not suspect that any damage had been caused, he returned to land at the airport rather than risk continuing on.

The seagulls likely came from the  nearby rubbish tip at Fontcalent where they flock each day to feed. The council say they will take measures to control the birds in future.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Still a long way to go

Today is International Women's Day. 

An annual "international women's day" was first organised by the German socialist and theorist Clara Zetkin along with 100 delegates from 17 countries in March 1911.

The event was marked by more than one million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, with hundreds of demonstrations across the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

When it first began, women were demanding that they be given the right to vote - which they received in Britain in 1918 but just last year in Saudi Arabia - to hold public office and to be given equal employment rights as men.

Today, when only a fifth of parliamentary seats in Britain are held by women and only 19 heads of state out of a possible 196 are women - only seven more women than 20 years ago - there is much progress still to be made.

The number of female cabinet ministers has at least tripled between 1994 and 2014 - but remains low compared to men, at only 17 per cent.

Women are also predicted to face another 118-year wait for the gender pay gap to close, with only 55 of the 500 richest people in the world being women.

Aside from the older motivations surrounding political office and the pay gap, there is also increasing awareness of the disproportionate amount of abuse women suffer at the hands of others.

An estimated 120 million girls and women under the age of 20 have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts - around 10 per cent.

A huge majority of cases, which often involved partners and relatives, also go unreported - and convictions for rape remain very low in Britain alone.

More than a third of women worldwide have also experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives, with this being most common between a woman's teenage years and menopause.

Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of a billion more women are in the global workforce today than a decade ago, but they are only earning what men did in 2006, according to the World Economic Forum.

And one in 10 married women are not consulted by their husbands on how their own cash earnings will be spent.

Sunday, March 06, 2016


Bigastro took part in the second section of the competition which is for bands with 51 to 70 musicians.  Each band had to play first a pasadoble, then the set piece and finally a free choice lasting between 12 and 22 minutes.

The set work was: “RÍO ABAJO” Poema Sinfónico Auroro
By Manuel Berná García

Director: Diego Carrillo Soler

Pasodoble: “Los Barbas” by Ferrer Ferrán
Free work: “SIDUS”, by Thomas Doss

Points scored: 338.5

Director: Juan Francisco Sanjuan Rodrigo

Pasodoble : “Herminia” by  Juan Francisco Sanjuan Rodrigo
Free work : “Expedition”, by Óscar Navarro

Points scored: 325.1

Director: Damián Molino Beneyto

Pasodoble: “Agüero“ by José Franco
Free work: "POLIFEMO” by Andrés Valero Castells

Points scored: 298

Director: José Antonio Llinares Igual

Pasodoble: "El Alboroque” by José Luis Molina
Free work: “POÈME DU FEU” by Ida Gotkovsky

Points scored: 291.3

Saturday, March 05, 2016

When a plan comes together

Tuesday night I felt just lousy and Wednesday morning I work up feeling worse. Wednesday night was the worst though, it was 3am before I finally got to sleep. Every time I thought I might finally drop off, I started to cough again. Three hours later I was woken up coughing yet again. Thursday night was better but I still woke up three times during the night.

This was not good because I was really looking forward to going with the band to Alicante. Fortunately I was well enough on Friday to pack my camera gear ready for the early morning trip. A 6:30am start and we were on the bus at 8am with tickets in hand.

Bigastro were first band to play and so I started to unpack my gear knowing that I really needed a pass to allow me to take photos. Now I know that my name was on the list but I couldn't find anyone that could verify that and the attendant was not going to take my word on it. Fortunately, my friend "Fonta" appeared and he had his pass already. He vouched for my authenticity and so I was able to continue.

I was ready with my audio recorder and camera set up when Bigastro stepped onto the stage. First off can  work against you but in Bigastro's case it worked to their advantage. After a flawless performance, they received rapturous applause.

How were the other bands going to perform though. The answer is very well and we did get to listen to some varied and interesting music. In the end though, it was clear that Bigastro were the winners and so when the results were announced, the band members were at the front in force along with the mayor and others. The hall erupted and the celebrations began.

This was the first big competition that Bigastro have won in a long time - all credit goes to the director, Diego and the members of the band. They did us proud and we are delighted for them.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

A chance to see inside the Palace

There will be a small exhibition entitled "Mujeres Creativas" in the Jacarilla palace on Sunday 6th March starting at 12 midday.


The Daily Telegraph tells us that millions of Britains could be forced to work until they are 75. Those affected are the under 55s.

The current state pension age is 65 for men and 60 for women. That is due to rise to 66 for both sexes by 2020 and to 67 between 2026 and 2028.After that it will be linked to life expectancy.

It is estimated that the retirement age will have to rise to 69 by the late 2040s and again to 70 by the early 2060s.

One pension provider claims that today's workforce will have to work until they are 81 to enjoy the same standard of living as their parents - in other words, work until you drop.  

We all understand the problem, nobody expected us to live as long as we do and so the pension pot is rapidly running dry. At the same time there are implications for having such an ageing workforce.

Pam and I and everyone else we know who is retired say that we simply do not have the energy to work any more. The thought of getting up in the morning, travelling to work, putting in a full day and then returning home gives me shudders.

Equally important, working longer robs young people of opportunities - finding work in the first place and then progressing. Having to wait for someone to die before you can achieve promotion is not a nice prospect.