Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Comments on the Protest

There's been quite a volume of comment so far from the European Residents on the upcoming protest (see following entry). The important thing, of course, is that it is successful. Friday 9th, January: 12 noon in Puerto de Perchena, Almería City. Free buses from Los Gallardos, Vera, Albox and so on. See www.aulan.es


Here is a link to video footage of the Priors demolition. Please watch it and at this time of goodwill to all men, see if you can find it in your hearts to support them. You Tube Here is their story, the facts not the fiction, direct from Len and Helen Prior. http://www.almanzora-au.org/The_Priors.htm If none of the above rocks your boat, then ask yourselves, ´what is the value of your home now? Whether your home is legal or not, the housing market is pretty much dead in the water until this situation is resolved. This affects everyone, legal or not, so get out on the streets of Almería on the 9th Jan.

Transportation: Those who wish to travel in chartered buses should immediately contact:

info@aulan.es or phone 950 069 558


Forums

http://www.eyeonspain.com/Secure/ForumPostsDesc.aspx?thread=6406&dev=FB11&name=General%20chit%20chat

http://www.costaalmeria.com/index.php?topic=5849.0

http://www.spanishpropertyinsight.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=3871

http://www.viva-almeria.com/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=11057

http://www.viva-almeria.com/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=11099

http://www.viva-almeria.com/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=11042

http://www.arboleas.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=18220

http://britishexpats.com/forum/showthread.php?p=7090809#post7090809

http://www.notesfromspain.com/forums/showthread.php?p=66818#post66818

http://kovakspi.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=191


Forums en español

http://www.portalmanzora.es/a/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&p=41803#41803

http://www.portalmanzora.es/a/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&p=41801#41801



Blogs

http://spanishshilling.blogspot.com
www.theentertaineronline.com
www.davidjackson.info

http://www.davidjackson.info/2008/expats-to-march-in-protest-march-against-urban-abuse-in-almeria.htm

http://jiminy304.vox.com/library/post/almeria-demo-happy-baby.html

http://www.surinenglish.com/20081230/othersections/opinion/time-protest-200812301908.html

http://tiltingatwindmillsblog.blogspot.com/2009/01/almera-protest-against-corruption.html



Newspapers

http://www.costa-news.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1758&Itemid=121

http://www.costa-news.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1810&Itemid=121

http://www.elalmeria.es/article/provincia/316605/ingleses/se/manifestaran/almeria/por/la/familia/prior.html

http://www.ideal.es/almeria/20090105/almeria/afectados-abusos-urbanisticos-levante-20090105.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/4125824/British-couple-forced-to-live-in-garage-for-a-year-after-Spanish-government-knocked-down-their-house.html




This protest is about much more than the Priors and their disgraceful treatment. Imagine we obtain some compensation for them or that the Junta caves in and apologises... would that be the end of the protest? Total victory?
This is about generalised (and institutionalised) property fraud in a 21st century European state. It's about notaries and mayors and town hall architects and the people from 'costas' and the man from the 'delegación provincial' (Seville's gauleiter in Almería). It's about 'land grab', 'inherited mortgages', unfair re-zoning, sleight-of-hand, trickery and fraud. Thousands of homes are under some blackmail, whether to pay to be regularized or to be knocked down. The Europeans who settle in Spain do so because it's safe. They bring money with them which helps support the small towns where they wish to live. Everybody should win.
When the Junta de Andalucia knocks down a 22 storey hotel in a national park/on the beach, then we can re-consider their policy regarding building.



Here's what the protestors will be handing in to the Junta de Andalucía representative:

Demonstration Almeria City 9 January 2009:

We, the demonstrators, are asking for:

1. Study Commission: That a Study Commission be established, with representatives from the government and citizens’ groups (including those for the protection of homeowners’ rights and ecologists):

- To investigate the serious planning and environmental problems, to draw up a report on the causes of said problems and their possible solutions, as well as recommendations for the future.

- To follow up any measures adopted to resolve said problems, as a consulting body, ensuring maximum publicity of and transparency in all procedures.

- In both the investigation and follow-up, particular care will be taken to respect the following principles: 1) The necessity of full adherence of EU community law and fundamental rights, including those covered by the European Agreement for the Protection of Human Rights and Basic Freedoms as well as the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights; 2) The true needs of the cities and towns affected; 3) The sustainability of the environment and the need to preserve the historical and cultural identity of the affected areas; 4) That developers, officials and other third parties responsible for these problems should rectify the damages caused in a real and effective manner; 5) The threat of demolition of property acquired in good faith should only occur in exceptional cases and only when previous and real compensation has been guaranteed; 6) The legitimate right of purchasers of property acquired legally must be recognised and criteria established according to Art. 33 of the Spanish Constitution with respect to public and social interest in order to prevent and prohibit that decisions made by local and regional authorities can infringe on personal rights of ownership; 7) When it becomes necessary to compensate the loss of real estate property under any circumstances, such compensation must be made prior to the loss of the property and according to adequate valuations and the laws of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights; 8) Any process of regularisation should, as much as possible, be in the form of binding agreements (including adequate guarantees) between those who have caused the irregularities and the various administrations. The above is almost entirely in accordance with recommendations made by the European Parliament in its Resolution dated 21 June 2007 based on results collected during their fact-finding visit to the Autonomous Communities of Andalucia, Valencia and Madrid carried out on behalf of the Committee of Petitions.

2. ARBITRATION: A special administrative commission composed in a similar fashion as the Study Commission and guided by the same principles to be created. This commission should include a provincial public defender, advised by independent investigation services including representatives from the appropriate administrations and from citizens’ groups (including those for the defence of property owners and ecology groups), and with arbitration powers over conflicts related to these problems. The commission should be available to affected parties free of charge (point 12 of above Resolution).

3. MORATORIUM: A moratorium on any pending procedures which could result in the demolition of houses should be put into effect while the Study Commission carries out its work.

4. ELECTRICITY AND WATER: Any house which has been occupied in the past three years should be temporarily permitted electricity and water services until the regularisation process has been concluded.

5. TRANPARENCY AND PARTICIPATION: Notice of any planning or environmental procedure should be communicated individually to all those affected, directly or indirectly, as well as publicised widely, not only limited to publication in the relevant Bulletins (point 10 of above Resolution).

6. PROTOCOL: A protocol should be established related to the precise steps and standardised procedures with regards to the purchase and sales of real estate to individual homeowners, such as those in other EU member states such as the UK which will include:

- The following related certificates which must be issued by the relevant administrative body: 1) Planning; 2) Environmental; 3) Catastral and Land Registry.
- Standardised sales contracts and deeds
- Set deadlines to complete each stage related to property purchases or construction to be required by law

7. CATASTRAL & LAND REGISTRY: Information in these two registries must be identical with topographical documentation in the Land Registry.

8. REAL ESTATE AGENTS: Should be 1) licensed or able to prove that they have passed an examination related to their knowledge and abilities; 2) have adequate insurance to cover all civil liabilities; 3) clearly regulated in their activities.

9. PROMOTERS & CONSTRUCTORS: These must be subject to bonds, guarantees or other insurance to cover any third-party liabilities including from buyers, administrations, for environmental issues, etc. Proof that such guarantees are valid should be required before any property transaction whatsoever.

10. PRIOR FAMILY: The Junta de Andalucia should immediately compensate the Prior family, carrying out any action against third parties which it deems necessary, without the Priors having to undertake any further legal action in order to attain such compensation.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Protest in Almería City

A year has passed since the Priors’ home in Vera was demolished. Since then, nothing has been done (and less accomplished). Thousands of other ‘illegal’ houses in eastern Almería are under threat from a callous administration in Seville and its offices in Almería. In the past few years, the international community resident in Spain has fallen victim to improper demolitions, arbitrary rules and implementation, property mortgage scams, ‘land grab’, property fraud, corruption and thievery. We have been repeatedly tricked by some of the region's town halls, lawyers, realtors, promoters and notaries.
Spain’s reputation is in tatters internationally because the authorities have failed to act coherently.
It’s time to make the call: the Priors will have been living in a garage without water and electricity for a year on January 9th 2009. They have been offered no compensation and no apology.
It’s time to show support and outrage.

Protest March in Almería City: January 9th 2009

The march is being organised by AULAN (Abusos Urbanísticos del Levante Almeriense - ¡No!) www.aulan.es

The organizers, residents in the province of Almería, are holding a peaceful protest: (1) against real estate and planning corruption and insecurity and to ask for justice; (2) to ask for solutions and the protection of purchasers in good faith, some of which, are subject to the threat of demolition, and many of which do not have proper water and electricity; (3) to seek transparency and citizen participation in the regularisation process; (4) against proposed charges the Junta seeks to levy within the regularisation process, and which should be met by those responsible, and to ensure this is guaranteed in writing; (5) to ask for justice for the Prior family, victims of so-called ‘planning irregularities’, whose house was demolished a year ago, and who have not yet seen any sign of redress.

The route will take us to the offices of the Junta de Andalucía’s representatives in Almería City. The march begins at the Puerta de Puchena, will go past the Edificio de la Diputación (Almería County Council) to continue to the Oficina del Subdelegado Provincial de la Junta de Andalucía where speeches (in both Spanish and English) will be made and a note handed to the provincial representative of the Junta de Andalucía, Luís Caparros.

The march has all necessary permissions from the Almería police and town hall.

Thank you for the support of the following citizens movements: AVEP, AULAN, AUAN, AUN, LSOS, Ciudadanos Europeos.

Contact: AULAN secretary ASAP at info@aulan.es or phone 950 069 558.


I have been in a few protests in Mojacar, Vera and so on... and it seems that they can have an impact, but it should be clear that a proper 'do' in Almería City should cause some reaction from the authorities, including perhaps a spotlight on the Junta de Andalucia's disgraceful behaviour and lack of concern towards the most basic rights (in the Spanish Constitution) for a decent dwelling.
This has to be a chance to turn things around - important for our community and also for the Spanish, who rely in the small towns of the various coastal provinces on the Northern Europeans to bring in money every month from abroad, to help keep local businesses working and to provide jobs.
It really is worth coming along for this march. Things could just get a bit better with all of our help.
Please drop the 'we're all guests in this country' stuff for one day and try and do something useful and positive!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Christmas Lottery

It's that time of the year when newspapers offer excrutiating articles about 'The Fat One' or 'El Gordo'... so here's mine (even if it won't go further than a lowly blog).
'The Fat One' sounds to me like the name of one of those bombs the American airforce tossed onto the Japanese sixty odd years ago, and in point of fact, 'El Gordo' is not the name of the Spanish lottery but is merely the slang name for the main prize, a massive nuclear bomb of a thing that has always gone (rather irritatingly) to some well-deserving people from another city or town than one's own. You'll see them on the telly on Monday squirting champagne, well cava anyway, at each other outside some scruffy little lottery shop, screeching with glee and generally looking very cheerful indeed. Fair do's.
When you buy (or are given) a ticket, it's usually a tenth - a decimo - which evidently gives you a tenth of whatever prize that number is due. The lowest prizes are those which end in the same number as the top prize or two, as sung out by the piping voices of the children at San Ildefonso on December 22nd (next Monday) for a couple of hours before lunch. There's not much escaping the veinte cinco meeel doscientos ochenta eee nuevey... dos meellonessss de Euros and so on which booms from every tv set, bar and tranny across the country. There's lots of prizes to be had from the endless five-figure lottery series and participations as they are tunefully bellowed out by the young students or re-printed in every Spanish daily the following morning.
The lotería nacional has been around since 1812 and government lotteries stretch back even further, to 1771, which is no doubt a fine way of making the govt a few extra spondooliks (they pay out some seventy percent of the collection) while keeping José Public in a good frame of mind. It certainly beats giving them cake. Every tenth ticket or better at least gets its money back (which comes in handy to buy the next and second main lottery of the year which is drawn just before Twelfth Night, the Niño Jesús) and some of the prizes are pretty damn good. Lemme see (I'm playing two decimos): the top number wins three million, or 300,000 euros a decimo - and even more if you have the right series and section!
There's a strange and rather dubious lottery running around with the English in one of our newspapers at the moment which claims that, since every tenth lottery wins a prize (i.e. - its money back) you can join a special consortium which buys ten tickets and therefore guarantees you a prize! Do people fall for these things? Do the Nigerians know about this? Never give a dummy an even break!
So, I hope you've bought a ticket and I hope you win a prize. Spend it wisely. I actually hope a bit more that I win a prize, but you already guessed that.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The 'Last Chance to See' Exhibition

There's an exhibition of 24 paintings from the late Fritz Mooney on show at the Mojacar municipal gallery, up below the Castillo in the pueblo, which runs through to the 27th of January (Tuesdays to Fridays 12.00 to 7.00pm, Saturday mornings).
Fritz was born in Scarsdale, New York in 1935, lived in Mojácar and Bédar from around 1968 and died in Almería in 1989. You can see some of Fritz' work at http://fritzmooney.blogspot.com/ .
But wait, there's more. Three top local artists - Juan Guirado, a painter from Jaen, via Australia, who now lives in Vera is also exhibiting, as are Elena Tiniskaya (The Ukraine) and Isabel Raths (Belgium). Here they are - all looking a bit gloomy - together with Angel Medina the councillor for culture and tourism.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Making up the Spare Bed

Dear Ethel, this may come as a surprise, but Maude and I have decided to return to England and we shall have to rely on you, as our favourite sister, to put us up in your house until we can find out feet again.
I remember telling you seventeen years ago that we were moving to Spain to start a new life and that you would soon be ready to move over and join us. In fact, if it hadn’t have been for the various things which got in the way, I’m sure that you would have been one of the 200,000 Brits that annually leaves the country for better things – or at least did so until this past summer.
Here, things started to go wrong in January 2008 when the Spanish authorities blithely decided to demolish a perfectly legal home, built in a quiet area away from the motorway, the sea and anything else just to prove some vile political point against the local town, which had made the mistake of voting for an independent party. The home, knocked flat by bulldozers, belonged to a perfectly innocent retired British couple which has been obliged to live since then in the adjoining garage which, due to the vagaries of Spanish property law, survived the demolition. No water or electric, of course, and this elderly couple have been ignored ever since. They will have spent a year in their garage soon and while this injustice has been all over the foreign media, with television programs and news articles appearing in England (practically on a daily basis), America, Australia, Germany, Norway and… oddly… even in Zimbabwe, not a word about this unfair situation has appeared in the Spanish media.
Encouraged by this opportunity to lose face internationally, the Andalucian government promoted the fellow who gave the demolition order and we are now told by this same ‘expert’ that there are currently six thousand illegal homes just in Almería alone. How can all these homes – some of them even built in dry riverbeds - have escaped the attention of the local small-town mayors? Guess how many of these ‘six thousand homes’ belong to foreigners (mainly Brits)?
That’s right.
All of them.
The authorities are keen to help. In many cases, these ‘illegal homes’ (often located on ‘illegal urbanisations’ and built by companies with a legal responsibility of 3,000 euros) can be ‘saved’, with the owners putting in the appropriate costs of urbanising the estate – sewage, streetlights, pavements and so on. Others, unfortunately, won’t have the same luck and they will be demolished without, apparently, any compensation. They are talking about 250 of them in the Alta Almanzora (Almería) alone. Meanwhile, a twenty storey hotel illegally built in national parkland and on the beach in Carboneras, condemned personally by the Minister of the Environment several years ago… still stands, mocking the Junta de Andalucía’s building rules.
In fact, it’s a struggle between various different authorities – local, regional, national… the ‘costas’ and the environmentalists – all running on different and arbitrary rules and casual implementation. No one, you might say, is safe.
With the building crisis in full and calamitous free-fall - two million empty homes for sale and no takers – together with hard-to-find mortgages and revaluations, building companies going bust, ‘off-plan’ companies disappearing to South America, the infamous ‘land-grab’ (now in Andalucía as well as Valencia), rampant fraud, double-dealing and corruption, things are getting harder for everyone. For the British, however, the pound is falling, jobs are scarcer than ever and pensions no longer go as far as they once did, with the drop in one’s buying power probably hovering around 50% over the last two years. Despite over three quarters of a million Brits living in Spain, bringing in to the country something like a billion euros a month, providing jobs and keeping the local trades-people alive, the fact is there is no interest, support, help or defence of this group from either the Spanish authorities or, in fact, the British Foreign Office. There’s no ombudsman in Mojácar, Madrid, London or in Brussels. If the Romanians have four MPs and two senators to look after their ‘emigrants’, the same is palpably not true of the British, who really don’t seem to want to have anything more to do with us. We have tried to organise some groups here to defend our interests and support our community (the AUN, AUAN, Ciudadanos Europeos, RBL and others) but it’s an uphill battle. Despite some towns having more ‘Europeans’ than local Spaniards on the town hall registry – it’s a rare town hall that employs a European and a rarer one still that has a foreign councillor.
So the experiment appears to have failed. We have good sun tans, know more about the world than we ever did before, have finally learnt how to cook and can walk through a crowd without saying ‘sorry’, but it is now time to return back to England…
…or maybe move on to somewhere else.
Hmmm…

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Soup in my Fly

I don’t want to sound pathetic here, but – has anybody written a guide to good Spanish hospital cafeterias? Probably not, since there aren’t any. Good ones, I mean.
Well, I suppose they’re not so bad really, if you don’t mind the slight feeling of not wanting to touch anything in case you catch some foul lurgy Unknown to Science. Some of one’s fellow customers leave a bit to be desired as well, with various holes, crevices, bandages, missing bits and strange bubbling sounds all in disturbing evidence at the next table.
I’m an old hand at hospitals, having been – as a ‘compañero’ – in most of the clinics, wards, waiting rooms, operating theatres and cafeterias of the Nation’s crop of hospitals, excluding, of course, the ones in Catalonia and the islands.
I used to take my step-mother (a person straight out of a Grimm’s fairy tale) to the hospitals on regular occasions, often as she needed her stomach pumping after a good suicide attempt; or, at least, if I’d somehow slept through the drama, I used to have to go and pick her up. One time, after a long night of reading War and Peace on the hospital sofa, at a time when the cafeterias still had ashtrays and sold brandy, she appeared in the doorway attached to a drip and after a quick transaction at the counter, came and sat with me at the table and drank her brandy at the same time as the serum gurgled through the tube into her arm. I believe I had the cheese sandwich…
In the old days, before some busybody changed the rules, hospital cafeterias sold booze. In fact, the old hospital in Huercal Overa had the cheapest gin and tonic in the province and all the nearby Brits would do their drinking there. You could, of course, still smoke there until 2002.
I was in the new Huercal Overa hospital the other day (the old one fell down) and a Spanish friend called to say he would be passing through and to meet in the caff. When he got there he said that we should try the ‘other side’ – where the doctors go, as it would be more comfortable. We went in and ordered two brandies. ‘Sorry’ said the waitress, ‘we are only allowed to sell beer and wine now… and anyway… are you two doctors?’
‘Yes’, we said together… ‘Bring a bottle of red’.
Hospital canteens are always – at least in my experience – ‘self-service’ and you can pick up your sopa, tomato flavoured goo and soggy pudding all in one go, together with a Mahou: paying at the checkout. There may not be a TV or any horrible muzac but the assembled diners will certainly put enough noise out to keep even the most jaded person agreeably deafened.
In one canteen in Madrid I know quite well, they do a good pork n’ cheese bun at the bar and another in Murcia offers a nice line in morcilla.
If you can, find a hospital near a good bar/restaurant rather than with one. The exercise does you good and the food’ll probably be better.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rusty Icon



There he is, the Indalo as celebrated and revered by the City of Almería. The totem is called El Indalo and is said to be a good-luck sign and so on. It has become very commercial these days, which is inevitable, and like most things of this type, endless hogwash has been written in the past few years about the 'little man with the rainbow'.

To begin, the Indalo is nothing to do with Almeria City. It was, er, 'bought' from Mojácar during the glorious years of mayor Bartolome Flores by an advertising group called 'Plataforma' which, in part exchange, designed a brand-new image for Mojacar (which had quietly used the Indalo since its christening in the late fifties) of the outline of a mountain and a sun peeping over its shoulder. Very original, you'll agree, in a country with 50,000 mountainous and sunny pueblos. The Almería tourist authority took on the Indalo and promptly re-designed it for the eighties. While my picture shows the 'original' design, the Almería tourist version, now seen on trucks all over the country and sold as jewelry items in our local stores - plus being used in our metal fences on the main road connecting the town of Mojácar with the playa, is the Almería favoured one (thanks to the Plataforma team) - a kind of unsymmetrical hunchbacked version with a skipping rope.

The Indalo is claimed as being a neolithic painting in a cave in Vélez Blanco (an attractive pueblo in the north east of the province with a superb castle). Some suggest it was painted there only in the thirties. Whichever is true, the symbol has (or at least was) always been identified with Mojácar. And, unlike Almería City, if we only had a statue of one, we (hopefully) wouldn't have let it go rusty.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Race Rage

So, it starts in Mojácar. Neither the idiot (presumably British) kid who writes his stupid graffiti, neither the (presumably Spanish) kid who answers: damning all foreigners, neither the town hall (which hasn't bothered to paint this garbage out), nor the cretin who sells spray-paint to the kids: none of them have the sense of a grasshopper.
Mojácar is rare in that there hasn't been confrontation between Spaniards and 'giris' ('Northern Europeans') unlike many other resorts in Spain - starting with places like Torrevieja. Let's not bring this stuff here.
The goverment passed a law this summer that CDs and DVDs should have a small additional tax on them to go to the hard workin' actors and musicians - or rather their guild, the SGAE authors' society which no doubt finds splendid ways of sharing the money around.
So, how about a tax on spray-paint which could go to the unfortunate people who have to clean up the endless and dispiriting daubs of juvenile expression which covers so many walls in Spain?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Property Blues

Recent news from the housing sector in Spain is pretty dire. Here’s a few pieces from the press.
Housing minister Beatriz Corredor said last week that property prices had fallen ‘at least 15%’ over the last year. ‘It is a reality that we cannot deny,’ she said.
The overbuilding during the past few years, the second-home market, the fall in the pound (to around 1.15€), the mortgage crisis, the scams and rip-offs and, of course… the endless amount of property on the market. There is anything between one and two million homes lying empty in Spain. I recently took the train down from Madrid past Seseña, where Paco el Pocero built 13,500 apartments that lie empty. No one can afford a new ‘legal’ and ready to move in home. Then there are many more which are amiably illegal – including between five and six thousand of them in Almería alone (!) – Mainly inhabited by Brits in the Alta Almanzora. The authorities (for which, read the Junta de Andalucía) say they are prepared to legalise most of these and say that just 5% will be un-saveable. That calculates to around 300 homes to be demolished… which in Spain pretty much means ‘without compensation’. The notoriety of which in the rest of Europe is, of course, doing little to stimulate the foreign pensioner house-buying market, which brings money and jobs.
In fact, some suggestions to legalise one’s home include making the home-owner pay for the ‘necessary improvements’ which include, as often as not, main lighting, sewage and pavements.
Mortgages are difficult as well, with some homes now having negative equity and payments rising almost ever month.
Here’s another note from the press – with property prices falling by a more believable 35%!
Fitch Ratings began to downgrade a clutch of Santander mortgage securities worth more than €4bn earlier this summer, warning that the bank's internal analysis points to a 35% crash in Spanish house prices. A large bloc of the securities is still stuck on Santander's books. (Bloomburg).
A British friend lives in Cantoria (one of those pueblos in the Alta Almanzora with many illegal homes). He has written to President of Andalucía Manuel Chaves as follows.
I belong to a group of mainly British third age people who bought houses in El
Fas, Cantoria. From all walks of life, most of us were very careful when we made the big decision to embrace the Spanish way of life and purchased our houses.
Checks were made on agents, Spanish solicitors were employed, notaries processed the escrituras, and we were constantly assured that all was in order and that our houses in Spain were completely legal according to Spanish law.
This is true – the general accusation that the British wanted to buy illegal homes (and save a few bob) is evidently absurd. He continues by saying that the Andalucian government must::
1. Take away the threat of demolition.
2. Allow us to gain mains electricity and water. We can then contribute to the local councils and pay our bills correctly as we would all wish to do.
3. Sequester the assets of the builders and developers who have acted illegally, and use this to carry out any further work to enable developments such as ours to become fully legal. Their assets are the result of criminal activity and within European law can be confiscated.
3. Further punish those responsible by applying the criminal laws of Spain.
4. Use any money remaining to compensate the victims (legal expenses, etc.).
Another Briton writes to The Economist this week and notes the following:
Well in our comparatively small urbanization the injured parties are British, German, French, Dutch and Irish. When we read that Spain has received €186 billion from the taxes of EU citizens and yet is happily complicit in their individual plundering we have a right to be angry. Angry with Spain and our respective Members of the European Parliament. While a united Europe may be a great idea at the macro economic level it will not survive if built on an indifference to the basic right of citizen to see their taxes having some minimum payback. (Hugh Doyle)
In Mojácar, the crash has been all too apparent. In the third quarter of this year, only one building licence was issued by the town hall. Of course, with the absurd plan of the Junta de Andalucía to starve the local towns in the Baja Almanzora so as to build a 35,000 home estate on the Llano Central (between Mojácar, Los Gallardos and Vera) it’s no surprise that the local towns are hurting. It’s also little comfort to know that nobody really knows who can do what. Of course, we do know who can get it in the neck when things go wrong. Ask the Priors.

I reprint the following from Per Svensson of Cuidadanos Europeos.
The urbanistic process in Spain.
It is a difficult task for a foreigner to understand the laws and rules for the process of urban development in Spain, especially since the Regional Governments have the right to pass their own legislation. However, the regional laws must base themselves on the national legislation and cannot go against it.
The basic law, when it comes to changing the designation of land for urban planning purposes, so that dwellings, hotels or industry can be built on it, is the Ley de Suelo number 6 of 1998. This law, shortened in Spanish to LS, has been revised on several points and complemented by regional laws.
In LS 6/98 all land is classified under certain categories:
Suelo no urbanizable: Land with certain special protection, like natural parks, land that has been declared of special value for some reason, has natural dangers (flooding areas) or is public land (beaches).
Suelo urbano: Land that in the general planning is foreseen for construction and has the necessary infrastructure.
All other land that does not fall into either of the two foregoing categories, is classified as suelo urbanizable and it can be transformed into suelo urbano upon certain conditions.
It is the municipalities and the regions who decide which land falls into which category. The municipalities are obliged to make General Plans for their area (there are still many smaller town halls without such a plan) which must be approved by the regional authorities.
For buying or building an individual dwelling, obviously you must own or buy land that is classified as suelo urbano in the general plan and which has the necessary infrastructure (by being in a consolidated area such as a town centre or approved urbanisations). You can also buy and build on suelo urbanizable, for instance on farm land, but then there are important restrictions when it comes to the minimal size of such land required and how much of the surface you can occupy with construction. Construction on farmland may not lead to an area becoming a consolidated area, and should really be for farming purposes. In certain areas of Spain you will not be permitted to build a farm house without being able to prove your planned farming activity.

El País printed a gloomy article this weekend about how the ‘800,000’ Britons living in Spain are being forced to live on a reduced income. The article thinks we all want to go back home - an over-simplified view in my opinion. See ‘Clouds Form over the Retirement sun for the Britons’ http://www.elpais.com/articulo/andalucia/Nubarrones/retiro/sol/britanicos/elpepuespand/20081116elpand_4/Tes. One bar-owner from the Costa del Sol, actually an ex-bar owner – he lasted six months - says ‘I sometimes get the impression that the Spanish don’t want us here’. The article then quotes a British Labour MP, Denis MacShane, commenting on the increasing shortage of jobs in England and the wide destruction of income as saying ‘…in the current circumstances, I wouldn’t want to be a Rumanian, or a foreigner; not even a Brit living in Spain’. Returning to the Alta Almanzora, Judy Baker from Albox says ‘it’s a nightmare, I have electricity just six hours a day with a generator which costs me 90€ a week. I used to go down to Mojácar twice a week, but with the price of petrol and the fall in the pound I now can’t leave the house’.

Corruption is of course a problem. New rules from the Government regarding illegal builds are henceforth to be known as ‘urban crime’. Promoters and technicians will now face stiffer sentences and authorities and public officials will not escape severer punishment. Bribes carry six months to four years prison. Public officials can get up to six years.
Let’s see if that makes a difference.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Rapture

I was at the fuente picking up supplies when the German fire-eater called me over. 'Look in the sky', he said, nonchalantly playing with a box of matches, 'wultures!'. Now, Mojácar doesn't have vultures (oh yes it does...) and these birds must have come over from Cadiz or down from central Spain. What can they be after here in our quiet and increasingly bankrupt corner of paradise? I saw them wheeling over Marina de la Torre, the ugly hotel, apartment and golf complex on the way to Garrucha so rushed home to get a camera, only to find them flying over my house. They are now in Turre... having some lunch.

Later: My associate at the radio had to go up the mountain behind Mojácar this morning (Wednesday), to El Picacho, to fix something in the COPE transmitter cabin. He said that when he got up to the top there were about 200 vultures flying around his car and he was so frightened he turned around and came down again.

A left-wing artist friend was positively gleeful about the whole thing. 'They've come to eat all the sin verguenzas', he said, rubbing his hands, 'they are one of the seven plagues called down from the heavens'.

It was the time of The Revelation.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Act of Worship

Tonight we must put the clocks back an hour. There is some reason for this which escapes me slightly, along the lines that it stays dark in the mornings so, making it darker in the afternoons will make it lighter in the earlier hours. And in the spring, when the days get longer, why, we have the reverse.
Unless you live in Australia.
Seems to me that, all things considered, we should keep with the summer hours.
As a child, I used to enjoy this autumn process – an extra hour in bed! It seems that kids can never get enough bed-time and, while through infantile contrariness we would try and stay up late offering up any kind of protest against being sent away to our rooms so as to give the grown-ups some badly needed ‘quality time’ (I should hardly need to point out here that I don’t come from a Spanish background where of course the reverse is true), we nippers would nevertheless stay in bed the following morning as long as we could.
I used to enjoy the maid coming in and stripping the bed while I was still in it. There is nothing in my opinion quite like a midmorning bout of 'slap and tickle'. These childish moments of joy may return, with a small degree of luck, to enlighten my final years while a resident of the Vera mental home.
I used to enjoy reading in bed from the earliest age and was therefore slightly less averse to being ‘sent off’ than some other kids, though the reading excuse wasn’t particularly available at my various boarding schools. The ‘eight o’clock bell’ - and the absence of maids - rather ate into my morning dozing as well.
Nowadays, an hour added to my nigh-nigh is not quite as welcome. I usually wake up between four and six in the morning anyway. If it’s four and my bladder is in agreement then I try and sleep again – if it’s six, I give up and get up.
But tomorrow, what will I do if it’s five?
The whole reason for interrupting our sleep patterns, changing the clocks and fiddling with the dashboard on the SEAT, isn’t to save money in public lighting as the government is obliged to claim every time they do this (the broken meetings and lost appointments between them lose anything gained). The reason is far simpler. It’s about power. Look, our elected officials say, we can do something that even your God can not do. We can put back time itself. Worship us!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Couldn't Put it Better, Myself!

Doonesbury (G.B.Trudeau) is a daily current-affairs cartoon which has been going for at least 35 years in the USA. I've got a couple of his early book-collections. You can find your 'daily dose' on Slate at http://www.doonesbury.com/ (Squinty? - then click on the picture!).
Reason I'm posting it here... is a salute (Tah Tchah!!) to mah fellow Bloggers!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Valencia Concert

This is the old market in the Ensanche area of Valencia, called the Mercado del Colón. A few years ago it was reamed out and re-invented as a smart café and exhibition centre. It's very nice. No doubt home-prices in the surrounding square have shot up as a result.
On Sundays from 12.00 midday, they have a concert from one of Valencia's brass-bands ('bandas municipales'). On this occasion, the band was a group of around sixty enthusiastic young people who ripped through a collection of cheerful (and presumably local 19th century) pieces of music to the pleasure of a couple of hundred people - surprisingly not more - who'd come to listen. And have a coffee.
The trick to these bands apparently - Valencia has a massive 300 of them - is to see what their final piece is. It's always 'Valencia' but there are two different tunes with this name. One is the Valencia Hymn (all stand and place hand on heart, weeping is permitted) which is the local tune for the conservatives; the other, Valenciaaa (di di dum di dum di dum...) is the tune for the socialists. In the end, to the slight consternation of the fellow who told me this, they played both.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Banco Santander (Madrid Branch)



Don't be confused by my photo, taken in La Hortaleza in Madrid - the Santander is doing very well. See Wiki for the lowdown on this - the second biggest bank in Europe and one of the ten biggest in the world. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banco_Santander

Oops - to celebrate the current crisis - they've just bought another bank...

I suppose the joke is that the jefe is called Emilio Botín. Botín means 'swag' or 'loot' or 'booty' which one might consider a bit near the bone.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Secret Agent


Leslie Howard was perhaps Britain's best-known film star in the thirties. The red-headed star of 'Gone with the Wind' and 'The Petrified Forest' returned to London from Hollywood at the outbreak of the war against Nazi Germany and made several propaganda films. It was rumoured after his death in 1943 - his plane was shot down by German fighters over the Bay of Biscay - that he was also a spy for Churchill.
It's certainly true that he made several trips to Lisbon and Madrid during the war - overtly for cultural reasons - and no doubt did what he could behind the scenes. However, a new book by José Rey-Ximena called 'El Vuelo del Ibis' ('The Flight of the Ibis'), retraces his final visit to Madrid which was to end in the tragic death of Howard over the Atlantic.
Leslie Howard, we read, was on a secret mission from Churchill to send a message to Franco 'not to interfere in the war'. Howard's contact was an old girlfriend and actress called Conchita Montenegro (they had made a Hollywood film together called Never The Twain Shall Meet in 1931) who, by 1943, was dating Ricardo Gimenez-Arnau, head of the Falange's foreign department. Howard was officially in Madrid that May to head up a conference on Hamlet at the British Institute. He arrived in Madrid and checked into the Hotel Ritz on May 10th 1943 where he angered the head of the British Institute, Walter Starkie, by 'Howard's poor attendance' during his stay.
The author of The Flight of the Ibis was able to interview Conchita Montenegro at length before her death in 2007 about what happened during that visit to Madrid. A gypsywoman was part of the retinue of a flamenco group at the welcoming party at the British Institute. 'That man', she said, pointing to Leslie Howard 'has death engraved on his face. I can only see his skull'. When the British and their guests sat down to their evening meal, Howard reputedly jumped up and said that there were thirteen at the table and Starkie was obliged to find another person to join them.
Bad augeries aside, and with the help of Conchita and her contacts, Howard did manage to meet Franco and - with the excuse of talking about making a film about Cristopher Columbus - he was able to deliver the message.
Howard left Madrid for the Lisbon airport on June 1st and found that his plane had thirteen passengers!
The commander of the eight attack planes, Junkers 88s from Bordeaux, sent out his messages to his pack: 'Indian at eleven o'clock' and 'shoot it down, shoot it down'. The last radio message from the striken passenger plane was 'we are under attack from enemy planes'. The aircraft burst into flames over the sea near the Galician town of Cedeira.
It has been said that Goebbels ordered the attack personally - Howard had often made a fool of him in propaganda films.

There are two other books on Leslie Howard's last months, In Search of My Father by his son Ronald and Flight 777 by Ian Colvin.

El Vuelo del Ibis (ediciones Facta) José Rey-Ximena. Article in précis from El Mundo and Wikipedia

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Scientists are actively culling the Spanish Lynx



From Iberica 2000.
After 15 years of investigations, experts in knowing what is happening to Spanish lynx have discovered that research biologists are killing lynxes, or at least they are allowing the lynxes to die! http://www.iberica2000.org/Es/Articulo.asp?Id=3352. Spanish scientists are killing lynxes. They don't want the lynx population to increase. If it improved, they wouldn’t continue to earn so much money. Because the lynx would then be removed from the list of 'Critically Endangered Species'!
This is why, for 25 years, the lynx population hasn't improved but rather decreased! Upcoming reports at http://www.iberica2000.org , written in Spanish, explain all the facts, the conclusions, and why and how are these mammals being killed, or being allowed to die, by those who, precisely, earn big amounts of euros from the European Union and Life funds and companies, to, supposedly, protect them. Those who investigate the lynx's scientists, have discovered deep connections between CSIC (the main scientific Spanish governmental corporation), political administrations and The Biological Station in Doñana (Estación Biológica de Doñana), and many connections with people and certain corporations.
So says Iberica2000, a respected ecological group (see their webpage with material in English and Spanish).

Friday, September 19, 2008

The 12.00 from Cantoria

Cantoria. Sunrise. I had agreed to meet Becky from the television crew in the main square – or perhaps it’s the only square – in the small interior town for an early morning bit of filming. Me looking dashing in a (for once) ironed shirt, sitting at a bar-table and droning on convincingly about the damage that the Spanish are doing to their economy by threatening to knock down homes which have not only their town hall paperwork in order (one way or another) but happen to belong to Northern Europeans. Bad for business I say to the camera which winks back at me unbelievingly. All we want is the opportunity to leave England for good (it’s all right, they’ll edit that bit out) and go and live somewhere warm and peaceful. If the Spanish authorities are hell-bent on making sure that this particular corner of Europe is an unwise choice for retirees, then there’s always Cyprus.
Outside, Britons dressed in fluorescent traffic pyjamas are beginning to gather. They will help direct participants to today’s protest march.
Cantoria is a pretty quiet place. No beach, no hotels, no souvenir shops, no brothels, Macdonalds, gas stations or sky-scrapers. A few bars, Spain being Spain, a supermarket and, down at the foot of the pueblo (at 3,800 people, I don’t know whether it’s a town or a village), there’s a half-hearted marble-cutting factory running with apparently a staff of about two people. The tumbling down plant is located next to a railway station, closed these thirty years.
It was outside this industrial complex that the protesters were meeting. I arrived, trailed by the film crew and a few Spanish journalists, and called the town policeman to come and open a door and find a plug for the P/A system.
Turns out that a journalist I know who works for Ideal de Granada lives just in that square. He came out and grabbed me for a radio interview which went out on Radio Nacional de España.
Bruce Hobday had called the ‘peaceful protest’ and had been at the tender mercies of Becky and company the evening before. He is a local resident of Cantoria and lives in a house which may be demolished at any time. Like many Britons, he had moved there for the many attractions which a quiet and warm place in the sticks can provide (and I’m not kidding – there are many worse places than a peaceful sunny village in Southern Spain). Besides falling like an unnoticed pawn between the authorities of the provincial town halls and the regional government, Bruce and many others like him are keen to stay. ‘We’re not going back to England, come what may’ said one of his fellow protestors. ‘We’ll see it out’. Bruce himself would say in his speech later that morning in front of around 300 protestors that he hoped his next public speech would be to thank the Junta de Andalucía for resolving this issue satisfactorily.
More people arrived. Orange pyjamas from Cantoria and white sports shirts from Albox with AUAN on the chest (Abusos Urbanisticos del Almanzora - ¡No!). A chap I know from the telephone called Katwi introduced himself. Others drifted by in groups, saying ‘hello’ and swapping gossip. The anti-urban abuse AUAN people seemed to know what to do – they had held a protest in Albox a couple of years ago and had just last week been in a meeting with the supreme gauleiter himself, Luís Caparros, an Almerian whose job – apparently – is to lose this province as much foreign income as possible. Caparros is the provincial representative in urban affairs for the Seville based Junta de Andalucía. After announcing that some 5,000 homes in various urbanisations scattered throughout the hinterlands of the province are illegal, he is not a popular man amongst the British.

Whistles and away went the protestors led by the police Landrover. Hardly a Spaniard in sight. Up the hill went the group, waving their polite signs ‘Save Our Homes’ and ‘We’ve Done Nothing Wrong’ and so on. They swerved to the left, down the narrow high street, past the bar (and its competitor across the square) and down as far as the town hall where the protestors stopped and Bruce asked for a minute’s silence for those who could lose their house (and life’s savings!). A few local Spaniards looked on from their terraces. Crazy these British!
The minute was enough for the trailing TV crew, which caught up with the rest of us and followed Bruce into the mayor’s office, me bringing up the rear. Bruce wanted to hand over a petition for water and electricity for the stricken urbanisation, the surprised mayor wanted to put his cigarette out, the film crew wanted a statement and… just as a Mexican standoff was developing… my phone went.
It was the journalist from the Spanish radio I work at, COPE Mojácar. I passed the phone to the mayor, ‘it’s for you’ I said. Relieved perhaps to have someone Spanish to talk to, the mayor was soon gabbling happily over the phone (and, indeed, the radio). ‘There has been enough with the demolition of the house in Vera’ said the mayor to our radio listeners, to Bruce, me and the British cameras ‘and I send a message of tranquillity to the ingleses. This is doing lots of damage to my pueblo, to the Almanzora area, to Andalucía and to Spain’ Got that right, Jack, I thought. The mayor said that he would be in Seville later this month and would be seeking solutions to this ‘aberrant situation’. He was reaching for another cigarette as we traipsed out of his presence.
The protesters outside were ready for the final mile and we were soon congregated by the old train station again. The speeches began. Bruce Hobday spoke for the Cantoria residents. I spoke for Ciudadanos Europeos de Mojácar (our local foreigners-welcome political party).
Helen Prior followed me with her always well-prepared presentations. Helen and her husband Len retired to Spain four year ago. Their house in Vera (with all legal papers) was arbitrarily knocked down in January (see Spanish Shilling for January 2008). So far, it’s been the only demolition in the province, the 22 storey illegal hotel in Carboneras included. The final speech came from Bob Naya from the AUAN and his remarks were very well put. You can find a copy of his speech on the AUAN website http://www.almanzora-au.org/ but I’ll quote one small piece.
‘Spain has earned itself a well-deserved notoriety for urban planning abuse and corruption. The Almanzora Valley is not an isolated incident. In Andalucía alone there are issues of illegal homes in the Levante region, in Marbella, in the Axarquía (Nerja and so on), in Mijas and in Chiclana to name but a few. This is a crisis which requires a strong and swift solution from our regional government, the Junta de Andalucía’.
Later, over a final beer in the square, the TV crew told me that the show would be broadcast sometime in March which I found a bit of a let-down. Things can change a lot here in six months.
Sometimes.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Woman in the Dumpster


A friend from Valencia sends me these pictures. Seems that not everyone there can afford a house.
Turns out that it's a street lady who regularly checks out the action in 'los contenadores'. Poor thing probably sleeps under a bit of cardboard in one of those narrow rooms with an automatic bank teller. Bit ironic really. Or perhaps she sleeps on a bench or in some ruin or squat.
So tell me again about your new Audi. I wasn't really listening before...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Pepe Takes The Trufibar





Pepe (Carlos I and El Salmonete) has taken on The Trufibar, the large place on Mojácar beach (opp. the Lopez nuts and bolts shop) popular with the local residents. There was an opening bash last Thursday with live flamenco, dancers, bagpipes (thanks Jim) booze and eats. That's Julio with the pinchitos.
Perhaps I saw you there.
The Trufibar is a special place to go to (like a precious few other places here) because it's a bar for the residents. The tourists never seem to find it. There's a bar on the street with a few outside tables, a larger and smarter bar with tables for dining in the centre part and a large beach-bar terrace with sea-views and plenty of sand. Booze, eat or chill out! Pepe will have Flamenco evenings (he sings, too) and various other live acts, probably Fridays and Saturdays, he says. There's a cheap n' cheerful menu (most plates at 8 euros). Luisa also makes her famous tortillas.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Cantoria. Nice and Quiet. Usually.

Cantoria is a small town just six kilometres north from Albox on a rather nasty road which will one day be a motorway. There are some 3,500 residents there, including around six hundred Britons and one Dutchman. The town used to be known for its marble (there's a small factory at the end of the town by the now-defunct railway and station).
It was just a few days after the fiesta of San Cayetano, which, according to the blackened scars on the sides of the town's buildings, has a lot to do with fireworks. 'Well, no one got badly hurt this year', a local man called Manolo told me in the bar, adding with some satisfaction, 'sometimes people lose an eye or even get killed'.
I had come to Cantoria to be shown around by George and Bruce, two members of the Cantoria Residents' Association which has called for a demonstration - a peaceful one, says Bruce - for Thursday September 18th, kick off at 12.00 noon by the aforementioned railway station (decd.). The demo, followed by appropriate speeches from George, Bruce and others, has been called because, like many other places in Southern Spain, the town hall appears to have allowed 'illegal urbanisations' to be built, with the added threat that, in Cantoria, there are 23 homes which have demolition orders on them from the Junta de Andalucía.
George, Bruce and the other householders came to retire in Cantoria with their wives and the essential plan was, after many years of hard career work in the UK, to move to a quiet corner of Spain, put one's feet up and have a glass of tinto as the warm sun sets over the garden fence. The last thing that George, Bruce and so many other retired Northern Europeans expected was that they would have to spend money on lawyers to protect their 'small corners of enchantment'. They never imagined that they could lose their homes, their investments, their savings: almost everything.
The Priors, who gave their home in nearby Vera in January this year to the bulldozers, certainly lost everything. They've been squatting in their own garage since they lost their house and are paying a hundred euros a month for storage of their furniture, which they will continue to do, one supposes, until they receive compensation from either the Junta de Andalucía or their town hall (depending, of course, on who is telling the story) in anything from five to ten years time.
The threatened homeowners in Cantoria know the story of the Priors well enough, but they have had more time to organise (the Priors had just two hours).
The group have put out the bans for their demonstration. The provincial police chief has given his approval and several other British groups from other communities, where similar problems float uneasily under the scorching sun, have joined in. It's going to be a decent show, with well-behaved protestors and no inappropriate placards thank-you. From Albox, the AUAN (300 members) will be there. From the coast, the AULAN (100 members) plus the political group Ciudadanos Europeos. From other towns and areas, nascent associations and clubs will join the march. In Spain, you see - nobody's house is safe.
A march through a quiet high street is not going to have much effect, even when it's the foreigners doing it. However, the scandals of the illegal houses and urbanisations (picture of threatened homes in Cantoria below), the 'land-grabs', the, uhh, 'multiple-owned homes', the 'builders electricity' and the 'off plan homes (with artist's impression)' have all attracted the attention of the international press. Whether the local media shows up (the Spanish like to pretend that these things don't happen) - the foreign cameras and journalists will certainly be there.
One day, the Northern Europeans who come to live in Spain may have an agency that looks out for them: a champion. Until then, there's the media and the threat to the Spanish economy. Never forget (as I pointed out to Manolo), they build houses in Cyprus too.



Monday, September 01, 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

¿Qué pasa?

What on earth is happening to Spain? We've seen the cruel demolition of a British-owned house in Vera by the authorities back in January (the man who ordered the demolition, the 'delegado provincial' , since promoted, has just signed the go-ahead for the POTALA for the same area of eastern Almería – the Junta de Andalucía’s insane plan to build 35,000 homes in the boonies!). We've seen the institutionally approved land-grab - which despite European-wide criticism - continues to this day. We read of town-halls taking Europeans arbitrarily off the padrón (especially before elections). We 'residents' have had our 'tarjetas de residencia’ removed in favour of some meaningless and worthless piece of paper to be carried around together with our passport and a NIE identification (so much for the la union europea) and now those non-residents who have bank accounts here can discover that they have had them 'frozen' in a kind of grotesque 'cash-grab' to do with tax matters! How do you pay the utilities when your bank arbitrarily freezes your account? By the way, according to my bank, all you need to do if you live in foreign parts is toddle along to your nearest Spanish consulate every two years...
Don't they want us anymore...?
But now, as September swings round and the politicians and bureaucrats go back to work, things may be changing. From the European Court we hear that Spain is being sued for the flagrant and cynical land-grabbing in Valencia (a pisser this, as Madrid is PSOE and Valencia is its biggest PP thorn). Meanwhile from the European press the message remains loud and clear… don’t buy in Spain. While I don’t particularly share the British media’s view of Spain, or indeed its reasons for attacking this country where we have chosen to live, it is at least encouraging that the sometime mistreatment of the Northern Europeans who are, let’s be clear here, pumping money into Spain, is worth the occasional banging of a saucepan with a stick.
The politicians may be responding… perhaps even with some gesture towards the foreign community. Luís Caparros, he of the Vera demolition, now says (according to the Spanish press, this is) that he is willing to consider legalizing all illegal homes except those built in the nation’s ramblas (I have to say here – can you imagine some local mayor absently fingering his brown-paper envelope while watching as an urbanization takes shape in his town’s dry river-bed?). The provincial press also assures their readers that Caparros is in contact with ‘the foreigners’ and will meet with them/us. Hands up anyone who’s had a call from this man. But, of course, it’s only the beginning of the month and many things could still happen.
One thing that will happen, as the Britons living in Almería start to harden in their opposition to this general mistreatment, is more confrontation. We know of several truculent groups of property owners that are ready to ‘join battle’, such as the AUN and AULAN, but another group, the Cantoria Residents Association (there’s 23 ‘illegal’ homes in Cantoria with final demolition orders on them), has called for a peaceful demonstration. Join them in front of the old railway station in Cantoria (next town inland after Albox) at 12 noon on September 18th.
Well fine, you don’t live in Cantoria and your house isn’t under threat.
Are you sure about that?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Burn Baby, Burn

A festive scene taken during the Mojácar fiesta. The hideous building on fire is the 'Angelas' (was 'Sondras') a nick-nack shop now owned by the senator and ex-mayor Bartolome Flores (of Huerta Nueva fame in Los Gallardos). By dint of hard work, this socialist leader owns quite a lot of other real-estate locally. We do hope that when he comes to replace this treasure he finds an architect with a bit more vision than the previous one.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Summer's Almost Gone


Summer ends - or begins, depending on if you are a tourist or a resident - with the passing of August and the final convulsion of the Mojácar fiesta.
The fiesta itself is pretty bad, with 'jousting' for the dubious prize of a maiden's honour at the 'fuente' as the main event, together with a ferocious number of fireworks blasted off at all hours and a couple of second rate pop groups. All up in the village.
It seems that - when it comes to entertainment paid for by us residents - the sum total is splashed on those who live at 'la fuente' or those who live up at the top of the hill in the old and noble pueblo of Mojácar.
The proportion of those who live in this municipality but not in those two aforementioned areas, being around 90%.
Should we ask for some events to be held on the playa? Should there be a separate fiesta for the beach-residents? A kind of four day long bacchanalia with free paella and an overdressed pop group from Almería? How about a beauty contest open to all the girls who live in Mojácar, not just those whose grandparents still run the place with an iron fist and a friendly judge.
In fact, I think a 'Foreigners Day' could be a jolly occasion. Something like fifty per cent of Mojácar is British (!) and counting the rest of us put together our numbers must reach around 70% of non-locally born residents, it would be nice to open the place up a bit. Many towns on the Costa del Sol and the Costa Blanca have a 'Día de los Extranjeros' without any local person feeling slighted. These fiestas are fun events, with music, culture and competitions from all over the world. Not just for those few people who have become rich from the forasteros without giving much back in return.
August will soon be over, the visitors from Madrid and Valencia all safely back in their cities and as the last firework final fizzles into silence (round about 4.00am next Saturday night), we can consider that the summer has just begun.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

'The Future is Mine', I'm pretty sure he said in his own language

I was reading some rubbish in the comments section of a Spanish webpage called Meneame (Stir Me Up) at http://meneame.net/ which collects stuff from the Internet of note to its editors and brings it to the attention of its readers, which apparently include a generous sprinkling of those small-minded nationalists and thin-skinned patriots who are eternally worried that Spain might lose face in some august journal printed elsewhere in the world.
And why not, every service and inclination is available on the Internet, from the Screwsden's pornography site Contactsonline dot es to Why I Hate the President dot nit. I mean net.
The particular rubbish alluded to started with an article about nationalisms and regional languages and quickly descended into what turds we, the Brits are. Drunk, useless, ignorant, monolingual and the rest of it. Well, the literally hundreds of comments on this fascinating topic were written – I have to say (contentiously) – by under-educated trolls and bored teenagers who need to get out more. I make no more apologies for them.
But Gibraltar came up. Anything to do with a discussion about the English always ends up with some pathetic attack against Gibraltar ('The English’ as they are known here rather than ‘The British’, since it is abundantly clear that the rest of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are obviously all under the Jackboot of Westminster).
‘Gibraltar is a colony and should be Spanish’.
Sounds good to me. Let me walk you though what would happen.

1 Gibraltar becomes part of Spain. English is by necessity added to Spanish, Galego, Euskara, Valenciano, and Català as another official language of the Spanish State.
2 Gibraltar sues for independence from Spain, supported by the Basques, the Galicians, the Catalonians, the Mallorcans, (some of) the Valencians, the people from Cartagena in Murcia and the Olivencians. And, of course, by the British.
3 Gibraltar, currently a bi-lingual society, decides to remove castellano from its school curriculum.
4 Manuel Chaves, the Robert Mugabe of Europe, decides that Andalucía must become an independent state and he crowns himself emperor. The andaluces are forced to learn ninth century Arabic.
5 Those of us who wish to remain living in Spain will eventually be obliged to move to one of the only two areas which will never (ever) reject their true loyalty to the King and the orange and yellow flag. Ceuta and Melilla.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Letters

There are several subjects that can always guarantee to generate letters (without which, by the way, you can’t seriously call your publication a ‘newspaper’ or a ‘magazine’). Bullfighting is probably the most obvious one. An article about the beauty or the passion of the corrida will inevitably attract correspondence from those who consider it a barbarity. And why not, perhaps they’re right. Even though Fernando the Bull is in fact rather less intelligent that Rupert the Rat (according to a veterinarian friend), it probably isn’t right to torture dumb animals. Personally, I don’t care much. The corrida has tradition, bravery and catharsis to counterbalance the touchy-feely arguments against it and is, at any rate, a better way to pass the time than watching football (Queue… letters…).
Another ‘red rag to the bull’, or easy provocation to the readers, is to write about minority languages. Catalan, Welsh, Galician and whatever it is that they speak on the Scilly Isles. Apparently, it’s not that the nationalists want their people to learn whatever obscure tongue was preferred by the natives in the ninth century; it’s that they want them to use it exclusively, with the rather obvious problems for the next generations carefully buried under a rock.
Peter Gooch, one of the writers at The New Entertainer, ‘does’ politics. He and I agreed from the beginning to ‘go over the top’ so as to generate remarks in the street along the lines of ‘I do like that Peter Gooch’s articles, he’s very sound!’ and letters of condemnation or approbation from the public. In politics, you can always displease half the people all the time.
Now and again, people come up to me and comment about the newspaper, usually when I'm reading somebody else's. Well, I say, why don’t you write me a letter?
There is, of course, one section of society who doesn’t read letters in the English-language press, and this is the Spanish authorities. Don’t feel that a quick letter from ‘Disgusted of Arboleas’ about the municipal pig-farm is going to make any difference. You have to take the next step. Write a petition… Demonstrate!
Letters of course show that there is a relation with the readers, a feedback. In my opinion, the letter writer should have the last word. An article has said its piece: bullfights, says Ric, are fun. The letter back begs to differ, perhaps. So fine, allow the public their say. Mrs Ed take notice.
There’s a magazine I know that, while set in Spain, deals pretty exclusively with articles about nail extensions and highlights in your hair. The editor claims to want letters. Sorry, can’t type with these nails…
Another local mag has two editors with a regular editorial along the lines of:
Cor ain’t it hot. Well, this is another great issue with a great article from Ben about cooking spinach on page nine and a super new competition for the kids on page fifteen. Till next time, have a smashing read. Yours, Bertha and Robin.’
They don’t get any letters either.
People don’t write much? How about the forums. There are a clutch of them in our area with endless subjects tossed here and there by literally thousands of members. It’s taking letter-writing to a brand-new age.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Divided They Fall

We were talking about how a community can divide against itself when under threat. Sticking together is not always the answer, it seems, with some residents taking the opinion that ‘something must be done’ while others go with the ‘don’t rock the boat’ approach. Sometimes, but of course not always, members of the second group are themselves part of the initial problem – perhaps they work for the builders or promoters. Perhaps they feel ‘we should respect our Spanish hosts to our own detriment’ or perhaps they are just foolish. Take Albox as an example. There, massive illegal urbanizations exist under threat of demolition. The homes were built on non-urban land with the complicity of previous town halls and sold to Northern Europeans. The regional authority could – but probably won’t – knock those houses down, as they did in the singular case of the Priors in Vera (January this year) and even refuse to pay any meaningful compensation. There is a continued sense of worry locally which is far from the anticipated delights of peaceful retirement that had been cherished by the thousands of home-owners.
An association called the AUAN which exists to defend the rights of property owners is based in Albox and has had some success in, at least, publicizing the situation, and has even had a visit from some Euro MPs from Brussels on a fact-finding tour.
However, the opponents to this group have a blog-site called The Albox Blog at http://alboxblog.com/ which provides the most remarkable (if completely unfounded) attacks on the AUAN and its leader Bob Preston. The blog, claiming to be ‘distilling all the juicy gossip’, rarely veers from its criticism against the AUAN’s leader. A quote from today: ‘…although we note from the AUAN website that the AUAN ‘is open to both UK nationals and Spanish alike’ precluding one would assume Irish and other nationalities. We thought we had seen an end to this sort of racialism and bigotry. Sadly, ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’, would still appear an acceptable adage within the lower strata of the ex-Pat community’.
The ‘comments’ from the Irish readers that follow this remarkable bit of idiocy beggar belief.
Today I was at a meeting to do with an urbanization in Los Gallardos. The problems there are apparently containable. Smells, sewage overflow, dirt, lack of care and broken promises – all easily fixable by the town hall if it was sufficiently pushed towards doing something. Perhaps the residents there can join together, or perhaps they can’t (or won’t). It was certainly clear that without a unified voice nothing much will change on their urbanization. The Spanish authorities know that there is strength in numbers.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

English as She is Wrote

I've written before about how the Spanish would rather get it wrong, or check with somebody's cousin's son (who once spent a week-end in Cornwall), or use 'Babelfish', anything... rather than ask some Briton if they've got the translation, sense or spelling right. Most of us would be willing to help as long as it's not more than a paragraph or two; and there's a million Britons living in Spain (many of whom can read and write), plus a good half million Americans, Irish, Australians and other native English speakers, plus a good ten million trippers from Anglophone countries during the summer thrash, so don't tell me it's very hard to find someone to help, as often as not, for the price of a beer.
This venerable sign has been hanging in thousands of Almería's businesses for at least thirty years (there's an older version in our office, with the previous six digits telephone number). It comes from the Almería tourist and services department. You are meant to display it by law so you can hand out your 'complaining sheets' as necessary.
You see, what happens is, when foreigners read something purportedly in their language, with contextual and spelling mistakes, they often react by not taking you seriously. They think 'yes, they want our money, but, y'know, they don't really give a rat's arse for us...'.
Now, I'm sure that the tourist and services department doesn't want us to think that. Do they.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Bédar (revisited)

It's got a bit smart up there, a bit chi-chi. Here's a picture of the town hall square. The old bar on the left, Paco's, has been closed for years and no longer exists. His dad used to speak a bit of English, I think he'd been working in Baltimore in the forties. To the right, the man on the ladder is putting up a sign (or fixing a light) over the old panadería which had a pressed metal souvenir from America inside as decoration - with Bobby and JFK and Martin Luther King.
Notice how the street has been improved.
But the main change in this picture is of course the ayuntamiento itself. It now occupies all the square to the left (with glass doors, already) and, yes, you are right: that is a digital illuminated sign which informs those that can read of forthcoming attractions.
Bédar, incidentally, is second in Spain in towns over 1000 inhabitants with foreigners, according to some article I read (and forgot) recently.

Friday, July 25, 2008

What You Have is What You’re Worth

I’ve been in Madrid for the past couple of weeks and I returned to the coast a few days ago by car. Vrrm vrrm. Madrid is a good place, but rather expensive. I had the good fortune to catch a summer ‘flu shortly after arriving there and so I was able to save a bundle on drinks, shopping and dinners in company with my daughter, who appreciates the fancy places when it comes to being taken out by her dad.
Actually, a similar thing happened to me a couple of years back when I flew to America.
Madrid, New York, San Francisco, bed, New York, Madrid and home.
With the credit card in almost perfect shape.
Lying abed in Madrid, and trying to keep up with the terrible financial news which is worrying most of Spain (banks and politicians not included), I heard the words of the president of the Banco de Santander (and a load of other banks – Central, Hispano, Abbey Nat and so on) regarding the current situation. The president of the Santander, by the way, rejoices in the name of Emilio Botín. Botín in my dictionary translates as ‘swag’ or booty’. Like a pirate.
Perhaps his wife calls him ‘my old booty’…
Anyway this financier was saying that the crisis is like a child’s summer cold. It won’t last for long or do any lasting damage. That said, he then turned to his shareholders and told them that this year the group expected to make around ten billion euros.
In banking, you see, every year is a ‘good year’.
Of course, banks don’t ‘make money’; what they do is they take it out of everybody else’s pockets. They ‘take’ money. Botín also means ‘spoils of war’…
So pleased were the folk from the Banco de Santander on considering their good fortune, they rushed out the same day and bought the Alliance and Leicester.
All good things come to an end and one morning I woke up to discover that my daughter had hidden the thermometer, possibly because she had just heard from a friend about a fancy new restaurant that had just opened in a particularly posh bit of Madrid.
Feeling woozy, I got dressed and staggered out into the street in search of a hole-in-the-wall. The nearest one, as luck would have it, belonged to the same Banco de Santander. I put in my card… secret number… amount… and, bugger me, the machine wanted a commission of almost six euros, a thousand pesetas, for my modest wallop. Bastards!
Which explains how the Banco de Santander, Central, Hispano and the rest of it can go around picking up extra banks every few months.
You know, the word 'bank' or ‘banco’ comes from the bench - ‘banco’ in Italian - where the moneylenders used to sit outside the churches to catch anyone who wanted to take his daughter out to dinner or buy himself a new cow. These were the ‘lombards’ that charged you a few points of interest on your loan.
I know an English girl who was given a cheque for sixty euros by her mother a month ago. She put it in the local caja de ahorros who said that it would take six weeks to clear. You know, we are in the 21st century and we do have communication by computer with London. Some shit is sitting on sixty euros for six weeks and making - ooh - maybe anything up to five céntimos off of it. Meanwhile, the same caja de ahorros charges me a ‘maintenance fee’ for the pleasure of holding my money, which it probably spends on the geegees.
Banks famously only lend money to people who already have it or, as is said, ‘they’ll only lend you an umbrella when the rain stops’. But, rain or shine, banks make their money. The last time we were in crisis, back in 1992, I was three million pesetas overdrawn. That was when I ran a big newspaper here (later to be ripped off by those fucks from the Euro Weekly). To cheer me up, the bank downstairs cranked up the interest to a massive 27% - which, I think you will agree - ain’t bad work if you can get it.
I have to say that I don’t like usury, greed, avarice… or banks.
So… anyway… could you lend me some cash?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Super-Turre: Architectural Charms of Almería

Turre may not be the most beautiful town in Almería - actually, come to think of it, it's probably one of the least attractive of the lot - but, even so, the old supermarket lets the place down a bit. The 'new' wing, on the left of the building, was finished about eight years ago and the supermarket expanded into the newly available space, selling its wares apparently from the moment they put a lock on the door.
But, in my opinion, the building still needs a teeny bit of work on it to bring it up to the standard of the rest of the Avenida de Andalucía.
Has the town hall ever asked the Super-Turre people to just fling a bit of plaster and paint on the exterior to give the building a final flourish? Apparently, yes. Repeatedly.
One story I heard was that a previous ayuntamiento had objected to the bit of roof terrace that sticks up above the skyline and that the ensuing disagreement was with the pesky local lawyers.
Which would neatly explain the eight years and counting.
Meanwhile, civic pride not counting for much in our local communities, the scruffy Super-Turre megastore continues to provide us with everything from yoghurt to Butano to gin to trousers. All, of course, in the best possible taste.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Lost Luggage

The parking lot by the office is far too small. There’s nothing new about that in Spain, where the nation’s last architect died in 1922, run over by a tram in Barcelona.
Where I work, there are around ninety shops and offices, plus a supermarket and some cafés, and there is parking for about sixty cars. So, it’s usually full. Crammed and double-parked. Emergency lights (which can last for hours), people taking up two parking lanes, cars parked so close that you need a shoe-horn to get into the rear-door to clamber over the seats and dog-basket to get to the controls, impatient honking, trucks unloading, all the fun of owning a car in a country where the parking lot still hasn’t been invented.
Word has it that the main post office is moving here from the other end of the beach in a few months time so soon there will be even more cars, double parked, excuse me, yes, I shan’t be a moment.
How can Mojácar be so badly planned? We have seventeen kilometers of playa, served by one narrow road and enough parking spaces for about a quarter of the cars which are endlessly circulating during the summer months.
I get to the Commercial Centre quite early – incredibly early by local standards – and cruise around the block until I find a space. Lock the car, tum ti tum, and meander off to see who’s in the café, and on, away to the office on the third floor. If the lift is working, all well and good. If not, I must trail up the stairs to arrive panting outside the door of Nº 90 where I fiddle with the keys, let myself in, make a joke about the heat or the tourists, and get on with my day.
When I come downstairs a few hours later, I find that I can’t find my car. It’s not that I’ve forgotten where I parked it; it’s that I never remembered.
If I go to Granada, there’s no way I’m going to forget where I left the car; but leaving it somewhere in those small and badly designed spaces that surround the commercial centre where I work, twice a day, where half the spots are actually double-yellow line no-parkee spaces, not that anyone takes any notice, Spain being Spain, I am obliged to wander around the outside of the entire building, ugly thing that it is, twice a day in search of my car.
At least I remember what kind of car it is – an old and very scratched one. There’s not much point in having any other kind with these narrow parking places which are laughingly designed by Spain’s master (ahem) architects.
So, I patiently look for the stupid car. Perhaps Einstein would have had a similar problem with his neutrons.
But things are getting worse. I’ve been by myself the last couple of weeks with the family away for various reasons. Home alone. Living like an old bohemian.
Today, it took twenty minutes to find my underwear.