Monday, May 30, 2011


Violence flared in the plaza de Cataluña in Barcelona in the early hours of Friday morning as riot police moved in to clear the city’s major square of “los indignados” who since May 15 have been protesting against political corruption in Spain and calling for major changes to Spanish society.

The reason for the confrontations in which 120 people were injured was not political but soccer related. On Saturday night Barcelona played Manchester United in the European Champions League final at Wembley and the plaza had to be cleared so that giant TV screens could be erected for the crowds to watch the game. The ensuing battle between baton wielding police and the peaceful demonstrators gave a whole new meaning to soccer violence.

At the time the police moved in around 200 people were sleeping in the plaza as they have been for the previous two weeks. Soon another 1,000 protestors came to the square to attempt to prevent the officers from removing the protestors. The authorities said they just wanted to clean the square ahead of preparing it for the soccer match after which “los indignados” were welcome to return. Return they did for by mid-after over 9,000 people were said to be in the plaza. Now Jueces para la Democracía has called for an investigation to hold to account those officers of the Mossos d´Escuadra and the Guardia Urbana who attacked the protestors.

Meanwhile in Madrid the Movimiento 15-M who have occupied the Puerta del Sol said on Sunday they are to maintain their camp but it will undergo some restructuring. They announced the decision after the centre right Partido Popular ruled Comunidad de Madrid called on the Ministry of the Interior to remove the protestors as they were infringing the State of Law and had prevented the free movement of people. Curiously the PP had raised no objections to the protests in the run up to the recent elections in which they gave the ruling PSOE a bloody nose!

It is expected the protest zone will be reduced in size so as not to inconvenience local residents and businesses. However the assemblies in Málaga, Sevilla, Bilbao, Barcelona and Valencia have vowed to carry on whilst others such as in Toledo have opted to dismantle theirs.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


The international chains serving fast food appear to be bucking the trend in Spain’s catering sector brought about by the economic crisis. Whilst restaurant and bar owners along with their employees are suffering from the downturn the fast food businesses are seeing constant growth. Indeed turnover grew by five per cent last year to 2.600 million euros.

The big battle is between Burger King and McDonald’s who between them account for 97 per cent of the hamburger market. That battle is pretty evenly matched with not just the quantity of food taken in to account but also the number of outlets.

Andalucía is the second autonomous region after Madrid with the largest number of fast food outlets. Overall there are 177 of these restaurants but Burger King rules with 98 compared with McDonald’s 71.

The dominance of Burger King is also seen in Málaga province. Burger King has 35 outlets mostly located in the major commercial centres. In contrast McDonald’s has 20 spread amongst the holiday resort towns of the Costa del Sol.

It is not just the international names and the power of their advertising that has allowed these chains to prosper in hard economic times. Both sell known products at keen prices in comfortable and a familiar environment.

Indeed in 2010 McDonald’s invested 14 million euros in giving a facelift to its 88 stores introducing a new colour scheme and furnishings. Burger King has responded with a futuristic 20/20 design and divided its restaurants in to Whopper Bar and BK Dessert Bar zones.

Each chain is also working to win customers with added attractions. For example Burger King has now added children’s play areas to most of its restaurants. In contrast McDonald’s is offering free Wi-Fi to its customers. Eat and work, eat and play, eat and be entertained is the order of the day.

The overall figures for the fast food business in Spain make interesting reading. There are 3,940 such establishments which is a 2.2per cent increase on 2009 with the total market worth 2,610 million euros. Of that Burger King, McDonald’s and other hamburger chains account for 1,300 million euros, a rise of 4.8 per cent.

Down by slightly more (4.9 percent) are pizza sales at 540 million euros, bocadillerías account for 455 million euros (up 3.4) and others such as tacos and hot dogs bring in 315 million euros, a rise of 3.3per cent. Of the total 2,610 million euros turnover, 2,285 million (up 3.4 percent) is through counter sales whilst home delivery stands at 325 million, a drop of 5.2 per cent.

Monday, May 23, 2011


I was curious to read the findings of a survey as to how the people of Andalucía view their public and private health services. Four out of ten people with private insurance would still opt to go to a SAS public hospital if they had a serious illness because they prefer to be treated by doctors and nurses in the health service. In contrast three out of ten of those with insurance would opt for a private hospital or clinic.

The results come from a study carried out by the Asociación de Empresas Sanitarias de Prestación Asistencial de Andalucía (Aespaa) with a grant from the Andalucía ministry of health. It was carried out amongst 925 users of the Aliad private health service in 17 private centres in Málaga, Sevilla, Almería, Granada, Córdoba and Granada.

Of the patients questioned 45.9 per cent use the private health service more frequently than the public, 37.8 per cent opt for public whilst 14.6 per cent use both equally.

However if the patients were faced with a serious illness then 41.5 per cent would go to the public hospital, 31.1 per cent to the private whereas 22.1 per cent were undecided which they’d use.

Aespaa says the findings show that the majority of insured users of the health system would switch between one and the other. However when it came to choosing one over the other in cases of serious illness there was a higher confidence in the medical staff and facilities of the health service.

In contrast the comforts of the private hospitals and clinics were more highly valued than the often shared hospital rooms of the public sector. On this point alone 85.6 per cent would opt for private treatment both on the comfort factor and the speed with which they would be seen.

The most loyal users of the health service in Andalucía according to the survey are to be found in Cádiz province where less than 5 per cent would go private. This is at complete odds with other provinces where the figure is between 55 and 65 per cent. Bucking the trend in the opposite direction is Málaga province where 71 per cent would opt for private treatment over the SAS.

In 2006 I was both registered with the health service and had private insurance. When I was taken in to hospital in an emergency it was to the SAS hospital in La Línea. I was more than happy with the care and treatment I received from the health service specialists and nursing staff both during my stay and subsequent after care. However after five days in a shared room, during which time my mobile phone was stolen, I did consider using my insurance to switch to a private hospital although in the event I was released so it did not become an issue.

In 2003 my then partner was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She had private insurance but had both health service and private treatment. Her insurance company is part of a UK group but whilst it covered hospitals, doctors, cancer specialists, radiotherapy and chemotherapy there were some expensive oddities. For instance the insurance covered her chemo but not connecting it to her arm that she had to pay for herself. To connect her to the chemo could cost between 50 and 150 euros per session depending on what was required. In her case it was 75 euros, or at least 300 euros a month. If the SAS hospital prescribed her medicine it was with a prescription, hence the morphine came free. Yet during her last chemo session the clinic gave me a prescription for a series of injections the cost of which was 400 euros for just five days supply.

For my part I have cancelled my private insurance and opted to go with the health service which has served me well. One key reason is that if I have private insurance, whilst I could enjoy more comfortable care, I could equally be caught in the trap of having to find huge amounts of cash for drugs or say a chemo link at a time when I could least afford it. Now more and more health service hospitals are being built with single rooms for patients the comfort issue should also be less of a concern.

However I am gratified to see Andalucía’s health service doctors and nurses so highly rated by those with private insurance – they certainly have never let me down.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


As fears over the state of health of the Spanish monarch, King Juan Carlos, continue to hit the headlines the Spanish people have indicated their support for his son and his suitability to inherit the crown.

In a survey 79 per cent said they think the Príncipe de Asturias has the support and social legitimacy to succeed the king and 86 per cent, including 71 per cent of Izquierda Unida voters, say he will be prepared to eventually take on the functions of the head of state. The IU traditionally supports a republic rather than a monarchy.

The survey ‘Pulso de España 2010” was carried out by the Fundación José Ortega y Gassat and Gregorio Marañon. It also showed that 69 per cent of those who voted IU at the last general election back the prince as the legitimate heir to his father.

The report was drawn up between September 24 and November 5 of last year with 5,000 people questioned. It showed that the majority of Spaniards preferred a parliamentary monarch as the best system of government for the country. However support for this is on the decline with over a two year period support dropping from 72 to 57 per cent whilst those supporting a republic have grown from 11 to 35 per cent.

By age group 78 per cent of those below 35 years supports the view Prince Felipe should be king, those over 55 give him 74 per cent support but it is the 35 to 54 age group that boosts his standing with 83 per cent.

On a scale of 10 an average of 6.7 approve of how Prince Felipe performs his role. That rises to 7.3 amongst Partido Popular voters, dips to 6.8 for supporters of PSOE and collapses to 4.9 amongst the far left of Izquierda Unida.

On two key questions the support from PSOE and PP voters is very close. Asked if he has the social support to be king PSOE support is 83 per cent with the PP on 79 and asked if he is adequately prepared for the job of head of state 89 per cent of PSOE voters say yes to 88 in the PP.

Should Spain be a republic rather than a monarchy? Those who voted IU in 2008 back a republic with 81 per cent, but that slips to 40 per cent amongst socialists and just 15 per cent of the centre right PP.

King Juan Carlos has ruled over Spain for 35 years and 7.3 of his fellow country folk say he has done a good job. That number rises to 7.5 amongst PSOE voters, jumps again to 7.8 for the PP but slips to 5.5 for the IU.

Finally 74 per cent of those questioned think the monarchy is firmly consolidated in the country, 56 per cent consider it has brought stability and serenity to public life but 65 per cent say whilst it has been useful in overseeing the transition to democracy its importance is gradually declining.

It would be interesting to know how the people of Britain view Prince Charles’ readiness to inherit the crown or whether his future “subjects” believe it should skip a generation and pass to his son. In this modern age do Britons want a fuddy duddy as monarch or would they prefer William and Kate? Prince Felipe faces no such challenge as he is comparatively young and his daughter has some years to go before she would be of age to become Queen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, or William and Kate to the British public, have jetted off on their delayed honeymoon.

It is understood Clarence House was informed the luxury and private property in Abbottabad had now been vacated by the previous tenant. It took several days for the house to be cleared up but all was now ready.

William and Kate are keen to protect their privacy especially during their honeymoon. The owner of the house stressed the Pakistani Government had been unaware of the previous tenant’s tenure and the US Government had searched high and low for him for years without success. The royal couple will be perfectly safe.

Rumours that William (who is an RAF pilot) will fly Kate to and from the house in its walled compound by helicopter have been denied.


If you were asked to guess who is the highest paid politician in Spain the chances are you would have answered – the prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. However you would have been very wrong indeed.

The top earner is María Dolores de Cospedal and she is not even a member of the ruling socialist party. Yet according to her tax return she earned 223,598 euros in 2010, which is seven per cent less than the year before when she banked over 240,000 euros.

Her declaration means she earns three times as much as Zapatero – the premier only has his 78,184 euros official salary to live off. Cospedal’s tax return was published in the Diario Oficial de Castilla – La Mancha where she occupies a seat, is secretary general of the opposition Partido Popular and is bidding to be president of her home region.

In 2009 when she earned 240,737 euros her three main sources of income were from the Senate, the PP and her three year period with the State lawyer’s office.

However whilst Cospedal is a glamorous high earner she is seemingly a frugal spender. On the day the election campaign was launched last week in Castilla – La Mancha she was seen at a small market at Villanueva de los Infantes buying for herself a five euros pair of sandals.

Obviously a sure footed politician!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


As according to the Gospels Christ’s tomb was found open on Easter Sunday so the timing of the families who babies were allegedly stolen at birth in demanding just before Easter to have their niches opened is spot on.

For over a year I have written about the missing babies first from La Línea but then throughout Cádiz province and wider Spain. Their parents fear they were taken from them at birth and handed over to an adopted family.

The cases largely date from the 1960s and 1970s and the initial reports centred on La Línea’s former municipal hospital and two nursing homes. At least one of these babies, now a grown man, has links to Gibraltar.

Whilst the cases in La Línea were quickly taken up by the Algeciras prosecutor and handed over to the National Police for investigation the Cádiz prosecutor has been slower to act. The majority of cases in the provincial capital relate to the Zamacola nursing home which stood on the site of the present Punta Europa Hospital.

Anadir, the association that represents many of the families who fear their babies or brothers and sisters were stolen for adoption, has collected over 2,000 signatures to demand that the Cádiz investigation is speeded up. After a meeting of 300 members in Chiclana a protest has been called for May 4 when its delegate in Andalucía, Chary Herrera, will meet the Cádiz prosecutor to make two demands.

The first and most fundamental is that an order be issued to open the niches that are supposed to contain the remains of the babies that died in Cádiz hospitals. The majority from the Zamacola are interred at the San José de Cádiz cemetery.

Of course this is not possible for all the families. When Cristina Díaz Carrasco first hit the Spanish national headlines over the alleged death at birth of her brother in La Línea’s hospital in 1967 it was discovered there was no record of his birth, death or interment and his supposed grave had disappeared. When a family in Algeciras opened the niche of their baby son who is said to have died in La Línea hospital after the family were involved in a car crash it was found to contain just a t-shirt. To open a grave at any time is a traumatic experience for those involved - for the grieving families it could be very traumatic indeed.

Anadir also wants the prosecutor to establish a free DNA bank in the province so that the remains found can be tested against surviving family members. Whilst some tombs could be empty it is suspected that in some cases the healthy baby was substituted for another that died and given to that family, probably purchased. In that case the tombs could contain the remains of the baby from the adoptive family.

If the Cádiz prosecutor agrees to these demands then the province will become the pioneer and this example will almost certainly be followed throughout Andalucía. In Sevilla, Granada and Huelva there are other cases coming to light and there too signatures are being collected for action.

The number of suspected cases in La Línea and wider Cádiz now is in the region of 300 although those that have been formulated in to official reports stand at about half of this total.

Monday, May 2, 2011


When God handed out the beauty gene many of us were in the other room.

I certainly count myself in that group.

However we accepted our limitations and learnt how to make the best of what we have.

Some of us have aged gracefully and others such as me, less so.

Which brings me to the Dorks of York.

When I logged on to Yahoo the day after the Royal Wedding I was greeted by a fright!

It was Princess Eugenie and Beatrice with their father the Duke of York.

Sadly at best the princesses look like their dad in a dress. Drag artists.

At the Royal Wedding – well I was simply lost for words. A right royal mess. Fame and fortune does not bring with it good taste.

The Dorks of York.