Thursday, June 30, 2011
OK I am a benign republican who is happy to see the Queen see out her days on the throne. Then I would bung the remaining members of the Royal Family a million quid each and leave them to their own devices.
All the palaces and assets would become State property and I am sure the tourists would still flock, especially as they would then have access (for an admittance fee) to the various residences.
Perhaps somewhere like St James’ Palace would then become the home of the president. Just who would be president remains to be seen but it would be a symbolic post. As the majority of the world uses this model I see no reason why Britain shouldn’t. I am sure Ireland would lend us Mary Robinson for a term whilst we get used to the idea.
So given that scenario you may wonder why today I am speaking up for Prince Charles. It’s simply this - this week’s headline story has been he has seen his taxpayer funding increase by nearly 18 percent. This is at a time when Her Majesty’s subjects were tightening their belts due to harsh austerity measures.
The heir to the throne’s income from the British government rose 17.9 percent from £1.66 million in 2009-10 to £1.96 million in the past year, according to his official accounts.
However much of the funds covered travel costs with Charles and his wife Camilla travelling 34,000 miles to and from official engagements, including more than 14,000 miles on overseas trips.
Paddy Harverson, Charles’s spokesperson, who may also be the person responsible for putting his toothpaste on his brush, stated: “Spending on royal travel is decided by the government, not the prince. This is because the government determines where members of the royal family go on official overseas visits.”
Quite so. If the British Government decides to send Prince Charles off on trips on its behalf the money should come from Foreign Office funds and not be loaded on to the Royal Family’s account.
Hapless Charles comes in for enough stick as it is, much deservedly so, but beating him with a bat when he is representing Britain simply isn’t cricket.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
It is an interesting magazine combining hard core porn with hard nosed investigative reporting.
There is a section entitled “Nuevo Periodismo” which gives some of the more bizarre headlines of recent weeks.
One in the latest edition from La Flecha reads: “Una mujer tiene orgasmos cada vez que come dulces.”
Not sure that is headline worthy. I reach a similar state after eating a Crema Catalana. I am sure others enjoy equally sweet experiences!
I knew a woman who caught a bus each day after work in London’s Victoria to the Old Kent Road. She insisted she always experienced orgasms en route. Whether it was the throb of the diesel engine, the bumps in the road or a secret device I know not.
However if you have ever travelled on a London bus and seen a person smile it is a rare occurence indeed. Certainly worth a headline whatever the cause!
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Blood was pouring from my mouth like a macabre gargoyle and having been first to the nearest health centre, only to find the two doctors on duty were out on call, I went to the hospital.
As I entered with a bloody towel round my mouth I was immediately ushered in so see a doctor who told me my blood pressure was through the roof and convinced herself that I had said I had a bad heart. I don’t but it is difficult to talk with a mouth full of blood and I nearly had a heart attack when I found out.
Having had two different mouth washes over half an hour the flow of blood began to ease finally halting after around an hour and a half. It started again when I laughed out loud so I refused to speak or smile from there on. I was kept in whilst they did some tests; to make sure the bleeding didn’t restart and so they could check my blood pressure again.
When I was called back in around two in the morning the consulting room floor was covered in blood, not mine, and a person with a mop and bucket arrived to clean up whilst the doctor went through my test results.
They re-did the blood pressure test. I explained my pressure was usually normal but I had been very tense because of the blood and rushing around –convinced I was bleeding to death if the truth were known.
I added I was still rather tense what with a woman being rushed in to give birth, an old woman in a wheel chair crying out in pain, an old man also in a wheelchair as silent as the grave, various women clutching parts of their anatomy, a young man rushed off to trauma, various family members gathering to peer and poke at a loved one - all of whom had at one time or another been gathered around me that night in the emergency waiting room.
I was solemnly told my blood pressure was now just slightly higher than it should be but – normal for a man of my age!
It was as I left I passed a small room in to which had been seemingly crammed all the people who had shared the waiting room of the emergency unit with me. It was a bizarre scene of which Goya would have been proud. I stared in disbelief at them as they stared back at me with blank faces. I decided the time to discuss hallucinations with the doctor had passed and went home to sleep – which I did very well.
However in the morning I couldn’t help wondering over what I had seen.
Bloody hell indeed.
Friday, June 17, 2011
In La Línea the missing babies were largely all born either in the former municipal hospital or two private clinics in the town. The mothers were told their babies had died shortly after birth but the suspicion of many of these families is their babies were sold or offered up to adoptive families.
The cases in the Campo de Gibraltar have been taken over by the Algeciras prosecutor who in turn has ordered the National Police to investigate. The majority of the reports of the missing babies relate to the 60s and 70s although some extend in to the 1980s.
On Tuesday afternoon the San José cemetery closed its gates after a La Línea judge ordered three of the niches to be opened. At around 17.00, with the judge, a judicial secretary, forensic police and members of the specialised and violent crime squad in attendance, the exhumations started. The parents of the babies involved were only informed hours before the niches were opened and the mobile phones of the cemetery employees were impounded so no photographs could be taken.
The final resting places opened belonged to a baby that allegedly died in 1971 and two who passed away in 1988. In the first case the remains were supposedly buried but seven years later the parents decided to place their son in a niche. It was then the parents discovered the cemetery had not registered their child’s burial and in the place of a certificate for the moving of a tomb they were given one for interment. In the two 1988 cases the remains are in the cemetery but the families believe their own new born babies were sold or offered for adoption.
Now we are approaching the moment of truth in these specific cases. The remains from each tomb were placed in a separate cardboard box. In one tomb there was just dust, in the case of the baby from 1971 some suspicious bones and in the third bone fragments. These will now be analysed by the forensic scientists and if human remains then DNA tested to see if they match with their alleged family members.
Many of the mothers who gave birth and believe their babies were stolen did not have the support of a family around them because they had come to La Línea from another part of Spain looking for work, often in Gibraltar. However the story of Francisco del Valle, whose son supposedly died on July 7 1971, is pitiful to modern day ears.
Their baby died just two hours after it was born. The matron told them what had happened and said they were not to worry as they were young and could have more children. It was then explained to them that every time a whale passed through the Strait of Gibraltar a baby died, and that is what had happened in their case.
Del Valle says because of their ignorance and the epoch in which they then lived – the Franco dictatorship - they said nothing. However he was shocked to find the coffin supposedly bearing the body of his son weighed virtually nothing. Now the DNA of the pieces of bone will be matched with that of his wife and the truth will finally be known.
The economic crisis amongst the banks has closed off the credit lines. Also the foreign investment in to the property market has ceased with the bursting of that market’s bulb.
Without internal demand Spain can only grow by exporting. However to export to Germany which is the leader of European growth this country would have to improve its competitiveness. As Spain cannot devalue its currency the pressure is on to reform structures with the cutting of workers’ rights and the real threat that there will be a regression in the standards of people’s lives.
In to this scene comes the 15-M democracy movement that insists that politics cannot be dictated by the markets. It is calling for “popular sovereignty” and “economic sovereignty” What does it serve to vote if the government is in the hands of the markets and banks, it asks?
According to Professor Emiliano Carluccio: “the debt in the private sector grew greater than in other developed countries” over this period. Now the crisis in Spain is not the public debt.
The level of debt of the central government, the autonomous regions and the town halls is more than 60 per cent of GDP, the wealth that Spain generates each year. Surprisingly this is less than the European average of 80 per cent or the rest of the major European countries.
However whilst the various arms of the State have accumulated debts of 639,767 million euros the debt level amongst Spanish families dwarfs that total. Private debt stands at 886,460 million euros, 38.6 per cent more than all the State debt. (Curiously as I posted this blog Reuters issued an article highlighting the growth in Spain’s public debt but saying nothing of the private total).
To be added to the family debts are those of businesses which come in at 1.2 billion euros more. This means that the debt in private hands is a massive 189 per cent of GDP.
Another problem faced by Spain is the size of its external debt. Japan (200 per cent), Italy (117) and Belgium (101) all have far greater levels of public debt than Spain. However that money is owed to the nation’s nationals whereas in Spain the majority of the debts are international.
In the case of Spain the exterior debt (the majority of it private) is equivalent to 170 per cent of GDP. In hard figures it means that Spain has to pay back to the rest of the world 1.87 billion euros. That is because during the good years Spain was importing two thirds of the financial resources demanded by its businesses and families.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
A finca of 7,200 hectares is owned by the Libyan State. In the deeds appear the names of the Libyan Foreign Bank - the Banco Exterior Libio and extends over five municipalities: Benahavís, Estepona, Igualeja, Júzcar and Pujerra.
It is in the latter two municipalities that the Libyan ownership has not been known by the residents or that Gadafi has owned much of their land for many years. Initially these lands were owned by the Unión Resinera Español and later purchased by the Libyan bank.
In the case of Pujerra Gadafi owns some 1,000 hectares although the mayor believes it could be higher as nobody is any too sure who owns what. As the land mass of Pujerra is 2,400 hectares Macias observes the Libyan leader could have around half. The holding runs from La Venta de Tía to Los Baños de la Corcha on the boundary with Benahavís.
Macias says that some years ago directors of the Libyan bank arrived in the village to talk about building 400 luxury homes in the municipality “but they disappeared and since then we have not heard from them.”
A similar situation exists in Júzcar where Libya has acquired 1,384 of the 3,400 hectares in the municipality. Mayor David Fernández says he has been in office for four years and never during that time has there been any contact with the owners. Again the finca runs from La Resinera to the boundary with Benahavís.
In both cases the land acquired by the Libyan bank is principally pine forest and mountainous. At the start of the year a 60 kms long wire fence was placed around the land. However both mayors say the land is used for hunting.
Curiously around seven years ago some land owners in the area were approached by foreign investors who wanted to buy their lands with chestnut plantations for sums far above the market value. All turned the offers down as the lands have been passed from father to sons over generations and the chestnut crop is one of the main sources of income for families in the area.
I have written about Gadafi’s land holding in Benahavís before – the inland municipality where Michelle Obama and her daughter holidayed last summer. I have also highlighted the fact that the Libyan dictator has numerous other investments in Spain including a petroleum company with numerous forecourts and banks.
That oil rich Gadafi and his family should have investments in Spain is hardly surprising. They have them in the USA and throughout Europe. What is a surprise is that the Spanish Government has seemingly done nothing to impound or embargo them.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
The 25 deaths in Germany and 2,600 illnesses there and also in other European countries from the E.coli outbreak are tragic. Yet so too are the huge losses suffered by the farming community in Andalucía from Spanish cucumbers being blamed for the E.coli – and then the accusations being withdrawn too late to save the crops or jobs. Now the EU is offering 210 million euros in compensation but it is Germany and not Europeans that should pick up the Spanish bill. Many communities will suffer severe hardship. Around me are farmers and smallholders who grow the crops in their fields and serve them to their families without any ill effects whatsoever. I have never stopped eating their produce and if you have the chance to buy a product produced in Andalucía do. You won’t regret it!
A friend “ML” posted this recently on her Facebook page:
“SE HA DETECTADO EN ESPAÑA SALCHICHAS ALEMANAS INFECTADAS X UNA BACTERIA Q PUEDE CAUSAR LA MUERTE, LA CERVEZA ALEMANA TIENE RASTROS D ORINA HUMANA. LOS SUPERMERCADOS ALEMANES (ER LÍ) ESTÁN LLENOS D RATAS. ¿ACUSAMOS 1º Y NOS DISCULPAMOS DESPUES?.¡¡¡COMO ESTAMOS TAN BIEN OTRO PROBLEMA MÁS A LOS ANDALUCES !!! POR FAVOR YA ESTA BIEN, COPIA ESTO EN TU MURO SI QUIERES Q A LA MERCKEL LE METAN 1 PEPINO X EL JAHR”
In the old currency that equates to 285,685 million pesetas. Of that total the central bank says 904 million euros are held in notes and 813 million euros in coins.
In April the Bank of Spain changed a million euros or 166 million pesetas in to the new currency. All those transactions were for notes. During 2010 Spaniards changed a total of 3,328 million pesetas for which they received some 20 million euros. The 2010 figures is a nine per cent drop on the previous year when 3,660 million pesetas were handed in.
Now when Spain changed from the peseta to the euro on January 1 1999 all the money in our bank accounts automatically switched. Those of us who had some cash took it to the bank to change but obviously many people didn’t. Indeed it wasn’t till 2002 that the peseta was finally phased out.
Without a doubt I have somewhere some peseta coins which I never bothered to change as does virtually every other household in Spain. This goes to make up a part of the total. Other sums have simply been lost or forgotten about. I remember when I bought an old ruin the builder who was to convert it busily searched through the canes that covered the ceiling as this was apparently a favourite hiding place to conceal notes from house thieves. Other canes no doubt still hold their booty.
However in this time of economic crisis every Spaniard is keen to lay their hands on any cash that is going. Hence the large bulk of the unchanged sums must be “black” money. To change it means admitting you have it to the Bank of Spain and in turn the tax authority. Large amounts will set the alarm bells ringing whilst large amounts that have been sat on for years will have those bells positively jangling. So we can expect the majority of the missing millions of pesetas to remain missing for evermore – unless of course the peseta makes a return should the euro fall.
Friday, June 3, 2011
I have been in and around Gibraltar for 20 years so when the Gibraltar Tourist Board recently asked me would I like to go on a tour to see some sides of the Rock perhaps I wasn’t aware of, what was my reaction?
For the answer to that question you have to go 1,000 miles north to my native London. As a child I walked every part of the city, West End, Westminster – you name it, I went there. Yet if you speak to the average Londoner whilst they rattle off the names of all the historic sites and attractions, they will then look guilty and say: “actually I have never been to the Tower of London”. Hence my immediate response to the GTB’s kind offer was an enthusiastic yes!
There are numerous ways to arrive on the Rock but probably the three main groups who visit Gibraltar are: tourists from the Costa del Sol who come by coach on a day trip; residents or holidaymakers who come by car and those who fly in and stay at one of the Rock’s hotels.
If you ask the majority of them what did they see their answer will be the airport because you have to cross the runway to get in or out, Main Street plus Casemates Square, the Cathedrals, the Trafalgar Museum, many will have done the Rock tour and seen the various tunnels dating from the years of siege and World War II, been out in the bay to see the dolphins plus of course visited Gibraltar’s famous apes or rather macaques.
I have done all these things numerous times myself often in the company of visiting friends and family. I have also been round the back streets and harbours but I didn’t realise until Gail took me on the tour the numerous places I have missed or was simply not aware of.
Gail is a former Miss Gibraltar and also a very fine artist yet at heart she is a Gibraltarian with a great pride in her Rock; the fact she works for the tourist board is almost incidental. I have yet to meet a Gibraltarian who wasn’t an ambassador for the Rock. We drove around for nearly four hours so what I saw would fill a book rather than an article. Here I will list just some highlights.
Devil’s Tower Road is not the most glamorous place on the Rock. It is an industrial zone which is now being beautified which may mean that in years to come the cave behind the buildings will become more accessible. It was here in 1848 at Forbes’ Quay they discovered the ancient skull of a woman. Eight years later in Germany they discovered an identical skull from the same period. That is now universally known as Neanderthal man but the world should really be talking about Gibraltar woman.
A non-Gibraltarian would never think of Gibraltar as a beach destination. It is a giant rock with harbours and the odd patch of sand over by the Caleta Hotel. The reality is very different with a splendid Eastern Beach but many others hidden away. Actually they are simple to find – you ask the tourist office.
When you used to drive along the eastern side of the Rock you passed an engineering marvel. The catchments literally caught the rain and it ran down the huge corrugated sheets into reservoirs in the Rock. Now they have gone but what is left is even more extraordinary. Once when the Med was land locked it was a desert and the winds blew the sand against the Rock face. The result was a huge sand dune now many millions of years old but which remains intact and newly planted with native species. Incidentally the Rock of Gibraltar is Jurassic limestone dating back some 200 million years but what you see is inverted because in the seismic activity it was turned upside down before the Atlantic roared in and created the Mediterranean.
Everybody knows that Gibraltar is British having been ceded by Spain in perpetuity by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Prior to it being under Spanish rule it became part of the Muslim empire in the seventh century – its name Gibraltar coming from the Arabic Jebel Tarik – Tarik’s Rock. It was named after the Berber chief Tarik Ibn Zeyad who took if for the Moors. So logically there is British Colonial, Spanish and Moorish architecture to be seen. However apart from the Greeks, Visigoths, Phoenicians and Romans all passing through the modern day people of Gibraltar also come from Genoa, Malta, Portugal and numerous other places and that influence can be seen in the houses and buildings of the Rock, especially those in the myriad of side streets.
Queensway Quay has long been popular with tourists but there are now many other marinas in Gibraltar. Perhaps the pride of place goes to Ocean View with its stunning development of top of the market apartments which hide the harbour. Apart from a 24-hour casino it is packed with bars and restaurants on pontoons – some with live music. It is the first port of call for Gibraltarians on a Friday night. The weekend starts here.
I think for me the highlight of the visit was the new King’s Bastion Leisure Centre. The King’s Bastion is a key part of Gibraltar’s heritage because it was from here that the Spanish siege was finally defeated. So expect an old fort inside the thick stone walls of which are displays of its historic past. However in the centre is a totally new glass building with a bowling alley, cinemas, ice rink, gym, kids and adults disco, a restaurant, snack bar, pool tables, internet centre plus much more. Security is a top priority so Gibraltar’s youngsters (and young at heart) can relax and enjoy themselves in complete safety.
I have merely scratched the surface of the Rock here because there is much more to see and do. However whether you spend a day on the Rock or visit for longer please do contact the Gibraltar Tourist Board. Their main office is in Casemates Square but there are others at the border, cruise terminal, coach park and so on. If you don’t you’ll still see the Rock but you’ll miss out on so much of the Gibraltar experience. Like the ghost of the nun at the Governor’s official residence – The Convent. Ask the tourist office, they’ll tell you all about her tragic story.
Gibraltar Tourist Board
(The pictures of the Gibraltar aerial view and the King’s Bastion are the copyright of Gail Francis Tiron. To see more of her work visit her website at www.gailfrancistiron.com)
Thursday, June 2, 2011
I have also written about Mary Finlay who lives in San Roque. She was so moved by the appalling situation in the border town that each Wednesday she and a team take hot drinks, food and clothing to these people sheltered in doorways, the old bunkers and abandoned buildings.
When I first wrote about her work and gave her contact details in various local publications a number of readers contacted Mary to offer their help. No real surprise there because that is what by nature good people do.
This weekend the tragic news of the death of Galeote reached me. He was one of the homeless of La Línea who died leaning against a wall outside the day centre in broad daylight.
Mary told me: “Poor man he was the first that we ever came across the first night we started, so pleasant, eloquent, and extremely grateful for contact.
After a few weeks he said that he had decided to try and gain admittance to a centre because not only was he crippled with arthritis after so many winters out of doors he felt completely isolated from people and was in need of that warmth which we hopefully were showing him. He was taking tablets prescribed by the doctor to stop drinking to enable him to gain admittance.
“A few weeks ago he had to be taken by the volunteers to the emergency department of La Línea hospital because he looked as if he was dying of pneumonia, he had a few days respite and then was put out on the street again, swigging back medicine for his cough but he was never well again; apparently it wasn’t pneumonia but the effects of very heavy heroin addiction.
“On Wednesday, he was standing outside the day centre and after asking after him, he told one of the centre’s users that he didn't feel well, but not to call an ambulance, next thing she knew a lot of foamy saliva was coming out of his mouth. She rushed in to say that poor Galeote was dying but they thought it was the effect of tablets and nothing to worry about. But that was how it happened, he was actually standing leaning against the wall when he died.”
Mary went on to add: “A few weeks ago he completely shaved his head and beard off, I think he knew he wasn’t going to be around much longer.”
My final word goes to Por Un Mundo Más Justo who sent me an email detailing much of the same story. He touchingly writes: “Espero y creo firmemente que nuestro amigo Galeote ha pasado de ser de un P.S.H (Persona Sin Hogar) a un A.C.H (Ángel Con Hogar).”
Amen to that.
(Photograph shows one of La Línea’s WWII bunkers where the homeless shelter)