Thursday, December 31, 2009


As the bells in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid chime midnight on New Year’s Eve those gathered in the square and watching TV throughout Spain will down 12 grapes – hopefully before the chimes finish. The same scene will be replicated throughout the nation in city, town and village plazas, at parties indeed wherever celebrations are held. But why?

There appears to be two theories.

The first dates back to 1909 when the Spanish grape growers found they had an excess crop. Hence they decided to spread the legend that to eat twelve of the fruit as the bells counted down would bring good luck for the coming year.

The second comes from the final years of the 19 th century. A group of citizens upset by the decision of the mayor of Madrid, José Abascal, to charge all those who wished to attend the visit from the Three Kings decided to hold their own celebrations. Hence on New Year’s Eve they gathered in the Puerta del Sol to eat grapes with the intention of ridiculing the nobles who traditionally ate grapes and drank champagne to see in the new year. Although this protest was started in Madrid it soon spread throughout Spain. In those days the bells were transmitted from Madrid to the entire nation although today the regional television stations tend to broadcast the countdown from local cities and towns.

So why twelve grapes?

One explanation is it symbolizes the twelve months of the year. Another that it is based on the number of bell chimes. What is agreed is that all must be consumed before midnight is struck.

And on that note let me wish you all every happiness in 2010.

Monday, December 28, 2009


On Christmas Eve around 50 separated parents including six women held a protest in the centre of Sevilla. Thirty-five of them dressed up as Father Christmas in a demonstration demanding a change to the divorce law to give shared custody of children between both parents and in support of the judge of the Sevilla family court, Francisco Serrano. Earlier some 67 organisation had defended the judge against the action of “ultra feminists” that have asked the CGPJ judicial authority to take disciplinary action against Serrano accusing him of siding with those responsible for domestic violence in seeking a fair settlement of cases.

Amongst those at the Sevilla demonstration were José Antonio Santos and Miguel Ángel Torres. They had recently been the victims of false complaints made against them by their partners in divorce proceedings. Santos had as a result spent 11 months in jail and Torres had been accused of abusing his two year old daughter.

According to the spokesperson for ‘Papá no es’, Carlos Aurelio Caldito, since 2004 when the Ley de Violencia de Género was introduced over 600,000 men had been branded as “sexist” but when the cases were investigated and brought to court they were found to be innocent.

Long term readers of my blog will know that I have a specific interest in the problem of domestic violence in Spain and as with all such cases – be it the male abusing the female – or in more cases that you might suspect the female abusing the male – I believe in zero tolerance.

I remember a year or so after the 2004 law was introduced a meeting was held in Algeciras attended by people living in the Campo de Gibraltar and others from Málaga. The majority were men and believed false accusations had been made against them by their former partners who alleged domestic violence in order to boost their claim for a divorce or as an act of revenge.

This highlights a major problem involving the law. It is vital that those who suffer domestic violence from current or former partners are protected with the full weight of the law. Unfortunately there are now many cases where one partner uses the law to make false accusations against the other – so whilst we must have zero tolerance for violence - we must also ensure justice for all.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I was reading through Mitch Symon’s ‘Why does earwax taste so gross’ yesterday and came across this Christmas trivia – which as it is the season of goodwill to all my readers I thought I would share with you.

According to Mitch:

The average Briton devotes 15 hours a year to Christmas shopping – around 25 per cent of that time is spent in queues.

The Christmas song ‘Jingle Bells’ was originally composed in 1857 as a Thanksgiving song.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh send some 850 Christmas cards a year.

It’s St Francis of Assisi we have to thank for introducing Christmas carols to church services.

It wasn’t until 440 that 25 th December was first celebrated as the birthday of Christ.

Santa Claus is called Babbo Natale in Italy.

More than eight million Christmas trees were sold in Briton last year.

The reason why robins are associated with Christmas is because postmen, who wore red, were known as robins, and so many Christmas cards depicted robins delivering cards.

Holly is associated with Christmas because the sharply pointed leaves symbolized the thorns in Christ’s crown and the red berries symbolized his blood.

There are 178 legs in the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.

The Christmas holidays are the busiest time for American plastic surgeons.

Around 16 million turkeys were sold in the UK last Christmas.

And on that note of gluttony I wish you a Merry Christmas and an enjoyable festive season to all my readers.


The major political parties in Spain have signed a pact that does not allow a politician, mayor or councillors to change parties and in so doing achieve or sustain power.

The problem is more acute in Spain than in Britain because the electoral system is based on proportional representation. Hence town halls especially often depend on coalitions and the political turncoat or turncoats can cause major shifts in who rules a municipality.

To oversee the pact is a panel of electoral law experts who form a commission and its decisions have to be verified by the Mesa Nacional Antitransfuguismo.

Recently the commission was unanimous in its decision that the mayor of Ronda, Antonio Marín, and his eight fellow Partido Andalucista councillors were political turncoats. Its decision was endorsed by the Mesa in Madrid last week and now Marín and his cohorts have said they will appeal to the Tribunal Constitucional to uphold “their” rights.


Well here are the facts. The Partido Andalucista has a special link with Ronda as the foundations of the Andalucismo movement were laid there in 1918 when Blas Infante – the father of the modern Andalucía – was part of a congress that established the region’s flag and anthem. Today the PA is the party of Andalucía but at the last regional government elections did not return a single MP – so you have to question the basis of an Andalucía party that is totally rejected by the people of Andalucía.

None the less Marín and the PA had ruled Ronda in coalition with the centre right Partido Popular during the last council. He and his fellow eight PA councillors were the largest group at the last local elections and renewed its pact with the PP. Then he caused a major surprise by breaking the accord and entering in to government with the support of the socialist PSOE instead.

It was at that point that Marín voiced his intention to quit the PA and join PSOE. In June he and his fellow councillors made that move and now sit as non-aligned although they are members of PSOE and in coalition with that party – so in effect PSOE now governs Ronda.

There is some overlap between PSOE and the PA as both parties are centre left – indeed the PA was once the Andalucía socialist party. However previous to the last local elections Marín had suggested that he might join the centre right Partido Popular but it seemed that party wasn’t thrilled with the idea.

Which of course leaves the people of Ronda who voted Partido Andalucista in as the major party at two consecutive elections totally unrepresented at the town hall. Not only are there now no PA councillors but having governed Ronda the party is out in the cold and PSOE rules totally – without winning a majority at the polls.

So are Marín and his fellow councillors political turncoats? You decide.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I have not written about climate change before now – there is enough hot air out there already.

I received an email last week from one of the blog’s readers, Sandra, inviting me to sign a petition for the Copenhagen Summit – apparently it was the largest petition in the world. No major surprise there as this is a crisis that worries all the people of the globe.

My knowledge on the subject is limited after all I am a hack and not a scientist. So I listen to what the experts say. The problem is there are pro and anti lobbies, each with their own dogma to preach. After a lifetime of excess I now preach moderation in all things so suspect the truth lies somewhere between the two arguments.

In November when I climbed up the hill to chew the cud with Prospero over breakfast in the Vecina Bar in Jimena I needed just a shirt. We marvelled at the warm and dry weather - perhaps global warming was indeed with us.

Now in December we meet wrapped in sweaters and an overcoat – peering out of the bar window at the deluge in the knowledge that winter has arrived and normality has returned.

We were warned ahead of Copenhagen that a deal on climate change was unlikely so the fact that just that happened should not have surprised anyone.

For me alarm bells rang when I saw day after day packed in to the conference centre in Copenhagen the world’s politicians, officials, climate change professionals of all hues and the media at this circus. If the world’s nations were intent on solving climate change it could have been done in New York with the same swiftness and certainty that the USA and Britain sought a mandate to invade Iraq.

So gathered in the corridors of power was that ogre Robert Mugabe, a Chinese delegation that was intent on hiding what is going on behinds its wall, a US President who’s offer was limited by what Congress and the Senate would allow him and the British PM who sought the spotlight not to save the world but his political skin.

Did we really believe they were going to save the world?

If we did then may the good Lord help us!

Friday, December 18, 2009


The Western Saharan civil rights activist Aminatu Haidar has returned to her home in El Aaiún. Thursday was a day of frantic activity as first Haidar was admitted to Lanzarote hospital suffering from abdominal pain as a result of her 32-day hunger strike. With reports that her life hung like a thread there was increased diplomatic contacts between the Spanish and Moroccan governments with the latter finally relenting and allowing her to return home.

She was declared free to leave Spain for her home country to be with her children and mother. So at midnight on Thursday she was flown in a hospital plane to the capital of the Western Sahara. She was accompanied on her journey by her sister and the doctor who had been recently attending her.

It was at 16.00 on Thursday that the all-clear was given for her journey and the news was given to Haidar at the hospital’s intensive care unit where she was being treated. She was dehydrated and was being given liquids intravenously as she still refused to eat or drink.

With the news that she was free to go home her protest and hunger strike ended. It was on November 14 that Morocco refused to allow her to return to her home in the Western Sahara on her return from New York where she had received a reward for her work in demanding human rights in her homeland. Although she had neither a Moroccan or Spanish passport she was allowed to return to Lanzarote with the government in Madrid guaranteeing her safe conduct.

On leaving Spain Aminatu Haidar declared: "This is a triumph - a victory for international law, human rights and the Saharan cause."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


It is now over four weeks since the Saharan human rights activist Aminatu Haidar started her hunger strike after Morocco expelled her and refuses to allow her to travel from Spain to her home. She has vowed she intends to return to her native Western Sahara and will do so dead or alive. Many say her life now hangs by a thread!

Haidar has upset Morocco because she rejects that country’s right to rule over the Western Sahara. Now the prime minister of the self proclaimed República Árabe Saharaui Democrática (RASD), Abdelkader Taleb Omar, has called on the international community to pressure Morocco to comply with international law. Days earlier he had appealed to the Spanish monarch, King Juan Carlos, to add his support by interceding with the Moroccan king on Haidar’s behalf.

On Monday the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, met with the Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, at the White House with Haidar at the top of their agenda. The meeting had originally be scheduled to discuss Spain taking over the presidency of the EU on January 1 but as Haidar’s condition weakens it has now become a diplomatic priority to seek a solution. Moratinos issued a plea from Washington for Haidar to end her hunger strike.

Morocco is standing steadfast over Haidar. The foreign minister, Taib Fassi Fihri, insists that his government would make no concessions. He accused the activist of blackmail and said it was a campaign organised by Algeria and the Polisario Front.

Apart from demanding that Haidar is allowed to return to the Western Sahara in dignity the area’s premier Abdelkader Taleb Omar, has also called for the release of all Saharan political prisoners, an investigation in to the fate of those who have disappeared plus the opening of the area to international human rights observers.

So how can you help Haidar’s cause? Very simple – just click on this link and take a minute to sign the Avaaz petition demanding she be allowed to safely return home:

In the early hours of Thursday morning Aminetu Haider was transferred to hospital in Lanzarote at her own request suffering from abdominal pain, vomiting and nausea. She stressed she has no intention of giving up her hunger strike that started on November 14.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


On Sunday 166 municipalities in Cataluña held a referendum on whether the region should become independent of Spain. It was unofficial but 94.71 per cent of those who voted wanted Cataluña independence but 70 per cent of those eligible to go to the polling station stayed at home instead.

Of course the pro-independence lobby points to the 94.71 per cent vote. Those who oppose the splitting up of the Spanish nation will instead look to the high abstention rate. The pros will say ah – but it was just a mock vote and the antis will say yes but many high profile people campaigned for a yes but were ignored.

Certainly the yes vote was sufficient for the organisers to call for a legal referendum on the same question. Carles Mora, the mayor of Arenys de Munt, who is a spokesperson for the independence movement, proclaimed it as a victory for the sovereignty cause. He added that the Catalan parliament would now be asked to stage a referendum throughout the region on April 25. Mora said the voice of the people had been heard "they have decided that they want independence and they want it now."

It is estimated that 700,024 people were eligible to vote in Sunday’s poll and around 200,000 opted to do so. The vote was not only unofficial but young people aged between 16 and 17 along with immigrants were urged to add their voice.

This is an intriguing factor in Cataluña’s freedom fight for although the region has a strong identity all that is required to be a Catalan is for a person to live there. Immigration levels from other parts of Spain as well as overseas are so high that a third of all residents were not born in Cataluña so all are deemed to be equal. So I would be equally Catalan as Barcelona’s famous tenor José Carrerras or Josep as he is there.

Of course Barcelona football club is the ultimate symbol of the region’s pride and during the repression of the Franco years kept the spirit of the Catalans burning bright. Hence it is no coincidence that the president of the soccer club - the current European Champions, Joan Laporte, campaigned openly for a yes vote.

Laporte stated: "When we say Barca is ‘more than just a club’, we mean it represents the rights and freedoms of the Catalan nation – it did so during the time of Franco and it continues to do so today." He added: "The Spanish state doesn’t serve our social, economic or cultural needs – we’d be better off if we broke away and developed our own path."

Friday, December 11, 2009


SOS Ayuda sin Frontera has amongst its volunteers female police officers and fire fighters who go to the aid of people in the trouble spots and disaster areas of the world.

To help raise funds for this NGO 12 of these volunteers have posed for the 2010 SOS Ayuda sin Frontera Calendar with all money going to help fund their aid projects.

A good enough reason for buying the calendar – although you might find 12 others! Enjoy!


Thursday, December 10, 2009


The pressure is on to simplify Spanish with that pressure coming from modern technology such as the internet. The move has the approval of the Real Academia de Española – the guardian of the language.

In the firing line are the accents and the tilde that are currently major elements in the language but which are not compatible with the world governed by the keyboard or mobile phone key pads.

Victor García de la Concha, the director of the RAE, explained: “To survive, a language has to be used by a large number of people, to have a unified language and to be in tune with technology.”
Therefore the adverb ‘sólo’ along with pronouns such as ‘éste’ and’ aquél’ would all lose their accents and the ‘ñ’ would cease to be. After all – how many people use these accents when sending an SMS message?

The object is to have a language more modern and attractive, simple and dynamic, clear and globalised. There is also a desire to unify the Spanish languages that are spoken in Spain and in Latin America which over the years have developed their own differences.

The RAE is aware that certain English words are now entering the Spanish language and is thinking seriously about adding such words as ‘marketing’, ‘parking’, ‘sex appeal’ whilst others such as ‘sponsor’ have already become ‘espónser’ and ‘CD-ROM’ ‘cederrón’. The internet is of course the internet.

The experts want to see an economisation of the language – the minimum force for the maximum results and to use a reduced number of words to communicate. The RAE says that we use an average of 300 words in sentences whereas in the lexicon of Spanish there are 283 million endings – so only 0.10per cent are used.

The writer and former director of the Instituto Cervantes in London, Juan Pedro Aparico, stated that Spanish was in fashion but added it was more highly valued overseas than in Spain. He also pointed out that in the UK Spanish has taken over from German as the key second language and was running close with French.

According to the magazine ‘Ethnology’ Spanish is the second most spoken mother tongue in the world and occupies third place on the internet after English and Chinese. Over 400 million people currently speak Spanish and by 2050 that is expected to leap to 537 million.

So how do I as a Briton living in Spain feel about these pending changes to the language that has become my adopted tongue? Well having struggled for years with the accents as well as the ñ and come through triumphant I am rather sad that these may now be pushed to one side. Equally I do not approve of the ‘dumbing down’ of the world we live in. Having said that I do see the sense in simplifying and unifying the Spanish language so as to make it more accessible to all. And anybody who has received a SMS message from a Spaniard will know that whatever the RAE might decide the change is already upon us.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


In recent weeks and months I have written numerous articles on the row between Spain and Britain-Gibraltar over the Rock’s waters. Spain maintains that Gibraltar has no territorial waters except those of its harbour whilst Britain claims for Gibraltar the international accepted three-mile limit whilst Gibraltarians insist that under the same law the Rock is entitled to 12 miles. These already muddy waters have been clouded further by the EU giving Spain jurisdiction over much of Gibraltar’s waters in environmental matters. This occurred because of a cock-up in Whitehall when Britain claimed the seas off Algeria in error.

Now on Monday evening four Guardia Civil were arrested in Gibraltar and held for two hours after their patrol boat pursued a suspected drug trafficker into the waters of the Rock. The zodiac launch had first been spotted in the Strait and in the chase it entered Gibraltar’s territorial waters. Although these are not recognised by Spain it is usual for the Guardia Civil to liaise with the Royal Gibraltar Police in such instances and for the RGP to take up the chase.

It would appear that the two drug traffickers entered Gibraltar’s port to seek refuge. They were duly arrested by the RGP and taken along with the crew of the Guardia Civil patrol boat to be questioned. Matters then switched to a political level with Spain’s Minister for the Interior, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, making a telephone call to the chief minister, Peter Caruana, to apologise over the “incorrect action” of the agents. Rubalcaba was especially anxious to dissociate the action of the Guardia Civil from any political motive. The chief minister is reported to have accepted the Spanish minister’s assurances and apology especially given the tension in the Rock’s waters in recent weeks between the Guardia Civil and the RGP plus the Royal Navy.

But why did Rubalcaba apologise? As Spain does not recognise Gibraltar’s jurisdiction over those waters surely he should have screamed and shouted that his officers had been detained illegally and demand an apology along with their release.

Britain recently politely requested the Spanish Government to stop its Guardia Civil and naval patrols from entering Gibraltar’s waters. This polite request was probably accompanied by the message that if they continued then Britain and Gibraltar would pull out of the tripartite forum and the Córdoba Agreement.

Had they done so it would have left Spain’s policy on Gibraltar in tatters. The socialist government of Zapatero has invested much time and effort in pursuing a policy of engagement and co-operation in order to break down the barriers with the Rock so that in the medium to long term some accord on sovereignty could be secured. To have that policy tossed aside now would leave the Spanish government open to derision in Spain – and especially from the Partido Popular opposition. It would have also opened up a rift with Britain just as Spain takes over the EU presidency and needs the support of all member nations.

If the Spanish press reports are correct and Rubalcaba both apologised for the actions of the Guardia Civil officers then also stressed it had no political implications – he blinked. And in the game of diplomatic brinkmanship – if you blink – you’ve lost.

Friday, December 4, 2009


There are many weighty matters that I could blog on today. For instance the world’s media seems to be preoccupied about golfer Tiger Woods being caught in the rough with a Birdie (or two, or three).

However I am more interested in a report in the Daily Telegraph – so it has to be true.

Apparently Chris Hunt from Leicestershire is now Mr Monster Munch. He is obsessed by this brand of crisps and eats a different flavour for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now he’s gone the whole hog and changed his name by deed poll.


Here in Spain I am rather partial to ‘Bonka’ coffee, a sandwich made from ‘Bimbo’ bread and dare I say it – yes I do – a nice glass of ‘Fockink’ gin.

Plenty of food (and drink) for thought there as I contemplate my name change this weekend.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


This Sunday, December 6, an exhibition of ceramics and sculptures by Jon Morgan Searle will be opened at the Casino de Algeciras in the plaza Alta. The event is to be inaugurated by Estanislao Ramirez Barjacoba who is the Presidente de la Asociación de la Prensa del Campo de Gibraltar. Jon’s works can be viewed from Monday to Thursday – 10.30 to 14.00 then 18.00 to 21.00.

Jon tells us that as a social psychologist he is well aware that from the depths of the brain, or as he likes to put it “when the lid is off the id” anything can happen. However he says social experiences and emotional awareness often lead an artist off in a particular direction.

There is no doubt that despite being born in a south western English village, growing up in Canada and then taking root on the Rock with a Gibraltarian wife, Lina Elena Danino, it has been his wanderings in Andalucía and Morocco that have consciously and unconsciously brought shapes, concrete and abstract to this artist’s mind and found interpretation through his hands. Being ambidextrous has been a great asset, particularly on the potter’s wheel.

Sculpture was Jon Morgan Searle’s first love in three dimensional art but in recent years he has been more and more seduced into ceramics, firstly with sculpted ceramic forms and now more and more so moving towards the world of the potter and his wheel.

In general terms all the art forms evolve from worked clay, on and off the potter’s wheel. This is followed by kiln firing at temperatures ranging from 700 to 1,300 degrees centigrade. At this point the treatments vary as explained on the individual piece descriptions at the exhibition.

Within the pure ceramic categories a very personalised style is that of combining two or more colours of clay on the wheel and once the work is fired to bisque, first firing, it is given a coat of matt, transparent glaze and re-fired. The result is a very honest, apparently simple, but most demanding art form as far as the creative ability contribution is concerned. The clay colouring can be seen repeated on both sides of the work.

Other works go from bisque firing to being glazed in their varying colours and textures and re-fired. The glaze can be simple or quite complex often with an over glaze being applied before a third firing at a lower temperature. The basic clay colour and texture always have a substantial influence on the final result.

Now you may be saying Searle, I know that name, and indeed you probably do. Another clue is the fact that his exhibition is being opened by the president of the Campo de Gibraltar press association. Yes Jon Searle was the editor of the Gibraltar Chronicle from 1966 to 1987 when he handed over to the late lamented Francis Cantos who died several months ago. In 1996 the GSD led by Peter Caruana became the government on the Rock and Francis became the chief minister’s press spokesman, a post he held to his death. In to the editor’s chair slipped Dominique Searle, Jon’s son, who holds that post till this day.

It was back in 1801 that the Gibraltar Chronicle was first published and it celebrated its 200 th anniversary in 2001. Perhaps its ultimate claim to fame was in 1805 with the scoop that Admiral Lord Nelson had died at the Battle of Trafalgar – tragic news that did not reach London for another week.

In the bi-centenary edition Dominique Seale wrote: “Unlike Charles Bouisson, the first editor, the Chronicle today does not seek to report the military triumphs of the empire but rather to reflect the evolving vibrancy of the Gibraltarian community as it moves towards closing the last chapter of those imperial and colonial days of old with good, open and accessible debate.
“The Gibraltar Chronicle is an institution, but a live one. It talks to and listens to all sides, but the local community including the minorities living here, are at its heart.”

What is certain is that when the Chronicle celebrates its next key anniversary the editor of that time will celebrate the major contribution that two generations of Searle’s have made to this august organ. In the meantime call in to Jon’s exhibition where his ceramics and sculpture speaks louder than words.

(The above article was published in today's Costa del Sol News)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


In the coming months Britain will hold a general election. Now it could happen that against all the odds Labour will sneak back in but the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Brown and Darling, would be shown the door by the voters. Neither is likely but it could happen.

Equally the Conservatives might romp home but by a quirk of fate the voters in his constituency could dump the party’s leader David Cameron on the pile of out of work Old Etonians. Again unlikely but it could happen.

The reason it could happen is that under the British electoral system every MP, be it the Prime Minister or leader of the opposition or a humble member of the House, has to fight in effect his or her own mini general election. They are only returned to parliament if the voters in their constituency given them their backing – if they don’t they’re out whatever the broader result may be.

Now in Spain that scenario is virtually impossible. Every province has its own closed slate of candidates to fight for the seats. The number is decreed by the size of the population - the chiefs like Zapatero and Rajoy always head the list leaving the Indians to be sacrificed.

So it is interesting that one of Spain’s leading parliamentarians, the president of Congress José Bono, has been speaking at a meeting of the Fórum Europa in Barcelona on the need for a new electoral law in Spain. He also indicated that he could be looking to follow the British model.

The idea is to give wider powers and freedom of expression to the party and its MPs. Bono said elected representatives should in the future not be afraid to voice their opinions on their leaders, be it good or bad.

Bono said that he was looking at ways to fundamentally change the structure of the parties and to modify the electoral system. He says he wants to see a wider spread of power rather than it being held in the hands of “one, two or three people”.

No major formula has yet been revealed but it could see the removal of the current closed party lists to be replaced by open lists. Bono added that he was also exploring the option of introducing some of the single seat representatives as seen in the UK.

Well change is needed because politics in Spain is in crisis. Curiously it is not a political crisis as such but one brought about by the widespread corruption in all the political parties. The problem is that the proposals being brought forward by Bono have to be agreed and approved by the nation’s politicians – so will these turkeys vote for an early Christmas? Perhaps a better idea would be for a set of options to be set before the voters and they then vote for them in a referendum.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


A few days ago Mary – a regular reader of this blog – sent me an email with a video and these comments:

“It is unbearable to watch and who in their right mind would actually desire to see such suffering inflicted by men for women’s vanity? What an education.”

So what’s it all about? It’s part of PETA’s campaign against the use of fur in fashion. I warn you it’s pretty horrific stuff but if you want to combat this unspeakable and unwatchable cruelty then you have to make a stand!

PETA explains the process below:

Undercover investigators from Swiss Animal Protection/EAST International toured fur farms in China's Hebei Province, and it quickly became clear why outsiders are banned from visiting. There are no regulations governing fur farms in China—farmers can house and slaughter animals however they see fit. The investigators found horrors beyond their worst imaginings and concluded, “Conditions on Chinese fur farms make a mockery of the most elementary animal welfare standards. In their lives and their unspeakable deaths, these animals have been denied even the simplest acts of kindness.”

On these farms, foxes, minks, rabbits, and other animals pace and shiver in outdoor wire cages, exposed to driving rain, freezing nights, and, at other times, scorching sun. Mother animals, who are driven crazy from rough handling and intense confinement and have nowhere to hide while giving birth, often kill their babies after delivering litters.

With a hidden camera, animals were filmed being skinned alive. The furriers claim it is done to get a more perfect “cut”…afterwards the carcasses are tossed into a pile, many still alive, and for up to 10 minutes you can see their hearts still beating, in agony, their eyes still blinking, and the puppies little paws still shaking in intense shock. There is one dog (barely recognisable as such) that is left still able to lift his skinned fur-less head & gaze at the camera with bloodied eyes.

If you don’t care to see the video you can pledge to go fur free on the link below.

Or you can visit the PETA website to learn more about their various campaigns.

But do something because if we don’t protect animals from this type of brutality, we become accomplices.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


It is often said that the future wars will be over water – you might say “and fuel” – but of course we’re fighting over that now. There are no wars in Jimena de la Frontera but there are currently two battles over water which perhaps are a sign of the wider things to come.

The Andalucía regional government and its water agency seem intent on proceeding with the project to build a reservoir on the Gibralmedina to meet the water needs of the western Costa del Sol.

The Gibralmedina stream flows through the zone known as the “arroyo de las gallinas” in Jimena. The rural lane and stream meets the Guadiaro river in Jimena although half the valley zone is in Gaucín.

In January on this blog I broke the news that the water agency was undertaking drillings in the valley. At the time the local residents spoken to voiced their strong opposition to the area being turned in to a giant reservoir as many people would loose both their lands and homes. Indeed many refused to allow the surveyors and drilling equipment on to their land.

Curiously the initial report from the regional government says the residents fully support the project. However local resident Dominic Bolus said: “They have not yet contacted anybody. The whole valley will be up in arms against it and we will fight it.”

The people who do support it is the association speaking for agriculture sector in nearby San Pablo de Buceite who say they’ve been demanding such a reservoir of years. There is no indication they’ll be able to irrigate their land with water destined for the Costa del Sol - and few if any of the association’s members live in the valley.

The reservoir would have a capacity of at least 100 cubic hectometres. This is said to be sufficient water to meet the needs of the western Costa del Sol and the Campo de Gibraltar.

Agaden spokesperson, Quico Rebolledo, has condemned the project as “an authentic barbarity” and it is known that a protest campaign is to be started. The Izquierda Unida co-ordinator general in Jimena, Francisco Gómez, said his party was in contact with Agaden and would back its efforts. He added that talks were being held with the Andalucía IU MP for Cádiz, Ignacio García, to discover just what the regional government is intending.

The IU’s MP for Málaga and the co-ordinator of the party in the province, José Antonio Castro, accused the water agency and regional government of following an “incoherent” policy. He stated that in the Ley de Agua de Andalucía the policy is not to build giant dams of this type. In last week’s parliamentary debate on the law he expressed his party’s opposition to the Gibralmedina project saying the dam would break the natural cycle of the river in a natural zone where it is so important.

To the other side of Jimena and running past the village itself is the Hozgarganta river. The ecologist group Agaden has made an official complaint to the Cádiz environmental prosecutor over the indiscriminate removal of land with vegetation that has been taking place there in recent weeks.

Izquierda Unida in Jimena says the works at Treveris were permitted but the company involved had exceeded the depth permitted by its licence and this has led to the collapse of a natural wall with the threat of flooding when the rains come. They also confirm that the environmental arm of the Guardia Civil – Seprona - and the forest guard have ordered a halt on frequent occasions.

The IU added that there could exist possible administrative irregularities as the company has taken the earth from the river to an earth storage area in Marchenilla where it will be used for commercial gain without any permissions being granted.

The co-ordinator general of the IU in Jimena, Francisco Gómez, has called for the immediate resignation of any officials who have been involved in this operation. The IU says it is ironic that for some months the ministry of the environment has been staging its “Anda Ríos” conservation programme in Jimena promoting the value of the river, fauna and habitat at the same time the town hall has stood by and allowed the destruction of the Hozgarganta.

Jimena de la Frontera is an area of great natural beauty part of which sits in Los Alcornocales national park. The responsible management of the area’s water is vital to maintain the rich flora and fauna – and indeed for ‘us’ to survive.

Of course Jimena is one small zone in Andalucía but this scenario is being played out in municipalities and regions throughout Spain – and across the wider world. Today’s battles will become tomorrow’s wars.

Photos: top - possible site of dam on the Gibralmedina; below - Fran Gómez at earth removal site on Hozgarganta.

The arroyo las Gallinas lane and the Gibralmedina stream that runs through it is to the Manilva - Gaucín side of the Guadiaro river. It can be reached from the San Pablo to Gaucín road - its entry is on the left, beyond the Málaga boundary at a lane with a bus stop, several houses and the Venta Manolo. From Jimena you can cross the bridge at the bar at the junction of the Marchanilla - San Martín - San Pablo roads, then go left at the t-junction and the lane starts between the wood yard and El Dorado farm school. The Gibralmedina joins the Guadiaro about half a kilometre up stream from the bridge on the left. The stream is dry except in heavy rains but the waters now run below the surface hence the drillings to test its flow and the aquifers. During the drought of the 1990s the wells in the valley never ran dry. As far as I am aware there are no plans to dam the Guadiaro and the photo at the top of the page shows the most likely dam wall location.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


One of the subjects I concentrate on is domestic violence which is normally accepted as being aggression on the part of the male on his wife, girlfriend or former partner. Of course in some instances it is the woman who is the aggressor. Cases also occur of a partner alleging violence at as act of vengeance when none has happened.

Domestic violence has become a hot topic in Spain in recent years because the government has taken steps to offer protection and help to the victims so that many cases that in the past would have remained hidden now come out in to the open. It has to be said that the immigrant communities account for many of the deaths and acts of violence – and sadly Britons make up part of that number.

What caught my attention this week was the number of acts of aggression by young sons and daughters on their parents and grandparents. These have doubled in the last two years with the number of reports having risen from around 2,000 to 4,000.

According to data supplied by the minor’s prosecutor, Consuelo Madrigal, 40 per cent of the cases involve the daughters or grand daughters. She says this type of violence is one of the most worrying developments that have occurred since she took office in 2008.

It is believed that the frequency of attacks by children on the parents is probably higher as it is likely that many are not reported or brought before the courts. It was the case that 80 per cent of the attacks were by sons and 80 per cent of the victims were the mothers. However whilst mothers are still the main victims of abuse more attacks are now coming from the daughters.

There is apparently no profile either social or psychological for children who attack their parents. It is true to say that such assaults are more frequent in single parent families or where the father is absent permanently or for much of the time. Convicted children are normally placed in a family education unit where the minor will receive treatment and therapy – the majority of such cases are successfully treated. None-the-less I find this development very worrying especially in a society where respect for senior family members has always been strong.

By coincidence as these statistics were issued a 20-year-old youth was arrested in Sevilla for allegedly having stabbed his father to death in the bar he owned. The attack took place at around 7.30 and it was first thought that the father had died whilst confronting a thief. At 20 the son is over the age of being a minor but it is still a grim reminder of the reality of child on parent violence.

Monday, November 23, 2009


If you read the Daily Telegraph last Friday you would have found a report headlined: “Royal Navy used ‘Spanish flag’ for target practice off Gibraltar.” If you read on you would have found the navy did no such thing. I suspect there is still a “Johnny Foreigner” view at the Telegraph which has no place in the modern world.

If the Royal Navy had shot at the Spanish flag then those involved should have been booted out of the service. Put it another way – had the Guardia Civil used the Union flag for target practice in what they deem as the Bay of Algeciras how would Britons and the residents of Gibraltar felt? Outraged –and quite rightly so.

What happened was the crew of a Guardia Civil launch reported spotting the fast RN patrol boat Scimitar firing at “Spanish colours” during a military exercise in international waters off the Rock.

Britain’s new ambassador to Spain is Giles Paxman, the younger brother of the BBC broadcaster Jeremy Paxman. He was duly summoned to Spain’s foreign ministry to explain what had transpired. He insisted the flag on top of the buoy used in the target practice was not in fact a Spanish flag but a standard target flag that did use the red and yellow and he apologised for what he called a lack of judgement by the British navy.

In a statement the Spanish foreign ministry said: “The ambassador insisted that, however it may have appeared, it did not represent the flag of Spain.

“He presented his apologies for an error of judgement and the lack of sensibility shown and promised to launch an investigation and to take the necessary measures to ensure that incidents of this kind will not be repeated.”

The Ministry of Defence acknowledged the striking resemblance between the Spanish national flag and the signal marker chosen for the routine exercise that has two red horizontal stripes separated by yellow. The MOD explained: “HMS Scimitar was using Flag No1 during gunnery practice, traditionally chosen due to its high visibility. However we recognise its similarity to the Spanish national flag and will use an alternative marker during gunnery practice in this area in the future.”

The embarrassing incident happened at a sensitive time in Gibraltar’s waters which Spain claims as her own. The EU has given Spain jurisdiction over much of the area for environmental purposes due to a cock-up in Whitehall and Guardia Civil patrol boats often enter the area to test Gibraltar’s and Britain’s resolve.

(I have blogged numerous times on the territorial waters issue – two of my recent blogs appear below if you scroll down the page.)

Friday, November 20, 2009


The concept behind the European Union is very simple. It is the member states linked together first in a community and now in a tighter union.

In some ways it mirrors that great other union across the pond where the states govern themselves but come together under Congress, the Senate and ultimately the President to be the United States of America.

The problem with the European Union of States is that it was and is designed by bureaucrats – hence simple it isn’t.

The Treaty of Lisbon was meant to iron out many of these wrinkles, create openness and democracy – but it failed at the first hurdle. Some countries held a referendum to vote for its approval, others opted to pass it in parliament, in Britain a referendum was promised but the Labour Government fearing it would be rejected reneged and used its large parliamentary majority to force the treaty through.

Yesterday was meant to be a milestone for the European Union. Its leaders –not the voters - selected a president Herman Van Rompuy. You might not recognise his name but he is the prime minister of Belgium, is credited with holding that fractious country together and is probably also known to the people of surrounding nations such as Holland, Luxembourg and France. His main selling point is he isn’t Tony Blair!

Also selected was a new European supremo for foreign affairs. This post goes to a Briton who has two names. In the UK, because we are meant to tug our forelocks, she’s Baroness Ashton. In Europe she’s plain Catherine Ashton, I think at last night’s press conference she was even called Cathy – but she is Lady Catherine to the likes of me.

Now I doubt if many people in the UK have ever heard of Baroness Ashton. She has never been elected to public office but apparently as one of our Commissioners in Europe has made a name for herself handling the trade portfolio. Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, hailed her appointment at his press conference saying this proved the UK was at the heart of Europe and argued that Britons would be delighted and proud she’d attained the position. As I write news of pending street parties in celebration has yet to reach me.

Ok – so Europe now has a president – Herman Van Rompuy. But hang on – there’s another president too. Let us not forget Durao Barroso from Portugal, who has been president of the European Commission and continues in that role. It is also probably fair to say he is wider known in Europe and internationally than Rompuy and certainly more so than the Baroness.

So that’s two then. Well yes and no. Every six months a member state holds the presidency of the European Union. Currently it is Sweden – in January it is my adopted home of Spain. That means that José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero – the president of the Spanish Government but not the country because Spain is a monarchy – will oversee the affairs of the EU. Now if Spain has the presidency surely that means that Zapatero in some form or other is a president too. So that makes three.

It was Henry Kissinger who said – when you want to contact Europe who do you call? It’s quite simple Henry – the president. And if you can’t get one, you can always try the other two.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


My mind hasn’t been on blogging this week.

It hasn’t been the lack of events I normally cover – my mind simply has been elsewhere.

To show you how bad things are I even turned down a free meal from Conservatives Abroad in Puerto Banús who this very evening entertain Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Peter Caruana.

Those who know me will vouch for the fact that I do not turn down free meals lightly – especially as I am rarely offered one.

No this was the week of the dentist and although my session was yesterday I have been counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds since Sunday.

Two extractions were on the menu and numerous stitches. The picture from my good friend Prospero tells all you need to know.

Then I read a report from Ohio informing me that the same person who fills my cavities also could be filling my wrinkles—with Botox.

Some US dentists now are offering cosmetic procedures such as Botox but plastic surgeons say you should stick with them.

The Ohio State Dental Board has ruled that treatments, such as Botox, are within the scope of practice for dentists as long as they are limited to the facial areas.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons said Botox falls squarely within the practice of medicine and should only be done by a board-certified plastic surgeon.


However looking at myself in the mirror this morning I am not sure whether my face is a result of dental surgery or Botox – I’d say it could be either.

One thing is for certain though – beauty treatment it wasn’t!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I have written here oft times before about the confrontations in Gibraltar’s waters between the Guardia Civil on one hand and the Royal Gibraltar Police - Royal Navy patrols on the other. Yesterday Gibraltar’s GSLP – Liberal Opposition issued the following statement which highlighted comments made to the Spanish daily “El Mundo” by a Guardia Civil officer. First the key parts of the statement:

“The Opposition is concerned at the fact that, according to the Spanish Guardia Civil, their patrol boats are now challenging British sovereignty and jurisdiction in the territorial waters of Gibraltar practically on a daily basis. It is obvious that despite the professions of friendship and cooperation that we continue to hear so much about, the Spanish Government continues to increase the tension in the waters that surround Gibraltar.

“A Spanish Civil Guard has told the newspaper “El Mundo” that one of these days something very serious is going to happen in the waters around Gibraltar. They have also revealed that incidents between the Civil Guard and the Royal Navy or the Royal Gibraltar Police are now happening “on a daily basis”. The Civil Guard claim that since the summer they have been harassed by British patrol boats within the three-mile limit around the Rock which “they consider to be their area of influence”. The Civil Guard have repeated the well-known position of the Spanish Government that Gibraltar has no waters on the basis that none were explicitly ceded by the Treaty of Utrecht except those inside the Port.

“The Opposition consider that it is the height of hypocrisy for the Civil Guard to claim that they are being the victims of harassment when everyone knows that it is they who have been harassing and intimidating local boat owners in waters which are outside Spain’s jurisdiction. The Civil Guard have in the past stopped, questioned and requested papers from the occupants of Gibraltar registered boats barely a few metres from the Rock and well inside the three-mile limit. In fact, this harassment on their part led the Gibraltar Government at the time to call on boat owners to set off a flare gun or call the Royal Gibraltar Police when they were challenged in this manner.

“It is clear that there is an orchestrated campaign on the part of the Spanish Government and its agencies to undermine the sovereignty of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters. This was seen last year when the Spanish proposed a designation of our waters as if they belonged to Spain in an EU directive. The acceptance of this by the EU then had an immediate, practical effect in the waters around the Rock. It was followed by an incursion by a Spanish navy fisheries protection vessel in May this year and by frequent incursions by Civil Guard patrol boats who continue to behave as if our waters belonged to them.”

The report in the centre right “El Mundo” comes from an unattributed Guardia Civil source. Hence it could be fact or fiction destined for home consumption to strengthen the snipping from the Partido Popular who accuse the government on going soft on the Rock.

It also has to be said that neither the Royal Gibraltar Police, Royal Navy, Gibraltar nor British Government have publicly spoken about these daily confrontations in Gibraltar’s waters. This doesn’t mean to say they do not happen – just that there has been no comment from Gibraltarian or British sources. Indeed on the few occasions when Spain has put its toe in to Gibraltar’s internationally recognized waters it has pulled it out promptly and left the scene peacefully when confronted by the RGP or RN patrols.

However if “something serious did happen” it would escalate the dispute into a major incident. If the armed Guardia Civil tangled with the RGP or Royal Navy patrols it would be a confrontation between Spain and Britain. In addition it has to be remembered that the Rock’s port is a NATO facility hence British Royal Navy warships plus those from the USA frequently visit as do nuclear submarines. It would be all too easy for them to be caught up in the pistol fire.

I am a firm supporter of the Córdoba Agreement and I certainly believe that jaw-jaw beats war-war. For its part this Spanish Government has invested much time and effort in seeking to build bridges with the Llanitos. If that bridge collapsed it would leave its policy towards Gibraltar in disarray. None-the-less these discussions can only continue if Spain respects Gibraltar’s institutions and boundaries. If it chooses not to then Britain should call Spain’s bluff and suspend the process until it does. And if it doesn’t…

Friday, November 13, 2009


In my Gibraltar column last week – The Waters Are Troubled Enough – I wrote: "There are two disputes between Spain and Gibraltar – Britain over the Rock’s territorial waters. The historic row is that Spain insists that Gibraltar has no territorial waters other than the harbour whereas Gibraltar – Britain claim under international agreement and law three miles which could be extended to twelve. The more recent friction, which this article relates to, is due to the EU that has given Spain responsibility in environmental matters over much of the waters round the Rock.

"Hence it is understandable that the Gibraltar Government has gone hot under the collar over suggestions by the Opposition that Spain was now in the process of making a third claim. Not so – it insists: "Spain has not designated more British Gibraltar Waters for EU Environmental Protection purposes".

"In a statement to clarify the situation and leaving the historic claim aside the Government says: "The waters affected remain only those proposed by Spain in 2008, and listed by the EU Commission in its existing decision which is the subject of a legal challenge by the Gibraltar Government.""

The Gibraltar Government then went on to specify what action it and the British Government were taking and the importance of the UK bringing its own legal challenge.

Well no sooner had my column gone to press than Graham Watson, the Liberal Democrat MEP who represents the South West of England and Gibraltar in the European Parliament, broke some startling news. If you are one of those who wonder what Euro MPs do for their money then his press statement will go some way to answering that question.

Graham Watson has discovered how UK government bungling has allowed Spain to register Gibraltar’s territorial waters as a Spanish Site of Community Importance under EU environmental legislation.

His statement read: "Gibraltar and the UK were dismayed to discover recently that a Spanish application for an SCI covering the waters around the Rock had been approved by the European Commission. Graham Watson MEP tabled a parliamentary question demanding how this could have happened when the UK had already registered the area around the Rock as a UK SCI. No clear reply was received, other than that the UK had not objected to the Spanish application.

""I assumed this was an oversight on our government’s part", the MEP commented; "inexcusable but not unheard of. On further study I have discovered that in the UK’s application for an SCI, Gibraltar was positioned at longitude 5 degrees 22 minutes East of Greenwich. Yet Gibraltar is situated at 5 degrees 22 minutes West of the prime meridian. In other words the UK’s submission placed it in waters north of Algiers, which means that the Spanish application did not overlap with our SCI.""

Fair enough – mistakes especially with this British government - do happen. However this scenario begs certain questions. When the EC received Britain’s application didn’t somebody in Brussels notice the error and duly advise the Foreign Office? If they did – did the UK Government act to rectify the mistake? If they didn’t - does Britain thus have jurisdiction in environmental matters over waters north of Algiers that aren’t even in the EU? We seem to only have half they story and it appears to be a UK and EC bungle!

By the by Graham Watson’s father served in Gibraltar as a Royal Naval officer and he is a qualified marine navigator himself. He said: "The litany of UK bungling over matters regarding the Rock gets longer and longer. Which bureaucrat in the cuckoo’s nest of government policy-making is responsible? If the Spanish Armada had made such a basic error, they’d have foundered before Drake even had the opportunity to sink them. Were it not for the EU’s having abolished the death penalty, this government official might be hung, drawn and quartered for such a crass mistake!"

Steady lad, steady - I didn’t know Liberal Democrats could get so excited!

Apparently Graham Watson has asked the Foreign Secretary to endeavour to correct the matter so that no quarter be given to Spanish claims to sovereignty.

"We should never have agreed to Spain joining the EU until they renounced their claim," he adds – now he sounds like disgusted of Tunbridge Wells. Or may be Gibraltar’s seemingly most active Euro MP had his tongue firmly in cheek.

What is fact is that the Gibraltar will never be allowed to get in the way of pan-European relations. Britain and Spain share too many common interests for them to flounder on the Rock. The EC just wishes Gibraltar would float away and refuses to be drawn in to the debate or row over what it sees as old Imperial territory. The fact is that the EU was so pleased that Spain had thrown off the Franco era and embraced democracy it was never going to be blackballed by Britain or Brussels over Gibraltar and prevented from joining the European club of supposedly free nations.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Spain’s middle class are on the march – well at least 1,000 of them are. The event was reported in the on-line Periodista Digital which asked why the major newspapers, TV channels and radio stations ignored the protest through Madrid to the Palacio de La Moncloa on Saturday. Amongst the protestors’ gripes is the rise in taxes backed by a demand for early elections.

The demonstration was mounted by the Plataforma de las Clases Medias. The middle class activists gathered in the Plaza de Alonso Martínez for a brief meeting at which they denounced the suffering of the Spanish people at the hands of politicians and those well connected with the governing elite.

After the meeting the protestors made their way through the streets under a police escort to the Prime Minister’s residence of the Palacio de La Moncloa. There they shouted – “Zapatero, liar” and “Zapatero, resign”.

During his closing address the president of the Plataforma de las Clases Medias, Enrique de Diego, blasted all the administrations for raising taxes, impoverishing the middle classes and leaving them in despair. He threatened a fiscal insurrection in January if the government did not immediately close the ministries of housing, equality and culture.

The action group has called for a general strike between noon and 13.00 on Thursday February 4 of next year. On the same day all Spaniards are asked to gather outside their town hall to protest in a general and intense demonstration against maladministration and corruption.

A thousand angry middle class people a revolution does not make. However whilst we are used to the unions and left wing parties taking to the streets in support of the unemployed, working class and disadvantaged the middle class are expected to stay put in their comfort zone and only speak out against the government of the day over the drinks at a dinner party. It would seem the times are changing and this economic crisis has given a voice to the silent, middle-class, majority.

(Photo: Periodista Digital)

Monday, November 9, 2009


Here’s an astonishing tale! Cristina Díaz Carrasco has denounced the possible theft of her brother who was born in the municipal hospital in La Línea de la Concepción in 1967. La Línea is Spain’s border town with Gibraltar. The baby is said to have died at the hospital a few days after his birth.

Now this woman, who lives in Irún in northern Spain, has told her story to the newspaper Diagonal and it has been picked up by the rest of the media. She said she has informed the Judge Baltasar Garzón of what had happened in case this was another of “los niños de Franquismo” of which there are cases throughout Spain including the province of Cádiz.

On November 5 1967, her mother, Adela Carrasco Martínez, was admitted to La Línea hospital and gave birth to a son who was alive. She then says they told her mother that the baby had died from breathing problems. They did not allow her mother to see her corpse and they told her to advise her family. The father was working overseas at the time but the paternal grandmother demanded to see the baby in the mortuary. Not only did she see the tiny corpse but had a photograph taken to record the event (see photograph).

The hospital said it would take care of the burial and the family were told it was placed in La Línea cemetery after being baptised. Cristina’s family came to La Línea every summer for their holidays and went to the cemetery to place flowers. In 1980 they could not visit the cemetery as there were extensive works being carried out but when her mother died she had recorded on the stone memorial the name of her deceased son – Cristina’s brother.

Then the mystery deepens for in between the time the cemetery was closed and its re-opening the baby’s resting place disappeared. They checked the cemetery archive and there is no record of the brother being buried there – neither in 1967, nor 1966 or 1968. The Registro Civil says there is no certificate for the birth or death of Jesús Díaz Carrasco. Cristina has contacted the hospital but after two years she has yet to receive a reply.

Now it could be that as Cristina’s mother had no large close family nearby she was targeted and her baby given to another woman. However the photograph shows us there was a dead baby at the hospital at that time – if it wasn’t Jesús Díaz Carrasco, who was it? Does a death certificate or burial record exist for another deceased new born baby at that time?

Needless to say Cristina Díaz Carrasco is now telling her story to the local media to see if any other people have suffered a similar experience. On November 5 1967 her mother was attended at the hospital by a midwife called Doña Marina and on September 26 1962, when her sister Flor was born, a Doctor Nogales looked after her. However the possibility exists that her 42-year-old brother is alive and well and living somewhere in Spain.

Friday, November 6, 2009


In my small village street in Cádiz province there are around 20 houses. Several years ago my neighbours Chris and Richard invited me one evening for a drink along with some of their friends. I found myself talking for a lengthy period to Arnold who lived just doors away.

Now Arnold (de Wease) is American and had lived in the village for many years. I was fascinated to learn that in a previous life he had been a journalist and worked for many of the USA’s top newspapers.

Two years ago Arnold was a lucky man for he sold his house high before the market collapsed and moved inland to Granada province where he purchased a far cheaper house that is now his base. In between times he travels the world, largely in the Far East. True sometimes he stays with family or friends but rather than the intrepid American of old who trekked from Hilton to Hilton he stays in cheap boarding houses. I should add Arnold is no spring chicken, more a well matured broiler – so I doff my tattered hat to him.

When Arnold is on his travels he sends a round-robin missive to his friends but generally doesn’t correspond so I was delighted and flattered to receive an email from him this week.

The majority of readers of my blog are in Europe and the USA where we take the freedom of the internet for granted. So Arnold’s email came as an acute reminder that for many people the freedoms we enjoy simply do not exist. So I will now hand over to Arnold who can explain the situation far better than I and he also tells the tale of the endangered pandas of Chengdu:

“I am now in Bangkok and on 27th this month to Boxing Day I will be back in Burma where blogs and everything else are censored or embargoed and Internet connections are so bad there that it is almost impossible to get on-line. I will have to wait for my return to Thailand to read your fine column. Keep it going, hombre.

“Internet is better in China, though outgoing and incoming blogs are embargoed. Not even Facebook can get over the Great Wall of China. But after returning from Burma Boxing Day I can pick up your blogs again until my return to China in a few months.

“My travel reports aren’t yet embargoed by Chinese censors unless a statement or word is considered a threat to government policy. A couple of years ago I filed a report praising the 105-hectare panda reserve that is a beautiful and wild-like park in Chengdu where the lovely beasts are protected from road killing, poachers, etc., but made the mistake of titling it Sanctuary for Endangered Pandas. "Endangered" was a suspect word and the file attachment wouldn’t move. After a few attempts to send it I changed the title simply to Pandas and it went without a hitch.”

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Every day I receive and read press releases from town halls, governments and political parties. They tend to be commenting on serious matters so little to chuckle about there.

The exception was 13 years ago when I ran the English language service of a radio station broadcasting out of Benahavís. At 16.00 every afternoon the fax machine would spring in to life and pages would poor out with press releases from Marbella town hall. It was during the Jesús Gil era and more often than not the first pages would be a communication from the great man himself taking politicians, business people, the government or the media to task. Let us just say Jesús Gil had a lively, fruity way with words so whilst you could never broadcast or publish his thoughts they did make amusing reading.

So wind on to yesterday – who has made me chuckle? The answer is a press release from Gibraltar’s GSLP – Liberal Opposition which came to me from Dr Joseph Garcia – the Liberal leader.

To start at the beginning on Monday October 26 the new Governor of Gibraltar arrived on the Rock and was duly sworn in to office. Under the title – We Govern – You’re the Governor – I wrote in my Gibraltar column:

“Last Monday Gibraltar welcomed its new Governor, Sir Adrian Johns, a naval man, to the Rock. The difference between Sir Adrian and all his predecessors is that whilst he still wears the cocked hat he governs under the new Constitution which basically means he doesn’t govern at all.

"The words of greeting from the Chief Minister (who does govern) and those of the leader of the Opposition (who has governed and would have liked to do so again) were also a warning shot across his bows of how future affairs would be conducted.”

I then went on to give chunks of Chief Minister Peter Caruana’s speech which specifically related to the situation of the new governor. It was only yesterday as I read through them again that it struck me that Sir Adrian was well aware of Gibraltar’s new status without having to be nagged on the matter by Caruana. It would have been quite appropriate for the chief minister to point to the new status quo but his speech of welcome became engrossed with nitty gritty and was frankly hectoring.

Then the press release from the GSLP – Liberal Opposition plopped in to my inbox and I did chuckle when I read:

“The Opposition consider that the majority of Gibraltarians have other more important things to worry about than whether there should be someone in Gibraltar who is called the Deputy Governor or called something else. Nobody is going to lose any sleep over this.”

I agree!

The statement then continued: “However, given that Mr Caruana has become obsessed about it, it is important to remind him that his view on this aspect of the Constitution is simply that, a personal judgment or a personal interpretation.

“In the past, Mr Caruana has been very quick to point out, whenever someone has not shared the Government’s view on any particular aspect of the Constitution, that the complainant should take the matter to the Supreme Court. A legal opinion by one or more lawyers cannot be the arbiter of whether the United Kingdom Government is in breach of the Constitution, or not respecting the Constitution, simply because they have someone called Deputy Governor in a post in Gibraltar.

“It is true to say that the Constitution no longer requires the use of the words Deputy Governor, but the fact that the requirement has ceased does not convert it into a prohibition. If the UK Government considers it appropriate to describe the officials concerned as Deputy Governor and as Assistant Deputy Governor, reflecting their role in acting upwards as representative of Her Majesty when the need arises, one can only assume that Her Majesty is satisfied with these arrangements and the Opposition has no problem with them.”

Well if it’s good enough for the Queen it should be good enough for Caruana.

If Sir Adrian was in any doubt, and I doubt that he was, about the prickly customer who holds the office of chief minister of the government of Gibraltar – he certainly isn’t now. The problem for Peter Caruana is that his speech was given at a formal ceremony, indeed on an historic day for Gibraltar, but rather than setting out the bench mark for future relations with the Governor and Britain – in the cold light of day many of his words hold him open to derision.

Embarrassment for him – but a chuckle for the rest of us and perhaps the Governor too!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


At this time of year the majority of the people of Britain wear their poppy with pride. It can also be seen worn around the world where there are large communities of Britons.

The red poppy is our symbol of remembrance and this coming Sunday is the day when the nation commemorates all those who died in the world’s wars.

When I was young Remembrance Sunday was firmly linked with the veterans of World War I even though many had also died and suffered in World War II, Korea and other places where British forces served.

Now the survivors of World War I have all gone. However today I read a letter in the Daily Telegraph from Lt Col T.K. Courtenay (retired) who acts as a battlefield guide in which he told the story of the poppy.

“Despite the mud and desolation of the Ypres Salient, every year in springtime the seeds of the red poppy flourished. It was a Canadian doctor, Major John McCrae, who running his dressing station at Essex Farm, witnessed the physically and mentally wounded men brought to him for lifesaving surgery. Many survived; sadly, many did not.

“For McCrae the young red petals and green leaves of the poppy gave him hope and consolation among such carnage. This inspired him to write the famous poem “In Flanders Fields” and in the last lines lies the real message: If ye break faith with us who die/We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/In Flanders fields.”

Today it is the brave servicemen and women - from Britain as well as the USA - laying down their lives in Afghanistan who are most on our minds. It is a sad irony that Afghanistan is as famous as Flanders for its poppy fields – and is becoming infamous for its carnage.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Before I answer that question let me introduce Mitchell Symons. Back in the days when “If It’s In The Press, It’s Got To Be True!” was a live show at the Global Café in London’s Soho there was also a very successful website of the same name.

One of the features of the website was our “Columnist of the Week” and “Columnist of the Year”. The “If It’s In The Press” team selected their favourite piece written by a columnist each week and the writer who had the most over the year received the acclaimed accolade – well acclaimed by us anyway.

Mitch started a column with the Daily Express and I think was our “Columnist of the Week” on his first outing. He ran away with the annual award that year and almost repeated the feat the following year but was pipped at the post by Carol Sarler.

However there are far more strings to his bow and he was a principal writer of the board game Trivial Pursuit and over the years has published a string of highly successful trivia books. Christ Tarrant, who knows a thing or two about trivia said: “Mitch knows more totally useless things about useless subjects than anyone else on earth.”

Recently my son stated some fact about a well known star having Red Indian blood which I duly rubbished. However I was immediately crushed when he said the immortal words: “Mitchell Symons said it was true in one of his books.” End of argument!

Over the years Mitch has published amongst many titles a series of books – How to Avoid a Wombat’s Bum, Why Eating Bogeys Is Good for you, How Much Poo Does an Elephant Do? And Why Do Farts Smell Like Rotten Eggs? Hence Why Does Ear Wax Taste So Gross? follows a well trodden path.

So why the title? Mitch said: “I don’t think ear wax tastes so gross – well, mine doesn’t anyway. But my wonderful editor (who came up with the title) thinks ear wax definitely has the ‘yuck’ factor, especially when left for as long as a month before being picked!”

Now this series of Mitch’s books are published by Doubleday –Random House Children’s Books. Certainly they are ideal for kids but I suspect most adults would also find them a fascinating read. For instance did you know the swan has the most feathers of any bird? That Lindsay Lohan keeps her appendix in a jar in her bedroom or there are more pyramids in Peru than in Egypt? I suspect not!

Mitch has kindly sent me a copy of the book to offer as a prize. To get in to the draw simply answer this question – according to Mitch – In 1938 Phyllis Newcombe, 22,combusted spontaneously at a dance hall during – a) a waltz; b) fox trot or c) quick step.

Send your answer by email to: by Friday December 4 2009 and the first correct entry will be the winner. The winner will be posted that day on:

(Why Does Earwax Taste So Gross? By Mitchell Symons. Doubleday – Random House ISBN 9780385615709)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


There is a hot debate in England rather than in the entire UK over the British National Party – the BNP. It is essentially an English beast although it adopts the name of the total nation.

Let me start by saying that I totally reject everything this far right group of hate stands for.

Equally I reject everything those who say they are anti-fascist, supposedly of the far left, who come out on to the streets to protest against the BNP and give a policeman a good kicking whilst they are at it, stand for too.

They are twin yolks from the same egg.

I would not want to live in either of their worlds – and equally I have no doubt my presence would not be tolerated.

That having been said I have no problem with the BNP being given a platform to speak from in the national media. The party won seats at council and European level at recent elections therefore its representatives were democratically elected.

In a democracy you have to take the rough with the smooth. I know that in some US Conservative circles, especially those expounded on Fox News, the belief is that people only have a right to democracy if they think the same as these Republicans do. Mercifully few of us chant their mantra.

Ironically I believe the BNP can be good for British democracy. The party has only gained prominence because the section of people who support this rabble believe the mainstream parties are not even addressing let alone answering their concerns.

Labour, Conservative and Liberal politicians have become far removed from the everyday problems faced by those who see no hope in their lives. Nick Griffin comes as a timely kick up the backside.

However ultimately the rise of the BNP is due to the disastrous decline of the Labour Party in its traditional heartland. The majority of BNP votes were Labour votes – you only have to look at the seats they have won to see this truth.

“What about the workers” used to be the socialist cry? Now under New Labour we are all workers – or rather we are all middle class workers, except of course we are not... nor do we inhabit the Blair, Mandelson dreamland. There every minority has a voice, has its rights set in stone – not surprising really as Blair and Mandelson are minorities themselves. Indeed they have been so busy giving voice to the New Labour project that they left the majority abandoned, rooted in silence.

What Labour has to address is the plight of the unemployed, the fears of those who live on the borderline, those who are scared because they are foreigners in their own communities, those who dare not walk on their streets or go out at night.

The Labour Party used to be their mouthpiece and refuge. If the party doesn’t rise to the challenge and take back that role the BNP will step in to fill the void. It would not give Nick Griffin the votes to rule the once green and pleasant land but it would change the political landscape... and the Labour Party then eventually democracy would be the losers.

(Of course right wing extremists are not just a British phenomenon. As Nick Griffin was proclaiming the BNP doctrine on the BBC the Guardia Civil were arresting five members of the Falange in Navarra and Zaragoza. They are alleged to have carried out violent actions in the Comunidad Foral and Pais Vasco in the name of the Falange y Tradición. The Falange was the party of the Franco dictatorship).

Monday, October 26, 2009


I recently received an email from Tony, a regular reader of my blog and a person I have known for more years than either of us would admit to.

Tony is Irish, which is only relevant in regard to what he writes below. At the top of this blog are two photographs from a selection that accompanied the original email sent to him. I was going to add my usual ha’pence worth but to be honest I think the photos and Tony’s remarks say it all! You of course are welcome to add your views!

In Spain, unlike Britain, we live in a country that was occupied by the Moors for many centuries. Some of the great monuments such as the Alhambra and the mosque turned cathedral in Córdoba date from that time which was viewed as a golden age. Radical Muslims have also laid claim to what once was Al Andalus.


Makes you wonder doesn't it...can you imagine having a Christian demonstration against Islam in downtown Baghdad?

View the pictures and decide how you really feel about the future of the Western World. These pictures are of Muslims marching through the STREETS OF LONDON during their ‘Religion of Peace Demonstration’.

‘Why would anyone think that we should be at war with such nice, peaceful Muslims?!’ These pictures tell it all! Muslims have stated that England will be the first country they take over! These are pictures not shown on American TV or in American Newspapers, but were forwarded by a Canadian who thought All of us in the World ought to know!


This is something I received from a friend in the UK. I cannot believe that this type of demonstration is allowed. Isn’t incitement to violence a crime? Provocation of this type is designed to put the "fear of Allah" into normal ordinary people rather than promote any type of integration or mutual understanding. Had the supporters of the IRA attempted to mount a demonstration of this kind during the "troubles", I have no doubt they would have been jailed for provoking violence, or racial or religious hatred - and rightly so.

With the Muslim population of Britain standing at 5 per cent, their influence over the government’s approach seems totally disproportionate to the size of their population.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I recently wrote on Spanglish and today the theme is taken up on the Yahoo España blog.

The key interest is in Spanish politicians and their inability to communicate in English. Of course this is not a problem at home but it certainly is on the international stage where English rules albeit the US variety.

Yahoo España takes various Spanish politicians to task for their inability to converse well in English.

It quotes the Israeli president Simon Peres saying the world would be better if the English of Aznar improved.

José María Aznar could communicate with Tony Blair even though his English was poor because they both speak French. It also says that he could talk happily with George W Bush because of the Texan’s good Spanish – which is amusing to us because the US President frequently murdered his English.

I do not believe that Zapatero speaks English – the blog says he rarely uses it even with Barack Obama who hailed him – "José Luis, qué pasó". I thought he did speak French but then the blog says that when he addressed the French Parliament he received a loud, enthusiastic round of applause when he told the MPs he was switching from French to his native Spanish.

The alternative looks no brighter as Mariano Rajoy, the opposition Partido Popular leader, admits he doesn’t speak English. So maybe the world has to move on and switch from English to Spanglish!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


On Saturday around a million people gathered in the plaza de Independencia in Madrid to protest against the Spanish government’s new abortion law.

I say a million because one of the organisers, HazteOir, claimed 1.5 million, the Madrid authority 1.2 million whilst the police estimated 250,000 – however the consensus seems to be around the million mark and not surprisingly the protest made headlines around the world.

The new law would allow girls of 16 to have an abortion without their parents’ consent or even knowing about it. For many who support abortion this is a step too far.

Other provisions of the proposed abortion law, approved by the cabinet last month, would allow the procedure on demand for women of 16 and over up to the 14th week of pregnancy, and up to 22 weeks if there was a risk to the mother's health or if the foetus was deformed. Women could also undergo the procedure after 22 weeks if the foetus had a serious or incurable illness.

In my past blogs I have made my beliefs very clear. I do not support abortion except where the woman’s life or health is endangered or in cases of incest or rape. I do not believe abortion should be used as a belated form of contraception. I believe the unborn foetus has rights even if it doesn’t have a vote – and it is our duty to defend those rights.

I also accept and respect the fact that others have very different beliefs than my own although Spain seems to be very much divided on the subject.

An opinion poll published in ABC newspaper ahead of the protest said 42 percent of Spaniards believed there was no overwhelming popular support for the abortion reforms, compared to 38 percent who believed there was. Earlier polls had shown many 56 per cent of socialists who support the PSOE government were very unhappy over allowing 16 year olds to be able to have an abortion without their parents’ knowledge or consent against 64 per cent opposition across the board.

I am happy enough that HazteOir and other associations including those with Catholic links staged this demonstration and are running on-going campaigns. Of course for most Catholics abortion is a red-line issue but I would prefer to see the laity taking the lead rather than pronouncements from the Bishop’s palace.

However what makes me uneasy is that the opposition Partido Popular has taken up the issue. I suspect it sees it as another stick to beat the government with. As there are socialists who are for and against the new law so too the members of the PP must be divided amongst themselves.

This should not be a political issue but a moral one hence when it comes to a vote in the Spanish Parliament the MPs should act in line with their conscience and not according to the orders of PSOE’s Zapatero or PP’s Rajoy.