Thursday, April 30, 2009


If there are demonstrations on people’s minds today they will be for May 1 when people will take to the streets to voice their fears over job losses and the threat of unemployment.

So here’s a date for your diary – May 24.

On that day the people of San Roque and the wider Campo de Gibraltar –indeed Gibraltar itself – will be taking to the streets to demand that the new A7 dual carriageway does not cut through or come near the Pinar del Rey.

The Pinar del Rey is a 200-year-old woodland, a protected zone in San Roque that is home to a rich mix of flora and fauna plus valuable water aquifers. More important still it is the green lung for the entire Campo de Gibraltar area which houses heavy polluting industries that carry a high mortality rate from cancer and breathing illnesses in their polluting wake.

Now the government in Madrid has swept aside environmental fears and has approved plans to bring the motorway carrying heavy goods traffic for the port and industrial zones right through the corner of the woodland. A green zone that is used by thousands of people from the Campo de Gibraltar and Gibraltar to relax at weekends especially in the spring and autumn months.

Verdemar - Ecologists en Acción along with many residents of the area have been fighting these proposals ever since they were made public. Sadly the former socialist-led administration at San Roque town hall sat on its hands but the new Partido Popular controlled administration has joined the campaign to stop the road.

Now I am too long in the tooth to believe that the politicians were and are doing other than suits their agenda. The socialist town hall did not want to cross the PSOE government’s plan and the Partido Popular is only too happy to put a spoke in the government’s heavy lorries wheels. Whatever! What is important is that now there is a united front of town hall and people against the road plans.

So on Sunday May 24 a politically independent protest will be held in San Roque against the dual carriageway which everybody can support. It will leave from the main church and make its way to the Alameda at noon. If you live in the Campo de Gibraltar it’s vital that you add your support - because not only is the Pinar at risk – so too is your future health and that of your children and their children too!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


There was a major earth tremor in Gibraltar on Monday evening. No it wasn’t reported in the media but it happened – trust me, I’m a journalist.

Joe Bossano was again re-elected as leader of the GSLP – no news there then – but the fact that Fabian Picardo came forward to put his hat in the ring as a future leader without ructions could only have happened if Joe Boss had given the nod. That event alone meant the tectonic plates below the Rock’s political parties made a major shift as the big beasts Bossano and Caruana contemplate their futures.

It was back in 2001 that Daniel Feetham stomped out of the GSLP because Joe Boss would not make way for the younger generation snapping at his heals. Daniel then formed the Labour Party and after that fell flat on its face scampered off to the ruling GSD where he now keeps a low profile in a cupboard marked Minister of Justice. Rough justice or poetic justice perhaps. Compared with the ructions of the Feetham exit the stepping forward of Picardo – and I have no reason to expect that he’ll go unchallenged – was as smooth as a gentle waltz.

Before the last election Joe Boss made it known that he would not fight again as leader – and appears to intend to keep his word. So whilst he still holds on to the mantle the talented younger generation that now make up the GSLP ranks are coming to the starting line to see who takes over. The next election is due in 2011 or 2012 so we can expect Joe Boss to gently ease out and allow for an election at a future AGM.

It appears that Joe Boss will stay on as an MP after he steps down as leader. This is good news and bad news for the party. The GSLP is very much a Bossano fiefdom and many of its supporters, especially the older generation, are very loyal to him. If he is a GSLP candidate they will turn out for the party again. The bad news is that it is generally accepted that once a leader steps down, he should scoot off as soon as possible to allow the new team a clean run. José María Aznar, Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher come to mind – but so too does Ted Heath who sat in the House of Commons scowling at Mrs T during her entire reign. So whoever leads the GSLP will have to make sure Joe Boss knows his place – and stays there.

The wise money is probably on Fabian Picardo to lead the GSLP – he is well known and has been Joe Boss’s side kick even making trips with him to the UN. Gilbert Lucadi is also in the frame and is not only a political colleague of Picardo’s but a legal one as well. There could be others. Far be it from me to wish to be seen pointing out the Messiah at this stage in the game. If a week is a long time in politics – then two or three years is an eternity.

Just one thing worries me on the GSLP’s part. The chief minister and GSD leader, Peter Caruana, has beaten Joe Boss four times on the trot and probably believes he can take him a fifth time too. OK that is not on the cards – but if in 2010 Joe Boss is hanging on for another year – and if the wily Caruana calls a snap general election – then either the GSLP would have to go to the polls with Bossano at the helm or be caught up in a leadership battle when they should be fighting the GSD. Hence the sooner the GSLP has its future leader in place or anointed, waiting in the wings – the better.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I have written here before about my unshakable belief that we do not have the right to kill the unborn foetus – and that an unborn child has the God given right to live.

I am prepared to make allowances in certain circumstances for abortions – such as when there is a threat to the life or health of the mother.

I also accept contraception and the use of condoms to fight Aids.

I defend the rights of women but I do not believe that abortion should be used as a belated form of contraception.

I firmly believe that unless we are willing to defend the rights of the unborn child – who on earth will?

Having fought mentally and physically for my own son to survive when he was born under two pounds, was feared to be on the brink of death on numerous occasions, lived in an incubator for months before finally winning through, I for one am prepared to fight for anyone’s right to life.

Hence perhaps it is symbolic that a DAV campaigner, Jaime, who shares the same name as my son was brutally beaten in Terrol as he collected signatures for the petition. He said he is fine except when he looks in the mirror...and carried on campaigning declaring it is his conscience that dictates his actions and not thugs.

Last Saturday, April 25, ‘Derecho a Vivir’ from Algeciras and La Línea collected signatures for a petition against the proposed abortion law in those two towns and in Tarifa. Over 2,000 people signed in three hours.

This campaign was carried out in the major towns and cities of Spain with the aim of reaching 112,138 signatures in a day – a symbolic figure as that is how many abortions were performed in this country in 2007. In the event over 200,000 people signed.

It is perhaps apt that in Cádiz province, the birthplace of the Minister of Equality, Bibiana Aído, there are more DAV groups than anywhere else in Spain other than Madrid. Whilst she promotes her abortion law she has been slow to condemn those who broke the law of the land by attacking Jaime on the street in Terrol in the name of her proposals.

To learn more about this very real battle for the right to live visit the DAV website at – and if you feel able to pledge your support – do. It’s a matter of life or death.

Monday, April 27, 2009


If you live like I do in Andalucía then your new minister of public works and transport is Rosa Aguilar.

She is said to be a charismatic person – may be that is the reason why the new president of the Andalucía government, José Antonio Griñán, wanted her onboard.

However in taking up her post she has abandoned the people of Córdoba who she served as mayor. She was born in that city in 1957, she has been both an Andalucía and Spanish MP for that province and since 1999 has been the mayor of Córdoba. She was the first woman to win the post and led the far left Izquierda Unida to victory over the centre right Partido Popular.

The reason that Aguilar is now under fire is two fold. First she promised the people of Córdoba that she would serve them at least till her current mandate ended. Instead she has left them in the lurch at a time of economic crisis.

Secondly – whilst she was mayor under the banner of Izquierda Unida – she now has abandoned that party and joined the socialist government of Griñán as an independent.

She says her switch to the Andalucía government was “a personal decision”. Indeed it was. It was fired by personal ambition and to hell with the people who had voted her in to steer their city through these troubled times or the chaos she has left behind her in what was her party.

The former leader of the IU, Julio Anguita, hit the nail on the head. He said that Rosa Aguilar has shown a lack of loyalty to the ‘cordobeses’ by promising to stay for four years and quitting after two.

He might have added that she did it to fuel her own ambition – he didn’t – so I will say it for him.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I was chewing the cud earlier this week with my good friend Prospero over the outbreak of robberies in Jimena. The news had broken that El Boca had been arrested and we were wondering how long it would be before justice caught up with Barrilete. Both hardened criminals – allegedly.

It then occurred to me that if you mention El Boca (the mouth) or Barrilete (many meanings but assuredly barrel) to any Spanish residents of Jimena they would immediately know who you meant. However if you used their proper name – Jesús, Pepe, Miguel or so on they’d look at you blankly because the village was filled with such names.

This is strange for a British person. It is true that back home you might earn a nickname but in Spain they are the common currency.

I first encountered the nickname when I moved to the valley around 12 years ago. I asked after Antonio and was met with a blank look. I should explain that Antonio lived half a kilometre from my house - three houses away and was my builder – but I could have been asking after a creature from Mars. Eventually it was established I didn’t mean Antonio at all – but Pescao.

Now don’t go running to your dictionary because Pescao isn’t likely to be there. I can however tell you that it relates to fish. In this region they cut the end off their words – whilst in Andalucía they take an inch – in San Pablo de Buceite they take a yard. I never did work out why Antonio’s nickname related to fish. We are some 60 kms from the sea and he is a labourer. I am reliably told his father shared the same handle – and he was a shepherd – goat herder.

The other neighbour was Juan – a name shared by his father-in-law, a land owner in the valley. His father-in-law is Mascota – Pet, but Juan’s nickname is Luti, or that’s what he likes you to call him. His actual nickname is El Entierro – the burial or funeral, so it is not surprising he likes to be called Luti.

Prospero told me some time back that the odious landlord of my old office is known as Malos Tratos. This normally has a specific meaning related to domestic violence, so in his case it would be wife beater. I was relieved to learn that he earned the nickname because of his dodgy business dealings. Indeed he lived with his wife in her no-nonsense mother’s house so I expect that he was on the receiving end of any Malos Tratos – I think he now has actually been thrown out.

All of this is fine except you suddenly realise that if your neighbours have a nickname in all probability so do you. If you were the only foreigner in the village you could be called El Inglés or Guiri but that would hardly suffice in Jimena were foreign residents are plentiful. My son is known in our street as – Niño – the young boy – he’s 34 (I think). My doctor is also Niño – he’s my age but as his father (a Gibraltarian) was the local quack he’ll always be the ‘young boy’ to his patients.

As many people know I am a journalist I flatter myself that I might be called something with that noble profession in mind – don’t snigger! However I have a nagging doubt that it might be – El Gordo – El Calvo – or God forbid – Gilipollas. Don’t ask!

Friday, April 24, 2009


It was as I was digging around Jimena castle, virtually not physically, that the name of Hamo Sassoon kept cropping up. Now there’s hardly a long term resident of Jimena, Spanish or foreign, who doesn’t known of Hamo and acknowledge him with great respect.

I therefore decided to dig deeper to find out more about this man with the famous surname. I was shocked to learn that apart from my good friend at Jimena Pulse, Prospero, and the British Institute in Eastern Africa journal, Azania, nobody had published an obituary on his passing in 2004 and no biography existed either. Hence, in my own humble way, I decided it was time to right this wrong.

As you have no doubt guessed Hamo was related to Siegfried Loraine Sassoon, the English poet and author. Siegfried became famous as a writer of satirical anti-war verse in World War I, earned a Military Cross along the way and later won acclaim for his prose work.

Our Hamo was the great grandson of one of the original Sassoon brothers who went to England. I say our Hamo because this has very much become a family name. The great grandfather married an Italian and Hamo’s grandfather married Theresa Thorneycroft whose brother was the sculptor Hamo Thorneycroft. His sculptures can be seen around London and he was part of the Holland Park Circle. It was he who took the name of Hamo and brought it into the Sassoon family.

Hamo was born in 1925 the son of Michael Thorneycroft Sassoon. Siegfried was Hamo’s uncle who virtually brought him up and gave Hamo most of his tastes such as a love of classical music as his parents were too busy enjoying the gay 20s and 30s. Hamo studied literature at Oxford under Siegfried’s friend Edmund Blunden but then left when the Second World War started to become a conscientious objector. However he soon realised that with a name like Sassoon he had to fight and joined a cavalry regiment - The Inns of Court. Determined to get into the fighting he persuaded his brother, who was a tank officer, to get him into the Royal Tank Regiment. He went through the North African campaign including the Battle of Knightsbridge and was twice blown up in his tank. He reached the rank of lieutenant and in 1946 married his first wife, Flavia (ne Kingscote), who was of a military family.

He was one of the original students at the Middle Eastern School of Arabic Studies in Jerusalem. Most of the students became Ambassadors and Hamo was destined for the Foreign Service. He was desperate to be posted to an Arabic speaking country but with a Jewish name, even though only a quarter Jewish, it was deemed impossible so he ended up in the Colonial Service but only after returning to Oxford where he read - Soil Science.

Hamo became a District Commissioner in Nigeria and the Cameroons where he developed his keen interest in archaeology and through the intervention of Sir Mortimer Wheeler transferred to the Antiquities Department working in the Jos Museum. He became Director of Antiquities in Tanganyika in Dar es Salaam, later in Uganda where he had some nasty scrapes under Idi Amin.

Hamo was later Curator of the Fort Jesus museum in Mombasa (where he lived in the wonderful Portuguese fort). There he was responsible for the underwater excavation of a 16th Century Portuguese Frigate - so he learned to dive. He was Coastal archaeologist for a time before he went to the South Sudan with his future second wife Jean.

It was Jean who we have to thank for bringing Hamo to Jimena because she already had a house in the village – and her artist sister had been there for 30 years. Over a 20 year period this extraordinary man devoted his later years to working on uncovering the history of Jimena’s castle, the wider Campo de Gibraltar and being the impetus behind the annual Jornadas de Historia y Arqueología de Jimena de la Frontera. It is appropriate that he now lies at rest within the castle walls in the old cemetery. If you visit his grave you will read a tribute urging you to look around you to see his memorial. Nobody could have a finer tomb stone and of course on a clear day –you can see his beloved Africa.

That is only half the tale. Hamo’s widow, Jean, also has had a fascinating life. A doctor in her own right - at the University of Nairobi she was in charge of the Material Culture Project in the Institute of African Studies and also an Ethnographer of the National Museum. She worked closely with the archaeologist and anthropologist Louis Leakey who became famous for his academic work centred on the origins of man. That story, though, is for another day!

Many thanks to all the readers of this Blog who have taken the time to contact me with kind comments and to express their great fondness for Hamo. I am reliably told that the Institute for the study of the Campo de Gibraltar based in Algeciras has in the past asked Jimena Town Hall to name a street after Hamo. Regrettably nothing has even been done – perhaps this is a campaign that my good friend Prospero could take up.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


The news and facts have only started to trickle through in recent days but on Good Friday the Royal Navy patrol boat, HMS Sabre, ordered a Spanish Guardia Civil launch out of Gibraltar waters. According to the Ministry of Defence the Spanish vessel was 200 metres from the buoy in the bay on the Western approach to the airfield. They were asked what their intentions were, and when no reply was forthcoming, they were requested to leave. There have been Spanish claims that HMS Sabre had its guns aimed at the Guardia Civil launch. This is denied by British Forces but it is accepted that HMS Sabre had its guns manned “as is standard practice” when the incident took place.

Although this incident will probably be soon glossed over it does highlight an aspect of the Gibraltar problem for the Spanish. Under the Treaty of Utrecht signed in 1713 at the end of the Spanish War of Succession Gibraltar was ceded to Britain in perpetuity. However the Gibraltar of 1713 and today is vastly different.

For instance to this day Spain insists that Gibraltar has no waters other than those of its harbour. Rubbish says Gibraltar and Britain. Under International Agreements the Rock claims a three mile limit of territorial waters and that could be extended to 12. Also the specific land area of Gibraltar has grown. The land on which the airport stands is reclaimed and disputed as it is outside the boundary designated in the treaty.

When you ready the treaty you can see Spain’s point: “The Catholic King does hereby, for himself, his heirs and successors, yield to the Crown of Great Britain the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging; and he gives up the said propriety to be held and enjoyed absolutely with all manner of right for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever.”

However there are other aspects of the treaty that would simply be laughed out of court in this modern day. For example: “And Her Britannic Majesty, at the request of the Catholic King, does consent and agree, that no leave shall be given under any pretence whatsoever, either to Jews or Moors, to reside or have their dwellings in the said town of Gibraltar.” Of course in the present day there is a strong Jewish community in Gibraltar that plays a major role in the life of the Rock. Moroccans (Moors) also contribute to the economy of Gibraltar having replaced Spanish workers when the border was closed in 1969. So should Spain demand that they leave?

Over the years I have received correspondence from many people arguing for the scrapping of the Treaty of Utrecht. I know too that there are politicians on the Rock who believe the treaty could be challenged in the courts.

Being a mere hack myself and not a legal eagle this seems to me to be a risky course to follow. The whole basis of Britain’s hold on the Rock is based on the treaty and if you take that away – where are you – in uncharted waters like a Guardia Civil patrol boat. None-the-less if there is to be a modern agreement on Gibraltar between the people of the Rock, Britain and Spain then I agree it has to be based on an accord of and for these times and not a treaty that has long been discarded and discredited except in the corridors of power in London and Madrid.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


On Tuesday evening in a Peckham, South London, nursing home Jack Jones died at the age of 96.

Being myself a child of the 50s and 60s I am only too familiar with the role Jack Jones played through the 1970s when he led the then mighty Transport and General Worker’s Union and he was known as Britain’s most charismatic and powerful union leader.

When he retired in 1978 he merely took on a new role of crusading for Britain’s pensioners.

However with his passing we have not only lost a trade union stalwart but an honorary Spanish citizen too.

Jack Jones joined the TGWU as a shop steward and organised protest meetings against fascists. He became active in the Aid Spain campaign and in 1937 he joined the International Brigades and fought against the fascist forces of Franco in the Spanish Civil War before being wounded in the Ebro battle of 1938.

Of that time he said: “Franco’s troops had started to win the battle at Gandesa, next to the Ebro. We didn’t have any artillery or planes. We were fighting with primitive weapons against a mechanised army supported by Hitler and Mussolini.”

He wrote about his experiences in his autobiography, Union Man, explaining how he led a group of volunteers in a clandestine operation to Spain from Britain, via Paris.

It was for his involvement in the Spanish Civil War that Jack Jones and other surviving members of the International Brigades were later honoured with citizenship by the Spanish Government of José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

In life Jack Jones was at heart a "passionate internationalist". In death the working people of Britain and Spain have lost a sound friend and owe him a great debt.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Many town halls in Spain, such as the Ayuntamiento de Marbella where Jesús Gil held court, are mired in sleaze. So how do you tell the good from the bad?

Sadly the legal profession in Marbella is also involved in corrupt practices – there were three further arrests last week for money laundering on behalf of the Russian mafia – however a lawyer in the town, José Cosín, has launched “El Corruptómetro” where people can check the standing and transparency of their local political parties and town hall.

He has used the template laid out by Transparencia Internacional – a NGO dedicated to combating corruption, which in Spain is headed by the respected lawyer Antonio Garrigues Walker. It establishes 33 questions that have to be answered to determine where the local parties and town halls stand on a scale of transparency and anti corruption.

The information can be accessed by the public by consulting the website at: In the rankings for 2008 the city of Bilbao is the most transparent in Spain. At the foot of the list are Orihuela and Torrevieja who both receive a score of zero out of a possible 100.

Go to the website and you can check out your town hall for yourself although only the larger municipalities are currently covered. It also lists councillors that are deemed to be corrupt and gives visitors the opportunity to place their gradings. It makes interesting reading!

Monday, April 20, 2009


I tell a lie! The Rock of Gibraltar is actually 426 metres or 1,396 feet high but if you’ve ever stood at the top you certainly feel a mile above sea level. Call my exaggeration a white lie – or in more modern parlance, a British cabinet minister’s version of the truth.

The reason I am reaching such heights on a Monday morning is because last week the newly refurbished Mons Calpe Suite, located at the Cable Car Top Station complex, hosted its first civil marriage.

Now if you are contemplating a civil wedding it is hard to envisage a more stunning location than the top of the Rock. Over the last year or so Gibraltar has been amending its laws on getting married on or at the top of the Rock to make it a very attractive venue for weddings.

Gibraltar’s Registry Office has always been a popular location with John and Yoko and Sean Connery amongst the famous names who have tied the knot there. However now you can also arrange a ceremony at the top of the Rock but if you don’t have a head for heights there are other stunning locations such as the leading hotels, the Dell at the Botanical Gardens, the Mount and the Garrison Library.

Curiously, although you can arrange to be married at an outside location seven days a week the Registry Office works on a Monday to Friday basis to strictly set hours.

So if you are contemplating a civil wedding and want a day truly to remember Gibraltar could well be the answer. To find our more let me point you to the website: – which is packed with useful advice and information.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Normally at weekends I like to try and bring you some light news or comic relief. This weekend it is beyond me as I have suffered a personal tragedy. The cause of sadness is not mine alone but is shared by all other supporters of Charlton Athletic Football Club far and wide.

The writing has been on the dressing room wall for some time but Charlton were yesterday relegated to Division 2 (or the old Division 3 if you are ancient like me). It was just two seasons ago that the team was playing in the Premier League and one fears where we’ll be headed come this time next year.

I am told it will be 29 years since Charlton last played at that level and I certainly remembered those days when just a few thousand ambled through the turnstiles to take their place on the steep, empty terraces. A lot has happened since them, the beloved Valley was lost (the largest capacity league ground in England in its heyday), ground sharing was endured, and then it was back to the Valley, the Premiership twice and now...?

When I logged on this morning I saw the headline – “Soccer club to reimburse fans for pitiful performance.” Were the directors of Charlton going to stop the pay of their underperforming players and hand the money over to the fans instead? Sadly no.

It was a German Bundesliga report where they players of Energie Cottbus are to reimburse the entrance fee of their 600 fans that made the trip to Gelsenkirchen to watch their team lose 4-0 at Schalke 04 on Saturday.

In a press release headed “Sorry” the club stated: “By refunding the cost of admission for their supporters, the red and whites would like to apologise for the pitiful performance which they displayed at the Veltins Arena.”

Well on that basis Charlton supporters would be a pretty wealthy bunch as given the number of “pitiful” performances this season the players would have handed over a lot of their dosh. However it is true of soccer fans everywhere be they from Charlton or Energie Cottbus that we’d happily swap the money for points in the league any day of the week.

So today I shed a red tear – I do so in the knowledge that they’ll be joined by many other tears – red, white, blue, green perhaps even yellow –in the coming few weeks as the relegation places are decided. Come August our hearts will be filled with optimism again but for Charlton there will also be a sense of trepidation should Division 3 or financial ruin beckon in 12 months time.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I am going to revisit two of my blogs of this week to make some additional comments.

To start let me restate my position on the right to demonstrate. In a democracy I believe we have the basic right to peacefully express our views by marching or holding protests.

Furthermore I believe it is one of the tasks of the British police force to ensure we are able to practice that right without hindrance.

I do not believe that being in a democracy gives us the right to riot, cause damage or abuse the police verbally or physically. I do believe the police have the right to protect themselves, property and members of the public.

During the G20 protests in London there were thousands of police on duty. The vast majority performed their tasks within the law and in a praiseworthy manner. Sadly there are those who did not and we are now seeing the fall-out from those tragedies.

If there are officers who were guilty of assault, if there are officers who have a culture of violence, if there are sections of the force that are trained and instructed to act inappropriately, and there are senior officers who attempted to cover us such acts – then they must be rooted out and dealt with.

However the events surrounding the G20 in London and just days later the violence that erupted in Strasbourg at the NATO Summit are starkly different. In France for example, they have a trained riot police, whose methods would simply not be accepted in Britain but whose actions were applauded by their political masters in that country.

It is right that in Britain we demand the highest standards of our police. It is right also that when a section of the force or individual officers break the law they were set up to defend – they should be punished, and heavily. However let us be careful not to blacken the name of an entire police force and that of thousands of good officers – because that would not be democratic either.

I close with Gibraltar and its off-shore status. On the day I wrote my blog on the OECD Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, sent a missive to the UK’s tax havens including Gibraltar informing them that they had to meet international transparency standards by signing 12 bilateral tax agreement by November or face sanctions.

The facts are these: Gibraltar signed an accord to meet the OECD’s standards in 2002 then sat on its hands for seven years and did nothing. Ahead of the G20 meeting it hurriedly signed a tax agreement with the USA but has seen itself demoted down the OECD’s list of “Good Guys”. Under the threat of sanctions the British Government has now given the Rock till November to get its house in order.

Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, says he is confident that they would meet that timetable. A miracle – 13 agreements in seven months after seven years of doing nothing.

So it still begs the questions why did Gibraltar sign the agreement in 2002 then do nothing when it could have acted and been the pace-setter amongst off-shore tax havens?

Why has it given the strong critics of tax havens a sitting target – because even if it now complies it will be the threat of sanctions that is held up as the reason – when it could have been the model off-shore centre all others were made to follow?

Friday, April 17, 2009


The election season is about to descend upon us – this time it’s a European affair for the parliament. The polls take place between June 4 and 7 (European unity? The nations can’t agree over what day to vote).

Gibraltar it appears is to be visited by two big names from the Conservative Party. Michael Ancram will meet the Chief Minister and the Governor and then hold a reception at the Garrison Library on April 22. At some unspecified date William Hague will descend on the Rock.

The Gibraltar Chronicle describes Michael Ancram as a “heavyweight”. That he may be but I don’t think a person’s size should be brought in to the equation - indeed I was for many a year happily low-chested. “Big hitter” or “big beast” are the phrases we now use for those who play a major role in the British political parties.

Oddly the Tories only have a role to play in the politics of Gibraltar at the European elections. Whilst there is a Liberal party aligned internationally to the British Liberals, and the GSLP has socialist roots, there are no Rock Tories except every four year.

Gibraltar rather bizarrely votes in the South West England Constituency so whilst the Rock’s GSLP and Liberal supporters have allies in Labour and the Lib-Dems, there is no natural Tory constituency. So Ancram and Hague will have their work cut out sifting the Tories from the other chaff.

Of course the chance to vote Tory will be timely for Gibraltarians. Ancram and Hague, with the former leader playing a more major role, could within a year be members of the British Government.

In theory a Conservative Administration is more likely to defend Gibraltar’s interests more strongly – but Llanitos haven’t forgotten that it was Margaret Thatcher and Sir Geoffrey Howe who in 1984 saddled them with the Brussels Process that opened up the current route for Spanish ambitions over sovereignty. Gibraltarians have long memories and it will be hard work getting a Tory vote from this rocky place.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I have been looking on with an increasing sense of unease at the aftermath of the demonstrations surrounding the G-20 summit in London.

I have a very simple philosophy.

I believe that in a democracy we all have the right to demonstrate, to march, to protest, to make our views known.

I also believe that such demonstrations, whilst they may be policed, should enjoy the protection of the police who should ensure our freedom of speech.

I do not however believe that in a democracy we have the right to riot, smash the windows of offices, shops or banks or attack those who are sent to maintain law and order.

Sadly and tragically at such events as the G-20 the determination to demonstrate and the thirst to riot become intertwined.

Society must not ban demonstrations for fear of rioting but equally it would be disastrous to allow rioting as being a legitimate form of protest.

A policeman’s (or policewoman’s) lot was never a happy one. They have a duty to protect us and property from rioters – but they also have a duty to protect our right to demonstrate. It is a delicate dividing line.

Whether the police officers highlighted were guilty of aggression or merely doing their job – I have no idea as I simply do not know all the facts. If they are deemed to have a criminal case to answer - then let them be charged, face justice and if found guilty duly punished.

However it is not the police in Britain who pose the threat to democracy – but those who riot behind the shield of democracy. It is they who threaten to steal my right to peaceful protest and it is the rule of law that is my protection.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Mariano Rajoy, also known as Pappa Smurf to my readers, has not had a happy time since he succeeded José María Aznar as leader of the Partido Popular.

He seemed assured of victory in the 2004 General Election until the Madrid bombings intervened and his party’s handling of the aftermath saw the PP ejected from power. Since then he has again been defeated at the 2008 General Election by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s PSOE. To say his leadership has been under pressure amidst party scandals and other problems is to put it mildly.

Up till now, despite the economic crisis, the ruling socialist party has stayed ahead in the national opinion polls. However there is a glimmer of hope for Rajoy. An important shift in public support may be underway if the soundings for the European Parliament elections in June hold true.

According to polls published on Sunday in the Spanish national newspapers the Partido Popular has edged to a 4.5 point lead over PSOE in the June Euro elections.

This will be worrying news for the socialist government in the week after Zapatero reshuffled his government. It also comes on the back of a 70 billion euro government stimulus package to keep the economy afloat. However unemployment in Spain has almost doubled from pre-crisis levels to 15.5 percent - the highest rate in the European Union. Yet despite all that Zapatero and PSOE have put in showings in the opinion polls that Gordon Brown and his Labour Party would smear for.

In all probability the Euro Elections will be the last chance for Rajoy to win and stay at the helm of the PP. If he wins, he will survive for now and be given a springboard for the 2012 General Election. But, given that his party now has a slender lead, he goes on to another defeat – what then?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Gibraltar is receiving unwelcome publicity over the involvement of some of its banks in the Madoff Ponzi scheme. The spotlight has first fallen on the Banque Jacob Safra just at the time the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says Gibraltar has not complied with all its off-shore agreements.

First the trustee liquidating Bernard Madoff’s brokerage is seeking the return of $150 million that an offshore investor withdrew less than two months before the jailed swindler’s arrest, saying the money should be returned to other customers.

A lawsuit was filed last Thursday as trustee Irving Picard steps up his efforts to use bankruptcy law to try to “claw back” funds withdrawn by some Madoff clients. He has already appointed a Gibraltar law firm to act on his behalf.

In the lawsuit Picard argues that whilst Madoff was running his long-standing Ponzi scheme, some customers received fund distributions that were nothing more than fictitious profits. This money, says the trustee, should be returned to help reimburse Madoff’s many victims.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan against Vizcaya Partners, described as an international business with main operations in the British Virgin Islands. It seeks the return of $150 million wired from the Madoff firm to a custodian for Vizcaya on about October 31, less than two months before Madoff’s arrest. The custodian, Banque Jacob Safra of Gibraltar, was also sued.

The lawsuit says Vizcaya, according to the Madoff firm’s records, opened an account with the company in December 2001. Since January 2002, Safra or its affiliates invested about $327 million with Madoff for Vizcaya's benefit, the lawsuit said.

Meanwhile in the official OECD list, Gibraltar is one of 30 tax havens, which are ‘jurisdictions that have committed to the internationally agreed tax standard, but have not yet substantially implemented it.’ Gibraltar committed in 2002 to implement the agreed tax standard. Up to now it only has one agreement, the recent one with the USA signed just before the G20 summit in London.

Now a cynic (so that rules me out) might say that as Barack Obama has tax havens firmly in his sights Gibraltar’s actions were a ploy to take the president’s eye off their target. What is a fact is that after seven years of doing nothing the Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, rushed to London to sign the accord amidst much fanfare – so draw your own conclusions.

In the Gibraltar section of the OECD list are locations such as Andorra, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Nauru, Panama, San Marino and the Turks and Caicos Islands, and others. Whilst the other British zones of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man plus the island of Malta have all been promoted above them in the OECD’s standing.

People on the Rock might question why the Gibraltar Government signed in 2002 an accord that it seemingly had little intention of implementing when it could have acted on it immediately and lead the pack of good guys in off-shore finance.

Furthermore the Gibraltar Government has argued that it is no longer a tax haven but the OECD says it is, and that organisation’s opinion that counts amongst world leaders when they view the off-shore banking scene.

Monday, April 13, 2009


The official statement is hard to believe but the National Police in Ronda have arrested a 63-year-old woman and her 36-year-old son after his girlfriend fell to her death in Ronda’s Tajo gorge and they did nothing to help her.

The tragedy occurred in the middle of last October but now the police have charged the pair with not helping the woman or seeking help from the emergency services.

The woman fell to her death from the balcony of a property in which she had lived with her boyfriend for several months overlooking the Tajo gorge. According to her partner at around 2.30 in the morning they had a row and she disappeared from the apartment. He heard a bang from the balcony door and went out to find her bag, her shoes and mobile phone but no sign of her.

It is at this point that the story changes from a tragedy to the bizarre. The boyfriend immediately phoned his mother to tell her that he thought his girl friend had fallen in to the gorge. She told him to be calm, to go to bed and sleep. Both seem totally unconcerned about what had happened to the girlfriend. In the morning his mother arrived, cleaned his house, looked down from the windows over the Tajo and almost certainly saw the body of the girlfriend.

They then went shopping and it was only afterwards that they called at the police station to report what had happened. The emergency services then raced to the scene and although they found the girl she had died around eight hours before help was summoned.

Now you or I might shake our heads in astonishment at this tale. But I will tell you for nothing that there isn’t a young Spanish wife or girlfriend with a partner who is a doted-on son who won’t nod their heads in sad understanding.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


As my blog “Rape on a plate” proved so popular instead of a Hot Cross Bun or an Easter Egg I thought I’d bring you Aon Focail Eile.

When I ran a radio station on the Costa del Sol back in 1996 included on the programming was a weekly Irish music show. The owners of a San Pedro de Alcántara Irish restaurant contacted me one day so say I just had to hear a new CD they had – Aon Focail Eile.

The song was written by Ritchie Kavanagh but their version was by the Noel Furlong Family Group and both commanded the Irish music charts for weeks on end. Both myself and my presenter Tony Murphy played it so much we wore the CD out. We even had Noel Furlong on the show to discuss this wonderful play on words.

Now I’m told by Irish speakers that “Aon Focal Eile” literally means “one more word” or “another word”. However the song is about when Ritchie or Noel first went to school and as “focal” is pronounced “fuck-al” or basically “fuck-all” it was the nearest fun you could have to profaning whilst always falling back on the fact you were merely speaking Gaelic.

When I first worked in Dublin I was well used to “industrial language” but was quite shocked when the demurest of secretaries would “feck” this or that. Again she would have faked both shock and horror if for a moment I had suggested she were swearing insisting it was merely a common word in her native tongue.

Of course she was right and there was “focal” I could have done about it!

(To enjoy the delights of the Ritchie Kavanagh recording click on the video above).

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Semana Santa, Holy Week, is now mid-way through its course in Spain and along with it the often highly emotional religious processions depicting events of that week in the Christian calendar.

Now when I grew up in the 1950s, as it happens as a Catholic child in a then basically Protestant country, I certainly viewed Spain as being one of the most religious European nations.

It was a time when Spain was in its second decade of Franco’s rule – a dictatorship that was firmly backed by the Catholic Church because it believed that his regime embodied and defended the one true religion and its one true church. There is much there for debate but that I’ll save for another day.

Today, in the post-Franco era, and especially under the socialist government, Spain has moved to being a very liberal rather than Catholic country. But what of the Spaniards themselves? What do they feel in their hearts or more specifically their souls?

It is an interesting question because on the streets of the cities, towns and villages we see acts of religious fervour that draw in all segments of society. Nor is it just Semana Santa. There is not a community in Spain that does not have its own specific version of the Virgin or a Saint to which it attaches strong devotion. When the statue is taken in procession those accompanying it represent far more than the church-going section of society.

Indeed when my mother came to visit I took her to a number of different churches for Sunday Mass and those attending made up only a very tiny percentage of the local population. Yet if it was Semana Santa or the honouring of the local religious patron or patroness the streets would have been packed with crowds.

On Sunday I attended one of the Palm Sunday processions in Ronda. The route was crowded and as there were many children involved there were grandparents, uncles and aunts, parents, brothers and sisters packing the route waving proudly to tiny Carlos and Josefa. However a young girl, and by young I mean in her late teens or early 20s, standing next to me made the sign of the cross very devoutly as the throne with the Virgin on passed by.

They say once a Catholic always a Catholic, and hence I always describe myself as a Catholic Agnostic. However the fact is that I no longer hold any loyalty or devotion to the Church of Rome but I would very much count myself as a spiritual person. Given that the Spain of today is a secular State, what beats in the Spanish heart and soul? Is it religion, a deeply held spiritualism or pure superstition coupled with perhaps tradition?


Wednesday, April 8, 2009


For as long as I have lived in Spain I have been based in Andalucía. Hence throughout that period Manuel Chaves has been the president of the regional government.

Indeed he has held that office for 19 years so has been omnipresent in my life – like Father Christmas – or God.

Now I have to get used to José Antonio Griñán who I don’t know from Adam, or Eve come to that. I am not sure if I want to be governed by a person whose surname sounds like a foot complaint.

Chaves made the chief minister of Gibraltar, Peter Caruana, look like a Johnny-come-lately. Caruana, who has been elected four successive times, holds the view that it is the people of Gibraltar and not his party that will tell him its time to go so he could be top dog on a small rock for ever.

And what of Manuel?

Well there are those who viewed him as the life dictator of Andalucía. Now he has moved to Madrid. I see his role is as one of three vice presidents to the president of the government himself – José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. So Chaves is nicely placed when José Luis decides to spend more time with his family.

It therefore follows that in the coming years I could be ruled by Manuel Chaves again. Only this time he’ll be prime minister of Spain.

Adam and Eve it!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


My eye caught a news story yesterday that informed me that the British supermarket Sainsbury’s were renaming the fish known as “Pollack” because customers have reported that asking for it by name was embarrassing.

It will now be renamed “Colin” which is apparently French for a similar fish but sounds like a Gay wine bar owner to me, but then, what do I know.

Apparently to the English ear, "Pollack" sounds unfortunately like a slang word for testicles, as well being close to two other words used as insults, one of them racist. Well it doesn’t to me but then I am tone deaf.

Of course in Spain we have a very popular fish called “Rape”, which I believe is the humble monkfish. I espied a sign outside a restaurant in Ronda, which served ‘Rape a la parrilla’, enticing British customers in with the promise of “Rape on a plate”. There didn’t seem many takers!

There is the famous Spanish coffee brand “Bonka” that should appeal to the famed British love of sexual innuendo.

However for me the favourite has to be a brand of gin. I remember a very demure lady in her 70s once telling me with delight how buses used to drive around Madrid with posters for “Focking Gin” on the sides. She was particularly pleased as she could go up to the host at a party and demand “Give me a Focking Gin” – “and make it a large one!”

My sentiments entirely.

Monday, April 6, 2009


There must be some American in-joke about the British and their teeth. Whenever I watch Jay Leno on the legendry Tonight Show on NBC he invariably fires off a salvo on the state of our dentures.

As a Briton I am not aware of us having bad teeth but I believe if my memory serves me right, and it rarely does, that we used to poke fun at the Irish for being a molar or two short of a fall set.

Indeed just this weekend the BBC has apologised after presenter Clare Balding made fun of Grand National winning jockey Liam Treadwell’s teeth on air. Apparently in the post-race interview, Balding asked the jockey to show his teeth - telling him he could now afford to “get them done” after winning the biggest race of his life. She told viewers: “He hasn't got the best teeth in the world.” Umm – and with the name Liam it’s a fair bet he’s Irish too.

In Spain, well I’m not too sure. I have a sense that the people of Andalucía are said to have bad teeth but whether the residents of say Madrid or Barcelona look down on my neighbours’ dentures I have no idea. They certainly poke fun at what comes out of their mouths – the pure Andaluz tongue – but their teeth, I know not.

I did spend a frantic hour or so some years back with my neighbour Isidro. He was clearing some brambles from a wooded area when with the exertion his false teeth shot out and we all had to go and search for them. We never did find them and they lay thereabout grinning inanely to this day.

For my final word on this subject, for now at least, I take you to Germany where police are searching for a man who tried to walk out of a supermarket with 68 tubes of toothpaste stuffed into his clothing. Noticing his bulging jacket, a shop worker grabbed the man when he refused to stop and the tubes of toothpaste fell all over the floor. Police are looking for a man with very clean teeth! I guess Jay would say – that means he can’t be British!

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Good news readers! I am now rich beyond my dreams. Of course I want to celebrate with you so don’t hold back on the begging letters.

When I checked in to my emails this morning:

Mr Bernard West says I can have 40 per sent of US Dollars 232,000,000 if I just send him my bank details.

Dr Richard Williams tells me I can share in 15,000,000 sterling locked in a bank in Nigeria.

The Camelot Group informs me I have won 891,934 in sterling.

In the Siemens draw I have scooped 750,000 pounds.

There’s more!

In the Swiss National Lottery, which oddly has an address in Birmingham, I have clocked up another cool million pounds.

Microsoft has decided to give me 891,934 in sterling. About right for all the heart ache its software has caused me but it is curiously the same amount as Camelot want to give me!

Another doctor, this time Harry Raymonds, informs me 1,532,720 (doesn’t say what currency) is mine in the UK lottery monthly promo.

And last, but certainly not least, the Irish National Lottery Board is handing over 1,801,613 euros.

Not bad for a morning’s work. I haven’t totalled it up but at a guess it is a few bob more than British Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, claims for renting “adult” movies.

Rest assured I am still the same humble and approachable hack that I was this morning before I went to my inbox. So don’t treat me with any more awe that you normally do. However the doffing of your ‘titfer’ or a slight curtsey will not go amiss.

Friday, April 3, 2009


The reason most immigrants come to Spain or any other European country is to find work. During the times of economic crisis that currently exist there is less reason for them to stay, so they move on.

I read that over a million immigrants in Spain have returned to their home country or other locations offering better work prospects. Certainly in the village where I live, which has had a high Romanian population, the numbers of immigrants has greatly decreased since the jobs in construction and on the land dried up.

According to a recent poll carried out by Harris Interactive and published in the ‘Financial Times’ in Britain and Italy 80 per cent of nationals believe that immigrants should leave if they cannot find work. In Spain the figure is 70 per cent whilst the French are divided 50 – 50.

I am British but my home is in Spain and has been for nearly 20 years. My son was born in Dublin but has lived in Spain longer than anywhere else. As an EU citizen Spain is as much my nation as any other country in the union. If I suddenly became unemployed I would battle on here because this is where I live.

However I recognise, largely because I am British and because of my country’s attitude to immigration, that seeking work in hard times in a nation that is not your own is fraught with dangers. You could be accused of holding a job that could go to a Spaniard or be chasing a job that “by right” should be held down by a Spaniard.

It is at times like these that we see just how far the concept of becoming a citizen of Europe has progressed. I have as much right to a job in Spain as a Spanish person does to a job in Britain. Whilst we are all happy to embrace that mantra in the good times when the going gets tough then xenophobia rules – and it rules nowhere stronger than the British Isles.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


According to media reports Spain’s Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, has urged the Partido Popular to stop making politics over Gibraltar and to support the PSOE government’s efforts “for the full recovery of the sovereignty of the Rock.”

Given that it is Spain’s declared intention to regain its sovereignty of Gibraltar later if not sooner I find nothing wrong with that statement – except for one thing. I presume by Madrid’s efforts he means the Tripartite Process, the Córdoba Agreements and so on.


However I was under the impression that these negotiations and agreements were to develop ties and co-operation between Spain and Gibraltar. Nobody has publicly stated that is was all part of the process of “the full recovery of the sovereignty of the Rock.” Perhaps even the Partido Popular didn’t know.

The question is did Gibraltar’s chief minister, Peter Caruana, and the British Foreign Secretary, David Millipede?

Of course Gibraltar’s GSLP leader, Joe Bossano, his presumed heir elect, Fabian Picardo, the leader of the Liberals Dr Joseph Garcia and the Rock’s apes have always suspected this was so – but then they would, wouldn’t they!

They of little faith have had their faith restored.

As I have stated oft times before I do not care what future status Gibraltar opts for – but – yes its one of my buts again – whatever that future is it has to have the full agreement of the people of the Rock. Hence if I was Miguel Angel I would stop worrying about the Partido Popular and instead concentrate more on the 30,000 Llanitos who don’t support his government’s “hidden” efforts either!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


The regional government elections were held in the Basque region, País Vasco, a month ago. It now appears that a coalition between PSOE and the Partido Popular will rule. This unlikely partnership of centre right and centre left national parties has been created in order to prevent the moderate nationalist PNV and its leader, Juan José Ibarretxe, from retaking power in the Basque region.

Despite the effects of the recession the socialists, who govern in Madrid, were the second biggest party after the regional elections having gained seven seats and hence its leader Patxi López will be the next lehendakari or president of the Basque Government. In return for backing his nomination the Partido Popular will take the presidency of the parliament in Vitoria.

Whoever is chosen by the PP to take the presidency of the parliament he or she will be the first member of that party to hold the post and only the second non-nationalist since the parliament’s creation in 1980.The two parties will then split the majority of the governmental posts between them whilst allowing for any other political groups that might back them.

The only two things that unite PSOE and the PP in this endeavour are their mutual support for a united Spain and their loathing for the PNV. They have dismissed with contempt the belief of the PNV that it had a “divine right” to govern. Yet can these two war horses of the Spanish political scene pull the Basque cart in the same direction?

They are at loggerheads at a national level at a time when Spain is in crisis so that is not a good omen. However in the Basque region the stakes are even higher. If the two national parties cause the Basque cart to tumble then there is a real danger that they will drive their some of their voters into the arms of the PNV and some of its members in to extreme groups supporting the terrorist group ETA.

At this time the majority of Basque people do not support the ETA ideals of a separate nation, especially one built on bloodshed. It would be a tragic irony if this marriage of PSOE and the PP that has seemingly been made in heaven – ends up taking the region to hell!

(2009 Election results: PNV 30 (29), PSOE 25 (18), PP 13 (15), Aralar 4 (1) Others 3 – 2005 results in brackets)