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.

Monday, October 19, 2009


When I blogged on Friday on Christopher Columbus aka Cristobal Colón I stated that I had always been led to believe that he was from Genoa but that the latest research suggested he was a Catalan Jew – see the blog below.

This led to Malcolm Davidson sending in a comment that he wasn’t Spanish, Catalan or Italian but Scottish. Well if there are a people far too big for their boots other than the Catalans it’s the Scots.

None-the-less I admit I had read a report in the Daily Telegraph suggesting that Christopher Columbus was actually Pedro Scotto, a likely tale I say.

Here’s what the Daily Telegraph had to say: “Alfonso Ensenat de Villalonga has disputed conventionally-accepted narratives on the explorer’s origins - that he was the son of a weaver in Genoa, Italy, or that he was from Catalonia or Galicia in Spain.

“In fact, he was from Genoa, but he was “the son of shopkeepers not weavers and he was baptised Pedro not Christopher,” Mr Villalonga told Spain’s ABC newspaper on Sunday.

“And his family name was Scotto, and was not Italian but of Scottish origin.

“He had light-coloured eyes and freckles. He also had blond hair even though it quickly turned white. That’s how his contemporaries described him. Nothing like the traditional images (of him), which are totally invented,” the historian said.

“Mr Villalonga cited a chronicle of Catholic kings written by Lucio Marineo Siculo, who referred in his writings to "Pedro Columbus", not Christopher.

“The historian has also claimed that the navigator once worked for a pirate called Vincenzo Columbus, and adopted that family name in order not to "expose" his relations.

“Mr Villalonga said his research involved combing the archives in the Genoa region along with those in the Spanish history academy and national library.”

All well and good but until I see a picture of Christopher Columbus wearing a kilt and munching haggis I will remain unconvinced. So I will still cling to the belief that he hailed from Mediterranean origins and not north of Hadrian’s Wall.

Friday, October 16, 2009


It appears that Christopher Columbus aka Cristóbal Colón in Spanish was a Catalan. I am easy enough with that except of course the Catalan people are already very full of themselves so the news that the great explore is one of their own threatens to swell their collective large head even further.

I have to hold my hand up and admit that I thought Cristóbal hailed from Genoa in Italy and had just discovered the Americas on behalf of the Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella - which just goes to show how little I know - or rather those who taught me.

The placing of Colón as a Catalan rests with research carried out by Estelle Irizarry who is the professor emeritus of Spanish literature at the University of Georgetown in Washington. Her findings come as the result of looking at the DNI of Colón’s writings.

This establishes him as a Catalan who was from the territory of the old kingdom of Aragón that was ruled by Ferdinand. It appears he learnt Catalan before he tackled Spanish, which was his second language, but it is stated that he expressed himself in an incorrect manner in both tongues. I am warming to him already.

His Spanish is said to have been a form that appeared on the scene around 100 years before his first voyages at the time when there were terrible massacres of the Jews, the Spanish Jews, and the language was called Ladino. Having studied Colón’s writings Irizarry is of the opinion he was writing in Catalan Ladino and hence he was a Catalan Jew.

If that is the case the fact that his background has been a mystery is probably no accident but rather an up till now a very successful plot to hide his Jewish heritage at an extremely sensitive time. What gave Colón away says Irizarry is the use of a slash symbol that he employed to indicate pauses in sentences. That symbol, known as a virgule, did not appear in texts of that era written in Castilian nor in writings from any other country, but only in records and letters from the Catalan-speaking areas of the Iberian Peninsula - present-day Catalonia and the Balearic Islands.

So unlike many Spanish writers of that time, including the acclaimed Cervantes – whose books had periods and comas added in the 19 th century, Colón was a punctuator. That fact places him as a Catalan and Jewish – full stop.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


As regular readers of my blog will know I am partial to chewing the cud so when I visit Gibraltar I like to have a coffee and munch on the political fat of the Rock’s politics. Hence I sometimes call in for a chat with Fabian Picardo who, apart from being an emerging big beast with the opposition GSLP, is also a leading lawyer with Hassans.

Back in April I called in to the Hassans offices to see Fabian and instead of being shown to one of the small meeting rooms to the right of reception I found myself directed to a large room on the left. I was rather taken back as it seemed not a meeting room but more likely the partners’ boardroom.

As I waited for Fabian to join me I notice that on the wall at the head of the table was an old photograph, probably of a very young Sir Joshua Hassan. Fabian later confirmed this was so, and if I remember rightly – which I am prone not to do – it was taken around the time that the then Joshua Hassan became a lawyer. As he was called to the bar in 1939 it must be 70 years old.

Now with most portraits they look at you head on. However Sir Joshua’s head is slightly turned to the right so it appears that he is listening in to your conversation. It might have been the effects of the strong black coffee but I would have waged he was trying to catch our words of wisdom on the Rock’s politics of the day. Indeed I am sure he was.

The name Hassans is today international recognised both in the legal profession and the business world as being one of the most respected chambers around. Whilst Sir Joshua was an eminent lawyer and a QC he was also twice chief minister of Gibraltar’s then administrations. His political success was founded on his work as leader of the Association for the Advancement of Civil Rights (AACR) – a civil rights movement that fought for the self determination of the Gibraltar people and the establishment of many of its present political institutions.

So it is perhaps fitting that within the ranks of Hassans legal beagles are individuals who are making their mark on the political life of the Rock. When the GSLP leader, Joe Bossano, finally leaves the stage Fabian Picardo could well take his place. However a few offices down the corridor sits Gilbert Licudi who is probably his chief rival for the post. So come the next general election on the Rock it is a possibility that either Picardo or Licudi could emerge as chief minister – with certainly one or the other holding a key ministry in that government.

Not far away is Peter Montegriffo who in the first GSD administration of chief minister, Peter Caruana, was deputy leader of the party and minister for trade and industry from 1996 to 2000. He did not seek re-election but it would take a braver man than me to suggest that his political career is over; indeed I suspect the opposite is the truth, so maybe he too will still be chief minister.

Feetham is also a well known name in Gibraltar politics – Michael Feetham having being a founder member of the GSLP in 1979 and minister in one of Joe Bossano’s administrations. At Hassans you’ll find Nigel Feetham, brother to Daniel who is currently a GSD minister. Now Nigel was a member of the GSLP with Daniel and when he walked out to form the Labour Party Nigel followed in his wake and played a major part in that short-lived party. I always had a suspicion that Nigel might be the dark horse in Gibraltar politics and although he now is seemingly lying doggo who knows he may yet emerge to eclipse his brother. By-the-by before Daniel was elected an MP at the last election and became fittingly minister for justice he too plied his trade at Hassans.

There may be others in the ranks of Hassans’ lawyers who have political ambitions and no doubt others will join in the coming years. However I think it is fascinating that the legacy of Sir Joshua lives on at Hassans both in the legal world but also in the political arena.

Of course “political” chambers are not unknown in the UK but they tend to be aligned to a certain party. Today AACR might beat on in the hearts and even have a place in the souls of the older generation of Llanitos but the party itself does not. I believe at heart Sir Joshua was a socialist but the lawyers in Hassans ranks, who are intent on political careers, seemingly represent a far broader spectrum of beliefs thus ensuring the Hassan legacy is firmly intact.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The chief minister of Gibraltar, Peter Caruana, last week appeared yet again before the UN’s Fourth Committee that deals with decolonisation. Also in New York was the former chief minister and leader of the GSLP, Joe Bossano, who insists on making his own presentation.

This of course always annoys Caruana beyond belief and for once I share his ire because I take the view that if a Rock with 30,000 residents cannot speak with one voice before the UN on such a key issue then its very argument is damaged.

When the President of the USA speaks at the UN he does so for all the American people. Likewise so do the presidents and prime ministers of the European countries for their peoples - so why should Gibraltar be different? After all the chief minister is the duly elected leader of the Rock’s government.

Mind you there is a precedent for Gibraltar sending politicians of different political views to address the UN. Back in 1964 Sir Joshua Hassan was the chief minister of Gibraltar’s legislature and leader of the AACR. He went to New York to address the Committee of 24 (which is also dedicated to decolonisation) along with the independent leader of the Opposition, P J Isola. However in that instance the two eminent lawyers were singing from the same hymn sheet and both returned home to a tumultuous welcome in John MacKintosh Square – a scenario hard to imagine Caruana and Bossano sharing.

Interestingly I understand the delegation told the UN that whereas Gibraltar was indisputably a Crown Colony of Great Britain, it was one in which the evils of colonisation no longer existed, and one which was on the verge of achieving self-government. This would strike me as being the same message that subsequent chief ministers carried to the UN over the next 25 years!

I bring you some of the key parts of the Chief Minister’s speech that refer to the Treaty of Utrecht and how this long abandoned document colours both Spain’s relations with the Rock but also the UN’s own treatment of Gibraltar to this day.

Chief Minister Peter Caruana:

“Spain says that a Treaty of 1713 that is now defunct and ignored in every other respect, has been condemned to the dustbin of early 18th century history and violates the principles of the Charter, nevertheless has the effect in the 21st century that the people of my small country, Gibraltar, uniquely, do not enjoy the right to self determination. Put another way: Spain asserts that the political future of my country and its people should be negotiated, decided and imposed upon it by others.

“Pursuant to this remarkable position for this day and age, Spain asserts that our decolonisation can only be brought about by means of the transfer of our Sovereignty by the United Kingdom (who you still list as our so called administering power) to Spain, over our heads, contrary to and regardless of our wishes, and negotiated bilaterally between them. All as if we had no rights and our wishes counted for nothing.

“Spain further claims to associate you all with this anachronistic approach by alleging that the doctrine of the UN reflected in General Assembly Resolutions of the 1960s requires this to be so.

“We in Gibraltar do not agree with this. We will never do so. Nor am I aware of a single reputable international lawyer who is capable of objectivity in the issue of Gibraltar, who believes that the Spanish position is sustainable in international law, including the very UN doctrine that Spain tries to invoke. Little wonder then that our suggestion that the matter be referred to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion is not accepted by Spain.

“As members of the free, democratic world, and subscribers to modern principles of human and political rights, we in Gibraltar believe that the political future of Gibraltar can only be decided or determined by us in accordance with our freely expressed wishes. The contrary view, that our future must be decided by others and imposed on us against our will, is not compatible or consistent with basic principles and values of democracy and human (including political) rights.

“At the heart of the contrary view lies one fatal misconception of principle and one distortion of fact propagated with a view to invoking an inapplicable principle. The misconception of principle is the failure to understand that the Sovereignty of Gibraltar is neither the United Kingdom’s to give away, nor Spain’s to demand by reference to a wholly unrealistic and unviable desire to return the map of the world to what is was 305 years ago, ignoring subsequent democratic, human rights and international legal principles! It is as if Spain thinks that mankind has stood still during the last 305 years, for her benefit in the matter of Gibraltar.

“The distortion of fact (to attempt to apply the UN Charter principle of territorial integrity to the case of Gibraltar) is to ignore the fact that Gibraltar is not part of Spain, and therefore our decolonisation by self determination could not and does not disintegrate Spain’s territorial integrity, rendering that particular principle entirely inapplicable to our case.

“No competent international lawyer concerned to uphold their reputation will argue that it is possible under the UN Charter to decolonise a listed Non Self Governing Territory other than by the application of the principle of self determination. And no democrat should be willing to argue that either.

“Mr Chairman, since the Special Committee on Decolonisation has taken to
fabricating extraordinary rules which are unsustainable in international law and UN Doctrine, such as the suspension of self determination principles to territories affected by a sovereignty dispute (of course, under pressure from states that are sovereignty claimants!), we have been forced to bypass the Special Committee and secure our decolonisation by other means.

“In doing so we have relied on General Assembly Resolution 2625 of 24 October1970, in which a fourth decolonisation method is recognised as acceptable, namely, “any status suitable to its circumstances that is freely determined by the people of a territory in an act of self determination”.

“Mr Chairman, nobody who visits Gibraltar and observes its society and self government can objectively think that Gibraltar, in reality, remains a colony. The decolonisation of Gibraltar is no longer a pending issue. It has already happened in practice and in law by virtue of our new Constitution.”

Friday, October 9, 2009


It was Shakespeare who in Twelfth Night gave the words to the Duke of Orsino that went:

If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

There is also a piece by Henry Purcell entitled – If music be the food of love. Part piano, part a cappella the lyrics were penned by Henry Heveningham. The first line of Heveningham’s poem quotes the opening seven words of Twelfth Night which gave rise to the belief that Purcell’s song is a setting of a Shakespearean text. That it is not so as is clearly seen when you read Heveningham’s lines that follow.

If music be the food of love,
sing on till I am fill'd with joy;
for then my list'ning soul you move
with pleasures that can never cloy,
your eyes, your mien, your tongue declare that you are music ev'rywhere.
Pleasures invade both eye and ear,
so fierce the transports are, they wound,
and all my senses feasted are,
tho' yet the treat is only sound.
Sure I must perish by our charms, unless you save me in your arms.

Now music is very subjective and the choice a person may choose to make love too would reflect both their taste and their mood at the time.

I believe there is a recent album entitled "Music to make love to you old lady by" – which sets the tone sure enough but of course has the presumption that the choice would be the male’s and not the female’s. Experience tells me the opposite might be the truth.

You of course will have your own love theme – give my advanced years and musical taste I think the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana might suit the bill. If I died in the act it would also be a suitable funeral anthem as the music sends me to heaven.

You might counter – "no it should be the William Tell Overture –the Clockwork Orange version" – then sadly I would have to love you - and leave you!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


According to the Campo de Gibraltar drugs association ‘Alternativas’ the financial crisis is having its effect on consumption.

Cocaine is being shunned in favour of heroin – so says data from the Spanish government and National Police – Guardia Civil sources.

Apparently cocaine was becoming a more popular drug but the street price means its popularity is falling. I guess the fact that it is traditional that you snort it through a tube created from a bank note doesn’t help in an economic crisis.

Francisco Mena, president of ‘Alternativas’ told my esteemed colleague Brian Reyes at the Gibraltar Chronicle that the trend of switching from cocaine to heroin is causing deep concern because it is regarded as one of the most addictive and damaging narcotics.

Heroin has always horrified me because I could never understand how somebody could stick a needle in their arm for kicks. However it appears that I’m old school as heroin is now in tablet or snorting form.

There are those of us who have been tempted by drugs because they are a social buzz in the same way as alcohol – so cocaine, hashish and various pills are passed around the dining table or taken in clubs.

However there is also the very different reality of the habitual drug users, who live in poor conditions, have no work, no stable family environment, no hope – just hopelessness - where the daily high comes from the end of a needle.

This is not a hidden society. If you live in the Campo de Gibraltar it stares you in the face in the slums of La Línea and Algeciras and the poor homes of every town and village.

Crack users are in every community but for them there’s very little ‘craic’ to be enjoyed!

(For some interesting blogs on drugs visit Brian Reyes Gibraltar Newsletter at the links section).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


After Britain declared war on Germany in 1939 there entered a period of quiet that was known as the phoney war. I stress I know this from my parents and reports of the time and not personal experience.

Well there is a type of phoney confrontation rather than war going on presently between Spain, Britain and Gibraltar. It involves the Guardia Civil who on a regular basis send in patrol boats to the Rock’s waters where they are duly met by the Royal Gibraltar Police and Gibraltar Squadron. They are then asked to leave which to date they have. However if on a future occasion they refuse the RGP would attempt to arrest the boat and crew which would result in a major diplomatic incident.

I should explain here that under the Treaty of Utrecht by which Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity the only rights given regarding the waters were those of the then harbour. Under international law Gibraltar currently holds a three mile limit and could extend that to twelve miles but Britain has not followed that course. Spain still maintains that Gibraltar has no waters except those of the harbour.

So now we have the phoney war or confrontation because by and large the Spanish, British and Gibraltarian governments are saying nowt. It is left to the GSLP – Liberal opposition in Gibraltar and the opposition Partido Popular in Spain to fight a verbal battle. However make no mistake the Guardia Civil is only in Gibraltar’s waters because the government in Madrid has given it the nod – it does not act on its own accord or take its orders from the Partido Popular.

So what does Gibraltar’s opposition think of all this? Liberal Party leader and coalition deputy leader Dr Joseph Garcia explained: “The opposition condemn the fact that the Spanish Civil Guard continues to operate in Gibraltar waters as if these belonged to Spain. This follows another recent incident where the Civil Guard requested documentation from persons on a boat off Europa Point. In this case, the Guardia Civil were expelled from the area by the RGP and the Royal Navy.

Garcia believes: “This latest incident confirms that Spain has moved from a position where they were content to claim that our waters were Spanish to a more aggressive position where they now continue to act and behave as if the waters belong to them.

He continued: “It will be recalled that on a proposal from Madrid, the European Commission designated Gibraltar’s territorial waters and adjacent international sea as if they were Spanish in an environmental directive at the end of last year. A few months later Spain proceeded to exercise powers in the area with the arrival of the corvette “Tarifa”, a fisheries protection vessel. The vessel lowered a RIB which proceeded to question fishing boats going about their business. The RIB refused to leave when asked to do so by the Royal Navy.

“More recently, there have also been several reports of over-flights by an aircraft belonging to Spain’s environmental agency. This aircraft has not answered to calls from Gibraltar air traffic control even when civil aircraft have been approaching the area.

“At the same time as this, the Spanish Civil Guard have been reported increasingly close to Gibraltar, including in Catalan Bay and Eastern Beach, questioning fishermen and others on boats and requesting their documentation. It will be recalled that the Gibraltar Government at the time advised anyone who was stopped in this way inside Gibraltar waters to let off a flare gun or call the RGP.”

And what about the intervention of the Partido Popular? The opposition sees it as adding insult to injury. Garcia said: “In the context of this continuing harassment by Spain and the constant challenges to our waters and our airspace, the call by Partido Popular MP Jose Ignacio Landaluce for Madrid to take action against Gibraltar following the recent expulsion of the Civil Guard patrol boat only serves to add insult to injury. The PP has described the expulsion as an act of provocation which Spain cannot tolerate any longer.”

“The Opposition considers that the only act of provocation that exists in the first place is the continuing presence of the Spanish authorities inside the waters of Gibraltar, where they have no jurisdiction. The pertinent Gibraltar authorities must ensure that the sovereignty and integrity of British Gibraltar territorial waters is adequately upheld and defended at all times in the face of the aggressive campaign which Spain has embarked upon over the last few months.”

Of course this tension has built up with a socialist government in Madrid that is meant to prefer jaw-jaw to war-war. However if at the next election PSOE is ousted by the Partido Popular then we can expect the ante in the waters around Gibraltar to be upped and it could become very hot indeed.

Mind you it is easy to shout from the opposition benches and a different kettle of fish when you are in government and Anglo-Spanish relations are at stake. What is without a doubt is that a Partido Popular government will take a stronger line over Gibraltar but it could be argued that its approach might be preferable to a PSOE government that says one thing and does another.

(Photo: Guardia Civil).

Friday, October 2, 2009


There was dismay amongst the many opponents of Spain’s new abortion law as it was approved by the government last Saturday. It will now go to parliament for final approval. What has angered many people is the provision that those aged 16 will be able to have an abortion without their parents consenting.

The controversial measure has been strongly opposed by the Roman Catholic Church, the Partido Popular and even members of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s own PSOE.

Abortions will be allowed for women of 16 and over on demand up to the 14th week of pregnancy and up to 22 weeks if there is a risk to the mother's health or if the foetus is deformed. Women can also undergo the procedure after 22 weeks if the foetus has a serious or incurable illness.

The current law was introduced in 1985. It only allows abortion in cases of rape, foetal malformation and when a pregnant woman’s mental or physical health is deemed to be at risk if the pregnancy goes to term.

However the fight is not yet over. The Partido Popular has promised it will challenge the reforms in Spain’s Constitutional Court. In addition a coalition of largely Catholic based groups will hold a demonstration against abortion in Madrid on October 17.

Not surprisingly an opinion poll in June showed 64 percent of people oppose allowing 16-year-olds to have abortions without parental consent. Among PSOE supporters, 56 percent said they opposed the move, according to the Metroscopia carried out for the socialist-leaning newspaper El País.

I have made my views on this issue known in my previous blogs. I accept contraception both to prevent pregnancy and to tackle Aids. However I can only accept abortion in cases of incest, rape or when a woman’s health is at risk. I do not believe abortion should be used as a belated form of contraception and I believe the unborn child has rights even if it doesn’t have a vote.

By chance the Conservative Baroness Knight of Collingtree was in Spain last week. She is better known as the one time outspoken MP Jill Knight who has strong views on many subjects including abortion. On the proposed Spanish law she told me:

"Parents are still responsible for their children’s welfare at the age of 16.   They normally have to give consent for even such things as a tonsillectomy and would be found guilty in courts if they failed to look after them properly.   To ban them from even the knowledge of an abortion is, I believe, quite wrong.   That operation has serious possible hazards and after-effects.   I do not agree that people who have any ‘abnormalities’ should be destroyed.   Will Spain go on to legalise the putting to death of any person who is not entirely normal?   That is certainly what the laws you cite would imply.   I would only agree with an abortion if the health of the mother were to be at risk." 

Well that’s two views but of course there are many others. I asked a number of readers of this blog, all women, all resident in Spain, what their take on the issue was. They told me:

"Those wicked "celibate" priests have no right at all to ever pronounce upon anything which pertains to women’s bodies, nay, anything to do with women at all. They know nothing; I was at a wedding recently and do you know what the priest said was the solution if there were problems in your marriage? He said the cure for problems in your marriage was another child. Still, we’ll soon be rid of them, infallible, forsooth. I hear that there was but one chap ordained in Ireland in the whole of last year. Much of course depends upon the 16 year old. It is a pity that every case cannot be argued on its "merits". But, unless you are very feeble in which case your parents should have kept better care of you, surely your body is your own business by the time you have been potty trained, ok, after puberty?"

"I cannot understand how a socialist government takes such a one sided view on life - supposedly socialism means equal opportunity for members of its society - they are saying a living human being, albeit inside the body of another and as yet unable to speak for itself, but sharing blood and nutrients even the emotions of its creator can be discarded without defence? I cannot help wondering whether this involves their stance against the Catholic Church but then I tell myself how churlish over such a serious debate -although there should be no room for debate. Surely a modern society/government should put in place the means by which this person is defended and left to live? In the case of an unwanted child ( what a terrible phrase- probably in some primitive societies that would be untranslatable) the mother should be helped and supported to at least give birth in the knowledge that emotionally and physically she will not suffer, assured that her child will be welcomed and cared for even if not by herself - or the father ; in many cases it is only fear and lack of support that forces women into the decision to abort with all the suffering and guilt that entails. That a society of the 21st century cannot or worse does not desire to create these circumstances is truly criminal. Suffer the little children? Of course they do."

"I feel that the difficult decision on abortion should be in the hands of the woman involved.  Fortunately, I have never had to make that decision myself. I am not the ‘demonstrating kind of Christian woman’ so protesting in Madrid would not be my way of showing my feelings."

So that’s five views in all – all differing – some pro – some against – you certainly have your own thoughts on this emotive subject – if you want to add to the debate click on "comments" below. If your comments aren’t constructive save your breath!