Thursday, December 31, 2009


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

There appears to be two theories.

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

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

So why twelve grapes?

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, December 23, 2009


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

According to Mitch:

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

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

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

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

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

Santa Claus is called Babbo Natale in Italy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we did then may the good Lord help us!

Friday, December 18, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2009


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

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

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


Thursday, December 10, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 4, 2009


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

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

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


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

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

Thursday, December 3, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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