Friday, January 29, 2010


A “cateto” is a peasant, a country bumpkin. In a recent column the distinguished journalist Francisco Rubiales asks is Spain’s Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero “un cateto”?

What has prompted his question is the appearance of the Spanish premier, who currently is also the president of the EU, at the world financial forum in Davos.

Davos is a prestigious event and Rubiales tell us that Zapatero has in the past been asked six times to attend but has always said “no”. This time he said “yes” but belatedly meaning he had to be shoehorned in to one of the secondary debates.

I have heard it said that because Zapatero does not speak English he has left his foreign minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos – who speaks the language well – to conduct the nation’s foreign affairs. Certainly at Davos Rubiales says that there were embarrassing interludes as the official translator had to interpret for the Spanish premier and then for the audience.

The inference is that Zapatero is an embarrassment to the Spanish nation by seemingly being so out of his league amidst the high and mighty of the political and financial world. In addition Rubiales argues that he has a low standing because of the abject failure of his financial policies in Spain and the dire state of the economy, unemployment and so on.

Of course as a Briton, albeit living in Spain, I bow to the view of Spaniards on whether they find Zapatero an embarrassment or not. True he is my premier also but I am used to British prime ministers speaking only English – but of course that is the key language of the UN and forums such as Davos.

So is Zapatero a “cateto”? Far be it from me to say. What I do believe is that whilst Britain’s premier, Gordon Brown, speaks English and struts the world stage, he has failed miserably to communicate with his own electorate – and it is they and not the delegates at Davos who will hand him or deny him the legitimacy of being elected Britain’s prime minister this year. A status he is yet to hold.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Last week I travelled to Kingston-on-Thames to attend the graduation ceremony of my niece. It was a very proud moment because not only did it signal the end of years of hard studying by Samantha but she is the first member of my immediate family to attend university and walk off with an honours degree.

I, of course, have a degree from the University of Life. Sam, who in many ways is wiser than her years but still not wise enough, insists that this university is a figment of the imagination. It would be churlish of me to pick an argument with her at the moment of her triumph. However many sage readers will now the truth of what I claim, albeit I have to admit, few honours came my way.

Now graduation ceremonies are splendid affairs. Whilst Sam’s was not in a gilded hall of Oxbridge it was in the Rose Theatre – so for me with my close association with the dramatic arts it was a more than suitable stage.

As each graduate came forward from Kingston University's Arts and Social Sciences faculty there where loud claps or even cheers from the assembled friends and families. Yet whilst I looked on with pride in all the students’ achievements I also had a sense of depression and sadness.

The fact is that in 2008 in 45 British universities over one in 10 graduates were left jobless. Whilst some universities bucked that trend, notably in Scotland, others produced graduates with diplomas and student debts but no opportunity to take on the employment for which they studied.

Data from Hesa shows students found work in low-paid jobs working as bar staff, labourers, shelf stackers, parking attendants and cleaners. Samantha will join that number whilst she takes on voluntary work to gain experience working with the vulnerable victims of crime. That is right and proper but in the end we as a society must ensure there are the jobs to reward those years of study. True, universities have a responsibility to ensure degree courses are tailored to our jobs market otherwise we will be creating graduates whose ambitions can never be fulfilled.

We will be creating a generation of lost dreams – by degrees.

(Photo: Samantha (right) with a fellow graduate and their respective mothers. If in doubt I am on the right. Sharp eyed readers will notice I have a wine glass in my hand. In my defence I should point out that my Spanish doctor assures me that red wine is good for you. You will also notice that my glass is empty. From that draw what conclusions you will.)

Monday, January 25, 2010


The average salary is Spain is said to be 21,500 euros a year which is almost half the 40,000 euros of the UK, Holland and Germany and 20 per cent lower that the EU norm.

The data comes from a report issued by Adecco and the IESE business school and is based on the evolution of salaries in 14 European countries between 2003 and 2008.

The average wages in the Old Continent was 27,036 euros in 2008. The UK led the rankings with 46,058 euros for full-time employees followed by Holland (42,720 euros) and Germany (40,914 euros).

At the bottom end of the scale are Hungary, Slovakia, Rumania and Bulgaria all of whom joined the EU in 2007. Here the average salary does not rise above 10,000 euros a year.

However the gap between the highest average earning nation and the lowest is closing. The three top countries earned 11.9 per cent more than those at the bottom in 2003 but that had dropped to 7.8 in 2008.

In Spain manufacturing clocked up the highest amount with an average of 24,023 euros whilst the private services sector earned just over 20,000 and construction 19,910 euros.

Male workers earned 28 per cent more than their female counterparts in all 14 countries. That difference in salaries was maintained over the five year period of the survey.

However in Spain the gap is significantly wider putting the nation in fourth place in the league. Here men earn 34.4 per cent more that women (24,020 and 17,866 respectively) but the gap is closing as in 2003 Spain was in second place with 38 per cent.

I know many Spaniards and ex-pats living in Spain who would be more than pleased to earn 21,500 euros a year. Estanislao Ramírez, the president of the APCG – the journalists association of the Campo de Gibraltar – tells me that the average salary of journalists in the private sector is around 1,000 euros and in the public 1,700 euros – both well below the Spanish norm. This will come as no surprise to my readers in the media who work in Spain... but then since when has a hack’s lot been a happy one.

Happy or not there are families in Andalucía and wider Spain existing, if that is the right word, or less than 500 euros a month. Real poverty is in our midst and whilst we have to work to raise the average earnings generally in Spain our first priority must surely be to help those for who even 21,500 euros is a pipe dream.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Although I was born in South East London my maternal family were East Enders who had moved across the river to what were then greener fields. So it will be no great surprise that my first memories of trips to the seaside were back through the Blackwall Tunnel to Southend-on-Sea or more correctly on-Thames.

Now apart from walking the prom, the train down the pier and adventures in Peter Pans playground eating also played a major role on those outings. We ate fish and chips a plenty, cockles but I did manage to escape jellied eels. My favourite eating house was Ye Old Sausage Shop – sadly with us no more.

One of the revered names in Southend catering was and still is Tomassi’s - a catering concern established by Italians who in the first instance sold wonderful ice cream creations. Today Tomassi’s still sell ice cream but have a large restaurant in Southend High Street just yards from the seafront. Despite my frequent childhood trips to Southend and my parents having moved there in 1966 I have never eaten in Tomassis – till now.

On a recent Saturday evening I made my first visit to what was a very busy restaurant. They were more than happy to squeeze one more in and I thoroughly enjoyed my skate and chips. On the back page of the ice cream menu is a Tomassi’s advertisement from the 1955 Southend Carnival programme. Many of these ice cream delights are still available today – but of course the prices certainly aren’t the same.

One of the items listed but that isn’t available is Ron’s Revenge. It was priced at two shillings and Tomassis admit they have no idea what it was.

My first thought was Ron was some East End wide boy along the lines of Ronnie Kray. Obviously not because below was the give away line – “You’ll like if Eth”.

I am old enough to remember Ron and Eth, two of the key characters in The Glums which ran as part of the legendary radio show Take It From Here. The programme was on the BBC from1948 to 1960 and The Glums soon became a regular feature in the series.

Mr Glum, played by Jimmy Edwards, was father to dim Ron (Dick Bentley) who in turn was courting a plain lass – Eth (June Whitefield) - who wanted to better herself but Ron represented her only hope of finding a husband - and he never did get around to marrying her. The brilliant scripts were written by Denis Norden and Frank Muir.

What I don’t know is what happened in the summer of 1955 to inspire an ice cream extravaganza called Ron’s Revenge – and why it generated the slogan “You’ll like it Eth”. However I have no doubt that there is somebody older and wiser than myself reading this who knows the answer – and hopefully will pass it on.

Friday, January 15, 2010


When I sat down for cud with Prospero on Wednesday in Jimena’s Vecina Bar pussy was the hot topic. Now there was a time, when the world and we two were young, when such chat would have had a rather different connotation. But with the ghost of Mrs Slocombe at our side our thoughts turned to Prospero and his feral cat – or they did once we discussed how he’d got dog hair on his hat.

Not only does Prospero have to run the gauntlet of being savaged by an Alsatian dog that thrusts its head through the fence every time he tries to reach the safety of his home – but once there he has to face the trauma of the feral puss. Oh how the Gods reek their revenge!

Apparently mog has taken up residence in the area where he feeds his dog. Whilst the malevolent feline sits tall and views them with contempt Prospero and his far from small dog cower in the corner as puss moves in and eats man’s best friend’s dinner.

Believe me Prospero this is a war you have to win. For whilst it may be the dog’s dinner today as sure as a cat’s whiskers show the width of its body tomorrow it will be yours. No need for that smug look either as you pat your tin of Spam believing you are safe in the knowledge that a wild moggy will never master the opening key. Such devices may have long defeated man and woman but feral cats cut their teeth on tins of Spam and Bully Beef.

I speak from a position of knowledge for as I write this I am engaged in a battle to the death with a six-month old ginger street kitten who just popped in off the terrace to partake in a tug of war with my piece of toast covered in pate de Jabugo. Only one winner there!

I now head off to the UK where the niece is about to receive due accolades for passing two ‘ologies’ at university. I leave you dear reader in peace for several days. Ojalá I will safely return for cud next Wednesday. By that time I hope that Prospero will have tamed the wild beast. If not it could be just Mrs Slocombe’s ghost and her demented pussy joining me for jamon Serrano and toast. Or even the pesky ginger kitten!

Head of ladies fashion, Mrs Slocombe (Mollie Sugden) sported a different hair colour every week and continually harped on about her “pussy” in - Are You Being Served? A famous BBC TV comedy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Spain’s highly controversial abortion law has been passed by the lower house of parliament – Congress – but it is still making its way through the Senate. However the Ley del Aborto has already opened up old wounds between the Catholic Church and the ruling socialist party.

This situation has come about because of the decision by the Catholic Church hierarchy to ban a leading member of the PSOE government from receiving communion. José Bono is a staunch Catholic but he is also president of the lower house of Spain’s parliament. In an interview with the daily newspaper, El Mundo, he voiced his support for the new law which he voted in favour of when it was approved by Congress in December.

Bono argued in the interview that he supported the new law because he understood that it would reduce the number of abortions and that, according to the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, “politicians can vote for laws governing abortion if they believe that they are reducing the evil it causes.”

However the Spanish Episcopal Conference has refuted this thesis. In a letter to El Mundo the bishops state that this Encyclical allows a Catholic to vote for an abortion law that reduces the injustice of the current legislation but the politician is obliged to vote against any law which does not adequately protect the inviolable right to life of those who are yet to be born.

The Catholic Church in Spain feels itself under attack by the very liberal PSOE administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero on numerous fronts including abortion, divorce, gay rights and education. In recent history the church was closely associated with the dictatorship of Franco and hence generations of distrust have grown up between it and those on the left of Spanish politics.

The vice secretary general of PSOE, José Blanco, waded in to the battle after the church barred Bono from receiving communion. He has accused the church of “hypocrisy” pointing out that it took no action against members of the former Partido Popular government of José María Aznar that introduced the present abortion law.

Bono accused the Catholic Church of “a permanent contradiction” because it didn’t deny communion “to members of the government of the right under whom in our country there have been over 500,000 abortions.”

Thus the fight over the right to life of the unborn child has descended in to old animosities with socialists believing that the church favours its allies on the right above those on the left – even devout Catholics such as PSOE’s José Bono.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


The Western Sahara peace activist, Aminatu Haidar, switched within hours from being on the verge of death from an enforced hunger strike in Spain to being held under house arrest at her home in El Aaiún. When you are fighting for civil rights for your country your life is constantly under threat so such radical changes in fortunes come as the norm to the woman described as the “Saharawi Gandhi” for her non-violent protests.

It was on November 14 that Morocco refused to allow Aminatu Haidar to return to her home in the Western Sahara on her return from New York where she had received the Civil Courage Prize for her work in demanding human rights for her homeland. Although she had neither a Moroccan nor Spanish passport she was allowed to return to Lanzarote with the government in Madrid guaranteeing her safe conduct although she was later fined on public order offences.

The Spanish Government offered her a passport but she refused the gesture as she insisted on keeping her Western Saharan status. Instead she vowed to return to her native land “dead or alive”.

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

On Monday December 14 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 been scheduled to discuss Spain taking over the presidency of the EU on January 1 but as Haidar’s condition weakened it became a diplomatic priority to seek a solution. From the US capital Moratinos issued a plea to Haidar to end her hunger strike.
Morocco stood fast over Haidar. The foreign minister, Taib Fassi Fihri, insisted 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 be allowed to return to the Western Sahara in dignity the area’s premier Abdelkader Taleb Omar, had 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.

Then on Thursday December 17 there was 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 was hanging by 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 the same Thursday she was flown in a hospital plane to the capital of the Western Sahara - El Aaiún. She was accompanied on her journey by her sister and the doctor who had been attending her. On receiving the news she was free to go home her protest and hunger strike ended. On leaving Spain Aminatu Haidar declared: “This is a triumph - a victory for international law, human rights and the Saharan cause.”

It was a victory at a price! Haidar now says she has being held under house arrest since her return home to El Aaiún on December 18. Before Christmas the Moroccan security forces prevented a Reuter’s reporter from visiting Haidar at her home so she gave a telephone interview with the press agency’s office in Rabat on Christmas Eve. Haidar said: “My isolation continues. I am under house arrest. The members of my family and friends have problems visiting me. The shops in my quarter are suffering from the isolation.”

She continued: “I have the value of my convictions to continue with the cause of self-determination for the Saharan people. Nothing will make me give up – the threat of jail, kidnapping, torture or exile.” She accused Morocco of using “carrot and the stick” politics with the Polisario Front and the Saharans adding that “Morocco is repressing the Saharan population whilst it is negotiation with the Polisario Front.”

Franco’s dying act

Like many of the troubled lands in today’s world the tragedy of Western Sahara lies in its colonial rule by Spain and Franco’s desire to rid his country of its obligations “muy pronto”. Indeed it was literally Franco’s dying act that his government secretly signed a tripartite agreement with Morocco and Mauritania allowing Spain to abandon the Western Sahara. The agreement was signed on November 14 1975 – days later Franco was dead.

Spain was gone from the Western Sahara within three months. Instead of the tripartite administration envisaged in the accord Morocco and Mauritania each annexed parts of the territory. Morocco seized the northern two thirds creating its southern provinces whilst Mauritania took the southern third as Tiris al-Gharbiyya.

Franco’s Spain may have abandoned its former colony but the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, forced Mauritania to withdraw in 1979. This solved little as Morocco merely moved in to the territory that Mauritania had controlled setting up the sand-berm in the desert to contain the Polisario liberation fighters.

In 1991 the fighting ceased after the UN brokered a peace agreement. However this still leaves the former colony that covers some 266,000 square kilometres of desert flatlands – one of the most sparsely populated nations on earth – in a state of limbo. El Aaiún, where Haidar is now under house arrest, is the Western Saharan capital – home to over half of the more than 500,000 people who live in the former Spanish colony.

So to today where Morocco and the Polosario Front independence movement with its República Árabe Saharaui Democrática (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) government vies for control of these desert sands. It will come as no surprise that the USA has sat on the fence whilst the SADR has won the backing from 46 States plus the African Union and Morocco has the support of the Arab League. Spain is one of those countries refusing to recognise Morocco’s sovereignty claim.

This support swings with the fickleness of international trends and it is left to brave people such as Aminatu Haidar and her Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders to keep the plight of this impoverished would-be nation in the hearts and minds of those who believe in civil rights and the right to self-determination for all.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


As I walked through Ronda the other day I spotted a poster on a shop door telling me that there was going to be a talk at the Casa de Cultura for all those who believed in life after death.

Well as a Catholic agnostic I guess I fall in to that category although more in hope than conviction that this life isn’t it and there’s more to come albeit in a spiritual form.

But I had to chuckle when I read that Gibraltar’s Financial Services Commission had issued a public warning on the Reincarnation Bank. It was or is an unlicensed bank operating a web-site owned by 2i Ltd, a Gibraltar Company.

The FSC warning follows the successful application by the FSC to the Supreme Court for an injunction against the defendant from disposing of any assets or monies which he may have control over.

The FSC adds that it maintains that “Reincarnation Bank was holding itself out as deposit-taker under the Financial Services (Banking) Act without holding an authorisation to do, which is an offence under that Act. In order to protect any depositors who may have placed funds with this institution the FSC sought to protect the monies already at the account and seek further disclosure of the affairs of the defendant.”

Apparently the bank’s website claimed that “Reincarnation Bank is a banking facility for all believers of Reincarnation. The Bank offers a safe and secure management system for its clients a place they can leave behind their assets and commodities for the return into their next life.”

You have to laugh and even question would anybody be so stupid as to deposit their money or assets with any bank in the hope they could then use them in some future life. Then the old saying - a fool and his money are soon parted came to mind – so the answer is probably – yes there was!

Thursday, January 7, 2010


When I met my good friend Prospero to chew the cud over breakfast in Jimena’s Vecina Bar last week he mentioned that later in the day he was going with a mutual friend to the local Punto Limpio recycling centre. What exciting lives we two old hacks lead – but the point is the fact that it was part of his day’s agenda didn’t seem in the least out of the ordinary.

The reason I mention this is that two out of every three residents of Andalucía say they recycle their household waste of paper, glass and plastic “as a matter of habit”. Those are the conclusions of the Ecobarómetro de Andalucía 2009 produced by the Institute of Advanced Social Studies for the region’s ministry of the environment.

Of those questioned 65.3per cent said they sorted out their household waste for recycling whilst 27 per cent admitted they didn’t recycle at all.

Women are the most committed recyclers in the household (68.7 per cent) compared with men (62.4 per cent). Those aged between 45 and 59 years are tops in protecting the environment with 73.7 per cent sorting out their household items before disposal.

The better educated members of society seem to be taking the lead with 80.2 per cent with a university degree saying they recycle their waste compared with 56.7 of those with standard schooling.

So what is the profile of the non-recycler? According to the Ecobarometer he is male, under 30 without any further education. This same group says it is not worried about the environment.

Well you know what they say about statistics but what surprises me about these findings is that it seems to be the older generation – like Prospero and my good self, well educated coves that we are – who are in the vanguard here.

If you’d ask me to take a guess I would have said it was the youngsters who are the committed recyclers –but it seems “we” are the trend setters – and it’s many a year since either of us held that title!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I have previously dedicated two of my blogs to Kidd Millennium – the first almost a year ago. He can also be seen on the Tilting At Windmills Blog page doing just that – tilting at windmills.

If you are new to the Kidd then let me tell you he is older than his years, because he has already brought us a deep insight into two terms of George Dubya.

The Kidd is the brain child of Ron Callari and more recently he has been fleshed out by my old friend Jon Donohoe.

In my first blog Ron told us that: “On January 1, 2001, kidd emerged as a full-blown character and an ongoing, self-proclaimed spokes-kid for the next generation. Estimated at 3.9 million American children, societal forecasters believe that this new population group (born post 2000) will eclipse the attention of the boomers, the last major bubble to have moved through the population funnel. Based on that premise, kidd millennium comments, with attitude, on his brave new world from a narcissistic and questioning point of view. The weekly cartoons present an editorial perspective of topical issues in today's society, this side of the millennium. Similar to a cartoon character that emerged over a 100 years ago, called the Yellow Kid, kidd millennium satirizes the social and political foibles of the day.”

Up till now the Kidd has only appeared on a website loving cared for by Ron and Jon. Now he is available in book form too. I have to say I like my books in the traditional format - but hey this is the Kidd we are talking about so you can read all about the Crude Behaviour of the Bush years on the new fangled Kindle.

To read all about it or even better buy it just visit the Amazon Kindle store by clicking here.

The Kidd has assured me that the small amount it costs will not go to his head – but I am not sure the same can be said for Ron or Jon!

PS: According to Amazon the book was illustrated by Jan not Jon. Maybe Jon has undergone a sex change – in which case he’ll be the first truly bearded lady!