Monday, March 29, 2010
Well I lived under Table Mountain for a short time in the 1980s and since the 1990s the Rock of Gibraltar has been on the horizon or a near neighbour. The Taj Mahal has yet to be visited...but I have dined at a restaurant of the same name – in Shepherds Bush I think.
The most famous hotel in Gibraltar is the Rock – as the name suggests it is perched on the side of the limestone monolith with outstanding views across the bay to Algeciras and the Strait to Morocco. It was built in 1932 by the Marquis of Bute and over the intervening years became one of the Med’s most distinguished hotels - a home from home for the Britons sailing the high seas to and from old Blighty. Needless to say many famous people have stayed there – their photographs adorn the Barbary Bar wall.
Today’s world is very different but the Rock Hotel retains much of its old world charm. It has every convenience that the modern traveller could want down to Wi-Fi in its bedrooms. Yet there is a quirkiness about the hotel which I suspect can be laid largely at the door of its general manager Stephen Davenport. When I tell you he is an Arsenal supporter – those who known their soccer will nod wisely. There are ducks in your bath, lollipops in your room and macaques (apes to you and me) on your room key – yet the real quirkiness emanates from the proud hotel’s very walls.
I went to the hotel to sample the fondue – quirky indeed as I haven’t had one for over 35 years. Yet it wasn’t that splendid meal or the sumptuous breakfast that caught my imagination. It was the awe inspiring beauty of the setting. The hotel has a famous wisteria terrace and this magnificent vine was in full bloom. The views of the sun setting behind the Algeciras hills were magic – you could almost reach out and touch Morocco on your left. Then in the dark the lights shine before you from San Roque round to Algeciras and from across the Strait in Tangier - whilst the hustle and bustle of passing ships in one of the world’s busiest waterways ensures an ever changing backdrop to sip a coffee and whisky from your terrace before bed.
I have no knowledge of what lies in the future for the Rock Hotel. Just experience tells me that at sometime in the years to come some bright spark will seek to improve what in its quirky way is already perfect. Therefore sooner rather than later take the opportunity to stay at this oasis of calm – a throwback to a past age – and you can always send photographs of your experiences from your laptop as you sit below the magnificent wisteria sipping a sun downer. How quirky can you get!
Friday, March 26, 2010
The story came back to mind on Monday when I read a piece in Europa Sur. It told of a woman in the Campo de Gibraltar who earned her living throwing sex toy parties. She told the newspaper that women from 18 to 70 came along to the event and many of the older women brought their daughters or grand daughters. At the end of the party they bought what they thought might enliven their sex lives.
There was a photograph of all the paraphernalia that one of these parties entails – vibrators, dildos, creams and oils. But what caught my eye was in the middle of the table covered with these sexual delights - it was a duck. The sort of duck you’d have floated in the bath as a child.
Now I’m very partial to duck be it on my plate or the village pond. I have long since given up on taking a yellow duck to my bath but I know that Gibraltar’s Rock Hotel does provide them for guests.
I have asked around a number of people who are more worldly wise than me but they failed to come up with the answer as to what a duck might be doing at a sex toy party. Being a determined reporter I now know the truth but my beak is sealed... let me just say that by all accounts it gives you good vibrations.
My grandmother often used to say “Love a duck” when she was surprised or dismayed. Now I know why.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Fox News – fairly unbalanced as its slogan should read – serves a wonderful service to the world. It reminds us all how truly lucky we are not to live in the USA.
Those of us who do not live in totalitarian states expect our TV stations to be unbiased so to watch Fox – where a balanced debate involves two Republicans – comes as quite a shock.
Fox News has invested much of its credibility in defeating Obama’s health care bill. Wars may erupt around the world, natural disasters occur but for Fox watchers the only news worth headlining was the progress of the legislation and what a disaster it spelt for the land of the free if passed.
The Canadian and British national health services might not be perfect but Fox was happy to slander them holding them up as the bogey men that could be inflicted upon US citizens if the Obama bill was passed. The thought of universal health care and the concept that a person should receive medical assistance based on their need and not their ability to pay for insurance sent Fox and its broadcasters in to a frenzy.
Whilst Shepherd Smith might present the fair face of Fox we also have the unbalanced, deranged performances of the likes of the Glenn Beck – a man with all the charm and santity of a mediaeval witch-finder pursuivant. Not even President Obama being mugged in a lengthy interview by Fox’s Brett Baer just days ago could prevent the march of the health care bill.
Republican politicians are well used to the rough and tumble of Washington – to victory and defeat. The real shocked faces on Monday were on Fox News – a station that has invested its prestige in defeating Obama – and lost twice!
Hence I do not approve of the current vogue that sees our political leaders rushing to apologise for sins that were committed by their nations centuries or even decades ago. So I beg the question should the Pope be apologising for the child abuse cases in Ireland?
Before I go on regular readers of my blog will know that whilst I was brought up a Catholic I have long since lapsed. I also have to stress that whilst I was taught by nuns, brothers and priests – and spent much time in their company – I have never been subjected to any abuse mentally, physically or sexually.
However it is quite clear that Catholic children have suffered at the hands of the very people who they should have felt they could trust the most in Ireland, Germany, the USA and around the world.
Yet was it the Pope’s fault? It could be argued that as the head of the Catholic Church the buck stops with him. Many popes may have liked to think that they were the almighty but if you are a believer then ultimately the buck stops with God – and hence when the offending priests, bishops, cardinals and popes face their maker they will have to answer for their sins.
A bishop stated on television on Saturday that if properly read the Pope’s letter to the faithful in Ireland would take around 40 minutes to get through. That sounds to me like punishing the congregation more than the clergy. I also fear it is diverting the attention away from the pervert priests and guilty hierarchy.
My priority would be for the paedophile priests to have the full weight of the law thrown at them. If the hierarchy were complicit in a cover-up then they should also be charged as accessories. I was going to say that both are nothing more than common criminals but that of course would slander many err-do-wells who may have broken the law but do not sexually abuse the innocent. None-the-less justice will not be served until they are shamed in courts of law and thrown behind bars.
If there is a God – whoever he, she or it may be – then religious justice will follow in due course and not be handed out by men in robes in Rome who for so long were happy to look the other way.
For now we have to settle for criminal justice which should not be lessened or avoided because of a government’s subservience to the Holy Roman Catholic Church or any other organised religious group.
I firmly believe the abused children should receive retribution – I just question whether the Pope is the man for the job.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Me: A beer please.
Waitress: A coffee?
Me: A beer please.
Waitress: A white coffee?
Me: A beer – I’ll have a beer without alcohol.
Waitress: You want a coffee with no milk.
Me: I want a beer!
Fridge door is opened and a bottle of Cruzcampo is waived in my direction. I nod my ascent.
Waitress: Are you English?
Waitress: Sorry I don’t speak English.
Me: Do you have red wine?
Waitress: You want another beer?
Me: Do you have red wine?
Waitress: You want a coffee?
Me: Do you have a Rioja.
Waitress: A Rioja no. I have this red wine – do you want it with white lemonade.
Me: No – I’ll have another beer.
Waitress: Sorry, I don’t speak English.
15 minutes later:
Me: Can I have the bill please.
Waitress: You want another beer?
Me: Can I have the bill please.
Waitress: You want a coffee?
Me: I want the bill! The bill!
Waitress: Oh you want the bill – sorry I don’t speak English.
I should add that between the above conversations I spoke to a seven-year-old girl who I suspect is the daughter of the cafe’s owner. She told me very proudly she spoke English. We had a couple of brief chats – I spoke to her in Spanish – she replied in English. We understood each other perfectly.
There must be a moral to this story – but for the life of me I haven’t a clue what it is.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Traditionally the people of the village and countryside have lived off what the soil provides – and many still do. In recent years there has been a steady market created for the mushrooms and fungi that can be harvested in the woodlands.
A number of years ago Jimena, to much fanfare, opened its own ‘lonja micológica’ where the collectors could bring their harvest and sell it directly to wholesalers at the going rate. This was the first market of its kind in Andalucía and other villages have sent people to Jimena to see how it operated so they could duplicate this mushroom market at home.
Well there would be no point in their coming now. Fran Gómez, the coordinator for Izquierda Unida in Jimena, tells me that the doors of the lonja are firmly shut.
In January the town hall announced that it was closing the marketing because work would shortly start next door on the construction of the new local police station. This would mean the electricity would be cut and access would be restricted.
However three months on the work hasn’t started and the market has remained closed. This has coincided with a period of good mushroom harvests brought on by the rains. As the mushroom collectors can’t sell through the market they are left dependent on selling at lower prices to buyers who then capitalize on the abundant harvest themselves.
At this time of economic crisis, when many families are living below the breadline, the mushroom collectors should be helped and not hindered in putting food on their tables. This is a tale of a small village in Andalucía but tragically it is mirrored throughout Spain where the poor are not helped yet miraculously the rich get richer. Wasn’t it ever so?
Monday, March 15, 2010
I have just read in the Gibraltar Chronicle the latest opinion poll carried out amongst the Rock’s electorate and can’t help wondering if “up the poll” applies here.
It reports that the “pro-government newspaper” 7-Days says the ruling GSD will romp home with 32.73 per cent of the vote with the GSLP – Liberal coalition on 18.18 per cent.
Now I have been a Gibraltar watcher for 18 years and I can’t ever remember there being that wide a gap between the parties. Indeed in recent outings to the ballot box it has been a matter of several percentage points dividing the two.
Apparently 440 people were sampled which given the size of the Rock’s electorate is a good number. The same poll shows 37.27 per cent undecided which also has me scratching my head.
There will be one major change when Gibraltar goes to the polls either this year or next. It is expected that the veteran GSLP leader and former chief minister, Joe Bossano, will step down and that another younger blood will head the party. The most likely new leader is Fabian Picardo although Gilbert Lucudi might dispute that. Interestingly whilst this poll said 8.18 per cent favoured Joe Boss as chief minister, 6.36 preferred Fabian Picardo against the 31.98 per cent of the incumbent Peter Caruana. Thirty-five per cent didn’t know.
Now a cynic might say, so that’s me off the hook, that given that the poll was carried out by 7 Days it was merely a distorted campaigning piece for the GSD. May be so – but in recent elections the Gibraltar daily Panorama has been uncannily accurate in its polls – and it is in the opposition camp.
I have certainly not detected any such massive public opinion swing since the last elections or that the Gibraltar voters are so undecided on who to vote for. However I do acknowledge that if Joe Boss does step down from the leadership of the GSLP then it will mark as big a sea change in Gibraltar’s politics as Margaret Thatcher resigning the leadership of Britain’s Tories – and that could factor in the electorate’s indecision.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
The law will bring Spain in to line with the majority of other EU nations. It also proposes that girls aged 16 can have an abortion without telling their parents. This clause still stands but has been amended saying they should inform their parents but if passing on the information would leave them open to violence or difficult situations then they do not have to do so.
The Partido Popular has chosen to make the new law a campaigning issue and says that if returned to office it would overturn it. It had also pledged to ask the Constitutional Court to reject the legislation. Many of its leading figures took part in the street marches turning demonstrations of conscience in to political parades.
The main opposition to the law has been headed by Catholic lay organisations under the Derecho a Vivir banner which is part of Hazteoir.org. It is now involved in a dispute with its one time partner Foro Español that boycotted Sunday’s demonstrations. They say there is no different between them on core beliefs – so I guess it is a clash of egos making the embryo a curate’s egg.
I have made my belief plain here in the past. I can accept contraception but I cannot condone abortion as a belated form of conception. I believe the unborn child demands our protection except in exceptional circumstances. However I object to a political party high jacking the issue for their electoral gain – especially as the Partido Popular introduced the current abortion law. I also object to the PP wearing the purple of the Catholic Church's hierarchy - we have been here before under Franco.
I would argue that a person’s view on abortion is a personal, core issue hence whilst my beliefs will not be shaken I accept those who sincerely hold opposing views will not be moved either. Any political party is a wide church so its members will hold a variety of beliefs be it right, left or centre - matters of conscience should not be manipulated for political gain.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Yesterday was International Women’s Day. I have nothing against International Days per se – as long as they are used to highlight a worthwhile cause. The International Women’s Day would get my nod, the International Day of Dwile-flonking a raspberry.
The International Women’s Day celebrated its 100 th anniversary this year. The original proposal was put forward by German socialist Clara Zetkin at the first international women’s conference held in Copenhagen in 1910 and became an established event in the following year – so I guess next year is an anniversary too.
I should state here that I do not support women’s rights or Gay rights or any other such pressure group. Before you leap to your keyboards in fury let me explain further. I happen to believe that we are all equal regardless of sex, race, colour or creed. So I support equal rights for all.
I have written here before that sexual inequality by and large passed me by. My first job was in the Civil Service and my third then subsequent employment has been in the media. In both of those women were either my superiors or colleagues and I have been privileged to work with many extremely talented women over those years. The only exception was in my second job in a City of London institution where the women were in the porn mags kept in my section boss’s locker.
In the present economic crisis I have found that a woman’s lot is not a happy one even compared with the tough time being endured by many men. For instance in the two areas of Spain that attract my attention most – the Campo de Gibraltar/Cádiz and Ronda – I study closely the monthly unemployment figures. In both locations the number of women on the dole exceeds the total for men.
In Spain women also tend to have less secure employment being channelled in to temporary rather than indefinite contracts. In the latest figures from the INI of the 2,470,700 workers who are on part time contracts in the last quarter 1,917,800 were women, that’s 101,800 more than in the three months previous. In addition currently 19.07 per cent of all women in the job market are on the dole.
Nor is this acute problem being addressed by the Spanish government in its efforts to kick-start the economy. The main socialist focus is on pumping money in to the property and construction industries. However few women workers are employed there and the largest amount of female unemployed come from the hard-hit services sector which is largely ignored.
So it is perhaps apt that we should celebrate International Women’s Day at this time given their plight in the labour market. As the impetus for this day came from a socialist woman perhaps the message of their plight will fall on the open ears of the many women who are currently ministers in the socialist Spanish Government. Indeed none more so than Elena Salgado who is in charge of the country’s economy! Perhaps a time for women to start doing it for themselves!
Friday, March 5, 2010
On Sunday I lunched with Christine and Richard in Jimena just after they’d read the news on the internet that the world famous Catalan restaurant El Bulli was to close.
I understand the story originated in the New York Times and the restaurant’s owner and famed chef Ferran Adría was quick to correct its story that it would finally close in 2014 because of economic difficulties.
Adría has since told the media that El Bulli will continue with a new format, it will be a foundation. “In 2014 we are going to serve meals, but we are going to study the format of service and the system of reservations.”
The famous restaurant in Cala Montjoi near Girona will close in January 2012 and stay shut for two years but it will not cease to exist insists Adría.
Living in Spain I am naturally proud that El Bulli and several others in Galicia are regularly amongst the top ten rated eateries in the world. However would I eat there? Probably not!
To eat at El Bulli you can’t just turn up but have to book many months in advance. Sorry but that is not to my taste. My choice of restaurant would depend on my mood at the time. I suspect that going to El Bulli is more important for many diners – like staying on the Grand Canal in Venice - than what you might eat when you are there. Fine for some, but not for me.
In contrast going to eat with Christine and Richard is more my line. Certainly you don’t have to make a booking months in advance – although perhaps I would do it for Richard’s awesome fish pie.
Now I have blogged here before about Richard and his pie. On Sunday it was served in the lower half of a Moroccan tajine duly haggled for in a souk. The beautiful colour of the plain clay contrasted wonderfully with the baked potato top of the pie. Half of the art of creating fine food is in the presentation so now this master dish has passed from being awesome to truly awesome.
Richard is a man who has spent much of his working life grasping a spanner and wrench then in his leisure hours clasping a rod or shotgun. So to find him in the kitchen with a chef’s paraphernalia is somewhat at odds with his stereotype. You might suggest that he is at last in contact with his feminine side and would get a well-deserved whack over the head with a Lancashire screwdriver for you trouble. His creative side, certainly yes.
For whilst the truly awesome fish pie might be Richard’s signature dish he can turn his hand to many other culinary delights including baking his own bread. So whilst I sincerely hoped that El Bulli does re-open its doors in 2014 I am more concerned that I am invited back to the Casa Jacaranda and the delights of Richard’s kitchen well before then.
2008 DISHY RICHARD AND HIS AWESOME FISH PIE
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
I am free as a journalist and blogger to write my views without fear that they’ll be censored, blocked or indeed that I will be imprisoned, tortured or even killed for stating my beliefs.
My views, of course, may not be your views but it is the essence of the ethic of freedom of speech, so greatly valued by Britons, that I should have the liberty to state my beliefs even if others disagree with them.
I write my words in Spain where within my lifetime such freedoms have not always existed and many paid in blood or exile for giving voice to beliefs and ideas that were at odds with those of the Franco regime.
There are also today in the world, those on the left of politics, who believe that Cuba can do no wrong. I have written here in the past in support of the campaigns to have the US embargoes of the Caribbean Island lifted. However I am not looking so far left that I cannot see the injustice staring me in the face.
I add my voice to those of the Federación de Asociaciones de Periodistas de España (FAPE) that has called on the Cuban authorities to respect freedom of expression and human rights after the death of Orlando Zapata.
Gerardo Ducos, Amnesty International’s Caribbean researcher stated: “The tragic death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo is a terrible illustration of the despair facing prisoners of conscience who see no hope of being freed from their unfair and prolonged incarceration. A full investigation must be carried out to establish whether ill-treatment may have played a part in his death.”
Currently three political prisoners and the dissident journalist Guillermo Coco Fariñas (photo above) are on hunger strike following the news of Zapata’s death on February 24.
This is not the first experience Fariñas has had of a hunger strike. He started another in 2006 to demand free access for Cubans to the internet. He has called for a cession to “the governmental violence against our people, against the bloggers and the independent journalists.”
FAPE, an organization that represents over 14,500 journalists in 48 federated associations and 13 associations who are linked offers its solidarity to Fariñas and the rest of his Cuban colleagues who are restricted in their freedom of expression.
In its annual report Reporteros Sin Fronteras classified Cuba only after China and Eritrea for the numbers of journalists it imprisoned. Since the Primavera Negra of March 2003 19 of the 27 journalists detained there are still behind bars.
This is of concern not only to me as a journalist and blogger but also to you as a reader – who may or may not take the opportunity to express your opinions here – because my freedom to write and yours to read and comment are what are at risk in Cuba and other totalitarian regimes.
Please take action by signing the Amnesty International España petition by clicking here.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Last week I wrote about the collapse of the Marrache & Co law practice in Gibraltar and the arrest of two of the Marrache brothers whilst the third could soon be subject to an arrest warrant. They are accused of misappropriating around 10million in Canadian dollars and euros, the offices have been closed and the judge in the case has asked four other legal practices in Gibraltar to take over the case load.
In my blog I wrote: “Also a rogue father, son, mother or daughter has in the past often brought down or shaken the very foundations of the family concern. Here it appears we have three suspect brothers who if proved guilty presumably colluded in the fraud. This is behaviour more akin to the mafia. In which case one has to ask the question – are there other people in Marrache’s who were involved?”
This drew the response below from a member of Marrache’s staff who obviously wishes to remain anonymous. It goes to illustrate that it is not only Marrache’s clients that are the victim’s in this calamity. The employee wrote:
“I suppose it is natural for you to speculate whether “there are other people in Marrache's who were involved”.
“Please be advised that during the two weeks that the office has been sealed off and described as a crime scene, neither the Gibraltar Police nor any other authority in Gibraltar have seen fit to interview the staff. In circumstances where neither the partners of the law firm nor the Provisional Liquidators have spoken to staff officially as to whether they are to be made redundant or not and as to whether they will be paid at the end of this month or not, the staff are in a dreadful situation and some of them face immediate financial hardship as a result of this sordid affair.
“Until the staff have been vindicated as a result of the investigation it is likely that many will be tainted by association with the Marraches and unemployable as a result. It is a pity that no start has been made to give staff a “clean bill of health” as soon as possible and therefore give them a fair chance in the employment market.
“Whilst everyone is revelling in the scandal, it is a pity that nobody seems concerned about the position of staff who may well be absolutely innocent. Airy speculation in relation to our bona fides just makes our position worse still. Those in custody will be fed and watered, but staff have to pay for the roofs over their heads and put food on the family table. For the time being it seems that this will be difficult.”
Last week Unite the Union got involved on behalf of the Marrache staff. It emerged it is in discussions with the Employment and Training Board regarding the fate of up to 50 employees. District Officer Charlie Sisarello told the Gibraltar Chronicle there were complex matters to be resolved and grey areas such as the entitlements due to self-employed workers – furthermore they had not received their January salary let alone been paid for last month.
Sisarello said: “…all the staff members of Marrache who are members of Unite attended a meeting where our lawyers and officers informed them of the current situation in respect of their employment status. At present the staff is in limbo and their situation needs to be clarified so the necessary mechanisms that allow for a claim to the Insolvency Fund can be put in place. They are technically employed still but without being able to work. On the other hand they have not been dismissed or made redundant. It is fundamental that their situation is clarified. As any group of workers, these union members have financial commitments to attend to, apart from having to pay their domestic bills and household expenses. A solution needs to be addressed urgently as this is obviously causing much concern to them. We will be doing our utmost to get a viable solution and will be working closely with our lawyers towards this objective.”
The fact that Unite is fighting for the employees living in Gibraltar is to be welcomed and the fact it has asked utility companies to hold back on demanding payments is all well and good - but those who live in Spain and Portugal have been hung out to dry!
I should stress that whilst I raised the question - were any Marrache staff involved in the corruption? - it was the financial and not the legal side of the firm that I was referring to. I have no reason to believe that the legal staff in the Gibraltar, Spain or Portugal offices behaved in other than an honest manner (I understand London was a franchise).
Having said that my column carried on the USA-based blog Dscriber attracted several comments from “Gibraltarians” which disparaged the Marrache practice and the three sons’ father. I have since read others on a UK legal website that spoke highly of the family, law firm with suggestions that the Marraches were the victim of some conspiracy. As with all such unattributed comments on the internet you pay no money and take your choice! Ultimately the truth will out but in the meantime the general Marrache staff need to be treated as victims and not culprits.