Tuesday, August 31, 2010


They are the latest rage in supermarkets and electrical retailers in Spain and no doubt across the world. You buy a special coffee making machine and a box of single-dose coffee capsules and you can have the hot drink of your choice in seconds.

This system is fast replacing the traditional coffee percolator or cafeteria in many households. However those who are investing in this new method of serving up a coffee have not done their sums or if they have they have received a mighty shock.

In Spain consumer groups point out that the cost of these hi-tech shots of coffee are the equivalent to buying a top of the range steak. A kilo of traditional ground coffee costs between 5 and 8 euros depending on the brand. Using the single-dose capsules you will end up paying between 20 and 60 euros for the same amount of ground coffee. When that is translated in to cups of the black liquid – the single dose option is certainly liquid gold for the manufacturers costing between 600 and 1,900 per cent more per cup.

The idea came from Nestle which still has the monopoly in the market. However it has now been joined by Marcilla, Saimaza, Lavazza and Kraft Foods who are all battling for the top end of this lucrative market. Needless to say in Spain Carrefour and El Corte Inglés are selling own label equivalents and other low cost brands can be expected to join in the coffee free for all.

Just how long it will last remains to be seen. Such fads have a habit of coming and going – especially when the true cost becomes known. In the meantime Nestle is taking legal action as it is furious that other manufacturers have “violated its patent”.

Nestle is furious? I don’t know about you but at those prices I need a strong drink!

Monday, August 30, 2010


According to a study by Leeds University one in four young women working in the lap dancing industry are university graduates. Their average take home pay is 48,000 pounds a year after paying commission to the club where they work – I guess the cost of hiring their pole. I suspect the costume is not a major expense!

Unemployed new graduates are also dancing because they cannot find graduate jobs. They work as strippers because the pay is better than bar work and the hours mean they can attend interviews, training days or take further education courses during the day.

Fair enough!

Regular readers will know that my niece graduated in January with an honours degree in two ologies. I should stress that as far as I am aware she is not a pole dancer – but if she was, so what?

I felt a great sense of pride when she graduated – for her because it was due reward for several years hard work and dedication – also for the family because she is the first of our number to go to university.

Myself? I am a student of the University of Life and have some years yet before I graduate. Also rest easy in your beds because I couldn’t climb up onto the lap dancing podium let alone boogie round the pole.

When I sat through the graduation ceremony I clapped loudly when my niece received her degree. Yet I found the event held with due pomp and ceremony in a theatre auditorium largely depressing because I realized I was watching pass along the stage not a new set of graduates but by and large our new unemployed.

Tony Blair lectured us it was all about – education, education, education. As in so many things he was wrong because it was also about jobs, jobs, jobs. There is no point in sending off our young people with all levels of degrees if there are not the graduate employment openings for them.

So his policy of education, education, education has brought us the best educated burger bar servers, pub staff and supermarket check out employees money can buy.

Oh yes, and lap top dancers too.

Friday, August 27, 2010


I recently visited Málaga airport with its gleaming new terminal. A major airport without doubt, the busiest in Andalucía and one of the most important in Europe. Yet I have to say if you are dropping anybody off or collecting them as I was it is a nightmare.

I compare that with the almost homely existing terminal at Gibraltar’s airport. It is my favourite airport for flying from because it is never crowded and everything is just a short walk away. I expect even with the new terminal Gibraltar will be a happier flying experience than its neighbour up the coast.

I am musing on the two airports as I have just read a report on the days when Gibraltar was the Costa del Sol’s airport. I suspect there were no rows then over the Rock’s airspace or air traffic controllers disputing jurisdiction. I gather though that the customs on the Spanish border were no more user friendly then than now.

In the 1950s Málaga had an airport although airfield would have been a better description. No gleaming terminals but rustic buildings. No tarmac runway just a grass strip. The runway was too short to accommodate the larger aircraft of the day and even those who did fly the route often had to be diverted because bad weather conditions would require the airport to close.

Down the coast at Gibraltar it was a different story. The much loved and lamented British European Airways flew this route from the Rock to London with some aircraft going via Madrid. Today, of course, BEA is no more having merged with BOAC to form British Airways.

Hence anybody in the province of Cádiz or Málaga who wanted to fly to the Spanish capital, go to London or use BEA’s Heathrow’s links for onward travel to Dublin, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and so on had to fly from Gibraltar.

BEA operated its workhorse the Viscount on this route. On arrival on the Rock passengers for Spain then had to negotiate the customs officials at La Línea. Once that challenge had been met it was on to the BEA Road Service – a famous transport link of the era.

The BEA buses drove up and down the then very basic road to Marbella where many of the tourists disembarked. The majority were British and others travelled on to stay at one of Spain’s first Costa-styled resorts – Torremolinos.

All this came to an end after 1959 when a tarmac runway was laid at Málaga airport and it was extended to 2,000 metres. State of the art navigation equipment for those days was also installed and so the Convair Metropolitans, DC-4s, Vickers, Bristols, De Havillands, Viscounts and Comets started to touch down. The Costa del Sol was born and the rest is history.

Yet without Gibraltar airport those first intrepid visitors to the coast would never have arrived by air at least. So the Rock’s airport has a firm place in the history of the development of Spanish tourism and the British holiday makers’ love affair with the Costa del Sol.

(Photo: Marbella – 1950s. This article first appeared in Panorama)

Monday, August 23, 2010


The Spanish minister for health is Trinidad Jiménez. She comes from Velez-Málaga in Málaga province and being of Andalucía she speaks with an Andaluz accent - a Spanish very different from that spoken in the nation's capital. As she has risen to be a senior minister in the socialist government her place of birth and the way she speaks has not held her back.

The problem for Trinidad is she wants to be the socialist candidate for the Comunidad de Madrid, the autonomous regional assembly that governs the national capital and its surrounding area.

Hence political hardball comes in to play and many are now shouting foul at Juan Soler, a centre-right Partido Popular MP in that Madrid assembly. He recently pointed out that the accent of Jiménez was “Malagueña” and questioned why she wasn’t standing in Dos Hermanas or Velez-Málaga instead of Madrid, an area her voice betrayed she was clearly not from.

A stung minister blasted Soler for having “contempt” for those who come from outside of Madrid. She added that his views were at odds with Madrid itself which is a cosmopolitan, welcoming, open city with people of all sorts of identities living there. She also observed that the region was made up of 13 per cent immigrants, five points higher than the rest of Spain.

Soler is a respected politician but made his comments in his blog and also called the minister “esa chica” – “that girl”.

This of course has put the Partido Popular politicians in Andalucía on the spot. They are all proudly Andaluz and speak with the accent of the region - an accent they share with Jiménez. So they have to speak in defence of the socialist minister and of Andalucía yet at the same time support the PP MP.

Of course we have been here before and will no doubt be back in the future. Click on the link below for my blog in January 2009 this time featuring another female socialist minister Magdalena Álvarez, who at the time was the minister of public works.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010


It is a good news story and one I thought readers in Andalucía should know about. Yet I also knew the penning of it was tempting fate for a cigarette end tossed from a car or a pyromaniac at work could suddenly change the low level of summer fires in Andalucía this year.

The message from the regional government is clear. There is an extremely high risk of a major blaze, people should not lower their guard, yet the number of fires so far this summer is less than half the normal annual average – but don’t relax your vigilance.

The director general of the management of the natural areas for the Andalucía government, Javier Madrid, has told the Efe news agency that the intensive winter and spring rains have maintained a high level of humidity in the Andalucía forests. The high temperatures of July and August are causing a drying out effect and as they do so the risk of fires increases.

Another cause of forest and scrubland blazes are the dry storms. Lightning without any accompanying rain has caused major damage in past years to the Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas national parks.

Madrid stressed there had been no cut back in the Infoca specialist fire teams. Up to August 12 they had tackled 335 incidents but that was half the average over the last decade. The statistics for hectares damaged by fires is even more impressive. Again on average over the last decade by August 12 7,774.21 hectares would have been ablaze compared with 442.57 to the same date of this year.

There is some way to go before Andalucía can relax and hopefully look back on a good summer with low fire totals. The period during which there is a high risk of fires runs to October 15 and it takes just one simple act of carelessness to dramatically alter the final outcome.

In the days since I penned those words there have been no major infernos. We have had heavy thunderstorms instead – very wet ones indeed – with three people being killed in Córdoba province. Yet as I write this thunder is rumbling around – has been all afternoon – without any significant rainfall so I have to hope that by now the woodlands are wet enough again to withstand any dry lightning strikes.

Touch wet wood for a summer of record low fires!

Monday, August 16, 2010


At the weekend I half listened to a chat on BBC Radio Five Live about the British supermarket Tesco that was selling a cheap range of engagement rings for fifteen quid.

Once upon a time I used to travel through the Hatton Garden area of central London on a regular basis. It is the diamond and jewellery centre of the city. A friend who had bought a ring from her friend-in-need asked could I get it valued for her. I took it to a jewellers who offered me around 100 pounds. I protested that I had a valuation from the shop that sold it for 1,500 pounds and the man with the eye piece just laughed. He explained that was the price he had probably sold it for but the stone and the ring were worth just 100 pounds to him.

Well I checked with other jewellers and then went to a pawn brokers who offered the best price – 125 pounds.

The moral of this story is the price you see attached to the flashy gem in the jewellers window bears no relation to the actual value of the piece. Therefore those who spend several months’ salary on the engagement ring of their dreams in the belief that it will also be an investment are just deluding themselves.

Which brings me back to the radio programme because the consensus of the views expressed – admittedly by highly paid radio presenters – was that only a cheapskate would buy such a tatty ring.

Well I would say even fifteen pounds was too much. Now if you have money to spare and want to make a statement then fine buy an expensive ring – but do so in the knowledge it is worth around a quarter of the asking price.

Yet many of those who splash out on an engagement ring – out of social pressure – start their married lives unable to even afford basic furnishings for their home – because they’ve spent all their cash on rings and the wedding. That’s presuming they had any money in the first place.

Love isn’t a fancy piece of jewellery and you won’t find it on your finger. It’s in your heart and soul – and if anybody tells your different, I’m sorry - but it simply doesn’t ring true!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


The Catalan parliament recently voted to ban bull fighting in the region. However the decision was as much based on politics and separatism as it was on any concern for the rights of animals and cruelty towards them.

The reaction in the rest of Spain has been to staunchly defend the ‘fiesta nacional’. Yet whilst it might be identified as “national” to the exclusion of Cataluña the true home of the bull fight and the industry that surrounds it is in Andalucía.

Indeed last week the mayor of Ronda, Antonio Marín, asked the Andalucía government to deem the town the centre of studies and investigation of “Tauromaquia”. Ronda’s bullring was founded in 1785 – the oldest in Spain – and the mayor wants his town to have the role to defend “the traditions of Andalucía”.

Hence the decision of Los Verdes to demand that the Andalucía government bans bullfighting will send shock waves through the world of the corrida.

So what are Los Verdes proposing? First they need to collect 25,000 signatures to present to the Andalucía parliament to demand a debate – this must be done within three months. The Catalan parliament required 50,000 but Los Verdes are confident that 25,000 signatures can be obtained easily within the time period.

So what are Los Verdes arguments? Mario Ortega, Los Verdes spokesperson, says the ‘fiesta nacional’ would not survive in Andalucía if it did not receive subventions from the public authorities. He claims bullfighting receives 13 million euros from town halls, 12 million from the regional government, nine million from the various provinces and four million euros from RTVA – the Andalucía broadcaster.

In terms of the environment many argue that without the bull fights the “dehesas” on which the animals are raised would simply cease to exist. Not so says Ortega “only nine per cent of the ‘dehesa’ breed bulls that are for the ‘lidia’” or fighting bulls “and less than five per cent of the bulls that are breed in these spaces go to the plaza de toros”. He claims the majority of farms breed livestock for meat products.

Although this is a Los Verdes initiative the party is appealing to all supporters of the left in Andalucía not to defend the ‘fiesta nacional’ as part of their identity or “the traditions of Andalucía” as Ronda’s mayor would describe it.

It also says that 80 per cent of young people want the “toros” to be abolished... but if that is the case the young may have to wait to they are much older before their aspiration becomes a reality.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Around 25 years ago I went with a friend of mine to a hotel on London’s Edgware Road close to the flyover.

My friend had a business relationship with a wheeler-dealer who amongst other things bought diamonds.

We were to meet – I was going to say two large South Africans – but then all the white South Africans I have ever met have been large.

I had filed the encounter away in the draw in my brain marked – did that really happen or am I imagining it? Then the recent trial of Charles Taylor brought it all back.

I went along as purely an observer and over coffee the South Africans explained the deal.

We would fly to Sierra Leon with a large amount of cash in dollars in a bag. On touchdown we would be met by the men who would take us out in to the wilds in a jeep with an armed guard. We would then meet all the local diamond dealers in the bush and buy their stock handing out cash from our bag of dollars. Needless to say these were uncut diamonds or “dirty looking stones” as Naomi Campbell would describe them. Then when we had spent all our money and had the bag full of priceless stones we would be escorted back to the airport and jet home safe and sound.

Of course we reacted with delight at the thought of such a simple deal, enthusiastically shook hands and left to consult our principal. Needless to say we never did jet out to Sierra Leon and I’ve steered clear of that part of the Edgware Road ever since.

All of this came back to mind with the trial of the former Liberian War Lord and President Charles Taylor in The Hague and the allegations of blood diamonds. He is accused of war crimes during Sierra Leone’s civil war, including using the diamonds to fund rebels. It may have been 13 years ago but as Naomi Campbell is now finding out diamonds – and their blood trail – are for ever!

Saturday, August 7, 2010


I haven’t blogged for over a week. The more discerning amongst you will know a blessing when you see it. It’s not that I haven’t been working – far from it. However paid work is a different animal from writing this column in the summer heat.

So today I bring you two together. The first relates to Michelle Obama – and just in case there are two I refer to the wife of the US President. She passed me today on the road from San Pedro de Alcántara to Ronda. If I’d reached out my hand I would have touched her or I would have done if she hadn’t sped past in a bullet proof car. Her security man had his head so far out his car’s window he nearly bashed it against mine.

They were gone in a second. They travelled at speed along a road that passes through beautiful mountains – but did she see any of it? I doubt it! Eventually she would have arrived in the historic town of Ronda – a true treat – but I happen to believe the journey is all part of the experience.

I then felt sorry for her locked in a bomb proof vehicle, driving at speed, sirens wailing, mindless security men bobbing here and there, always the fear of an attack – where’s the fun in that? If I was her I would have stayed in her luxury hotel and chilled out.

I was also going to write today about the news that the Catholic Church in England is going to charge the faithful and others who wish to see the Pope at the various ceremonies he’s holding an entry fee. Then I got side tracked by Roald Dahl.

There’s an article in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph Arts section about how he lost his faith. It followed the death of his daughter Olivia and a meeting with his ex-headmaster, Geoffrey Fisher who was then the retired Archbishop of Canterbury. Apparently they met to discuss his grief and Fisher expressed the belief that whilst Olivia was in Paradise her beloved dog Rowley would never join her there.

In a later conversation Dahl told his other children: “I wanted to ask him (Fisher) how he could be so absolutely sure that other creatures did not get the same special treatment as us, but the look of disapproval that had settled around his mouth stopped me. I sat there wondering if this great and famous churchman really knew what he was talking about and whether he knew anything at all about God or heaven, and if he didn’t, then who in the world did?”

Well of course the answer is nobody does. The Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, you and me may have faith – but we don’t know for sure and won’t till we die. We don’t know whether there is a God, whether it is our God and whether he, she or it is an animal lover. That is why I argue that atheists are people of faith too because they may be convinced there is no God but like Geoffrey Fisher they have to have faith in that belief because they too will not know for sure till they kick the bucket.