Friday, December 31, 2010


Oxtail stew is a well known dish in Britain. However my mother never cooked it, I have never been served it by friends nor have I eaten in a restaurant where it was on the menu. Hence I never ate it.

All of that change when I came to Spain, where in Andalucía at least, it is cooked in many a home and is a common item on menus from the best restaurants to country ventas. Indeed I am now an aficionado of rabo de toro or cola de toro and search high and low for the best in Andalucía and wider Spain.

The best I had tasted was in a venta just outside San Pedro de Alcántara on the road to Ronda. It was a magnificent dish which I ate often but the owners would never tell me the recipe other than to say anis was a vital ingredient. The venta still exists but I won’t tell you the name for it was sold over a decade ago and sadly the superb rabo de toro was not part of the deal.

Over the years I have eaten many rabo or cola de toro sadly good at best more often than not poor – some a disaster. Many of these were in restaurants in the town of Ronda which claims rabo de toro as a signature dish. This is largely because the town of the Tajo sees itself as the home of the modern bullfight with the oldest bullring in the country. However the bullfights only occur at the Plaza Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Ronda over the Pedro Romero feria and the number of bulls slain would not keep a busy restaurant in tails for more than a day or so. So the rabo or cola comes not from the ring but the slaughterhouse.

Now if you had asked me up till this week where you could find a truly magnificent rabo de toro I would have said only at the Venta San Juan in the Genal Valley between Algatocín and Jubrique. It is consistently a delightful feast with a rich sauce that is sublime.

So what has changed? Well on Thursday I ate at the famous Jerez restaurant – Gaitan. Cola de toro a la Jerezana was on the menu and what a treat it was – but was it better that the Venta San Juan?

The meat in both restaurants is excellent, softly just clinging to the bone. The Venta San Juan has a rich country sauce – again the owner would not tell me the ingredients – it’s a secret she said –but red wine plays a major part. In contrast Gaitan has a much clearer, more sophisticated sauce created from the wines (Sherries) of Jerez. It was not an easy decision but I have to say I now think Gaitan serves the best cola de toro in Spain with the Venta San Juan following closely on its hooves.

However I am happy to be proved wrong so will continue my search but for now I toast the Restaurante Gaitan and its talented kitchen for – el mejor rabo de toro en España.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


The Córdoba businessman, Rafael Gómez, is bidding to be the next mayor of the city at the 2011 municipal elections in May. Córdoba, as many readers will know, was once the capital of the Caliphate of Córdoba and al-Andalus from where the Muslim rulers reigned over much of Spain. It was home to the Great Mosque (now the cathedral) and housed the largest library in the world with some experts saying it contained one million volumes.

A distinguished historic past – but what of Rafael Gómez, the man who would rule this ancient provincial capital? Well amongst his companies was Arenal 2000, which collapsed leaving many property developments in financial chaos and with it the lives of those who hard purchased homes or were in the process of doing so. He also owned the Tivoli World entertainment park and the Xanit hospital in Benalmádena on the Costa del Sol before being forced to sell them.

Rafael Gómez is more widely known by his nickname, Sandokán. Perhaps appropriately Sandokán was a pirate, Emilio Salgari to be exact, who operated out of Malaysia. Gómez took on the name because of his resemblance to the actor Kabir Bedi who played the part in the popular TV series in the 1970s.

So whilst Gómez’s business empire is a disaster zone that seemingly does not bar him from being the number one citizen in his home city. However one major hurdle he will have to overcome before he becomes mayor - it is not with the voters but the courts. He is one of those implicated in the Malaya corruption case – the largest in Spanish history - currently being tried in Málaga and involves his dealings with Marbella town hall and its then head of town planning Juan Antonio Roca.

It is unlikely that the Malaya trial will be concluded before next May. If Gómez was found guilty the prosecutor is demanding an 18 months jail term plus a 1.2 million euros fine. However as the prison sentence is under 24 months he would not serve it but could he still be mayor?

If he does get to stand then Sandokán will be the candidate for mayor of the Union Córdobesa which aims to win a majority on the city council. Gómez says he has been waiting for this opportunity for 20 years and if elected promises that tackling unemployment and affordable housing will be his two main priorities.

However the three parties on Córdoba council – far left Izquierda Unida, centre right Partido Popular and socialist PSOE – have been scathing over Sandokán announcement. Current mayor, Andrés Ocaña, of the IU says economic crises throw up candidates who through some magic formula say they have a solution to everybody’s problems. He also spoke of the Costa del Sol which had independent candidates such as Gómez who had not found solutions but had only increased the municipality’s problems.

Ocaña went on to liken Gómez with the now deceased mayor of Marbella, Jesús Gil, who brought the one time jet set resort to its knees. Of course it was under Gil’s mandate that the Malaya town planning corruption scam took place for which Sandokán is in the dock.

So will Sandokán become mayor? Only in Spain you might mutter!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


In recent months some strange stories have emerged from La Línea what with the antics of the mayor Alejandro Sánchez - who wanted to impose a toll to enter or leave Gibraltar - but the latest to hit the headlines is a true story of our times.

Now pork is high on the political agenda in the USA where the term applies to add-ons to various bills from the Senate and Congress. These give financial benefit to organisations, businesses or the authorities in the Districts or States which the Congressperson or Senator represents. Whilst many Americans object to this practice I have yet to hear of a Muslim, American or otherwise, taking offence to the term pork.

So let us go to the Menéndez Tolosa school in La Línea where a teacher was trying to demonstrate various forms of weather and climate to his class. As an example he referred to the cold climate to be found in Trevélez in Granada province. Now Trevélez is famed for its cured hams which are dried and cured in the cold mountain air.

It was at this point that a Muslim pupil in the class stood up and asked the teacher not to talk about hams as it was offensive to his religion. Your first reaction may have been the same as mine, a wry smile, then dismissing the interruption as ridiculous.

Ridiculous it may be but at the end of school day the pupil went home and told his parents what had happened. They have now reported the teacher making an official legal complaint against him for amongst other things racism and xenophobia.

The CC.OO union’s educational representative in the Campo de Gibraltar, Sebastián Alcón, is upset that a teacher with a 20-year career behind him should be dragged over the coals in such a manner. Not surprisingly the teacher is said to be fed up with the situation.

However the family is intent on receiving its pound of flesh – although presumably not pork. They say the official complaint is being processed and they are awaiting an apology. They have also asked for a change of school for their son to avoid “more problems” and have also accused the teacher of calling their son “useless” and telling him to “go back to your own country.”

The case will rest with the prosecutor who handles cases involving minors. It remains to be seen whether the prosecutor takes further action or decides to leave the matter to hang out to dry like a ham in the mountain air of Trevélez.

(I should add that in recent days the Muslim association in the Campo de Gibraltar has stated that there is no problem with pork being mentioned before Muslims or by Muslims - they are simply, like Jews, not allowed to eat it!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

PICARDO’S CHALLENGE - And will there be a challenge to Picardo?

There are no certainties in politics. When I started writing my Gibraltar Viewpoint column back in 1993 it was in the last years of the Bossano Government. The chief minister Peter Caruana first won power back in 1996 so when the election is held next year many of the first time voters will only have been aware of his GSD administrations.

If you’d asked me back then who were likely future chief ministers I would have said Keith Azopardi and Peter Montegriffo – indeed their days may yet come. Despite his recent horrific injuries at the hands of a knifeman Daniel Feetham may still aspire to and achieve the top job in Gibraltar politics. In contrast Fabian Picardo’s arrival as a potential leader of the GSLP and hence after the next election the Rock’s Chief Minister is by contrast a recent affair.

Joe Bossano has stated both to the electorate and his party that he will not lead the GSLP in to the next election. If that is the case then a new man or woman must be at the helm by the time the GSLP goes to the polls. The seeming front runner is Fabian Picardo – yet politics has a habit of seeing the front runner fall at the last fence.

If I asked you early this year who would be leading the British Labour Party after the defeat of Gordon Brown I wonder how many would have come up with the name Ed Miliband. Certainly not his brother David - the former foreign secretary and heir apparent.

Currently the opinion polls show wide spread support for Fabian Picardo as the next GSLP leader and a coalition co-led by Dr Joseph Garcia would offer a strong challenge to the GSD and an exciting alternative for the voters. It worries the GSD as can be clearly seen by their attempts to rubbish it this early in the game.

So why did Fabian Picardo throw his hat in to the ring? He explained: “I decided to say publicly that I felt I was ready to stand when Joe Bossano confirmed last year to the AGM that he would not be seeking the post of leader this year when the post is due for re-election. I have had only encouragement since then from members of the party and its executive and a vicious response from my political opponents who have not passed up any rumour in an attempt to denigrate my candidature.”

So is he looking to step in to the job or fight off an opponent or opponents in an election?

“I don’t believe in coronations and would very much welcome a contest for the leadership of the GSLP.”

The problem for observers like me is it is difficult to see where the challenge would come from. One name that has been mentioned in the past is Gilbert Lucudi although of late he has slipped out of the public eye and down the opinion poll ratings. However his hat could still be in the ring. Lucudi told me: “Under the GSLP constitution, the leader has to stand down every two years. We did not have the election of a leader at our AGM at the beginning of this year. This means that there will be a leadership election in the New Year. Our constitution requires that this be the case. I have not yet decided whether I will be putting my name forward for this leadership election.”

Joe Bossano has been a colossus on the Gibraltar political stage and of course was the founding father of the GSLP so I asked Picardo how he thought this transition should be handled. He told me: “I have no doubt that whoever becomes the next leader of the GSLP will be respectful of the contribution that Joe Bossano has made and I know will continue to make to the GSLP and to Gibraltar generally.

“Not even Mr Bossano’s detractors can deny the massive contribution he has made already and will make in a new GSLP/Liberal administration as we put our common energy and fresh ideas at the disposal of the people of Gibraltar. The "transition" will be no more than a generational evolution at the top of the party that will consolidate its policies for another generation.”

(The above appeared in the Monday December 20 edition of Panorama).

Saturday, December 18, 2010


There is widespread chaos in the UK on Saturday. It has snowed so roads and airports are closed – trains are disrupted.

This is a major problem because apparently it’s the big get away weekend with many Britons heading for foreign climes for Christmas and the New Year.

Many of these will be going skiing or to snow resorts.

So explain this to me!

How come Britain is snowed in whilst the ski resorts of France, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and even Spain – which have serious snow – are operating normally?

The roads are open. Trains are running. Flights are landing. People are a-skiing.

As for me - “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones we used to know!”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


When I arrived in Spain with my BBC language course safely installed in my brain I was horrified to find that the staff in my local shop seemed to be speaking a different tongue altogether.

My first thought was the BBC had palmed me off with Mexican Spanish but of course they hadn’t it was good Castilian. The problem was I was in Andalucía where they slash the ends of their words – you can add to the confusion the numerous village accents and slang.

So the news that a 37-year-old man who was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and now lives in London has landed a job as a Geordie dialect translator did bring a smile to my face.

Geordie is the patois spoken in England’s North East and as baffling as Andaluz to anybody from outside those regions. King’s College graduate Paul Davy will now decipher Geordie for clients of a London translation company.

By coincidence on the same day as I heard about our Geordie Boy (Alan Price – Jarrow Song - 1974) there was a letter in the Daily Telegraph about a range of Christmas Cards for the Essex town of Colchester with the greeting in Welsh! They were not selling very well!

Today the lingua franca in Essex is Estuary English although if you delve in to the small rural villages you will find accents and phrases that would be a foreign tongue to Dagenham man and woman.

As we say in Newcastle: Ye knaa what ah mean leik.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


During the height of the economic crisis when Britain’s Labour government was in power the Lib Dem spokesperson on financial affairs, Vince Cable, earned himself a lot of praise because of his sage advice and stance during those troubled times.

When the general election neared and a coalition between the Lib Dems and either the Conservatives or Labour seemed a possibility Cable was spoken of as a Chancellor of the Exchequer in waiting.

Well the Conservatives won the most seats, the Lib Dems agreed a coalition and Prime Minister David Cameron was not prepared to sacrifice his close friend George Osborne so Vince Cable ended up as Business Secretary instead.

Now this week the House of Commons will vote on the coalition bill to increase students’ university fees. The bill was drawn up by Vince Cable’s department but he’s flip flopped – first he said he would abstain when it came to a vote, then said he’d back the bill, then opted to abstain again and God only knows what he will do on the day.

Of course the one thing he should do is resign. If you are the head of the ministry that is bringing forward the controversial university fees bill and you do not support it one hundred percent – you resign.

Vince Cable is now damned by both sides. Those who support the bill cannot back a minister who brings to the parliament legislation that he is reluctant to vote for. Those who oppose the bill were told by Cable during the election campaign that he would not support an increase in student fees – he lied to them because he has.

Therefore he has no option but to resign. He has no credibility left.

Ah, but wait a minute, he’s a Lib Dem minister – so let’s be frank honour for him doesn’t come in to it! The last time the Liberals were in government there was hardly a car on the road so a ministerial limo is not to be given up lightly.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Hundreds of thousands of Moroccans marched on Sunday in Casablanca to protest against criticism by Spain’s Partido Popular of alleged human rights abuses in the disputed Western Sahara. Waving Moroccan flags and banners, the protesters led by Prime Minister Abbas el Fassi chanted: “Popular Party, enemy of Morocco.”

I say hundreds of thousands, one report I read said three million. If there is a demonstration in Spain the organisers may say 5,000 took part, the National Police 3,000 and the local police 1,500.The truth lies between the highest and lowest figure. There certainly was a major demonstration in Casablanca – as to how many were there – well your guess is as good as mine.

I have reflected on this for a couple of days because the protest wasn’t against Spain or the Spanish government but the Partido Popular. The curious thing here is that the PP is not the Spanish party of government but is the opposition. I can’t think off hand of any other mass protest against a non-ruling party. However opinion polls point to the centre-right party triumphing in the March 2012 general election – not only in Madrid but perhaps also in the regional government in Andalucía, the nearest part of Spain to Morocco.

In statements over recent months the PP has made it clear that if it wins the 2012 general election in will be much tougher with its neighbour across the Strait of Gibraltar. It has accused the PSOE government of weakness towards Rabat, is angry over the EU accord with Morocco that will hit Andalucía agriculture and fisheries and has been outspoken in its support of the security forces in Ceuta and Melilla – the two enclaves that Morocco views as occupied territories.

Indeed in August the former Spanish PP premier, José María Aznar, broke off from his holiday in Marbella to visit the Melilla border where tensions were running high between the enclave and Moroccans. Morocco had accused the National Police and Guardia Civil of acting in a racist manner towards its citizens and a food import blockade had been imposed. Needless to say the visit of the strutting Aznar did nothing to calm these troubled waters. That was left to the Spanish monarch who has close ties with his Moroccan counterpart.

Now we have to add to that mix the Western Sahara which is normally the sole preserve of the left. The PP took part in a rally in Madrid last month alongside socialist, far-left and trade union groups to denounce Morocco for allegedly abusing human rights in Western Sahara. PP activists were also present in Valencia last week to show their support for Saharan refugees who had first locked themselves in the PSOE HQ as they are furious over the socialist government’s inaction on the issue. When evicted they staged an on-going protest in the street outside.

So on reflection it is no surprise that Fassi’s Istiqlal party and 15 other political groups issued a joint statement attacking the PP for its “unbridled activism against Morocco.” They argued the party had swayed last week’s vote of European lawmakers in favour of a United Nations-backed probe into violence in the former Spanish colony.

Moroccan security forces and pro-independence protesters clashed on November 8 in the disputed territory, which was annexed by Morocco in 1975 after Spain withdrew from its former colony. Several members of the security forces and civilians are reported to have died. The violence, amongst the worst in years, prompted the Polisario Front which wants independence for the territory to call for an independent UN investigation.

With the centre-right is in the ascendancy in Spain you can expect tensions with Morocco and the British colony of Gibraltar to increase if the Partido Popular comes to power. It is also a depressing prospect for socialists, the far-left and the unions in Spain because whilst the country has suffered in the economic crisis under the socialist government the medicine to come will be far bitterer under Mariano Rajoy’s PP than it ever was under José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's PSOE.