Monday, May 23, 2016


The Night Stalker

We were in the feed shop, to buy some provisions – a bag of seed and some chicken pienso. The talk had turned to the local issue of the jineta, a large and nasty predator that creeps around at night, breaking in to the bird pens and creating carnage. A genet cat, apparently, although nobody has seen it. The farmers say ‘the ugly face of the killer genet’, although in truth it’s rather a nice looking creature.
Aziz invited us to come into the back. Aziz is a Moroccan graduate in international law, now working in Spain tossing hay and feeding the chickens. I went with Alicia. ‘There’s where he got in’, said Aziz showing us a modest looking tear in the bottom of the fence, ‘he killed sixteen pullets. He bites off their heads and sucks the blood’. We shivered. We had had problems with this thing as well. ‘Look, I’ve left a snare for him’. We looked (as did two very worried looking chicks lurking uncomfortably on the far side of the trap).
Back in the store, an old man was buying some pellets. ‘They only do what they are meant to do, it’s not their fault’, he said. ‘Are you a farmer?’ asked Alicia. ‘No, I’m a hunter’, replied the old man, adding ‘they are God’s creation: creatures of Allah (he nodded at Aziz helpfully). Alicia became annoyed, ‘it killed my pet rabbit and a cockerel the other night’, she said indignantly.
We had found the tracks – heavier and larger than a cat. We had also found the corpses. Now the other birds – a mixture of ducks, chickens and peacocks – were all locked in a horsebox, which, judging by the sounds coming from the other side of the door, they didn’t care for.
I had put something on Facebook. Don’t kill it, said the British. Kill it, said the farmers. It’s a rare species said the ecologists. They were brought here by the Moors, said a historian. Catch it and send it to the zoo, said a girl. It’s a viverrid said a pedant. I’ll wring its bloody neck myself, said Alicia.
An old news-story found on Google tells of the successful and humane trapping of a genet which had killed any number of poultry in Asturias. The unrepentant animal was taken off in its cage to somewhere quiet in the countryside and was freed. Ecologists, don’t you love them?
Tonight, we wonder what’s happening in the neighbourhood. There’s a monster loose.

Thursday, May 19, 2016


The Vera Demonstration with Helen and Len Prior

The demonstration in favour of Leonard and Helen Prior took place today in Vera (Almería). The Priors, unwillingly known as 'the most famous ex-pats in Spain', had their house demolished in front of them by the Junta de Andalucía in a surprise attack a little over eight years ago, in January 2008. Their house wasn't on a floodplain, or on the beach, or in an area of surprising beauty, or in front of a planned motorway. It's just a quiet backwater outside Vera, where, since the demolition, a number of houses have been built. The perpetrators, hoping to teach the Vera Council a lesson (it was run by a minor party, the Partido Andalucista) and hoping that the foreign owners of a holiday home would return to the UK, were thwarted in  their plan. The same mayor still runs the same town, and the Priors remain as well, living in their old garage, now converted into a bedroom.
That's Gerardo Vásquez in the picture (left) - he's the British lawyer who has managed to get the Spanish Government to change the law on 'illegal houses' - now, there can be no demolition without a full refund to any 'buyer in good faith'.
Too late for the Priors, unfortunately.
The picture also shows Helen Prior (centre) and her husband Leonard (on the right). Len  is holding two photographs: a before and after of their home. Helen says: 'Pictures speak a thousand words. This was our retirement dream. And this is our living nightmare'.

Some of the supporters from the AUAN and the eastern Málaga group SOHA are in this picture. Some local politicians (and even a deputy from the Junta de Andalucía) were present. The other speakers were Maura Hillen (AUAN), Me (a nice picture below), Philip Smalley (SOHA), the Mayor of Vera Féliz López. and Gerardo Vásquez, who rolled the presentation up with words of support from other organisations, including the AUN, the AMA and the AGADE (Valencia, Cantabria and Galicia, respectively).

My theme was not to merely support the Priors, who in eight years had moved nowhere, resolved nothing. One must think of the other people, I said, those half a million home-owners who are in a similar situation across Andalucía and beyond. Houses without papers, worth nothing. Homes without water or electricity, with elderly residents, who can't afford to leave. Who must subsist in poor or inhuman circumstances.
But, let's forget them too. The tragedy is wider still. The people of Almería - a province with 30% unemployment - have lost untold riches in foreign investment, in jobs. All thanks to this one case known to readers and TV viewers across Europe: the case of Helen and Len Prior, who lost their home in a barbaric attack in January 2008.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


Butterflies in Nijar

There's nothing as sublime in life as being surrounded by butterflies. Red ones, some a beautiful shade of green, large Mexican turquoise butterflies, orange fritillaries from the Orient.
A modest zoo in Nijar (Almería) holds these and many others inside a reserve, a large greenhouse with a garden, a pond, flowers, some benches, soft piped music and a wonder of butterflies.
The butterflies dart about, except for the big Mexican fellows – they’re called Blue Morphos, who seem to flap so slowly as they spin through the air, they could be swimming. It was wondrously relaxing. I felt like a character from Alice, perched on a mushroom and (figuratively) wearing a felt hat and smoking a hookah.
On hand were three women to explain the story of the Mariposario de Nijar. They speak Spanish, French and English. They look after their charges, providing bowls of sugar-water and a soft spray to keep the atmosphere moist. One of the women is an 'educator', who looks after the young children who visit, keeping them both out of trouble and armed with paper and crayons. Another does brief tours around the greenhouse, here showing a butterfly laying eggs, there showing a couple mating. Outside, in the gift shop, a Frenchwoman showed me some charming butterfly-themed pottery. I would have asked them more about the butterfly zoo, but I was too enchanted, and instead asked to borrow a crayon.
The Mariposario is just outside Nijar, on the spur off the motorway. Open every day. The entrance fee is 8.50€ and down.  They say in their leaflet: 'The butterfly is like Happiness. If you seek it, it will remain beyond your reach; but if you sit quietly and wait, it will come and settle on your shoulder'. Nice. Go visit!

Monday, May 09, 2016


How Many Brits? Ask a Statistician!

Two stories recently about Spain come from Time magazine and The Telegraph. The first provides a ‘conservative estimate’ putting the British in Spain close to 850,000 souls, while the second tells us of ‘an estimated 761,000 Britons living in Spain’.

Who makes these estimates we hear so much about?

What about The Courier, a local newspaper from the Costa Blanca? They say the Britons on the padrón (registered in the town halls) across the province of Alicante have fallen from an impressive 131,000 of them back in 2013, to just 14,000 now.

The population figures used by the Spanish (and no one else) come from the National Institute of Statistics, the INE. According to them, there are 263,029 Britons living in Spain. No arguments, please, that’s the number.

This painfully exact number comes from information provided by the town halls, as coming from their register, the padrón. It used to be a useful guide, for Spaniards, as, if they left one municipality for another, there would be an automatic adjustment in the register, but this is no longer the case today, as many Spaniards have found work abroad, but continue to be registered as local. For foreigners, the padrón is even less exact, and now the rules state that we must re-register every five years, as Europeans, or two years, as simple foreigners.

But what is a ‘resident’ – someone who lives here full time, or partly, or has two homes, or has been away for some time but remains on the padrón for whatever reason? The exact number becomes more and more suspect. And what of those who don’t register, afraid that they will somehow be put onto some other list, perhaps to do with the tax-people? The town halls like to inflate their population register, as it means more licences, more services, more funds. Again, more flubbing.

Furthermore, with the new tax law, the dreadful Modelo 720, where one is expected to declare one’s worldwide holdings – how many foreigners have simply thrown in the towel and left Spain for a more welcoming country like Portugal, or have returned in disgust to their country of origin? Then again, why own a property in Spain if you can no longer let it without enormous inconvenience?

So how many Britons (or Germans, or Dutchmen) live in Spain? The padrón is not the answer; perhaps a better way would be to check the contracts with the electric companies. But that is not the way of the Statisticians.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016


The Spanish Animal

Spanish society is becoming wound up in another battle – this time it’s not about employment, honest politicians, nationalism, sexual equality or vice – but rather for the status of animals. It is centred on the bulls, naturally enough, since Spain is one of only a few countries in the world where you will still find la tauromachía practiced, but also increasingly around the ethical treatment of other creatures.
For example, should feral cats be neutered?  They infest certain barrios and towns, particularly in tourist areas where they are fed by well-meaning residents. The law in Catalonia says that they can’t be poisoned as they are considered ‘companion animals’, so the choices are a costly neutering program (the one that gets away will have numerous kittens) or simply doing nothing, in the hope that they’ll move away (they won’t). The rest of Spain appears to leave the problem and solution to the local municipality.
Abandoned dogs are not left in colonias as the cats are, but are rather taken to shelters where they may meet their end in 72 hours, although some regions have banned euthanasia and the animals are presumably kept there, perhaps forever. There are some 110,000 dogs abandoned each year in Spain, and we have all seen the touching adverts of the forsaken dog on the road saying ‘I would never leave you’.
Other animals seem to be under the protection of Seprona (a unit of the Guardia Civil) and some species will be considered ‘invasive’ (the raccoon for example) and will be trapped and destroyed.
And so, the bulls. There is the traditional corrida loved or hated (or ignored) by Spaniards –illegal now in a few parts of Spain (probably for political rather than ethical reasons) and then there’s the much less formal bull-baiting, known in Catalonian as ‘correbou’. This is some form of bull running – usually a local festival of questionable taste. A recent story much in the news this week has two protestors filming at an event being violently set upon by some supporters. Were the protestors – known as antitaurinos – justified in provoking the supporters or not? – the Reader must decide for him or herself. Another more famous antitaurino, the Dutchman Peter Jannsen, who sometimes jumps into a bullring during a faena, is putting the participants in danger (as if there wasn’t enough already in the bullring). So, are the animal-rights people guilty of sometimes choosing an animal’s life over a human’s? Perhaps so.  Another question to consider: Should an ‘anti’ have the right, either moral or indeed legal, to interrupt a lawful activity paid for by a crowd of enthusiasts?
There’s even an animal-rights political party in Spain called PACMA (Wiki), which, if a little light on general policy, is firm on anything to do with animals. It naturally wants bullfighting banned. It pulled 220,000 votes in the General Elections in December.
So, are animals to be eaten, worked and kept as pets, as seems to be the traditional role for them, or should they be treated as Beings trapped within a ball of fur, but with human feelings and rights?
The last word goes to a bullfighter called José Antonio Morante de la Puebla, who, faced with an antitaurino protest in Ronda last year, said ‘I’m a bullfighter, not a murderer’.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


The British Expats: The Challenge of Brexit

 It’s hard to know how many Britons live in Europe. We may be as many as 2.2 million, or as few as a mere 1.6m. Nobody seems to know, and frankly, neither figure seems important to those who ‘stayed home’. All those Britons living in Europe, forgotten except when it’s time to plan the summer hols. Otherwise, except for birthdays and Christmas, you don’t seem to like us much and, if you’ll forgive me from making the obvious point, neither do we have much time for you lot. Normally, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, if it wasn’t for the Referendum, coming up in late June.
The British people, plus for some reason the Gibraltarians, are allowed to vote on this, but many of the passport-carrying Brits in Europe are not, thanks to a thing called ‘the fifteen-year rule’. This despite what a ‘Brexit’ (horrible word) would do to us. We would no longer be fellow ‘European Citizens’ in our chosen countries of residence, if such a thing were to come to pass, just some more foreigners.
It’s odd how nobody knows how many we are, living as we do in Europe. To take an even larger view, it’s suggested that there are as many as twenty million Europeans living in another EU state than the one written on their passport. But no one knows or cares in this admittedly anal Super-state we inhabit, where every sheep and goat is chipped. This is because we don’t have any political representation in Brussels: there’s no spokesperson for our group, nor even a champion – for a collective which is four times the size of the population of the Republic of Ireland.
We wonder what might become of us. Those of us who work in the EU might need to get work-permits. In Spain, where I live, the unemployment is famously high. Would the Spanish authorities hand out those sought after work-permits as if they were sweets? Probably not.
How about visas, a stamp in one’s passport every six months? For me, this would mean a trip to Gibraltar (have you seen the queues?) and, if Spain with the enthusiastic help of the (by then) ‘other Twenty Five’ decided to annexe the Rock, then we would be talking a regular visit to Tangiers.
We would probably need new Residence Cards, which would mean having a decent income from abroad (from the UK normally, we don’t all have accounts in Panama) and an enforced trip to the Spanish embassy in London.
Our European Health Cards would be valueless. Currently, the Spanish health service bills the British NHS (and vice versa) monthly for all and any medical issues and procedures. This would stop.
Those of us with British pensions would find that these would no longer be adjusted for the increase in the cost of living (as happens already to those who live outside the European Union).
We would lose our right to vote (and be voted for) in local elections here in the EU in our town of residence. So bang goes my plan to become the local mayor. We wouldn’t be able to vote in the European elections either - not that it ever meant anything, since the candidates are all nationals, and have as little interest in the émigrés that live among them as the British appear to do . It’s a small point – most of us don’t bother to vote for the MEPs, since they – and the system – do nothing for us. But for once, we would like the politicians – any bloody politicians – to listen to us. We are Europeans. We also fought and contributed towards the civilization of Western Europe.
I suppose we could take out local nationality. That would make for some good reading in The Times: ‘The British Population Fell by Two Million Last Year’ (luckily, they all lived abroad).
The fiercest worry comes from what London would do following a Brexit. The key issues are plain enough to see – exports (not expats) for the ‘Stay’ group and immigration for the ‘Leavers’. Thus, if everything went to shite, the two million or so Europeans in the UK – studying, working or living, would find themselves in line for the chop. You can’t throw out your Commonwealth foreigners, your Indians, West Indians and Pakistanis, so you would be concentrating on the Poles, the Bulgarians and the Estonians (who, no doubt, all take your jobs and your women). With them would come the rest of them: the French, the Germans and the Spanish (there goes your only decent restaurants). And, if you make residence hard or impossible for them – what would Paris, Berlin and Madrid do to us? If we were all deported back to the UK, those two million of us, would you find housing, jobs and some money to keep us going, or would the remaining immigrants you hold to your British bosom be obliged to build Quonset huts for all of us rather hostile returnees over on Salisbury Plain?
Would we get the vote returned to us?
It’s odd that the British should ignore us so. They will happily fly halfway across the world to defend 2,900 Falkland Islanders, but at the same time, we expatriate Britons, who live quietly in Europe, will be discounted as traitors, drunks, un-persons and old fools who should have seen this coming. Just wait until we all come home.

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