Monday, January 18, 2021

Do You Believe Everything You Read?


Where do people get their news from? It used to be by reading the national equivalent of The Times of London, where foreign-based reporters wired stories back to the head office via their bureaus located in a number of foreign capitals. Home-news was written from more comfortable and accessible offices or by a few freelance reporters, who sold their ‘stories’ to the newspapers for an agreed sum.

Public opinion was based on these items of news from the august newspapers, sold for a penny by paper-boys and tobacco-shops, or left – ironed in some cases – on the side-table in clubs, barber-shops, railway lounges and hotels.

Now, we get our ‘news’ (it could also be called ‘entertainment’) from the telly, the Internet, the Red Tops (trash and titillation), the often amateur ex-pat press, or other popular sources, full of what Wiki calls ‘inaccurate news and the misrepresentation of individuals and situations’.

News today is often provided by companies, celebrities or political groups as a ‘press release’, offering self-promotion and merchandising which, depending on who owns the news-source, may receive more prominence than otherwise.

In America, says the (right-wing) Pew Research Centre, the largest provider of ‘news’ comes from Facebook, which ‘stands out as a regular source of news for about a third of Americans’!

It is followed by YouTube ‘with 23% of U.S. adults regularly getting news there’. One wonders how many of them had been getting their news from Parler, which was recently closed down by its host-service Amazon Web Services ‘…as a "last resort" after the platform was deemed to be both "unwilling and unable" to address extremist speech…’. (Newsweek here).

There is no doubt but that many readers search for the news they want to read or to hear. Conservative readers pick up The Telegraph, El Mundo, the ABC or go to El Español or Okdiario online, which lefty readers will choose The Guardian and El País, while going online to El Huff Post, Público or  

A recent story in Spain was about several socialist mayors who had wangled themselves Covid vaccines. The wretched story came from the rightist sources alone… until the offending politicians were thrown out of the party, and the leftist news-providers had something to say. Then, a conservative mayor from La Nucia in Valencia was found to have gotten the vaccine, and suddenly, the right-wing newspapers were changing the subject.

In short – no news-source wants to lose readers by somehow not being in line with their opinions. As we quoted last week in the BoT, ‘…Media firms work backward. They first ask, “How does our target demographic want to understand what’s just unfolded?” Then they pick both the words and the facts that they want to emphasize…’ (TK News here).

Can a news-item change the way we think?

Only if it doesn’t threaten a previously-held belief.

From Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe (1882) comes:

‘…Though never nurtured in the lap

Of luxury, yet I admonish you,

 I am an intellectual chap,

And think of things that would astonish you.

I often think it's comical

How Nature always does contrive

That every boy and every gal

That's born into the world alive

Is either a little Liberal

Or else a little Conservative! ’

Friday, January 15, 2021

Ah, Mojácar, We Love You

There are more foreign residents than mojaqueros registered as living in Mojácar (actually, as we shall see below, a lot more). According to the statistics people (INE) around half of all who live there were born in another country, and about half of those are British. 

Mojácar has a current population (that's to say, those registered on the padrón) of 6,778 souls. There are without doubt other residents who haven't got around to registering, or who registered after this statistic was published (perhaps due to the fear of Brexit), but we shall use this number for our present conclusions.

All mojaqueros are on the padrón, understandably - even some who live elsewhere (you can do this). 

So the numbers will be a little off.

This graphic shows that only 21,8% of those who live in Mojácar were born there (including, of course, some children from foreign parents). Let us conclude that in broad terms, 20% of the population is local, 30% are non-local Spanish, and 50% are foreign.

This second graphic shows the spread of foreign nationalities resident in Mojácar. The Brits making up half of all foreigners. The Romanians come in second at 6%, the French at 6% and the Germans at 4%. (One can handily divide by two for any conclusions regarding the percentage of a nationality in Mojácar, thus the Brits are 25%). 

We know that around 70% of the entire Mojácar budget of 11.4 million euros is spent on municipal workers and we also know that there are no foreign municipal workers... (one thing and another). The remains of the budget is spent principally on tourism - where we look for short-term visitors (five days average) who will spend their money and leave. Mojácar village had (when I last counted) fifty souvenir shops, many of which are closed in the winter season. Next-door Turre has none. 

There is no 'foreign department' in the Town Hall - apart from the single foreign-born councillor who works there on Thursdays. There is also no 'Foreigners' Day' festival (so common in other towns with a foreign population), but there are any number of festivals connected with the Fuente (the neighbourhood where the rump of the mojaqueros live). Mojácar is twinned with En Camps, a town in Andorra (where local business and banking used to be carried out forty years ago). The town has never acknowledged the foreign population (the only street which honoured one of them - Calle de Pedro Barato - an alley which remembered 'Cheap Pete' Pages, who built the Palacio bar/restaurant in the seventies - is now renamed Calle Cal) and, while the British keep their rights for the local vote post-Brexit - the next municipal elections are in May 2023 and it is unlikely they will veer even then from the current régime.  

The forasteros - the settlers - brought money and culture to Mojácar. It's a pity they have been so entirely sidelined.

The graphics come from Foro-Ciudad here

Saturday, January 09, 2021

The Old Ones are The Best

There's a useful page called The Wayback Machine which keeps the stuff we might otherwise have lost. Here's an old story of mine from 2003, a review of a local restaurant called 

Ron's Chipper.

It seemed such a nice evening last night that we decided to go out to eat a traditional Friday dinner, and where better to go than Ron’s Chipper?

Ron himself came to greet us at the door, no doubt aware of the fact that I was the official restaurant critic for The Firework. Either he’d seen my picture heading the weekly column, and has been anxiously waiting for my arrival (and automatic ‘Two Thumbs Up’ award for advertisers), or perhaps my warning reversed-charge call for my impending surprise visit had alerted him.

Rubbing his hands on his pristine string vest, Ron led us to his special table. ‘Vis one doesn’t wobble’ he joked as he seated us on the bench (which did).

I had the fish and chips, which was quite delicious. My partner (you never say ‘wife’ in these articles), had the fish and chips. 

They were quite delicious. 

Ron chose the fish himself from the freezer and fried them in his famous cauldron – filled with a special oil which he proudly told us had been handed down for three generations, ‘since my grand-da’ left the navy and set up a chipper in Dover’.

My portion was generous, comprising one piece of deeply fried fish and a large helping of chips. I counted fifty two delicately fried reconstituted potatoes wrapped in the grease-proof paper (yesterday’s Euro Weakly). My partner had three less.

A small tub of crunchy mayonnaise decorated the table. I asked Ron what it was. ‘Oh, that’s a special sauce that’s made by Heinz’, he answered. Upon which, a young man with a blond crew-cut peered out shyly from behind the fryer and smiled. 

‘Heinz’, said Ron.
For entertainment, clients can read their newspaper ‘plates’ as their food congeals. Mine was all about my favourite television programme, Coronation Street, and was quite fascinating. My dear wife was reading hers for a bit, suspiciously quiet, when she suddenly looked up, with a small piece of fish adhering to her upper lip, and said, ‘apparently, according to this, I’m going to be having a super holiday abroad soon in the sun’.

The décor is quite modern – on the yellowed walls, a flurry of calendars apparently advertising silicone implants vied for my attention with a poster entitled ‘Ten Reasons why Beer is Better than a Woman’ and another which said ‘Try our Fish and Chips’. 

Ron was hovering as we finished our repast. ‘Do Spaniards come here?’, I asked. ‘Spaniards?’, answered Ron with a far-away expression. ‘No. Have you finished reading?’, he said, generously adding, ‘you can keep the pages if you want’.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Horsing About

We have a friend called El Lobo, who sometimes sends us tips which turn out to be something entirely different from what we expected. Our visit to the hard-to-find settlement of Las Matanzas earlier this year being one such.

On Sunday, following The Wolf's recommendation, we set off in the car to have a look at a horse and some feed. This meant taking the road towards the interior of the province, somewhere up beyond Sorbas and the wonderfully-named Uleila del Campo. 

The road went from motorway to fast straight two-lane to wiggly one-lane to something that I hadn't seen for about forty years - a thin asphalt wash on what once must have been a track. The village of El Pilar was so small, it apparently only had two British families living there (one of whom runs a restaurant, El Albar, which I must properly visit one day). 

But we had come to see a man about a horse. The horse in question is a mare of six years and she has never been ridden. The deal would include a shed-full of avenate (oat-hay). I guess you wouldn't need the one without the other. 

The mare is called Zaha. I have no idea how you pronounce that. We examined her teeth and gave her a hug - she seemed very tranquil - and wondered how to get the bales out of the shed and down a very narrow path. We'll give you a call, we said. 

The  owner of the steed explained the way towards the coast - avoiding Sorbas and taking the road - some road! - to Cariatiz. This is a village where we had been once before - a pair of American artists had spent a season there and invited us to their exhibition. She painted on canvas and he painted on rocks, which he then turned into a maze through the nearby dry riverbed. All very vanguardista. There was a village fiesta the day we were there, and a tiny but proficient band played acoustic as we hopped about with a glass of local wine. 

From there, after the usual three turns around the village looking for the exit (why would you want to leave?), we headed out on a road signed for Sorbas, but then found the turning for the motorway, civilization, and an expensive lunch in Turre (next door but one to a restaurant where an Englishman was singing Frank Sinatra to playback).

Expensive? Well, it cost almost as much as the horse. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Christmas Comes, But is it Safe?

 There’s no doubt but that these rules for our well-being and protection are a bit arbitrary. They are created on the run by people who have no experience in this kind of pandemic, because no one does.

They can only do their best, no doubt worried about whether they’ve been too tough against the economy, or not tough enough in saving and protecting the public health.

We see enough Facebook articles, quoting some fatuous tripe found on YouTube or Twitter along the lines that we are being made fools of (for some reason which is either never explained, or if it is, is too stupid to waste time on. Bill Gates wants to put a microchip in our vaccine to control us like, what, robots?).

A Facebook meme tells us that we are being played, and it’s only one chance in a million we’ll get sick and die from Covid-19 (a cunning plot by the Marxist Democrats etc). Don’t wear a face-mask, they say. By the same logic, don’t wear a seat-belt either, or stop at a red light.

What could go wrong?

Many of us push against these rules, testing them to see how far they can be bent. The local supermarket doesn’t sell tinned jellied eel – can I go to the next town-but-one to buy some? Can I take my dog out for a walk after curfew? Why just six people for our birthday lunch, and not eight?

Christmas is all but upon us. The tension mounts between safety and celebration. For those of us with family back in our home country, this awful, little-understood situation has become a minor tragedy. Can’t they let us join together on this most important day?

The answer is that these rules are there to hold us in check, to keep us aware and, of course, to try and keep us safe.  Another Facebook meme says ‘We isolate now, so when we gather again, no one is missing’.  

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Oiling the Paperwork

Earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.

George Orwell.

I had just arrived at the almazara, which was due to press my olives and turn them into golden sunshine, or olive oil as I prefer to call it. But first, the man wanted my NIE number. I’m a foreigner I said brightly (I look like one too, even wearing a face-mask). I offered him my Spanish driving licence with my handy NIF impressed on it for some reason in needlessly tiny print.

‘No, I need your address’, he goes.

So I give him my framed green A4 letter from extranjería which normally lives over the bed. Except these days, it’s on the roof-rack. The same NIF of course, although the address is wrong (it’s from a dozen years ago), but he’s happy and so therefore I’m happy. Thus goes the administrative minuet.

Paperwork is a vital part of life. It is, as someone once said, the glue that keeps the wheels of industry from turning. It’s the key ingredient to amassing sometimes useless information, and it provides employment to many, who are known here as funcionarios. In English – functionaries, officials, civil servants, desk-jockeys… something to do with ink anyhow.

‘In the mid-eighteenth century, the term bureaucracy entered the world by way of French literature. The neologism was originally forged as a nonsense term to describe what its creator, political economist Vincent de Gournay, considered the ridiculous possibility of “rule by office,” or, more literally, “rule by a desk.” Gournay’s model followed the form of more serious governmental terms indicating “rule by the best” (aristocracy) and “rule by the people” (democracy)…’.

But, as we know, it caught on. In Spain, while no one likes the funcionarios (there’s a good video here you may have already seen), the truth is, everybody wants to be one. You get good pay, good benefits (including the eleven o’clock coffee break), fourteen monthly payments a year and, best of all, you can’t be fired. Become a funcionario, they say, y tienes la vida solucionada – as if life itself is a fearsome thing that needs to be tamed.

There are 2.6 million of them, and something must be done to keep them all relatively busy, hence (and forget the ventanilla única or the paperless office), there are endless and incomprehensible forms to be filled out. And if there aren’t enough, somebody will legislate to create some more. It’s the modern equivalent to the army kitchen that never stops cooking, cleaning, washing. And now do it again.

Indeed, the paperwork is slow, even when correctly filled in: Las cosas del palacio van despacio say the people, waiting patiently for their opening permit, or driving licence, or pension: Things move slowly at the palace.

A story this week tells of a person who had downloaded a form from the ministry website, printed it, filled it in and taken it to the offices of the Social Security. It was bounced by the functionary because it was in black and white and not in ministerial yellow and blue. The anecdote comes from a larger story: ‘of the 837,000 people who have applied for the minimum wage (IMV) between June and October, so far only 1.5% of them have been approved and paid’. Slow, complicated and you need to collect a few more forms, which, in turn, will also need their own formularios to be filled out – oh, and signed with a blue biro.  Another story, in El País, tells of a woman who has moved to the country to telework from an old farmhouse and wants to buy a couple of sheep to eat the weeds, because they are full of ticks. Hah, said the vet, lemme tell you, it’s not that easy…

One’s papers need to be right, ‘in order’, in case there’s an inspection; to avoid a sanction – a fine.

But life can’t always be reduced to the printed page and one can easily fall foul of being fuera de la normalidad – like when they want your dabs and you are missing a finger, or when you only have one surname…

All of which brings us to the gestorías – those agents that deal with ‘la administración’ and help get one’s paperwork done… for a price.

The Local (paywall) has an article which begins ‘In the midst of this pandemic, many people have been forced to think about changing careers. Perhaps one job which might suit foreigners living in Spain – and which must pay well from my experience - would be setting up a business guiding other foreigners through the madness of this country's bureaucracy.

Think about it for a moment. If you have ever negotiated your way through this hellish maze, then you will know how difficult it is…’.

Heh! is my answer to that. The Spanish are remarkably difficult in allowing foreigners to push their way into traditionally Spanish professions.

Now my friend at the olive press wasn’t a bureaucrat; just like the rest of us who must from time to time help the tax collector or the police or the statisticians, he just had to fill out some forms before he could press the button to start the process of making my jugs of oil.