Saturday, May 21, 2022

Painting with Numbers

The Euro Weekly news asks 'Do you have News for us?' I am not sure that this is a very good idea to admit - as it does - that their lack of useful content has even come to the attention of the editorial chair. The local news from Spain comes to way under half of their stories. Maybe the editor needs to monitor the Spanish news more closely.

And who, by the way, is the editor? It doesn't say anything in my copy.

The 'People's Paper' as it is known (by absolutely nobody) is not much better with numbers.

  The free-sheet claims that it has been providing 'news and views since 1998'. An odd claim since the first edition of this woeful rag appeared in April 2002. 

Even more peculiar, counting back the number of weeks from today's issue Nº 1924 brings us not to the first edition of April 2002, and indeed not even to any date from 1998, when those news and views began; but back all the way to 1985. 

The answer is that The People's Paper is based on an earlier newspaper called The Entertainer. A weekly newspaper in three editions that ran from 1985 to 2002; a tabloid which appears to have been airbrushed from history.


Sunday, May 15, 2022

Cowboy Country

When I think of my province – Almería – I don’t bring to mind flamenco dancers eating enormous plates of paella after an enjoyable afternoon at the bullfight explaining the minutiae of the spectacle to aghast tourists.

Hideous plastic farms aside (and I live completely surrounded by them), I’m gonna go out with the cowboys.

I learned my Spanish from going twice-weekly to the old pipa-theatre, the summer cinema open to the stars (late-showings only) and began with ‘hands up’ and rapidly progressed to ‘die, you dirty dog’ – useful on so many occasions, and especially now, with the Russian army due to arrive on the 12.00h from Numa.

The old pipa-theatres were so called, because you ate a twist of sun-flower seeds noisily from your wobbly wooden chair, which could be picked up and turned around to make it easier to chat more comfortably with one’s neighbours during the slow boring bits.

Of course, with a good cowboy film, shot locally and with an Italian, German or Spanish director, there weren’t many boring bits to be sure.

Barbara my Californian wife would say, oh look, those aren’t American horses, those are PREs (which is horsey-folk slang for Spanish nags) as the rest of us wondered how a German director could get an Italian actor to say ‘Hands Up!’ in Spanish.

The gigantic speakers, plus the simple story line (Die, you dog!) made it easy to both follow the plot and also to pick up some vocab.  Even today, I like my movies loud.

The movies were shot in Almería back in the golden years of regular visits to the cinema. The desert scenes of Tabernas were considered just the job for a good shoot-out and the extras came cheap enough. Sergio Leone and others like him managed to take an American original (we were all brought up on cowboys and Indians) and improve upon it. Cut the chat, they figured correctly, and shoot somebody. Leone brought the camera close to the actor’s face and we could see the twitch in the eyes just before the guns blazed. The astonishing Ennio Moricone provided the music.

At 25 pesetas for a cracking good evening, with a beer or a soft drink for another ten, hold the pipas, it was blissful.

Tabernas today, a half century on, has several cowboy towns – or film-sets – open to the public. The largest is the Mini Hollywood now called Oasys with  a museum, film posters of Anthony Steffen, Giuliano Gemma, Bud Spencer, Terence Hill (all Italians), Clint Eastwood, Lee van Cleef, Dan van Husen (who came to my 21st birthday party in Mojácar), Klaus Kinski and so many more. There’s a collection of old film-projectors, a zoo (for some reason), a bar with lots of character actors wandering around shooting each other as we drink a beer and many other attractions besides.

They even lend you a cowboy hat and a revolver and take a picture of you looking either mean or else bemused (or in my case, mildly sun-stroked and drunk).

By the mid-seventies, the film-makers had moved on, as the local agents got increasingly greedy, and they began to make cowboy flicks in Yugoslavia or Morocco (‘that’s an Arab horse’ says Barbara derisively).

Nowadays, Tabernas gets a few adverts shot there and maybe a Spanish director will make a rare cowboy film (Pedro Almodóvar is filming one at present), and my old mate Eduardo, who has made his career by getting shot and dramatically falling off a galloping horse, will likely have a brief appearance in the second reel.


The history of the Spanish cowboy films at Valencia Plaza here explains how the local industry fell to pieces.


Sunday, May 01, 2022

The Driving Licence Issue - Resolved

My first road-legal vehicle was a Vespino. This is a moped with a 49cc motor. With such a machine, I could pedal away to help its small engine get me and a packet of cigarettes up the hill to the village. I was sixteen.

Following this, and a few other mopeds (the pedals were usually removed to make the bike look a bit racier, and the motorbike would be ‘trucado’ to get it up over whatever the limit was, I think it was 60kph in them days).

Like most young fellows, I wanted a car and, in 1975, the year that Franco died, I passed my driving licence in Huercal Overa and took over operation of the Peugeot that my dad had bought in Madrid a few years earlier on tourist plates (from Bert Schroder, if there are any old-timers reading this). A succession of cars followed, usually second-hand, and there it was – the perfectly normal story of a fellow living in España, trying to impress the girls with his wheels.

Many Brits living here in Spain, in this post-Brexit time, seem surprised that the rule to stop the legal use of a British driving licence for foreign residents of the British persuasion should not have been subject to yet another extension once again as May 1st 2022 rolled around. Somehow, many of us British are convinced that we should be allowed to be different from the American or South African resident or anyone else who aspires to drive on his home-licence.

The message evidently didn’t get through to the Spanish – we Brits are special. Oh, but we are allowed to drive with a British licence in France, we say – why not ’ere?

Thus, the cold water of reality now means classes and both a written and practical driving test, which is a serious bother. They’ll do a health check as well.

Mind you, one can always wing it – how many times does one get stopped by the tráfico anyway; and if you do, you simply explain to them in a condescending yet respectful way that you are British.

They’ll soon see your point and will no doubt wave you on your way with a crisp salute.

It’s clear that many of this unfortunate set of non-European foreign residents will need to bite the bullet and go through the rigmarole, and it is not easy. Fifty years driving and now told to watch your rear-view mirror and to hold the steering wheel properly, with three eighteen-year-olds squeezed across the back seats nudging each other and chuckling.

For some, the answer is a taxi or a bus. The Tarjeta SensentayCinco for the Oldies gets you discounts on travel. Or then there’s the car-share app Blablacar for long trips. For others, perhaps, one can acquire a vehicle that doesn’t need a full licence. Not the Vespino, no, nor a mobility scooter (not yet, anyhow), but something to do the shopping with or to go out as a couple to a favoured restaurant.

The answer to this is the ‘coche sin carnet’, the microcar. The reality is that one does need a licence for these, the same AM permit as for mopeds and three-wheelers (it’s very easy, just drive a zigzag and a circle). They have a limit of 45kph and, needless to say, with their egg-beater engine, they can’t go on the motorways.

There are a few brands available in Spain, including the Aixam, the Ligier, the Chatenet and the Microcar.

Even cooler is the all-electric city-car, the Citroën Ami. To drive one, you just need to be sixteen years or older and perhaps equipped with a keen sense of humour.

It’s not easy changing one’s feathers as one gets older, but a golf-cart with windows, heating and a radio doesn’t sound so bad.

At this stage, who did you want to impress anyway?

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Residents, Tourists and Beancounters (Part II)

We were looking at the number of foreign residents and their overall value to Spain.

Since last week, fresh totals have appeared, sometimes higher than the ones we produced. As always, they are painstakingly exact, and no doubt, utterly wrong.

A site from the Ministry of Labour and Social Inclusion gives the number of foreigners in Spain as at January 1st, of 6,007,553. So we know how we stand. Although the number is easier to appreciate if it is rounded out to six million foreigners.

Some of them retired, some of them living from income from abroad, some of them working and some of them studying. Some of them sending their money home to their families, as they should.

Spain has a population of 47,440,000 they say, so foreigners make up 12.6% of the whole – that’s one in every eight people.

The Brits are counted in the above guaranteed government figures at 407,628 (as opposed to last week’s padrón figures found elsewhere at 282,124). The Schengen Visa Info – quoting something called Statista, gives us a completely different Brit total in Spain of 313,975.

The ABC meanwhile claims 290,372 Brits resident in Spain (the comments from this right-wing paper about Spain’s foreign population are, as always, a pleasure to read).

Then there’s the INE – the official bean-counter site – which doesn’t have a clue. The best we can find from them is July 2021 ‘non-EU Europeans’, which come to… 603,162 (you see: the Brits, post Brexit, aren’t worth a place of their own any more).

There are other official government sites available, but the browser found a ‘potential security threat and did not continue to’. So, we shall remain blissfully ignorant of the information to be found on that no doubt highly useful page.

Then we have The Mirror headline from October last year which reads: ‘British expats are said to be leaving Spain "in droves"’; while, conversely: Idealista says the opposite: ‘The Brits bought 7,560 homes in the second half of 2021 – the largest group of foreign buyers’. In all, nearly 64,000 homes were bought by foreigners between July and December last year. And that’s good money brought here almost exclusively from outside Spain.  

With all the confusion, the authorities will understandably react according to the figures to hand (once they’ve looked up the phrase ‘in droves’ in the dictionary), without worrying if they are correct; or maybe just go out for a coffee instead.

My estimate last week of the half a million wealthiest foreign residents, worth to Spain some 10,000 million euros each year (plus their 250,000€ homes and 20,000€ cars and so on), brings us back to the question: why chase after just the tourists while ignoring the foreigners who live here, or who potentially could?

The only time the subject of the foreigners come up – beyond of course at Vox rallies – is when it’s time to tax us.

But you won’t find any official agency or policy that promotes foreign home-buyers investing in Spain!

The tourists are counted in a similar exact but hopelessly wrong way as the foreigners. Someone is paid to provide the numbers (a bit like the new school they’re building near us at €724,027.27 – now fellers, hold on just a minute, does that include the chalk?). Perhaps, by not rounding them off, they show how hard they work at these sums.

Tourists, then, are described as anyone foreign who comes to Spain (even if they are taking an onwards flight to somewhere else and never even leave the airport), plus all the people on all the cruise ships – regardless of if they disembark for a two-hour stroll around Málaga harbour or not – plus all the people who hop over to Spain every weekend (add ’em all together José), but not the ones who drove across the frontier or who slept in the guest room last night or on the sofa.

Then we have those non-EU citizens who own homes here are but aren’t allowed to stay for more than 90 in any 180 days. What are they exactly – residents, home-owners, tourists? No one knows or seems to care – except of course for the affronted local businesses.  

A few years ago, I went with a couple of senior local Brit spokesmen (if you see what I mean) to see the delegación provincial – the government representative for Almería and his team – to make the point that, with so many small and disappearing villages, a possible answer might be to turn one or more into an old-folks’ retirement centre for rich wealthy well-heeled foreigners. Do you see the idea? Bring along a few English-speaking nurses – after all, there are plenty of disillusioned Spanish professionals returning from London thanks to the Brexit fallout – to bring movement and life back to some moribund pueblo that has no earthly source of income. You could even sell the homes as lifetimes leases.

Anyway, they said they’d get back to us.