Saturday, May 30, 2009

Round Table on Property Abuse

A meeting was held today at the Best Hotel in Mojácar to discuss the 'illegal homes', 'land grab', town hall corruption and other ills as described in the Auken Report (recently approved in the European parliament in Brussels). Around 450 people came, almost all British property owners from various areas including Albox and Cantoria in the Almerian interior, as well as some groups from Murcia, Alicante, the Axarquía and the Costa del Sol.
The Greens (Grupo Ecologista del Mediterraneo) were also at the meeting - bravely putting up with and answering some tricky questions. Star guests were David Hammerstein (MEP) who explained the power of the European Parliament and Commission and Sean O'Curneen CDL head-of-list candidate and expat.
Who spoke very elegantly.
The meeting was organised by the AULAN with the AUN (Anti-Abusos - ¡No!) who had brought several Euro-MPs over to Spain in the past (Michael Cashman et al) because of the property fraud problems which have done much to trash Spain's reputation abroad. The AUN representative was Jacqueline Cotterill who is deputy mayor of a town in Alicante and Nº 4 on the list of the CDL.
The Priors (whose home was bulldozed down in January 2008 and have been living in a garage ever since) were also present.
They have lots of spare time now.
Some other groups to mention: the Ecologístas en Acción, Citizens Advocacy, Cantoria Residents Association, SOHA, AVEP and the Camposol Residents Association.
Various serious speakers, including Helen Baker (AUAN - the group based around Albox) and Concha Arraez (Levante Sostenible from Bédar) and the irrepressible Christine Fergusson from the Floor discussed the problems regarding the lack of a sensible reaction and policy from the authorities about the huge numbers of (wealthy) Northern Europeans who have decided to live here, and how much this must be costing Spain. The 'Decalogue' - a list of ten demands to the Spanish authorities regarding the rights of home-owners - was also presented and discussed by the different groups. It was agreed that a working party would be constituted between the various groups to work on the Decalogue and approve the final version of the same.
I closed the session with remarks about how the Spanish don't need to attend this kind of meeting (almost no one showed) as they know all about us foreigners from reading El País. For example, we Brits like to buy illegal houses and save a few bob. For example, we all want to go home to England where we have our empty houses waiting for us. For example, there are 330,000 Brits living in Spain (the Foreign Office reckons 750,000 to one million). Indeed, if you want to know about the phenomenon of the two million Northern Europeans living in Spain (for some reason known as 'turísmo residencial'), you don't need to ask any extranjero since we, of course, wouldn't have any idea.
Just read El País.
Thanks to all who attended, and to Alan Sykes who handed four different microphones without missing a beat.
Exciting times.

Pictures by John Bowling.

Press Release from AULAN.


This Saturday a large meeting took place in Mojacar organized by the association campaigning against urban abuses known as "Abusos Urbanísticos Almeriense Levante - No!" (AULAN). The Auken report (which harshly criticised urban and environmental abuse affecting the province of Almeria and other parts of Spain) was discussed in a roundtable meeting between the environmentalists and associations of affected foreigners. Some 500 people from the different municipalities of Almeria attended, including those from the Valle del Almanzora and Levante Almeriense.

Special guest was David Hammerstein Green Party MEP and member of the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament, known for his interventions in Europe in favour of an investigation into urban and environmental issues in Spain. The Auken report was prepared and approved by the aforementioned committee, and was subsequently approved by the European Parliament by an overwhelming majority, despite opposition from the MEP of the PSOE and the PP. The report was harshly critical of Spanish urban planning and even proposed the freezing of structural funds for Spain.

At the roundtable were representatives of Ecologists in Action; the AUAN, an association known for their efforts in support of urban regularisation in the Almanzora Valley; AUN from Valencia, represented by Jacqui Cotteril, a member of Parcent town council; Levante Sostenible from Bedar and the AULAN.

In the audience there were also representative from groups in Almeria: Cantoria Residents Association; AVEP from Bedar; SOHA and Citizens Advocacy from Malaga and Camposol Residents Association from Murcia.

Sean O’Curneen Cañas, European election candidate and head of the list for the Centro Democrático Liberal (CDL) spoke at the end of the meeting.

After an Exchange of views the participants were in broad agreement on the following points, based to a large part on the Auken report:

1. COMMISSION OF INVESTIGATION: A national commission of investigation be established, with representatives of the administration and citizens’ groups (including those for the protection of homeowners’ rights and the ecologists), to investigate the existing grave planning and environmental problems, to draw up a report on the causes of said problems and their possible solutions, as well as recommendations for the future.

2. ARBITRATION: The creation of a special administrative commission that includes a provincial public ombudsman, advised by independent investigation services, including representatives from the administration and from citizens’ groups (including those for the defence of individual property owners and ecology groups), and with arbitration powers in relation to disputes concerning these problems, available to affected parties free of charge.

3. RESPONSIBILITY: The liability of developers, the administration and pertinent third parties, for having given rise to the grave planning and environmental problems which exist, must be made enforceable and real. Any process of regularisation should, as far as possible, include binding agreements (including adequate guarantees) between those who have caused the irregularities and the administration, and these must include the opportune measures so that those who caused the irregularities compensate for the damage caused.

4. PRINCIPLES TO BE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT: The following principles should be recognized and reflected in urban law.

In urban development priority must be given to the true needs of the cities and towns affected, sustainability from an environmental point of view and the need to preserve the historical and cultural identity of the affected areas.

The need for full compliance with community law and fundamental rights, including the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

In the case of demolition of property acquired in good faith by citizens real, effective and prior compensation must be guaranteed. Such compensation must be made prior to any loss and at proper rates and conforming to the case law of the Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.

The legitimate right of purchasers to property acquired legally must be recognised and criteria established for the application of Art. 33 of the Spanish Constitution with respect to public and social interest in order to prevent and prohibit the infringement of people’s property rights by decisions of local and regional authorities;

5. TRANSPARENCY AND PARTICIPATION: Notice of any planning or environmental proceedings should be communicated individually to all those affected, directly or indirectly; as well as publicised widely; publication in the relevant Bulletins not being sufficient. The possibility of electronic access (Internet) to planning and environmental documents in the process of being approved or approved be ensured. Information in the Cadastral and Land Registry must coincide, and the Land Registry must include graphical information. It must be ensured that the information on the land registry includes information about the status of the property with respect to urban regulations as well as environmental and cultural restrictions or similar.

6. JUDICIAL SYSTEM: There is an urgent need to reform the judicial system to avoid the lack of effective rights before the courts; shortening of the real length of proceedings; computerizing and providing adequate resources.

7. ESTATE AGENTS: Should 1) be licensed or have passed an examination of sufficient knowledge and capacity; 2) have adequate insurance to cover all civil liabilities; 3) be clearly regulated in their activities.

8. PROMOTERS & CONSTRUCTORS: These must be subject to bonds, guarantees or insurance to cover possible liabilities to third parties (including to buyers), and to the administration; for possible planning or environmental breaches or infractions; and proof that such guarantees are in place must be a pre-requisite to present and manage any planning instrument.

9. PROTOCOL: An obligatory protocol for the buying and selling of real estate should be established for the benefit of the consumer, setting out the precise steps and standardised procedures , similar to those in other EU member states (for example the United Kingdom).

They (the participants) agreed to establish a working group, to establish the final version of a Decalogue of measures required to solve the problems that have occurred and to ensure that they do not happen again.

Mojácar, 30 Mayo 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Brush, a Pen and a Chisel

There is a remarkable mountain just by where I live. It looks artificial. It appears to have sculpted sides leading up to a flat summit. It’s known as ‘Old Mojácar’ or ‘Mojácar la Vieja’ and there are those that say it is the first version of the white cubist settlement that twenty thousand drinks later and half a kilometre to the south would briefly become known as Almería’s leading tourist city – until it was left behind by bad planning and corrupt politics in the mid eighties.
The table-topped mountain, located for some reason in ‘the Valley of the Pyramids’ (who thinks these things up?) is too steep to have ever been a village (‘I’ll just climb across the street and borrow a cup of sugar from Mrs Ughh’) and it would never have been defensible against pirates, corsairs and fifth-century al Qaida warriors and suicide bombers (which I can tell you in those days were pretty ineffectual). There’s not much point in living half way up a stand-alone mountain because, if the defences are breached, where ya gonna run to?
It must have had some other purpose: perhaps it was a religious centre of some sort, a kind of local version of Stonehenge. It certainly looks artificial; as if it was purposely built (they appear to have had rather better craftsmen in those days). If you climb to the top (crossing our land at three shillings each, children half price) you will find the flattened summit has a gigantic tank cut out of it, about five metres deep and appearing to look like an old water reservoir. But how would you fill it? There’s no spring that we know of, unless an earthquake closed it off at some point. There are signs of damage round the back of the mount apparently caused by a heavy tremor in fifteen hundred and something AD. The tank on the top of Old Mojácar is said to be Phoenician but the graffitis thoughtfully painted inside it come from the twenty-first century. You can sit on the edge of the top, with the open cargo hold in front of you, and imagine yourself on a stone barge, sailing the sky.
The mountain has been occasionally excavated, or perhaps ‘expoliated’ or even ‘sacked’, by amateur treasure hunters over the centuries. There are still lots of shards of old pottery and brick lying around among the terrace stones; together with a few of the surviving local tortoises (most were killed in the fire set in Cortijo Grande a few years back). But the large gold figurines which inevitably litter these kinds of places have all been collected and sold to the Yanks.
The process of a place-name comes from the ease of use and the imposition of the conqueror. The hill was named ‘Holy Mountain’ by the Romans, or ‘Mons Sacra’. The Moors changed the name to ‘Muxacra’ which the Christians were to pronounce later as ‘Mojácar’.
A local historian, Juan Grima, says that Mojácar has had several sites, but always in the sierras where, as he logically points out, one could always scarper in times of crisis, and where there was always a spring of fresh water available. The corsairs, you see, didn’t like to hang about for a siege so they would generally try somewhere more easy along the coast.

The cretin who painted his doodles in the mysterious old tank on the top of Old Mojácar is just one of many artists who have come here, attracted by the light, the views and the inspiration in the bottom of a bottle of cheap brandy. The first artist we know of, if not by name, was the one who put up the little stick figures with a rainbow – or whatever it is – originally called in Spanish ‘the little Mojácar man’ but much later known as ‘the Indalo’.

The Indalo

The Indalo, the name rather than the figure, was popularised by a group of artists in the nineteen fifties who settled Mojácar – or at least dropped by on weekends – called the ‘Indalianos’. The name comes from Indalecio, the first Spanish bishop, who happened to come from Urci (apparently now Benahadux) in Almería. Another suggestion, from the colourfully named ‘Flaming Turd’ (I found him on a forum called ‘Conan Completist’) suggests that during an early drinking session, while still casting about for a name for their school, one of the original group of artists noticed that a doll perched on the bar next to a bottle of really quite reasonably priced brandy, apparently distilled in a shed in Murcia, had a similar face to another member, whose name was Indalecio (in point of fact, a fairly common Almerian name). You had to have been there.
Me, I think that the name was lovingly chipped into the wall just under the cave painting in Velez Blanco. With a hammer and chisel bought from an ancestor of López.
After the Indalianos had disgustedly left Mojácar in about 1960 (undone by the march of progress in the shape of the town’s first – and for some time the only – street light), Mojácar’s artistic fortunes declined slightly until Paul Becket arrived a couple of years later, followed by Fritz Mooney, Mompó, Coronado, Roberto Puig, Juan Guirado, Brandybel, Alfredo Pirís, Félix Clemente, Luz Marquez, Peter Honey, Tony Hawker, Jean-Marc Faure, Marisol Stirling, Penny Colman and Isabelle Raths. And that’s just the ones from my collection.
Plus a whole lot more of unusually fine painters, sculptors and so on who have come to live in this area attracted by the light, the views and the aforementioned brandy, now sadly much increased in price.
With them came the wannabes. The flip-side of the coin. The exhibitionists. The graffitists. Usually as young and callow as they are free of any suggestion of talent, they despoil and ruin anything they can. In some towns they are fined, in others, ignored.
Mojácar meanwhile continues to welcome artists (especially rich ones, it goes without saying). There is a municipal gallery and, soon, an art museum to honour the town’s recent resurgence. We also have the Delfos Gallery (with an excellent selection of paintings) and the Fundación Valparaiso. Regular exhibitions are put on at the Hotel Puntazo on the playa. Other groups, exhibitions, galleries and so on exist hereabouts, such as the Gallarte group in Los Gallardos. In Arboleas, there’s the remarkable Pedro Gilabert museum. The inland marble town of Macael is home to sculptors and hosts an annual prize exhibition. In Cuevas, the castle houses a magnificent collection of twentieth century Spanish art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Antonio Manuel Campoy).
And no doubt outside, on the castle walls, someone has painted with a magic marker or a spray can the lovely phrase ‘Herbert woz here’.

Painting: Isabelle Raths Webpage.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Real Story of Gibraltar

In the old days of a century ago, the atlases used to show a lot of pink. This was the British Empire which stretched from Henley to Hong Kong, via Australia, India, most of North America, large chunks of Africa, bits of the South Pacific, oh, and Gibraltar.
A hundred years later, the pink has shrunk to just a ghost of its former glory. There’s not much more than Pitcairn Island, Ascension Island, Diego García (no relation), Rockall, a pizza-slice of the Antarctic decided by some geographer in Greenwich, the Malvinas (where we damn’ well showed ‘em), Bédar, the Scilly Isles and the old part of Benidorm after six in the evening.
And, of course, the brightest jewel in our crown, Gibraltar.
Gib didn’t start off British. It wasn’t discovered by an Old Etonian with a rucksack and a boat-load of natives and, in a sense, it’s only ours because we asked Spain nicely when the patatas fritas were down in 1713 after the Spanish War of Succession, a conflict designed to stop the proposed union of France and Spain in 1700. The war was in essence an early attempt to control the international balance of power. Gibraltar, some pirate gold, together with a few new paintings for the National Portrait Gallery, were the rewards for the British involvement.
The treaty was knocked together by some pesky lawyers. It starts with ‘The Catholic King does hereby, for himself, his heirs and successors, yield to the Crown of Great Britain the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging; and he gives up the said propriety to be held and enjoyed absolutely with all manner of right for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever’. No mention of an airport, a Marks and Spencers or an off-shore banking scam. But, all things considered, it was pretty much tied up in legal knots for ever.
But the lawyers couldn’t leave it there. They added a bit to keep up appearances and, well, to stand on principle.
And Her Britannic Majesty, at the request of the Catholic King, does consent and agree, that no leave shall be given under any pretence whatsoever, either to Jews or Moors, to reside or have their dwellings in the said town of Gibraltar.’
A bit like not letting gypsies overnight in Mojácar (which may still be on the books: it certainly was prior to Franco’s passing).
So Britain got Gibraltar and, for a while, it was a useful place to own. With a few huge guns pointed out to sea from your network of caves, you control the mouth of the Mediterranean. It was also considered as a nice little earner for Britain long before the international association of usurers and bankers showed up with their cash-boxes and sealing wax. In the mid nineteenth century, Gibraltar used to smuggle goods over to Spain (still does, come to think of it). In those days, the main product was tobacco. There was a time when fully one quarter of all baccy smoked in Spain had come into the bay in Estepona at the dead of night. The Spanish government of the day complained to their British counterpart and the governor of Gibraltar was invited to drop by Westminster pronto. ‘Smuggling has to stop’, said the minister, ‘it’s not on, old chap’. The governor disagreed, explaining how the smuggling was saving the British Treasury a fortune in aid to the Colony. The point was carried and the British Government decreed that Gibraltar would be legally empowered to continue with its activities as a smuggler.
Which just goes to show that you should never get between a politician’s money and his principles.

The Gates

Spain has been chasing after Gibraltar ever since it signed the Treaty. Talk about bad losers. According to their point of view, it used to belong to Spain, therefore it does now. A bit like, could I have my house in Vera back – the one I sold a few years ago? You see, it used to be mine! And before that, it used to belong to somebody else. The people living there now…? Well, that’s not my problem is it?
Franco was particularly keen on the Gibraltar Español thing. You’ll find a street in Almería with that name, by the way.
In the second half of the 1960s, the prime minister of Britain, an old Marxist cretin called Wilson, decided that tourists could only take fifty pounds a year out of the UK and that this must be recorded in the back of one’s passport. Even in 1967, fifty quid didn’t buy you too much, so there was a lively smuggling service going on for those of us who had fled England in search of a civilized life-style in Foreign Parts (which involved a lot of cheap drinking). We used to use the services of an Indian called Bullshand, who ran a nick-nack shop in the Gibraltar Main Street and would take an English cheque, leaving you the pesetas, less a modest commission, in a place called Jack’s Bar in Estepona (with just the faintest whiff of tobacco in every envelope). Everyone – except for the absurd Harold Wilson – was happy with this arrangement, which meant a trip down to Gibraltar every few months and the chance to stock up on tea-bags.
Then Franco locked the Spanish side of the frontier. Every day at dawn, the British soldiers would march out, tootle their trumpets and shout strange instructions to each other ‘Abaaht turn Sarnt Major’ and so on, and solemnly open their side of the border with a large iron key. A few feet away, the Spanish border guards would nonchalantly light up their Ducados and leave their gates firmly shut and bolted. A few people who were on the wrong side – one way of another – would gather and shout messages across to the other. ‘Tobacco’ and ‘Has anyone seen Bullshand’, being popular subjects.
For us, and anyone else who started out in Algeciras, it meant a trip across to the North African port of Tangiers followed by another trip back to Europe, Thanks to Franco, a three minutes walk across the frontier had become an agreeable three or four day jaunt (Tangiers was lots of fun in those days).
Gibraltar immediately turned into East London, rising to its best under the threat of invasion. Cups of tea rattled and slopped all over the colony as it was cut off from Europe. The British Government, beginning to cut back on military spending and having not the least interest in its subjects overseas, spluttered but did nothing.
Eventually, when Franco finally left this mortal coil, the siege was lifted and Gibraltar was once again open for business. Unfortunately, Wilson was long gone and money changing was just a pleasant memory.
So, should Gibraltar become part of Spain – a bit of tidying-up that wouldn’t bother Whitehall for a second? Should it remain British like that absurd island off Argentina where everyone wears Union Jacks ‘neath their shirts? There isn’t a third way unfortunately. The Treaty of Utrecht – the one that goes on about Jews and Wogs – doesn’t say anything about independence, say the Spanish, whose interest and concern for the Gibraltarians in this entire hullabaloo is palpably absent.
But let’s leave this argument with the header from a webpage written by a Gibraltarian’s (A Gibo’s Tale).
‘Gibraltar belongs to the People of Gibraltar.
It is neither Spain's to claim nor Britain's to give away!’

Saturday, May 16, 2009

European Elections - Ex-pat Candidates

The candidate in the upcoming European elections for the CDL, the Centro Democratico Liberal party, is Sean O'Curneen Cañas, half Irish and half Spanish. Fourth on the list, i.e. in a high enough position to make a difference, is Jacqueline Cotterill, a British long time resident of Spain and currently deputy-mayor of Parcent (Alicante). Jacqueline also works closely with the AUN, the anti property abuse association which helped instigate the ‘Auken Report’ in Brussels which heavily criticised Spain for its urban corruption, ‘illegal homes’ and ‘land grab’ issues.
The CDL is the Spanish arm of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), which is the Union’s third largest political force, with 100 MEPs, 9 of the 27 EU Commissioners, 5 Prime Ministers, more than 800 elected National MP’s and thousands of Regional and Local councillors. You can see Sean’s English-language webpage at
The CDL is a liberal centre party, and is where Europe needs to be to best represent all of us. It’s neither to the right like the PP (which supports 'land grab' and is immersed in a major corruption scandal at the present time), nor ‘left’ like the PSOE (which likes to knock down British owned houses and has taken away our 'residents cards'). It's a party with a couple of 'Northern Europeans' in it who would understand our concerns living here in Spain and our second-class status generally. Perhaps even do something about it.
There are of course several other alternatives to the main groups, from the Marxist Leninists, the Huntin’ Fishin’ and Shootin’ Party and the Young Fascists to the Legalise Marijuana Party and even the fascinating ‘Citizens for Blank Votes’ (who leave their envelope empty) and the ‘Overwhelmed and Annoyed Citizens Party’ ('Ciudadanos Agobiados y Cabreados’) who are principally annoyed at the justice system in Spain.
Not to mention overwhelmed.
The BBC were in Mojácar recently to record for Radio 4 some impressions regarding the European elections. I was one of those interviewed by them. They appeared to want me to say that the European Parliament was a waste of time, but I rather think the opposite. We don’t have any warm (and fuzzy) alternative any longer. The British embassy won’t represent anything beyond British exports and sporting heroes. The consulate is good for a new passport, but little else. The Spanish authorities, in their various forms, certainly don’t put us in front of any queue (note my masterly British understatement) so it’s only a strong European authority that is capable, perhaps, of protecting us. The recent Auken Report, which culminated in a vote against so-called ‘illegal homes’, the ‘land grab’ and other urban ills in Spain, sent a strong message to the Valencian and Andalucian town halls, regional governments and their many corner-cutting promoters. We need more messages in a similar vein. To do this, we must support Europe and her democratic system.

How to Vote

To vote in the European elections of June 7th, non-Spanish-born readers would need to be one of the 276,000 Europeans resident in this country who have intimated their interest in voting by signing a form when they were put on the padrón, or by having subsequently asked for one. Voting by post is difficult (you have to be somewhere in Spain), so those of us who vote will have been notified – at least in theory – as to where to go.
When you vote in Spain, you do so by choosing a party list (a ‘papeleta’) from behind the curtain and, without marking it in any way, putting it in the voter’s envelope and taking it to the desk to put in the ballot box. You will need proper identification – your ‘Residents Card’ or the famous green A4 ‘Residence Certificate’ issued by the immigration police together with your passport.
Spain, and indeed Europe, uses ‘proportional representation’ in politics so smaller parties do have a chance to get into the parliament and this is useful as minority concerns can then be aired in a public way.

An ex-pat candidate… imagine such a thing. A candidate, or better still, an MEP, who actually represents and understands the large number of Northern Europeans who reside in Spain. Such a person could be our champion. Taking our problems to the floor of the European parliament.
This reporter, like several major grass-roots associations (including the AUN and the Andalucian pressure group A3V), supports the CDL and notes that neither the Conservatives Abroad nor their rivals the International Labour Party, concerned no doubt by issues of corruption and the endemic lack of support over European residents’ rights in Spain, openly recommend their associate parties in Spain in the European Elections.

*Six min radio interview with Sean O'Curneen (free to use) here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dumb Critters

There’s a leading stop-the-press story in one of our crappier free-sheets this week along the lines of… ‘Brave Woman Foils Puppy Killers’. Yes, this week we give you the fiend in human form who kills a certain number of puppies in either a barbaric or reasonably painless way. Or doesn't, perhaps.
You see, I never read the article.
Mind you, knowing our friends the Spanish and their approach to animals, together with the Brits and their approach to any (preferably house-trained) woolly four-legged creature, it could have gone either way.
Which is why Zapatero and the 'crisis' got chucked off the ‘news’.
It’s a funny thing, the British love of domestic animals. They are elevated out of their place as dogs, cats or guinea-pigs and instead they become much loved companions. It’s like that in my house, ‘don’t forget to buy cat-food’ shouts Mrs Rambeau as I’m backing out of the parking lot to go and have a beer. The cats’ food (as far as I’m concerned) trilling thoughtlessly in the tree above having just made a poop on the bonnet of the car. ‘And lavatory-paper, while you’re at it’ she adds, confusingly.
We have cats and dogs and rabbits and birdies and, new to the menagerie, two young chickens I bought from the feed-store in Turre the other week. Now, finally, a useful animal: one that lays eggs.
We’ve had endless pets over the years and my fondest hope is that, when I am finally pushed off the cliff by fate and zoom off to my place in the sky, I don’t find them all waiting for me. Where would you start? ‘Oh Freckles, there you are, and Digby and Snowy and Archie and Little Boy Kitty and Tootles and Beetroot and Frixtu…’
On consideration, it probably wouldn’t be a good thing to find all my old girlfriends waiting there either (I really wouldn’t want to forget any of their names as I’m told that one’s Reward apparently lasts for a real long time).
It’s odd how we fawn over animals. The biggest charities among the British ex-pat populations the world over are invariably to do with critters. Forget the Vietnamese waifs and the starving millions. Huge amounts of time and money are spent on saving dogs, castrating cats, shoving suicidal whales back into the sea and clubbing together against clubbing baby seals in Canada. We have those PETA ladies with their jolly campaigns (which involve pulchritude and nakedness in an agreeable combination), we have the anti-bullfight gang and the British Woodworm Society and its sterling work with our six-legged friends.
A Spaniard was complaining bitterly about the English the other day. It appeared that his tom cat had gone out for a stroll and had tottered back home two days later with a dirty bandage where its balls used to be. He said that it wasn’t that he was worried about his cat, but since he lived in a mainly British neighbourhood, he had become a bit concerned about going out after six o’clock himself.
Down on the coast, there’s a gang of feral ladies that roam about at will, yawling and gibbering under the full moon. They leave food out for our growing population of wild cats. Is there nothing to be done?
But the Spanish are far more pragmatic about animals. Stick a gaily coloured spear into them being the basic point to start from. Shoot, eat, stomp, kick and, if that doesn’t work, run ‘em over. Nothing, it appears, is safe. While Paws lieutenants are vainly trying to give mouth to mouth to a three-legged dog with rabies, scabies and what can only be described as a poor character in the hope of giving it an extra twenty years of life; our neighbour will be tying a suspiciously short piece of rope around its sibling’s neck somewhere close to a remarkably tall tree. Another neighbour, let’s call him Juan, will be crouched inside a crudely-made ‘hide’, fingering his daddy’s blunderbuss as his pet perdíz squawks dismally from its tiny cage. You’ve seen the little black and white triangles or the words ‘coto privado’ – private hunting. That’ll be the neighbours blasting away at anything that moves.
Then there’s the annual ‘matanza’, when the pig from across the street has its throat cut outside the kitchen door by someone who you had previously considered to be a game old bird always dressed in black and invariably kind to small children. No wonder they never gave it a name.
In fact, I’ve noticed this seeming cruelty for all animals is also extended to plant life. I remember the gardener who used to spray my mother’s flower beds with his finger over the end of the hose, giving it some punch. He’d blow off the flowers themselves and tell my mum that it was nature’s way. His view was that if it wasn’t edible, there wasn’t much point in growing it in the first place (an opinion I’m slowly coming around towards as well). He never pruned as much as lopped. A tree would have a razor-cut: no branches left and just the suspicion that maybe this bald trunk pointing mutely to the heavens might one day produce a small green shoot somewhere along its length.
Years later and freed from the ravages of our expert topiarist, we now have a luxuriantly overgrown garden, full of all sorts of giant weeds and proper animals, like tree-rats, doves, sparrows and tortoises.
All apparently quite inedible.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Trust us on Geography (at least)

There we are just setting out on Km0 on the road - apparently - from Tabernas to Garrucha. Nice day for a drive. That's Mojácar in the distance.
Only thing, this Junta de Andalucía managed road doesn't go from Tabernas (the place where they used to make all those Spaghetti Westerns) to the delightful fishing port of Garrucha. It goes from Los Gallardos. Tabernas is forty kilometres away.
Now the thing that worries us natives about the Junta de Andalucía, based as it is in Seville, over five hours of hard driving from here, and clearly not much good on basic geography - even on the bits that they own and control - is that it has some huge plans for our quiet area.
First of all, there will be a high-speed train whizzing through just in front of where we are standing with the photographer, having a smoke. This is the AVE, which will unite Almería with Murcia (despite the apparent low demand from the burghers of those two cities to have anything to do with each other). Jolly modern though, hugely expensive and, if Spain wasn't a supremely honest country when it came to commissions, very remunerative for a few jokers down there in our regional capital.
Then, to cheer us up, and supposing they can find us on the map, the Junta fellows are going to build a special AVE train station (for those of us who want to go to Murcia or Almería - not, of course some pueblo ten minutes up the line) in a creek somewhere over there to the left towards Vera.
It takes a long time for a high speed train to slow down and stop... have a fellow in a zippy uniform shout 'aaaall aboaaard', wave a flag and then speed up and awaaaay, the municipal band tootling, so you obviously need a few more passengers than just the one stereotyped old girl dressed in black clutching a chicken. So the Junta chappies have decided to build a town - well, a city really - over there on the left. On 55 million hectares, or 55 square kilometres of scrub. 35,000 houses, fifty hotels, golf courses coming out of the kazoo, parks, roads and all the usual things. Here - why not a few more of those public heated indoor swimming pools none of our local towns can afford to run? A convention centre maybe. How about an interplanetary flying saucer landing-port.
The 35,000 houses, 50 hotels etc will generate 130,000 jobs. Which is great since there are only around 40,000 of us within half an hour's drive (not including those who live in Tabernas) so we shall all have three jobs each.
The Junta geniuses meanwhile will have to find the people who want to live in those 35,000 houses (perhaps this is why they are making all the English-owned homes in the province illegal). The hotels, too, may prove a problem since they won't be on the beach and, believe you me, you can only spend so much time watching a high-speed train as it zooooms past.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Levante Almeriense

Isn't that a beaut? The map comes from about 1988 and was flashed around in the FITUR (international tourist fair) in Madrid. It shows all of our cute little villages and... oh oh, hold on... one of them is missing!
That's right, the place that is (or was when we started) the most famous destination in Almería, bigger that the province it's located in, known throughout the world for its high times, attractive pueblo, sandy beaches and jolly bars and restaurants, is unaccountably missing from the tourist map for the eastern part of the province.
Mojácar, where art thou?
Turns out, the tourist councillor from the time, fresh from having just got rid of our famous totem, the Indalo (the stick man holding a rainbow), by allowing the provincial tourist board to adopt it, also decided that our town would not go in with its share of the printing for the above leaflet. So, we got left out.
Which is why, Dear Reader, you can't leave important things like promoting one's tourist resort, to idiots!