Friday, 28 April 2017

Not Many Now, Not Long Now

According to the latest figures from our friends the bean-counters over at the INE, there are now just 236,669 Britons on the 'padrón' here in Spain. That's a 10% drop from this time last year. Are we dying... leaving... getting Spanish nationality? Were we ever registered? Does the British consul, the embassy and the media know? How accurate are these figures (with the crafty ones careful to not contribute to this fine country in any way, and certainly to not even register their presence here)? With such a low number of Brits apparently here, the Spanish government is not going to be too worried about us post-Brexit, now are they!

Thursday, 27 April 2017

My Darling Wife

I was reading one of my late wife’s posts on a blog she wrote, about how it hurt when she went to see the doctor to have some bandages removed. She wasn’t exaggerating either, as the side of her head, her scalp, was open, without hair or skin. The doctors had tried to transplant skin from her head onto her face to refashion a nose. The transplant had failed for the third time.
They never knew that she had a disease called Wegener’s Granulomatosis (named after the German concentration camp doctor - of all people - who discovered it!). ‘Oh, said her brothers, ‘she lost her nose because she took coke’. Not so, even if you wanted an excuse to cut her out of your parents’ will.
We had run out of money by 2002, cheated in a furious swindle. The cheats even had me drive down to a lawyer’s office in Torremolinos (in a borrowed car) to pay me a portion of what they had agreed to a few years earlier, only to not be there at my destination (neither was the lawyer for that matter).
We were broke, selling off bits of this and that, and much of this went to pay for Barbara’s bills. The hospitals were free, but the hotels and meals of course were not. We had Sanitas health insurance until 2008, when I could no longer pay for it. This meant that subsequent hospital visits were to the public hospitals of the social security. We attended hospitals in Pamplona, Madrid, Almería, Huercal Overa, El Ejido, Murcia and Málaga. Barbara had thirty two major operations between 2002 and 2014, when she died. It was the first of these, in Madrid in 2002, where she had her jaw broken, her teeth removed and her nose excised. This novel treatment by the doctor (I had to slip him 1000 euros) failed completely. 
A plastic surgeon built her a 'nose' (for 3000 euros). You could wear this life-like looking thing with glasses to hold it in place, like a cruel version of a child's mask. Walking through Madrid with her nose in a small box in her jacket as she came back from the clinic that day, she was pick-pocketed. 
Barbara talks of ‘the Scary Room’, the place where you visit, fully conscious, for your appointment with the surgeon. I would wait outside: Spanish doctors are very good at what they do, but they sometimes forget to tell the ‘family member’ how the patient was doing. None of them knew why she was ill, until the local Mojácar Doctor Galindo recognised her condition, a form of auto-immune sickness. He put her on to prednisone, a nasty but lifesaving drug. Later, she would take ketamine (horse-tranquilizer!) for the pain and eventually, as her kidneys failed, she was on twice-a-week dialysis in Huercal Overa.
Finally the palliative doctors came to visit her bedside and left her a heavy dosage of morphine, to be administered (by me!) every six hours until the end.
Reading Barbara’s blog again today, I feel such tenderness towards her and hope that she is blissful in Heaven.

The Government is Close to Collapse

Following from the many cases of corruption in the PP ranks, from Business over Tapas this morning: ‘...The majority opposition parties could (and should) call for a motion of censure and topple the government. But there’s a problem – with the socialist supporters watching anxiously over their party’s implosion, there’s no PSOE leader around...’. From news sources just two hours later: ‘Podemos promotes a motion of censure against Rajoy. The PSOE, which is not in a position to present an alternative candidate, announces that it will reject the initiative of Pablo Iglesias’ (El País here)
Regarding the PSOE - it looks like Pedro Sánchez was right!

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Sunday, 23 April 2017

Spain, Gibraltar and the Expats. An Interview with a Labour Ex-minister

A headline in Sunday's El Español quoting a British foreign minister from the time of Blair, one Denis MacShane: 'Gibraltar is as British as Melilla and Ceuta are Spanish'. The article - an interview with MacShane - begins with the upcoming election in the UK and May's tactical plan to sink the Labour Party.
But, turning to Spain and Gibraltar, MacShane has this to say:
'Both Rajoy and Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis and Economy Minister Luis de Guindos have made it very clear that Spain's future lies in a functioning EU. The last thing Spain would want is for the Iberian Peninsula to lose strength. It is true that Spain exports about 7,000 million euros in products to the United Kingdom and that is a good business. But it exports 110,000 million to France, Italy, Germany, Portugal and the Benelux countries. So the future of Spain at this time is in developing better economic relations with its partners in the EU.Then there is the question of Gibraltar, because May has done immense damage to the Rock by supporting a hard Brexit. Let's look at history. Gibraltar, in the last years of Franco, was in a terrible position of blockade and closure of borders. When Franco died, the United Kingdom supported Spain's entry into the European Community as quickly as possible. And as a result, the citizens of Gibraltar have been able to cross the border or buy villas and flats in Spain (Chief Minister Picardo, for example, lives in Sotogrande), and the Spaniards have been able to cross easily to Gibraltar. But once the UK leaves the EU, that automatic right to live and work disappears. It is a disaster'.
The current Spanish proposal for Gibraltar, to have shared sovereignty, is highly unlikely to occur, says MacShane, as neither the Gibraltarians (rabidly pro-British), nor the hard patriotic British element, now in ascendance in the UK, will allow it, thus thrusting Gibraltar into isolation from Europe. Along with a closed border, Britain's absence from Brussels means that the EU's gentle treatment of The Rock's 'exotic fiscal regime' will be changed for a harsher approach.
And, regarding Spain's relationship with the UK, post Brexit?
'It will be harder for the British to retire in Spain as they have done so far, especially if they lose their automatic healthcare coverage and other privileges that come from being in the EU. There are currently 300,000 Britons registered in Spain, but the real figure could reach one million. In the last 30 years, Spain has been a species of Florida for the United Kingdom. And both countries have benefitted. I hope that can be maintained; and when May understands the depth of the problem, that she changes her approach'.

While he is probably right about both Gibraltar and the fate of the British in Spain, post Brexit, a few points to consider.
I think of Gibraltar as being closer to Andorra (rarely mentioned, but with a similar tax and business climate to Gib). The Spanish habitually use it as a money-laundering place (notably Pujol, the ex-leader of Catalonia and indeed Mojácar, which years back twinned with the banking paradise of En Camps). Andorra is a sort of mini Switzerland. It is not in the EU, yet its currency is the euro. It is never ever mentioned in Spain in the same breath as Gibraltar.
Melilla and Ceuta, two slightly pointless possessions on the North African coast, have a much larger population that Gib. Between them, 160,000 inhabitants, pretty much all firmly pro the Partido Popular. The Spanish refuse to compare the situation with 'Europe's Last Colony (Pop. 30,000)' and yet, a 'reconciliation' would gain Spain a couple of square kilometres of territory, 30,000 mutinous new citizens, and the larger loss of their two enclaves  in North Africa (plus a few incongruous islands, rocks and lumps). The citizens all repatriated to the Spanish mainland and... oh... it's not going to happen. 
For Gibraltar, however, a shared sovereignty is a good plan. It allows them to continue as before (largely untouched by a now very satisfied Spain), and releases the future pressure on the British expatriates living, as MacShane says, in Europe's answer to Florida. Perhaps we, too, could be offered a second passport...

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The President to Testify in the Gürtel Case

Mariano Rajoy will testify as a witness in the Gürtel Case, says El Mundo here. The President will be asked about his time as general secretary of the PP in 2003 and 2004 to explain his understanding of the improper party funding during that period when Luis Bárcenas was the treasurer. It is not very good to have the president of a country being grilled by the judges, as PP sources tell LaSexta TV here (video): ‘it’s terrible for his image’.  El País in English says that the anti-corruption public prosecutor loyally complains that ‘...testimony from the prime minister “would not be relevant.”...’.
Important news as this undoubtedly is – it hasn’t made the state-owned television for some reason, says El Español here.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Britons in Spain Face the Brexit

The British are divided between themselves: those who favour leaving the EU versus those who would like to remain. The Brexiteers (or ‘Quitlings’) are on one side, the Remainers (or ‘Remoaners’) are on the other.
Well, good for them.
Here we are in the expatriate community (where we worry more about if we are ‘ex-pats’ or ‘immigrants’, rather ignoring the point that we are just ‘Europeans’). Brexit isn’t an exercise in freedom versus slavery (or however you want to phrase it), Brexit for those of us who live in the other 27 countries of the EU is about our potential loss of privilege.
We may shortly have to face obtaining a visa, or a work permit. We may need a convertible bank account, or ‘sufficient funds’ to remain. We might lose our health cover or certain pension rights. We would probably forfeit the right to a local vote (and lose, too, our few brave Britons working in local politics). Of course, no one knows, or if they do, they aren’t saying. It is however (as we should remember from our times in the UK), never a bad idea to bring along an umbrella when the sky is looking stormy.
So, what can we do? Being Britons, of course, many of us are quite frankly that strangest of beast – a Continental Quitling! Yes, they say, it’s better to heave the immigrants out of Blightly since they just cause problems and mooch off the State. We’re different – we bring badly needed funds to Spain. 
Yep, they really say that!
Others think we should ignore the issue since somebody (ahh, somebody) will sort it all out for us.
But who?
Our own ex-pat newspapers – the ones that are left in piles outside estate agents and cafés – have singularly failed to help us so far, with some columnists frankly spouting the Brexiteer cause.
The British Government is interested, very interested, in European business. The Embassy too, must spend its time on building Trade. The few unorganised Brits scattered about on the Continent in uninteresting villages or busy with their professional lives in large companies in the cities of Europe are not going to be of any consequence. They are more of a hindrance to the free movement of commerce if anything.
If the Spanish are worried about the whole thing, it’ll be about their citizens in the UK, who may get work permits, visas and the rest of it, or they may not. Again somebody should do something. Some Spaniards – if we are to believe the press – are already being given their marching orders by the British Home Office. Spain is less concerned about the apparently small number of Brits here (see the padrón – we are around 270,000) than we ‘expats’ like to think. We need to attract their attention.
Tourism won’t fall thanks to any Spanish action following Brexit, although EU regulations will put the cost of non-EU flights up, and there will be extra visitor formalities to be undergone. We, again, need to focus the attention on the expatriate community in Spain – known disparagingly by the authorities, as those who practice ‘residential tourism’.  We are the ‘Foreign Residents’, at best. The ‘Guiris’ at worst. You’ll rarely see mention of us in the Media here or on the TV. We are dismissed as living in ghettos in some ghastly place built by a corrupt local politician. Best forgotten.
As Leicester fans invade the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, we need to create our own separate identity. We are not like the hinchas británicas, the hooligans. We are Europeans. Second-class Europeans perhaps, as the Brexit menace pursues us, and we need some help.
We have created some associations to try and publicise the Brexit threat – ‘EuroCitizens’, ‘Europats’, ‘Bremain in Spain’, ‘Brexpats’ and so on. A leader, acceptable and known to both the Brits and the Spanish has yet to emerge from these groups.
Supposing we were offered the choice: British passport only, and to be treated as a non-EU foreigner – or to hold two passports: double nationality, allowing us to retain our Britishness and, at the same time to continue with all current EU privileges (and even throw in a few we don’t currently hold, like full emancipation)? Sounds good? That’s what Spain (and by extension Brussels) is offering Gibraltar. If the citizens of the Rock, once again besieged by larger forces, saw the advantages of the deal, there would be thirty thousand new British Spaniards. Perhaps there would be room, at that time, for a few more...

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Easter in Mojácar: Kyrie Eleison

Mojácar is full. La Voz says so - our 10,200 hotel beds are occupied. This, early in the Easter week. Beyond the hotel numbers (and, my praise to the hoteliers and their cheap prices), we have family, guests, renters, caravans, people sleeping ten in a two-bed apartment, people sleeping on the beach, people here for a two-day marathon then back on the bus, people over for the day from Murcia and Almería. People.
To make them feel comfortable, we have extended the beach promenade, painted our homes, cleaned the verges and watered the plants. We have prepared some traditional Easter parades for their souls and repaired the streets for their soles. The  'Mirador' has been (more or less) finished so they can ascend to the view-point to see the astonishing view (the one thing that has remained over the years, more or less constant) and to enjoy our sunset.
There was no bread left in the supermarket when I got there yesterday. I would have been earlier, but I had to park a kilometre down the road. Never mind, the queues, dust, noise, cars, jams and lack of parking are bringing a delightful profit to our main industry...
The souvenir shops.
Residents don't buy souvenirs. No drunken Indalos, wrist-bands, 'I Got Laid in Mojácar' tee shirts or the myriad other charms of the Chinese wholesalers. Which is why we are being slowly edged out. No honourable mention for us.
The Easter onslaught, happily, only lasts for a week. Then the town returns to the residents and their dogs, and for a short while, the barkeeps remember once again our names and preferences.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

AVE News

Spain has a great motorway network and plenty of flights from anywhere to anywhere else.
It also has the AVE - the high-speed train that, between gigantic costs, enormous bribes and commissions, plus sponsored rides (every passenger benefits from a modest subsidy) - crosses the country from one end to the other. More or less.
Here in the Levante Almeriense, there's not much AVE beyond a twinkle in a financier's eye, an empty politician's pocket, a few kilometres of expensive rail-bed and some bricked up tunnels to show for the project to bring Maria and her chickens to the market.
The problems for the high speed train are expropriations (often paid years later), the construction costs, maintenance costs, and the lack of customers. A high-speed train is in a hurry, but the fruit and veg companies say they will keep to the motorways and their lorries. And after the novelty wears off, who wants to go to Murcia anyway (the Almería continuation, to Granada, won't even begin work until 2030).
Anyhow... The Government says that the single-line Almería to Murcia link will be completed in 2023 at an extra cost of 1,800 million euros.
Part of the project, of course, is a station outside Vera, allowing us one day to whizz up to Madrid in style and comfort.