Monday, October 30, 2006

Weather / End of season

And as I was saying (22 October), this is the hottest October on record - at least according to the nearby Sa Pobla weather station. Today it has been 27 degrees, or 81 in old money. But a number of us have put the long trousers on once more - almost out of habit for the time of year; shorts are still really rather necessary. Strange, given the heat, that everything is now shutting down big time. Some places will close tomorrow, and after that ... very quiet. The roads are even now showing a difference, the drive along the carretera from Puerto Alcúdia to Playa de Muro is pleasant for the first time in many months. The clocks going back on Saturday night change things, too. The sun dips that much earlier (well, an hour more or less), and it’s dark by around 6.30 in the evening, so even if one is able to get some rays on the admittedly rather chilly beaches one needs to be in situ pretty early; none of this going to the beach at 5 o’clock like in the summer.

The winter is expected to be even quieter than before with only one tour operator maintaining anything like regular offers through the winter. Mallorca has never been that busy in winter, but now - as there are so many alternatives for people to choose as winter destinations - Mallorca has less appeal. The weather may be blissful right now, but it won’t last.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Environment / Tobacco sales / Road accidents

The European Union’s environment commission has issued national figures for emissions. They make pretty grim reading, especially where Spain is concerned. It is predicted that by 2010, Spain will have exceeded its 1990 levels by 51%; the increase permitted under Kyoto is 15%. This is attributed largely to extreme weather, for which read heat, and the burning of fossil fuels. Though parts of Spain do get very cold in winter, the general requirement for fuel-burning is to run summer (and winter) air-conditioning (heating) units. The level of demand can get so great that there are outages - as occurred in Mallorca during the roasting summer of 2003.

There is something absurd about the environmental contradictions here. The nature reserve of Albufera abuts Alcúdia, being contained within the municipalities of Muro and Sa Pobla. This is an area of ecological sensitivity. The new industrial estate is being built on its Alcúdia border. As previously mentioned, environmental measures for the new estate will be - so we are told - more or less exemplary. Fair enough. Yet next to the site of the industrial estate is a whacking great power station, a power station that is run on coal; coal that is transported in dirty trucks from the port of Alcúdia. I make no claim to being any sort of expert, but I cannot help but feel that some economic re-thinking could come up with a solution to power most dwellings and other establishments with direct solar power. One thing Mallorca does have a lot of is sun; the reason why so much air-con is needed.

There is also an issue regarding housing stock. Much of it is simply not designed well enough or insulated sufficiently (if at all) to combat the winters. Even when it is quite warm outside, houses can be freezing inside. Wood-burners are one thing, but otherwise the need is for oil, electricity or - the most ridiculous of all - butane gas. Which leads on to the preponderance of space-heaters. Cafés with terraces use these through the winter. Lord alone knows what damage they do.

Still at least the authorities are trying. There are currently subsidies on offer from the Balearic Government to trade in old appliances - fridges, washing machines etc. 80 euros discount for acquiring a Class A energy-efficient replacement. No mention of air-con units though. One positive thing - at least there is no need for any heating yet. Indeed the duvets have had to be put back in the wardrobes; it is still very warm.

Further to the report on a possible amendment to the tobacco-sales regulations, the central government’s Balearics representative has hinted that there could be “measures” taken against the Balearic Government if it goes ahead with its proposed amendment.

And on the roads ... the death toll on the main roads has gone down since the introduction of the licence points system, but the number of pedestrians and motorcyclists killed has gone up this year - quite markedly. No doubt this is partly down to rank bad driving, as with the death of the Thomson reps back in May, but motorcyclists (and cyclists) can be every bit as much at fault. The trick of “under-taking” by motorcyclists is an accident waiting to happen, and the flagrant disregard of just about every rule of the road by cyclists ... oh, don’t get me started.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Car-rental tax / Tobacco sales

As this blog closes in on its first anniversary (1 November), it is somewhat coincidental that an item I ran in the first entry - the proposed car-rental tax - has cropped up again, if only for it to be reported that there will be no car-rental tax, which frankly is just as well.

As for an issue that emerged early this year - the ban on tobacco sales outside of licensed stores - there appears to be some back-tracking, in that sales of cigarettes are likely to be allowed in a new category of “tourist shop” but only from vending-machines. Well, I suppose it helps the shopowners who have been hit by the restrictions up to a point, but personally I still believe that the restriction of sales of cartons of cigarettes to the “estancos” is a form of monopoly.

And with a few days left of October, the weather is still quite remarkable - warm verging on the hot.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Payment / Restaurants

So I go to a client last Friday with an invoice. Come by Monday morning for payment, says he. I duly go. No payment. He has forgotten. Come back tomorrow, i.e. today. I go back. Girl in the office knows nothing about it. I call him. Ok, I’ll call her and she’ll pay. He calls. She wonders if I have a copy of the invoice. No, I’d left it here on Friday. She looks. Can’t find it. Can I come back with a copy later ... . And so it goes. Another client - the invoice was left and dated 5 September. Was due to be paid 15 September. It wasn’t. The partner (there’s always a partner) hasn’t left a cheque. Payments are always made 15th of the month. So I am back in October. Did I not give you the number of the partner, says client. No. Oh. I call the partner. Let me speak to the client. And so it goes.

It isn’t that they won’t pay, but they are indicative of an organisational malaise that sometimes makes me wonder how businesses here can ever function.

And this latter case was a restaurant. According to the latest load of figures, the number of clients going to Mallorcan restaurants this season has increased by 5% over last year, with those in Alcúdia at around 10%. Cheery news indeed, except that the amount spent has dropped, something we already knew, or at least had guessed at.

The heads of the Mallorcan Restaurant Association and PIMEM (the association of small to medium-sized businesses) say that this is evidence of a better year and of the positive effect of more weekend breaks (Alcúdia incidentally had the highest number of weekend stays in September in any Spanish tourist area). It is also pointed out that restaurants in tourist areas had been hit by all-inclusives, though this type of offer is “diminishing”. Is it really? I find that hard to believe.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Ensaimada / Weather/ Tourism economics

I don´t know, am I missing something? Back on 14 August I had a dig at the ensaimada, the local pastry “delicacy”. Mallorcan Ensaimada Day has just been celebrated. Without wishing to sound unduly harsh about one item of local cuisine, I can think of many other foods that are worthy of devoting a day to rather than the ensaimada. Does anyone find it anything better than dull and fattening?

With no obvious change to the warm weather over the next few days, this October could become the hottest on record. Despite the blip mentioned on 12 October, it has been a fine month, and the final week of the season - for the English half-term - looks as if it should be ok.

September saw 1.5 million visitors coming to the Balearics, an increase of just over 6% on the same month in 2005, with the German market being particularly strong. Apparently 8.9 million international visitors came to the Balearics in the first nine months of the year.

Friday, October 20, 2006

End of season / Building works / Gotmar residents

And so the season starts to run down, some places having closed, the weather beginning to take on its autumnal feel. In Playa de Muro, the Alcúdia Suite Apartments already have whitewashed windows, the Chinese in Las Gaviotas has its windows plastered with newspaper. Such closures give the place a strange feel even to those of us who live here; for tourists it must be even odder, as though they are intruding.

And yet there are a lot of people still around. Scottish half-term and holidays in certain German states see to that. In Puerto Pollensa, JKs Bar had a packed crowd for the Celtic match on Tuesday evening. The English half-term now kicks in and, after that, that will pretty much be it - and the Mallorcan winter will have officially started.

Many months ago I mentioned the value of the “Part Forana” freebie newspaper. The current issue is once again quite useful, assuming you can understand the Spanish. There is a report on the start of work in converting the Can Ramis building in Alcúdia; this is the rather ramshackle affair by the taxi rank and market square in the old town. It will become the new location for the tourist office (a blessing as the existing one can be a tad difficult to find), and there will be a cafateria and shelter for those waiting for buses.

There is a different form of building due to start in Puerto Pollensa, namely the establishment of a proper parking lot on what is the waste-ground opposite the site of the new school. There will also be a “green zone” and a children’s park.

A rather grainy photo shows a gathering of the Gotmar (Puerto Pollensa) residents’ association. Not a thing generally worthy of note here, except that the photo shows (just about) the president addressing the masses, this being none other than Garry Bonsall, dentist of this parish. As Gotmar is home to Spanish, British and Germans, it is a sound choice of representative as Garry is fluent in all the languages, and can even do your bridge work in several languages.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Updates / Fire station

Some updating. Latest figures of cheer - September hotel occupancy in Mallorca rose by over 4 per cent this year.

The two-week crackdown on speeding in the Balearics netted over 400 drivers, albeit that this represented a mere 1.8% of vehicles that were checked.

The holiday rental-accommodation regulations resulted in over 2,200 applications for official registration, the greatest number (about a third of all) being in Pollensa. The English reporting of this still refers to “flats”, though the Spanish refers to “viviendas” (dwellings), and I’m still a tad confused given what was reported here on 9 September, namely “that apartments are not covered, i.e. the regulations are focused on villas etc.” Oh well, presumably those who have registered know what they have registered.

Alcudia is geting its own state-of-the-art fire station, which hopefully will cut down on the number of “bomberos” who race up and down the carretera out front of where I live - they come from Can Picafort, which is the nearest station at present for the area. The new station will be close to the by-pass that runs at the back of Bellevue, its exact location meaning that if you happen to be staying at the likes of the Garden Lago, Lagomonte or the Macs they could more or less turn the hoses on without moving.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Weather / Rape / Fat People

Ah yea, of course there was I saying how wonderful the weather was - even agreeing with Helen, the delightful lady who works on reception at Alcúdia hospital yesterday, that October is one of the best months - and then it goes and absolutely pisses down today. Great banks of blackness rolling in from the Tramuntana mountains and wallop, huge torrents.

Sad to say that, despite the Portuguese charmer being banged up, there has been another rape incident in Alcúdia. FO, over to you.

On the back of last night’s wretched loss to Croatia, we can at least console ourselves that the English (indeed British) lead Europe in one thing - the size of their bellies. Official stats show the Brits to be true European-, nay world-class when it comes to fatness. The Spanish, despite rising concerns as to the amount of junk food consumed (and a long-held addiction to snacking, especially crisps) are quite some way back, level-pegging with the Germans, which may come as a surprise when one considers some of the whales that get beached here from Germany every summer. But there again, a stroll down the Greasy Mile of an evening, and one can see only too well for oneself what the problem is. Time for Marjorie Dawes.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tourism economics

On the back of what his boss, Jaume Matas, had to say (reported 30 September), tourism minister Joan Flaquer has announced that Balearics tourism has indeed fully recovered, as evidenced by the fact that tourist spending - for this season - has increased by five per cent. Well ok, I suppose we have to take his word for it, though how this figure is actually evaluated I haven’t a clue, and of course many people won’t believe it, or if they do believe it, won’t feel that they have been the beneficiaries. But whatever, 2006 is set to have been one of the best summers of all. Depends how you measure it though, doesn’t it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Rape / Weather in October

Rape. Not a nice subject to raise. But there again there are some less than nice people knocking around. A Portuguese has been detained on suspicion of the alleged rape of at least two women in Puerto Alcúdia.

Now this subject was the cause of a little friction between the Balearic Government and the Foreign Office earlier this year, i.e. when the FO posted news of rapes in Calvia. It wasn’t that the FO was advising against going, but the authorities here felt too much was made of the problem. To some extent they were right: it is unfortunately something that can happen anywhere. But a warning is still surely appropriate. As far as I can see, the FO has made no mention of the Alcúdia attacks.

October is often one of the year’s best months, if the weather is like it is at present. It is not too hot - about 25 degrees or so - and sunny, and there are far fewer people around. While the beach is still a reasonable option, the sea is getting cooler, and the breezes that are so necessary in high summer become more chilly. Towards the end of the month and then into November, the sea air will start to feel a bit damp as well, making the beach nigh on impossible.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Palma Airport / Noise / Driving

And so Palma Airport is to undergo a further extension, this being a sort of mini-terminal in a development of the existing arrivals hall. Jolly good, no doubt they’ll be able to boast further increases in the numbers coming in next year, but the airport will not be getting any business from Ryanair. Too expensive, says the Irish low-cost airline of Palma. Now this may be a negotiating ploy, who knows, but Ryanair is sufficiently well-minted to be making Aer Lingus a takeover target and to accept the costs of flying into and out of the likes of Heathrow.

A while back I reported on some old buffer whingeing about the noise in Puerto Pollensa. It seems that the even more sedate old town of Pollensa has its noise problems, too. These are caused by bars such as the very lovely Columbus in the Plaça Major, or rather by people at and leaving said bars. Now, it ‘s not as if bars in Pollensa didn’t exist before. There has been - for some years for instance - Jam Bar, off the square down a side street. The fact is that if you give permission for a bar that is located right close to residences then noise is always likely to be an issue. In the port, the trio of Chivas, Tukys and Kudos, which are all next to each other, get all sorts of complaints. Hardly surprising given where they are. But what on Earth do people think is going to happen: that punters leave at 3 in the morning, or whenever, speaking in hushed tones after imbibing a couple of mugs of Horlicks?

Eighty dead on Balearic roads thus far this year. Despite the hopes that the new points system will alter driving habits, there is concern that going on a half of those killed were wearing neither seat-belts nor helmets. I don’t get the not wearing of such protection, apart from machismo and, in certain cases, teenage bravado. Though it happened in England, the teenage son of James and Karen from Foxes in Puerto Alcúdia recently suffered head injuries in a collision on his moped; he had a helmet on but it was resting on his head not pulled down, something one often sees here (if a helmet is being worn at all). Let’s hope Trafico gets tough on this, and perhaps also on moped and motor-bike drivers who weave in and out, cut up on the inside and generally cause problems. Oh and cyclists as well. Bet they don’t. Bet they don’t do anything about cyclists riding in the wrong direction; cyclists who go through reds; cyclists who come straight out of side roads without looking. Many drivers here need bringing to account, but there are an awful lot on two wheels who need to be, too.

Rant over.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Elvis Presley impersonators

A Lash moment. Why are there so many Elvis impersonators in Mallorca, asks the sage. Has something to do with his (Elvis that is) being the “king” and something else, whatever it is.

Well, I am neither American nor into his eighties - as is the Lash. I can concede that Elvis, in his very early days, had something going for him; a rebelliousness, a musical style, a sexual excitement. By the time I became aware of music - and I’m a child of the sixties - Elvis was already a parody, with his ludicrously affected vocalising.

It got worse. Elvis became a fat, bloated cabaret artist; a drug-addled, burger-addicted, fat, bloated cabaret artist. And that was how he died. Why is he so impersonated? Sometimes for affection, and I apologise to fans who might disagree with my appraisal, but often because parodies are so easy to impersonate. Why, for instance, could so many people in the ‘60s and ‘70s impersonate Harold Wilson? Because they liked him? No. Because Mike Yarwood took the piss so effectively.

I once saw a board outside a restaurant in Puerto Alcúdia that advertised an “Elvis”. It went along these lines: even if you don’t like Elvis, this is a great evening’s entertainment. Let’s highlight that: “even if you don’t like him ...”.

Elvis’s longevity as a target for impersonation has little now to do with his early brilliance; it has everything to do with the ease of targeting his sad decline. Elvis impersonators rarely dress up as Elvis as he was in the late ‘50s; they dress up as Elvis in Las Vegas - as the lump he had become.

There again, there were so many other awful examples of brilliant young men-turned-zombies who died too early and do not attract Elvis’s interest. Jim Morrison, for instance. But this was not for lack of charisma. Despite his drug addiction, Elvis’s enduring role in providing a business for those who make white, sequined bomber jackets was partly that he became “safe”, unlike others who succumbed so sadly to the horrors of drugs, like Morrison or Hendrix. But more than that he was a grotesque. And the grotesque is the stuff of impersonation, comedy and satire. Ask the guys who do Little Britain.

Driving / Weather / Index for September

The introduction of the licence points system has given Trafico a bit more teeth, and they’re preparing to bare them over the next fortnight, with checkpoints and speed traps in place, some of which will be hidden, others announced. This is good, and what I’ve been calling for, but it depends how they implement them. Put them by roundabouts and I don’t see how they can be effective; place them randomly along carreteras, different matter. Having said this, if Trafico would act, even the roundabout can catch some out. Here’s an example:

There is often a Trafico control at the roundabout by the Esperanza complex in Playa de Muro. So there was this Sunday. I was going along at 60, there was a bus ahead, just by the roundabout and starting to move out. A taxi overook me - at speed. The driver presumably hadn’t appreciated that the bus was on the move. The taxi just managed to squeeze between the bus and an oncoming car, went staight across the pedestrian crossing, onto the roundabout and away - all at excessive speed. Trafico? Didn’t bat an eyelid.

Weather report. Perfect. Very warm, the sea on Sunday was flat until mid-afternoon when the wind whipped up, as it often does in the afernoon. October. Wonderful weather. Makes you realise why you live here. And then this morning there was a thick fog, or more likely a mix of sea fret and heavy mist coming from Albufera - all that coldish air colliding with warm water. But it felt like an English autumn morning, which was kind of nice, and then the sun kicked in.

Index for September 2006

Administration, in - 3 September 2006
Alcúdia Fair - 30 September 2006
Balearics economy - 16 September 2006, 30 September 2006
Balearics Government - 30 September 2006
Beaches - 3 September 2006
Communication - 26 September 2006
Crime - 8 September 2006
“Euro Weekly” - 30 September 2006
Guardia Civil - 6 September 2006
Immigration - 16 September 2006
Language - 6 September 2006, 8 September 2006
Mañana - 26 September 2006
Matas, Jaume - 30 September 2006
Open Holidays - 3 September 2006, 16 September 2006
Palma Airport - 9 September 2006
Parking - 6 September 2006
Police - 6 September 2006
Pollensa Council - 30 September 2006
Population - 16 September 2006
Puerto Pollensa - 3 September 2006
Rental accommodation regulations - 9 September 2006
Skin cancer - 13 September 2006
Smoking - 3 September 2006
Stupid fat white men - 21 September 2006
Taylor Woodrow - 8 September 2006
Tourism economics - 3 September 2006, 9 September 2006, 16 September 2006, 21 September 2006, 26 September 2006, 30 September 2006
Weather - 6 September 2006, 13 September 2006, 16 September 2006, 26 September 2006
Websites - 26 September 2006 - 26 September 2006