Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

Yes indeed, a very happy new year to all - all working and living here and of course who will be visiting in 2007.

Coming up over the next day or so, when I’ve sobered up, the annual awards of the year. Not to be missed.

Nothing much to say other than cheers, and have a good one, but here are two little gems that I noticed over the couple of days.

On tattoos - a must (it would seem) for most who visit Alcúdia and increasingly Pollensa - Philip Howard in “The Times”, responding to a question in his “Modern Times” column. “I think they (tattoos) display vanity and epidermal infantilism.” Don’t ask me to translate.

And then there’s the always wonderful Jeremy Clarkson. In “The Sunday Times”, reflecting on Tony Blair’s stay with Robin Gibb and people’s choice of a holiday destination: “Anyone who goes to France votes Conservative. Anyone who goes to Italy votes Labour, and anyone who goes to Spain has, at some point in the recent past, held up a post office.

Love it.

Lucky grapes, and have a belting new year.

Index for December 2006

6-0-6 - 13 December 2006
Air tax - 7 December 2006
Alcúdia - 19 December 2006
Alcúdia Auditorium - 29 December 2006
Andratx - 3 December 2006, 6 December 2006, 19 December 2006, 30 December 2006
Ayers, Kevin - 29 December 2006
BBC - 13 December 2006
Bougainvillaea - 9 December 2006
Carretera Arta - 6 December 2006
Cats - 9 December 2006
Christmas - 23 December 2006, 26 December 2006
Corruption - 3 December 2006, 6 December 2006, 19 December 2006, 30 December 2006
ESRA - 23 December 2006
Expats - 13 December 2006, 23 December 2006
Five Live - 13 December 2006
Football - 13 December 2006
Giants - 19 December 2006
Guardia Civil - 3 December 2006
Hidalgo, Eugenio - 3 December 2006
Holidays - 6 December 2006
Hotels - 9 December 2006
Iberostar Albufera Park - 9 December 2006
Internet - 13 December 2006
Language - 13 December 2006
Magaluf - 23 December 2006
Matas, Jaume - 3 December 2006, 6 December 2006
Motorway - 21 December 2006, 23 December 2006
New Year - 29 December 2006, 31 December 2006
Palma Airport - 21 December 2006, 30 December 2006
Pane y Vino - 6 December 2006
Pizzeria - 6 December 2006
Playa de Muro - 9 December 2006
Policlinica Miramar - 9 December 2006
Political parties - 3 December 2006, 6 December 2006
Radio - 13 December 2006
Radio London - 13 December 2006
Road accidents - 21 December 2006, 23 December 2006
Roads - 6 December 2006, 21 December 2006
Rodriguez, Jose María - 30 December 2006
Service - 9 December 2006
Supermarkets - 23 December 2006
Tattoos - 31 December 2006
Tourism economics - 21 December 2006, 30 December 2006
Traditions - 19 December 2006
Via Cintura - 21 December 2006
Weather - 6 December 2006, 7 December 2006, 19 December 2006, 21 December 2006, 23 December 2006, 26 December 2006, 29 December 2006

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Panto And Pants Down

The panto season is upon us. Yes, even in Mallorca. And they flocked to the parliament building yesterday to see this year’s smash hit farce. Slapstick humour at its finest as Jose María Rodriguez, challenged to deny he had tipped off the Andratx mayor, repeatedly said he didn’t do it. “Oh yes, you did,” kept coming the opposition’s riposte.

But presumably the trio accused of having their pants down (bribery and money laundering) were not there, nor was Captain Hook, the PP’s leader Jaume Matas, who was accused by the socialists of making Rodriguez a scapegoat. “BEHIND YOU, HE’S BEHIND YOU!”

Anyway, while we wonder if they’ll all live happily ever after, good news on the tourism front. Confirming this year’s record number of visitors, tourism boss Joan Flaquer has announced that 12,272,323 tourists came to the Balearics this year during January and November. Hats off for such precision counting! And that number represents a 7.4% increase over the same period last year.

Of this 12million+ figure, only half a million did not arrive by air. This wholly unremarkable bit of info clearly impressed “The Bulletin” who captioned a shot of people at an airport (Palma’s, one presumes) with this: “Most tourists visiting the Balearics prefer to arrive by air”. Brilliant.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Kevin Ayers

New year is nearly upon us. Always more of a gig than Christmas round these parts. You can check out times and stuff on the sister blog for What’s On (in the menu). Apart from the midnight craics in Alcúdia and Pollensa on the night of the 31st, there is something happening on the 30th which for any ageing hippy who might be reading this will bring back memories.

Kevin Ayers. Remember him. Yes, the Kevin Ayers, a survivor of psychedelia, one who begat The Soft Machine and was a contemporary of the likes of Syd Barrett. To be honest, I didn’t think he had survived, but he has, and he’s playing the Auditorium in Alcúdia. God knows what he’ll be like now. He did have his moments way back then, most of them not with The Soft Machine who were one of the most unlistenable-to and boring acts of the early prog-rock genre. But here he is, still doing his stuff, and in Alcúdia of all places. And if you’re really interested, visit

Weather note: all that rain meant that some 211 litres per square metre dropped on Pollensa trhoughout December, 27% more than average. There, knew you’d appreciate that little stat.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Molt D’Anys!

The diabolical weather duly brought reports of the havoc that was wrought. The north did suffer more than most of the rest of the island, with many a basement flooded. My neighbour has a sizeable basement - or, in effect, an underground car park - which always captures a fair old amount of water, so there is a pumping system to clear it all out (and flood the road, as the drains can’t cope).

But the awful weather suddenly, miraculously almost, changed over the night of Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was just perfect. Clear blue skies and warm - a remarkable contrast that has continued today.

Boxing Day is a holiday here; it is actually the second day of Christmas. In keeping with, for example Germany, there are two days of Christmas. Accordingly, the general greeting - in Spanish - is “felices navidades” (“happy Christmases”) as opposed to the singular “feliz navidad”. Though if you’re doing the Catalan, you can get away with just one Christmas, as in “bon nadal”, though the most common greeting one hears is “molt d’anys” (which sounds liike molt dines). This means literally “much of the years”, and while it is used at other times, it is prevalent around Christmas.

And to show what a Mallorcan Boxing Day looks like, here’s a shot. Well, at least here’s a shot from the back of the Palace de Muro hotel, looking across the pier by the Esperanza towards Puerto Alcúdia that was taken this morning.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Christmas

To everyone out there, a very merry Christmas, with a special greeting from the Alcudia "horse".

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Dreaming Of A Wet Christmas

Jeez, this weather is not getting any better. The wind coming in from the sea is that strong you can barely move against it. There was some nutter kitesurfing this afternoon. Thunder rumbles now and then, downpours are regular; driving is a nightmare. There was another motorway accident yesterday - three killed near to the Consell turning between Inca and Palma.

You might think that the lousy weather is what makes things so quiet at present. But not so. The last Saturday before Christmas. You might think the shops, especially the supermarkets would be packed. Not the case. At half ten this morning, the local Eroski Syp had about a dozen customers. Christmas just ain’t such a big deal, albeit that the supermarket had bowed to the seasonal plague of Christmas muzak - Bing Crosby’s “A White Christmas” and all.

A further reason for the quietness is that a lot of the Brits who live here decamp to Magaluf for the annual ESRA Christmas shindigs (if one can use such a word). ESRA is the English Speaking Residents’ Association, a worthy body in many respects, one that does good works and that helps those in need, but - personally - a Christmas (in Magaluf) with a bunch of expats; not my cup of tea, thank you.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Black Thursday

I had an appointment in Palma at ten this morning. Had. Didn’t make it. I was in two minds anyway. The appalling weather was still at it - high winds and heavy rain - but I thought it might be brighter closer to Palma. It was - a bit. But then there was ... the gridlock. For the third time in the past ten days or so, much of the road system in Palma was at a stop. I should have known than to stick in a queue for half an hour before deciding to turn back (itself not that easy on the motorway here). That queue was to get onto the Via Cintura in the Andratx direction. Nothing doing. Nothing doing for a seriously long period of time.

I don’t know what the cause was. An accident almost certainly. No motorway is immune - anywhere. But there is much about the road system here that doesn’t help. Entry and exits taking the same slip road for instance; the closeness of entry slips to divisions in the road. That was the combination that was the seen of a recent accident, and you can see how easily it can happen. As you come to the end of the motorway from Inca before joining the Via Cintura, there is an entry slip, and just past it the road divides - one way to the airport and Palma centre, the other towards Andratx. If you’re not in the right-hand lane for Andratx, you have to cross, and hope to God that something’s not entering at speed from the slip.

The driving here may be manic, but the road system’s pretty lunatic, too. Result - BANG! Bang, and gridlock.

So, I thought I’d start these pieces wirh headlines instead. Hence, “Black Thursday”. Well, if the “Bulletin” can get away with its naff hyperbole so can I. There was another example today. “British Tourism Falls ....” Er yes, the number of passengers from Britain passing through the airport last month was down 8%. Big, bloody deal. And in the report that followed, there was a highly pertinent “however” that introduced the fact that the Balearics will be a popular destination over the forthcoming holiday period. Headline-grabbing. Well ok, but ...

Not that the Balearics will prove to be that popular with folk coming for Christmas if this weather doesn’t get its arse in gear. Truly dreadful.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

When Giants Dance

Traditions, traditions. Mallorca has its traditions. I’ve spoken of them in the past. We are entering a period of strong local tradition - the Kings, Nit Bruixa, Sant Sebastià. On Sunday, there was a little bit of revived tradition - in Alcúdia. The giants danced for the first time in many a year. The giants are to the town of Alcúdia what the beach is to the resort. They help to define the town. They stand in front of the town hall during the summer fiesta of Sant Jaume, and now they can dance once again, thanks to some nifty remodelling. And of course people go to see them dance, as they go to see the Kings arrive or go to be chased by the devils of Sant Antoni Eve.

What do we British have? I’ve said it before. Very little. Even something like Hallowe’en has been overtaken by the Americanisation of trick ‘n’ treat (albeit that some areas especially in the north of England have long had their own celebrations such as “mischievous night”). Somehow I couldn’t see the population of, say Basingstoke, pitching up to watch some dancing giants. Too sophisticated for that sort of malarkey.

The Andratx scandal rumbles on. One of the central characters - Jose María Rodriguez - has been forced to issue a denial that it was he who tipped off the mayor. But it also would seem that his phone was being tapped prior to the police intervention.

And weather ... Grey and greyer, at least in the north. The clouds are hanging permanently over the mountains, and it has been very, very wet these past two days. Yet this morning - in Palma - it was clear. One of the island’s oddities is that there can - on occasion - be a very distinct north-south divide weather-wise.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Language / Radio

Spain, it would seem, is the second-favoured destination (after Australia) for Brits seeking to escape the ghastly British climate and other negatives, such as marauding ASBO cases and Ant and Dec. Unlike Australia, however, Spain does not have “Neighbours”, cricket or a predominantly English language (setting aside any bastardisations of English down under and the insidious encroachment of the “moronic interrogative” - as Rory McGrath dubbed it - whereby some finish sentences with a questioning up-stress). It is the absence of English that makes life in Spain a tad difficult for some. All that nice weather, but why do they have to speak foreign?

Learning a language, or rather learning the language of the country in which one resides, seems to me a matter of - at least - courtesy. It does also have some practical advantages, such as being able to tell people eating Ritz biscuits at reception desks that they are being rude. But for many expats - and there are great numbers of them here - getting to grips with “the native” extends to no more than a handful of words and phrases - if that.

Now, I make no pretence to being fluent in Spanish, while my Mallorquin is non-existent, but I have made the attempt with the dominant lingo (castellano or Castilian to use the anglicised term). I can conduct business in Spanish, moan at people in Spanish, read newspapers in Spanish.

There are reasons why expats do not learn the language very well. One is sheer laziness. Two is an expat culture of surrounding oneself only with other expats (the ghetto mentality). Three is embarrassment with trying to use the language - and failing. Four is the difficulty.

It is difficult. No one can say it’s easy. It is also a fact that the older one gets, the more difficult it becomes. But it’s not impossible.

Problem is that for many English-speakers, Spanish (for which also read most other European languages) has not become a “lazy” language like English. For instance, whereas verb conjugation in English requires little change, Spanish does. For anyone who either didn’t learn French at school, or has forgotten it or who never took it in the first place, the concept of elements of a verb being different is a tricky one to get your head around. Then there is masculine and feminine, adjectival endings, the use of the present to mean the future. And they say Spanish is one of the easier languages (it is compared to some - German or, God forbid, Czech or the impenetrable Finno-Ugric tongues).

There are plenty of courses available. I know people, for example, who attend classes in Puerto Pollensa. The problem with classes - of anything up to 20 people - is that everyone is at different levels and personal teacher help is low. I learnt with a teacher one-on-one. Much better. It costs, and you have to do homework, but it was worth it. Moreover, I learnt in a structured way. Now, the language teaching industry will say that everyone has different learning styles. True, up to a point, but I defy anyone to really come to terms with a language unless they understand the structure - which means grammar and syntax.

Someone said to me when I was first here. “Oh, I can teach you, just from a few phrases ...” Bollocks. So, after a minute I was able to say “cómo estás”. Great. Did I know the root of estás? Did I know that it might not be appropriate in all circumstances? Did I know that there are two verbs “to be” in Spanish, and the difference between them? Did I stuff.

And so you get this rather bullshit approach to teaching. It doesn’t work. But maybe for those expats who would rather - having been here for some years - still only hang out at expat bars, make shop assistants try and understand their English, or get someone along to always translate, it’s good enough. There again, why not try Australia ...

So much for the above. I haven’t gone native. I haven’t totally embraced Mallorcan culture. I have my connections with England. I listen to BBC radio. I can get a buzz hearing the road reports on Five Live’s Drive. Operation Stack. M25. A406 Staples Corner. H-hmm!

Five Live is usually my radio channel of choice. Sad git that I am, I also get a buzz from listening to the footie phone-ins. Trouble is, 6-0-6 is crap. Not what it was in the days of the peerless Danny Baker. But I still listen, or rather I don’t. Because it is often 7:30-0-6 (or 8:30-0-6) if you take into account the hour’s difference. And then there are the times when the Beeb’s streaming (of events like Premiership games) is blocked to international listeners, and remains blocked because some twat has forgotten to switch it back on again, so you can’t hear the subsequent programmes either.

But there is redemption ... of sorts. Radio London. Ok, you have to be a one-time London boy like me, who supports Spurs. But Saturdays when Five Live still has its commentary for Charlton v. Reading (which of course you can’t hear even if you were mad enough to want to), and puts back 6-0-6, you can go to London and hear Tom Watt. He’s rubbish, absolutely useless, but he’ll do. (Never was a better insult uttered than when Dirty Den called him - or rather Lofty - a “doormat”, but that’s something else.)

Thing is, after Tom Watt, Radio London has Gary Crowley. Remember him? Brilliant, if breathless. From new stuff like Jack Penate to old, old stuff like The Ronettes. Too much. “And then I kissed him ...” And at another time, London has Norman Jay. Terribly egotistical. “When I was ... (this that and the other)”, but boy what a selection. Current dance music to Chris Montez. Can you believe that? Fab gear. Oh and D. Baker in the afternoons.

Don’t know what got me on to all of this, but I enjoyed it anyway. Pip, pip!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Service / Winter walk / Hotels

I have had cause before to rant against service here, and here I go again.

This whinge concerns the Policlinica Miramar. Now, this is in Palma, and is where you tend to get sent when the Hospital in Alcúdia doesn’t have the facility. I was there to confirm authorisation for the minor op to remove the melanomas I referred to a while back. So I went to the desk of the insurance company at the clinic. It was all dealt with easily and efficiently enough, except ... except for the fact that the girl behind the desk was munching on a box of Ritz biscuits. More than this - while attending to me, a friend of hers came up, they started chatting, and she offered the friend a Ritz. Didn’t bloody ask me. That’s service for you.

Despite warnings of dire weather again today, it has been splendid, and right for a beach walk. The sea was calm, and the light extraordinary. One of the pluses of the recent wind is that the views are clear and bright. And one never ceases to notice something new. Looking out across the bay from Playa de Muro towards the hills above Arta and to the headland by Cala Ratjada, the light was catching the green of the forest past Can Picafort. I had not noticed this before, but it stood out quite vividly, as did the settlements of Son Serra and Colonia. One can stand and stare at this for ages; at least I can. Like the caballo (horse) promontory at Cala San Vicente, the view is quite awe-inspiring.

Then walking in the quiet roads back of the beach, you see all the cats and kittens. There are loads of them; nearly all strays, but they do a job. Occasionally I have to remove the remains of their work from the garden - a tail here, a rat’s head there, bits of entrail forming an ant feast. Disgusting, but it’s better than having a rat in the house, which once happened. And there’s the flora. The bougainvillaea lasts well into autumn and early winter. There is one house close by that has three huge bushes of it climbing over the front wall; each a different colour - mauve, crimson and and a sort of russet-orange. Fabulous.

There were more cats hanging around near to the start of the forest past Alcúdia Pins. They didn’t seem to be bothered by the noise and the work going on at the Iberostar Albufera Park. You wonder at the sheer amount of work that goes on in maintaining the standards and quality of hotels here - and the Iberostars are outstanding hotels. There were huge skips full of doors, most of the rooms look as though they have been gutted, while some of the ornate balustrades have been demolished. Last winter, the Iberostar Dunas Park was totally redone, resulting in the designer-style feel of what is now the Iberostar Playa de Muro Village. Whatever the result of the work at the Albufera Park, it will be splendid. It is a strange feeling of being a part of this economic life, if only through observing the work that is put in, knowing that in a few months there will be a new set of tourists who will arrive and think “oh, this is nice” (or more likely “ganz herrlich”).

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Weather / Air tax

Well disappointingly, my prediction of “The Bulletin’s” headline proved inaccurate. There again, the main force of the storm was felt in the north, not in the south, i.e. Palma. And given the Palma-centric nature of the local media ...

The front page was given over to apparent anger at Gordon Brown’s announcement of an increase in air tax. For instance, British Airways call it “a blunt instrument”, while an Easyjet spokesperson was on Five Live yesterday, saying that it fails to take account of cleaner aircraft. Well yes maybe, but this is something we are going to have get used to I’m afraid. I doubt that a five-quid hike in tax will deter people from coming to Mallorca, but it may reduce their spend a bit more - which ain’t such great news. What the taxman taketh away, he taketh away from something else as well.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Roads / Weather / Corruption / Pizzeria

As mentioned back on 1 and 16 November, the Carretera Arta in Puerto Alcúdia is receiving a bit of a facelift, and - wonders will never cease - the dire road surface is being attended to. At present there are sections of the road that have been resurfaced, and one assumes and hopes that these sections will be joined up, and that drivers won’t any longer have to move all over the road looking for bits that aren’t pitted.

When the hot weather kicks in in spring, it always comes as a bit of surprise; one forgets just how hot it gets after the winter months. And so it is in reverse. After weeks of mild, at times hot, weather, the first blast of chill air comes as a bit of a shock. And so today we have that first blast, with snow forecast on the tops, and a whole bunch of rain. The change in weather coincides with the first of two holiday days this week. Today is constitution day. Somewhat perversely, tomorrow is a normal day, and then Friday is another holiday - for immaculate conception. Accordingly, many opt to make it a three-day holiday; hardly surprising. The thing I don’t get is how come immaculate conception is 8 December? How did that all work?

Andratx update: Jaume Matas, the PP head of the Balearics government, is denying that he had any part in alerting the Andratx officials. Surprise would be if he said he had. Notwithstanding this denial, the opposition is calling for his head and for a statement by the national leader of the PP.

New restaurant mention: there is now a new pizzeria - Pane y Vino - opposite Comics and Little Britain in Puerto Alcúdia.

Wo-aah! What was that I was saying about the weather. It got nice around lunchtime, then mid-afternoon ... Jesus. Back in the safety of home, there was a noise. Thought it was something upstairs. Looked out. A tree from the neighbour’s garden snapped off and right across the road. I got soaked through trying to shift it - too much for one person - when two guys came round the corner and between us we managed to move some of it, and then the fire boys pitched up with their saws. What money on “The Bulletin” wheeling out its regular headline “What A Day / Night” (delete as applicable)?

2001. That was it. 2001. December. The big storm here. Don’t anyone tell you it’s always lovely weather in Mallorca.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Corruption / Index for November

Murkier, and murkier. The Andratx case is taking more twists than a Mallorcan mountain road. Seemingly, someone gave a tip-off to those targeted by the investigation. All those who might be responsible for such a tip-off are denying it: the Guardia, the Partido Popular, and the opposition socialists. Whoever did make the tip-off succeeded up to a point. Some documents have been either totally or partially destroyed.

In the days leading up to the arrest of Sr.Hidalgo, the now ex-Mayor of Andratx, he met with both Jose María Rodriguez, the General Secretary of the PP, and Jaume Matas, the Balearic government leader (also PP). Both deny giving a tip-off.

Meanwhile, there was - apparently - an anonymous call made to the government claiming that other councils were to be raided, something denied by the Guardia. Quite why the PP have said that there was this call is a bit of a mystery, though the socialists (PSOE-PSIB) believe this was to pre-empt the matter being reported to the police.

As for the socialists, the PP seem to think that they were given information about the operation in Andratx. Why do they think this? Well, it also turns out that the director-general of the Guardia and National Police here was a former member of the Balearic government when the socialists were in power, and remains a member.

Air travel - 6 November 2006
Alcúdia industrial estate - 16 November 2006
All-inclusives - 9 November 2006
Andratx - 29 November 2006, 30 November 2006
Blog anniversary - 1 November 2006
Building work - 16 November 2006
Carretera Arta - 1 November 2006, 16 November 2006
Christmas presents - 4 November 2006
Climate change - 2 November 2006, 6 November 2006
Corruption - 29 November 2006, 30 November 2006
Costa Nord estate agency - 16 November 2006
Environment - 2 November 2006, 6 November 2006
“Euro Weekly” - 9 November 2006
Guardia Civil - 29 November 2006
Hidalgo, Eugenio - 29 November 2006
Jabon Bon - 4 November 2006
Jenkins, Simon - 6 November 2006
La Placeta - 16 November 2006
Little Britain (supermarket) - 4 November 2006
Lu-Lu’s Bistro - 3 November 2006
Massot, Jaume - 29 November 2006, 30 November 2006
Money-laundering - 29 November 2006
Pollensa Fair - 3 November 2006, 8 November 2006
Pricing - 9 November 2006
Promotion - 3 November 2006, 8 November 2006
Property - 30 November 2006
Restaurants - 1 November 2006
Reviews, hotel/restaurant - 12 November 2006
Roads - 1 November 2006
Scam - 12 November 2006
Season’s end - 3 November 2006
“Sunday Times, The” - 12 November 2006
Tourism economics - 1 November 2006, 9 November 2006, 16 November 2006
Weather - 16 November 2006, 29 November 2006, 30 November 2006
Websites - 12 November 2006
Winter tourism - 9 November 2006