Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hot Air For A Cool Breeze

Oh, oh, there’s another threat to the winter bar and restaurant business blowing in the wind or rather hanging in the air above bar and restaurant terraces. Euro MEPs are on the climate change trail, and they have stumbled across the patio heater on their rambles. They are expected to suggest to the European Commission that these space heaters are banned, thus – at a stroke – saving the planet.

Patio heaters are of course absurd. The notion of heating air is ridiculous. But for all that they are a completely nuts concept, they have become almost an essential for Mallorcan hostelries. Even if the terrace is shrouded in attractive plastic sheeting, a space heater, with its elongated, mushroom-topped neck, commands the floor space, pumping out some welcome heat. Inside the bar itself, they are not a bad idea either, as some bars just do not have heating. Like many houses that have freezing interiors in winter despite warmth outside, bars are similarly ill-equipped for the perishing internal conditions until the heat really gets its act together again come April or May. The space heater has been a positive boon in staving off frost-bite or chilblains if one tarries too long in a place of hospitality. As I did yesterday. Except there was no space heater. Several hours I spent and several hot chocolates were consumed, all to little effect in warding off the shivers. To make things just a bit cooler, the door was open much of the time to let the smoke out. Don’t for one moment think that there is a particularly stringent approach to smoking in bars here if they are of a certain size.

The hope is that, even with a command from Brussels, it will be ignored. The environment may suffer from the gases pumped out by space heaters, but my extremities also suffer.

And to revive an old theme of this blog. Here is the first Bar Of The Week for the new year. Space heaters there may not be, but Café del Món is an otherwise fine little bar, and it also happens to be the only one open in Playa de Muro apart from the rather dismal Dallas bar.

Where: C/. Juia, just around the corner from the chemists, Playa de Muro (it used to be Robin Hood).

What: Tapas and menu plus breakfasts and pasta specialities. Wi-Fi and sports TV.

When: Every day, normally from around 09:30 unless it was a particularly late night.

Who: Georgi and Martin (that's them above).

Why: Cheery local sort of place but well geared to an international market, and it is a welcome addition to Playa de Muro’s winter all-closed-up scene.

Yesterday – Talking Heads. Today’s title – it comes from an album title song by a very famous band.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Speaking In Tongues

Hackneyed cliché time – education is a political football. No more so than in Mallorca where the language of education is as much a part of the political keepy-uppy as the curriculum.

The Partido Popular (PP), which enjoys something of a polls lead in Mallorca ahead of the general election in March, has said that it will make castellano (Castilian, or Spanish if you prefer) the language of education, regardless of location. It has also said that it will introduce English learning from age three. The electorate has more pressing concerns than which language is to be used to teach its children, but it is a subject that has the power to divide more than most.

In Mallorca, where Catalan dominates the educational scene, there is the additional complication that Mallorquín lays claim to its own status as a language. Far from everyone will accept that Mallorquín is merely a variant of Catalan. In some respects it isn’t. A Catalan speaker from Barcelona struggles with Mallorquín, not just because of the accent but also because elements of the local language are different. Even something as basic as the definite article is different. In Catalan, the masculine and feminine “the” is “el” and “la”, the same as Castilian; in Mallorquín, it is “es” and “sa”. In Mallorca, it isn’t a simple (!) case of reconciling the educational claims and needs of two languages – Castilian and Catalan – but of three.

Regional autonomy and also respect for regional languages, suppressed under Franco, have been things of Spanish democracy since the end of the dictatorship, but both have opened cans of worms, albeit for laudable reasons. Standardisation of education may make sense for centralist-minded politicians, but it creates tensions because of the decentralisation of institutions. They are essentially incompatible. The PP may yet win the election and press ahead with its Castilian-first philosophy. It would win a lot of supporters among those who find it absurd that the national language should not have primacy. The problem is that there are plenty who disagree that Castilian is the national language. And education is the battlefield, or should that be playing-field?

And while on language, elsewhere I saw something about Spanish politeness or rudeness as they are expressed through language – Castilian in this case. It was said that “gracias” and “por favor” were not generally used, certainly not to the extent that the British would use “thank you” or “please”. In the case of “por favor”, this is generally true, but with “gracias” it is not. In shops, for instance, it is the norm for a checkout person or assistant to say “gracias” as they hand over change. I don’t find or believe that the usage is any less than would be usual in Britain with “thank you”. As to the lack of “por favor”, this is not, as is claimed, a function of grammar negating its necessity. It is not used because it is not used. No more difficult than that. In French, there is similar disinclination to use “s’il vous plaît”. It has nothing to do with grammar, it is convention. Say to a waiter, “tomo un café” (I’ll have a coffee), the “por favor” is superfluous unless you really want to use it. It is not rude, it is just convention.

Yesterday – What else but “Vienna”, Ultravox. Today’s title – album by? (American, innovative, have been “quizzed” here before.)


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Image Has Gone

National treasures, my own bits of Brit treasury, which remind me that among the tapas and tumbet there is a place that is forever tea and Tunbridge Wells. In the case of A. A. Gill, he occupies, I suspect, no more than my own personal expatriate-in-Mallorca treasury. Not because no one here buys a newspaper more highbrow than “The Daily Mail” (tempted though I might be to suggest that), but because no one, other than me, is mad enough to spend five euros on “The Sunday Times” as a way of assuaging the conscience for having read “The Times” for the rest of the week for free on the internet. The Sunday version occupies a whole week in any event; the following Friday, it must be the Barnsley v. Scunthorpe match report or a return to Gill in order to re-discover something about television programmes I have not seen and will, in all likelihood, never see.

Gill has been to Vienna, to which you may well ask what this has to do with Mallorca. More than you might imagine. Take the ubiquitous croissant, borrowed, one thinks from the French, and a more pointless piece of non-nutritious lump of grease to defile a breakfast table it is hard to conceive of (except the Mallorcan ensaimada). Not French though. Made in Vienna, as was the café, equally ubiquitous and often equally as pointless in terms of its sheer numbers. The Viennese café though is possessed of history, grandeur and intellect. “Cafés,” observes Gill, “are the crucibles of culture; more great thoughts have been had in cafés than in all the world’s universities”. Not in Mallorca though, unless one counts as great thoughts choosing between pig or sheep for the evening meal or between a bucket of sangria or a bucket of lager with which to wash it down. Anything more cerebral is strictly for the Austrians.

The contrariness of Gill is that he can observe one of Europe’s great cities and still find room for the everyday, specifically that lightweight, fold-down facilitator of family mass tourism – the baby buggy. Mallorcan restaurants could yet offer a great service to humanity by creating buggy parking lots. In Vienna, it seems, they have already deemed the buggy a curse on civilised society. “The waiter looked at the double buggy the way a French polisher might regard a lawnmower on a dining table, and suggested ever so politely that he could put it somewhere else.”

It is not really the Panzer divisions of buggies marauding the summer streets. It is the buggy through the camera lens that causes me grief. If it is one’s lot to have to take enticing photographs of sunny terraces with happy tourists, there is a great deal of sympathy for a restaurant owner who on no account wants people in any shot as they “make the place look untidy”. Even the best crafted of terrace shot has the almost inevitable pitfall of an image of a fork exiting a mouth next to which is a lump in the cheek the size of Gibraltar; that or Mr and Mrs Glum, long-faced and longing, one assumes, to be anywhere else other than on holiday with each other. But after several weeks of waiting for good weather and a good crowd on the terrace, the heart leaps with joy at the prospect of a suitable photo. Line it up, frame it, take it … wait a minute. The heart sinks. The baby buggy. Always the baby buggy. And often the baby buggy with an attractive accessory, like a Spar bag hanging from a handle. It may add to a notion of “family friendliness” but for a decent photo it is the kiss of death or the vomit down the bib. Perhaps I should just go to Vienna.

Yesterday – Acker Bilk. Today’s title – the lyric continues “only you and I”. Where is it from?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Stranger On The Shore

They do some strange things on the beach.

Another beautiful afternoon for a yomp by the water’s edge in Playa de Muro, a beautiful afternoon for engaging workmen in somewhat fruitless conversation. Too busy working perhaps, or maybe they are not used to someone who so obviously is not a “local” asking them what they’re doing. “Arena”, that much I discerned. I had presumed this was the case. “Arena” is sand by the way.

What they have been doing is this: by access points to the beach, they have been building fences in a V-shape made from bamboo. Where one road leads to the beach, there is already a fence – a straight one. Now, just onto the beach, there is another one. There is still just sufficient room to get past it, but only just. By a “balneario” (beach bar), both the paths that have been formed in the sand and dunes have had these fences erected at the beach end.

Uncommunicative the workmen may have been, but their explanation was clear enough. The fences are to stop sand, to stop sand blowing onto the road and up paths and other access points. Well maybe they are, though if fences are built with bamboo sticks (with gaps between them) will sand not find a way through? And if there are gaps to either side of the fence, which correspond with the access gaps of the first fence, will sand not find its way through to the road when the wind blows in a convenient direction?

If the intention is to stop sand, might some other form of structure not have made more sense? It all seems rather half-hearted, and I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t another half-hearted reason for these fences – to try and deter the bringing of all the paraphernalia that finds its way onto the beach. They won’t stop that, not that they necessarily should. Nor, I suspect, will the fences stop the sand. It’s like when they roped off a fair old portion of the beach and dunes in the “rustic” part of the beach. It was, said the sign, to allow some birds to nest. Maybe it was, but was it just coincidence that the same portion of beach and dunes was popular with the kit-off sunbather? No, I’m sure it was just coincidence. Forget it. Strange things on the beach, let’s not go there.

Yesterday – Jack Good. Today’s title – well it could be, as in getting stranger, couldn’t it? Anyway, which clarinettist?


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Oh Boy!

The problem with the cyclists is that they don’t contribute anything to the local bars and restaurants.

As a couple of hotels in Playa de Muro prepare to open their doors to the cycling season’s lycra intake, so the above complaint will be heard above the sounds of car horns urging the pelatons off the road. These cyclists, all hale and hearty, watered and fed only on sports drinks and bananas, eschewing the calorific and arterial bombardment of beer and beef, spending nary a euro at the local hostelry. There may well be some who are tucked up by nine o’clock, sending themselves off to sleep with a study of the following day’s hundreds of kilometre route map, but there are plenty who are not.

A lot of the cyclists are German. Germany was built on beer and meat, as were most of the cyclists. It is wrong to suggest that they do not frequent the bars and restaurants and are not capable of demolishing the side of a cow and vacuuming up a barrel of lager. Or rather, it may be a correct impression if you don’t know how to attract them.

There are few places open in Playa de Muro during the late winter. But one restaurant that will be opening in February is Boy. Notwithstanding its potentially misunderstood name, Boy (the name was adopted as a translation of “chico”) has made itself a restaurant of choice for the cyclist. It helps that Juan Antonio himself is a keen user of two wheels, but that’s just a part of the story. The restaurant has forged a strong relationship not only with the springtime cycling fraternity but also with Max Huerzler who organises much of the cycling tourism.

Where others might ignore or moan about the value of this early tourism, Boy has turned it into an advantage. I think it’s known as running a business. And they have extended their own business by a couple of months by getting close to the cyclist market.

So when others are complaining, take a look at the terrace at Restaurant Boy on a sunny February late afternoon or early evening. All that lycra may not be to everyone’s taste, but all that lycra does indeed go to restaurants and does indeed spend money.

Yesterday – Grange Hill. Today’s title – one for those with long memories, this was a television pop show produced by whom?


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Just Say No (Or Yes)

There are some busy fellows at the Balearic Government’s environment commission. Yes and no. They have pronounced. The yes refers to Pollensa, the no to Can Picafort.

The “no” first. There is a problem of water treatment and sewage in Can Picafort (and Playa de Muro). A projected new plant has to be delayed, says the commission, because it would have involved dumping into the bay of Alcúdia. Someone has discovered that a European directive does not allow this in an area of special interest, in this case the bay, the bay that contains the beaches of Alcúdia, Playa de Muro, Can Picafort, Son Serra etc.

Is it just me or might this not have been thought about, even without the aid of a European directive? If not, then might a quick gander at the provisions of European or any other diktat not have brought this up earlier? Is there not something slightly unwired in the environmental thought process that there can be a hue and cry over burying a finca under fairways and bunkers (in the same area) and yet it takes a previously overlooked Brussels decree to raise an obstacle to polluting a bay used by thousands of bathers? Whatever. The current situation, according to Santa Margalida’s mayor, is “very serious” (Santa Margalida is the municipality in which Can Picafort is situated). It can give rise to conditions that create a bad image. I think we know what he’s talking about. Sewage is one thing, water treatment is the other. Playa de Muro, you may recall, has a problem with nitrates in its water. It is the existing treatment plant that covers Playa de Muro. Keep buying the bottled water.

And now the “yes”. For many years, some rundown houses abutting the Plaça Mayor in Pollensa have been just that – rundown. They have been so because the owners didn’t want to convert them in a fashion that they were being told to, i.e. as dwellings or as art or craft studios. Now, the environment commission worthies have given the green light to these owners to do with them as they do want, which is to turn them into “businesses” or … restaurants. Ah yes, more restaurants. What was I saying? No doubt they will all look very nice and make the square prettier, but more restaurants? There again, more craft shops would have been overkill. Personally, I admire dereliction; it has a satisfying air of authenticity. But I am not an environment commissioner, and unlikely to be so either.

Yesterday – “Too Much Too Young”, The Special AKA (aka The Specials). Today’s title – ignoring the bracket, from which educational establishment does this come?


Friday, January 25, 2008

You’ve Done Too Much

Café society. You will never go short of a café or bar here. Despite the claims that nothing is open in Alcúdia or Pollensa over winter, the fact is that there is – and quite a lot. For the British tourist, such as he or she might be in winter, there may not be a surfeit of “British” bars, but there are certainly Spanish (Mallorcan) bars.

A writer to “The Bulletin” raised this recently. He was spot-on in his analysis. It comes back to the issue of over-supply. There may be naïve Brits who come and take on bars, but there are also an awful lot of Spaniards who do the same – naïve or not.

The writer was referring specifically to the “locales” that often come with new residential developments. Build some flats and devote the ground floor to “locales” (units if you like), often of a charmless and purely functional appearance. And amongst these units will be a bar or café. The populations of the local towns may be increasing, but not to the degree that they demand ever more bars.

Take one such development. It is by the now closed Hospital d’Alcúdia. Flats and a café. I can’t remember its name, but I have used it occasionally. It is pleasant enough. It is also enormous by comparison to some bars. I wish them well, but was it really needed? Across the road there is a bar of many years standing. Walk up the road a bit to the Charles Square and how many bars are there within short staggering distance? Four, five? Walk a bit further, and there are four or five more. Most of them are always open.

That they may get used is not really the issue. People do go to cafés, they are very much a part of life here. But they go and have a coffee. They go and often spend an inordinately long time – having a coffee. The more cafés there are, the more the numbers – having a coffee – are spread more thinly. This is the point the writer was getting at. So much supply serving questionable demand. The result, the bar is put up for sale or rent.

Too great a supply is an economic killer. The same problem exists with restaurants. A new one opens and one immediately asks why. Does Puerto Alcúdia, for example, need the number of clothes shops it has? It is one thing to serve the local towns, but it shouldn’t be overlooked that Palma is readily accessible and has its own abundance of supply. The estate agent market is another with too much supply; indeed Mallorca gives the impression of drowning under an excess supply of all sorts.

One can extend the discussion to the summer. Clearly, there are far more people around. Greater demand in terms of bodies, but the supply also increases – all those places that do not open through winter. The all-inclusive and the lower spend may have curbed actual demand, but the supply side has kept on growing. It makes no sense. The changes to the summer economic model seem to have been, and are, ignored by many. The all-inclusive may take the brunt of the blame, but when the suppliers complain, they might also take a look at themselves. They are as much, by their very number, a part of the problem.

Yesterday – Joe South. Today’s title – first line from? Some of Coventry’s finest.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Walk A Mile In My Shoes

Alcúdia is like Blackpool. Whenever I read this, I want to kick the cat. Actually, there is no cat, but be that as it may. Cast your eye onto a forum somewhere, and someone will be pulling the Blackpool cat out of the bag and spreading fleas of misrepresentation.

It is years since I was last in Blackpool, but I have been there. One suspects that those who create the Blackpool brickbat have often not. Give a dog or cat a bad name. In this instance, the bad name is Blackpool, simply because Blackpool has had to carry its burden as some sort of resort anti-Christ, one formed over years and with a similar lack of justification, and then trotted out as shorthand for perceived seaside naffness.

When the B-word is given an airing in the context of Alcúdia, it is as a description of The Mile, which is ironic in the sense that most visitors don’t use The Mile moniker (despite its Blackpool connotation) and prefer the misguided but understandable other B-word – Bellevue.

Let’s be clear. Much of Alcúdia’s hotel stock is on or near to The Mile. That stock includes the monoliths of the Bellevue hotel and the sprawling density of tourist humanity that is Sea Club. Over 5,000 places between them. The only huge hotels or complexes that are not “in Bellevue” are the Club Macs, the Condesa and Sunwing, and of these, the walk to Bellevue is not that far (except from the Condesa) while Sunwing is little Scandinavia and not British in any form; Blackpool, one presumes, carries little weight in Copenhagen or Stockholm when it comes to Alcúdia comparisons.

As a result therefore, for many visitors Alcúdia is indeed The Mile. Those who ever leave may opt to sweat their way around the packed old-town market of a Tuesday or Sunday morning or take the beach walk to the port. But for many, The Mile it is, and The Mile it only is. How many ever venture to the coves of Mal Pas or to the mountains of La Victoria?

It is no surprise that, for these many visitors, Alcúdia is The Mile. They are also told, not least by some tour operators and misinformed websites, that The Mile is the centre of Alcúdia. It is the centre, but only as the centre for hotel colonisation. I once read on one site that, away from “the centre”, there is not much to see in Alcúdia. Of course there isn’t – no marina, no Roman town, no hermitage, no Barcares, no Coll Baix.

So people’s impressions are formed largely by their immediate surroundings. And those who don’t care for The Mile find a convenience of disparagement in and facile comparison with the B-word of Blackpool. Lots of bars, lots of restaurants, lots of people, lots of noise – all along one road. QED, it’s Blackpool. I have myself used the Blackpool line, here on this blog (13 September 2007, “Grease Is The Word”), but as a cultural marker in defence of the endearing and enduring nature of The Mile. Alcúdia is many things, but there are some who choose to see only one aspect and, more importantly, give critical voice to this selectivity by evoking a tired and condemnatory likeness to a town in Lancashire which, for all its apparent lack of sophistication, is the essence of the British heritage of seaside holiday; a town that helped forge and sustain that heritage.

Ok, Alcúdia, sorry The Mile, is like Blackpool, but not as this comparison is so unthinkingly and derogatorily intended. Alcúdia – the beach, the port, the yachts, the old town, the coves. It is all these things and still manages to retain an unpretentious tradition of holiday hedonism that was born along The Golden Mile – Blackpool’s that is.

What I want to know is, do you ever read somewhere that Blackpool is like Alcúdia?

Thought not.

Yesterday – Jack Rosenthal. Today’s title – a few recorded it, who wrote it and had his own hit with it?


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Knowledge

“You know who I had in the back of my cab …”

Ah yes, the London cabbie. Knowledge of the roads and knowledge of any subject you care to mention or indeed don’t care to mention – the knowledge will be imparted regardless. I once knew a London cabbie well. Could talk the backside off the proverbial donkey. He even appeared on “The Price Is Right”. But this is totally tangential.

No self-respecting London cabbie would turn down a free lunch, or a free trip to Thailand. And so when the Thai tourist board comes knocking on the cab window brandishing tickets to Bangkok, he is hardly likely to refuse. This is – more or less – what has been happening. As part of its marketing, the Thais (and the city of Melbourne in Australia), have co-opted London cabbies. A trip to soak up the atmosphere (and anything else that might be soaked up) and of course to also fill the cabbie with knowledge. Always knowledge.

This is not a simple case of an ad on the side of the cab. No, the interior is given the once-over, with brochures available. And, as importantly, there is the cabbie. Stuck at some lights, Capital Radio in the background, and the conversation – even if you didn’t want it to – turns to holidays. Where better and who better to assist in the next holiday choice than in the captive environment of a cab and in the captive arms (so to speak) of the cab driver?

Personally, I am not so sure a London cabbie could sell me anything, let alone a holiday, but the Thais and the Australians clearly think they’re onto something. Maybe they are. Who next? Hairdressers? They take degree courses in discussing holidays.

Daft it might sound, but different it is, and it suggests an attempt to look for new and innovative forms of marketing for tourism. I am not proposing that one should jump in a cab at King’s Cross and be given a sales pitch for Mallorca or one of the resorts, but some different approaches may well be worth exploring and especially where the “alternative” Mallorcan tourism is concerned. While I remain sceptical as to confusing the market with a Mallorcan message that conflicts with how the vast majority perceive Mallorca – sun, sea etc. – if that message is to be conveyed, let’s look at alternative means of doing so.

In Germany, there are often television programmes that feature Mallorca. The island is almost one of the Bundesländer. A typical programme, dire though it might be, would have some female singer in evening wear standing on some Mallorcan rocks, accompanied by a trumpeter on some other rocks. It’s rubbish, but at least you see some of the island. The programmes are, in essence, product placement on an island level.

We are becoming virtual tourists. We want to see and experience the tourism destination. This can be gained at present via the internet, but not on a well-produced scale. To see and experience the island and its different facets, those that the alternative tourism wishes to promote; this is the challenge. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the Balearic Government should have gone to the producers of the film about Jaime 1, shoved a large number of folding euros into their pockets, boosted their budget and insisted it was all filmed on location in Mallorca. What better for the alternative tourism than a bit of history and loads of landscape?

At Christmas, I bought a DVD of Paco de Lucia in concert and gave it to someone in the UK. It was fabulous. Paco, you may recall, is the face of Mallorca at the moment. He is hardly karaoke and the Sea Club boys and girls belting out “Let Me Entertain You”. He is classical, jazz, flamenco – cultural if you like, alternative definitely, in terms of tourist image. What if they were to break the Pollensa town hall’s bank once and for all and get Paco to play the Pollensa music festival? What if they were to make a superb film of Paco and of the area, interspersing it with certain cultural and historical bits and pieces, with the landscape and the traditions? What if they were to market the DVD like crazy and to get it onto TV, just like the Germans have their programmes – except this would be bloody good. It would be so bloody good and of such quality, the alternative tourists would flock in their droves. And they wouldn’t need a London cabbie to tell them either.

Yesterday – Gloria Gaynor. Today’s title – a TV programme, a famous one. Who wrote it?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

If You Want It Do It Yourself

What is the point of tour operators? Think about it. Break the package down, and what does it comprise? The transport, normally the airline; the transfer; the hotel or accommodation. What are the add-ons? An often ill-informed and unresponsive rep who oversees the transfer and then offers some excursions – the tour operator’s excursions – and gets “incentives” from bars and restaurants for recommending them. The odd map or publication perhaps.

Take away the three core elements – plane, transfer, accommodation – the added value amounts to little, and it can be got in any event. You don’t need a tour operator to sell you an excursion – they can be bought easily enough elsewhere and sometimes at lower cost and with better service. You don’t need a map or publication; they exist anyway. The internet offers them – for instance.

Ah, but what if there are problems? With the hotel or with illness? Maybe, but even then the rep can amount to next than useless. This is not to criticise all reps. Some are very good, but many are not. You might remember me posting an exchange I had with a rep at the Oro Playa in Puerto Pollensa – the one about the pinewalk. The rep did not know where it was, yet had been at the hotel for a good couple of months. The pinewalk is roughly two minutes walk from the hotel.

My understanding is that the tour operators are wanting to cut back on their “human” service as it is. They know that fewer and fewer people bother with the excruciating welcome meetings. Thomson, for instance, has a helpline service anyway. The tour operator may well offer its own kids’ club activities and entertainment, but many hotels have their own.

But the key issue is that of price. Doing a holiday “DIY” can result in significant savings. Book with a low-cost airline, book the accommodation through the abundance of bonded online agencies or direct with the hotel, and book the transfer with a taxi firm or transfer operator. The transfer may be a sticking point for many, but the tour operator doesn’t exactly exclude this cost from its pricing. There is an advantage – none of all that dropping people off at other hotels before finally reaching your own. Add these all up, and you are still often going to be quids in.

The advantage of the tour operator, obviously, is that it is all done for you, but it is the very nature of the “package” that creates the additional cost. In theory, with the buying power of the major tour operators, one would have thought that they would be more competitive on price, but this is not necessarily the reality. There is though another side to that buying power, and that is the security that hotels get from contracting to a tour operator. This guarantees the hotel’s return and also limits the number of spaces available independently. However, the hotels are increasingly prepared to deal direct or through an agency.

There are parts of the world where booking through a tour operator makes perfect sense – it gives a peace of mind that DIY might not offer. Mallorca is not one of these parts of the world; it also has the distinct advantage of being served by a number of low-cost airlines. And there are real savings out there. For the north in Alcúdia, Pollensa or Can Picafort: EasyJet or Jet2; AlphaRooms or Travel Republic; Majorca Airport Transfers or Just Transfers. No Frills Excursions for the excursions. The guides and websites I’m involved with. One might even mention the mobile-phone service of Travel Buddy as an additional point of assistance. Why bother with a tour operator?

Yesterday – “The Killing Moon” was Echo And The Bunnymen. The missing names were The Johnsons and Belle. Today’s title – American female soul singer, a survivor.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Antony and … / … and Sebastian

The revelries are over for another January. Sant Antoni and Sant Sebastia tend to merge into one. There was a bonfire do outside the Bodega Balear in Puerto Alcúdia on Saturday night (till 6 in the morning), though the bonfires are more Antony than Sebastian.

The Palma celebrations for Sebastian were something of a benefit for ageing British rock musicians. Friday night was music night – the synthetic screeches of the violins of the Electric Light Orchestra and the nearest you are likely to get to “cred” British rock music in the form of Echo And The Bunnymen, even if it is 25 years too late. At least with the Bunnymen there was a degree of authenticity. Ian McCulloch for example. This ELO was a Part II, Lynne-less version. They though came late on the Sebastian scene after some confusion, well a fair bit it would seem, as to the headline act that had been set up – Earth Wind & Fire, or was it an Earth Wind & Fire tribute. Neither as it turned out.

But credit where it is due. Nine different locations around the city and nine different stages. A sort of mini-Glastonbury without the mud and for one night only: flamenco, hip hop, Mallorcan, rock, dance. It was all there. And on the Saturday was the correfoc, not just a fire-run but a fire display (as opposed to fireworks) that seems to have got rave reviews. The whole thing is quite an achievement. Why don’t they promote it more to a foreign market?

Five in the morning. The last thing you need over a weekend of fiesta. Those are not the zeds of a snooze, those are the zeds of a mozzy on its approach run. There may not be all-year tourists, but there are all-year mosquitoes. The merest hint of sun and winter humidity, time for them to don their shorts and go out for dinner on the terrace – or in the bedroom.

What is it with mosquitoes? Not satisfied with being the summer’s bully-boys, they have to be winter yobs as well. Not for your mosquito the fair-weather, southern-Jessie effeteness of the bee; no, your mosquito is an all-weather and all-year well-hard delinquent ASBO case, bare-chested even as the temperature falls.

Someone once explained the life cycle of the mosquito to me – at length, at very great length. There is something about in-depth biological explanations that make me lose the will to live, so I’ve forgotten it. They are all too reminiscent of the dullest of school moments – all that stuff about amoebas and rhizomes, which I have also completely forgotten. (Do I mean rhizomes? Whatever. See, I wasn’t paying attention.) The mosquito, on the other hand, appears not to have any death wish; it just keeps on living and seeking out lunch.

Before someone decided that humans were secondary to fauna, a good spray job could get rid of them. There must be some other concoction that could be used to napalm them into oblivion. Given that quinine and lemon are supposed to deter mosquitoes, why not bombard Albufera with gin and tonic with a slice. If the smell doesn’t get them, they would die of alcohol poisoning – with Mallorcan spirit measures they would be bound to. Either that or attack them with Marmite. The stink couldn’t be any worse than the marsh gas; in fact it might be rather more agreeable. That’s it. Put up a load of bar tables in Albufera with a Gordon’s and mixer and bowls of Twiglets. Soon finish them off. Alternatively, a three-way fight to the death, with no winner, with the processionary caterpillar and the beetle that consumes palm trees and which is currently on a munching tour of Mallorca, appearing in Pollensa and dining out on all those unattended palms in second homes.

Five in the morning. Certainly couldn’t be bothered to check if there was a clear sky whilst searching for the nearest Scud missile with which to terminate the mosquito. Had there been, what sort of moon would it have been?

Yesterday – “Mustang Sally”. Today’s title – would have made for an altogether better line-up. Fill in the missing names. The other question today is in the last line above. Think Echo.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Commitments

The general election announced, now the discussion, a discussion not of a party political nature but of voting rights.

The editor of “The Bulletin” has bemoaned the fact that, being British, he is denied a vote. Letters to the paper dispute his entitlement, a point of the letter-writers being that there is a way to gain the vote, which is to “commit” to Spain and become a citizen. The editor responds by declaring that he is “European” and that, given freedom of movement within the European Union, the right to vote should come as part of that movement.

This is a loaded exchange. I shall try and keep it brief.

What does it mean to “commit” to Spain? Gaining citizenship may be a legalistic way of declaring this, but commitment goes way deeper. A national of one country has a psychological and sociological bond with the country of origin, one formed by family, culture and language. A change in citizenship does not necessarily change the way one “feels” or indeed the way one “is”. The commitment line of argument is largely specious, except in the case of second or later generations.

There are nearly 20,000 people from the UK registered in the Balearics. This past week, there were some figures released for the number of Spanish citizenships granted to people of different countries of origin. I wish I had now kept the paper in which these were published, but I can recall the figure for the UK was very low. The greatest number was for people from a country not in the EU – Morocco. I know only one British “expatriate” who for sure has Spanish citizenship. Maybe there are more, but one doesn’t as a rule interrogate friends or acquaintances as to their citizenship.

Insofar as a foreign national chooses to live in another country and contributes to its economy and pays its taxes (aspects linked to national politics), one might argue that there is a case for voting rights. But nations jealously guard their enfranchisements and active engagement with the political process. Even in the land of the free – the USA – a foreign-born politician cannot stand as President. Arnold Schwarzenegger could never go for the White House. There are limits to the extent that nations allow other nationals to affect their politics. The European Union is not a harmonised political entity, even if some might wish that it were. Free movement there may be, but national elections are still a matter for individual countries. In a country where immigration is a topic that exercises voters, one can well imagine the canción y baile amongst Spanish voters if foreigners were suddenly allowed to choose between Zapatero and Rajoy.

But the franchise does allow for non-Spaniards to vote, and that is at what currently passes for the level of centrality in EU democracy – the European Parliament. Free movement within Europe, freedom to vote for the institution that does represent Europe. The editor is European, he’s said as much, thus he has a vote. He is not Spanish, therefore he does not have a vote in the Spanish elections.

Let us assume though that those of voting age among these 20,000 Balearic Brits were to be granted a vote. How many would actually vote? How many would be interested? As there is no vote, there is little interest, and little interest would be about right. Were there a vote, then maybe that interest would be greater, though that is questionable. The local English-speaking media is faced by a similar conundrum. No vote for the Brits, so not much reporting of the issues. “The Bulletin” contains more about British politics than it ever does about national Spanish politics. There is nothing essentially wrong with this. It knows its audience, and its audience is more interested in Gordon Brown and David Cameron than Zapatero and Rajoy. Even in the week of the announcement of the election, “Euro Weekly” had not a single mention of it, despite the election having been announced on 14 January, three days before its 17 January publication date.

It comes back to commitment, or rather its almost inevitable absence. British expats live in Mallorca and Spain because they like the climate and the lifestyle and can easily maintain their connection to the old country. They do not live here because they want to vote for the PP or PSOE. The media reflects this. In the same issue of Euro Weekly, someone is praising the paper for printing British television listings that were not in the printed-in-Spain version of “The Daily Mail”. For many Brits, that is what it’s all about – sun, sea and Sky.

Spain and Spanish politics? Where’s the commitment?

Yesterday – The Kinks. Today’s title – ok, the film was known for having a record number of f-words, but which of their songs is also closely associated with Wilson Pickett?


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Second-Hand Car Spiv

Looking to sell a car? Well if you are and you live in Alcúdia, you won’t be able to try and flog it by means of a “for-sale” sign stuck in the window and with the car parked in the street. Thus reports “Euro Weekly” in its latest issue.

Apparently this is not legal. I wouldn’t know. But the town hall says not legal, so not legal it is – I’ll take their word for it. One of the other lines of thinking is that, by stopping people parking cars in streets with for-sale signs on, this will alleviate the parking problem. This is nonsense. Were it the case that whole fleets of cars were being left with their “se vende” notices, then there might be an argument. But there are not. The parking problem is a problem of a lack of parking not the odd car for sale.

Two of my neighbours in the recent past have had such signs in their cars. They have parked their cars outside their houses. Where else should they park them? When they drive off and park elsewhere, they are perfectly entitled to do so. What difference does it make if there happens to be a for-sale sign? A car has to be parked somewhere whether it’s for sale or not.

There is another argument; that by displaying a sign in public the attempt at transaction becomes subject to control by the local authority. In other words, one would need a licence to offer for sale. That’s more like it. The town hall would want a piece of the action, which they will not get because they’re banning the practice. One can understand the town hall’s thinking here though, even if it is stretching a point. If one looks to sell a car via a magazine for instance, one contracts with the publisher to do so. The town hall, it can justifiably argue I suppose, is acting as a means of promotion and distribution in the same way as a magazine is; it should therefore be contracted with as the sales channel or deny that channel if it so chooses.

There are other vehicles that are left parked in streets; vehicles that publicise this and that. They occupy parking spaces and are often left for lengthy periods. Maybe they have a licence to do so. It had never occurred to me that they might have to before this business with cars for sale came up. But if not, do not the same rules apply? A restaurant wishing to advertise itself through a magazine contracts with that magazine. The town hall already imposes a system of licensing if a restaurant (or other) wishes to hand out promotional material on the street (albeit this is often flouted and not just on the streets, it also happens on the beach). It is the same principle of contract one would guess.

Maybe there is a simple solution for the person looking to sell a car. Drive into neighbouring Muro and park there. There has been a for-sale 4x4 parked in the road by Smiths and Posh Paddy for a while now. It is situated on the Posh Paddy side of the road going away from Alcúdia. The boundary between Alcúdia and Muro divides that road, so Muro would be where it was parked. Possibly. So if anyone’s interested … There you go, I act as a sales channel, and it doesn’t cost a cent.

And a brief weather note. Apart from a sudden downpour three days ago, the weather has been amazing. January, and it really is beach weather. No kidding.

Yesterday – Herb Alpert or The Beatles. Today’s title – this is a song by which major English group of the ‘60s and ‘70s? The whole lyric for this song is one of the most hard-hitting the group’s singer ever penned.


Friday, January 18, 2008

A Taste Of Honey

A thousand offices closed.

The property market in the Balearics may be holding its own in terms of property values (though even these are under pressure), but the fall in activity has taken its toll on the property retail chain. The number of estate agent offices that have closed since last summer stands at around 1,000. That’s an awful lot of offices. But it will come as little surprise. The proliferation of estate agencies was unsustainable. Indeed it is questionable whether, even in better times, that proliferation was supportable.

So many businesses wanted a bit of the Mallorcan property honeypot. They saw high (often overpriced) property values, low interest rates, strong demand locally and from abroad. They all wanted to buzz around the pot and have a good lick. It would be wrong to portray most estate agents here as anything other than professional, but it would be equally correct to portray some as chancers, wide boys and johnnys-come-lately. There are people knocking around here who are not estate agents, who have no qualifications and yet who “do some property business”. Everyone wants his or her finger in that pot. But now the honey doesn’t taste so sweet.

That there was over-supply in the number of estate agencies is undeniable. The island is dogged by market inefficiencies in terms of supply. The same problem exists within the restaurant business. The shakeout in the property retail chain was inevitable.

At the high end of the market, certain agencies are likely to survive the current slowdown as these agencies tend to have the big-ticket properties that are immune to a property bear market as potential purchasers are themselves largely immune to the economic circumstances that cause it. The problem exists more at the middle and low ends of the market, over which the majority of the agencies grapple.

There is a further problem, one caused by such high supply of agencies. Their differentiation, their own selling points. That the same property can be marketed by several agencies only serves to reduce even more any differentiation. All the same sort of agency, all selling the same properties. To stand out in such a competitive and homogeneous market is a huge challenge. The marketing of the agency itself is every bit as important as the marketing of the individual property. One agency chain I know (Menorcan) gained pre-eminence in the market more or less on the back of its advertising and marketing alone. But with a slow market, such marketing investment becomes difficult. One fancies there will yet be more closures, even if there is some prediction that the market will pick up later this year. I wouldn’t be so sure.

A bit of football stuff. Real Mallorca knocked Real Madrid out of the Spanish equivalent of the FA Cup on Wednesday evening, winning away at the Bernabéu Stadium. The local papers are of course full of it. Four pages in today’s “Ultima Hora” are devoted to Mallorca’s goalkeeper Miquel Moya, the hero of the evening, who hails from Binissalem and is now dubbed “Sant Moya”. But the best of all this is reserved for the reaction of Madrid’s coach, the German Bernd Schuster, who, in an exchange at the final whistle, said to Mallorca’s coach Gregorio Manzano “ya has conseguido lo que querías, paleto provinciano”, which is best translated as “you’ve now got what you wanted, country bumpkin*”. Nothing like a bit of graciousness in defeat.

(* I wrote this and thus did the translation in the morning. Later I read some of Ian McEwan’s “On Chesil Beach”. I read the part in which Florence calls Edward a “country bumpkin”. How many years is it since I last encountered this expression? And then twice on the same day. Moreover, having decided on today’s title, what film did Florence and Edward attend in the part I then read? Yes, “A Taste Of Honey”. Very strange.)

Yesterday – “The Sound Of Music”. Today’s title – a few to choose from. The trumpeting and the Scouser versions are probably the best known.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Lonely Goatherd

Hunting, shooting, fishing. The next big thing for Mallorcan tourism. Well not necessarily, but there has been a move in promoting tourism of the “highest” quality in hunting. The mountainous area of La Victoria outside Alcúdia has been awarded a certification of quality for the goats that can be hunted by the Balearic commission for hunting.

Go to the hermitage at La Victoria and you will commonly find goats munching their way through the undergrowth. They wander freely around the place, until that is someone points a gun in their direction. Normally, visitors only go as far as the hermitage, but if you head up the mountain further one of the first things you see is a sign warning you about “dangerous” animals. I fancy there is greater danger from human animals than anything on four legs.

Hunting is not something one might associate with Mallorca, but it is big news – in hunting circles at any rate. The hunting organisation holds an annual event; it was in Alcúdia three years ago. That hunting is popular here should not really be a surprise. Though an island, Mallorca’s history is as much bound up with the land as the sea. Go back in time and, apart from Palma, much of the coast was sparsely populated. It was the land that sustained Mallorca, and traditions in for instance cuisine have their roots in peasant cooking using the produce of the land. Goat is a traditional Mallorcan dish. Among older Mallorcans in particular, the tradition of the land runs deep. Hunting and horsemanship. I know some most unlikely people who are superb horsemen.

By contrast with hunting, fishing is already popular with tourists. Most of this is sea fishing. Requests for information about fishing are something I get quite often. One is, strictly speaking, meant to have a licence, the annual fee for which is pretty cheap – around 12 euros. But it is a hassle to get hold of one. Mostly, therefore, tourists (and indeed others) just get on with it, though the police are quite within their rights to demand to see a permit. One British resident of many years’ standing was caught. He didn’t even know you needed a licence, but you do. And so, I suppose, you also need one for hunting. Presumably if they’re going to promote hunting tourism, the obtaining of a permit will be made rather easier than that for fishing.

My mistake, the streetlights have not been painted red, just the whacking great Eroski pole and sign. Still an awful lot of red though.

Yesterday – Neil Diamond. Today’s title – well it could be a herd of goats, couldn’t it? Anyway, where’s this from? Easy, easy.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Red Red Wine

I have some favourite expressions. You might recall my using “like shooting fish in a barrel”. There is another – “local colour”. Local colour, for me, is local characters, local oddballs. There is local colour at the Eroski supermarket on the carretera opposite the Campsa garage in Puerto Alcúdia. Some of you might know him. In summer, he bends balloons for the kids, directs cars and accepts euros from the shopping-trolleys. But he is all-year local colour. Hard though I have tried, I cannot make sense of anything he says, and I have given up trying to work out his name. He is a thoroughly nice chap.

Years ago in west London, there was a significant amount of local colour. In addition to the manic street preacher who ranted on one’s route to and from the shopping mall, there were the winos. There was one in particular. He and his colleagues used to frequent a launderette – for the warmth one presumes. A friend overheard him mumbling one day. What he said was this: “I’m not a drinker, I’m a deep thinker.” From this utterance came what were known for many years in that part of London as “men of ideas”. And men of ideas, such as this one chap, always came with an accessory – a dog. His dog used to wear tinsel as its own accessory, for much of the year it wore tinsel. You would see a flash of tinsel haring along the Uxbridge Road, attached to a dog at high speed in full barking mode in pursuit of the 83 or 297 bus. Dogs of ideas.

Our Eroski friend has a dog, well a few actually, or at least a few who accompany him on his daily routine – whatever that is – outside and sometimes inside the supermarket. Recently, two puppies have joined the kennels. Like all puppies, they have taken cute lessons, and like all puppies, they get everywhere, outside and sometimes inside the supermarket. Dogs in the supermarket. Dogs in the arms of the girls working there. The puppy put down, the girl who served me did wipe her hands on some kitchen towel. Am I bothered? Not really. But then I’m a sucker for puppies and a sucker for local colour. I should take to spending my days outside a supermarket. Fresh air, plenty of people to talk to – incomprehensibly admittedly – dogs to play with. I wouldn’t graduate to the Masters level of men of ideas. The chap outside Eroski doesn’t appear to have either. I have never seen him actually drinking, though there is a mate who pops in for the occasional bottle of cheap plonk or sherry.

Perhaps I would were it not for the fact that Eroski have their own idea of local colour. Outside and inside the supermarket, they are painting it … red: the cage over the grocery section, red; the posts by the checkouts, red; the whole of the front of the store, red; even the streetlights, red. Whose idea is that? Could only have been dreamt up by a man of ideas. Red for blood. Red for danger. Red for offensive, meant both as an insult and as in American Football’s “offense”. Local colour.

The Spanish Olympic Committee has dropped the proposed lyrics after all. There was not a "consensus", they say. Hum on.

Yesterday – Ian Dury And The Blockheads. Today’s title – ok, UB40 easy, but who wrote it?


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Thanks, Mr. President

Spain will hold a general election on 9 March. I can already hear the presses being cranked up with the “Vota” posters.

There are two parties that matter in Spain – the PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español) of the current ruling Zapatero administration and the PP (Partido Popular) headed by Mariano Rajoy. Left and right, well sort of. There is a third party, the smaller, communist-led United Left. In addition, there are innumerable other minor parties and groupings, among the more significant being regional parties in Catalonia and the Basque country.

The election promises to be close. At present, the PSOE holds a three percentage point lead in the polls, though Sr. Zapatero enjoys higher personal satisfaction ratings than his main opponent. It could be that the election comes down to this personal popularity.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was launched into presidential office* by surprise, his included. On winning the 2004 election, not only did he look like Mr. Bean, his body language and demeanour were those of an awkward and shy person with a sheepish grin that suggested he was thinking “what the heck do I do now?”. Prior to the win, he had tried – unconvincingly – to do a Mr. Angry act in parliamentary exchanges. There was and is something endearing about him, like a bookish and meek schoolmaster attempting – generally unsuccessfully – to appear tough. Like Tony Blair, he once had the sobriquet “Bambi”. But politicians don’t rise to head political parties without there being some substance, unless that politician happens to be Iain Duncan Smith.
(* The position is President, though in the UK it is common to refer to the Spanish leader as Prime Minister.)

Zapatero is a sympathetic character. Rather like John Major, for any failings, there is a feeling that he is a decent enough bloke, and he has not been exposed with his pants down (or up) with a female member of government. Mariano Rajoy, on the other hand, attracts little in the way of sympathy, albeit that, in the aftermath of the defeat in 2004 when as Jose Maria Aznar’s anointed successor he stood to be the next president, he cut a sad and forlorn figure. And that’s just it with Sr. Rajoy. He looks sad, or is it miserable? Perhaps it’s something to do with the beard. Zapatero’s face can crack into a boyish and somewhat mischievous smile, but Rajoy just looks Mr. Grumpy.

Rajoy has done himself few favours with his absurd categorical rejection of climate change. Certitude in a leader may be an attribute, but not if it is plain wrong. The environment is unlikely to be one of the bigger issues in the election, even if the Government, via its coastal reclaim and demolition plan, has indicated the importance of environmental concerns. But it remains to be seen whether this is just political posturing in currying favour with the environmental lobby.

The election is likely to be fought on two major issues – the economy and terrorism. Spain’s economy has thrived under Zapatero (as it had done under Aznar), but the election’s timing is unfortunate for him. Uncertainty that has clouded the otherwise sunny economic sky is largely not of the Government’s doing nor necessarily within the Government’s control. The European Central Bank’s raising of interest rates was the first cloud, and inflation has stubbornly resisted this. The housing market is in a general downturn, and there is significant indebtedness within certain sectors of the economy – construction not least – and at the consumer level. The US-led credit squeeze was a double whammy on top of the ECB’s intervention.

Terrorism, it is claimed with justification, lost the PP the last election. Or, as importantly, the then Government’s reaction to terrorism lost the election. The Madrid bombings occurred three days before the 2004 election, and Aznar chose to finger the Basque terrorists ETA as the perpetrators. He was of course wrong.

Zapatero had appeared to be making headway with a solution to the Basque issue until ETA broke its truce last summer (which had been effectively ended anyway by the bombing of Madrid airport). The truce had, all along perhaps, been a camouflage for ETA to regroup, and ETA could yet influence the result of this year’s election. It has been argued that Zapatero’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq suggested that he was less than tough on terrorism, and it may (stress may) have triggered a green light to ETA to eventually resume its activities. No one can know for sure. It is a matter of record though that Zapatero opposed Spanish military action in Iraq and that he questioned the legality of the invasion. However, the troop withdrawal was as much a political move for domestic consumption as anything else, a rejection of Aznar’s elevation of Spain into the international arena in support of Bush and Blair, for which he (Aznar) was mercilessly mocked by the Spanish equivalent of “Spitting Image” as “Tony’s little friend” in the style that David Steel once was.

Whether one accepts or not a sort of terrorism-lite approach by Zapatero in any link between the Iraq troop withdrawal decision and subsequent ETA activity, there was a widely held feeling that the withdrawal was at least partly due to the threat of a further outrage by Al-Qaida. As a participant in the fall of Saddam, Spain placed itself in the sights of Bin Laden and his network of cronies (and succumbed to them in the form of the Madrid bombings).

Another issue that may play a part in the election is the Government’s relationship with the Catholic Church. There has been disquiet in conservative religious circles at certain policies such as those regarding same-sex marriages and abortion. But abortion remains subject to strict criteria in Spain, and recent police activity against clinics alleged to have flouted these criteria does not suggest a general softening of approach. The hold of the Catholic Church over the Spanish people is not nearly as strong as one might imagine. Less than 20% of the population attends church on a regular basis. Economic development of the past two decades has made Spain an altogether more secular society. The Church may still have a say, but its voice is heard by fewer and fewer.

Where the Balearics and Mallorca are concerned, the maintenance of a Socialist government in Madrid should be beneficial in that both the national and regional administrations will continue to be governed by leaders of the same party. Zapatero has indicated that more from the central coffers could be coming the Balearics’ way if he wins. Vota PSOE in the Balearics, vota more dosh. Maybe.

Personality counts for so much in current-day politics. Zapatero may not be a Felipe González, a flamboyant Socialist leader and arguably Spain’s pre-eminent post-Franco politician, but he is regarded with some affection. The economy may be the main battleground, but the fight between a likeable politician and a dour one may yet prove to be critical. Likeable versus dour. Now where have I heard that before?

Yesterday – Gene Vincent. Today’s title – no way indicative of my support or not let me point out, and no prizes for knowing Marilyn Monroe, so something easier as a follow-up to yesterday. Who sang “Sweet Gene Vincent”?


Monday, January 14, 2008

Race With The Devil

This is a week for fiestas. I know, I know, when is it not a week for fiestas, but this is a big one. To have two such major occasions in one week in January says much about Mallorca; much about the importance of tradition and much about the way in which the calendar is defined by these occasions. The year, especially in winter when there is less work to be done, is mapped out by reference to these fiestas. In October and November, the various fairs across the island and Hallowe’en at the end of October; in November, All Saints; in December, the holidays of Constitution Day and Immaculate Conception and then Christmas and New Year’s Eve; in January, Three Kings and Sant Antoni and Sant Sebastia. Mallorcan time and the Mallorcan calendar revolve around fiestas. Once the January events are finished, attention turns to the upcoming season. Winter, just as much as summer, is fiesta time.

Sant Antoni occurs on the night of 16 January and into 17 January, At its spectacular heart, are the fires and the fire-runs (correfocs). Streets are given over to fires. Mounds of earth on which fires are lit. The night of the 16th is when the devils run in the streets. Most towns have a Sant Antoni event – Alcudia, Pollensa, Muro. All of them celebrate the occasion. But there is no more significant event than the “Nit Bruixa” (witch night) of Sa Pobla, one that attracts folk from across the island.

Sant Sebastia (20 January) is essentially a Palma event, as it celebrates the patron saint of Palma, but it is also celebrated elsewhere. This year, the grand fireworks display in Palma has been called off in favour of a correfoc as this is, according to Palma council worthies, more in keeping with Mallorcan traditions. Perhaps so.

Both Sant Antoni and Sant Sebastia are very much Mallorcan events. Foreign visitors there may be, certainly for Sant Sebastia, but they are limited, and this year I know some are disappointed at the lack of a firework display, a disappointment that will hardly be offset by the dubious attraction of the current line-up of the Electric Light Orchestra.

But why are they not more international? When we hear so much about Mallorcan culture, why is not more, much more, made in particular of the demonology? Here is something that captures the imagination, far more so than the vagueness of other so-called Mallorcan culture. Demonology and devils, things of the night; these are things of the human spirit, understood by all other cultures. And they find a special voice in the fire-runs and the witch night right here in Mallorca.

What if Sa Pobla were to be transformed into a centre of the devil, with a physical centre, a museum or better still some grand attraction with interactive fire-runs and resident devils? A vast digital witch night, a nightmare of temptation. What if this were to be marketed as the ultimate horror? What if there were special packages for Sant Antoni and Sant Sebastian and then other packages outside of the one week in January that promised terror and thrills. This is the stuff of the digital age. Play Station played large. And not just digital.

Or would there be objections? Would the Mallorcans want even more of their traditions internationalised? They can be terribly parochial. Would the promotion of the Devil be sacrilegious for a society that runs with the Devil but only because of the temptations that the Devil placed in front of the God-fearing? The fire-run of the Beata fiesta in Santa Margalida for instance celebrates just this – the temptation of Santa Catalina by Satan.

I don’t know the answer, but if they want cultural tourism then let them promote real culture, real culture that everyone can understand and that everyone might want to enjoy, and for which everyone might be tempted to come to Mallorca in winter. A bit of imagination anyone?

Yesterday – Sylvia, and she was Swedish. Today’s title – a bit to choose from I fancy, but this is a title by one of the original rockers.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Y Viva España

Remember the search for lyrics for the Spanish national anthem – “La Marcha Real” (the royal march). I spoke about it on 4 October last year (“All Together Now”). The Spanish Olympic Committee has now got some and they are to present a petition (assuming there is enough backing) for parliamentary support. All well and good you might think. You would be wrong.

The chosen lyrics include the line “viva España” (long live Spain) and a reference to “the fatherland”. If the “viva España” line had been combined with lyrics such as “kiss señoritas by the score”, then there might not be a problem. But they are not. The inclusion of the “fatherland” is something else. Not for one moment do I believe that the Olympic Committee sees anything amiss in the reference. It is doubtless meant with the best intention, but it is the potential interpretation that creates an issue.

Other anthems have their fatherlands. The Dutch, the French; the Germans still have one. The origin of the usage is essentially patriotic and romantic. In each of these three cases, it is an allusion to the homeland. But in the case of the German anthem, “Vaterland” became synonymous with something dark. The fatherland of the Nazis may also have been patriotic and romantic, but Hitler’s patriotism and romanticism were at the expense of humanity.

It is the shadow of fascism that casts itself over the word. For the Nazis, read also the Falange, the nationalists and Franco. The lyrics of the anthem during Franco’s time had their own reference to the fatherland as well as the words “viva España”. It is these echoes that create the issue.

The Spanish left is not amused. Yet, insensitive though the choice of words might appear to the left, would they really impact on the vast majority of Spaniards? When for instance the British are singing “God Save The Queen”, they are doing just that – singing. They are not analysing the meaning of the words. By making a fuss, the left is creating a controversy that might otherwise not have arisen. If the Mexicans, with their historical and linguistic links with Spain, can have a “fatherland” (which they do), then what’s good for them is surely also ok for the Spaniards.

Choosing new lyrics for the anthem was never going to be easy. The lyrics have to reflect a national unity, and that is also not easy given regional interests that run counter to such unity. It is perhaps unfortunate that the anthem debate has cropped up so shortly after the navel-gazing that occurred in respect of the martyrdom of clergy who had supported the nationalists during the Civil War.

Perhaps it might just be best to let the footballers and other sportspeople carry on humming along to the anthem’s tune.

Yesterday – “The Pushbike Song”, The Mixtures (Mungo Jerry did cover the song). Today’s title – had to be really, didn’t it. Who sang this and which country was she from? (She wasn’t Spanish).


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Riding Along On A Pushbike

A baroness handbags a cyclist. A motorist who knocked down a cyclist and left him brain dead is imprisoned for 18 months. Two news stories from the UK, but they could equally well have come from here (and if you are wondering, there is such a thing as a “baronesa”).

As the cycling season starts, so the tensions will rise. There is an acute sense of love-hate where the cycling tourist and the cycle teams are concerned. Love because they do make some contribution to the otherwise benighted winter tourism; hate because … well why exactly?

Matthew Parris, writing in “The Times” on 27 December 2007, caused an almighty stink when he suggested that piano wire might be deployed to decapitate cyclists. Parris is not a commentator normally prone to gratuitously outrageous statements, unlike say Jeremy Clarkson who one could have well imagined having penned such a proposal. It was intended as a joke, but the cycling fraternity’s humour cell had been tossed aside and left with an empty bottle of high-energy drink in a hedgerow (to adapt one of Parris’s observations).

Parris concluded his piece thus: “Does cycling turn you into an insolent jerk? Or are insolent jerks drawn disproportionately to cycling?” It is these questions which help to explain the hate of cyclists. These and the “self-righteousness,” “the brutish disregard for all other road users”, the “bad manners” and the clothing.

As a condemnation of cyclists, Parris’s piece takes some beating. One feels loathe to agree for the reasons that cycling is such an enjoyable and healthy past-time/sport and that this hatred is seemingly irrational. But the trouble is that cyclists do get under drivers’ skins. This may all be some bonkers territorialism but it is a fact, and the great pelatons of cycle teams are the worst offenders at prompting this reaction.

I try desperately not to get needled, but it happens. And the causes are the perceived iniquities. Cyclists passing through red lights, nearly causing accidents; cyclists exiting roads that they have no right to exit, nearly causing accidents; cyclists three-abreast, overtaking each other and thus going four-abreast, nearly causing accidents (they are actually told to ride in single file). Nearly causing or actually causing accidents. A driver caught jumping a red or exiting a road illegally would get points on the licence. But cyclists seem largely immune. When, last year, I saw one being actually stopped by Trafico for going through a red, I commented that it was a miracle (27 April 2007).

The cycling season is just about upon us, and along with it will come all the oaths being shouted, all the horns being hit, all the gesticulations. But then cyclists do bolster the tourist economy, don’t they. Drive and ride safely.

Yesterday – Dead Or Alive. Today’s title – Careful, not who you might immediately think of, though the group you may immediately think of did do a cover many years later apparently. Who?


Friday, January 11, 2008

You Spin Me Round Round

Groundhog Day. Winter tourism. The editor of “The Bulletin” calls for a forward-thinking tourism plan that embraces all the seasons. But doesn’t offer any clues as to what that plan might include.

We can and do talk till blueness enters the face about the lack of meaningful winter tourism. There is no point talking any longer about the problem. Everyone knows what the problem is. The only point of talking is to find a solution. If not, then best just shut up. And perhaps shutting up is the only solution, both physically (bars etc.) and orally.

I have an email from Seamus at No Frills Excursions. It was apropos the little Antich-Abrey “summit”. The gist of the email was that their get-together was for appearances’ sake as they have no influence over the number of people coming to the island (and as I pointed out, in the case of Mr. Abrey I don’t quite know what it has to do with him anyway).

What actually do the leader of the Balearic Government and the British Consul to Mallorca know about what tourists want? They are too remote to know, and so come up with some vague declaration about doing something (culture in Palma it would seem), and that something – like “The Bulletin’s” regular similarly vague calls for something – is neither here nor there; done for appearances or to fill copy.

Perhaps the politicians should try talking to people who do know what tourists want; people like Seamus for example. People who operate at the tourism sharp end. And not even the tour operators, as the tour operators do what makes money for the tour operators, which does not include an abundance of fortnights in Mallorca in January.

But ultimately, there needs to be some realism – a point Seamus also makes. And the sources of that realism are only too clear – the alternatives to Mallorca in winter being foremost. I spoke about a grand delusion where winter tourism is concerned (2 November 2007, “Wishful Thinking”), and this delusion will persist until reality is accepted. Once it is, then we might move on. We might even find a solution. Otherwise, the problem will just keep on being repeated. We will keep spinning round and round.

Really major attractions, such as that planned for the desert near Zaragoza, hotel stock converted to all-year use (along Center Parcs lines). I’ve said it before. Most of the rest – the culture stuff, the history stuff, the shopping stuff – is of little consequence, and I’ve said that before. Groundhog Day.

Yesterday – Will Powers. Carly Simon sang on it. Today’s title – “like a record, baby”. Who originally?


Thursday, January 10, 2008

… With Confidence

So, are we still confident? Amidst the talk of a one-fifth slump in the share price of Marks and Spencer yesterday, was the news that TUI (UK)’s share value had gone down by 14% as well.

This is The City getting the jitters. It is getting the jitters about consumer spend. It is getting the jitters over the possibility of recession in the UK economy. The R-word. It looks almost inevitable in the USA, which drives everyone else’s economy; it could be on the cards in Europe, too. Furthermore, the increased costs of energy in the UK are mirrored elsewhere; in Spain for instance. Butane is up over 5%; that’s above inflation.

The City doesn’t always get it right. There is irrationality as well as rationality, but the tumble in TUI share value is an indication of confidence, or rather the lack thereof, especially in the leisure sector. Those predictions of an excellent 2008 might not prove to be sound after all. In fact, the word is more that it could just be normal.

As of the end of last year, the volume of sales from the UK for Mallorca was down by 20%, though this situation – it is believed – will regularise itself and end up being like last year. So, on the one hand you have the hope that it will be normal and on the other that it will be like last year (which was excellent in terms of volume). The other thing that is making the situation a tad dodgy is the exchange rate between the pound and the euro.

I fancy that TUI will be ok and I don’t believe the 2008 holiday market will go into meltdown. The big two are currently in a promotional frenzy with a free day being included in offers. But the spend is going to be another thing. For businesses here, those local price increases – for butane, electricity, telecoms – are additional factors. Throw in a quasi-recession in a key tourist market, and things do not necessarily look that glowing for 2008. I hope I’m wrong.

Just a reminder please to come through to me at the email address below. I have a comment for an entry way back from a lady called Katie, which would be nice to reply to, but the problem is that entries via the comment box are usually anonymous, so I have no email address to use in order to reply. Katie, if you’re reading this, it was your comment about Dakota. Thanks a lot.

Yesterday – it was Havana and the author was Graham Greene. Today’s title – the first word in the title should be “Kissing”. Who was responsible for this odd record?


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Our Man In Palma

It must be a pretty good gig – being the British consul to Mallorca. If one were part of the diplomatic corps, there would be worse places to which one could be assigned. In Mallorca, bar having to assist the occasional miscreant, it would be an agreeable round of meetings, dinner parties and special events. Does a consul get an allowance for a black-tie outfit?

The consul does have a commercial role as well. To this end, the current consul, Paul Abrey, has been in discussion with Balearic leader, Francesc Antich, regarding how to boost short-break and winter tourism. It is good that Antich is seemingly taking an active role in this most important economic sector. But what more can be done than just “discussing”? The consulate may wish to help in promoting tourism, but what can it actually do? Will it be launching its own website offering holidays and special deals? I very much doubt it.

According to “The Bulletin”, Antich feels that the “message” regarding short-break and winter tourism is not getting through. It goes on to say that an emphasis will be placed on packaging Palma as a cultural destination.

That the message is not getting through will come as no surprise. Antich may be in regular contact with the UK tour operators, as Abrey says, but I fancy that they are going to need a good deal of convincing. That Palma would be the point of emphasis is hardly of much relevance to businesses in Alcúdia and Pollensa. It may make sense to home in on Palma, but this suggests that the consul (and the government) are turning a blind eye to the rest of the island. Palma-centricity. As always, Palma-centricity.

But there is something odd about this. A representative of the British Government is discussing ways of taking people out of Britain. Should the commercial role of the consul not be to promote exports from Britain of goods and services other than that of tourism to another country? Does promoting Mallorca benefit the British economy? The tour operators and airlines maybe, but otherwise? The actual sale of overseas tourism may have a positive effect on the British economy (though quite how positive, if at all, I couldn’t possibly be sure), but it comes with one certain negative – the flow of consumer spend that is then not employed in the home economy and in the home economy’s own tourism industry. Selling a few more short breaks and a bit more winter tourism (and a few more and a bit more would be about right) would not represent a major job- or wealth-creation scheme for the home economy.

Were it the case that increased tourism, of the type they are discussing, directly assisted British interests (and businesses) on the island, then fine maybe, but that would be a very vague consequence. We may exist in an entwined economic community, of which Britain and Mallorca (Spain) are very much parts, but I think it reasonable to ask what Britain gains from its local consul being actively engaged in the support of the local tourism economy, other than creating good relations. Are they also discussing ways of promoting more tourism from the Balearics into Britain? Sorry, I want more winter tourism, but something doesn’t sound quite right here. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

Yesterday – “Goodness Gracious Me”, Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren. Today’s title – something a bit different. Palma has replaced which capital city in the title of a novel by whom?


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Oh Doctor, I’m In Trouble

One always looks for some balance. I have had cause (justifiable) for slagging off the Juaneda group for its handling of the hospital closure affair, but I have never once questioned its medical capabilities. And now I have had first-hand experience.

Like many who have private insurance here, I used to use Hospital d’Alcúdia as a sort of doctor’s surgery. One could pitch up and see a doctor in no time. It was a damn sight more convenient than schlepping all the way to Muro town to see the national-health doctor to whom I am assigned (it also short-cuts the system as you merely get referred to a specialist in any event).

With the move to the Hospital General de Muro in Playa de Muro, I went along yesterday. I have been suffering skin irritations, caused – perhaps – by some medication. I wanted to see the doctor from Alcúdia who had prescribed the original medication. He wasn’t available; he is now also the kind of senior registrar at Muro, the top medical man. Anyway, they booked me in there and then to see a doctor. Waited a few minutes, saw him, a nurse injected me in the backside and then, as I was pulling my pants up, in walks the senior guy. “You wanted to see me,” he said. I had not expected him at all.

The Muro hospital is much more pleasant than the old Alcúdia one. The actual doctor consultation was more like being at a doctor’s surgery than used to be the case at Alcúdia. And you know what? At the reception, there was a lady with a badge which said “interpreter”. You never got that at Alcúdia, except when Helen was working there and acted as one in an unofficial capacity. This, the speed of service and the wholly unexpected appearance of the senior doctor (somebody had to have taken the trouble to have sought him out), and all I can say is very impressive. Never let it be said that I don’t try for a balance.

Oh, one other thing. Returning to a theme that ran for a while last year on the blog, the nurses wear crocs at Muro hospital as well.

Yesterday – The Cocteau Twins. Today’s title – first line of a “comedy” record by which duo?


Monday, January 07, 2008

When Mama Was Moth

Just a word about the weather. Yesterday was truly magnificent. It is a surprise that January can produce such fine weather, but it does, and pretty much every year it serves it up. Warm and sunny (around 18), the holiday walk along the beach should have been done in shorts and flip-flops not jeans and trainers with socks; it raised a fair old sweat. The sea was flat calm and the sand firm, an indication of a lack of recent wave turbulence. Absolutely blissful.

Less blissful though is one of the natural-world’s irritants that raises its ugly head, well ugly body, at this time of the year. The processionary caterpillar* is a creature of southern and central Europe though it is migrating north. It is a thoroughly unpleasant bit of insect life that offers a dual malevolence – to trees and to humans. It is during the first couple of months of the year that it becomes a real pest.
(*So-called as colonies of individual caterpillars attach themselves to the ones in the front.)

The deal with this caterpillar is that it is moth larva, spawned by the moth that those bags you might see hanging around in forests are there to catch. The moths need to be taken off the streets – as it were – to stop them producing the caterpillars. Not only do the caterpillars cause great harm to pine trees, they also have a nasty habit of falling out of the trees and poisoning passing humans. If you happen to see any army of brown, furry-looking caterpillars forming a caravan, on no account touch them. One of the best treatments for them – gruesome though it may sound – is to set fire to them. The devastation that the caterpillar can cause to trees (and the oak is also susceptible to a different caterpillar) is akin to that wreaked by the beetle responsible for the fungus of Dutch elm disease. The poison emitted can cause serious skin reactions.

Avoiding the little buggers is a bit tricky. Go for a walk in a forested area here (or indeed just down many a road), and there will be numerous pine trees ready to dispatch the caterpillars. Daft though it might sound, a hat and keeping skin covered up is a wise precaution if walking in forests in January and February. Don’t hug a hoodie, wear one.

One way of trying to short-circuit the problems they cause is to shoot them down (and then deal with them), and this does indeed happen, so if you hear gun shots going off, it could well be a whole bunch of caterpillars – a sort of land-based equivalent of jellyfish – being blasted.

Apparently, there is also meant to be some spraying going on to kill the caterpillars. If this is from the air, which I understand it is, then a question is why not do this for the mosquitoes? A reason for stopping that spraying was the ecological impact. There again, mosquitoes don’t harm trees. Something’s wrong here I feel.

Yesterday – CCS (Alexis Korner). Today’s title – real personal indulgence here; one of my “favourites” from my profile did this.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Tap Turns On The Water

Another year, another Three Kings celebration. At least it was not as cold as it has been in the past when the “Kings” turned up yesterday at the pier in Puerto Alcúdia. And today marks the end of the protracted festivity period, until the next one in ten days’ time.

To other matters, specifically water. Just prior to going back to England for Christmas, the story broke about the problems with the water in Muro (Playa de Muro). Why it had taken since September for this to become an issue, I don’t know. September it was when residents were being warned about the quality of the drinking water. At least that is what is claimed. First I knew about the warning was the article in “Ultima Hora” just before Christmas. I had received no notification, yet I live in Playa de Muro.

So much for communication. The water company can join the growing list of lousy PR exponents – together with Juaneda. But what of the water problem? Basically, it has all to do with a load of nitrates – too many of them in the water supply. The question I have is why was it only admitted in September (albeit that I didn’t hear about it). I fancy that a nitrate problem doesn’t just suddenly arise.

The reporting of this has been curious. For a kick off, the water company was not named, either in Ultima Hora or in “Euro Weekly” (which ran the misleading headline that Muro residents had been without water, which was not the case). Well, the water company for this area is Fusosa, so presumably it is they who are responsible for the water quality.

The company says that a government department ordered them to issue the warning. Why should it require the department’s intervention for a water company to warn people over a potential health hazard? No points, once more, for terrific PR. It goes on to say that the problem will only be rectified by the building of a desalination unit (whenever that might be). So, in the meantime, residents are advised not to drink the tap water. But how long has this been a problem? As I say, I cannot believe it suddenly became a problem in September.

For my part, I do not drink the water, and have long used bottled water, especially after people complained that tea and coffee tasted salty (and that was a few years ago). It should not be necessary. In fact, the water company should be liable to compensate residents who have had to buy bottled water – in my opinion. Tap water is generally always sound, whether in Mallorca or Britain. Tap water is generally always of a good quality. Not long ago, there was a radio report on blind tests given to “experts” comparing tap water and various brands of bottled water (some quite expensive). Want to know which rated the best for taste etc.? Yep, the tap water.

There is a rip-off regarding bottled water. That it has become a fashion accessory is one thing, but it is no better than the over-hyped “spa” this and that. I have an anecdote. In the late 1980s, I was part of an MBA group. What we said in our group was confidential, but I shall break part of that confidence. One of the group members was both a doctor of chemistry and a senior manager with one of the privatised water companies in England. As part of its new business, it had launched its own bottled water. This particular group member brought a couple of bottles in one day. Tasted ok, nicely packaged, nicely priced as well (if you were the water company). And do you know what? He told us where the water came from. Where do you think it came from? Bloody good taps in that part of England.

Yesterday – Nat King Cole (a sort of Three Kings association – I don’t just throw this together you know). Today’s title – which group and who was the main man in that group?


Saturday, January 05, 2008

There May Be Trouble Ahead

Is 2008 going to be such a good year? All the prognostications that were being offered towards the end of the old year suggested that it would be, but will the credit squeeze make those predictions look a little silly? The big two tour operators – TUI (Thomson and First Choice) and Neckermann (Thomas Cook and My Travel) – are now apparently cutting the number of beds for Mediterranean holidays this coming season to the tune of some 1.25 million. How this might impact upon Mallorca is not clear, but it is not unrealistic to believe that Spain as a whole may see a reduction by at least a fifth of that total.

Thomas Cook are maintaining a positive spin by saying that holidays are a “necessity”. Are they really? If money gets tight, then perhaps a fallow year is something families might well consider. But even if the actual holiday sales are not harmed significantly, that spend that everyone keeps on about could well be. The trend is for lower spend, and it is understandable. Fork out for the actual holiday and then skimp when in situ. Common sense suggests, I’m afraid, that the tills will not be ringing more loudly than they have been these past two or three years.

As ever, the all-inclusives will cop it if that spend goes down further. And if evidence were needed of the attraction and promotion of the all-inclusive, look no further than one of the tour operator’s brochures. I have a copy of Direct Holidays’ brochure. This offers – in Alcúdia* – six hotels (or hotel complexes): Bellevue, Lagomonte, Club Mac, Sol Alcúdia, Alcúdia Pins and Delfin Verde. Three of these (Lagomonte, Club Mac and Delfin Verde) are all-inclusive, and it is there in red letters in the brochure to highlight the fact. (* Actually not all in Alcúdia – see as follows.)

Brochures are not what they were many years ago. Consumerism, watchdogs, the media and the law have all helped to stop the flagrant misrepresentation that used to occur once upon a time. But there are still some, how can I put it, inconsistencies. Take Direct Holidays. Its brochure makes the “mistake” that is often made regarding Playa de Muro. Alcúdia Pins, it says, is in Alcúdia, or at least it says so initially. It then says that the hotel is on the “outskirts” of Alcúdia – depends how you define outskirts really – and adds that it is “just” 5.6 kilometres from the centre.

Nowhere in this description are the words Playa, de, Muro mentioned. I have spoken about this before (20 August 2007, “And I’m Pins And I’m Needles”). To sell Alcúdia Pins as being in Alcúdia is inaccurate. It is in Muro, it is a schlep to get to Alcúdia, and the “selection of restaurants and shop within easy walking distance” of the hotel is limited. If the hotel were to be defined as being in a town other than that in which it really is, it would be more accurate to say that it was in Can Picafort, which is fractionally closer than the Alcúdia boundary.

This 5.6 kilometres: checked it by driving it. The distances from Alcúdia Pins are a bit over 3 kilometres to the border of Alcúdia, a bit over 5 to Bellevue and a bit over 7 (getting on for four and a half miles) to the port. The 5.6 is, one presumes, to the Bellevue area or The Mile if you prefer. Fair enough, but it repeats the misnomer that is used in respect of the “centre” of Alcúdia. The real centre is either the old town or the port; Bellevue (The Mile) is a tourism adjunct, it is more towards the outskirts of Alcúdia than being the centre, but it does all of course depend on how you define outskirts, doesn’t it.

But coming back to all-inclusives and still courtesy of the Direct Holidays’ brochure, how do prices compare between an all-inclusive, self-catering and half-board (based on 3-star or 3-key accommodation)? The most expensive fortnight is the last two weeks of July. Club Mac (all-inclusive), one adult, £949 for 14 nights. Sol Alcúdia (self-catering), £692. Alcúdia Pins (half-board), £866. The Club Mac offer includes all meals, “locally produced” alcoholic drinks for a minimum of 12 hours a day plus snacks, entertainment and activities. 250 or so quid difference between all-inclusive and self-catering. Does the all-inclusive represent good value for money? For that one adult (self-catering), maybe it would cost a minimum 30 pounds a day for food and drink, or around 400 for the fortnight. You pays your money, you takes … Or perhaps you don't pays your money. Credit squeeze anyone?

Yesterday – Kirsty MacColl had the hit, Billy Bragg wrote it. Today’s title – who is most associated with this?


Friday, January 04, 2008

I’m Not Looking For A New England

It is years since I actually lived in Britain, well England to be exact. Go back for a few days, and the changes as well as the frozen time are evident as are contrasts with Spain and Mallorca. One forms an impression on arrival. Land at Palma and you would be forgiven for thinking that the paranoia about air travel had failed to inveigle itself into the Spanish psyche. Land at Luton and it is different. Amongst the signs and notices for no photography (who would actually want to take a photo of a queue for passport control?) and for inconvenience (couched with a somewhat menacing apology) is a large one for something called “UK Border”. It is hard to determine whether this is intended as some form of branding exercise or whether it is a statement of the bleeding and absurdly obvious; obvious as, yes, it is a point of entry, but absurd as one tends not to think of Luton being at the border. Pass through baggage reclaim to the concourse and there one is struck by more signs. “It is against the law …” There is nothing sadder than smokers outside the revolving doors of Luton Airport in a biting December wind.

Paranoia and the force of law. Years ago, before 9/11, I had observed this dual tendency in Britain; it had come in on the back of those glorious sunny first two days of May 1997. It was not what I, or anyone I would imagine, could have foreseen; at least not the strength with which it has transformed the country. Welcome to England. Welcome to Britain.

Take the culture of Britain today, and it is condensed into all forms of digital transmission. In some ways, it has stood still or gone back to the future. Take That and The Spice Girls never really went away, Gary just got fatter and Posh became Über-Chav. Phil Mitchell’s face got puffier and now offends more in high-definition. Of the new, a reformed drug addict with an artless motormouth and big hair has become an icon for God knows what. Mixed up with outrage at the failings of the rail network (so what’s new?) are controversies regarding some never-will-be winner of “X Factor” and the use of “faggot” and “slut” in a popular Christmas song of many years ago. Welcome to England. Welcome to Britain.

And yet, amongst all these things, there are the old certainties of Britain and some new ones: the enduring beauty of its countryside even on grey, damp days, the more varied but also geometric and ordered landscape; the politeness and courtesy despite condemnations to the contrary; the strength of much comedy, a Briton’s birthright, notwithstanding the Mary Whitehousian disgust at Catherine Tate’s f-words; the outstanding quality and range of shops and supermarkets, their free market of produce and creativity. All these things contrast with Mallorca, and they contrast very favourably.

Welcome to England. Welcome to Britain. Bad and good.

Today’s title – there’s an oblique reference to the singer in today’s piece.