Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mister Blue Sky

Well absolutely no surprise. This has been the rainiest May on record. And this Saturday dawned with a return of grey skies and drizzle. The fourth weekend that will have suffered from poor weather. It seems like a long time ago that I said on the first of May that "the weather has put on its finest gown and has danced a tango of vivid blue". The first day of the season was ushered in with glorious weather and the optimism of a new season. Where did it all go? Into the drains and reservoirs and onto the gardens. And the optimism has been washed away with the rain. The season is in danger of going down the pan, and taking businesses with it. When you hear stories such as a bar that takes 15 euros over the course of an evening - in the main tourist area of Puerto Alcúdia - something isn't quite right.

Take away the sun and Mallorca is stripped of its life-blood. The rain of May tells us everything about Mallorca as a holiday destination, which is why all this talk and tank-thinking about tourism diversification is largely peripheral. It is the sun and therefore the sea and the sand that combine to make Mallorca, and no amount of golf and gastronomy will compensate. The poor weather throws into sharp relief the lack of genuine alternatives for the mainstream tourist, the one who wants his sangria warmed by the rays of the sun. What else is there really to do in places like Alcudia, Puerto Pollensa and Can Picafort? Very little in truth.

Of course one can see all this like they do in the UK when there is heavy snow. It happens infrequently enough to make the lack of provisions to deal with it excusable. So it is with poor weather here in summer. This May has been unusual. But if one looks at tourism as a whole, the summer and winter and therefore the other possibilities, the absence of genuine options for the mainstream tourist should, I believe, be at least one of the items on this think-tank agenda. I have said it before on this blog, and one only has to look at parts of mainland Spain and Portugal to understand that the lack of foresight in tourism planning here requires far more dynamic thought processes than are seemingly on display at present.

Mallorca, in a way, is like England of the Industrial Revolution. As it was at the forefront of mass tourism, it - like the new industrialism of England - had little in the way of a blueprint to go by. Just shove up some hotels and the sun will take care of the rest; that is how I imagine it might have been. But if you look at other places, and Portugal is a good example, they played catch-up by appreciating some of the lessons. Accordingly, Portugal has integrated developments which allow for much of the extra tourism that is constantly banged on about in Mallorca. The planned development of La Gran Escala near Zaragoza just emphasises the absence of integrated facilities that would enable not only winter tourism but also alternatives when the sun doesn't take care of the rest.

The rain and misery of May should be held up as a lesson to those who would fill the diversification void with a golf course or two that no one would want; except if it were part of a tourism campus or two or three. Blue-sky thinking is needed and not just an unthinking stare into the blue sky, whenever it finally returns.

Chain - "Wouldn't It Be Nice (Beach Boys) / Good (Nik Kershaw)". And, in similar vein (the odd word or two), how do you get from Nik Kershaw to Elton John? Yesterday's title - Morris Albert. Today's title - who?


Index for May 2008

All-inclusives - 29 May 2008
Andratx - 26 May 2008
Bars - 8 May 2008, 12 May 2008, 24 May 2008, 27 May 2008
Beaches - 2 May 2008, 9 May 2008
British Consulate - 30 May 2008
Cala San Vicente - 2 May 2008
Can Picafort - 2 May 2008
Canals - 19 May 2008, 21 May 2008
Chinese bazars - 17 May 2008, 20 May 2008
Corruption - 26 May 2008
Design - 3 May 2008
Eco tourism - 18 May 2008
Eurovision Song Contest - 25 May 2008
Events - 16 May 2008
Fiestas - 16 May 2008
Football - 12 May 2008, 22 May 2008
Garden Hotels - 15 May 2008
Hotels - 15 May 2008, 26 May 2008, 27 May 2008, 29 May 2008
Learned journals - 15 May 2008
Local authorities - 16 May 2008
London elections - 6 May 2008
Mayors - 6 May 2008, 26 May 2008
Music systems - 26 May 2008, 27 May 2008
Noise - 26 May 2008, 27 May 2008, 28 May 2008
Portobello Restaurant - 7 May 2008
Potatoes - 23 May 2008
Price - 29 May 2008
Puerto Pollensa - 7 May 2008, 9 May 2008, 10 May 2008
Racism - 14 May 2008, 21 May 2008
Restaurants - 4 May 2008, 7 May 2008
Road accidents - 19 May 2008
Road races - 5 May 2008
Roads - 9 May 2008
Romanians - 14 May 2008, 21 May 2008
Sa Romana Restaurant - 4 May 2008
Season - 1 May 2008
Shops - 17 May 2008, 20 May 2008
Slogans - 13 May 2008, 15 May 2008
Spanish television - 22 May 2008
Sunbeds - 2 May 2008, 7 May 2008
Toilets - 1 May 2008
Tour operators - 30 May 2008
Tourism statistics - 23 May 2008, 24 May 2008
Tourism strategy - 13 May 2008, 20 May 2008, 30 May 2008, 31 May 2008
Vamps Bar - 8 May 2008
Weather - 11 May 2008, 20 May 2008, 23 May 2008, 24 May 2008, 28 May 2008, 31 May 2008
Websites - 3 May 2008, 16 May 2008
Weddings - 8 May 2008

Friday, May 30, 2008


As alluded to yesterday, this pow-wow at the British Consulate.

You may recall my reporting on a meeting that took place between the British Consul, Paul Abrey, and the Balearics President, Francesc Antich (9 January, "Our Man in Palma"), at which they discussed the boosting of tourism to Mallorca and the issue of winter tourism. From that meeting has come the "think-tank" that is the Consul, representatives of major tour operators and IBATUR, the promotional part of the tourism ministry; oh, and the bloke from Pirates, too.

I am still none the wiser as to quite what this all has to do with the British Consul. It is unclear as to whether it has fallen to the representative of a foreign government to convene a meeting designed to boost the island's tourism. If so, then quite what does IBATUR do? Moreover, I do wonder if there is not something slightly askew with priorities in terms of the promotion of British commercial interests. If the purpose is to somehow assist local British-run businesses (bars and so on), then maybe I can understand it, but I doubt if that is the case, and if it were the case, then why are those interests not represented?

Seemingly, the main point of discussion is the Holy Grail of tourism diversification, away from the simple message of sun, sea and sand. To this end, IBATUR have got themselves going with that strange "much more than golf/meetings/good food" slogan thing (13 May: "More Than Words"). According to the Consul, the promotion of Mallorca as a multi-activity destination is something that the local government and tour operators will be working on. Is it indeed? This all may be something that can be tagged on to summer tourism, but the winter season still needs a fair chunk of co-operation from another interested party - the airlines. Oh, and also the hotels. And the bars and the restaurants.

I have a horrible feeling in the pit of the stomach when the words think and tank are combined. Not that there is anything wrong with think-tanks so long as they are more than talking shops and, far more importantly, that they do not descend into exercises in "groupthink". And what is groupthink? It is the group dynamic by which the dominant idea becomes accepted by all; unanimity and consensus of view without conflict or the exploration of alternatives is the preferred group modus operandi. The point of a think-tank should be - to coin an awful cliché - to think outside the box. I fear that this think-tank has already fallen into the box marked conventional thinking, been closed up and taped over, typified as it seems to be by the old chestnuts of a bit of sport, a bit of nosh, a bit of a conference and a bit of a weekend break. It can hardly be called a think-tank if all that's coming from it is what has already been thought. One thing I do hope is that whatever thinking may have gone on, it had a whole-island perspective. The name of Palma and only of Palma is writ large over the winter market.

The reporting on the meeting, that at least that comes from "The Bulletin", is not very encouraging. It says nothing that we haven't hard numerous times before. The tank is due to be filled again in September when it will look ahead to how the winter market (this coming winter's market) can be boosted. Eh? Would this not be a bit late? Apart from anything else, the tour operators have already got their winter plans sorted out.

A horrible feeling in the pit of the stomach and a horrible sinking feeling, dropping lower and lower into a tank of thinking. Sinking, thinking, drowning.

Chain - The Isley Brothers to "Behind A Painted Smile" to the album "Smile" by The Beach Boys. And from The Beach Boys ... by one change of word, how do The Beach Boys connect with Nik Kershaw? Yesterday's title - Pink Floyd. Today's title - who did this first?


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Money, Get Away

Is price everything?

It's something that's intriguing me more and more. I read today that only 5% of the population makes buying decisions based on price. I find it hard to believe, though I am well aware of all the marketing theory which suggests that it may well be right. Price-conscious times we may live in, but has price really become the determining factor over all? This may well be the first in a short series on this theme. Once intrigued, I start to dig.

Let's take as a starting-point the all-inclusive hotel. Is the decision to book an AI anything more than just a price decision? I don't pose the question in respect of the more luxurious all-inclusives, and there are even one or two of those knocking around here. I raise it in respect of the mainstream AIs, those that tend to suffer from reputations of less than wonderful service, less than wonderful (if plentiful) drink and less than wonderful (if also - usually - plentiful) food.

Some while ago, I drew attention to prices for self-catering and for all-inclusive in Puerto Alcúdia. The same tour operator, the same two weeks in high season. The price for one adult was something in the region of 250 pounds greater for the all-inclusive. You might say, well that's not buying on price as it's more expensive. Except of course that the consumer makes the calculation. Would I spend 250 pounds or more if I went self-catering? And the chances are he would.

So, having made the calculation and the booking, the holidaymaker lacks any real incentive to spend more. He has made his decision on the size of his pocket, nothing else. And yet, the reality of what he gets for this calculation can undermine this price-only decision. There was the couple from the Hotel Jupiter in Alcúdia the other day. Finally, they had broken away from the confines of the hotel. Finally, they had had enough of the food they were being served. So, they went and found a bar to have a breakfast. This is hardly a unique case.

Then there is the bar in Can Picafort, near to the Clumba Mar. The bar has sports TV, karaoke and other entertainment. Yet the hotel also has its TV set-up, unremarkable so I am told. Rather than go to the bar to watch the match, and watch on good screens with a bar atmosphere, the clientele prefer to stay in the hotel. Why? Simple. Price. The price they've already paid for their beer. And on a wider theme, the bar-owner made a telling comment. People don't leave the hotel as they're afraid they might miss something to which they're entitled. For which they've paid. For which they've paid the price. Then there was that story from The Smugglers in Puerto Alcúdia. About the AI punters from the Piscis who would sit at the bar terrace and have pints passed to them through the railings. Price. They'd already paid, but they still fancied getting away from the hotel even if they not prepared to pay the extra price.

There is a report today about the "think-tank" convened by the British Consulate, about which I will talk tomorrow probably. It, as ever, refers to the drive for greater quality in tourism as one aspect of its "thinking". I dislike this "quality" tag, as I have said before. Moreover, one wonders just who they are kidding. Price, price, price. And quality can apparently go hang.

Chain - "Caravan of Love" was Isley-Jasper-Isley originally, therefore The Isley Brothers and the connection was ... brothers. So, how do you get from The Isley Brothers to The Beach Boys? Yesterday's title - Captain Beefheart. Today's title - who?


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lost 'n' Found

"Lost May." Where did it go? Did someone take it? Is it likely to be found?

"Mayo perdido" is a headline in today's "Ultima Hora", the newspaper which, for once, spreading as it is the bad news about this month of May, gets close to living up to its anglicised nickname of the ultimate horror. A lost May is not perhaps the ultimate in horrors but it will do for starters, though one trusts that there is nothing to follow - like a lost June as well. Under the paper's banner are photos of an empty shop, an empty beach and an empty terrace, all of them in Arenal. But for Arenal, you can probably read most of the island. The loss of May has been down to one thing - the weather. And there is still no sign of a permanent shift for the better, even if the weather maps show the latest band of cloud clearing by Monday next week, which will indeed take us into June. The Ultima also carries these headers: "Black May for tourism" and "The rain and the cold mean that the month will end up as one of the worst that can be remembered". And this "worst" was not lost on a client to whom I spoke today. My, what a good old laugh we had when I broached the subject of his invoice. Mind you, any old excuse.

Someone once said to me that Mallorcans don't take their cardies off till June. But I think he was exaggerating. Quite a few do, though not necessarily this year. And this quite a few has not been taking to the beaches and resorts during May. Though the poor and wretched old tourist has been rained off, the locals, who supplement the whole tourism industry at weekends, have stayed at home and watched Eurovision. There have been three weekends without sun; and that is not great news, even in May when some cardies remain firmly buttoned. Personally, I don't possess a cardie, but by this time of May I would not normally expect to a) still be deploying a thickish duvet or b) be wearing socks as a matter of course, even if there is - you'll be saddened to learn - a recurrence of the infected toe problem. Duvet and socks - May has been lost, but found in the winter wardrobe.

And more noise, following on from the last two days' entries. John has mailed me to suggest that maybe there is just a touch of double standards when it comes to the insistence on limiters and curfews. He refers of course to the fiestas and specifically to the annual disco-party-thrash that occurs in the centre of Alcúdia town as the culmination to Sant Jaume. The annual thrash that lasts well into the small hours; indeed well beyond sunrise. And Alcúdia is not alone in this regard. Pollensa and Puerto Pollensa both stage similar dos that run up close to breakfast time.

Now one can of course argue that it is but once a year (actually if you take in various other events, it isn't), and that the Spanish are used to doing things that much later than your average Brit, but what is good for the town halls, who run these events, is not good for the humble bar that has been served with all those decrees against noise - by the town halls. As John points out, a bar-owner could apply for a licence for something similar, but the laughter in the chambers of the ayuntamientos would be as sardonic as that of the client faced with an invoice at the end of a soggy May. Forget it, in other words.

Chain - "Brimful of Asha" was remixed to hitdom by Fat Boy Slim aka Norman Cook, so therefore to The Housemartins and thence to "Caravan of Love". And what's the very simple connection between "Caravan of Love" and yesterday's titlists who were The Allman Brothers Band. Today's title - "get herself lost 'n' found"; one of the greats. Who?


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Midnight Rider

I should I feel just clarify something from yesterday. Whilst there was apparently an issue with the Lagomonte system, which did lead to its being closed down for a couple of days, there is none with Bellevue's. What I had heard was that the sound from the Show Garden was being taken right up to the last minute, i.e. midnight, to which I am afraid my response is well what actually is the problem with this?

My point is that noise is an inevitability in a holiday resort. That is why the proximity of houses, apartments and the rest is an issue that requires some compromise. The midnight cut-off might actually be the thin end of the wedge. Once a time limit is placed on the music, then there is the temptation to change it, i.e. to make the cut-off earlier. That, I believe, would be a mistake.

You cannot satisfy everyone. There are of course those who have to get up early in the morning; there are also holidaymakers who prefer to retire early. But there are plenty who do not. Music into the night is one of the "romantic" associations of holiday. Years ago on some Greek island, there was an open-air disco nestling next to a rock face. It was well away from anything else. It was perfect, though even there I expect someone complained.

Puerto Alcúdia, at least that part of the town around The Mile, is essentially a purpose-built resort. But it is also a residential area. The two do not necessarily make for happy bedfellows, especially if one is kept from one's bed by the music from a bar or hotel. In a way this is though a fault of planning; the twain should ne'er have met. However, one comes back to that factory-town analogy. At least part of the point of the residential area is to house those who work in or run the bars and the hotels and all the rest.

In my experience, there is a high degree of assiduousness when it comes to complying with the demands of both limiters and the midnight cut-off. That a fault may occur in a system is one thing, but I am not personally aware of deliberate contraventions. Why would there be? The Noise Patrol is equally assiduous. I do hear that the odd bar here or there is apparently excessively loud. In which case that bar runs a risk. They don't get asked very kindly if they would mind turning the volume down a tad; the Noise Patrol doesn't operate like that.

You can't live without noise. Well not here you can't. I have spoken before about the occasional roar from the power station at night, and yet that is some two kilometres away. What can you do about it? Request that they slap the local equivalent of an ASBO on the site director? Then there are the "motos". Apparently the racket from these was meant to have been dealt with. I don't think so. Then there is the human noise. There is one hotel in The Mile area where guests frequently ask to be moved because of the noise of people leaving an adjacent bar at four or five in the morning. Human noise - shouting, screaming, wailing - is far more disruptive than any music system that is stilled on the stroke of midnight

The music systems of bars and hotels are something of an Aunt Sally. They are an easy target because they are so obvious and do not move. But they have compromised. They have had limiters imposed, and at curfew time the terraces are cleared, the doors are closed and the outdoor systems are turned off. Leave them alone.

Chain - George Michael to "A Different Corner" to Cornershop and therefore to "Brimful of Asha". And how do you get from that song to "Caravan of Love"? Yesterday's title - The Carpenters. Today's title - who?


Monday, May 26, 2008

Close To You

Unless you happen to be one of those eco-egotists who enjoys the silence of the ice caps, there is no such thing as holiday without noise. And even a holiday on an ice cap is not totally silent; there is the sound of the melting ice sheets below you, but that's a whole different story. There is of course degree of noise and there is also compromise. Noise, holidays and compromise. I'm not sure you can put these three words into one coherent verb-based sentence, which is why I haven't.

When they developed holiday resorts, there was a need for proximity. The hotel factories and their human raw material wanted the bars and restaurants that the factories begat to be close by, and the bars and restaurants were only too happy to oblige. But the proximity created its own problems, not least of which was noise.

At one point, noise was mainly a thing of the spoken human voice or shouted human voice. But gradually noise became also a thing of the microphone, the music machines, the stage, the karaoke and ever more shouted human voices. It was not simply the proximity of the clusters of bars; the hotel factories became net contributors to the noise as well. Noise begat noise. Then finally, someone said that something had to be done, so they started to clear the terraces before midnight, they installed limiters on the sound systems, they made them close doors on the strike of 12. They changed the holiday forever, because noise had always been the unbrochure emblem of the holiday; noise is after midnight and laughter and shouting and music and romantic-into-the-wee-small-hours of balmy nights. They looked for compromise, and still they look for compromise.

They look but often they do not find. The midnight curfew is not enough - for some. And it isn't necessarily just a case of the wind being in the wrong direction. The noise. The sound of the entertainers, the encouragement of the audience and the cabaret song. All that noise and all that sound. There is certainly no compromise when the Noise Patrol come and close you down. Apparently this has happened to one of the hotel factories, the Lagomonte. And then there's the sound from the Bellevue Show Garden, also apparently.

When they developed holiday resorts, they should have neglected proximity. They should have avoided the temptation to make them like factory towns with the houses built within walking distance of the furnace, mill or colliery. The factory begat the houses, and the noise was that of the factory itself, which everyone came not to notice. Not so the noise of the hotel factories and their bars and restaurants.

Sort of breaking news ... Remember all that corruption stuff in Andratx. It was on this blog for ages well over a year ago. Well, the ex-mayor, Eugenio Hidalgo, has gone down for four years.

Chain - Forgot yesterday. Anyway, how do you get from George Michael to "Brimful of Asha"? Yesterday's title - "Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan". Today's title - who?


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Chiki Can't, Chiki Can't

And as threatened, the blog's annual visit to the mobile-phone fest that is Eurovision. One has but to assume that Gazprom had texted the whole of the former eastern bloc to let them know that if their boy didn't win, they'd cut off the supplies. Or maybe it was just fear of renewed Russian expansion. Either way, I'm still trying to figure out where the intro to the song was lifted from and also wondering what clout Heinz had in the whole affair. Unnoticed by many perhaps was the fact that one of the song's composers was someone called Jim Beanz.

Apparently Sir Wogan is thinking of giving up in protest at the whole farce, but had he not noticed before that there was something slightly biased about the voting? Not to defend the last place scooped by the UK; it might have made it on to a Real Thing album circa mid-70s as a last-minute filler. Not that old-fashioned is a crime in Eurovision circles.

But at least Spanish TV has got into the mood a bit more. Gone is the seriousness that it once attached to the event, as was evident from the Spanish "song" performed by a Viz-Elvis who had modelled himself on Tucker from "Citizen Smith"; see, told you there was nothing wrong with old-fashioned. And the Spanish commentator amused himself hugely by guessing, usually correctly, where the votes were going. Mind you, he was not alone. The contest needs a return to a bit of good old bribery and corruption of a Franco-esque nature to right the injustices of the voting system. There again, the UK can't complain too much. In an act of cross-Irish Sea fraternity, Dublin top-three-ed our boy, though there was clearly some display of sympathy emanating from the Emerald Isle as the other two were the Polish woman who could have teethed for Eurovision (and indeed did) and only beat our chap on some form of goal difference principle and the Latvian pirates who would be made to walk the plank were they ever to have the brass-neck to pitch up at Magaluf's Pirates Adventure.

I am grateful to today's "Sunday Times" for presenting some of the lyrics (sic) of the drivel with which Tucker, sorry Chiki Chiki, regaled Europe with the story of the girl who dances with her knickers in her hand:

"El Chiki Chiki is a reaggeton
Dance in Argentina, Serbia and Oregon
Give el Chiki Chiki to that little sister
With el Chiki Chiki
She's gonna like it mister"


Still, the Greek girl was acceptably girl-next-door even if she was doing a sort of Kylie in the early days of Stock Aitken and Waterman. The only song that had any real merit was Sebastian Tellier for France. Way too clever for Eurovision, and it duly flopped. There again, France doesn't have a bunch of former satellites to boost its score; even Andorra sided with Chiki rather than stump up for Seba. France doesn't even have the Italians to maybe help a bit. They've taken their ball home and, which about sums the whole thing up, have let San Marino onto the Eurovision field of play. You know, it's all those years of making up the numbers in football qualifying events - Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Estonia, etc. They're just getting their own back, even if San Marino have yet to learn the full lesson, which is don't give the UK six points.

Chain - Peter Wyngarde was in "The Innocents". Em, do I really need to explain the association with George Michael? Yesterday's title - Pet Shop Boys with Dusty. Today's title - a variation on?


Saturday, May 24, 2008

What Have I Done To Deserve This?

Who was it that let me be a weather forecaster? Who was it let me say something like, oh well, there may be a bit of a shower but then it'll be nice and sunny? Who was it? Hmm, yes, well me. Take no notice. Want to know something certain about the weather. Rain. Today. Rain. Crap. You might believe that poor weather would not unduly concern me, given that there is always next week, or the week after, or the month after. Well it does. Apart from the fact that I genuinely do feel sorry for the visitors, there is what I do. Today. Rain. Crap. Only some spits and spots to begin with, then more, and more. Going around Puerto Pollensa with "El Puente", making drops all over the town. Getting wet. Trying to shield the books. And succeeding at my expense. Wet. And venturing onto the front, the chill off the sea hits at the sweat of having marched about the place for an hour or so already. The combination of a cold. I know. It's happened before. Wet. Sweaty. Windy. Chilly. Fever. What I go through in the name of clients. Get up. No breakfast. Get out. Get wet. Eventually I gave up. And stopped off for something to eat - finally. And saw Emma from Sea Club. How do you keep a hotel full of over 1000 people happy with this weather? Well, they're managing, she says. This is when the hotel staff, the receptionist, the entertainers really earn their crust. When they can also be reduced to tears. The story goes of the receptionist at the Jupiter (or was it Marte or Saturno, doesn't matter, you know where I mean) who was so bombarded by the misery of the guests and the accusations that it was all somehow her fault that she just broke down. I can understand frustration, but - odd though it may seem - there is not a lot that hotels, receptionists, entertainers, bar owners, restaurant waiters, excursions operators, tourist office personnel can do about the weather.

And so where were we? Yesterday. Remember those good figures for visitors in the first four months but the decline that had occurred during April? Well today comes what might have been expected. Holiday sales to the Balearics have gone into "recession" in the UK, according to the head of the Mallorca hotel federation (as reported in the "Diario"). To compound the external problems and that of the euro-pound imbalance, there is also the issue of local inflation. As a consequence, prices have risen, as some anecdotal reports have suggested, not that these price rises are necessarily going to translate into profit growth; the contrary in fact.

But you know, even with all this bad news knocking around, you talk to a bar-owner who really works his place and you hear that things are better than last year. Which bar? Try guessing. Puerto Pollensa. And moreover, though this bar does very well thank you from sports television, there is not a concern about the absence of British Isles teams from the upcoming Euro championships. He knows you can't rely on this. I know it, too. Run a good house. Be reliable. Provide a good atmosphere. And despite the apparent problems, turnover can still be increased.

Chain - Roger McGuinn to The Byrds and "Turn, Turn, Turn" to "Turn Of The Screw" by Henry James which was filmed as "The Innocents". And how do you get from that film to George Michael? Yesterday's title - Bob Dylan. Today's title - who?


Friday, May 23, 2008

A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall

Oh well, so all is ok. The weather may have been somewhat iffy this month but at least the four months of the year were good - statistically speaking. Ho hum, here we go again. The silly statistics season. Not that it is a season, it is all-year, a hardy annual. But during those first four months, the total number of visitors to he Balearics was up by 1.5 %. Champagne-corking time indeed. Ah, but wait. Put the champagne back on ice and settle for a Vimto. In April, there was a decrease of 2.4 %. You see, statistics can tell you all sorts of stories. April is close to May. Generally speaking, it is the month before May. Maybe that decrease is more telling than the cheery numbers taken across the whole of the first third of the year. Anyway, despite the economic gloom back in the UK, it is the UK market that is keeping the Balearics buoyant. There was a 3.7% increase in the number of Brits from January to April.

The problem is, however much the figures are spun, and there is a love affair with statistical evidence as to the splendid number of visitors, there are also the numbers and the anecdotal evidence regarding the visitors' spend. This is more important than the totals coming into the islands. Those totals are used as means of self-congratulation, but they disguise the real tourist economy.

I am unaware of any figures yet for spend this year, but I was chatting today to someone who, anecdotally admittedly, probably has a decent handle on how things are this season. He is one of the few PRs knocking around Alcúdia. He's been doing it for years. His first words to me today were: "hard work, mate, bloody hard work". "How come?" "No money, mate. No one's spending. The pound and euro."

This comes as absolutely no surprise. Combine the weak pound with the economic problems back in the UK and you have the conditions for weak spend as well.

And then there is the hard work that is being caused by the weather. Go to forums at the moment and there is considerable anxiety among those coming over the next week or so and even into the middle of June. Ever since it became possible to see weather forecasts so easily, the visitor has become a nervous wreck, checking those forecasts by the day and fretting over what to pack, what to do if it rains, and even whether to cancel. Now I don't wish to diminish the importance of the weather. Of course people want sun, but, in a way, all that information, all that ease of information, has just led to worry; worry that didn't exist in the good old days when you got on a plane and listened intently to the pilot telling you it was 75 degrees or whatever. My take on all the current forecasts is that, though cloud and rain is being shown for a few days yet, there may be occasional showers, but that generally it will be fine, sunny and warm. Yesterday was like that. Rain in the morning. Good by midday and then for the rest of the day.

There is another take on the rain that we've been having. It's good for gardens and farmers. The editor of "The Bulletin" made a point of this, saying that he finally said to a taxi-driver who was commenting on the benefits of the rain for farmers, that he was sick of hearing this and that we need good weather for the far more important economic sector that is tourism. He's right, but the taxi-driver wasn't necessarily right. That rain has been a disaster for some involved in the market gardening sector - the potato-growers in particular. There is a real concern in the centre of the potato - Sa Pobla - as to how well exports will be this year because of the rain. The fact is that the rain is generally not important. Go through the centres of farming and market gardening and there are always sprinklers; water, artifically applied, is what much of the agricultural community uses. Rain, at least rain at this time of the year, is of questionable value. So, could someone just stop it. Stop it raining that is.

Chain - "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" to The Mamas and The Papas, to "Creeque Alley" and so McGuinn and McGuire. So how do you get from Roger McGuinn to the great British film "The Innocents"? Yesterday's title - Mary Hopkin. Today's title - who?


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Those Were The Days

And so, one of those not really anything to with local matters blog entries, save for the nuisance factor that is Spanish television. The European Champions League final (and expect another detour from the norm in a few days time when the blog pays its annual tribute to Eurovision).

To the football. So Man United won. The best moment of the game was Drogba's sending-off, a delicious slice of Schadenfreude heaped on a fine player but one who, if one accepts the rantings of the anti-Chelsea brigade on the likes of 6-0-6 and most of the media, is a pariah to whom a plague should be wished on both his houses, or however many he owns. Except ... What did he actually do? Gave Vidic a bit of a slap. So what?

I blame the Americans. Though I have been challenged in this assertion, to me it was the 1994 World Cup that changed football for the worse. In seeking to make the game more "attractive" to an audience ill-versed in the game, FIFA introduced all manner of rules contradictory to the spite and malevolence that used to once grace the sport. Moreover, the 1994 tournament spawned the embarrassment of the Bebeto baby-rocking celebration that has continued to blight all manner of sports since.

Go back, let's say, to 1978. Argentina. Still then a country of fruitbat military rulers and with a team from both the gods and from hell. Need to qualify against neighbours Peru? Stick an Argentinian in the Peru goal and then score six. They don't make games like that anymore, and more's the pity. Somewhere lurking on the Internet must be Argentina v. Hungary from that World Cup. Dastardly and dirty the Argentinians might have been, but before the game the Hungarians must have feasted long on tapes of the water polo clash against the Soviets some 22 years before.

Go back a bit further. The late '60s and Celtic v. whoever it was from Argentina. How many were sent off? Seven? And this was in the days when a player had to almost commit murder to be ejected. Well if not murder then something akin to GBH, as in when John Hughes kicked the goalie in the stomach. Couldn't do that now. And any old little cuff will suffice. Off you go.

When the football nannies stopped the sport being a more entertaining form of Rollerball, not only did they take away its very soul they also paved the way for the cheating that now exists. Enter Didier Drogba. This is not to say that there wasn't cheating and diving before: there was. But once it was no longer acceptable to hammer into a forward at breakneck speed from behind, so the cheating took over. Back then if a player was tackled, he usually was genuinely hurt. Players didn't give mere slaps, they issued the full bare-knuckle fist. The argument is that, having more or less banned physical contact from a physical contact sport, the more adept footballers can show off their skills. Who are they kidding? Go back again to that Argentinian side - Kempes, Luque, Ardiles, Villa. That some Hungarian might have tried to maim them didn't stop them playing. But fundamentally, the game was more exciting, it was also far less just; if you saw England being kicked all over the park (as in 1970 v. Romania) and the ref doing nothing, a great swell of Kafka-esque impotence rose from the stomach. It was theatre, war, drama, however you want to describe it. Not now. And the very rarity and therefore high drama of a sending-off has been so undermined by its regularity that it no longer holds any force. It took till 1968 for the first England national player to be dismissed (Alan Mullery), which given that two years earlier no one had got round to telling Nobby Stiles about Anglo-French detente is all the more surprising. Stiles could not only kick for England, he kicked for the world.

And then there is Spanish television. It may have escaped your attention that Spanish TV is currently in the naughty chair with the European overlords regarding the excessive amount of advertising per hour that can be broadcast. And rightly so. They don't miss a chance. They don't miss a chance, moreover, to waste the advertiser's penny or centimo. Whose bright idea was it to divide the screen up with adverts in one part and scenes of Man United post-victory in another? Was anyone taking any notice of the ads? Of course they weren't. It was both annoying and misguided. Now, they really do deserve a Drogba slap.

Chain - Heaven 17 did "Temptation", The Temptations did "Papa Was A Rolling Stone"? Told you it was easy. And from that record, how do you get to McGuinn and McGuire? Yesterday's title - The Dave Clark Five. Today's title - who?


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bits And Pieces

So, even more by way of updates. This time the canal incident and the Beep Romanian row.

Someone came through anon with a comment appended to the piece on 19 May, saying that he or she had seen the car at 6.30 in the morning sticking out of the canal and, moreover, had seen the way the police handled the episode, by essentially letting all and sundry have a good look at what was going on with the forensics. I don't know what that really tells us, but I would guess that elsewhere, let's say the UK, it might have been dealt with a tad more discreetly. Apart from the voyeuristic, the general Joe or Jose Public has no need to be presented with death and an incident of this nature in such a way.

This is the comment in full: "I saw the car sticking out of the canal at 6.30am. I couldn't believe the time it took to get that poor girl out of the canal and how laid back the police were in letting passers-by look in and witness them taking her out and doing forensic tests on her in full view of the public.. It was both shocking and very sad."

And so to the Beep story (14 May). It did occur to me that there might be something more behind that sign than a mere dislike of Romanians. But there was nothing that I read in the press other than the facts of the sign and the resultant hoo-hah. So I'm very grateful to Nicole for pointing out that the shop had had 3000 euros worth of laptop lifted by a couple of Romanians, and that they were caught on camera but had not been tracked down - yet.

Well, I can understand the store owner being somewhat annoyed. When I had the break-in and the expensive camera was lifted, I wasn't exactly overjoyed. But had the police ever discovered who did it and had that person been of eastern European origin (for sake of argument), it would not have made me harbour the view that all people from that area were burglars. The point about the sign was that, by implication, Romanians were being branded thieves or potential thieves. You cannot do that. And if you were allowed to do so, therein would lie the roots of civil disorder to say nothing of sanctioned racism.

But I am doubly grateful to Nicole as it highlights the risk that we all, myself included, take received information either of a biased or a partial nature (and by partial here I mean in the sense of being incomplete) and form a judgement that may not be accurate. We interpret that information to suit our world view, even if some of us strive for a balance rather than seeing merely black or white. But I admit that I read the story and formed a distinct impression. In fact initially I laughed as it was so preposterous, but then I could conceive of only one word - racism. I still hold with that, but to begin with I had acted without the knowledge of some background. Had the fact of the theft been reported at the time, it would not have changed that impression; indeed it may well have hardened it. At least, however, I would have been acting on complete(-ish) or verging towards complete rather than partial information. For what it's worth though, sympathetic as I am to the store-owner in terms of the theft and of his frustration, I cannot excuse him his action.

There is a whole wider issue here, and it is the fact that rarely do any of us know the full story, and yet we make conclusions, utter opinions, become dogmatic with the benefit of only bits or pieces of information or, worse, information that is flawed, prejudiced, one-sided, wrong and sometimes malicious. The sources of this partial information are clear - gossip, embellished gossip, newspapers, television, the Internet. We take this partial, biased or manipulated information because we want to, because it suits our world view, our prejudices. The McCanns were/are a classic example.

And yet, were we to stop and wish to check every bit of information, we would get nowhere. There is an inevitability about human discourse, that it is incomplete. Of course it is. But this is not to say that there shouldn't be some responsibility, and no more so than on the Internet. I can feel a very long thesis coming on, so I shall close, but you've been warned: I might just publish it here.

Chain - Led Zeppelin to "Stairway to Heaven" to Heaven 17 who basically were the British Electric Foundation. Simple. And so how do you get from Heaven 17 to "Papa Was A Rolling Stone"? Dead easy. Today's title - who?


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Night Boat To Cairo

If it's the 20th May, must be update day. Follow-ups to the Chinese bazar and tourism density stories.

On the first one, it's been bugging me since I wrote that piece. Then I realised what it was I'd failed to mention the other day - the existence of other "bazar"-type shops; other shops not run by Chinese, but run by Spaniards, Mallorcans even.

In Alcúdia, there are three shops of this nature - De Tot Un Poc by the market square, one up near the tourist office and a third by the old hospital. Maybe there are more. In Puerto Alcúdia, there used to be one quite big cheapo place in what was taken over by a combination of the Petits i Mamas shop and Genius toy store, the latter now Engel & Völkers. It was pretty good; my household still has some decent towels to testify to that. Puerto Pollensa has at least one, as does Pollensa town, both of these, like one of the shops in Alcúdia, made a thing of selling stuff for one euro.

The point is that the cheap and cheerful Chinese bazar is not significantly different to any of these Spanish-run shops. Except in one respect - Chinese. I'm not sure if one can draw any conclusions, but let's just say that the low-cost shop phenomenon was not unknown before the arrival of the Chinese bazar and is also not unknown as a line of business for the local Mallorcans. I leave it to you to draw a conclusion.

And so to the tourism density issue. Having declared Can Picafort the tourist-sardine centre and having asked for any suggestions of somewhere that could rival Can Pic's claim to this award, I duly got one. Seamus volunteers Peguera. Something about more hotels than you'd find Frauleins in Lederhosen in Munich. Which does raise a whole different issue, but let's not dwell on that. But I take the point. In fact Peguera is a sort of German colony. There is, I understand, even a German school there. There again, Can Pic was essentially a German colony as well; before the Brits started to occupy to some extent. Mallorca can seem like another of the Bundesländer, and Peguera is like a Hauptstadt, one of hotel-squeezed sunbedsraum.

And weather. No surprise to learn that May thus far has exceeded records in terms of rain. Yesterday was yet another utterly miserable contribution to what has been a diabolical month overall. To give a measure of how much rain there has been, in Palma there has been 138 litres per square metre till now; the norm is 31. In all this I guess people will be searching for evidence of this that and the other, but I suggest it is no more than a righting of nature as the winter had been generally very dry. However, that is a rather facile explanation, so I myself went searching for explanations and was amazed at the sheer deluge of websites and blogs and so on devoted to weather. I had thought that perhaps the explanation would lie in the influence of La Niña, but I'm none the wiser despite having trawled through all this meteorological worthiness. Let's just say it's been very wet.

Chain - So how do you get from Led Zeppelin to the British Electric Foundation? Today's title - couldn't think of anything "bazar", so thought Arabic and here's the youtube of the nutty boys -


Monday, May 19, 2008

The Canal Accident Story

The lady of the lake. Or the lady of the nearly lake. In fact the lady of the canal. It did rather depend on which report. There was one that would have made it lady of the lake as it said "lago esperanza". Unmistakably, it was canal, though I should not approach this matter in this way. It's not right. I'll stop it now.

Imagine you live near to a canal, or could be a stream or even a small river. And imagine you get up in the morning and find the rear of a car sticking out of the water. Well, that's pretty much what happened. How it was found. The exact circumstances are not clear, though one can guess. What is known is that the car left the road by the canal, the road being the Avenida Italia by the Jokers pub near the Viva Sunrise hotel - off The Mile in other words in Puerto Alcúdia. The car embedded its front into the canal bed, the doors jammed, the car flooded, the woman driver drowned. Not all the canals are that deep, but you don't need to drive into the Marianas Trench to drown, a foot or so can be sufficient, though the canal in question was some two metres in depth.

This is not the first time a car has gone into a canal in Alcúdia. It happened a few weeks back, not far from the fatal incident of the week just past. Then, the driver got out. Not this time. One cannot jump to the wrong conclusion, but it is kind of possible to appreciate how this can happen. Go a bit too quickly, not be aware of the sharpness of some of the bends and corners by the canals and ... splash, or worse.

The canals of Alcúdia, made to prettify the place, and to link the lakes and the sea are not always as benign a feature as one might hope. Sometimes they clog up, sometimes they whiff, sometimes the fountains don't function and sometimes someone ends up in one, either in a car or without the aid of motor transport. When was it? Three years ago perhaps. A friend of a friend was fished out. Had fallen in and had not got out until the body was retrieved. And the other day, one early morning, someone in a car hit a curb, jumped that curb and died; died in an awful way.

Yesterday's chain - 10cc to Graham Gouldman to "For Your Love" (which he wrote) to The Yardbirds and therefore to Led Zeppelin. Yesterday's title - Chesney Hawkes. And, smallish world time, it seems that Geoff went to school with Chesney's dad who was of course in The Tremeloes. No quiz today - doesn't quite seem appropriate.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

The One And Only

Ego tourism. What an excellent expression. Why didn't I think of it? But I didn't and have to hand it to John Swarbrook of Sheffield Hallam University for apparently having coined it.

From a "c" to a "g", you have the transformation of eco to ego, and there is a large slice of green-based ego in the eco tourism agenda - it is a slice as vast as the polar ice-caps or some remote rain forest, neither of which, following Mr Swarbrook's analysis, should be playing host to the ego/eco tourist.

This all comes from the BBC and a piece by Tom Heap, the presenter of "Costing the Earth". What makes his article doubly interesting is that he holds up tourism centres of high density (in this instance Benidorm) as being eco-sensible. For Benidorm, one can also read local resorts here. Density there is and also evironmentally conscious practices by hotels and local authorities. The argument in favour of density is that the worst excesses of tourism eco damage are mitigated by proximity, i.e. people can walk everywhere, produce can be sourced locally. QED, sustainable tourism, rather than the preserve of an elitist and eco-egotistic minority who would seem to believe that tramping through Rwandan jungle is in some way environmentally right-on, is more the preserve of the package tourist packed tight into a small area - such as Can Picafort. If someone can cite an example of greater density of tourist humanity in terms of hotels than Can Pic, I would be delighted to hear about it. In Mallorca at any rate, Can Picafort is the tourist-sardine centre. One begins to also consider all that building in Puerto Pollensa in a rather different energy-saving light. You can bet your eco-dollar that many of the new apartments rising from the highly-concentrated land of the resort will be of a holiday let variety, thus increasing the numbers of tourists. Yet the compact nature of Puerto Pollensa does, so goes Mr Heap's thesis, create a condition for sustainable tourism.

I have previously drawn attention to the fact that the über-tour operator, TUI, in line with a more environmentally aware and controlled German culture, both social and business, has made demands on local hoteliers to make their establishments ever more sustainable. Struggle though I do to believe that anything more than a smattering of tourists base their holiday choice on the recycling system at a particular hotel, there are, presumably, some who do; some who can be eco-egotists without the hassle of arranging anti-malaria jabs for a couple of weeks yomping in some frightful, disease-ridden tropic of 100% humidity. They can be as eco-friendly in Port Alcúdia as they can in Port Moresby. More so in fact, or so it would seem. And as if to emphasise the fact, not only does Alcúdia town hall boast the town's eco-tourism credentials, so also do some hotels hereabouts have an eco-tourism plaque by the main doors.

The density argument has some logic, but were the tourist authorities to ever pursue that logic to its extreme, the tourist centres would become ghettoes from which, preferably, there would be no escape. They would in fact become more like concentration camps. Taking coach loads of tourists into the more fragile environment of, for instance, the Tramuntana mountains, would be off the excursion list. No, no, Mr and Mrs Tourist, you stay here by the pool and take a stroll to the nearby bar. That's your lot. And now I think of it, those all-inclusives which some already treat as ghettoes which they never leave ... environmentally perfect. There again, let's not get too carried away. There is always the flight to take into account. Oh, and as a final thought - an ego tourist is presumably also, by definition, an ego tripper. Every one a winner.

The video to Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Two Tribes" was the work of Godley and Creme, once of 10cc who of course did "I'm Not In Love". And how do you get from 10cc to Led Zeppelin? Yesterday's title - Level 42. Today's title - who was responsible for this bit of egotism?


Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Chinese Way

Some while back I posed the ethno-hospitality question - how many Chinese restaurants does a place need? It was asked in respect of Puerto Alcúdia where anyone on a fortnight's holiday could eat Chinese in a different restaurant every day and still not get round all of them. But now it is not just the Chinese restaurant that proliferates, it is also the Chinese bazar. So plentiful are these bazars, that they are causing problems for the indigenous shops.

Apparently there is an annual increase of between 10 and 15 per cent of Chinese businesses in Mallorca, and this has caused losses in terms of turnover of up to 20 per cent for shops and 10 % for bars in areas near to Chinese shops and restaurants.

In today's "Diario", it is reported that the "traditional" businesses are being obliged to rent their "locales" out or to put them up for traspaso. And the problem is at its greatest in tourist areas, with Puerto Alcúdia, Puerto Pollensa and Can Picafort all listed as being areas especially affected.

I am aware of a number of these bazars. It is the case that you seem to walk in many a main commercial area and there will be a Chinese bazar. During a break from my internment last week at the printers, I took a hobble on the bad toe around part of Inca. There was a Chinese bazar. Never noticed it before.

Personally, I am rather mystified as to the arrival of so many of these shops. Take a look around one and, to be blunt, the stuff is very much Mekong as opposed to Milan. Cheap in other words. But the low prices are one of the reasons why the bazars are putting the more traditional shops to the sword. The other is that they are open all hours. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the Chinese work ethic will know that they would gladly be open 24 hours were they allowed to be. And perhaps it is this work ethic that is the real issue. Those traditional shops with their haphazard opening times, their siesta breaks and their very "tradition" are struggling because that tradition has bred complacency. The Chinese (and also it must be said the Indian) bazar is another market change, and the traditional business does not know how to respond.

But I am also somewhat mystified as to what these "traditional" shops are. The bazars stock a range of stuff, much of it household, stationery and the like. Accordingly, maybe the ferreterias have seen an erosion of their sales for items likes of cutlery, but hang on a minute, go to a market and you will find all manner of cheap household stuff for sale. So the bazars are just, in a sense, making permanent the cheap elements of the weekly market. If any traders are likely to suffer I would have thought it would be those stallholders and not the regular shops. Perhaps though they doth protest too much about the Chinese bazars. The current economic climate has seen a decided drop in consumer spend, and this has nothing to do with the bazars except of course that, at a time of economic difficulty, cheap can become very attractive to the consumer.

Gerry and the Pacemakers and Frankie Goes To Hollywood both registered number ones with their first three singles. And how do you get from Frankie to "I'm Not In Love"? Yesterday's title - Marvin Gaye. Today's title - which group?


Friday, May 16, 2008

What's Going On?

Wotzup? Wotz ' appenin'? Wotz t' do?

Things to do, events, fiestas, special days, fairs. There is a lot going on. The editor of "The Bulletin" on their website today makes this point, and he's right. He is also right to point out that getting access to information as to what is going on is not always that easy. This information falls into different categories - that like live music which takes place in bars or clubs and that like the local events and fiestas mostly all of which come under the auspice of the local authorities.

Are visitors generally interested in these sort of events, these fiestas? Are they not more interested in just staying in the bar and spending evenings getting pleasantly pissed? Well some are. Quite a lot are in fact. But quite a lot are interested in these events. Among things that I have something of a business association with is a mobile phone information service that is largely for Thomson (and First Choice) customers. The company that runs this tells me that one of the most important areas of information that they supply is that about events.

It's an interesting discovery and it confirms the fact that people, when on holiday, do want things to do. They are not all just content to stick around the pool, to stay on the beach or to sit all evening in a bar. The demand for excursions backs this up. But the local events are often poorly publicised. I recall saying that my local authority, Muro, appeared to do nothing for those of its residents who live in the beach area of the municipality (as opposed to the town itself) in terms of information provision regarding the main summer fiesta. Even the tourist office had no information until more or less the fiesta week had started. And Muro is not the only offender. Alcúdia and Pollensa can be just as slow, and when they do get information out it is - sometimes - only in Mallorquín. I have translated such information personally and put it onto the websites. It shouldn't have to fall to the likes of myself to do this.

There are people who come to Alcúdia who have no idea that there is a grand fireworks display in the port at the end of the San Pedro week. There are people in Pollensa who have no idea that there is a fair in Alcúdia in October. You almost wonder if the local authorities would rather people stayed away, especially if they are visitors. I'm sure that is not the case, but the information provision could be better and could be made longer in advance than it currently is. In my experience, though the fiestas and fairs normally occupy the same time slots every year, the actual programmes are released at short notice. Maybe they just cannot finalise them earlier, though I find that hard to believe.

The editor asks the local authorities to post this information on websites, and here he raises another interesting point because some of the town hall websites are next to useless. I am still trying to make sense of They do a big job in publicising it, but frankly they're wasting their money. Muro? Forget it. Catalan only. Playa de Muro also has a fair amount of dosh spent on publicising its own site. Fine if you want to book a hotel but no more. Alcúdia, a more switched-on authority than the other two, but it isn't much better. So I guess it will just have to keep falling to the likes of myself to make the information available. It shouldn't be like this.

Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote "You'll Never Walk Alone" ("Carousel") which of course Gerry and the Pacemakers popularised and then the Kop took it up. And so, apart from the Liverpool connection, what do Gerry and the Pacemakers have in common with Frankie Goes To Hollywood? Yesterday's title - Nike. Today's title? Album by?


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Just Do It

And thank you for the thoughts regarding the toe. The toe also sends its thanks.

To alleviate the boredom of hanging around the printers, waiting for the next sheet to come off the machine, there is - I'm discovering - a wealth of stuff to to an eye endlessly acquisitive of material on which to impart some story.

And so ... Now those paper "mats" that you get in restaurants here. The ones that usually have a map of Mallorca. The ones that always insist on staring up at you and inviting you to ... inviting you to what? If you happen to be Catalan, then it's "bon profit"; for the Spanish, it's "buen provecho", the Germans are greeted with a "guten Appetit". The British? Well the British don't have a salutation for eating. At least, we never used to. We used to accept "bon appetit" in a display of reverse-French acceptance that the French are often reluctant to reciprocate. But, Americanised as we have become, we are now invited to "enjoy our meal" or to "have a nice meal". It looks totally out of place against the brevity of the other languages; it also doesn't really exist, but because - largely foreigners and Americans - feel that bowing to the ease of the French expression is surely some error, we have the "meal" invitation. To an extent, you can understand this. There's your local Spanish restaurant confronted with the new paper mat, a vast English-speaking market to greet, and no actual greeting. Enjoy your meal it has become or, in the case of Garden Hotels (whose paper mats I saw at the printers), it is the "have a good meal".

The Garden's mats are a joy of marketingese. Not only are we (or rather they, the Garden clients) enjoined to have that good meal, we are also told that "you've got to live it". Why? Indeed, what? There it is, in suitably motivational, sophisticated but informal script type (someone's been reading his manual), this command. You have got to. No debate. You have got to. Moreover, you have got to live it. What the Hell is it? We're back on slogans of course. At first look, this is not a bad slogan - the "live" (as in the verb as opposed to the adjective) is a strong word - but when you stop and think, it becomes less good. Apart from the obscurity of it (both it, the word, and it, the slogan), there is the cross-linguistic issue. Garden has its bon profit and the rest, so what do Catalans and Spanish and Germans etc. make of this command? Not much I imagine. I could maybe live with having to live it were this a general corporate slogan, but, as far as the company's website is concerned, this is not general. So, having to live it would seem to be the hotels' meals. Sorry, don't understand.

Elsewhere at the printers is a bookcase of samples of books. Books and journals. One in particular intrigued me. I was, until now, totally unaware of the fact that there is a learned journal devoted to Alcúdia. All in Catalan. All very worthy and boring-looking, like all learned journals. But boring it is not. Far from it. Here, in the one issue I spent a good hour or so poring over, were articles and research material on, amongst other things, the origin of fiestas in Alcúdia (Sant Jaume apparently comes from the late fourteenth century) and why there was such strong emigration from Pollensa to Alcúdia in the nineteenth century. Superb stuff. But it is only in Catalan. Shame.

So, back to normal. Chain thing - Rodgers and Hammerstein have a strong association with Anfield. What is it? Today's title? Ok, so slogan time. Which company's is this?


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Not Welcome

Here's something charming. Charming in the sarcastic form.

A sign was placed in front of a shop in Alcúdia which read something to the effect of no entrance without prior notice to dogs and Romanians.

As I said, charming huh?

Maybe it's one of those little racist jokes. Like the Lewis Hamilton joke. You know, the joke that is acceptable because a bit of racism is not taken seriously. Nah, it's just a joke, mate. No offence. And there were apologists, even among the English media (one at least who lives in Spain), that agreed the Hamilton thing wasn't too clever, but one had to understand ... Yea, yea, yea.

I happen to know some Romanians, and I don't reckon they will see the joke.

This story, as reported in the "Diario", did not actually mention the shop in question in its main feature, but it did show a picture, did mention the proprietor (who apparently has form of a "discriminatory" nature) and did also have a side bar which did mention the shop. Beep. The computer shop in Alcúdia. I was shocked. Somehow I found it hard to associate this sort of thing with a computer store and especially with Beep, a shop I know quite well and which has had a fair amount of euros of mine pass over its counter. Well, I think I might think twice in the future.

Sorry, this is a bit dashed-off today. No quiz. It's known as all day at the printers and it's done my head in. And there will probably be another similar day tomorrow, and I had to go to the hospital with an infected toe, and I haven't slept since ...

Till tomorrow. Maybe.

Yesterday's chain - Captain Sensible did "Happy Talk" from "South Pacific". Today's title - Extreme. No quiz today.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More Than Words

The advertising slogan. The main purpose of the slogan is, or should be, to create recognition and recall and therefore to project the product or service firmly to the front of mind of the consumer. "Buy one, get one free!" is not a slogan, it is a sales pitch. "Naughty but nice" is a slogan (and extra points today if anyone knows who coined the slogan). The slogan, be it enigmatic or blatant, has to have the force of the advertising and marketing that supports it; it also has to be strong enough to command that recall and to reinforce the branding of which the slogan is one aspect and sometimes the defining aspect. Some slogans work on the basis of a form of reverse psychology. This blog has one - "don't tell anyone about it!" The thinking is that it both strengthens a degree of personal ownership within a kind of abstract exclusive club of "blogotees" and also makes the reader do precisely the opposite. At least that's the theory and, take my word for it, I can theorise about marketing till Hell freezes over. But, you'll be pleased to know, I won't; well not much.

The reverse psychology, because it causes the reader to pause and think, is, in many ways, a more powerful prompt than the less demanding of slogan, always assuming that the consumer "gets it". The reverse hypothesis operates on the principle that the consumer does not interpret the message at face value.

One of the most famous advertising disasters was the "you're never alone with a Strand" cigarette slogan captured in an advert with a man alone on a street. What it hoped to say was either that by puffing away on this particular fag you would be everyone's mate (this was in the days when smoking was a more or less de rigueur social habit) or that you could indeed be alone but the Strand would keep you company. Either way, it was not taken as the advertisers (Wills in this case) would have hoped, as the consumer perceived it to mean simply that the smoker in the ad was a lonely git. Despite its popularity as a piece of advertising cinema, the ad was swiftly axed. No reverse occurred; it was taken as was - for Strand read loneliness, which was a negative and therefore incompatible with creating a positive brand image. The theory of the slogan and the advertising that accompanies it are nought without the knowledge of the practice of the consumer's thought process.

This is all by way of introduction to the fact that the keepers of the marketing of Mallorca at the tourism council have come up with a dynamic new slogan of their own - indeed one main slogan with three variants. This is: "much more than ...". The blankety-blank cheque book and pen goes to those who can append the words - "golf", "meetings" and "good food", for these make up the three differing sloganettes. The "more than" tag is hardly original, while the addition of "much" hints at a certain desperation. But the slogan, any of the three, has a certain reverse psychology appeal in a sense, in that - at least I guess this is the thinking - it makes the consumer say to him or herself, oh I didn't know there was golf/meetings/good food in Mallorca (delete as applicable). The problem is that the same consumer may just take the slogan at face value and ask: "what much more?" And herein does indeed lie a problem as there isn't much more if indeed any more. Alternatively, the consumer may ask: "Why are they saying 'more than golf'? Don't they mean that golf is more than just the beach?"

What they want to get across is that Mallorca has much more than just sun and beach to offer. Hard though I am trying to accept the logic of a slogan that is essentially illogical, I'm afraid I cannot; in short, it's not very good. Moreover, the slogan comes back to the basic misapprehension that seems to exist in the Mallorcan marketing mindset, i.e. that there is a lot of mileage in tourism diversification as typified by golf, meetings (and conferences) and gastronomy. It also comes back to another misapprehension that by failing to play on Mallorca's greatest assets - the sun and the beach - it fails to build on that very core image. A slogan that went "much more than sun and beach" might well be crap but it would both acknowledge the central brand image of Mallorca while, at the same time, seeking to establish that tourism diversification with which they feel they can attract great hordes of new-style tourists. But the chosen slogan attempts cutesy cleverness and could be said to be confusing. It seeks to jolt with a type of stylistic joke. However, as my hypothetical consumer might ask: "Have they got this right? Shouldn't it be more than sun?" Indeed when I first read about this slogan (in "The Bulletin") I did myself wonder if there was a mistake, so I looked it up on the Internet and discovered that it was correct.

There is, however, another potential angle to this slogan, one that is largely irrelevant to an overseas audience but may well be resonant with a Spanish one, and a Catalan one in particular. This is that Barcelona Football Club has long had the Catalan slogan "més que un club" (more than a club). As I alluded to yesterday, Barca and the team's following go well beyond that part of Catalonia. The slogan will be known to many; it was adopted in the latter years of Franco to emphasise the club's centrality to Catalonian autonomy (as it still does). The Mallorcan slogan may well be purely coincidental; as I say, the words "more than" are common enough in advertising (and, I daresay, so are their equivalents in Spanish or Catalan advertising). But the Barca slogan has a power and a directness; the Mallorca one has neither.

Yesterday's chain - the connection was Rat Scabies, the drummer. Among The Damned's numbers was Captain Sensible. So what's his connection with Rodgers and Hammerstein? Yesterday's title - Robin Hall and Jimmy McGregor. Today's title? American. Lots of hair.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Football Crazy

The beautiful game. And for the bar-owners of Alcúdia, Pollensa and hereabouts, the beautiful game is a thing of beauty. The miserable weather helped, but yesterday the tills were scorching even if the weather was most certainly not; another ring and the chatter of till-roll listing John Smiths and Saint Micks by the score. And the score may not even have mattered as watching some footy was at least something to do. Save for a play-off or Cup final here, a Champions League final there, the beautiful game is poised to be less a thing of beauty by the end of the month. The Euro championships, embarrassingly minus any British Isles representation, will be more a thing of "belleza" and "Schönheit" for the Spanish and the Germans than it will be for the Brit and Irish contingents and for their bars. But the Spanish bars will be a chorus of "España", España". One had only to witness the masses clustered in front of screens for the Barcelona-United games to realise that the urge to commune in public in support of one's team is far from limited to the English football fan.

For the Brit bars, the absence of the home nation teams is a double-edged sword; it means less interest in the Euro championships and therefore fewer Euros passing across the counter, but it - so the theory goes at any rate - also means that fewer tourists will be tempted to put off or delay their holidays. I've never necessarily subscribed to that theory, but be that as it may. The Brit bars may not rely on football to get punters through the door but it definitely does not harm business - assuming there is a team to support.

Something of a curiosity, especially in Alcúdia given its strong associations with Germany, is the lack of German bars. Off the top of my head, I can think of not one that actually goes out of its way to advertise itself as such. It is strange that the British, among the foreign bar market, have that market more or less cornered. For lack of German, read also paucity of Swedish, Dutch and even French.

Yet there will be plenty of supporters of the beautiful game here during the Euro championships - Germans, Dutch, Swedes, French, Italians - everyone except the British or Irish. So, here's a thought. Those Brit bars. Haul down the Union Jack for a couple of weeks or hoist up a German flag next to it, get some crates of Erdinger in and some Wurst and Sauerkraut. Or for the French, lay on some cases of Bordeaux and paté. For the Swedes? Frankly, I haven't got a clue but any alcohol at Mallorcan rates is an incentive to a Swede.

But once the football has truly ended and there is the hiatus until the kick-off of the 2008-9 season, what can fill the bar TV gap? The answer is very little, except for the obsession with soaps. Despite the notion that 20-20 could become the world's premier team sport (fat chance), cricket, especially test cricket, does not fill the bars. It takes too long. And that about sums it up. The tourist will gladly set aside 90 minutes from the beach or other holiday attractions for some football, but a few hours for some cricket or tedious heats of the 5000 metres at the Olympics or a three-hour slog on Centre Court or God knows how long around the Open golf course? No. Football. And for the bar it is the one sport that matters, not just because of the money it brings but also because it is the most social of all the sports, which is why so many choose to watch in a bar. Most social and the one most likely to generate the most animosity as well. Forget all that stuff about the Germans.

Yesterday's chain - Whitney Houston to Bobby Brown to "Bobby Brown" by Frank Zappa and therefore The Mothers. And Frank Zappa was responsible for "Hot Rats". So what's the connection with that and The Damned? Easy. Today's title - who popularized this?


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Wet, Wet, Wet

Oh woe, oh misery. There we were applauding the weather for greeting the new season with its hat at a jaunty angle, a cheery whistle and a distinct spring in its step, and then what does it go and do? It reaches again for its mufflers and sweater, moans into a warming mug and then shuffles along the chill streets avoiding swiftly moving taxis playing "splashy-splashy". If it's the season, it must be pissing down. And so it has been. Small and rather cold comfort it will be to the tourist, but the reservoirs needed the water, and so they have had it - in great container loads.

Thursday was a distinctly iffy day and Thursday turned into Friday and the weekend. A wet weekend in Mallorca. In May. Even more cold comfort comes in the knowledge of high-summer heat in England. Woe, woe and thrice woe.

I have never bought this oh it doesn't matter if the weather's crap on holiday, we'll have a good time anyway line of argument. Why not just admit to misery? I would. And, more's to the point, how can you have a good time when it's lashing down here? Some family members, mainly the men, may find solace in several beverages at a local inn showing the dying moments of the Premier League season, but as for the rest? No beach, no pool, no excursions, no walking, no nothing, for there is nothing. If the weather decides to be malevolent and dump sufficient precipitation to match the floods of Noah, there's no point trying to justify that all is wonderful. It is not; it's rubbish. And then, when you phone home, and the neighbours are enjoying a barbecue on a balmy English evening while you are shivering and wet and terminally hacked off, all you want to do is to remind yourself to insert that mobile into a part of the neighbour on your return. Because however much you say with as much of a laugh as you can muster - oh it doesn't matter, we're having a great time - you know you are not and that you hate your neighbour and his good weather and hate even more the fact that, once off the phone, that neighbour will have a damn good laugh at your expense. Ho, ho, ho, in Mallorca, when they could be getting sunstroke in Swindon. Woe, woe, and several more times woe. Best not to phone home and then pretend that the bad weather miraculously missed you, the only problem being ... how to explain the fact that, on return, you are less suntanned than when you left.

Yesterday's chain - Bryan Adams to "Everything I Do" to "Robin Hood" to Kevin Costner to "The Bodyguard", Whitney Houston and "I Will Always Love You". And how to get from Whitney to The Mothers of Invention. Yesterday's title - Deacon Blue, "Your Town".


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Let's Say It Like It Is

As hinted at yesterday, that appraisal of Puerto Pollensa, an appraisal offered through the eyes of visitors, in this case the parents of someone well-known to me who operates in both ports - Alcúdia and Pollensa. It is interesting as it is opinion somewhat removed from the everyday proximity of those who live here and comes from people who are - and I quote - "well-travelled and easily pleased". In a way, this is the latest in a series of instalments about Puerto Pollensa, one of the more recent of which was 17 April ("Wonderland"). That was far from uncritical of the town. Now, it is certainly not my intention to enter into some form of "get Puerto Pollensa" movement. Quite the contrary. But it so happens that the town does seem to be attracting more than its fair share of comment, much of it less than positive. Were I to receive similar for Alcúdia, I would share this as well, but it also so happens that I don't. I stress the on the "contrary", as the negativity disappoints and should inspire a movement of its own - to put one of Mallorca's finest resorts back on the right tracks. Appended to the email I received yesterday was a comment which said that "for a tourist resort that sells itself as family friendly and of a high quality, it better get ready for a big shock ... Pollensa Council needs to get itself sorted out or a lot of people will suffer". And this does rather encapsulate what is being said, and said quite widely, and has been said for a fair while now.

In a nutshell, what this appraisal brought forth were the opinions that there is building work everywhere, that if you stand back and take a good look it (the resort) is not that nice, it is just flats, and that the beach smells of poo. Of these, the whiff of excreta is not unique to Puerto Pollensa beach, but there has been something of an ongoing sewage problem in a part of the beach. But this is not or should not be a major issue. What is, is the transformation of the place. And all that building work is mainly to blame. It is difficult to any longer justify Puerto Pollensa's claim to the word "charming", with the exception of the pinewalk which my correspondents like.

The fact that these same correspondents agree that Alcúdia is a nicer place is not the first such comment along these lines that has come my way. That it is being said should make people take due note. It is not so long ago that such a statement would have been met with a degree of scoffing; not any longer though.

I have a suspicion that there is a malaise of complacency in Puerto Pollensa, both among the authorities and some who live there, but even among the latter there are stirrings, such as those comments aired by Garry Bonsall to "The Bulletin" the other day. But complacency I fancy there is, and it is a complacency founded on a reputation - one of a degree of exclusivity and of prettiness - that started to fade a while ago and continues to do so.

Puerto Pollensa has long judged itself a place of that ghastly term - quality tourism. I hate this description for its elitism and smugness. Moreover, it does not obtain to the extent that may well once have been the case. Stories of families of four who share one pizza are as common there as they are along The Mile in Alcúdia. Nevertheless, one of the the main differences between Puerto Pollensa and Puerto Alcúdia (apart from the obvious absence of a Mile in the former) is the far greater number of hotels in the latter. The proportion of holidaymakers staying in non-hotel accommodation in Puerto Pollensa is significantly higher than Alcúdia, a factor that does - still - lend a sense of exclusivity. My guess is that were one able to conduct a survey of wealth by unit of holidaymaker, Puerto Pollensa would still be - proportionally - a "richer" resort than its neighbour. But this only goes to emphasise the fact that the place no longer lives up to the type of reputation that attracted this category of holidaymaker in the first place. It comes back to complacency and questionable decisions. Many said that the arrival of Burger King a few years back was something of a nail in the coffin. I felt people didst protest too much, but maybe they had a point. Since then, there has been the Dakota-isation of the front line, and all that building. And let's not even go on again about the roads - it is not just Gotmar that has been neglected, try avoiding the holes along Roger de Flor and Pere Melia, just as starters.

Coming back to the email, the "shock" that might be in store for Puerto Pollensa could come from the "first journo who comes ... and does a write-up for 'The Mail' or some rag like that. Boom - drop in bookings - it's as easy as that." Better stop putting stuff on this blog then.

Yesterday's chain - Paul Simon to Art Garfunkel to "Bright Eyes", "Watership Down" and Richard Adams to Bryan Adams and therefore "Summer of 69". And so how do you get from the Groover from Vancouver to "I Will Always Love You". Yesterday's title - Talking Heads. Today's title - more old favourites; the line that precedes this is "living out in your town".


Friday, May 09, 2008

Road To Nowhere

On the day that "The Bulletin" front-pages with a story about the possible reclaim of beach in Puerto Pollensa, in my inbox I have received a sort of appraisal of Puerto Pollensa - but more of that probably tomorrow.

Anyway, to this beach reclaiming carry-on. The coastal authority wallahs have this idea of ripping up the road that runs along the coast between Alcúdia and Puerto Pollensa. One presumes that this was, at one time, beach or at least scrubby dunes that formed a boundary with the little Albufera of Albufereta. The coasts overseers are, one has the impression, a group of revisionist, back-in-time, environmentally correct beardies who would rather see all beaches revert to their virgin state, untrammelled by anything of human manufacture and indeed untrampled upon by human foot. But in the case of this particular road, I am inclined to agree with them, doubtless for totally different reasons to the ones they hold. These, at least I presume, are to do with ecological sensitivity and sea defence and erosion and all the usual damage-to-the-environment suspects. Mine, however, have to do with the fact that not only is the road dangerous (witness the accidents along this stretch in the past) it is also a liability when a gale is blowing, the sea is rough and a small rock lands on the bonnet. Of course, were there to be a new "beach", do not expect for one moment that it would be somewhere with lines of sunbeds (not of course that there are any in Puerto Pollensa) and some beach bars serving welcoming cold drinks. No, it would be "rustic" and therefore piled high with all that attractive seaweed.

Of course, tearing up this particular stretch of tarmac begs the question: what, in terms of vehicular access, might replace it? Unless the eco-agitpropists are envisaging some form of human flight or the isolation, from each other (not necessarily a bad thing some might argue), of Puerto Pollensa and Alcúdia inhabitants, then there would need to be another road. Another road, another group of enviros objecting, and probably with due cause, as an obvious alternative would go straight through Albufereta. There is also the not small matter of why this wasn't raised a bit earlier, as the new road that connects the coast road to Puerto Pollensa by the Caprabo roundabout is just about ready for its inaugural drive. So any further road would have to at least meet up with a part of this new road, which would still leave some of it going nowhere. Then there would need to be at least some connections into the back of the likes of the Club Sol Apartments, unless they're planning on knocking them down while they're at it.

Reassuringly though, for those who might worry about the road being sanded-over by human-on-behalf-of-nature intervention, if the experience of the nearly new road is anything to go by, it will take 40 years before it happens, by which time the sea will have done it for them and washed the road away in any event. So let's not get too worried.

And for those of you who will have been wondering why no mention of the General Franco scuppered Cliff's chances story, go to Blog MV to find out why the General was quite right.

Yesterday's chain - Buzz Lightyear to Tim Allen (the voice of Buzz) to "Home Improvement" to Al, his partner in "Tool Time", to "You Can Call Me Al", Paul Simon. And so, how do you get from Paul Simon to "Summer of 69"? Yesterday's title was one of those is-it-not-Neil Diamond moments but wasn't. John Paul Young. Today's title? Old favourites of this quiz.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Love Is In The Air

"I'm getting married in the morning, ding-dong the karaoke's gonna chime."

Ah yes, the Mallorcan wedding. One of the oddest things that crops up both in my inbox and elsewhere is the advice on getting tied here. Well maybe it's not odd, as such, just I am surprised by the regularity with which marriage in Mallorca registers - so to speak. Accordingly, I am going to be completely useless at imparting good info as I am totally confused as to the deal with getting hitched if you don't happen to be a resident or a Spaniard. I thought that you had to be a resident to actually have a religious wedding or that you could have (if not resident) a form of blessing were you already married. Whatever. If someone actually knows the lowdown, I would be very appreciative if you could give me the definitive line.

But this is largely by the bye, as I am reliably informed, by the bar-owner himself, so it is beyond doubt, that more or less everyone who passes through the portals of Vamps in Puerto Alcúdia ends up proposing marriage. Well no, not to Les (at least I don't think so), but to someone else. Actually, it isn't everyone (I made that up), but never let a touch of exaggeration spoil a good story. Quite what it is about Vamps that sets its punters down the road to the aisle I'm not sure. Perhaps it's the optical illusion thing there behind the bar. And so, next morning in the cold light of the hangover, it's a case of having been down on one knee to what was a thing of beauty through the haze of an adrenaline cocktail, but which turns out to be the garbage container at the back of the Astoria Playa hotel. But maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps love is truly in the air off The Mile, as opposed to the waft of curry emanating from Taste of India.

On having all this related to me, I had this image of the Reverend Les presiding over the congregation to a karaoke accompaniment, one that I duly informed Les of, to which he responded that, rather than "dearly beloved", those in the pews (or on bar stools in this instance) would be addressed as "dearly bedraggled", and I shall genuflect with due acknowledgement in face of a bar-owner knowing better than myself the demeanour of his clientele.

It just so happens that I recently received an email asking for advice as to somewhere nice "outside" for getting married - in Alcúdia that is. I duly suggested the likes of La Terraza overlooking the sea at Alcanada or perhaps the square in front of the Sant Jaume church (always assuming the good burghers of Alcúdia would countenance such a thing). What I hadn't considered, till now, was next to the pool table on the Vamps terrace, a tattoo for the groom next door at the tattoo studio while he waits for his bride and a tikka masala wedding breakfast for all at the Indian. So, next time I get asked about a good spot for tying the knot ... .

Yesterday's chain - Springsteen to "Philadelphia" to Tom Hanks to Woody in "Toy Story" and therefore Buzz Lightyear. Easy. And from Buzz to Paul Simon? And today's title - who?


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Bit Of R'n'R

After the brief diversion into matters of minor consequence yesterday, back to the all-important issues and, in particular, the matter of overriding concern at the moment - the aversion to spellings with two "r"s; oh, and the question why some seem to have forgotten that the season has already started.

But to this spelling. The double-r is almost a form of embarrassment because, unlike the word five words back in this sentence (which is spelt correctly), it often is not. Is it embarrassment or just a reluctance to indulge in the r-duo that so regularly finds embarrassment diminished by a factor of one r to a mere embarassment? Who knows? But the poor twin r is casually cast aside, the runt of the r litter of two. And so it also was today in "The Bulletin" wherein local dentist-cum-man with a mission, Dr. Garry Bonsall, was stripped of his third letter, or was it his fourth letter? Either way, he was reduced by 20%, via the unerring r-ing reticence.

Be all this as it may, but what Garry was drawing to the island's attention was the tardiness of the local Pollensa beach Oberführers to get some sunbeds onto the aforementioned beach (well, actually not aforementioned as Pollensa doesn't have a beach, Puerto Pollensa does, but I'm sure you understood). Yes, the season may be slightly less than a week old, but the beach in Puerto Pollensa is seemingly yet to subside under the weight of the sunbed-parasol combination. One suspects it is the same problem as in Cala San Vicente, i.e. no one has quite got around to granting the concessions. But maybe it isn't. Personally, I have no truck with these items of beach furniture. A towel and a soft acre or two of sand do me fine, but there is nothing like the absence of a lounger or several to provoke some news item and indeed some "fury", as reported the other day.

And then there are the strange cases of the restaurants that haven't quite got round to opening. In the Alcúdia Pins area of Playa de Muro, the Portobello restaurant is not only not open it is in the middle of complete upheaval. Having passed by on many an occasion over the past few weeks, and witnessed not a jot of activity and only papered-over windows, I can only surmise that the start of the season was the day when the work actually started, which - something tells me - is not quite how it's meant to be. But if they can do without the business until it does open, then fine. Just seems very odd.

Yesterday's chain - Jack Bruce to Manfred Mann to Manfred Mann's Earthband to "Blinded By The Light" to Springsteen. And how do you get from Springsteen to Buzz Lightyear?


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Ken And Barbie

Matters of British politics are not my usual fare on this blog, but permit me this one blemish.

Boris Johnson. Even before Boris acquired national fame as a comedy turn, I was aware of his reputation for being somewhat shambolic, and once witnessed it first hand. Exiting Oxford Circus tube station, and this would have been in the mid 90s, his mobile went off. Boris was wearing a sort of brown trenchcoat affair, all yards of textile and pockets. There was a frantic effort to search for the phone which should have been easily located as, in those days, mobiles were the size of house bricks and weighed as much. But, with much muttering and cursing to say nothing of the thousands brushing past him and into him, the hunt lasted a considerable time, and a considerable comedic length of time at that. It was a striking image as Boris is a striking figure. Even among the bustle of Oxford Street, he stood out a mile, this rather eccentric figure with hair and tie skew-whiff apparently in blissful unawareness of the extent to which he instinctively advertised himself; it was to be a few years before he translated this into the successful pursuit of an image, a brand if you will, known by the name "Boris" .

Ken Livingstone. Ken ran a wacky and lunatic administration at the old Greater London Council in the 80s, and the only way he could be stopped was to abolish him and the authority, which Margaret Thatcher did. I was furious. Not only was Ken wonderfully mad, he was - in my opinion - a real figure of London. Campaigns like "fares fair" for cheaper public transport brought with it a sense of London identity that had been missing under the previous administrations. Ken was a good Trot, well versed in the Soviet art of the putsch, exiling Andrew McIntosh to Westminster Palace where some years later I met the by then Lord McIntosh but dared not to ask him about the whole period. Hindsight suggests that Ken's time at the GLC was one marked by recklessness; the "Evening Standard" made it out to be so at the time, Simon Jenkins continues to say so and, in truth, it probably was. But one had to have lived in London then to have appreciated the degree to which Livingstone created a purpose in and to the city; that his administration may have been barmy is beside the point. He was the obvious eventual choice as mayor, but he is no longer.

Boris and Ken, though cut from very different stone, are very similar. Both have the hint of the maverick, both are amusing, and both are generally pretty honest. They are both endearing in their contrasting ways. They made for ideal mayoral election fodder in that their fame and even notoriety placed the election firmly in front of what is otherwise an electorate suffering from ennui - the London electorate and indeed the whole British electorate. In that either can be said to truly represent Conservative or Labour values (whatever those are these days), they gave the two-party system a much-needed shot in the arm, or rather gave the voter the needle in the vein. There was something un-British about the whole election; it was quasi-presidential and it was, most obviously, an example of how direct democracy at a local level can inspire an otherwise moribund franchise.

It is a leap of some imagination to compare the London mayoral election to Mallorca, but there is a comparison in that here local democracy does operate, and the mayors are voted in or out. Neither of the two local mayors, Ferrer in Alcúdia or Cerdà in Pollensa, can claim much in the way of personality when set against a Johnson or a Livingstone, but - dull though they may well be - they are at least democratically elected. Spanish, Mallorcan democracy is devolved to the local level. People may not like their local mayors, but they have been given the chance to say yes or no to them. There are lessons for the UK in how local politics work here and in how it does engage the local community, and London has shown it can be done.

Yesterday's chain - Bob Marley to "I Shot The Sheriff" to Eric Clapton to Cream and therefore Jack Bruce. And today, how do you get from Jack Bruce to Bruce Springsteen (apart from the obvious name link)? Yesterday's title was Coldplay.