Monday, June 30, 2008

I'm A Believer (Or Not)

"You just don't know who to believe." Thus spake the editor of "The Bulletin" the other day. He was referring to the conflicting information regarding how well, or not, the season is going.

There are many here who suspect the dark art of the propagandist's pen when it comes to the season good news stories. Few can quite believe the spin. Yet for every woe-is-me bar or restaurant owner, there is always another who has a skip in his stride and a smile of contentment. Sometimes it can be for show; we know that. But sometimes it is obviously genuine. Take somewhere like La Recoleta in Puerto Alcúdia, a restaurant in a highly competitive and concentrated zone in the port. Here is someone, Gustavo, who has the demeanour and the bright eyes of someone genuinely "muy contento" with the season.

It is hard though to know who to believe. We have been told that this season, in terms of numbers at any rate, would be as good as 2007, a record year, lest we forget. On the other hand, there was the news the other day from the hoteliers who were talking about anything up to a 15% slump in profits. It is just this apparent contradiction that The Bulletin's editor rightly alludes to. But then you come across something that supports what the hoteliers are saying and also heavily questions the numbers good news. This is just one example, but perhaps it is a telling one. In Puerto Alcúdia, there is a hotel that apparently for the day of 25 July, i.e. in high season, has a forecast occupation of 67%. Two-thirds. If this is correct, it is going to require a whole load of last-minutes and probably tour operator discounts to elevate that figure to anything like respectability. An occupancy rate in the mid-60s percentage bracket is more like a good performance in May, not July, and there was a report yesterday which said that the Balearics had an average May occupancy level of 61%.

Of course one example proves very little, but it is nevertheless an indication; an indication in particular of the impact of bad economic times and bad exchange rates for the British tourist. It is falling to the German and Scandinavian tourist to take up the slack, but even that can go only so far. The Bulletin's editor goes on to the refer to the call for greater promotion of Mallorca by the government, something I also mentioned recently. He sees a particular need for this in respect of the British market. Perhaps he is right, but when hit by the sort of economic circumstances that they have been, no amount of promotion is necessarily going to convince a wavering Brit tourist of the efficacy of coming to Mallorca. That said, there may well be sense in launching a strong campaign as I don't think I am alone in believing that not this year but next year is potentially going to be the real annus miserabilis. And no amount of propaganda is likely to convince otherwise.

And so of course to Euro 2008. Sore-head morning today, one fancies. The car horns did duly blare out long into the night. 44 years of failure and then a goal from Torres. The post-match shindigs were a wonder to behold. The chap who does the interviews for the Cuatro channel, the one who spoke to the King the other day, was soaked in champagne by a bunch of Spanish players running around in their underwear like kids splashing through a fountain on a hot day. Somehow, one couldn't quite imagine Ray Stubbs being similarly doused. But even among the excitement of the closing moments, the final whistle coming nearer to end those 44 years, on Spanish radio (and I have 6-0-6 to thank for this) the commentator said that there were two minutes to go, time enough to eat a doughnut. Now I think my chances of being a commentator on a Euro final are greater than England's chances of ever making it to a final, but were these two unlikelihoods to ever happily collide, I fancy that the eating of a doughnut would not be the first thing that enters my head in the dying moments before victory.

Chain - Godley and Creme did the video for "Rockit". And so ... Yesterday's title - Prince, "1999". Today's title - easy stuff so long as you ignore the brackets.


Index for June 2008

Air Berlin - 14 June 2008, 18 June 2008, 20 June 2008
Balearic economy - 19 June 2008, 23 June 2008, 25 June 2008
Balearic Government - 14 June 2008, 18 June 2008, 20 June 2008, 23 June 2008, 25 June 2008, 29 June 2008, 30 June 2008
Bars - 2 June 2008
Beaches - 13 June 2008
Cala San Vicente - 7 June 2008
Can Picafort - 11 June 2008
Cedilla - 1 June 2008
Cleanliness - 2 June 2008, 3 June 2008
Construction industry - 25 June 2008
Continental Park Hotel - 21 June 2008
Cost of living - 22 June 2008
Education - 14 June 2008
Energy costs - 10 June 2008
Eroski - 9 June 2008, 10 June 2008
Euro 2008 - 6 June 2008, 7 June 2008, 17 June 2008, 23 June 2008, 27 June 2008, 29 June 2008, 30 June 2008
Fiestas - 13 June 2008, 26 June 2008
Flu - 18 June 2008
Football - 6 June 2008, 7 June 2008, 17 June 2008, 23 June 2008, 27 June 2008, 29 June 2008, 30 June 2008
Germans - 4 June 2008
Holiday clubs - 12 June 2008
Hotels - 16 June 2008, 21 June 2008, 27 June 2008, 30 June 2008
Internet - 13 June 2008, 21 June 2008
JKs Bar - 2 June 2008
La Victoria - 26 June 2008
La Villa Chinese restaurant - 24 June 2008
Language - 14 June 2008, 18 June 2008, 20 June 2008
Logos - 1 June 2008, 3 June 2008, 18 June 2008
Lorry drivers' strike - 10 June 2008, 12 June 2008
Maps - 5 June 2008
Marketing - 8 June 2008
Muro - 8 June 2008
Nadal, Rafael - 29 June 2008
Nautical tourism - 15 June 2008
Playa de Muro - 8 June 2008, 21 June 2008
Polish tourists - 7 June 2008
Pollensa - 1 June 2008, 3 June 2008
Port terminal - 15 June 2008
Prices - 24 June 2008
Railways - 26 June 2008, 28 June 2008
Restaurants - 24 June 2008
Road accidents - 1 June 2008
Roads - 28 June 2008
Sant Pere 2008 - 13 June 2008
Scandinavian tourists - 16 June 2008
Scratch cards - 12 June 2008
Spanish economy - 19 June 2008
Spanish television - 17 June 2008, 23 June 2008, 30 June 2008
Strikes - 10 June 2008, 12 June 2008, 28 June 2008
Sunwing Resort - 16 June 2008
Supermarkets - 9 June 2008, 10 June 2008, 12 June 2008
Tennis - 29 June 2008
Thomson - 21 June 2008
Tour operators - 21 June 2008
Tourism quality - 18 June 2008
Tourism spend - 27 June 2008
Tourism statistics - 30 June 2008
Tourism strategy - 3 June 2008
Tourists - 5 June 2008, 7 June 2008, 16 June 2008
Trains - 26 June 2008, 28 June 2008
Trams - 26 June 2008, 27 June 2008
Trikes - 18 June 2008
Weather - 9 June 2008, 11 June 2008, 21 June 2008, 23 June 2008
WiFi - 13 June 2008

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tonight I'm Gonna Party Like It's ...

Two thousand zero, zero party over out of time, but overdue - a Spanish win in tonight's Euro 2008 final. 44 years of hurt since their only win in a competition - the Euros of 1964 when the finals were in Spain and the Generalissimo, who had refused to let the team play in the inaugural competition four years earlier because of Soviet involvement, allowed the boys in red and yellow to play and beat the reds in the final. They don't make football tournaments like they did then - Luxembourg were in the quarter finals and Greece pulled out as they were still at war with Albania against whom they were drawn. And of course tonight's party is also Saint Peter's big night out in Puerto Alcúdia. Football and religion - it must say something about local culture, though I'm not sure what, other than football and religion.

Switching sports to tennis and to double back-handing, cut-off shirt and bicep-popping Manacor sex God and Wunderkind, Rafael Nadal. No, this is not a Wimbledon moment; one international sports event is quite enough even for this most eclectic of blogs. The Nadal story is rather closer to home, in fact more or less on Rafa's doorstep in Manacor where a tennis centre, that the government was supposed to have been building, has been left a couple of tram lines short of the full court (a remarkably symbiotic metaphor to link to the recent tram story, I am sure you will all agree). The Balearic Government, and bear in mind that the other day it was agreed to hand over some 1000 million folding notes from the governmental piggy-bank to apply some economic RSJ to the construction industry, finds itself somewhat financially embarrassed when it comes to the Manacor centre. So, hang on, let's get this right. The government, which is able to put its hands on a whole wedge of moolah for the building trade, is not able to divert a fraction of this to ... a building project. Hmm.

So what's another tennis centre that doesn't get built, you might be thinking. And you might be right if this were just a story of not facilitating some nouveaux Nadals and their forehand cross-court volleys with top spin. The point about the tennis centre was that the Manacor Muscle had entered into an agreement with the old government administration whereby, in return for the odd tennis court, he would do some PR for Mallorca. Sounds like a fair deal really, especially as, unlike the other "faces" of Mallorca or the Balearics who get dragged into the spotlight and then swiftly disappear, Nadal happens to actually be not only Mallorcan but the most famous Mallorcan in the world. What could be better? The government's tourism politburo, IBATUR, could do a bit more of their wonderfully strange advertising. "Mallorca, much more than tennis", in keeping with the other it has come up with. Except of course it would now have to be "much less than tennis" as Nadal has taken his racket and balls home with him and told the government where they can stick the PR. No tennis centre, no Rafa beaming out from posters at the next international tourism gig.

If the government can ever be said to be sure-footed, there seems little doubt that it has foot-faulted on this. For all the Paco de Lucias and Anna Kournikovas (whatever happened to her role as a "face" by the way?), none has been Mallorcan. Along comes someone as famous as Nadal, and the government says, "sorry, mate, but we've run out of cash for your tennis centre". Maybe they should ask Nadal if he can lend them a bob or two. Still, if Real Mallorca's Dani Guiza scores the goal that wins Euro 2008, then the government can find themselves a new face for Mallorca. But what would they offer in return? Buy the football club. Of course. Brilliant, as it happens to also be owned by the bloke behind the Drac Group whose financial woes have helped to put the local construction industry into penury. Two thousand million zero, zeros.

Chain - The pianist was Herbie Hancock. And what is his big-hit link to Godley and Creme? Yesterday's title - The Motors, "Airport" and see this here, replete with intro by Jimmy Savile, now then, now then ( Today's title - easy, easy.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

You've Got A Smiling Face

And ever more on the train extension. It would appear that not everyone is happy with the planned route (alongside the road to Alcúdia from the motorway); that not everyone includes the mayors of Alcúdia and Muro. Alcúdia's Miquel Ferrer is complaining about a lack of consultation, and Muro's Jaume Perelló reckons that the other route (the one that would terminate at the Es Foguero "ruin") would be the better option. Well, as this other route would mean the terminal being sited close to the Muro boundary, I suppose one can sense a degree of self-interest. However, maybe he has a point when he says that such a terminal would be closer to the coast and also to the Muro hospital. Hmm, well, not sure it's that much of a point to be honest, but what about the new industrial estate? That would be right next to the other route's terminal; a stronger point I would have thought. Of course, some are happy about the decision. Step forward our old mates GOB, the environmental lobby group, who one might have imagined wouldn't have wanted anything that came within the sound of a train whistle of Albufera.

This has all the makings of something that will run and run, and run and run - for 15 long years probably like the time it took to agree on the industrial estate - and run and run like the runaway train, and talking of which don't forget the marvel that is Dimple Diamond (

But another day, and another strike in the offing. This has been a fabulous year for industrial relations locally. It gets little better than the teachers and the police striking or working to rule. Oh yes it does if you happen to be flying in for your hols. Baggage handlers. Yep, they're downing the luggage and leaving the carousels sadly revolving with nothing bar the battered and unclaimed suitcase that should have gone to Alicante. Mind you, this has and is only scheduled to take place between the hours of 13:30 and 15:30 when they can go off and have a nice menu of the day. The forums are consoling themselves with the fact that a couple of hours wait is nothing to worry about as it takes that long for baggage to come through anyway (which it doesn't), but those seeking this solace should bear in mind that it also works (or rather doesn't work when on strike) in the outgoing direction, i.e. baggage doesn't get loaded onto outbound flights. So, Mr Smug coming-on-holiday tourist, watch out if you're only here for a week as they're planning a repeat next weekend, and for the whole of Saturday, not just the lunch break. And let's add to this glorious summer of strikes the train workers and possibly hotel workers. Wonderful stuff.

Meanwhile, celebration time and photo opportunity moment for Pollensa worthies yesterday. Some 40 years after it was first planned and six years after the first stage of the road was built, the new road that bypasses Puerto Pollensa was officially opened. Oh joy. The most recently built bit, from the coast road to link up with the roundabout by Caprabo (Eroski), is now complete, there being a roundabout on the coast road that takes you either along the bypass through Gotmar and Pinaret to join up with the bypass to Formentor or further along the old coast road. Excellent, especially if the enviros get their way and close the whole coast road, thus making the whole exercise a complete waste of time.

Chain - Michael Brecker who was part of The Brecker Brothers. Brecker's final public performance was with which jazz pianist? Clue: "I Thought It Was You". Yesterday's title - U2, "Desire" ( Today's title - in honour of the baggage handlers' strike, what had this smiling face and flew a baby away?


Friday, June 27, 2008

A Streetcar Named ...

Picking up from yesterday's piece, a comment came in about the tram and the possibility of it going to Puerto Pollensa. I had actually heard some tell of precisely that, though the latest reports suggest otherwise. The enviro-fashionistas would rather like to close the road that runs by the coastline, and let nature reclaim the land, so I don't know if a tram would accord with such a desire; not that I can ever see it happening, but were there ever to be thought of a tram link to Puerto Pollensa, that would surely affect the thinking as to the siting of the train terminal. Or maybe it wouldn't; joined-up transport thought patterns are not necessarily the order of the day here. But were joined-up transport links to be held to be a "good thing", then what of the new terminal in the port for all those cruise ships that are due to be arriving some day, whenever? Maybe they should put the tram along the Calle Teodoro Canet, round the back of the Paseo Marítimo. This would be hugely entertaining. Space may be limited for a tram along the carretera, but along that particular road it would bring everything to a grinding halt. Bring it on.

Meanwhile, the hoteliers of Mallorca are starting to feel the heat of recession, predicting that profits will be down some 15% this season. Though numbers are likely to be in line with last year, it's that tourist spend that is exercising the minds of the hotel trade. I have said it before, in a different context, so one does get a sense of déjà vu, but when they made their optimistic forecasts and announcements coming into the season, there was a feeling of wishful thinking or even delusion. The hard-hit Spanish consumer and his British counterpart was bound to cause a slide in spend. The noises as the season got under way were the sound of whistling to keep up the spirits, when common sense suggested that, despite the numbers of tourists, the actual spend was inevitably going to go down. Anyway, the hoteliers have had a chat with Balearic boss, Francesc Antich. Not that they have asked him to bail them out, unlike the builders, but they are pressing the government to up its promotional spend for next year. And perhaps next year is what should be really worrying everyone, especially if the euro-pound situation continues.

Euro 2008 watch: So Spain duly made it past the suddenly hyped-up and then equally suddenly useless Russians, and they didn't need the benefit of a cut in transmission to alter the result. A conspiracy theory raised on 6-0-6 was that UEFA couldn't bear the idea of Turkey, like Greece in 2004, progressing and actually winning the damn thing, so that so-called lightning strike was in fact a cover to disguise the real result - Turkey in fact won 5-2. Anyway, Spain it is, and with remarkably good or bad timing the final clashes with the climax of the San Pere fiesta in Alcúdia. One fancies that the old image of Peter may take a bit of a back-seat, quite literally perhaps, propped up in a wheelbarrow outside a bar while the locals turn their attention to the TVs. And if Spain win on Sunday? Mayhem. Last night's victory was met with much sounding of car horns hurtling past the house. And for your average Brit expat, a real dilemma. I am, I think, unique in actually wanting Spain to win. But as the opposition will be ... the Germans ... which side can your expat want to win less? Tricky.

Chain - Forgot yesterday. The Players Association featured one of jazz's finest saxophonists who formed part of what "brothers" outfit? Yesterday's title - "The Runaway Train", Michael Holliday, and here is a link to someone who goes by the moniker "Dimple Diamond" introducing and then doing that song. It's fair to say, I think, that Matt Lucas could well have dreamt him up. Anyway his youtube has had barely 300 visits, most of them mine, so I implore you all to look at this and elevate him to greatness ( Today's title - ok, so fill in the missing word by reference to which mega group?


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Came Down The Track And She Blew

The technical bods have deliberated long and hard and decided that the planned extension of the railway from Sa Pobla to Alcúdia will follow the route of the main road from the motorway. I wouldn't have thought that it would have needed much deliberation. The alternative was to go by Albufera, a route that would be far more complicated and could not really go any further than the old "Es Foguero" place by the roundabout from Sa Pobla, and a terminal there would make it almost Playa de Muro and not the "pueblo" of Alcúdia. A decision has yet to be made regarding the siting of that terminal and, though the report today ("Diario de Mallorca") refers to the fact that the railway line would then go on to link the "pueblo" (the town) to the port and Can Picafort by means of a new tram line, local opinion is that the train terminal would be most likely to be just outside the "pueblo", i.e. by the Horse Roundabout. It might just be feasible to run a line from the roundabout coming into Alcúdia across finca land to end at, say, the roundabout to Puerto Pollensa, but that would just have the effect of making more complicated the laying of the planned tram line, I would have thought.

If it does actually get built, the rail extension could well prove very popular, so much so that some consideration must surely also be given to the number of carriages that one train would carry. A train line from Alcúdia into the centre of Palma would have the distinct advantage for many, myself included, who shy away from driving into the centre of Palma as it is, frankly, something of a nightmare. It would take longer, but it would be considerably less stressful. But the capacity of the trains would be an issue, especially in summer. At present, tourists tend not to use the train (from Sa Pobla) in great numbers because of the obvious hassle with getting to Sa Pobla in the first place; this would all change with a terminal in Alcúdia.

Then there is the proposed tram. To connect with Can Picafort, there is only one way that it could go, and that would be along the main road (the carretera Artà). This would not be without difficulties, one of which would be how to deal with the bridge over the canal from Albufera in Playa de Muro. Short of widening the bridge (which would be no bad thing as it is currently quite dangerous anyway), there presumably would have to be a traffic light system to give the tram priority. In addition, there would be the new roundabouts along the carretera to negotiate; the one at the top of the Mile, which is tight already, should prove fun. Which does of course raise the question as to whether the new layout of the carretera from the Magic Roundabout all the way to Can Picafort was ever conceived with a tram in mind. I very much doubt it. All that development and all that cost, and they'll have to rip it up and start again. I guess that a tram could use the side roads, but there are breaks in these, so the simplest solution would be to go straight down the middle of the main road, which raises the question as to whether the space really exists. The tram line (or lines) by itself (themselves) could probably be accommodated, but then there are the platforms to be taken into account.

Whatever they decide, and God knows how long it would take to build the thing (if it gets done), the presence of a few trams hacking along the centre of the carretera is going to make using a car even more joyous than it already is. Cyclists, people on roller blades, trikes, tourists wandering in the middle of the road and now trams. Sounds like great fun.

And talking of fun. On the WHAT'S ON BLOG, I have added the events for the La Victoria fiesta that takes place on 1 and 2 July. This is one of the most traditional local fiestas, but it is a bit out of the way, and a taxi is advisable partly because of the amount of drinking that goes on on the night of 1 July.

Chain - Ohio to the Ohio Players to the Players Association and therefore "Turn The Music Up". Yesterday's title - Elvis Costello, "Shipbuilding", but here is Robert Wyatt's version ( Today's title - those who remember Uncle Mac should know this.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It's Just A Rumour That Was Spread Around Town

With the due predictability of night following day, the Balearic Government, responding to the current economic mess, is going to stump up over 1000 million euros, much it being directed towards construction and a fair chunk to paying debts.

This is the unreal reality of the local economy. It is hard to ever categorise construction as a strategic industry, but in Mallorca that is pretty much what it is. It is a strategic industry in that it creates a cycle of employment and wealth generation and thus is, in effect, a glorified subsistence industry. The government, with little else to turn to, is left with little alternative but to prop it up. And propping up is what it is doing.

It cannot be denied that certain public projects, such as the upgrading of water-treatment plants and the planned extensions to the rail network, are necessary or to-be-desired infrastructure developments and job creators, but one does have to wonder as to the efficiency of the capital being handed over to local construction firms. The current economic malaise is one created by many factors, but debt and therefore business collapse are the consequences. Take the Drac Group, the company presided over by Vicente Grande, he also of the Real Mallorca football club to which Freddy Shepherd has turned his covetous eyes. Drac has applied for the suspension of payments to creditors. A financial restructuring may yet save the company, but it is, to all intents and purposes, bankrupt. A substantial player like Drac going almost or totally belly-up obviously means that supplier firms are left with unpaid invoices, cascading the economic problem down through the economic chain of the island. This is the debt-payment alleviation to which the government is willing to divert funding.

I have no way of knowing the ins and outs of the Drac situation, but the construction sector stands (and appears to also fall) as an example of why things are in a mess. Many construction companies have been like Leeds United; they have bet the future with easy credit that has of course now dried up. Again, I make no comment specifically about Drac, but one has to ask - in a wider context - about the management and governance that has brought this situation about.

The government is left with a Hobson's choice - and that is to support an industry that has become de facto strategic in the absence of alternatives. If nothing else, this should all be exercising the minds of Balearic politicians as to diversification, and a shift away from the relationship with the construction sector, a relationship that seems to enable firms in difficulty to go cap in hand for a bail-out and for more public funds and therefore more borrowing to jump-start the sector. The construction industry may be in difficulty, but it virtually can hold a gun to the government's head. Let firms go under and that means unemployment, more grim economic news, and the blame will be lain at the government's door, which would be only partially true. And don't think this is all a consequence of an acquiescent Socialist-led government; it would have been no different under a PP administration.

But what, one might well ask, would happen were there to be a sudden collapse in the tourism sector, which can more genuinely be called a strategic industry? Would hoteliers and others, faced with debts from unsold holidays, be able to get the government to dig into the coffers for assistance? Aid because of, say, a natural disaster is one thing, but aid occasioned by market failure is another. Which brings one back to the notion of diversification. There is just the possibility of a "shock" that could derail the tourism sector; it cannot ever be discounted. But the question of course is diversification into what. I don't know that anyone has a good answer to that.

Chain - Hang On Sloopy is the official rock song of the state of Ohio, which does rather beg the question why a state needs an official rock song, but there you go. And by which soul and funk route do you get from Ohio to "Turn The Music Up". Yesterday's title - Man Ray's real name was Emmanuel Radnitzky. Today's title - though it was about more than just a decaying industry (not that construction here is, but it seemed like a good opportunity to use the title), where does this come from?


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Man Ray

Back to prices. I read somewhere someone moaning that things are much more expensive in Alcúdia this year, that all the restaurants have put their prices up. Well, yes, some may well have put their prices up, but equally there are those that have not. But if a bar has whacked on 50 centimos to the price of a pint, and a returning client notices, then that bar's going to have to be doing something else well if that client is not going to shop around. Prices do vary even within reasonably close areas. In Puerto Pollensa, for instance, a pint of Mahou can cost 4.60 euros around and in the square; a bit away and you can get one for 3 euros. Similarly a round of four drinks for a family that can come to 9 euros off the square is 6 just down the road.

There are plenty of reasons why prices may have gone up - the additional costs of energy, petrol, social security etc. have to be taken into account. But while upping the price of a pint by 50 cents or so may increase the profit per pint, the question is whether those increased prices translate into volume of sales. It is volume that counts, and price, ever more so this season, is the key selling point for many. Of course, there is also the price perception issue, among the Brits most obviously. The strength of the euro has changed the mental picture for the tourist. Last year's 1.40 plus to the pound has gone down to 1.20 or so to the pound. Last year, that 1.40 was rounded up - to 1.50 in the tourist's mind; this year, it has been rounded down to 1.00. The tourist makes a cognitive error in calculating a 33% difference in value, even if it is an understandable error of mathematical convenience and even if the real cost has not shifted or has gone up by no more than, say, 10%. However, it cannot of course be denied that the euro in your pocket (if you are British) is worth less. And an evening out with a hundred euro note may, last year, have allowed you to enjoy a good night out and leave you with considerably more than enough for a bag of chips on the way back; this year, it would probably just be enough to cover the cost of that bag of chips.

And just on Puerto Pollensa. There will, in the next couple of weeks, be a new Chinese restaurant opening. Another Chinese, you ask? Well yes, except this one will bring with it an already strong reputation, as Ray from La Villa in Puerto Alcúdia has taken over what was La Vall (a remarkable piece of closely named serendipity, one feels) and will be bringing the 15 years of La Villa experience to Puerto Pollensa, from where people already go to Alcúdia in order to sample the La Villa menu. Well, from 8 July, they will not need to. And I think I may have mentioned this before, but La Villa is the only Chinese I know locally that gets itself listed in the a la carte league; it has also, unlike many Alcúdia Chinese restaurants, not had to stoop to the "buffet libre" form of promotion. Price is indeed important, but it is not everything.

Chain - The Four Seasons, "Let's Hang On"; The McCoys, "Hang On Sloopy". And what official role does Hang On Sloopy have? Yesterday's title - Kajagoogoo (see this here: Today's title - a very different sort of question today. Ray isn't really Ray's name as such (I could give you the full Chinese, but I won't); neither was Man Ray the actual name of ...?


Monday, June 23, 2008

Too Shy, Shy

And so, after all the rubbish weather comes the hot stuff. We were told to expect it, and with due predictability, on the back of what was more like March weather, the lows have turned to very highs, with some forecasts talking of temperatures up to 35 or 37 degrees (99 in old money). One of the surprising aspects of this, surprising as Mallorca is hardly immune to hot weather, is that the authorities feel the need to give out a warning and advice, but I guess the message can never be made too often.

Excitement mounts as Spain move on to the semis of Euro 2008. Thank God they beat Italy. Otherwise, amid all the attacking football, there might have been the prospect of the Italians boring their way to the championship. Spanish TV went overboard, extending its programme in order to accommodate even more pockets of advertising. Heaven knows what will happen if they actually win the thing - a feast of advertising opportunity till three in the morning beckons. It was a truly rotten game, but the victory offered the chance to see how truly rotten TV here can be. Shambolic hardly does justice to the post-match presentation of the Cuatro channel ("podemos", we can; no you cannot). You couldn't tell what was advert and what was frantic, hastily-cobbled-together reaction. There was even some bizarre thing which involved speaking to a group of about ten supporters in front of a huge banner that read "Kia Fest"; motor cars are the stuff of Euro championship advertising, especially Korean cars. The chap who was packed off to do the interviews in front of the multi-sponsored board was like the cat who'd got the cream when he managed a few words with the King after he had emerged from the team's changing room. "I spoke to the King, I spoke to the King," was what he wanted to say. The King does at least turn up for these events. Think of him what you may, but there is no denying his support for Spanish sports teams. There was once, and it must have been the 2004 Olympics, the time when he and the Queen attended the medal ceremony for some minor sport - rowing perhaps. The medals duly divvied up, the King and the Queen then engaged in much kissing and hugging with the Spanish gold medallists; it was all rather touching, and you couldn't have imagined the British royal family acting in such a way.

The real star of the Spanish win though was not one of the players but someone I have had cause to have a go at here - namely the coach Luis Aragones. After Fabregas scored the winning penalty, what did Aragones do? Go into a David Pleat-like leaping fit? No, he picked up something from the bench, was embraced by someone and then walked off. Nothing more. Avram Grant had Mourinhoesque charisma compared with Aragones. In the lead up to the penalties, all he did was walk on to the pitch with a piece of paper to tell the players who were taking the pens and then went and sat down again. No motivational speeches, no imploring, just a sense of this is your job, now get on and do it. But it was the post-match press conference that really gave us an insight into Aragones. He was there with the eloquent captain, Iker Casillas. When Casillas left, you could see Aragones was thinking: "I'm on my own here". He scratched his neck and his ear and he mumbled into the mike. He was shy. He obviously hated it all. He has gone up in my estimation.

Meanwhile, away from the euphoria of the football, the lousy economic situation has prompted the Balearic Government into holding talks with various bodies, such as the unions and business groups. Whilst the economy is said, by the government, to be "robust", ways are being sought to combat the current problems, not least unemployment. And so what will they be proposing? More construction. Yep, even more construction. This may make sense as a short-term fix, but it fails to address the weakness of the Balearic economy, which is its reliance on construction (and tourism). And the recent record with siphoning off public money into the private sector for undertaking public works has not been uniformly successful, owing to the problems of indebtedness that some of these firms have.

Chain - Crowded House, "Four Seasons In One Day" to The Four Seasons and "Who Loves You". And what connects The Four Seasons to American pop act of the '60s, The McCoys? Yesterday's title - "World In Motion", New Order (see this here: Today's title - who? Had them here recently.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

One On One

According to Thomas Cook, which has published a Holiday Cost of Living survey (reported in "The Bulletin" yesterday), Mallorca is the eighth cheapest holiday destination out of ten listed. Quite whether that means that Mallorca is cheap is open to question I suppose; the other way of putting it is that it is the third most expensive. Words, like statistics, can paint a thousand cost-of-living pictures. Anyway, the Cook's tour of various international destinations and their bars, supermarkets and other places checked out the comparative costs of 15 goods and services, among which were - a draught beer and a packet of cigarettes - and came up with an average daily spend for your Brit tourist of 57.80 quid (or about 73 euros for those of us who have long forgotten how to evaluate things in pounds). The tour operator estimates this little lot of 15 items works out at a saving of a bit under 15 quid compared with costs in the UK.

Whilst not entirely uninteresting, the survey does have one flaw, and it is revealed in that little word, the indefinite article "a". Admittedly, the 15 items do also include a bottle of beer, a double spirit and mixer and a bottle of wine which, together with the aforementioned "a draught beer", might, you would have thought, be sufficient alcohol for one day's intake, but more than one item might just as easily be preceded with "several". Where "a" might remain applicable would be in the altering of the item concerned to "a gallon of draught beer" or "a carton or two of Embassy". Even the most committed of smokers might find it hard to actually puff away a full two hundred per day, but a cursory observation in the tabacos of Mallorca would reveal that a carton or two (duplicated by a factor of at least ten) would not be an inaccurate estimation of the average spend.

Then there are other items in the basket that are of dubious singularity. Take a can of Coke, an ice-cream or even a UK paper. One can of Coke and one ice-cream would be barely adequate in fuelling a Brit child's hyperactivity and dietary requirements for an hour, let alone a day, which of course is one reason why all-inclusives are so popular. And whilst I was on research duty at the Continental Park the other day (see yesterday's piece), a gentleman of bellydom came to reception to ask for not just "The Sun" but also "The Star". Or maybe two red-tops constitute a - one - newspaper, though even that would be doubtful.

One might also argue that the Cook's recipe of expenditure overlooks certain other necessities, such as the all-encompassing "a trip to the chemists" - a box of paracetamol needed to cope with the hangover is, after all, easily polished off in a day or so, washed down with a gallon of draught beer, while there are all the other pharmaceutical and medical requirements - the stuff to deal with mosquito bites, something for little Tyler's ear infection that he got after going in the pool and of course a family-sized bottle of anti-sunburn cream, and having seen one example of a super-sized family at the "super family" Continental Park, make that two.

Still, Mallorca can be content with its eighth place, as the island is holding its own against the competition of Florida, in ninth, and Croatia at number ten. Moreover, when it comes to the events for single items, Mallorca does well in the pint-of-beer competition, fifth behind the champion cheap-beer destination, Cuba, though the cost of that Mallorcan pint (1.86 pounds or about 2.35 euros) does rather depend upon where and which beer. Not sure what Thomas Cook would have made of it all; his first excursion was, after all, for fellow members of the Temperance Society.

Chain - Split Enz was Neil Finn's group before Crowded House. And the connection from Crowded House to "Who Loves You (Pretty Baby)"? Yesterday's title - A Tribe of Toffs. Today's title - it's from a footy song. Which one?


Saturday, June 21, 2008

John Kettley Is A Weatherman

Oh, the insecurities of the Internet. The paranoia of so much and too much information that has users permanently attached to their keyboards. Take weather. Somewhere, I read someone say that Alcúdia's weather forecast shows showers and fog over the next ten days. And this someone then asked if this is correct? The Internet has bred whole cyber-campuses of experts who are not, but unless, for example, John Kettley happened to be passing this particular forum, how on Earth can anyone respond to this insecurity? I was tempted to respond if only because I looked at the same link and it said sunny and hot, but I didn't bother as the enquirer would doubtless have already consulted all possible weather sites in search of reassurance. I know the weather is important, but the Internet has caused a state of panic, which brings me to another example, this one related to the Continental Park Hotel in Playa de Muro (and take note of those words Playa de Muro, as I shall return to this).

There was a whole exchange in which, based on, as it turns out, an error in the brochure and some plain ignorance, there were thoughts of changing to another hotel and terrible fears that a holiday would be ruined. Because of all this, the Continental Park, which had hitherto languished in Division 1 of local hotels when it came to enquiries, was not only promoted to the Premiership but was also challenging for Europe alongside the usual suspects - Bellevue, the Macs, Lagomonte and Lagotel. But there was salvation for those seeking alternative all-inclusive havens to take the place of the Continental, and this was in the form of reviews on yet another site which gave the place good marks. So, all was good in Continental-holiday land as someone somewhere unknown had said that all was fine and so extended an arm of reassurance around the quaking and anxious shoulders of the Internet.

But something else struck me in the Continental discussion. Someone said that she was surprised to learn, because someone had said so during this discussion, that the Continental was not in Alcúdia. I am not surprised, having looked at Thomson's website. If one goes there, under Alcúdia are listed a number of hotels, some of which are indeed in Alcúdia, but the following are not - in addition to the Continental Park and Apartments, Alcúdia Suite, Amapola, Parc Natural and Rio Mar. They are all in Playa de Muro. And it's not as though Thomson don't recognise the existence of Playa de Muro as they list one hotel if you click on the resort, that hotel being Los Principes, on the beach side of the road opposite the Continental.

How can they be so inaccurate or misleading? How can, for example, the blurb for the Rio Mar, which is before the canal going towards Alcúdia Pins and Can Picafort, state: "then walk your dinner off with an evening stroll along the sands or head for one of Alcúdia's bustling bars"? Which bars might these be? Those of Bellevue? Then the stroll would be, how long, 45 minutes? An hour? The blurb does at least locate the hotel "a hop, skip and a jump away from the shimmering sands of Muro beach" (for God's sake, and now you might know why I have a problem with "brochure talk"), but the Alcúdia reference is way off-beam. For Alcúdia Suite, which is opposite the Laberinto Giant Maze, the site says that the apartments have "the added bonus of being within easy reach of all Alcúdia has to offer". Yes, if you don't mind a trek or a bus. For the Continental, there is no reference to either Playa de Muro or Alcúdia from what I could see, apart from the fact that it is located under Alcúdia on the site.

Apart from anything else, when I was talking about Muro town hall's thoughts about some plan for promotion, I said one of the biggest challenges lay in creating an identity that is separate to Alcúdia. And the Thomson website shows just how much of a challenge. The Muro worthies should start by telling the tour operators to make damn sure that they know what is Alcúdia and what is Muro.

Chain - Paul Young covered "Don't Dream It's Over" by Crowded House. (See here for the better version, i.e. the original: And who, basically, were Crowded House before they became Crowded House? Yesterday's title - Fifth Dimension, "Up, Up and Away". Today's title - who did this? They didn't do much else.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Way Up In The Air

And more on Air Berlin. There wouldn't have been had I not received a comment appended to 18 June's thing. It may have escaped your attention, so I reproduce it:

"In regards to the Air Berlin fiasco, are you implying that the Balearic island government “demanded” that Mallorqui be spoken in flights, or that they “requested” it be considered? There is a big difference between the two approaches, and the Balearic government has every right to make such requests, just as Air Berlin has every right to tell them that they will not consider their request.
May I remind you that the main turmoil was started by a spat between Mr. Hunold and the former Catalan politician Mr. Cordon, and not necessarily between Air Berlin and the Balearic government. Just as these two individuals, you are just taking advantage of the incident, as everyone else on both sides of the argument (pro-Catalan and pro-Spain), and using it for your personal agenda. If it weren’t for Mr. Hunold and Mr. Cordon, and all the people jumping in to make political statements, this would have been politely resolved long ago."

Good. Good that someone comes back with a comment. More of it, please. But why oh why was this sent anonymously? I am totally open to people offering different opinions, and this is a subject of no small interest (the language one), so it would be good if it were right out in the open. Moreover, if anonymous could put together a full story on the ins and outs of the background, which I admit had escaped me, that would also be good, and I would be more than happy to post it here. Anyway, because I cannot reply to anonymous commentators, which is why I ask people to email me, I shall use this space to thank anonymous, but I would also like to respond.

One has to go back to the original piece of 14 June. This drew on an item from "The Bulletin" which used the words "misinterpreted" and "inviting" in inverted commas in its article. When I see an inverted comma or two, I sense a euphemism, though this could of course have been a simple translation. But euphemism was how I interpreted it. So I was not implying, I was interpreting. And I think an interpretation of something stronger than a mere invitation was not an unreasonable one. As far as a "personal agenda" is concerned, oh I really don't think so. Frankly, I couldn't personally care less what language Air Berlin uses. The story was taken up because it seemed to represent the current vogue for language issues to poke their way into the public domain and also because it struck me as daft, which regular blog readers will know is a powerful incentive for me to raise a subject. As I said on 14 June, it is an honourable political goal to promote Catalan, but for me the real issue of language policy is not one couched in idealism, romanticism or populism, but in pragmatism and in terms of what constitutes the most effective means for economic and competitive development, a point I referred to yesterday. My language is neither Castilian nor Catalan nor indeed a local variant of Catalan, so it ill behoves me to try and foist a personal opinion onto the discussion except in the capacity of an observer who is removed from the emotion of the issue and sees something of the ludicrous or something that is riven with cant.

Anyway, once more thanks to anonymous.

And I feel that I have to offer myself a rebuke. In the same piece on 18 June, I said the symbol of quality tourism was a Balearic one. I should learn to look at adverts a bit more closely, which I have. It is actually a national thing, which does spoil the gag rather, though maybe the symbol should have been a C and not a Q. Whatever.

Chain - Paul Young was with "Streetband" who did "Toast". And what links Paul Young to Crowded House? Yesterday's title - The Who from "Tommy". Today's title - where's this from?


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Fiddle About

Economic woe follows the British tourist and lands with him at Spain's airports. There may be more sun in Spain, but the clouds of economic hard times are as in evidence as they are in the UK; indeed, more so.

There was a fine article in "The Bulletin" yesterday; fine, that is, if you like your economics reporting coloured by imagery of doom and gloom. "The Spanish economy is in for a ferocious fall." "It's going to suffer more than Europe and take longer to recover." There is nothing necessarily that new in the article, but it does act to emphasise both the sudden decline of one of Europe's golden economies and the structural impediments to turning that economy around on anything more than an ever-deeper lake of debt.

According to the IMF, Spain is the developed country that will be "hardest hit" by the credit crunch. And it's not difficult to understand why. The reliance on construction, as a driver of the economic boom, has turned to a millstone, with construction companies unable to get the credit they had long used and the housing market all but drying up. There are, of course, those who fiddle while the country may not exactly be burning but is at smouldering point, and insist that all will be fine, including President Zapatero, but his predictions for growth are at variance with those of the IMF, which forecasts stagnation. And the problem is more than the fiddle-playing of wishful thinking, it is the fiddle-playing that drowns out the noises calling out for structural improvements that would give the country a truer sense of economic well-being, rather than what it has known - which is one based on low-skill sectors, such as construction, and all that Brussels benevolence. An extra whammy awaits in the pipeline for Sr. Zapatero: further interest rises imposed by the European Central Bank.

To place the current economic malaise in a Mallorcan context, it is difficult not to be even more pessimistic. To return to a previous theme on this blog: the Mallorcan economy is sustained by two main sectors - tourism and construction. The latter is suffering as elsewhere, but the fiddle-players can point to the value of the luxury housing market to cover up deficiencies. The tourist sector will probably enjoy a year as good as 2007, at least in terms of overall numbers, and so the fiddle-players will say all is well. But both sectors are essentially low skill. There is, or has been, a complacency that these sectors can continue to fuel growth, while quelling any impetus to seek ways of shifting to a more diverse and competitive economy based on higher skills and also higher salaries. Recently, there was a call for the local government to set about a new round of construction in order to assist the flagging economy. This is economics of the madhouse. There may well be a need for social and affordable housing and also for further civil construction projects, but where does the money come from? More borrowing. Mallorca is but a part, but Spain overall has the second-largest current account deficit in the world. To seek a remedy in yet more construction would be to compound the economic problem that already exists while simultaneously papering over the cracks of an unbalanced economy. Among other sectors of the local economy, agriculture for example, there is also uncompetitiveness. The island's almond-growers have seen their market attacked by California, hardly a low-cost producer. The key to this has been the use of technology. In the same way that Californian wine producers exploited technology to attack the French wine market, so have their almond-growers. Technology and skills.

One has a sense of unrealism about the local economy, and about much of the country's economy. European development funds have been both an advantage and a disadvantage. They have created the grounds for the economic boom but they have also seem to have acted as a disincentive to establish a more meaningful economic basis - one of skills, competitiveness and productivity. One wonders just how far the island has really progressed. And I come back to that observation (17 April: "Wonderland") about Puerto Pollensa and about kids' futures in a place where they enjoy a laidback, beach upbringing and believe that to be their futures. There has always been the beach, and for the last couple of decades a nice open cheque from Europe has made the beach even more agreeable.

The local government does at least seem to "get it" in that they have a plan, albeit vague, for innovation and development. But then, on the other hand, there's the language issue. Is competitiveness really compatible with a bias towards the local language?

It is hard, at times, to avoid an image of wanting the cake of the playa, the fiestas and the traditions and to eat it too, with the bread and jam of easy credit, whoever supplies it. When I talk about progress, I mean the extent to which society here is fronting up to the nature of the global economy and its role in it. This weekend, many Mallorcans will decamp to Menorca for Sant Joan, and thereafter the summer is one round of fiestas. It has been easy to maintain all this tradition and all this party so long as the credit line is long. But maybe that party is coming to an end.

Chain - "Man On The Moon" to "Moon River" to "Breakfast at Tiffanys", which was the name of the song by Deep Blue Something. And what links breakfast to Paul Young? Yesterday's title - Jack Nicholson. Today's title - where's this from? Had it only recently.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

One Flu (And Flew) Over The Cu-Cu's Nest

Flu. Would you credit it? No sooner does the weather finally get its arse in gear than flu descends. And before any jibes, this is no man flu, this is flu, or has been as it now seems to be lifting. Not that I've done myself any favours. Customer service continued even if it meant going back and forth, back and forth on Monday with boxes of guides for some and handfuls for others. The problem of not being able to park close enough to the centre of Alcúdia old town. Sweat upon sweat and then shiver.

Of course, there's a lot of it around. There always is a lot of it around, or so it seems. Someone says "I've had the flu" and with true predictability someone else replies, "There's a lot of it around". I don't know that it's any worse here than most places, but all the kissing, hugging and handshaking that goes on probably doesn't help. Sometimes it can be like a wild fire. Two or three years ago, around this time of year, there was a virulent dose of gastric flu. I got it, and when I mentioned it, it turned out everyone else had.

So I have taken two or three days out from doing the normal rounds, I've taken to the terrace, but I'm not at the stage of being wheeled out in a bath-chair with a shawl and a mug of hot lemon. Maybe it's the flu though that heightens one's senses or perhaps one's intolerance of certain noises. So I'm sitting on the terrace, and there is this noise coming closer, and then the noise goes right past and disappears up the road. But then it comes again, and again. I've long thought that these various things that the tourists pedal around on were accidents in the making, but I hadn't appreciated the extent to which they create noise pollution. Specifically, it's those kart-like trike things. Not the four-seater things with horses heads, the ones lower to the ground, just like, well, karts, except with no engine. But that noise. As it came and went and then came again, I was trying to think well what does it remind me of? Then it came to me. A knitting-machine. And perhaps reflecting my temporarily infirm status, I thought asthmatic knitting-machine. And that's just what these things do sound like. I wonder if the guys who operate them have ever thought about applying a bit of WD40.

An update on the Air Berlin-Balearic Government Catalan-usage spat. It seems that Valencia and Murcia airports have taken due note and, with due opportunism, have extended the hand of welcome to the airline to switch its hub from Palma. Can't think for one minute that it will happen, but it should serve as a reminder to the Balearic Government not to go around biting off a hand that feeds by making preposterous "invitations" to use one language over another.

And finally, back to Cuatro and its Euro 2008 coverage; well, the ads anyway. There is one for the Balearic symbol of quality tourism. If you don't know what this is, then if you happen to go to somewhere like La Parra in Puerto Pollensa you'll see a "Q" by the entrance. Hotels are also involved. But this ad. It uses the children's utterance of "cu-cu" (cuckoo). Why? Well because the "cu" pronounced with a short "u" here is basically how you say "Q". All fine it would seem, and the letter for "Q" for quality makes sense, doesn't it, unlike the Ç thing. Except it doesn't make sense, if you happen not to speak Catalan, English or German, i.e. you speak Castilian. The Catalan for quality is "qualitat"; the Castilian is "calidad". Moreover, the advert is not in Catalan, it is in Castilian and refers, of course, to calidad. Cu-cu!

Chain - REM's "Man On The Moon" referred to Andy Kaufman who, among other things, was an Elvis impersonator. And how do you get from that song to the American one-hit wonders Deep Blue Something? Yesterday's title - Barack Obama (see this here if you must: Today's title - in its proper form, who starred in the film? Easy stuff.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Yes We Can

All in all, it is probably as well that England are not in Euro 2008. Ah, our plucky lads, the lumpenproletariat-cum-nouveau riche of galactico footballers, who lump the ball rather than caress and adore it. Against the passing of the Spanish, the verve of the Dutch, the technique of the Croats, humiliation would once again have beckoned. The bars may not be packed with England t-shirts, but those who've gone to watch are spared what was once described by French pundits (while watching the 1990 World Cup in the bars of southern France) as "primitif". Admittedly, 1990 got better than the game against Ireland which gave rise to this description (and the Irish were no less immune to the primitive criticism), but the years pass and the lack of basics that seem to come so naturally to nearly all other football nations survives. Way back in the '50s, they were bemoaning poor technique and control while Puskas and co. exposed the insularity and aloofness of the English game.

Flicking through channels in advance of one Euro 2008 game, I stumbled across another football tournament. The players had fine technique, ball control and all balls played to feet, pace, movement and passing. It was quite mesmerising. They were all of eleven or twelve years old, teams from Spain and Germany playing in a competition in Mallorca. Small they may have been and small also the pitch and goals may have been, but it was not hard to imagine that some might grow to be a Xavi, a Ballack or a Villa. It was like watching Arsenal play, which probably explains why Wenger eschews mostly anything born in Britain. In England, kids still play on full-sized pitches and are exhorted to "get it long" and run around like headless chickens. One of England's brighter talents (brighter in terms of footballing ability that is), the spud-faced Scouse nipper now playing for Man U, is a decapitated fowl and a foul waiting to happen. It occurs to me that you might want to nip along and see the semis and finals of the junior football tournament taking place during Sant Pere: they're on the 26th and 27th at 18:00 at the sports ground. It won't be like watching England play that'll be sure.

On TV, the Euro finals have been grabbed by the Cuatro channel for those who have no desire to fork out for the pleasure. Compared to the wackiness of La Sexta's coverage during the last World Cup, this is dull fare; no Three Tenors, the singing commentators of 2006, for a kick-off, and especially no short-arsed, balding one with a bow-tie who was, by far, the worst offender. Mind you, the threesome that Cuatro drags out look as though they may have recently come off stage having warbled for a cabaret audience. They each have uniforms of black jackets and white shirts with at least two buttons undone and no tie.

Not much time is devoted to analysis during the Cuatro transmissions, in fact virtually none. Nor are there the meaningless pitch-side interviews. "So tell me, Petr, why did you screw up so badly with that cross?" One suspects that they might have found some time for a bit more endless slow-mo of offside decisions if it were not for the need to get the ads all in, the ones the football tiresomely gets in the way of. And one of these is a Cuatro corporate thing that they repeat endlessly. It has a slogan; well, there's a surprise. It's one word. "Podemos". We can. If I were being cynical, I would ask: "we can what"? But I have already coined the We Can line for Can Picafort, admittedly in English. Better get down Santa Margalida town hall quick and get them to accept it and pay me handsomely, except they wouldn't as they haven't got any money.

Chain - REM did a cover of "I Will Survive". And which REM single has a link with Elvis impersonators? Yesterday's title - Mr. Mister, "Broken Wings" (see this here: Today's title - which politician has this as a song?


Monday, June 16, 2008

To Fly Again, ... To Live So Free

Sunwing. The simplicity of a name. Taken to the sun by wings. Or an allusion to a freedom in the sun. It's a masterpiece of holiday-ese. Hotels have sought the allure of exotic local names or have been corporatised so that one is not entirely sure. The Iberostars Alcúdia Park and Albufera Park, separated by kilometres, are sometimes transposed. The Vivas Blue and Bahía. Now which one is which, again? The Sols all stand together, yet are distinct; not that the tourist necessarily knows this and so has to enquire: " is it this or is it that?". Others have fallen back on the we're all in it together tag, which may indeed be apposite in the cases of Club Mac and Club Bellevue. The only "club" of purpose is Sea Club, another brand of straightforwardness - a club by the sea.

The hotel name. It's a subject worth a piece or several on its own, but for now, to return to Sunwing. This complex of hotels and apartments is one of Puerto Alcúdia's biggest and most enduring. It has not aspired in the same way as Bellevue has to having its name used to describe an area, even if it is a convenience to explain that such and such is "by Sunwing". It has also not been granted quasi-geographical status as, unlike Bellevue, it has not spawned a Mile equivalent. Sunwing has the best of all worlds. It is close enough to the Mile but not a part of it, it is a pleasant stroll along the beach path to the port, and it is slap bang on the beach.

Yet for all the importance and advantages of Sunwing, go to the various holiday advice sites (the English ones anyway) and you will find no mention. There are no enquiries after the state of the entertainment or the kids' club or the existence or otherwise of Germans. And the reason why not is very simple, like its name. The Brits can't go there. I had thought that one of its hotels, the Princesa, was to go Brit, but this has not turned out to be the case. Sunwing is Baltic, Nordic, Scandinavian, and is likely to remain so.

Sunwing is the concrete embodiment of the Scandinavian Alcúdia holiday; it is indicative of a history of Swedish holiday colonisation of Alcúdia. More so than the Brits or the Germans, it was the Swedes who claimed first land rights. And they have made sure to keep Sunwing for themselves and their Scandinavian brethren.

In a more general sense, Sunwing and its convocation of nations, is part of a diversity of European tribes in Alcúdia that rarely gets mentioned. One might believe that The Mile is the Brit on holiday, but even blocks in Bellevue are for other nationalities, the Scandinavians included. The "British" bar along The Mile is as much a phenomenon of the successful export of British holiday and social culture as it is anything to do with actual ownership; the diversity of the Alcúdia tourist is not mirrored by the presence of ethno-bar-style. Yet it is this very disparate agglomeration of EU and non-EU nations that contributes, in part, to the vitality of Alcúdia. There may not be a mass of Scandinavian bars or even German, French, Czech or Russian ones come to that, but there is a multi-dimensionality to Alcúdia that is not to be found in, say, its neighbour Puerto Pollensa. "Bild" may have unwisely laid guilt by association at the beaches of Puerto Pollensa when it said it was a place for Germans to avoid, but it was right in the sense that Puerto Pollensa is very much the Brit on holiday, to a far greater extent than Alcúdia.

The Scandinavians of Alcúdia should be a protected species. Not only are they well regarded for their willingness to part with hard cash, they are also singularly unaffected by the negative characterisations of other nations, notably the Germans and the British. Scandinavians do not suffer from accusations of arrogance or projectile vomiting. Given the cheapness and availability of alcohol compared to the likes of Malmo, one might have thought the Swedes would be in a state of two-week binged oblivion, but generally they are not. And perhaps there is something in prohibitively high alcohol prices. Take a walk around Sunwing, and after the shock of all that blondness, the thing that strikes is you is that they look so disgustingly healthy.

Sunwing. So important but so unknown - to the British. And something tells me that this is how the Scandinavians intend to keep it.

Chain - "Gloria", Van Morrison; "I Will Survive", Gloria Gaynor. And the connection between the latter song and REM? Very simple. Yesterday's title - Wah (see this here: Today's title - where's this pompous lyric from?


Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Story Of The Blues

Another day, another promotional tag. Mallorca is awash with branding, its seas are alive with the sound of slogans. And from the sea comes the latest - "IB-Blau", standing for Illes Balears Blau. One of the advantages of Catalan can be its closer proximity to English - blau is blue, and is also but one change of vowel from the French. IB-Blau is the rallying regatta call of Balearic yacht and boating tourism; into the blue and into, very much, the black of a profit and loss account that seeks ever more buoyant figures to add to the 520 million euros of income that floated in during 2007 on the hulls of seafaring. As "The Bulletin" points out, the Waterworldist wallet is a thing of some lucrativeness - a daily spend of 140 plus euros per day per head. At an average stay of 15 days, that represents a couple of grand of watering and feeding and the rest.

IBATUR, the Balearic Government's tourism promotional wing and they of the "much more than ... " sloganising, are well aware of the treasures that the Waterworldists bring in, but, in good eco-consciously correct fashion, say that the nautical-tourism promotion of the blue Balearic motif will not be supported by anything environmentally detrimental. In other words, there will not be a major development of the marinas save for floating moorings. Much more than nautical tourism, in IBATUR terms, but not much more by way of marinas. The good ship IB-Blau can sail into port with "The Ecology Song" blaring from its tannoy system and with its hold full of nautical-tourism bounty. Yet a regular annual increase of some 14% in terms of income demands more marina space unless the charges rise and are accommodated by that bulging Waterworldist wallet.

Despite the restrictions in terms of further physical moorings, here is a part of the tourism industry that does offer riches. It is the familiar argument of wealth generating more wealth, in the secondary sense to the restaurants and establishments near to the marinas. Which does raise the question of how diffuse that wealth generation is and would be in the whole of somewhere like Puerto Alcúdia. And the same might also be said for the new port terminal which is now under construction and which promises further riches from cruise ships using it as an alternative to Palma. It's good news for the port, in fact potentially very good news, but for all ...?

Chain - Van Morrison did a track called "Whatever Happened to P.J. Proby?", a question many of us will have asked. What's the link between Van the Man and "I Will Survive". Yesterday's title - "Come Fly With Me", Frank Sinatra. Today's title - which Liverpool band did this?


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Where The Air Is Rarefied

A story that has been rumbling here with the sound of an airplane's engines in the background has been that involving the German airline, Air Berlin, and the Balearic Government. This has entailed an apparent "invitation" to the airline to use Catalan as the first business language of the islands. To which one might well ask, what on Earth is a regional government, or indeed any government come to that, doing attempting to dictate language policy to a business, a business - in the case of Air Berlin - which is one of the more important airlines operating into and out of Mallorca. It's a nonsense, or it would be were it not for the "sense" that trails in the jet-stream of this whole story; that of populism.

Public consumption may have tempered the reporting, but behind the scenes one suspects that Air Berlin told the Government to get stuffed or "Sie können mich mal". President Antich is reported (in "The Bulletin") as saying that the airline had "misinterpreted" the "invitation". This smacks of euphemistic spin. But in an act of PR, Air Berlin is going to get together with the Government's lingo directorate. So face saved for the Government whose high-minded and idealistic language policy is as rarefied as the air where they would like to have it used.

Behind so many of the language diktats is the opportunism of populism. The promotion of Catalan is a perfectly honourable political goal, but in seeking to impose its use, current-day politicians are wandering dangerously close to the same pit of linguistic dogma that saw the language proscribed under Franco. And oh that it was as simple as there just being Catalan to be promoted without the complications of Mallorquín and the Balearic language.

For all this though, language is a simple issue for local politicians; simple in that by raising the political profile of language it disguises more important issues. Language is a convenience of Mallorcan politics, and yet the populism that is suggested by attempts to impose Catalan (or its variants) is of questionable popular support, not least among those who have their children's education and futures in mind and among those children themselves.

This populism has now crossed the political divide into the conservative Partido Popular, a party normally associated with the primacy of castellano (Castilian Spanish). The mayor of Calvia, who fancies a pop at the leadership of the PP in the Balearics, seems hell-bent on making the Balearic language the language, especially of education. Why? Language preservation is one thing, but pragmatism is quite another. I may have mentioned this before on this blog, but it bears repetition. Some years ago, I worked on a marketing project with the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. I once asked one of my contacts there why Dutch people spoke such good English. "Because we have to. No one else speaks Dutch." Pragmatism is a trait that has long informed Dutch politics and educational policy.

And so it is that pragmatism, rather than populism, should be the guiding principle of language policy. Personally, I am in favour of the teaching of Catalan (or Mallorquín) and of its promotion generally, but not at the expense of a pragmatic outlook which would allow those local children to have a wider choice of university were they receiving a castellano-biased education. The consequence of a Catalan-angled policy is that university education becomes more limited, largely to Palma, something that merely reinforces an insularity that a university education should seek to eliminate. All education is about broadening the mind, and none more so than higher education.

Last year, the Government made great play of a "plan" for innovation and development in Mallorca. Quite what this is I am unsure, and I'm not wholly sure the Government's sure either. But what I am sure of is that, if there is a desire to create a more diverse economy, one that would function within a global market, then there are two languages that matter - English and Spanish. Catalan is, in a respect, like Dutch. European language it may be, but international it most certainly is not save for the odd small outpost here and there. Spanish may be a less-important international language than English, but important and useful it still is. It is a linguistic advantage that exists within Mallorca's boundaries, and yet some politicians would seek to deny it.

The Government is saying that there is not an intention to make 100% of teaching in Catalan, yet there are some who might try and force the issue. The Government also says that plans to have English used as a third language for teaching have not been effected because of a lack of qualified staff, which is a kind of Catch 22. That lack of staff is partly down to a lack of English teaching in the past; a cycle that is still being repeated. And then there is the inherent contradiction of apparently seeking to internationalise education by introducing English as a teaching language (albeit the commitment to this may just be open to doubt) while at the same time trying to insist that an international airline conducts its business in Catalan. Where is the pragmatism?

Chain - Maggie Bell had a hit with "Hold Me" (together with B.A. Robertson) which had been a hit for P.J. Proby. And what connects P.J. Proby to Van Morrison? Yesterday's title - Belinda Carlisle (see this here: Today's title - where's this from?


Friday, June 13, 2008

Circle In The Sand

Well with something of a soggy and muted fanfare which meant that the launch had to be transferred to the Auditorium, Alcúdia town hall proudly unveiled its new WiFi system for the beach a couple of days ago. Some of you may recall my reporting on this back in March (11 March: "Beach Baby Beach"). It was as well that they hightailed off to the Auditorium, didn't want any rain getting in and gumming up or flooding the works of a laptop or having their parade of keyboards rained on. Which does rather beg the question ... I mean a beach WiFi zone may sound like being at the forefront of technology and all that, but are people seriously going to be taking their computers onto the beach? Any electrical or electronic device on a beach is a wind-blown and Factor-50 recipe for disaster. Equipment may be more robust than it once was, but years ago I soon put paid to a Walkman when sand got inside it. It seems daft. Take a few hundred quid or euros' worth of computer with you, smear it with suntan oil, expose it to direct sunlight, threaten it with sand or spray or turn your back and let some light-fingered opportunist scurry off into the cover of the hotels and trees with your Dell or Toshiba. Perhaps I am wrong; perhaps there are sufficient numbers who wish to conduct their affairs from a beach-towel that they will fill the 500 connections that will be available at any one time (price 17.95 euros for 500 minutes of use). At least the network that has been established on the beach, which includes video surveillance, may be able to spot the chap legging it with the laptop. One advantage of the WiFi system is that it is meant to be very high-speed. Well, I trust that it will be and that it will not be prone to interruption. Local ADSL connections are basically pretty dire. Spain has one of the poorest broadband infrastructures in Europe, as I can testify to when I lose my connection, which is not uncommon. Otherwise we might yet be treated to those with their laptops walking round and round in circles on the sand trying desperately to pick up a signal as though they were looking to tune in a TV set of years ago.

And still on matters Alcúdia, the fiesta season is very nearly upon us. The first biggy of the season starts on 24 June, the week of Sant Pere or San Pedro if you prefer. Finally, the weather looks as though it may just have turned the corner and not be likely to throw up a tsunami or something that would disrupt the boat procession on the main night of the 29th of June. As ever, the town hall have very kindly sent me the programme (in Mallorquín) that I have battled to translate, not without having to email them to ask what certain things mean: there is no such thing as an English-Mallorquín dictionary, at least not one I've ever found. Anyway, duly done it is now going onto the WHAT'S ON BLOG and the fiestas section of the main website. This year sadly, there don't appear to be any former contestants from local "Pop Idol" equivalents, as was the case last year. But, as ever, the main gig will be the night of the 29th with its boats and fireworks. It is well worth attending, so let's just hope that those visitors away from the port area, i.e. in Bellevue or elsewhere, get to know about it. I do my bit, but it remains a largely under-publicised event where the tourist is concerned.

Chain - Jimmy McCulloch was in Wings and also Stone The Crows with whom Maggie Bell made her name. And what's her connection to P.J.Proby? Yesterday's title - Wham (see this here: Today's title - who?


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Club Tropicana, Drinks Are Free

Well it has started to bite - the lorry drivers' strike and blockades. At the local Eroski, the problem with tourists not knowing how to weigh their fruit and veg is less of an issue as there is less to weigh. The fresh-meat part of the supermarket was closed. Not good. Apart from local folk, those tourists on a self-catering basis are going to start wishing they'd booked all-inclusive, though quite how well the hotels are catering (or not) I'm not sure.

It seems like bad news, bad news and more bad news. And I'm going to add to it. I'm afraid that the scratch-card problem is really starting to be an issue in Alcúdia (if you're not aware, this is a means of getting people to pay for holiday clubs or time share). The other day, I got an email from a gentleman of nearly 40 years coming-to-Alcúdia experience who was complaining bitterly about the constant hassle and, moreover, the abuse and aggression from those who try and entice folk with the cards. His email to me is basically the same as a letter that appeared yesterday in "The Bulletin".

Look, I have no problem with guys trying to earn some money so long as the deal's legit and they're not giving people a load of grief. But there is a problem if the resort gets itself a bad name; Magaluf has suffered for some years. Alcúdia has certainly not been immune; just now it seems to have cranked up a gear or two, and Puerto Pollensa also is a target. I don't really wish to dwell on whether there is permission or not for this to happen or indeed the nature of the actual offer, but my understanding is that any street selling or promotion has to be licensed. The agreement is that PRs and owners can "tout" for business right outside their own bar or restaurant; this they can do. But to go along the street or beach or wherever, you need a licence. That is one side of it, but the complaint of abuse and aggression is quite another matter.

This is a flavour of the email I had and of the letter to The Bulletin:

"We were shocked and dismayed by the number of street touts who made our lives an absolute misery every time we walked out on the street. We were approached several times on each visit to the Port area. The touts were abusive and aggressive when we tried to avoid them and even shouted at us as we walked across the street trying our best to avoid them. In fact they seemed to take pleasure from upsetting visitors with one of their women members shouting abuse after us at the top of her voice."

I'll say no more.

And today would not be complete without at least a passing reference to the fact that Freddy Shepherd seems to fancy taking over Real Mallorca. What was all that stuff about him and the women of Newcastle? Maybe he finds the babes of Mallorca a more enticing prospect.

Chain - Denny Laine, once of The Moody Blues, was in Wings. And how do you get from Wings to Maggie Bell? Yesterday's title - Weather Report. Today's title - so easy, I shouldn't even be asking.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Heavy Weather

So I got this call to my mobile. It was Ben, Ben of Piccadilly Ben but no longer as he's Bellevue Ben now. Did I know there was a hurricane on the way, my having the finger on the pulse of all things? Not as such, says I. When? Now, he says. I look to the sky and, in that it can ever be described as sunny here at present, it was doing a fairly good job. Ben had got the word from Sara at the Condes who themselves had been warned by head office to get the sunbeds off the terrace - you don't want them floating down to the beach or being hurled against the back of Bar Bamboo if it turns out to be more of a tornado like last October. And then ... Nothing. Watched Spain thrash Russia with what passes for perfect weather at the moment outside. So I thought, well where is Condes HQ that they can issue such a warning? Does it orbit the Earth on a weather satellite, or is the good Starship Condes boldly predicting weather events that no man has experienced before? I thought that and it seemed like a good line, but it turns out that there was a general alert yesterday with schools being evacuated in the south.

With all the awful weather and last autumn's tornadoes still fresh in the memory, it was fair enough that they took precautions even if it turned out to be a false alarm. Mind you, nothing would surprise now. We can all take a joke, but this is getting to be a nightmare. And this morning, another storm, another deluge. How long can it go on for? Yesterday morning I was down in Puerto Alcúdia's marina among the Waterworldists; they tend to have as good a handle on the weather as most. There were no predictions of immediate extreme weather but there was talk of a 40 days, 40 nights variety. No end in sight.

And the rain and cloud is now becoming the stuff of myth. The word is that holidays are being cancelled because of the weather. People are returning to from wherever they came and spreading the word, and their mates are pulling their reservations. I don't think so. People don't cancel; not unless they want to incur a whacking loss they don't. Last-minute business may well be a different matter.

Meanwhile, down in jolly old Can Picafort, local politicians seem to have been woken at long last from the long sleep of inertia into some action (or talk at any rate) regarding the nature of the beach and frontline. Can Pic has long been little Germany and it has taken a German newspaper, "Bild", to put the wind of fear up the politicos. Reported in today's "Diario" are evaluations made by "Bild" of the Can Pic beach. There is one word that stands out. The Spanish is "pésimo". This can be translated as abominable.

I think that "Bild" is actually overdoing it, but it has drawn attention to things like the seaweed, the predominance of concrete along the promenade, the inattention to gardens, and the lack of shade and children's play areas. It has gone on to recommend that visitors go to Playa de Muro beach instead. "Bild" awards Can Pic beach the second worst score available on its ratings system.

As I say, this is perhaps a bit over the top, but it's not to deny that there are indeed problems with Can Pic, its beach and frontline. For much of the length of the "concrete" promenade that runs along the back of the beach, the sensation is not unlike an English seaside resort. Then there are the numerous restaurants, all with boards offering grilled sardines, breakfasts and coffee and cake. Go inside any of them, and they are like barns, and there is little to distinguish one from the other. As far as the beach itself is concerned, there is the constant problem with the seaweed, but this does get cleared now and then and Can Pic is not the only beach to have to contend with this.

Can Picafort, to be absolutely blunt, is an unremarkable resort. Oh it's pleasant enough, but that concrete description can just as well apply to the whole place. Hotels, hotels and more hotels. I read recently someone describe Can Pic as "picturesque". Each to their own, it's not something that would spring to my mind. Indeed, try as I have to take some good pictures of Can Pic, it's difficult because there really isn't anything much that lends itself to being photographed. Compare it to, say, the port area of Puerto Alcúdia, and the contrast is quite striking. Alcúdia's marina is a thing of some splendour, its promenade wide and attractively landscaped. You cannot say the same about Can Picafort.

To be fair, there is a money issue. Santa Margalida is not as wealthy as Alcúdia, but it should not take a German newspaper to put the frighteners on to make the town hall do something to smarten the place up. One of the politicos is calling for an urgent debate to which various bodies should supply ideas. Why has it taken them so long? One fears the stirrings of a promotional campaign, now that neighbours Muro have decided they need one. I'll give them a slogan: "We Can, Can You?" Suitably vague and useless; I commend it to them. There again, maybe it should be "we can't, but you can try if you want".

The thing is though, when it comes to the promenade, "Bild" is missing something of the point, and that is that because someone decided to eradicate all the dunes and build right up to the beach, in winter the beach encroaches onto the prom, as can the sea. So any attempt at prettifying the frontline has to take into account the force of nature; the force of nature that no one had the foresight to consider when they developed the place.

Chain - Patrick Moraz played with both Yes and The Moody Blues. And go on, what's the really simple link between the Moodies and Paul McCartney? Yesterday's title - "Calling All The Heroes". Today's title - album by which jazz band ? (Clue's in the title.)


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It Bites

No, not a mosquito. The strike of Spanish lorry drivers. Different country, same public reaction. Put a bit of a scare in front of Jose Public and he'll panic like crazy and take his own tanker to the local petrol station and fill up and then strip the supermarket shelves on the way home for good measure. Not that I am aware of any problem here as such, but maybe I should join the crowds and start panicking. There again, no petrol and it would be a good excuse not to do anything. Lounge around all day in the sun. The only problem being ... The other "it bites" is the grim weather.

The lorry drivers want a minimum price for haulage, but President Zapatero's not about to go along with the demand. Quite what also he can do about the soaring rise in diesel costs I've no idea. It's not as if diesel is the only energy product that's been affected; butane gas is up to over 14 euros a bottle, not far off a ten per-cent rise in a couple of months. The costs of energy have increased significantly over the past few months, so when people bang on about prices here being high or having increased, they might spare a thought for the fact that all businesses need to try and recoup those costs, and that includes bars and restaurants. Everyone is affected.

You now start to get the feeling of a conspiracy against the season. The credit crunch was one thing, then the euro-pound lack of kilter, then the weather (and still the weather) and now the energy crisis and the hauliers on strike. You wonder if it can get much worse; perhaps a plague of locusts. A drought on a biblical scale is unlikely though.

And returning to yesterday's piece. It happened again. Same Eroski supermarket, different tourist, different bunch of bananas. Fortunately someone was on hand. Me. I watched the gentleman concerned as he returned to weigh the bananas. Put them on the scale and then looked at the buttons. What he saw was a series of numbers. Which one do you press? You have to know that the numbers are to be found next to the relevant items. I did it for him. And on leaving, I asked the girl at the checkout, from whose queue the gentleman in question had been rebuffed in his initial attempt at payment, why there was no dirty great sign in English (and German) to make it clear that most items of fruit and veg have first to be weighed and that the button corresponding to the number from where the particular fruit or veg has been taken has then to be pressed in order to print the correct label. She quite agreed. So I suggested she brought it up with the management. And you know what? There's a meeting tomorrow and she will. Maybe. But were this dirty great sign to be placed in hopefully a prominent position, the only problem then would be explaining the fact that there are certain items that don't need to be weighed. Confused? You will be.

Chain - Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes of Buggles were, for a while, part of Yes and Horn produced "Owner of a Lonely Heart". And what connection is there between Yes and The Moody Blues? Yesterday's title - The Band (see this here: Today's title - what was their one and only hit?


Monday, June 09, 2008

The Weight

"Can you tell me where I'll find the freshly-baked bread?"

Personally, I don't expect staff in the main, national supermarkets here to speak English. Were I from Madrid, I wouldn't go into the Hemel Hempstead Tesco and anticipate that the checkout girl would be fluent in Castilian. So Puerto Alcúdia is a tourist place; so what? In a tourist supermarket, it might be different, but the so-subtly red-painted Eroskis are "Spanish" supermarkets in which the staff have a tendency to speak Spanish or Mallorquín and only Spanish or Mallorquín. Consequently, launching into a well-constructed question sentence, as the lady who uttered the above did, is likely to induce a look of nonplus.

There are establishments here who I believe have every right to absolve themselves from any duty to be multi-lingual, and the mainstream supermarkets are one such. But this is not to absolve them totally, or to excuse either their mediocrity or the seemingly perverse inability to prevent inconvenience or embarrassment. Take the business of weighing fruit and veg. Now, you might think that a counter in the middle of the greengrocery section with a balance and some buttons might just suggest to the tourist (usually Brit) shopper that there is a point to the counter. But never underestimate the blindness of that shopper. Rather than sticking up a large sign or two in English and/or German that explains the whole procedure, the only advice is that given in Spanish. As a result, the lengthy checkout queues (and let's also mention the lack of checkout staff) get longer while the non-weighed and therefore non-priced apples or potatoes have to make their way back to the greengrocery department. Often it is the bewildered customer who has to make the journey. The British, especially the British, hate social embarrassment. That is why, on more than occasion, the offending customer has returned from a fruitless return journey minus the bananas. I heard one woman mutter to her child that the machine wasn't working. Of course it was working; she just didn't know how to use it. And she didn't know how to use it because rather than spending time finding out she wanted to get out quick and spare herself any more embarrassment. If they would just put up a sign or two ...

And current weather watch. It has gone beyond the joke stage to one where it is now a bit serious. The fifth weekend in succession that has been washed out. It chucked it down again yesterday. Still, maybe a few enterprising supermarkets have been getting in stocks of umbrellas, but I wouldn't bank on it.

Chain - Geoff Downes who was part of Buggles. And what about the Buggles takes us to Yes and "Owner of a Lonely Heart"? Yesterday's title - Harry Nilsson. Today's title - who did this?


Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Point!

Let us be ever so wary. Or let them be ever so wary. Another town hall is due to undergo a marketing makeover. This time, it's Muro. One thing is for sure, they won't be using a c-cedilla as their focal point. And focal points should be at the heart of their thinking.

Muro town hall, with what seems like a shrug of catch-up, has observed that other town halls, e.g. Alcúdia and Pollensa, have looked to promote themselves and so have said - in effect - well if they are, then perhaps we should as well. Nothing like a bit of proactivity. More's to the point; it's about time. Accordingly, they are establishing a consortium or a foundation or something or other.

I could save them an awful lot of time and effort. I, or anyone in Muro come to that, could predict what this will entail. There will be four main themes: the superb beach, the generally very good hotels, Albufera and the old town of Muro itself. There, done. Throw in a website with a few photos and a link to the current, which is basically a bookings device for the hotels, and job's a good 'un.

But hush my cynicism - for a moment. There is one very good reason for them doing all this, and that is to establish the fact that Playa de Muro is not Alcúdia. The Playa suffers by proximity; it also suffers from the ignorance or disregard of many, including tour operators, who call it Alcúdia. That visitors end up referring to the Playa as Alcúdia is not that surprising if they are told that it is Alcúdia.

The main objective of any Muro marketing should be to establish a separate identity, one that is distinct from Alcúdia. It's not an easy task. Apart from the fact that the Playa is - in effect - an extension of Puerto Alcúdia, the beach resort and the town itself, come to that, lack much in the way of obvious differentiation. The beach is the same beach; the resort, pleasant enough, defies a description of character; the old town is anonymous set against the Romana and night atmosphere of Alcúdia. Unlike Pollensa, separated by several kilometres from its beach resort but with a capability of enticing the Puerto Pollensanists, Muro old town has nothing of the attractions or the culture of a Pollensa. They will doubtless give prominence to the ethnology museum and the unquestionably impressive church but other than these ... er...? Does anyone from Playa de Muro go to Muro? Would anyone from Playa de Muro go to Muro? No and no. It's not as if people go for the market. Which market do they go to? Alcúdia's. Why? It's not even for reasons of proximity if you happen to be in the far-flung parts of the Playa like Alcúdia Pins. It is because of the Alcúdia association; oh, and the bus routes, or the lack of them when it comes to hooking up Muro town with its beach.

Muro town is not as dull as its neighbour Santa Margalida, but nor does it boast any strong reason for going there. Local Muro apologia grants the town antiquity, but this is hardly a case of uniqueness; all the old towns possess this and some form of historical relevance, none more so than Alcúdia. A curiosity of Muro is that its main square, with the church and town hall to opposite sides, is bereft of cafés. What should be a natural focal point for the town has been left stripped of magnetism. Indeed lack of focal point is a Muro characteristic; the Playa has none. Unlike Puerto Alcúdia's promenade or Puerto Pollensa's church square and also promenade, Playa de Muro is a road and a strip of beach - a continuum of non-surprise. No one had the foresight to create a central reference point to the modern invention of Playa de Muro; the reference points of Puertos Alcúdia and Pollensa grew from what already existed in their old fishing villages.

In terms of diversity, Muro does have one very strong card. Albufera. Though inevitably this is assigned by the unknowing to Alcúdia, the boundaries of Albufera lie within Muro (and Sa Pobla). It is something worth bragging about, but overall the municipality fails the test for the current vogue for alternative tourism. Whereas Alcúdia and Pollensa can both claim a golf course, Muro cannot, though the endless saga as to the possible development of one on the Son Bosc finca might yet see it being teed off. An intriguing by-issue of the Muro tourism consortium is that it brings together the town hall and the hotel association, the latter squarely in favour of the golf course, elements at the former dead against it; at each others' throats in the name of eco-credentials on the one hand and Wilson-wielding wonga on the other. Who knows? Maybe their new-found passion for promoting Muro might find them agreeing on something for once.

Golf is one thing, grub is another. The Playa region can brag nothing in the way of a gastronomy trail. There are good enough and long-established restaurants like Boy and Las Delicias, but none that can be classed as haute cuisine. The restaurants in Puerto Alcúdia's Mile may be essentially purveyors of big lumps of meat and a tribute act, but even there are to be found one or two a class above the average Playa establishment.

You come back to the need to create a meaningful identity for Muro. At least one measure has already been taken, that of placing a sign at the Pointed Thing Roundabout which makes it clear that one is actually coming into Playa de Muro. They should do more, like putting a McDonalds type arch over the road by the roundabout with "Welcome to Playa de Muro" in flashing lights. But this would just be window- or rather road-dressing.

This consortium or foundation or whatever they're calling it should be taking a more zero-base approach. They should be asking - what is the point of Muro and Playa de Muro and what is needed in order to promote the municipality effectively? And by needed I mean the product itself as opposed to how the promotion is done. They could start with the lack of focal points, with those unlovely and unwanted "locales" and with the tackiness that is in stark contrast to the opulence of the hotels. They might also ask how can the town of Muro be made more appealing. But they won't. They'll do a website, push out a few more brochures, maybe even pitch up at an international fair or two, probably create some pointless logo, and pat themselves on the backs for having told a few more souls about things we already know - the beach, Albufera and the hotels.

I say that it's about time that they did more in the way of promotion, that they seek to create an identity, and if this is indeed what they do then fine. But, you know, once they've done it all, you will still get people referring to Playa de Muro as Alcúdia and you still won't get people going to Muro town.

Chain - Asia was the group. Carl Palmer of ELP was the association. And so what connects Asia to "Video Killed The Radio Star"? Yesterday's title - Don McLean. Today's title - who did an album, film and play with this title?