Thursday, July 31, 2008

Watching And Waiting, Anticipating ...

The anticipation was great. Deliverance might have been hoped for but deliberation was what turned up. Balearic president Francesc Antich came, he spoke and he will have to conquer the guardians of central government's purse-strings. The much-heralded announcement on the islands' economic situation was something of a damp squib in this long, hot and difficult summer. The politicos can pack their bags for their August vacations sure in the knowledge of their own impotence.

Antich presented a 13-point plan. It was politics dressed up as economic expediency. Tax cuts for certain groups buying their first home, some adjustment of capital gains and a whole wedge of moolah for the construction industry. Little of it was new. The relief for the construction sector had already been announced; tax assistance for the young buying a house is yesterday's news. This may be welcome but it is the banks who fund house purchases not tax breaks; mortgages are as scarce as rain at present. The pumping of further cash into the economy relies on Madrid being cajoled into opening its coffers wider. That's the deliberation; the funding arrangements for the Balearics is and has been an ongoing discussion. There's more deliberation - a committee to look at how to reduce property prices and a call for cross-party participation at a time of crisis. At least Antich, unlike President Zapatero, was prepared to refer to a "crisis"; he has his head half raised out of the sand whereas Mr. Shoemaker seems to be buried in it. The only hint as to something new was a vague reference to the fact that the current problems offer the chance for a different economic model - whatever that might be.

It is easy to be critical. The fact is that regional governments, in this case the Balearics, are even more incapable of dealing with global economic difficulties than a national government. It is not really their fault except for the absence of a genuine attempt at a re-modelling of the economy that could smooth some of the harm caused by situations such as the present one. We shouldn't really have anticipated much because there was little to anticipate.

Meanwhile ... In Playa de Muro there is a fine old argument raging. This weekend sees what passes for a fiesta. It is small beer compared with the pint-sized celebrations of, for example, Pollensa's Patrona. This year there are some changes - there is not be a street party while there is to be a fair which will include samples of local cuisine. It is the nosh aspect that has caused hackles to be raised. In the "Diario" no less than Joan Torrens from Restaurant Boy is bemoaning the fact that restaurants in the playa are not among the ranks of restaurants offering samples (all three of them). I know Joan pretty well and can well imagine him in complete disgruntlement mode.

The argument goes thus: the three participating restaurants, all of them from Muro town, will be offering dishes for three euros a pop (actually the publicity brochure says two euros) and these will deprive the local restaurants of diners, while the non-street party this year will reduce the numbers flocking to Playa de Muro and spending their dosh in those local restaurants. Oh, and there is the matter of one of the three restaurants belonging to the councillor responsible for Muro's fiestas. I wouldn't fancy being him on the end of a high-volume tongue-lashing from a riled Joan, which I daresay he has been.

The town hall reckons that all will be ok as people will merely be sampling the dishes not having dinner and also says that one restaurant in the playa was approached but declined as they would have too much work on.

It is all pretty daft and gloriously representative of how daft things can be here. There again, chatting locally there is support for the playa's restaurants - they pay more than the town's restaurants and there is perhaps a sense in which the town is raining on the playa restaurants' parade. Those ten kilometres between the playa and town are more than just a physical distance; they create two entities with some mutual hostility. Anyway Muro town hall has done quite well with its publicity. The sheet over the main road announcing the "Fira nocturna" which can't actually be read when the wind blows is rather pointless but there are posters and leaflets in four different languages; nothing needlessly expensive like, say, the Puerto Pollensa Virgen del Carmen brochure, but to the point and useful. Info's on the WHAT'S ON BLOG. This does not refer, as the leaflet does, to "peasants" who "will delight us". Whatever.

Yesterday's title - Dolly Parton - Today's title - who? Boy band. Colour.


Index for July 2008

Airlines - 21 July 2008
All-inclusives - 19 July 2008
Bars - 11 July 2008
Balearic Government - 31 July 2008
BBC Breakfast TV - 29 July 2008
Beaches - 29 July 2008
Blogs - 14 July 2008
Books - 20 July 2008
Bullfighting - 28 July 2008
Construction industry - 27 July 2008
Eroski - 26 July 2008
Fiestas - 13 July 2008, 14 July 2008, 16 July 2008, 18 July 2008, 22 July 2008, 25 July 2008, 31 July 2008
Football - 2 July 2008, 23 July 2008
Hiking - 7 July 2008
Holiday clubs - 1 July 2008
Holiday reading - 20 July 2008
Hotels - 19 July 2008, 27 July 2008
House prices - 23 July 2008
Jazz - 18 July 2008
La Victoria - 7 July 2008
Language - 9 July 2008, 10 July 2008, 14 July 2008
Lucky-lucky men - 5 July 2008, 6 July 2008
Mallorcan companies - 27 July 2008
Mallorcan economy - 19 July 2008, 21 July 2008, 27 July 2008, 31 July 2008
Mallorcans - 4 July 2008, 10 July 2008, 23 July 2008
Names - 13 July 2008
Newspapers - 20 July 2008
Noise - 3 July 2008
Opening hours - 30 July 2008
Patrona 2008 - 13 July 2008, 22 July 2008
Playa de Muro fiesta - 31 July 2008
Police - 15 July 2008
Price controls - 11 July 2008
Property market - 21 July 2008, 23 July 2008
Public relations - 17 July 2008
Public services - 30 July 2008
Real Mallorca - 2 July 2008, 23 July 2008
Restaurants - 14 July 2008
Roundabouts - 15 July 2008
Ryanair - 21 July 2008
Sa Pobla Jazz 2008 - 18 July 2008
Santa Margalida - 14 July 2008
Scratch cards - 1 July 2008, 12 July 2008
Son Real - 24 July 2008
Sport - 29 July 2008
Supermarkets - 26 July 2008
Television - 29 July 2008
Time - 4 July 2008
Toilets, public - 12 July 2008
Tourist information - 8 July 2008, 16 July 2008, 17 July 2008
Tourist offices - 8 July 2008, 17 July 2008
Tourist sites - 24 July 2008
Verge del Carme 2008 - 16 July 2008

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Working 9 to 1

A survey has found that 97% feel that the opening hours for public services should be extended. That is 97% of citizens in the Balearics. Not a bunch of moaning foreigners but everyone. It is a heartening statistic.

It is an absurdity that offices operate such short hours. Try this one - the Trafico place in Palma. It deals with everything to do with cars and vehicles. It is one office. There are no others. It is open Monday to Friday from nine in the morning till one in the afternoon for "customer" service. Four hours for everyone on the island. Go past Trafico at around half eight in the morning and you will see them starting to queue. By nine, that queue stretches well down the street. It's a nonsense. Try also the office for foreign matters not far from Trafico. Go stand in the baking sun in the queue there and then wait for three hours or so inside. If you arrive too late you won't get a ticket for that day and will have to go back the next day. They close at two. Imagine you've schlepped down to Palma from Alcúdia only to be told that you have to do it all over again tomorrow. It is not just foreigners who are treated like something unpleasant on the sole of a shoe; public service here practises little discrimination. There is a tired excuse of "oh that's Spain". It no longer washes. Spain, and therefore Mallorca, joined the grown-ups' party long ago, but much of its administration is still in the kindergarten. It is not just individuals that are impacted; a cruddy system of public administration affects general productivity and efficiency of the economy. I stress again, it is not just foreigners who are dissatisfied; the survey bears that out.

Cliched I know it is to say it, but life and society have changed. People expect convenience. Public offices' opening hours are like shop opening hours - inconvenient. They are, as with much of the tortuous bureaucracy and red tape that they peddle, an up-yours vestige, one of self-interest, union clout and a refusal to countenance a culture that is anything other than that determined by archaic working practices and attitudes. The other day I was griping to my gestor (accountant if you like) about all this and telling him that he and my lawyer (they share a practice) are precisely the people who should be pressurising for change. He told me that the professional associations are not unaware, and that there is some such pressure, but there is also self-interest in these groups and a prevalence of something he demonstrated by raising and lowering a fist - stamping papers in other words. The status quo quite satisfies not only the public services but also the professionals who feed off them.

Hours of opening and bureaucracy apart, there are aspects of one's dealings with the public service and authorities that make no sense. Whose bright idea was it to scrap residency cards for foreigners? I am no lover of ID cards, but if there is a system in place whereby they are obligatory for all Spaniards why not retain a card system for all (albeit that it was not obligatory for foreigners to have one)? The certificate that has replaced the card is of no use as a form of identity. The centralisation of this "service" is also open to question. Perhaps it is still a hangover from the old days of an authoritarian regime; it is not so long ago that everything was centred on Palma when there were no municipal administrations. But another country that had such a regime has managed to decentralise. Germany. Go there to live or work and you can turn up at the local town hall, in places of equivalent size to somewhere like Alcúdia, do the form, give them the photos and the passport and walk out with your residency permit. This sort of thing does not have to be centralised. Except it does if self-preservation is the motive and the "customer" an inconvenience.

The government councillor for "quality of services" seems to accept that there need to be improvements in terms of opening hours, waiting times and bureaucracy. He says that certain moves are already afoot - simplification, the use of the internet for example. Good for him. The Partido Popular locally is calling for a cut in jobs in the Balearic Government as part of an austerity package to deal with the current economic difficulties. It is a political posture, though it may not be without some sense. But it probably misses the point, which is the degree to which the government and the entire system of public administration is subject to scrutiny. That is a pertinent word. It was the one that underpinned the examination of the civil service in the UK by Derek Rayner during the first Thatcher administration. Bloated public services are immune to cultures of service. Perhaps the local public services are staffed at optimum levels, or perhaps they are not, and if not how much will is there to change them and their working practices? When we talk of tourism and construction being the main industries, we forget about the public services and the employment they create. But unlike tourism and construction they don't create value, only take it away or obstruct it through their systems of operation. That 97% might have a long wait and not just in the queues.

Following on from yesterday and the all-important issue of beach cricket, I am very grateful to Colin for a link to the site of a pub in Scotland which has taken the sport to almost Lord's-like heights (well that may be overdoing it). It occurred to me - do they roll the pitch? And lo and behold in the photo for the cricket team, there - in the background - is a roller. Serious boys these. Anyway, here it is - the Ship Inn in Elie and its beach cricket -

Yesterday's title - Bobby Vee. Don't know when the youtube comes from, certainly quite a few years on from his heyday and, er, it's not that good - Today's title - it has lost four hours; who was it?


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Rubber Ball I Come Bouncing Back To You

The BBC came to Puerto Alcúdia yesterday. Well, a Breakfast show reporter and a camera and sound crew did. Wonder where they stayed. Nice work if you can get it I suppose. I didn't see it, but I know someone who did, so this is all second-hand, but I could hardly let such a huge news item pass without mention. Apparently they didn't drag a sofa out onto the beach and interview some local celebs, of which there are very few; in fact none that spring immediately to mind. They did interview some Brit tourists - family of four, couple of old dears and someone engaged in projectile vomiting following an all-night bender; normal sort of thing.

From these chats it would seem that, despite credit crunches, recessions, global warming, plagues of locusts or whatever else might be on the horizon, the tourists will still come because of the British weather - and it was only up around the 30 mark yesterday in parts of the old country. There was also an interview with Bellevue, well not the whole of it but a director. Don't know which one; my mole didn't actually stretch to noting down names. Whoever it was said that people were spending less this year - yes, I think we knew that - but that they were spending what money they had on less frivolous things. What, would that be cartons of cigarettes and bottles of spirits? He also said that bookings were up. Really? Not what I'd heard. Unless last year's were particularly low. A little bird, actually a pretty big one, told me that there was a fair old amount of knock-down being flogged to Spaniards, so perhaps the numbers are indeed up.

But it seems that the BBC showed a number of nice shots of Alcúdia, the beach, the mountains, the promenade etc. Pretty good publicity, reckoned my contact. Yea, it would be, like the publicity when the Holiday programme, a few years back, voted Alcúdia the best beach in the Med. Damn good publicity. Publicity to do something with. Wonder if the town hall knows. Wonder if they ever knew about that Holiday programme vote.

Perhaps it was the BBC crawling all over the beach that put a stop to it, but there was meant to have been a beach handball competition going on at the "sports beach" yesterday. I went along. I quite like handball. There were the stands that sit on the beach at the top of The Mile; there were a couple of games going on; and there was not sight nor sound of a handball player. Maybe they thought it was too hot.

Handball is a mystery game to the Brit, be it on sand or on court. It's all that cricket I suppose, but the British never took to court sports that involved putting balls into nets or over them, except with the aid of a racket or if they were girls at grammar schools. I once partook in a battle of the sexes netball game. It had all looked so easy until it started. Basketball only ever caught on because it was well and truly Niked and given street cred, and afforded the opportunity for lengthy spells of on-court posing and speaking in Americanisms: dee-fence. Other nations can't get enough of these sports. Stick a bunch of Germans on a beach and within five minutes they'll have rigged up a volleyball net.

There was a time when the beach was a relatively sedate place. Not now it isn't. Football started it, and before we knew it every beach was staging a mini-Olympics. The one sport with a strong beach tradition which isn't much played here is cricket. Try getting the ball to lift off a good length on Alcúdia or Muro beach. Sand's too fine. You need some good tidal flats for a game of beach cricket. Preferably, therefore, the ideal beach sport doesn't actually involve the beach. Football is only any good if you can give the ball a firm old welly; otherwise it's that sand again. There are any number of potential beach sports that could avoid the inconvenience of sand - beach javelin, beach hammer throw, beach target shooting. Something tells me though that they might not quite catch on.

There is one "sport", one sport alone that needs to be shown the door of the beach stadium and cast into the wilderness of the utterly irritating - bloody paddle tennis with those wooden rackets. Try getting some beach shut-eye and along come a couple of wannabe Nadalists and ... dock-dock, dock-dock. Stop it.

Anyway, coming back to handball. There is an Alcúdia handball team. Not that you would expect to find its numbers filled with Brits; it is very much the preserve of continental Europeans, such as Frederick at Bistro Bell and Erik from the El Limón estate agency who play for the team. Like the Alcúdia rugby team of which I spoke some months ago, it is not widely known that these teams exist. Perhaps the BBC should come and broadcast their matches.

Finally - there was a comment sent for Sunday's piece from someone who seemed to want some advice on real estate. There was an email address which was bounced back, so who knows, but if the sender reads this, please use the email address below and not the comments facility. Thank you.

Yesterday's title - Tommy Steele, "Little White Bull". There is a karaoke youtube but it lacks the brilliance of Dimple Diamond who himself should do a version of this Uncle Mac classic. Today's title - who did that bouncing?


Monday, July 28, 2008

Only Black Bulls Fight

There has been a little spat via the letters pages of "The Bulletin" regarding bullfighting. It's a subject prone to spats and indeed rather more heat. The editor of the paper defends the publishing of a piece by arguing that it is a cultural facet of life whether people "like it or not". He also says that he has never been to a bullfight.

I have been to a bullfight. I was taken when I was 14. It was in Palma. Nowadays I doubt that I would be allowed to go; bullfighting is for the over-18s or so I understand. When I went it was just the "men" who attended; the females of our holiday party stayed by the pool, not because they weren't allowed to go but because it was decided that this was a man's event. It was a spectacle, no question; it was also grotesque and I wanted the matador to get it in the neck (or elsewhere). I would, should go again. Not because I want to see a bull humiliated and killed or a matador to be gored, but because it is worth observing the event, the crowd, the formality of the ritual and ceremony through more mature eyes; because it is, as the editor rightly points out, a part of the local culture whether we like it or not.

I am neither in favour of nor against bullfighting. Were it to be banned tomorrow though, I would not be in favour. In terms of animal cruelty it is hard to defend, but I defend many things from the self-righteousness of the "ban". Fox-hunting was similarly open to attack, but its outlawing was - in my view - symptomatic of a societal and political culture of banning anything that does not meet with majority approval. Such though, one might say, is the will of democracy. Other cruel animal "sports", dog-fighting for instance, have no defence and are rightly outlawed. The bullfight retains a defence in terms of tradition, but this is slowly being undermined by shifts in opinion. The bullfight may still attract large audiences, but it has been removed from national television in Spain and it has - as was the case with fox-hunting - become more of a political issue. The Zapatero administration is not wildly enthusiastic, but it may well have observed the reaction of Labour's rural England in deciding it is not worth a political fight. There are bullfighting strongholds round the country that the PSOE does not wish to antagonise. There is a further political dimension; as so often it has to do with Franco. The Generalissimo was very much in favour of the bullfight, given its symbolic "Spanishness". There are those who seek to justify a ban by reference to Franco's support. By the same logic Real Madrid should be banned.

The bullfight is not really analogous with fox-hunting though. Sport is a bad word to use, but it is a spectator "sport"; fox-hunting was never that. Bullfighting is also not identifiable with some form of class or demographic, even if its matador roots go back to the nobility. Its very act, while repulsing many, requires human bravery and skill. It is also emblematic. The image of the matador is one of the strongest to be associated with Spain.

You can go to the bullfight here if you wish. The fiesta weeks of Sant Joan in Muro and Sant Jaume in Alcúdia include bullfights. There is still popular support despite the regular protests that appear to be gathering momentum. In Puerto Alcúdia there is a restaurant that is a shrine to the bullfight. Its walls are adorned with bulls' heads and other paraphernalia of the bullring. The owner, Antonio, used to be a bullfighter, a matador. Quite a well-known one, it would seem. He once pressed my fingers into the gore holes in his back. He is proud of his bullfighting past, as the photos and all the rest demonstrate. Though discretion stops me from naming the restaurant, many of you may well know it or may have eaten there, as I have. Antonio has told me that he would like to open a bullfighting school. Was there the interest or demand, I asked. Oh yes, said he. And he would like his small son to follow in the tradition.

When you talk to someone as close to bullfighting as he has been, you come to realise that not only is there the tradition there is also the sense of honour. To be or to have been a matador is an honourable distinction in a country where honour runs deep in the national psyche. You might well argue that there is little honour in slaying an animal, but that is where cultures collide, while the bull itself - hard to rationalise I know - is also granted honour especially if it has fought hard.

To defend the bullfight by reference to culture or tradition can be too simplistic, but that culture does exist, albeit that it is being eroded. It is the culture of the old and increasingly the culture of the new Spain that are clashing over bullfighting. It is a debate into which foreigners should intrude with caution, as it is one for the Spanish to decide for themselves.

Yesterday's title - Robin Williamson, one-time half of The Incredible String Band. Today's title - this is a line from something by which English singer popular in the late '50s and early '60s?


Sunday, July 27, 2008

With Good Company

Which are the great Mallorcan companies? Great in terms of size, profit or renown? Go on - name them. Outside of Mallorca, the Balearics or Spain, you might be hard pushed. Yet there are some. Which company is the most profitable (for the year to the end of 2006 anyway)? Iberostar, a hotel chain with an international presence and generally a byword for immaculate quality. Its profits in 2006 were skewed somewhat by the sale of various businesses, such as the Viajes Iberia travel agencies, but it stands some distance ahead of the second placed concern, the energy company GESA. Another hotel business - Riusa - occupies third place.

There may be problems at Spanair, but the airline registered the highest sales figures for a single company, though the three business comprising Globalia, which include Air Europa, were ahead of them. Yet another hotel chain, Sol Meliá, employed the most people.

These then are the crème of the Mallorcan corporate crème. You can add some other names, such as Barceló, also a hotel organisation, and in so doing a pretty clear picture emerges. Hotels and airlines - tourism. It is not exactly surprising for islands that are built on tourism and built with hotels that such businesses should be at the top of the pile. But a strength can as easily be a weakness; wealth-creation within the economy as a whole is dependent on a clutch of companies performing well. If there is a downturn, they just go to emphasise where the weakness resides in that whole economy. Spanair is a current example.

Strip away the hotels and airlines (and it is perhaps interesting that construction firms do not register at the very top) and, internationally at any rate, Mallorca and the Balearics are virtual non-players. I say virtual, as there are other businesses that have forged something of an international reputation - the Inca-based Camper shoes company is an example. Leather is a not unimportant sector of the Mallorcan economy but one often overlooked.

But to come back to construction. This sector is littered with companies, most of them family concerns. Many grew on the back of the drive towards modernisation and tourism. They were the vital suppliers of skills to creating the Mallorca of today, one far removed from the tracks and decrepit infrastructure of the sixties. Yet their proliferation is, in the current climate, something of an anachronism. Just as businesses pass through life cycles, so do whole sectors of business. The Mallorcan construction industry is well into its mature phase, but it is still structured as though it were in its youth. The sector could do with some rationalisation, which means (or can mean) merger and takeover. A trimmed-down, leaner to use the business term, construction industry may be able to take advantage of size and economies of scale. As importantly, perhaps, this may lead to governance that can help to prevent the mess that the sector is currently in. There is rationalisation by default, caused by bankruptcy, but this is not how to manage a business, an industry sector or an economy. Company collapse is a kind of Malthusian principle of population applied to business. For Malthus, war, famine and the rest were inevitable and necessary forms of correction. There is no such inevitability, or need not be, in a soundly functioning economy. Rationalisation through combination is an antidote to the Malthusian apocalypse.

The Balearic president, Francesc Antich, is due to announce measures to support and stimulate the economy. There needs to be some blue sky amongst the short-term. Recently, there was a suggestion that the tourism sector will be able to absorb the job losses in the construction industry. How? Especially in winter. More fundamentally though, we just seek the comfort of the mother industry to see us through the dark nights. It cannot continue indefinitely. Antich is being pressed to demand more handouts from Madrid. There may indeed be the hand of parsimony when it comes to those central funds, but a deserving request for more simply helps to paper over the cracks of the half-built properties and other faultlines in the local economy - or it would were the monies to be forthcoming. A quick glance at those company-performance figures tells all that is needed to be known. The economy is top heavy. And that is its weakness.

Yesterday's title - Justin Timberlake - Today's title - you couldn't probably get further away from Justin Timberlake than this folk musician: Scottish and "incredible".


Saturday, July 26, 2008

What Goes Around ...

Faffing around. It is a phrasal verb and an excellent one to boot. Let me conjugate. I faff around. You faff around. The shopper in the Mallorcan supermarket faffs around. You will notice that in the third person the normal he, she or it is replaced. There is a possible alternative which substitutes "supermarket" with "chemist's", but I don't wish to confuse matters.

The supermarket faff is partly the consequence of things like credit cards not quite having registered as a means of payment except among foreigners who attempt to do so minus the requisite identity, the prolonged search for which ... And the queue grows longer. No, cash remains the payment means of choice. But it is not all the fault of the shopper. The supermarket is equally culpable. Go to pay with cash, let's say the amount comes to 28 euros and 36 centimos, and invariably you are asked if you have the 36 or 6 or some eccentric combination of coins and notes. Cue another prolonged search - into the depths of a wallet or purse ... And the queue grows longer and longer. If you're British and unused to the euro and centimo, the queue grows longer, longer and longer. If you're Mallorcan and still operating in pesetas, the queue starts to stretch out the door.

For reasons that still mystify, Eroski has always been the first supermarket off the trolley rank. The Mercadona lobby grows louder by the day, joined by the cries in favour of the Budgen-like Bip and Hiper. (Do they still have Budgens by the way, does anyone know?) It can only be some Eroski inertia groove thing that makes its delightful red exteriors so attracting. Or maybe it is the periodic incentive promotion. Like the current one. Spend X and you get a number of points that go towards some towels. Fabulous. You also need a degree to understand which products qualify for how many points. Pigs' trotters rate the equivalent of a whole bathroom full; a six-pack of Saint Mick not a sausage. And then when you pay, it is you who invariably has to do the asking. "Any points?" you ask, stupidly, as it says so on the receipt. It's not that the checkout girls are pocketing them, they just want you to bugger off, because tearing off the stamps that equate to the points is an arduous task when they forget to perforate them. Mind you, it has its advantage. A measly two points can easily become a whole sheet as it is just so much quicker, as that queue is now down the road.

Having acquired these stamps and stuck them onto your towel-prize grid (those that you can get the back off, otherwise you have to stick on the stamps - "sellos" as they say here - with sellotape; ho, ho), you go to get your towel. 100 stamps plus a centimo shy of a whole five euros for a bath towel. The transaction is performed separately to the main purchase. And the queue is now in Can Picafort. Then it turns out ... Why is there one euro and one centimo change? It should be one centimo. Don't understand. And you drive home past the riot police controlling the queue.

"Wasn't it meant to be a bath towel?" "It is." "No it's not, it's a they - two hand towels, sort of." "Is it? Are they? That'll be why the one euro and one centimo. Know something? I owe them 40 stamps. Two hand towels are 140 stamps." "But why not the bath towel?" "I don't know. It was on the bath towel shelf. If it says bath towel on the shelf, then it should be a bath towel. And it doesn't actually say anything on the packaging." "Yes it does. Laura Ashley Home." "Laura Ashley Home for what? Wayward towels and strays?" "What's that noise?" "That'll be the police opening fire." "On what?" "The queue. Supermarket queue." "Oh." Faffing around.

Harking back to 22 July, I have been emailed by Alastair who points out that the Batley Townswomen's Guild re-enacted Pearl Harbor and not Agincourt. So much for historical accuracy, albeit one related to old comedy programmes. Now I was aware of the Pearl Harbor angle, but, and it is strange how time, memory and imagination intrude, I was sure that the Guild engaged in a series of battles, Agincourt being one of them. Wrong. I have even checked the whole list of Python sketches. The women of Batley appeared but twice - Pearl Harbor and the first heart transplant operation. I shall go away and do my lines.

Alastair has also discovered a youtube of Pearl Harbor. Brilliant.

Yesterday's title - The Jam - Today's title - who?


Friday, July 25, 2008

Down In The Tube Station At Midnight

Almost a year after it was closed, the Palma metro is set to re-open on Monday. Let's pray there isn't a huge storm on Tuesday, or maybe we should pray that there is in order to test that the subways are indeed no longer liable to flooding. The whole fiasco has resulted in an over-run on budget, to the tune of some 50%, albeit that repair costs account for a mere - a mere - 28 million euros, which presumably takes no account of lost revenue. The net is now being cast to try and trawl in those responsible in a probably vain attempt at recouping the repair costs.

The metro should have been a prestige development; it may still be. Some have sought to question the wisdom of there being a metro at all, but anyone who knows about the traffic in Palma will say that it is worth it. Moreover, it is a further stage in creating what might eventually be something of an integrated public transport system. The planned rail extension to Alcúdia combined with a metro in the capital would, for example, obviate the need for many car journeys, which can't be a bad thing. And public transport is cheap, perhaps too cheap. A journey on the metro will be less than a euro. Not normally one to take buses, I was staggered, when I did, to find that the bus between Alcúdia and Palma cost under five euros.

When the metro was closed indefinitely last September, there was a vox pop in one of the papers to gauge reaction. "Makes us seem Third World," was one such. Perhaps so, but public works in other places and other countries are not always things of total efficiency within budget - in Britain for instance. However, a metro system in a city by the sea with its natural underground water table and one prone to massive deluges of rain was always going to be a project that required expertise and a watertight (as it were) specification. The fact that, apparently, some of that spec was changed - the diameter of tubing, for example, was reduced, or so it was reported - may well have contributed to the problems caused by inundations and the inability of whatever pumping systems were in place to cope with them.

But what, I wonder, does it all say about the island's construction industry, the one that is so important to the local economy? Maybe it says very little, but seven temporary companies having been formed from 18 companies in order to carry out the project smacks of too many jobs for the boys. The now Minister of Transport has acknowledged this, though not in quite these words. Looking to extract some reparations from individuals is understandable if only as a form of compensation for lost prestige; the structuring of the project in the first place might be a wiser subject for investigation and for learning lessons rather than protracted court proceedings and lawyer job opportunities.

There is a danger of déjà vu, of repetitiousness, of annual visits to the same stories with much the same description. I can do it you want. They're coming back, they're on their way, watch out, get out of the water. The "Jaws" theme would be inappropriate but it is the only musical accompaniment that comes into the mind when faced with the terror of the story of ... jellyfish. I can do it another way if you want. The Playa de Muro sunbed wars may not have erupted like last year, but the excessive numbers of sunbeds and parasols is the same story as last year's, and the fines are there as they were before. The only thing new is the use of satellite positioning to check on them. Or I can do it in this way. It's fiesta time and there are the photos. The photos like last year's and the year before, filling the same publication space together with the same bland copy. Fiestas are integral to the Mallorcan summer season (they're also integral to the winter season, but be that as it may). I don't ignore them; of course not. But they are annual constants. Same as it ever was, save for changes to the bands performing (and many of these are the same). There is, or perhaps was, a freebie knocking around, the purpose of which seemed to be to present a bunch of photos of fiestas. I don't really understand it. I know one of the people involved and should ask him, assuming it is still doing the rounds. They're only really news or different if there is actually something new or an alternative take or angle to be sought - perhaps like the angle of dangle implicit in the piece about Patrona. Still, never let it be said ... Tonight after midnight there will be the grand fireworks display for Sant Jaume in Alcúdia. For all that the fireworks and the fiestas themselves may feel like Groundhog Day, they are always worth seeing and visiting.

Yesterday's title - Saint Etienne. In the absence of a youtube, here is another - the great, touched-by-Telstar, supremely retro "You're In A Bad Way" - Today's title - who? Pretty easy stuff.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

People Get Real

There was this thing on Five Live the other day. It was about disappointing or overrated tourist sites. Stonehenge - a few rocks in a field; that was the sort of condemnatory comment. It made me think. What are the overrated tourist sites here? There are some which are not. The Calvari walk in Pollensa, if you can take it, is worth it if only for the view once at the top. Albufera, if you like tranquility and bird and wildlife, is a treat of nature, but one not on your average tourist's list of must-sees. Across the island there are many sites - Palma Cathedral is inspiring as are the mountains of the Tramuntana and the run from Soller to Deia and Valldemossa or the arch over the cove at Sa Calobra. But there are places that are overrated or not as interesting as you might have thought. I feel treacherous in saying it, but the Roman ruins of Pollentia are not something you would rush back to see. As chance would have it, there was a recent piece in the "Diario" about a local tourist site that is not only a schlep to get to but is also likely to inspire the question once you get there - "is that it, then?"

Son Real, the necropolis along the coast going away from Son Bauló in Can Picafort, is a not unimportant historical site. There had been a plan to put a golf course on the finca area of Son Real, but the enviros held sway and the local town hall (Santa Margalida) accepted this with what seemed like somewhat grudging approval. The council's endorsement of the tourist potential of Son Real was underwhelming, or that was how it appeared. One suspects they might have quite liked the golf course. Still it is the Balearic Foundation for Sustainable Development that now has control of Son Real and a centre is due to open before the end of the summer. Fantastic. Perhaps it will be as unremarkable as the centre in Albufera; the nature park is wonderful but the centre is not much to brag about.

The necropolis is but one small part of Son Real, all 395 hectares of it, but it is the best-known feature. Its sheer antiquity, further back in time than Pollentia, should afford it a reverential status, but a few rocks by the sea might be an appropriate if Philistine description. The whole of Son Real may have more than just the necropolis and its "prehistoric funeral sites", but is it really going to attract that much hoped-for different type of tourist? How many visitors have there been to Son Real this year? 4,500. How many visitors have there been to Can Picafort and Son Bauló so far this year? I don't know the answer, but take into account that there are nigh on 50 hotels. Are they all trekking off to Son Real? No, I don't think so either. The tourism councillor reckons that there will be 20,000 visitors a year. I also don't know what he bases this on. Perhaps they will include all those school trips, if Son Real is anything like Albufera.

The preservation of Son Real is admirable. I shall doubtless visit - in winter when there is nothing better to do. The golf course idea was ridiculous, not for the environmental reasons but because, like the mooted course on Son Bosc in Muro is unnecessary, it was not needed. But we return to the delusion of the "different" tourist and therefore to the unreality surrounding Son Real. It's good, it's laudable, it's surely right, and it's not going to make any difference. 20,000 visitors. I wonder how many Marineland get in a week?

On a totally different and totally personal note. One of my neighbours died two days ago. Carina. She was one of the first to inhabit the urbanisation. Her house had taken years to make perfect. Her garden was a thing for sightseers. She had first come to the island with her mother who owned a house in Can Picafort. This was at least 50 years ago. The mother's house is still there, something of a ruin, but still in the family. Carina and her husband, who died in the late '80s, bought the plot in Playa de Muro in the sixties when there were no proper roads, no utilities and plenty of sand and scrub. I have seen the photos, the history of Can Picafort when there was barely anything there, when the likes of the Via Suissa were sand tracks to the almost empty beach. I have seen the photos, the history of Playa de Muro, of her house, of her family. Carina's history equates to the transformation of this part of the island, from the complete lack of development to the current-day luxury of the villas and the hotels.

Two days before the stroke that ultimately led to her death, she had done me a favour and driven me to collect my car from its service. It was a filthy day in May. As I got out of her car, I gave her a little kiss and she smiled almost coyly, almost like a child. Apart from seeing her pass in the car the following day, that was the last time I saw her. She was taken back to Germany, leaving the house that she loved and all that history. And yesterday her boyfriend rang me with the news. It fell to me to be the one to break the news to the neighbourhood. Sad news always brings close communities together, but - as an incomer - you don't always appreciate how close that is. And perhaps some will say that Mallorcans do not always embrace those from outside. Not these Mallorcan neighbours. "Buena persona. Buena amiga." For Carina.

Yesterday's title - Pet Shop Boys, Today's title - a lesser-known song by another of this blog's favourites; named after a French football team.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Let's Make Lots Of Money

On the back of what I was saying about the lamentable state of the property market (21 July) comes further confirmation of the difficulties in this sector. In the "Diario", a spokesperson for the Balearic college of estate agents reckons that the "crisis" will last two more years and observes that sales of older dwellings (as opposed to new builds) have slumped 60% and that there are 5,000 new properties unsold. He also makes the point that, unlike in the rest of Spain, there is a resistance among owners to drop their prices, something that is preventing any form of kick-start to the local market.

Well this latter point comes as very little surprise. Indeed had he said that the prices of unsold properties had actually gone up that would also not have come as a surprise. It is far from uncommon for a property that has been on the market for some time without a buyer to have its price increased. It may not seem to make much sense, but for the Mallorcan it appears to (though one cannot rule out the fact that other nationalities are also holding firm on their prices). Having spoken to many an estate agent over the months and years, one is struck by the degree to which some agents classify the Mallorcan owner as greedy. I'll cite an example - a Mallorcan gentleman touted his property around three different agents, opting in the end for a Mallorcan company; one of the three, British-run, had given a price a half of that which he obtained from the "winning" agency. Perhaps neither valuation was realistic, but when you're talking about the difference of some two and a half million I suppose you might be inclined to go for the higher figure even if it is a nonsense.

This greed thing is something one hears a lot. Anecdotally one learns of it in respect of various dealings, be they rents on bars or the sale of a house. But perhaps there is a whole cultural element that one fails to appreciate. I have looked for clues in "Beloved Majorcans" as to an explanation of the conundrum as to high prices being maintained even during economically hard times. There is nothing specific, but the indifference to time pressures may indicate a willingness to wait, while there is some suggestion that a Mallorcan would rather not sell to someone who seems overly keen. Whatever the truth or the possible cultural dimension, perhaps it just all comes down to wanting to secure as much as possible - and that's no different anywhere.

One Mallorcan who seems to have extracted as much as possible is the owner of Real Mallorca, Vicente Grande. Apparently he's set to get 50 million quid for a 96% stake in the club, a fair bit more than Freddy Shepherd had tabled. The buyer is also British, namely Paul Davidson, known as "The Plumber" because of his pipe-fitting business. According to the BBC's site, Mr Davidson sees this as a chance to promote his business interests in Spain. Maybe it is, but it seems an awful lot and rather tangential to pipes. But who knows. I was going to run this item yesterday as a link with the Patrona piece - leaks and pipes and plumbing and what have you - but it sits just as well with the property angle.

As a corollary to this ... In an interview with the "Diario" Mr. Davidson says that he prefers not to divulge the amount he has offered for the club, except that it is much more than the Shepherd offer. He has ambition for the club - champions and all that - which for a team with a generally unremarkable recent history is probably pushing it. The interview concludes by observing that he talks of the intention to buy (it also refers to the process of due diligence that may take some time), and so asks if he really is the new owner. Unequivocally yes is the answer. The question that was not put is whether this new owner has the financial clout to elevate Real to the level of his stated ambition. Grabbing a club that finished seventh in La Liga for an amount far less than for a similar club in the Premier League is one thing, but the price of success in football is high, be it in Spain or England.

Yesterday's title - Martha Reeves and the Vandellas ( Today's title - who?


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dancing In The Streets

I may have mentioned before that I am a history scholar. Historical accuracy, be it fact or re-enactment, is important to me. Certain re-enactments, such as Python's Batley Townswomen's Guild's portrayal of Agincourt, may be very close in terms of historical exactitude but there is perhaps a slight gender issue. Which brings me to the Christians and Moors set-to during the climax to the Patrona fiesta; to this mock battle and to the question of bodily fluids.

Pollensa Town Hall is casting itself in the role of historical party-pooper, and poop is not a long way from the poopering. It has launched a campaign to try and deter all concerned from making a mess of the streets and, in particular, to not use the streets for the purposes of taking a leak. I suppose this all goes back to the absence of public lavs, but there is the re-enactment angle to be taken into account. The Christians and Moors gig does suffer from inaccuracy in certain respects, e.g. the general absence of real Moors and a similar absence of overly much blood being spilled. But, in terms of bodily fluid historical rigidity, I would suggest that a mass relieving is not too far away from what actually happened. I would need to refer to primary sources to establish the fact, though I doubt they make great play of this aspect anyway. One has, therefore, to make a presumption - always a dodgy thing for a historian to do - but I fancy we are on pretty firm or pretty soggy ground in believing that the terror and length of battle may well have induced some bladder slackness. Moreover, I would also hazard the guess that there weren't "comfort breaks" when the protagonists could repair to the local inn, not that the Moors would have gone there anyway.

But we live in health and safety times, such times quite contrary to the hygiene standards of the Middle Ages, and so there have to be some firmly crossed legs or some regular bar pit-stops. History is not what it was.

For all the main events of Patrona, the concerts, the DJs, the giants, the dancing in the streets, oh and the Christians and the Moors, go to the listing on the WHAT'S ON BLOG. Cracking week of events. The dancing queen of the local fiestas.

Yesterday's title - Eddie Cochran ( Today's title - who originally? And only used as I am unaware of any songs in tribute to on-street leaking. Must be one - anyone?


Monday, July 21, 2008

Summertime Blues

First viewing in weeks. An estate agent admitted to me the other day that this was the case. Want to know in how much of a trough the local property market is? Go ask a few estate agents. Don't ask those who deal at the luxury end (even if some of these are feeling the pinch when it comes to British purchasers faced with a poor exchange rate). Talk to those at the middle and low end. All those estate agencies that have closed, and nothing by way of an improvement in the market; it just gets worse it seems. Another agent told me of an apartment for sale in Puerto Alcúdia. Pretty good place, but a seriously overstretched owner who had hoped the summer rentals would suffice in order to pay the hefty mortgage, the sort of mortgage it would be hard to conjure up just at present. You can't even rely on the holiday let to bail you out. The Taylor Woodrow development in Puerto Pollensa, the one from the company with the "We Build in Spain since 1958" line; these apartments would once have all been snapped up off-plan. They haven't been. In Playa de Muro there is a development of detached houses - "in an extraordinary setting, clean beach and natural surroundings make this a veritable 7km paradise within your reach". This comes from the catalogue thing that was shoved under windscreen wipers at the weekend. It follows the appearance of several street posters pointing the potential customer in the direction. It's a building site. They want, sorry need, off-plan sales. The spate of publicity suggests a worry, perhaps more. Sell off-plan and the deposit and the virtual guarantee of a sale will help to secure further lines of credit from the bank. That would be the hope. There is another aspect to the property development uncertainty. It is the inordinately long time that it can take to actually finish the building. Given restrictions on construction work in tourist areas during the season, the time-scale between starting, beginning to sell off-plan, receiving deposits to final completion can be extremely lengthy. It only takes an economic crisis to invade that time-scale for the walls to come tumbling down. And this is what has been happening.

Martinsa-Fadesa, one of Spain's largest property developers, has collapsed. "The Sunday Times" carried this story yesterday, angling it from the point of view of the Brit purchaser who stands to lose a shedload. The paper mentions also an unfinished development on the Costa Blanca. There are probably many more. The problem now is that if a deposit is put down, it may never be recouped and the property may never be built. Martinsa-Fadesa has been hit by the double whammy of too much borrowing and therefore too much debt and a fall of up to 60% in Spanish developer sales.

Picking up on the reference to Spanair on 19 July (the airline is planning the axeing of a third of jobs), there is now also the news - carried by "The Bulletin" over a couple of days - that Ryanair is pulling its Palma service for a period this winter (from 4 November till 19 December). The company cites the cost of fuel and the costs of operating at Palma, this latter point being challenged by AENA, which runs Palma airport. Whatever the situation, Ryanair's decision hardly warms the already chilly winter scene. Winter flights they may be, but at present there ain't no cure for the summertime blues, though at the end of the month Balearics leader Francesc Antich is due to unveil a package of measures to assist the freezing local economy. I'm not sure we should be holding our breath.

Sorry, it's not great news today. I'll try and be more cheery tomorrow.

Yesterday's title - The Beatles, "A Day In The Life" ( Today's title - who? Died at 21.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

I Read The News Today

What do you read on holiday? Do you read on holiday? The answer is you probably do. Holidays are the defenders of the written word. Remove holidays and books would forever remain unread. But I ask again - what do you read on holiday and perhaps also where do you read? Newspapers on the beach. A total no-no. Too much wind. Turn the sheets and off they fly, joining the lilo bouncing towards France. For me the newspaper was always the treat for après-beach, a cold drink or several on the terrace and the satisfaction of poring over the cricket scorecards. Magazines? Less cumbersome but still prone to flapping around. But which mag? There was an airplane buzzing along the coast line here a couple of days ago, a plastic sheet of advertising trailing behind in the style that used to introduce "World of Sport (with Dickie Davies)". "Bunte - heute neu" (new today). It did the trick in that I went and had a look at what the fuss was. Michael Ballack and some romantic photo ops. I didn't get further than the cover. What is the carbon footprint for flying a plane past Alcúdia and Muro's German sunbathers in promoting a German footballer?

In these days of low tourist spend, newspapers still seem to sell, even at inflated overseas prices. Don't let it be said that people in all-inclusives don't spend money. I was at the all-inclusive flavour of the month, the Continental Park, not so long ago, and a gentleman of bellydom came to reception to purchase a copy of "The Sun" and "The Star". The all-inclusive is the repository of the highbrow. But a brace of red tops will set you back less than one broadsheet that is no longer a broadsheet. "The Times" is a cool 4.25 on a Saturday, the still broad "The Sunday Times" is a whole of your five European euros, and for the Spanish version you only get a decent-sized wood rather than the entire rain forest of the UK edition.

The cheap, local alternative is to cough up a euro for "The Bulletin", but it lacks the sports pages and the gossip of, say, "The Mail" or the red tops. You could go totally cheap and spend nothing, courtesy of freebies. But don't expect them to detain you for longer than a minute. A compromise, at 50 centimos, between the free and "The Bulletin" is the peculiar "Island Buzz" with its absence of buzz.

But newspapers can only eat up so much time by the poolside. The book, or a number of them, is one of the first items on the packing list along with the shorts and mosquito repellent. I have read some of my favourite books ever on holiday - William Trevor's "The Story of Lucy Gault", Ian McEwan's "Enduring Love", Jonathan Meades' "Filthy English", Christopher Priest's "The Glamour", Peter Ackroyd's "Hawksmoor" and Annie Proulx's "Postcards". It's a diverse collection of the gut-wrenchingly sad (Trevor, Meades and Proulx), the master of tension (McEwan), the partly Elizabethan English of Ackroyd and the downright weird (Priest). I am unsure why I am attracted to sadness as a staple for holiday reading, though there have been periods of comedy reading - the Tom Sharpes and the priceless Henry Root letters. I once holidayed with someone who tackled Salman Rushdie. "Midnight's Children" may be revered in some circles, but Rushdie appeared to be more a penance than a holiday, though not as harsh as attempting Joyce or Dostoevsky from the comfort of a sun-lounger. I should know; I've tried them and consigned them to the fall-asleep-in-the-sun file in very quick order.

Whatever or wherever one reads, there is one major issue - not the what or the where, but the how. How does one read? A chair makes the problem easily surmountable, but the towel, the towel on the beach is a serious obstacle. Lying on your back shielding your eyes from the sun - impossible. Lying on your side and that pain in the neck gets ever more painful or the crooked arm supporting the head and neck goes to sleep. Lying on your front and the sweat drips from your forehead on to the page or the sun oil slides into your eyes. Reading on holiday, a good book on holiday is essential, but it ain't easy. Hand me that MP3 player.

Yesterday's title - Ken Dodd; thankfully I can find no youtube. Today's title - oh, come on, this is too easy.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Tears For Souvenirs

A 60 per cent fall in turnover. This is a figure quoted yesterday in the "Diario" in respect of souvenir and jewellery stores. The source of the statistic was a spokesperson for the Partido Popular. One takes the figure at its face value, but, as always, statistics disguise a multitude of alternative stories. 60% is a hell of a decline though. It is true that some of these souvenir places sell a load of tat, so perhaps it's not completely surprising, while jewellery is probably something the purchase of which can be deferred for more plentiful times. However you wish to interpret the fall, it is, nevertheless, a real cause for concern.

The PP cites the problems at Spanair to suggest that the "crisis" is affecting sectors other than property and construction; the spokesperson points also to a fall of 15% turnover for restaurants. The party, in addition, has demanded that the Balearic Government provides data regarding all-inclusives. By implication, the PP is moving to a position of seeing them as the devil of the piece, which is a bit rich given their support in the past.

At some point the current malaise in Mallorca would switch its political attention to the Aunt Sallys, of which the all-inclusives are most obviously one. Maybe that time has come; the all-inclusives have been the target of ire for many businesses for some time but the politicians have preferred to keep their heads in the sands of the still heavily populated beaches. Personally, I see all-inclusives as just one factor, but to deny their impact on local businesses is to deny logic and common sense. One can argue, as I have, that the all-inclusives will cause a market correction in terms of over-supply of bars, souvenir shops etc, but such a market perspective is cold comfort to a bar-owner during a long, hot and slow summer. I have defended all-inclusives from the point of view of the family on a limited budget, and in the current economic climate they have much to commend them in this regard. But the outside-hotel spend is seriously restricted; of course it is. Just by how much might be gauged from an exchange I found on a forum. Someone, staying AI, was asking about spending money. 500 pounds for a fortnight was enough, it was reckoned. That's 500 pounds for a family of five! Everyone deserves a holiday, and the cheaper it is the better. But there is a point at which goodwill subsides. Why, some businesses may ask, should my island and my resort be the ones that are exploited by the cheap option of an all-inclusive while my business is by-passed by brigades branded by wristband? There are those who holiday at all-inclusives who, aware of their impact, bridle at the suggestion that they do not spend outside the hotel. But whatever spend they do make cannot and does not compensate for the overall loss.

The PP is right to ask for clear numbers. No one really knows. In the case of Alcúdia, there are certain hotels where the numbers are clear - the Macs, Lagomonte, that part of Bellevue that is AI - but there are others where it is not. I would hazard a guess that some 40% of Alcúdia's stock of hotel places are AI. In Can Picafort I dread to think. One supposes that they don't wish to make public the true figures for fear of the outcry. The AI takeover has been almost by stealth. In my part of Playa de Muro, the wristbands on the people on the beach tell it all; I don't remember seeing them with such regularity even a couple of years ago.

In times of crisis there is a search for a scapegoat. A political call for a restriction or more on all-inclusives would curry massive favour. It would probably be futile. There are doubtless mechanisms that could be deployed that could effect a restriction or ban, but there is always European law and restraint of trade clauses to say no, and the Spanish government is currently in the European naughty chair because of its flagrant breach of law in the case of the blocking of a foreign takeover of the energy company Endesa. Perhaps more importantly there is the clout of the tour operators. Some hotel chains, such as Iberostar, may well offer AI as an option, but it has been the tour operators, responding to consumer "demand", that have been the main instigators of all-inclusives; the very tour operators that have helped to create much of Mallorca's wealth. Antagonise them at your peril. With the tour operators it is a case of "ah made thee and ah can break thee".

A point once made to me was that the politicians were only too happy to see a growth in all-inclusives if this meant that the numbers coming into Palma airport were at healthy levels. The investment in the further development of the airport had to be justified in terms of traffic, and the press regularly publish figures as to that traffic. Similar levels as the previous year or an increase, and these indicate that the airport is doing well and that tourism is also doing well. It's camouflage. Economic conditions across Europe, combined with the market distortion created by all-inclusives, have finally caught up with Mallorca. Politicians and other authorities rarely plan for or contemplate bad-case scenarios. But now they have one, perhaps some are jumping ship and condemning practices that have added to the current problems. An apocalyptic vision for the island is overdoing it, but the day may yet arrive when the only souvenirs being taken back through the airport are replica wristbands.

Yesterday's title - Steely Dan, "Parker's Band" ( Today's title - who? Comedian-cum-crooner.


Friday, July 18, 2008

A Smooth Style Of Syncopation

All that jazz. Lurking among the fiestas of summer is a wholly different series of events - the Sa Pobla Jazz festival, sorry the Sa Pobla International Jazz festival; the word "international" is important. Festival is perhaps a bit misleading. It implies a continuous weekend or some such, a la Glastonbury for example; Sa Pobla in fact offers a series of events during August, four main concerts plus workshops and film. But be this as it may.

This will be the fourteenth Sa Pobla festival. And it does attract some heavyweight acts. This year, John Zorn starts the series of concerts on 6 August. Past festivals have seen the likes of Billy Cobham coming to the potato town. For a place with little obvious tourism appeal, Sa Pobla has, by dint of a bit of thought, carved out a place in the summer schedule that bolsters its own local economy, granting its bars and restaurants a piece of summer action that would otherwise have been denied to them.

To link back to what I have been saying about promotion, one has to admire the efforts of Sa Pobla town hall. Go to the town hall's website ( and the Mallorca Jazz Sa Pobla logo is clearly identified. Click on it and a PDF pops up. A PDF, moreover, that has information in English. It is an international event, and the town hall has internationalised its promotion. Hats off.

The "international" motif is significant. Mallorca does not do international, or only rarely. When it does, as with the golf classic in October, the government steps in and seeks to remove its support. International can be a misnomer. Try this one - as part of Alcúdia's Sant Jaume celebrations there is an evening of "international" folk dance and music (today as it happens). The international element is a group from Catalonia. National international, if you will.

The fiestas and traditions of Mallorca are essentially introspective. It is as though, as a response to the internationalisation of the island through tourism and immigration, there has been a retrenchment or at least a maintenance of those traditions as a buffer against the outside. In one sense, this is understandable and laudable; these are, after all, the island's traditions. However, there is also a sense in which the tradition is used as a form of mass psychology. It was once put to me that the Germans, who have their local events of a similar nature to Mallorca as well as their madcap traditions like Carnival, fell back on those traditions as a response to the shock of Nazism and the castigation of a nation for having failed to prevent it. The comparison is far-fetched admittedly, but there is something of a hankering for the past in Mallorca that is the response to the shock of the new of the past 40 years or so of tourism.

Accordingly, the fiestas and the rest, while having an appeal for the tourist because of their very traditional nature, have failed nevertheless to embrace an internationalisation that might broaden that appeal. I'll give you an example, and one that has taken the message on board - Palma's San Sebastian celebrations in January. The organisers have admitted that more needs to be done to promote San Sebastian internationally; it is the case that, with some of the acts that perform during San Sebastian, it has an international basis. One of the problems with the attempt to market Mallorca and its cultural traditions is that these do not necessarily resonate with an international market. Spread the veneer of internationalisation on top of the tradition and you have something of wider interest. The Pollensa Music Festival is an example, akin to the Sa Pobla Jazz, albeit an artificial cultural device of only nearly 50 years history.

One can of course argue that traditions should be left to themselves - as traditions - and that commercialism should play little part. But in the case of San Sebastian there has been a recognition that this part is far more important than it might once have been; this and the international aspect. It is for the latter reason, and the resultant commercial benefit that might be derived, that Sa Pobla Jazz is important.

And following-up on yesterday. I am grateful for the comments about the tourism foot patrol notion, one of these comments being left as a comment appended to yesterday's piece by "allanglens" who points out that something along these lines has been tried in Glasgow. Might I just say that I cannot respond personally to comments that are attached to the entries, this being one of the reasons why I prefer that they are sent to me by email. But thank you anyway.

Yesterday's title - The Go-Betweens ( Today's title - bit obscure admittedly but it is a line from a song by a huge American band of (mainly) the '70s which had a strong jazz influence and have appeared here before now.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Streets Of Your Town

As promised, more on the tourist offices being out of touch. Perhaps I should define what I mean here. By out of touch, the tourism people don't know what the tourist really experiences or thinks. It's not altogether surprising. The main contacts between the tourist and the tourism department take place in the tourist office, a place of information gathering by the tourist rather than one of investigation or information probing by the tourist authorities. Apart from this, there is no real contact. Well as though some of the people in the tourist offices may speak different languages, these offices are not necessarily conducive to some lengthy discussion regarding what the tourist really thinks about a place or what he is concerned about. In Puerto Pollensa, I have seen a questionnaire knocking around, but how much this is acted upon I don't know. Surveys can often act as cosmetic exercises.

But to come to Alcúdia. I have spoken with the town hall, in the form of the tourism department, about things like the scratch-card operations, about the state of the bridges and canals and about drugs. Let's take the latter. It came as something of a surprise that the lucky-lucky men are a front-line conduit for the sale of Class-A and other drugs. Yet, anyone who knows, knows that drugs are available from them, and have been for the last ten years; perhaps longer. Puerto Pollensa is not much different. The tourist officials do not know what goes on on the streets of their towns; well in Alcúdia anyway. Moreover, there is no monitoring system of what is said, for instance about Alcúdia. That letter to "The Bulletin" about the scratch-card operations. How did the town hall get to know about it? How do you think?

There is a mass of information about what tourists think about a place, be it Alcúdia, Pollensa, wherever. A mass of it on the internet, and yet there is no systematic observation of this by the tourist offices. Partly perhaps it's a language issue, but only partly. They can find native speakers easily enough if they have the will. You may ask, well why should they go looking for this information. For one very good reason. That is their business - tourists. To overlook the information diminishes the public relations aspect of their work. Commercial businesses some years ago established complaints management systems; complaints are one of the best sources of finding out what a consumer really thinks. And acting upon them is one of the best ways of creating good PR. Even without a formal complaints (or praise) management system, the tourist offices should be delving into all those forums and sites in which people discuss anything from mosquitoes to hotels to scratch cards to the price of a beer. This all matters, or it should do.

One fancies that the town halls might be a bit taken aback were they to see what is said about their resorts; they would also be pleased by much of it as well. But the ease with which people can post pretty much what they like about a resort should be something for which there is, at least, a monitoring capability. Most review sites are remote; they don't have a particular interest in any resort in whatever country. They exist for sounding-off and compliment in not necessarily equal measure. And so much information, much of it mis-information, flies around the internet unchallenged and unknown to the tourist authorities. One almost wonders if they haven't deferred to the websites, but only when there is local representation, such as with myself or with Martin at the estimable, might they get some on-the-ground feedback.

There is a distance between the town and the resort and the tourist. The hotel often takes the surrogate role of the town, and for this reason the hotel has a responsibility to the town in which it is located; it is the resort's representative, or it should be. But more often than not, it is not. The hotel is a business, first and foremost; its local community responsibility, and it's the same for the tour operators, may not be the first thing on its agenda, if at all.

I have a suggestion. In Alcúdia, they are willing to spend money on what are little more than prestige services - the beach WiFi zone is one. Useful it may be, but there are different ways in which the tourist can be served. Different cost category granted but cost nonetheless; take some of this money that goes on the prestigious and some of the money that is wasted on things like the Can Ramis debacle, and create an on-street tourism patrol. On foot, not on scooters. Walking. Teams of two, clearly identifiable, along the Mile, around the port, on the beach. Tourism help and assistance teams. Preferably, these teams would be people who know ... know what is going on. Not police but with easy communications to the police. Not there to shop people or bars or those whose sound limiters might be a bit wonky, but to assist the tourist and be the visible sign of the resort - on the streets. In part, this idea comes from my own experience with those who see the t-shirt (for the website) and stop and ask.

Public relations, close contact to the tourist and therefore to the consumer, for that is what the tourist is - he is a consumer of the resort. He deserves more.

Yesterday's title - By hook or by crook; it was "The Prisoner". Today's title - one of this blog's favourites; Australian from the late '80s.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

We Want Information. Well You Won't Get It

The fiesta season has got out its finest party frock and will celebrate day and night, week in week out into August. Puerto Pollensa started yesterday and overlaps with Alcúdia's Sant Jaume, which gives way to Pollensa's Patrona and this, in turn hands the baton or perhaps the torch of the fire-run to Can Picafort (and Can Pic's fire-run is quite something). It is party, party for the next few weeks, but how much does the average visitor know about all this? Puerto Pollensa and especially Can Picafort benefit from fiestas taking place right slap bang in the centre of town; even without information they are hard to ignore. In Can Pic, you can't move without finding yourself in front of a hotel; two or three in some cases. Fiesta comes to the tourist in Can Pic, not the other way round. Then there are the fiestas in the old towns. Pollensa, one fancies, does quite well in attracting the tourist, partly because Patrona is well-known and partly because of all those villa dwellers who are the sort who might like a bit of local culture more than your regular pool-and-lager brigade. Alcudia, that's a rather different matter.

I have spoken before about information provision for fiestas and fairs, about the money that is lavished on some of the publicity and about the fact that this money and publicity is ill-directed when it comes to the tourist. Take Puerto Pollensa's Verge del Carme week. There is a beautifully produced brochure, 24 pages of thick card, artistically designed and packaged. And not a word of Spanish, German or English. It is vanity and parochial publicity at its worst. Why on Earth do they go to this expense? Pollensa town hall is heavily in debt, so it goes and spends an arm and a leg on some publication that is all but useless for the visitor. Don't let us fall into the trap of saying, ah but this is a fiesta for the local people and so it is right that the material is in their language. There is a sense in which the tourist is discriminated against and denied participation, and this at a time when Mallorca, and therefore its resorts and towns, is seeking to diversify into areas such as cultural tourism. Pay the tourist the right respect, and maybe he will repay this through those sought-after alternative forms of tourism.

They don't need to spend this money on such brochures though. Let's face it, a couple of sheets of photocopied A4 would be quite sufficient; they're promoting events not the creative ability of a graphic designer. Moreover, there is the internet, albeit that Pollensa town hall's website is that useless it falls to the likes of myself to put the information into cyberspace in English.

One of the problems is that the tourist departments in the town halls are out of touch. I accept that it is not they who necessarily are involved in generating the promotional material, but it is they who are in the front-line of communicating with the visitor, supposedly. And don't just take my word for the fact that they are out of touch. I had a conversation with the Alcúdia tourism people the other day, and it was admitted as such. Which brings me, or will, to a whole other area of discussion. And this will be for tomorrow, unless something else gets in the way. Have a nice fiesta.

Yesterday's title - Wild Man Fischer. And here, if you can stand it, is the "song" ( For those of you unfamiliar with Larry Fischer, here is also a short docu thing on him - Following the runaway success of Dimple Diamond's "Runaway Train", here is the latest of this blog's strangely big in Mallorca campaigns. Ladies and gentlemen, Wild Man Fischer. Today's title - not a song but a TV programme. Very famous exchange. Where's it from?


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Merry Go, Merry Go, Merry Go Round, Ooo-Ooo-Ooo

It's been quite a while since this blog ventured around a roundabout. For those of you with long memories, you will recall that, for a time, here was a virtually daily tribute to the excellent accident opportunities afforded by the orgiastic creation of roundabouts along Alcúdia's Carretera Artà and to the roundabout furniture that grew from them. Talking of which, someone asked me the other day when they're going to get rid of that "thing" on the Horse Roundabout, that "thing" being the eponymous horse of course - allegedly and with due acknowledgement to Mr. Ed. Hideous, ludicrous, at least it gains a reaction, an Angel of the North sculpture with only a northern redemption and a complete absence of angelic quality. My guess is that the sculptor had a mate in the town hall.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, accidents. Or how to cause one or, if not a full-blown front-on collision, then at least a considerable traffic problem. Let's take those roundabouts with no substance, those pink blobs on the road. Bear in mind that one is meant to drive on the right here, though the many locals who drive down the middle of the road might disagree with this, and they would certainly disagree when it comes to the roundabouts with no abouts. Either go straight across them or, preferably, go to the left side. That would appear to be how the local drivers are schooled anyway. See a roundabout that is sort of only pretending, and just ignore it. Don't on any account go to the right as you will only end up blocking the way of the bloke who hasn't, and he will be very hacked off. And it will be your fault, as it always is your fault. And God forbid that plod happens to be passing. "¿Hola, hola, hola, qué pasa aquí?"

Which brings me to Puerto Pollensa and its new road. A fine bit of tarmac it is, too. But the roundabouts, of which there are thousands, are designed in such a way that not only do they prevent any form of lane discipline (not that this matters anyway), they are also so tightly laid out that they are best taken at a snail's speed unless you fancy mounting one of the high kerbs and ripping your under-carriage out. Moreover, they are also spoiling Trafico for choice. So many roundabouts, where to hang out? For an island that used to have but one roundabout not that many years ago, the place has become a veritable Swindon of circular driving, and now Puerto Pollensa has joined the ranks of Roundabout Cities.

And continuing a police theme, did you know that the marching season is nearly upon us? This is not some quaint old Mallorcan tradition, but a contemporary industrial relations tradition - one of demonstrating. The local police in Pollensa are none too happy with the town hall - working conditions, that sort of thing - and so they are going to down whistles, or whatever they down, and take to the streets. Heavy boots rumbling along the charming lanes and roads of the old town. Anyway, as this is a new event in the calendar, make a note for your diary - the first such march will be on 29 July, kicking off from the town hall at ten in the morning. And, apparently, there will be repeats on subsequent Wednesdays and Saturdays. Sounds like splendid fun, especially during the Patrona celebrations.

And following-up yesterday, a comment left suggested that your average tourist on being greeted either in Castilian or Mallorquín would reply - "do you speak English?" This is of course absolutely right and I thank "allanglens" for making the point, which only goes to emphasise the oddness of all this Catalan-restaurant carry-on.

Yesterday's title - Bill Withers and Grover Washington ( Boring video; boring song to be honest. Today's title - which nutcase (and that is pretty much right) did this? Anyone who gets this has a personalised sculpture commissioned to be positioned on one of Pollensa Roundabout City's new road system.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Just The Two Of Us

Do you know that there are two official languages in Mallorca? If you do, well done, and count yourself in with the other 6.2% of Brits (assuming you are British; and if you are not, my apologies) who also know. A survey of tourists staying in Playa de Palma (as reported in the "Diario" on 11 July) discovered that there was a general lack of knowledge about the languages as well as a high level of indifference. And it's not as if coming back on holiday makes much of an impact. Only 7.3% of repeating Brits have become aware that Castilian and Catalan share official-language status.

This comes as no surprise in the sense that most visitors are unaware that there is another language, other than Spanish. Many will probably be unaware of Catalan's existence, let alone the fact that it (or Mallorquín) is spoken here. Let's face it: never over-estimate the knowledge of your average tourist.

The survey crops up in the context of the Mallorca Council's promotion of Catalan in restaurants (9 July: I Say High, You Say Low). Quite what the survey's findings have to do with this mystifies me. The fact that British, and German, tourists seem to care not a jot what language is used is no pretext with which to suggest that Catalan, or indeed any other language, should be used. I still don't understand quite what this is all about. Restaurant menus, in tourist places at any rate, are usually in several languages, Castilian and Catalan included. Your regular tourist goes to the page with his own language or the one he understands best. He does not go to the Castilian or Catalan page except if he is from mainland Spain.

Another of the survey's findings is that hardly any tourists are ever attended to by someone speaking Catalan. Of course they're not. More often than not, they will be greeted in English. Fatuous is a word that springs to mind in respect of some of this survey. Though this is not an apt description when one learns that only one in four Brits has done anything of a cultural nature while on holiday. I actually would question this. It would be good to know what they were asked precisely and, as importantly, how the tourist defines cultural. A trip to Marineland is probably cultural to some tourists. Apparently, nearly 40% of Brits would be interested in cultural activities, but I hope the Mallorcan tourist top brass don't get carried away. People will say anything as part of a survey.

To other matters ... And another blog to be linked. This is Married With Children Mallorca ( The work of Vicki McLeod, it is a look at things in the south of the island and well worth delving into. Vicki also appears on Luna Radio, which I confess I have never listened to. But maybe I will now do so and to Vicki's show on weekday afternoons.

And, as a sort of follow-up to yesterday, another election for another fiesta top-billing. A Maria, always a Maria, can forever say that she was a Beata, as in Beata Santa Catalina, she who was tempted but gave short shrift to the devil and whose memory lives on in what is reckoned to be the most traditional of Mallorcan fiestas - that of the Beata in Santa Margalida in September.

Yesterday's title - The Ting Tings of course ( Today's title - two languages, just the two, or maybe it's three, but anyway who did this?. By the way, I used Time Won't Give Me Time the other day. I really, really must keep a note of these titles as I found I had used it back in April as well. Oops.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

That's Not My Name

There has been an election. Not a political one, but the people have spoken; the people of Pollensa. So long as you are over 16 and registered in the town, you can participate in this act of local democracy, the one to choose who plays whom during the climax to the annual Patrona fiesta in Pollensa. The two plum gigs are that of the hero Joan Mas and the Moorish pirate Dragut - Christian and Moor, all part of the re-enactment of the battle between the Christians and Moors which saw the latter repelled. You can see a representation of Joan Mas in the square by Saint Domingo; arm raised and sword at the ready, he was the defender of Pollensa and the vanquisher of the Moors.

It must, one presumes, be quite an honour to be nominated as Joan; less so perhaps Dragut, but somebody's got to do it, though whoever it is knows that he cannot reverse the truth of history - Dragut always gets bested. The honour this year has fallen to one Miquel Cifre, and "one" is quite apt as there are a lot of Miquel Cifres knocking around. I don't know the most popular combination of male names here, but Miquel Cifre must be hovering somewhere at the top of the list.

It should, I suppose, come as little surprise that on an island with a relatively small indigenous population that there is such a lack of diversity in names, both Christian and surname. In the case of Christian names, this has more to do with the sheer constraints that exist - saints names and a strict code that does not allow "new" names mean that males are Joans, Peps or Miquels, females are Joanas, Catis or Marias. At times it can feel like that old Python sketch about Australians - Bruce, Bruce and Bruce. The restrictions on Christian names creates a homogeneity of appellation; personally, I prefer the free-for-all that exists in Britain. It does little for a sense of individuality when everyone seems to have the same name. One of the reasons for imposing this restriction is to prevent the child being in some way demeaned by an embarrassing name. There is some sense in this; the downside of the free-for-all is that it does not always reflect the child's best interests among his peers as he or she grows up. The Mallorcan would not only not call his kids Wayne or Kylie, he could not. The Christian name stock is only enlivened by incomers who bring with them Shane or Scarlett.

The surname, and bear in mind that there are two surnames, seems even more uniform. Two of my neighbours are Claderas. This, together with the likes of Cifre, Rotger and Ferrer, appears to cover most of the population, most of whom also seem related in some way or another. When I'm handed a personal cheque, it is remarkable the repetitiousness of the surnames that one reads; when I'm with a Mallorcan, it is also remarkable the number of cousins and second cousins who can happen to pass by. It has been said to me that some Mallorcan surnames do not sound very Spanish, by which I guess people mean that anyone from Spain should be called Gonzalez or Garcia. But the names reflect a different heritage - certain ones, such as Vanrell or Plomer, appear quite divorced from "Spanish".

And so one comes back to Patrona and this year's "Joan". One good thing perhaps is that if someone asks who's doing Joan this time, then replying Miquel Cifre would be a pretty good guess - and it would happen to be right.

Note by the way that the name Joan is pronounced like the girl's name in English - Joanne. The "j" is basically as it is in English and not the h-sound of, say, Juan in Spanish. Note also that some names, mine for instance, invariably get changed. I've given up (in truth I have never really bothered to protest) trying to get the name written with a w; instead it has a u or sometimes an iu. Whatever.

Yesterday's title - Queen ( Today's title - very easy.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

You're My Best Friend

A month on. 12 June I spoke about the scratch card malarkey in Alcúdia; here we go again.

I despair of some people. One of the scratch-cardists' sites is on the corner opposite New Pacific in the port. I wandered past the other day. Some buffer had got himself engaged in conversation with one of SC-ists. There was something about the old dictator; an old buffer giving it large with his vague knowledge and believing his interlocutor was in some way a mate. Some tourists need a slap. Everyone becomes a mate or best friend - and in some cases (bars for example) they sometimes do become so - but many are anything but. They want your money - period. The SC-ists more than most. Engañabobo. That buffer. The SC-ist could have seen him coming, happy to listen to what old twaddle and buffery was on offer in exchange for the potential handing over of a four-figure credit-card remuneration. One born every minute, and one born every minute who is prepared to serve himself up on a plate. Let's have a nice chat with this nice young man, and now let's pay for something we don't want and can't afford. Engañabobo.

The people who can afford to hand over a Mastercard in return for some holiday club deal are precisely the people who do not get suckered. Probably because they have their own villa anyway. It is those who cannot afford who get mullered. Frankly, some of them deserve little sympathy. All the talk of lack of tourist spend, and then some guy takes you to the side and entices you into a situation in which you can hand over maybe four or five times what you have budgeted to spend for your two weeks. Perhaps some other businesses could learn something from the SC-ists, because they surely are doing something "right" or they wouldn't still be around.

A translated copy of the letter that was sent to "The Bulletin", which was the same as the email which I received that sparked all this off back on 12 June, is doing the rounds at the town hall, which means the police as well as the tourism department. The tourist office people know, as the police will and many others, where the main centres of SC-ism occur. If you don't, let me tell you. Opposite New Pacific, by the Alcúdia Garden and at the top of The Mile.

I have been unsure about the status of the SC-ist operation. Perhaps others are similarly unsure. But when the person who sent me the email tells me that when the police put in an appearance and the SC-ists scatter and then return later in different clothing, one has to ask why they might do this. I've said before, and will say again, there is no issue with people looking to earn a kosher euro or more, but that ain't the case if tourists are being given grief, hassle, bother and abuse, even if some of them, some of these tourists, can be seen coming.

And some rather unpleasant news. A stabbing. Place: Sabor Latino, part of the Bells empire. Don't know the end result, but it wasn't pretty by all accounts. Rather more pleasant, though not totally pleasant, as will become clear, something that just suddenly appeared. Where was the photo op in "Ultima Hora" with the mayor and other worthies? When did it happen? Two to three weeks ago, according to Marina at the paseo tourist office in Puerto Alcúdia. Can't say I'd noticed till yesterday. What is it? In fact it is a they. Toilets. Public lavs. A wooden privvy place near to the tourist office. Marina was somewhat concerned about the cleaning arrangements. Once a day, it would seem. And the loos are only open when the tourist office is open, not that its management has anything to do with the tourist office. So, if you get taken short on a Sunday or at night, you won't be able to use the loos. To be honest, having peered in and got something of a whiff, I would advise paying for a coffee or something and continue using the nearest bar. I suppose it's good of them to have put some public loos in place, though I'm not sure they exactly do anything for the paseo.

Finally, and it just shows what a free gift of a bottle can do, word up for the arrival of Homer's favourite beer at Vamps. Yep, Duff Beer makes it to Alcúdia. And I shall be partaking of the bottle on finishing today's entry. Not actually sure what the whole deal with this is as Matt Groening has said he would not license the name, but there is a Cerveza Duff website, so ... or should that be ... doh. And oh ... what would happen to the Duff brew if they brought in beer price controls? Nope, I don't know either.

Yesterday's title - the controls were set for the heart of the sun, Pink Floyd, and here it is, all ten minutes of it ( Today's title - easy.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Set The Controls

How much should you pay for a beer? The editor of "The Bulletin" believes that the price should be controlled. One price, or one maximum price perhaps across the board. The context of this suggestion is the news that Mallorca is leaking tourists to the non-euro-zone destinations, Turkey most obviously. This is understandable, up to a point. The weakness of the pound, for the British visitor, makes alternative holiday centres attractive; the contemporary holidaymaker is a creature of price-sensitivity, and he has, courtesy of the internet, chapter and verse as to what it costs in different locations and where to go. Turkey may be flavour of the weak-pound month and year, but Mallorca, despite potentially greater expense, benefits from being nearer and from not being as damn hot. A Balearic summer may occasionally be excessively warm, but the Turkey and Greece of high summer are places of almost heat danger. But be that as it may.

The thrust of the argument in "The Bulletin" is that price control is needed, a) as a response to the strength of the euro, and b) as a means of preventing the island from pricing itself out of the tourism market. We've been here before. I've questioned the wisdom of the price control argument before, and so I will again.

Price controls do exist in Mallorca, for example with tobacco which is available at uniform prices via the monopolistic distribution channel of the tabacos. Price controls are not, therefore, unknown mechanisms, but the control of the price of a packet of 200 Lambert and Butler is quite a different thing to the price of a beer. In general, price controls are anathema to a freely functioning market; imposition of a price cuts away at one of the main tenets of how a business operates. In terms of a bar or restaurant's marketing, price is or should be a matter of judgement together with the other elements that comprise the 4Ps (alongside promotion, product and place). But to take the example of beer, what is one talking about precisely? There are numerous beers on offer via various bars. Each one attracts a variable in terms of it supply cost, and each one offers the bar-owner the opportunity to price according to what he believes his market can bear. A Saint Mick is not the same as a Thwaites or a Guinness. How would a price control work? Are we seriously to believe that each brand would have a set price levied with no scope for fluctuation up or down? What might be sensible in terms of market acceptance along Alcúdia's Mile or Magaluf´s Strip is not necessarily as sensible in Portals Nous.

Bars, in addition to their supply costs, have their own overheads to factor in, and these have all increased - energy, petrol, social security. Then there are rents to cover, to say nothing of all the additional costs related to taxes for this and that and the hygiene requirements that mean having to fork out for certain items of equipment. The bar's price equation is market acceptance complicated by the overall business margin requirement. Put a one-price fits all stamp on a glass of Saint Mick and the rest and it could be the end of some bars. And what would this price be? Who would set it? Who would know at what price to set it? Again, you have the variance of locations to take into account.

There are other factors at play - competition, whether the bar offers (and therefore has to pay for) live entertainment. And let's assume that there was a set price. Who would control and enforce it? And, as pertinently, who would have to pay for that control bureaucracy to be established? Bars have to be left alone to set their own prices. That they may be too high or too low for the immediate market is a mistake for them to be allowed to make, but it has to be their choice. The price-sensitive tourist is pretty savvy. If he goes to a bar and pays two more euros for a certain beer in one place but then finds it is two euros less down the road, then he will go down the road, unless there are elements of the more expensive bar's marketing that make him swallow the higher price. It's the consumer's choice as much as it is the bar's choice.

I'll give you an example. In Puerto Pollensa, a pint of Mahou costs almost two euros more at a bar in the church square than for the same pint at a bar close to the square. The bar in the square is basically a bar only. It offers snacks but not whole meals, which the second bar does. Turnovers and profits are therefore arrived at by a different mix of sales. Moreover, the bar in the square has location. The punter may prefer the ambience of the square to a bar away from it. And he pays for this as well he may also pay for a higher rent. One price for the Mahou may suit one bar but not the other, besides which the bars have to be allowed the flexibility to differentiate themselves, and price is one of those means of differentiation.

Create a price control and you start to move to not only uniformity of price but also uniformity of bar. Price controls are a statist intervention; they were beloved of centrally controlled economies and they abhor innovation and differentiation. Let's take another aspect of price - discounts. A bar, if it so wishes, can offer incentives in the form of discounts in order to attract custom from the competition. Under a price control mechanism, how would discounts work? The answer is that they wouldn't. Control the price and you also control the bar-owner's ability to play with another of the elements of the marketing mix; discounts may be price but they are also promotion.

I'm afraid that the price-control argument is too simplistic. That Mallorca's bars may have become more expensive is a function more of macroeconomics than it is of the micro version of how the business itself operates. The imbalance in the exchange rate is a market mechanism at the macro level; to seek some redress by market interference at the micro level makes no sense. The price of a beer is not irrelevant as it is one of those things that the tourist can easily make an assessment of, but in the wider context it is far less relevant. But let's assume again that there were to be a price control, why stop at beer? Why not control the price of a burger and chips, a hotel room, an excursion?

Mallorca's difficulties are complex. It is a mature holiday market, struggling to diversify, which is a normal process for any "business" at the mature stage of its life cycle. It finds itself in a highly competitive market in which the rules are not the same, the exchange rates being one of them. It also finds itself faced by what may only be temporary conditions but are nonetheless difficult conditions - the credit crunch most obviously. It does also find itself becoming more expensive, but this, in part, is the consequence of its success and its wealth, much of it founded on the benefits brought about by euro-zone participation. Controlling beer prices is no solution. The market will ultimately decide, and the market's decision may not be to everyone's liking.

Yesterday's title - well it was Talk Talk. I have no youtube for the song but no matter as it gives me an excuse for something else by what was a top band - here is "Living In Another World" ( Today's title - the controls were set for what, and by which band?