Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Can't Help Myself

I ought to start a campaign here against shoddy English. It is everywhere, and it is often inexcusable. Spanish restaurants should not find it difficult to get an English speaker to point out inaccuracies. The problem is that they find those who profess to speak English, including some English people, and they are none the wiser. The result of this can be the likes of the classic Restaurant Boy "flesh on the tenterhooks" that was to be found on its business cards, until I pointed out that it was garbage. There was never any excuse for Taylor Woodrow's "we build in Spain since 1958"; it's a British company for God's sake. They may have been building in Spain since the late '50s, but they still can't sell all their apartments in Puerto Pollensa.

It's not as though I am dogmatic. I can play fast and loose with the English language, and I do. It is one of the beauties of English that it is so amenable to flexible usage, to the making-up of words and to the abandonment - usually for emphasis - of those rules that were drummed into you at school. Never start a sentence with and or but; always have a subject, object and verb in a sentence. I've just broken that rule; there was no subject. I do not object to text style or to Americanisms. Language should be flexible, but not if it makes no sense, is wrongly spelt or is just plain wrong.

Maybe it's all the years of editorial. I can't help myself. There were two adverts for restaurants in "The Bulletin" yesterday. Both carried mistakes, one more blatant than the other. Try this out: "the excellent quality of one of Britain's foremost Indian restaurants is now open for lunch and dinner". What's wrong with this? How can "the quality" be open? The subject is "the quality". They mean the restaurant, but it's a nonsense. Then there is this: "fine wines to compliment each course". It's the wrong compliment; it should be the other one - complement. A minor slip or typo perhaps, but still a slip. Then there are estate agents. The Spanish frequently get this wrong and refer to "state agents". They are thinking that they have to drop the "e" as this is indicative of a Spanish spelling. In trying to get it right, they get it wrong. But even if the estate agency is British, there are the frequent howlers; well, they are howlers to me. "The property comprises of four bedrooms, etc..." It can consist of or it can comprise. It cannot comprise of. It's shoddy English to comprise of; it's also wrong. Then there is Spanglish or the inaccurate use of "false friends" that have crossed from Spanish into English. The clearest example of this is the use of "reform", as in the building/the restaurant/the bar needs some reforms. Look up the Spanish word "reforma" in a dictionary - in mine anyway - and it does indeed say "reform" but it also says "(ARQ) repair". The "ARQ" is short for "arquitectura". One can undertake repairs or renovations or perform a refurbishment, but not a reform; it is not how the word is used in English, but it is here - by the English. One can re-form with a hyphen, but even that isn't accurate. There should be some reforms to the way English is spoken.

English, unlike Spanish, German, French and other languages, tends to avoid a rigid approach. Much like there is no written constitution, there is no written set of rules in the sense of a body that arbitrates on linguistic matters. Yet there are of course rules - thousands of them. It is just that the English, the British, are often unaware of them. And this can largely be explained by schooling and by that tendency towards flexibility. A German, for instance, will insist on being taught rules for English grammar; he has his own grammar hammered into him at school. A Spaniard may not insist, but he will be fully aware of the existence of rules. During the summer, I used to meet up with a Mallorcan friend - Toni who runs Pippers restaurant in Puerto Alcúdia. As a favour, I was helping him out with his English. When I got to grammar, he understood well the rules and applications of tenses. Ask many English speakers, and they wouldn't have a clue.

In "Euro Weekly", the editorial manager has been doing regular items about language and language learning. She makes a good point this week when referring to the fact that Brits, when learning Spanish, run up against the grammar wall. It's not surprising. To teach a Brit Spanish, one probably has to first teach them about English grammar. Perhaps it all boils down to the fact that the English verb system, at its basic level, is so simple. "I write, you write, he writes, we write, you write, they write." "Yo escribo, tú escribes, él escribe, nosotros escribimos, vosotros escribís, ellos escriben." Conjugation is less obvious in English, and don't even let's mention the formal and informal "you's". Then there is the fact that we don't change our adjectives and that we don't have masculines and feminines (and neuters in some languages). At least in Spanish there is no declension of the article, as there is in German (and by article I mean "a", "the", and also "this" and "that").

Mind you, what can the poor old Brits do? As I write this on a Saturday afternoon, many will be glued to Sky. And the media are often at fault. They are at fault for admitting into their midsts those whose tenuous grasp of the English language should bar them from ever going near a broadcasting studio: the football pundit or football manager most obviously. I fancy it was Big Ron what did it, a man who didn't so much murder the language as put it up against a wall and fire a volley of bullets through its heart. And his crime was? To introduce the use of what might be termed the football present perfect. Listen to almost any pundit or manager now and, when reporting an incident, he will say: "the boy's gone down the wing (or worse, has come down the wing), he's crossed it, the goalie's come for it and the striker's put it in the back of the net". Unless this is a report on something that has just been shown, it is always wrong, and 99% of the time this is the case. (Depending on context, it should either be the past or present tense.) But because Big Ron, or whoever it was, did it, i.e. used the present perfect incorrectly, so others aped him, and they aped him because they thought it was correct. And they thought it was correct because they didn't know their language, and especially their grammar.

I come back to my old friend, the man in the bar (who does exist by the way). We were once having a conversation about language and language learning, and I cited the case of the use of the present perfect. He said it didn't matter. Why should people need to know what these tenses are called or what they do? And you know, he was probably right, because for the Brits they don't matter. Which is maybe why many struggle to understand Spanish. From shoddy English to shoddy Spanish.

Yesterday's title - Stereophonics ( Today's title - legendary act and legendary lead singer who died recently.


Index for November 2008

Alcúdia marina - 3 November 2008
All-inclusives - 16 November 2008
Architecture - 11 November 2008
Artà - 22 November 2008
Asociación de Britanicos Irlandeses Residentes Empresarios y Trabajadores en las Baleares - 1 November 2008
Balearic economy - 6 November 2008
Bars - 15 November 2008
BBC - 9 November 2008
Bees - 10 November 2008
Campos - 17 November 2008
Can Picafort - 6 November 2008, 18 November 2008
Car chase - 13 November 2008
Car sales - 5 November 2008
Catalan - 24 November 2008
Churches - 11 November 2008
Citizen participation - 19 November 2008, 20 November 2008
Coffee - 4 November 2008
Credit and interest - 26 November 2008
Crime - 3 November 2008
Dictionaries - 24 November 2008
Digital television - 20 November 2008
Ensaimada - 12 November 2008
Environment - 17 November 2008
Eurorregión Pirineos Mediterráneo - 16 November 2008
Expatriates - 10 November 2008
Fairs - 5 November 2008, 12 November 2008, 21 November 2008
Fiestas - 18 November 2008
Fira de Tardor 2008 - 21 November 2008
Football - 13 November 2008, 14 November 2008, 15 November 2008
Garry Bonsall - 19 November 2008
GOB - 17 November 2008, 29 November 2008
Golf - 17 November 2008
Gotmar Residents Association - 19 November 2008
Holiday bookings - 16 November 2008
Holiday lets - 9 November 2008
Hospital General de Muro - 12 November 2008
Hotels - 8 November 2008, 9 November 2008, 16 November 2008, 26 November 2008
Landscapes - 23 November 2008
Language - 24 November 2008, 30 November 2008
Nordic walking - 7 November 2008
Parking - 18 November 2008, 29 November 2008
Paul Davidson - 13 November 2008, 14 November 2008, 15 November 2008
Pedestrianisation - 1 November 2008, 19 November 2008, 22 November 2008, 25 November 2008
Planning permissions - 26 November 2008
Police - 3 November 2008
Political parties - 17 November 2008, 20 November 2008
Pollensa Fair 2008 - 5 November 2008
Power cut - 14 November 2008
Property market - 2 November 2008
Pumpkins - 12 November 2008
Rafael Nadal - 28 November 2008
Real Mallorca - 13 November 2008, 14 November 2008, 15 November 2008
Residents associations - 1 November 2008, 19 November 2008
Rubbish tax - 22 November 2008
Sa Pobla - 21 November 2008
Santa Margalida - 18 November 2008
Season 2009 - 27 November 2008
Spanishness - 6 November 2008, 8 November 2008, 11 November 2008, 15 November 2008, 23 November 2008
Storms - 4 November 2008, 7 November 2008
Street cleaning - 20 November 2008
Tea - 4 November 2008
Television - 3 November 2008, 20 November 2008
Tour operators - 16 November 2008
Tourism - 8 November 2008, 16 November 2008, 22 November 2008, 27 November 2008, 28 November 2008
Town halls - 18 November 2008, 19 November 2008, 25 November 2008
Train - 5 November 2008
Tram - 5 November 2008
Unemployment - 4 November 2008, 7 November 2008
Water supply - 21 November 2008
Websites - 29 November 2008
Weddings - 11 November 2008
Winter tourism - 1 November 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008

It Means Nothing

There have been a number of large figures knocking around these past few days; figures in numerical terms that is. For once, they are not related to the numbers of unemployed or the size of the town halls' debts. They are figures for internet usage - those for websites of the town halls and centrally.

To take the town halls first. The other day, the "Diario" ran an article in which it explained that Alcúdia's site was the most popular on the island (I presume Palma is excluded from these). It has registered an annual number of just shy of 275,000 "entradas". I'm afraid at this point I get confused. What do they mean by an "entrada"? (From what I know, an "entrada", in computing terms, refers only to what I'm doing at the moment - making an entry.) Almost certainly it does not mean "hits", so probably page views. Assuming it is, it's not such a bad number; not brilliant, but not bad. Alcúdia tops the list with Manacor not far behind but Sa Pobla a fairly distant third, and Pollensa back in ninth spot. The article doesn't give a number for Pollensa, but Sa Pobla is some 110,000 behind Alcúdia and is six places above Pollensa.

Quite why Alcúdia should head this list and why Pollensa should lag behind, I am at a loss to explain. It's not as if the towns' populations are that markedly different, and if one takes population into account, then Manacor should come ahead of Alcúdia. Nor is there any clue in these websites being international. Alcúdia's site is in Catalan by default. There is a Castilian link, but it only gives menu items and not text. Pollensa's does not have a Castilian link, though both - eventually - get to their "sister" websites in different languages for tourists (in Pollensa's case, a complete waste of cyberspace). No, can't explain this.

But as in Spanish, so in English, there is the issue of terminology. Maybe someone can enlighten me more as to the application of "entrada", but whatever is used, there is so much confusion when it comes to terms and to statistics. And that brings me to ...

The figures for the town halls pale into cyberspace insignificance against those for the Balearic Government's tourism website - According to "The Bulletin", it received - get this - 85,168, 261 enquiries during the first nine months of this year. 85 million? What on earth does that mean? In fact, what are "enquiries"? If it is an accurately-reported figure, it is colossal, but as ever with these statistics it is not what it seems. Hits, and I have to assume that this is what enquiries means, are about the most useless statistic that can be dragged out for website traffic. Though useless, the number does give an indication. The site is obviously popular, and is evidence of how important the internet is, especially for the holidaymaker, though in the case of this site the overwhelming majority of visitors are Spanish - and you can see this for yourselves on Alexa.

I thought our friends GOB, the environmental pressure group, had been keeping a low profile in matters Puerto Pollensa. Unusually for them, they seemed to have had little or nothing to say about the pedestrianisation. Maybe because there are enough voices doing it for them, or maybe they're in favour of it and know they'll be on a loser as they'd be placed in the mayoral circle of waggons and find themselves being similarly surrounded. And it would never do to act as the posse for the mayor and the Pollensa administration when there are other enviro controversies with which they can shoot arrows at him. Big-time controversies. Ho-hum. Like the parking area next to La Gola. Does anyone really give a damn, other than GOB? "Unsuitable", they say about the parking, without of course offering any solutions as to where there might be some alternative. I'm afraid I lose my patience with GOB who do, sometimes, make some valuable interventions, such as when they have, in the past, criticised the management of Albufera. It's enough to make you want to drain La Gola and pave it over, just to get up GOB's noses, which are of course immediately above their gobs.

Anyway, there was political support for GOB from the United Left and the Mallorcan socialists at the town hall, but their opposition to the parking was not sufficient to prevent support for it to proceed. Mayor Cerdà, rightly pointing to the need for parking in the area of La Gola, reckons that the "general" plan for the town keeps in mind the other need - that of "natural space" - which GOB claims would be eliminated were the parking area to be constructed. Some might say - what general plan?

No, not that Little Britain, this Little Britain. Our own. Steve and Urbano. And as they're such nice chaps, on the WHAT'S ON BLOG ( are the Little Britain Christmas specials. The goose may be getting fat, but work your way through that list and it won't be the only one. Chops are being licked even as one reads it.

Yesterday's title - Adam Adamant. Today's title - Welsh band; not the Manics, the other ones.


Friday, November 28, 2008

The Face

The Balearic Government appears to have buried the hatchet with Rafael Nadal. To recap. Funding for a tennis centre in Nadal's home town of Manacor was withdrawn by the current administration. It had been promised by the previous incumbents. Nadal took his racket home, and said that he would not participate in publicity. They seem to have kissed and made up. And so they should. If there is one person, one person above all, who should be the image of the islands and of tourism, it is Nadal. Not only is he known globally, he is also actually Mallorcan, which is more than can be said for previous "faces", some of whom, such as Paco de Lucia, were heralded with much fanfare and then disappeared as quickly as you could pluck a guitar string. The international totty that has been hauled out onto the marketing catwalk - Kournikova, Schiffer - may have had reasonable levels of recognition, but they, like Paco, were not from Mallorca. Nadal as the face is a no-brainer.

But now the government and IBATUR, the government's tourism promotional wing, seem to have netted the Manacor muscle, what are they going to do with him? One fears it will be little more than the "hi, I'm Rafa, fly me" nonsense. For all of Nadal's fame and appeal, the value of his celebrity alone is not enough to guarantee that it will be turned into a pot of tourism gold. It would be a massively missed opportunity if his name was not exploited in the best sense of that word.

Celebrity promotions can fail for various reasons, such as a lack of believability or a failure to connect with the chosen audience. Nadal, as celebrity and as a brand, ticks all the boxes, one would think. Marketers refer to "attributes", both of brands and of products. What are Nadal's attributes? Mallorcan, world renown, great sportsman, youthful, good-looking (some might say). One might argue that his relative youth might alienate an older audience, but he has the advantage of also being perceived as "a nice boy", certainly when compared to the moroseness of a Murray. Nice boys are winners with older markets. For a market nearer his own age, females have the hots for him and males can aspire to his body and talent (and may also, in some instances, lust after him). I'm not sure as to Nadal's international appeal to children, but the small boy next door may be indicative. When he's belting a tennis ball against the wall, he has his own running commentary in which "Nadal" features prominently. Nadal has pretty well all age groups covered. To not make good use of him would be a sin.

Nadal has recognition. He is in the same class as a Beckham in this respect. But for all that he is recognised, for all that he seems perfect as the wearer of the Mallorcan and Balearics promotional sandwich-board, look again at those attributes and now compare them to Mallorca as a product. A striking difference, in tourism terms, lies with the sport angle. For all that there has been the attempt to market Mallorca for its niche golf and cycling, the Mallorca product does not shout out sport. It is here that the Nadal brand and the Mallorca product diverge, and it is here that potentially the greatest opportunity exists as well as the potential for the greatest missed opportunity.

I go back to that piece about the golf development in Campos. Golf and more golf. The thinking is too narrow, too confined to a well-trodden fairway. I have a suggestion. Complexes, inspired by the Nadal name, of tennis courts and many other sports and activities, applicable for different age groups. Complexes that are integrated, with their own accommodation, entertainment and bars and restaurants, or are close to existing facilities. Complexes that are all-weather or have the possibility to be so - covered courts, enclosed pools, etc. The Nadal-isation of Mallorca. All-year centres. Three or four Nadal centres for all-year tourism around the island. The name alone would be enough to grab the tour operators' interest.

To make most of the Nadal brand, the product has to support it, the Mallorca product that is. I very much doubt that it will. Rather than hitting a winner, the tourist authorities, government and town halls will serve up another double fault. Even were they minded to contemplate such centres, it would take that long to ever get agreement, let alone get around to constructing them, that Nadal would have long retired and would have been superseded as the face by a string of bimbos or ageing musicians. What a shame and what a waste.

Yesterday's title - The Corrs ( Today's title - different sort of question. "The Face" was the enemy of which '60s television character who himself lent his name to a punk/new wave act.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Give Me A Reason

A thought-provoking moment from the "Majorca Daily Bulletin" yesterday. Well, it provoked my thoughts; I can't speak about others. On the tourism front, a professor in Barcelona is saying that, while the top and bottom ends of the market should be fine next season, the middle market is more likely to shrink. He explains this by comparing tourism with the situation in the car sector where mid-range car sales have fallen but the top end is still growing.

It's an interesting comparison, but I'm not entirely sure I agree. Intuitively, one would anticipate that anything other than the top end would decline next year, but there are plenty of messages floating around that suggest otherwise. Firstly, that bottom end. One has to be careful as to definition, but locally (in Alcúdia at any rate) it seemed that this year it was the very economic market, typified by the exclusive all-inclusives, that was taking a hit. I'm not sure that Bellevue, only a third or so of it all-inclusive, had a particularly brilliant season either. Yet some other hotels in the same area that were offering half board or self-catering were doing fine thanks very much. Ok, that this was this year, but there is a general feeling that, despite the economic problems, people will still fork out for their annual holiday. The car analogy may not be that appropriate, as the purchase of a new car is something that can be deferred. So, you might say, could a holiday, but there is perhaps less rationality when it comes to buying holidays or not.

There was, though, the evidence in August of hotels that were making special offers; hotels like Molins in Cala San Vicente or the Daina in Puerto Pollensa. I guess you would define these hotels as catering for the middle market, but again one has to be careful with one's classifications. Alcúdia, it might be said, has a strong lower middle-market presence than does Puerto Pollensa, but that lower middle-market is not the budget end, which the professor is saying is one that is likely to grow. From what I understand, bookings within this market for 2009 are pretty good. Right down at the budget end of the market, let's be blunt, the contribution to the wider economy is relatively small, especially if much of this market heads to an all-inclusive. The crucial factor for next year, especially where the British market is concerned, could well be the state of the pound, and the exchange rate against the euro could yet get worse. If the Brit holidaymaker does decide to go ahead with his fortnight in Mallorca and Euroland, there must be some concern as to spend, more so than has been the case over the past two to three years.

One hears calls for bars and restaurants to take account of the exchange rate and to price accordingly. It's all well and good, but why should they? Indeed, how can they? Owners may be well aware of the sinking pound, but they are also aware of their own costs. It would surprise me if one were to find significant price hikes next season, but it would surprise me even more if there were to be reductions. This said, if the Brit holidaymaker has yet to decide on his destination for next year, that exchange rate could yet become the loser in the penalty shoot-out between Mallorca and the likes of Turkey or Croatia.

There is now also the issue of VAT. The two and a half per cent reduction may be designed to stimulate consumer spending, but will it make much of a difference to the holiday decision-making purchase? On a two thousand pound holiday, the element for VAT means that, net, the holiday actually costs a bit over 1700 pounds. With a reduction, the final cost would now make the holiday some 40-odd quid cheaper. An incentive? It would be questionable even if it were true. The VAT calculation is far more complicated than I have just outlined, owing to factors such as the tour operators margin scheme (and don't ask me to try and explain that). If there is any reduction it will not even be in this range, and chances are that it wouldn't be passed on anyway. Forget it.

Nope, the real issue - that shoot-out decider - is the pound in your pocket, or rather the pound in your pocket when it is removed and then presented in exchange for a euro. The problem is that you might get just a euro, or even less. That would be worrying; if it went below one euro that could be the point at which the holidaymaker crosses the psychological barrier, and crosses off Mallorca from his list of destinations. But there again, rational though that might be to do so, who said that the holiday decision was solely a reasoned one; the holidaymaker needs to be given little reason to have that holiday and in Mallorca, despite the state of the pound. The middle market may not grow next year, but it may also not fall. Or am I being irrational in believing so.

Yesterday's title - Kaiser Chiefs, "Ruby" ( Today's title - oh, no apologies, it is Andrea after all. So therefore ...


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Due To Lack Of Interest

The Balearic Government is to pick up the tab for interest on lines of credit available for the modernisation of hotels. If evidence were needed as to the interdependence of the tourism and construction sectors, here it is. One hope is that hotels, which may have decided to stall refurbishments and modernisations because of the economic situation and also the potential unavailability of finance, will now change their minds, thus giving a boost to local construction companies. In winter, you can usually see a fair amount of renovation; it does seem to be less evident this winter. Whether the hotels will opt to avail themselves of these friendly terms is another matter - they would still have to fund the loans - but this initiative is not a bad one as it combines a short-term need to try and kickstart the ailing construction sector and a longer-term desire to upgrade hotel stock in general. At the recent World Travel Market, the government's boss, Francesc Antich, and the tourism minister, Miquel Nadal, referred to improvements in quality, and they met recently with the heads of the leading hotel groups to discuss just this very matter. However, one of the problems that emerged from that meeting was that of red-tape. Antich said that he will seek to reduce it, but at least one of the hotel bosses was unconvinced that he will be able to impress upon the town halls the need for them to be less bureaucratic.

If the hotels now wanted to effect modernisation plans, they would have to go through the planning-procedure hoops. Not only can this be time-consuming, it can also be costly. I don't know if the owners deliberately went ahead without obtaining the appropriate local licences, but you may recall that the Sunwing Resort in Puerto Alcúdia copped a threequarters of a million euro fine for renovation work undertaken at the Nuevas Palmeras hotel last winter. Perhaps they calculated that it was worth taking a fine and just getting on with things. Though some hotel groups should be very close to the corridors of planning admin in the local authorities, as some are based in the towns where many of their hotels are located, there is still the need for licences. Major works should of course have permission, and one of the problems with Sunwing was the disruption to neighbours, but the insistence of licences for pretty much every damn thing is a nonsense. I understand that one even needs a licence to paint the inside of one's house. Crazy, and no-one bothers because it's unenforceable. I was told the other day about illegal fincas built without permission. The fine for doing so is lower than the costs involved with gaining all the permissions, so they just go ahead and build them.

Meanwhile, and coming back to hotels, I am wondering whatever happened to all the fuss about developments having been built where they shouldn't have been, i.e. within the area from the coastline that has been deemed inviolable, or should have been, on environmental grounds. There was much publicity given to this, and I brought up it up here on the blog, but now it's all gone quiet. There was a suggestion that it was all a political posture on behalf of the PSOE prior to the national elections. And maybe it was. Or maybe it has been realised that enforcing expensive changes in the current economic climate is too politically risky. Or maybe environmental correctness is a product of economically benign times only. Or maybe they've lost interest while, at the same time, losing interest charges.

Yesterday's title - Lulu. The 1967 reference was to "To Sir, With Love", the title was "Independence" ( Today - a line from a monster song by a Leeds group. Girl's name.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I Want My Independence

One thing you can say about the whole Puerto Pollensa pedestrianisation fandango is that at least it is giving people an interest during the otherwise quiet months of the off-season. Maybe there should be an annual controversy to keep everyone occupied once the clocks go back.

Anyway, Garry Bonsall tells me that there is a proposal for one lane of the road to be closed, a compromise of sorts. Maybe this would work, maybe not. It seems to me you either have pedestrianisation or you don't, with restricted access for deliveries as a sop to businesses that might be affected if you do indeed have it. Different forms of arrangement, though sought by the mayor, are attempts at post-hoc rationalisation of the questionably rational, in that the key question is why the pedestrianisation was ever conceived in the first place. As mentioned the other day, you have to go back to the summer of love - 1967 - for the answer, as it was then that the original plan was established, together with that for the new road.

Mayor Cerdà, it would appear, is only following orders. Perhaps someone should point out to him that the Generalisimo has long been begging at St. Peter's Gate. It's not as though all bets were off after 1975, the new road being one of them. One can justify that on the basis that there was a degree of foresight in appreciating the sort of traffic levels that Puerto Pollensa would come to expect. But because a plan was created 41 years ago doesn't mean that it has to be executed. I am wondering whether that law of historic memory, the one designed to rid Spain of symbols of the Franco era, could also be applied to traffic projects drawn up during that time, though I suppose you would have to unbuild the new road if it were.

It is a nonsense to argue that a scheme dreamt up in the sixties automatically has to be applied. Back then, the Spanish Government could have done pretty much as it pleased with scant or little regard for whatever anyone thought. Just nail the decree to the forehead of a convenient passing peasant, and then bring in the bulldozers. Times change, most obviously in respect of the volume of the public voice, which takes us back to that European law on consultation. Projects can no longer be foisted onto a local community without attention being paid to its views, but the mayor failed to consult widely from the very outset. Even if it were not his duty to have done so - though developments suggest it was - there was a moral case for it. Rather than adopt a seemingly dogmatic stance, one formed with the support of a plan from El Caudillo's time, he should have thrown it open as a full debate, not just about the pedestrianisation but about a scheme for the town as a whole. The closure of the frontline road is a piecemeal solution to a much wider problem - that of the infrastructure and quality of life of all of Puerto Pollensa. But he didn't, and now he's copping the flak.

Garry also tells me that there is an idea doing the rounds for a vice-mayor for the port. This shouldn't be necessary. A mayor should be for the whole town or not at all, and heaven alone knows what conflict this might give rise to, especially if they were from different political parties. But it is a measure of the apparent impotence of officials responsible for the port and of dissatisfaction with the administration that this is being advanced. For God's sake, this is a town that cannot muster 20,000 inhabitants. How much officialdom does one need? Yet there exists within this proposal the evidence of tensions and resentment between the port and the "pueblo". Pollensa is not the only town to suffer from this. Consider the four municipalities that comprise the tourism zone of the north - Pollensa, Alcúdia, Muro and Santa Margalida - and in only one case, that of Alcúdia, might it be said that the resort and the old town enjoy a degree of harmony. It is no coincidence that there is little or no physical separation between Alcúdia and Puerto Alcúdia. In the other three cases, there is not just the distance of kilometres, there is a distance also in administrative and psychological terms. In Santa Margalida such is the level of dysfunctionality that the opposition on the town hall is holding separate public meetings after the ruling group switched them from the evening to the morning when of course fewer people can attend. Much of the antagonism there stems from differences of opinion regarding projects as they affect Can Picafort. It's almost as though there has been a UDI. Perhaps that is what is needed for all the resorts, as the main beef with all of them and with the businesses in them, is that it is they, the resorts, which generate the revenues for the towns. This is no more so the case than in Muro and Santa Margalida where the "pueblos" have little or no tourism.

Ivory towerism, maybe that's it. And a touch of snobbery as well. The ancient towns, the ancient pueblos look down on the coarse commercialism of their resorts and, while grateful to extract every last tax, treat them as second-class. Vice-mayors? Maybe there should be separate mayors and separate budgets.

Yesterday's title - Squeeze ( Today's title - in 1967 she was offering her love and appeared in the film with the same title, and she was back in the '90s with this cracking song.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Cool For Cats

The newspaper "dBalears" is to give away a dictionary with its edition this coming Sunday. It will be a pocket Catalan-English dictionary. Useful, you might think, and you would probably be right. Though announced in the paper's English-speaking sister organ, "Majorca Daily Bulletin", I wonder how many of the Bulletin's readership will next week be strolling to the local tabacos and adding "dBalears" to their shop for "The News of the World" and a packet of 20. I wonder how many of its readership even know of the existence of "dBalears", let alone have ever looked at a copy. Of course, only a few might have - it's in Catalan. There again, how many might have ever bought a copy of the Spanish paper from the same publishing group - "Ultima Hora"?

I already have a Catalan-English dictionary. It is the Oxford version. It proudly says on its cover - "nova edició", "per a estudiants d'anglès". I am reassured that I have the new edition, the only problem is I am not a student of English. I suspect the freebie with the newspaper will take a similar angle. Though it has its English-to-Catalan half of the book, my dictionary comes at the subject from the Catalan direction. Accordingly, in, for example, the section on prepositions, the exercise gives "the cat is under the table" (in English) with an appropriate cartoon. Not much use to those of us who need to regularly express this in Catalan. (Oh, and if you're wondering - "el gat és sota la taula" - at least that's how I'd say it.)

However, I am probably quibbling, this is, after all, a dictionary primarily aimed at Catalan speakers learning English who will undoubtedly need to know that, when "amb una familia anglesa" (with an English family), "sorry, I don't like mushrooms" is a common, everyday expression. My dictionary also seems to be more aimed at a youthful Catalan speaker. In the bit for "amb els amics anglesos" (with English friends, and note that they are English as opposed to British), there are words like "wicked". No room for "mingin', innit", but the dictionary doesn't quite convey the sort of generational context of such words. So, the next time those of you back in the UK, sorry England, are meeting with an ancient Catalan, do not be surprised if your mushrooms are in fact wicked or that your new best friend knows of a "really hip bar" which, because he's from Spain, will turn out to be the scruffiest pub in the neighbourhood.

In the spirit of "yoof" Catalan to English, the dictionary could make more of one of its "falsos amics", or false friends to give it the English term beloved of language teachers. One such is "llarg", which reads like it might be a character from a sort of Welsh Lord Of The Rings but is in fact the Catalan for long. It is of course close to the English "large". So the cool Catalan club-goer might believe that "to large it" is to long it, though this might be quite acceptable as I defy anyone to explain what "to large it" actually means.

But the main failings of my dictionary lie with the lack of the sort of everyday usage that would truly be useful to the Catalan, such as "I'd prefer to pay black" or "the indicator, what's that?". So I shall duly look to swell the coffers of Grup Serra next Sunday, and see if they have included such necessities. And perhaps some fellow Brits will do likewise, and having become the proud owners of their new dictionary, will use the newspaper for the cat to sit on (yes, that's sit on) under the table, or to wrap up the mushroom peelings. Wicked.

Yesterday's title - Jimmy Cliff ( Today's title - no clues needed.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Many Rivers To Cross?


As you fly into Mallorca and look down to the ground, what do you see? A regular flight path into Palma Airport takes you along the north coast, and you can see the blue of the Med, the white caps of waves and the twists of the length of beach that is that of Alcúdia Bay. The plane makes a right turn over Playa de Muro and tracks down the centre of the island and into Palma. You may just glimpse mountains and be aware of the windmills shortly before landing. Otherwise, a general view is one of brownness and yellowness, patches of green and of no great order. Welcome to Mallorca and welcome to its topography.

If you were a first-time visitor to the island, what might you expect in terms of landscape? Indeed, might you expect anything? But we're back in "being Spanish" territory, and coming from a green and pleasant land, the tourist is unlikely to expect the same aerial perspective of hedged fields, woodlands and the alterations through colour of crop rotation of coming into, say, Gatwick. He probably expects a deal of barrenness; it would accord with sun and more sun. And for the most part, that is what he gets, or at least it is also a fertile barrenness of the clay colours of potato and vegetable market gardening. If England is overwhelmingly green, then Mallorca is overwhelmingly a study through a variety of ochres.

Ask a tourist what, having landed, he might anticipate as some sort of emblematic statement of the local landscape, and he may well choose the palm tree, the arboreal go-to of the picture postcard, fronds artistically intruding as a foreground in a top corner of the frame with the shimmering azure of sky and sea and a whiteness of sand filling its background. And of course he will find the palm tree in abundance. Spanish, he will think. Which is true, but unfortunately isn't. Palms are neither natives of Mallorca nor of Spain, with one exception, the palmito. The anticipation of an exotica of sub-tropical arboriculture is misguided. The discovery is one of apparent northern European migration, for it is the pine tree that lords itself over the tree kingdom of Mallorca. If this is a disappointment, there is a consolation in the fact of the pine species - the aleppo. But even this is not unique to Spain or Mallorca; it is the Mediterranean wing of the pine party.

Travelling from Palma to the north of the island, the initial sense is of normalcy, granted by motorway, the blue and white of road signs, the familiarity of make of car and the reassurance of a McDonald's arch. But the name Al Campo smacks of a different commercial landscape, and then to the left one begins to become aware of a chain of mountains and a perhaps unexpected natural landscape. Mention Spain, mention Mallorca, and the novice holidaymaker would be unlikely to conjure up an image of a mountain range; mountains, hills don't belong in the same set of picture postcards alongside that of the blissful beach idyll. Yet arrive in Pollensa or Alcúdia, and it is mountains that enclose you. Some are startling, most dramatically the Puig María that appears as an isolated aberration of monstrousness looming over the old town of Pollensa, or the grey peaks above Puerto Pollensa which lend the resort a chill of mystery. But how might these qualify as "Spanish"?

As you move around the area, to Alcúdia, to Pollensa, to Manresa or to Cala San Vicente, there is one word that starts to form - rugged. This is not a word from the being Spanish lexicon, or at least many would presume it not to be. Being Spanish, in landscape terms, is meant to be vibrant and exotic; it is a type of anthropomorphism for the natural world, the imagined transposition of the flame colours of the flamenco dance onto the land itself. But here is rugged. It is scrub, dust, scraps of forest, hill and artisan, the latter most evident in demarcation by dry-stone walls both in towns and in the country. It is semi-moor or Peak District. How can this be Spanish?

Yet there are of course colours that comfort you. On that same journey from Palma at different times of the year are the oleander that adorn the central reservation or the blossoms of almond trees. And then there are the bougainvillaeas of streets and gardens and the omnipresence of the orange tree. None of them uniquely Spanish, but they conform to the perception of vista by vibrancy, to a four-colour separation of the mind's eye rather than the black-and-white print of hill and wasteland.

But there is one thing you might have expected to see. It's something lurking from the days of knowing smatterings of Spanish by Western. Wrong country admittedly, but still Spanish. Rio Grande. River. Take off from Palma and look once again at the island below. What you will not see are rivers. For in the limestone and porous fabric of the island, most of the water goes underground. It's not a comment on being Spanish, but it is on being Mallorcan - island with no rivers.

Yesterday's title - Beth Orton "Someone's Daughter" ( Today's title - there was no question mark; it was covered by UB40 but who was it originally?


Saturday, November 22, 2008

I Keep Quiet About It

Get on the main coast road from Puerto Alcúdia, and where does it take you? The clue lies in the name of the road - Carretera Artà. The road runs parallel to the coast line, to the side of the bay of Alcúdia. It takes you into Playa de Muro, Can Picafort and then out into largely forest-bound territory to the coast side as you pass by Son Serra until you end up in Artà. Or maybe you don't end up. Instead, you carry on to Cala Ratjada or down the east coast to the likes of Cala Millor. That the road bears the name of Artà should suggest some importance, a major centre perhaps, but for most it is just a town on the way to somewhere else.

But before you get lost in Artà, struggling to locate the sign for Cala Ratjada, which is conveniently partially hidden and a surprise when you do see it, you might have noticed that large church, the one that rises from and dominates the landscape to your left. You might have thought, well, that looks interesting, but then you would still have kept going.

And that's the problem. People just keep going. Artà. It sounds like it's arterial, and its eponymous main road from Alcúdia pumps you through its centre and out the other end. No-one really goes to Artà, despite its prominence on road signs and the naming of the main coast road in the north. There again, why would you? What does Artà have by way of attraction? It barely registers on the tourist map or in tourist brochures.

Maybe it's coincidental - what I was saying the other day about Campos and towns that have minimal or little by way of real tourism - but Artà is set to be on the receiving end of some seven million euros worth of spend, courtesy of the Spanish tourist promotion body Turespaña. You might ask why they are bothering. I might ask, as one who believes that Mallorca's tourism is wedded to the masses, why do they bother. But you and I would be wrong. Mallorca is full of curios, of old towns that seem barely worth the effort, and of small coastal enclaves that time - mass-tourism time that is - appears to have past by. Because that is the attraction of Artà and its coastal tourism that barely dares to speak its name.

Before you arrive at Artà, there is a road off that is not much more than a lane. It takes you to Colonia Sant Pere and Betlem. Don't expect either of them to be keeping you carousing until dawn. They are end-of-the-road, dead-end, nothing-much-happens Mallorca, peculiar small coastal settlements of no more than spectacular views across the bay and spectacular high rises of hills that dominate them. They are both a part of the coastal plain brooded over by the sudden elevations of the mountain range of Artà. And they want to spend seven million on these places? So they should. Or maybe they shouldn't, as it might disrupt the tranquility of those who have stumbled across Sant Pere and Betlem and would prefer to keep them secret. Or maybe they shouldn't announce the rich antiquity of this part of the island, evidenced by the prehistoric Ses Païsses just outside Artà.

Sometimes, maybe they should just spend the money on keeping places quiet.

Another week, another tough time for Pollensa's mayor. It's all a load of rubbish. And that is how the organisation for tourism businesses, Acotur, has portrayed the increases in rubbish collection and incineration charges. In some cases (as noted in "The Diario"), these are set to rise by some 300 per cent. These are, of course, tough times too for businesses, and such steep hikes in rubbish tax are the last things they need. Mayor Cerdà argues that the real cost of the tax has not been passed on over the past few years, which will come as small consolation to businesses hit by other rising charges in a downturn.

And pedestrianisation? The mayor has reiterated that he is willing to look at alternative plans for "mobility" in the port, and one such has emerged from a combination of Partido Popular and Unió Mallorquina (UM) members. This has arisen as a consequence of a meeting with the residents associations of both Gotmar and the port. The other day when I spoke to Garry Bonsall, he told me that he was due to be seeing members of the UM who had previously abstained on votes in respect of the pedestrianisation. It would seem that alternative ideas, such as limiting traffic access to, for example, the mornings, are now being tabled. It may also be the case that the road would be open in the off-season. Why shouldn't it be? At present there are enough drivers ignoring the "closure" as it is. What is revealing is that the mayor seems not only to be opposed by other political parties, he doesn't even have the wholehearted support of his own party. To top all this off, a letter from the port's residents association has now been made public. This was a letter sent to the administration in October that makes clear the number of complaints regarding the scheme and that contradicts the view of the town hall that there was not a "majority of unrest" among the port's residents.

If he hasn't already, I fancy that the mayor is due to get a fair amount of egg on his face.

(Since making this entry, I hear that the rubbish tax is to actually go down for tourist businesses. U-turn on rubbish, and now for the pedestrianisation ...)

Yesterday's title - Graham Swift, "Waterland". Today's title - from a song by an English female singer who recorded an album with the title of a book by another contemporary British novelist, Ian McEwan.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Potato Head

Remember Mr. Potato Head? I do. He's still with us, but now he comes with his own head. He became self-sufficient, courtesy of a prosthetic potato, putting an end to the weekly shop being deprived of a King Edward or two, as was once the case. One suspects, though, there is less pleasure to be had than when the eyes or glasses were pressed into a real spud and out squirted some juice. Mr. Potato Head was one of the great toys. Hours of endless amusement. How simple and how much fun.

This all goes by the way of an introduction to yet another of the island's fairs. From yesterday and running until next weeked, it is the Fira de Tardor in Sa Pobla (that's autumn fair for those of you not up to speed with the seasons in Catalan). And what better idea is there in a town known for its potatoes than to make the potato the theme of the fair. Yep, it's potato time in Sa Pobla, coming hard on the heels of the pumpkin revelries in neighbouring Muro. Another fair, another vegetable.

Sa Pobla also has a certain celebrity for toys. They're missing a trick with the autumn fair. Mr. Potato Head should be the mascot, at a stroke combining the Sa Pobla traditions of potato and toy - "Senyor Cap de Patata". But you know, I was writing this piece and thinking about a mascot and then went and actually looked at the events taking place at the fair, and there it was ... a mascot will be presented at the official opening. Could it be that Mr. Potato Head will indeed be in Sa Pobla? Given that they go in for those giants or big head masks at the fairs or fiestas, it would be about right.

Anyway, if you go along to the fair you won't be able to avoid sampling dishes made from potatoes, which kind of seems a bit, well, naff. It's not as though the potato is rarely to be found on one's plate in the normal course of nose-bagging events, but I guess they do rather more than just hand out dollops of mash or something. In fact I know what sort of thing they have on offer because there is a list of restaurants and their "specialities" for the duration of the fair. You can find it on the Sa Pobla town hall's website (in Catalan), if you can be bothered. A couple of them have "bacallà amb patata". Cod 'n' chips, but no mushy peas. Of course it could all be very much worse. Sa Pobla is also known for ... eels. I think I'll stick to the potatoes, if that's ok.

There is, incidentally, a much wider aspect to the potato theme. It may have escaped your attention but 2008 is the United Nations International Year of the Potato, and it is in recognition of this, in addition to the importance of the potato to the Sa Pobla economy, that the fair has adopted the potato.

For information on the Sa Pobla fair, see the WHAT'S ON BLOG -

If you've never experienced the delight of stepping under the shower only for the water to stop as you're in mid-hair wash, then you really should come and stay here for a while, because sooner or later there will be a cut to the water supply. It happens not infrequently; in Playa de Muro at any rate. Like yesterday.

On one occasion when the water went off, I called the company - FUSOSA. It was rather alarming as they were unaware of the cut. So I thought I would do the same yesterday, just in case. No, they were fully aware; it was a problem with the supply. Yes, I think we got that much. The point is that the water was off for getting on for four hours. As a result of last week's power cut - all seven hours of it - GESA-Endesa is to give discounts on all electricity bills by way of compensation. Now, I wonder if FUSOSA will be doing the same. I doubt it somewhat.

Yesterday's title - Billy Idol ( Today's title - ok, literary quiz time for a change. "Potato head" was an insult directed at a character from one of the outstanding British novels of the last 30 years. It was set in the Fens, and eels (to give a further Sa Pobla link) featured. What was the novel and who was the author?


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shock To The System

Man in bar time again. I ought to start a separate blog, call it something like Derek and Clive and make it a dialogue blog of the kind of views that "man in bar" comes out with. Derek and Clive might be quite apt, given the number of times the f-word tends to cross the lips of "man in bar". But anyway, I explain a bit about the piece from yesterday. Cue man in bar to dismiss the whole thing on the grounds that there is a "system" here (of politics) and that there is no point in wasting time and effort and giving yourself a heart attack over it all.

Ah yes, the "system". There is always a system. Wherever or whenever, there always is and always has been a system. Like that of Franco's time. It is said that a reason for the longevity of his "reign" was the sheer apathy of the people. It was the system, and that was it. Apathy and complacency. I can understand this double-header of inaction; it is usually accompanied by something else - comfortableness - and is expressed as couldn't care less. There is also just keeping your head down and getting on with your business despite the "system", and sod the lot of it.

You will never really capture people's interest in local affairs if they simply don't want their interest taste buds stimulated. But the pedestrianisation case in Puerto Pollensa is an example of how just one issue can make people take notice. Talk to anyone there, and you'll get an opinion. What is intriguing, at least I think so, is that, although the lack of consultation and therefore the imposition of the pedestrianisation was an example of how the "system" works, the system can be seen to be challenged and, moreover, challenged in quite a significant way. Partly this is because it is such a physically obvious change, but also because this is down to the publicity the case has generated, not just in the press but also through the likes of the Gotmar Residents Association. It is as though the cause has to be right for people to become engaged, and to that end, though I may have had the slight joke at their expense, the "alternative" United Left and Greens (EU/EV) in Puerto Pollensa have been and are tapping into an undercurrent of dissatisfaction and bringing this to the surface. The EU/EV, in the guise of Pepe Garcia, is firing at all targets. The pedestrianisation case is one with much popular interest. The latest is the problem of street cleaning and the fact that the contract for the company that is supposed to do this ran out back in March, yet it is still actually working (after a fashion) and receiving payment. Garcia has labelled the town hall administration "incompetent" for its management of something of such importance.

One thing that does raise people's hackles, and their interest, is the state of the streets and of course all the dog shit. And it's not just tourists. Publicising the fact that the contracted company has no contract as such could well make this another pedestrianisation story in Puerto Pollensa.

It's very easy for the man in the bar to ignore everything and put it all down to a system that cannot be brought to task, but there was one thing that Garry said about the impression he has of something stirring, and of people genuinely starting to take an interest in how the system works and how it can be made to work better. It may be wishful thinking on his behalf, but there again it may not. These are interesting times in Puerto Pollensa, so much so that even the man in the bar may get his head out of a copy of "The Sun" and take some notice.

The UK is going digital and Mallorca is to do likewise. The analogue system for televisions is to be superseded by the new digital system from the start of 2010. Most of the island is already covered to enable this, but Alcúdia and Pollensa have been lagging behind. But a couple of days ago (as reported in "The Diario"), there was the activation of the signal from a receiver on top of the Puig de Sant Martí, the hill (some say mountain) at the back of Bellevue, which has made Alcúdia digital. By the end of the year, coverage across the island should have reached 98 per cent, and Pollensa is next in line to get its signal. I'm sure you'll all be happy to know this.

Yesterday's title - Barry Manilow ( Today's title - a later song from a one-time punk artist.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

One Voice


One thing you notice about Garry Bonsall is his hand gestures. The fingers of both hands held tight together demonstrate unity; the fists pressed together denote divisiveness. Strong, certain body language is the sign of clarity of expression and of thinking. It is also the manifestation of purposeful communication. And communication is one of Garry's "big things".

The founder and president of the Gotmar Residents Association is sitting on a sofa in his clinic in Puerto Alcúdia. We are meeting for the second time in two days, finding time in a hectic schedule of dentistry and dealing with politicians. Garry may not be a politician, but he is a political animal, and it might just be that he has set in motion a process that could have a profound impact on the island's politics.

We have to go back in time. It just depends how far. Let's keep to the relative here and now, shall we, and a meeting just a few years back with Tomeu Cifre, one-time mayor of Pollensa, and now an opposition member in the town hall. It was Cifre who suggested the idea of the association as a means of channelling complaints and enquiries through to the mayoral office from the dissatisfied residents of Gotmar. There had been an association, but it had become moribund. It was re-formed with Garry at its head, and it is perhaps ironic that a suggestion from a former mayor should have led to a pressure group that is now prepared to take legal action against another.

Then we go back further, back over thirty years, during which time the Gotmar urbanisation has suffered from apparent inattention to its street lighting, its drainage, its roads. It was this combination of neglect over the years that brought things to a head and to the muscular residents association that is now fighting for improvements with what is becoming an ever more powerful voice. From the relative inconsequentiality of poor local amenities, that voice is being heard not just by the Calvari steps in the "ayuntamiento" of Pollensa but also in the Mallorca Council and, quite possibly and eventually, in all the municipalities of the island.

There is a still further step back in time; to 1967 when the plan for what this year became the new road into Puerto Pollensa and the pedestrianisation of the front line of the port was first presented. 41 years later, following an edict from Franco's time, the mayor pressed ahead with a scheme for pedestrianisation that has been greeted with widespread opposition and which has become a "cause célèbre" in the town and a clarion call for the Gotmar association.

Pressure can work. The mayor has conceded that there should be an architect's plan for the rehabilitation of Gotmar. Protestations of there not being any money have been met with a challenge to the mayor that it is his - and the town hall's - obligation to meet standards of service in Gotmar. The message is finally being accepted. And then there is the pressure regarding the pedestrianisation, and the not insignificant matter of European law that the town hall is now being made aware of. For it is this law which establishes the obligation on behalf of local authorities to consult with their constituents in respect of matters affecting the local environment. It is the apparent contravention of this law that may yet see the mayor facing a legal challenge brought by the association. The mayor is hinting at considering alternative plans for "mobility" in the town and these may help him to back down with grace. Otherwise, the legal action is likely to go ahead.

The improvements to Gotmar and the pedestrianisation case are only the first chapters in the story, for it is the nature of the residents association, the involvement of the Mallorca Council and the spreading of the word about the potential power of associations across the island that form the next parts of the plot, some of it yet to be written.

We come back to communication. If Garry's beef with the mayor is a lack of communication, consultation and accountability, his association is not similarly bereft, and this is an association that can now boast over one thousand affiliates and that is multinational in its make-up. How do you get everyone working together? The fingers lock together. "Unity through diversity". It sounds like a soundbite, but it emphasises the lengths that he has gone to in order to establish a common purpose within the association. The fists are pressed together. There are other associations that don't have such a singularity or such a unity, and that of the Gotmar association has been achieved through coaching, another of Garry's "big things". It is rare to encounter here, at least it is for me, the sort of personal development techniques that would be commonplace in the UK. The coaching, by a professional, has been instrumental in facilitating not just only a unity but also good communication within a multinational group. An aim now is to create a similar unity across the various associations that exist in Pollensa to form a sort of über-association.

It is important to understand that this is not just a bunch of stroppy foreigners making waves, though there is a clear sense of political empowerment for a foreign voice that would be unlikely to be represented through the normal political process. It is not impossible for a foreigner to aspire to or to gain local office, but the language, especially the dominance of Catalan, makes this a tough call. The association sidesteps this by becoming a separate voice in the local political scene, but one that is cross-national and cross-cultural; it's that unity through diversity. One that was solely British or German, you fancy, would be a source of antagonism, one that would make the fists be pressed together.

The success of the Gotmar association and the realisation that a European law exists in respect of consultation have been the springboard for the widening of the Gotmar experience. Garry is now talking with the Mallorca Council about its officially adopting this law for citizen participation, and he envisages a situation whereby all the municipalities on the island have associations that can act to hold their local officials to greater account. It is a sort of grassroots democracy in action if you like, and it is one that has clearly unnerved Mayor Cerdà in Pollensa and may just also unsettle a few other mayors in Mallorca.

Yesterday's title - "Consider Yourself" from "Oliver" ( Today's title - large nose; from Garry, change one letter.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

We Don't Want To Have No Fuss

Our old friends, the United Left and Greens "alternative" (EU/EV) in Pollensa, have been kicking up more fuss. Hot on the heels of their failed motion to overturn the pedestrianisation scheme in Puerto Pollensa, they have now turned their attention to the parking area next to the sports centre. Nothing like a bit of constant agitation to keep the wind up the under-fire mayor.

The parking area, which came into being with an underwhelming fanfare of announcing also some trees and a little play zone for kiddies, is the tarmacked-over old bit of wasteland that used to be able to accommodate more than the numbers that the new area can. It's ok, at least so I thought. Yes, it could have done with there being more parking spaces - they could have left out the play zone for example - but it is better than scraping across dust and stones than once was the case. However, not everything is ok. Apparently when it rains, there is a problem, that of flooding, while, so say the agitators, there is a difficulty in respect of access to the parking, which is, I think, rather overstating the case. They go on to say that there is a danger for kids crossing the road to the sports centre, saying that there had been a plan for a bridge. Again, I think this is overplaying things. The road isn't particularly unsafe, and it has road calmers, so whether this bridge is really necessary is a moot point. The EU/EV imply that this all should be done rather than messing around with the pedestrianisation. Well, if there is an issue with flooding, that's one thing, but the objections they are putting up seem pretty thin. The mayor may deserve criticism for various things, but this all sounds like a vain attempt at picking up on any old thing for the sake of having a dig.

Pollensa town hall is not the only local authority in which there is opposition agitation. In Santa Margalida, there is a bit of storm about the cost of fiestas. Some of you may recall my raising this back on 17 August (Duck Soup), specifically in respect of the Santa Margalida jollies. I asked then what do the fiestas actually cost and queried whether the ever more extravagant fireworks displays could really be justified when other things in the municipality are being overlooked. Well, there is an answer to how much it all costs. This year the town hall spent 512,000 euros, most of it for the Can Picafort August fiesta and La Beata in Santa Margalida itself in September. Now, apparently, they want to add a further 300,000 for next year. On what exactly? Coincidentally, 300,000 is the difference between tenders for a rehabilitation scheme for Son Bauló. The ruling group (Partido Popular and its allies) has gone for the higher priced scheme; the combined opposition say a lower one, which they claim offers more improvements, should be adopted. The opposition says that "a government team in complete crisis" that wants to increase the amount spent on the fiestas "has clearly taken leave of its senses" (quotes in translation from a report in "The Diario"). If the opposition is to be taken at its word, for two aspects of the town hall's responsibilities 600 grands worth of public money more than some might deem necessary is due to be lifted from the municipal piggy-bank.

Now, though I query the spend, what I don't know is if there is a return, by which I mean do they undertake some form of cost-benefit analysis to ascertain whether revenues generated by local businesses come close to or exceed the amount spent? If it were clearly demonstrated that this was the case, then fine, I suppose. There again, I don't know how it could actually be proved. But the fiestas are important to the local businesses. A good example of this was the stink over food sampling at the small Playa de Muro fiesta this summer. The restaurant owners in the playa objected, especially as the restaurants providing the samples were from Muro town, and one was owned by the councillor responsible for fiestas. In Santa Margalida, there is presumably extra trade generated by La Beata; not by tourists, as not many tourists attend, but by people from across the island, given that this is one of the most traditional of the island's fiestas. In Can Picafort, however, it is more debatable. The tourists are already there, and one fancies they go along and have a look at the fireworks and the fire-run and then go back to their all-inclusives. Otherwise, does the Can Pic fiesta drag in a load of additional people from elsewhere on the island and in numbers that might justify the expenditure?

My guess is that they just come up with a figure, spend the money, and that's it. This being the case, one has to start to ask about priorities and precisely the role of local town halls and indeed the people who administer them. As someone instinctively drawn to local democracy and to the closeness of local people to their administrations, I am loathe to bring this into question, but increasingly I am beginning to have my doubts as to the structure of government here - the levels and indeed the sheer number of authorities. It is a theme for another day.

Yesterday's title - Huey Lewis and the News ( Today's title - well, we will get fuss and we have got it, but where does this line famously come from? Musical.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Heart And Soul

The town of Campos does not feature on this blog as a rule. You wouldn't necessarily expect it to. Campos, for those who don't know, is in the south-east of the island; the municipality includes Sa Rapita in its coastal areas. It is not a town of major tourism; what there is, is relatively low-key, though the municipality can boast what is one of the finest beaches on the island - Es Trenc.

Campos had put forward a plan for a golf development to include a hotel, apartments, swimming pool and tennis courts. The plan was to site this on an area of virgin territory called Son Baco. That was the plan. It has been rejected by the head of the Mallorca Council, the argument being that it was not something needed by the people of Mallorca. The mayor of Campos, Guillem Ginard, has denounced the decision, stating that the situation in Campos is critical in economic and labour terms, that the municipality is never allowed to do anything, and that the development was compatible with a drive towards quality tourism (to include golf) supported by the Unió Mallorquina (UM) party. The mayor is a member of this party, the head of the Mallorca Council represents the socialists. Golf, it should be remembered, is one of the key elements the Mallorca tourism authorities have in mind in promoting new forms of tourism.

This story throws up a whole host of issues. It highlights political divisions; it raises questions as to a commitment to a "different" type of tourism about which one hears so much; it appears to undermine the scope for individual towns to determine their own tourism futures; it raises doubts as to the possibility of using land for any really meaningful future tourism developments; it also highlights the influence of the environmental lobby. It is an important story, and it may also have consequences for the still ongoing debate regarding a similar development - that of the conversion of the Son Bosc finca by Playa de Muro into a golf course.

As far as the Muro course is concerned, I have argued here that it is unnecessary, simply because of the proximity of other courses. The Son Bosc plan has never been about a whole development (of hotel etc.), which was the case with the also rejected plan for a golf course on the Son Real finca next to Can Picafort. There is a question mark as to whether Mallorca does indeed need any more golf courses; there is also a question mark as to whether Mallorca is really a destination of choice for the golfing tourist who has facilities on the mainland and in other countries generally superior to those in Mallorca. But the Campos case is rather different in that it had been conceived as an integrated development that the likes of Portugal have and which do indeed attract a strong golfing tourism. The mere fact of isolated golf courses, such as those in Alcanada or Pollensa (or in Muro), is not a great argument for golf tourism; an integrated development, on the other hand, is. If golf is to be a way forward for the island, then a mix of leisure activities for a wider tourism base is more attractive than a course tucked away for a more exclusive and small-niched clientele.

It is hard to discern exactly from which hymn sheet the politicians are singing. President Antich (socialists) refers to new "attractions"; the UM leader, Miquel Nadal, the tourism minister, is party to the notion of "different" tourism; the godmother of the party, María Antonia Munar, once spoke, in unashamedly elitist terms, about the island being interested only in "wealthy" tourists; Francina Armengol (socialists), leader of the Mallorca council, rejects the Campos development; the mayor of Campos objects; in Muro, different factions have been warring over Son Bosc project. It is not difficult to conclude that, in the case of Sra. Armengol, the protestations of the environmental protest group, GOB, may have had a strong influence. Ginard argues that GOB speaks for a minority, that it has a negative impact on tourism and that, if it wishes to intrude onto the political agenda, it should form its own party. I alluded to such a development on 13 October (Bang Bang, You Shot Me Down), dismissing the idea, as the group would then be forced into becoming "less one-eyed". Sympathetic though I may be to much environmentalism, I am also deeply wary of environmental tyranny, and GOB can be accused of this and of distorting the political process.

When Armengol speaks of the needs of the people of Mallorca, which "people" is she referring to? Not, it would seem, the people of Campos; she accepts that the town does actually want this golf development. Ginard has a beef with what he sees as one rule for one, and one rule for another, by which he means the fact that developments can occur and have occurred elsewhere. Take a map of Mallorca and stick pins onto it that denote the island's attractions, and you will soon see the pattern - the cluster in Palma and its neighbour Calvia, and the sporadic ones in the rest of the island. In the north, Alcúdia can be said to have only one real "attraction" of anything like an important tourism nature - and that is its waterpark. Pollensa has none. Muro, despite the presence of the Albufera nature park, also has none. Perhaps this is why some at the town hall so badly seem to want a golf course.

The Palma- and Calvia-centricity of attractions has led to a disproportionality in tourism distribution and also to the economic benefits that could be derived from greater balance. When one hears calls for the town halls to be more proactive in tourism promotion, one is inclined to ask what would they be promoting. I continue to flatly reject the notion that Mallorca has a future in the various niches of tourism that get bandied about, other than as add-ons. The island's brand, and by extension that of its towns, is tied up with the trappings of mass tourism, and so is the island's future. It is necessary, therefore, to enable the town halls, if they so wish, to pursue developments in line with such a brand. The needs of the people of Mallorca, whether they truly appreciate it or not, or whether Sra. Armengol is willing to believe it, lie with mass tourism; they have for the past 40 years and will continue to do so.

The Campos golf plan may not have been tourism on a grand scale, but it was more in keeping with what one has come to understand is a golf development. But the principle of the development is as much the issue as what it is. Let us assume, for one moment, that, rather than golf, the plan had been for a theme park or a Center Parcs type development. It is doubtful that it would have ever got further than a town hall meeting room. Golf is the default "big idea", but the pursuit of ever more courses is not really what is required. The town halls, though, have become so neutered and deterred by another tyranny - that of golfing, cultural and other niche tourism - that they fall into the trap of "me-too" and groupthink plans. An altogether grander vision and altogether grander schemes are what are called for. And it seems not only to be me who is saying so. What are we to make of the strategy, as mentioned yesterday, by President Antich for more "attractions"? He surely doesn't have the odd golf course in mind; at least one would hope not.

There have been and will be more important stories to emerge this year, but the Campos case is important as it goes to the heart of so many issues, namely what sort of developments are needed, the intransigence of a non-pragmatic environmental lobby, the incoherence of political decision-making and the needs of local communities. It is important because it is a story, not just about a golf course, but also about the future soul of Mallorca - its abstract and its economic soul. It is not a story to be ignored.

Yesterday's title - Sade ( Today's title - the one I'm looking for was by an American group that was big in the '80s.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Smooth Operators

The positive soundings a few days ago that tourism will help to stave off recession in the Balearics may have been somewhat pre-emptory. Despite the Spanish Secretary of State for Tourism suggesting that there has already been an increase of 20% in sales for the coming year, the tour operators are begging to differ. One is inclined to take their word for it, rather than that which may just be political spin.

Word coming out of the World Travel Market in London this past week has not been reassuring. Thomas Cook is reporting a fall in British tourism sales to Mallorca of 15% (Menorca is worse at 24%), while TUI is giving similarly worrying figures - Mallorca down by 22%. The winter tourism, such as it is, is also taking a knock; the recession-hit German market, for instance, has cut back on its Mallorcan off-season.

The only bright spot in all this is that tourists may well be holding off and hoping for some better deals. There was a thing on "Five Live" the other day which said that TUI, in general, has increased its prices by around 12% while also reducing capacity. That TUI feels it can do this at a time of economic downturn is largely due to the failure of XL, which has taken out some 2 million seats in total. In other sectors where capacity is reduced, prices do not necessarily rise or rise as steeply. The tourism market, however, appears to operate by a different set of rules, and important among these is that, although times are tight, people will forego other purchases in order to ensure they have their two weeks in the sun. The person interviewed on the BBC said that sales were brisk, which may seem to contradict the soundings from TUI and Thomas Cook, but there could still be grounds for optimism in that travellers are taking their time, doing their research and then making the purchase. They may also be hoping that TUI decides that those price increases are not going to work, and are therefore waiting for offers.

While TUI may be hiking its prices, the hoteliers on the island are under great pressure to lower theirs, i.e. what they receive from the tour operators. Naturally enough, there is some resistance to this. But one of the more interesting aspects of this is that the hoteliers are "progressively abandoning" all-inclusive offers because of the "ridiculous" daily returns they receive (quotes from "The Diario"). Maybe the price pressures being applied are going to be good news in one respect - the removal of more all-inclusive places. This all does go to emphasise that it is not necessarily the hotels who are, or who have ever been, the driving force behind all-inclusive offers; it is, and has been, the tour operators. I know, for example, of one hotel in Puerto Alcúdia that basically told TUI to sling its hook when it was presented with a demand to move to all-inclusive. I also know of hotels which are all-inclusive, but which would much rather not be. And when one learns of the sort of amounts the hotels can actually receive from the tour operators, it is little surprise that what they then provide as service as part of the all-inclusive package can be so poor. They're just not making enough money out of it. So when one reads all those comments slagging off this and that hotel, just remember that it may be the tour operator who deserves the criticism and not the hotel.

Meanwhile also at the travel market, Balearic Government head, Francesc Antich, together with the minister for tourism, Miquel Nadal, have been trying to offer their own positive take on things, talking about the "opportunity" that the current difficulties offer. Well, always try and make a positive out of a negative, I guess, but they are banging on about modernisation and renovation, which are all well and good but don't actually address the short-term need. They are also mentioning - yet again - different types of tourism, but without, seemingly, putting any flesh on its scrawny bones. There is, though, one campaign to be implemented in that short-term, and if you happen to live in Manchester you will doubtless become aware of it. This coming spring there will be a programme entitled "Manchester discovers the Balearic Islands". This is presumably not some sort of Columbus expedition but an attempt to inform the good people of Manchester that the Balearics exist. Hmm, yes well, I'll have to mention that to friends of mine from Manchester who come to Mallorca each year.

Elsewhere, Antich has been presiding over the little club that is the Eurorregión Pirineos Mediterráneo (areas around this part of the Mediterranean). This rather curious self-help grouping has had its share of spats in the past, but at least now they seem to be as one in having a common perspective on tourism innovation. To this end, there is to be a centre of research and development based in the Balearics, the aim of which is to come up with "cutting-edge strategy and attractions" (says "The Bulletin"). Well I think we've been here before with all this tourism R&D stuff, whatever it might be. They talk about it but never make it clear what it is exactly. And as for attractions. Good. Just make sure they are large-scale and meaningful.

As an additional thought - the government has spoken, time and time again, about upping the quality of hotels and their service as part of an overall improvement of the islands' tourism offer. However, how can the hotels do this if they are being squeezed and pressurised when it comes to both prices and offering all-inclusive? Against this background, much as the hotels themselves may wish to upgrade and much as the government may harp on about it, it needs to born in mind that the real power in the tourism chain resides not with the hotels, not with the government, but with the tour operators. Ultimately you antagonise the tour operators at your potential peril. Without TUI and Thomas Cook, Mallorca has nothing. The government can do some gentle persuading, but it is largely impotent. It may be a harsh fact for the government to appreciate, but fact it is. Of course, neither TUI nor Thomas Cook would abandon Mallorca; it is far too important to them as well. But the balance of power lies with them. The hotels may be kicking, and good luck to them if they want to cut the all-inclusive, but they, too, must know who holds the whip hand.

Yesterday's title - Robert Palmer ( Today's title - pluralised; in the singular who did this tremendous song?


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Looking For Clues


The bar. When we talk of "being Spanish", it is the bar, perhaps more so than any other symbol of the tourist experience, that should typify - or not - what might be meant as being Spanish. It is to the bar to which the tourist feels drawn, as if by instinct. The bar defines holiday, and it is the bar within which the tourist can feel comfort, camaraderie and a collective expression of that holiday. But it is precisely for these reasons that the bar, the chosen bar (or bars), is rarely one that can be classified as being Spanish.

In Barcelona one time, I suggested to a friend of 30 years living there that we and some chums went for a "crawl". The idea was readily accepted, but not that of heading for the Ramblas and the likes of Michael Collins. I was being a tourist. My friend, who claims never to spend more than a euro on a beer, had his own route of bars, all of which would adhere to the description "Spanish". And these bars would be otherwise difficult to describe, except in terms of highly unremarkable, too bright, dull, smoky, and full of Spaniards. So it is here. If one dares to look around or even into a "Spanish" bar, what does one see or rather what does one not see? One does not see the sort of cosiness, the plushness, the intimacy of, say, a British pub (albeit one that is fast dying out). The Spanish bar is uniform in its graceless functionality. There are exceptions, but not many.

The only television programme in Spain worth watching is something called "Cuentame Como Pasó", a better class of soap set in the '70s. In one episode I happened to catch, there were scenes in a bar. I have no reason to assume that it was anything other than authentic. The only obvious difference to today was that the television was not plasma. Spanish bars are caught in a time-warp of Franco-era austerity. In a word, they are unattractive.

The local Spanish bar is, strictly speaking, Mallorcan Spanish, and being full of Mallorcans it is also very noisy because all Mallorcans shout. John, ex-Highlander, once sent me a story about a couple of customers who went to a locals bar and left because of what they perceived as unfriendly shouting. John subsequently rang the bar-owner who told him that there hadn't been a problem, they had just been discussing the weather!

The Spanish bar is intimidating in its sheer ordinariness and also in it actually being Spanish and being full of Spaniards, many of them shouting. The tourist is uncomfortable with such a clear expression of a different culture; it's why most avoid them and would never dream of setting foot in one. Colin, who has been providing me with some highly insightful thoughts on the notion of " being Spanish", refers to "cultural clues" that the tourist can gain. The cultural clues that are emitted from a Spanish bar are not difficult to appreciate, and if these clues suggest something with which the visitor might be uncomfortable, then he or she will not enter.

Of course, there is a difference between day and night, times of the year, days of the week and location. On a market day in summer in old-town Alcúdia, for example, people will of course go to a Spanish bar. They don't have much option. But they can sit outside, and there is security in numbers. Given a choice though, for the most part the tourist would head for the default bar that doesn't look too Spanish. There is another "of course", and that is that there are tourists and there are tourists. It would be quite wrong to suggest that everyone reacts negatively to the cultural clues, and, coincidentally, "culture" is a clue here. Take, for example, the square in Puerto Pollensa, Here, there are two bars diametrically opposite and pretty much diametrically opposed in the eyes of some tourists. Bar (café) Cultural is about as Spanish in the ways I describe above as it can get. Yet in its simplicity it is the counterpoint to Bony which, although also Spanish, is brash, comedic and almost Spanish parodic given José's "olés". It may also have something to do with prices, but that's perhaps by the by; the showy Spanishness of Bony is not to everyone's liking and, for some, they want their being Spanish understated.

But in general, the everyday tourist, your typical Brit, wlll defer to a style and to cultural clues that are more than just clues; they are strong statements. It is not just Britishness which attracts, it is also tribalism, for which there are bars - Canny Lad (Newcastle), Foxes (Leicester), Highlander (Scotland), for instance. There is a need for familiarity and for association. At the top of this piece I referred to those three "c's" - comfort, camaraderie and a collective expression. These are no more evident than in bars where the banter can centre on the football team, the towns or cities back home and also the folks back home. None of this can be obtained in a Spanish bar.

A further dimension in the search for the bar is that of internationalisation. The tourist, as with those who live locally, have, in many cases, bought into a bar transnationalism. How else can one explain the proliferation of Irish bars which, with one or two exceptions, are not Irish? A French neighbour of mine loves O'Hara's in Puerto Pollensa for example. One might expect her to opt for the Spanish bar, but no she revels in the garish opportunism of Grupo Boulevard who have taken this to an extreme state with its Australian Boulevard. But, once again, we come back to those cultural clues, and Irish, even Australian, are familiar statements, more so, one suspects, than Spanishness.

My whole thinking behind this series of features is that elusive concept of "being Spanish" and the fact that one hears an admonishment that things are not Spanish enough. Yet the tourist, overwhelmingly it seems, opts for the familiarity of the non-Spanish. There is an apparent contradiction in all this, but the explanation may lie with something that Colin has offered, and I finish with his observation:

"They (tourists of a mass variety) don’t actually want to see another culture - it is different and as such they don’t feel comfortable with it. They avoid places that feel too foreign, although at the same time bemoaning the fact that the tourist centres as not foreign enough. I don’t think that they are blind to it - they see it all too well, but view it with innate suspicion."

As most of you will know, I much prefer comments to be posted directly to me. However, an "anonymous" one for yesterday's piece, posted for the comments box, offered the opinion that the press failed to challenge Paul Davidson's claims and to also enquire as to whether he actually had the money to make the bid in the first place. To be fair, I think the Spanish press did at least raise this line of enquiry. How diligently they may have delved into Mr. Davidson's affairs is another matter, but certainly doubts had been circulating in the local media as to his financial capability. However, it should be noted that the press, in the UK at any rate, had said that Mr. Davidson had received 42 million pounds in return for the sale of shares in his company. I think it fair to say, though, that the local press lack the forensic journalistic abilities or resources for an examination of the financial situation.

The comment also suggests that Mr. Davidson was either fronting the whole exercise on behalf of someone else or was engaged in a "charade intended to get him publicity". As to the former, he had always insisted that he, and he alone, would be purchasing the club, and as for the latter, if the publicity was designed to raise his profile in Mallorca or Spain - for whatever reason - then it was an expensive way of going about it, while I reiterate the point - why would he have gone to the lengths he did, including appointing Keith Wyness as a non-exec, just for publicity?

I have yet to be convinced that he was anything other than sincere in his intentions, even if some of the thinking behind the failed takeover seemed somewhat odd.

Yesterday's title - Pink Floyd. Today's title - Yorkshire-born, sadly passed away, soul and blues singer.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Piper At The Gates Of Dawn

Never let it be said that things always go swimmingly here. Take yesterday, for example. Flicker, flicker - out. Power. Out. Seven hours. No power. Fantastic. It was a "breakdown" in the system. Yes, I think we gathered that. According to the "Diario", the outage was caused by a lightning strike on the power station in Alcúdia, and this caused a loss of electricity to the whole island, some parts of which had service restored more quickly. The thing is that the storm was not that violent, by Mallorcan standards, and indeed it had eased off when the lights went out.

It's rubbish though really, isn't it. The electricity company, GESA-Endesa, has form. Back in 2003, during that horrendously hot summer, there was an outage that lasted for some twelve hours in some parts of the island (six where I was concerned). They put that down to demand because of air-con systems. Whatever. The company was given a sound metaphorical public thrashing, pants down, by the government and told that under no circumstances must this happen again. Well, what do you know?

Meantime, I couldn't of course let the Real Mallorca story lie. So, with rather more sober an assessment ...

It has ended in the mess some had predicted. Paul Davidson was not prepared to make a ten per cent deposit, and so the deal is off. Grande is talking of seeking compensation.

How did it come to this? Without wishing to boast of any great foresight, I recall saying to someone in the very early days of the Davidson bid that it would end in tears. There was something that was never quite right about the whole thing. The bid seemed to be made almost on a whim, the price was significantly higher than that offered by Freddy Shepherd, the Davidson strategy for branding and recycling through the club's name and in Mallorca, while intriguing, was always questionable in its peculiarity and its vagueness. And why were there no other serious bidders, other than Shepherd with his lower valuation? Was it the price, or is Real Mallorca just simply not a great investment?

One is left to conclude that he was serious in purchasing the club. Why otherwise would he have gone to the lengths of the legal costs he has had to pay and why would he have appointed the former Everton chief executive to the board of his company as a non-exec? Is it all down to a difficulty in raising the money? It would be understandable that his circumstances might have changed over the months of the pursuit of the club which have been coincidental with the full impact of the economic and credit crises. He has himself pointed to the economic conditions. Perhaps he had hoped for some assistance, and his connections to the Middle East and the presence of a sheikh on that same board of directors have not gone uncommented upon. But Mr. Davidson insisted that it would be he, and he alone, who financed any deal.

There are no winners in any of this, only losers - Mr. Davidson, Vicente Grande, the club, the fans, the reputation of British investment and, I'm sorry to have to say, the "Majorca Daily Bulletin". Or maybe there have been some winners - those elements of the Spanish media that cast doubt on the whole deal.

When the Davidson bid first surfaced, it was painted as an indication of the willingness of the British to invest in Mallorca and of the attractions of the island as a place for investment - it could sure do with some hefty foreign investment. The abandonment of the purchase leaves a general British reputation in tatters. The failure to go through with the deal is likely to be taken as evidence that British investors cannot be trusted. It's a harsh conclusion, but not an impossible one. There was hostility to a foreigner buying the club, but a willingness to go along with this if it brought the club stability and success. Now all that is left is a "told-you-so" xenophobia.

Stories like the Davidson saga don't come along often in Mallorca. For The Bulletin it was manna from heaven. Along the tortuous path to the denouement we now have, there were headlines of the "real deal" variety and the eight-page special that greeted the arrangement that has now not been consummated. The paper was generally dismissive of the negativity in the Spanish press, despite legitimate doubts that were being expressed, and as recently as 1 November offered reasons as to why the deal would still proceed. The problem, however, is that there had been an absence of objectivity; it was as though the paper was in thrall to the idea of a British owner and cast aside the sort of balance that the story demanded. The tone of its reporting changed yesterday in light of the collapse of the deal; maybe they realised that, having been a cheerleader, all that was left were boos and having being made to look daft. It had probably been lining up its regular "new dawn" headline to herald the once-and-for-all acquisition. I have one. For Mr. Davidson, the plumber and the man of the piping business - "Piper at the gates of dawn". Except there is no dawn, until, that is, or if the deal is revived. That would seem most unlikely.

Yesterday's title - The Eagles, "Desperado" ( Today's title - an album by?