Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Awards ceremonies. You know the sort of thing. Oscars, BAFTAs and the like: Gwyneth squirting tears and dear, dear David Niven sending his fridge. And then there are the annual awards given out by the "Travel Trade Gazette" (TTG). Is any awards ceremony not glittering? That of the TTG was, because they said so. All the worthies of the travel industry and Austin Healey, to boot. But hopefully he didn't boot anyone. He was there, it seems, more because he was a "star" of "Strictly Come Dancing". Was he really. Be careful with the star turn. I once attended a do where a well-known, former BBC weatherman went down like a lead weather balloon when he littered his after-dinner ents with so-called jokes of questionable racial content. At least it wasn't the Central Synagogue's annual get-together. And with that connection ... I have previously mentioned my Henry Kissinger story, but not the fact that when he made his speech in New Orleans he had to stop and ask what audience he was actually addressing. Speech-making by cut and paste, and a fat cheque, to boot. Not only if you're Austin Healey.

Be all this as it may. The TTG's annual awards, and the list is long enough to take up a weekend break, were held last week. The nominations were ... ? Among those for "trade-facing website of the year" and "travel gives back" - whatever they are - were those for hotel chain of the year. Six nominees, three of them Mallorcan. And the winner was ... ? Iberostar. Riu and Sol Melia were the two other Mallorca-based chains.

Clearly, this accolade was bestowed not solely because of Iberostar's hotels on the island - it is an international player and an important one - but the hotels in the area (six of them in Alcúdia and Playa de Muro) exude a class and distinction that is well worthy of the company being awarded the top honour. While there is some navel-gazing in respect of some of the island's hotel stock in comparison with the newer holiday destinations of Turkey and Egypt and so on, Iberostar impresses with its commitment to constant improvement. A winter does not pass without major renovation in at least one of its establishments; renovation, moreover, which has created a certain differentiation, such as the high-tech styling of the Playa de Muro Village reception, within the context of a strong and visible brand image and corporate identity: the Iberostar "star" is one of the iconic symbols of local hospitality.

The Iberostar hotels of Alcúdia bay are new by comparison with some others. The Club Macs are now almost forty years old, Bellevue not far behind. It is perhaps understandable that concerns are expressed about the general quality of the island's hotel stock - compared with that in competitor destinations - if one takes into account the fact that Mallorca (and Spain) was at the vanguard of mass tourism. Rather like Britain suffered from being the first European country to undergo an industrial revolution and thereby created an infrastructure destined for obsolescence because of the lack of a formula to apply, so Mallorca had no template to go by when it gave itself over to hotels. Those who followed could learn from the mistakes. The Iberostars, though, rather than the pack-em-in, sell-em-cheap philosophy, opted for one of built-in quality supported by that strong brand image to reflect and to convey this quality. This is not to be critical, especially given the sheer scale of some of the older stock. The investment required for the sort of improvements that might bring them up to the levels of the competitor destinations would be enormous. But having said that, the investment Iberostar puts in is far from insignificant. Witness, if you had, the total gutting and then refurbishment of the likes of the Albufera Playa.

Iberostar deserves its award and deserves to be recognised as a company which demonstrates how good Mallorca can be if it really tries. Stars? Several.

Just on travel, you might be interested in knowing some websites to visit which offer savings for a variety of travel needs. "The Times" has listed 33 such sites. Go here:

Yesterday's title - The Kinks, Today's title - ginger bloke and his group.


Index for September 2009

Alcúdia day of the tourist - 9 September 2009, 11 September 2009
Alcúdia Fair 2009 - 26 September 2009
Alcúdia old town shops - 1 September 2009
Balearic Government rationalisation - 5 September 2009, 6 September 2009
Barcarès - 4 September 2009, 10 September 2009, 16 September 2009
Binissalem Vermar 2009 - 22 September 2009
Catalan v. Castilian - 27 September 2009
Celebrities - 20 September 2009, 28 September 2009
Christian names - 14 September 2009, 23 September 2009
Diario de Mallorca - 29 September 2009
Fiestas - 22 September 2009
Guardia Civil - 27 September 2009
Hacienda scam - 4 September 2009
Holiday rentals - 18 September 2009
Hospital General de Muro - 28 September 2009
Hotels closing early - 17 September 2009
Iberostar - 30 September 2009
IKEA - 21 September 2009
Illegal street selling, Alcúdia - 7 September 2009
Internet and newspapers - 29 September 2009
Jamón serrano circuit, Alcúdia - 25 September 2009
Market value, invoice - 3 September 2009
Natural and butane gas - 24 September 2009
Obra Cultural Balear - 27 September 2009
Plastic bags - 11 September 2009
Posters - 8 September 2009
Puerto Alcudia's new terminal - 16 September 2009
Sa Pobla-Alcúdia railway - 12 September 2009, 13 September 2009, 16 September 2009
Social conflict - 19 September 2009
Status Quo - 2 September 2009
Storms - 14 September 2009, 17 September 2009
Sun, Sea and A&E - 28 September 2009
Tourism promotion - 6 September 2009
Travel awards - 30 September 2009
Travel writing - 15 September 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Set Me Free

Astute observers amongst you might have noticed that I do, from time to time, make reference to the "Diario de Mallorca". To be more accurate, it is to the paper's website, a well-designed, well-archived facility, the only irritant of which is an occasional tendency towards intrusive adverts for the likes of SEAT. The "Diario" has been blowing its own internet trumpet, revealing traffic figures which would seem to establish the newspaper's site as the premier (Spanish) news site on the island, itself not a hugely difficult task, given the small number of competitors, but an achievement nonetheless. The paper would appear to have made the announcement at least in part as a response to a claim - "fictitious", it says - by the Balearics part of the "El Mundo" site that it was the leader in terms of visits etc., a claim rebutted by OJDinteractiva, the online tracking version of the OJD press circulation audit body.

The figures show, for instance, that the "Diario" claimed over 350,000 unique visitors in August, a number boosted to some extent by those following the news of the bombs. The degree, of course, to which anyone much of a non-Spanish background uses the site I wouldn't know, and nor presumably do they, except by geographical location, which, in itself, wouldn't mean a lot.

One of the things the "Diario" has going for it, in its internet incarnation, is a pleasing enough design and appearance. Compare this with, for example, the site for "Ultima Hora" and also "The Bulletin" (the same stable as "Ultima Hora"), and there isn't really a comparison. The "Diario" is the premier site, not just in terms of appearance but also content, far outstripping "El Mundo" for local news.

Good though the site is, it is, like most newspapers' websites, just a digital version of the actual paper. The site clearly comes into its own at times of breaking news, such as with the bombs (as do other media sites), but the volume of traffic is not, in itself, necessarily a cause for massive celebration. As with other newspapers, the "Diario" faces the same challenge of generating revenues from something that is free-to-air, so to speak. Of the 350,000 unique visitors in a month (the average daily circulation of the paper is around 22,500 - OJD audit), a question is, how many of those visitors also see the newspaper or only go to the site, and as importantly how many of them take any notice of the ads. You can't always avoid them, but click them away as quickly as you can physically move the cursor. There are ways and means of evaluating effectiveness of advertising via the internet, which are far more robust than many for print, but quoting numbers of visitors demonstrates potential and little more. This said, it is evident that advertisers with the budgets to do so are investing increasing amounts in techniques to evaluate internet advertising effectiveness, diverting these budgets from more traditional channels, be they print, radio, television or direct.

The good news for the newspapers should be that advertisers are willing to make such investments, but a further question is - and has been since the internet really took off - how to be viable financially and to offer excellent copy if there is no cover charge. They have made a rod for their own back by being free in the expectation that ad revenues would roll in. With the exception of mixed-model sites like the "Financial Times", newspapers are free and where they are slimmed-down versions of the actual paper - as with "The Bulletin" - they are barely worth the effort. Newspapers cannot avoid the internet, but once the free genie was let out of the lamp can it be put back in again? News International, for one, believes that it can be, but will others follow? Only perhaps by differentiating the content of the print and online versions can such a policy succeed.

The internet has the power to subvert, in many ways, and one is to disrupt the normal business process of customer purchasing. The democracy of the internet has largely demanded that stuff be free. It's a lousy model if it undermines, for example, journalistic integrity and investigation for which there is a resultant insufficient funding. In the same way as file-sharing has attacked the returns of record companies and artists, so free-to-air newspapers threaten to attack good journalism and therefore good newspapers. The analogy, though, is not strong. The newspapers have sanctioned the free use.

I see no reason why one shouldn't pay. To cite another example - the BBC. Overseas, notwithstanding streaming for sport that cannot always be obtained, the BBC is free. No licence fee. Why don't they charge? Yet even here, it would be a case of charging for something that already exists, despite innovation that makes it one of the best of all websites. And it is in innovation that the future lies, as does the possibility for generating new or additional revenue streams. But this comes back to those figures - the ones for visitors and so on. As soon as a charge is made and therefore a password needed, Google cannot set its robots to work. Bingo, the rankings optimisation goes to pot, or even to bot. A challenge is to work around the Google tyranny and the misguided notion that numbers of visitors is the be all and end all. It isn't. Content is. It so happens that the "Diario" wins on both counts. But so long as the branding is strong, and most newspapers benefit from this, then the opportunity exists to create niches of content and therefore readerships within the framework of the newspaper and its website. And to charge, regardless of what Google might have to say in its rankings.

I could go on. It's a huge subject, and one that I am involved with in working up something new - of which more at some point in the future no doubt. Meantime, I shall continue to visit the "Diario" and add to its traffic numbers. Also meantime, I will pay not a centimo for the privilege and nor will I take any notice of the adverts.

Yesterday's title - Bros, Today's title - presses are set and people want everything for free; who was this?


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Captain, I Said What

Let's say you are Welsh. At Cardiff airport two policemen come up to you and ask you, in English, to produce your papers. You comply with the demand, but reply in Welsh. One of the policemen insists that you speak English. You do so, but the policeman then says that you must speak in a clearer fashion, to which you ask what he said. The police then, behind closed doors, attack you, hitting you on the head, in the mouth and the stomach and then charge you.

This, in essence, but substituting Catalan for Welsh and Castilian for English, is what is alleged to have happened to one Iván Cortés at Palma airport on 7 August. The police were Guardia Civil officers. The case has been taken up by the Obra Cultural Balear (OCB), an organisation that defends and promotes the use of Catalan. It has obtained a meeting with the director general of the island's Guardia to ask that "aggression" towards Catalan speakers ceases, the Cortés incident being the springboard for this request.

Cortés was allowed to make his journey, to London as it happens, where he was seen by a doctor whose report would appear to confirm injuries. The OCB adds that security cameras at Palma airport could also confirm what is alleged to have taken place.

This incident first came to light at the start of this month. A report in "The Diario" (3 September) listed what I have above. It also carried a photo from a press conference of Cortés, together with Tomeu Martí, the co-ordinator for the OCB. Cortés would probably be in his twenties. He has long dark hair and a beard with a longish, thin goatie. He has a dark complexion, suggesting mixed race or possibly one particular race.

Accusations against police happen everywhere, not always with justification. One has to bear in mind that the incident took place a few days after the Palmanova bombing. The police would have been on high alert, though one thing one can probably say is that Cortés does not look like how one might expect an ETA terrorist to appear. A question might be, however, why the officers demanded to see his papers in the first place. They are within their rights to do so, but the question might still be raised.

Guardia officers speak Castilian. Only Castilian. It is not the first time that one has heard of an incident, assuming the Cortés one to be accurate, in which there has been something of an issue with someone speaking Catalan. Guardia officers speak Castilian because it is the language of the state. And the Guardia is very closely associated with the state, the Spanish state. It is a defender of the state. Whether that means that it should be a defender of one language is another matter. In Mallorca, Catalan and Castilian enjoy joint official status.

One does not of course have the other side of the story. Nevertheless, an alleged attack on a defenceless man, whose only apparent "crime" was to speak Catalan and to seek clarification of what was being asked of him, is deserving of investigation, especially as it involves the schism of language and regionalism. There is, though, more to all this. Go back a bit. That other name. Tomeu Martí. Remember him? Probably not. Remember the "Acampallengua", the pro-Catalan gathering in Sa Pobla in late May? Remember that a senior figure in the OCB was arrested for "disobedience" by the Guardia? That was Martí. He was recently fined for refusing a request to show his papers, the cause of his arrest. Why he was asked to do so, I am unsure. But asked he was.

The OCB is not a party, but it has links to the political establishment locally. You may recall that back in December there was the campaign to speak Catalan over a coffee in the local bar. The OCB was behind that. It followed hard on the heels of the campaign to promote wider use of Catalan in bars and restaurants, one funded at a not insignificant cost by the Council of Mallorca. Both campaigns were innocent enough, but the "Acampallengua" did have an undercurrent of youth radicalisation, and then there was the demonstration in Palma during the summer in favour of Catalan (and indeed another in support of Castilian).

The Cortés case cannot be seen just as an isolated incident of possible police aggression. It has to be seen in a wider political and social context. At a press conference held two days ago to announce that request for a meeting with the Guardia, a representative of the republican left in the Balearics shared the platform with Martí, and a link was made to the fact that José Bono, president of the national congress of deputies, had been prohibited from speaking Catalan in the congress. Moreover, Martí has accused the Balearics delegate to the central government, Ramón Socias, of a failure to respond to "acts of discrimination against Catalan".

If it hasn't already been, the Guardia risks being dragged into some murky political waters, some, given its past reputation, it would do well to avoid. As a defender of the state, the whole state, it should not become the clarion call for political opportunism and polarisation in Mallorca, which this has the danger of becoming, and with the forces of the law set against elements of the political establishment, themselves supported by elements of a spot of "agitprop".

* To see the original "Diario" article and photo, go here:

Yesterday's title - Talk Talk, Today's title - to explain: captain is a rank in the Guardia; the rest follows. Who?


Saturday, September 26, 2009

In Another World

All the fun of the fair. Candy-floss, woven sugar sticking to the hair; no bumping, but there always was, and the sound of The Kinks from a tinny speaker at one end of the dodgems track; a rare exotic fruit, the coconut, knocked down in the shy and smashed open at home to provide a slug of its sweet milk. There was also something dark and sinister about the fair. Not just the ghoulish apparitions of the ghost train and the screams as a luminous skeleton with a lascivious smile sprung up from the floor. Not just the crossing of the palm with silver, Gypsy Rose and her powers of the afterlife and future. Not just the itinerant lowlife, the travelling bands travelling at the edges of conformist society. It was the otherworldiness of the fair. The annual transformation of the local rec or park. When the fair came to town, the promise of all the fun hinted at something unseen and mysterious. It was an alteration, a disturbance to the normalcy of suburban living. The arrival of a certain brutishness. It was also long before health and safety, zealous revenue inspectors and the Benefits Agency. Gypsy Rose probably has to register for VAT nowadays. And issue a receipt. It was also before "love" and "mate". It was a time of "missus" and "squire" and "young man", the latter intoned as if by a bleating sheep. The fair, the circus and the panto. These were our altered states, and they had all been passed down along a time continuum dating back decades. The fair was partly the bastard child of the Victorian freak show, yet it was also the distant descendant of the fairs of both rural and urban life. It was the very intangibility of the past that lent the fair its air of otherworldiness.

At some point the fair had diverged, had taken different turnings, and one was given the Jack the Lads from sarf London with their carousel transporters and the real squires, the squirarchy that presided over the country fair, an altogether more genteel affair of fairy cakes, the local Roundtable, horsemanship and agricultural workers shovelling the droppings into bags of manure.

The fair in Mallorca never underwent such a divergence. It is a collision of fairground and trade fair. All the fun and all the commerce of the fair. Dodgems there are, trampolined into contemporary proximity to the bouncy inflatable. And a bit away, the stands for farm machinery rubbing shoulders with wine and herb drinks and local ministries issuing recycling propaganda. And so it will be next weekend when the fair comes to town in Alcúdia. It is the season of the fair - all over again. And the programme betrays a familiarity. A possible concession to economic hard times lies in the absence of a full-on thrash on the Saturday night, replaced by a karaoke "show time" for local amateurs. As with reality TV, reality party nights cut the costs of production, even taking into account that a winner can hope to trouser 300 euros.

There is not the same sense of unseen darkness about the local fairs. They have their past, as will Alcúdia, in the form of the "caparrots" (the giant heads), the giants themselves and the pipers. As ever, tradition outs, even among the shiny agro-technology. But the tradition, this past, can be seen. It exists. It moves along the streets of the town, the giants lumbering from the town hall while the bag-pipes screech. The figures themselves may have an appearance of mystery, of the bizarre and surreal, but they are real enough, depriving the fair of that unknown menace, that untouchable otherworldliness. All the fun of the fair. It was what you could never see that made it so.

(The programme for this year's fair is now available on the WHAT'S ON BLOG -

Yesterday's title - The League Of Gentlemen. Today's title - one word missing; great song, great group from the '80s.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Pig In A Poke

Pig in a poke. Strange expression. Any ideas what a poke is? It is in fact a sack or bag. The whole expression is to buy a pig in a poke, which translates as buying something without seeing it or knowing its value, especially a pig presumably. The current-day version might be to buy a bar in Mallorca - ok, it might have been seen (sometimes) but whether the true value is known is an entirely different matter. (Incidentally, the Spanish equivalent is buying a cat instead of a hare, apparently.)

But be that as it may. Bars are not the theme of the day. Pigs are. Or rather buying a pig in a bar. Or slices of the pig. It's that time of year again, one to which everyone looks forward with negligible anticipation. The ham circuit, "circuito jamón serrano". Alcúdia's annual pig in a bar traipse across the breadth of the municipality, sampling pieces of serrano in whichever bar or restaurant it happens to be on that day. It all starts today in Sa Vall in Bonaire. I know you can hardly wait.

Yet of course jamón serrano is actually pretty damn fine stuff. Whether it quite justifies its own circuit is another matter. But this ham is not the pink plastic variety also available in Mallorca and more obviously in British supermarkets. It is of superior quality, so much so that it is controlled in a way akin to wine. I don't as a rule take great chunks of archive pieces, but I'll make an exception just this once. This was how I put it two years ago:

"Whereas the British palate and visual eating sense are generally programmed to ham that is pink and often shrink-wrapped, there is a diversity of local ham in terms of its visual presentation, taste and colour. The British visitor will often retreat to the security of pinkness that comes as jamón york, but the more revered Spanish hams are jamón serrano or jamón ibérico which possess a more exotic depth of colour. The purpleness of these hams hints at a wilder taste, curing and preservation. And wilder is an apt description, jamón serrano literally meaning mountain ham."

The purpose of the "circuit" is not just to promote the ham but also to give a leg up to participating local restaurants, the thinking being that one cuts along for some free nosebag in the form of some ham and then moves onto a main course. More ham probably, but for which one pays. Given a local tendency to freeload, I do wonder if this laudable enough aim is actually achieved. Moreover, it's not as if jamón serrano is a rarity. It's hanging around all over the place - restaurants, delis, supermarkets - very often indeed hanging from the walls or ceilings. The consequence of the freebie ham is that, however unintentionally, you do end up with something of a pig in a poke. Yes you can see what you're eating but because it's free you don't know its real value. There again, go and buy a whole ham and you will soon find out.

Yesterday's title - Lisa Stansfield, Today's title - with which comedy sketch series is pig in a poke associated?


Thursday, September 24, 2009

So Natural

You may have missed the news, but something momentous occurred in Mallorca two days ago. No, it wasn't yet another letter about prices, nor was it a story about the litres per square metre of rain that have swamped the island. It was about some cubic metres - those of natural gas supply.

Work on a pipeline from Dènia on the mainland started at the end of 2008. The first gas is now flowing into Mallorca. Initially, it will serve Palma and the immediate area. One day, you never know, it might be available across the island. There are infrastructure issues to be factored in, not least those to do with domestic supply, but the resultant advantages are clear - lower bills, cleaner air and greater safety. It is a significant development, yet one wonders why news of the arrival of the gas was not given greater prominence.

Gas supply in Mallorca is largely confined to butane and propane. This is about to change. And not before time. Butane can be dangerous - explosions are not unheard of. There is a danger with any gas supply, but with butane the risks are greater. Poorly maintained connections and installations; out-of-date tubing and heaters; ill-fitting mountings. Moreover, the reliance on butane makes domestic life akin to living in a permanent camp-site. There are the bottles, and there is the constant likelihood of the gas giving out during the cooking of a roast chicken, followed - nearly always it seems - by the hunting of a torch to go and disconnect the empty container while someone holds an umbrella over you or the wind batters the gas house door shut. There is also the sheer effort involved. Butane bottles are heavy. Expect the incidence of hernia operations to decline as a result of natural gas. The chiropractors of Mallorca must be cursing its arrival. Pity the poor bastards who live on the fifth floor and don't have a lift. It's like camping, but it's also energy by Heath Robinson and from the manual of poor back health.

Butane is neither much cop when it comes to general health nor for the state of domestic walls. There is little less suited to Mallorca's winter climate of dampness and humidity than butane, given the watery vapours that appliances pump out. The use of natural gas to also generate electricity will see a lowering in demand for that electricity as the dehumidifiers can be turned down to their minimum settings.

The remoteness of Mallorca has been an issue, but the fact that it has taken until 2009 to get a pipeline functioning is a reminder of what, only relatively recently, was the inadequacy of infrastructure. Spain is still playing catch-up after the years of economic and civil engineering neglect. It is easy, though, to be critical of this johnny gas-come-lately. Britain has enjoyed natural gas for years. I can, however, still recall the strangely cosy, stale smell of my great aunt's house with its boiler, fired by Calor.

The arrival of the gas also signals what will eventually be the demise of the "butanero", the gas man. And signal the end of the truck clanging its load and hooting its horn to announce its weekly appearance. Mallorca still has its quaint deliveries and domestic services - the whistling tin dustbin on wheels of the bloke who sharpens knives and garden tools is one, the wine-dispensing vendors of towns like Sineu another. In Britain, there used to be the knife-sharpener with his stone, the Corona man, the fish man, the laundry man, the paraffin man. Maybe there was also a butane man. Not that I remember one. But they have all been consigned to a history dump caused by shopping centres and supermarkets, efficient domestic appliances and central heating. That's progress. And the butane man is likely to be looking for a new job.

Yesterday's title - Megadeth, Today's title - boy, was she good. Think Rochdale.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bad Omen

This is a kind of part two to 14 September (Jennifer, Alison, Philippa, Sue). A couple of days ago "The Sun" listed the top ten names - male and female - that would stop those monikered thus from being asked for a date. If you happen to be called Judas or Adolf, you should be a tad concerned, though the good news is that you only feature at five and six in the list. There again, how many people called Judas have any of you ever encountered? I would guess that there are exactly no people so named in the whole of the United Kingdom, unless they have been named after a dreadful heavy-metal outfit. There are probably a few nutters in the US who've changed their name to Judas by deed poll, but otherwise ... . And as for Adolf. Not even in Germany is anyone called Adolf. Well not for some sixty odd years.

Betrayal and genocide appear not to be the worst sins associated with names, nor is it essential that names, such as the two above, come from real people, because in at number one on the list, with a staggering 90% of the vote, is Damien. Not because of Hirst's calf in formaldehyde, but because of a made-up character. From "The Omen". Sorry, but if you're Damien, the chances of your being picked up are almost as likely as there being a Judas in the whole of the greater London region. You'd have a better chance as an Adolf. Or why not go the whole Schwein and call yourself Hitler.

Despite the Damien-Omen connection, there is one greater Damien horror that finds the name worsting that of a one-time mad dictator, and that is ... "Only Fools And Horses". Priceless was the moment when Rodney was introduced to his newly born nephew. Priceless indeed was the whole Trotters' oeuvre. Until, that is, it became the comedy from which there can be no escape. I once parked by the strip in Magaluf. If there is a hell, it is a bar with episodes of Del Boy on a constant loop. Or several bars, all with the inhabitants of Nelson Mandela House. And I say this as someone who thought the shows some of the finest of all sitcom writing. For Maga, read also places in Alcúdia. I have to presume that Trotters bar itself has its own dedicated Del and Rodders channel. Endless repeats with Grandad, Denzil, Uncle Albert, Boycie, Marlene, Trigger, Cassandra and of course Damien. Endless repeats endlessly repeating themselves. Perhaps that list of names should also include Derek and Raquel.

But true bar hell would need more than just ancient John Sullivan output, it would also require Keith Floyd. Or someone approximating to him. A.A. Gill, while acknowledging Floyd's undoubted qualities on the screen, considered him to be very different away from the box. Referring to an interview he did with the finally dead former TV chef: "I found him in one of those sorry Costa del Sol pubs at 10.30am, necking pints, leaning on a bar with half a dozen hacking, pasty-faced, nicotine-fingered taxi drivers and nightclub bouncers, flicking through 'The Sun' while complaining about the football and the price of Marmite". And not just the Costa del Sol, Gilly. Floyd would not have been of a similar snivelling state as Paul Whitehouse's master-class of the pathetic in a pub - his sad git Archie. Far too flamboyant, one assumes. But Gill's estimation of him in "The Sunday Times" as "boorish, bullying, opinionated, abusive and drunk" could just as easily apply to a character it might be your misfortune to encounter. In, for example, an Alcúdia bar. Or a Pollensa bar. And the chances of doing so at present are greatly increased. As the rain continues to deposit the equivalent of the Mediterranean on an hourly basis, where else is there to go than to a bar. What else is there to do than get drunk? And then offer all and sundry views on all and sundry. Who might this Floyd-alike be? "Oh, by the way, my name's Damien. I was named after the kid in 'The Omen' ".

Yesterday's title - Malcolm McLaren. It came from the album Duck Rock - Today's title - heavy, heavy, and it's not Judas Priest.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Double Dutch

Do you get embarrassed by double letters in embarrassment? Are you harassed by wondering whether it is one or two r's in harassment? Do you accommodate one or two c's or m's in accommodation? Spanish poses a similar dilemma. The Spaniards follow a dirección where the English take t. For the Spanish it is possible to allow only a posible, which would be impossible in English.

Double letters or to not double letters? That is the doublespeak question. You can take a bet on doubles. Try it. Double your money, double or quits. Either way it's likely to cause double trouble. Where's this all going? Does it sound like double Dutch?

It is the tyranny of the double letter. And the inverse double. Take the town of Binissalem. There is another place in Mallorca. It's called Binnisalem. At least it was in "The Bulletin". Again. The battle of the grapes took place in Binnisalem, said it. Must be somewhere near to another battle of grapes. In Binissalem. The Arabs eschew n's coming in two by two. Actually they don't, because the alphabet is different, but you get my drift - hopefully. Arabic is the source of the prefix. Think Bin Laden and not Binn Laden. Mallorca's bin home to bins for centuries - Biniali, Biniagual, Biniaraix. The island may not have been laden down with bins, but they've bin there nevertheless. In their n-singularity. But Binissalem poses the double problem of potential inverse doubleness. And so it proves. It's writ large in "The Bulletin". Wrongly.

Away from all this doubling up, the great grape battle of the Binissalem Vermar festivities took place on Saturday. Harlequins wingers would love it. The blood of red grape is closer to an outpouring of Group A than a joke-shop capsule. Let Tom Williams eat Merlot in future.

A grape battle may hold all the Inquisitorial threat of the Pythons' cushions and comfy chair, but in its messiness it is supremely stupid and therefore enormous fun. It is like paintball minus the faux-militarism. A question, though, is do they have changing-rooms and showers? Or do participants drive home and suffer the smell of stale red for several weeks after? Presumably they walk. It is as well that the grape harvest has been abundant. Otherwise the battle might cause a wine shortage. It is also as well that the weather was fine on Saturday. Otherwise the grape battle would have brought new meaning to the term wine lake.

Daft it may be, as daft as tomato battles that take place elsewhere, but daftness should be a pre-requisite of fiestas. There is little dafter, after all, than the rubber ducks in Can Picafort. And talking of that, together with the street theatre of Pollensa's Moors and Christians, I would submit for your consideration that the Binissalem battle and the Picafort ducks register as the three great fiesta events.

And following the battle came the treading. On Sunday they trod and they trod during the great grape-treading contest, the winners producing 5.6 litres of juice and trousering 240 euros into the bargain as well as - along with all the teams - taking home bottles of vino partly made from the juice produced last year. And they would have enjoyed their collapso and possibly have been seeing double, though it's doubtful that even with drink they would have spelt the name of their town with two n's and one s.

Yesterday's title - Abba, Today's title - who was this, and what is the link with the Can Picafort ducks?


Monday, September 21, 2009

Take A Chance

Someone left an IKEA catalogue in the post box. A postie Patricia possibly, or an Iker direct from IKEA. Whoever it was would have been conspicuous in her or his rectangularity. Everything about IKEA is rectangular, like its brochure, though to be more accurate it is a rectangular cuboid and has the substantiality of a robust chopping board.

I once ventured into an IKEA store. Or rather I was persuaded by the promise of an in-store café. Once inside the aircraft hangar along Hanger Lane, aka part of West London's North Circular Road (that particular part is not circular but linear), the prospect of a coffee from a square cup lost its allure. Marketing may be all, but not when the cafeteria masquerades as a kitchen showroom. The coffee was probably ground from polypropylene. I have an aversion to kitchen showrooms, which is why I avoid entering Genestar in Alcúdia, the facade of which has always intimated that behind it reside aluminium multi-level ovens and rectangular, bleached-white sinks. Maybe I have an aversion to the rectangle as well.

Walking around an IKEA takes several weeks. It is a maze from which there is no obvious escape. One could do with a course in orienteering prior to tackling the IKEA labyrinth, such is the level of disorientation, for within it I experienced serious hyperventilation, induced by a combination of agoraphobia and claustrophobia, surrounded, hemmed in as I was by the unremitting blocks of furniture. IKEA is interior Stonehenge before the erosion set in. Worse still, I experienced an awful desire to want to buy stuff, lots of it. Ocular perception overcame me. Primary colours demanded the attention of my wallet. When finally I did manage to effect my release, I emerged with nothing more than a sweat. Then I rationalised it. I had been subjected to too much information shopping. Soft furnishing overload. No-one buys anything from IKEA because they can't see the table wood for the wall-unit trees. It's like a Chinese restaurant. Hundreds of pages with thousands of dishes, and you end up meekly opting for the set menu. Except in IKEA there is no soft option. Just all that soft furnishing left unbought.

The Swedes, since they stopped being part of the Viking hordes, have carved out a European niche as sensible, well-mannered folk with an overwhelming blondness. They have bequeathed to Mallorca a tourist with generally well-funded pockets, Abba and of course IKEA. Functional and practical. Not two words one commonly associates with anything in Mallorca. IKEA has been home-decoration culture shock to a society that grew up with heavy woods dominating the living-rooms and the sound of woodworm chewing through the chair legs like a slowly churning hand drill.

The vibrant colours aside, IKEA is the Swede made inanimate. The products have a blond vigour, a healthy swim in a pine-encircled lake, the softness yet strength of snow, a pragmatism of line and form. There is air and freshness. From the typical human Swede and the typical Swedish landscape and weather came the philosophy of furniture. Contrast this with the darkness of Mallorcan quasi-antique colossi that compete for every centimetre of space, expressions of olive skin turned burnt ochre by the sun, and of bodily expansion, the result of hefty menus followed by the inertia of siesta.

But they still managed to make the store a pine forest of density. In the desire to extract the optimal benefits of volume, they neglected that very essence of lightness, of airiness. Maybe it's different now. It is some years since the nightmare on the North Circular. I should take another chance on them. Or perhaps you can just phone them up and place an order.

Yesterday's title - Irene Cara, Today's title - Swedish.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Remember My Name

Are you a celebritist? I'm not sure if I am using the word as it is meant to be, but as it is a word of recent invention (indeed I thought I had invented it until I googled it and found that I hadn't) it can probably mean what you want it to mean. I'm going for this meaning: one who has a fascination with celebrities. It sounds better than a celebrophile, the reverse of which would be celebrophobe. I guess I'm one of the latter. There must be grounds for there being such a state as "celebridiction". "Celebridict", one with an addiction to celebrities (Oxford English Dictionary); and before you go and check I have indeed made that up. At least I think I have.

Someone should start celebritist tourism. In Mallorca. Come to the island and see the celebrities at play. There are thousands of them, seemingly. Great hordes of them at charity golf days or shopping for donkeys with sombreros. How many have I ever personally seen? Er. I did once see who I thought was Pauline Quirke in the old Tango, but maybe it wasn't her or was a Pauline tribute act out for a chicken supper. The perils of being Pauline, or not as the case may be. I quite like Pauline Quirke, in a quirky way. Had I been a celebritist, though, I would have rushed up with a paper Tango place mat and insisted on an autograph and bored her rigid by reeling off my favourite episodes of "Birds Of A Feather". I might even have been a Pauline celebridict, convinced of Pauline's part in my past life. Remember that Little Britain character? The one David Walliams played who was obsessed with the late, lamented Mollie Sugden and who ended up killing Mollie with a knife hurled across a restaurant? I wouldn't wish that on Pauline.

The name of the Quirke-meistress has cropped up - once again - in our favourite local newspaper. Her academy hosted a couple of celebrities. Who they? No idea. But they are celebrities because it said they were. And then there were some others, one of whom was Steve Wright. Steve Wright? Sid the Manager and Voiceover Man in tow? Em, well no, because it wasn't that Steve Wright. Indeed it wasn't any Steve Wright. It was a Steve wrong. From his photo I wouldn't have had a clue. That was given by the text. "Steve, a drummer with Style Council." Steve White, not Wright. Such is the fame of celebrity that no-one gets your name right. Or wright. Or wrong. But I still wouldn't have known who it was, not from the face anyway. Paul Weller yes, a twenty-odd-years-removed Mick Talbot possibly, but the bloke who played the drums? Not a chance. Maybe it wasn't him at all. He just said he was, and got his name wrong, or wright.

All these soap stars (so-called), all these children's show presenter stars (so-called), all the never-were pop stars (so-called). Do I care? What do you think? Now Clarkson, that was a different matter. He's funny and he's interesting. Unlike some totty from "Hollyoaks" who might pitch up at some Calvia-based charity thrash, he is someone you might wish to pay attention to. (Actually you may wish to pay attention to the Hollyoaker, but for different reasons.) James May as well. I could of course say that I went to university with James May, which would be rather economical with the truth. He went to the same university as me - at a different time. I had no knowledge of the chap until he started tagging along with Jezza. At university I had a mate who used to do tricks on his moped, like riding through hoops of fire. He was the son of a celebrity, but I'm not telling you who.

But maybe I just move in the wrong circles. The chances of encountering Michael Winner are remote, about as remote as him ordering a full English at the likes of The Foxes Arms or Yummy Yummy. "The fried egg was historic." Nevertheless, celebrity tourism would be a winner, with or without Michael. They could gather all the celebs in a Celebritarium and run excursions. Watch the stars eating a three-course meal. See them sitting around. Be amazed at them having a drink and going for a slash. And there would be musical accompaniment to this spectacular of the celebrity mundane. The drummer would of course be Steve Wright, or even White.

Fame? They're going to live forever at the new Mallorca Celebritarium.

Yesterday's title - Eric Clapton (Cream), Stevie Winwood (Traffic), Ginger Baker (Cream) and Ric Grech (Family). Today's title - this is a line from what? The last line above gives it away.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blind Faith

The Germans go big on Mallorca. Watch German TV and most evenings there will be something about the island, even if it's just the weather forecast. And most evenings there will be an announcer referring to the "paradise island". This comes from the same lexicon of blind faith that gives us all those "beautifuls" and "lovelys" to which I referred the other day. There's nothing wrong with blind faith, except blindness. It's another day for you and me in paradise. Paradise lost, paradise to be regained - some time. Sir, can you help me? Or help others. Those in unparadise.

The economic crisis was always likely to cause some tensions. It's just a question of how tense. The CCOO union puts an estimate on the number of workers unlikely to qualify for benefits this winter - 80,000, more than half of them from the hotel sector. That's getting on for ten per cent of the population of the archipelago, to which can be added a similar percentage on the dole. The union is concerned that there will be a winter of discontent, or one of social conflicts, to use its words.

The crisis has also made even more apparent the deep flaw in Mallorca's economy, that of seasonality. Generally it works, just about, but when the season is shorter and workers do not have employment long enough to qualify for winter payments, the flaw, the fault line grows ever wider. As does the gap between the haves and have-nots. The gap becomes a gorge, a vast canyon. And there is no bottom to the canyon, no cement to fill this great gap of unemployment and societal disconnection, especially as the construction industry is right down in the hole as well.

One can overstate the situation, and the union might well be guilty of exaggeration, but it may well also be right. You can also take into account the fact that citizens of the Balearics have slipped from a prosperity in the '90s to one of being poorer than the Spanish average in terms of disposable income. This may be across the board, but that board is broad. One man's lower spending power on luxury items is another one's breadline.

The truth is that many workers receive not a great deal more than subsistence wages even during the summer. At least the paradise delusion of hot days and nights can divert attention from impoverishment. And the safety net of the state has, until now, been there for the colder days and nights of winter. It won't be for many this winter.

The deep flaw in the economy is mirrored by the deep flaw in island society: the extremes in terms of wealth or not. Few societies are immune from such a gulf, but the compactness of Mallorcan geography makes it more apparent, more inescapable, unless you retain that blindness of blind faith.

The lateness - the 1960s - with which an industrial revolution arrived in Mallorca, at a time of a regime only starting to come to terms with true economics, provided little or no preparation for greater diversity. And that revolution was predicated on an industry far removed from the grit of manufacturing. The Mallorcan economy is something of an unreal economy. Rightly so perhaps. Paradise is a state of unreality. Unparadise, however, is the reality confronting many. And some of the wealth that was and has been accrued has an unreality as well. It was as if it was magicked, the consequence of being there, of luck, and of the benevolence of tour operators and visitors from the first days of mass tourism.

One can overstate the situation, and I hope I am, and that the union is as well. But the ingredients for discontent exist, and I keep in mind the actions of those Sardinians, around the time that the crisis broke, who bombarded luxury yachts with wet sand in disgust at displays of ostentatious wealth (16 August 2008: Careful What You Wish For). There might be more than wet sand this winter in Mallorca. Paradise, anyone?

Yesterday's title - Massive Attack with Tracey Thorn, Today's title - who were they, and which groups were they in prior to this one?


Friday, September 18, 2009


Back to the letters page in "The Bulletin". I thoroughly commend the letter about holiday rentals that appeared yesterday.

Here is an area, holiday rentals, that tells you much of what you need to know about how officialdom works or rather doesn't work. It is an area of confusion, lack of clarity, massive doses of self-interest and arguably protectionism and anti-competitiveness. That's a pretty damning charge sheet.

The letter-writer draws attention to information from the regional government tourism ministry, which, he says, states that an apartment may be rented out without any licence so long as it is not marketed as a holiday apartment. He also draws attention, news to me I must say, that holiday accommodation cannot be marketed by local estate agents. In other words, all those agencies which are doing so, and their number is vast, are breaking the law. You can add in the confusion surrounding the rent of other property, whether villa, finca, house; add in whether apartments in a block must all be on the same basis and have a reception area; add in the fact that licences for finca rental cannot now be obtained. Add in all this lot, and you have the most God awful mess.

Holiday rentals are an important part of the tourism mix. They are important for the very simple reason that not everyone wants to stay in a hotel. But herein lies the rub. The government and of course the hoteliers want everyone to stay in a hotel. They are misguided, narrow-minded and wrong. The hotels exert enormous influence both economically and politically in Mallorca - and justifiably so. Tourism growth was largely the consequence of investment in hotel stock. Many hotel chains and hotels rank as excellent. Mallorca's leading hotel chains are international players, while locally they appear at the top of the list of the island's wealth-generating businesses. They have a right to preserve what they have created, but not at the expense of a mixed tourism market. The hotel lobby, though, has been the strongest voice in seeking government curbs on the holiday-rental market. It is the hotels' self-interest which has led to much of the current confusion as legislation, communicated unclearly and implemented haphazardly by local and regional government agencies not clear themselves as to the legislation, has been heaped upon the wider tourism market in an attempt at gaining market protection. There is more than just a hint of discrimination as well. Many apartments and other holiday-rental accommodation are foreign owned.

Notwithstanding regulation that seeks to ensure that taxes are paid and that safety and quality standards are adhered to (and such regulation is to be applauded), much of the rest is a nonsense. Just go back to that bit about not marketing a flat as a holiday apartment. This is the tourism ministry saying so. What else is tourism but holidays? This is ridiculous.

The holiday-rental morass is indicative of a wider malaise, one of legal obfuscation and sometimes protectionism by the backdoor. One only has to consider the lunatic situation regarding bar closing times to appreciate how such obfuscation can be played out. Calvia town hall closed bars at 11, interpreting a new law which classified "evening" as ending at 11. The relevant ministry, environment, told them not to. What was the point of the new classification in that case? Take another example - driving licences. How many residents are clear what the rules are? Or another, that in respect of boat charters and the enormous fines being levied. Where's the fairness?

Democracies operate on the basis of fair, just and transparent legal systems, but one cannot avoid a conclusion that not all is right with the operation of local legal systems and their subsequent implementation down the chain of governmental levels, unclear as to what they mean. Too much seems to be made up on the hoof, superimposed on previous legislation and then left open to all sorts of interpretation. And the holiday-rentals market is a classic example.

All too often the response to such situations is a shrug and an "oh, well, that's Spain". It doesn't wash any longer, especially where an important part of the tourism market - and a revenue-generator for governments - is concerned. It should all be very simple. You have some accommodation and wish to rent it out. Fair enough, obtain the relevant licence, meet the relevant standards and pay your taxes. Simple. But not. Because, for example, the process to obtain the licence in the first place would fall down the great black hole of local bureaucracy. And because also there is a powerful group that will do what it can to stop you.

They need to get it sorted, but they won't.

Yesterday's title - The Four Seasons, "December 63", Today's title - brilliant; who?


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Oh What A Night

The heavy storms that finally came in on Sunday have continued to rage. True to form "The Bulletin" dragged out the headline it uses on these occasions - "What A Night" (or day, use as applicable) - to refer to a burst of storms early on Tuesday morning. The dramatic change in the weather after over four months with barely a drop of rain has been welcome in some respects, but not for the Septemberists - the tourists.

On the forum for the Alcudia Guide, someone asked what there is to do when it rains. The answer is very little. It is the nature of Alcúdia and most of the island that everything occurs outdoors. Go to the old town, go to Albufera, go to the mountains of La Victoria. All well and good but not when the rain is descending with the ferocity of ammo from an AK-47. Take a hire car somewhere. All well and good, always assuming you can get one and aren't asked to pay out an arm, a leg and much of the torso, and always assuming you enjoy driving through rivers along the side roads and even some main roads. At one point over 40 litres per square metre dropped onto Albufera, bringing consequent repercussions for roads abutting it. One of the sadder sights is seeing the crowds at bus stops hoping to get to Alcúdia's market. Though additional buses run when the market is on, they nearly all get filled up by the time they've left Alcúdia Pins. But even if people had got on one on Tuesday morning, they would have got out only to be subject to a further deluge. Good news for the bars maybe, but not for anyone else.

When the weather is rubbish, some of the greatest problems are experienced in the all-inclusive ghettoes. Because they, like everything else, deal in the outdoors, namely the pool sides, the sun dispossessed who have to retreat inside in their hordes find little or nothing to satisfy them. Even were the rain to relent sufficiently for them to actually leave the hotels, many are reluctant to do so because that might mean spending money.

Of course there is always the option of just spending all day in a bar. Or if not all day, then up to some time in the afternoon, like near to five o'clock. The local plod van drew up outside the Alcúdia Suite hotel. Out, with some difficulty, came this chap who had been given the taxi home. One step forward and then three steps back. Careful now. Can you get up the steps to the hotel? Whoooahh. No. Let's just lift you up, sir, shall we. Don't let's give the local plod a bad name. Better to just take chummy back to the hotel to sleep it off. And they were finding it all distinctly funny, as indeed did I. But not chummy's wife.

The letters to "The Bulletin" are often a rich source of oddness. Take one from yesterday in which someone argues that hotels closing early this season is a case of shooting themselves in the foot as holidaymakers do not wish to come and see resorts at least partially shut down. Presented with such a scene, they will go elsewhere, so goes the argument. While true that places closed down can give a rather depressing air, are the hotels expected to stay open, uneconomically, just so those tourists who are around can feel that they are not wandering through ghost towns? Seemingly they are. Perhaps bars and restaurants that close early because there are few tourists about or because those which are about are ensconced in an all-inclusive should likewise stay open. In which case, if tourists' perceptions are so important (and it would be wrong to say they are not), then somebody should be paying the hotels and the bars to stay open. And that is not going to happen.

Today's title - as the headline is so regularly trotted out, it's likely we've had this before, but who said that I can't be lazy, too?


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Town That Didn't Want The Train - A Fairy Tale

The transport fairy gives and the transport fairy takes away. On the day that they came to officially open the as yet unfinished new terminal at Alcúdia's port, some other they were in the process of killing off the Alcúdia train - for the time being at any rate. At the cost of some twenty odd million euros the new port will be totally shiny and new later this year when the walkways have been finished. But they made sure to get it officially opened just in case and before the transport fairy could wave her wand and make it all disappear, which is what the malevolent and spoilt little brat was up to in the islands' parliament yesterday. "You shan't go to the Alcúdia station," said she. Or something like that. And I know, I know that was the fairy godmother, but she was still a fairy.

The money spent on the port was a drop in the bay of Alcúdia compared to the close on 100 million euros that was earmarked to churn up local finca land and run a ruddy great rail track through the auditorium. It would have been money well spent, but Alcúdia town hall played hardball - and lost in all respects. One member of the parliament said that the administration will pass into history as having been from the town that didn't want the train.

The report on the parliament proceedings was such that I confess to having lost the will to live when trying to make sense of what the various political parties wanted or didn't want in respect of Alcúdia, Manacor and any other tram or train. A plague on their various houses. The upshot is that the Alcúdia train, if indeed it ever is to see the light of a tunnel, will not be doing so as a result of the workings of the current legislature. So much for President Antich's "age of the train".

The transport fairy has been busy these past few days. She sprinkled some magic dust in Barcarès where there had been the little local difficulty regarding the development of the marina that no-one seemed to know about. Surprising to report, therefore, that over 2,500 signatures appeared on a petition against the development, which is over 2,500 more people than knew about the development when I went there (except the bloke in the office) and roughly 2,500 more than live in the larger Barcarès area (I do exaggerate here of course). But it was all something and nothing, as indeed I had discovered. The environment minister has said that there are no immediate plans to do anything and indeed nothing might well happen as the chaps from the ports authority have to weigh up priorities for the island as a whole.

The transport fairy looked down on the little port in Barcarès and smirked. "Why would you give priority to this?" And with a whoosh of the wand it was gone. Far, far away to the place with the magic finca land with no train.

Yesterday's title - Cliff Richard,


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Travellin' Light

More inspired by "The Sunday Times". I was reminded of a recent email correspondence on Sunday morning. A.A. Gill was lauding a new television series by Jonathan Meades. In that correspondence, I had, by coincidence, lumped Gill and Meades together as the finest examples of travel writers with whom I am acquainted. That Gill sees fit to praise Meades suggests that there is at least one side of a possibly mutual admiration duality.

The point I had made about the two authors was that, when they are writing ostensibly travel pieces, it is not necessarily obvious that "travel" is their theme. Both have an eye for the surreal and bizarre, and in Meades' case the bizarre is heightened by a fascination with low-life. But they also bring together in their writing a range of the arts, humanities and science. Travel writing is literary polymer, a combination of language, culture, art, music, society, people, history, politics, food and drink, geography, geology, topography, agriculture, archaeology, architecture, town planning, engineering, natural history, botany and meteorology - to name but some. Above all, and Gill and Meades are masters of the art, it is a process of observation and of de- and then re-construction of the familiar with imagery composed of influences often far removed from the subject. (And just to explain, even when one is not directly familiar with, for instance, a particular landscape or building, one is nevertheless familiar with the notion of landscapes and buildings.) Gill's role as a TV critic can inform his descriptions with the everyday of soaps and reality shows. A background as an architectural journalist guides Meades in the performance of such re-buildings of images. Both also, naturally enough given their preferences for the bizarre, have a penchant for seeking out the odd, and it is the odd that can give rise to the richest of written picture-painting.

Travel writing, and it is obvious to say so, needs to paint pictures without the aid of pictures. But it is the superficiality or the depth of this painting that distinguishes the mundane from the lively. Much good travel writing also draws on the novel - the story telling of a Bryson or a Theroux, for example. And these authors share with Gill and Meades the essential quality of ferocious wit. There may be an apparent excess of cynicism, sarcasm and satire about the output, but these are all vital in presenting a view of a subject that runs contrary to the blandness of much travel writing. And it is wrong to assume that such styles do not at the same time embrace affection. It is often a very affection for the subject that enables the alternative "take", be it sarcastic or surrealistic.

Where am I going with all this? To Mallorca naturally enough. And that is because much of what one ever encounters about Mallorca in the written form is stripped of any depth, of any challenging imagery, of any alternativism. It is writing that suffers from prejudice in that the writer is too blinded by what he or she believes should be the accepted norm or by his or her own attachment in order to attempt to paint pictures that are more than just light, first touches of the brush on the canvas. To return to the notion of familiarity, one is familiar with mountains or with seascapes, even if one has no first-hand experience of the Tramuntana or the bay of Pollensa. To simply apply standard adjectives or metaphors to either is far from sufficient, but that is what one usually gets - the default setting of limited imagination, creativity and personal thesauri. There is a form of fascism when it comes to Mallorca which has it that if the words "beautiful" and "lovely" are not repeated in every paragraph, then the author is being unfairly critical. And such fascism occurs not just in travel writing but in pretty much any writing about the island.

Gill or Meades on Mallorca. Now that would be something.

Yesterday's title - The Beautiful South, "Song For Whoever", Today's title - probably been loads, but for whom was this a number one in the '50s?


Monday, September 14, 2009

Jennifer, Alison, Philippa, Sue

What's in a name? It's a question that I have been known to use before in introducing an article. I will probably use it again some time. Names have a power to fascinate. They reflect society and culture and they reflect personality and behaviour, or rather may well determine that behaviour, if, that is, you believe a study from a UK parents' group as reported on by Melanie McDonagh in "The Sunday Times", and I do believe it.

Teachers, it would seem, make an appraisal of children on the basis of their Christian names - before they have even met them. And more often than not, they are right. Broadly speaking, names determine whether the kids are naughty or well-behaved, weak or strong students. You can probably guess as to some of the names that are coming, many of them C-words. Chardonnay, Crystal, Chelsea - pity the poor girl monikered with the C-name or a boy who is a Kyle, Wayne or Brandon.

It is all so different. At my admittedly middle-class grammar school, there was nary an "alternative" name to be uttered by a disbelieving and despairing teacher, unless that name was foreign. In my class of five years, before we were spread across sixth-form categories, there was another Andrew, and there were Peters, a David, an Elizabeth, a Sally, an Anne. There was also an Andrzej, Andrew by any other name, but he was of Polish extraction and went on to become a cancer research expert at Imperial College. In my year, there were at least two "bad" boys - a Gary and a Terry (Gaz and Tel) - and a Sharon who even then lived up, or down, to the reputation of the name.

There is a fertile area of tourist research in all this. Which names go where? As the results would be bleeding obvious, there must be some body somewhere that is willing to fork out some thousands for a study. And I'm your man to do it. I can already give a clue. In Puerto Pollensa, all boys are called Alex, James or Tom, all girls are Emma, Lucy or Samantha. Along Alcúdia's Mile, by contrast, are the Kyles, Tylers and Waynes, the Britneys, Chardonnays and Kylies as well as those of either gender - a Casey, a Kelly or a Jordan.

The Spanish, of course, have nothing to do with all this naming by soap or pop-star malarkey. They are simply not allowed to. But this does result in a mind-numbing conformity. For reasons I can't explain, while Spanish (and Catalan) female names retain their attractiveness in spite of this conformity - Antonia, Catalina, Isabel - male names are almost uniformly uninspiring and dull - Juan, Pedro, Miguel. There are, though, Spanish names that you never or hardly ever hear: Savannah or Tierra for a girl; Caton or Nevada for a boy. Which may be just as well, as were an expectant mother and her partner to be ambling along The Mile and were to hear a local child being called thus, in a few months time a Nevada or Savannah would be registered with the office of births in Rochdale or Watford. And then five years later, when the teacher at the first school checked the register of the new intake, a little red mark would appear. The naughty chairs would be at the ready for naughty boy and naughty girl. And the teacher would probably be right.

The water fair
On Saturday I was confused. It is the 12th today, I was asking. Yes. Then why is there no storm? It is pre-ordained. Every 12th September. Or if not the 12th, then the 15th. Or to be a little less precise, any day between the 12th and the 16th, any day when you can guarantee that summer will crash, bang and wallop to a shuddering end of biblical proportions. I was out by one day. Or two if you prefer the 15th. Given the almost 100% certainty of there being an end-of-the-world weather event on either the 12th or 13th of September, why on earth do they arrange to hold the Feria del Mar in Puerto Pollensa on those two days? If they want so much water, they might as well just hold the fair of the sea in the sea.

Yesterday's title - The Moody Blues, Today's title - from the bottom of my pencil case.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Go Now

So, returning to yesterday and the breaking news that occupied the top of yesterday's entry.

The regional government's threat to go elsewhere with their train money seems not to have been an idle one, even if the location of that elsewhere has probably taken a lot of people by surprise, including - one hopes - the mayor of Alcúdia. The central funds earmarked for the rail extension to Alcúdia now may well end up finding a solution to a bit of local difficulty in Manacor where there has been all manner of opposition to the redeveloped route to Artà. That the regional government would appear to have lost patience with Alcúdia town hall is perhaps understandable, but the diversion of funding to Manacor means the worst of all worlds. There remains just the germ of a thought that such a diversion may be a ruse to flush out Alcúdia town hall which will now face its own backlash if the train does not arrive there - ever. Nevertheless, the central ministry in Madrid that ultimately oversees such projects appears to have accepted the changed use of the funding.

The Manacor-Artà redevelopment (there used once to be a line between the two towns) has, unlike the Alcúdia train, been dogged by significant popular opposition. Many people argue that it is unnecessary. If one takes the tourism angle (which has been a plank of the Alcúdia town hall argument in favour of the southern route), this does not apply in the Manacor case. Apart from anything else, Artà has hardly any tourism industry worthy of the name. It is nowhere town, where no-one goes. Only if the line were to be extended on further, to Cala Ratjada (which is the intention), might the tourism factor become consequential, but even then to nothing like the degree that a train to Alcúdia might. When the mayor of Manacor referred to the "outcry" in Alcúdia, he was being disingenuous in two ways: there has not been the sort of popular outcry in Alcúdia that he suggests, yet there has been in his own municipality as well as elsewhere.

The case of the rail lines is a farce. It is a farce for different reasons. The regional government can be seen as being petty by not seeking a rapprochement with Alcúdia; the transport ministry can be seen as having wished to foist a route on Alcúdia that it did not want; Alcúdia town hall has been petty by not being willing to back down; the use of funds for the Manacor line will be for something which does not have popular support; the Manacor line will not serve tourism; the Alcúdia line would serve not only tourism but also residents of the town, Puerto Pollensa and the playa region of Muro; the Alcúdia line would be more widely beneficial in terms of the island economy; the political fighting will have bitten Alcúdia's mayor who stands above all other parties as being responsible for the loss of the rail line. All assuming that the diversion of funds does indeed get ratified. If it is, then Mayor Ferrer should either resign or be booted out. Whatever spin the town hall will try to put on the loss of the rail line, it will have been the obstructive nature of the town hall's opposition to the government's preferred route that will have been the cause of this loss, to the detriment of Alcúdia, its immediate neighbours and the island as a whole. Though it can be argued that the transport ministry sought a fait accompli when it announced the northern route, the alternative southern route - that which the town hall wants, especially were it to end up at the Es Foguera ruin - has no great advantage, if any, over the northern route. But this will serve also to expose the absurdity at the heart of this farce - that a town hall can effectively block an important infrastructure development. The fault in all this lies at one level with political pettiness but at another with the political system, to say nothing of possible self-interests that may or may not have played a part in Alcúdia's obstructionism.

It could be that the Alcúdia line is not doomed, if this is a ploy by the government. But for Ferrer to now back down would mean an enormous loss of face. He has a choice - loss of face or loss of support from people in Alcúdia who were in favour of the train, wherever it might have been sited. There is only one choice for him - he should go.

Today's title - before they became orchestral rockers.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Head Bangers

The piece below has been rather overtaken by events - the government is set to divert the funds set aside for the extension to Alcúdia to other rail work on the island and in particular work on the "boulevard" which is part of a solution to issues surrounding the Manacor railway. Or is this just a cunning ploy by the government? More on all this to come, no doubt.

No, not something about Status Quo and their geriatric rocking all over the Darby and Joan Club in Palma the other day, but ever more on the Sa Pobla-Alcúdia train, an ever more which just goes to show how what you read and where you read it can give a less than complete picture of the situation. In "The Bulletin" we learn, thanks to the mayor of Manacor, that there has been "wholesale opposition" to the proposed northern corridor for the rail extension into Alcúdia and that the regional government has "heeded the outcry from Alcúdia" whilst not heeding one in Manacor regarding the rail extension from there to Artà, work on which is due to start shortly.

This is not quite accurate. There has of course been opposition to the northern route, but it is not as great as is being made out. Recently Alcúdia town hall, which has invited "allegations" against the proposed route and which has also extended hours of opening in order to present information, received - on the first day of these extended hours - fifteen people who asked for information. Moreover, the town hall received only a few "allegations". Asking for information does not mean wholesale opposition; it means asking for information. A few allegations do not represent wholesale opposition.

It is not accurate to suggest that the government has "heeded the outcry from Alcúdia". What it, or more specifically the transport ministry, has done is to suggest that if there cannot be agreement to the northern route, it (the ministry) would consider siting the rail extension elsewhere. Heeding the outcry actually means getting hacked off with the apparent intransigence at the town hall. The outcry itself is more one of political statements from the town hall; it is not a great public demonstration against the northern route. Yes, there have been protests, such as signs against the extension some months ago, but the Manacor mayor is overstating the situation. And those protests were essentially NIMBY in nature as they related to finca land that would be needed for a line into the centre of Alcúdia town.

In contrast to the report in "The Bulletin", which deals only with what the Manacor mayor has to say, one from "The Diario" presents a rather different picture. And it is this. The president of the government, Francesc Antich, has met with the leader of the Unió Mallorquina party, Miquel Flaquer, in order to try and gain some sort of consensus to present before the regional parliament. It should be noted that the Alcúdia town hall mayor, Miquel Ferrer, is from the same party as Flaquer. On Tuesday next week, responding to a demand from the Partido Popular, which is in opposition at the regional government, there needs to be some sort of definitive statement from the parliament about the Alcúdia railway. What one concludes, from what "The Diario" is saying, is that the whole issue has now gone over the heads of the main protagonists in the saga - the transport minister and the mayor of Alcúdia. Going over their heads and banging their heads together. And not before time.

The words of Manacor's mayor, himself from the Partido Popular, are essentially political posturing, certainly where Alcúdia is concerned, as the extension there has nothing whatsoever to do with him. But they sum up what this story is all about: political point-scoring. The real issues of environment, convenience, boost to local economy, population density and all the rest have been put to one side while the politicians from differing parties adopt their stances. 'Twas ever thus, you might say, and you would be right, but the fact that Antich has seen it necessary to get involved - overdue some might argue - is indicative of the inconclusiveness of the local political system and of political fighting. It should be remembered that Antich came into power with his "age of the train" declaration. Railways were his "big thing". He should have been more intimately involved long ago.

Personally I don't give a damn where the train goes, so long as it goes to Alcúdia which is the only sensible option in the north. Hopefully Antich can now, through the boss of the Unió Mallorquina, get Alcúdia town hall to accept the northern route, as quite clearly the transport ministry is not prepared to budge except to go to a different and less satisfactory municipality.

Places that are closing
Chances are that this might become a regular slot on the blog in the coming weeks. One place that is going is Mulligan's in Puerto Pollensa. Unfortunately, we can probably anticipate that there will be a number of others.

Yesterday's title - Ian Dury And The Blockheads, and here is the Hairy Cornflake introducing a "newcomer" -


Friday, September 11, 2009

What A Waste

It has long been something of a mystery quite why the local supermarkets are so liberal with their giving-out of plastic bags. Go to your nearest Eroski and at the check-out you will end up with four or five half or quarter-full bags of groceries when one or two would do the job equally as well. Not for much longer though. Perhaps. Eroski has produced a 20-page booklet all about reducing the number of plastic bags and energy efficiency. There are two "savings" to be made in the form of a "win" for you and a "win" for the environment. The booklet seems to be on recycled paper, which is just as well. The company's director of social responsibility tells us on page five that Eroski is going to make it easy for us all to save the world (well, he doesn't quite use those words, but whatever). For any bag not used, the customer gets a discount of one centimo. That should get everyone rushing to the store.

How do they figure out how many bags you don't use though? As I say it has been common to get several more bags than one actually needs. Do they have some means of calculating - by volume of sales - the resultant discount if one hacks along with a shopping trolley or reusable bag (bags) instead? "No, I think this lot's worth a three centimo discount, not just the one. Come on, hand it over."

This environmentally correct approach is all well and good, but there is also the slight matter of all those plastic bags that are used to gather fruit and veg to which are attached those sticky-backed labels with the bar code and price, assuming you know that this is the procedure. They can't be much cop when it comes to landfill either. Anyway, the huge incentive to not now use the bags at the checkout will probably lead to an increase in the sales of rubbish bags, as the checkout bags, especially when they are doubled up, have long been an alternative to actually buying rubbish bags. But the latter are at least eco-friendly in that they don't give off toxic gases when burned, or something like that.

On leaving Eroski, 20-page booklet stashed inside one of the checkout bags, there was a noticeable pile outside the front doors. A pile of newspapers, bundled and tied up, just left there. How many? Fifty, a hundred maybe? It was a pile of "Euro Weekly's". First time I had seen them at the local Eroski for some fair while. Erratic is the distribution one might say. But more importantly, what was going to happen to them? Who knows? Maybe they get turned into Eroski booklets about the environment.

To a different environmental matter. No sooner has the golf course in Muro seemingly run its course as an eco-cause célèbre than up pops another affront to the town's environment. It is the curious case of the Son Perera finca on which there has been some earth moving in readiness, or so it is being alleged, for a go-karting track. GOB, those noble defenders of Mother Earth, had "denounced" this work to the town hall which has now paralysed it, saying that there is no licence for the development. What is extraordinary about this is quite how anyone can apparently set about converting what is protected land and hope that no-one might notice. A go-karting track is pretty conspicuous, or would be were it to be built.

Alcúdia - Day of the Tourist
Well it must be said that this was a pretty good effort. Hats off to the town hall. A rather attractive Danish girl by the name of Nana who works in one of the local hotels told me that those hotels participating get the teams organised, which did at least settle one of my questions. As to other questions, such as what is the point of all this, I refrained from putting them to the chiefs of the tourism department who were talking with rather concerned expressions into mobile phones like Conservatives during an election-night kicking. Quite why they seemed concerned I was unsure, unless they'd got wind of news that the Michael Jackson tribute lined up for the evening had taken his tribute rather too far.

It was pretty obvious, though, that not all the beachgoers yesterday morning had any idea what was going on, but the music booming from the step and aerobics stage, the footy and volleyball games and all the people wandering around in "Fun 4 U" t-shirts would have given them some idea. I now know what this is all intended as - it is a major promotional campaign for the town hall's tourism website. Not that anyone's told me that, but as all the t-shirts have got the address on, then one would presume that it is at least an element of "the day".

But it was good. And fun, funnily enough.

Today's title - and I'm doin' very well.


Thursday, September 10, 2009


Following on from the previous piece (4 September: Serenity), this is the article that has appeared in "Talk Of The North", with special thanks to Anne Marie, who isn't actually name-checked at the end of the article, but who was instrumental in getting me to see Barcarès in a rather different way.

Barcarès - Nothing Happened

"Do you know anything about the development of the little port?" She shakes her head. Does her colleague know anything? Not as such. It's in the paper, I say. In the "Diario". They look. Oh yes. Another colleague comes. They all look. How often does Barcarès get mentioned in the local press? Never probably. Except on that day, and now - here. "If you find out anything, let us know." I'll write about it, and am writing about it here - now. Maybe it's because the Hotel More isn't really in Barcarès that no-one knew. It's in Morer Vermell, though where Morer Vermell starts and Barcarès finishes, who knows. Not that it's far. Nothing's far on the little coastline from La Marina to Manresa. Like the Red Rum bar. "Do you know anything about the development of the little port?" He shakes his head. Elaine's not in till the evening. I'm not sure that's the answer I'm looking for. Doesn't matter.

At the little port, the old velas latinas are barely bobbing. The sea is as flat and smooth as bluey-grey silk stretched on a cutting table. In the haven, there is minimal motion. On the harbour walk is Joan, unmistakably Mallorquín, squat, wide, carrying the evidence of many long lunches. "Do you know anything about the development of the little port?" Not as such. It's in the paper, in the "Diario". There are meant to be steps every ten metres, he says. Around the harbour. It's not the answer I'm looking for, nor is the explanation that the lack of steps in the port area of Alcúdia in front of Bodega d'es Port and the tabac is dangerous. "How many years has the port been here?" I ask. He's in his seventies. He used to play around the little port when he was a child. It was here before the one in Bonaire.

In the portakabin office, there is a young official wearing a smart ports authority t-shirt. "Can you tell me something about the development of the little port?" There's a piece in the paper about it, in the "Diario". "Is there?" I can go to the town hall and see the plan, if I want. Oh no, not necessary: the plan is on the table in front of him. There's to be another ramp, like the one that's already there, and a permanent little office, he explains. The residents are unhappy, say I, despite the fact that no-one seems to know about the development. The new ramp will stop them swimming, and the office will be a visual blight apparently, or so they say. He answers but doesn't need to. I step outside. It's a story about nothing. The planned development is hardly a development at all. The new office would just replace the temporary one.

Because nothing happens in Barcarès, the slightest whiff of a story, of some change is bound to excite. If excite is the right word. Excitement and newsworthiness would amount to a headline along the lines of "man gets up in morning". Nothing happens in Barcarès because there is nothing there to happen. The better story, I realise, is that the development of the little port is a story about nothing happening. In Joan's seventy-odd years, the day they come and build the new ramp will probably be the first thing that's happened for more than half a century.

This is a blissful morning in September. The only noises are those of an outboard cutting across the bay of Pollensa, sixties music from speakers in Red Rum, some kids swimming and a dog in the water barking at fish. No-one bothers about dogs by or in the water. Another bounds through the seaweed that has been washed up and has dried on the small and sea-eroded man-made decks that need close observation to appreciate that they are not rocks.

Barcarès is non-resort Alcúdia; backwaters, sideshow Alcúdia. It is perfect in its lack of pretension and ostentation, in its comatose Mediterranean atmosphere and in its compact and understated Mediterranean architecture. The older villas are white-washed, the shutters blue, green, brown or white. The more modern ones have low gates, neat gardens, baby palms, deep-green grass criss-crossed with hoses or with sprinklers supplying the hissing of summer lawns (if I can steal that image). They are toy-town, model village Mediterranean. An orange-walled building has the appearance of a British customs house. It is a complicated structure of angular blocks. It could have been made from Lego, like the rest of Barcarès. Maybe that's why nothing happens; it isn't actually real.

That's probably it. Barcarès is the Alcúdia dream time, an otherworldly world away from the roar of The Mile. Someone once sent me an email about Barcarès. She said that it was her favourite place in the whole world; that it has a "calm enchantment". On a blissful September morning, you can understand why. Barcarès. A story about nothing happening, and nothing does happen. And that's how it should be.

Yesterday's title - The Beach Boys,


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Fun, Fun, Fun

The Alcúdia day of the tourist. It has the ring of one of those United Nations celebrations, but they're normally a year not just a day. Frederick Forsyth perhaps. Day of the jackal. Anyway, día del turista tomorrow is - fun 4 U as well as "we wait 4 U". You will have fun.

That fun comes in two parts, morning sports and frolics and some musical show on the sports beach in Puerto Alcúdia's Ciudad Blanca (that's The Mile to you and me), and evening mini-disco and tributism on the Paseo Marítimo. Fun, fun, fun. I'm always deeply suspicious of fun that dares to speak its name.

The day is, on the face of it, a nice enough idea, but it is also decidedly odd. What actually is the point of it? Doubtless the worthies of the town hall will claim that it is a big up and thanks to the thousands of tourists that line the pockets not just of the town hall but also local businesses, even if many of those businesses will be cursing those very tourists for choosing to stay in all-inclusive hotels or for not spending enough money. It can also be seen as a celebration of what actually makes Alcúdia tick. Without tourism there would be no Alcúdia - or not as we know it, Jaime.

Yet elsewhere in Mallorca, Binissalem to be precise, they are garlanding the town centre and preparing for the annual Vermar, the wine fair and fiesta. While tourism is Alcúdia, wine is Binissalem. And in the case of the latter, the Vermar runs for two weeks. If the day of the tourist is a thanksgiving for the harvest of tourists, then it too should last a couple of weeks, or a month, or all season. A key difference, though, lies in the fact that wine is a traditional industry; tourism is not. It is a recent invention, and even more recently - last year in fact - they came up with what is essentially an artificial fiesta. There is more than just an element of an excuse for a bit of a late-summer party about the whole thing. The day's events amount to a slimmed-down fiesta minus the religion and all the tradition; it is fiesta of games, music and of course fun. Fun, fun, fun. The day of fun. Maybe they should call it that instead.

But unlike Vermar or the fiestas in Alcúdia, the day of the tourist does not warrant quite the same lavish attention. Where, for example, are the expensively produced booklets to accompany it? Well, it's only a day; not worth it. Perhaps. But apart from the poster, all the tourist office near to the sports beach had yesterday morning was half a photocopied A4 sheet. Actually, I applaud them for this, as I've said often enough that they could get all the fiesta information onto photocopied sheets rather than spend the fortunes they do on design and print. Nevertheless, this economy-class publicity does rather put the whole thing into context. Tourists may be important, vital indeed, but that doesn't mean that much money needs to be spent.

So how does word of the day of the tourist get to the audience for which, presumably, it is intended? In Sea Club there was a reduced copy of the poster sellotaped to the reception counter. Pertinently, someone had underlined the tribute-acts concert, as though that would be the only thing tourists would actually be interested in - which is probably true. Otherwise, how, for example, do tourists organise themselves to take part in the sports competitions? Or maybe they don't. Perhaps they should have a mass karaoke contest and a full English breakfast eating competition.

Nice idea this day of the tourist, but odd all the same. Never mind though, because it will be fun, fun, fun. And they've told you so - fun 4 U.

Yesterday's title - Jack Johnson, Today's title - who was this?


Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Posters, posters. Today I am poster boy. Or rather, yesterday I was. Posters for this. Posters for that. Some arty, most not. The Beata poster looks like art but without close inspection is just a mess and mass of reds and browns. Ignore it. Most people probably do, unless they're Mallorcan. Thousands of people lined the streets of Santa Margalida on Sunday - it says in the reports - but it is unlikely that they needed a brown and red poster to attract them; they knew of the event in any event. The poster for the Alcúdia Ye-Ye, now also a thing of the past. What is "ye-ye" exactly. She loves you, ye, ye, ye perhaps. Or oh ye of so little faith, if you have no time for the religious outpouring of Beata. Beata or Beatles. Who went to the Ye-Ye unless they were alcudienc? Who knew about it? They may have seen the poster but it didn't register. Steve from Little Britain passed me. There's that poster in the shop. A policeman dropped one by, just left it, without so much as a by-your-leave, a hello or a goodbye. Yea, yea, ye, ye, it's a poster, the one about the illegal street selling. It's in Castilian as well as Catalan. No sign on the sign of English or German. Who will register it among the tourism throngs? It's just window-dressing, thinks I. It shows that they're doing something, something being a poster. It is window-dressing because it's in the window of the shop. From the boot of the car I take the Ye-Ye poster and the Mercadets d'Estiu poster. The town hall had given them to me. What was I to do with them? They'll just end up in the blue paper recycling container. What would anyone do with them, unless they are Mallorcan? What is a mercadet d'estiu to a tribe of tourists from Tottenham or Thüringen? It is in fact a small summer market, the pictures just about give it away. But who would know what "jocs" are? A load of Scots spelt incorrectly?

Why do they do all this? Well, the answer is obvious. But where is the publicity aimed at everyone else, all those tourists? Does anyone actually stop and think? And then there is a poster for 10 September. What day is that? It's the Alcúdia day of the tourist, the climax to it being an appropriate gathering of the poor man's tourism experience - tribute acts, a Queen and a Jackson, but no Beatles: ye, ye, ye; no, no, no. Why must there be a day of the tourist? Is every day not a day of the tourist? But at least it's in English - after a fashion. "We wait 4 U," it says. SMS posters. Someone thought: let's be contemporary, funky, in touch with the tourist inner youth and texter. But wait - what is this "wait"? What does it mean? It's that verb. "Esperar". It translates in different ways - wait for, expect, hope. We expect you. That's a command. You don't command tourists to do anything. We hope (you will come). If you hope, you don't expect, except that expect can imply different expectations; it is not only a command. We wait for you, therefore. How long? Does nothing happen until the tourists turn up, the ones they hope for or expect? Does anyone actually stop and think what they're saying on these posters, even when they do them in English. Even if it were the right word, the grammar's wrong.

Posters, posters. Thousands of euros. Thousands of sheets of paper. Printers in business. Designers in business. And probably some useless translator in business, too. And much of it a total waste of effort.

Yesterday's title - Shakira, Today's title - from the debut album of an Hawaiian soft rocker.