Monday, November 30, 2009

On The Banks Of The River Nile

The Balearics may still be the leader when it comes to Mediterranean holidays, but this position is under threat. Tell us something we didn't know, and "The Diario" did just that yesterday, but it set out quite why this threat exists.

Turkey, Egypt, Croatia - these are the three countries that most exercise the minds of Balearics tourism authorities, or they should be. The competition they represent is now well-understood, but it is still a relatively recent phenomenon. Yet, this very recency has been one of the things that have caught the Balearics on the hop. The catch-up that has been played in these countries has been swift. In the case of Croatia, it has occurred in a short period since the turmoil that was the former Yugoslavia. I went on holiday to Croatia in 1984. I say "Croatia". You didn't refer to it as such back then; it was still Yugoslavia, and it was crap. We stayed on a holiday complex which had some what could only be described as "communist" elements: a vast refectory that served inedible food and a so-called entertainment building which didn't have any - entertainment that is, except for morose local youths looking to pick fights. The beach did not exist. One stretched out on what was like a car park, a series of huge concrete slabs from which one walked down steps into the sea. It was popular with Germans who could drive there, and there were even holidaymakers from the old communist bloc - Hungarians most obviously. The complex was soulless, what there was by way of bars, restaurants and shops was of a poor standard. The best thing about it was that you could buy reasonably good fresh food and have your own barbecues, because you certainly didn't want to be dining out. Oh, and it was incredibly cheap.

But that was 25 years ago. The war intervened, and then Croatia undertook its tourism birth, while Turkey and Egypt began to plan more aggressively for the future.

Though both Turkey and Egypt have experienced slight falls in the number of tourists this year, the decline has not been as great as that in the Balearics. The islands still hold their dominant position, but they are in retreat, faced with the competition of the eastern Med. This competition is founded on new and often superior hotel stock and cheapness. There is also a bit of unfair competitive advantage. Governments can subsidise an industry in a way that the Spanish cannot, unless they wish to bring down the wrath of Brussels on their heads. These governments can also influence exchange rates - to their benefit - in ways that Euroland Spain cannot.

"The Diario" itemises the pros and cons of the Balearics and of its competitors. The paper admits that the so-called "complementary offer" (i.e. bars and restaurants etc.) is costly, but it is also vastly superior to that available in the competitor destinations. However, it is the hotel element that speaks volumes. The current-day holidaymaker seems less interested in that complementary offer. Egypt and Turkey may suffer from inferior infrastructures, but what do these matter when the holidaymaker can stay in relative luxury on an all-inclusive basis? Outside bars and restaurants hold less appeal for a growing number of tourists, and so it also is in Mallorca where the all-inclusive offer has had to increase in response to what is happening elsewhere but where the hotels are not always as good.

There are cons in Egypt and Turkey in terms of, for example, terrorism, but this is a more questionable card to play following the summer bombs in Mallorca. There are cons in terms of low-quality bars and restaurants, but this is a questionable card to play if the holidaymaker isn't interested. There are cons in terms of limited travel possibilities, which constitute one definite pro for Mallorca which is better served by air and sea and which is also closer for northern Europeans. There are pros in terms of government intervention; the Turkish government supported financially an 18% shareholding in Air Berlin by the Turkish airline Pegasus, thus, at a stroke, opening up a wider German market to the Turkish Riviera. There are pros in terms of governmental priority; tourism is the industry in the eastern Med and responsibilities of those at the heads of government reflect this. I suggested a while ago that the Balearics president should also be the tourism minister. Maybe I was right to have done so.

In Mallorca and the Balearics, they continue to bang on about the strength of the brand (Balearics, erroneously), about professionalism, about sustainable environments, blah, blah, but much of it is whistling in the dark. It will continue to be so not only because of the growing competition but also - a point "The Diario" neglects to make - because there are too many competing self-interests in Mallorca, be these in government, within associations or in the tourism sector. The eastern Med countries are far more single-minded, far more focused on an overarching strategy led by government. They, the Turks, the Egyptians, the Croats, have adopted coherent and intelligent strategies of competition, and it is these, more than anything, that they have used to challenge Mallorca and the Balearics, because similar strategies, if they really exist, are obscured from view.

Yesterday's title - Larry Grayson. If you must - Today's title - at the risk of the blog becoming a tribute to Camden's finest, it's them again.


Index for November 2009

Albufereta - 9 November 2009
All-inclusives - 7 November 2009, 16 November 2009
Artà and Manacor rural tourism - 19 November 2009
Being Mallorcan - 24 November 2009
Blogs - 1 November 2009
Cabrera, filming on - 9 November 2009
Café Playero Club demolished - 22 November 2009
Can Picafort in winter - 26 November 2009
Catalonia football team - 3 November 2009
Christmas decorations and illuminations - 28 November 2009
Christopher Columbus - 4 November 2009
Competition from Croatia, Egypt and Turkey - 30 November 2009
Corruption in Spain, political - 20 November 2009
Cultural tourism - 27 November 2009
East German tourists in 1990 - 2 November 2009
English speaking in the Balearics - 14 November 2009
Environment minister - 5 November 2009, 9 November 2009, 21 November 2009
ESRA mediaeval fayre - 23 November 2009
Expats Alcúdia v. Pollensa - 23 November 2009
Expats criminals and drunks? - 10 November 2009
Expats victims of fraud - 16 November 2009, 17 November 2009
Golf course policy - 12 November 2009
Holidays abroad - 5 November 2009
Jaume Matas corruption case - 13 November 2009, 14 November 2009
John Hirst, Gilher Inc - 16 November 2009, 17 November 2009, 24 November 2009
Jolly Roger car boot sale - 23 November 2009
Menorca suspends tourism promotion - 19 November 2009
Mobile phone registration - 10 November 2009
Muro and Muro church - 25 November 2009
Nautical tourism: Club de Producto náutico - 21 November 2009
November in Mallorca - 7 November 2009
Pollensa Fair 2009 - 15 November 2009
Puerto Pollensa: improvement to frontline - 20 November 2009
Puerto Pollensa to Pollensa pavement - 21 November 2009
Real Mallorca - 12 November 2009, 14 November 2009, 18 November 2009, 22 November 2009
Sant Sebastià fiesta, Palma - 14 November 2009, 18 November 2009
Television, Mallorca and - 4 November 2009
Temperatures in bars, Spanish Government's law on - 29 November 2009
Tourism economics - 16 November 2009
Tourism promotion - 8 November 2009, 11 November 2009, 19 November 2009, 21 November 2009
TUI prices - 7 November 2009
Valencia demonstration against corruption - 3 November 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shut That Door!

Now, here's a potential little treat, courtesy of the Spanish Government. Once again, thanks to Ben for giving me the heads up on what, this time, might just have some important ramifications for bars and shops. I say might because, as ever with some law in Spain or Mallorca, things are not exactly transparent. Maybe they are just not reported well, or maybe no-one really knows. Anyway, to cut to the chase.

As part of its broader law on a "sustainable economy", the cabinet agreed a measure at the end of last week that would impose certain temperature and humidity requirements on establishments such as bars. Moreover, this measure would also mean that doors which open on to the street (and presumably also a terrace) cannot be left open. This would require the installation of automatic doors that open and shut as customers and staff pass through. The point of this would be to maintain mandatory temperatures inside, and these are - no higher than 21 degrees in winter and no lower than 26 degrees in summer.

Firstly, just read those temperatures again. The winter one seems ok, but the summer one? 26 is 79 in old money. That is fairly warm. Clearly, this all seems designed to cut back on air-conditioning use. While this measure would not make AC units obsolete, the investment that may have gone into them would now be open to question. And what is meant by summer? If the temperature inside is below the 26 degrees - naturally - in, say, May, do they have to crank the heating up? There are also any number of bars and restaurants that make a virtue of air-conditioning as part of their publicity. Not at 26 degrees they won't be.

The confusion about what this all might mean is not helped by different references in reports. There is one suggestion that it may only apply in certain instances - administrative centres and cultural venues have been mentioned - but "El País", for example, refers to the splendidly vague concept of "public spaces", which can be interpreted as meaning anything and anywhere. There is also the reference to opening onto a street, so does this include terraces or doesn't it?

If one assumes that this is intended to apply across the board, terraces, streets, whatever, you can begin to imagine the implications. Surely the government does not plan to have every single bar operating automatic doors. Or does it? Bars have enough on their plate without having to fork out for such systems. And then there is the ambience angle, ironically, as the measure is all designed to control ambient temperatures. Bars, restaurants, shops want their doors open. It shows that they - the bars - are open and that the interior and exterior are seamless.

Just think about the practicalities. Imagine a bar packed with sweaty boozers during a big football match. Doors closed, the temperature at least 26. They've got to be kidding. Maybe they really don't mean every bar and in every situation, but you can't be sure they don't, and you can't be sure that, in the pursuit of saving the planet and meeting a 20% target of reduced carbon emissions, they don't intend it. But one has got used to legislation which is not as it may seem. The definition of evenings and noise in Mallorca, that law from the summer; well that seemed to mean one thing and then they said it didn't, or more likely someone realised it was absurd and so they quietly put it to one side.

This measure does not yet have royal assent, but that's a formality. As to when it might be implemented, don't know. But if it is as broadly based as it might be, then I think you will be hearing quite a bit more about it.

Yesterday's title - Madness, Today's title - oh go on then, whose catchphrase was this?


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Wings Of A Dove

They've been putting up Christmas decorations. It would suit my purposes, i.e. those of a little jolly, yuletime joshing, were I able to say "decoration", but despite festive austerity stalking the corridors of the local town halls and cuts being made, the decorations and lights have not all been left in their boxes in the town hall attics. No, there are some, but not as many. One of the decorations, a "Bones Festes" sign strung across the main road in Playa de Muro has been there for some weeks. Maybe they didn't bother taking it down last year. I can sort of understand such inertia. I once had a girlfriend who kept her Christmas tree up until June, by which time passers-by, seeing the fairy lights on, might have believed that it had been put early for the next Christmas, albeit that the tree itself had been somewhat denuded of needles.

There is now also in Playa de Muro a dove. A Christmas dove. The crane chaps seemed to be having a bit of a problem getting it attached. "To me. No, to you," or something like that. It remains to be seen whether it is in fact the Christmas dove as opposed to a dove and therefore one of a flock. (Do doves go in flocks? It's a flight of doves, isn't it?) And "seen" is appropriate as the length of time it will be illuminated has been reduced. They should issue dove lighting-up times. Nine to nine-thirty every evening, except Sundays, and the locals can troop along and stare at it, or drive along and stare at it and hammer into the car in front. But why exactly is there a dove? Was there one flapping around by the manger? I don't recall that there was. And had there been, it would have caused a rare old flap amongst the assembled Josephs, Marys, shepherds, donkeys and the rest. "The baby's trying to get to sleep. Can someone stop that bloody dove flying around."

In Alcúdia, on the Hidropark road to be precise, there are now six Christmas bells attached to lamp-posts. There were only four. Four that took an inordinate amount of time, per bell, to be placed onto the lamp-posts. The bell crew, having eventually got one in situ, would then clear off. It would appear that they were putting them up one at a time, one per day, like an advent calendar in reverse. Or maybe they were just idle and spinning out the job creation opportunity. It would have made better sense for them to have not bothered at all. Alcúdia town hall is meant to have rather more dosh floating around than most of the councils, but they've seen fit to only commission an ancient Christmas episode of Blue Peter as the guideline for the local first school to avoid using their mums' best tables in creating the non-chiming bells. Here's one I made earlier. Indeed they look as though they were made earlier. About thirty years ago.

I'm afraid that Christmas will not be like it normally is, which is to say that it will be more like it used to be when the Mallorcans didn't really bother with any of it. They didn't really bother with it, not because they don't do Christmas, because they do, but because Christmas is but one of a whole series of "bones festes" that take up a good month, starting with the Immaculate Conception and ending with Three Kings, followed swiftly by the January fiestas and then Carnival. You know, I reckon that that "Bones Festes" sign has been up all year.

* Bones Festes. The "Bones" is not pronounced as in Dr. McCoy "Bones", it is bon, as in "bon appetit" plus an "us" as someone in Yorkshire might pronounce it.

Today's title - Nutty Boys.


Friday, November 27, 2009

The Coffee Culture Club

"This cultural tourism stuff," I'm saying. "If there were to be a company that brought aspects of it together, created a package, Cultural Mallorca Tours or some such, it would work in winter, wouldn't it? Offer some genuine chance of tourists coming for this "alternative" stuff in the off-season? It's not happening at the moment, so why not?"
"It's a good idea, but ... There's always a but. Who would be your market? I'll tell you, the better-off, independent and independently-minded. They've got money, but to make it work, you have to charge high. Think of those things like wine tours of the Dordogne. What do they cost? About a thousand a time. Ok, this market may be able to afford it, but you know what they'd do, they'd take a look at the offer, the places where the "tour" would go, and think: 'I can do this myself. And for less'. That's the but, that's the problem. Well, just one. Then there are the costs of marketing and selling it. And for this, for the coaches or mini-buses and all that, you need numbers, you need volume. It would never make money otherwise."
"So, what you're saying is that all this cultural tourism can only ever be somehow passive, passive on behalf of the tourism authorities, as no operator would think it worthwhile."
"No, they wouldn't. Certainly not the big tour operators. Culture in Mallorca? Why? There's culture everywhere, and everywhere wants to sell it. Why here? It's not as if the history is that remarkable. I can tell you about places where it is, but not here. Look, ok, I admit, I'm no tourism expert ..."
"Maybe not, but maybe yes, maybe you, me and some others actually know more about all this than the tourism authorities. We look at it from the outside, we don't have that inward-looking mentality. Maybe we have an idea as to what people want."
"True. We're not politicians ..."
"They're not all politicians."
"But a lot are. They peddle this stuff because it's the right thing to do - politically. They want something other than the sun, sea and beach, because that's not great for the environment."
"But that's what people do want. I've said it time and time again. Said it the other day. Why do the Brits, the Irish, the Germans and the rest come to Mallorca? For the sun. And the authorities just confuse the issue by trying to promote something else, something else that's not going to work because no operator will make it work. There was that professor, applied economics, at the university, saying that sun, sea and beach is 'outmoded' ".
"Well, he's not totally wrong."
"Perhaps not. Ok, people's horizons may have broadened, but you still come back to what it is that they come to Mallorca for. And that's the sun."
"And entertainment."
"Ah yes, entertainment. Have you seen this thing about the Ibiza Rocks place opening up in Magaluf? Five or six big rock acts during the summer. Don't know which hotel they're taking over."
"I think I do. Yea, it's not a bad idea. It's what people want. That sort of music."
"Not the ball de bots and all that then?"
"No, certainly not that. Live music, international."
"They had Keane apparently. That's pretty serious stuff. But it's Magaluf. Always the south. Not in the north."
"No, because the north is family tourism. Wouldn't be the same."
"Hmm. No, it wouldn't. Fancy another coffee?"

Little Britain - the biggest sale yet!
Yes, folks, check out the info on the WHAT'S ON BLOG ( - Little Britain ever more bargains, all ready for Christmas!

Yesterday's title - Princess (Stock Aitken and Waterman),


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Say I'm Your Number One

More demolition. What was that bar called? Did it have a name, or was it just British Pub? I know, it was the No. 1 Pub, wasn't it? You were able to still see remnants of Union Jack signs, but little else. Three workmen, one on a mini-dozer, the other two attacking stubborn fittings and bits of concrete. It is, was, around the corner from Café Paris and the tobacconists in Can Picafort, on the beachside extension of Josep Trias. Workmen, for some reason, always seem to look suspicious when someone stops and takes more than just a passing interest in their destruction. I moved on. To the front itself. On the low wall that forms the barrier between promenade and beach was a man of ideas, dishevelled, lost in thoughts, waiting for a drink. He moved on as well, shambling back up Josep Trias, past the wreckage of the No. 1 Pub.

The beach has been partially taken over by the seaweed of winter. The promenade itself was empty, empty of people. Is it here that they are meant to be upgrading the front, or is it further down? There was no evidence of any work, except the bashing in the pub and the endless digging up of side roads, adding new cables, taking away old ones, laying new pipes, taking away old ones.

All the units on the promenade are wide. As wide as they are cavernous inside. All are shuttered down in winter, not with shutters, but with vast glass panels or perhaps they are of perspex, bending against the wind. The prom has a uniformity of reflection when the sun is still to the north and glowing as it continues to do. The buildings behind and above are blocks placed at angles with balconies, antennae and dishes. There is little of any charm, anything vaguely unusual if you study the low sky line from the Can Picafort paseo, save the muddy, purple-blue of what's it called? Why can one never remember the names of bars and hotels in Can Picafort? No, I know, Blue Bay Hotel, or something like that. Yes, I'm sure it is, but it's less a hotel, more a hostel with its own cave-like bar leading onto the vacant promenade.

Can Picafort in winter may be quiet, but it is not without some life, most of it German. Gutteral voices can be heard above the pounding of a Kango drill. There is a billboard advert for a German publication, "available in your book shop" it says in translation. The best restaurants in Mallorca. Nine euros, eighty. Does anyone actually ever buy these things? Presumably they do, if they're German.

Along the Paseo Colon that runs parallel to the promenade, shops are open - some of them. A souvenir shop seems forlorn. Who is there to buy souvenirs? Why would they? Four taxis are lined up by, what's the hotel called. Gran Bahía? In the fourth cab on the rank, the driver is listening to the radio and reading a newspaper. And if one were to return in an hour or so, he would probably still be doing so. In Café Paris, the only bar you can remember the name of, owing to its longevity, there is a German with a half-eaten croissant reading a copy of "Bild". There is no-one else at one of the few street terrace tables, yet it is a fine day, despite the breeze.

There is, though, other life, it's just that much of it is passing through, along the main coast road that they are also meant to be improving - finally. They put up new lights some time back, but the town hall threw a hissy fit because the road itself was not earmarked for improvement, unlike the sections in Playa de Muro and Alcúdia. Now, some time, they will do, so it will be easier on drivers who stop at Mercadona or who are heading either for Artà or Alcúdia, encountering the familiar traffic control at the Capellans-Eroski roundabout. The officers seem disinterested.

Nothing much happens in Can Picafort in winter, even the patrol checks.

Yesterday's title - Pink Floyd, Today's title - good enough song and maybe surprising to know who produced it.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Wall

There is a Wall in Staffordshire, a Wall in Northumbria; there is also a Wall Bank and a Wall Hill. There are Walls with additions, such as Wallasey, others that have lost one of their doubles, like Walmer, and which are not walls but Welsh - respectively, island of the Welsh and lake of the Welsh, curiously enough, given that Walmer is in Kent. Not all Walls that have been similarly added to or stripped of an "l" are Welsh; Walsall is Walh's valley, Waltham, an estate by a wood. The Walls of Staffordshire and Northumbria are specific walls - Roman.

The town of Muro is also a wall. The name means "wall". It is not Welsh or Walh but also Roman, or so it is believed. There seems to be some debate. The Arabs kept the name, nonetheless, and in the process of their occupation also granted the name of Albufera to the wetlands that stretched further than they now do. Albufera was once Al Buhayra, but is still, primarily, a piece of nature that belongs to Muro. The resort of Playa de Muro sounds exotic with its Spanish title, less so when one translates it as Wall Beach. Yet it is, of course, Wall Beach that most people - tourists - know, except those who believe that Wall Beach is part of The Hill, or Alcúdia to give it its currently correct name; the Arabs were responsible for that as well.

Travel from The Hill along the coast road, pass through Wall Beach, turn right at the Home of Picafort and head off to Wall, and you pass the woods that conceal what will become the Wall golf course and also pass richly terracotta brown earth that grows potatoes and other vegetables and which provides, together with the earth of Sa Pobla, the country kitchen of northern Mallorca. Take this road to Wall, and you eventually arrive at a roadside industrial estate, a garage and a Pepsi distribution centre. Like other towns of the north - Pollensa, for example - in which the outskirts are non-resplendent, the entry to Wall is misleading. It threatens drabness, a lack of scale, functionality rather than grandeur. But unless you turn your back on Wall and drive off through the agricultural lands towards Sa Pobla or take the road of broken tarmac for Palma, you cannot avoid going into the centre of Wall. And you need to really go into the centre, to the square to which, on one side, lies the town hall and, on the other, the parish church.

How inadequate parish church sounds. It is reminiscent of demur English countryside and understated small scale. Because if the entrance into Wall hints at little of scale that lies within, you cannot miss, once in the centre, the colossal presence of the Muro parish church. It is the most forbidding, impressive, massive of the local town churches. In Pollensa, on the Plaça Major, the church there is a vertical elevation of Gothic Hammer horror. It should, you feel, topple on top of you. Its sudden rise from the town's main square is the Munch scream of a shock that accompanies its appearance and encounter, but it is town house church by comparison with Muro's, wrapped in the surrounds of the Plaça. Alcúdia's Sant Jaume can only truly be appreciated from a distance, from the ruins of Pollentia or from further away, a colossus on the landscape. In Muro, the church assails you in its isolation and with its sheer leviathan magnificence. It is a beast of religiosity.

People - tourists - don't go to Muro, much. They should. If only to be dwarfed by the church. The sadness of the centre and the square with no cafés between the church and the town hall is that they concreted it over. It needs to still be dust. Were it to be so, it would complement more colourfully the sandstone of the huge blocks that constitute the church. In hottest summer, as the temperatures nudge a hundred, this square, given back to dust and sand, with the brooding threat of the church, would be man with no name land, spaghetti western Mallorca. They may have spoiled it, placed plastic chairs around the edges of the square, on which old men sit and talk away the odd hour, but the centre, because of the church, is still an astonishing manifestation of unexpected scale. You should go there.

Yesterday's title - Christina Aguilera, "Beautiful", Today's title - no prizes for this or for knowing which "another" should be added.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

You Are What You Are

You know all that guff about what it is to be English or British. "To be English is to get blind drunk and hurl abuse at foreigners." That sort of thing. You must have come across it. You may even have read the books. Paxo and the rest. There was even Gordy Brown and his Britishness kick a few years ago. Don't know what happened to all that, though he'd now have to add claiming expenses for buying a box of Hobnobs or building a moat around an Englishman's castle that is his home (and note that it is an Englishman's home and not a Scotsman's or a Welshman's, as they presumably don't have castles in Scotland or Wales). He would also have to add being the country with the most surveillance anywhere in Europe and having a financial sector that has led the rest of Europe to describe all Brits as a "complete bunch of bankers". John Major once lent his considerable insight into Englishness - old maids on bikes drinking warm beer, or something like that, and prime ministers with oversized blue underpants. I wonder what Gordon wears. No, sorry, actually I don't wonder. It's a deeply disturbing image, and I'll stop it.

Wherever one turns, though, there is now a country, an island, a province, a town or city conducting a highly anal and collective exercise of navel-gazing (which is quite a feat of anatomy). "What's it like to be ...? (Add as applicable.) What's it like to be an Alsatian (if you come from Alsace)? What's it like to be a Maltese? And no, the answer does not include being round and having a honeycomb centre or being made to be cross. What's it like to be from Leicester? Pass.

Into this rich vein of social self-research now wade the Mallorcans who I should really refer to as Mallorquíns because that is what they are, and don't they just let you know it, because getting the language spot-on is as important to the inhabitants of Mallorca as practising a perfect cover drive is to an Englishman. "The Diario", bless it, had this thing at the weekend that was entitled "¿Qué es ser mallorquín?", which will probably have brought forth a considerable amount of nationalist opprobrium because it was in Spanish. It's all about the language, you see. That, and the culture, the beautiful land, the fiestas ... . God knows, it could have been the tourist board offering the answers, or some drippy brochure. Given that Messrs Brown and Major have had recourse to pronounce on matters British or English, Balearics president, Francesc Antich, should be given prominence for his views on being Mallorquín, or rather what Mallorca is: "A land that has its own distinctiveness in terms of language, culture, traditions and marvellous natural resources." Fantastic. He's been reading the tourist board's website as well. Nothing about political corruption, greedy landlords and unreliable opening hours.

Does it matter, though, if you were not born in Mallorca? Can you be Mallorquín, having come from West Bromwich, let's say? Well, it would appear that you can be, as several respondents to the "Diario" question reckon so. On noting this, I turned, as has been the case previously, to the book "Beloved Majorcans". In its opening pages are some quotes, one of which says: "One doesn't belong to a place for having been born there; one belongs to the place that captivated your gaze." The article in "The Diario" mentions the opinion that many foreigners can appear to be more Mallorquín than the Mallorquíns, which may come as a bit of a surprise to those gathering in a Brit bar for a game of bingo. But then of course, the Mallorquíns play bingo as well. Nevertheless, there may be some truth to this opinion, but only because some foreigners in a foreign land take a more active interest in seeking to understand and embrace where they live because they don't know it intimately and, more importantly, don't just take it for granted. And that is the crux of all these debates about what's it like to be. It just is, because that's where you grew up. Unless you are an academic, are wanting to sell a book or are John Major, you don't, as a rule, go around the local Tesco's thinking about the meaning of Englishness. You just are, unless you are not. And so it is with the Mallorquíns. When they're shouting their heads off in a bar or in the street, they may be offering - at high volume - a clear indication that they are Mallorquín, but do they stop and think why? They shout, because that's what they do, and with an impenetrable accent that sounds like a cat being strangled whilst simultaneously eating the entire annual potato crop of Sa Pobla.

Nevertheless, if you are going to have this debate, then something a bit more incisive than the language and the culture is demanded, as language and culture are the two intermingled essentials for any notion of what's it like to be. But let's finish this piece with the words of Gertrude Stein, again from "Beloved Majorcans". In response to a question from Robert Graves as to whether Mallorca was a good place to "settle down", she said: "Yes, it's paradise, if you can stand it."

John Hirst - a further footnote
Setting up a dodgy Ponzi scheme is not indicative of having become Mallorquín, despite what some might say about a certain trait of alleged dishonesty that some Mallorquíns are prone to. But this is what Mr. Hirst seemingly did. He is now co-operating with the SFO who will be keen to know where the moolah is. Some ideas about this have been floating around. It may be that the combined journalistic forces of "The Sunday Times" and "The Sunday Telegraph" (especially the latter) know. The story is unfolding slowly. The Allied Dunbar connection was known last week but was only confirmed by the Sunday press at the weekend, which does emphasise the fact that when it comes to serious stuff like the Hirst case, it is probably best left to journalists with the resources and muscle of the Sundays to do the digging to really verify claims. Much though I was tempted to have used the stuff I was being sent last week, I couldn't be sure. But now I am, because the Sundays say so. If you missed it, here is the Telegraph's story:

Yesterday's title - Push pineapple, shake a tree, push pineapple, grind coffee. Fabulous. Today's title - also and better known by its one word title that; number one all over the place.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Push Pineapple

You know the confession game; the sort of thing you might get on radio. Phone us now with one thing you have never done that mostly all adults would have been expected to have done. Never driven a car!? Never been to a pub!? Never watched X Factor!?

I cannot claim any of the above, but there is one confession I have. And it is this. Until yesterday, I had never attended an ESRA event. Ever. There. I feel cleansed. I have come out as being ESRA-phobic. But now I am ESRA-phile. Possibly.

ESRA, the English Speaking Residents Association, held its "mediaeval fayre" in the cloister of Pollensa's Sant Domingo yesterday. A place more reverentially associated with the sophistication of the classics of the Pollensa Music Festival and less obviously and most absurdly Tony Hadley. From outside the cloister, there was a dreadful sense of foreboding: a Middle Ages and middle-aged Frank Sinatra giving it large with a full "My Way" treatment. From the old courtyard that this past summer staged Joanna MacGregor, the London Gospel Choir and cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic, there came the sheer horror that is "Agadoo". Push pineapple. Except there weren't any pineapples to push. There was, though, a pig on a gas spit, someone with a tea towel on his head and some very mediaeval stands devoted to security systems and currency transfer. It needed some inquisition, a touch of "auto de fe", but the only "tormento" was a set of stocks and a bloke being assaulted by small children with wet sponges; oh, and Black Lace, who were frequently to be found at the court of Edward III, even if Edward - it has been revealed in historical documents - did have a preference for Russ Abbot and his fabulous mediaeval madrigal, "(Oh What An) Atmosphere".

This was a peculiarly English weekend. On Saturday, there was the car boot sale without any car boots at Puerto Alcúdia's Jolly Roger. Not that this is an exclusively English/British occasion, just that it is something of a weekly rendezvous and gossip-exchanging point for old Britannia. The two events, the Roger's and the fayre, were worlds apart, and not just in terms of location. One cast one's eyes around the cloister of Sant Domingo. How many were there from Alcúdia? Hard to say, but only a very few who were recognisably so. One cast one's eyes around the Roger's terraces. How many were there from Pollensa? None, or none who were recognisably so.

Two towns divided by a common language and by a few kilometres. Rarely do the twain meet. It is not only the British. Many a Mallorcan rarely ventures in either direction, but at least the Mallorcans will, usually, be aware of what exists outside of their own domains. How many of the British do? How many in Alcúdia know of Cala San Vicente? Or how many in Pollensa might know of Mal Pas?

Two towns divided by a perceptual gulf, one of supposed superiority beaten back along the coast road by suggestions of supposed snobbery. Alcúdia is Corrie, karaoke and the Roger's boot sale; Pollensa is Howards Way, harmonics and ESRA. Two communities in non-alignment, except. Except there is always Black Lace. Could have been Alcúdia - allegedly.

Nine, yes nine
Now I wouldn't normally, but ... . Nine of your Premier League goals, everyone. Nine-one.

John Hirst - revealed
Well, I had chosen not to use the comments, but now ... Perhaps I should. "The Sunday Times" has come clean where others might have preferred not to. It says: "Hirst was sentenced to five years in prison in 1992 for 'obtaining deception' while working for Allied Dunbar". And this, pretty much, is what those comments all said.

Yesterday's title - Paul Young (most obviously), Today's title - so in the chorus, it's push pineapple, then what? A more philosophical question though is, why would anyone push a pineapple?


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gonna Tear Your Playero Down

Well, they went ahead and did it, as they said they would once the season had ended. The Playero Club, aka Boccaccio Snack Bar, in Puerto Alcúdia has been duly bulldozed into oblivion. This was a story highlighted back in June (16 June: Demolition Man); the Playero was to be one of three "chiringuitos" to not escape the demolition men of the Costas authority. All that remains are two kiosks, and maybe they'll be torn down as well.

It's all rather sad, and the impression given by the bulldozing is almost one of vandalism; they managed to knock down a litter bin in the process. Why have they done it? For an answer, you have to go back to the law on demarcation and also actual permissions, but the difficulty is knowing what is what. Strictly speaking, there is not meant to be any building within 100 metres of the shoreline, unless it is on so-called urban land. The Playero was along a line of buildings, apartments mainly, roughly 50 metres from the sea. Perhaps there was just never any permission for it to be there, but there are any number of buildings and additions to buildings that have never received permission. As mentioned previously, it was not actually on the beach, indeed it was behind the pavement (urban land?) that runs at the back of the beach, whereas some of the chiringuitos or balnearios - call them what you will, they are all, to Brits, beach bars - are on the sand and are also permanent buildings. Beach, sand, it is not urban land.

The confusion as to what should or should not be allowed to stay has been heightened by different "plans" and bits of legislation which appear to contradict others, and there is now this business of what are natural or artificial salt deposits ("salinas") which exist right along Alcúdia bay. It is this, as much as the 100 metres rule, that draws into question the strict legality of many buildings and the determination as to whether they occupy urban or public land or land influenced by the sea (the controversy over Ses Casetes des Capellans in Playa de Muro is an example of all of this). The Costas authority is not completely mad though. It accepts that many buildings that might actually be on naturally created salt lands are, in its words, "productive" (which can be interpreted many ways one supposes), and the hundred or so chiringuitos that were under threat have been spared (save for the Playero and a couple in the south). But what good does knocking down the Playero actually do? None, as far as anyone can make out.

* Thanks to Ben for drawing to my attention that the Playero had gone. I knew it was planned but didn't know when.

Real Mallorca - the nonsense continues
"The Diario" ran a splendid piece yesterday. It concerned two Catalan businessmen in their thirties who apparently specialise in the acquisition of insolvent businesses. They have asked to see the books, but why they would be interested in Real Mallorca is far from clear, though some associated with the club seem to know the answer. Publicity. All they want is to have their photos taken and to get their names bandied about. Moreover, they are "two unknown youths (or young men)". The word "joven" covers a wide age range. These are two thirtysomethings, but a "joven" could just as easily be a teenager.

The implication is that there are likely to be prospective buyers who may be anything but. Their interest will be in gaining publicity, as is being said in this instance. And Real Mallorca has had its fill of questionable suitors and indeed failed purchasers over the past year or so. The club has been made to look ridiculous, and interim owner Alemany has vowed not to make the same mistakes that let in the disgraced Martí Mingarros.

Yesterday's title - Fine song, and one of the ladies looks as though she's wearing a transparent mac - very odd. God, things were so cheesy back then. The Fifth Dimension, Today's title - it was not a playero but a playhouse - who?


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Up, Up And Away

I am seriously considering a special blog devoted to Enviro Man. Here is part one:

"We only have five minutes to save the planet, Enviro Man."
"Then I will go and plant a tree and lay some stones."

See Enviro Man recuperate whole areas of wetland! Be amazed as he uses a spade to dig the earth for some new pines! Gasp as he cuts the tape and opens yet another new walkway across threatened dunes!

"Oh, Enviro Man, how can we possibly thank you?"
"There is no need to thank me. It is all in a day's work. But now I must fly, my organically powered jet packs lifting me across the natural environment of Mallorca, enabling me to see, with my recycled X-Ray Specs, villains in the act of natural desecration. Zap! Pow! Take that! Enviro Man will reclaim the land and protect it from greater harm." "Up, up and away!!!"

"Who is the man in the green suit?" asked the people.
"Enviro Man, people of Mallorca, is the environment minister," answered the mayor of Pollensa. "Every moment of every day, he makes our environment better and safer for future generations. See this new stone before you. The first of the second phase of the walkway between Puerto Pollensa and Pollensa. This is the gift of Enviro Man, along with a whole great wedge of some 450,000 euros of government money. In only the last two weeks, he has single-handedly saved Albufereta and laid the inaugural stones of the car parking in La Gola and now, here, by the road to Pollensa town for this pavement. And on each occasion, I have had my photo taken with him. I can tell you that he is an Enviro Man among men, and a fellow member, along with myself, of the Unió Mallorquina."

The people of Pollensa applauded and shouted their hurrahs, and watched as Enviro Man zoomed into the sky, looping and swooping and ready with his spade to plant yet more trees, with his scissors to cut more ribbons, with his ...

No, sod it, I've had enough of this.

Club de Producto náutico
How many organisations devoted to tourism promotion are needed to market an island? The answer is probably one, but that would be far too simple an answer. It's more like 500, at a conservative guess. The town halls, the Council of Mallorca's tourism promotion set-up and own department, the same at the regional government, the central government's ministry and promotional outfit, numerous talking-shops of a general tourism nature and then some more specific bodies. Take, for instance, nautical tourism. This alone has a whole raft (sic) of different groups, associations and whatever - those for diving, for yacht hire, for the various yacht (or nautical, if you must) clubs. Then there are the ports authority, the chamber of commerce and its nautical wing, the yacht clubs themselves ... the list goes on, a flotilla of different organisations bobbing on the water of let's try and grab as much well-minted yachtie and boatie-type tourism that's going.

The tourism ministry has now gone and created something called the "Club de Producto náutico". I think you can probably figure out what this means. This "Club", which is not a physical club of course but an abstract one, comprises many of the above and many not even mentioned, one more being the "Estaciones Náuticas de Baleares", of which Alcúdia is one. And no, I don't know what's happened to that either, despite the blaze of publicity earlier this year.

I suppose if you can get all the groups and associations pulling and veering in the right direction, all going starboard rather than some going to port (or should that be the other way round?), then this may be a good idea, but one does wonder at the sheer number and what they actually all do. We can at least be reassured that the Club is part of the whole marketing plan being developed, apparently, by Ibatur, the regional government's tourism marketing operation. One says reassured as quite how effective the "more than golf" etc message has been and quite how effective the money spent on the Nadal promotions will ever be, who can tell.

I have an aversion to anything that monikers itself "Club" or "Team". Both words are meaningless, bandied about as evidence of either prestige (Club) or of everyone sharing the same goals (Team) when neither is necessarily the case. They are marketing-speak, often a way of giving an impression of something positive being done, when in fact nothing much occurs. Still, maybe this particular Club will work, and it should, as Mallorca does have a lot going for it in terms of nautical tourism. If they could only ever agree on moorings and marina developments and ...

Little Britain's euro giveaways!
Forgot to highlight the Saturday and Wednesday euro specials at Puerto Alcúdia's Little Britain. There was a note on the WHAT'S ON BLOG, but if you missed that, then I shall remind you that there are bargains galore to be had on these days between 10am and 2pm.

John Hirst further
The "Dewsbury Reporter" confirms that Mr. Hirst worked for Allied Dunbar in the 1990s and no more (Hirst was from Dewsbury and a "jovial Yorkshireman", says the Reporter; I'm sure he was). Information about Mr. Hirst should be sent to the SFO.

Yesterday's title - Condé Nast publishes magazines such as "Vogue" and "Wired". Today's title - had this once before, though not the title as such.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Conde Nasty

You are unlikely to know who the rather splendidly named Cándido Conde-Pumpido is. You should do, and so I shall tell you. Cándido, or Conde-Pumpido to give him two of his surnames, is the central government's attorney-general. He has been reported widely, candidly outlining the number of corruption cases knocking around in Spain that involve political parties. Not so much a video nasty as a Conde Nasty - ho, ho. And the winners are? Of a total of 730 cases, the PSOE (socialists) are at number one with 264, the Partido Popular (conservatives) trailing behind at a mere 200. All a bit of a surprise, as there we were thinking that the PP was normally involved in all of them, or that, at least, is how it sometimes seems. The Unió Mallorquina, another party not unfamiliar with the odd case of misdemeanour, is lagging way, way down the field with a paltry seven cases. Come on, chaps, you can do better. Just look at the Canaries Coalition with a rather impressive 43.

Improving Puerto Pollensa
To something less controversial, the state of Puerto Pollensa and its frontline (to which can probably be added other lines as well). Local businesses have been meeting with the town hall to see what can be done about restoring former glories, and these businesses have received the backing of the tourism businesses organisation, ACOTUR.

Now there has of course been a fair degree of anxiety expressed, especially by Puerto Pollensa old lags, as to a certain deterioration, partly evidenced by piles of dog mess and an element of kiss-me-quickism. It is, though, difficult to know if the businesses and the veterans are talking the same thing. For example, one man's resplendent Dakota Tex-Mex may be another man's horror show. This is, after all, local businesses doing the yacking with the town hall, local businesses, therefore, who have - one would presume - contributed to some of this alleged fall from grace.

When one talks of Puerto Pollensa's frontline, it is not a single entity but more a three-staged affair comprising the over-hyped but understated and not unattractive pinewalk with a smattering of small restaurants and the Illa D'Or, the Anglada Camarassa promenade from the pinewalk to the roundabout with its - generally - ok restaurants (notwithstanding any anti-Dakota-ism), shops and oldy-worldy hotels (well a couple anyway), and the stretch from the roundabout to La Gola, which is the most unremarkable part. There is a fourth stage, heading off to Llenaire, a mix of a few more restaurants, the odd shop, contemporary and older residences and the homely piles of hotels such as the Uyal. The only "stage" that has little going for it is the La Gola-to-the-roundabout bit. Architecturally impoverished, it is functional more than something to be admired, and houses many a souvenir or shoe shop or unpretentious bar or restaurant. It is a stage of anywhere resort but not, in itself, offensive.

What is slightly curious about the local businesses having chats with the town hall is that it was they who were dead against the unlamented and abandoned pedestrianisation scheme, one that might have heralded a different look, especially to the La Gola-roundabout stretch. Short of knocking the buildings down in order to make something more architecturally pleasing, it is hard to see what exactly they have in mind. As the road, for the time being at any rate, will stay (and even if it were not to), there isn't the space to develop anything as grand as the wide spaces of, say, Puerto Alcúdia's promenade with its bridge to nowhere.

If all they are talking about are issues such as cleanliness, well then they may well have a point. But the town hall, as ever, is countering by saying it's short of money, though keeping the streets clean should be something of a priority.

Yesterday's title - Lou Reed, Today's title - well I trust that you do actually get this.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Walk On The Wild Side

If you thought things might currently be a bit difficult in Mallorca, tourism-wise, spare a thought for Menorca where tourism has been spiralling downwards, and not just as a consequence of recent economic hard times. The island's tourism board has decided to suspend its activities for the foreseeable future, meaning that it will not engage in promotions until such time as there is a discernible recovery when it would apply for further funding from the regional government. While Menorca will still be a beneficiary of the generic Balearics promotions undertaken by the government, it will not, for the time being, have its own. This is an extraordinary state of affairs, one blamed, in part, on tour operators who seem to have turned their backs on the island, or so it is said.

The tourism board is in a Catch 22. It says that promotions will be renewed when there is a recovery but that it cannot fund promotions that might actually speed up the recovery. Furthermore, the board says that Menorca needs a modernisation of its tourism offer, which, one presumes, means upgrades of its hotel stock and resorts. Tellingly, the board also says that it acts not just as a promotional vehicle for tourism but as a "lynchpin" for the island as a whole, by which it means that tourism is fundamental to the island's economy. Even more so than Mallorca, Menorca is almost totally reliant on tourism, and it is a tourism, moreover, of pretty much one sort - summer, i.e. sun, sea and sand. The island does not have the sort of landscape that Mallorca has that might make it attractive to what little winter tourism is knocking about, while the airlines and, yes, the tour operators largely ignore the island out of season. But the season itself has become increasingly difficult, and one seriously has to ask what the future may hold for Menorca, sidelined even within the Balearics, let alone the rest of the Mediterranean.

This story was one of three shorts of interest in "The Bulletin" yesterday. The other two dealt with efforts by the municipalities of Manacor and Artà to extend their own tourism offers. Manacor, in which the best-known resorts are Porto Cristo and Calas de Mallorca, is planning on promoting more rural tourism, while Artà, which has little by way of tourism, is the recipient of funding to promote its environment to a tourist who might be attracted by walking and trekking in that natural environment. I am slightly confused, as the report speaks of half a million euros being advanced for promotion, but almost exactly a year ago (22 November, 2008: I Keep Quiet About It), I explained how the town was to get some seven million euros. Well, whatever, the plan now being spoken of is to concentrate on this nature tourism and not to create more hotel stock. The town, apparently, has adequate numbers of hotels as it is. And you might ask where they all are, as Artà's only real resort is the hardly-bustling Colonia Sant Pere.

With Manacor promoting its rural hotels and therefore its interior and Artà its walks and landscape, both towns are engaged in their own marketing but one that is a part of a general desire for tourism diversification. It's all very worthy, but does it, will it, amount to a great deal? In Artà, they are saying that they can promote all-year tourism with what they have. Maybe they can, but it does rather depend what size this is. Very small, I would think, and not just in winter.

Weather in November
For over a week or so, the weather has been extremely benign, indeed the temperatures on Mallorca have been 1.5 degrees above the average for the month thus far. There have been occasions when it has seemed particularly warm, though, as always, there have been some crazy exaggerations. 23, 24 has probably been tops, and certainly not 30 or more. Of official numbers, the average for Palma airport for the first half of the month has been 18.4.

Yesterday's title - Forget the title from yesterday, here's Natalie with "Torn". Lovely. And so is the song, Today's title - if you know some of the lyrics to this, you will probably also find it odd that I once passed a children's roundabout at a resort in France where the version of this by Vanessa Paradis was being played. Mind you, it was in English.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

In A World Of Contradictions

Returning to a couple of recent stories - the line-up for Palma's Sant Sebastià fiesta and the ongoing troubles at Real Mallorca.

Palma town hall is copping some flak over the promotion of the fiesta, both in terms of the concentration on the music angle and for not having international acts and not giving greater prominence to local Catalan artists. All very contradictory, but 'twas ever thus. Various cultural and music sorts have voiced their views to the "Diario", one saying that there should be greater attention paid to other events, e.g. gastronomy (always gastronomy), and our old friends Músics per la Llengua (who were helpful with some enquiries in the summer) arguing that less well-known Catalan acts should be given centre stage (or stages) in Palma. The chap from the Diario's own radio station is the one who is bemoaning the absence of international artists.

They are all right in their different ways, but the contradictions just go to underline a further criticism of the organisers, that they don't have a "clear project". Well they wouldn't do if people keep offering them different possibilities. Something, though, that needs to be remembered is that Sant Sebastià has two evenings of major ents - one the music, the other the fire-runs and fireworks (assuming the town hall agrees to fireworks this coming January). Both evenings should demand equal weighting, so the criticism of the concentration on the music is partially valid, but nevertheless it - the music - has become synonymous with Sant Sebastià and there is no other island fiesta that has such a long list of acts and such a number of stages. It is curious that the desire for less focus on the music comes from the editor of "Youthing", the "yoof" what's on publication that has nicked the presentation of "Time Out" magazine. It is the absence of international acts, which might help to attract an overseas visitor and which might also give greater impulse to overseas marketing, that is the most valid criticism. But if the town hall hasn't got the money, and it has had to cut its budgets, then it shouldn't be criticised that harshly.

Having said though that Palma council might be a touch brassic, this isn't stopping them planning to buy the former stadium of Real Mallorca, which has been abandoned for years, is derelict and a rare old eyesore. Unlike the current stadium, the club actually owns a part of the old stadium, around a third. So for the town hall to be sniffing around with a cheque book at the ready might sound like good news for a club in such an impecunious state as Real Mallorca is. There again, the town hall places a value of around 18 million euros on the decaying old pile, one that it wants to develop as another conference centre. The group of owners reckon it's worth a minimum of 25 million and won't sell for anything less, which will mean endless discussions and little hope of Real Mallorca getting its hands on some much-needed readies. Not that six million or eight or nine million would go that far when your debts are some ten times greater than any sale revenue. But anything would do just at the moment, for here is a club in serious danger of being booted down the football food chain, i.e. out of La Liga.

Meanwhile, the accusations grow against the now disgraced all but brief owners, the Martí Mingarros and their company, Safin. "The Bulletin" has a fan who does a good regular column about the club, and he has consistently been a supporter of the knight in shining armour, Mateu Alemany, who re-emerges at times of regular crisis to put the club back on its feet. Yet even he now suggests that Alemany might have been more diligent in trawling the internet for evidence of the suitability, or not, of the Mingarros and Safin. Apparently, one can find evidence of unsuitability, so questions might legitimately be asked as to whether Alemany was precipitate in selling to Safin.

Yesterday's title - Queen, Today's title - very obscure, but far, far better known is her great song, and she is? Think "Neighbours", but not Kylie.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Flash - Ahh, Ahh (John Hirst Again)

Without even reading reports about the John Hirst case, one can guess at the language. "Shockwaves through the expatriate community", and so on and so on. Of the reporting there has been, some has been over the top. Technically, comparisons with Bernard Madoff may not be inaccurate, but the scale is completely different.

There are many people who stand to lose their savings as a consequence of Hirst's activities. They should have sympathy, but one does have to ask, did they seriously believe an investment opportunity that yielded 20% regardless of market conditions? It would appear that some did. Many of you will probably be thinking that they were gullible and naïve. Maybe they were, but they are still deserving of sympathy, and now is not the time to be haranguing them for a lack of wisdom.

It should be stressed that this is as yet an alleged fraud, and that it is under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, but the circumstances of Hirst's sudden flight from Mallorca, having trousered some 20 million quid, were bound to raise suspicions. And these, unfortunately, seem to have been confirmed. There are voices from the south which, disbelieving of what has transpired, think that all might yet be ok. Perhaps all will be, and investors will get their money back. Perhaps it's all been a mistake. Time will tell, but if you look at the footnote to this piece, you might draw a conclusion - or more than one.

More than any criminality, what does this story tell us about the expat community, as it is largely this community that has been apparently taken in? The news reporting is quite revealing and, inevitably, falls back on the default lexicon that gets hauled out at such times. The community is "tight-knit", we are told. Is it really? Or is it isolated, a social phenomenon of convenience?

The picture that is painted is of an artificial sub-society centred on the social world of the cricket club and dinners. Of the Rotary and the English Speaking Residents Association. With the exception of the latter, it could be a leafy Surrey town where the community is that un-tight-knit that home mobility is a means to a better school and that parking the car at the local cricket club is an exercise in one-upmanship. John Hirst, we are told, was not a "flash git". Five-bedroom villa, a Merc, a "state-of-the-art snooker room" and a wedding that went on all weekend. There is flash, and there is flash. It does all rather depend on your point of your view. But the chances are that, by comparison in that pretend tight-knit community, he was not.

Some of you may recall the short-lived "storm" caused by an article in "The Daily Mail" (6 October 2008: The Life Of Riley). This was, in part, a condemnation of the vacuity of expat living, as experienced by some in the more expensive parts of Calvia. The Mail was accused of playing fast and loose, and the article may indeed have been an exaggeration, but the press love this sort of expat exposé stuff as it satisfies a prejudiced and jaundiced impression of the expat which does, nevertheless, have some basis in fact. With the Hirst case, you are getting it all, including some crookedness (allegedly). Jeremy Clarkson will doubtless be feeling vindicated.

Within these thrown-together sub-societies, there emerge the John Hirsts of this world. "A man about town," we learn. Playing the network, playing the scene, and all for his own ends - once again, allegedly. There is one sense in which the community can be said to be tight-knit, and that is its propensity to "do business" with its own. And so you get people willing to hand over their life savings to one of their own.

I sincerely hope that everything does prove to be ok. That it has all been a mistake. But whether it ends up in tears or in joy, the story is far more than one of an alleged wrongdoing. In terms of social commentary, it is one of the more important stories you will come across.

Footnote - John Hirst and Allied Dunbar?
The note about this case yesterday made the visits to the two versions of the blog go ballistic. There have been several comments, which I have held back, related to a Mr. Hirst and a fraud involving Allied Dunbar (as was) in the early '90s. I am grateful to all these commentators, but please do understand why I might hold back what you say.

Edward Woodward
On a quite different matter. Two days ago, I mentioned Edward Woodward. It was perhaps rather unfortunate, as he has of course died. Total coincidence, and a sad one as The Wicker Man stands the test as one of the great films and Woodward was, well, Woodward. Shame.

Yesterday's title - Chris Farlowe, Today's title - dead easy this one.


Monday, November 16, 2009

The John Hirst Case

This will doubtless be a story for some days to come. If you're not up to speed with it, here goes.

John Hirst was an investor who lived in Santa Ponsa, well-known on the Calvia scene and in particular at the Mallorca Cricket Club in Magaluf. On Friday, the Serious Fraud Office in the UK announced that it had launched an investigation into Hirst's firm, Gilher Inc. The suspicion is that he has defrauded mainly British expats of some 20 million pounds as investors in a scheme he said would yield 20% returns, irrespective of market fluctuations.

Hirst left Mallorca in August, and those who had invested in the scheme began to have their concerns, which led to the SFO's involvement. Hirst is said to be in the UK and to be suffering from leukaemia.

Expect more on this.

Original story from "The Sunday Times":

Out Of Time

Let's just assume for a moment that you are asked what might happen on the tourist front next year. You could probably make some educated guesses, or you might take the evidence of what has been reported, including - I have to say - on this blog. Your answers? Increase in all-inclusives? Yes. The average tourist will have a limited budget? Another tick. Businesses might find themselves suffering and perhaps having to close? Three in a row. Have a banana boat.

Having got all those right, you can now apply for the job as a professor of applied economics, because these obvious truisms have been given by a professorial expert at the university in Palma. Under a front-page banner headline in "The Bulletin" that reads "Majorca goes all-inclusive", these are hardly earth-shattering discoveries.

Setting aside the questionable grammar of that headline - Mallorca went all-inclusive a number of years ago - the depressing nature of the professor's expertise is that he is merely telling us what we already know. TUI, for example, have told us the all-inclusive offer will increase. We also know that the increase in AI has been driven partly by lower-cost competition elsewhere. We also know that the hotels are likely to have shorter seasons next year because of economic hard times, just as many have had this season. None of it is new.

Confirming evident truths seems like a good way to earn a crust, but the far greater challenge for academics, such as the prof, is to model the future effects of changes (applying some economics, in other words), of which the all-inclusive is fundamental. This is work that should have been undertaken years ago. It is just this sort of model creation that justifies academics' existence, and for findings to be presented to government and to tourism, industry and employment authorities - to be applied, possibly. Maybe such work was undertaken. If so, no-one seems to have taken much notice. Or perhaps they did, but realised there wasn't a lot they could do about it. Having, however, got to the position of a quarter of the island's hotel places being AI (and that is an average; the numbers are considerably higher in some resorts), the academics should now be doing further research, some that hopefully is paid attention to, as to the ongoing impact of all-inclusives and other shifts in the tourism market.

There is, from what I have ever tried to find on the internet, a genuine dearth of academic enquiry into this subject. Yet it is of paramount importance. Of course, decision-makers can choose to do with findings what they will - witness, for instance, the British Government's sacking of its drugs expert - but let's just further assume that the local academics concluded that, in five years time, the 25% will rise to 50 or 75%. What then? It is no use arguing the counter view that businesses grew fat and wealthy on the back of the old-style hotel offer, and so tough, or that these businesses will have to work that much harder on improving their products.

The whole economic model, that which considers the wider economy, would, if not collapse, then be on extremely shaky foundations. The professor says, accurately, that the tourism industry has a "greater ability to survive" than other sectors of an economy under recession. Well yes, survive it will do, but in what form? And what shape will the supply side be in? These are the sorts of issues that the academics should be addressing and giving publicity to, not the reiteration of what is known to already be the case.

The professor continues by averring that the "sun, sea and sand" holiday is "outmoded", while there are plenty of other destinations that offer it. He is obviously right where the other destinations are concerned, it's known as competition, but outmoded? Ask yourselves this, and perhaps the professor could do likewise, why do all those Brits, Irish, Scandinavians, Dutch, Germans, Belgians, northern French come to Mallorca? A bit of culture? No. It may have to do with something that is apparently meant to be outmoded. And if you follow the logic of his argument, what are you left with? Indeed, where would any of the competitor destinations be if beach tourism was so old-fashioned? I can't help but feel that there is just a hint of propaganda here, a knowing nod in the direction of the tourism authorities and their much-spoken-about but elusive "alternative" tourism. One could also interpret this as his suggesting that Mallorca should not try to compete, which would be a nonsense.

The typical tourist still wants his sun, his sea and his sand. But he has become more discerning, better informed, more demanding of entertainment and convenience, the latter a further reason for the rise of the AI. You have to be extremely careful in making such assertions about the decline of the traditional beach holiday. There is tourism, and then there is family tourism. And which family members are the most important when it comes to choice? Yep, the kids. Precisely the ones who want the sand and the sea, the entertainment. It is family tourism, more than any other sector of the tourism market, upon which Mallorca's success has been built. The AI is an extension of this. And even if it were not, then why do family tourists still come? Because of the sun, sea and sand. Sorry, prof, can't agree with you.

Yesterday's title - Cyndi Lauper, Today's title - and from yesterday to today in honour of traditional beach holiday having run out of time: RIP.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Time After Time

It was that familiar problem. Where to park? It is one of the mysteries of the local fairs and fiestas that anyone manages to get to them, unless they have arrived on foot. In Pollensa, it doesn't help that one of the main access roads into the town is closed anyway. How about trying here, you think? Nope, they've closed that off as well. Put up tents. Hmm, where else? Oh look, a blue P, in front of the sports pavilion. Boing, bounce, bang. The sound of stones crunching under tyre makes a satisfyingly disturbing noise, and you take a quick look at the rubber when you get out. There is only so much of this waste land to occupy, part of it has also been roped off, reserved for cars it says, which seems slightly odd as cars are everywhere else on this unmade parking lot. Perhaps it has been reserved for the dignitaries, those who always make an appearance at fairs and fiestas. The official programmes always make a point of scheduling their arrival. Maybe let's those who might wish to voice some discontent make a note in their diaries.

From and into the pavilion emerge and disappear children in martial arts robes. They make a big thing of the sports events that coincide with the fairs. Not that they hold much interest for anyone other than parents and a handful of supporters. The real stuff, the fair, is over the main road, past the cockerel roundabout and into the town.

Everywhere there is food. Pastries, cakes, sweets, baguettes, bread, various concoctions. Everywhere someone is consuming something from a paper plate. The fairs are a non-stop exercise in exercising the jaws and the palate. The only ones not chomping away are on the stands themselves. Here is one for Cuxach, the building materials company. Thirty years of Cuxach, it proudly says, or rather doesn't. But that's the reason for the stand, and red sacks of what are probably building slag. Here is a tent, two gentlemen in suits looking bored. It is the government's environment ministry, a display of spectacular dullness, except ... What is that noise? Edge a little closer, but without wishing to show any interest in case one of the boreds attempts to engage you in conversation. That noise. Good God, it is. Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", but not by Queen. Some Freddie tribute being played over the speakers by the environment authority. What on earth for? "Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frighteningly. Galileo, Galileo ... " Maybe the ministry is wishing to prove that the Earth is round. Very strange.

Ever more food. There is a makeshift table with paper-cut letters stuck onto a brightly-coloured dining table. Something about a voyage to Berlin. Schoolkids selling yet more cakes, raising some euros for a school trip. One feels inclined to tell them that first they must take Manhattan, but it's most unlikely they would have a clue why. Turn a corner, and they've set out some plastic chairs and tables; makes it easier for dealing with those paper plates. The Fira d'Artesania, the craft fair. There are pots, those earthenware ones that make for good tumbet and light casseroles. Loads of plants. Doesn't seem that crafty, but they look very green and, well, plant-like.

Up into the main square, the Fira Pagesa, country or farm fair. There's a startling construction that looks like a junior Wicker Man - Wicker Boy. One looks around nervously in case Edward Woodward is about to be incinerated. In the raised area of the square are a number of ancient-style wagons for moving hay. The work on these wagons is superb, the craftwork of a wheelwright is one understood by only a few nowadays. I know one in England; the shaping of the wood and the bending of the iron are rural achievements shared by different countries, albeit by a dwindling number of true craftsmen.

Then more food. Turrón, the local nougat, in cellophane packets. And for some peculiar reason, amidst this farm produce and workmanship, is a stall selling kitchen equipment - frying-pans, ladles, knives. The evening before, here in the square, they held a farmworkers' dance, a ball de bot with an agricultural twist, but probably the same as the other balls de bot (or is it ball de bots?).

Later, there was a procession with a drum and bugle band, as there are always processions with drums and bugles, and over this same weekend, there will be a how big is your pumpkin competition in Muro, as there is always a pumpkin competition. There was also, in Inca, the night of burning the bonfires, as there always is in advance of the coming Dijous Bo (good Thursday) fair. And everywhere there is food and more food, fuelling the Mallorcans and the few others, who come, as every year, to see the same produce, the same products and to hear the same music (except Queen) and dance the same dance.

Time after time, the fairs and their collisions of ancient and of new, of rock or dance music (as at the Sa Pobla autumn fair pre-event this coming weekend) and of traditional dance and music. The fairs of Mallorca. And Pollensa fair.

Yesterday's title - Goldfinger, Today's title - good grief, this was a hit 25 years ago; unbelievable.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

January Came

The autumn fairs season well under way (it's the turns of Pollensa and Muro this weekend - details, as always on the WHAT'S ON BLOG), planning for the winter fiestas also starts. The most spectacular of these is Sant Sebastià in Palma in January. Palma council has announced the ents, the music acts that will play in various squares around the city. In 2008, the organisers branched out. There was a bit of a hiccup surrounding Earth Wind & Fire who weren't really Earth Wind & Fire - more Sod Breeze & Damp Squib - but there was an ELO incarnation, all part of a certain internationalisation of the event, itself with the aim, or so it was said, of broadening appeal and attracting more overseas visitors.

Unfortunately, economic reality has bitten, and the council has had to trim its budgets. The town hall deserves some sympathy - all the ents are, after all, free - but it is a shame that this international element will be missing this January, as it was this year. Sant Sebastià should be the focal event for whatever tourism can be attracted in the fallow month of January, and while it does attract some, a more adventurous line-up might help to boost numbers. For this coming January, the acts read rather like many a Mallorcan fiesta, usual suspects such as Tomeu Penya and a boasting as to how many of the bands will be performing in Catalan. So much for international appeal. Perhaps the tourism authorities might like to consider diverting some of the money they spend on questionable winter promotions to Sant Sebastià and giving it a real boost. Not, though, that this would help the north of the island. But if winter tourism is going to be primarily Palma-centric, then so this fiesta should be given more of an official leg-up.

While it's fair enough to promote Catalan musicians, one of the great advantages of English-singing acts is that they contribute to a learning of English. Music, as much as other forms of communication, is an effective conduit for stimulating language interest and learning. With this in mind, it is interesting to hear of a report from the Oxford University Press into the study of English and English ability among the people of the Balearics. One out of three have never studied the language, and of those who have, the standards are not necessarily that high. Yet, a great majority of islanders recognise the importance of English. Which is as it should be, not because it makes expats' lives easier, but because of the fundamental importance of the English-speaking tourism market and the opportunities that the language affords.

Twisting the knife
How much would you spend on a loo-roll holder? Would you even bother? There is something to be said for the loo-roll holder being a largely superfluous item of bathroom furniture. But assuming you might decide that today is the day to go out and acquire that much-needed new holder, would you divvy up 319 euros? Probably not. This, though, is what one such holder in the house of Jaume Matas (following on from yesterday) cost. Twisting the knife indeed, and it was the "Diario" doing so in an hilarious piece about holders, loos and bidets chez Matas. And by the way. Do you know what the Spanish is for lavatory? No? Well, it is "váter". Think about it.

And if not the former president getting it in the neck, then it must be the recently departed owners who never were of Real Mallorca. Now that Alemany is back in charge, his chaps are giving the books a good once-over. He has lodged a "denuncia" against the Martí Mingarro clan, and one of the slight anomalies to come to light is that the club's credit cards were used for visits to what the press terms "locales nocturnos", which may cover a multitude of sins or may not.

Yesterday's title - "The Reflex", Duran Duran, Today's title - American band, named after a Bond character and film.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Finding Treasure In The Dark

How about this little lot?

Luxury materials, such as oakwood floors and bathrooms of marble; thirty paintings and other art works; leading brands of audio and visual equipment, including eight televisions; a hundred or so handbags; 150 or so suits; 50 pairs of shoes.

And then this lot.

Polished granite kitchen; more marble in bathrooms; sound-proofing; anti-vapour systems; a hydromassage system; towel radiators in all bathrooms; ambient thermostat for heating and hot water; air-conditioning for cooling and heating; parabolic antenna and television in the lounge, kitchen and bedrooms; TV sockets in the lounge, kitchen and bedrooms; various security and alarm systems; safe; electronic video entrance system; automatic shutters.

For the most part, sounds like an estate agent's sales pitch for some luxury accommodation. None of it necessarily that unusual. Only when you add on some other items, like documents relating to alleged cases of corruption by some well-known politicians and a copy of a "denuncia" by the wife of one particular well-known politician, accused of mistreating her, do you begin to understand to whom all this relates. Or maybe you don't. You might of course have been fooled by the shoes. No it's not Imelda Marcos. It is the ex-president of the Balearic Government and his wife. The first list relates to the so-called "palacete" in Palma, the home of Jaume Matas and missus, where these documents were discovered; the second to an apartment in Madrid. Where the former is concerned, there is another list, a lengthy one of various renovations that were carried out, mostly by a constructor from Sa Pobla. The total cost of the renovations at the palacete, it is said, amount to some 2 million euros. There are, apparently, invoices for a mere 5% of them.

These inventories, itemised in different reports from the "Diario", have come to light as the consequence of police raids on the Matas's properties. In an operation named "Buckingham" (not sure why, maybe it has to do with the "palacete"), the Guardia, investigating accusations of corruption levelled against Matas, have been turning over the residences and bringing in art and architectural experts to assist in coming up with the values.

Now you might say, well, he's a politician and he probably earned a fair wedge. Possibly so, but one presumes that the anti-corruption squad believes that there might be a slight discrepancy between income and property value, to say nothing of those invoices which total only 92,000 euros.

Matas is under suspicion with regard to a corruption case involving the Palma Arena velodrome, one of any number of major works that were initiated during his presidency from 2003 to 2007. It may be interesting to note that Matas, originally, was a tax inspector, while he was once the head of the Hacienda in the Balearics, during which time there was a previous spate of corruption cases.

The police action will of course continue, but if it turns out that Matas is indeed guilty, and let it be stressed that he is still innocent, then the repercussions could be enormous. This is the former president of the regional government, after all, one sitting on what, for the investigators, is a treasure trove of discovery. The worst of the repercussions would be what it says about the practice of local democracy, about the system of favours and about the sheer endemic nature of dishonesty in local society. Matas is just the latest, but if he has done wrong, he would be the biggest of the local political fish, about which there is more than a hint of the one-time sham system of democracy that operated in Spain in the nineteenth century, that of the "cacique", the political boss who delivered the required results as part of a system of favours given and received.

There's nothing new under a Spanish sun.

Yesterday's title - The Proclaimers, "Letter From America", The series was "Tutti Frutti" - Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Richard Wilson. Today's title - daft line from a group that specialised in daft lyrics.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

No More

Does the regional government have a policy on golf courses? As far as the opposition is concerned, it does not, and it is not difficult to understand why it might think this. On the one hand, there is the tourism minister giving more or less carte blanche for the building of more courses and on the other there is the transport minister saying that no more will be built. He also reckons that the 23 in existence on Mallorca are sufficient and that many of these are under-utilised, a view that it is difficult to disagree with.

This contrariness is, though, hard to fathom. The tourism ministry's stance would see, for example, the building of the course in Campos, along, in all likelihood, with a hotel complex. This course might actually make sense, given that Campos has so little by way of tourism. But in the wider scheme of things, i.e. taking the island as a whole, whether any more courses are needed must be open to question, something which, more than the environmental issue, has always dogged the credibility of the building of the Muro course.

Over the past eighteen months or so, there have been different reports, one saying that the island is "golfed-out" and agreeing that no more are warranted, another reckoning that no-one should be more than 50 minutes from a golf course, whatever the hell that's supposed to mean. More courses probably. There has also been the association of golf tour operators saying that the numbers coming to play golf could rise by 15%. And when its president met the tourism minister, the latter forecast a situation in which the Balearics would become the leading golf destination in Europe.

None of this quite adds up, unless, that is, one accepts that a 15% rise in golfing tourists could be accommodated by current courses, which probably is the case. But as golf is presented as being such an important facet of the so-called "alternative" tourism, the fact that the government seems to be unclear as to its actual policy does seem rather curious.

If not golf, then how about half-marathons to swell the tourism masses? Or how about a film festival to do likewise? From next year there will be a half-marathon in Pollensa - in April in fact. And in 2011, also in April, there will be the first Mallorca International Film Festival, which presumably will become an annual event. Both of them are worthy enough, but neither has much to do with improving the winter tourism scene, given that they will both be staged just prior to the start of the main season and that neither will necessarily generate much by way of "new" tourism.

And still on a sporting theme ... Real Mallorca. Thrice woe, or maybe several times more woe. The latest farce, the selling to the Martí family that has proved not to be a sale as the previous interim owner has not been paid, now sees the club back in the hands of that interim owner, Mateu Alemany. This lawyer is something of a club hero as he regularly pops up to try and dig it out of its latest hole. One might ask if he was perhaps less than diligent in gaining assurances as to the financial capabilities of the Martí family. He accepts that he made a mistake but that the information he had led him to believe that they would prove acceptable. Alemany is right when he says that no-one, least of all in the press, raised any great questions about the family's ability to finance the club. One thing's for sure, he will make damn sure that any new owner does have the financial wherewithal, though the questions remain as to what state the club might be in come May when the next sale is projected and as to who might even want the club.

Yesterday's title - Three Dog Night, Today's title - Bathgate, Linwood, Methil ... and you'll need to apply an Auchtermuchty accent. Great song and video. And as an additional question ... In which TV drama series did Methil feature as a lousy place to play a gig?


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Joy To The World

The tourism dignitaries have gathered in London for the World Travel Market. Today, Balearics Day at the trade fair, will see the premiere of the new Rafael Nadal advert for the Balearics. Let joy be unconfined.

What does any of this achieve? The World Travel Market is, in no small part, a set of shop windows for the industry, one that already knows about Mallorca and the Balearics. The same applies to corporate advertising, of the Nadal style. Not everyone may know about the Balearics, which does of course beg a significant question, but they (the consuming tourist public) know about Mallorca. Both the trade fair and the advertising act, at best, as a means of putting Mallorca in the "front of mind" of the industry and the consumer. But so does that of every other destination.

In "The Sunday Times" at the weekend there was a double-page colour advert for Andalucia. Some of the advertising for this region of Spain has been sensational. Its TV advert, luscious colours, dramatic scenery and vibrant flamenco chill music, was outstanding. But it was still an advert for a region. Just as advertising, of the Nadal variety, is for a region. It may all create attention and therefore, possibly, some action, but that is all it does.

In the case of the Andalucia advert, there is a scrawled blurb across the two pages: "I want you to share my energy, my happiness, my strength, my warmth ... A thousand monuments beyond compare. And just one question: When are you coming?" This last bit, the question, is the only good part of this. The rest is utterly ridiculous and pretentious. An attempt to make personal the impersonal, supported by a photo of a beach at sunset and a church in daytime. Whatever good it may achieve is undone by a small logo at the bottom which refers to "Junta de Andalucia". Someone might have pointed out that the word "junta" has negative connotations where the British are concerned.

Be this as it may. Advertising for Andalucia, for Turkey, for Egypt, for wherever you may care to mention, it all follows the same pattern. Mediterranean destinations tout the same things, the same sorts of images; they display warmth, sun, sea, culture, people, scenery. There is no differentiation. It is why much of the advertising is questionable. Its main purpose is to be there. In other words, it would be conspicuous by its absence.

This advertising is part aspirational and part image-making, but it fits a particular aspirational class and one attracted by a specific image. For all that it is intended to promote the whole gamut of a destination's offer, it does nothing of the sort. Holidaymakers are not a homogeneous group. They differ in all manner of respects. For this reason and for all the attention that gets paid to the Nadal-style corporate advertising (by the media and letter writers), it can only ever act as a starting-point (if that) or as a reinforcement to those already familiar with the island.

How do those who sanction this promotion believe that the process then works? Do they assume that there exists a hierarchical decision-making system? At the top comes Nadal, then there is a series of moves before the holidaymaker chooses a specific resort or hotel. Is this how it is meant to work? If it doesn't, and I don't believe it does, then what's the point of the thing at the top? This is how it used to work, back in the days when the family would be assaulted by Boxing Day adverts, opt for Mallorca and then head off to the nearest travel agency and pretty much have the choice of resort and hotel made for them.

Consumers take more or less as read the elements of a Mediterranean destination, be it Mallorca, Andalucia or wherever. They do so because the advertising and the images are essentially the same. As much as some consumers may work down from image advertising, they also work upwards, if not more so, in making their choices, without necessarily specifying a destination. And they all have different priorities, the satisfying of which is made in no small part through the informal channels of the internet - the forums, the blogs, the this, the that. The choice of a Turkey over a Mallorca lies largely with word of mouth, with a critical mass of recommendation, with a curious incuriosity that is the consequence of somewhere having become the latest in-place, and with a sense of "oh, let's give that a try". And much of this is predicated on price, on hotel (often all-inclusive), on specific offers, on what there is for the kids and all the rest. It is with the very detail of the holiday that the decision lies, not with the broad sweep of a Nadal on a yacht.

The tourism chiefs have singularly failed to understand the new dynamic of holiday decision-making or to appreciate the subversive influence of the internet; subversive in that, though these chiefs see the immense value of internet promotion, the internet acts independently of the corporate advertising. The real challenge lies in attempting to formalise the informal, of working this subversive element so that it favours a particular destination, and not just an island or a region, but a resort or even a particular complex. These chiefs need to cotton on to the reality of how consumers function on the internet, through social networks and so on, and to exploit these subversive factions themselves. If they don't, all that lavish spending on corporate advertising is a waste.

Yesterday's title - British Sea Power, "The Lonely", Today's title - this one started "Jeremiah was a bullfrog".