Sunday, January 31, 2010

Will The Circle Be Unbroken? - Unemployment in the Balearics

The psychological barrier has been breached, but the regional government would like to suggest that it has not been. The national statistics office would beg to differ. According to it, unemployment in the Balearics has not only crossed the 100,000 Rubicon, it has embarked on the invasion and is scaling the ramparts. Ok, this is an over-statement; it's not as if a point of no return has been arrived at, but it sure as hell must feel like it to those in the dole queues. The statistics office maintains that the number out of work stands at 112,000, one in ten - approximately - of the islands' population. Or to put it another way, at just under 20%, one in five of the registered working population, and that figure doesn't take account of the self-employed who are also feeling the pinch.

The government reckons that unemployment has peaked. It may have, for the time being, though an improvement in figures is unlikely to show up for some while, until seasonal employment kicks in. Even that, however, disguises the true picture, and that is the lack of employment opportunities which summer work only helps to obscure. Recession has exacerbated the situation, clearly it has, but it has also exposed the fault lines of the local economy - ones that should have been obvious to anyone, even politicians, seduced by the boom times but apparently incapable of counteracting seasonality.

The national government, meanwhile, is flailing around, desperate to find any measure that might reduce its massive budget deficit and to assure the markets that the Spanish economy is not the same basket case as Greece's; oh how the temporarily mighty have fallen. One ploy is to raise the pension age to 67. Fine, assuming there's any work for the 65 year-olds to continue with. Another is to increase indirect taxation. For an island - Mallorca - and a nation for which tax avoidance is a past-time, this is insane. It might, questionably, mollify the markets, but it will do nothing for employment creation.

Mr. Bean is cutting an ever more awkward figure. When elected for his second term in 2008, Sr. Zapatero had promised full employment. There wasn't a hope in hell's chance of that, especially not as the crisis began to consume everything in its path. And even were there "full employment", what would it look like? A few months work as a waiter and then back to the off-season dole queues, paid for by the burdensome levels of social security that are a brake on much employment creation. Were there to be an election now, chances are that the PSOE would be obliterated, bringing into office - by default - the singularly uninspiring figure of the PP's climate-change-denying Mariano Rajoy. You might remember him; he's the one with a relative who holds a position in a university who doesn't reckon much to the climate-change argument, and so Mariano used that as the basis for his own argument. That's about as good as it gets.

But also meanwhile, Sr. Zapatero can at least walk the European stage during Spain's EU presidency term. The central government's science and innovation minister has announced, as part of the programme for the presidency, that research and development and innovation should be at the heart of European recovery. Good for her. Ah yes, innovation, technology, research and development. Now, wasn't there something about all that two or three years back? Not from Madrid, but from the regional government. Whatever happened, do you suppose? Could it be that funding just had to be diverted to bolstering the rust-bowl industries - construction and hotels during time of crisis? Industries that are at the heart of Mallorca's seasonality. And so it goes around, and around, and around, the circle remaining unbroken.

Yesterday: A-ha, Today's title: take your pick as to the circle.

Any comments to please.

Index for January 2010

Airport management by local government - 25 January 2010
Association of British Companies Menorca - 28 January 2010
Capdepera alternative tourism - 6 January 2010
Ciudadanos Europeos - 17 January 2010
Constructors unpaid by town halls - 26 January 2010
England versus Mallorca in winter - 4 January 2010
English standards in Mallorca - 23 January 2010
Environmental care, lack of - 15 January 2010
Fiestas - 14 January 2010, 15 January 2010, 16 January 2010, 19 January 2010, 22 January 2010
Francesc Antich - 13 January 2010, 25 January 2010
GOB - 30 January 2010
Hiper car rental in administration - 29 January 2010
IVA increase and tourism - 21 January 2010
Jardín restaurant, Alcúdia - 5 January 2010
Miquel Capllonch - 10 January 2010
Miquel Ferrer's tourism boldness - 22 January 2010
Miquel Llompart, new mayor of Alcúdia - 9 January 2010, 18 January 2010
Muro golf course - 29 January 2010, 30 January 2010
Pi de Ternelles accident - 19 January 2010
Pollensa street cleaning - 29 January 2010
Real Mallorca - 5 January 2010, 15 January 2010
Sant Antoni - 14 January 2010, 15 January 2010, 16 January 2010, 19 January 2010
Sant Sebastià in Pollensa - 22 January 2010
Santa Margalida town hall - 8 January 2010
Smoking law, new - 5 January 2010, 20 January 2010, 21 January 2010, 22 January 2010
Thomas Cook advertising - 12 January 2010
Three Kings - 7 January 2010
Tourism a priority - 25 January 2010
Town hall information provision - 16 January 2010, 18 January 2010
Town hall spends - 11 January 2010, 26 January 2010
Unemployment in the Balearics - 31 January 2010
Unió Mallorquina new leader - 5 January 2010, 27 January 2010
Webcams and surveillance - 24 January 2010
World Cup song - 19 January 2010
Zapatero and the price of coffee - 21 January 2010

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cry Wolf - Muro's golf course

As sure as night follows day, so GOB objects to the Muro golf course. As sure as yesterday I referred to the payment of the tax being the final obstacle overcome in starting work on the course, so it could have been anticipated that the pressure group would exert some pressure to create a new obstacle. GOB is going back to an agreement in 2001 that effectively grouped the site of the course, the Son Bosc finca, with neighbouring Albufera as a protected area of environmental value, an agreement that was broken by the government of Jaume Matas in 2003. In retracing steps, yet again, GOB is levelling responsibility at President Antich (who was president in 2001) for not having "lifted a finger" to stop the work now going ahead.

Where or when does all this stop? The arguments have been going on for that long that GOB can indeed bring up something nine years old. Look back at maps for Playa de Muro of several years vintage or more, and you are likely to see "Golf" represented; it was there because it had been anticipated, years ago. It is fair enough that developments are no longer just bulldozed into being with disregard to opposing views or to environmental issues, but the bulldozers are soon going to be rumbling over Son Bosc, and there is little that GOB can do about it, short of gaining some sort of injunction. Its main political allies appear to be the Mallorcan socialists (PSM) who are trying to make things tough for the environment ministry (which has given the go-ahead) and which is headed by the Unió Mallorquina. Always the UM, seen as the devils of current scandals and the great devils of more and more golf. The PSM wants the ministry to act "urgently" in preventing the work. It won't.

It is in the nature of pressure groups which defend nature to object to just about anything, and GOB is no different. It does much that is good, but it creates its own problems by its constant wolf-crying, as does the enviro lobby as a whole which does itself no favours by coming up with ideas that are just plain bonkers, such as giving the coast road between Alcúdia and Puerto Pollensa back to beach and nature. In truth, the biggest environmental battles have probably been lost, just go and look at Can Picafort's frontline where once there were dunes and forest which served as natural safeguards against sea encroachment. GOB fights the good fight, and its fights can sometimes be justified, but, as ever with single-issue groups with loud voices, how representative is it of the democratic process? It has been said that GOB should front up and join the established political process.

The Muro golf course may be of questionable value in terms of whether it is actually needed, but the environmental issues have been addressed. GOB, and the PSM, should just get over it, and, in GOB's case, move on to the next battle-ground. The course will be built. Long live the golf course of Muro! (I say that with some irony, as some of you may know from previous postings that I don't believe there is a case for it - in terms of demand.)

Today: which group did "Cry Wolf"?

Any comments to please.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Chestnuts Roasting - Street cleaning and golf

A couple of old local chestnuts are being given a further roasting: one that has been long on the brazier and remains so, the other we all thought had been thoroughly cooked and eaten. They are - the street cleaning of Pollensa and the golf course in Muro. Yep, one more time for both of them. Here we go ...

Pollensa's street cleaning goes hi-tech
Pollensa town hall is to double its investment on street cleaning, bringing the annual spend up to 800,000 euros. For a cash-strapped and indebted town hall this represents a far from insignificant increase. The latest round of tendering for the cleaning gig is in progress, and so presumably there will be a contractor in place before long that does actually have a contract.

In return for this increased spend, the good people of Pollensa can now expect to be asked their opinions as to the levels of service. Dependent upon satisfaction findings, the new contractor will be subject to variable payments. Low satisfaction and they don't get so much. Performance payments in other words. How novel. Moreover, the town hall is to introduce a system of real-time monitoring, via satellite positioning technology, of worker activity and frequency of cleaning. And there I was, mentioning the other day the apparently questionable privacy legal issues with webcams. Someone's going to be watching you, fellas! Now, there's an idea, add a webcam to the satellite monitoring, and everyone can watch the dog mess being swept up. They could integrate the opinion surveys and make those function in real time as well. Vote now for the chap doing the pinewalk - marks out of ten! One could then also watch the amounts being paid - or not - to the contractor, like a Comic Relief running total, but bearing in mind that investments can go down as well as up.

And finally ... finally they're building the golf course in Muro
Work on the golf course in Muro is due to now start in the next couple of weeks. You might be forgiven for having thought that it had already started and that all the final impediments to the course's creation had been overcome. Indeed it had been reported, as long ago as 3 September last year, that work was set to begin during September. The delay seems to have had nothing to do with the endless debates about rare orchids and other environmental matters that had so taxed many, mainly the enviro pressure group GOB, but with the payment of a tax, some 170 grand to the town hall. This money, to be coughed up by the developers, was, we were led to believe, meant to have found its way into the emptying coffers of Muro town hall all those months ago, but has only now been handed over. Which does make one ask why there has been such a delay. There again, the debate regarding the building of the course has gone on for that long that a few months more won't make much of a difference. And no-one will actually be teeing-off in Muro for some time yet. At least two years, possibly longer. Doubtless we can now anticipate beardies prostrating themselves in front of bulldozers in order to protect the orchids. Not that they need to, as the protection of rare flora on the Son Bosc finca is a condition of the development, and the developers have - for the duration of the work - engaged a firm of environmental consultants who will presumably ensure that the environmental conditions are indeed adhered to.

Hiper in administration
On a different tack ... The car-hire sector, the one that has caused and is still causing much heat because of increased rental charges, has received a bit of a shock. Hiper, considered the leading Mallorcan car-rental company, has gone into administration (the meaning, effectively, of "concurso voluntario de acreedores"). Resolution with banks is hoped for - within two weeks - and the company is continuing to operate. One to watch.

Yesterday: Obvious, it was The Association,

Any comments to please.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Windy - British business associations

Associations. Always associations. They are hardly novel, yet "The Bulletin" describes an association formed in Menorca as being just that: "a novel way of beating the recession". This is ABC Menorca, the Association of British Companies Menorca. It will work with other associations, with the Council of Menorca, look to expand into Mallorca and, perhaps crucially, be a member of the Balearic Business Confederation. Though styled, clearly, as an association for British-run businesses, the intention is that any business with British clients could join.

Here we go again - perhaps. Towards the end of 2008 there was a fair amount of publicity for a British and Irish business association formed in Calvia; I spoke about it here, even met a couple of the prime movers. It never got off the ground, a problem - as I understood it - being some relatively small funding from the Council of Mallorca that was not forthcoming. This association also seemed, to me, to be not so far removed from ESRA in that it had a social and charitable agenda; one with a solely business focus would be, well, more focussed.

An association - such as that being formed in Menorca - seems a good idea, but as it is open to any business with a British interest and were it to embrace, in a significant fashion, Menorcan-run businesses and businesses owned by other nationalities, then how different would it be to other business associations? In a comment by the paper's editor, we are told that Mallorca needs a similar association, one that could "advise local authorities on the best way to help the British market". This, seemingly, would be the difference, though quite what this means isn't stated.

There is a risk. It was one expressed to me by a British business owner when that Calvia-based association was around; namely that indigenous Spanish businesses would see it as a threat which could cause polarisation and antagonism. A generally held view, among many British owners, is that it is better to keep their heads down and get on with running their businesses. When, last summer, I spoke with British bar owners in Alcúdia who were expressing their concerns as to various issues in the resort, they did not want to be identified. To do so might, in their view, have exposed them to, how can one put it, some comeback.

It is the need to be running businesses that is a further obstacle to such an association. Most owners have little interest outside of their own affairs; they also have little time to devote to something like an association. It is revealing to note in the report that businesses currently involved are in the real estate and nautical sectors; businesses, in other words, of a more professional level of organisation than your average bar, which might be able to give time to an outside body.

Where I would agree with "The Bulletin" is in the observation that there are British businesspeople with good ideas (to help Mallorca), but who lack a direct link to the authorities - mainly the tourism ones - that might enable these ideas to be expressed. Perhaps the Menorca association, or an equivalent in Mallorca, might be a conduit to facilitate this. But then, there are any number of bodies - at town or island level - which could, were they inclined to do so, invite or co-opt representatives of British businesses and the British market onto committees to offer their ideas. One has to ask why they don't. Maybe the suggestion has never been made, or maybe those authorities would rather not listen. Yes, there almost certainly are good ideas to be offered, and this association may well indeed prove to be the way of making them heard. We'll see.

As a footnote. The paper's report refers to a launch on Friday, yet a report of the association's first meeting dates back to the start of June last year. Maybe there's a re-launch. The paper also did not go into detail as to the people behind the association, other than mentioning the name of Colin Guanaria. Who he? The founder of Bonnin Sanso, the estate agency. A serious player, in other words, and one who does - or should - give confidence that this association could indeed be a force, despite any misgivings outlined above.

Yesterday: Chuck Berry, Today: well, it is "Windy" - very much so at the moment - but what's the song's link to associations?

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No Particular Place - The Unió Mallorquina's internal strife

Politically, the English "ite" is a Spanish "ista". For Blairite or Thatcherite, read, within the warring ranks of the nationalist party in Mallorca, "Nadalistas" or "Munaristas" or indeed "istas" of no particular name. The no-particular-istas have won the battle if not necessarily the war, that of the heart and soul of the Unió Mallorquina party. They have got their man - Josep Melià - who has been confirmed as the new president of the party; the fourth in less than four years, following Mother Munar and two Micks, Nadal and Flaquer, all three of them implicated in corruption cases. Melià has hardly won a ringing endorsement; the vote in his favour was close. He has, as has his rival, one of the former tourism ministers Buils, made the right sort of noises regarding a new phase and stability for the party, but it is unlikely to be anything of the sort. The UM is ripping itself apart on the rocks of internecine strife and the fall-out from the corruption charges.

There is an ideological battle being waged within the UM, one that goes back to the succession process when Mother moved over to become speaker of parliament. It is one of Palma-ism versus the regions, one of right versus centre, one of old ways versus new and one of support for discredited politicians versus those not implicated by scandal. One has, of course, to be fair. No-one has been found guilty, but mud sticks, and the right of the party, identifiable with Nadal and Munar, is setting itself up for discredit by association by maintaining support for Nadal and Munar and for a political mindset that the "new way" wishes to sweep away.

It is never as simple as it might seem, given that the party's Palma-ism garners its own support in the regions, but the northern UM faction - that of former Alcúdia mayor Ferrer and his successor and of Pollensa's mayor Cerdà - represents a more modern form of Mallorcan nationalism, one of the centre and liberalism, that failed to win support when Munar stepped down, but that has now come to the fore. Ferrer, it should be recalled, was Nadal's opponent in the Munar succession fight. Nadal, a Palma councillor, had Munar's backing, as did Buils in the latest vote.

The "Diario" journalist Matías Vallés savaged Nadal and Munar in the paper yesterday. He described Nadal as "ineffable" and compared Munar to Gloria Swanson, hankering for a time when justice was "voiceless" in Mallorca and presiding over her own political funeral. Both have been charged with egoism by their opponents of the new way. It is hard to fathom quite how they can have been seen to have been taking active roles in the latest leadership election, given the ongoing cases against them. It is hard also to fathom the thinking of their supporters, who might be better advised to create some clear blue water. But there is always "innocent until proven guilty" as well as there are enduring motivations of power struggles that any political party is subject to.

Does the fighting have any real relevance though? The UM, though well represented at mayoral level across the island, only finds itself in the governmental spotlight because of the need for coalition. It does have a role to play, therefore. As tourism minister, Ferrer, it might be said, holds the second most important post in the regional government, after the president. But set against the two big parties - the PSOE and Partido Popular (which, some in the UM idiotically claim, have conspired to bring about the corruption charges) - the UM is something of a sideshow. The party has never truly succeeded in making itself a force, partly because it is has not always been clear what it stands for. There is more than a slight sense that it is a sort of flag of convenience for politicians disinclined to ally with the two main parties, especially with the PP which occupies similar political territory in certain respects; a flag of convenience that might be the springboard to satisfy political ambition that might otherwise not be available in a bigger party.

It is the striving for some clarity that is the political debate within the party, one overshadowed by the corruption cases, and the "big thing" informing this debate is to try and shape the UM in the mould of the CiU or PNV, i.e. the centrist and liberal nationalist parties in Catalonia and the Basque country. It is this, perhaps more than anything, that the no-particular-istas want to achieve. Though neither of these parties is militant, they do, nevertheless, herald from regions with a long history of nationalist sentiment; indeed the two regions most clearly associated with historical opposition to a unified Spain. This is not, for one moment, to suggest anything sinister, but it is to suggest that the UM may be willing upon itself a more assertive nationalist posture, albeit one moderated with the humanist tendencies of, for example, the PNV. But unlike Catalonia and the Basque country, there is not and never has been anything of a true nationalist desire in Mallorca. Despite the rise of Catalanism, Mallorca remains an essentially conservative and passive society. Moreover, when I asked Alcúdia's new mayor about "nationalism", he was quick to point out that it wasn't some kind of Little Mallorquínism. The ambition, though, to be something akin to the PNV is almost certainly far-fetched. The PNV is not only the second oldest political party in Spain, it has also been the dominant force in Basque politics.

In seeking a "new way", the UM appears to be embarking on the local road to Damascus in attempting a definition, but one of an abstract political ideology of questionable relevance to the majority of Mallorcans. Far more important is that it distances itself from its recent and current travails, those being played out in the courts in Palma, and ensures that it is not tainted by the Nadalista and Munarista associations. In this respect, it has taken the first step.

Yesterday: The Jam's second album ("This Is The Modern World") and their third single ("The Modern World"), Today: "no particular place to go"; who?

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Modern World - Reality at the town halls

Hard on the heels of the report into the growth in town hall spends on personnel over the past decade, comes evidence that, when it comes to paying suppliers, Mallorca's town halls are far less willing to splash the cash; cash they owe against invoices raised for work done. While staffing levels have risen - in some instances by some astonishing amounts - and have clearly eaten into town halls' revenues, companies over which some of this staff have supervision are being left unpaid. And in certain instances, especially construction companies, they have gone out of business or maybe are about to. Work that has been funded by central government is being paid for, but other work - ostensibly paid for by the town halls - is not.

The suppliers are caught in the vicious credit circle. Several town halls have had to seek bank money, but the banks of course are unwilling to part with it, or not all that is being sought. Pity the poor suppliers to the likes of Pollensa and Muro town halls, where considerable debts are sloshing around and where budgets are seemingly neither supported by tax and other revenues nor by lines of credit. Pollensa's budgets for this year were described by the opposition as "science fiction"; Muro's financial situation has been portrayed as being "frightening". Pollensa was denied all the bank lending it wanted, and Muro faces a similar reluctance. Good luck, frankly, to anyone putting in an invoice to a town hall. The chances of it being paid are ... who knows?

This is not a new situation. Many town halls have reputations as being lousy payers, and have had for years. Even an administration that is relatively flush, such as Alcúdia, can take ages to cough up, with all the frustration to say nothing of harmful effects for cash flows that this can cause. Chances are, as well, that unless invoices are pro forma, the supplier has had to declare those invoices and been obliged to pay tax and IVA, despite not having received a remittance. The situation has been exacerbated by the current lack of credit. Companies, though, have taken the risk, in all probability having to seek their own credit, which may not actually be available. Without doing so, and given the importance of public building projects, local economies would all have but ground to a halt. They may yet still do so, if suppliers keep going out of business.

The president of the federation of local authorities, in an interview with "The Diario", has admitted that the town halls are causing serious problems for businesses. Joan Ferrà, himself the mayor of Puigpunyent, points out that town hall revenues are down by as much as 40%. While tax revenues are part of the story, Ferrà refers also to non-payments to the town halls and of course to the banks. He talks, vaguely, about the need for greater efficiency and effectiveness and about "good practice" when it comes to setting budgets and seeking cost cuts. To this end, he mentions fiestas and sports facilities as two areas that will have reduced spending, while staff will have to make do without using mobiles.

So, I guess our hearts should bleed for Vodafone and Movistar, as they will have reduced town hall contracts. Efficiency and effectiveness - where have we heard these words before? They were at the heart of the drive towards value for money in British public administration of the early Thatcher years. The town halls needed to increase staffing levels as they were operating from too low a basis of service, but one wonders as to how much attention has been paid to working practices. Staffs have grown like topsy, making town halls major employers, thanks to the spending frenzy of the Spanish boom years. More personnel was needed, but so also was more professionalism in terms of operational management, to which one can add factors such as inefficient working hours and departmental duplication in the governmental mini-me's that are the town halls.

So, fiestas are to be more "austere". Some already are. Pollensa cut its budget in 2009, for example. Trapped in a cycle of the traditional colliding with the modern, and in the social fabric of which the fiestas are integral, the town halls barely dare to question their fiesta spends. But the town halls have been, and remain, wasteful in this regard. Back in 2008, I asked, in the context of Can Picafort's summer fiesta, just how sustainable the fiesta was. And this was before the real impact of the crisis kicked in. The amount of money going up in flames seemed grotesque, and was made even more so when Santa Margalida town hall announced that some 300,000 more euros were to be allocated to fiestas. It was madness. Here was a town hall willing to fork out on bread and circuses while the benighted village of Son Serra lacks a decent police presence and has a vandalised sports centre. There again, sports facilities are to be deprived of money, aren't they.

The town halls are the Spanish economy in microcosm. Easy money was thrown at beefing up administrations and at creating projects. Much of this was necessary, but was approved by politicians - locally and nationally - overtaken by the thrills of growth but lacking a vision of sustainability. The national government now has its programme of economic sustainability, one that is long overdue and born out of the economic crisis. If it is to work, then different levels of government, including the town halls, are going to have get used to reduced spends, as are residents of the towns. More fundamentally, they - the town halls - are going to have to appraise their practices and priorities, as I said on 11 January. They cannot continue to operate way beyond their means, because the consequence is that suppliers don't get paid. But whether some of these suppliers should have been engaged in the first place is another question, as some of the projects have been of such deeply questionable value - like Can Ramis in Alcúdia. Ah yes, value. Value for money - efficiency and effectiveness. Welcome to the modern world.

Today: which group came second with the modern world?

Any comments to please.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I'm Anti, Fly Me - Tourism Priorities

Despite some predictions that 2010 might be worse than 2009, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the coming season. The resident travel expert that "The Bulletin" short-hauls out on regular occasions - a chap from the combined Co-Op, Monarch and Cosmos group - referred the other day to factors previously mentioned here, such as issues in Turkey and increasing consumer confidence. As ever, or so it seems with the paper, there was some confusion. The article had a strap-line "Cosmos reports 43 per cent increase in Majorca holiday sales", yet nowhere in the article itself was this mentioned or was an explanation offered as to the time frame during which the increase had occurred. Maybe Cosmos has indeed experienced such an increase, but overall sales figures quoted for this year suggest a 15% reduction. Such a decline could clearly be used as evidence to support the argument that 2010 will be worse, but there are factors to take account of which might counter this - a bad summer in the UK last year and recent bad weather preventing trips to travel agencies, and, more positively, the improvement in the pound, that returning confidence and, in all likelihood, a later surge in holiday bookings.

There is a further reason for optimism - and this is that the regional government does appear to be galvanising itself. In the paper's editorial, Jason pointed to the fact that President Antich is to make tourism his top priority this year, rightly noting that he might surely have been doing this previously. Antich, in addition to announcing greater funding for tourism, has called on all government departments to get behind tourism and for it to be everyone's priority. Maybe the centimo has finally dropped. I have argued that the regional government should be restructured in such a way as to place tourism at its peak. Antich should, I believe, have grasped the nettle when Miquel Nadal was forced to resign and taken on the tourism brief himself. But if the president can persuade the rest of the political class that it, in effect, acts in support of the island's only strategic industry, then this has to be applauded - at last.

A question is, however, whether the rest of the political class will take any notice. There was a letter to "The Bulletin" a few days ago. It was questioning tourism minister Ferrer's ambitions for changes in the tourism sector, bracketing this with a reference to members of the coalition government who "have gone on record saying that they would prefer to see less (sic) foreigners here". I'm not sure who these members are, but it is the case that there have been some political voices raised against swelling tourist numbers, a sort of anti-tourism brigade that isn't. One of them belongs to Mother Munar, the matriarch of Ferrer's nationalist party, who once spoke out against an invasion of foreigners, but a member of government only in the sense that she is the speaker of parliament. (Incidentally, Mother applied her constitutional right the other day in keeping mum when she appeared before the beak investigating the corruption accusation against her.) There may well be some Little Mallorcans lurking who would prefer to turn the clock back or others who would rather Mallorca tourists were only those with bulging wallets, and these politicians may well reside in the ranks of the nationalists or parties to the left of Antich's PSOE, but there is one very important factor that none of them would wish to ignore. It is a factor which gives lie to what they may or may not allow their different ideologies to say about tourism numbers, and that is ... the airport.

Antich used the platform at the Fitur exhibition in Madrid to make not only his announcement about tourism priority but also to refer to the management of the airport by the regional government. This is, and has been, a major ambition of local politicians for some while. And why? Because it means money. And a pre-requisite for granting local management is passenger numbers. The more there are, the closer that management gets. And more passengers means more tourists. And more passengers, more tourists means more money for whatever body runs the airport because of landing and docking licences and all the rest. No politician, of whatever party, is going to thumb his nose at the potential moolah that will be forthcoming. The central government vice-president has been making positive noises about local management during a visit to Palma, which may or may not be simple politicking in support of fellow party member Antich as the regional elections approach. Presumably, Antich would see securing airport management in advance of these elections as a voting feather in his cap.

One can be cynical about the motives behind the renewed tourism drive. But airport management or no airport management, the declaration of tourism priority is an overdue statement of reality, if also an overdue statement of the bleeding obvious. In the absence of any other industry of real note, certainly given the parlous state of construction, then tourism it has to be. Now just get on with it.

Yesterday: The Thompson Twins,

Any comments to please.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Watching You, Watching Me - Webcams and surveillance in Mallorca

The surveillance society. It is said that the UK has the highest level of surveillance in Europe. Much of it can be deemed necessary or beneficial, much of it isn't. And so it is in Mallorca. Or rather, it isn't quite the same, as in Mallorca - and in Spain - there is a greater level of concern for the invasion of privacy.

Video surveillance was late to catch on in Mallorca. This was not a failure of technology but a legal issue. Police cameras, such as those for traffic and speeding, were also late on the scene, for a similar reason. Officially in Mallorca, there are even now only some 7000 video cameras of different sorts that are used by the police and by security companies. As "The Diario" has reported, there are many, many more cameras, most of them unregulated. A combination of the agency responsible for data protection and the police ensures that cameras used for security purposes are correctly registered. Video surveillance of property, for example, is a matter of registration by the security company that has to comply with the need to ensure that posters, informing of such surveillance, are clearly visible and also with ensuring that the cameras do not show the "public way". In other words, they "guard" properties, their access points and grounds.

When you take into account government buildings, banks and some of the property in Mallorca, the 7000 cameras are not really so many, and for the most part they are activated only when an alarm goes off. The officially registered cameras that are on more or less permanently are those controlled by the police. Some concern has been raised about these, for example where they are used to monitor "deliquency". These are directed at the "public way". Yet one can accept their role in policing and in maybe acting as a deterrent.

Another concern relates to all those other cameras. And here one is mainly talking webcams. The paper makes it clear that much webcam use is private, but much is not. Anything pointing at a street, a park, a beach is showing the public way. Hardly any of these webcams are registered. In Palma, some twenty webcams are sanctioned by the town hall. But generally, webcams are put up, pointed and there is no registration. The law may well be being broken as a result, if there is no authorisation by the data protection agency.

One has to understand that the strictness with which privacy and data protection are controlled has a historical background. In Germany, there was also a similar anxiety about cameras. If you want to know why the Germans - or at least some of the Länder - have been rather more tardy than other countries in introducing anti-smoking legislation, you have to go back to the Nazis who frowned on smoking. And for smoking, read also the surveillance and intrusiveness of an authoritarian state. It's the same in Spain, because of Franco.

Webcams that show a resort's promenade or beach may seem innocent enough, and in truth they are. Many, many people access them via the internet; many, many people who would consider this a purely innocent activity. A not infrequent question one may come across on a forum is - are there any webcams of such and such a resort? Not for one moment would the person asking the question think this is anything other than innocent. But that would be to miss the point - the invasion of privacy.

A webcam that shows public places, it can be argued, is being used under conditions of freedom of speech or information. Similar justification can be used for the altogether more intrusive use of cameras by Google. It's a disingenuous argument. It may all seem just like a bit of fun, but the public webcam operates under a similar principle of intrusion, the main difference - usually - being the more fleeting and temporary nature of the privacy being intruded into.

There is the possibility that there are some unwitting double standards applied to public webcams and by those who access them. Stick a cam outside your house, down your street, and would you be quite so happy? When Google come filming, would you be quite so happy?

One can make too much of this. Personally, I am rarely in favour of anything that limits freedom of speech or information. Public webcams are rarely so intrusive as to be potentially invasive of an individual's freedom, but I can understand the sensitivities, as they exist in Mallorca. Innocent enough the webcam may be, but it may not be quite so innocent under law.

Yesterday: Jonathan Meades. Today: "Watching You, Watching Me"; pretty sure we've had this song before. Think Tintin.

Any comments to please.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Filthy English - Standards of English in Mallorca

Harking back to that report into standards of English among students at Palma's university, there was a comment piece in yesterday's "Diario" which drew attention to the apparent contradictions in the report. These concerned the fact that, for example, two-thirds of students said they did not understand English, yet 50% spoke it.

Standards of English in Mallorca are not high. They should be higher: not to give British residents even more of an excuse not to learn Spanish or Catalan, but to be pragmatic in recognising the importance of the language where tourism is concerned. Pragmatism. A word that crops up time and time again whenever language is discussed, yet one widely ignored by the Mallorcans. Whereas the non-pragmatism of the Castilian versus Catalan debate is granted much attention and emotion, insufficient attention has been given to the learning of international languages, especially English. It is an historical failing, one of inadequate education, and one that is only now being given anything like the attention demanded.

However, for all that English is not as good as might be hoped, one should spare a thought for the locals, confronted by English in all its different manifestations - regional accents, idioms, slang, changing usage and the simply wrong. Pity the poor receptionist or waiter who has to decipher Geordie, Scouse, Brummie, Cockney, Ooh-Arr, the English of the Northern Irish, Southern Irish, Scots, Welsh, to say nothing of mangled English by other nationalities. If you can do Spanish, then try making sense of different accents or dialects. Ever had to listen to Argentinians? Impossible. Despite the apparent contradictions referred to above, it is generally the case that one can speak a language but have difficulty understanding it when spoken to. Take another language - German. If you do this, you may find it easy to understand someone who speaks "hochdeutsch", only to then try and fathom out a Franconian dialect replete with an accent that sounds as though the speaker has an entire potato field stuffed into his gob - rather like many Mallorcans.

No-one much speaks English any longer. Not English as in the Queen's English or a long-past BBC English. They speak street English, football English, soap English, estuary English. They apply the infinite variables of internationalised English, of English in all its flexibility. They speak mingin' English, innit, English that's so not English - alrahht. They speak a corrupt English, a filthy English of a low-lifed anti-vocabulary.

And it is not just spoken English. In the same report into standards, 68% of students said that they could read English. The question is, what sort? Take newspapers, the broadsheets for instance. Generally speaking - as it were - these will contain "high" English. It's the same with Spanish newspapers, the quality end at any rate. In their pages, one is likely to encounter a formal style of Spanish, one quite removed from much everyday usage and typified by a preponderance of the different subjunctive forms that exist in Spanish. No-one actually speaks like that, or very few do.

Then there are other newspapers and other forms of English. A couple of days ago, along with Graeme and Aimee from "Talk Of The North" and auntie Susan, I was trying to make sense of "Lashlish", the unique style adopted by a certain columnist in "The Bulletin". The paper does, I seem to recall, get used in English teaching locally. We come back to those receptionists or waiters, those who may be presented with:
"True or false? - In the daily sent "Majorca Daily Bulletin" is to find Cynthia Lennon as this is on this celebrated Majorca one long standing celebrity writer most talented."
I've made that last "sentence" up (sort of), in case you're wondering.

"Inglich not espouken" was the title of the piece in "The Diario". Let's not be too harsh on the students or on any Mallorcan whose standard of English is low. If native speakers can't "espouke" it, then what the hell chance have the locals got.

Yesterday: "Round The Horne", Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick. The wooden horse was Margaret Thatcher on "Desert Island Discs". Today: which author and journalist - one who, when not low-lifing, writes in a higher form of English - wrote "Filthy English"?

Any comments to please.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ooh, Isn't He Bold?

Bold. Boldness. New tourism minister Ferrer is going to be bold. Or at least he said something along these lines several times when addressing the press at the Fitur tourism exhibition in Madrid. This boldness will involve "profound re-developments", the breaking of "old habits" and a speeding-up of bureaucratic procedures as they affect hotels and their ability to undertake modernisations. Bold words. We'll see. To Ferrer's credit, though, it might be recalled that he was one of the mayors - following the hotel collapse in Cala Ratjada and the kerfuffle regarding the lack of a building licence - who admitted that work on hotels, in Alcúdia, regularly went ahead without all the requisite licences because of the tortuous bureaucracy and paper trails between town halls and government. One of the strengths Ferrer is meant to bring to the post of tourism minister is that, having been mayor of such an important tourism town, he has a wide appreciation of issues facing the tourism industry. We'll see.

Whether Sr. Ferrer has an opinion about the impact of a smoking ban, one doesn't know. But the argument is now raging on both sides, the national anti-tobacco committee having weighed in with its pack's worth, stating that visitors from countries with strong anti-smoking laws cannot understand or indeed accept the current permissiveness in Mallorca and Spain. The committee flatly rejects the idea that a ban would cause the "total ruination" of the bar and restaurant sector. Well it would say this, but it is probably not wrong, and it has come up with figures in respect of the effect on employment that followed the previous tightening of smoking in bars and restaurants. It had been argued that this would result in the loss of some 23,000 employees; there was, according to the industry ministry, an increase of some 100,000 employees between 2005 and 2007 (the previous law kicked in on 1 January, 2006). One might, though, say that the previous law seemed to be largely ineffective; there was little major change, certainly in Mallorca.

Each Had A Wooden Horse
The parties for Sant Sebastià go on until Saturday, even if Wednesday, the 20th, was the actual day of the saint. It is never quite clear where is open and where is not on Sebastian. Palma closes, as do some other towns, while others are open for business. It is all rather confusing. As indeed is information as to when events actually take place. Someone queried the date of the fire spectacular in Palma that had been posted on the WHAT'S ON BLOG. It is on Saturday, as is stated, but it is quite possible that there is information flying around that suggests a different day.

In Pollensa on the evening of the 20th, there was the procession of "L'Estendard", the banner of Sebastian. This is a curious thing, as it features a couple of blokes "riding" what are like wooden toy horses who follow another chap dressed up as a Roman soldier, which was what Sebastian was. At least no-one lost any fingers in the process. And talking of which, Steve from Little Britain reckons that the British gesture of two fingers all has to do with the French who used to cut off two fingers of archers they captured. Sounds plausible, though as Steve added, it could also be complete "tosh".

"Ooh, isn't he bold?" Where does this come from? And "each had a wooden horse"? Apart from Rolf Harris, who once referred to this in a truly excruciating manner?

Any comments to please.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Smokey And The Banned-It: Part Two

Following up on yesterday's piece about the smoking ban, the local health minister has dismissed - as you might expect - the idea that this will lead to "total ruination" of the bar and restaurant sector. She has also sought to remind everyone that the ban is part of a wider European Union-inspired drive to enforce total prohibition in public places in all countries by 2012. When all else fails in the winning of hearts and minds, blame it all on Brussels. She has also been at pains to point out that more stringent enforcement has been applied elsewhere, such as in the UK, so that's alright then; it's all a question of degree. Where she has more justification is in pointing out that a ban has not proved to be particularly harmful in Italy, another grand smoking country, and though the measure has proved to have popular support in Italy, she might have added that Italian bar owners have been adept at finding the odd loophole. Without naming them, she says that bans have resulted in increased numbers of customers in some countries. It might be interesting to know which ones.

As always, it comes down to how politicians want to spin the issue. Sra. Buades (the health minister) has not seemingly referred to the Croatian backtracking or to the lack of enforcement in Greece, but despite all this, one can pretty much safely assume that the ban in Spain, and therefore Mallorca, will go ahead, albeit that no date has been set.

On this topic, my thanks to Dave for drawing attention to the harmful impact of the smoking bans on country pubs in Scotland. He calls for "more freedom to choose, less proscription". Amen to that, whatever the cause, only problem being, Dave, that Europe ain't going to let there be a choice.

IVA and tourism
The Spanish Government has been getting it in the neck again about the decision to increase IVA (VAT). At the annual leaders in tourism forum in Madrid, staged by the hotel and tourism association Exceltur, the president of this association has stated that the increase is a mistake. Almost no-one seems to think it is a good idea, especially as tourism in other countries has been treated more kindly in having tax cuts. The president believes that the Government has not shown tourism the same consideration as it has other sectors of the economy. Elsewhere, there have been calls to bring the rate of IVA for tourism-related business down to 4%, which is the rate currently applied to newspapers.

At this forum, the great and good of the tourism world have been having their say as to the travails of the Spanish tourism industry. More is needed in terms of modernisation, there is over-supply etc, etc. None of it new in other words. And nothing concrete being offered either, unless you count the concrete that would go to improving infrastructures. One does have to wonder about these forums and conferences. Statements of the bleeding obvious but no obvious plans or suggestions.

Señor 80 Cents - Café Zapatero
And something else for the Spanish Government, specifically Sr. Zapatero. Recently, I discovered that he is widely referred to as Mr. Bean. I hadn't appreciated this to be the case, having myself dubbed him that on the day he first won the presidency. Physically, there is a resemblance, but it was his manner, when he won the election in 2004, more than appearance, that smacked of Rowan Atkinson's character. He hadn't been expected to win. As a consequence, he looked sheepish, awkward, perplexed and not a little bit like he was out of his depth. And a few months ago, he made what has been a celebrated gaffe. On Spanish TV, there is this thing called "I've Got A Question For You". President Zap was grilled by an audience, one member of this asking him to give the normal price of a coffee. 80 centimos came the response, accompanied by tittering in the audience. The youtube* of this finishes with the president saying "depende", i.e. it depends, which is true. Depends where, what type of coffee and so on. You could get a coffee for 80 cents, though it would be unusual. The Dunkin Donuts chain has now started its own 80 cent coffee, an "anti-crisis coffee", promoted with the help of a photo of a Zapatero double. Who could that be? Mr. Bean perhaps. And no, no jokes about coffee beans, please.


Any comments to please.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Smokey And The Banned-It

The smoke-don't smoke argument is hotting up. The glowing embers of a cigarette tip threaten to become a mighty conflagration, if predictions are correct as to the impact of the proposed smoking ban in public places. The trouble is that these predictions are of course self-serving. They verge on the apocalyptic. The Balearics restaurant association is forecasting the "total ruination" of the bar and restaurant sector.

The law on no-smoking in bars and restaurants has yet to be enacted. Exactly when it might - or might not - be brought into effect is still not clear, though it is meant to be this year, a year that, according to the Spanish hotel and tourism association Exceltur, will be worse than last year in terms of tourism. In other words, recession is still wreaking havoc, and the last thing that's needed is a smoking ban.

Whether the prediction regarding this year's tourism is indeed accurate is open to debate. A strengthening pound and the Euro concerns caused by the Greeks could yet see a turnaround in Mallorca. Personally, I would question the prediction. Further evidence that might rebut it comes from increased consumer activity in the UK, while the great competitor - Turkey - has its own problems, those of supply. Nevertheless, the timing of the smoking ban may not be the best. A question is, though, when would be the best time. Never, if the bar and restaurant owners had their way.

The total ruination that the federation believes will occur will manifest itself in the form of a ten per cent drop in turnover, which doesn't sound like total ruination. But on top of takings reductions over the past couple of years, a further 10% drop would be significant.

One has, however, to distinguish between different markets and different types of bar or restaurant. For the tourism restaurant market, a smoking ban would be unlikely to have much impact for the simple reason that the ban is not due to be applied to terraces, which is where most tourists eat. That non-smokers on a terrace may have to continue to suffer nearby smoke is not really an issue. They have long had to endure this, with no discernible effect on restaurant trade.

Where a ban would be most likely to have a detrimental impact would be on smaller bars which either have no terrace or only a small one and on nightclubs which cannot allow terrace business after midnight (or maybe it's eleven - who knows for sure?). The federation is probably right to highlight "locales de ocio nocturno" as being the sector of the so-called "complementary offer" that has most to lose from prohibition - to the tune of 15%.

In the case of the smaller bars, there should be genuine concern. Both tourist and resident markets could be affected by a ban, especially the latter. Yet this raises an issue regarding the overall supply of bars and cafés, of which there are too many. Perhaps a shake-out might be deemed a good thing, though this is a pretty heartless argument. Moreover, unlike, for example, the impact of all-inclusives which has been and is one of changed market conditions, the impact of a smoking ban would not be. A smoking ban is a form of societal engineering that creates an arguably unfair market condition.

In the UK, if a bar goes to the wall as a consequence of the smoking ban, it can be argued that alternative forms of business or employment exist, given the great diversity of the UK market as a whole. The same conditions, however, do not apply to somewhere like Mallorca. The apparent over-supply of bars is largely a consequence of economic necessity. A smoking ban may be as prejudicial to the wider economy as much as it is to small bar owners. In Croatia, another of Mallorca's great competitors, a total ban introduced last year was partially reversed because of the apparent harm that it caused. And Croatia is hardly a highly diverse economy either.

The saving grace, at least where tourism is concerned, may be that visitors from other countries are now used to not smoking when out at bars or restaurants, so that any change in Mallorca would not be a great issue. However, it is the case that some visitors enjoy the liberal smoking laws that currently exist. Or maybe one is making too much of all this. And maybe the federation is as well. In the UK, habits have changed. Far fewer people smoke than used to be the case, the result of publicity, education and also a smoking ban. Tradition, of sorts, it may be for the Mallorcan bar to be a smoker's haven, but were it no longer to be, then would that really be such a bad thing?

Smoking bans elsewhere -
Bulgaria: a total ban in public places is due to be introduced as from June this year.
Croatia: a law banning smoking in bars etc was reversed in September last year, allowing for either designated smoking areas or, in the case of small bars, for owners to choose if bars are smoking or non-smoking (as is the case at the moment in Mallorca).
Cyprus: a ban in public places came into effect at the start of the year; as with the Spanish proposal, smoking can continue on terraces.
Egypt: who knows? There was a ban imposed in 2007 in "public places", but it has not been enforced. In practice, there is none.
France: smoking rooms are permitted but with strict conditions.
Greece: there have been similar provisions as to those now in Croatia, but enforcement is lax. A total ban was supposedly imposed from 1 July last year, but there has been a backlash.
Italy: as in France, strictly controlled smoking rooms are permitted but are rare, and in the country generally tough restrictions have proved to be popular.
Turkey: smoking has been banned inside bars and restaurants since last summer.

World Cup Song
Further to yesterday, I received a comment bigging up a thing called "Green Fields Of England" by George and the Dragons. Here it is -

Yesterday's title - The Police,

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wrapped Around Your Finger - Pi de Ternelles Accident

The events of Sant Antoni claimed a victim; the boss of fiestas in Pollensa needed to have parts of two fingers amputated as the result of an accident in the movement of the pine tree of Ternelles to the town of Pollensa. Reports of the whole day's festivities said that there were "regretfully various incidents". But while the actual climbing of the pine tree might be said to be the most dangerous aspect of the Ternelles ceremony, it should be noted that it was not this that caused Miquel Ramón to lose those fingers. Nevertheless, other reports spoke of excessive amounts of alcohol being consumed, while "The Diario" made it clear that the very act of transferring the pine tree is not a "game".

It is easy to see the night of Sant Antoni, with its fires and fire-runs, and the day of Ternelles, with its tree climbing, as all jolly good fun and hang the safety angle, but not for the first time this most traditional of Mallorcan occasions has raised concerns. One can add the voices of animal rights supporters who object to the live cock that is the "prize" for the first person to climb the tree. Personally, I couldn't give a damn whether someone injures himself, scaling the pine, or whether there is a non-sentient animal in a bag at the top of the tree. It is unfortunate that Ramón has lost fingers, but accidents can and do happen. It is all jolly good fun (unless you happen to be divested of parts of your body), but tradition or no tradition, one does wonder if it is not under threat, and not only because of Europe's rulings regarding the fire-runs.

Heaven help us that Anglo-Saxon principles of arch-health and safety should intrude, but it would be impossible for something like Sant Antoni or Ternelles to occur in the UK. Someone would cop for a major compensation claim, of that you could be sure; the police just wouldn't tolerate any of it, nor would local authorities. The notion of some 3,000 people (seemingly far more than before) trooping off to get the pine tree and then manipulating it and moving it, under the influence of drink, would be absurd to British sensibilities. That, though, is how it is in Pollensa. For how much longer?

World Cup Song
You may know that there will not be an official World Cup song to mark England's campaign this summer. No "Back Home", no "World In Motion". Apparently, Fabio doesn't want the distraction. But there will of course be a song, several songs in all likelihood, and let me lend my support to Danny Baker's call for something truly awful to be one of those songs, something truly awful that has a Mallorcan dimension in that the perpetrator is one of the island's X-listed unter-celebs. Jess Conrad. Remember him? His name crops up now and then in the so-called celeb columns of the island's media. He once recorded a song called "Soccer Superstar", and it is this atrocity that Baker is promoting - and rightly so. If you are unfamiliar with this, then check it out - Who knows, there is probably already a Facebook campaign behind this inspiration for our boys in South Africa. Or maybe it could be remixed for a contemporary market. Give it over to Pete Hook to be newly ordered, and throw in Rooney doing a rap.

Yesterday's title - Jeff Goldblum. Today's title - which group did the finger-wrapping?

Any comments to please.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Tall Guy (Miquel Llompart)

Miquel Llompart was formally voted in as Alcúdia's new mayor on Saturday, confirming what had been, for some weeks, the formality of his ascent to the mayoral throne. As is normal, a mayor is selected by council members, and not directly by the electorate. In Alcúdia, this means the combined muscle of the Unió Mallorquina (UM) and the PSOE socialists, the pact that controls the town hall. Llompart has promised continuity in working with "integrity, humility and transparency", attributes sometimes in limited supply in Mallorcan politics. There is no reason not to believe him.

The act of voting for Llompart took place in the town hall meeting room, wherein were other mayors from the UM, such as Joan Cerdà from Pollensa, who heard the new mayor say that "on behalf of every citizen, it will be an honour to serve as town mayor". This echoed a point he made when I met him. Yet for all that he, or indeed any mayor, might declare himself a servant of all the people, of whatever nationality, a question remains as to quite how much interest there is, among these different nationalities, as to who actually occupies the mayoral seat. I happen to believe that there should be an interest, not that non-locals necessarily take an active role in local politics, but that they at least know something about the man at the top. It is as important to know the person as it is to know what his politics are. Mayors in Mallorca are, or should be, very close to the towns' residents. A further question, though, surrounds how well these mayors actually communicate with their diverse populations.

Towns such as Alcúdia have become increasingly cosmopolitan, yet there has been a retrenchment into communicative ghettoes, in which Mallorquín-Catalan is the de facto standard of communication. Understandable though this may be, it does not, however, reflect the nature of the population. The town halls cannot be expected to communicate in every language, and it can be argued that it is up to those living in the towns to make themselves capable of understanding the standard language, but that doesn't reflect reality. Just as the town halls are ham-fisted in communicating information of a tourism nature, so they usually fail to make any compromise in general communication. English - at least English, as the international language - could, indeed should, be used on the town halls' websites (and not the tourism ones, but those for all residents of the towns). German also. This might be seen as pandering to incomers from other countries and as being at variance with the politics of Catalan, but it would be a more realistic approach and would achieve the ambition - of the likes of Miquel Llompart - to be close to all citizens. It really should not be difficult to establish full English and German pages on the town halls' websites. One might even add that this could offer an educative function for what the university in Palma has exposed as weak standards of English.

It will be interesting to see how "different" Llompart might be. Not only is he highly popular in Alcúdia, partly because of his basketball background, he also has a reputation for rankling more conservative elements within his party. He will also be one of the youngest mayors on the island, to say nothing of his being the tallest - a point that "The Diario" was keen to highlight the other day. At 1.95 metres, or 6' 4", he's going to dominate Alcúdia politics, in more than one sense of the word.

Yesterday's title - James Morrison. Today's title - which actor was the "tall guy"?

Any comments to please.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Beautiful Myth - One Europe

Are you a European? If you are, could you define what this means? I, for one, haven't a clue. Perhaps I should. I was once, several years ago now, approached about the post of communications director with a pro-Europe lobby group. I met one of the movers behind this at a gentlemen's club in London, and promptly heard nothing more, either about the post or the group. Best intentions possibly, best intentions dashed. 'Tis often thus with groups and associations.

Back then, it all seemed idealistically sound. Unification of peoples under a common banner for a common good. I was sold on the idea - then. But it was, and largely is, illusory. A dissonance exists between political intent and psychological and social acceptance; one that is all but impossible to bridge. Nevertheless, people keep trying.

Last summer, a new group emerged in Mallorca. "Europeos por España". There was a bit of publicity hullabaloo and then silence. At the time I suggested that it might sink "into the obscurity of indifference". Maybe it has, for all that one hears anything about it. Politically non-aligned, it was hard to understand what its purpose was, given that another European group already existed. Though these groups profess political neutrality, and most probably are neutral, one cannot help but have the sneaking suspicion that the odd individual may view them as a springboard to established political career-making.

The "Ciudadanos Europeos" (European citizens) group has been going for several years. It is being given a new lease of life, or seems to be, by having a regular monthly page in "The Bulletin". We'll see how long that lasts. And this may sound rather cynical, but these things do have a habit of just disappearing. The aims of this group are fair enough - breaking down barriers, cultural exchange, information about participating in local elections - but in its activities, one forms the impression of some sort of über-national social society.

In the group's column, we are told that "Europe is a cultural unity with a history dating back more than 2,500 years". Really? What is the basis for such an argument? Common linguistic roots where most European languages are concerned, yes, but otherwise? European "unity" has been predicated, down the centuries, on empire-building, wars and religion, and not all of this has been in the pursuit of a common culture, certainly not where the Ottomans were concerned. In today's Europe, the objections to Turkey's membership of the European Union are founded on the gap between secular Islam and Western Christianity, the latter itself a thing of division that goes back centuries. Where "unity" might be said to have been established from later mediaeval times, it was one formed through marriage and kingdom combination, often a recipe for later disaster and one far removed from everyday experience and identities with local networks of the village or town. This unity was such that it gave rise to the First World War, the consequence of inept monarchical competition. Even at the national level, the after-shocks of marital alliance still reverberate, despite the alliances being hundreds of years old. Spain is a prime example.

Europe as a philosophy or as a psychology is a myth. It is a beautiful myth, one that one would like to believe in, but it is myth nevertheless. "Ciudadanos Europeos" wishes to bring different nationalities in Mallorca together. This is laudable, but the nationalities will persist in pursuing their own association, be this an actual association or simply normal social interaction. The British, for example, extract from the local community what local cultural elements they want, and that's as far as it goes. This is the old "integration" debate, but anything like complete assimilation is a further myth. The British are no more "Mallorcan" than they are "European". They are British. And this is not an argument in favour of nationalism, simply a recognition of identity and - dare one say it - cultural unity; unity at the national level in the sense that even this can be said to exist.

Language is at the heart of any cultural unity. Despite those common linguistic roots, divergence in the practical use of language is so extreme, so representative of different values, experiences and heritage to make impossible one unified entity. At a facile level, think of the Sid Lowe-Real Mallorca contretemps. When Lowe said the club had "no fans", an English reader would have known that he didn't mean this literally. But this was how it was interpreted by non-English native speakers. Lowe was making a joke, and humour is possibly the most difficult concept to translate because of its cultural and linguistic nuances. And misunderstandings across the English and Spanish (or Catalan) divide are just some. Add on all the languages and dialects of Europe, and where does that get you? Cultural or indeed social unity? One Europe. Sorry, it's a beautiful myth, and myth it is and always will be.

Today's title - "Beautiful Myth". Had it once before. That was in connection with Bellevue. Who is it?

Any comments to please.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Late Show - Information Provision By Town Halls

All too frequently, our favourite newspaper contains too much that is irrelevant or an exercise in egoism, unrelated to Mallorca; too much that is space-filling and too much that lacks literacy; too much half-baked "celebritism" with the same unter-celebs. But, as I have said before on this blog, there is one element of "The Bulletin" that can be deserving of some attention - the letters. Not the lengthy tomes of self-aggrandisement and self-promotion, of which there are some, but those which highlight issues on the island. I referred to one yesterday. Here is another - one criticising the provision of information via the internet. The point is well made; the island can ill afford inaccurate information or an absence of information if it is serious in exploiting the internet to bolster tourism. The writer, in this instance, cites the wrong date given for an event in Calvia later this year on the town hall's site. Perhaps one should be grateful that they have even bothered to flag up something that doesn't take place for several months. All too often, information does not appear until events are all but happening - if it appears at all, or in English.

One only has to think about the provision of information about Sant Antoni programmes in the various towns to get a feel for how this information is given out. Two town halls - Sa Pobla and Pollensa - have been speedier than others, yet in the case of the latter, it has ignored what might be occurring in the port area. Not for the first time, there is a legitimate beef with the ivory tower of the town hall some eight kilometres distant from Puerto Pollensa. The activities may not be as grand and as numerous as in the old town, but activities there still are.

In the case of Muro, the information finally appeared on the town hall's site, yet they had made much of the poster for Sant Antoni. This had been posted previously, minus any actual information. Who cares? The impression one forms is that too great an emphasis is placed on making it all look pretty rather than giving over the hard facts as to what's going on.

An argument that is made - by the town halls - is that programmes are not always completed until roughly a week before events are staged. This is almost always rubbish. To give an example. In 2008, information for Alcúdia's fair was handed to me nearly three weeks before the fair. It helps to have the odd mole lurking. The information was exactly as it was officially given, two weeks later. Even if an update is required, what's to stop them doing so? But chances are that updates there will not be. A point to bear in mind is that for programmes to be printed, there have to be lead times. The actual information will have been nailed down many days, if not weeks, before the programmes actually appear. However, the information is not always clear. In Alcúdia, the information about the bonfires for Antoni and Sebastià refers to bars at the front of which are what seem to be "official" bonfires. Where are all these bars? Is it not possible to give an address? Not even the local Mallorcans know the location of every damn bar in town.

Another writer to the paper pointed out, a while back, that nowhere did there seem to be information about Palma's Sant Sebastià fiesta. Again, it was a valid gripe, especially for an event that the Palma authorities themselves had said needed to be promoted internationally. That was, what, two, three years ago? They seem to have forgotten that.

The real reason for the tardiness with which much information is made available lies with late-minute "grandstanding" and a love of making grandiloquent statements, released officially to the press, about the latest fiesta. These are supported by lavish printed programmes, the economics of which should be, but never seem to be, questioned. The keepers of the fiesta information release it when it suits them, and in a way that suits them, and not in a way that helps the general and tourism publics.

And having finally made the information available, is there a programme for an international audience? In English? All too rarely. Some material in the exotic programmes is printed in Castilian as well as Catalan, but usually it is just the latter. What is stopping them from posting a simple programme translated into English? A reason for this may lie with the fact that the English is so poor. A recent report into standards of English at the university in Palma, where many students take tourism, was damning. And where English is used, it is often wrong. This is inexcusable. Even the Balearic Government's tourism website is riddled with bad English, and one can thank "The Bulletin" for drawing attention to this when it was lifting - verbatim - stuff about beaches from that site.

Late information, inaccurate information, information that is not in the international language. The island's tourism authorities talk a good game when it comes to the use of the internet, but they - be they government, town halls or others - just don't seem to get it; that information is the most important element of what they can offer both over the internet and in print. What one gets instead are highly designed PDFs, but also shoddiness and sloppiness in the core of what has to be conveyed - that information.

As something of a footnote. I know of no-one, British, German, Mallorcan or whoever, who refers to Sant Antoni as anything but Sant Antoni. The Catalan is used by everyone, not even a Castilian alternative is used, and certainly not an anglicised name. So why does "The Bulletin" insist on calling it Saint Anthony?

Any comments to please.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Stiff Little Fingers

Some more on Sant Antoni.

You can, if you are so minded, have a DIY Sant Antoni, in terms of the nosebag if nothing else. The local supermarkets, in prominent entry positions to maximise the "traffic" opportunity, deck out stalls with the food of the fiesta - the salami and the sausage - together with some vino on offer and some of the elements of fire-making, for barbecues as opposed to torching the neighbourhood, though the wood could indeed come in handy for that. What you won't see, though, are Sant Antoni "guys". Like Bonfire Night of old, before it became less acceptable to incinerate a "guy", some of the Antoni bonfires are topped with demon "guys", destined to be sent into the fiery pits of Hades from whence they came. But in keeping with a tradition of "satire", as typified by the heads of well-known local figures worn by the "caparrots", perhaps the fires of Sant Antoni should create pyres of those lagging in the popularity league, like various overseers of calamity club, Real Mallorca.

And talking of which. Here's a curious thing. A number of consuls were gathered together a couple of days ago at Real's stadium. In "The Bulletin", there was a photo of them, alongside the odd club official, standing in the centre circle. In their ranks was the British Consul who swelled the numbers to sixteen. Sixteen! That constitutes a crowd at the ONO (oh no, it's Real Mallorca) stadium. Having had their photo taken, they then all trooped off for a "roundtable discussion in the boardroom". A discussion about what, for Heaven's sake? "So, your British excellency, what's your impression of Valero's form this season?" What was this? Like a radio phone-in minus the radio and the phones? Perhaps the Consul was invited to wave a metaphorically admonishing finger and fire off a stiff missive to Sid Lowe and tell him to behave himself in future.

While on stiff missives, an outraged of nowhere actually stated had one printed in "The Bulletin" yesterday. It was about the "locals" and their lack of care and attention where the environment is concerned. Ah yes, the locals, not anyone else, only the locals, though it is fair to say that there is a tradition in Mallorca that rules apply to everyone else except oneself. Anyway, the author was bemoaning the facts that fishermen and families leave bottles and cans on beaches and that "rubbish bins are still full of household waste, plastic etc. as there is no enforced scheme of waste sorting". Eh? Of course bins are full of household waste; that's what they are there for. I think he meant to say that rubbish gets put into the wrong bins, which is undeniably the case, as I highlighted not so long ago with the photo of the palm branches in the household waste container. But what is being overlooked here is that these bins are communal. Anyone can come along and put rubbish into them, and do, not only those in the immediate neighbourhood for whom they are designed. How does one enforce or police such communal waste disposal? With great difficulty.

There was also a word about the light pollution caused by the street lights on the new by-pass in Puerto Pollensa. This is a fair point, as the lights are of older stock which which do indeed emit excessive levels of illumination. The question should be, though, who gave the green light to these lights in the first place. They should never have been permitted.

Montagu And Cholmondeley
Apropos of nothing, other than a Spanish connection and some absurdly splendid names, you may well get wind of the story, publicised by Ben McIntyre of "The Times" of a deception during the Second World War which involved the dead body of a Welsh labourer, made up to be a drowned British major, that was deliberately washed ashore in Spain as part of Operation Mincemeat to deceive the Germans into believing that an attack on Sicily was not going to take place. Fantastic Boys Own, Wizard stuff, replete with Montagu and Cholmondeley, two officers with resplendent moustaches, a coroner called Bentley Purchase and a corpse consultant named Bernard Spilsbury. They don't make names like that nowadays, and maybe it was the Bernard and Cholmondeley twosome who gave Matt Lucas his Sir Bernard Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumley) character. And British Consuls should still have such names, and give foreign johnnies and their football stadia a wide berth.

Yesterday's title - Crazy World Of Arthur Brown,

Any comments to please.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I'll Take You To Burn - Sant Antoni Fire Nights

The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that there have been mentions on the blog to the Sant Antoni and Sant Sebastià fiestas that are about to hit various towns: to hit with an incendiary force and with an explosion of flame and the nearest window blown out with heat.

Sant Antoni is hard-core Mallorca fiesta. Eschewed is the soft and smooth veneer of a sultry summer's eve, one of tourist scantiness, scattily viewed through a vacated sangria jug. This is winter fiesta, one of rawness both in weather and portrayal. Wild winds and wild men racing with fire, before all becomes calm and the local cats and dogs are dragged in front of men of the cloth for some ritualistic benediction. This is not a steak barbecue, but a dish of revulsion - an eel wrapped in spinach and doused with paprika. Or salami strapped into some bread and washed away with primitive wine.

Sant Antoni is hair-suit fiesta, one played out against the bitter breeze that cuts in from the exposure of the grey and wetlands of winter Albufera; one of herds of the island populace corralled into town centres by a police newly alert to an alien force of crowd safety, a police that then hovers on roundabouts, ready to test revellers for the impact of that primitive wine.

Sant Antoni is antiquity fiesta, one of the peculiar drone and rhythm of the ximbomba, a co-opted Mallorcan instrument, one taken from an Arabic heritage; one of the glosadors, the hierbas or mesclat-sinking singers of frightful, improvised caterwauling. Sant Antoni, in its heartland of Sa Pobla and Muro, is as old as churches of the towns: it is the towns. Sa Pobla, and the original oratory of Crestatx, are of the same vintage as the assumption of Sant Antoni within their midsts.

Sant Antoni is temptation and rejection of the devil, his modern-day cohorts being the men of fire, dressed as demons who run with flames. It is fiesta that, in the very absence of tourists in January, is a Mallorca party. There is a sense with all Mallorcan fiestas that, as a foreigner, one is somehow gate-crashing someone else's party, invading an alternative culture. But it is this - the different culture - that Sant Antoni is really all about. This is full-on Mallorcan fiesta. It may be a mistake, it may be missing a trick to not seek a wider international audience, but if one ever really wanted to understand the meaning of the Mallorcan fiesta, then Sant Antoni is it, and Sa Pobla and Muro do it better than most.

Yesterday's title - Peggy Lee (and others), Today's title - from one of the most recognisable songs about fire.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fever Isn't Such A New Thing - Elections in 2011

Election fever may be starting to take hold in the UK, but in Mallorca the fever is, as yet, just a mild sniffle. Regional elections for the Balearic Government do not take place till 2011, but plans are starting to be put into place. The greatest uncertainty surrounds the current president, Francesc Antich, who has been equivocal as to whether he will seek a further term. The good money, until now, has been that he will not stand again, and he has hinted that this might be the case, but his party - the PSOE socialists - would like him to and to continue as secretary-general of the party.

Whatever one thinks about Antich and indeed his socialist party, and whatever one thinks about his handling of affairs from the economic crisis to the corruption scandals, he has been a good enough president. More than this, he is one of the very few Mallorcan politicians who can be said to demonstrate anything like statesman-like qualities and genuine political maturity. His diplomacy and patience in dealing with the disruptions in government - none of them of his making - have been commented upon and been admired. He has also overseen a significant increase in the level of central funding coming into the islands for different projects. It was not, for example, his fault that one of the major projects - the rail extension to Alcúdia - was scuppered. He is dealt the hand he is dealt, one that pretty much any president in the Balearics faces - that of dealing with coalition partners and different levels of government that often have competing needs or which just act in a politicking manner.

The main alternative to Antich is the current leader of the Council of Mallorca, Francina Armengol. The fact that members of the Unió Mallorquina were prepared to resign from her administration does not fill one with great confidence; they resigned because they didn't get on with her. It might be argued that they - the UM members - did a touch of toy-throwing out of the pram, but the fact remains that there were tensions and still are, following their return to the fold. The ability to deal with different factions and parties is arguably the most important aspect of a prospective leader's CV, and Armengol has not proved that she can satisfy this demand.

Of course, even if Antich were to seek a further term, there is no guarantee that he would win it. However, the main opposition - the Partido Popular - is not in great shape, and there is a question mark as to who actually would be its presidential candidate. Nevertheless, the party is polling quite well, despite the corruption scandal involving the former PP president, Jaume Matas. The UM is most unlikely to offer a serious challenge, certainly not in light of the corruption charges and the decimation in its ranks. Perhaps the biggest potential pitfall for the PSOE would be voter apathy, a rejection of the political class as a whole and a vote against corruption, though this would be somewhat unfair on the PSOE which has not been caught up in the scandals.

One of the great advantages for Antich is that he is a member of the same party that rules in Madrid. A closeness to Zapatero can only work to Mallorca's benefit, but there must also be the possibility that Antich, who has already had an earlier stint as regional president, may have his eye on a central position. That would be Mallorca's loss but Spain's gain.

The race to next year's elections starts now.

(Since writing this piece, Antich has now announced that he will indeed be putting himself forward as a candidate in 2011.)

On the WHAT'S ON BLOG is stuff for Sant Antoni in Alcúdia (Sant Sebastià as well) and in Muro -

Yesterday's title - Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton, And - Bryn and Nessa in "Gavin & Stacey". Today's title - from which famous song does this come?

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Islands In The Stream

Oh for days of yore. Those Boxing Days of old when Fred Pontin would enjoin us to "book early" and the Warners would wander onto the screens looking like a trio of M.J.K. Smiths* grinning cheesily and with embarrassment. Those days of Clarkson - pre-Jeremy - when package holidays cost about a tenner before Clarkson became one of the first great holiday company collapses.

Nowadays there are few holiday companies to choose from, and what few there are make virtues of saturated, high-definition television to whisk the consumer off to azure seas and sandy, palm-lined beaches. And so First Choice and Thomas Cook decorate our holiday dreams with flat-screened exotica, and in the case of Thomas Cook they do so courtesy of ... the Redknapps. Yes, everyone, Jamie and Louise, the sub-Beckhams, the under-Coles of football-girl band marital marketing opportunity. No more the Warners, reminiscent of a 60s England cricketer with spectacles. Now we have the aspirations of "Hello"-style froth from waves gently caressing the shore, aimed at Royle Families gathered on the nation's sofas who would have more in mind the price of a lager and the savings to be made by going all-inclusive.

Why would you go anywhere that the Redknapps go? And if you were to, where - in Mallorca - would it be? A clue lies in an article Louise once penned for "The Mail On Sunday". Portals Nous. That's where. Portals Nous, home to the tippy-toppy-stilletoed, brown-wrinkly expat band of shallowness that the daily variety of "The Mail" exposed (even if there was some doubt cast as to the accuracy of that piece). Portals Nous is far removed from the everyday Mallorcan holiday experience, e.g. that of Magaluf, a point Mrs. Redknapp made: "I had a picture in my head that was, well, pretty inaccurate. Everyone has heard of Magaluf, and that's what I was expecting - a giant concrete resort with mile-upon-mile of tower blocks, noise and chaos". Jamie and his missus discovered the more "authentic" side of Mallorca - yep, Portals Nous, all luxury yachts and Jimmy Choos.

So when you don't just book it but Thomas Cook it to Mallorca and admire the Redknapps on golden beaches, it is to Portals Nous that you should be heading. It is to here, the über-celeb locations of the island, that the aspirations of the Thomas Cook Redknapped ad are calling you. Not that you will be able to book anything in Portals, as on the Thomas Cook website there is no mention of the place. Poor old Jamie and Louise. They have set themselves up for a good kicking - one on the shins by lumbering centre halfs in Jamie's case, or by Danny Baker on his radio show the other day or by one of the authors of**: "they (the Redknapps) are just like the sort of people you befriend over sun-parched bacon and eggs at Frank's Beachside Taverna before regretting it for the remaining thirteen nights".

'Arry's boy and Mrs. R are generic holiday - in Thomas Cook land - but by association they are specific, as in the Cook ad for the Balearics. Here is something that has been exercising some of the good people on the forum, as apparently the Menorca bit shows Puerto Pollensa. Could have fooled me - from what is streamed via the Cook site - but if eagle-eyed ad watchers make the mismatch it does suggest a certain sloppiness on the part of the production people. Nice one, the chap who spotted it.

* I have this recollection that there were indeed three Warners and that they all looked like the one-time England cricket captain, M.J.K. Smith, a bespectacled and rather gawky fellow. Have tried to find some google evidence of the Warners but none has cropped up.

** This is partly a Manchester journo called David Quinn who also has a site - - on which, among other things, you can read about the ten most awful people on television in 2009, one of whom - the number one in fact - is Michael McIntyre. Amen.

Today's title - a duo. And they were? And on which TV comedy-drama series was it performed and by which characters?

Any comments to please.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Town Hall Spends

When there is talk about the difficulties facing the two main industries in Mallorca - tourism and construction - it is perhaps easy to overlook a sector of the economy that has enjoyed significant growth since the turn of the century. Whether it should have enjoyed such growth is open to debate, for that sector is public administration, and nowhere has this growth been more evident than at the island's town halls.

Since 1999, the spend on town hall personnel has doubled, and in "The Diario" yesterday the percentage increases in terms of this spend were set out - municipality by municipality. In the northern area, some of these increases appear staggering - 252% in Búger for example - but one has to bear in mind from what base these figures are calculated. Nevertheless, 152% in Muro, 175% in Sa Pobla, 154% in Pollensa all sound like a lot. Only Alcúdia has not broken the 100 barrier, by a mere 0.4 of a per cent. Sound like a lot but not by comparison with some of the smaller towns - Santa Eugènia has experienced a rise of 2,700 per cent. There again, it used to spend the equivalent of a mere 14,300 euros in 1999.

The explanation for the increases lies, partly, with an improvement - a necessary improvement - in the provision of local services such as sanitation and education. One cannot dismiss all the rises as extravagance. Generally, the largest rises have occurred at the town halls of the smaller municipalities. The figures for Pollensa and Alcúdia might strike one as being excessive, but they are lower than elsewhere.

Nevertheless, there are reasons to be concerned by these figures. Firstly, the financing of greater town hall spends was a feature of what is referred to as the "years of economic bonanza", the period of a dash for growth echoed across Spain in both the private and public sectors, but one that relied to no small extent on European benevolence and easy credit. Rather as the entire Spanish and Mallorcan economies have been exposed as shaky in their sustainability, because of loose credit and a lack of diversification, so the public sector town halls now face unsustainability in terms of further growth in personnel numbers and spend.

Secondly, there are issues as to priorities and to what can seem like duplication of departmental responsibilities that mirror levels of government higher up the public administration food chain - the Council of Mallorca and regional government. Not all town halls in Mallorca are faced with a dual economy, one that deals both with needs of residents and of tourists, but many are. While services like police, rubbish collection, street cleaning are essential for both sets of needs, there is also the frontline provision of assistance to tourists - i.e. the tourist offices. In Alcúdia, for instance, it has long been the case that the department is under-resourced, resulting in offices not being manned as long as they should be. In Playa de Muro and Can Picafort, the offices make do with minimal staffing, while Playa de Muro could do with a satellite office in Alcúdia Pins and Can Picafort with two, neither of them the current one that is located in no-tourist land between Son Bauló and the main centre of Can Picafort. Where the police are concerned, the lack of coverage in Son Serra de Marina has been well-publicised, while Alcúdia would benefit from greater numbers to tackle some of the stuff that happens on the streets and for which by-laws exist yet are often flouted.

Local myth would have it that the town halls are in fact over-staffed, reflecting a culture of excessive bureaucracy and jobsworthing. To an extent, this may be true - hence my initial point as to how debatably sensible some of the personnel growth has been. Yet it is the apparent duplication that raises most questions. A case in point is that of Alcúdia and its canals, bridges and lakes, all environmental features but the responsibility not of the town hall's environment department but the central Costas authority.

The wider issue is, or should be, public administration in its totality. In other words, the interaction between the different levels of government and the allocation of responsibilities. It is this total bureaucracy that can be excessive, bloated and time-consuming, such as in the case of the convoluted process of granting hotel building licences that involves local and central departments and which leads to so much work being undertaken without a licence or with one pending; and this despite the loosening of regulations recently.

The town hall spends may or may not be too high, but with the federation of local authorities admitting that current levels cannot be sustained, it is time for a fundamental appraisal of the island's public provision - at all levels.