Sunday, February 28, 2010

Thus Spake Zarathustra - The downfall of Mother Munar

Maria Antònia Munar, matriarch of the Unió Mallorquina party and of Mallorcan politics, has finally quit her post as speaker of the Balearics parliament. Her role in the so-called "caso maquillaje" (make-up) and the corruption allegations levelled at her have - belatedly - claimed her. She is accused, along with former tourism minister Miquel Nadal, of using an audiovisual company, Video U, to divert a quarter of a million euros of public funds for the purpose of financing the UM's electoral campaigns. Her position had become untenable. The new code of politician ethics that had been introduced was meant to have led to resignations while investigations were ongoing. Munar had chosen to ignore this, until Friday.

While the case has still to be fully brought to court, the knives have already been sharpened. One does have to wonder as to what impact the press might have on any trial. So far there have only been declarations in front of the judge, though Munar has chosen her right to keep silent. Meanwhile, the outstanding "Diario" journalist, Matías Vallés, has - not for the first time - ripped a reputation to shreds. In yesterday's paper, he headlined a piece about Munar thus: "The most hated woman in Mallorca's history". Headlined it thus, and then thus spake Zarathustra. Vallés quotes Munar from a previous time, when she governed in Mallorca alongside the discredited and under-investigation ex-president Jaume Matas of the Partido Popular. At that time she told her party that there was going to be "no-one accused of corruption". With this, Vallés brands her Zarathustra. Nietzsche took the mythical character and made him "the first immoralist". Perhaps Munar considered herself an "Übermensch".

Vallés refers to Munar's lack of principles and to her relationship with Nadal. "Her beloved dolphin" is how he describes the ex-minister and Munar's anointed successor as party leader. He had previously called Nadal "ineffable". In a twist to the saga, Nadal and three directors of Video U have protested their innocence and sought to finger Munar, a delicious story of Munar handing Nadal 300 grand in readies while in the official car of the president of the Council of Mallorca (which Munar once was) all adding to the sleaze.

The characterisation of Munar as a hated woman raises an issue in respect of women in Mallorcan politics, one that has resonance in wider Mallorcan society. Vallés also refers to Munar as Lady Diada, and one has to go back a bit to understand quite what he means; there is form when it comes to Vallés and Munar. The Diada name can just as easily be Lady MacBeth - feminine compassion supplanted by ambition and ruthlessness. Generalisations are always to be treated with care, but Munar's style and demeanour are not unusual among Mallorcan women of a certain standing. It is in the Mallorcan character to exhibit a sense of superiority in any event, and for some women this can become aloofness that borders on the contemptuous. And to this can be added power lust and self-promotion. Vallés repeated yesterday some of what he said about Munar in December 2007. He mentions a magazine, paid for by the Council of Mallorca, which featured 87 photos of Munar on 83 pages. In another magazine, "Brisas", published by the Diario's competitor, the Serra group ("Ultima Hora" and "The Bulletin"), its VIP section was once full of photos of Munar in her finery. One couldn't turn a page without her staring out at you. But she is not unique.

The German neighbours the other day raised what at first seemed a strange point, followed by a question. On Sundays, they had noticed women who wear furs, wandering around with noses firmly raised in the air. What was their standing, they asked. Initially I didn't understand, until I remembered that in Germany status tends to be defined, not by class as it might be in Britain, but by profession, whether the husband's or the woman's. Talk to Germans, and their small talk is often littered with the adjective "beruflich" (professional). It matters to them. There wasn't necessarily any such equivalent in Mallorca, I ventured. Just wealth. Or power. But they had identified a trait, one seemingly compatible with Munar. Aloof and contemptuous, not just of others - the Übermensch mentality perhaps, the triumphing by making enemies (as she has admitted) - but also of the rules. Munar has been brought down by alleged rule-bending and breaking and by a hubris that is symptomatic of a social stratum in Mallorca. Vallés has not necessarily made this point, but he has nevertheless given it potential currency. If you read the native, then I recommend you take a look at his article:

Any comments to please.

Index for February 2010

Architecture, housing - 26 February 2010
Association of British Companies Menorca - 1 February 2010
Banks - 20 February 2010, 22 February 2010
Bird-watching - 8 February 2010, 9 February 2010
Bleach - 14 February 2010
Car-hire prices - 11 February 2010
Carlos Delgado - 17 February 2010
Carnival - 11 February 2010
Caso maquillaje corruption - 28 February 2010
Catalan and politics of language - 17 February 2010
China Crisis in Pollensa - 19 February 2010
Cold weather and houses in Mallorca - 12 February 2010
Cycling tourists - 3 February 2010, 8 February 2010, 13 February 2010
Foreigners' office online residency system - 15 February 2010
Halifax Bank Puerto Pollensa to close - 20 February 2010
Hotels opening at Easter - 15 February 2010
Inestur corruption case (Operación Voltor) - 4 February 2010, 5 February 2010, 6 February 2010, 7 February 2010, 9 February 2010
Mallorca Tourist Board (Fomento del Turismo) - 1 February 2010, 22 February 2010
Maria Antònia Munar resignation - 28 February 2010
Mobiles in marketing - 14 February 2010
Muro golf course - 20 February 2010
Muro's former mayor disqualified - 5 February 2010
Palm beetle - 17 February 2010
Quality tourism, so-called - 27 February 2010
Real Mallorca - 5 February 2010, 24 February 2010
Religious education - 2 February 2010
Riskal closes - 10 February 2010
Ryanair - 23 February 2010
Satyricon restaurant, Alcúdia - 21 February 2010
Spain's worst companies - 25 February 2010
The Cranberries in Palma - 19 February 2010
Tourism season 2010 - 4 February 2010, 11 February 2010
Unió Mallorquina corruption charges - 6 February 2010, 7 February 2010, 9 February 2010, 28 February 2010
Water supplies - 18 February 2010
Weather in February - 16 February 2010
What's on information (Bulletin) - 22 February 2010

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Never Mind The Quality - Ever more on so-called quality tourism

There was a very good letter in "The Bulletin" yesterday. It came from Ian Morrison, a name some of you will be familiar with. You might also be familiar with some of the sentiments. They are ones you have heard many times on this blog. Mr. Morrison and I appear to share a similar past-time: banging our heads against the brick-walled numbskulls that populate the tourism authorities in Mallorca.

Here was an "open" letter to the new tourism minister. Another day, another tourism minister. Another tourism minister, another set of statements of the pointless and even the insulting. Here were references to "quality tourists", the hackneyed, pejorative but ultimately meaningless term used to describe, one supposes, bulging-pocketed tourists who eschew karaoke and lager unlike the poor sods at the "bottom end" of the market. The minister's bottom end, not mine. This is a massive and not infrequent affront. Here too were references to the promotional spend directed at this quality market and to the irrelevance of it. References to spending some of this promotional money on incentives to tour operators, on promotion via the big online agencies. References to things you will have read here before. References to things that are, if you like, common sense.

Times change, of course they do, but it remains the case that what made Mallorca in the first place still holds true. And that is the sun and beach holiday, one for families, not all of whom are necessarily loaded. This is the Mallorca brand, as I have said so often, one that they try to diminish by alternative marketing and the pursuit of this mythical "quality tourist". And what is this person anyway? Who knows? The tourism people certainly don't. It's just a term, an utterly meaningless and insulting one which has the effect merely of potentially alienating the thousands, nay millions who made and continue to make Mallorca what it is. It is the regular tourist who makes Mallorca. Not some niched ones who might prefer cultural experiences. Who the hell would fill all the hotels otherwise?

The new tourism minister, Sra. Barceló, is simply singing the same old song, as has been sung so many times over the past several years. There must be a script somewhere in the tourism ministry with certain stock phrases and words that must be trotted out at all times, even if the one uttering them hasn't a clue what he or she is talking about. The revolving door at the ministry may have raised some eyebrows among tour operators, but it doesn't really matter who's occupying the ministerial swivel-chair. It is the tour operator who decides what type of tourist comes and when. Elsewhere in the paper, the tame tour operator "inside tourism", he from the Monarch group, says that discussions are taking place with the same Sra. Barceló to offer more by way of winter tourism. On the face of it, this sounds quite encouraging and is evidence, if more is needed, that it is in the tour operators' gift to make winter tourism work. Encouraging, except that is when you read the list of the same old stuff that comprises this winter tourism. You don't need me to tell you again what this is. The tourism ministry is not irrelevant in all this, because it would be the ministry that is charged with much of the promotion that might persuade hotels to bother opening and thereby make winter tourism work - for the tour operators. And so you come back to that promotion and that spend and, in all likelihood, to the so-called quality tourist. And chances are the money would be wasted, if it's no longer being siphoned off into a political party's coffers - allegedly.

A different type of encouragement comes from the fact that the Spanish tourism ministry has a Facebook campaign. It's something. All the resorts should do the same. Using social networks would be an inexpensive alternative and arguably as effective if not more than the Nadalist corporate advertising. I spoke about this back in November (8 November: Same Old Story). Rather than increasing promotional budgets, they should be cut as a way of exercising minds gone flabby with the default thinking of celebrity marketing.

But to come back to winter tourism, you might recall an exchange about cultural (winter) tourism (27 November: The Coffee Culture Club). In this, the points were made that there are high costs associated with its marketing and selling and with the hire of coaches etc, as well as there being the need for volume to make it work for an island with a culture and history which aren't actually that remarkable, certainly when set against the fact that so many other places offer "culture" which is often more interesting. The point was also made that none of the big tour operators would think it worthwhile and for a very good reason. The ratio between the high costs of marketing and the actual returns would be poor. Here lies the rub. The business rub. Marketing spend for summer, for regular sun and beach holidays may well also be high, but so also are the returns. The ratio is highly favourable. Is Monarch, therefore, willing to lavish money on the marketing? Or would it be the tourism ministry, whose efforts might be better devoted to ensuring that the bread and butter of summer continues to feed Mallorca?

And finally ... The guy from Monarch also said the following: "Forget the sun, the Balearics has to give up going down that road." I'm struggling. Did a representative of Monarch, Cosmos and Co-Op really say this?

Any comments to please.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Living In A Box (Re-mix): Architecture in Alcúdia

The quadratic affront to the eye that is the Can Ramis building in Alcúdia old town (12 December: Toy Story - The Can Ramis Building) is an insult of non-contextual brutalism. But it is, after all, only a public building, one forged from functionalism. Nevertheless, it has no redeeming feature when placed against the neo-Gothic of historical buildings, those classified in terms of local "patrimonio" (heritage, to you and me). The straight lines, the vertical and horizontal, the wood, glass and steel form a passionless abscess-in-a-box of royal proportions - "Carlos Carbunculis".

There is, one has to presume, a whole school of what we might call the new architecture, or what might more accurately be described as Blockism. This Blockist tendency has infiltrated the residential domain, giving rise to and making rise up a cubist collectivist, close-to-communist conformity of form for housing. It might look in place in some post-modernist new town, but in Alcúdia? In Mallorca? A local fascination with and often brilliance with art and graphics has combined the old, the more recent (post-impressionism in art, for example) and the contemporary in fashioning painting, sculpture and design, but the architecture of "now" has turned its back on the vividness of colour and the diversity of cottage, villa and Moorish shapes in creating a Blockist, soulless landscape. Residential housing has been boxed in by the box of a group-thought architectural design authoritarianism, the fascism of the cuboidal, and most of it divested of primary or strong colours.

In Puerto Alcúdia, there is a new development by the Eroski supermarket and on the edge of the Lago Esperanza. It is indicative of this new conformism, one that has sprouted a pre-fabism, spawned by a computer-based template and using the rotate tool to move left, right, up or down. It has been finished off with what looks like a gradient effect from Photoshop. It is Adobe end-of-terrace. It is also redolent of sixties and seventies British town centres or council estates - the national mural of Brent, tiles of competing browns, greys and what may even be blues that looks ripe for some graffiti artist to complement. New, this "artistic" adjunct may look acceptable, though to whom one can't be quite sure, but give it a year or three or four and it will have acquired an appearance of obsolescence. As for the dwellings, the interiors, the workmanship, the fittings may well all be superior; there's no reason to suggest otherwise. But this is not the point.

The development has a certain industrial attractiveness. In a different context it might bring forth the plaudits of a local RIBA** equivalent (well, I say might), for example the context of whole new builds on land previously razed by nuclear or even conventional-warhead attack. No, architecturally, it has a utilitarian beauty, if that's not a contradiction, which it is. But the pursuit of the Blockist new architecture is changing not just the style of the housing stock in Alcúdia (and elsewhere), it is also altering the landscape, taking away that heritage of style and of colour. It is also, via its soullessness, eating away at a social and physical soul that had previously found building expression in the richness of shades of earth, sea, sun and beach. In the further pursuit of a perceived elevation of quality, it is symptomatic of the tourism conundrum - the move away, so we are told, from sea and beach to an abstract and still undefined "newness" of tourism. Architectural allegory.

Stark and lacking sympathy with the natural environment from which came a more traditional architecture and tourism, Blockism is the housing motif for the new age. But as with tourism, there is more than just a slight sense that architecture has lost its way and is striving for form from the seemingly formless, as with whatever the "new" tourism is supposed to be. Lost its way, and lost in AutoCAD and Photoshop.

** RIBA - Royal Institute of British Architects.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

FAC-You: Spain's worst companies

The Spanish equivalent of the Consumers' Association is an organisation called FACUA. It would be interesting to know if FACUA has contracts with any of the leading mobile operators, as they are all nominated as worst company of the year and get dishonourable mentions in the two other main categories of the organisation's newly instituted annual "awards", worst business practice and worst advert.

This is cracking stuff and is evidence of growing consumerist muscle in Mallorca and Spain. Our chums Ryanair have been on the receiving end of various groups' criticisms - and the airline is also nominated as one of the five worst companies, along with Air Comet - while Palma town hall has recently become the first local authority to start proceedings against a whole host of mobile operators, including the "big three" nominated by FACUA - Orange, Vodafone and Movistar - for what it claims are "abusive clauses" relating to their contracts and practices. Movistar has also recently been fined, albeit with a low penalty, for some misdemeanour.

FACUA is inviting consumers to vote for one of the five nominees in its three categories. One presumes that there is unlikely to be an awards ceremony, replete with gushing recipients, thanking God and their entire family or sending their fridge. There will be no separate appraisal of the fashion sense of the recipients as there was for the BAFTAs (sponsored of course by Orange) in "The Sunday Times", an article that brought forth a brilliant comment on the paper's website to the effect of who are all these people (mentioned in the article) and why am I reading the article, one that was outstanding in its fatuity and references to obscure fashionistas. Shame that there might not be such an appraisal, certainly where one of the nominees of worst advert is concerned - the wonderfully named bread company, Bimbo.

Among the categories of worst business practice are "irregularities in electricity invoices" - no prizes for knowing which company might be the happy recipient of this turkey or rotten tomato - and telephonic "spam", for which, take a bow, Movistar (aka Telefonica) and its miserable, puerile and counterproductive mobile bombardment with the "1485" number. Spam or cold-calling is not the problem that it is in the UK, and is generally confined to the whole telecoms sector - mobile, landlines and internet providers. FACUA might also have fingered these providers. They are part of an industry, internet provision, that is one of the worst in Europe. Slow, expensive and unreliable. Other than this, it's quite good. At a time when it has just been reported that your average Spaniard spends longer on the internet than watching television, it beggars belief just how lousy broadband can be.

If FACUA succeeds in shaming the mobile (and internet) operators into sharpening up their acts, becoming less "abusive", becoming more service-oriented, then it will have done well. Whether it does is of course another matter.

To vote on the worst companies, the worst business practices and the worst adverts, go to Acknowledgement is due to the article in yesterday's "Diario".

QUIZ - Yesterday: National Lampoon threatened to kill the dog, as you can see.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Kill The Dog - Why the British don't watch Real Mallorca

What do you do on a Sunday afternoon? Any time between, say, three and six? In the UK, you may settle down on the sofa to watch the football, or you may be in a bar, watching the football. In Mallorca, you may settle down on the sofa to watch the football, or you may be in a bar, watching football. Wherever you are, what in all likelihood you are watching is the Premier League, unless you're German, in which case you'll be taking in the Bundesliga. If you're more of a nerdy football fan, you may eschew your home leagues, the leagues from where you come, in favour of some other league - La Liga, for example. If you're even more of a nerdy football fan, you may eschew those home leagues in favour of Real Mallorca; you might even go, if you happen to be in Mallorca.

I may be wrong, but before Paul Davidson came depth-plumbing and blowing his pipes full of what turned out to be fool's gold I don't recall "The Bulletin" devoting particular attention to the club or team. Prior to this, I didn't pay much attention to Real either. It was the Davidson farce that made the club worthy of anything other than indifference, so the British angle can be said to have stimulated attention. The paper's only regular column on current matters Mallorcan is about Real, and it is now - in association with the club - offering a package to the remaining home games. There is more than just a touch of desperation about this appeal to the British football fan to come and put his bum on one of the thousands of empty seats at the ONO. Look at the games coming up and you might wonder why there has to be such an appeal. Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia have all yet to play in Palma this season. If these games can't be sold out well in advance, you do have to ask whether Mallorca deserves a La Liga side. The stadium does, after all, have a capacity of no more than 25,000.

There are several reasons why the expat would not take up the offer. Take one - telly. What do you do on a Sunday afternoon? This coming Sunday afternoon, Liverpool will be playing Blackburn, Bayern Munich will be up against Hamburg in a top-four clash in the Bundesliga. Mallorca may be away, but even were the team to be at home - against Vallodolid - the result would be the same. Premier League, Bundesliga take precedence. It matters not that one's own team may not be playing. The home leagues are as much a part of the expat football fan's make-up as the team he actually supports, as are the cultures of those leagues - styles of play and even the language; the language of the terrace transported to the bar. Sing when you're winning? You wouldn't know what to sing at Real Mallorca, even if the fans did actually sing.

Going to a Mallorca game is at best an occasional thing, if at all. It falls into the category of being one of those things that should be done at some stage. A home match against Barça might well be that "stage". One against Gijon or Getafe? Your expat football fan would be hard pushed to have ever heard of either of them, let alone be able to locate them on a map of the mainland or even pronounce them. There is arguably greater interest among tourists than residents where Mallorca games are concerned, but this interest is part of the holiday experience and stems from a not insignificant motivation on behalf of the football fan to be able to say that he has been to such and such a ground. I once stood among a couple of thousand grumpy-looking Swiss all chomping on Wurst und Kartoffelchips during a God-awful pre-season friendly between Grasshopper Zürich and some other team whose name escapes me. And all because I could say I'd been, and to the ground of a team with a mad name, to boot.

Adopting another team is one thing. Many football fans are prone to this. But to swap allegiance from the original team, from the original league is quite another. It would be like giving up a desire for curry and bacon and eggs in favour of Mallorcan sobrasada sausage and the ensaimada. It just doesn't happen like this. Football, football teams, football leagues are too ingrained into the fan's footballing psyche. Which makes me wonder as to those who go native in support of a local team, Real in this case. La Liga may well be one of the two or three "best" leagues in world football, but it's not your expat football fan's league; it's someone else's, something to perhaps be admired, but not to get fanatical about.

Yes of course, take in the odd Real Mallorca match. God knows they need all the support and money they can lay their hands on, but don't let's believe that your average expat footy fans are about to abandon the Premier League or Bundesliga bar in their droves, because they're not. Perhaps the stronger message coming from Real Mallorca should be - if you don't come this season, you might never come if the club goes the way of all Portsmouths, ejected from the Premier mother ship without even a parachute payment. This would be along the lines of "if you don't buy this magazine, we'll kill this dog". A threat in other words. Now then, threats. That's the language your football fan understands.

QUIZ - Who threatened to kill the dog? Famous magazine cover. (I'm sure it was also an album cover by the same "group", but maybe I imagined this.)

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ryan's Laughter - "El Mundo" And Ryanair

In inviting passengers to vote on ways that Michael O'Leary could settle a dispute with Stelios, Ryanair refer to themselves as "the world's favourite airline". You can't fault them for brassneck, though at a time when British Airways are looking at training even pilots to act as stand-in cabin crew as the former world's favourite airline plunges ever earthward on its collision course with staff, you can perhaps forgive the Irish operator a touch of hubris, to say nothing of taking the piss. And that's it with Ryanair - piss-taking. There is more than just a sense of knockabout, humour and "having a laugh" with Ryanair. How else can one treat the notions of passengers standing or paying to use the loo? They're jokes, aren't they? Anything for publicity. O'Leary is from the same school as Stelios and Branson in this respect.

But there is the other form of "having a laugh", one at the passenger's expense; the passenger who sees the expense of his flight clocking up as he has to add on the "fees" that the airline charges. "El Mundo"** has been having a go at the low-cost operator. It seems to take paying for a pee and standing in the aisles seriously, as it does examples of lax security, treatment of staff, receipt of subventions from Spanish regional governments and those added charges.

Ryanair has a love-hate relationship with Spain, and not just because of its unauthorised use of a photo of Queen Sofia in its advertising. The regions love the business the airline brings, even if they are often forced to make certain accommodations. If not, the airline is quite willing to pack its bags and go elsewhere, though one might wonder who gets left to pay the fee for the bags. There is considerable disquiet in Spain, and even among those at governmental level, as to Ryanair's practices. The Balearic Government is meant to be pursuing legal action against the airline. Various ministries at national level have been written to by union leaders with demands to investigate the airline's labour relations and tax basis. For Ryanair, though, Spain is good business, with numerous airports, many willing to meet the airline's demand. For the passenger, believe it or not, Ryanair is also good business. Despite the negativity that flies its way, it has broadened options for the traveller.

It is those charges that do of course create the most criticism, and working one's way around Ryanair's hideous-looking website doesn't necessarily make it any easier to fathom them all out. The charges for online check-in and baggage are a nonsense. They are not included in the original price for two reasons: one, to show as low a price as possible and two, because - in the case of baggage - it is always possible to avoid the charge, assuming one can get everything into the required hand luggage size. But other airlines are in on the act. Ryanair is not unique in this regard.

One supposes that the add-ons are all about extracting as much "customer worth" as possible. This is 101 marketing for the new age. Like banks have so-called relationship managers who are ostensibly the customer's point of contact and service yet who are there to try and sell more product, so the airlines look to squeeze whatever else they can out of the customer. Unlike banks though, it is highly debatable whether Ryanair creates a relationship. Most passengers would happily go elsewhere. The airline should worry. The add-ons amount to some 20% of total revenue.

Ryanair can seem as if it is "having a laugh", but it is also disingenuous. It claims lowest-cost fares to ski resorts. Probably so, but sports equipment is levied at 40 euros a pop. Its environmental credentials include a "substantial reduction in the amount of waste" by comparison with airlines which give free meals and newspapers. This line of argument could have come from the Alastair Campbell guide to spin. The policy of a maximum weight allowance of 15kgs may be intended as a means of fuel-saving, but it also brings in extra dosh, so long as the passenger is willing to go along with it. And not all are. At Palma before Christmas, a couple weighed in with one bag at 17kgs. Rather than pay the excess, they called a relative who works in the airport and left with him some contents that brought the weight down. Ryanair's "having a laugh" is that loud that there is a whole website devoted to it -

"El Mundo" is at pains to prove that Ryanair is not the cheapest of the low-costers. The paper draws comparisons with Vueling and EasyJet and also refers to the additional costs associated with booking in ways other than online, e.g. at the airport or via an agency, and to which one can add a call centre (more cost). The paper is though rather missing the point, which is that Ryanair is essentially an internet company. Automation of its processes is one aspect which allows it to be low-cost. The customer is at a distance, and that's where the airlines wants the customer, in front of a computer monitor, accessing only its website preferably. The customer is made to do some of the work, like printing out boarding passes. So much for relationship management (echoing a point I made yesterday), and any notion that the airline may wish to forge a close bond with the customer. The bond lies in the price, and the unpalatable truth for those who might want to give Ryanair a kicking, including "El Mundo", is that the prices are low, very low, even once you add on the basic add-ons for baggage and check-in. Ultimately, it's all about changing habits and expectations. Flying is far from the pleasure it once was, and all the security and faffing about that is now required has seen to that, alongside the low-cost service. Flying is now a pain in the neck, so the cheaper the better, and Ryanair knows this. Yes, its charges can seem unfair and yes, it can seem disingenuous, but play the game - rather as airports and authorities have to play the Ryanair game - and the prices are still good. At Christmas it cost, with the add-ons, sixty euros to go from Palma to Stansted. Sixty euros. You might spend that on a couple of weeks worth of petrol - and not go very far. There should perhaps be some perspective.

Any comments to please.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Personal Service - Tourism, information and banks

Our friend Pedro Iriondo, the head of the Mallorca tourist board (Fomento del Turismo) and a chap who looks variously like Nixon (the film version) or "Knuckles" Norman, an East End associate of the Krays, is back in the press pages singing a familiar song. In an interview with "The Diario", he says basically the same as he has said elsewhere, including snatches in "The Bulletin". While lengthy enough, the interview really doesn't add to the sum of our existing knowledge. What is slightly new is that he has a chance to speak about the effects of corruption at the tourism ministry. It doesn't give a very good image to tour operators - I think we could have guessed that, and indeed I have said this very thing - but it also has meant that money intended for tourism promotion (in short enough supply) has of course been allegedly filtered off in different directions. The only other thing, amidst the normal stuff about all-inclusives (bad but what can you do), seasonality (there has been lots of promotion - but how effective?) and what the coming season holds (hard to say), that was new - to me at any rate - was the idea that images of people wearing masks in Playa de Palma last summer was somehow a set up by other tourist destinations. This was all to do with swine flu, and Iriondo reckons that this, and the mask-wearing, had a negative impact on tourism numbers, more so than ETA and its bombs. Apart from stupid sensationalism by the German paper "Bild", I don't know that it did. As for suggesting that perhaps the Turks and Croats and Bulgarians had ganged together to get some bad publicity, well this does seem somewhat far-fetched.

Back in Bulletin-land, I am somewhat baffled by the paper's email what's on thing. Its website gives a daily running total of the numbers who have sent in their email address together with dates of when they plan to visit Mallorca, and for which they then get an email giving them a list of things that are going on. The daily total announcement, all a tad self-congratulatory one can't help feeling, is a bit like the Blue Peter Christmas appeal. "We've now raised 296 Fairy Liquid bottles that will be turned into a Jeep to help the starving of (add as applicable)." The reason for bafflement is why they're doing it. Seems like work for someone, when putting the information onto the website would, one might have thought, be less hassle and might also have the benefit of generating additional site traffic. There again, maybe this is all part of a more personal touch that the internet has dispensed with. Like banks. Touching on the news about the Halifax branch in Puerto Pollensa closing, what it, and indeed other Mallorcan banks, have going for them is that the customer isn't simply left to the de-personalised cyberworld of internet banking as the means of communication. Personal contact. With the bank manager. How very quaint. However, I do wonder if there isn't a drawback with this. Is the relationship with the bank manager or with the bank? When the manager leaves, might the customer also leave if there is a strong recommendation for another bank, or rather another manager? In fact this isn't a "might", it's a yes. I've done it myself.

Still, at least a relationship with a bank can endure for some years. Unlike that between tour operators and Mallorcan tourism ministers. Unless the former intend to get themselves banged up in the next cell.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Are You Being Served? - Two restaurants in Alcúdia

Old town Alcúdia. Friday evening in February, not exactly buzzing with huge numbers of diners, albeit that it is only twenty past seven. Half five, the Germans had originally suggested. "Half five!?" We settled on seven. Nothing's likely to open before seven. Even this is early - for the Spanish. For Germans it's closer to midnight.

There's a restaurant we're going to. We think. No naming and shaming. Not a big place. Old town. Quiet. Intimate, the publicity would probably say. There is a menu on a stand in the street. Lights on. No-one in. We wait a moment. A "chico" comes in. For four, we're about to say. But the words never come out. The kitchen is not ready, he says. 7.30, he says. It's 7.20. Am I hearing this correctly? Are we all hearing this correctly? Do we hear, would you like to have a drink? Do we hear, sorry we need just a few minutes, but please take a table, and I'll be with you? We hear nothing of the sort. Nor do we offer a suggestion that we could have a drink and wait a little while. The chico would evidently rather not hear such a suggestion.

The German language has some cracking words. "Wahnsinn" is one such. It means madness, insanity. It is pronounced with a maniacal, elongated first-syallable emphasis, and so has an onomatopeic, nonsensical quality. Did we hear this correctly? He basically asked us to leave. For the sake of ten minutes, he asked us to leave. On a Friday in February in the old town of Alcúdia. Not exactly buzzing, albeit that it is early. But he has declined custom. He wouldn't know for sure how much. And now he's not going to find out. "Wahnsinn."

In the square, the Constitution Square, it is quiet. No, make that dead. The café Llabres, the pizzeria and ... and Satyricon. This seems ok, it's said. I gulp, but then I'm not paying. I'm also wary of "concept" restaurants. I prefer unpretentious. But I'm always game. At least it's warm. The space heaters are roaring, filling the interior air with butaned heat. I've never quite got it with the name. Satyricon. Orgies, cannabalism, the everyday lives of everyday Roman folk. There again, some of the novel concerns a meal, an extravagant occasion with several courses. Oh, and a touch of everyday debauchery. I suppose we skip the latter and just go for the food.

It's an impressive place of galleries. Costs more if you go upstairs, I suggest. Ho, ho. Better down in the one-and-nines. Appropriate. It used to be a cinema. And the space heaters seem confined to the stalls. Heat rises though. It would need to. The ceiling seems miles away. You could imagine a Michelangelo with a pot of Dulux. Or maybe not. Oh, and no-one says we're not open. No, no.

Water comes in a jug and is poured into metal goblets. I feel a Michael Winner moment coming on. Tastes metallic - unsurprisingly. Tap, I'll be bound. Not historic. The maîtresse d' is too hard-faced. She should lighten up, like the charming waitress who is receptive to requests for taking photos. Nevertheless, the service is prompt, pleasant, helpful, not overbearing. The "menu" is opted for. 42 euros a head. Gulp. But then I'm not paying. Why not go for the Can Vidalet Sauvignon, I venture. A Pollensa bodega. Ah, ja, very Mallorcan, very near to Alcúdia. Good, I think. I must tell them at the bodega next time I'm there. The menu novella includes a photo of the head chef. Chefs come close-cropped or shaven-headed nowadays. Very Heston. Very Blumenthal. I fear we might all be attached to oxygen cylinders and be force-fed bacon and egg ice-cream via a catheter. I know the dishes are going to be poncey. I don't mind poncey, so long as it doesn't mean stopping off for fish 'n' chips on the way home. When nouvelle first took London, we did poncey in Chiswick and left starving. The Indian chippy take-away on Acton High Street did roaring business back then.

The Vidalet is most acceptable and highly fruity; light for a Cabernet and not over-powering. The four courses are preceded by a couple of small tasters. What's this? Looks like a small toffee-apple upside down. A type of ricotta painted red. Superb. Give me more. Not so. Everyone else has eaten theirs. And then on, and on. There's sufficient time between courses for digestion purposes. It's all timed to perfection. Not too quick, not too slow. Spot on. The two "girls" remain pleasant, smiling (the waitress anyway), helpful. The dishes are brought and their silver lids are lifted in synchronisation. It is all absolutely magnificent. The turbot, the solomillo - outstanding, mega-historic - the needlework twines of paprika, the purées, the sweet with a cream of some ambrosia. More, more, more; please, more. An almond liqueur. I'll take the bottle. And what do you know? I'm full. No KFC for you on the way back, young fellow m'lad. Full. Not belt-undoing full. But sated, satisfied, and served well.

This is a fine restaurant. Ostentatious, yes; tries a bit too hard, yes; but the kitchen is supreme, the service just about delicate, courtesy of the the waitress, rather too matronly where the maìtresse d' is concerned. Not economy class. But for treat purposes... . Go on, do it. On the stroll back we pass the other restaurant, the one that had been intended. Don't know if there's anyone in there. Lights on. No-one in. I do know they lost out on something like 200 euros. On a Friday in Alcúdia. Not exactly buzzing. For the sake of ten minutes and a touch of service. Satyricon got the gig and did service; did it well. The other place? The unnamed place? Hmm. Or rather, "Wahnsinn".

Any comments to please.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mallorca's Two Jags - Muro and the golf course

So much for confident statements. On 29 January I said that work on the golf course on the Son Bosc finca in Muro would start in two weeks. It hasn't. Maybe it will do so next week. Despite the payment of the tax to the town hall, which was seemingly the final obstacle overcome, there are now further twists. Oddly enough, neither of them seem to have to do with the environmental pressure group GOB. One twist comes from the socialist opposition at the town hall. It says that the developers have not, as they should have, submitted to the town hall the modified plan for the course, one that takes account of changes to the development in order to preserve aspects of the flora and fauna, notably the rare orchid that grows there. This runs counter to the assertion by the mayor that everything was in order to allow the works to proceed.

The second twist has to do with changes at regional government level. Although it was being said that the work would start within those two weeks (meaning that it should have started already), there is now a suggestion that a decision to proceed next week is somehow being rushed. This has to do with a possible change of heart at regional government level. And why might this be? Never more than a short pitch and then a putt away from controversy, step forward the Unió Mallorquina. Or rather, step backward. The decision by President Antich to make the UM, as it were, miss the cut and smack it out of the coalition with a driver had ramifications at the environment ministry, the authority that had to give its final blessing to the project and which did so despite the allegation that it ignored a negative report by its own officials. The ministry was, until the UM's dismissal, under the control of the UM and specifically Enviro Man, Miquel Grimalt. He was one of the ministers who lost his job as a consequence of the fracture within the coalition. The UM out of the way, Antich decided to merge the environment ministry with that for transport and planning, a ministry run by the PSM Mallorcan socialists (a member of the so-called Bloc) in the form of our old chum Biel Vicens, he who made the supposedly unsanctioned reclaim walk at the Ternelles finca in Pollensa and who was at loggerheads with Alcúdia's former mayor over the siting of the railway.

In combining the ministries, Vicens has assumed a position and a series of responsibilities not far removed from those that John Prescott once had as part of his "super-ministry". "Two Jags" Vicens we should maybe start calling him. Like Prezza once seemed all-powerful within New Labour, so Vicens has assumed significant power. He has said that he will look at ways of avoiding the golf course work going ahead and he is also on record as having voiced his objections to the course in the past; hence the apparent panic to get the bulldozers in smartish before he can stop them.

What this highlights is one of the faultlines of the coalition. The change in political colour at environment could mean the reversal of a previous decision, but this would not solely be because of competing environmental ideologies. It would also be a reflection of the battle between the PSM and the UM for the nationalist political soul of Mallorca, albeit one from opposite political positions on the left-right divide. Where the PSM sees something stamped with the UM name, it opposes - as with the Alcúdia train - and vice versa. Moreover, there is a possibility that work could indeed start at Son Bosc, only for Two Jags to wade in with an order telling them to down 'dozers.

Just when you thought they'd finally come to an agreement, something crops up. Son Bosc and its golf course is the story of Mallorcan politics. This way, that way, and maybe something will happen. Or maybe it won't.

A Little Extra Help - Or Not: The Halifax to close
Mallorcan banks vary in their service. Generally though they are good, and the personal contact to be had is something that has seemingly been forgotten in the UK. But some banks get a reputation for superior service, and one such is the Halifax in Puerto Pollensa. The branch will close on 17 March.

This was something I was aware of. What I hadn't been aware of, and I thank Kath for highlighting it, was the depth of feeling regarding the closure. Anger is just one response. Sorrow also as the staff offered "the most personal service in the north of the island". Add to this the fact that the nearest branch will, from middle March, be in Santa Ponsa. Having transferred to the Halifax only a month ago, one can appreciate that a customer - Kath - might be a little annoyed. Annoyed and also sad because of the loss of the "fantastic" help and "service second to none in the area". A little extra help. Clearly there was. Rather more than just a little extra. Think again, Halifax.

Any comments to please.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Wishful Thinking - Music in Mallorca

The geriatric, very vintage rock of recent vintage in Palma, the creaking bones and voices of a Cocker, a Cohen and a Quo, is to be supplanted this summer by a group of less vintage due to appear at the Palma Arena. The Cranberries. Dolores and the chaps. Reformed and undergoing a world tour, the Irish group will take to the stage in Palma on 31 July. There is a bit of form when it comes to Irish bands in Palma; The Corrs have also played there.

It may not be music "of the moment" but The Cranberries offer something a tad more contemporary than Rossi and Parfitt. And I admit that I have a bit of soft spot for them. Well, Dolores anyway. I presumed it was her name that triggered a dream about a "Dolores". Not that this "Dolly" looked like her. Blond, not Spanish, but with a Spanish name. Dolores Cocita, whatever that's supposed to mean. Water was coming into my imaginary flat from the one above, the one belonging to Dolly. And that was how it all began. In the dream. One of those extraordinarily vivid and detailed dreams. I wrote it down. It's the basis for something. Not sure what. But the story of Dolores will be written at some stage.

I digress. Coming hard on the news of the opening of the Mallorca Rocks venue in Magaluf, Mallorca seems to be dragging itself into a more modern music world. Sort of. We still have to put up with pop stars turned crooners like Tony Hadley, a me-too big-bandist warbler in the wake of Robbie, Rod and Paul Young, and all of them took their lead from the late Robert Palmer.

The point about most pop and rock acts is that they never actually die or completely fade away. Some go on a back-burner for years, others run short of money and so try and make some anew, others fail to make a lasting impression as solo artists (like Take That) and so realise that the sum of their parts was always greater than they as individuals, others look to cash in on the "revival" bandwagon and others just simply get forgotten and all of a sudden re-emerge as though they had never actually gone away.

When the Spans' front man pitched up at last year's Pollensa Music Festival, there was some considerable excitement. Not where I was concerned, but among some. But one could understand it; Spandau Ballet were, after all, once a big name, albeit a big name of smooth, Thatcherite, red-braces rock as opposed to the altogether grittier post-punk, dole-queue, racism-confronting, angry anti-Thatcher, socialist soul and ska of The Jam or The Specials. Which brings me to China Crisis, a phenomenon of 1980s wine-bar pop, who, like other soft acts of the time, those right for the conservatism of early MTV and that of the bromided, cowed, new complacency induced by Thatcherism - Johnny Hates Jazz, Curiosity Killed The Cat, Wang Chung - had a daft and pretentious name and a brief spell in the spotlights of Top of The Pops, a group that had completely faded from mine or probably anyone's radar, when out of the blue of economic crisis, it was announced they'd be playing the golf club in Pollensa; well, Zhan as it is now known. Cue less understandable excitement. But. There's always a but. Two in fact. China Crisis had the distinction of working with Walter Becker of Steely Dan, which should elevate them in anyone's estimation. And the second but. I have a confession. Not only do I still have in my possession a Spandau Ballet album (what was I thinking?), I also have the original vinyl 45 of the best thing the Crisis chaps did - "Wishful Thinking". Any group that can feature an oboe is ok in my book, though their gig in Pollensa seems all a bit, well odd. But maybe not. They could actually prove to be very good. As it's due to take place at the end of July, for those inclined to do so, it could be a dual-venue short break. Pollensa, China Crisis, and then to Palma for Dolores and The Cranberries who, never let it be forgotten, were responsible for one of the loveliest, greatest ever of songs. Here's the youtube - "Linger":

And "Wishful Thinking" is not far behind in the beautiful songs league, even if there's no Dolores:

China Crisis, 29 July, Zhan, Pollensa.
The Cranberries, 31 July, Palma Arena.

Any comments to please.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tapping Up - Water supplies

You've just put the shampoo into your hair and the shower suddenly dries up; you've set the washing-machine going and then it suddenly stops; you've used the loo and when it comes to flushing there is that awful moment of low or no pressure.

Water supplies. There is an argument that the utilities are equally important, but without water ... ? Pity the poor people of Campanet who have been long-suffering where it comes to water supply and have recently been subject to as many as three cuts in a week. Think about the impact not only in homes, but also in bars, businesses and schools. They're worried that there will be inadequate drinking water as the weather warms up.

In Campanet the problem has been with tap supply, and it is one of ancient pipework that badly needs overhauling. The schoolchildren of Campanet can always bring their own water, and it is inexpensive to buy (70 centimos for five litres for example), but it's still 70 centimos multiplied many times over and above the water rate. And don't let's even start on the cost of having a water supply switched on.

Campanet is not the only town that is subject to unannounced cuts to water supplies - far from it; not the only place where something unpleasant is left to lurk under a hastily lowered lid. And wherever one looks, there is an issue with water. In Santa Margalida there is a demand for a report into why the public swimming-pool is losing twenty cubic metres per day, something that adds to accusations in the town of leakages in public money; a different sort, but the pool's water is ultimately funded by the taxpayer. In Sa Pobla a water-processing plant was established two to three years ago and has proved to be useless. Part of the solution for the town is to use water from desalination plants, notably one near Alcúdia. It has not been that straightforward, owing to the nature of the negotiations, but supply does now seem guaranteed via a mix of desalinated water and that from the island's network. In Playa de Muro there remains a question as to the quality of drinking water that dates back some years. Nitrates. The local water company in Playa de Muro (Fusosa) is a strange affair. It cannot be contacted by landline telephone after the morning. You have to know the emergency mobile number. The company has only recently established a skeleton website. At least it includes an email address. Public service? It sucks. Against all this wet utility provision, hats off to Alcúdia where there is now the bold initiative to recycle waste water for garden irrigation. It's something.

There is plenty of water in Mallorca, or rather beneath it. Huge underground reservoirs are what supply much of the island's water. They benefit from the regular soakings from September to April and even from the mountain snow. Occasionally, when the winters are exceptionally dry, there can be concerns, but nature seems to have a knack of making an adjustment, even if it means rain throughout May and into June. The availability of water isn't really the issue. It's what happens with it and what it contains - the product of the limestone on which Mallorca is largely built: the "cal", as the word has past into British usage, the cal that affects everything - from kettles to boilers to toilets to taps. Hard water. Very hard water.

Water, water everywhere. An island the size of Essex surrounded by the stuff. It hangs in the air, drenches terraces because of the dampness and humidity, infiltrates walls. Everywhere water, except from where you might most want it. Taps for instance.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Political Balls - Carlos Delgado and the politics of language

Carlos Delgado. Get used to the name. You might be hearing quite a bit more of him. Some of you may already know the name. He has been mentioned here before. And who he? Delgado is the mayor of Calvià (Magaluf etc.). He is also a candidate for presidency of the Balearics Partido Popular (the conservative party), and were he to become leader, he could well also become president of the regional government.

Delgado is something of a controversial character. No, he's not mired in corruption scandals, but he is one of the main protagonists in the politics of language and is - essentially - pro-Castilian, a position that many in his party would also hold. For pro-Castilian, you can read - were you minded to - anti-Catalan. Delgado has made repeated pronouncements on the language issue, and in a feature from the "Diario" the headline starkly states that he could enter the region's administration "without knowing Catalan". For a Mallorcan politician, this is a heck of an admission. If Delgado were to be the PP's candidate for president, you can bet your life that the election is likely to be sidetracked down the emotional language line. There are more important matters.

One area of the so-called "Catalan imposition" that Delgado would backtrack on (backtrack, sidetrack, we all get off track) is the Catalan requirement for public-sector workers, such as those in the medical service. It was this, more than anything, that gave rise to a demonstration in Palma last spring against the imposition.

There are many who will support Delgado for this reason alone, but there are many, even PP voters, who might find his own lack of Catalan a drawback. They wouldn't be wrong. However much many might agree that Catalan has encroached too far into public administration and other aspects of Mallorcan life and society, it is the case that it holds joint official status alongside Castilian. An argument, and not an inaccurate one, is that Castilian's joint official status has been undermined, but the duality of language is a fact. A president of the Balearics should be a Catalan speaker. If nothing else, it is a matter of respect.

The current leader of the PP, José Ramón Bauzá, has also not been unknown for making pronouncements against Catalan. The language issue, he has been quoted as saying, has been "perverted" by the current administration, but he believes, as seemingly also does Delgado, that school textbooks should be freely available in the local dialects of the four Balearic islands. Doesn't sound like a strong pro-Castilian line (indeed it sounds rather contradictory), but one thing you can be sure of, especially if Delgado were to come to power, would be that the main language of teaching would become a major issue.

This is all a not insignificant social and political issue in Mallorca, one cannot downplay it, but the worry is that it might assume far more prominence than matters of real importance, the economy for example. If all the corruption were not enough, politics in Mallorca may be about to take its collective eye further off the ball.

Palm beetle
On the march. On the wing might be more appropriate. The African beetle that is threatening to devastate palm trees in Pollensa has arrived in Alcúdia. Gardeners are being told by the town hall to only trim branches. Cutting right back lets off the pheromone that attracts the beetle (if pheromone is indeed the right word). Though there has been spraying in Pollensa, it is largely ineffective.

Palms come at a price. They may be very attractive, but they are also expensive to maintain. And even more expensive if they have to be cut down as a consequence of the beetle.

Yesterday - The Smiths,

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now (Again)

"The air line's not working. Just used it. One of the front tyres has deflated". "Oh, is it not working? No. You're right. Has it gone down much?" "No, but it's still gone down. Look, I've got an appointment in Palma." "I see. Ah, look, here's the 'chico'." Always a chico, I think. Where's he going though? The work round the back. On what was the area for the car wash. "Shall I wait a bit?" "Yes, yes, no problem." No problem. It's never a problem, even when it is.

The Porsche roars into the bay. I know that car. Know that driver. We shake hands. Neighbour. Ish. "Fucking weather," says he. "Problem with the air line," says I. "Spain," says he. (He's not Spanish.) "New tyres for the Audi the other day," he starts to say. Am I really interested? No. I'm going to have to get a shift on, and it's bloody freezing cold. Fifty euros, he instructs the pump attendant. Fifty euros!? I've never put fifty euros into a petrol tank. How far will that go from Alcúdia? Pollensa? "Hey, it's working!" shouts the garage bloke. The chico has come across with the pressure goods. How unusual. I never found out what the issue was with the Audi tyres. The Porsche screamed as it left. A wave, and I'm trying to make sure that air doesn't escape, courtesy of the Heath Robinson affair that is now - allegedly - working.

Oh well, seems ok. Car's buoyant enough. Is that how you describe a well-inflated set of tyres? Did you know that the Trafico boys check tyre pressures if there's an accident? The contemplation of the inflation or otherwise description disappears quickly. What a foul day. Grey everywhere. I change the CD to a summer flamenco chill. Inappropriate. I need Stephen Patrick, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake. My mistake for not having them in the car.

Down to Palma. The Llevant industrial area. What a mess. The building work. It's all to do with the convention centre. Perhaps. How damn big does this all have to be? What's the point of it all? Who's getting a rake-off from this little lot, I wonder. These damn projects in Mallorca, and underlying them - some of them, any of them - is the pay-off, for someone or some several.

The roads, narrowed by temporary barriers, wind into the Poligono. They're like country lanes in an urban zone. All is red or brown, on the roads. Sand, earth, turned to mud. What a mess. A slow-moving earthmover pulls over. I go by, and do at least acknowledge the driver. He's covered from the rain by a canopy, not like those poor bastard cyclists I had passed before. How they must hate this. I have no desire to gloat. No, not at all. I'm full of sympathy. Come to Mallorca for some late-winter wheeling and get your bits frozen off and your face ice-rain-blasted.

The gravel car park at the offices of the "Diario de Mallorca". Mud. More mud. I'd buffed up the Camper shoes. Shouldn't have bothered. I'm late, my footwear is dirty, I'd rather have stayed under the duvet. It's ok, it's quick - the appointment. Then I leave, going back the way I came in, along those orange-brown-muddied lanes. How do you go left!? Back towards the north? You don't. Sod it. Hack along to the Avenida, go up to the first centre-road petrol station and hang a U-ey. That's how you get back north. Oh, ok, I know. Now. I should have gone left out of the Diario entrance. But how would you know that?

Along the motorway, past Inca, towards the Pollensa-Sa Pobla end. Shit, look at that sky. Black. The rain begins to hammer down. Merciless. Should have stayed under the duvet. And finally I'm back, but then the Germans, the neighbours, are at the gate. Getting wet. Would I like some coffee and cake? Always coffee and cake. Don't mind if I do, though not in a house with no heating, thinks I. Foolish. They've cranked up the wood-burner, the radiators are filling the coffers of the electricity company. Things aren't so bad after all, even if it's slating down. And a couple of days, they say, certainly Thursday, it'll be sunny again. Yep, it probably will be. Heaven knows I'm miserable now, or was. But then there's always the next day.

Oh, and because it's flamenco chill, it's summer (eventually), it's anything other than grey, it's great and it's something you should hear - the brilliant "Tan Cañi", Alhoeverha ... Not sure what it is with the bloke in the video, but there you go.

Today - Not even worth asking. Yesterday - The Saturdays,

Any comments to please.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Open Up - Hotels opening for Easter

Easter is six weeks away. April Fools Day conveniently coincides with the Thursday of "Semana Santa", a day (Holy Thursday) celebrated in Mallorca and typified by the Last Supper ritual in Pollensa. The summer season officially starts on 1 May. This year it looks as though it will be a month earlier - on 1 April. Or so reckons the head of the hoteliers' federation. All hotels in Mallorca will be open on 1 April. Sounds like an April Fool, or sounds as though some hotels will be fools. Antoni Horrach, the federation's chief, admits that there is "not too much to report" in terms of reservations for Easter and that bookings from the mainland are very low. So why open all the hotels? It would be hugely surprising were they to all open. Bookings may pick up, but it would be optimistic to suggest that these might translate into high levels of business. And then there is the hiatus that follows Easter. It sounds sensible in theory to open up at the start of April, but the practice is rather different. There is also the issue as to staff contracts. April to end October is seven months, not the six that is commonly gone by, the six that comprise "summer". Where hotels may be open early, don't expect full staffing levels.

This burst of early-season expectation was carried in yesterday's "Bulletin" which also reported on a decline in tobacco sales because of reduced numbers of tourists - a fall of some 17% in coastal areas in Spain during 2009.

Not having seen the paper on Saturday, I was unaware that there was a piece regarding an online facility now being operated by the foreigners' registration office in Palma. I have Ben to thank for sending me the article which, as is the case with "The Bulletin", appeared on its website a day after publication. It was sent together with a question. Did I know the address of the website referred to? Not as such. Unhelpfully, the address was not with the article. Anyway, when one is able to find it, this should be an enormous help. Not before time, public service for foreign residents has finally deigned to introduce a system that should mean avoiding the tortuous wait at the office to process residency applications or renewals. Or at least I think that's what the online system intends to offer. If I knew where to look, I could confirm this to be the case or not.

Today - "Open Up"; Brit girl band, think days of the week, well one of them.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Push Me Pull You - Mobiles in marketing

The use of mobile phones to convey advertising messages from Spanish companies tripled in 2009. The greatest increase in this form of marketing has occurred in the restaurant sector. The growth of text messaging, with discount offers, information about different dishes and the like, is just one indication of the advance of mobile technology. It is here to stay and here to ultimately dominate. The refinement of the technology, the move towards smart phones, the presence of web browsers, the lowering of charges all point in one direction - that mobile dominance. On a worldwide scale, there are four times more mobile phones than there are personal computers. Four billion mobile users compared with a billion users of a PC. The scope for marketers is immense, far more so than the internet via the PC.

None of this can come soon enough where I am concerned, if only because it might, once and for all, put paid to the inefficient economies of publishing, those inherent to print. In Mallorca, this inefficiency is compounded. Print costs on the island are absurd. Offshore printing is an option, but that brings with it complications of distance and immediacy, to say nothing of shipping costs. Print? Get thee behind me.

For advertisers, a shift away from established media makes sense in different ways, and improved measurability and targeting are the two greatest advantages of internet and mobile. They are the Holy Grails of advertising, and neither of them have been satisfactorily discovered via print, TV or radio. That internet advertising, in the UK, now outstrips television does perhaps prove the point. It isn't necessarily a cost issue if one takes account of the vast sums paid by companies with the budgets to do so on the know-how that goes into adwords and response, but investment in this area can be offset against lower spend elsewhere.

Fundamentally though, the advance of mobile as the delivery mechanism of choice is a personal one on behalf of the user. It is the same psychology that stops someone using a mobile for anything other than basic purposes as stops an advertiser from adopting the technology or believing in it: personal use, choice and values. What the Spanish findings show, however, is a move away from this psychological resistance, and in a market sector that is littered - in Mallorca, at any rate - with many from the old school. If restaurant owners, and others, are being persuaded of the value of what one might call push marketing through texting, so they will be far more accepting of pull marketing, the use of the mobile for searching for example.

It is the new generation of mobiles that has opened this up. The coming together of browsers, graphics and video, through the mobile, allied to search engines (as with Nokia and Apple), transforms the possibilities afforded by mobile technology. For some of you grandmothers, this may sound like egg-sucking, but for some it may not be. Portability, convenience, these are just two advantages of the magic in the small mobile box. The box won't mean the end of print, of course not, but for many applications print has become anachronistic and unsustainable in terms of cost and lack of flexibility. Welcome to the new age.

Yes, that's right. Bleach. Not beach. Why? Well, go into a supermarket and you are likely to see prominent displays of bleach, great numbers of bottles awaiting the buyer. And why is there such prominence and such abundance? I'm guessing, but it is probably because of walls, as in walls and dampness, and other surfaces that can be affected by the damp. If someone knows otherwise, maybe they can let me know.

Yesterday - "My Ever Changing Moods", The Style Council,

Any comments to please.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Balance On A Bike - The other side of cycling

Those of you of long blog experience will know that I am more than happy to quote feedback or comments that you send me. I don't recall though ever having a sort of guest blogger for the day. So something of a first.

Occasionally, I do get pulled up. There was once an accusation of anti-Catalan sentiment, which was quite unjustified. The post in question may have suggested this, but there were and have been plenty of others that are anything but anti. Though I may now and then "go off on one", I try and avoid one-eyedness. Blogs, comment pieces and so on are easy to exploit as a means of presenting one particular point of view or prejudice. God forbid I should ever sound like a Leapy Lee, and were I to, I trust someone would be good enough to shoot me. Balance in all things is important. So when someone suggests to me that I might not have been balanced, rather than dismissing this, I can accept the point and also happily seek to redress the balance. And so it was that, following a recent piece about cycling, I had an email from Marcus who questioned the balance. An exchange of emails has ensued, and Marcus has forwarded what is today's guest blogger feature. Over to you, Marcus ...

February is the time of year when you might start to notice groups of cyclists, in all sizes of groups, appearing on the roads around Alcúdia. From individual, mature loners who look like they have spent their whole life on a bike, to identically clad groups of Germans or Danes happily going about their daily holiday excursions. There are times when, as a driver, you may have been put out slightly by these pedallers in lycra, but let me offer some explanation of the type and why they happen to appear in the first place.

For the northern-European cycling enthusiast, Alcúdia holds a number of charms and I for one have been taking advantage of them for several years now. First there is the wide choice of good quality hotels, and those that open this early in the season seem well prepared to pander to the needs of cycling groups. They provide exactly the facilities in terms of comfortable rooms, keen prices, bike storage, relaxing pool areas and abundant nutritious food that we cyclists look for. Then there is the great Alcúdia beach to enjoy at the end of a long day in the saddle and finally there is the town's perfect position on the island, just a day's ride and back from all kinds of places like Soller, Porto Cristo and Sa Calobra. Even the monastery at San Salvador is a comfortable jaunt away.

We've been coming to Mallorca for so many years that it has been tempting to try other areas, but Arenal meant a dull ride through the lowlands of the south or the busy roads of Palma at the start of each day and Magaluf was just a bit cheesy unless you wanted a drink-fest every night, which was not our bag. Nor did it offer many escape routes other than the busier west coast road or a route straight uphill at the start of every day.

No, Alcúdia is almost perfect and what better way to finish off a day's riding than an all-out burn-up along the coast from Pollensa. We all suppose that the smooth, well-maintained Mallorcan roads are a result of EU subsidises, but wherever the money came from they provide a welcome respite to the pot-hole littered lanes of Surrey. And there's the considerate approach of motorists too, which also compares favourably with the hasty, "don't make me late", get out of my way driving skills of many in the UK.

Here I must reference Andrew's previous post about some cycling bad habits like running red lights and not giving way where needed, none of which are to be condoned. As a rider I don't intentionally ride to block the road for any driver, after all an angry driver is far more a threat to me than an happy one. But bear in mind that if you approach a group of riders, even after they have realised they are holding you up, it may take a moment or two for them to organise themselves into a narrower line so that you can pass safely. A short, friendly toot on the horn before and after the overtake is all it should take. Try it, the friendly thank-you wave from the front of the group may warm your heart for the rest of the day! And then there are the Mallorcan winds which can easily blow a rider a few feet off course without notice, so please leave a healthy gap as you pass.

Finally there's the issue of lycra, which other writers on Mallorca, not just Andrew, seem to take slight offence to. Well from the horse's mouth the reasons for the crazy garments are two-fold. Be seen and be comfortable. I'm sure we'd all look very smart in black Paul Smith tailored jackets, but the Mallorcan truck driver might just not see me in time and my poor wife and kids back home would be distraught if that jacket was returned damaged! And how sore would my more delicate areas be after 6 or 7 hours in the saddle unless I dressed carefully in appropriate gear? Don't worry we do normally change into more suitable attire before frequenting the local bars and restaurants in the evening, so you may not even notice us unless you eaves-dropped the boring conversations about who rode fastest that day. In that case, come and say hello and give us something more interesting to talk about, please!

I never understood what the video had to do with the song, but which duo (or band even) featured in a cycle race?

Any comments to please.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cold Comfort - Winter in a Mallorcan house

The afternoon coffee and cake is a German tradition. Walk the promenade of little Germany, Can Picafort, and, in summer, boards outside the bars will invite you to "Kaffee und Kuchen". Be invited into a German-owned house and you will be presented with a jar of coffee and a plate of pastries. A further German tradition is that houses in Germany tend to be like ovens. Germany has cold winters, but its houses and apartments are pretty much air-tight, they are like vaults, nothing can come in, nothing can escape. In Germany, there are laws obliging landlords to heat rental properties to a certain level. No-one, theoretically, be they owner or tenant, should freeze through inadequate heating.

It snowed, after a fashion, yesterday. A brief flurry, at sea level. It looked more like hail, but it was snow, some said. Meteorological definitions didn't matter, save for one - cold. Mallorca, unlike Germany, doesn't have cold winters. Of course it doesn't. Well not on a German scale it doesn't. But it has cold spells. Even during these, like the current one, daytime temperatures at sea level rarely fall to freezing, and when the sun puts in an appearance, it can still feel warm - outside. The problem is not outside, it's inside.

There are new German neighbours. Kaffee und Kuchen. It's a tradition. The icy state of the living-room, for them, most certainly isn't. Surprises there can be for those new to Mallorca: one that most do not bargain for is just how cold it can get and just how cold their newly bought houses might be. I hadn't put on the ski socks (to compensate for the stone floor) and the long-johns (to compensate for the air). The coffee cooled rapidly. Even the cream in the cake seemed to crystallise as though in a freezer.

There was a wood-burner, unused. There was wood, but lying next to it. The cost of wood is astronomical. There were radiators, not on. There has been publicity about the rising cost of electricity. Moreover, the room was large, open plan. The oil-filled radiators give out some warmth, but only so long as you're more or less sitting on top of them, which is not a wise thing to do. "Do not cover" is the warning they all carry. Gas, I said. Eleven euros for a bottle of butane. It might last a week. Possibly. That's not so bad, they said. Certainly against the cost of wood. Mind you, the one dehumidifer, the one that eats electricity, might need to be added to. Someone, a Mallorcan, rubbing his upper arms in a gesture of "qué frío", said the other day that the problem in Mallorca is the damp atmosphere. Clings, he said, in winter. Damp and then sometimes cold, like an invisible fog. This will be why damp course is a rarity, like insulation and double-glazing. All this in a country that is meant to have committed to energy efficiency and the saving of Mother Earth. Don't make me laugh, or make new German neighbours laugh.

There's no natural gas, they enquired. Not outside Palma. It will take them years to run pipelines across the island. Think of all the endless environmental discussions, the politics, the bankrupt state of state finances. And then there was a coincidence. An announcement two days ago that there are indeed plans to develop a gas network. That will teach me to go around saying it would take twenty years. Or maybe that might not be wrong. The announcement also referred to economic conditions and planning regulations. Projects have a habit of taking years to be implemented, and even when there is funding in place, agreement cannot be reached by competing political interests.

There's another German tradition, among Germans who have adopted Mallorca. And this is that they all seem to have read George Sand. A winter in Mallorca, and the health of Sand's poor old husband, Chopin, deteriorated because of the dampness and chill of Valldemossa. But that was when? Some time in the nineteenth century. A long time ago. When they had wood, but didn't have butane or electricity. And when they didn't have double-glazing or insulation, or natural gas.

These things take time, you know.

** (Last night it snowed. Properly snowed. Snowed as in covered the grass.)

Mallorca Daily Photo Blog
And while on matters German, yesterday I met Klaus Fabricius who does the Mallorca Daily Photo Blog ( and whose work I first came across when I was alerted to an entry explaining and depicting the sea-grass origin of those kiwi-like, oval balls that proliferate on the beaches. If you have not been following Klaus's blog, let me issue a recommendation once more. It is highly informative and the photography is outstanding, as it also is on a sort of sister blog - Plantarium (

Any comments to please.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dress-Up Weekend: Carnival

Carnival. Just when you thought everyone was thoroughly fiesta-ed out, up comes another opportunity for a bit of street party and a DJ or two. Carnival often seems like an after-thought to the revelries of January, but it captures the imagination largely because of the dressing-up. Even more than Sant Antoni, which offers the chance to become a devil for a day, Carnival has the scope to let the imagination run wild. Despite recession, the demand for costumes is high, and the specialist shops are doing a roaring trade, especially where children's outfits are concerned.

Today is "Dijous Llarder", first day of Carnival (in that Carnival can be said to have a first day, as its chronology is lengthy, to say the least). At the weekend, the local towns will have their parades and their costume parties, and costumes are "obligatory", the poster for Alcúdia's party on Saturday night says. TV characters, Disney characters, pop stars, superheroes, these are the most popular, certainly with the children. Political figures have fallen out of favour, except perhaps as the objects of satire or utter contempt. Anyone for a Miquel Nadal?

Carnival in Mallorca is not on the scale of Carnival in parts of the mainland, in particular Seville and Cadiz, or in Tenerife, but any excuse for a bit of a do is not to be sniffed at. Pollensa has its parade on Saturday, Muro and Alcúdia have theirs on Sunday.

Tourism confusion and car hire
Good news on the tourism front on the front page of yesterday's "Bulletin". Or is it? TUI is reported as announcing that summer sales in the UK have risen by ten per cent. Sounds good, even if it's not clear what period we're talking about. When it says that TUI had an "increased first-quarter operating loss" but has seen improved trading in the second quarter, I confess that I am somewhat confused. Are we not still in the first quarter? Whatever. To add to the confusion, I was told yesterday that the figures were rubbish and that someone from TUI had said that the reverse was the case, i.e. ten per cent down. Who knows? You pays your money and you takes your choice, or maybe you don't pays your money and you don't makes a choice - First or otherwise. But look closely at the report in the paper, and you will realise that nowhere is Mallorca mentioned. The TUI announcement refers to sales in general. It also goes on to say that TUI has seen an increase of six per cent in British sales. Six per cent, ten per cent, Mallorca, the world? What is all this? Confused? I am, and so, I'd imagine, are you.

Elsewhere in the paper, one must congratulate a letter-writer for stamping on "the whining of some part-timers and tourists about conditions on the island". He refers in particular to a previous letter about that something about which the authorities should be doing something and about which they have no right to intervene, the apparently inflated prices being charged by car-hire companies. That letter claimed a charge of a thousand pounds per week. So this latest letter-writer, "tired of the whining", did a bit of googling and came up with a couple of quotes (among thousands of hits) that were anything other than unreasonable. Yes, there have been and are examples of high prices for car hire, but the recourse to single cases to seek to prove a point and with which to beat Mallorca with the "too-expensive" stick is tiresome and unbalanced. Look around, shop around and it never is as expensive. Now, just stop it.

Yesterday's title - "Man On The Moon", REM,

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Let's Play Risk - The closure of Riskal

"Too risky." Remember that catch-phrase? Some of you would probably prefer not to, but it came from the "nick-nick" time when Jim Davidson was any good, i.e. for a brief period when he first found fame. Too risky. Risk all. Riskal. Know what Riskal is/was? A grand centre for entertainment, culture, events and gastronomy, not far from Palma. It was the vision of one Joan Gelabert, ten years in the development at a cost of some 50 million euros. It opened in December 2008. In keeping with pretty much any new establishment, there was an inauguration, though Riskal's was in the stratosphere of the lavish. Among the guests was Miquel Nadal, then the tourism minister. Maybe that was a fate of bad omen. Riskal seemed to risk all, it was hugely ambitious. It closed on Monday.

One needs to appreciate the scale of what was risked. Occupying 26,000 square metres and with 4,000 additional square metres of gardens, Riskal, technologically at the state of the art, comprised an art gallery, an auction room, a bookshop, a jazz club, a disco, three function areas, restaurants and cafés and a catering facility. Two hundred jobs were envisaged. The thirty employees are now out of work. The owner hopes it's not the end, that Riskal may not be closed permanently, that it might be possible to sell it on.

It was rotten timing of course and was not the first grand Mallorcan project to open just when the world's economy was in freefall. Hotel Formentor was another, back in the days of The Depression; it financially crippled Adan Diehl who had arranged its construction. Fifty million euros were splashed on the Riskal pleasure dome, and slap bang in the middle of economic chaos it opened to considerable publicity; full-pages ads in the newspapers and so on. The problem was, what was it? Perhaps it was some overblown vanity project. But such a description would be unfair to Gelabert's vision. Riskal was intended to be a location that would show off the finest of talents, a location for conventions (achieved for example with staging a congress for the UGT union), a location for residents and tourists alike, well those with some money to throw around. It was intended, one guesses, as symbolic of a different type of Mallorca, a sophisticated Mallorca, one in keeping with other visions, those of government and authorities keen on an image of the island elevated from the sun and beach.

No, Riskal was not vanity. It was virtuous, too much so perhaps, but it defied simple definition. A maxim of business is to be able to sum something up in a short sentence. Riskal needed several, or certainly that was the impression its publicity gave. It was difficult to get a handle on the place. Whether it caused much impact among tourists last year is hard for me to say, but the name never seemed to crop up. Or maybe I just move in the wrong circles.

It's a shame. Of course it's a shame that Riskal has closed. New, different projects are just what Mallorca needs. Take another one, due to start this summer - the Mallorca Rocks Hotel in Magaluf. This sounds a fantastic idea, one that builds on the success of the Ibiza Rocks Hotel. The opening of the new hotel will feature The Kooks and DJ Zane Lowe. Apart from the obvious, namely the differences in markets and entertainment offered, Mallorca Rocks is also different to Riskal in that it has a clear focus and identity. It is a music destination. It is easy to understand and therefore easier to market.

Recession clearly played a part in Riskal having to close barely a year after opening, but maybe it was just too broad a concept. Too ambitious and too ill-defined. Too risky.

Yesterday's title - Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb, Today's title - and once again for this: "did you hear about this one?"

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

We Got Nothing To Be Guilty Of - Mallorca's tourism corruption

Events surrounding Operación Voltor (Operation Vulture) and the corruption allegations related to Inestur and the tourism ministry have moved on apace. The prosecutors are talking in terms of six years imprisonment for Miquel Nadal, ex-tourism minister, and eleven for the Miquel Flaquer, recent leader of the Unió Mallorquina. One needs to be careful. Though charged, along with others, there have been no trials as such. These announcements are often made as to prison terms, but they are rather unseemly. Guilt does tend to be presumed, perhaps with very good reason, but the pre-match (so to speak) publicity given to stints inside does rather stick in the throat.

Nevertheless, what is emerging is evidence of what the prosecution alleges was a "network of assistance to businesspeople close to the UM" that operated via the tourism ministry with the additional aid of the former leader Flaquer. A key example concerns the awarding of a contract for a voice recognition system worth over a million euros to a technology firm. The police argue that the value was way above what was required, the suspicion being that the money trail ended up in the coffers of the party itself. What all this implies is that the ministry, and therefore also Inestur, were being exploited for gain and being run as some private fiefdom to finance, if not necessarily individuals, but then the UM party - a line of argument denied, as you might expect. Individuals or party, it doesn't really matter, as it all involves the diversion of public money. It seems extraordinary, assuming one accepts the police's version, that a ministry can be so run without apparently any checks, until the belated ones of the prosecutors. Moreover, it suggests a vein of collusion coursing through the ministry with drips attached to various individuals all tagged with the name UM.

At present, the investigation seems to centre on the period when Miquel Nadal was minister. His predecessor, Francesc Buils, has not been detained but he is expected to be called to answer questions. No charges have been made against him, but a question which arises is whether the UM, in return for its coalition place, was granted the tourism ministry and then targeted it as a means to a rather different end than that of merely promoting and managing the islands' tourism industry. Inevitably, the scandal has been used to question the viability of coalition governments in the Balearics (well, by "The Bulletin" anyway). This is plainly not the issue. Coalitions do not beget corruption. The logic of the "viability" argument is that they do, and it is wrong-headed. The issue is corruption - period - and the wider societal malaise that cultivates it. This, and the sheer inadequacy of control mechanisms. I would reiterate a point made more than once on this blog, that to reassure a rightly alarmed electorate, a system of pre-emptive vetting of contract awards is needed, rather than the retrospective actions of the police and prosecutors.

Anyway, back to day-to-day running of government, and there is now a new tourism minister. President Antich has chosen not to assume command, though he has put sport under his direct control, and has moved to tourism the employment minister Joana Barceló, president of the Council of Menorca from 1999 to 2008 and a member of the PSIB-PSOE, i.e. the Balearics wing of the socialist party. Antich is also rebuffing attempts by the Partido Popular to bring a vote of no confidence.

Bird-watching tourism - part two
Further to yesterday, Geoff, the blog's twitcher in residence, has put into perspective the argument that bird-watching tourists necessarily contribute much to the wider economy. Staying at an eco-tourist farm as part of a bird-watching trip to Alcúdia, he had the impression that it was the tour company that was benefiting the most and that he spent only small amounts whilst on trips around the island. Moreover, he wonders about Mallorca as a bird-watching destination, given that it has become cheaper to travel to Asia where the birds and the landscapes are more exotic and also given that rarer birds which come to Mallorca do so in the winter when the weather is less inviting and the hotels are shut. On this last point, hotels, the piece from "The Bulletin" on Sunday referred to "a number of hotels ...near to Albufera ... which cater for bird-watchers during the low season". Really? Which ones are they? Unless I'm very much mistaken, there is only one hotel in Playa de Muro open right now, the Iberostar which brings in mainly the cyclists.

Yesterday's title - Weather Report, Today's title - oh yes you have - allegedly. Which twosome?

Any comments to please.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Birdland - Cycling and bird-watching in Mallorca

Come on, 'fess up. Cyclists behaving badly or even behaving well, and do you lose your rag, shout and scream? Does Matthew Parris's piano wire cross your mind? What if maybe I just give a little nudge with the bumper? No, no, don't do that. Whatever you do, don't do that.

Me? I move from ultra polite to ultra pissed off. I will gladly observe the rules, gladly let a line of cyclists enter a roundabout, the only time you are meant to stop on a roundabout. I will even let a lone cyclist come onto a roundabout in front of me, so long as there isn't a truck about to demolish my boot. I will happily give a wide berth, slow at the central islands where there isn't sufficient space for car and two-abreast cyclists, even if they are meant to be in single file. I will do all these things. I don't suffer from road territorialism. It isn't that. What it is, is when the rules are broken, when the cyclists do what no car driver could get away with - running a red, coming out of an exit that they shouldn't be, cutting up, or just going the wrong way. But why get so peed off? Does it really matter? Well actually it does, given that the car driver is invariably always at fault if there's an accident.

The recreational cyclist is not the issue. He or she usually pedals at a sedate speed. He or she can stop easily. It is the pros, the semi-pros, the pretend-pros who get the driver's goat. The ones who act as they own the roads. Ah yes, own. It's that territorialism again. And it's also the provocation, the one that comes from the attire, the dress-code, the lycra. They dress deliberately to antagonise.

But it's not just on the roads of Alcúdia, Pollensa or Muro that the great cyclist-driver divide occurs. In Dublin, according to a piece in yesterday's "Sunday Times", "cyclists are facing a backlash from motorists and pedestrians who claim they are a menace". The paper reveals police figures for transgressions - 1,847 motorists done for going through a red, 28 cyclists for doing the same. Strangely enough, given the lunatic nature of the Mallorcan driver, I have rarely actually witnessed a driver running a red. I couldn't tell you how many cyclists I've seen doing the same. What I can tell you is how often I've seen Trafico dealing with an errant cyclist. Once. A girl went through a red right in front of the patrol vehicle. They could hardly not stop her. But whereas a driver can be easily identified, a cyclist cannot be. They all look the same, all stretched into blue outfits. There may be sponsors' logos, different colour helmets and so on, but you can't really pick a cyclist out. And that's it, the cyclist knows damn well that he or she can get away with it. It's this that hacks the drivers off.

Bird-watching in Mallorca
"The Bulletin" ran a piece yesterday about a book that has been published, in English, which highlights the rich bird life to be found on the island. It is called the "Birding Tourist's Guide to Majorca". Three lucky readers may well have emailed the paper to win a copy in response to the question "which red-breasted bird from northern Europe is starting to breed in Mallorca?" Hmm, let me think, bird, red breast. Is it a blackbird?

The robin is just one bird that is now laying down roots in Mallorca. So also is the little egret and the hoopoe. The Albufera nature park is home to them, as it is to many other birds, migrant or relatively full-time. Bird-watching is something of a growth tourism market and a not unlucrative one. As one of the book's authors points out, bird-watchers spend a fair amount of dosh on twitching kit and they are "relatively big spenders", like other tourists who splash out on specialist equipment and clothing, such as golfers or - dare one say it - cyclists.

The book is all part of an initiative to grow this tourism market further. It's a good idea, a very good idea. Now all that's needed is a tourism minister and someone in charge of tourism promotion.

Yesterday's title - Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield, Today's title - "Birdland", probably the best-known thing done by one of the most important of jazz fusion bands.

Any comments to please.