Monday, September 30, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 30 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.30am): 24C
Forecast high: 28C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Northwest 3 to 4 backing West and Southwest 4 to 5 during the morning.

Nice, sunny morning and a nice, sunny day ahead. The week looks good until we get into Thursday when rain is due to appear.

Evening update (20.00): A high of 30.3C on a pretty decent day. Forecast for later in the week from Thursday now looking dodgier.

The Certain Uncertainty Of Climate Change

There is one thing that is certain about the climate change debate. It is that nothing is certain. Well, not totally certain. 95% certainty is now claimed for both climate change occurring and for it having been brought about by human actions. I'm intrigued to know how a figure of 95% certainty is arrived at, rather than, let's say, 93%. But then I'm not a scientist with access to a vast collection of supercomputers with all manner of modelling software. In fact, I'm not a scientist, period. Some of you may well be scientists. There may even, among you, be experts (by which I mean genuine experts) who understand the subject intimately, but I think it reasonable to assume that 95% of us (actually more) are not and so therefore, rather like the scientists, cannot be 100% certain.

Consequently, we draw on the endless arguments across the rising seas of climate debate, lifting from one report which says one thing and another report which says an entirely different thing. It is a debate that might be styled as the Mail-Guardian argument. The right says black, the left says white, or rather the right says it's all rubbish and the left says prepare to fry. It is an argument between flat-earthers and the rather more than four scientists of the Apocalypse. All I would ask is, could there please be adequate warning, so I can get hold of a few sandbags for when (if) the Mediterranean decides to rise to the extent that it is coming in the back door.

Armed with 95% certainty, leading British scientists want there to be a world "Sunpower Programme". One of these scientists is Sir David King, a name inclined  to produce a frothing at the mouth among the Mailite tendency. Sir David doesn't necessarily do his cause a great deal of favour by writing in the anti-Mail ("The Observer" in this instance), but the call for there to be far greater emphasis on harnessing energy from the thing in the sky seems a pretty reasonable one. The sun is unlikely to pack in any time soon and might only be rendered redundant were nuclear winter to envelope the globe, and the certainty of this happening is, well, I have no idea.

But while Sir David is going around suggesting that all countries should participate in establishing some global solar power grid and while Ban Ki-moon is to invite world leaders to attend yet another summit at which they fail to agree to take unified action, both of them might take note of what Spain is proposing. You may recall this proposal, as I wrote about it recently. It is the one by which solar panels would be taxed, thus all but making them pointless; the same one by which, if householders fail to connect their panels to the regular supply, will result in their facing possible fines running into the millions of euros.

Spain, as noted previously, is the second largest producer of solar power in the world. It would, therefore, be in a position to be at the solar nexus of the grand King plan. But having all this sun power is problematic; there is just too much of it. Or it wouldn't be a problem were it not for the government's massive electricity tariff deficit and for major electricity suppliers to see a threat from solar. It is said that it was Iberdrola who put the idea of taxing so-called "autoconsumo" to the government.

It may be that the government doesn't go ahead with its mad scheme, but meantime one does have to wonder at the wisdom of Sa Pobla's infant school installing solar panels at a cost of 34,000 euros, only for it (or rather the town hall) to discover that it might have to pay tax on them. One does also have to wonder if the energy ministry is aware of the possibility of a tax, as it has helped to fund the project. It should know, because it has been the energy minister who has been doing most of the talking about the tax. Perhaps the public sector would be exempt; so no discrimination there then. But if it turned out the panels were to be taxed, I suppose the school could always just switch them off and use them instead as playtime slides for the kiddies. 

Back to Ban Ki-moon, though, and assuming that Mariano is deemed to be a world leader, what might the Spanish premier think to the King plan? Apart from the electricity companies holding his arm up his back, he probably wouldn't think much to it. Mariano is a non-believer. His cousin, a physicist, once told him that climate change wasn't a problem, though whether he was only 95% certain I couldn't say.

Index for September 2013

Alcúdia's electricity history - 28 September 2013
All-inclusive bans: futile - 4 September 2013
Almonds - 14 September 2013
Asunta Basterra murder - 29 September 2013
Balearic parliament cut in deputies - 12 September 2013
Catalonia independence - 13 September 2013
Cost of education - 5 September 2013
Green taxes not to be introduced - 19 September 2013
Greenwich Mean Time in Spain - 22 September 2013
John Major Avenue - 2 September 2013
Madrid Olympic bid fails - 8 September 2013, 11 September 2013
Mallorca's tourism performance in 2013 - 10 September 2013, 17 September 2013
Micro-breweries - 16 September 2013
Muro brothel - 6 September 2013
Over-supply of bars and restaurants - 1 September 2013
Pine trees and forest management - 20 September 2013
Solar energy - 3 September 2013, 30 September 2013
Tourism history - 25 September 2013
Transparency bill - 24 September 2013
Trilingualism introduction - 7 September 2013, 9 September 2013, 15 September 2013, 18 September 2013, 23 September 2013, 27 September 2013
Winter tourism and other tourism travails - 21 September 2013, 26 September 2013

Sunday, September 29, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - Teachers demonstration brings Palma to a standstill

At least 60,000 people are said to have been taking part in a demonstration in the centre of Palma this evening in protest at the introduction of trilingual teaching into Balearics schools by the regional government and in support of the teachers strike, which will enter its third week tomorrow. In addition to unions, various other organisations have supported the demonstration, e.g. the pro-Catalan Obra Cultural Balear and pensioners association. The demonstration is said to be the largest ever staged in Mallorca and has brought Palma in the area in and around the Plaza España to a standstill.

MALLORCA TODAY - Victor gives Mallorca first win on the road

Barcelona B 0 : 1 Real Mallorca
Last season it was away at the Camp Nou, this season away against the young players of Barcelona B at the Mini Estadi. The first half saw Mallorca create the more chances and have the better of the play, but their reward was not to come until nine minutes of the second period, Victor putting the visitors one-up. Mallorca were less dominant in the second half but held on to grab their first away win of the season.

MALLORCA TODAY - Annual fee for Puerto Pollensa yacht club rises from 22,000 euros

The Royal Yacht Club at Puerto Pollensa has been hit by a rise in the annual fee charged by the ministry of tourism and sport from 22,000 euros to 280,000 euros. The yacht club's president considers the rise to be disproportionate and not in line with legal criteria.

(Apologies; I said rise of 22,000; should have been from - now corrected and now an awful lot worse!)

See more: Ultima Hora

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 29 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.00am): 23C
Forecast high: 26C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Southwest and West 4 to 5 veering Northwest 3 by the evening.

Generally cloudy with rain likely this morning, improving later. The week ahead looks good until Thursday when cloud and rain are forecast.

Evening update (19.15): Fair bit of cloud all day, some sun but no rain. High of 28C.

The Secret Of Asunta Basterra

The bench is unremarkable. The slats have an unevenness. The lowest one droops at an end, another rises and reveals a gap with the one beneath it. The bench hasn't been well-made and it hasn't been well-maintained. What colour is this bench? It's hard to say. The photo is a bluey-grey. The bench might be brown, might be green. Where is this bench? It is in a park in Santiago de Compostela, the Galician city with the shrine to Saint James, one of the Twelve Apostles, and to which Catholics - more than 100,000 of them a year - make a pilgrimage.

But this is not a story about Santiago. It is a story about a bench. Who is sitting on the bench? An eleven-year-old girl. She is wearing slip-ons and appears to have no socks. She has a fleece cardigan with at least three buttons which are buttoned-up. She is looking straight at the camera. The girl is alone but she is not sitting in the middle of the bench. She is to one end, the end where the lowest slat droops. There is space to her left. Space for at least two more people. Two adults. There is a caption under the photo of this bench. It reads: "John's spirit haunts the Alameda".

The Alameda is the park. There is a story about this park. It's only short and it was written in September last year. "Once upon a time there was a happy family: a man, a woman and a son. One day the woman was assassinated. The man had to take retaliation on the person who killed his wife (Anna) but he died as well, because he tried to take retaliation but the bad man killed John, the husband. His body is in the Alameda park and his spirit too. He hopes his wife's spirit will come to him. Every day he sits on the benches."

There is another photo. It is of the same girl. The sun is shining, she is wearing a vest and a pair of shorts. She seems happy. There is a caption to this photo, too. It reads: "Boss of the ghost hunters".

The girl was Asunta Basterra. Last Sunday her body was found on a forest path in Teo, a town to the south of Santiago. Her parents have been arrested and been placed in custody, suspected of either Asunta's murder or manslaughter.

In January last year, Asunta's maternal grandmother died at the family home. In July last year, her maternal grandfather also died. No autopsy was carried out on either. They were both cremated.

Also in July, Asunta posted an introduction to a blog. That is where we can see the photo of her on the bench and the photo of her with her arms folded announcing that she is in charge of the ghost hunters. On 3 September last year she entered a second post. This is the one with the short story. There are no other posts on the blog.

The Guardia Civil believe that there was an issue with the grandparents' inheritance. They also believe that Asunta knew about this; that she knew a secret about her family and about her parents. They also think that Asunta's blog may have something to tell about this secret.

It is of course quite possible that the blog was no more than the product of an imaginative mind. It is in English (some of which I have corrected above) and it says that the blog was being written about "strange sightings" seen in three parks in Santiago. But it wasn't apparently only the work of Asunta. It says that the story of the parks will be told by Asunta Basterra Porto and Sophie Elizabeth Paton. Sophie, it would seem, was an English teacher at an academy in Santiago.

If the blog does say anything that might interest the police, then Sophie is the only person who might be able to shed any light. Alternatively, there may be nothing at all to shed any light on. It may also be that Sophie didn't really have anything to do with the blog, or if she did and she ceased to be a teacher at the academy, this may explain why there were no more entries after 3 September 2012.

The murder (or manslaughter) of Asunta has caused a sensation. It would have done anyway, but the sensation has been heightened because of Asunta's blog. It has been suggested that the girl may, in addition to knowing the family secret, have had some premonition of her grandfather's death and even her own. The photo of her on the bench, now one knows the background, can take on a whole eery meaning. Or it may mean nothing.

But there is another factor, one that may have led Asunta to think that her life was in danger. Two teachers at her school had reported that she was coming to school in a state of sedation. An explanation for this was that she was taking anti-histamines, but now another explanation is being sought.

"John's spirit haunts the Alameda." The photo of the girl on the bench was posted on 18 July 2012. Eight days later, her grandfather was dead.

(Note: There is some criticism of the blog still being available, but it isn't voyeuristic. I don't think it unreasonable to still be able to view it -

Saturday, September 28, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - World Tourism Day awards for Alcúdia businesses

The regional government celebrated World Tourism Day yesterday by giving awards to Balearics tourist businesses which have been recognised for their environmental efforts and responsibility. Two of these are Alcúdia businesses, namely Golf Alcanada and the Club Pollentia Resort.

See more: Diario de Mallorca

MALLORCA TODAY - Bay of Alcúdia tourism strategic plan to go ahead

Some time after it had first been proposed, the regional government yesterday approved - at a cost of just over one million euros - a strategic plan for improvements to tourism infrastructure on the bay of Alcúdia. The plan includes the three main resort towns - Alcúdia, Muro and Santa Margalida (Can Picafort).

See more: Diario de Mallorca

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 28 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.45am): 21C
Forecast high: 29C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): South 4 to 5 easing rapidly Southeast 2 to 4 increasing 4 to 5 by the afternoon.

Cloudy-ish start and may well stay mostly cloudy. Rain likely tomorrow with temperatures dropping.

Evening update (19.45): A high of 29.4C on what did remain a cloudy day. Rain still looking likely tomorrow morning.

When The Lights Came On In Alcúdia

In 1913 electricity supply came to eight Mallorcan municipalities. They were Capdepera, Son Servera, Petra, Porreres, Campos, Banyalbufar, Sencelles and Alcúdia. If you know your island geography, you will appreciate that electrification did not exactly follow a logical pattern. Capdepera and Son Servera are neighbours as are Porreres and Campos, but as for other towns, Banyalbufar is stuck out on the west coast just above Estellencs, and Estellencs didn't get electricity until 1926.

Electrification of the Balearics actually started in 1892 but not in Mallorca. It was Menorca (Mahon) which was to initially see the light. The first town in Mallorca to have an electricity company and electricity supply was not Palma, as you might have thought it would have been, but little Alaró. That was in 1901. In the following year, a neighbouring town, Consell, became the next as did Manacor, which is not a neighbour of Alaró's or anything approaching being a neighbour. It was 1903 when Palma got electricity and, though there was a burst of energy (so to speak) in 1905 - Andratx, Inca, Mancor de Vall, Binissalem and Caimari - and 1907 (Pollensa but not the port; it was to be a further nine years before Puerto Pollensa had a supply), development stalled until the eight towns named above were hooked up.

There were at one point 59 distinct electricity companies in the Balearics, a number which isn't a great deal less than the total number of municipalities. Over time they merged until the two oldest and grandest electricity companies - La Palma de Mallorca, Compañia Mallorquina de Electricidad and La Sociedad de Alumbrado por Gas - themselves merged and formed GESA in 1927; GESA was taken over in 1983 by Endesa.

GESA, though it didn't exist in 1913, was to become central to the development of Alcúdia, one of the towns which celebrates one hundred years of electricity this year. The old power station near the port, where incidentally there is still a sub-station, came into existence in 1957. It was workers at the power station who gave a boost to businesses in the port area. Though tourism obviously became important, Puerto Alcúdia grew as much on the back of its power station and its construction as it did on the back of tourism.

The old power station was of course run down and stopped production in the 1980s, the new and far more powerful Es Murterar facility by Albufera having taken over and Endesa having taken GESA over. So, thirty years on from that acquisition and one hundred years on from the first electricity having been produced in Alcúdia, there is to be a celebration of the anniversary and of the history of the town's electricity, a history which, with the exception of Alaró and its odd claim to electrical fame and of Palma, is the most important in Mallorca.

Prior to this year's Alcúdia Fair, itself celebrating 25 years, an exhibition will open that is dedicated to the one hundred years of electricity. There will also be a video documentary and the presentation of a book by the notable Alcúdia historian and geographer Manuel Espinosa Galán.

All of this should be very interesting, though doubtless one will have to battle with either or both Catalan and Castellano to make any sense of it, but it will surely shed some light on the origins of 1913 and all that. Unlike Pollensa, for which Bartomeu Aloy's founding of the electricity factory in 1907 is well-chronicled, or Sa Pobla, where the one-hundredth anniversary of electricity was celebrated last year and for which there is also a good deal of historical information, Alcúdia's history is rather more obscure. But, buried in an edition of "La Vanguardia" for 30 January 1913, there is a short notice. It reads: "In Alcúdia, a meeting took place to discuss the proposition from a house of Sabadell (I'm not sure what this refers to; it could be that house means business) to install electricity in the town. Today a further meeting is due to take place in order to arrive at a definitive agreement."

In a few days time, I shall probably find out what the house of Sabadell refers to and who it was who was responsible for Alcúdia's first electricity.

* Photo of the old power station taken a few years ago. The photo was taken from the Poblat GESA over the road from the power station, the urbanisation that was built for GESA workers which has fallen into a rather bad way.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Power Behind Balearics Trilingualism

What has the teachers strike got to do with Carlos Delgado? The Balearics tourism minister had been quiet on the subject until the other day. His silence was wholly appropriate. Education is not a matter for a tourism minister, but then Delgado is no ordinary tourism minister.

In March 2011, two months before the last regional election, Delgado gave an interview, having been through one of those spells of which he makes a habit and when he appears to have disappeared. He was asked which ministerial post he would like. He had two preferences. One was tourism, the other was education. Where education was concerned, he wanted to see a situation by which parents could choose the language in which their children were taught, the choice being between Castellano and Catalan and one that was indeed established after the election. In the end, he got his wish for tourism, even though the hoteliers had tried to persuade Bauzá not to give him the job. Commenting on his preferences, I observed that "Bauzá has himself become divisive in a way that does not bode well for what should be within his grasp, the presidency of the Balearics. If he bows to Delgado's ambition for education, the divisions are likely to widen. But then who actually makes the decisions and who actually wields the power?"

I was fearful of divisions in Mallorcan and Balearic society that might come with a Bauzá presidency. They had not manifested themselves in quite the way that they have over the past few weeks, but the teachers strike is the consequence of this divisiveness. Concerted industrial action was going to happen at some point, and it now has. Had Delgado been made education minister in 2011, the chances are that it would have happened very much sooner and it would have been a lot bloodier.

One commentator in the Spanish press referred to Delgado recently as "education minister number one". By so doing, a point was emphasised that was widely thought to be the case before the 2011 elections; Delgado was the power to which I referred then, his anti-Catalanism was more vociferous than Bauzá's and had been well-chronicled before Bauzá was plucked from Marratxí obscurity to head the Balearics PP.

The tourism minister's silence over the strike has now been broken, and he has chosen to attack members of his own party: mayors of PP-led towns who do not fully support TIL. These mayors had met with the person who is the education minister, Joana Maria Camps, and had, in essence, called on her to back track. Among them were Sa Pobla's Biel Serra and Pollensa's Tomeu Cifre, mayors of towns with very identifiable Catalan and indeed Catalanist traditions. Delgado wants disciplinary sanctions against mayors who do not follow the party line. What does he propose? That they are thrown out of the party in the same way that Antoni Pastor of Manacor was for refusing to go along with PP anti-Catalan policy?

It has been suggested that it was Delgado who pushed for the removal of the former education minister Rafael Bosch, who was believed to be a moderate and so therefore a "Catalanist". It really is no coincidence that Bosch went very shortly after the original TIL bill was approved in April and was replaced by someone who would do as she was told. The question is, though: told by whom?

It may not ultimately matter who is wielding the power behind the scenes, but by calling for sanctions against mayors, Delgado is adding to the divisiveness that TIL is causing, and one is left to wonder if this is a divisiveness that has been craved. The unions have rejected accusations that they have embarked on a political strike, but their rebuttals do not convince. In turning down Camps' offer to make TIL voluntary for this year at secondary level and demanding instead that it be voluntary at primary level as well, they have tried to stick to the educational knitting, but have undermined their position by demanding also that the "law on symbols" (which covers inter alia the display of the Catalan flag) be withdrawn. What else is this but political?

Had TIL been purely educational there would not be a strike. The chances are that, were educational issues the only ones that mattered, TIL would not even have cropped up, but had it, then its implementation and its preparation would have been very different. It is a policy driven by a political agenda, one driven by Delgado and Bauzá and one that was inevitably going to lead to conflict and division. And the unions have been only too happy to oblige.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 27 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.30am): 21C
Forecast high: 29C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): South and Southeast 3 to 4 increasing 4 to 5 by the afternoon.

Another hot day due but change in prospect over the weekend with a cold front coming in from tomorrow evening bringing possible rain.

Evening update (19.30): A high of 32C. Looking a bit dodgy over the weekend.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 26 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (9.00am): 21C
Forecast high: 28C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): South and Southeast 2 to 3 increasing Southeast 4.

Perfect sunny morning and another good day in prospect. Saturday is looking cloudy.

Evening update (19.15): A high of 31.6C, so pretty warm for the end of September. A cold front would appear to be coming in at the weekend.

Ghosts Of Tourism Past: Adapt to survive

You know those little tubs of butter you get, the ones that might typically be served with a full or less-than-full English and which are, if only just out of the fridge, rock hard and cause your toast to crumble as you desperately struggle to spread their solid but very mini mass. Do you know how much they cost? Not to you as a punter but to a bar owner? It would probably depend upon supplier and probably also on any "arrangements" that exist, but the regular cost is eight centimos. Only a few years ago, seven or eight years ago perhaps, the cost was less. The little tubs then cost two centimos.

Fortunately, not all costs have risen as dramatically as the little tubs of butter have. But the increase in their cost acts as a reminder of the saying that if you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves. For the bar owner, the added six centimos over the past few years, multiplied by the number of little tubs that have found themselves on the ends of knives of customers trying hard to extract their content, will amount to a pretty penny or several.

The increased cost will be factored in and either absorbed or added to the price of the breakfast, and if it is the latter, then the mumblings begin. Things aren't as cheap as they used to be. The bar owner, however, has to look after the pennies (or the centimos). Were he not to, then the pounds (or the euros) would not look after themselves.

Strangely enough, things aren't as cheap as they used to be, but things not being as cheap as they once were or as cheap as some might wish them to be is of course one of the regularly voiced reasons for why there is a malaise that afflicts Mallorca's tourism.

Despite the headlining good news, or apparent good news, that comes from the summer's high occupancy rates and high air passenger numbers, there is a refusal to believe the good news, and one reason for not believing it is that tourists don't spend as they did because everything is so expensive, a perception that does really require defining, as being expensive (or cheap) is all relative.

The only thing that needs to be known is that everything did indeed used to be cheaper. Had everything not been cheap, then there would not now be the tourism that Mallorca has. It was tourism founded on low cost, on dirt cheapness. It allowed there to be what there is today.

Looking to the past is instructive in explaining how we get to a position in the present, but the constant reflection on the past gets us only so far. The standard complaints about how Mallorca's tourism model operates today have been with us for years; these complaints being prices, low spend, shorter summer seasons, lack of winter tourism, all-inclusives. Yet somehow the past suggests that they are all relatively new phenomena, when none of them are. The past conjures up some golden age, the vision of which has to be tempered by, among other things, the fact that total tourism was significantly lower. (It should be noted, for example, that between 1993 and 2008 the total number of tourists arriving in Mallorca rose by 85%.)

There are occasions when I feel as though I am winter-tourismed-out, all-inclusived-out, lower-spent-out. Just on all-inclusives, and as an example, over seven years ago (in July 2006), I concluded an article on all-inclusives by saying: "The AI has changed the nature of the market. It is for the market to make an adjustment to it. Ultimately, if the AI and other factors (such as lower spend) cause a fall in demand, then the supply (of out-of-hotel facilities) has to alter. If this means less, then so be it. This is a harsh appraisal, but I think it is a realistic one."

The image of a tourism past keeps getting in the way. It is one in which there were no all-inclusives (and there weren't - not as we know them - until the '90s) and in which everywhere was supposedly packed, but with very many fewer tourists than today. Tourism's present is not like its past and nor will its future be like its past. Though obstacles to remedies are great, there may be remedies to alleviate the absence of current winter tourism, one which, in sheer numbers, has been greater this century than in the mythical golden age. But otherwise tourism present and tourism future has to forget the past and to adapt. The day before I was told about the cost of the little tubs of butter, I spoke with a partner in a tourist business which has had a highly successful summer. The reasons why? Many, but key are marketing, service and listening to the customer and changing accordingly.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 25 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.15am): 18C
Forecast high: 27C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): South and Southeast 2 to 3, temporarily East and Northeast 3 by the afternoon.

Another fine autumn morning, plenty of sun all day, the outlook though is less good than it was, with greater risk of showers over the weekend.

Evening update (19.45): A high of 28.8C on what has been a gloriously sunny day. 

Tales From The Tea-Room: Tourism history

A tutor of mine at university was called John Walton. As he, I and others were of an era when imported soaps from America were twee before they became littered with the skeletons that rattled in the cupboards of "Dallas", he had the misfortune to be nicknamed John Boy. (After "The Waltons", just in case anyone doesn't get the reference.) One says misfortune, but the good doctor, now professor, was also of an era when history started to arrive in the modern world. Facets of contemporary society and culture were niched into the framework of history study, and Dr. Walton was an historian who embraced this new relevance. For this reason alone, I suspect he was actually quite pleased at being known after a television character, albeit one culled from a series as lightweight, sentimental and horrid as "The Waltons".

Among his areas of study, and one can easily consult his extensive research if one desires, was that of fish and chips. This British culinary treat was not, by the mid-1970s when I sat opposite his bearded and longhaired self in a tutorial, confined merely to British shores. It had moved abroad. Fish and chips became the Brit tourist's friend, his foody comfort blanket, his dining defence against "foreign muck" on foreign holidays.

Prof. Walton has, among his vast oeuvre, contributed many an insight into holidays, including those to Mallorca, which, back in the 1970s, was very definitely still Madge-orca. I have come across a chapter he wrote for a book entitled "Histories Of Tourism". It (the chapter) is called "Paradise Lost and Found: Tourists and Expatriates in El Terreno, Palma de Mallorca, from the 1920s to the 1950s".

The reason why I came across this was that I had been sent an email which, without giving any detail, suggested that I might be interested in Googling "F. G. Short, Mallorca". There may be more information to come from the source of this rather mysterious email, but in the meantime, Google is exactly what I did, which was how I found Professor Walton's chapter.

F. G. Short is mentioned. It says that an English guide for tourists by James Lindo-Webb was "dominated" by tea-rooms, libraries and shops, "headed by the empire of F. G. Short, who had been in on the ground floor (of tourism) in 1917-18". Short had a tea-room, unoriginally called Short's English Tea-Room, a lending library (5,500 books) and a bar. He was also an estate agent, travel agent and exporter.

Short, it would appear, was a pretty big deal in the Mallorca of the 1930s, but what else is there to be known of him? Much, I would fancy. But where to find the information? And where to find copies of what he advertised in? They must exist, but I have yet to see the "Majorca Sun", an English newspaper of the times and one to which I have referred on at least one previous occasion.

Apart from introducing us to the businessman Short (and incidentally, what was his background, why was he in on the ground floor?), Professor Walton's chapter is a remarkable description of a world that one fancies many of us didn't think existed, one in which the British expatriate was well-established, if only in and around El Terreno, and in which there were also tourists. We know that there were of course tourists, but Walton suggests this tourism was far more evident than has sometimes been depicted. He is particularly interesting in charting changes into the 1950s, ones which pre-dated the shifts in sexual attitudes that were pretty much forced on Mallorca and the Franco regime in the 1960s.

Walton's chapter, the enigmatic F. G. Short, the "Majorca Sun", Lindo-Webb's tourist guide, they all point to one thing - the fascinating history of Mallorca's tourism past and also its expatriate past; the relationship, therefore, between Mallorca and Britain and indeed other countries that goes back much further than the "boom" of the 1960s.

There is, and one can see this on the internet and especially on Facebook, a mass of material from this past. It inspires great interest, but why is not more made of this interest? This is a history which is relatively recent, it exists within the memory of some Mallorcans and some foreigners, it is a history to which current-day visitors attach a great deal of importance because they want to know about how things were. There needs to be a proper museum of tourism history. There needs to be, I would suggest, a conference and exhibition. One dedicated to a subject that has almost endless possibilities and which holds endless fascination. I think I have found a mission.

* "Paradise Lost and Found", John Walton

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - Regional government to appeal Cala Carbó compensation

The Balearic Government will lodge an appeal against the decision of the Balearic High Court to order payment of 22.5 million euros compensation to landowners in Cala Carbó (Cala San Vicente), resulting from a 2008 reclassification of land that prevented development.

See more: Ultima Hora

MALLORCA TODAY - Fire forces temporary evacuation of Mallorca Rocks hotel

Some hundred tourists had to be moved out of rooms on Sunday night after a fire broke out in one of the bedrooms at Magalluf's Mallorca Rocks hotel. The fire was swiftly dealt with. A maintenance worker had to be treated for smoke inhalation. The cause of the fire is being investigated.

See more: Ultima Hora

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 24 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.45am): 17.5C
Forecast high: 27C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): South and Southeast 2 to 3, locally East 3 to 4 by the afternoon.

Clear skies early on, if the pattern of the past couple of days is repeated then likely to get cloudy by the later afternoon. Outlook remaining generally good and a touch warmer.

Evening update (20.15): A high of 28.5C. The afternoon cloud of the previous days didn't materialise to the same extent. Nice day.

The Politics Of Opacity: Spain's transparency bill

When he became mayor of Pollensa, Tomeu Cifre vowed that there would be greater transparency in respect of town hall affairs. The demand for increased transparency had grown during the time of the previous administration when  numerous issues cropped up that required explanation but were rarely if ever explained. The most vocal opposition party which led the call for greater transparency was the Alternativa per Pollença. Prior to the local election at which Cifre became mayor, the Alternativa had raised a motion which proposed a system of greater transparency at the town hall. The council rejected the motion. Among those who abstained in the vote were councillors from the mayor's party, the Partido Popular. The motion has never been revisited. Indeed, and despite the mayor's apparent conversion to the principle of transparency during the election period, accusations of a lack of transparency in Pollensa have dogged his administration.

It is unfair to single out Mayor Cifre or Pollensa town hall. Lack of transparency is everywhere in government - municipal, provincial, regional, national. It is the culture of government in Mallorca and the culture of government in Spain.

There are examples of transparency, such as Alcúdia posting detailed information regarding its financial position and certain procedures on the internet, but a degree is needed to interpret much of it. Town halls typically have councillors responsible for "citizenship and participation", but knowing exactly what participation means isn't always clear. It isn't transparent. It never is.

The culture of secrecy in public administration begins at the top of government and filters down to all levels. There is no freedom of information, there is no set of rules for good governance. Spain is known as being one of the most secretive if not the most secretive democracies in Europe. Though the juxtaposition of secretive with democracies is all but an oxymoron, it isn't wrong.

This secretiveness may be about to be broken down. Spain's transparency law has been following the tortuous path that typically has to be travelled in its parliament. Finally, it has come before the Senate. So, who knows how much longer it might all take. Its provisions, one is led to believe, include the release of reports that form the basis of drafts of legislation. There is to be a commission to oversee transparency with its president being elected by parliament and with its membership comprising representatives from bodies such as the data protection agency and the fiscal responsibility authority.

Which is all good stuff, one supposes. It's better than nothing and it may prove to be the first step in creating a political atmosphere and culture which isn't as prone as it is to keeping mum.

The secretiveness that exists equates not just to a lack of transparency but also to accountability and communicativeness. Prime Minister Rajoy is a classic example. Reticence may be excused on account of shyness but it might also be the product of something else. The very top of government should take the lead in bringing about an amelioration of this historical cultural secretiveness, but when the party at the top of government manages to wipe the hard discs of its former, incarcerated and accusatory former treasurer, one does have to wonder whether it is capable of doing so. 

But perhaps one is being too harsh on politicians. The Economy Circle of the great and good from Mallorca's business and professional worlds last year issued a report into the nature of democracy as it is practised in the Balearics. It made for uncomfortable reading. Lack of transparency and bad examples set by political parties (and these, where party funding is concerned, occur across Spain) were highlighted but so also was an apathy on behalf of society in general. In other words, society shrugs its shoulders or doesn't much care or just behaves in the same way as politicians do - not very well.

Will this transparency bill be any more than simply an exercise in paying lip-service to freedom of information? Possibly it will be and even its basic provisions should, one would hope, give grounds for believing that governments might actually explain things for once. We have a good example occurring right now in Mallorca where information would be useful. What, I would like to know, do the reports and research by the regional government into the introduction of trilingual teaching contain? Who drew them up? What was said about the time frame for implementation?  

There again, it is all very well demanding transparency and information, but if there are no reports or research then there isn't much point.

Monday, September 23, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 23 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (9.00am): 20C
Forecast high: 27C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Northeast 2 to 4 veering South 3 by the evening.

Sunny morning, sunny day to come. Looking good through the week though may be some risk of showers towards the weekend.

Evening update (20.00): A high of 27.6C. Cloud came in during the later afternoon, just as it did yesterday.

A Very Political Educational Strike

Has the Balearic Government no interest in negotiating with the teachers? An editorial on Sunday* compared the lack of negotiation with the intense negotiations which occurred at times when damaging strikes, such as the 2001 transport strike, threatened to be prolonged and to so harm tourism. The lack of negotiation now, the editorial continued, indicated that it wasn't only negotiating that the government wasn't interested in, it was education itself.

The government has said that it will negotiate but that there has been no offer from the unions. What are the unions expected to negotiate, though? Are they expected to debate points of law? When a senior lawyer such as Pedro Horrach, the anti-corruption prosecutor for the Balearics, can condemn the government's expeditious "legalising the illegal" after the high court had declared the procedure for TIL illegal (which should have meant the suspension of its introduction), then there are grounds and grave concerns for believing that this is a government which does not act in good faith.

There has been an offer to mediate. It has come from the rector of the university. The government said thanks but no thanks. Mediation wasn't necessary. If not, then what is? The rector's offer was knocked back, one suspects, because the government would have been placed in the awkward position of involving someone who might actually understand something about education in negotiations. Who can it put up? Joana Maria Camps, an estate agent?

But to admit someone from education into the discussions would mean admitting that the strike is an educational one and not, as the government insists and the national education minister Wert has also said, a political one. A university rector wouldn't understand the politics, one has to conclude.

The strike is both educational and political. It isn't wrong for the government or indeed anyone to make the political point, but it is political because the government made it political. All government legislation is political insofar as it is the political process which determines legislation, but the introduction of TIL in April was not an educational issue and an educational issue alone. Indeed, I would go so far as to suggest that it was a political issue and a political issue alone. Try as he might to make everyone believe otherwise, TIL was not voted for at the last election because it wasn't in the Partido Popular's manifesto. TIL was a political expedient to compensate for the failure of the government's free selection policy. Much to its annoyance, parents did not opt in any great number for their children to be taught in Castellano, as the government had hoped. And once parents had given free selection the thumb's down, despite possibly having voted for it (as it was a manifesto pledge), TIL became the alternative - the political alternative, one which would impose a certain percentage of teaching in Castellano. So much, therefore, for the free selection of language. So much, therefore, for the good faith.

Both sides, unions and government, are engaged in a political battle. Both sides use TIL (the English part of it) to disguise their real agendas. Many teachers will consider themselves to be striking over nothing more than a strictly educational matter to do with the implementation of the three-language instruction, but many will be striking because of the threat that TIL will end up diminishing Catalan. Both sides, I would argue, have wanted this strike. Not the teachers themselves so much as their unions. The government's anti-Catalan stance was always likely to end in industrial action and pretty serious industrial action at that. It hadn't happened until TIL tipped the balance.

Why would the government want the strike? The answer is simple, and lies with its description of the strike as political. It has needed a battleground to make its point, the anti-Catalanist one that pre-dated the election and which has been a constant since the PP won the election. Bauzá's reference the other day to not speaking the Catalan of Catalonia but the Catalan of parents and grandparents (i.e. Mallorquín or the dialects of the other Balearic islands) would have gone down well with many Mallorcans who reject Catalonia and Barcelona and who proudly state that they speak Mallorquín and not Catalan.

But in so doing, Bauzá has emphasised the political nature of government policy. Why, if it is not political, bring Mallorquín (or Catalan) into the argument? Educationally, TIL is about a third language for teaching purposes. Educationally, this is its unique proposition. Bauzá, though, has revealed that it is more than this. He has wanted a battle and by God he's got one. 


Sunday, September 22, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - Victory over Mirandés lifts Real Mallorca

It was only 1-0 but a home win for Real Mallorca against Mirandés should lighten the gloom at the club after its poor start to the Liga Adelante season. A goal from Victor in the 28th minute was sufficient to give Mallorca victory, but it took a fine performance from Miño in the Mallorca goal to keep the visitors at bay, especially in the closing minutes. The win lifts Mallorca to seventeeth in the Liga Adelante.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 22 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.15am): 20C
Forecast high: 27C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Northwest 3 to 4 easing and veering Northeast 2 to 3.

Nearly getting to the time for the light duvet to come out again at night, and so the mornings feel a touch nippy. Sunny though and remaining so through the day. Outlook for the week - maybe getting a little warmer.

Evening update (20.00): Nice day. High of 27.6C.

Turn Back Time: Spanish hours

With autumn having arrived, it feels as though we should be turning the clocks back. The days are already shorter, but it will of course still be a month or so before darkness will really be settling in at six in the evening. From the end of October, for anyone in the UK, at six in the evening it will have been well and truly dark for an hour. There have been moves to change UK "time" and to bring the clocks in line with Central European Time. Were it to be, then it would be the same time in Spain as it is in the UK.

While there was debate about an alteration under the Daylight Saving Bill (which failed to complete its passage through parliament) and while it might be possible that the UK might one day end up on Central European Time, in Spain there is a possibility that time would go in the opposite direction; Spain's Congress has called for a socioeconomic study to be undertaken into switching Spain's "time" to match that of the UK.   

If you turn the clock back over a hundred years - to 1901 - you will discover that Spain adopted Greenwich Mean Time in that year. Spain was on the same time system as the UK until 1940. When Germany, which had an hour's difference, i.e. "Berlin Time" (now Central European Time), invaded France, which at the start of the Second World War was also on GMT, the Nazis changed the French system to match that of Germany. The Spanish decided to follow the new French model, and so it has been ever since.

The Greenwich Meridian runs through Spain in a line that corresponds, for example, with the location of Castellón in Valencia. Consequently, and although Mallorca is therefore to the east, mostly all of Spain is to the west, just like Portugal, which is on GMT (as, by the way, are the Canaries). Spain's Central European Time is in fact an anomaly. Or just wrong, and it was the Nazis who, if not directly, were responsible for this anomaly.

The professor and director of the International Centre for Work and Family at the IESE Business School, Nuria Chinchilla , has been arguing the case for some years for Spain to revert to GMT. Congress wants to consider the socioeconomic impact of her proposal because the change would have a number of consequences for the very nature of life and especially for eating habits.

Professor Chinchilla has pointed out that in Spain lunch is determined by the importance placed on solar time (and mean solar time was the system before GMT was introduced), resulting, because of the current CET system, in lunch being taken at three in the afternoon in summer (or two in winter). Dinner follows this pattern, which is why Spaniards eat at ten in the evening in summer. Because of this, and although there certainly are businesses which don't bother opening until ten in the morning or later, no one should start work before ten. But they do of course and they habitually get an hour's less sleep than they should do because they have been going to bed too late.

Reverting to GMT is just one aspect of what has been a debate about "time" which has been going on for several years. Professor Chinchilla presented her proposal at something called the Congress for Rationalisation of Spanish Schedules in December last year. It was the seventh such congress. There is a national commission that bears the title of this congress and, as can be seen by the fact that parliament wants a study, a parliamentary commission as well. Another key point for debate, and it partly has to do with when people eat, is the working day in Spain. Essentially, there is a desire to see the tradition of the siesta scrapped, to ensure that the typical working day starts between 7.30am and 9am and ends by 6pm, to eradicate the mid-morning "breakfast", which can last anything up to an hour, and to limit lunch breaks to no more than 45 minutes.

The impact of introducing GMT and of a fundamental alteration to the daily pattern of life would be profound. Or it would be profound in theory. In practice one wonders. It would take a great deal to make the Spaniard change the habits of a lifetime or of a lunchtime, while passing any meaningful legislation which might impose all this could take ... . Well, who knows how long it might take? Time moves at its own very Spanish pace. And there is, after all, always mañana.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 21 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.15am): 18.5C
Forecast high: 27C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): West 2 to 3, temporarily Northeast 3 during the afternoon. Swell to one metre decreasing.

Bright morning, a bit chilly, more sun later with highs in the mid-20s. Sunday the same and staying fine into the start of next week.

Evening update (19.30): Clouded over by mid-afternoon, otherwise sunny with a high of 27.7C. 

The Population Element In Winter Tourism

Today being the 21st of September, one would expect summer to have finished and autumn to have begun. Apparently though, autumn will actually begin tomorrow evening as this is when the equinox actually occurs. Be this as it may, autumn isn't a season of great consequence in Mallorca. It happens, of course it happens. There is a fall, there is a rapid shortening of days, there are mists, there are dewy morns, but Mallorca's seasons are divided into two - summer and winter. The summer tourism season and the winter tourism season. One that is vibrant and the other which is anything but.

The deathly winter tourism season, which begins when the summer season finishes at the end of October and so coincides with the celebration of the dead at the beginning of November, has long been a matter that has inspired a great wailing in the land. Go back to the late 1960s and there were efforts to get the summer season to extend as far as the end of September. It was a different time then of course, one when air travel was in far from the liberalised state that it now is and when there was typically only ever one holiday a year. The season was short. 

Though there are recollections of busy winter tourism, the facts don't really back these up. In the seventies and eighties for example, the volume of total tourism was much lower than at present. It was more spread out, but the fact is that there have in the very recent past been more tourists in winter than there ever have been. More so certainly than in the 1980s, a decade when the first regional government and first tourism ministry addressed what it saw as the problem of winter tourism and seasonality.

The plan the first government introduced was far from a success. A measure of its lack of success can be understood when one considers that remedies for addressing seasonality are much as they were in the '80s - golf, cycling, and what have you. Though many would dispute the fact that there is now greater winter tourism, they do so by considering primarily British hotel-based tourism. Nowadays, as so few hotels are open, the winter tourism is based on private accommodation in ways that existed only minimally in the 1980s. There are hotels open, but a goodly amount of Mallorca's winter tourism is now residential and also German.

Regardless of these facts, it is undeniably the case that mostly all resorts in Mallorca close down. Whether British, German or other nationality tourism, the resorts are mostly stripped of their visitors, especially those who would stay in hotels. The winter tourism debate, therefore, centres on this resort absence and on the vast amount of hotel real estate which is empty and unproductive for so much of the year.

The debate has been going on for years. It has been going on but it never moves on. The regional government believes it now has a plan to address seasonality, but it hasn't been totally clear as to what it entails. It has said that we must wait a couple of years to see the benefits. Few people are holding their breath.

The "Majorca Daily Bulletin" wants to initiate a campaign to activate this dormant winter state of affairs. Through Facebook it has initiated considerable discussion regarding the winter malaise and what might be done to address it. Though sceptical as to whether anything meaningful can be done (and by meaningful outcome I would suggest a doubling of current numbers of winter tourists over a ten-year period), I back this and have done so in the paper.

But there is one aspect in the winter tourism debate which I fear is overlooked. It is that to do with the size of the British resident population on Mallorca. Though figures differ, the official one - that of the regional government - calculates this population as being around 16,000 or 17,000. A question asked about Mallorca's lack of winter tourism is why somewhere such as Benidorm can perform better in winter. I fancy that British resident population has something to do with this. The Alicante region, of which Benidorm is a part, has a British resident population at least twice the size of Mallorca's. For airlines, therefore, there is a base market to be served, one on which tourists can piggyback. Alicante airport receives more flights from Britain in the winter than Palma does.

On the Costa del Sol the British population is greater still, approximately six or seven times the size of Mallorca's. Malaga airport benefits from even more flights than Alicante.

It might be a simplistic way of looking at the issue, but airlines make decisions based on established markets. Residents are established, tourists are not. If Mallorca wants to attract more winter tourists (from Britain or indeed elsewhere), it needs established markets that will persuade airlines. Mallorca's lack of winter tourism isn't a tourism issue per se. It is one to do with populations.

Friday, September 20, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - Madrid seeks explanations concerning Albufera

The national environment ministry, prompted by the Balearics environmental group GOB, has sought explanations from the regional government concerning the management of the Albufera nature park in Muro and acting on recommendations for this management given by the Ramsar international secretariat for wetlands. Some specifics of this request include wanting to know if the building of the golf course on the Son Bosc finca has been definitively rejected.

See more: Ultima Hora

The Loathsome Pine: Forest management

One of the more peculiar pieces of research that has emanated from the university in Palma over the years was one that was published over three years ago which looked at just how much the pine tree was disliked by Mallorcans. The reasons for this "hate" were: pines can be harmful to health; they can prevent other flora growing; they house the processionary caterpillar; they are dirty in that their needles clog up drains when it rains and demand an enormous amount of sweeping-up and that their pollen turns everywhere a shade of yellowy-green in spring. There were two other reasons for the dislike. One was irrational. The pine is "foreign", which is something of a moot point but if it is true then palm trees should also be hated. The other was rational. The great abundance of pines help to spread forest fires.

The university's researchers discovered that, far from there being wholesale support for the pine tree, many a Mallorcan would be only too happy if the pine were to be sent packing, which would be a pretty difficult feat of forest destruction as at least 80% of mountainous forest is pine.

Gabriel Company, the Balearics environment minister, might do worse than to drag this research out. He has said that the notion that the pine tree is "untouchable" has to change. He was speaking as part of a hearing by a parliamentary commission into the devastating fire that affected the Tramuntana mountains in July. His point was that there needs to be greater control of pine-tree growth, which means cutting trees down as a way of improving forest management and so reducing the risks of fires spreading. The research would suggest that it wouldn't necessarily be that difficult to change the "untouchable" notion.

Sadness accompanied the July fire. It was sadness at the scenes of desolation, ones that are all too familiar if not anything like on the same scale. It was sadness at the loss of pine forests and at the realisation that it could take up to eighty years for the landscapes to be restored. But much though people pined for the loss of the pines, there were those who could have predicted the devastation. Hating the pines for their very density and so their potential to spread fires rapidly does not mean their elimination, or anything like it, but it does mean that there should be better management. And some would say that any management would be better than what has existed. Very little.

Critics of Company will argue that his call for there to be greater control is all a bit late and that it is a call which ignores other issues, such as cutbacks to forestry workers. And there is some justification for criticising the lack of proactive management of the forests. A spokesperson for the PSOE opposition has accused Company of only becoming interested in the Tramuntana and its maintenance since the fire occurred and has wondered whatever happened to a forestry plan that was announced by President Bauzá in 2011 and which was meant to have been approved last year. Friends of the Earth had asked the same question a year before the Andratx fire, and I, in an article written in the aftermath of the fire ("The Impotence Of Fire"), repeated the question.

There needs to be a comprehensive plan for forest management. It is remarkable that there has never been one for the Balearics, and the absence of one reflects badly on politicians who have been happy to bask in the glories of the mountain woodland patrimony of Mallorca and the Balearics while at the same time doing very little to preserve it adequately.

It needs to include - a point made to the parliamentary hearing by a spokesperson for the Més grouping - a strategy for biomass. I have suggested that it is unlikely that this would be used in any meaningful fashion as a renewable energy source in the Balearics, but it used elsewhere as it is gathered for export. Removal of biomass can be productive and it can also help, as with better management of trees, with reducing the spread of fire, but it also serves a function in soil regeneration, so it needs its own specific management.

If anything good has come as a result of the fire, it will be that a comprehensive plan will be put in place. But it can't just kept on being put back. It is long, long overdue.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 20 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.30am): 21C
Forecast high: 26C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Variable 2 to 3. Swells of up to two metres decreasing by the afternoon.

Cloudy morning. Getting brighter later and staying good across the weekend.

Evening update (20.15): A high of 27.7C on what became a decent day following a very light shower in the morning.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - Fine against Pollensa mayor is halved

The Balearics High Court has considered an appeal by Pollensa mayor Tomeu Cifre against the fine imposed on him for the failure of the town hall to have demolished an illegally built house on the Calvari steps. Cifre had sought the withdrawal of the fine set back in July but the court has dismissed this, halving the fine to an amount equivalent to fifty euros instead.

See more: Diario de Mallorca

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 19 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (9.00am): 21C
Forecast high: 27C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): West 3 veering Northeast 4 to 5 during the morning and easing 2 to 3 by the evening. Swells to two metres.

Nice morning again. Cloud due in later and then going. Much like yesterday probably. Weekend outlook - good; sunny and highs of 27.

Evening update (20.15): A high of 26.3C on a day with good amounts of sun.

The Green, Green Tax Of Home (And Only Home)

"It would be amazing were these green taxes to come before parliament again and be ratified. The government says that they will be debated once more in September with an intention to introduce them at the end of the tourism season. But what would have changed to make business more inclined to stomach them? The next election would in fact be that much closer; this is about all that might have changed."

I wrote the above in early June this year. The Balearic Government had announced then that taxes on car hire, on food and drink packaging and on large retail centres - the green taxes - were not going to be introduced as the government had intended. President Bauzá has now said that, despite a promise to bring the taxes back for debate in parliament, there will be no taxes. Not for one moment did I ever imagine that there would have been such a debate or that the taxes would have been introduced.

Bauzá has avoided taking the issue before parliament at all. His announcement came at a briefing for business leaders. There may have been little point in having a parliamentary discussion, but he might at least have afforded the parliament a touch of courtesy and made the announcement to it rather than to a private gathering.

But of course the people he was addressing would have included just those people who objected to the taxes - business leaders. It was they who put the kibosh on the taxes. When the mighty retailers gathered and threatened legal action against the taxes, the government's game was up. A president who knows which side his bread is buttered doesn't bother with announcements to parliament but to those who are the real powers in the land, of which he isn't one.

The spin behind the announcement, though, tells a rather different story. The taxes are not being reconsidered because the economy is improving; hence there is no need for new sources of tax revenue. The deficit requirement placed on the regional government by Madrid has given the Balearics a bit of wriggle room as well and given the government a further reason not to bring in the taxes.

Maybe we should just consider, however, what this economic improvement entails. Growth of 0.3% in the second quarter, excellent hotel occupancy rates and increased tourist spend. I think I have dealt with the latter two of these in a previous article. As for second-quarter growth, it is positive, but let us wait until the winter quarters and see if there is genuine and consistent growth and not just that brought about by seasonal factors.

We should also consider the original motives for the green taxes. One was to raise revenue, the other was to act as "an incentive for greater environmental responsibility". The finance minister and vice-president at the time, Josep Aguiló, conceded that these taxes went counter to the "ideology of the Partido Popular" (a point which has now been reiterated by the party's spokesperson Mabel Cabrer), but one has to ask, therefore, why they were ever conceived. The government's sudden discovery of a previously absent greenness was fiscal imperative wrapped in environmental foliage.

It might be recalled that there was one other green tax. It is the one that has been introduced. It has resulted, in some instances, in householders' water bills doubling. If this ran counter to PP philosophy, then will it now be scrapped? One very much doubts it.

The green taxes were announced right at the end of last year's tourism season. So, despite the revenues from tourism (being repeated this year), the government still felt compelled to invent some new taxes. Oddly though, at the start of this year the government was able to announce that its tax revenues for 2012 had risen unexpectedly. Regardless of this, and running counter to the party's ideology, the green taxes were still to be introduced.

The fact is that they would have been had it not been for pressure from big business, the typical supporters of the PP. They would have been up for introduction now were it not for the same pressure, while there is one other good reason why the government does not intend to consider the taxes again. The government doesn't want to be fighting on too many fronts. It has a fight with the teachers, one it will believe it can handle and depict as leftist, Catalanist agitation. It doesn't want one with an opponent it cannot handle. That which helps put it into government. Big business.

Any comments to please.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - Can Picafort marina works finally approved

It has taken more than 30 years but work on the yacht club and other facilities at Can Picafort's marina has been approved by the regional government. Members will pay the half a million euros plus for improvements that should have been undertaken by a company to which management was ceded but which were never performed.

See more: Ultima Hora

MALLORCA TODAY - Calvia town hall calls for reinstatement of residence cards for European nationals

Calvia town hall has announced that it will pass a council motion that will forward a request to Brussels to reverse a decision taken in 2006 whereby European (EU) nationals who are resident in Spain were no longer issued with an identity residence card. The card is felt to be more practical than alternative means of identification, namely carrying a passport or a notarised copy of the same.

See more: Diario de Mallorca

MALLORCA TODAY - Magalluf mobile-phone theft arrests

A joint action by local police and the Guardia Civil in Magalluf has resulted in the arrest of seven people - six Nigerians and one man from Mauritania - suspected of operating a robbing gang of women who have been stealing smartphones and other equipment from tourists in the resort.

See more: Diario de Mallorca

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 18 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.15am): 20C
Forecast high: 27C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): South 3 veering Northwest 3 to 4 during the morning. Swell to one metre.

Fine, late-summer's morning, bucket loads of dew, should be sunny through the day but tomorrow likely to be cloudy with a chance of a shower.

Evening update (19.00): A high of 29.8C on a pretty good day. Some cloud came but then mostly went away again.

Losing The Classroom: TIL

I have a question. It is one that, I suppose, I should send in three languages, addressed to President Bauzá with a copy to education minister Joana Maria Camps. The question is this. How do you expect normality to return to schools in the Balearics when you have clearly lost the classroom?

Rather like the football manager who is said to have lost the dressing-room, the regional government has lost the classroom - its teacher, its pupils, its parents - yet it ploughs on with a system that few associated with the classroom have any confidence in. A football manager who insists on playing 4-3-3 when the team knows it should be playing 4-5-1, who oversees a slump in the team's fortunes which place it in danger of relegation, who is derided from the terraces and who is attacked on phone-ins for the loss of the dressing-room usually ends up getting the sack. Once he has been sacked, a new man comes in and hopefully confidence is restored.

There isn't anyone who can sack Bauzá, unless the ranks of the Partido Popular were to rise as one and start singing "you don't know what you're doing" and a good old-fashioned putsch were to be effected. There is someone who can sack Camps. Bauzá. But he wouldn't do this, as Camps was brought in to press ahead with the 4-3-3 system (or 3-3-3, if you prefer). Camps has lost the classroom but it is a loss dictated remotely from on high. She is the Steve Kean of Balearics education, reporting to a Venky Bauzá, both of them clucking around an empty school field like headless chickens desperately looking for the goals but forgetting that they moved the goalposts, so that no one, not even them, can remember where they put them.

The question I pose above seems a pretty damn crucial one. There is no real point in reiterating the reasons why the teachers have chosen to strike. There is no real point in further dissecting the educational merits of a system that strikes mostly anyone with a touch of common sense as being introduced devoid of rationality and practicality. There is no real point in debating whether the objections to trilingual teaching are in fact more of an objection to an undermining of Catalan than to the use of English. We have become pointed out.

How does the government think it is going to restore anything like normality? The teachers will have to return to work, especially if they lose out financially, and there will be only so few politicians, such as the leader of the Entesa party in Muro, willing to hand over a month's salary to swell the assembly of teachers' coffers. But they will do so under sufferance, lacking confidence in the system, demotivated and demoralised. Their pupils will know all about this lack of confidence and so will parents. The classroom has been well and truly lost.

There is very little point the unions demanding the removal of Keano Camps. José Ramón Venky would simply parachute in a global education adviser with probably even less qualification for the job than Joana Maria. (As was said when she was appointed, she had at least been to school.)

A replacement for Camps on the educational "campo" would not restore confidence. There is only thing that would, and that is that the government backs down and does what it should have done, which is to introduce TIL in a more evolutionary fashion than it is attempting. But would Bauzá consider such a climb down? It's most unlikely. Any credibility he may have would be shot to pieces were he to.

The government has chosen a battle, victory in which can only be pyrrhic. Its eventual loss is likely to be greater than any gains it feels it has made by planting the un-Catalan flag of TIL on the school field. The loss may be, in under two years time, to the replacement board under Francina Armengol which would lower the flag and reclaim the classroom. Meanwhile, two years of education would have been for nothing.

The battle is one that is in contrast to the surrender to business when it threatened the government with the courts over its green taxes; one that is in contrast to its slavish bowing to the demands of its sponsors in the hotel industry. It has picked a fight in which there aren't any winners and so we will be left with a system that is deeply flawed, being implemented by teachers who don't believe in it. The classroom is lost.

Any comments to please.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 17 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.45am): 24.5C
Forecast high: 27C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): West 3 to 4 veering East 3 to 4 during the morning. Swell to one metre. Possible rain.

Nice sunny morn. Possibly getting cloudy later on. Outlook remains generally good, the old UV rating falling to five but temperatures similar to today's high.

Evening update (20.00): A high of 25.4C on what did become a mostly cloudy day with a bit of light rain.

Mallorca's Unbelievable Tourism

The following article comes with a disbelief warning.

Why disbelief? The reason is obvious. It is the gulf between the coldness of hard "facts" as they apply to the heat of summer's tourism and wintry perceptions of this very same heat.

The facts. After two years vying with Turkey for top spot in the Mediterranean premier league of tourism numbers, Mallorca has been proclaimed the undisputed champion for 2013. In terms of visitor numbers, of the top ten tourism centres in Spain, Mallorca (and the Balearics) have eight. In July and August hotel occupancy rates reached, respectively, 95% and 92%. Nowhere else in the Mediterranean could match these levels. Expenditure per tourist has grown this summer.

Let's consider these facts. Mallorca used to always be the undisputed champion. Turkey's climb to the top of the league has been affected this year by unrest in the country and concerns about events in its neighbour Syria. (Similar issues have also had an impact on tourism in another competitor country, Egypt.) Claiming the championship once more is a reversion to the previous norm. It is not unusual.

The eight top tourism centres have regularly found their way into Spain's top ten. They are the usual suspects, e.g. Santa Margalida (Can Picafort), Alcúdia and Calvia. The figures recorded for them are, though, percentages of occupancy. Can Picafort, for example, has fewer hotels than Alcúdia and so fewer actual tourists; Santa Margalida has headed August's hotel occupancy percentages for at least the past three years.

The total percentages of occupancy for July and August are impressive and slightly more so than last year when July's occupancy was a record since the turn of the century. They are all the more impressive when you consider the amount of whining from the hoteliers about so-called unfair competition from rented accommodation. 

Increased tourist expenditure? Ah yes, it's those old spend statistics again. Please take no notice of these. The statistics are skewed heavily in favour of spend on the holiday itself and not general in-resort spend. There has been a rise in the number of tourists from Scandinavia and Russia this summer, and these tourists spend, on average, around 25% more on the cost of the actual holiday (package primarily) than visitors from the UK. Tourist expenditure stats mean little in real terms. Indeed, various business sectors - restaurants, hire car, for example - are suggesting that there has been a fall of up to 20% in receipts this summer, but there again, how trustworthy this type of data is must also be treated with some scepticism.

But of course there will be plenty of people who will believe what the likes of the restaurant owners are saying as this fits in with their perceptions of how business has been this summer. They may also be able to point to evidence from the till rolls to back it up. There may be no more to go on than perceptions, but these are why there will be disbelief at congratulatory headlines which announce that this summer has been a record summer.

The positive facts as reported above are, with the exception of the increased hotel occupancy rates, either unexceptional (Mallorca is number one, it has eight resorts in Spain's top ten) or not worth considering (spend statistics, which have never been worth considering). Even the occupancy rates can be explained, namely by events elsewhere; they aren't in themselves anything worthy of special congratulation other than that they reflect Mallorca's safety and its capacity. 

What they conceal and what highly optimistic forecasts for 2014 conceal are the obsolete nature of parts of resorts and of many hotels. In other words, they conceal a problem of overall quality, one that will take years to rectify. They also conceal the nature of employment. Yes, there will have been more jobs this summer, but these are jobs that are often unstable. In addition, hotels outsource where they can in order to save on costs, and what sort of job stability do contractors offer? If certain business sectors are indeed suffering the falls in revenue they say they are, then what stability do they offer?

Mallorca will remain at the top of the league or thereabouts. This will not change, but is it the case that this long-held leadership is in fact a millstone? The island's capacity allows it to register the numbers of visitors that it does, but the mass of tourism is far from evenly distributed in terms of its actual contribution (locally and not to tour operators). The government and parts of the tourism industry have long been able to make boasts based on numbers, but numbers alone do not add up to a healthy tourism industry. Or to a believable tourism industry.

Any comments to please.

Monday, September 16, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - Pollensa mayor rejects illegal building work claim

Pollensa's mayor Tomeu Cifre has rejected a complaint filed by opposition parties that work being carried out on a house which he owns in the Calle Colom in Pollensa violates licensing requirements and restrictions on building work in the summer. (Calle Colom is the one that leads from the Plaça Mayor past the Colonya bank.)

See more: Ultima Hora

MALLORCA TODAY - Prinsendam cruise ship in Alcúdia

The "Prinsendam" with a capacity of over 800 passengers docked in Puerto Alcúdia yesterday. It is the third cruise ship to arrive in Alcúdia since the commercial port was redeveloped, it is the largest but the first truly cruise ship, the previous two - "Sea Cloud" and "The World" - having been private charter and residential.

See more: Diario de Mallorca

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 16 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (8.15am): 18C
Forecast high: 28C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): East 2 to 3 becoming Variable during the morning and veering Southwest by the afternoon.

Pleasant enough morning. Sunny and dewy. A mix of cloud and sun during the day and similar through the week with highs staying in the upper-20s.

Evening update (19.00): A high of 29.2C. A mix of cloud and sun, as predicted. Tomorrow likely to be cloudier.

Mega, Mega Micro: Mallorca's beer-making

Shouting lager, lager, lager; shouting mega, mega white thing. Shouting lager, lager, lager; shouting mega, mega beer park.

Underworld's frenetic, drum-driven techno anthem may be too frenetic for even Arenal's Mega Park when the annual bierfest gets underway and drinks itself into a month-long binge from 20 September. Schlagermusik may be more the order of the month or perhaps it will be Peter Wackel's insane "Scheiss drauf (Mallorca ist nur einmal im Jahr)".

It's that time of the year again. When September pretends it is October (or "Oktober" to be Germanically correct), attaches the suffix "fest" to the tenth month of the year and Germans get astonishingly drunk. Not one, not two but three fests - Arenal, Palma and Santa Ponsa - and all in the name of beer. A great deal of it. Palma gets lagered up from 26 September, while Santa Ponsa will have to wait until it really is October (the tenth day of the tenth month) for it to celebrate browny liquid with a white froth in a Masskrug. (There may also be one in Cala Millor; there was last year, but I can't confirm that it is taking place again this year.)

Arenal starts it all off, its poster for the event showing a suitably blonde, pigtailed Mädchen wearing a Dirndl, thrusting out a large glass of cold drink and sporting a welcoming smile. The image of a beer-holding girl in traditional Bavarian dress is synonymous with the bierfest wherever it might be held, and she is always beaming except on the occasions when she might not be. Fortunately, I don't recall the full impact of a cuff that was delivered at Munich's Hofbräu house many years ago.

Say beer to the Brit tourist and the names Tetley, Fosters and Guinness will come to mind. The more cosmopolitan of Britain's human exports will think San Miguel, Estrella or Cruzcampo (other Spanish branded beers are available). The German tourist will have his own imported brands, but the limited supply of German beers around and about on the island disguises the sheer volume of beers available back in Deutschland.

Go to pretty much any town or even village in Germany and you will find a brewery. The beer-making tradition of Germany partly stemmed from the belief (a not entirely unjustified belief) that beer was a vital form of sustenance. Beer-drinking may long ago have also become a means of getting drunk but it remains a part of the rhythm of a German healthy lifestyle. Every bit as important in warding of the crankiness of "Krankheit" as driving on motorways without speed limits, consuming industrial quantities of red meat, and nudism.

The German town brewery is not a microbrewery. There is a trend towards this miniaturisation of beer manufacture, as there is in other countries, and the microbrewery has increasingly come into its own in places where there isn't an obvious tradition of brewing. Places like Mallorca.

The first brewery in Mallorca was founded in 1905 and it was to become, in 1927, the Rosa Blanca brewery. In 1971 Rosa Blanca was sold to Pripps Española, a brewing company which had arrived on the island in the 1960s. Further acquisition - by Damm - eventually led to the brewery being closed in 1998.

A positive consequence of economic crisis has been the revival of artisan cottage industries and one of these has been the emergence in Mallorca of the microbrewery. At Palma's beer festival last year, four Mallorcan breweries were represented, one of them, the Tramuntana Cerveza Artesanal de Mallorca in Selva, being the microbrewery which has perhaps attracted most attention. The developing interest in beer and the growth of this artisan business has inspired events dedicated to beer which is "made in Mallorca". The fiesta in Maria de la Salut a couple of years back made artisan beer a part of the celebrations, and in Mancor de la Vall there was a beer show last weekend with fifteen brands and thirty types of beer, one of the breweries represented having been Beer Lovers, based in Alcúdia old town and launched in May this year.

The bierfests that are about to take place on the island will predominantly be corporate in style. The well-known brands will conceal what is a small but growing industry in Mallorca. Lager, lager, lager may be shouted at Mega Park, and the unwary may slip on beer slopped from a Masskrug, but elsewhere, born out of a craft revival, is a sort of beer underworld, now being discovered and coming into the light, that of the Mallorcan microbrewery.

Any comments to please.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - Draw may not be enough to keep Oltra as Mallorca coach

Real Mallorca's coach José Luis Oltra was looking at getting his P45 had Mallorca fared badly away at moderate Hércules this evening, so he will be on tenterhooks following a 2-2 draw in a match that Mallorca were winning thanks to goals in the first half from Gerard Moreno and in the second from Thomas Partey. But De Lucas pulled one back for the hosts with ten minutes to go and Dionisio equalised with two minutes to go. Now with four points from five games, Mallorca are in eighteenth position (from 22) in the second division.

MALLORCA TODAY - Weather Alcúdia and Pollensa 15 September 2013

No Frills Excursions

Morning high (7.15am): 20C
Forecast high: 28C
Sea conditions (northern Mallorca; Alcúdia and Pollensa bays): Southwest 3 to 4 veering Northeast 4 during the morning, easing 2 to 3 by the evening. Swells for a time to one metre in the afternoon. Probable rain and storm.

Cloudy skies. While sun is forecast for today, there is a warning for rain and storms from 9am until the evening. The week's outlook is mainly good with highs in the mid-20s but gradually lower.

 Evening update (18.45): Strange old day. It looked at one point as though there might indeed have been a storm coming but it didn't. Sun at times and fluctuations in temperature depending on when it was out and when it was overcast. A high of 28.8C. 

In A Bad Way: Balearics education and TIL

The Pau Casesnoves secondary school in Inca is located in a residential area of the town behind the grand edifice of the Garcia printing company. As one drives past the school there is a wall on which graffiti has been sprayed. Or it had been when I last went past perhaps three months ago. This graffiti declared opposition to attacks on Catalan teaching in the school and the Balearics as a whole. The school in Inca has been one of the more prominent in making its opposition to language reforms known. On Friday, the day of the return to school, teachers from Pau Casesnoves gathered for a photo. They were wearing green t-shirts from a body known as the Plataforma Crida. The t-shirts supported the teachers' strike and called for "quality public education". The objectives of the Plataforma, in addition to quality in education, include education in Catalan. The teachers in the photo at Pau Casesnoves were wearing the t-shirt and they were also holding a flag - the Catalan flag.

The strike by teachers in the Balearics, which may last until the end of the month, is styled as one against the introduction of TIL - the integrated treatment of languages - the lack of preparation for TIL, and the heavy-handed, non-consultative approach of the regional government (which culminated in the High Court's rejection of its procedure for implementation and the immediate declaration of a government decree to get around the court's decision).

This is, however, an over-simplification. There are indeed grave misgivings and justifiable misgivings about TIL and especially the haste in which it has been introduced. Some teachers, perhaps even a majority of them, will consider this to the prime reason for strike action, but I doubt that were it just about TIL that a strike would be happening. There is more to it.

Teaching in Catalan is also an educational issue, but it is also very much a political issue. The teachers at Pau Casesnoves did, in a sense, give the game away by holding up the Catalan flag. This is a strike, where some teachers are concerned (and again it may be a majority or it may not be), about teaching in Catalan.

If it is concerns about Catalan which are really at the heart of the strike, then it is a strike which been months in the making. Despite attacks by the regional government on Catalan in other ways - reducing or eliminating requirements to speak Catalan in some public-sector jobs, banning the use of "symbols" (such as the Catalan flag) and the display of the flag on public buildings, even the nonsensical proposal to change place names to Castellano (now forgotten about it seems) - there hasn't been concerted industrial action. The teachers' strike is that concerted action, and it has been action that unions and some opposition political parties have been angling for. They now have it.

It will be lamented that schoolchildren will be the ones to suffer and are the ones who least deserve to be in the firing-line of the divisions caused over Catalan. But there are a great number of parents who support the teachers, not just over TIL but also over Catalan teaching. This is not a strike without popular support, and the unions know this.

A reflection of this support lies with what was the government's first "assault" on Catalan teaching. This was the so-called free selection of teaching language whereby parents (at primary levels) could choose between Catalan and Castellano as the language they wished their children to be taught in. It has been a colossal flop in that the percentage of parents opting for Castellano has been nothing like that which the government would have hoped.

In the space of two years since it came to power, the Partido Popular government has introduced two major changes to education - one was free selection, the second is TIL. I am convinced that TIL, and its rushed agenda, is a direct response to the failure of free selection. The government has sought a different way to reduce Catalan teaching and has found it in trilingualism. It is for this reason that the strike is as much political as it is educational.

But then there are also grounds for believing that teachers might have taken strike action had the issue solely been an educational matter to do with TIL. It would have been an extreme form of protest but one must ask why the government appears to think that introducing TIL, and especially in the ham-fisted way in which it has been introduced, will be successful in the Balearics when the islands start from a position of disadvantage when it comes to trilingualism - a disadvantage from generally low educational standards anyway and the absence of a true foreign language culture. Why also does the government believes this might be a success where the Basque Country and other parts of Europe have demonstrated that trilingual education is far from straightforward. Has the government genuinely consulted with educationalists and academics? If it has, it should present the findings of its research. It should be transparent in pointing to how, educationally, trilingualism will be rolled out effectively.

I doubt that it will because I doubt that it has any findings. Not ones that would be convincing. TIL has merits, but the government has gone about it in the wrong way. A very bad way.  

Any comments to please.