As of Wednesday October 1 this blog has a new home. You can still view the archives for August and September here.

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Friday, August 29, 2008


The ‘Tomatina’ was held in the village of Buñol in Valencia on Wednesday. By all accounts more than 40,000 people participated and over the period of an hour chucked 113 tonnes of tomatoes at each other.

The annual ‘Tomatina’ is now a world-famous event and attracted participants from all over Spain as well as a long list of nations including Australia (wouldn’t you just know it – they probably think its cultural), Sweden, Denmark, France, the UK, Japan and Russia.

Apparently this was the 63 rd year in which the tomato fest has been held, so being an investigative journalist I thought I’d better find out how it started.

I am told it has its origins in a fight with tomatoes amongst friends. Groups of youths had gathered in a square in Buñol to see the “Gigantes y Cabezudos” parade. One group that wanted to participate started taunting another and in the melee that broke out one group defended itself by throwing tomatoes from a nearby display. That was back in 1945 and by 2002 the ‘Tomatina’ had been decreed of National Tourist Interest.
I can’t think of any mad food orientated celebration in Britain. Stilton does a cheese rolling contest every May Day – but at least at the end of it you can eat the cheese. I wonder if the Dutch have a sport involving their cheeses? I know in Friesland they are dab hands at pole sitting. I presume that involves sitting on a felled tree trunk for hours and not squatting on a person from Poland – but with the Dutch you never know!

Thursday, August 28, 2008


I have suddenly realised I can now vent my spleen on my blog rather than keeping my anger and fury pent up. I am sure it is healthier and who knows, somebody might even listen!

Back when I and the world were young and the internet was two tin cans connected by a piece of string I signed up for email with Netscape, Yahoo! and Hotmail. Within a short period of time I dropped Netscape and Hotmail and Yahoo! became a trusted friend.

However in the past year the Yahoo! email service has become such a nightmare that I am now hurriedly ditching it.

First there was the new style system which was so odious I soon dumped it opting to stay with the old one.

Luckily I am not susceptible to epileptic fits but I have hurriedly had to exit from the Yahoo! mail system in recent months because it carries advertising banners that flash at you to a dangerous degree. These have caused my head and eyes to ache and for me to feel disorientated – so heaven knows what effect they have on epileptic suffers.

Another annoying factor is when I save a document on some of my accounts it is deleted as soon as I eventually send it. On others, it stays in the saved box for future use, as it always previously did.

Emails from contacts or replies to my emails are shunted off to Spam whilst emails in Chinese or telling me I’ve won a lottery I never entered proudly sit in my inbox.

Over last weekend and on Monday it was virtually impossible to enter the email section from the Yahoo! homepage. Click on the icon and either nothing happened or the page went to unobtainable. The only way I could access my mail was via the sports section. Just as well Charlton won as I had to keep reading about it!

For the past two days I have been able to click on the email icon but then ended up on a page which said “access has been refused”. I also encountered that page as I exited one email account and tried to access another one. Last night I spent over 30 minutes just trying to access three accounts. I wondered was it just me so asked other Yahoo! users –and no – it’s just Yahoo!

Fine! I’ve now switched my emails to Google (gmail) and to a subscription service and to date – no problems. Trouble is I still have to check my old Yahoo! Accounts and hence this angry blog.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Elisa Santafe recently filed an interesting report for AFP on the descendents of those who fled Spain during the 1936 – 1939 Civil War who are now offering their DNA so that bodies in mass graves can be identified.

Apparently it has seen a return to Spain of some of the children and grandchildren of the refuges from Franco who now live in South America, France, Italy and Switzerland. They met earlier this month in the cultural centre in the town of Aranda de Duero in Burgos.

Santafe tells us these descendents believe their relatives are amongst those who are buried in the seven mass graves in the area. To date 110 people have taken part in DNA tests the results of which should be ready by early 2009.

It is all part of a scheme being run by the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH). It has initiated this project in Burgos which it hopes will encourage the uncovering of more mass graves in Spain.

The ARMH, says Santafe, set up the first DNA bank in Burgos as it is a province in which a large number of people disappeared. Many rail workers unions were based in the area and the ARMH suspects that Franco engaged in “political cleansing” by removing them.

As in all civil wars there were atrocities and blood letting on the left and right. It is estimated that around 500,000 people, on the Republican and Nationalist sides, were killed in the civil war. However after Franco's victory, another 50,000 Republicans were executed by the victorious Nationalist forces with tens of thousands more sent to jail.

Today’s problem is that whilst Franco’s regime honoured its own dead it left tens of thousands of its opponents buried in hundreds of unmarked graves across the country. Hence last October the Spanish socialist government passed the "Law of Historical Memory" that provides state subsidies for associations set up to exhume the remains from the mass graves.

This initiative has again divided the country with many socialists and those on the far left anxious to learn what happened to their family and party members, whilst many on the right would prefer this sleeping dog was allowed to lie. As part of this process many of the street names and monuments that honour the Nationalist era are also being torn down. This in turn has not only upset many on the right but the guardians of the nation’s heritage as well.

For now my eyes for now are dim – but I will return to this subject shortly.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Today I return to another Greenpeace campaign. You’ll find my recent blog on their report on the low number of pyromaniacs being brought before the courts for causing serious summer fires in Spain elsewhere on this page.

Last week the Greenpeace vessel ‘Artic Sunrise’ sailed in to Cádiz and the environmental organisation used the occasion to launch its latest campaign ‘Una receta para el desastre’.

The ecologists aim to discourage shops from selling fish which are in danger of extinction or whose stocks are almost depleted. At the same time it is urging the public not to buy these products.

This is a Greenpeace national campaign and is backed by a report showing that not one of the major supermarket groups in the country shows the slightest conscience when it comes to buying fish. The report also points out that many shops fail to label fish products correctly, by naming the type of fish and specifying its area of origin.

Greenpeace accuses the supermarkets of being “accomplices in the destruction of sea life” and not doing enough to demand sustainable commercial development.

The environmentalists have drawn up a league table of supermarket groups and topping the chart with the most favourable score is Lidl. Greenpeace believes this is because the German company operates in a number of other countries that have higher levels of sensibilities on this issue. Close behind Lidl was Carrefour, which is French owned.

Both these foreign owned chains score 29 and 21 per cent on the Greenpeace grading system. Scoring poorly are the major Spanish chains El Corte Inglés and Eroski (3 per cent), Alcampo (2) with Mercadona in last place on one per cent.

I have shopped in Lidl but there was never a fresh fish counter. I often go to Carrefour but my habitual supermarket is Mercadona, and yes, I do buy a lot of fish. I am wise enough to not buy undersized fish but I know other shoppers will and many will seek them out. I have to admit I wouldn’t know an endangered species if I saw it gazing at me on the slab. Hence it falls to supermarkets to be responsible suppliers of fish and sadly for many of these operations the pursuit of profit comes a long way ahead of caring for the environment.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Today I turn to domestic violence. Let me make it clear from the start I believe in zero tolerance for any person who is violent to their partner. Sadly many of these cases result in murder and whilst in the vast majority of tragedies women are the victims in a few they are the perpetrators.

Instances of domestic violence have become major news stories in Spain because in recent years the government has introduced tough laws to protect women from abusive partners. This had led to far more women coming forward to denounce their partners and to seek protection but sadly society’s ability to keep them safe has not kept pace.

As a result we now see regular grim reports of the violent slaying of a woman by her husband, boyfriend or ex. I do not believe that men in Spain have become more violent merely that our awareness of these cases is now heightened.

In every community where these murders occur there is an angry reaction similar to that which takes place after a terrorist act. That is right and proper because domestic violence is domestic terrorism. We must never allow ourselves to write these murders off as just another crime statistic.

So far this year according to the Instituto de la Mujer there have been 36 deaths from domestic violence. This compares to 71 in 2007, 54 in 1999 with a peak of 72 in 2004. The revelation of these grim statistics has shocked the nation and placed domestic violence high on the social agenda.

I was therefore stunned to see a report by the UK group Refuge that says that according to Home Office figures an average of two women a week are murdered in England and Wales by their partner or former partner. That would make around 104 a year and does not include Scotland or Northern Ireland.

I will return to these statistics on future occasions. Today I want to mention a report of an incident that occurred in early August around midnight. A man of 85 years was arrested in Jerez after he attempted to throw his 83-year-old wife from the window of their sixth floor flat in the calle Cartuja. She called for help and the police arrived to save her but not before she had suffered severe blows to her body that required hospital treatment.

There was no mention in the media reports of any previous accusations of violence by the husband towards his wife. None of the usual claims by residents of ructions, bitter rows or disputes.

It is probably safe to presume that they have spent at least 60 years of their lives together. Given the Spain of the times this would have been through more thin than thick. So why did the husband not only become violent to his wife but also attempt to throw her to her certain death from their apartment window? I should add this is far from an isolated incident and the number of cases of such violence amongst elderly people, whilst not large, is regularly reported on. From the photograph of their apartment they did not live in a poor district but I have no information on their background just a simple question – why?

Friday, August 22, 2008


Here’s an interesting story that has been widely reported in the Málaga press over the last few days. It seems that Ronda has the highest percentage of female fire fighters anywhere in the EU.

Traditionally being a “fireman” was, as the name suggests, strictly a male pursuit but today, in Ronda at least, the person who turns up to save you in an emergency may well be a “firewoman”.

Twenty per cent of the fire fighters are women which places the town of the Tajo at the top of the European league.

It was back in 1985 that the first ‘bombera’ was employed in Spain. Obviously things have moved on since them and whilst women joining a still strongly male team feel some initial nervousness they soon bond with their male and female colleagues.

Alejandro Hurtado, who is the chief of the fire service in Ronda, stated: “We are companions from day one and they are perfectly integrated in the squad.” He added that he was perfectly satisfied with the work of the female crew members.

In Andalucía at this time there are over 2,500 fire fighters. Of that total just 32 are women and three of them are in Ronda. Some good way still to go before equality is established but as the ‘bomberas’ in Ronda say as a new female colleague joins up: “ya éramos uno más” – “now we are one more!”

By the by I am dedicating this piece to my editor at the Costa del Sol News, who yes is a woman, and who I know is a ‘bombera’ at heart!

Thursday, August 21, 2008


There must have been a time when Britain had a Foreign Secretary. Was it back in the days of the last Tory government?

During the reign of Tony Blair he largely decided foreign policy and had bag carriers such as the ‘Startled Rabbit’ and ‘Caravanning Margaret’ to do his bidding. Today we have the Gap Year student. I find it laughable that he should have ambitions to succeed Gordon Brown when he is one of the problems in this lamentable administration.

So who decides policy and makes statements at the Foreign Office?

I ask because the recent statement by the FO alerting Britons to the ETA campaign in Spain has caused widespread anger both in government and media circles here.

A provincial paper that I read each day has on the back page a ‘Palmas’ (palm) and ‘Pitos’ (whistles) caption. Yesterday’s whistle was for Foreign Secretary David Miliband:

“Su comunicado alertando a los británicos sobre la campaña de atentados de ETA en zonas turísticas españolas es un ejemplo impropio de un país de UE, que debe ser más mesurado en temas tan sensibles.”

You can see Madrid’s point. The bomblets have neither caused damage nor injured or killed people and certainly haven’t deterred Britons from living in or holidaying in Spain. However by its statement the Foreign Office has given ETA the success it craved. Well done the Gap Year kid!


I didn’t pen a blog yesterday. From early afternoon to late evening, like the rest of Spain, I had my eye on the TV and ear to the radio to catch the latest update on the unfolding tragedy at Madrid’s Barajas airport.

It started out as an “accident” with some 20 people injured and developed over the hours in to a full scale tragedy with over 150 dead. The worst air disaster in Spain in over two decades.

Spanair was already in crisis ahead of the crash having slashed costs, staff and routes to stay airborne. What effect this catastrophe will have on its future remains to be seen.

For me the most disturbing part of yesterday was late in the evening when young TV reporters with cameramen attached by an umbilical cord chased grieving friends and relatives through Las Palmas airport in search of a quote. If in my grief I had been confronted in such a manner then a hard punch to the reporter’s face may have communicated some of the pain and anguish I was feeling.

Have we become so immune to sorrow and suffering that we need a tearful and hysterical quote to camera to tell us how people are feeling in such awful circumstances?

It sadly appears so. I could weep!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I have nothing but admiration for the family of Mari Luz Cortés and especially the dignity of her father, Juan José.

On January 13 of this year four-year-old Mari Luz went missing in Huelva from close to her family home. At first, because the family are of gypsy stock, it was believed that perhaps her disappearance was linked to a feud. In the event her body was found on March 7 floating in the waters of Huelva’s port and her murderer is believed to be a convicted paedophile living just doors away from her home in the Torrejón area of the city.

I say believed to be as Santiago del Valle has yet to be convicted in court. He has admitted to taking her but claims her death was an accident. His wife and his sister who shared the same house are believed to be accomplices. The fact that this paedophile supposedly killed Mari Luz was dreadful enough but then it emerged that he should have been in prison at the time for other sexual offences.

For Mari Luz’s family from that nightmare came a dream which is now close to becoming a reality. It was achieved by a gypsy family, with all the prejudice this implies in Spain, acting with restraint, dignity and determination. For them there was no showboating, no media savvy family spokesman, no huge public fund.

The family started a petition to demand amongst other provisions that paedophiles convicted of murder were never released from jail. They knew that if they achieved 500,000 signatures then their petition had to be heard by Congress, the Spanish lower house of parliament. In May Mari Luz’s father met with the president of the government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, with 505,040 people having pledged their support.

On July 23 both Zapatero and the leader of the Partido Popular opposition, Mariano Rajoy, voiced their support for the proposals of Juan José Cortes.

The number of signatures on the petition has now reached two million. Juan José says this extraordinary measure will help prevent future cases of paedophile murders and hence benefit many people. Not only is Cortes seeking the permanent imprisonment of paedophiles but also tougher sentences for sexual crimes against children plus the creation of a register that will be open to the authorities and those who work with children.

One gypsy family, working with quiet dignity, are building a lasting and meaningful memorial to little Mari Luz. They deserve our support and admiration.

Monday, August 18, 2008


It was the sound of two small bombs that greeted me as I returned from my break to penning my blog. Three artefacts were placed on a Málaga beach, in Benalmádena Port and on the A-7, the latter of which was deactivated by police.

Although the devices have not been fully studied by the police the delegate of the government in Andalucía, Juan José López Garzon, stated today (Monday morning) that he believed no more than a kilo of explosive had been used between them.

ETA are the presumed authors of these attacks but the government is still not convinced that there is an active unit of the terror group in Andalucía. After the arrests of members of the Vizcaya commando they claimed that Andalucía had been a target and a meeting had been scheduled for August 16 in Granada to give the go-ahead for attacks on commercial and leisure centres. That date is significant because it is the peak of the tourist season and also coincides with the Spanish long holiday weekend that ran from Friday through to Sunday.

These two bangs may have been a reminder that despite the set backs of the detention of the Vizcaya group, the most active of the ETA gangs; the terror group was still around and could set off bombs if it wished to.

Much has been made of the small size of these bombs, the recent one in Torremolinos and also those set off in the Basque region on the Sunday before the Vizcaya arrests.

I am sorry to say that for me the size of the bomb matters little. If you were standing on or close to it then you would have been killed or injured. If you were nearby you could have suffered shock and died from a heart attack. If you were amongst the hundreds that fled the scene on the Costa del Sol and the thousands in the Basque region you could have been injured, suffered a heart attack and died at the scene or days later. If a person or persons plant a bomb, be it a kilo, a car bomb, a train bomb, they intend to maim or kill and hence they are as equally as guilty in my book.

See “Just As We Would At Home” Friday August 8

Thursday, August 14, 2008


From yesterday (Wednesday) through to Sunday my village is enjoying its annual August fair (we also have one in May). Hence little work will be done but we shall have a great time. This blog will return on Monday, refreshed, with perhaps a hug for the Russian bear. Let me share with you a photograph of the celebrations at the nearby ‘Feria Real’ in San Roque which is also underway as I write. As I sip my fino I’ll leave you with a traditional toast “amor, salud y pesetas”.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Any body who lives in Spain knows that with the heat of summer comes the forest fires. However I was stunned to learn that in an average year the country has 20,000 fires which destroy some 140,000 hectares of pasture, scrub or woodland. Even more startling is the discovery that only one in a 1,000 fires results in a court case.

Galicia, known as a wet and green area, accounts for half of the fires. It also heads the list of court convictions for both offences and criminal cases. It is followed in the summer fire league by Castilla and León, we here in Andalucía, Cataluña and Valencia. Navarra, La Rioja, País Vasco and Madrid are the autonomous regions with the least number of sentences.

All this information has been collated by Greenpeace in its recent report “Incendios Forestales, ¿el fin de la impunidad?” It says that according to data issued by the State Prosecutor there were 82 criminal convictions for starting fires in 2007 with 19 cases dismissed. Greenpeace España has studied the records of the lower courts and over the same period found 257 convictions related to fires.

Greenpeace says that in recent years the environmental prosecutors have made important strides in enforcing the law and this in turn has led to an increase in the number of cases being brought to court with convictions being handed down.

None-the-less the current statistics are:
One of every thousand people responsible for forest fires are brought to court, that’s 0.1 per cent.
Only 5.49 per cent of the surface burnt in the last ten years has been met with a conviction.
The courts have only handled 3.5 per cent of the cases involving major forest fires involving areas of over 500 hectares produced in Spain over the period 1996-2005.
In 2007 there were 11 major fires but only four people faced court action.

Greenpeace is calling for greater involvement of the public in identifying and bringing to justice those involved in starting fires. In addition it wants the prosecutors to have stronger powers and resources to investigate these cases. It wants the same prosecutors to be more involved in fire prevention with the regional authorities and for the statistics for these cases to be properly compiled and made available to the public.

If you have been in close proximity to a summer fire you will know just how frightening they are. The fact that the majority are caused by human hand, accidentally or by pyromaniacs, is a problem that needs to be urgently tackled.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


The role of mayor in Gibraltar has always been a political one. That commanding figure of politics on the Rock, Sir Joshua Hassan, once held the post. Until recently the position was held by a member of the government in the House of Assembly so you knew where you stood. In recent years the post has either been GSLP or GSD.

Now that has changed. Gibraltar has a parliament and the chief minister, Peter Caruana, announced that in future politics would be separated from the position of the city’s mayor. All parties were happy to unite behind Solomon ‘Momy’ Levy who at the end of July, in an emotional ceremony, was installed as mayor.

To think for a moment that in the village of Gibraltar politics could be divided from every day life would be a naive act. So ‘Momy’ has found out as he walks in to his first political storm of his year in office. Don’t worry there will be plenty more!

You or I may wonder what all the fuss is about. Last week in an interview with the Rock’s broadcaster, GBC, the mayor advocated setting politics to one side on National Day. This, incidentally, is what the ruling GSD of Peter Caruana had proposed. Hence the GSLP/Liberal opposition have taken exception to “Momy’s” words and accused him of “abusing his position as Mayor,” and supporting the policy of the ruling GSD party.

What Momy Levy apparently said was: ‘Now as far as the general comments going round town, I feel that we have politics 365 days a year and for one day for Gibraltar to be united. Forget politics. We are Gibraltarians. Forget Britain. Forget Spain.’

In a statement the GSLP/Liberals said: “Momy Levy, speaking as Mayor of Gibraltar, has said that National Day should be a day of unity in which politics is put to one side. The Opposition very much regrets his comments, which go to the heart of the ongoing controversy between the Government and the Opposition surrounding the downgrading of the National Day political rally.”

Now you or I again may view “a day of unity in which politics is put to one side” as a very worthwhile day indeed but then you are probably not Gibraltarian.

The GSLP/Liberal statement continues: ““The justification given for Mr Levy’s selection was that he is supposedly neutral and would not involve himself in politics. By defending and justifying the decision of the GSD Government to hold a “civic gathering” at the John Mackintosh Square to replace the traditional “people’s public rally” at Casemates, he is supporting the policy of one political party and criticising the views of the other three parties that contested the last general election.

“He is entitled to do that as an individual citizen who supports the GSD, but he is abusing his position as Mayor by providing the support of the office to the policy of the GSD Government. He can hardly be considered an unbiased and neutral political person when he is the very person at the centre of the disagreement. As far as the Opposition is concerned, the statement by Mr Levy as Mayor of Gibraltar invalidates the terms on which he is supposed to be conducting himself in carrying out his Mayoral role.

“It is not the political parties who should keep politics out of the debate on National Day, it is Mr Momy Levy who should keep party politics out of the role of Mayor of Gibraltar.”

It should be pointed out that it was the GSD government that decided to take the politics out of National Day and to propel the mayor to the fore. As a non-political figure but a proud Gibraltarian it is natural that Momy Levy should welcome politics being set aside for one day. However, if he had disagreed with the decision, should he have spoken out in support of the opposition view? Apparently not because he “should keep party politics out of the role of Mayor of Gibraltar.” He’s in a no-win situation.

Waiting in the wings as the deputy mayor is Olga Zammitt who will take over from Momy Levy next July. Given what she is seeing you couldn’t blame her for fleeing for the hills. Unfortunately the nearest hills are across the border in Spain so that too would be a political act!

Monday, August 11, 2008


I understand that the Spanish Foreign Ministry has produced the latest edition of its hand book on Gibraltar. Whilst much is forward-looking, such as the Forum of Dialogue to improve relations between Gibraltar and the wider Campo de Gibraltar region on the Spanish side of the border, one policy is set in stone.

“The Spanish Government maintains its claim for the return of the sovereignty over Gibraltar as irrevocable.”

Nor will this change. Gibraltar is in a mix with the Spanish enclaves in North Africa of Ceuta and Melilla. These were taken by Spain in 1580 and 1496 respectively. Morocco claims them both in the same way that Spain maintains its sovereignty over Gibraltar that was taken by the English in 1704 and ceded in perpetuity in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713.

Geographically Gibraltar is part of the Iberian Peninsula and the enclaves are parts of Morocco. The politics are of course different. Ceuta and Melilla are integral provinces of Spain. Gibraltar was/is a British colony (that is debatable it seems even at the British Foreign Office) and many Gibraltarians view themselves as a nation.

Now if Morocco renounced its claim to Ceuta and Melilla then Spain might follow suit with Gibraltar – but that is not going to happen. Nor is either country going to renounce their claim to the enclaves or Gibraltar independently.

However if Spain could regain sovereignty over Gibraltar then, having saved face, it might be prepared to give away Ceuta and Melilla. Indeed the pressure on it to do so would be overwhelming.

All this is some years off and will involve wider political relations between Britain, Spain and Morocco and the EU. Come though I am convinced it will and we must just make sure that the political wishes of the people of Gibraltar are upheld and not cast aside in a wider political fix.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Yesterday I, an Englishman, went in to a Chinese restaurant in the Spanish town of Ronda where on the TV was the news in Italian beamed by satellite from RAI in Rome.

Which takes my mind back some years to when I went in to a traditional teashop in London’s Chinatown. As I settled down at my table to steaming tea with cakes the serving girls were crouched below the counter munching on burgers bought from McDonald’s in Shaftesbury Avenue.

Friday, August 8, 2008


The sand has long settled in Torremolinos after last week’s small explosion that did little more than create a load bang just after midnight on Tuesday under a bridge beneath the prom.

However Spain is still on high alert as it is feared that despite the recent arrests of its ‘Vizcaya’ commando the Basque terror group ETA may still be planning an outrage for this summer. Andalucía is a possible target but strong warnings have been issued in the Basque region itself.

Last Tuesday’s mini-bomb, which is presumed to be the work of ETA, is the latest in a 30-year campaign against the Costa del Sol. ETA first made its presence felt in 1979 with two bombs. The first was in Marbella and the second at a hotel in Fuengirola with resulting injuries to tourists.

The 80s saw a series of attacks largely aimed at hotels. Targets included the Don Pepe and Don Carlos in Marbella, the Málaga Palacio and the Cervantes in Torremolinos. However the first major ETA outrage in that decade was in Málaga at the old provincial prison where a car bomb injured seven people.

A period of peace then ensued till the summer of 1996 when small bombs went off at the Malagueta beach, the ‘Baños del Carmen’ and La Rosaleda. The following year ETA attempted to strike with deadly precision by assassinating the former mayor of Rincón de la Victoria, José María Gómez, and the councillor Francisco Robles, by placing bombs beneath their respective vehicles. Mercifully a neighbour alerted the police after spotting the objects below their cars. In the same year there was a failed attempt to donate a car bomb with the target being Málaga’s then mayor, Celia Villalobos.

The campaign against politicians had been largely aimed at members of the Partido Popular which was then the party of the national government. The terrorist finally succeeded on June 15 2000 when PP councillor José María Martín Carpena was shot in the presence of his wife and daughter in the entrance to his home in Málaga. Four days later socialist José Asenjo escaped but a bomb burnt out his car.

In July 2001 a car bomb with 50 kilos of explosive was discovered at Málaga’s airport. The following year there were further bombs at the Hotel Las Pirámedes in Fuengirola, Sultán in Marbella and Tamisa Golf in Mijas. Prior to the small bomb last week in Torremolinos there was another explosion of low intensity in Malaga’s Paseo del Parque in December 2004.

The bombs on the coast have largely been aimed at scaring tourists away rather than causing death and destruction. As I write this it seems that ETA is exporting its scare campaign as French police have today dismantled three bombs in the tourist area of its own Basque region. The problem with this tactic is that terrorism and the world has moved on. British tourists for example are not going to abandon going to France or Spain because of the bombs or threats as they face similar outrages at home. They know the security forces are on alert to prevent any attacks. The message from visitors is very simple – we’ll come, we’ll relax but we´ll keep an eye open for suspicious activity just as we would at home.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Juan Antonio Roca is the former director of town planning at Marbella town hall who is the alleged master behind the multi-million euro ‘Malaya’ corruption scam in the municipality. He was arrested back in March 2006 and the list of charges against him is impressive to say the least – cheating the tax authority, bribery, trading in influence, misappropriation of public funds and so on.

Whilst that case is still to be heard it is understood but not yet confirmed that he has received a year sentence from the Andalucía High Court.

This relates to the former Marbella judge, Javier de Urquía, who it was alleged was paid 73,800 euros by Roca for silencing a local TV station that was about to present a negative programme on the town planning supremo before he was uncovered in the ‘Malaya’ case.

As a result of the conviction, apart from Roca’s year sentence, de Urquía now faces two years in jail and seven years barred from office for accepting the bribe plus a further ten years barred from being a judge for perverting the cause of justice. Both have also been fined 73,800 euros.

The curious thing is that Roca is fiercely fighting the charges laid against him in the ´Malaya’ case. However no sooner had this trial started than he admitted “yes” he had paid de Urquía 73,800 euros to help him buy an apartment.

Has Roca turned honest? Honestly! Has he taken revenge against the judiciary? Most probably!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


It was just a year ago that Gordon Brown became Britain’s prime minister, Labour had a commanding lead over the Tories and he was being urged to call a general election so he’d have his own mandate. A year on his party is loosing safe seats in England and Scotland, Labour’s popularity is at an all time low and his own personal rating is zilch!

The same economic crisis that has hit Britain so hard is also being felt in Spain. However whilst the popularity of the ruling socialists has dipped the right of centre Partido Popular is hardly racing ahead.

Indeed just months after the general election Spain’s two main political parties are now running at neck and neck. In April PSOE commanded 43.6 per cent of the vote and the Partido Popular 37.6 but they are now both on the 39.5 mark with the socialists ahead by a whisker.

The drop in the governing party’s fortunes has been laid at the door of the economic crisis. However whilst the socialist’s popularity has dropped by four per cent the PP has only jumped by two per cent.

The poll was carried out by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas between July 7 and 13.
On the results the vice president of the government, Fernández de la Vega said: “We are in a complicated economic situation, and as has happened in similar situations in the past, this contaminates the public’s perception.”

For its part the Partido Popular opposition through its secretary general in Congress, José Luis Ayllón declared: “It is evident that the confidence of Spaniards is in free fall and they consider that the government is inactive in the face of all these real problems.”
So has the far left Izquierda Unida benefited from the country’s economic woes? Hardly! Its support has only risen from 3.9 to 4.8 per cent over the same period. Mind you if you were a spin doctor you could claim a near 25 per cent increase. Or is it 33 per cent? No good asking me I’m just a hack and barely passed my London Secondary Schools Exam in Maths in 1965 –so what do I know?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Today I stay with the food theme and a strange tale from Gerona.
Has he disappeared or simply run off without paying the bill at one of the world’s top restaurants? That is the question faced by the Mossos d’Esquadra investigating the case of the would-be restaurant reviewer and the famed ‘El Bulli’.

It is seven weeks since Swiss messenger turned writer Henry Pascal went missing. The 46-year-old was having a meal at the gourmet restaurant when he went outside to get some business cards and never returned. The photograph shows him minutes before he disappeared.

The avoidance of paying the bill is one theory but the director of ‘El Bulli’, Juli Soler, doubts it. Pascal left behind on the table his notes on the meal as well as a book that contained, written in hand, the menus of the various top restaurants he had visited on his tour. Soler observed: “If he is writing a book, his notes are here.”

It is understood that Pascal, who worked as a messenger, was using his savings to visit the 68 restaurants in the world that had three stars in the prestigious Michelin guide. He visited ‘El Bulli’ on June 12 and has a reservation in Arzak in San Sebastían two days later but never arrived.

A meal in ‘El Bulli’ costs around 230 euros and the Spanish daily, El País, estimates that the tour undertaken by Pascal would cost 17,000 euros on meals alone. ‘El Bulli’ was the 40 th restaurant that he had visited since starting his tour on May 5 visiting establishments in Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and Spain.

It is believed that Pascal travelled by motorbike and now both the Spanish Police and Interpol are desperately looking for him.

The famed ‘El Bulli’ is completely booked between April and October and then its chef, Ferrán Adriá, closes for five months to create new dishes.

I’ll leave you with that story as I head off for lunch at my local venta were the menu del día is 8 euros and if you try to run off they set the cat on you!
UPDATE - Thursday August 7 - the Mossos d'Esquadra stated that Interpol had tracked Henry Pascal down as he drew cash from a bank machine in Geneva. He has been positively identified -at least he is safe -his story remains to be told.

Monday, August 4, 2008


The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has reported that people in Spain and southern Europe generally are getting fatter. The blame is being laid on the abandonment of the traditional Mediterranean diet in favour of calorie-laden food.

In the 40 years to 2002, daily calorie intake in countries including Spain, Greece and Italy has increased by 30 per cent that is more than the 20 per cent recorded in northern EU countries.

Greece, which should perhaps now be spelt Grease, is the EU country with the highest proportion of overweight and obese people at 75 per cent. Trundling along behind are Italians, Spanish and Portuguese where over 50 per cent of the populations are overweight too. However the country that registered the most dramatic increase in the use of fat was Spain, where fat made up just 25 per cent of the diet 40 years ago but now accounts for 40 per cent.

The report says the typical Mediterranean diet based on olive oil, fish and vegetables is declining in the Middle East and North Africa, where eating habits are changing and calorie intake increasing.

The FAO senior economist, Josef Schmidhuber, reported that as Mediterranean people get wealthier they have used their higher incomes to add a large number of calories from meat and fats to a diet that was traditionally light on animal proteins. He added that what they now eat is “too fat, too salty and too sweet.”

Those who remember Spain and the other Med countries decades ago know just how widespread abject poverty was – but those who survived were healthy! Now we are all that much wealthier – Grease is the word!

Sunday, August 3, 2008


From an anonymous Spanish reader:

Se cuenta por ahí que una profesora de primero de ESO en una aldea vasca explica en clase que ella es de Batasuna (brazo político de ETA), y entonces pide que levante la mano todo el que también sea seguidor de Batasuna.

Todos en clase, por temor a represalias por parte de la maestra, levantan la mano diciéndose abertzales, excepto una niña que estaba sentada el fondo del salón.

La profesora miró a la niña con sorpresa y le preguntó:
-Martita, ¿Porque no has levantado la mano?.
-Porque yo no soy de Batasuna.

La profesora extrañado pregunto de nuevo:
-Vaya, y sino eres de ETA ¿Entonces con quién simpatizas?
-Con los españoles.- Respondió orgullosa la niña.

La maestra, cuyos fanáticos oídos no podían dar crédito a algo así, exclamo:
-Martita, hija mía ¿qué pecado has cometido para ser españolista?
La niña muy tranquila le respondió: - Mi madre es españolista, mi padre es españolista y mi hermano también es españolista, ¡por eso yo también soy españolista!, -remató orgullosa y convencida la pequeña.

- Bueno, - replicó irritada la profesora-, pero eso no es motivo para ser españolista. Tu, no tienes porque ser lo que sean tus padres. Por ejemplo, si tu madre fuera prostituta y drogadicta, tu padre vago, alcohólico y traficante y tu hermano atracador y homosexual, entonces, ¿tú qué serías?

- Seguramente de BATASUNA. Respondió la niña.


Saturday, August 2, 2008


At 7.26 on Saturday De Juan Chaos was released from jail in Aranjuez in Madrid.

He is a mass murderer convicted of killing 25 people and was sentenced to 3,000 years in jail. He has spent 21 years behind bars.

Whilst in jail in Algeciras several years ago he went on hunger strike and was treated at the nearby Punta Europa hospital in a private room. I have known several people who have been seriously ill in that hospital and sadly never received the level of care that he did.

His release in a controversial subject and is bound to result in street protests. The government has stated that should he intimidate anybody or commit other murders then he will go straight back inside.

By the way De Juan Chaos is also a member of ETA.

Friday, August 1, 2008


It’s the first day of August and the start of the ‘salida de agosto’ when the majority of Spaniards take to the roads and head off on holiday. Sadly too many of them will make the return journey courtesy of the undertaker.
I do not have the stats for the number killed on Spain’s roads each year but it is a horrendous figure. I’d guess around 3,000 with some 25 to 30 killed on a long holiday weekend. Many more are injured and the toll on those left behind can only be imagined.

A recent EU survey showed that Spain led the table of member states where drinking was the prime cause of a death crash. The fact is that it is speed that causes the majority of road deaths regardless of the state of the driver.

I tend to drive in towns and villages at the required speed. On the open road I drive at around 100 kms an hour. This is far too slow for other road users except old ladies, men in hats and those sad people who drive contraptions that don’t require a licence and are powered by elastic bands. The others zoom past me regardless of whether overtaking is allowed or not.

The government is now thinking of introducing a reduced speed limit on Spain’s roads. This is not an attempt to end the carnage but rather to save fuel as part of a package of measures to tackle the economic and fuel crisis.

It appears that there is an optimum speed at which a car should travel in order to maximize the economy of fuel use. Discussions will now be held on setting that limit and how it should be introduced.

Sorry but in a nation where driving at 100kms per hour is considered to be dawdling there is no chance that motorists are suddenly going to trundle along at 50 or 70 km per hour.

As drivers can get away with speeding now with very little chance of being apprehended what chance that they are going to change their ways to save the economy? Zero!

This measure is putting the cart before the horse or speeding car. First we have to stop a nation driving like maniacs in order to save lives. Then we can worry about the economy.