Friday, September 30, 2016

Pay-back time?

I never really know whether to be jubilant or deeply suspicious when Official Government Bureaucracy works in your favour. 
            The fact that I was able to park immediately opposite the front door of the Social Security Office in Gava was unsettling in itself, and I actually drove past the parking space at first because, obviously, it couldn’t possibly exist – it was far, far too convenient to be true.  But I backed into the space like a guilty thing and marched with a determined step towards the fray.
            I didn’t even get through the door.  The queue snaked out into the sunshine and a glimpse of the inside showed a serried rank of glum looking petitioners sitting waiting for a free official.
            I had come to the office to find out what an inscrutable official (stamped) letter meant.  It was important because it concerned my state pension – of which more anon.
            To make things simpler there is a machine at the entrance to the office that takes you identity number, links it to an appointment and spews out a numbered ticket.  You take it and wait, staring at an LED notice board watching for something approximating to your ticket.
            The machine was surrounded by a vociferous crush of people who were treating the ticket dispenser as if it were the sort of electronics that required a PhD at least to make it work.  I mean, I have to say it’s not rocket science: you press a button, type in your number, push another button and take your ticket.  Old women of all possible sexes were looking at the instructions on the machine as if they were written in Glagolitic and were building themselves up into a frenzy of incomprehension.
            My own situation was a trifle more complex as I had come on spec. as it were, in the vague hope that “just a little information” would not necessitate the making of an official appointment.  I was, in other words, trying to short-circuit the sacrosanct procedures of a Government Office!
            As the harassed woman from the information desk made her way back from trying to sort out the chaos by the number machine I waylaid her and in impeccably bad Spanish, but with an irresistibly winning smile!
            What followed is, I have to admit, a refutation of the mythic stories of unhelpful officials.  She explained what the document I was waving at her actually meant; she took me to a computer station; she sat me down, brought up my details and explained further; she printed out a new document for me and, most importantly, stamped it.
            It seems that I am entitled to a Pension in Spain!  This was completely unexpected and I could hardly contain my enthusiasm.  She was delighted at my delight and told me that usually people were pissed off with how much they were going to get.  As I had expected nothing, anything was a triumph.
            It’s not much, a couple of hundred euros a month, but, coming in is much better than going out and even after tax, it will pay for a few lunches a week.
            Like my official state pension from the UK, the actual amount is nothing to write home about, but my pleasure at receiving it is out of all proportion to how much it actually is!
            I have not, you understand, got a single solitary penny of either pension yet, so I am writing in a state of pleasurable anticipation.  This will last for a couple of months when something should be paid into my account.  The satisfaction will last for a few months more, right up until I find out exactly how much tax will have to be paid, then black depression will descend as I see exactly how much the states (Spain and the UK) think I can live on!  At least I know what to expect and so I can put aside a sum to pay the taxman in the New Year.
            My state pension from the UK is tax free as I don’t live in the country, but I understand that Spain will claim the right to rake in the cash – and don’t worry about my writing this and “letting them know” the UK and Spain have already contacted each other and my status is known by both countries.  No escape, in other words.
            Still, a Spanish Pension!  I was so delighted I wrote a poem, which I print below.

Pension bonding?

To those so young,
and dreading years ahead,
where work dictates the Moments of a Life,
or it apparently does so,                 
I might say               
                       there is
a rite of passage,
not anticipated ‘til,
it’s inadvertently revealed.

And it is this.

There will, I promise, come a time
when, out with friends, or at a meal,
you’ll chat, and when goodbyes are said
you will discover that there’s been
just one, sole, topic taking up your breath.

Some years ahead, for you, maybe,
but talked about with passion
or with pride – or fear.

A life-target that,
so long as you’re alive,
you’ll make.

I’ve reached the age where
what was said some
is now a near enough reality.

And I observe
a process that involves
a bouncing to and fro
between two states
that claim me both.

I’ve always said I lead a double life,
as here in Spain, what is in Britain
just a letter placed between the
‘fore’ and ‘sur’ of my two names,
becomes a patronymic force and
Señor Morgan suddenly exists!

And I found out today,
(I have the printed sheet
and the official stamp)
that ageing Brit’s entitled to
a small (but welcome) sum,
paid monthly, right into his bank.

That illustrates more surely
than my bad Spanish can,
that one belongs, one is a part.

For nothing is more real
than the cement of governmental cash.

For those who are interested my latest drafts of poems can be read at and I will be happy to respond to any comments you might make.

Meanwhile I continue to get up early to go and have my swim, though I will have to do more if I am to lose the extra weight that the nurse demands I do.  And today a good swim was not matched by a good and restrained food intake.  And next week there are visitors and it will be churlish not to respond to their desire to eat well.  Perhaps I can limit the “drink well” part and feel smug and justified – though the scales are impartial and glacial when it comes to their view of reality!

Work continues on the anthology “Together Apart” with discussions continuing with the printer about what, exactly we can afford.  I think I see a resolution and I will have to contact my fellow poets to keep them in the loop.  I hope that publication will still be towards the end of next month.  I am, in spite of the darkness of some of my poetry, essentially an optimistic person.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Swim to forget?

Resultado de imagen de empty swimming lane

It is a reflection of the uniformly depressing nature of the ‘news’ nowadays that gaining an empty lane in my swimming pool for the whole of the duration of my metric mile crawl is enough to make me feel that not everything is ill with the world!
            I am still trying to get my head around the fact that Galicia, for the umpteenth year in succession, has elected a majority government of the criminally corrupt PP (Spanish Conservative) party!
Resultado de imagen de 2016 galician election

Given the welter of adverse publicity showing clear maladministration throughout the PP organization it takes a particularly strong peg to block the nose from the stench of corruption to actually vote for such an undeserving bunch.  But vote they did and they have thereby promoted their president to be the most likely person to take over from the walking joke that is the acting president of Spain.  God help us all!
            The Basque country voted as it always does for parties who loathe the politicians in Madrid, and we get ever closer to the break-up of Spain.
            Enough.  Disgust with the present political situation is becoming an idée fixe with me and I am aware that I am repeating myself, and powerless fury becomes boring after a while.  Although I can vote in local elections, I have no say in national ones and I can not take a direct part in the changes that are essential if Spain is to develop from its long post-transition malaise.  Frustration does not even begin to cover what I feel.

Self-interest is always more refreshing!  I have had a message on my phone telling me that my state pension has achieved a “resulta favorablemente” and that I will soon be getting something by post telling me the “resolucion”.  I am not sure what this means as my pension is going to be paid by the UK and the few years that I worked in Spain are not going to make that much difference to how much I get.
            The whole process of getting my state pension has been interesting one.  The initial application form for people claiming from overseas was horrific in its demanding detail.  A panicked phone call to the UK revealed that, if you have worked in Spain, you have to apply via the Spanish social security system and not via the UK.  Given the propensity for revelling in pointless bureaucracy in this country I was, to put it mildly daunted.  The reality was a delight!  It took about five minutes with a bloke in the local social security office and the administration was done!  Unbelievable!  I dully received a notification for Newcastle that things had been processed and I am now waiting for the cash!  I will be interested to see what the Spanish system has to say as I had assumed that everything was done and dusted.  As far as I am able to work out, I think that the work that I did in Spain gives me an extra quid a week: not much, but I’d rather get it than pay it.
            I fear that the lurking missive from the Spanish state is more likely to be about taking money rather than giving it.  If you live abroad then your state pension is paid to you in toto with no tax deductions.  At this point the omnipotent hacienda or Spanish tax people take an unhealthy interest and demand that it be taxed by them: not unreasonable as I do actually live here!  
Resultado de imagen de panama papers spain

Resultado de imagen de new duke of westminster          I will try and empty my mind of the numerous graphic instances in the recent past (vide The Panama Papers) where many of the rich and famous in Spain have taken to heart the notorious words of Leona Helmsley who said, “We don’t pay taxes.  Only the little people pay taxes” and have done everything in their power to ensure that none of their hard earned cash (!) goes to the taxman.  As a teacher who has been ‘taxed at source’ for the whole of his working career I feel that I occupy the moral high ground when it comes to the payment of taxes, and certainly on a higher plane than the new Duke of Westminster who has paid a laughable amount in death duties and I am sure will continue (legally) to pay the absolute minimum of tax, resulting in a retired teacher (e.g. moi!) paying a higher proportion of his income in tax than a man who owns Belgravia – among other choice chunks of London!
            Ah well, one mustn’t be bitter as it only shortens one’s life and affords merriment to those, like His Grace, above!

Resultado de imagen de note 7 exploding battery

My new phone (complete with un-exploding battery I trust) is now set to be delivered in the first week of October.  I have bought a charging station; a case, and extra memory for it already and so, quite apart from the horrendous price of the thing, I am now left with a further investment that will be nullified if I decide that I have waited long enough and cancel the order.
            To look at my frustration from another point of view, I could retexture this enforced period of waiting as a Zen-like meditative interlude of delayed gratification.  Which is good for the soul and is, of course, entirely foreign to modern expectations – and therefore I will be practising a dying skill.

At this time of the year, the weather can be gauged by the degree to which the foam cushions on the sunbed have dried out.  Although we have not had a great deal of rain during the day, we have had theatrical OTT storms during the nights, and the intensity of the sun during the day is sometimes insufficient thoroughly to dry out the material to the intensity of ‘bone’.  Today, for example, I have had to turn the mattress upside down on the terrace to allow the sun to do its work.  I was confined to plastic chair to lounge about a bit.  In fact I have just checked and the mattress is almost dry: it should be perfect for a little light sunbathing this afternoon!  There are advantages to living this close to the Med!

Tomorrow I go to the third of my classes in Spanish here in Castelldefels.  I am, it has to be said, dreading the experience as I fear that I will be way out of my depth given the extent of the knowledge of all the other people in the class: they seem to approach the use of verbs with delight while I am like some medieval cartographer inscribing “Here there be dragons” over those parts of a sentence which allow it to make sense!
            I shall, however, give it a go and see if I can survive and, as one friend has already pointed out, it will be an invigorating experience for me to be the inarticulate one in a language class for once in my life!  I only hope that there are revealing pictures in the textbook that we are due to be given tomorrow!

Life really does have a relentless quality that is both exciting and intimidating at the same time!

The people have decided? Again!

Resultado de imagen de brexit percentages

Although still bitter about the fact that 52% of those who bothered to vote decided that Brexit was a sensible solution to the perceived problems of a massively wealthy country with a privileged relationship with the largest trading partnership in the world – I can at least see that a distant professional political class linked to obvious disparity in the distribution of wealth and the completely unscrupulous campaign of a group of post-truth ruthlessly selfish, self-seeking political opportunists might offer some sort of explanation for what appears (still) to be a collective decision to shoot whatever feet were available to view.
            If I hear another person say something to the effect that, “Things are not as bad as those who said we would really suffer when we left the EU are they?” just once again.  I will scream. 
            May I point out that we have not actually left the EU?  We are still full members of that organization, though we now appear not to go to certain meetings, allowing the French and Germans to decide whatever is best for their own interests.  We have not left.  That is years in the future.  A future completely and utterly unsafe in the conspiratorial hands of an unelected Prime Minister of a Party that  . . .  well, you can see the way that this rant is going.  And the point I want to make is not about the UK but my adopted country of Spain.
            The Conservatives, you will not be surprised to learn, is not my party of choice.  I have veered in my life between utter contempt for the Conservative Party (it was a real effort for me to give the title of such a beggared organization capital letters) to downright loathing.
            Resultado de imagen de PM May

     At the moment I tend more to the latter than the former.  It is difficult to feel anything remotely positive about an unelected Prime Minister who presents her choice of Foreign Secretary as anything than a joke in poor taste and, further, who expects to be taken seriously when she suddenly pulls the emaciated and ossified corpse of the rabbit of the reintroduction of grammar schools from the cesspit of unthinking Tory appeasement.  And that is enough of a mixed metaphor to be going on with.
            Just a reminder about the subject of this diatribe – which is Spain. 
            However, just before we get to that country, I would like to make a link between this ‘policy’ suggestion of the re-introduction of grammar schools and the Anglican Church.  As an Anglican Atheist myself, I feel a certain nostalgic concern for the doings of the Church and I am always fascinated by Religion.  There are important concerns that religion attempts to wrestle with and believers and non-believers can gain from studying the way that the Church has struggled with some of the major philosophical and social questions since its institution.  It has thought long and hard and Church thinkers have contributed to the intellectual development of our civilization.  It is therefore all the more frustrating that sizeable sections of the modern church find challenges like social and political inequality too difficult to cope with and so turn to ‘easy’ questions to which there appear to be equally ‘easy’ answers.
            If you find that church leaders are attempting to find ways to challenge the vested interests of the status quo, the easiest way to unsettle their socialist tendencies is to raise the twin concerns which are guaranteed to act in the same way as the chorus of sheep in Animal Farm who chanted, “Four legs good; two legs bad!” as soon as any other animal challenged the authority of the pigs.  The two key areas whose discussion will swamp anything else are, of course, the questions of Abortion and the ‘question’ of homosexuality.
            If you want another example of one stupid thing swamping discussion from my experience as a teacher, then it would be an item on a staff meeting agenda discussing school uniform and the pupils’ wearing of jewellery.
            The amount of time that I have listened to discussions about the size, positioning, composition and cost of various items of clothing and earrings to be worn by school children make medieval scholastic discussions about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin look like casual throw-away lines!
            So, the point that I am making is, the unelected May is raising the ghost of a lost policy with the concept of new grammar schools.  If she fails (and she should because there is no educational expert who thinks that they work for all children) then she can point to the fact that she did her best but the establishment (sic) did her down.  If she succeeds then she will make the middle class grunts in the shires happy as they will assume that their privileged darlings will obviously get to the grammar schools and the lesser breeds without the law (who don’t vote Conservative anyway) will get the Sec Mods that they deserve!
            I can’t wait to see the Jesuitical logic that will have to be used to show that naïf little Candide’s tutor was right all along and they will be the best possible schools in this best of all possible educational worlds. 
            I assume that all of Trump’s speeches are being video recorded for cabinet ministers to learn from.  After all, the fact that the rambling gibberish that he spouts has nothing to do with education doesn’t make any difference as he finds it difficult to focus on anything at all, apart from spouting twisted childhood memories of the nursery rhyme about Dumpty Dumpty – and it all seems to go down well with a certain section of the Republican Party.  And how different are the American and British Conservatives anyway?  It’s just the Brits don’t have guns.  Yet.
            Anyway, Spain.
            We have just had the results from the election in Galicia and the PP (the Spanish Conservative Party) has won an overall majority.  Again.
            If you do not live in Spain that may mean little.  If you do live in Spain it is incredible.
Resultado de imagen de corruption in spain
          PP has had the sort of catastrophically bad publicity for months and months and months that would be amusing if it were not all too real.  Every treasurer of the party, since it was founded, has been charged with criminal mismanagement.  Corruption has become synonymous with the name of the party and day after day companies, politicians, businessmen, party workers, anyone in fact who has had any contact with this toxic brand have been accused.  The scale, of what can only be called theft, is astonishing and scalps have been claimed by courageous media types who bring the latest misdemeanours to light.
Resultado de imagen de rita barbara spain valencia

            The epic mismanagement of public funds in Valencia has degenerated into pure farce with the senator for Valencia being accused by the High Court and then resigning from PP who put her there so that the acting president (PP) can claim it is nothing to do with him because she is no longer in the party!  In an ironic touch which is poignant to the point of insult: the ‘senadora’ actually gets paid more now that she is not in a party and has extra funds allocated so that she can manage alone outside the framework of an established organization!  The idea of resignation for the misdemeanours of her dictatorial and grasping reign in Valencia does not of course enter her head and, with a brazen audacity that takes the breath away she continues to flaunt her apparent disinterest in the chaos that she has caused.
            It is difficult to give a true impression of just how overwhelming the stench of corruption is in this country.  Any one of the tens of major scandals that have rocked this country would have settled the hash of any government in the UK trying to brave it out.  But in Spain, few of the true criminals are actually in prison.
            Spain has a whole section of society that is above ordinary justice: thousands of people who cannot be tried in the same way as ordinary citizens.  The UK has no one who is above the law in this way.  German has no one who is above the law in this way.
            Spain may point to the fact that the sister of the present King was actually arraigned in court for corruption and was cross-examined.  And as part of her evidence she said, “I don’t know” hundreds of times.  I think in a British court she would have been charged with contempt.  And we are still waiting for a judgement.  I am not holding my breath that she will spend the time in prison that one of the prosecutors has demanded.  Her husband was arraigned with her, charged with exploiting the royal name and overcharging by misappropriating public funds (guess where!) etc etc.
            In spite of the torrent of adverse publicity, Galicia has voted in a majority PP government in its autonomous region!  It makes one weep.  In spite of the massive amount of evidence that points to institutional systemic corruption, they vote for more of the same.
            It is, sometimes, difficult to maintain an optimistic approach.  But not impossible.

            There are solutions to the present situation.  The parties of the left could find some sort of way to work together to stop what would be a total disaster – the continuation of the ‘government’ of PP.  They must find a way.  
          In a very real sense, the future of a united Spain depends on it.