Thursday, February 23, 2017

S C A N D A L !

The treatment of the sister of the king, the forgetful ignoramus of a bank worker who apparently knows nothing of finance, should have prepared us for the treatment of her criminal husband.  He was found guilty of a range of crimes for which he was given a prison sentence of . . . wait for it . . . no time in prison!  Today he has walked from court and is able to go back to his home in Switzerland!  Just when you thought that PP (let’s not pretend for a moment that the justice system in Spain is separate from the political parties) could do nothing more to take the breath away, they encourage the degradation of justice by allowing this glaring piece of toadying, fawning favouritism AND they have replaced some of the most honest fiscals (the legal characters who are leading investigations into the rampant corruption of the systemically corrupt PP and its unsavoury associates) in the hope that the scandal of the incredible treatment of the husband of the sister of the king, will deflect attention from the other disgusting activity that they are indulging in to ensure their escape from the punishment they richly deserve.

            Although it seems like overstatement, this country is looking more and more like a dictatorship in which the MINORITY government’s cynical scratching of the already thin veneer of democracy is looking more and more determined in their ruthless determination to stay in power.  The previous local PP government of Valencia shows what a cesspit of fiscal corruption is revealed when a sitting government is forced to relinquish the reins of power: presumably our national PP government must be terrified about what might come out of any other than themselves is able to see the true situation in this country.  I feel nothing but contempt for most of the political system and for almost all of the questionable characters that run the justice system.  There are, of course, notable exceptions who plough an increasingly lonely furrow in trying to get the truth into the public arena – but in my view, it is easier to think of Spain in terms of a banana republic than as a modern democratic state.  And, what is more depressing is that the government thinks that it can get away with it.  No, they know they can get away with it, because that is what they have been doing, with impunity.

            This is a bad day for democracy, justice and the reputation of Spain.  The actions of this government must be rejected by anyone who cares about the future of the whole country rather than just for one political party.  This should be a wake up call for people to reject the debased ethical stance of a systemically corrupt government and ask for real separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislative in this state. 

The political farce that we have watched with fascinated horror for the past umpteen years as generations of politician and constructors fleece the public purse and get away with it must be stopped.  Most of our present political caste seem unwilling or unable to offer anything more than more of the same.  This is intolerable, and it is up to that part of the disgusted population of Spain to teach their political ‘masters’ the true meaning of that word.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

When education is not enough

Resultado de imagen de tick

Today I rose in the dark, had a hurried shower and gulped down my essential cup of tea and then marched upstairs to my ‘study’ on the third floor.  I have to admit that this is not normal behaviour on my part.  My enthusiastic study dedication was a direct result of fear: a test. 

You would have thought that a life spent in education, lurching from exam to exam (either sitting or marking) would have meant that these, uninspiring experiences would have lost any ability to inspire anything other than boredom in me.  But this test was different – though only because it was part of my Spanish class in town, and for some reason I feel more, how shall I put it, exposed somehow.

It is true that I am struggling as each new tense fails to ‘take’ in my mind.  I have been wandering around chanting verb endings to myself like some demented cult monk and then, as soon as I am confronted by an actual piece of original writing in Spanish all verbs leak away and I am left with nouns and the odd adjective linked with inaccurate badly spelled illiteracy.  Or is that last part tautological?  Anyway, there are others there (we are all learning Spanish as a foreign language) who are much, much better than I am.  They find things easy that I find very difficult; they see simplicity in exercises where I only see fiendish evil.  I am, in other words, suffering what the more work shy pupils in the school on the hill used to go through when I took them through similar exercises in English!

The one good thing about my approach, however, to differentiate it from the attitude of so many of those I taught in Barcelona, is that I don’t cheat.  I find frustration, ignorance and inability all working against me, but I don’t cheat!  It remains to be seen if such an approach actually gets me sufficient credit to scrape through.  And I have to say that I will be quite satisfied with a bare pass.  However, humiliating that might be in comparison with a certain other gentleman who is taking examinations at the same time as I!

The actual horror of the test was slightly mitigated because there were a few 50/50 questions which at least allowed me the luxury of hoping that the informed monkey vote would work out to my advantage.  There were also a few ‘odd word out’ questions which were also a sure thing, but I am not sure that there was enough there to give me the marks that I need.

And ‘need’ is a key concept here.  The reason for learning Spanish is surely a no brainer!  Who would not want to be able to speak the language of the country in which he lives?  It is common courtesy and common sense.  And essential.

Given the lunacy of my fellow countrymen in their support of Brexit, I have had to rethink my position in Spain.  At the moment as a citizen of the EU my position is unassailable, but what happens when the trigger is finally pulled and the Brexit bullet goes careering into the British brain?

So far, the fall in the value of the pound has lowered by pension income by 20% at least, and that is likely to be much more when the dreaded Article 50 is finally invoked and we start the two years’ hard labour to break ourselves away actually begins – which I am sure will be a surprise to some die-hard Brexiteers who think we have actually left already and aren’t we doing well financially!  Then the real problems begin for me when I have to start thinking about my ‘rights’ in Spain when the real rights that I have at the moment will be taken away by the hard ‘right’ and ignorance.

Then there is the question of health care.  As a retired person, I am conscious that I am not getting any younger and that there is a likelihood that my medical needs will only grow with time and at the moment my needs are well met by the Spanish National Health Service of which I am a card-carrying member.  The fact that we Brits living in Spain are being used as a bargaining chip is not an encouraging element in my future planning!

So, the Master Plan is for me to apply for dual citizenship so that when the final break occurs I will be able to stay in Spain because I will have the rights of a native.

There are problems there however.  Two to be precise.  The first is that you have to have a level of proficiency in Spanish equivalent to A2 (a level where a working knowledge of the dreaded verbs is obligatory) and the second is you have to pass an examination to demonstrate your knowledge of Spanish culture, geography, politics and institutions.  A further problem is that I am not sure that Spain actually allows join Spanish/British citizenship, but stories are confused on this issue and I will go with the confusion until I am told it is impossible.

So, my efforts to learn the language have an added urgency.  It’s just a pity that this does not translate into information staying in my brain!  I will keep on keeping on and hope for the best – and use any other clich├ęs that come to mind.
Resultado de imagen de the making of donald trump melville house

Meanwhile, I have bought and read (thank you Amazon) “The making of Donald Trump” by David Day Johnson (2016), First Melvin House, Brooklyn & London.  A thoroughly depressing read for lots of reasons.  It is obvious from what Johnson writes that there have been numerous occasions in the past when the murky behaviour of Trump should have landed him up in far more trouble that he appears to have got into.  The number of times when, if various legislative bodies and law enforcement agencies had done their job, it would have been highly unlikely that the present President of the United States would have made it to the White House.  Trumps unsavoury background and the appalling people with whom he has associated; his unscrupulous chiselling; his duplicity, where the truth does not seem to have any purchase on any part of what he might laughingly refer to as his system of morals and on and on. 
“The making of Donald Trump” is a compulsive read, though you have to keep reminding yourself that this is documentary and not grotesque fantasy.  The reality is emphasised in the last section of the book where there are detailed references, where the horrified reader can find documentary references to follow up any of the unlikely incidents, occurrences and statements made.
Resultado de imagen de nestles strawberry cheesecake chocolate

As a way of dealing with the awful reality of the political situation on both sides of the pond, I have discovered (and am desperately trying to lose) Nestles Strawberry Cheesecake Chocolate.  In an oversize bar.  I bought it because I could and then made the disastrous mistake of trying a bloated square of it.

By way of digression: have you ever seen a half-eaten dish of dry roast peanuts?  To which the usual answer is, no you haven’t.  My explanation was that, as part of the production process, the peanuts were lightly dusted with heroin.  I was always astonished by people’s reactions, which were mildly surprised, but not dismissive!  People actually believed that a commercial company would really do something like add a Grade A drug to nuts!  In fact, the easy acceptance of the drug addiction as an explanation for the taste and consumption, has made me wonder about it too!  I suppose this is the nearest that I get to experience what it must be like to be Trump: someone who believes his own alternative truth!

Anyway, back to Nestle.  One piece of that delectable sweet was enough to convince me that I would never buy another bar as long as I lived.  Something that delicious is dangerous!  I limited myself to one square a day, a restriction that (after the first day of splurge) I managed to keep to.  In a desperate attempt, yesterday, to make the thing last longer I sucked it instead of crunched it. That was a mistake, it is the immediate masticated combination that makes it what it is. I would only recommend this addictive chocolate to those of a stern and forbidding constitution who able to say no in spite of overwhelming compulsion!

And now to get ready to join my fellow poets for an evening in Barcelona to which a certain orangely self-regarding bigot is not invited!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A family trait?

This is my second or third attempt to write about the Spanish approach to corruption as exemplified by the trial (inter alia) of the Infanta and her husband.  You will be able to detect the bitterness in this piece, so you can imagine what the first versions were like.  In certain places my vitriol was eating through the screen

To the immense surprise of absolutely nobody in Spain, the Infanta (the sister of the present king) was found flamboyantly innocent of any wrong doing connected to her criminal husband’s machinations in the corrupt use of his royal name and connections to produce overinflated payments for the ‘services’ he provided, with illicit money gained being funneled into a ‘front’ company run by himself and his wife.  When questioned in court about her knowledge of the front company that she helped run she answered “I don’t know” and “I can remember” over 200 times.  One is tempted to wonder if this woman with an MA from NY and her working life being in a bank might possibly have been expected to have at least a faint glimmer of understanding about what was going on, but her avowals of ignorance were obviously very convincing, and so she was only fined a quarter of a million euros for ‘ignorantly’ (or ‘innocently’ if you prefer) benefiting from the gross luxuries of life that came via the ‘front’ company.  That she helped run.  In ignorant innocence, of course.  Naturally.

Her hapless, scheming husband has been sentenced to a period of years in prison.  The right wing, including the systemically corrupt Peoples Party that is presently governing thanks to the support of the political sluts of Spanish political life, the Cs, have lauded this innocence as being a shining example of egalitarian democracy in action!  Look, they seem to say, the actual sister of the king went to court, confessed to astonishing otherworldliness in an inability to answer questions that would have been considered a gross contempt of court by any witness other than a member of the royal family, was found innocent and has to pay a hefty fine!  Gosh, they say, that is just a totally clear example of what the so-called King-emeritus called justice being the same for everyone.  Except for him, of course, as he was given a legal indemnity which followed him into the retirement that took some of the pressure off the family as the full extent of his, um, actions was becoming clear.  Haven’t we, these right-wing idiots say, done well!

To which the answer is of course, no.  Resoundingly no.  The distance between the poor and the privileged and between the privileged and the privileged politicos is as wide or even wider than it was a generation or two ago.  Not only in Spain, but also throughout the so-called developed world.  During the height of the economic crisis in Spain, the then king, after mouthing banalities about equality, whisked himself off on a vastly expensive (paid for) elephant killing safari – and the only reason that we in Spain found out about it was that he was injured and had to explain how he came by the disability when he came home from the jolly.  Politicians are protected left, right and centre in a way where the elite’s contempt for ordinary people in shown in the way where they don’t even bother to hide their preferences.

We need a root-and-branch clear out of the political class that has been in place for years.  It is tainted by corruption, a corruption which goes from top to bottom and is astonishing in its exhaustiveness and also by its blatancy.  There is a perception in Spain that the political class feels itself beyond the ordinary restraints of everyone else in the country.  The machinations of PP with the supplanted leader of Valencia and their cold logic in translating her from her failed dictatorship in Valencia to a new seat in the Senate so that she could not be indicted by the lower courts which were gearing up to try and deal with the accumulated filth of corruption that she left behind.  Since her death, PP, with the breathtakingly insulting bare faced audacity which we have come to expect from a party which feels itself ultimately entitled, actually gave her a posthumous honor!  Presumably they assume that her death means that she is inviolable from any back-dated enquiry into her activities and that of her corrupt government – many of whom are awaiting sentencing or have already been sentenced.

Of course, that fact that a person connected to PP has been given a sentence, does not necessarily mean that the criminal has actually gone to prison.  The latest continuing comedy show is watching the acrobatics, both verbal for the watching public and metaphorical behind the scenes, as the husband of the Infanta escapes the perusing press on his Swiss bike in the shadowland of the period of his conviction and the start of his sentence.  How are the complicit powers that be going to try and keep him out of prison?  Most of Spain expects some sort of underhand deal to be worked out.  We will wait and see.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The new white feather?

As a Baby Boomer (Leading Edge) I have never had to make the sort of problematic choices that the previous generation to my own had to make.  I have not been involved in a World War, I have not had to do Military Service, I have been able to find work without problems, I have been looked after through my educational life and in terms of medical help in a way in which I have not had to think too hard about the financial consequences.  I have, in short, been fortunate in choosing the time to be born! 

Central of course to that opening paragraph of gloating, though not actually stated, is the reality of my pension.  I now have three pensions from two countries: which sounds a damn sight more impressive than the reality!  I have a professional pension from my job, I have a much smaller state pension and I have a truly tiny (but welcome) pension from Spain.  The generations that have come after my own look at my experiences and feel envy and resentment.  This is an attitude that I can easily understand, especially as the retirement age seems to be getting more and more distant for some folk.  But this piece is not about finance and comfortable old age, it is more about responsibility.

I was far too young to have an opinion about Suez and the criminal behavior of my government: I was too young to understand the trauma of moving from an imperial past to an uncertain future – and very badly managed at that; too young to understand the full import of the Cold War, though old enough to appreciate the danger of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I suppose that the first real moral challenge that I felt fully engaged with was the Apartheid system in South Africa and the United Kingdom’s culpability in the continuation of the regime.

What did I do?  Looking back on it, the answer would have to be, not very much.  I supported Anti-Apartheid; I refused to buy or eat South African fruit; I didn’t drink South African wine; I sent money to organizations against Apartheid; I put up posters; I marched; I spoke against it.  But could I have done more, could I have been more pro-active?  And what about Viet Nam?  How much, or how little did I do to show my abhorrence about that grubby conflict?  When I look back, I think that I was more worked up about the Conservative government’s imposition of museum charges for our national galleries than I ever was about a war which claimed the lives of thousands and threatened the stability of the world!

In other words, I feel a nagging sense that I could have done more, and should have done more, but I was protected by a fairly comfortable sense that, in spite of a few local and international difficulties, things would probably work themselves out with, or without, my active help.  And my involvement was my choice.

In today’s world, with the rise of the extreme right, the self-inflicted wound of Brexit, the reality of President Trump, the growing obscenity of inequality in the world, the banking crisis, corruption and on and on – it is much more difficult to remain as a vaguely involved spectator.  To do nothing, is actively to encourage the situation to worsen: disengagement is denial.

What I am saying is that life in 2017 is the equivalent of life in the 1940s: there is an international crisis and everyone has a part to play in attempting to ameliorate what is turning into a national and international disaster.  You have to make a choice, in which not making a choice is a choice in itself.  It’s the same as it was living in Northern Ireland during the Troubles: the situation was dangerous, and if you had knowledge that might help the authorities then you would have to accept that your duty would put you in danger.  In just the same way involvement in the Word Wars that my parents and grandparents had to endure, put them in danger too.  Dangerous times, and god knows we are living in dangerous times now, call for positive action.

We can see that the growing opposition to Trump and so-called policies in the United States and around the world is an active statement that many people have accepted their responsibilities to hold power to account.  This is one of those times when inaction is the deadliest action of them all.

So, what am I doing, this time round?  Well, it basically comes down to reading the Guardian, shouting at the television, watching American late night political comedy on YouTube and typing futile screeds against the fading of the light!

Stuck (by my own choice) in a wealthy, sunny corner of Spain it is easy to forget that the rest of the world is going through a crisis and, in some ways, this period of time is a little like the so-called Phony-War before the actual war of 1939-45.  My Dad was in London when war was declared and remembered the sirens sounding soon after the announcement and . . . nothing happened: no enemy planes, no bombs, nothing!  Obviously that quiescence was soon to develop into the bloodiest conflict that the world had ever seen, but the immediate result of the challenge to German Nazi power was nothing.

You might say that quite a lot has happened over the last few years.  The banking crisis has weakened economies, and the paucity of cells filled by the perpetrators of one of the greatest pieces of financial fraud and duplicity ever has weakened the very concept of democratic accountability.  Governments have poured public money into the banking sector with the result that the very bankers who caused the crisis are now even more secure in their inflated pensions and high lifestyle.  Bonuses are back, the stock exchanges are booming and people are getting poorer.  This should be a time when implementing the ideals of socialism is seen as something that can take people out of poverty and make a fairer society – instead of which we see the politics of inequality and prejudice trumping any humanistic ideal.

You might think that, as a retired person with a secure pension, I am one of those people ‘sitting pretty’, but I am most certainly not.  As a British national living abroad in an EU country, I have seen the relative value of my pension fall by some 20% as the reality of Brexit gets closer and starts having a real effect.  I have the threat of punitive action by the government in which I reside when Article 50 is finally invoked and I find myself as a foreign citizen, living in a state which can, at a moment’s notice cancel my healthcare, and revoke my right to stay in the country that I now call home.  And that is just the local, Spanish situation.  Let us not consider the full ramifications of the Oaf in the White House!

We are all (including the country of origin) living in what the Chinese curse calls “interesting times” and what we do in response to those interesting times will define the conditions of development for the next generation, or indeed the next generations.  We all have to step up to the plate and ‘do’ something.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Every day, when I come back home from my daily swim, I turn towards Toni and ask, “Carcel?” which is the Spanish for, “Prison?”  This does not refer to my esteemed partner, but rather to the multitude of miscreants who were, are, may be members of the Spanish conservative party called PP.
PP is systemically corrupt and corrupting.  The number of members of PP, or ex-members of that degenerate party who have been or are in the process of being condemned for corruption is astonishing.  Astonishing, that is, in terms of a British view of the political situation in Spain: whatever you Brits who might be reading this think about your government, you have to come to Spain at the moment to see real corruption in operation.  Teresa (or however you spell her name) May might be a fairly worthless piece of self-regarding, opportunistic, political self-seeking cowardice, but compared to the filth-in-depth that “rules” Spain, she is of thrice-refined gold!
For what seems like years (and actually is) we, in Spain have been watching a slow implosion of decency, as member after member of the ruling party of PP has been accused (with what appears to be 24 carat gold evidence) of astonishing culpability in a systematic (I make no apology for repeating the idea) defrauding of the public purse of this country. I have watched in half-fascinated, guilt-ridden disbelief as this country seems to accept venality as a necessary component of government.  Now, at long last, my repeated question is being answered in the affirmative.

We are starting to see a sad (from their point of view!) procession of lying criminal thieves take the drive to their cells.  Unfortunately, they are all going to prisons in Spain, and not as I wanted, an open dormitory prison in the deep south of the US of A!  But at least they are going.  God knows, there are positive armies of potential inmates to join them, if the justice system keeps this up!
What is fascinating from my point of view is exactly what the ruling party is actually going to do now.  The criminals who have been put away have deep and historical knowledge of exactly what the good and the great within the party have been doing over the years.  They may be in prison, but they must know that if they cared to open their mouths and tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, then they would be joined in secure accommodation!  So, how is PP going to keep their mouths closed?  What sort of offer can they make to these people who have been used to the high life and now find themselves in rather more cramped conditions?  Even in the relaxed open-type prison that we have seen illustrated on the television for some of the more highly placed thieves, they are going to be chaffing thinking about all the resources that they have salted away and which they will not be able to use!
All of these proven liars keep harping on about their innocence, they haven’t even the good grace to admit their manifold mistakes and thefts, they will never appreciate what they have done until all the money (with interest) is taken from them.  They have shown that they have nothing but contempt for the people whom they have defrauded; their only god is cash and that is where must hit them.  Between the lot of them, they have probably stolen enough money to build tens of schools, hospitals, parks, swimming pools, libraries: to finance the building of roads, bridges, tramways, metros, you name it.  Instead of which, these bloated thieves have raided the public purse and enriched themselves at the expense of the people of Spain.
Watch this space to see exactly how the ruling party manages to mitigate the sentences of their corrupt friends.  The one thing that I am certain about, is that these miscreants will never serve their full sentences.  PP will find a way to make their lives just that little bit different from those of the “ordinary” criminals.  Watch this space indeed!

On a more personal basis, I am still trying to teach my fingers to deal with the placement of the shift and return keys on the new computer.  It is amazing how difficult trying to come to terms with a new stretch for the little finger can be when years of previous typing are working against new skills!  The computer, however, is far too expensive for me to do anything other than adapt!

I have also reverted to old habits, as this typing is my usual displacement activity.  Next week (and frighteningly near) is another test in my Spanish class.  I should be cramming with a desperation that is a function of my lack of specific grammatical knowledge in the areas of language that the next two units demands, however I fear that the relationship is something of the inverse variety than anything useful.

I could always write poems!

Monday, February 13, 2017

A New Toy

There is a price to be paid for being picky!
The accumulated money gained from delaying my grasping hands getting a spendthrift hold on the cash has now been splashed out on a computer.  A new computer.  “Why do you need a new computer,” a friend asked.  I responded that I didn’t understand her question.  For me the key red light in her enquiry was the casual use of the word “need” I have spent my life combating those people who can use that word as a form of fiscal assault and I am immune to the implied condemnation.
I have suffered for this new machine. 
Which is to say that I have done precisely nothing, except fret of course.
The specs. of the computer are so high-end that the model that I wanted did not appear to be available in Spain or indeed in any surrounding European country including the UK and Germany.  The only available market that sold what I wanted was in the US of A, so I bought it there.
That was the start of the story.  For the first four days after purchase my computer moved through California, the continental United States and the Atlantic Ocean at the rate of 1,500 Km a day.  And then it got to Madrid.
From the 23rd of January to the 10th of February it was held in customs and went nowhere.  OK, they did have to get in touch with me and explain that there would be duties to be paid, but the delays were inexcusable.  Especially for someone like myself whose life-blood is the use and abuse of gadgets!
I am, of course, inclined to be more mellow now that my highly expensive piece of technological bling is at the end of my fingertips, but it does not take much for me to rile myself up again at the thought of the denial of something which represents the culminating perk of a working life!
The USP or at least one of the features that I like, is that the laptop configuration is only one aspect of the computer, as the keyboard is able to be rotated 360 degrees, transforming the machine into a sort of tablet.  The keys are backlit, though dark at the present time of typing: the SSD is 1TB and all the other bits and pieces are equally impressive and, as yet terra incognita.
Well, that was easy enough: I’ve turned the backlight for the keys on.  Something of a triumph.  Petty, but a triumph.
Now on to the aspects that are not quite as positive, or so easy to resolve.  The layout of the keyboard is problematical.  The usual hunt for odd keys is absolutely normal in any new machine; what is not so easy to cope with is the actual physical layout of some of the keys.  The shift key for the right side is a single key placed further to the right than I am used to.  The enter/return key for the right hand is directly abutting the backslash key!   An odd choice and one which is going to take some time to get used to.  But get used to it I will.  The computer is far too expensive to find it a difficulty!
I hope that this will be the first of a new series of inconsequential blogs in which I will refine my technique: whether it be for stylistic niceties in English or in the decreasing number of times I push the wrong keys!