Monday 30th January
I heard someone in the media, over the weekend, slagging off the EU. Nothing new there. It's a British pastime. We've been doing it for 45 years. We're practically professionals at it. He said 'Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain were all 'fucked' and just 'hanging on'. The EU is dead. It's days are numbered' he proclaimed.
I do think it a tad arrogant to believe that just because Britain is pulling out, the EU will now implode. But worse than that, I think once you describe four nations as 'being fucked', you've pretty much lost any intellectual credibility your point may have had. I was disappointed. I liked him. I've now struck him off my Christmas card list. His loss.
Well as I'm in Spain I thought I'd stick up for it. Here are twelve new, and old, impressive facts you may not know.
1, Spain is five times bigger than England and with less people, might account for why road rage is an unknown phenomenon here and why cyclists are shown respect by motorist.
2, While most Spanish are Roman Catholics their attitude to the church is mixed. Unfortunately, the church sided with Franco, who murdered 200,000 of his fellow countrymen, banned women from voting, having bank accounts and banned flamenco. Many haven’t forgiven the Catholic Church for that biblical sized public relations cock up.
3, Spaniards live longer than Brits, and their pensions are three times greater that ours (In terms of comparative pay)
4, Most ex-pats are not pensioners, only 25% are, the rest are families.
5, Spain is a 'safe' country. You're six times less likely to be the victim of a crime than in Britain.
6, Spain was one of the first countries to sanction gay marriage.
7, Prostitution is legal, which makes if safer for sex workers, and they pay tax.
Ladies who ply their trade on the street must wear Hi-Vis jackets.
8. It's common for Spanish children to live with their parents well into their late twenties. It's illegal to throw them out, or disinherit them.
9, Spain was the first country in the world where wind power became the largest source of energy.
10, Spanish female entrepreneurs make up almost half of all new business in Spain. 800,000 new businesses between 2008 – 2013.
11, Spain invented the Mop & Bucket and stapler.
12, And finally Spain has the 13th largest economy in the world.
(Long way off then from being fucked, Mr Baron)
Sources: Crime stats. The NationMaster.com. The Ghosts of Spain, by Giles Tremlett. Centre of economic research.
Thursday 26th January
Imagine this. You've forgotten to buy the spam for this evenings meal. You decide to nip down the shop and grab a can before the guests arrive. You quickly don your flame retardant suit, grab your crash helmet, and make for the car.
Now let me stop there, because I might have lost some of you. Some might be thinking, Spam! You kidding mate? I wouldn't be seen dead serving spam to my dinner guests. For those that stumbled at that point, feel free to replace spam with some other tinned meat favourite for the sake of this hypothetical example and move on.
Right, now, the smarter ones amongst you are thinking, 'flame retardant suit and crash helmet! You're mad? Why would I wear a flame retardant suit and crash helmet. I'm nipping to Tesco's, not doing a lap at Silverstone? I know, but I should point out that, for example, in 2003, 2478 people climbed into their cars and never climbed out again, of anything, ever. None, apparently, were wearing flame retardant suits or crash helmets. Imagine how many lives 'might' have been saved if they had. There were also over 14,500 car drivers and occupants taken to hospital that year after being involved in a road accident, none of them were wearing a flame retardant suit and or a crash helmet. How many of those people were turned into dribbling human cabbages? or burnt unrecognisably? Flame retardant suits and crash helmets can save lives. Fact. Especially the lives of little children which, as we all know, are far more important than older peoples lives. Dunno why, they just are.
So, will you invest in some life saving driving attire tomorrow? I'm guessing no. You'll not, for the same reason I won't, I don't want to look a twat behind the wheel. Yes it might make sense, might even save lives, but I'll risk it. I don't want people pointing and sniggering. I don't want to go out and find kids have scrawled the word 'tosser' on my car.
So why then, when it comes to riding a push bike, people frekin love squeezing themselves into spandex. Don the obligatory wrap around sunglasses, - regardless if the sun's out of not (we've all seen 'em) - Wear those pointless fingerless gloves and shoes you can't walk in only pedal in. Then slip on elbow protectors and finally crown themselves with a Styrofoam helmet. Which, I'll be the first to admit, is a wonderful packaging material for transporting a 'teas made' but pants at protecting your head against a 1.7 ton car.
The Cyclists association claims the average cyclist will have one accident in 10,000 hours of cycling. That means you could cycle around the globe five times, taking twenty eight years to do it and still not have an accident. Statistically speaking you're half as likely to end up in hospital after falling out of bed then in a cycle accident. Two million people throw their leg over a bike ever day in Britain. That's 730 million bike trips a year and yet, on average, one hundred cyclists die on our roads a year. That's a tiny number.
Okay, so why am I pointing this out to you? Well a couple on this campsite 'dress' to cycle. They'll say, if I asked, they're taking all necessary safety precautions. So they get kitted out in their high vis pink and yellow lycra body suits and matching his & hers helmets. I don't buy it. I know what's going on, we all know. This is about fashion and self image, bugger all to do with safely. They want to look the part. It's important to them, and that's why I'm so dismissive. If no one put on all this clobber, would they? No, course not. I perhaps wouldn't mind so much if the guy didn't have such a superior look on his fat mug when he cycles past me in the mornings.
In Spain it's a legal requirement to wear a cycle helmet. This, even after a Spanish transport safety report said, they could find no statistical evidence to suggest the wearing of a Styrofoam helmet had any benefits to the cyclist. However, this being Spain, there are exceptions. You don't have to wear one in a built up area. Nor when cycling up a hill nor, oddly, when it's a hot day. Which is pretty much every day.
Tuesday 24th January
Is honesty really the best policy?
Are you honest? It's not an easy question to answer honestly. On a scale of one to ten: one being as saintly as Mother Teresa and ten having the name nickname 'fingers', I'd rate myself a three.
I'm asking because the campsite has installed a new Wi-Fi system at great cost to themselves no doubt. I now have instant access to the rest of the world from my caravan. Excellent. I feel in command of my destiny once again. I don't know about you, but I do start to fret when I have no Wi-Fi connection. At last I can check out Melania Trump's new jewellery collection on the White House web site. Hang on, no I can't. I forgot, those interfering White House busy bodies took it down. How's the first lady supposed to flog her stuff? (Note to self, check to see if she has an eBay account)
Anyhoo, on the day of the switch over I was given a new password, as the system wouldn't recognise my old one. They handed me, free of charge, an eleven day pass worth €15. They said, “for the inconvenience caused”. That was mid November, I'm still surfing the web. The password hasn't expired. Clearly something is outta whack! And now I feel a tad guilty. So what should I do? The honest thing would be to walk into reception and tell them, the thing is, that'll cost me money and besides, honesty isn't an absolute. It's a variable, the parameters of which alter with time, circumstances, perception and situations. Trump proved this yesterday when his spokesperson introduced the concept of 'alternative facts' instead of going with the truth, or better still, reality.
This was left abandoned on the beach. It had come over fromAfrica.
Here's another example. When a bunch of honourable gentlemen were caught deliberately fiddling their expenses, the inland revenue, and the treasury! they were allowed to pay back the money - there were a couple of exceptions - and then allowed to apologise to HM Customs and Revenues for their tax 'oversights'. This is in stark contrast to a single mother on benefits, who does a bit of cleaning on the side to make ends meet, and gets dobbed in by a neighbour. Does she get the option to apologise to the benefits office? Oddly enough, the nation didn't judge the honourable gentleman too harshly for abusing the system, as, with just a couple of exceptions, they all got reselected.
So, is honesty flexible?
The Bible, and I doubt you'd find a better authority on the subject, states 'Thou shalt not steal'. It's a commandment. Simple, direct and to the point. Many see this as the ultimate moral yardstick. No room for misunderstanding. Well almost, but not quite. The actual commandment was interpreted by early Jewish religious leaders to apply to the theft of slaves. God apparently was okay with slavery - he just didn't want you steal your neighbours. Also the phrase 'Thou shalt not', never appeared until King James had the Bible rewritten. So how can we be sure it's the definitive authority on the subject of honestly?
The law answers this question thusly: Theft is the taking of another person's property without permission or consent, with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it. Well that seems crystal clear. But if we accept that, we might all be in a spot of bother. I mean, who hasn't helped themselves to a bit of office stationary, or taken home something from their place of work considering it a perk? Or tweaked their expense claims to cover a Mars bar, or maybe, even walked out of a restaurant knowing the wine wasn't paid for? Or a million other small ways we get one up on the world. The law makers, our government, would consider you dishonest. Which is a bit rich coming from one of the most dishonest, secretive, misleading and mistrusted organisation in Britain today. I've said before, a sane person's default position, with regard to the government, is not to believe a single word they tell you.
I reckon we probably all draw our own line in the sand as to what is, and what isn’t honest. So hopefully you won't think ill of me when I tell you: I've decided to say nothing.
Friday 19th January
A personal perspective.
Our illustrious leader, Herr May, is gambling on a hard exit: fingers crossed. She's handing in our club membership to the EU. I can't help wondering if she'll have the same trouble I did when I tried to cancel my Readers Digest membership. She'll have to keep writing to Brussels telling 'em she's cancelled the subscription, meanwhile, the Bank of England will carry on paying our membership fee because someone forgot to cancel the direct debit. Sods law.
Sadly for us, and maybe you, exit means we'll no longer be Citizens of Europe. We'll revert back to being just subjects of the Queen, how wonderfully medieval. This also means we'll eventually be subject to EU visa limitations. Obviously your two week hol's on the Costa del packet, is safe, but staying longer than thirty days (90 days EU maximum) you'll need permission. It will almost certainly stop us British from freely roaming the European countryside as Hazel and I have done these past six years. And that's a shame because I've thoroughly enjoyed the friendship, good will, and hospitality, we've both been shown on our travels. Having wandered around 30 odd EU countries, I do think there's an awful lot we could learn from them. We should've cherry picked the best European ideas, but I guess that ship has sailed.
The Queen sends her own personal message to Ms May.
What I can report on is that Europeans don't seem to fear the EU the way some British do. Sure, it has it's critics, but those focus on the issues surrounding the refugee problem. They're not, as many British are, fundamentally opposed to the idea of unity. They understand the concept of strength in numbers. They know, working co-operatively, they can achieve more than if they work alone. Of course, like anything, the EU is far from perfect, much like our government in fact, but, inexplicably, many British think it should have been.
So what happens now, to Britain I mean? To answer that question I'll remind you of what happened in 73 when we joined. I remember the day well.......... absolutely bugger all! The sun came up, I had my breakfast, went to work and then watched telly in the evening. We all went about our lives as if nothing had changed, and it hadn't. The changes were subtle and spread across 44 years. And that, I suspect, is exactly what will happen once we leave. We'll notice very little. The NHS will not get wads of money, VAT will not be abolished (introduced to pay for our membership) and I doubt we'll all be saying, “fuck, where'd all the immigrants go?” Because, and let's be honest here, that was the single biggest reason why Britain voted out.
I know some voted out because they didn't want to be ruled by 'faceless bureaucrats' in Brussels. But I'd remind those, that Britain had the second largest number of Euro MEP's in Brussels and we had a veto, so we were actually well represented and armed. But misinformation often clouds the truth. Least that's what I've always found.
Some think that without the shackles of the EU, Britannia will unleash its full potential. It will become a power again. Well good luck with that matey. The world's moved on. During the industrial revolution Britain manufactured a quarter of the world's consumption of just about everything....... today our biggest export is Fisherman Friends Lozenges. (sold in 56 countries) And yet, amazingly, out of the 200 odd nations on the planet, we're the fifth richest! That's impressive. Even more so when you realise we've managed that lofty position because of, or in spit of, being a club member. But to assume we're suddenly going to be a force to be reckoned with, is quite delusional.
No, all we'll notice is this, as from today, whenever anything positive happens to Britain the brexiteers will claim it as a victory, and whenever anything shite happens, the remain camp will blame them. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth. I voted to remain for a number of jolly good reasons I'll not bore you with, but perhaps the biggest is this: I have this feeling that if we could only see, for ourselves, this tiny blue planet spinning in the vast, black void of space, we'd realise we're all in this together.
Earth, it's where humanity lives, though you'd be hard pressed to think we're all the same species at times.
Wednesday 18th Jan 2017
The Britsh Test.
This is from an earlier entry.
If you are a regular reader you’ll know I came from a north London working class background. You'll also know, hopefully, I'm no snob. While my Dad never owned a whippet or wore a flat cap, he did smoke Players Weights, worked on the buses and we did have a fag machine in our lounge. I know, amazing right?
I needed to prove my working class credentials before you read on.
It's been often suggested that people wanting to make Britain their home should be subject to some type of 'British' entry quiz, which could be a fun idea if televised, the losers being packed off to some dreadful corner of the world, but in reality, I think it's a daft idea. It's the kind of suggestion that excites some politicians: an opportunity to curry favour with right wing voters. Personally, I see it as having no practical application. Besides, if I were asked to name the last five British monarchs by a UK immigration official at Calais, they'd not let me set foot on the ferry. I've no bloody idea. However, I can make out a first class case for quizzing those leaving Britain. The idea: to weed out those lacking the necessary... well, let's just say.... the social skills and finer graces required to represent us British abroad. After all, we don't want buffoons wandering around Europe giving us a bad name, do we? Our standing in Europe has already been besmirched by football hooligans and drunk girls lying on the streets of Ibiza, flashing their knickers. And then Louts, on a stag party to eastern Europe, urinated over a famous stature erected in Riga in memory of Latvian children killed by the Russian occupation. (It made front page news there). So, enough bad press already. Time we upped our image.
Nothing nasty would happen to those that failed. Their passports would be burned, obviously, and they'd be shipped off to a classic windswept British seaside resort. I'm sure they'd love it. Lots of all day English breakfasts, kiss me quick hats, and Watneys red barrel.
Before I continue, I must tell you a quick antidote. Whilst we were returning to our campsite in France one evening we passed two old French chaps sat out on a veranda. They offered us a cheery evening salutation, which we returned. One then said; Ah! La Roastbeefs! Now some see that term, as an insult. Personally, as food based insults go it's a bit lame. I'd take far more offence at being called a cabbage as it implies a lack of motor skills and higher brain activity. Insulting a person based on what they might or might not eat on a Sunday is, frankly, juvenile, but that’s bloody froggies for you.
Okay, back to my point. Yesterday I popped down to the pool bar looking for a decent Wi-Fi connection. At one table sat a group of British women in bikinis. Two of them sporting rather elaborate tattoos the type referred to as “tramp stamps”. As I sat down, one lifted her pint and downed it's contents, with all the grace of a miner clearing soot from his throat after spending a nightshift down at the pit face. She then called her son 'an annoying twat'!. This because he asked for a fizzy beverage. Judging by his behaviour at being refused one, it was actually a pretty apt description. Running around, and between, the tables legs was a posse of small kids who all seemed to enjoy the same name: Oy u!.
“Oy u! come here.”
“Oy u! want some chips?”
“Oy u! stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about.” Which is the most confusing thing you could say to a screaming kid since they've already found something to cry about. But hey ho.
A few meters away several young, pink and rotund teenage girls, their daughters I concluded, were congregated around the pool. They all had their hair pulled back in that classic 'Essex facelift' mode.
“Oy Chantell, u gunna sun bave?”.
“Naaaaaar fuck off” she groaned, like a seal that had been harpooned.
Safe to say: These would all have all failed my test!
Saturday 14th January
Some days it pays to stay in bed.
Did you get through yesterday unscathed? I mean you survived right? I ask because it was on a Friday the 13th, at school, many years ago, that I was first caned. Not that I was caned a lot, only twice in fact.
Back when I was a kid it was perfectly acceptable for an old bloke who hadn't been introduced to your parents to bend you over and cane your arse in the privacy of his office. Nobody saw anything wrong in that... but then, for years everyone one thought Jimmy Saville was just an old eccentric duffer.
I say twice, but that's not counting the times I was rapped over the knuckles with a ruler. Or spanked over the knee of a female teacher when I was six or seven. Nor the numerous times I had to duck from a flying blackboard rubber. And before you ask, no! It wasn't an approved school nor was this the dark ages. This was just a regular school in the swinging sixties. I should also say that I wasn't a tear-away, I was one of the better behaved little boys in class. Look how angelic I looked.
Days when I had a hairline I could be proud of.
The first time I was caned was for the heinous crime of pinching the swimming teacher's buns. That's not a euphemism for anything sexual by the way, they were actual buns. My defence, 'that I had found them abandoned in the changing cubical' was true. However that fell on deaf ears as did my claim that possession is nine tenths of the law. I was caned. Now if that isn't a case against corporal punishment in schools, I don't know what would be. A small hungry boy finds two cream filled buns and eats them! The price? He's caned by one old chap while another old chap, the swimming teacher, looks on. Safe to say, I never touched anyone else’s buns at school again, that's not counting a brief fumble with Christine Bailey, but that best left for another type of book.
The second time I was caned was for letting off a stink bomb in class. I should make it clear that, technically speaking, I didn't let it off, the teacher did when he stepped on it. On this occasion I took my punishment like a man, as was pointed out to me, I shouldn’t have rolled it under his foot in the first place.
The reason I've laid bare my misdeeds is that I know not to take Friday the 13th for granted.
Yesterday was the 13th. We awoke as normal. Well I did, Haze was anything but. One side of her face had swollen up. I screamed! Noooo, not really. I would've liked to simply for comedic effect, but I doubt I'd get a cooked meal for the rest of the week. So I just gasped. It appears she has a tooth abscess. There’s nothing can be done, other than to take antibiotics. Luckily we carry them, so she immediately put herself on a course.
In the light of her disfigurement, I offered to cook breakfast as any concerned husband would. I was more than happy to go to all the trouble of preparing my signature dish, French toast, while she nursed herself. All was going well until the gas died. It refused to re-light. I then spent the next 40 mins, in my dressing gown, with bed hair, investigating why. I discovered that an unrepairable fault had simply 'manifested' itself overnight in the gas regulator. It now needs to be replaced.
“These things come in threes you know”. Haze said philosophically. Well that's not strictly true. What she actually said was, “dizth fings cum in freeze oo no”. Communication was difficult for her. Once breakfast was over I turned on my, less then a year old cutting edge 3G, android phone which, because of roaming charges, I don't actually use as a phone, all I got was a spinning Vodafone symbol. It spun and did nothing else. Stuck in some kind of confused loop. I then couldn't switch it off. I had to take out the battery and reinsert it. This I did several times but still nothing.
Isn't life amazing? You go to bed looking forward to the next day. The following morning, and an hour into it, it turns into a car crash. No oven, no phone, and Haze looks like she's taken a left hook from Joe Frazier.
Obviously, I’ve not listed those in order of importance.
Thursday 12th. January
Seriously, this does have something to do with our travels.
The Government are blaming the NHS cash crisis on too many people using hospitals. Well I can see the logic behind that. Fewer people might put less strain on things. Trouble is, that's hospitals for you. They do tend to act as something of a magnet for people with nails sticking out of their heads. It's the same queer logic behind opening say, a funeral parlour. The minute you put a sign up, saying 'funerals to go' people are apt to bring you their dead. That's sods law. So people will stagger into A&E bleeding, or arrive in an ambulance having just been dragged out of a piece of farming machinery looking for a bit of TLC.
I think, if the Tories want to save a few bob, and this is only a suggestion, they could issue us all with that game, 'Operation'. It might encourage more people to embrace the whole DIY approach to their own health care. I've extracted many a Charlie horse painlessly.
(Okay the buzzer did go off a few times)
They argue we're visiting hospitals for petty things. Well I think we should be the judge of what's petty and what isn't. I mean, few of us have first aid skills. I'd much rather go to an expert and have him take a look at me than have a mate say, 'er, Phil, I've an idea how we can remove that'. No, we want a professional to take a look at us when we're leaking blood or worse.
But there's a wider issue here. The fear of illness is far more real today, simply because we know so much more about it. Once upon a time you caught something, had no bloody idea what it was, put some lard on it and a week later you either keeled over dead! or survived. Today we're constantly being updated about a whole variety of illnesses that could see us off, without us actually doing anything to catch them. Magazines are full of stories about people who've suffered some minor ailment, ignored it, and then woke up in hospital, a week later, limbless. We've upped the stakes. The media is full of it too. Cancer charities advertise on TV constantly. We all know we're going to die, now, we have a good idea by what means. So can we really be blamed for wanting to seek medical advice asap? I don't think so.
Sweden has a brill idea. There you pop into your local chemist, take a ticket and then wait for your number to be called. You then see a pharmacist, in a private booth. If he or she thinks you should see a doctor, they'll pack you off to one. If it can be fixed with an off the shelf medication they'll supply it. It frees up the doctors time and hospital finances. Europe has some great ideas. We should cherry pick the best.
Holland, has healthcare nailed. It's one of the best in the world and yet, oddly, it's profit based. Everyone pays the same in medical insurance, regardless. If a persons medical bills are greater than the insurance provides, then the tax payer picks up the tab. It's the best of both systems. Holland, since 2005, has been at top of the 'Euro health consumer index'.
Our government says that NHS cost are getting out of hand. We can't afford it. Treatments are getting more and more expensive. The NHS is becoming a bottomless pit. And that has convinced some, yet the truth is, France, Germany, Italy, and The Netherlands all spend more than Britain on the heath of its citizens. We're just above Hungary. And remember our system isn't free. We pay for it.
A decent healthcare system should be a fundamental goal of any modern caring society. I know the most famous Tory of all, Mrs Thatcher, said there was no such thing as society, but she was wrong! The Tories have always claimed, 'the NHS is safe in their hands'. Believed that, is really only a measure of ones gullibility.
(Recently The Tories have asked the NHS to make £20 billion pounds worth of 'efficiency' savings, Ed)
Tuesday 9th Jan
This shrinking world.
Some of you might agree that wandering around a foreign city sight seeing, tackling the language, ogling monuments and of course experiencing the sights and sounds for which the city is famous for, smacks of excitement and even romance. You may have only read or seen pictures of these places, now you're there to experience the exotic yourself. The memories and photos you'll take away will now be your own. Sounds wonderful, right? Problem is, I'm here to tell you it's not. Sorry.
I've only really enjoyed being a tourist once in my life. I went to America about 30 years ago to see family. My uncle and aunt moved state-side, taking my cousins with them, when I was a wee boy. By the the time I met up with them again in New York they all had wives, husbands and kids of their own: all of whom thought me a novelty. My cousins children would invite their friends over and get me to say something 'typically British'. I'd say, “Golly, I could murder a cup of tea” or “Gosh! that's frightfully interesting”. Looking back, I was more Hugh Grant than Hugh Grant. I had old ladies come up to me in the Bronx and ask if I'd say something just so they could giggle at my Britishness. I was, all too briefly, a celebrity. I loved it. However, being a tourist today isn't like that at all.
I've discovered that the romantic notion of being a tourist doesn't exist any more, it died out in the mid 70's. Today, tourism is an industry. Its purpose is to move flocks of mildly bewildered people around the globe and then whisk them back home again and all on a budget. Because this business concept has been so successful, the camera welding hordes are not really that welcome any more, just their money. I don't blame locals for wishing tourists would all bugger off and leave them in peace, I'd be just like that. Who wants tourists clogging up everything? I'm sure the Venetians would agree with that, what with 18,000 tourists a DAY pouring into Venice. It's become a living museum, an enterprise, a business within itself, not a place to live and grow old in.
In Paris they make no-bones about it. Christ! they don't even like their fellow countrymen visiting the city, let alone us foreigners. And take my word for it, they have a subtle way of letting you know. Waiters especially. Ordinary Parisians don't acknowledge your existence full stop.
But I have to ask, is it even worth being a tourist? I mean, the world is fast becoming homogenised. Gone are the borders. Nations are now seamlessly blending with one another. The global franchised market gives the world a look of familiarity and it's all unstoppable, driven by economics and politics. We are becoming one world.
Today a city, is a city, is a city. They're all overcrowded, congested, polluted and full of tourists looking for something which really isn't there any more. That's been replaced with something packaged. Taylor made for the tourist. Yes, sure, there are some nice buildings, nice monuments and grand history, which are all worth looking at, but the problem is you can't get anywhere near them for the queues of fellow tourists. And if, like me and Haze, you're not prepared to queue with a zillion Japanese, you'll miss out. I've a long list of famous building I've not seen the interior of, because of the queues outside them.
Point in question. I remember visiting Split in Croatia. The old town has some nice features, but that’s all. On the bus ride into the city we passed unkempt tyre depots, garages, retail outlets, impromptu parking lots on abandoned waste land, and blocks of unpleasant looking flats. All things you can see back home or anywhere else in the world. The historic old town was just full of eager locals out to part you from your money.
Still, don't take my word for it, join the queues and take a look for yourself.
Friday 6th Jan
I mentioned last week one would never know Christmas was almost upon us here. There were no familiar signs. Shops were not decorated, not a Christmas tree or a brussel sprout in sight and, more importantly, very few shoppers. I remarked this wasn't the commercial Christmas I was used to.
Wednesday, we had cause to go to Media Mart, a giant version of PC world. We found it heaving. The store was a hive of frantic retail activity, with long queues at the tills. It put me in mind of the opening scene in a disaster movie where the townsfolk, knowing a killer mist is on its way, strip the shops bare save for sun cream and patio furniture.
It was Haze who pointed out, as I fought to grab a hard drive from the shelves before they all vanished, that Thursday, tomorrow is, 'The Three Kings festival' here. This is the last vestiges of the Spanish Christmas seasonal celebrations. It's also the time when, traditionally, gifts are exchanged. So perhaps these were the Christmas shoppers that were thin on the ground before Christmas?
Three Kings day is actually the high point of the Spanish Christmas calender. Last night we heard car horns blaring and distant fireworks. There was a local party we could've gone to, but we're partied out. Around here, as in many other parts of Spain, three chaps dress up as mock biblical kings. They're ferried around the streets on the back of a tractor, or in a trailer, and throw sweets to the children to encourage them to follow them.
Now, I can see that ain't going to work in the UK. I can already see queues of worried parents forming. Most parents do their level best to dissuade their kids from following old men who give them sweets, I know my mum did. I'm pretty sure someone would call for it to be banned, saying it was sending out the wrong message. They'd get some mouthpiece to tell us just how many kiddie fiddlers there are in the world, which would worry parents even more. Fear is a vicious circle. They'd perhaps gain a small victory when it's announced; The Three Wise Men will now have to be checked against the sex offenders register. Such are the levels of UK paranoia.
Not sure it's PC anymore to black up.
Back in Spain, once the three wise men have gathered up all the children they haul them off, with their parents, to a nearby restaurant to hand out Christmas gifts, they then have a big party. Sounds all jolly good fun to me.
Of course it's all bunkum. Religious Bunkum, the worse kind in my book. The story goes, that around two thousand years ago in Jerusalem, three wise guys stumbled around in the dark looking for a stable. Personally, it doesn’t strike me as particularly wise walking around in the middle of the night, but then I'm not Jewish, nor a king. They came, the story goes, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gold I can understand, however frankincense and myrrh is actually tree sap, what Mary thought of that, the bible makes no mention.
Fact is, there are over 450 English translations of the bible. In the original the three kings didn't get a look in. There was no mention of them, only three gifts. The Three Magi (astronomers) later appeared and became Kings in a more recent version of the bible. I think that one was ordered by Henry the eighth. Anyhoo, later, King James wrote another version and this is the one people keep spouting from today as though it's THE gospel. Although the New Revised Version, published in 1989, is gaining solid ground.
Of course, it's always worth remembering that the original bible was written in Aramaic, a complex language which had no singular core, it was basically a collection of dialects. It took the very clever Greeks years, to decrypt it.
The bible and the stories in it, have all been shaped by kings, theologians and historians over two thousand years, and frankly morphed into, well who knows what?
Still, I don't set my store out by it.
About 18 months ago, the then Public health minister, Jane Ellison, said, and I quote, "Protecting and improving children's health is an urgent priority, and this is just one measure we plan to introduce to help achieve that goal”. Well I think we can all agree that's good to hear. Especially when you realise Britain lags behind Europe in child welfare and poverty. So there's a ton of work to be done. Glad she's rolling up her sleeves and getting stuck into it.
So what's the measure she's talking about? Perhaps a return to free school meals? Or a return to the health checks at school? Or maybe a major new Children's hospital? Any of those I'd support. But nope, none of those! So what was so urgent, back then, that she felt the need to bring the full weight of the British legal system to bear on it? What's gotten so out of control that Ms Ellison felt some parents needed to be hauled before the courts, made to face their accusers and defend their actions? Well it turns out, she was referring to smoking in your car while your kiddies are in the back. Clearly then, this a huge problem.
“The only effective way”, she went on, “to protect children is to prevent them coming into contact with smoke in the first place. Exposure is a serious health hazard and a significant number of children say they are exposed.” So what better way to combat this than bring out an unworkable and practically unenforceable law? Brilliant! Stroke of frekin genius!
I have to say, there's still no documented actual evidence that 'occasional' exposure to cigarette smoke is even harmful. Lots of misinformation, but no actual proof. In fact It's still something of a mystery, the World Heath Organisation admitted, that while Eastern Europeans and the Chinese have the worst smoking habits in the world, it's the Americans who suffer the highest rates of lung cancer. And they're 16th in the smoking league table, so go figure that one out.
Still, I'm not suggesting it's a good idea to smoke around your kids. It's not. But at the end of the day, they're your kids, and you'll not thank anyone for telling you how to bring 'em up, and definitely not the government. Especially since we all breath in a cocktail of pollutants every day, carbon monoxide, lead, ozone, sulphuric dioxide, nitrogen oxide to name just the popular ones. Perhaps the government should tackle those and leave parents to bring up their kids. I mean, it does smack of big brother, and this is doubly odd because the Tories have always been opposed to the nanny state. But today they seem more than happy to embrace the concept and even back it with laws. They could try and educate through an ad campaign. You could shame parents into seeing sense. But no! they'd rather punish than educate.
But hang on! Let's go back a bit. What did Ms Ellison also say? and I quote, 'a significant number of children say they are exposed.' Now hang on a minute, is she suggesting kids have been ringing her up at the Department of Health and dobbing in their mums and dads? The little fuckers.
(He's off, mad bugger. Ed)
If so, I think she should publish a list of their names so parents can decide if they want to keep them or put them up for adoption. She said, 'it's a significant number'. So more than ten then? Maybe a thousand? Perhaps there's millions of kids whingeing on to her about breathing in a little fag smoke on the way to school. Perhaps the little blighters should whinge to their mums and dads instead, or open a frekin window. Or better still, walk to school! Get some frekin exercise. That'll do more for their long term health than getting legal on their parents.
When I was a kid I'd sit nightly, on the floor, watching TV, through a haze of fag smoke. Both my parents smoked, as did all of my three older siblings.
Fuck! Today, I could have the lot banged up for child cruelty. Still I guess that's progress for you.
Welcome to 2017
Happy new year to you all.
How was your Christmas? Good I hope. Ours was excellent. Dinner was first rate. The chief was given carte blanche to do what he liked and consequently put on a splendid Christmas repast. It was unrecognisable as Christmas dinner! Not a brussel sprout in sight. We had four or five starters, a main course, which was pork chunks and chips, and a mixture of little sweets, might sound pants, but it really wasn't. Remember it was only a couple of years ago we were served cabbage soup! The only people who eat cabbage soup are Russian dissidents in the Gulag Archipelago!
After, around twenty of us then played and sung into the wee small hours. We were in the restaurant a total of nine hours. At one point the bar manager asked us to tone it down, some of the regulars were not happy with the noise we were making. Of course we ignored him, well it's Christmas right. The following day we had 'Christmas left overs'. This was a gathering of the campsite British contingency. More food and more booze. The following day it was party time back in the bar to celebrate a birthday. The next day we were invited to a 'do' at the Spanish riding school next door. Lots of local Spanish musicians turned up. More food and more booze.
Then, last night, we had the News Years Eve disco. The New Years celebrations here are becoming legendary. Like everyone back home, we do the countdown to midnight and then, an hour later, do it all again to coincide with the British celebrations. The bar owner switches on the TV so we get to see Big Ben striking midnight. By then it's one o'clock here and the locals all look slightly bemused at us.
We danced and karaoked our way through both of them.
I'm sooooo going to need a holiday soon.
Bejar town centre
So today I'd thought I'd remind you it's time to think afresh. Wipe the slate clean in fact. Time to reset your compass. Time to make a New Years resolution, which most people think is just a to-do list for the first week in Jan, well it's not! It's mighty serious stuff. The tradition goes back thousands of years. It's thought the ancient Babylonians kicked it off. They made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they'd return borrowed objects and pay their debts. Which is kinda encouraging as it would seem, even back then, that if you loaned your Babylonian neighbour your garden rake, there was no guarantee you'd get it back. Good to see little has changed. I once asked to borrow a garden tool from my neighbour. After an hours use I remembered it was actually mine! He'd borrowed it months earlier. The ancient Romans also began each year by making promises to their God, Janus. And in Medieval times knights took to renewing their vow and their commitment to chivalry, so all this goes back some way.
A recent study involving 3,000 Brits revealed that 88% of those who made a New Year resolution failed within 3 days. So 'failure' is as big a tradition as actually making a resolution in the first place, so never feel bad about not seeing one through. Like everyone else I've made a few. Here are some, along with the reasons why they didn't work or did.
Lose a stone in weight. (This I achieved, but it's since been replaced by an entirely different stone in weight.)
Drink less alcohol. (While it's a good idea, it's worth remembering that alcohol has many health benefits)
Think positive, (I seriously doubt I've achieved that.)
Laugh more. (This I made when my mum brought me a violin instead of a guitar back in 1963. I could have been the next Hank Marvin)
Learn a foreign language. (I've since found out I didn't need to, they all speak English)
Never set my goals too high. (That way I've never disappointed myself )
Be less grumpy, (The older I get the harder this is to achieve)
Be more optimistic (I knew this was going to be a non starter)
Be more proactive. (I've yet to get around to this)
Avoid feelings of paranoia. (Hard to do when you know everyone is talking about you)
Finally, I'd like to wish you all a happy healthy 2017 and remind you se have so much to look forward to. Donald at the helm of the USA and more Brexit misery, all just around the corner. I can't bloody wait.,