This week with bigger pictures

Monday 2nd December 2013 week 128 Spain

    No escape.

    Castillo de Banos is a one horse town. In fact that's a fib, it doesn't even have a horse and I doubt it's a town. It's just a collection of random buildings which resembles one of those Mexican border towns you see in westerns. The only movement you see is tumble weed blowing down the main street and the occasional nervous dog out on a mission. Before they begrudgingly built a roundabout here you couldn't turn right out of the town, only left. Turning right, towards Malaga, involved a seventeen mile detour to arrive back at the same spot you started from only facing the other direction.

Inside, nice..

    The camp site does boast an amazing mix of attractive trees which give the place the feel of an oasis in an otherwise sea of poly-tunnels. We're parked under a Peruvian pepper tree. I know this only because Hazel told me so. She looked up the small pink berries that are growing on it. Once she discovered what they were she had me up on the van roof harvesting them. Disturbingly the next morning she asked: 'Was I was feeling OK?'. Curiously I said I was, but why was she asking? She told me the berries featured heavily in last nights sausages in a pepper sauce dinner. I suggested that the next time she was going to experiment could she give me a heads up, least that way, while I'm having my stomach pumped, I'll know what to tell the doctor she's fed me with.

Outside, not so nice

    You don't know Les and nor did I till he introduced himself. In an attempt to fill his empty days he strikes up conversations with anyone who doesn’t see him coming, those that do hide. Being the new boy I was an easy target. Nice enough fellow, and a fit seventy five year old. In keeping with old folk of his age he was keen to point out that he'd weathered several major operations. He then went into detail, pointing out which bits of himself he no longer possessed. “I've had my liver removed”, he proudly said. I wanted to point out that that was unlikely. Your liver, much like your heart, falls under the heading of: must have organs. This unlike, say, your appendix or an arm. Anyway once he'd run through the list, and not wanting him to feel at odds with the rest of us, I pointed out that while, thankfully, I'd not been under the surgeons knife I was missing some teeth. Even I have to admit it's not quite in the same league.

    I asked him about an abandoned car and caravan which sits in a corner of the site and is slowing being taken over by vegetation. He told me that last year the Dutch owner had been found dead inside. This is not altogether surprising when you consider the average age of the camper is around sixty nine. So on occasion some campers will, inevitably, check-out quite literally. Unfortunately for the camp-site owners, under Spanish law, they can't touch the vehicles for seven years. So it will sit here and rot. As I was mulling this over he pointed to another caravan. “Same thing there” he said, British lady found dead one morning”. He then pointed to another. “Chap who owned that one, no one really knows what happened to him”. The camp-site now took on a macabre air. Don't old elephants all go somewhere to die. Perhaps Castillo de Banos is the campers equivalent. I was tempted to point out to Les that having left so much of his internals back in the UK, perhaps he was tempting fate by stopping, but thought better of it.

    Before we become an anecdote, we've decided to leave tomorrow.




 Tuesday 3rd December 2013 week 128 Spain


    Today we left the hushed, library like atmosphere of Castillo de Banos and headed west. But before departing we popped into the bar last night to use the free wifi. I say free but since you feel morally obliged to buy a drink it's hardly free. Inside were three Spaniards, four drunk Germans, playing the noisiest game of pool this side of Berlin, Haze, me and the bar girl. Ten of us. The last time ten people got together in Castillo de Banos was probably when the town folk hid from a visit from Franco. I ordered the good lady a gin and tonic - don't accuse me of not being able to show her a good time - and for myself a Jameson whisky. The girl took a tumbler and filled it to within 15mm of the rim. It wasn't a double, nor a treble, nor what ever comes next, it was a tumbler full. Cost? a mere £2.60. These prices explained why the pool game was so loud. She did the same for the gin. There was no room for the tonic so she handed me the bottle of tonic. Hazel took a gulp and pulled a face which suggested it was turning itself inside out.

Impressive view from 400 meters up

    In the UK I've asked for a whisky and been handed a glass containing only marginally less ice than sunk the Titanic. This, therefore, is not a whisky at all but a glass of frozen water with a whisky flavouring. Here they pour you enough to ensure that should you fall over, you'll feel the need to cling to the floorboards lest you fall further. Now I've said this before but with alcohol so cheap, and bearing in mind the quantity you get, you can be forgiven for thinking the Spanish never get out of bed in the mornings. But of course, unlike present UK government propaganda, there is no correlation between the price of booze and how much people drink, it's a fallacy which our government perpetuates to help justify the tax levy. - Worth remembering here is that the three bars within parliament are subsidised by us, the tax payer, so what do they care?- Drinking to excess isn't about price, it's about attitude as the Spanish and French prove. I'll stick my neck out here and say if you believe otherwise then their propaganda is working. Get help. Asap.

    Now while on the subject of whisky I should point out there is only one way it should be drunk. Before I tell you how, I should also point out that I have Scottish relations, by marriage, and good Scottish friends so I'm taking my life in my hands here a little but somethings just can't go unsaid as I'm sure they would agree: In my book whisky should be drunk neat. An ice cube if you must, but only one. What I find a sacrilege is putting water with it. For Christ sake it's not bloody Robinson's Barley water. Pray tell what logic is there in taking a single malt, aged over the millennia in oak barrels, lovingly crafted by a distiller long since dead, and then watering it down with municipal tap water. Where’s your respect for this fine ancient craft? If I was a barman and someone asked for water in their Scotch, I would put it in a bottle, slip a teat over the end, check it for temperature by sprinkling it on the back of my hand before handing it over. Or better still, ask them if they would prefer an alcopop. If I was a craggy old kilt wearing highlander with a little bar specialising in fine vintage whiskeys I'd simply shoot them on sight and bury them out back! fuck em!

    Right, now what was today’s piece going to be about? Ah yes! today’s interesting journey to Estepona. It will now have to wait.





  Wednesday 4th December 2013 Week 128 Spain

    Pays to get it wrong!

    We left behind the ugly poly tunnels and headed west across the Costa del sol. Wow! what a scenic difference. Wonderful roads which snaked their way through, around and over mountains (Sierra de las Nieves! Ed) and spanned gorges on huge viaducts. It really was quite spectacular and I mean that from an engineering point of view too. The mind boggles at the cost and complexity of building roads such as these. Driving on them I've no objection to paying road tolls, oddly there were only two and both only four Euros each.

    What becomes obvious, as you drive west along this coastline, is the affluence. There seems no shortage of money. The mountains and valleys are peppered with white painted villas. Many with pools built among an oasis of palm trees. I can see why this area is a favourite with ex pats, and criminals. You could ferret yourself away here half way up a mountain and never be noticed. There are large swanky hotels set amidst pristine green golf courses and expensive looking shopping malls, it looks more like Californian than Spain, and it is busy. It's not easy to know where one town ends and other starts or stops. Between Malaga and Marbella the whole coastline is populated.

    We were aiming for Bella Vista camping park. A new, and so we were told, very modern camp-site. We arrived at.... well, we don’t actually know where. The building we pulled up outside which had 'reception' emblazoned across it was clearly closed and had been for some time. I'd entered the sites coordinates into the sat-nav the previous night. In hindsight it might have been better to have entered them before I downed that bucket full of scotch! (he's joking! Ed). We sat by the side of the road unsure what to do next. Our next planned camp-site, after this, was a further 100 miles, on the other side of Gibraltar. I searched the sat-nav for local camp sites and found one, Park Tropical, 17 km away and headed for that. When I booked in I asked about Bella Vista. Apparently it's still there, we (he means he. Ed) must have got the coordinates wrong.

    This morning I looked it up on the web, phew! was I relieved I got it wrong?. They want 30 Euros a night!. For that kind of money I'd want a cooked meal and scantily clad maid to tuck me in at night and read me a story. No this little site is fine. As the name suggests it's quite tropical with it's mix of exotic vegetation including Banana trees, pines and palms. It's also practically empty and the few that are here are all British. I'm guessing all the super-rich German pensioners are all down at Bella Vista.

    Did you know the British state pension is the most miserable in Europe?. Compared to average incomes even Hungarian and Slovenian pensioners fare better than us. This is according to a recent OECD report, only Mexicans receive less, proportionately, from the State than British workers and this government insists we work even longer for it. Fucking disgrace...........

    Oops! swore again.





Thursday 5th December 2013 week 128 Spain

    I'm a glutton for punishment.

    Have you seen the film “Life of Brian”?. It's a comical and satirical look at religion. If you have, you might remember a scene in which a woman is about to be stoned to death. Within the crowd of onlookers an elderly man speaks up in her defence. He points out that all she innocently said was: “This piece of halibut was fit for a king”. This manages only to inflame the stone throwers even more, who round on him, call him a blasphemer and included him in the stoning. I feel a little like him. Let me explain.

    I'm not a fool. (Lets not take a vote on that. Ed) I know there are some web sites you really shouldn't visit. Web sites which, in all honesty, should be closed. Web sites few even admit to visiting. Sites which, if you do frequent, will lead you down a dark path from which few return unscathed. Yes! you've got it, I'm talking about the shady world of the on-line news forum. In my experience they are the haunt, in the main but not exclusively, of some very odd people indeed. People who are bigoted, homophobic and extremely right wing. People who, by comparison, make Genghis Khan look like a thoroughly decent fellow. I'm incline to belive they're attracted to these forums because it gives them a public platform to vent their ignorance and hatred of anything slightly liberal.

    Last year I happened to venture an opinion on the Falklands. I rather foolishly suggested I really didn't give a flying fart who owned the islands. In the great cosmic scheme of things it didn't really matter? Well clearly it did. The following day I was inundated with replies, most of which called me unpatriotic, a traitor or just bloody ignorant. Most blamed me, and people like me, for the mess Britain was in. -I wasn't quite sure of their logic on that one-. Some were nowhere near as polite.

Just a few of the confiscated bikes, scooters and motorbikes at Gib customs. Prevously owned by guys smuggling fags out.

    So I'm guessing you're probably thinking: right well Phil, you've learnt your lesson mate, you avoid them now, don't you?..... urm.....afraid not. Last week I just happened to give an opinion on Gibraltar, since I'm parked less then 30 miles away from it. Well it wasn't so much an opinion as an attempt to set the record straight. I pointed out to those contributors who suggested that Gibraltar was as British as the Isle of White they were wrong. And they were wrong when they suggested the British their voted to stay British, so hands off Spain!! Many of these people also argued the next fair and reasonable course of action was now a military one, and if that’s fair and reasonable I'd love to know what they consider isn’t?.

    I wrote in reply:

    Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory. In 2002 The Gibralterians were asked: Do you approve of the principle that Britain and Spain should share sovereignty over Gibraltar. They voted no. They were not asked if they wanted to stay British as they are not British but Gibralterians. The population is made up of Asian, Chinese, African and Spanish with only one in four being British. None, apart from the British, see themselves as British, they are all proud Gibralterians. It has it's own Government. It's own flag. It's own national anthem. Makes it's own laws. It has its own police force and it's own currency. It's not an extension of Britain the way say.... Peckham High Street is. I dare say many people living on Gib would find it odd that so many British seem to think we own it, we don't. Personally I couldn’t give a flying fart who owns it. In the great cosmic scheme of things does it really matter? In the interest of international relationships with Spain our partner in Europe I reckon we should seek joint ownership with a view to returning it to Spain at some future date. Well that was a red rag to a bull. I've not looked at my in box. It's flashing full.

    I really think I should stop using the term 'flying fart' as I reckon it that only sets 'em off, don't you?




 Friday29th November 2013 week 127 Spain

    What’s on my mind?

    I had something really quite amusing to talk about today. All about how to avoid being eaten. (A serious piece then. Ed), Yep. It was most informative, possibly life saving and interesting, it'll have to wait till next week. What’s on my mind this morning is of course the massive confidence trick played on us, the British, yesterday by George Osborne. A man, who at 13, changed his name from 'Gideon' to George because, as he told his mum, I don't like Gideon. He later said it was an act of youthful rebellion. Of all the ways youth can rebel against authority, parents and the establishment I'm not sure changing your name is one of em George, you scallywag. Anyway, after graduating in 92 he managed to get a job with the NHS as a data entry clerk. He then, later, got a job with Selfridge’s, mainly re-folding towels. He went for a grown up job with The Times, but was turned down as unsuitable. He next applied for a job as a researcher at Tory central office and got it. Now perhaps because he descends from the old Anglo-Irish aristocracy known in Ireland as the Ascendancy, and he is the heir apparent to the Osborne baronetcy his rise within the Tory ranks was meteoric. He is perfect Tory material, loaded and part of the aristocracy, you really just can't go wrong, sod qualifications. He now runs the fifth largest economy in the world, impressive for a chap who left college with only a degree in modern history. I'm a little old fashioned, but I would have much rather him have some experience in say, oh! I dunno, handling money perhaps than being a whiz with dates. He's never actually had to handle money or budget because, thanks to mum and dad, he's a millionaire. Allowing someone, with no financial experience, to run an economy strikes me a little like allowing a carpenter to remove your appendix, but perhaps that’s just me.

There were no surprises in yesterdays mini budget. I've listened to quite a few and they are all as dull-as-dishwater. It's the chancellors job to spend the tax the inland revenue collects and balance the books. However since his borrowing for this year will be a staggering 111 billion, he's still some way to go before he can put away his red pen. Of the 111 billion, he's about to borrow, he's giving businessmen, in the form of a tax break, 50 Billion so they can invest overseas. Right, well, that'll help us no end. He’s also given a raft of other tax breaks and incentives to those that already have money and power but that’s par for the course. However it's not all bad news. He’s not bringing in the proposed 2p increase in fuel levy. Phew! a saving at last! well not really since you're not paying it at the moment. Threatening to hit you and then not hitting you isn't a bonus.


    However all this pales into insignificance because he then manages to pull the biggest political conjuring trick of all time and few seem to have noticed.   If you are in your mid to early thirties you can now expect to work until you are seventy. The chancellor, using current projections, provided by crystal ball gazing statisticians who say life expectancy is on the up, has upped the retirement age. What they gloss over is that people who are in their mid thirties, and were therefore born in the 80's, have a projected life expectancy, predicted back then, of 71.2 years. Life expectancy is not accrued. So for this age group, if they do reach retirement age, and there’s no guarantee they will...... after all it's an average, you'll be expected to drop dead 14 months later, some retirement!!!

    This also ignores a new and worrying report which suggests that in 1990 the UK was ranked 10th in a league table of 19 countries showing 'years of life lost' (YLL) YLL is a standard method of measuring levels of premature death. In 2010 Britain had slipped to 14th. If this trend continues.... in twenty years we will be at the bottom.

    I tell ya, politics, it's all smoke and mirrors.

    Have a good weekend.



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