Monday 27th October 2014. Week 175. Spain.
The good old days.
Good weekend? Busy? Did you shop? I bet you did. I've made this point before, but it's worth making again, Sundays in mainland Europe are like the Sundays I remember as a kid. Back then, in ye-olden bygone days of yore, they were much quieter low key affairs, this because England was shut on a Sunday. It was a time when we were called customers and not, as we are now, consumers. Our promotion to that elevated rank came with out-of-town superstores, retail outlets and shopping centres all courtesy of our American cousins. These monuments to consumerism were being held in check by our Sunday trading laws. These basically ensured we had nothing better to do on a Sundays than attend church. This all changed when the Tories, in an effort to help their business cronies, scrapped them. Sundays then stopped being a day of religious contemplation and were never the same again.
Today, right across mainland Europe, few stores open on a Sunday. Here Sundays are still special and reserved, in the main, for the family and socialising. This is in stark contrast to us Brits who flock to gardening centres and DIY stores up and down the country and spend our hard earned money each weekend. Personally I prefer how it was. One day of sanity, besides iIt's not like shopping is that pleasurable, it can be a nightmare.
For example, and we all have stories like this, imagine you've decided to buy say..., a vacuum cleaner. Interestingly, an item which men choose on price and women choose on suction. It needs to have about the same suction as the Dover-to-Calais Hoverferry to impress a women. But still choice made, this is where the nightmare can begin because you now need to actually buy it. And to do that you need to locate the rare: 'lesser spotted assistant'.
I once spent so long looking for a shop assistant in B&Q I charged into the stunned managers office and gave him a five minute lecture on Good Customer Care Practises. I then stormed out of the store empty handed. Hazel then had to creep back in and get what we'd came for, while I sat in the car keeping my head down. (All true. Ed)
Once you do collar an assistant there’s no guarantee he'll work on the section your standing in. He'll offer to go and find 'the bod' who works in gardening. Eventually, and after some unintelligible name calling over the store tannoy system, a spotty faced kid turns up. From the lack of enthusiasm in his step you know he couldn't give a rats arse if you brought the thing or not. You point at your chosen item and ask nervously:
“Have you that in stock?
“I don't know, I think that's the last one, I'll go and check.” A day later he returns.
“That is the last one.” A pause..........
“Erm....well can you sell me that one?” (They always seem to need prompting like actors who’ve forgotten their lines).
“I don't think so, I’ll go and check”. Off he disappears for another glacial age.
Now having worked in retail I can tell you that nine times out of ten you can buy the item on display. However nine times out of ten the assistants can't be arsed to sell it, because of the aggravation it will cause them having to hunt for the accessories: the plug, leads, manual, tools and the original packaging. All this can cut into his valuable facebook texting time out the back.
I can see I've more to say on this subjetc than I first thought, I'll finish this entry/rant/infomercial -you decide- tomorrow.
Tuesday 28th October 2014. Week 175. Spain
Continued from yesterday.
Now let me just clarify something before I go on. I know not all DIY stores employ spotty prepubescent teenagers. One chain, quite deliberately, employs older folk in their stores. This, they believe, helps to create the illusion you are talking to someone who might actually know what they're on about, and to put you in mind of the brown coated hardware store owner of yesteryear These chaps were a font of all DIY knowledge. He knew, almost before you opened your mouth, you needed a Witworth half inch spigot washer assembly kit for your dripping 1944 brass tap. Great men indeed. Back then you left his store with the right part, a spring in your step and having only spent one shilling.
The driver and trigger had both nodded off after a long day
I digress. The only problem I see with employing old dudes in DIY stores is that twice now, while I've been in one, I've been asked for advice. Frekin cheek!.
Okay then back to the plot As the light fades, remember you arrived at 10 am, you find yourself at the checkout. You hand over your plastic. You're next asked for your post code, sex, and email address. This, so they can bombard you with junk mail till you die. They then try and sell you product insurance This invariably isn't worth the policy paper it's written on. The last time I was offered insurance was on a £59 mobile phone.
“The three year cover sir, is only £49,” the chap said hopefully.
“No thanks. I'm good. Besides, I brought the phone because it was cheap! why would I want to double it's price?”.
“Covers accidental loss! He adds. Which I find an odd phrase since surely all loss is accidental. I've yet to lose anything on purpose.
“Well if I lose it I'll buy another one” I say philosophically.
I once brought a cheap printer in PC world. The refill cartridge, connection cable -apparently that’s a £9.99 optional extra today- and insurance cover inflated the £29.99 asking price into a major £95 purchase. It's retail madness.
Finally the cashier says, as you wait for something to happen, “sorry, systems a bit slow today.” For God sake when isn’t it? When have you ever chosen something, taken it to the cashier, who’s then processed the purchase and said: “Phew! that was bloody quick!”. Never!. Tills, cashiers, and the whole systems these places employ all work as fast as a glacier cutting out a new valley. However you're almost there. He then has one last task to perform. Stock control. This job, once carried out by a stock controller and warehousemen, is now completed at the till. This takes lots of prodding of keys and frustrated tutting.
I was once in a store where the item didn't showed up as being in stock.
“That's funny!, the cashier said, laughing mildly hysterically, we don’t have one of those to sell you.” She had to call a supervisor, with a special magic key, to override the system. Of course I could have ripped off the security tag and legged it screaming “It's mine! my precious thing!”but I'd have been pounced on by the two burly security guards and sat on till the authorities arrived.
Oddly, from a sociological point of view, buying new stuff is supposed to be akin to therapy............... I'd really need convincing of that.
Wednesday 29th October 201. Week 175 Spain.
And now for something completely different.
We moved over the weekend. Today you find us just outside Seville, Spain’s second biggest city. We were here once before, just for a night, but never left the camp-site. However some time later after telling someone this they then spent the next two hours telling us what we'd missed So we said: if we find ourselves this way again we'd take a look. And I have to say it's probably one of the best looking cities we have seen anywhere in Europe. If you get the chance check-it-out, you'll thank me later. Promise.
Real spainish culture, you can't beat it
Now from time to time I get accused of gobbing off about things quite unrelated to our adventure. Sticking my nose into all manner of topical news stories and offering my opinions even though they're rarely asked for. 'How?' I'm asked, 'does what you’ve written about dentist fit in with travelling around Europe in a motor-home?' Well of course it doesn’t. Not at all. But the way I look at it is this: it's my site so I write what I like, that’s the beauty of it. But I am occasionally brought back to earth and that’s not a bad thing. So heres some real touring tips.
I recieved an email asking me for my advice, vis-a-vie a wintering spot in Spain or Portugal. So this is either going to be very interesting or mind numbingly boring, but you can't have everything.
My first bit of advice is: if you are contemplating wintering in Spain or Portugal try and get here before winter hits Europe otherwise it could be a chilly drive south. You can, as our friends once did, get a ferry into Balboa in January but they hit snow in Northern Spain. (The brave souls were on a motorbike as well! Ed).
You can drive down though France from any of the ferry ports. The problem you'd have here is finding sites that are still open on the way south, most are closed between September & March. There are just a few open all year. A nice one is in Tours which is 3 star, and another north of Bordeaux. On the border, do yourselves a favour and stop at St Jean de Luz. The site is pretty good, but the area is wonderful. It's what the French Riviera was once like before we could all afford to go there.
The next decision is where to go from there. The eastern side of Spain is warmer in winter because of the Mediterranean. As a consequence it's a lot, lot busier. It's best to book or at the very least phone ahead.
The western coast of Spain (Andelucia) is quite different to the eastern. For a start it's tiny by comparison. It's also cooler but nowhere near as busy. You’ll find no holiday complexes. No towns given over solely to the package holiday brigade. It's a lot quieter, far less commercial, but far more authentic. It's a favourite with holidaying Spaniards. Being on the Atlantic side its cooler than the East. But that said, it rarely drops below 60 degrees during the day. Often around 63-66 in the sun. Few Brits find the need to wear coats, unlike the Spanish who get fully togged up.
On the East coast you have a wide choice of sites. On the west you don't. Below Cadiz there are just a handful of sites worth a visit. Most around Conil. There are a few surfer camp-sites further south but those are to be avoided unless you are a surfer dude, have dreadlocks, smoke pot and you can interchange clothes with your girl friend.. You can head to the south coast, Malaga and Marbella. But, for me, I try and make an ethical point of going nowhere that serves an all day English breakfast.
If you head for Portugal, as we are doing, then it has to be the Algarve. There are a good number of sites to choose from. The best of these, we think, is Tourist-campo just outside Lagos. The weather is again cooler. It can rain, but when it does it moves on, and warm blue skies return. I've seen people sunbath in December. The coast line is amazing. Food is cheap, wine even cheaper so if you want to kick back. Read a few good novels and chill out over the winter months you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere more relaxing.
Friday 31st October 2014 Week 175. Portugal
What's on my mind today.
Time to rejoice? Hang out the bunting? I don't think so. In 2001 the media conducted a number of polls. The results of which showed the majority of Brits were against following Bush into a revengeful war in the middle east. Their reasons varied. Here's a few. Some, like me, were against it on moral grounds. Unless you're defending yourself from attack, no war can be morally justified. Some thought the war ill conceived. You can't fight a conventional war with men who fight in the shadows. Some objected to it on religious grounds. Some considered it folly taking on a foe that had twice, historically, beaten us. Some argued the Russians, who sustained huge losses only a few years before, couldn't beat them, so what were we going to do differently? Some thought our politicians were lying to us. Out to convince us, using bogus intelligence reports, that we lived under a threat of terrorist attacks and annihilation from WMD, so we had to strike first. Some thought it was going to be another Vietnam. Some suggested you can't impose a western style democratic system on a country that’s practically feudal, change has to come from within. Some thought it was crazy to fight an enemy fuelled by an ideology. Truth is, they, were all right back then, and still are today.
US military experts, at the time, suggested Operation Enduring Freedom would cost between $100 to $200 million dollars and last possibly 18 months. That was 13 years ago.
Here’s a quick run down of some of the actual costs.
1800 US soldiers dead, 18,500 injured. Many sent home minus limbs from mines.
453 UK soldiers dead, 7,436 injured. Many will receive war pensions for the rest of their lives.
21,000 Afghanistan citizens, men women and children killed or murdered.
Enemy deaths are estimated between 20 to 40 thousand but no one knows. However, regardless of how many of the enemy you kill, their cause, however unpalatable, lives on to fight another day.
Cost to the beleaguered British Tax payer. £37 billion and will rise with ongoing war pensions, interest payments and compensation.
Cost to the USA? A Harvard report has that running between 4 to 6 trillion dollars. Americans have already paid $260 Billion in interest payments alone on war debt.
Cost to our military prestige and heritage? Heavy. The European Centre for Constitutional Rights, and the British Public Interest Lawyers, will be presenting a dossier to the International War Crimes Court in The Hague. It catalogues 1,000 incidences, 200 cases of murder. Details of torture including beatings, electrocutions, mock executions, and sexual assault against non combatants committed by our UK forces. Our government has already conceded some cases and paid out compensation to Afghans civilians. However, by far the most unique feature of this is that unlike WW2, or more recently the Balkans conflict, it seems it's the soldiers that will carry the can and not those superior officers who were in command and turned a blind eye. Such is our military old boy network.
We're pulling out, leaving a fractured country. The Taliban undefeated. Thousands mourning the loss of loved ones which has given rise to an even more extremist and fanatical group, the ISIS. We've opened a can of worms. And let's not forget Tony Blair's part. After taking Britain into a world destabilising conflict, he quit his job. He didn't even have the decency to see it through. In a real democracy, not what we have in the UK, no one person should have the power to take a country to war!
Have a happy Halloween.