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Donna Gee - Spain's Grumpy Old Gran


Slide-street menace makes for a painful Xmas away from Spain
23 December 2010



Regular readers of my rants will know exactly how I feel about the pathetic British mentality that anything thought up by foreigners can’t be any good.

When will we ever accept that theold Empire is dead and buried? And has been so for the last 50 years, even if the Beatles did rule the world for a while.

The reality of the 21st century  is that the entrepreneurial wheels have dropped off in the UK and that the Europeans have come up with a lot we can learn from. OK, they have no idea how to run their economies – but there again our lot are also a load of bankers.

I’ve written before about the clever idea operated  in Spain of filter lanes in the centre of main roads to allow traffic on side roads to ease onto main carriageways with the minimum of disruption.

Well, I’ve now discovered that the French (and I bet they are not the only ones) have mastered the art of clearing ALL roads of snow and ice in the current arctic conditions with no more grit than the poverty-screaming British have.

They simply grit the SIDE roads – and leave local residents’ cars to drag it onto the main roads, where the flood of  heavy traffic melts away the residue.

I was told about the French idea last week by a Manchester taxi driver, whose wife is une femme francaise. And he assured me: ”The idea works, believe me. I’ve been there and seen it.”

In Bury, Lancashire, where I am spending Christmas, the local council took pride in announcing in their ‘Our Voice’ magazine that they had prepared for another bad winter by putting aside an extra 500 tonnes of salt plus 300 salt bins after being caught short by the bitter freeze-up 12 months ago.

But what did they do to make the borough’s snowbound pavements usable by the elderly and handicapped. surely a far more important issue? Absolutely zilch.

How about spreading some grit, salt or whatever on the side roads? Not likely. The street where my UK home is, a leafy cul-de-sac,  is on a gradient that makes it impossible for those at the top to access their homes by car when we are snowed up – unless they have a four-wheel drive vehicle. And the chances of safely negotiating the two streets between us and the main road diminish in proportion to the depth of snow. (The picture above was taken from my bedroom window, by the way. But don't worry, it was last January - the snow is only half as deep at present!)

I’d never really thought about the French idea before but it would certainly be  a godsend in my locality (on my increasingly rarer visits to the UK, that is). The traffic is so heavy on the main A56  Manchester-Bury road that it would take an avalanche to cause any major problem, even without gritting.

And dithering dodderers like myself wouldn’t have to spend days at home afraid to go out in case we fall over and break our necks.

Get to know Donna better on

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Runway heating can pay for itself in two years, says report
22 December 2010



I am not privy to airport costings but the seemingly needless grounding of British-based planes during the ongoing cold spell is a soar point with me (pun intended).

Because it could all have been avoided if Heathrow, Gatwick and other UK airports had  heating under their runways.

But that would not be ecnomically viable,  did I hear someone say? The cost would be astronomical and would have to be passed on to those who utilise the airports.

Presumably that means  the thousands of us who stand around interminally analysing the ‘Cancelled’ and ‘Delayed’ messages on flight departure boards. In Spain as well as the UK,

Presumably, then, the £12 car-park fee my daughter paid to pick me up at Manchester Airport last week is NOT astronomical. And  it’s reasonable to charge nearly a fiver for a sandwich - and that goes for Alicante as well as British flying space,

Captive audiences will always be ripped off. The only way the public can counter the profiteers is not to buy extortionately priced goods. But when you are starving and stranded miles from nowhere, what alternative is there?

When you think about it, it is actually in the interest of the  airports to ground passengers because they have to eat. And that means buying those gold-plated sarnies and £4 bottles of water.

It might be a good idea to start charging for using the airport loos as well, as mooted by Ryanair’s penny-pinching boss. That’s gotta be worth a bog-standard million quid a week, surely.

I’m not surprised there’s no rush to invest in underground heating – and the predicted vast expense provides a good excuse. Of cours, Britain’s increasingly deluded bureaucrats also assure us  we don’t have enough sub-zero weather to justify runway heating. Which is nonsense if the past couple of climate-changing years are anything to go by.

So how expensive would it be to heat the runways? Well, an executive study at  St Cloud State University in Minnesota concluded that using geothermal heat can prevent the build-up of ice and snow ”and once installed, such a system could pay for it self in as little as 2-5 years.”

The report also slammed current methods of trying to keeping runways open, maintaining: ”Both chemicals and snow-ploughing vehicles have adverse effects on the environment as they contribute to pollution.”

I am no engineering expert, so have no idea whether such a system is feasible for UK airports. But something MUST be done about the seemingly endless delays passengers are suffering these days.

Keeping airports open at all times has to be a priority. BAA, who own Heathrow and Stansted among others, are predicting a 15 per cent rise in income next year to £1.12 BILLION. So they are not exactly skint. 

But do they really care that it’s becoming a bonus for passengers to get to their destination on the scheduled day, let alone on time?

The heat is on – or rather off if you’re in the UK. Whether those who make the decisions have the hot-water bottle to do anything about it is another matter.

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Why you can't bank on your bank to bank your bankings
19 December 2010



Whilst life sometimes seems to go into slow motion in Spanish banks, one does usually get the job done – whether it’s paying in money, sorting out bills or trying to prove you’ve been ripped off over service charges. Only in the latter situation you never win.

In the UK, service is invariably a lot quicker. So how on earth did I spend half an hour in my local Halifax branch last week making a vain attempt to pay two small cheques into my account – and leave with the money still in my handbag?

Never mind the snow and ice, the whole episode was a frozen waste, which ended with me making a protest walkout after all my efforts to achieve some credit proved futile.

So how did I manage to spend 30 minutes standing on the spot and achieving precisely nothing?

Well, let’s take it chronologically. Since this particular Halifax branch has a designated automatic paying-in machine, I could avoid the inevitable long queue at the cash desk. Or so I thought. (I don’t do queues or traffic jams, as anyone who know this particular Mrs Stresshead will vouch).

The problem was that the paying-in machine decided it had a fault and could neither process my cheques nor return them. However, it did manage to gobble both drafts up before informing me.

‘’Your cheques have not been credited and we cannot return them,’’ read the subsequent message on the screen, or words to that effect. ‘’Consult a staff member.’’ Which I did.

Cue bank-raid security drill. A staff member built like Rambo said he would need to open up the machine – but for security reasons, a colleague had to lock the entire office full of customers inside the building while he did it.

This obligatory anti-robbery procedure took several minutes as Rambo made a one-man foray into the machinations of the state-of-the-art paying-in device, unlocking various boxes and eventually pulling out a metal tray which contained a couple of cheques.

As if that wasn’t delay enough, the whole procedure then had to be repeated as his first attempt produced only one of my two cheques – plus a rogue draft I had never seen before.

Bank Raid Precaution, exercise two duly achieved deliverance of my second cheque to Rambo-man. But only after several more minutes of customer lock-in.

By now I had been in the branch for 20 minutes just to pay in two cheques worth a total of £71. And they  were no nearer reaching my account than they had been when I arrived.

The only way to get the money credited now was via the pay-in counter. Cue the problem for which the cheque machine had presumably been installed – a frustratingly long queue at the counter.

Have you ever seen all the tills in your bank or building society manned (or more often than not womanned) at the same time? I certainly haven’t. And isn’t it remarkable that at the times cashiers are most needed, at least one suddenly takes a coffee/ lunch/tea/cigarette break?

Equation – four tills and 20 people waiting. Chance of all four tills being manned – nil. Chances of one of the two cashiers actually working taking a break – even money.

On this occasion, I found myself adrift of six queuing customers, plus two who were already at the desk. The obligatory two out of four tills were unwomanned.

After  five more minutes, the same two customers were still prevaricating with the two unflappable cashiers. That’s one thing I will give those girls – I’ve never seen one get angry or ‘hurry-up’ a customer. Maybe that’s why there are always queues, who knows?

I was becoming more and more frustrated, my two cheques still in my hand…and those six customers plus two prevaricators still ahead of me.

Enough is enough, I thought. I bundled my cheques back in my purse, turned on my heel, muttered a suppressed ‘’I’ll come back later’’ to the still-hovering Rambo-man, and went home.

Half an hour completely wasted – for precisely nothing. Well, I did get this Grumpy column out of it, I suppose.  And another chance to demonstrate why 21st-century Britain is not for me.

Having said that, I could tell you some horror stories about Spanish banks, so watch this space.

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January 2: Clean air at last or just another smoke screen?
14 December 2010



So smoking is finally going to be banned in Spanish bars and restaurants from January 2. Well, that’s what they say – but after threatening to see sense for years, I’m still not convinced the government won’t renage yet again on enforcing the new legislation.

The ban was supposed to come into force last January, then again in June. Now we are told it is really going to happen in a couple of weeks’ time. But don’t bet on it – and certainly don’t bank on the Spanish people observing it universally.

Spain’s smoking culture is so entrenched that I can see bar owners slipping the police a drink or two to turn a blind eye to the ciggy suckers. However, those expats who prefer to frequent British bars undoubtedly have clearer airwaves ahead – because most of us have wanted a ban for years.

My friends Jane and Graham Lilley spent last winter considering the likely effects if they were to ban smoking inside Ricardo’s, their bar/bistro at El Raso, near Guardamar. Like other bars in the area, they feared it would hit their business – and in the end decided to allow the air-polluters to have their way.
As a confirmed ashtray-basher, I believe a ban would have had the opposite effect, if not immediately then certainly once fervent non-smokers became aware that a fresh-air zone had finally surfaced in the local commercial centre.

Let’s face it, how many people – including cigarette addicts – actually ENJOY eating in a smoky environment?
OK, our Spanish amigos presumably do, but that’s because finding a Spaniard who doesn’t smoke is like finding an X-Factor judge who says something original.

According to the Office of National Statistics, the percentage of British adults who smoke dropped from 39% in 1980 to 21% in 2007, when the UK legislation against smoking in public places took effect.
I have always taken the never-ending stories of Spain’s sit-on-the-fence legislators enforcing a blanket smoking ban with a pinch of salt. The existing law is so woolly and ineffective that it might as well not be there – and I also find it difficult to believe that the tobacco-obsessed Spanish will actually observe the full ban. 

British fag addicts complain that UK anti-smoking laws are too stringent and I accept that they do have a case of sorts. My philosophy is that if consenting adults wish to impregnate each other’s lungs with a terminal disease in private, that’s their business. Just as long as the rest of us aren’t expected to participate in the suicide attacks on healthy living by inhaling the residue of their habit.
The problem at El Raso has been that the only way non-smokers could escape a coughing fit is to stay away from the bars. Until now, none of the dwindling number of hostelries on the urbanisation (I exclude exclusive restaurants like Stan and Ollies) has had a non-smoking area, even though they all serve food. This means that tobacco addicts have been free to blow their fumes into anyone and everyone’s dinner.

The government ban will make things a lot easier for people like Claire Tyson, who runs Rayz Bar at El Raso. She believes a voluntary no-smoking policy would have decimated her business – particularly in the off season.

‘‘The majority of my customers are smokers,’’ she says, ‘‘and they enjoyed the fact that they didn’t have to abide by the English laws where cigarettes are concerned.

‘‘If we’d banned smoking in the bar before now, they’d have had no problem going outside to smoke in the summer. But if they had to do it in the winter I think they would have just found somewhere else where smoking was allowed.’’
Only once has anyone ever asked me in a bar or restaurant if I had any objection to them smoking - and that was in England so long ago that I can’t even remember where it was. Anyway, I made it pretty clear I would throw my knife and fork out of the cot if the young lady concerned lit up, and immediately felt guilty because she had been courteous enough to ask.
It’s 30 years since I gave up my own 25-a-day habit after listening to an LP by a hypnotist which I took initially as a joke. Before turning in one night, I sat and listened to this guy’s soothing voice telling me to close my eyes and imagine I was sunbathing in an idyllic scenario on a tropical island beach. I was in paradise, he assured me, except for this ‘’horrible, stinking weed’’ in my hand.  ‘’Get it out of your life,’’ he ordered. ‘’Throw it as far as you can and tell yourself you’ll never touch it again as long as you live.’’
I went to bed laughing to myself, with no real intention of giving up. Yet when I got out of bed the next morning, I told myself, ‘‘I’m not going to smoke today’’. And from that moment, the thought of taking even a single drag on a ciggy has revolted me ever increasingly.
Even more bizarrely, a few weeks later my late mother-in-law, who had been a lifelong smoker, listened to the same LP one evening. She never smoked again until the day she died.
So where can we get hold of this record, I hear hordes of would-be ex-smokers asking. The answer is I don’t know. I always thought the hypnotist’s name was Edwin Starr, but since the only Edwin Starr on the internet appears to be the late soul singer, I guess that time has distorted my memory.

If anyone out there can enlighten me  on the hypnotist’s identity, and where they might still hear that LP, then please leave a comment. You could make an awful lot of would-be quitters very happy.
Anyway, back at El Raso Jane and Graham’s decided against a voluntary ban – and subsequently lost me as a regular diner. I won’t eat in a room where people are smoking – or likely to light up. And fortunately there have always been plenty of options. 

John Latham and Ken Brewster, who run the classy, Hollywood-themed  Oscars café bar in Ciudad Quesada, certainly have no regrets after going smoke-free when they took over the old Casi Casi premises a couple of  years ago.
‘’We did lose a few people who used to come in just for a drink and a smoke,’’ they told me.

‘’But that has been more than balanced by a much cleaner atmosphere both for our diners and ourselves. We also have lots of people coming in now who would not have dreamt of eating here when smoking was allowed.’’
It’s easy to see why. With only 20 inside covers for diners, the addition of a row of beer-swilling smokers at the bar could only have a negative effect on the food side of the business.
The compulsory ban, if it does actually come in, will solve a Catch 22 situation. Until now, the choice that hostelry bosses had to make was: Allow smoking and ostracise your non-smoking diners – or ban it and risk losing your regular drinkers?

Hopefully, that decision has now been taken out of everyone’s hands. Along with the nicotine stains.
TOBACCO NOTE: Isn’t it remarkable that the people who smoke the most seem to be those who look as if they can least afford it? But let’s not go there just now - I’ve kicked smokers in the butt enough for now.

THREE CHEERS FOR NO SMOKING! At Oscars with bosses John Latham (left) and Ken Brewster

NO GO: Jane and Graham Lilley feared a smoking ban in their bar would have a negative effect


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Cane me, life in Spain is so much safer for us wrinklies!
04 December 2010



I know it’s not funny, but I couldn’t help laughing at Home Secretary Theresa May‘s announcement that slapping ASBOs on young British yobs doesn’t work.

There is only one way to deal people who have no respect for others and repeatedly flout accepted norms. And that is to take them off our streets and remove them as a threat to decent law-abiding citizens.

In other words, lock them up until they are prepared to behave properly. And if that means years rather than months, then so be it.

The politically correct brigade repeatedly tell us that we must try to re-educate the poor young souls whose sorties into crime, violence and vandalism  are no fault of their own. It’s all caused, they insist, by the deprivation and broken homes they come from.

If that is so, then how come so many people from miserable backgrounds grow up to become decent law-abiding citizens without a blemish on their character?

I’ll accept that circumstances often play their part in juvenile delinquency. When one’s role models are jailbird fathers and drug-addict mothers, what hope does a child have?

They need pointing in the right direction – and with only negativity in their home life, unless they are taken into care, that positivity can only come from their school and its teachers.

But thanks to the do-gooders, the disciplinary guidance these battled-scarred kids so desperately need is banned from the outset. So how on earth is a wild child ever going to be tamed? It’s no wonder so many of them never learn to respect anyone – least of all the laws of decency.

Embryo thugs are left to openly attack any sort of authority without fear of a penalty. Drag them before the courts and namby-pamby lay magistrates tell them not to be naughty boys. Not once, but dozens of times before even minimal custodial terms are even considered.

These low lifes laugh in the faces of their schoolteachers and, knowing that no-one dare raise a hand against them, taunt officialdom relentlessly. It’s no wonder that decent teachers have been known to lose control and end up in court

In 21st century Britain, the punishment does not fit the crime – at any level. A young car thief  runs over and kills a young mother with her own car and gets a paltry six years in jail for manslaughter. Ludicrous.  In the absence of the death penalty, the correct sentence for should have been LIFE imprisonment . The murderer (and make no mistake, that is what he is) has no right to live in freedom. Ever.

As ever, the victim and her family must suffer for ever while the villain milks the state  and the taxpayer – and emerges in a few short years probably to commit more crimes.

I know this is contentious, but many of us who remember the 50s and 60s would bring back corporal punishment in schools as a matter of urgency.

The problem is that matters have been allowed to deteriorate to such a point that if teachers were allowed to deliver six of the best, every school would need to employ 100 policemen to ward off yob parents bent on attacking the staff.

Once upon a time, policemen were allowed to give cheeky kids a friendly clip around the earhole. Barbaric, I hear the 21st century do-gooders scream. If that’s so, then how come I’ve yet to meet anyone who was permanently damaged by being physically punished for misdeeds at school.

What did happen was that the sting of the cane or slipper taught naughty kids that defying authority could be a painful experience they would not want repeated.

Certainly there was much less delinquency in the UK in those days. And decent people could go out at night without fearing they’d be either mugged by drug addicts or molested by drunken louts.

And while 50s and 60s society did admittedly contain an undesirable element, they represented a tiny proportion of the population. At least, that’s how it seemed to me.

 In contrast, the sub-culture Britain has spawned over the last 40 years seems to be growing by the day. It’s an element of society which milks society of every benefit possible, has no interest in working – and supplements its assets by stealing from others.

Its members have no respect for ANYTHING. And until the authorities start making the punishment fit the crime, things will just get worse.

Custodial sentences are becoming all too rare – and when the worst offenders ARE locked up, they live it up in comparative luxury with all mod cons. Why on earth don’t the warders take them out in chain gangs, American style, to clean up all the rubbish that litters Britain’s streets?

Is it barbaric to make criminals put something back into the society they have exploited?

OK, my argument is very simplistic and it’s certainly not a case of black and white. But how on earth does a schoolteacher inculcate respect into an insolent, defiant child with absolutely no moral standards?

 There used to be saying that went: ‘‘Spare the rod and spoil the child.’’ Sadly, that seems to have been replaced by a new adage: ‘Spare the rod and spawn the yob.’

One thing is all too obvious. The softly-softly approach is not working in the UK. So I’ll stay here in Spain, thank you very much – and feel a lot safer.      

Published in Female Focus magazine, 2010


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Why UK schools are way behind Europe in anyone's language
03 December 2010



The Empire has long gone, so how come so many of us remain convinced that British ideas are the best? And that anything Johnny Foreigner thinks up can’t  be any good?

The reality is that we can learn so much from the lead of other European nations. A simple and obvious one here in Spain is the central filter lane that allows traffic to turn left on to busy highways without blocking traffic on the main road.

But since the UK authorities didn’t think up the idea themselves, such filter lanes don’t seem to exist in Britain. Which is why you often see traffic clogged up by a lone vehicle trying vainly to get onto the opposite side of a main carriageway.

But nowhere is our rejection of superior European logic better demonstrated than in the pathetic attitude of British educationalists towards teaching children foreign languages.

The penny is finally beginning to drop, half a century after the rest of Europe showed us the way - and we chose to think we knew better.

While primary school kids in Holland, Scandinavia, Germany and France and Spain were being taught English from virtually the moment they started school, know-all British educationalists were fearful of causing confusion. Secondary school, they reasoned, was the time to begin – at a point when children have in fact passed the age when their sponge-like brains are able to become truly fluent in foreign languages.

In reality, young children do not become confused if introduced to an alien tongue. Indeed, they not only have the most amazing ability to absorb the complexities of language, but can learn a foreign one in a matter of months.

And so brilliant is their ability to mimic that even native speakers have no idea that they are in fact foreigners.

I was staggered when my six-year-old granddaughter suddenly started counting in Spanish – with a Mexican accent. At the time she’d never even been to Spain, let alone Mexico. She’d merely been watching Dora the Explorer on TV, and was mimicking what she heard.

To me, it was merely evidence of what I and many others have known for many years – that the BEST time to start teaching children another language is when they are toddlers. Or at least by the time they begin junior school.

Research by international linguistic experts has found that if children are introduced to a second language by the age of six or seven, they can achieve native-like proficiency. In other words, young children’s innate mimicry skills enables expat British five and six-year-olds to pick up Spanish to a level undistinguishable from the natives.

Many expat parents will vouch for that. Beautician Cath Munz moved to Orihuela Costa from Blackburn with her husband and family when children Bradley and Abigail were five and four respectively.

Both youngsters achieved fluency in Spanish within 12 to 18 months, without in any way compromising their English-language skills. Cath’s experience emphasises the folly of  the traditional UK system which keeps foreign languages off most school timetables until secondary school.

For all the talk of educational advancement, until now little seems to have changed in Britain since my own schooldays half a century ago. I was taught French and Latin – but only from the age of 12. And that, according to the linguistic experts, is much too late for most children to achieve real fluency.

Instead, those of us who choose to leave our native country as mature adults face years of studying and frustration in order to master the local tongue to an acceptable level.

More often we end up being accused of laziness because we have neither the time nor inclination to spend hundreds of hours trying to soak up masses of alien gibberish when most of the natives speak English anyway.

Still, I can assure the tiny minority who do pursue the dream of speaking Spanish properly that the rewards are immense. Among the  pupils in the three-hours-a-week class I attend at the Berlingua School of Languages in Quesada are five different nationalities – and that doesn’t include the lone Spaniard, our teacher Jose Perez.

The class includes two young women, a Russian and a Hungarian, who don’t speak English. Yet the mere fact we can chat together when we don’t speak each other’s language is something truly special.

But I’d happily have done without that special experience if only Spanish – or indeed any other foreign language - had been on the junior school curriculum in my hometown Cardiff way back in the 1960s.

Published in Female Focus magazine, 2010 

Teacher Jose Perez (centre) with some of my classmates at Berlingua School of languages

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Thoughts on the UK brigade who put bingo before lingo
02 December 2010



How sad that most of the world equates Brits in Spain not with class and culture, but with Benidorm, beer and builder’s bums.

I doubt if 10 per cent of UK citizens who move to Spain learn the language to even a modest level, let alone fluently. Yet isn’t it bizarre that in Britain so many people resent the concept of immigrants who don’t or won’t speak OUR language?

It’s hypocrisy to the extreme, of course – but typical of a nation which rates as just about the least linguistically talented in the world (or perhaps just the laziest).

How many times have you heard people complain about the preponderance of Asian immigrants to the UK who have a smattering of English at best, and seemingly neither the ability or desire to master our tongue?

Yet the reality is that we ourselves behave exactly the same way when we venture abroad to greener (or rather, sunnier) pastures.

Many of the expats I meet seem to think that learning Spanish equates to an unnecessary waste of time. After all, most of us live in communities which are either predominantly English-speaking or where most of the locals speak our language, anyway.

Of course, if you live in some tiny pueblo up in the mountains, you have no choice but to learn the lingo. That’s how it should be - but when it comes to the British mentality, it takes a very special sort of family to take on such a demanding challenge.

For most of us, it’s plonk ourselves into a British urbanization (OK, we don’t mind a few Scandinavians too, as long as they speak good English), spend our social lives in the British bars playing bingo, on the beach and gawking at Corrie and East Enders.

Muy español!


I popped in to a local bar in El Raso for a coffee the other day – only the weather was so nice I decided to sit outside in the sunshine. I picked up the menu and was about to order some lunch when a middle-aged English couple plonked themselves down on the next table and promptly lit up a couple of Benson and Hedges.

Within seconds I was inhaling as much nicotine as they were – and these particular ciggies were just the first of four each that these two unfortunate drug addicts poisoned themselves with in the next hour or so.

Fortunately, I wasn’t there to share the joy of passively permeating my lungs and clothes with the fumes of their cancer sticks. I had long since upped myself and moved to another area of the bar where no one was polluting the air.

OK, 30 years after giving up my own 20-a-day habit, I accept that I’m a boring, sanctimonious old ex-smoker.

But where’s the justice when an innocuous woman having a quiet coffee has to move in order to accommodate people indulging in an unhealthy, unsocial, even life-threatening habit?

Surely it’s the smokers who should be banished. Preferably to a suitably-title Cancer Corner that might help them realise just how much damage they are doing to themselves and everyone else.

Published by Euro Weekly News, 2010

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The painful experience of phoning a ‘cheap’ Premium Rate number
02 December 2010



It should have been a straightforward phone call, though I knew it would cost me perhaps a couple of euros. I was going back to the UK for a short while and needed to upgrade my RAC breakdown cover.

So I called the number on my membership package, 0844 8913111, from my Guardamar home, knowing full well that this was a UK Premium Rate number, though a pretty cheap one to ring from within the UK (5p a minute, I’m told).

By the time everything was sorted I’d been on the blower for 11 minutes. No problem there, I thought. Even if the call cost five times as much as from the UK, that would still amount to less than three euros. And as my Spanish phone package with MyBubble provides me with free calls to UK and  European landlines, I figured the cost would be less than that.

So imagine my reaction when I discovered the call had cost me an unbelievable 19.50 euros! The best part of 20 quid, for heaven’s sake. Shock, horror - I’d been robbed!

Armed with my battle axe, I called MyBubble, ready to pull the plug their service after just a few months. I’d previously run out of patience with Telefonica’s stubborn unhelpfulness (seemingly like most of the people I know) – but I couldn’t believe even they would have been party to such a blatant rip-off.

Most of the cost, MyBubble assured me, was down to the 0844 subscriber, not them. So how much did MyBubble charge me for the call, I asked, and who actually pocketed the 19.50 euros? Despite several subsequent requests, I’m still waiting for an answer. And also to discover why a seven-minute call to 02 on the same bill cost me a princely 10.80 euros.

Suffice it to say that when I contacted the RAC in London (by email this time – once bitten, twice shy), they insisted they charged only 5p per minute to callers from with the UK but had no control over charges levied by providers in other countries.

Before every subscriber goes out and bursts his or her MyBubble contract, I still do not know who actually usurped that 19.50 from my savings. And I do in fact owe the company a big thank you for pointing me in the direction of, an invaluable website that provides landline alternatives to most UK Premium Rate numbers.

It’s particularly useful to people booking with airlines like Monarch and Ryanair, who have become frustratingly used to waiting interminally at their own (considerable) cost to book, amend or cancel flights. Or just to vent their fury over the way those particular sky-boys turned into prize pillocks over the volcanic ash fiasco.

Bubble’s advice to anyone planning to call a UK Premium Rate number for whatever reason (which includes any number beginning 0844, 0845, 0870 and 0871) is to first check the company’s website or ask them directly if they have a standard landline number you can use.

If not, lists alternative numbers for many companies that have premium numbers. I’ve looked at it and you’d be amazed how useful it is.

Last week, I needed to call the Halifax in England about account security and with the website’s help, managed to circumnavigate the Premium Rate minefield and another potential mega bill.

It’s just a shame MyBubble’s welcome pack didn’t tell me about before I became the victim of the Premium Rate scam.

I’m still waiting to hear into who’s pocket my 19.50 euros went because neither the RAC nor MyBubble are owning up. So is there a third party out there raking in the rewards of fleecing unknowing pensioners like me?

Answers (and refunds) to

Published in Female Focus magazine, 2010 (

You can read more of Donna's tales and grumps at and also at

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