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Donna Gee - Spain's Grumpy Old Gran


Sussing out door-to-door collectors...
23 July 2011



I’VE never been sure what the Spanish law is regarding door-to-door charity collections.

On one hand I’m told it’s illegal, and that the people who ring my bell trying to raise money for a new school/hospice/orphanage/public toilet are in fact bogus.

On the other hand, you have those charity callers whose impressive documentation .and smooth tongue convinces you they are for real.

‘’Don’t give money to anyone collecting at the door,’’ is the clear message from both my community president and the local Neighbourhood Watch. ‘‘The odds are that they are not genuine.’’

Well, for the last two or three years, this cheerful-looking Spanish guy in his 40s, lways armed with identity card, badge, documents and flyers galore, has been doing his best to squeeze euros out of the expat community around my home.

Some people give, some don’t. And I admit he’s sweet-talked me into parting with a few euros in the past.


But that was before I became Editor of The Courier – and in fact, before this newspaper even came into existence.

This time I was armed with a powerful new weapon and II plotted a scheme that would make or break him next time he came calling..

I would to tell him I was writing an article on residents being pestered by bogus charity collectors. I wanted take his photograph and put it in The Courier, at the same time confirming to readers that he was no Luis the Ladrón and represented a genuine cause.

I figured that an honest collector would agree instantly to being photographed since it would surely improve hisreturns…while an imposter would run a mile.

I was in the garden when he turned up in mid-afternoon a couple of weeks ago.

‘Hola senora, you Engleesh?’’

He clearly didn’t remember me – not that I wanted him to.

‘’Yes, I want to speak to you,’’ I replied in Spanish, going straight on the attack as he pulled his documents out of his briefcase.

I reeled off my proposal (well, hardly reeled it off – my Spanish isn’t particularly good) and then mentioned taking his photo.

He did not like the idea. In fact, it horrified him. ‘No photograph!’’ he snapped, quickly putting his papers back in his briefcase. ‘‘Definitely not. It is illegal to take photos in Spain.’’

‘‘It’s illegal to collect money door to door in Spain, more likely,’’ I retorted, uncertain whether this was in fact true.

With that, he thrust the leaflet alongside into my hand and stalked off to accost another potential victim.

The following day a respectable looking woman aged about 30 appeared at the front gate and began the charity sales talk. Or so I thought.

‘‘I’m sorry but there’s a great suspicion of charity collectors around here,’’ I said, lining up another photographic session. ‘‘People think you are not genuine.’’

‘‘Charity? I’m not collecting for charity, cariño,’’ she retorted indignantly. ‘‘I’m collecting for ME. For me and my family.’’

There followed a party political broadcast on behalf of Spain’s unemployed masses. She told me she had lost her job, her husband was out of work and his dole had been stopped, and they had three kids to feed.

How else could she support them than by calling on the generosity of more affluent people?

I know she could have been conning. But if she was, she deserved the €10 I gave her just for her acting skills.

Genuine or not, her face lit up at the sight of the money and she couldn’t thank me or hug me enough. ‘‘This will pay the lighting bill tomorrow, carino. I’m so happy.’’

And off she went with a parting shot. ‘‘Watch out for those charity collectors. You never know if their genuine.’’


TALKING of uninvited callers, I got into conversation the other day with two very nice ladies about…the end of the world.

Yes, they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now although I am not a Chrstian, I have never been one of those ‘we’re not interested – clear off’ types.

Indeed, apart from the fact that they are invariably humble, gentle people, I have the greatest admiration for the courage of Witnesses in the face of adversity.

Namely the antagonism of so many people who resent their intrusion. It’s all very well to turn them away politely but firmly, but verbal aggression and rudeness is not necessary.

I'd also like to clear up one or two misconceptions about Jehovah’s Witnesses. First of all, they are neither crazy nor any more deluded than followers of any other religious order. Indeed, to me their message rings truer than most.

The mess that mankind has got the world into needs sorting urgently – and who better to handle it than Big G himself? And soon!

I would never have the courage or dedication to become a Witness. But I do wish I could truly BELIEVE because it immediately takes all the fear out of dying

‘‘I bet you get a lot more abuse than friendliness when you knock on doors,’’ I said to my visitors. ‘‘You are so brave to carry on despite all the resentment.’’

‘‘The strength to go on doesn’t come from us – but from Jehovah,’’ they replied.

I come from Jewish roots, but as a lifelong agnostic, I have spent my entire life wondering what existence is all about.

But there has to be more to it than eating, drinking and making a nuisance of ourselves.

Jehovah’s Witness literature often portrays their idea of the Paradise awaiting believers.

We see images of Mum, Dad and smiling kids strolling and playing in a sunny Garden of Eden, their pets – including lions and tigers – sitting obediently at their feet.

Beat you to it, guys. I’m in Paradise every time I sit in my sunny garden, full of glorious summer colour, with one purring moggy on my lap and another at my side.

In this life, that’s as good as it gets for me. It almost makes my chronic backache worthwhile…

Published in The Courier ( July 22, 2011

Like 0        Published at 22:12   Comments (0)

Where restaurants have got it wrong on smoking
11 July 2011


I HAVE two pet hates in life, as everyone who knows me is aware. I hate onions - and I can’t stand inconsiderate smokers.

In fact, my worst nightmare is the thought of being accosted by someone smoking an onion.

I wish the obnoxious things had never been put on this earth – or left under it to be more accurate.

Apart from the runny-eye aspect, raw onions are obscenely pungent. And as for the taste…better move on before I’m sick. Literally.

The thing is, it’s relatively easy to avoid the smell of onions – unless someone rams one in your face, of course. No such luck with the cancer-stick brigade, though.

Maybe it’s their way of fighting back at those who cast them out into the winter cold. But I’m getting the distinct aroma of déjà vu this summer.
Back in England a few years ago, I used to rail about inconsiderate smokers (which was just about all of them) lighting up on the next table as I was about to tuck into my juicy  steak.

I dared not complain because they were perfectly entitled to pollute my clothes and lungs and ruin my evening. So I stopped going to restaurants.
Come July 1, 2007, I was in heaven. Smoking was banned in public places - and I could at last dine out in the knowledge that any sick saddie who couldn’t do without a roll-up for the time it takes to eat three courses had no option but to leave the room. And the building.

However, when I moved to Spain, it was back to square one. Square zero, even -because smoking is to the Spanish what beer, tattoos and pot bellies are to British holidaymakers.

Which is one of the reasons I wrote a piece just before the January smoking ban predicting that while expats would abide by the rules, the natives would find a way round it because it was part of their culture.

I had the impression that smoking 50 Señor Service Extra Pungent a day was compulsory for every Spaniard over the age of 16 – particularly the girls.
I also thought it was a miracle the country isn’t permanently shrouded in smog.

My belief the ban would not work was based on the fact that whilst British smokers are used to being persecuted, the idea of not lighting up, particularly in their favourite bar, is to the average Spaniard unthinkable.

Which is why I’m astounded the Madrid government’s legislation seems to be working in these parts.

Of course, the January embargo came as a godsend to anti-smoking fanatics like myself.

At last we were in a little England where smokers would shiver outside while the clean-living dined unmolested in our favourite restaurant.

No more scouring tables before sitting down for giveaway ciggy packets  – always a sure sign that you’d  be choking within a few minutes.

But of course, we knew that come summer, it would be déjà vu and back to the days when I stopped eating out in the UK.

Now, once again, smokers are free to put al fresco diners in a Catch 22 situation (i.e. ‘be a passive pal and help me smoke my cigarette - or take your clear air somewhere else’).

Unless I choose to bake inside a sweltering restaurant and miss out on the joys of outdoor dining, the Choker Jokers are going to get me.
OK, I know most eateries have air conditioning, but who wants to sit indoors on a glorious summer’s evening?

Last week, I dined with friends in the pretty setting of La Herradura restaurant in Los Montesinos.
Inside, no smoking of course - and no diners either. It was far too hot.

Outside, it was choc-a-bloc with dozens of tables, covered with pristine white tablecloths, arranged close together to accommodate as many diners as possible.

The whole scenario was a non-smoker’s nightmare with the message to the nicotine brigade, ‘light up when you like’, regardless of that woman about to consume her carpaccio of prawns starter two feet away.

Now I know that smoking in the open air is perfectly legal. But do restaurateurs not realise that  most of their customers DO NOT enjoy their steaks drizzled with tobacco-smoke sauce?

Surely it’s the simplest thing to set up separate smoking and non-smoking areas, just as I remember in the days before the legislators first moved in. The only difference is that they need to do it OUT-DOORS.

It really is déjà vu. And it’s happening all over again.

Like 0        Published at 00:27   Comments (3)

Would YOU bring back the death penalty?
01 July 2011



WHEN it comes to the legal system in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, there’s not much I agree with. Come to think of it, I’m not overkeen on anything else about the two regimes, either.

Not that the citizens of those esteemed democracies (I’m joking) have much say in what’s going on.

But just how democratic are countries like the UK and Spain? Do Brits really have a say in everything that matters – particularly when it involves contentious issues where government and public opinion are at odds?

Like bringing back the death penalty.

Successive governments have known from their research that a national referendum on the return of capital punishment for predatorial killers like Levi Bellfield would produce a massive ‘hang the scum’ vote.

And that’s where the British system ceases to be democratic. Because David Cameron’s government, like the Brown, Blair, Major and Thatcher regimes before them, think they know better than the voters.

So Bellfield will merely spend his life in jail at our expense. My heart bled for his victim Millie Dowler’s family in their understandable rage following Bellfield’s conviction.

‘‘In my eyes, justice is an eye for an eye,’’ said Millie’s sister Gemma. ‘‘You brutally murder someone then you pay the ultimate price ...a life for a life. So in my eyes no real justice has been done’’.

And so say the vast majority of those who think political correctness sucks. Which is just about everyone I know!

Gemma made it abundantly clear that she wanted Bellfield six feet under.

But however desirable that may be, it would not politically correct. Because it would impinge on Bellfield’s human rights.

Human rights? Since when are vermin like Bellfield (pictured right) human? And let’s not call him an animal because, unlike him, no animal is innately evil. Ask the average Brit and at least 75 per cent will say this particular piece of filth has lost its right to live.

Likewise, the likes of Ian Brady, Myra Hindley, Ian Huntley and Harold Shipman should have been executed as soon as they were convicted. It’s all very well for the Lord Longfords of this world to cry out at the lynch-mob mentality of the masses, but public opinion still seems to favour the Old Testament philosophy of an eye for an eye.

It may be PC to take the New Testament route and turn the other cheek - but if it leads to being whacked twice as hard, what’s the point?

I took a straw poll among friends the other day and whilst a majority favoured bringing back the death penalty, the one proviso everyone demanded was that guilt must be established, not beyond reasonable doubt as in the past, but beyond ALL doubt.

I would also confine the ultimate penalty to murders involving premeditated evil – which would exclude crimes of passion.

Isn’t it ironic that bringing back capital punishment is so popular with those who remember, not only the heinous crimes of the Crippins and Christies, but also the horrendous mistakes when convicted ‘murderers’ were hanged and then found to be totally innocent?

Discussing this topic is, of course, largely pointless, because Britain will never restore the death penalty. Neither will Spain, which in 2009 became one of the last nations in Europe to dismantle its gallows completely.

Indeed, the death penalty remains in only two of Europe’s 50 nations, Latvia and Belarus. And the Latvians retain it only for crimes during wartime.
I’m no fan of the gung-ho Americans, but at least they listen to the people (even to the point of electing an idiot like George W Bush and half-destroying the world as a consequence).

The Yanks executed 47 murderers last year with Texas the most prolific and enthusiastic state. The problem is that our friends across the Pond often fail to understand the difference between a life sentence and a death sentence.

I mean, serving 20 years on death row and THEN being hanged is a bit steep.

But even 20 eyes for an eye would be too lenient a punishment for the likes of Levi Bellfield.

 Published in The Courier (, July 1, 2011

Like 0        Published at 17:57   Comments (5)

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