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Donna Gee - Spain's Grumpy Old Gran


Stop the bus in Spain - I want to get off where life is fine and fair
13 December 2015

Dashing up the steps of  an Alicante-bound jet at  Manchester Airport in pouring rain and a furious early-morning gale is a favourite memory of my ever-dwindling trips home to the UK.


The race across the runway to the aircraft was invariably sheer pleasure because I was about to swap the cold, miserable British weather for the Costa Blanca life I so adore.


Apart from the shivering, soggy climate, my visits to the UK continue to highlight why living in England today is more of a penance than a joy.


Yes, the beautiful countryside, unique historic buildings and ironic British sense of humour are still intact. But the breakdown of law and order and increasingly large sub-culture of yobbism, alcoholism and drug addiction is frightening.


I won’t go into the most controversial subject of all – the over-immigration which is polarising rather than uniting the country. That would be politically incorrect, even if my personal viewpoint is considerably less extreme than that of many native Brits.


One subject that really does make my blood boil is the unnecessary traffic chaos and the incompetence of the faceless bureaucrats responsible for the massive disruption on motorways and trunk roads.


Everywhere I drove, I seemed to be held up – from an enforced 30-mile motorway detour to accommodate a bridge-building exercise, to temporary traffic lights causing hold-ups on virtually every main road. The general philosophy of the transport bureaucrats seemed to be, ‘‘Cause maximum disruption to as many motorists as possible at the time the traffic is heaviest’’.


I don’t tend to drive in busy areas in Spain, but in ten years of part-time residence in the 

southern Costa Blanca, I have never seen a  traffic jam, let alone the gridlock of vehicles that snarls up UK cities almost permanently.


The Spanish attitude to traffic accidents and road maintenance seems to be the exact opposite to that of the British authorities. The priority after a pile-up is to get the traffic moving again – and to carry out repairs only when they are essential. Hence the road surface can be very iffy. 


The consolation Is that you’ll never be caught in a 10-mile queue on the M6, with two lanes blocked by a cone army and an invisible work force. In England, I rarely go out without being stuck in a queue of crawling cars.


I also had the dubious pleasure of clashing with the council jobsworths who monitor minor traffic offenders in Bury, Lancashire, where my UK home is. I lost the battle, of course, because being fair did not tally with their  mission to fill the town coffers with as much cash as possible from the softest touches of all – law-abiding motorists.


I was blissfully unaware that since the my previous visit to the UK, Bury Council had decided to prohibited one particular bus lane to other vehicles from 7am to 7pm on weekdays, rather than the normal 7-10am and 4-7pm double slot which operated for every other bus lane in Greater Manchester.


My ‘crime’ was that I went on a lunchtime shopping trip on a quiet weekday and, at 12.38pm, moved my little Kia Picanto into the empty bus lane momentarily to allow the only other car on the road to pass me. It hadn’t crossed my mind to check the hours of prohibition first – I naturally assumed the rules were the same as everywhere else.

Gotcha! The council spiders had set up a camera to trap heinous criminals like myself in their devious web. And three days later I received photographic evidence of my car tootling along in the bus lane at 25mph, plus a demand for £60 – reduced to £30 if I paid within 14 days.


How kind of them to penalise an unknowing pensioner for being courteous to another driver and clearly having no intention of using the bus lane to jump a queue or for any dubious reason.


A few days later I received a written reply from Bury’s Parking Services Manager  in which  grammar and accuracy were given low priority.   

(Sic) ‘’I have noted your comments, however, upon further investigation of your case it is apparent that full payment of the Notice has been made,’’ he wrote, as if that was a reason the fine could not be reversed.

‘‘I can confirm that there is ample signage at the entrance to the bus lane specifying the relevant start and end times. The onus is on the motorist to check the information before making the judgement to enter a bus lane.

”Thank you for your prompt payment, however, I would like to inform you that any further right to appeal is lost and the case is now closed.’’ 

That’s it, then. Guilty as charged, and no reference whatsoever to my explanation.                                                                                                   

In Spain, the Trafico has some weird regulations and if you are unlucky, you could find yourself forking out 100 euros for driving in flip-flops or carrying your shopping on the back seat.

If you are really unlucky, you might even be fined for speeding in Barcelona when you have never been within 300 kilometres of the place. Fortunately, the photo accompanying the ticket showed a different make of  car – albeit with what appeared to be the registration number of my Kia Picanto.

A quick call to the Trafico sorted that one out. They cancelled the ticket even more rapidly than Bury council’s greed machine scoffed my credit- card payment.

Like 0        Published at 00:50   Comments (8)

Why my fear of flying is just a Spainful memory...
05 December 2015

I used to be so petrified of flying that I'd lock myself away in the airport loo half an hour before boarding and demolish a quarter bottle of  neat Fundador.

Then I'd happily jet off to my destination full of carefree spirit, knowing that if the bottom fell out of the plane at 38,000 feet, I could ferry passengers and crew across the sky to safety using my own 40 per cent proof alcohol tank. 

Even in those days, I was aware that flying was much safer than driving. So, indeed, are the masses of nervous people today who are so scared of air travel that they think a Ryanair loo and a hot flush are the same thing.

So why did I ever get into a flap over what is statistically the safest form of travel on earth (or a few thousand feet above it to be accurate)?  

Global airline safety reports confirm there were a total of 90 commercial aeroplane accidents in 2013, just nine of which involved fatalities .

If you are set on meeting St Peter at the Pearly Gates ASAP, then I can reveal that making the trip on two wheels is by far the best bet.  The 173 people killed on those doomed trips may seem a lot but when you look at the figures in the context of 32 million flights worldwide, the overall statistic of one accident per 300,000 flights and one fatality every three million trips proves conclusively that there is no safer form of transport.

Yes, the riskiest way to travel anywhere is on a motorbike. Mile-for-mile, motorcycling is statistically  3,000 times more deadly than flying – and you are 100 times more likely to die travelling to Spain on four wheels than on a UK charter flight to or from the Costas.  

Feel free to double the car-death figure if you include the loony Spanish fly boys who have brought a new skill to the art of driving. It's called airborne overtaking and it's soaring in popularity on my local autoroute.

I was approaching my fifties (in age, that is, not maximum driving speed) when I finally came to terms with the fear-of-flying nonsense. During a rare moment of airborne sobriety, my pickled brain came realised that Fundador-mentalism at ground level was much more likely to kill me than an extinct bird trying to board Ryanair ‘s smallest aircraft.

So when I now squeeze myself into one of Michael O’Leary’s tiny 3,000-seaters, I am reasonably relaxed, albeit still with the ability to panic whenever turbulence is around. Admit it, you laid-back veterans of sky travel  - don't you cast a quick look at the cabin crew's faces whenever the engine sound changes or if the fasten seat-belt signs suddenly lights up? 

I'm sure the aircraft staff are trained to remain calm at all times. But I defy them to keep a straight face if and when a desperate dodo sticks its beak into the starboard wing and the engine catches fire.

For all that, it's great to be smugly dismissive of the occasional flyers who break into a round of applause when their holiday flight touches down. What's coming next - a windbound for the driver?

For me, the most sobering thought is that my daughter and her other half run  a major training centre for motorcycle riders in Manchester. 

I need a drink. Anyone seen my hip flask?

PS. A thought on the new menace of terrorism in the air. In the wake of the 9/11 horror, airline passenger miles in the United States fell between 12% and 20% while road travel rocketed. By the time the panic ended and sky travel returned to normal, academics estimated that 1,595 extra lives had been lost. I never could figure out the Americans.

Like 0        Published at 00:09   Comments (1)

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