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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 7 November 2020
07 November 2020 @ 11:42

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.  

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'*  

 Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

Today is the first day of EC2 (El Contenamiento Dos) and I wonder if, on my permitted walk, I'll pass a café allowed to sell coffee and a croissant 'to go'. Or whether any of my local friends has opened a private café in their kitchen.

Cosas de España . . 

1. I need to check on this but I'm sure Banco Santander gave me the message yesterday that, if I use my credit card at their ATMs - my debit card doesn't work - they will charge me only 3 euros if if take cash from my current account, but 9 euros if I take it via my credit card account. Regardless, I assumed, of whether or not I pay it off at the end of the month. Spanish banks have always been infamously rapacious but now - having closed most of their branches and reduced the level of their service - they’re all ramping up their charges as fast as they can. Of which there's quite a range.

2. A foreign friend this week asked me if her bank really could change the conditions of service - i. e. their charges - without telling her anything. My reply: My UK bank sends me regular letters on this but, in 19 years, I've never received anything by way of advice from any of the 6 Spanish banks I've used. A different concept of customer service.

3. Three days ago I tried to make a bank transfer to the blinds company but their IBAN was rejected. As they insisted it was correct, I tried another 3 times, without success. So, I said I’d call at the shop yesterday and pay in cash, for which I was thanked. When I got there at 12 - the equivalent of 10 in almost every other country in the world - it was closed. With only a bank piece of paper flapping on the door. Maybe I was supposed to write my own message.

Lenox Napier of The Spanish Shilling has a few choice words here about the traffic cops, with which, I'm sure, we can all sympathise. Except perhaps the solicitous reader who commented a few years ago that one could only be fined if one broke the law.

María's Falling Back chronicle Day 53.


Kanye West stood for president this time and says he'll do so again next time round. The estimable Caitlin Moran suggests that: America might have lost its goddamn mind — but not quite enough to make Kanye West its president. But who really knows?

Meanwhile, Joe Biden says he'll work towards a 'more perfect Union', which might strike some of us as a rather weird thing to say right now, as we gaze on the current state of the (alleged) Union. Biden’s phrase comes from the Preamble to the American Constitution. When such a goal might well have looked more achievable than it does now.

The current state of play. The Loser-in-Chief:-

Anyway . .  There’s a nice balanced article from Matthew Parris below, on Things Trump Got Right. Which I don’t deny.


I didn't know that the Guardia Civil traffic cops were known as Los primos - The cousins. HT to Lenox for this.

And a HT to my daughter's Madrileño partner for this on a common error of native speakers: Otra muy comun es decir “contra mas” en vez de “cuanto mas”. Casi todo el mundo se equivoca en est.  Por ejemplo: "contra mas tiene, mas quiere” en vez de “cuanto mas, tiene mas quiere”  But perhaps this is only true of Madrid.


If you ignore the tail, most snakes are very short: The witty Dave Barry


Let’s face it, Trump got many things right  Matthew Parris, The Times 

My own response to the (presumably) outgoing US president began in disgust but has edged not to admiration — never that — but a wary appreciation of what he’s been right about. President Trump has shifted the shape of American policy both at home and abroad. There have been some appalling missteps but in a handful of big ways, more than his critics on the left are prepared to allow, this reset was urgently needed.

The Trump presidency was ahead of almost all of us in its visceral understanding of the threat to the West posed by communist China. Clever people have been muttering about this (some, like our last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, more than muttering) for decades, but Trump took the bull by the horns. Post-Trump, neither his own country nor Europe will ever be able return to their relaxed confidence that China’s rise can happen in a way that meshes easily with western interests. Trump saw that it must be at best a scratchy business. He saw that crude shin-kicking has a role in international affairs. He saw the same with North Korea, too.

And there were shins that needed kicking. Our European Nato allies, reluctant to pull their weight in contributions to the organisation, deserved it, and from Trump they got it. In the coronavirus pandemic the World Health Organisation, from which Beijing has blackballed Taiwan’s membership, made a disgraceful start by ducking that island’s warnings about what was happening on the Chinese mainland. Trump gave the WHO both barrels.

It’s all very well for those of us who see the importance of “multilateral” institutions like the WHO and its parent United Nations to bewail America’s turning away; but if President (as I hope) Biden is to re-engage, then Washington will now start with a much stronger hand. Somebody has to play hard cop. Trump had a gut appreciation of that.

We British should stray only hesitantly into commentary on American domestic affairs, so I’ll venture just two thoughts about Trump as a national leader.

First, the political climate in which the last Democratic candidate for president, Hillary Clinton, could even think about calling Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables” had lost its bearings. Trump can be criticised for weaponising the tens of millions who fall through the gaps in the American dream; he can be criticised for over-steering; but he effected a radical course-correction that the Democratic Party must get behind if it is not to flounder in the years ahead. And, laugh as we might at his “beautiful wall” solution to America’s porous southern border, we’d be fools to laugh off the discomfort felt by millions that the influx across that border has been out of control.

Second, although America clearly has a tremendous problem with its police culture, elements in the Black Lives Matter movement started threatening public order in a way which, were I living there, would have alarmed me too: not so much for my own safety as for an erosion of respect for the rule of law that “liberal” America (including Biden) seemed nervous of calling out. In calling it out, Trump undoubtedly dog-whistled to racists and bigots, but he spoke for many who were not racists or bigots. When he publicly insulted the government of China, he dog-whistled to jingoists and xenophobes, but he spoke for many who were neither. When he spoke for left-behind blue-collar America, he dog-whistled to many rabble-rousing rednecks, but he spoke for many more thoughtful Americans, too. When he abused Angela Merkel in personal terms, he dog-whistled to many foolish isolationists, but he spoke for many who were rightly resentful of EU protectionism.

And here we come to what it is about Trump’s successes that so profoundly depress me as a commentator who would hope to place myself among the thoughtful centre-right in politics.

Are we entering an era in which the right’s only route to power in democratic politics is via the nastier kind of populism? Is there no longer hope for intelligent right-wing parties that do not clothe themselves in vulgar demagoguery? Can right-of-centre thinking no longer be sold except on the populist ticket?

I cast my mind back over our own British Tory political history. I think of Lord Salisbury’s deep and eloquent scepticism about change; of Stanley Baldwin’s appeal to all that was mild, moderate and commonsensical in the English character; of Churchill’s deft blend of what was rousing and what was prudential; of Harold Macmillan’s alloy of paternalism with the common touch; of John Major’s huge appeal in 1992 with gentle conservatism delivered from the soap box. And then of David Cameron’s increasing struggle to define a compassionate and tolerant Toryism that could keep the nasties on board.

But most of all I think of perhaps the last Tory leader to walk successfully the tightrope between intelligent right-wing politics and populism. Margaret Thatcher (for whom I slaved in the dungeons as an aide before she became prime minister) had a super-keen ear for the discontents of what snootier colleagues would have called the ordinary people, but combined it with an equally keen brain for policy, and a deep distrust of mob rule.

Will she, and her mentor Sir Keith Joseph, prove the last to harness a muzzled kind of populism? These days the intellectual right often seem cold and emotionally disconnected: so horribly uncharismatic in an internet age when deference to intellect or expertise is dead, and many operate more on sentiment than logical analysis.

Trump saw that. But how, if not in The Donald’s way — through appeal to an unconsidered kind of patriotism and crude messaging about looking after our own — does the 21st-century centre-right bridge the gap between popular concerns and right-of-centre solutions?

Prominent in commentary in the weeks ahead will be the view that Trump’s administration got many things right, but that Trump was a slob, and a dreadful salesman for Trumpism. But what if it’s worse than that? What if only slobs can sell conservatism to 21st-century electorates? Truly, as Gove said, does wisdom take many forms: and Donald Trump’s may have been a terrible kind of wisdom.


* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant.

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