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The Curmudgeon

The curmudgeon is a miserable sod. He likes to have a moan. He tackles subjects which many foreigners living in Spain agree with but are too polite to say anything.

A Change is as Good as a Rest – No, it’s not! Or is it?
Friday, June 17, 2022

Most of us don’t like change. Sometimes it’s for the better, but not everybody sees it that way. Pablo de Ronda has noticed a lot of changes recently around his patch. In his opinion, not always good at first, but sometimes it gives new energy to local life. The Curmudgeon, on the other hand, doesn’t like change at all. It just makes him cross. In this joint article, they go into more detail.

Pablo de Ronda: There seems to be a lot of change at the moment. For most of my life I’ve preferred the status quo, because it’s usually easier. Lately, however, and since Covid-19 appeared and blighted our lives to a huge extent, I think that change has often brought about good outcomes.

The Curmudgeon: All the changes we’re experiencing make me really cross and usually just make daily life a lot harder.

 

Death

When someone passes this represents a big change, not just for loved ones of the deceased.

Famous people die all the time.

Recently we lost rock drummer Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones and keyboardist Andrew Fletcher of Depeche ModeVangelis, the Greek composer of those wonderful film scores, such as Chariots of Fire, has left us.

On Monday, as Pablo de Ronda flew to the UK for the strewing of the ashes of Andy, the husband of his niece Nicki and father of Alex and Willow, who died two years ago in a light plane crash in Australia aged 44, he learned that Phil Bennett, the Welsh rugby union legend, had just died aged 73.

Five villagers from Montejaque (Málaga) died of Covid-19, each of which constituted changes to the lives of relatives and friends and to the life of the village.

 

Working from home

Introduced on a massive scale to help countries to cope with the volume of cases of the Coronavirus, this has been a positive change. As employers have realised that the output of their staff has not diminished but increased, that their workers really are working for the company, and not taking the dog for a walk, playing with the children, gardening or decorating the spare room, this has been a positive change, both for the environment (less travel) and for the wellbeing and mental health of their staff.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the UK government cabinet minister, who thinks that all civil servants should return to their offices, should keep his silly mouth shut.

 

Health and Hygiene

The pandemic has brought about a number of changes in the world of health and hygiene.

At the start of the first lockdown, we discovered we had been washing our hands incorrectly for thousands of years. We learned to sneeze into our armpits and to tap elbows or fists as the new form of greeting. Handshakes and kissing on both cheeks was definitely out.

Doctors began telephone consultationsThe Curmudgeon’s wife, after being very ill from Covid-19, was offered physiotherapy ….. over the phone!

Within the private health care sector, many specialists in Ronda declared themselves unavailable for consultations for fear of catching the bicho.

The Curmudgeon says: “We had to travel to the coast to see various specialists. Obviously the Coronavirus wasn’t as dangerous down there, as most specialists continued to ply their trade! Funny, that!”

The vaccination programme went very well in and around Ronda. Pablo de Ronda and his wife were full of praise for the efficiency, timeliness and expertise of Salud Andalucía, who completed three jabs for all adults ahead of time.

“On top of that our certificates were on the Salud Andalucía app within no time at all,” said Pablo.

The downside of the pandemic is that other routine procedures and operations were not dealt with for the best part of two years and there is a huge backlog.

The Curmudgeon, a recently diagnosed type-2 diabetic, complains that he cannot get a blood test on the national health system. “The protocol states that blood tests are only available every six months,” said his doctor.

“It’s ridiculous,” moans The Curmudgeon“Testing the sugar levels in the blood of diabetics regularly is crucially important. In other countries, eg Germany, you get a blood test every month.”

“I can get one done privately on demand, but what about people who can’t afford to? It’s not fair at all!”

 

Daily Life

Cita Previa

Introduced during the lockdowns for hygiene and safety reasons, this is now being abused by companies and organisations continuing with the practice, when arguably it is no longer necessary. For example, The Curmudgeon had to collect a letter from Hacienda last week, so he went along to the office expecting to be able to just pick it up, but no, he had to make a cita previa to carry out a process that took two minutes. "Ridiculous!" he chuntered, "Bureaucracy gone mad!"

On the other hand, sometimes a cita previa would work better and save us a lot of time sitting around waiting.

To do anything at a comisaria de policia, you just have to show up and wait. The Curmudgeon needed to do a denuncia a while back. He had to go three times because the first two times the (only) officer in charge of denuncias was busy on other matters. And on the third occasion he had to wait nearly two hours to get the report done!

“I have better things to do than sit around the police station for ages. And what’s more, they don’t have a public toilet, so if you’ve got a dodgy bladder like I have, it’s a nightmare!”

He also needed to register a rental property. He went twice last week. The first time he waited an hour and then gave up. The second time the (only) officer designated for this task wasn’t even there. He has yet to go a third time.

“I thought the police were supposed to be public servants,” he said. “Hah!”

Banking

There are huge and controversial changes in the field of banking, so much so that The Curmudgeon has left two banks in the space of six months.

“When my main bank, Unicaja, got too big for its boots and went from being a relatively small regional savings bank to becoming the fifth largest bank in Spain, they stopped caring about their loyal customers in Andalucía.”

Despite making huge profits, they’re closing branches left, right and centre and trying to force their customers, many of them old and without computers or smart phones, to do their banking online.

The Curmudgeon continues: “I was with Unicaja for over 20 years, but when they changed their conditions for free banking and wouldn’t budge despite my long time as a client, I closed the account and went to CaixaBank where the requirements for free banking are less onerous.”

He has also just closed his account with BancSabadell for several reasons. Firstly, they closed the branch in Ronda last December. “I knew it would be a problem, not having direct access to a branch (the next nearest is an hour away in San Pedro de Alcántara) but I agreed to give it a try. Sometimes their cajero isn’t working but, worst of all, when I recently ordered new cards, they were unable to activate them even on the phone or online.”

Three times The Curmudgeon called the manager and left messages requesting a call back and no call came. So, he’s closed the account and will just use CaixaBank from now on.

Shopping

A few stores have changed hands. Supersol is no more. French supermarket chain Carrefour bought all their stores in Spain and are in the process of upgrading them, some to their economy chain Supeco"The stores are very yellow," complained The Curmudgeon. "I hate yellow!"

The other former Supersol store on the bypass, which has been closed for many years, was sold off in a different deal to Carmela, a Sevilla chain, and has now been trading for a couple of months.

Mercadona built a brand-new superstore next to ALDI and closed their old store opposite the new bus station. Bright and airy with easier parking, it’s a positive move from the Spanish chain.

Bars and Restaurants

A few bars and restaurants have closed their doors or changed hands in the last few months.

In RondaLocos Tapas has gone, because of the serious illness of owner Guillermo. That’s a real loss. This tiny tapas bar was the most innovative in the town and a delightful place to dine.

Also closed for good is Bar Maestro on Calle La Bola. Husband and wife Rafael and Paqui ran this popular bar for over 50 years before they reached retirement age and decided to stop.

Cafeteria/Panaderia Granier further up the same street seems to have closed its doors for good. We shall miss their excellent breakfasts and their pan noruego.

On the other hand the arrival of Miyagi Express, Ronda’s first Japanese Restaurant, and the new Moroccan restaurant in Plaza Carmen Abela, can only be a good thing for the town.

In Estación de Benaojan, Andy and Pauline have retired and have leased the charming hotel Molino del Santo to an Argentinian couple. "I haven’t tried it under new management yet, but I hear that standards are as high as before," observed Pablo de Ronda.

In MontejaqueBar Nazarí is no more. The young owner, Javi, realised being a “landlord” wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. That's a change for the worse for The Curmudgeon, who loved to go there for a good old moan.

In the same village El Patio de Frasquito Pedro closed when the owner Pepe retired, but, good news, it reopened shortly afterwards as El Patio, when young entrepreneur Jacinto took it on.

Sad news from Estación de Jimera de Libar as Bar Allioli closed its doors after 14 years as the best live music venue in the Serrania de Ronda. We wish Paul and Synnove well.

Parking 🅿

As more and more bars and restaurants spill onto the streets of Ronda, more and more parking spaces are being lost. As streets are pedestrianised or upgraded, parking spaces disappear. Hence, the plan for the new car park in the Barrio de San Francisco, is more than necessary.

In MontejaqueThe Curmudgeon is not the only resident who was aghast when the mayor declared unilaterally that several streets where parking has always been allowed were no longer available.

However, as Pablo de Ronda, a frequent visitor to the village, pointed out: “The council has enlarged and improved the existing municipal car park, adding lighting and creating many more spaces. Work is also continuing to turn the old cemetery into an additional car park. As it has turned out, it was a smart decision.”

New Infrastructure

The new bus station, adjacent to the railway station, is well under construction, and the new swimming pool near LIDL is due to open to the public next week.

The plans for a massive car park in the Barrio de San Francisco to the south of Ronda have been approved, and a new access road from the barrio up to town is being planned.

The Curmudgeon thinks these projects are an unnecessary attack on the countryside in and around Ronda, while Pablo de Ronda thinks that both are necessary to keep traffic out of the centre, where parking is already a nightmare in the spring and summer.

The Alameda park overlooking the valley and the Sierra de Grazalema is due for an upgrade. “A senseless waste of money,” says The Curmudgeon“The Alameda is fine as it is!” Surprisingly, Pablo de Ronda agrees and thinks the money could be better spent elsewhere.

 

Houses changing hands

The housing market seems to be on the move again after years in the Doldrums. In Montejaque alone, more than a dozen houses have been sold in 2022. We will be welcoming new people from other parts of Spain, but also from the UK, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Poland and Canada.

“This is a positive change,” says Pablo de Ronda“New blood means new investment in the local economy, eg construction, local shops, bars and restaurants, etc. Many of the houses had not been occupied for years and need renovation.”

“It’s also great to have new and different people from a range of nations to add to the rich tapestry of life in the village,” added Pablo.

 

The Murals

Over the last couple of years Ronda has undergone some changes to the urban landscape. Apart from the changes to the infrastructure mentioned earlier, the “City of Dreams” has acquired three giant murals and is about to acquire a fourth.

The first, a double mural on two apartment blocks at the old bus station were by famous street artist Oscar de Miguel (Okuda), This was followed by one at the Western entrance to the town by local artist Víctor Fernández“It’s my favourite, although I love them all!” said Pablo.

A third piece of wall art appeared on a gable end as you enter Ronda from the north via Avenida de Málaga. Also by Okuda.

The fourth is destined for the floor of a sports facility in San Rafael. This is by artist Víctor García. Work has already started and should last about three weeks.

These murals are part of a project called “Rebranding Ronda”.

Both Pablo de Ronda and The Curmudgeon like this change.

***

So, a change is as good as a rest? I think Pablo de Ronda and The Curmudgeon would have to agree to disagree about this.

***

STOP PRESS: The shock announcement earlier this week that BAR RESTAURANTE LA TERRAZA in Montejaque is to close has taken us all by surprise. That will bring about some changes. “I’ve no more reason to go to Montejaque,” said Pablo de Ronda. “I might have to move out,” grumbled The Curmudgeon.

 



Like 0        Published at 6:36 AM   Comments (0)


Why can’t we have dual nationality?  
Monday, May 23, 2022

As regional elections begin to be held in the 17 autonomous communities that make up Spain, attention is once again focused on the rights of foreigners, including British people, who reside full time in Spain. The Curmudgeon is sick to the back teeth at how he and countless others are disenfranchised. Some time ago he wrote a complaining article about foreigners not having the right to vote in national elections. Here he has a moan about the Spanish government not allowing dual nationality.

 

There have recently been regional elections in Castilla-León and Galicia. In Andalucía the regional vote has been organised for 29 June.

As a British man, permanently resident in Spain and empadronado (enrolled on the local padrón or census), I am able to vote in local, regional and, until Brexit, European elections, but not national ones.

An absolute disgrace! I have lived here and paid my dues here for more than a dozen years. I want a say in how my adopted country is governed.

Technically I could still vote in UK national elections if I could be bothered, like many, to fiddle it and get on the electoral roll. But I am no longer interested in voting in Warrington South, the constituency where I used to live, nor in exercising my right to vote in a country where I no longer live.

In my article on voting rights I referred to Giles Tremlett, a journalist who has lived in Madrid for donkeys years and is in the same boat as me and many thousands of others. He has been campaigning for years to get the vote in national elections here.

In 2016, in the aftermath of the Brexit Referendum. he switched his focus to another gripe that I have also held since the UK left the European Union. Dual nationality.

I wish to be a citizen of the European Union in my own right, not just because I happen to be married to an EU citizen. I do not like my status as a Third Country National.

I have researched acquiring Spanish nationality but to do so I will have to relinquish my British nationality and give up my British Passport, as Spain only allows dual nationality in a few circumstances, eg if you were born in Andorra (doh!), or come from a Spanish-speaking country in South or Central America.

Giles Tremlett together with fellow journalist William Chislett are calling for the Spanish government to grant dual nationality for British people who have resided in Spain for more than 10 years. To that end six years ago the two journalists organised an online petition, which achieved more than 17,000 signatures prior to being switched off.

Tremlett states: “Our petition is simple. As a result of the dramatic situation in which we find ourselves after Brexit, we urge the Spanish government to be generous to the country’s long-standing British community. Many of us could not vote in the Brexit referendum, so [that misguided decision by the British people] has been imposed on us against our will.”

It is clear that in order to allow dual nationality for those who have lived a long time in Spain it requires a change in Spanish legislation, but it would not be the first time this has happened.

In 2015, for example, the Conservative Partido Popular government of Mariano Rajoy offered double nationality to Sephardic Jews (the descendants of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492).

Spaniards resident in the UK already enjoy the right to joint nationality (unlike their counterparts in Spain) and Germany is considering making a similar offer to Britons who live there.

Tremlett continues: “We estimate there are around 25,000 Brits born in Spain or who have lived and worked here for more than 10 years (generally the required number of years for those seeking Spanish citizenship) might take up the offer.”

From the Spanish point of view, such a move would make a lot of sense in that it will also ensure that the country retains valuable human capital. 

We want to be Spaniards, Europeans and British – a reflection of our true identity, one that Brexit has taken away from us.

Tremlett and Chislett offer a hypothetical example:

Mr and Mrs Smith are British and have lived in Spain for 30 years. They came to the country when it joined the European Union in 1986. They liked it and decided to stay and work in one of its biggest cities, in the knowledge that their condition as EU citizens protected them as far as their rights were concerned and made clear what were their obligations. Between them, they have accumulated 60 years paying taxes and contributing to the Social Security system. Their two daughters were born in Spain, went to a state school and are now studying at British universities. When they graduate their daughters want to return to the country where they were brought up and regard as their home.

Brexit has left them confused and frightened. Will the daughters be able to return to the country of their birth and work? Can their parents collect their Spanish pensions if they have to live for a while in the UK? Would they be able to return to Spain? As regards to the age at which they retire, will the years they have paid into the British system count? And if their children want to continue their studies in Spain or elsewhere in Europe, will they pay EU or (costly) non-EU fees?

For the Smiths, like thousands of other Brits in Spain and thousands of Spaniards in the UK, the future is uncertain and deeply worrying.

The Smiths are friends of the Sánchez, a Spanish family that has lived a long time in the UK. Brexit creates similar problems for them, but they have found a solution to many of the practical problems and to the erosion of identity generated by the referendum result. The Sánchez have just applied for dual nationality.

The Smiths, however, do not have this option under Spanish legislation as they must first renounce their British nationality.

The Smiths and the Sánchez are, of course, fictitious, but they reflect the reality of many Spanish and British families who have based their lives on rules of co-existence that are now being torn up.

The two journalists support those Spaniards in the UK who can resolve the problems created by Brexit by requesting dual nationality (the son of Spanish foreign minister Jose Garcia-Margalio is doing this) and they urge the British government to treat them decently.

Nobody trusts the British government to represent our interests in this matter, however, which is why Tremlett and Chislett are going straight to the Spanish government, via both the Interior Ministry and the Foreign Ministry.

It is fair that the normal filters (knowledge of the Spanish language, the constitution, etc) should also be applied to those who seek dual nationality. According to my research applicants need to take an oral test as well as an examination based on the history, geography, culture, politics, etc of Spain.

I think this is perfectly reasonable.

The organisers of the petition asked Spaniards in the UK and in Spain to sign it, along with the many British people in Spain whose life plans have been so dramatically shattered.

As for me, the Curmudgeon, I’ll probably go ahead anyway and if necessary, give up my British passport.

After the political debacles of recent years, starting with David Cameron’s disastrous handling of the whole EU membership issue; the lies; the catastrophic vote; Theresa May’s short-lived ‘rule’; Boris Johnson’s election to prime minister; the bodged Brexit negotiations; his incompetence over Covid-19 and pretty much everything else; Northern Ireland; the corruption; the parties; the sexual scandals and BoJo’s refusal to resign, I am no longer proud to be British.

So, I’m off – regardless.

 

Further reading:

Why can't we have the vote?



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Spanish Police Check - What are the "fuzz" like?
Saturday, April 23, 2022

 

 

Police check in Spain

 

The Curmudgeon has had dealings with all three Spanish police forces over the years. Here is his assessment of their relative strengths and weaknesses and their level of ‘niceness’ or charm.

I was stopped by the tráfico section of the Guardia Civil on my way into Algunlugar the other day. Not sure what I’d done, but they asked for my car documents anyway and my ID.

While one of them was checking me out on his handheld computer, his colleague asked me if I had a police record.

Without hesitation, I replied: “Yes, sir, several in fact. ‘Walking on the Moon’, ‘Roxanne’, ‘Message in a Bottle’ …”

 

Three police forces

There are three different police bodies in Spain, which I have written about previously [please see hyperlink at end of article].

Each force has its own responsibilities, but there is sometimes an overlap, which is confusing for Spaniards as well as foreigners. Which one do you go to in order to report a crime, for example? Depends on whether the crime took pace in the town or in the country.

 

Guardia Civil

My first memories of the Spanish police date from the 1970s when I was in my early 20s studying Spanish in San Sebastián (Guipúzcoa).

These were the, at that time, dreaded Guardia CivilGeneral Franco’s ‘stormtroopers’. They had a reputation for fierceness and brutality and for being uncompromising.

Their patent-leather tricorn hats were a symbol of these quasi-military types and they struck fear into the hearts and minds of the locals, especially in the Basque country where Franco was ‘waging war’ on the Basque identity and their language euskera, which was prohibited.

In San Sebastián every August there was a machine-gun-toting guardia civil on every street corner. General Franco liked to spend his summer hols in the elegant Basque resort and the security had to be really tight.

Franco died in November 1975 and the process of Spain becoming a parliamentary democracy began in earnest, aided by and abetted by Franco’s nominated heir as head of state, King Juan Carlos I.

One thing that had to change was the Guardia Civil. The force was subjected to a root and branch makeover. They began a charm offensive; out went the military-style uniforms and the tricorn hats, the latter to be replaced by soft berets. They were trained to be respectful and pleasant towards the public.

So, 45 years on, most Guardia Civil officers are polite and friendly and, above all, human and flexible in their approach to law enforcement.

 

Policía Local

The same cannot be said of some officers of the Policía Local or los municipales, as they are known. My recent dealings with members of this force have left me flabbergasted and much worse off financially.

I have been fined for parking infringements four times in Algunlugar and twice elsewhere – that amounts to 600€ if you pay quickly and claim the 50% discount.

The way the system works is that if you pay within 20 working days and waive your right to challenge the fine, you pay only 100€ instead of 200€.

That’s unfair as it discourages motorists with a legitimate challenge from doing so. You never win against the cops anyway, I’ve been told by many a Spaniard. So, best to pay up sharpish, bite your tongue and get the discount.

Gone are the days when the local bobbies read the meters, monitored mums and dads outside schools at the start and end of the school day and delivered important official post.

If they caught you parked wrongly, they’d just ask you to move on.

Not any longer!

 

Policía Nacional

As for the Cuerpo Nacional de Policía I have had little to do with them in recent years, as they are responsible for combating crime, which I am not involved in (Honest, guv!).

We had some problems 10 years ago involving threatening behaviour, actual bodily harm and damage to property. The CNP officers were quick to respond to our emergency calls and to deal with the problems. Out of interest the perpetrator of these ‘crimes’, José O., is currently behind bars in Alhaurín de la Torre penitentiary. Best place for him and long overdue!

I have had to present a few denuncias – theft of wife’s handbag (twice!), my wallet (once), loss of passport, ill-treatment of animals, vandalism of two vehicles. That kind of thing.

On these occasions I found the officers to be slow and quite inefficient, yet polite and respectful also.

 

Police check

So, in conclusion, my rank order of ‘niceness’ is:

1st – La Guardia Civil; 2nd – La Policía Nacional; and a distant 3rd – La Policía Local.

And, guess which force earns the most?

You’ll be surprised!!

 

Note: To read an article about the roles of the three different police forces in Spain, click here.



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Good Samaritan? – not any more!
Tuesday, December 14, 2021

We all know the parable of the Good Samaritan, which was described in the Bible in the Gospel according to St Luke. Many of us aspire to behave like that person and to help people who need assistance. It’s a common human reaction. The Curmudgeon, despite his tendency to have a moan, has always tried to live by that code by giving assistance to others who need it, whether that support be physical, mental, spiritual or linguistic. However, a couple of recent experiences have made him less keen to jump in and help. He also recalls how in the past he has been “ripped off” here in Spain, but only by guiris. He explains.

Like many, my instinct to help others is strong. Maybe too strong. Usually it works out fine and your help is accepted and appreciated, but by no means always.

I recall two incidents from around 15 years ago when I had a “spare” house in Algunlugar, Casa Blanca. First of all in 2006 I let it to Amanda, a Scots lady, at a reduced rent, as she was “down on her luck”. Despite having a written letting agreement (contract), at the end of her rental period, she did a “runner”, left unpaid utilities bills and took some of my belongings with her, eg bedding, a step ladder and umpteen CDs.

Lesson learned? Nope. I subsequently let it to an Irish “friend”, Trish, who was separating from her husband and needed somewhere to stay. Again I was prepared to accept a lower rent and we agreed she would pay me cash, as and when she had some. Am I stupid or what? She stayed for over two years, and only moved out when I sold the house in 2008. Trish owed me over a grand at that point. Has she paid me? Of course not.

In the next decade or so nothing untoward happened until earlier this year I met Jan, an English lady who needed some help to get her property in the Serranía ready for an upcoming Airbnb rental. As part of that support I did a big shop for her, which came to over 80 Euros. That was six months ago. She hasn’t paid me and doesn’t seem inclined to do so. Doh!

It reminds me of that prelude to a corny joke: “Have you heard the one about the Englishwoman, the Irishwoman and the Scotswoman?”

But, when it comes to getting engañado, ripped off, the best is yet to come.

This summer I was having an early morning coffee in the hotel near my house when a little old lady came to the bar to talk to the waitress, who was also looking after reception between serving coffees and chupitos.

The old dear couldn’t make herself understood. She was foreign; German as it happened. I offered to help. Both the receptionist and the German lady seemed visibly relieved.

The lady, let’s call her Gertraud Forster, because that is her name, was staying at the hotel and wanted to extend for three further days. Unfortunately, nay unusually, the hotel was already fully booked and there was no room at the inn.

I offered to help Gertraud find alternative accommodation, but she declined. In the course of the conversation, however, it emerged that, despite being 72 years of age, single and apparently unwell, she was a livestock farmer looking for a finca to buy in the Algunlugar area.

She already had seven stud horses and 15 or so donkeys “in kennels” nearby, so was keen to find somewhere quickly.

I’ve fancied my chances as a corredor (a kind of unofficial estate agent) for a while, so I spotted a possible opportunity to help this very amenable lady out whilst earning a bit of commission on the side.

We exchanged contact details. It was a Friday morning. She rang me several times over the weekend with questions and queries and to confirm that she would like me to find fincas for her to view.

On the Monday, instead of doing what I had planned, I spent most of the morning tracking down the owner of a farm that looked ideal for what Gertraud wanted. We viewed the farm but Gertraud was lukewarm, although she liked the price.

I continued the search for more farms for sale and lined up three more to view, but for various reasons Gertraud declined.

She was staying in a small hotel, which was working out to be expensive, so she asked me if I could find her somewhere to rent for her and her two dogs, also in kennels.

Within 24 hours I’d found her a large house in a nearby village, with outside space, a hot tub, parking and  rear entrance, for just 500€ a month including, electricity, gas and water. She agreed a three-month let with two months rent payable up front, as is normal. I was to get a month’s rent as my finder’s fee, which is also the norm here.

All this was done in a rush, on the phone and via WhatsApp, so no paperwork (B-I-I-IG MISTAKE!). She moved in on Saturday afternoon, but by Tuesday she’d done a “midnight flit”. We haven’t seen hide nor hair of her since.

Via WhatsApp she has promised to pay the house owner 200 € for the time she used the house, which I subsequently learned she has done. She has no intention of paying me my 500€ commission as we had no written contract. She seems to have no concept of “ein Gentleman’s Agreement”, although this has been a bona fide German word since the 1960s (Check Duden, if you don’t believe me!).

I went to the Guardia Civil to do a denuncia. The sergeant explained that they could do nothing because these were civil offences, not penal, and I had no proof of my allegations, ie no paperwork in the form of contracts etc.

Despite this his colleague painfully and very slowly typed up a denuncia (not sure why if they can’t do anything, but, hey, it’s Andalucía!)

All we knew at this point was Gertraud’s first name and we had her mobile number, strangely French!

I started to investigate further. I found out her surname, Forster. Through Spanish contacts it transpires that she has a huge debt with two livestock people locally.

One, who had been looking after her donkeys, is owed 30,000 Euros.

I went to see the owner of the stables where her seven studs are lodged. Juan Jesús told me she has been using his premises as a “kennels” for three years and she has, as yet, not paid him a penique. He reckons the debt is 23,000 Euros. He too has no contract, no paperwork.

What is it with everybody here? Are we all stupid, or gullible?

No we are most definitely not. Traditionally, in this part of Spain deals were often verbal and sealed with a handshake. Even houses were bought and sold on a handshake. People trusted each other. Unfortunately some foreigners have abused that, as these examples show.

So where next with Gertraud Forster? She should be re-named Gertraud Fraudster, in my view, because that is what she seems to be, systematically going round the place, appearing frail and helpless, getting mugs like me to work for her for nothing and not paying her bills. She is a serial engañadora by the evidence before us.

As it stands the law cannot and will not do anything. Until such time as one or more of her victims hires a procurador (solicitor) and a lawyer and goes before a judge, nothing will happen. The problem is none of the “victims” is keen to invest that kind of money with no guarantee of getting anything back.

So, if anyone sees a little old lady driving a grey Nissan X-Trail with a German registration, beginning with the letters ÜB, give me, or the cops, a shout.

With any luck they’ll be able to get her for having an illegal vehicle on the roads here! Like Al Capone and his income tax, she’s bound to have slipped up somewhere.

Me? Good Samaritan? Not any more, mate!



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THE ACCENT, SMOKING, BEER AND RED TAPE
Monday, November 29, 2021

When The Curmudgeon moved to Andalucía to live a dozen or so years ago, there were just three things he did not like about the place. The andaluz accent, smoking in bars and the beer. Oh, and the bureaucracy …!

Now that he’s been here a while, things have changed. He’s grown accustomed to the locals speaking fast and without consonants; smoking in indoor spaces has been outlawed (also outdoors post-Covid-19); and he’s gradually learning how to cut through all the red tape. But … what about the beer situation? 

No good beer here

Decent beer is about the only thing I miss living here in Spain. The best beer in the world without question, in my view, is a cask-conditioned ale from one of the hundreds of micro-breweries in the UK. Closely followed by German Weizenbiere, Czech lagers like Budweiser Budvar – not the American piss of the same name that is made by Anheuser-Busch – and Belgian beers, if you like fruit in your tipple. 

With few similar alternatives here in Spain, except for expensive imports, Mahou is the least appalling of the branded lagers; Alhambra, Estrella Damm, Amstel and San Miguel are also drinkable. Cruzcampo is the worst of the lot, in my opinion. 

For home drinking I prefer to spend 28c per can for Steinburg (Mercadona), the Aldi own brand Karlsquell or LIDL’s Argus, both at 25c, rather than 50-60c or more for a branded beer. Served very cold you don’t notice the difference. And interestingly all three of those marcas blancas, own-label beers, are brewed by the same company, Font Salem S.L. in Valencia. 

Real ale comes to Spain 

It’s good to know that there are some quasi-real ales being brewed in Spain now. I say quasi, because they really have to be served as keg beers under pressure because of the climate. 

I’ve recently heard of at least three in Andalucía alone. 

First of all there’s the Fábrica de Cerveza Kettal (FCK), located in Los Barrios (Cádiz). A brewpub claiming to produce English-style real ale, the brewers use traditional methods and all natural ingredients. 

FCK claims to be the first micro-brewery in living memory in the province. According to owners Mercedes Lynch and Tim Revill, FCK is part of the revolution against mass-produced products, which is growing throughout the food industry. 

“Consumers are growing aware that many foodstuffs contain all sorts of chemical additives to give them the flavour and appearance that big companies think the average consumer expects. At FCK we use the flavours that nature provides, with no unnatural additives.” 

FCK’s Brewmaster, Australian Jonah Jones, adds: “We brew English-style ales, which are kegged and served chilled and under pressure. CAMRA would not approve, but cask beer just will not survive at this latitude and temperature.” 

So, there we have it – it’s not real ale at all, although, having tried it, I can confirm that it tastes better than anything else on offer down here. 

FCK has a website at www.fabricadecervezakettal.com 

The Saxon Brewery in Vélez Rubio, Almeria, supplies various bars in Almeria and Murcia with UK style real ale. They don’t have a website but owner Ian Orpe can be contacted at saxonbrewery@gmail.com 

La Fábrica in Sevilla is also a brewpub I’d been told about, so, when I happened to be in Sevilla one Sunday in May a few years back, I went to visit. 

We got to the Plaza de las Armas and looked around. No sign of it, so I asked in another bar. 

 La Fábrica? Oh, it shut down about 18 months ago. It’s now called Los Olivos, just over there. 

Disappointed, we went there anyway, as the thermometer was hitting 40 degrees and we were hot and thirsty. It’s just an ordinary bar now, but at least it had Mahou on draft, my favourite of the Spanish lagers. 

My disappointment at the disappearance of one of the few real ale outlets in Andalucía was tempered, however, when I learned the following day on Facebook that Bar Allioli in Jimera de Líbar, further down the Guadiaro river valley from where I live, had launched its own real beer, Allioli Weisse Bier (sic), a German-style wheat beer. 

Brewed by the afore-mentioned FCK brewery I have since tried it and can vouch for its excellence. Bar Allioli has a website at at www.barallioli.com

Well done, Paul Darwent!

90 cask ales 

Giving the lie to the assertion that the climate here is unsuitable for cask ales, Realbeeria is a distribution company which currently supplies up to 90 UK cask ales to selected outlets in Almeria, Murcia and Alicante provinces. Their website is www.realbeeria.co.uk 

I wonder if there are more real ale developments out there? Do let us know!

Stop Press

In the last few years craft beers, cervezas artesanales, have become all the rage in Spain.

Madrid and Toledo (Castilla La Mancha) boast several local craft breweries. Ronda (Málaga) has a couple, Jaén and Valencia also.

In addition, the big companies like San Miguel/Mahou, Alhambra, Estrella and even the dreaded Cruzcampo (Heineken-owned by the way – enough said) are brewing a variety of styles, including Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, Tostada, Golden, malt-flavoured and even Stout.

My current favourites are El Águila sin filtro (Madrid), El Alcázar (Jaén), Alhambra fermentación lenta (Sevilla), Turia (Valencia) and good old Estrella Galicia. A tercio (33 cl) costs between 1,50€ and 2,50€.

Things are looking up!

Then I was diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic, so I can no longer drink alcohol!

My doctor conceded that a small beer on special occasions would do me no harm. Well, despite my sometimes curmudgeonly nature, I think every day is special!

¡Salud! 



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Why Can’t We Have the Vote?
Saturday, November 27, 2021

By The Curmudgeon

THE ISSUE of universal suffrage has raised its head once again, over a century after Emily Davison threw herself in front of the King’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby as a protest against women not having the vote in Britain.

This time, however, it’s about both men and women – men and women who live in a country other than their own.

At present in Spain, and elsewhere in the European Union, foreign residents from other EU member states are effectively disenfranchised, unless, in the case of Spain, they are empadronado, ie registered and on the electoral roll, when they may vote in local and European elections, but not in national ones.

These arrangements are similar in other member states, although a few years ago the then president of France Nicolas Sarkozy was planning to give French residents of London an MP of their own, similar to residents of France’s overseas territories like Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion, etc.

In the light of this, Giles Tremlett, the distinguished journalist and writer, and former Madrid correspondent of the Guardian, wrote an interesting piece in that paper, proposing an MP for the Costa del Sol.

His main argument was that as a 20-year resident of Spain and a taxpayer, he does not have the right to vote in national elections in either Spain or the UK.

He wrote: “Why not allow Britons living in [other parts of] Europe to vote in the national elections of their host country? Unfortunately neither the UK nor any other country in Europe seems to want that. As a result, I live in Madrid and pay taxes to the Spanish exchequer but have no say in how my tax money is spent.

He continued: “And therein lies another problem. For not only am I prevented from voting in a Spanish general election, but, as I have lived abroad for more than 15 years, I have no right to vote in the UK either. I pay tax but cannot vote. Whatever happened to "no taxation without representation"?

Tremlett pointed out that about a million Britons live for most or all of the year in Spain. Of these, 352,000 have registered at Spanish town halls as being fully resident. Hundreds of thousands of Britons live elsewhere across the European Union.

Those who left the country in the past 15 years, the vast majority, can vote in UK elections. Most, however, do not bother. This is hardly surprising, since they must send their postal vote to the place where they last lived in Britain. People now living in Marbella, Torrevieja or Barcelona thus end up voting for candidates who are only interested in, say, the problems of Luton, Lambeth or Dumfries. That is not fair to them. What do they care, or know, about hospitals, post offices and planned ring roads a thousand miles away? It is also not fair to the people living in those constituencies.

British communities abroad have their own problems, especially post-Brexit.

Here in Spain, we worry about pensions, health care, the bureaucracy and the exorbitant price of consular services. Even the winter fuel allowance - yes, payable in some circumstances - mattered to us. [Alas, that has long since been withdrawn, cancelled by David Cameron when he was prime minister of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government.] Many of those suffering the catastrophic effects of a weak pound would like Britain to be in the euro. Many more of us have problems with local housing laws that they insist break EU rules.

Tremlett pointed out: “Britain frets about immigration but cannot be bothered to think about emigration. It should do. Of the hundreds of thousands of diaspora Britons with the right to vote, only 12,800 are registered to do so. Some 200,000 Britons move abroad every year, according to a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research. About 10% of all Britons, or 5.5 million people, live outside the country. ‘The UK government's lack of attention to its large diaspora stands in contrast to the measures being taken in other countries,’ the study noted. ‘In the UK, talk of establishing a member of parliament for the Spanish costas, a new ministry for Britons living abroad or even a special parliamentary inquiry would most likely be laughed down.’”

Following the publication of Tremlett’s article, the Guardian website was inundated with posts and the entry was closed after 118 comments.

Unfortunately many of the posts were very negative.  As a British-born man who worked his entire career in the UK, but who has now, as an early retiree, decided to live in Spain, I was shocked by the many ill-informed and vitriolic comments posted there.

The “abuse” that has been hurled at him on the Guardian website for daring to raise an extremely important issue is typical of the garbage I regularly come across in English-language newspapers and on their websites down here in southern Spain. 

The excellent Olive Press website has unfortunately attracted an annoying cadre of bitter and twisted know-alls who post negative comments about Spain and the Spanish at every opportunity. 

The Euro Weekly News continues to feature a weekly column by Leapy Lea and letters from his Daily Mail-reading acolytes who write in to support his racist and anti-Spanish rantings.

As far as I’m concerned the volley of criticism aimed at “ex-pats” – no, we’re actually immigrants, and uninvited guests, to boot – is all about envy and small-mindedness.

Although English-born, I am a fluent Spanish and German speaker.  As a result, I am blessed with three separate social lives related to each language group, all of which I find fascinating, albeit different.  

Within those groups, most people, irrespective of their nationality, are mono-lingual.  But I don’t think any the less of them.  I happen to be a trained linguist; they are trained carpenters, electricians, police officers, sales executives, hoteliers, archtects, doctors, all skilled in their own fields.  Many of them have tried to integrate and learn Spanish and are successful to varying degrees.  But they are all committed to living here, are resident, registered on the padrón and, on the whole, pay their taxes here.

There are indeed stereotypical British ex-pats and I chuckled at Frank Little’s five definitions on the Guardian website thread, because I know people who fit each of the categories.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t one into which I and many of my friends would fit.

Nevertheless, the answer to this representation problem is quite simple and was identified by many posters on the Guardian website.  If, as an EU national, you are tax resident in another EU country, you should have the right to vote in all elections, local, national and European in that country, and not in the country of your birth.  Simple, straightforward, no argument.

Except that policy wouldn’t help British residents from 1 January 2021 onwards, since we’ll no longer be EU citizens. What about letting all foreign, tax-paying residents have the vote in national elections. Doesn’t that make sense?

The sooner Brussels takes note of this and changes the law to remove the current anomalies, the better.  And as for those who criticise, on the grounds of envy, those of us who have legitimately moved countries within the EU, well, perhaps we should just ignore them.



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MORE AND MORE SPANISH NOISE
Saturday, November 27, 2021

Having written recently about how noisy Spain is – something described by many a writer on Spain going back decades – The Curmudgeon has discovered some interesting new noises that have recently added themselves to the local repertoire around where he lives in the Serranía de Ronda.

Natural noises

Natural noises that have come to our attention are The Frog Chorus – quite deafening, but somehow bearable, cos it’s the sound of nature.

Woody Woodpecker in the next door pine tree likewise. Don’t know how he doesn’t get a headache?

Cooing doves break the silence from time to time as does the high-pitched zzzzp! of a mosquito in the room at night, despite our attempts to keep them out. Another night sound is our rescue dog snoring as she dreams her sweet doggy dreams.

And, in the summer months, there is a peacock who serenades us sporadically!

Donald Duck next door also contributes to the decibel levels. And, in addition to his constant quacking, he seems to enjoy crapping in our swimming pool, when he goes for his daily dip.

Early hours

Artificial or manufactured noise largely comes in the early hours.

The daily whoossshhh of the automatic lawn sprinkers before dawn, followed by the sound of reveille at the Spanish Foreign Legion over the road, and the swimming pool filter slowly doing its job of keeping the pool water fresh and clean.

7.45 am and it’s the toot of Adrián the baker’s van as he rolls up outside to sell his freshly baked bread.

Weekend noises

The weekends are marked by the unmistakeable low roar of the burners on the hot air balloons that fly over Algunlugar, and the wedding celebrations that go on till dawn on most Saturday nights at one, or both, of the nearby hotels.

There is also my new guiri neighbour, who has a collection of cars, motor cycles, quad bikes and God knows what else? He likes to use these at the weekend. None of these vehicles seems to have a functioning exhaust!

Am I complaining?

Of course!

Well, not really!



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SPANISH NOISE
Saturday, November 27, 2021

Many a writer on Spain has commented on what a noisy country it is: Ernest Hemingway, for example, and George Orwell, Washington Irving, James Michener and Giles Tremlett, the author of Ghosts of Spain. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Spain is the second noisiest country in the world after Japan. The Curmudgeon is not surprised. Here he gives his assessment of the noise in his adopted land.

Noise is all around

Well, it is noisy, isn’t it? Everywhere you go it’s loud: people talking on the bus, in a bar, on the street, even in church. But there are other noises that are unique to Spain: the barking of distant dogs, the braying of a donkey, the crowing of cocks and the clucking of hens, the Sunday morning trailbike phutting loudly across the land, the tooting of a night-time train as it passes, the blaring of radios and TVs through open windows, the sound of gleeful children playing.

When we moved house ten years ago we got all of the above straightaway. But in addition we’ve had the sound of heavy lorries chugging up the hill into town, the Foreign Legion in the nearby barracks practising drumming, chanting and marching for hours on end, and the clanging of the bells on the several level crossings in the area.

Health hazard

So, what effect does all this Spanish noise have on people? According to the WHO three out of every four Spaniards suffer from excessive noise levels. Of those, more than nine million have to tolerate levels of noise above 65 decibels, the acceptable limit. In Europe 20 per cent of the population – some 80 million people – are exposed to unacceptable levels of noise. Noise causes hearing loss and can have a negative effect on the quality of life of those who have to put up with it.

Here in Spain, things are beginning to improve, however. There have been recent court rulings imposing fines on discotheque owners for making too much noise too late at night. Councils are also banning the botellón, the gatherings of young people in public places to drink and listen to loud music until the early hours.

Who is responsible?

In theory, the policíá municipal is in charge of handling noise-related complaints, although whether or not they are actually able to do much more than register your complaint is another question. Probably the most effective way to avoid noise problems is to establish close relationships with neighbours and to handle any resulting problems with discretion and tender loving care.

As for me, I’m not used to noise at all, for, since I became old enough to be aware of it – in other words since I became an adult and a parent – I’ve always lived in quiet places. In a cul-de-sac next to a park in a Cheshire village, up a mountain in North Wales, and next to a football ground in a northern English town, where there were only two matches a week to break the silence. Even in Spain, I’ve only lived in quiet places (quiet for Spain, that is!): in a peaceful barrio on the edge of town and up the hill where no cars can reach in a pueblo blanco in the mountains of the Serranía de Ronda.

But now that we’ve moved, auditory hell has been let loose! But as I get older and increasingly hard of hearing, it doesn’t seem to matter that much. Everything else is perfect and I guess you get used to the noise – in the end!



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What I hate about Spain
Friday, November 26, 2021

There are a few things that The Curmudgeon hates about living in Spain. Yet he can only come up with just half a dozen things that really get on his nerves, even after living here for 13 years.

Corruption

Sometimes you get the impression that every politician and government official is corrupt. That may have been true once upon a time, but even now, at a lower level of corruption, you can often avoid paying IVA if you pay cash, including with lawyers, gestores or just by asking the provider of a service. How they get away with it defeats me, yet such people are often highly esteemed by large parts of the population.

Bureaucracy

Spanish red tape, el papeleo, drives us all mad, Spaniards and foreigners alike. Las cosas de palacio van despacio, say the Spanish, as if by giving the ponderous bureaucratic system an excuse, by way of a popular saying, that makes it acceptable. In the year before the pandemic, for example, no one managed to get Spanish residency or their TIE (tarjeta de identidad de extranjero) because the twenty-five thousand people whose job it was to sort out the paperwork instead took a disturbingly long lunch-break!

Some unfortunate people are forced to live in a house with no water or electricity for a number of years because of some elusive bit of paper trapped in the bottom of a filing cabinet belonging to a funcionario who has been off work with a bad back for the last five years!

I try and live with the system, since I love it here. Even though my German wife hates HP Sauce and Marmite, and she has never had a Yorkshire pudding or a mushy pea, that’s okay. She doesn’t even like a nice cuppa, because English tea is black, and she only likes green tea or other fancy infusions, but never mind.

Noise

I’ve already written about this (on another website), as have writers like Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Washington Irving, James Michener and Giles Tremlett.  The longer I am here, the less I notice the rushing train, the noisy traffic, the croaking frogs, the loud farm machinery and Spaniards talking loudly. But I cannot get used to barking dogs, especially at 4.00 in the early morning! It’s a fact that Spain is the second loudest country in the world after Japan.

Littering

The amount of litter lying around is astonishing. How can a proud nation like the Spanish wantonly ruin their beautiful country by tossing as much garbage into the countryside as is humanly possible? The beaches, the roadside verges, the streets and the public buildings are covered in debris. Everywhere is thick with plastic, empty beer cans, bottles, cardboard and rubble. And what about the abandoned mattresses, sofas, fridges and old bikes?

Spanish beer

There’s nothing I like better than a good English real ale, or a refreshing German Weissbier. Unfortunately, the former is not really viable in the Andalucían climate, although increasingly German beers are becoming available and at a competitive price.

The problem with Spanish beer is that it’s too gassy and somewhat bitter and can only be consumed ice-cold. Spanish beers are also a bit stronger than their Northern European equivalents, with the notorious exception of beers from Belgium.

Parking

Firstly there are never enough parking places and what there is turns out to be pretty expensive. Increasingly our urban streets are being given over to bar and restaurant terraces or for rubbish skips, meaning less space for us motorists. However, I’ve realised that if you park two abreast,  en paralelo, and put your warning lights on, you can get away with this rather anti-social habit. If you’re Spanish, that is. I think guiris are easy meat. ‘I’m sorry, officer, I really am, but I just needed to stop briefly to nip into my bank / buy a lottery ticket / have a very quick coffee with my friend’ won’t really get you off the hook. A 200 euro fine at least!

But, when all is said and done, what are half a dozen gripes, when compared to the endless joys and pleasures of our adopted country?



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