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The History Man

This blog contains interesting facts about the history of Spain and things Spanish.

20th Anniversary of 11-M – The Madrid Bombings
Monday, March 11, 2024

By The History Man


Today is the 20th anniversary of the 2004 Madrid train bombings (known in Spain as 11-M).

In the morning rush hour of Thursday 11 March 2004 a series of coordinated, almost simultaneous bombings against the Cercanías (commuter train system) of Madrid hit the Spanish capital, killing 193 people and injuring around 2,050. 



The bombings constituted the deadliest terrorist attack carried out in the history of Spain and the deadliest in Europe since Lockerbie in 1988. The attacks were carried out by individuals who opposed Spanish involvement in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

The attacks took place three days before Spain’s general elections were scheduled.

Controversy about the handling and representation of the bombings by the government arose, with Spain's two main political parties—the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and the Partido Popular (PP)—accusing each other of concealing or distorting evidence for electoral reasons.

In the elections, on Sunday 14 March, Prime Minister José María Aznar’s Partido Popular was defeated. The PP leaders claimed evidence indicating the Basque separatist organisation ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna) was responsible for the bombings, while the opposition claimed that the PP was trying to prevent the public from knowing it had been an Islamist attack, which would be interpreted as the direct result of Spain's involvement in Iraq, an unpopular war which the government had entered without the approval of the Spanish Parliament.

The scale and precise planning of the attacks reactivated memories of the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York (9-11).

Following the Madrid attacks, there were nationwide demonstrations and protests demanding that the government "tell the truth." The prevailing opinion of political analysts is that the Aznar administration lost the general elections because of the handling and representation of the terrorist attacks, rather than because of the bombings per se.


Diary of an atrocity

During the peak of Madrid rush hour on the morning of Thursday, 11 March 2004, ten explosions occurred aboard four commuter trains (cercanías). The date, 11 March, led to the abbreviation of the incident as "11-M".

All the affected trains were travelling on the same line and in the same direction between Alcalá de Henares and the Atocha station in Madrid. It was later reported that thirteen improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had been placed on the trains. 

Bomb disposal teams (TEDAX) arriving at the scenes of the explosions detonated two of the remaining three IEDs in controlled explosions, but the third was not found until later in the evening, having been stored inadvertently with luggage taken from one of the trains. The following timeline of events comes from the judicial investigation.

All four trains had departed the Alcalá de Henares station between 07:01 and 07:14. The explosions took place between 07:37 and 07:40.

At 08:00, emergency relief workers began arriving at the scenes of the bombings. The police reported numerous victims and spoke of 50 wounded and several dead.

By 08:30 the emergency ambulance service, SAMUR (Servicio de Asistencia Municipal de Urgencia y Rescate), had set up a field hospital at the Daoiz y Velarde sports facility.

Later the death toll had risen to 193 confirmed dead victims, and around 2,050 injured. 


Personal recollections

I vividly remember that morning. I was in the middle of a residential education conference at Haydock Park Racecourse on Merseyside. On the morning of the bombings, I had just had breakfast when news of the atrocity broke.

In the course of watching the TV news and reading about it online, I broke down. I was weeping uncontrollably. Why?

A kindly primary headteacher I knew well asked me what was up. I told him. I was distraught. I couldn’t explain my reaction, other than that I had had a close relationship with Spain over many years, had been to Madrid a few times and knew the main station Atocha. It was all a bit too close to home.

He advised me to pull out of the conference and go home, which is what I did, eventually.

I attended the first session, but couldn’t concentrate, so took my leave at the coffee break.

With hindsight I’d had a nervous breakdown and the following week was sent on gardening leave with full pay.

There was turmoil within the education department I worked for (Sefton Council) and, fully unconnected with my breakdown, by Easter of the following year, I and a half a dozen other schools advisers had been made redundant and offered early retirement with access to our work pensions.


11-M aftermath

Back to the 11-M bombings in Madrid, the culprits were identified as Jihadi sympathisers, who, when discovered in an apartment building in a suburb of Madrid, blew themselves up. Later, other co-conspirators were identified, tried in court and gaoled.

So, today is a poignant anniversary. There has been blanket coverage in the Spanish Press, on TV and online.

It’s certainly an event I shall never forget.


© The History Man




At the Races

Diario Sur

El Diario

Paul Whitelock

Racecourse hospitality





9-11, 11-M, 11 March 2004, Alcalá de Henares, Atocha, bomb disposal, bombings, cercanías, Daoiz y Velarde, Diario Sur, early retirement​​​​​​​, gardening leave, Haydock Racecourse, History Man, IEDs, improvised explosive devices, Iraq, Jihadi, José María Aznar, Lockerbie, Madrid, Merseyside, nervous breakdown, PP, PSOE, Paul Whitelock, prime minister, redundant, SAMUR, Sefton Council, Servicio de Asistencia Municipal de Urgencia y Rescate, TEDAX, Wikipedia

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Friday, March 8, 2024

By Paul Whitelock

International Women's Day is celebrated annually on 8 March as a focal point in the women’s rights movement. IWD gives focus to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women.

Spurred on by the universal female suffrage movement, IWD originated from labour movements in North America and Europe during the early 20th century. 

The earliest version reported was a "Women’s Day" organised by the Socialist Party of America in New York City on 28 February , 1909. 

This inspired German delegates at the 1910 International Socialist Women’s Conference to propose "a special Women's Day" be organised annually. 

The following year saw the first demonstrations and commemorations of International Women's Day across Europe.

After the Russian Revolution in 1917, IWD was made a national holiday on March 8; it was subsequently celebrated on that date by the socialist movement and communist countries. 

To start with the holiday was associated with far-left movements and governments until its adoption by the global feminist movement in the late 1960s. 


IWD became a mainstream global holiday following its promotion by the United Nations in 1977. International Women's Day is a public holiday in several countries. The UN observes the holiday in connection with a particular issue, campaign, or theme in women's rights. 

Whilst IWD is not an official holiday in most countries of Europe, it is celebrated nonetheless. 

Several countries, including Uruguay, Spain, Italy, France and Algeria, have squares or other public spaces named after 8 March in reference to International Women's Day. 




The theme for 2024 is:

Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress.


© Paul Whitelock


With thanks to:

Wikipedia for information and photos.



8 March, abuse against women, communist, feminist, gender equality, female suffrage, IWD, International Socialist Women’s Conference, International Women's Day, Invest in Women, Paul Whitelock, reproductive rights, Russian Revolution, socialist, Socialist Party of America, United Nations, violence, "Women’s Day", women's rights,



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Today is a LEAP DAY
Thursday, February 29, 2024

By The History Man

A leap year is a calendar year that contains an additional day compared to a common year. The 366th day is added to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical year or seasonal year. Since astronomical events and seasons do not repeat in a whole number of days, calendars having a constant number of days each year will unavoidably drift over time with respect to the event that the year is supposed to track, such as seasons. By inserting an additional day—a leap day—into some years, the drift between a civilization's dating system and the physical properties of the Solar System can be corrected.



An astronomical year lasts slightly less than 3651/4 days. The historic Julian calendar has three common years of 365 days followed by a leap year of 366 days, by extending February to 29 days rather than the common 28.

The Gregorian calendar, the world's most widely used civil calendar, makes a further adjustment for the small error in the Julian algorithm. Each leap year has 366 days instead of 365. This extra leap day occurs in each year that is a multiple of 4 (except for years evenly divisible by 100, but not by 400).

The term leap year probably comes from the fact that a fixed date in the Gregorian calendar normally advances one day of the week from one year to the next, but the day of the week in the 12 months following the leap day (from 1 March through 28 February of the following year) will advance two days due to the extra day, thus leaping over one day in the week.

For example, Christmas Day (25 December) fell on a Friday in 2020, Saturday in 2021, Sunday in 2022, and Monday in 2023, but then will "leap" over Tuesday to fall on a Wednesday in 2024.

Leap years can present a problem in computing, known as the leap year bug, when a year is not correctly identified as a leap year or when 29 February is not handled correctly in logic that accepts or manipulates dates.


Julian Calendar

On 1 January 45 BC, by edict, Julius Caesar reformed the historic Roman calendar to make it a consistent solar calendar (rather than one which was neither strictly lunar nor strictly solar), thus removing the need for frequent intercalary months.

His rule for leap years was a simple one: add a leap day every four years. This algorithm is close to reality: a Julian year lasts 365.25 days, a mean tropical year about 365.2422 days. Consequently, even this Julian calendar drifts out of 'true' by about three days every 400 years. The Julian calendar continued in use unaltered for about 1600 years until the Catholic Church became concerned about the widening divergence between the March Equinox and 21 March.

Prior to Caesar's creation of what would be the Julian calendar, February was already the shortest month of the year for Romans. In the Roman calendar all months except February had an odd number of days – 29 or 31. This was because of a Roman superstition that 'even numbers' were unlucky. When Caesar changed the calendar to follow the solar year closely, he made all months have 30 or 31 days, leaving February unchanged except in leap years.


Gregorian Calendar

In the Gregorian calendar, the standard calendar in most of the world, almost every fourth year is a leap year. Each leap year, the month of February has 29 days instead of 28. Adding one extra day in the calendar every four years compensates for the fact that a period of 365 days is shorter than a tropical year by almost 6 hours. However, this correction is excessive and the Gregoirian reform modified the Julian calendar's scheme of leap years as follows:

Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100, but these centurial years are leap years if they are exactly divisible by 400. For example, the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 are not leap years, but the years 1600 and 2000 are.

Whereas the Julian calendar year incorrectly summarized Earth's tropical year as 365.25 days, the Gregorian calendar makes these exceptions to follow a calendar year of 365.2425 days. This more closely resembles a mean tropical year of 365.2422 days. Over a period of four centuries, the accumulated error of adding a leap day every four years amounts to about three extra days. The Gregorian calendar therefore omits three leap days every 400 years, which is the length of its leap cycle.

This is done by omitting 29 February in the three century years (multiples of 100) that are not multiples of 400. The years 2000 and 2400 are leap years, but not 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200 and 2300.

So, today is a Leap Day.



There is an important anomaly when it comes to salaries, wages, pay and pensions.  In effect salaried workers and wage-earners work for free today. And pensioners don't work and don't get paid for today. Since they earn a weekly wage, a monthly salary, or get paid a pension monthly, their 'remuneration' is unchanged by the extra day they have to work..

Hourly-paid workers and those in the gig economy or black economy, however, get paid for the extra day in full.




© The History Man


Acknowledgements (Photos):



India Times


Utkarsh Classes





28 February, 29 February, astronomical year, black economy, Caesar, gig economy, Gregorian calendar, intercalary months, Julian calendar, Julius Caesar, Leap Day, Leap Year, March Equinox, monthly salary, Pope Gregory, Roman calendar, salaried workers,seasonal year, Solar calendar, Solar System, tropical year, wage-earners, weekly wage

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Spanish Prime Ministers since Franco
Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Following the death of General Francisco Franco Bahamonde in 1975, the incumbent prime minister Carlos Arias Navarro remained in post for 209 days until Adolfo Suarez was elected. He served a total of 4 years and 236 days. These were right wing politicians.





Suarez was succeeded by the first socialist prime minister of the post-Franco era, Felipe Gonzalez (PSOE). He served for a mighty 13 years and 155 days, until 14 July 1993, when he was succeeded by Jose Maria Aznar (PP) who was in charge for 7 years and 349 days.


Next came Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (PSOE), known as "Mr Bean" because of his uncanny resemblance to the actor Rowan Atkinson, who portrayed the hapless Mr Bean. Despite this, Zapatero lasted 7 years and 248 days.


Then it was the turn of Mariano Rajoy (PP) for the next 6 years and 162 days.


He was succeeded by the current PM, Pedro Sanchez (PSOE), on 2 June 2018, the day my late mother would have reached the age of 100.

Following the inconclusive result of the 2023 general election and the failure of the PP’s, Alberto Nuñez Feijóo, who achieved the most seats, to form a majority government, it looks as though Sanchez, propped up by alliances ranging from SUMAR, to the Basque and Catalan parties, will continue as prime minister.

This all means that Spain has had a socialist pm for some 26 years; right-wing parties for 18 and a half.


Post-Franco era

As Spain settled down politically, following the death of the dictator Franco in November 1975, aided and abetted by the monarch, King Juan Carlos I, the country stuck with the status quo, a right-wing government.

It wasn’t until Felipe Gonzalez jumped into the limelight in 1980 that Spain reverted to what was and is its true political tendency, socialism.

In power for an unprecedented 13 and a half years, Gonzalez presided over the rebuilding and modernisation of Spain and its repositioning in European politics, if not in the world.

As with all governments in power for a long time (compare the situation in the UK right now) the people got fed up and elected the opposing party, now called the Partido Popular (People’s Party).

Aznar almost managed 8 years, two terms, before the country switched back to PSOE, in the form of Zapatero.

“Mr Bean” also lasted two terms before he was ousted by Mariano Rajoy (PP). He lasted 6 and a half years before he was toppled by the current incumbent, Pedro Sanchez.

Pedro has been in power for just over 5 and a half years and is about to be invested for a second term following deals made with other parties following the inconclusive general election result earlier this year.

For this writer, essentially a liberal democrat who has no truck with right wing parties (Look where that led us in 1914, 1936 and 1939 – two world wars and a civil war), I welcome the likely continuation of Sanchez as my prime minister, although, as a foreigner I get no say, ie no vote (another story, dealt with elsewhere).

Even though he is disliked by a majority of voters, I do not understand it. Sanchez is young (40), tall, good-looking and charming, and speaks fluent English. He was decisive and strict during the pandemic (cf. Bojo the Clown in the UK), as a result of which far fewer people died of the Coronavirus than predicted. He has brought Spain to a position, some 15 years since the world-wide economic crash, where it is amongst the most prosperous in Europe and is a major voice in Brussels and Strasbourg.

Good luck to the new socialist-led coalition for the next five years, during which time I shall endeavour to change to Spanish nationality and get the vote, in time for the next general election in 2028.


©  The History Man


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Politics in Spain
Thursday, May 4, 2023

A simple introduction to the political system in Spain

Spain is classified as a democratic constitutional monarchy. This means that the ruling monarch acts as the largely ceremonial head of state. 

The democratically elected prime minister, meanwhile, acts as the head of the national government. 

The current political system in Spain has been in place since La Transición. This was a period in the late 1970s that saw the country transition from dictatorship to democracy under the former king, Juan Carlos I, after decades of General Francisco Franco’s military rule. 

This transition involved the enactment of the Spanish constitution in 1978. This serves as the framework for the current national and regional political systems.

The current head of state is King Felipe VI., who came to the throne in 2014 following the abdication of his father, Juan Carlos. 

The current leader of the national government is Pedro Sánchez, head of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE). He became Prime Minister in June 2018 as the head of a coalition government.


Political parties in Spain

There are a number of political parties in Spain, and many of them operate at national, regional, and local levels. Here is a brief overview of the main political parties in Spain:

  • Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE): Founded in 1879 and known as the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party in English, PSOE is the oldest party currently active in Spain. It has been in government longer than any other political party in modern democratic Spain. The party has a largely progressive ideology.  It is led by Pedro Sanchez.

  • Partido Popular (PP): Formed back in 1976 by Manuel Fraga Iribarne, a Spanish professor and politician under Franco’s dictatorship, the Popular Party (in English) has a liberal-conservative, Christian-democratic ideology. The party was in power until 2018 and is currently in opposition and led by Alberto Nuñez Feijoo.


  • Unidas Podemos (UP): This alliance of smaller progressive parties was created in the run-up to the 2016 general election. These include Podemos, Izquierda Unida, and other smaller parties. The party has been in the governing coalition with PSOE since the 2020 general election. UP is currently led by Yolanda Díaz Pérez.


  • Ciudadanos (Cs): Known as Citizens in English, this party came into being in Catalonia back in 2006. It is a liberal-conservative, pro-European party. Since then, Ciudadanos‘ fortunes have varied significantly. The current party president is Inés Arrimadas.


  • Vox: Former members of the Partido Popular founded this anti-immigration, nationalist party in 2013. It has risen in popularity over recent elections, both on a national and regional level. Vox is led by Santiago Abascal.


Local politics in Spain

Local government in Spain operates at the municipal level, with residents electing local councillors who then choose a mayor (alcalde). 

The mayor then appoints a board of governors for the local municipality. In Spain, local municipalities are responsible for the local police, traffic policy, urban planning, social services, and certain taxes.


With thanks to 


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Spring forward, Fall back
Saturday, March 25, 2023

This is a good way to remember which way the clocks change at the end of March and the end of October. This Sunday, at 2.00 am Central European Time, in 70 countries, including most of Europe, Daylight Saving kicks in and we move our clocks and watches forward one hour. But when and why did this come about?



Introduced during the First World War in 1916, the idea then was to save coal supplies. Nowadays it’s about having longer days as daylight extends into the evening, and latterly, with the energy crisis, it’s more about cutting down on electricity consumption.

As for us here in Andalucía, where it currently gets light at around 7.15 am and darkness comes at 8.00 pm, we shall have to wait until 8.15 am for daybreak, yet sundown will be an hour later, giving us longer evenings.


Spain in wrong time zone?

By the way, did you know that the Spanish mainland is in the wrong time zone? Look at a map. Spain is on the same longitude as the UK, Portugal, Morocco and the Canary Islands.

In the past Spain was in the same time zone, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), as these other countries. This arrangement persevered for 40 years, meaning Spain functioned on the same time as places like the United Kingdom, Portugal and Morocco.

However, just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War and during the last year of the Spanish Civil War, the nationalist Falangist forces attempted to move away from GMT to align themselves with Nazi Germany.

Though the move was ultimately blocked, and GMT re-established in 1939, it didn’t take long for Franco’s government to soon attempt the move once again.

It was changed by Franco as a favour to Hitler, so that Spain, officially neutral during the Second World War, would fall into line with German time. And it has never been changed back. Perhaps if it did, Spain would benefit from a more sensible working day, ie people would get up earlier and could start work earlier and finish earlier than the present 8.00 or even 9.00 pm. For example, most shops don’t open till 10.00 am, somewhat late compared to other advanced European nations.


Adopting ‘Nazi Time’

On March 16th 1940, the clocks jumped from 23:00h to 00:00h to display the same time as Nazi Germany and other Nazi-occupied countries such as France and the Netherlands. This was an entirely politically motivated move to show support to the fascist government of Germany and showed no consideration for the natural cycle of the sun in Spain. According to the original 24-hour division of the world, Spain’s latitudinal position meant that GMT was the most natural time-zone for it to follow.

Many in Spain believed that the clocks would eventually return to GMT when the war was over, yet this never happened.


An enduring anachronism

As a result, many believe that today Spain is living in the wrong time zone and that this historic move in 1940 is behind what is Spain’s relatively late schedule. Lunch breaks typically run from 2pm to 4pm while dinner is often not before 9pm or 10pm.

Some claim that living in the same time zone as Germany leaves Spain ‘out of sync’, possibly even leading to unhealthy lifestyles with late nights being the norm even for children.


Is there an intention to change?

Perhaps all this is about to change, as in 2016 plans were announced to return Spain to GMT, thereby restoring the country to its original time zone. This move may help Spain do more efficient business with other European countries by aligning its working hours more closely with those of its neighbours.



Don’t forget to change your clocks and watches. Your mobile, tablet, laptop and computer should update automatically.



© The History Man


Tags: Canary Islands, Central European Time, clock, computer, daylight saving, Franco, Greenwich Mean Time, GMT, History Man, Hitler, Morocco, nazi, nazism, Netherlands, Portugal, time zone, United Kingdom, UK, watch

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Día de Andalucía – Tuesday 28 February 2023
Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Andalucía Day marks the anniversary of a referendum held on 28 February, 1980 when a large majority of voters supported the referendum for Andalucía to become one of the 17 autonomous communities in Spain, following Spain’s democratisation after nearly forty years of the Franco dictatorship. 

General Franco died in November 1975 and was succeeded as Head of State by King Juan Carlos I, since disgraced and living in exile.  The History Man has done some research ..…


Día de Andalucía is a significant day in the life of most andaluces. It is a public holiday so that schools, businesses, and government offices are closed.

In 2020 it was not celebrated officially because of the Covid pandemic. In 2021, 28-F, as the Spanish call it, was restricted, again because of the Coronavirus.

In 2022 Día de Andalucía was back to normal and all hell was let loose. It promises to be the same again today.

Many people will spend the day quietly with family or close friends. However, some people organise or attend private parties with traditional music, dancing, food and drink. Some municipalities hold communal meals with traditional foods, drinks and entertainment. This did not happen in 2020 or 2021, of course, because of the Covid-19 restrictions.

The autonomous community of Andalucía shares international land borders with Portugal and Gibraltar. Within Spain, it borders the autonomous communities of Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura and Murcia. People in Andalucía voted for the region to become an autonomous community of Spain on February 28, 1980. However, the Spanish Parliament only accepted Andalucía as a historic nationality in 2006.

Andalucía’s flag is widely displayed on Andalucía Day. It consists of three equal horizontal bars. The top and lower bars are dark green and the middle bar is white. Andalucía’s coat of arms is at the centre of the flag. Andalucía’s coat of arms consists of an image of the mythical Greek hero Heracles between two columns. The columns represent the Pillars of Heracles. These are the rocks on either side of the Straits of Gibraltar.

In many cities, towns and villages in Andalucía people decorate their balconies with the regional flag and with green-and-white bunting.

This year it looks like we may have gotten to grips with the Covid-19 virus, so everything should be more or less back to normal. Let’s hope so and let’s enjoy today.

This writer already has his plans in place: he’s off to Allioli Bar y Mas in Jimera de Líbar, Málaga, to see live music performed by the rock band Equis, featuring Markus Myers, formerly of the band Alicia’s Attic.

Beer, tapas, fresh air and brilliant music!

!Felices fiestas!

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23/24 February – bad days for democracy
Friday, February 24, 2023

Two attacks on democracy have taken place on 23 and 24 February. One, 42 years ago in Spain and the other, 12 months ago in Ukraine. The History Man tells us more.





It is 12 months since Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, launched his illegal and brutal attack on Ukraine. He called it a special operation to stave off the "nazification" of Ukraine.

Does Putin think we’re stupid? Or that the Russian people are? Problem is, propaganda and lies like this are all the vast majority of Russians get to hear via the tightly controlled media in that country.

The latest death toll figures are difficult to establish with both sides over- or under-estimating the data for their own political reasons. Many agencies make different estimates of the death and injury statistics.

Official US resources reckon that 200,000 soldiers have died on both sides.

Other “official” figures show that 7,199 Ukraine civilians have been killed – a war crime, or more accurately 7,199 separate war crimes.

18,483 civilian casualties were reported between February 24 and January 23, 2023, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

1,276 children have been killed or injured in violence between the beginning of the conflict and January 23, 2023.

About 5.7 million school-aged children have been affected by the conflict, including 3.6 million due to school closures.

17.7 million people need humanitarian aid and protection. In addition to the more than 8 million refugees outside Ukraine, an estimated 5.5 people have been displaced within Ukraine.

With over 8 million fleeing Ukraine as of early January, this has become one of the largest and fastest displacement crises in the world today, according to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Human Rights). It is also one of the bloodiest conflicts in Europe since World War II.

Data provided by


Spain and 23-F

23 February was the date, 42 years ago, when a pistol-wielding civil guard, Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero, backed by 200 civil guards, entered the chamber of the Spanish parliament, fired shots into the air and tried to initiate an ill-advised and under-prepared golpe de estado (coup).

The coup attempt failed and democracy was quickly restored.

I wrote about this a year ago in Eye on Spain. Please see A Failed Coup (


The future of democracy

Can democracy as a political concept survive? When democratic political systems elect people like Trump, Johnson, Erdogan and even Putin, one has to raise one's eyebrows.

It’s an interesting debate. Absolutely crucial is that Putin must not win this war. The West is behind Ukraine, but despite the provision of massive resources, more needs to be done. There is a lot of rhetoric on the part of politicians like Biden, Sunak, Macron and Sanchez, and belatedly Schulz in Germany, but is it enough?


© The History Man

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Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday
Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day is the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the 40 days running up to Easter. Shrove Tuesday is observed in many Christian countries through participation in confession and absolution.

For most of us, however, it is simply Pancake Day.

The History Man delves deeper into this tradition.


Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday is a moveable feast determined by Easter, which in turn is determined by the Moon. The expression "Shrove Tuesday" comes from the word shrive, meaning " absolve".

In France, Shrove Tuesday is known as Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday"), referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday.

Many Christian congregations plus non-practising folk observe the day through eating pancakes.

In some Christian countries, it is also a carnival day, the last day of "fat eating" or "gorging" before the fasting period of Lent.


Why pancakes?

It was traditional in many societies to eat pancakes or other foods made with the butter, eggs and fat or lard that would need to be used up before the beginning of Lent.  

The specific custom of British Christians eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday dates to the 16th century.

The word shrove is a form of the English word shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one's sins. Thus, Shrove Tuesday was named after the custom of Christians to be "shriven" before the start of Lent.

In the UK, Ireland and parts of the Commonwealth, Shrove Tuesday is also known as Pancake Day, as it became a traditional custom to eat pancakes. 

In Spanish-, Portuguese- and Italian-speaking countries, among others, it is known as carneval. This derives from Medieval Latin carnelevamen ("the putting away of flesh") and thus to another aspect of the Lenten fast, to abstain from eating meat.

The day, or week, is often celebrated with street processions or fancy dress. The most famous of these events are the Brazilian Carnival in Río de Janeiro and the Santa Cruz Carnival in Tenerife (Canary Islands).

In Spain, the Carnival Tuesday is named día de la tortilla, "omelette day", since, rather than pancakes, an omelette made with some sausage or pork fat is eaten.

Shrove Tuesday serves a dual purpose of allowing Christians to repent of any sins they might have made before the start of Lent on the next day, Ash Wednesday, and giving them the opportunity to engage in a last round of merriment before the start of the sombre Lenten season.

Pancakes are associated with Shrove Tuesday, the day preceding Lent, because they are a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. The liturgical fasting emphasises eating simpler food, and refraining from food that would give undue pleasure: in many cultures, this means no meat, dairy products or eggs.

On Pancake Day, "pancake races" are held in villages and towns across the United Kingdom. The tradition is said to have originated in 1445 when a housewife from Olney, Buckinghamshire, was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells ringing for the service. She raced out of the house to church while still carrying her frying pan and pancake, tossing it to prevent it from burning. 

The pancake race remains a relatively common festive tradition in the UK, especially in England. Participants with frying pans race through the streets tossing pancakes into the air and catching them in the pan while running. 


Shrove Tuesday in Spain

As indicated previously, omelette is eaten instead of pancakes, according to tradition thus using up the surplus butter and eggs, which couldn’t be eaten during Lent.

There are processions in most towns and cities, plus other events and activities. Since this week coincides with schools’ half-term holiday, known here as Semana Blanca, there is plenty for the kids.

I haven’t been to Río, but I have been to the carnival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife a number of times. Spectacular!


Enjoy your pancakes or your tortillas!


© The History Man


With acknowledgements to Wikipedia


Tags: Ash Wednesday, butter, Canary Islands, día de la tortilla, eggs, frying pan, History Man, Lent, pancake, Pancake Day, pancake race, Puerto de la Cruz, Rio de Janeiro, shrive, shrove, Shrove Tuesday, Tenerife, tortilla

Like 2        Published at 7:54 AM   Comments (0)

St Valentine's Day
Monday, February 13, 2023

Tomorrow, 14 February, is St Valentine's Day. Have you ever thought about the origins of the custom of sending flowers and cards, going for a romantic meal, etc?



Last year The History Man posted Valentine's own story. Valentinus, a Roman, lived in the third century AD. He died on 14 February 269 AD. Here is his story again, for 2023, translated from the original Latin.


“Let me introduce myself. My name is Valentine. I lived in Rome during the third century. That was long, long ago! At that time, Rome was ruled by an emperor named Claudius. I didn't like Emperor Claudius, and I wasn't the only one! A lot of people shared my feelings.

“Claudius wanted to have a big army. He expected men to volunteer to join. Many men just did not want to fight in wars. They did not want to leave their wives and families. As you might have guessed, not many men signed up. This made Claudius furious. So what happened? He had a crazy idea. He thought that if men were not married, they would not mind joining the army. So Claudius decided not to allow any more marriages. Young people thought his new law was cruel. I thought it was preposterous! I certainly wasn't going to support that law!

“Did I mention that I was a priest? One of my favourite activities was to marry couples. Even after Emperor Claudius passed his law, I kept on performing marriage ceremonies -- secretly, of course. It was really quite exciting. Imagine a small candle-lit room with only the bride and groom and myself. We would whisper the words of the ceremony, listening all the while for the steps of soldiers.

“One night, we did hear footsteps. It was scary! Thank goodness the couple I was marrying escaped in time. I was caught. (Not quite as light on my feet as I used to be, I guess.) I was thrown in jail and told that my punishment was death.

“I tried to stay cheerful. And do you know what? Wonderful things happened. Many young people came to the jail to visit me. They threw flowers and notes up to my window. They wanted me to know that they, too, believed in love.

“One of these young people was the daughter of the prison guard. Her father allowed her to visit me in the cell. Sometimes we would sit and talk for hours. She helped me to keep my spirits up. She agreed that I did the right thing by ignoring the Emperor and going ahead with the secret marriages. On the day I was to die, I left my friend a little note thanking her for her friendship and loyalty. I signed it, "Love from your Valentine."

“I believe that note started the custom of exchanging love messages on Valentine's Day. It was written on the day I died, February 14, 269 A.D. Now, every year on this day, people remember. But most importantly, they think about love and friendship. And when they think of Emperor Claudius, they remember how he tried to stand in the way of love, and they laugh -- because they know that love can't be beaten!”




I wrote this piece some years ago and I cannot remember my source. I hope I am not guilty of infringing copyright or plagiarising someone else's work.

If I am, please accept my apologies and get in touch and I'll have the post removed.


Tags: Claudius, emperor, card, flowers, heart, St Valentine, San Valentin, Valentine, Valentinus


Like 0        Published at 6:55 AM   Comments (0)

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