Saturday, 17 December 2011

Spanish Carols


There is not really a tradition in Spain for the type of Christmas carols that we know in more northerly parts of Europe. Some of those carols are known here and have their own Spanish versions, such as Venid Fieles (Adeste Fiedeles), Al Mundo Paz (Joy To The World) and Noche de Paz (Silent Night), but the real Christmas singing tradition here is based on a large group of songs called Villancicos.

The villancico was a popular form of poetry and singing in Spain, Portugal, and their colonies, for several centuries, starting in the second half of the 15th and continuing into the 18th. The style declined in popularity in more recent times and the term "villancico" gradually came to represent little more than a Christmas carol. (Well, perhaps carol isn't really a good translation, for songs such as White Christmas, Jingle Bells and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer are also referred to as villancicos. The more-encompassing term Christmas song might therefore be more appropriate.)

Despite, this degeneration, the medieval musical influence can still be gleaned in the villancicos that remain popular around the Christmas period. This is aided by the often medieval flavour of the music and its instrumentation, which still often consists of little more than a simple drum, a zambomba (a friction drum, or, in Dutch, a rommelpot), and some tambourines (panderetas in Spanish). In the Comunidad Valenciana, a dulzaina might also be used and in Andalucía, the villancico has become particularly popular performed in flamenco style, accompanied by guitars, castanets, hand-clpping and the cajón.

Villancicos are most often sung by groups of children (who, strangely enough, seem to have little musical ability) and this adds to the naivety of the whole. A glorious exception to this rule is provided by the flamenco performers of villancicos, who transform the simple songs into superbly exciting numbers: look out for a group called Raya Real in this respect.

So why not scrap the traditional carols this year and instead go for a more Spanish form of Christmas entertainment? You can find plenty of sites online where you can listen to villancicos, performed both well and badly, and lots of CDs are available in the shops, too, though these are of equally diverse quality.

Navidad Digital is a good place to start. Not only does the site offer many, many villancicos, it also allows you to hear carols in French, German, Italian, Latin and English. (In addition, you will find information about Belenes, recipes for traditional end-of-year fare, and hundreds of photos.)

And here is a short list of some of the more popular and traditional villancicos:

  • La Marimorena
  • Campana Sobre Campana
  • El Burrito Dabanero
  • Ya Viene La Vieja
  • Los Peces En El Rio
  • Arre Borriquito (Arre Burro Arre)
  • Alegría Alegría
  • Fum Fum Fum
  • Rin, Rin
  • El Chiquirritín

¡Felices fiestas!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Chopsticks


Some thirty-odd years ago I was "into" Bonsai. I had lots of little trees and enjoyed the hobby for several years. During that time, I learned a great deal about plants in general, not just Bonsai, and also discovered the greatest gardening tool ever known to man.

Chopsticks.

You know, the things with which you eat Chinese food (delicious!). Marilyn Monroe played Chopsticks in her glorious film, The Seven Year Itch, together with Tom Ewell, but that was on the piano and a different story entirely.

The art of Bonsai originated in China, so it is perhaps not surprising that the chopstick has remained linked to Bonsai care. (For a brief history of chopsticks, as well as other information about them, look here and here). From Bonsai I learned that a wooden chopstick could function as an excellent water gauge, dipping it into the soil, removing it after a while, and checking the dampness of the wood. As well as using chopsticks or parts of chopsticks for shaping, separating, and styling Bonsai, they have one use which is particularly suitable to other forms of cultivation: root separation.

When repotting a plant, it is often advisable to clear out the old soil from between the roots and to ensure that the roots are evenly spread in the plant's new pot. This can be best achieved with a chopstick!

Chopsticks come in various sizes and have differently shaped points (the Japanese chopsticks tend to be shorter, more often round along their whole length, and more pointed than their Chinese cousins), so keep a few different ones handy in order to be able to select the most appropriate one for the task. Larger plants with large root masses might benefit from some running water when the roots are being teased loose, but this should not be necessary for plants from normal and small-sized pots. Simply use the chopstick to gently tease the roots loose and to remove the soil which is caught between them: because of the slightly flexible and natural aspect of the wood, the chopstick will fulfil this task admirably and will cause far less damage to your plant than a metal item, such as a fork. Later you can use the chopstick to spread the roots evenly over the new soil before covering them and fixing the plant.

I also use chopsticks to push soil up against cacti stems, to ensure that the soil is well tamped down, though not excessively, at the sides of the pot, to nudge a cactus into its correct position in its new medium, to act as a fixed support for a while until a less than stable cactus has settled down, and countless other ways. Why, only just the other day I used a chopstick to unclog a leaf-sucker (garden vacuum).

I'd still like to have played Chopsticks with Marilyn, though…

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Bye Bye UK (if only)

It really is time for the UK to make its mind up as far as its membership of the EU is concerned.

Ever since the UK joined the European movement in the early 1970s, it has been nothing but a whining pain where the sun doen't shine. When I worked for the EU, during the 1980s and 1990s, it was embarrassing to be British: even then the UK looked far too much at its own needs and worried too much about is "national sovereignty" instead of working for the cause of European union and advancement. Now, with the other 26 member states agreeing to relatively harsh but necessary measures to shore up the Euro, the UK has once again shown its true colours and has vetoed the agreement.

Well, UK, get out, please, just go and wallow in your petty island mentality. Sadly, of course, England will take the other countries of the UK down with itself, unless Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have the means, the will, and the courage, to throw off the English chains of constraint and oppression in order to go their own way as part of a United Europe.

The current crisis is, in many ways, a good thing. It offers Europe a chance to get its house in order, it highlights both the weak and the strong aspects of Europe and demonstrates the need for the member states to forget all about their ridiculous worries about sovereignty. It really is now time to stop putting the individual member states first and instead to put a united Europe first, to work towards far more harmonisation, far closer political union, and far more freedom for the citizens of Europe.

And this can be better done without the dragging anchor of the UK to slow things down.

As for other member states, they must decide either to be in Europe, or out: no half measures, no pandering to their own right-wing, nationalist elements. From now on it must be either 100% Europe or get out and go-it-alone. And if you want to be in Europe, you use the Euro.


Wednesday, 23 November 2011

When It Rains, It Really Pours

I don't expect that Elvis was thinking of Spain when he recorded his magnificent version of "When It Rains, It Really Pours," but the song is certainly an appropriate one for much of Spain at the moment.

Even here in Guardamar, one of the driest parts of the country, we have had a couple of nights with some heavy rain (and no less than a small tornado in nearby Elche) and today the rain has hardly stopped. Heck, we have had to get the umbrellas out and have come home with wet shoes, something which rarely occurs here.

It is clear when driving and walking around, that the locals are not used to wet weather. This is not the case in all parts of Spain, of course, for much of the country, especially the northern regions enjoy (?) a great deal of rain, spread over the whole year. Down here in the south-east, however, rain is very unusual and there are quite simply no installations to deal with it. There are, for example, no drains in the roads to remove the water from the gutters. As a result, roads, especially those on a slope, soon turn into small rivers, with huge amounts of water reaching the lower points. And roads are laid with little or no thought to water control: they have dips in them and are often metalled incorrectly, so that large pools soon form. To add to the problems, much of the land has very little vegetation, and when heavy rain falls onto and then runs off it, the rain takes a significant amount of soil with it, often depositing that soil in the roads, thereby producing dangerous patches of mud.

The locals are pleased with the rain, for the ground is extremely dry and this quantity of rain will save a lot of money that would otherwise have to be spent on irrigation. In fact, there is no shortage of water in Spain; more than enough water falls here, but it is not equally spread over the country, with far more in the north than in the south. As with many other things in the country, however, poor management of resources leads to the crazy situation where the excess water of the northern regions is allowed to empty into the sea, while the southern regions spend huge amounts of money to develop and build desalination stations to take seawater and turn it into potable water. Madness!


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 11 November 2011

Museo de Belenes, Alicante

If you have an hour or so to spare in Alicante, a very pleasant way of passing the time is to visit the Museo de Belenes. Belenes is the plural form of Belén, or Bethlehem. In fact, the word is used here to indicate a nativity scene.

You don't have to be Christian to enjoy the displays of modelling that are exhibited in this small, but well looked after museum. I'm an atheist, but have been fascinated by the Spanish tradition of Belenes since I first discovered it some ten years ago and can only admire the work and dedication that goes into setting up these delightful models.

You can find Belenes all over Spain during the weeks leading up to the celebrations of the winter solstice (used by Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ) and on to Epiphany. They range in size from small scenes that people set up in their homes to very large scenes, sometimes displayed by a village or town, either outside, or, as in Guardamar, in a special room. Sometimes the scenes are extremely large, covering many square metres, often set up by local enthusiasts. San Javier, where the Murcia airport is located, claims to have the largest open-air Belen of Spain, covering 520 square metres and incorporating more than 1200 model figures with many moving elements. Another large one not too far from Guardamar is to be found in Casillas, a suburb of Murcia. This Belén is under cover and is particularly well known for its many moving parts.

Almost all Belenes have a secret: somewhere, hidden in the scene or scenes depicted, is a man crouching down, with his trousers around his ankles, doing his business. He is known as El Caganer (the crapper) and is said to be fertilizing the soil of the Belén, so that it will flourish again the following year. Probably originating in Catalonia, the caganer has become a popular element in Belenes and a small industry has grown around this single figure, selling not only the traditional form, but others, too, often depicting well-known personalities, including royalty and politicians, such as Barak Obama and Angela Merkel, to name but two.

I have to admit that I did not notice a Caganer in the museum, which was something of a disappointment, but otherwise the museum is a jewel, with many typically Spanish displays, as well as numerous nativity scenes from other parts of the world. The models are made of all sorts of material, ranging from clay, to wood, to ceramics, as well as less likely materials.

Entry to the museum is free. It is open from Tuesday to Friday, from 10:00 until 14:00 and from 17:00 until 20:00. You can find more information and a map of the location of the museum here.

I have made a small Picasa album, showing the inside of the museum.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Ruby Dracaena draco

On 29 October (just two days time, as I write), She Who Must Be Obeyed and He Whose Task Is Simply To Obey (that's me, in other words) will have been married 40 years. We've known each other for over 45 years, but that's a different story.

40 years. So it seems that this is our ruby wedding anniversary. To celebrate this wondrous occasion, we decided yesterday to buy ourselves a Dracaena draco, otherwise known as the Dragon's Blood tree. Well, blood is red, which is the colour of ruby, or so I'm told, so it seems appropriate, especially as this particular specimen was looking rather lonely and forlorn in one of the local garden centres, so clearly needed a good home.

The stem is about a metre tall, which makes the plant about 15 years old. We've had it potted up in a good earthenware pot and it now looks happy in our ever-more overcrowded little garden, standing next to its fellow countryman, the Senecio kleinia, which is seen to the left of the photo.

Both these plants originate from the Canary Islands, with the Dracaena also being found in Madeira, the Cape Verde Islands, and the Azores.

If you have visited Tenerife, the chances are that you have seen one of the few Dragon trees to still grow in the wild: a specimen estimated to be about 1,000 years old is a tourist attraction in the village of Icod de los Vinos. It is, of course, just a tad larger than our own…

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Steve Jobs dies

Steve Jobs is no longer with us.

In 2003 he was found to be suffering from pancreatic cancer; in 2009 he underwent a liver transplant.

Jobs recently retired as CEO of Apple and took on the role of Chairman of the Board of Directors. He had been on an extended leave of absence because of poor health.

Now, at just 56 years of age, the man who helped launch Apple and later helped to relaunch that same company, has died of the complications of the big C.

I have already written about Jobs and there is plenty of other information about him on the Web to make it quite unnecessary for me to write any more.

Suffice it to say that the world has lost a great innovator and motivator and the overwhelming response to his death is perhaps the best demonstration of his importance.

'Bye Steve.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Stapelia grandiflora

Five years ago some friends gave us a small tray of cacti and other succulents. I suppose there were five or six small plants in the tray, one of which was about the size of my thumb.

I had no idea what any of the plants were, let alone the thumb-sized one, as I had never investigated the world of succulents. Somehow, however, these plants spurred my interest and I gradually obtained more and more such plants, so that now the collection includes some two hundred cacti and about a hundred other succulents.

But what about the original contents of the tray?

Well, the plants are still alive and growing. Some have remained remarkably small, others have grown at what might be considered a more "normal" rate. But one has really done its very best and beaten all records: it is a Stapelia grandeflora. Two years ago, in early October 2009, it developed its first large flowers and I took a series of photos of one of these flowers opening over the course of a few hours (the photos can be seen here). Growth has continued at an almost frightening rate, despite the fact that I occasionally cut a piece of the plant off to give to other people.

Today I have had to move the plant higher, as its falling fronds had reached the ground and its now many flowers were desperately searching for a display position: the plant now sports a drop of almost a metre! The older parts of the plant are literally white with age, yet even now new shoots are appearing from the centre, and there is even a flower-bud looking expectantly from that same area.

As for other flowers, well, there is a whole host of them, mostly at the extremities of the longest branches. I have counted no less than seventeen, either in full bloom, in bud, or already drying up. And there are plenty of new shoots, too, promising a good year to come for the Stapelia grandiflora.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Paella fiesta

Sunday saw the annual Paella-making competition in El Campo de Guardamar, part of the San Isidro fiestas of that hamlet of Guardamar del Segura. Anyone can take part in the competition, but you have to be able to make a paella in the open-air, using a simple wood fire, with the paella dish supported on a tripod-like affair over the fire.

Many of the paellas thus prepared are very large, sufficient for twenty people or more, and are prepared by teams; others are much smaller efforts, some even prepared by just a single person. The size is irrelevant; the finished paella is judged purely on taste.

This year some twenty paellas were made. These are prepared in the street, the fires being built on a thick layer of sand, which protects the underlying tarmac. (When I was in the UK recently, I was explaining the procedure and a British person took umbrage at this, loudly proclaiming that the EU wouldn't allow such a thing in the UK, but that anything goes in the rest of Europe. It has absolutely nothing to do with the EU, of course, and depends solely on local ordinances, but the British always know best, don't they?) Exploding rockets are used to announce the significant moments in the competition, such as when the fires can be started, when the first ingredients can be put into the pans, when the rice can be added, when the paella must be completed…

The whole thing proceeds remarkably well and the spectacle of twenty or so paellas bubbling along on top of sometimes roaring little fires, with cooks and helpers buzzing around, carrying and adding various ingredients, tasting, commenting, encouraging, and so on, is enjoyed by several hundred visitors.

At the appropriate signal, the paellas are removed from their fires and a small portion of each is placed on a plate to be taken to the judging table. Needless to say, the judging committee includes the local priest—anything for a free meal—and rumours of corruption are rife, but only add to the fun.

As the judging takes place, the paella-makers and their supporters sit down to a highly disorganised but well-deseved picnic meal that, in spite of the lack of organisation and co-ordination, is thoroughly enjoyed and provides a wide variety of foodstuffs to accompany the star of the show, the paella itself.

Our own group prepared a most delicious paella, far better than our effort of last year, when we came second. This year we were not even placed!

Better luck next year!

If you'd like to see photos of this year's event, then visit my Picasa album.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Jobs steps down

Steve Jobs is no longer the CEO of Apple. Hardly surprising, given his precarious state of health during the past few years. It is amazing that he has been able to hold on for so long. Still, the time to go (at least to some extent, as he retains certain functions within Apple) has come, a fact that he recognised himself.

All best wishes to him.

The man chosen to be the new CEO, Tim Cook, has, to all intents and purposes, held that position for some time, as Jobs's health has not allowed him to be fully functional. There is no reason to assume that Cook is not up to the job. Indeed, he get Steve Jobs' own blessing.

Of course, the soothsayers and speculators are immediately spelling doom and asking if the company can survive without Jobs.

It is true, that Apple and Jobs made an apparently happy couple, though not everything in that particular garden was rosy and Jobs showed elsewhere that he did not always have the magic touch.

Apple's technological breakthrough, indeed, came largely because of Steve Wozniak, rather than Steve Jobs. Wozniak was the technical genius of the pair, whereas Jobs was more the visionary and salesman. The Apple II was the machine that brought Apple onto the world scene, though it was certainly not the first personal computer (nor was the IBM PC, which came along even later). The Macintosh did not appear until 1984 and at least one failure preceded its somewhat hesitant entrance into the field of personal computing. Apple's pricing policy and the sheep-like attitude of corporate buyers (epitomized by the expression, "You don't get fired for buying IBM") meant that Apple struggled and in 1985 Jobs was let go.

During the late eighties and most of the nineties, Apple, without Jobs, continued to lose its way as far as product range structure in the Macintosh line was concerned, yet still managed to be extremely forward-looking in other areas, notably in that of hand-held devices or PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants). The Newton range was way ahead of its time, perhaps too far ahead for the available technology, so that, overpriced and underpowered, it had to be dropped from the catalogue after eight years, when Jobs returned in 1997 and wielded the axe.

Whilst away from Apple in the nineties, Jobs was not particularly successful as far as sales were concerned. He led the development of the NeXT computers, which cost a great deal and sold only in small quantities. NeXT, however, ran NeXTStep, a Unix-based operating system that looked just like the sort of thing that Apple needed to replace its struggling MacOS. So Jobs was called back to Apple and NeXTStep was adjusted to become MacOS X in the new fancy-looking iMacs.

During the following decade or so, under Jobs's leadership, Apple would provide the world with the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad and a series of MacOS X releases that showed that computing really was for the rest of us.

It would be wrong to think that Apple is Jobs, however. Apple is loaded with highly capable people—just consider the likes of Johnathan Ive, designer extraordinaire—who form a team that is likely to continue long after Jobs switches off his iPad forever.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Spanish bureaucratic madness

There is much about Spain that I like.

There are a few things I dislike greatly: lack of organisation, lack of planning, lack of respect for the environment, the constant intrusion of the Catholic Church in everything Spanish, from local fiestas to high government, and the overpowering bureaucracy.

For the past week or so, we have been confronted with aspects of the lack of organisation and the stifling bureaucracy.

When we first came to Spain from Belgium just over five years ago, I applied for residency shortly after our arrival. Elise waited a few months in order to be able to more easily sort out some legal matters in Belgium. When my application was accepted, after a real struggle, details of which are too far in the past to be relevant, I was given a sort of ID card, carrying my photograph, address, NIE number, and other information: a useful and handy document, easy to carry and to use as proof of identity. When Elise eventually made her application and was accepted, things had changed: instead of receiving the handy card, she received an almost useless A4-size sheet of paper, with no photo to identify her. Not only was the paper of an unhandy format, it could not be used as proof of identity. Sadly, the Spanish authorities had chosen to substitute this form for the ID-card format. The only advantage of the form, was that it did not carry a date limit, as did the card.

My own card's validity was until the beginning of October 2011, so the time had come to renew it. I knew that this meant that instead of a new card, I would also receive the useless A4 document, but that's the way things were, so it had to be done. Now you would imagine that, as all your details are known to your local Ayuntamiento (town hall) and as that Ayuntamiento has a big staff, with computers and printers and everything that is required, they would be able to exchange the ID card for the new A4 form (known, incidentally, as the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión). So first stop the Ayuntamiento.

It went something like this:

"My card is about to expire. Can you renew it or provide me with the new form?"

"For that you must go to the Office for Foreigners at the National Police Offices in Elche."

"Can you tell me what I need to renew the card?"

"For that you must go to the Office for Foreigners at the National Police Offices in Elche."


Now, I might be naive, but it seems to me that, even if the Ayuntamiento is incapable of actually performing the task of renewing the card (in fact, exchanging it for a silly document), then they should at least be able to tell someone from the EU what is required to achieve this magnificent feat: thousands of EU citizens live here in Guardamar, so the information really should be at the fingertips of those responsible for registrations in the Ayuntamiento. But no, it is apparently not their job, so they know nothing about it.

Right, next thing is a quick visit to Elche (an almost 80 Km round trip) to ask what must be done in my case. We arrived at the offices at about 11 o'clock one morning. Entering the offices, we are stopped by a brusque official.

"What's it for?"

"I want information on what to do about my ID-card [shows ID card] which will soon expire."

"Through there."


We enter the room that we were headed for (there is nowhere else to go), which is full of people. One of them tells us that we need a number, so we go back into the entry hall and ask the same official that just told us where to go for a number.

"No numbers left. Come back tomorrow."


You might well ask why he sent us through in the first place!

Back home, the next day I decided to phone the Elche offices to see if I could gather the necessary information that way. Fortunately, after some delay I was able to speak to a pleasant-sounding lady who informed me that all I needed was the ID card itself, my national passport and the fee of 10.20 euro. Remembering the long waits of five years previously and the requirement for a number, I also asked if many people usually came. She assure me that it was not as busy as it used to be. I wondered if it was possible to make an appointment (I had seen that an appointment could be made for NIEs and passports). No, she replied, this was not the case for foreigners.

Last Tuesday, we got up at seven in the morning (generally unheard of in our household) and made our way to Elche. We were at the offices at about eight o'clock and there was hardly anyone to be seen, other that a policeman. To say he was gruff would be an understatement. I don't think I have ever known a policeman, and very few other people for that matter, with less people-skills. His job, I assume, was to offer help and assistance to those coming to the offices. That can only be a joke. He didn't speak, he barked. His Spanish was coarse, poorly enunciated, and spoken in a most unfriendly manner. He was not a welcoming image to either foreigners or Spaniards visiting the offices (Spanish nationals must come to the offices in order to obtain passports). Fortunately, another person was there who could speak clearly and answer questions in a civilised manner: all of the numbers had already been issued for that day.

Our next expedition was planned for Friday. This time the alarm was set for six o'clock (!) and we arrived at the offices at seven. There was already a considerable number of people, but most seemed to be Spanish nationals, who would receive a different set of numbers. Upon enquiry, I was told that 32 numbers would be given to foreigners. It looked as if we would be in with a chance. When the distribution of numbers took place just before eight o'clock (in utter confusion, of course), I obtained number 16.

We had made acquaintance with a young couple while awaiting the distribution of numbers. He was Italian/Australian and his girlfriend Spanish. He was also there to obtain the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión, having just come to live in Spain after several years in South Korea. He told us that I could get the form for the payment of the 10.20 euro fee in the entrance hall of the office. After having obtained our numbers, we both went up to the entrance hall in order to get such a form (highly necessary as, without having paid the fee the form will not be issued!). In the hall was the unfriendly policeman.

"What's it for?"

"We need a payment form."

"Get out! Get out!"


Nice chap! The poor Italian/Australian lad was most put off by this attitude: he had never been treated so badly, it was no way to treat foreigners, it was downright bad manners…

We tried again ten minutes later and thankfully a more amenable person was also in the hall, so even though Unfriendly Policeman again tried his authoritarian tactics, we were able to obtain the required form.

Here's another stupid aspect of the whole sorry affair. The fee for the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión is 10.20 euro and must be paid before the form is issued. Now, this is 2011, the twenty-first century, an era of electronic banking, digital transmission, cash points, cash cards, credit cards, debit cards… That cash is not accepted I can understand for security purposes, but wouldn't you think that a government office would be able to accept payment in electronic form? I mean, the local Mercadona, Consum, El Corte Inglés, Hypercor, and any other supermarket can; the little bricolaje (do-it-yourself shop) in Guardamar can; the newsagents can; the bars and restaurants can. So why can't a government office? No, instead, the punter must go to a bank, make the payment, have the form officially stamped to show that the payment has been made, return to the offices and present the application with proof of payment. Crazy!

Crazy?

It gets crazier, for many banks will not accept such payments on a Friday! I kid you not. Fortunately, we were able to find a bank with a friendly teller who had nothing to do, so was prepared to make the payment, but there were notices around informing us that such payments could only be made from Monday to Thursday.

I had asked at about what time we should return to the Office for Foreigners, given that we had number 16, and was told that number 16 would be dealt with at about eleven o'clock. After having made the payment in the bank, we had breakfast, walked around Elche for a while and decided to return to the Office rather early, just after ten o'clock. There were relatively few people there and the display panels indicating the number being dealt with at each counter were blank: the numbers were simply being ignored! There was one counter for foreigners, so I plonked myself in the queue (there was just one other person there) and was soon dealt with. The whole process for exchanging my dearly beloved ID card for the pathetic green A4 Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión in the end took less than five minutes of actual work.

Somebody, and I honestly have no idea who, needs to look into this whole business. The processing of EU citizens should be moved to the Ayuntamientos to start with. Officials need to be taught people-handling skills or, at the very least, basic good manners. The whole process needs to be rationalised, simplified, modernised, reworked.

And Spanish citizens should not have to queue for hours in the hope of obtaining a number that gives them the right to request a passport, which is their basic right (numerous Spanish people who were queuing with us failed to obtain a number and must return another day).

Here comes the pope

Spain is supposed to have a non-confessional government; the Catholics are not presumed to interfere with any aspects of the government, nor to have any governmental powers or special favours awarded by the government. In spite of this, the Catholics now want the government to help finance the latest visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the tune of millions of euro.

If the Catholics wish to send Herr Pope on silly holidays such as this, then let them pay for them themselves. The Catholic Church (like most other organised religions) sucks enough money out of its followers, especially those most in need, and has sufficient riches to finance the Pope's occasional outings and anything else that needs to be paid for, so why ask the Spanish government for aid? Has it passed the Catholics' attention that Spain is suffering a crisis, with over 20% unemployment, rising to some 45% among the young? Has it passed the Catholics' attention that there are plenty of non-Catholics, believers or not, that have no wish to see their fiscal contributions converted into support for a ridiculous manifestation of power and control?(And what about the bible's contention that the love of money is the root of all evil, not to mention Jesus Christ's own rants against money lenders and temple traders? Do these mean nothing to the Vatican and its deluded followers?)

Let us hope that for once the Spanish government will truly stand up to the pressure so often put on it by the Catholic Church and will quite simply refuse to give even one eurocent to the money-grabbers. Indeed, why not ask the Church to pay for any and all extra costs incurred in Spain by this ridiculous Papal visit?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Apple Newton

When the Newton first came out early in 1993, I thought it was a great concept. As the line developed, so did its greatness, right up to the MessagePad 2100, which was to be the last of the production series, discontinued early in 1998.

The Newton was way, way ahead of its time and it can still do some things better than the PDAs of today.

I started collecting a few Newton items some ten years ago, but now has come the time to sell what I have and that is the purpose of a small site that I have created. There are MessagePads, accessories, and even some software and other third-party items offered for sale there. I still have a few items which I shall add to the list, too, but a trip to Belgium will have to occur first, as they are in the apartment there and I'm in Spain!

Remember that everything is second-hand and much of what is offered is electronic equipment of well over ten years old. I offer no guarantees, other than to say that everything worked the last time that I used it.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Moros y Cristianos 2011

Once again the festival of Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians, or, in Valenciano, Moros i Cristians) has come to a firework-filled end, after more than a week of street-fighting, more fireworks, re-enactments, street picnics, official and unofficial events, but, perhaps most importantly, of two evenings of costumed parades. This year, these parades took place on 23 and 24 July and were accompanied by a very large number of spectators, lining the route of the main thoroughfare of Guardamar del Segura.

Guardamar is particularly fortunate to have such a thoroughfare, which makes for far better marching conditions than those found in other Spanish towns and villages, where Moros y Cristianos festivities are celebrated, starting in about February and going on until August. Most places are quite old and have narrow, winding streets. Guardamar, having been completely redesigned and rebuit after a devastating earthquake in the ealy 19th century, now boasts a relatively modern, wide and straight central main road, offering a good couple of kilometres along which to parade in fine style.

Unlike a carnival, the Moros y Cristianos parade is concerned more with spectacular costumes than with large floats. The participating groups "belong" to either the Moros or the Cristianos. Each group, or comparsa (I believe there are ten comparsas in Guardamar), is itself divided into lines, or filas, each made up of perhaps six to ten people. Each fila spreads out across the road, shoulder to shoulder, and marches the whole length of the course, accompanied by strident music. Altogether, hundreds of people dress in wonderful costumes and march in this way.

I do not know exactly how many filas there are, but there must be close to a hundred. The whole parade lasts approximately three hours.

To have a better idea of the costumes, see my gallery of photos.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Funeral in Wales

We have just returned from a flying visit to Wales, where we attended the funeral of my second cousin, Phyllis Williams.

Phyllis and her husband belonged to the Plymouth Brethren, so her funeral service took place, not in the church of the Glyn-Taf cemetery and crematorium, but on the mountainside that forms part of that huge cemetery.

Those attending made their way up the steep slopes to the area where the burial would take place and awaited the arrival of the hearse, accompanied by the close family. The coffin was then pulled and pushed with some effort even higher to the actual burial site, with everyone following. We then gathered around the gaping hole, as the attendants lowered the coffin into the grave. Strange, a grave on a steep hillside, as the head end is far deeper than the other extremity, which is, presumably, at at least the minimum required depth.

There was then singing, preaching, praying, more preaching, and more singing. There must have been fifty or sixty people in all, both around the gravesite and further down the slope (not all were able to climb up such a steep hillside). Thank goodness the Welsh weather didn't live up to its reputation and Phyllis was able to be sent off in lovely sunshine that lit up the valley below.

When the interment was completed, we made our way down the slopes to where the cars were parked. Most of us then drove to the Bethesda Church in Rhiwbeina, Cardiff, for another service (the Bethesda Church is more a meeting hall than a church, with no statues, paintings, or any other form of "graven image"; the otherwise plainly painted walls are only relieved by a couple of quotes from the bible, painted in large letters).

Bethesda was chosen instead of Phyllis's normal "assembly" (the term used by Plymouth Brethren to refer to the places where they meet to worship), Treforest, as it was thought that Treforest would be too small. It turned out that Bethesda was also too small, with some 200 people coming along, there was insufficient room inside the hall and some who attended had to follow along outside.

The service consisted of several well sung hymns (what do you expect in Wales?) and a number of prayers and preachings, interspersed with "Amens" and "Praise the Lords" and other appropriate interjections.

After the service there was time for much shaking of hands and other forms of greeting, soon to be followed by refreshments, provided by the ladies of the Assembly. The excess of people made this part rather problematic, especially as the refreshments were served in the small hall behind the larger meeting hall. Still, everyone seems to have been able to get something to eat and the TDC (Tea Distribution Centre) did a fine job, despite the small space which was available for their work.

Phyllis had a good send-off.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Royal Doulton Character Jugs

I used to collect Royal Doulton character jugs. I did so from the mid-1970s until early in the 2000s and eventually built up a collection of over 150 pieces. Sometimes, these jugs are incorrectly referred to as Toby jugs, but there is a difference: a Toby jug shows the full form of a seated person (more information), whereas a character jug is in the form of a bust, modelling only the head and shoulders.

Before moving to Spain, I sold many of my jugs and put the remainder in storage, I have now decided to sell those, too, and to that end have developed a small website. The site shows a complete catalogue of the jugs available, including details of each jug and a contact form for enquiries and orders.

You needn't buy a jug in order to visit the site and you might enjoy looking at the numerous jugs there. They depict well-known historic characters, as well as characters from literature and representations of trades. They include Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, a cutler (called Little Mester), a gardener, the Mad Hatter, even Buddy Holly, as well as many other personages.

Visit the website by following this link.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Beardless

I've had a beard since 1991 or thereabouts, so just about twenty years. Not that it was ever much of a beard, more a sort of designer stubble, with the emphasis far more on stubble than designer. After much complaining by She Who Must Be Obeyed, who insisted that the beard had become too white, it was removed a couple of days ago.

Now there's this strange man staring back at me whenever I look in the bathroom mirror!

He has jowls. He has a turned-down mouth. He has strange contours in his skin. He has a sagging neck…

Twenty years of gradual physical change, nay, deterioration, had clearly been subtly and effectively camouflaged by that minor hirsute appendage, unassuming though it was.

So here's a warning to all who are considering the removal of facial hair after numerous years: think carefully of the consequences before putting blade to skin! Will you be able to face the end result?

As for me, I shall remain clean-shaven, at least for the duration of the electric razor that I bought especially for that purpose. It would be a shame to waste the money, after all.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Adenium 2 (and 3)

Last year I bought an Adenium obesum, which I found hiding amongst the more mundane plants of a market stall in Guardamar. It was a lovely plant and produced numerous flowers, a real sight to see.

Sadly, my lack of knowledge about this type of plant, perhaps coupled with a surprisingly hard winter, meant that I discovered a few months ago that the caudex or fat stem of Adenium had turned to an unpleasant mush and the plant had to be consigned to that great greenhouse in the sky (if you believe in that sort of thing).

After some searching, the Lady of the Market Stall was able to find me another Adenium some weeks ago. It was clearly a different type, but that's not a problem at all: it's a nice specimen with a good caudex and some pleasant high roots that lift out of the potting medium. It lost most of its leaves shortly after I repotted it, but has now regrown most of them and is starting to look very attractive again.

A couple of weeks later, Our Lady of the Market Stall had another Adenium and wondered if I'd be interested. Of course I was! Adenium 3 has a less interesting caudex, but does possess a pleasant trident-like symmetry. Again, it lost almost all its leaves after having been potted up, but these are now growing back and it has even produced a very nice flower, so seems to be doing well.

Neither plant yet matches up to the glory that was Adenium 1, but there is plenty of time yet. This coming winter I shall ensure that the two Adeniums are kept dry and, should the temperature here ever drop below five degrees again, will protect them from such extremes.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Another birthday!

When a woman reaches a certain age, she doesn't like that age to be broadcast either in the intimacy of close friends, or across the World Wide Web. Today is Elise's umpteenth birthday, but to save myself from any hostile reprisals, I shall not reveal the full count, save to say that it is more than 61 and less that 63.

Here in Spain people don't just "have a birthday"; instead, they "complete" a certain number of years. Let's imagine the hypothetical case of someone who is 62 years old today: it's their 62nd birthday, we would say, whereas a Spaniard would complete their 62nd year. A vastly more sensible approach in my view, as from then on a Spaniard is well aware that he or she is in their 63rd year. In cooler climes we tend to think that we are in our 62nd year, thereby cheating Old Father Time of a perfectly good year. You know the sort of thing, "He died in his 62nd year," when he was really in his 63rd year. No problem with that in Spain, where he would quite merrily die when he still had to complete his 63rd year.

Anyway, Elise, happy birthday to you, however old you are…

Penblwydd hapus i ti.

Gelukkige verjaardag.

¡Feliz cumpleaños, mujer!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Bye Roger

We have just returned from a quick visit to Belgium. We went there to attend the cremation of Roger, a friend of almost forty years, who died very suddenly in his own home at the age of seventy-two.

It is the first time that I have felt so close to death, perhaps because Roger and his wife, Christiane, were the first friends Elise and I made when we were just married. We were living in a small apartment in Aalst, with no room for a washing machine and nowhere to dry wet things. We asked around and found Roger and Christiane, who had their own laundry business. They collected and delivered the laundry and were amused to see that we were not alone in the apartment, but shared it with a budgerigar, Joey, who was allowed to fly freely through the place (he had a cage, but chose when and when not to use it himself). Joey could also talk and do tricks, so Roger and Christiane asked if they could bring their young daughter, Martine, to see the bird.

And so a friendship was formed that has lasted until now and each couple has seen the other grow older and face the good and the bad times that come and go in a lifetime. Now, suddenly, Roger is no more.

The cremation was held at the Westlede Crematorium in Lochristi and was an intimate and moving occasion. The service was followed by a meal that Roger would have been proud of and then we watched as Roger's ashes were scattered over the grass.

Each person who attended the cremation was presented with a commemorative card carrying Roger's photo on the outside, and inside his name, dates of birth and death and this simple yet moving verse:

Terwijl jij weg bent
en mij enkel leegte laat
vermoed ik onverwoord
dat je nog steeds bestaat…
dat ik je nog kan horen
en nog met je kan spreken…
want alle liefde die er was
kan zelfs de dood niet breken.


I offer this transaltion, my own, for those of you who do not understand Dutch:

Now you have gone
and left me only emptiness
I silently suspect
that you are still here…
that I can still hear you
and can still speak to you…
for not even death can break
all the love there was.


Roger Van de Wiele, 18 May 1939 — 8 June 2011

Friday, 3 June 2011

Have You Got The Balls For It?

I have always been fascinated by jugglers: their ability to move objects through the air from one hand to another with apparent ease, such objects including not merely balls and clubs, but knives, flaming torches, chairs and even working chainsaws.

I started juggling myself in the early 1990s, when there was quite a popular interest in the art and juggling equipment could be purchased with relative ease. I taught myself numerous three-ball tricks and was also able to juggle with rings and clubs, though never quite made it to switched-on chainsaws.

She Who Must Be Obeyed tried juggling, but she didn't have the balls for it.

I still have numerous juggling balls, including a set of fluorescent ones: leave them in the light for a few hours and then they light up as if by magic when one juggles in the dark. I also still have my clubs and I think there is a set of rings back in Belgium. I was never very keen on rings, I must admit, much preferring the wide variety of tricks that could be easily practiced and performed indoors with three juggling balls: shower, cascade, cathedral windows, tennis… The most complicated trick I managed to master was one called Mills Mess.

People often ask me what it's like, juggling, and I can only reply that it has its ups and downs…

I used to carry my juggling balls with me on my various trips and so have juggled in Belgium, Wales, England, France, Spain, and the USA, where I was able to juggle on the stage of the Overton Park Shell, the site of Elvis Presley's first public performance as a recording artist.

I continue to enjoy the occasional juggle and like reading about it and watching tricks. Plenty of excellent jugglers doing their thing can be viewed at Juggling TV. Believe me, I am nowhere near their class.

Should you wish to learn how to juggle, then take a look here. A simple three-ball cascade is really not very difficult and starting off can cost very little money. Indeed, you can use ordinary balls to start with, though then I would advise juggling against a bed (I kid you not) to avoid running about all over the place chasing dropped balls. As long as you have more than the average number of hands (you need 2, think about it), then you should be fine. There are plenty of other juggling resources on the Web, just Google the word "juggling" and be amazed. And if you'd like some juggling software for your Mac, iPad, iPhone, or Windows machine, then the Internet Juggling Database offers a fairly comprehensive list.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Election Day

Yesterday was election day here in Spain. Local elections, at least, the general elections being held next year.

As expected, the PP more or less swept the board, dealing a heavy blow to the socialist PSOE, the party of the national government. How Spain can remain so right-wing is a worrying mystery, I have to admit.

The PP has achieved this largely through unjust claims, jibes, complaints and other "mentiras" at the expense of the PSOE. The only hopeful aspect of the situation is that the PP at local level will show that the problems that they have ridiculed are genuine ones, which do not have simple solutions. Indeed, most of the problems are either PP generated (from their previous term in office) or are a direct result of the international financial crisis (produced largely by right-wing policies, such as those supported by the PP). Perhaps then th Spanish people will see the error of their ways and will vote for the PSOE in the general elections of ne xt year.

We can but hope.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Well Said, Stephen Hawking

Ah, good. Stephen Hawking also looks upon the nonsense of an afterlife and heaven as fairy-tales. I've been saying this for years and not only about the afterlife, so now that someone with a mind as great as Hawking has dared to say it, perhaps it will be taken a bit more seriously.

How anyone in the twenty-first century can believe in such medieval (and earlier) baloney goes beyond me. No doubt they also believe that there is a great big giant at the top of a beanstalk somewhere, just waiting to eat up little boys.

Accept it: we are just the packages that are used by genes to propagate themselves. Our afterlife, such as it is, rests solely in the continuation of our genes in further generations: the package is burnt up and thrown away, usually after having lived for far longer than is really necessary. Be happy with that and forget all the claptrap about heavens and paradises and whatever else you have been told. Such rubbish is just a load of tales made up to satisfy the fears of ignorant people in the past, yet perpetuated today in an attempt by organised religions to keep the masses under control. Fear is a wonderful controlling mechanism.

Stephen Hawking spoke out against the afterlife in a recent interview with the Guardian . His illness prevents him from speaking very much, so everything he "says" (he uses an electronic device to produce his words) is carefully weighed in order to make as big an impact as possible with very few words. Yet by saying so little his great mind manages, in fact, to say an awful lot.

Photo attribution.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Bring Back Boyle!

I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that, as I am writing this, the Eurovision Song Farce, oops sorry, Contest, is playing live on the television, watched with great enthusiasm by She Who Must Be Obeyed, who strictly forbids me to put on anything else.

The voting is on at the moment and it is even worse that the singing (well, sort of…). Why do most of the performers insist on spouting out in English, a language that in most cases they far from master, with poor pronunciation, even allowing for the rather-further-west than mid-Atlantic accent they use? Still worse, perhaps, is that the lyrics are also often in a convoluted version of English: if they don't want to use the language of the country they represent, then let there at least be a test on correct English usage.

Language use is also problematic during the voting sessions, of course, but it's not just the poor language use that is a problem—the representatives in the various countries seem quite incapable of actually speaking: they shout, sing (again, sort of…), blurb and glug, utter nonsensicalities and absurdities before getting round to summing up their voting results.

Even more farcical is the distribution of the votes. Why the drawn-out process of gathering, counting and presenting the votes is necessary is a mystery, as it the allocation of votes is a foregone conclusion, based on the primary-school question of which countries are the neighbours of the country currently voting.

The whole ESC has outgrown itself, it's become too big for its boots. Oh for the days of a simple stage, one or more singers per country performing a song (that's what the contest is supposed to be about), rather than giving a theatre production, an orchestra led by a representative of the country on stage, and the elegance of the likes of good old Katie Boyle to present the show: no exaggeration, no hyperbole, no histrionics, but instead a simple, organised, polite, correct presentation.

And while we're at it, how about a cynical commentary by Terry Wogan?

(And my douze points go to Moldovia.)

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Local elections

The run-up to the local elections here in Spain started a few days ago, so now placards, posters, banners and other electioneering paraphernalia adorn every available space, as the various parties try to persuade us that our vote is best spent on them. If the pollsters are to be believed, and that seems highly likely this time round, then the PP (Partido Popular) will make huge gains across almost the whole of the country, thereby taking control of many more "ayuntamientos" from the unjustly maligned PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español).

This is a terrible thought. True, Spain is still very much divided between left and right, but relatively recent history has shown just what the right is capable of, and local councils already controlled by PP are hives of corruption. The PP is basically the party of Franco's heirs, an ultra right gang of conservative, catholic, anti-socialist individuals, who probably have gilt-framed photos of Margaret Thatcher in their bedrooms and think that Bush was the personification of the Second Coming.

The poor PSOE has had a hard time in main government and this will be reflected in the results of these local elections. They are blamed for an economic crisis with which they have had little to do, a crisis of worldwide proportions, generated by greedy bankers and suchlike, which has had repercussions in a Spain whose economy the PP, when it was the governing party at the end of the last century and the beginning of this, ensured was built on the shaky foundation of the construction industry, which, if it did not build a solid economic platform, at least meant big backhanders for the PP-ers who ensured that land was redesignated as building-ground, irrespective of the actual legality of such actions and with no regard at all to the future.

In many ways, El Raso, the estate where we live, is a miniature example of Spain and such PP shortsightedness. The area occupied by El Raso was designated building-ground by the PP when they ruled the roost in Guardamar, even to the extent of allowing roads and building plots to be laid out in the area immediately adjacent to a nature reserve, when the law expressly prohibited such behaviour. A large housing estate was established, including numerous very large, well planted roundabouts and several green areas. All very nice and prestigious, but no thought had been given to the maintenance of these areas, nor to the provision of telephone lines, or a postal service. The PP was interested only in large short/term gains for the few, of course.

Thankfully, the PSOE took over control of Guardamar after only a limited amount of construction of buildings in the prohibited zone, but the damage had already been done by the roads, which had first been laid, and the inadequate planning for service facilities, thanks to the PP's lack of forethought. As a result, the PSOE was left with a host of El Raso-related problems and an extremely limited budget with which to solve them. They have, during the past five years or so, done much to improve matters, but this goes unnoticed by most, who see the problems as occurring during the mandate of the PSOE and remain blind to the reality that they were generated by the PP.

This is remarkably like the situation in Spain as a whole, though on a far smaller scale, of course. The really sad part is that the results of these local elections are likely to be reflected in the general elections, to be held next year. Spain will then most probably lumber itself with an inward-looking, Europhobic, xenophobic government and control by the PP will be complete, with both local and national governments in their hands. That will be a sad time for Spain and a sad time for Europe, too, as yet another country falls to the short-term thinking of the right wing, who delight in strengthening delimiting borders and even building more.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Olea europaea farga

There's a Spanish saying, "Malas hierbas nunca mueren," meaning that weeds never die. It seems that this might also apply to olive trees.

Close to us is the Hotel La Laguna and in the small gardens of that hotel is this magnificent, ancient specimen of Olea europaea farga. This sort of tree is prized for its small brownish-blackish olives, which produce excellent oil. Who knows how many people, not to mention birds and so on, have profited from the produce of this venerable being?

The wooden plaque at the base of the tree indicates its Latin name (sadly misspelt) and tells us that it originates from the old Roman Road in Teruel, which is some 400 Km from the tree's current location. Not only is this a well-travelled tree, it is also one of remarkable longevity, for the plaque further informs us that its age is between 1500 and 1800 years!

Just imagine, the tree was some 200 years old when the Moors invaded Spain and it saw their conquest of that country, with all its associated advances, followed by the later overrunning by the Catholic hordes. It was already at least 500 years old when the Normans invaded Britain, and some 1,000 years old when Columbus came across the Americas.

Now it looks absolutely wonderful for its age and one can only hope that it will outlive many more generations of paltry humans.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Viva la República

Charlie-Farlie and his latest bit of fluff, Camel Parker-Bowlingalley, were in Spain recently on what was presumably an "official" visit. And I bet they didn't pay for their pre-Easter jaunt, either. Bloodsuckers, like the rest of royalty, wherever they might be. Nobody should be accorded any privileges or advantages, merely because of an accident of birth; such things should be gained through merit and through merit alone. Gordon Bennett, this is 2011, not the Middle Ages, and it really is time we did away with birthright, religion and other such nonsense, the purpose of which is to keep a few rich in their comfortable position and the plebs in their place.

Charlie Farlie and his cohorts are a prime example of why such an antiquated system as royalty should be abolished once and for all. Like almost all of them, he does basically nothing, other than look foolish, but enjoys the income from his lands in Cornwall (and made Camel P-B the Duchess of Cornwall in the meantime) and probably gets a nice back-hander, courtesy of the rest of the tax-payers in the UK, too.

If that weren't enough, his son is now about to get married in a media event that will be blown out of all proportion. The really sad thing, is that those who know of no better will be lining the streets, waving the flags they've paid well over the odds for, and screaming their lungs out as a pathetic gesture of support for the young couple, whose prime duty will be to provide the next generation of leeches.

Then there's Grannybeth shacked up in Buck House. Well, at least she has had more sense than to abdicate in favour of son Charlie Farlie, probably realizing that putting such a plonker on the throne really would be the end of the Windsors (for want of a better name, of course): they got precious close to the end when Banana Spinster's untimely death raised more than a few questions.

Up the republic, I say.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Parodia buiningii

What used to be called Notocactus buiningii is now more properly referred to as Parodia buiningii. (Names and classifications have a habit of changing in the cactus world.)

According to Edward F. Anderson in his encyclopaedic work, The Cactus Family, Parodia buingingii is found close to Santana do Livramento, which is in Brazil, and Rivera, a neighbouring locality in Uruguay. The book also states that the cactus is reported to be rare. Well, it's often seen in the garden centres around here, so perhaps the book refers only to its occurrence in the wild.

This particular specimen is 14 cm in diameter and 9 cm tall, with 15 ribs. It currently shows 12 flower buds, 7 of which are already blooming. Actually, they only bloom when the sun "wakes them up" with a direct hit in the morning, and close up tightly again in the late afternoon, when shade returns to the plant.

Other cacti to show flowers are the members of the Mammillaria and Echinofossulocactus families. There are too many to show all the different varieties, so here are just one from each family.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Gymnocalycium bruchii

This is the first Gymnocalycium in my collection of cacti to flower this year.

The Gymnocalycium bruchii is also known as Gymnocalycium lafandense and originates from the La Falda mountains, part of the Sierra de Cordoba range, in Argentinia, where it grows in rock cracks at a height of about 2000 metres.

It's an easy Gymnocalycium to grow and to propagate and, like almost all Gymnocalyciums, produces beautiful flowers. And as you can see from the second photo, there are plenty of flowers to come:

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Neoporteria/Eriosyce…?

It looks impressive, but what is it? At first I thought it might be a Neoporteria senilis (Eriosyce senilis), but I have a feeling that it is too large for that: it has a diameter of 10 cm and a height of 6 cm. It certainly has the nestlike spine structure of an Eriosyce nudus (another alternative name) and, while almost all of the spines are white, a few are brownish-black.

If anyone can help identifying this cactus, I would be most grateful.

Pumpkins, one month on

What a difference a month makes.

If you remember from a previous entry, I had put some pumpkin seeds in pots in the hopes of not having to cart any more of the fruits back from Belgium. They had already germinated and seemed to be getting along well. A couple of weeks ago, I was able to transplant the seedlings to larger pots: four were put together in a very large pot, 43 cm diameter by 35 cm tall, while the remaining five seedlings were spread out in smaller pots.

Eight of the seedlings, including the four you see here, continue to do well, but one seems to be struggling a bit; the runt of the litter, no doubt.

I have no idea if this is considered to be a good way to grow pumpkins, but it's worth a try. Each pot has a bottom layer of lava stones, to promote drainage, with a soil mixture of horse manure and potting compost.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Here Come the Flowers

The first flowers have appeared on the cacti, led, a couple of weeks ago already, by members of the Echinofossulocactus genus, together with Mammillaria. Now, others are in bud, notably a number of Gymnocalicium, whose flower display is always something wonderful. Plenty of succulents, other than cacti, are also flowering. But this week the tiny Turbinicarpus schmidickeanus (?) has come into flower.

The cactus itself is a tad less than 3 cm. in diameter and less than a centimeter tall. It produced five buds, three of which open up in the sunlight to produce a bunch of flowers, the size of which overshadows the body of the cactus.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Croeso i'r Gwesty Quino

Hotel Quino, in Guardamar del Segura, recently reopened after renovations. In the reception area, facing the guests as they enter the hotel, is a panel on which Welcome is written in three different languages, Castillano (commonly referred to simply as Spanish), Valencian, and English.

Ever since I first saw this panel, I have been kidding Joaquin and Javier, the hotel owners, to place a real language, namely Welsh, on the panel, too. And She Who Must Be Obeyed has gently suggested that a slight modification to the English lettering would turn it into what for her would be much more acceptable Dutch.

A few days ago, we picked up some people from Alicante airport and took them to the hotel. Imagine our surprise, when we were met with a Welcome panel which included our requested modifications: Javier had spent the afternoon cutting shapes of letters from magazine pages, in order to adjust the English Welcome into the Dutch Welkom and to spell out the word Croeso (Welcome in Welsh).

Sadly, the modifications to the Welcome panel were only of a passing nature, and it is now back to its three-language poverty. A nice gesture, though, and one that was much appreciated.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Dydd Gwyl Dewi

According to my watch, it's 29 February today.

In reality, of course, it's 1 March, better known throughout the world (!) as Saint David's Day, equivalent to the Welsh national holiday, though, thanks to a rejection by the English-dominated UK government in 2007, no bank holiday is allowed on that day in Wales.

The day actually commemorates the death of Dewi Sant. Old Dewi died on 1 March, probably in 588.

To celebrate Saint David's Day, we had a lunch of caldo con pelotas, which is the Spanish equivalent of faggots and peas, my officially designated National Dish of Wales. The Spanish version uses chick-peas instead of green peas and lemon-juice is used instead of malt vinegar, but I'm not complaining, as I enjoy the dish very much!

My wish for this Saint David's Day is that Wales and Scotland become independent and prosperous members of the European Union (with Northern Ireland returned to Ireland, where it belongs), and that England become a small and unimportant state of the USA, which it clearly wants to be; perhaps it could be renamed Old England to avoid confusion with the already existing state of New England.

Oh, and perhaps we could change the national anthem from Hen Wlâd Fy Nhadau to Dafydd Iwan's Yma O Hyd.

Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus i chi!

Keep the red (dragon) flags flying!

Cymru am byth.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Still at it…

Well, it's been more than 24 hours since we first discovered the two locusts on our palm, locked in their lovers' embrace and they're still at it.

They've either got considerable stamina, or are locked together eternally, or are simply doing what their kind do. I suspect the latter.

They don't just sit there and get on with it, either, but have had a good wander around the palm, with Mrs Locust (I assume some marital relationship here) munching away at a leaf whenever she feels a bit peckish.

In the meantime, our other monster in the garden, the praying mantis, presumably being of a more religious than carnal nature, just keeps on praying.

You can see more photos of the garden monsters in this jAlbum.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Pumpkins!

When we went to Belgium last October, She Who Must Be Obeyed thought it would be a really good idea to bring a pumpkin back with us. Apparently, the pumpkins that are available in Spain do not have an orange enough skin (no, no, don't ask for further explanations, as I am unable to provide them).

So one day, a neighbour in Belgium turned up with the order, except that, instead of just one pumpkin, SWMBO had ordered five of the things. And they were m-a-s-s-i-v-e. Cinderella wouldn't have had a mere coach from any one of them, she'd have had a flipping charabanc! Fortunately, they were able to just fit into the car and we managed to get them down to Spain intact, even if the cost of petrol doubled because of the added weight and I was almost obliged to relicense the car as a Heavy Goods Vehicle.

We still have one of the Belgian pumpkins, but the others have disappeared in the form of soup, or as gifts to puzzled Spaniards, who walk away with a quarter of a pumpkin and a somewhat dazed expression.

Not to be one to pass up a chance of giving me something to do, SWMBO carefully saved some seeds from one of the monsters and I sowed ten of these a couple of weeks ago. Already, nine of the seeds have sprouted, so if all goes well, we should have our own pumpkins in time for next October and there will be no need to cart any from Belgium.