Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Sign of the Times

We have walked all the way down the Paseo Ingeniero Mira and have now arrived at the junction with the Avenida Europa, just before the beach. Across the junction, there is a small bar with a narrow, very short street that leads to the beach itself. Four years ago, at the end of August, 2006, I took the above photo of this location.

Little has changed since then, except for the sign that can be seen in the centre of the photograph.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that the sign had been removed: the donkey had disappeared; the mule was missing; in a word, dear reader, the 'orse 'ad 'opped it!

Whether this was an official action, or the work of vandals, or even that of an over-zealous traffic-sign-collector, I am unable to say, but gone it was.

To be honest, I suspect that the disappearance is the work of officialdom: someone decided that there really was no more need for a sign prohibiting the entry of horse-drawn (or donkey-drawn, or mule-drawn) carts of the tumbril variety.

Anyway, the sign has gone, as, indeed, have such vehicles. We have been living here for four-and-a-half years now and have never seen a horse-drawn (or other quadruped-led) vehicle in anything but a festive environment, or as a means of enjoyment (a jingly-jangly horse-and-trap-like-affair occasionally passes the house of a Sunday), so perhaps there really is no need for such a sign any more.

Still, the loss of the sign is indicative of another part of old Spain that is disappearing, for better or for worse.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 10

The tenth and final panel of tiles on the Paseo Ingeniero Mira is very special, as it shows an ancient activity that, although still carried out today, is likely to disappear in a few years.

Desde la Edad Media la comercialización de los productos pesqueros de Guardamar se canalizaba hacia los pueblos del interior. Sin embargo, es costumbre privativa de este pueblo marinero, la venta directa por las calles, con el pescado vivo saltando en las "zarandas," así como la subasta del preciado y afamado langostino en una pequeña lonja local.


Since the Middle Ages, the commercialization of fishing products from Guardamar has been carried out in villages further inland, However, the sale of fresh, often still live fish, in the streets of the village has remained an activity exclusive to Guardamar, where "zarandas" are used to transport the fish through the streets on handcarts. (A zaranda or saranda is a circular net structure, peculiar to this activity.) Guardamar also boasts an auction of its much-appreciated and renowned locally-caught large prawns in a small local fish-market.

One of the three remaining street-sellers is depicted in the illustration. She is using Roman scales to weigh her wares, which is exactly the way the fish is still sold in the streets of Guardamar. And it's not just tiddlers that are sold, as you might suppose from the illustration; the saranda's are often filled with dorada (a type of bream), barracuda, mackerel, octopus, squid, hake… though just what the duvet-like thing over the barrow is, I don't know, as normally one sees the saranda filled with wet fish, lying on the barrow. Read more about the fish-sellers of Guardamar in this earlier blog entry.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 9

Panel number nine is, to my eyes, the least successful of the ten, with a strange perspective and a poorer relationship between text and illustration. Fishing is again the subject of this panel.

Desde tiempo inmemorial la pesca ha sido un recurso alimentario de suma importancia para las gentes de Guardamar. El entorno ecológico determinó los procedimientos de pesca: la pesqueras del rio, la pesquera de anguiles [SIC] en las antiguas albuferas y las pesqueras de la mar. La diversidad de especies permitió el desarrollo de muy diferentes útiles, artes y aparejos.


From time immemorial, fish has been a source of nourishment of prime importance for the peoples of Guardamar. The ecological surroundings determined the origins of the fish: catching fish in the rivers; fishing for eels in the lagoons; fishing in the open sea. The different kinds of fish have led to the development of very different methods of fishing, and types of tools for the job.

Unfortunately, only one type of fishing seems to be represented in the illustration: coastal fishing with nets. The frontmost person is shown carrying a basket of fish, presumably just bought from the fishermen further back, who are holding a net that appears to be still full of fish. Other empty nets are seen lying on the beach and draped over a small fishing-boat.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 8

The eighth panel of tiles that we come across during our walk down the Paseo Ingeniero Mira takes us back to the early history of Guardamar. For a relatively small and unknown town, Guardamar has a long and rich history, well worth delving into more deeply than is the wont of the modern-day tourist, whose interests seem to be only in ephemera and alcohol (known colloquially as "a good time," it would seem). Little do these beer-bellied, tattooed specimens of northern culture realize that Guardamar has an extremely interesting Archaeological museum, and several archaeological digs that can be viewed by the public. And as for the Dama de Guardamar, why they've not even heard of the Dama de Elche, so what hope is there?

Guardamar del segura [SIC] hunde sus raíces en el mar, el escenario por el cual llegaron gentes del mar procedentes de las mas variadas culturas del Mediterráneo. Desde el siglo VIII a.C. los navegantes fenicios, los griegos, cartagineses, los romanos y los árabes; hombres de mar de la más antigua tradición del Mediterráneo: pescadores, comerciantes o piratas, según fuera la ocasión.


The roots of Guardamar del Segura reach into the sea, across which peoples arrived from very different Mediterranean cultures: Phoenician navigators already reached Guardamar in the 8th century B.C., followed by Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans and Arabs. Also the seamen of the Mediterranean: fishermen, merchants, and pirates, according to the season.

I am sure that the fishing vessel that can be seen in the background also has a special name in these parts, but I have yet to come across it. Interestingly, it is shown with sails partly raised, yet seems to be at anchor. Perhaps this is an attempt to depict the balmy weather we often experience in this area.The panel shows two donkeys, loaded with amphoras, presumably filled with either water or wine. Two men and a woman lead the donkeys, with one of the men actually riding the first donkey in what seems to be a most uncomfortable position. In the background, several triangular-masted vessels can be observed in the Mediterranean, perhaps coming from North Africa.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 7

Tile panel number seven again shows an activity related to fishing. This time we see two women and a man on the beach, repairing some nets. The art of fishing has its own language and many of the words in the text that accompanies this drawing are not to be found in dictionaries (not even that of the Real Academia Español), at least not in this context, so translation is difficult, especially as I know zilch about fishing.

Desde los útiles más simples, como el volantín, el curricán, o el rayo, etc., hasta las más complejas artes de red, como el tresmall, la moruna o las actuales artes de cerco, estas técnicas de pesca, en los últimos decenios han experimentado cierta tendencia progresiva, tecnificandose y diversificándose considerablemente, aunque sin perder su carácter artesanal.


From the simplest implements, such as the multi-hooked line, the troll line and the "rayo" to the most complex use of nets, such as the "tresmall" (here the artist has used the Valencian word; in Castillian, it is called "tresmallo"), a fixed trap made up of three nets, the "moruna", a net specially designed for the capture of shrimp and prawn in coastal regions, and the currently used ringnets, fishing techniques have advanced considerably in the past decades, becoming much more technical and varied, whilst still retaining a certain artesanal aspect.

I am sure that the fishing vessel that can be seen in the background also has a special name in these parts, but I have yet to come across it. Interestingly, it is shown with sails partly raised, yet seems to be at anchor. Perhaps this is an attempt to depict the balmy weather we often experience in this area.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 6

Tile panel number six in our walk down the Paseo Ingeniero Mira represents a change of theme, leaving behind Ingeniero Mira and focussing more on the people of Guardamar and their activities, especially those related to fishing…

Una linea de playa de mar abierto, sin apenas condiciones naturales de abrigo, ha limitado el crecimiento de la actividad pesquera en Guardamar. Antes de la construcción del actual puerto deportivo y pesquero, la actividad pesquera de la flota local se ha desarrollado en los antiguos embarcaderos del río. En otras ocasiones, las embarcaciones se varaban en la playa con la ayuda de un "trompo" ó [SIC] cabrestante.

A long open beach, with hardly any natural shelter has limited the growth of the fishing industry in Guardamar. Prior to the construction of the current yachting and fishing harbor, the fishing activities of the local fleet developed around the old landing stages of the river. In other instances, the fishing vessels were brought onto the beach with the help of a "trompo" or winch.

The panel shows just a "trompo" being operated by three individuals, two of whom are women. Women have played a major roll in the fishing industry of Guardamar and continue to do so in an activity that is unique to the town and which we shall encounter further down the Paseo.

We can still see the mosaic benches on either side of the panel, but these are now small, with space only for two or three people. In the upper section, the benches occupied the whole of the space between the panels.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: a pause

After having walked past five of the large tiled panels, we come to a small square at the entrance to the Parque Alfonso XIII. The square forms a separation between the upper section of the Paseo and the lower.

The five panels in the upper section are dedicated to the work of Ingeniero Francisco Mira y Botella, without whom Guardamar would probably no longer exist.

It is appropriate that the "person" we see sitting on the central bench of this little square is none other than Engineer Mira himself, complete with suit and tie, hat and umbrella (sadly damaged by vandals, so that the handle is missing), and even his newspaper, which is lying on the bench next to him. If this beautiful statue is life-size, then Mira was a small man, as She Who Must Be Obeyed demonstrates by being audacious enough to sit next to him (and she a married woman!).

It is perhaps interesting during this pause to note some figures regarding the panels of tiles. Each tile measures 15 by 15 cm.; more than 200 tiles are used in each panel. The panels are 2m 40cm wide and 1m 60cm high, though with an arched top, reaching a maximum height of 2m 20cm. The distance between the panels of the first section is approximately 33 mteres and between those of the lower section 65 metres (though the distance from panel 5 to panel 6 is greater, because of the square at which we are currently located). The whole Paseo is approximately 500 metres long.

The five panels in the lower section relate to the social and cultural history of Guardamar, especially its close ties to fishing and these we shall be visiting next.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 5

Tile panel number five in our walk down the Paseo Ingeniero Mira shows the great man himself, calmly reading his newspaper while sitting in the now fully planted dunes. His umbrella and hat are at his side, though I suspect his umbrella acted more as a parasol, given the weather we enjoy in Guardamar del Segura.

(Caption to drawing)Don Francisco Mira y Botella - Ingeniero de Montes

(Main text) Se ha evitado que el pueblo de Guardamar, de 3.000 habitantes, desaparezía [SIC] sepultado por las arenas y sean destruidas muchas casas de campo y los mejores terrenos de su fértil huerta.
También he de expresar mi gratitud al pueblo de Guardamar… Principalmente a los obreros que, conscientes de la importancia de la labor que realizaban, han trabajado con fé [SIC] y entusiasmo, satisfechos de salvar a su pueblo de una muerte, segura, por el avance arrollador de las arenas.

(Caption to drawing) Mr. Francisco Mira y Botella, Forestry Engineer.

(Main text) Guardamar, a town of 3,000 inhabitants, has been saved from disappearing by being buried under the sand, with the associated destruction of many houses and the best fields of its fertile irrigated area.
I must also express my gratitude to the people of Guardamar, and especially to the workers, who, aware of the importance of the work they were carrying out, have worked with conviction and enthusiasm, content in saving their village from certain death, brought on by the overwhelming advance of the sands.

The text is largely Mira's own. The year shown at the top of the panel, 1929, is that in which Mira published an album of photos, together with a brief review of his work in Guardamar. By that time the main work had long been completed, but even today the struggle against the sand continues in Guardamar, using the principles developed by and learnt from Mira. The nursery (vivero) he set up to grow plants to be used in the replanting process still functions and can be visited. In addition to saving the village from being covered by sand, Mira's work also ensured the continuation of the small fishing fleet of Guardamar, as the management of the sand allowed continued access to the sea.

The original photograph of Engineer Mira y Botella, on which the tile panel is based, was taken in 1926.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 4

We have now arrived at the fourth large panel of tiles on the Paseo Ingeniero Mira. Fortunately, this one does not have a waste-paper basket to spoil it, though the mosaic benches that flank it are in need of some urgent repair, with many of their ceramic tesserae missing—see especially the bench to the right of the photo.

(Caption to drawing) Fiesta del Arbol celebrada en el centro del arenal. Niños con su Maestro, plantando pinos de maceta.

(Main text) Desde la primera década del siglo XX se celebra en Guardamar del Segura le "fiesta del árbol", una de las más antiguas y tradicionales que se celebran en España. Con este acto se pretendía desarrollar en los niños el cariño al árbol y que tomaran conciencia del beneficio que proporcionaba la fijación de las dunas móviles que amenazaban con enterrar al pueblo mediante la repoblación que hoy vemos y que es el orgullo de nuestro pueblo.

(Caption to drawing) Day of the Tree, celebrated in the middle of the dunes. Children with their teacher, planting pot-grown pines.

(Main text) Ever since the first decade of the twentieth century, the Day of the Tree has been celebrated in Guardamar del Segura, one of the oldest and most traditional of such days celebrated in the whole of Spain. In this way, it was hoped to instill in the children a love for trees and to help them understand the benefits of keeping the moving dunes under control, preventing them from covering the village by means of replanting, which we now see as the pride of our town.

The original photograph by Engineer Mira y Botella was taken in 1901, so it is clear that his work had already made a strong impression on the local population. Nowadays, everyone is aware of (well, should be aware of) the environment and the need for conservation, but I suspect that Mira was quite a bit ahead of his time when he was able to stir up such enthusiasm as is evident in this and other photos. And what a pity his insight into the need to fix moving sands was not heeded elsewhere, with such blindness eventually resulting in tragedies such as that of Aberfan.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 3

Continuing our walk down the Paseo Ingeniero Mira, we come to the third large panel of tiles. (Unfortunately, the panels are often accompanied by a wastepaper basket, which is fine if people make use of it, but is not conducive to a pleasing photograph.)

(Caption to drawing) Brigada de obreros plantando lineas de barrón a vida, para impedir el movimiento de las arena por el vento.

(Main text) Para defender la superficie contra la acción de los vientos se han empleados distintas sistemas de protección, consistentes en el empleo de ramaje tendido, ramaje hincado, matas de barón junco y brozas, esparcidas en la superficie; plantaciones de barón a tresbolillo, en lineas paralelas o en lineas cruzadas; con vallas de cañizos, y también con ramaje formando cuadros, esparciendo en ellos hojas secas.

(Caption to drawing) Team of workers planting lines of living marram grass, in order to prevent the wind from blowing the sand.

(Main text) Various means of protection were used to defend the land against the action of the wind. These consisted of fences made of branches, branches driven into the ground, clumps of marram grass, reeds, and dried vegetation spread over the surface; areas of marram grass, planted in triangles, in parallel lines and in rectangles; with fences of reed matting and also of branches, forming squares, with dried leaves spread between them.

Although taken quite early in the morning (very early by my standards…), shadows can be clearly seen on this and other photos in the series. The Paseo is lined with numerous large Eucalyptus trees as well as smaller palms, Mediterranean pines and other plants, offering a very pleasant, shaded walkway.

The original photograph by Engineer Mira y Botella, on which this tableau is based,shows a much larger group of workers.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 2

The second panel shows the erection of one of the barriers that Botella designed to prevent the sand from creeping any further. As we shall see later, this was just one aspect of Botella's cunning plan.

(Caption to drawing) Elevación del tablestacado para la formación de la duna litoral, después de enterrarse por las arenas que arroja el mar en la playa.

(Main text) Dos son los objetivos perseguidos con estos trabajos primero, detener en la playa toda la arena que arroja el mar; segundo, fijar toda la extensión cubierta de arenas para evitar que sigan invadiendo el pueblo y los cultivos agrícolas, y convertir, al propio tiempo, en productiva la estéril zona de arenales.

(Caption to drawing) Positioning the wooden picket to form the coastal dunes, after having been buried by the sand brought from the sea to the beach.

(Main text) These works have two main aims: first, to keep the sand that is brought in by the sea on the beach; second, to maintain in place the parts already covered by sand, so as to prevent further invasion of the village and the agricultural areas and, given time, to convert the sterile sandy zones to productive regions.

That many of the panels are based on photos taken by Engineer Mira y Botella himself is evident when one views this photograph, which Botella took soon after the start of the undertaking, probably in 1902.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira: panel 1

This is the first main panel encountered as one walks down the Paseo. Each of these large panels consists of more than 200 tiles and all panels are signed "Lario" together with a monogram, apparently made up of an L and an R, and the number 1.600.

(Caption to drawing) Parte Norte del pueblo antes de la repoblación, con las arenas que tienen invadida una calle.

(Main text) Se hallan estas arenas voladoras en la desenbocadura [SIC] del río Segura, en la provincia de Alicante, ocupando a lo largo de la costa del Mediterráneo de norte a sur, una faja de 1500 m. de longitud, con anchos que varían, según los sitios, desde 200 a 1300 metros.

(Caption to drawing) Northern part of the village, before the replanting, showing the sand that has invaded a street.

(Main text) These wind-blown sands are found in the mouth of the river Segura, in the province of Alicante, forming a 1500 metres long fringe that occupies the the coast from north to south, with widths ranging from 200 to 1300 metres.

By 1896, as the panel shows, sand dunes were approaching dangerously close to Guardamar, even taking over some streets. Four years later, on 12 July, 1900, the plan to fight the approaching sand, developed by Engineer Don Francisco Mira i Botella was initiated, with what would turn out to be amazing success, from both a humanitarian and an ecological point of view.

Many of the panels relate directly to the work of Mira i Botella and their pictorial representations are based on his own photographs. For more of the fascinating and evocative photos of Mira i Botella, see the book, Repoblación de las Dunas de Guardamar del Segura: Memoria y Fotografías, available from the tourist office on the main square of Guardamar.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Paseo Ingeniero Mira

The Paseo Ingeniero Mira (Engineer Mira Avenue) is a pleasant avenue stretching from close to the main town square of Guardamar down to the beach, passing between two parks: the formal Parque Reina Sofia and the informal and much larger Parque Alfonso XIII.

The Paseo is named after the engineer who was responsible for developing and implementing the idea of using vegetation as a way to hold back the advancing sands, which were threatening to inundate Guardamar at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries.

Apart from offering a shady walk, access to two parks and a direct link between the centre of the town and the beach, the Paseo also provides the visitor with a series of beautifully tiled panels. I suspect that most of the plebs who wander by are too dim to take any notice of these panels, but for those of you interested in rather more than sand and beer, I thought it might be a good idea to offer a photo and a translation of each panel. Hopefully, your visit to Guardamar will be richer for this and perhaps it will also help you better understand some of the culture history of the town.

The photo above is looking down the Paseo, from very close to the beginning (a kiosk prevents a decent photo from being taken at the very beginning, I'm sorry to say). The main elements of the Paseo can be identified: on each side is a green area, with the Parque Reina Sofia to the right and the Parque Alfonso XIII to the left; a parking area and the road is also to the right; in the centre of the image, the broad walkway, the actual Paseo, can be seen with, on its left side the mosaic benches and the panels about which we will soon learn more. Only four of the panels are visible in the photo (if you look hard enough), but there are ten in all, plus one smaller introductory panel, shown here.

This introductory panel consists of 70 tiles and reads,

Este pueblo viene luchando por su existencia desde su fundación; En un principio contra los ataques de los conquistadores; Más tarde contra los terremotos (Gran seísmo de día 21 de Marzo de 1829 a las 6 de la tarde), Y, actualmente contra la invasión de las arenas.

D. Francisco Mira y Botella. Ingeniero de Montes. 1906.

which I translate as
The people of this town have fought for its existence ever since its foundation, first against invading conquerors, later against earthquakes (the great quake of 21 March, 1829, at six o'clock in the afternoon), and now against the invasion of sand.

D. Francisco Mira y Botella. Forestry Engineer. 1906.

In coming entries, I shall look at each of the ten large panels in turn, as they are encountered walking down the Paseo towards the beach.

(Note that Google Maps does not indicate the Paseo itself, but marks the parallel road with two names (one in Castellano, the other Valenciano): Calle del Ingeniero Mira and Carrer del Enginyer Mira. Take your pick.)

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Christmas is coming…

We went out to do some Christmas shopping yesterday. That wasn't the reason we went out, but that's how things turned out. Mind you, we did some ordinary shopping, too. You know the sort of things, meat, vegetables, fruit, dairy products, and so on. Everything that's needed for a healthy diet in the eyes of She Who Must Be Obeyed: not a piece of chocolate to be seen, not a caramel, or a cream tart, although I did manage to sneak in a slab of turrón de Alicante (a sort of block of nougat), so life won't be all gloom and doom.

Anyway, we made a great effort to support the local economy, too, given that it's Christmas. Elise bought a nice watch and I am now the proud owner of a new digital camera.

I have used Olympus cameras since about 1974, when I bought my first Olympus Pen. It was the Pen FT model, a second-hand one, which I bought it in a small camera shop in Oudenaarde. The Pen was a beautifully designed halfkleinbeeld (half frame?) SLR camera, but unlike other SLRs of the time, it was not bulky or heavy, it was simply beautiful; Marilyn would have called it Elegant.). It also had the advantage of taking twice as many photos on a given roll of film. Sadly, my beloved Pen was stolen when we were on holiday in the south of France. I hope that the person who stole it realised what they had and took great care of it, or at least sold it on to someone else who did so.

Anyway, I stayed with Olympus, then buying an OM1 SLR camera, which became the basis of an ever-growing collection of lenses and other attributes. Eventually, I needed a large aluminium case in which to carry everything and it finally all became too heavy for me. I sold everything some ten years ago, after first having bought an early Olympus digital camera. After a few years, I wanted rather more than that relatively simple camera could offer, so I found an Olympus Camedia C-750 Ultra Zoom, which has served me well for the past 6 years.

A couple of years ago, however, Olympus announced a digital version of the Pen design and things started itching. "Shall I or shan't I?" has been a question often pondered over: the first Pen EP1 had its teething troubles, the EP2 is considerably better, but out of my price range, but now the lower cost EPL1 answers my requirements and offers the advantages of the Pen system.

The circle has closed: I started with a Pen and now I have ended up with a Pen once more.

I hope it lives up to its predecessor.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Half a Century

It's that time of the year again and already the Christmas cards have started to arrive. Surely it was Easter only last week?

Anyway, one of the very first cards received this year was from one Dennis Lingard, a fellow I've not seen for over forty years. He was still living in Blackheath at the time and had a decent collection of Monkeys records.

Dennis's card included a letter, in which he reminded me that it was fifty years ago this year in September that we started our time together at Woolverstone Hall. Dennis and I were in the same year and class and both spent seven years at the school, from 1960 until 1967, when we left to make our separate ways in the world. If I recall correctly, Dennis became head boy of Hanson's House, while I was head boy of Corner's. Exactly what happened to Dennis after leaving Woolverstone, I do not know, but from the few contacts we have had, and these have only been in the past few years, mostly brief exchanges at Christmastime, he works in the same branch as I was involved in, software development.

It had completely passed my notice that we started at Woolverstone fifty years ago—that's half a century, in other words, and that seems like an awfully long time. Einstein had it right, didn't he? Time really is relative. When I was small, there were at least five years, perhaps more, between each Christmas and the same was true for birthdays. Now there's merely a few months and if it goes on like that, I'll soon be celebrating next Christmas before this one.

To get back to Dennis and his letter, it's amazing that so many of us Woolverstonians still think so much about the place. It must have had a significant influence on us, more so than a "normal" school has on an "ordinary" pupil, I feel. Woolverstone was a magnificently successful experiment in Socialist-driven education, scuppered by the greed of Conservative horse-blinkered politicians, who couldn't see the benefit of subsidizing the education of some relatively gifted pupils as an investment for the future. (That sort of thinking sounds conspicuously like the Conservative's attitude to University subsidies nowadays and if I were a student, I'd be out on the streets protesting, too, and I'd burn my Liberal party membership card, if I still had one).

See that, off course again, so back to Dennis. He wrote that a number of Old Boys from the 1960 intake paid a visit to the school in October and enjoyed a pleasant reunion. I bet they didn't run a cross-country as part of the celebrations!

Another Woolverstone reunion, on a much smaller, but more poignant scale, will take place in Australia in January—see my previous post.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Three Boys

The photo must have been taken in 1962. The boys are wearing shorts and the first- and second-form tie design is clearly visible; the location is the back garden at Corner's House, where the three boys boarded during most of their years at Woolverstone Hall. (Corner's was named after its first housemaster; it was designed in 1901 by Sir Edwin Lutyens and is now better known by its former name, Woolverstone House.) The year before, we were all in Orwell House and the year after we had graduated to long trousers and diagonal stripes on the ties.

The boys were in the same year as myself; we shared the same dormitory, played rugby together, listened to the same music, were in the same class. The photo was taken by another friend, also a boarder in Corner's and also in the same year.

Looking from top to bottom, we see Colin, Pip and Clevs.

Pip (Philip) died just a couple years after we left school in 1967. I did not know this until just a few years ago and it came as a terrible shock. He was a fine boy, friendly, well-mannered, clean. He died of leukemia. Far too young. Quite unfair that such a person should have no chance at life.

Clevs was my best friend. Terry. His grandmother lived close to where I lived in Charlton. One day I was in the kitchen of the corner house in which I lived and I saw her through the window, walking past the side of of the house. I knew exactly what she was coming to tell me: Terry was no more. He had been killed in a traffic accident in Spain. This was about mid-1969, as far as I can recall, no more than some eighteen months after we had left school for the final time. Terry fancied being an oceanographer. He never had a chance.

Colin is still alive, thank goodness. The boy who took the photo left school early, as his parents had decided to settle in the antipodes. Soon, more than 48 years after the photo was taken and some 45 years after they last saw each other, Colin and the early leaver, Australian author Alan Gould, will meet again on a beach in Australia.

Pip and Clevs will be there in some way, too.

The date given by ExWoolverstonianToo (see Comments) for Terry's death is incorrect. For more information, see Closing the circle.

Friday, 29 October 2010

My but I've got a big one!

My old one was getting past it for the sort of things that I was doing and it was quite small, too. Easy enough to carry around, but still rather too small for use at home. I wanted to get a new one, but She Who Must Be Obeyed wanted me to get a very big one. I would have been happy with the slightly smaller model, but she insisted that she would prefer me to have a larger one, so that's how the final decision was reached.

As a result, I am now the proud owner of a 27" iMac. A beautiful piece of equipment, if ever there was one, though I have to admit that I still find the screen uncommonly large for my purposes.

I have an old semi-sphere 21" iMac flatscreen upstairs, but my main work was done on a PowerBook, a workhorse that served me very well from 2005. Its PowerPC processor was beginning to get tired, though, so a new iMac seemed just the thing.

Transferring everything (music, photos, texts, applications, etc.) from the PowerBook to the iMac was a doddle. In fact, I made it harder on myself by doing it in two stages: first to a separate account on Elise's MacBook and then from the MacBook to the new iMac. I did this, as I wanted to take the PowerBook to Belgium to give to my mother and preferred using it myself for as long as possible, rather than having to share the use of Elise's MacBook. (My mother? Yes, at 90 years of age she can get along nicely with MacOS X, in the vanguard of the new breed of cybercentenarians.)

So, just before we left Belgium to return to Spain, I transferred the data from the PowerBook to a separate account on the MacBook, then did a clean install of MacOS X Leopard on the PowerBook, then transferred the data from my mother's old iBook, which was still running Tiger, to the PowerBook. I used my account on the MacBook for a week or so, by which time we had returned to Spain and paid a visit to El Corte Inglés in Elche, where the new iMac was purchased. That same evening, MacOS X Snow Leopard was installed on it and the data transferred from the MacBook account to the new iMac.

Apple makes this all very easy with a great utility, called Migration Assistant. A doddle.

The 27" LED screen is, indeed, impressive, especially when viewing photographs and films. I still find it a lot of real estate for programming, text-processing, even surfing the web, but perhaps I'll get used to it.

Anyway, I'm not complaining.

39 and holding

29 years ago, in 1981, Jerry Lee Lewis had his last major Country hit with a number called 39 And Holding. The context of the song might be different, but the title is very appropriate for today, as Elise and I wer married 39 years ago, on 29 October, 1971.

Happy anniversary, De Leeuw!

Here's a bit of Chantilly lace for you (it seems that lace is the gift to give, according to the "modern list", for the 39th anniversary).

Jerry Lee sang Chantilly Lace, too, but we know it best, of course, by the Big Bopper:
Chantilly lace and a pretty face
And a pony tail hangin' down
A wiggle in the walk and a giggle in the talk
Make the world go round.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Borderline cases

Driving up to Belgium earlier this month, She Who Must Be Obeyed decided that we should visit Montserrat, not too far from Barcelona. Unfortunately, the weather was too bad to enjoy the visit, so we then decided to make an even bigger detour through the Pyrenees, rather than going back to the coast road, and stop off at Llívia.

We had heard about Llívia a couple of years ago and it sounded fascinating: a small town situated in France, completely surrounded by France, but belonging to Spain — an enclave, in other words. Indeed, Llívia is officially part of Cerdanya, in the province of Girona, which is part of Catalonia, a community of Spain, yet it is situated within the French department of Pyrénées-Orientales.

Driving into Llívia is pretty straightforward nowadays, along a Spanish-maintained road, which cuts through French territory for about one-and-a-half kilometres. Things weren't always so simple and disputes over rights of way where the Spanish road crossed French roads were not infrequent; neither were the accidents at such junctions! Now, however, roundabouts and bridges make things safer.

Coming back out of Llívia is rather more problematic, as there seem to be no signs to direct one to the French roads. It takes a bit of working out (or a very good map), to realise that one must take the left fork, just before the bridge, in order to be able to continue one's journey in the French fashion.

It would be pointless to reiterate the history and description of Llívia, as there are several sites that already provide plenty of information. Here are just a few:

I have put a few photos of our visit to Llívia in this Picasa album.

Now, if you think Llívia is a peculiar case, consider that of Baarle Hertog-Baarle Nassau. This isn't just an enclave, but a whole mosaic of 22 Belgian enclaves in the Netherlands, with 7 Dutch enclaves (called sub-enclaves) located within the Belgian enclaves, and one Dutch enclave within Belgium.


Well, it took almost 160 years to sort the the mess out, so you're not alone! The first border commission was set up in 1843, but it was not until 1995 that the borders were finally correctly indicated and agreed upon.

The most important thing in the life of a Baarle-Hertog-Nassau-type person seems to be the front door, as its position determines the nationality of the house (though not necessarily of the inhabitants) and services and taxes are based on that. Businesses, of course, often have more than one entrance (their version of a front door), so register more than one address, obtaining the best of both worlds.

The "front door rule" was instigated because many buildings in Baarle Hertog-Baarle Nassau are situated in more than one country (some shops actually paint the borderline on the ground, so that customers know just where they are at any given moment) and some way was needed to regulate the situation. Houses not only carry numbers, but also little flags, to show their designated nationality.

We visited Baarle Hertog-Baarle Nassau some 30 years ago, when we bought a book, published in 1979. The book indicates "just" 21 Belgian enclaves, but that number seems to have increased at a later date: perhaps this had something to do with the 1995 finalisation of the borders.

You can find plenty of information about Baarle Hertog-Baarle Nassau at the following sites:

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Curiouser and curiouser

Now we're on the subject of strange language, what about the word "ghoti"?


To be honest, it's not a real word, but it is made up of letters and letter-combinations that, when pronounced with their English-usage sounds, or at least one of them in each case, form the sound "fish"!

The word is split up as follows:

GH - O - TI

And this is how we get the sound of "fish":

GH: is often pronounced as an f in English. For example, rough or enough (though not, of course, through or even ghost!);

O: when the o in the word women is pronounced, it sounds like the i in thin and, I think, the i in think, though not at all like the i in mind (we shall ignore the i in wind (to turn a key or a handle, for example), unless one means wind (a strong breeze);

TI: motion, recognition, action, and many other words contain the ti combination that sounds just like sh. Neither of the tis in repetitive are pronounced this way: the repetition would be exhausting.

So that's how a ghoti is really a fish.

And talking about long words, what's the longest word in the English language? Well, some might say it is antidisestablishmantarianism, whereas others would argue for floccinaucinihilipilification, but, as schoolboys we all knew that the very longest word was, of course, smiles.

There is, after all, a mile between the first and last letters.

Friday, 10 September 2010

More Strange Language

More strange language, but not necessarily stranger language, even though "more strange" equates to the comparitive form of the adjective "strange."

If you think that the English language is confusing, try the (in)famous English pastime of cricket. My (Welsh) sports master, Mr Evans, used to refer to it as "that ancient English rain-making ceremony," and he was not far wrong, as rain often stops play. Anyone not exposed to the activity, laughingly termed a sport or a game, becomes more confused than poor Alice as she observed the crazy game of croquet (no relation) in Wonderland. Here, then, is a perfectly good explanation of the game of cricket, for the uninitiated:

A foreigner will possess the essential knowledge of cricket when he fully understands the following:
You have two sides: one out in the field and one in in the pavilion.
Each man that's in the side that's in goes out and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out.
When they are all out the side that's out comes in and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in out.
Sometimes you get men still in and not out.
When both sides have been in and out, including the not outs, that's the end of the game.



English verbs are relatively easy, though even they can cause confusion. The pluperfect tense of the verb "to have" is elegantly simple, yet strangely offputting:

I had had
you had had

Nothing more than the pronoun, followed by "had had."

This simplicity can lead to some strange structures, including what is probably the longest repetition of the same word in a perfectly good English sentence. Here it is without punctuation:

Tom, while John had had had had had had had had had had had the master's approval.

That's eleven hads in a row!

Adding punctuation offers some relief:

Tom, while John had had "had", had had "had had"; "had had" had had the master's approval.

(Two pupils had asked to write something by their teacher; one pupil used the "had" form, whereas the other used "had had." The teacher preferred "had had.")

Again, it's not only English that produces strange combinations. I expect that all languages have their peculiarities, tongue-twisters, strange exceptions to rules, and so on. In German and Dutch, it is quite easy to form longer words by combining individual words. As a result, an exhibition of aboriginal camping equipment might in Dutch be referred to as a hottentottententententoonstelling. Mind you, Welsh doesn't do badly in this respect, either, and in the 19th century the small village of Llanfairpwll changed its name in an attempt to attract that new breed of traveller, the train tourist. The name of the village was changed to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and the rest, as they say, is history. (If you'd like to know more about LlanfairPG -- not least what the name means -- simply visit the village's very own site.)

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Strange language

Funny things, languages. They are useful things for expressing opinions, getting ideas across and communicating in general, but they can be awkward, too.

Elise was in the hospital yesterday. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in both hands. Apparently something fairly typical for women of a more than a certain age. Anyway, she has now had both hands done. The first hand was operated on a few weeks ago and, when I was emailing someone about it, I mentioned that the one hand had been operated on earlier that day and that the right hand would be operated on in a few weeks time. It looked as if the wrong hand had been operated on, which was not the case, of course. The operation had been on the left hand, which was not wrong, but right, even though it was left. And it was quite right that the right hand would be operated on in a few weeks, as the left one had now been done, so even though it looked as if the surgeon had operated on the wrong hand, that was wrong, as the hand was the left one, which was right at the time, though not in space. Right?

Well, Elise's second operation went well and she is now home, somewhat hampered by a large dressing on her right hand, wrist and forearm. Still, she has yours truly to look after her, so she is in good hands.

Language difficulties are not limited to English, even though its strange spellings and pronunciations might make it seem so to foreigners trying to make head or tail of the language. All languages have their peculiarities, and sometimes these pop up between languages, especially those that are closely related. Take the Dutch and German words for sea and lake, for example. In Dutch, these are zee and meer; in German they are See and Meer (all German nouns are capitalised). Well, that's not quite correct, for although Dutch and German are really very closely related, and although zee sounds like See and meer sounds like Meer, (now comes the tricky bit) See is actually meer and Meer is zee! (In other words, the Geman word for lake is See, and the word for sea is Meer.)

Such obvious pitfalls for translators can lead to amusing errors. The Dutch equivalent of current is aktueel, which sounds a lot like the English word actual. However, the Dutch equivalent of actual is feitelijk, so aktueel can be a false friend for the translator. This is exactly what has occurred with the naming of a clothes shop just outside Ghent, in Belgium. The owners obviously wanted to call the shop by a name equivalent to the Dutch combination, Aktuele Mode, which means Current Fashion. Obvious, they must have thought: aktueel is clearly the same word as actual, and mode is fashion, so let's call the shop Actual Fashion. And that is exactly the name that appears in large letters. So to native English speakers, it looks like something out of the East End that sells yer actual fashion, know what I mean?

Friday, 20 August 2010

The Bull Turns

A couple of days ago a bull in Tafalla, Navarra, decided that he wasn't going to accept his fate in the local bullring without a fight.

Usually, a lone bull is speared by men on horses, spiked by banderilleros, and generally worn down, before being slowly tormented and bled to death by the "brave" matador.

This time, however, before any of these pathetic individuals had a chance to do their foul business, our hero bull took, as it were, the bull by its horns and, instead of waiting placidly on the sand of the arena, jumped over the surrounding barriers and attacked the spectators. These bloodthirsty heroes scattered in frightened frenzy, as the bull charged into them, though he was unfortunately hampered by the terracing of the seats, so only managed to injure some forty onlookers and send a few to hospital; of those, only two were injured well enough to have to remain there. Amazingly, one of these was a ten-year-old child. Who on earth takes a ten-year-old to a degrading spectacle of blood-letting and torture? The parents must be mad.

Sadly, the brave but disoriented bull lost its footing on the concrete terracing and became jammed betweem that and a wall, giving some of the spectators the opportunity to first tie him down and then cut his throat to ensure that he would slowly bleed to death. Meanwhile, guards with tranquiliser guns stood by to let the mob continue its evil revenge on the brave bull. No attemt was made to humanely subdue the animal or to control the blood-lust of the mob.

Once bled to death, the bull was unceremoniously hoisted away by crane. At least he died with the sweet taste of revenge against the morons who continue to support the cruel and barbaric activity of bullfighting.

Well done that bull!

¡Viva el toro!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 16 August 2010

In Bed with iPad

A couple of days ago, my back went.

The thing is, Elise had a small operation on her left hand last Wednesday—a CTS problem, not atypical for women of her age—so I was doing the dusting on Saturday morning. Actually, I always do the dusting. It's a task that was allotted to me by Upper Command when we arrived in Spain just over four years ago, and one that I have yet to be relieved of. Anyway, that paints the picture of the domestic situation.

Elise heard a click; I felt a pain; Elise said, "That clicked;" I thought, "¥$€**#!," and shortly after was lying flat in bed.

It was probably a small compression fracture. I've had them before, so know the feeling (horrible) and what to do. In fact, there's not a great deal that can be done: just lie flat in bed with the legs sightly raised. It then only hurts when you move or breathe deeply. Pain-killers help, of corse, especially for those times when nature calls and movement becomes a necessity.

So, what do you do when you have to lie flat in bed for a few days?

I used to read, but it can be rather monotonous to spend hour after hour with the same book, and having a large selection of books within non-moving reach is impractical. Chess and Backgammon are out, unless magnetic boards and a willing partner can be found. Boggle offers the same restrictins, plus the added difficulty of writing when lying flat. There's music, either through a bedside set (difficulties of manipulating the controls from a prone position), or through an mp3 player (another piece of equipment to locate amongst the books, playing-boards, crossword puzzles, and sundry other past-time equipment overflowing the bedside table).

Nope, none of these, yet all of them at the same time: an iPad.

Wonderful! Dead easy to operate from the prone position, the iPad offers me a whole library of books, a plethora of word games, access to the Web, communication via email, music (my own collection or through online radio), and numerous other diversions.

The iPad is much more convenient than all the books etc. on the bedside table and spread over the bed itself. It is also far better than a laptop, being not only lighter, but also lacking the encumbrance of a laptop's physical keyboar. Instead, the virtual keyboard of the iPad is a joy to use.

Here you are, Apple, a new advertising slogan for you.

Go to bed with an iPad!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Play It Cool!

No, this entry has nothing to do with the 1962 film starring Billy Fury, also called Play It Cool! Pity, really, as Billy was one of the few really good British pop singers at the time, far better than the overrated Cliff Richard and there were few other contenders, to be perfectly honest.

Instead, a few words about keeping cool in this part of the world at this time of the year. The thing is, we've been enjoying very high temperatures for a good few weeks. 30ºC in the shade is a daily occurrence and the temperature doesn't drop much at night, either. Because of this, a lot of people, especially those from the north, complain about not being able to keep cool, not being able to sleep, and so on.


Fact: this part of Spain is hot, very hot.

Fact: it's summer.

Fact: new houses are (or should be) equipped with air-conditioning (and older properties can be fitted, of course).

The problem is that many northerners seem to have no idea how to manage temperature. Instead of adjusting to Spanish norms, they maintain their northern ideas (so what's new? I hear you ask): front door open, windows open, blinds up. That might work when the temperature outside is 20ºC in the shade (if your lucky), but in this part of the world it only serves to heat up the inside of the house.

The simple guidelines: keep doors and windows closed to keep the heat of the day out (only keep them open very early in the morning); keep the blinds closed to keep the sunlight off the windows (if your house has a shady side, you can open the blinds there to allow light in, but keep the windows closed); keep your airco on during the day, set to 25ºC or 26ºC; turn the airco off when you are ready to go to sleep.

We keep just one airco unit running all day. It's in the living-room, so it is always comfortable there. About a half an hour to an hour before going to bed, we put the unit in the bedroom on. By the time we've finished reading, the room is comfortably cool; the unit can be switched off and we can sleep with no difficulty.

Running aircos is not cheap, but in the not-too-longrun, your airco costs will be less if you spend a bit more at first and buy aircos fitted with inverters.

Do not think that ceiling fans offer an alternative to air-conditioning units. Ceiling fans do not lower the temperature of a room. Quite an interesting article about ceiling fans can be read here.

Really, if you learn about and practice temperature management, you will have no cause to complain about the heat here.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Culture: what a load of bull!

Sick And CruelFollowing the Catalonian parliament's decision to ban bullfighting in the region, effective from 1 January 2012, the bullfighting boyos have banded together to form a front, hoping to petition the Minister of Culture, Ángeles González-Sinde Reig, to classify their barbarous activity as one of culture.

On 30 July, the bullfighters Enrique Ponce, José Antonio Morante de la Puebla, Julián López “El Juli”, David Fandila “El Fandi”, Sebastián Castella, José María Manzanares, Miguel Ángel Perera, Alejandro Talavante and Cayetano Rivera, as well as other leading figures in the bullfighting world, met and formed a group to request a meeting with the Spanish Minister of Culture. It seems that bullfighting is currently the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior; these ne'er-do-wells want to change the responsibility to rest with Culture. Their idea is to present a counter-offensive against any possible expansion of the anti-bullfighting movement in the rest of Spain. Needless to say, they are supported in their desires by the ultra-right PP (the main opposition party in the Spanish national parliament), who have announced their intention to have bullfighting declared an item of Cultural Interest

Culture, my foot!

Because something has taken place for a few hundred years, does not make it culture. If that were the case, we'd still be throwing Christians to the lions (actually, not such a bad idea when it comes to pedophile padres). If that were the case, we'd still be executing people in public. If that were the case, we'd still be kicking severed heads around instead of footballs…

Bullfighting is nothing more than the unnecessary and cruel infliction of pain, suffering, humiliation, degradation, and stress, on a living, breathing, feeling creature.

Simply put, bullfighting is depravity.

There is no way that anyone can rightfully defend such inhuman actions as culture.

If it must be declared as anything, then declare it a National Disgrace.

Gymnocalycium saglione

Several of the Gymnocalycium cacti in our collection are now in seed, but the most spectacular must be this Gymnocalycium saglione. The cactus has a diameter of about 12 cm. and a height of 7 cm. maximum, yet it is carrying 10 very large seed pods of a magnificent magenta colour. The largest pods are 3.5 cm in diameter and I don't think they have stopped growing yet!

See more Gymnocalycium seed pods at this Picasa album.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

¡Viva Catalunya!

Well done Catalonia! The Catalonian regional parliament today voted to ban bullfighting throughout the northeastern region of Spain. Excellent news and a real push towards the complete banning of this most cruel depravity that belongs nowhere in the civilised world of the twenty-first century.

Catalonia is now the second region of Spain where bullfighting is outlawed (the law actually comes into force on 1 January 2012), following the Canary Island's decision to stop the "sport" in 1991. Let's hope the rest of Spain soon comes to its senses and also puts an end to this fiesta of bloodletting.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Moors and Christians

The Moors influenced the Iberian peninsula for the best part of seven hundred years, starting with the invasion of Tarik's troops in 711 (they landed in Gibraltar). They provided Iberia and, largely through that channel, the rest of Europe (at least the few civilised parts that were then in existence), with a great wealth of culture, science, astronomy, mathematics, agriculture and tolerance. Sadly, by the beginning of the 11th century, Moslem unity was destroyed through in-fighting and a series of smaller taifas came into being, which allowed the advance of Christian troops from the north (this is commonly known as the reconquest, but there was nothing re- about it). By the end of the 15th century, the Catholics ran the country with an iron hand: the Jews were forcefully deported in 1492 (depriving Spain of a huge well of financial know-how) and the Moslems in 1502 (depriving Spain of a huge well of culture and general knowledge).

The festivals of Moors and Christians (Moros y Cristianos in Castilian or Moros i Cristians in Catalonian (Valencian)) are supposed to commemorate these turbulent times. There is no fixed date for the festivals and they occur from early in the year (in April in Alcoy, for example) to quite late in the holiday season, largely in the southern Valencian area. Here in Guardamar del Segura, some ten days are reserved for the festivals towards the end of July each year. This year's events were held from 16 to 25 July.

The first few days are reserved for more or less official events and other activities of less interest to the general public. After these, however, the "street wars" begin, when bands of both Moors and Christians wander through the streets, making a lot of noise with guns similar to arquebuses. Fortunately, the guns fire only blanks, but we avoid Guardamar at this time! Eventually, these bands attack a "castle," erected in the main square: one day the castle is held by the Christians and is taken by the Moors, then it is held by the Moors and taken by the Christians.

At last, however, when all the nonsense is over, the real business begins: the parades. Guardamar might be only a small town, but it possesses a long, straight, and relatively wide main street, so is able to offer an excellent platform along which the various sections of the comparsas, or groups, can march. Usually, two or three groups of some ten people march in a line and these are followed by a band, which plays suitably strident music. A comparsa can have as many as a dozen groups. The whole thing lasts about three hours and takes place on two evenings, the final Friday and Saturday of the festival period.

You can see photos of the 2010 parades at this Picasa web album.

Elise has also taken some photos for you to view and these you can find here.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Cactus pods

Cacti have all sorts of attractions: they are relatively easy to obtain; they offer great variety; they are easy enough to grow, given the correct conditions (and where we live, the conditions are just about ideal for most cacti); they are very forgiving; they often produce beautiful flowers…

One type of cactus, called Gymnocaycium, also provide a wonderful variety of seed pods. Having flowered and, if the insects have done their work well, the pods of the various members of the Gymnocalycium family develop shapes ranging from club-like to apple-like, with unusual markings and a range of colours from green through blue to pink.

For more Gymnocalycium pods, see this Picasa album.
Gymnocalycium pods

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


This Is Not Entertainment ! This Is Murder In The First Degree !The nine days of the San Fermin festivals in Pamplona have just come to an end. Basically, a long week of drunkenness, using an ancient "tradition" to justify such boorishness and the peculiar cruelty to bulls for which Spain should be ashamed.

Each day, six bulls are forced to run a course through the narrow streets between their corral and the town's bull-ring. Men, usually quite young and many the worse for drink, run in front of, at the side of, and behind the bulls, in an attempt to prove how brave they are, the bravest staying just ahead of the bulls, of course. The bulls are poked, prodded, and struck in an effort to make them run as quickly as possible. Not infrequently, this results in one or more of the bulls slipping, falling, and sliding upon the hard paved surface of the road. The unfortunate bull is then encouraged to get up as quickly as possible to continue its ridiculous journey, something that can only be lamented. The fact that the men might also slip and fall, with resulting injury, is to be applauded, rather than lamented, for these idiots have chosen to take part in this exercise of goading a creature that knows no better.

Later in the day, a "real" bull-fight takes place in the bull-ring. This is also touted as being "traditional". But no recourse to tradition, no fancy costumes, no pasa-doble-playing bands, and no quantity of "Olés" can hid the fact that this is cruelty at its most cruel, plain and simple: the bull is forced to undergo all manner of torture to cause it to lose blood, weakening it to such an extent that a matador can prance and strut before it, performing "artistic" passes, before attempting to kill the animal with a sword in the hope of being awarded one or more ears (I kid you not). Thank goodness in the past week or so, the bulls have had a bit of their own back by goring several of these fools.

Come off it. This is the twenty-first century and it really is time to reject such barbaric past-times. We have largely eliminated most other cruel sports from Europe: bear-baiting, dog-fighting, cock-fighting, badger baiting, fox-hunting… so it really is time to also accept that bull-fighting is not an artistic tradition. Instead, it is a pathetically cruel act of cowardice, quite inappropriate for a civilised society.

Soon, the Catalonian regional parliament will vote on whether to ban bullfighting (the Canary Islands banned it in 1991). The Partido Popular (a dangerous right-wing group of Franco-lovers) is, of course, pro-bullfighting (hey, there's a lot of money involved in it). Let us hope that the more sensible members of the parliament will vote sensibly on 28 July and at least one part of mainland Spain will be free from this shame the besmirches the image of the country throughout the world.

Monday, 12 July 2010

There Is a Happy Land

Spain burst into a howl of celebration a short time ago (I'm writing this at 11.38 PM), when the rather lax referee blew the whistle which ended the final of the football World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Football fever is an ever-present sickness here in Spain and its symptoms only grew more pronounced as the Spanish team progressed, somewhat hesitantly, it must be admitted, through the competition.

Tthe Spanish supporters had to bite their nails and exercise considerable patience, even in the final match against the Netherlands, who kept the score to 0-0 unitl well into the second period of extra time, with the spectre of the dreaded penalty shoot-out looming large.

National relief was provided, however, when Iniesta scored the winning goal after 116 minutes of play. The roar that went up four minutes later, when the final whiste was blown, was perhaps even louder.

Spain is a very happy land at the moment.

¡Enhorabuena España!

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 8 July 2010

iPad at 100

My mother uses an Apple iBook, which is a few years old now (well, in technology terms, it's ancient, practically prehistoric) and really needs to be replaced. I've thought of giving her my PowerBook G4, which has a larger screen and should be more than powerful enough for her requirements. Now, you should know that my mother will be blowing out 90 candles in a few weeks time (2nd of August, in fact), assuming she can keep the false teeth in whilst attempting that feat, so I reckon she does a great job of using her iBook, especially as she had never laid hands on a computer before that one. She emails and surfs the Web, and uses a couple of applications to help her find answers to crossword clues, too. Not bad at all.

When I got my iPad about six weeks ago, I thought that it would be an even better replacement for her than my PowerBook: it's handier, easier to hold, easier to use, has a better screen, less prone to mishaps (such as removing items from the Dock)…

And now I've come across this remarkable story of a 100 year-old lady, named Virginia, who has just received her very first computer—an Apple iPad—and is getting along great guns with it. This is exactly how technology should be: easy and fun to use—forget the moaning geeks who seem to see only the technical aspects of things, instead of their true usefulness.

Enjoy the video:

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Everything's Coming Up Rosas

Sport in Spain generally means football. The sports section of the evening news on TVE1, the main nationwide television station, is almost completely devoted to that pasttime that is for some strange reason considered a sport. Nowadays, of course, an even greater interest is being directed at football (the soccer variety for American readers), given the Spanish team's achievement of reaching the semifinals of the Soccer World Cup.

Still, things are changing in Spain and a number of other sports are beginning to receive a fairer proportion of attention. Furthermore, Spanish teams and individual participants are doing very well in various disciplines.

The Tour de France started yesterday and hopes are high that the Spanish cyclist Contador will repeat his victory of last year.

The final of the men's singles has just taken place at Wimbledon, and it was handsomely won by Spanish player Rafa Nadal, a young man as modest and self-effacing in his own language as he appeared to be in his post-match interview with Sue Barker.

Today also saw the Catalunyan motorcycling Grand Prix MotoGP, in which the first two places were taken by Spanish riders, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa. Fair enough, they have an easier time than otherwise, thanks to the absence through injury of their Italian rival, Valentono Rossi, but would be giving him a run for his money in any case.

I know less about other sports, though am aware that Pol Gasol, a Spaniard, plays at the highest level of basketball in the USA (for a team called the Lakers, I believe) and that Spanish teams do well in such things as water-polo and handball.

The only disappointment is that so little interest is afforded the only real sport in the world, Rugby Union. Let's hope that, with everything coming up roses in Spanish sports, the Spanish nation will soon discover the real thing.

(Photo shows Spain against the British Lions, played in Elche, May 2007.)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 25 June 2010

61 Candles

It's Elise's birthday today. It would be amiss to reveal the total score, of course, but this morning I played her a small selection of appropriate music, including the dyslexic version of the Crest's 1959 hit "16 Candles," Jerry Lee Lewis's excellent "39 and Holding" (admittedly telling its tale about a man, but with a sentiment more than apt for any woman who has passed the dreaded four-oh) and the 1957 success by the Tune Weavers, "Happy Birthday Baby," the title of which is suitable for such an occasion, even if the lyrics are far less so.

I can't imagine a better pastiche for such a celebratory occasion, though I have to admit that She Who Must Be Obeyed seemed less than impressed with my musical selection (it is true, of course, that she is usually less than impressed with my musical selections, so this was no exception).

Well, after that auspicious start, I continued in caring husband mode by switching on the dish-washer and making a loaf of bread, two quite separate activities, I hasten to add (it is possible to poach a salmon in a dish-washer, but I know of nobody who has yet succeded in baking a loaf of bread in one). Following a well-earned rest, during which Elise received a number of phone calls from friends in Belgium and several emailed birthday wishes, I took Elise to Hotel Laguna for a slap-up meal, which she seemed to enjoy. No doubt a visit to El Corte Inglés will soon be on the books.

Happy birthday, Elise! Penblwydd hapus, mujer!

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Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Do you speak Belgian?

Elise and I come from Belgium.

Well, that's not entirely true, as I was born in Wales, where I lived for the first nine years of my life, after which I lived in England until I moved to Belgium when I was almost twenty-three. However, having then spent the next thirty-five years of my life in Belgium, before moving to Spain, I feel almost entitled to write that I, too, come from Belgium and I'm proud to be able to write it, too.

Anyway, I am amazed at how many people who, upon first meeting us, ask us if we speak Belgian. And then, when we explain that there is no such language, they seem to have great difficulty in accepting that a country called Belgium does not have a language called Belgian, as if Brazil has a language Brazilian, or Canada a language Canadian, or New Zealand perhaps New Zealandian… Admittedly, Americans speak a strange sort of English, but their language remains English, even if their accent and usage is American.

Well, Belgium is rather like that, as far as language is concerned, except that things are rather more complicated, especially for such a very small country. You see, there are three official languages in Belgium: Dutch (spoken by some 60% of the population), French (roughly 38%), and German (some 2%).

Dutch is spoken in the northern part of Belgium, in the area known as Flanders. The sort of Dutch that is spoken there, with its typical accents and usage, is often referred to as Flemish, but it really is Dutch and don't let anyone tell you different.

French is spoken in the southern part of Belgium, in the area known as Wallonia. Wallonian French has, again, its own accents and usages, but it remains French.

German is spoken in a very small part of Belgium, close to the border with Germany. This part of Belgium actually belongs to the political region that corresponds to Wallonia, but don't let this confuse you—Belgian politics, particularly when related to language borders and usage is a minefield that requires an expert in hieroglyphics to decipher and understand.

So, no, we do not speak Belgian. Our first language, at least as far as Belgium is concerned, is Dutch, though we can also get by in French (with hairs on) and German (even hairier).

Indeed, nobody speaks Belgian.

Even people who have some idea of Belgium are often very confused abut its use of language. Many believe it to be a French-speaking country, whereas it is primarily Dutch- speaking, of course. In the early 1960s, one of my Geography masters explained to the class that Belgium was French-speaking, but that some uneducated, illiterate peasants still spoke a dialect called Flemish (it was the same Geography master that threw me out of the class for arguing with him that Monmouthshire was in Wales and not England). Educational nonsense was not confined to the UK side of the Channel, however: my Belgian wife, when at school at about the same time, was taught that Wales was a county in England… So much for schools.

(The photo shows the Belfort (bell tower) in Gent (Ghent) with Sint Baaf's cathedral in the background.)

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Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The First PC?

Some months ago I wrote about my start in computing (see I'm Counting On You, ending that entry with my move to Belgium in 1971.

My first job in Belgium was just an excuse to get a work-permit, visa and whatever else I needed to come to the country (remember, the UK was not part what was then the EEC at that time), but after a few months I found a place in Gent (Ghent) as a programmer for a company that, as well as using an IBM 360/30 for its own purposes, also acted as a sort of computer service bureau for other companies, writing and running their programs. One of my tasks was to write a series of programs for the luggage manufacturer, Samsonite, the European headquarters of which were in Oudenaarde. This went very well and some time later, when Samsonite decided to get their own computer, I was asked to go to work for them.

I had written the original series of programmes in RPG for the IBM, but Samsonite had selected a Honeywell Bull GE 58 machine, so the programmes had to be rewritten in COBOL. Gradually, the set was expanded to form a complete Order and Billing system, handling not only the sales and stock of Samsonite Belgium, but also those of the other sales offices in Europe: France, Germany and the UK. Sales data and other relevant information (production, customer updates, etc.) were still handled in batch, the data being collected on forms, transferred to punch-card and processed during the evening for production of invoices, stock sheets, customs documents, and so on. When Samsonite upgraded from the GE 58 to an HB 64 in about 1976, everything had to be converted because of the very different operating systems and we took the opportunity to radically alter the O&B system, to include real-time sales entry in Belgium and data capture in the sales-points outside Belgium through DataPoint 2200 "workstations."

The DataPoint 2200 was a strange creature and really represented the first personal computer: it sat on top of the desk (a desktop, in other words), it had a screen, a keyboard, a means of storing programs and data, a processing unit, and it could drive peripheral devices, such as a printer. It really was a PC ahead of its time, for nobody at that time had heard of a "personal computer". Still, with the CTOS operating system (Cassette Tape Operating System), a means of designing on-screen forms and a Basic-like programming language, I was able to allow the users in the countries outside Belgium to capture sales information and customer updates during the day onto cassette tape and to send that data using a telecommunications link (first with an acoustic coupler at 300bps, and later with a "real" modem at 1200bps) with the HB 64 in Belgium, for processing during the night. The next morning, sales results, invoices, stock reports and other information for printing were transmitted back, again capturing these on cassette tape for printing at will.

It was primitive, but it worked very well and was still working when I left Samsonite in 1981. By that time, Apple had become well known with its Apple ][ personal computer and IBM had finally realised that people really could make use of PCs and had unwittingly fallen into the clutches of one Bill Gates in a desperate attempt to stop Apple's growth. But it's nice to have used the machine that represented the very start of the personal computer revolution, a start which is generally overlooked.