Saturday, October 27, 2007

Trafalgar Day 21 October 2007

In all the excitement of The Shooting I didn't get round to posting these pictures of Trafalgar Day celebrated every year in Gibraltar's Trafalgar Cemetery.

Photos courtesy of Partner.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The shooting

Part 1
I should have realised it was going to be a journey with a difference when police stopped our bus on the way to Málaga.

It turned out there was going to be a procession, so all traffic was being diverted. Well that wasn't much use to all the passengers who wanted to get off at the next few stops so the driver asked if it would be a long wait.

(Processions are a way of life in Spain. They are also a very good reason for always getting an earlier bus than you actually need. It is better to wait for 40 minutes or an hour in the bus station than miss your connection by five or ten minutes and have to wait another three hours. Bus stations are full of people who have arrived early, it's probably also one of the reasons why the bus station bars have a healthy trade.)

Apparently it was going to be a long wait for the procession so the driver then asked where the diversion went. Onto the motorway. About a dozen passengers were junked off and we set off exploring the back streets (no diversion signs) to find our way to the motorway.

It wasn't too difficult, and as we approached Málaga, one of the passengers asked the driver if he was going to stop at the port. The port bus stop is actually nearer to the town centre, whereas the bus station is further out, although next to the railway station.

No, we were off straight to the bus station. At this point, a strange woman - who looked remarkably like Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously - started asking what was going on.

The young lad in front of her explained patiently that the bus had been diverted because there was a procession and we were going straight to the bus station and not the port. For whatever reason she could not understand this, and kept repeating the same questions. Naturally the lad repeated the same answers.

After about the fifth repetition of this, the rest of the bus was in hysterics, while the young lad was patiently repeating the story yet again, although by this time with a smile on his face.

When we arrived at the bus station, the driver announced he would then go to the port for those passengers who wanted to get off there. Well this woman didn't understand that either, so she picked up her stuff to get off. "No, no," we all shouted at her. "He's going to the port next."

But she didn't understand any of us and continued walking towards the door. Then somebody repeated it again and the penny dropped, and she sat down, looking very bemused.

Part 2
I got off and made my way to the bar for the obligatory drink while I waited 40 minutes for the connection to La Linea. This turned out to be a pretty tranquil journey - well, for the first half - until we got to San Pedro (outside Marbella).

A woman got on (didn't look quite so much like Linda Hunt, although there was a vague similarity), and a couple of minutes later a ticket office clerk followed her on and started shouting at her. It seemed she'd asked for a ticket but then left it, leaving the clerk with a (computerised) ticket and no funds to match against it.

The driver nicely told his colleague that he really needed to be going which he obviously couldn't do while she was ranting at one of the passengers. So she stormed off the bus and back to the ticket office clutching the duplicate ticket and deciding how to explain it to boss.

At the next stop (there are only five), the driver obviously wasn't happy with the number of passengers on the bus. "Get your tickets out," he yelled as he stamped down the bus to start inspecting them.

I thought this was quite interesting as I've often thought it would be dead easy to get a ticket to the first stop and sit on to the end. I've never seen an inspector on the buses. I'm the sort of person who can never remember where I have put my ticket so I was busy emptying my pockets and trying to sort out old tickets from paper tissues. I hadn't even unfolded what might have been the right one when the driver snatched it out of my hand. Sigh of relief. It was the right one.

Then we arrived in La Linea. More police, some sort of road block. Two women behind groaned and said we would be there for ages - apparently they had loads of suitcases and if the police were going to go through all their clothes.....

The police waved us on. As we went past the cars they had stopped, I noticed two young men putting their socks and shoes back on. I thought no more about it, jumped off the bus, and started my dash for the frontier so that I could get the 8pm bus. If we arrived by 7.50pm, I know I can catch the bus if there are no border delays.

Part 3
One of the police motorbikes came up to where the road turns into the frontier and blocked it with his bike. Another one came up the pavement.

"Se puede pasar?" I asked. He waved me on. I headed for the frontier. First you go through a Guardia Civil post, then a Policia Nacional post, and then you get to the Gibraltar checkpoints.

There are three lots of police in Spain with varied responsibilities although the Guardia Civil seem to get involved in just about everything. If you want a police career in Spain it is the one to go for, especially as they have some great specialist units - mountain rescue, diving, environmental protection, coastal surveillance and security, and others. Next in the hierarchy are the Policia Nacional, and then you get Policia Local who are responsible to the local council. All three forces carry guns.

As I got about half way to the Guardia Civil post, I heard a ratatatatata noise like bangers or jumping crackers which the Spanish are always chucking around, even without a fiesta for an excuse. Then I remembered the road block and realised it was shooting. I walked even faster to the comparative safety of Gibraltar.

I passed an older couple and a woman. "Que pasa?" I said. (What's happening?). "Tiroteos," replied one of the women. (Shooting).

I love the Spanish and Gibraltarians. They have an amazing capacity for stating the more than blindingly obvious, and then normally repeating it a few times. Not for them idle speculation. So I replied the same way.

"Claro." (Of course).

Another few steps towards the Guardia Civil. The shooting was well behind me, I glanced back and couldn't see anything.

Suddenly the Guardia Civil joined in the shooting. In my direction. It was getting far too close now. There was a gap in the wall next to me. Admittedly it was one of those silly walls made out of bricks with holes in, but it was better than nothing. I hit the deck behind the wall.

Then I looked out. The three Spanish/Gibraltarians were still standing there watching the show. They obviously had more confidence than me in the shooting ability of the various police forces.

I got up. A Policia Local guy motorbike roared up on his motorbike to the Guardia Civil. "Hijos de puta! Cabrones! Que haceis?!" And loads more obscenities in Spanish.

A Policia Nacional car cruised out from their office, followed by countless officers on foot all interested in the spectacle. No, not the shoot-out. The Policia Local guy giving the Guardia Civil grief. Ouch. Police officer responsible to local council giving shit to Spain's elite police force. Not something to do lightly.

Meanwhile I sped through all the controls and jumped on the bus. Still shaking. And told the driver (in Spanish, twice naturally) about the events.

I arrived home and where was Partner? Out dog-walking, actually taking the dog to the pub. The dog likes the pub, people give him lots of strokes and talk nicely to him.

Fast forward. According to Gibfocus on the Internet, the police had stopped a (Gibraltar-registered) vehicle in which they allegedly found some hash. But during the search the driver revved the engine and escaped, crashing through the road blocks and then speeding through the frontier.

I never saw the car. Maybe it was when I was hiding on the ground.

Gibfocus also reports that two police officers were injured, one of them was transferred to hospital in Cadiz with serious injuries.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of the incident, I hope the two officers have a speedy recovery to good health.

Apparently the Royal Gibraltar Police have arrested two Gibraltar residents, a juvenile aged 16 and a 22-year-old, in connection with the incident.

Sources: Gibfocus, me.
The above photos were not taken at the time. They show the frontier/airfield area. I was too busy looking after my arse to take photos.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ten good things about living in Spain

Or in Andalucía to be more precise.

1 The weather. I've never been a sun-worshipper, but it is nice to know that in summer it will be warm and sunny. It is good to go camping and not worry about getting soaked (especially when the groundsheet leaks). And because Spain has a continental climate there is every other type of weather as well.

2 The food. Not so much the eating out as the local fresh produce you can buy - or if you are lucky, you get some given to you by your neighbours who have bits of ground and grow crops to sell on to the local wholesale market. Although can't say I am too keen on the way they spray pesticides around with gay abandon.

3 It is cheap to live. It is nowhere near as cheap as it was when we first arrived (or when we first started coming on holiday some 12 or so years ago) but the basics are still much cheaper than northern Europe. And where we live you do not spend a lot of money (if any) heating your home.

4 Public transport. It is a pretty big country but it is relatively easy to get round using long-distance buses, or trains, or a combination. Every time I get the bus from Málaga to La Linea or Algeciras, I am amazed it costs just over ten euros for a 2/3 hours trip of around 140kms. Or you can travel from the south to the north by bus for around 50€. If you take the overnight train from Málaga to Burgos sharing a couchette compartment, and then get the bus to Santander, it will cost less than 70€ for nearly 1000km trip.

The new Málaga railway station

5 Coffee. I loathe instant coffee with a passion. Although you can now get decent coffee in the UK, whereas at one time nearly everything was instant, you are virtually guaranteed to get a decent coffee anywhere in Spain. And it is very strong. I so love a strong espresso (no sugar either).

6 Beer, or rather lager. I don't drink a lot of it, but I do like Spanish beer, especially the strong ones ie Mahou Five Star and Estrella Damm. And of course it is (comparatively) cheap.

7 Music. I've always liked Latin American music, and a lot of the popular music has a real Latin American feel to it. Apart from Juanes and Shakira (both Colombian), Spanish bands I like are Amparanoia, Chambao and Ojos de Brujo. I also like Rosario.

8 Spaniards break the rules with such aplomb. Rules are seen as something that get in the way of daily life, and basically are for other people. They are to be got round as cleverly as possible.

9 Following on from this last one - no "dob 'em in culture". I guess this must be a hangover from the Franco régime, but there is a healthy dislike and mistrust of chivas (spies). You can see why. If someone informed on you in the past, there was a good chance that you and/or your family would be carted off to the carcel (prison) and later killed. In smaller communities people accept that they have to live with their neighbours and it's better for everyone to try and get along.

10 The language. It is easy to learn, it is phonetic and quite logical. It also sounds very nice spoken by Spaniards although I dread to think how it sounds with a Yorkshire accent (mine) or a Welsh one (Partner's). Especially as we have slipped into speaking the Andalucían Spanish of our pueblo and not the perfect Castilian Spanish that is normally taught to foreigners.

That will do to start with off the top of my head. There are others. I also want to write a little more about a couple of these - but that will be for another post.

Romería in my village

Almost forgot the Gibraltar Social Democrats did win the election although it seems to have been pretty tight with less than 4% between the GSDs (49.33%) and the GSLP/GLP (45.49%) coalition. Turnout was 81.4%. At least I haven't lost my political acumen. :)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Time to choose - but not for me

Well it is election day in Gibraltar today so I thought I would write something appropriate.

To start with, some weeks after we first bought the flat we received a reminder from the Electoral Office that we hadn't sent in the form.

Obviously not as we had only just arrived in Gib. The reminder was presumably referring to the previous owner.

Anyway eventually I staggered down to the electoral office which turned out to be hidden behind a glut of cafes, instead of prominently displaying its identity on Main Street as I had expected.

The door had an entryphone. I explained my mission and the door swung open. The carpet up the stairs was very thick and plush. The guy looked a bit surprised to get a visitor.

I explained that I had only recently bought the flat and wanted to know what I should do.

"Nothing," he said. "The register has already been compiled."

"Do you need my details then? Is there another one for next year?"

"No," he said nicely. "There won't be another register until the next election is due."

"Well, I don't want to have to pay a fine for non-completion like we do in the UK."

"Really?" he said, looking even more surprised than he had done at receiving a rare visitor.

I've just done a quick search and according to a House of Commons Select Committee Report (July 2007), the maximum current fine is £1000, although rarely enforced.

So I can't vote today. But to be honest I'm rather pleased as I don't feel informed enough to make a fair decision. Hopefully I might have a more intelligent view for the next election.

I have, however, been interested in the very glossy political magazines that have been delivered.

The Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD), the current ruling party, produced some 60 pages to plough through. A large part of this is highlighting their achievements while in power. The rest outlines their proposals for the future.

The poor old Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party (GSLP)/Liberal manifesto can only manage a mere 20 pages, no doubt because they have no achievements to boast about.

So here are some totally arbitrary comments having read the manifestos.

I'll start with taxation. Since GSD came to power, they have abolished road tax, tax on savings income, death duties, TV licence fee, and the need to buy a pension annuity. There is no income tax if you earn less than £7,000. They have abolished other taxes too, but these will do as examples.

The GSLP/Liberals obviously have a tough job competing with this, so they have pledged to maintain all the existing allowances (for homeowners, mortgage interest, life insurance etc) and bring down personal tax.

Well I have to say, the Gibraltar economy is good, wages are not brill, but you can get a job. With decent tax breaks. Why would people vote to change the status quo?

Each party also talks about health, older people, sovereignty, the environment, and employment as well as a few other topics.

GSD says there is a new commitment from the UK not to enter into any negotiations about sovereignty without Gibraltar's consent. Quite right. I fully agree with the principles of self-determination. It is not up to the UK or Spain to arrogantly decide on the future of Gibraltar.

There are discussions from both parties about the airport and the proposed new tunnel and diversion of traffic and pedestrians away from the airfield. I have to say I like the quirkiness of walking across the runway, it must be pretty unique. And it would take even longer if we all had to bus round and underneath. Hmm.

The GSLP/Liberals commit to government work and services being carried out by direct labour. No privatisation or contracting out. I agree with that.

I find the manifesto proposals interesting as Gibraltar is such a small place and they do affect everyone. But I doubt any of it will make any difference. So my prediction, for what it's worth is that the GSD will be returned. We'll see. And I will post if I am wrong. Or right.

Almost forgot. Here are the candidates. Ten for each. One woman for each party out of ten people. I don't really think that is a fair representation of the female population in Gibraltar. And people think women have achieved equality?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A result

Well a few results actually.

Appreciative partner thought the new purchases from La Senza were so good he packed me off the next day in search of knickers. He seems to think the raggy holey ones I currently wear are a little tired.

Anyway I couldn't find any that I liked so I bought some casual nightwear instead. I think I'm a bit past the age of being a sex bombshell in a silk/satin lace concoction and apart from anything else I don't think they are conducive to sleep, ie they are not comfortable.

Now this cute little outfit I bought is very comfortable. It's all cotton so you don't end up slithering on the sheets. Of course sleeping on the floor (still) I don't have to worry about falling out of bed.

Anyway buoyed with the success of my lingerie purchases I set off back to Spain. And when I arrived the first thing I decided to do was have another go at the wretched gas bottle.

IT WORKED!! Was I pleased. I hate not being able to cook, and I'm no longer a fan of eating out. I was obviously stressed the other weekend because I'd totally forgotten I had an electric kettle stashed away that I could have used for the manzanilla tea.

Not so good in the chicken shed mind. I still forgot to turn the top of the drinker round before I picked it up so water spewed all over again. But at least I had the welllies on. There were no eggs either. I think the chickens are sulking.

On Sunday morning I chatted to Adelina next door. José had gone for a paseo with his mates. Apparently it lowers his blood sugar level. I think he just likes to escape out of the house. I wrote about them here before - I think they are so cool at their age doing a daily walk of two or three miles.

Adelina asked me if I preferred Spain to Gibraltar. The truth is I don't prefer one or the other. I like them both. I thought that was too complicated though, so told her I liked the money that Partner earned in Gibraltar. I knew she would understand that because most of the Spaniards we have met are pretty (money) hungry.

I wrote about the weather a few posts ago saying September marked a change in the weather when the rains start. Whereupon it has been roasting ever since. Warm in Gib and hot (30+degrees) in Spain.

So here are some warm Gibpix. Although it has rained and stormed in the past couple of days. And the sun has shone too.