England vs Spain

A few days in England is always enough to make you remember why Spain is a great place to live. Or maybe just that Spain is still doing alright in a few areas where England started to slide a while ago. For example, half an hour in Reading station, was enough to remind me that England is full of overweight teenage mothers, overweight football hooligans, and people generally wearing terrible clothes. You have to queue for half an hour to get out of the station, because the station where you got on the train didn’t have a ticket office. When you ask the woman on the gate where to get your missing ticket from, you receive a well practised scowl. The bloke behind you in the queue, sipping away at his can of lager, is shouting preschool English into his mobile, despite the fact that he is obviously in his mid-20s.

This may just be a Reading thing, but I have a feeling it’s pretty widespread in the UK these days.

On the other hand, it’s quite nice to go to the pub, and not leave stinking of cigarette smoke. It’s quite nice to see cars slow down when they see a traffic light changing to Orange. It’s quite nice to see some decent television without 20 minute adverts on the BBC. And there’s something wonderful about driving along empty country roads at seven o’clock on a bright, spring Sunday morning, past green fields, and towering sunlit trees. England is a beautiful country, but these days it’s becoming a little too ‘Reading station’ for my liking…



A strange new breed, the ‘agentes de la movilidad‘, have been filling major street junctions across the city since before Christmas. These arm-waving, flourescent-yellow non-cops are obviously Mayor Gallardon’s new plan to get this congested city on the move again. Good luck to him. The taxi drivers, the barometer of city transport issues, have no respect for them at all – ‘it hasn’t done any good whatsoever, waste of money’. Personally I think it’s just a way of freeing up a bit of police time, getting them off traffic duty, which can’t be a bad thing.

Perhaps the new agentes are helping a few more double-parked cars to get towed, but the whole city seems just as blocked up as ever. Hence my joy every morning when I get on my Scooter and weave my way to the front of the hooting masses. There is disquiet amongst the motorcycling community however, as it seems that a debate is afoot as to whether we should still be allowed to park on the pavement.

National law claims that this is illegal, and nowhere else in Spain is this allowed. So the Madrid council has produced a ‘municipal order’ saying that in fact it is OK, we can park on the pavement. The trouble is that national law wins over municipal orders, making it still illegal. Whatever the case may be, it seems that the agentes de movilidad have been told not to fine us for now, clearly meaning that the Madrid council sees itself as being above the law. Perhaps the Mayor also knows that if he revoked his municipal order he would have to find parking spaces for 160,000 pissed off motorbikers, one of whom recently claimed, ‘if they start fining us for that we’ll come out in mass protest and collapse the transport system….’

This reminds me of the taxi drivers dispute a couple of years ago. They threatened that if they were forced to obey speed limits and wear their seat-belts they would collapse the transport system by staying strictly within these lawful speed limits for a whole week, at which point, they argued, chaos would ensue. They would show us who’s who by not breaking the law for a while….

Is there anyone in Spain that doesn’t think they are above the law? Certainly not our Mayor or his beloved taxistas


Old W.B. Yeats

“HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”



Always nice to come Back to Madrid

Taxi from the airport, radio on, news includes three stabbings, chronic mal-practice in a major city hospital, skinheads beating a tramp to death. Electronic billboards above the M-40 remind us that 103 people died on the roads last Easter… How nice to be back in Madrid. What did I see in all those wild, indescribably peaceful Tuscan landscapes?

No idea what to put on the blogspain home-page. Maybe a survey/pole thing asking people what should go on the home page…

Spanish Culture and News

March 11th Memorial

We’ve just been to see the memorial to Madrid’s March 11th 2004 train bombings. It’s a small hill and area of landscapes gardens in the Retiro Park, where Ecuadorians used to gather at weekends to eat, drink, and play football and volleyball. The place used to be a tip on Monday mornings and you can’t help thinking that by putting the memorial here the council has killed two birds with one stone: got rid of the mess and put up the monument. But still, it was the only empty space big enough in the park to put a decent sized memorial like this.

It is very well done, and testament to the fact that the Spanish really can get some hard work done when they put their mind to it. The mound is surrounded by a wide moat, and has a path curling around the turfed, terraced levels to the top. One hundred and ninety something trees, slender firs and solid olives, have been planted on the different levels of the mound, representing the number killed in the bombings. You really do get the feeling that each tree tangibly reflects one life that was lost, that this is an incredibly appropriate and evocative memorial – so much so that even bushing past the leaves of these trees provokes some kind of connection between you and a no-longer someone.