Brexit means Sovereignty? At the moment it doesn’t look that way says El País!

In case anybody was in any doubt that the United Kingdom is headed in a rather different direction to the one preferred by Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and their Brexit fellow-travellers of the Daily Mail and Daily Express, this article translated from El País of the 8th December offers an impartial opinion

The agreement in principle reached in the early morning of this Friday by Jean-Claude Juncker and Theresa May represents an unequivocal surrender of the United Kingdom to all the conditions imposed by the Europeans on all the three main issues: the rights of residents; the border between Ulster and Ireland and the financial bill. It is a surrender that points towards a future agreement on a Brexit that is no longer soft, but positively mushy.

The only concession or sweetener offered by the Europeans is in respect to the (obvious) references to the autonomy of the British institutions inserted in the joint report of the negotiators, pending the approval of the European summit on  the 14th of this month.

There is no room for the slightest doubt that the EU has achieved 100% of its goals, at least for the moment. It has imposed his negotiation calendar without opposition; it has established – with protests from the other party drowned – the program for it in two successive phases: first the three key issues and only after an agreement on these, the discussion on the final status. The EU took the initiative in the half-dozen bilateral sessions and has achieved all of its aims.

All this has been possible thanks to the domestic weakness of the May Government, and to the initial error of the British negotiator, David Davis, in trying to divide the ex-partners, instead of trying to forge unanimity in favour of his proposals. The professionalism of the negotiator of the EU, Michel Barnier, was also important: he first asked the British what they wanted, specifically to make it easier to unite the European bloc. The result has been that the withdrawal of the United Kingdom has united its opponents as never before, thanks to the UK’s obsession with defending itself against the outside (peaceful) enemy. Even the very problematic Holland, which now sees Britain for the first time as a competitor: even the ultra-liberal ultra-conservatives of the East and the Baltic, in need of economic support from the EU and disillusioned by the escape of a military power that has helped shield them against the Russian danger, have united behind the European position.

The most spectacular defeat of a hard Brexit is seen in the agreement in principle on the question of Ireland. At last, the impossible squaring of the circle of minimizing the Ulster border with European Ireland (which had assumed a paradoxical virtual frontier, with effective free circulation), but simultaneously keeping it attached to the British market (which would imply its double participation in two different economic spaces, like playing for two rival sports teams at the same time) has been entwined with the idea that the circle remains such, without squaring it. How? With the principle that if both markets (the European and the British) turn out to be incompatible in the end, “the United Kingdom will maintain its full alignment with the rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union” (point 49). So in the end, it would seem to be very like Norway. It would be de facto in the single market but without being involved in deciding its rules. We emphasize that this “full alignment” replaced the idea of “regulatory convergence”, an expression that makes London uncomfortable because it gave the idea that it should always reach towards Europe; the British preferred the coldest substantive “alignment”, which could be interpreted as parallelism and the effort of both to harmonize, which sounds more palatable to its deceived public. But in the end, the United Kingdom will be obliged to “maintain full alignment.”

Everything else follows a similar pattern. Particularly noticeable is the chapter on the recognition of citizens living in the other area. The civic rights of Europeans residing in the United Kingdom on D-day of segregation will continue to be protected by all the directives of the Union: to reside, to attract their families, their stable partners, all as they are today. They will also enjoy access to social rights: to the European health charter (point 9), to the principle of “equal treatment” in “social security, social assistance, health, employment, self-employment, establishment, education – including university -, and training, social, and tax advantages.” Suddenly the social Europe – which so many dismiss as non-existent – emerges strongly, although somewhat constrained.

How will that be guaranteed, beyond good intentions? London is committed to endowing the Withdrawal Act, which will include all the relative European norms without modification in a super-constitutional nature. Namely, this law will have the same exceptional characteristics that the Treaties and European directives and regulations show in the face of national ordinances: direct effect (it will be directly appealable) and primacy (in case of doubt the Withdrawal Law prevails, that is, the rules explicitly integrated into it (point 6) European lawyers – and their clients and all citizens – can shout with pleasure. This will be monitored by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in its capacity as ” sole arbitrator” at least until D-Day. Then, the British courts must pay “due regard” to its “relevant decisions,” (point 38). Within this framework, local judges will be able to settle matters within their jurisdiction, but have the advantage, unlike the current government, of being very unbiased, and they will be given the possibility, should there be any doubts, of going to the CJEU to formulate a “preliminary question,” a consultation that can currently be initiated by all EU bodies, from a local judge to the German Constitutional Court.

There remains the chapter concerning the financial settlement. There is almost nothing new under the sun. Despite all the colossal grandiose speeches since the referendum, London has not even achieved a suggestion, an adjective, a different idea. It will pay what it owes while it remains within the EU, and offers guarantees on a proportional part of all programs (or institutions) to which it still belongs (its acceptance of guarantees to certain “contingent” obligations arising from projects not yet initiated). Of counting and sounding money, nothing has been said. The essential thing is that the May Government accepted the methodology, the components and the time-scales proposed by Brussels: total bingo. Although this results in an amount to pay (for years) for London, equivalent to about 60,000 million Euros (according to Europeans) or close to 50,000 Euros (according to British sources), considerably more than the 20,000 suggested a couple of months ago. What have the separatists achieved in exchange for their surrender? The appearance of regaining sovereignty.

The original article can be found at:

Podenco Friends: together we can!

img_3211I must admit to having felt a bit nervous about visiting the “Paws in the Park” event at Detling, near my home at the weekend. I went there to meet the people behind Podenco Friends as part of my research towards my potential next e-book, and online edition of “Tales of Mel” by Rafael Sainz, and I had already decided that I needed to include some of those organisations who help to rescue abandoned dogs and give them a new home.
Is it just me, or are Podencos among the most sympathetic and endearing dogs around? The Podenco Friends stand seemed to be populated by lovely members of the breed and very down-to-earth owners, and I had a chat with Beverley Farmer, the founder of the organisation:
“It all started thirteen years ago, we went to a little local rescue home. There was a little Podenco in there and she was a bag of nerves: so thin. We took her and it was a baptism of fire. She is like a Podenco Ibicenco but a very small one – she would not meet breed standard. She was just hard work, and then a few years later we acquired another – a Podenco Andaluz, and he was completely the opposite, completely laid back and a very easy-going temperament.”
Clearly smitten, Bev started doing obedience classes and agility with the dog, because she thought it would be a good way to promote the breed. Then a rescue Association contacted her and asked her to foster a dog, and that was how it really started. She took “one or two” into the house. “I feel that I have a great affinity with them,” she insists, “you have to understand that they are not ordinary dogs.”
She began to take on more and more dogs, realised that she needed more space, and rented a battered old finch out in the middle of nowhere with no mains water.  just started from there. People started approaching her through Facebook: “I never asked anybody – they all came to me, they just came to me and offered help.”
She posted photographs online photographs helped. They caught people’s eye, and more and more people became involved. Americans contacted her, and he team started exporting them to the USA, with the aim of expanding the limited American gene pool, and then Canada came on board as well
There is a team here in the UK now, and one in Holland, but Bev is keen to point out that the organisation is very restricted as to which companies it can send dogs to – there has to be a backup network within the country before she will consider exporting dogs there.
Our conversation went on for longer than I have space for here, but I have to say that I was very impressed with the organisation and their love for the dogs that are such a feature of Spanish tradition. If you wish to find out more, feel free to visit the organisation’s Facebook page Thanks Bev, for a fascinating chat.

Sorry, no Paper

As most of you will now know, my first book has appeared in the past few days on the digital shelves of all leading e-book sellers. I would like to thank everybody who has had a look, downloaded the preview, or bought a copy of the book. Many people have been asking me: “where is the paper back version?”
I’m sorry to say that at the moment, there isn’t one. While I was getting my book ready for publication, I thought long and hard about how best to publish. Although the advantages of a paper edition are obvious (and at least I would then have a copy on my bookshelf), publishing digitally gives me the scope to issue updates, and maybe new additions, as I experiment with various ways of presenting my work digitally.
Another point to consider is that my audience is geographically widespread, but digitally literate. There are probably a few thousand people who may be interested (I hope there are anyway) in buying a copy of the book, but they are spread all over the planet, and I couldn’t really see that publishing a paperback book would reach my audience quite so well.
I did consider going down the J.K. Rowling route, i.e. sending off samples and letters to hundreds of terrestrial publishers, getting hundreds of rejection letters back, and then following any feedback given and re-submitting until somebody gives in and publishes it, but I’m not very good at that sort of thing.
Publishing my book digitally means that there are no rejection letters – but no helpful marketing division, to tell people about the book and get them interested. I have to do it all myself, and I think it’s more fun than the rejection letter route.

Among other things, I am now forced to come to terms with Twitter. I have had an account for some time now, but never really understood how to use it. Now it occurs to me that 140 characters is very useful if you are trying to keep up an online presence at odd moments in the day whilst doing a “proper” job. I have already set up a group on Facebook (, which you are all welcome to join, I have a Twitter handle (#dondayesta), my blog (, and I shall be getting the message out in all sorts of other ways. I’m looking forward to it, and the positivity of trying all sorts of different things and seeing which work.
So I’m sorry if you would prefer a paperback version of the book. I do sympathise. There is something about paper and words on it that is reassuringly permanent compared to the ephemeral collection of marks and squiggles on the screen that disappears the moment the computer is switched off, or the hard drive dies, or any of the other misfortunes that happen to computers.
Now that I have an actual book online, and one that I think looks pretty presentable. I may even try sending the links to paper publishers and see what happens.

I have already spent quite a lot of my life doing the paper publishing experience, and although I quite enjoyed that, there is something much more exciting about stepping out into a new way of doing things. So: my apologies to those of you who like paper. If any of you know any publishers please ask them to get in touch with me – I would still be interested in hearing from them, but for now I am enjoying exploring the digital world.

As always, please feel free to leave your comments below.


A city to fall in love with

I was about 16 when I first heard about people falling in love with Venice. I treated this and similar claims with scepticism at the time, and have continued to do so ever since. Having visited many cities since, I feel a kind of familiarity with London, which has popped in and it of my … Continue reading “A city to fall in love with”


The romance of Venice

I was about 16 when I first heard about people falling in love with Venice. I treated this and similar claims with scepticism at the time, and have continued to do so ever since. Having visited many cities since, I feel a kind of familiarity with London, which has popped in and it of my life for many years (although I doubt there is much still standing in the City centre that was there when I first visited); I enjoyed Dublin for its big-hearted charm, and I admire Barcelona as a city that I felt welcome in both when I was rich and when I was poor. But I never really loved a city. How could anyone? I was sceptical that Venice would be any different.

Whatever else you may say, there are ways in which Venice  is very different from most other cities. The fact that it is on a series of islands means that the boundaries are strictly defined, so urban sprawl is not really possible; the fact that there are very few cars give it a very rare feeling of tranquility despite the crowds that throng the main streets, and the city’s close connection with the sea permeates every facet of life.

Venice has an immediate intimacy. You really do not need a map, as everything is contained within a very small area. You can, of course, follow one if you wish, but we very quickly learned that it is far more fun to just get lost in the warren of narrow streets and alleyways and make your own discoveries. You can be sure that many others have been there before you – but you do feel that your visit is somehow unique.

If you visit the city, be sure to spend at least one day taking full advantage of the city’s transport system. 20 Euros will buy you the freedom of Venice’s buses, trams and ferries for 24 hours; 30 Euros pays for 48 hours. For this you can bus in from the surrounding (cheaper) villages and enjoy the freedom of Venice’s nautical public transport system, which will take you to any of the major islands in the lagoon at will. We visited Murano for the glass factories, Lido for a day at one of the most fanatically organised beaches I have ever seen, took a tour along the main canal, and hopped from place to place on the main island when the midday heat became too oppressive. I was told that the tickets can even be used for (short) gondola rides across canals at certain designated places, although I did not see any gondoliers on duty when we looking to try this: they were probably all too busy with more lucrative trips.

It is quite easy to be cynical about Venice – for much of the first morning I found myself taking photos of gondola traffic jams – but after a few hours the city begins to seep into your soul. By the start of the second day I was eager to return, and by the end of the third day, leaving the city for the last time, I did feel that there was still so much I hadn’t seen, so much still to discover about the city. Yes, I felt a little bit heartbroken.

I have a thought in mind that you can leave Venice but Venice never leaves you. I am not sure who said that first: maybe it was me… but I do feel that I want to return to Venice one day and I do regret spending so little time there: it does feel a little like falling in love!

As always, I look forward to your comments:



The last Minority?

IMG_2718“It was about three years ago,” stated Declan Henry at the start of the launch event for his latest book Trans Voices, that I realised that I didn’t know a single transsexual person.” Declan being Declan, he then decided to write a book about it. He is a prolific writer about many of society’s lesser known communities – including a fascinating book about bipolar individuals and troubled teens, and he threw himself into his new project with great enthusiasm.
He spent two years getting involved with a transsexual community, interviewing many of its members, and trying to work out what makes them tick. Many of his interviewees were there at the launch, and the presentation centred around the lives of two of his subjects, Hilary and Janett (not a typo, in her former life, Janett’s initials had been TT).
When Declan mentioned that he had not known any transsexuals it occurred to me that I probably had, in my time on Ibiza, but that I had never really been aware that transsexuals and transvestites were two different tribes. The five page glossary in the back of his book enlightened me to the terminology in common use, and I think I agree with Declan that transsexuals are probably one of the few remaining excluded groups in modern society.
Hilary, the first guest speaker, gave us an honest account of how she moved from man to woman, but still managed to stay friends with her former wife and run a successful business.
The second speaker, Janett, gave a very humorous account of a life lived as a man, which changed after his wife died suddenly when he was 51. From this point on he became more and more involved in the transsexual community, where he told us that he finally achieved happiness. I think that even the most sceptical among his audience empathised with her in the end.
declan book scan for webDeclan deserves a lot of credit for illuminating a part of society that is still little understood and often ridiculed. He paints a fascinating picture of a set of individuals that are often maligned even by those equally on the fringes of society. His strong desire to inform the world about a group that seems to be marginalised even by other outsiders comes through very strongly. Overall I felt it to be a fascinating window into the lives of a subset of humanity that I had previously had no real knowledge of. Well done Declan, this book is a fascinating read.

First Sunday in May

This is the time of year when I most envy my friends who still live on Ibiza. At a time of year when the English weather is still unbearable, the weather in Ibiza is about perfect – warm, if not hot during the day, but pleasantly cool in the evening.

In Santa Eularia, everybody will be preparing for the first Sunday in May. For centuries past, on this day friends and relatives from the surrounding countryside come into Santa Eulalia on their traditional two-wheeled horse-drawn carts, and the tradition still persists. It is a “popular” rather than an “official” fiesta, which may have something to do with the fact that Santa Eulalia’s official Saint’s day is in the gloomy depths of February: Summer fiestas are much more enjoyable!

Many years later I found out more of the historical background to the event, and I cannot say that I am any the wiser. Once again, I am indebted to my friend Emily Kaufmann for her research. Local legend has it that there was once a church outside the town, perched on the cliff overlooking the sea, near to the site of the present-day Los Loros Hotel. One Sunday, just after mass, the congregation had filed out as usual, with the priest saying goodbye at the doorway. Suddenly and without warning, the entire cliff collapsed, and the church plunged into the sea, presumably leaving a very surprised priest balanced precariously on the cliff edge. Amazingly, nobody was killed or injured. This coincidence was (as such things often are) declared to be a miracle, and the anniversary of the event has been celebrated ever since, on the first Sunday in May.

On this day, relatives and friends gather from miles around, making their way into Santa Eulalia on their traditional horse-drawn carts. The festivities of course start with a church service in the Puig d’en Misa, the church on the hill in the centre of Santa Eulalia (reassuringly far from the sea) but the main point of the day is social, and old friends and relatives get together to enjoy the day, and maybe have a few drinks. Stories abound of horses that were astute enough to find their own way home with their masters sleeping off their too-enthusiastic celebrations in the back of the cart.

Many of the carts just have to stop several times on their way along the street while their owners chat to old friends. After the procession the true fiesta starts, with music and dancing in the town square, and festivities continuing until late into the night. Nobody celebrates a possibly mythical church falling into the sea like the Ibicencos!

This is a celebration of a genuinely joyous sort, all the more enjoyable because it celebrates an ancient legend with little substance that can nevertheless close down an entire village in the middle of a busy tourist season. Only in Spain – only in Ibiza – could this happen. Doubtless if such an event were ever to happen in England, the newspapers would be full of tales bewailing the economic costs of such an event. How I miss living in a place where the only justification needed to shut down the entire town for a day is that everybody enjoys it!

A Morna Christmas

I well remember my first ever Morna Christmas show. It was the first time I had ever been responsible for providing music for such an event – but not the last – and it still amazes me to remember how what seemed to be utter chaos eventually became a brilliant show that people talked about for years afterwards. Heather was one of the leading primary school teachers at the time. Tio Fulano is not the Spanish teacher’s real name. I have used the name throughout my book to offer anonimity to those who I have been unable to contact; it is Spanish for “What’s his name.”

Tío Fulano, the Spanish teacher, a major cynic in religious matters, had initially just ignored requests to “teach the students a nice Christmas song in Spanish,” but suddenly he seemed to have seen the light. He started enthusiastically teaching the children a tuneful, jaunty song in Spanish.

“Si, si,” he insisted with a mischievous grin, “it’s a Spanish song for Christmas time.” Heather was suspicious at this sudden change of tune and the carefully-worded nature of his explanations, but was pleased that Tío had agreed to cooperate, and events proceeded harmoniously until the morning of the show. We were rehearsing a carol in the Las Dalias theatre when Heather burst in: “Does anybody speak Spanish?” she demanded furiously.

“Why?” I asked – and then suddenly realised that now was probably not the time to be the centre of attention.
“I’ve heard that this song Tio is teaching them is all about going out and getting drunk!”

I listened to a Spanish rehearsal for a few minutes. The first verse was quite sweet, referring to the fact that it was Christmas Eve, and that we should go to the Marimorena (Black Maria) to celebrate. Not only Christmassy, but multi-cultural and politically correct, I pointed out, rather hesitantly to the smouldering Heather.

The second verse, though was a little less appropriate:
“Ande, ande, ande esta Nochebuena / saca la botella / que me voy a emborrachar”

Which, roughly translates into English as: “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, This Christmas Eve, Get out the bottle, I’m going to get drunk.”
Heather was livid, but it was too late to change anything much, and Tío explained that anyway, the song celebrated a tradition in certain parts of Spain.

Heather aimed a glare in his direction that nearly stripped the paint from the door behind him, but Tío just smiled. Nothing ever seemed to worry him.

From a purely selfish viewpoint, I was glad the song stayed in the programme. I had spent many long hours working out the guitar chords, and quite enjoyed playing it Spanish style. When the students sang the song, the symbolically well-oiled parents cheered and roared with approval. It’s doubtful that  many of them appreciated Tío’s mischievous sense of humour – but none complained.

As always, your comments are more than welcome – and if anybody has a photo of this show (there were a lot of cameras flashing when I was playing the guitar) please feel free to send them, and I will add them to the post.


A lament for Grumpy’s

Grumpys demolition

I was greatly saddened to day to hear about the demolition of dear old Grumpy’s bar. It brought back so many memories from the early 80s and the carefree, liberated lifestyle we used to lead. In those days there were three main bars where the foreign community congregated – Sandy’s, Fred’s and Grumpy’s.
Sandy’s catered for an odd and anarchic clientele, who used to enjoy passing communal cigarettes around in the hidden garden – ironically almost next door to the Guardia Civil headquarters at the time. It tended to attract the artists and eccentrics.
Fred’s catered for the real old Ancient Brits. Fred himself (who had left the island a few years before I arrived) spoke about 20 words of Spanish and by all accounts was not ashamed of this. Some of his clientele, rumour has it, considered him to be a remarkable linguist.
Grumpy’s regulars fell between these two groups. They were more cosmopolitan than the Fred’s regulars, but refused to countenance the smoking of anything more outlandish than Marlboro’s. they kind of looked down on the Freddists as being too British, but also looked down on the Sandy’s crowd as being drug-crazed lunatics (maybe they had a point).
Fred’s succumbed to the bulldozers many years ago; the actual building that housed Sandy’s is still there (or at least it was last time I was in Ibiza), but with the front wall now demolished and the secret garden open to the outside world, the character of the place has irrevocably changed.
Grumpy’s was the last of the remaining strongholds of the old days. Once known as Los Corrales it was renamed by Mick and Trish Smith, and it seemed to live up to it’s moniker on a regular basis.
I have to take my hat off to Mick, who integrated into the local community very successfully. He spoke excellent Spanish, was a fanatical supporter of the Barcelona football club and celebrated in style late into the night around the local Spanish bars whenever Barcelona won anything, which happened quite often, even in those days.
The barmen in Grumpy’s seemed to take eccentricity to new heights, even for Ibiza. There was Baldomero, the smooth silver-tongued cavalier (in his mind at least) who, it seemed, could not see a woman without trying to chat her up. Then there was Andres with his musical obsessions: to this day I shudder when I hear Dire Straits.
Among the foreign community it was almost an initiation ritual to work in Grumpy’s. Irish Bobby was there for several years, the lovely Marilyn worked there for a long time and I well remember watching, open-mouthed, as the Berlin Wall went down on the bar television while I was waiting from my then girlfriend Gis to finish her shift in the restaurant.
And yes, I worked there myself – I kept the storeroom in order and worked behind the bar one evening a week for a couple of years. Depending on the mood and inclinations of the owners I often found myself running the place.
One of my crowning moments came when I threw the regular barman out of his own bar for rolling a joint in public. That took a bit of explaining when Mick and Trish returned!
Another came when the famous actor Denholm Elliott came in with a group of people from the UK. Now one of the endearing things about Denholm was that he liked being in Ibiza because people did not treat him like a star: he appreciated a joke at his own expense and really hated pomposity.
One of his companions asked me for a Creme de Menthe, which I duly served, with a chunk of ice.
“Oh,” he said in a bitchy tone, “don’t you serve the ice frappé?”
As the great man looked on, I theatrically washed my hands, delicately hooked the piece of ice out of his companion’s drink, added another couple of lumps of ice, carefully wrapped it up in (at least a clean) dishcloth and crashed it hard down on the bartop. The crash caught the attention of the rest of the bar, so I bashed it a few more times for good measure. I tipped a sort of icy mush back into the man’s drink – accompanied by an expectant silence:
Frappé” I announced loudly, with a theatrical bow, as I carefully wiped up the spilt shards of ice.
Fortunately I had gauged my audience well. Denholm Elliott roared with laughter, the rest of the group followed his lead, and his companion was obliged to accept his put-down with good grace. I sometimes wonder what I would have done if Denholm had not seen the funny side!
Thank you to Ibiza Lyn for permission to use her photograph of the demolition. I shall have to have a long drink tonight to toast the demise of Grumpy’s – maybe a Hierbas? What would your favourite Grumpy drink be?

Please share your memories by adding a comment below: