A Happy New Year?

For a number of years around 2018 – 2012 I conributed paid for columns to a number of the English Speaking Newspapers here in Spain: The Reader, The Sol Times, The Round Town News and The Euro Weekly News to name but four!

Reading through my notes for these columns, I was taken by a) how relevant many of them still are today, and b) I had no online record of them of my own.

So I have added the original submissions to this blog, so if you want to read them just search for expatarticles.

There are a LOT and I have no record of which were submitted to which paper so I have grouped them together into a series of short essays!

A Happy New Year?

Well we are a month into the New Year already but in all honesty does it feel New to you?

54 deaths on the roads of Spain over Christmas and the New Year ensured that it was a far from Happy New Year for many families. The fact that State pensions in Spain is now rising to 67 from January 1st will no doubt ensure a less than Happy New Year for several years to come as anyone born in or after 1948 – who will turn 65 in 2013 – will be affected by the change, and anyone born in or after 1960 – who will be 53 this coming year – will not be allowed to retire before they turn 67. Only those workers who have been paying Social Security – or had it paid by their employers – for a full 38 years will get their pensions between age 65 and 67 on a sliding scale until the year 2027.

The economy continues to be a mess with Spain said to be facing a 206€ billion sovereign debt problem, amid much talk already about the need for a bailout (which it needs and should request) and Spain leaving the Euro (which it won’t so I am not going to bother writing about).

Of course there are some reasons to be Happy: a recent poll claimed that Southerners drink more than Northeners when they are on holiday, and so with most airlines still operating out of the South of England there is a chance that they are at east bringing tourists over who will drink a lot. Those who classed themselves as living in the south admitted to drinking almost double the amount of units than those in the north, an average of 63.3 units a week compared to 36.8 units. According to the poll, men from the north drank an average of 42.5 units a week, mostly lager, and women, 31.2 units of what they said was mainly wine. This was a good deal less than men in the south, who admitted to consuming 67.3 units of alcohol. Their tipple of choice also differed, with the southern men claiming to drink mostly wine. Women from the south averaged 59.4 units, drinking mainly spirit mixers.

Unemployment fell in Spain in December for the first time since July 2012, but before you rush off and get too Happy Spain still has 4.85 million without a job, and across 2012, the number registered out of work was 10% higher than a year earlier.

Not so Happy then!

I suspect that many an expat won’t be too happy about the EU Directive 2012/126, which starts from January 19, which will mean that all British drivers in Spain under the age of 65 will have to take a medical every 10 years. Drivers over 65 however, will be required to take the test every five years. The medical examination will be a sight, hearing and co-ordination test in the form of a computer based driving simulation. Drivers can keep their UK licence, but must notify the DVLA of their Spanish residency and still be able to declare a UK address as their permanent residence. According to the new directive, a permanent residence is a place where a person usually lives for at least 185 days of the year.


Can anyone explain to me the justification for the UK to have new MP’s who can represent Brits living abroad? The justification put forward by Peter Johnson who is behind this hair brained idea (based on a similar concept in France I might add – cynically!) is that there are millions of Brits living abroad and they deserve a say in what goes on. Many of them are still paying tax in the UK in one way or another and they should have a say on where their money goes.

Wrong! If you decide to live abroad then as far as I am concerned that is where you live and that is where you should be worried about. Let’s face it most expats left the UK because they were fed up with the place, and during the time that they lived their they voted in MP’s who managed to turn the country into a place that they were fed up with. There is a lot of debate about the fact that currently expats can vote in UK elections but only in the constituency they last lived in, and for a maximum of 15 years. After this period, the right to vote is lost. The argument is that a ‘Expat MP’ would be able to address this issue but again why? If you don’t live in the UK why should you be able to vote in the UK. Same with the absurd situation where pensioners in Spain continue to get a UK winter allowance. How can that be right? To be honest I even struggle to have sympathy with the issue of frozen state pensions. Not because I think it is right that they are frozen, but they have been frozen for years so every pensioner that retired to Spain new that to be the fact when they made their decision to move to Spain so it is surely their problem if they didn’t factor the effect into that decision?

I am sorry but in my mind if you leave one country to go and live in another the clue is in the word ‘leave’. Maybe it is time for us Brits to address this whole living abroad business. Most other nations do it the other way round: they live abroad while they are young in order to earn more money, get more experiences, but they retire back home where they are surrounded by old friends, familiar traditions, comforting cultures. We Brits on the other hand seem to wait until a time of life when change is the last thing we need and then bungee jump straight into a world of total change!


It has been a busy start of the year for ALStrays with transports to the UK, France, Germany and Belgium. We transported 33 cats to Germany, 24 dogs to the UK and 1 cat to the UK, 3 dogs to Belgium, 5 dogs to France and 16 dogs to Germany. We also brought back 3 dogs from the UK to Spain and transported 15 dogs within Spain.

So certainly a Happy New Year for 100 cats and dogs that have all found new lives this year.

Already we have seen a continuation in the two growth trends from last year: expats returning to live in the UK and taking their rescue pet back with them, and holiday makers to Spain adopting a street animal that they fell in love with during their stay. We have also seen an increase in the numbers of Brits that are now spending more time back in the UK. Rather than live in Spain all the time they are now going back and forth, often to earn money in the UK, and we are getting return bookings to take their pets both ways. There has been a very slight increase as well in the number of Brits asking us to bring their dogs from the UK as they move to Spain.

Rescue of the Month: Hondon Valley Animal Rescue (HOVAR) www.facebook.com/hondonvar and www.hondonvar.com a registered charity in Valencia who have re-homed over 280 dogs. They have a charity shop in Nieves and are always appreciative of donations to sell, or indeed cash.

R.I.P. British High Streets

I am sure you have all seen the recent news stories relating to the ongoing demise of the British HIgh Street, as major brand after major brand are forced to close their doors. Perhaps your initial thought was similar to mine: that it was a shame. Well let me tell you that after traipsing round a couple of these so called High Streets on a recent trip back to the UK the sooner they do the decent thing and put them out of their misery the better. If they were a pet you would have no hesitation. much loved, never to be forgotten, but when your time is up it is up and better to go out with dignity and the minimum of pain. The High Streets have been a great servant to the Great British Public, have served a great purpose but now they are dying a slow, painful and undignified death.

I have a fondess for the High Street: early ventures into Hull with my parents as a young child were adventures and full of promise. Everything seemed so big, busy, bustling and brash. In later years nights out with ‘the boys’ in Newcastle under Lyme were similarly adventurous and full of promise, albeit of a different type.

I visited both of these High Streets recently and was left with an overriding sense of sadness at what they had become. If you don’t want an overpriced coffee, junk food or something from a market stall there is very little on offer. Without exception every shop that I went it didn’t stock the item was after: all suggested that I could buy it from their online site and have it delivered either home (useful) or to the store (why would I do that). When even the shops are ordering from their own online stores you know there time is up.

Of course it is easy to blame the growth in online shopping as the reason behind the decline of the High Street, and it has certainly contributed. So to though have the Gastro Pubs all over the country which mean you don’t need to venture into town for a meal, the huge retail parks that dominate and make it so much easier to park and get all your shopping in one place, tighter drink drive laws (no bad thing) which make using your local more attractive than finding a designated driver (or paying excessive Taxi fares as I found out recently in Coventry – where I spent 4 years at college and got to know very well), out of town cinemas …… I could go on.

Simply put there is just no need for the High Street in todays society, but that doesn’t need they couldn’t be put to good use. Close down all the shops and use the space for accommodation. Focus on the needy and those that can’t travel, and then provide the necessary shops to service these new communities.

The High Street is dead, long live the High Street!
Back here in Spain I was really sorry to see that Spain’s MP’s have voted to consider giving bullfighting special cultural status – a move that could overturn regional bans on the age-old tradition. In a 180-40 vote, the parliament backed a petition signed by 590,000 people. If the idea becomes law, it may roll back the ban in Spain’s regions of Catalonia and the Canary Islands. It may also provide tax breaks for promoters of bullfighting (corrida).

Bullfighting is just so unnecessary in todays world and I am sure the MP’s would be better focussing on other issues such as the fact that Spanish housing prices fall again in the fourth quarter. The average price per square metre of housing in Spain fell to 1,531.20€ in the last three months of 2012, a drop of 2.2 percent from the previous quarter and of 9.8 percent from the same year-ago period which means that prices have dropped by 27.1 percent since their peak in the first quarter of 2008.

Or how about the report that Spain’s economy shrank at the fastest pace in more than three years in the final quarter of 2012, putting a further 6 million jobs at risk. Total economic output slumped 0.7 percent from the previous quarter — the steepest decline since the re-birth of Spanish democracy after death of General Francisco Franco in 1975 — after a 0.3-percent dip the previous quarter. A separate report showed Spain’s unemployment rate shot to 26.02 percent in the fourth quarter — the highest in the Spanish democratic era — as 5.97 million people sought in vain for work.

Or the 5 day strike by Iberia staff over plans for the airline to reduce the workforce by 4.000.

Or the thousands that demonstrated recently pushing for a new law to end a wave of evictions of homeowners ruined by the economic crisis.

Or how about the issue of bin dipping and putting out rubbish at the wrong time. I kid you not. Locally we have had 26 instances here in Almerimar where people have been fined. Now I am y be wrong but my guess is that bin dipping isn’t a pastime of choice and those that do won’t have the money to pay a fine, so what is the point?

Surely these are far more important issues to debate and resolve that keeping a barbaric, inhuman and totally outdated ‘sport’ alive!
As for ALStrays another busy month, although unfortunately not always for the right reasons. We have spent a lot of time trying to get DEFRA to confirm exactly what would be required to transport the 25 rescue dogs from Bosnia that we are trying to help but they really don’t seem to know. Contradictory advice from one department from another, but that is the same to be honest with the issue of transporting more than 5 animals per person around the EU. It is allowed, it is possible, but getting them to confirm exactly which form and what license you need is somewhat frustrating.

As to be honest is the increased level of bitchiness and back stabbing that is going on within Animal Rescue at the moment. Considering that everyone is meant to be involved for the good of the poor abused and neglected animals there are lot of egos and personal agenda’s that get in the way. These needs to stop because some really good people are saying they are going to stop being involved and it is always wrong when the morons win!

Chris runs ALStrays Transport (www.alstrays.com) along with his wife Sandra, transporting re-homed cats and dogs twice a month between Spain, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium and the UK and are the transport service recommended by the Round Town News.

14 Funerals and a Wedding

At last a wedding to avoid rather than a funeral!

I say avoid because I steer clear of parties and large gatherings like the plague. Ideally I like 4 people round the meal table, although I have accepted that if you really want to enjoy a meal in Spain you need 6 of you to share a variety of dishes.

Once you reach a ‘certain age’ you are inevitably going to attend more funerals than weddings, or christenings, and if you live an expat lifestyle in or around a retirement community it is only to be expected that there will be a higher than average number of funerals.

But I am not being flippant with the headline to this column: I can recall 14 funerals in the last 6 months, and not one by natural causes aka old age. Again it is to be expected that expats with existing medical conditions opt for the sunshine, but even taking those into account it is staggering how many funerals there have been.

Of course living in a marina with 60+ bars, cafes and restaurants doesn’t help: nor does falling into the marina when drunk!
So the DGT want the Government to raise the speed limit to 130kph on motorways, and reduce it to as low as 20kph on other roads.

How stupid!

120kph is fast enough. I don’t believe that everyone is capable of driving at 130kph for sustained periods. It takes more concentration and requires faster reaction times.

Surely if they are happy to have people drive at 130kph why not leave the speed limit at 120kph rather than tempt/encourage people to drive faster and just have a no fine policy upto 130kph.

And have you ever tried to drive at 20kph? It is virtually impossible to drive that slow and keep yoyr eyes on the road. Try it if you don’t believe me. You are either continually changing gear or watching the speedometer to check your speed.

That can’t be safe?
As for ALStrays February was another busy month. We were fortunate to be able to help 100 cats and dogs get to their new homes.

We have received a number of enquires through the Round Town News, and work with a number of amazing organisations and people from the Costa Blanca.

If you are considering having a rescue animal, or your pet, transported to the UK please ensure that the pet passport is correct. It is amazingly simple and we have examples and information on www.alstrays.com but the Spanish vets tend not to know what needs doing. This month alone 4 dogs been transported by other transport organisations have had to be left in kennels in Calais because of issues with their passports.

If you are considering adopting a rescue dog please only deal with a reputable organisation. There are some dedicated and exceptional people involved in the animal rescue world but my advice is to ensure they are aligned to an orgsnisation that will ensure all dogs are Leishmania tested, that proper adoption contracts are used, that accredited home checkers are used, that there is a Plan B for the animal if the adoption doesn’t work out and that a properly accredited and certified transporter is used.

And finally …… thanks for the emails regarding previous columns. To be honest I spend a lot of time driving through the void that is France so it is refreshing to know I am not writing into a void as well.

Pay As You Weigh

I wonder how many of you noticed that within the last couple of weeks the South Pacific airline Samoa Air became the first airline to charge passengers according to their size: 29p per kilo for the combined weight of their luggage and themselves.

Let’s get the personal opinion out of the way first: great idea!

I feel pretty safe taking that view as a recent poll in the UK suggested that 63% share my view, 29% oppose me, and 8% aren’t sure. Or looked at another way: it wouldn’t effect 63% of people, 29% of people are too fat, and 8% aren’t sure if their current diet is going to work!

Can’t you picture the Ryan Air approach. Scales on the steps as you board the flight, and a big neon sign above the door flashing how much you will have to pay. This would work in two ways for Ryan Air as it would also stop people wearing all their clothes to fly rather than pay the excessive baggage charges.
Sticking with flights for a moment a number of new laws are being introduced by the EU to ‘help’ passengers including the fact that airlines which cancel flights will have to book you onto a rival airline if they don’t have a flight within 12 hours to offer you.

Airlines will have to pay for a maximum of three nights hotel accommodation if passengers get stranded because of cancelled flights and probably of most relevance to us all: airlines are to be banned from charging a fee to correct a misspelling of your name.

Not such good news as airports in Spain will start charging a euro for passengers to use luggage trolleys, according to AENA. They intend to start doing so in Madrid’s Barajas airport and then gradually extend the move to six other airports. These will include Tenerife South, Alicante, Barcelona’s El Prat airport, Palma de Mallorca, Málaga and Gran Canaria – all the major flight destinations for Spain’s most popular holiday resort towns
Health Tourism has long been an issue for Spain so it is easy to understand why they would want to clamp down on the exploitation of the EHIC card, but two wrongs have never made a right. I say this because I read recently that tourists to SPain are being warned that hospitals are reportedly paying inducements to tour operators, taxi drivers and even the police to get ill tourists to attend cash strapped hospitals. These hospitals then refuse to take the EHIC card, which can really hurt the elderly tourist with a pre existing condition.
Reasonable to assume that many reading this are pensioners living in Spain, who have been hit hard by the reduced value of their pensions. Doubt it will be much comfort but you could be worse off! Read a survey last week which listed the change in the relative value of pensions for expats buy country.

Eurozone -22%
Australia -47%
US -8%
Canada -36%
New Zealand -38%
South Africa +6%
Thailand -36%
Switzerland -34%
Jamaica +66%
Philippines -32%

See you in Jamaica then ……..
Back here in Spain it really is getting worse! Apparently 860,000 young people on the dole say they have simply given up looking for jobs, because they no longer believe they will find one.

Research by ASEmpleo says those who were aged 25 and under when they were made redundant between the end of 2007 and late 2012 and have not found work since do not believe they will ever get a job again.
Bizarre story of the month: certain musical instruments are going to require passports! Instruments made from the skin or bone of endangered animals will be prevented from crossing borders without a passport under a new system designed to make it easier for orchestras to travel. The owner of a piano with ivory keys or a violin bow crafted from tortoise shell will need to apply for a passport under the system agreed today by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead

What irony. The Iron Lady would no doubt be chuckling, and dare I say it, turning in her grave with the news that the plan to use the song Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead has somewhat backfired which as many versions of the Andre Lloyd Webber Original Cast Version from the recent musical outselling the original Munchkins version from the 30’s. Webber must be as good an example off the Thatcher generation as anyone, and she would no doubt be delighted that he has been raking in the cash once again.

Of course it was all a farce! There should never have been any question of banning the song, but nor should there have been any public funeral either (weird to think that it was the most ineffective Prime Minister post war Gordon Brown that approved it all). Whatever you think of her she was at the end of the day just a Prime Minister. One of many that we have had that did their job, retired and cashed in via memories and lecture tours.

I can see the merits in a State Funeral for Churchill, after all one suspects that the nation as a whole were grateful for his service during the war, but Thatcher ………

Time will tell as they say and so it was interesting to see that the convertible car that Churchill used for his campaigning recently sold for 600.000€ or so (on eBay as the original auction house couldn’t sell it). I somewhat doubt that any vehicle used by Thatcher will fetch anything like that.

Quality, like cream, always rises to the top as they say.
Turning to the news in Spain it has to be encouraging that tourists spend in Spain was up 13.7% in March to 3.28€ billion, although I remain amazed at the averages: 963€ per person per holiday and 110€ per person per day.

As ever the devil is in the detail with Germany, France and the Nordic countries contributing most tourists, with Catalonia and the Canary Islands remaining the most popular. Tourists from the United Kingdom spent a total of 632€ million euros (up 2.2% on March 2012), the focus for this increase being the regions of Andalucia and Catalonia. The spend per British tourist rose while their average spend per day remained stable.

Despite the headlines it is hard to see that this is reason for huge optimism amongst the British expat businesses?
I wonder how many expats considering ‘handing in the keys’ to their property in Spain and return to the UK have heard of Joan Deak? She has been threatened with an embargo on her London home after a Costa del Sol-based buyer came after her UK assets. She and a business partner invested in two unfinished apartments in Mirador de Torreblanca, near Fuengirola in 2004. They put down a deposit of 69.000€ on the two apartments, which were due to be finished later that year. However, the following year, with progress moving increasingly slowly they decided to sell the option – at a loss – on one of the unfinished apartments.

Shorty after she began to receive letters from the disgruntled Spanish buyer now demanding his money back, and unknown to Joan, under Spanish Law, the buyer is able to come after her UK assets and force the sale of her UK residence, in order to get his money back.

I know a number of people that are awaiting the outcome with baited breath (and crossed fingers) as it could have huge implications for many other UK residents who sold on options to third party buyers. If this case goes through and the plaintiff wins, it could open the floodgates to everyone who sold on an option to build… even, as in this case, the property was never built!
People often ask what can be done in Spain to help reduce the issue of the stray cats and dogs. Education and a change in attitude are the two main ways in my view, so two stories really irritated this week!

A survey has revealed that nearly one in five pet-owners never takes their animal to the vet – not even for initial injections and regular boosters. According to the veterinary pharmaceutical company CEVA, a total of 18% do not take their cats, dogs or other animals to the vet when they are ill nor have them injected against fatal feline and canine diseases – partly due to the economic crisis which means owners can no longer afford vet bills. with vet bills now attracting the higher rate of IVA many simply can’t afford the costs despite the fact that vets in Spain charge much lower fees for treating animals than in the UK.

Local to me the council in Turre have just rejected a motion to commence a pet spaying and neutering campaign, saying they have no money, and once again proving the short term nature of politicians: the protector’s are all full, strays are roaming the streets. Spain continues to attract negative publicity but are they willing to do anything about it …..
And finally more EU madness as the traditional olive oil decanter found on every single restaurant table and bar counter is Spain has been banned by the EU, and Spain will now pass a law with immediate effect to order their withdrawal. The EU reckons that consumers are being misled by the use of refillable olive oil decanters on tables, as you don’t know exactly what type of olive oil you are being served. The new ruling will take effect as from the 1st of January 2014.

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