Andalucia Steve

...living the dream

A pat on the back for me

..I made it half way through a year of weekly blogging.
 
My new year's resolution was to publish a weekly blog post ever Sunday throughout 2020. Well this week we will pass the mid-point of the year and so far I've managed to stick to my goal. So this week I thought I would explain why I'm doing it and what I've learned so far.
 
I'm not new to blogging but previously I'd only ever written articles as the mood took me, which has the downside that there are gaps where sometimes months would go by where I'd not got around to writing anything. This not only deters human readers but the algorithms used by search engines which learn that one's blogging is irregular making it unlikely that one's pages ever get returned in response to a search. While I'm not overly concerned about this as I'm not blogging with the intention of making money, it would be nice to get some traction so the whole exercise doesn't entirely feel like a waste of time.
 
I made the resolution in response to 2019 being a really unproductive year for me. It was the first year I can remember that I felt I'd achieved nothing. I'd done no new work, not acquired any new business, not written any music, song lyrics or written anything of note. I'd done some courses and learned some new skills but I just felt so guilty that I'd not made anything. My creative output was zero and that made me feel mad at myself.
 
Also I'd noticed that the people who are most successful in any sphere are the ones who make a schedule and stick to it. There are plenty of examples I could cite but perhaps the most extraordinary is the Youtuber Casey Neistat who managed to produce a daily Vlog everyday for over a year. He created a staggering two days, eleven hours and 56 minutes spread over 419 videos over that time, representing a an admirable work ethic. I figured if he can make a video everyday for a year, a weekly blog post should be a breeze.
 
Another thing I'd been considering is the importance of story telling. I'd completely missed this crucial point until very recently, that in conveying an idea from one person to another, story telling is at the heart of all communication. If I were to look at a book for example, it's not just that the book conveys a tale, but every chapter should have a clear beginning, middle and an end. So should every paragraph, if not every sentence. As Kurt Vonnegut said, every sentence must do one of two things - reveal character or advance the action. It is in effect a mini-story. 
 
The importance of story underpinning everything maybe obvious, especially to the more creative types out there, but for me it is quite a new idea and I began to realise that it was a skill I needed to advance. I was struck by the example in the book 'Art and Fear' by David Bayles, Ted Orland of a craft class that was divided in two. One half of the class was instructed to make the best pot it could possible make. The other half of the class was instructed to make as many pots as they possibly can. At the end of the semester the students that had been churning out pots and learning from their mistakes made much higher grades than the students seeking perfection who finished with "little more than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay". Clearly by forcing myself to write something (anything) once per week I would learn from the mistakes I made and I would get better.
 
So I decided to write one blog post a week for a year. I drew up a schedule with the date of every Sunday in 2020 and started to assign topics to each one. I used the app Evernote to keep track of my ideas and got into the habit of jotting down any thoughts that came up.
 
After little over a month I noticed a routine emerging. Immediately after publishing the weekly blog post I would start thinking what I would write about in the next week. Some weeks I already had assigned a topic. For example I'm planning to write about my late father on the 23 August which is his birthday. For weeks that had not yet been assigned a topic, I would look at my list of ideas and start thinking about which one I felt most drawn to. Over the next few days my unconscious mind would stew over the topics, then by the Wednesday I would usually have made a decision. I would then create a new note in Evernote for the topic. I would perhaps jot down a list of bullet points of thoughts I'd come up with so far, then leave it for another day or two for my subconscious mind to 'chew the cud' before finally sitting down to write the whole blog post in full. This I would do very quickly, without attention to spelling, and I would write in a dry, factual style with little in the way of elaboration or humour. This was in order to try to open a stream of consciousness going from brain to page with the least obstruction.  Once that was done I would go through and correct errors, address style issues and add gags to jolly the mood. I've found this business of deliberately not thinking about it too much, but letting the subconscious mind do the work is surprisingly successful. The subconscious mind is, I believe, like a quantum computer. We don't really understand how it works but expose a problem to it and it solves it for you! 
 
I've had some good feedback so far. I seem to have a small regular readership that comes from promoting the blog on Facebook and an additional 'irregular' readership that arrive according to topic in response to promotion I do via Twitter. So far I've managed to be consistent and have not missed a Sunday slot yet, though I have chewed through many of my initial topic ideas many of which come from personal anecdotes. The well of these is running dry so I may soon have to start writing about things that are further from my own experience. 
 
One of the things I've learned is not to be overly judgemental about what I write. If I were to worry in advance about pleasing everyone who is conceivably going to to read my article I'd probably never get anything done. In fact I've come to realise I've not even got to worry about pleasing myself, because I'd never be 100% with anything I've written but that shouldn't prevent me from releasing a post. There is also a destructive side to judgmentalism in that when you put something down on paper and you don't like it, it is very easy to reflect that back on yourself and say "I don't like that therefore I don't like me", which can induce a negative cycle of thought and energy which destroys the creative process. It is important to remain a certain level of detachment for critiquing one's own working so that the process of improving and rewriting things does not destroy one's self-confidence (a topic covered in the book "The Inner Game of Tennis by W Timothy Gallwey).
 
That notwithstanding I apologise if this weeks post is a little self-indulgent. Looking at my blog calendar I can't tell you next week I will be writing of my recollections of the Live Aid Concert I attended in 1985.

Remembering Lady Di

Personal memories including the day she nearly ran me over.
 
At the beginning of the 1980's Britain was in a fairly dark place. An economic, social and cultural transition was happening. The country was in need of a fairy tale and it got one in the shape of the much publicised romance between Prince Charles and Diana Frances Spencer, who was born on 1 July 1961. Since this is the week of Diana's birth I thought I jot down a few memories and observations. 
 
We never met face to face but our paths did cross a couple of times. By the time I first saw her in person I felt already knew her, such was the media frenzy when her relationship with the Prince first came to light. I've never seen one person so relentlessly exploited by the media before or since. It was like Beatlemania though the focus was on a single, young individual. Doubtless she had a notion that she would be 'stepping in to the spotlight' but I really don't think she or anybody had the foggiest idea of the level of hysteria that would be whipped up by the world's press. Her face was on every newspaper, magazine and TV show. From the announcement of the royal engagement in February in 1981 to the Royal Wedding in July 1981 (watched by a worldwide audience of 750 million), Diana's face became one of the most recognisable on planet earth.
 
I had no problem then recognising the woman on my first encounter. I was working in Kensington at the time and as usual I alighted from the train at Olympia from which my office, Charles House, was but a short walk. I crossed Kensington High Street using the pedestrian crossing. Although the traffic lights had changed to red and I'd taken several steps into the road, a Mercedes came hurtling out of nowhere heading straight for me. As I stepped back out of harm's way I eyeballed the driver. It was Lady Diana! She give me the sweetest apologetic look and mouthed the word 'sorry'. I think by this time she had taken to using a gym in Chelsea and was presumably coming back from her morning work out. I was surprised she was alone in the car, and that there didn't seem to be any other vehicles following her by way of a security detail. It was just her and me and a near fatal accident. One has to keep one's eyes open while walking the streets of Kensington. On one occasion I found myself within a few feet of getting mown down by TV personality and Mastermind winner, Fred Housego in his taxi. On another, I gave star of and stage and screen Una Stubbs a break-test in her Beamer while crossing the road at Phillimore gardens. The look on her face wasn't quite so enchanting as lady Di's!
 
The second time I got to see Diana at close quarters was when she came to our office. Part of the building was given over to a hospital trust and she had been invited to perform the official opening of the new wing. This occasion was much more auspicious. She had her best togs on and hair and make-up was immaculate, a far cry from the startled gym-veteran I'd seen before. There were limousines, an entourage of assistants and a legion of photographers. My office on the fourth floor overlooked the main entrance where the circus arrived. I didn't get to see her inside the building though I could hear there was a hell of a buzz coming from the next corridor. The thing I most remember was that when she left the building, she acknowledged all of us plebs rubber-necking out of the windows. She did a slow-spin waiving at all of us. Somehow she gave the impression of having made eye-contact with everybody looking down at her which I considered quite thoughtful and professional. 
 
The other strong memory I have of lady Diana was of her death. The wife and I were on holiday in Cyprus when it happened. We learned about it rather accidently from flicking through the Greek TV channels. Being pre-internet, there wasn't really any further way in which we could learn anything more about it, so we got over the initial shock quite easily. I recall going out to dinner that evening and I made a remark about it that was overheard by an English couple on the next table. We started chatting about it by way of catharsis and became friends. The rest of the week went by without being confronted with anymore information about it and in our minds it was done and dusted - out of our system. I thought that was the end of it.
 
When we flew into Gatwick a week later though we found out it had just been the start. With the same intensity the media had paid her way back at the announcement of her engagement, the press and TV had been relentless in the coverage of her death. The nation's grief button had been massaged daily, imbuing in people a much more profound sense of loss than we had because we hadn't been exposed to the media. I'm not saying we didn't feel anything, but what everyone in Britain was feeling was just out of step with our own experience. It was like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Even the sort of cynical folk who would normally have a sick joke at the expense of a regular celebrity death were weeping into their handkerchieves. The whole business made me realise how powerful the media are when it comes to manipulating hearts and minds. The mood of the nation might not be created by the media but it certainly can be amplified and polarised. 

Dead dog story

The tale of how I came to bury my canine friend

I mentioned in a previous post that I preferred cats to dogs. I have had several dogs in the past, one of whom, Leon, got a mention, so I thought I'd tell you a little about him here.

Leon came with the Spanish country house my wife and I bought in Murcia in 2003. The sellers were elderly people downsizing into a townhouse and it was thought with Leon being an outdoor dog in the country that it would be unfair and frankly a bit of a gamble to expect him to adapt to life in the confines of the indoors.

When I first met Leon he barked his head off as the estate agent pulled up to the gates of the property in her 4x4. He was just alerting the owner to our arrival. I later learned visitors could tell whether anyone was home or not because if someone appeared at the gate while we were out, Leon wouldn't bark. Why should he? Leon was a clever guy.

We got to know the previous owners quite well. For the first few years they would visit from time to time to see Leon ask how we were getting on. We learned that he was a purebred German Shepherd they had got in Barcelona. Apparently their son worked in Barcelona and they used to visit from time to time. It struck me Catalan was his first language, Castellano his second, yet he still seemed to understand me in English.  He was more familiar with the area than I was and guided me on many a long walk on the tracks and hills where we lived. Like I say, was a clever guy!

Not long after we moved in, some builders had to replace the old bathroom so I built a crude commode with a bucket and an old chair with a hole cut in it. On one occasion I dug a hole in the garden and poured in the waste for burial when Leon leapt out of nowhere, picked up a piece of poo with his teeth and ran off with it, chewing away as best a dog can. I was more cautious about letting him lick me after that.

Leon's appetite never failed to amaze me. I visited my neighbour Manolo one day when he happened to be eviscerating a freshly killed chicken. Casually he pulled out the various guts and tossed them to Leon who had obviously played this game before. Seeing him chomping down on hearts, lungs and the giblets made me feel kind of queasy but Leon was as happy as Larry, his big bushy tail whipping up a minor dust storm in the dry sandy yard.

Leon was getting pretty old by this time. One day I got a phone call to say he had died. I was working in the next village and couldn't get back until late afternoon where I saw my wife sat on the patio next to poor old Leon covered with a sheet. It had been very sudden, probably his heart gave out. I thought we better get him cremated or something so I popped into town to see the local vet. When I asked him if he could arrange for the disposal of the body he threw me a puzzled look and explained they don't do that sort of thing, at least not in this part of Spain. Just bury him in the garden.

"Oh" he said "Leon is a big dog. Make sure the hole you dig is deep enough". The vet knew Leon, having had many previous wrestling matches with him in the past for inoculations and on one occasion a little dentistry.

I went back home and got my 'azada', a sort of sturdy, square shaped hoe that the farmers use to dig holes and trenches here, and tried to dig. Well it was the middle of July, the ground was bone dry and rock hard. There was zero chance of me being able to dig a hole even vaguely big enough and time was not on our side. Burials are traditionally performed quickly in Spain before, well, things start to go off.

So then the hunt started for help. I made a few phone calls but no joy, then we were joined by an English neighbour who recommended her gardener, Ginez. I knew him vaguely as a farmer with a property not far away from me and I had spoken with him once or twice at a few social events. It turned out he had a small mechanical digger which was just what we needed to dig a grave. I made the call...

"Ginez, my dog died. Can you dig a hole to put him in"

"Yes, but I'm out of town" he replied.

"I'm working in Caravaca. I'll come when I've finished"

Caravaca was the next town along, only a couple of miles as the crow flies so I was hopeful it wouldn't be too long.

Well we waited and waited. The wine came out and a few more neighbours came to see what's up. It started to turn into a wake for Leon.

Some hours later I phoned Ginez back and asked if he was still coming.

"Yes I'm on my way now he said"

What he didn't tell me was that he was driving the tiny digger on its sluggish caterpillar tracks all the way back from where he'd been working! By the time he pitched up it was gone half ten in the evening! The digger slower came through the gates and we showed Ginez the dog and started to scope out possible burial sites. Ginez removed his John Deere baseball cap to scratch his head, revealing that a farmer's tan is a universal thing among the tractor driving fraternity.

He explained the problem was there was nowhere to bury Leon inside the property. Although the grounds measure 1500 square metres, half of it was given over to a white gravel drive, and the other half was an orchard. The drive would be a pain because we would have to scrape back the gravel and replace it, and would probably have water pipes going through it anyway that could be an issue if we hit one. The trees in the orchard were all too close together. Although the digger is small it needs room to manoeuvre so he couldn't dig a hole there unless we removed several trees.  

We went and look outside the property. There was an unfenced area just to the right of the front gate with a hut on it that belonged to a local goat farmer, who had fortunately given up the goats quite recently and now lived in Caravaca. He came back to potter from time to time but I figured if buried Leon there and 'covered our tracks' well enough he probably wouldn't even notice.

Ginez got to work and in half and hour or so we laid poor Leon to rest, covered the hole, said a few words and then started scattering grass and bracken over the grave to disguise its existence. It was quite an inauspicious end to a loyal security dog and friend but in the years that followed I realized I felt quite comforted by the notion of Leon in that spot outside the main gate, guarding the property for eternity! RIP Leon.

Happy Birthday Donald Trump

..but why are you so unpopular?
 
When Sting released "If I lose my faith in you" in 1993" no one could have imagined this line from the song would be so prescient:
 
You could say I'd lost my belief in our politicians
They all seemed like game show hosts to me
 
Yet here we are in 2020 and there is both a game show host in the Whitehouse and in 10 Downing Street.
 
(In the case of The Whitehouse, Donald Trump was the presenter of the US television reality TV show The Apprentice, that adjudged the business skills of a group of contestants. Boris Johnson was a guest presenter on the British topical news quiz 'Have I Got News For You' on four occasions.) 
 
Today, the 14 June 2020 is the President's 74th birthday and for weeks now the good people of Twitter have been conspiring to flood the service with pictures of Barrack Obama just to piss Trump off. Despite his media popularity prior to becoming president, Trump's average approval rating is languishing at 40% which is the lowest of any president in modern times.
 
Obama Portrait 2006 Yougov puts Johnson's popularity at 39%  and, in another poll specifically related to his handling of the COVID crisis, the Daily Express reported on Jun 9 that Johnson had "the lowest approval rating worldwide
 
Why then have they become so unpopular? Could it be that they share certain flaws?
 
Both men have a number of things in common. They both bat for their respective country's mainstream right-wing parties, the Republicans and the Conservatives. They've both achieved media popularity through a lot of self-promotion, cultivating a somewhat roguish images with colourful personal lives. Both know how to showboat for the cameras, whether it be Johnson waving Union Flags while hanging of a zip line, or Trump putting his hair on the line in Wrestlemania 23
 
Also somewhat sinisterly, they have both dodged accusations of links to foreign interference in the democratic process, with Trump narrowly avoiding being impeached and Johnson so far refusing to publish the Russia Report by the Intelligence and Security committee which may contain details of outside meddling in the Brexit referendum in 2016.
 
The more one considers the parallels between Trump and Johnson, the uncannier it becomes. Both have been in charge of their respective countries during the 2020 fight and against Covid-19 and both have failed spectacularly to contain the disease by delaying lock-downs that were in any case insufficiently comprehensive nor were they enforced with much vigour.  Both are still failing to implement the most basic tracking and tracing that many countries have had in place for months.
 
Both have a tetchy relationship with the press, preferring to address the nation directly through social media or prerecorded video. When they are forced to appear in front of the press, they have both banned journalists of national mainstream media outlets who have previously dared to report them in an unfavourable light.

Also, and rather unfortunately in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent avalanche of 'Black Lives Matter' protests, both men have been accused of racism, claims which they of course vehemently deny. Johnson wrote in the Spectator in 2002 that "..the problem with Africa is that we are not in charge any more". Referring to Blair's visit to Africa in the same year, Johnson wrote in the Telegraph  "What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies," he wrote, referring to African people as having "watermelon smiles." In defence, Johnson dismissed the words saying they had been "taken out of context." Trump meanwhile has a lengthy Wikipedia entry entirely devoted to cataloguing his racial views making it as easy to find evidence of his racism as shooting fish in a barrel, from calling African countries shitholes to calling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers. 
 
Both Johnson and Trump have a similar track record when it comes to the LGBTQ community, with Johnson calling called gay men 'tank-topped bumboys' in a 1998 Telegraph column, while Trump has just distinguished himself by rolling back Obama era healthcare protections for transgender patients two week into Pride Month.  which is the latest in a series of rollbacks of transgender rights. You couldn't make it up!
 
Almost inevitably then both men are similarly accused of sexism. From Johnson's long career in journalism there is a seemingly endless source of quotes where he demeans and patronises women, from advising his successor at the Spectator to "Pat her bottom and send her on her way" when referring to the journal's publisher  Kimberly Quinn, to once claiming that "Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts". 
 
Trump of course was famously caught on tape speaking of "grabbing them by the pussy". His history of sexism and misogyny is longer than Johnson's. 'The Week' has a list of "61 things Donald Trump has said about women" which is staggering! The guy just doesn't have a part of his brain that audits whether what he is saying about women is appropriate or not. One of my particular favourites was the time when he and his daughter Ivanka were interviewed on 'The View' and he cringingly said if she wasn't his daughter he'd probably be dating her. Eew!
 
So many happy returns Mr Trump but you know what? If Marilyn Monroe was alive today I don't think she would be seductively singing you happy birthday!

Views on Spanish Cuisine

What's the inside track on the food we eat in Spain
I'm on comfy ground writing about food. I like it. I eat some every day. In fact I'd struggle to live without it. So here I'm going to dispel a few myths about Spanish nosh and probably make myself unpopular with the tourist board into the bargain.
 
Or maybe not. In the village in Murcia where I lived until 2009 there was a chap who worked in the tourist office called Santi, who was born and raised in the Basque country. While chatting one day I asked him what he missed about being so far away from home.
 
"The food" he said. His face was a picture as his mind drifted away in deep culinary reverie. Now I'd heard the reputation of Basque cuisine first hand since my neighbour Manolo and his wife had not long returned from a gastronomic coach trip touring eateries from Galicia to San Sebastian. Santi confirmed what they'd told me, that the food in the North of Spain is a cut above the food in the South. He put forward a bold theory that the high temperature experienced by the South of Spain for much of the year was a deterrent against cooking. Who wants to be stuck in a hot kitchen all day? In fact the kitchen is often purposefully kept away from the house. I'd been working with an estate agent at the time and I'd noticed a trend for houses to have 'summer' kitchens, often in a separate building. One old lady giving me a tour around her property showed me a pristine kitchen that looked as it had been totally unused, and probably it hadn't, because she then took me to another hut four doors up the street where she said she did most of her daily cooking!
 
Another consequence of Santi's conjecture is that simplicity is a common characteristic of the culinary art in the South. Generally the dishes here are prepared with as little fuss as possible, again as a conservation measure in the battle with the heat. I'll cover a few dishes I've encountered while living here, all of which will be noted for their simplicity.
 
The first thing I was taught to cook here (by my neighbour Jose - he of the Swimming Pool Saga post from last week) was chicken in garlic. If you've not had this you must try it. The same process can be used to cook rabbit and works just as well. Fry the chicken in oil on a medium heat for 15 minutes until it is nearly done, then near the end of the cooking process, throw in a handful of chopped garlic. Let the garlic cook for a few more minutes, then just as it threatens to brown, pour in half a cup of vinegar. As if by magic the vinegar boils, taking the garlic flavour into the meat and leaving a dry saucy residue. Plate it up and eat. Couldn't be simpler! I understand this technique was popular in Portugal, and was taken by Portuguese sailors to India during the Age of Discovery where it was adopted and developed into Vindaloo (from Carne de vinha d'alhos meaning meat with wine and garlic).
 
Another friend gave me a good lesson in cooking garlic prawns (Gambas al Ajillo). You can Google the recipe. It's pretty simple and widely available online. Tips I got from her was that she heated the individual sized clay dishes (cazuelitas) on the stove top - I'd always assumed they were heated in the oven. Also she used the cheapest olive oil called suave or refinado. I thought it would be all extra virgin but no, with the strong flavour of the garlic, the prawns and the cayenne pepper pods, you'd be hard pushed to tell the difference between the flavour of the oils so use the cheapest!  
 
Of all the dishes Spain is famous for however, seafood paella must be the best known. Strangely I don't think I've ever had it once since I moved here. This is probably because I live inland. Don't get me wrong, they get the paella pans out here and cook rice in it, but I've rarely seen fishy ingredients. Rabbit yes, vegetables yes, chicken yes, snails oh yes!! Again, it's an easy way to cook and a a rabbit and a kilo of rice will feed ten people from a one metre pan. Rabbit with rice (arroz con conejo) was therefore a popular choice during the summer fiestas of the towns in and around the North West of Murcia. Another popular fiesta treat is tortilla in bread. I found the doubling of carbs in having potatoes in a baguette quite heavy going but they serve them by the hundreds at the local feria. 
 
Tray of chicken straight from the bread oven
 
If you've never been to a Spanish feria, these are local events where a town or part of a city takes three or four days to party, with food and drink forming a big part of the celebrations. My best feria food-fest was in an office I worked in. The boss's extended family turned up in number to the office and on this particular day they brought with them a huge kitchen tray, about a metre wide and a metre and a half long. They filled the tray (pictured) with dozens of chicken quarters, added potatoes, tomatoes, lemons, onions, garlic, oregano and lashings of olive oil. Then half a dozen people ceremoniously picked up the tray and proudly marched it to the local bakers where it was cooked in the bread oven. I don't think I've eaten anything quite so delicious made from such basic ingredients! This has influenced the way I roast a chicken - now I always add the same ingredients and it tastes much better. 
 
One disappointing note about the cuisine in Southern Spain is the lack of vegetables, making it tricky for vegetarians and vegans to eat out. I find many restaurants think of meat/fish first, then add chips and maybe a little salad by way of a garnish. If it's a posh place and you're lucky you might get some goo that consists of a few varieties of seasonal veg boiled to death in tomato sauce for a couple of hours so you can barely identify what you're eating. Bread is served with everything, which together with the obsession with chips and dearth of vegetable makes me very sceptical about the merits of the so called 'Mediterranean Diet'. As someone explained to me recently, the chap who came up with the notion (Ancel Keys) did so after visiting the island of Crete, noting how fit and well-aged the population was. Apparently he visited the island during lent so had a rather skewed view of what was being eaten and he neglected to take into account his visit took place just after WW2, a period of harsh austerity when food was scarce and the population aged artificially because of the younger members of society being killed in the fighting. Untroubled by such facts, Keys got it into his head that the diet was the cause and went back to America creating his famed Seven Nation study to prove his idea, the results of which have since been widely discredited. However the myth that the food in this part of the world is some kind of panacea persists to this day.
 
If however your appetite has been whetted by all this talk of grub, I suppose it would be fitting of me to offer you something for afters to finish with. Many of the desserts in Spain are things you would find elsewhere, ice cream, flans, rice-pudding etc. One that was new to me which I took a liking to was fresh peaches soaked over night in red wine - yum! By experimentation I found this works best by adding a little brandy too and by soaking the peaches in the fridge it makes the perfect supper for a hot summer evening.

The Swimming Pool Saga

This is the story of a swimming pool. Moreover it illustrates how folk work together to get things done in Spain.
 
The missus and I bought an old farm house in the latter part of 2003. One of the things that drew us to the property was a walled courtyard of about 15 metres by 15 metres which afforded us the opportunity to sunbathe in the nuddy. 
 
Towards the end of the following spring it started to get really hot. By the end of May the wife got the unshakeable notion in her head that a swimming pool would be required to get us through the summer. We made enquiries and got the same answer everywhere, that a proper sunken pool starts at two million pesetas (about 12,000 euros). Spain joined the euro on the 1st January 1999 but to this day, many Spanish people evaluate large purchases such as houses and cars in terms of pesetas. Curiously in the run up to the changeover to the euro, Spanish car-dealers did a roaring trade in Mercs and Beamers as panicked savers snapped up luxury cars as a way to launder the black money under their mattresses. I was told Murcia sold more 'Berliners' than anywhere in the world that year, a fact which I've been unable to verify but it sounds highly likely!
 
Anyway getting back to the story, 12,000 euros was way over budget so we looked at alternatives. We hit on the idea that an above-ground pool would not only be a cheaper solution but a quicker and easier one. We could easily fit one into the courtyard and by not having to dig down (which would require re-routing sewage and water pipes) we would make life a lot easier for ourselves. At this point we enlisted the help of our Spanish neighbour Jose who went with us to the shop to choose a pool. Involving Jose turned out to be a fortuitous decision. Although he worked in fruit canning and juicing factory, like all Spanish men he seemed to have innate knowledge of the building trade. What I knew about mixing cement at that time could have been etched on the head of a pin, so I was very glad when it became apparent that we needed a concrete base for the pool, that Jose volunteered to help build it. 
 
My wife unsurprisingly went for the largest pool we could comfortably fit in the space available. I can't remember the exact price but it was in the region of 1500 euros, a far more reasonable figure. It was roughly eight by four metres in size. There was a large steel skirt that went around the perimeter of the pool which was supported by metal buttresses, so we marked out on the ground a kind of 8x4m rectangle with legs every metre or so for the supports. Though the courtyard seemed level to the eye, it dropped by about 30 centimetres from one end to the other. This meant our base was 30 centimetres deep at one end, which required far more concrete than I had expected.
 
Jose led the work, turning up in his van with a cement bath, shovels, hoes and buckets etc. All this was new to me. We began by creating a mould with old bits of wood that followed the design we made on the ground, then Jose showed us how to mix the concrete. If you're not familiar with a cement bath it is a poor man's cement mixer, a metal tray about two metres long and a metre wide having the depth and appearance of a squared-off bathtub. The idea is to mix the concrete by using a hoe, pulling it backwards a forwards to bring all the ingredients together. We soon found it was back-breaking work, especially since it was already reaching 30 degrees at nine in the morning.
 
We all took turns mixing the bath and carrying bucket after bucket to fill the mould in the yard. It took the three of us the best part of a day but we finally had a base to be proud of. As we surveyed our work, Jose said he would return at the weekend with his family to erect the structure of the pool. It didn't sink in when he said 'the family' but because the steel skirt was so heavy it would take more than the three of us to manhandle it into place.
 
The Saturday came and several cars pulled up in the drive. Sons, brothers, sisters, in-laws, aunties and uncles teamed out of the vehicles, many of whom we'd never met despite having been to many social events at Jose's country house. There must have been twenty or thirty people, all cheerfully helping the foreigners build a pool. We trooped into the courtyard and unrolled the massive metal skirt. Even with Jose's skillful direction it took a good half an hour to manoeuvre the huge steel structure into place, with everyone holding their section and shuffling back and forth to get the perfect fit. Then we started to bolt on the side supports. It took a couple of hours until everyone could tentatively let go of the skirt and start the other tricky task of fitting the giant pool liner. The thing that most struck me throughout this process was how all these people, some of them complete strangers, were not only volunteering their time, but all the while they were happy, joking and generally having fun! I've since come to love this feature of the Spanish people. There should be a word for it but I can't think of one. What's a word for the joy shared in the co-operation with others? Answers on a postcard!
 
As soon as the job was done they all disappeared. I was frantically thanking them, offering beer and money but they were having none of it. They just smiled, waved goodbye jumped in their cars and left, completely without ceremony. It was this kind of event that often causes me to reflect on why I'm so extraordinarily fortunate to live in Spain. They are truly remarkable people!
 
Jose had one more gift of knowledge to impart. He said if we just turned on the tap and filled the pool it would cost a fortune. 32 cubic meters of water would take us over the limit of our monthly quota. I didn't even realise we had a monthly quota, but the way the water company prices the water is based on volume tiers, so as long as you keep consumption within the lowest tier the water is cheapest. Jump a tier and the price doubles. Jump another tier and it doubles again. His advice was that since it was near the end of the month, half fill the pool, then wait until the next month to top it up. I later checked the small print on the back of a water bill and he was correct, so we had to wait a week before the pool was finally full but then we were off to the races.
 
I offered to pay Jose for his help but he of course declined. I later repaid him with favours such as videoing his son's wedding and converting his old family videos of previous weddings and communions from VHS to DVD . This is the way things work in Spain, sort of "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours", though one is never made to feel obligated or be in anyone's debt. It's a great way to live!

Marketing Memories from the UK to Spain

Fondly remembering the days when marketers used to give stuff away!
 
Kids like me who grew up in the 1960s probably had one advantage over all generations of children before or since in that we were the greatest beneficiaries of the boom-time of incentive marketing. If you were born any earlier the economy wasn't quite so strong and so marketers were being a little more thrifty and if you were born a little later, well the bean counters kind of took over and clamped down on frivolous spending. But for about a decade and a half there was a period of unparalleled abundance where marketing folk were showering us with freebies.
 
My memories might be filtered through rose-tinted spectacles but I seem to remember pulling into a garage with my sister to buy petrol and coming out with armfuls of stuff. I got to choose whether we filled up at Shell or Esso according to which promotions were going on at the time, be it aluminium coins minted with the faces of the players of the world cup squad, to WWF sponsored 3D pictures of wild animals - I got the full set of those! We aquired so many free mugs that dad had to put a new shelf up!
 
These were the days of green shield and co-op stamps. Loyalty was a big deal and made shopping fun. Everywhere you went had giveaways of one sort or another. My dad built me a go-cart and before it was finished I'd covered it with stickers for Castrol and Motorcraft a relative had kindly picked up for me at the Earls Court Motor Show. Mum came back from the Ideal Home exhibition one year with two carrier bags stuffed with giveaways. It was an exciting time to be alive.

Somehow it all came to an end. I can't put my finger on when exactly. It may have been the economic mayhem of the 70's with the oil crisis or later Britain being so strapped it had to borrow cash from the IMF. Maybe it was the rise of Thatcher and a political class who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. I just remember going into a petrol station one day and seeing a promotion for a model Ferrari. I forget the exact nature of the deal but one had to collect enough coupons to give you the privilege of being able to buy it. The giveaways of my youth had given way to a vulgar catchpenny. I felt a chill in my heart, though I pocketed the coupons in case I changed my mind (I didn't).
 
That seemed to be the end of the line for free stuff. From then on if I saw anything that looked free it generally had strings attached if I looked closely enough. Some Madison Avenue executives had decreed marketing's freebies were now merchandise. Incentive marketing was dead. RIP. Then I moved to Spain. It was like stepping back in time. Suddenly I was in an agricultural community where everyone seemed to be wearing sponsored straw hats and T-shirts. It was heaven, but the best was yet to come.
 
I'd befriended some neighbouring farmers who belonged to the local co-operativa. Co-operatives are common in agricultural areas of Spain as they enable farmers to collaborate and get better deals on their produce. One day they said there was a coach-trip being organised to go to a trade show and they asked me to come along. It was free and a great opportunity to practice my fledgling Spanish so I said yes in a heart-beat.
 
The day came and we boarded the coach. It reminded me of the British Legion charabanc trips to Littlehampton my parents used to take me on when I was a kid, but instead of crates of beer being chugged it was botas of red wine! These are the wineskins that one holds overhead in order to pour the wine into the mouth, an aquired skill which I clearly lacked.  I was the only one stepping off the coach with red wine stains all down my T-shirt, much to the amusement of everyone aboard! We arrived at a big exhibition center in Torre Pacheco which reminded me of Earls Court in London. For about an hour or so we wandered around the exhibits. I mounted cabs of tractors and reverentially inspected chainsaws so as to feign some knowledge or interest in such matters in order to justify my presence to those who may have correctly surmised that I was really only there for a free lunch! 
 
Gradually we meandered to the end of the hall, exiting into what was the largest seated outdoor dining area I had ever seen. It hadn't dawned on me until that moment, but this event must have been the annual outing for all the co-opertivas in the province of Murcia, and there were clearly a lot of them! I counted the tables and worked out the number of covers was about 5000! There were articulated lorries coming and going with all the food, which was being brought to the tables by a small army of waiters and waitresses. At the end of each table was a container of ice-water the size of a plunge pool, full of beer and cans of soda to which one could help oneself. 
 
The President of the Region of Murcia was in attendance, so I can legitimately claim to have dined with a President! The food was top-notch and it kept coming all afternoon. The event was sponsored by a number of national and regional banks, La Caixa, BBVA, Banco Popular etc all of which seemed intent on out-doing the other, both in the number of posters on display and later in freebies given out. I copped for some pens, key-rings, the obligatory straw hat and a jolly smart ice-box courtesy of the CAM bank. As the alcohol flowed, speeches were made, presentations awarded, then there was a huge raffle, which I think was done by seat number. Well it seemed to go on for hours. I've never seen so much stuff given away. From plasma TVs to George Foreman grills there were hundreds and hundreds of giveaways. It was a 1960's incentive-marketer's wet dream!
 
This event took place a few years before the 2008 crash. I seriously doubt in the wake of it that events like that take place anymore. The bank behind my ice box (and my mortgage) the CAM went belly-up and were sold to Sabadell for a euro. Doubtless the bean counters have since stepped in to put a stop to all the fun, but I fondly remember that one sunny day in June that was for me, the Zenith of incentive marketing.
 
 

On the Virtues of Laziness

It's more a question of effective energy management!

Being lazy is often frowned upon by society but I'd like to argue here today that not only is being lazy a virtue, it's actually a personality trait that benefits wider society.

There are some great definitions of the word lazy such is this one from Merriam-Webster:  disinclined to activity or exertion : not energetic or vigorous. Most of them reserve overtly negatively charged terms, but when you look at synonyms for the word 'lazy' it's a different story. Try these out for size: apathetic, careless, dull, inattentive, indifferent, lackadaisical, lethargic, passive, sleepy, tired, weary, comatose, dallying, dilatory, drowsy, flagging, idle, indolent, inert, laggard, lagging, languid, languorous, lifeless, loafing, neglectful, procrastinating, remiss, shiftless, slack, slothful, slow, slow-moving, snoozy, somnolent, supine, tardy, torpid, trifling, unconcerned, unenergetic, unindustrious, unpersevering and unready. Ouch!

By way of proving the point I'm about to make, I've already used my laziness to my advantage in preparing that list of words. These similes all appeared in the thesaurus.com website in a list which, when cut and pasted, turned into 43 words on separate lines. In order to turn them into a comma-separated list I wrote a 'macro' in my text editor by going to the end of the first line, hitting delete, adding a comma, then running the macro 42 more times. Easy! It maybe only saved me a couple of minutes but time is money right?

I was first alerted to the fact that I was lazy back in the 1980s by my boss when I was working as a small systems developer, so called because our job was to shrink down programs from mainframes onto desktop computers. After I was handed the third really stinky job in a row after having seen my colleagues given much easier jobs, I pulled him to one side and asked him why he put all the tough, awkward jobs my way. He said "Because your a lazy bugger! I know you'll be guaranteed to find the easiest way to solve problems with the least amount of time and effort." I don't know if this was already a management maxim in the IT industry but years later a similar comment appeared in a meme being attributed to none other than Bill Gates! Anyway I smiled because I knew he had a point. I do generally look for the easy way to do things.

Don't get me wrong, I have no trouble sticking to routines for arduous chores nor attending to tasks that need to be done in a timely manner such as emptying a cat litter tray. I'd sooner just avoid arduous tasks by looking at the big picture e.g. having a small house or not having a cat! Making life easy for oneself is a pursuit worthy of more attention than people give it!

Do you remember those maze puzzles from comics when you were a kid? You know the sort, there would be like a mouse hole and three mice on three independent paths all tangled together and your job was to find which mouse was on the right track to get home and eat the cheese? Well the first time I saw one of those I immediately saw the easy way to solve the puzzle was to trace the path in reverse from the cheese back to the mouse. Simples! I soon learned this applied to academia too. I had an amazing history teacher for GCE O-Level who had a 100% pass rate. Everyone who took his class passed! His secret was he started from the exam questions and worked backwards! Instead of making us read a book from one end to the other, my hero Mr Martin would take a subject, say the 'Bay of Pigs Invasion' and he would highlight as bullet points, each of the questions that he thought were most likely to be asked on the exam paper. Then he would give us the story as an outline that answered each of those questions. It was just like fiddling the mouse maze. Working back to front saved so much time! It worked for his students year after year. It was genius!

I soon learned this worked with other subjects too. You didn't have to read the works of Shakespeare, just read Lamb's tales and you glean all of the salient points of the Bard's important stories in a fraction of the time. Math? Learn how to derive equations from 'first principles' which takes all the rote donkey work out of learning formulae. Physics? Similar thing. Instead of anguishing over Maxwell's equations, breaking them down into physical phenomena makes them easy to remember, e.g. upside-down triangle with an arrow over the top (vector for divergence) times B with an arrow over the top (vector for magnetic field) = zero.  All this really means is the magnetic flux lines always balance out because a magnet always has only two poles. You can't break a North/South magnet in half to get separate North and South poles because there is no such thing in nature as a mono-pole magnet. This makes the math so much easier to remember when you know and understand the physical effect underlying the formula! An ingenious shortcut for recognising which artists did which works recently appeared online https://www.boredpanda.com/how-to-recognize-painters-by-their-work/ I'd kind of developed my own version of this over the years from watching the Open University picture round until they irritatingly started showing pictures of book titles in foreign languages instead!

In the world of commerce then I found this approach to work served me well as employers generally don't want time wasters, they want time disruptors, people who can produce quickly, ship products fast, develop services that are 90% there but good enough to release. In the Civil Service I also found many kindred spirits, who, once they had made their way into higher layers of management, had discovered they can use their skill for work-avoidance even more effectively by delegating, especially if those being delegated to are given the minimum information to do their job so they don't get ideas above their station. Mushroom management my boss used to call it. 'Keep you in the dark and throw shit at you!'

In fact this blog itself is testament to my propensity for laziness. I never write anything too technical, historical or factual that need hours of research. I generally choose a topic that is personally anecdotal, spew it out into the page and try to brighten it up with a few gags. Anything more would take way too much effort and that would never do!

Anyway I feel the giant dormouse in me stretching away, begging me for a snooze. I could go on making my case but I've near enough hit my 1000 word target now and I can't be bothered to write anymore!

 

Why I prefer cats to dogs!

Relax, it's just a personal opinion!
 
I'll probably get slaughtered for saying it but I much prefer cats to dogs!
 
Not that I dislike dogs. Far from it. Some of my best friends etc... I see the pleasure people get from them but to me they're kind of like groupies hanging around rock stars. The relationship is a bit too easy and one-sided. Getting a dog to dislike you is really hard but cats can take umbridge with you for any number of trivial reasons, from buying them Salmon & Shrimp flavoured food instead of Oceanfish Entrée to being squidged along the couch a few millimetres to make room for you to sit there. This makes it all the more rewarding when they do deign to be your friend and approach you for a head scratch. Learning to speak cat is also a more fascinating challenge because cats can make about 100 vocal sounds compared to a dog's measly 10. 
 
There's also a weird gender fluidity issue with cats and dogs. I'm generalising a little here but I'd venture that a female dog appears more masculine and male cats seem slightly more feminine. I'm not saying there is anything sexual in my preference to cats, but I do look at a dog and, regardless of its biological sex I think 'muddy male roughty-toughty rugger player', where as without knowing whether a cat is male or female, I tend to think 'graceful artistic ballerina'. Aesthetically I'm just more drawn to the latter. Dogs strut about like British lager-louts abroad doing the 'we won the war' walk while cats clearly speak fluent French and seem to have done a term or two at a Swiss finishing school. It's a question of culture and deportment!
 
I never had a cat until I was in my twenties, nor can I remember too many from my childhood. My sister had one. The only thing I remember about her (the cat, not my sister) was giving her a tickle one day revealed a large flea crawling about amid her fur, which perhaps, given my previously discussed entomophobia, should have frightened me off felines for life. For some reason it didn't.
 
I had a couple of cats while still in the UK. The first was a rescue kitten from Battersea Dog's home. (Yes, they re-home cats too - imagine the fights!). The second was a local tabby called Sapphire. She belonged to a family down our street that had several young children. I think what happened was, as the kids got older and more rowdy, the ageing cat thought 'blow this for a game of soldiers' and started following my wife and I home from work in search of a less frenetic life. Often she would be waiting on our front-door step when we arrived home, meowing to be let in. We took her back to her original home several times, but she persevered until in the end her owner said it would be OK to keep her! She played nicely with Coco our rescue cat and I remember noticing that she was 'left-handed'. She was able to pull open a door with her left paw but if the door was hinged the other way she just couldn't do it, though not for want of trying! So cute!
 
Unfortunately Sapphire soon died. She was already quite elderly when we got her and after a few years her kidneys failed and the vet almost insisted we put her out of her misery. I was gutted. She was my friend.
 
Coco made the move with my wife and I to Spain. We got her paperwork sorted out at the vets and British Airways assured us she would be looked after on the plane and met by a specialist pet handler at San Javier airport. When we landed however, the pet handler was nowhere to be seen. I heard a bit of a kerfuffle at the carousel as I approached to collect our luggage and there was Coco on the conveyor belt going round and round in her pet-carrier, meowing her little heart out while all the passengers were going 'aww' and cooing over her!
 
Our new home was in the Spanish countryside, deliberately chosen so as not to be near any busy roads as Coco didn't do traffic. We 'inherited' two more cats and a mature German Shepherd called Leon. Leon wasn't a house dog.  He was a security guard with stripes on his arm and didn't take kindly to Coco when they first met (the fight was spectacular - Leon came close to losing an eye), so we made a firm rule - Leon outside only - Coco inside only. It was for the best. 
 
The other two cats got on fine with Leon and lived in the pigeon shed. These were farm cats and were excellent at their job. I lost count of how many times I went in for the morning feed and would find bits of rat, usually little more than a tale. Any vermin intent on trying to steal my chicken-feed were doomed to a grizzly fate.
 
Since we had the space we allowed one of the cats to have a litter, then did a bulk deal with the local vet to get all the animals sterilised. My wife had the idea of naming the cats after beverages. The two original cats were named Mocha and Java, then the litter became Expresso, Cappuccino,  Americano, Solo and Tea! I didn't realise how different their little personalities could be until I was surrounded by an army of cats. Some noticeably smarter than others, some lazy, some energetic. Expresso stuck out a mile as the best hunter and would be forever diving into the undergrowth and returning with grasshoppers, beetles, mice etc which he would munch away at in a shady spot under a tree somewhere. 
 
As they got older, numbers depleted. Some of the males went off never to return. I understand this is not uncommon with males cats, something to do with owning territory. One poor chap, Solo, a huge black panther of a cat and probably the alpha-male, was the victim of a hit-and-run. He didn't seem in pain, just unusually inactive, so we took him to the vet and an X-ray showed his pelvis was shattered, so we had him put down. Some died of natural causes. 
 
One day though we came home from shopping to find a tiny kitten squaring up to Leon. We assume she was 'donated' by someone local who knew we would take care of her. She was so cute and plucky, standing up to such a big aggressive dog that she immediately captured our hearts. We called her Decaf. She turned out to be a great mother though she only had the one kitten, Latte.
 
Years went by. The 2008 crash happened and my relationship broke down. I had to leave the house in Murcia and the remaining cats behind when I moved to Olvera. I'm not able to keep pets where I am living at the moment which is a bit of a shame but I often think back to my herd of felines and their unique characters. If money were no object I'd open a cat-rescue centre of my own, but meanwhile I amuse myself by following the cats of Instagram, of which there are many. My favourite trio by a whisker are Negrito, Merzouga and Tétouan, rescue cats in the care of a lady called Martina Bisaz, a travel blogger living in the mountains of Switzerland. Seeing her going for walks with her charges in the backdrop of snow-capped alpine mountains is a sight to behold. Her main insta-handle is @kitcat_ch and there are separate accounts for her black cat @negrito.the.kitcat and her Moroccan twins @poo.fighters. Follow these accounts at your own risk as they are a ridiculously addictive wastes of time!! 

Why isn't the world worshipping Elon Musk?

Some thoughts the Tesla/Space-X boss.

 

We all know who Elon Musk is, Tesla, Space-X yada yada, yet he seems underrated by the press and positively despised in the comment section of tabloid newspapers. I'd like to address that here by highlighting some of his thought processes. Normally I aim to blog about 1000 words for a nice bite-sized read, however to cover Musk's brain in such limited space will be a zesty challenge so please forgive if I overrun!
 
Musk is seen by some as a nutcase who smokes dope on the Joe Rogan show, makes unfortunate Tweets about the 'pedo guy' and who got into a very public altercation with rap artist Azealia Banks about acid-taking etc. Only last Friday (1st May 2020) he made a seven word tweet that devalued Tesla stock by $14 billion dollars. Yet despite his maverick social media profile he is capable of thoughts of the loftiest brilliance.
 
I can't for the life of me remember where I originally read it (and I've been unable to find a source - doing a weekly blog doesn't allow as much time to research as I'd like), but the thing I first heard about Elon Musk that really impressed me was the simple idea he had to validate the ownership of bank accounts for use with PayPal. I was a web developer back in the 1990s involved in building e-commerce websites. We used to do them from scratch in those days before generic e-commerce platforms had matured, so I was familiar with the problems involved in taking and making payments online. Systems soon evolved to take payments by credit cards since the card companies had a more modern infrastructure, expiry dates, CV codes etc. Banks however, with their systems rooted in the dark ages had no way to validate the ownership of an account online. Say a client sent you an email with his bank account and you needed to send him some money for the exchange of goods, how did you know the bank account was actually his and not that of some hacker? 
 
Elon came up with the simple yet brilliant idea of paying two micro-payments to the account, say $0.34 and $0.83. The client had to read these numbers from his bank statement and enter them in the PayPal website. Musk had therefore generated the equivalent of a PIN number to verify the account. At first I thought how dumb, to give money away to verify a bank account, but as I thought more about it I realised it was genius. The two numbers would never cost PayPal more than $1.98, an expense which would easily be offset by the reduction in fraud and that would enable PayPal to transact directly with bank accounts, which had much cheaper transaction costs than anything else. You could for example send cash via say Western Union, but then the Western Union agent, usually the post office, would need to be paid to validate the identity of the payee by physically checking the passport which is a costly process in comparison. So from then on, I hailed Musk as a genius capable of conceiving ideas the like of which I could not. 
 
PayPal was not even Musk's first multi-million dollar venture. He'd already founded an online city guide, Zip-2 with his brother Kimbal in 1995 which was sold in 1999 with Musk getting $22million for his 7% share. Prior to that, while in college, Musk has spoken about his musings on the essential matters which would most affect the future of humanity and came up with five things. These were:
 
The Internet
Sustainable energy (both production and consumption)
Space exploration (more specifically the extension of life beyond earth on a permanent basis)
Artificial Intelligence.
Rewriting human genetics
 
Clearly the guy thinks big. Unlike other students with big ideas however, Musk is realising them one by one. With the founding of Tesla in 2014 Musk helped create the first successful new car manufacturer in America in over 90 years. Right now, as CEO, Musk is on the verge of winning a 3/4 billion dollar remuneration payout as part of compensation plan that depended on the company achieving a six-month period of $100 million dollar market capitalisation. This would make him the most highly paid executive in US history. The incredible thing about this is that when Musk negotiated this contract, such a target was unthinkable. The company was only worth $60 billion at $250 per share back then. Musk made it happen, even though he's a part-timer dividing his hours between several other companies. The other somewhat unsung truth about Tesla's success is the way it is transforming the automotive industry away from the dealership model that has pervaded for over a century to a direct model where cars can be bought online. The low maintenance of electric vehicles is also challenging an industry that fed off consumers need for servicing and repair. Musk doesn't just compete in a market, he smashes it to pieces.
 
Musk also heads Space-X, the rocket-company he founded in 2002. In case you've been living under a rock, Space-X has been successful too, winning a number of private and public US defence contracts. By making as much of his rocket technology as reusable as possible, he has undercut the price of all competition for launching satellites. Musk has said many times he sees the future of mankind as multi-planetary. The idea is that by sticking only on planet earth, mankind could (in fact probably will) succumb to some sort of extinction event. Only by having colonies on other worlds can the human race escape such events and survive into the future. This is a lofty goal but one which Musk is edging towards. Again, one of the things that most impresses me here is how Musk is funding Space-X. One of the key planks of the strategy is the Starlink Internet programme, a network of satellites designed to bring Internet connectivity to all parts of the globe. As well as the much publicised plan to bring affordable Internet to poorer countries in Africa and so forth, Musk has another trick up his sleeve. The satellites will exchange data using line-of-sight lasers. Because space is a near vacuum and there is no medium in space to slow the light signals down, transmission of information will be even faster than the fibre optic cable used on the ground. This lack of latency is expected to be of extremely high value to certain commercial sectors that depend on timely information such as stock brokers. The premium service is expected to provide big bucks for Space-X to fund its future developments.
 
Somewhat crazily, these achievements in themselves would be remarkable enough, yet Musk continually applies his brain to disrupt other industries. Tesla's energy grid batteries are beginning to change the way electricity companies handle the storage of electricity, while boosting the future of fledgling solar and wind-power industries. The Boring Company is set to revolutionise travel by establishing a tunnel network that promises to reduce congestion and journey times. Tesla has recently entered the car insurance industry. By using the data from its own network of cars, Tesla can fine tune risk assessments allowing it to offer insurance at up to thirty percent less than its competitors who themselves are tentative about insuring Tesla automobiles because they have only been on the roads for a decade so the old school actuarial data they use is insufficiently mature. Neuralink is Musk's foray into the world of medicine, developing high bandwidth brain to computer interfaces. He also founded and Artificial Intelligence organisation called Open AI. (He's done all this and yet I have trouble finding something to blog about once a week!)
 
Doubtless in all these other industries, Musk has probably figured out the way to get them to pay for themselves, and has envisaged a sneaky way to undercut competition leading to a big disruption in an existing market.
 
The thing that most impresses me about Musk is that his innovations, which drive market change and arguably the direction society is taking, all take place from within the private sector. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool lefty who believes at some level, the state should be planning the future of society through policy, either with a totalitarian boardroom strategy like China or with a presidential "let's get man on the moon" approach like Kennedy. Musk is proving to me that isn't necessary. He's teaching this old dog (and many like me) new tricks! 
 
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An aside

Spain News

Wednesday, July 8, 2020 4:23:00 PM
SEAT urges Spain to 'wake up' and promote electric cars Financial Post
Wednesday, July 8, 2020 2:19:07 PM
Coronavirus: Scotland retains quarantine measures for Spanish travel BBC News
Wednesday, July 8, 2020 1:16:47 PM
Beach awards support the return to a new normal in Spain Euro Weekly News
Wednesday, July 8, 2020 12:46:30 PM
Coronavirus: Spain's holiday islands shake off party image BBC News
Wednesday, July 8, 2020 12:18:40 PM
The Latest: Spain's Catalonia mandates use of masks outdoors Lynchburg News and Advance
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