Andalucia Steve

...living the dream

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 to 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! 
 

Things that wind me up

My surprising reaction to life in Coronavirus lock down dystopia.
 
Maybe it's cabin fever but one thing I've been reflecting on of late are things that have got on my nerves over the years. (Politics aside that is. Though it pains me to do it, I generally try to keep this blog politics-free since it is probably dull enough as it is and my Facebook feed is full of it anyway). 
 
All of a sudden my house has become like sensory deprivation tank, free from outside noise and interference. There are no kids playing ball in the street, or playing 'Knock Down Ginger' (knocking on my door and running away in case that term is one not used in your part of the world). There are no longer motorcycles roaring past my door. The smoker coughing up his morning lung-butter no longer passes my house on his way to work. Things are quiet. It's bliss. That got me thinking about the things that used to bug me.
 
Breaking down the things that grind my gears into animal, vegetable or mineral, I can quickly see that plants don't really annoy me very much. Having said that, as a child I used to hate getting foxtails stuck in my socks. Even when picked out and discarded they still seemed to itch until a change of footwear sorted out the problem. I wasn't overly keen on stinging nettles but as one learns to look out for them, being stung almost becomes a matter of choice.
 
Minerals I'm generally down with too. I don't recall being annoyed by a amethyst or taking umbridge at uraninite, though given the latter is a 'flesh devouring' mineral that emits natural radiation my opinion could conceivably change if I kept a lump of it in my pocket for any length of time.
 
Only animals have bothered me in a significant way. Bugs have bugged me to distraction. For their small size,  Drosophila are remarkably irritating, especially if like me you enjoy a glass of wine, since these chaps like nothing more to join you in a glass - literally in your glass - committing suicide in the process, seemingly with the only purpose of plundering the pleasure of your sip by becoming a bitter, unwanted speck on your tongue. [If they bother you too, the trick is to get some empty spice jars, the ones with small perforations in the lid, half fill them with apple-cider vinegar and leave them dotted about your house. The vinegar is more tasty to the files than your wine and once they enter the spice jar they can't get out again. You may have seen many of their war-dead kin in vinegar cruets when holidaying in hot countries]
 
Creepy crawlies in general get my gander up. I can't stand spiders, crane flies, flying ants, beetles, cockroaches, earwigs, the list goes on and on. I endured a bed-bug infestation a few years ago that was extraordinarily irksome. Those guys are hard to vanquish. I spent months disinfecting and trying to track down the eggs but they kept coming back. Engage a professional pest controller if you can afford it, but I couldn't so I eventually cracked it by getting hold of some industrial-strength, nicotine based foggers, the type they use in professional greenhouses. I had to move out for a few days and everything had to be washed to get rid of the tobacco smell but the bed bugs abandoned the place never to return.
 
Apart from insects the only other class of animal to get my goat really is man. Where to start? I used to work with a guy years ago who, if there were any justice in this world, would have been clapped in irons. His crime? Well he brought a packed lunch into the office each day, part of which was a yogurt. I sat behind this chap, back to back with a movable partition screen separating us. Whenever his spoon reached the bottom of the yogurt pot he would scrape and lick, scrape and lick, scrape and lick. Minutes would go by of his noisy excavations at the bottom of the plastic pot, slowing the passage of time in my mind to a standstill. There surely could be not even a molecule of yogurt left, but on he would go, scraping, scraping scraping, until I would shout DAVE THAT'S IT - YOU'RE DONE!! then jump around the screen and blow his head off with a sawn off shotgun (well I didn't but that's what I was thinking).
 
This illustrates an important point about the nature of things that vex me. Human behaviour is far more irritating than anything else in the natural world because it is empowered by the volition of the human mind. Jean-Paul Sartre got it right when in his 1944 play 'Huis Clos' he said "Hell is Other People".
 
With that in mind, I've never quite understood why people congregate in Spain. Take bars for example. I knew a guy who ran a very popular little bar which was always packed. I asked him once why he didn't move to larger premises. He told me Spanish folk won't go into an empty bar. Larger bars seem emptier than smaller bars even if they have the same number of people in them [I later learned this is a manifestation of a psychophysical phenomenon called Weber's law, but I digress] Given the choice, if I was going to go for a drink with a friend I'd go for an empty bar rather than a full one, since I'd expect to get served more quickly and wouldn't have to shout to be heard but apparently I'm in the minority. People want atmosphere. When I lived in Murcia I'd occasionally go one of the beaches in a town called Aguilas. There are 35 beaches in Aguilas. Four of them have commercial facilities, bars, a first-aid hut, tourist tat shops etc. Those four beaches are generally heaving with tourists in summer, while the other 31 beaches will be virtually empty. Now me being me, my worst nightmare would be to go to one of the busy beaches, squeezing my beach towel between two families of tourists, indulging in the untold sorts of pursuits that would be sure to irk me. I'd prefer to drive five minutes down the road and have a beach to myself!
 
I'm probably then one of the few miserable buggers dreading the end of the lock down. I've quite enjoyed not hearing the nightly roaring of unsilenced quads, mopeds and scooters parading up and down the main street in pursuit of young female attention. I've quite enjoyed going shopping and not seeing a living soul except for the odd tractor driver spraying the street with bleach. The world seems a healthier, cleaner place with reports of crystal clear canals in Venice, reduced air pollution and animals venturing into towns emboldened by the abatement of people and traffic. If this is our dystopian future, long may it continue! Mind you as I say that, I've also noticed a sharp increase in flying things and creepy crawlies. I guess there's always a downside to everything. Where did I put those foggers?

On Playing Music

What's it really like to be a musician

 

I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts on being a musician.
 
We're a breed apart. I'm not saying people who don't play music are weirdly different such that we can't mix, socialise, marry, procreate or whatever but there is in some way a barrier that the two can never cross. It is a bit like being in one of those American movies where the visitor and the criminal can only talk over the phone though a glass screen. I had a girlfriend years back who was charming in every way but for her tin-ear. Music had no meaning for her so we never really hit it off.
 
So to the non-musicians out there, what is it like to be a musician, why do we do it? What is the point in an age where live-bands can be undercut by DJs? Well it's a blessing and a curse. I hope to answer a few of these questions here today.
 
Music was born out of curiosity for me. Dad plonked me in front of a piano when I was four and had me picking tunes out but I had no great interest at that time and the business of playing Three Blind Mice seemed unchallenging and a bit pointless. I had recorder lessons at school to learn how to read the dots, but again this exercise seemed worthless for the same reason. Who wants to play Three Blind Mice on recorder? It wasn't until I got a little older and heard Jimi Hendrix play guitar that I thought 'wow, how did he do that', that I dug out an old Neapolitan mandolin, family heirloom that had been languishing unloved in the cupboard under the stairs, and started to pick out Purple Haze and Voodoo Chile (Slight return). From then on I was hooked.
 
Mandolin was a gateway drug to guitar. Soon after I managed to save enough cash to buy a Spanish Classical guitar and started learning properly. I couldn't afford tuition but a school friend lent me some sheet music and was gracious with his time to show me the basics of technique, so I was soon on my way. 
 
That friend of mine was called Graham, and his other role in this story was that he setup for me what would turn out to be a lifetime dilemma. He had been taking lessons and at about aged 14 he volunteered to do a concert in the school hall. What you have to know about Graham is that he was a very shy, quiet dude who wouldn't say boo to a goose. He was ginger, not Auburn but bright orange like a Belisha Beacon which became his nickname. I'd stepped in to stop him getting beaten up on more than one occasion as he was the sort of chap who got picked on a lot. But here he was, bold as brass in front of the whole school giving a recital of Sor and Tárrega. I was gob-smacked. Not only was I in awe of my friend's confidence but I knew that as an introvert myself, performing in front of a large number of people is about the last thing in the world I would want to do. My dilemma then was what goals to have as a musician if being in the spotlight wasn't one of them. This is something I wrestle with to the present day.
 
The thing is though, once you get the bug, playing music is a class-A drug. I love the physical production of sound, the fretting of a note. I love the action of changing its  pitch by bending and vibrating it. I relish the challenge of playing a new melody I just heard for the first time, picking up my guitar and figuring it out. When one starts to make combinations of sounds a whole new world opens up in which every note takes on a new life dancing with its partners in time which for musicians is a never-ending puzzle of mathematics and emotion that is somehow of capable of describing the greatest wonders of the universe to the human mind through the ears. As Mozart marvelled "If only the whole world could feel the power of harmony."
 
Somehow then I get endless entertainment from playing. There are downsides though. Practising is a necessary evil, especially with stringed instruments where it is necessary to maintain a certain degree of hard-skin and muscle memory. This can seriously piss-off any significant other who come to see your guitar as 'the other woman'. Gear envy is another big problem. There are so many instruments I'd love to buy if I had the money. As a non-musician you might look at all guitars as being pretty much the same, but when you're an enthusiast the nuance in sound between two instruments appears as a roaring chasm with green grass on the other side, a journey that someday somehow has to be made. I have a wish list on an online music shop that has been building up for years and it struck me recently that even if I could afford everything on the list I'd need a warehouse to store it all as my house would be far too small!
 
I was in several bands when I was a kid from about aged 14 and I had a love/hate relationship with performing. It paid money which was good. My first decent guitar came from gigging before I'd ever worked a proper day job. However I always felt uncomfortable on stage and hated being in the spotlight, i.e. when I was called upon to do a solo or something. However for some reason I kept on doing it, as though there was a greater purpose I was unaware of that needed to be pursued. 
 
Up until I moved to Spain in 2003 I'd always been a sideman, a musician in a band where someone else was the centre of attention, so I was generally fortunate not to have to be exposed to the spotlight too much. In Spain however I found myself in a situation with no fellow musicians to fall back on. I felt the calling to move forward and perform but I had no band, no friends to even jam or practice with. So out of necessity, I taught myself to sing and worked out a repertoire of songs to sing solo in a reasonable fashion. It took a while. A friend of mine who was a musical examiner gave me some vocal coaching lessons which was mainly about breathing and off I went. I did some local gigs and some busking and forced myself to become a solo performer. I can't emphasise enough how alien that idea would have been to me only a few years earlier, but for some reason I found the music driving me rather than the other way around.
 
Ten years ago there were a few domestic changes in my life and I found myself living in another part of Spain.  I immediately found there were more musicians here and struck up several friendships which I still cherish.  I soon began jamming with my partner-in-crime Nigel 'bad boy' Tucker and we gig together to this day. It works because Nigel enjoys the spotlight much more than I do. Initially we just played with two acoustic guitars. then I switched to acoustic bass, but this wasn't really loud enough, so we upgraded to electric bass, which in turn demanded a drum machine. As our music advanced though, I found myself increasingly drawn towards the production side. Then I figured out how to hack the drum machine so I could add other backing sounds like horns and organs until now we're a bit like a full band albeit with only two players.
 
Now I feel like all my Christmases have come at once. I get to perform without being the limelight, yet I'm getting all the satisfaction of arranging and producing all the music we play. My role is something of the unseen hand but it fulfils my original curious interest in music which is enjoying the endless fascination of how this stuff works. We don't do it for the money. A famous meme circulating online describes a musician as someone who puts $5000 worth of gear in a $500 car to drive 50 miles to a $50 gig. Well believe me, in this part of Spain, $50 gigs are few and far between, but as you can see for the reasons above, it's still very much worth it!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A tale of two wasted Ronda hospital visits

Getting seen by a specialist isn't so easy in 2020 lockdown Spain

 

I wanna tell you a story. Trouble is, I have a split audience. Most folk who actually bother to read my trivial weekly musings probably do so because they know me, so they'll know some of the back-story of my life that puts this tale in context. If you're one of those then feel free to skip the next paragraph. If not, here comes the exposition.
 
I live in Spain on a low income, basically a pension I took early. I don't own a car and I live in quite a remote little village called Olvera. Olvera has a medical centre where I can visit a GP, but for more specialist medical treatment I need to go to a regional hospital, such as the one in Ronda which is featured in this story, which is about an hours drive away. There is only one bus that leaves Olvera at seven in the morning and returns from the hospital at two in the afternoon.
 
Back in September 2019 I had a fall, nothing serious but I managed to land on my eye-ball, which became bloodshot and rather uncomfortable. I visited A&E who kindly patched me up. Then I made an appointment to see my GP who referred me to the ophthalmologist in Ronda. I waited a few months and was assigned an appointment at the end of January. My vision had still not returned to normal. I was seeing floaters and each time I blinked I briefly saw a pattern in the manner of a Rorschach test, which was less entertaining than it sounds, so I was quite eager to get the problem looked at.
 
The day finally came. I'm an anxious traveller at the best of times, but the big worry here is, with only one return bus, I knew if I missed it I'd probably be sleeping rough until the next day, as I couldn't afford a taxi or temporary accommodation. I don't mind living on a low income on a day-to-day basis (it's good for both my dietary health and carbon footprint), but unforeseen expenses can force difficult choices.
 
So with some trepidation, I boarded the bus on a brisk winter's morning and headed off to the hospital. My appointment was 11:25 so arriving at eight gave me time to kill. I walked around the hospital to familiarise myself with it. This was a fairly new building which only opened in 2017 and this was my first time there. I noted there was a mortuary around the back a bit too near to the rubbish bins for my liking, but otherwise everything seemed clean and new. I just wished they'ed painted it a jollier colour rather than choosing the very depressing battleship grey.
 
I made my way inside and found the ophthalmology department. Many people were already waiting. If you know nothing of Spanish culture, one thing a person rarely does here is visit a hospital alone. These are deeply family oriented people and a hospital visit will rarely be conducted without a pack of three or four folk from several generations, often with an advanced party to reconnoitre the layout of the building, locate vending machines and to grab the best seats like Germans putting their towels on the sun-loungers. I'm not mocking this behaviour, well perhaps just a tad. I'm actually rather envious of it. A English lady of my acquaintance found herself in a dual room with a Spanish patient some years back, and the Spanish patient's family were so horrified that the poor English lady had nobody visiting her at all hours of the day, that they adopted her and brought her food and gifts, holding her hand and generally treating her as part of the family. This is one of the many tales that I've heard over the years that speaks volumes about the best qualities of ordinary Spanish society.
 
I sat down and pulled out a book. As the hours rolled by, the people milling about soon outnumbered the chairs, of which there were many. I reckon that more than a hundred people must have come and gone.  The Coronavirus threat was still a distant problem exclusive to China at this point. Everyone was on top of everyone else, many with seasonal coughs and splutters. How I didn't pick up something nasty that day I'll never know.
 
The time of my appointment came and went. Then another hour went by. I attracted the attention of a nurse who double-checked I was in the right place and reassured me that they were very busy and that my time would soon come. Finally at ten minutes to two I still hadn't been called so I made the decision to bail. I went to the reception and asked to have my appointment rescheduled, then jumped on the bus back home.
 
Some months went by then I got a phone call saying a new appointment was available if I still wanted it. Then a letter arrived confirming the date of Monday 6th of April, an earlier appointment at 9:25 which should give me a better chance of being seen - yay! By this time of course, the world had changed thanks to a virus called COVID-19. Olvera was in lock-down. There was a one person per car rule and police were monitoring who came in and out of town.
 
Bus services had been reduced or in some cases scratched altogether. There was a lot of misinformation online as to which busses were running, whether one could still pay in cash or had to buy a ticket online or in advance from a ticket office. I spent a sizeable amount of time researching this in the week prior to the appointment. The bus company website had a link to a timetable that was dead, and the option to buy an advance ticket didn't work properly. I resorted to ringing the two phone numbers given on the website, and neither worked!!
 
Finally on the Friday I happened upon an obscure article in a Spanish newspaper saying the local 'urbano' busses in Ronda had to be pre-booked, and said that folk using Olvera busses that connect with them should ring in advance too. It seemed crazy but due to the lock-down, so few people are using the bus that they only run them if someone rings at least an hour before, signalling an intention to ride. I dialled the number and surprisingly it worked! I spoke to a chap who sounded equally as surprised as I was. I heard kids playing in the background suggesting it might be his home number. I explained my circumstances and he confirmed me a place on the Olvera/Ronda bus at 7 a.m. Monday 6th April returning at 2 p.m. He didn't express the need to take my name but this is Spain. A nod's as good as a wink to a blind donkey.
 
So Monday came and with the bus largely to myself I cruised majestically into the Ronda hospital car park, alighting at 8 a.m. I took my place in the waiting area. This time, the chairs, which were in banks of three, had the middle one labelled with a message saying "Don't use due to social distancing". I was the only one there. It was deathly quiet. I sat there reading my book and hardly a soul stirred save a grumpy looking chap riding a floor-washing machine. Then a masked nurse emerged from the surgery area.
 
"What are you doing here" she said, sounding so surprised she set my alarm bells off.
 
"I have an appointment this morning", I said and triumphantly thrust my document proving the fact into her rubber-gloved hand.
 
"All consultations were cancelled. You should have received a message last week. We will send you another one."
 
My heart sank as I recall those missed calls from an unknown number on my phone last Friday which I didn't see until the next day because I'd stupidly forgotten to turn off 'aeroplane mode' after my siesta.
 
"Bugger" I said, slipping back into English, and skulked off to find a dark corner in which to weep and spend five hours to wait for the only bus back home. Ronda is a pretty town, but it's not as though I could have gone for a nice walk and taken in the sights as the police would probably arrest me for tourism, such is the strangeness of the times. I finished my book, a cheerful tome (#ironyalert) called 'Feast of the Goat' by Mario Vargas Llosa, a novel about the final dark days of the Dominican Republic's fascist leader Rafael Trujillo. I pitted my wits against my phone and beat the little shit at Monopoly and Chess. I had a stroll around the hospital grounds and struck up a conversation with the gardener, who coincidentally, as I discovered, was born in Olvera. (Seemingly tending a hospital's gardens is an essential occupation conferring on him the right to escape lock-down. Who knew?) He turned out to be a conspiracy theorist who spent ten minutes solemnly confiding in me his view that Coronavirus was created in a Chinese weapons-grade bio-lab with the ultimate goal of destroying the Western economy.
 
Eventually two o'clock came and my driver arrived with the bus, which again I had all to myself. As we headed back, storm clouds were gathering, the sky over the sierras becoming black as pitch. Francisco the driver, whom I now considered my personal chauffeur, delivered me to Olvera just as the rain began to fall. It had to really. It had been that sort of day! 
 
My wait to see the eye specialist continues, as does the lock-down. In both cases and in more ways than one, I'm unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Lockdown Cooking Tips

How to make things last when its hard to shop
 
Now I'm not claiming to be a whizz in the kitchen, but I've endured some difficult times in Spain that have forced me to acquire some culinary discipline. I lost a cushy job selling houses for a Spanish estate agent chain thanks to the 2008 crash, and, being unable to qualify for benefits here, money got very tight. For a few months I was almost living on air. During that time I learned some important lessons which are becoming useful and relevant again, now I'm virtual house-arrest in the uber-tight Corona-virus lock-down here in Spain!
 
So in the unlikely event I might be able to help someone struggling to cope in these difficult times I thought I'd share a few tips I've picked up over the years. I shared some of these on the '48% Preppers' group on Facebook, a group that has been preparing for a no-deal Brexit for a number of years, and they were warmly received.
 
Firstly you can probably make vegetables last a lot longer than you may have thought possible. Take onions for example. I used to hold an onion by the stalk end and cut the bottom off, then take slices perpendicular to the stem because they're easy to use in sandwiches or chop for frying, then I'd throw the onion in the bottom of the fridge in the hope in might use the rest of it later. The problem is that when you chop the bottom off of an onion you're depriving it of the root, so the onion thinks it's dead (it is - you killed it when you chopped the root off!) A few days later when you go back in the fridge to retrieve the onion, the layers will have started to separate and the onion will start to go off and look very unappetising. The trick then is to take you onion and take slices from the side, parallel to the stem. Then keep the onion in sealed in a Tupperware box, so it hinders drying out. This will help the onion to keep believing its still alive while stopping any onion smell pervading your fridge. You can take four quarters away from the onion like this leaving the exposed centre it will still survive for a week or more, just because you took the trouble to keep the root in tact. 
 
If I buy a whole lettuce I never cut into it with a knife unless I plan to use the whole thing in one go. Cutting creates a wound from which moisture escape leading to oxidation triggering the death of the plant. Again with lettuce, like the onion, keep the root on and peel off leaves as you need them. If after a while the lettuce starts to wilt, this can often be remedied by placing the lettuce in a bowl of water overnight to give it a drink. If the root has calloused over, slice off a small section of a millimetre or so to expose the capillaries to the water. The lettuce will drink up water and be good for another week or so.
 
Moisture can be the enemy with a lot of veg. I often get a prepared salad rather than individual items because, living alone, I'd rather have the variety than buy lots of individual items that might end up getting not used. The problem with prepared salads is because they're chopped already, they tend to go off more quickly than individual items. One can delay the ageing of prepared salads by sealing them up, either in their original bag or in Tupperware, with a dry sheet of kitchen towel. The towel will soak up the moisture creeping out of the leaves, so preventing them going damp and mouldy so quickly.
 
Another thing I found is to know what is essential to have in your store cupboard. A lot of this is down to personal taste, but I like curry so I always have spices, chick peas, gram flour, wholemeal flour, tinned tomatoes and a couple of tins of coconut milk. It's amazing what you can pull off with just these simple ingredients. You can make a chick pea salad essentially with onions, oil, chick peas and a few spices. There are loads of recipes for chickpea salad online with cucumber, tomatoes, peppers etc but don't be precious about it, throw in what you have, it'll be fine! A great accompaniment for this is the world's easiest bread. You can make a chapati with wholemeal flour, salt and a little water. Mix into a fairly dry dough, roll it flat and cook on a fairly high heat a few minutes on each side. Cheap and quick!
 
Another good thing to have in the store cupboard is textured soy protein which keeps forever and can be used to run up chill-con-carne, spag-bol. burgers etc. I'm not a vegan so when I'm reconstituting it with hot water I stir in a little Bovril to get a good meaty taste going on. Bovril is another store-cupboard favourite of mine that keeps for ever and finds multiple uses like this whenever a spot of umami is required.
 
Sorry if you are a vegetarian but now I come to one of my favourite money-savers, a whole chicken. I'm in Spain and I can get a decent sized bird for about five euros and that will feed me for the best part of a fortnight. I'll roast the bird whole. For the first week I'll have maybe a chicken salad, chicken and chips or have roast chicken, spuds, veg and gravy for dinner in the evening and a chicken sandwich or chicken omelette for breakfast. Then, as I'm down to the carcass I'll generally boil it up to get as much meat off it as possible. Then I can use that for soup, or any number of other dishes. I've found the one that goes furthest is chicken biryani. The way I do that is I'll whizz up some garlic, lemon and fresh ginger to make a tikka masala paste, throw in my preferred spices, coriander, cumin, asafoetida, salt, pepper,  chilli powder etc and add that to a pot of yogurt to make a marinade. I'll let the chicken soak in that over night, then the next day I'll make a batch of pilau rice. When the rice is pretty near done, I'll put the marinaded chicken in a baking dish, pour the rice over the top, cover with foil then bake in the oven on 180c for half an hour. When I take it out I stir it all together and there it is - the perfect 'cheats' biryani.
 
I find biryani a complete meal in itself though sometimes I'll put a little chopped mint and onion in a pot of yogurt as a make-do raita to go with it, but either way I'll usually get about five or six portions out of the one chicken's leftovers so as I say, the one bird almost stretches to a fortnight, which is what you need when the local police and the army are trying to discourage people from making unnecessary trips to the shops. Now if only I'd had the foresight to buy some demijohn's to make my own wine. "Alexa?..."

My Timemachine of Technology

How I've been lucky to live in a time of unparalleled technological change

 

I feel very fortunate to have been born when I did and to have observed the revolutionary change in technology that I have. Things whizz along so fast these days. My father woke me up in the middle of the night to watch man's first moon landing, but the rocket that took man to the moon only had a 16 bit processor and a tiny amount of memory by modern standards. These days we all have far more power in our mobile phones! It's all happened so blindingly quickly!
 
In fact I feel very fortunate to be born at all, as my parents were quite ‘elderly’ when they had me. Dad was 54 when he had me and mum in her mid forties so I'm lucky to be here. Accordingly the environment I grew up in was full of old technology that had been accumulated over many years. We had a valve radios and television that took ages to get hot before they would work. The family camera was a ‘box brownie’ – little more than a black box with a lens and a winding mechanism to advance the film. The film wasn’t cheap so we took each photograph with care, posing and saying cheese! Then it took days or weeks to get the prints back from the chemist! All these artifacts smelt old and musty, but also everything felt frozen in time as though they had been around forever.
 
Then around the mid-sixties I remember my elderly grandfather went through a number of transistor radios, all of which were made in Hong Kong. My grandad was a bit clumsy and used to drop these ‘trannies’ repeatedly. Invariably the case would break and after a few months of being held together with rubber bands and sticky tape, they would be replaced with another which was always smaller and lighter than the last.
 
I loved to take the old radios apart and figure out how they worked. The valves of old had been replaced by small blobs which were transistors. The other components had all been shrunk too, as had the printed circuit board. Even so, every component was identifiable and it was generally possible to figure out which did what.
 
By the time I reached secondary school things started to change a whole lot. My physics teacher explained to me about integrated circuits. Tens or hundreds of transistors were now being fabricated together on one piece of silicon to form whole circuits. These were found in the first pocket calculators. My first calculator, made by Prinztronic cost a fortune but only did +-/* and percentages!
 
It wasn’t long after that I saw the first microcomputer on the television. This was the commodore Pet, which today still looks more like the sort of thing you would find on the deck of the starship enterprise. The Pet seemed unimaginably expensive to a youngster like me, but pretty soon my school purchased a bunch of microcomputers in kit form (NASCOM 1 if you're curious)  and us school-kids were co-opted to spend hours soldering them together.
 
I inevitably found myself working in computers and during the 1980's the IBM PC became the default architecture for most business users. My first experience of these was the Olivetti M24, which was a dinosaur by today's standards but crucially the office had them networked together with this clever thing called co-axial cable. The first time I met with this concept I remember thinking what a waste of money! Surely if two people wanted to work on the same spreadsheet they could copy it to a floppy disk and walk to the next office with it. How wrong I was, which is a recurring theme in my life! Of course from these humble beginnings, networking really took off, bringing us to the Internet and the applications on the World-Wide Web we are all so dependent on today.
 
I'd moved to Spain by the time I saw my first smartphone, a first generation iPhone owned by a friend on holiday from the UK. It seemed so revolutionary at the time, and Apple had clearly got it right - the combination of touch-screen and scrolling GUI was a winner. Now we all have one (or more) in our pockets and think little of it. When you do think about it though, today's smartphones are far more advanced than the communicators used in the first series of Star Trek, which themselves were considered light years ahead at the time. 
 
An example of how far things have advanced is the disdain people have today of optical media, the CD/DVD discs read with a laser, which are now seen as quaint and clunky like the horse and cart of the digital world. With today's Internet speeds it a lot easier to stream a movie from Netflix than it is to watch an optical disk. A laser based tech becoming near obsolete in my lifetime! How amazing is that?
 
You might think then, like the apocryphal story of the commissioner of the US patent office, Charles H. Duell, that everything that could be invented had been invented. (I traced the quote - it was more likely a joke prophecy made in Punch magazine). This couldn't be further from the truth. the 21st century is the age of materials, where scientists are gaining insights as to how to manufacture new things at an atomic and quantum level. Quantum computers are in their infancy but promise to bring unparalleled levels of computing power. Graphene, the single atom thick layer of carbon famed for its conductivity of electricity and heat as well as tensile strength has already made its way into a commercial battery. Though at the moment it is only used to assist and enhance conventional lithium batteries,  it is expected that graphene only batteries will be used in future mobile phones and electric vehicles that will be a fraction of the size of those used today. 
 
So I've seen the world move from valves to the quantum computer in a couple of generations and technological progress is still accelerating. We're living in a world none of us could have envisaged 10 years ago. Who know what the next ten or fifteen years will bring. 
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An aside

Spain News

Saturday, May 30, 2020 9:45:13 AM
Singapore to resume flights to China: Coronavirus live updates Al Jazeera English
Saturday, May 30, 2020 8:32:09 AM
Brazil overtakes hard-hit Spain in coronavirus deaths | Daily Sabah Daily Sabah
Saturday, May 30, 2020 7:28:08 AM
Spain's Right Wing Sees Coronavirus Crisis as Opportunity Foreign Policy
Saturday, May 30, 2020 2:23:40 AM
Spain awaits and it won't Costa Lotta! We pick our favourite costas with deals of up to a third off Daily Mail
Friday, May 29, 2020 11:12:00 PM
La Liga return: State of play in Spain ahead of June 11 restart Yahoo Sports
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