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31 March 2012

Defiant Spanish reducing no-smoking laws to ashes

THERE are growing signs that Spain’s long-overdue legislation to curb the fag brigade is going up in smoke. 
 I suspected at the time the anti-smoking laws were tightened in January 2011 that tobacco-obsessed Spaniards would not observe it.
And I’ve also been horrified recently that some Brits seem happy to risk a fine of up to €600,000 (as well as a horrendous death) by either smoking illegally themselves – or, in the case of some bar and business owners,  allowing people to light up in enclosed bars, restaurants and even offices.
Clearly these people are playing with fire - both literally and metaphorically. They don’t seem to realise it only takes one puffed-off colleague or customer to turn them in...and they could be relieved of every cent they own. At least, that’s what the law says.
Realistically, we all know that the Spanish police and bureaucrats are about as straight as Julian Clary and Alan Carr pairing up with the Kray twins on Strictly Kill Dancing. And since the protectors of the state smoke just as heavily as its citizens, the words ‘nudge nudge, wink wink, puff puff’ come to mind.
Last weekend, a friend and I sat in the glass-fronted dining area of an upmarket, sea-front restaurant (I’m not saying where) and ordered a late lunch.  Since the pullback roof was closed, we naturally we assumed the area was non-smoking. Until, that is, we noticed ashtrays on the tables.
To add fire to the fuel, three members of a loud, ignorant  group of Spaniards proceeded to manipulate a suspicious-looking substance into a trio of pathetically thin roll-ups and to set them alight.
Within seconds, my pal and I were being passively poisoned via noise and nostrils combined.
“How come you allow smoking?’’ I asked a waiter. ‘’The room is closed in.’’
‘‘It is permitted for people to smoke,’’ he countered, pointing to a tiny gap between the slats of the removable roof. (Well, he indicated a gap – though I couldn’t actually see it). “We have ventilation and air conditioning, so it is not a problem.’’
Now, either I have got it all wrong, or the law brought in on January 2, 2011, banned smoking in enclosed public  places. In bars and restaurants the exception was to be establishments with a maximum of two walls or without a roof.
Since diners in this particular restaurant are visible to every passer-by, I can only assume that the police choose to ignore a seemingly blatant flouting of the law. Or maybe there’s some obscure small print which frees the restaurant management of compliance?
There is, of course, another possibility…but I wouldn’t dream of suggesting anyone in Spain is corrupt.
Non-observance of the law is even worse in some places. A few days ago, for instance, a non-smoking friend went into a  local Spanish bar for an early-morning coffee and was greeted by the sight of two Guardia Civil officers smoking away next to people eating breakfast.
“It goes on all the time,’’ my pal assured me, adding: “Personally, I wish smoking was allowed in set smoking areas in bars but not in restaurants or eating areas.’’
Sounds to me like they don’t need a law for that...they’ve designated the smoking bit already.
So much for the Spanish - what about the Brits who tell the legislators to go to blazes? The people who would not dare to defy the law in the UK, but seem to think it’s OK to bend the rules in Spain?
One publican admitted to me that when it’s cold, he takes a chance in the evenings by allowing smoking in the closed-in extension to his bar near Torrevieja.
“I know I’m taking a risk,’’ he said. “But my customers want to smoke and I don’t want to send them out into the road.’’
On the contrary, I could give him 600,000 reasons why he SHOULD send them out into the road.
I’m even more amazed by the smoker who lights up regularly in the open-plan office in which he works, just yards from his non-smoking boss and the entrance door.
Since smoke rises, the fumes drift to the office upstairs, not that the fumador is bothered. His defiance, despite the fact that the office’s few other addicts go outside to indulge their habit, astounds me as much as the fact that no one has made an issue of it. At least, not yet.
I just hope the person concerned sees the light before the law moves in. Or, worst-case scenario, a misplaced dog-end sets fire to the building and his boss suffers a fate worse than debt.
Published in The Courier (www.thecourier.es) March 30, 2012

10 March 2012

Every day is a holiday.... living the dream

I’VE been singing a little catchphrase each morning these past 12 months or so. It emerges roughly five minutes after I  ease my aching bones out of bed, wondering what new pains I’ve inherited for this particular day, and hobble creakily into the bathroom.

A cursory squint into the mirror tells me I don’t wish to see my sagging face, so cleaning my teeth is invariably a blind date with the toothbrush.

It’s little consolation that I still have my own gnashers (which remain attached to my jawbone, believe it or not)  because they are as grey as a typical English summer sky.

Every day's a holiday: A long lunch break in Benidorm
A few years back, I invested the best part of £1,000 in a vain bid to make them gleam like they did 50 years ago. Talk about being taken to the cleaners!
As I rummage around for the eight pills I’m supposed to take first thing, my head fills with the mass of work ahead of me for the next 12 hours. 

Writing, editing, designing, talking to readers, replying to emails…life is certainly not a doddle at The Courier.

Then it happens. I start singing. Well, I am Welsh, so it’s allowed. And it’s loud as well.
The bit that might throw you is the words to my little ditty ..because work doesn’t come into it. The tune varies from Land of My Fathers to the Marseillaise and McNamara’s Band. But the sentiments are always the same.

EVERY DAY’S A HOLIDAY IN OUR HOUSE…no matter how hard I have to work. Because while those around me stress at not being able to make ends meet, or contemplate another boring day doing nothing but getting sunburnt, I am living a dream.

For decades we would spend our family holidays in Spain, Italy or somewhere equally compulsive in the Mediterranean – 14 days relaxing (kids permitting), with the Fleet Street rat race as distant as the remotest star in the next galaxy.

Winter or summer, we would wake up to glorious sunshine beaming into our hotel room and savour that unique atmosphere every holidaymaker wants to last or ever.

You know, the feeling that every day is a holiday…

Of course, it would end with that horrible, sweltering morning when you struggled onto that sweaty return bus to the airport before herding the whole noisy, moaning entourage back onto a Freddie Laker DC10 for the return flight to Hades.

Four hours and 40 heart attacks later, you were back in blighty, shivering your way down the aircraft steps onto the runway – and hoping an out of control airport bus would flatten your ever-moaning four-year-old, the uncrowned Princess of Wails.

Every coming day would again be a penance as the unyielding rain pattered down your neck. But there was at least the thought of next year’s holiday in the sun to keep the spirits up. Even if it was 50 weeks away.

Meanwhile, it was back to the rat race, the traffic jams, the pollution and the damp greyness of England’s clean and pheasant land. Not to mention the mother-in-law, those neighbours from hell and the ongoing war with the binmen.

Oh, there was also the obligatory annual drought, which simply could not be avoided. I mean, 200 years is far too brief a period for the bureaucrats to devise a cunning plan to harness all that rain and winter flooding for an entire year.

Clearly the poor reservoirs have irreparable leaks, because the problem is not drying up. (Well, it IS drying up but the problem is still there, if you get my drift – or rather my attempt to drift, cos there ain’t no water to drift on).

One of the perks of retirement, providing you have some sort of private pension to supplement the state one), is that you can afford to make that holiday in the sun permanent.

OK, it’s not as straightforward as that – I mean, the logistics of embarking on a 24/7 sojourn to the tropics are not simple for a dodderer (no Ken, not you).

It doesn’t work out for everyone, but when I start writing lists of pros and cons for living in Spain and the UK respectively, I struggle to come up with a single entry on the Brit list.

So it was predictable that when I bought my home in the Costa Blanca six years ago, it felt like I had died and gone to Heaven.

All I needed was some meaningful stimulation to keep my brain active. It was a long time coming but thankfully it was duly delivered last year…by Courier.

Now I’m happily working myself to death in the perfect environment, and whilst I’d love to see more of my kids and grandkids back in Manchester, I have the consolation here of a wonderful circle of likeminded friends.

Ah well, on with the hols.

Published in The Courier 9/3/2012 (www.thecourier.es)