Monday, 31 May 2010

Ireland's high birth rate and the economy

Many years ago, while living and working in London, we came back home for a few boating holidays on the Shannon. Once, we moored the hire boat at Rooskey and took a walk to a big barn of a pub called the Kon Tiki. The place was empty, with the exception of the barman and an old guy we got chatting to. The old guy told us that there was hardly a young person left in the area, as most of them had emigrated just as we had.

So although Ireland had a young population then, as now, if you wanted to work then sometimes the only choice was to get on the boat, and we are talking Stena Sealink rather than Carrick Craft here. Which makes you wonder about the logic of predicting economic growth or property prices on birth rate.

In 2007, Marc Coleman published a book with the unfortunate title of “The Best is Yet to Come”. I haven’t read the book, but from what I can gather, it is written on the premise that Ireland will experience major economic growth in the future based on net migration and domestic population growth.

The problem about making predictions based on the trends and conditions of a given period, however, is that trends and conditions have an awful habit of changing. Coleman reckons, based on reviews I’ve read, that Ireland (I assume the Republic) will boast a population of 8 million by 2050. You can just imagine the builders’ eyes lighting up at such a prospect.

Thing is, Ireland actually experienced net emigration in 2009, according to CSO figures, with 7,800 people leaving the country. This, I assume, is due to the simple reason that the work has dried up. Add in the fact that all of the old EU 15 states will open up their borders to workers from the assession countries next year, and it gets more interesting.  Up until now, people from countries such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have only been allowed to work in Ireland, the UK and Sweden.  Now let’s face it, if you were from one of these countries, would you not rather work in nearby Germany or maybe the south of France in preference to Ireland if you had the choice?  I know I would.  So that’s the increasing migration aspect dealt with, then.

Ireland’s birth-rate is another matter of course. While the rest of the EU’s population is greying, we are still popping them out like there’s no tomorrow, comparatively, with women in Ireland giving birth to an average of 2.05 children a year as opposed to 1.98 in France and 1.92 in Britain. Poland’s figure was 1.31. (CSO report, May).

Mind you, it’s all relative, as 2.1 is the figure deemed necessary for a population to stay at the same level, excluding migration.  Even so, the CSO still predicts a population of 5 million by 2021. There will have to be a major run on Viagra if Coleman's figure of 8 million just 29 years later is to be reached.

Fast forward 40 years, though, and it’s pretty likely that the Irish powers-that-be will be using emigration as a safety valve – as they have done since the State’s inception with only a few minor interruptions along the way.

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Friday, 28 May 2010

M8 Dublin to Cork motorway opens today

So the final motorway section of the Dublin-Cork motorway is opening today, four months ahead of schedule.  Not that I've plans to go to Cork anytime soon (where exactly is it, anyway?), but it makes sense to have all our major cities/towns joined up by good, safe roads - not only to shorten journey times, but to "saeve liiiives".  

The N7 to Limerick won't be complete until later this year, it seems, but they mentioned on Morning Ireland that it will bypass a notorious stretch of road between Mountrath and Borris-in-Ossary that has seen 30 road deaths alone. 

By monitoring statistics in regions like this over the coming years we will confirm that better roads equal fewer road deaths - regardless of the fact that Go Safe, the private speed camera consortium, will be let off the leash in the meantime to raise funds for speedo infringements (it needs to generate €16 million a year in fines to cover costs) and claim the credit for what was happening anyway.

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Wednesday, 26 May 2010

12 women travel to UK for abortions every day. We need abortion rights in Ireland

And what about the rights of the unborn”, I hear them say. “And what if YOU had been aborted”, is another refrain I hear in my mind’s ear.  Well, in answer to the first question I’d say I care more about the rights of the born. To the second I can only say, sure, I wouldn’t be here - but nor would those asking the stupid questions. And given a few of the Youth Defence specimens I’ve seen over the years, maybe that would not be a bad thing?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not in favour of using abortion as contraception. Contraceptives are available all over Ireland now, I hope, so there is no excuse in that regard. Unlike in the not-too-distant-past.

But as mentioned in an earlier post of about a year ago, there will always be crisis pregnancies because of economic/emotional circumstances, medical anomalies or complications, incest and rape. What’s more, as a man, I will never be faced with the dilemma, and will never have the State dictating what I should do with my body. But a woman should have choice.

The stark fact too, is that the longer Irish women are denied abortion rights, the more the chances their abortions (when they eventually arrange and procure them) will be later-term ones.

This topic is up again due to figures (Metro, 26th May) indicating that 12 women a day travel to Britain for an abortion, with 4,422 patients giving an Irish address to UK clinics last year. Neil Behan, head of the Irish Family Planning Association, is quoted as saying that at least 142,060 women travelled to Britain for an abortion since 1980.

Remember too, that these figures only account for those who gave Irish addresses. Many will give UK addresses if they have Britain-based friends or relations who are assisting them through what is already a very distressing situation.

There is a great Irish tradition of ignoring reality, I know. But ignoring reality does not make it go away. It’s time that the Irish authorities faced up to this one, and allowed Irish women the abortion rights most of their European counterparts are entitled to.

See also:

The Story of Paul and Mandy

The above map originated from a BBC article of 12 February, 2007

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Sunday, 23 May 2010

Shell to Sea, Ray Burke, and the irresistible gombeenism of Ireland

There is a strong element of NIMBYism in Ireland. If you want to widen your gateposts in Dublin, there’s always a chance that someone in Kerry could object - redefining the very concept. Or if you want to link towns and cities with a motorway (statistically the safest roads) or replace death-trap bridges (see Slane) there will be no shortage of consciensious objectors trying to put the mockers on it.

So I have to admit when I heard, way back when, that protesters were out blocking the roads in Mayo - reciting the Rosary as Gaeilge, no less - in objection to Shell’s proposed gas pipeline going over their land, I was a bit sceptical to put it very mildly.

But just as the State took such a major role in suppressing dissent when Ronald Ronald Reagan visited these shores many years ago - with a special fondness in his heart for the imbeciles of Ballyporeen – you have to wonder if they have some kind of point. Oh, and at that time the Irish prime minister was espoused liberal, Garret Fitzgerald. Welcome Ronnie the warmonger.

Remember too, that the Irish government has never been behind the door when prostitiuing us to the multinationals. OK, we’ve more jobs nowadays than we did in the ‘80s, but there is such a thing as protection.

Then there’s the payoff. While having Google and Microsoft here gives us jobs, you have to wonder about us being the prime facilitators of corporate tax-dodging in the EU. Ask anyone employed in one of these concerns and the answer will be predictable. And understandable. But?

So, no surprise tben, that the Irish government sold us so short when they wrote the Corrib exploration rights off to Shell. Professor John M Simmie, from the chemistry facuilty of NUI Galway, maintained in the Irish Times of August 23rd, 2005, that “ at that time, the country had neither the trained personnel nor the funds to wildcat for oil and gas. It would have been a giant gamble at a time when our economy could not have sustained such a shock.”

OK, 50/1 are odds that the most optimistic gambler would shirk at, but even if your horse wins because the rest of the field falls down, you wouldn’t have backed it unless you thought there was some chance of winning. But it seems that corrupt Fianna Fail politician, Ray Burke, lobbied to abolish existing legislation of the time - which gave the State a 50% stake in any discoveries - to facilitate Shell’s deployment here. You can look further into this at the Shell to Sea website here.

For my part, I know we need energy resources, I know we need investment, I know we need infrastructure. But I also know that if someone like Ray Burke was involved in Shell’s investment here, you have to wonder.

In times like this we need to make the most of the few assets we have to get some semblance of profit for our pains - whilst keeping within international safety standards .

Is it too much to ask?

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Friday, 21 May 2010 - campaigning to make our roads safer.

Just a quick post to inform you all of a site called, whose organisers are doing their bit to make our roads safer by drawing attention to the perilous state of our highways and byways and the threat they pose not just to our vehicles, but to life and limb. See below a comment from Graham, one of the people behind the site, to an earlier Gombeen Nation post:

Hi Mr. GM,
I'm not sure if you've heard about our little site which is trying to highlight the issue of... you guessed, potholes across the nation. We've tried to involve as many CO. Co. as possible to have a balanced view on the topic and allow them some floorspace to illustrate the massive efforts being put in by all of their hard working employees (cue the sarcasm if you haven't noticed!). In fairness, DCC have been the most accommodating Co.Co. so far, giving us little tips on how the information we provide could be better laid out etc. etc. However, the best response was from the nice people of Drogheda Borough County Council, who told us;

"This Website has no official status and we will not be contributing. You need not send on any further correspondence." The first thing that jumps out is that no-one has had the balls to put their name to the email and secondly, who says I can't send an email to a public body email address?? We pay for the bloody email address, so I'll email it if I want to!!! Sorry, rant over.

Anyway, I would appreciate it if anyone would like to logon to our site and report a few potholes. Those of you from Drogheda are even more welcomed!

Thanks, Graham
The Team

 It should be borne in mind that a recent AA survey of 7,000 motorists (Sindo 9th May) revealed that 22% of drivers had hit a pothole which caused enough damage to justify calling out the AA or visiting a garage. 24 per cent of affected motorists reported the damage to their local authority, but in only 17% of cases were repairs carried out.  

If you know of any tank traps out your way, at least if you report them to the site above, it will be on  record... even if the councils do nothing and someone ends up getting killed.

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Tuesday, 18 May 2010

TDs’ pension “gifts” can be written off against tax

It’s never nice when your holidays are drawing to an end and you’re in the last week. I suppose the only consolation is you’re not compelled to buy the Sindo anymore, if you’re in the habit of getting a paper on a Sunday. That’s the only thing you can get in this part of Spain.

I got it again in an attempt to keep abreast of goings-on in dear old Erin, but I have to say - having read the thing cover to cover - I’m none the wiser. It looks as though an editorial directive was issued by Tony O’Reilly to talk up economic recovery, with hacks and columnists (with the exception of the excellent Gene Kerrigan) spinning out dizzying statistics to convince us that Ireland is out of recession and is going to be the envy of the world once more. Mind you, GDP figures can be misleading when you are host to as many tax-dodging multinationals as we are.

Indeed, I’m half expecting to see the skyline punctured by busy cranes whizzing about like something out of War of the Worlds when I get back, and to learn that Nama is a distant memory that everyone laughs about as they rush off, in their loan-financed ‘10 Mercs, to snap up yet another investment property.

So when I found myself reading that politicians who “gifted” their pensions to the State were to get the total amount back in tax credits, I didn’t know what to believe. But, in an Irish context, that seems far more likely than the economy-as-Lazarus guff.

It seems that due to “legal difficulties” the only way serving TDs could relinquish their multiple pensions, which they receive even as they are working, was by making a gift of them to the State. Funny how the phrases “legal difficulties” and “it would be unconstitutional” are always invoked when the privileged are challenged in some way, isn’t it? Another example being when judges were asked to take a pay cut.

According to the paper’s chief reporter, Daniel McConnell, the Revenue Commissioner says that “any person who gifts money to the Minister for Finance and the State will have that amount written down against their income tax liability.” So TDs who have supposedly relinquished their pensions will be none the worse off, and the exchequer will be none the better off? What??

If that is true, it sounds too incredible even for Ireland.

Can’t wait to get back.

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Saturday, 15 May 2010

Cowen admits FF responsibility for economy. Sort of.

So somebody from Fianna Fail has finally admitted that its property tax breaks and shelters damaged the economy. Sort of. Brian Cowen is reported by yesterday’s Indo as saying that “governments should never again introduce tax breaks which would make a property bubble possible” and that “property tax incentives in place over the period from the mid-1990s should have been abolished many years prior to his decision to abolish them in December 2005”.

Notwithstanding the fact that Section 23s were still being built long after that date – you can still see the developers trying to flog some of them if you buy a Sunday paper – isn’t that a Damascus moment for Cowen? Or is it just the wriggling of a particularly slimy worm on the end of a hook? It’s the latter – as the next quotation in the piece implies:

“While government shares responsibility for its role in these mistakes, it is noteworthy that many of the strongest critics of the government were silent on these issues prior to the crisis and indeed were proposing measures such as the radical reduction or abolition of stamp duty which would have made the position much worse.”

“Some responsibility”? Bloody hell, should that not read “all”? They were the government after all, and they did introduce the tax measures in question. Fianna Fail also slashed capital gains tax, another move which guaranteed to inflate the property market. Cowen does, however,  have a point about the relative silence of the media and many opposition politicians while the bubble was crazily inflating.

Despite Cowen’s, and other government ministers’, assurances at the time that Ireland’s property market inflation was based on sound fundamentals, it was obvious to anyone with a brain in their heads that an economy could not be based on, and sustained on, ever increasing property prices. You didn’t need to go to economics school for that, just high-babies. The silence from the mainstream media (with notable exceptions such as David McWilliams, who was dismissed as a crank and a killjoy) was remarkable.

Now, I don't have a list of TDs' and councillors investment properties at my disposal (assuming it would be possible to collate a reliable list on the subject) but I would say such a list would be revealing. It would be similarly interesting to sift through the capital asset investments of media commentators. I know it sounds very cynical – not to mention analytically simplistic – but how come all these people, who are considered intelligent and are not usually slow about holding forth on all manner of other topics, were – for the most part - so quiet?

And on that very point, just a week or so before I went on holiday, some RTE property guru, from one of those programmes that encouraged gullible idiots to “buy! buy! buy!” was advising people selling property to “hold out” for their prices. I think the longer they hold out, the less they will get.

If anyone expects property prices to return to the levels of 2006 anytime soon, they can forget it. That money was never actually in the economy in the first place. That’s why we have had Nama imposed on the dopey, docile Irish public. That’s why the country is in the mess it is, and no amount of upbeat talk by Tom Parlon or Goodbodys is going to change that.

Another thing. When countries such as Poland, Latvia and Lithuania joined the EU, only three states opened up their doors to them with regard to their labour markets. Ireland, the UK, and Sweden. As far as I am aware, workers from these countries will be allowed to work in the rest of the EU states from 2011. That’s next year.

That will give such workers far more attractive options than Ireland, which could have interesting consequences for our buy-to-let investors and the Irish property market in general.

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Thursday, 13 May 2010

The future's not so clair...

Do you ever read those thrashy mags such as “Take a Break”, “Chat”, “Love It!”, “Full House!”, “Real People”, “Pick Me Up” and the like? If not, presumably because you feel they aren’t sufficiently high-brow for your sensibilities, you are missing out. They are great, they really are. We’ve got a stash of them here on holidays with us.

Now I’m not talking about the celebrity ones – wouldn’t be interested in those at all – but the ones that feature allegedly true scandal stories from “real people”. Mothers having it off with their daughter’s new hubby (usually called Darren) on the wedding day, then the pair of them - the mother and Darren - shacking up together before the confetti has blown out of the churchyard. It’s always a church wedding, and it’s usually financed by a 20-grand advance from The Loan Company.

Then there are full-page adverts flogging “collections” from the Franklin Mint or some such. Tacky plates or trinkets and “gold plated” rings with big farthings on them, which presumably double as knuckle dusters if someone spills your pint down the pub. Another one, from the Diamond Discount Centre, features an awful-looking ring containing “24 diamonds” for 99 quid. I don’t do jewellery myself, but that sounds a bit cheap for 24 diamonds. Real ones, I mean.

Then there are stories about “psychic dating”, where two charlatans – I mean clairvoyants – who happen to be “twin flames” (lovers in a “past life”, apparently. They’ve been together a year in this one) tell hopefuls who’ve handed over the requisite readies that they are going to meet their “soulmate” very soon, and that Aunt Aggie has confirmed the validity of this prediction from beyond the grave. One woman at a “psychic speed-dating” session, Rachel Spencer, had “tried everything to bag Mr Right, with no luck”. “I’ve been single for six years”, she reveals, then goes on to tell us she avoids even speaking to anyone who is “a Gemini or a Sagittarius”. Is it any wonder, love?

This is very tenuous, I know, for a Gombeen Nation blog (so you must think I’m getting very desperate) but there is an Irish connection here. Real People has a “Mad World” column, consisting of “mapcap stories from around the globe”. One of the stories is about a clairvoyant by the name of Una Power, who took 98FM to an employment tribunal for axing her psychic phone-in show. “I was stunned”, she told the court, “this came completely out of the blue”.

So much for looking into the future, eh?

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Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Beethoven, culture and Corrie

The concepts of “culture” and “popular culture” have cropped up on the blog before. And I suppose that “culture” is anything that is still “popular” after the substantial passing of time (purely on its own merit). Like Beethoven.

Excuse me donning the pretentious arty-farty critic guise here, encouraged by a few holiday riojas, but I am reading “Beethoven the Universal Composer” by Edmund Morris, and it’s really quite good.

I had always imagined that writing a symphony would be a pretty daunting project, but was nonetheless stunned to learn that Ludwig’s second contained 1,925 separate ciphers on its opening page – equating to music that lasted no longer than 15 seconds. Then throw into the mix the fact that the man (who had perfect pitch) was battling deafness - on the way to losing his hearing completely by the time he’d written his Ninth Symphony (the Ode to Joy part of which is now the EU anthem) – and it is truly, humiliatingly, stunning.

That was on the roof earlier. Then there was Coronation Street later this evening. If you watch it – and I do – you’ll know there’s a character in it with a touch of the Annie Wilkes of “Misery” fame about her. In recent episodes she more or less held hostage a gossipy, interfering, nosey, short-arsed little bollocks called Norris Cole in an isolated cottage in Bronte (or Brunty) Country. He eventually escaped and lived to tell the tale... something he’s quite good at.

Anyway, he was sipping half an ale (a half!) in the Rovers when he shot out of the pub the millisecond his captor arrived on the threshold. “He always leaves skidmarks whenever I appear”, she observed. You would probably have to see it and know the characters to appreciate it, but it was classic comedy.

So what is culture? Real, living, unsubsidised culture?

It is culture that transcends national boundaries. Just as Beethoven’s work was good enough to gain an appreciation beyond Germany and Austria (for much of his career he was based in Vienna) and is now world culture. Just as football – as the majority of the Earth understands it – is a game appreciated in every corner of the globe. Just as Corrie has an audience way beyond Weatherfield. Something that no amount of subsidies for Ros na Ruin and the like will ever achieve.

And why? Because they have universal merit, they are truly part of all our cultures.

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Sunday, 9 May 2010

Thoughts of home

I don’t usually buy the Sindo, but it’s all they have here in this corner of Spain. Anyway, it’s always nice to catch up with the latest shenanigans, scandals and corruption at home. Makes you enjoy your holiday all the more, I find.

So what have we got? Gerry Ryan slipping off the mortal coil, leaving a €300,000 tax bill behind. A “market gardener” from Swords leaving €3 million in his will (oh to be self-employed in Ireland. As soon as I get back it’s down to the Tech for some horticultural evening classes). Mary McAleese, our esteemed president, running up €1.2 million in expenses over four years. Rumours of Lenihan being forced to call an early budget to address the public finances. Pyramid-scheme fruadsters who continue to live lavish lifestyles, whose activities have yet to warrant an interview by the Garda. Where’s that Wolfe Tones CD, begob? I’m getting homesick here.

You can only take so much news from home, so thankfully, the apartment we’ve rented does not have RTE. I’ve been able to keep up with the important news though, such as Leeds United being promoted and Norris escaping the clutches of Mary in Coronation Street.

Then there was the British election. Great to see the BNP humiliated, losing all 12 of their council seats and getting nothing on a national(ist) level, after fielding some 300 candidates. Nevertheless it’s worrying that over half a million people voted for them. Not so great to see the Tories elected, but at least whatever power they hold will be tenuous. And can they be much worse than Gordon Brown’s Labour anyway? Speaking of whom, when IS he going to naff off?

And what about that Shinner who scraped in by four seats? A salutary vindication of that party’s old “vote early and vote often” policy, if ever there was one. Then there was the truly incredible spectacle, to Irish eyes, of a politician being voted out after an expenses scandal (piffling compared with anything you would get here), with Jacqui Smith, ex home secretary, being told to sling her hook.

And on that theme: a very welcome ” bye-bye” to Peter Robinson. The DUP might very well count some prize bigots among its support, but at least they would appear to have standards of some sort.

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Friday, 7 May 2010

Things that go bump. The relentless advance of the road safety industry.

The car must think it’s a clear-cut frying pan/fire case. Villamartin, near Torrejeiva, must be the speed bump capital of Spain. Actually, make that the bump capital, as the place is resplendent with potholes that would sink a medium-sized tank. Add in speed bumps that would dwarf anything you might see this side of Darndale – or Everest – and you get the picture. You’d nearly need a team of sherpas to get from one side of the place to the other.

And what’s the point of speed bumps anyway? If you care about your car’s nuts and bolts you will slow down to a crawl for them, only to find there’s some idiot right up your arse taking them at the same speed as the rest of the road. This is true – I have experienced it many, many times.

So what do you do? You crawl over the speed bump and floor the accelerator to get to the next one, where you slam on the brakes to keep your distance from the oblivious tailgater. The funny thing is, speed bumps lead people who care about their cars to run their engines at higher revs. Speed bumps also pose a hazard for emergency vehicles – ambulances in particular.

Then again, some people seem to drive at the same speed all the time, regardless of whether they are on a motorway, driving through a village, going a past a school, or going over a speed bump. Surely one of the most important skills of driving is tailoring your speed to suit the conditions?

It seems that a whole industry has formed around the issue of road safety, despite the fact that road fatalities are at historically low levels. This is because cars are safer and more of them are now equipped with electronic stability control (despite the Irish government taxing the life-saving technology and leading to some manufacturers dropping it from models destined for sale in Ireland).

Another thing is that our roads are becoming safer, due to the increasing numbers of motorways (the safest category of road) despite the protests of crusties, druids and middle-class tree-huggers for whom the safe commute to and from work every day is not a priority.

But the more these people get their way, the more they will be wrongly “vindicated”. They will attribute the decline in road deaths – for the reasons explained above – with their introduction of speed bumps, ridiculous 30 k/mh speed limits, and speed cameras with this decline – which was happening anyway.

For a perfect example of this dishonesty, one need only look at the Dublin Cycling Campaign website (I won’t dignify it with a link – you can search it if you want).

This group supported Dublin Corporation’s imposition of a 30 km/h limit on the city’s quays to save the lives of pedestrians and cyclists. And I will point out at this juncture that I am a pedestrian most of the time.

Anyone who knows Dublin will be aware that it is impossible to do 30 km/h when it is busy with pedestrians, cars, motorcycles and motorists. So it is absolute nonsense. Our lazy coppers will only use this limit to bump up their conviction quotas early in the morning and late at night.

And here’s another reason why the Dublin Cycling Campaign will claim Dublin Corporation’s speed limit to have been instrumental in “saving lives” a few years from now - totally incorrectly.

The fact is that 25 pedestrians and cyclists died in Dublin city centre since 1998. Only one involved a private car. Two involved motorbikes. One involved a taxi. The really telling statistic is that NINE pedestrians/cyclists were killed by juggernauts (which have since been banned from town) and FIVE were killed by a bus that mounted the pavement on the quays. The others are unclear, but I can think of at least two who where killed by police cars.

Please refer to this post when the Dublin Cycling Campaign and Dublin Corporation are trotting out their statistics in a few years’ time.

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Wednesday, 5 May 2010

A place in the Sun

I am the blogosphere’s Victor Mildrew. You know how I give out (and with some justification, I believe) about Ireland? Well this place is as bad. Nearly.

Spain seems to be a country that’s only half-finished. Well, at least in the touristy bit where I am at present – a place called Villamartin south of Torreveija – or Torraheny as it is sometimes disparagingly called, due to its past popularity with Irish people eager to get into debt to buy a “place in the sun”, or escape the attention of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

It’s an awful kip altogether, and at the minute it’s blowing a gale and the place is swathed in enough featureless stratocumulous to render the most enthusiastic cloud spotter unconscious with boredom (exept for a brief Damascian break in the clouds that lasted the time it took to take this picture).  Sorry, I’m doing a Victor again. I don’t believe it.

Anyway, it’s interesting to observe the proliferation of half-finished developments, and the number of houses and apartments sporting “se vende” signs (only occurred to me today that’s where we get the term “vendor” from. Or from the Latin root, at least). The pic above is typical, and was taken just a few minutes walk from where I am staying.
I was in Carrefour, Torreveija, earlier today (it’s a big supermarket of the kind not allowed in Ireland due to vested interests) and heard a few Irish accents, but far more English ones of a certain vintage – older people who had retired here. I suppose many of these people had been on holidays to Spain earlier in their lives and had the idea that they might develop the concept by selling up at home and actually come to live here.

Thing is, a holiday is a bit different to living in a place. Chatting to a few of them (as in previous holidays) you can’t help notice that the “blah blah blah... BUT we’re glad we came here” is a recurring one. Thing is, when you’re sixty-fi ve-plus and have sold up everything you’ve worked for at home and have no way of reversing your decision, you’re going to say that, aren’t you?

Another thing. When you get older, the chances of having a heart attack, a stroke, cancer or whatnot are increased. So the chances of saying a lasting goodbye to a loved one in a hospital where standards of care are actually lower than they are in Ireland or Britain is greatly increased. Then throw into the mix the fact that you can't actually communicate, in any meaningful sense, in the adopted country of your dotage (most retirees here can't, in my experience). “Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye”, as the song goes.

Maybe the changed economic circumstances in Ireland - and Spain - will mean many Irish won't have that place in the sun to look forward to on retirement.  And perhaps that's no bad thing?

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Sunday, 2 May 2010

A change is as good as a rest.

Welcome to Gombeen Nation, coming to you from the south of France – holiday time! All this new-fangled technology is great altogether, and I’ve got the newly acquired laptop plugged in and connected up in our little Premiere Classe motel room in the vicinity of Bordeaux.

These things are the business, they really are. €40 for a room, whether there are one, two or three occupants, and a brekkie when you get out of the scratcher for €4.80 a head. OK, it’s not the Four Seasons, but you have everything you need, including en-suite, parking, TV and - of course - inclusive wi-fi. I’m beginning to sound like a budget Bill Bryson here.

Nice drive down from Cherbourg, where we got off the boat at 1pm. 708 kilometres/460 miles in less than seven hours with four stops for coffee/bladder needs. Not bad eh? Try doing that in Ireland... if Ireland was big enough.

The ferry crossing was very smooth, and it’s great having your little cabin and your own bit of space... and we’re not talking knee room here. I’d rather spend 18 hours in a boat with that than be elbowing my way onto one of Mick O’Leary’s crates any day. But it’s horses for courses, I suppose.

Speaking of comforts. One thing I hadn’t noticed before – and call me a naive townie if you will – is the transporting of live animals by lorry. There were four of these juggernauts (each one a double-decker) as we were boarding the boat, and the noise out of the poor buggers inside was awful. Now, I’m not a veggie, but nor would I beat a trail to Elliot and Son butchers every day either – a Big Mac and a Findus burger and a steak once in a blue moon would be about it. But you have to wonder if it’s strictly necessary to transport live animals over long distances and 18-hour ferry crossings on top of each other so people can chomp something, the origin of which they are blissfully unaware?  It seems like unnecessary suffering... I mean, can they not grow cows in France?

We’re continuing on down to Spain tomorrow, and hopefully there will be no more disasters there this year. More about that anon.  And now that Gombeen Nation has gone techie all of a slap, the blog will continue as per usual. 

You know, given the property-based implosion of the Irish economy, Spain might seem like a home from home for the next three weeks.

But hopefully, at least there will be a bit of sunshine.