Andalucia Steve the dream

Ex-pat cravings

The crazy things I miss from blighty


For my first visit to Spain my wife and I were lucky enough to be invited over by a friend who had moved over to Alicante in the previous year. He kindly offered to shows us a few locations up and down the Costa Blanca. One thing stuck in my mind from that visit. One day we popped into an English grocers shop and my friend happened to spot a box of cornflakes. These weren't ordinary cornflakes but the fruity ones with added strawberries. What happened next left quite an impression. My friend retired to the car, opened the box of cornflakes and started cupping handfuls of the dry cereal into his mouth with tears of joy coming down his face. He explained these were his favourite brand and that he had not had them for a year or so since he was last in the UK!
Now that I'm a Spanish resident myself I completely understand how he felt. While I never get homesick for England, every now and again, a flavour or a smell can trigger an unusual response in the brain. Like Proust's Madeleines dipped in tea, they can open a neural pathway with surprising efficacy, transporting one back to a different place and time. Sometimes though it happens the other way. One imagines the place and the time which in turn reminds one of the taste or smell which stimulates the craving. I've lost count of the number of times this has happened to me. Typically I'll think of an event like a Christmas celebration, which will remind my of a beverage like ginger wine. Once the flavour and smell of the ginger wine gets in my head I'll be unable to shake it off. I'll trawl around the supermarkets here to see if there is anything similar. Then when inevitably I find that there isn't I'll go online to shop for some, only to be defeated by exorbitant delivery charges. Then I'll hit up YouTube and start typing "how to make ginger wine"...
The first big bump in the road after first moving to Spain was that I found myself living in a remote village that was far, far away from a decent curry house. Not only that but I was really surprised by the paucity of spices used in Spanish cuisine. They just don't do hot and spicy food over here. So a process began of teaching myself how to cook Indian food and sourcing ingredients. I'd brought some dried chillies and coriander seeds with me and surprised myself by successfully planting and growing these. I discovered cardamoms were available through a local health-food shop. Also, I came across a Moroccan bric-à-brac shop which had a small shelf of spices from which I was able to source a few things. Bit by bit I was able to get everything together, and using the invaluable book, 'The Curry Secret' by Kris Dhillon, I was able to recreate the good old-fashioned British Indian restaurant experience in my own home. I shed a tear myself when I cooked my first perfect Chicken Tikka Massala!
This was over fifteen years ago and things have moved on. My local supermarket carries fresh coriander and ginger these days. However there are still many items that obsess my senses from time to time. Fresh cream seems to be unknown here. They only do the UHT stuff or horrible squirty cream. Clotted cream is pure fantasy. I often dream of kippers, smoked mackerel fillets, custard powder, Colman's mustard, instant desserts like Angel Delight, pickled onions, Vesta Chow Mein with crispy noodles, the list is endless! Most of this is crap, processed food, but such is the way my brain is wired, these happen to be the ones that take me back to the past most effectively.
When I moved to Andalusia a decade ago I found the situation little different. There are places near the coast where British and Asian groceries can be sourced. As I don't have a car, and the bus ride would be a round trip of about 25 euros, I rarely bother to make the journey.
Fortunately online purchasing has gradually made the availability of many items possible, though some online retailers either won't ship to Spain or charge a lot for postage. Even Amazon didn't have an online store in Spain until as late as 2011 but now it is possible to order some items through them at a lower cost of delivery than getting them sent from the UK.
A better solution over the years has been to inconvenience friends of mine to bring stuff over when they come to stay. Fortunately I've known many folk with holiday homes here who have volunteered their services as my spice mules, squeezing all sorts of things from poppadoms to tamarind paste into their luggage. My most trusty trafficker, Lynda has brought hundreds of items over for me in the past, but alas she is retiring this year, having made the sensible decision to base herself over here permanently. Respect and many thanks for your years of loyal service!
Really she couldn't have picked a better time to hang up the shopping bag, since this year I've discovered a couple of online Asian grocers specialising in the Spanish market, carrying a much wider range of items than I've ever seen before, and with reasonable delivery charges. For the first time in almost two decades I can order everything from rasmalai to frozen samosas with more spices available than you could shake a cinnamon stick at!
In case these websites are of interest to my fellow ex-pat sensation-seekers, here are the addresses:

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! 

The Tyger

Things that go bump in the night
The Tyger
I felt eyes burning from behind. I heard a growl so low it could have come from the depths of Hades. It was a big cat.
I'm running now. It may have been a tiger, a jaguar, perhaps a leopard but who cares when you're scared. Feline taxonomy becomes secondary to survival. I just knew it moved stealthily and with intelligence. Whichever way I ran it took a shortcut towards me. Hide? Forget it. Had to keep moving.
Then I caught a break. I opened the kitchen door and stood to the side. The beast's momentum carried it outside. I slammed the door shut then ran back upstairs to close the windows in my jungle house above. Quickly upwards, lungs bursting. Another floor, another floor to the top. I heard the growl again. The big cat had climbed a nearby tree and was waiting. It came in through the window. At this point I started to throw objects at the snarling animal - fruit, vegetables whatever came to hand. That's when I woke up!
One generally awakens quickly from a nightmare, though I noticed as I journeyed into consciousness that I'd made a mental note to source weapons of a more practical nature such as spears or knives, in case I were I to find myself in that position again. Then things became clearer.
It was stupid o'clock and under normal circumstances I would have rolled over and gone back to sleep. However my mind was still racing from being chased by the big predator so I knew nodding-off again was not an option. There was only one thing for it.. Twitter!
I grabbed my smartphone and lay there in the dark scrolling through the wall of micro-stories. Lots of marketing (note to self, why do I bother following all these sodding online marketers - OK they follow back but they post such crap, much of it automatically scheduled making sure my feed is polluted with pithy motivational messages even in the middle of the night).
There were lots of stories about the local UK elections. Basically the Labour party had gained more seats than the Tories, but because the Tories had anticipated a poor result and Labour a big one, the Tory Twitter brigade were claiming it as a huge victory. Another not to self: 'Truth' is the first casualty of a politicians opening their mouths!
Then a ballsack-grabbing headline caught my eye. "Knesset gives power to Netanyahu to declare war with single vote backing". That seemed important. It's not just that the power to start a war is sliding from a cabinet towards an individual i.e. the shift from democracy towards totalitarianism. It is that legislation such as this does not pop-out of thin air. Somebody has gone to the trouble of asking for this, of planning it. What is the motive? What is the intention? Worryingly Netanyahu had, a few hours before, given a presentation claiming Iran had lied about it's nuclear program. Are Israel about to declare war on Iran, who they're claiming are a nuclear power in hiding? This sounds bad. 
Immediately the first thing to do is to fact-check. The original Tweet was on RT or RTNews as I recall and had a link to the Knesset. To further confirm the story I checked the Knesset website in English and found the relevant press release []
This had been announced on Monday 1st May and I was only finding out on the following Saturday. That surprised me because I read a lot of news and have feeds and alerts pumping information to me all the time. So I thought I'd do a quick search in case I'd missed this important story. Well there was nothing in the Daily Mail, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, The New York Times or the Washington post. Doing a general search of Google news, there were a few local/blog-type Jewish and Arab publications reporting the story but the only internationally known news source carrying it was Al Jazeera. []
I'd be a very rich man if I only had a microBitcoin for how many times I've had it said to me - 'Oh but you don't want to listen to RT or Al Jazeera, they're not credible news sources you know. Not trust-worthy like the BBC for example'. Well as an after-thought I just checked the BBC and there was no mention there either. 
One has to ask why this piece of news was not more widely circulated. Do they not want to worry us? Well, the newspapers seem to spend most of their time keeping us in a state of fear. My guess is, there is something planned that they don't want us to know about just yet in case we start to rally against it. I think that Israel will attack Iran and/or Syria soon.
Perhaps there is a reason I was dreaming about being stalked by a fearsome big cat. I thought back to William Blake:
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
The Tyger in this poem is more than a wild animal. The protagonist who sees the Tyger goes on to ask several questions of the beasts appearance in relation to the supreme deity which created it. Blake is challenging us to rise above the meekness of the lamb of God and to realize the suppressed spiritual power in our soul. Blake sent us the Tyger to wake us the fuck up. In my case, he succeeded.
[Disclaimer - I jotted this down after the nightmare a year ago and never got around to blogging it before. Since then there thankfully has been no large-scale invasion of Iran/Syria by Israel - yet!]