Andalucia Steve the dream

The fallen. People who have moved to Spain and later returned to the UK.

What makes the difference between those who stick it out and those who don't.
A few thoughts this week on 'The Fallen' (no I'm not talking about contestants who didn't make it in the Hunger Games, though sometimes it feels like that) I refer to those expats who moved to Spain later to give up and return to Britain. Sorry if it is a bit of a gloomy post but it's not all sun, sea and sangria over here!
This is a topic that has hounded me as I've known quite a few folk over the years, many of whom were good friends who have upped-sticks and moved back to blighty. Some of them have seemed really committed to Spain and have really surprised me with their decisions to return whereas with others, I've known they wouldn't stay the course as soon as I met them. Anyway, no names no pack drill but I'll outline a few case studies here to try and dig into the reasons people join the ranks of 'The Fallen'.
Certainly in the case of the ones I've known immediately that are not suited for expat life, one group that sticks out are the spenders. These are people who sell their property in the UK and find themselves with more money than they've ever had in their lives but instead of investing wisely, just 'spend spend spend'. One family I knew burned through their savings in one mad year, eating and drinking out every night and filling a rented house with a ton of things they didn't need from ridiculously expensive TVs to quad bikes. They seemed to reach a tipping point where they realised they need to work but couldn't find anything to do because they didn't know the language and ended up flying back home with their tale between their legs.
The language barrier manifests itself in other ways than making work hard to find. Several elderly couples I've known had an imbalance where one partner knew the language really well and the other couldn't pick it up at all, leading to the linguaphile acting as a translator for his or her partner. In the instance that this partner dies, it can make it much more difficult for the remaining partner to cope. Several people I knew that found themselves in this position gave up and returned to Britain.
Family ties are often behind people's decision to bail out on their lives in Spain. It's quite common for parents to undertake the move to Spain after their children have grown up and all they're leaving behind is an empty nest. The problem arises when grandchildren start to appear. The desire to be close to the grandchildren so as not to miss out on their growing up is clearly a strong draw, but also the grandparents seem to feel a renewed sense of purpose, a feeling that they should be helping out and baby-sitting etc. This suddenly makes a life in in a deck chair sipping sundowners seem a selfish waste of one's life.
I've long held the view that there is a knack to emigrating successfully which is to get the goal right in the first place. I seriously think a lot of people imagine living in Spain is going to be a endless holiday, which is completely the wrong mindset. Unless you are of retiring age, few of us are lucky enough to be sufficiently financially secure to avoid the need to work. Yet on message boards and forums I often see questions from folk of working age with kids planning to move over with little or no idea of what they are going to do to support themselves. A classic fantasy-fallacy I've seen is from people with zero experience of the pub trade saying they are thinking of opening a bar, with no idea of what hard work and little reward this entails. One bar owner here told me he was afraid to open his letter box for fear of receiving yet another unexpected bill, such as the one from the council demanding payment for the health inspectors that are required by law to inspect his kitchen! Folk who come over here without having a strong income strategy are generally doomed to give up and go home at some point.
Even with a work plan, I think its prudent to lower one's expectations here compared with Britain. Wages are generally lower here and demand for goods and services are smaller. Spain was hit very hard by the 2008 crash and there is no social security net to fall back on. Property sales came to a halt in 2008 putting many real estate agents immediately out of work and the construction trade, albeit slower, came to a similar collapse. With less work to go around the competition forced wages down, particularly in black money which forced many trades people to repatriate. One competent plumber told me his reason for returning was 'he was fed up of being poor' a phrase you would rarely hear from a plumber working in the UK even in the midst of a recession.
While I've seen a lot of people rushing to escape the UK for Spain before the January 31st 2021 deadline, curiously I've known several people who have returned to the UK because of Brexit. While I've asked several of them what has prompted this decision, I'm not sure the answers they have given me are completely satisfactory. One chap expressed concerns that the healthcare cost would rise for him, which is fair enough I suppose, but other reasons people have given me have been less convincing. I suspect some people were just living 'under the radar' and would have to become registered tax-payers if they stayed.
Finally one thing I've seen many times is that couples with relationship problems often move to Spain thinking it will be a new start that will magically fix everything. At some point down the line however it becomes clear that far from being a remedy, the battle of coming to terms with the new environment, making new social contacts and probably spending more time together than they ever had in the UK puts more stress on their relationship. Invariably a split happens and one or both partners end up on the plane home.
My advice then for people looking to make the move to Spain is look before you leap!

Climate Change Lightblub

We are warming, but more locally than we think.
I struggle to to understand certain aspects of the global warming debate. Climate change deniers generally admit that the global temperature is warming as we're coming out of an ice-age. Their denial is that human activity is accelerating that process. This has always seemed silly point of view to me, I mean if you were standing on a railway line with a train coming towards you, you would take action and get out of the way, not stand there arguing about whether the train was accelerating or travelling with constant velocity. Similarly then I don't see why we don't take action to avoid the consequences of a change in climate that is inevitable, rather than bickering about carbon taxes (or even more dangerous IMHO, plans to 'reverse' global warming). Common sense never prevails however, so conservatives will continue to allow folk to build houses on flood plains and crumbling cliff edges!
Anyway, the main point of this post is a modest lightbulb moment I had a few years back that I'd like to share.
My friend Mike works in Seville, Spain as an English teacher. He said he was cycling to work one evening at about 5:30pm and, finding it difficult to breath, noticed the temperature was a staggering 57 degrees Celsius. He explained that Seville is like a cauldron and heat just collects there and sits during the day, which is worse in summer as everyone uses air-conditioning which pumps more hot air in the street.
I live in Spain too, and I learned the trick years ago that to cool myself down, I run my wrists under the tap for a few minutes. Since all the blood passes through the wrist and the veins are near the surface, the cool water takes the heat away quite efficiently. This is the point where the light-bulb went off. It struck me that Seville was on a river and that the river must be acting like the tap water, taking some of the heat away with it as the water flowed through it. Furthermore, apart from a few sparsely populated mining towns, just about every human settlement was built on a river or near the sea. The thought crossed my mind 'what if we humans are acting like radiators for the worlds air and water. Summer and air-conditioning aside, even in the coldest winters our cities are still pumping heat into the environment when we run a bath or turn on our central heating. Billions of humans make heat and we do it by and large in our cities.
The notion might have drifted into obscurity if I hadn't come across an article on climate change which shared the Web address of the NASA GISS database containing records of world surface temperature. Out of curiosity I started to look at the data. I was struck by how temperature increases correlate closely with population density. Where ever I looked, temperatures had been rising in the worlds cities more than anywhere else. In fact, looking in comparison at some sparsely areas, places like Alaska and Mongolia had actually fallen in temperature at the same time temperature in cities had been rising.
Now if the most densely populated areas of the planet are near water, and the temperature is rising more profoundly in these areas, the impact on the worlds weather could be starker than previously imagined. Weather is governed by fluid dynamics of water and air. If these flows were being affected evenly by a global change in temperature by a degree or so, the effect on the world's weather would probably be negligible. The problem is, if that one degree in temperature is concentrated locally in coastal areas, the effect is bound to be more pronounced. Taking this further, we could see a situation where the global temperature of the earth remained stable, or even fell overall, but local heating could continue to have a devastating effect on the worlds weather systems.
Another thought experiment has a chilling consequence. If magically we were able to flip a switch tomorrow that transformed all the energy that powered our heating, lighting, A/C and domestic equipment from a fossil fuel source to solar, heat generated in cities will continue to have a disproportionately large effect on global weather, and the heat in our cities will continue to rise in tandem with population increases.
Up until this point these ideas were the merely the musings of a pretty ignorant layman with no expertise at all in the field. Then a few weeks ago I stumbled across an article from 2016 which went some way to confirm what I'd been thinking.
The article goes on to explain that the effect, know as the Urban Heat Island (UHI) had been know about for a long time, so I was surprised I'd not read about it before.
My point here is that while we mostly talk about man-made or 'Anthropomorphic' global warming, the real killer is the man-made local warming we all contribute to by our never-ending desire to congregate in cities. I'm not claiming that CO2 emissions are irrelevant. These too exacerbate local warming effects, though carbon emissions should not be singled out as the sole culprit here. Man's tendency to aggregate in to ever larger conurbations is a much larger factor than previously thought. 

Remembering Live Aid

..because I was there!


I've been to many hundreds of diverse musical shows from street music at the Sidmouth folk festival to ballet at Sadler's Wells. Every now and again a curious thing happens. The performance of the artists and the reaction of the audience appear to fuel each other, such that the whole experience seems to exceed the sum of its parts. A mere concert transcends itself to become an event. One of these was Live Aid, the 35th anniversary of which is the 13th of July this week. I was lucky enough to be there so let me share my experience with you.
Firstly I was lucky to be there at all as it wasn't my original intention to compete in the battle for tickets. I got a phone call from a work colleague whose wife was planning to call the ticket hotline and thoughtfully asked if anyone else wanted one. About eight or ten of us got on board and stumped up our £25 quid.
On the big day I agreed to meet another workmate, Chris, on the way there. We both had to pickup the tube at Wimbledon so met up for company on the journey to Wembley. Already there was a hint of an atmosphere as clearly a lot of folk were heading in the same direction.
Chris was a decade or so younger than I was and quite a character. He was a flamboyant dresser and a bit of a party animal with an instinct to know where to seek out a good time. On more than one occasion I'd seen him arrive in the office in the clothes he'd been wearing the previous day and he'd confide that he been night-clubbing, ending up in one of the 'early houses' near Smithfield market for a pint and a spot of breakfast.
As there was an alcohol ban inside the stadium, he and I had agreed to 'make other arrangements' and so we each had two litre bottles of lemonade in which we had mixed in bottles of vodka, thinking even if security opened and sniffed the bottles there was still a fair chance we would get away with it, but as it happened the policing of the entry to the stadium was pretty lax and we were soon making our way to our allotted seats with our 'moonshine' in hand.
We were quite far back, about half way up the stands facing the stage and slightly to stage-left. However as the stands were staggered we had unobstructed views of the stage which was not the case for a lot of people on the flat. It was a blisteringly hot day so I started to nip the vodka before a note was played.
Status Quo was famously the first act on stage and they played a blinder. Their performance got everybody in the mood and the simplicity of their pub-rock beat went down surprisingly well in a big stadium. I'd say they were one of the top five acts of the day.
My only negative memory of the concert was that we couldn't see or hear the music from America which was relayed though screens on each side of the stage in between the British acts. Perhaps the technology was immature or we were too far away, but the pictures were hard to make out in the strong sunshine, so I think many of us, at least in our part of the stadium, just resorted to chatting and people watching. Clearly for this purpose God had placed the braless young woman in a loose fitting T-shirt in the row in front of me, whose left boob kept trying to escape when ever she lent forward, an activity to which it had an eye-opening degree of success.
The afternoon went on and the atmosphere built. It was a uniquely friendly atmosphere for such a large event and people were all happy to be there, just having a party to feed the starving Africans. This became apparent when we realised that despite losing liquid in the heat, some of the two litres of lemonade/vodka cocktail was going to have to come out at some point.
It was Chris who then came up with a cunning plan. The nearest toilets at Wembley were at three o'clock, if you consider the stage was mid-day and we were about twenty-five past six. He suggested that if we moved down onto the pitch we could ease our way gently towards the stage and get there just about in time to watch U2 which he considered would be a great act to catch up close. Then after seeing them we would head right to the bogs and then back in a triangular path.
All hail the party animal! His plan worked a treat. We gently mingled our way through the good-natured crowd with amazingly nobody moaning about pushing in, and after a while made our way to the 'sweaty mosh-pit' just as U2 came on. By that time it really was exceptionally hot and the stadium staff were spraying us with water to keep us cool. When U2 started playing there was a crush as everyone exploded with excitement. By that time we'd got within about ten metres of the stage, roughly inline with where Bono later rescued a woman who seemed to be being crushed. We couldn't get any closer once they were playing but it was a great memory seeing some of the show from there.
As planned we then headed off to the toilets, which took some time. In the bowels of Wembley there are a series of rooms which led to the facilities and as you can imagine, with 72,000 people there that day the queues were pretty horrendous. While we were waiting though, we were rewarded with a sweet surprise. A door opened and all of a sudden a small crowd appeared, moving through our tunnel. On the outside were a gaggle of paparazzi madly flashing their cameras. Inside that there was a cordon of police who were linking arms surrounding none other than Bob Geldof!! I can't adequately describe how that moment felt but there were dozens if not hundreds of  audience members who realised who it was, realised his importance to the staging of the event and how improbable it was that we would get so close to him on the day. Egged on a little by the flashlights, we each to a man started screaming hysterically and unselfconsciously like teenagers at a Beatles concert. I suddenly got an insight as to what Beatlemania must have felt like.
After availing ourselves of the facilities we made it back to our seats to enjoy the remainder of the show. Queen were of course the main event, their songs so skilfully crafted to work a big stadium like Wembley and Freddie Mercury the consummate rock-God performer. However my overriding memory of the night was that of George Michael singing 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me'. Up until then I think a lot of people, me included had dismissed George as being a bit of a light-weight popstar, good, but second division. That night though he stepped up to the plate and smashed it out of the park. Just as Live Aid itself had transitioned from a music concert into a much more special event, so George transitioned before our eyes into the mature superstar he was. It was certainly the song I had buzzing in my head on the long journey home, and remains, of all the wonderful music I heard that day, the song that most readily takes me back there whenever I hear it.

A pat on the back for me

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