Andalucia Steve the dream

Making money in Spain

The hardest thing about moving here is the income problem.

I wanna job in Spain and basically need to know if there is work out there for me, I’d do anything I just wanna move for the sun.  Please help!!

The above quote was a genuine question asked a few weeks ago on an online forum for 'expats' in Spain. I kid you not that I see these sort of requests all the time. 
Sifting through the three hundred or so replies reveals an interesting snapshot of people's experiences of having moved here in search of work.
"Most men get off the plane and become builders, while women become cleaners and dog sitters" says one.
"Learn Spanish". says another, "you'll improve your chances of finding a job no end".
There was quite a long thread about teaching English in which one camp said it was dead easy to get a TEFL certificate (Teach English as a Foreign Language) in order to get a job teaching the queens, where as another camp were saying the language schools were in decline and rejecting applicants with the cheaper certificates earned on line, preferring instead the residentially earned certificates of schools perceived to be of higher value.
Curiously nobody mentioned becoming an estate agent, which many do. This can be a ludicrously easy way to make money in a bull market, but as I found during the last recession it's not much fun when you go over a year without selling anything. 
Generally most commenters agreed that it is hard to find work in Spain. As one chap said, "it helps if you have a lot of money to support yourself while you're looking for work as it can take some time".
In my humble experience, I've found the the main problems are the language barrier, the extremely high unemployment rate of the country as a whole and the fiscal system here which seems deliberately to act against people starting up their own businesses.
Not speaking Spanish, or speaking it very badly as I do, severely limits one's ability to find a job with a Spanish company. That means people coming from the UK will struggle to find employment in inland areas where English is not so widely spoken. This less of a problem on the Costa Blanca or Costa del Sol where English is more common. A nephew of mine worked as a waiter in Fuengirola for six months without speaking a word of Spanish.
I knew a young Spanish girl years ago who confided in me the dark secret of her employment status as an office worker. I think her hours were nine until two then five until eight. She had a contract with her employer who officially declared that he was paying her 800 euros per month, and so he paid her employer's contribution towards the equivalent of her tax and national insurance contribution based on the sum. In reality he only paid her 400 per month in cash though. I was astonished she worked all those hours for so little take home pay, but she explained to me it was hard enough to get a job at all. Getting one that paid her stamp and had her plugged into the system was a big plus compared with many folk here who work cash in hand and cannot afford to go self employed.
From what I've seen, one has to be rich in the first place to go self employed in Spain. If you want to set up the equivalent of a limited company you need to prove you have 5000 euros in the bank. The contribution to the health and welfare system here known as 'autonomo' is a big chunk. It was a shade under 300 euros per month last time I looked, though there is a scheme now to pay much less in the first year of trading. VAT starts from the first euro earned if your business is dealing in rateable goods or services. Income tax is even more full of pitfalls for the unwary. One chap I know told me his accountant advised him to use a system where he paid a quarterly sum on his predicted earnings. Half way through the year he lost his contract and still had to make the two remaining tax payments for the remaining quarters.
Worse still, the tax office or 'hacienda' is so grossly avaricious. It has the power to monitor your bank account and grab money out of it as it sees fit. One chap I knew stopped trading but didn't inform the hacienda. Some years later he found they had taken 6000 euros from his account for unpaid taxes. It took a devil of a job to get it back. The hacienda clearly has an army of spies. For an interesting insight into how they operate, read the recent article in El Pais (In English) called How the Spanish Tax Agency followed the trail of Shakira. They left no stone unturned, even to the fine detail of  tracking down details of her hair-dresser and Zumba teacher!
Elsewhere the hacienda has its beady eye on your private sales. If you flog stuff on websites like Ebay, Etsy, Facebook Market place etc, they want a chunk of your profit. How this works exactly varies from region to region but typically in Madrid, sales of over 500 euros are subject to a 4% IPT (transaction tax). I've read where they have had tax officers trawling through listings trying to identify sellers. More recently talks have been taking place to make the websites to supply transaction details to the hacienda digitally. Being a cynic, I suspect when they do, the minimum sales on which these taxes apply will be decreased!
Perhaps the most successful group of people I've come across in Spain are the ones whose work is not, i.e. people who work remotely. If you have the right skill-set and the right contacts it is possible to have the best of both worlds, e.g. an American sized pay packet with a Spanish style cost of living. Finding such work is not without its problems as there is a very broad base of people in all corners of the world competing for remote jobs. Websites such as Freelancer and Fiver allow one to pursue work in a wide range of countries but the downside is there is a mountain of competition from all over the world, so bidding for work is more often than not a race to the bottom. It is almost always preferable to seek work by personal contact, word of mouth, networking etc. 
Disclaimer. I'm not an expert on Tax or Employment law or any of the topics mentioned in this blog post. These are just the rantings of someone who has lived here for fifteen years and seen the work situation up close and personal!  Nor am I selling anything so I have no skin in the game (which is probably why my postings are a little less 'ra ra' than you might read elsewhere!!)

Getting Old is Rubbish!

OK It's my Birthday. Go Easy With Me!


Happy birthday to me! I've reached 58 which is in some regards an admirable milestone. From the Paleolithic era to the days of early modern England, a male commoner like myself would have been considered exceptionally lucky to see out his thirties. Most of the credit for this probably goes to vaccines and antibiotics, though the stable social period through which I've lived has seen little in the way of war and much in the way of an affordable, nutritious diet which has probably helped a lot.

Grateful though I am then, I can't help feeling a little less like celebrating my birthday as each year passes. One doesn't realise it but as a youngster, time appears to pass incredibly slowly. Then, as we age, the years soon start whizzing by faster than a Japanese bullet train. This is due to a phenomenon that I've mentioned before (in Things that wind me up ) called Weber's law. Weber noticed that how we humans perceive change, varies in proportion to the thing being measured. Although a year is always the same length, when we are children we compare a year to the total years we have lived, five or six of them or whatever. As we approach retirement, we maybe compare a year to say sixty or sixty five years. We can't but help then, thinking that years are getting shorter. Our perception of the length of a year varies logarithmically as we age. It is quite chilling to extend this notion, as author Anne Rice did in the 1984 Gothic novel 'Interview with a Vampire', to a life-form that has achieved immortality.  The vampire Louis in the book describes the ' terrible tedium of a perpetual earthly existence', as the years become centuries and the detachment from mortals grows, and as the world changes and the vampires do not. Imagine years passing as seconds. What a horrible thought!

OK you might think I'm writing this from the perspective of some grumpy guy who 'got out of the wrong side of the bed' this morning. You would be right. I just got my first spam-email for a funeral plan. That makes me feel more than just old. It makes me feel 'one foot in the grave' old!

It wouldn't be so bad if it was just a case of the years accelerating before our eyes but they seem to do this with such malice. I saw a meme on Facebook the other day which captured this very succinctly. It read "Getting older is just one body part after another saying 'ha ha, you think that's bad, well watch this!"

Temporary Kings is a novel by Anthony Powell, the penultimate in his twelve-volume novel, A Dance to the Music of Time. It was published in 1973 and remains in print as does the rest of the sequence. In the penultimate book of the sequence, Powell describes ageing as like being increasingly penalised for a crime you haven't committed.

It certainly feels like that My first pubic hair scared the hell out of me at aged ten. More recently I discovered my first grey pube which nothing on earth had prepared me for. One wonders what is next? Male-pattern pube-baldness? I hate to even Google it!

Alexander Smith wrote "An essay on an old subject" which captures the mood of ageing far better than I ever could. He starts with "The discovery of a gray hair when you are brushing out your whiskers of a morning—first-fallen flake of the coming snows of age—is a disagreeable thing. So is the intimation from your old friend and comrade that his eldest daughter is about to be married. So are flying twinges of gout, shortness of breath on the hillside, the fact that even the moderate use of your friend’s wines at dinner upsets you. These things are disagreeable because they tell you that you are no longer young,—that you have passed through youth, are now in middle age, and faring onward to the shadows in which, somewhere, a grave is hid."

Another insightful piece about ageing was in something written by Ernest Hemingway which I read years ago. In fact it was so long ago I can't even remember if it was from a book, an essay or possibly someone else's recollections of him. I've been trying to track it down but without being able to remember any of the key words or phrases other than 'wine' I've had little success, as this is a topic he raises often. Anyway, the general gist was that he considered it a travesty of life that, as one ages, one learns to appreciate more and more the value of a good wine, while at the same time one's body conspires to reduce one's ability to drink the stuff. Having had the odd bout of gout I know what he means. Thank god for Allopurinol. There is a big slice of virtual birthday cake to any wizardly researchers out there who are able to locate the source of the original quote.

Being a bit of an introvert I've never much enjoyed the concept of celebrating my birthday with a party or other get-together. It seems oddly narcissistic to say "This is all about me" and to force my friends to come along, buy me gifts and express their liking of me and sing to me for no other reason than that is what birthdays are supposed to be for, i.e. sucking up to me and kissing my behind. I'm really much happier with a simple message on my Facebook wall, or maybe a valued card from those rare and special people who are not online. The less fuss and the less reminder that I'm getting older, the better I like it!!

A brief sketch of my dad

A tribute to my late father on his birthday


My late father would have been celebrating his 112 birthday today were he alive, which is a good excuse for me to relate a few stories about him.
When I was a youngster there were no end of people who would take me aside and tell me what a good man my father was. His work colleagues, neighbours, seemingly anyone who knew him, deemed it necessary to point out to me I had a good dad. We moved house when he retired and within months our new neighbours were taking me aside telling me what a good chap he was. I must say I took it for granted. I thought every kid's father must have a similar fan-club! 
Then, when I was 17 he died suddenly. It fell to me to sort out his affairs as mother, lovely though she was, could hardly write a cheque. As I went though his papers I came across a big wodge of letters going back thirty years or so. Each was a 'thank you' letter. Most started 'Dear brother Gould, thank you for help with xxx'. It turned out he had been the 'shop steward' for his trade union. Dad was a school caretaker and looked after the interests not only for the people working in his school but many all over the Kingston area. Only then did it dawn on me why so many folk had been keen to point out why father was such a good fellow. He'd spent all his working life defending the interests of common people. I didn't even know. He never talked about it. He was a working class hero, and as John Lennon aptly said, that was something to be.
Dad came from inauspicious beginnings. Born one of eight siblings in 1908, his father, who was an itinerant agricultural labour, failed to return one winter. His mother supported the family by taking in washing, but the strain became too great, so dad and his little brother George were sent away to the Farm School in Bisley, a charitable institution run on military lines. Father learned lots of interesting skills there, including, shooting, bee-keeping, cobbling, the rudiments of music and, in the absence of much food other than gruel, the ability to forage in the country. He told me pigeons, rabbits and hedgehogs were common treats that he and his friends would kill and eat after school.
He did well in his exams and returned to Surbiton, where after a few casual jobs including a stint as a telegram delivery boy, he secured a job with the Water Board in Kingston. As part of his apprenticeship he had to attend college in north London, a journey he did everyday by bicycle, which would have been a 25 mile round -trip - not bad for the boneshakers of the day. The timeline becomes a little foggy at this point but somewhere along the line in the 1920's to 1930's he became an assistant to a plumber, travelling the country installing coal-fire central heating systems, which were cutting edge at the time, so most of the installations were in grand mansion houses and castles. Clients included George Westinghouse of the Westinghouse Brake company and Lord Nuffield, he of the Morris Motor company. Dad said Nuffield was an insomniac whose mind was always racing far too much for sleep. His fascination for engineering was such that Nuffield spent much time with them, wishing to learn everything possible about the boilers, pipes and radiators they were installing. 
I believe dad went independent as a plumber and had his own business in the mid to late 1930s as I used to have business cards and brochures with his name on. I wish I still had them as the Art-Deco influenced artwork of the bathroom suites were a sight to behold. I think the war put an end to that as he enlisted into the Royal Air Force in 1939 and trained as an engineer, spending much time patching up warplanes returning from combat. He was invalided out in 1942 and joined the Home Guard, where ironically he patrolled the water-board in Kingston with a pick-axe handle, the place where he had started his career in engineering. Incidentally, he wasn't a fan of TV or fiction but he loved the show Dad's Army as it mirrored his own time defending London against the invading Hun.
After the war, prompted by his first wife, he took a job as a caretaker of Hollyfield School. His wife was lured by the cottage adjacent to the school, though sadly she died not long after they moved in. A decade later he married my mother and remained in the janitorial position until his retirement in 1973.
So many things come to mind when I think of my father. His capacity to learn things amazed me. He could communicate in sign language. Most people only learn this to communicate with an afflicted relative. Dad learned it while recuperating in hospital during the war. The matrons were very strict about noise on the ward, so he and a fellow patient taught themselves to sign each other so as to communicate silently. He learned music at school but only clarinet and cornet. Yet he could also play piano quite well. I don't know how he learned this, as he never owned a piano. He just seemed to 'pick it up' whenever he had access to one. I'd also seen him play other instruments like the mouth-organ and the accordion. He was one of those people who seemed to be able to coax a tune out of any instrument he picked up.
On one occasion he found a large wasp nest, the size of a cello in one of the school's outbuildings. It was full of wasps and hummed in a scary manner as though the whole thing was alive. Instead of calling in pest controllers, and without much in the way of protective equipment he removed it himself by, as I recall, making a smoke gun from an old paint can and some oily rags. He repaired watches for a hobby. He was always learning new things and instilled in me the idea of being a life-long learner, long before the phrase became commonplace. 
He taught me so many crazy but practical things, like to store paint cans upside down once opened so as any skin forms on the bottom. When climbing a ladder the rungs are strongest at the edges, so avoid treading in the middle of the rungs as that's where they're most likely to snap. He taught me to read before I went to school and as a toddler, bounced me on his knee while reciting chemical formulae. He taught me how to avoid 'catch-pennies' and never to trust politicians. He showed me how to change a tap washer without turning off the mains water. He showed me an exciting way to check for leaks with a cigarette lighter when installing a gas fire. He was old skool! He rode a Harley Davidson before it was cool. I once saw him use divining rods to locate a blockage in a drain. To me, everything about him was remarkable and I was convinced my dad had super-powers. I loved him dearly then as I do now. Happy birthday dad!
Dad and me cerca 1966