Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Can’t pay, Won’t pay

Spanish banks – don’t you just love ‘em? Well, the ratings agencies certainly don’t, and nor do international investors. And I certainly don’t, especially after seeing the latest set of charges to hit my account. Whether it be for payments, receipts, correspondence, maintenance or whatever, they’ll find an excuse to raid your account – which wouldn’t be so bad if they actually provided an efficient service.

Spanish banks

Returning from the UK, I discovered my annual car tax bill lying in the letter box. I dutifully trotted down to the local branch of my bank, La Caixa, to make the necessary payment. Having patiently queued for the clever machine that scans your bills and then debits your account accordingly, it was a case of the ‘computer says no’ and I was obliged to wait to speak to the bank clerk. Almost gleefully, he highlighted the small print on the invoice showing that I could only make payment at branches of Caja de Granada or Caja Rural de Granada. Silly me to think that one of the functions of a bank was to make payments for its customers.

Fortunately there is a branch of Caja de Granada just across the road so over I popped and joined the queue. The lady at the desk pointed dismissively toward the sign saying ‘Bill Payments between 0830 and 1030 hours only’ and then toward her watch showing 12 noon. Out I walked, tail between my legs.

Quietly fuming, I ambled back towards the car and by chance passed a branch of Caja Rural de Granada. I entered and yet again joined the queue, trying to ignore the (by now familiar) sign stating the hours for bill payments. I handed the invoice to the young assistant who immediately deferred to her supervisor. He looked me up and down, and then walked over.

‘Would you like to pay this now, sir?’ he asked. ‘Yes please’ I replied more out of politeness than expectation. ‘That’s fine.’ Somewhat taken aback, I handed over my credit card. ‘Sorry sir but you cannot pay by card.' ‘Why not? I could have sworn that I spotted the word Bank above your door.' ‘We only accept cards issued by our bank but there is, for your convenience, an ATM machine in the lobby. Please be aware, however, that your bank will charge your account for a cash withdrawal……’

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

A Balancing Act

Birthdays, especially for the young, are normally anticipated with great excitement. However the imminent fourth anniversary of my VW Golf was not a time for celebration - it meant that the dreaded ITV (the Spanish equivalent of the MOT) was now due.

A pre-emptive inspection of the car revealed that the tyres were suffering from the same problem as my pate - premature baldness - and so a visit to the local garage beckoned.

clip_image002The last time I had been there was to have a flat tyre plugged, after which I had slipped the grizzled fitter an extra 5 euro note in order to ensure speedy service in future. Upon arrival it was obvious that he recognised me as he was holding out his palm in anticipation, despite the fact that there were no other cars present. The man, who looks as if he could have auditioned successfully for two of the leading roles in the film ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly', persuaded me to part with my hard-earned cash to purchase a full set of new tyres.

'Did you get them balanced?' asked la Jefa, once I was back home. ', I forgot' I spluttered unconvincingly, not having a clue what she meant. 'Well, you'd better go back then'. Fearing the admonishment of 'Er Indoors over that of the horny-handed mechanic, I trudged sheepishly back to the repair shop. 'The tyres do not need balancing and in any event we don't have the kit to do it', I was bluntly informed.

I was left with a dilemma. Not wanting to go home empty-handed, what should I do? After dismissing the idea of lying to the wife (apparently my lips twitch even when attempting the most insignificant of porkies), I suddenly remembered that there was a VW concessionaire only a few hundred metres away. I arrived to find a showroom full of gleaming brand-new off-roaders but no staff. Whilst I was contemplating a free upgrade of my Golf, the manager appeared off the street holding a steaming cappuccino.

'How can I help?' he enquired. 'Apparently I need to have my tyres balanced' I replied. 'Unfortunately we don't have the equipment to do that - we always refer our clients to the tyre specialist just down the road......'

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Applying for a job at UBS

Now, I may be a little long in the tooth but I am giving serious consideration to applying for a job at UBS, that hitherto most respectable of Swiss Banks. After all, on the surface, I appear to have all the right attributes - a public school background with a degree from a top university, a qualified chartered accountant, and a CV which includes relevant work experience at a couple of investment banks.

Moreover I am more than capable of losing a couple of billion dollars of other people's money.

Sadly, having just read the lengthy tome that is the UBS Dress Code (see link below), it would seem that I may lose out despite being widely regarded by my peers as a something of a fashionista (as my profile picture will attest).

UBS Dress Code: The Bankers' Guide to Dressing and Smelling like a winner

Whilst I could no doubt comply with certain requirements: 'You can wear a watch to the extent it does not threaten not safety', 'Your figure should not suffer from the way you wear your underwear', and 'Do not wash, nor ever iron, your shirts yourself', it is likely that I would struggle with others: 'The jacket must completely cover your posterior', 'Shoulders should have natural proportions', and especially 'The tip of your tie should under no circumstances enter your pants'.

In light of recent events, UBS appear to have missed a trick by omitting the following:
  • Don't lose your shirt (or that of the Bank), but if you do
  • Don't keep it under your hat (or trouser the proceeds).

Friday, 15 July 2011

Smoking Ban

At the beginning of this year, the Spanish government introduced a new anti-smoking law. Now call me cynical, but based upon their previous attempts to ban the popular weed from public places, I was anticipating that I would not notice any change. How wrong could I be?

Bars are no longer allowed to opt out and indeed they run the risk of draconian fines, should they permit their punters even a quick puff in the urinals (so to speak). The ambience is now one of Anis and BO rather than stale Ducados (and BO).

But perhaps the tide is changing?

The other day, as I popped out onto the terrace of a local hostelry for a licit drag, I took this photo which suggests that one of the regulars has found a way around the regulations. Or was it the hand of that great smoker in the sky?

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Nepotism in the NHS

A few weeks ago, as I was hobbling on crutches into our local NHS hospital for a spot of rehabilitory circuit training, I took a wrong turning. Suddenly I found myself walking down what seemed like an endless corridor with only a few zombie-like waterbottle-carrying members of staff, some broken beds, and the pungent odour of boiled cabbage for company.

Struggling past the challengingly-named Maxillofacial, Orthotics and Endocrine units, my new hip was in need of a rest. I spotted a vacant seat in an adjacent waiting room but thought twice about sitting down when I discovered that I had just entered the 'Discharge Lounge'.

Fortunately a wheechair was at hand in the nearby 'Department of Portering' outside of which was, in true Nu-Labour style, a board with the names and photographs of smiling senior members of staff. It was interesting to note that, other than Ian Manager, the names were John Supervisor, Andy Supervisor, Graham Supervisor, Peter Supervisor and Phil Supervisor.

It's good to see that nepotism in the NHS is alive and kicking.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Spanish Caravan

I have returned to Andalucia following my recent surgery to discover that spring has sprung and that the smell of orange blossom is all pervading. The snow on the mountain tops, which has a strange brown hue as a result of southerly winds blowing in sand from the Sahara, is starting to melt and the heat of the summer is surely not far away.

Ah, Spanish summers. Fiestas, jazmine, flamenco, gazpacho, figs, chilled vino rosado, long lunches and even longer siestas, hot sleepless nights, and ........ tourists. Perhaps I should consider hitting the road this year.

And I think I've found the ideal vehicle for someone with my current infirmity. Small, yet perfectly formed and with a built-in entertainment centre, I can even stock up whilst driving down a supermarket aisle. Perfect for life in the slow lane.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Send in the Clouds?

I have an confession to make - I love clouds (no sniggering at the back, please). From the humble Cirrus and Cumulus to the more spectacular Mammatus and Lenticularis, I love them all.

And I am not alone in this respect as the 25307 (soon to be 25308) members of the Cloud Appreciation Society ( will testify.

For the sceptical amongst you, here is a short film I have put together with photos of the Sierra Nevada mountains taken from the ringside seat that is our house.