Sunday, 27 December 2015

Mazarron – town and port

Having been here nearly four weeks I feel empowered to comment on where we are. Well, self-empowered anyway.
First thing is that Mazarron the town and Puerto de Mazarron are not only two different places but I am pretty sure their current relationship is the exact opposite of the historic one.
Mazarron the town is about five kilometres inland and correctly described as a mining town. It grew up on the back of the excavation of silver, tin, iron, copper and alum (MORE HERE). Puerto is a fishing village essentially. And on the coast, natch. It has an apparent sub status to Mazarron now.
There must have been Iberian natives here more than 2,700 years ago but whatever remains they left in this location have been lost. Not so 45 kilometres inland where recent work has uncovered a very large city size settlement dating back far beyond 3,000 years ago. Did it use a port in the adjacent bay?
We also need to remember that only 20 kilometres away is Cartagena – first know by the Phoenicians and/or the Sea People, then influenced by Greece, and finally overwhelmed by Rome in the Punic wars. It got its name from the Carthage of Hannibal fame.But the record we have here starts with the Phoenicians in about 2,700 BCE. They developed the obvious harbours afforded by both Cartagena and Mazarron – both big bays with significant headlands and small islands for shelter. The Greeks traded with the Phoenicians. Then came Rome.
But they took time out to nick their ship-building skills and, I bet exploited the silver, copper and other metals abundant in the inland hills. By the middle ages mining was big business and Mazarron grew fast, being closer than the port to the action. The port however has been trading metals since the Phoenicians (MORE HERE).
So to today and us. Well first off all this fascinates us and redeems any other shortcomings. And there are a few. For this is the Costa Calida, mere kliks from the Costa Blanca and prone to the same over-development. The place is littered with ticky-tacky houses on hillsides miles from any justification for existence. That's the ones actually built. Others are skeletons against the skyline or netted enclosures of half-broken ground. They vie with the startling and more interesting remains of mining for attention.
We are living in a completed version, although ours is within the town of Puerto – indeed a mere 200 metres from the prom and town centre. The really nasty ones in the wilds of Spain are called urbanisations. Less unjustified versions like ours are Residencias (Luz Bahia is us).
Most of these are, like ours, a rectangle of terraced houses surrounding a communal pool and parkland. The houses vary in style, following a pattern-book in the way of London's Edwardian villas.
Ours is a standard terrace, east-west oriented with the morning side having kitchen and utility facing a large terrace. At the evening, poolside, end the large living/dining room opens onto a smaller but rather nice terrace viewing the pool.
Upstairs the main bedroom faces the morning side and the two smaller but servicable rooms face the pool. In between is the stairway out of the living room and the shower room There is also a cloakroom downstairs.
This is the fourth such house we have rented in Spain and all but one share more features than they differ by (oops; hung that one). They heat quickly and cool fast in the Spanish way. Air con is an expensive extra, lazy ceiling fans essential, and we do have an open fire but it seems never to have been lit.
Of course here is the point – our hosts are English and are unlikely ever to have stayed here in winter. That is true of all but one of the other houses we have rented here. The exception was a casita (a small two bedroom cabin style structure) within the grounds of the Spanish-resident English couple. There we had logs, an open fire and it was charming – right up to the day it rained a lot and the bedrooms flooded to a depth of two inches.
Anyway, as stated, we can walk into town and down to the prom. The town is what one would expect of a place that, until the 50s, was just a Spanish fishing village that had benefitted from the by then defunct mining business. I would guess it was charming. Frankly, it is not now. It is workmanlike and easy to navigate, however. And very well supplied with services – including Mercadona, Consum, El Arbo, Eurospar and Lidl! And both a seven day town market and a Sunday market of 300 stalls! Oh and a load of Chinese suopermarkets. And someone with a pale blue Skoda Roomster. Really!
The town is in two parts rather like Tenby but unlike Tenby neither half is very pretty. The beaches on the other hand compare very favourably with Tenby. Those to the west are rugged and smaller, with a small marina for local regatta style boats in one corner. To the east they are bigger and very, very sandy. Close to the town is the large fishing port, with a smaller number of craft, and a larger marina for the 'nearly-gin places'. There is no castle on the headland but a lighthouse and a very big Christ statue.
But both benefit from superb promenades, extending along all of the eastern end and most of the west. They provide palms, seating, play space and just plain easy walking. The beaches are mostly blue flag holders due to cleanliness (this is Spain), loos, facilities and, in season lifeguards. Dogs are banned for most beaches and for much of the year of course.

RW 17/12/15

Monday, 21 December 2015

Spanish weather for the English

FIRST point to make is that we have never been here in the summer. Back in the 70s we took the family to Majorca but even then it was not July or August. And yes we have been on holiday in Spain nearer to summer but never in it.
So what we have seen is the winter in Spain. Given my reason for being here – my chest – our focus has been on the dry south-east, the  Costa Blanca, Calada, Almeria - even the Costa Malaga. Except two winters back when we chose to take our caravan to the western end of Spain, near Cadiz so on the Atantic rather than the Med. It was very good and very different but I will get there later.
Our first winter trip was in 2008/9 and we have missed a couple of years due to the desire to see the family at Christmas. Even then however we have indulged ourselves with caravanning trips through France, northern Spain and Barcelona.
But to the weather - and it needs to be noted that in choosing this part of Spain I was very keen on the fact that it is virtually Europe's only desert. I mean it, this place is in the tenth year of an officlal drought. The only blue in the rivers is on the maps. They are dried up Ramblas. In which some Spanish have built some houses and flogged them to, mostly, Brits. I presume they pray against the rains.
It is warm since there is little cloud ever and the sun blazes down. But the nights can be cold and on the coast when the sun comes up it warms the Med, the warm air rises and sucks in cold air from the coastal mountains behind it. Down nearer to Granade where the mountains really are big and snowclad the mornings can even be frosty - not that there is much moisture even there to actually freeze.
But by about 10 a.m. the chill wind is dropping and the mercury is climbing. Here it tends to be about 18-20C on a typical day, 16-18 if a cold one. Nice, yes? And it tends to stay warm right until the sun goes down. But it cools fast then due to absolutely no clouds.
The owners of this house and others we have rented are English and so largely unaware of what the winter is like. Our daytime temperature would be a cool night for them. So heating equipment is a bit perfunctory. The one exception was at Bedar where we were in a casita on the owner's land. There we had a blazing log fire whenever we wanted it. But that was before the flood (more elsewhere).
Dressing to suit is not easy - the Spanish consider it is winter and wear what we consider vast amounts of clothing - mostly brown and black and a lot of it puffer jacket style. I tend to wear a fleece in the morning so I can dump it when the sun gets going. But walking the dog can be a trial - at 9-ish it is jumper AND fleece weather. By 11 the jumper is too much but walk in the shade and the fleece may not be enough! By 11 p.m. there is a chill and something extra is needed. Sometimes.
Am I complaining? Absolutely not since the key for me is the temperature range and the humidity. The latter is closer to zero than it EVER gets in the UK and the temp this time of year is about 8-9C at night to 16-20C daytime. That's a range of 12 at worst.And no chill factor except for that brief morning breeze. The UK range in winter is nearer to 20C and the humidity nearer to 65% on a good day!
Mind you, I still need the old bluey once in a while.

I'm back - be very afraid!

OK I am indeed going to use this blog to put up some stuff about our trips to Spain. I shall link to it from other places and if anyone wants to read it please do. 
And if you have a point of view to share let me know - hardly anyone actually reads this stuff. But hey, who knows?

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Vanity publishing revisited

A wgile back I wrote that, in the end it all comes down to vanity publishing. Mea culpa. You can dress it how you like.
My point was that blogging, social media (whatever that is really), private web sites, publishing your pictures on Flikr or videos on YouTube is all no different from the old days. Back then it cost more - printing, binding, distributing - being your own publisher. And your 'readers' had to pay for the privilege of being, almost certainly, underwhelmed by your literacy, erudition or even talent.
You can have, as I do, your own web pages for little cost and frankly not that much effort. It grows like topsy, gets seen by your friends (hopefully alienating few - and occasionally embarrassing you with your own vacuity or sentimentality. My own dear wife recently chided me for appearing a little too wet lipped over one celebrity. That's the kind of take down order you comply with friends! And, when developers pitch to put up wind turbines, the site can suddenly have some real value.
B ujt these days they come commercially dressed as Blogspot, Wordpress, or graphically as YouTUBE A decade ago I fought hard to quash the use of socialy networking for one phenomena - I said you did that in a pub or club! But still we now have social networking and social media like Facebook, Twitter and others. Even semi-serious stuff like Linked-In and portals with a purpose, like Friends Reunited, Where Are You Now still come down to people like me in our millions writing stuff in the vague hope that somebody will care.
The reality is that in this brave new world of the internet its the traditional media still counts, that still generates an audience. Of course early adopters always had the best chance to stand out from the crowd - since at the time the crowd was pretty thin (not counting all that porn). Guido Fawkes is one good example; Stephen Fry another - but it was his existing traditional media-based fame that drew the crowds.
The best advice anyone could offer in the early 90s to would-be web entrepreneurs was by all means build your site, make it look good and perform well BUT make darn sure you get the conventional media to write about it or your site can hang in cyberspace like a weak embarrassment. relied on heavy main media advertising. They all did.
And frankly you will work hard to find anyone truly made famous solely by their internet presence. E-fame may well come but we are a long way from the moment when it will bge enough mjerely to launch yourself on a web-site, hook it up to Facebook, Twitter et al and sit back and wait. You will indeed wait a long time.
Its a bit like TV back in the early days. Forget the Coronation which was a kick start; think daily broadcasting. Until the traditional media started carrying the schedules and reviewing the programmes it was all going a bit slow. Even now, ask yourself how often you choose a programme solely on what you see on the TV screen itself? Odds on the idea springs from some other, probably traditional media trigger. Instant hard disk programming is a help but you have to be in the room to hit the magic button.
So if you will accept for now that all this explosion of material follows an honourable ancient tradition then what is Vanity Publishing and how did it start?
I turned first to Wikipedia. Now Wikipedia is an archetypal form of the Vanity art since it is that most prestigious of publications - dictionary and encyclopaedia  And yet the content is provided by us, the public. Of course Wikipedia does not acknowledge its contributors directly unless they are moderators so the vanity bit slightly obscure. But to be frank why else would you bother? The purpose is to show what you know.
How it defines Vanity Publishing is this:
Self-publishing is the publication of any book or other media by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher. The author is responsible and in control of (the) entire process including design (cover/interior), formats, price, distribution, marketing & PR. The author can do it all themselves or outsource all or part of the process to companies that offer these services such as Lulu, Universe, CreateSpace and a multitude of others.
In 2008, for the first time in history, more books were self-published than those published traditionally. In 2009, 76% of all books released were self-published, while publishing houses reduced the number of books they produced.[1]
That last says it all - once the internet and the web had taken off the opportunities were enormous. But Wiki is still concentrating on The Book. And it  suggests that it is NOT Vanity Publishing if the writer contracts with a publisher to share the gains. Sorry guys but without the vanity there would be no publishing; even with a partner. Nobody slaves their lives over their first novel to pop it in a drawer and forget about it. Unless of course they really, really know it is no good.
The OED is more direct:
publishing on behalf of and at the expense of an author who pays for the production and often for the marketing of his book.
Plenty of companies offer the service and it does nopt start off very expensive - even a top publisher will do the job for less than £800. Mind you, they might have typset it, given you a designed cover, registered the book and got an ISB number and few more thi9ngs that matter but in reality it weill be up to you to get bit 'seen'. AQnd that will mean getting the tarditiuonal media to notice it. A web site review will help, on Amazon say, but if someone is going to pay a few pounds for your work they will wsant a decent reason to do so.
But this article is Vanity Publishing, pure and simple. My blogs, any blog is the same. Even if you get to be Guido Fawkes fame is the spur, vanity the cause. But that doesn't make it worthless or even pointless (although it can feel like it if nobody seems to be reading).
Firstly I was a professional (yeah, really!) and so this blogging keeps my mind at work and my hand in. I admit to only doing desk research these days. I have not the cheek to phone anyone without the justification of a publication behind me.
Secondly by storing it on my blog I can refer back to what I have written before, using old ideas, recycling older material or better still bringing stuff up to date. In the process I update my personal computer, my brain, and hopefully improving my modernity of thought in this changing world.
A work of fiction is perhaps not the same but I have started novels and got past chapter one before realising that, in all probability I am not quite up to that mark. No novel is entirely out of the mind. Existing knowledge, shored up by reference and research into less understood aspects of the plot improves the work. For that the brain benefits.
Of course there is a subtle difference between vanity publishing and vanity media as I shall call it. If you come across an example of vanity publishing you will inevitably wonder how many rejections are represented in the author's publishing costs. And from the few I have part read I am guessing quite a lot.
Having written that paragraph I am forced to pause. How many have actually stumbled upon my internet scribblings, read a bit and moved on never to return. Oh dear. Vanity... all is vanity.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Alice Roberts revisited - I can wish!

I made a bit of a mess of this first time around so here goes again. On October 12 2012 I saw someone I greatly admire and frankly rather fancy turn from the years of pixels to persona. My fears that I might be disappointed were unfounded – the truth is that the charm, polish, and, IMO, beauty on TV are not an act; with Alice May Roberts it seems the joy of what you see is what you get. Phew!
Having got that out of the way (or my system) how did she do with her exposition of the effect of Ice Ages on the lives of the megafauna, early man and us – homo sapiens? Very well indeed and for a very important reason.
When Birmingham University created the chair of “engaging the public with science” and awarded it to then Dr Alice Roberts, anatomist, anthropologist of Bristol Uni and the BBC they got a bit of stick. And a few (misogynists?) even challenged her right to the post. Codswallop. Never has there been a time when engaging the public with science was more crucial. One only has to see, hear, even feel the activities of the fundamental Christian and Islamists et al to see how critical it is to improve public understanding of our world, our place and our origins. Dawkins can rant but something more subtle is essential. And here she is; Credible, communicative and charming. Who else then would Birmingham choose? I'd say she was a coup.
There is a fine line between a worthy but dull lecture and an enjoyable evening out. This was part of a Royal Geographical Society series and Alice delivered a solidly enjoyable, entertaining and informative discourse on the role of the ice ages in the development of man. That fine line was trodden with consummate skill and charm by Alice Roberts at Kings Lynn (how lucky they are to get her too.)
This was not only marked out by the accessibility of her content and delivery but her enthusiastic commitment to being correct and having evidence. Time and again she showed us what had been found, told us what was believed and then toured the doubts that nagged at her and would lead to further investigation. Along the way we entertainingly learned that gaining the knowledge and the insights is not a comfortable business. The BBC does not provide central heating on the Russian steppe or 5-star hotels on the ice shelf. An honestly nervy Alice explained how she learned to handle a rifle where there were Polar Bears (although I cannot imagine her using it even in anger) but picked a cliff edge pitch for her tent to put her colleagues between her and the bear access point. We heard too how she shared a frankly disgusting tepee affair with 11 snoring geezers! Our sense of envy died a little on the word eleven!
But we learned too how climate works, how we are even now within an ice age, or possibly just leaving one, or even in the midst of a much shorter Heinrich event. Whichever, the point was that not responding to our own worsening of the climate change situation was not really an option. And talk of “refugia” – last safe places for creatures overwhelmed by climate change - was given a scary climax with the fate of the Neanderthals. These probable cousins but certain companions as the ice descended from the north appear to have ended up clinging to Europe on the Rock of Gibraltar; I've been ther so know how they felt. Whether they just died out or modern man took a hand is not certain. Either way they are no more.
No more too are the mammoths – for which Alice has a fondness that should worry her own naughty terrier. But many miles north of Gibraltar the last few were similarly struggling on an Arctic island. Indeed the very last hung on until about 7,000 years before the modern era. Just missed them then.
And we got a preview of the CGI for her new programmes on BBC – arriving next year and then it was questions. And if anyone had any doubt of her commitment to veracity it came soon enough as the questions took her outside her own comfort zone: “I am very sorry but I haven't a clue” she said. To the truly sharing mind the acceptance of Homeric frailty is a proof of competence. Loved it Alice, but then I'm biased.