Wednesday 18 January 2023

Logic Park Chapter 1

I have wonderful ideas for my new book! It is a mad scheme to build a leisure park in France. It is set 10 years in the future, whatever that may hold. Read on. If you like it, please leave a comment. If you don't like it, leave a comment!


A Grey November afternoon at 4pm in Carcassonne, for one particular Englishman was reminiscent of London because it was much the same but maybe a little warmer. At 4pm most people are hoping that the night will arrive rapidly, then at least it’s dark on account of there being no sun rather than its being obscured by a thick mantel of cloud with a spray of fine drizzle beneath it. It almost had a Dickensian feel about it, one almost expected to see a lamp-lighter wandering among the street-lights.

It was a Sunday which accounted for the absence of traffic. The road glistened. What traffic that did pass along Avenue General Leclerc, did so silently or with a strange symphony (or maybe a cacophony) of musical sounds on account of this being 2030 and the internal combustion engine being history in most major cities. Most people these days sampled their car sounds from the internet rather in the same way that people used to download ring-tones for their phones. For sure the air was cleaner but it didn’t lift the oppressive feeling of doom. The bare trees seemed to be weeping.

A dark electric-blue Brum i4 pulled up at the kerb. Or a dark blue electric Brum i4 pulled up at the kerb, take your choice. It also emanated a strange ethereal sound reducing in pitch as it came to a stop, but very dated, as if from a computer movie in the 1980s. Thomas Leadsom was in his 60s so it was either nostalgia or that he hadn’t yet mastered how to change it to something more modern. He took a few moments to check that he had the right location and then looked up the nearest available parking on his screen. Naturally, his car could make all the decisions for him but he still preferred to impose his wish to park off-road. He addressed his car in a firm and authoritative voice, “Park in Parking Gambetta, it’s back across the bridge”. The car replied with a cheery “OK” and a waving emoji on the screen.

When he first bought the car in 2022, he would never have dared send it off to some parking lot, but on account of his growing fame it had been updated free of charge by Brum with new sensors and, of course, the software had been updated on a regular basis. Then two years ago, his battery was replaced with one of the new Plasform power-packs (the word “battery” by that time had a very dated feel about it). With the new power-pack, he could charge the car almost as quickly as one used to take to refill a car with gasoline, and it had a range of 300km. But many people worried about these new power-packs. After all, they still contained the same energy as a tank full of gasoline, they were physically smaller than the old lithium batteries and rapid charging put great stress on the whole system.

He reached behind his seat for a small folder of papers and eased himself out of the car. He shut the door and immediately it moved off towards its parking space, humming in an ascending scale to itself as it went. He was casually dressed, jeans and a shirt with a thick sweater and a bomber jacket to keep out the damp cold air. The Prison, Maison d’Arrêt lay towards la Cité outside the centre of the town, Thomas thought how similar in appearance it was to Wormwood Scrubs which he knew well from visiting clients. Maybe the prison featured in movies and TV series as was the case with The Scrubs. As he approached the gates to the prison, he realised, of course that numerous cameras were now plotting his progress and analysing who he was. Thomas Alvarez Lendsom, 62, British, lawyer, married with two children, lives in Hampstead, London. In the UK, ID cards had finally been accepted so the trawling of information was even easier. People realised that they had given so much about themselves in social media and online that there was really very little more that they could give away. But the research on this visitor went further. From his profile in Silicon Valley, the prison was able to create a complete picture of the man. And because he had been in all the newspapers and TV outside the law courts, le Cour d’Assises, on Friday, the prison quickly came to the conclusion that he had come to visit his client. Or “ex-client” because they had parted acrimoniously as he was led down to start his sentence and as Thomas went out to attempt to explain to the press why his client had had a “James Ratner” moment, an act of hari-kari. Norman Prensel had destroyed his case in a few short moments giving the judges an early start to their weekend, for which they were thankful because the case had already dragged on for 15 days.

Thomas had hoped to visit his client, his ex-, without anyone knowing but some hope of that. There was a small group of people outside the jail wall, some he supposed were friends or family of inmates but one or two looked suspiciously like journalists. He walked up briskly to the police officer at the gate and explained who he was and the purpose of his visit, although that was hardly necessary. It was possible that the policeman knew more about him than he knew himself. Was his wife having an affair which he was spending so much time in France? It was the hour of normal visiting and he had already checked with Norman’s family to see if they planned on visiting him. The policeman at the entrance gave Thomas an ID on a lanyard, the photo it took from their own database, and a wristband. He gave up his mobile phone.

He was led to a small room by a prison warder where he found a motley bunch of sad looking people waiting to see their loved ones (or maybe their confederates to ask where they hid the money). Thomas took a seat next to a very large woman in a floral dress. He picked up a copy of Paris Match and there at page 4 was a report on the court case, the trial of Norman Prensel, world-famous entrepreneur and bon viveur, now brought low, not by the law which his lawyer was skillfully manipulating but by a seemingly rash statement at his trial. That was why Thomas was at the jail rather than heading for home, that would have to wait. But then he doubted what would happen. Their conversation would not be direct but via an electronic link and any sound or unusual actions would immediately be picked up by the artificial intelligence. His face, his emotions would be picked up by the software. In public, face recognition was still a controversial subject, more so as it became more sophisticated. But in a prison, anything goes!

He imagined Norman being brought from his cell to the meeting room. Maybe he wouldn’t want to see him and what could they talk about anyway. The weather? But, yes, Norman was happy to meet, after about 15 minutes, a warder called his name and took him down a dark corridor to the meeting room. As he opened the door, Thomas saw Norman but not as he was accustomed to seeing him. Of course, now, he was wearing a prison uniform but previously he was always impeccably dressed in a dark suit, tie and white shirt. He walked up to the screen where Norman was seated, he said “Hello” and Norman responded. Then followed a little small talk before Thomas put the big question, “Why did he do it?”. Not the crime itself but the virtual confession when Thomas had almost got him off the charges. This was the question on everyone’s lips. But he knew that Norman could not reply as it would have been picked up immediately and for sure leaked to the press. Norman looked back at him with a blank look on his face and a Gallic shrug of the shoulders. But then he smiled, this was not expected. And his smile cautiously drew Thomas’s eyes down to his hands which were clasped on the table in front of him. And then Thomas saw it. From the wrist up to the first knuckle of his right hand was a string of letters and numbers, about 12 in all. He reached in his wallet as if to consult his documents but drew out a sheet of paper and a pen and casually wrote down the string of letters. He had to write it down although he had no idea what it meant, maybe some kind of code that he could present to his clever mathematical friends in the UK. The vigilance in that room was so tight that he feared that at any moment his writing would be discovered. Norman looked back at him blankly and gave him one or two phone numbers which were obviously bogus just to camouflage the vital text. Then, out of the blue, Norman said, “My penis is tiny”. Just that. Well, Thomas had never had the opportunity to judge that, either flaccid or erect. Norman, he knew was gay but he was happily married so there was no question of anything happening between them. And then he said, “You are lawyer”. Not “You are a lawyer” which would make more sense and the former was not English in any case. But he was smart enough to realise that this was also a coded message. He didn’t even risk winking his eye, he just looked blankly back across the screen and continued to chat about the weather. And so they continued, just chatting but obviously Norman had passed something important to Thomas. The time came for him to leave, they said their goodbyes and as Thomas reached the door, he looked back to see Norman surreptitiously wiping the letters from his hand, making out that he was wringing his hands in sadness. And that was the last time either of them saw each other for a number of reasons. But one in particular.

Thomas retrieved his phone and escaped out into the street again, it was 5.30pm and he checked for messages. There were very many, most of which he ignored. There were several which noted that he had visited the prison and which were requesting an interview. And the crowd had certainly increased in number, and they were not all visiting friends and relatives, that was for sure. There were two large and powerful motorbikes at the kerb and several guys hanging around with expensive looking cameras. A microphone was thrust into his face, “What did he say?” He felt vulnerable without his car so he started walking briskly in the direction of the main boulevard where he had sent his car. The press pack followed and jostled him. “You had your day on Friday, leave me alone!” he cried. He called up his car and it responded, “I will pay with the disk on the windscreen”, it replied, “Don’t worry”. Somehow his own car had caught wind of the pressure he was under, he supposed it was the tone of his voice unless the car watches TV. Maybe it was, inanimate objects, all connected to the internet-of-everything have been getting uncomfortably smart. He cursed at the journalists and paparazzi in the most vulgar French he could think of and continued walking. When he reached the bridge which crossed the River Aude, he saw a familiar blue car approaching slowly as if looking out for someone. He flung the folder in behind the driver’s seat, slammed the door shut and gratefully drove away in the direction of the A61 autoroute which would take him to Toulouse. But he had not shaken off the two motorcyclists and he also became aware of a black Mercedes which he had seen parked by the prison, He had dismissed it as obviously not being press. He couldn’t make out the registration mark but it was neither French nor British, he thought he saw a blue and yellow stripe next to the number.

After just over 10 minutes, he arrived at the autoroute. Naturally the traffic was very “fluide” as the gantry signs told him, but he was still being harassed by the two motorcycles. And the Mercedes was still there as well. He tried changing lanes but apart from increasing speed which would obviously have attracted a ticket, this was the only thing he could do. This motley little convoy continued to Toulouse where the number became A62, this was his target for getting out of France and heading for home. The two motorcycles had given up, it was obvious that he was heading back to Calais so there was no point in chasing him any further. About 5 km out of Toulouse, he pulled off to recharge the power-pack and visit the toilet. As he got back into the car, he remembered the coded letters that Norman had given him. He took the paper out of the wallet and sat thinking. Tiny penis, tiny, tiny. What is the clue there? And, “you are lawyer”. He wrote the words on the paper, folded it and put it in his top pocket. He would have to work that out later or during the boring hours of travel ahead. He didn’t see the Mercedes slip out of the lay-by 50m behind him.

Very soon he was passing the airport, he was tired, but his spirits were lifting. He was happy to be going home. After about 10 km, when he was close to the maximum of 120 kph, something strange happened. There was a shock and a loud bang in the front of the car and suddenly he was upside down about 2 metres above the central reservation, at high speed. The car dropped rapidly to the ground onto its roof, spinning twice, into the fast lane of the opposing traffic and the collision with the camper-van was unavoidable. There was silence. All traffic stopped with the exception of a black Mercedes which slipped by unnoticed as it headed towards Calais. People jumped out of their cars and attempted to drag Thomas out of the car. He was obviously seriously hurt but, even in these electric day, people still feared a fire. They laid him on the road and within a few seconds, the power pack, punctured by the Armco exploded sending fire and a plume of smoke into the night. When the medics arrived, there was very little they could do. At first, they didn’t even put him in the ambulance, it was obvious that by now he was dead.

Saturday 3 December 2022

My life in 2022 (about money)

I was shocked when I realised that my last post here was over a year ago, in August 2021. So it is time to do a little catching up.

I really enjoy telling you about my life in Spain... in Catalunya and in Lanzarote. It has been one huge adventure, especially in Lanzarote with my battle over the first house that I wanted to buy.

In my last post, I described a Conciliation held at the Law Courts between me, Pablo the owner and the estate agent. But I never wrote about the result.

At the last moment, Pablo the owner paid the €2,500 to the estate agent and the meeting was therefore cancelled. I could have taken this as an admission of responsibility. I actually sent him a WhatsApp message to thank him for paying the money; it was a big relief for me. He replied that he had done me a favour! I mentioned the €7000 again but I knew in my heart that I would be saying goodbye to that. I really didn't want to pursue this any further - I had found a better flat to buy, so in the long term, I had gained. In a way, the €2,500 claim against me and Pablo caused me more sleepless nights than the €7000 which I could have switched off at any time. Which is exactly what I did. 

And that is the last I heard of the story. I don't even know if the neighbours who built on the roof were fined. It is a shame that they suffered but I am sure I would have been paying the estate agent too if I had not alerted the Town Hall.

Often I think about these events (with pleasure but with a kind of thrill). I took a big risk. And that was despite losing a huge sum of money (and my mental health for a while) over the house which I bought in Celrà. I put myself under pressure to buy a place here in Arrecife. And many parts of the city (and it had to be Arrecife) were out of the question, for example Argana Alta, which is a long way from the centre. The coronavirus pandemic was under way and I felt that I could not simply go back to Catalunya without buying a place; travelling was complicated. This was my only opportunity. I felt rather stranded! So I was in rather a "gung-ho" mood (dangerous) and decided on the first house despite the electricity and water not being fitted. I was lucky to escape. Maybe Pablo would not have been able to complete it by the time of signing the compraventa with the notario, so maybe I would have escaped anyway.

After the Conciliation, I returned to Girona but only for a short while. I spent most of last winter (2021-22) in Lanzarote and returned to Catalunya at the end of May.

I have to admit, I don't do very much when I'm in Lanzarote. I enjoy the sun, the beach, I go swimming. I take excursions to other parts of the island by bus (guagua it is called here). I have been to Tenerife twice, to Puerto de la Cruz. It is quick and cheap on Binter with their ATR-72 turboprops.

I got involved with the Anglican Church in Lanzarote and attended services there. But this year it all turned a little bit sour (which obviously I can't write about here). And I no longer attend church there.

At the start of 2021, I finally cut one important financial tie with the UK - I cashed a savings bond which I had held for many years going back to 1990. The company paid me free of tax because I no longer pay tax in the UK and I then expected to pay tax in Spain in May 2022. But there seemed to be confusion among my advisors whether this was a capital gain or considered as income. That latter would have cost me much more. I visited the tax office in Arrecife and the man there actually wrote "Renta Patrimonial" on my document meaning capital gain. In May, much to my pleasure, I completed my first tax return online in Spain. Previously it had been done by my accountant in Girona. At the end of June and on November 6th 2022, the Tax Office sucked the tax out of my bank account. I hope I did everything correctly. The amount of tax I paid was what I was expecting. Next May in 2023, things will be much simpler because I will just be paying tax on my pensions which don't change much from year to year. But the State Pension is due to rise by 10%, which is a lot. This is thanks to the controversial Triple-Lock in the UK and to the huge increase in the cost of living index (RPI).

In 2022, Barclays Bank in the UK, finally told me they were closing my account. This is as a result of Brexit and Passporting rules between the UK and the EU. I have three private pensions (I know it sounds a lot but it's not big money) and they were paid (in Sterling) to Barclays. But I have an account at Wise with an account in Sterling. It is actually a Barclays account with a UK sort-code. What could be simpler than asking the pension companies to switch to paying Wise? Two of the three, both large well-established companies changed over without problems. But the third (I won't mention their name because they have now acquiesced) argued and argued for ever. I have a mountain of letters between us because they did not have secure mail online. They were happy to pay the money to my Spanish bank for a fee of £50 with, of course, my having no control over the exchange rate. Sure they were!

In the end, they sent a ludicrous request for my passport (the original or a certified copy), a utility bill and my Wise account (which conveniently showed payments from the other two pension companies!) Did they not know who I was?

I suspected this was to save loss of face because their reasons for not paying Wise were ridiculous, quoting the UK financial protection service (FSCS). They were effectively deciding how I should protect my money.  On 14th October, the money arrived in my Sterling account in Wise. (Hard-fought) battle won!

The next post (very soon) will be more colourful with lots of photos. This post is all rather dry... all about money! But I just wanted you to know that I'm still alive and enjoying life!

Thursday 26 August 2021

The Battle of los Estupidos

This morning, as with most days, I was suffering from a brain fog. Sometimes it clears during the day, sometimes never.

I had forgotten the PIN for a credit card which I didn't use very often. On the way to the swimming pool, I stopped off at my bank. In the old paper-full days, the person at the desk would have given me a slip of paper with a temporary PIN. Now, he explained, having activated some process on his terminal, I had to go to the ATM, insert the card and I will receive a code in my phone.

My turn to be stupid. I passed the card by the contactless pad on the ATM. The machine sent the code to my phone, accepted my new PIN and the number sent to my phone. It waited a bit then displayed a message, "Transaction cancelled".

I was having trouble reading the numbers on my phone and the display kept on timing out. So I tried a couple more times.

But, of course, how can the ATM reprogram my card if it is in my hand?

Finally, the assistant did it for me and then it dawned on me, my mistake.

But later, having written a great deal of software in my time, I started to think. Maybe other people have made the same mistake. Maybe many people don't know where the PIN is stored anyway. 

Does the machine not know whether the card was scanned or inserted in the slot? I cannot believe that, I am sure it is lazy programming. When I was writing software, almost 60% of my time was covering all possible human errors. So the software should have prompted me to insert the card. And at the very least, at the end, it should have displayed a message which meant something useful such as "card not found". Then my mistake would have been more obvious.

Anyway, all is resolved. But I ended up feeling really stupid for not realising my error... and later, feeling annoyed about the software which could gently have pointed me in the right direction.

But my swimming on a beautiful hot day in Celrà cured all my annoyance. Another super day.

But on 12th September, I have to return to Lanzarote for a Concilación. The estate agent (see my previous posts) wants their €2,500 and is taking both me and the proprietor to court to recover the money. This meeting instigated by the Law Courts, is an attempt to find a solution before going to court. And I still haven't received back my deposit of €7,700.

Saturday 22 May 2021

Strange people

 I suppose every city has its league of drop-outs, beggars and people who are not quite right in the head.. or people who are just plain stupid (like me many times). And Arrecife has a few. No more than any city I am sure but, because the city is not very big, I get to recognise each one.

But something on the beach upset me this afternoon and it prompted me to write this post.

I went earlier than normal so I spent some time under one of the palm trees at the back of the beach because the sun was very strong. There was a guy nearby just standing, wearing street clothes. And he just stood there, or wandered around. It made me feel uncomfortable although, of course, I was not under any threat. I was a short distance from the street. Later he left, so that was OK.

Then I moved down the beach into the sun, I went swimming. At low tide, there is only one entry point into the sea, free of rocks which was about 20m to my right (I am sure it has been carved out like that). When I came back, I was relaxing on my towel on my back when I heard a kind of sniffing sound. One of the two guys who I had seen earlier in the sea walked right past me, barely 1m away. And this was on a half-empty beach where my nearest neighbour was about 20m away. And he had no reason to walk past me, he would have had to make a huge detour from the sea to where he and his friend were based. Ridiculous as it sounds, I could not come to any other conclusion than that he had come to look at me. It left me feeling very unsettled. The two guys were about 40, slightly overweight. I don't even know what nationality they were. Maybe he was just plain stupid with no idea of distance, Covid or no-Covid. The fact that I am vaccinated doesn't make much difference to how I feel - I am still very careful.

Who next? Outside my local supermarket there is always the same guy with his cup which he rattles in front of people entering and leaving. He also accosts people passing in the street (Actually it is a pedestrian zone, called Calle Real. But in fact it is an extension of my street, Calle León y Castillo). He is always there. And he always approaches me despite my having ignored him for about 5 months. But the Spanish are more generous that us Brits and some people chat with him and give him money. Obviously this guy does not have mental defects, this is the only easy way he can see to make money.

Up to about a month ago there was a guy, large but not fat, about 50 I guess, who seemed to live in Calle Real but he wasn't begging. He had a kindly face. He slept in the entrance to a bank and spent the day sitting on a bench. I often used to wonder about how he had arrived in such a state. Unlike the guy outside the supermarket, who was younger, I felt sympathy for him. And then one day, he was lying on the pavement with his wrist bleeding surrounded by a number of people. One woman was getting very aggresive which is unusual in Spain. It was obvious that it was not life-threatening and I passed by. Next day I saw two people from social services talking with him. A couple of weeks later, he was no longer there. I hope that they are taking good care of him.

I met a woman at the pension where I was staying and she tended to chat with almost anyone whereas I am far more reserved. One day I was passing la Charca and she introduced me to a black guy who she said was a musician. I regretted that meeting because he now holds court on a couple of benches close to where I walk up to my flat. I don't know where he lives, maybe under a bridge somewhere but he is almost always there with a small crowd of acolytes. He used to address me with a loud, "Good afternoon" but I now ignore him. He begged for money a couple of times so that was my excuse. His English was very good - maybe he is English.

There is a very skinny woman about 50, I was sure she has sisters because I would see her so often in shop entrances. She begs, but not agressively. There is another girl, almost like a younger version, and she zooms around bars asking for money. Actually she is quite sweet... but she is still begging. Both have short hair in a classical lesbian style.

There is a very sad guy about 60, again in Calle Real, who shakes a plastic cup but wthout much hope. Another middle-aged woman seems to be a friend of the black guy. She looks like any other middle aged woman but the back-pack is a clue to the fact that she is probably homeless. And the fact that sometimes she is seated on the pavement outside shops, talking loudly. Yes, I guess that is a clue too.

Other people in Arrecife...

There is a man, middle-aged, who always rides an old blue bike and he is always topless. Another man is extremely tall and rides a bike with lots of bulging paniers which I guess is his life. I imagine that he lives under a rock somewhere. I suppose one can do that here because the nights are not as cold as in the rest of Europe. One man I often see looks like a sea-captain. He has one leg and one prosthetic metal leg.

Maybe people consider me a little strange. I don't see many guys with long hair. I don't see any guys with long hair! When I get my courage up, I want to be more feminine when I go out. Next time I come back, I will bring more of my girly clothes. That will shock my neighbours! When I was on holiday in Fuerteventura last year, I went out wearing a dress. One of the first things I want to do when I get back to Catalunya is to paint my nails. I didn't bring the UV lamp or the varnishes with me this time. The colour will be my favourite, swimming pool blue!

Something that I knew some time ago, the singing voice is not the same as the spoken voice. I sometimes stop to listen to a young Spanish guy singing with his guitar outside the bars in el Charco and I drop 50 centimos in his guitar case (only 50 cents you say!) But when he introduces his songs, it is evident that he has a terrible stammer. His songs are all in Spanish unlike one guy who appeared in Calle Real a few weeks ago. He had a horrible rasping voice and he sang all the corny old 70s favourites, such as Running Like the Wind, to his guitar. No 50 centimos for you, sorry.

I feel fortunate to have income from the UK so in no way am I being critical of these people. It makes me feel lucky because at times in my life, I could have gone up or down. Maybe not living on the street but not far off it. 

Things that annoy me. Well not much. Spitting is so disgusting and dirty, I hesitate to mention it here. I normally say something. Guys spit here... and also in Celrà, so it is not unique to Lanzarote. It is unhealthy also but more so during the pandemic.

There sems to be a number of sad guys who feel the need to feed pigeons around el Charco in spite of notices which say, "Don't feed the pigeons" in three languages. They tend to bring an entire loaf of bread and scatter it around the part just above the water. I was greatly amused a few days ago to see a guy on a racing bike stop close to the bar where I was having a beer. He was wearing cleats, the serious cycling shoes. And I looked up to see that he was nursing a pigeon in his hands. Stroking its tail, its wings. Much love. I exchanged quizzical looks with another couple in the bar who had also seen this chap. He fed it water from his bottle. Finally he rode away with his pigeon in his hand. I joked with the couple that maybe it was now a pet (mascota in Spanish). I think they were German so maybe they didn't understand my Spanish. However, we enjoyed the joke!

sorry, reverse angle!
my lounge/kitchen is on the left

Noise tends to be a problem wherever one lives in Spain.... or maybe in the world. This is a narrow street for neighbours only (there is a sign to say so) next to my lounge which is on the left. These two cars are not permitted to park as they don't have a permit. The 4x4 nearer to the camera is not even a neighbour and this guy really takes the mickey, he parks there almost all the time. I went and reported him to the local police but, guess what, nothing happened. I wrote an email to the local police and nothing happened. I spoke to an English guy who lives just down this street and he said that the police do issue parking tickets...... once a year!

The problem for me is the state of the paving stones next to the wall on the left. They are broken and loose (they are for pedestrians, not cars), and they rock during the night when a car attempts to pass the parked cars. So it tends to wake me up. And it is annoying during the day too. I wrote an email to the Works department in the Town Hall, nothing happened. I wrote two more times - no reply. I spoke to a guy in one of the trucks of the Works department and he promised that he would look at it, but nothing new so far. He said words to the effect, "Huh, don't waste your time with the Town Hall, nothing happens"! They have a warehouse up by Ikea which is about a 30 minute walk (which I know well!) If the same state of affairs is still here when I return, I will do a Denuncia with the local police. Then they and the Works department have to do something.

But this is one small thing among many great advantages of living here, so I have no complaints really. I certainly landed on my feet here (at the second attempt at buying a flat!)

Thursday 20 May 2021

More about money claims

My last post about buying flats ended with my planned meeting at the Colegio de Abogados. That was on 5th May and, having provided the missing document, there was a long pause as the woman read through her sheaf of documents. "What is your income?" she asked. Well, she knew that from day one because it was one of the first things I had to provide. She looked at the figure, she seemed confused. She wrote a euro sign after the amount to add to my euro sign before the amount as if to make it clearer.

"This is too much, it is over our limit for free assistance."

Well, the upshot of this was that she gave me another form to add to the one that I had received earlier confirming the acceptance of the offer. This new form said that my claim had been "provisionally" rejected!

"So I have wasted my time?" I said (but very politely because previously I had pulled her leg about being impatient with me. So I had decided to be on my best behaviour.)

"Well, no, in 2 months time the application will be reviewed, the rejection is only provisional."

So I was back to square one. I contacted a new lawyer to ask his advice. Alfonso. He looked through all my documents, and generously said that my claim was "viable". But he did not fill me with optimism.

Then there was a new unwelcome development. Out of the blue, about a week ago, I received a phone call from the lawyer of the estate agent. You may remember from my previous post that, according to the contract of the option to buy (the first apartment), there was a sum of €2,500 to be paid to the estate agent by the person (Pablo or me) who had defaulted on the contract. I had hoped that there was a third way (in the tradition of Tony Blair) in which neither of us was at default, the contract could be annulled. Having heard nothing for 5 months, I assumed that the estate agent and Pablo had come to some kind of agreement, after all, they did business together.

The lawyer saw things in black and white, he saw no third way. I will call him Sergio. He was very amicable and clearly thought that I had not defaulted on the contract. He wanted to speak to my lawyer.

"Give me his name and phone number, and I will call him." Haha.. no way. I said that I would give Alfonso his number and maybe he will reply.

Alfonso had no interest in talking to Sergio, he simply wanted to carry on with my claim. So I spoke to Sergio instead. And it soon became clear what his motive was. He could not decide whether to sue me or Pablo for the €2,500. So he wanted to hitch a ride on my claim against Pablo. If I won, he would claim the €2,500 from Pablo and vice-versa. I refused that immediately. He said that Pablo was not returning his calls. I suggested he went to Pablo's office in Arrecife. It was only then that I discovered that he was in Tenerife.

So his response was that he would take both me and Pablo to court and whoever lost would have to pay the €2,500. But courts don't work like that. It is not a beauty contest, "Who is the fairer of the two? Pablo or Steve"!

So that is how things are at the moment. Instead of Sergio hitching a ride on my case, which to me was unacceptable, I will see what is the outcome of his futile attempt to take two people to court at the same time for the same claim. Maybe the Colegio de Abogados will change their mind (actually I think it is the Cabildo, the government of Lanzarote, that makes the decision). I am not worried. I told Sergio that I had a huge folder of documents (un montón de documentos) which clearly shows that I was justified in withdrawing from the contract, even if he does manage to take me to court.

I am going back to Catalunya on Tuesday - I am looking forward to that! Much as I love Arrecife, there are things that I miss in Celrà. My balcony, my bike, my friends. And maybe soon we won't have to wear masks in the open air. I have enough trouble remembering faces under normal conditions, to remember eyes is quite a challenge for me. Partly for that reason, I have only the two girls who work at the pension as friends here. Maybe I will come back here during the summer for a few days, I don't know but I will definitely come back in October to stay for the winter. The flights are very cheap because I get a huge discount for being a resident of the islands (Well they are cheap anyway these days. My ticket is €30 but that includes choice of seat and checked baggage. 10.30am flight to BCN with Vueling, perfect. Walk up to the bus station, 15 mins, bus at 8am.) I guess that, if a flight is €30 for all people, I get a very small discount if any, I don't get 70% off €30.

Friday 30 April 2021

More about Religion

I wrote here some time ago about religion and my Christian faith. I guess I have experienced two main phases in my Christian journey. Firstly it was big evangelical meetings when I was in my teens, then cathedral services which of course could not be further from my original experiences. One great influence was the music of Bach and all the other great composers who wrote such wonderful spiritual church music.

But during the past year or two, I have started thinking a lot about beliefs which I have taken as read for many years. And I find myself rejecting some traditional Christian ideas such as redemption (maybe it came from Paul) but at the same time being totally believing about the Resurrection, life after death, healing and miracles in general. For many years, I accepted the idea that Jesus died for my sins. But I wasn't even born. It is suggested that I require forgiveness for something that happened 2000 years ago. Maybe that was a weight that I carried around with me for many years.

I don't believe prayer is a supplication to be given a negative or positive reply, I see it as peer to peer. I don't see how Christianity is a kind of ticket to everlasting life whereas other religions (or even agnostics) don't qualify. We are all made up of atoms and are subject to the same physical laws (many of course which we don't understand, so we call them "supernatural"). I believe in God but as part of the whole mass of living cells and inanimate objects in the world and in the universe. Therefore I don't believe that God acts in the world (hence no problem with, "How does God allow...") Theodicy (I just learnt a new word!) 

I read recently that the atoms which make up our bodies change completely over a period of about 7 years. And I also read with interest about the vast empty (?) space between the nucleus of an atom and its electrons, not to mention the almost impossibly small size of an atom. This has made a big impact on my spiritual beliefs, strangely enough. It makes it more credible to me that we are all part of the same world and that the border between me and the outside world is not a hard barrier of skin but rather.. well nothing much at all!

I believe our minds are outside the constraints of our skulls, I think we are all connected. Memory interests me greatly, is that outside the head also? (In a block universe maybe, where we can re-experience the moods and smells of events many years ago). When I die, I like to think of myself just taking a step sideways into the part of me that was always outside my body and not subject to its atrophy. So my main fear of dying is leaving behind lots of junk in my home for someone else to clear up!

I started reading about quantum mechanics, firstly about Erwin Shrödinger's famous cat and then I followed other books by the same author. Then I discovered "What is Life?" written by Schrödinger which talks a lot about God whereas one would expect it to dismiss the idea. I bought The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley because Schrödinger refers to it (but it is really heavy going!) And then, as a result of reading his obituary recently in The Times, I discovered John Polkinghorne who also worked in particle physics and who later in his life was ordained as a Church of England priest. I bought a small paperback of his (it is not available on Kindle). But of course, there is much of his work that I can read online or in my Kindle. I will be interested to see what he says because I think I am travelling a similar path. I realise now that I could easily have found him with a search "science and religion". 

Placebos and Dark Matter

What do these two terms have in common? Well, they are both bandied about by believers and sceptics alike as being real. Placebos are an accepted part of research into a new drug, for example. But how is it possible? That believing that one will get well, actually makes us better. But this seems to be accepted in general. So in that case, pain that is "in the mind" - in other words psychosomatic illness should also be accepted by everyone. If the mind can make us better then presumably it can also make us ill. But many people dismiss the latter as not being real. I believe the pain is real and the cause is something that is occurring in the mind, it is not an injury or something such as arthritis.

I have a friend who is content to live under the label of fibromyalgia until I say that it is the doctors saying that they don't understand the cause, maybe it is in the mind. Then he gets annoyed with me because he says that the pain is real. Of course the pain is real, I am not saying otherwise but, because the cause may be psychosomatic, he considers this to be an insult. Nooo, nothing to be ashamed of. The mind is very powerful, more powerful that we can understand.

For most of my life I have had a pain which it is almost impossible to summarise - sometimes it is mental and it makes me depressed, sometimes it causes physical stress, which is obviously real. Sometimes its effects change withing seconds, depending on where the pain is situtated (usually in the region of my head or neck). Sometimes it blocks all feeling which is the worst feeling of all. I suppose you are expecting me to tell you the cause but even at my advanced age, it is still a mystery. Sometimes I think it is because for much of my life, I have lived as a guy but inside I feel female. I just don't know. And it has defeated the various psychologists who I have visited over the years. Now I have lost my feeling for painting, which makes me sad. I wanted to buy a studio in Lanzarote but, if I have no desire to paint, then it would be a waste of money. For many years it was a dream but such a place would have been too expensive where I live in Catalunya.

Now where was I? ....

Dark Matter is another of those terms which are used by most people, many of whom are not really considering the implications in what they are believing - rather as in the case of placebos. How is this possible? That about 27% of the universe is made of of something that we are unable to detect except by gravity. As if we can see the shadow of something but we are unable to see the source.

I cannot understand people who say that what we see is all that there is, that there is very little more to discover. People have said that through the ages and have been shown to be embarrassingly wrong. It is clear to me that we live in a world which is truly amazing and, despite the huge advances in science and technology, that by comparison we know nothing.

So I believe that the greater knowledge I have gained by reading about quantum mechanics for example, has taken me closer to God. But it is not the God of the Garden of Eden, it is a God very much alive through Jesus. It is not the God that I was taught about in my teens, it is a God that I can almost touch!



Monday 19 April 2021

A second flat!

I've  put off writing this post for quite some time because I am making a claim in the courts here for the return of my deposit of €7,700 (which I wrote about in my previous post) and I don't want to jeopardise the court case by writing too much here. So I have either changed names or simply not mentioned names. The following text is without prejudice.

In my last post, I wrote about a flat which I was committed to buy. The date for signing with the Notary was 30 days after the signing of the initial contract which, had it happened, would have been Christmas Eve. About 2 weeks after signing the initial contract, I was visiting the flat to meet a guy from Ikea to measure up the kitchen (I was alone, the owner had given me the keys). We hit several snags because a lot of the kitchen had already been decided upon (see below) but I had my own ideas. After the man left, I noticed a large amount of rubble in my internal patio, there was a guy working on the roof, the azotea. I went up to the roof and had a shock! There were new buiding works, a huge amount of breeze block stored which I assumed had been delivered by crane. The neighbours in the left-hand upstairs flat were building on the roof which would clearly have affected my flat by blocking the light in the internal patio at certain times in the day as well as altering the structure of the whole building. And then it occured to me that maybe it was illegal in any case. I took a photo which annoyed greatly the builder. And I had proof in my structural survey that the buiding work started after I signed the document

space for the kitchen

I went to see Pablo (name changed) the proprietor of the whole building. He got angry when I suggested that the work was illegal, he thought I was referring to the whole building. He offered to cancel the contract and return my money but suggested we meet with the neighbours that afternoon. We had a long (but basically friendly) argument about angles of the sun but I had no doubt that I wanted to get out of this contract. Pablo repeated his offer and I accepted.

A little later I received a message in WhatsApp from Pablo. He had highlighted with marker pen a clause which demands that the person defaulting on the contract not only loses their deposit (in my case) but also has to pay the estate agent compensation of €2,500. Obviously he considered that I had defaulted on the contract and should pay the "fine", presumably after receiving the refund. 

If Pablo defaults on the contract, he not only has to refund my deposit but also has to pay me a further €7,700 as compensation. So the stakes were quite high. In fact, I never previously asked for the double payment, I just wanted my €7,700 back as promised (plus my costs). Although I have had lots of conversations with lawyers, I have never established if there is a "third way" - in other words, the contract is void due to the conditions having changed but that neither I nor Pablo is technically at fault. In any case, my argument is that it had changed and therefore I was no longer tied to it.

His defence is that the building work is the responsibility of the neighbours - "Nothing to do with me, mate!" But he gave permission and it is his building. This rumbled on through December with no result. I paid a lawyer €250 to try to negotiate a deal. My option was to go the Town Hall and report the building works. I phoned the planning office early in December and they confirmed that no building work is allowed on the roof but that I would have to do a "denuncia", in other words to report it to the local police. I hesistated for a long time doing this as it would obviousy hurt the neighbours more than Pablo. But after a short visit back to Girona just before Christmas, I went to the police at the end of the year and we fashioned a single page of A4, basically telling the story. I knew that it then went to the Town Hall Planning Department, a few doors down the road from the police. But then nothing happened until April.....

Meantime, it was back to the drawing board for me and while this was all going on, I started to look at flats again. The choice is quite simple really, there are various parts of Arrecife which are quite distant from the centre. Argana Alta is a bus ride away and not such a nice area, surrounded by an industrial estate. There are touristy places outside the city such as Costa Teguise and Playa Honda which obviously didn't appeal to me. I was getting desperate. I really didn't want to go back to Girona having failed to buy a place here. I had bought a bike here, the coronavirus was nothing like as serious here. By this time, I was staying in Hostel San Ginés which is close to el Charco, an inland harbour (but sea-water, of course). The staff at the hostel were so friendly, I guess I was there a little over 3 weeks, eating out most evenings in a super bar and restaurant called la Rustica.

La Rustica

Sometimes I cooked my supper in the hostel, there was a kitchen area but it was only really possible if there were no more than two people cooking at the same time.
The kitchen in the pensión

el Charco, Arrecife (untypical sky!)

I was walking by el Charco one day at the end of November and noticed a small estate agent close by. I went inside. "We have a place just up the road, it is €87,000". That was a little over my budget (especially since I was owed €7,700) but we went along to see it. It was perfect, I decided I wanted to buy it on the spot. As we walked back down to his office, I suggested a price of €85,000 on the grounds that I did not require a mortgage, He phoned the owner and my offer was accepted. There was no messing around with a deposit or contract of commitment to buy, all documents were already prepared for the purchase. The flat was empty.

just after moving in

I had no qualms about the structure of the building, it is a modern building on 5 floors with 4 flats per floor and a lift. My flat is on the ground floor.

But I only got to see the Compraventa, the contract to buy the flat, the day before I was due to sign with the Notary. I had been given a lawyer (Sergio) as a contact. One lawyer I saw wanted €800 to sign with the Notary and do all the other chores which follow the purchase of a flat. But I was happy to do that, it was fun. I sent the document to Sergio but I heard nothing back by the time I went to bed, so I was getting quite anxious, the meeting with the Notary was at 11am next day.

At 2.30am I was woken by my phone flickering. It was Sergio writing a message in WhatsApp. Then he started sending voice messages. What he was saying was that the contract was basically fraudulent and that I would have to pay taxes on the increase in value of the flat during the previous 10 years. He told me to lie to the estate agent, saying that I was ill, or had the coronavirus, and he would meet me the following Monday. This was the night of Thursday and Friday and he was in Madrid.

This went on for about an hour. At some stage I suppose I got back to sleep which was a miracle. Next morning, I changed my return flight to Catalunya, I cancelled the bank cheque for €85k and when his office opened, I went to see the estate agent. His reply was astonishment, "Do you imagine we, or the company selling the flat would do such a thing? Our reputation would be lost." (Well, actually I thought the same which is why I ignored Sergio's advice. But I really didn't know what to think. I had been cheated once in this town).

Then I put him on to Sergio and they chatted on the phone. By this time it was about 10am. I think the Notary made a small change to the text but I never checked it. I went back to the bank to obtain a new cheque. The manager was out but finally I got the cheque just in time to go directly to the Notary. The rest was an anti-climax. I sat with David the owner in the Notary's office. He ran through the document, we signed it, I handed over the cheque and David gave me the keys.

In any case, I need  not have worried. A Notary is a lawyer too and is there to protect both parties. I had to pay another €60 for the second cheque but I never paid Sergio anything and he didn't ask. That's a pretty good deal, buying a flat with legal costs of €60 (but I paid the Notary fees of course - €450).

I went to the flat in trepidation. Maybe I had made a big mistake, maybe it was smaller than I had imagined, maybe there were noisy neighbours. It was perfect. All the furniture had been taken away and the lounge and kitchen area is a huge square - now full of all my stuff! Sometimes I dance around the space while I am cooking my supper, it is so big!

There is a small room for my washing machine on the roof and a parking space in the garage (which I use for my bike!) I didn't have to buy anything for the kitchen but I did buy a new washing machine, the old one was completely dead. Oh, and I bought a new water heater because the installed one had a fixed temperature of 75c which was painfully hot.

Now you will be wanting to know what happened with the denuncia with the local police. Around the beginning of April I received a thick envelope from the Town Hall, an informe. It told me of their action against the neighbours which was positively draconian, it included photos of the building work (obviously more advanced than in my photo), one from a drone to show the building in its natural state. It spoke of a "grave" infringement of the law, it spoke of big fines, tens of thousands of euros. It demanded that the work stops. And it required a reply from the neighbours within 15 days. But I am still waiting to hear further news.

After. But now there is more furniture!

For me, it makes me sad (but not for long). My case is against Pablo, not the neighbours. But they had the whole of December between them to offer me a deal and, in that case, I would not have done the denuncia. And the building work would have gone unnoticed. The Town Hall knew about the works from when I first phoned them but they said that I had to make the denuncia for them to take action.

The last lawyer I contacted quoted me €3,000 to initiate legal proceedings against Pablo but there were many options to be added along the way. This would have been a cloud over my life here. But she suggested the Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Lanzarote. I didn't know that they provide free proceedings and I didn't think that I would qualify anyway. But that is the stage where I am now. They have approved my application and there is one remaining document which I have to provide (always one missing document in Spain!) I now have that document but I have to wait for my next meeting on 5th May to give it to them.


The Music Stand on the sea front