Blogs in this series

I am a Briton living in Culebrón, a small village in the Alicante province of Spain. These are some of the things, the little things, that happen to me and around me. This blog is one of a series. The others are Life in Cartagena, Life in La Unión and Life in Ciudad Rodrigo which can be accessed via the tabs above


Friday, April 21, 2017

And something else...

For years I didn't own a power drill. I made do with a little hand held job, in fact I often said that I preferred the manual ones.

I forget now how it started but, for years, I have been doing online surveys. Sometimes they ask me reasonably sensible things like who I might vote for or how I keep up with news and current affairs. Usually though they ask me annoyingly written and stupid questions about whether I agree more with the statement that a) my bank is friendly, honest and innovative or b) that my bank is chummy, trustworthy and forward thinking. There's no space to say that all banks are equally soulless. money grabbing and intrinsically corrupt. The survey people give me points for doing each survey and I can change the points for things in an online catalogue. The first time I used the points to send pigs to Nicaragua but somewhere along the way I used others to get a power drill. I now know that power drills are better than hand drills.

The other day I was asked to do a survey about sobrasada. I eat sobrasada from time to time. I usually eat it spread on bread or maybe as the spread in a sandwich. I've always presumed that sobrasada was the dripping that comes from making chorizo, the rough cut pork sausage flavoured with paprika type pepper. I thought of it as being a Spanish version of the bread and drip that I used to eat as a lad. I assumed the Spanish stuff was the reddy brown colour because the dripping came from the paprika coloured meat and that the thicker consistency was because it contained strands of cooked pork flesh.

Anyway this survey asked me tens and tens of questions about sobrasada. They asked me whether I preferred the stuff that comes in tubs or the variety that came in a skin. They asked whether the keeping qualities of it were important and whether I preferred the cheaper stuff or the stuff that is denominación de origen; D.O. is used a lot in Spain to mark out more traditional products prepared in specific ways. D.O. ham for instance generally means that the ham comes from a certain breed of free range pig that feeds on acorns. D.O. wines contain particular grape varieties which are grown, harvested and matured in specific ways. Suddenly, I realised there was a whole back story to sobrasada.

It turns out that the pukka stuff comes from Mallorca and Ibiza in the Balearic Islands though Cataluña and Valencia have their own versions. Sobrasada is a sausage made from pork loin and bacon meat minced and mixed with paprika, salt and black pepper. There are versions with and without cayenne pepper which are labelled as either sweet or spicy. The mixture is not cooked, it is stuffed into a pork intestine and hung from a pole for several weeks until it is cured. For the spicier version the ends of the sausage are tied off with either red or red and white string to differentiate it from the milder version.

Apparently the chemistry that dehydrates the meat is favoured by the weather typical of the late Balearic island autumn, the time when pigs are traditionally sacrificed, with high humidity and mild temperatures. I'm sure that in the factories where they churn out tons of cheap non traditional sobrasada from old scrag ends - the stuff I usually eat – those conditions can be easily recreated.

There are lots of variations in the way that the real McCoy sobrasada is finally presented to the consumer. Sometimes it is removed from the skins and put into tubs (which stack nicely on supermarket shelves) at other times it is presented in thin sausages which are apparently called longaniza (the longanizas we have in Pinoso are a very different type of sausage). The stuff that I thought of as being traditional sobrasada is called semirrizada and that is presented as a sort of haggis shaped and sized sausage from which you scoop the fatty spread.

I'm sure you're not too interested in sobrasada. I'm not. In fact I'm slightly less interested since I learned that it's basically rotted meat. What did interest me though was that it was just yet another little thing that I didn't know about Spain. About something that is so commonplace that a supermarket chain wanted to know my opinions on it.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Looking for an epiphany

We've been to see a few Easter parades these last few days. When I was a schoolboy Mr Kemp and Mr Edwards, my Junior and Secondary school headteachers, were keen that I was given a good Christian Education. Whether I asked for it or not they made sure that I got it. Although I haven't really looked at a Bible or happily gone inside a church for well over forty years I still remember the basics of, for instance, the Christmas and Easter stories. At times it's not enough. So when I saw a float in a parade with the title of Aparicion de los Discípulos de Emaus or The Appearance to the Disciples at Emmaus it meant nothing to me. Fortunately other teachers tried hard to persuade me that finding things out and knowing how to find things out was easily as important as actually knowing things. It's much easier now than it used to be. Google knew. Emmaus or Emaus is one of those early Resurrection sightings.

In the same way that I have a well grounded but essentially partial grasp of Christian lore I have a reasonably good handle on Spain. I know a bit of history, a bit of culture, some politics and more. I keep trying to add to my knowledge. My sieve like brain is a perfidious ally in this attempt to learn and those funny foreign names don't help either but sheer persistence has worked for me in the past and I see no reason why it isn't a workable plan for, at least, the near future.

The last Easter float had passed us by. As we walked away the chair hire companies were loading their plastic seats into the back of myriad vans and the road sweeping machines were pirouetting around the streets which moments before had buzzed with spectators. As we neared our parked car we saw that there was something going on in the park, el Malecón, by the river. We've seen fairs and markets there before so we went for a nosey.

There were a bunch of temporary restaurants. They were busy. Most were called Peña this and that. Now peña is probably a word that I don't understand. Or maybe it's a word I understand perfectly. It seems to be a multi-use word - all peña usually means is that it's a group of like minded souls - Peña Madrileña for Real Madrid fans. It seems too that peñas can either be very open groups or quite closed groups. I've heard peña used to describe the garage hired by a bunch of mates during a town carnival to drink beer and hang around in. Often, within fiestas, there are peñas which are set up by associations of one kind or another. Your neighbourhood may be going to do some things in a town fête so the neighbourhood sets up a temporary HQ in an unrented shop. They call it a peña and it becomes a sort of social centre for anybody who has affiliations to that neighbourhood. Some peñas seem to be more permanent than others.

Anyway, so we've diverted to have a look in the park and we find all these restaurants and they are all called Peña this and that. We have no idea whether they are something to do with the Spring Festival, which always follows on from Easter in Murcia, or whether they are tied in to the Holy Week celebrations. We have no idea but hundreds and hundreds of people do, they are having their lunch there. Some of the peñas have price lists, most are completely full. We don't know if it's a walk in proposition, whether we need a reservation or if it's a members only deal. It doesn't matter. It's not as though we want to eat. We've already eaten in a bar in town. The reason we are interested is simply because we don't know what's going on. We are quietly and individually distressed. It's discomforting simply because we don't understand. It's another Emmaus moment.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it

We went into Pinoso on Wednesday to see the Procession of the imprisoned Jesus. He was escorted by the Roman Century and two of the be-hooded brotherhoods plus a couple of groups dedicated to different incarnations of the Virgin. To be honest I have no idea what was actually happening despite having seen this, or processions very similar to it, tens of times in our time here. In fact a British couple newly arrived in Pinoso were asking Maggie which of the long Good Friday programme in Pinoso were the ones not to miss and, when it came down to it, we were guessing.

One of the events IN CAPITALS for the Good Friday programme for Pinoso is the encounter between The Verónica and Our Father Jesús. Google tells me that The Verónica, according to the Christian tradition, was the woman who, during the Viacrucis, handed Jesus a cloth to wipe away his sweat and blood, a cloth on which his face was miraculously imprinted. Then I had to Google Viacrucis. It seems to be Jesus's journey from Palm Sunday to the tomb via crucifixion, which Wikipedia tells me is interpreted as the Stations of the Cross in English. I'm sure that the Spanish interpretation is Jesus dragging his cross up to Golgotha.

The point is that I have been a spectator at several of the events that mark Holy Week all over Spain but I don't really know what is happening or why. People often think of Spain as being a very religious, read Catholic, country. I don't think that's really true any longer. I think it is true to say that there are still a lot of fervent Catholics in Spain but they tend to be from the older generation. What there is a lot of in Spain is tradition that is based on Catholic iconography and dogma. So carved wooden saints or Virgin Mary statues turn up time and time again in various sorts of ceremonies. Priests bless animals and police cars, Baptisms and communions are a societal rite of passage and an excuse for a meal. Spain is a country with lots and lots of traditions and because, in the past, those traditions were linked to the Catholic Church the tradition still looks like and is loaded with Catholic symbolism and ritual.

Last night as the wooden figures were paraded around Pinoso amidst an enormous crowd everything suddenly went quiet, The procession halted and somebody, somewhere in the distance, sang a saeta, the traditional style of song only sung at Eastertide. I have no idea how all those people knew to stop, maybe it was preplanned, maybe the people who control each group are wired into some sophisticated communication system but everybody stopped. Even the gum chewing lads with the funny haircuts and the noisy children sitting in the gutter knew to shut up while the song lasted. When it was done, the crowd applauded loud and long. Very Christian and absolutely nothing to do with religion for the majority of the crowd.

Easter has other traditions. aside from the processions. A mass exodus from the big cities to the coast and lots of road deaths is one but there are also traditions around food just as there are in the UK. Maggie always bemoans the shortage of hot cross buns and chocolate eggs in Spain. Traditional Easter food includes torrijas, which takes all sorts of shapes and flavours, but are basically fried, sweetened, egg soaked pieces of bread. The mona de pascua is typical of this area - it's a sort of sweetened bready cake with a hard boiled egg in the middle. And, truth be told, chocolate Easter eggs are pretty common nowadays alongside gold foil wrapped Lindt Easter bunnies.

We were in Santa Pola for our first Easter in Spain. For us Easter was the British long weekend starting on Good Friday and ending on Easter Monday which is nothing like the timetable in Spain. One night I was getting really angry. There were obviously a couple of lads on their way to Boys Brigade band practice who were pounding their drums outside our window. I couldn't stand it any more. I went on to the balcony to tell them to shut up and found myself staring at a religious float being wheeled through the streets accompanied by people who looked like Klu Klux Klan members beating muffled drums. For those of you who know just as much about Holy Week, Semana Santa, now as I did then here is my brief guide to the Spanish Easter. A disclaimer. There are as many Easter traditions as there are towns in Spain so this is a very generalised view.

The first event is usually Palm Sunday, Domingo de Ramos, which can vary from huge processions, as in Elche, with lots of participants carrying palm fronds some of them woven into the most intricate designs imaginable, through to tiny processions with a small band of people waving any old greenery that they have found somewhere alongside the way following the local priest to or from the church up in Salamanca.

From Holy Monday on there are processions after processions in nearly every town or city of Spain through to the joyous celebrations of Easter Sunday. Semana Santa is everywhere but it's especially enormous down in Andalucia, especially in Seville and Malaga. All week long there are processions of penitents dressed in long cloaks with tall pointed hat and hood combinations with eye slits. They are usually called capuchas though there are several local names. The penitents are usually accompanied by eerie music based on drum beats and shrill horn blasts. The penitentes encapuchados (hooded penitents) or Nazarenos (Nazarenes) belong to a cofradía or hermandad - a brotherhood - usually associated with a particular church or cult. Each brotherhood has a distinctive design to the cloak and hood. As well as the brotherhoods there are often other groups with affiliations to a particular cult and or effigy. Women wearing the long lacy mantillas supported by a peineta, usually all in black, Roman soldiers with clinking armour and a whole range of other styles of uniform are common.

The penitents and sometimes the other groupings, accompany a paso or trono (tableau or float) nearly all of which have some reference to the Easter passion: Jesus on the cross, The Last Supper, some part of the Easter story featuring one of the Apostles - for instance Peter and a cockerel. The pasos vary in size, some are on wheels but the most impressive ones weigh a couple of tons and are carried by men (and nowadays women) four or five abreast. The crowd applaud the management of some of the bigger floats, often ablaze with chandelier style lanterns, and even for non believers the intricate design, the effort that goes into their preparation and the sheer size of the tableau is something to behold.

The slow and sometimes, literally, painful progress of the tronos is regulated by el capataz, the boss, who has to look after the team of bearers and make sure that the tableau avoid the overhanging balconies, negotiate the right angle turns and arrive safely to their destination. Along the way as the tronos stop, that's the time that the balcony based singers take their opportunity to sing the saetas. Usually the different brotherhoods take the lead in one of the processions sometime during Holy Week but they often process several times. The processions can be at any time of day and towards the end of the week there are more daytime events. The majority though start in the early evening, around eight or nine, and often go on well into the next morning. Usually all the brotherhoods of a city or town are on the move on Maundy Thursday as the day becomes Good Friday. Silent processions with towns blacked out for a short while around midnight are common. Seeing bands of hooded figures carrying carved statues on their back in the pitch dark is something to stir the spirit. Very eerie.


Some processions are much more serious than others, more religious. For instance in Pinoso and around the corner in Murcia the penitents often carry bags of sweets that they dole out to the outstretched hands of children. On the other hand, while I was getting a coffee in a bar on Wednesday, everyone stopped to watch the television as engineer soldiers (los gastadores) of the Spanish Foreign Legion changed guard on the Cristo de Mena, a carved wooden statue famous in Malaga. Imagine the precision of the changing of the guard outside Buckingham Palace, by soldiers with spades across their back, to stand silent and motionless to guard a wooden religious statue. Bizarre. When we lived in Cartagena the precision of the penitents  as they marched was remarkable. We have seen people denied a place in the procession because their gloves were not the correct shade of white or because the would be penitent had painted toenails poking from their sandals. On the other hand one of the tronos in Cartagena is a serving navy sailor, Saint Peter the fisherman. He is granted shore leave but ends up confined to barracks for another year when he returns drunk after meeting with his apostle colleagues in the wee small hours of the morning. The drunken return of Saint Peter involves the float bearers dipping and lifting the heavy tableau in unison. In Hellín people wander around the streets drumming with no particular organisation or purpose that I could see and drumming is big all over Castilla la Mancha. Watching the TV news the breadth of costumes and traditions is breathtaking.

Spain is just about as Spanish as Spain gets at Eastertide

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The dark swallows will return

On a good day, with a following wind, I can tell an ash from a rowan, a beech from a hornbeam. Chestnuts, sycamores or oaks are easy. The black and white job is a magpie, that brown and blue is a jay but they are all corvidae. Wagtails and blackbirds, spuggies and starlings, robins and reindeer - I can tell them apart. I don't know a lot of bird names in Spanish but I know a few - if I know the bird in English I usually know it in Spanish though those little finch jobs keep slipping my mind - pinzones and jilgueros I think.

Sometimes I know the name but I wouldn't recognise the bird if it were to gather in large numbers on my porch or peck holes in the top of my soft-top Aston Martin. Kites spring to mind as an example. They were pointed out to us as we cruised the Duero in Salamanca but I have no real idea what they look like. I'm not really much good at natural stuff. Our garden is full of colour. Maggie despairs of my lack of plant knowledge. It was only because she mentioned it yesterday that I noticed we have lilac in bloom. As we drove through Almansa the other day I confused cherry blossom with jacaranda - purple trees are purple trees.

I was knocking back weeds the other day when I heard a cuckoo. This is one of the main things I do in the garden, take out weeds. Some Spanish person told us that keeping the soil weed free was a Mediterranean tradition. Apparently rigorous weed control means that your garden will not burst into flame so easily in July or August. Weeds are green. Occasionally I realise that I have hoed out something that Maggie planted. In my opinion she should have bought something with a bit of colour. If it's coloured it may be a flower. If it's green it's obviously a weed.

The cuckoos have been on the go for a little while now. I mentioned this to a Spaniard who looked blank at the news. I suppose the Spanish do not have a history of letters to the editor of The Times. Maybe they don't have Gilbert White either but I presume they have something similar?

Anyway, so I'm talking to my English class about collective nouns. We've done team and flock and herd and I say we have more which are less common - a gaggle of geese -  no need to write that down I say, it's not an important or useful word. Although I think the word goose, in Spanish, is a dead normal word, an everyweek if not an everyday word, most of the students don't. We're getting silly now so I mention a murmuration of starlings but it takes me much longer to explain what a starling is than it does to explain the term murmuration. By the time we're onto a venue of vultures - surely they know vultures? - I am really in a hole.

I have a pal. On the rare occasions twenty or thirty years ago, when she persuaded me that walking in the countryside had any value, she would hop around woodland lanes pointing out coltsfoot, stinking jenny or celandines. It was a bit like Ivor Cutler's dad - "Loook! A thistle," and then, "Looook! another thistle." We soon knew the thistle. She told me her mum had told her about plants and animals because she was a country lass.

I think we Brits know a bit about birds and trees and plants. Some know more than others of course. For many of us I suspect it's a bit superficial - if it's got the wings at the front instead of in the centre it's a hawk - kestrel? If it's at the seaside it's a seagull. Long legs? heron? crane? egret at a push? And if it's on a pond and likes bread it's a duck.

We live in the countryside in Culebrón and in Pinoso. I am consistently surprised when my mention, in Spanish, of nightingales, swallows, sparrows, robins, voles, shrews, hares, badgers, hedgehogs, nettles or thistles leads to bewilderment amongst my students. I would have thought that all country folk would have known their way around the local fauna and flora but apparently not.

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The blog title is from a poem by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer

Volverán las oscuras golondrinas
en tu balcón sus nidos a colgar,
y, otra vez, con el ala a sus cristales
 jugando llamarán;

The dark swallows will return
To your balcony to hang their nests
And again with their wings at your window
They will call as they play.



Sunday, April 09, 2017

And the other six dwarves

Thirty one years ago, in the Bar Lennon in Valencia, the barman turned out to be the chatty type. Having to talk in a mixture of mime, tortured Spanish and broken English was no obstacle to his chattiness. He sang the European anthem. He invited us to the beach and, amazingly, we and he turned up the following morning at the appointed time. He and his pals frolicked, stark naked, in the sea whilst we two Brits toasted ourselves to the colour of boiled crabs and ate all the food.

Jaime has been an occasional friend ever since. Time passes. He turned 60 on Thursday. I would be even less impressed to see him in his birthday suit nowadays. Pepa, his long time minder arranged a surprise party in Fuentes de Rubielos​ in Teruel where the two of them have a business renting out a country cottage.

It's 300 kilometres from Culebrón to Fuentes so we had to get up earlier than we would have liked on Saturday morning. We made good time though and we were only 10 minutes late for the agreed 12.30 congregation. The birthday boy wasn't due till around 1.00. When he arrived he looked suitably surprised, he grinned, he pumped hands and he hugged people effusively in appropriate measure.

The venue was a concrete floored, chilly, ill lit storage space underneath the municipal swimming pool. It looked like the sort of place where the tractors and the ride on lawnmowers are parked for the winter. A big square table had been set up in the corner to take advantage of the natural light from the frosted glass windows. There were about 15 or so party goers. We had plastic chairs, a paper table cloth and plastic cutlery.

The guests, included a man we met for the first time probably at Jaime's 50th and who never took off his mountaineering style anorak. The tall German woman I met on that beach at el Saler did a lot of the cooking, Jaime's 86 year old aunt seemed to take a shine to Maggie. A man, who we think deals in frozen seafood, had a great line in card and other magic tricks. Presumably he's available for bhamitzvas and weddings too.

I must say that I felt we were playing at being very Spanish as we sat on plastic chairs in the middle of the sunny street chatting and nibbling on crisps and olives whilst the mountain of meat and various styles of sausages were cooked on the municipal street barbecue.

We ate the meaty feast in the garage. We drank beer and wine and sparkling wine with Happy Birthday sung in three languages and gifts handed over to a suitably appreciative Jaime.

And when the eating was done the crowd started to drift away. A few of us went on to the village bar for a coffee​, maybe with a splash of something. By late evening we were the only guests left.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Tax burden

Today is the first day that we Spanish tax payers have been able to sort out either under or over payments in the 2016 tax year. The Spanish tax year is the calendar year.

Everyone, resident in Spain, who earns over 22,000€ or has more than one source of income, has to make a tax declaration. If you earn money from more than one source you don't need to make a declaration if you earn less than 12,000€. The declaration is on worldwide income. What happens is that the tax office, Hacienda to you and me, sends out a thing called a borrador, a draft assessment. Once you are on the website you can check if the borrador looks fair enough. If you have just one job with one salary and things are pretty much as they were last year you may have to tweak a few things but, chances are, that the borrador will be close to the truth. For quite a few years all I did was to have a quick scan and press the accept button because Hacienda usually sent me back a few euros.

If your situation is a bit more complicated you can, of course, buy yourself the services of an accountant to help you fill out the form. I had a short period of being self employed and so I used an accountant, un asesor, for a couple of the declarations. The other option is to book an appointment at the tax office and go and get them to help you fill in your tax declaration. I did that at the beginning when the online version didn't exist. I also did it when I first had problems with the tax on my UK pensions. I reckoned that if a civil servant filled in the form it was much less likely that I would get a late night visit from some heavily armed tax officials keen to check my deductions.

My pension has been a right pain tax wise. It's paid in the UK. Part of it is a Government pension (the sort that police officers, the military, civil servants, teachers and the like get) and part of it is private. The Government Pension, under EU arrangements, has to be taxed in the UK. In the past the Government Pension didn't have to be declared in Spain. The amount was less than the UK tax threshold so, although it was in the UK tax system, I didn't actually have to pay any tax on it. The private bit, and that amounts to less than £400 per year, comes from AVCs. Although I nominally pay UK tax on that income too I have always known that it should be declared in Spain as part of my worldwide income. I didn't think though that even the meanest of mean tax officials would be worried about a piddling £400 earned and taxed miles away. I didn't bother to sort it out. It was pure, one hundred percent, sloth. I don't even have my usual excuse of worrying about speaking Spanish. The UK tax people must have grassed me up to the Spanish Hacienda and the Spaniards came looking for their unpaid tax. I was actually able to take advantage of a tax armistice to pay the back taxes I owed without any penalty but I did need to pay an accountant to sort it out.

Then some Spanish tax laws changed. Although Government Pensions remain taxable in the UK they now have to be declared as a part of my income or that of anyone in a similiar situation living in Spain. Were the situation to be that tax was due on that pension in the UK then Hacienda would knock the amount paid in the UK off any amount due in Spain. The system still avoids double taxation but it also did away with advantage that UK residents in Spain got from both the UK tax threshold and the reduced rates for people on low incomes in Spain.

So the borrador was available online today. Hacienda has a new computer programme this year and it has been widely billed as being easier to use. I agree. It was a lot slicker and a lot easier to understand than the older system. As soon as the system fired up it asked me how much I'd earned on my UK pension. I told it. I boldly clicked, I wasn't worried because I thought I was pretty well sorted, tax wise, nowadays. I insisted on legal contracts for both my teaching jobs and, without doing the sums on the tax deductions, I presumed that I was paying my tax bill every month from my salary much as people do in the UK with the PAYE system. I was wrong. For some reason one of my two employers appears to have paid none of my tax and the other seems to have paid at some discounted 2% rate. The lowest Spanish tax band is 19%. Basically then I've only paid a tiny fraction of the tax bill on my teaching work and none of the tax bill on the two UK pensions. When I pressed the button the shiny new computer system told me that I owed the difference. I felt nauseous as they say in Hollywood.

I'm not going to say how much the tax bill is because it would be dead easy to work out how little I get paid and that would be embarrassing. Suffice it to say that it would take me two months of teaching to earn enough to pay my outstanding tax. It was a bit of a shock to the old system I tell you.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Ghost in the Machine

One of the first things anyone moving to Spain, or intending to do something like buy a house here, needs to do is to get an NIE. An NIE is the official ID for we foreigners - the initials translate as foreigner's identification number. NIEs come from the National Police and, whilst it seemed like a major hassle at the time, it's actually a dead easy process to get one.

Spanish society is pretty keen on identity.  I bought some tickets online for a theatre piece the other day - there are no tickets - I just have to show my ID when I get there on the night. Buy a train ticket, query a bill, buy a new phone, do almost anything in the least official and you will need to show your ID. It's a legal requirement to carry official ID when you are out and about.

The ID document for Spaniards is the DNI. Nowadays it's credit sized card and it has an electronic chip built into it. Amongst other things that means that Spaniards can identify themselves online via a card reader. My ID is a bit of folded paper. My Spanish driving licence uses the NIE number so, nowadays, I generally use that as my official ID. Nonetheless, every now and again some petty official asks for the folded piece of paper and then I have to show my official ID, my passport, to verify that the person named on the piece of paper looks like me. My NIE has no photo. My driving licence has no chip.

To prove who I am online I need a digital certificate or a digital signature. It's not difficult to get one. The people who make the coins and banknotes provide one for ordinary people as do most of the regional governments. Professional and private bodies also produce similar documentation either as a service to their members or at a cost.

I don't quite know how the certificates work but I presume that it's some bit of code that lodges in the computer and tells whichever website you are talking to that the certificate ties in with your claimed identity.

I've had five of these digital signatures now since I've been here. I need a new one each time I get a new computer. I got one from a bank that never worked. The others I've got from three or four different offices but they have all been supplied by the Autonomous Government of Valencia, the region where I live. The first one I got was a right pig to install. It would only work on certain versions of certain browsers but over time the process has improved.

To get the digital certificate I went to an office in Elda, about 25kms away. I showed my driving licence, gave them my email address and signed about four sheets of paper. I had to go between 8.30 and 10am but, that aside, the process was painless enough. The website, to install the certificate on my computer by registering the code I'd got from Elda, was working. In fact installing the new certificate was as easy as pie. It worked as it should. It worked with Chrome and, being that way inclined, I checked it on Mozilla and Edge and it works with them too. Yesterday I applied for a renewal of my European Health Card and that government website worked too. The last time I tried to get a health card online the process was a right royal pain but this time it took moments. That didn't use to be the case. It makes life easier when a website does what it says on the tin.

I see on the news that the UK (maybe that should be England and Wales considering the little problems in Scotland and Northern Ireland at the moment) triggered article 50 today to set about leaving the EU. Who knows, when I'm no longer an EU citizen with all the rights that has brought me in Spain, maybe I'll at least get a proper plastic NIE card!