So, we've been back in Cartagena for a week now. Some observations. True to tradition summer, that's summer proper, ended promptly on 1 September. Temperatures plummeted all over Spain but we added to our personal autumnal descent by moving from Culebrón to here. Cartagena has a microclimate, the locals, the Cartageneros, say that it never gets too hot in summer nor too cold in winter. They quietly forget to mention that the town is incredibly sticky. A wet heat that has one dripping in sweat after a five minute walk. So we lost 10ºC on the daytime highs but gained self moistening clothes. Nothing to complain about really though with sunny days and daytime temperatures of around 27ºC and lows of 21ºC.
The stroll up the quieter end of the main shopping street and on to work is a sobering walk. On a quick finger count I think about eight shopfront businesses have closed in the last two months. Business is bad in Spain. Capital is fleeing the country. The Social Security fund is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Only 16 million are working and we have five million out of work, the majority with no income of any kind, plus the pensioners. The chances of being tapped by some form of beggar as I walk to work has incrased dramatically.
In the supermarkets and at the petrol pumps the price increases are marked. VAT, IVA to us, has gone up from 1 September. The headline increase is from 18% to 21% which, to be honest, isn't that drastic on normal everyday purchases. In Spain though we have three rates of IVA. The super reduced rate, for neccesities like medicines and vegetables has stayed at 4% but the 8% rate for things like bus fares and tampons has gone up to 10%. The trick though has been to take things out of one rate and pop it into another. For instance cinema tickets and hairdresser's charges have moved from the old 8% band to the new 21% band so a hairdo that cost 30€ will now cost nearly 4€ more. Goodness know why tanking up the motor now requires a mortgage but it does.
Maggie has to work more hours for less money as part of this year's contract at her state school. The Local Authority has cut down on supply teachers, classroom assistants etc. Over in the private sector I've had no pay cut but, then again, my pay hasn't increased in the last three years either. When I mentioned how much I got paid per hour to my brother he thought I was joking. Spanish wages really are a joke compared to those in the UK. How many hours I get to work each week is still in the balance because there is less work about. One of the firms I work for is against the ropes - they need to save money. In past years I have done five hours per week of English with them during working hours. This year the offer is two hours per week before the start of the working day. Less English for them, no time concession within the working day, less pay for me and an early morning start to boot.
The radio has gone funny too. There is a state broadcaster, RNE, without adverts, and there are two or three large private chains. They have nearly all had a big reshuffle of their mainstay programmes. The state broadcaster appears to have purged all of its former big names. The ruling right of centre political party changed the make-up of the managing board of RNE even before they started to raise taxes and cut services. Trying to control the news is a symbol of something very dark in my opinion.
There is a plus side though, on a small scale. Prices in bars and restaurants are dropping in a bid to stay in business and el Corte Inglés, the huge department store, has cut it's prices in order to maintain sales volume. For anyone with disposable income there are bargains on every side as the struggling attempt to stay afloat. Four coffees and a fresh orange juice in a bar cost me 4.80€ today, less than four quid and if you'd like a newly built nice little 2 bed fat in Pinoso it can be yours for just 44,000€.
And, of course, bad as it may be there are still lots of noisy, lively Spaniards out there on the street making sure that the place is never boring.