Saturday, March 29, 2008

Guest post: Dr Jonny K

Hello all you chaps out there. Dr Searle and I (Dr Kelly) are here enjoying Dr Evans´s hospitality. We have had a jolly fun time riding our bikes down the local dusty trails. A delicious beer on the beach topped off our bikey adventure.
Well this is Dr Jonny signing off, toodle pip and tinkety tonk! XXX

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I love Barcelona so much, I've been Barcelonafied!

My mate Adam has restarted his blog about living in the capital of Catalunya, Barcelonafied. By all accounts it was going strong a year or so ago, but then the pressures of work and whatnot took their toll, and he left it slide. But now he's back - and with sidekicks! Raoul and I have been invited to contribute our er, scything wit and err, floorles righting stile to educate the public about how wonderful Barcelona is.

More specifically, I have an eye to write less about the city itself, and more about what's to do outside it. It should be good as Adam and Raoul's posts will probably focus more on the city and Catalan culture, so if you're interested then add it too your bookmarks or RSS feeds.

As you might have seen by now, my first post was about skiing, but these last two weeks have really reminded me how much of a cool place Barcelona is if you like outdoor sports. Apart from our skiing trip, I am back out on the rock again and climbing every Friday evening after work with Ferran. Here are a couple of pics from Gelida (a sports crag near me) and Montserrat:

I've also been out on Junior again recently. In my lunch break I can get up to the top to Tibidabo (the main hill overlooking the city), down the other side, back up again and all the way back down into the city and back to work. It's a good work out, and I've discovered a couple of excellent new trails. Unfortunately they're on the 'other side' of the mountain i.e. the side that faces away from the city, and the side that doesn't have funicular running up it! So it's saddle up and pedalling time. Ah well, good for my fitness. In a couple of weeks time Jonny K and Graham are coming out here to do some riding, and I'll need to keep up with them!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Spring sunset

I don' t usually 'do' neither photos of sunsets, nor stitched panaromas, but the view from our balcony tonight was one to break the rules...

a bigger version is here.

And we were singing...

...hymns and arias

Land of my Fathers

ar hyd y nos

Monday, March 10, 2008

Politics times two, this time local:

Despite saying I don't usually like talking politics on the blog, I thought I'd give you an update on the general election which occurred yesterday. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and his PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español - Spanish Socialist Worker Party) was re-elected yesterday with an increased majority over Mariano Rajoy's PP (Partido Popular - People's Party, conservative), but not enough to form a majority government. He will probably form an informal coalition government with Catalan nationalist party Convergencia i Unío. The latter were the only minority party to come out unscathed, all the rest lost seats to the two main parties.

The election campaign was one of the most bitter and divisive in recent history, with Rajoy having consistently claimed Zapatero's last election victory in 2004 to be 'invalid' (the PSOE won a surprise victory, due to public backlash against the PP trying to pin the blame for the 2004 Madrid bombings on Basque separatists, when it was actually the work of Muslim extremists). The two television debates pitting the two main candidates against each other were seethingly tense affairs, with the more relaxed Zapatero winning one but the other resulting in a score-draw as Rajoy challenged hard on the economy and immigration. Tensions were further increased after the Basque terrorist organisation, ETA, murdered an ex-councillor of the PSOE just days before the election.

Yet Zapatero has prevailed with a fairly convincing victory. Undoubtedly the result is a good one for Catalunya, Zapatero is quite Catalan-friendly and the main Catalan nationalist party (which actually leans more to the right) will probably be part of his conglomerate government. It's also a good result for Spain as a whole, Rajoy is quite hard-line and several of his policies struck me as very regressive and poorly thought through, especially those on immigration (which would affect me, of course!), the devolution of power and his approach on how to deal with the problem of ETA.

Another very good bit of news was the turn-out statistic, a more-than-respectable 75%, equalling that of four years ago. Britain can only dream of such a high election turn-out, though I wonder whether it has anything to do with the fact that full democratic elections are still relatively new in Spain - only 30 years ago Franco was still ruling the country with an iron fist and a policy to shoot anybody who disagreed with him (not an exaggeration, unfortunately).

The only real shame of the result was that it has confirmed the bipartite nature of Spanish politics, though there are advantages and disadvantages to that. The big challenge now will be to see if Zapatero can steer Spain through the economic difficulty that lies ahead - despite low unemployment Spain is at the end of a boom, and without careful management and fair bit of luck the economy risks being bought back down to earth with a bump. Interesting times ahead...

Friday, March 07, 2008

Boris' buses

I rarely talk about politics on this blog, but Boris Johnson's claims of political bias in Transport for London has got me interested. It's quite an easy one to imagine, that a strongly unionised employer would support the left wing candidate for the election of over the right-wing candidate.

The row is over Boris's plans to bring back conductors and routemaster buses back to London's streets, replacing the bendy buses. It's a romantic idea, and quite a popular one I should imagine, becuase nobody really likes those bendy buses.

Boris is claiming that it would only cost 8 million pounds to hire the extra conductors, based on the fact that there are 337 bendy buses, thus 337 * 24,500 (salary of a conductor) = just over 8 million. Fine.

TFL has released it's figures about this. There are actually 390 bendy buses, and 350 on the road at any one time. Each bus works a twenty hour day, and is staffed by a rotation of three drivers. So actually you'd have to hire 350 * 3 = 1050 extra conductors.

But hang on, the capacity of bendy bus is 150 people. The capacity of a routemaster is 69 i.e. half. So you would actually have to have twice as many buses to maintain capacity, thus hire twice as many conductors. 2 * 1050 = 2100.

But hang on a little longer, becuase if you're doubling the buses, you'd need to double the drivers as well. So that's an extra 1050 drivers, each earning 35,000 a year.

So the total increased staffing cost for replacing the bendy buses with routemasters is:

2100 * 24,000 + 1050 * 35,000 = 87,150,000

More than ten times Boris' headline figure, and that's excluding the cost of hiring and training the extra staff, and replacing the actual buses themselves!!

I don't like Red Ken that much, there is undoubtedly some truth in the cronyism stories and so on. And it's very easy to like Boris, he's such an affable chap. The fact that TFL's figure disagree with his has got him crying of bias. But figures are figures, and Boris' just don't add up. If he can't do the simple maths for buses, he's in no way capable of running one of the world's greatest cities.

Monday, March 03, 2008

February update

Busy busy busy. That's what we are at the moment. Djanira is starting her new job today, as general manager of the Barcelona branch of GoCar, a tourism company just starting in Europe. Very exciting. My work is sort-of-busy, in that I am working on a European proposal and coordinating the work of several different universities and companies across Europe, which is time consuming without being busy, per se. I've also been back in blighty recently for Duples' stag do, and then of course there is our wedding to organise too!

Fortunately spring arrived right on time this weekend (a ga i ddymuno Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus i bawb!) in Barcelona with beautiful blue skies and 20 degree temperatures. On saturday DJ and I went for a walk around Collserola, which is the national park just outside Barcelona, quite literally on the other side of Tibidabo (the hill that forms the backbone of the city). It is very strange to think that, as you stroll through peaceful forest, one of the largest cities in Europe is just over the hill, beyong Tibidado cathedral.

The fine weather continued for Sunday and so we headed out climbing. We'd been planning to go to la font de l'ametllò for some time, as it has a nice broad spread of grades. Unfortunately the rest of Catalunya seems to know this, and as we turned up at midday on Sunday it was as if we had arrived at Stanage on a nice spring day (only plus the bolts and the sunburn!). Towards the end of the day the crowd thinned out though, and we still had a very pleasant afternoon.

Earlier this month I was back in the homeland for Duples' stag do, which involved an 'adventure' thingy on some converted farm in north Wales. We had an afternoon go-carting and quad biking before going and watching Wales put one over Italy in the rugby, then onwards for a curry and a lot of beer. Shurely days don't get much better?!

me, dr kelly looking daft and Duples:

and last but not least I should report briefly on wedding plans, we have chosen our venue now, a beautiful old Masía (sort of country house thingie) about 20 mins drive from Barcelona. Here's a shot of the dining room for now, I'll see if I can find where DJ stored all the others she took of the outside:

Okay that's it for now, you never know I might even post again before the end of March...