Living in Spain – parte uno

© Bob Denton 2019
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PINOSOL – 2001

Calle Edgar Degas 23, Pinosol, Javea, 03730 Alicante, Spain

The other part of our property shuffle was a holiday home which we planned to visit six/seven times each year. We quickly put in a good pool, and later a big extension pushing the whole rear out by a metre, expanding the master bedroom, kitchen and two bathrooms.

ASIDE: I was planning a whole series of UK-city classified advertising websites and so had invested in an expensive Compaq laptop that described itself as the ‘Internet Laptop’, and the then most popular Nokia phone. But I couldn’t get them to achieve a reliable connection, I bought peripherals and software to try to fix it but it was still not right. So, I began to complain to the retailer (Dixons) and Compaq, but months passed without a resolution. I escalated this all the way up to the Compaq CEO in Ireland and harassed him mercilessly. He finally, six months later, arranged a full credit note for the Compaq. By then my classifieds websites idea had gone nowhere so I could opt for a much lower-cost laptop – and the prices had generally dropped in the interim.

This left me with a large sum of credit which I used at Currys (now part of Dixons) to buy a microwave, a toaster, a food mixer, an iron and other items that we needed for the villa. I still had credit and bought torches, batteries etc to use it up. I had a good laptop and had electrically equipped the villa – all from my original investment!

We kept the villa for six years and its real benefit was that we saw our grandchildren grow there, they spent each summer and other breaks with us in Spain. This was on an urbanisation, Pinosol, in a great resort, Javea.

ASIDE: One of our gentle amusements with the locals was that if you ever found yourself in a queue there would be an older person muttering that this wouldn’t have happened in Franco’s time. It was a lot like Matt living in Bethnal Green with the oldsters reminiscing about how much better it had been when the Krays ran the area.

Years back we saw ‘An Evening with Peter Ustinov’, to listen to this unbelievably talented and interesting man. He told a story of General Franco being on his deathbed in a coma, attended by his daughter. A noise in the street roused him from his coma, and he asked what it was. Carmen replied, ‘It’s the people of Madrid come to say goodbye’. He looked bewildered and said ‘Why, where are they going?’ Sir Peter Alexander Ustinov CBE was a comic genius, who once said, ‘Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.’

It was interesting being a part-timer ex-pat because you could see the idiosyncrasies of those who were full-timers. First-off, you appeared to get a promotion when you moved to Spain, a guy living behind us had reputedly been a milkman in Birmingham, but on arrival in Spain instantly became a master builder.

Permanent British ex-pats were quick and harsh in judging UK politics, yet if they became unwell, they rapidly flew back into the comfort of the National Health. Most did little to learn the language or to fit in with local habits and processes. Many laid carpets on the tiled floors and English grass lawns, while maintaining roast lunches and other English habits.

We learned after our first year to only place work with locals, who were grafters, they priced things competitively and finished their work to time, and to a good standard. Ex-pats often proved expensive and extremely unreliable time-keepers – they were on their holidays!

ASIDE: The milkman-builder behind us was living with his second wife and clearly was none too open with her. He fell seriously and mysteriously ill. Lying on what he had assumed to be his death-bed he decided he must ‘fess up and tell his wife where his rainy-day money had been stashed. Having relieved his soul for his final journey, he promptly recovered – it had been shingles. I feel sure the relationship could not have been improved by his confession.

This can’t help bringing to mind a favourite joke. An old guy on his death-bed had his family asking him where he had stashed his wealth. He would weakly wave his hand down below his bed. But they had searched there and the floor below and the basement without success. He recovered too, and they asked what he had meant by his waved hand, he explained he was too weak to wave it up with two fingers extended to transmit his intended message.

Buying in Spain

House purchase in Spain was a lot like the Wild West back then. There was the price the owner wanted to achieve and the price he/she was prepared to declare to the authorities. The advice back then was not to agree to declare less than 70% of the real sum because this would probably create a tax problem for you in the future. We saw one property that the guy wanted the declared value to be just 40% of the actual purchase sum. Wealth tax and your catastral (rateable value) were all triggered from this declared value so there was some benefit in agreeing to the scheme – or is that scam?

The differential sum had to be paid over in cash at the office of the notario. This professional is confusing to a Brit, he is not a solicitor looking after your interests, his task is focused entirely on working for the authorities, he records the transfer of the land from the seller to the buyer and makes sure that all prior debts on the property have been remitted.

I recall reading up the various regulations and at this time you were supposedly not allowed to take more than £4,000 in cash from the UK out to Spain. I wondered how I was going to get the necessary readies down to Javea, I need not have worried. We had opened a local bank account with Barclays Spain, and their regional manager phoned me, she said that I presumably had some items of furniture for which I had agreed to pay in cash, so how much cash did I need for the completion meeting? The ‘scheme’ was deep-rooted!

As the purchase was in the year 2000, Spain was still using the peseta, which had no large denomination note, so when I turned up at the bank they gave me two large plastic bags of readies to take to the notario. I felt like there was a large target on my back for that journey of several miles.

The scheme proceeded. We gathered around a board table with the notario who read out the translation of the proposed agreement, take any amendments, then excused himself to go and engross the finally agreed text. This was my cue to invert the two large bags of cash onto the table. The estate agent did the honours of counting it, then divided it into two piles – one pile was the agent’s 10% fee (yes 10% back then, it dropped to 3% soon after), the rest was for the seller – just as well there were two bags!

The notario arrived back while the counting and divvying-up was in process, apologised and suggested he had more to do. He returned later to see we had finished and then completed his role. The vital player in all of this was my fiscal advisor who was a local, recommended to me by friends, she walked me through each process and reassured me that this was normal.

ASIDE: Spain’s grey economy was challenged in 2002 when the country switched to the Euro. Many Spaniards appeared to have hoarded pesetas under mattresses and elsewhere. Now, somehow, they had to launder these back into the system. There was a six-month period when land, property, car and boat sales sky-rocketed providing new bolt holes for this grey cash.

Of course, the 500-euro note would have made my property transaction much less conspicuous. The note gained the nickname ‘Jesus’ in Spain, because everyone believed in it, but few claimed to have seen one (a sense of déjà-vu for me from the Hugin 100). As one of the world’s highest-value circulating banknotes it soon became the go-to note for international criminals, particularly drug dealers, but in 2016 the EU announced it would be phased out by 2018, because of its illicit popularity.

In other news – by 2010 the UK police Forensic Science Service announced that every UK banknote tested positive for cocaine! This has a scientific basis unlike the urban myth that some official study proved that peanuts (peenuts?) set on bars usually contain multiple traces or urine from patrons not washing their hands.

Valencia land-grab

The Valencian government had decided ex-pats were fat cats who should be squeezed. The earliest example was that those with large plots of land were advised that they only needed 1,500 to 2,000 sq m – many in semi-rural areas had 6,000 to 8,000 sq m plots. So, the government compulsorily acquired what they saw as excess without compensation, then, to add insult to injury they would set out the land grabbed for new plots, and insisted the original owner had to pay for mains services to be supplied to these, and in some cases pay for roads and pavements.

 Property sale in Spain

Further, small developments outside of urbanisations, were able to be marked by the local government for upgrades to mains services by a developer turning up at the ayuntamiento and offering to deliver these utilities. The developer would then knock on the villa doors and present a large bill as a percentage of their proposed costs. Some older Brit ex-pats were on fixed incomes and a sudden demand for many thousands of euros, for something they had not wanted or requested, was pretty devastating.

The process evolved and larger developers could come up with a plan for say a shopping area, get local government approval for it, and if your villa was unfortunate enough to be where they planned to build it, you were given notice to quit and the villa was demolished with meagre compensation.

The choice of a villa on an adopted urbanisation helped avoid most of these problems.

Javea Guide

I decided to pursue a business opportunity in Javea. It had then around a 25,000 population year-round and grew to 60-70,000 for the six to eight weeks of high season. There were three main areas, the Beach (Arenal), The Old Town (Pueblo) and the Port (Puerto). Each area, and the gaps in between, boasted restaurants and shops. I found that I tended to go back to the same half-a-dozen restaurants when there was a choice of over two hundred.

I set out to produce a listing of all the restaurants, shops and services in Javea. I walked the streets and learned how to request a tarjeta or business card to get all their details correctly. I then laid out, with Matt, a 40-page desktop published glossy booklet that we called JaveaGuide.com.

Once I had the data, the design and print costings, I produced a simple brochure and went back around the town to sign people up for advertisements, they got a free simple listing, but did they want to get properly noticed!

JaveaGuide.com Flyer

They did, I took suitable photographs and agreed their copy. Matt, my son, applied his PhotoShop skills to clean-up my pix and laid out the pages for me. We printed them in the UK and shipped them for distribution in Javea.

The finished guide’s cover looked like this:

 A4 Javea Guide

I made it difficult for myself by showing all the key text in Spanish, French, German and English, and we redrew the maps of the town, using a Tube Map style, not geographically accurate, squaring off many bends but ensuring the right roads intersected properly.

The Guide was distributed, largely by me, into villa and apartment buzons (post boxes), and were spread around businesses, with extra quantities placed at key locations so that opportunities-to-see were maximised. It worked, and I kept (or got?) fit while doing this. There was only one nasty moment when a marauding pack of wild dogs cornered me inside a buzon building in a remote part of Javea, once they realised I had no food they moved on.

What I loved about the Guide was that I got to know everyone in the town, the movers and shakers at least, I knew who was planning what, who owned what – and got all the gossip.

ASIDE: One advertising client was a ‘South-London boy’ with a restaurant on the beach. When he first moved in, he said a big guy turned up and thrust his hand across the counter saying, ‘I’d like to introduce myself’. Being a friendly guy, he took his hand as the guy went on to say, ‘I’m the guy who’s going to tax you!’. My customer kept a hold of his hand, reached beneath the counter and came out with a big spanner. He hit out at him and chased him off.

Imagine the client’s concern when a few nights later, out with his wife and children, he saw the guy again. The guy came over and he expected trouble, but the ‘tax-man’ merely said ‘Respect!’ gave him a thumbs-up and left.

I tried to sell an advert to a bar at the back of the beach and realised that it was the place where the gang bosses received their tribute on a Friday night from the illegals, mostly South Americans, working on the black in the town. They all had to show up on Friday night and hand over the agreed tithe for their passage to Spain, and ongoing confidentiality. But this makes the town seem seedy, it was not, it was just that my work drilled me down into this underbelly of crime – it did nothing to spoil the enjoyment of the place.

I also looked at the girlie bars that sat outside Javea’s town limits on the N332 road. They had huge neon signs and the car parks always appeared busy – surely a rich vein of adverusing. Backed up by Matt and Mark I went to the best known one, locally called the ‘Honky Donkey’, though its actual name was Don Quixote. As soon as we entered girls allocated themselves to us and got up close and personal, The best I could do was to leave a brochure for the boss – never heard back from him or her.

JaveaGuide caused something of a problem however, which was whenever I made it down to our holiday home, I was always selling ads, collecting ad monies, distributing copies, checking the database, and could never relaxing!

There was a more pressing issue as we began to realise our globe-trotting was being curtailed, any break we got was in Javea. Worse there was a spate of robberies in the town. One of the first was a bank raid at the beach. The raiders, wearing George W Bush masks, got into the bank and had a gunfight with the police before getting away. It was subsequently more risible when the police had put up scene-crime tape, but the Spanish are not as respectful of authority as Brits. Within minutes locals were stepping over the tape and walking through the broken glass to get to the hole-in-the wall and take out cash.

But it got closer. Our street had only 40 villas but three had raids across several weeks, of course our urbanizacion had plenty of points of entry and egress. These happened in the middle of the night, window rejas(Bars) were pulled off by a chain from a 4×4 to the reja. A group of guys would climb in and take any valuables. In our next-door neighbours, a banker, they also drove him off to a hole-in-the wall to use his card an withdraw the maximum – if they’d known he was a bank manager they might have ordered him to do more!

I remember wittingly sitting down to consider that I could not imagine stabbing someone even in anger, but I selected a good lump hammer that I would certainly swing at an intruder. My neighbours mostly acquired guns, you certainly didn’t go and knock on someone’s door late at night around this time!

The police did successfully catch the Mittel-European gang who were living in nearby Moraira and the problem went away.

But this took some of the gloss away, so in 2006 we sold the villa. I handed the JaveaGuide business over to a guy who looked as if he could and would make a go of it. But I perhaps underestimated the amount of commitment that I was prepared to give it. He produced just the one issue and let it drop. I never heard whether it was the selling or the physical effort that killed it for him.

© Bob Denton 2019
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