This is the just about the quietest time of the year. Christmas, New Year, the Three Kings and the Fiesta de San Sebastián are behind us and Carnaval is still two weeks away. At the same time, although we have now started to get some lovely warm, sunny days, they are in the nature of false starts, and are quickly followed by colder, greyer and windier days. On the other hand, the sun is now setting discernibly later than it was at the end of last year. It is one of the consolations of winter here that we are far enough south for the days always to be longer between October and March than they are in the UK. I see that where my daughters live in the South of England, the sun sets at 5.30 in the evening. Even on the shortest day, our sunset came just after 6 o’clock. Now we are still in daylight at 7.30. This weekend heralds half-term in the UK, so we can expect to see an influx of families with children into the area over the weekend, then, as I say, Carnaval will arrive, celebrated down in Nerja next Saturday and Sunday, and here in the village the following Saturday. A couple of weeks or so after that, the clocks will go forward, the windy days will become less frequent and it will be well and truly spring again. And at Easter we have the family coming out to stay for a few days.
We are missing UK TV channels remarkably little. There are particular programmes, like Pointless and QI which I would like to be able to watch, but it would seem that we spent a lot of time watching programmes just because they were on. Now that they aren’t it’s actually no big deal. Which is not to say that we have entirely kicked the UK TV habit; we still have Sky News, one dose of which is quite sufficient in any single day, and it is possible that when the three new satellites are in place and settled down, we may be able to realign our dish to pick up their output. We ahall see. Meantime, my Spanish and moribund French are benefiting from the website i mentioned last time. And I have had an opportunity to pick up another of my interests which had been lying dormant. I am slowly building a comprehensive genealogical database for both my own and my wife’s families. Recently I have been burrowing into the available online information to fill out the details of my paternal grandfather’s siblings and their families. I had a very productive session yesterday. I don’t know whether my daughters will appreciate the news, but I have identified thirteen new third cousins for them.
Well, the axe has fallen. Thursday morning I switched on the television to watch the BBC’s Breakfast programme and - no BBC. Overnight all the channels had been migrated to the new satellite, so I am now suffering the withdrawal symptomms of a keen Pointless fan. We are told that ITV and Channel Four will be migrating on Tuesday, so as from Wednesday the free to air channels that we have enjoyed since arriving here six years ago will be no more. There is a single ray of hope. We have a large dish and it is possible that it can be aligned to the new satellites so that some channels at least can be restored. I have left an SMS with Dirk the Dutch guy who specialises in satellite TV installations and await a response. Mind you, with so many people affected that could be quite a while. Fortunately, I have found a new obsession to fill those empty hours; a website called www.duolingo.com provides free learning of a range of European languages. I was dubious, as they say that not only are there no charges, but no ads either. So, how do they make their money. That turns out to be simple and ingenious. More advanced learners are given complex translation tasks to complete. These documents are sourced from commercial clients who are buying translation services. An algorithm combines all ‘solutions’ to a particular document and from the resulting data is able to produce a high quality version in the target language. I’m ploughing through levels of Spanish at the moment until I get to my current level and can start to move forward again, but I have also started to resurrect a long dead French A-Level, and may follow up later with refiving my German. And Portugal is only just down the road, so to speak, so maybe I’ll give Portuguese a go. Who needs British television!
There is a certain amount of anxiety right now among British expats living in the south of Spain. With a suitable dish - mine is 1.25 metres diameter - we can watch television programmes from the UK. The satellites used for UK television have such a wide footprint that it extends right down to the southernmost parts of Spain. Unfortunately these satellites are coming to the end of their active life and so they are to be replaced by a new array of Astra satellites, beaming from a slightly different geostationary position. Critically though, in order to provide a higher quality of transmission for the UK, it will operate on a much smaller footprint. There were a number of delays in launching the new satellites and then moving them into position. That process is now complete and final testing is taking place before channels start to migrate to their new homes. At that point it is likely that the signals will no longer reach us and so we shall find ourselves withut UK programmes, certainly among those of us who rely on the free to air channels. The difficulty is accessing accurate information; the only people bringing us the latest ‘news’ have a vested interest in selling us their solution, so my own solution is to wait and see what happens. Through the summer months sich a loss would be a minor iconvenience as we watch very little television then. Through the dark winter evenings though, when people tend not to be out and about socialising, there is a certain comfort to be drawn from keeping up with your favourite British programmes. How much longer will we be able to draw on that comfort? Who knows.