Monday, December 26, 2016

Where the Sun Passes the Winter Season

You've seen those endless agony of pictures from the Tourist Office - wide empty beaches, narrow empty streets, the impossibly long empty promenade? Honestly, it's not as bad as that here. There may not be many people around in the winter (the village, frankly, is a mess), but the weather is warm and a few brave restaurants and bars have remained open for the residents.
So, how to promote Mojácar outside of the rather obvious sun, sea and cheap souvenir season?

Well, follow the advice of the old mayor Jacinto, who back in the sixties coined the phrase 'Mojácar, donde el sol pasa el invierno'.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

This Year: Next Year

An interesting year indeed. In Spain, we managed most of the year without a government, and then got the one we expected all along. Along the way, the PSOE collapsed into third place obscurity. In the UK, the appalling Brexit was voted by a small majority and in the USA, an eccentric anti-establishment candidate took the presidency. How does all of this have an impact on foreign residents and investors in Spain? Will the housing market be further affected and could tourist figures stagnate? Could the British living in Spain find themselves excluded from EU privileges? Perhaps more worrying still – could the USA go, in some unexpected way, rogue? We must wait for next year to find out: January 20th is Inauguration Day in the USA for President Trump (or his replacement) and the end of March seems to be the final date for the UK’s decision on leaving the EU. 
Sometimes, living in the land of the Lotus-Eaters, we hope that none of those earth-changing events happening elsewhere will affect us. Maybe the pound will go up or down a few cents, but we shall soldier on, enjoying (as is our right) a glass of wine on our terrace as the sun gently sets behind the mountains that, in some way, have protected us from the real world for so long.
Maybe things will stay sweet. Maybe if we don't know what's going on, then those things we don't know about won't threaten our way of life here. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Mojácar Village: Quiet (Noisily speaking)

I'm told by Blogger that you are now liable to see some rubbish about cookies when visiting this and other European sites. You can remove this superfluous notice from your visits across the Internet once and for good with an app (at least for Firefox) called 'I don't care about cookies' here.

Here is the view from below of what was (and will, by Easter, again be) the mirador, the viewpoint from Mojácar village. They are trying to get people to visit the pueblo this winter: Good Luck with that.

Monday, November 07, 2016

The Old House in Norfolk

About the last thing I expected to be doing last Thursday was to be sitting in a bar in Villaricos with a visiting British couple, reminiscing with the husband: without doubt the only person in the entire world who would be familiar with my old childhood bedroom.
You see, it was his, too.
I was born in a large crumbling mansion in Norfolk in 1953 and spent the first thirteen years of my life, when not at a British prep school being beaten for neglecting my Latin, living a carefree if lonely life in the house and grounds of the family pile.
Both were extremely large. The house had thirteen bedrooms - not all in a comfortable shape, since eleven of them were empty - and it sat in a park of fifty acres, which it shared with a number of cows. The nearest building that wasn't, in some way, beholden to the 'Hall', was at the edge of a village about two miles away. The local policeman would regularly fall off his bike into the ditch rather than see my parents driving home in an erratic fashion from the nearest public house at some time after 'Last Call'.  In return, he got a crate of whisky for Christmas. In fact, now that I think of it, perhaps this explained more his lack of balance on the bicycle rather than his passion for noblesse oblige.
I had no siblings, and hardly any playmates. The house was far away from any neighbours and surrounded by a large park. In Norfolk in those days, besides the dearth of other local children, the fact was that they, as well as being within a comfortable radius, also had to be deemed appropriate to mix with a young gentleman like myself. 
This whittled the final list down, I think, to six.
School, while providing more children of an age and accent similar to me, was not a solution, since I preferred books, hated football, and was known to all as 'a solitary type'.
When I reached thirteen, and was on the cusp of being sent to a public school (even worse than a prep school, since the bigger boys at 18 were, in fact, grown ups), my parents sold the house in 1966 and sensibly moved to Spain, a place where there was no class system, and where the policemen preferred brandy...
On a flying visit back to England, they auctioned the furnishings with the help of the local vicar (during, I have to say, a drunken stupor: some odd bits being later sent in a large box to Spain, including a three-legged chair, an empty crate of whisky bottles and a broken bicycle pump) and left word to sell the roost, which eventually went to a family of whom I know nothing beyond the name - Leggett.
Many years later, when my father was gone to His Reward, I briefly toured Norfolk with my new wife, Barbara. We had come for a memorial service in the tiny Saxon church which stood on land we had owned. My father had given the church to, well, The Church, and in return, the diocese had agreed to allow a memorial plaque to be affixed in the nave, 'when the time came'.
We drove through those narrow Norfolk lanes that summer day in 1987, and where the old house had stood for several centuries, all that we could find left was a large pile of rubble. The Leggetts, it appeared, had been obliged to sell the park and the house to an avaricious gravel company who later mined the entire area, the Saxon church by now resting on a tiny island, apparently providing much of the gravel that lies under the M27. The preservation order on the house being no match for an unattended digger with the motor left foolishly running...
Here comes one of those odd things that happen to make life interesting.
The son of the Leggetts, a boy who spent ten years in the same house as me, who slept in the same bedroom as I did, now lives forty years on in France.  Like any expatriate of sound intelligence, he has a poor view of the Brexit nonsense and, while posting something scathing the other day on Facebook somewhere, found a post of mine nestling just above his own.
I duly got a message (the wonders of the Modern Age): 'Are you the one who...?'
For once, being called Lenox was a help.
My bunk-mate was coming to Spain and would be staying in Villaricos, the beach where the Americans mislaid a few nuclear bombs back in 1966, around the same time that my parents were settling into Spanish life.
Villaricos is about ten kilometres from Mojácar, where I live.
And so, last Thursday, we met over a few beers and a remarkable number of fresh sardines.
And we talked about the old house where we were both brought up...

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Another Garden Plague

Joining the list of local plant-pests, a list that includes mortal plagues on the chumbo cactus (cochineal bug), the palm tree (palm weevil), and lesser plagues on the olives (olive psylla), pine trees (processionary caterpillars), bougainvillea (ant-bourne infections), eucalyptus (gall wasp) and so on, we are now host to the 'agave snout weevil' (here).
This insect, similar in looks to the palm weevil (picudo rojo in Spanish) is about half the size of its more colourful cousin, and it attacks several different types of agave.
The normal green acacia, the one that abruptly produces the dramatic century flower that towers over the rest of the plant, and then dies, grows in abundance near to Retamar in Almería and this has upset our friends the ecologists. These city-dwelling absolutionists are against what they term as 'invasive plants' (the conquistadores brought them back in their luggage) and they have vowed, at least until the funding dries up, to exterminate the above-mentioned plantation. If they succeed, there will be nothing left but the Almerian pre-desert scrub which seems to soothe their souls.
Whether or not they introduced the picudo negro into the plantation will perhaps never be known. The insect comes from Mexico, and its large, fat, white grub is the thing that is at the bottom of every decent bottle of tequila or mescal. Powdered, with salt, you lick it off your finger with a shot of José Cuervo Gold.
Inevitably, the picudo negro has found other things it likes to eat, including ornamental agave, the type that features in many local gardens. It kills the plant as sure as the picudo rojo killed the palm trees.
They may be in the yukka as well...
Later: the bottom picture after I started removing the dying agave: inside were several palm weevils as well (picudo rojo)! You can see both types, rojo and negro, in this picture.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

The British are Nuestros Amigos

Around a quarter of all town halls in Almería sent a clear message this Friday: 'We want our Britons to stay'. These town halls, collected together in a union, have little or no tourism: and much of their recent wealth stems from foreign, mainly British, settlers.
The Spanish authorities in general spend heavily on tourism, with a ministry and a large budget. They however allow nothing for 'residential tourism', as the phenomenon of foreign property owners is described. Small obscure interior towns often have no normal tourism, and are therefore much more understanding and indeed welcoming of foreign settlers than their coastal colleagues
The Mancomunidad del Almanzora is a union of 21 towns in Northern Almería. On Friday in a full plenary session, they agreed to give every support to the British residents to protect them, as they can, from the potential ravages of Brexit.

From the left: The president of the Mancomunidad, the mayor of Zurgena and councillor Jim Simpson. Three local mayors are on the right of the photo.

The institutional photograph after the plenary session. Andrew Mortimer is on the far right next to Jim Simpson. I'm in the back somewhere...

Specific points raised included health services, the right to work and to vote.
The meeting was held in the Town Hall of Zurgena and the subject was presented by local councillor Jim Simpson. Experts called to argue the case were Lenox Napier and Andrew Mortimer.
The President of the Mancomunidad, Antonio García, speaking for his fellow mayors, said he would take on the subject as his own.
There are an estimated 12,000 Britons living within the area covered by the union.
The Mancomunidad is now set to send out a notice to other town halls and councils suggesting they should join in the statement.

Jim, Andy and myself work for a group that seeks to give rights and protection to all ex-pats living in Europe - find out more at Europats here

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Cuevas Art Museum

At the top of Cuevas del Almanzora, in the old (and beautiful) part of the city located in the desert region of northern Almería, there's a XVI century castle. The castle houses a collection of modern Spanish art which was put together by a man called Antonio Manuel Campoy, who lived there for a period in the mid 20th century. The art is collected in half a dozen rooms, and includes paintings by most Spanish artists of the first half of the nineteen hundreds, including Tapies, Miró, Solana, Barceló and Picasso. There are also paintings from two famous artists from the Almerian Indaliano movement: Cantón Checa and Jesús de Perceval. Fascinating. The two euro ticket also gets you into the facing gallery with two collections of Goya prints - 'Los Disparates’ and ‘La Tauromaquia’, plus a modern art gallery and a museum dedicated to the local discoveries of the archaeologist Luís Siret.
Antonio Manuel Campoy was originally from Cuevas and was an acknowledged 'man of letters'. He died in Madrid in January 1993. 
Opening times are 10,00h to 13.00h and 17.00h to 20.00h Tuesday to Saturday, plus Sunday mornings. The museum does not allow cameras (Stock photo above).

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The German Visit to Garrucha

This fine looking pocket battleship, the Admiral Scheer, has been in Spanish Shilling before, with a report of her shelling Almería City in 1937, in a revenge attack for the ambush on the German sister ship Deutschland by Republican forces in Mallorca.
A few weeks earlier, the Admiral Scheer has startled the good people of Garrucha by dropping anchor offshore and sending a skiff into the harbour. From the surrounding hills, the local people, all supporters of the Republic and scared already of the progress of the Civil War, watched as the skiff berthed on the sand. A group of militia from the Revolutionary Committee, armed with pistols and sticks, warily approached the boat.
The Commander of the pocket battleship was Otto Ciliax, and his mission was to collect any German nationals that might be resident in Garrucha. After a merry Heil Hitler, his agents were escorted by the militia to meet the German consul (Garrucha was a mining head and had three consuls at that time: British, Dutch and German) Federico Moldenhauer was also the local pharmacist, and he told the Germans that he was perfectly safe and would stay in Garrucha, and that, by the way, here was a crate of wine as a gift for the Kapitan.
To this day, the Moldenhauer family resides in Garrucha, and the pharmacy is run these days by a descendent. 

From an original story by José Berruezo here.

Friday, September 02, 2016

We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident

It seems like it only took a few minutes before the British ex-pats in Spain started to react in horror to the result of the referendum held in the UK in late June – look at that, they said: the bloody British electorate have ditched us.
We may not be Falkland Islanders, but we had still expected a slight bit of concern from our fellow-Brits trapped over there in the xenophobic atmosphere of 21st Century UK. After all, we did put in our time there alongside them at one point (before a sensible and well-planned exit to a far better place to live). We still have our British accents, our British pride and our British passports - although it looks like, in the not too distant future, only our accents will remain.
How could they have been so stupid?
Well, they were and we are stuck here in Spain (or Germany, or France etc) without a lifeline. We can hardly sell up and go ‘back’. Firstly, the high price of a home over in the UK would have us all ending up living in protected housing in Anglesey. Secondly, who on earth would want to live in a society that appears to be inspired by the early days of Nazi Germany?
They’ll have people wearing triangles on their jackets within a year.
So, over in Europe, we British ex-pats are in shock. Will the new British Prime Minister start laying new rules on the Europeans living in the United Kingdom? Work permits perhaps, or special new registration, or visas or quotas, or even, in certain cases (penury would be an obvious example), deportation? We worry because the European authorities, with their affronted electorate’s insistence, would do the same to us.
We have learned that we are little more than pawns in the politics of ‘Brexit’.
But remember this London: you really don’t want one and a half million indignant ex-pats all being sent back to your tender care. Imagine the reaction of your home-grown Nazi groups and their critical posts on Facebook!
Over in Europe, the ex-pats have formed a number of protest groups. Let us work together with the local governments, say some, or let us ask for a sense of reason from the British authorities, or let us search for protection from the ‘Brexit’ from the European leaders in Brussels.
Coverage of the ex-pats and their concerns has never rated column-inches in the highly partisan British media, but in Spain for example a group called ‘Europats’ has already featured in articles in El Mundo and Almería Hoy (here and here). Another, ‘Brexpats in Spain’, is introduced in La Vanguardia (here).
A full list of ex-pat groups against the Brexit can be found here.
From another age, from another fall-out with those who no longer wanted to be British, a quote: “The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more. I Am Not A Virginian, But An American!”― Patrick Henry.
Friends, I am a European.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Almería Toros

With all the anti-taurino stuff in the local English press, it was good to go to the Almería corrida on Thursday to see some proper bullfighting. The stadium, built in 1888, was almost full (it holds 9,500 people).
Almería has a tradition of delaying the fight after the third bull so everyone can get out their beer and sandwiches. Or, as is the Spanish way, to offer them to anyone seated nearby.
The three toreros yesterday were a rejoneador (mounted bullfighter) called Hermoso de Mendoza, and the two matadores, Enrique Ponce and David Mora (the latter is substitution for the Peruvian sensation Roca Rey who was bashed by a bull in Málaga ten days ago).
The bulls were all around 450 kilos and born in February 2012.

Everyone came away content.
El Mundo report here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


We went to the pretty little town of Frigiliana in the hills above Nerja (Málaga) for a short break last week.
I had looked for a hotel with a swimming pool and found one prominently displayed on a Google search for the town. I booked for three days and after a remarkably short drive - the motorway between Almería and Málaga now finally completed - we were soon checking in. The hotel overlooks the old part of the town, a maze of narrow streets and pretty views - a sort of gentrified Mojácar, and the two pueblos are in fact both members of the 'Beautiful Towns of Spain' club.
The clerk at the desk told us where everything was, including 'nuestra piscinita' - which sounded ominous - our lil' ol' pool. Turned out, the swimming pool was more of a baño, with a sign displayed saying that the maximum occupancy was, erm, six. That's a pretty good photo of your pool you've got on the Internet, guys, it looks Olympic!
Frigiliana is great, and compares well with Mojácar - except for the obvious lack of a beach. The architecture is richer, while the planners have been careful to not allow any eyesores. Their arches, openings, incongruities, charms, courtyards and passages, stairways and public gardens, are all in perfect shape and blend harmoniously with their neighbours. There are no nick nack shops but rather, a number of boutiques (the former, by the way,  have their stock delivered by mayoristas - wholesalers, who sell them any old schtock that sells well, while the latter must go forth to find their wares - or indeed make them up themselves).
OK, there's a fly in the Frigiliana ointment - a walley trolley does the rounds with three little gaily painted carriages drawn by a fake train engine built in Italy. The vessel is driven apparently by one Rafael (the hotel clerk may have been a relation).  Cheesy.
The public looked a little wealthier than the usual Mojácar guests, or to put it another way, they had evidently spent more on their tattoos and - as is presumably always the case, were happy to show them off to the rest of us. At least, the spider web elbow fashion was less visible there,  but nothing I saw made me want to rush into a parlour, drunk, to disfigure myself for life in a burst of low self-esteem.
The food was good, with a variety of restaurants, including a Polish place called Sal y Pimienta with a good selection. The ethnic waiter - heavily tattooed in the best Post-it style - was  mildly disapproving as I ordered a Polish vodka (good stuff).
Since the agency that, via Google, asks me for a rating for their hotel, I should probably mention the dysentery I caught from something on my visit - maybe the Polish sausage, or perhaps the suspect breakfast tortilla back at the lodgings. Whatever it was, it's taken four days of high temperature, aches and a spectacular number of visits to the dunny to overcome.
Still, that's travelling for you...

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Under the Rubble - A Miraculous City Lies Sleeping (National Geographic Edition)

Archaeologists have begun work on a new dig to discover precisely what lies under the town of Disneyville in southern Spain.
It is known that the settlement under the garish collection of today's souvenir stands and disco-pubs was once called Mojácar, but there is little left to guide the investigators into an idea of life in the town in the Twentieth Century.
Beginning at the foot of the hill, volunteers from the Granada School of Archaeology have been working diligently with spades, brushes and blue plastic buckets to unearth the secrets of the town that once existed here.
They now know that the 'Moorish Fountain' was built over the remains of the earlier 'Public Fountain', with a bounty of white marble in what was known at the time as the 'Bathroom China' style of reconversion. The fountain's earlier purpose of washing clothes, refreshing the livestock and providing drinking water (this in the halcyon times before Galasa) was largely sublimated in favour of a photographic concept, designed to seduce the weary visitors, with the erection of a peculiar and most ill-thought municipal art gallery and some other attractions of dubious historical value nearby. The area has now become the centre of Mojaquero culture, with seven bars and a number of jolly festivals, usually including the ancient sport of delivering something pointy to a gaily coloured and beribboned hole from horseback (an early version of wham, bam and thank you Ma'am).
We drive up the hill on the Avenida Encamp (named after a town in Andorra famous for its foreign bank accounts) and past the venerable Hotel Moresco, which is one of the rare buildings that has survived the many changes to the settlement over the centuries. Originally built by the Phoenicians, the hotel has remained closed to the public now for over 72 years, glaring remorselessly at the passers by from its location on the bluff. The owners are said to owe more money in taxes than the value of the building, while having remarkable connections in Madrid. So, an impasse.
Visitors would find it hard to imagine that, at one time, Disneyville was once thought to be an attractive residential village, with a small number of amusing bars, an elegant theatre, an open-air cinema, several romantic arches (including the Arco de Luciana), a single town hall building and sundry other wonders now lost. The surrounds of the old castle that crowns the hill was heavily reconverted in the late 20th Century, with the discovery of an ancient burial ground bulldozed quickly over, and is now the home to a worldwide association of graffiti artists. Another area used as an ancient cemetery was the Plaza de Parterre, rebuilt in an amazing mixture of styles, including Roman, Moorish and Neo-vulgarian. Above, archaeologists have located a strange plaza with what appears to be a tiny underground garage (evidently accessible only to those with impeccable connections who may have been allowed to drive through the pedestrian streets of the village before the introduction of personal fliers and other modern forms of transportation).
But, after all is done, the characterless buildings excavated to find the cultura popular underneath, we must move to the Plaza Nueva, so called, despite being erected in the 16th Century. At the time, settlers, given land in nearby Turre by Royal Decree, could not stay overnight in that region, thanks to the irate mozarabes who dwelt in the hills above, so they would live in and around the main square of Moxacra, which was built in that time with the ever-less appropriate name of 'The New Square'. A few centuries later, now with a road of access built in the mid 1950s (the Generalísimo, later Avenida Horizon and now Av Encamp), the square became the main point of the village. A small hotel called the Hotel Indalo dominated the plaza (archaeologists have found traces of it under the remains of at least fifteen different nick nack shops) and diagonally across the square, the largest of all the emporia stands, three stories of tat. Previously, a modest carpentry evidently occupied the same space,  connected with attractive arches to the narrow street to the left and the wider pedestrian avenue towards the church on the right.
But, it's the viewpoint we focus our attention on: This was a three-storey car-park built by a mayor in the early eighties, with vertiginous ramps for the vehicles. The building was in one way a failure, but it was later used for some small purposes underneath, and a mayor purpose above, where its large marble roof became a perfect place for a number of competing cafeterias to fill with their brightly-coloured tables and dustbins. The viewpoint was an immediate success (substituting, as it did, the previous exactly-the-same view).
In 2016, the construction was demolished and another viewpoint was created to crown a fresh town hall (paperwork and jobs, then as now, was a lively consideration of the local inhabitants).
The narrow streets of the earlier town were, generally speaking, preserved (except near the church, now a souvenir shop selling Chinese-made material, including small busts of one Wallace B Disney). Some streets had been introduced, as it were 'from scratch', in the 1950s and evidence of earlier lanes, running in different directions, give an early example to the sometimes ingenious local planning. The earlier 'popular architecture' was replaced in the second half of the 20th Century by uninspired 'off the shelf' architectural designs with untypical large windows, later used as shop-fronts.
One narrow alley gives evidence to a brief presence of a large number of pre-Brexit British settlers in Disneyville: a street which for around thirty years was called Calle Pedro Barato, named after an ex-pat scallywag who was known as 'Cheap Pete'. The name of the street was quietly changed  in the early years of the current century to Calle Cal.
Disneyville hides many interesting anecdotes under the streets and rubble.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Old Mojácar

An amazing looking pueblo in the forgotten province of Almería. This picture of Mojácar is probably from about 1962 or so, and shows most of the village as seen from the mountain behind, the Picaccio (which is now adorned with a number of mobile phone and radio antennae). The right hand side of the village is missing, cut just before el Castillo, a castle described in the 1927 edition of a Spanish encyclopedia as 'inmutable' - roughly: unknockdownable. By the time of this picture, the castle had gone - the venerable stones had been taken to build houses, or fill in gullies and streets from the stricken pueblo, which had been largely abandoned since the Civil War in the second half of the thirties. Past the Castillo, now a luxurious home belonging to one of the many early foreigners who had brought the village back to life, the pueblo descends towards the fuente below. In this first picture, one can see the church - an old fortified building dating back to the Sixteenth Century, and just below, the large open-air construction at the lower right is Mojácar's open-air cinema, affectionately known as a 'pipa theatre'.
Behind Mojácar, the dry river bed called the Río de Aguas washes past in the mid distance (every few years, it fills with water from the heavy rains upstream). The surrounding land is dry, inhospitable, and while there are many terrazas from distant ages, by the 20th Century, the land was un-worked.
The view moving to the right - seeing the pueblo staring out towards the sea (this picture comes from around 1930) shows the older construction - with paint to highlight the doors and windows (it helps keep the flies out).
Mojácar is a kilometre away from the coast, rising on a hill. This originally helped to keep the town safe from pirate attacks, but meant that the local economy was more agricultural than maritime.
There were few homes on the coast, and the land down there, as late as the early sixties, was used simply to grow tomatoes. It is recounted that the older children would inherit the land or house 'up above', while the younger ones would be left the useless land on the coast. During the lean years following the Civil War, much of the local population left to find a better life elsewhere - and there are Mojaqueros in Barcelona, Madrid and Granada, in France and Germany and Argentina. With the arrival of the foreign wealth, many of course returned.
Don Jacinto, the last mayor of the Franco era, was the  man who brought Mojácar back from the brink. By 1965, there was a modest government Parador hotel on the beach, a very small Hotel Indalo in the village square, and any number of wealthy and always exotic foreigners living in the pueblo, building lavish homes wherever they could, with the paperwork easily resolved by the forward-thinking mayor and his small town hall.

Monday, July 18, 2016

We Will Stay (Probably)

While we are all reeling in shock from the ghastly Brexit and the insults from the British Roundheads, a number of local 'please-don't-send-me-home' groups have been set up by the Britons hitherto living peacefully in Spain, France or other parts of the European Union. I'm in one and have joined a couple of others. We need some energy here, as there is no one (no one!) to speak for us or represent us.
However, we are now beginning to be spoken of and written about (usually with a photograph of fat Englishmen playing pool in a bar full of Union flags - I would never go to such a place) as if we had just been discovered by the British Press, adding fuel to the great revolution sweeping their unfortunate and divided country.
The Brexiteers (the Roundheads) think we are traitors, while the 'Remain Camp' wants us to back them in their politics (and later they will probably forget us again, if the status quo is resolved). For the moment, we are useful to both sides.
Some of the Spanish town halls have told us not to worry about all this stuff happening so far away, and to get back to our daily activities (swelling the cash registers of the local businesses while being tiresome about the local dogs). The British ambassador has said much the same thing... don't worry. We have it all sorted...
Spain is nevertheless keeping a watery eye on us, while noting with some enthusiasm that tourist numbers (generally manipulated by the INE) are seriously up, as other destinations become less attractive. Ex-pats may have trouble (thanks, Hacienda) in renting out their apartments to this sudden and welcome increase in visitors. Then there's the issue of the declaration of all property, cash and investments outside Spain (Modelo 720). But, as we become an ever smaller part of the invisible export, we are ignored even harder by the Ministry of the Interior.
Which, again, is why we need representation - a Champion.
Things could be bad in the next few years: work-permits, visas, the end of EU-backed hospital privileges, perhaps even quiet deportation - as third world citizens - in some cases.
In my own town, where the Brits largely brought the place to life in the sixties and afterwards, there is still not one sign or street or building to honour our presence. If we were to all leave suddenly, we would be as quickly forgotten as were the Visigoths - another invading tribe from the past.
Clearly, any general threat to pack us all into rusting rowing boats and send us round the Cape of St Vincent and into the Atlantic is just made to scare us, but it's certainly the case that the Britons living in France have it easier - they would only have to make their way to the port of Dunkerque.

Europats: Representation in Europe. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Brexit (El Reino Desunido)

Much to the surprise of everyone, the British voters rose up in an untidy mass last Thursday and voted to leave the European Union. With the two choices before them of staying and going, they chose the alternative favoured by the far-right: to leave.

My Godfather was a senior politician in the Conservative party in the nineteen fifties and he left them to create the National front, a party of far-right racist lunatics. Today, they are called Britain Now, or the UKIP, or the British Nationalist Party:  there are many others besides. The politics of Donald Trump, in short.

Andrew Fountaine told my father once that the Blackshirts only wanted a certain type of supporter. They wanted the poor and the ill-educated: ‘the Little People’. These, he said, could be easily stirred up against an enemy – the Jew, the wealthy or the foreigner. We don’t want any intellectuals or the upper classes to come anywhere near our rallies. We keep it simple.

And so, the results of the referendum in the UK, called by a British upper class fool, and lost on the playing fields of Eton.

But now, it’s not that one Britain won over another: it’s rather more than that; it’s the end of the United Kingdom.

The UK is made up of four strongly allied countries. Of these, Scotland has already tried to secede and, with the current situation, will do so again, this time successfully. Scotland would like to stay, or rejoin – the European Union. It’s doubtful that Brussels would have any strong concerns about them joining. As Scotland leaves the UK (or rather, the ‘Former United Kingdom’ – enjoy the acronym), Northern Ireland, too, would be pleased to leave and join the rest of the Republic of Ireland, also a firm supporter of the EU. Would Dublin or Brussels see a problem with that? Not likely.

By Friday, London was also talking of leaving the UK, perhaps becoming another Singapore. What a collapse of a slightly ridiculous and briefly racist country. Cameron, you screwed up. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage – your country is committing an act of self-immolation. How you will be remembered!

The UK voted in a referendum, which, unlike an election, cannot be adjusted or resolved every four years or so. A referendum is permanent.  The ‘Brexiters’ won and their politic was based on fearing the foreigners – the Syrian refugees or the Turkish hoards. They also dislike the Europeans living in the UK, whether working or studying (it would be hard to imagine Europeans going there to retire).  Two million EU citizens, mainly French, German and Italian, and the Irish as well, but also Spaniards and Poles and Bulgarians are in the United Kingdom at the present time: all, evidently ‘after our jobs and our women’.

As we wait for the UK to fragment, we can expect the next racist government to treat the European Union citizens with the politics that defined the referendum. We can expect that their European privileges will be lost, and they will be forced to seek work-permits, and visas, and a minimum income to stay (likely 30,000 pounds a year). They could expect to be deported back to their own countries in certain circumstances.

So what would happen to the two million or so British expatriates living in the EU, and in particular, to those in Spain? Whatever the British Government was to hand out to the Spaniards and their EU brothers, Then Madrid, Paris, Berlin and Sofia would hand out to us. The voters would insist upon it. We aren’t very popular here as it is. We could expect work permits, convertible accounts and so on. We might need to visit the Spanish embassy in London for an extended visa. There would be quite a queue.

Already, we can expect to lose the international health card (the EHIC) and to have our pensions frozen at 2015 levels. Our voting rights in Spain, and anywhere else across the EU, would be lost as well (and the few British councillors in Spanish town halls? Sayonara).

Deportations? There would be a quid pro quo: if the UK sent Spaniards home, then, yes. The electorate here would insist upon it.

We are not liked by the stay-at-home British, being seen as ‘traitors’, and we have no voice, no representation. We are un-persons – without any strength for negotiation for our rights. What rights?  There is neither an office or a spokesperson or even an agency for the expatriates: neither in London, nor in Madrid nor in Brussels. In fact, no one even knows how many we are. The INE claims 270,000 Britons living in Spain, based on the figures from the padrón (the town halls register), but many other sources, such as the consulates or the tourist authorities or the media, go as high as 650,000 or sometimes even 800,000. No one knows (because of course, no one cares). A country like Spain, anal in its statistics and its bureaucracy, knows how many sheep or goats there are across the entire country, because each one has a chip and a bureaucrat to count it. But they don’t know how many we are.

There could be two million Britons living in the EU, now all feeling rather betrayed by their countrymen. Can we rise up and protest? To who – the local mayor?

So what can we do? Keep our heads down and hope for sanity? That rarely works in politics. Perhaps take out Spanish nationality? To do this, we would need to be able to prove that we have spent ten years resident in Spain, speak Spanish and have a good knowledge of current affairs and Spanish culture (there’s a fifty question test). How many of the Brits, drinking beer in their silly fish ‘n chip bars in Fuengirola, could pass these requirements?

Then of course there’s the chance of returning to the UK, either voluntarily or through some imagined deportation. How many of us could afford to buy a home in the UK, or do we think that a grateful government, pleased to see us back, would give us all houses and an income? Not likely. We are all slightly worried that we might end up within a year living in damp Quonset Huts built in haste on Salisbury Plain. You don’t need to be a Rhodesian to know what might happen to an unpopular minority.

While we émigrés may be once more ‘the plaything of the Gods’ (like the many decent Germans in 1929: now, how did that end?), what could happen to Gibraltar? The thirty thousand people living there have already been threatened by Spain’s answer to Nigel Farage, the demagogue García-Margallo, who says on Friday ‘the Spanish flag flying over Gibraltar is closer than ever’.  

What could happen to Spain as this calamity plays itself out? With the price of a holiday suddenly rising by ten per cent or more as the pound plummets, the largest foreign group, the British, which make up over 28% of all foreign tourism in Spain and spent over 14,000 million euros in Spain last year, will start to rethink their vacation plans.

Simon Manley, the British ambassador in Madrid, has sent out a video on Facebook telling us to be calm. Nothing will happen for a year or two, he says. We have residence and rights, he says. Well, do we? The Europeans living in Spain had their residence cards taken by the Interior Minister Pérez Rubalcaba back in 2009 and we were obliged to carry, from that time onwards, our national passport together with a letter from the Ministry (i.e. from the police) that says ‘as a communitarian citizen, the bearer has the right to reside in Spain’. We may have used our Spanish driving licence for an ID, but tell that to the notary or the town hall or the police themselves. Of course, if we Britons are no longer ‘communitarian citizens’, then we (and not Spain) will have broken the arrangement. We will simply be foreigners: in Spain without a residence card.