Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Threat of Brexit

A bit like the 'Big One' which threatens California, Britons living in Europe are worried about the distant rumblings of a possible retreat by London from the EU known as 'the Brexit'. What would the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union mean for the two million or so Britons living in Europe, and, does anyone in the UK care?
The answer to the second question is easy enough. They don't. This is because we Britons living in Europe have no voice, no champion, no representation.
If London left Europe, then the Britons living in France, in Spain, in Germany or in Poland would find their lives changed considerably, but worst of all, no one knows by how much. It would not even be a decision made by the British as to what would happen to us, after all, they would no longer be a part of the European Parliament. In Spain, we would expect to be treated as non-European citizens with the return of work permits. We would have convertible accounts at the bank and a visa in our passport. We would lose medical coverage and social security. We would of course lose the vote locally (many of us have already lost it in the UK) leaving us even more 'voiceless and forgotten'. Even the Gibraltarians have more rights that we do.
Would we be thrown out of Spain? The eccentric Mr Farage, leader of the 'euro-sceptics' thinks not – we are such a benefit to our Spanish hosts, pumping in money to the country by the hour. I don't agree.
Britain is a country, that like any other, is ruled by opinion and experience. We, the 'ex-pats', are neither popular nor appreciated. But the looming referendum is not about us, it is about the future of Britain itself. What to do with all these pesky Europeans who are filling up the country, taking our jobs and our women? Particularly the Eastern Europeans, who will work for half of what any self-respecting Briton would expect.
Back in the sixties, a leading member of the fascist National Front and cousin of my mother, told us that they only wanted the support of the little people, the workers, the unskilled and unschooled. These are the people who follow our philosophy, he cried, thumping the table, these are the folk who hate the foreigners... (We left the UK shortly afterwards).
So, if Britain decides against staying in Europe, despite the inevitable loss of earnings by the chocolate factory who sells sweeties to Poland, or the paper handkerchief manufacturer with twenty four languages squeezed onto the box, the battle is not about British industry, it is to do with the immigrants.
If the bigots win, then the Poles and the Lithuanians and the Romanians will need to leave. But so, of course, will the 200,000 Spaniards living in the UK, and the 350,000 Frenchmen. Despite this, does anyone seriously think that Madrid or Paris would nevertheless accept Farage's nonsense and allow us all to stay?
Which begs the next question. Where would Whitehall put us all? Tents on Salisbury Plain?
Perhaps Brussels should take care of us (as currently, we are still Europeans) and draw up a plan to create a kind of Nissan Passport to give those of us about to be defenestrated by the British voter special rights as Europe's first full citizens.
But, putting fantasy to the side for a moment, the bottom line for a possible departure of Britain from the European Union leaves this all-important uncertainty – no one speaks for us, therefore, we receive no answer.
What is going to happen to us?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Worm Has Turned: British Ex-pats May Have a New Champion

Spain is stuck in a year of elections. We had the Andalucian ones back in late March – still unresolved and now with the threat of fresh Andalucía elections for September. We face local elections across the country on May 24th. These are joined on the same day by regional elections in most parts of the country (excepting Andalucía, Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Country). In September, the Catalonians will be holding their own regional elections, with a view towards independence in the near future. Finally, probably in November, we shall be called to the urns once again for the General Elections.

The two major parties, the Partido Popular and the PSOE (the traditional right and left) are joined by not only the usual regional independent parties, some of which are as old-fashioned as the PP and the PSOE themselves, but also by upstarts Ciudadanos (right wing) and Podemos (left wing anti-austerity).

One of the more interesting struggles, however, will be resolved next Sunday, when the small town of Mojácar in Almería goes to the polls, because one of the leading parties there is headed by an Englishwoman called Jessica Simpson. 38 year old Jessica is the candidate for 'Somos Mojácar' (We are Mojácar) which is a group made up of various different local parties and associations. Jessica, like only a few of the majority British resident in the resort, is bilingual, having lived locally for almost all of her life. She is married to a Spaniard and has two children going through the local school system.

Jessica is interesting to the local panorama – a foreigner at last within the Town Hall to represent integration and foreign participation in that most hallowed of Spanish institutions, the plenary session of the Town Hall (she already has four years experience as a local councillor), but she could be more interesting still as a champion for the voiceless Britons living in Spain.

There are something between 290,000 and 750,000 Britons living in Spain (depending on who one believes) and they have little or no voice in what is going on. Spain to tax them unfairly or to demolish their homes? No one to stick up for them. The UK to leave the EU, causing untold and ill-considered hardship? No one to defend their interests. Europe has a parliament made up of MEPs, but none of them represent either their citizens abroad or the larger group of émigré Europeans – thirty million who live in other European countries, of which two million are Britons. There is, in short, a large group of displaced and voiceless Europeans living within the very cradle of democracy itself.

In Europe, we need more Jessica Simpsons, but first, she must win Mojácar.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Pointing Percy at the Porcelain.

While Spain has made leaps and bounds in almost every sphere, public lavatories still need some way to go. We may no longer be in the field of the old travel guide who recommended under 'Conveniences' to 'where possible, best start your own', but there are still a few problems that need ironing out.
Being a fastidious and modern country, ruled by all sorts of obscure interests - often of a commercial leaning - we must now expect wheelchair-accessible toilets, even if the building in question has a stairway to get to it. Perhaps, you see, you broke your leg after you gained the bar.
Probably tripped over the step.
Some lavvies don't have a seat, for a reason which I shall shortly be examining, and customers, certain customers, may no doubt be obliged to fastidiously hover over the pan. At least they flush. My mother once pulled the chain on a local dunny and the whole tank fell on her head.
On the bright side, the days of being invited to put the used paper in a handy nearby basket have more or less passed.
New bogs have lower and close-to-the-porcelain tanks, so a collapsing reservoir rarely happens anymore, even if the flow in the modern variant is somewhat reduced. Which may explain why customers sometimes feel that their brief visit to the WC is rather second-hand. Indeed, I once stayed in a very smart hotel in Melilla and, on removing the wrapper on the crapper and lifting the lid, found a large turd in the bowl. They had a chocolate on the pillow, too.
Talking of low tanks, many modern privies have a pan so close to the flusher than the seat won't stay vertical for The Gentlemen. It's hard and unnatural to try and hold the seat up while taking a whizz, so the usual thing is to not bother, and merely piss all over the commode, seat included. Using your foot doesn't work either unless you are seriously well-endowed.
'Yes, I've finished, go ahead' you mutter to the next person as you make your escape.
Maybe as many as a quarter of all public johns have this unfortunate design-flaw, at least around where I live. 
One small step better, other thrones have a seat which appears to be steady, but will suddenly fall from the vertical with a mighty crash. If that doesn't make you jerk mid-stream, nothing will.
It's all because the tank is to close to the khazi, for goodness sake. I can't imagine who designs these things, the potty company or the installers.
It's as if the Nation's plumbers all sit down to pee - or maybe, knowing more than we do, and like the travelers of old: they prefer to start their own. 

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Franco is Still Dead (Although, He Does Seem to be Moving Slightly)

 I was a handsome young fellow in those days, un señorito if I say so myself. I was living in Mojácar in a society of older and generally rather drunken Europeans and a sprinkling of Spaniards who treated us, in those days, with a mixture of no-doubt gratitude and respect, as we learned a few words of Spanish, built unimaginably large houses and drove astonishing cars (usually with the steering wheel in an unlikely configuration) and sometimes bought them a drink in the bar in the village square - the Indalo run by Antonio (he's still there). Toma una copa conmigo, my dad would say.
Some of those cars would fall off the cliff as we drove home, sometimes with tragic results, but we were left alone by the police - we were bringing wealth to the village and it was sorely needed. Jacinto, the old mayor, his job awarded to him by the provincial governor, was careful to see that we were happy and that no one watered down the gin.
They were idylic times.
Franco, we said, if the subject came up, he's a good old thing - keeps the place safe. And it was true enough. The Guardia Civil were feared and when it came to it they were, let's say, suitably 'trigger happy'. Things were quiet enough in our small, forgotten, ignored and peaceful corner of a province that, during the Civil War, had been fiercely supportive of the Republicans.
The Swedes up in Jávea went rather further than we did, organising one day a big (and approved) rally in the bull-ring, with home-made banners reading 'Arriba España' and 'Up Franco' (they meant well). But we were quiet enough - never talk about politics or religion was our motto. Antonio, un brandy por favor.
Then came word that the Old Boy was failing. He was put on life support in the Ruber in Madrid and lay in a coma for several weeks. Saturday Night Live in New York famously began its news-segment each week with the story that 'the Caudillo of Spain, Francisco Franco, is still dead'.
And then, he was. On November 20th 1975, the Generalísimo breathed his last and Spain went into heavy mourning. Everything was closed down and quiet.
The small group of emigrés that lived in and around Mojácar naturally felt sorry for their kind hosts and thought that the best thing to do would be to show up at the iglesia for the mass to celebrate the soul of the murderous old sod. We trooped in to the church, dressed in shirts and ties (those of us who owned such things) and were faintly surprised to see that, apart from a couple of old girls dressed in the kind of black you don't normally see these days, and a startled-looking priest, there was nobody at all. The cura gamely got on with his pater nosters and we stood or sat, as required, while trying to look as sorrowful as we could. What will they do without the old swine? we wondered.
At last the service creaked to an end. We passed through the door of the church into the somber evening outside, where a large and evidently indignant group of Mojaquero males were waiting for us. A pause. Then Jacinto suddenly broke the pregnant silence: 'Antonio, go and open up the bar, the extranjeros are thirsty'.

I found the newspaper featured at the top of this story while cleaning out a box of junk this morning.