177 – Forty Days


Forty-four days.

I go for my morning walk, my feet heading automatically to the Enchanted Place.  The almond blossom is just finishing, and the grass smells fresh.  The view is clear, across to the rocky outcrop that so dominates the village, across to our big mountain, with just a touch of snow on its peak, down to the neighbouring village, and back through the frame of the almond trees to the village that I call home.  I shake off the worries, the cloud that hangs over, and turn back, retracing my steps and round to the bakery where Gloria puts my bread roll in a bag as I enter, without waiting for me to ask.

Forty-three days.

February.  The skies are blue but indoors it is chilly.  I light the fire after lunch and settle down to some Spanish homework.  No more exams for me, but I keep going to classes and there’s always more to learn.  Suddenly in the Spanish article I’m reading the word referéndum appears and at the same moment a log slips and I jump.  I glance out of the window and it seems greyer.  The flames flicker but there’s a chill.

Forty-two days.

On Facebook I click on a group I belong to, of Spanish people living in the UK.  At first I joined to help me get used to casual badly-written Spanish, and in case I could help with advice.  Now I stay to understand the processes they face, in case we will face something similar here.  It seems inhuman, excessively-demanding, and every day on the group there are awful stories of people with 25 years or more in the UK being refused “Settled Status” because they can’t PROVE they have lived there (including someone who has worked consistently for a Local Authority).  A few weeks ago the Prime Minister lifted the £65 charge.  As so often, she missed the point.  The point is that they, like me, moved because they had the right so to do.  As long as we met the fairly basic requirements (of working or being self-sufficient) we had the RIGHT to live elsewhere.  What the EU citizens in the UK are currently having to do is ASK permission.  Permission which can be … and is being … refused, apparently randomly.  This small Facebook group of 5,400 Spaniards log on each morning to share their happiness at a successful application, their distress at a refusal, their confusion because applications must be made through an App but it only works on Android phones.  The UK’s Home Office trips them up at every turn, and they turn to the group for advice and for solace.

Here in Spain we do the same.  Following parliamentary votes, party divisions, British Consulate press releases and online updates.  Following them slavishly, following the advice and support groups that exist for British people in each of the EU countries.   We all have friends who haven’t quite got all the required paperwork in place, and we worry for them.  Those of us with official residency here will have to do what the Spanish in the UK are doing, we will have to ask permission to stay.  Can they refuse?  Yes, though we obviously hope our adopted host nation continues to be more welcoming to us than the UK is to the Spanish nurses, architects and bar-workers whose right to live there has changed to requesting permission.

Forty-one days.

I’m out with Pilar and Ana in Málaga.  A coffee, a film, drinks and a few tapas.  Gossiping, relaxing.  They avoid the subject, though they are following it closely too, worried for me.

A couple of weeks ago it was announced that pensioners living in EU countries would only get the normal inflationary uplift one year more, then their pensions would be frozen at that level.  Last week it was announced that pensioners living in EU countries were no longer entitled to NHS care if they visited the UK.  There is now clarity about the restrictions on people without official residency.  All those second-home owners, part-timers, the winter “swallows”, many of them elderly, who sank their savings into their much-loved Spanish holiday-home.  90 days in 180 days, but that’s for the whole Schengen area, not just Spain, so those who liked to take a week or two to drive down, exploring France on the way, will have to start spreadsheets, counting, rationing their days.  Their right to spend time in their own home is suddenly restricted, suddenly diminished.

Forty days.

I come out of the oldies’ gym in the village, waving goodbye to the women and jumping in my car to head down the autovía.  In Málaga the city is gearing up for Carnaval.  The lights are up, large and small stages pop up in the squares and side-streets.  The cycle of another year is underway.  After Carnaval it’ll be Semana Santa, then feria, and so it goes on.  After six years here I still love each of those events.  I’d miss them.

It’s not that I won’t be able to stay.  I will hand in my little green residency card, that I was so proud of in 2013 when I got it from the police station, and I will ask permission to stay.  I have no doubt it will be granted.  But I still have to ask permission.  They will grant it, I’m sure, but it is not a right any more.  So it feels different.  It ever so slightly changes everything.

I’m unutterably sad.  I know I’m lucky, I know I’m protected from the worst impact.  Some of my rights are protected by dint of already being here (though the protections become far fewer if there is no deal, and here we are at forty days and we still don’t know).  Others cannot follow us, not so easily, not by right.  Back there in the UK the impact will be much greater.  I know that.  We all do.  But right now, as I take a mug of tea up onto the terrace and gaze across the village rooftops, as the countdown clicks down to under forty days, the selfish part of me surfaces.  I think about the Home Office refusing permission to Spanish people.  I think about a friend here worried about not having residency papers.  And another friend whose healthcare needs may cut short his Spanish dream.  And I think about needing to ask permission to stay, and about the forthcoming general election here in Spain and I worry about what that might mean for my adopted country but also what it might mean for us third-country immigrants who no longer have rights but must ask permission to stay.   Permission to stay at home.



©  Tamara  Essex  2019                              http://www.twocampos.com


15 thoughts on “177 – Forty Days

  1. “Gloria puts my bread roll in a bag as I enter, without waiting for me to ask.”
    One of the delights of being in Spain. We often, when in Alcalá la Real, pop into a bar for breakfast (Dos cafés con leche [uno sin lactosa], y dos medias con mermelada y mantequilla.) We call out buenos días over the heads of those sitting at the bar, as we walk in and go and sit at our usual table. Two minutes (más o menos) later, the coffees appear, followed by our toast – we, like you, are known, we are customers, we aren’t just treated as nobodies, mere cyphers, as we were back in UK. We are ‘at home.’ This is much like it was back when I was a kid 70 years ago when people cared about each other and even there, in those days, ‘mi casa es tu casa’ applied.

  2. How nice to see ‘ A Foot in Two Campos’ pop up again. I’ve missed your insightful and descriptive posts. It’s a worrying time for so many people and for so many reasons.

  3. So good to see your blog again Tamara, I dont seem to have had it for months for some reason. I appreciate your disquiet with the whole Brexit thing, it is all very unsettling for everyone in the UK too if that helps any. Margaret in Perthshie

  4. Brilliantly written. As one of the part timers who spent 179 days here last year, and 180 the year before, I am furious about Teresa May’s ‘pride’ at her ending freedom of movement. Whether it is EU citizens going to live and work in the UK or UK citizens going to 27 other countries, it is sad to see the freedom come to an end.

  5. Very sad. I get the feeling that for the EU it is all about what is the right thing for citizens of Europe and what to do in their best interest. I wish I could say the same for the UK Government but sadly cannot. I feel we are undoing a wonderful coming together of European people and it saddens me.

  6. Missed your blog for a while now. I hope that things will work out for everyone concerned. I have been here for over 15 years, so did not have a say in the matter. I certainly do not wish to leave.

  7. Hi, Tamara! I’m interested in what the rules in Spain are going to be. Not for myself, but for someone who recently expressed an interest in renting my Spanish property for the five months when they can’t live in their caravan in the UK. They’d be one of your ‘swallows’, I guess. I’ve told them they need to do some research before they commit to anything, but if I can send them any links you might have, that would be useful. ’90 days in 180 days’ sounds like it pretty much puts paid to their plans. But maybe there’s some kind of extended-stay visa you can apply for?


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