As I boarded I had a sneaky feeling it was a complete waste of time. No, that’s not fair. It’s always lovely to see friends in Dorset, and I was due a visit. Cabin bag laden with turrón (a cross between fudge and nougat, a Christmas essential in Spain) and packs of Spanish ham and cheese.
But in a sense, yes, a waste of a flight. I was going back to vote. No need really, as I have a permanent proxy vote arranged. But sometimes you just have to be there.
“But can you not vote by post?” ask my Spanish friends. Well yes, in theory, but the online forums are full of people complaining that for the fifth time in a row their postal vote didn’t arrive in time to send back. Just not worth the risk.
“But can you not go to the British Consulate to cast your vote here in Spain?” they ask, reminding me of all the Spaniards who queued in London and Edinburgh to cast their votes in November’s Spanish elections. No, that system is not available to us.
So I explain the proxy vote system to them. With some difficulty, and constant reassurance that it IS legal. “No no” they cried. “You cannot GIVE your vote to someone!” “Yes yes,” I reply. “As long as you trust them implicitly, as I trust Zara”. And I explain for the umpteenth time that this is not me illegally passing my vote to someone, but an official, state-sanctioned system. They smile, but they look doubtful.
Two weeks before flying, James Mates and the ITV News crew came out to Málaga to find out whether Brexit was impacting on how UK citizens abroad were voting. Those who have lived abroad for more than fifteen years have no vote, even if they continue to pay tax in the UK (unlike many other countries, where a citizen retains their vote, wherever they happen to live). So Judy and I sat on the bench with Picasso’s statue, and explained to James Mates that yes, Brexit was influencing our votes. Judy was going to vote tactically, against her own convictions but in the hope of ousting a Tory MP. I was going to do the same, though in North Dorset there was far less chance of removing the incumbent. It’s one of those constituencies where the gatepost would get elected if it wore a blue rosette. So my flight was doubly pointless. But sometimes you just have to be there.
Earlier that morning the ITV crew had been in Nerja, a short way along the coast, and the news item once screened starred John Moffet of ‘Bremain in Spain’ who spoke articulately about the continuing lack of clarity for British citizens in EU countries. We were shown too, more briefly, and I couldn’t help noticing that although we had been made to “casually walk across the square, chatting to James, then sit on the bench with Picasso” three or even four times after failing the first time to walk far enough to the left of the tree, and failing the second time to sit down sufficiently tidily, that shot was not used. Apparently the Nerja brigade were better at rehearsed casual walking.
A crew of three spent two and a half days in the Málaga area, a final session in Marbella then they flew home from Gibraltar. The result was two or three minutes of screen time. More had been planned, but we were overtaken by events, and the deaths were announced that day of Gary Rhodes, Clive James and Jonathan Miller, all genuinely significant deaths that deserved coverage. On such small coincidences turn the choices of the news editors.
So, as promised to James Mates, this morning I boarded the plane to fly to Bournemouth ready to vote on Thursday. It’s a “puente” weekend in Spain. Friday was El Día de la Constitución, celebrating the signing of the Spanish Constitution and the dawn of the modern democracy. Today, Sunday, is el Día de la Inmaculada Concepción so Monday will be taken as a holiday too. With the famous Christmas lights of Málaga drawing crowds every night, this long holiday weekend had brought even more than usual, and the bars in my square had been full of people who did not go to bed all night. The taxi rank, normally well-populated with waiting taxis, was empty. This was VERY rare and a little worrying. Three delightful and only mildly tipsy young Spaniards joined me at the head of the queue. I told them I’d been waiting 15 minutes and had not seen a single vacant cab. One of them pulled out his phone, dropped it, picked it up, put it in the same hand as his hot slice of pizza (pizza? at 7.15am?), and dropped both.
He rescued the phone, and wiped it clean of cheese. He jabbed a couple of buttons and put it away before helping himself to another slice of pizza. He told me he’d ordered us all an Uber car which would drop two of them off then take me to the airport. Although I had understood his slightly slurred and pizza-filtered Spanish perfectly well, I couldn’t quite believe it. But then in under a minute the Uber arrived, and the driver confirmed the route. I jumped in with my guardian angels and we whizzed off along the autovía.
He had visited Oxford and London briefly. He preferred Oxford. He generally found British people a little cold (he then looked embarrassed and emphasised that he didn’t include me in that). We dropped two of them off half way but he came along with me to the airport to be sure I got there, reassuring me that he lived very close. I got my money out and he waved it away. “Te invito yo” (It’s on me). I protested and tried to contribute. He grabbed my hand firmly and said “Tell them in the UK that Spanish people are very nice and don’t want to be thrown out because of Brexit. And vote carefully”. I assured him that I would indeed vote carefully. As for telling people that Spanish folks are lovely, well, I need no encouragement for that.
So I got to the airport comfortably, an hour and a quarter before take-off. Only a moderate queue for security (though my friend Marga was on duty supervising the queue, and opened a side barrier to speed me through). My cabin-bag contained something the security guard didn’t like the look of on her screen, and she asked me to open it. “Está llena de jamón, turrón, y queso de los Montes de Málaga” I explained. It’s full of Spanish ham, Christmas turrón and cheese from my village. “Vale” she smiled. Fine. And she waved me on. “Don’t you want to check?” I asked. “No, it was the cheese I saw,” she replied, “which flavour?” I grinned. “The fresh one”. “Ah yes, I like that one” she said and told me that she has family in my village. She glanced at her watch. “Have I made you hungry?” I asked. She laughed. “Yes, it’s my break soon! I want cheeeeese!”. You know what? Spanish people are lovely.
An hour later, boarding, I almost changed my view about that. An elderly Spanish man climbed the steps and entered the narrow passage of the plane. Then his phone rang. Loudly. A ringtone presumably loaded on there by a grandchild. First a loud ring, then a child’s voice shouting (nay, screeching) “Abuelo, abuelo, ¡contéstame!” (“grandpa, grandpa, answer me!”). The grandfather stopped in the aisle and put his bag down, blocking the entire plane, and began to look for his phone. He patted each and every one of a multitude of pockets, then began rifling through his small shoulder-bag. Who would have thought such a small bag could have SO many zips? Meanwhile the child’s screams on the ringtone were putting everyone seriously on edge. The crew tried to make him move down the plane but his hearing aid had fallen out when he bent to put his bag down so he was oblivious. The phone continued to shriek for a further 45 minutes. OK maybe not quite, but it felt like it. Grandpa put his shoulder-bag on an empty seat beside him (he was still blocking the aisle) and began to open his cabin bag. A frustrated crew member attempted to stop him, saying “You MUST sit down, you MUST SIT DOWN!” in an agonised voice. Then, to the unbounded relief of the entire plane, the ringtone stopped. Grandpa slowly picked up his shoulder-bag and painstakingly closed each one of the zips before moving down the aisle. We took off only seven minutes late. He remained blissfully unaware that 172 people had been glaring and thinking uncharitable thoughts.
And here we are. I landed at Bournemouth, where the lovely Margaret met me and whizzed me off for a proper farmhouse English breakfast before taking me home. And on Thursday, with little or no hope of my personal vote making any difference in my true-blue constituency, I shall vote in person with that traditional stubby pencil on a string. Because sometimes you just have to be there.
PS: You know what? Spanish people are just lovely.
© Tamara Essex 2019 http://www.twocampos.com