Little Englanders and Little Canary Islanders

I’ve always liked Little Englanders. A couple of them have almost become in-laws. Sherry after six, roast on Sunday, preferably on a slow heat while one’s having a lunchtime pint down the Red Lion, respect for tradition, our island heritage and the monarchy which doesn’t exclude jokes about Phil the Greek. Narrow minded despite having views on everything, impatient of complexity, and often with routines that are as immovable as tramlines, they’re generally fair minded, reliable and, well, kind. They believe in an essence of Englishness that if everybody could just hold on to, as they try to do, then none of us would really have much to complain about.
I met one the other day, except he was proudly Spanish, and this was in the Canaries, which I guess would make him a Little Canary….ahem…Islander. He was our taxi driver from the airport. He told us with a smile he was Miguel, named after the warrior archangel, and of the family name, Cabrera. Stocky and bustling, he drove by gesticulation, introducing us to the strange black volcanic island of Fuerteventura. His family still look after goats, ‘cabras,’ in a village, way, way over the other side of the islands, he says, wildly gesturing out of his car window. On his mother’s side, he is descended from one of the original conquistadors who came from Vallodolid in mainland Spain and, as he chirpily put it, destroyed the native civilisation. Legend has it the aboriginal tribes, the Guanches, were given a choice between becoming the newcomers slaves or killing themselves. For the most part they chose the latter course. Miguel felt socialists were responsible for all Spain’s problems and recalled, apparently fondly, that the former military dictator, General Franco, had begun his uprising in 1936 against the democratically elected Republican government of Spain from the Canaries, from where he went to raise an army in Morocco and then invaded the mainland.
‘OK, Franco was a fascist, and that was bad… but he had some good ideas. Like national service, so everyone’ (….don’t think Franco enlisted women but I let it go, as he’s on a roll…) ‘…everyone goes from their home to another part of Spain and therefore feels part of the nation. And he always put the people of the Canaries ahead of the Moroccans. In the past we fished off the African coast. Now we cannot go in Moroccan waters and so we have practically no fishing fleet and we are an island! And cheese! Our famous goats cheese is exported to Europe but doesn’t actually come from here, it comes from…..Morocco! And tomatoes!! I won’t say anything about tomatoes, but we can’t live from tourists alone…excuse me, you are lovely people…but we cannot survive with just tourists.’
And now we’re at the apartment and Miguel goes out of his way to make sure I get out safely, helps Ramona and Dominic get the suitcases inside and shakes each of us warmly by the hand, and laughing as he goes, tells us he’s pleased there is now peace between England and Germany…..at least as represented by myself and Ramona.
We have ‘Little Englanders’ too in Germany, at the extreme end they call themselves ‘Reichburgers’, or citizens of the old (German) Empire. They don’t accept the post 1945 boundaries of Germany and reject the current Federal Government as illegitimate. They even go so far as to produce their own Imperial passports. Refusing to carry the official ‘ausweis’, or identity card, that is obligatory for all German nationals, has landed some of them in jail.
Attentive readers will have spotted its a bit of leap from people in England who might fancy Nigel Farage playing the Prime Minister as pub landlord to people who are pretty comfortable with the notion of reinvading Poland; especially as the Little Englanders’ finest moment was putting just such people in their place. But my point is that nostalgia for a better, simpler time often seems bound up with the imagined community that the nation state, be it Spain, England or Germany might once have been. And when it was seems mostly to have been in people’s childhoods, as in ‘…..that….. ( be it child killers on benefits or Moroccan drug dealers or Turks who won’t learn German…)…… would never have happened when we were kids’.
How much this matters of course depends on what else is happening. And the Canaries are suffering in the Great Recession. The burly guide, Angel, originally from the Cayman islands and reminiscent of a Polynesian prop forward, tells us as we admire the view over the northern headland of Fuerteventura across the narrow strait to Lanzarote from the comfort of his Land Rover, that there have been a million less visitors from mainland Spain in the last twelve months. When we remark that 4 X 4 excursions, boat trips, even the Aqua Park, seem quite expensive, he replies.
‘Of course with fewer visitors you still have to pay for everything, so you have to charge more. ‘
‘But people won’t go on the trips’ we say following the logic. And a glance tells us he knows we’re also thinking of the three figure sum this half day trip cost.
‘I know. But what can we do? Another land rover excursion company, a bigger one, has come to the island…..and they can charge less than us. They know we won’t last long.’ As he swings the Landie round he points to the birds circling in the high blue sky, ‘….vultures…’ he says and smiles.
The main drag in our resort of Corralejo, the Avenida de Nuestra Senora de Carmen, formerly the Avenida de Franco, is wonderfully flat and ramped and bright and bristles with souvenir shops, music bars, restaurants, clothes and jewelry shops. But maybe every tenth shop front has whitewashed windows and signs saying ‘liquidacion’, or is still trading but with huge signs announcing its closing down sales as a final trading gambit. In front of the disused store fronts women from Senegal sit on low stools and offer to plait and braid the hair of the female passersby. There are street hawkers on the corners, handing out fliers for their restaurants, some Moroccans, but often Lancastrians.
‘Eat Indian tonight love! Why not?’ ‘
‘Cos I’m in bloody Spain,’ comes the equally Lancastrian reply.
‘Fair enough love.’
Retiring to his corner, he’s more aware than most that there should be maybe twice as many tourists here as there actually are.
So is there any going back to a simpler, less disquieting time? General Franco, tried to make such an attempt after his victory in the Spanish Civil War. One of his main advisers, Francisco Salgado Araujo, declared.
‘We don’t want any liberal, capitalist, bourgeois, jewish, protestant, atheist or masonic progress. We prefer the backwardness of Spain.’
Which, varying a few adjectives, sounds like a lot of Tea Party speeches in the United States. Attempting to make ‘la autarqia’, or self sufficiency, the determining principle of the economy, Spain isolated itself from Europe (which was admittedly preoccupied with other issues after ’39) and the world. This led to shortages, particularly of petrol. In response to which the Spaniards developed a stove that could be attached to the back of a car and its transmission, and from which power could be generated to move the car forward by burning wood, leaves, or whatever could be found near the roadside. Fifteen miles an hour was the top speed although generally not for long! More seriously there were food shortages and diseases of malnutrition were widespread. And salvation from the insecurities of capitalism didn’t come either. A provincial, corrupt and nepotistic Spanish capitalism returned profitability to the Spanish business sector and to Spanish banks. In an echo of our problems, ‘Vacas Gordas sobre las ruinas’, fat cows amongst the ruins, was how the banks were described at the time. But this was done in effect out of the pockets of ordinary Spanish working people who saw their wages fall by 25% between 1936 and 1946.
Such falls in wages are today of course very familiar in contemporary Ireland, Spain, Greece and Portugal. But also, they’ve at best stagnated for twenty years in Germany. In a fascinating article for Social Europe Journal by Andrew Watt quoted in the Guardian (27.3.13) Watt pointed out that Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank, presented a paper and graphs to the European Heads of Government in March that demonstrated how German productivity had raced far ahead of countries like Italy and France who, on the other hand, just let their wage costs keep on rising. Current neo liberal economic orthodoxy confirmed, Hollande, the French Socialist President pushing for growth, silenced. Except Draghi (formerly head of Goldman Sachs International investment bank), had not accounted for inflation in respect to wages in which case one sees that the French and Italians have matched productivity growth with wage growth, which you must do if working people are not to get relatively poorer. Germany in contrast has held wages down since the nineties and as economically the most successful country in Europe gets wealthier, its working people share in that wealth to a lesser extent than they should.
The best thing that could happen for Europe is the big rise in the wages of ordinary Germans which they have already earned! This would bring a few more of them back to the beaches of Fuerteventura, saving Angel his job. Miguel would have more people in his taxi to extol the virtues of Franco to, but without rancour and with his customary kindness, and maybe a couple of Reichburgers would add to the takings down the Red Lion where they could discuss beer with the locals and have the Little Englanders shaking their heads by telling them how the Queen is really of the family Saxe-Coburg and even the British national anthem was written by a German!

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