Will you be an Immigrant or Expat after Brexit?

People being rescued before getting to Aquarius. Photograph: Karpov/AFP/Getty Images

29th March 2019

This date strikes fear into the hearts of all British immigrants living on the continent, and European expats living in the UK. It’s the date that we are supposed to leave the European Union.

Whilst this date is not for sure, it still symbolises uncertainty. Uncertainty for the United Kingdom and its future. Moreover, instability in the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrants and expats in Europe and the UK.

Wait, shouldn’t that be British expats and European immigrants?

Situations like this throw up many political and intellectual debates; from if the election was fair, to if the EU is an undemocratic entity. The big question for many is: What will happen to all the people whose lives have been formed around the EU?

Whatever your opinion about the European Union there is no denying that it has shaped many people’s lives, and even more retirement plans.

Expat or immigrant

When we talk about different groups of people we attribute different nouns to label them. Many of the British living in the south of Spain or France are self-described expats. Yet, I have hardly heard anyone from Spain, Germany or France describe themselves as an expat in the UK. Maybe it’s just in hot countries?

Also, for that matter, I have never heard any of the British newspapers or any British citizens referring to Europeans as European expats.

The word expatriate is used in German: Auswanderer; French: expatrié and Spanish: expatriado. Apparently, they have the same problem as we do in English. People using this expression to differentiate themselves from ‘others’. The ‘others’ refers to people who are not from white capitalist rich countries. They use language to separate themselves.

Many people say it’s just language, however language can have strong implications. It could be the difference between being labelled anti-sematic and anti-Zionist. It can also tell you a lot about a person, if someone labels themselves as English and not British, then statistically they were more likely to have voted to leave in the EU referendum.

How often do you hear the word immigrant used in a good way in a report or news paper?

Is the future bright for either?

I currently live in Madrid, the capital of Spain. In June 2018, Spain accepted a group of 600 plus immigrants, on a boat called Aquarius managed by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) and SOS Mediterranean, that had been rejected by Italy. This caused a lot of controversy and headlines in Spain and around the world. Two weeks later it accepted another boat in a similar situation.

With the news of the immigrant’s arrival, it made me wonder if I will ever be subjected to this unwelcome feeling. What if Britain gets in a worse than it already is? Surely, I will be a political refugee?

Now I am legally allowed to work in Madrid, I pay social security, taxes, I have access to healthcare and I have the right to vote in local elections. Yet, after Brexit many of these I may lose. My future along with many others depends on how the government manages the negotiations with Europe.

Before in Spain, if you were a new immigrant you had to wait at least 90 days until you could access healthcare. This was part of the immigration law set by the PP. Thankfully, the new socialist government is hoping to roll back the 90 day rule and give universal access to healthcare.

Could access to healthcare be withheld even thought I have paid into their system? Will I even be allowed to work? How much will a visa to stay cost me? For people in many countries, including the UK, these are concerns.

Not really the in same boat

Different people have different concerns, but many still see themselves as secular when compared to the immigrants of Africa or the middle east. The truth is after March 2019, we won’t be. It’s important to remember we have never been different, we are all human, some of us were just lucky in the birth lottery.

The truth is that in the eyes of western society I am an ‘expat’. I self-describe as an immigrant, but this will not change how I am viewed by others. As a white male from a developed capitalist society I wouldn’t be described as an immigrant, even if I want to be.

The EU has some of the strictest immigration rules in the world. In Spain you must be able to support yourself and your family and have health care cover. However, many won’t have this, and they will have to jump through hurdles to try and stay where they have already created a life for themselves. That’s if there isn’t a deal at all.

If they take my right to work away, then I’m no better off than the thousands of people working illegally in greenhouses on the south of Spain or the people that go around selling fake trainers and football T-shirts on the streets of capital cities across Europe.

But we could have the same problems in future

The Windrush Generation

We may be from Great Britain, but it isn’t so great at looking after citizens from Europe. It became apparent when they struggled to look after their own citizens after the screw up that was Windrush.

Both immigrants from Europe and Britain face levels of uncertainty that haven’t been experienced since the Second World War.

The problems that British and European immigrants will face will be on the front of the news for weeks, it will get wall to wall coverage and there will be a lot of pressure from companies, political groups and ballot groups to fix this problem. People will write blogs and books about it and maybe even make a terrible film.

I’m sure no matter how hard it is and how bad it gets, it will never be as bad as leaving your family behind to earn money in another country, it won’t be running away from war, totalitarian governments or famine. It will never be the refugee crisis we are facing today and will continue to face in the future. Yes, displaced people because of climate change is a thing.

These uncertainties are seen daily from poorer parts of the world. We will be getting a very small taste of what it is like on the other side of the border, but we won’t have to risk our lives in small boats- at worst we will have to fly Ryanair.

What can be done

If we all stop pretending that we are privileged expats and start acting in solidarity with immigrants, stop pretending we are better than them, then maybe we will be able to achieve something together.

One small way to start this is by using the correct terminology and urging the establishment and press to do the same.

Education on immigration terms should be a point for governments and their policy. Organisations and retailers should boycott news outlets that use terminology incorrectly or in a malice way. This inaccurate use of words is linguistic hegemony used by the state and the press against the poor. It turns us against our fellow human beings.

I’m not saying there is a right and wrong way to describe ourselves, immigrant, migrant, expat or tourist. I’m not bothered. I’m just asking people to consider there use of language and notice that there is a difference between the use of words.

There is no difference between humans, no matter what words you use. Some are just luckier than others. In the past Spain had refugees. So did Great Britain…

There is a hope for the future; we can start now by changing our terminology in conversation and on social media. We can use language: for solidarity and for the people.

Because whether you like it or not we can all be come an immigrant or refugee at one point in the future.

British Refugees going to New Zealand in WW2 1940

Basque Refugees going to Britain in the Civil War

P.s

– It wasn’t written to win the argument of expat vs immigrant, it’s a boring argument.

– I don’t have or claim to have the answers to the worlds immigration problems. If I did I wouldn’t be writing this shitty blog.

The boom of Labour International

Christmas 2017, I went to my first Labour Party event.

I joined the Labour Party in the summer of 2017, whilst in my home town of Swindon. The only difference to me and thousands of other people was, my first Labour meetings wasn’t in my home town, it wasn’t in my university city or in London where I had previously lived. It was in Spain’s capital: Madrid.

Prior to my first meeting I had lived in Madrid for a year. I had searched for something to do but couldn’t find much more that language exchanges or book clubs that read boring novels that I had little interest in. In short, I was bored.

Returning to the motherland

The first summer back in Swindon working as a substitute nurse, to help retain my registration, I became angry at the state of the NHS and decided to join the Labour Party. Previously, whilst living in London I had been less supportive of Jeremy Corbyn but had always voted Labour.

I have a clear memory of two years before, sitting in the dark tourist riddled pub opposite Big Ben chatting with a friend, around the time of the first leadership election. I remember not knowing who to support, but thinking that Corbyn looked unelectable. I’m glad to say that in the coming years I was proven wrong and became strong admirer of Jeremy Corbyn.

Back to the heat

Madrid

I returned back to Madrid, after the summer, and followed the Labour Party from a far, I was signed up to The Swindon Labour Party Constituency. I knew nothing of Labour supports abroad. After spending a number of months getting used to my new job, I decided to google Labour supporters in Madrid. I was pleasantly surprised come across the international wing of the Labour Party: Labour International.

Labour International is a constituency party within the Labour Party. The only difference is it doesn’t have an MP and its boundary is anywhere outside the UK. Originally it was more of a social club, however since the boom in membership it has gained many members. Its membership now stands at roughly 3600 members, all over the world.

Labour International also has the right to put delegates for at conference, as well as motions. This year they have submitted a real change motion for open selection (a.k.a. mandatory reselection)

I found many Labour International Facebook pages with a whole community of people coming together to discuss the Labour Party from various countries around the world. This ranges from the right and the left wings of the party.

Meeting people for real

After contacting a few people, I went to a small gathering of around seven Labour party supporters. This was in a typical no-frills bar, where we perched on low stools and spoke about why we joined the Labour Party. We came to the consensus is that we would like to build a branch if we had enough people. This was the start of my Labour journey abroad.

After my first meeting in December, I attended the next Labour Party meeting, we had around 11 participants! Most people were concerned with Brexit, but also people just wanted to get involved with politics in the United Kingdom. There was a wide range of people of different views and intentions. We have said

I was unsure if I would become frustrated with the limitations of how much you can do from a foreign country for a political party. However, we have persisted. Meeting like-minded people to discuss and debate the state of politics in both Spain and the UK has been a great success.

Being politically active from aboard is rather difficult but possible.

To have an impact we have formed an official Labour Party branch. With this we can pass motions, campaign together to get British immigrants to vote and we can network within the local community. Labour International is becoming more democratic and politically active within the party. This is a very exciting time to be part of this process.

Forming the branch also gives a focal point for Labour supporters abroad, and the ability to socialise, discuss political issues in the UK and become politically active. We also enjoy a good British past time. A beer and criticising the Tories.

So far, we have had a pub quiz team, a picnic in memory of Jo Cox, an informal and business meeting every month and we have even had speakers at our meetings.

At our meetings we have engaging debate on things like British politics, the state of Spain. We also discuss broader topics such as feminism and the current situation of Lavapies.

Hopefully in the future telephone banking, online campaigning and engaging in conversation with local British immigrants, will help the Labour cause too.

So as you can see there are plenty of reasons to be involved.

If you would like to join the Madrid branch, please follow the link.

If I don’t live in Madrid?

Furthermore, if you have the benefit of living in another country, that is not the UK, you can look for your local Labour International branch. They have been springing up everywhere as we have been using Zoom (better than Skype) to set up meetings. Even the Canary Islands has a branch!

At this moment branches are being formed in parts of Africa, Eastern Europe, France, Germany, South of Spain, USA and in Australia. Some have the added advantage of being able to meet face-to-face and many others meet over the Internet.

If you would like more information please the Labour International website or join the unofficial Facebook page.

Franco’s Spain. What it was really like.

82 years ago, this week (18/7/18) the Spanish Civil war was started by the military and Francisco Franco against the republican government. The war would last 3 years, Franco was aided by the Nazis and the Italians and the republican government was working with the Soviet Union.

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Republic war posters

This war is rightly remembered as a precursor to the Second World War and for the brave international volunteers that came from all around the globe to fight Fascism. Britain and France had a pact that they would not interfere into the war, this pact included Germany, but they ignored it. The pact was made to try to avoid another world war, as you know it was not successful.

During the beginning of the war many sides fought each other. Anarchists took power in Barcelona and Madrid armed its citizens to defend the city. Franco was not the original leader of the nationalist forces, but he soon became the leader after several generals died.

franco1Families were torn apart and many were forced to fight for causes they did not believe in or understand. To this day families still do not know where loved ones are buried, and some families continue to support the side they fought on. It can still divide the country and make the dinner table go quiet at Christmas.

Unfortunately, Franco and his army won the bloody war and it was followed by a brutal dictatorship. The dictatorship was cut off from the international world. Franco ruled from 1939 till his death in 1975.

Today his body is in the Valley of the Fallen, in the hills of Madrid, where local morons go yearly to praise him. Mostly middle-aged fat balding men that are probably bitter about something. This is a yearly feature in the Spanish news, but it has begun to rise a bit more since they have planned to remove his body. Even young men and women are going that were not alive in his time.

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Valle de los Caidos (The Valley of the Fallen) AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE DESMAZES

I’ve missed out a lot of information from the war, but if you want to know more I suggest reading Ghosts of Spain By Giles Tremlett, it’s an amazing book. Or for a first-hand account read George Orwell’s Homage to Cataluña, which is also an excellent read.

Whilst living in Spain, with Spanish family, I have had the chance to talk with people who lived through the 36 years of Franco’s rule. This is only a short list and cannot reflect the whole of the era. You should know that from 1939 till the mid 50’s Spain remained isolated from the international community. It was not till the 50’s that Spain become industrialised, and Franco’s regime started to allow more outsiders.

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Franco on a stamp as head of state

Until his death at age 82, he remained head of the state. After his death the monarchy was reinstalled, and King Juan Carlos was Franco’s choice of successor. He then brought about democracy and the Spanish constitution which remains till this day. The transition as it is referred to in Spain remains controversial for some and is an achievement for others.

You may wonder why they people are performing the fascist salute outside his grave, well I’m not sure, but I don’t know why they would want to go back to that time.

Here are several things you could not do during Franco’s reign as told by people who lived it.

Political parties were banned

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Following the victory of the Civil War, Franco banned all political parties. The Communist party went into hiding, Catalan and Socialist parties were disbanded and all other parties were banned. The Basque party went into exile in France.

Following Franco’s victory, he would spend around the next ten years, or more, killing his political opponents. There are stories of people being taken away in the night to concentration camps and some being shot and buried in mass graves. To this day many families are unsure where some family members are buried.

Some prisoners were forced in to labour camps to build railways, factories and digging canals, others were murdered on the spot. This period became to be known as the White Terror. Up to 400,000 people were killed, they remain buried in the mass graves without identification still today.

Women were treated like children

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Franco took away many rights of women that the republican government had passed as law. Woman could not open a bank account until the late 60s, the only way to obtain one  was with the signature of their husband or father.

Women were encouraged to be homemakers and loving daughters. Most women had to wear a veil to church too. Feminism was not a word to be uttered in this age.

Divorce

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Banned

Even if women wanted to get out they couldn’t.

The Catholic church was the only state religion and their beliefs were law. No divorce, abortion or contraception. All state employees had to be catholic and some even needed a statement from a priest to say they were a well-behaved believer.

Homosexuality

Yes, as I mentioned above the Church ruled. In 1954 you could be prosecuted for the criminal office of being homosexual. Prostitution was also made illegal the same year.

In fact, the Catholic church was the only religion. All other ceremonies, practices, books, masses and religious buildings were outlawed in Spain. It was catholic or nothing!

Protest and forming a union

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The unions played a big part in the opposition to the nationalist forces during the Civil war. Franco banned the forming of unions and disbanded the old ones. They have now reformed and are still active today, they are the CCOO, CNT and UGT. Franco set up his own union known as the Vertical Labour union. All workers had to be members.

Believe it or not you could not protest either. Yes, Spain loves a good protest in the 21st century, but if you protested in the time of Franco, you would have met heavily armored military police.

Political party and union members went into hiding to avoid being killed. Yet there was and whole circuit of spies reporting on people. People had to be careful.

Cultural suppression

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Franco believed in the national Spanish identity. He suppressed all languages that were not Spanish. These included Catalan, Gallego, Basque and Valencian.

Not only did he suppress their languages, but he made them change their names. They were not allowed the names that could be identified with their regional identity. They had to have a religious or Spanish name.

Further independent regional cultural celebrations were prohibited, from dance to national days. Franco brought in what he thought was the Spanish identity, this included flamenco as the national dance. Bullfighting also become the main national sport.

Censorship

Franco’s regime censored everything, from films and books to songs. They banded 4,343 songs and they didn’t even know what they all meant. They banned most songs on the pretext that they were against catholic values. But, mostly it was about sex. They even edited one film so much that it changed the storyline of the film, and the leading lady ended up having a relationship with her brother.

They edited bed scenes, lines, women’s appearance and much more. They even badly dubbed their own lines over the pictures.

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Cover up!!

Military service and Social Service

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 Sección Femenina

All women and men had to do a form of national service for a few years. Men had to join the military, and many were posted all over the country.

Women on the other hand had to do a form of Social service called Sección Femenina. This encouraged women to take typically female roles and work in the community, from nursing to helping run libraries. They were taught that they were there to serve men and that they were inferior to them too.

Spain now has one of the government cabinets with the most women in and in March 2018 led the first all women strike in the world. It has some of the best right for homosexuals and not to forget a world-famous Pride festival.

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Franco 1975

Franco remains in the Valley of the Fallen and will hopefully be removed, yet, his mark on Spain will continue. Many people have many different ways of dealing with this, sometimes the complete opposite. One of his lasting reminders is his family. Recently his only daughter died, but she had plenty of children who apparently own many of the car parks in Madrid. They are also Z list celebrities that appear on the news for driving offences. There is also the famous Casa Pepe.

Some morons may tell you he was good for the country, don’t listen. He presided over Spain when there was an economic boost after a period of isolation after the war. He had little to do with it, in fact, it was the change in ministers that took advantage of this boom. They worked for the church.

He was also paid by the British to stay out of the Second World War. He had little to offer the Axis powers anyway, remember they helped him out in the first place.

Spain has come a long way since the time of Franco, but how the aftermath was dealt with remains controversial in national and regional politics, right down to street level, it’s a controversial topic.

So, if you ever see a Falangist remember this is what they support.

Is the Far Right on the rise in Spain?

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Far Right Protests at the Valley of the Fallen

As I type this, the far right are in the headlines and on the television, there is a 1000 strong crowd at the Valley of the Fallen, Franco’s giant cross in the mountains of Madrid. They are protesting the removal of his body from the controversial site, as proposed by the new socialist government.

They say they are there on a pilgrimage, they have been holding organised Nazi salutes for photos, are wearing the uniforms of Franco’s army and the flag that represented him. They sing in song together and chant things about a united Spain and that immigrants should go home.

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Do they really care about a united Spain?

It is unusual to see the far right on the news in Spain as it is one of the few European countries barely untouched by right-wing populism in recent years, like some supporters of Brexit in the UK and Trump. There has always been a small group of far right supporters, but they could barely organise themselves and would fight each other.

So why didn’t the Far right get anywhere in Spain?

Over the last few years many journalists gave examples of why the far right could not rise in Spain. They think the EU was great as it brought prosperity to the country and people are happy with its input financially and the benefits that go with it. There are some of the many reasons that the far right have been quiet in Spain.

Many Spaniards movimagesed abroad following the 2008 economic crisis which left many Germans and Britons asking cold Spaniards ‘why would you leave the sunshine?’. Freedom of movement has played a big part in many Spaniards lives and the lives of many Brits and Germans that live and take holidays on Spain’s beautiful coasts. Spain owes much of its growth to the EU.

Immigration is another point that would normally draw people to the darkness of the far right, but not in Spain at the moment. Spain’s population of foreign-born nationals grew from 1 million in 1998 to 6 million in 2016. Immigration has fluctuated due to the crisis but immigration, especially in Barcelona, is seen as a good thing by some. Yet, I still get strange looks when riding on the trains in the suburbs of the city. Even in my communal pool, I’m known as the English boy.

Spain is moving forward not back

Spain was on a lock down for nearly 40 years. During Franco’s time, the only people allowed to practice religion were catholics, local languages were banned, divorce, homosexuality and unions were illegal. There was only one political party and voicing your views against the state could get you killed. Spain has progressed on from this. People who praise this time are frankly imbeciles.

My impression is that not only is Spain a divided country because of the Civil war and the dictatorship that followed, but it is also a country with a lot of catching up to do because of this.

chinoNow bear with me… Upon moving here, I heard casual racism like it was from a bad 1960’s British sitcom. It’s not hidden. Things such as calling the shops ‘El Chino’ (I know the Chinese do it), looking down upon people from South American as they have come here to work and live, and looking at some people like they are from another planet not another country. Blackface at Christmas sums it up really.

There was also a stereotype of a macho man who seems to be softening. Spain has made a big effort for the rights of women. However it is being held back by its laws. La Manada case , the rape of a teenager by 5 men in Pamplona, is an example of how the courts and government are not keeping up with the will of the people.

Now I am pointing out Spain’s flaws, but I believe it is these flaws that stop the far right using it as a weapon. Racism is getting better in Spain and the country’s youth are awake to the rest of the world and they are not going back to the lives of their parents. The same is mirrored in sexism towards women, right of immigrants, matters on equality and freedom. The country is going forward whilst others in Europe are going back.

So where does this leave the far right and how can they rise against this? Nationalism.

In the past months the far right has started to show its red and yellow colours and they are getting brighter. They have always been there, the Falagalists, Franco’s followers, still have their Café Pepe, yearly gatherings at they Valley of the Fallen and some still vote for the Partido Popular (PP), as there are no major right wing parties. The PP had historic connections with Franco’s former government.

The PP have opposed all motions and moves to deal with the history of the Spanish Civil war. They have tried to stop persecutions of old war criminals and stopped funding all work on the unmarked mass graves from the Civil war. Amnesty International say Spain is the second country in the world with the most unmarked mass graves, the first is Cambodia.

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Following the Catalan Crisis (see my view here) nationalism in Spain was at an all-time high. Red and yellow wrist bands on everyone and a national dislike for anyone who criticised Spain and suggested that any region could break off.

Vox, a far-right party, attended the Spanish National day, October 12th, in Barcelona in the mist of the 2017 Catalan independence crisis there. There were also small right groups meetings with Hitler memorabilia. Some of the Vox crowd got into scuffles with the local police, Mossos, and some anarchy groups. Maybe they forgot how strong the anarchy movement has always been in Barcelona. Despite this, Vox’s membership grew by 20% following the Catalan Independence Referendum.

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Vox at the Barcelona Rally for United Spain on 12th October.

So, if the far right is to rise in Spain it will not be like the UK, Italy or Germany. It will not be mainly against immigration or the EU, it will be against their fellow countrymen. It will play on a United Spain, something right-wing parties are already trying to do. Cuidudanos, a right wing party, would like to be Spain’s equivalent to France’s Macron. How I hope this does not work out.

If the acceptance of refugees, that have been rejected by Italy, continues I’m sure the right will find a way to weaponise this against the left. PSOE, Socialist party, must be very careful how they manage the government at this time.

Where do we stand

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Above the part leaders: Rajoy, PP; Sanchez, PSOE; Rivera, Cuidudanos and Inglesias, Podemos

Many people already want elections as they feel PSOE are not a democratically elected party. Cuidudanos were recently riding high in the polls on the wave of nationalism and after the downfall of Rajoy the PP are looking to re-brand with a new leader.

On the left, Podemos are fluttering in the wind, feeling lost after being cast aside by Pedro Sanchez, the new PSOE Prime Minister, following a motion of no confidence to snatch power from the PP. Since taking office Pedro Sanchez has done well. Playing from the books of Canadians Prime minister Justin Trudeau, he has cleverly chosen a dynamic cabinet. A pro union Catalan interior minister, an astronaut as Science minister and over 50% of the cabinet are women.

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The New Cabinet

Despite this well-played cabinet appointment and accepting 2 boats of refugees after Italy refused to accept them, Pedro Sanchez needs to be careful. The decision to remove Franco’s body from the Valley of the Fallen is welcomed by many- but it is seen as controversial by most.

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Franco’s Statue being removed

Also they have just announced that they want to open a ‘truth investigation’ into the Civil War. They are planning to document the mass graves and to create a census of all victims from the war. They want to remove all street names that glorify this period and they will also look for the bodies of the people killed after the war, during the dictatorship. This work was started when they were last in government but the PP put a stop to it.

These things are likely to heat up debate in Spain, with the Catalan Independence and the history of the Civil war coming to the surface, anything could happen. I hope and believe Spain is strong enough and liberal enough to resist the poisoned fruits of the far right and reject the politics of yester year.

If Spanish politics has taught us anything over the past 5 years, it is that anything can happen. The rise and fall of Podemos, the Crash of the PP and the well-balanced PSOE- it could all change in a week.

Just because it has happened here before it doesn’t mean that it can not happen again- Look at Italy, Poland and Austria.

Catalonia: Why can’t they have a referendum?

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What is going on with Catalonia and why do they want independence? Is it the same as Scotland and are they really any different to the Spanish?

Living in Madrid I am exposed to plenty of news, rumours, insults and praise for the region and its people, and I wanted to share and explore that a bit more. As I’m sure you are aware they want independence and they don’t want to give up.

So where are we now?

In recent weeks Catalonia has been in the news again. At the beginning of this week, Monday 9th July 2018, the Catalan President Quim Torra met with Spain’s new Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez. This was the first time in 2 years that a Catalan President and a Spanish Prime Minister have met. The over all out come appeared positive with Mr Torra insisting on independence, but them both agreeing to continue talking to ease tensions between the regional and national governments.

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Pedro Sanchez, the new Prime Minister, who recently took over from the former conservative PM Marion Rajoy, following a vote of no confidence in parliament, has his work cut out. Rajoy never did a good job at negotiating with Catalonia and was widely criticised for his use of the legal system and the police against Catalonia and some of its elected officials.

Later in his busy week, on Wednesday 11th July, Mr Torra met with fellow independentist Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The Guardian reported that during his visit to Scotland, Mr Torra insisted that he wants a referendum similar to the Scottish had back in 2014. Apparently, there is a similar split in Catalonia, similar to the split in Scotland back in 2014, but Mr Torra denied this.

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In what has been a busy week regarding Catalonia, Mr Puigdemont, former President of Catalonia at the time of the Catalonia crisis, will be extradited from Germany to Spain of charges of misuse of public funds, he faces up to 30 years in prison.

Spanish National Day 2017

On the 12th October 2017, I had the day off like everyone else in Spain, it is the Spanish National day. This special day is every year is a celebration of everything Spain, yet this year it was like Spanish nationalism with a cocaine habit. During the height of the Catalan crisis Spanish nationalism rose to high levels, like a country hosting the Olympics, however it had a nasty undercurrent of despise towards Catalonia.

On my day off, I decided to go to the traditional military parade, this is held in Madrid’s Paseo de la Castellana and around the huge Spanish flag near Plaza de Colon. All sections of the military participate with jeeps, soldiers marching, fly overs by the air force and every politician, official and  z list celebrity you can think of. Of course, the King and rest of the royal family as well.

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The crowds were awash with families on a day out; gangs of teenagers draped in flags, tacky bull t-shirts and with annoying plastic red horns making a dreadful noise; groups of bulged grown men with shaved heads, cans of Mahou in hand and sewn patches of anything Spanish on their nationalistic type jackets. There was every type of Spaniard you could think of from posh, Ralph Lauren wearing rich fancy boys to hardcore Falangist, but I expected them, it was the groups of teenage girls and young families that I did not expect to see.

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On this day I saw the whole of the Goya neighbourhood, a normally white, clean and affluent area of Madrid, painted with Spanish flags, red and yellow streams as far as I could see. People decked out the sides of the roads and chants of a united Spain and Catalonia is Spanish deafened my ears. Spain was alight with the flame of nationalism and Catalonia was getting burnt.

The referendum and the hidden ballot boxes.

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11 days prior to this had been the Catalan referendum. I remember it clearly, I had been visiting family in the Basque country and on our way back my phone came alive with the news. The Guardian had been running an ongoing commentary piece on the referendum and it broke the news that the Spanish National Police had been trying to stop people from voting, but they had used heavy violence against the voting Catalans.

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My wife and I were both astonished. How could they do this? The referendum had been declared illegal previously by the courts. Yet, despite this, the government of Catalonia continued with the referendum. In my opinion it was a very one-sided affair, reports that independentists turned out in droves, but those in favour of a united Spain stayed at home seemed to be true. There was also talk of people voting several times.

Recently I watched a BBC documentary on the referendum and it was very coolly organised. The Spanish secret service believed they had got all the ballot boxes and slips the day before. However, of the border into French Catalonia, in a small town called Elna, where they feel loyal to people in Spanish Catalonia and still speak Catalan. They drove over ballot boxes and slips the night of the referendum. They say, that in their view, this was the cause of the violence, as the Spanish secret service felt embarrassed on the national stage, this then led to the violence on the day of the referendum.

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Other reports say that in the days up to the referendum the Catalan police, Mossos, refused to work with the national police. There was also riots and organised crowds stopping the national police and Civil Guard from carrying out their duties such as removing voting materials. They even took over the local TV station and seized independence websites, by order of the Spanish government. Spain had to send police officers from all over Spain to Barcelona, there’s even videos of people in Andalusian villages cheering the police on to “go get ‘um”.

The world reacted from shocked to passive responses from nations all over the globe, Catalonia was centre stage, but it never had many allies in nations, yet many friends in international supporters. Even the King got involved to support Spanish unity.

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Following the referendum, Catalonia declared independence, yet it was not reconsidered by Spain or any other nation.

In the following months, the Spanish government arrested many elected Catalan Members of Parliament, many others fled the country they were using the law to prosecute them not diplomatic means.

Then the Spanish government removed the Catalan governments powers and ruled over it itself.  It’s only recently that they have elected their own elected body. Catalonia is one of the devolved governments with the most power in Europe. It has power over almost everything, look here.

How did they get here and are they really that different to Spain?

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I watched this video and well, it made things clear. It misses quite a bit out, but not significant parts; I’ve cross referenced some of the information and it makes sense. Anyway, it will get you up to date on the history of Catalonia, the family member Spain can’t seem to live with.

Lots of it is about money, like most things, many people say that Catalonia pays more in taxes and that the rest of the country is living off them. However following the referendum many companies moved there HQ to Madrid in fear of being locked out the EU.

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Catalonia saw its own country turn against it, very similar to the civil war. Read Orwell’s making book Homage to Catalonia for a great read and to see Catalonia in a different light. Since reading it I’ve seen it as the more liberal and forward thinking art of Spain.

Many people in Spain have even gone to the trouble of not buying Catalan products like Cola Cao, which is a staple of any Spanish child’s diet. Yet they don’t realise they are hurting their own economy by doing this… not that it would do much any way.

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Meeting many Spaniards, I have heard many different sayings and opinions on Catalonia and vice versa. The Spanish opinions and stereotypes of Catalans are always more interesting and rather strange. The topic of independence is never civil, it sends educated and respectable people crazy, whether Catalan or Spanish. It’s like mentioning you put milk in a cup of tea first to a British person, they just can’t handle it.

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Some things that have been said by typical Madrid based Spaniards are:

“They think they are better and different from us”– Well from observation they are, they have a different language, different days off, national dishes and traditions. But then so do Galicia, the Basque country, Valencia, Asturias and Andalusia. They are all very different.

“They are tight with money”– Ok, this is true, they also have corrupt politicians like in the rest of Spain.

“They only talk to you in Catalan!”– I’ve been to Barcelona and this is not true, I also have Spanish friends that live their and say it hasn’t happened to them. But, it has happened to my wife in London, some hardcore independentist would rather speak English than Spanish.

“Their government taught them a different history to the rest of Spain, and they think they are special!”– I’m not sure how true this is and probably difficult to prove. They do manage their own education in Catalonia and since Franco’s death there has been an increase in learning Catalan, but changing history… I’m not sure.

“They were never their own kingdom like Scotland, they were part of Aragon!”– India was never a kingdom, it was many, and it got independence. The same with many parts of Africa and South America. It’s what the people want that matter, not what their history dictates.

I can see many similarities to Scotland but surely this should be judged on a case by case basis. Would you compare the independence movements of South and Canada?

“Catalonia will always be part of Spain” then in the next breath “I hate Catalans!”– So this is what pisses me off the most. Most hardcore Spaniards say Catalonia is part of Spain, but then in the next sentence they are talking down a who region of people. No wonder they want to leave they probably don’t feel welcome.

Some people I’ve met with these above views don’t even want to visit Catalonia… so I’m not sure why they want it to be part of Spain. It really doesn’t make logical sense.

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So where do we stand now?

Before all this you could spot a nationalist or right winger by the fact they were wearing a Spanish coloured wrist band, now they are all the rage. Everyone has them on and even foreigners were getting in on the argument. I went to the BBC Worldwide Question Time set in Madrid, following the referendum, and the most annoying old woman behind me would not stop heckling at the Catalan MP when he was trying to talk. I felt an urge to poor my drink over her curly grey infested head.

Catalans tend to wear and yellow ribbon and will probably start the conversation with the expression “I am Catalan” or “In Barcelona we…” yes they can get annoying like militant vegans but without the judgement and agro.

We appear to be back to square one, Catalans asking for a referendum and the Madrid based government saying no. Tensions have died down but they could flare up again with the imprisoned MPs and a fragile government.

I’m sure I have missed plenty and Catalan independence has always been an ongoing conversational topic, at times more taboo than others, but it doesn’t seem to be going away and everyone seems to have an opinion.

So, I ask the simple question: Why can’t they have a referendum?

8UoAMLW

 

 

P.s – Many say you cannot change the constitution, you can it was changed in September 2011, to make sure paying back debt to the EU was a priority. If they can change it for that, they can change it for Catalonia.

 

Spain’s less than picturesque white coast: European slavery lives here

When you say Costa del Sol you think of drunk Brits, and the more romantic of us may think of olive farms and flamenco. Well, this is only partly true. What about hundreds of Green houses? And Africans?

Recently, I became aware of Norvara Media, a growing underground news channel that has a website, YouTube channel and bi weekly podcasts. They have been going for some time and are strong amongst the left in the UK.

I always used to be sceptical of such things, echo chambers and all that, I mean how good can an underground news station be?

I was browsing through their old videos when one called ´The Bitter Fruit of Andalucía´appeared. Watch it here.

This 3-and-a-half-minute video explores the exploited workers in the south of Spain´s agriculture industry. Filmed in 2017 it is here.

The Video

In the video it states that Andalucía provides over half of Europe’s fruit and vegetables. The mass green houses, that they are grown in, are visible from space. This is not a white picturesque Spanish village this is miles of green houses.

To function, these greenhouses use immigrant workers mainly from Africa. In the video it shows there are around 200 people living on this one site, but there are more sites throughout the south of Spain.

They have no access to clean water, often having to wash in contaminated water from the local reservoir. The toilets are 30cm deep holes. There is also improvised electricity which is a fire hazard.

There are children living there that cannot get to school as the bus will not stop there, despite them asking. They have limited or no access to local and social services.

The immigrants are not all illegal, some have papers that allow them to work. However, due to lack of good contracts they are unable to rent a flat, get access to health care and claim any form of benefits. Many do not have the right to work and feel scared to ask for help. They work for less than minimum wage, with no fixed hours, contract or break.

They work at temperatures over 40 degrees and the bosses pay no social security or taxes for them. Many must go around the green houses asking for work.

Due to this, the local farmers and companies take advantage of their situation. The workers say they are exploited and that they are being used as modern-day slaves in Europe.

Is it really that bad?

At first, I was unsure of this report. It only shows a limited part of the story and is only 3 minutes long. Yet, the scenes in it speak for themselves. There’s no denying it.

I went to visit a friend that lives in this area. On my way there I could not believe my eyes. Rows and rows of makeshift plastic greenhouses, like a thousand gazebos lined up on the side of a lush green hill. From a far they look like the white stone houses that you think of when you say Andalucía, yet here its miles of plastic.

On our drive in thought the mazes of plastic sheets and wooden frames we were met with a roadful of graffiti in Spanish saying that they need regulated work and real contracts. The struggle is here.

I spoke with people from there, local Spanish people who worked in the green houses. I was told that not everyone was an immigrant and that many Spanish people have worked there for many generations. The bosses pay social security and taxes.

I then saw a flyer attached to a lamppost outside the only hotel in the village. 60 euros for a days work, cash in hand, no questions asked.

So, from what I gather the majority of workers are employed legally. Pay taxes and aren’t highly exploited. Otherwise, if all workers were: then surely this is a mass human rights abuse?

Does anyone know how many live in make shift housing with terrible conditions to work and live in?

But, this does not change the fact of what I have seen both in the video and in person. There’s obviously something big going on. What is being done about it?

In the village around 100 workers lived. Almost all of them working in the green houses. The village was fifty percent white Spanish and the other half were immigrants from Africa.

I saw several abandoned bars and shops. The flats had seen better days, but several blocks appeared to be inhabited by people from Africa, the flats were decaying and covered outside by colourful mats and throws. The other street in the village was alive with people living in many of the houses. These appear to be mostly Spanish.

The other houses were holiday homes as it is right next to a deserted, beautiful beach, a sharp contrast to the ragged green houses right next to it.

That night we drove to have a drink in the next big village. We weaved in and out of the green houses like a child in a maze. As I was looking out of the car I was met with several people having BBQ. My guess was that they lived there in between the greenhouses themselves.

Having seen this, I will never complain about the hostels or hotels in the Costa del Sol, as less than a 30 minute drive away you can see rich Northern Europeans enjoying a mojito.

A different world is down the road from your yearly holiday, and its putting avocados and tomatoes in British supermarkets, for you to have them on your hipster breakfast.

How long has this been happening?

Later I came across this Guardian documentary from 2011 and sadly it appears things have not changed since then.

People say in these videos that the supermarket giants from abroad are squeezing and putting pressure on the farmers for more stock at lower prices. This will eat into their profit margins. This means that unless they are put under pressure; they will not give legal contracts and they will continue to break the law.

This is a 2 billion pound a year industry and the region has grown because of it. Yet, only some of the workers here are able to see the benefits of their hard labour. They are living on hand outs from the Red Cross and the church.

The Guardian previously reported on it here. This was back in 2011, it accompanied the video.

Spain has just had recent positive press for accepting a boat load of 600 refugees, I hope the government does more to support them than it is currently doing to support these immigrants in the south of Spain.

Thankfully, we now have a PSOE government who may make some changes for these people.

Thanks for reading please share this story.

You can read about my strange trip home from Andalusia here.

Franco café and a fallen angel

Just driving home

What could be more Spanish than driving back from Granada; stopping in a no frills services station for a ‘Menu del Dia’ and then seeing one of the legendary black bull signs on the side of the motorway. Well, this was how my Sunday was going until my wife made a suggestion. We go to Casa Pepe, Ciudad Real.

She told me that it was famous in this journey back to Madrid. But, what makes it different from all the other no frills Spanish Cafeterías and service stations? This is one is stuck in the Spanish era of 1936- 1975, Francoist Spain.

Casa Pepe

On their website, it states that it was founded in 1923 and has since been owned by the same family. It says that it serves authentic Spanish food and has grown to be famous over the world. Yet, it is not famous for its jamon. It’s famous for its homage to Franco and all the nationalist memorabilia you can think of.

As we drove up to the junction we were met with a giant sign for Casa Pepe, this obviously was on a red and yellow background. Upon pulling up to the bar, you are greeted with the sign of an old military jeep with the years of the Civil war decorated across it, a giant spanish flag and a giant yellow building that has the types of food served splattered all over it. At this current time it felt a bit nationalist, but how bad could it be?

Nationalists watch football

Outside are the normal regular things you expect as a slightly nationalistic bar, flags galore.As we entered we realised the time, 16:00 hrs on the 1st July 2018, Spain we taking their last penalty against Russia. The front of the establishment has a huge rustic bar, cladded in dark flaking wood, decorated with various memorabilia from the nationalist and Francoist era. Still, it was what I was expecting. Sort of..

Then two things happened that took me by surprise, Spain lost on penalties to Russia exiting the World Cup. As this happened, the crowd dispersed; grumbling and obviously down hearted. Then, the second thing, a giant black eagle decorated with a Spanish emblem emerged, the sign of the dictatorship, with adjacent portraits of Francisco Franco and Jose-Antonio Primo de Rivera. The heroes of the nationalist movement.

In short, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, who was son of the first Spanish dictator following the first republic, established Falangism, in 1933, across Spain. It shared similarities to Italian fascism at the time. Primo de Rivera was sentenced to death via firing squad, following his arrest in Madrid for possession of fire arms. He called for the military to fight the government 2 months before his death.

Following Franco’s establishment of his dictatorship and Primo de Rivera’s death, Franco nurtured and forced a state of myth around Prime de Rivera, as a martyr like figure. He is now buried in the Vally of the fallen next to Franco.

Inside the den

The bar is set up like any other but this is where any comparisons stop. This is no normal Spanish bar. The wall that holds the entrance to the restaurant is covered in photos of Franco, army memorabilia and 2 large bull heads. Behind the bar is plastered with old newspaper cuttings and ‘comical’ cartoons.

In this small old crumbling house, that is held up with the money of extreme right supporters, a deli counter and shop are also here. The shop is several rows of every day Spanish delicacies which have been brandished with Franco’s face and the Spanish flag. Everything from wine to sweets and food, it all has something that screams Spain, more so than the overpriced shops in the airports.

Busts are sold for 90 euros and nationalist spanish flags are sold as wrist bands. Just like you see many people wearing after the Cataluña crisis, which, if you will agree with me, is scary. The musky smell of jamon haunts this place, just as it does in the multiple markets in any spanish town, yet you only have to look at the yellow and red uniforms of the waiters to realise this is no normal establishment.

It’s not just a bar

As the crowd wandered around the shop, I couldn’t help but notice the strange differences in the bar, but also its clients. Rowdy men at the bar, despite their country losing, still seemed to ouse twenty times the amount of machism that anyone should possess. Then there was the men with polo tops that were lined with the spanish flag and slick black hair gelled into place, it made them look as if they had just walk off the set of Narcos.

However, the troubling and worrying part was the families. Yes, people brought four-year old girls here to play whilst they watched football and brought nationalist products. There were two bars before this one on the corner, so it was no mistake. No need to hide your true opinions here, unless you are not a fascist.

Is it normal? To them it is

My wife and I could take no more, we refused to part with money in this establishment. As we left we took one last look at the army hats that lined the wall as we left. I couldn’t help but imagine what it would look like on fire. As we left, we saw an ordinary watermelon stand, common for this time of year, outside the bar. I wonder if he knows the vicious depths of this place inside.

Whilst this may not be new, people have honoured Franco, Hitler et al for years, I have never seen it so open. The only other time was during my first visit to The Valley of the Fallen. The fact it is so open and ‘normal’ from the outside and treated as commonplace by its customers, it is intriguing from an observational point of view but unnerving as a human being.

More history?

As we left we continued on down the pass, my wife told me that before it was less nationalist and that she had stopped there as a child to buy sweets in the shape of a walking stick. It’s not obvious to the first time visitor, but it has upped its game to make money from a dreadful time in history, which makes it all the more disturbing.

As we continued on to Madrid, I was told of another local relic to explore. Little did I know until researching this piece, that it would cleanse away any bad feeling I had for visiting the Franco café.

In Valdepeñas, Castilla de La Mancha, lies the leftovers of a bomb attack and the shell of a misplaced angel.

The Misplaced Angel

Ángel de la Valdepeñas as it is now called by locals, or El Angel de la Victoria y La Paz (the angel of victory and peace) as it was first named, sits on top of a hill overlooking the town and fields underneath it.

Built in November 1964, it was built by the dictatorship as a tribute to the nationalist ‘martyrs’ of Castilla de La Mancha, from the war. The angel stood, 15 meters high, holding old a large sword in the shape of a cross, it was copper plated. It was supported by 2 large concrete pillars that are still visible from the motorway.

4 large metal touches surround the front of the statue, so that it could be lit at night and seen from the town and motorway.

The Angel Fell

Later in July, 1976, during the 40th anniversary celebrations of the out break of the Civil war, a FRAP group, Frente Revolucionario Antifacista y Patriota, an Anti Franco Marxist/Leninist group, bombed the angel and it still remains severely deformed from that attack today. Over the years, efforts were made to fund and fix it, but the statue fell into disrepair.

Now, the area has been utilised for telephone masts, graffiti and other possible activities in this remote area. Which is probably for the best.

It is now a sign of Spain’s brutal and divided past. Maybe, this statue is a reflection of how society in Spain feels today about the Civil war, the young have signalled this with their graffiti, maybe they are trying to say they feel ready and brave enough to move on.

We shall see in the coming months, if and when the PSOE government remove Franco from his grave.

References:

http://www.espanabizarra.tumblr.com

Www.casapepeespana.com

Why Americans annoy the British.

If you have American friends but cannot express why they annoy, send them this list… it’s a joke by the way!

There aren’t many Americans in Bristol, if there are you can hear their accent from a mile away, booming over the rest of us like an air raid siren. Then in London I didn’t notice many either, despite living by the new embassy.

Then I moved to Madrid, WOW! With limited English speaking accents, your ears pick up on anything that is not the rapid flow of the Spanish accent. Geordie, taffy, Glaswegian or West Country, but the deafening tone of the American accent is unmistakably clear.

Then I started working in the English speaking world in Madrid, common characteristics are something that you become aware of, both in the virtual and physical world. In the airport, on the street and even more so on Facebook.

Whilst this maybe a reflection on my own prejudices and the intricacies of British culture, my main aim is to tell you why Americans annoy British.

The accent

Jesus it’s clear, even they prefer our accent!

In recent times the British accent has taken off in the states, James Corden, Ricky Gervis and the Hollywood stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Huddleston are just a few examples. Now the British accent obviously has many different and specific accents, which each reflect a small regional significance from our small wet island, but what is up with the Yanks?

I’ll be honest, I love the New York accent, a childhood dream of being a Ghostbuster made this so for me, yet LA? The squawk and slurred whine of the accent is enough to make anyone sound like they are missing a few brain cells.

While the southern accent can be endearing to someone with identity issues, yes people who walk around with cowboy hats, to the rest of us it speaks of repressive incest.

English usage

Change the spelling why don’t you! Ok, well it might be easy but when it comes to writers Hemingway vs Orwell? No contest Orwell.

Then there is the use of the language. ‘Happy Holidays’ no its Merry Christmas and ‘Pissed’ means drunk not angry.

Being over the top

So, I’m sat in Madrid airport McDonalds, waiting for my flight, when I hear “ OMG GUYS! They have CRO-QUETTAS IN MC’Donalds!” This is probably one of the more reserved things I have heard.

Now, I know not all Americans are the same, but Jesus this is something that most of them share. To over the bloody top!

“Oh WOW, I love yoUR Top” it’s from Primark… so annoying.

It’s like an excitable puppy, funny the first few times when you come home, but when it starts shitting everywhere it gets annoying. Americans are the same, first thoughts are generally that they mean no harm. But the 43rd time you have been told “it’s S-O Great” you just wanna stab them in the eye… it really isn’t that great!

Being perfect

Sounds like a compliment, I suppose it is. But why are Americans always so sure of themselves? Okay, we get it you have a great country, democracy, nice teeth and tans. But don’t rub it in our faces.

The average Brit is very unsure of themselves, maybe that’s just a reflection on my nationality. However, Americans being perfect and going on about it, really pisses us off.

Humour

As you can probably see I have a darker sense of humour than most… but they really don’t get sarcasm or irony.

I was once threatened with a “knuckle sandwich” because I was sarcastic to an American on a night out. I only told him that I thought the words he was using were strange. I mean who the fuck calls it a ‘Fanny pack’ anyway?

Obviously, he didn’t get my less than subtle sarcasm.

Also their sitcoms are funny… but it’s not Monty Python.

I fart in your general direction!

Always having to compete

The competitive spirit… the American dream… keeping up with the Jones… what a load of crap!

We just want to modestly live here and get on with our lives and not compete over five minutes. Yeah, I suppose when you elect Donald Trump as president of the United States, you really do prove that anything is possible in your country.

Questioning why things are different and trying to change them

Ok, Spain and other countries may not be up to date and politically correct like the good ole USA. But that does not give them the right to question and insist that their way is better. Change comes about from conversations and culture will evolve on its own, you don’t need to push it.

This ranges from capitalism, fitness, drinking habits and outdated local customs. I’m not advocating blackface, bull fighting, binge drinking, sexist behaviour or the way things should work. I’m simply saying leave people alone and stop saying how it should be like the USA! We get it you have it good.. but

Be like us Brits do it in private…

Finally the most annoying…

IT’S FOOTBALL NOT SOCCER

Book review: The way of the Activist

The way of the Activist

By Jamie Driscoll and Rachel Broardbent

Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1st edition (16 Aug. 2017)

Is this a cult handbook? Or a faction guide on how to over throw your local Labour party CLP or branch?

It is neither, so you can take a deep breath and relax… it’s a book about practical socialism, activism and changing the way people question politics.

Possibly, like me, you may be new to socialism, politics, economics, activism, the Labour Party and why you are being called a Trot? Maybe you are an old hand at all this, but feel you can’t keep up with all these new ideas or maybe you dislike them? Or just maybe, you fancy catching up on the latest trends in society without having to do a degree in PPE. Well if you identify with any this then you may like this book.

This book was created, quickly following the general election in 2017, by a group based in the north of England. They are called Talk Socialism. They are not a big group, but they do have elements of Momentum about them, although they seem to be a softer group with more emphasis on education rather than being a political movement.

The book is more of a guide than a plotted history book or opinion piece. It is built of short chapters that explain everything from how to engage with others and why people vote the way they do, the evidence is presented in a clear format, with limited but strong supporting evidence.

It also explores basic economic systems and ideas, explained in an understandable but non-authoritarian way. It looks at some need history of topics, such as capitalism, to help the reader shape their idea, then it builds on this knowledge to explore future and current possibilities. It also uses this approach with psychology, leadership and ethics.

It is not this…

Whilst the book builds on the subjects, its use of sources could have been greater. It uses strong sources of reference, but it does not counteract its argument to create discussion. However, this is a how to guide not an academic hardback.

My favourite point about this book, is it has everything included, that you may have questions about. It is also presented in an accessible way. It gives the reader confidence when engaging with more knowledgeable people or annoying know it all’s! Like the sort of people you may meet at a political party meeting or in the comments of the BBCs politics Facebook page.

This book is a good initiative as it can bring up to speed the 100,000s of new members to the Labour party. If you are one of them, new or returning, then this book is for you.

Socialism has changed since the 1980s and this book points out why. If you are in Labour First or Progress, and scared of the new members, then maybe this book will help you understand why we have had a recent increase in numbers and why the left way is more attractive than the third way in 2018

Buy it here http://talksocialism.com/page-1/

5 reasons being cynical can change your life

Everyone on the Internet is trying to be positive- ’10 ways to lift yourself into a new life’ ‘Make great life choices with this method’ and everyone can become a life coach for a few 100€ and an online course. Does any of it work for the poor souls? probably not or maybe it’s the placebo effect.

Yet, being cynical is underrated, often frowned upon or mistaken for humorous attempt to make someone laugh. Well it’s probably not and yes I am this cynical and pessimistic. But can it save your life?

Save money

Friend: We are going to the new raw vegan fairtrade café for lunch, do you want to come?

You: Yes ok!

Splits bill after terrible meal… 30 euros each… oh wait your partner doesn’t have their money… 60€ down the drain for uncooked food.

Now I’m not saying don’t try new things but don’t keep making the same mistakes. If you know you don’t like something air in the side of caution and don’t do it.

Rollercoasters- don’t like them- don’t go to a theme park! Save 100’s

Drinking alcohol- love it- choose that instead of yoga the next morning. Unless you can do naked beer yoga in the dark.. could be interesting.

Most people get gut feelings they won’t like something, maybe you should follow it. After all life isn’t all avocado on toast for brunch and watching the sunset on a mountain. Life is doing things that you are comfortable doing with people you like.

Meeting people

‘He’s really nice, he from England too’ then you meet the guy and he’s a complete asshole. Don’t blame your friends for trying and don’t hate the guy for being who he is, you won’t like everyone. That’s just a sad fact of life.

Mental disorders and saying ‘you just have to get to know him’ maybe right in some cases but normally it’s clear this person is going to be to your disliking. So why waste the time!

If they are your friend’s friends then let it stay that way and just pray they don’t keep going to the social events you attend in common. If they do go, then you could make an effort but don’t force yourself.

Save time

Aside from saving you money on space wasting restaurants and crappy overindulged nightclubs, you can also save money!

Yes thinking the worst in things and questioning and thing that smells of bullshit save you time and energy. You won’t waste your Sunday evening trying to be friends with a militant aged vegan or pretending you like food. You can do something you like that is productive for you or someone you do like.

Friends

We all have different friends and we probably know them quite well within a few meetings. I have friends who only come out when single, who are always 1 hour late, who can’t cope with stress and who are just fucking ignorant to somethings. Sorry guys but it’s true.

Obviously they are your friends, despite their flaws they will have many positives. Hence why you are friends. So remember the positives but be sure to always factor in the weaknesses it will save you both time, money and stress, maybe even your friendship.

Knowing what your friends are like and what they will not do means you can plan according to their needs and your own. You won’t feel disappointed or angry and they will probably appreciate the thought you have put into it. This may not always be true but it’s worth a try.

Keep positive

Being cynical doesn’t mean being a miserable grey looking dull git… well only sometimes, but by not feeling let down and more in control of your decisions you will start to feel more positive and even smug at times. Which despite what people say it does feel good to be a bit smug at times. Especially saying things like ‘ I thought he was trouble’ or ‘I can afford to get wasted tonight if I want… maybe I’ll watch a film’

Try new things and people but don’t punish yourself for hating them. You don’t have to voice your inner cynic but maybe you might want to listen to their point of view from time to time. It probably won’t save your life… but you might have more fun.

Pub series: The Great British living room.

Last in the pub series

What can I say about British pubs? Well, they are home! From your generic Wetherspoons with its 1970s carpet and flowery plates, to your local that has been in the family for generations, British pubs are irreplaceable.

Many pubs have similar features, from the warmth of the sofas to the wooden floor of the back function room, most pubs have characteristics just like the people who drink in them. There are many categories of pubs, from the generic mold of a Wetherspoons, or many other chain pubs, to the individually owned public houses. There is a pub for everybody and some pubs for just a few people.

Pubs have a variety of different features but core characteristics are key, and one of these is the ability to buy a nice cold large pint. The lager is probably the most important aspect, other than the people of the pub. The ability to sit on a wet afternoon with a group of friends, sinking pints whilst talking rubbish is what it’s all about. It’s therapy from the outside miserable world.

Rise of the chain pub

Let’s start with one of my local pubs in Swindon, The Savoy. It’s an old cinema that has been converted in the middle of the derelict town centre, into one of the finest underrated drinking establishments in Swindon. Many people slag it off because it has a bad reputation for serving beer all day, however most of the trouble is during the night.

This was my first venture into Wetherspoons, and welcome one it was. Where else can you buy a round of drinks and shots for less than £20? The thing about Wetherspoons is you know what you are getting, it’s safe. That’s why on many a night out, between the ages of 18 and 26, I would often start off or finish up at the Savoy pub.

As you walking the heavy doors at the Savoy, past the smoking area with a multitude of different characters in it, you are met with the grand staircase, decorated with old movie posters and pictures, and the giant room full of bookshelves and badly upholstered seats. If you are worse for wear then you may find it difficult to navigate the stairs, as the carpet is one mono tone brown shade. As you walk down the stairs you are greeted with a large bar that extends the whole length of the pub, and you can take your drink from one of the overwhelmed bar staff. If it’s a Saturday night you can look around the room to see if you know anybody, if not then you can buy yourself another shot.

This is probably going to be the biggest decision of the night, do you go left or right. If you are looking at doors then the left-hand side is the non-smoking area and the right hand side is the dirty, grotty old smoking area. You haven’t been able to smoke in there for 10 years but it’s how I remember it, and the cool kids with multicoloured hair and bad dress sense still sit there. Probably the same ones from 10 years ago.

Once you’ve sat down you might want to look at the menu, however on a Monday I would never look at the menu, as when I started coming here it was £1.50 for a pint of lager. Although, if it was any other day of the week you might be in luck and there might be a type food club on such as, Curry club, Sunday club, Chicken club or Steak club. The great thing about this is, for less than £10 you can have an alcoholic drink and a standard set meal. No hidden cost and extras if you want them. Okay, it’s not going to be Michelin star level food but it’s a lot better than an overpriced McDonald’s.

Till this day, many people who I know from my drinkinghood still go there on Christmas Eve night. It’s a graveyard of girls that rejected you and people you’ve argued with when you were drunk, but they normally are welcome you with an awkward hello.

I have seen many things in this pub over the years, people stood on dark wood chipped tables, spinning their penis like a helicopter. People playing slaps getting knocked out, people screaming at each other and downing bottles of wine for losing at the arcade machine. Many of my friends have had to down Wray and nephew whiskey as part of a dare, I managed to chicken out of this on my stag do.

As you can tell, in this place you could see anything. On a few occasions people are asked “how did you get banned from Savoy?”

Eventually they are allowed back, it’s probably more forgiving than the Church upstairs.

The last of the traditional pubs

Another category and the most beloved category of any British town, village or city has to be its traditional British pub.

There is honestly one for every situation that you can think of. Somebody has died? Wake in the pub. Got to pick up drugs? Wait in the pub. Quiet night? A few in the pub. Going to start the night off? Get the first ones in at the pub. Birthday? Pub. Announcement? Pub. Christmas reunion? Pub. Flight delayed? Pub. On holiday in Malaga? Pub.

Yet, there are some times that it should be illegal to not to go to the pub. One of these is a country walk in a village, that you possibly can’t afford to live in. We have all done it, gone out on a Sunday with the Mrs or family and gone for a nice walk, but after about 30 minutes of walking or not being able to park the car, you end up in a country pub. These are rather obscure places, as they only ever see customers at the weekends or when the local festivals are on. In the week it’s couples having liaisons and locals.

They normally have something that resembles the local area, such as photos or strange metal placards reminding the locals of the time before the generic shops on the High Street. Pubs really are one of the last standing things in the small villages. Even small villages nowadays have a Tesco, generic banks, a phone shop and no post office. Maybe a shit hair salon though. Yet, the pub is the last bastion against the globalised 21st-century.

These pubs are generally in very picturesque places and normally have luscious green pub gardens, with a derelict children’s play area, remember to watch your children on this, as they are more likely to hurt themselves, due to the 40-year-old drunk guy rather than the instability of the play equipment. These pubs are trying to keep up with modern times and often have good reviews on websites and normally have a very good chef, because if there’s one thing they can guarantee people will come back for, it’s good food.

The Local

Finally, I would like to mention the pub that everybody has, the local. These are pubs that are generally visited by people after work to get away from their wives and children, or they may be groups of workmates meeting up just so we don’t have to go home yet.

The great thing about these pubs is it doesn’t matter who owns it, but nowadays it’s normally a local businessman or a local brewery. They have friendly regular staff and there is normally some bright characters that actually make the pub, for it is not the furnishings, the crap jukebox or the pint prices that make the pub, it’s the people in it.

My local pub, in Swindon, is called the Southbrook. I have been going there on and off for years, from drinking Coke and eating Walker’s crisps in the pub garden to crawling home on my 18th birthday because I drank too much Southern comfort.

As you enter the thin corridor, there are thick wooden beams above your head holding up this old farmhouse that has probably seen more drunks than a retired police officer. After you’ve battled your way through the smells of the smoking area and the toilets, you are poised with the choice to go left or right again. This is where the men’s bar and the family bar used to be. You go right if you want one of the enormous plates of home cooked delicious food, or you can go left to the real bar.

In here you will find little space to walk but a welcoming place to have a drink. With wooden pews that look like they belong in a church to the dark red brick walls, this is a traditional pub. It has extended back room with creaky wooden floors and an overused pool table, I have spent a lot of time at putting the world to rights here, whilst trying to chalk up my pool cue, pretending that it would make a difference to the game.

After a few visits the locals will warm up to you and you can join in the banter and debate after the quiz night. A local brewery has recently taken over this pub and is trying to keep it alive, they are doing a good job of this, but they had a big name to live up to.

The food remains home-cooked and you get more than you pay for, and the beer remains tasty yet cheap. This is one of the pubs that I can happily relax in and I feel like I’m sitting in my own living room. The new owners are trying new things to try to retain and increase customers, it seems to be working to an extent, but they must find it difficult with the rise of hipster cafes and concept pubs.

Pubs encompass the best and the worst of the British character. They can be warm and welcoming or nasty and racist, but it is not the pub that can dictate this, it’s the customers. So if you are lucky enough to come across a gem of a pub, keep it, hold it and cherish it and help keep the pub going. For pubs are like living beings, so keep them alive.

CHEERS

For the Many: Preparing Labour For Power – Book Review

For the Many, Preparing Labour For Power.

Edited by Mike Phipps.

Various contributors.

OR Books 2017, Kindle February 2018

This book is an extension of the well received 2017 election manifesto, For The Many Not The Few. This book expands and leads the way for discussion about how a future Labour government could function.

For the Many: Preparing Labour For Power, is a book with a purpose, and with that purpose it brings some big names with it. Superstar socialists you might say. With a preface from Ken Loach and a foreword by Momentum’s Jon Lansman, Mike Phipps really has brought all the big names out.

The book’s purpose, is to have a specialist or enthusiast discuss how Labour can build upon its popular manifesto from 2017. By having different contributors, the book makes you feel like you are at a conference, with people who want to positively criticise and take forward what the Labour Party has done since Jeremy Corbyn’s election.

The book begins with a strong preface and introduction. This sets the rhythm for the rest of the book, reminding you of how we got to the 2017 manifesto, how it was received by the nation, how the manifesto helped gain many votes, and how it set this Labour era apart from the New Labour era.

The first full chapter is full of energy and optimism that helps gain the reader’s attention when talking about the economy. This was a good start for me, and that helped me understand Labour’s current policies on the economy, and what we could hope to do in the future.

The next two chapters could have had more life, but a lot of it depends upon your interest. Living abroad and being asked about Brexit, as I’m sure you are aware, is becoming tedious. Yet the NHS chapter, which interests me, I found to be informative, albeit a bit heavy on facts.

This is definitely a book for people who have a good understanding of politics or want to be challenged. Yet each chapter is carefully crafted by the contributor, so the rhythm at times can be different.

One of the positives about this book is that you can read it cover to cover, if you are an enthusiast, or you can choose a chapter that interests you. I think this book would be great for starting debates at branch meetings, or ideal if you are the sort of person that likes to be armed with the facts.

Despite the positives and negatives the book accomplishes what it set out to do, which is to broaden the scope of discussion regarding policies and areas in the Labour Party manifesto of 2017. If Labour Party members were to read this book, or even discuss the issues that are raised it, then the whole party would benefit from it.

It’s useful for when you’re talking to fellow party members and your own family members, or if you are one of the many activists currently working towards a Labour government.

Buy it from OR Books

Pub series: My new found affection for no-frills Spanish bar

Photo from Madrid No-frills

 

As you may well know, there are many bars in Spain: one for every occasion and with several different names. Cafeteria, restaurante, cervecería and all the bars in between. Yet the best –and more authentic ones – have similar characteristics, though not all of them are visible.

When I was living in England with my Spanish wife, she couldn’t understand, at first, the difference between and a good and bad pub. Eventually, after many visits, she came to understand the small differences in pubs, that I like. So, moving to Spain, I had a similar education to fulfil.

What is the difference between good and bad Spanish bars?

When I first moved to Madrid, I would avoid these bars, like the English avoid fruit. Yet when I was taken to one, as I had no opinion, the experience wasn’t that bad. It felt like my first time in a gay club – you feel like everybody is watching you, but in reality, no one really gives a shit about you after the first glance.

Like I said, I had no option. On the road from Córdoba to Madrid in mid-July, surrounded by towering mountains decorated with olive trees, we drove home. The only service stations are small petrol stations with not a premade sandwich in sight. Instead, you have the roadside cafetería. These can range from a bar with guest cockroaches to places that have a bar with a restaurant on the side. Waiters in bow ties and families having full-on celebrations – I’ve seen both. If you are unlucky, then you can chance driving to the next one, but it may not be any better.

Even if they are good or bad, most have a similar set up. Brown tiled floors littered with small animal bones and small wafer-thin tissues, because most people miss the little metal bin. In Spain, some say this is the sign of a good bar, I agree to an extent but there are good clean bars – depends how busy you like your bars.

The Self-Important Waiter

Another feature is the self-important waiter. This sounds cruel, but he is important, and he knows it – the bar would cease to function without him and the customers know this too. This is why if you are his friend you will never go to another bar. It’s like having a rock star as a friend – you can moan together about ungrateful customers.

They do work in a magical world though, coffee cups lined up at opening to make the famous café con leche, and calmly ordering the customers where to move, the waiters are artists in crowd direction and juggling tasks.

The Tiny Beers

Small beers are a ‘thing’ in Spain. Yes, they drink slowly, but often, and this is down to the size of the beer. A ‘caña’ is not even a third of a pint and it often has a large head – not my favourite thing about Spain. Give me a ‘doble’ or ‘jarra’ any day.

The No-Frills Terrace

The bars are often just as famous for their tapas portions and terraces – not the wooden panels you buy from B&Q, but a pub garden on a patio (trust me, it’s nicer than it sounds). Spending your evening sat with friends as the warm weather slowly draws the night in, you feel like this is the essence of Spain. It’s either night or day in Spain, they have no word for afternoon, but any time of day – weather permitting – is a good time for a caña on a terrace with friends.

Photo from Madrid No-frills

The Generous Tapas

Tapas has become world famous in the last 10 years. Even though many nationalities do it wrong, it has taken on a life of its own. A tapa is a snack you get with an alcoholic drink. There is a scale of tapas, like a scale of take away but healthier. In my opinion, the worst are olives and Chinese crackers: they are disgusting. About midway on the scale would be crisps – plain old crisps – but a good thing to sober you up. Then would come a slice of chorizo on bread, as the bread is often from the day before, and my all-time favourite has to be patatas bravas. Controversial choice, but my wife hates them, so when I get them, I have them all to myself.

Don’t Judge a Bar By Its Decor

One trick that I still have not mastered is not looking at the menu. I’ve been taught that if you look at the menu before they bring the free food, you won’t be getting any free food as they think you will pay for it. So wait! But not to long, it may be a crap bar and not give you any food at all. Judge a bar by its tapas and portions, not the decor or the manners of the waiter.

Most bars are tiled from the floor up. The counters of the bar are normally worn stainless steel, and they often have heaters that look like they are from fish and chip shops, keeping the tapas warm. They have frayed, wooden stools and wipeable tables – normally with an additional serviette holder propping up the menu, that you shouldn’t touch.

The No-Frills Atmosphere

The atmosphere inside can often feel cold and exhausting. If you think it will be that way, however, once you’ve taken your table and ordered your beer, you will soon feel at home. Locals and visitors often speak freely to each other, even if it is just navigating between the crowds of people to get to the toilet.

Another common feature of these bars is children. It’s often said that children don’t have a bad time in Spain, which I hold true as I have seen parents with their children out at three in the morning. However, the big difference to the UK, is none are intoxicated. Spain does not have the paranoia that other countries have around children being taken away by strangers, although this is changing. But generally, Spain is a very family orientated and warm country to have a family. The family go to the bar together, which creates a completely different atmosphere.

Long Live The No-Frills Bar

One thing that helped me come to love these bars was the ambience and their honesty. One thing that brought this to my attention was a blog called Madrid No Frills. The blogger, Leah, explores the less glamorous parts of Madrid with her camera in hand, promoting less popular traditional bars. As in the UK, independent old bars are closing down at an alarming rate. Only customers can keep them alive and stop them turning into overpriced apartments or generic coffee shops.

So now I make a habit of not being scared by these bars, but by trying them out and recommending them to friends. Viva los bares cutres Españoles (or long live the no-frills bar!).

Pub series: The Similar Curiosities of an Irish pub

I’ve decided to take a small break from moaning about the Conservative party or writing of trying to survive as an Englishman in Madrid. So, I’ve decided to embark upon a series of something I consider myself to be a connoisseur and expert on. Drinking establishments.

Far away from the Spanish jammon franchises and American fast food restaurants stands the cornerstone of every town in Spain, with a population of over one thousand, the Irish bar. These marvellous contraptions stand not as a sign of globalisation, but more as a of a sign of world friendliness.

Many ‘authentic immigrants’ will still stick two fingers up to these establishments, as they want to hang around with real local people, and do as they do. Well I say embrace your roots and enjoy the overpriced warm lager.

I was very much of the same opinion when I first moved abroad, however I saw the tissues and chicken bones on the floor of my local Spanish restaurant, and decided that I preferred Heineken pints with big heads.

After my first gruellingly hot month, in September in Madrid, trying to complete a month long intensive English teaching course, I was dying for a pub night. In I entered to one of Madrids most loved Irish bars, it was a musty smelling, dark long room made even darker by the badly wood stained furniture. They had more TV screens than the local electrical shop. One thing that did hit me was the astonishing range of accents, at one point I thought I was in a cheap nightclub in Ibiza, but I wasn’t, it was the traditional city of Madrid. Most of these bars have the same decorations and ambience.

That’s the thing with Irish pubs, you feel a sense of security and familiarity. You enter on a hot bright sunny day, you sit with friends and drink pint after pint. The thing I love most about this is the banter with your fellow friends that the Spaniards just struggle to keep up with. Many Spanish friends are unable to tell when I’m being serious or crude, but worst of all is they don’t understand it’s all a joke. I’ve had to explain many times, if an Englishman is being nice to you then he probably hates you. If he’s not talking to you he probably wants to be your friend.

As you get up to leave your eyes are accustomed to the darkness, and then as you leave you are woken up by the sounds and smells of the Spanish High Street.

I once asked Irish friend “why are all of these pubs called Irish pubs? “And he told me it was because they are perceived as more friendly and open. He then went on to say if you called it an English pub would anyone go? I can see his point.

When I finished my month long course I felt that I needed a roast dinner. This was my first port of call and it did not disappoint. I have gone onto enjoy many sausage and mash dinners here. Always in times of comfort, it’s like visiting family member that would always cook you your favourite food.

The people that you meet in Irish pubs are also another attraction. You often find businessmen living away on their own, trying to have a night out to play. But they end up spending most the night on the phone to the Mrs or answering emails.

You also find groups of tourists that just cannot be bothered to try and order in Spanish or just need that fix of Anglo food after 4 days away. Last time, I heard a woman from Birkenhead comment that she was proud they had brown sauce for her fry up.

One very common site is the single male English teacher taking out one of his students and giving her a private lesson on how things work where he is from. Several hours later, you often see him half cut, chatting to the barmaid like she understands him, she doesn’t it’s because he’s slurring.

Football day is a completely different league, excuse the pun. You see rafts of Spanish, American, English, Scottish and believe it or not some Irish people, out to see the football. Things can get messy, but they are nothing compared to Spanish fans in a Spanish bar watching Real Madrid versus Atletico Madrid! You just can’t find a seat.

The beer in these pubs is often questionable. The Heineken sometimes taste like it has been brewed in the back of the pub, and the Guinness is not even worth a comment. However, you can get some rather delightful local craft beer which just hits the spot. At five euros a pint it is rather expensive compared to the rest of Madrid, but then you don’t go to an Irish pub to have half a pint.

These are truly international pubs, they hold intercambio nights, quizzes, show all matters of sport, staff often speak several languages and are from all over. But best of all, they are welcoming and a break from your new country. Which sometimes we all need.

I have continued to go to these pubs and I will continue to advocate for them to fellow immigrants. They are a hub of community, political discourse, drunken ramblings and bloody good food. Even though quite often the bar staff have never been to Ireland.

So don’t turn your nose up at them, enjoy the environment and don’t go on football night.

Why joining the Labour Party is like going to the pub.

So you arrive to a new town, where you are meant to meet a new group of people.

It took you a while to find this group. You um and ah about it, but you join the group and this is your first meeting.

Finally get to the destination, which was hard to find, you enter the bar and then you have to find the table. You eventually find the table, now, where to sit?

Next to the smart looking teenagers? The normal looking middle aged men? The rebellious looking girls or the experienced looking woman? Or maybe the token outcasts…

Well I suppose I could sit on a table near, not take part in the conversation but share the group or I could just find a new group. I think I’ll just sit next to the smart-looking teenagers.

This is what it is like joining the Labour Party, or any political party. On with the journey to find a seat.

“Holy fuck” they are smart, I don’t belong with the geeks. I lasted 5 minutes and then they started quoting financial policy, figures, predictions and financial models. This is what it’s like to have a conversation with someone who knows about economics. You start off meaning well but you get lost in the raft of figures and phrases. Let’s leave for another seat. Ah the rebellious girls, aka the activists.

They seem nice but passionate! Don’t get me wrong it’s a nice thing but I cannot keep up! I feel bad, feminism makes me want to cut my penis off. It’s a big job to change the system and I feel proud to share their views. They ask me along to a protest next week, I accepted. They are so lovely but I feel unprepared to discuss white people with dreadlocks, I suppose I’m to black and white, if I can say that? I don’t have the patience they have to try to educate Neanderthals.

I get up and go to the bar for a drink. Someone asks me to buy him a drink “whiskey?” I offer “no just a WKD” ah this is one of the teens. We discuss the group, get on well but he’s a bit to hopeful. I’m a bit of a pessimist. As I leave he warns me of the separate table.

They are part of the same group but four of them are sat round in their own little world. The young guy told me they had been there ages. They remember the good old days, but failed to accept the new management of the group. I go to sit down, there is a bag on the chair, I ask them to move it. They stipulate that club rules say they must vote on moving the bag. I leave.

I see a couple, two girls very much in love, they are participating in the group discussion which turns away from economics. I see what they mean, fairness, equality and trying to understand the way of the world. I enjoy the conversation but …Then they say a few names, I understand Marx but Hayak… Trotsky? Who are these people. I was starting to feel comfortable, and suddenly they ask my opinion! I blush! These are the political philosophers, who are fun to chat with but it I can get a bit deep on theory. I felt like I got lost in a maze by the end of the conversation.

I turn to a normal, quiet looking man, his name his Dave, he’s been a member of the Labour Party for over 25 years. He understands a bit about all areas and he’s also done a bit of everything. We have a nice discussion for the rest of the evening about current and past politics. He generally seems quite pleasant, however he tells me he’s just happy to watch nowadays. Although he wouldn’t mind door knocking again! Dave is everybody but somebody. It just proves you don’t need speciality to join in with politics.

 

During my time in the pub I felt overwhelmed and I didn’t understand anything, but there were people to help me understand and make my time there enjoyable. This goes is the same for the Labour Party.

We don’t all have to be experts in activism, economic’s, philosophy or be 100% up-to-date with the latest facts, figures, news and gossip to fit in. We can do a bit of everything and all try to get along. This won’t always happen but we can at least try. People are meant to disagree on some things, otherwise the party would be boring.

I’m going to worry less now about becoming all of the above and just enjoy my time here.