Fermin

The pleasure to be had on a beach in Spain, becoming mayor of Barcelona and other stories

One can only know true misery in hot weather; everything else is at least partially absence of sun. Similarly one can only know true loneliness when surrounded by friends; everything else is at least partially absence of friends. It follows that if you wish to know the truest misery and loneliness possible you must gather you friends and family around you and go to some warm and beautiful place. You could call it a holiday. You might wish to intensify the experience by looking forward to it for a long time, or spending on it a sizable proportion of your wealth - because in a sense the more you suffer on holiday the better; your normal life then becomes - for a while at least - a blissful relief, and you are able to carry on and endure.

Soldiers who die in the line of duty are often described as having made the ultimate sacrifice. But is it? On the plus side it's quick, and glamorous. Is it not worse to lay down your life slowly, doing something you hate, that nobody respects, over and over again, in exchange for a wage so low that it's hardly enough even to cover the rent?

We set off on our holiday before dawn, as is traditional. We'd taken the precaution of getting the house burgled a couple of days before we went; saves worrying about it happening when you're away. The burglar broke in from the garden; my wife and I were upstairs at the time consummating our monkey lust. What timing; he must have been waiting out there for months.

We prized the girls out of bed, gave them a bottle of milk each as consolation and packed ourselves into a cab to the airport. We had just congratulated each other on how well it was going when both girls were sick. Then my wife was sick clearing up their sick. Mid-way through wiping the back seat after arrival I noticed our driver becoming irritated by my efforts. "No no no this cost money" How much? £50. O.K. Plus fare = £85 in total. The sun had not yet risen.

On the plane the air crew were selling lottery scratch cards; as if flying Ryan Air wasn't lottery enough. I repeated the Lord's prayer to myself and we landed safely in Valencia; I do not claim these two events are necessarily connected. Searching for the hire car I repeated to myself my driving-in-Europe mantra : "Drive on the right... drive on the right...". Finding the car I got in and surprised by the absence of steering wheel and pedals amended my mantra to :"Drive on the right... get in on the left..."

Set off following our Spanish friend Marie-Cruz with wife and girls in her car having omitted to form a backup plan; if I lost her I would be truly lost. It's good to have a plan, it's good to have a backup. More than twenty seven backups and you're over-doing it. Rolled a fag whilst driving with difficulty, smoked it with ease. At last arrived at our destination, the small town of Tavernes De Malingna (literally the Malignant Taverns); beautiful ramshackle outpost nestling at the foot of three mountains. My memories of previous visits to Spain came flooding back.

Ah Rioja! The most honestly named wine. For once I stood on Spanish steps, hatless in the noonday sun, raised a litre of blood-red Rioja to my lips and downed it in nineteen glorious gulps. And Rioja I did, all over the steps. And seeing what had come to pass the people of Barfelona wasted no time electing me Mayor. No time did they waste; they did not elect me mayor - and this I discovered when I awoke to find the chain around my neck that I'd been cherishing was still connected to the cistern.

"Your house is my house" I exclaimed in an effort to cut short the formalities as we entered our hosts' casa. Fermin, the hombre do casa, seemed slightly perplexed, nevertheless agreed to take me on a tour of the town. The first thing I noticed was the preponderance of faeces. "Dogs?" I enquired. "No, mi puchero, the mayor. It is part of his re-election campaign". The pavements were extremely narrow, in places no wider than a tightrope, difficult enough in normal shoes but nigh on impossible in the stilettos that all Spanish men are forced by law to wear. Yet somehow they managed; I couldn't help but admire them.

The town was full of taverns. Any stranger entering one is sure to be greeted with a warm welcome; a big-hearted chump will clasp you to his bosom, buy you a drink - whether you like it or not - and begin a prolonged bout of affectionate head pummelling. Meanwhile his accomplice; and he will have many, most of whom remain unknown to him, will be going through your pockets. It's an eco-system; strangers are nutrients.

The next day we went to the cassetta, a beach house, one among many illegal yet luxurious shacks that proliferate among the orange groves near the sea. We took the children to the beach - there were six by now - and the dog. This proved a mistake. I have always had an intuitive understanding with dogs; possibly because I was raised by wolves. Indoor wolves. Spaniels, frankly. On the way to the sand a wild dog followed ours; I shooed him away reasoning that ours being female the owners might prefer an arranged marriage. However on the beach the wild dog, with an accomplice, re-appeared. Now shooing became problematic. There'd been a storm the night before and I found myself standing by a shattered inflatable, sand-logged, embedded in the beach, both flare sockets empty. I spared a thought for it's occupants, then got on with my main business of preventing the wild dogs meeting ours. This proved impossible: The vast space and my diminished running abilities meant that simple cunning was able to triumph over advanced trigonometry. I only caught our dog - Nina - when it was too late. I attached the lead and stood there while nature took it's course; which is a long course with nervous dogs; they had become attached to each other physically and nothing could dislodge them, even sea water. Eventually I decided it was too late to worry about it, rolled one and enjoyed the view - apart from the dogs; I didn't look at them directly, that would just have turned them on more, presumably.

That night Fermin and I discussed the raising of children, the church - I pointed out that it had survived two thousand years whereas Jesus only lasted thirty three - psychology, and people he knew that made top quality honey for their friends. A mountain towered above us, a mountain he had determined one day to climb, but knew he never would.

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.