Fresh in from far out - Mallorca

<em>New Statesman Scotland</em> - Where the Sun comes sooner

William Hague may burble in that about-to-burst-into-song voice of his about the need to capture Florida Woman for the Portillistas, but he would be far better concentrating his efforts on Magaluf Man and Cala d'Or Widow. Mallorca, the biggest Balearic island, is home-from-home these days not just for the likes of The World's Most Famous Welshwoman, Catherine Zeta Jones, and her ageing partner, Michael Douglas, but anyone with a few ultra-bouncy quid keen to take advantage of the flaccid euro-linked peseta. Richard Branson is building a house on the island. And, as the pound threatens to hit 285 pesetas, the flood of Brits keen to turn their annual fortnight in the sun into whitewashed concrete and ceramic flooring is soaring.

So Wee Wullie could do worse than take out an ad or two on Sunshine Radio or in the quaint English-language Majorca Daily Bulletin, seeking support among the expats with retained voting rights: the crinkly-skinned golfers flirting with melanoma, the arthritic yachties, the owners of bars like The Falklands, Trotters (Peckham, Paris, Puerto Pollensa on the side of their Reliant three-wheeler van) or restaurants like The Codfather. But these are fairly safe bets: they are long-term investors in Britain's favourite Mediterranean destination. Less certain will be the voting intentions of the new settlers, the young-middle-aged couples who have discovered the more sophisticated parts of Mallorca such as the beautiful, French-flavoured mountain town of Soller - places you can get to for £40-odd from major British airports, where most spirits are a fiver a bottle, 20 fags are 20 of your old shillings, and food is both cheap and generally excellent; where digital mobiles work better than in Britain; and the Guardian Europe, along with every other paper, tabloid or true, arrives daily long, long before its UK edition ever hits the Shetland Isles. As for the weather, well . . . leaving aside the assault by marble- sized hailstones which left my Nissan Primera looking like it had been attacked by a manic drummer, it's better than Wick's.

So many Brits are trying to buy property in Mallorca at the moment with their mighty sterling that prices have soared beyond the heights of the Sierra Tramuntana. And they were already buoyant, thanks to an influx of German cash late last century. Resentment among locals, particularly in the rural north, where Mallorcan dialect is widely spoken and tourism has not been so dominant in the economy as in the more accessible south, is increasing. It is a story familiar to many Highlanders: mortgages for native Mallorcans rarely go over 80 per cent; wages for young people can be low; and the Germans and now the Brits pay inflated prices the locals cannot hope to match. I saw one beautiful town house in Pollensa old town, a rental villa for a tour company, with its nameplate vandalised. For a second, I thought I was in Portree.

But there were no killer midges, the sun was shining, and I knew the tomatoes just bought at the market would taste not of face flannel but tomato. As I drank a cafe solo in the cosmopolitan Cafe Espanyol (sic), I somewhat selfishly rejoiced in my two-week break, mostly bathed by sunshine several factors brighter than anything available at home, blessed by a favourable exchange rate, dirt cheap gin and good Penades wine. And I wondered about the political complexion of the British couple who own the villa I had rented via a big British tour company. It is a rebuilt ruined farmhouse, worth, at a guess, £200,000; and, according to my friendly tour rep, the owners use it for only a few weeks each year.

Presumably the Jeffrey Archer and Danielle Steel books are theirs, but that doesn't make them bad persons, not really. Does it render them suitable fodder for Wullie's recruitment drive? Not,surely, as long as the pound stays this strong. When Eurofication kicks in, maybe it will be a different story. By that time, too, there could be members of some militant Mallorcan cultural group squatting in shuttered foreign-owned properties, and demanding . . . oh, I don't know. Maybe a few hundred million pesetas a year so that they can set up their own Mallorcan-dialect television station. Or something like that.

Correction: last week's column was by Tom Pow, not Tom Morton

This article first appeared in the 17 April 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The rise of the ergonarchy