Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Borders and beggars

Some of my friends laugh at me when I express concern about the future of Europe and, in particular, the future of the UK in Europe. Well, I may not be alone in my worries. Research suggests that thousands of people, continental Europeans in Britain and UK citizen abroad, are applying for a second passport. It seems that they consider that life as an EU citizen in Britain or a UK citizen abroad in an EU that no longer includes the UK could become very problematical. Dual nationality could help. 

Chief among EU migrants’ worries in the event of “Brexit” are the end of fast-track EU-only lines at passport control; the return of work permits for employees; the abandonment of reciprocal public healthcare arrangements; tighter restrictions on studying and doing business; possible higher taxes on foreign property ownership and cash transfers between member states; and the treatment of foreign pensions. 

As for me, while I am aware that unpicking the UK from the EU would be a lengthy progress which probably wouldn't affect me directly, I still wonder about the more limited horizons my grandchildren might face. 

It could be worse. Other countries' border controls throw up different problems. I was reading about an undertaker in Columbia who had a call from a colleague in Venezuela, asking if they could borrow a glass-sided hearse for the funeral of President Hugo Chávez in 2013. Without hesitation he lent them his 1998 customised Lincoln. 

“I was happy to do it. I felt like I was participating in a historic moment,” he says. 

After the funeral though, he discovered that there were problems with the paperwork and he had difficulties getting his vehicle back into his own country. In the end it was declared to be contraband and was sold at a public auction. It was bought by a collector for $45,000. Last month he managed to buy it back for $60,000. 

“It’s not fair having to buy what is already yours,” he said. “But it was important to recover the car for its historic value.” 

But having the hearse that carried Chávez’s coffin has been good for business. “I have people come in and request that car specifically for their loved one’s funerals,” he said. 

Back here in Spain, here are couple of things I have been noticing:- 

More and more frequently, I see young fathers carrying their small baby, often quite precariously, on one arm while the young mother pushes the empty pram. Is this part of the proud-young-fathers-involved-in-their-child's-life movement? 

Occasionally it may be a matter of convenience. Yesterday I saw a proud young father with a tiny baby. As it was very hot and sunny he and the proud young mother were trying very hard to protect the tiny mite from the sun by draping a sheet over her. Meanwhile the pram, in which the child would no doubt have been more sheltered from the sun's fierce rays, was full of shopping!! Even better was the proud young father we saw the other day in Pontevedra, skating merrily down the street on roller blades with a child of about sixth months old perched on his arm! 

Then today I have seen a couple of alternatives to begging. The first is one that I see fairly often: rummaging in rubbish bins to see if there is anything salvageable. The difference today was the chap doing so looked quite respectable and only a few minutes later followed me into the breadshop to buy his morning bread. I stood as far away from him as possible. Those big rubbish bins don't usually smell too good. 

The second was a younger man, quite well dressed, smoking, who stopped at a public phone box to jiggle the returned coins slot, presumably in the hope of getting a bit of forgotten small change. 

 I haven't seen anyone do that since I was a kid!

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