Sunday, 11 August 2013

Mind what you get that British lion to roar for

If we ever successfully turned the European Union into the United States of Europe, we’d need to make sure roles were distributed among the constituent nations in a sensible way. We’d need the police to be British, the cooks French, the bankers German and the entertainers Italian.

Imagine how awful it would be if we ended up instead with French police, German entertainers, Italian bankers and British cooks?

Ironically, the only funny aspect of that joke is how desperately far from the truth it is. British police are struggling to emerge from a morass of scandal:

  • they’ve been shown to have a regrettable tendency to abuse sexually women who call them for help against sexual abusers, 
  • endemic racism seems a problem, perhaps most shamefully in the surveillance run, not on the racist murderers of Stephen Lawrence, but on the family of the victim, 
  • investigations in recent years have revealed a sorry nexus of morally if not criminally corrupt relations between the police, politics and the media

You certainly wouldn’t want that lot running the European police. Not at least until it got its own house into significantly better order.

As for Germany, when we lived there we found the country easy-going, with plenty to amuse and delight us wherever we went. The banks, on the other hand, were painfully bureaucratic and backward.

In fact, the only true aspect of the joke is that the Italians are entertaining. Not always intentionally, mind: presumably they didn’t actually elect Berlusconi to be the clown he became.

You may have picked up the implication that I don’t go with the much-vaunted reputation of French cooks. I feel that cooks in France have tended to rest on their laurels a bit. You can of course eat exceptionally well in the most expensive places, but it’s sometimes difficult to find a reliable restaurant in France, serving a good meal at a reasonable price.

Meanwhile, Britain has become a nation where it’s far easier to find a good meal easily, and one that’s good value. Japanese, Indian, Italian, even French, any city boasts a selection which will take your breath away without breaking the bank.

Back in the seventies, it wasn’t like that.

  • Sandwich bars offered two slices of doughy (white) bread with a choice of a slice of ham or cheese between them; excitement came in the form of a choice of two types of pickle 
  • Salads were piles (and not usually big piles) of vegetables served with nothing remotely resembling a dressing; if you were lucky (or perhaps I mean unlucky), you got a little plastic packet of an abomination called ‘salad cream’
  •  Main dishes were often ‘pies’, which came with a burned crust under which lurked meat-like objects possibly drawn from an animal, but not one anybody could identify, swimming in a dull brown fluid.

All that seems, these days, to be thankfully behind us. Which made a visit to Gibraltar a couple of years ago a fascinatingly nostalgic experience. Because the food seemed to be straight out of the seventies. It was like reliving my student life, without any of the pleasure that notion suggests. 
A rock and an airport in a seventies time warp
The place is also claustrophobic. It is after all a rock. The road goes round it. There are side turnings in the town, and you can get up to the top as well, but woe betide you if you go there after 5:00: the place shuts down.

Really, a seventies time warp.

Of course, there may be some people in the British Foreign Office wondering how we’ll bottle up the French fleet in then Med, when it next threatens our shores, if we don’t hold Gib. I suspect most of us have put the Napoleonic wars behind us by now, thankfully writing them off along with British seventies food.

The only aspect of Gibraltar that seems to belong to the 21st century is all the shops trading in gold, diamonds or currency. Which suggests Gib has all the innocence, purity and transparency that we’ve come to associate with international finance.

Spain has announced that it intends to go to the United Nations over the continued occupation of this rock which, geographically, clearly belongs to it. It’s imposing lots of painful controls on traffic attempting to cross the border. It’s upset that the island authorities have been creating artificial reefs that are spoiling local Spanish fishing. There have been incidents of unauthorised incursions into territorial waters.

Meanwhile the British government is talking firmly about the need to stand by the people of Gibraltar, to reject the unacceptable behaviour of the Spanish and to assert our sovereign rights.

For that place? For Gibraltar we’re prepared to put our relations with one of the main players in Europe, an ally and a partner, in jeopardy? What is the government dreaming of?

Guys, just remember London in the seventies, and add better weather. It isn’t worth losing a moment’s sleep over. Time to move on. Please.

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