Prickly issue for British expats

LAST UPDATED: 18 May, 2012 @ 08:42
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Prickly issue for British expats

EXCLUSIVE by Wendy Williams

A BRITISH couple have been ordered to court for planting prickly pears in their back garden.

Pensioners Barry and Valerie Kay are baffled after their neighbour denounced them for planting over 100 of the emblematic cacti, introduced into Europe by Christopher Columbus in 1493.

The expats, who live in Periana, were forced to call a translator and later their solicitor, after the neighbour went to the town hall.

The first they heard about the problem was when a team of SIX town hall workers suddenly arrived at their home for ‘an inspection’ last month.

They have since been issued with a court date and ordered to remove the plants – whose fruits were once used by sailors to ward off scurvy.

“It is unbelievably petty and very heavy handed,” Barry Kay, 67, told the Olive Press.

“The neighbour doesn’t even live next door, he just comes up now and again.

“All he has is a few olive trees on his land, I fail to understand the problem.

“And anyway, why didn’t he come and talk to us first?”

The pensioners, who moved to Spain from Huddersfield six years ago, had initially dug them in to combat erosion and protect the top soil.

“They are effectively telling us what plants I can and cannot grow,” said Kay.

“They are on my land, there was no dispute about that, but he insists the prickly pears could spread. It is unbelievable.”

The couple have been so concerned about the demands they have now complied with the order and uprooted their pears.

“We have done it just to keep him quiet but we have still been called to court.

“It is all so incredibly silly.”

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25 COMMENTS

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  1. The Spanish seem keen to make themselves a laughing stock, i.e. sending six men from Periana council to investigate a pensioners garden because he planted prickly pear cactus.
    This plant is not invasive, does not seed itself, but spreads very slowly through ground contact, is ideal in preventing soil erosion and as stock fencing. Some years ago we watched a local farmer planting a row of these cacti, nearly 100 metres long, separating two parts of a large commercial olive orchard. It was only replaced this year by a post and wire fence.
    The ‘big brother’ syndrome is obviously very active in Spain, allowing a vindictive neighbour to dictate the plants foreigners can grow. It’s also unfortunately racist to the extent that if the tables were turned, the council (and Courts) would totally ignore a similar complaint from a foreigner about his Spanish neighbour.
    I could recount examples of this racism towards foreigners, but readers will already be very aware of similar events and know that little can be done until this primitive attitude changes – maybe never.

  2. Primitive is most accurate. Also very surprising that Periana actually has no less than six men working in the council!

    Depressing too, that with nonsenical cases like this, Spain has no chance of ever becoming a properly run country and continues to be a laughing stock.

    • Hey Antonio, I hope you will get this message, I am trying to find a contact number for Barry and Valery, do you know them/ do you live in the same area? I am from a television company in the UK and it would be extremely helpful if you have any suggestions, thanks a lot

  3. “.. your comments are at variance with the facts as reported by the Olive Press”

    Yes, but they’re not all the facts! I see only the Kay’s comments and opinions. Why didn’t the reporter ask the neighbor why he objected to the plants, or ask the town hall why they sent the inspectors, or quote anything from the report made by the inspectors, or any other statement or document issued by the town hall, or the court.

    There’s only one side of the story here.

  4. But the facts are quite simple – cactus!! apart from falling on them, what’s the problem? Why town hall involvement? It’s all over the place and no-one bothers.
    The pensioners could quite justifiably complain about excessive pollen from the neighbours olive trees causing stains to washing, cars, paths, etc.
    But they’re not that petty and it wouldn’t get them anywhere, being foreign.

  5. Cacti has been used as marking borders(Lindes) between plots of land for centuries in Andalucia. Have read and re read the article, trying to find a reason, but have not found any. The only problem I could think of is that prickly pears are sought after by street vendors during summer, when in season, and could bring in unwanted “pickers” trespassing into the neighbour’s land. Or goats, they love the stuff and they also love to eat the leaves of the olive trees.

    Prickly plants (chumberas) can be propagated by sticking a half blade/leaf into sand grit ground after the cut end of it has dried slightly, like most cacti, and the fruit contains the seed, though it takes longer to propagate this way.

    A curiosity about this plant is that its of the few if not the only one where the fruit develops first before the flower appears. In Mexico the young plump “leaves” are part of the native diet, sold as a vegetable, which are first boiled and added to salads or tossed in hot olive oil with eggs, much as you would do asparagus, their taste is also similar once boiled. Once boiled the sticky gluey sap is transferred to the water. They are also pickled. The needles being carefully removed first of course. Ive actually tried them and they are not bad at all.

  6. When you’ve lived here a long time you understand. Its all about who you know… If you’re friends with the council, they’ll do these things for you. And the council ‘have’ to do a few things a year, involving lots of employees, to justify the mountains of eu funding.

    OP: go to the council and look at the finances. i bet this little fuss cost the tax payers thousands of euros. And i bet the pensioners have paid more tax than the neighbour with numerous properties.

    But what do i know. i wasnt born in the village shed…

  7. David – “When you’ve lived here a long time you understand. Its all about who you know… If you’re friends with the council, they’ll do these things for you.”

    True. Spain is indeed all about who you know. If you can’t integrate into a Spanish neighborhood, Spanish culture, etc. then life is going to be very difficult. This is why I don’t understand how people expect to live in Spain without learning the language, the culture or even becoming familiar enough with their neighbors to know that one is upset about your cactus before they report it to the Town Hall.

    As with most stories in the Olive Press we only have one side. And it is written to make it appear as if this is due to anti-British sentiment (not simply anti-cactus sentiment). The perpetual victim mentality of the British, as usual.

    antonio2 – “This plant is not invasive, does not seed itself, but spreads very slowly through ground contact, is ideal in preventing soil erosion and as stock fencing.”

    Just for the record you are incorrect about this. The plant actually is considered an invasive species. In the early 1900s the prickly pear cactus spread so quickly through Australia that hundreds of thousands kilometers sq of farmland were destroyed (even today there are impassible fields of cactus with houses literally buried underneath).

    Although I am sure it had nothing to do with a fear the cactus would spread. It’s obvious the real reason is that the Spanish hate the British.

  8. Reality, you may be comfortably and smugly well-off here in Spain but there are many thousands who are not and some of the reasons for this appear in this article. It has nothing to do with the inability to speak Spanish, some ex-pats I know are fluent and cannot wait to get out of the country due to attitudes, corruption, etc., and of course events such as this.

    “”The couple have been so concerned about the demands they have now complied with the order and uprooted their pears.

    “We have done it just to keep him quiet but we have still been called to court.

    “It is all so incredibly silly.””

    As for Australian cactus spread, a well known phenomenon, it doesn’t happen here in Andalucia, the climate is unsuitable. Given the correct climate even Olive trees would spread uncontrollably across the land from seeds.

    “It is all so incredibly silly.”

    How about supporting your own countrymen instead of revelling in your own self-satisfaction?

  9. antonio2 – “Reality, you may be comfortably and smugly well-off here in Spain but there are many thousands who are not and some of the reasons for this appear in this article. It has nothing to do with the inability to speak Spanish, some ex-pats I know are fluent and cannot wait to get out of the country due to attitudes, corruption, etc., and of course events such as this.”

    You realize this doesn’t describe just British expats though, right? “Thousands of people who speak Spanish fluently, but can’t wait to get out of Spain due to attitudes, corruption, etc. (including hatred of the prickly pear cactus, I presume)” describes plenty of the native Spanish as well. The problem is assuming that it is all rooted in some sort of targeted hatred for the British, which simply isn’t so. As if there are two worlds – the Spanish living in a corruption-free world where everyone lives in perfect harmony and the British living in the most corrupt place on earth where they are perpetual victims at the hands of the evil Spanish.

    Without exception everything negative I have seen about Spain in the Olive Press has to be endured by the Spanish and the British alike. Bad banks? Check. Illegal houses? Check. Nasty neighbor causing problems? Check. Corruption? Check. It all exists for everyone. They aren’t a phenomena that the British experience in an alternate dimension simply because they are British. That is life in Spain.

    The only major difference is that the Spanish have an advantage in dealing with it. They’ve always lived here; they speak the language, have the connections, understand the flexibilities and rigidities of Spanish culture, know what can be bent and what can’t, etc. Most foreigners do not.

    And the British who have the most difficult time are, without exception, the ones who are still the most green. Even the ones who have lived here many years. They are usually the ones who don’t speak any Spanish (notice how in this article they were forced to get a translator just to understand what was going on?). They are the ones who live in expat communities where only English is spoken. A Spanish person would never tear out 100 prickly pear cactus they just finished planting “just to keep [a neighbor] quiet.” That is a very British thing to do/say. A Spanish person would fight with the neighbor over it. In 24 hours the entire village would know about it. If 6 Town Hall members showed up they would fight over the cactus too. If they had to keep going to court for years over the cactus – they would. They would fight it tooth and nail. I’ve seen it happen between Spanish people for even more petty affairs (hanging clothes out to dry, for example).

    The most absurd thing is to write any difficulty that a British person faces off as due to racism. “I got a bill from Telefonica. How racist. Neighbor reported my cactus. Racist. Bank charged me a wire fee I didn’t expect. Must be racism. They killed a bull. Racist toward bulls.”

    In Spain there is definitely racism – but very little directed toward the British. In fact, unless you do something to ‘out’ yourself there is no reason that anyone would even know you are British. Try being Romanian, Arab, or from Sub-Saharan African. Look at how they are treated. See the Spanish stereotypes of those ethnicities. When I see a British person talk about experiencing racism in Spain I have to double-check that I haven’t slipped into some bizarro world.

    In fact, just in comments on the Olive Press alone I have heard more racist things toward the Spanish than I have heard from the Spanish about the British in my entire life. You can go browse through and find the Spanish referred to as “barbarians, savages, uncivilized, uncultured, criminals, thieves, backwards, irresponsible, lazy, etc.” All of the same racist stereotypes the Spanish use to describe Moroccans or Romanians are the exact same way some people posting on the Olive Press describe the Spanish. I have had comments censored for less so I can only imagine what other anti-Spanish sentiments have been expressed that never made it to the public view.

  10. Back to the original article – we do get a hint at why the neighbor made a fuss: “he insists the prickly pears could spread.” So the neighbor is afraid of the cacti spreading. This may not be an actual threat – I am not a cactus-ologist. I have no idea. I only have one sad cactus in a pot. But it is plausible to believe that the neighbor had an actual fear – reasonable or not – that the cactus was a threat to his land.

    More plausible, than, say, this account: “The neighbor bid his time carefully. He stopped by only occasionally, making sure not to betray his true intentions. He was spying. The day would surely come. They would plant cacti and he would be ready. Years passed, but he was patient. Four, five, six years without incident. The Town Hall was bribed and on standby. Paid off yearly. And then it happened. The sound of shovels penetrating the dry earth. A cactus, two; fifty, one hundred! His hatred overflowed. Images of Gibraltar flitted through his head. He picked up the phone and dialed the Town Hall; ‘The spikes are up.’ It was code. After all these years he would finally unleash his true hatred and wrath for the British…

    …by forcing them to dig their stupid cheap cacti up out of the ground!”

  11. Apologies for any implied insult in my comments, Reality, but I just wonder if in being so integrated into your local neighbourhood you may have lost the ability to ‘see the wood for the trees’?
    There are principles at stake here which the majority of Europeans hold dear, among them privacy and freedom. You buy yourself a house and plot and turn it into your own version of a ‘castle’, within planning laws of course. Spain being attached to the rest of Europe, we all reasonably expect these principles to exist here as well. In this particular case, they have been trodden well and truly into the dirt, by the neighbour and Periana council. If that happened to me I’d want to sell up and get out as soon as possible, back to where these principles are upheld. Wonderful place, Spain, but give it another 50 years for the ‘big brother’ mentality to dissipate.
    The ‘racist’ element in my original comment is simple to understand: if the pensioners had made a similar complaint to Periana council about the same neighbour, it would have fallen on deaf ears. No amount of integration or linguistic ability would have changed this. It’s a simple case of foreigner against locals.
    The time for the neighbour to complain would be when a problem made itself known, i.e. when the pensioners’ plants started to interfere with his own cultivations. Which would be never, unless a plentiful supply of water was available, in which case maybe 20 years hence.
    To involve the council, administration plus six council workers and a court case, it’s all unbelievably, stupidly, crass. If this is typical Spain then 50 years may not be enough.

  12. I think sincere apologies – in Spanish, and a couple of jars of home made jam would work wonders here. If you’ve upset them, even unwittingly, a warm handshake and a smile will do far more for your standing in the village then holing yourself up and feeling miserable. How many neighbours at war do we have in the UK? Too many. It happens in our own country too.
    Thinking long term is the answer, and having a bit of understanding and compassion.

  13. Apologise for what exactly, Karen? The neighbour didn’t even talk to Mr Kay; he just issued a denuncia and dragged him to court over cactuses planted on his own land. What a great use of court time that case will be. Doesn’t sound like a neighbour who wants to communicate and shake hands. If the Spanish want expats to integrate is this a good way to go about it?

  14. ’nuff said on this issue already, but a last word would point the finger at officialdom – not a poor ignorant peasant who still thinks ‘Big Brother’ thoughts, a leftover of Franco, taught him all those years back.
    The Ayuntamiento should have sent him packing, not take the issue seriously, but they, again, cannot think ‘outside the box’ handed down generation after generation from the dictatorship period.
    Rights in Spain also belong to the rich, full stop, but their are hints of change.
    But we need to keep up the pressure on such issues and more – only last week a report indicated that most Spanish nationals considered corruption a major issue!! That’s a huge step in the right direction.

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