WITH coronavirus and its associated lockdowns taking their toll worldwide, 2020 is a year that many people want to forget – and who could blame them?
As well as experiencing Covid-related problems, Brits in Spain experiencing the end of the Brexit transition period at 00.00hrs on 1 January 2021 will remember 2020 as the last year of EU membership and the benefits they enjoyed, such as being able to live and work in 27 other EU countries without being third country nationals, subject to a load of restrictions and red tape.
On January 23, 2020, when the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was signed, MEPs sang ‘Auld Lang Syne’ in the European Parliament, many holding hands and sobbing, while one man waved a ‘United in Diversity’ banner. Now, I cannot hear ‘Auld Lang Syne’ without being reminded of that sad moment, which brought a tear to my eye.
Undoubtedly, this New Year, the words of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ hold greater significance than usual.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?
Whether it is people lost to Covid, or what we have collectively lost to Brexit, how could we forget? Can we move on and forgive? So many people have had their lives negatively impacted, particularly the British ‘swallows’ with second homes in Spain, whose winters are now limited – by visa application and passport control – to 90 days out of any 180-day period.
I’m personally grateful to hold a Spanish residency card, and not just the devalued British passport – but, oh look, you can get one in blue-black that is made in Poland by a French-Dutch company. The sunlit uplands of Brexit are upon us!
Even parcel post from the UK for Brits in Spain will be problem, because there is no single market or customs union after January 1. For the first time in 13 years, my son cannot easily receive a birthday parcel from his grandparents, who voted for Brexit and do not seem to perceive any problem with the way Boris has made a ‘Titanic success’ of the whole enterprise.
On a personal front, 2020 didn’t have an auspicious start – and NYE soon became a metaphor for the whole year. Having flown to Gatwick to stay in Surrey, I was too jaded to venture out, and felt like hiding in a darkened room. Despite receiving various invitations from friends, I was asleep soon after midnight. It was an accurate portent of things to come, with stay at home orders. Looking back, I should have taken the opportunity to ‘have it large’ while I still could.
The year in worldwide news also started with bad portents. We soon had reports re Trump almost causing a war by assassinating an important Iranian mayor, Qasem Soleimani. There was also the horrifying footage of immense Australian bushfires. On top of that, Jair Bolsonaro assumed the presidency of Brazil on 1 January, and seemed hellbent on razing the Amazonian rainforest, while supporting cattle farmers and loggers who were illegally deforesting large areas of “the world’s lungs”. In fact, the world appeared to be burning. It instilled a sense of foreboding.
By mid-January, reports were emerging of a new virus in Wuhan, China. Although the jury was out about incidences of human to human transmission, before long, it was confirmed, that transmitted cases had been exported to Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the US. At that point, the threat didn’t seem obvious in Spain – or perhaps I was burying my head in the sand.
By late February, friends on social media who lived in Italy were reporting a lockdown in the Lombardy region. Despite seeing footage of hospitals overloaded, and the high death toll, it still seemed distant from our lives. Some of us were making silly jokes about masks. Little did we know that, before long, we would be under a type of house arrest, while engaging in “mask wars” on social media, and seeing people becoming ‘chivatos’ (grasses) re neighbours who had borrowed a dog and taken it for an overly long walk, or teens drinking beer near the municipal bins.
Our Spanish lockdown was announced on March 13, throwing many people’s ‘normality’ into freefall. Personally, it saw my family isolated at a ‘cortijo’ at 1,680m, with all the outdoor space anyone could require, but with junior contingent bickering daily, because there was no school. And we were amongst the lucky ones – not being locked inside a small flat with kids and pets that were climbing the walls.
If 2020 has shown us anything, it is how people react in the face of adversity. I’ve seen new age people supporting the far right and extolling the delights of Q-Anon, friends ranting about Bill Gates microchipping us all, former rebels publicly castigating anyone who removed their mask outdoors, and families divided over their views re Covid. It didn’t take long for levels of Covid compliance to replace Leave/Remain as the main cause of division in our society.
Looking forward, I’m not sure if 2021 will hold a cornucopia of delights. We have the newly announced, more transmissible strain of Covid running riot in the UK and appearing in other countries – including here in Andalucia. The vaccine programme has started, but even some sensible Spanish friends fear that it contains the microchip. Daily, I see people on Facebook posing illuminating questions such as “can I extend my 90-day visa to stay in Spain until summer” and “what do I do about my lack of Spanish residencia and driving license”. Oops, you’ve left it until the very last minute, despite the referendum dating to June 2016.
Looking forwards, I hope that 2021 will be better. How could it be worse? Above all, I hope that we can visit our elderly parents in the UK. Given endless time to reflect, I have realised that the most important things in life are family, friends, and our basic humanity. The rest is pretty much superfluous.
So, let’s recite ‘Auld Lang Syne’ with ‘mucho gusto’ and reflect on the positives that we have in our lives, including inhabiting this great Spanish land that we call home. Happy New Year!