Monday, September 02, 2013

John Major Avenue, Candeleda, Spain

The Spaniards love British politicians, don't they. Their love is reserved in particular for British prime ministers, and the greatest love of all is for Conservative British prime ministers. My, how much they loved Dave being in Puerto Pollensa last summer. They couldn't get enough of him and of his long-sleeved blue shirt and sensible shoes outside the Club Pollença when the thermometer was nudging a hundred. They lapped up his building of sandcastles on Llenaire beach. Family man Cameron, a prime minister of the people, unlike Spain's cigar-chomping misery guts.

This greatest love of all has soured slightly. Apparently there is some little local difficulty down Gibraltar way, causing some Spaniards to get the hump with Britain and with Dave. "Are you Palmerston in disguise?" they don't shout from the terraces at the Bernabéu. It would be pretty stupid if they were to. Palmerston was a political vacillator. One moment a Tory, the next moment a Liberal. Dave and Cleggy in one body, but more Cleggy than Dave once gunboat diplomacy came to top Lord P's agenda.

Love for Margaret Thatcher could never be true love once the Malvinas became a Spanish issue as well as one for the poor conscripts of the Argentinian army, but this did not prevent Madrid town hall from deciding, some days after her death, to re-name a street after her. Residents were not entirely delighted at the prospect of living in a new street and one, moreover, named after a defender of British rights to Gibraltar. "Gibraltar will always be Spanish," said one of the street's indignants, rather overlooking the fact that it hasn't been for 300 years.

But Ana Botella (Señora Bottle, wife of ex-prime minister Aznar and the lady mayor of Madrid council) stated that Mrs. T had been a great inspiration for her. So Thatcher Street it was going to be, shortly followed by further council initiatives, such as the withdrawal of free school milk, the introduction of a poll tax and a staunch defence of British rights to Gibraltar and the Falklands.

If Thatcher and Cameron have something in common in a pretence that Britain is still something of an imperial power and so manage to get under the skins of Spaniards who have even less reason to suggest that Spain is still a power, then sandwiched between them is John Major, who never knowingly did anything to rile Spanish nationalism and xenophobia. Meek, mild Major. Old maids, cricket on the village green and warm beer. There is nothing offensive about Major, apart from those blue underpants. Which helps to explain why he has scored one over Maggie.

Thatcher, so opponents of Thatcher Street argued (quite reasonably), had no connection whatsoever with Madrid. Major, on the other hand, has a considerable connection with a small town somewhere in the middle of Spain that no one had heard of before its town hall unveiled a new street name on Saturday. And not just a street. A whole bloody avenue. Avenida de John Major.

Candeleda is this town. It is in the region of Castile and León and has a population of something over 5,000 people, one of whom is the former British prime minister when he is in residence there. Candedela is his "second home", he told the various dignitaries and 300 or so locals who had pitched up to witness the handing over of the ornate street sign. Another resident of the town is Tristan Garel-Jones. It was he who introduced John and Norma to Candedela. The Majors have a finca there and have seemingly made a great contribution to the town; hence, John gets his avenue.

In his avenue-naming acceptance speech, Major skirted around the main political topic of the moment. There will always be things that rise above political struggles, he noted, such as Spain's "wonderful beaches and islands", none of which are anywhere near Candeleda. But the town is, he added, "a real jewel", and one which, moreover, has an avenue which marks it down as being forever British.

The Majors have been going to Candeleda for two decades or more. It will be reassuring for all those Brit expats who have spent years studiously avoiding having to learn any Spanish to hear that Major knows not one word of Spanish. Other than "gracias". So there you are. He is a true Hispanophile, an ex-British prime minister who can't even stretch to "dos cervezas, por favor".

What a shame he doesn't have a finca in Majorca. Avenida de John Major Majorca.

Any comments to please.

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