Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tales From The Tea-Room: Tourism history

A tutor of mine at university was called John Walton. As he, I and others were of an era when imported soaps from America were twee before they became littered with the skeletons that rattled in the cupboards of "Dallas", he had the misfortune to be nicknamed John Boy. (After "The Waltons", just in case anyone doesn't get the reference.) One says misfortune, but the good doctor, now professor, was also of an era when history started to arrive in the modern world. Facets of contemporary society and culture were niched into the framework of history study, and Dr. Walton was an historian who embraced this new relevance. For this reason alone, I suspect he was actually quite pleased at being known after a television character, albeit one culled from a series as lightweight, sentimental and horrid as "The Waltons".

Among his areas of study, and one can easily consult his extensive research if one desires, was that of fish and chips. This British culinary treat was not, by the mid-1970s when I sat opposite his bearded and longhaired self in a tutorial, confined merely to British shores. It had moved abroad. Fish and chips became the Brit tourist's friend, his foody comfort blanket, his dining defence against "foreign muck" on foreign holidays.

Prof. Walton has, among his vast oeuvre, contributed many an insight into holidays, including those to Mallorca, which, back in the 1970s, was very definitely still Madge-orca. I have come across a chapter he wrote for a book entitled "Histories Of Tourism". It (the chapter) is called "Paradise Lost and Found: Tourists and Expatriates in El Terreno, Palma de Mallorca, from the 1920s to the 1950s".

The reason why I came across this was that I had been sent an email which, without giving any detail, suggested that I might be interested in Googling "F. G. Short, Mallorca". There may be more information to come from the source of this rather mysterious email, but in the meantime, Google is exactly what I did, which was how I found Professor Walton's chapter.

F. G. Short is mentioned. It says that an English guide for tourists by James Lindo-Webb was "dominated" by tea-rooms, libraries and shops, "headed by the empire of F. G. Short, who had been in on the ground floor (of tourism) in 1917-18". Short had a tea-room, unoriginally called Short's English Tea-Room, a lending library (5,500 books) and a bar. He was also an estate agent, travel agent and exporter.

Short, it would appear, was a pretty big deal in the Mallorca of the 1930s, but what else is there to be known of him? Much, I would fancy. But where to find the information? And where to find copies of what he advertised in? They must exist, but I have yet to see the "Majorca Sun", an English newspaper of the times and one to which I have referred on at least one previous occasion.

Apart from introducing us to the businessman Short (and incidentally, what was his background, why was he in on the ground floor?), Professor Walton's chapter is a remarkable description of a world that one fancies many of us didn't think existed, one in which the British expatriate was well-established, if only in and around El Terreno, and in which there were also tourists. We know that there were of course tourists, but Walton suggests this tourism was far more evident than has sometimes been depicted. He is particularly interesting in charting changes into the 1950s, ones which pre-dated the shifts in sexual attitudes that were pretty much forced on Mallorca and the Franco regime in the 1960s.

Walton's chapter, the enigmatic F. G. Short, the "Majorca Sun", Lindo-Webb's tourist guide, they all point to one thing - the fascinating history of Mallorca's tourism past and also its expatriate past; the relationship, therefore, between Mallorca and Britain and indeed other countries that goes back much further than the "boom" of the 1960s.

There is, and one can see this on the internet and especially on Facebook, a mass of material from this past. It inspires great interest, but why is not more made of this interest? This is a history which is relatively recent, it exists within the memory of some Mallorcans and some foreigners, it is a history to which current-day visitors attach a great deal of importance because they want to know about how things were. There needs to be a proper museum of tourism history. There needs to be, I would suggest, a conference and exhibition. One dedicated to a subject that has almost endless possibilities and which holds endless fascination. I think I have found a mission.

* "Paradise Lost and Found", John Walton

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