18 December 2021: A big O; Driving rules; UK politics; Cultural differences; & Other stuff.

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Cosas de España/Galiza  

An hilarious tale from Lenox Napier.

The police in Spain have a multitude of opportunities to fine you, if they’re so disposed. And they usually are. I was once done for 2 offences at the same time, both of them ‘Serious’ and neither of them discussed with me at the time. Just notified to me in the mail much later. Anyway, here’s a relevant article – on the documents you must have in your car. And then there’s the 2 triangles, the spare glasses, replacement bulbs, etc., etc.

UK politics

Richard North on Boris Johnson: Johnson has now become so absorbed in his own persona that he has lost any capability to evaluate his own performance objectively, or accept any criticism from any source. As such, he’s broken the golden rule: never believe your own bullshit.  If North Shropshire was the turning point, his TV interview was the moment when Johnson revealed to the world that there is no way back. His successor needs to be booking the decorators.

See also the article below on the state of Johnson’s party, as it shapes up to lose the next general election in 2024. Good to see that the writer agrees with me on Johnson himself: He’s finished. He’ll be gone before too long.  

The UK

It’s always fascinating observing the products in ‘foreign’ supermarkets. Here in South Manchester, there’s a wonderful range of Asian products and, to my surprise, many more ground spices than in Spain. Even in the Coop. 

The other strange thing in supermarkets here is being apologised to by people because they’re breathing air in the same aisle as you. Or invading your personal space.

Reading the titles of books on sale in a charity shop, I was struck by 2 things.-

1. As mentioned recently, all the titles face the same way, and

2. This book is probably a minority interest, especially outside Wales:

Returning to this shop was a saddening experience. Last time I scanned its shelves 2 years ago, it was for particular books for a close friend in Santiago who died 3 months later.

Finally  . . . 

I’ve been taking my 2 grandchildren to and from school. I’m amazed that kids coming towards me  – like their parents – recognise my personal space and instinctively move to the side. Something that doesn’t happen much in Spain. Is it genetic, I wonder. Both here and there. Doubtful, I guess. Cultural.

This blog can be seen on Twitter and on the Facebook group page – Thoughts from Galicia.  

If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here.  


Tories have swallowed the poison of populism. Pandering to Ukippers delivered a temporary cheap thrill to the Conservative Party but it is now paying a heavy price: Matthew Parris, The Times

Stunning. But as one beast heading for the abattoir or one Tory heading for a general election might remark to another, it’s possible to be stunned but not surprised. The Tories had this coming. A former Tory lady voter told a canvasser friend of mine in North Shropshire last Sunday that “it’s the lying. We just can’t have that.” The matronly lament puts me in mind of Lady Wishfort in William Congreve’s The Way of the World, after Sir Wilfull Witwoud has bellowed: “Ahey! Wenches? Where are the wenches?” Lady Wishfort: “This will never do.”

On Thursday North Shropshire echoed her. Analysts will pick through particular policies that might have proved unpopular with particular Shropshire voters, but unless I mistake my countrymen, this isn’t about one policy or another, but about probity, dignity, consistency, rootedness. There’s something almost inexpressibly tacky about the government to whom these voters have just delivered a massive kick.

And, no, there does not follow another column about Boris Johnson. He’s finished, and we can chin-stroke about the when but not the whether. He’ll be gone before too long.

Yet the party that elevated him will still be in government, and Johnson has been in many ways not so much cause as consequence of a Westminster tribe that appears to have lost its head. What possessed the parliamentary Conservative Party, like a drunk reaching for the stabilising arm of another drunk, to place their future in his hands? Such an inquiry is more interesting than the question of which particular opportunist was able to take their fancy.

The Tories have lost their keel, their ballast, their balance; lost the centre of gravity that keeps a political movement from capsizing in the face of any sudden gust. And it didn’t start with Johnson. It started when David Cameron called a referendum on Europe.

I personally believed a sane case could just about be made for leaving the EU, and an even saner one for letting well enough alone. Seeing some peril and no great benefit in leaving, I inclined to the status quo and still would.

Many fellow citizens, however — and they included a clear majority in (for instance) North Shropshire — inclined to leaving the EU. So be it. But for the country’s interests to be protected, the terms of Britain’s departure mattered tremendously. And at this point a large part of the Conservative Party seemed to become inhabited by some kind of lunacy. A hard core among these distracted souls were native to the party: fierce and famously longstanding opponents of our association with the European Union; but their number was soon swelled by new and younger recruits and, energised by the referendum result, the grouping gathered force, supported by much of an ageing generation of Tory “activists” in the country at large. These were the Brexiteers within. Unnerving though, to both the left, centre and even some on the right of the party, were the Brexiteers without.

Ukip, led with a showman’s genius by Nigel Farage, began championing the idea of a complete and if necessary antagonistic break with the EU.

The xenophobia grew in strength, and fed into a wider sort of populism that began, if flickeringly, to prosper at the ballot box. It was embraced by some Tories with an enthusiasm — an almost lip-smacking relish — that seemed so untypical of the party I thought I knew.

At this point the great, pragmatic, unideological blob that forms the centre and probably the majority of the parliamentary Tory party seems to have lost its nerve.

I can understand this. As a one-time Tory backbencher myself I’m familiar with the panic that can grip colleagues if they feel their own majority (and career, and livelihood) may be threatened.

A theory that Conservatism needed to move sharply Ukip’s way to forestall the defection of our own voters (and even a few of our MPs) attracted many. On this page I argued that in the longer run, moderation, and our mildly centrist personality as a party, were the greater assets. Ukip (I argued) could soak up some of the toxic impulses of the electorate: the Tory party would be well rid of its sometimes xenophobic right or we’d be in danger of losing the moderate ground. Let Ukip drain the poison, I argued.

Instead, the party swallowed it. The theory that we should accommodate and absorb populism prevailed. People like Johnson, unencumbered by principle, pandered to it and prospered. The Tories grew more Ukippy in their nativist rhetoric and headline-catching initiatives. Priti Patel’s Home Office became an exemplar of the vulgarity.

And in a way, it worked — at first. Ukip haemorrhaged support; indeed their successors barely registered in Thursday’s by-election results. Columnists started to write about the Tories’ wonderfully shape-shifting genius for moving to where the voters are. Johnson clowned around; Patel doubled down and attacked judges; second-raters recruited to cabinet solely for their Brexit credentials shuffled along behind; distinguished Tory centrists were expelled for being Remainers; and for a while the shift seemed productive — electorally at least.

But something was being lost, an asset leaking almost imperceptibly away. For want of a better term I characterise it as solidity. I’m even tempted to use the word “conservative”.

Take the adjectives those who dislike Conservative governments might use — “heartless”, “uncaring”, “philistine”, “snobby”, “reactionary” — and pit against these the adjectives supporters might prefer: “pragmatic”, “careful with money”, “sound on crime”, “business-minded”.

Then put the vocabularies both of praise and of blame aside, and ask what both fans and critics might at least agree on. You’ll get a sort of Venn diagram convergence over what has distinguished the Conservative Party in the national imagination; a family of words that has an almost stodgy ring: stodgy but in its way reassuring. “Boring”, “stable”, “conventional”, “firm”, “anchored”, “dull”. The party had what gents of a certain class like to call “bottom”, which doesn’t mean clever or even necessarily right, but denotes an almost suet-like steadiness. “Solid” captures it.

The party has lost its bottom. Helen Morgan, the Lib Dem by-election candidate, will have hit the right nerve among rueful Tory supporters when, in her victory speech in the small hours of yesterday morning, she called recent Conservative governance “a nightly soap opera of calamity and chaos”. Populism will always yield that result because tummy-tickling can never be a recipe for sound government.

Since the European referendum campaign began, the Conservative Party has been poisoning itself, and the toxin is called populism. At first the experience was intoxicating, heady. Now the party’s getting the shakes. The cure will require more than the removal of one man.