Getting to grips with the manure

Sweeping up donkey manure twice a day prepares you for many challenges in life
Today I had a very good meeting with a kind and helpful bureaucrat.  In these times such a contradictory statement is like saying, “I had a pleasant encounter with a traffic policeman who stopped me on the motorway”; or “I just enjoyed afternoon tea with an amusing axe murderer.”
The meeting was arranged for me by my union rep Lluís in the Social Security offices in Alicante.  We were to meet at 9.30 with Miguel, a civil servant who was father of some students Lluís had taught before he became a full-time teachers’ union rep.   Even having arranged such a friendly encounter, we met with the usual obstacles beforehand.  Lluís obtained an automated ticket from the machine directing us to Table 7 but when our turn came we explained to the black-uniformed security woman (equipped with a half-metre long leather truncheon) that we needed to go to Table 11 where Miguel was waiting for us.

“No, you must go to Table 7.  It says on the ticket.”

Computer says no Table 11.  Computer says Table 7. 

Lluís explained again that Miguel was waiting for us.  He was actually waving to us and beckoning us to Table 11.  That was not enough for the black-uniformed table control fascist.  She went to speak with Miguel – the truncheon swaying from her ample belt – and came back looking very cross.

“There is a change: you must go to Table 11.”

Yes, we knew Miguel was waiting at Table 11: that’s why he was waving and beckoning.  Señora Truncheon took our Table 7 ticket and tore it up.  She looked stressed. This was clearly the worst thing that had happened to her at the office this week and there were still another three boring days before the weekend.

All this was just a reminder of the horrible experience we had in the Vilajoiosa Social Security office in January.  I had simply wanted to find out what the forecast might be for my Spanish pension, and how soon I might be able to retire.  On that occasion we even had a document supplied by the UK Pensions Agency that the Spanish Social Security had demanded, sent urgently from the UK at my request, so it would be there in time for the meeting.  We met with a complete dragon who said we had no business to be requesting such information from the UK: that was her job, and in any case, NO, she could NOT give me information about my future pension, and because of BREXIT there would probably be NO future arrangement to guarantee my Spanish and UK pensions worked seamlessly together.  After about a dozen utterances of the word “NO” we left after a similar number of minutes.

Which is why Lluís had said he would rearrange the meeting in a different office, with a civil servant he knew.  In the meantime I had been sacked from my teaching post in March, as reported separately on this blog; so the question became sharper, whether to find another job, or was it the right moment to retire?
Manure barrow Mark I
On the walls of the Social Security offices in Alicante there are examples of the worst kind of institutional art: characterless metre-square collages using bits of fabric cut up and pasted down, daubed with beige and grey tempera.  The only creative flourish was the artist’s signature; though why the artist would want the work to be attributed to him puzzled me.  Alongside the panel that separated his desk from the adjacent desk, Miguel had pinned up a metre-long print of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”.  It was a personal statement that worked on every level!

Miguel warmly welcomed us and Lluís reminded him of the basic details: I wanted to know if I should claim my Spanish pension and how it worked together with the UK pension I was already claiming.  We established that I was already receiving Unemployment Benefit from Spanish Social Security following my sacking in March.  Also we needed to know what would be the situation regarding Brexit after March 2019.  Miguel looked genuinely interested in the whole picture and keen to provide all the information.  He began getting my details up on his desktop computer screen.

At this point, while we waited for Miguel to read my details, Lluís asked me what I had learned from the British Consul.  Last Thursday in Finestrat there was a meeting with the British Consul who had come all the way from Madrid just to tell worried Brits that there was nothing to worry about.  Brexit would make no difference at all to the way expats live on the Costa Blanca.  To my specific question, about how the unified Spanish and UK pension system would work after March 2019, she said “Oh nothing will change: there will simply be a Spain-UK bilateral arrangement instead of the existing EU accord.”  And that was that.  Simples.  I intended to ask Miguel about that…

Miguel looked at all the figures, the Spanish years worked, the UK pension years paid in, and he did all his calculations.  Well, I shall not go into the details, but basically the solution is to carry on claiming unemployment benefit till December 2018: end of tax year.  While I continue doing that it still adds to my pensionable Spanish work history.  But we need to get my Spanish pension up and running at the start of January 2019 because NOBODY KNOWS (!!!) how Brexit will affect the joint pension arrangements between UK and EU countries after March 2019.  As long as I get into the system in January, whatever Spanish pension I receive will not be affected by Brexit.

So that’s sorted and I’ll go to him again in December to get my Spanish pension papers completed.  What a helpful man.

Manure barrow Mark II

Here is his take on the pension arrangements that the British Consul so glibly reassured us about.  If Brexit happens it is reckoned there will “probably” be an attempt to strike a new bilateral pension agreement between Spain and UK.  As Miguel said, this will be necessary and there are existing agreements with other non-EU countries; but it will take a long time to agree.  If you retire in five years from now, it should be in place.  But to expect that to happen if you retire at the end of next year: no way is that going to happen!

Long-handled manure broom


This is quite different to the story the British Consul gave everyone in the meeting in Finestrat, that “joint Spanish UK pension arrangements would continue unaffected by Brexit”.  That might be in somebody’s deluded Brexit head in Whitehall, but this Spanish civil servant said it is nonsense.  The present arrangement is an EU deal.  No UK-Spain bilateral agreement yet exists.  They have not even begun talking about it.

Anyone coming up for retirement needs to know this.  If you worked for another year (2018-2019) you would be trying to claim your Spain-UK joint pension at precisely tbe moment the chaos kicks in.  So this is the year to retire if you have an option.

This is the Brexit front line. Health care and pensions are a crunch point.  You heard it here first.  If you want my advice, everyone needs to start learning how to sweep up manure.

Four donkeys produce about four buckets a day.  This is considerably less than the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

12 thoughts on “Getting to grips with the manure

  1. I was tempted to go into MARQ but I’ll save it for another time. The security guy took one look at my long-handled fibreglass Mark III manure broom and just shook his head. Computer says no, mate.

    (Note for readers: MARQ is the Alicante archaeological museum.


  2. Ha ha! Brilliant! – We will be able to grow our own everything with this amount of manure about: oranges, bananas, olives, herbes de
    Provence, dijon mustard, bordeaux, risotto rice, mozzarella, sauerkraut, pretzels, De Rosa bicycles, Citroëns… Even the steel industry will be revitalised!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a wise and good man Miguel is and how fortunate you are to be able to take your pension from January 2019. All will be well and all manner of things will be well👌

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The “insolence of office” was remarked on by Hamlet so it’s nothing new but we expect better from female officials, getting an extra gunk when they are waspish rather than gracious in their dealings with us.

    Someone said “If you want to be respected you must be respectful”. These officials need to be told that they are there to serve rather than to be served. The Arab Spring is believed to have been sparked by the harrassment of a street trader by a municipal official which was the last straw for him.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you for your comments, Annie. I was particularly interested by your link to the start of the Arab Spring, with a street trader setting himself on fire in protest. It certainly makes you think. There was a very good programme on Radio 4 just now about the role of climate change in forced migration (and interestingly on the origins of the civil war in Syria).

    Yes, Miguel is a very good man. And it is good to find a remedy to the objectionable dragon in Vilajoiosa Social Security office, so I am pleased to note that in this case self-immolation at the pensions enquiry desk was not a sensible course of action… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’m not as pessimistic as you are Gareth — so entertainingly — about these things, simply because I can remember living in the pre-EU continental Europe.

    It wasn’t hell.

    But I must say, having been caught up in the weird detail of a EU transition period that made me into a walking tax haven for several years, that far more negative loopholes are far more likely.

    It’s hard, on the other hand, not to be puzzled by some rather exaggerated opinions against Mr Rees-Mogg that I have heard over the last 24H.

    That some might very well disagree with his politics, OK ; but it remains odd to have to be defending his Catholic Faith as if it were problematic, just as it is strange to have heard another friend yesterday accusing him as being some sort of “alt-right” “fascist” …

    But I cannot remember Mr Rees-Mogg ever having proposed any reorganisation of civil life around military ideals, which is what fascism as such constitutes.

    And is this what we have come to now ?

    Meanwhile Catalonia degenerates into chaos, whilst the President of Italy has suddenly had true power bestowed upon his supposedly ceremonial office.

    It’s just as easy to look for a scapegoat in all of this as it is to just ignore it — but that looks like many buckets of manure, Gareth, and it’s hard to suppose that they’re all from the same donk !!


  7. Jabba, my blog is and always has been simply a diary. A journey that began with the previous blog Brother Lapin’s Pilgrimage.

    I do not wish to have debates about the rights and wrongs of Brexit or whether some off-the-cuff remark I make about the ghastly Rees-Mogg character should be compared with the views of some other acquaintance of yours who uses the word “fascist” incorrectly. In fact I disagree with you on that and in the sense that Umberto Eco redefined the word in his celebrated essay “Ur Fascism” in the New York Review of Books, I too would have no hesitation in calling Rees-Mogg a fascist. Despite he is a fellow Catholic. (And in my view his odious manner and pompously stated social views get Catholicism a bad name.)

    In Britain over Brexit, as in the USA over Trump, Spain over corruption and nationalism, we live in increasingly divided societies where a new kind of political warfare exists instead of traditional debate. Those with opposing views wind each other up on social media without any intention of furthering their understanding or entering into reasonable dialogue. Those with an opposing view are simply The Enemy.

    That is why I gave up on the comment columns we used to frequent before I left the UK.

    This blog – in contrast – records my life in a non-polemical space which is subtitled “A life with donkeys” and it is a sort of diary. Unlike the days when I commented on the Daily Telegraph and Catholic Herald blogs, I don’t come here for an argument, any more than I get up in the morning and start arguing with my breakfast.

    I leave your comments intact. But I tell you this. If any newcomer were to start dropping squibs into the comment boxes of my blog picking up on anything I said about Brexit or Mogg, I would simply regard it as bad manners and pull the plug on them. There are other places for that kind of nonsense. Places I avoid.

    Clear message.


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