Almost Forced To Remarry For a Bit Of Green Tissue Paper

Apart from football, if there is anything at which the Spanish excel, then it is bureaucracy.

Finally, and after just fifteen months of living in Galicia, this morning we finally obtained our ‘green card’ of temporary residence (which is not allowed to be laminated despite it being printed on green tissue paper). This might sound very lax on our part, after all we’ve had almost five hundred days to sort it, but on the frustration metre this process has registered a reading close to the one for the trials and tribulations of re-registering a UK motor vehicle.

We’d made our first attempt back in December 2014 and have had two subsequent goes, the second of which ended in tears of frustration. This morning we were almost thwarted again…twice. But in the end, and after just over ninety minutes of negotiation and sweaty palms, the nice lady at the Police station in Lugo finally ran out of reasons not to grant us temporary residence.

Our initial attempts were thwarted by a lack of proof of medical insurance. This was sorted twice; by a form S1 to the UK to get my National Insurance contributions (which I still make in the UK) transferred to Spain; and also through Amanda getting a part-time job which is so above-board that her employer pays her social security contributions.

bureaucracySo we went again to Lugo this morning armed with a lever-arch file full of paperwork containing copies and originals (bureaucrats often like to see the original and would have gladly sent us back 50km home to collect it if we’d not had it). We’d each got; NIE certificate, Empadronada with the local council, passport, proof of medical cover, our social security registrations, property deeds, birth certificates, my certificate of incorporation for my UK company and shareholder listing, and Amanda’s printout from social services showing that she was registered and paying social security. This was everything that we’d been asked for on the third visit, and while not feeling totally confident we were cautiously optimistic.

For the first time ever there wasn’t a queue, and Amanda presented my paperwork first. It took seconds for the lady behind the desk to try and conceal her grin as a frown. ‘We need proof of your income as you don’t work here’, she said. Amanda and I sighed as one.

Perhaps it was a new rule, perhaps the nice lady last time had forgotten to tell us, so we sought clarification. ‘We need proof of an income of at least 600 euros per month’ she advised. Then I had a brainwave, Amanda’s paperwork included proof that she was working, and as her spouse I qualified as a dependant.

We pushed Amanda’s thick wad of paperwork across the desk. ‘I work’, Amanda said. The lady behind the desk now wore the look of a beaten bureaucrat, realising the implication for my application, and I was grinning inside. She scrutinised the paperwork and then asked for a marriage certificate to prove our union. We had it, the original; I was almost feeling excited, that the end was now surely in sight. She checked the date, slowly got to her feet, traversed the room, and retrieved a large dusty ring-binder from a high shelf.

After several minutes she shook her head. We’d got married too long ago (before 2012) and we needed a Notary to validate our licence. Now she was grinning, she’d landed a strong upper-cut and we were reeling on the ropes.

We huddled, and talked in hushed tones.

‘Let’s go to the bank and see if they can print us out a statement showing my regular transfers from the UK’, I suggested, still coming to terms with the idea that we might have to marry again!

Amanda explained our plan and we said we’d return soon. The bank were very accommodating and printed three statements, two of which we didn’t ask for or need, and we walked the half a kilometre back to the police station in the now driving rain.

Once again the ‘Office of the Foreigners’ was empty and we sat straight down handing over the previous paperwork and the new bank statements. She took out her calculator and added up the income, mercifully over the threshold. I felt we were really close this time.

The lady behind the desk was beaten, she raised the white flag and we’d no more hoops to jump through….well, just one. She completed another form and instructed us that we had to do another round trip to the bank to pay 10.60 euros each and bring the stamped ‘paid’ forms back to her.

Half an hour later and we were both shocked and surprised to be holding our tissue paper green cards, which she’d issued there and then, not relying in the usual ‘This will take ten days to process, come back then and see if they are ready’.

As EU citizens we now have temporary permission to reside in Spain, theoretically for the next five years, after which time we can then apply for the permanent residence which would give us residency protection under the ‘Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969’.

We’ve done all we can. For now.

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Vote ‘Remain’… Or The Cat Gets It!

catgunI’m not one for getting political on here…but my hand has now been forced.

Over the next four months (yes we’re going to have to put up with just one news story for the next third of a year) I am sure that you will hear a lot of convincing arguments from both the ‘remain’ and ‘leave’ campaigns on the European Union debate.

As a couple of ex-pats who have made their home in Spain we’ve already nailed our colours to the mast by embracing Europe, and all that is European, so you would be right in expecting that we’ll both be backing the ‘remain’ campaign.

I’d be happy to sit down with anyone over a decent bottle of malt whisky and explain at length why I believe that it is not only the right decision for me and the two million other ex-pats residing in Europe, but also for those of you who live in the UK, to vote ‘remain’. There are many good reasons why the UK should remain, and very few valid (non-hysterical) reasons why it should leave, but in the interests of brevity I’m just going to pick up seven, admittedly mostly very personal reasons, why the UK should ‘remain’.

Illegal Aliens

Should the UK vote to leave Europe then any, and every, UK citizen living and working within Europe would lose all of their rights to be in that country. Although the details of what would happen have not been ironed out (and can’t be until the vote has been cast), for Amanda and myself, it would likely mean that overnight we would become illegal aliens and be subject to a rapid and forced deportation back to England until we could successfully apply for residence and work visas.

Given my self-employed status and Amanda’s part-time/temporary work in Spain then it is highly unlikely that we’d be granted anything other than tourist visas. We would be able to return to Spain for occasional holidays, but not as permanent residents.  We wouldn’t be alone, there would literally be a million other ex-pats in Spain like us, all needing UK housing, UK health care (which pensioners would no longer be entitled to in Spain), and UK state benefits until we find our feet on the newly flooded employment market.

There would, of course, be some jobs available due to the expulsion of between two and three million Europeans who had made their lives in the UK. Doctors, nurses, teachers, academics, the guys who clean your car so cheaply, make your hotel beds and serve your burgers would all be packing their bags and going back to their country of origin to queue outside the British embassy in the hope of getting a UK working visa.

Bankruptcy

With one million other ex-pats being expelled from Spain and their property hitting the open market, along with the horrendous state of the property market here, we would be unlikely to sell the property into which we have sunk our life savings, leaving us homeless and potentially bankrupt.

Relying on UK Benefits

We would have to find somewhere to live in the UK, possibly having to rely on state handouts to do so, and joining a queue of up to two million other UK citizens who currently reside elsewhere in Europe, who are all in the same boat.  We would be back as a burden on the UK health care system and at least initially we’d have to seek benefits just to live day to day.

Flooding the UK Job Market/Ranks of the Unemployed

We’d have to jump back in the UK job market looking to take professional jobs that we don’t really want, from those who really need them.

Loss of Freedom

Both ourselves, my brother-in-law (who lives and works in the middle east) and one of Amandas’ cousins (America) have decided to make our lives and livings outside the UK. In our adopted countries we are the exact same immigrants who are attracting the uninformed hatred and vitriol in the UK which fuels the ‘leave’ campaigns arguments. We believe in the freedom of movement and the freedom to work overseas that the ‘leave’ supporters wish to remove.

The Cat Gets It

As we’d be forced back to the UK at short notice, and with an end to free travel to the UK for pets (due to the cancellation of EU pet passports scheme), we’d have to try and find a new home for our cat Kit, or as there is no shortage of cats here, we’d have to have our perfectly healthy cat put to sleep.

The Benefits/Jobs Contradiction

Those supporting the exit from Europe will always come to rest on two contradictory arguments. ‘Johnny foreigner coming over here and taking our jobs’ and ‘Johnny foreigner coming over here and taking our benefits’.  With the odd exception which gets picked up on by the right wing press, these are mostly fallacy.

There are two distinct types of jobs which those from Europe residing the UK undertake. These are either the professional jobs for which there is a shortage in the native UK workforce (doctors, nurses, surgeons, teachers and academics) or those who will do the jobs for minimum wage which the workshy endemic population won’t touch (shop work, restaurant waiting on, farm labour, cleaning), preferring to stay at home on their benefits and watch Jeremy Kyle.

The benefits issue is one of the UKs own making and one which it can un-make while still a part of the European Community. The benefits which the UK has set are to its own rules, and these rules differ in every other state of the Union. In Spain for example, there is no child benefit, unemployment benefit ends after a year, and there is no free medical care. If you’ve not paid into the social security system then you are entitled to absolutely no benefits. Here as British citizens we are treated exactly the same as a Spaniard is treated, and there in a nutshell lies the problem. European law demands that within Europe any European citizen is treated in the same way as that countries national. Change the UK benefits system for all and it would eradicate the perceived ‘benefit migrant problem’ in a heartbeat.

So……

If the vote in four months’ time results in a ‘leave’ then essentially our dream would be over and our lives turned totally upside down. We’d likely have lost everything that we’ve worked so hard for over the last twenty-five years and would have to start over. Since moving to Spain fifteen months ago we’ve been happier, healthier and more relaxed than at any other time in our lives, but a vote for ‘leave’ will almost certainly take all of that away from us.

So next time you feel like supporting Nigel Farage, Michael Gove or Boris Johnson (or any other obnoxious right wing politician) just take a second to think what it will actually mean on a personal level to the lives of the two million ex-pats who will have to flood back to the UK.

Don’t just take my word for it. Take a look at these other comments;

What Happens to British Ex-Pats If….

This is what could happen if Britain Leaves the European Union

Brexit and EU Expats

Brexit Impacts 2 Million Ex-Pat Brits as Well

Fate of UK Expats in Case of ‘Brexit’ Unclear

What Would Happen to ex-pats if Britain Left the EU?

Brexit Would Turn 2 Million Brits Abroad into Illegal Immigrants – ex-Attorney General

Ex-pats in Spain Unsettled by Referendum on Brexit

Footnote:

It has been mentioned that in the case of a ‘Brexit’ we would be offered protection in Spain under the ‘Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969’, however, this would not apply in our case as we have not met the accrued rights of having been resident in Spain for at least five years.

 

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Our ‘Outdoor’ Cat Kit

Kit_AsleepThis is our ‘outdoor’ cat Kit.

She mysteriously arrived in our woodpile on the 1st September last year, just a fortnight after the death of our beloved Bonita. With no real choice, Amanda and I reluctantly agreed to feed her and keep our fingers crossed that she’d either wander home, or that her mother would come and find her.

We suspected she was only four or five weeks old, a hissing bundle of attitude, who purred when eating. It only took hours for us to succumb to her charms.

She stuck, her with us, and us with her.

The regular kitten food was enough to keep her confined to a ten metre radius from the wood pile and we were quickly too attached to make too much of an effort to try and find her real home, partly out of fear that she’d end up alongside a large stone in a hessian sack at the bottom of the local river.

After initially being convinced that ‘she’ was a ‘he’ (I have a very poor record at determining the sex of cats, so far I have been 100% wrong) a visit to the vets informed us that our little girl cat was in fine health. So now we had to plan for her to be neutered. If she did end up with a litter of kittens we both knew that we’d end up keeping the whole brood.

On her arrival we committed to one another that Kit would be an ‘outdoor cat’. We’d look after her, feed her, inoculate her, and take her to the vets if she was ill or injured. But, she was going to be an ‘outdoor ‘ cat, catch mice, sleep wherever she could find a dry and warm spot, and hold her own against the neighbours assortment of thug cats.

We did really well…for months.

Despite the cold and the wind and the rain we managed to withstand the temptation to let her in the house, all bar the odd quick visit when she snuck in to investigate.

Then came the time for her ‘operation’, the one to remove her ‘lady bits’.

We took a perfectly healthy (and seemingly very attractive to the local Tom cats who came calling on an almost hourly basis) Kit to the vets in the middle of January. We’d previously had Bonita neutered and when we went to collect Kit the following day we expected a small shaved area on her rump and a couple of stitches. What we found was a groggy and unhappy cat whose whole chest area resembled a piglet who had been given a full CSI style autopsy, and then stitched back together.

We were both shocked, almost to the verge of tears. Our healthy kitten had been butchered. We nursed her home, put on the fire, and let her sleep it off with a night inside, the first ‘barn’ night of her short life.

The vet now said we must keep her in for at least week, give her twice daily anti-biotic, keep an eye on her Frankenstein’s monster like wounds, and report back in a week. But during that week, Kits first week in captivity, the wound began to look a little ‘angry’ and as nervous and guilty parents we took her back. The vet didn’t like the look of it either and she was incarcerated in their animal hospital for four nights before we could go and collect her again. We felt bereft.

On her return, this time spending the hour journey back from the vets being nursed by Amanda, we had to clean and treat her wound twice a day, and again she couldn’t go out.

Kit_Asleep_1On Wednesday of this week, three weeks after the operation, we concluded that; the wound was healed; we finally removed her plastic collar; and, we allowed her to venture back outside for the first time.

And guess what?

She doesn’t really like the ‘outside’ any more. When she does venture out it is only for a few minutes. She comes back in to use the litter tray and then she finds somewhere nice, warm and comfy to go to sleep.

I think she’s landed on her feet!

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An Unexpected Christmas Eve

Dusk had already long since fallen on Christmas Eve.

I was outside testing the motion detectors on some new lights I’d installed to give Amanda additional security while I was away in Belfast, standing motionless until they went off and then waving my arms about like a nutter until they came back on. We were planning to start preparations for Christmas dinner, have a snack, and hit the sofa in front of a raging fire for the traditional Christmas Eve watching of ‘A Christmas Carol’, the 1999 version with Patrick Stewart.

Then a car drove up the hill and there was a knock on the upstairs door, Amanda answered, as I was in a ‘standing still’ phase of testing.

It was Manolo, the brother of Elena, who lives in the bottom half of the village. He’s previously invited us for ‘a coffee’ and we’ve smiled nicely and never actually gone, but this time he’d deliberately driven half a kilometre to come and invite us to his house later on that evening. As it was already after eight, Amanda explained that we had prepared our evening meal and that we wouldn’t eat, and asked him to be more specific on a time. He said ten to ten thirty, when they would have eaten their traditional Christmas Eve feast. He was thanked for his trouble and we said we might see him later.

We had no real option but to go, as we felt that ignoring his kind offer could only offend, despite us having already planned our evening not to include either visiting a large local family or getting so drunk that sleep was the only option.

At ten thirty we set off to walk to Manolo’s place, clutching a solitary and inadequate box of English Chocolates, and followed by Kit the Cat. Our repeated attempts to tell her to ‘go home’ fell on deaf ears as she ran ahead of us, coming back regularly to check that she was going in the right direction, until she heard Manolo’s dog bark causing her to disappear into the undergrowth.

When we arrived at the massive farm house we were met at the door by one of Manolo’s daughters who explained that they’d just finished their starter but inviting us in and giving us a plate.  Within minutes we were welcomed and kissed by everyone, had been sat at the head of the table, and each of us had a glass in hand and a bottle of red and white wine uncorked and set down in front of us. We watched, feeling like spare parts, as they noisily ate the rest of their meal while practicing their English on us. Every dish which arrived was offered to us by a different relative, and courteously declined, and whenever we took a sip of wine, someone came and topped up our glasses.

queimadaCoffee followed the meal, then Champagne, then ‘Orujo’ (the local fire water), then the bottles of spirits hit the table and finally the lights were switched off for a local Galician traditional Queimada supported by enough blocks of sickly Turron to build a small house.

It was getting close to midnight. Any thoughts of watching a grumpy but ultimately ‘saved’ Patrick Stewart were a long gone memory, and I was feeling rather the worse for wear at having accepted our neighbours alcoholic hospitality in quite the quantities that had been offered.

We were trying to get out of the door and off home before the witching hour, and Santa made his annual appearance, but there was no chance. The kids in attendance ratcheted up the volume another notch and the distribution of presents signified that Father Christmas had indeed arrived at Manolo’s house.

Around one in the morning we finally managed to make our excuses, with the party now in full swing. We called Kit, who had been entertaining herself hiding and probably mostly sleeping for the last three hours, and stagger back up the hill home, clutching a gifted bottle of precious home-brewed lethal ‘Orujo’ from Manolo.

It had been a privilege to be invited into the heart of a local families Christmas, and we had both enjoyed it tremendously. The whole episode also goes to serve as a reminder that you can never expect to stick to your own plans in Galicia, and all too often, events totally outside your own control do take over.

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Taking the Queens Shilling

My four month absence from the blogosphere has probably passed mostly un-noticed but if you have been logging on regularly to look at the latest instalment from our Galician odyssey then I can only apologise. I promise to try and do better over the coming months.

belfastfromapartmentTo be honest the reason for my silence is that I took the Queens shilling, almost literally. When we were visiting the UK last September I got a phone call out of the blue from a previous central government client (who I last worked for five years ago) who asked if I’d be interested in a three month contract based in Belfast. The project sounded interesting, suitably short and well remunerated so I said ‘what the hell, why not’. After jumping through a few hoops which included setting up a new UK company, insuring myself up the wazoo, and dusting off my old suits, I started work in the middle of October and the last three months have just been a blur.

Three months has turned to six and my thoughts of alternating weeks in Belfast and Galicia soon proved unrealistic. I hired an apartment on the dockside near Belfast city centre and swapped my rural idyll for the shrieking sirens, crowded streets, tempting restaurants and late night cinemas of a modern metropolis.

Amanda stayed back in Galicia, although she did visit the bright lights briefly but was very restrained with her flexible friend.

All this has meant that the house development is stalled. We finally got the licence for replacing the roof, and it only took nine months, but with the on-going work in Belfast we decided to postpone our builder until January so that I could be on-site to ‘advise’ and ‘assist’.

The extension of my contract in Belfast until the end of March has led to a second postponement and we are now hoping to start work on or around the fourth of April. This pleased the builder who I think was under some stress on other jobs due to some appalling weather over the Christmas period.

So you are now mostly up to date, although there is plenty more I can tell you over the coming days/weeks until work starts including the latest on Kit the cat who is currently residing in the animal hospital after an operation to remove her ‘lady bits’ and hopefully stop us from becoming over-run with kittens that we couldn’t bear to give away.

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