The fact that we had paid for a suite on the exclusive and misleadingly named ‘Level’ floor was neither here nor there; it wasn’t written on the booking form, said the manager at reception. My frustration rose and mingled with a twinge of guilt; that I should think myself lucky to be going on holiday at all and just get on with it. But my sense of fairness had also been offended and thus began our family Christmas in Tenerife.
The following morning we settled by the pool, to soak up those guaranteed rays of welcome warmth. But the Canaries were having a bit of an off-day and a blanket of cloud covered my mood, supported by a chill wind.
I drew my knees to my chest and began a new book- Boris Johnson’s The Dream Of Rome.
It’s right up my alley and combines Roman history with politics. In fact, I already believed the two to be intwined like a nest of vipers, but it surprised me just how hard our modern leaders have tried, and failed, and still try to emulate the glory of Rome. Boris, has evidently modelled his own career on the cool headed expediency of the young Octavian with the clever wit of Cicero, only to conjure the image of a fat bloke, haplessly swinging from a harness, like a clumsy puppet. In fact if he were ever to commission a statue, there it is, in one immortal statement.
The book explores the relationship of the European Union today, with the Roman Empire. The failures of the former and the secrets to success of the latter.
I, for one, voted leave. Not because I am a racist or a swivel-eyed freak, as some would have it. Not because I wanted to stop immigration or that I believed that £350m would go to the NHS instead of the EU, like it said on the campaign bus; but because I believe in the democratic election and deselection of our leaders. And I believe that the EU is a Kingdom for those without a country, to generate a cosy existence of bureaucracy for themselves, when the money could be better spent elsewhere. As Boris succinctly put it, ‘For your average swineherd in Gaul, therefore, the Roman Empire was not so much a threat to ancient freedoms , it was just another way by which the same old elites consolidated their privileges.’
That’s how I think of the EU and why I voted to leave it. So divisive is this question, that even families quarrel and squabble and fall out over it. But I trust my instinct and the failings of human nature and not the powerful propaganda of the establishment, that it’s somehow good for me.
Because I live in a democracy, I’m free to disagree, as you are free to disagree with me. And who is to say if either of us is right? I may be wrong but we cannot know for sure. I must respect your opinion (and your vote) and you mine. It’s how our society works. We make a decision then get to work.
I was nudged from immersion in my book, with the realisation that it was altogether cooler outside than my choice of clothing suggested.
I imagined for a moment that I was in a mini European Union (the Hotel), in which we citizens (the guests) were encouraged to coexist and integrate in peace and harmony. To unite behind the hotel flag and adopt it as our own. Our different coloured wristbands denoted our status in this micro-democracy.
I studied my new compatriots from the sun bed, on which I had staked my claim for land.
The French naturally gathered together and without any apparent self-consciousness, they chatted and played happily looking the very model of a family group, but to the exclusion of all others.
An angry, pot-bellied Russian paced alone, earphones in, barking instructions into a mobile phone which he held like a mat, carrying an invisible drink. There’s one in every hotel.
The Italians were stylish and attractive as they moved with grace about the place. More self conscious than the French, but proportionately more attractive. Few ventured into the freezing pool other than some British children who repeatedly leapt over the sign depicting a diver with a big cross through it, demonstrating their contempt for authority.
A Belgian man, who looked like one quarter of an ABBA tribute act, sat with his wife looking miserable.
Groups of older women, segregated by country of origin, talked and laughed by the freezing pool.
We were all together, in happy co-existence but separate.
A pair of English ladies chatted behind us and I tuned-in to hear the topic of conversation; the laughable headline news that the Uk might resort to a blue passport instead of the EU (recommended) burgundy. This had been seen for what it was, a cynical symbol designed to unite us and evoke national pride. “They’ll all hate us for it. It’s a stupid idea,” said Betty. Personally, I don’t care much for empty symbolism and neither do many people outside the political protagonists.
At times there appeared to be more staff than guests, but they neglected to do the simple things. Replenish the toilet roll and hand towels or clear yesterday’s rubbish from the poolside. It was the same in the self-service restaurant. Our room numbers were checked on the way in, to confirm our all inclusive status. A waiter would immediately take our drinks order as we were seated and this time, asked for our room number and a signature. Most sinister, we thought, brandishing our all-inclusive wristbands. Still, we had to sign, ‘Just for our records,’ said the shifty waiter (our European policeman).
I waited patiently for the only appetising morsel to be replenished, but in vain. Shunning my awkwardly polite English nature and embracing European culture, I took a deep breath and asked them to do it, but was given the brush off as if I was an unwelcome distraction from far more important matters.
The Hotel (EU) had forgotten why they were there- to serve the people. They had become so wrapped up in running the hotel and feeling important, that they neglected the very people who pay the bills. They tried to cater for every preference, especially their own, but satisfied none. We were there to satisfy the Hotel management’s need for a job. They had forgotten why they had a job in the first place.
The guests rose as one. We discussed the shoddy service with the French, raising eyebrows and shrugging shoulders at one another. The Italians gesticulated frantically too. The Russians sat in thunderous silence, regarding no one.
I noticed a man of indistinguishable European nationality. I first noticed his ludicrously flamboyant shirt and then his multi-coloured belt of flags. Then I noticed his superior attitude and apparent affront that he must sit among the plebs. I concluded that he must be a member of the European Parliament, dispatched on an all-expenses-paid fact-finding mission. Because that’s how it works, doesn’t it?
I returned to my book in disgust. Did you know that after Julius Ceasar’s great nephew, Octavian (Augustus) came to power there was a long period of relative peace throughout the Empire, known as the ‘Pax Romana.’ It lasted 206 years.
And did you know that this vast Empire of 80 million people, was governed by just 150 officials?
Well if, like me, you didn’t, you do now.
It rankled that the Hotel (and booking company) had taken my hard earned cash under false pretences and had not provided the services I was promised. It further rankled that now they had the money, they didn’t seem to care either. I was impotent, voteless. I must resort to the only satisfaction I can now derive from the experience- a jolly good moan to my fellow citizens and a stinking review on TripAdvisor.
What we must never forget though is that we have free will, whatever unfair system is imposed on us. We are free to go to a different hotel or free to vote. Ok we have to weed out all the social conditioning and propaganda first, but we are free.
As a Christian, in my own country and continent at least, I am free to practice Christ’s message of peace and love towards my neighbours, whoever they are. It’s easy, of course, to be benevolent when everything us going well, but less so when it it isn’t. It’s when the chips are down we reveal our true character, not the one we want others to see. And for that I need not earthly assistance but divine.
Martin Luther King had a dream and I share his hope. I hope we can set aside our differences, that we can agree to disagree and focus on what is important. I hope we can unite in the one true cause to hope for this world- love. Not the fuzzy feeling kind of love, but the kind that acts in the interests of someone other than ourselves.
It won’t be easy. We must fight our earthly nature and struggle with all our might. But under this banner at least, we can unite.
If you believe the clever people and if the history of our wonderful planet was condensed into 24 hours, then we humans have been here just 3 seconds. It was Shakespeare who said, ‘And like this substantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.’
As we look forward to a new year, I wonder, what will we do with our little lives? They surely have the potential to be truly great.
Music for today is…
Ps TripAdvisor declined to publish my review as it contained ultra critical language. I had tried to give a humorous account of my stay at the Melia Jardines Del Teide but the award of ‘five-turds’ was apparently a bridge too far. I’ll have to amend it.