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What free movement?

Covid and Brexit is a lousy mix
photo James McKeon
photo James McKeon

As we enter the second year of this pandemic, with its lockdowns and associated traumas, I feel some 20 years older. Never mind going to a bar or restaurant. This is a minor issue. It seems that the time when we could actually move freely across the EU, or anywhere unless you are Cummings,  was that long ago. I have always based my life and future on the assumption of free movement. Never did it occur to me that any government would be so foolish as to remove it.

Within my family there exist 3 different nationalities; Irish, English and American. This makes us somewhat international and is mostly my doing. As I was bi-national, I sought that for our boys too – just in case they ever wanted to live in America, as one does. Later, I encouraged hubby to apply for an Irish passport as was his right. It even transpired that the boys can become tri-national through their Irish grandparents. Amazing. Then, in a twist, when Trump became the USA president, I renounced my American citizenship in protest. Thus I ironically became the only member of the family with one passport, a British one, and no hope of another.

That is that bit. I sowed the seeds.

My life-long game plan bites me in the tail

To continue – as a self employed person, I always thought buying cheap romantic wrecks on the continent to do up was better and more interesting than putting my hard earned dosh in questionable personal pensions. In fact the main papers encouraged it. Despite having a British passport, my parents were Dutch and I always felt that pull across the water. Hubby and children got the pull too. Truth be told, the wrecks turned out to be a good idea. Even in their dilapidated states they provided endless cheap, exciting and unexpected holidays. We thought about the future, retiring to one wreck, or two, maybe even maintaining a base in England as well.

Then the possibility of Brexit raised its worrying head and dangled the proverbial hammer-stroke-carrot above the unfinished works. Would it be as Boris promised – unfettered access for us all? I was not too sure so acquired Spanish residency.

Now proper, undeniably chaotic, Brexit has finally happened – complicated by Covid. Or is it the other way around? You may as well have dropped an iron slatted curtain on my head. Forget unfettered access – easy movement across the EU has now morphed into a rubik’s cube involving google, government websites and ever-changing restrictions. I worry about our half-renovated wrecks, sitting out there, maybe ransacked. Investments, otherwise deemed second homes, are not a permitted reason to travel in these times.

Selling up in Liverpool
Liverpool house on seafront
Our beloved home

But before that final death knell of EU membership, in the early stages of a second Covid wave our Liverpool house went under offer. We absolutely loved it, but now such a large place in a country we didn’t intend to spend much time in made no sense on many levels. We increasingly worried what on earth the British government was up to. Daily meandering political decisions and the obvious lack of NHS support did not help. It made us more determined than ever to leave for a simplier life.

December 18th, with much relief, I finally managed to board a plane to Liverpool. Deciding to be Covid-compliant, we spent our last Christmas there cleaning and packing up the family home ourselves before the new owners took over.  35 years of personal memories and 44 days of hard work with increasingly sorer backs turned out to be a good thing. We came across many moving mementos. For instance, funny letters from the children, photos we had forgotten about and early letters to each other during an international (yes, it had to be international) courtship.

Much of our past was actually off-loaded, reluctantly at first, then enthusiastically as we realized the release it gave us. Where were we going to put this accumulation of the past in the future? What sense did it have? Would we ever look at it again? Hubby drove eye-watering amounts to the Domestic Waste Centre in Bootle. The charity shops were not open for what stuff might have been of use. Oodles of black bin bags were already piled up forlornly in front of their shuttered facades. There was no other option.

Flights? What flights? Brexit bites us where it hurts

the first flight from Castellon Airport
Castellon airport’s first flight so long ago

In the meantime, plans to return to Spain collapsed. As Brexit happened, whilst Boris encouraged a jolly family Christmas, so did the UK Covid rate increase in un-jolly revenge. He had been warned. One by one our nearest European neighbours closed their borders to all traffic from the UK, apart from nationals and residents. We were no longer one of them so could bloody well suffer the consequences! This meant that even my Irish husband could not travel as his residence is in Britain.

Flights were cancelled, re-booked and cancelled again. I googled and “skyscanned” the Internet seeking a route to Spain from the North, but in the end there was nothing to be had before April. Folks, don’t think it is simply a matter of hopping on a train to London to catch a flight. In the best of times it is not, but now with the demanded PCR test within 3 days of arrival at destination, the maths just did not add up. It was a non-starter for 50.

Eventually I found a solution. Transit via Amsterdam with KLM. Great idea until Holland closed its borders to the UK too, even for transit flights. So the search began again. Then I had another light bulb moment, even if I was beginning to think that all the light bulbs in my brain had blown. Liverpool to Dublin, then to Madrid. Hmm. Liverpool to Dublin was off (there used to be 3 flights a day), but Manchester was not! And neither was Dublin to Madrid. I booked it, despite the fact that the plane changes were tight and I had to self-connect. Additionally Madrid is nowhere near my residence. I could just sort that out with a couple of trains to Valencia airport, I reasoned optimistically? There I would pick up my ancient car and drive the last 2 hours to Masia Lavanda.

Some may be asking why this desperation to get to Spain? The simple answer is it is my home. In addition, what could I do in Liverpool with hubby in rented accommodation while the world outside was decidedly shut? It was an option neither of us wanted. Without me, he could peacefully work out his strategies to move abroad. For me, England felt like a prison, on top of which the Liverpool I loved presently looked like an eerie ghost town of Covid ruin. It rained almost everyday, occasionally stopping for brief bright vignettes. Bright moments beside, by 3pm the empty city assumed a grim winter darkness. It was time to go. “The Journey”,  next blog…

Video James McKeon

21 Comments

  1. May Travers
    February 24, 2021
    Reply

    So interesting to read the family story Stephanie and I am sure that most of us feel your sorrow and frustration.

    It has been a horrendous year for all of us., and we had disastrous fires close by in September to add to the mix.

    I am sure that everything will work out well for all the family. you are young and resilient
    Give our best regards to all the family
    May and Kevin

    • stephanie de leng
      February 25, 2021
      Reply

      Oh May, those fires must have been so worrying! Yes, it has been horrible for everyone and actually I have been more fortunate than so many others. I feel for my son Charlie for as a musician his world closed down overnight. I feel for everyone who has not been able to work and is shut up with no space. I feel for the young, for the people dying in boats and trucks trying to escape their oppressive regimes. I feel for the third world countries and I have terrible anger at the super rich who seem not to care and do not yield their power to address climate change. And most of all, I am disgusted at the politicians who play russian roulette with our lives for their own ends.

      I think come 2022, things will START to improve. I can’t see this happening before.

      Lots of love,
      Stephanie

  2. Kevin Jones
    February 24, 2021
    Reply

    I can relate to much of your story – Kinder retired now and all those plans of visiting people and places that are struggling to survive hang in the balance. That said, we have a very good life here, even coffee shops are essential services. Take care and maybe one day!

    • stephanie de leng
      February 25, 2021
      Reply

      Thank you Kevin. How life races by and good to hear that yours is kind to you! Boy I wish coffee shops were open here! They say next week bar terraces are opening, but tables have to be socially distanced. You can be sure people will not be!

  3. Charlie McKeon
    February 17, 2021
    Reply

    Very good read, what a time!

    • stephanie de leng
      February 17, 2021
      Reply

      Indeed

  4. February 16, 2021
    Reply

    Quite a saga, Well done. Enjoy your recovery from all the effort and the sadness of selling that beautiful house, with which I can empathise.

    Such a shame to see Liverpool so quiet. And almost as damp as Pontevedra in January.

    I like the wheelbarrow. Reminded me of an old Liverpool joke about a docker in the days when there were dozens of busy docks and hundreds of stevedores.

    And huge liners leaving for the West, on one of which sailed an aunt of mine, en route to Canada. I recall it being berthed near The Three Graces but it probably wasn’t.

    • stephanie de leng
      February 17, 2021
      Reply

      Sounds like you have a few stories to tell yourself Colin! Thank you for the written images

  5. Marc Bernard
    February 14, 2021
    Reply

    Could you not get a Netherlands passport, your parents being Dutch? At least that gives you full membership of the EU, albeit with restrictions at present. You need to dump the UK as you did the US, methinks.
    Welcome back, especially to my screen. Next episode calmly? sought!
    Kindest regards
    Marc

    • stephanie de leng
      February 17, 2021
      Reply

      My parents were Dutch. However when I was born, my mother was already American and my father on the verge. At that time they had to decide between giving me one or the other and as my father was a professor in America,I became American. The rules changed over the years but I knew nothing about them. If I had applied for a Dutch passport before the age of 28, no problem. However, this was not anything I knew until recently. A lot to late now…

  6. Ingrid Spiegl
    February 14, 2021
    Reply

    The whole thing is a nightmare and you’ve done remarkably well to sell beautiful Beach Lawn, downsize stuff AND get home to Spain in the time of Covid and sodding Brexit. Here’s hoping that’s the worst over for you and look forward to the next blog…..

    • stephanie de leng
      February 17, 2021
      Reply

      Yes, yes, yes and I sodding agree! xx

  7. CAROL CHARLTON
    February 14, 2021
    Reply

    Bravo! you captured the reality brilliantly
    – yours enhanced by your situation of course.
    We who have celebrated the European project our whole lives.( as children of WW2) now limited and restricted to which country we can live in…..and whose laws we must abide by – can only see this as a retrograde step and mourn the passing of this most delicious freedom

    • stephanie de leng
      February 17, 2021
      Reply

      True, Agree, what more can Say except we will hopefully navigate a way through this.

  8. Miguel
    February 14, 2021
    Reply

    Un blog fenomal de los nuevos tiempos…

    • stephanie de leng
      February 17, 2021
      Reply

      muchas gracias!!

  9. Leaping Salmon
    February 14, 2021
    Reply

    Fascinating blog as always and great photos and video! Love the one of you pushing the wheelbarrow. You definitely are a ‘hands on’ grafter! The new owners of your house in Liverpool certainly have a beautiful house, and you did that one up as well?! Wow, I bet that was project and a half to take on. Very brave of you!
    Glad to hear you made it back to Spain. Keep the blogs coming in 2021!

    • stephanie de leng
      February 17, 2021
      Reply

      Thank you so much

  10. Stephen
    February 14, 2021
    Reply

    House looks like one on Beach Lawn Crosby…

    • stephanie de leng
      February 14, 2021
      Reply

      yes it is

    • stephanie de leng
      February 17, 2021
      Reply

      Yes.

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