TUST what are we to make II of Spain? During the postwar years this land of violent contrasts and deep passions has found a secure place in the hearts of British tourists as one of the sunniest, and easily the cheapest, holiday playgrounds in Europe.
Last Autumn things changed. We in Britain got a new government and soon after it was decided that an arms contract with Spain would not, after all, be signed. Soon after this Spaniards started putting the pressure on Gibraltar.
Customs regulations were rigidly enforced and English subjects, we were told, were insulted, gibed at, and held up for long periods at the border. Mrs. Irene White, Parliamentary Secretary to the Colonial Office, told holidaymakers they should think twice before taking a holiday in Spain this year.
Provisional statistics both from the Spanish Embassy and Cooks Indicate little. if any. darn. age has been sustained by the Spanish tourist industry over the dispute. Even so, the controversy of to go, or not to go, to sunny Spain this year or next year is still raging.
OPPOSING VIEWS On the same day last week two opposing sentiments were expressed by public figures. Mr. Jeremy Thorpe, M.P., Liberal spokesman on Commonwealth and Colonial affairs, had just returned from a four-day visit to Gibraltar. Pleading for Britons to boycott Spain he said: "You should see 800 refugees now living in Gibraltar, 600 of them in emergency quarters, and the Spanish attempts to operate an economic stranglehold."
Cardinal Heenan was quoted as saying in an interview with a Spanish newspaper, "The British arc completely illogical about Spain, They often speak of Spain with even greater displeasure than they speak of the Soviet Union or Communist China.
"I hope more Britons visit Spain and more Spaniards come to Britain so that both countries will know one another better and learn to live together."
Making my annual holiday trip to Spain this year, I expected some bother with my English passport. Transition from France to Spain and back again was uneventful as always. I went nowhere near Gibraltar and there fore cannot vouch for what is going on there.
What I, and thousands of other British tourists can vouch for is that however cool relations are between our governments the Spanish people are as spontaneously friendly as ever, underlining the truism that governments and people are different things.
TWO BRUSHES I did have two brushes with the police, though. Wandering across the road with sufficient time to dodge the oncoming traffic, legal in England, is frowned upon in Spain. A series of shrill blasts on the traffic policeman's whistle, as well as the blazing sun, reminded me I was in Tarragona and not Charing Cross Road.
"In Spain we only cross the roads when the lights say so!" I apologised and all was well.
The second time was on the Bilbao train for San Sebastian when a plain-clothes policeman asked me for my passport, which I was unable to produce. I told hint my nationality and the hotel where I was staying. The policeman had never heard of it, neither had any of my fellow passengers. He then shrugged, smiled and mustered a "Goodbye" in English.
People in San Sebastian cornmented on the lack of English visitors there this year. In spite of the fact that they depend far more on the Spanish tourist trade than on the English, and, that being Basques, they are indifferent over Gibraltar and deeply hostile to the regime, they obviously resented what they described as "la propaganda" in the British Press over Gibraltar.
"La propaganda" was blamed for the empty hotels in San Sebastian, whereas the real explanation is more a shift of taste to the southerly parts and Mallorca.
It is perhaps apt that the Cardinal and Mr. Thorpe should suggest such contrasting attitudes to a country that is itself all contrasts and extremes, of religion, racial mixtures of rich and poor, yet where the people are so spontaneously friendly.
Lest the cynic should think it is our pesetas that interest the Spaniard rather than us. let me cite a typical example of violence towards the tourist. My arms were pinioned to my sides—all hecause I wanted to pay for a round of drinks.