THE HONARARY CONSUL
to be an Honarary Consul in Ten Easy Lessons
never forget Danny Kayes pestering insistence, as he meekly
followed Kurt Jergens around the screen in Me and the Colonel
constantly stating, there are always two possibilities.
When the British Consul General in Madrid called me up and asked
me if I would be willing to take on the role of Honorary Consul
for Galicia due to John, the present Consuls retirement, these
words came straight to mind. I can say either yes or no,
I thought. It may seem rather like a simplistic philosophical approach,
but I suddenly realised that Danny was right; life is absolutely
full of two possibilities or for that matter two of anything you
care to think of. I decided to accept the new role and hence commence
a new chapter of my pro-active life.
At least it would keep Mr. Alzheimer away!
Why do Consuls exist or what are Consulates of any country for anyway?
Are they remnants of ancient civilisation based on the Roman Empire? Are
they there to smooth the wheels of most governmental bureaucracy because
of differing international legislation? Promote trade? How about hobnobbing
with the local dignitaries when the Mayor of the town inaugurates a new
hospital? Is there a job description available? How can I give you some
idea if I am also learning the trade? Would my CV help? No, I dont
think so. There is however, a Foreign Office brochure that states
'What a consul can do for you Sounds like an insurance policy.
Well, apart from being a Jack-of-all-trades, and again were back
to the doubles, the role is split into either a full time position, which
means on the payroll or an honorary one that doesnt need any explanation.
Then you have, once again, the two differences.
According to Mr. Kayes philosophy, there is a distinct difference
between the ones involved in public affairs such as civil servants, and,
you guessed, Consuls, and those elected government leaders. Diplomacy
versus politics, my dear Watson! that is the underlying clue.
Do you begin to get the picture? Nevertheless, as I soon found out its
all laid down in the manuals, in ten easy lessons!
Once I had come back to reality, my first task was to transfer all workload
and other insignificant niceties from my predecessor, who had, by the
way, been doing the job for over 30 years, and set up a new working area
in my own abode. This meant transferring telephones, fax and Internet
services over to my name. Next step was physically handing over files,
handbooks and stationery some of it dating back to the year dot. Official
notifications to the Spanish Foreign Office and local authorities, the
banks plus a small note in the local press, come July 1st and dear John
was off to a well earned retirement, whilst I was left holding the baby!
I started to read what John had left me. And I read and read and read.
You guessed; there were two separate sectors, the manuals and the files.
Lets start with the manuals. In order not to breach any rules or protocol,
Her Majestys government is extremely well equipped with instructions
and other notifications of how to carry out each and every chore that
is required by an Honorary Consul. There is also a complete and excellent
filing system, absolutely foolproof and a set of fees for
all consular work completed on behalf of the public.
But what about the work itself? Well, again one thing is the theory and
another is what happens in practice. As far as an Honorary guy is concerned,
the powers are limited and restricted mainly to assist British subjects
in need of assistance or offer information regarding Britain to local
Spaniards. This could mean anything from issuing emergency passports,
certifying death certificates to advising students on the homologation
of their titles in the UK. All other matters are to be referred to the
General Consulate in Madrid. So much for the theory, Ill talk about
the practice in a later chapter. What about the files?
I can finally say, that I was confronted with Dannys monotonous
statement; there are always two possibilities. I could either
dump them, which meant sending them back to HQ (Im now behaving
like a civil servant using abbreviations) and start my own, or keep them
as a reference for future tasks. Once I opened the first one I thought,
how can I depart with these documents, probably to let them rot
in some warehouse in north London, or wherever?
Before my eyes and in a nutshell, was the history of Great Britain and
Galicia, Northwest Spain dating back to just under a century. All sorts
of areas of activity ranging from past naval visits such as HMS Hood
sunk by the Bismarck in WWII, to the upkeep of British cemeteries including
Sir John Mores grave (the famous general who saved Spain from the
French during the Napoleonic wars, or so legend has it).
There are stories told about shipwrecks and football matches, tragic deaths
and visits of famous dignitaries, both British and Spanish. The whole
relationship that existed and still exists between this small part of
the world and the Consulate of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland (as listed in the local telephone directory) is summed
up in a few moth-eaten brown files. Over my dead... Whoops! I must revert
to my role and say: I take note of your interest in the contents
of our files as well as other actions and procedures that are necessary
to carry out the daily duties of HMC. All due comments are accepted and
a report will follow in due course. See you next month!
© James Skinner. 2002.
*James was recently heard on CBC Canada's report on the Conference on
International Fishing Rights held in Vigo.
You can catch up with james's other role as an international traveller
here with hisi trip tot he Greek Islands
Pink Pelicans and Other Beasts
is Colossus day. Prepare thyself for Rhodes
< Reply to this Article