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Hacktreks Travel 2

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James Skinner
How to be an Honarary Consul in Ten Easy Lessons

I never forget Danny Kaye’s 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 Consul’s 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 don’t 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 we’re back to the doubles, the role is split into either a full time position, which means on the payroll or an honorary one that doesn’t need any explanation. Then you have, once again, the two differences.

According to Mr. Kaye’s 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 it’s 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 Majesty’s 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, I’ll talk about the practice in a later chapter. What about the files?

I can finally say, that I was confronted with Danny’s monotonous statement; ‘there are always two possibilities’. I could either dump them, which meant sending them back to HQ (I’m 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 More’s 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

Horsemen, Pink Pelicans and Other Beasts
James Skinner
‘Tomorrow is Colossus day. Prepare thyself for Rhodes’

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