The International Writers
The Honorary Consul Bows Out
MP's and the
Walrus - The British Abroad
You think the British Government will look after you abroad
finally decided to retire as Her Majestys governmental representative
in this remote part of Europe known as Galicia after nearly 5
years of rescuing Brits from the gallows or sending them off to
the nearest registry office to get hitched. I use the verb hitched
with tongue in cheek as due to globalisation and other worldly
niceties, marriage is old hat and human carnal joint
ventures are the vogue.
much for that! My reasons for leaving were multitudinal but boiled down
to the fact that I was tired! Too many hours of my personal writing
and leisure time wasted on keeping the Union Jack flying at full mast.
Too many days and sleepless nights thinking about some poor sailor stranded
in a hostel waiting for his passport and clean dry clothes to arrive
as his yacht continued to drift somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic.
Too many weeks of wrangling with beaurocracy for not having acted according
to Whitehall rules or filled in the proper form showing how many ball
point pens were used per Brit in trouble over the last 12 months. There
were moments of glory when a letter would arrive in the post from an
elderly couple, whom Id completely forgotten about, thanking me
for the 3 day old Sunday Times I managed to find for them whilst in
hospital. There were other more serious reasons that were to do with
the British Parliaments forthcoming budgetary constraints
and other dubious attractions that directly affected consular
services worldwide. I shall try to elaborate.
Just after the Tsunami disaster, Her Majestys consular service
came under fire by a multitude of MPs who had no idea of what
life was like across the Channel let alone the Far East. They went for
the Foreign Secretarys head for not acting sooner, leaner and
more efficiently in dealing with the Brits that were caught up in the
area at the time. Ironically it was an Honorary Consul, not a paid
one, who was first on the spot. Since then, an enquiry was held that
subsequently turned into a complete review of the Foreign Office Overseas
establishments, from ambassadors and consuls down to the janitor and
gardener level. The results were presented in Parliament, debated, thrashed
about, chewed with Soy sauce and finally transformed into a full blown
report with new guidelines to be put into place for the future assistance
of Brits abroad by HMG agencies. There were changes alright, especially
those that affected consular services! In other words; yours truly!
For the benefit of all those Brits travelling or living abroad, consular
services are now set on similar lines to that of any other money making
activity, be it industrial machinery for making cars or wholesale worldwide
distribution of paper dolls. In other words they have gone commercial.
All overseas consular posts are to become profit centres with proper
marketing and sales programs with corresponding control of income and
costs. This included a complete review of whos who
and how much they were costing the government. Naturally, redundancies
and early retirement were front runners to all other cost cutting exercises.
Ah; but they discovered a gold mine! Transform a great deal of paid
consular posts into honorary ones and, presto! Your staff costs are
cut down to the bone! As far as business clients are concerned, all
those holding one of Her Majestys passports are now considered
customers and treated accordingly.
you walk through the door of a consular office you must have your credit
card ready or else you wont get served! Funny thing is that consular
services are still a monopoly. Her Majestys Government will always
have the upper hand, money wise!
Internally, all consular staff must justify their existence. They are
to record every minute of time spent (or wasted!) on telephone calls,
visits, e-mails and front desk attendance that is then dissected into
non-profitable and profitable usage of their workload. In other words,
if you have sold a passport, youve earned money for the Foreign
Office. If you have visited some poor old dear in hospital, you have
literally wasted money! Its that simple.
So what should I have done, having being presented with this new scenario?
I already was an honorary consul, so why all the bitching? The rules
did not change on my patch as I was being paid peanuts and working my
backside to keep all those Brits dropping in to visit me content and
happy as Larry! But then the human side of me took over. I started studying
the infamous report on consular services, put two and two together and
realised after weeks of deliberation that all Brits travelling or living
overseas were at the mercy of ignorant MPs back home in the UK
that were calling the shots. On the one hand, these political animals
were seeking votes by bashing the Foreign Office in the House of Parliament
because some Brit had dared to complain about his treatment overseas
(remember my mention, and with all the due respect to the tragedy itself,
of the Tsunami disaster) whilst on the other hand demanding that these
same Brits should under no circumstances have their tax money used for
overseas cocktail parties and other supposed niceties that went on in
the FCOs overseas departments. A load of hogwash! The last time
the Queens Birthday was celebrated I was still in my nappies!
In other words they literally wanted something for nothing! So what
have we got?
All services offered to any Brit overseas must be paid out of the income
from passports and other charged consular services. This means that
the fees charged for passports have skyrocketed and if you wish to get
married and need a certificate of any kind youll have to pay an
arm and a leg. Meanwhile, any nicety you may indulge in due to your
status as an Honorary Consul must come out of your own pocket. This
includes expenses such as fifty pounds worth of sending Christmas cards
to the local dignitaries, to taking a taxi to visit the grave of the
local, in my case, Spanish poet on the anniversary of his death. I forgot
to mention. In my new job description yes we now have a job description
- it is absolutely essential that I keep all local authorities and other
public folk happy, just in case I need to go through the back door to
save, as I said before, a Brit from the gallows. At my own expense of
I summed it up after all these years. I was putting in an average of
20 hours per week and being paid an honorarium of 1850 pounds per annum.
I worked it out. As honorary consular work is what is known as a 24/7
(24 hours per day, 7 days per week) my hourly rate for those so called
taxpayers back in the UK was exactly 2.36 pound per hour. Enough to
pay for a pint of bitter at my old local, the Chain and Locker
in Falmouth! So I said goodbye. I sent a nice letter to my employer,
the Ambassador, stating politely my reasons for leaving whilst sending
a farewell message to the rest of my consular colleagues around the
Iberian Peninsula that went like this:
"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk
of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax
Of cabbages and kings And why the sea is boiling hot
and whether pigs have wings."
Most answered, appreciating my hidden meaning and bade me farewell!
I only wish I could stand up in the British Parliament, address those
MPs who need educating and recite the same extract from Lewis
Carrolls lovely poem. Im sure many have no idea what goes
on behind the scenes at a British Consular post let alone what they
have in common with a fictitious XIX century walrus!
© James Skinner. May 2007.
Note: Dont forget about my book The Goa File Good
Note: Now availableThe Goa File
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