Don’t look back – to a year of ‘thank heavens we live in Spain and not the UK’

AS I slumped on the sofa on Boxing Day, wanting background distraction, I clicked dismissively on the Netflix home screen and selected ‘Don’t Look Up’, which looked like a naff disaster movie requiring zero attention. To my surprise, what unfolded was an excellent metaphor for the whole year – and the state of the world.

If you haven’t seen it, ‘Don’t Look Up’ is a star-studded Hollywood take on what would occur if a large “planet destroyer” comet was hurtling towards earth. The protagonists, a pair of highly qualified scientists, try to warn the Whitehouse and public of the destructive power of the comet. However, they are initially scorned, before the issue is taken up for political gain.

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To summarise, one of the world’s richest men (with Elon Musk overtones) stops an attempt by the US government to divert the comet and save earth, so he can break it up using his own technology and harvest its valuable minerals. I won’t add spoilers, but there are nods towards populism, capitalism and political corruption, science-denial, inequality, misogyny, fake news, and how people are far more interested in celebrities, pop culture and social networks than serious issues… such as climate change, coming in a year when Cop 26 was a damp squib.

The plot also includes the super-rich escaping on a spaceship, with a nod to Jeff Bezos wanting to commercialise space tourism and Richard Branson jetting off in his phallic-shaped rocket in July.

Until they are about to die, many people in the movie try to claim the comet doesn’t exist (remind you of anything?) and run a campaign saying “don’t look up” into the sky, hence the title.

It is also apt that critics disagree massively about the film. One critic moans: “This end of world comedy should just have been more fun.”

I strongly suspect that some critics who hate ‘Don’t Look Up’ are secret Trump supporters or cannot stomach difficult themes.

Speaking of Trump, by the start of 2021, we were lucky enough to see the end of the orange-hued populist at the White House. Biden had already won on November 30, 2019, but Trump was denying the result and didn’t want to handover in good grace. By January 6, he had invoked a riot at Capital Hill, in which five people died and one fake “Qanon shaman”, Jacob Chansley, was splashed across the media in his bison costume, highlighting the ongoing problem with the “Cosmic Right”, who have been drawn in by conspiracy theories and are campaigning against vaccines.

While many people celebrated that “number 45” was finally out of office – and the Qanon supporters soon disappeared, tails between legs – some Brits felt miffed that we still had Boris Johnson as our clown-like prime minister.

Regional Cabinet Meeting Bristol
Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Cordon Press

We could at least be smug that it wasn’t a great year for Boris. Notable highlights were Dominic Cummings dishing tons of dirt on the PM and his cabinet during May, endless sleaze enquiries, questions about undisclosed donations – some of which paid to redecorate Boris’ flat – the Randox lobbying corruption, and the recent “partygate” scandal, where it emerged that Boris and buddies necked wine and chomped cheese together during Christmas 2020, while UK residents weren’t even allowed to see their relatives.

Also embarrassing re public figures were Meghan and Harry behaving like petulant teens and creating a PR debacle, Prince Andrew and his ties to paedophile Epstein, and the grisly trial of Ghislaine Maxwell. None of these showed “Great” Britain in a good light.

During 2021, many Brits in Spain were heard to say, “thank heavens we live in Spain and not the UK”. Despite experiencing another Covid-ridden 12 months, we didn’t have food or supply chain issues, or a “pingdemic” with a Covid app running riot, and we had a summer of relative freedom, without the need to announce a stupid “Freedom Day” that would serve to infect people and divide opinion.

The Spanish vaccination programme started exactly a year ago and is still ongoing. With third doses appearing now, we begin 2022 with the Covid vaccine certificate required to enter bars and restaurants – a controversial move, causing riots in Barcelona – and the same arguments taking place as a year ago. Not a day goes by without anti-vaxxers trying to claim that “the jab” is the real killer or angry debates about masks.

Having kicked off 2021 with the Alpha variant, progressed through Delta, and now having Omicron (anagram for “moronic”, said the anti-vaxxers with glee), the pandemic isn’t ending anytime soon, although a milder Omicron seems to be turning Covid into a cold.

Groundhog day movie
Does anyone else feel like they are living the Groundhog Day movie?

I think we are stuck in Groundhog Day – at least, regarding people’s social interactions. With rules tightening again, the expat forums remain full of smug people who want to police others, and armchair warriors who did their “research on YouTube” and want to invoke their “nurenberg (sic) rights”. Have we ever been more divided?

2021 also had something of a Groundhog Day vibe re Brexit and the impact on Brits in Spain, as well as Brits in Britain. I wrote a year ago about “swallows” with second homes in Spain coming unstuck with the 90-day rule, the problems with UK-originating parcels and Spanish customs, and exchanging UK driving licenses to Spanish ones.

Some 365 days later and we are besieged with the same silly questions, such as “why did I pay €15 to receive my UK eBay parcel”, “do I have to take a Spanish driving test” or “can I stay here beyond 90 days without passport control noticing”.

Unfortunately, many Brits have had their passports wrongly stamped by Spanish airport officials. This problem persists, despite repeated attempts to flag it to the British Embassy. It recently happened to my son, who is the only member of my family to be shown leaving Malaga but not re-entering. That said, we were grateful to make it to the UK, after the travel restrictions loosened in late October (requiring a day two lateral flow test instead of PCRs), only to be reintroduced in early December because of Omicron.

I think these will all be trivial issues to residents of La Palma, who had a spectacular but terrifying volcano erupt for 85 consecutive days, until Christmas, and destroyed around 3,000 homes.

Last year, I concluded that 2021 would be better than 2020. For many people, it was – with no house confinement and the hospitality sector not completely mullered – although some divisions will be hard to heal.

From polarisation over Leave/Remain, masked/unmasked, vaxxed/unvaxxed or Covid pass/no Covid pass, I personally think we can sort the wheat from the chaff over who likes “Don’t Look Up” and who slates it because they want a “more slapstick” approach to the world ending.

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