“We’ve gone on holiday by mistake!” – Withnail and I
The movie Withnail and I is a hilarious, cult status black comedy set in 1969 London about two young, co-habiting, out-of-work actors: Withnail being played by a young Richard E Grant. In an attempt to escape the drugs and rock and roll drop-out culture of the city they drive to their uncle’s rustic country cottage for a long weekend, only to discover that they are not cut out for country life at all, and it had been, in short, a bad idea.
And so it is that many thousands of people find themselves in situations where they would never have been if only they had known that a pandemic would bring the world’s transport, economy and healthcare systems to their knees for over a year…
Here in Ibiza, for example, where the economy is based almost solely around tourism, the once notoriously effervescent and crowded bars and beaches are all but deserted and silent – ghost towns now frequented by occasional masked, mouthless figures, heads down, busy relearning the most elemental art of basic economic survival.
In Madrid it is not just the healthcare system that is failing, but social services, as a shanty town of people who have lost their jobs, and subsequently their homes, spreads like a dark stain in the abnormally deep snow around the outskirts of the capital. If only this story we’re living through were a black comedy in the 1960s. Instead it is shaping up more like a dark and foreboding science fiction.
If we had known there would be a pandemic that would confine us to the island perhaps we would have thought twice about letting our rental flat go to move onto the boat. If we had known that said pandemic would tragically take the life of my stepfather in the UK and that we would be unable to travel home to support my mother then we would have moved back to the UK. The decisions we have had to make these past six months have not been easy, and at the same time we haven’t had much choice.
Likewise, we would not have become embroiled in the epic saga of applying for Spanish residency post-Brexit. If we had been gifted with the foresight of any one of these events, we wouldn’t have bought a boat at all.
Everything is clearer in hindsight.
Yet here we are, a British family of four and a large dog, stuck in Ibiza on a boat that is, according to a horrified family member, “smaller than a bedroom”, during level 4 Covid restrictions, homeschooling, and Brexit…
In many ways it is better to be living on a boat. It is, by nature, the ultimate in ‘social distancing’ and when we get tired of the same view out the window we simply up anchor and move. On calm days we can take our whole house out for a sail, into the bright blue wilderness that is the Mediterranean sea during Covid lockdown, drink in the fresh air, and dive into the cool, refreshing waters…
We are in fact, midst all this chaos, feeling very fortunate. To have a roof over our heads, albeit small, wind-swept and leaking like a sieve during the winter storms. For Dom to be able to work remotely. For the food on the table, drinking water from the tap, toilets and hot showers at the end of the pontoon, and plug in electricity that powers a small heater to take the chill off the colder, damper nights of the Mediterranean in Winter (yes, it did get down to zero for a week or two in January). And last, but not least for the technological bounty of video-calling; being able to connect with distant friends and family at the push of a button.
We are also enjoying being part of the San Antonio marina community – a random collection of people living on boats because like us, for one reason or another, they have no-where else to go. We share knowledge, tools, boat repairs, food, and good company, and the days of more oppressive social distancing pass by all the quicker for it. Based on news coverage from around the world and good long video chats with friends and family back home, the reestablishment of community support systems has been one of the few good things that have arisen as a result of the virus.
It turns out that when the chips are down, what is most important to us all is the support and well-being of our fellow human being.
As I am typing this the sunshine has returned to the island after a month of cold, wet and violently storms; born on the winds of heavy snow on the continent. The kids sit round the tiny table with me learning French on Duolingo and BBC Bitesize, and we have just received an email confirming the progress of our Spanish residency application – we now have NIE European identity cards.
It is true for many reasons that we have moved onto a boat “by mistake”. But equally, given the current situation, there aren’t many other places we’d rather be right now, and as the global socio-economic-health dust storm of 2020 slowly begins to settle, we will tentatively set our sights on home.