Geographically, Mallorca is Spanish, but it isn’t typical of Spain. It’s rather like comparing Bournemouth to Barnsley (apologies to Tykes– no insult intended, just an allusion to the widening disparity in lifestyles).
We’ve had the occasional, drum-banging, but peaceful march by understandably disgruntled trade unionists through Palma, but nothing like the bloody punch-ups with cops in Madrid and Barcelona – at least so far.
But even here, in this Mediterranean Garden of Eden, the portents are ominous. And they will worsen swiftly, following Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s new pronouncement that IVA (Spanish VAT) will rise from 18 to 21%, pensions and social benefits will be eviscerated and there’ll be a monster fire-sale of state assets, like airports and railways.
Small, telltale signs of a year ago are ballooning into daily evidence of how – as in Greece – the middle classes are feeling the pinch, too, not just the rising tide of jobless.
Each morning and afternoon a polished Seat Leon of recent vintage pulls up outside the basuras (communal dustbins found on every street corner) across the way and a man and his teenage son, both decently clad, climb inside and forage. I long stopped being shocked at the image of two pairs of designer trainers sticking up or how their scavenged treasure is forensically examined, before being bagged and placed in the car’s boot.
Supermarkets, too, are doing their bit. Many have containers at the exits, asking shoppers to donate an item to those on the breadline. And, instead of destroying foodstuffs beyond their sell-by dates, after closing time managers leave them somewhere handy to be picked up by the hungry.
Every little helps, to borrow Tesco’s slogan.
Meanwhile, the boom of up to two years ago in holiday home sales has inevitably gone into tailspin. As one agent told me, ‘Who’s going to buy when the big risk is Spain will quit the euro, return to the peseta and the government will devalue it by 30%?’
Shops, too, are doing a roar-less trade, though the bi-annual rebajas (the sales) began last week. Extending opening times has only boosted the cost of electricity, powering the aircon systems, while the tills remain stubbornly silent. Only business in the charity shops is brisk.
And, as youth unemployment inexorably edges beyond 50%, kids with any brains are quitting, hoping the grass in Britain, Canada or Germany is greener. It’s threatening to reprise the exodus from Ireland, after the great potato famine.
Even my physio, born and bred in Mallorca, is thinking of emigrating. He says his Dutch wife, who works in a bank, is on the verge of a breakdown, since her harrowing job now is to repossess homes where the borrower has defaulted on a mortgage. Each night she returns home in tears.
None other than the uber-rich are escaping the vice of austerity. Despite the rise in the £s value against the euro, many expats talk of a reluctant return to swampy Blighty or of eschewing the fancy supermarket in El Cortes Ingles (our version of John Lewis) for doing the weekly shop at Lidl.
Few, but the seriously deranged, think Spain will escape the squeeze for a decade or more and even fanatical Europhiles are beginning to weigh the possibilities of dumping the accursed euro.
It might mean a short, sharp financial lashing for maybe three years, but at least the country will be independent again and spared death by a thousand cuts being inflicted by their former amigos in the Eurozone.
If the people can see the merits in this, why can’t the politicians?