Chris Marshall

2019: The Year Ahead

As we leave 2018 behind: our 18th consecutive Christmas and New Year in Almerimar, Spain, and start to look forward to 2019, in what at least must be described as an ‘interesting’ year, there are a number of potential challenges ahead.

Moving back to the UK and re-establishing our life after a 15 year absence is something to look forward to, but first we need to get The Cottage sorted! Brexit (or not) could be a challenge to our pet transport business which transports owners pets and re-homed pets (dogs and cats) between the UK and EU (Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Holland and Belgium), a business which is already facing an increased rigour to adherence to the TRACES System and which only recently had to adapt to Eurotunnel imposing a 20 pet limit per transport.

Throw in a somewhat overdue ‘getting fitter’ requirement, establishing our UK based pet services, a summer of cricket, spending more time with family and old friends, and taking the family educational content and consultancy business online, we have a lot to be getting on with, and look forward to.

But where to start ………

On a personal front the main, and most exciting, challenge for Sands and I will be the move back to the UK.

Our time in Spain has been excellent, and although unexpected in length, it is something we have both benefited from, and has certainly changed us (I think for the better). The link above gives more details but in summary …

We purchased the apartment in 2000, with a view to it being a holiday home in the short term, and longer term part of our retirement plans. We ended up using it more than the original plan as I was working in Spain and the USA for a while so it became as good a base for us as the UK.

February 2005 we landed at our local airport, the 54th flight I had made over the last 12 months, 20 of which had been transatlantic, and having just decided not to take up an opportunity to work and live full time in the USA.

With no desire to see a plane, airport, taxi, suitcase or hotel for a long time we decided that we would just take a year out, sit in Spain and ‘see what cropped up’.

What cropped up was Sands passion for helping re-home the street cats in Spain and her involvement with the German charity Katzenherzen, where to date they have together re-homed 1,397 cats. An early issue they encountered was the lack of a regular reliable and affordable pet transport so one day, with no real thought, I volunteered to drive some cats to Germany and hey presto …. ALStrays Pet Transport was started, and to date I have driven 671,697 miles and transported 3560 cats and 2915 dogs.

So much for taking it easy …….

Spain has offered plenty of other opportunities: for a while I ran a blog on life in Almerimar and Spain, which at its prime was a top 100 site worldwide. I wrote a expat column for the Telegraph for two years, and was a regular contributor to Spanish UK papers and radio, as well as the BBC, ITV and Sky TV.

And of course we have our own pets, who have without doubt enhanced our lives, and will continue to be the priority for us as we move back to the UK.

Our time in Spain has been great: we have kept busy, and enjoyed thoroughly the Spanish food, wine and lifestyle. They say all good things come to end ….. and that may be so BUT our life in Spain is NOT coming to and end. In fact, you could argue (or more accurately I could argue) that we are in fact just turning the clock back and starting again as we will continue to use the Apartment on a regular basis for our re-homing and transport activities, short breaks, and eventually as part of our retirement plan: September, October and November then January, February and March sounds good to me.

We are both really looking forward to being back in the UK. We have both visited frequently over the years but have both not been together in the UK since January 2005.

Our plans for the UK? Primarily we are moving back to be closer to parents to help support them and help them get the most out of life for as long as possible. As mentioned above we have a couple of business projects to develop, which include the handover of AlStarys Transport so that it continues to provide pet transport services log after I have hung up my keys.

Additionally it is important to both of us that Sands continues to help re-home cats both through her established project here in Spain, and hopefully through new projects in the UK.

I am looking at a few other options: I like the idea of helping out with some ‘good cause’ projects and (whisper in quietly) I have recently found an increasing desire to ‘make a difference’ at a local level, which I think is a much neglected area of the political landscape these days.

And …. I am keen to revisit my youth (hence lots of tickets for the Cricket and the Rugby) and since I have known we were moving back I have been catching up on life in and around Stoke and Staffordshire in general via The Sentinel, who have a very active StokeonTrent Live Facebook Page.

And then there is Brexit.

When we made the decision to move back to the UK I wouldn’t say Brexit was a particularly significant factor in the decision. I have always been somewhat apathetic towards politics and politicians and taken the view that we have done OK in the past adapting to whatever has been thrown at us and I would back myself to do so again in the future.

For what it is worth I think the original EEC was a necessary and valid entity. It brought together countries that for years had struggled to work closely and consistently together. It established a framework and an approach to growth, and for that reason alone was a success.

Fast forward to the modern evolved EU and I think it is fundamentally unnecessary. Countries know how to work together, and new countries wanting to join in know what is expected from them. The idea of a centralised united european union of countries controlled by a centralised EU government is unnecessary and unjustified. You only have to spend time in the countries that dominate the EU (Spain, France, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Italy, Belgium etc) to realise two things: 1) they are unmistakably European (as opposed to the UK which is basically American – if in doubt do the ‘breakfast test’ i.e. USA and UK eat big cooked breakfasts Europeans have small ‘continental’ breakfasts, and 2) they are all immensely proud of their countries and stubborn – for years the ‘joke’ throughout the EU has been that all the countries agree to so something yet only the UK goes ahead and does it, the rest just shrug their shoulders and ignore the directive!

My point then is that whilst the EU isn’t really necessary and the UK isn’t really ‘european’ it should be able to survive without being a member, but ….. in order to do that it requires strong leadership, high skill levels and products and services that are much in demand throughout the World. And I am afraid I just don’t see that (and the Brexit negotiations to date would back that up i.e. poor leadership, a derisive and out of touch parliament and not exactly a quaking of the boots across the EU at the potential loss of our products and services.

I think we would struggle to survive never mind grow outside of the EU, as long as the EU exists (which is another subject all together BUT is a key reason that we have failed to get a good exit deal from the EU as they don’t want to set an attractive precedent for others), so I think we are better off staying in, using our position as a founder member i.e. the VETO to effect real change.

For those that like to draw analogies with the British Bulldog Spirit, the World War II Beaches, the Blitz etc etc then Brexit is in effect running away. The EU is flawed to say the least, but that means something we have created is flawed, so why should we run away rather than fight to make it better?

If I was May I would (shoot myself), no seriously I would tear up Article 50, tell the UK population to prepare to fight together to make the EU what we need it to be and then pretty much veto everything until the EU realised it had a strong and able member and took us seriously. It is not the EU’s fault that we have been weak and the likes of Germany, France and Spain strong, but we can and should reverse that perception with a dose of strong reality!

What will happen? I don’t know, but I would much rather be on the inside i.e. back in the UK than be in Spain. What should happen? A second referendum for no other reason that we now have a pretty clear picture of what Leave means so another referendum to a) stay, b) leave with no deal, or c) accept the EU deal on the table which are told is the best offer we will get is democratic, respectful, mature and reasonable ….. so I know, is very unlikely to happen.

As I said an ‘interesting’ 2019 ahead for many. I wish each and everyone the best of luck and success.

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