The Ambassador’s visit to Ibiza

May 14th, 2010 - 1:12 pm Posted in ibiza | Comments (0)

Last month we received a phone call from the British Vice-Consulate requesting our presence at an important meeting the following week. Neither the reason, nor the time and date could be disclosed for security reasons.

The following week the reason for the cloak of secrecy was unveiled. The British Ambassador to Spain, Giles Paxman, was to pay us a rare visit. On the morning of the meeting another phone call came from the Consulate advising us that the Ambassador’s visit was now cloaked in volcanic dust. He wouldn’t be coming because of the uncertainty of being able to get here and back again following the Icelandic eruptions.

paul abrey ibizaInstead we were invited to hear his message delivered by Paul Abrey, our British Consul based in Mallorca. Paul’s a congenial and user-friendly civil servant with a great sense of humour whom we met a few months ago, so this meeting was going to be a pleasure.

At the meeting Paul explained that, with the political turmoil of an unresolved election, the Ambassador couldn’t risk being summoned by his new boss, dependent on who then governed the country, and having to admit to being ‘stranded’ in Ibiza…
Paul & Maria, Ibiza’s Vice-Consul, both looked exhausted as Paul retracted the term ‘stranded’, correcting it to ‘not able to get home immediately’. He pointed out that dealing with unprecedented problems like erupting volcanoes perfectly illustrated the role of the Foreign Office, whilst at the same time causing them enormous headaches and sleepless nights. Their brief was to get all British travellers safely and swiftly back home.

In what would appear to have been an extraordinary display of dedication to duty, Paul was in London when the ash cloud descended. It took him two long days spent on crowded trains and trying to stay awake at stations till he got back to his Consulate to begin dealing with the problem of cancelled flights from Mallorca. Meanwhile Maria was up to her neck in the same problem here.

The Foreign Office approach was to provide support. With air travel not an option for an indeterminate period of time this meant organising boats, coaches and trains, as if in a wartime scenario, to get tens of thousands of people back overland.
The Bulldog spirit of the 40’s, however, extended beyond the Foreign Office all the way to the airport. There Paul found a local doctor wandering up and down the queues of dismayed travellers with a prescription pad, in case they hadn’t brought enough of their essential medication. Charities were giving out toys to bored children and local bars and restaurants were providing free food.

Back at the Consulate citizens were queuing, the phones were ringing off the walls and email queries were flooding in. All were advised to refer first to their airlines, but each was dealing with the unprecedented crisis differently. Some put their clients up in hotels, ringing them when they had a seat allocated and advising them to be at the airport three hours early, as their may be delays. Others studied the small print, cancelled flights and simply offered ‘next available flights’ at exorbitant ‘last minute booking’ prices. Ironically the latter didn’t have to deal with a backlog once the cloud moved on. Their directors did, however, receive peremptory phone calls from the higher echelons of the Foreign Office…

To deal with the many travellers further afield than Europe the Foreign Office turned to ‘hubbing’, another term that has fallen from common parlance since the 40’s. The objective was to get people to Calais, but northern European airports were all closed. Madrid, as the base of the largest foreign British Consulate, was chosen as the hub into which all long distance travellers would be flown from places where overland travel was impractical e.g. Ibiza and Mallorca.

Next it was necessary to locate at least a hundred coaches to operate a shuttle service every half hour from Madrid to the northern ports of France, calculate how many driver would be needed, when each could drive for only six hours at a time, and organise all of the necessary licences and permits to cross the borders. Then came the logistics of feeding and watering the thousands, plus medical considerations etc. etc…

Fortunately the problem blew away before the hub reached its full capacity, but it’s comforting to know that the next time a volcano blows the Foreign Office will have the consequences all under control. It’s also quite comforting to know that the next time we encounter an unprecedented disaster we can rely on the Foreign Office to think of something…

As other nationalities were observing of the British repatriation effort, “that’s how it should be done!” – one felt almost proud to be British…

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook

Related posts:

  1. New British Ibiza Consul pays a visit Our new local British Consul for the Balearic Islands (one...
  2. British Consulate The great and good of the British community were out...
  3. Inauguration of the new British Consulate tomorrow The inauguration of the new British Consulate takes place tomorrow...
  4. Ibiza’s British Consulate The British Consulate threw open its doors to the public...
  5. British Consulate Open Day It’s a hard life…. This lunchtime we went to the...