No ingenuity, no matter how contrived, has been spared in the campaign I HAVE NEVER HEARD ANYONE BRITISH TALK ABOUT GREAT BRITAIN
Early last month and for the first time since Brexit, Barcelona’s metro stations were graced with a small number of official tourist posters urging (local) passengers to come and visit the country I was born in. The first thing that might have struck any trained eye was the large-font heading: ’Great Britain’. In the 62 years since I learned to understand my parents’ native tongue, I have never heard anyone British talk about Great Britain, as in: ’I’m from Great Britain’ (and much less: ’I’m Great British’). People normally use an unadorned ’Britain’, although nowadays they’re more likely to break it down further and say they’re from England or Wales or Scotland or (Northern) Ireland. Two campaign slogans have been invented to persuade the Catalans to sample the pleasures of what Lawrence Durrell liked to call ’Pudding Island’. One of them is: ’Te guste lo que te guste, lo tenemos’ (’Whatever it is that you like, we’ve got it’). Unless you happen to like eggs and certain types of fruit and vegetables which are often scarce due to supply chain issues, a shortage of manual labour, and excessive red tape for imported goods at customs. Whatever: the aforementioned posters form part of a brand new 11.08 million euro campaign by VisitBritain (yes, without the ’Great’) which is what the British Tourist Authority has been called since 2003. No ingenuity, no matter how contrived, has been spared: the English version of the campaign, for example, aimed mainly at the US, includes, among other things, the catchphrase ’Fake (Br)it ’til you make it’ which, aside from being meaningless is quite hard to say. But where the campaign really becomes all but certifiable is with its mercifully brief promotional cartoon in Spanish, in which a besuited man insists that ’when you think of us, you probably think about double decker buses, Big Ben and tea, lots and lots of tea...and we have tea for graffiti artists; tea for surfers; tea for monster hunters; tea for party-goers.’ This fatuous pseudo-hipster hogwash is followed up with the campaign’s second major slogan: ’Come and be surprised’. And you bloody well will be. Surprised like the three members of the German punk band Trigger Cut who spent months preparing their UK tour, hired a van, paid for customs declarations, bought a ferry ticket...only to be turned away by the UK Border Force at Calais last month, because they had a ’permitted paid engagement certificate’ instead of the more bureaucratically challenging ’certificate of sponsorship’. No tea for them, then, party-going or otherwise. Hot on the heels of this humiliation came that of Ukraine’s Khmelnitsky Orchestra, scheduled to play iconic pieces from ’The Lord of the Rings’ at various UK venues but whose visa requests were turned down, something which cost their promoter over €100,000. According to English music agent Ian Smith, interviewed in The Guardian, this kind of cultural obstruction is routine. So yes, Great Britain has whatever you want, unless you fancy a tomato or an egg and can actually get into the country in the first place. One solution for enterprising Catalans might be to go in as a tourist, which is still relatively easy if you have a passport, then get a job, get arrested for that now illegal act, and be deported back home by the Border Force goons for free (that would be a nice surprise). This might just be the reason why - towards the end of April - every single one of the VisitBritain tourist posters was quietly removed from every single one of Barcelona’s metro stations.