In my hot youth, when I was at school studying history, there used to be a lot of store set on the significance of what were considered the great days of British worldwide supremacy.
There were spheres of influence, unquestioned rights of access to advantageous trade routes and all kinds of jingoistic pronouncements about who, in the words of 1066 and All That, was Top Nation.
The result of which was a tendency for this sceptr’d isle to get involved in fracas (or fracases – I looked it up) of an international bent, many of which seemed to have strange and peculiar names and involve Spain.
The War of Jenkins’ Ear, I seem to remember, loomed large (if I can put it like that) at one point in the late 18th Century as an area of friction between us and our Iberian oppos. Then, if my memory serves me correctly, there was the Don Pacifico affair.
That may sound much more like the plot of a rather racy French farce or a work in progress from the pens of either Mozart and Da Ponte or Rodgers and Hammerstein. But in fact, it is pointed out by historians of note as the beginning of what became known as gunboat diplomacy.
Lord Palmerston, then the PM, decided to send a gunboat to blockade the port of Athens because the Greeks had been nasty to a British citizen (and the Greeks, known for having a word for it, probably had one or two with the recalcitrant merchant, the said Don Pacifico).
Interestingly, given our present preoccupations and as you might have guessed by the exotic name, his origins were furth of these shores.
Don, as I understand it, did not stand for Donald, although I once read a review of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers in the pages of this very newspaper, where the performer playing the part of the Grand Inquisitor (we’re back to Spain again. It’s eerie.) was commended for his portrayal of Donald Hambra, instead of Don Alhambra.
Oh, for the days when you phoned in reports to copy-takers.
Don Pacifico, however, was actually of Portuguese descent but had British nationality because, believe it or not, he was born in Gibraltar.
There’s a pattern emerging here.
Judging by the current state of affairs, it’s probably a good thing he wasn’t born on a chunk of rock somewhere off the coast of Scotland, as one suspects he might have got rather shorter shrift on the international rescue front.
Now, you don’t have to be a raving Nat to wonder how come Gibraltar gets all this credit for wanting to stay in the European Union but still wanting to be part of the UK/remain under British jurisdiction/continue to enjoy British protection/whatever form its current status takes.
It’s too complicated for me. I’ve only just come to terms with the fact that apparently referenda are God’s word on Earth and must be respected in perpetuity, forever and ever, Amen.
Be that as it may, the response in certain sectors of public life to the notion that Spain, Gibraltar’s next door neighbour, might get even a smidgeon of a say in what happens after Brexit has been to send certain commentators into a frenzy of over-reaction and a Doctor Who-like step back in time.
Nobody actually took seriously Michael “something of the night” Howard’s suggestion that fisticuffs would be on the horizon the moment such a move was considered.
“My Armada’s bigger than your Armada doesn’t cut a lot of political mustard these days”, even if Theresa May is considering a reworking of Eliz One’s Tilbury speech, leaving out, with the saga of the Prime Ministerial legs still running (so to speak), the part about having the “body of a weak and feeble woman”.
Instead, she sent a shot across Lord Howard’s bows by responding with a carefree and very unconvincing guffaw, the respectable middle-class vicar’s daughter’s version of: “You’re ’avin’ a laugh!”
Ironically, of course, with good old Blighty’s previous on gunboat diplomacy as a backdrop and the imperialist mindset surfacing like a decommissioned Dreadnought, it’s those pesky Spaniards who have had to be shown the seagoing door.
Only this past week, the Royal Navy grandly shooed an Iberian patrol boat, the Infanta Cristina, out of Gibraltarian waters into which it had cheekily snuck, wagging a nautical finger and tutting like an irritable maiden aunt.
Off course? Mayhap. Although it wouldn’t surprise me if someone in the Oficio Maritimo in Madrid is, indeed, “’avin’ a laugh” or at least a muffled titter at the expense of the sensitivities and lack of consistency of their auld enemy and until recently, partner in European crime.
The War of Brexit-eers isn’t likely to launch itself into the history books any time soon. But I wonder what the Spanish for Boaty McBoatface is?