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Tuesday January 26, 2010

It's never just been about Maddie

When I popped into the local newsagent for my papers, the woman behind the counter began clucking when she saw a front cover image of little Madeleine McCann accompanied by a report on the latest episode in the whole sorry affair.
‘Terrible, isn’t it?’ I muttered in Spanish, fumbling for my euros. She nodded. ‘Absolutely. How could they leave their children all alone?’ In some confusion I explained that I was referring to the latest headline about the role of the Portuguese police in the whole investigation. She wasn’t interested because rather like a needle stuck in the groove of an old vinyl, she was simply incapable of moving on from the moment in the story when Kate and Gerry McCann left their children unattended in a holiday apartment. The majority of Majorcans I’ve quizzed on the subject of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance have been similarly judgmental, expressing a certain amount of sympathy for the Portuguese whose tourist industry they say had surely suffered terribly as a consequence. As a major holiday destination, it’s the sort of tragic event that would have the Majorcan tourist industry reeling from the likely fallout.

But it’s much more than that. It’s a cultural issue. Here in Spain, el niño is king. Invited by a friend for supper or meeting up at a restaurant inevitably means bringing the kids along too. In fact I have never been to a Spanish dinner party where kids haven’t been omnipresent. Leaving children unattended in the home or anywhere else for that matter is never an option neither is palming them off on a babysitter. If children are for any reason not invited to at a social event they will be cared for by close family or local friends. It’s an unspoken rule that the gesture is reciprocated and so we willingly play host to our son’s Spanish chums from time to time.

So it’s hardly surprising that a nation that dotes on its youth and includes it in practically all aspects of life will take such a dim view of those who don’t, especially when on a family holiday in a foreign destination. The issue of whether Maddie is still alive or whether the Portuguese police showed bias and incompetence in the handling of the case, becomes irrelevant.

For Spanish parents, the concept of child abduction and being held partly responsible by some accusers for simply not being there, would most likely be a torture too great to bear. A torture, I imagine, Kate and Gerry McCann will have to learn to live with for the rest of their days.

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