Saturday 1 December 2018

May’s Mayhem



Global citizens are citizens of nowhere

I was educated to be a citizen of nowhere, then. I have a  BA Hons in French and German and then I taught French, German and Spanish for 26 years. We did lots of exchange visits.  All of the learning was based on the interaction between the students and their partners in our exchange schools.  “Stop saying ‘them’. “ Then Citizenship came in to the school agenda.  Yes, we were to educate our students to be citizens of the world. Citizens of nowhere, then. 

On 29 March 2019 a huge part of my citizenship will be taken away from me.  Yes of course there’s a lot of Britishness in me. The Archers, Radio 4 generally, seaside rock, stiff upper lip etc. etc. But there’s a fair bit of Dutch, French, German and Spanish in me too and indeed of other cultures. 
Xenophobia exists. We all feel it. It takes work to overcome it.  Years of work sometimes. But as we overcome it the world becomes a better place. 

Maybe we global citizens are actually citizens of everywhere.

Politicians being political

Whatever next?  Worth reminding you, madam, that it was a political spat, a bit of Eton mess that got us into this scrape in the first place.  Might your stance be to do with your wish to retain power rather than your conviction of what is right? You campaigned for Remain, didn’t you?  

No more queue jumpers

They’re queue jumpers, are they?  The Irish plumber who reliably comes and fixes out heating when it breaks down?  The medical staff who looked after me when I broke my arm badly and was in hospital for four days were nearly all citizens of other EU states. There was one Welsh man i.e. another EU citizen and two Commonwealth doctors. Where are the unemployed doctors and nurses they’ve pipped to the post?  

These people pay their taxes and support the rest of us. 

Anyway, there have always been measures in place throughout the EU to stop freedom of movement causing chaos.  We’ve just never enforced them.  

They’re hardly queue jumpers , are they, if they’re taking up what is their right according to our laws?   And they’re queuing up for jobs to earn money on which they pay tax. The real criminals are those who indulge in benefit fraud.  I expect there are a few from other EU states. A few. Who are the rest?

Skilled workers earn over £50k

Recently changed to over £30K. Ah, I achieved my £50K+ in my final year or employment. An increment on my senior lecturer pay scale brought me up to about £52K. I became a senior lecturer in 2014 after seven years as a Grade 8 lecturer and one year as a Grade 7. I spent my last six years of teaching in a comprehensive school as a Head of Modern Languages, Grade 3 on the pay scale. But despite three degrees, a teaching certificate and years of experience of teaching I remained “unskilled” until I was 63. I must be a real slow learner then. 

Now, go tell that to the nurses and pharmacists.  

Oh, and by the way; we need fruit-pickers. Not many UK nationals can be arsed.  


The will of the British people


With all those gross lies, Leave breaking electoral law, and probably interference from the Russians, Leave obtained under 52%. Many Leavers have now died. Many others have changed their mind and even apologised for the way they “voted”.  (Quote marks because a referendum isn’t really a vote – look what happened in Denmark just before they joined the EU and now they say they’re glad they totally ignored the outcome.)  Many Remainers have become 18.  And what about the disenfranchised?  By the way, several of the Leavers who have changed their minds are other Boomers.  

You have a hard job

I’ll give you that. The gentlemen have left a real mess behind them.  You should sit them down, Dave and BJ, and give them a good talking to. Clonk their heads together.  

Who is the alternative to you? Within your party or from another?  I have a wish list but not much hope that it will be fulfilled. 

So hang on in there, girl, but for all of our sakes, do the right thing. Show them what a good-hearted, level-headed woman can achieve.   

Monday 12 November 2018

Big political fights send pals to war

On this centenary of the end of the Great War there have naturally been many commemorations. I myself was involved with my choir Honour. We performed at the ceremony at the Salford cenotaph in the morning and went through our complete concert in the afternoon.  

One of our songs is about the Salford Pals. On Saturday  I was at Accrington Library where there is a display of the Accrington Pals.  Kitchener’s idea seemed good at first; send a load of “pals” out together.   This fostered camaraderie and loyalty. They would look after each other.  Yes of course that happened.   But populations of young men were wiped from towns and villages at a stroke.  Only seven of the Accrington Pals returned.  Many of the Salford Pals also failed to come home from the Somme. 

Politicians fall out and young men and women from both sides, who are more similar to each other than they are to their commanders, have to do the dirty work. On some level these are family squabbles.  Look how the royal houses are related.    

Isn’t it better for us to that we thrash out these differences in the European parliament?  There are always squabbles and it doesn’t always run smoothly, but surely that is better than what happened in the trenches?   

Some may argue that we should go further than just Europe and I tend to agree. However, if we can’t even get it right with those people who are more like us than they are different from us ….
Will Gibraltar cause problems? Will it come to skirmishes over fishing rights? Will we stop working together on terrorism and other crimes?

Will it all be as awful as some Remain hyperbolists suggest?

Or will it be just like the millennium bug and be much feared though not a lot happens? We ought to remember though that thousands of people worked behind the scenes to make sure the millennium bug did no harm.  

Possibly little will happen on 30 March 2019 because the civil servants can’t get it all ready in time. And in fact no one knows yet exactly what is to happen. 

I have Poles living in a flat I own in Streatham. Their contract is due for renewal 23 March. Oh dear. What to do? 

Yes, it’s been a weekend of World War 1 commemorations. We’re acknowledging that we didn’t learn as much from that conflict as we should have:  another even bloodier one followed a few years later. Churchill saw a United Europe as a way of ensuring that nothing so bloody happened again on that land mass. 

Have we still not learnt?        

Saturday 27 October 2018

Conversations Three Days after the March for the People’s Vote 20 October 2018

I pick up the milk and pour it on my muesli. I’m a compulsive reader so I read the label. “Fair prices for farmers,” it says.
“Does that mean it’ll go up after Brexit because the farmers won’t get their subsidies?”
“Or we’ll be paying higher taxes to cover the subsidies?” says my other half. 
“Ah Ah. But what about the £350,000,000 a week that we won’t be paying to the EU?”
“The regions. The regions.” He rubs his hands in glee. “I’m looking forward to saying ‘I told you so.’”
“But I don’t want anybody to go through what I think we’re about to go through – not even Brexiteers.”              

I arrive early for my conference in London.  It is about the EU citizen. I stop to have a look at the ongoing vigil outside the Houses of Parliament. 
“Thank you for doing this,” I say to the woman waving a European flag. “How does this all work?”
“We’re here while Parliament’s in session. Then we make a lot of noise if a politician comes out. Recently Shirley Williams told us not to give up.” 
She offers to take a photo of me holding her flag. What fun!
“You know I’m a member of the Labour party but can’t vote labour at the moment.  In fact, I don’t know who I would vote for if we had another general election,” I tell her.  
She nods. “I usually go for the centre.”
I study the board showing who supports this campaign. I get into conversation with a woman form Northern Ireland.  “You know,” she says, “my daughter-in-law comes from Madrid. They got married the day after the referendum.  My son had to change his speech. He’d put something in it about how it was great that we were going to continue to work together. “
I shudder when I think of the Irish border.

There are the normal introductions at the conference.  “What brings you here?” asks a pleasant young man who is sitting next to me. 
“I used to teach languages,“ I say. “And I happen to consider myself European more than merely British. I can’t help it. Bits of the Dutch, French, German and Spanish cultures have rubbed off on me. Plus a referendum is only a referendum and it was flawed anyway.” Oh, I’m on a roll now and he is nodding his head enthusiastically.  “Some who voted leave are now dead.  Several more Remainers have become eligible to vote. Several Leavers have changed their mind.  Then there were the lies, the breaking of electoral law and - I didn’t want to believe it – interference by the Russians, though now it seems that this is probably true. It’s madness. And you?”
“I want to retain my true citizenship.”

The conference gets underway. Some of the language disturbs me. There are more than 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK, surely. What about all the British nationals living here? They’re EU citizens, aren’t they? As are the native neighbours of all of those Brits currently residing in other EU states.  A panel chair speaks of the “remaining 27 states” – not as bad perhaps as a news broadcast a few weeks ago suggesting that the other 27 states had voted to remain.  The delightful Dr Ruvi Ziegler talks about “if the UK leaves the EU”. I suggest in the Q & A session that we need more of the latter and less of the   former. Ziegler assures me that he always says “citizens from other EU states”  - one of my own pet phrases in fact - recognising that at least until 29 March 2019 native Brits are EU citizens.

Over a glass of wine at the end of the conference I speak to a Danish woman who has lived here for many years but has finally returned home, keeping a small holiday home in Dorset.  “You know a lot of other states are thinking of leaving now as well.”
“We’ve started a trend, have we?”
“They’re looking for someone to blame.”
We agree that we both know that the economic downturn was due to bad practice in American banks.  We both suspect it would have been worse for us if we’d not been in the EU. We agree though as well that the EU could work better but that leaving it is worse that staying with it and reforming it.
She touches my arm gently.  “Never mind,” she says. “It can’t stop you being European. “
There’s the crux of it. She, like I, has lived and worked abroad and gone through all those steps it takes to get to know another culture and its language.  It’s hard work and it can be painful at times but the rewards are fantastic. Oddly, although I’m a Boomer, I have few friends who voted Leave.  The few that did haven’t had that glorious “bain de langue et de culture’” that I’ve been privileged to know.

As I walk back to the tube station I remember a conversation with some other Danes a year ago. They were a choir visiting my choir. Of course Brexit came up in the conversation. They reminded me that they’d had a referendum just before they joined and the people had voted against joining, with a very similar divide to the one we’re experiencing. “I’m so glad our government ignored it,” one of them said. “We’ve only benefitted from our membership.”
The flag-wavers have now gone from in front of the Houses of Parliament.  Their work is done for the day.
 I buy my dinner at Euston statin and am served by a friendly Pole. Who will do this work next year?
I’m thankful as I head back to Manchester that I’m returning to a city that vote Remain.                  


Monday 15 October 2018

Wisdom from Churchill

"Men will be proud to say I am a European. We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think as much of being a European as belonging to their native land. We hope that wherever they go on the European continent they will truly feel here I am at home."

Winston Churchill, 7 May 1948

This is exactly how I feel about Europe. Take note, all you Brexiteers who say that men and fought in two world wars for the good of their country, from the man who helped us "win" the war.

Surely the best outcome of World War II  has to be a united Europe?  Okay, so some of the details need fixing.  So, let's fix them and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.            

Friday 28 September 2018

Olive Groves and Dark Strangers

I've just come to the end of a rather fine holiday on mainland Europe. We have been staying in Nerja, which is the place that started me writing. We've been away for four weeks and I have been doing some work. It doesn’t seem like work though – reading and speaking Spanish, working on my fiction, people watching and adding to my blogs. 

We've noticed a considerable rise in the cost of fuel and a slight rise in other prices. Fortunately we've been using some old euros – worth 70p each and some more recently purchased ones, where we got a good deal – worth 88p. 

Darn, though.  We used to be able to get quality newspapers at the beach. Now it’s only The Sun, The Mirror and The Daily Mail.  We note that quality newspapers are available in other languages.
Are there fewer Brits here this time? Maybe. But there are plenty of Danes, Swedes, Belgians and Irish from the Republic. It continues to buzz here. Our British-owned resort may be struggling a little.  It's quieter. What happened to the live music?  Not that we were complaining. We liked the peace and quiet. 

We stayed for two days in German-owned Casa Maro in Maro.  As we left we told our host that we would be calling into Valdepeñas to buy some wine. He raised his eyebrows. "Be careful not to buy too much or they'll make you pay duty. Oh, wait a minute, you haven't left yet, have you?"

Okay, so it's not all about "booze cruises" - and in fact cheaper alcohol is only one of the attractions for us.  It's a useful side effect.  

"All those olives and vines," says our host. "You'll be driving though acres of them." 

Indeed. We choose to drive rather than fly so that the scenery and the climate change gradually. When you fly you feel a little as if you've landed on a film set. 

But haven't we kind of got used to the free movement? Do you remember the days of getting passports stamped and when you could only take £25.00 out of the country. (£200 now?) 

I guess we'll get round all of this easily enough, eventually, after some initial chaos. After all, we get to North Cyprus, Australia and the US without too much bother. 

But there are other bigger issues at stake:
·         Being excluded from European research groups
·         Losing all those great trade deals we have through the EU with those outside the EU
·         Losing the protection of the Eurpoean Court of Justice
today are my biggest three. I'll probably choose differently tomorrow. 
There is so much that we're about to lose.   

As we wait to board our ferry from Ouistreham, we become aware of a big police presence and a lot of Sudanese young men trying to sneak on to lorries and caravans. They've moved on from Calais. They're surprisingly well-dressed and healthy-looking considering they're living rough.  Apparently they have sets of keys for all makes of lorry and caravan.  They break into caravans and hide in wardrobes. The police and the customs officers do a good job of inspecting every truck and trailer.

Will we get that help from our French friends after 29 March 2019?  Oh, the irony. We'd be invaded by a group of black people who don't speak our language instead of some people who look just like us and speak our language quite well. 

However, these are intelligent young men and they've got this far. They might well be an asset.
They're a little intimidating but polite and actually aren't a threat on a personal level.  They just want a ride to the country whose streets they believe are paved with gold. But the Brits have largely abandoned the walks along the beach and the meals in local restaurants before queuing for the ferry.  Most go straight there. 

Not us.   

We'd often admired one restaurant quite close to the terminal.  Last year we ate there. It was lovely. We seek it out again.  It looks as if it has closed for good.  The windows are dusty, though all the tables are laid inside, as if it is waiting for this to be over.  

We take our usual stroll along the beach. A group of the Sudanese gentlemen are sitting on a fence. A French lady passes with her dog.  One of the young men tries to befriend the dog. The woman smiles. Near the road a poster about an international festival has been added to: "Refugees Welcome". We find a newly refurbished restaurant quite close to where our car is parked. Another English couple and two French families are eating there. There is perhaps some hope after all.