I woke up to the fact rather late I might be able to vote in the referendum. In Britain I last voted in the corker of an election in 1997, but needed to be registered as a voter no longer than fifteen years ago to be eligible this time. If the leave vote wins by one, I will mount a challenge.
I’m concerned. What on earth will Britain do without the flood of genuinely rude Italians to serve coffee (at Café Nero)?
Please don’t tell me I’m going to have to put up with stroppy kids.
Immigration is a driving force of fear, manipulated by politicians. They never ask immigrants questions. They are objects. Britain (or London in my case) has changed since I left in ’98, some for the better, and some for the worse. London has become more cosmopolitan, but it also has had the crap out of it corporatized. Granted, Le Pain Quotidian is an upgrade from Wimpy, but the rootless Westfield Mall in Shepherds Bush could be anywhere, floating from Century City to Vancouver.
London has changed. A few years ago I howled with laughter when I discovered where the Silicon Roundabout (so-named because of the prevalence of tech companies) was located. It’s a stones throw from where I used to work in the mid-90’s — when Britain was cool. Used to be called the Old Street roundabout in my day, with a brilliant, if small, vegetarian store with weird and not always wonderful products to help a nascent veggie.
June 23rd/24th carries interesting personal connotations. My family emigrated from South Africa to England on these dates. I went along before ejecting myself from British shores eighteen/nineteen years later (I hit the eject button but it took 16 months to work).
As an immigrant there’s an obvious question no one ever asks, but one I have asked myself. When was the moment you became, or think you became British?
As a child there’s an advantage as you assimilate into the greater culture despite daily reminders you are not one of the great culture. Being white was an advantage, being Jewish not so much, as the blue blazers of Joe’s Fish Shop were a magnet for every anti-Semite in North London.
I was punched in the stomach by a bus conductor and chased down the street by two kids bigger than me (not hard) only to be saved by inadvertent comedy.
HOLLOWAY was the usual cry from us JFS kids as a warning, if only because shouting Saint Richard of Chichester was a little lengthy. You’d be black and blue by time those words parted your lips. Plus Holloway had the negative amplifier of being a Women’s Prison.
Nowhere to run, I turned to my Holloway pursuers swinging one of those cheap, hard blue plastic Adidas bags (about half my size) over my head, teetering on my toes and on the brink of annihilation yelling god knows what. The two attackers stopped, looked at me, then looked at each other and laughed. They went on their merry way.
That wasn’t the moment I became British, but humour had a part to play, namely Only Fools and Horses.
British humour is, of course, brilliant. Most people — and those beyond Britain —will pick out Fawlty Towers, Monty Python, Are You Being Served, The Good Life, (I liked the short-lived Citizen Smith), Porridge, and Black Adder amongst the greatest of British TV comedy classics. The list is extensive. Re-runs of Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em was perfect for immigrant kids. Others like Til Death Do Us Part and Steptoe and Son found their way to the U.S. in the form of All in the Family and Sandford and Son. Dad’s Army, however, could never be replicated, and nor could Britain’s favourite sitcom, Only Fools and Horses.
I didn’t appreciate Only Fools and Horses when it first aired. Either I was too young, or not yet assimilated to understand. It took a re-run of the third season (one episode to be precise) before the breakthrough occurred. The other shows are relatively easy for Johnny Foreigner to get, they play nicely on British eccentricity and class — essentially how people want to and expect to see Britain. Only Fools plays on class too, but it’s brilliance lay in its reflection of Thatcherism as it was happening as well its unforgettable characters and their relationships.
Laughing uncontrollably at one episode is the moment I became British. Not passports, pieces of paper, or swearing an oath to the Queen — something I’ve done twice — but laughter.
I’m too late with this blog (not that anyone would read it), but my plea to Britain would be to trust yourself and your culture, that it is strong and will not be crushed by immigration. Don’t be mislead by xenophobia that will end up with other kids in blue uniforms being chased, because it is easily done. There are other forces that need to be kept in check first, like crude capitalism.