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Posts Tagged ‘united kingdom’

the sea view cafe - smallSo, I’m working on this story called The Sea View Cafe and I have this character, a young Romanian woman, Anica, who’s travelled across Europe in search of her sister, who she believes came to Britain looking for work.  Anica winds up in a small, recession hit seaside town on England’s North West coast and it’s here she befriends Hermione, owner of the Sea View Cafe.

Hermione is afraid for Anica, wanting to protect her, but not sure of her legal status in England, with all this perpetual political and populist talk of hammering down on immigrants and migrant workers, but Anica proudly announces there is no problem, that, being Romanian, she is a citizen of the European Union. It is an expansive, transcendent title, one that lifts her above petty nationhood and puts her on an equal footing with Hermione.

At least that was the situation pre-Brexit; it allowed Anica an open door to become involved in the story of the Sea View Cafe and its denizens, to develop relationships, to make plans for her future, to fall in love, and very welcome she was too. But I chose Anica, not because she lacked Britishness. Indeed I’m not sure why I chose a Romanian girl, specifically, except perhaps by way of subliminal gratitude since I once had a couple of short fictions translated and published by an online Romanian based ‘zine. But that’s another story. No, what was needed more from Anica was her spirit, her energy, her youthful vibe, and her capacity for unconditional love.

But political events have overtaken the story and Anica’s presence in the soon to be dis-united Kingdom is suddenly in doubt. Now, I’m sure Anica’s presence can be legalised in successive drafts of my story by my writing in a tourist visa or something, but her longer term desire of living and working in the UK are now uncertain and very much tied up in the political machinations of the next few years. Indeed, as a writer I’m asking the question can she realistically be retained without making an issue out of it, or would it be easier to write her out of my story altogether? I really don’t want to do that because I’ve come to know her, and love her, and anyway why the hell should I? Am I speaking metaphorically here?

The Sea View Cafe is just a story and of little importance in the great scheme of things, but for many waking up in this post Brexit Britain, the questions are real and of vital importance. Would you prevent Anica from settling here? What if Anica had already been living here as a citizen of the EU for say a decade? What if she had a job, a house, a mortgage, and her savings, all in pounds, sat in a British bank? Would you insist she went home to Romania? I suspect if you knew her, as I do, you would think that unfair, because someone you know is not a foreigner. If you don’t know her, if you don’t know anyone of another nationality at all, you may feel differently. Then they become the shadowy other, comin’ over ‘ere, taking your jobs and ruinin’ your ‘elf system. And what of the Brits now retired to Spain, or enjoying their settled lives in France, Germany, Portugal? Must they now apply for visas to remain, and how easy will it be for them to obtain residency? Will they soon all be coming home?

So far the only official word we’ve had is that, for now, the status of settled EU citizens in the UK and abroad is unchanged. But this is a statement of the obvious. We know it’s unchanged “for now”, but we also know it is going to change, and we want to know when, and when it does what that status is going to be. Or at least I do, as I’m sure do many others, though for entirely different reasons.

But for now I must leave Anica in the company of her Sea View Cafe friends, clutching her EU passport, and contemplating a long bus-ride home. I was thinking to have the novel cracked by the end of this year but this is a serious spanner in the works and I’m doubtful the question will be resolved any time soon.

You might say of course Anica will be all right because she has the poetic license of a romantic author behind her, but those living in the real world, outside of my story do not. The fallout of those crosses we placed last Thursday has opened a Pandora’s box of consequences impossible to predict. And while the dominoes fall across Europe, our political leadership, now seen as brittle, dissolves once more into a febrile self destruction, the pot stirred by a vicious, crass and infantile press, interested not in the solutions to any of this, but only the emotive headlines to be gleaned from the chaos and the name-calling.

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man strolling in a wooded landscape - detail - A A MillsAmazing, how quickly the cosy glow of one’s holidays fades, isn’t it? Mid morning, first morning back at the day job and there you are, things settling upon you once more, a million crabs nipping and nagging at you, something slithering over your skin – that all too familiar cold slime of responsibility. Then it’s out into the near stagnant commute, arriving home some indeterminate time later, brain-fried and grumpy, then bed by ten, waking at six thirty a.m. feeling totally unrefreshed, and getting up and doing it all again.

But we would be much worse off if we didn’t get that two week break, if like in the olden golden times of arch Conservatism, the labouring masses got no holidays at all, but for Christmas day, and we worked a six and a half day, sixty five hour week until we dropped dead, never having climbed a step from poverty – a regime we’re heading back to if our young are to have any hope of living off the wages that are paid in these enlightened, tightened times, these times of grim austerity.

I can’t believe I am still hearing that word.

Surely austerity was for the nineteen fifties, after the world was nearly ruined in a storm of war that lasted five years – not this, this financial crisis, this money game, this accounting fraud that has already lasted much longer than a world at war, laying waste to the less fortunate of nations as surely as if they had been invaded by tanks and guns.

The black tide of Nazism was defeated in less time than this. And the only strategy against the tyranny of the money game that the money captains can come up with is to convince us there is no alternative to an eternal free fall into a future of less and less, into an austerity of eternal midnight.

Alas, it is the banishment of all hope, all ye who enter here.

But for a weeks I flew. I climbed the little road from Malham in a lovely old car with the top down. I flew all the way to Leyburn, I left the bustling market square at Masham early one Saturday morning beneath a deep summer blue sky and with the birds singing, and I flew all the way to Scarborough. There, I walked the long front from north to south bays and back, explored the steep and narrow of the old town, and breathed a different air. And the gulls were not the killer gulls of the bonkers press. They were the snow white fisher-birds I have always known, and there were only ink-dirty fingers pointing blame where blame there was none, creating a story, where story there was none, while steadfastly ignoring the real story of our times.

In the creed of Nowness, the past is unimportant, but the recent memory of a positive experience can sustain us, at least for a little while, as we nudge ourselves back into the material reality of our dayjobs. It creates a bit of space. The darkness of the first week back after one’s holidays can then be punctured by a gentle reflection. But I fear in my case, after thirty seven years of nine to five, I am already growing out of work, my mind turning far too soon to other things. I would as soon eschew the looming golden watch, escape instead, travel the length and breadth of my United Kingdom in that little roadster with a light bag and a box of books, and a little tapping pad on which to muse and write of what I find along the way.

Sigh.

It’ll be a while before I can realistically do that, but there it is:

The dream of flight.

Of escape.

But what if what we are trying to escape from is a state of mind? one that constructs cages for itself, and the cage is on castors, so we cannot help but take it wherever we go? What if it cannot be escaped by running? To be sure the snares of the material world are myriad, and the thing with snares is the rabbit strangles itself by thinking it can get away, by resisting, by struggling. But by resisting, the noose only tightens all the more. It is the evil efficiency of the snare, that it uses one’s own energy to bring about our destruction.

Thus it is the creed of Nowness teaches us the art of escape through stillness, by creating space within ourselves so we slip through unharmed, like a slippery seed, clean through the arsehole of the world, to bloom elsewhere, upon another plane. And so, even amid the nine to five, we walk a kind of inner freedom, and we do not mind the world as it is any more. Even the bumbling blather of austerity talk and money tyranny melt into the background, into a meaningless Muzak.

Or so the theory goes.

It troubles me only in that all of this sounds a little defeatist. Surely if we are trapped we should fight with all our might, and at the very least do something? Seeking instead our escape within we might as well be wishing an early grave, for both things are liberating in a sense, but hardly what one might call living. I suppose it’s just this feeling I have done my time at the work face, my nose pressed against the dirt for too long, and would leave the struggle to others now, to those who still can – struggle on. For as the saying goes, those who can do, while those who cannot do teach, and those who are not for doing any more, and cannot teach, can only write.

I don’t know if I’ve returned, post trip, with a straighter head or not. It feels a bit wobbly to me. Do you think?

Graeme out.

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CLAPHAM CHURCHScanning the news items over this Easter holiday I was interested to note the Media headlining the PM’s assertion that the United Kingdom is a “Christian country”, and they’ve contrasted this with a cautionary letter, signed by an impressive cast-list of writers, broadcasters and intellectuals who say it’s not. The letter suggests that the repeated assertion by politicians that the UK is a “Christian country” is merely pandering to right-wing conservatism, that it is divisive and a retrograde step for any progressive, multicultural society. But rather than running for cover, the government came out fighting this morning, the PM’s comments being backed up by a couple of party big-guns, reminding us that the foundations of British social and constitutional history are indeed quite demonstrably “Christian”.

I feel the waters have been rather muddied with all this stamping about, but I agree that, since the narrative of my own past is at least nominally Christian, this is likely also to be true for many British people, and certainly those who are of middle age today. It is also more likely to be true the further one goes back through the generations. But regardless of whether we call ourselves Christians, surveys do indicate the majority of us now actually practice no faith at all. So, while the political view is that the UK is, or should be, morally and constitutionally “Christian”, intellectually, culturally and socially, it isn’t – at least it isn’t any more. Only when extrapolating the data backwards do we see a more religious, Christian, faith-based society; extrapolating the trend forwards, we see it declining still further.

The narrative of the UK, like much of the western world, is secular. Its public face is business-like and pragmatic. Only in private do its citizens express their religious views, if they have any. That a politician, a business leader, or indeed anyone else, attends church every Sunday and holds fast to traditional Christian beliefs is a matter for them, part of their private, rather than their public life, in the same way as their sexuality and their ethnicity should not be seen as having any bearing on their ability to do the day-job.

I recall it’s not the first time the PM has spoken out on religious matters. Recently, he was urging Christians to be more confident in expressing their faith. I think we need to return here to the distinction between those who actually practice Christianity, and those who merely accept the label for want of any other. Those practising Christians of my acquaintance certainly lack no confidence in matters of faith, so it’s unclear to whom the PM is addressing these remarks. Meanwhile, of the overwhelming majority of “nominal” Christians among my friends and family, I’m sure none could care less about religious matters, so long as the vicar can still be persuaded to marry them in church.

A decent country needs decent, energetic, intelligent and competent people in charge, but such qualities do not come with a religious, sexual or ethnic label. I have known practising religious “Christian” people who, outside of the church, were very cruel and stupid, and it makes me pause when I contemplate what possible political motive there might be in trying to render the “C” word once more synonymous with positions of power and influence. Whilst as a spiritual philosophy Christianity, or indeed any other faith, holds a profound spiritual wisdom for those in search of it, as a social authority, or an instrument for control or influence of large populations, “Religion” in general is very much a tainted brand, and politicians should be careful how they handle it.

When I filled out my census forms in 2001, I probably entered Christian in the “faith” box, as I had always done previously, but this was purely out of convention rather than conviction. As a child, I went regularly to the Anglican church because my nearest school was faith based, and it was therefore “expected”. This has coloured my view of religion somewhat, and rendered me sensitive to carrying out any action merely for the appearance of things. Throughout those attendances as a child I was not really a Christian, because it takes much more to be a proper Christian than an hour a week. But in the mill-villages of the North of England, certainly in the sixties and early seventies, there was still a stigma attached to unfastening that label. When a people are defined by the badges they wear, there is something rather daunting about openly admitting one has no badge, no belonging. It’s like saying you are nothing, that to be faithless is also to be tribe-less; it is to risk being cast out into the wilderness, without protection.

I have not attended church services regularly since 1971, when I left the faith based education system to enter the bosom of a shaggy haired secular comprehensive. There, God was irrelevant in the day to day, and was presented to us in religious education classes more as a private matter, than with any evangelical zeal. There I found myself with half remembered bible stories and a wad of certificates for Sunday school attendance, while seriously lacking proficiency in basic mathematics – a handicap that took me many years to catch up. Still, it was not until the 2011 census and, in the absence of anything more descriptive, I finally entered “none” in the faith box.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to leave the bosom of the communion by so simple an act as ticking a box, but then my parents were fond of telling the story of my christening being bundled through by a vicar who, in a hurry to go picking blackberries, got my name the wrong way round, so the State has me down as one thing and God quite another. Thus it was with casual indifference on the part of God’s representative, and helplessness on my own, I was accepted into the faith in the first place, so perhaps I should have fewer qualms about the reciprocal casualness with which I have subsequently cancelled my membership, some fifty years later.

Such at least is the experience of one middle aged UK citizen in his nominally Christian country.

This is not to say I have abandoned the spiritual quest, nor do I suggest that it is in any way unimportant. Indeed, paradoxically, spiritual thinking is now more than ever central to my approach to life, though hardly in a way that anyone could describe as religious – it’s just that there’s no box that will define it on the census forms. The secular world is remarkably dynamic and productive, but without a moral compass it can easily founder. Religion alone can do nothing to address such shortcomings, and when it does get involved it usually ends up making things worse. It is the human spirit in its most sincere manifestation, and in whatever language it is expressed, that will move the mountains and clear the path to a better world, and it is from the human spirit, unfettered by dogma and ritual, we derive the moral compass that is universal to all cultures.

Regrettably, in all this Media fascination with religion and politics, in the sound bites, the muckraking, mudslinging, feather-preening and tub-thumping, I note that matters of the spirit are entirely absent. Whether the UK is a Christian country or not is, I believe, entirely irrelevant in addressing the challenges we face as we go forward into the twenty first century. For myself, the thought of a half-century time-slip back to the Christian conservatism, and the back-stabbing religious hypocrisy of a sixties mill-village, is not one that I particularly relish.

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