(My) Immigrant Song

The regular (?) arrival of such vessels on our South coast has since been picked up by the BBC, increasingly (with a sadly decreasing number of exceptions) the poodle of the current Government (again a big word to use to describe our current leaders). So now we officially have BBC headlines such at ‘Home Office seeks military help over migrant crossings’. For the publisher of the image, himself a descendant of immigrants, and with two sons who also have German passports, in order to avoid the Brexit disaster their father helped orchestrate, it is once more mission accomplished, with the National Broadcaster yet again strengthening the platform of someone who long since should have been rendered irrelevant.

For the rest of the country, it is distraction from what is becoming obvious to all but the most biased of onlookers, is the appalling handling by the same Government of the current crisis. A blatant, ‘look over here at these dozen people illegally landing on our shores’ and by definition – as we seem to have lost the capacity for vision in more than one direction – ‘not over there, where 65 people died from Corona related symptoms the very same day’.

For the same individuals who have done little but tout the return to the good old days of ‘Great’ Britain and how are stronger alone, etc etc, the potential destructive power of a dozen individuals to such a mighty nation, does seem almost incredible ‘invasion?’. What would they have posted on Twitter had Operation Sea Lion succeeded and the German 6th, 9th and 16th army group had landed. Where do you go from ‘invasion’?

It is in the very same week as all this, that I once again pack all my belongings and on this occasion, spend three days taking nine buses, one plane, one long car ride and two trains, to begin a new life as an immigrant back in my spiritual home of the Oisans (French Alps). This is my privilege. I am (still), much to the disdain of this same ‘politician’ (though not, it would appear, his sons) and his Union Jack flag waving gang, an EU citizen. Moving freely between, working and living in 27 countries is in fact not only my privilege, it is also my right. However, it is most certainly not a colourblind privilege, in keeping with the Zeitgheist, I am all too aware it sadly it is also a white one. Of course if I were a black British citizen I would legally have the very same right, but things would probably play out differently.

When I moved to Barcelona a couple of years ago, in interviewing for flats, my foreign sounding name on the application, was sometimes met with scepticism, however when it became clear to potential landlords I was a mix of Danish and English – countries on the ‘good list’, the rich, Western, privileged list (that word again), any reluctance instantly vanished. In the lottery that is the ‘selection’ of ones place of birth, I fully admit to have rolled a six, hit the jackpot. Not a single door has ever been shut to me due to my birth certificate, nationality or skin colour. I have lived and worked (for at least three months) in eight countries I think, and in my former job as Tour Guide, visited more than one hundred.

Now, as circumstances have dictated, this being the shitshow that is 2020, I find myself once more an immigrant on the move (ok, a legal one admittedly). I am travelling to a small French village to take not one, but two jobs. Two jobs that could potentially have been done by a Frenchman (or woman). Yet no one will bat an eyelid. In fact, knowing Vaujany and the people there, I will be greeted with open arms ‘Ah Thomaaaa, de retour!‘ (you are back). So, sure they know me, that’s not fair you say. And yes, I am not landing at dawn in a dinghy, rather hiking up a big mountain in the afternoon, in plain sight. But the reason they know me is that for seven past winters and five past summers I did live there, and I was taking potentially French jobs away – but at the same time making great French friends for life. However, the day I first stepped out of a white van? No one knew me that day.

Believe it or not, I didn’t and still don’t really intend for this to be political, nor even too much of a rant (well, perhaps a little bit the latter). However there is one point I really want to make. After seeing said poor dozen or so souls captured on Twitter scampering off the beach, but not sadly off our devices, I thought to read a few of the comments people had posted below the photo. I am not going to gratify them by repeating them here (as many were inevitably in support of our photographing political friend), but a common theme were lamentations and condemnations of the irresponsible nature of people – parents – taking their children on these journeys, or even making them in the first place, motivated by jobs and money. You know, the ‘stay at home’ or ‘if they loved their kids, they wouldn’t risk it’ brigade.

It’s also certainly not my intention to get into a debate over the rights and wrongs of illegal (or legal for that matter) immigration. Anyone who knows me, will have a fair idea of my views anyway. But, what really makes me angry is exactly this genre of comments. I know I have said before that things changed when my partner at the time became pregnant with our son. But that’s because they do, things do change. Anyone who is a parent and reading this knows that (others can probably imagine it). I have met and volunteered with immigrants, legal and not, in various parts of the world and I have yet to meet a single one, who truly wanted to leave home with all that that entails. I once met a young Afghan man in a refugee centre in Rome. In front of a huge wall map, he showed me his thousand mile journey, filling in where he had slept in trucks, containers, stowed away in trains or sneaked accross borders at night. The Taliban had visisted his village the day before, given him one day to pack and were intending to pick him up the next day as he could speak some English and they needed an interpreter. When night fell, he said goodbye to his family and slipped away. His intended destination, he told me here in Rome; Finland – as he had a postcard from there showing vast forests. He wanted to see those. There was no mention of money. His was only one story, one immigrant song, but no such decision is ever taken lightly.

Myself, I don’t especially want to leave Spain, now my home and the same country where Akash is, making it harder to see him, to feel closer to him. Had he not existed, I might have been able to sit quietly in my village, riding out the storm, eating donated homegrown vegetables, hoping for tourists to come back. But homegrown vegetables and no tours do not pay for his clothes, his kindergarden, his life and his future. Any loving parent who separates from his or her children, does so only when up against it. Also, who among us doesn’t strive to better our lives or those of our kids? In America people move distances far greater than between Syria and Italy for example for a new job, without even leaving their country. Everyone accepts that.

That is part one of my rant. No one moves countries with the aim of stealing anyone’s job. Part two, no one, but truly no one, puts their children into these dinghies (as we see daily, more often in the Mediterranean) unless they are truly desperate, fucked even. The very thought of me hypothetically having to ask my ex girlfriend, mother of my child and little Akash to travel in something like such a dinghy in anything more dramatic than a swimming pool, would make me first feel embarrassed and a total failure of a father and secondly, extremely nervous about the outcome. It would, in other words, be a final solution, when all other outcomes have been explored. So stop having a go at parents.

In this same week, it was revealed, though quickly glossed over (as it is apparently not in the spirit of things to question or analyse Government handling of the crisis, in the midst of the crisis) that the very people who lead us and often stir up our ‘reluctance’ shall we say, to help our fellow human beings, farmed out more than £150m to a shadow company owned by two of their chums for the procuration of face masks, a company – that is – not even capable of producing a single face mask. This is just one of an increasingly growing list of such banana republic antics coming out of the UK all too frequently now. Do a spot of cigarette packet maths and for those £150m the UK could keep just over 1000 immigrants on benefit for life! And that is failing to take into account how most become useful members of society, not to mention we are a nation built on immigration. Perhaps our would-be coast guard and immigrant policeman, would be better off taking his camera to meetings where these contracts are ‘awarded’ and post that on Twitter. It would save the UK taxpayer a pound or two certainly.

I want to end with a little anecdote, fresh in my mind from last night. I had started writing this during the journey yesterday and planned to publish it upon landing in Bordeaux airport (I wonder why I felt such urgency?) However after 17 hours of travel, I was beat and decided to go straight to my hotel, four stops away on the blue line one. It was close to midnight and not immediately obvious from where the bus left. I emerged from the Terminal and saw Ligne 1 and red rear lights of the bus about two hundred yards to my right. Running, I just made it onboard. One ticket please, I told the driver, remembering my ‘bonsoir‘. Not possible came the reply, accompanied by a pointing finger towards a machine further down the platform. Do I have time? You have 30 seconds, he said. Obviously not enough to get halfway through the sea of discount offers available on any French ticket machine before you even get to pay (if you know, you know), I was faced with little choice and rather despondently turned to get off the bus. As I turned to do so, a very large black lady on the seat behind the driver, said; it gives no change, seeing my clasped (only method of payment) €10 note (the cost I think was €1,30). My heart sank further. The driver simply looked at me, his job done. Over to me, my decision. This was the last bus before the line closed for the night. Pause… ‘Here, I will stamp my ticket twice’ said the lady, got up and did just that.

I could have given her my note, though I am sure she would not have accepted it. I rummaged around in my wallet, eventually finding rather bizarrely five French postage stamps and a twenty cent piece and offered her those. She laughed. C’est bon, she said and waved them away. As I got off ten minutes later, once more helped by the same lady who worked nearby and pointed out the correct stop to me, the driver turned to me – ‘You were lucky’, he said.

He was right, I was, and I still am.

Freshly landed on the shores of France, there was no racist, xenophobic, former politician with nothing but his own self centered, vicious agenda, meeting and greeting me with a camera as I walked through customs. I also very doubt my photo will be in Le Monde tomorrow or on France 24 TV news.

We all have our immigrant songs. And in times of trouble, be it war, disease, economic hardship, whatever makes us up and move, what follows is our own personal song. In their ‘Immigrant Song’, one of my favourite groups, Led Zeppelin puts it this;

So now you’d better stop and rebuild all your ruins
For peace and trust can win the day despite of all your losing

My, white European, greeting in France consisted of a lovely black lady who with her own peace and trust, just helped out a fellow human being. And that is the first verse of my personal immigrant song…

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~ by 2ndcupoftea on August 9, 2020.

5 Responses to “(My) Immigrant Song”

  1. ‘I come from the land of the ice and snow, the midnight sun where the hot springs blow’ Yeah Mr Farage and the Tory party up to their old tricks, things are going very wrong here, so they blame a tiny number of foreign people who are fleeing what, we can only imagine. For me they are welcome here to try and build a better live. Only thing I will say is that things must be bad if they want to come to The UK right now ! Good luck in France. Sean.

  2. To think we were once a country that once welcomed people fleeing from poverty, violence and oppression. So many of our current politicians, who work to stop this now, are descendents of such people, especially at a time when we should be devoting all our energies to combatting Covid 19 and the dangerous outcomes of Brexit.

  3. So sad.

    Hope you are well.

  4. It looks as if certain American attitudes may be seeping across the Atlantic.

  5. The intense sadness of it all is heart breaking.What a strange tearful world we live in with so little compassion or empathy.

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