Brexit & The Very English Countryside

As I write, the view from the window is simply stunning. Garden gives on to meadow then woodland upon which perch a loose nest of cottages sprawled up the saddleback of Holcombe hill, which then finally succumb to the wild moorlands of the West Pennines. Sadly, all this will eventually disappear.

Since everyone lost the ‘Brexit election’ – Brexit is now at risk, the anti-democrats are back pushing for a ‘soft Brexit’ which really means no Brexit which means our countryside is in danger – one naturally follows the other, you’ll have to trust me on this.  While I don’t claim to be an expert on matters of the country, like some of our more informed writers on CSM or indeed housing planning, I do know this: the more people you let in, the more houses you need to build, the more green space you’ll eventually have to bulldoze. Sometimes this can feel like banging your head against a brick wall. Yet to merely suggest this, for example at one of my increasingly diminishing dinner parties, is a step too far – I might as well have placed a Papiermâché of Adolf Hitler on my mantelpiece and lit candles around it.

Yet, having lived in the countryside around Bury, Greater Manchester, now for over four months – I can tell you the people aren’t happy. Coincidentally just today, I learned from a fellow dog walker that the privately owned park (which fronts that amazing view I just described) could possibly be sold off for housing development – that’s why they haven’t been cutting the grass, she told me. Yep, now it all makes sense. Not only that but possibly the green areas around the golf course too, it’ll be horrible, she said; horrible doesn’t cover it, profane is more suited.

All across this ‘green and pleasant land’ residents like my fellow dog walker are furious at the planned developments on their precious greenbelt (the most dramatic threat is around Manchester which must take 50,000 new homes); various Facebook groups, blogs, organisations, protests movements have sprung up as people vent their indignation.

For instance, without boring you with endless stats, according to the House of Commons library the number of homes granted planning permission annually in greenbelt rose five fold from 2,258 in 2009-10 to 11,977 in 2014-15 and the net loss of green belt between 2004 and 2014-15 amounts to 103,000 acres. And so the natural party of the countryside made a pledge in their 2015 Manifesto not to play Lego on the green bits, further reinforced by a recent White Paper; but they do, it must be said, have a habit of volte-face that’d make a wind-up toy appear consistent.

‘We desperately need to build around between 250,000 – 300,000 homes a year, one every tenth of a millisecond otherwise we’re all screwed’ they yell, yet make no mention of the fact that current net immigration levels have been running at roughly that figure for years. It’s not rocket science is it? Or maybe it is, again, everybody repeat: the more people you let in, the more houses, the more green space you’ll bulldoze (and if we’re honest Brexit was mainly a cry to reduce immigration – whether from inside or outside the EU).

Besides, it doesn’t take much of a push to see all this in the current political climate, this struggle of us vs. them – this war of plurality: the young vs. the old; ‘the tolerant vs. the bigoted’; soft vs. hard; Lily Allen vs. sanity, from which countryside vs. urban is but one skirmish.

I’m often quizzed by urbanites about why exactly I live where I do (value for money and lack of housing plays a part) and I suspect that certain urban elites resent the country and view it with suspicion. A narrative of England that’s lost familiarity: quaint English pubs – dogs allowed for necessity rather than trendy posturing; ringing church bells; homogeneous communities; real markets rather than those silly over-priced multicultural fares; social conservatism and a good slap of common sense.

And so common sense dictates that the beauty of the English countryside remains one of England’s greatest assets and so probably worth saving. This idea of organised lanes and hedgerows centred around a church and village pub – the nostalgic vision depicted by Constable.

But that’s not to say that a ‘hard Brexit’ and, presumably, a reduction in net immigration will totally save the countryside. There are of course other factors at play, not least house prices, occupancy rates and this insatiable national greed of wanting more, this need for a just a bigger better house – more room to stuff more crap in. But if the countryside must take its fair share of massive population growth, which comes solely from immigration, then surely Brexit will go a long way in addressing this.

This article was first posted here at Country Squire Magazine 

Advertisements

A brief encounter with an African in Cairo

I’m not one who’s ever been able to sleep on long tortuous bus journeys. The intermittent light of passing streetlights punctuated by desolate clusters of makeshift homes, then a stretch of darkness longer than you’d hoped, as you desperately try to gather your bearings – how long left?

The anonymity of the bus traveller, a gilded cloak acting as a protective blanket shielding one from the strangeness of the surroundings. Nobody likes turning up free style in a foreign country, no matter what they tell you, and I’m no exception. No matter how much I’ve tried to convince myself, I’m human too.

Anybody who’s spent a significant amount of time in Cairo – although most won’t admit it – will attest to the sear palpable sexually energy which oozes it’s narrow streets. A good half hour stroll around the block is enough to sate any sexually starved deviant. One can physically feel the repression. Furtive glances of covered wives verses the seemingly rampant homosexuality of, it would seem, most Egyptian men.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Cairo is one big massive gay club. Groups of skinny Muslim boys skip hand in hand through Tahir Square, massive grins plastered on their faces; all they’re missing are the daisy chains. Apparently, I’ve been told, they only consider themselves gay if they’ve the receiver rather than giver – I can understand why William Burroughs spent so much time in Morocco.

The 80 pence a night hostel I found was conveniently located on a 24-hour market street in the centre of Cairo. Situated on the second floor of a dilapidated British colonial building that also housed, it later transpired, two other hostels, one of which seemed to be home to some bizarre Japanese cult. The lift had stopped working since the Suez Crisis and was now home to a group of stray kittens that survived on day-to-day handouts from the tourists. Ironically, modern day Egyptians have no great fondness for cats – or animals of any nature, from what I understand.

The sleeping arrangements resembled more a stable than a hostel. The mattresses were as brown as mud mixed with coffee, and were the most disgusting thing I’d ever seen in my life. Clearly the last time the place had been cleaned was when the British pulled out in ’57. I scattered my 80 pence in front of the ‘receptionist’ and within a few minutes slumped on the bed – I was sharing a room with two Africans and young Japanese guy.

When I awoke the next day, one of the Africans was staring blankly at me – a distant resigned expression. I was a little apprehensive. His name was Coco and he came from Togolese. He explained he’d travelled to Libya but was unable to find work and so came to Egypt.

“There’s nothing here for me here either,” he said with a pompous French air, “I’ll go to Israel, but I don’t have the money yet.”

Coco’s native language was French – Togo being a French colony – it was remarkable how he’d actually acquired that French arrogance: expressive, moaning, arms in the air, bottom lip sulking. He was well dressed, groomed and clearly middle class. He wandered around the place in these lurid colour garments, a striking contrast to the black and white monotone of Cairo’s streets. He was funny, smart and friendly, but also prone to long spasms of depression; he’d lie in bed staring at the broken ceiling fan, which rotated intermittently like an abandoned propeller attached to a rusty helicopter from some forgotten war.

He wasn’t particularly impressed by the hostel living standards either. The 80 pence was supposed to include breakfast – taken on the balcony in the morning with a cup of sweet tea; breakfast was really just stale flat Egyptian bread with jam.

“What do you think I am? An animal?” he flipped out one morning. “I’m a tourist, and this is not a tourist hotel. It’s a pig sty.”

He stood up and started pacing around the place, pointing, “look at this mess, clean it, I’ll call the tourist police on you.” He never did.

Poor Coco also hated eating locally – you don’t know what those people put in it, he explained. Preferring to cook sardines in tomatoes with a handful of chilli chucked in for good measure.

One evening, as we ate, he explained to me that my grandfather was a thief.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“He came to my country and took everything, he’s a thief.”

“My Granddad was a history teacher in secondary school.”

“Well, his father then.”

“We’re not French.”

“Always, Washington and London,” he made a whispering sound, “planning and plotting. One day I’ll come to your country, you’ll see.”

A month later, he managed to pay a trafficker to smuggle him into Israel. It was, as he said, his last chance.

“I don’t know why, but I feel like we are brothers,” he told me, “We’ll meet again one day, I know it.”

I never saw him again.

Cairo, Egypt, 2008

To say that Spain is in the mierda is a bit of an understatement

“Why do English people say sorry, when they don’t mean it?” asked a Spanish man outside Sinclair’s Oyster Bar in Shambles Square. It’s a popular rendezvous for the Spanish community in Manchester.

I shrug. “I don’t know, maybe they mean it. What other cultural differences have you noticed?”

He pauses, clocks his surroundings and then says, “Going out at 7 and finishing the night early. At home we don’t go out until 10, sometimes later.”

Suddenly, and typically English, a fight spills out on to the street. It’s not even closing time. The barman tries to defuse the situation as the tattooed drunk stumbles around, shouting obscenities into the warm night air.

“Do people here drink more than in Spain,” I ask, a little embarrassed at our national stereotype, knowing full well the answer.

“Don’t ask me, I’m from Italy,” he replied. “The English drink more than anybody, don’t they?”

To say that Spain is in the mierda is a bit of an understatement. It has one of the lowest birth rates in the world at 1.2 children per woman; an unemployment rate hovering around 24.8 per cent; a shrinking and ageing population, with hundreds of thousands of young people fleeing to look for work elsewhere. Understandably many are worried that their countrymen are lost to their host nation.

How many have left Spain is difficult to tell. Suffice to say mass emigration on this scale hasn’t been seen since the Second World War. Before that – apart from those fleeing Franco’s regime – emigration from Spain had been rare. As an attractive half- Colombian Spanish lady tells me, “things are so bad in Spain that people are actually relocating to South America.” This time they’re looking for jobs, not gold.

Not everyone sees this exodus of Spanish youth as a bad thing. A case in point is Yashin Dadashnejad, an affable and articulate man from Tenerife who moved to Manchester ten years ago. He tells me it’s been good for both Spaniards and Mancunians that so many of his fellow citizens have relocated here.

“Before, you had many Asians but perhaps the city was lacking people from different parts of Europe. Now, Manchester has people from other cultures it didn’t have before.”

Having originally worked in one of the Spanish restaurant chains – “you know the ones I mean, where it’s not really Spanish food, and quality is poor” – he wanted to bring some of the authentic stuff to the city, so eight months ago he opened La Bandera with his brother. The restaurant has received rave reviews and has become popular with Spanish footballers resident in the city.

So, how’s the Spanish community changed since he arrived?

“When I first came to Manchester, at Uni there was a Spanish society of only six people, and another online community run by a guy from Barcelona, we used to meet up every Thursday, at a place called the Retro bar.” Times have changed. “Now you can find Spaniards all over the place. Sinclair’s is popular.”

In Spain, corruption and welfare are a major issue. “You can work for a year and live off benefits for a year after that – with something like 90 per cent of your wage. I don’t think that helps.”

(Read the rest at ilovemanchester.com)

Japan’s road to extinction

The novelist PD James died a few months ago; known mainly as a writer of detective fiction, not much coverage was given to her brilliant 1992 non-detective novel, The Children of Men that imagines a dystopian United Kingdom in 2021. In the novel the country is steadily ageing and depopulating the last human to be born was in 1995, but has been killed in a pub brawl in Buenos Aires. As a result of sperm counts dropping to zero mankind faces extinction and novel takes us on a journey through the horrifying consequences. The sexual act has become so unappealing and devoid of all meaning that the state sponsors pornography centres to encourage the flagging libido, just in case a baby might be born. Dolls are dressed up as babies. Puppies and kittens are doted on and treated as infants, pushed around in prams and dressed up in children’s clothing and even christened in religious like ceremonies. Society has lost all interest in politics and is now governed by a despot named the Warden of England.

Due to a depleting population, foreign workers are imported into the country to be exploited from poorer countries. These are called the sojourners, who once they reach the age of 60 are sent back home – to be less of a burden on the welfare system. Native citizens are not allowed to emigrate to prevent further loss of labour. There are too many old people and they have become a burden on society being unproductive and a cost to the state. There are few nursing homes and the rest are forced into committing suicide by taking part in the Quietus – state sponsored mass drowning. The youngest generation – The Omegas are spoilt rotten, violent and unpredictable, regarding their elders with little more than contempt.

If there is any society that resembles The Children of Men it’s Japan. Let’s take a look at Japan’s fertility figures. In 2012 the fertility rate was 1.4 live births per couple. Japan along with, Spain (1.3), Italy (1.4), and Greece (1.3) has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. The replacement rate needed for a healthy society is 2.1. The population under 15 years old is 16.6 million (13.2 per cent of the total population) while the numbers for the over 65s is over 23%. The percentage of the population aged 65 or over is now the highest in the world, followed by Germany and Italy both standing at 20.4%. At this rate Japan will have no children left by 3011. It is reckoned that in 50 years the population of Japan will shrink to about 87 million people. Lots of old people and very few young ones. Experts say that Japans population will decrease by one million every year in the coming decades. The sale of adult nappies in Japan has recently surpassed that of children.

Japan faces another problem – who’s going to pay for all the pensioners? In Children of Men it’s the sojourners. In Europe it is covered by Muslim immigration, but Japan doesn’t particularly like immigrations and has no interest in importing any. Foreigners account for just 1.1% of the workforce, by comparison official figures for Germany is 9.4% and UK 7.7%. So all this obviously causes a mounting pensions crisis. Who’s going to staff the hospitals, man the factories, build the roads, do the jobs nobody else wants to do? Maybe get robots to do it.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Japan seems to be suffering from “celibacy syndrome”. The under 40s have appeared to have lost interest in normal relationships. Dating, kissing, having sex all that stuff to do with human contact – they just can’t be bothered with. A survey found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of unmarried women aged 18-34 were in no kind of sexual relationship. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never even dated. Japan’s Family Planning Association found that 45% of women between 16-24 despised and had no interest in sexual contact as did over 25% of men. And let’s not even get into Tokyo’s Cat cafes, where for a cover fee you can spend a lazy afternoon stroking and petting feline baby substitute. Like Children of men, pornography or virtual sex has replaced the real thing, with most people preferring to be sexted rather than doing the real thing. PD James writes, “Women complain increasingly of what they describe as painful orgasms: the spasm achieved but not the pleasure. Pages are devoted to this common phenomenon in the women’s magazines”.

As PD James knew, a society, which is totally atomised and lives in the present (Ipad YouTube), resents the past and believes in nothing will slowly give up having children. A society, which stops having children, is literally a dead society.

Multicultural Melilla: Spain’s secret African enclave

An Indian housewife in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, looked around her diverse multicultural London neighbourhood, and observed that: “No one was more liberal than anyone else anywhere anyway. It was just that here, in Willesden, there was just not enough of any one thing to gang up against any other thing and send it running to the cellars while windows were smashed.”

Situated in the north coast of Africa, where the blue sea laps against its shores; a tax-free haven, a port of call for the many cruises which dalliance around the Mediterranean and a smuggling point between Morocco which contests the city as its own. Nowhere is diversity more evident than in the Spanish enclave of Melilla, which along with Spain’s other autonomous city Ceuta shares a border with Morocco.

Melilla has been praised as a shining example of multiculturalism and is home to populations of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Indians and Chinese. Over the years the native Christian population, which was the majority in the past, has been shrinking, while the Muslim demographic has steadily increased, due to increased immigration and higher birth rates, approximately 45 percent of Melilla is now Muslim. The city also has an established Jewish population, which has also shrunk from 20 percent down to 5 percent with many emigrating to Israel and Venezuela.

Although Melilla has been part of Spain since 1497, it was only until about fifteen years ago that migrants and refugees have attempted to storm the six-meter high security fences, which surround the city. Immigration reached its peak in 2005 and has been increasing ever since, amounting to what are now full-scale fence storming operations. On the 28th of May this year more than 1000 migrants stormed the fences with 400 managing to make it over, to be housed in the city’s ‘temporary’ migration centre, which was built to house 500 but has now over 2000 refugees, and that number is increasing. In 2013, some 4,200 migrants crossed into Spain from both Melilla and Ceuta, a 49% rise over the 2012 figures, according to official figures. The situation is already desperate not just for the migrants but also for the Spanish authorities who are reaching saturation point.

If the migrants successfully make it over the fence they are housed in the migration centre where they will find themselves in a no-mans land, a bureaucratic purgatory until they are eventually sent back home or more likely released and granted asylum, by which they can travel to any other EU country, due to the relaxation of border controls. The Schengen agreement, which removed internal borders within Europe, puts great pressure on border countries, which have to deal with refugees and immigrants on behalf of other countries. Melilla, a small city, bears the brunt more than most places. It should also be noted that many migrants lose their passports so they cannot but be accepted by the Spanish authorities. No identity, no country to send them back to.

The situation in Melilla is echoed throughout Europe at large. On the same day that 1000 migrants stormed the border fences in Melilla, the French riot police stormed two similar migrant centres in Calais (the last port of call to England) forcing some 500 migrants mostly from Afghanistan and Syria to collect their belongings and leave. The encampments were then bull dozed. Italy has also experienced a massive influx with migrants attention focused on the island of Lampedusa, which is close to Africa and the last port of call to the EU.

Most people, might imagine Melilla to be a wondrous place, a fascinating anomaly in the north of Africa, where east meets west, just a jaunt down the street and you’re assaulted by an array of languages, colours and smells, a vibrant market place of diversity. You’d be wrong. Almost immediately upon arrival the languid fatigue of the place slaps you in the face, as you desperately try to gather your bearings. Rather than being a unique multicultural wonderland, the various cultures of the city have literally given rise to what can only be described as a cultural vacuum, with the various cultures, whether Christian, Chinese or Muslim, effectively neutralizing each other. For example, you have Spanish style cafes but they double as kebab or pizza takeaways; you have tapas bars but they’re not nearly as good as they are on the mainland, the Chinese food is ghastly and Berber food difficult to find.

Despite being technically Europe, the whole place has a distinctively third world feel to it. And with the increasing Muslim demographic, the city will eventually become part of Morocco by default, leaving only a ghostly whisper of the town’s Spanish past. The Bengali housewife in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth would doubtless have thought the same about Melilla as she did about her culturally diverse neighbourhood in London, but whether anything will fill the cultural vacuum of this place is for future generations to decide.