The UK Doesn't Need You! (apparently)

I don’t know what your reaction was to the announcement by the British government of a new, points-based immigration system, but mine has developed over a period of days, like a particularly interesting coloured bruise.

The official points list – would you qualify?

The biggest, purplest, patch comes from the fact that I’m not actually sure I’ve ever known anyone in the UK who has a job paying more than £25,600. I certainly wouldn’t want to bet my life on knowing more than three or four of them.

Then there are various colours made up from “What counts as an official sponsor? Or an appropriate skill level?” to “What foreign-born person with a PhD is going to bother to try to gain entry to such an obviously xenophobic country?” and “You have read the level of English in Brexiteer comments, right?”

And then I contemplate my own arrival in a foreign country, aged 35, with no obvious skill set and a minimal grasp of the language. I got a job as a hotel cleaner – along with all the other immigrants – and spent the first couple of months in the job nodding vigorously, saying “Oui” and then copying the more experienced cleaners when the manager instructed me to clean such items as “les plinthes” (that’s the skirting boards, in case you too never encountered this particular term during your school French lessons).

By the time I’d lived in France for a year, I spoke the language fluently enough to get a job selling houses. By the time I’d done that for a year, I could speak it well enough to rock up in an obscure hamlet and engage the nearest paysan in a patois-ridden conversation about who might possibly have an empty house they’d like to sell.

And by the time I’d moved to another country and gone through the same process again, I realised I could set up as a freelance translator; a job in which I set my own working hours, refuse projects I don’t fancy the look of, and earn about three times what I’ve ever earned from a “real” job (and yes, rather more than the magic £25,600 a year).

Because, unless we spring like the other Cabinet members, fully formed from a public school education and several hundred years of wealthy ancestors, it sometimes takes us ordinary mortals a while to find our place as useful members of society. Occasionally, we even need to move from one country to another to do it. We may even – shock, horror! – have to become self-employed! But that still doesn’t make us unworthy of living in the UK.

Except by choice, of course.

You can find out for yourself whether you’d be eligible for immigration* in this fun game, made by Upstart Theatre.

Here’s my result:

Colour me disappointed…

*Answer: almost certainly not.

Why Gandhi was a liar: being the change you want to see in the world

Since I’ve begun translating self-help texts more often, I’ve encountered that Gandhi quote about once a month, because everyone uses it. And it sounds right, doesn’t it? Gandhi was the kind of chap who would say you need to make an effort to achieve good things.

The problem is that Gandhi never actually said it. Yes, I’m sure he thought things that amounted to the same, but, somewhat unsurprisingly, a civil rights leader from the early-mid 20th century didn’t actually talk in soundbites like an inspirational poster from nearly 100 years later.

The same applies to many other great thinkers – in fact, you can pretty much guarantee that if you’ve seen it used as an inspirational quote against a picture of the sea*, it was never uttered in that form by the person it’s attributed to.

But today I’ve come across possibly the most bizarre example of this ever – and, topically, it’s a bit of a Valentine-themed one.

Charles Bukowski wrote a wonderful piece entitled “An Almost Made Up Poem”, which contains the fabulous lines “She’s mad but she’s magic. There’s no lie in her fire”.

Except… he didn’t. Well, he did write such a poem, and it is really good, but his actual words are “she’ mad but she’ magic. there’ no lie in her fire”. Which is, you know, infinitely better than the sanitised version. Much more… poetical, you might even say.

And yet, if you Google that line, you’ll see page after page of neatly laid out “She’s mad…”s, all with the ‘correct’ grammar and capitalisation.

Now I kind of get the Gandhi thing – you’re trying to make the point that improving society starts with improving yourself, and you choose the great man as the authority to back up your assertion. Fine. But why think “Ooh, I really like that poem by Bukowski, but I think he could have done with a good proofreader. I’ll fix it before I upload it”?

Anyway, if you want to read Bukowski’s original poem – trust me, it’s well worth a few minutes of your time – you can find it here.

*(ironically, the one? correctly quoted version does indeed have a background image of the sea!)

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu…

It’s been a blast, Britain, and you’ve put on a thoroughly entertaining play, but I’m afraid I’m going to step out before the end of the last act.

Because it’s pretty obvious that despite all the lies and the electoral fraud and the lies and the misrepresentation and the lies and the BBC’s “mistakes” and the lies and the obvious unfitness to govern of pretty much everyone in a leading Conservative role – oh, and the REALLY VAST LIES, I MEAN, LIES SO HUGE YOU CAN PRACTICALLY SEE THEM FROM THE NEXT GALAXY… the British electorate is going to vote the Tories back in again. Again! I mean, I still haven’t forgiven them for the 1980s yet, and you think this utter shower of shite can be trusted in any way?  

Which means there’s going to inevitably be a no-deal Brexit, with Britain leaving the EU at the end of 2020.

And I’m sorry, but that’s really not my problem any more. I voted Remain the first time around. And I could see which way things were going right from the start, which is why I applied for Swedish citizenship the day the referendum was announced, a year before it was actually held. Long before that, I always voted tactically against the Tories, even when that meant voting for my idiot boss as the Liberal candidate (he lost, unsurprisingly). But this time I can’t vote in the General Election at all, because I’ve lived outside the UK for so long.

Which says it all, really. I’m a European. I’m not British any more. I don’t need to worry about what’s happening in that quaint little country where I used to live. I’d fix things for you if I could. But I can’t. So I’m going to do what the rest of Europe is doing – shrug my shoulders, wash my hands of you and get on with doing European things, like having a huge market to sell my services to and being able to travel as and when I like. Rejoicing in our differences and our similarities and our varied cultures and languages. Trying to move away from colonialism, not towards a mythical Golden Age of Empire. Accepting that the world is getting less and less white and more and more generally brownish and being perfectly happy with that. Not being offended by people speaking foreign languages in the street – because usually the person speaking the foreign language is, in fact, me. The immigrant. The economic refugee.

So I’m unfollowing all the Twitter people who have striven bravely to prevent Brexit. I’m even, regretfully, going to unfollow my beloved Ian Dunt, who’s put in a Herculanean effort explaining this insanity, sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis. I’m even going to abandon the utterly wonderful Jess Phillips. Because British politics really isn’t relevant to me any more. And I simply don’t need the stress. My feed’s going to be pretty empty for a while, but there are plenty of other things I can fill it with. It’s a big world out there, after all.

A matter of the heart

Yes! Two blog posts in the same day! That’s because I already had this one written when I got a mention on a radio show.

Don’t worry, it won’t happen again.


I know I often bang on about how life is short and I’m very lucky and so on, but these are subjects rather dear to my heart.

And in the last month or so it’s my heart that’s been giving me gyp, which has made me even more conscious of the brevity of our stay on this planet.

I’ve been having the occasional burst of palpitations for ages – like, months. But I haven’t been able to tie it down to any particular activity or posture. Often they arrive when I’m lying perfectly still in bed. Sometimes it’s when I’m talking, sometimes it’s when I’m eating. It’s fairly unpleasant, as experiences go. My heart suddenly rushes a whole sequence of uneven heartbeats together, like a particularly heavy-footed and unsyncopated tap dancer.

But over the last month I’ve become even more aware of my internal pump. At almost every moment of the day and night I can feel it, thumping away in my chest. The blood fizzes right through my body and out into my toes, and my heart feels like it’s struggling, flopping about gasping for air, while my chest seems about to burst open.

None of this has been exactly helped by what appears to be the world’s longest-lasting cold. I’m now in week four and while a lot of the sinus gunk has subsided, I’m still coughing all the time. It’s a dry, stuttering cough concentrated right in the centre of my chest, and I can feel it pulling at my costal cartilage, trying to make everything pop. I’ve started having to wrap my arms around myself when I feel a cough coming on.

On the journey back to Sweden on Friday, I was sure my time had come. Travelling from Normandy to Sweden in a day isn’t a particularly fun trip, and by the time my plane had finally boarded, after two gate changes and 20 minutes waiting in full sun in a glass tunnel at the hideous-as-ever CDG (surely the worst airport in Europe for passenger comfort?), I was feeling really quite ill. Looking back, the flight is a bit of a blur, but at some point I made myself a promise: “If I get through this, I’m going to change some stuff”.

That may sound vague, but it’s mostly the usual kind of thing you promise yourself in such circumstances – enjoy the simple things in life more, be a bit kinder to myself, try not to eat quite so many snacks consisting entirely of bread and butter, get more sleep (ha! my insomnia is really going to cooperate with that one!)… but also to stop taking bullshit from people. Despite not actually liking the human race very much I’m fairly polite in face-to-face interaction – too polite, in fact. I tend not to call people out on their obvious lies and self-deceptions. But I dislike that placatory attitude in myself, so that’s something I’m going to try to improve.

Anyway, I went to the doctor’s yesterday and had my heart checked, and it’s fine. It’s not struggling. It’s not flopping about, gasping like a gaffed fish. My blood pressure is, as usual, lowish. My heart rate is pretty good for someone of my age. “Do you run?” asked the doctor. And yeah, I do, kind of, but only insofar as I go for the occasional jog that’s a bit faster than my normal walking pace. So that made me smile. We agreed that it’s probably just the menopause finally hitting me, at the age of 51 (and who knew that one of the symptoms was increased heart rate? Certainly not me, not before the last month). So the next stop will be the gynaecologist to see if they can give me HRT or something, because I don’t relish feeling like this for however long it takes for my body’s hormone levels to settle down.

In the meantime, however, I’ve found a remedy for the exploding chest thing. I have a corset that I wore in the winter for a fancy dress event, and before I bought it I did quite a lot of reading about corsets. One of the books was “Solaced”, by the fabulously enthusiastic Lucy Williams, which relates many experiences of corset wearers finding the garment useful to help with a variety of conditions, from scoliosis to depression. So, I thought, rather than try to hold my ribs in place myself, why not let my corset do the job? And it works! I don’t have it laced up particularly tightly, but it’s just like a constant gentle hug (and who wouldn’t like that?) – and one that relieves me of that horribly chest-explody feeling every time I cough.

I’m sure that eventually the permacold will go away and my corset will go back into the drawer. In the meantime,  this is what all the best-dressed translators are wearing:

Well it amused me anyway…

I just got a – not entirely unexpected – on air mention from my favourite podcast DJ, for having sent him a gift of the only Swedish chocolate worth buying.

Note that it’s not worth eating – Swedish chocolate is disgustingly sweet and full of palm oil – but no English speaker can resist being amused by the name of this one (particularly this special version with added pun).

If, like me, you were a devotee of the John Peel show, Zaph Mann’s “In memory of John Peel show” is well worth listening to. Unlike some of the other tribute shows it doesn’t play the same music as our lost hero – instead Zaph aims to present independent new music* of the type that JP would be playing were he still with us.

Particular gems from this edition of the show include a really beautiful guitar piece called “Chellow Dean Top“, by Andrew Abbott; “Esus“, a nicely swirly thing by the wonderfully named Bonnacons of Doom, and a short, noisy track aptly entitled “Migraine” by Here Are The Young Men & Uncle Peanut.

I’m pretty sure Mr Peel would approve.

*With the exception of the odd track by the Fall, which is, of course, perfectly OK by me.

New markers

Another one in the series of free write exercises I did a while back. As usual, the prompt was given, and the instruction was to write for 15 minutes without worrying about where you were going. Because I do this longhand, it never produces much, but it’s always interesting to see who turns up.

This time it was once again Stella and Mr Wonderful with another scene in their story (you can find previous scenes here and here, and I have one more already written which I’ll post at some point). One day I really must write more about these two, because they’re always such fun to do.


“New markers, please”, says Mr Wonderful in a low voice to the lackey.

“Certainly, Your Lordship”, says the man with a half bow. “For what amount?”

“Two hundred thousand, please.”

I nearly screech like that blasted parrot. 200,000? This isn’t what we agreed. I try to catch his eye while maintaining my blonde bimbo attitude of bored familiarity with the whole situation. Unfortunately, Lord Allington’s previously constant, knicker-wettingly sexy eye contact is now mysteriously absent.

I shift uneasily on my chair and wonder what the fuck he’s thinking. He’s not stupid. He knows how little cash we have to back those markers. So why has he suddenly decided to go all out for that kind of amount?

And then the crowd behind the players on the other side of the table shifts and I see what – or rather who – he must have seen a minute earlier.

A wing of black, glossy hair, shot through with spangles of grey so perfectly judged they couldn’t possibly be natural. A pale shoulder partly enfolded in a white fox fur wrap, exposing a bandeau neckline in white crêpe with diamonds above it. And as she turns, laughing, from the people who’ve slowed her royal progress through the room, a flash of her signature crimson lipstick. Carlotta Mureno. Here. Tonight. My mouth is suddenly dry. Mr W has seen her arriving, and taken out an extra 200,000 in markers. And just like that, I know what he’s planning. He’s going to try to take out Carlotta Mureno and Anders de Jong at the same time, in a single game. With 200,000 euros’ worth of money we don’t have.

I take a big swig of my champagne, and as I put my glass down he reaches out and takes my hand. Leaning forward until his lips are almost touching my ear, he whispers, “Nervous, darling?”

I shoot an angry look at him. He’s giving me that grin again. I feel warmth flood through me and try – not very successfully – not to grin back. Fuck it. We can try, can’t we? If we fail, we’ll be no worse off. Dead, possibly – but no worse off. And it would be a fantastic coup if we managed it. Can we, though?

I sit back in my chair and adjust the neckline of my dress downwards just a little. His Lordship’s eyes follow the movement of my fingers, but Mr W is just as conscious of their magnetic effect on every other man around the table, Anders de Jong included.

“Nervous? Me?” I say, with a smile. “Absolutely not!”