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!)

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:

If only 18-year-old me had known…

I’m typing this on my laptop, sitting in the courtyard of my house in France, at the picnic table under the fig tree*.

Fig tree workspace

I’m listening to my streaming music service on my mobile phone, which is picking the music out of the air and beaming it via Bluetooth to my wireless headphones.

A few minutes ago I was working on my current translation project, about the digitisation of a Belgian city’s administrative processes. My next project is the script for another set of meditation sessions. There’s always something new to do, always clients asking me if I’m available. And I’m making a – very decent, by most people’s standards – living too, from a job I can actually do anywhere. No commuting, no dress code, no office politics.

In a minute I think I’ll go for a walk through the marais, in which case I’ll listen to an audiobook. My current listen is set on a British island not entirely unlike Lindisfarne, and I’ve been toying with the idea of spending the winter somewhere like that – an island connected to the mainland at high tide. As a native of a permanent island, I find places like that very odd and interesting.

Even the cows love the marais

Later this evening, I’ll probably play a computer game to unwind. Either No Man’s Sky, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before, and really is excellent for relaxation, or Witcher 3, which isn’t so relaxing but is utterly stunning in terms of graphic detail and sheer depth of scenario.

At the weekend, I’m going back to Sweden, via Paris** – a city I’m quite familiar with now, and where, of course, I can talk fluently to any French person I happen to encounter.

Our house in Sweden is near the sea, surrounded by beech woodland, and has a garden larger than a whole block of houses in the UK. On Saturday I’m going to a party in Copenhagen, which involves crossing the Öresund Bridge. We’ll pay the bridge toll via an electronic bleeper attached to the windscreen (or, more probably, as I’m going in my friend Richard’s car, an electronic bleeper that I’ll be holding up to the windscreen, because his one has lost its sticky and normally lives in the glove compartment).

I can’t help thinking 18-year-old me, setting off to university for the first time about this time of year, 33 years ago, would be pretty damned impressed and happy with my life, and the technology*** that allows me to live like this.

Actually, 51-year-old me is, too.


*This makes it sound a lot posher than it is. We’ve been renovating the house, which we bought for the price of a garden shed in the UK, for three years, and we still don’t have ceiling lights, or heating. It’s Normandy, so today’s sunshine is going to be eclipsed by thick cloud for the rest of the week while everyone else in the country is sunbathing. The car’s developed a fault that means you regularly have to leap out and wiggle the battery leads before it’ll start. The sickly stray cat that’s adopted us has just snorted a streak of bloody snot onto the picnic table near my mouse mat, and there’s a disembowelled jackdaw (courtesy of said cat) decomposing in the rubbish bin. But anyway.

**Yes, I’m climate compensating the flights, but I still feel guilty. Then again, I don’t have kids, which by my reckoning puts me well on the side of the angels in terms of carbon emissions over my lifetime.

***And, of course, with the EU, which is what really allows me to live like this. Because in the UK I’d be lucky to be able to afford a flat, never mind two large houses. And – tax avoidance for the super-rich aside – this is the point of Brexit. They want people like me to stay in the UK, trapped in a monolingual economy of insecure jobs and extortionately priced housing.

Writing exercise #7 – Leaves

The start to another “adultery leads to a murder plot” story. I do know where this one’s going too; the final line is Laura walking down the path from her house to where a large black limo awaits, thinking “Eats, shoots and…”


Laura scooped up the last of her ramen and thought about words. Of course as a translator she was pretty well always thinking about words. Syntax, grammar, lexical shifts, onomatopoeia, grammar, puns, punctuation, grammar…

It was words that had finally made her decide to kill Kenny. No, not those words – although of course she’d been tempted on some level from the very first time he said his name. No, it had been the words he’d used in a text message that had sealed his fate. A text message not even intended for her, but that he had written – thumbed? – in her presence. As though nobody had ever managed to read someone else’s texts were following the movements of their thumbs over the screen.

Not that ‘I luv u’ really needed much deciphering, of course. After that it had been the work of but a moment to log into his mobile phone account; his password was the same for every account he had – “N0ttsFore5t”, which in itself ought to have been warning enough – and find out which number he’d been ringing most often. She’d recognised it instantly. It was probably the number, other than Kenny’s, that she rang most often too. Melissa. That bitch. Her own sister!

It had taken a while to get over that particular discovery, but once she’d recovered her equilibrium it was pretty obvious what she had to do. Kill both of the adulterous bastards, preferably during one of their repulsive fornication sessions.

She’d found it quite easy to get hold of the gun – translators are pretty resourceful when it comes to research – but finding an opportunity to use it so that she wouldn’t immediately be banged up herself had proven more delicate.

Then she started doing regular interpretation gigs for the Tunisian Embassy. Soon she started travelling abroad with the ambassador or various diplomats. And they always travelled on a private jet and they never had their passports checked. Laura just had to pick her trip and she knew she could kill Kenny and Melissa and climb on a plane to Tunisia, a place she’d loved ever since she first visited as a student – and coincidentally a non-extradition country. Once there she’d jump ship and settle back down to continue her peaceful life translating medical leaflets. She reckoned most of her clients wouldn’t even notice she’d moved to another country, still less become a double murderess.