Date Archives April 2018

Plane Truth

In 2012, our current Prime Minister said that the aim of the ‘hostile environment policy’ is to create ‘a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants’. As poet Matt Abbott said: ‘Can we all just take a moment to fully confront the fact that “hostile environment” is not a soundbite…but an *actual* Home Office policy launched by Theresa May in 2010?’

It is bizarre, but unusually transparent: isn’t creating a hostile environment while looting the world on behalf of the rich the central purpose anyway? Of course, the assumption all along was that a hostile environment would be created for legal immigrants as well. So, people who were encouraged by the government to come here to rebuild the country after the Second World War are now being repaid by being put through a living hell.

Luke de Noronha, an academic who has researched UK deportations, said: ‘People are being deported who have lived in the UK for a long time – people whose parents, children, and siblings are British citizens. The issue with Windrush migrants doesn’t begin or end in 1973. These transnational family connections continued and will keep going…It does feel uncomfortable that the UK is forcibly expelling people to former colonies on these flights, in secret, in the middle of the night, where full body restraint belts are used.’*

Uncomfortable? Being tied up on a plane and sent thousands of miles away from your home sounds uncomfortable to me. But does it sound uncomfortable to a government minister tasked with defending this official horror? I suppose they would be more concerned about the discomfort of sitting through an interview to explain it.

And here am I, labouring over a blog about this scandal, enjoying my privilege and not fearing a knock on the door. Also, earlier this week I went to my first Happy Café meeting. The purpose of a Happy Café is ‘simple and inspiring: a friendly and welcoming place to meet other people with a shared interest in promoting happiness and wellbeing.’ Though I can only imagine the reaction to our current Home Secretary being in such an environment. Would we tell her to leave or offer her a cup of tea?



Dat Sax!

Thinking of a decent band name is hard. I thought that ‘The Midnights’ would be a good name but ‘The Midnight’ has already been taken. I started to listen to their work and now I’m hooked. Play their track Memories – it’s absolutely blissful, and only made better by being played over a smart edit of The Breakfast Club. I have since discovered that there’s a genre called New Retro Wave and bands with names like TimeCop1983 and FM-84. It’s all airy synths, pink neon and sunglasses in the evening.

I remember being taken to see a Back to the Future car in Basingstoke when I was about 9 years old. My parents overheard me tell a friend when we got home that I was distinctly underwhelmed by the experience. Now ‘Back to the Future car’ is shorthand in our house for ‘stop being so ungrateful for the amazing trip that has been arranged for you, when instead Mummy and Daddy could have spent the day in the pub.’

My newfound obsession with the 80s is bizarre – I never thought that I would ever like the sound of a saxophone. But again, listen to Vampires by The Midnight. Completely thrilling. The Breakfast Club, which I finally watched this week, 33 years after it was released, was also a joy. So now I’ll have to watch all films by John Hughes. I did watch Home Alone in 1990, and was much happier with my parents for taking me to the cinema. So happy that I trashed the house and successfully overcame two incompetent burglars.*


*It wasn’t me, Mum.



Special as Special Brew

I have a distinctive memory of being 7 years old and having a Bros poster on my bedroom wall. Another one is when I was about 11 and thinking, “What will I be famous for?” I didn’t even question the assumption that I should be famous, and to be fair, I haven’t since. The thing I am most ‘famous’ for is being a politician. Fancy picking two interests that repel so many people: poetry and politics! Just today I was enjoying a coffee when someone asked me, “Neil, why isn’t there a litter bin *and* a dog bin on the corner of my street?” I bet Pharrell Williams never gets asked about bins.

Why can’t I just accept a pleasant life of anonymity? Why the constant desire to ‘stand out’? I bet the secretary of the Wyre Piddle Stamp Collecting Federation doesn’t want to be famous. I bet people in lighthouses don’t want to be famous. The man I saw drinking a can of Carling at 7:40am this morning didn’t look like he cared about being famous. Perhaps he used to be famous? Transient fame; fame is transient, like everything else…


I thought I’d look up the lyrics for When Will I Be Famous? How spooky that these are actual lyrics in the song:

‘…You’ve read Karl Marx…’

‘You’ve suffered for your art
With the jogging in the park…’

Not that I’ve read Marx, but I did write a poem about him. Not that I’ve truly suffered for my art, but I do a lot of jogging. Such forced coincidences and striving for meaning!

No more microwave dinners and saturated fats

I’ve borrowed a huge book about Christopher Isherwood, having been reminded of him by a photo in a pub in Malvern of him and Auden. Stephen Spender is quoted in the book speaking about himself:

‘I was incapable of being interested in my fellow undergraduates just for themselves. I wanted them to be interested in me and in what interested me – in that order.’

Working at a university as I do, I am regularly impressed by the confidence and ambition of undergraduates, which completely contrasts with my attitude while I was doing my own studies. My ambition extended to having enough 50ps for the pool table and hoping to get up in time to buy the last jacket potato-and-curry from the local garage. Shameful.

Replace ‘undergraduates’ with ‘people’ in Spender’s quote, and haven’t you got an apt description of what I’m going to call a ‘facebook mindset’? After spending much of my 20s waving a placard around, piling up petitions and folding away chairs in church halls, I have decided in my 30s to spend more time focussing on me. Indeed, the balance may have tipped with all the running I’m doing: I’m creeping towards an advanced state of narcissism. Now I’m thinking about muscle mechanics and the effects of nutrition and being just a few seconds quicker than last time…It seems so pathetic, yet there are so many other people out there devoted to being fitter, quicker…prouder. And yet, while we’re watching our meals and checking our progress, there’s a world out there that we could try to influence. Ah, guilt…