The bloke’s parents with their heart-shaped homemade cake. The chalkboard next to them colourfully reads: “Welcome to Lodge 106. Happy 50th Wedding Anniversary! Have an excellent holiday. 😊”

A couple of weekends ago, we went to a Center Parcs with the bloke’s family to celebrate his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Each family stayed in separate lodges, and we joined together for lunches, activities, tea and evening meals.

Going to a big resort-type thing in a forest in the school holidays seems to be a rite of passage for English children. Everyone else in the family (actually being English) had this innate understanding of how things were going to work and what was going to happen. I, on the other hand, was completely in the dark. I didn’t know that the “swimming pool” was going to be a massive indoor waterslide park with separate areas for children of all ages, for instance. Or that bringing our bicycles was not just so we could get some exercise, but so we could pop out to the shop for some milk for five minutes rather than have to walk for half an hour. The place was gigantic and – it being the start of the summer holidays – completely full.

The wildlife, being accustomed to the presence of humans, was very nearly tame. If you left the sliding door to the patio open, the ducks would waddle confidently inside in search of whatever food you had foolishly left out. The squirrels would take nuts from your hands. The muntjac deer would walk up to the patio door and stare in, and not run away until the toddler came outside and tried to pet it.

We had a truly typical British summer holiday experience in that it rained nearly the entire time, so we spent a good amount of time in the water park. Humuhumu was, at first, slightly afraid of the water slides. Subsequent to our first trip to the water park, we bought her some goggles and that flipped the switch. We couldn’t get her off the water slides after that. She went round them so many times that when we went to the changing room to get back into our clothes, she could barely stand, she was so exhausted. I only got the chance to try the water slides once for about ten minutes (during which Keiki apparently screamed for me the entire time), so I went for the biggest one (twice): the Cyclone, which you went down on a rubber raft in a group. I got to go with my niece and her mum, aka the bloke’s sister. I shrieked like a banshee the whole way down. It was fantastic.

Despite the filthy weather, we managed to sneak in some outdoor activities. We played boules. We climbed around the adventure playgrounds. I took Keiki to the pond, where the nearly tame baby moorhens nibbled at his wellies, to his boundless delight. We also found a peacock, with whom Keiki had a half-hour conversation. I turned my back on him briefly and when I looked at him, he had moved close enough to the peacock to stroke its tail feathers. The peacock held itself very still, almost as if it didn’t want to frighten him, when really it should have been the other way round.

The wedding anniversary celebration came off very well indeed. There was a huge, heart-shaped and delicious sponge cake, baked by the bloke’s sister, and a “cheese cake”, which was a mountain of stacked cheeses. The bottom layer, an enormous squishy brie, had to be served separately because it would have collapsed under the weight of the wheel of harder cheese above it. This was not a problem because we devoured it over the course of two days. Most importantly, the bloke’s parents had a wonderful time being surrounded by, but not in the pockets of, their children and grandchildren.

Further photos below the cut, including a series titled “Keiki Points at Things”.

+++ )

In case you’re wondering why there aren’t so many photos of Humuhumu, this is because (1) she wanted to go to the water park pretty much every waking moment, (2) you couldn’t take photos in the water park and (3) Keiki did not want to go to the water park more than once a day, so someone had to stay with him.
I saw this in a derelict shop window on the high street of my local village. It reads: "SAVE BRITAIN: CULL TORIES" and features an image of a badger with a Union Jack painted on its face.

Thus I feel compelled to announce that the UK GE2017 campaigning has attained the Badger level of discourse.
I’ve been seeing a lot of Twitter posts and the like from EU nationals who have been struggling with the horrors of navigating the UK immigration system, trying to obtain their permanent residence permits after decades of enjoying (largely) restriction-free stay in this country.

I am sympathetic to their stress and the torment of waiting for months without a passport for a response that may or may not bring relief. But there is another, less magnanimous, part of me that is thinking, “Welcome to the world the rest of us immigrants have been experiencing for years.” The stack of paper I submitted to the UK Border Agency from 2004 to 2013 probably fills an entire filing cabinet drawer, not to mention the ~£6000 they received from me for the pleasure of applying for visas, visa renewals, permanent residency, and naturalisation. Yes, those latter two are separate and have gigantic fees attached. Did you know you have to wait a year after submitting your permanent residency application before you can again have the pleasure of submitting your naturalisation application, which isn’t any shorter and is also even more expensive? Doesn’t that sound like fun?

I suggest*, therefore, the UKBA replace all of this absurd bureaucracy with some simple, realistic questions and a thirty-minute interview with a border agent. And so I give you:

Immigration Tests, The Microlit Version

Refugee/asylum seeker: "Have you suffered enough for us to let you in?"
Entrepreneur/investor: “Are you rich enough for us to let you in?”
Highly-skilled worker: "Has someone else paid for your education so that we can reap the benefits?"
Low-skilled worker: “Sorry, no.”
Spouse: "Can you and/or your partner afford to pay for your love to exist?"
Aged family member of immigrant: “Can you or your children afford to support you? Actually, even if you/they can, the answer’s still no.

* with a heavy dose of sarcasm
Just so you know, there really is only one correct answer to this question.

Poll #17726 Gardener's World
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 16

What is the best thing about the TV programme "Gardener's World"?

View Answers

The gardening tips
0 (0.0%)

Monty Don
1 (6.2%)

Monty Don's dog
15 (93.8%)

nanila: (tachikoma: broken)
( Jun. 16th, 2016 08:46 pm)
A little over a year ago, I wrote this, about what I wanted from the UK government. After the general election, I did something I’d consciously rejected all my adult life: I joined a political party. Slowly, verry slowly, I’ve been getting involved in my local party’s activities. I attended a meeting for the first time about a month ago, about campaigning for the Remain side on the EU referendum.

Now, in my constituency, joining any party other than the Conservatives could be seen as a bit of a jolly. Put it this way: Sajid Javid (Business Secretary) is my MP. He toes the party line so hard it’s a wonder he’s not permanently wearing sandals. But still, for me, a naturally cautious person, it was a big step. Even working myself up to entertaining the idea of campaigning for a political cause took me far outside my comfort zone.

Some of that caution has been trained into me. Many scientists discourage their proteges from being actively political. The message that’s tacitly (and sometimes overtly) drilled into us is that politics is for people who are willing to make bold, brash statements and even change laws based on very little evidence or popular sentiment. This idea is anathema to scientists, who are taught to prize the acquisition of repeatable results and well-considered, demonstrable precepts above all things. It takes months or even years to even think of putting possible conclusions based on those results before your peers.Politicians simply don’t have that kind of time to make decisions.

Anyway, my point is that for the first time in my life, I was actually willing to, however remotely, entertain the notion of running for a political office.

And then, today, Jo Cox MP, who has been outspokenly supportive of refugees and campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, was killed in the street by a man who allegedly shouted “Britain First”* as he committed the crime.

Jo Cox is, apparently, the first MP to be murdered since Ian Gow, who was killed by a car bomb planted by the IRA. In 1990.

Jo Cox is a woman only a couple of years older than I am. Jo Cox is survived by her husband and two small children, aged three and five.

So if you’re asking, is this heinous crime going to put women off of the idea of becoming active in politics? I can assure you that the answer is yes.

* an ultra-right political group
And now, my friends, the 15-year LJ-versary celebrations continue, with the flip side: The Five Best Things About Being an Immigrant.

5. You get to act as sole representative of your entire country

If you’re thinking, oh hang on though, don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a pattern for the entire list.

I have discovered, after many years of developing thick enough skin to see this as an opportunity to get a little of my own back, how to turn people’s perceptions to my own advantage. For instance, if I tell an English person I’m from Hawai’i, there is a 35% chance they don’t realise that Hawai’i is part of the United States. I’m not kidding. Americans have a reputation for being bad at geography, and deservedly so. But even though the current US President is from Hawai’i, there are a lot of people who think, “fabulous foreign holiday destination!” and don’t connect it to the USA. So they get to tell me, “I thought you looked exotic/Polynesian/etc” and then squee to me about beaches and honeymoons, and I sit there smiling and imagining what I could get away with telling them now that they have literally no idea that I’m American. I don’t do it, but it is fun to think about.

Assuming, however, that they do recognise I’m American, I can get into conversations about their perceptions of the USA. 90% of the time, if they’ve been there, it’s to New York or Florida. Their memories of those holidays are almost overwhelmingly positive. If the conversation is long enough, I sometimes have the opportunity to point out gently that prejudices about Americans don’t correlate well with their actual experiences of the people or the country. Or, more subtly, by sharing my love of England and travels in Europe, I can in a small way help to combat the assumption that all Americans are nationalistic xenophobes who believe blindly in the superiority of their way of life.

4. Your relationships with natives are hard-earned and incredibly precious

As you no longer have local friends with whom you’ve grown up, gone to school, worked, played sport with or otherwise spent leisure time with, you are starting from the beginning with everyone you meet. You have to build on the shared experiences you generate from the moment of your arrival. You also have to be conscious that the cues you’ve used in the past to pass judgement on, for instance, how welcome you are in a gathering or how worthy a person is of your confidence and affection, might need re-calibration for your new culture. And of course, the usual general social rules surrounding not being too clingy or emotionally demanding of your nascent circle of acquaintances still apply, at a time when you’re probably feeling intensely lonely. So you tiptoe cautiously around, hopefully reaching out to people, sometimes being rebuffed or ignored and trying not to take it to heart. Eventually your weekends are booked up and you have people you can ask to the pub or the theatre or the cinema without hesitation. Or who might even desire your company enough to invite you along. Perhaps you won’t recognise that you’ve made friends until you start to be able to choose to be alone if you want to be, rather than having solitude be your default state.

I can still very clearly remember the first time that I realised I had actually succeeded in acquiring a group of trustworthy, kind, generous British friends whose company was richly rewarding. I’m not going to write about it in a public post, but suffice it to say that it reduced me to tears.

3. Your resilience and adaptability are strengthened beyond what you thought possible

It’s commonly believed that among the most stressful occurrences in adult life are moving house, changing jobs, ending relationships and having children. Immigrating lets you inflict the first two of those on yourself simultaneously whilst putting tremendous pressure on your relationships. (It doesn’t force you to have children, thank goodness.) And - assuming you’re not a refugee or victim of forced migration - you’ve volunteered for it. On the positive side, you have time to prepare as much as possible in a physical sense. If you’re moving at the behest of your employer, you likely have financial and practical relocation support. Once you’ve arrived in your new home, though, you’re largely on your own. You have to forge a way forward into the vast unfamiliarity that stretches around you on all sides. So you do it, every day. You wake up and the wave of uncertainty and panic and isolation crashes over you, but you shower and dress and you make yourself go outside into that unknown territory full of worryingly unknowable people. With the right combination of determination and luck, eventually you win yourself a measure of comfort and a sense of community.

The most difficult test of my own resilience and adaptability with respect to the decision to immigrate permanently is ongoing. Every day that passes is another day in which my children are immersed in my adopted, not native, culture. I am hopeful that the environment that my partner and I have created for them is a rich and diverse place, and that they will be able to pick and choose elements of their nationalities and associated cultures that make them kind and happy people. But only time will tell.

2. You get to redefine yourself

As you learn about your adopted culture, you can embrace the elements that you enjoy, from tiny things like putting milk in your tea and going to the pub after work (without setting off a slew of concern trolling about what must be incipient alcoholism), to big ones, like believing in the ultimate good of a socialised health care system. You can revel in the pleasure of throwing off the oppressive shackles of your native culture and past experience. You can carve out a new identity, one which integrates the desirable remnants of your old self with the traits and behaviours you admire in your new culture and are trying to emulate. While striving to understand those around you, you are becoming more accepting of yourself.

Before this descends into a morass of woo (maybe it's too late...): you also get to smoothly and relatively painlessly sever communication with those irritating acquaintances and relatives whom you could never shake off when you lived thousands of miles closer, as part of this redefinition. I’m definitely not advocating immigration as a first-choice method for selective bridge-burning, but there is a certain petty satisfaction in it being an inevitable side effect.

1. You are living your dream

I must caveat this as well: it does not apply to refugees and victims of forced migration. However, for those of us who have always wanted to live in our adopted countries, it is a hard-won accomplishment and an honour and a pleasure to be admitted into it. You have achieved a thing: immigration. It was a difficult and painful thing as well as a joyous and a valuable thing. You made a dream into your reality.
I’ve decided to kick off the 15-year LJ-versary celebration with the most negative topic from last Friday’s Unscientific Poll. That way it can only go uphill from here. Neat, huh? So, without further ado: The Five Worst Things About Being an Immigrant.

5. You get to act as sole representative of your entire country

There’s nothing quite like chilling out with a relaxing beer after work with your English friends or colleagues, and suddenly being asked to explain:
  • American gun culture
  • The Iraq war
  • Guantanamo
  • Republicans
  • Donald Trump
  • Insert incomprehensible & idiotic thing Americans have been or done that they’ve encountered most recently here

This is jarring enough, but it pales in comparison to how much worse it would be to be, say, a visibly Muslim woman and asked to explain Islamist terrorists. Or spat on. Which, by the way, I have been, by a stranger, allegedly for speaking with an American accent.

4. You get to act as sole representative of all immigrants - and none

This sounds contradictory, but stay with me.

English people can instantly recognise that I was not raised in the UK when I speak. Despite this, I have often been in close proximity of discussions about immigrants as an abstract group rather than a group of people to which I belong. This is because I (mostly) conform to Western standards as befits a woman of my age in matters of attire and verbal and visual presentation. I have a well-paid job and an English partner, and while a person I’ve only just met might not know either of these things immediately, they will naturally assume from my demeanour and confidence that I am the sort of person who will be agreeable about - to their minds - the undisputable fact that there is too much immigration into Britain because “it’s far too easy to come to this country”, a myth I am quite happy to eviscerate.

Because I spent over ten years working here on various types of permit, and during that time I could not claim benefits. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I note also that I was steadily paying into the benefits system throughout this time. I could not quit my job or be made redundant without having another job lined up, because if you do lose your job on an employer-sponsored visa, you have to find another within 28 days or leave the country. The visa rules changed every time I had to renew (every 2-3 years), so every time I had to fill in a completely revamped 75-100 page form which suddenly wanted to know if I’d had at least £800 in my various bank accounts for the past 12 months. (On the subsequent renewal, that requirement was taken away.) The waiting times for work visa renewals went from six weeks to six months between 2004 and 2012. A lot of times, a working immigrant’s work visa will run out before a renewal has been processed. As long as you still have your job, this is fine, but if you lose your job in the meantime, you’re stuffed. That’s not at all stressful, nope. Oh, and a work visa went from costing about £350 in 2004 to nearly £1000 in 2012. And then there’s permanent residency (£1000+) and naturalisation (£1000+). So immigration to Britain is not “easy”. It’s an expensive, painfully bureaucratic and difficult process.

If you speak English fluently and are white or not quite brown enough to be threatening (hi!), then you’re told “Oh, but I don’t think of you as an immigrant”. Which is 100% intended as a comforting compliment and has entirely the opposite effect on the recipient. The logistical acrobatics required to perform this act of exceptionalism allow the speaker to retain the perception of theoretical immigrants as benefit-scrounging job-thieves rather than attempting to change their views based on the actual immigrant in front of them. There you sit, having declared yourself to be a representative of immigrants to people who refuse to believe that you are one. It’s a cartload of joy, let me tell you.

3. You will never, ever fit in completely

Through careful study and behavioural modification, you can succeed in adopting enough observed traits to integrate into your new culture. You’ll probably have to, if you want to be happy during your stay. If you immigrate late enough in life, as I have done - well past childhood and even early adulthood - it’s unlikely you’ll be able to adopt perfect enough mimicry to have an undetectable accent. Even if you can, through having a very good ear and/or being a professional voice actor, you may not wish to. (I neither wish to nor am I able.) So if you decide to settle, if you are fortunate enough to be able to afford the exorbitant fees involved in repeated visa renewals, settlement fees and naturalisation, you have to accept that as soon as you open your mouth, native inhabitants of your chosen homeland will know that you were born a foreigner. You are choosing a lifetime of unease.

2. You cannot easily recover fluency with your homeland

Some immigrants, like myself, are able to accumulate sufficient sources of happiness that the aforementioned discomfort fades to a fairly mild, constant, background hum. I can also afford to make occasional visits to the land of my birth. However, as the years pass, it becomes more difficult to slide back into a set of cultural norms with which you had instinctive familiarity. When you visit your original homeland, your family and friends tell you your accent sounds British. Strangers begin to assume that you are. You forget your native vocabulary. Things that you could once do without a second thought - tip appropriately at a restaurant, greet a sales assistant in a shop, open a conversation with an innocuous comment about the price of petrol-I-mean-gas - require a conscious effort. Eventually it dawns on you that if you were to move back, you might actually not be able to recover a complete sense of belonging.

1. You have to rebuild your entire support structure

If you are lucky enough to be able to choose to immigrate as a full-grown adult - and I say “lucky” because if you’re choosing it, that means you’re not fleeing a war, you have sufficient money and skills to qualify for a dearly priced legal work visa and you’re likely fluent in the dominant language - then you are most probably signing up to living away from your parents, your grandparents, your siblings, your niecephews and all of your until-now physically close friends. You must learn to navigate new tax, medical, legal and social support structures. You may even have to re-qualify to do things you’ve taken for granted for many years, like drive a car. And you have to do these things all at once, while trying to make new friends whom you’re constantly fearful of alienating because you cannot correctly read social cues, which may be blatantly obvious to natives but are often imperceptibly subtle to immigrants. I’m not exaggerating when I say that immigration is a traumatic experience, even for affluent economic migrants.

So why do we do it? Find out in the next installment: The Five Best Things About Being an Immigrant.
Last week* on my London evening I went to BBC Broadcasting House with one of my work colleagues, because I had tickets to a recording of The Museum of Curiosity. The idea behind this radio show is that three eminent guests donate exhibits to the imaginary museum after being interviewed by host John Lloyd and the curator. The curator position rotates between comedians. At the time of this recording, it was Noel Fielding. Phil Jupitus and Sarah Millican have previously curated. The guests on this occasion were another comedian, a composer and an architect.

The show seems to make an effort to have at least one woman as an eminent guest, which is rather nice. Unfortunately, I found the one female guest - the architect - actively cringe-making.

She was the last one of the three guests to be interviewed. It turned out that she had originally trained as a medic and practised for a short while as a GP. Then she went to India to spend a month in a leper** colony on an island, and it was there that she determined that she needed to completely change her career and become an "experimental architect". So she could revolutionise the way Western people live, because all our buildings are "dead" and we're locked into worship of machines and we need to learn from people who can make amazing things out of sticks and shit because they've got nothing else, or something. I don't know. Anyway, she actually didn't say the words, "Desperately poor and ill brown people are, like, so inspiring." Make no mistake, though, that was exactly what she meant. I didn't stand up and scream your racism is unintentional but it is not benign, but believe me, it took every ounce of my strength not to. Instead, I withheld my applause when she concluded. I also left a sardonic review of the event in the survey I was e-mailed after the recording, mentioning that they might want to make an effort to vett their guests for offensively colonial 19th century views.

Sometimes I think I've assimilated into British culture a bit too well.

* I've been wanting to post about this since that evening but every time I sat down to do it, nothing but a stream of incoherent rage would come out. So please don't make the mistake of thinking that, because the tone in this is pretty level, that I'm not still very bloody angry about it.
** I did glean some small amusement when one of the other guests - the composer - gently rebuked her afterward for referring to it as leprosy instead of Hansen's disease.
Humuhumu has begun to drop her T's, replacing them with glottal stops. Wa'er. Beau'iful. Floa'ing.

I presume she's picked this up from nursery somehow, but I haven't worked out from whom. It sounds very peculiar when coupled with her otherwise Brummie pronunciation ("I loike oice cream").

It also sets my nerves jangling. "Floa-ting, darling," I say calmly through gritted teeth, "Not floa'ing." Inside my head there is a tiny rage-filled fiery-eyed Nanila screaming, "IT'S GOT A T! IT'S GOT A FLAMING T IN IT! PRONOUNCE THE T!"

I'm trying to unpack why this gets up my nose so badly. I have mental mechanisms in place for suppressing the confused welter of emotions, including sadness, that assail me when she speaks and she doesn't sound American. I know that once she realises I sound foreign, she'll never be able to un-hear it. I take delight in the Brummie accent, even though I'm fairly certain that in this rigidly stratified, classist, and small-c conservative society*, she will either have to learn to code-switch or train herself out of it to achieve material success. It doesn't bother me - much - when Londoners drop their T's. I have a terrible suspicion that I've managed to internalise a certain amount of class prejudice, given that when she says "free" instead of "three" or "bahf" instead of "bath", I have the same reaction, though reduced in intensity. I don't quite understand why it applies to my child and not to anyone else, though.

* Gross generalisation, #NotAllBrits, etc.
Poll #17390 Important bacon question
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 52

I prefer

View Answers

thin-cut/streaky/American-style bacon
21 (41.2%)

thick-cut/back/British/Canadian-style bacon
21 (41.2%)

not to eat bacon
9 (17.6%)

If you eat bacon, do you prefer it

View Answers

26 (57.8%)

19 (42.2%)

If you eat bacon, do you prefer it

View Answers

29 (69.0%)

13 (31.0%)

For those who eat bacon: Here is a food that is *not* improved by the addition of bacon:

Today's Unscientific Poll was prompted by the realisation that after all these years in Britain, I still (not-so-)secretly prefer thin, crispy, streaky bacon to the thick-cut back bacon that gets served with a full English.