What in the Hell are They Thinking?

What in the hell are they thinking?

I read lately of crackdowns on online hate speech by the police. Amber Rudd (our illustrious home secretary) is proposing putting people in jail for looking at “far-right” web sites. Police forces don’t have the budgets to police Remembrance Day. But they have the resources to watch what we are saying online. Or to paint their nails blue in remembrance of slavery.

Children get maimed and killed at a concert, various other attacks take place, and all they can do is bleat concerns about Islamophobia. Light a candle, stick a teddy bear and some flowers on the site of the latest atrocity (and the next one, and the next one, etc.), say something about thoughts and prayers, and get on with your life.

Keep your head down, and listen to the soothing tone as the BBC and the government ask you “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” (Apologies to Marx.)

Because if you open up your eyes, and really take it in, you will want to scream…

The longer they tamp the anger down; the more they subvert the will of the majority; the more they deny the very real issues that are going on in the country; and the more they arrest people for having an unapproved opinion about it, the more likely they make it so that the only outcome is violence.

The mob has been known to rise up; it can be argued that the mob has been the cause of many self-corrections to the British State over the millennia, giving us what, up until recently, was probably one of the most evolved constitutions in the world.

What in the hell are they thinking? Is that what they want?

I’m beginning to wonder…

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Why I am not on Facebook Right Now

I have decided to more or less shut off the information stream that is Facebook. The noise has been getting too much to bear. I’m afraid that people I love may get hurt by my, most certainly, minority opinions on most things. And that goes for partisans on both (all?) sides of the issues that are currently getting up people’s asses. I tend to agree and disagree with most everyone and usually for counterintuitive reasons.

That is, I may agree with you or disagree with you, but my reasoning – the intellectual route through which I derived my opinion – will be completely different from yours or those of your run-of-the-mill opponent. Not to say it is better, just different.

Facebook doesn’t lend itself well to having intelligent conversations with people. Blogging lends itself better to the conversations we should be having. It is more measured and more nuanced. So when I see people getting all het up about an issue on Facebook, and I care enough to write about it, I shall be doing it here.

I spent a lot of my teen to adult life watching the fringes, following a lot of alternative press and (eventually) web sites (who here remembers Usenet?), and not just those locally printed rags packed with entertainment listings and personals that passed for “alternative” throughout the 80s and 90s. I was going to where not very many people go and wouldn’t even know existed. [Note 1]

I also read Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Edward Hermann at an early point in my intellectual formation. Whether you agree with their politics or not, or the specific examples they give in the book, they were spot on about the uses of the mass media to manipulate the dominant cultural narrative.

From this book, which I read circa 1991-2, I learned early to watch the mainstream press and analyse it in a way that I could begin to surmise the story that wasn’t being told just by the omissions, or to figure out who the next national bogeyman would be. From watching the mainstream media and its treatment of the militia movement, I eerily predicted that something like the Oklahoma City Bombing was about to happen – much to the dismay of my first wife when it did happen and I said “toldya so”.

When I see a piece of reporting (even where I agree with the bias of the reporting), I ask myself: what isn’t being asked here? If I see a statistic, and I care enough about the story, I immediately start doing sums in my head to figure out just how intense the situation is that the statistic may imply.

Because I know there is bias in every bit of reporting. From the way the paragraphs are arranged to the supporting photos and graphics. The BBC News web site is not set up by a bunch of amateurs. Even if the editors are junior and nowhere near the broadcast news, they are learning the tools of propaganda from the masters and every nuance of the layout and writing is considered before it is published, particularly on stories that have partisan views.

Most people don’t see bias in mainstream reporting except to maybe have some vague idea about corporate advertising and sponsorship. But really, our perceptions are part of the reality that is being manufactured by the self-same media and by (some) people whose motivations are more than just corporate. The effect of these people has been to manufacture a type of groupthink with two sides about things, about what we call news.

(If you really want to go down the rabbit hole and begin unplugging from the matrix, google Antonio Gramsci, the Frankfurt School, Critical Theory, and the Long March Through the Institutions. This is what has formed our modern mainstream narrative on culture and politics – and I’ve even seen it be said that Trump is the unintended manifestation of all these people and movements. I find that difficult to disagree when “Alternative Facts” is something straight out of the Frankfurt School or the Saul Alinsky playbook.)

When one doesn’t really care what’s happening halfway around the world, or even in the ghettoised part of one’s own city, one will take the mainstream media’s views on it and move on to one’s own immediate concerns, such as “where am I going to go to dinner this weekend”, “how late should I stay at work”, or “what school is my child going to get into”.

And one will ponder (or not) on even these quotidian things, without realising that even these seemingly trifling issues are influenced by larger cultural and political forces, as well as cognitive biases that were either put there via one’s brain’s wiring, one’s family upbringing, the education one had, and the media one has been exposed to.

Most people go through their lives never questioning standardised thinking – this is not a judgment, just an observation. Also, many (most?) people appear to have never really examined their own opinions or how they came to them – sometimes (most times?) those opinions are derived because some clever-looking bloke on the telly (or the Interwebs, or the radio) said it was so, so it must be. And many (most?) people mistake opinions for facts.

(As they used to say back home: Opinions are like Camaros, everybody has one.)

And if you are watching something on the news and you think it is unbiased – it’s not. The viewpoint of the story just happens to align with your own worldview, which was probably put there by that self-same news organisation.

And at the end of the day, most issues are more nuanced than the space that a news broadcast or a web page may allow. I try to read a lot of analytical pieces as well as books, from all points of the spectrum. I try to find out the facts, and then have an opinion about them (which isn’t to say I do get knee-jerk reactions to things).

And I also know that when a news source claims to be unbiased, it is full of shit. Give me Mother Jones, Breitbart, Disinfo or Infowars over the BBC, CNN, Sky, and, yes, Fox News.

I read and listen to people I don’t agree with because I may just learn something from them. Most of my thinking on things at the moment has come about because I am willing to do this. And I know that what I think on any given issue right now is different from what I thought when I was younger, and I may just change my mind on a few things again, a few times, by the time this trip is over.

As Mohammed Ali said: “A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”

We do live in interesting times. But Facebook and Twitter are not the best way to document them. I see (hope for?) a resurgence of blogging. It is the best format for dealing with interesting times. Podcasting is such a one-way medium, which, despite its popularity, is maybe not the best way to engage with these interesting times. Besides, who would want to listen to me rant on a podcast?

So, if you want to engage with me on the issues of the day, come over here – hell feel free to randomly ask my opinion on anything in the comments and I may end up doing a post on it. I ain’t doing it on Facebook any more, if I can help it.

And if I don’t get a chance to say Happy Birthday to you on Facebook, it is not because I don’t care about you. It is because Facebook drains a lot of energy that could be spent writing things and searching new stuff out – the sort of stuff that might just make me a more interesting, and better, friend.

 

Note 1: The 90s, before Internet saturation, held a great wealth of alternative thinking both on and off the Internet.

I had a side-hobby: The Rev Ivan Stang, the creator of the Church of the SubGenius [See Note 2], wrote a fantastic book called High Weirdness by Mail, wherein he put together a long list of addresses for enthusiasts, nutters, and cretins who would send you pamphlets, hand-written letters, and even free merchandise detailing their offbeat or twisted worldviews if you sent them a self-addressed stamped envelope. I used up a lot of stamps and envelopes. It was a lot more fun than trawling the Internet for them is nowadays.

Alongside this, I picked up any ‘zine I could find whenever I walked into alternative bookstores.

Although I would never be convinced of any one group’s worldview, I gained an appreciation for the fact that my way of looking at the world was not shared by everyone else.

 

Note 2: Disclosure, I became an ordained minister in the Church of the SubGenius around about 1992-3. It is the world’s only for-profit religious institution (it refuses to seek charitable status). It will ordain you for the paltry sum of $30. Its mad mix of satire, clip art, radio shows, conspiracy theory, and just plain weirdness went a long way in de-programming me from a lot of the evangelical bible-thumping stuff I grew up around.

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An Alternative for Refugees

I posted the following on my Facebook feed after watching all the pearl-clutching and crying over the fate of refugees under Trump. Couldn’t help it, and maybe I’ll start blogging again, now. Facebook does not really offer an appropriate platform for the long form and I feel I have a lot to say lately.

 

I am no stranger to the vagaries of the US Immigration system.

My wife of (then) 9 years applied for a green card and was rejected because I had done so well living overseas that there was no guarantee that she wouldn’t move to the US to take advantage of their generous welfare state unless I could post $67,000 into a US bank account (which I could not do unless we sold our house). This, at a time when there was strong bipartisan support in Congress for legalising illegals. i.e., sending the illegals to the front of the queue when rejecting the spouses of actual US citizens for legal immigration.

I, honestly, feel for those who may not be able to get visas for refugee status either in the States or here in the UK; I have experienced it. But you know what? I ain’t going to start cutting onions just because they have been temporarily removed from the front of the queue.

And if (the collective) we really give a sh** about people living in other countries and the improvement of the conditions in those countries, here is a prescription:

1. Open up free trade with those countries (something that is damn near impossible here in the UK, within the framework of EU trade policy, which is all about protecting German manufacturing and French agriculture)

2. Stop giving aid money to foreign governments. When we give money to a foreign government, we take away their impetus to create wealth, and a healthy tax base, locally. When we send our donations of goods and food to international charities we undermine local, job-creating businesses – such as small manufacturers and farmers.

If we must provide aid, it should be along the lines of helping other countries establish the institutional infrastructure to support a market economy. Don’t give a man a fish, teach a man to fish.

3. Stop stealing their best and brightest to do the work our own people are “too lazy to do”. Pay a bit more for those jobs here and I guarantee that you will find local people willing to do the work. As long as there is a steady stream of migrant labour ready to take the lower wages, there is no pressure on employers to pay more; and wages go down for everyone when this happens.

(And while I’m on the subject – do you want to see a “living wage”? Then stop taxing people on minimum wage. Our untaxed minimum wage has pretty much the same take-home value as the “Living Wage” being proposed here in the UK.)

4. Stop bombing the sh** out of their countries or arming the factions fighting in their countries. It would be far better for them than if we allowed them to come here.

Anyway, just the view from an unfeeling, uncaring conservative minarchist with a class warrior chip on his shoulder.

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A Suspension of Disbelief…

Time to start blogging again.

I’ve just been watching The Last Exorcism Part II, wherein a New Orleans Voodoo priestess plays a pivotal part. Which got me thinking…

I am a faithful sceptic. I believe in a God; a creative, intelligent force that keeps order in this universe and gives laws. So far, the Jewish God, as described by Dennis Prager in his Verse-by-verse Torah Study series makes the most sense to me. (Trust me: that is a big deal coming from me, someone who was born and steeped in the Christian tradition, with a particularly evangelical Protestant influence on my upbringing.)

This may alienate a few of the very very few readers of this blog who may reject the concept of a higher power, but so be it. But if you listen to Mr. Prager and his references to other Jewish scholars of the Talmud (and more recent times) about what the words actually mean to the preachers and practitioners of Judaism (which eliminates the mumbo-jumbo and literal blind faith of much of evangelical Protestantism’s literal interpretations of the King James Version of the Torah), then there is rhyme and reason to the Creator, and there are no fundamental conflicts between the symbolism of the Torah (particularly the creation story) and Science (with a capital S).

Although renouncing my US citizenship was a big step (see posts passim), I am not quite ready to renounce the faith of my upbringing …yet. Although the Jews do look like they know how to party.

I said that I was a faithful sceptic. That means that at most times, I am willing to suspend disbelief to expose myself to new ways of thinking about how the world works. I’ve dabbled in a bit of Wicca and other Neo-Pagan practices, a little Taoism and Buddhism, a very little ceremonial Magick, active Atheism, and the 12 Steps; I’ve prayed with Muslims, done guided meditations with others… you name it, I have probably challenged my belief systems with it.

Most recently, I was confirmed in the Church of England (c. 2005) after a debate with my wife on the evils of religion in general. She had been pointing out the latest Jihadist attacks saying that all religion was bad and unthinking. I defended the faith of C.S. Lewis and decided it was time to nail my colours to the mast*.

My faithful scepticism doesn’t mean I allow myself to be brainwashed, though that has happened, at times (I spent five years in my early 20s as a poster child for AA). It does mean, though, that when presented with an opportunity for new experiences which question how I regard the way the world works, I tend not to turn them down, which is how I was exposed to a bit of bastardised Candomblé.

 

About 18 years ago, I was living in Portugal. I had a two-bedroom flat, in a very nice location in the centre of town. A very dear friend of mine told me that his girlfriend (they are still together after that much time and three children) had a Brazilian friend who was going through a very rough divorce and was in danger of being homeless, and would I mind putting her up for a bit in my spare room; she would cook and clean in return for a roof over her head. No problem, I said, let her stay at my place.

Thus was born AGR’s Home for Wayward Women; I eventually adopted one other poor soul (a very sweet 17-year-old mixed-race Portuguese girl who worked as a waitress at one of the beach bars I frequented at the time) who had been turfed out by her mother in favour of her mother’s then-boyfriend. I shall save that story for another time, though.

S., (we shall call her that for the remainder of this post) the Brazilian woman, happened upon me in my usual (at the time) wanton state. I was going through a divorce and acting out about it. I kept myself in a constant state of drunkenness and was sleeping with anyone who would say “yes” to me. I had acquired a bit of a reputation as both a bon vivant and a ladykiller, and a woman hater. I used to quip that my favourite phrase in Portuguese was: “Tens preservativo?” (Use Google Translate for Gods’ sake!)

S. had determined that I was in need of spiritual sustenance, so she called upon a personal favour to repay my hospitality: she brought a Candomblé bruxa she knew into the house to perform an exorcism of the negative vibes emanating from me.

Over a couple of hours I was exposed to a Tarot reading, a reading of tea leaves, a reading of bones, a load of candles being lit about the house, salt lining each window sill and door frame, and protective pentagrams being drawn in chalk at each sill and frame. Thus the bastardisation I referred to, using modern New Age/Neo Pagan practices, followed by the Candomblé bit, which may be difficult for many Anglos to follow, as it was very strange.

She gave me a packet full of herbs and barks, told me to run a warm bath with them in it and submerse myself in it (buck naked). When I was ready, I was to stand up in the bath and call her into the bathroom. So I called her in. She used a wooden bowl and would fill it up with water, herbs, and barks, and call down the Orixas to protect me and look over me whilst she essentially baptised me in the mixture. Then she lit a cigar, and blew smoke over every inch of my body except the parts that were underwater (my feet and ankles), whilst chanting various incantations that sounded more African than Portuguese.

I can’t say that my evil spirits were exorcised, but I did feel an overwhelming calmness as I emerged from the experience. And she assured me that the Orixas were protecting me and that I would be all right (at the time, I was quite sceptical of reaching the age of 30, given the amount of “good times” I was having).

I don’t know whether I was possessed by evil spirits or not. I do know that I had a darkness about me and my mien. After the ceremony(ies), she assured me I was protected and that the evil spirits had left me. I felt serene (for the first time in a long time) upon her departure, for possibly no other reason than that I was willing to suspend disbelief temporarily. Once upon a time…

And so I choose to suspend disbelief whenever I can; because I never know what might come of it.

 

*I am now reconsidering, given the behaviour of so-called fellow followers when it came to a problem I had with sex ed for year 5s in the local CofE school; I haven’t been back to Church since. If my fellow members in the body of Christ can’t stand up for themselves, would they ever stand up for me? Fuck ‘em, I say, after a particularly virulent campaign of gossip against me and my daughter. And in the space of 5 years of my wife more than occasionally attending church with us, she was only witnessed to once. Fuck ‘em. Church is a club for them, nothing more, and I want nothing to do with that kind of club.

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Pet Peeves – Issues Surrounding Coffee

The following might have you thinking me a miserable git, or nodding in vigorous agreement. These are actually two different pet peeves, but revolving around the same substance: Coffee…

Coffee Pet Peeve Number 1: Coffee-flavoured milk drinks

There are a few aspects to this pet peeve that drive me nuts:

  1. Most things that people buy in “coffee shops” are not coffees but coffee-flavoured milk drinks. That is the first strike against people who order such products. Neither a latte, a cappuccino, a white americano, nor a flat white are coffees. They are coffee-flavoured milk drinks. Coffee makes up approximately 20% of these drinks at best. Do not call them a coffee.
  2. If you like cappuccinos you do not like coffee. You are not a coffee lover if you partake of these products.
  3. In order to receive the double espresso or the black filter coffee that I require, which each take about 10 seconds to prepare, I have to stand in the queue behind people ordering coffee-flavoured milk drinks, which inevitably postpones the enjoyment of why I walked into the coffee shop in the first place.
  4. The typical coffee-flavoured milk drink customer’s indecision on what flavouring (!!!) they want added to their drink as well as the time it takes to warm up the milk and the intense concentration of the barista when he makes shapes on the surface of the finished product have me tearing my hair out in frustration.
  5. And God forbid if one has only 15 minutes to catch one’s train but ends up getting stuck behind four female pensioners who decide they want just a “little treat” or some such from the platform coffee shop. It is agonising. I once stood in a queue with only one party of four in front of me, and abandoned it after 10 minutes because they all wanted coffee-flavoured milk drinks with added flavourings.
  6. If you want hot amaretto-and-coffee-flavoured drinks why don’t you go across the street to the pub and order a Kahlua and amaretto and tell them to nuke it in the microwave for about 30 seconds? You’ll be good to go, and feel better for it. And you’d make my life more pleasant, as it would make way for people who actually like coffee.
  7. Because people don’t like coffee, but rather coffee-flavoured milk drinks, the quality of the beans in most chain shops is deplorable. Why should the chains care about decent-tasting coffee when most of their customers don’t like coffee?

[Oh and don’t I remember the late 90s when I first moved here and all you Brit sorts were making fun of my American accent by using the phrase “decaff skinny latte” with nasal tones at an attempt at some sort of ironic humour. The joke’s on you, buddy boy: Thanks to the hegemony of American culture (a la “Friends”) I only ever hear those words spoken with English accents without the slightest hint of post-modern irony. Hah!]

 

Coffee Pet Peeve Number 2: The office coffee ritual

As with above, there is more than one aspect to this. And if it makes me an unsociable bastard, then so be it.

  1. The offer to get coffee for everyone in the office. I hate this. I drink coffee when I want to, not when someone else decides they want one. As a consequence, I only ever buy coffee for myself, usually on my return to the office from some other location in the building. I do not make a point of coming back to the office to ask everyone else if they want one.
  2. And just because you ask me every time you go (and I never avail myself of your services), it does not give you the right to look hurt or shake your head in disdain at me if I got a coffee and didn’t ask you for one. I never asked you to ask me if I want a coffee: I have no expectation of you nor obligation to you; I should be given the same courtesy!
  3. And don’t say you do it because you’re naturally polite, you do it because it is “what is done” and you do not want to be seen colouring outside of the lines for fear of being considered an unsociable git like me. Get over it.
  4. Following on from the concept of people getting coffee for everyone in the office, is the people who go to the free coffee machine with one of those contraptions that holds multiple cups of liquid at once so that they can get coffee for up to ten people at a time.
  5. Whoever came up with the idea of the multiple free coffee cup should be shot, and whoever got the idea to include these contraptions in the catalogue for office supplies should be drawn and quartered.
  6. If I come and stand in the queue behind you and you have one of thes contraptions and I don’t, chances are I only want one coffee from the machine. If you are still pouring your first of ten, why don’t you stand aside and make way for someone who needs one shot from the caffeine delivery system. It ain’t that hard, and if you have time to pour ten coffees, you are not in a hurry.
  7. If you are curious as to why this coffee snob would deign to use the free coffee machine, see point number 7 from the first section…Occasionally I find it necessary to use the free coffee machine at work, because the coffee from the coffee shop is bad. And it is inconsistently bad, never tasting the same twice. At least I can rely on the consistency of poor quality from the machine. (I once worked directly for a the board level guy in charge of facilities for a large corporation. He loved it when the coffee in the free vend machine was atrocious; less people used it and he spent less money.)

Anyway, I don’t mind being considered unsociable as long as it brings a little sunshine to my life by being left alone.

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Philadelphia Freedom

“…From the day that I was born I waved the flag,

Philadelphia freedom took me knee-high to a man…”

Once again, the iPod throws up a thought-provoking tune: “Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John.

When I was a kid, and when it was first out, I loved that song; it symbolised the patriotism I had been indoctrinated into. For an American child in the 70s, Philadelphia was the place where our great country was born and our liberties were asserted by the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

My British relatives used to get a kick out of having me stand on a chair with my hand on my heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I was so proud. I didn’t know till I was much older how much fun they were having.

Not that I’m resentful about it. Knowing what I know now, the concept of the pledge to a flag is intellectually absurd to me. When I went to renounce my citizenship at the US Consulate in London, the consular officer – who was polite and sympathetic throughout – made it a point that I renounce in front of the flag. What is the flag, really? At that moment in time, it was just a piece of cloth, as my decision had been made. I almost burst out laughing.

Which isn’t to say that I am incapable of blubbering like a baby at the American Cemetery in Normandy when the flag goes down and “Taps” is played and I am standing at attention.

I still love the concept of America the Beautiful. But my allegiance to that concept is not determined by my legal relationship to the US Government. Most Americans will assert I can’t have it both ways. To them I say: Eat my shorts. It is you sad f___s who sat aside and watch while Americans abroad get screwed by the USG in the form of tax law. At best, the average American shows indifference to the plight of Americans abroad, at worst, open hostility. For I am either un-American for living abroad or I am trying not to pay my “fair share”.

I repeat here: I have never owed money to the US government since living abroad – the cost of telling the IRS that I didn’t owe them money, as well as the cost of not having a full economic life outside the US – and still remaining compliant with US law – was too much for me. I have a family, I have a business, I have a mortgage. The risk to my future prosperity (i.e., the inability to contribute to a pension or buy an ISA, or sell my only home here in Blighty without paying capital gains to the US government) and that of my family is just too great to remain a US citizen.

From when I was a child, I was told that one of the driving concepts of the US Declaration of Independence was the fact that a sovereign and his (its) people have a pact, and if the sovereign does not hold up his end of the bargain, then the people have the right to be revolting revolt.

But here was my problem: I believed everything I learned about freedom and liberty as an American child. I still do. I am a hopeless romantic idealist. The grown-up in me knows that I will never find that ideal, but I also know that the US government has strayed so far away from that ideal (and maybe it never was anywhere close to it), and that straying affects me personally.

And like someone who has grown up in a fundamentalist church with a literal interpretation of the Bible, but realises that something is not quite right about the practice versus the dogma and leaves the church, it still hurts when I think that I had to renounce my citizenship. (Or else I wouldn’t be writing this right now.)

I still believe in liberty, but I can no longer view the USA as the guarantor of that liberty.

For all I know, “Philadelphia Freedom” was probably not about US patriotism (one never knows), and if it wasn’t, that’s what it meant to me. (Just like Springsteen’s semi-protest song “Born in the U.S.A.” has resonance for people who don’t really get the lyrics.)

But the lyrics quoted above still resonate with me, despite the fact that Philadelphia Freedom no longer shines it light on me.

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Heaven

It’s not often that I am moved to nostalgia by Euro-disco plinky-plinky music. It’s not as if it all doesn’t sound the same. Rather anodyne melodies following a tried and tested formula to get people to dance and invoke euphoria as the music forms a crescendo, usually based upon lyrics from songs that were popular before many in the target audience were born. Not my cup of tea most of the time.

Due to…ahem…a few resource-sharing experiences, I have a plethora of almost every variety of music in my MP3 collection. And occasionally, I just set iTunes on shuffle and see what it plays for me.

This morning a plinky-plinky Euro-disco tune came on which caused a reflexive lump in my throat and brought me back to a little more than 12 years ago when things were a bit challenging, to say the least, economically.

I made the mistake of thinking a move to Dublin with my future wife and seven-month-old daughter was a good idea, as I was frequently getting calls from recruiters there, and there appeared to be a lot of jobs there due to the last gasps of the dot com bubble, but no one wanted to do any interviews unless the candidate was in-country. And I wanted to get the family out of London as it didn’t seem the right place to raise a child, particularly as I couldn’t see myself being able to earn enough money to afford private school.

So my devoted significant other consented – after much ill-informed persuasion by me – to the idea of uprooting ourselves and seeking our fortune in the Emerald Isle. I had seen the girls around us in London, in their early teens, who were practically hard little adults, and didn’t want our daughter growing up to be like that. It also helped that I had some extended family in Northern Ireland and we would be closer to them, and I had observed a couple of my cousins there who still managed to be girls – and not hardened little adults – and thought there could be worse fates for our own daughter.

We went to Ireland. I occasionally see the photos of us from that period flashing up on the iMac’s screensaver. How young and positive and hopeful and confident; there is a fantastic photo of the missus on the ferry from Liverpool to Dublin, holding the baby on her cocked hip, with Liverpool harbour behind her and her smile is divine.

We lasted about two months in Ireland, and the money was getting short. So her parents assented to letting us stay with them until I found more work in London. This was some time around April 2001. After a lot of job-hunting and working on an MCSE qualification, the only role I could find was actually in Germany where I was hired by a British boss to move to Frankfurt to head up an IT support team at an investment bank branch. With the impending move to Germany, and the favourable German tax system, we got married a week before I shipped out to Germany to set up work and house. (Due to the haste of our wedding celebrations, our cake was made in the shape of Bart Simpson’s head; the only thing that could be secured on such short notice.)

In Germany, we tried hard to learn the local language, but given schedules and budgets, it was difficult. Living in Germany was difficult. We ran through our savings paying what I call “the Expat tax”, wherein everything is at least 20% more cost for expats living in a foreign country in their first few years because they haven’t figured out the cheaper ways of living that the locals know as a way of life.

Our rent was very expensive because my London-based boss told me I only had 6 weeks to find a place, so I had to find the first flat that was available in that limited time; it is not very easy in Frankfurt. (I was told by an outgoing HR director a year and a half later that it was a lie, that I had up to 3 months but that the boss had squandered our team’s budget on travel around Europe doing troubleshooting on behalf of the client – outside of the scope of our company’s activities – where he eventually secured a permanent role when the outsourcing contract dried up.)

It was a real adjustment, trying to conform our Anglo sensibilities to German sensibilities. There is a lot to admire about the German way of life – the Germans get many things right – but there is a lot that we had real problems with; we reached a point where we could not reconcile those issues. I am firmly of the belief that if an immigrant cannot adjust to, and embrace, his host country’s culture, he should go back home. And we did eventually, but not until after what ended up being major trials of our characters as individuals and as a couple. (Photos taken of us after our return to Blighty after 2 ½ years show us apparently having aged by about 10 years.)

Working for an outsourcer, my income was guaranteed only for the next three months, especially if there were no other suitable roles in Germany for me to move to when the contract was finished, which was highly likely, because working at an American investment bank and the sort of unpredictable schedule that entails, I didn’t have much time to learn German; and we were living more or less payday-to-payday – I was not on an “expat” contract. So the prospect of not knowing where our next meal would come from was very real for us.

My wife had shown how devoted she was to me by following me to Hell and back with our daughter. We became even more of a unit than we had been and I am sure there is some appropriate metaphor about forged alloys that I can use here to describe our stronger bond. Germany brought home the fact that it was us – our little unit – against the world, and that made us stronger. I think weaker relationships would have buckled under the strain, but we became more devoted to each other, and our daughter, with the experiences we had. (I am also very lucky in that my wife can often see my redeeming features when I am incapable of doing so.)

We now know how to start from zero, which is essentially what we had to do when we moved back to Blighty.

—–

The only thing we had to watch on telly, besides the various local German networks and a brace of Bollywood DVDs lent to me by a colleague of Pakistani-British origin, was CNN, MTV Deutschland and the German music channel, Viva.

And thus I am back to where I started. There was a lot of plinky-plinky Euro-disco music played on Viva, and sometimes it would just provide the background music. And the tune that brought me right back to those memories was “Heaven” by DJ Sami, the cover of the Bryan Adams tune from the ‘80s. Often we would stay up late with the various financial and existential worries on our minds, and often that song, among others, would be the soundtrack in the background.

Baby you’re all that I need,

When you’re lying here in my arms,

It isn’t too hard to believe

We’re in Heaven

She probably doesn’t rate the song at all, and frankly, I don’t find it particularly great. But it reminded me, that when things get really tough, we have each other and our little unit (with a recent new addition in our nine-month old daughter). And that’s all that we need.

Heaven.

Posted in Immigration, Music, Navel-gazing, Reminiscing | Leave a comment