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London’s Mayor appeared on Radio 4 recently, talking about immigration and the projected quotas. Quoting government figures, he suggested that London, on a pro-rata basis, might be ‘allowed’ just under forty thousand immigrants…less than needed to supply the building trade alone (where over 10% of workers will retire over the next five years, apparently). He suggested a special measure for the city that would allow it to have more immigrants, while the rest of England (and of the UK) could continue with its exclusions.

The interesting element in this, which wasn’t picked up by the interviewer, was how, and by whom, this arrangement would be ‘policed’. Presumably some sort of line would have to be drawn around London, and ‘surplus’ immigrants prevented from crossing it , at least so far as moving to other jobs, and to living elsewhere would be concerned. Days out, holidays, and visits, presumably would be OK? Who would draw this line? Who would control its crossing points? London? Or we Provincials? Would we need internal passports to get into, or out of whichever side of the line we inhabited? Would Londoners, wishing to move in to the rest of the UK, or Provincials wishing to move out to London, count as immigrants, and who would be counting?

Either way, it would be the first step in a discernible road. I seem to recall that both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, during their time as Mayors of London, remarked in public, that they thought it entirely feasible the city could maintain itself as a City State, without the aid of the rump of the UK.

In Trieste last year I encountered some campaigners for a sort of ‘free Trieste’. They were convinced that the city – much smaller than London – could successfully go it alone.

When things start to break up it’s not entirely predictable where the fragmentation will stop. We have a surplus of water in this part of the UK, which, global warming continuing, might support the local population if sold at a high enough price to those living in the soon-to-be-drier parts of the present country… Of course, we’d have to seize the reservoirs etc(Just a thought!). 


TalkingtoOwlsFor me one of the pleasures of the short story form is the way it can trace its lineage back from story to story through the ages, and through the cultures, not merely of my home continent (Europe!), but to the middle east and the orient.

Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron is one of the pools of stories on that river through time and place, a gathering of tales that spill over into [or ‘which spills over into’ – which do you think?] my own island sub-culture, in, among others, the stories of ‘Westward for Smelts.

My fount of all wisdom with regard to the short story, Hammerton’s wonderful 20 volume treasure trove –The World’s Thousand Best Short Stories of circa 1933gave me the clue to this one, in its introduction to The Tale Told By The Fishwife of Strand-on-the-Green. While we’re on titles, I might as well reproduce the whole title of the chap-book from which it came, in 1620: Westward for Smelts: The Waterman’s-Fare of Mad Merry Western Wenches whose Tongues, albeit like Bell-clappers they never leave Ringing, yet their Tales are Sweet and will much Content you. Written by Kind Kit of Kingston.

Now that’s what I call a title! (and me writing my way through a collection of flash fictions with one word titles at the moment!).

The Fishwife of Strand-on-the-Green’s tale is based on the Ninth Tale, of day two in Boccaccio’s collection: Bernabo da Genova is tricked by Ambrogiuolo, loses his money and orders his innocent wife to be murdered, She escapes and, dressed as a man, enters the Sultan’s service. She meets the trickster; brings Bernabo to Alexandria; the trickster is punished; she returns to woman’s clothes; and they go home wealthy to Genoa. (from The Folio Society, 1954 edition, vol I)

The oriental origin is implied in the description, but in the English chap-book version, the action has moved to England, and to the period of the Battle of Barnet, and the struggle for power between Kings Edward and Henry! The sequence of events though is similar, and the issues raised, of trust between men, and between husbands and their wives, are the same. The authority of overlords is not questioned in either, and nor is the ‘proper’ relation of the spouses.

It’s not the content that interests me here though, so much as that lineage, and what it tells us about the free movement of stories, and the free access we have to them, which neither diminishes nor undermines, but rather enriches and enlarges our own storytelling culture.

I’m for writing another version of the tale, by the way, and would invite you to join me…..I’ll happily put any attempts on the Samizdat page of the blog, if anyone would care to join me! (It could be that stories are like children – they don’t have to be good, but only to be loved. Though, it must be said, if they’re not good, they might not do so well in the world!)

Power doesn’t confer authority, and sometimes authority can be powerless. On Thursday the UK citizens of the EU will use their votes to empower the UK government to take a course of action that will be accepted as authoritative by all 28 members of the EU.

This is an authority that citizens in many countries never equal.

As far as I know, no other group of countries has ever attempted anything remotely like the European Project….Empires and countries have expanded by conquest, taking in what one group will regard as ‘inferior’ groups, but Europe has attempted something quite different: to take in groups by consent, and to preserve their individuality, their languages, customs and cultures. Alternative projects have involved suppression – in the UK, though English itself evolved from a fistful of quite separate languages as an answer to the Norman French  conquest, we have gone through periods when indigenous languages have been physically suppressed (Nach eil? Tha gu dearabh!).

Choosing Brexit, whatever its effect on the economy and immigration, may give hope – however ill founded – to the enemies of democracy, free speech, and rule of law wherever they are; those who favour coercion over compromise, intransigence over co-operation,  censorship over free speech, diktat over rule of law. It will neither empower nor authorise them, but it might embolden them.

Apparently, a neighbour of mine, campaigning for the referendum, was beaten into unconsciousness at the weekend by someone who, presumably, thought his own arguments would be unconvincing. The relevant campaign will doubtless repudiate the attacker, but he will continue to believe he is supporting it. Perhaps you will encounter him, if he has been released on bail,  at a Polling Station near you. We all have to stand up for democracy, unless we are prepared to suffer the consequences of its loss.