School Days

I didn’t recognise the country I lived in.

A few weeks ago, a left-wing bookshop in London was trashed by a bunch of thugs, some wearing Trump masks. Madness.

Shortly after this disturbing incident, a former minister of Her Majesty’s government made insulting remarks in his newspaper column about women who choose to dress in a particular way.

I’m told that these incidents can be attributed to ‘populism’, a movement that is rearing its ugly head in Western democracies. I fail to understand what’s popular about ignorance and intolerance, but then I suppose that I’m middle class – by definition if not by background and upbringing – and I read The Guardian, so what would I know?

A reporter on one of the news programmes on BBC Radio 4 has, in the past few days, been out and about recording vox pop in a number of locations, featuring opinions about Brexit. Whether by accident or design, our intrepid reporter managed to find several people who had retreated into bigotry. (Cue to switch off the radio until the item was over.) There is probably no possibility of changing the anti-immigrant views of many people who live in the ‘left behind’ towns in the UK, unless – perhaps – there comes a time that they experience the benefit of immigration in the shape of, for example, the NHS.

I had to attend the A and E department of the Eye Clinic in Birmingham a few weeks ago. The nurse who triaged me was Afro-Caribbean, as was the nurse who measured my vision. The doctor who examined my eye problem was Greek and my consultant – I have a long record at the clinic – is from Egypt. It’s taken for granted that this typical mix of staff is the bedrock of the clinic.

John Harris wrote in The Guardian recently about his travels to some of the left-behind towns. He reported that a minority of the people he spoke to expressed anti-immigrant bigotry. I hope he’s right. His report was in marked contrast to the vox pop reported by the BBC.

Sir Vince Cable was quoted recently that Little Englanders wish for a country where passports are blue and faces are white. The former might yet come true but the latter isn’t going to happen.

Thinking back to my (boarding) school days, we had just one boy in my secondary school whose parents were from the Indian sub-continent. We are talking about a long time ago, so my memory may be somewhat hazy, but I clearly remember at least one such pupil. This was my first experience of becoming friends with someone who was not born in the UK. Perhaps the voices I cut off when I switched off my radio were of people who have never had the opportunity to learn to live and work with those who are different from them.

A glimmer of hope, amplified by the September sunshine a couple of Sundays ago, all but erased my dismay about how unwelcoming our country seems to have become. The occasion was a football match. The grandson of friends plays for a local club: he scored twice and made at least two sweet passes to set up scoring chances.

One of the things that struck me was the high standard of play. The youngsters constantly worked for each other, there was no selfish hanging on to the ball. The team made effective attacking shapes, with triangular passing moves and decisive through balls. When I was that age, we weren’t anywhere near as good as these youngsters. We used to boot the ball upfield and hope for the best.

The Sunday morning team is made up of ten-year old boys! What skill they have; proper football was on display.

Another notable observation was the way the coach talked to the team after its win. He addressed every member of the team, with something positive to say, as well as summing up and congratulating the team effort. (A very good man manager, I concluded, wondering what his day job was.)

On our way home after the match, my wife pointed out the most significant thing about the match. Both teams of under-elevens included, not surprisingly, youngsters from several ethnic backgrounds. There were Afro-Caribbean, Asian, and Caucasian boys, working together in a natural and genuine way. To the boys, it is probably unremarkable. It’s no big deal to them.

What could possibility change in the attitudes of these ten-year olds to even bother about where anyone comes from? If they carry into adulthood the attributes displayed on the pitch, there is hope.

        There Must Be A Better World Somewhere

                B. B. KIng

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