Tag Archives: Belgium

The curious case of Belgian schoolgirls & dogs which did not bark in the night

My early morning reading: better than Jehovah’s Witnesses

Yesterday morning, I was sitting in my friend’s house just outside Milan. There was a ring on the bell at the gate.

“It’ll be the missionaries.”

“Missionaries?” I asked.

“Christians.”

“Jehovah’s Witnesses?”

“Same thing. Missionaries.”

In fact, it was a man handing out the latest issue of the local revolutionary Communist party newspaper Lotta Communista (The Communist Fight).

So yes, missionaries.

“Are the Communists strong around here?” I asked.

“They used to be,” I was told. “There is a new Morman Temple opening round the corner, maybe this year.”

Religions seem to be finding Italy a fertile ground. Always have, I suppose.

In the afternoon, I went to the hilltop town of Bergamo with my friends. There were a group of perhaps twelve young schoolgirls going round one of the squares, asking people to wear a pink jacket and then taking photographs of them.

“Why the pink jacket?” I asked the schoolgirls.

“We are all from different schools,” I was told, “but we all come from Belgium. You go to a camp and you meet people and you do stuff for them. we are at Camp Lovere. It is a water camp. We do water sports there.”

“And the pink jacket?” I asked.

“It’s a game that we play in the city,” I was told. “We are in different groups, all battling against each other. There are other groups who have to make sure people wear pants… like swimming shorts. We have to get pictures of things and we also have to collect some Italian food and create a human pyramid. And we have to teach a tap dance to somebody and to wrap someone – an Italian – in toilet paper and take a picture.”

“And if you win?” I asked.

“We win two bowls of ice cream,” I was told. “But we have to go now.”

Belgian schoolgirls build the human pyramid

They rushed across the square. Two men were persuaded to kneel on all fours on the ground and six girls formed a human pyramid with them.

As we were driving out of town, my friend saw two greyhounds.

“They are lovely,” my friend said. “There is an Italian association which rescues greyhounds from Irish racetracks. Did you know the greyhounds get killed after they stop winning races?”

Later, as we ate our evening meal in the garden beside our house, a man started shouting and a woman started screaming in fear in the large house across the road.

I looked at my friend.

“He is shouting at her I will kill you! and she is screaming. It does not sound good.”

But the four dogs owned by the man in the house across the road were not barking so, presumably, it was not an unusual occurrence.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Italy

Britain is full of immigrants

Allegedly, the USA is the ‘Land of Opportunity’ where any immigrant can arrive with nothing and create a new life for himself or herself with unlimited potential. But you cannot become President if you were not born in the USA.

What’s that all about?

I have a British friend whose parents were Indian – they arrived and settled here in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s. She told me (and I admit I was surprised) that she had never experienced any racial discrimination in the UK. She never encountered it until she lived in the USA.

It does seem to me – in a vast generalisation – that the US is a land of separated peoples. They define themselves as Irish-American or Swedish-American or African-American and they tend to retain their original nationalities in social clubs and by living together in areas, sometimes ghettos.

In Britain, after a couple of generations, people define themselves as British.

People talk about Britain having a 2,000 year history – since the Romans invaded. But that’s bollocks. The Romans didn’t even control the whole of Great Britain – the main island of the British Isles. They invaded and controlled what is now England, the lower part of Great Britain; for a very brief time they controlled parts of what is now Lowland Scotland (Hadrian’s Wall is south of the current border); they never fully managed to control Wales; and, as many have, they pretty-much gave up at the very thought of controlling Ireland.

Last century, actor Gordon Jackson was the definitive Scotsman. He played the butler Hudson in the original ITV series of Upstairs, Downstairs and, whenever movie-makers wanted a Scotsman in their film, he was their first call. He epitomised Scottishness.

Occasionally I used to work with one of his sons. When he (the son) reached his 40th birthday, he told me that, the older he got, the more Scottish he felt.

“Where were you born?” I asked.

“Hampstead.”

Hampstead is in North London. But then, if you are the son of Gordon Jackson, you are going to feel Scottish. His mother was Scots too and, though brought up in London, they had a holiday home in Pitlochry.

I remember standing in an office in the London Weekend TV tower looking out at a misty, drizzly South Bank and Westminster scene and saying to this Son of Gordon Jackson:

“Now that is dreich.”

“Definitively dreich,” he replied.

Dreich is a Scots Gaelic word which is virtually impossible to define in English. You have to see what it describes if you want to understand it.

There is an interesting theory that the Welsh – or, at least, the people in the middle of Wales, the mountainous parts, the parts that ironically get at bit uppity about being called British and insist on keeping the Welsh language afloat – are actually the only remnants of the original British, pushed back into that western bump of Great Britain by successive invaders from the south, east and north of the island.

The original British were killed-off or bred out of existence perhaps 1,500 years ago.

Basically, everyone in Britain is an immigrant except, possibly, the forefathers of a few Welsh people.

In the legend of the Knights of the Round Table, the point is often forgotten that King Arthur was killed. The invaders, in reality, won. The losers possibly fled West.

My surname is Fleming so, at some point, my forebears came from Flanders/Belgium/Holland. But, despite an uncalled-for English accent, I am Scottish. The Scots and Irish are allegedly Celtic but, to my eyes, are clearly Scandinavian – pale skin, light hair, sometimes freckles. I used to have dark brown hair and a ginger beard. That’s Scandinavian.

The Welsh are said, like the Scots and Irish, to be Celtic; but the Welsh are in generalised physical terms nothing like the Scots and Irish – they tend to have dark hair, for one thing.

The Celts, again in very general terms, came from Central Europe. So they are sort-of German though, when I worked in the Czech Republic, the locals reckoned the Celts had actually come from what is now the Czech area of Central Europe.

The Anglo-Saxon English are from what is now Germany – the result of invasions by the Angles and the Saxons.

A Danish TV director I know, who worked with both me and Son of Gordon Jackson, told me he once drove round Yorkshire and recognised most of the names of the towns and villages: they were either recognisable Danish names or bastardisations of Danish names.

Hardly surprising, given that Denmark ruled most of England for so long.

To be a racist, you need to be ignorant of history. To talk of “racial purity” anywhere requires a deep ignorance of history. To talk of “racial purity” in the UK requires a remarkable level of crass stupidity.

I am old enough to remember TV documentaries about the last Yiddish language newspaper closing in the East End of London. Some of the street signs there – around Brick Lane – used to be in Yiddish; now they are in Bengali. Limehouse in East London used to be a Chinese area. Now there’s a little Chinese area in Soho (artificially created, it has to be said, by ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone). Everything is constantly changing.

The English language has thrived on constant new inputs from foreign languages; it is constantly changing. The ‘British people’ (whatever that means) have thrived on constant new cultural inputs and there is constant, vibrant change. Britain is constantly being re-born. Unlike the USA, we seem to have integrated and assimilated our immigrants over time. Admittedly we have had longer.

Britain, depending on how you define it, didn’t even exist until 1603 (when James VI of Scotland became James I of England) or 1707 (when the Act of Union was signed). The flag which the British Army flew at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 in support of their Hanoverian monarch was not the current Union flag. The current so-called ‘Union Jack’ did not exist until 1801 when another Act of Parliament united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland.

If/when either Northern Ireland or Scotland breaks from the United Kingdom and becomes independent, then the flag will have to change again.

No-one in Britain is, when it comes down to it, actually British. We are all immigrants. The British are long-dead, except perhaps for a few distant relatives in Machynlleth.

What “Britain” means is a moveable feast.

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Filed under History, Racism