Camborne is easy to get into, there are no roadblocks, especially if you come up from Praze. Redruth on the other hand requires picking your way carefully through the wrecks of burning cars while feral soot encrusted children roam the streets looking for the unwary, the lost and the unwittingly stupid to rob of their pennies. When you do get in, you wish you hadn’t, and when you want to get out you might find you can’t. There are dark and hairy scary things in Redruth. I should know, I’ve dated a few of them. As it happens, cross border traffic through the badlands of Tuckingmill and Pool from one town to the other is minimal. Camborne folk get as far as Tuckingmill and think “bugger that” and turn around, while Redruth folk get as far as Pool to see the market, then think “bugger that” and turn around. Both say to their kids “nothing good ever come out of Camborne/Redruth”. Even EU membership did not facilitate free movement of goods and people between the two towns. The only mixing that did occur was the contents of Camborne scrotums and the drunkenly willing throats of Redruth maids on a Saturday night at the Twilight Zone. So, division runs rife even when crossing borders might be mutually beneficial.
I am driven to muse on such things as I try to get a visa to go to Bahrain.
Stay with me….
During the lie infested, brain addled, ignorance infused ‘debate’ running up to the EU referendum, back in what seems like the last century, we all drowned in a morass of obfuscation, stupidity and the vacuity of slogans and words that mean everything and thus nothing. ‘Take back control’ and ‘Sovereignty’ being two of the most egregious examples of sloganeering peddled by Oxbridge elites at the very top of Government. We must remember that these are men, mostly men, who had the privilege of elite education from toddler to teenager. What good did their education do for us? I suspect the content of the education was superfluous. Rather it was the process, the networking, the acquisition of social and cultural capital to add to their mountains of loot their daddies already owned. ‘Like flocks to like’ resulting in nudges, winks, funny handshakes and clandestine phone calls to chums in the City and beyond. No doubt the bewigged judges, besuited corporate men, the Party man, his wife and his budgie are all interrelated in a miasma of incest and ancestry that makes up what goes for the British Ruling Class. They all had second homes in France or Spain and have enough money not to worry if they will ever visit them again.
In reality, being ‘In or Out’ was merely a game being played at the highest level, perhaps only serious to those whose accumulated secret wealth which was at risk of being scrutinised by Johnny Foreigner across the channel. They shouldn’t have worried. Jeff Bezos, the now retired CEO of Amazon increased his net wealth by $13 billion during the Covid pandemic, allowing him to fund his fanciful space adventures while billions lack access to safe drinking water. How does he do it? He will need no passport or a visa to get to Mars, which by the way did you know he owns? It’s true, I saw it on Fox News.
For us mere mortals scuttling around in the dirt waiting for death or a pension which ever comes first, we briefly – in historical terms – enjoyed the freedom of travelling around Europe. We became blasé about how easy it all was. Yes, there were always a few glitches, as over officious border guards, when sniffing a weakness, would hold you up by closely examining your passport while they secretly wished to reach for the box of blue vinyl gloves (examinations, rectal, for the purposes of). You know the sort. Starched uniform, peaked cap pulled over the nose, gun, and a ‘don’t f*ck with me’ attitude learned from being repeatedly beaten about the head with chair leg by a drunk father and slapped with a flannel by a wet tuesday of a mother.
Otherwise, we would sail grandly by the check points, should they exist, on our way to our favourite destinations, be they the vineyards of France, the yachts of the Greek Islands or the whores of Amsterdam. The Italians, Germans and Spanish could even visit Redruth unhindered should they so wish. If you ever heard “Fuck off Pedro” in the Oxford Bar you could be certain that some hapless Spanish tourist had wandered in and asked for a Rioja and Gambas. The point is, Marco, Hans or Jacques could easily have done the same as Pedro…why did we never see them in Camborne ‘spoons’ though? It was not the passports and visa requirements that stopped them. What did?
Brits abroad: No visa, an EHIC and sun cream. You did not even have to learn a language if you did not want to. You can always shout. They’ll understand. If we wanted to work or stay for quite some time, well….we could. The only barriers were the locals’ attitudes to incomers, be they Brits in the Dordogne or Londoners in Cornwall. This attitude ranges from an eyebrow raising mild annoyance, through to voting UKIP and on all the way up to forming a Nationalist party and burning effigies of dusky hued people on crosses on the top of Carn Brea.
As EU club members, we did not have to spend hours trying to log on to the visa application websites, pay loads of money and then wait as the system crashes forcing you to start all over again as the clock ticks down on the departure time of your flight or ferry. We were not quizzed about which hotel we were staying at nor if we had a return ticket home. Jars of Vaseline had their lids kept on. While abroad. we did not have to pass language or cultural tests, nor did we have to be careful when showing a bit of tit on the beach – applicable only to those who have them – or accidentally dropping the C bomb in front of a religious maniac who might deport you to hell.
Well, as it happens, travel now gets a bit sticky unless you stay between Helston and Saltash, although it can get a bit risqué south of Culdrose. Now that we no longer enjoy freedom of movement to work and travel, we have the bureaucracies to contend with.
Take Bahrain, Qatar, Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
“They were never in the EU” the more knowledgeable of you cry. No. But they are foreign just as the EU is becoming foreign (again).
Since we Brits foolishly invaded Suez back in the 1950’s, the relationship between us and the Arab nations is somewhat mutually suspicious, if oil based and arms selling lucrative. Let’s be honest, the British me included, know all they do about Arab culture from watching Lawrence of Arabia or some dodgy 1950s black and white films featuring a swarthy gentleman, armed only with a scimitar and a dark black moustache the size of a grizzly bear’s hairy arse. There would be an oasis, a date palm and a frightened looking goat. Oh, and camels smoking themselves high on hookah pipes while belly dancers flaunt their navels in the faces of grape eating tribesmen. That’s it. That’s what we know. Go on, name the current rulers of the UAE. You know Trump, Putin and Xi. But who runs Dubai? Anyhoo….what a lot of this means is that an Englishman in this region is a foreigner.
A proper foreigner. Not your daffodil or grape picking foreigner over on a gap year. Not a pasty faced foreigner on a foreign beach for two weeks turning his corpulence lobster red
The point was rammed home as I stood up in the plane to disembark and suddenly realised I was the only white face around. I noticed kids looking at me and asking “Daddy, what is that, what is that pale faced poltroon doing here?”
“Don’t point son, it’s only the progeny of an infidel whore’s past imperial masters who have fallen on hard times”.
Now, you might think the French thought we were foreign, and they would be right. It goes both ways of course. However, its the degree of foreign that’s different here in the Middle East.
I’m not talking about eating habits…or clothes…or even entertainment. I sat in an airport ‘restaurant’, which incidentally is exactly the same as thousands in airports across the world; three huge flat screen TVs are showing basketball from the US, football from the premier league and the Italian league Seria A. I’m offered chicken Caesar salad, or burgers, with chips if I want…on tap is Heineken, Murphy’s and Tiger. There are very, very few men dressed as ‘Arabs’ and women in Burqas are no more common than you see at Heathrow. Global brands dominate food, shopping, mobile phones, TV and music. The ‘radio’ in this restaurant is playing a DJ less soundtrack that would be familiar to listeners of Radio 1 and Radio 2 from the 1970’s and 1990’s. In fact my own culture is more foreign to me than it is to the global audience. That’s because I’m an old mardy git who thinks any culture worthy of being so called, ended in about 1998 at the latest.
Being foreign means having to jump through hoops just to get across a border. Wrap me in batter and call me a kipper but the border is not even a line in the sand even though this is one of places in world where it could easily be. The desert winds outside the cities and the infernal heat are their own barriers to travel. No need for walls between you or Mexico and there ain’t no channel to cross. What it lacks in physical barriers it makes up in paperwork and money.
A taxi driver told me yesterday, in an episode of profundity usually lacking in your common cabbie from Camden (thank you), is that the only religion that is truly global is the religion of money. If that is the case, I am engaging with the high priests of this church on a daily basis, particularly the authorities. I have to buy a visa to get into Bahrain after having pay for another covid test. Fair enough I suppose, but it rams home how much easier it used to be nipping over to Roscoff in the old days when we still had an Empire. I try 6 times to apply for a visa on the Bahrain eVisa site only to be bounced off with a system error. I am going to have to take my chances when I arrive. I hope there is not a box of blue vinyl gloves handy – other colours are available upon request if you prefer a pink digit to a blue one examining your tonsils from the wrong end.
Money is no respecter of borders, it buys access and erases the difficulties. Except in Redruth. There is not enough money in the vaults of King Creosus that could get a Camborne boy to go there, apart from a Saturday night of course when the ‘swelling’ gets too much.
Oh, Bahrain is quite nice.