Jesus, did you actually think this was serious? I mean ‘Lexit’ was a huge pile of horseshit in the first place, but you’d need all the assembled cavalries from all the wars throughout human history, plus all the individual steeds and ponies and mares and mules and asses and palominos and thoroughbreds and foles, throw in a pantomime donkey while you’re at it, to begin to produce enough equine manure to make a case for there being anything remotely progressive about the prospect of a new war in Northern Ireland, martial law throughout the UK, some 1930s Etonian fascist in number 10, empty supermarket shelves and huge angry crowds outside everyone trampling on each other to get their hands on the last potato this side of Calais, everywhere you look gatherings of angry-looking men with nothing to do all day but share their dreams of Tommy, enough racist scapegoating to satisfy even Nigel “I was in the National Front, no one ever mentions it but I used to be in the National fucking Front” Farage, schoolchildren forced to pledge allegiance to Brexit and to promise to expose any disloyal talk around the kitchen table, talk on the news and in the press and the radio and online of the need for war and conscription and hanging and more war, every single symptom of social malaise or economic collapse attributed to traitors at home and mortal enemies abroad, and on every street corner someone calling out ‘Socialist Worker! Socialist Worker!’, the headline never seems to change, this week it’s THE PEOPLE’S BREXIT, ALL HAIL COMMISSAR REES-MOGG, DOWN WITH THE HATED NEOLIBERAL EU, THREE CHEERS FOE WHATEVER HATEFUL SHIT THE WORKING CLASS SEEMS TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT THIS WEEK, IT’S TIME TO PANDER TO WIDELY-HELD MISCONCEPTIONS, RIVERS OF BLOOD, SEND EM ALL BACK it’s admittedly a lot of words to fit on a single page and kind of painful to read but where else do you have to be? The Left case for Brexit, a basic misreading of stage directions which actually read (exit stage right, pursued by a Facebook meme of a polar bear), but do tell me all about Greece again, do the one about no one else knowing or caring about austerity and homelessness in Tory Britain, repeat word-for-word that lie on your website about ‘its neoliberal policies restrict left wing measures such as nationalisation’, repeat the word ‘bosses’ way beyond the point where semantic saturation sets in, enthrall me with some spiel about the ‘Establishment’, as if the middle name of the defacto leader of your party isn’t Theodore “and whose mother, the Honorable Ædgyth Lyon-Dalberg-Acton, was the daughter of the 2nd Lord Acton, descended from the 19th century English historian Lord Acton”, yeah tell me the one about fighting the establishment again, and then by all means go on about what Tony Benn would have wanted, I could do with a fucking laugh.

Can Clarks shoes inspire young people to read and write? Er…no.

The (very) Portuguese writer José Saramago opened his Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech with the words ‘The wisest man I have ever met didn’t know how to read or write’. The term for that in Portuguese is analfabetismo, or in English illiteracy. Saramago’s highfalutin homily about his illiterate grandfather, who on the final day of his life went round saying a tearful adeus to all the trees on the land which had sustained him throughout 90 or so years, wasn’t meant to suggest that it’s a waste of time learning to write or read, although anyone who’s tried to get though the novel ‘The Elephant’s Journey’ will have experienced that sensation at some point. Saramago meant that books are not the only means of experiencing reality, and that someone who some might be inclined to regard as an ignorant old peasant was just as sensitive and articulate as, well, a Nobel Prize-winning author.

Not knowing how to read and write does not imply being unable to express oneself verbally. While the ability to speak develops organically, most people learn the technical skills of literacy at school, and although their lives are generally vastly improved as a result, it doesn’t necessarily make them more intelligent or a better person – as a case in point I’d just like to mention that the novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’, whose author (Ayn ‘Medicare‘ Rand) was, significantly, never nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, is over 1,200 pages long.

The worldview (apparently) espoused in that book – that there are no values, only prices, and that those who have money are better than those who don’t – is one that warms the blood of the kind of lizards who are appointed to cabinet positions on Theresa May’s cabinet. That’s presumably why, when tasked with addressing falling levels of adult literacy, the Minister for Children and Families, Nadhim Zawahi immediately thought of the buying and selling of footwear. After, all if it’s not a exchange of cash for goods and services, what’s the meaning of any human endeavour? Her idea (and I am absolutely not making this up, it was in The Guardian yesterday) is to train the staff of shoe shops to engage young people in conversation while selling them shoes, thereby improving their language skills and making them into literate adults.

Of course, there has to be a commercial interest involved, so the scheme is a tie-in with, er, Clarks. After all, we all remember (how could we ever forget?) the horrifying images of smashed and looted branches of Clarks shoes during the 2011 riots. If there’s one thing that interests young people nowadays apart from their phones, it’s the thought of the latest range of sensible footwear from…

Hold on, there’s also their phones. Young people probably spend more time reading and writing nowadays than they ever have before. Granted, they may not be using the standard variety of language – in fact, just like when they speak – just like, in fact, when any of us speak – they and we draw on a huge range of codes, styles, registers and other semiotic resources including emojis. This is, after a fashion – and young people tend to take fashion quite seriously, which is why they don’t shop in fucking Clarks – literacy in action, and if schools want to develop their pupils’ ability to read and write – as they should, and they do, in ways that way surpass whatever sub-‘The Thick Of It’ brainwaves pass through the mammon-fixated minds of government ministers, then it’s that they should be seeking to work with.

Let’s return to the original and universally accepted definition of literacy: the ability to read and write. Let’s expand it a little to include knowledge of what the word ‘literacy’ actually means. I put it to you, then, that the Minister for Children and Families, Nadhim Zawahi, is…illiterate.

On leaving Brussels


Someone recently accused the writer of this blog (me) of showing little sign of having listened to those who had valid reasons to vote Leave. This post is based on notes I made on a trip last May (2018) which I never got around to typing up at the time. In it I try to relate to some of the anger directed at the EU from the left.

We’re about to depart from Brussels, but there’s a problem: the seat reservation system for the Eurostar has broken down. Fortunately, thanks to the efficiency of the effortlessly multilingual staff who quickly take to distributing the relevant cards by hand, the problem is resolved swiftly and we’re back in London within two hours. Les temps changent: when my father left his hometown in Northern Germany for good at the age of 17, it took him several days and reams of documents and stamps to get to the UK.

That’s not to suggest that the Eurostar is perfect or even unproblematic. The bins are full, not all the toilets work, and passengers are grumbling in a range of varieties of Europanto. Anyone inclined to welcome another uncritical paean to the wonders of the EU project and the freedom of movement it guarantees might want to consider a front-page article from Belgium’s leading Francophone daily about Mawda, a two year-old Kurdish girl who was shot dead last Thursday by the Belgian police. The officer claimed he was firing at the tyre of the van in which she was travelling, which is an insufficient explanation of how he came to shoot a toddler sitting on her mother’s lap in the front seat in the face. Her parents came from Ranya in Iraqi Kurdistan, a country devastated by Isis, and after several failed applications for asylum were trying to reach the UK.

Mawda’s parents would probably be astounded to be told by British liberals that the EU is the best possible guarantor of free movement. Unlike our journey, their trip involved tens of thousands of pounds, took several months, and ended in death and failure. Some of the very best people campaigning for the rights of human beings to cross borders and find safety certainly don’t see the EU flag as a symbol of civilised values.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Forensic Architecture exhibition in the ICA. One of the focuses of the bewilderingly vast and complex projects on display regards the EU’s active neglect of its humanitarian responsibilities in the Mediterranean. They detail the causes of human misery with a mindbending level of meticulousness. Their approach, which uses a combination of cellphone metadata, videos, meteorology, eyewitness accounts, and reconstructions could tell us a lot about what really happened to Mawda, and also shed light what took place in Gaza last week. We don’t have to engage in ‘Minority Report’-style future criminology to predict the human rights abuses that will result from Theresa May signing arms deals with President Erdogan of Turkey. Last week I joined the anti-Erdogan protest outside Downing Street. Among the crowd were people who had been to fight for the YPG in Kurdistan, and who divided their time between there and the Turkish/Kurdish areas of North London, near where we live. While fascists from Italy to Rome spout their bile about the need to combat Isis by tormenting its victims, they risk their lives in order to protect them. And yet, as well as collaborating with Turkey to send back refugees from Syria, the EU has also been planning to set up refugee ‘processing camps‘ in Libya, similar to the concentration camps established by the Australian government in Nauru. If we see ourselves as citizens of the EU, we are responsible for the atrocities it commits and plans in our name.

At St Pancras in the Eurostar waiting hall there was a friendly robot for children to play with. If you tell it your name it won’t rip your head off. Fluffy Robocop. Hard power as well as soft.


I lost a friend over Brexit. Not, as many have experienced, one who came out as a small-minded nationalist, but rather an anti-racist activist whose family had moved to the UK from Bangladesh in the 1970s. At the time I refused to accept that someone so opposed to racism could acquiesce in a cause led by xenophobes, but on sobre reflection it’s understandable that some of those who aren’t from a European background never felt part of the EU project. Europe has a particular value for British society – as Eduardo Lourenço wrote of Portugal’s economy and the EEC, it was ‘the perfect cure for the post-imperial hangover’. Similarly, it’s inevitable that not everyone is all that concerned about what’s ‘best for Britain’. If British people don’t want to get such terrible hangovers, on pourrait dire, maybe we shouldn’t have drunk so bloody much in the first place.

The friends we stay and meet with in Brussels mostly work for the Commission but come from Italy and divide their time between the two countries. The political situation in Rome (where we ourselves lived until the start of this year, and where actual fascists are angling to share power with a semi-cult of internet conspiracy-addled morons) is a reminder that EU membership may soon come to seem less attractive to those of us with a progressive mindset. Elections in May 2019 look set to be characterised by the victory of (ahem) “populists” from across the continent, and may result in a European Parliament dominated who both decry and embody the rebirth of fascism under the EU flag. Ukip won’t be there (not that their MEPs were ever the most assiduous of attenders, although apparently the owners of Irish bars near the Parliament were disappointed by Brexit) but others of their ilk will take their place. After all, those who ‘hate Brussels’ are still drawn to the place. Last week a proud ally of Farage was stalking the “no go” area of Molenbeek, sneering at the (mostly North African) locals because she, a white British woman in a hooded garment who hates the EU, nonetheless somehow regards Brussels as her own territory. The similarities in worldview between Islamic extremists and anti-Muslim bigots are striking. Hopkins is like a dog joyously sniffing out another of its species. Violence is a form of heat, canine libido set on fire. The mentality of Incels and other disciples of Jordan Peterson et al is so similar to Isis it can be no coincidence: psychopathic misanthropy and violent misogyny are impossible to disentangle. Isis’ principal victims are other Muslims, particularly female ones; thus do those who bully veiled women in the street continue their work in different forms. My compatriot once called (in a national newspaper owned by our nearest equivalent to Robert Mugabe) for boats to blow up those who manage to escape. Perhaps she knew what the EU’s up to the Med her attitude to Brexit might change. Meanwhile Salvini tells his followers and their fellow travellers that boats of newcomers may contain men bent on indiscriminate violence, while praising the far-right terrorist who shot randomly at groups of African women in Macerata.

My favourite citizen of nowhere, Momus, was also in Molenbeek recently, showing off some natty ethnic dreads snapped up in local shops which don’t generally cater for tourists. The area where we’re staying (Ixelles) is more upmarket, or at least it is now. Like Broadway Market, it’s lovely if you can afford it. Gentrification here is driven not by finance, like in London, or tech, as in San Francisco, but by EU personnel. Liberal values come at a high price, in more than one sense. All the perpetrators of the airport bombings in 2016 and those who murdered dozens on the streets of Paris grew up in Molenbeek; cultural relativism alone offers little in terms of addressing a very real problem. In the park where I read about Mawda we’re surrounded by Italians, making themselves at home. Brussels is an emblematic city for transnationals, those with a foot in each country. Is Brussels really Belgium? Is London really part of the UK? Arriving in Rome, we were too busy working and preparing to bring up a child to really engage with the struggle to welcome those whose trajectories were more tortured and who would have loved to be able to pop over to the UK whenever they wanted, just as we could. This blog was born not just out of rage but also out of privilege. There are so many stories to tell, why should mine matter to anyone else? I don’t have an adequate answer to that question.

Brussels’ melange of official identities reminds me of China Mieville’s sci-fi detective novel The City and the City, recently dramatised by the BBC. One senses that there are portals leading from one version of the city to the next. This is also where identities are imposed, prescribed, geannuleerd, where policies are enacted to determine who qualifies as European and who is to remain a non-person, pace Agamben. Is abjectification a word? Injustice is administered from here; but the same is true of London. To those who ‘hate Brussels’ for all it represents: what about Whitehall? Do the city or Canary Wharf, those torture centres ever devising new implements of debt, make you feel patriotic?

I read later in The Guardian (where else?) that Mawda’s family may be deported back to Germany. She was considered a German national, having been born there. My father wasn’t a German national, having held a UK passport from the age of 25 or so, when he applied for citizenship and was called up to do military service. Had he lived he wouldn’t have been among those who had to pay £65. He regularly declared himself to be a proud European, one who only felt he belonged here once the UK joined the EEC in 1973; he died in the early hours of May 1st 2018.

I’m sure Mawda’s parents would have been more than happy for her to take his place. Ukip-style anti-immigrant sentiment is so puerile and reductive that the idea of one-in-one-out might appeal. Of course European citizens in the UK should be allowed to stay and come and go as they please. Of course those who promote a basically far-right agenda by cynically instrumentalising the plight of non-Europeans denied the chance to live here are scum. But the EU routinely makes life and death exclusions on a racist basis. I dearly want the UK to remain part of the European Union – at this point, it feels like the only other option is some or other form of nationalist authoritarianism and a level of austerity which will make the Troika’s treatment of Greece look like rampant munificence – but I can’t say I’ll ever call myself a proud citizen of the EU.


Art, otters and media racism

Part of the work of Lubaina Himid, the artist who won the Turner Prize 2017, consists of drawing attention to the ways in which the juxtaposition of texts and images in The Guardian newspaper can reveal implicit racist associations. Her work is infinitely more powerful for dealing with the liberal press rather than the undisguised bigotry of the tabloids. Some of the connections she uncovers are barely visible to the naked eye, and it is only through forensic (self?-) examination that one sees what she sees. Just as institutional racism may be of profound statistical significance but hard to register on an everyday level, it is only through the unforgiving lens of art that more subtle truths emerge. The heightened sensibilities that result from study of her work help us see better. Freud taught us to pay special attention to ‘accidents’ and ‘coincidences’, as they may reveal unconscious thinking. That unconscious can, to borrow from Jung, be a collective one.

What to say, then, of the following juxtaposition from a recent edition of (guess what?) The Guardian?

img-20181221-wa0005The (presumably ‘accidental’) coincidence of the two articles seems to embody two sets of hidden assumptions: one, that certain (or possibly all) species of sea mammals are able to use social media, to understand written human language even of a highly vernacular variety, to experience emotions including shame and outrage, to comprehend that human society regards body weight as a cause for humiliation, to grasp the insult implicit in the misappropriation of a non-standard and low-status language variety to speakers of that variety, and to appreciate the significance of apologies delivered by faceless institutions; and two, that the lives of foreigners don’t matter very much.

The Irish backstop explained for absolute imbeciles (eg Theresa May)

Shall we go out to the pub?

We can’t, you idiot. We need to wait for the locksmith.

A locksmith? Why on earth would we need one of those?

Jesus, how many times do I have to explain this? We no longer have a key for the back door because you lost it. We can only go out when he’s fitted a new lock and given us a new key.

So what? Why’s it so important to lock the back door? It’ll be fine.

No it won’t. There’ve been three burglaries on this street in the last month alone! I’m not going out of the house until the back door is locked.

(Ten minutes later)

Right! Shall we go out to the pub.

What? Are you taking the piss? Didn’t we have this conversation like five minutes ago?

We did…but that was before I came up with a solution.

What on earth are you talking about?

Try the back door.

Try the…why would I…

I think you’ll find I’ve come up with an…alternative arrangement. Go on. Try to open the back door.

Well if it makes you…there. It’s open. What the hell is your point?

What the hell is…what are you talking about?! Come on, we can go to the pub now! It’s Thursday! Curry Club night!

But the door’s still not locked!!! Have you got early onset dementia or something? IT’S NOT LOCKED. WE CANNOT GO OUT TO THE FUCKING PUB YET.

But…what about my alternative arrangements?

Oh for fuck’s fucking sake who’d want to got to the pub with you anyway. “What about my alternative arrangements”. You’re a fucking arsehole.

HoC announces emergency “no deal” plan: Canteen to open “round the clock”

The Houses of Parliament Management Committee, a body which unites representatives from both sides of the house, has announced contingency measures to anticipate the risk of a “no deal” Brexit.

Amid concerns that MPs themselves could suffer from widespread food shortages if they fail to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU with basically no agreements in place to enable trading in foodstuffs with other countries and not nearly enough food produced within the country to feed all of its population, the House of Common canteen will remain open free of charge 24 hours a day, with extra armed security laid on so that no non-member shall gain access to the facilities. However, in a further emergency measure designed to prevent malnutrition amongst those who campaigned hardest for Britain to leave the EU without having made any actual plans to anticipate the havoc such a scenario would cause, members of the European Parliament and their paymasters will also be allowed to enter the canteen “for the foreseeable future”.

MPs expressed relief that their access to free food and drink will not be threatened, even though a member of the cabinet has acknowledged that staple foods such as tomatoes and bananas may not be available in the rest of the country for a period of “at least” six months. Craig Mackinlay, a Conservative member of Parliament, commented: “I’m happy to go on record as “confident” that the reports from every corner of the food and drink industry expressing grave and mounting concern with regard to the public availability of food after March 29th are without any foundation. Probably. Time will tell. You’d really have to ask James Delingpole about the details. Anyway, I’m extremely pleased to hear that whatever happens to everyone outside the House, I personally will have unlimited access to as much as I can eat and drink. The willingness of the great British public to sacrifice their lives on the basis of an ill-conceived and poorly-executed referendum in which the winning side cheated is…admirable. I respect each and every one of those brave souls who is prepared to starve him, her or itself to death in return for some atavistic notion of “sovereignty”, one or two of those “NHS hospitals” they seem so keen on, or whatever else it was we told them they were voting for. I and my friends Jacob Rees-Mogg, David Davis, Nigel Farage and Daniel Hannan will continue to dine on the very finest and freshest of British and continental cuisine. Those who voted for us, I mean for “Brexit” in 2016 need have no worry whatsoever on that score”.

Should they not be able to approach Parliament owing to huge crowds of furious, starving, and deeply embittered Leave voters gathered outside, MPs will also be provided with vouchers guaranteeing them unlimited free meals from any surviving food outlets anywhere in the country. Those that manage to reach the other side of the river will also be welcomed to a weekly dinner n’ drinks gathering at the home of Labour MP Kate Hooey, who is said to have been stockpiling canned goods since late June 2016.

The committee also voted unanimously to reward every ‘Lexit’ voter by sending them a family-sized box of stale mince pies and granting them one calendar year’s membership of the Wetherspoons Thursday Nite Curry Club, with 15% off cans of Tuborg until they run out in about mid-April and as many sawdust-flavoured poppadoms as they and any surviving member of their family can digest.

Rumours that Jeremy Corbyn has now decided to support a no deal Brexit so that he can make a fortune selling produce from his allotment to the HoC canteen were unconfirmed as we went to press.

Open email to BBC World Service re their pitiful climate coverage


Dear BBC World Service

I listened to your report on the impact of the ongoing Australian drought and was troubled by what I heard. My discomfort was partly due to the scale of the environmental catastrophe taking place, and partly due to the way in which your coverage omitted to provide certain details regarding the context.

You did mention (twice) that Australasia is ‘the world’s driest continent’ and refer to the record high temperatures across the country, but I wondered whether there might be anything of a historical process which might help to make sense of the lack of rainfall and such high temperatures. Might there also be precedents for the crisis in other parts of the world? Have any other regions, or indeed Australia itself, suffered from the effects of changes in weather patterns, with more extremes at either end of the scale? Has there been in an increase in the number of extreme weather events across the globe, with the numbers of hurricanes, floods, droughts and heatwaves all on the rise? If so, has anyone suggested any reason for this? Have any scientific bodies conducted research into the vital question of what might lie behind such changes? Presuming that this is the case (and it may have been helpful to break with BBC protocol and interview a climate scientist on this point), have specific measures, either local or international, been proposed to try to mitigate the probable causes? How have successive Australian governments responded to such proposals? Is there any suggestion that those who are causing the climate to change may also be seeking to obfuscate understanding of their role? Have certain corporate interests been influencing government policy and thus ensuring exponentially worse climate catastrophes in the future? Are there, in Australia or elsewhere, any researchers and/or campaigners who might be able to enlighten you and your listeners on this point?

I’m aware this may seem like a barrage of questions but I just want to ask you a couple more, with one very pressing one being: Why do you bother? Do you know what an absolute disservice you are doing to those who are suffering the impacts of climate change by refusing point-blank to acknowledge it? How does your blatantly dishonest reporting of the Australian drought tally with the other story highlighted on your website which is headed ‘It’s time to get angry over climate change’? Surely the best place to start is with media organisations which systematically shirk their responsibilities?

I do not expect to receive a response to any of these questions. I guess I’ll just have to figure the answers out for myself.


Rich Will

ps I would nonetheless like to commend you on not employing the word ‘unprecedented’, for a change. Ffs.

Corbyn, Venezuela and a “no deal” Brexit

The last few weeks have seen an (inevitable) intensification in the number of articles critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s ongoing support for the government in Venezuela. Most are based on comments from Conservative ministers and MPs who accuse him of wanting to implement in the UK a similar political and economic model to Chávez and Maduro, one which has led to massive food shortages and a lack of availability of other basic goods, a currency collapse, out-of-control inflation, an exodus of investment, troops on the streets, a suspension of democracy, mass emigration, and a pariah status on the international stage, with the country economically and politically dependent on allies that do not share its much-vaunted commitment to democracy and human rights.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Government is pushing ahead with preparations for a “no deal” Brexit. It has been widely and repeatedly predicted that in such a scenario Britain will face an indefinite period of massive food shortages, a lack of availability of other basic goods, a currency collapse, out-of-control inflation, an exodus of investment, troops on the streets, a suspension of democracy, mass emigration, and a pariah status on the international stage, with the country economically and politically dependent on allies that do not share its much-vaunted commitment to democracy and human rights.

Asked to comment on reports that business leaders are deeply concerned for the future of British capitalism, Boris “Bolívar” Johnson, one of those most enthusiastically advocating a “no deal” scenario and himself an aspiring líder máximo, said simply: “Fuck business!”.

My ‘linguistic repertoire’

The notion of ‘linguistic repertoires’ is not a brand-new one, but it has become fairly central to Sociolinguistics in the last few years. I’d never heard of it until this month as I’d never studied Sociolinguistics before. Now I’m doing a master’s course which includes modules in Sociolinguistics, so terms such as ‘linguistic repertoire’ form part of my…’linguistic repertoire’. So…what’s a ‘linguistic repertoire’? Well, it’s defined in this article (written by some sociolinguists) as the “totality of linguistic resources” available to an individual, so it’s much more than the answer to the question “Which languages can you speak?”. In any case, the term ‘language’ is not all that useful when trying to understand the use of…language through the lens of Sociolinguistics, especially in a global context that is increasingly ‘conditioned by’ (yay!) linguistic superdiversity. It’s impossible to define the boundaries of an individual ‘language’ and designations such as ‘native speakers’, ‘dialect’ and ‘creole’ often serve to mystify rather than enlighten, while any given interaction or text (including this one, zum Beispiel) makes use of an often bewildering range of linguistic codes, styles, registers, varieties, etc. Ya get me? Begorrah.

I was given the task of posting a description of my own linguistic repertoire in the module’s discussion forum, and inevitably my account touched on a lot of the same issues that I’ve written about here, so I thought it might be of interest to regular visitors. (There’s a better-organised and better-informed account of someone’s LR towards the end of the article linked to just above.) Mine is a bit artless and plodding in places, but as they say in Cardiff, plus ça change…. I also forgot to mention that my main ‘foreign’ ‘language’ is…Europanto.

My linguistic repertoire

One’s linguistic repertoire indexes one’s biography, argue Blommaert and Backus (2011). Well, like any biography mine starts before I was born, in that my father left his hometown in Northern Germany at the age of 17 and eventually moved to Sheffield, England with my mum, who somehow came from both Dorchester and Leicester. Thus while most people in Sheffield have a distinctive way of speaking (familiar to anyone who’s seen ‘The Full Monty’), my family didn’t share it, although we did speak (ahem) ‘English’ rather than ‘German’. I was raised with quite a conservative set of values in relation to accent*, in that it was a family trope that pronouncing words like local people did was ‘common’. I rebelled against this to a certain extent, developing a lifelong affinity for what B & B call ‘dirty words’ as part of a far more demotic form of speech outside the house, but ended up speaking with a broadly non-regional accent, although I’ve always pronounced the short vowel in ‘baeth’ and would feel distinctly silly saying ‘ba:th’. I was exposed to German and French at school but the teaching approach wasn’t conducive to learning more than the odd fixed expression and some basic grammar.

At 18 I moved to Norwich (or, as the locals say, up Naarge) to study philosophy and literature, so acquired a fledgling command of academic discourses around post-colonialism, post-modernism and existentialism, etc. I then lived in Dublin for six years, which left a seemingly permanent mark on my linguistic repertoire in that I adopted pronunciations like ‘filum’ and started saying ‘yer man’, ‘graaand’ and ‘yis’. I can still do a passable Roddy Doyle-esque Northside accent, having felt an affinity with that part of Dublin. I later, via work, developed a command of areas of discourse including IT jargon and discourse patterns particular to software corporations.

Living in the north of Portugal I discovered an appetite (and, I thought at the time, an aptitude) for learning ‘foreign’ languages. I quickly acquired a strong regional accent, which didn’t stand me in good stead later in life. Having self-taught myself (well, it was really friends and newspapers that taught me…), I decided to try German, French, and Spanish while I was at it, in what in retrospect was an attempt to expand my range of identities, building up my linguistic capital. I remember a conversation around that time with an English colleague of mine who, having mastered those languages and more while living in ‘target language’ environments, expressed bemusement at my desire to acquire so many languages which she regarded as redundant tools since I was unlikely to need to use them any time soon. That principle hadn’t occurred to me but nonetheless struck me as a mature attitude that I nonetheless couldn’t identify with – what I’d learnt was precious and I was precious about it in turn. I moved to Lisbon and was delighted to meet someone who told me I spoke Portuguese with ‘no accent’. It’s possible they were joking – I’d only been in the country for a year at that point. I realised much later that my command of Portuguese was inevitably limited to vernacular forms in that I wasn’t ever going to be working in the language. I probably also spoke like a newspaper as that was where a lot of my vocabulary came from, and the same goes (it probably is still true) for the other languages I speak. I slowly acquired a command of ELT lingo as member of the very broad ELT ‘community’.

Although my English accent was distinctly non-specific I was astonished to one day meet a particularly perceptive Chicago cab driver on vacation who after I’d said about three words asked me what part of Sheffield I was from. I started to make friends with Brazilians who found my Portuguese Portuguese dialect hilarious and so I tried to start sounding more Brazilian; on trips to Spain I tried to sound like I was from Andalucia (erm…). I began to notice that on visits back to the UK, I felt a refreshing confidence in my ‘voice’. I felt like what Bourdieu calls a ‘legitimate speaker’ rather than someone winging it in a clearly foreign tongue. Living in China, I took pride in my speedily-acquired Mandarin, which was a bit absurd as I regularly met other foreigners who had clearly invested much more in the language. Although I inevitably left most of what I’d learned behind me, I still have an ability to recognise when people are speaking standard Mandarin. I then spent a few months in Madrid, and my Spanish developed much as my Portuguese had: good at speaking informally, advanced reading skills, little else. I’d started to realise at this point that I was depending on other languages as a source of self-esteem and to try to fulfil my lifelong dream of being from elsewhere –when I moved back to London at the start of 2006 I occasionally found myself referring to ‘other (as in fellow) foreigners’. I started a master’s course (in KCL) and developed my command of Academic Portuguese and, for that matter, English. In London through mixing a lot with Latin Americans, my Spanish and Portuguese changed. Thanks to where I was living, I developed an ability to recognise Bengali and Turkish. As for my own accent, I found it remarkable when a long-standing work colleague expressed surprise that I was from the north. Through examining I developed a knowledge of the IELTS register. Outside work my online Twitter interactions had a positive impact on my ability to express abuse and sarcasm in short written form. I visited Brazil and had to make a huge amount of effort to demediavelise my Portuguese – the Brazilians regard the European variety as atavistic and I struggled to fit in.

Through friendships with students I slowly started learning Italian, starting with certain regional swearwords, which as B & B point out can be a shortcut means of acquiring a familiarity with the vernacular. When I met my now-wife (who is Italian) I went through a period of being simultaneously impressed and intimidated by her and her colleagues’ ability to mix languages, code switching effortlessly and endlessly between English, French and Spanish. Getting my brain to think in Italian and my speech organs to not produce Spanish proved a constant struggle. Her job took us to Mexico and I experienced the same struggle in reverse. I also had to master a whole new area of place names, slang, and cultural information and had to work hard to try to Mexicanise my pronunciation. After a year there we spent a couple of months in a university in Thailand where I made a pointed attempt to fail to learn some of the language. I’d put my knowledge of Thai at about the same level as the few dozen words of Greek and Finnish I picked up on various holidays**. (My French and German have been comfortably stuck near the bottom of League 1 for at least 15 seasons.)

Regularly visiting Chiara’s family near Napoli meant my Italian features a few expressions in dialect, and then same goes for Rome, where we spent a year and a half. (Now it was Spanish that got in the way of Italian again.) Through working in a university I acquired (not without difficulty) a knowledge of the formal register of university bureaucracy, and (with a lot of assistance from others) developed my writing in a way I never really had with Portuguese or Spanish. I also had to acquire a command of the discourses around pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. Now here living in London I’ve started to think of my accent as a bit of a ‘Remainer’ accent, specially when I step outside the M25. I’ve also started using the word ‘index’ as a verb, and phrases like ‘orders of discourse’, ‘dividing practices’ and ‘kurtosis’. I’m no longer as dependent on knowing foreign languages to bolster my self-esteem, and I’m also no longer sure if and where a line can be drawn between knowledge of the world and knowledge of language, between knowing a few Greek expressions and knowing where Athens is in relation to Thessaloniki, remembering who the Prime Minister of France is and being able to identify a Colombian accent, or having the command of the necessary discourses to fake it in the world of Applied Linguistics. I can now appreciate that language competence is, as Blommaert and Backus point out, dynamic rather than fixed, and that it’s not a case of acquiring and owning a number of discrete languages but rather of using different forms of language with varying degrees of competence while inhabiting specific roles in diverse situations. Here endeth my linguistic repertoire***.

*And vocabulary – my mum, who we, despite not being officially posh (and absolutely not being rich), kept addressing for far too long as ‘Mummy’, insisted on prohibiting the word ‘wee’ and imposed ‘wee wee’ as a euphemistic alternative, which is…odd because (as any expert in linguistics will happily confirm) the term ‘wee wee’ consists of nothing but the word ‘wee’, twice. This single fact more than any other explains why I still find it I important use so much bad fucking language. N.B. I didn’t include this bit in the module discussion forum post.

**As I’ve mentioned here before I happen to know some staggeringly offensive things to say in Finnish. I once offered to share them with anyone who contacted me via the Contact link. Two people did so, I sent them the expressions complete with fully idiomatic transactions, but oddly enough neither of them ever thanked me. Kuradi pärast!

***Here I drew upon a Biblical register. Thank God I didn’t follow it with ‘Amen’. Amen to that.

This, in all seriousness, is how the Brexit deadlock can be resolved

Martin Kettle’s article does an effective job of setting out the current deadlock: there’s a parliamentary consensus that a no deal solution is unacceptable, but there’s no agreement with regard to an alternative. Well, I’ve thought of one: someone (ideally May, but she appears to be psychotic, so probably somebody else) introduces an amendment to the following effect: it’s her deal, or no Brexit. This would force those who really do want Brexit to accept that there will never be a version of it that appeals to their particular proclivities, and to either forget the whole thing or abandon their principles (and destroy their own careers) by voting to make the country much poorer for no good reason. It would also marginalise those outright ideological nutters like Rees-Mogg who aren’t even that bothered about the EU as such but just want to bring everything crashing down so they can profit from the wreckage. Now there would be all sorts of complications, such as how the Labour leadership would handle the delicate task of owning up to Leave voters that the bag they were sold contained nothing but a dead pup, but I think that given the standoff that Kettle describes, and given that there will be no consensus with regard to an alternative for the foreseeable future, and given that the ticking sound we all hear is not actually a clock but a bomb, it might just serve as a last-gasp solution – hopefully it will in fact be this very scenario that we end up with/in. The sticking point at the moment is that she knows she’d lose, and so do those who oppose her deal. After all, if there’s one thing that Brexiters can stomach even less than foreign booze and vegan sausage rolls it’s…Actual Brexit. If Farage, Hannan, Carswell, Cummings, Raab, Johnson, Davis (et al) had genuinely thought the UK would be better off outside the EU, they would have worked a serious, detailed plan that went beyond winning the Referendum, and sought to promote it while the negotiations were going on.

But they never had such a plan (update: quite deliberately, it turns out). Their Brexit is a scorched earth one, the ultimate iteration of the Shock Doctrine, a British version of Year Zero, and it’s far beyond time for their bluff to be put to the test.