Salvini supporters are publicly calling for Greta Thunberg to be assassinated

I wrote here two days ago that the cutting edge fashion in global fascism is to abandon climate denial and seek to co-opt concern for the environment rather than disdain it; Marine Le Pen, for example, no longer sees climate change as a Jew-led conspiracy but as a golden opportunity to push her agenda of global genocide. It’s since transpired that Italy is behind the French on this score. Although de facto Italian leader Matteo Salvini would no doubt approve of the means Brenton Tarrant used to put his beliefs into practice – the Australian fascist had the name of Salvini’s ally and ex-Lega candidate Luca Traini written on one of his guns – the terrorist’s self-description as an “eco-fascist” would seemingly cause Salvini some puzzlement, judging by the reaction of his supporters to the worldwide Climate Strike on Friday.

This article (in Italian) details the comments made by several pro-Salvini personaggi, some of them prominent in the Italian media, over the last few days. The writer and TV personality Maria Giovanna Maglie called for the Swedish teenage activist to be “mown down by a car”, while the former pop star Rita Pavone called her “a character from a horror movie”. Diego Fusaro, a political philosopher whose self-definition as a “Marxist” should be taken with un grandissimo pezzo di sale, accused the 16-year-old of being part of a plot by the “cosmopolitan elite” (hem hem). The well-known climate liar and founder of the daily newspaper ‘Il Foglio’, Giuliano Ferrara, tweeted “I don’t want to be accused of pedophobia, but I detest this idolatrous figure Greta and her disgusting braids, and the false world of lies she weaves round herself”. The hashtag #nogreta was trending among supporters of Salvini’s neofascist Lega party and its fellow travellers/coalition partners in the Five Star Movement, some of whom still, bizarrely, style themselves as environmentalists and even, in some outlandish cases, anti-racists. Salvini himself joined in with a typically puerile Trump-style tweet welcoming global warming as it will mean more “herbs”, a comment which will delight those among the Five Star Movement who aren’t in outright denial about Salvini’s being in power. A Five Star supporter I spoke to on Friday confirmed what I’d heard elsewhere, in that he felt that Salvini and the Lega “weren’t really” in control of the Government and that the self-confessed fan of Mussolini should be given “more time” to implement his agenda, which includes forcibly evicting and deporting hundreds of thousands of neri, protecting the Mafia by removing police protection from journalists who investigate them and building a European far-right alliance with Kaczynski, Orbán, Le Pen, and all those other names far too depressing to mention.

I’ve read* that those who voted for the electorally larger but politically junior element in his coalition (one of whom (although few people can remember whom) is nominally Prime Minister) pay little to no attention to ‘MSM’ accounts of what the Lega gets up to, putting their faith instead in the blog of their guru Beppe Grillo, a Pied Piper demagogue with a…colourful personal history**. Grillo has in the past blustered about climate change but in case anyone had their hopes up that his movement represents a progressive form of populism, also once proclaimed that “Anti-fascism is outside my purview” and tweeted that Rome is full of “swamped by rats, rubbish and illegal immigrants”. In a devastating article detailing Italy’s ‘descent into barbarism’, the universally respected journalist Roberto Saviano writes:

When people speak in general terms of populism in relation to this government they risk obscuring truly alarming facts on the ground with abstract political labels. There is no doubt that the blind eye this administration turns to racist attitudes has had serious consequences. Cynically the government gives a nod and a wink to extremist groups whose votes they do not want to lose.

The fact that Grillo’s blog has been called “the largest source of fake news in Europe” also helps explain why the Five Star Movement is far more committed to ensuring that kids aren’t protected from life-threatening diseases than it is to defending children who stand up for the environment from far-right death threats. At least it can’t be accused of incoerenza.

*The Lega/M5S Fascist/Moron coalition is a Rorschach blot, albeit with merda rather than ink. From that link: “The alliance between the Five Star party (the post-crisis ‘populists’) and the League (the xenophobic ‘populists’) is arguably functioning because of the borders around their electorates’ news sources. Occasionally I come across people who actively support both Five Star and the League. Far more common, however, are supporters of one party who are effectively ignorant of the policies of the other. For example, a Salvini supporter might rail on about how the closure of the ports will save Italian women from predatory Africans, but will have nothing to say about Five Star’s economic policies. On the other hand, a gloating Di Maio worshipper will happily praise the wonders of Five Star’s citizens’ income proposal or their anti-corruption stance, but will actively disassociate themselves from the League’s racism. And this is exactly the tactic of the separation of Ministerial powers: Di Maio, minister for jobs and welfare, makes no pronouncements about migration. But neither does his party. Search Five Star’s Facebook page, and you’ll find no mention of the Salvini law, as if it simply hasn’t happened. The same is true vice versa (with the exception of pension reforms, which the League takes as one of its central policies).”

**The M5S Party Line is that it was “ice on the road” that caused Grillo to crash his car and kill three people. That wasn’t the verdict of the court.

Citizenship, securitisation and scapegoating

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I don’t know much at all about guns. I wouldn’t be able to name the weapons that the two policemen are holding just five feet away from me on this tube train. (I’m not even sure about the difference between feet and metres.) When I saw them I gave a start, partly because I’m not used to seeing such a sight but also because I’ve just been reading in The Guardian about the status of Shamima Begum, born just a few miles (or slightly more kilometres) away but now languishing in a refugee camp in Syria, so terrorism, state violence and my immunity from it (or otherwise) have been very much on my mind. If I continue on this train for one more stop I’ll reach Parliament, but I’m getting off at Waterloo, partly because I want to research the topic of citizenship and securitisation in the library of the university where I’m doing a module in Multilingualism, Migration and Diversity. The course tutor sent us an email this morning asking us to prepare for a seminar next month on that theme.

I don’t know whether Shamima Begum has ever handled a weapon, but I do know that she holds a British passport which is presently null and void. She has no other passports, and since the UK has no formal constitution if you don’t have a passport you’re not a citizen. The Home Secretary’s decision thus makes her stateless, which is illegal under international law. Strangely the focus of the Guardian article is not on the fact that the Home Secretary, whose parents migrated here from Pakistan, is attempting to break international law. Maybe if a previous government had respected international law there wouldn’t be a war in Syria and there wouldn’t be armed policemen on the tube. Just a thought.


We used to live in Rome, where armed soldiers were a common sight around metro and train stations. Those soldiers are now under the direction of the de facto leader of a coalition government of neofascists and internet trolls who is the same person who will next year be signing my Italian passport, unless someone reads this first and decides to turn me down because they don’t agree with my political opinions. (I’m not about to go to Syria to cut people’s heads off, but at the same time I don’t think it was wrong for George Orwell et al to take up arms against a previous generation of European fascists.) One purpose of getting an Italian passport was to remain an EU citizen in the wake of Brexit, but that may be moot in any case if Salvini’s cohorts take over the EU Parliament in May and destroy the EU from within. The prospect of the people in Westminster prolonging Article 50 to keep the UK in the EU temporarily is becoming less likely because the UK mustn’t be allowed to participate in those elections. This ungodly mess helps to explain why everyone is talking about the damage Shamima Begum might do to vital national interests instead of the incalculable harm our own government is doing to all of our life chances. Yesterday a friend whose wife is also Italian got a letter from their child’s nursery specifying that vouchers for 3 year old children of EU parents won’t yet be stripped and “any future changes will be in line with the future immigration system”, which is less than reassuring in that we know that our government will readily take away people’s most basic rights whenever doing so might stop people talking about what’s happening to the economy as a result of the ongoing civil war in the Conservative Party, a war which David Cameron decided to try to resolve once and for all by spreading it to the entire country.

Who radicalised Shamima Begum to the point where she didn’t even blink at the sight of a severed head and thought the motives and means behind the Manchester attack understandable? What sort of people seek to promote politically-inspired violence against defenceless civilians, including children? Surely whoever encouraged impressionable young women to join a war against their fellow Muslims and their country of birth must be identified and brought to justice as soon as possible…

Here’s a Martin Amis-style thought experiment: Could there be some sort of connection between her youthful indiscretion and the decision of our Government in 2003 to flout international law and take part in an illegal invasion which left hundreds of thousands of people dead, destabilised the entire region and created millions of refugees? Some very powerful people in the government and the media are determined that such questions not be asked in the rush to condemn and castigate such a perfect scapegoat. According to another article in today’s Guardian, today marks 50 years since Rupert Murdoch, who was born in Australia and also holds an American passport, took control of The Sun newspaper.  I see this morning on Twitter that one of his protégées, Stig Abell, is applauding the Home Secretary’s decision. Abell was Editor-in-chief of The Sun when it published (that is to say, he published) a column by Katie Hopkins in which she called for boats full of refugees fleeing Isis to be bombed and advocated another “final solution”.

Now that’s pretty radical. Surely someone – the Home Secretary, perhaps – must be demanding that such an inhuman creature be brought to justice and his passport be removed? Er, no. He’s currently the Editor of the Times Literary Supplement.

I think I’ll stick with the LRB, thanks.

If anyone is to be forced out of Labour, it should be these no-deal nutcases

I’ve speculated here before about Jeremy Corbyn’s political rapport with his professional climate-liar/ devout Brexit enthusiast of a brother Piers, but maybe it wasn’t fair or right of me to do so. After all, internet conspiracy mongering already has far too much influence in Corbyn’s Labour Party – it is, I believe, the channel through which anti-Semitic effluence is flowing. There is far too much of the same radical-sounding but not actually all that progressive sentiment that lay behind the rise of Italy’s 5 Star Movement, which for all its railing against the insipid neoliberalism of the Democratic Party and its talk of a basic income is now happily ensconced in a neofascist government. In the UK, a loose anti-establishment politics has proven to be a wholly inadequate rival to the far more energised populism of Brexit. Labour hasn’t been able to frame its agenda in a way which makes a connection both with voters who value the social liberalism embodied in the EU and those who want to make sure their fury and frustration at neoliberal austerity and inequality is heard. Maybe the internet compels people to think in terms of easy answers, to respond in a Pavlovian manner to simplistic slogans. Corbyn’s Labour should have stood against that, coming up with nuanced alternatives and using clear messaging based on detailed research into what connects with people beyond vague catcalls against the shadowy ‘elite’. Corbyn should have used his political capital after his second victory to persuade those unconvinced of his leadership of his competence and to win round those who have fallen under the sway of Farage’s Pied Piper act. In this sense, the internet is both Labour’s strength and its weakness. For all that it galvanised Corbyn’s supporters around elections and rallies, it has also left many Labour supporters prey to the insidious propaganda of the far-right, via Facebook groups spreading conspiracist memes about Soros, the “bosses club” of the EU, in favour of a chimeric “WTO Brexit” etc etc etc. Instead the forlorn cheers of his core supporters hark back incessantly to late 2015 and to June 2017, when Corbyn seemed, much more by default that by design, to have brought together a temporary coalition of Leavers and Remainers. Unfortunately that was never destined to hold together in the face of his tactical prevarication.

Or was it, as so many of us so generously assumed, tactical? According to some people in the know, Corbyn’s Brexit policy is actually being dictated by Communist Party hacks. This article on the Socialist Resistance website, written by someone who clearly knows the territory of the British Left intimately, explains:

Corbyn’s most trusted cardinals are Andrew Murray and Seumas Milne, graduates from the seminary of British Stalinism, an order not renowned for its tolerance of dissent.

They were both in the Straight Left faction of the Communist Party (CP), an organisation which proudly says in its own official history that its famous British Road to Socialism programme “had been extensively discussed and agreed with Stalin”. It says of the European Union’s (EU) predecessor:

“In the 1975 referendum campaign, the CP fought hard as part of the broad alliance for a ‘No’ vote against Britain’s continuing membership of the European Economic Community. The Communist position had been consistent since the 1957 Treaty of Rome: based on the free movement of capital, goods and labour, the Common Market was a ‘bosses’ club’.”

And it’s not just Milne and Murray. Len McCluskey of Unite is dead set against a new referendum and so is Karie Murphy, Corbyn’s chief of staff who accompanied Corbyn and Milne to the recent meeting with Theresa May.

“A bosses’ club.” Fuck that phrase. Those who reduce the EU’s role in relation to British society to no more than that of the executive committee of the European bourgeoisie have done far more than most to bring to this point, where a slow-moving far-right coup is going to reduce their beloved proletariat to a penury none of us has seen in our lifetimes. Of course Berger, Umunna and all the rest have no more alternative to the implosion of neoliberal globalisation than did their Italian counterparts. To paraphrase Tina Turner in relation to an altogether more entertaining dystopia, non abbiamo bisogno di un altro Renzi, nor another maledetto Blair. We are in almost all certainty heading for a period of far-right authoritarianism in some form, just like Italy, Brazil and elsewhere. And this so-called opposition party, with this leadership, far from trying to halt this slide into reactionary dictatorship, is, particularly as it runs down the clock much as May is doing, doing a great deal to make it even more inevitable.

As for what Corbyn could and should do now to respond to the democratic will of his party membership before the situations gets any messier: expel all those MPs and prominent Labour members who support a no-deal Brexit, and accept that a second referendum is a preferable option to total chaos. It’s been clear for some time that for various reasons, Umunna et al didn’t want to stay in the Labour Party; Kate Hoey, John Mann, Caroline Flint and all the rest shouldn’t be given the choice. All conspiracy theorising aside, the fact that one noteworthy Labour member advocating a no deal final solution is Corbyn’s own brother should actually be a cause for widespread public concern.

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.

Should the UK close its ports to stop the Italian immigrant invasion?

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The sixteen or so months that my wife and I spent living in Rome (September 2016 to February 2018) was an exceptionally happy period of our lives, with all the exhilaration you would expect to result from our having just brought a whole new life into the world. It was a particularly special experience because Italians love babies. Almost everyone we passed while pushing the pram peered into it and cooed delightedly, welcoming our daughter into the world with open arms.

We appreciated their enthusiasm, but occasionally reflected on how it contrasted with the reception granted to other, more socially and intellectually developed newcomers. After all, our daughter isn’t going to do anything productive for the next few years. She’s not going to get a job, and used up a fair share of Italy’s precious healthcare and garbage collection resources without giving anything in return. She couldn’t even speak a word of the language after almost a year living there. Nonetheless, no one told her to go back where she came from, or insisted that the country was full, which are sentiments you do hear expressed rather a lot, especially if you watch the TV news, where xenophobic politicians were given free rein to spread any amount of misinformation in order to whip up hostility towards outsiders.

The joy of parenthood aside, we didn’t much enjoy living in Italy. The work situation was abysmal: low pay, long hours, alternately absent and overbearing management, and a near-total lack of professional development. That’s if you were lucky to have any sort of paid work – shortly before leaving I saw a handwritten advert in a decrepit shoe shop window for a ‘stagista’ (intern). Plus the struggle involved in getting around the city was immense, particularly with a pushchair, and there wasn’t really anywhere decent for a child to play and make friends. Of course, there are the museums and galleries, but you have to get there somehow, and public transport in Rome is so bad that even when the bus finally turns up, there’s a good chance it’ll blow up before it gets 50 metres down the road. On those interminable boneshaking journeys on the 170 from Piazza Venezia to Viale Marconi, the baby would often give voice to her frustrations, expressing at full volume the very feelings being repressed by the other passengers. Porco dio.

The prospect of returning to London was not free of qualms, with the stench of Brexit starting to infect many aspects of national life. But when we announced our imminent departure to friends and acquaintances, few expressed any misgivings on our behalf. If there’s one thing that Italians love more than babies, it’s London. So powerful is the attachment to the UK capital that among the floral tributes to the two young Italian architects who died in the Grenfell atrocity is a note from one of their relatives saying that London is the dream of all young Italians. Emigration has always been a safety valve for the Italian economy, and now more are leaving the country than ever before.

Hence, Italy needs new people to replace those who are dying or emigrating. That’s why the government has run a series of campaigns promoting fertility (including a much-ridiculed ‘Fertility Day’). The birth rate has collapsed, and the country is falling into a demographic hole.

Thus, Italy needs the enterprise and energy that immigrants provide. Italians may work long hours, but they don’t work very hard, and they don’t share the work around among newcomers, whether immigrants or new graduates. It’s unusual to meet someone in the 20s with a proper job related to their field of study; it’s also rare to see a black person gainfully employed, even in retail jobs. Enterprising immigrants make their own opportunities, where they are allowed to. Pakistani and Bangladeshi sell everything everywhere, from trinkets to clothes to pizza, but the only seem to be actually employed as overworked and underpaid waiters. In desperation, some young Africans in bigger cities have taken to sweeping the streets in return for a few euro cents. Some young women suffer a more degrading fate. It doesn’t mean that immigrants are not profitable per se – mafia groups have for several years coined it in from running reception centres little better than concentration camps. It’s just that the newcomers whose initiative and energy Italy so desperately needs are used as the object of trade when they are bursting with economic energy which could be made far better use of.

It might seem strange that so many think that the reason for Italy’s economic stagnation lies with people who have never even set foot in the country. To blame someone who’s just escaped from an Isis torture camp in Libya for record youth unemployment, rather than fingering the successive generations of corrupt business owners and politicians, might even seem irrational. Unless, that it, you’ve been exposed to the aforementioned racist propaganda on the news. Italy’s fascist movement has never gone away, and has seized on the active scapegoating of dark-skinned migrants to promote racist aggression, culminating in a series of terrorist attacks on visible immigrants. The most noteworthy was a few months ago, when a candidate for the anti-immigrant (and, while we’re at it, anti-Italian) Lega shot at groups of Africans in a small town. The attacks were excused by Matteo Salvini, who blamed them entirely on the victims themselves for existing in the wrong place. He also made no apology for the fact that the terrorist in question was an avid reader of ‘Mein Kampf’.

Just as in the UK, where Farage boasted that the referendum was won ‘without a shot being fired’ despite one of his supporters having murdered an MP, the Italian far-right and its fellow travellers in the ragbag alliance of former leftists, internet trolls and anti-science nutjobs that is the 5 Star Movement reaped electoral dividends from the attacks, and only a few brave journalists and politicians openly condemned them. Although Salvini has never publicly called himself a fascist, his political ally, the Putin-admiring Farage-befriending trickster Beppe Grillo, leader of the Movement, has been open about his indifference to fascism. Hence a movement which few would have suspected a few years ago would have called proto-fascist voted overwhelmingly to support a government programme which makes the #MAGA phenomenon look rational and fair-minded, kicking off with the mass expulsion of Africans.

Luckily we escaped from the increasingly fraught and fetid atmosphere, moving back to London at the start of February. We became, after a fashion, Italian emigrants (my wife is actually Italian but holds a UK passport, while I’ll have my own Italian (and hopefully EU) passport within a few months), joining the exodus to the promised land. Given the huge numbers of Italians in Hackney, very many of them recently arrived, it feels a little like we’re still in Rome (although here there are parks for the baby to play in and the public transport system works, on the whole, wonderfully).

A few months ago fascist posters in Rome were screeching about an ‘immigrant invasion’. As I walk around the area where I live, it’s clear that the slogan was mistaken. What is going on in London is an ‘invasione emigrante’. (Or possibly exvasione emigrante…) Now, as far as I’m concerned, all those newcomers are very welcome, but, to be fair to myself here, I’m not the one who has a problem with immigrants. Having smuggled a whole new human being into existence and then moved her from one country to another so very recently, it would be hypocritical in the extreme for me to complain about others who, like all of us, happen to be in a different place on the planet from the one in which they were born. Of course, I’d hate to think that Lega and 5 Star supporters had a problem with Senegalese and Nigerian arrivals *just because of the colour of their skin*, or to suggest that they believe white people should have the right to travel and settle elsewhere with impunity and darker-skinned people shouldn’t. What would horrify me would be to think that there were, among recent newcomers from Italy, people who thought in such a way, who believed that their skin colour made them ‘expats’ rather than parasitical ‘immigrants’. (There were at least a few such scumbags, and kudos to my neighbours who managed to get rid of them.) I also met a few British people in Italy who saw themselves in such a way, and such characters hardly stand out in the sordid history of Britain’s overseas occupations. (We also, of course, have our own homegrown variety – it’s only thanks to an iniquitous electoral system that they’re not now in government.)

But here’s the thing: if Italy is ‘full’, then so is the UK. If Rome can’t accept any more newcomers, then neither can London. If you think that boatloads of desperate people should be left to drift in the Mediterranean because a man who makes Enoch Powell seem like Diane Abbott exerts the actual power to keep ports closed, but also find, following a period of honest self-reflection, that you yourself are actually an immigrant, that you – according to your particular but not unique misanthropic belief system – are using up resources that should be reserved for people who happen to have been born locally, then there’s only really one thing you can do: in the words of the spiritual leaders of Italy’s brand new fesso/fascista coalition, fare le valigie: pack your bags. If you’re a leghista or a grillino living in London, fuck off back home. Or, if you can, find another European country to migrate to: maybe Malta, Portugal or Litchenstein. In any case, qui non ti vogliamo, stronzetto. Siamo pieni.

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There is a simple way to deal with the rise of neofascists like Salvini, but it’s not what you might expect

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Our 13-month-old daughter has developed a new screech which is not just far louder and more grating than anything she’s previously produced, but actually more unpleasant than any noise heard in the universe since at least the Big Bang. Although it’s incredibly upsetting to be exposed to her it’s just her way of remarking that she’s feeling a little peckish, could do with a sip of the old H20, has done yet another poop or wouldn’t mind a bit of a nap. She has had a challenging few weeks during which we’ve moved back from Italy, she’s started nursery and her molars have started to erupt. Plus, over the last few days, thankfully unbeknownst to her, a gang of fascist thugs have moved perilously close to power in her homeland, something which has, whether we like it or not, put her parents’ nerves on edge.

How do we deal with her outbursts of nerve-shredding fury? By giving her exactly what she seems to want: either lots and lots of affection, a fresh nappy, chunk after chunk of banana-wana until she finally stops pointing in the vague direction of the fruit bowl, or by insisting as tenderly as possible that she curl up with her favourite cuddly toys in her sleepy-deepy placey-wacey. As much as she seems to want us to, we never respond with expressions of frustration or impatience; as hard as it gets, despite all the apparent provocation, we accept that she has no understanding of the causes or consequences of her tantrums, and treat her accordingly. She is, after all, just a confused, helpless being in a frightening universe with no other means of articulating her most basic needs, and we are, after all, the only family she has.

As for dealing with fascists, well that’s different, obviously. A combination of physical violence and public humiliation is probably the best bet. They’re not babies, fffs.

The Left could easily win a re-run of the Italian election. Here’s how.

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The results of the Italian parliamentary election are depressing not just to those of us with a progressive mindset but also to anyone who values democracy over violence as a means of governing human societies. The most likely Prime Minister is Matteo Salvini, an explicit apologist for racist terrorism*, as his party is the largest in a (ahem) ‘centre-right’ alliance led by the media oligarch, disqualified fraudster and convicted pedophile/mummified megalomaniac ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi. The largest single party is the populist 5 Star Movement, which has declared it will not enter a coalition. However, given that the notoriously incoherent organisation is led by the (also disqualified) multi-millionaire trickster/friend of Farage Beppe Grillo, who is on record as indifferent to fascism, there’s is a distinct chance that it will hoist the far-right into power.

Luckily the best minds (well, me) have identified a potential escape route out of this nightmare. It starts from the realisation that, despite its appalling result, the governing Democratic Party (PD) still got more votes than Berlusconi’s Forza Italia or whatever it’s called this fortnight. The Left got more support than the Right and would easily win a possible post-horsetrading second round of the election in a couple of months, providing three conditions were met:

  1. Salvini and the other fascist leaders will have to be physically eradicated. Italy has both a proud tradition of doing this, and an explicitly anti-fascist constitution. Nobody since 1945 can pretend they don’t know what fascists are, and that it is necessary to use all means necessary to eliminate them. An amendment to the Constitution could then introduce a 100% electoral threshold preventing the political participation of such groups. Then there are the Lega’s fellow travellers in the Nazi groups Casapound and Forza Nuova (last seen posting threatening messages on their front doors of their political opponents, a la the Mexican narco gangs with which they have so much in common). According to this ‘hey, let me introduce you to my new best friends in the Casapound’ article in the Guardian, there are hundreds of thousands of (almost exclusively male, overwhelmingly filgi di papà) members of such groups. That’s frightening, but their numbers can be used against them. Simply pack hundreds of them at a time onto rickety dinghies with a maximum capacity of 12 persons (including crew) and push them out into the Mediterranean. Perhaps their alt-right comrades could rescue them when the inevitable happen, and then carry them off to Libya where they would quickly find they actually have rather a lot in common with Isis. Then, and only then, we could, as the Casapound has proposed, bomb Libya.
  2. The voting age in Italy is 18. As is the case elsewhere, it is believed that by that age citizens have reached a sufficient level of maturity and responsibility to make considered decisions about how society is run. However, in these elections millions of people did not make a mature and responsible voting choice. They voted instead for an inchoate ‘anti-political’ political party led by a comedian and convicted drink-driver who uses his blog to spread buffale (fake news) about vaccines, immigrants and much more besides. The anarchist collective Wu Ming several years ago nailed Grillo’s role perfectly. His cult is based around ‘a chaotic programme where neoliberal and anti-neoliberal, centralist and federalist, libertarian and authoritarian ideas coexist’. It feeds parasitically on genuine anger about austerity, and has held back more radical forces such that Italy had no equivalent to the Spanish indignados or the Occupy movement. Its vacuity and naivety has meant that it has acted as a placeholder for the fascists, and in 2018 no one who voted for it could have done so in the belief that its leaders’ promise not to enter a coalition with anyone including the far-right was sincere.
    Unless, that is, they lacked a basic political education, and had developed their understanding of the world on social media, never acquiring the mature relationship with serious adult media which is essential to basic citizenship. Now, as it happens, the exam which all Italians (at least those who finish school) take at 18 is called the Maturità. It seems obvious to me that M5S voters, with their puerile understanding of the world, would benefit from the introduction of a compulsory reschooling phase** during which their would obtain an adequate appreciation for the importance of democracy and their responsibility for perpetuating it. Once they had completed such a course of study, their right to vote should be restored, provided that they take a legally-binding oath to read an actual newspaper at least twice every five years.
  3. The third thing that would reverse the tide of shit that has overrun Italian politics is to ban anyone with the name Renzi from taking part in election for a period of at least 10,000 years. The same goes for anyone (including Gentiloni) who thinks that half-heartedly repeating a neoliberal mantra of ‘crescita, crescita, crescita’ (‘growth, growth, growth’) as if they were praying for rain is a meaningful response to a world in turmoil.  Their replacements could – anzi, must – explore new and radical ideas: degrowth, a universal basic income, and much more. They could even start to face up the challenges of a collapsing climate***. This would be far better than allowing the Left to be constantly hijacked by egomaniacs much more concerned with their own power than improving society. It would mean that the the intellectual vacuum inside the PD (of which the M5S’s vapidity is a contorted and witless pastiche) could be filled with the ideas and spirit necessary to combat the simplistic prescriptions of the fascists. What will in reality happen, of course, is that (although concerted pressure from further left will hopefully have a meaningful influence) the PD will move in a more avowedly anti-immigrant direction. In the words of W-B. Yeats, “i migliori perdono ogni convinzione, mentre i peggiori/ sono pieni di appassionata intensità”. A more inspiring quote for today comes from an anonymous source: “L’unico fascista buono è il fascista morto”.

*The BBC’s Italy correspondent on this morning’s Radio 4’s Today Programme chose to refer to the Lega as an ‘anti-illegal immigrant party’, conveniently omitting to mention that in the attack in Macerata the racist terrorist didn’t ask for the documents of the Africans he tried very hard to shoot dead. Thus did a BBC journalist (whose name I didn’t catch) out himself as a fascist and therefore a terrorist sympathiser. Of course, the Macerata attack didn’t draw nearly as much attention in international and on social media as it would have if had the victims had been white. Maybe, given the almost-universal level of indifference to their fate, #siamotuttisalvini should have been trending worldwide.
** There is irony in the fact that so many M5S supporters are teachers. Well, “teachers”.
***Only joking. That would be of course be ‘political suicide’. Much easier instead to blame outsiders for changing weather patterns and failing crops. Human societies have been doing that for thousands of years.

What to say to Italians to stop them voting fascist

italian-flagMy family and I recently became economic migrants, emigrants from a country (Italy) where there are fewer job prospects and where working conditions are generally atrocious. Brexit notwithstanding, at least in London there are jobs, even some with decent conditions, and the public transport and rubbish collection systems work, while the referendum has certainly revealed an extremely unpleasant undercurrent of hostility to foreigners and the status of many who’ve lived here for decades is still entirely and appallingly uncertain, the UK is not, unlike Italy, right on the verge of electing an electing an explicitly fascist government.

Immigration has been the main theme in the Italian election debate, and the direct involvement of the extremist Northern League in a terrorist attack on Africans has received the full approval of their political sponsor, the mummified, mafioso, pedophile, tax-skiving Bond villain Silvio Berlusconi, a creature whose political views and history of corruption on every conceivable level make Donald Trump seem like Joni Mitchell. There is a chance that not only will Berlusconi’s coalition win most seats, but that he, who, given his multiple criminal convictions is unable to serve in government, will choose Matteo Salvini, the genocidally racist leader of the Lega Nord, as Interior or even Prime Minister.

Who am I to tell Italian how to vote? Well, I lived and worked in Rome until two weeks ago, and my wife and baby daughter were both born in the country. (No one in Rome suggested that my daughter was using up resources destined for those who’d been there longer, or that she should go back where she came from. Che strano.) Many of my friends are Italian and/or still live in Italy, although none of them will have considered voting for the far-right. Or at least I should bloody well hope not. This post is offered in a spirit of solidarity – I know that millions of Italians are out on the streets and arguing with their colleagues, friends and neighbours, trying to provide an antidote to the racist poison broadcast nightly on the TV news. Cioè, spero bene.

Although I spent the first week after the Brexit vote listening to this, I’ve come to accept that, regardless of the catastrophic consequences of their actions, many who voted for it were not expressing affiliation with a far-right agenda. The utter contempt and profound cruelty with which the Cameron/Osborne government treated the bulk of the population generated a predictable response in which many thought they were taking part in a new peasant’s revolt rather than a faux-rebellion led by a former stockbroking fascist backed by billionaires. Thus there are reasons excuses for having voted for Brexit, and even (to a far lesser extent, and although I would happily spit on anyone who actually voted for him) Trump.  This is not to make excuses for my own country’s racism, but to stress that there are no excuses for voting for the euphemistically-referred to ‘centrodestra‘ (centre-right, which includes the fascists). As it happens, Farage’s best friend in Italy is not Salvini, but Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Star Movement. While Spain had the indignados, Italy had this group of ingenues, a movement based on a deeply naive opposition to not just corruption but politics per se. Grillo is a master manipulator, and egomaniac and a trickster, and the fact that his blog has been called Europe’s main source of fake news is largely responsible for a situation where even people who see themselves as progressive will tell you with a straight face that vaccines cause autism and that George Soros has a plan to flood Europe with Muslim immigrants. As for the movement’s stance on racism, its leaders declaration that ‘Anti-fascism is not my job’ and his welcoming of members of the even-more-nazi-than-the-nazis Casapound movement has been reflected in the party’s response to the attack in Macerata, which lies somewhere between pathetic and complicit.

The country wouldn’t be in this situation if the governing Partito Democratico had any courage or principles, instead of being unhappily married to a half-hearted and discredited form of neoliberalism, one which involves repeating the mantra of crescita (growth) like they’re invoking rainfall. The Left has at last tried to remake itself, but often seemingly on the basis of personal ambition rather than principle. (The smaller left parties have declared they won’t form a coalition with the PD, but hopefully that’s just electoral posturing.)  The widely-despised gurning former PM Matteo Renzi’s insistence that he should continue as leader of the ‘Left’ is suicidal – or rather homicidal, given that his political career will no doubt continue. And speaking of murder, there is also his cowardly response to the attempted massacre in Macerata. Few will vote PD with any enthusiasm, but let’s hope that as many as possible do. Anyone who argues that the parties are ‘all the same’ on this occasion could only be speaking out of profound ignorance of undiagnosed sociopathy.

In previous elections over the last year or so I’ve used this space to share translations of phrases which might persuade people with a vote not to vote for the right.  It worked well in the case of the French elections (ahem…) and I regret not doing so before the German ones. This time it’s not all that tongue-in-cheek. The possibility of a fascist victory is extremely terrifying and very real. One hopes that the Italian State, given that it has an explicitly anti-fascist constitution, will refuse to allow a government including Salvini and Giorgia Meloni (aka the blonde Traini) to take power; failing that, there will need to be a popular revolt involving extreme civil disobedience to resist such a prospect. In the meantime, anyone who has a vote, wherever they may be, needs to be warned of the consequences of voting for the right. The phrases that follow are not polite ones, but I find it impossible to think of those who might knowingly allow the return of fascism in the country that invented it with anything other than contempt.

  1. You do know that Italy is a country of emigrants, right? Sai che l’Italia è un paese di emigranti, vero?
  2. Do you think that countries such as the US and the UK should deport all their Italian immigrants? Credi che paesi come gli Stati Uniti e il Regno Unito dovreberro mandare via tutti i loro immigrati italiani?
  3. Will you be happy to see the Italian tourist industry collapse overnight? Saresti contento/a di vedere l’industria turistica crollare di un momento al altro?
  4. Do you think it’s necessary to shoot all foreigners, or just the black ones? Are you planning to go to the Colosseum and murder all the tourists? Pensi che bisogna sparare a tutti gli stranieri, o solo ai neri? Hai intenzione di andare sotto al Colosseo e uccidere tutti i turisti?
  5. Salvini is a terrorist, Berlusconi is a pedophile.  Salvini è un terrorista, Berlusconi è un pedofilo.
  6. What attracts you most about the Arancini coalition: the terrorism, the pedophilia, the fact that one of its leaders has blonde hair, or just the fanatical racism? Cosa ti piace di piu del cosidetto centrodestra: il terrorismo, la pedofilia, i capelli biondi di una dei leader, opurre solo il razzismo fanatico?
  7. Would you vote for Isis? Votaresti per Isis?
  8. Have you perhaps considered voting for a non-fascist party? Che tipo di stronzetto sei, cazzo?!

Merry Christmas, f*ck your blue passports!!!

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I’m at Fiumicino airport queuing to get on the plane to go back to the UK for Christmas. Word comes down the line that there isn’t enough space for all the hand luggage. This makes sense. Most people travel with far too much stuff these days. Between me, my (Italian) wife and her parents (who’ve gone on ahead) we’re transporting seven bags of various shapes and sizes, containing not just the standard four hundred adaptors and chargers and six hundred panettoni but also rabbits, bears, elephants, one human infant and enough nappies to feed a nappy-eating army.

However, the news that our suitcases will need to go in the hold doesn’t go down at all well with the people ahead of me in the corridor, particularly with a posh-sounding woman and her friend from Liverpool, which is where we’re flying to. They’re annoyed at the apparent incompetence of the staff, who should (how?) have anticipated such an eventuality.

Someone of the attendants come to explain. Although it’s a Romanian airline, both the attendants seem to be French and don’t appear to speak Italian. This also makes sense, because English is the international language of air travel, and they probably spend their days dashing round between random European cities. It’s not a problem, or at least it shouldn’t be, because the queue is mostly composed of people flying home for the holidays.

Personally I’m not bothered by the slight inconvenience. We’ve got to pick up check-in luggage at the other end anyway. But behind me there’s a bald man in his forties with a strong English accent, which is unfortunate because he’s insisting on speaking Italian even though the flight attendant doesn’t understand it. Yoh facho kwesto veyagio chentoh voltey per anoh, he’s complaining. I-ya nev-ah ave-ah such-ah an-ah aysperience-ah. It’s basically the equivalent of the unwittingly hilarious foreign accents that we British love to take the piss out of, and I’ve done so in the past in class, for example by getting Spanish students to speak English with the strongest Spanish accents they can muster in order to focus on the differences. My compatriot fellow passenger sounds like someone who Has Mastered The Language, Thank You Very Much, and now expects to be honoured for it, even when (as in this situation) using it is redundant to the point of farce.

The attendant who is patiently dealing with his unreasonable requests speaks perfectly servicable English, albeit with a mild Inspector Clouseau accent. He’s polite and helpful. However, the Liverpudlian woman in front of me is also complaining about the situation, which she says typifies Italy, and she should know, because She Lives Here. She emphasises this point by repeatedly telling any Italians within earshot that ‘Non c’è logico in questo paese‘ – there’s no logic in this country. Beh, maybe she needs to focus a bit more on her grammatico. Or, as the Italians say, grammatica, which is their word for grammar, much as their word for logic, a word which their civilisation derived from Greek, is logica. Maybe she should just say what she wants to say in English, which after all is her language and which everyone present seems to speak perfectly well. Perhaps, while she’s at it, she might want to avoid making crass generalisations on the basis of a specific situation which doesn’t even have much to do with Italy per se.

In fact, another fellow passenger (Italian) helpfully intervenes, in perfect English. He explains that it’s not unusual and not really an inconvenience. It’s happened to him a dozen or so times. (He actually uses the word ‘dozen’.) She’s listening to him (I think she, you know, gets the gist) but is still responding in the language of Dante Alighieri and Joe Dolce.

I suspect that the woman, whose command of Italian is actually pretty commendable (quite possibly better than mine), may work as an English teacher. I’m basing on two things, which are actually one: 1) I myself am an English teacher 2) I’m given to projecting my own bad habits onto others. I have, on countless occasions in the past, bolstered my sense of self-worth by insisting on speaking foreign languages when it was completely unnecessary to do so, even though I make my living by helping, indeed encouraging, foreigners to speak English.

The friendly Italian man is presumably choosing to speak English in case there are people present who don’t understand Italian. It’s completely reasonable to assume that I might be one of those people. After all, you don’t get much more an international environment than an airport. Plus there’s the not-insignificant fact that we’re boarding a plane to England. (Maybe he even lives there.) It’s a linguistically fraught situation for those who see their command of foreign languages as a notch on the bedpost of their identity. I’ve written before about my own anxiety around language borders, whether in Portugal, Germany, Mexico, or Italy. I feel belittled and rejected when I’m trying to speak another language and someone switches to English. When I speak another language I feel like I’m making a claim, and desperately want to be recognised, validated. Who, after all, wants to be bloody British?!

The woman’s comment about ‘this country‘ also riled me, because in its petty-minded resentfulness I recognise my own bad habits. I’ve said things like this, probably even this week. Two hours ago I was stomping around the airport looking for a non-existent Terminale 2, cursing whoever designed the airport. Last week doing my application for citizenship I was damning in the strongest terms whichever stronzetto had devised the seemingly interminable and irrelevant questions. While doing my tax documents in Mexico a couple of years back I probably at certain points sounded to any purported eavesdropper like a proto-Donald Trump. It’s very, very easy to essentialise, to attribute any minor inconvenience to the entire people and culture of the country where one finds oneself.

She’s now explaining to us in English, from the perspective of someone who knows everything about Italy, that it takes some adjustment to live here. In England things work…differently, she says. Meaning: better. Meaning: My country is better than this one, the one I’ve chosen to make homeNon c’è logico, she repeats. But it looks beautiful and tastes nice, and that’s all that matters.

I’ve derided the expat mentality before, and it seems that here we have a living and whining embodiment of it. But maybe I’m being unfair. Perhaps she’s had a bad morning. Travelling is stressful, especially when at any given moment someone might – horror of horrors! address you in your own language. So I respond, in a jocular but pointed fashion, that at least people here don’t get worked up about the colour of their passports.

She might have laughed, but maybe she’s not from the same tribe as me. Apparently someone tried to have a ‘Brexit conversation’ with her in her hotel this morning at 7.30. I feel tempted to point out that it’s a very common topic of conversation. People around the world are confused by a country whose good sense they respected doing something so clearly harmful to its own interests. A lot of people in Italy look to all northern countries as emblematic instances of organisation and good sense. I could point this out, but the stewards are here with the sticky labels for our bags. I thank them profusely in English, a language I’ve spoken all my life and taught for the last twenty years. Such people have been funding my lifestyle for two decades; it’s also foreign students that keep my hometown (Sheffield) in existence.

I get on the plane and tell my wife about what happened. It strikes me it would make an entertaining thing to write about on the strictly (well, hopefully) non-whiny expat blog that I keep. I start to take notes but then remember that we have parental duties to attend to and also that we have a long journey ahead and my phone only has 48% of battery life left. What a depressing number.

The girl next to us looks Turkish but turns out to be from Moldova. She speaks no English or Italian and my Romanian is limited to place names and words like seatbelt and fasten which I can see translated on the back of the seat in front. She seems not to have flown before, judging by her confusion upon that she can’t make phone calls once we’ve taken off. Despite the linguistic barriers, she’s brilliant at engaging with the baby and distracting her from her favourite game of Let’s Take Daddy-Waddy’s Glasses Off. (Her other hobby on aeroplanes is ripping up  inflight magazines, publications which I had thought existed in order to sell high-end nick-nacks and trips to more glamorous destinations, but whose main purpose is I now realise, to give parents a bit of a break.) Across the aisle there’s a guy reading an article in La Repubblica headlined ‘Russia, Iran e altri exploit del gaffeur Boris Johnson’. I wonder what the girl next to is off to do in the UK. It’s wrong to essentialise, but I know that Moldova is often associated with sex trafficking. Still, I hate when people make negative judgments about me on the basis of where I happen to be from to me. Like assuming that because I’m English and live abroad I must be a self-centred, self-hating, whiny and overly judgmental English teacher who thinks they’re some sort of uniquely gifted linguistic genius because they’ve sort of half-mastered a foreign language and who believes themselves to have a God-given right to more and better working options on the basis of their national origin. That’s actually, I hate to admit, not 100% wide of the mark. But I’ve got no interest whatsoever in acquiring a blue fucking passport.