The Mail on Sunday
Try moving down here – then tell me we’re a tolerant society
IWAS in a small supermarket the other day. Not a local supermarket, mind: no, no, no, no, no. It was a few miles from my home, but still within the confines of Somerset. I went to pay for my cats’ sustainably caught fish. The young checkout girl smiled. ‘What’s happened to the fish and chip shop?’ I asked her; it was closed, and I was annoyed because I’d wanted to buy my cats some cod.
‘It’s been taken over by Turkish people,’ she said. ‘I won’t be buying anything from there.’ ‘Oh really, why not?’ ‘I don’t like Turkish food. They’re not very clean. People don’t really want foreigners in the village.’
‘Oh, that’s a shame. My boyfriend’s Turkish,’ I lied, wanting to see her squirm.
‘Oh,’ she said, turning red. ‘I didn’t mean all Turkish, just those awful kebab shops.’
I left, saying as politely as I could that maybe with a few more ‘foreigners’ running local shops, I might be able to buy a newspaper past midday on a Sunday.
Immigration comes second in the list of most people’s concerns in the upcoming Election, but it’s a subject all three major parties are tiptoeing around. The Tories promise an annual limit on those from outside the EU and an overhaul of the student visa system.
Labour wants an Australian- UKIP because he was worried about the number of immigrants who come here and ‘live off the social’. This from a man who only ever gets paid in cash.
The Liberal Democrats’ big idea is to allow immigrants to settle in underpopulated areas like the Highlands of Scotland but, given the reception anyone a little different seems to get in rural Britain, I don’t really see how that would work.
SINCE moving to Somerset I’ve been made a figure of fun, with a local councillor dressing up as me – black wig, make-up, accessories of a rat and a tin of Illy coffee – for a carnival. You might have the view my bad reception is down to the fact I’ve uttered a couple of negative comments about the locals, but then all I can say is that people are remarkably thin-skinned; it’s a good job we Essex girls have been able to take a joke all these years.
I can’t help but wonder whether, if I were black or Asian or indeed Turkish, the mutterings in the local gift shops would have been even nastier.
I lived most of my adult life in Hackney, and I admit the quiet girls in headscarves who manned the checkouts at my local Sainsbury’s used to drive me insane when they didn’t understand what I meant by, ‘Where’s the fizzy water?’ But give me their benign stares any day over venom.
‘It’s about how we answer the concerns of care workers, people in the building trade, cleaners and janitors, people who work in shops,’ Gordon Brown said in a speech on immigration last week.
He’s missing an important point: how many white British nurses live full-time in their patients’ homes? I’ve never met one. My mum’s nurse is an African woman with a PhD who leaves her children with their grandmother so that she can do her job.
I miss my Turkish cleaner – a hard-working woman who always brought me halloumi and flat bread and olives – with an ache that can’t be filled, literally: my ad for a cleaner in this very rural area, where jobs are hard to come by, has gone unanswered for almost two years.
You might say this is because no one wants to work for me, but the ad doesn’t disclose my name or exact location.
It’s not until you are stared at, sworn at and ostracised just because you might not partake of local customs that you realise how unwelcoming British people outside the big metropolises can be.
As a Londoner, I’d have told you we are a tolerant society, but I no longer believe that. Indians already bypass us now, and head straight for America. Their gain, our loss. There’s now not a single politician brave enough to say that.