10 Things We Need From Europe
I hate UKIP’s Nigel Farage because he considers himself the voice of common sense. He’s the voice of insulated Little England, the small thinker, the man who stays in the Olde Worlde English hotel with a hushed breakfast room serving bad food, the man who’s content to look and behave like a Tesco stock-buyer and whose house is probably beige and dusty pink with floral English furniture and lathe-turned lampshades.
When I look at Europe I see independent thinking, creativity, originality, expansiveness. We already panicked over the Poles and ranted about Romanians. Now everyone’s upset that the Poles are returning home. Right, Nigel, let’s stop all immigration, and while we’re at it let’s pretend it’s 1950 as well.
Now, I’ll admit there are downsides. The southern European cities smell of sewers in the summer and the service is variable, but you can get across whole countries quickly and cheaply without having to pay a fortune for a 5-hour replacement bus service every weekend, and contrary to being a nanny state there are flexible rules and freedoms we can only dream of. They don’t throw their seniors into care homes and stick their kids in front of TVs. They don’t exist solely to make money for corporations. We refused to adopt sensible working hours (my partner has worked from 9:00am to midnight most nights this week) and London has returned to its Victorian ideal as the world’s counting-house.
The problem is that when you have a good job, you fail to see how poor the quality of your life has become. As a freelancer, I see the whole work/life balance in painful microcosm every time I pass between London and Europe.
And then there are ten things I absolutely demand we import from Europe to London.
1. Biodegradable loo rolls you just drop down the toilet when they’re finished.
2. Fairy Liquid in bottles that pre-foam the suds for you.
3. Free gyms, water fountains, exercise areas.
4. Not charging for every last damned thing just because you can.
5. Real markets that sell pre-soaked pulses, chickpeas, lentils, 30 types of olives, fruit and veg that actually smell like they’ve been grown and rot if you don’t eat them in 2 days (Tesco tomatoes last for years, thanks to a technique which completely removes all taste.) plus ten types of eggs, including Emu and goose.
6. Parks which can open all night without filling up with drunks, malcontents and maniacs.
7. Affordable restaurants which aren’t lousy chains.
8. Lack of squeamishness about romantic gestures (our local bandstand is dedicated to a popular neighbourhood transexual).
9. Enforced cycle lanes that don’t randomly vanish.
10. Preferential treatment given to pedestrians and public transport over private cars.
I imagine Nigel (I mean, who is called Nigel anymore?) Farage would hate all of those things. But we need him – just to remind us how awful things could be. In Ian R Macleod’s wonderful novel ‘The Summer Isles’, we’re in an alternative-timeline England that has followed the UKIP vision (close to Germany’s pre-war ideal of nackt kultur) to its logical conclusion, and it’s a Dantean vision of Hell. Step Into Your Place, it says. And Make Sure You Stay There.
It’s the job of the creative thinker to remain an outsider because outsiders progress civilisation. And we demand toilet rolls you can flush away.