I have returned to England after spending most of the last three years in foreign lands. I want to keep an open mind and try not to let past prejudices cloud my judgements about England. Whilst travelling, I was pretty critical of the land where I am from, but was I being unjust?
On my return, I discover that the obsession with consumerism, celebrity and image is as prevalent as ever, that the media is just as untrustworthy and sexist, and that the government is just as horrific. But I discover two amazing things: that England’s nature is beautiful, and secondly, that people are friendly! As I walk through the streets of Brighton, people smile at me! Some even say hello. People like to chat here. I realise that a decade of living in London had given me the wrong impression of people in this country.
Hitchhiking in England
Because of this friendliness, England is also one of the easiest places ever to hitchhike! (well, ok, I have only hitched in the south, but it’s all been very fast, with waiting times equivalent to super-fast Turkey). People are compassionate, going out of their way to drop me off in a better spot. On one journey, my driver immediately starts chatting, telling me all about his life (which I find is a typical trait of English drivers): “When I was in the army…oh, you’re not one of those who hates the army, are you? You are? Don’t worry, I deliver meat for a living now!” He is only taking me twenty miles, but I learn that he has been a sniper, a body guard and a banker (“I got fired because I punched a public school toff in front of clients”). He was posted to Syria to assassinate a terrorist, but was caught and tortured for months. He caught his first wife in bed with another man and his second wife ran off with £50,000 of his money. His daughter was killed by a drunk-driver and his best friend died whilst stepping on a landmine in Iraq. He tells me that David Kelly (weapons inspector in Iraq) and Princess Diana were both murdered. As I bid him farewell, he calls after me: “you’re not working for the MI6, are you?”
Unfortunately, this is a country of contrasts. Whilst the majority of people are friendly, there is also a large amount of angry, stressed men and women, hostile towards each other. I especially see this amongst people who seem consumed by consumerism. One of my hitchhiking drivers has a huge argument in a petrol station with another driver. The start of the disagreement is petty (my driver asks the woman to say “excuse me, please”, rather than “excuse me”), and the other driver shouts, swears, says that she will call the police, that there is CCTV in the petrol station and that we are being monitored. I look at her and see a woman who is desperately unhappy. A few days later I argue with a man who is huffing and puffing about the way I am queuing at the cash machines in Brighton station.
Fascism and Racism
In the three years that I have been away from England, there seems to have been a rise in fascism. This is unsurprising: Islamophobia has been fuelled by the Governments of the last ten years, with the media being its faithful accomplice. The latest nasty Government are eradicating any hopes for a decent future, and instead of turning against the Government, people are turning against each other.
The March for England hold their yearly fascist demonstration in Brighton. As Stop MfE explains, “March for England is a racist organisation that wraps itself in the flag in order to shout abuse at and, when possible, attack any locals who they feel does not fit with their particular brand of nationalism….Although the MfE claim to simply be patriots – what they mean by ‘english values’ swiftly degenerates into racism, specifically (although not limited to) anti-muslim statements.”
The March for England turnout in Brighton is small – roughly 100 people, and they are protected by a shield of police on all sides throughout their whole march. They are surrounded by roughly 1,000 anti-fascist demonstrators, making it clear to them that they are not welcome in Brighton. I shout to one MfE supporter, “fascist!” He yells back at me, “you’re the fascist!”
I find it amusing that one England nationalist is actually flying the flag of the country of Georgia.
CCTV and intrusion of privacy
The UK is known for being the country with the most CCTV cameras in the world. One estimate states that there are 4.8 million surveillance cameras. Another estimate states that there is 1 camera for every 32 people.
The “security” and spying apparatus being used for the Olympics is shocking. Journalist Dave Zirin lists them: “48,000 security forces. 13,500 troops. Surface to air missiles stationed on top of residential apartment buildings. A sonic weapon that disperses crowds by creating “head splitting pain.” Unmanned drones peering down from the skies. A safe-zone, cordoned off by an 11 mile, electrified fence, ringed with trained agents and 55 teams of attack dogs…London will be left with a high-tech police force, terrible debt, higher taxes, with a camera around every corner.” The Olympics are “a neoliberal Trojan Horse aimed at bringing in business and rolling back the most basic civil liberties.”
As I walk out of the rain and into the job centre, the staff call to me: “Take your hood down!” I ask why. “It’s policy”. But why? “Because there are cameras in here and we want to see your face on the cameras”. I roll my eyes at him and he calls after me, “Big Brother is watching you!”