Thursday, 20 November 2014

Welcome to Reckless Britain: First they came for the Polish plumbers...

(This little vignette was inspired by Mark Reckless MP, potato-head turncoat and world's most unlikely muse..)

First they came for the Polish plumbers. Then they came for the Romanian nurses, the Portuguese toiling in food processing and the young Italian baristas. 

Off they went, group by group, back on those coaches and trains and planes (the French IT engineers were very sniffy about the ferries, the stuck-up frogs). By the time they were carting off middle-aged Mediterranean media & communications professionals you'd think I'd have seen the writing on the wall. 

Sure, I'd been wearing the regulation armband with the 12 yellow stars on a blue background. They make some really stylish ones these days and it seemed like a small ask, all things considered, a form of courtesy really, that I should make it possible for my fellow workers/commuters/shoppers/voters/audience members  in the busy metropolis to identify me as an LEF (Legal European Foreigner). 

Some natives have allergies and stuff - we bring them out in boils, bouts of hysteria, projectile vomiting, head swivelling, the lot, and they have a right to know, surely, a right to avoid us. It is not their fault - it's nobody's fault. It's just one of those things.

The armband was fine, really. A small sacrifice, if you can even call it that, when we were generously supplied one for free.  Some of the usual suspects moaned about a link between the armband wearing and an increase of instances of LEFs being spat at in the street. Look, it's just saliva people! A bit of saliva has never killed anyone, outside of Ebola infected zones. 

My British husband was ever so reassuring: you are married to me, he would say, you're practically a Brit. He was ever so patient, waiting for me at passport control at the return from every holiday, while I was deloused and power-showered at the end of long, long, line of Returning LEFs. 

That one single unpleasant incident (an unnecessary vigorous strip-search followed by 48 hours detention ) when I forgot the folder with all my documentation was soon forgotten. My fault entirely. It is quite ridiculous in this day and age to still think you can hop off on holiday with just your passport, for heaven's sake! What next? Inter-railing with a library card, cruising with a bus pass? 

Now my LEF Papers (birth certificate, NHS registration number, Residency Permit, National Insurance Registration, mortgage agreement, Rabies Certificate and last but not least my -laminated- job contract) are neatly packed and ready to go anywhere with me. And it seemed like a hopeful sign when the Documentation Zone Threshold was extended to journeys longer than 20 miles: the commute into work became a lot less tiresome without the folder, let me tell you. 

So you see, I played by the rules, was understanding and patient. But fundamentally I didn't think they would ever come for me because - how shall I put it without blushing - I simply did not know I was an EU migrant. I thought I was an EU citizen. Not as good as a UK citizen, I grant you, but a benign subspecies which could operate on these shores, pay taxes, purchase property, work hard, marry a native whilst still not breaking any laws.

I did not, in all these years, saw myself as someone who had migrated to this country: this was the country I had chosen to live and work in out of 27 others that constituted the bit of the 21st century world that was my oyster. I never realised my taxes were such a bother to collect, or that my speaking Italian on my mobile on crowded buses had traumatised so many, or that my annual GP appointment had put such a horrible strain on the NHS in my area. 

So at the flick of the Brexit Switch, when LEFs where turned into EFs - European Foreigners - I was suddenly illegal without ever having fully realised that I was one of those nasty, cheating, grasping, oxygen-sucking, job-stealing, benefit-cheating, space-taking immigrants at all. 

I'm glad they got me. I'm glad they sent me back. Britain is no doubt safer and more prosperous without the likes of me. And I have found a new calling and a very good living in my old country surprisingly quickly. 

I'm with the special de-Britting task force that's liberating Tuscany from the 20-year old infestation of British semi-retireds. We're confiscating second homes and arresting on sight any grown-up walking about in a football strip. The Brits are bad at carrying their paperwork but you can always spot them a mile off from their horrendous clothes.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Europe's Space Odyssey shows what EU cooperation can achieve

Will this week's comet landing triumph shift people's perceptions of Europe away from the tired clichés of bent bananas, faceless bureaucrats and benefit-thirsty migrants?
The coverage of the Rosetta mission has tended to focus on the astonishing complexity of the mission, and rightly so. It took ten years of research and preparations for the European Space Agency to launch the Rosetta satellite in 2004. It has taken this unmanned craft a further 10 years, and four billion miles, to reach the comet and send a lander, a little fellow the size of a fridge going by the name of Philae, successfully down on what is an irregularly-shaped, 2.5mile-long rock travelling at a speed of 40,000mph, after a couple of awkward bounces.
What all the superlatives used about this achievement don't make clear is just howimprobable if not impossible this mission would have been without the existence of a EU-funded European Space coordinating the work and sharing research with scientists in several countries operating in different languages.
To deal with the budget first of all, ESA received £3.38billion in 2013, paid for in large part by the EU and its member states, with smaller contributions coming from Canada, Switzerland, Norway, and ESA candidate states. The budget for the Rosetta project was £1.1billion.
Not only is the money shared but so too the work - the ESA has centres all around the continent serving different purposes: astronauts are trained in Cologne; Mission Control is in Darmstadt; Research and Technology is based in Noordwijk; Earth Observations in Frascati, and Space Astronomy in Villanueva de la Cañada. All of these collective resources combine to create a co-operative organisation which is forward-looking, ambitious, and fundamentally European.
Researchers from Open University's Centre for Physical and Environmental Sciences worked with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire to develop Ptolemy, an instrument which will make in situ isotopic measurements, since you ask - one of the many tools the Philae lander will use to analyse the comet. And OU researchers also had a hand in the development of MUPUS (Multi-Purpose Sensors for Surface and Subsurface Science) which was led by a consortium of European scientists from Münster, Berlin, Warsaw, and Graz.
None of the nations involved could have hoped to achieve this goal single-handedly. None would even have attempted it. None of the international experts who came together would ever had a chance to be part of something this complex, enriching, fascinating and, yes, just plain exciting, without the European Space Agency. It is through the ESA that the UK Space agency gets a place at the table, or on the spacecraft, through the instruments developed by UK scientists, funded by taxpayers in Bristol, Boulogne and Berlin.
It's cost us 10 years, millions of pounds and man-hours but the result of this amazing feat of European co-operation, fundraising, co-ordination and joint research is truly priceless.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Take this from this EU migrant: we more than pay our way and this country would be much poorer without us

When I first arrived in Britain, to complete my education at a Scottish university, I thought I would only stay three years. After all, mutual recognition of degrees among the (then) 12 European Union member states meant my qualification would be recognised back home in Italy. But then I found a job, and after that a better job, in the field I wanted to work in. Eventually I bought a place and married a Briton.
Twenty-five years later here I still am, still enjoying living in this country except for one thing. While I used to think of myself as an EU citizen, now, because of the increasingly hostile debate about the EU in this country, I discover I am in fact an immigrant - a word dripping with all sorts of negative connotations in an increasingly toxic public debate dominated and fanned by Ukip's agenda.
So are my fellow EU immigrants and I such a huge burden to this country? Today the news is dominated by a new, very serious piece of research by UCL on the fiscal effects of migration into the UK from 1995v to 2011. The report's findings are stark and unequivocal: EU migrants have consistently paid more into the system than they have taken out. Their net contribution for the past 10 years - that is the taxes they paid minus the services and benefits they received - nears £5billion.
That is no small change, 'back-of-the-sofa'-type sum. It is serious money contributing to keep British citizens in the style of welfare and service provision to which they are accustomed. If all EU immigrants left tomorrow their departure would leave a gaping hole in Britain's public finances, to say nothing of course of shrinking productivity, businesses put out of work by skills shortages at one end of the spectrum and seasonal produce left rotting in the fields at the other end.
But the UCL publication is just the latest in a long list of authoritative reports - be it from the European Commission, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, or the Office for Budget Responsibility - to state that EU migrants are net contributors and not the scroungers and benefit cheats they are often depicted to be.
Nor, contrary to popular belief, are we all scrabbling on the minimum wage, unfairly competing with natives for unskilled jobs. The NHS, one of the biggest employers in the world, relies hugely on EU migration: 11 per cent of all staff in the NHS are not UK nationals, a figure that rises to 26 per cent when looking at doctors only. Among the top 10 exporters of NHS staff, five are EU countries: Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Germany.
EU migrants are generally young (85 per cent of migrants from Eastern Europe are under 40), well-educated (more EU migrants than Britons have university degrees), and serious about their job-seeking efforts (EU migrants are 45 per cent less likely to claim benefits than Britons).
And not all are here to work, of course. In 2012-13, 125,000 students from across the EU followed in my footsteps and came to the UK to study. This is good for UK universities, which make a lot of money from EU students, and good for society at large, as many with desirable skills and knowledge will go on to make a significant contribution in this country in fields like science and technology, boosting innovation.
Consider also that EU freedom of movement is a two-way street: UK citizens also travel to other EU countries to study, to work, and to retire. Thousands of UK students benefit every year from the Erasmus programme, which offers grants to study elsewhere in the EU. 14,572 Brits took advantage of that in 2013/14. More generally, according to government estimates nearly two million Brits live elsewhere in the EU, which is nearly the same amount of EU migrants living in Britain.
After months of handwringing by all political sides -and plenty of policy-based evidence making -what we desperately need now is some leadership from the mainstream parties on the issues that really make people feel worried and insecure, and make vulnerable to UKIP's base, xenophobic rhetoric.
They should deal with the real problems caused by uneven distribution of resources and services being under pressure. It's called planning and it tends to be way more effective than running around like headless chicken, latest polls in one hand, megaphone in the other.
They should come down hard on gang masters who exploit low-paid workers, whether native or immigrant. We can and should keep better track of people's movements and therefore adequately prepare so there is not an undue pressure on public services. Exit controls or registration requirements exist in other countries and could be used in Britain too. Benefit entitlements can be tightened and deliberate abuse - minuscule though it is by all accounts - can be stamped down on.
What our leaders should not do is engage with Ukip in a race to the bottom, offering potentially catastrophic solutions to a largely imaginary problem, while the sources of the real hardship, insecurity and unfairness remain largely untackled.

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Daily Mail's front page today

The paper which praised Hitler gloats at the demise of legislation protecting human rights. 
#ThisIsBritainNow #DailyFail #TerrorHasWon

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Plan B for bracelet - the learning from your young starts earlier than you think

Well, if this latest comms gig doesn't work out I think I have plan B in place. Yes, B for bracelets. Stylish, elasticated bracelets. 

Before the Mouse showed me how to make one, during a recent visit, I was a purchaser of Loom Bands and a 'spectator' of Loom Banding. Now I've crossed the line, I have walked into the mirror, and gone bandtastic. 

These things are compelling, compulsive, comfortable to wear and so therapeutic to make! And while, technically, it will be hard to elicit, er, an actual living out of this banding craze I feel I have already earned a lot out of it as an act of learning. 

Weaving little coloured elastic bands together in a way that would never have occurred to me, to obtain these cheerful, deeply satisfying little objects, is the first thing my nephew, in all of his 10 years on earth, has ever taught me how to do. I now look forward to at least four decades of practical and theoretical wisdom from this new source of knowledge. 

Readers of this blog know I fully expected to have to rely on him in my dotage to adjust my teleportation machine or help me change my replaceable organs. I just didn't expect the learning would start this early - and concern, tiny, analogue, 20th century elastic bands.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Trying to sell Brexit? Better not make it sound like self-harm

Is there life after (out of) the EU? Well, of course there is. Those among us who are worried about losing the benefits of EU membership, or fear Great Britain becoming an insignificant mid-range power that nobody listens to need not fret, according to the newest report by eurosceptic think-tank Civitas.
True, the report acknowledges, following submissions from a series of contributors, the consequences could be 'devastating'. But only for sectors ranging from agriculture and fisheries, to engineering and automobiles, science, innovation and the City, as well as for the UK's poorer regions currently enjoying EU funding.
True, it concedes, there will be a period of uncertainty which might force - and I quote - "desperate UK diplomats to accept unbalanced trade deals and would leave British fishing in chaos".
And yes, if you want to be fussy about it, lack of future international clout is a bit of a major issue when it comes to trade deals.
But there is no need to be gloomy or scared. Provided the UK Government commits itself to long term 'mirror funding' to regions, farmers and fishermen, as well as R & D subsidies and development grants for industry all could remain almost as good as we have it now.
Projecting soft power will get trickier but it needs not be a disaster provided the Foreign and Commonwealth Office gets "a serious long term boost in training, investment and recruitment (especially into languages) to make up for the absence of the various EU diplomatic bodies."
I'm sure reversing the steady budget-slashing trend which has beset the poor old FCO in the last few years, will also be a doddle. And if extra money can indeed be found, what better use for it than replicating structures which already exist today at EU level? I mean, it's not as if we face renewed geopolitical threats from all sides or a particularly high internal terrorist threat, or anything.
As for what kind of terms of exit we'd be negotiating with the rest of the EU member states, "elements of Norwegian, Swiss Turkish and 'free trade' could be the goal of an exiting Government, including free movement of capital". They left out 'guarantees of permanent victory of the Eurovision song contest' and 'free roaming of the UK swine fleet in European skies' but I'm sure it's just an oversight.
Of course the simplest thing any UK Government can do to mitigate the 'devastating' consequences of pulling out of the biggest market in the world is not to drag the UK out of the EU but rather stay in and work with its allies to make the EU more prosperous and more efficient. Brexit is not a rational alternative to leadership in Europe, nor an inevitable outcome but a baffling act of self-harm.
So ironically this report, from an organisation which time and again has made its hatred of EU membership very clear, contains some of the best arguments for staying in that I have seen in some time.
But my favourite thing about it has to be the title: Softening the Blow. Well, as they say, you had me at "Hello".

Monday, 11 August 2014

Keep the f@*#ing thing switched on! New ways to annoy my nephew in the future...

In the wake of a parental visit a few weeks ago very nearly marred by the reluctant and distressingly uneven use of an ancient and very EASY TO OPERATE mobile phone, I couldn't help but wonder: which totally banal yet 'indispensable as oxygen' technology will my inability to get my head around result in my nephew shouting (inside) in exasperation thirty years from now? I have already explored the replaceable organs scenarioThis week we explore...

2- Teleportation

Mouse- Auntie Paola, where are you?
Me (disembodied elbow hovering mid-air) – I’m coming I’m coming….
Mouse-Let me guess, the setting was too low again..
Me (rest of body materialises, elbow disappears)- This blasted thing is just too difficult to operate. The instructions are written in minuscule print and I…
Mouse- We’ve been through this, oh, 14.000 times? Green for send, Red for close down transmission. What is so complicated?
Me – What can I tell you, Mouse, I can never seem to get both elbows in…Very peculiar.
Mouse- Auntie, for the very last time...
Me –The thing is, Mouse, I’m not at all clear about the ‘thinghy’ here.
Mouse - …..I play poker with the VP of Apha Centauri. I'm in a spaceship-share with the MD of Kookle….. 
Me – But Mouse, the fact is…
Mouse-… DON'T CALL ME MOUSE!!!!!
Me – OK, ok, you are so grouchy! What was I saying?
Mouse- Your face is becoming all fuzzy!
Me – You noticed? Ohhh, it’s this wonderful new beauty treatment, it’s..
Mouse – No, Auntie, you are disappearing…What button have you pushed now? You can't switch it on and off like that you have to keep the blasted thing On all the way.
Me – Button? No I just…wait a second, I have no fingers at the mo…
-         Loud digi-vibration -
Mouse- Hang on, it’s Uncle. Uh? Mmm…Says your butt is now in the middle of interstellar motorway 17.....blocking the traffic.
Me- Don’t be ridiculous, I’ve completely lost the extra holiday weight.
Mouse- I thought I had been clear: littering the galaxy with unwanted bits of your body is not the way to lose weight. Plus there are laws against it.
Me – Oh little Mouse, you are adorable when you get angry! Reminds me of when I used to snatch your dummy and..
Mouse- It’s Uncle again. Said he sent his Ukulele ahead but he now can’t remember where. (Sottovoce: God give me strength). You cannot teleport stuff on its own, you idiot!!!!
Me – Ohh, you are such a cross little Mouse! You should start smoking again. They say it’s good for your again….

Next time:

Four-D Printing. 

Stay tuned. 

And keep the f*@#ing thing switched ON!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Druid Britain and the new Erasmus Stats

On a day that saw the Daily Express un-ironically ask its readers to text whether ALL migration to the UK should be stopped, new statistics about the uptake of the EU Erasmus programme, providing grants to young people to study in other EU countries, seem designed to add fuel to the sacred flame of Europhobia.

“Scrounging foreign students clog up OUR unis at YOUR expense”; “Brits shun continent but lazy foreign students are coming over HERE” – these are just two of an infinite variety of paint-by number headlines I can immediately predict.

To a paper which seems to consider the Druids the last legitimate inhabitants of these isles (before those unwashed Romans came over here, stealing our women and carpeting our beautiful countryside with unsightly aqueducts) and would no doubt swap the drawbridge for the Channel Tunnel any day, the Erasmus programme is just one more COSTLY and IRRITATING EU concoction.

According to the European Commission 14. 500 British students took the chance to study elsewhere in Europe thanks to Erasmus in 2012/13, a 7 per cent rise from the previous year.

Britain has the sixth highest number of successful applicants across the 28 member, no mean feat is one considers how poor the language skills of its young people are compared to some of their continental neighbours.

The stats also reveal Britain to be the fourth most attractive Erasmus destination for EU students. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that 7 out of the top 10 EU universities are British and English has in effect become the unofficial language of the EU, spoken by most youngsters across the continent.

All the same, this is fantastic news, as the grants disbursed centrally by the EU find their way back into the coffers of UK universities and happy foreign students go on to provide free marketing for them around the EU.

The new, improved version of the Erasmus programme, recently agreed for the next 7 years will extend grants to high school students, volunteers and apprentices.  The European Commission estimates 162.000 young Brits will take advantage of it over that period.

By contributing to Erasmus though its share of the EU budget Britain gets in return more money for its universities, grants for foreign travel for its students, as well as the priceless diplomatic and cultural gains to be had through such exchanges.

It is, after all, through travel, cultural links and the communication of engineering and scientific discoveries that we progressed from the crude monoliths of Stonehenge to the engineering marvel that is the Channel Tunnel.

Only ‘travel’ and ‘cultural links’ often came in the guise of war or at the  price of actual invasions, not via Treaties and debates in the European Parliament.
But these arguments would no doubt be lost on the elderly readers of the Daily Express, busy as I imagine them to be today instructing their Eastern European carers to text their newspaper that ALL immigration should be stopped.