Out of the blue
He was tall and thin, and walked with a slight stoop. As soon as he spoke, I saw his teeth were stained and irregular. We had met by chance as we were both walking in the same direction along Edgware Road in London. He had turned to me,
'There are too many of them?' he had muttered as he walked past me. I stopped.
'Who do you mean?' I had asked innocently.
'Them!' He had said pointing to the crowd standing at the bus stop.
'Them!' He had repeated, 'there are too many of them They shouldn't be here, they don't belong. Look at them, there ain't a white face amongst them, and look at 'er over there on the pavement she's a Somali begging, for God's sake.'
'How old are you?" I had asked,
'75 and proud of it,' he had replied pulling back his shoulders. 'I went through the war. I suffered for this country and I was proud to be British. Now any Tom, Dick or Harry is British. British! What a joke. It never used to be like this, the country's going to the dogs. We don't need them at all. They should be made to go back to their own country and leave England to the real English.'
I listened as he went on and wanted to ask him whom he thought the real English were but I refrained. He was angry and disillusioned. His pension was buying less and he was worried about the future. He thought of these people as stealing his life. But the truth was that it was he who had been cushioned all his life although he wouldn't agree. He wouldn't want to think about the millions in the world living in poverty, real poverty, grinding poverty not what passes for poverty in this country.
I wanted to say to him, how lucky he was to have a pension so many people in the world don't, and to live to 75 when the average life expectancy in the world was below 50 but I knew that he wouldn't appreciate my preaching. He was bleeding and he was blaming the immigrants for his pain. But this complaint isn't new. Ever since Britain became a nation with a common belief, people have been coming here initially through invasion and conquest and later to escape persecution or to seek a better life.
I wanted to remind him that it all It began in ernest a long time ago with Julius Caesar in 54 BC and again with Claudius in AD 43. During the 400 years of occupation, Roman soldiers based on the mainland settled, married and became Britons, bringing Latin into the language. It has been estimated that 40% of modern English words are based on Latin. Not long after came the Anglo-saxons from Germany and France and throughout,the centuries, Irish immigration had been a continuing movement varying with the state of their economy.
Nor did he want me to remind him about the invasion from the Vikings in 800 AD followed by armies and settlers bringing their own distinct culture and language ultimately leading to Danelaw which was gradually replaced by the Anglo-Saxons. The Normans under William the Conqueror settled leading to an Anglo-Norman population. So many others followed adding to the richness and variety of the language and culture in particular the Huguenots around 1700. At the same time, the rise of the East India Company with the recruitment of Lascars as crews resulted in many remaining in England and establishing families. The Navigation Act 1660 was passed specifically to limit the employment of Indian crews.
The 18th century saw the impact of African slavery. It is thought that up to 15,000 Africans settled largely as servants in upper class families. The 19th C saw the movement of large number of German to England but anti-German feeling at the beginning of the First World War saw the number decrease. The Jewish migration at the same time had a significant impact on English life. Of the 2 million jews that left Russia as a result of persecution,120,000 settled in the UK. The Alien Act in 1905 and the Alien's Restriction Act of 1914 were passed as a result of strong anti-jewish public opinion.
So what is different about the present emigration? Is it different at all? He clearly sees something different. Undoubtedly the establishment of the Welfare State in 1946 significantly changed the ground rules. Previously each wave of emigrants had to survive on its own wits, each movement succeeded as a result of the hard work and application of the individuals but that all changed when the welfare state came into being. It provided benefits for the unemployed, the disabled and the family, and these benefits were available to all. Now those being admitted to the UK can claim the same benefits as the general population.
The two devastating European wars in the early and middle parts of the 20th Century provided the impetus to establish a European State. In 1957 The Treaty of Rome was signed by six countries. Belgium, France, Italy ,Luxembourg, Netherlands and West Germany, They chose a new currency the Euro and relegated their old currencies to history. In 1973 the EU enlarged to include Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom; Greece in 1981; Portugal and Spain in 1986. In 1990 with the fall of the Iron Curtain, the former East Germany joined with West Germany to form Greater Germany. By 2011, there were 28 members. In 2008, with the financial collapse following the USA's Prime Mortgage scandal, the UK has been saddled with an enormous debt which has prompted an austerity programme from the government.
My own story is informative. My grandparents came from eastern Europe at the time of the pogroms. My father was a taxi driver. He had three sons, One became a national service pilot and business man, the second an NHS surgeon and the youngest a solicitor.
So is the stranger correct? Is he right to resent the current influx of foreigners, and is there a limit to the numbers our economy can sustain and if so how do we know when we have reached it? Meanwhile we are facing a demographic explosion with the numbers of people living to over 80 increasing year by year, and at the same time our birth rate is declining. So logically we need new immigrants, young and fit men and women to do the jobs which fuel our economy, pay for the health service and the retirees pensions. These and many other questions remain to be answered before we can ever fully understand the implication of the present influx of foreigners.