Staying in London with my daughter for most of the next three months is not a hardship. I love this city, particularly the south of it. I was brought up here, in Lewisham, in the early 60s, and went to the local primary school in Forest Hill. My dad worked in King Street, Central London, for the Communist Party of Great Britain. My mum and my Aunt Rena sang in local pubs under the delightful name, The Swankie Sisters
. I don't remember how diverse the city was back then, but now, it's a marvellous array of colour, culture and languages: almost 300 different languages are spoken here. It's a noisy, vibrant, rambunctious, dirty, impersonal and global city. I understand why people don't like the hugeness of the place, but I revel in it.
Sometimes it's the simple things that alert you to the wonderful diversity of this city. I called the local hair salon in Catford to make an appointment for a haircut. It was a Tuesday morning. 'Afro or European?' she asked. 'European,' I muttered meekly. 'We don't have anyone to cut European hair until Saturday,' she apologised. Momentarily taken aback, I soon recovered, and was quietly delighted with the unusual response. I am indeed in a different country. Turning up for my appointment on Saturday I was, to be sure, the only 'European' on the premises. A jolly time was had by all as they tried to turn me into Judi Dench. It was great fun, I have a great new hair-do, but sadly, look nothing like Judi Dench.
This is my first General Election not living in Scotland. It's a strange but not unpleasant experience. There is very little discussion down here of a second independence referendum, the SNP (apart from Nicola Sturgeon, Ian Blackford and Joanna Cherry) or Scottish Labour. No-one, apart from a couple of Scots down here, have heard of Richard Leonard. To misuse the context of George Bernard Shaw's phrase, the Scots and the English are two peoples divided by a common language.
It's commonplace, in Scotland, to have friends in both major parties, Labour and SNP. Our smallness (not 'too small', you'll understand) lends our politics an intimacy not possible here in London. It is much easier to have a rant about a politician here in the sure knowledge you will never bump into them. For the sake of a quiet life in Scottish politics, it's best to keep your mouth shut and to never get personal. There's a lesson in there somewhere.
The main issue is, of course, Brexit. That's the way Johnson wants it. English Brexiteers will give him a pass, even guffawing over his ludicrous ramblings comparing Brexit to a microwave ready-meal: 'Whack it in the microwave, gas mark… I'm not very good at cooking… gas mark 4. Prick the lid. Put it in, and then we can get on…'.
These are the words of our Prime Minister. Churchillian, eh? More worrying, he appeared to know nothing of his own Brexit deal and Irish border checks, mumbling rubbish about customs declarations to be thrown in the bin and what a great deal the Irish have, what with remaining in the single market and customs union. Many watching this staggering and rambling unscripted nonsense assumed he was pissed. The worry is, he was probably sober.
None of this will lose Johnson any votes with 'want it done' Brexiteers, as the rest of us look on in utter dismay. Interestingly, Johnson is not having it all his own way. The beleaguered NHS is front and centre, for now anyway. Despite widespread mistrust of the Tories on the NHS, pundits I've blethered to are convinced of a Tory win not so much in London, but throughout the rest of England and possibly Wales. Speculating on possible shock losses – potentially Gove, Hunt or even Johnson himself – is the only relief from this unrelenting horror show.
As I write this, I'm no longer living in Catford, Lewisham. I am now living in the Borough of Lambeth having endured the stressful business of flitting. It's worth noting that every single workman involved are immigrants: strong, hardworking, civil and extremely helpful. The removal men spoke Polish and Arabic. We couldn't get a large sofa out of the house (god knows how the previous owners got it in there) and they provided the solution, if we brought them a saw. Two Russian workers arrived to haul expertly a piano up two flights of stairs. The plumber, electrician, joiner – all immigrants. Sometimes the civility of these workmen was jarring. It was obvious that they were accustomed to not being treated with the respect they deserve. Every little hitch was met with anxiety that a complaint would be lodged.
When I mentioned this to a Scot who has been living here for years, he said that although he loved living in England – particularly London – there was an air of disrespect for immigrants, despite their hard work.
To be honest, I've occasionally encountered the same attitude from Scottish workmen lambasting their undercutting by more experienced and cheaper Polish workers. In truth, although not quantifiable but anecdotal, the migrant labour force is generally well-educated and has a prodigious work ethic. People of the UK are fortunate to have them. Goodness knows what we'll do without them.