Pass the hot potato over the barbed wire

First published on The Lady Shed 31/7/2015

They’ve had it up to here in Calais. It’s not so much the migrants, although that’s clearly a situation that has been a nightmare for years and years now, but they’re sick and tired of the hypocrisy of les Anglais. Yes I know my English friends, you won’t like reading this, and not all French people think all Anglais are horrible people, but, if les Anglais keep blaming les Français for this dreadful refugees situation in Northern France, the old entente is going to get anything but cordiale, again.

This is how some Français (and Europeans) think you, British Friends, think:

0. These migrants are in France, so France needs to solve the problem. You can replace France with Italy, or Greece, or Spain, different languages, same applies.

1. Les Anglais don’t even have an identity card, so it’s dead easy to travel anywhere within England.

2. Les Anglais have cheap labour, working for peanuts on the black market is still a damn side better than war torn countries, for desperate migrants.

3. Les Anglais want the Europe rules that suit them economically, they’re quite happy to accept migrants with lots of degrees like doctors but they don’t want to take on the social rules, or the human rights rules, or the employees protection rules.

We (the rest of Europe) are stuck in the middle. Les Anglais, yet again, want to have their cake and eat it. Marie Antoinette’s ghost is never far in England.

Now, please don’t shoot the messenger.
Even Cameron said, “Don’t blame the French”.

The fact of the matter is, from Kent to Pas de Calais, London to Paris, via Brussels, it’s a case of pass the hot potato.
The far right are rubbing their hand at being right. That Damn Immigration Problem.
Stop the wars that create the problems in the first place, say the utopians on the left.
Yeah right, say the gun lobbies and their many friends.

Forget the obvious traffickers who benefit from this tragic situation and let’s look at the other, more legitimate, actors in this story:

1. The British government: they help the French government financially, having managed to get the border on the French side of the Channel, clever so and so’s. They fine lorry drivers £2,000 every time a truck is caught with an illegal migrant on board, for each migrant. The haulage company at fault can have their licence revoked. On 14 July the Home Secretary announced the creation of a new secure zone at the port of Calais for 230 UK bound lorries.

2. The Port of Calais: since June they’re fine. They now have barriers galore (thanks in part to 13 million Euros from Les Anglais).

3. The French police: They pick people up from where they should not be, and drop them off again a bit further down the road where everybody wishes they weren’t. When the police use batons or pepper spray they are damned. When they do not use physical force and migrants get through, they are damned.

4. Private security firms. If focus is on economics and jobs, all is good. There is undoubtedly more room for more jobs in the future in this sector.

5. Eurotunnel: Having taken the French government to court in 2003 for loss of earning, and won after four years of lawyers’ fees in 2007, they have invested dozens of millions in security since they opened. They are still in the firing line for solutions and playing their part.
Back in 2003, less than a decade after the Tunnel under la Manche was opened, an agreement between France and the UK was signed in Le Touquet, a pleasant resort to sign treaties, much more so than say industrial Calais. The Touquet Treaty specified that when the UK border, placed in France, refuses entry to a migrant, France needs to take the person back. Since the person travelling to Dover actually never left France in the first place, thanks to UK border controls being on the continent, it is dead easy for Les Anglais to throw money at the problem and then, wash their hands.

It looks to many like: “Not my problem, mate”.

Oh to be an island. A little island that still thinks like a big Empire, many of its people oblivious to the consequences of being perceived as colonialists in the 21st century, its decision makers ramping up security. Not massively different from France, to be fair. Except the island bit.

Between 1998 and 2002, the migrants, unlike now mainly men, most well educated and rich enough to pay traffickers to get all the way to Northern Europe, were looked after by the Red Cross in Sangatte. The huge hangar, previously used to store Eurotunnel building stuff, got overcrowded, gangs and violence were reportedly rife. It got raised to the ground.

Closing down Sangatte was an agreement between Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior, and the Blair government. The centre was closed by France in exchange for tougher laws in the UK, especially for Afghan refugees who used to have special status for a permit to stay and some work. The attraction of Sangatte was to be eliminated. Governments seemingly decided to stop passing the hot potato and worked together. The UK took 1,100 refugees (from Iraq and Afghanistan) France the remaining 400 of other nationalities. Since then, refugees have continued to come through Europe, some years fewer of them, some years more.

In June this year, 2015, Jules Ferry, a new centre was opened. There, migrants are recorded and the State knows where they are. Many do not want to go in the centre, where they fear the police, the government, rival gangs. They do not want asylum in France, they want asylum in Angleterre. Securing the harbour, the port, the tunnel area, as many Anglais advocate (‘If it was an airport the French would have secured it by now’) is not enough. Petrol stations near Calais are being run by gangs that ‘facilitate’ migrants getting onto the back of trucks; now the harbour area is more secure, the problem is moving south. Refugees, illegal migrants call them what you will, are not only near the Tunnel. They squat in Calais, they are found in the train stations in Paris. Since June, the situation has reportedly got worse.

My country, situated as it is in the centre of Europe, now part of the Schengen agreement that allows individuals to travel through European borders until they get to the Channel, is just one example of an international situation that only gets to the ‘news-papers’ when people die.

People are dying trying to get into the UK. And somehow, this is the fault of my fellow countrymen?

Tell you what, dear Anglais who think La France should be blamed for this sickening international situation:

how about we move that particular border to where it rightfully belongs: in Kent. 

Forget Operation Stack being a pain in the backside for the delays it creates on the M20 for lorry drivers trying to earn a living and holiday makers on their way to the sunshine, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

See how Les Anglais deal with that hot potato on their home soil.

I’m sure most Français will happily pay more taxes to help their European friends across the Channel buy gloves.

Just remember, Dear Anglais who think Les Français are ‘doing this in purpose’, we are in the age of international communication. You can close physical borders like dictatorships still do, get out of the European Union to do so if need be, but wonder what might follow if you keep attacking your cordial friends on the Continent your country belongs to. Then again, British ‘news-papers’ that lead the charge are not owned by Europeans are they?

Vive l’Europe!



——- ——— ——–



£2,000 per migrant. Lorry drivers’ stories. 2014.


“Get to England or die trying, innit”

the guardian


“Fallait il fermer Sangatte?”






2009 article from Rue 89


Dans le vent

Originally published on The Lady Shed 17/07/15

“The thing with you is that you are very slow with fashion. By the time you like something, it’s no longer dans le vent” said my Mum, many years ago. It was Summer time, long before I had big children of my own, she had not seen me for months so, as every Summer, we’d gone for my yearly treat: clothes shopping.

I miss those days. Not so much for the cheap ‘French’ clothes nobody else I knew back in England would be wearing, though that was nice, or being spoilt by my mother, though that was great; just the time spent together.

South of France in August, busy beaches way too hot, high streets boiling, we’d go and spend a couple of hours after lunch in the shopping centre in the middle of the local zone industrielle; more shopping extravaganza than industrie.

Conditioned air kept us cool, conditioned shoppers enjoyed buying, conditioned sales assistant rarely smiled. I never questioned then where my clothes might be made. Or by whom. Or why the smiles on the shop assistants were so rare. No idea. Too busy being young, working, and being on holiday with my family. And getting new clothes.

Because lots of bargains was normal.

Thing is, it’s not so much that I am slow, which I can be, it is more a case of not giving two hoots about fashion. Didn’t really then, and sure don’t now. Don’t try and tell me what I should wear. Simple. I don’t do fashion mags filled with skinny models that look nothing like this five foot something pear shaped reader. Clothes that are supposed to be in fashion today, out tomorrow, as opposed to beautiful classic clothes à la Audrey Hepburn?

Hell no.

I guess I see fashion a bit like uniforms. With more choice, ok, but it’s still let’s all wear what we’re told. Seasonal sensation. Of course I hate uniforms. For a start they make me think of the army. Well I didn’t have to wear a school uniform as a child you see, so I’m not conditioned to think it’s normal for a six year old to wear a uniform; let alone a tie.

From army uniform follows a sense of having to do what am told, almost blindly; obey. I came round for a while to the English view that uniforms, especially at school, makes us all the same, equal. Am no longer convinced. Kids can see through the uniform. If they want to bully or judge, they will.

They do.

Uniforms for children totally kick any kind of creativity or uniqueness in the teeth. What do you mean the child can’t wear different colour socks? For goodness’ sake. Get a life. But I do buy jeans. When the old ones are too knackered. And comfortable shoes, heels are so yesterday darling; and cotton tops. I do have a few shirts, you know, for special occasions. And a few dresses for Very Special Occasions. So in fact, I have a uniform. Practical, maybe, but the same trousers as millions of other people who don’t have to wear a suit.

Weird huh?

So what about the future of fashion big brands then? I asked a man who works in the fashion industry. He is an artistic director, his clients are big brands, he travels the world, so his point of view on the future of his industry interested me. His reply came as a surprise. I imagined the rag trade, considering it is neither new, nor known for being shy about making money at any cost would have had a cunning plan.

Big famous brands have mainly kept going by getting into new markets, like Japan or the big green eyed monster dragon with huge potential that is China. No Plan B if that fails. Sounds familiar, isn’t that the road supermarkets have been driving down? Expansion via forever new markets. And, are they not struggling with that plan?

Expansionism is all very well, but it is a recipe for success up to a point. As with everything else, on our finite planet, some call that a recipe for disaster. It all depends how we choose to look at a story. It will benefit some, at the cost of others. For fashion, supermarkets, or the economic model that rules our lives the current chapter is being written with no idea of what happens in the next page, let alone the next chapter.

Sophia writes about 50 shops in 50 days and £1 T-shirts which sounds bonkers but will appeal to many; Maddie tells us about clothes shopping in charity shops and her love for fashion. All very far from shoes with red soles or size 0 models. Far closer to reality. Whatever that is these days, in fashion as in everything else. From Rana Plaza to gold embroidered gowns worn once, it seems the world has not changed much when it comes to the rag trade. Only now, it’s properly international. And these days Brits know what’s going on in Bangladesh, if they want to.

And if you want to know which companies paid up to help the victims of Rana Plaza and who does not care one bit about the workers without whom we’d have no cheap clothes, and they’d have no company, have a little look at Clean Clothes Campaign, one of the many organisations trying to make a difference in our mad changing world.

One little or big step at a time.

Trying to improve the working conditions in the global garment industry seems a good idea. Non?

Right, that’s all very well, but I wonder.
Did my mother have a point about my being slow?
Or not being dans le vent?
Oh well, who cares.

"Dans le vent" (in vogue)


“Dans le vent”
(in vogue)

Youth, applaud and hope

Grasses and weeds series

What is youth when we get older if not a projection of what we used to think, what we believed in, what we thought would happen, what we hoped would change.

And then life came along, reality stepped in.


Whose reality, young people’s, or wise old owls?
Or hawks, grizzly bears, dinosaurs?

Listening to the first British MP to be elected to Parliament aged 20 I applaud. I can applaud so I will, though it is not permitted to do so in such circles. The MP’s who bothered to turn up did applaud. Hurrah.

They displayed happiness and agreement, as normal humans do.

Is now the time to shake the way things are, let young people talk, encourage young women to challenge, hope youth is listened to more?

It is their future we are talking about,
It is their future being fought,
Who says we know better because we’re older?

Well done Mhairi Black, you are a breath a fresh air, a ray of hope, a window into real life, a feminine point of view, an energetic wish to cooperate, a respectful nod to the past and adversaries.

Whatever political beliefs, this is what politics need.

Le persil de la vache

“Le persil de la vache”
Grasses and weeds series

Je ne sais pas pourquoi les Anglais,
appellent cette herbe Cows Parsley

Anthriscus sylvestris

Or then again, is it Hogweed, or even, Giant Hogweed, a nasty weed that can burn the skin and leave it with nasty blisters. So similar, yet so different.

What I think I know

Grasses and weeds series
Grasses and weeds series

Is what I see the truth, or a blurred out vision,
is what I hear founded, or some distorted version?
If what I thought I knew has been shaken and stirred,
when I think I know, I only know I could be mistaken.