IF I’M not quite expert in the customs and immigrations departments of the civilised world on the scale of say, oh Alan Whicker or Judith Chalmers, I at least have a broad appreciation.
I can tell you that the generally welcoming and surprisingly genuine, ‘have a nice day’ and ‘how are you liking our country?’ remarks of ordinary Americans, are completely at odds with their immigration staff, who are like a cross between the Gestapo and prison warder Mr Mackay from Porridge.
Thirty-five years I’ve been travelling to the USA via at least a dozen ports of entry, and I haven’t seen a smile once.
A thousand faces, all like slapped arses. And because I’d like to return there – in just a few weeks actually – I won’t delve further into exactly why I think that is.
The neighbouring Canadians were different again, not exactly welcoming you with open arms, but courteous, professional.
In Hong Kong, while being virtually strip searched, I was asked if I was carrying a firearm (as if!).
I once had a Republic of Ireland bloke gleefully make me fully unpack and wash the soles of all the footwear in my case (the Mad Cow epidemic) and another time, with no official border post in sight, two gun-toting soldiers with steely eyes waved me through an impromptu roadblock just outside Crossmaglen, in the IRA badlands.
When they retire they might consider a job at Heathrow or Gatwick, because the miserable scrotes who masquerade as our immigration officers could give the Yanks a run for their money.
No such problems in the European Union though, where passport carrying nationals can drift as lonely as Wordsworth’s metaphorical cloud from nation to state and back again, all without noticing anything except an occasional change in the weather.
What a difference from that bus trip I made from Athens to London in the winter of 1981 which involved crossing the borders between Greece, Yugoslavia (as was), Italy, France, Luxemburg, Belgium and finally the UK.
Despite the fact that the EU/Common Market was well established, it felt like the East German Stasi were at each and every border crossing.
An unfortunate young man on the bus was white British, but sporting dreadlocks and hippy-style clothing. Bad call, kid. He was singled out at every border crossing and subject to more body searches than Hannibal Lecter.
It’s all about to change for we Brits though, isn’t it? A return to those bad old days.
We’ve upset their EU applecart with our Brexiteering and it seems that half of the UK establishment is warning us that a day trip to Calais will involve being poked and prodded in every possible orifice as the ‘new enemy’ revel in their minutest of revenges.
They hate us, those Europeans. The Froggies especially – or so we’re told.
I’m not so sure, and just as the British economy is trotting along in high-stepping fashion, shaking its mane joyfully in the sun instead of being dragged for glue to the knacker’s yard, so I think our European cousins will display a personal maturity that seems beyond our own Remoaners.
I’m writing this on a garden bench in a beautiful house in a very nice suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, transported here from Manchester, via Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, by the wonderful staff of Air France.
I don’t know what I was expecting – to be turned back at the airport gate, perhaps, at the sight of a UK passport? For my attempts to pass through security to be interrupted by a demand to know which way I voted?
And those airline stewards and stewardesses … I can manage a passable “bonjour” and a “merci” or “s’il vous plait” as required, but my travelling companion? His accent is so Dewsbury-thick there are probably people in Mirfield who can’t fathom his Yorkshire slang. No disguising our ancestral roots.
There would no doubt be just slops left for our supper, barked demands to stow that seat table and fasten that seatbelt, maybe even a scornful “pah!” and a clip round the lug for daring to ask for another red wine.
“Red wine? What do you peeeg Engleesh know about red wine!” before it is sploshed all over your best chinos, possibly with a coughed-up loogie of phlegm into your glass while you’re not looking.
Actually? The smilingest, friendliest, politest airline staff I can recall, with my pidgin French communications acknowledged likewise before they defaulted to excellent English for more detailed conversation.
But there you have it. My money is spent flying with them, I smile and say hello, not stagger drunk onto their plane yelling a football chant, so I get a warm greeting in return.
People are people wherever you go, generally inclined towards civility, not bearing the imagined grudges of the political classes.
The bumps in the UK’s Brexit road will be potholes dug by our own sulky Remoaners, not the roadblocks of spurned Europeans. They actually still want to be our friends and neighbours – just as it always should have been, instead of serfs to the EU aristocracy.
As for South Africa? I’ve never known such a friendly and hospitable welcome and although I’m only 18 hours and one sleep in, the signs are excellent.
Mind you, when I finish this we’re heading down to Soweto, where I expect the neighbourhood to be a tad different.
I’ll let you know how we get on next week – all being well.
MENTION of Brexit and I sensed at the weekend that we’re coming towards the end of the ‘phoney war’, the period after the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 when war was declared, skirmishes exchanged, then both sides buckled down to preparing for the fire and brimstone of the real conflict.
Can I say, I don’t buy the apparent olive branches of the Remain MPs and their lobbyists – mostly but not all Labour and the ragged Lib Dem rump – who say they won’t try to defy the will of the British people and force a second referendum.
Every time they say that, there’s a muttered codicil that implies Brexit only gets their support if it includes staying in the Single Market; that they could u-turn if Theresa May’s presentation to Parliament before invoking Article 50 is what they choose to describe as a ‘hard’ Brexit.
Wakey-wakey, folks. There is no possible way the UK could remain in the Single Market if it leaves the EU and takes control of its borders. None.
That was made clear by the Leave campaign and even clearer by David Cameron, George Osborne and the Remain lobby – even though they were using it to try terrify us into following like lambs.
If we establish mutual trading access it will only be during and at the end of the exit negotiations.
May can’t possibly make it a line in the sand right now.
Gird yourselves for new battle lines being drawn once the Prime Minister and her team make clear how uncompromising (by necessity) their opening gambit will be.
I SPENT the day before leaving for South Africa driving round Dewsbury with a BBC Radio Four production crew in the back of my car, and broadcaster/ Times writer David Aaranovitch in the front.
They were intent on exploring the difference (or so the questions seemed to suggest) between the more religious and prosperous Gujerati Muslims of Savile Town, and the perceived poorer Pakistani denizens of Ravensthorpe with a greater propensity to criminal activity, specifically the drugs trade.
I drove them from the train station, pointed out Mr Sparkles’ car wash as we headed into Savile Town then wrapped back round through Scout Hill and Ravensthorpe, parked up outside Mr Sparkles’ drug-and-money-laundering-funded mansion, then back through Thornhill Lees.
It was there, while driving down Brewery Lane, that journalist Aaranovitch exclaimed, “Look, two white people out walking!”
It was a rainy Sunday so not a mass of people were about, but it was significant that it took so long for
him to notice.
Eventually the producer said we could head back to base because she had “90 minutes of radio gold”.
Given that the entire programme is only 30 minutes, and our contribution won’t be all of that, heaven above knows what that means.
My experiences with Radio Four haven’t been universally positive.
Anyway, it was on last night (Thursday, 8pm, The Briefing Room) if you want to listen on catch up.
I’m not going to bother until I get home. Don’t want to risk spoiling the holiday.