American v British Left

This is a good paragraph from the Zman on the differences between the American and British political Left:

The quest for spiritual egalitarianism in America is a very different thing than the material egalitarianism of Europe. A Jeremy Corbyn has to kit himself out in the garb of the working man in order to be authentically Left. In America, a rich white woman like Elizabeth Warren can lecture us about the poor, from the steps of her mansion, as she is decked out in a designer outfit. The reason is she cares more for the spiritual well-being of the poor than their material condition. She fears the poor are being excluded.

It’s true that the Left in the UK have to conceal their wealth while weeping crocodile tears for the poor, whereas in the US they don’t even bother. France is a curious mix of the two, where multi-millionaire socialists express concerns about material inequality in society.

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Dodgy Traffic Police

Today’s re-posted blog entry is from November 2011 and concerns corrupt traffic police in Nigeria and Russia.

Today I got pulled over by a dodgy traffic policeman for the first time since I came to Lagos over a year ago. I wasn’t driving (I never do: a pale face behind a wheel may just as well be replaced with a sign saying “Free Money Here” as far as the Lagos traffic police go), and was sat in the back reading.

A scrawny, unshaved, shit of a man with a uniform he’d been potholing in banged on the bonnet of my car at a place where the traffic police have been doing a lot of document checks of late. With Christmas coming up, they are looking to maximise revenue. Here’s how the conversation went.

Policeman: Give me your documents.

(My driver handed the policeman the documents. He looked at some of them, wishing he had learned to read before joining the police.)

Policeman: Hey! You have not signed this one and this one!

Driver: And?

Policeman: Who is the owner of this vehicle?

Me (winding down rear window): Me.

Policeman: You haven’t signed these documents.

Me: Oh.

Policeman: You haven’t signed these documents!

Me: I know. You said.

Policeman: You did not go to the vehicle administration centre.

Me: (silence)

Policeman: I said you did not go to the vehicle adminstration centre.

Me: I know. You said.

Policeman: Then you should answer me.

Me: If you want me to answer you, first you must ask a question.

Policeman: I axed you a question.

Me: No, you made a statement.

Policeman: Did you go to the vehicle adminstration centre?

Me: No.

Policeman: Then who registered your vehicle?

Me: The garage from which I bought it.

Policeman: Do you know it is a criminal offence not to sign a paper?

Me: Okay.

Policeman: You need to drive around the corner and wait for me there.

Me: Fine, but I need my documents back.

Policeman: No, you don’t need them. Drive over there.

Me: Not without my documents.

Policeman: You need to follow me to Ikeja (some place miles and miles away).

Me: Fine. But first I’m calling my company security team.

Policeman: Okay, call who you want.

(I call my company security, who dispatch an intervention team consisting of a high-ranking policeman and a bit of muscle)

Me: Okay, I’ve called my security department. We’re gonna have to wait here until the intervention team arrives.

Policeman: No, you need to come with us now.

Me: Sorry pal, this is the procedure I’m told to follow. Now I can move the car off the road a bit, but I cannot and will not leave the scene until the intervention team arrives.

Policeman: Are you giving me instructions?

Me: No, I’m just telling you what I am doing.

Policeman: Are you resisting arrest?

Me: Nope. Just sitting here in my car, waiting for the intervention team.

Policeman: But you cannot wait here, you will cause an accident.

Me: Okay, we’ll pull off the road just over there. But I’m not going anywhere else until the interven…

Policeman (throwing my documents through the window): Get out of here!

I was as calm as a mill pond in June. My driver (a local) was as calm as St. George’s channel in January with gale warnings in Lundy, Fastnet, and Irish Sea. He kept arguing with the policeman, demanding he be spoken to properly, asking him what our offence was, and generally acting exactly as this illiterate halfwit in a beret which had once cleaned up an oil spill wanted him to. The key to these situations is to show firstly that you couldn’t give a fuck, and secondly that you have all the time in the world.

I learned this in Russia. When I used to get hauled over for speeding, I’d apologise and get the topic onto football ASAP, trying to be as friendly as possible. I once managed to get let off a fine and a confiscated car by doing this when I’d been pulled over for speeding and they found my insurance had expired. But if I’d done nothing wrong and they were finding spelling mistakes in my documents, then they were in for a long wait.

Firstly I’d speak to them in Russian. If they didn’t let me off, I’d wait until they filled out the whole form and handed it to me to sign, at which point I’d ask for a translator. “But you speak Russian!” they’d say. “Yup, but I don’t read it. Sorry. Translator, please.” At this point they’d usually say “Okay, but our translators come from the FSB. You know FSB? Bad guys. If they come out, you are in trouble. Okay, I will call them.” So I’d pull out a book and start reading. I’m not half as thick as I look. I know full well that if an FSB translator is hauled away from his Sunday lunch to attend a call from a road policeman, there had better be a bomb, a body, or Boris Berezovsky waiting for him when he gets there. If he finds a dishevelled, vodka-soaked traffic cop needs a hand shaking down a Brit who has done nothing wrong, I know who’s going to be directing reindeer outside Yakutsk for the rest of his career. I knew this, and so did they. They never made the call for a translator, and after a few minutes of watching me read, they told me to clear off.

There’s a reason for this. Corrupt police, like school bullies and muggers, want an easy fix. The last thing they want is to put in effort, or else they’d have proper jobs doing something productive. The reaction they are hoping to induce is panic followed by a desperate attempt to get out of the situation by paying them off. I don’t know what the rate is, but I’ve heard of people paying $100 and more to escape the clutches of the Lagos traffic police. If they see somebody is not panicked, they will try to bait you into a confrontation. Once you’re in an argument, which with a Nigerian policeman would be described as heated after the first sentence, you’re playing into their hands. Having failed to find an original offence, you’re likely offering them another on a plate. It’s a lot harder to manufacture an incident with somebody who is largely ignoring you and meekly saying “okay, sure” when you accuse them of committing a criminal offence by not signing a paper. That puts the ball back in his court, because he now needs to do something about it. But what he really wants is for you to offer to do something about it by handing over a fistful of cash. By not doing so, you’re making him work for his money and that isn’t what he joined up for at all, oh no.

Also, as one of my colleagues pointed out today when I told him the story, by occupying himself with me – and getting nowhere – he is missing out on lots of other “customers” who are driving by unmolested. I’m taking up the lucrative spot in the road which he uses to shake people down. If he’s not making money out of me, he’s losing out. Not being completely dim, he realises this and lets me go. It was the exact same in Russia. So long as I was sat in the front seat of the patrol car reading a book and waiting for a translator, they couldn’t process anyone else. They have probably been at this game long enough to know how much they can expect per hour and how long they have to extort cash out of somebody before they start cutting into their revenue stream. If you can front it out this long, you’re probably home free.

Of course, this all depends on whether or not you have done something wrong. If you have, you’d better cough up – some now or more later. Hours and hours later, on the other side of town. What’s bad about Lagos, and I never saw this in Russia, is the traffic police and other authorities will simply pull you over and declare you have jumped a red light or made an illegal turn. Complete lies of course, but it’s your word against theirs and – their superiors being in on the racket – you’re never going to win.

So was I in the wrong today? Initially, I thought I was. When I got back to the office, I looked at the documents. One was a receipt from the registration centre, the other was some form I filled in at the garage. Neither am I obliged to carry in my car, much less sign them. I could have thrown them in the bin at any point and been no more an outlaw than before. I don’t know whether this policeman was genuinely ignorant – I’ve seen cleverer looking farmhands in West Wales – or if he was trying it on regardless. I suspect the latter, given he made sure he got rid of me long before the intervention team arrived. Either way, all pretty unpleasant, but compared to some of the stories I hear from my colleagues involving the traffic police (or impersonators), I got off lightly.

*Nigerian police motto. Seriously.

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A Fascinating Tale of Revenge

On the suggestion of ZT in the comments I’m going to re-post some old blog entries for the benefit of newcomers while I’m away.

Today’s post will be one I wrote back in 2010, which is an excerpt from an obscure but excellent book on the French debacle in Indochina called Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall. As far as I know, this is the only account of the story which exists online (there was a reference to it on an Israeli web forum that commenter Alisa found by searching the name in Hebrew, but that’s now disappeared). Anyway, enjoy.

Excerpt:

A last chapter of the of the Foreign Legion’s colorful history in Asia was written, in, of all places, the drab surroundings of an Israeli Navy court-martial in May 1958.

The defendent was a 25-year old man, in the neat white uniform of the Israeli enlisted seaman. Eliahu Itzkovitz was charged with desertion from the Israeli Navy, but this case was not an ordinary one, for he had deserted from a peacetime hitch in Haifa to a twenty-seven months ordeal with the Foreign Legion in Indochina.

Eliahu had grown up in a small town in eastern Rumania when the country threw in its lot with the Nazis at the beginning of World War II. Soon, the Rumanian Conductorul (the “Leader”) Antonescu began to emulate all the tactics of the Nazis, his own version of the Brownshirts calling itself the “Iron Guard” and practising mass murder on a large scale. In fact, according to the British writer Edward Crankshaw in his book Gestapo, they “offended the Germans on the spot by not troubling to bury their victims; and they offended the R.H.S.A. [the administrative section of the Nazi police in charge of mass exterminations] by their failure to keep proper records and by their uncontrolled looting.”

The Itzkovitz family did not escape the collective fate of the Rumanian Jews. Eliahu and his parents and three brothers were sent to a concentration camp, no better and no worse than most Eastern European camps; one lived a few days to a few weeks and died from a wide variety of causes, mostly beating and shooting. Rumanian camps were not as well equipped as their German models, the “death factories” of Auschwitz and Treblinka with their sophisticated gas chambers. Again, according to Crankshaw, “the Rumanians showed a great aptitude for mass murder and conducted their own massacres in Odessa and elsewhere,” and the Itzkovitz family paid its price – within a short time, only Eliahu, the youngest boy, survived.

But he had seen his family die, and he had remembered who killed it. It had been one particular brute, not the coldly efficient SS-type but a Rumanian from a town not too far away from his own home town and who enjoyed his new job. And Eliahu swore that he would kill the man, if it took all his life to do it. More than anything else, it was probably that hatred that kept him alive; he was a skeleton but a living one when the Russians liberated him in 1944. Eliahu then began his patient search from town to town. Of course, Stanescu (or whatever name the brute had assumed in the meantime) had not returned to his hometown for good reasons, but Eliahu found his son there and took his first revenge; he stabbed the son with a butcher knife and in 1947, a Rumanian People’s Court sentenced him to five years in a reformatory for juveniles.

Eliahu served his time but did not forget. His family’s murderer was still at large and he had sworn to kill him. In 1952, he was finally released and given permission by Communist authorities to emigrate to Israel, where he was drafted into the Israeli army in 1953 and assigned to the paratroops. Training was rigorous in the sun-drenched barracks and stubby fields south of Rehovoth, and thoughts of revenge had become all but a dim memory. There was a new life to be lived here, among the people from all corners of the world who still streamed in and who, from Germans, Poles, Indians, Yemenites, or Rumanians, became Israelis. To be sure, Eliahu still met some of his Rumanian friends and talk often rotated back to the “old country”, to the war and the horrors of the persecution. Camps and torturers were listed matter-of-factly, like particularly tough schools or demanding teachers, and Stanescu came up quite naturally.

“That s.o.b. made it. He got out in time before the Russians could get him,” said a recent arrival, “then he fled to West Germany and tried to register as a D.P. but they got wise to him and before we could report him, he was gone again.”

Eliahu’s heart beat had stopped for an instant, and when it resumed its normal rhythm, he had shaken off the torpor of peacetime army life. The hunt was on again.

“Do you know where Stanescu went then? Do you have any idea at all?”

“Well – somebody said that he had gone to Offenburg in the French Zone, where they recruit people for the French Foreign Legion, and that he enlisted for service in Indochina. The French are fighting there, you know.”

On the next day, Eliahu’s mind was made up. He reported to his commanding officer and applied for a transfer to the Israeli Navy; he liked the sea, had learned something about it while in Rumania, which borders the Black Sea, and would be happier aboard ship than as a paratrooper. A few days later, the request was granted and Eliahu was on his way to the small force of Israeli corvettes and destroyers based in Haifa. A few months later, the opportunity he had been waiting for came true; his ship was assigned to go to Italy to pick up equipment.

In Genoa, Seaman Itzkovitz applied for shore leave and simply walked off the ship; took a train to Bordighera and crossed over to Menton, France, without the slightest difficulty. Three days later, Eliahu had signed his enlistment papers in Marseilles and was en route to Sidi-bel-Abbès, Algeria, the headquarters and boot camp of the Foreign Legion, and again three months later, he was aboard the s/s Pasteur on his way to Indochina.

Once in the Foreign Legion, Stanescu’s trail was not hard to pick up. While no unit was made up of any single nationality, each unit would have its little groups and informal clans acording to language or nation of origin. It took patience, but in early 1954, he had located his quarry in the 3d Foreign Legion Infantry. The last step was the easiest; the Foreign Legion generally did not object if a man requested a transfer in order to be with his friends, and Eliahu’s request to be transferred to Stanescu’s battalion came through in a perfectly routine fashion. When Eliahu saw Stanescu again after ten years, he felt no particular wave of hatred, as he had somehow expected. After having spent ten years imagining the moment of meeting the killer of his family eye to eye, the materialization of that moment could only be an anti-climax. Stanescu had barely changed; he had perhaps thinned down a bit in the Legion; as for Eliahu, he had been a frightened boy of thirteen and was now a trapping young man, bronzed from his two years of training with the Israeli paratroopes, the Navy and the French Foreign Legion.

There was nothing left to do for Eliahu but to arrange a suitable occasion for the “execution;” for in his eyes the murder of Stanescu would be an execution. Stanescu (his name was, of course, no longer that) had become a corporal, and led his squad competently. The new arrival also turned out to be a competent soldier, a bit taciturn perhaps, but good. In fact, he was perhaps better trained than the run of the mill that came out of “Bel-Abbès” these days. He was a good man to have along on a patrol.

And it was on a patrol that Stanescu met his fate, in one of the last desperate battles along Road 18, between Bac-Ninh and Seven Pagodas. He and Eliahu had gone on a reconnaissance into the bushes on the side of the road, when the Viet-Minh opened fire from one hundred yards away. Both men slumped down into the mud. There was no cause for fear; the rest of the squad was close by on the road and would cover their retreat. Eliahu was a few paces to the side and behind Stanescu.

“Stanescu!” he called out.

Stanescu turned around and stared at Eliahu, and Eliahu continued in Rumanian:

“You are Stanescu, aren’t you?”

The man, the chest of his uniform black from the mud in which he had been lying, looked at Eliahu more in surprise than in fear. For all he knew, Eliahu might have been a friend of his son, a kid from the neighbourhood back home in Chisnau.

“Yes, but…”

“Stanescu,” said Eliahu in a perfectly even voice, “I’m one of the Jews from Chisnau,” and emptied the clip of his MAT-49 tommy gun into the man’s chest. He dragged the body back to the road: a Legionnaire never left a comrade behind.

“Tough luck,” said one of the men of the platoon sympathetically. “He was a Rumanian just like you, wasn’t he?”

“Yes,” said Eliahu, “just like me.”

The search had ended and the deed was done. Eliahu was now at peace with himself and the world. He served out his time with the Legion, received his papers certifying that “he had served with Honor and Fidelity” and mustered out in France. There was nothing left for him to do but to go home to Israel. The Israeli Armed Forces attachè in France at first refused to believe the incredible story, but the facts were soon verified with the French authorities and a few weeks later Eliahu was on his way to Israel. At Haifa, two Israeli M.P.’s, perfect copies of their British models with their glistening white canvas belts and pistol holsters, took charge of him and soon the gates of Haifa military prison closed behind him.

The three Israeli Navy judges rose. Seaman Itzkovitz stood stiffly at attention as the presiding judge read out the judgement.

“… and in view of the circumstances of the case, a Court of the State of Israel cannot bring itself to impose a heavy sentence. … One year’s imprisonment … “

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Holidays and Sport

Tomorrow I’m off to visit some friends in Baden-Baden until Friday, so no blogging next week I’m afraid.

I was going to write a post on the Lions v New Zealand, but what’s there to say? The Lions played well but didn’t take two golden chances when they ran right up to the line, which you can’t afford to do against the All Blacks. The pack played well but so did that of the Kiwis, cancelling each other out. There was little penetration by the Lions for whole periods of the game, but the breaks by Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies were very good indeed and justified their selection. Nobody played badly for the Lions, in fact everyone played well, only the Kiwis played better.

It’s hard to know what to do for the second test. Perhaps play Itoje instead of Kruis? As I said, nobody played badly. The worrying thing is the All Blacks generally put in their weakest performance in the first test and get progressively stronger thereafter. Gulp.

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Gatland’s Lions

This is a good line, from an article on Warren Gatland and the Lions:

But sport is about guff and myth-making: it’s why Manchester United are criticised for not playing attacking football even as they grimly gather up trophies, like body collectors trudging through a medieval village.

And this:

Gatland has seen all this before. Dropping Brian O’Driscoll for the final test in 2013 was transformed from a tough but logical selection decision into a rugby version of the killing of Bambi’s mother.

Mostly this was because of the embarrassing Irish reaction, the dangerous mix of Liveline and sporting controversy once again leaving us in an irrational heap; but there was also some blather about the essence of the Lions being disrespected by treating a former captain so callously.

Of course, he was only trying to win a Test series, which he duly did.

I watched that final test when I was in Melbourne in a pub full of Irishmen. They were moaning from start to finish, and even when I pointed out that O’Driscoll’s replacement, the Welshman Jonathan Davies, had set up a crucial try in their 41-16 drubbing of the Australians they still stuck to the line of “Ah, but he should have kept him in, all the same.” They still complain about it to this day.

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A useful guide to the British Police

Yesterday was not a good day for the outfit calling themselves the Sussex Police. They started out by tweeting this:

Which wasn’t met with the response they’d hoped for from some quarters. Naturally, Plod responded in the only way he knows how – with heavy-handed, ill-advised threats:

Evans quickly deleted this tweet, but some nimble-fingered soul on the internet archived it.

Things didn’t get better after that, when they gave the following answer to somebody who’d asked how much the paint job cost:

Which led to howls of derision, mainly along the lines of “What the fuck is a diversity budget?!” British police, remember, are busy telling us that they lack the resources to track jihadists because of funding cuts. The attitude above is one that is common in the public sector: they think money in a “budget” cannot be wasted because “it will be spent anyway”.

Things didn’t end there. The day before Sussex Police had posted this:

Which again didn’t meet with the praise they probably hoped for. Many people asked why the Metropolitan Police happily allowed the Al-Quds march to take place in London last weekend amid a forest of Hezbollah flags and anti-semitic chanting. The Sussex Police sloped shoulders and said that it didn’t take place in Sussex, as if they’d have done anything if it had. References were made to the Met Police refusing to address a complaint about the Al-Quds march made by a member of the public, and reported here by Breibart:

This controversial stance led to a woman attempting to make a complaint to three separate police constables about Hezbollah flags at the al-Quds demonstration on Sunday, with the police refusing to accept it.

The woman was sure that flying the “terrorist flags”, which depict an assault rifle held overhead in a clenched fist, was an offence, and was concerned that the officers’ refusal to register her complaint would mean they could “do like last time [and] say nobody complained”.

“You need to go and reacquaint yourself with the rules and the law around that particular flag,” an irate inspector told her. “There are specific wordings around when you, or anybody, can claim or refer to it as becoming an offence [to fly the flag],” he said.

The College of Policing’s Hate Crime Operational Guidance manual states: “For recording purposes, the perception of the victim, or any other person, is the defining factor in determining whether an incident is a hate incident.

“The victim does not have to justify or provide evidence of their belief, and police officers or staff should not directly challenge this perception. Evidence of the hostility is not required for an incident or crime to be recorded as a hate crime or hate incident.”

Senior police constables, such as Essex police force Assistant Chief Constable Maurice Mason, have previously confirmed that these incredibly loose definitions have led to “hate crimes” being logged after “members of the public [complained] about Nigel Farage, or whatever”.

Of course, the woman in question didn’t expect the Met Police to register her complaint, she did it to demonstrate the inconsistency with which British police forces apply this extremely vague and badly-written law.

This is deliberate, of course: the law was drafted like that precisely so the police could pick and choose who to arrest. It was intended as a tool to censor the native population under the pretext of protecting minorities, and was never meant to address complaints made by ordinary people regarding hatred spewed by violent minority groups.

A lot of people were annoyed by Sussex Police, but I was not one of them:

The sooner the public come to understand the nature of the police forces who lord it over them, the better it will be for everyone. Displays of idiocy like that of the Sussex Police on Twitter can only help with that.

 

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More Fruit & Veg

I see the story about Britain having a lack of seasonal farm workers has been picked up by other news outlets, including the Guardian which declares:

Farms hit by labour shortage as migrant workers shun ‘racist’ UK
A 20% shortfall in migrant workers relied on to pick fruit and vegetables is blamed on Brexit making the UK seem ‘xenophobic’

I guess eastern European migrant workers must have changed since I rubbed shoulders with them occasionally on farms and building sites, because back then they were about as politically correct as Donald Trump.

“The grim reality is that the perception from overseas is we are xenophobic, we’re racist, and the pound has plummeted too,” said John Hardman, director at Hops Labour Solutions, who also estimates a 20% shortage of workers. “We’ve gone with Brexit and that makes us look unfriendly.

Seasonal farm workers rank friendliness of a country highly on their list of criteria? Who knew? It’s bollocks: this Hardman twat is facing extra admin. costs to import his labour and he doesn’t like it, so he’s decided to insult those who brought it about. The Guardian, true to form, has swallowed it whole and slapped it in their headline as if he’s stating an empirical truth.

Hardman said people who thought the shortage of farm labour could be filled by UK workers were “delusional”. He said: “There is no appetite in the UK labour pool for seasonal agricultural work.” The hospitality industry was more attractive for temporary work and unemployment is low in key areas, like Kent, he said.

So start paying wages that compete with the hospitality industry, then. Or will that mean the missus can’t get that new Aga until next year?

What’s strange is fruit and vegetable picking isn’t badly paid. Yesterday I read a load of people on social media, who had never harvested a vegetable in their lives, imply that the workers are paid less than minimum wage. There was no minimum wage when I was a farm labourer, but the hourly rate wasn’t bad, especially if you were a student like I was. And if you’re on piecework you can make way more than the minimum wage, as my Chinese pal Zu found out. And if I’m honest, it isn’t that much hard work: yes, picking potatoes hurts your back and none of it is much fun, but you get used to it. And I was 19 and fit as a fiddle, so who cares? That’s half the fun of being young, you can work like that and get smashed that night, and shrug it all off. It’s a summer job, not a career. Don’t kid yourself it’s similar to mining coal by hand.

And of course, there is always the possibility that you might get promoted, and here I must make a slight confession: I didn’t actually do a lot of vegetable picking that summer*. They stuck me out in the fields for the first couple of weeks, and then one day the bloke who drove around the farm delivering packing materials and crates of ice couldn’t make it in. The farm manager asked if I could do it, told me once what I needed to do, and I just got on with it. Driving a tractor and trailer around was a lot more fun than picking bloody vegetables, so I did a good job of it. I was therefore asked to do it each day for the next week until the regular chap come back, and when he did he’d lost interest so the farm manager just told me to carry on. And that was my job: driving packing materials, ice, and produce around between the fields and the farm.

Having demonstrated that I was (just about) responsible (there were some hairy moments with the tractor) and I was reliable and organised, I got myself a much better job than everyone else. My fellow students didn’t mind because they were more interested in the higher-paying piecework; I was more interested in driving tractors. But to get that “promotion” I first had to turn up at the farm and scrape around in the dirt. Demonstrating reliability and responsibility is essential when starting out in employment, and a farm is as good a place to do that as any. The farm manager wrote several references for me in the years that followed, mainly for jobs in Manchester.

A few people said that the yoof cannot be expected to work on farms because they live in cities, and can’t get there. Well, I didn’t live in Pershore either but surprisingly those who run multi-million pound labour-intensive farming operations have thought of this and provide accommodation on the farm. Where do Guardian readers think all the Romanians and Bulgarians live? In the nearest Travelodge? The accommodation was pretty good, a shared room in a catered residence. A few others lived in fixed caravans nearby. I was 19 for God’s sake, who cares what the accommodation was like? But then I’d been an army cadet and done boarding school, so perhaps I was less fussy.

As I said yesterday, it’s why I enjoy articles about farming: almost every word is written by somebody who’s never done a day of it in their life, and that includes the commenters.

* Trust me though, I have picked a shit-load of new potatoes by hand.

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Fruit & Veg

I always enjoy articles like this:

UK summer fruit and salad growers are having difficulty recruiting pickers, with more than half saying they don’t know if they will have enough migrant workers to harvest their crops.

Many growers blame the weak pound which has reduced their workers’ earning power, as well as uncertainty over Brexit, according to a BBC survey.

About 80,000 seasonal workers a year pick and process British fruit and veg.

Most of them are from the European Union, mainly Romania and Bulgaria.

I like them because, unlike 95% of people who comment on the subject of picking fruit and vegetables, I have actually done the job in question. I spent a lot of time on a farm when I was a kid which included vegetable picking, mainly potatoes. This experience landed me a job on what was (and maybe still is) Britain’s largest vegetable farm in the summer of 1996 between school and university.

The farm, situated near Pershore, Worcs. was absolutely massive by British standards, thousands of acres. It produced damned near every vegetable I could think of, and I remember picking lots of broccoli, runner beans, dwarf beans, cauliflower, asparagus, and cabbages. The produce would be put on ice and packed in a plant on the farm and collected by lorries belonging to the UK’s supermarket chains. My fellow workers were mainly students, most of whom were young Brits. There were about ten or twelve of us. We had a Chinese guy called Zu who had taken part in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, and was studying at an agricultural college nearby. If you put him on an hourly rate he would snooze all day. Put him on piecework, i.e. pay him per kilo of produce picked, and he’d be like a man possessed. We’d have to drag him out of the runner bean fields at dusk, slashing at the air with his knife. Apparently the year before the farm had employed a lot of Polish and Bulgarians but the summer I was there none showed up, or they had problems recruiting them. I don’t know, but the farm ended up with a handful of Brits and the odd foreigner.

They called us the “student workers”, but there were others. A gang of gypsies used to pick broccoli and cabbages, but it was in the spring onion fields where the real labour was carried out. Gangmasters from nearby Birmingham used to come down with vans filled with Indians, both men and women, who would work all day in the fields under a blazing sun. I understand the farm paid the gangmasters and they in turn paid the workers, probably thruppence. The gangmasters also kept order. This system of companies keeping the labourers at arms reach gained notoriety in the 2004 Morecambe Bay cockling disaster, and I believe legislation was tightened in its wake. I was probably one of the few who knew what a gangmaster was when that story hit the news. I have no idea if they’re still used on the farm I worked on in Pershore, but I suspect so.

About 80,000 seasonal workers a year pick and process British fruit and veg.

Most of them are from the European Union, mainly Romania and Bulgaria.

Well, what did they do before Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007?  Unfortunately, British Summer Fruits, the body which represents soft fruit growers, doesn’t seem to know and would rather engage in scaremongering:

It warns that soft fruit prices could rise by up to 50% if the UK relied solely on imports.

“It is inconceivable that people who voted to leave the European Union wanted to destroy an iconic and incredibly competitive British horticulture industry,” said Laurence Olins, chairman of British Summer Fruits.

“Failure to secure the future of soft fruit production in the UK will have a negative impact on the economy, family budgets, the nation’s health, UK food security and the environment,” he added.

The incredibly competitive British horticulture industry which appears to be utterly dependent on cheap foreign labour. I wonder if construction companies in Dubai boast of being incredibly competitive, too?

The BBC asks the obvious question:

So why doesn’t horticulture, now a £3bn industry, simply try to employ British workers?

The answer is straightforward for Beverley Dixon, from G’s Fresh, which employs some 2,500 seasonal workers growing salad crops across large areas of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, as well as other farms dotted across the UK.

“We operate in areas of such low unemployment, so here in Cambridgeshire, it’s less than 1.5%,” she said.

“So there simply aren’t the people available to do the work, added to which UK people tend to want permanent year-round work and this is seasonal work.’

But doesn’t follow it up with the other obvious question: why don’t unemployed people from the cities go and work in the fields like I did? Perhaps because they won’t like the answer: they don’t want to, and benefits mean they don’t have to. Whatever the reason, this is not an argument for keeping Britain in the EU.

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Recruitment and Marital Status

Yesterday I came across this Tweet:

To which I replied:

Marital status is important: some roles will seriously strain a marriage.

This appeared to cause some confusion. The original poster – who appears to work in recruitment – couldn’t work out if I was serious or not, and some other pompous twit from Brooklyn (where else?) jumped in to say that what I was doing was illegal, the laws exist for a reason, and I am “not helping” by not understanding this.

For the record: I am not a manager and I am not involved in recruitment or hiring in any capacity. But I used to be, a long time ago.

It’s interesting that anyone should consider what I said as contentious. Perhaps I’m wrong, though. Maybe the partner working long hours in the office, being too involved with work, or spending weeks away from home is something that rarely gets mentioned in divorce proceedings? Somehow I doubt it.

But I looked at it from another angle. You probably don’t want to be sending a middle-aged family man on a lengthy overseas assignment to places like Russia, Venezuela, or Vietnam on single status. This is often a recipe for disaster as he gets bored and ends up having an affair with one of the many young local beauties who hunt expat men for sport. Yes, the responsibility for the affair lies squarely on the shoulders of the man, but I have heard enough wives complain bitterly that his employer should not have sent him there in the first place: had he not gone, the family would still be intact. I am not convinced the employer, knowing full well what is likely to happen, doesn’t have some duty of care here. But the law says that they must not attempt to exercise it.

I understand why the laws came in: enough people were convinced that married or unmarried men or women were being discriminated against when it came to recruitment, and they believed marital status should not make any difference. Which is odd, because I am forever hearing about the importance of a work-life balance, but for that balance to occur one must surely consider what sort of life we’re talking about. Apparently that is illegal.

For the sake of this post, let’s say I might agree that companies should not be allowed to reject a candidate based on their marital status, but I think it imperative that an employer explains the nature of the job to candidates and attempts to fully inform them as to any possible impact on their personal life. How else is the candidate supposed to make an informed decision? Supposing the job involves working nights, or spending weeks away from home? Should the company not ask the candidate to consider the effect this may have on his personal life? The candidate might not even be aware the job would have such an effect, as I’ve heard a lot of men lament as they lie amid the ruins of their lives, shacked up with a Chinese hooker and the divorce papers on the way. As things stand, the employee is on his own to figure out how a job might affect his family, and the employer is compelled by law to pretend it is irrelevant.

It’s not even clear to me which direction the discrimination is supposed to run in. I can think of several roles that would suit single people, but I often hear that very small, dull, or restrictive places are “good for families”; single people will go crazy with boredom. At the very least, I think a company should try to ensure that each person’s personal goals, expectations, and family situation are as compatible with the location and demands of the position as possible. An unhappy employee with domestic troubles is the last thing a company needs.

National governments have attempted to legislate away the effects a demanding job has on family life, as if by passing a law they simply disappear. They don’t: all they’re doing is creating more work for divorce lawyers, brewers, and the manufacturers of anti-depressants. The idea that an employer – who has such a massive impact on your life, controlling around a third of your waking hours – should take no account of your personal and family situation seems insane to me. But here we are: obviously most people like it this way.

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Brexit, Britain, and Mainland Europe

I have noticed on Twitter a certain propensity among the metropolitan elite, particularly journalists, to claim that Britain is now the laughing stock of Europe and that everyone on the Continent thinks Brexiteers to be delusional. I imagine that in their world this is actually true: most of them will speak French, German, or Spanish and will spend much of their time in Europe for work or visiting families and friends. Only you can be sure they’ll be swanning around the nicer areas of Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Geneva with wealthy, middle-class journalists and the sort of “businessmen” whose nose is never more than half-an-inch from a politician’s arse. They sure as hell won’t be hanging around a Portuguese dock or drinking vodka in a Latvian bar with a bunch of ethnic Russians.

From what I can tell, Europeans don’t seem particularly interested in Brexit. I think everyone was rather surprised initially, but now they’re so resigned to Britain leaving that it barely gets mentioned. I work in a very international company with major operations in the UK, and talk of Brexit is conspicuous by its absence. When the subject comes up, usually over lunch with colleagues who ask me for my opinions on the matter, there is some disappointment but in general they don’t see it as a big deal. For a lot of mainland Europeans, Britain was never really part of the club anyway. We were always complaining, we seemed to prefer the company of Americans, and a few are not even sure why we joined in the first place. It’s a bit like Australia being in the Eurovision Song Contest, nobody is quite sure what they’re doing there. The attitude of everyone seems to be slight confusion as to why Britain voted to leave but now they have, can we just get on with it ASAP and if we can still work, travel, and trade that would be grand.

Unlike perhaps our lofty metropolitan elites, the mainland Europeans appreciate that Britain is quite different. The mainland Europeans, particularly the French and Dutch, still have bad memories from the war and are willing to do anything to avoid a repeat. They truly believe the EU is responsible for keeping the peace, whereas in the UK we think that was down to Nato. There are reasons for this.

Britain had the enormous advantage of not being occupied during WWII, which had a major effect on how we viewed the war afterwards. We lost a lot of men and saw our cities bombed, but we never had to deal with the messy compromise of an occupation. The excellent book Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of WWII goes into some detail on this subject, and explains the effects of prolonged occupation on a population. At some point people cooperate, because they have to: the book cites an example of a French baker accused after the war of selling bread to the Nazis. He asks what choice he had, and points out that he was also providing bread to the French population who would otherwise have starved. It discusses the issue of young women who engaged in relationships with the occupying soldiers, and met the full fury of their countrymen when the war was over. One girl protested that as far as she could make out the Nazis were the local government and had been for some time, and plenty of other people were interacting with them. How is having a relationship with a soldier of the de facto regime a crime? She had a point.

Few people in the occupied countries wanted to dwell on matters of collaboration and cooperation after the war: there was a period of retribution, much of it vicious and used as a pretext for power-grabs and the settling of old scores, but the various governments quickly found themselves establishing a semi-believable narrative that made them look good and running with it. To be fair, they had little choice: the late 1940s was not the time for hand-wringing, there were nations to rebuild and Soviets to keep out. This is why the French, even to this day, skip over the small matter of the Vichy regime when celebrating Charles de Gaulle and the heroic Resistance. It’s why the Dutch never point out that quite a few of them welcomed the Nazi occupation initially, seeing them as Germanic cousins. Britain avoided all of this, and their particular tale of heroic resistance and defiance against all the odds was much easier to weave.

Britain also didn’t get wrecked like Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, parts of France, and other countries on the mainland. Our cities took a pounding, particularly London and Coventry, but there was not the sort of devastation seen in those cities which first saw aerial bombardment and then ground fighting as they were liberated. We also didn’t have the hunger: there was a famine in the Netherlands in 1944-5 which claimed the lives of 22,000 people. There were major food shortages in Austria and Germany after the war, and it was years before food supplies were back up and running across the continent again. Britain had rationing, but nobody starved.

The mainland European view of the war is very different from the British: our culture makes light of the war – Dad’s Army, and ‘Allo ‘Allo being two examples – because for us it was a jolly old ruck with the Bosch that we won. Our families, homes, and communities weren’t wrecked, for the large part. So when we talk about keeping the peace in Europe, we’re not haunted by the same memories as mainland Europeans. We saw the priority as keeping the Russians from occupying all of us, hence Nato. If Europe got demolished in the meantime, then meh. Whereas for the Europeans, particularly the Dutch and French, they are equally if not more concerned about keeping the peace among themselves because that is what caused so much destruction last time. It’s hardly surprising, then, that they see the EU as a greater guarantor of peace than Nato.

The way people think, vote, and behave differs wildly between nations, regions, groups, and individuals and there are usually very deep cultural and historical reasons for these differences. It is not a lack of intelligence, information, and values which drive the French to maintain a political and economic system which is unfathomable to an Anglo-Saxon: they simply have a different history and culture than us. This is why I find the self-righteous posturing of London’s elites over Brexit so irritating. They may share pro-EU views with their counterparts in mainland Europe, but they have no idea why. If they did, they’d understand why so many people don’t share their views. They hope that by writing puff-pieces about pro-EU attitudes on the mainland while sneering at their own people they will ingratiate themselves with the former and show themselves to be superior than the latter.

Neither will happen for the same reason I will always be considered a Brit and never a Frenchman: culture and history matter and shapes who you are, even if you detest them and wish you were someone else.

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