“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, A Strategy of Peace, 1963.
I want to tell you a story.
A couple of weeks ago, on a Sunday, I went to an open day at a railway museum. Whilst I was there, I saw a dad and his three young children going round and looking at all the steam and diesel locomotives. They were obviously having a great time.
Only one of three children was a boy, but it did not look as though the girls were any less excited than he was. One in the eye for the dolls for girls, Action Men for boys brigade, eh? And why not? Women long ago stepped out from behind the gift shop and buffet counters to couple up trains, sell tickets, work in signal boxes and drive steam engines on our preserved railway lines. Moreover, whilst we commemorate the First World War, we should not forget that was when women were first called upon to do such work.
I guess you must be thinking so what? Well dad, his son and his two daughters were all Muslims. They were out on a Sunday, relishing getting up close and personal with part of their country’s history. What, Mr Gove, could be more British than a dad doing that with his kids? What could be even more British than that the trio got to cab Hogwarts Castle (the steam engine that featured in the Harry Potter films)?
For the uninitiated, to cab an engine is when one gets to stand on the footplate of a railway locomotive, preferably when it is in steam. Back in the day, the archetypal 1950’s schoolboy trainspotter wearing his cap, blazer and short trousers, Ian Allan clutched tightly in his left hand, would have given his eyeteeth to stand on the footplate of Hall 5972, Hogwarts Castle, alongside the driver and fireman as they opened the firebox door to feel the full force of the fire. The genders may change, the clothes may change, but the fascination, it seems, will never die.
Hogwarts Castle was shuffling a rake of carriages backwards and forwards on a demonstration track. I am not (ducks) really interested in Mr Potter, but I got in my haulage ride behind the engine which is just below par in comparison with cabbing. The trio? Well, they were on the train when I got on and they stayed on the train when I got off. Later in the day, I saw one of the girls clutching tightly on to a leaflet for the railway museum’s summer Sunday service. I think they definitely had the railway bug!
The railway museum in question is at Tyseley in Birmingham. Whilst I was there, I saw a fictional character made flesh in the form of copper, brass, iron, coal and steam. What I did not see, no matter how hard I looked, was a Trojan Horse nor any Greeks bearing dubious gifts. I did, however, see people born in the city (where I was born) enjoying a day out whilst at the same time learning about our shared heritage. If that is not integration, then I am afraid that I really do not know what the word means.
I hope someday to see the young woman (who was holding the leaflet) enjoying afternoon tea on the Shakespeare Express. Silver service dining, on a train, hauled by a steam engine and Shakespeare too! Could it really get any better? Probably not educational enough for Mr Gradgrind, sorry, Mr Gove.
I am, much to my pleasure, already seeing lots more of my fellow citizens of visible ethnicity following their Brummie forebears along the well-worn paths to the Cambrian Coast and similar haunts. I see no reason why my young friend should not experience (and share) the pleasures of developing a stiff upper lip on an August Bank Holiday Monday, whilst sitting and shivering in a sea front shelter as the wind, rain and fog roll in, once more, over a grey sea . Truly, one cannot call oneself British, Mr Farage, if you have not gone through that experience time after time after time. Because, the British approach to Bank Holidays is nothing, if not a triumph of hope over experience!
I also look forward, perhaps, to seeing my young female trainspotter sipping tea and nibbling cake whilst sitting at a table on the terrace of a National Trust property. Again, what is more British than a voluntary organisation with over 3.7 million members (I am a member) and 61,000 volunteers? More than 17 million people annually visit its pay for entry properties, while an estimated 50 million visit its open air properties. The Trust protects and opens to the public over 350 historic houses, gardens and ancient monuments. The Trust also looks after forests, woods, fens, beaches, farmland, downs, moorland, islands, archaeological remains, castles, nature reserves, villages – for ever, for everyone, Mr Farage.
Come on Nigel, we know you like foxhunting, so why do you not come out of the oubliette and own up to the fact that you too are addicted to homemade National Trust coffee and walnut cake? Sorry, I was forgetting your cheeky chappie, down the pub persona would lose its appeal to the uncultured, if you said you liked a bit of something other than mass produced beer and fags. Do your chums know that foxhunting is a pastime imported from France at the time of the Restoration? Moreover, that it became popular before your forebears fled France to seek asylum here? I gather that your forebears were being persecuted in France on the grounds of their religious beliefs before they crossed the Channel. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, eh?
My friend, if she so chooses, may obtain a glimpse into how her Brummie forebears lived by visiting the Back to Backs. Whilst there, I guarantee she will get an atmospheric glimpse into the lives of the ‘ordinary’ people who helped make Birmingham into the extraordinary, cosmopolitan city it is today. Oh and Nigel, these ‘ordinary’ people were from very diverse backgrounds, almost as diverse as you are own. Do you hear much these days from the German side of your family? No, not your wife’s relatives, you know, the ones related to your great, great grandparents who came here as economic migrants back in the 19th Century. If only we had had control of our borders back then, eh?
By the way, multi-cultural is so last century, Messrs Cameron, Farage and Gove! Did you not get the memo? Like a well off the beaten track, Sunday supplement, exclusive holiday destination, we have decided to rebrand ourselves as cosmopolitan. May be then, we will get media interest for something other than being collateral damage in your political games.
And history is no longer about affluent, well-connected (dead) white men, their trials and tribulations. We, the people, you know the people for whom you speak, Mr Farage, well; we are claiming back our history. And what we are learning is that when we let people like you divide us, amongst ourselves, then you and your friends are the only winners. If you were really serious about encouraging integration, rather than forcing your version of it on people then you would make it easier for my friend to enjoy all the rich things which our (and her) society has to offer to her.
I had probably better mention that I am a Bevanite snob (or Champagne Socialist, if you prefer). If it is good enough for toffs like you then it is good enough for us! Although, I draw the line at folk dancing, foxhunting, inbreeding and hypocrisy. And, I am not really that keen on champagne, either!
So how about it then? Let us divert some of that Prevent money into buying National Trust family memberships or similar for all the children who attend inner city schools. Perhaps put some extra money into making it possible for more school trips and the like so that all our children, regardless of their background, may learn together about, not only their society’s history and culture, but also its inter-actions with the histories and cultures of others. We know that ignorance breeds fear which breeds hatred. And education, Mr Gove, is all about dispersing ignorance, is it not?
“let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, First Presidential Inaugural Address, 1933.
Yes, I know you have moved on Mr Gove, but I think the primary duty of a Secretary of State for Education is one of care towards all the students in their charge. Your end of term report, therefore, is a U. And your praying in aid of God, chaps? Well he said, suffer the little children unto me not make them suffer, did he not? But that I guess, is the confusion that sets in when you practice Christianity lite. I would suggest you try agnosticism, but I gather Mr Farage has problems spelling words like that, according to Alan Sked.