Dear Reader, I’ve just returned from a week in the United Kingdom. It was a lovely trip, but it didn’t get off to the best of starts as an over-zealous passport control officer told me that my boys couldn’t travel on their own because they were under 16. I politely pointed out to her that they weren’t travelling alone; because my wife and I were both with them.
“My wife’s surname is Heide, mine is Burns, but the boys have Heide-Burns on their passports,” I said. She told me not to raise my voice and to stop being aggressive. “Your surnames are not the same as theirs,” she pointed out.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that if you combine our surnames, you’ll arrive at theirs,” I replied. “Change your attitude please sir,” she said tensely. “I haven’t got an attitude,” I whispered. “I’m just pointing this out to you for future reference,” she continued.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “What do you expect me to do the next time I try to get into my own country with my own children?” This seemed to stump her and, with a face like a slapped arse, she begrudgingly let us pass.
Has something changed that I ought to be aware of? I haven’t been back to Blighty for about four years, and I could feel a change in the air. An acceptance of the extra heavy-handed security everywhere for example: the visible heavily-armed police officers, heavy metal barriers at entrances to tube and train stations, and deadly serious announcements about “unattended bags causing serious disruption!”
Maybe it’s inescapable given the all-too serious terrorist threat that hangs over the country like a bad smell. “Just a matter of when and where and not being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” I heard someone on a platform say. Rather pessimistic, I thought to myself. Is there a swing to the right taking place? Have the so-called “swivel-eyed loons” in Westminster succeeded in making Britain look inwards and not outwards, with a Victorian slant regarding same-sex marriages, the disabled, Afghan translators wanting sanctuary and that crazy thing called Europe?
I’m hoping that these people are a minority fringe and not how the majority of Brits see themselves in their future. On my last night in London, I saw a great piece of theatre: ‘Billy Elliot’. It was a show that reminded me of what the word ‘community’ actually means: people helping each other out. I met old mates and neighbours of mine in Luton who I’ve known for 50 years and who do exactly that. I’ll be going back to Britain in mid-June and I wonder if the modernisation process will have started by then?
My next production is a ghost story that ticks all the scary boxes called ‘The Woman in Black’. See www.that-theatre.com for details.