• Let’s all move to the Med

    (Photo by Portuguese Gravity)

    When pandemics and waning prosperity finally loosen the Northern European grip on travel, will we look back on our years in the sun and wonder why we didn’t colonise the Mediterranean more thoroughly?

    The most permanent migration has been made by the middling sort. That is because, for the truly affluent, the Damp North was never so uncomfortable nor so permanent. Meanwhile, for the poor there was no option.

    Croydon or the Costa?

    But for the middling sort, the Med has held the promise of swapping a middling suburban home in the Damp North for a middling suburban home in the Warm South. 

    For the rich, the bite of a northern winter was always tamed by their comfortable country houses and their skiing holiday in the crisp sunshine of the Alps, plus at least one other trip, in the high summer, often to the Med – though far away from the middling suburban homes of the colonies of the middling sort. 

    The middling sort, in their turn, make sure their middling surburban homes are at a comfortable distance from the strip hotels that offer sun, sex and sangria to the poor for a week or two each summer. 


    That is how the Northern European has half-colonised the Med. But will we one day live to rue the fact that we never moved – lock, stock and barrel – to the sun-blessed shores of the Mediterranean, heart of civilisation and ease, when we had the chance? Will we, I wonder?

    When we are eking out another waterlogged grain harvest outside hovels in the swampy ground of old Surrey and Somerset, will we wonder why Northern Europeans didn’t simply turn Italian when they had the chance, so that generations to come could have popped grapes and bottles of Prosecco under the shadows of cypress and olive trees forever…

    How about you? You live in the right place, right?

  • Christianity for export

    Naipaul book The Middle Passage sitting on a travel trunk
    Travels in the West Indies

    Christianity is an imported religion to anyone who’s not from the Middle East. This may be a historical fact, yet it’s often overlooked. I am reminded of it by V. S. Naipaul’s reflections on “the faith of the heathen convert” in his 1961 travelogue of the West Indies, The Middle Passage

    “Indian girls not good.”

    Naipaul is being led through the Guyanese jungle by two Amerindian teenage boys from a local Christian mission. One of the boys says he wants to marry, but not an Amerindian girl: “Indian girls not good. They don’t know anything.” By anything the boy means, of course, anything of Western civilization. 

    “The missionary must first teach self-contempt.” 

    For anyone outside the eastern Mediterranean to embrace Christianity wholeheartedly, must they inevitably renounce something of their own heritage? Is there something fundamentally alien to the land in which it lies that a British country church is full of references to Middle Eastern places and people? 

    Naipaul was reflecting on the more visceral import of Christianity from a colonizer to the colonized, and from the slave-owner to the slave. Christianity was initially a racial faith in the West Indies. It enabled the European plantation owners to divide the population into (white) Christians and everyone else. 

    “The Berbice slave rebellion of 1762 was a war between Christians and rebels. The captured rebels were tried for ‘Christian murder’.” 

    This reflection of course makes the conversion to Christianity across the entire ex-colonial world problematic. Is it a final vestige of European domination? Can it ever be detached from that history? And to what extent is the Christianity of Britain a vestige of its subordination to Rome? 

    All quotes: V. S. Naipaul, The Middle Passage, p. 160, Picador, 2001