• 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?

  • Are you social distancing?

    (Photo by Everton Vila)

    This is an emergency. Where is the urgency, Sweden? Well, the same accusation was being flung at the UK until this week, but let’s look a little more closely at the facts. 

    Slowing the curve

    So, the scientific evidence is clear. During epidemics you get ‘the surge’, and the only way to avoid an uncontainable spike in cases is to limit people’s contact with each other, or ‘social distancing’. 

    This means, essentially, avoiding large-scale organized fun, no kissing, no bear hugs, dammit no shaking hands. It involves a nod at best, or if you’re getting avant-garde, a foot rub (through sealed footwear). 

    It means keeping chat to a bare minimum, and certainly making sure to avoid animated chat on subjects liable to impassion (to minimize the spread of saliva). Since coronavirus is the only subject in town, and a passionate one at that, it means zipping it. 

    Supermarket sweep

    It means heading to the supermarket at asocial hours when you are least likely to bump into people you might have to interact with either verbally or otherwise. 

    It involves dressing soberly, betraying no emotion, and acting as if everything is entirely normal. This, despite the fact that it’s clear there has been a run on legumes and toilet roll, like some strange inversion of a midsummer BBQ weekend. 

    But remember, the greatest scientific minds in our nations have been studying the facts, not the fake news. They have observed quite clearly that social distancing measures have been rigorously enforced by Swedes and Brits for generations. 

    Put out the fire

    Clearly, drastic measures were required in Italy, where social distancing was a concept so alien as to be entirely uncommunicable. The same goes for Spain and France. Even those hot-blooded Danes (the Latins of the Nordics) had to rein it in. 

    Meanwhile, life has continued entirely undisturbed in Sweden. Policy only started to shift in Britain when it was realised that eradicating free movement of people was a central plank of government policy. Talk about win-win…

    Yes, Swedes and Brits were separated at birth, and Swedes are just Brits with good branding

  • Does shandy have an age limit?

    Reading Will Self’s novella on Brexit in The New European last week, I read the following:

    “The prime minister’s holed up in Chequers, on the Chiltern fringe. I used to walk out that way, towards Wendover Hill, with my unpatriotic, but deeply beery father, back in the flannel-and-Gannex sixties, when you knew where you stood: in Britain; and what you stood in: leather. We’d stop at the Sundown Inn, and he’d pour half his pint into my lemonade, then we’d stagger on. I’d have been around 10 years old, but it was an innocent era – and when my mother chided my father for giving me watered-down wine at lunch, he’d say, “The French do it”. As if that settled the matter.”

    In its contents, that paragraph was almost a carbon copy of my own childhood, two decades later in the 1980s. That means whatever kind of puritanical tide has engulfed Britain in the meantime, it hadn’t yet happened in the 80s. They, too, must have been an era of innocence. 

    Has it really become unacceptable to give your child a shandy? Or is it still happening quietly behind closed doors up and down the land? I can’t give a definitive answer. My child is 3 years old, which let’s face it is just too young, so I have no primary research to fall back on. 

    “The French do it”

    This is the telling line. It reminds me of my gap year on an Italian farm where the farmer gave me weak red wine in the morning as a thirst quencher while digging potatoes, but where I never saw anyone actually pissed in my entire trip. 

    The French do do it, but like most southern Europeans, they seem to do it steadily and with sobriety. Given the northern tendency towards oblivion, whenever talk turns to allowing a child to drink, it tends to conjure images of a youngster reeling and barfing on a stupid father’s pack of Stella. 

    More interested in food than drink? Here’s an idea for reinventing how we eat