Metaphoric Stamping of the White Trainers – December 2008
On the Norfolk Line ferry from Dover to Dunkerque, a small rotund man dressed in a red pullover, blue jeans and white trainers, in his 60s or maybe 70s, with a bald head, glasses and a beard. He looked angry, I could tell that by the way his bald head kept wrinkling. His white trainers were planted on the floor, but he looked like he was mentally stamping them, one after the other in quick succession, pat-pat-pat-pat-pat. With agitation. He was reading the Daily Mail.
He may have been reading about anything at all in the Daily Mail, but he could have been reading about immigration, since that’s something that the Daily Mail frequently covers, and if he was, and that was making his feet want to stamp, then that would be most ironic, for on the ferry were very few people who were, like him, British. Apart from the angry man and his wife and Hilary and me and most of the staff, I didn’t see anyone at all who was originally British, by far the great majority were from Eastern Europe, for it was 17th December, and the people were going back to their families for Christmas. The angry man and his wife, I guess, were going to their house in France.
This preponderence of non-British people could have been making the man angry, but I don’t think so, I don’t think he noticed, for he had his head down in the Daily Mail. But if it was that that was upsetting him, then it shouldn’t have been, for whatever the pros and cons of the economics of immigration, the Poles were certainly keeping the ferries running; without them, the man might have paid a lot more for a less-frequent service.
I’d noticed that the boat would be carrying a lot of Eastern Europeans from the moment that we got to the columns of cars that wait to be loaded onto the ferry. For although the cars were for the most part British-registered, there were clues that they were being driven by people from further east. These clues included:
1. There were a lot of Audis and Mercedes, carefully polished but quite old.
2. Where the car was not an Audi or Mercedes but was instead something like a red Ford Mondeo, the hub caps were missing. (Not sure of the reason for this phenomenon. And actually, one of the hubcaps on our car is missing, it got removed one night when we parked on a street in Oxford. I haven’t done anything about it and possibly wouldn’t even if all four went elsewhere – maybe in that respect a Pole is no different from an Englishman; it’s just that he lives in an area where people nick your hubcaps – but I don’t actually know the answer to this conundrum and have not been able to find it via Google.)
3. The back of the car was stacked high with possessions.
4. And here’s the clincher: every man, when he got out of his car, lit a cigarette. I was reading in a newspaper that statistics show that as a result of the ban on smoking in public places, levels of smoking have gone down statistically, but at the same time sales of cigarettes have gone up. The newspaper article said that researchers were finding this puzzling, but they shouldn’t, the answer is quite simple, it’s that when the research is being done in the sampling there’s an unrepresentative number of Poles. These researchers, they don’t walk about with their eyes open. And whatever the pros and cons of the economics of immigration, the Poles, Lithuanians and Slovaks are certainly storing up expense for the health service in future.
I never got to speak to the angry man to find out what it was that was making him angry, for I’m too shy, and that may be no bad thing, as I don’t think he noticed he was surrounded by foreigners who smoke a lot – it might have upset him even more had I pointed it out.