Patriot Games

uk-2327917_640“Britain is a fantastic place to live…”

That’s according to the opening paragraph of the Home Office’s Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents, a 180-page handbook that I must memorise to pass the Life in the UK test, which is required of anyone seeking to become a British citizen.

It’s a little ironic, perhaps, that in a time when thousands of British citizens are scrambling to unearth some Irish bloodline in their family to secure an Irish/EU passport, I, an EU citizen, am heading the other way, aiming to become a British citizen.

Then again, precious little makes sense in this country anymore. Increasingly I feel as if I’ve fallen into the rabbit hole and everything is topsy-turvy. And I never much liked Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Why bother to become a British citizen when I’ve already been granted permanent residence (a process that involved the submission of more than 500 pages of detailed information about myself to the Home Office)? Whatever happens with Brexit, I’ve secured the right to continue to live and work in the UK. Isn’t that enough? Call me old-fashioned, but I’d like to be able to vote in the country where I pay my taxes, so Brexit or no Brexit, I would still have applied for citizenship at some point.

Anyway, the Home Office apparently believes (or so claims the handbook) that passing the Life in the UK test will help me “integrate into society and play a full role in [my] local community.” Never mind that I’ve lived here for almost twenty years and have a British husband and British children – if I want to become a citizen, I need to learn a bunch of historical, cultural, political and geographical facts and a myriad of dates in British history that even most ‘native’ Brits don’t know.

Despite my penchant for studying, it’s going slow at the moment. That’s mainly because the Home Office’s handbook is so dull it puts me to sleep every time I start reading. Even the chapter about bad-boy Oliver Cromwell fails to keep my eyelids open, that’s how unexciting it is.

As tedious as this handbook is, the section describing the seemingly endless political power struggles of the Middle Ages reminds me strongly of the abysmal power games currently being played out in Westminster, not least within the Tory party. Some things never change, do they? Perhaps that’s why William Shakespeare’s plays never go out of fashion; for although written several hundred years ago, the stories of Macbeth, King Lear et al. remain remarkably relevant in 2019.

To pass the Life in the UK test and qualify for British citizenship, I must get at least 18 out of 24 questions right, but I’m gunning for much more. Proving just how good an immigrant I am, I will ace this test and I will fly the Union Jack outside my home on the day I swear allegiance to the Queen. It’s taken me twenty years but, fret not Great Britain, I’m going to outdo the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson in the patriot games.

God Save the Queen!

To the Barricades!

Growing up, I fancied myself a bit of a rebel, standing up for what I believed was right and speaking up against injustice, even if it got me in trouble with teachers at school. I was young and idealistic and passionate about doing my bit to save the world.

I vaguely recall joining a school strike when I was in my early teens and in high school I became an active member of Amnesty International, writing letters and fundraising on behalf of prisoners of conscience.

Nowadays I’d rather avoid standing on the barricades, preferring instead to change the world from the comfort of my home. The idealism of my youth is long gone, but I have full respect for those who still have the energy to fight for a better, greener, fairer world.

I am a huge admirer of the 16-year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg whose one-woman school strike unleashed a worldwide movement of teenage climate activists calling on their governments to take urgent action to halt climate change.shutterstock_1303824298.jpg

Although not in the same league as Greta, my 8-year old daughter is also something of an eco-warrior, and when she learned about the global youth strike for climate action taking place tomorrow, March 15th, she immediately told me,

“I want to strike too.”

How sweet I thought, but of course it wasn’t going to happen. She is much too young to bunk off school to join the protest in central London. But she insisted.

“I want to strike, mummy, because if the people who run the world don’t do anything now, our planet could be destroyed by the time I’m 58.”

I thought she might forget about the whole thing, but a few days later she came to me and said,

“Have you asked the headmistress yet if I can strike?”

I tried to explain that striking isn’t exactly something you ask permission for, and in any case, the kids going on strike were all teenagers, not primary school kids.

“Ask anyway,” she said with a determination that impressed me enough that I relented. I sent off a very carefully worded email to the headmistress explaining Felicity’s desire to do her bit for the planet, fully expecting to be told that the school couldn’t possibly condone my child striking.

Here’s what the headmistress wrote in reply:

Dear Jenny,

How can I stand in the way of passion?

 I’m pleased that F is so committed to saving our planet. I give my permission for her to attend the demo. Wave a placard for me!

My daughter was elated and has been telling everyone she meets that she’s going on strike tomorrow. This evening we’re putting the finishing touches to the placard she’s making for tomorrow’s protest.

My husband is perhaps not as enthusiastic about tomorrow’s event as he’s been ordered to come along as a chaperone (and placard carrier) to our daughter’s first ever political manifestation. I’ll be there too, and I have to admit I’m looking forward to it.

After all, frontline activism is much more rewarding than the armchair version.



Literal Thinking

It was with a massive sense of relief I dropped my 8-year old daughter off at school this morning. It’s World Book Day here in the UK and as anyone who’s got young kids will know, that’s a day many schools encourage their pupils to dress up as their favourite book character. I’ve no problem with that per se, except that at my daughter’s school, there’s a ‘friendly’ competition about who’s got the best costume, and thus far my daughter has never won.


Ever since the beginning of the year, she’d been thinking about who to dress up as, but since she changed her mind at least once a week, there was no point in getting a costume sorted until last weekend. That’s when she finally settled on going as Amelia Wishart, a spunky chimney sweep girl and the heroine of Matt Haig’s The Girl Who Saved Christmas.

Great, I thought, that will be easy, no elaborate craft skills necessary, just some clothes and a bit of face paint to make her look sooty. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Continue reading