Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Welcome...come on in

In the news this week, the UK Government are reported to be considering a tougher series of tests for would-be immigrants entering the country. Currently the longer you live here the better your chances, but it seems some folks might be told to pay into a 'transitional impact fund' which would be used to boost local services. I only hope that once they get in they get to complain about said local services, if they turn out to be crappy. If they can prove they are 'active' citizens (for example, if they do charity work), then they even get fast-tracked to Blighty. None of this applies to EU immigrants, strangely, who can just wave fistfuls of Euros at Heathrow and wander on in.

Anyway, a few months ago something similar was presented in Australia, and I had a go at taking the test to see if I'd qualify. I passed by a single point, which shows how the memories of down under have faded over the years. But what about a British test? What skills should potential immigrants bring into the mix? Rather than a question and answer session about who won what battle or how long Corrie has been on telly, maybe it should be a series of ways to act truly British. That way, newcomers could fit in right away, and not feel left out. Sure, drinking tea and being terrible at sport are easy ones, so you might only get a point or two for those - but for immigrants to really prosper here, they could do no worse than demonstrate some (or all) of the following...

Being overly protective of personal space
Personal space is the most precious of British commodities - or at least you'd think it was, given how we react when someone stands a bit too close in a lift. The test for this would be at a dentist's waiting room - watching the would-be immigrants as they carefully pick the seat the farthest away from everyone else, confiding in that peculiarly British invisible buffer.

Worrying about whether they can shout at someone else's kids
But they just dropped a crisp packet on the street! The bin's only over there, it's not like they couldn't have walked five yards. Is their Mum inside the Newsagents? Will they come out just in time to see me haranguing their children? Now they dropped some gum as well, it gets everywhere, especially if you tread it in. I should probably say somet...no, I might get happy-slapped.

Parking as exactly as possible
Not only do we have imaginary set-squares built in, so every kerb is always parallel, we love a chance to criticise others. The prospective immigrants would be judged on how they comment on a random street of parked cars. Too close to the kerb? Back wheels over a yellow line - ooohh, that'll be sixty quid, them parking fellas are right strict about it. Trust me, that car'll be gone in a few hours, off to the pound. And did I tell you about the time I was in France? (bonus points)

Eating food at inappropriate times
In Italy, gelato is eaten on whistful summer evenings. In the USA, big fat ice creams are eaten at the State Fair. In the UK, we eat Cornettos in November on gale-blasted beaches. And then straight afterwards, a bag of chips and vinegar. Mmmm.

Judging people by what papers they read
I told you he was a Telegraph reader, didn't I? Well, let me tell you this - next door - yep, them with the ostentatious conifer tubs - they take the Mail...and the Mail on Sunday. They don't get it just for the free DVD each week, I can tell you. And them at number 30? Guardian. I know. I know. Saw them leaving this morning, off to a farmers market no doubt. And at number 34 - well, the Colonel takes the Times - he's not a real Colonel, by the way - and his wife gets the Express. Yes, I know. And they have 'visitors' every Saturday night, curtains get drawn straight away. Our Dennis is in the Neighbourhood Watch, and he reckons...

Being suspicious of people who try to sell you things
This is the ultimate - every Brit is always on their guard for unwanted financial attention. Be it a crafty timeshare salesman in Magaluf, or the car credit ads on the telly - only a bona fide British person wouldn't fail to be deeply mistrustful of anyone who's job it is to sell you something complicated. The worst thing any of these employees can do is utter something along the lines of "Well, in the long run, it can save you money". This is the key part of the immigration test - any applicant who immediately turns down whatever they are offering on the basis that it's probably to good to be true, is welcome in our country.

British citizenship tests planned [BBC]

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Popular Pics 2

I wasn't kidding when I thought it might take a while to narrow down all the photos - seems like I've taken hundreds over the years. Last time I had a list of the most popular photos of mine on Flickr that other people have been looking at or searching for, but this time they are my favourites. I couldn't decide on a final eight, so you've got nine instead. First up, a chance photo of the sunset taken on board a flight from London to Edinburgh - I love the colours either side of the wing.

Next, the aptly-named Shell Beach in Tarbert, Argyll. Loch Fyne is world-famous for seafood, and the mountains of washed-up scallop shells make it look almost Mediterranean, especially in the distinctly un-Scottish sunshine. This is one of those times where you fluke something with a picture - I put the camera on my foot to get some of the shells in the foreground, and amazingly got a yacht right dead centre of the photo - I didn't even notice it was there until I checked the camera.

A long distance from Argyll - this is also called Shell Beach, and is near Monkey Mia in Western Australia. Also made from countless scallops, it stretched off in a long curve for many miles. The bus group I was with stopped for a swim because of the 35°C heat, but this proved difficult as the bay was so shallow you could walk out for twenty minutes and not get the bottom of your shorts wet. I went to take a picture of a few of the guys doing just that, when a girl who's name I can't remember ran out to snap the rest of us sitting in a line on the beach. I like this picture so much, it's the background wallpaper on my laptop - as you can see on the right of the blog there.

I don't think I'm a good photographer by any means, most of them seem to come out through sheer luck - but this was one I worked on. The only room in the Louvre with British paintings (these are by Edinburgh's own Sir Henry Raeburn), people tend to push through quickly on the way to somewhere else. I sat down on one of the benches and tried to get people in between the paintings - I think I took three or four before this woman walked past at a fair old lick, gallery map in hand, and I got her lined up just right.

The wobbly Millenium Bridge in London is one of the most photographed sites in the city - it connects the Tate Modern to St Paul's Cathedral at Blackfriars. When it was opened, 80,000 people went over it on the first day - but quickly problems with the mountings caused it to wobble, and it was closed. After an expensive refit, it re-opened and all was well. I like the line of clouds building over the dome of the Cathedral.

Scotland has some incredible scenery, and none more than the islands off the west coast. Lismore looks as flat as a piece of paper, but has a few hundred inhabitants and an important amount of wildlife. The ubiquitous blue and white CalMac ferries chug around the islands connecting everything, and I took this picture from the top of Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull, as the ferry to one of the outlying islands steams past on the way back to Oban.

I think if I had to pick a favourite of these eight, it would be this one. The monuments of Washington DC are better seen at night, as the crowds are less, and they look amazing illuminated by giant spotlights - especially the Lincoln Memorial. Made out of striking white marble, I wandered up and took a photo of Abe just as a girl decided to take a picture of herself with her mobile phone. I could get all pretentious about the light from the statue and the light from the phone - and the fact that Abe seems to be looking right at her, but I'll try not to... ;)

I'm seriously colourblind, but even I can see the greens and reds going on here. The Ganmangafuchi Abyss in Nikko features dozens of Jizou statues, to the spirits of departed children. Clothed in disctinctive red bibs and covered in moss, it's said to be impossible to count them as they mischievously move around when your back's turned, to make sure you get it wrong. They are also only found on one side of the river, as the Japanese believe they are the guardians between one life and the next.

Come on, you didn't think I could do this and not put at least one photo of Sydney in? The best view from a train station in the world - Circular Quay is on the city circle route of several CityRail lines, and is a stone's throw from the harbour. Everyone takes the bridge photo from the outside platform (or from the Cahill Expressway above, which used to be part of my walk home from work) - but if you go down one escalator and up another you can get all arty-farty and frame it like this.

Anyhow, so these are my favourite photos from my years of crazing about, excuse the pretentious post - next time I'll be back talking about pies or somethi...oohh...the top eight pies from my travels...