Monday 4th August, morning, summer camp in Dorset.
Daughter: Dieciocho! (Eighteen)
Son: Diecinueve! (Nineteen)
Blonde Girl: Can we count in English, please?
Black-haired Girl: Yes, can we count in English? It’s getting very confusing.
Middle-aged Couple: Yes, English, English!
The counting began again and when it to got to Son and Daughter…
Blonde Girl: English, please!
Black-haired Girl: Yes, English!
Middle-aged Couple: English, English!
So, one more time the counting began and this time both Son and Daughter complied with the request (or order, whichever way you want to look at it).
As for me, I stood there, mouth open and ears refusing to believe what had just happened. What should have been an innocent activity had turned out to be an ugly display of linguistic intolerance. Counting was done for a purpose. To make sure that we had the right numbers in the camp and that no one was missing. After all, there were children whose parents were not present and we all had to watch over them. During counting some adults used Roman numbers, whereas others used German or French. But it was supposed to be fun. So, where had this prejudice come from?
Suddenly, out of the corner of my right eye I saw a shadow moving furtively around the circle we had formed earlier. He (for it was a man) was crouching behind the crowd of campers, drifting stealthily from one side of the circle to the other. What was strange about this scenario was that none of the other people seemed to have noticed the intruder.
Little Englander had made a chameo appearance at summer camp. And at least for me it was a most unnecessary and distasteful one.
A brief explanation must be given now. Little Englander is a creature that dwells in the realm of Middle England. Its natural habitat is the suburbs of big metropolis like London, Manchester and Cardiff and the British countryside. Little Englander (usually male, although women can be found in its ranks, too) stands for everything modern Britain wants to move away from. His anti-multiculturalism, jingoistic attitude and xenophobic points of view should make Little Englander a figure of mockery and parody in this time and age. However, he is still alive, very well alive and kicking. And the fact is that he has not changed much throughout the years.
Little Englander usually reads The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, loathes the BBC, detests leftwing, sandal-wearing and muesli-eating people who read The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent and cannot withstand difference, especially linguistic ones. He is pro-royal, pro-hunting and anti-establishment (in the broadest sense of the word, as in opposed to whoever is in government and doesn’t follow his politics). Little Englander is by nature, rightwing and bigoted. Above all, Little Englander hates foreigners, unless they are the type who parade around the West End in London, as they all go back home after their stay in the British capital. Other than those, Little Englander has little patience for those of us who have relocated to this country and have become law-abiding citizens who have enriched the social make-up of Great Britain.
So, the issue for me was, what was this unwelcome character doing here at summer camp? After all, this was a week-long event coordinated by a local group that swears by a greener and fairer world as was shown a couple of years ago when they took part in a huge Peace Summer Camp in Essex. One of the lines of the various creeds they have states that they have the intention of ‘spanning the world with friendship’, which is a huge claim, however, for the last five years I have seen them acting on that pledge. So, why was this insignificant, throw-back-to-another-era, pathetic excuse of a human being allowed to come into our camp and roam around unchallenged? Especially when Black-haired Girl had just told me a few weeks before that she had done her work experience with Johann Hari, the maverick columnist at the Independent who had put her in touch with Tony Benn, of who she was a fan? Well, what would she have made of Tony’s opinion on war and militarism: ‘"if we are serious about wanting peace we have got to eliminate the causes of war, and to do that we shall have to study our history a bit more carefully". And our culture, I should add. And language, like it or not, is part of that culture.
Afterwards, both Son and Daughter’s faces said it all. They felt defeated. They could not understand what had happened. I had to tell them both later that nobody, NOBODY had any authority to tell them not to speak in their language, because Spanish is their language, too. It’s part of their social and cultural make-up. It’s part of their half Cubanness.
However I could not help feeling that Little Englander had scored a precious goal. So, it was game on boy, and you know what, I‘m coming for you!
Little Englander 1 – Living in a Bilingual World 0
(To be continued)