‘This is not about whether Mrs Merkel stays as chancellor next week or not,’ said Xavier Bettel, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, as he came out of an emergency summit on immigration last weekend. He was joking. That was exactly what the meeting had been about, and everybody there knew it. The summit was Operation Save Mutti. Their mission: to stop Merkel’s government collapsing by thrashing out a tough stance on immigration to assuage her critics.
What kind of a president would build a wall to keep out families dreaming of a better life? It’s a question that has been asked world over, especially after the outrage last week over migrant children at the American border. Donald Trump’s argument, one which his supporters agree with, is that the need to split parents from children at the border strengthens his case for a hardline immigration policy.
Americans traumatised by their current president could be forgiven for thinking that his demand for a ‘space force’ was about protecting the country from aliens. Aliens, that is, of extraterrestrial persuasion, not the ones currently hurling themselves against the southern border. What, really, is implausible these days? As baseball savant Yogi Berra said when told that a Jewish woman had been elected mayor of Dublin: ‘Only in America.
There is an au pair drought in the UK. Since the 2016 Referendum there has been a 75 per cent drop in applications by foreign girls to work for UK families. Agencies testify that they can’t find girls for their clients, who must turn to other forms of childcare beyond the rare girl keen to ‘learn English’, grandparents, if they can be dragged out of restaurants, and baby-sitting apps like Bambino, Bubble and UrbanSitter.
I have never been an adventurous soul. As an infant in Belfast, I would lie motionless for hours on the kitchen table of our family home, devoid of any curiosity to wander. On one occasion an anxious neighbour, having spied my immobile pose through a window, knocked on the front door to express her concern. ‘Don’t worry. He’s often like that. He won’t be moving anywhere,’ replied my mother.
I have carried that inertia into adulthood, reflected in my profound dislike of travel.
In 1930, Jules Rimet, the creator of the Football World Cup, crossed the Atlantic in a steamship to attend the inaugural competition in Uruguay. In his bag he carried a small trophy, the World Cup; in his heart he carried the belief that the World Cup could unite nations and smooth nationalism. ‘Men will be able to meet in confidence without hatred in their hearts and without an insult on their lips,’ he declared.
A friend of mine who commissions book reviews has added a sub-category to the list of titles coming up: ‘femtrend’, books about the female condition from a feminist perspective. ‘Grit lit is over,’ she says wearily, referring to edgy books about the marginalised. ‘Now publishers can’t get enough of the feminist trend about women who for centuries have been airbrushed out of history by toxic masculinity and oppressive patriarchy.