Love thy neighbour

Dust settles after the Brexit weekend. Here in Sing, with the online explosion of the divorce as backdrop, we’ve had another couple of days of saying goodbye to the exiters (Australian, English, Chilean-Indonesian, Norwegian, Swedish, American). Jonah just had an end-of-term Scout party at a climb wall (English, European, Scottish, Other). I spent a while on the phone today talking to several people (Singaporean) to sort out this and that. Saw my doc (Singaporean). Chatted to the neighbour (French). Mr PC had lots of business meetings (Singaporean, English, Australian). Then Dad (Cornish) emailed as did my sister (Cornish-London).

Arriving at work this morning I found our office neighbour, a girl (French) from the company next door, locked out. I invited her to come and wait in our meeting room and she accepted, happy to sit down and start work. Then another one turned up (also French). Then a third one (French again). After some quiet chatting and bit of keyboard clicking, someone with a key arrived and off they went, with a grateful ‘merci’. A nice little vignette to start the day. Before Thursday 23 June this would have been nothing more than that – a happy episode – but instead it made me feel like a superhero, single-handedly propping up European relations and bringing the EU back together, soldering continents right there in our little office in central Singapore. Quite – simply ridiculous, as is the whole race-relation fiasco kicking off back home, brought about by a Referendum campaign that was supposed to have nothing to do with throwing actual people out of the actual country. Mr PC talks of his own Anglo-Chinese background, and how that felt living in Newcastle in the late 70s, early 80s. Nasty scenes that he doesn’t talk about much, and why would he want to? Are we going back in time?

Out here in Sing, rumblings of racial tension are muted but they exist. I’ve had first-hand experience perhaps three times in four years, not much, but enough to give me an idea of the horror and isolation that it engenders. In terms of the EU split, out here we are removed from the noise and the cut and thrust. I can’t attend remain rallies at Trafalgar Square or hang posters from my railings, I can only add my name to petitions, but I can do something at grass roots level. The boy that lives in our back bedroom – teetering on the brink of adolescence – is these days mostly sulky-with-headphones, but we still have about a six- to twelve-month opening before the teen door slams completely shut, through which we are allowed now and then access to his still spongy brain, to leave gentle reminders of social conduct. He attends an international school where the ethos is, of course, that everyone samples from the same smorgasbord, and although the school itself would admit that one size definitely doesn’t fit all, attempting to live and abide by shared cultural expectations is something that the kids have to navigate every day.

These days that’s not such an unusual thing to find in any big city school the world over, especially in London, my home county and one of the few that voted Remain. You only have to take a poll at most of my friends’ kids’ schools to see that these places are more international than the biggest international schools out here – and most of the children sharing the halls in those big inner-city London schools would call themselves British.

Today is the last day of the school year. In August it’s Y7 – homework tightens up a notch, there are lockers, more new kids, gaps where the leavers have left, a new building to get to know, a load more after-school activities to choose, a touch more sport, a lot more freedom (bus pass and WhatsApp phone? Check). And off he goes, one year closer to adulthood. If he grows up to be the sort of person that will make cups of tea for someone who is locked out, wherever they’re from, then our work is done.

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