11.27.10 middle

Between genuine economic woes and the efforts of the coalition government to push through hasty, misguided, and largely ideological reforms, we have the rare moment of hilarity.

Like former Tory party vice-chairman and new life peer Howard Flight, personally selected for the honour by David Cameron, wading in with commentary like (paraphrasing headlines) cuts will encourage the poor to breed.

When my maniacal giggling subsided I pursued the point and found that technically he said "We're going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it's jolly expensive, but for those on benefit there is every incentive. Well, that's not very sensible."

Jolly expensive! How quaint!

Setting aside our obvious political differences, he has a point. The child benefit was income-blind precisely because it was felt that every child, regardless of background, deserved nominal support. This idea plays well to the British notion of gamesmanship. If everyone has the same base funding, same healthcare, same right to housing and schools, then it is jolly well your own fault if you fail. I say, old chap, what what?

Personally I think it is all just a fiddle. I spend more than 1,000 per year on coffee - I don't need child benefit, and I don't claim it. Other people would call that sum the difference between life and death, and they won't lose the money under the reforms. Somewhere in the middle (hence the term 'middle class') are the people who will indeed feel the pinch. And you know what will happen to them? They will claim elsewhere - they will require, and the government will provide, a program that covers services they would otherwise pay for out of that 1,000. Let me make a spooky prediction: within the next three years the number of children seeking free lunches will go up.

Not to mention the fact that right now the administration of child benefit is simple - every legal resident who asks for it gets it. With means testing, the government will need to assemble a massive bureaucratic structure of clerks, supervisors, advisors, and directors (drawing salaries and benefits) to hassle parents for proof of household income.

Of course that is one way to create jobs. Though I suspect it would be easier and cheaper to continue funding the current child benefit system.

I have a few Tory friends. One family shells out to send their "bright" child to private school, waving the other three off to the local and markedly inferior school. While, and this is the bit that amazes me, they openly discuss the bias in front of the children. I wonder if they will reflect on the wisdom of the policy a few decades from now, when those same children are making choices about elder care.

Caveat emptor and all that.

Regardless, it is nice to have an opportunity to reminisce about old projects. Ten years ago:

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11.24.10 efficiency

Slide show! This year's performance? We are going on a European Tour, circa 1978. Wishing Stella, Al, and Cypress were here to help with the narration.... Missing Christopher (RIP), my mother, Marisa, chorus friends.

After six years on a boat or scrambling around wretched borrowed kitchens I am officially thankful for my new wee little efficiency kitchen, in which all appliances function as described and required. With lavish hot water on demand. Truly amazing.

I am also thankful for the fact of my family, the pleasure of my friends, and to live in a country where everyone has access to health care.

Wishing everyone out there a happy Thanksgiving, if you are into that kind of thing.

Amen & pass the cranberries!

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11.24.10 perfect

The big day approaches - strictly family invited this year - drum roll please:

We have achieved pie. And it isn't even 2am yet!

Other fixins are stacked in the fridge preparatory for an early start. 5kg turkey? 54. And a bargain at that! Because, remember, turkey is not a November bird. . . we Americans stranded in Europe this week have to cajole out of season slaughter.

I will once again be cooking from old hand-written food-splattered instructions from Marisa's dad. Perfect! Except he didn't give directions in metric.

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11.23.10 enough

My cousin died on election day and his loss has become entwined in my mind with political mayhem.

Why? Because he was once a beautiful, brilliant baby and someone should have saved him.

Teachers and social workers must have known he was enduring horrific abuse: the bruises and scars were visible. What sort of person is so recalcitrant, such a recidivist, they spend the majority of life from age ten until thirty in jail? A criminal, obviously, but why - what caused it? This is not a trick question. The answer is simple.

Prison is better than home when home is worse than prison.

I do not mourn his death; he chose his own date of departure. Instead I mourn his life, the fact that I was too young to help him, the fact that by the time he helped himself it was too late. The fact that he lived in a country that does not care to give poor children an equal chance, or at least, save them from the worst excesses of destitution.

He could have had some approximation of freedom, if someone, anyone, had intervened. I'm not special or unique within my blood family. We were all allocated the same number of moves on the game board. The only true difference between us? I was never hit. I was protected from violence and successfully fought for an education. He had to fight, with his hands, against his own father, just to stay alive.

This is my simplistic, feral response to government budget cuts: rich people don't care, they don't know, they can't or won't feel it. Poor people are on the front lines, always, first in the queue for suffering. But we paid with toil, sweat, and blood to gain the few scraps of protection on offer in a couple of corners of this globe.

The United Kingdom is not an especially grand example of social equality, but it is good enough. Especially compared to where I grew up, good enough looks like luxury.

If he were alive you could ask my cousin and I am sure he would say he would have enjoyed niceties like electricity, water, and heart medication. The chance to go to school. The right to work.

But he is dead.

Of course he is not a symbol. He is my cousin. But he was worth saving, and I am so sad that he is gone.

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11.22.10 market

When I moved here people would ask why I left the states, and I inevitably replied Because I wanted to live in a place where everyone has equal access to medical care.

Americans understood this point, even if they did not agree with my conclusions. British people, without exception, were bewildered by not just the nuances but the core of the claim. Until the recent public debates about reform, they had some kind of fuzzy notion that a nation so rich, so wonderful, offered some provision for health care. They had heard, vaguely, about Medicare and Medicaid, and assumed those would help everyone in a tricky bit of trouble. They didn't get it that an overwhelming majority of citizens do not qualify for those programs. That most people are insufficiently insured, and that, given freedom of choice in services twinned with enormous medical bills, falter. Medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the states, not because people are profligate, but rather because they want to stay alive.

This is called a free market.

Love it, loathe it, or leave. I choose all three.

Education functions in much the same way. To offer a brief description: while each state and county differs in funding and provision of resources, the principle of choice is a significant factor everywhere. In all the places I lived, it was the choice of the parent where and how to educate children. Neighbourhood schools, open schools, magnets, charters, gifted-and-talented, performance academies, homeschooling - it was the choice of the individual family.

Individual choice remains the primary controlling principle if students decide to go to university. Admissions are handled like the Oklahoma Land Run - kids apply all at once to wherever they want to go. It is a mad frenzy, and when the dust settles, people attempt to make rational choices according to what has been offered. Often, this is about money: tuition, fees, scholarships, and loans are wildly divergent depending on your residency status, perceived excellence, and similar factors.

People shop for a deal, depending on their own idiosyncratic needs. I went to the best place I could afford to go, hoping that was where I belonged, and in that I was no different than millions of peers.

Here in the UK the education of the young is conducted in a fundamentally different way, from the youngest ages. Free public education is available, but determined by catchment area. Neighbourhood schools are as good or as bad as the neighbourhood, and people choose postcodes accordingly. The only alternative is private school, and many families choose that partly through a reckoning that tuition fees are lower than the mortgage on a house in the 'right' area.

The grammar school system is theoretically dead but children are still tested at around the plus-eleven age, and put on tracks of achievement. Secondary schools are determined by catchment, and like the primaries, the excellence of the facility matches the area. Kids are rated and specialised between eleven and sixteen, when general education ends. The next step is sixth form, where young people study a more formal but more restrictive set of speciality topics. This choice is critical, as it determines your university career. This does not equate to the US system, though you could vaguely think of sixth form as a sort of mandatory community college.

Now pay attention to this tricky part: the track of achievement you are placed on in a subject (say, maths) determines the highest possible grade you can receive. If you are put in a higher class at age thirteen you might achieve a higher grade, and apply to more selective sixth form schools. If you are in a lower class you cannot achieve the higher grade. You need both the higher grades and the sixth form to apply to the top ranked universities. Etc.

Are you following? Essentially, our imaginary child, aside from being far more obedient and scholarly than most children are inclined to be, has to hit it lucky in terms of neighbourhood, teachers, aptitude, and whatever other cosmic forces come to play in early adolescence. If you are perceived as both bright and obedient, you will be fine. Otherwise, well, too bad.

If you have done everything exactly according to the script up to age eleven, you have the opportunity to spend a couple of years drilling for standardised tests that will allow you to enter the next stage of education at sixteen, where you drill for more standardised tests.

Students who are expected to do well on these tests are given the option of applying to Oxford or Cambridge (but only one, not both). Those applications happen several months before admissions open at the other schools. This makes it especially easy for the 'best' students, because while there are not enough slots for all of them, they will at least know. If they don't get a place at Oxbridge, no worries, they still have a superior chance at the next tier of schools. An American would not call this competition, but whatever.

General admissions are handled by a single agency, UCAS. All students go through the same process at the same time, choosing their top five schools. Spots are allocated according to grades, with a few minor deviations for other criteria. If you are not accepted by one of your ranked schools, you are put in a paper bag called 'clearance,' shaken briskly, and assigned whichever institution still has open spaces. Functionally this means: the shitty schools nobody wants to go to.

From my perspective neither system is preferable, because they are both too extreme. One is too open, the other too closed. One functions like the most unpleasant sort of shopping mall, the other is rather Soviet. My own children? They are demonstrably top-tier and not at all obedient, so obviously, they do not participate in such things. It doesn't much matter. If you do not consent to play, you do not have to follow the rules.

When all UK university degrees were free or cost a low flat fee, the education system appeared rather benign. Students were students, not clients or consumers.

If you charge people for the privilege of education, then you need to acknowledge market forces. Duh!

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11.22.10 comparison

There are so many lies flying about the place it is impossible to keep track let alone swat them down. Do you know how newspaper stories are pitched, framed, commissioned? Do you understand who the Tories hired as king of spin?

Here a few facts from reasonably reliable sources:

Chronicle of Higher Education: A Comparison of Key Data About British and U.S. Higher Education

Professor Richard Drayton, Rhodes Professor of Imperial History at King's College London, explains the reality behind the cuts.

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11.21.10 ideology

I am so shocked by the reckless, destructive actions of the coalition government it is difficult to articulate exactly what is most disturbing.

Of course the cuts to arts funding and the changes in immigration policy are infuriating, but those issues have quickly been subsumed under the tidal wave caused by "reform" of the education system.

We don't know what precisely will happen, but do not be confused. This is not about money. This is about ideology.

On a very basic level the government has decided that it cannot afford to fully support the number of people currently enrolled in continuing education. In the UK that means anyone over the age of sixteen, since A levels (the nominal equivalent of American high school) are not required by law.

Currently, low income students pursuing A levels are given a grant of 30 per week to help with transportation and other costs of attending school. While that might sound generous, the rate barely covers a bus pass let alone books - and the amount is in fact a critical factor for not only lower class kids but a large number of the middle class kids I know. Life in the UK is expensive. Taking that money away is, to me, the most reprehensible of all the new policies - actually cruel.

Beyond those kids, not yet admitted to university, we have the scores of talented youth who already made it through, earned their grades, achieved placement.

Around six years ago the government started charging a "top-up" fee of about 3,000 per year for higher education, regardless of which school you attend. I'm not sure what the rationale was, as I did not live here during that debate. This figure did cause some furore, but was widely perceived to be, well, fair enough. Even those families that did not manage to save for education can afford the fee, and young people can work to cover the difference.

Now the government proposes to raise that fee to 9,000 per student per year. While cutting education budgets by up to 40%.

There has been some backchat about 'tiered' funding schemes, making the higher earning graduates pay higher rates than peers earning less. Ignoring everything known or observed about human nature, how does this policy in any way benefit society as a whole? We could phrase it differently - offering scholarships to those entering certain protected fields and serving for specific times (nursing, teaching, social work, other helping professions, etc. would seem appropriate for such a scheme). But no. We'll just make a vague and unenforceable statement, and watch our aspirational grads flee to other countries with their skills!

Other tremendously cynical aspects of the proposal include a clause stating that if you attempt to pay off your student loans early you face a disproportionally stiff penalty fee. So, even if you work hard and try to get out from under usurious debt - or inherit money, or whatever - you are essentially forced under duress to continue servicing a high interest rate loan held by your very own elected government.

Huh. Interesting. Call me picky, but I've bought and sold several houses, and I would never accept a mortgage with an early pay penalty. The terms are not amenable.

But back to the core of the issue: 9,000 might be a fair amount of money to pay for, say, Oxford or Cambridge, especially since those institutions will not be effected by the budget cuts. They have private endowments, and a world-class reputation.

At a stretch you could almost believe the same about Leeds, Queen Mary, a handful of others. But could you say that for, oh, Anglia Ruskin? Countless institutions that provide a decent and honourable education to worthy students? Calculating the tuition fee increase matched with budget cuts? In a word: no.

Regardless of what the politicians claim, they are rolling back several decades of reform to re-instate the old preference system. In fact, they might as well be honest; it would save so much time and outrage.

Bring back the grammar schools! Restore the polytechnics! Rid the world of secondary moderns! Deny equal access to education! Allocate education strictly based on merit!

Seriously.

If the problem is that the government cannot afford to fund the system (which is a specious claim, but whatever) then make that the policy.

Twenty or thirty years of expanding the higher education system, leading youngsters to believe university is important or 'necessary,' raising a generation or two to believe that they not only can but must achieve a degree or several? Then displacing the cost of said education, without even allowing the individuals to negotiate fair repayment?

If this were a credit card scheme, you know what words we would use to describe it? Scam. Swindle.

Scandal.

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11.20.10 infatuated

There are many aspects of this new London life that I like, but I am absolutely infatuated with the British Film Institute.

The film premieres, retrospectives, special events, and extensive archives provide incalculable delights. Iain has wondered if I actually live in a cupboard under Southbank, since I'm there so often.

If only.

My favourite aspect of the current Boom Britain series is the fact that so many of the directors, composers, and other players are on hand to introduce the work. Controversies forgotten decades ago seethe through the auditorium - this is living history. This is electric, amazing.

A few thoughts from the festival:

"No film can be too personal." -Lindsay Anderson

"Free Cinema is just a name." -Walter Lassaly

"Be careful of directors who espouse good causes." -John Krish

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11.19.10 defeated

I've been here six years, and I'm now officially British, yet I still cook with a melange of US and UK recipes and measuring apparatus. With no discernible skill, aptitude, or understanding of the metric system.

Cause I like to keep things lively?

The more likely answer is that I just don't care; I've never aspired to any level of domestic excellence. Except perhaps in terms of the equipment, but in that I am adamantly opposed to conspicuous consumption. My kingdom for a logo free mixing bowl!

Tonight is the first Anti-Domestic Dinner Party, featuring guests who are either vegan or gluten free. I am not yet defeated (or even tempted to serve raw garlic and a handful of beans).

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11.18.10 reparations

I became a parent before I was officially an adult, and have devoted the better part of twenty years to that project, in fundamental and fierce ways.

It took ruthless and heartbreaking commitment to launch this family on our grand international adventure.

Of course I suffer from the classic complaint of immigrant intolerance, and have a tendency to ask my eye-rolling offspring if they understand how good their lives are, compared to mine at the same age.

Yeah, whatever, cancer cancer poverty poverty blah-blah!

However, I remain exquisitely sensitive to certain social crimes. In my opinion, the Cambridge years were utter shit, and while I do not retain sole responsibility I do think reparations are necessary.

Translation: we all deserve loads of wholesome treats!

Tonight that means a Harry Potter Pizza Party. Though I'm not sure how much of the series I will be able to stay awake for. . . at least we will have fun hanging out together.

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11.17.10 selective

Uh. Britain. Are you serious about these new immigration policies? Really?

When I moved here six years ago my visa was issued on the merits of a spouse who had to prove that nobody in the United Kingdom could do his job. The visa allowed all four of us to remain for five years, during which time we had no recourse to public funds, although we were obligated to pay local and national tax.

The critical factor that made the United Kingdom more desirable than other countries was the fact that we could enter with a minimum of fuss, enrol the children in school, access health services. We also determined that the UK had a reasonable, transparent immigration process that would allow us to apply for permanent residency contingent on maintaining a clean record.

Why is this important? Well, think about it. If you were a highly educated, well-paid professional, would you leave behind your friends, family, house, investments, pension, life, without the option of permanent residency?

I wouldn't.

I didn't need to leave my homeland. I'm not a refugee, nor are any of my immigrant friends. We all came here seeking opportunity, but we could have found it anywhere. We are migratory by choice, not chance. Most of us want to find a place to settle - but we are making rational and deliberate choices using economic and social criteria. We can afford to be picky.

Companies (and universities) in the US offer better wages and the country has lower taxes, but higher risk in the form of a bad medical system and poor public infrastructure. Nations like Germany and Sweden have excellent benefits and stability, but low innovation.

What does the UK offer? Until the recent election I would have said: a rational if shambolic approach to public policy. The cost of living is high, but social benefits are adequate. In all relevant categories the UK is good enough, like a bright but underachieving student.

But all of this becomes irrelevant if the visa system becomes more restrictive. Who exactly would bother to come?

Not me, and while you might not miss my sarcastic self, you might miss my brilliant children and their tendency to ace standardised tests. Or my one true love and his world-class reputation as a research scientist.

Idealistic politicians and cranky nativists might think that limiting immigration is a smart choice. But nobody in the business community agrees. The United Kingdom simply does not have sufficient local talent to fill the highest, most selective jobs - no matter how much you might wish otherwise.

Oh, and by the way? The education cuts will not help the situation.

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11.16.10 hypocrisy

I do not claim allegiance with any political party because I find them all equally - and therefore repugnantly - flexible.

Call me naive but I expect politicians to stick with their own stated platforms. The Lib-Dems were elected in large part on a pledge to reduce or eliminate tuition fees. Now they have not only retreated from that promise, they are the critical factor in approving the massive fee increase.

So, basically, Lib-Dems are liars.

Good to know.

Six years in Cambridge should have rendered me immune, but no. I am still allergic to posh hypocrisy. Other flavours are, however, fine.

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11.15.10 scared

Earlier this week I was doing an interview and was stumped by the question "What is something your readers do not know about you?"

Um.

Is there anything at all? I work in a confessional genre, I have published stories covering all manner of taboo, I am by nature and training an exhibitionist. I am notoriously prone to saying the most extreme and alarming thing that crosses my mind, whether at the dinner table or live on the radio.

I would happily show you my transvaginal ultrasound photographs, if you are interested!

Xtina shared a flat with me for awhile recently and she suggested I think you should've told em that you are easily scared by people totally predictably coming out of bedrooms.

This is true! I'm also scared by ringing telephones, and sometimes, lettuce.

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11.14.10 debauchery

Economic indicator: Taxes & surcharges on a single roundtrip ticket to the states? 254.90.

That, my friend, is more than the ticket itself. Business people don't care, but a family? It can hurt. However, for the first time ever, I am immune to this pain by virtue of my income bracket.

That is of course the problem - our elected leaders and most of our unelected loudmouths have never experienced deprivation. They do not understand what it feels like to make choices from a paltry and restricted menu. They do not know what it feels like to do without - not by choice - but rather by necessity.

If you have the cash to pay, it is difficult to appreciate what it really feels like if you cannot afford birth control, medical care, education, healthy food, or a host of other necessary daily requirements.

I know. I remember. And every ounce of glee I feel about my hard-won freedom is tempered by rage over current policies that disproportionately penalise and hurt the lower and middle classes. While, don't forget, rewarding corporations for malfeasance.

Though of course my own political ideology allows plenty of room for debauchery. For instance, today I went out to buy a sensible new wallet, but came home with an Alexander McQueen. Hmm.

Guess I'm just doing my bit to stimulate the economy.

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11.13.10 rusty

Nobody talked to me in Cambridge. Ever. London? Chat city! My "rusty to nonexistent" skills are grinding with the effort. Plus, I keep running into people I know. How strange.

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11.11.10 slogans

Predictably, and with little press attention, benefits to veterans and war widows are on the chopping block.

If a country chooses to fight a war, they must pay for the consequences. Veterans, military families, and the bereaved deserve support, not slogans.

To quote Harry Patch: if any man tells you he went over the top and he wasn't scared, he's a damn liar.

Happy Armistice Day.

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11.9.10 notice

With stunning efficiency, the authorities just noticed I pulled my kid out of school. Two years ago. In a different county.

Since I followed the correct procedures, this means that it took the council exactly that amount of time to process the paperwork. Amusing for me, as my family does not require support or intervention. Not especially thrilling for the people who might need help - namely the kids who drop out of school for significant financial or social reasons.

But who am I to judge? I have travelled far from my impoverished youth. I was once the disenfranchised sick kid who had to threaten federal lawsuits to gain access to basic education. I was once the idealistic little bureaucrat who facilitated independent living programs that helped people move from welfare to work. But now? I associate with the elite and refined upper classes. I work on whatever I like. My daughter attends a top university. My son is privately tutored, takes tennis lessons in Regent's Park.

We're not supposed to notice the gaps in services that allow poor and sick kids to falter, fail.

Well, fuck that.

The coalition government came to power through a back-room deal. They do not possess a popular mandate, but that will not stop them from pursuing ideological goals grouped loosely under the rubric of Big Society.

Golly, whatever could that mean? Basically, it is just a pretty way of saying kill the poor.

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11.8.10 wonderful

I just bought 47 tickets for the next three weeks of shows at the British Film Institute.

Which is, of course, a short bus ride or medium walk from my new home.

Every day in London is wonderful, but today included coffee, canals, cookies, fixing stuff broken too long, ring shopping, and It Happened One Night on the big screen.

Could I say again - I am so glad I chose to move here?

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11.7.10 venal

My household has for the last twenty or so years been funded by high-tech dollars. I dwell more on the entertainment side, my sweetheart more on the infrastructure side, but we are both hardened veterans of the industry. We are also, like most of our colleagues, immigrants.

Now I read that Cameron wants to take credit for an industry that grew up organically around people like me, while restricting immigration of people like me.

Does that make any sense whatsoever?

No.

Tories: venal or stupid? Discuss.

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11.6.10 devotion

Bonfire Night: the first time since moving to the UK that I do not need to move & guard my boat on the holiday!

I would say I miss her, but she sends postcards.

Instead of festivities and fireworks I found myself consulting the internet for guidance on subjects such as best or favourite emergency room then whisking my charming companion away for a night of frolics in the A&E.

I selected whatever they call the Hampstead facility as potentially the most posh (and therefore responsive to sensitive mathematicians) and my hunch was right. Although I was surrounded by people who had been beaten, and the fellow next to me was shackled, and the walls were splattered with blood, it was really quite nice, for a hospital.

The best part? The person at the counter asks for your name and birthday. Nothing else. No insurance, no proof of residency, no credit card details. . .

In my early life I would have done anything, anything, to avoid the emergency room. Why? It cost too much. This policy nearly killed me more than once, and I still feel traumatised by the expense of my last stateside visit (examination, tests, emergency surgery, $35,000).

I heart the NHS, and I am willing to pay extraordinarily high taxes to prove my devotion.

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11.5.10 appropriate

Now that I own a table, I can throw dinner parties! Though the guest list is strictly limited by the number of chairs. And forks.

In other news, I surfaced from unpacking only long enough to take note of the fact that Stephen Fry claims women do not like sex. Or to be more specific, that they do not typically engage in cottaging. Translation: picking up strangers for anonymous encounters, often conducted in shrubbery or (historically) public restrooms.

Commentary and ridicule have been widespread, so I will only make the observation that women, in my experience, need not bother. We can afford to be picky, and I for one am allergic to shrubbery. However, I could walk out my front door and find a date without any effort - and the selected recipient of my charms would do whatever I liked, on any terms.

Personally I enjoy Mr. Fry most in Jeeves & Wooster mode, but if he is ever inclined to explore the truth of female sexuality I would be happy to take him on a guided tour. We could hook up with Ana Erotica for another Hunt for Bad Boys and Lumberjacks . . . hilarious fun, though probably not appropriate for the family audiences of his television shows.

Oh, and speaking of boys willing to do most anything to woo me, check it out: Dr. Byron Cook, Geek of the Week.

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11.1.10 opportunity

The other day I had a painter in the flat to work on the windowsills and when I offered a cup of tea we started chatting. After a few minutes this very nice fellow - a lifelong resident of Hackney - asked why I moved to England.

I offered the true and short reason: I came here because I wanted to live in a more equal society, where everyone has access to health care, education, and housing.

He looked puzzled and asked "But don't you miss your mum?"

The answer is yes; I miss my mother, cousins, friends, so much that the homesickness is a visceral pain at the centre of my body. But I believe that my reasons for emigrating are more important than the temptation to return.

Like most immigrants, regardless of status or background, I came to this country seeking opportunity. I wanted to improve the material circumstances of my family, raise and educate my children, create a safe and stable new home where we could prosper.

The first Americans in my family only arrived there about eighty years before I left, and they, like me, were economic immigrants.

They had simple needs: they wanted food, land, the opportunity to work hard and enjoy the products of that labour without interference. They raised a couple of generations of kids with no expectations except that we would take care of each other, and stay in the dark little town they hacked out of the forests of the Kitsap Peninsula.

My family, as far back as you can trace the story, is working class. Rugged individualist. Atheist. Nothing is against the rules, because there is no external authority, no higher power, be that god or government. You can get a job or you can drink yourself to death in a ravine; the choice is strictly up to you.

If I had been healthy I would have remained in that family and that place. I belong in that landscape, I share all of those beliefs. But I was born sick and got sicker, in a place and time that did not offer succour to poor children with cancer. My mother worked at the shipyard, my father pumped gas, and no matter how many hours they put in they never got ahead, because every cent went to the doctors who saved my life.

I was left alone with the pain and and I started to read, indiscriminately, anything I could get my hands on. The America of de Tocqueville, the West of Elmore Leonard: liberty, equality, fantasy, and lots of guns. Political theory, social history, novels, whatever. I memorised poetry for no discernible purpose, because the characters in the books I loved were forced to for school: By the rude bridge that arched the flood / Their flag to April's breeze unfurled / Here once the embattled farmers stood/ And fired the shot heard round the world.

What else was I supposed to do? My cousins and neighbours were riding dirt bikes, stealing shit, and going to jail. I wasn't healthy enough to play.

I did try, conceiving an idiotic teenage marriage with a boy who carried a 9mm semi-automatic handgun everywhere (even ice skating). But the mastery of the illness was inescapable; when the so-called husband joined the military I was not allowed to follow him. I had a note from my doctor.

If you are right-handed and lose the use of that appendage for more than a decade it is rather difficult to take up a career of manual labour. Cutting brush? Job on the line at a local factory? Cashier at the gas station? Work on the ferries? Not for me. I wasn't qualified.

The only option left (given that I would never apply for nor accept charity, even if it had been available) was school.

If anyone in the family was proud of the fact that I was the first to go to university, they didn't mention it at the time. I didn't understand, but perhaps my grandmother knew - education, more than marriage or incarceration or death, was the single factor that could remove me from the cradle of their care.

The day I left home for college was the day I forfeited my birthright, and it has taken twenty years to acknowledge the truth. I can physically go back, but I will never have a home. This was not a choice, it was a consequence; in the schematic of my homeland, I had to go forward just to stay alive.

My great-grandparents abandoned Europe for an unknown future, doing whatever was necessary to stake out an American dream. They did it for freedom, land, solitude.

I followed their example, in reverse, dragging my children back to Europe. Because I could not survive using only my broken hands. Because I want to live in a place where sick kids get medicine, elderly people have shelter, everyone has equal access to education. Because I aspire for more: the right to choose where and how I work, who and what I love, deliberately and conscientiously. Not out of desperation or need.

In the end the details do not matter. The immigrant dream is the same the world over, throughout time. We all want opportunity. We all want more.

It is just too bad I chose a country so determined to insult and betray the people who bring labour, intellect, wealth. The proposed immigration policies of the coalition government are disastrous no matter how you look at it, not least to business and education - two sectors that offer legitimate hopes for a faltering economy.

I am a brand new British citizen and I am both enraged and ashamed.

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