In the tenth Mac Maguire mystery Mac goes to Cyprus. It’s been a hard winter and Mac’s back has been playing him up so his daughter Bridget has little problem in persuading him that he should go somewhere warm on holiday. Of course as soon as he arrives on the island something happens and the story kicks off!
I was in Larnaka, Cyprus for three weeks last year and spent over half the vacation wandering the streets looking for locations and trying to generate some ideas for a plot. I returned with the outline of a story in my head as well as a good visualisation for, at least, some of the settings. However, one evening towards the end of our stay, we were sitting outside a restaurant when it started raining. Of course we all rushed indoors and sat down next to a couple who were speaking Greek. She turned to us, smiled and made a comment about the English and rain in perfect English. Of course, the reason she spoke perfect English was because she was English, being born and brought up in the East Midlands.
My wife and I were curious and asked her what it was like for her coming back ‘home’ to Larnaka. She admitted that her family in Cyprus saw her as being totally English but that was okay as she felt more English than Cypriot anyway. We told her that, like her, we were born in England but our parents were from Ireland. I explained that Irish people, on hearing our accents, dismissed us as being English while, by upbringing and inclination, we felt more Irish and so we felt that we were stuck in the middle somewhere. She got this right away and it was as if we really understood each other which I found strange at the time.
However, after giving it some thought, I realised that it must be a situation that affects all people who leave their country to work somewhere else. Once they leave it is as though they, and their children, are seen as being ‘tainted’ by the country they now live in and so they are seen as no longer being fully Irish or Cypriot or Chinese or African by the people who stayed behind. I find this a bit rich as it was generally the case that it was the people who left who were at least partly responsible for keeping their country’s economy afloat for those who stayed. In the fifties and sixties Ireland was a dirt poor country and ‘money from England (or America)’ is how many families survived.
This chance conversation started me thinking and led to the creation of one of the main characters in the book. I won’t say who as I don’t want to put out any spoilers. However, as it’s currently front and centre in the news, it also got me thinking about immigration and immigrants. ‘Economic migrants’, AKA people who want a better life for themselves and their children, are looked down upon these days as though they are a lower form of life yet that’s exactly what my parents were. They came to England and helped to rebuild the country after the Second World War and their children have also contributed to the UK economy throughout their lives. It’s hardly a new phenomena, since mankind left Africa thousands of years ago people have been doing just that, moving around the world looking to improve their lot.
I read recently that many people in the Western world are now ‘afraid of immigration’ which I also find quite rich as they all came from somewhere else originally. Look at a phone book in the USA or Canada or Australia and you’ll see names from all over the world there. Even ‘England’, the Land of the Angles, has had waves of immigrants over the centuries – Norsemen, Normans, Huguenots, Dutch, Germans, Jews and more recently the Irish, Caribbeans, Indians and Pakistanis – however, it must be remembered that the Angles were immigrants themselves having travelled across the North Sea from mainland Europe. We are all immigrants it seems if you go back far enough.
To me it seems as though we are hurtling backwards in time to a darker place and Dickens’ observation in a Christmas Carol is even more pertinent than ever, especially on seeing the photos of children who have died in an attempt to get across the USA’s southern border or the Mediterranean for a better life in Europe –
“Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”
(Thanks to Candor for the great CC photo)