by Robert Ferguson
I woke Georgina as usual with the bowl of milky coffee to which she had become addicted on our Paris honeymoon. She seldom spoke until she had finished it, being a long, deep sleeper once she had vigorously ensured my comfort for the night, and hers. “Aaaah,” she said, or I expect that’s what it was. That is certainly what she usually grunted, as she swung her long dark legs from beneath the duvet and walked, otherwise silently, in her beautiful West African sway, to the bathroom.
Georgina had been a baby of the Mediterranean, one of the last few shipments of illegal immigrants dumped off the Sussex coast by people-traffickers in 2023 at the end of a journey from Ghana across the Sahara, then, after another swim and incarceration in France, across the Channel. Someone, not her mother or father, had put an arm around the drowning baby as he swam the last mile from the massively over-crowded rubber boat which had left France in the dark and fog of the night before. Both of them made it to the English coast, gasping and exhausted, though Georgina’s parents didn’t; and her saviour handed over Georgina to the volunteers gathered there to welcome these poor scraps, and disappeared to make his own way in our world. Every day, I prayed that he had settled safely and comfortably here, and gave thanks for his humanity, which had given me my life’s love. At least he would be secure now from the brutish Immigration Centres and anti-immigrant prejudices which had still been part of the insularity of British life when he and Georgina landed.
Georgina wasn’t her given name, of course. That was something Muslim and unpronounceable without long practice, and she had accepted equably the name she’d been given by the charity which bailed her out of the hands of Social Services, and found her a couple of adoptive parents in South London, where she went to school. Arthur and Anne were lovely, loving people who brought up Georgina as their own, lent her the example of their straightforward honesty, quick London wits, and loads of common sense, and sent her off to a very good University from which she rushed home to them every vacation, and to the holiday job and colleague-friends whom she’d enjoyed ever since she’d walked in as soon as she legally could to ask for work. Now she was a senior editor at a very well-established publisher in Bloomsbury, and set to make Partner in a few more years.
London, indeed most of the UK and the world, is a very different place now from what it was when Georgina arrived. The rate of building new blocks has slowed down, and the rate of repairs and maintenance of existing buildings has increased. Most faces are so much more relaxed and friendly these days, in their rainbow hues. People greet each other again with a word as well as a smile, and feel safe outside their own front door. There are more trams, all with wide, low doors for easier access, and far fewer personal cars; and all of them are electric-powered, so getting around the cities is quicker, cleaner and easier. The experiments with driverless cars didn’t last long. They were either too slow when caught up in convoys, or bumped too often, though many safety features were spun off them onto the new generation of vehicles.
But the great thing is the integration of attitudes. Before the early 2020’s, the British seemed to have forgotten that we are a nation of immigrant refugees, from as far back as history extends. Celts, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Dutch, Germans, Russians and Poles, Irish, Jews from all over the place, South Asians of a variety of races, Arabs and Mongols when the Middle East exploded at the end of the last century, and Africans from the Caribbean or direct from Africa, as Georgina is. And of course there have been plenty of British emigrants to the ancient British Commonwealth countries, first to Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and then, with their booming economic strength, to India and China, and the city-states of Hong Kong, Singapore and the Gulf. And, given time, all have become integrated into their new home’s society; and that has both caused and been helped by the integration of the individual nation-states that used to make such a fuss about being so special and independent of all the others.
Once that silly Brexit business had been reversed in 2019, people seemed to come to their senses. It had become clear, even to the most entrenched Little Englanders, that, at the best, it would take several years to set up the details of trading agreements across the globe which would be as favourable as conditions within the old European Union. In the meantime, there would be years of rapid decline in the UK economy from which it would take even more years to recover. The outcry for a second referendum had been deafening, and successful, and we had pulled back from the brink into the arms of the Europeans, with a whole lot of back-covering and face-saving which fooled nobody.
The politicians who had so nearly taken us to disaster were thrown out at the next opportunity, and the other lot tried; but, however well-meaning, they made their usual economic mess through not daring to increase their income while not daring not to try to fulfil their promises. And, of course, “cometh the time, cometh the person”, eventually. Gradually, the New Realists were able to persuade more and more people that we couldn’t have a tip-top health service and fair pensions on a basic income tax of 20%. In whole numbers, 10 or 15, let alone 20, into 1 doesn’t go adequately, and never did. Once they got into government, things started very gradually to improve, step by tiny step, which meant that, although times were a little harder for a few years, very few people noticed what was diverted from their pay before they saw it. Everyone enjoyed the improved security of knowing they’d have a decent basic income, be seen and treated by the medical services in hours rather than days or weeks, and would be looked after in their old age.
Beyond the English Channel and North Sea, things improved too in the 2020’s. With Britain back on board the European Union, its economy not much harmed and its military forces strengthening, the Union’s influence increased as a counter-balance to the United States, Russia and China. Then, after Washington had successfully faced down a little nation, and the world narrowly avoided total disaster when they tried the same game on one of the big ones, it became obviously in everyone’s interest to build up the United Nations, root out the time-servers there, and make it do what it was intended to do. Gradually again, the power-struggles of the Middle East were quelled, human rights violations were met head-on with firm international action, and, with spreading globalisation and education and the passage of time, Islam became more and more widely understood as an Abrahamic faith to be respected, like Christianity, with the effect of reducing the Muslim fear of domination under the yokes of other religions.
That showed here quite quickly, especially as the number of practicing Christians continued to decline, and more and more people stopped pretending to uphold what they had no intention of using except at Christmas and their funeral. The churches that did remain contributed by actively inviting local Muslims and Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists, to come and explain their religions to them, and so build up both understanding and active friendships; and, of course gradually again, integration increased. It became safe for strangers to visit mosques and gurdwaras and temples, and to wander among the wonderful spicy smells of Asian shops and cafes.
Now, the streets are sunny, even in the rain, and the inconsistencies of income have been evened out to a tolerable extent. Women are still admired but no longer abused, and are seldom embarrassed in public places where anyone forgetting their manners is soon reminded, gently but firmly, not to be so selfish or old-fashioned. Rough sleeping still occurs, but the modern psychiatric social services centres have welcomed most of those whom medical science and trained volunteer mentors can help; and the few men and women whose need for total independence and freedom is overwhelming are tolerated and ensured three meals a day from mobile vans, rural and urban, if they’ll take them.
So – who would have believed it? – here we are, according to my Mum and Dad and the majority of their friends of similar age, in a better world than the one in which they grew up and struggled through the difficulties of their youth. But then, as Georgina always points out to me when I get pessimistic, history has a pendulum, so that nothing is totally terrible for ever. Just hang in there, ‘cos it’ll take a turn for the better in its own good time.