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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Immigrant Song

This is the story of an immigrant.

He was born in Beirut, while the Lebanon was being bombarded by the Kreigsmarine. He spent his early years sleeping through the worst of it - once, one of his uncles suggested that he was either deaf or broken, as he managed to sleep through a building four doors down being shelled. As a child he spent a lot of time around the American embassy, even getting a Saturday job there, which let him see the films put on for the staff. It's here that his love affair with the staples of Western civilization began.

Throughout his teenage years he was something of a tearaway, despite being taught by rather brutal French nuns - if he misbehaved too much or spoke Arabic around them, he was forced to kneel on walnuts and recite the Lord's French. His father was dramatically older than his mother, a gap of attitude and sympathy as much as age, and died naturally of old age. At the time of his father's death, he was 12 - he became the man of the house, and left school to find gainful employment.

Throguhout the years he held down a great many jobs, a lot of them focused around driving and moving. He worked engineering in Saudi Arabia, famously a dry country, and managed to smuggle booze into the oil pipelines that he spent most of his work time constructing. As handy with a gun as he was a car, he got into several scrapes - though he always found a way to sneak off down to to Damascus once every so often to enjoy life with his friends and relatives.

Soon, though, the military air of the country became stifling. People were being herded off buses depending on their faith and were often not seen again, and tanks were parked on street corners. He left, as many other Lebanese folk did - the Lebanese Diaspora is a thing - and travelled through Europe. While his family spread to Australia and America, he settled in Italy, wherein he became a test driver and F3 driver for FIAT. He ran several successful seasons, spending time in Monaco and Le Mans, before a serious crash left him in a coma.

He didn't wake up until months later. He was still recuperating in hospital when his mother urged him to give up race driving. She made him promise, and promise he did.

Once more the man moved on. He went through France, but decided his final destination would be Australia. He just wanted to stop off to see a relative on the sleepy Isle of Wight in the south of England first - only intending on staying two weeks.

He fell in love with the place and its people; it took precious little for him to be convinced to settle. There were cultural differences of course - people in this new land didn't have guns, they drove slowly, and they wasted so much food - but that in itself had its charm. After all, not worrying that the next bus you got on would be your last was a luxury that most couldn't understand.

Knowing he'd need funds, he took as many jobs as he could hold down. He worked as a bouncer, a barman, a debt collector, a technical repairman, a delivery driver - in every job he gave his all, paid his tax and reaped his rewards. He sent money home of course, until he heard that his mother had been murdered. Another victim of the civil war.

He met a girl and settled down. They had their ups and their downs, but they worked - they both worked. They had to in Thatcher's England, especially if they were going to feed their young son. When their son was born, he was so proud, so heart-burstingly proud, that he was almost unwilling to let the doctor perform preliminary checks. He also burst into tears in relief when he found out that he didn't need to pay for his wife to give birth in this hospital, as he'd been contributing to the National Insurance.

This new life allowed him to indulge in his interests. A keen follower of Formula 1, he was also obsessed with computers - had been interested in them ever since he worked in a local arcade. He taught his young son all about them, though he never actually worked in computing. It was something he enjoyed, not something he wanted to monetise.

The long hours took their toll on the man, however. He took night shift work, because it paid well, but he didn't see his young son much at all. In the end he worked himself into two heart attacks. He was signed off work permanently, but had worked hard enough in all his time in this country that he'd earned himself several very respectable pensions.

In the end it was cancer that claimed him, in the way that cancer does. It crept up on him and stole him by inches. He left behind a great many friends and family.

I haven't told you his name because, when the word Immigrant gets thrown about as a headline or an attention-grabbing title, you aren't told names. There's no face, no history. No context.

Now. Every time someone talks about how Immigrants are a problem, or how there's too many, or that they should go home, I can't help but think of this one in particular. This one Immigrant, who once found a scorpion in BOTH his boots in the middle of the desert, who actually kept his very first tax form because he was so proud of paying them, who drank Bull's Blood wine and taught his son how to play cards.

This one Immigrant has given more to this country, this place, this economy than any one of the people who sit in their little chairs and read their Daily Mirror and complain about how the Immigrants have it so easy. This Immigrant, part of the tide determined to come here and crush your English values and way of life, delivered the shitty xenophobic newspapers you read your shitty xenophobic news stories in every week. He enjoyed spicy food but nothing was better to him than a genuine Sunday roast. He washed the car on the weekends, he went to the pub, he loved dogs and birds, and he loved telling awful jokes.

He was more of an Englishman than most Englishmen, despite being born and bred in the Lebanon, the ancestral home of the Phoenicians. Never bullshit a bullshitter, he taught his son - and he was one such bullshitter. They both were.

The world would be lesser without Farid Aridi. I know it. Everyone who ever met him knew it. He was impossible and stubborn and wise and generous and clingy and romantic and wherever he went, he smiled - until you gave him reason not to. He had a hell of a temper, but more than that, he had a hell of a way with people.

This Immigrant was my father, and unless you knew him - you don't get to talk shit about him.

Without this Immigrant I'd have never been born.

Immigrants aren't funny-coloured unwashed masses coming here to take your jobs and your benefits. They are people. Using them like tools to scare people into voting one way or another - in any country - is despicable. The only way my dad would be a threat to your community is if you all had too much money and too little skill at a poker table.

But then - precious few of us are actually originally from this stretch of land, if we go back in the mists of time...

...just think twice when you shit-talk immigrants, okay?

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