I’ve just been on the telephone talking to Tosim. In fact, I had called Parvinder Bedi, but she was in a meeting. Although Tosim doesn’t know me, she was friendly, patient and efficient. Once I had told her my birth date and my mother’s maiden name, she was able to transfer funds from our joint account into Sam’s current account. In between questions, I confessed my plight: my son was on an eight-hour train to Scotland with-out enough money to buy breakfast.
Call me a soppy mother who is spoiling her 18-year-old son. I admit it. He left here the day his results arrived (three As since you ask, and no, we don’t want to hear how even a hat rack can get an A at A level now) to join friends in London for a series of parties. He had enough money to top up his Oyster card, eat, buy train tickets and for tips to ghillies and keepers in Yorkshire and Scotland. In his defence, he hadn’t touched the tip money, but after three days in London, he had nothing left for sustenance en route. Without telling his father, I made an instant transfer.
But the point of this story is not my son’s laissez-faire attitude to money (yes, one A was in Economics.) It is about Tosim and Parvinder. It is also Quintana, who I spoke to when £742 was charged to my Amazon account by someone who hacked into my Instant Click details, and the Polish and Latvian staff at the Starbucks on Victoria Street, who make my cappuccinos when I’m in London. It’s the cleaners who go into offices at night and farm workers picking vegetables in the Fens so that we can feel good about buying ‘English’ when we shop at Waitrose.
At the drop of a hat or beret or turban I get obsessed with immigration. I scan the stories about crime and gangs and pregnant Romanian teenagers arriving unaccompanied and the Albanian mafia operating in Piccadilly. I have even been known to say things such as ‘If the Muslims don’t like the West, why don’t they just leave?’, despite bitter memories of bumper stickers in the 1960s aimed at folks like me who protested against the war in Vietnam ‘America: Love it or Leave It’.
But there is another kind of immigrant, the one who is doing all the jobs that nobody else will do: picking cabbages, looking after our elderly in nursing homes, working in the meat-packing factories that provide the cheap chickens and bacon in our supermarkets, cleaning hotel rooms. When the tabloids blast that there are more Poles in Britain than in Warsaw, it sends a tremor through their ageing Anglo-Saxon readership. Last week, Look East, our local news, focused on the uproar in a rural community because a farmer was converting a farm building into a hostel for immigrant workers, heady stuff that inspires calls for draconian immigration laws. But the immigrants who clean up after us also rent our buy-to-let properties, shop in Tesco and, yes, pay taxes. True, they use our schools and the NHS, but they contribute to them as well.
Don’t think I’m defending immigrants just because I am one, part of the long tradition of American heiresses who married Englishmen (my dowry consisted of a very nice labrador and 20 boxes of books). But it may be why I’ve softened towards the immigrants who pick our apples and sweep our streets. Their English may not be fluent, but their sons and daughters are getting A levels in their adopted tongue. In fact, they’re managers at Barclays, transferring money into the accounts of our lucky sons and daughters, the descendants of apple pickers and sheep farmers.