An environmental message in the Eurostar waiting room at Brussels
We’re waiting for the eco-friendly Eurostar to take us home and I am looking forward to the ride. It’s a nice cheery scene. The multicultural mix of folk ready to board the train has managed to get past the daft, defensive UK Border. Unfortunately the border guards have let through a home-grown threat. Even worse he is in our carriage.
Until now I have never knowingly been within spitting distance of the BNP. We are not quite close enough to hear everything he had to say, but Richard Barnbrook, the first far right member of the London Assembly, does his best to let everyone in the carriage know who he is and what he believes in. (He is easily identified by the light coloured linen suit he often wears). During a loud mobile phone conversation he pokes racist fun at a Chinese exhibition he has seen in Brussels. Then he treats the poor people sitting next to him to a lecture on how Labour, Tories and LibDem have “got so far up themselves” they have lost touch with voters and that’s why the BNP will win Dagenham and Barking next May. “Oh believe me, I know what I am talking about.”
This is sad, sick and slightly scary after a few days enjoying the best of European culture. First a sparkly weekend in Stockholm with waterways reflecting red and gold buildings in the winter sun, then a stimulating start to Scotland week in Brussels. The night before we heard Tom Devine giving a brilliant explanation of why the Enlightenment came, seemingly against all odds, to dour, dark Scotland when it had barely stopped burning witches and hanging heretics. And just an hour before catching the train, we heard Alex Salmond celebrating Burns the internationalist and quoting the Ode to a Louse as a moral inspiration for all politicians.
O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
Spotted on the way to the new Magritte Museum in Brussels
Brussels and Stockholm were bright and full of Christmas light, a kaleidoscope of international shops and restaurants proving that nations flourish best when people move, mix and mingle the colours and flavours of different cultural traditions. To me somehow that sense of community is compounded by the fact that we don’t have to show our passports travelling from Stockholm to Brussels because, as good members of the EU, both countries are signatories of the Schengen agreement which allows the removal of frontier controls between the 22 participating nations.
And, guess what, little Britain is not one of them. While the rest of Europe opens up we seem to be closing minds as well as borders, fostering fears instead of challenging the monstrous fantasies of the BNP. So we not only have to go through the shame of the ridiculous ‘UK border’ at Brussels but back in St Pancras a line of security guards watches us file obediently through the barriers. One young man is singled out for passport inspection. Perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear that he is black.
Despite all that the ride home on the sleeper is blissfully comfortable and at 7.30 am Edinburgh looks bright with Christmas and first light breaking the dour darkness. Almost European. (Maybe not the way Alex Salmond means it).