Grey as an immigration officer’s brain

New Year resolution: don’t do this again.

I’m in England. How do people live here? How did I live here before I saw the light and found Australia?

It’s cold. It was cold like this that wiped out mammoths several million years ago. Have you seen the size of a mammoth? I have no chance. Unless I stay indoors. But indoors the air is so centrally heated that you can’t breathe it, so whichever way you look at it, you’re stuffed.


But it’s neither the cold not the central heating that will kill you at this time of year.

It’s the grey. I’d forgotten about the grey. They have greyness here that makes black look warm and inviting. I’m told it’s the clouds, but we have clouds in Townsville and a hibiscus still looks red under them.

In an English winter the grey soaks into everything like sullage water through a sponge. Grey trees, grey grass, grey concrete, grey clothes, grey thoughts.

Oh come on, I here you say, it can’t be that bad.

I hope you’re right. If you’re not I’ll be back early. As it is I’m here for my Mum’s funeral, so I suppose grey will do (although Mum would have preferred yellow) and who knows, tomorrow the sun might shine and she’ll get it.

But today it’s grey. How do they manage to make an entire race of people so miserable! It wasn’t like this in the war! They spent half their lives in bomb shelters, singing Vera Lynn songs, and being jolly. I’ve seen the film clips!

Not any more. I think they take the entire population in buses to their nearest international airport and run them past the immigration officers. That’d do it. It did for me.

Explain to me why British immigration officers are hell bent on making you miserable? I have some experience of immigration officers in countries around the world and I can tell you this – if British immigration officers had been like this in 1939 there wouldn’t have been a war! No one would have wanted to come here!

On this trip alone I have experienced no less than five sets of immigration and security officers. In Australia they made fun of my passport photo and wished me a Happy Christmas (I flew out on Boxing Day), in Taipei they were charming; in Bangkok they were polite; in Amsterdam they were helpful and sympathetic.

But halfway across the English Channel the grey clouds rolled in. I think it was the British immigration officers, breathing out.

Yes, yes, I know they have a tough job to do; I know they have a terrible responsibility, what with terrorists and all those criminal descendants of Australia’s first settlers trying to set up home in South Kensington, but so does Taipei, Bangkok and Amsterdam (well, not with Aussies in South Ken) and they still manage to smile and say please and thank you.

I have a theory that the underlying problem is that the Poms don’t actually like themselves very much. I mean, what with their record in Iraq and the cricket, they don’t really have much to be proud of. Bottom of the list would be weather and immigration officers.

Elsewhere in the world the Poms have been praised as a charming race of people who say quaint things like “Mustn’t grumble” and “Can’t complain”.

But they do! They complain about everything… the weather, politics, migrants, Australian cricketers, prices, Australian cricketers…

The traditional stiff upper lip seems to have collapsed into a cat’s bum of pursed disapproval, and leading the parade is the miserable immigration officer. And do not imagine I am basing my opinion on one unfortunate experience. I have been here before! They’re so good at it I reckon it’s part of the training.

Never mind… tomorrow we give my Mum her send off. The wake will be spectacular. With any luck the sun will shine; and nothing transforms the English countryside – and personality — so much as an hour or two of thin yellow winter sunshine.

If I were on speaking terms with any immigration officers I’d invite them to come along. It’s a funeral, after all, they’d fit right in!