In February 2015, I returned to the Britain after twenty-six years of living in Australia. One year later, I have decided to share my thoughts about a country that is destroyed. All the bombs of the last war did not do the damage that people here have done to themselves. Looking with an outsider’s eye I may not see clearly, but I do see differently and what I see might not be what you think.
My stomach churned a bit when my cousin drove through the streets of Burton upon Trent on our way to his home in a Staffordshire village, where I was to live. It was mid-morning and I was warm and sleepy; just off the plane. The motorways and countryside was as I remembered it and I was attributing the greyish pall to the low winter light. It was the dismal city streets that triggered the alarm bells in my head. Had it always been this dirty? The miserable, dingy houses were not the old Victorian terraces. They were cheap new red brick buildings, row upon row entirely without imagination. The pavements were strewn with rubbish and every house had two wheelie bins outside, often piled high the plastic bags. Gardens – don’t be silly. Nothing will live in this environment. Britain is choking on dirt, diesel and chemicals.
A year later and I have traveled around and the impression I have is of a country covered in black grime and littered with cigarette ends. I am filled with despair at the ignorance and stupidity of people who have allowed their country to become so degraded. The historic lanes of old towns are congested with obese women chain-smoking, as their overweight child screams in a cheap, grubby pushchair. Have they considered who is profiting from this? Not them or their child. They enriching the shareholders of the tobacco companies.
Looking in, as an outsider, what would I do? Something must happen and quickly. I would start by getting the diesel emissions under control; clearing the cities of cars, massively funding publicly owned transport. Hard tough regulations that no one will like. Start making it easy to shop in the towncentre, make them places you want to go. And provide good transport to get you there. Online shopping might be very attractive, but it is killing communities. It is frustrating and I suspect it is not helping retailers at all.
The social and health problems caused by tobaccos and alcohol have been known for years, so restrict alcohol sales to designated stores, then supermarkets and local shops can concentrate more food we can eat and products we need. Then we can shop locally again. Aggressively deal with the smokers and ban smoking in all public places, double the price and sell in plain packaging. A huge tax on tobacco, alcohol and sugary foods will pay for a lot of doctors and nurses. Act on the medical evidence and close down tanning salons. Is anyone so stupid that they would pay to be given skin cancer?
The problems I see in Britain have nothing to do with membership of the EU or the number of immigrants. They attributable to poverty, bad education and a succession of governments, who don’t have a clue or are too timid to put what is good for the country before themselves. A quick look at the current political leaders tells you everything. The rich and privileged are running the country for themselves and their own profit. They should be dismissed by the electorate as unfit.
‘Go back to Australia’ I hear you say. Well yes, I certainly can’t stay here with my family. I am fit, I don’t smoke and have a healthy diet, which is difficult to maintain as the supermarkets don’t have much in the way of good food. But I know I shall be forced to leave before my health declines. This was my country, but now I am ashamed and depressed to even admit it.