Friday, 16 June 2017

Amateur Hour

There’s a lot said on both sides of The House about immigration. In the wider world people adversely affected – and they are many – find it hard to comprehend how their circumstances have come about, while in other areas – usually those who have known little else – they refer to vibrant diversity and all its wonders. There are valid arguments on both extremes if they could only be heard above the clamour of political correctness, typified by the image of a politician, any variety, clasping knees to chest, rocking to and fro and loudly humming so as not hear any incorrect opinions.

Last night’s ‘comedy’ spot on Radio 4 was occupied by Paul Sinha's History Revision and jolly interesting it was too... were it not for the fact that this son of immigrants was banging one particular drum and banging pretty loudly, too. The tune was, ‘nothing good would ever have happened in the world without immigration’. And he had the history to prove it. Now, I know Sinha is a clever lad and I’m sure he would make for invigorating and stimulating company, but this trope is over-wrought and fundamentally flawed.

‘We are all descended from immigrants’ is irrelevant. ‘The NHS relies on immigrants’ is irrelevant. Immigration, in and of itself, is not the source of all things good, it is merely one of several facilitators. It is the individual, inspired by place and experience, that creates; his or her ethnic origin is often incidental. Sinha’s thesis, inspired by his love of history – literally an ‘amateur’ historian – was based on an acceptance of the innate ‘goodness’ of immigration.

Inventure Place, in Akron Ohio, is referred to as the American Inventors’ Hall of Fame and its exhibitive niches are mostly occupied by immigrants who came to The New World, did good and invented stuff; the USA is proud to adopt them as great American inventors. But there’s a bit of a chicken and egg game going on here – did the immigrants make it happen, or did America provide the means and opportunities? Or did they do their inventing elsewhere and bring the goods over on the Mayflower’s successors? Beware the easy conclusions wrought from a non sequitur.

Anyway, we’ve always had movement of people. One traditional mode of casual migration was the regular cycles of itinerant traders, slavers, tinkers and circus folk, the inspiration for many a running-away-from-home. A friend of mine disappeared one day, some years ago and much gossip ensued. But a decade later, when the circus came to town, there he was, in full carney slap, parading round the ring, an array of ironmongery hanging from a specially designed belt.

As the crowd watched he took from his belt a small hammer, such as are used by piano tuners, which he swallowed whole. The watchers gasped. Next, a toffee hammer disappeared down his gullet, quickly followed by a veneer hammer, a small ball pein and a much larger claw hammer. The applause rippled around the big top but then we were quelled to silence as the lights dimmed; for the finale he took up a six-pound sledgehammer and after some business twirling it around, tossing and catching it he struck a pose and then, with his head tilted far back, he slowly swallowed the hickory shaft until only the steel hammer head remained visible. With a gulp, this too was gone; the audience went wild!

The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd!

After the show, I caught up with him as he signed autographs and congratulated him on his remarkable achievements. He told me of his life and the wonderful people he had met, from all over the world. I remarked on his unconventional performance and asked if he had ever tried to swallow a sword, a much more familiar act. He shook his head. “No,” he said “that’s a job for the professionals... I’m strictly an ‘ammer-chewer.”