I’m very grateful to those of you who read this column regularly. But today I’d like you to go one step further. After you’ve read this one, I’d like you to do something. Let me explain.
On Sunday, a grandmother called Irene Clennell, from Chester-le-Street, County Durham, was separated from her sick husband John and forced against her will to get on a plane to Singapore, with only £12 in her pocket.
This didn’t happen in some brutal dictatorship like Zimbabwe. It happened here in “Great” Britain thanks to new legislation brought in by our big-hearted Prime Minister Theresa May.
Theresa May’s law says that if you’re a non-EU citizen and you earn less than £18,500 after living here for more than six years, you can be sent home. It doesn’t matter if you’ve paid all your taxes. It doesn’t matter if you’re married, with children or grandchildren here. It doesn’t matter if you’re an A-grade student just a month or two away from getting a First Class honours degree at one of our universities. It doesn’t even matter if you are the sole carer for your sick partner, as Irene was. All that matters is how much money you’re making.
If that makes you angry, wait for the next bit. Irene Clennell was deported FROM SCOTLAND. It happened right under our noses. She kept a routine appointment with the authorities to discuss extending her visa. Instead, they detained her and locked her up for three weeks in Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre in South Lanarkshire, near Strathaven.
This ugly old building has a grim history. It became a holding pen for asylum seekers in 2001 and made national headlines when Yurdugal Ay and her four children aged seven to 14 were imprisoned there in a single room for 13 months.
In 2003, lawyer Aamer Anwar led a campaign over the detention of the Ays. Over the years Aamer Anwar has repeatedly called for Dungavel to be shut down, describing it as inhumane and barbaric as well as “a scar on the face of Scotland”.
In January 2012, the Home Office agreed to pay the four Ay children a six-figure settlement, following a civil action against the UK government for the ordeal of their time in detention. That should give us all hope that we can right the wrongs in this world if we’ve got the guts to speak up and take action.
This prison – there’s no other word for it – is run by a private American security firm called GEO on behalf of the Home Office. The Scottish Government has no jurisdiction over the facility.
It makes my blood boil that Scotland has become a dumping ground for the things our English neighbours don’t want on their soil: Trident nuclear weapons, the poll tax, radioactive waste and this blot on our landscape, Dungavel House, where you can be separated from the folk who love you and shut away for months until one morning, at the crack of dawn, four security guards come for you and bundle you on to a plane.
It could even happen to my Hungarian wife. Under Brexit, it will soon be possible for the Home Office to deport former EU citizens too. Our European wives and partners are being used as bargaining chips by a British Government with no brain and no heart.
Don’t allow this injustice to make you feel helpless. Take your anger and turn it into energy. There are three things you can do now: 1) Write to your MP and ask them to take up Irene’s case with the UK Home Office. 2) Donate to the fund to raise legal aid for Irene at www.gofundme.com/bringirenehome and 3) Sign and share my petition to have Theresa May deported to Singapore. You’ll find it on my Facebook page.
Boxing clever with a stressed-out husband
One of the instructors at the gym was telling me about her husband and his attitude to stress.
“He stores it up and brings it back home with him from work trips.
“If his dinner’s bubbling in the pot, he says he’s not hungry or he has indigestion. If I try to make him go upstairs and run a hot bath, he makes excuses.
“But just recently, I found the answer. I started ordering those food boxes that get sent out to you with recipe cards and all the ingredients you need to make a healthy dinner for two. Suddenly my man has taken over all the duties of cooking the dinner. Foods he said he didn’t like are suddenly delicious.
“Vegetables he’d never eat are back on the menu. He can’t wait for the new box to arrive. He rips the lid off, counts out the ingredients, reads the recipes and asks me what I fancy.
“I used to ask him what he wanted to eat and he’d never give me a positive answer, he wasn’t able to think that far ahead. And now he’s asking me!
“When I tell him, he has the chopping boards and knives out in seconds. Once he’s done, he’s a different man.
“The simple act of preparing a meal to a set recipe takes all his stress away. He’s a human being again.
“People tell me that £12 is a bit steep for a meal for two. I just ask them, is it too much to pay for a new husband?”
I like to wing it
Last week I was working in Beirut. With a little time to kill I went exploring and found a nice Lebanese restaurant.
On the menu, in amongst all the different varieties of hummus, one item caught my eye: “Sparrows,” it said. “Six pieces”. I like sparrows, cheeky wee birds, but I’ve never eaten them before, so I thought I’d give them a go. They arrived in a delicious garlic and rosemary sauce, looking exactly like tiny roast chickens. There was as much meat on them as you’d expect – just enough to fill the gap between my two front teeth.When I was telling my host about it, she said “Such a shame you didn’t try the sheep’s testicles.”
I’m actually not afraid to try new things. I’m old enough to remember when spaghetti Bolognese was an outrageously exotic new dish in this country. I’ve eaten mountain pony, whale and puffin in Iceland, donkey and jellyfish in Hong Kong and I even ate a worm once, for a bet. But that’s a story for another column.