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Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Happy birthday to me

It is 1.28 a.m. on the morning of my birthday, and I have a very early plane to catch to Milan.

“What the hell am I doing still awake?” you may wonder. The answer may not make sense, but it does to the two Italian ladies I live with.

Please don’t get excited or envious. It’s not a ménage a trois – just my partner and her sister. Being the people they are - that is, slightly crazy – it made perfect sense to them to wake me up just before midnight with a cake covered with candles, a bottle of Moet, a walking model of Shaun the Sheep and a map of Worcestershire as birthday presents. (We have a running joke about how to pronounce Worcestershire - and I love Shaun)

My God, how I applaud this sort of thing; and how sorry I feel for people who stick to the expected.

My mother and I once talked about what kind of life we both wanted. We agreed that whatever else we didn’t plan to end our days asking ourselves “What did I do with my life?” Better to do a few mad things than always do the right ones.

(She was an astonishing, beautiful woman whose life and loves I shall talk about eventually – another promise that I’ll have to keep).

Anyhow, why are my partner and I off to Milan, that least appealing of Italian cities? For a meeting with my friend Ales from Slovenia, with whom we are working on a pretty ambitious pan-European project.

It is my partner’s idea, and I think it is going to come off. When it does, I’ll tell you more.

Ales Lisac is alarmingly talented and reads this epic, which is just about understandable as he has a warped sense of humour and works in marketing, but I just discovered that his wife Natalie reads it, too.

She is a bit of a masochist I fear, as she spent about five months translating my book Commonsense Direct Marketing into Slovenian. You may wonder why that is such a chore. Well, if you’ve read it you know it has quite a few laughs but is a bit technical in places - hardly anybody has giggled their way through the chapter on testing.

The trouble is, you see, that there are lots of words like “insert” that have no Slovenian equivalent, so she had to reshape her native tongue to get the job done. Anyhow, I certainly owe her a vote of thanks, though I was just a little piqued to hear that after reading the last episode about the failed stabbing she decided I have bad judgement.

It’s true. The secret is out. Actually, I have appalling judgement.

And how fortunate that is, because otherwise my life would have been infinitely duller.

Which brings me to the matter of the receptionist who caught my eye all those years ago. Do you remember? I was lured by false promises to do with a lack of undergarments.

(Incidentally, I’ve read more than once that women didn’t wear any underclothes until some time in the 19th century – a thought which goes a fair way to explain why they had so much fun in earlier centuries, and fills me with mingled delight and regret.)

But, the receptionist, J, was one of the many examples of a subject I promised to talk about in an earlier piece: immigration. She was (and is) Polish.

This country is nothing more than a collection of immigrants. The fact that the people who run things with such breathtaking incompetence are unable to manage the process is a different matter. But if you look round and ask who is responsible for an astonishing percentage of the achievements around us, you won’t go far before you find that a disproportionate number have strange foreign names.

Let’s take London’s sewage system and the Thames Embankment. Why not? Who was responsible, 150 years ago? Bazalguette. Doesn’t that sound a trifle foreign? Or what about Isambard Brunel, who created the Great Western Railway – and his father, Marc, who built a tunnel under the Thames that is still being used today. Yes; also foreigners. And how about the many Nobel prizes we’ve won over the last century? Largely immigrants, I’m afraid, friends.

People who emigrate have more get up and go - literally - than the people who stay behind. And now, when there are so many barriers to overcome, those who have done so are special.

We should welcome and include them, because they are probably more special than we natives; and I think many of our current problems come from not having done so.

Enough philosophy – and not enough about J with the short skirt and how we got involved in a punch-up in the Q club on Praed Street - but I really must get to bed.

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