Intimigration; Herd Mentality and the Plight of Refugees

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Facebook; the bastion of modern social interaction. This morning I saw a message pop up in my news feed from a friend from my home town. He was ranting about immigrants in the UK, and how they shouldn’t be here. His post got 30 likes. The likes were from other people in my home town. How had I grown so far away from these people? They were voicing their opinions together like a choir of Sun and Daily Mail headlines, and awash with some outdated ideas of international obligation and expectations. After I thanked my lucky stars I escaped from such a narrow-minded fortress, I had to think. Where exactly did our paths diverge? And really, who’s right here? How can we really know? One of the wonderful things about the UK is you are born in a society where every opinion can be shared. We have that freedom. The world is a richer place for opinions from all corners, and I for one am happy that there are people who disagree with me.

I come from a small town. It has it’s problems, but overall it is a pretty affluent place. There are few people living there who are not white. Is this the reason for such rejection of immigration? I left there a long time ago and have since lived in cities that are much more liberal and open-minded. These cities are full of a fantastic array of cultures, merging into a patchwork of wonderment that enriches the lives of all the citizens. Is it the fear of the unknown that forces these rants from my former friends in small town England? Intimidated by immigration, are they rejecting it from personal experience, from media manipulation or from some primal defensiveness against ‘the other’? I would probably find more of their fears easier to understand if the campaign behind them wasn’t so flawed and, in some instances, racist. I’ve seen a fair amount of EDL posts doing the rounds over social media, with recent posters being people who only a few months ago were condemning UKIP and their anti-immigrant vitriol.

Let’s get something straight though. There is a big difference between a migrant and a refugee. Migrants have made a choice to leave their homeland in search of different opportunities abroad. these people can enrich an economy and make a country a more diverse and fulfilling place to live. These people are under no threat, and are merely trying to better themselves. Refugees, however, are fleeing persecution and danger based on their religion, culture, ideology or beliefs (amongst other reasons) and are desperately seeking assistance. These people are vulnerable and in need of help. How can we leave them all to themselves with no offer of help? Especially, as evidence may show, we may be partly culpable for some of the problems they face?

I’m just one person, with one set of opinions. I’m no more right or wrong than the next person. Yet I find it strange that there can be others who have such contrasting views to mine, when we are presented with exactly the same evidence. That said, I’m sure my ideas about immigration can be brushed off as naive and narrow-minded by people who believe different things to me. While we all call each other wrong, what is getting done to help the people that need it, no matter where they may be?

Nobody likes a scrounger, a dole thief or a lazy sponger. Immigrants are accused of heading to the UK to take dole money away from British citizens. Do people genuinely believe that all the immigrants are arriving to look for an easy life? They may be looking for an easier life, as in, to live in a country not at war, or to have a home that isn’t constantly raided by bandits.


If immigration in the UK feels a little out of control recently, that’s because it has reached unprecedented levels since 1997 due to the Labour government’s relaxation of key immigration laws, most notably between 2001-2011. That being said, a lot of this led to foreign workers bringing skills to key industries. It’s no coincidence that we have a lot of immigrants working as nurses. Having the NHS means we need cheaper labour to keep it running.

So how, friends, can you get so angry at immigrants coming here to try and build a better life and build a better country, when Starbucks is here and doesn’t pay it’s share of tax? If you want to hate an immigrant, start there! It’s an American business that is basically gaining an almost monopolous (this wasn’t a real word, but it is now) hold on its industry, and it’s doing it without putting back into the economy it is taking from. Or how about these wars we keep fighting? Is it a Polish nurse’s fault our economy is having a tough time, or is it probably more about a £1 trillion trident defence system?

But I digress. I am getting away from the crux of my point. I’m not here to wholly rally to the aid of immigrants on mass. I’d rather talk about those who have no choice. I wouldn’t get so angry at a Syrian refugee when I knew my country had just bombed the shit out of that country. Some will claim that ‘it’s not our problem to fix these countries and their problems’. Well, that may feel like an easy answer, but if we actively interact with that country’s stability, I would count that as making it our problem to deal with. Again, these are my definitions and not others. Who’s really right? Can anyone ever truly be?

Immigrants are every day people like you and me. Do you know who aren’t? The banks! OK, so I’m being a little hysterical. The banks are run by humans, not lizards or aliens. But, I ask you, do you see more of yourself in a poor immigrant who is trying to work hard for their money and support their family, or in a greedy banker who gambles people’s savings and lives in a separate, meta-world where poverty and war are nothing more than buzzwords on a list of things you don’t need to care about?

Put yourself in their shoes.

We are a spoilt country, one that doesn’t even realise how lucky it is! You popped out of a vagina in the UK and won the lottery in life. You haven’t faced war, destitution, famine; you’ve had Hollyoaks and X-Factor, Cornettos and page 3! Lucky, lucky you! But really, did you do anything to deserve this better life? Are you a better person than any of these immigrants? Is it your wonderful accent? Or your understanding of the complicated intricacies of British social interaction and politeness, or a smattering of knowledge about our mighty history of kings, queens and world war 2? Is it some belief that because your grandparents survived the threat of Fascism, you somehow earned this privilege?

Go ahead and call me one of them. I am a second generation immigrant. My mother is African. She’s South African mind, but her family still left that continent to escape economic hardships, and came to the UK seeking a better future. My granparents were Dutch/Welsh/I have no idea. I don’t really care. I was never one of those kids at school that claimed to be two tenths Arabic, a quarter Irish, a fifth Scottish, a sixteenth Inuit and three quarters English! I am just a white guy who grew up in Southern England. I have a British passport, my own teeth and a degree in a subject nobody should ever accrue £30,000 in debt while attaining. Yet I won the life lottery by popping out of some knickers on the British isles.

“Quick, gimme all your welfare and starbucks, nom nom nom!”

This whole ‘us’ versus ‘them’ thing needs to stop. These are people, just like us. Helping them will not ruin our country. Now is not the time to be selfish. You want more money in the economy? Go on austerity marches, occupy government offices and force the government to change its stance on letting big business get away with murder. Don’t throw stones at other little people and let the government rub its greedy hands together while it watches us in-fight and get nowhere.

I’m also biased because I am currently living as an immigrant in Asia. I work hard for my money, and I contribute to the economy with tax, bringing a needed skill to this country. There is some resentment here of foreign workers, and a feeling that the ‘old ways’ are being eroded by outside influences. I have seen first hand a watered down version of what it must be like for some immigrants in the UK. It’s easier for me because I’m an ‘expat’, so I’m not for a second trying to compare my experience with that of an immigrant fleeing a war zone to look for solace in the UK. I am no refugee. All I’m saying is I understand the feeling of being an outsider, of not being fluent in the local language, and of trying to fit in to a society that is completely different from the one I was raised in.

In this modern world of quick access to information and a global narrative on the problems in the world to do with inequality and the huge difference between the rich and the poor, I am shocked that I still know people who get physically sickened by immigrants coming to the UK for a better life. How can these people still be so ignorant to the reasons why these immigrants come here? The UK has systematically utilised and perpetuated suffering and poverty in various countries around the world for the best part of three centuries. It would be naive and short-sighted to believe that a country like ours could wage wars in these far flung countries and then not expect at least some of the civilians from these states coming to knock on our door for help. When you decimate someone’s homeland, you must, surely, expect them to need your help?

I am not trying to start a discussion. I’m actually sick to death of this whole topic. This was a culmination of listening to so many of the people I call friends ranting about immigrants, and me just wanting to stick my two cents out there. They say you should avoid writing a passion piece. It’s easy to lose perspective, and for your words to be coloured by your own experiences rather than reflecting a semblance of truth. Maybe I’m completely wrong. Maybe I just don’t get it. Though so far, nobody has put anything remotely intelligible forward that has anything near the power to make me think differently. Until someone does, I’ll continue thinking as I do; we are humans, and so are the refugees and immigrants. What would you want for your family if you were the crying father on the Greek beach? What would you do if you were the dead Syrian boys father or mother? If the shoe was on the other foot, I feel we would all be acting the same way. And damn, wouldn’t it just completely suck if we got the same level of compassion as we are giving now.

Before I depart, allow me to finish with a quote:

*** drops mic ***

Useful websites:


UK Government Immigration Statistics

The People’s Assembly (Anti-Austerity)

Special thanks to artur84 and khunaspix @ for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and, 2015

✒Idi…ummmm; The history of some of our favourite idioms (and OK) ✏

Idioms logo

The English language; a diverse and ever-changing beast. As a teacher, I am often confronted with how perplexing our great language can be, and how some of the words that inhabit its planes of communication are far from the lands of sanity. As a mish-mash of various languages, English is very much a patchwork quilt of Latin, French, Germanic, Greek and Polynesian origins. And that is just the start. Trace the history far enough and you will find many more influences too.

Even in our contemporary world, English still insists on ‘loaning’ words when a better one doesn’t already exist in the language, such as Karaoke. New words find their way into our language too from popular culture and general life around us. Anyone who has ever seen The Thick of It will be familiar with Malcolm Tucker’s classic ‘omnishambles’. A word which is only as old as that show, invented to describe a “situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations” according to

This wonderful flexibility is arguably one of the reasons why English is such a popular language, and spoken so widely. But, don’t you ever wonder where some of the sayings come from?

Specifically, I like to look at the history of idioms. An idiom is a figure of speech used to mean something other than its literal meaning. In the English language it is estimated there are over 25,000 idioms in use!

That would be a seriously long-read if we tried to define them all! So, let’s start small. Here is the meaning for five famous idioms (and for one famous phrase that isn’t an idiom but has an interesting history).

“Mum, your flan was an omnishambles”

Always a bridesmaid, never a Bride

Lets start with an easy one, the meaning of which is exactly what it says; someone always being present at other people’s weddings but never having their own. It is often used by old, cruel mothers to mock their unwed female offspring… generally to make single women feel that they are unwanted or cannot find love 😦

It was first used in the Victorian dance hall song Why Am I Always a Bridesmaid by Fred W. Leigh. The phrase gained popularity after being used in a comedic Listerine advert. It shows a picture of a woman named ‘Edna’ under the slogan ‘always a  bridesmaid, never a bride’. She stares forlornly into the distance as she contemplates how her halitosis prevents her from finding love. The solution? Buy Listerine mouthwash and watch the suitors pile in!

Of course, it can't fix everything

Of course, it can’t fix everything

Ride Shotgun

Who remembers their days as a kid/student/adult/parent, scrambling with your friends or siblings for the honour of riding in the passenger seat, next to the driver? Of course, “I called shotgun” is the way of letting all others know you have earned this mighty privilege without the need for bloodshed.

This saying comes from the ol’ Wild West, a time and place where life was much more dangerous than today. If you were sitting next to the driver you would be expected to wield a shotgun so as to defend the stagecoach (the transport of the day) from bandits and looters. More pressure than merely map reading!

“I’m just here for the free ride”

Basket Case

This is a phrase often used to describe someone who is mentally unhinged. It was also the name of a big hit for Pop-Punk trio Green Day in 1994.

This is supposedly a term from World War I, used to describe someone who has lost all their limbs. The first recorded use of the term in official use was by the US government in denial of this practice. In 1919 The US command on public information issued this statement:

“The Surgeon General of the Army … denies … that there is any foundation for the stories that have been circulated … of the existence of ‘basket cases’ in our hospitals.” according to

“Yeah, none at all”

Hold Your Horses!

This means ‘wait a moment’, and is often used to calm someone who is showing overt keenness or exuberance.

It is believed to come from around 800BC. A line in book 23 of Homer’s Iliad is commonly translated as “Antilochus – you drive like a maniac! Hold your horses!” That is, apart from the original translation in 1598 that has it as “contain thy horses”. I’m not sure why I prefer if I’m honest. Either way, this Antilochus fellow sounds like a bit of a bad ass. Those horses though…

“Contain this!”

Close, But No Cigar

This is another way of saying that you only just missed out. It was a near miss!

There was a time, many moons ago, when cigars were the preferred choice by fairground stalls as their prizes instead of the large, fluffy plush toys you will find yourself winning these days. One can only imagine if the cigars would also be over-sized and cheaply made… That said, winning was much more impossible than it is now, with games often rigged to make them even harder! The first time it was written down was in a script for the film version of Annie Oakley in 1935,  appearing as “close Colonel, but no cigar” according to

From then on it gained popularity and appeared in newspapers from 1949 onwards.

So, it comes from con artists, tricking you into playing a game you were destined to lose. Can you trust anyone?

“We’re out of snake oil, but why not enjoy some of this lovely air. Yours for only $99!”


This, of course, is not an idiom, but it is an extremely popular expression that also has a rather random history.

Used initially in American, then global English, OK is now a staple in many different languages all across the world. It can mean ‘I understand’, or it can mean something is not very good, as in “the karate film was ok”. It can mean I am fine, and can even be a friendly way of saying hello, as in ‘Hey guys, you ok?”

So, onto its origins. There are myriad explanations for where this expression comes from: it could come from the Greek olla kalla, from German alles korrekt or Ober-Kommando, from Finnish oikea, from the Haitian port “Aux Cayes”, from Latin omnes korrecta, from Chocktaw okeh, from a Puerto Rican rum named “Aux Quais”, from Scotland och aye, from Louisiana French au quai, from Wolof waw kay, from Mandingo O ke. There are countless other stories too, increasing the legend of OK; initials on biscuits, branding on cattle, ‘Old Kinderhook’ being the nickname of president Martin Van Buren, ‘0 killed’ being the report of the night’s death toll in WWI or American Civil War, ‘Orl Korrect’ military reporting indicating that troops were in good order, or even ship builders marking wood for the ‘Outer Keel’.

The truth appears to be much more simple than any of that, however. In 1963 a famous etymologist named Professor Allen Walker Read published a book called American Speech. In it, he draws the conclusion that OK effectively started out as a prank.

On March 23rd, 1839, the editor of The Boston Morning Post published a humorous article about a ridiculous organisation named the Anti-Bell Ringing Association (ABRS). They were campaigning to have the laws of dinner bell ringing changed, and OK was used in this article as a shortened version of ‘Oll-Korrect’, or ‘all correct’. At the time it was not uncommon for abbreviations to change the spelling of words, such as ‘KG’ meaning no go (know go) and ‘OW’ meaning all right (Oll Write).

These witty abbreviations are essentially the old world’s LOL and BRB.


So, that’s us for this post. Any phrases you think have an interesting story but you didn’t see up here today? Or perhaps you have a phrase you would like us to look into? As always, feel free to leave a comment. Let’s keep the conversation going!

Thanks to, and for the inspiration for this post.

Special thanks to David Castillo Dominici, imagerymajestic, num_skyman, olovedog, stockimages, Tina Phillips and Sira Anamwong @ for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and, 2015

Tokens of Our Time; The History of Some of Our Favourite Symbols

In 2012, I spent a summer in Brighton, UK, teaching English in a small scale language school with bags of charm but ageing resources. My class was filled with about ten 16 year olds, real cool kids away from home for a summer of language learning, beach-side romance and a few adventures to carry back to their respective homelands.

One afternoon we went to the attic room to use the listening suite. There was a vast collection of audio cassette and VCR tapes, but not a CD nor DVD to be seen.

Their desks were all fitted with embedded tape players, with individual headphone sets and audio control buttons. They had free roam of the wonderfully categorized shelves of materials, and as this lesson required no planning, I was expecting to be able to fill the time with reading while I casually supervised their progress. I was wrong.

Within a few minutes, hands were being raised and I was being told about the same problem.

“Sir, my player’s broken”.

I’d walk over, check the tape, and see that whoever had used it previously had failed to rewind it. I’d put the tape in and ask the students to rewind. They would hit the ‘skip back’ button. Nothing would happen, so they’d assume it was still broken.

It dawned on me; these teenagers had never used tape players in their life! In fact, their understanding of that technology was so absent, they believed it was possible to actually skip tracks in a way similar to CDs!

Those teenagers were digital natives. To them, the symbols on a laptop, TV, iPhone were all invented purely for those devices. I felt pity for them, but then realised for myself how I had done much the same thing when I was a child. Did I truly know the history of the symbols I saw every day? Had my grandmother laughed when I didn’t recognise the ‘L’ in the £ sign? Did my Science teacher chuckle at the fact I didn’t recognise Norse History on my telephone keypad?

I had to know more, so here is the Itchy Quill History lesson on some famous symbols and their origins!

ampersand-hiStuart MilesThe ampersand and pound sign

What do London, the & symbol and the £ sign have in common? Yes, they are all very popular in England, but more importantly, they were all invented by Romans. Ok, ok, So you can’t invent a city, but London, or rather Londinium, was a very successful experiment in replicating traditional Roman methods of living, but overseas. All three were also opportunities for ancient Romans to demonstrate their remarkable skill in design, ingenuity and style.

See, the ampersand is essentially a highly stylized version of the Latin word for and, Et, invented by a fellow named Marcus Tullius Tiro. He didn’t give it the catchy name however, you can blame the true lovers of Latin – Victorian school children – for that. In the time of Queen Victoria, the symbol was essentially treated as the 27th letter of the alphabet. Children would chant the alphabet through rote learning with the ending being “and per se and”. This literally translates as ‘and, in itself, and’. Children being children, they couldn’t wait to finish the chant and be the first one to get to the jelly and custard at break time, and so the words ended up blending together to make ampersand.

As for the £ sign, that little guy is essentially just a fancy pants ‘L’. Those of us born in modern times will find it harder to recognise, as practising this style, known as roundhand, becomes less and less promoted in schools. Why L? Well, it’s down to those Romans again. They had a unit of weight called the ‘libre’, and the £ sign is merely an abbreviation (which is the reason for the one or sometimes two dashes across the middle of the £). Interestingly, the libre is also the namesake of the lb measurement of weight too.

So, Ancient Rome… not just nudity, baths and hedonism.

Boy, us Romans invented most of this puny language you call 'English'. We smite you with Latin - basiate culos meos!

Boy, us Romans invented most of this puny language you call ‘English’. We smite you with Latin – basiate culos meos!

powerThe Power Sign

We’ve all stared at it knowingly for years, touched it on countless instruments, but never truly known what it means. In truth it’s a symbol from when coding was in its formative years. As far back as WW2, this symbol was used to demonstrate in binary the presence or absence of power; 1 (the line) means on, 0 means off.

However, sometimes there can be a line within an unbroken 0  which means a single switch can move an instrument from on to off, and vice versa. There can also be a 0 broken by a line which represents that something can be turned off, but not disconnected from the power source completely.

My power can never be turned to binary code 0, puny nerd

My power can never be turned to binary code 0, puny nerd

jscreationzsThe Dollar Sign

The dollar bill, a beacon of the American Dream, is arguably one of the best recognised currencies in the world. In parts of SE Asia and South America, dollar bills can actually be used as a de facto currency, meaning black markets exist for travellers who never need to change into the local money from USD, as the value of an American Dollar is so robust. So, where does this wonderful bastion of autonomy come from?

There are various theories to choose from, but the most widely accepted seems to be that it is an offspring of the Spanish Peso. In the 1700s, the Peso – “peso de ocho reales” or ‘pieces of eight’ – was the common currency of the Americas. PS was the abbreviation, and it is thought that over time the S and P would be placed on top of each other, forming an early ancestor of the $. This seems to fit the time line, as it was evident on the first paper bills printed by the US in 1875.

Those feeling curious are free to check Ayn Rand’s alternative idea, that the $ sign is a combination of the initials of U and S from USA, with the bottom of the U being cut off. Cifrão symbol.svg

Dollar dollar bills ya'll

Dollar dollar bills ya’ll

asterisk-hiThe Asterisk

He’s not just a menace to the Gauls; the asterisk has a history that goes back as far as the Middle Ages. Original employed with its best friend the dagger (†) as two of the first proof-reading marks, largely from need for the scholars tasked with editing Homer’s poetry epics. Ask an Athenian though, and they may tell you it comes from the Greek word asteri, meaning star.

In literary terms, it fell out of favour largely until the twentieth century, utilised to great effect solo to demonstrate the insertion of a footnote, or as a trio to break text into sections.

In modern times, it can literally mean anything. A pro athlete never wants one of these next to their name as it can signify a win under controversial or conditional circumstances, or in some biographies it can mean the year of birth (*1969). On the number key of your keyboard it could be a replacement for × (multiply), a mask for expletives in t*ts and s**t, and it can even be used to denote a *snigger* or a *gasp* on twitter. Whatever it’s use, the asterisk is a real chameleon of the symbol jungle, and it deserves a place in our hearts.

Shut the f**k up... *giggles*

Shut the f**k up… *giggles*



What do wireless devices syncing together and medieval Scandinavia have in common? No, it’s not a thirst for pillaging and decimation; it’s actually quite the opposite.

Harald Bluetooth was the Viking king of Denmark from 958 to 970, and famous lover of Blueberry’s (hence the blue teeth). He is best remembered for uniting parts of Norway and Denmark into one country, and converting them to Christianity. See Harald was a man famous for bringing people together.

In the early 90s, when various different technology sectors were developing their own systems, it was assumed by some designers that this difference would vastly impede wireless compatibility across them. Jim Kardach was one such designer. Inspired by Harald, who he viewed as a perfect symbol for bringing together rival parties, he was able to help mediate between the various interested bodies and from this the Bluetooth Special Interest Group was born.

Think it stops there? It’s Harald’s name in ancient rune form that actually makes up the official Bluetooth logo!

Cute like human Ewoks, Vikings were known for their deadly skill at battle

Cute like human Ewoks, Vikings were known for their deadly skill at battle


The at sign

Few can imagine a world without it now, as it stands as the posterboy of modern communication; the twitter handle’s opening character, the link between username and domain on any email address. Alas, there was a time when this inescapable symbol was just a forgotten key stuck in obscurity on old typewriters.

The true origins are somewhat of a mystery, though many can agree that it came to prominent use as a symbol for ‘at the rate of’ in commerce, as in ’20 chickens at £1″ (its crucial meaning being demonstrated by the fact the total there would be £20).

It wasn’t until 1971 and the advent of the forerunner to email, that ‘The snail” (as the Italians called it) came into a new age of importance. Ray Tomlinson, a computer scientist at BNN (the company tasked by the American government with creating Arpanet – the precursor to the internet) sent a message to himself from one computer to another, and saved the @ sign from disappearing into symbolic and literal obscurity.

Make sure to take regular breaks from the screen to avoid hallucinations and Tron-esque out of body experiences

Make sure to take regular breaks from the screen to avoid hallucinations and Tron-esque out of body experiences


The Hash

And here we are – the symbol of our time. Has any symbol found itself more crucial to our technological strides, not just once but twice in modern history? Initially one of only two symbols chosen for dial tone phones to make the new keypads more symmetrical, it later entered the public psyche via Twitter in 2007 to demonstrate a trend or topic. As my friend recently noted, “it’s the only thing that’s always trending”.

Most of us know it now as the hash sign, but its actual name is The Octothorpe, giving it the air of a superhero. Those etymologists among us will recognise that octo means eight. A quick count and you can see we are looking at only six points, but that’s not the only mystery. See, some claim that the thorpe part means ‘farm’ in Old Norse, and that # would indicate a village on old maps. To this day, the symbol can mean a lumber yard on Swedish maps. It can also be used in proof-reading to signify a space should be inserted, and it can even mean a checkmate in chess!

If that wasn’t enough, a similar incarnation would be adopted by the Romans (them again) as another symbol for pound (bringing the total to, yes, three different symbols for pound)!

bored at work #worklife #notlistening # presentation #booooring #cliche #wearinashirt #rolex

bored at work #worklife #notlistening  #presentation #booooring #cliche #wearinashirt #rolex #lolz

What symbols do you think are missing from this list? Do you feel aggravated that I didn’t include the Neptune inspired USB logo? Perhaps you cannot contain your rage at the non-inclusion of the question mark? There are many websites out there with information on the history of symbols, Gizmodo being one of my favourites.

The point here was never to give a definitive answer to all and every, but to instead give you the clip notes of some of the symbols we see everyday. The ingenuity, intelligence and history that is behind each of these could fascinate. I’d like to know what you think.

Going Obsolete – Help a Little

Going Obsolete – Learning Never Stops

Going Obsolete – Sweat, Tears and Digital Ink

Going Obsolete – My Little Avalon

Going Obsolete

Special thanks to AKARAKINGDOMS, digitalart, Iamnee, iprostocks, jscreationzs, Pixomar, Simon Howden, stockimages, Stuart Miles, vectorolie, imagerymajestic and patrisyu @ for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and, 2015