London

Fleeing Italy: a Generation Lost?

Everyone always moans about immigration – British people tend to say they either don’t like it or loathe it. Just take a look across Europe and far right anti-immigration political parties are gaining ground and winning seats in government.

My girlfriend is half Italian and half Palestinian, and perhaps 50-60% of her friends from home (a relatively affluent area of Italy – a suburb of Milan) have left the country for places all over the world – primarily London and Australia. Maybe just take a moment to think about that in terms of your own friendship group – its a lot of people.

Sforzesco Castle, Milan

Sforzesco Castle Main Courtyard in Milan

They come here with skills British companies need, they speak decent English (in my experience) and also because they enjoy parts of our culture. Someone even claimed that there are 500,000 Italians living in the UK at this moment – I can’t find any proof to back this up, but in 2011 there were 133,000 so it wouldn’t surprise.

Yet Italians seem to go unnoticed. They look foreign, sound foreign and are often employed in jobs that a British person would’ve been able to do. They’re all over the place; behind bars, discussing football on the tube, coming round for dinner constantly.

Apart from the horrible incident when a young man was killed by a group of other immigrant workers, there is seemingly very little bad will to them at all. I’d love to know why this is.

Comparing this to the extremely unpleasant, incorrect and over the top stories published in the Daily Mail about Romanian and Bulgarian workers and the imminent flood the UK was supposed to be subjected to, and you have to wonder if people in the UK actually understand how immigration actually benefits the UK. We are reliant on immigration and have benefited from it for hundreds of years.

Venice

Venice

One thing I do feel is a pang of sadness for Italy. It’s losing it’s young people, and fast. Apart from there being relatively few jobs, most of my Italian friends cite the government and the world famous Italian mafia as the main reasons for leaving their country.

Italy also has one of the oldest populations in the world – which only compounds the problem of the economy. Germany has more old people, but their crazily resilient and tough economy is able to deal with it. Japan’s young people rarely emigrate – and look after their parents in old age.

Hopefully Italy’s economy will rise from the ashes and people will return, perhaps to start families or just because they miss the food.

Olsoweir

New York Bicycle Couriers

London based? Why don’t YOU cycle to work?

Cycling Commuter in Ottawa

After commuting to work and getting from A to B  on a pushbike in London for the best part of six years (apart from the 10 mile post-pub missions braving sub-zero temperatures coupled with sleet), I have come to the unexpectedly sudden realisation that it could help to mitigate a number of London’s social and economic problems. With enough support from our government and employers to ensure certain initiatives are implemented, cycling to work could become a viable option for many current slaves of Transport For London, and be a force for positive change on several different levels. I’ve listed them below:

  1. Get into work smiling! It’s a well known fact that the UK economy is heavily reliant on the service sector, and nowhere is this more evident than in London. This means a lot of people sit in front of computers all day for five days a week. Obvious point: exercise is good for you. We weren’t built to sit in front of screens for nine hours a day. Some people valiantly go to the gym on their lunch breaks. But why pay for a gym membership when you can cycle to work? A) it’s free, b) you burn a load of calories, c) you don’t have to pay for an overpriced ticket for a tube full of hot, irritable people, and you get into work having released a load of endorphins that improve your mood and cognitive performance. Win win scenario? … Yes.
  2. Help your National Health Service! A lot of people are overweight in this country. Diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer are all either triggered or exacerbated by a poor diet. While a healthy diet is a good start, to stay healthy in the long term people need regular exercise. Humans were built to hunt Mammoths and build huts, not design magazines, answer phones and write press releases all day. We could relieve the burden on the NHS significantly if enough people could be convinced to adopt cycling to work as a central pillar of their effort to get healthy, but more importantly remain healthy!
  3. Reduce traffic and congestion on London’s creaking transport infrastructure! London is one of the most important cities in the world, as well as the oldest subway system in the world. Londoners are all too aware of this. Often the tube network seems to resemble a leaking boat – as soon as one line upgrade has finished, another one starts. Not to mention the mad crush to get on tubes and buses in the mornings. Wouldn’t you trade that in for a breezy, relatively flat commute on a pushbike? Oh, AND if you really want to get a workout / not have to wake up earlier in the morning to allow for a longer cycle ride, put that little bit extra ooompf in and you might find your cycle commute is shorter than your tube journey. I live in Brixton, and I get to Soho around 15 minutes quicker on my bicycle than if I take the tube. WIN WIN SCENARIO!

So, some pretty perspicacious points for you there! ;-)

Olympic Fixed Gear bicycle

One of the bikes whose owner is likely to be loathed by seasoned cycling commuters. Avert your eyes, seasoned commuters.

Of course, helping people to feel comfortable cycling to work on what are some pretty mean streets would require a completely new, and most likely expensive approach to how the capital’s roads work. The widening of existing cycle lanes on busy routes and the creation of new ones will only have an impact if people are told how to use them.

People who haven’t passed their driving test are allowed to ride a bicycle on London’s roads – this doesn’t seem right. Cycling proficiency in year seven at primary school was a joke. People who aren’t familiar with riding on busy city roads need to be shown how, for free. This will ensure people know what they are doing – increasing confidence but most importantly it will reduce fatalities. Boris, that one’s for you!

Employers also need to be cycling-friendly and ensure that people have a secure place to put their bikes, and provide showers or some sort of storage for ironed shirts.

Olsoweir