Things have changed a bit since the last time I flew back into England. Sure, the bags still get driven to Legoland and back tied to an asthmatic snail rather than the more straightforward 200-yard trip from plane to baggage reclaim; yes, the clanging, miserable terminal buildings are as soul-destroyingly bleak and charmless as they ever were; and yes, it still costs ten billion quid to get an oily muffin and a cup of the grittiest mud coffee you've ever had in your life.
But, at Gatwick, there was something else. As you got off the plane and walked round the 20 or so miles of tedious corridor to get your bags back, you suddenly came across a very odd space: UK BORDER, it said. What the...? I'd never seen this before. It was as if the border had been branded. And then cogs started to whirr away in the back of my mind; I remembered some wizard wheeze from whichever dummkopf of a home secretary it was at the time, how they were going to prevent illegal immigration and terrorism by giving everyone smart new uniforms and nice shiny badges.
Yeah, right. Shame they didn't get regulation issue smiles - or, come to it, deodorant - along with the uniforms, the charmless beggars. I mean yes, it must be dull looking at passports all day and grumbling about a crease being somewhere near the photo page (hey guess what? It's a fucking passport, it's going to get creased! And given that it's about as sturdy as a sheet of old-school Bronco bog paper nowadays, the 80-odd quid you have to pay for it notwithstanding, you're going to be seeing a good few creases) but really, would some humanity hurt? Is there some kind of rule that you have to grimace at the navy blue former Eastern Bloc passports as if they're covered in rabies? Is there? Not that I got much more of a grin when I showed them my one-year-old British one. Just a horrible snarl and an 'on your way sonny' from the miserable face of the UK Border drone, who clearly would have preferred being anywhere other than where he was.
But yes, UK Border. What an odd name for a start. What an odd piece of branding. What a fucking waste of money, obviously. Except, it struck me as I stood there at the UK Border: this isn't about branding at all. This is, after all, New Labour we're talking about, who'd privatise the Labour Party if they could. I suddenly had vague memories of those self-congratulatory adverts you used to get in the 1980s, where the Tories' latest targets for privatisation would come strutting out and saying how marvellous they were and what a wonderful thing it'd be if you could fork out a couple of bob and buy some shares, and wouldn't that make you part of something magical? I even remember the one they did for the Post Office - please, if it's on YouTube, I want to find it - which had some jowly-looking city bod in a Merc looking at a bar chart on a laptop showing how great the Post Office was (and, therefore, wouldn't it be just brilliant if it were privatised?)... though, as I recall, that got shelved in the end.
Anyway, it struck me right there and then. "UK Border" isn't just a pointless piece of re-badging something. It wasn't created to stop terrorism or illegal immigration in the slightest. It was creating something in order to sell it off in the future. It was branding a bit of the state in order to flog it off (and I'm guessing for much less than it's actually worth) QinetiQ-style. Maybe it's just a bit sensitive to sell off border controls to Honest Barry's Security Inc right now, while the 'threat of terrorism is still with us'. But there'll come a time, oh there'll come a time.
Anyway, the holiday was lovely. And not a single copy of the Daily Mail, so, paradise. Although. DMGT, the Daily Mail's owners, don't hate our European friends as much as Hate Mail stories might have you think - in fact, they've branched out. I don't know if 'Kisalfold' covers articles about 'waves of immigration' into Hungary, or whether Gazdag Kicskibudi scribbles about how his beloved homeland is going to the dogs (from his gated Florida mansion, obviously). But it's worth remembering, when you read something anti-European in the Mail...