23 May 2012
I'm fascinated by borders, me. Really. When you drive through Europe now, the old border stations are now derelict, with the land just used as standard rest areas for lorry drivers. You have to remind yourself just how authoritarian they once were.
I remember as a kid going to Spain by coach on holiday, and having to wait at the border control for ages while men with moustaches, uniforms and absolutely no sense of humour checked passports and under seats before letting us through.
I'm now fascinated more by the people who live on borders. That France-Spain one for example; if you have a house on one side of the border, does it mean that through your neighbours you grow up bi-lingual? In the old days, did you have to take your passport with you to retrieve your football after kicking it over the garden wall? It must have been hellish, as an understatement, to be quietly living on the border of two countries who then went to war. Your country was on one side, your friends on the other.
Border controls in America are, I understand, pretty strict. The unofficial border stops, the bits that separate Texan fields from Mexican ones or Montanan bridleways from Canadian tracks, still have geezers with guns wandering up and down in case someone tries to enter on foot surreptitiously and, undoubtedly, carrying something unlawful.
I've never been to either side of the Irish border, but I can't imagine it has ever been comfortable living on it, irrespective of which side. The Scottish border made me laugh after I visited Edinburgh four years ago. It was only the second - and, so far, last - time I'd visited Scotland, and though the border from Cumbria on the M6 was unremarkable as I journeyed up, the one on the eastern side coming back (it wasn't the A1, but can't remember which road it was) had a big snazzy sign up with various facts about Scotland and England's history, prior to another sign saying 'drive on the left'. Which, of course, everybody was already doing.
It wasn't meant to be funny, and of course to you it probably isn't funny, but it tickled me at the time and I laughed as I re-entered England.