Toyah and cancer

'Perhaps the Travelodge likes to list the first name of every employee on these badges and then bene

I spend a good portion of my year on the road and so have much experience of this country’s cheaper hotels. This week I stayed at the Manchester Ancoats Travelodge. Can my life get any more glamorous?

It's a fairly basic hotel, but right next door to the Frog and Bucket where I was performing and thus very convenient for the drunken stagger back from the club. The venue had booked me in, but when I got there there was no record of the booking. Luckily there were rooms available, but I was at reception for a good ten minutes trying to sort out what had happened.

I noticed that the receptionist was wearing a badge with her name on it. Her name was Toyah - I imagine her mum became impregnated whilst "I Want to be Free" was on the radio.

Toyah was written in large letters in the centre of the badge, but beneath it in smaller letters was the word "Cancer".

I wondered what this meant. Was her name really Toyah Cancer? I suppose it's possible, though that makes her sound like a punk from quite a poor band from 1976. So if not that then what?

Does Travelodge put the star sign of each of its employees on their name badges? This would seem like a very odd thing to do, almost like imposing a religious philosophy on everyone who works there.

What if you don't believe in astrology? Wouldn't it be pandering to people who think they can lump you into one of a dozen groups of types of people? Surely there must be some law against labelling people in this way?

Alternatively perhaps the Travelodge likes to list the first name of every employee on these badges and then beneath it list any disease that they are currently suffering from.

This would seem a bit more intrusive and I hope it's not the case as Toyah was young and it would be a shame for her to be stricken down with such an awful condition and then be forced to wear a badge letting everyone know.

At least, if this is the case, I could be sure that she didn't have herpes. So there are some advantages to the system. But if that's the case then the Travelodge organisation is akin to the Nazi regime. Surely it would be illegal to do this, even were it voluntary.

I was tempted to ask her why her badge said "cancer" on it, but was more concerned with getting a place to sleep sorted out so it slipped my mind. But in a way it's more fun not knowing. Did she just have an unusual surname, was she born in late June or early July or did she have a tragic illness? Or is there some other explanation I hadn't thought of?

Possibly the Travelodge likes to put the latitude of birth of each of its employees on their name badge, usually this would be a number, but as this woman happened to be born 23° 26′ 22″ north of the Equator, right on the Tropic of Cancer, they have been able to use the word rather than the numbers. No, that doesn't seem too likely.

It's good to have mystery in one's life and I guess one of you may be able to answer this conundrum, but I am not sure I actually want that.

Mystery can be better than knowledge.

Richard Herring began writing and performing comedy when he was 14. His career since Oxford has included a successful partnership with Stewart Lee and his hit one-man show Talking Cock
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One Day Without Us reveals the spectre of Britain without immigration

Imagine a country without its NHS workers, its artists and even its consumers. That's why immigrants are striking today. 

What’s the best way of making yourself heard in politics? Protesting in the street, or contacting the media? Writing to politicians? A badge?

One option, of course, is to walk out - and give people a chance to recognise what they’d be missing if you weren’t there. In the labour movement, that’s long been an option – a last-case option, but an option nevertheless – when your contribution isn't being recognised.

A strike is a tit-for-tat negotiation and a warning shot. “I’ll work properly when you employ me properly”, it says, but simultaneously: “Here’s what you’d lose if I stopped”. Done right, the worker’s absence can shift the power balance in their favour.

Normally, people strike according to their role, in pursuit of certain conditions – the tube strikes, or last year’s teacher's strike.

Yet there is also a long and rich history of walk-outs whose terms are broader and boundaries hazier. One of the most famous is surely the 1975 Women's Strike, in Iceland, during which 90 per cent of the country's women refused to participate in either paid or unpaid work.

In 2016, the formula was repeated in Poland, where women went on strike to protest against a draconian change being proposed to the country's already-strict abortion laws. (It worked.)

Immigrant strikes, too, have a history. In 2006, for instance, a coalition of Los Angeles Catholic groups, unions and immigration reform groups proposed a boycott in opposition to a bill which, among other things, called for new border security fences to be built between America and Mexico. (Ahem.)

The action grew to become a national event, and on May 1, the “Great American Boycott” took place, with immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere leaving work, skipping school and refusing to buy or sell goods.

Now, with Donald Trump in the White House and Brexit looming, some have decided it’s time for another strike. Enter “One Day Without Us”.

Today, immigrants here in Britain will strike not for pay conditions or holiday allowances, but for basic recognition and respect. Across the country, businesses will close and immigrants will leave work, many of them to take place in alternative actions like rallies or letter-writing campaigns.

The name of the protest pulls no punches. This, it says, is what it would be like if we all went away. (Subtext: “like some of you want”.)

Because – and let’s be honest here – it’d be bad. In hospital this summer, I was treated by migrants. After 24 hours in NHS, I took a count, and found that only about one in five of the staff who had treated me were identifiably English. Around 4.6 per cent of NHS staff nationally are from the EU, including 9 per cent of doctors. Immigrants clean buildings, make our food, and provide a whole host of other vital services.

One Day Without Us, then, could do Britain a huge favour - it provides us with a quick preview function before anyone ups and leaves for good, taking the heart of our health service, or our food supplies, with them.

In recognition of this, some businesses are actively giving their workers the day off. One 36-year-old owner of a support services company, for instance, is giving her staff a paid holiday.

“Not all my colleagues are taking up the offer not to come in”, she explained. “Some, both British and foreign-born, would prefer to work. That’s fine, I wanted to give colleagues the freedom to choose.

 “It will cause some inconvenience and I’ve had to explain to clients why we aren’t offering all our services for one day, but I feel doing this is the only way to show how much this country relies on migrants. I may be a businesswoman, but I’m a human being first, and it hurts my heart to see how foreign-born colleagues are being treated by some people in the current political climate."

The woman, whose staff is 65 per cent foreign born, has asked her company not to be identified. She’s heard her staff being abused for speaking Polish.

Of course, not everyone is able to walk out of work. I write this from Chicago, Illinois, where last week activists participated in an American predecessor to One Day Without Us called “Day Without Immigrants”. Type “Day Without Immigrants" into Google followed by the word "Chicago" and you will find reports of restaurants closing down and citizens marching together through the city.

But search for just "Day Without Immigrants", and the top stories are all about participants being fired.

One Day Without Us, then, encourages any form of engagement. From human chains to sessions during which participants can write to their MP, these events allow immigrants, and supporters, to make themselves known across the country.

Businesses and museums, too, are involved. The Tate, for instance, is offering free tours showing visitors artworks created or influenced by migrants, showing Londoners which of the paintings that they’ve seen a dozen times only exist because of immigration.

Because paintings, like people, come from everywhere, whether or not you remember. Britain is a mongrel country, and so its art and culture are as mongrel as its workforce: a persistent thread through the country’s history.

We risk a lot forgetting this. At its best, assimilation provides a way of integrating without forgetting one’s own unique identity. In a world where immigrants risk threats or violence, however, invisibility can be the best option. For some, it is better not to be recognized as an immigrant than be abused as one.

Those of us who don’t risk threats have a duty to recognise this. I dislike the glibness of “we are all migrants” – maybe, technically, but we’re not all getting slurs shouted at us in the high street, are we? Still, I also don’t like anyone forgetting the fact that their existence, in all probably, is contingent on someone once being given clemency in a place that was their own. The movement of people is woven into the fabric of society.

Of course, it is impossible to say how successful One Day Without Us will be, or how many people’s lives will be directly affected. But I hope that, even as a gesture, it works: that people think of what would be missing from their lives without immigration.

We ignore it at our peril.

You can view all the One Day Without Us events on the organisers’ website, or contribute to a fund to support businesses which are closing for the day here.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland