We used to do go-to places of exile. Napoleon Bonaparte was despatched to St Helena, an island formed from a volcano. Good for your reasonably priced bottled mineral water. Ask anyone in the Volvic marketing department. And then ask them if ‘reasonably priced’ and ‘bottled water’ should sit in the same sentence.
Places of exile, ask any decent Kirstie Allsop, are all about location, location, location. St Helena is smack bang in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a place that deserves more than the average tourist spot one of those fanciful fingerposts. Pointing in the direction of Buenos Aires 1728 miles away; Paris, rather tantalisingly for Napoleon, 7423. Napoleon was going nowhere from there, never mind raising an army greater than several puffins assigned to ravaging the European continent. Rowing back to a mainland was a fear allayed when it was noted that Bonaparte had a habit of slipping his right hand inside his tunic, signalling that any boat-rowing would be in a circle. At best treating him to the circumnavigation of the island, stopping at a secluded and popular inlet for a buffet lunch and a swim and a spot of snorkelling before heading back before sunset for a sundowner.
Of course, St Helena is no longer a place of isolation now we are into the 73rd season of A Place in the Sun, in an era that is commonly referred to as the Post Judith Chalmers age of travel.
So where should we banish Robert Mugabe to? Where is left? Where in the world is remote enough for banishment when we read reviews of ‘a homely little northern Greenland bolthole’ in the Sunday supplements?
Fortunately, there exist locations that have that air of banishment about them. Exile Mugabe to Milton Keynes. In the modern era, it’s the closest experience we can get to sending dissidents to the Gulag. Milton Keynes was conceived by 1980s British town planners with Gulag-chic in mind. An entire housing estate city that ditched the tried-and-tested Mock-Tudor Barratt’s homebuilding schemes of the 1970s in favour of ‘Mock-Brutalist’. The kind of town Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would have visited and said, ‘Hold on a minute. Hold your horses. I’m getting déjà vu!’
What better place to impose house arrest than MK? Or, if the punishment meted out to Mugabe should be more severe – maisonette arrest? How could we emulate for him the conditions of the Gulag? By serving up meals as close in nutritional value to the gruel and boiled hobnail boot perhaps with Chicken Tikka Masala Mini Pizza Bites. Breaking rocks between times could be substituted for enforced-watching box-sets of Homes under the Hammer.
True, Milton Keynes is a ready-made, off-the-rack place of exile, but it is not without transport links. Unlike the oceanically challenged island of St Helena, Milton Keynes is more accurately considered the ‘landlocked Robben Island of Buckinghamshire’. Perhaps then Robert Mugabe would be better accommodated somewhere with absolutely no links to the outside world. How about a stop on a Southern Railway line? Burgess Hill? – a Gulag no-one will ever commute out of.