In the sense that life here revolves around cities and towns, yes.
In the sense that we – most of us – enjoy modern comforts and conveniences, made possible by science and technology, undoubtedly.
In the sense of cultural refinement – well, maybe.
In the sense of social enlightenment and “a high level of government” – the country’s not what it was. And it’s getting worse, fast.
I’ve had an email from Shiromini Satkunarajah. Me and 168,500 other people. In it she says: “My mother and I are very happy to have been released and… it is only because of everyone’s support… Thanks to everyone who raised awareness by signing and sharing the petition.”
I get a lot of requests to put my name to online petitions. Mostly I don’t, though it’s seldom because I don’t agree with them. Mostly it’s due to petition fatigue. Both my own and a fear that the deluge of petitions – which are so easy to start and to join – will bring diminishing returns. “Yeah, yeah, another petition for the bin, yawn, yawn.”
In Shiromini’s case I did join in, for two reasons. It was urgent. And I thought that in this case a direct and forceful appeal to home secretary Amber Rudd might just work. As apparently it did. For now, anyway.
Until her 11th-hour reprieve, Shiromini was about to be deported to Sri Lanka, a country she had not seen since she arrived in Britain with her parents eight years ago as a 12-year-old refugee from civil war.
Originally allowed to stay on her father’s student visa, she was given leave to complete her secondary education in the UK when he died in 2011. She was three months short of completing her engineering studies at Bangor University when the Home Office informed her that her application for a full student visa had been denied.
Now at least it seems she’ll be able to sit her final exams, in which she is predicted to get a first-class degree. Clearly the Home Office believes we have so many high-grade women engineers we can afford to boot some out.
There remains a real danger that once the attention has died down, Shiromini and her mum will still be expelled from this allegedly civilised nation. Her message of thanks ends: “Please note that I haven’t been granted leave to remain and solicitors are on board to try and sort it out.”
Take the case too of Irene Clennell, which has attracted international attention.
Irene, who has been married to a British man for 27 years, has British children and a British grandchild, lost her indefinite leave to remain when she returned to Singapore for a spell to care for her ailing parents. She was back in County Durham looking after her husband John, who has had to retire through ill health, when the authorities decided to split up a loving family.
As her sister-in-law Angela said: “Irene has never claimed benefits in the UK. John has worked his entire adult life. We need to fight to keep them together so he has someone to care for him, and so she can stay with her family, where her home is.
“Irene has nowhere to go in Singapore, both her parents have passed away – her whole life is here in Britain.”
Except that now she’s been kicked out, treated, as she described it, “like a terrorist”.
All the circumstances scream “inhumane” and “injustice”. And this is not just about two innocent people - it’s also about the UK’s standing in the world. Does little Britain really want to be seen as a vindictive, irrational, racist – uncivilised – country?
Here are two women eloquent and educated enough to tell the world their stories. Stories which shame us all. How many others like them go untold?