I voted IN.
I have to admit; I didn’t watch and analyse the debates. I tried, but I couldn’t stand to watch pompous public schoolboys throw shit at each other. Besides, I knew I was going to vote Remain, and no one, not even God – even if he had appeared in glowing white robes, pointed at me, and declaimed THOU SHALT VOTE LEAVE LIKE THAT GOOD HONEST GUY FUCKWIT FARAGE – no one would have convinced me to tick the Leave box.
It’s because I have a fundamental sense of being European. My great grandmother was French, from Rouen, and inexplicably settled down with a South Yorkshire boy in Sheffield. Her youngest son, my grandfather, spoke perfect French and fought with The Resistance in the Second World War. As a consequence, my Dad is a Francophile, and we spent our 70s’ summers pottering through France in our tiny caravan. My Dad would spend hours planning our French tours, confirming each campsite weeks before by letter in French. Occasionally we would venture further afield, through Germany and Austria and touching the top of the Italian boot. I remember climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa and thinking ‘crikey – this is dangerous’. I remember taking a gondola ride in Venice and thinking ‘crikey – this is smelly’. I also remember the toilets on the Italian campsites (one memory I’d rather erase).
In my 20s, my soon-to-be husband and I toured round France in his falling apart, and wholly British, TVR. I’d tried to emulate my Dad’s organisational skills but found it all rather stressful. Navigating round the Peripherique turned out to be an experience not to be repeated, and getting stuck on a speed bump in a French council estate wasn’t our finest hour, but the Logis we stayed in – some overlooking busy market squares, one in Amboise facing onto the castle – were unforgettable. Then there was the mix up when a hotelier said to us ‘Voulez vous la voir?’ (do you want to see it?) and I thought she said ‘Voulez vous lavoir?’ (you want a wash-house?). I thought maybe a wash house was a local way of saying toilet, so I just said ‘Oui’ and waited for the next question. She disappeared, reappearing 5 minutes later saying, more urgently ‘Voulez vous LA VOIR’? ‘OUI’, I said, loudly. She went off. We didn’t move. And so it continued.
I feel connected to the French. I look French. I’ve watched Spiral. I’ve got ‘A’ level French, so I practically AM French. But it’s not all about France. We are, essentially, a European nation. This article suggests that most of us (although interestingly, not necessarily the Welsh) are 30% German. So yes, if Germany win the Euros, please allow yourselves a tiny internal celebration. And if you fancy a blub, watch this video: http://www.momondo.co.uk/letsopenourworld/
In leaving the EU, we have figuratively put up two fingers to the rest of Europe. We don’t like you, you can’t run things properly, we don’t like your rules, your mum smells of garlic, you can’t queue in an orderly fashion. We’ve never bothered to learn your language and we’re glad we didn’t waste the time. If we come and visit you in the future, we’ll speak English EVEN MORE LOUDLY AND SLOWLY. We might get drunk and throw some empty bottles about if you’re lucky. We were utterly brilliant once and we’re going to be brilliant again. Oh, and don’t forget – we won the war.
We are not brilliant. We are pompous and arrogant. I’m tired of reading social media comments that roll around and around the idea that we’re a great nation because ‘we won the war’. We didn’t; we joined many other countries – Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Greece, India, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Africa, United States, USSR, Yugoslavia – and worked together to stamp out a blinkered, ugly tyrannical force.
We could certainly not have ‘won the war’ on our own. And I suppose that’s my point. Whichever way you look at it, we do not control an empire any more. We are a tiny country with limited influence. Our education process is broken (the Dutch, Germans, Austrians, Polish all have better education standards than us), our NHS – once admired across the world, is crumbling. We bang on about our bulldog spirit, but bulldogs have a shedload of health issues, don’t they?
We need people around us. To trade with, to work with, to partner up with. To support us (remember the 7/7 attacks? The French Prime Minister, amongst others, gave us ‘the immediate, full and total collaboration of French services to help you identify the authors of these crimes.’). Would he do the same again, now?
What are we good at? What is it, about our nation, that we be proud of?
Well, there’s cheese. And Scotch whisky (although we’ll obviously lose that when the Scottish go independent). There’s steel – oh no, perhaps there isn’t. Hang on, I know – we’ve got Andrew Lloyd Webber. Top Gear (or whatever the new one is called). Stephen Fry. Gardening. The Beatles. Prince Harry.
Yes, you’re right. We’re royally fucked.
So what happens next? Boris will be our next PM. I’m not too sour about this, as my theory on Boris is that he’ll turn out to be a half decent egg. Yes, he supported Brexit and yes, he can’t brush his own hair. But I reckon he is a clever, manipulative old fish, and just used the Brexit machine to reach his Prime Ministerial goal. He did some good work as Mayor of London and he’s the son of an immigrant, for God’s sake. And besides, what’s – or who’s – the alternative?
There’s a petition going round to have a second referendum. Wouldn’t this be marvelous? Now that we have all Googled ‘What is the EU?’ and found out the answer, we can all vote with confidence this time. And if we do have a second referendum, perhaps the 18-25 bracket will get off their sorry arses and vote. Don’t complain that the oldies stole your voice if you didn’t vote in the first place.
I’m clutching at straws; we’re stuck with this decision of course. The economy will be ok, no doubt. I’m not really worried about that. We’ll stumble on, shored up by The Bank of Gringotts. JP Morgan and co might leave, but we can knock down their offices and build parks and wildflower meadows and bike lanes. It’s jolly good news for bees.The NHS will lurch from crisis to crisis, much as it does now. There’ll be no more money. The Arts will suffer. Employment rights and conditions will tumble. Food and petrol prices will go up. Bendy cucumbers will be allowed.
But far more troubling is the growing feeling that I don’t fit here anymore, in this weird place that has closed its doors to its neighbours. I’d rather be over there, in their gang, collaborating over Roquefort and Edam and perhaps a cheeky glass of red. So we’ll see how it unfurls; when my kids have left school, perhaps it will be time to finally learn my pluperfect tense, up sticks and join my french cousins. If they’ll still have me, of course.