My short ride to the mainline station turned into a slow crawl across the capital. In theory, taking a train should have meant a fourteen minute journey that circumvented the clogged roads at rush hour. The driver kept as informed with a practised and resigned calm; red lights delaying our arrival at Blackfriars; a train ahead with technical problems preventing us from reaching Farringdon. I had expected to have time to kill at King’s Cross, maybe buy a coffee, admire the roof for the nth time. Instead I raced over the road from St Pancras International, found my train on the departure board, wove through the crowds and made it with just two minutes to spare.
Older Nephew is meeting me I hope at Cambridge station. We’re off to winterise das Boot, which means going to the pump out at Ely and probably lunching in a pub there, returning to the marina, emptying the water tank and adding anti-freeze to the engine. I’m hoping it’s more relaxing than the first part of the journey.
We shall doubtless talk Brexit and Trump. Now, most of you will be aware that there was a referendum in June over whether to stay in or leave the EU. I, like 48% of those who voted, wanted to remain. The question was a simple stay or leave. But somehow the government led by the redoubtable Theresa May, has decided that parliament should have no say in the niceties of how we leave the EU, what our leavetaking should be. No, she says, there will not be a discussion along the way, The Country Has Spoken and we must respect that decision. OK, fair enough, it was a slender majority, but it was a majority and much as I should prefer to remain an EU citizen to the end of my days, I reluctantly accept that is not to be. But people did not vote on immigration. Or if they did, they were answering a different question to the one asked. They did not vote on remaining in or out if the single market; on freedom of movement or pan-European health care. Some people will have voted so the 350 million pounds claimed by the leave campaign could go to our beleaguered and beloved NHS. Funny how that money does not seem to play any part in the post Brexit world. Instead leading Conservatives are talking about stopping foreigners taking ‘our’ jobs. The proposal by Amber Rudd that businesses should report on how many foreign passport holders work for them was roundly denounced and dropped amid assurances that we had misunderstood. The fact that this was background to my reading of The Hare With Amber Eyes made it all the more sinister for me. If you don’t know the book I urge you to read it. Aunt Nessa, who died nearly two years ago, sent it to me and it has sat on my shelves until now, a little bit of unsuspected golden treasure. It’s a memoir by Edmund de Waal, a ceramicist based in London. He is descended from a banking family. A Jewish banking family. The hare in the title is a netsuke, one of a collection made by his ancestor Charles Ephrussi in the nineteenth century.
Charles was then living in Paris. Anti-semitism was an accepted norm. The family was spread around the capitals of the world, and sundered by the First World War when members found themselves fighting for opposing sides. Edmund’s great grandfather Viktor was in Vienna where he invested heavily and patriotically in war bonds, a financial disaster. The family was still in Vienna in the 1930s. As Amber Rudd made her speech, I was reading about the Anschluss, the vilification of Jews and the Aryanisation of businesses, including Viktor’s, the reluctance to leave until it was almost too late. As each restriction on their lives was introduced they became more and more other. Other. Not Austrian, not Aryan. Foreign. This is how it begins.
The Second World War was a leitmotif in my childhood and adolescence. It was something that informed my parents, shaped them and they referred to it often. I did not expect the lessons learned then to be so quickly forgotten. And for the government of my own country to behave in ways that can lead all to easily to persecution and wilful cruelty. Perhaps Theresa May and her colleagues believe that they have to give the nod to the xenophobes who are being so vocal at the moment. Perhaps they should look again at history, see what happened the last time appeasement was tried. This is how it begins.
There is a growing number of MPs from all parties opposing Ms May’s actions, arguing that she is being undemocratic. Back in the 30s, a certain Winston Churchill opposed appeasement. He and others met at the house of Brendan Bracken in Lord North Street, a few hundred yards from the chamber of the Commons. I am sure Chamberlain and his Cabinet saw them as disloyal shits, but the rest of us are very glad of their opposition and subsequent defence of European democracy and values, even though Churchill did not want us to join the Common Market after the war. You can’t get everything right.
Across the pond, Donald Trump has been exposed (sic) as a sexual predator. Nigel Farage, not content with being one of the causes of chaos at home, has come to Trump’s defence, describing his words as locker room talk; the sort of things men say. Really? And if true, is that a defence? I have heard people say it was eleven years ago, as though that makes it alright. But eleven years ago such predatory attitudes towards women were long, and rightly so, condemned. Donald Trump says he admires Putin, a leader whose relationship with the truth is as dubious as Donald Trump’s own.
This is how it begins.
Under Putin, Russia continues to bomb Aleppo and to deny that it is targeting civilians, hospitals and schools. Astoundingly, rather than suggest an action a government might take, UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson has urged people to demonstrate outside the Russian Embassy. I can hardly bear to watch the news about Syria. This is something that will return to haunt us, something we must have in our power to stop, and instead it feels like we are standing in the sidelines while a city and its people and pounded into dust.
This is how it begins.
Put into perspective, my stressful journey to Kings Cross railway station was nothing.