My neighbour just sent me this photograph. It’s of a nearby building.
With nine million people in London who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and the majority of voters across the UK in the December 2019 general election voting for parties that at the least wanted a second referendum, it’s hardly surprising we are not all getting behind Brexit. This was the scene last night in Parliament Square.
We-ell. Where are we now? To be honest I don’t know. Johnson is a slippery beast. Never in my life have I experienced what it is to have a senior politician who has such a distant relationship with truth. I have loathed Margaret Thatcher, considered her opinions and policies wrong and divisive, but I never doubted she believed in what she was doing. With Johnson, no. It’s all about him, his ego. Just read his book about Churchill if you don’t believe me. It’s a book about Johnson as he would like us see him. A fantasy masquerading as history. I am getting an inkling of what it must have been like to be Italian all these years. I don’t like it. Everything he does feels like a potential trap, particularly when he says words such as ‘respect’ ‘democratic’ ‘people’. These are just words to push buttons, provoke knee jerk reactions. In other words, not democratic.
But it is increasingly clear that Brexit is not about democracy, it is not about what is best for the country, it is not about cool headed sensible decisions; it is about emotion. If a referendum were held tomorrow what would the result be? I don’t know. Surveys give conflicting answers. It appears that many people think that if Johnson’s deal is agreed Brexit is ‘done’ (another word increasingly used by the pro Leave bunch). This is wrong. Agreeing this deal is just the end of the beginning. The next phase is going to be more intense, more contentious, more dangerous. But the red tops keep exhorting the government to ‘get it done’ ‘let us go’ ‘break the shackles’. No one has been able to explain to me satisfactorily what those ‘shackles’ are, what we would be freed from: frictionless trade? freedom of movement? membership of the biggest trading block? All things I am very happy to keep. Who wouldn’t be?
So no surprise to hear that last Saturday I joined over one million people marching through London to proclaim our desire to remain in the EU.
My journey to the mach was easy and pretty short. Some people had travelled overnight in coaches from all over the UK. This time there were many regional flags, people keen to show it is not just the Metropolitan Elite who is in favour of the EU, but those from Salisbury, Cornwall, Essex (Essex!), Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kent, Cardiff. You get the idea. I didn’t recognise all the flags, and obviously only being in one section of the march I didn’t see all of them, but the White Rose of Yorkshire, flying among posters of Jo Cox, brought a lump to my throat. Continue reading
Until this evening I had not heard of Danez Smith. Now I want to buy his book of poetry Don’t Call Us Dead. I want to know more. What a voice. What a poet. What a man.
Enjoy is the wrong word. Listen, be thrilled, be moved, be ashamed, be inspired. Continue reading
You would think that there had been no march on Saturday, no five million plus signatures on a petition asking for Article 50 to be revoked. Europe is talking about it, the world is talking about it, the UK government isn’t. No. The day after the march our esteemed Prime Minister met renowned Brexiteer MPs, people who would be quite happy to leave the EU with no deal. The Prime Minister followed this meeting up with a speech where she spoke about the British People (yep, they’re being evoked again but apparently my birth certificate lies and I am not one of them) and how they would not countenance not leaving the EU. No mention of the march, the petition, the fact that the referendum was advisory and not binding, and had it been binding it would have been declared void because of illegal activity by the Leave campaign.
Not. A. Word.
There’s the usual baloney about respecting the ‘will of the people’ respecting ‘the result of the referendum’. Nothing about respecting those who march peacefully, who follow the rules, who do not threaten civil disruption, public mayhem if this goes ahead, who engage in debate not rhetoric and meaningless slogans. Continue reading
By twelve midday, when I was still with my clients, Parliament Square was already awash with banners. Cyclists were circling the square (sic) to the accompaniment of Electric Dreams, a song I have never really liked, but from now on shall listen to with affection. My clients, from the US, were captivated. In particular as we made our way into and across Green Park they were stopping to photograph banners, deriving special pleasure from any deriding Trump. We were supposed to part company at Trafalgar Square, but they stood and watched as marchers moved slowly by, banners and placards held aloft. There were some real corkers, and I am so cross that I forgot to charge my camera battery last night. I’ve got a few pictures on my ‘phone which will have to do.
We all agreed we were witnessing history, I intended to join the march, and I really shouldn’t be surprised to learn they joined in too. Finally they left to get some lunch and I sat by a statue and ate the salad I had brought with me. The woman beside me was German and we chatted. I said I was hoping to meet some neighbours, one of who is also German. Texts suggested they might be some time, then they said they were on Pall Mall, and we fixed a rendezvous by the lions in the square. There was a French couple beside me, and once they had made friendly eye contact a conversation started between us. French is my second language, and it may sound silly, but marching to say I want to remain in the EU, it felt positive to be able to converse with these fellow Europeans in their language.
For some weeks now, due to the bizarre political situation in the UK, I have felt like I am living in a Tom Sharpe novel. You know the ones. He wrote them in the 1980s and most were set in a dysfunctional South Africa. I never expected those scenarios to feel like real life in the second decade of the C21 in this group of islands I call home.
For nearly three years since the ill thought out referendum about the UK’s future relationship with the EU, those of us who voted Remain have been sidelined. The Breat British Public and their Will apparently excludes us and our will. We have marched, we have demonstrated. Parliament has ignored us, despite our numbers. The Electoral Commission has ruled that the Leave campaign broke the rules. Utd all government could find to say was that it was ‘regrettable’ and the referendum result must be respected. The subtext of this was of course that anyone who voted to remain, who had not broken the rules could,in the eloquent phrasing of Mr B Johnson, ‘go whistle’.
Last night, with just nine days to go to the deadline, we seemed to reach a new low. At this rate our government will surely find itself tunnelling through to Australia soon. Faced with the complacent smirk of Mark Francois, a politician whose election to office brings the whole of our system into disrepute, his intellectual capacity being either so well hidden no one has seen it yet, or possibly non-existent, saying that he is quite happy about a no deal exit from the EU, I felt deep despair and helplessness. There is no effective opposition in Parliament, no one offering an alternative. I feel abandoned.
I tried reading my next book group book (Heartburn by Nora Ephron. For such a slim volume it is taking me a very long time to finish it) but my eyes kept sliding from the page.
I turned to Twitter in search of a hashtag game to lighten my mood, and found a petition. This is a screen shot of it from earlier this evening.
Even the media reckon there were around 700,000 people on yesterday’s march. That may well mean there were more. Certainly the streets were full, the mood good. A feeling of solidarity with people you don’t know about a situation that is all wrong.
I’m not saying we all agreed. I am not convinced yet about a second vote though I am slowly moving in that direction. My outrage is with the first vote where we know the rules were broken by the Leave campaign. In my eyes that is enough to suspend the whole process. Carrying on is a slap in the face for democracy, and democracy around the world has had its face slapped a lot in the past few years.
Against the brutalities of the world, small triumphs are like anchors, keeping me safe, secure while the waves crash around me: finishing a library book and returning it before the due date; recycling some small electricals; posting a present to a friend whose birthday falls when I’ll be in New Zealand.
The news continues to broadcast from a world untethered, a world where interrogators arrive in planes with diplomatic immunity, bone saws in their luggage, and the President of the United States expresses a willingness to believe the Saudi Royal family knows nothing about it. Given that country’s reputation for state control, and the Crown Prince’s hands on actions, are we really to accept that they were so busy watching the Saudi version of Bake Off that they temporarily abdicated that control to persons unknown? Continue reading
Blue sky. Tree tops. I have to sit up to see more. Wood pigeons are calling. Leaves rustle on the trees. A bird I can’t identify peep peeps somewhere not far away. When we arrived there was a swan serene and calm. My starting the engine to check/charge the battery and ensure hot water for tonight didn’t seem to worry it. But after a while it moved off and into the river.
Blue sky and treetops
I was tempted not to come, despite having blocked these days out in my diary and written BOAT across them. I’m tired. My boat days should have started yesterday, but I still hadn’t found time to book the train and coach journeys in New Zealand to get me between various locations. The coach site was annoying. It decided early on I was looking to book two seats and no matter how many times I tried to correct it, that was what came up in my basket. I was going to cancel and try again but I got a message saying I might not be able to get seats at all. I emailed the company, and had some lunch. Of course no one replied; what was I thinking? It was the middle of the night there. So after humming and hawing for a while, I took the plunge.
In the evening I got a reply to my email. It was suggesting that the error was mine and offered a number I could call. I replied pointing out I had emailed about the problem before confirming my booking, was on the other side of the world, and had spent around half an hour trying to get the site to ‘modify’ what was in my basket.
It’s a long story and in the end I got a refund, but the company insisted all the time the error was mine. I found this tedious and patronising.
Despite this and the disappointment of England being knocked out of the World Cup (I couldn’t bear to watch), I slept well. This morning I was slow and sluggish, and if I had more free dates in my diary to come East should probably have stayed at home.
Celia, who has been in Wales for weeks, is back in London, and kindly gave me a second coffee while we caught up a little. My neighbour Jolita will water the plants, my bags were in the car. I lifted MasterB from the drawer under the bed where he was sleeping and away we came.
The traffic wasn’t bad; a few hold ups, but I was congratulating myself on having covered most of the miles before the end of the school day and the hoards of parents who collect their children by car, when we came to a sudden stop. Roadworks, I thought, temporary traffic lights. But I was wrong. Car after car in front of me turned and came back where we had come. I reached the front of the queue and followed suit. I hadn’t seen much, but it was enough. A red car across the road, doors open, glass on the ground. The detour was long but effective and we met fire engines racing towards us, making me wonder if someone needed to be cut free.
Always a cautious driver, I became doubly so. Continue reading
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. Continue reading