And even more to the point: if this year is all as brand new as it’s supposed to be, why is it that it’s feeling already so old and déjà vu?
Maybe it is our fault. All those things we keep relegating to the background, hoping perhaps that by systematically ignoring them we will consign them to some hole in history out of which they will not be able to climb to come and pester our days. But it does not work like that, and they do seem to have this way of coming back to haunt us. Or, at the very least, to inevitably colour everything around us, to cast a shadow of their own onto what we wanted to preserve, pristine and untouched: our brand new year, our yearly welcomed chance at renovation, at new beginnings.
Thus with this new year. It has been so bandied about — 2018. That year. You know, the year. 2018. The year when it will all change out of recognition. The year when life as we have known it so far will cease, and a new order of unstable, unsteady things will slowly creep upon us and all ours. That year, 2018, of all years. Well, it’s here. And for all its seemingly self-imposed celebrity status, well, let me tell you, 2018 is not looking all that sparkly, or all that famous. It looks more and more like an impending calamity we will hardly be able to avoid.
Oh, I do so hope I’m wrong about this! I’ll willingly sacrifice my mostly spotless track-record of political forecasts of the last twenty-something years, which has now become something of a slightly bitter joke in our household. I’ll sacrifice it for an outcome different than what is taking shape for millions and millions of us. Because the future is about to fall on our heads this year — on us all. All of us. Each and every one of us in different ways, but it is coming; and when it does come, it seems to me it will finally have a title which will very much be in the fashion of one of those bestselling, Southern American literary novels.
So here it is, my own take on it: this year will be the year when a future colder than the Arctic and more rabid than a demented hyena — if you forgive me the mixed metaphors — will come biting at our chins. And every day of this new year shall be leaving behind a little bit of its history, the history of a people who, manipulated by the demagoguery of those who served only their vested interests, and moved by a rampant feeling of xenophobia they increasingly came to subscribe, willingly chose to cut their own noses to spite their faces, sever their own feet to spite their arms and hands. In what has been often enough called my innate Southern European dramatic penchant, I shall call this particular ‘écume des jours’ The Chronicles of a Future Foretold. The way I see it, it evokes quite appropriate imagery — after all, this impending future of ours, an exercise in selfish oneiric escapism to some and a dubiously romantic love story to others, while nothing but their worst nightmare for the rest of us, will be the death of so many things that I’m already beginning to lose count, even before I properly start.
A few years ago I swore myself off politics for good, in what I knew would prove a bit like cutting one of my own arms off. After all, politics — and more specifically political science — was almost my be all end all, ranking up there right after the kids, hubby, Mom, best friends, kitties and fishies and doggies. For one thing, politics had been not just my chosen career, but something that had made my heart tick long before a peaceful revolution had snatched my birth country from the claws of authoritarianism, and propelled it into its path towards democracy. Because certain things, you see, you seem to simply absorb them together with the air that you breathe. Or, as my Great-Aunt used to say, forget the tea, sis, it’s the water that you get to drink. For a couple of my country’s generations, the water to our thirst was acute political awareness and activism.
Moreover, this is not the place, nor do I feel any pressing need to justify myself or past decisions. Suffice to say, at this point in time, that for a number of years I have been recognising a rather dark and foreboding undercurrent in the politics of my adopted country, which has rung alarm bells in my all too dictatorship-aware ears and heart. Not getting any younger by the year, observing these undercurrents rise and become mainstream began taking its toll on my health; and, not being fifteen anymore or on the streets of my hometown in a country suddenly fighting for that most elusive of things, a right to Democracy with a capital D, it seemed to me it was time to give up being D. Quixote. But my heart ached: what kind of country was England becoming, our England, my England, when you fear for your political stance, for defending more democracy, not less…? What kind of country are we allowing them to build for our grandkids, hon…? What kind of country…
And then came the Brexit referendum. Seeing the way the land was fast laying, Mr Cat-herder and I volunteered to work for not one but both Remain campaigns. We multiplied ourselves. Manning the phone banks for our party, high street and house canvassing, letter and leaflet-dropping, manning benches, standing or sitting out in the cold, trying to get through to our fellow citizens. We tried to point out to anyone willing to stop by and listen that things were not exactly as they were being told they would be. That a vote for Brexit was not a kick in the government’s arse to start looking after the interests of the working classes, rather than those of the upper class and the big corporations it seemed to have sworn allegiance to. That, by voting Brexit, the older generation would be cutting their children’s feet, plucking out their grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s wings. That it was not European migrants who were not paying their share of taxes. That an illegal European migrant is, in fact, an oxymoron.
And then I came across that other cosmic paradox: a Brexit-voting Brit ex-pat, arguing they were not worried, all would be staying exactly the same after Brexit. Because, apparently, after decades of living abroad, they knew only too well how much “Europe” needed Britain, and how afraid of us they were, and how they wouldn’t dare to do anything against Britain’s interests, and how, well, how everything would be staying exactly the same, from freedom of movement and residence to their European health cards and free healthcare and etc, etc, etc. And they had spelt it out, syllable by syllable as if I were endowed with a simple and moronic mind, no doubt one to match my evident alien inferiority: ec-zac-tlee-the-say-me. And from all corners we got exactly the same — oh you scaremongerers, fear project-ors. Go away, you nasty people. Go home, you effing foreign thing. Hey, we know where you live, their toe-capped, black leather, laced-up boot firmly on the front fender of my mobility scooter, their chubby hand on my handlebar, their crew cut centimetres from my eyes and face, their breath on my own breath.
That June day had come with scandalous, obscene haste, it had seemed to me. On the night, Mr Cat-herder had gone to bed, trusting his instinct over mine: It’s going to be close, hon, perhaps even a bit too close for comfort, but it’s going to be in for Remain. Don’t fret. Come to bed. Besides, it’s only advisory, and not even Cameron would be that stupid that he’ll be adopting an advisory as compulsory… Hey, look again, buster, I had thought to my buttons. It’s the Tories. And it’s Cameron. Needed I say more? And besides, I would be unable to shut-eye anyway, so I had stayed up.
Come morning, I had woken him up, sobbing and crying my eyes out. He hadn’t believed me, I must I have got something wrong somewhere and got over-emotional about some misunderstanding because surely it couldn’t be — it wouldn’t be — it simply —
— could it…? He had grabbed his phone from the bedside table. To check. To see with his very own eyes.
Oh my god, what have they done…? Of all the fucking stupid shit to have done! Oh. My. God. What have they done?
In twenty something years, I have rarely ever heard Mr Cat-herder swear.
And that’s pretty much what’s been on our lips ever since: what the hell have they done to themselves, and everybody else to boot…? What have they done to Britain? How could they have bought all that propaganda as the, erm, facts of life…? How could they have bought Farage, Boris, the little dangerous aristocratic troll with the round glasses, oh-what’s-his-full-mouth-will-of-the-people-name…? Their little genuine-man-of-the-people-me acts and cue in Gorillas in The Mist and their pretty alpha male, chest-thumping routines? How could the people, all the real people out there, have bought the whole lot as if it were all their ships finally come to port? How could they?
Call me a silly romantic softhead, but it’s not easy to see the country you’ve loved and held as your own veer towards the political choice you fear and despise above all else; and it is not easy to see it make the kind of choice that it’s going to set it back decades, and condemn its most needy citizens to the worse hardship the last few post-war generations will have ever seen. And it is especially not easy when you see how the whole thing is being done, and why, and recognise the tactics from an earlier time in your life that you thought would be all but gone within Europe.
But the fact remains people did buy it all, lock stock and barrel, and wholesale. And I suppose that, quite beyond any arguments of whether a people, any people of any nation, should be allowed to freely and legitimately choose (i.e., elect) any embodiment of fascism as its political system and governance, it may well be deemed within their democratic rights to do so. What I object, though, and will continue to object to until I’ve gone blue in the face, is the “how” of the decision.
It wasn’t until a couple of weeks after the referendum came to pass that I once again needed medical attention for the devastation the whole thing was wreaking on me. Again. Don’t they even care? I asked myself or Mr Cat-herder again and again. Don’t they care about what they’re doing to millions, to themselves, to the coming generations? What they’re doing to people like us, to us?
Of course, “they” didn’t; because “they” seemed to be revelling as much on this “us and them” rhetoric as we were loathing being dragged into it. But how could we avoid it, given that apart from marking us as the outsiders, the unwelcome, it also demarcated us as the non-assenting, non-consenting party in this societal and political folly? This new, us-and-them country was a quantity that seemed to suit “them” just fine, while it did not suit “us” at all; and the traitors, the unpatriotic ones, it would soon turn out, were all those who the new status quo did not suit at all, those who seemed to insist, quite dementedly, on the rule of law rather than the rule of a propaganda brainwashed mob.
I cannot say I was very surprised by the wave of racism and xenophobia that seems to have swept the country since the morning after the referendum. I had been experiencing it from day one in this country, as had my daughter, mostly by virtue of our sun-kissed, beach-loving skin, and my beautiful girl’s, rather classical Greek looks (Mom, what’s a Paki? Mom, but why do they call me a Paki?) And, escape it though I may have been able to do, even if only circumstantially, while I lived in the midst of those vibrant, inner city, multi-ethnic comunities I feel priviledged to have experienced as my own, once I moved to this slumbering, green and pleasant Stafforshire village with Mr Cat-herder, I quickly became reacquainted with it all. Especially with the fact that, of all the foreign beasts, we the Europeans are by far the most loathed, bypassing even perceptions of colour as foreignness, antagonism and danger. Go figure this one out, if you can — that racism and xenophobia seem to no longer be a function of colour and/or ethnicity is the one thing we can be grateful to Brexit for bringing to the forefront of social science. Without its usual refuge of perceived difference, however, this new realization of the old feeling would appear to the mere layman as all the more virulent and unjustifiable. And tomorrow, our neighbours…? They’d be seeing themselves justified in asking, remembering perhaps that old First they came for… This is indeed an age of many olds, and seemingly of as many firsts — and it seems, as is so often the case, that never the twain shall meet, no matter how long, how hard we try.
Therefore, in the end it turned out to be just as we had been saying all along, that any pro-leave outcome would only legitimise many things that had remained, if not dormant, at least tucked away out of general sight, this society’s latent racism being only one of them. Time and again, though, Mr Cat-herder and I had been told our “view of things” was “unavoidably tinted” (in what I gathered was yet another subtle allusion to my ‘foreignness’), because no pro-leave referendum vote would result in burnt mosques, or beaten up Poles, or Britain First grabbing the bit firmly between their teeth. It was just good old, sore loser us, “project fear” again doing what we did best. Time for us to shut up. We’d lost. They’d won. Get over it.
What, a mere advisory?
Shut up! The people have spoken! It’s the will of the people!
So, maybe it is the will of the people; after all, if fascism is democratically elected into power, isn’t it legitimately in power? If a dictator finds himself elected, wasn’t his accession to power legitimate? Isn’t he? Wasn’t it? And since he was legitimately elected, and came by power legitimately, can’t he then do as he pleases? As the people told him to do by electing him? ‘Cause we’ve all voted him there, haven’t we? He represents us. Therefore…
The people have spoken. We’ve won. You’ve lost. It’s the will of the people. Get over it.
Well, therefore indeed. But we cannot get over it. We’ve been debating this within Europe since the end of the last so-called global conflict, the one that has gone down into our history books as World War II, and which the demographics now voting overwhelmingly for Brexit seem to be, simultaneously, able and unable, willing and unwilling, to forget or to remember. Because, let’s not ever forget, after all, that it was to bind all our nations together into a common future, and against further armed conflict, that the whole European supranational political construct was designed.
Shut up! The people have spoken! Haven’t you heard me? It’s the will of the people! You’ve lost! We won! Get out of here! Go home! Nobody wants you here, haven’t you seen that yet?
And the rest, as they say, has now passed into history, never mind that there seems to still be a lot left unsaid, and a whole lot more left undone. I only got my lovely and friendly, toe-capped ex-army stores boot and a set of thick hairy knuckles on my scooter, as if they had all the right to be there by virtue of a poxy referendum most people hadn’t even bothered to vote on, and an even friendlier and thicker warning to “go back home to where you came from”. I got off lightly, that day, just like I do every time they snigger behind my back and call me “fucking European royalty”, or “half-colour skin”, or yet “fucking mangy foreigner”. All epithets which I am sure I deserved, one way or another, in my many attempts at integration in the village life.
But an MP did not get as lucky as me. And while her aggressor shouted Britain First — no doubt because the recently held referendum gave him all his newly-found democratic rights, among which the right to expect all the European scourge to be sent packing back home by the end of the first post-Brexit week — she lost her young and promising life, and all for her sin of defending my right, and that of nearly another 3 million people, to come and to remain in this country as lawful and law-abiding citizens, calling this “their other” country, a tale of two indivisible halves, feeding from a single umbillical cord, partaking of its ups and downs and calling it home. Calling it where they belong.
Elsewhere still, more not so lucky people: European citizens up and down the country got beaten up; spat on; variously attacked, humiliated, berated. Murdered. Mosques did get violated, and Muslims did get attacked. The economy has started tanking; the Sterling is tanking faster than the new aircraft carrier would be if they weren’t fixing it already. Yet, nobody is doing what it would take to fix the Sterling, or the economy, or our now dire, dire future. It’s a story of the most amazing instance of collective, obsessive-compulsive madness, where the worst of the madmen have been put in charge of the asylum.
So… what has brought all this back up? — You may well ask. — Was it just the turning of the year? Bit overdramatic, wouldn’t you say? After all, this is just, erm, only 2018, not even 2019 yet! What’s got you carping, this time?
Oh, nothing much. Nothing for you to worry about, in any case. I’m sorry for monopolising your attention for such a pitiful little tantrum of mine. It’s just that certain things are inescapable indeed, and our post-Brexit futures will be as inescapable as the coming of a new year has been, when all still looks as poxy and worn-out as old hat.
But… you talk of futures, there. Are we all not in this together…? One single future?
Oh, I can almost hear the snarky bark. How magnanimous of them, to finally include us in this future we never wanted, and were neither here nor there into choosing! How amazingly democratic and inclusive, to have it foisted on us as a done thing, and then tell us we’re in it together with them! So no. Pardon my anger, but we’re damn well not in this together. This, my dear Brexit voter, is where so many of us have drawn the line: you have made your bed, so now lie in it. But don’t expect all of us to bed with you.
Nowadays, many a political war seems to be waged, and won and lost, on social media. It is there, too, that we arguably tend to inhabit, in smaller or greater seclusion, our own opinion bubbles. As the saying goes, birds of a feather — and thus it is only natural that we tend to flock together with those whose hearts and minds are closer to our own. When the level of invective and open antagonism and aggression became too much, I too started weeding my feeds, valuing my peace and quiet higher than my hitherto reigning curiosity and sense of fair play. Even people who had until then been affable and polite suddenly seemed to take leave of their senses. I seemed to become the enemy, overnight. I was sure I wouldn’t be much missed, either. So nowadays whenever I open my social media feeds, apart from posts by my followed “usual suspects”, I mostly find posts by The 3 Million, or from the #FBPE and #StopBrexit hashtags and their followers. My media bubble of choice. I seem to have finally arrived.
The fact is, I no longer care what the other side are saying: I’ve heard all their arguments, time and again, found them faulty and dismantled them, time and again, one by one. Now, I’m no longer in a listening mood. They have brought us to this. And now, now all I’ve come to care about is how much is being taken away from us all, all of us, the arguably sane and sensible lot who chose to remain rational, who chose simply to remain. We can’t altogether avoid the collective hysteria, but we sure can give it one damn good try at shaking it into making sense of itself.
So forgive me for taking so much of your time and patience, dear friend. But, you see, we are indeed all in this together. It’s just that so many of us will choose, at some point during the next year, to leave what has become our life. Leave the country we chose for ourselves, which in so many cases has a far stronger hold in our hearts and lives than the one we were born to but chose to leave behind. So many of us will be leaving the life we struggled so hard to build, the house whose mortgage we’ve fought to pay and which we lovingly tended to, thinking it would be where we’d grow old together. Leave all those little places and spaces that are so meaningful to us — where we first held hands or stole our first kisses, where we saw our children and grandchildren take a step or burst into laughter for the first time. Where we spent our first anniversary. Where we spent our 20th. The spot by the lake in the city garden, where we used to picnic during our lunchtime when the weather was fair. All that. Yes. We’ll be tearing ourselves away from all that, because. Because many of us will not be allowed to stay. Because many of us will not want to stay where their loved ones cannot stay. Because many of us will not want to stay when our country is becoming such a terrible, hate-filled place, willingly embracing intolerance and authoritarianism. And no, these are not my words. Definitely not my words. This is how the feeds for all those pressure groups and hashtags read, heartbreaking after heartbreaking story, down and down and down my own social media feeds.
My words are far, far simpler: wherever we go, Mr Cat-herder and I, we’ll be leaving much, much more than just our hearts and dreams behind. And as if those wouldn’t already be far too much to forsake, for the sake of someone else’s misguided choices.
Yeah, yeah, all that. We get it. All that and more. But you’re leaving because you want to, isn’t it, because nobody has told you to go. Or have we? And after all this, and you still haven’t told us what brought all this bitterness back up again. Hadn’t you buried it somewhere? For the sake of that old ticker of yours?
And I haven’t, have I? You’re absolutely right. You’ve told me so many times the people have spoken, that it’s the will of the people, that you’re the winners, that it’s only fair I answer your question in the most acquiescing manner, just as you require. So here it goes.
I thought that this was my home, our home. Now we find ourselves tantamount to homeless, Mr Cat-herder and I. It is breaking our hearts to see it come to pass, all those things we said would come to pass. It is breaking our hearts to read all those feeds, with heartbreaking after heartbreaking story of people thoroughly heartbroken because they have to leave their country, their lives, their families, their dreams and hopes, all they have built throughout their lives behind. Because turning the page into 2018 brought us one step frightfully closer to a political denouement we cannot agree with. Because this new year, usually a time of renewed hope and fresh beginnings, is tasting pretty much like some very, very old hat we should not be eating ourselves. And because I have always been unable to refuse a book when it is offered to me. Even if its subject is Brexit, and my heart bleeds at the very shadow of the word.
So, there. Enough, wouldn’t you say? I would. And therefore, after I add the picture of a lickle ickle kitten in the hope it’ll make this a rosier and more palatable year, I shall stop myself right here. Right here. For now, that is. And for now because this girl here has plans, and they do not include going away with the mere whisper of a whimper, since go I indeed must: a book is waiting to be reviewed, and books have a reputation for being notoriously impatient customers.
Happy New Year, everybody. And I have never wished this in a more heartfelt way: may 2018 bring you all your heart’s little desires, and mine along with them — just for good company, you know? Nothing more than a heart’s true desire, and plenty of good company.