The Moment My Country Left Me
My mother once gave me her explanation of the Union Jack.
‘It represents unity. We are four countries, not one, although we should be three.’ She never told me which one she would take out, but I assumed it was Ireland.
As a child I formed a very clear idea of what my country was. It was a maritime island, four nations standing for all that was decent and right. It was honest where others were corrupt, it had a commonwealth to protect and a royal family dedicated to duty. My grandparents had been Victorians and had an empire. My world was a post-war one where patriotism had been eroded away. It was a land of helmeted policemen who did not look like they were going to Iraq, of lollipop ladies and park-keepers, usherettes, charladies and uniformed milkmen. It was a mechanical world, of crafts more than arts, slower, quieter, a place of original thinking and fresh ideas.
I was, I suppose, distantly proud of my country. It was symptomatic of England that the same sex marriage bill passed so easily because the fox hunting bill was being read at the same time.
My innocence quickly crumbled. Empire ended, the Commonwealth broke away, the wealth gap grew instead of shrinking, the royal family was dissected by the media and damaged from within. The craftspeople disappeared and university students were kids who took media studies and then couldn’t get jobs. For a while many of us thought that members of the Royal Family appearing on ‘It’s A Knockout!’ was the humiliating nadir, but then Tony Blair lied about WMD to keep trade ties with America and I realised how morally bankrupt we had become.
I didn’t think it could get worse, but then Brexit happened. A vote pushed through by illegal means so that a handful of millionaires would personally gain from the separation. We cut ourselves off from a union worth one sixth of the global economy, leading to the grotesque sight of Ann Widdicombe and Nigel Farage chanting and waving little plastic Union Jack flags in front of EU assembly, as if it was all some kind of parlour game.
A government bill was passed to bring back pounds and ounces, a defunct measurement system based on multiplications of fourteen and sixteen. Britain was revealed as a country where the influential 1% were pathologically tied to childhood fantasies.
That was the moment my country left me. My own attitude did not change. I remained a person of Europe and the world. There was one final humiliation; Joe Biden telling our grovelling cap-in-hand Prime Minister to fuck off to the back of the queue. The US wants to get big pharma into the NHS, but it’s an issue that would lead to violence on the streets if transgressed. At that moment the US-UK trade deal finally dropped dead, proof that the ‘special relationship’ died when Britain first defied orders.
My personal shift of focus manifests itself in odd little ways. Politically, I mainly follow what happens in Europe and the Far East now, and realise that in the global scheme of things the UK is about as important as Christmas Island. I am largely disconnected; I use a digital world bank, my surroundings are Nordic, my clothes are Spanish, my food is Thai, and I’ve seen just one Hollywood film this year. The rest have been European, Korean, South American. My tech is not so much American as a global brand that refuses to pay its taxes. London remains my favourite city, but that’s largely based on nostalgia.
It’s ironic that I should end up writing about my home quite so much. As for my country, I feel less betrayed than disillusioned. Perhaps it’s better to be clear-eyed than living in a fantasy land of blue passports, milkmen and charladies and place one’s faith in the young, not dreams.