Us & Them

Christopher Fowler

Paradoxically, Londoners work, live and play in Europe.

'It's not like this in Europe. The cafés are open, the wine is pouring, everybody's laughing and gay, ha ha ha ha - not over here though.' - Tony Hancock, A Sunday Afternoon At Home
Now that the last remaining shreds of logic have fled from every sore-throated worn-out Brexit argument, like torch-bearing villagers fleeing the lunacy of Castle Frankenstein, we can start to take stock and wonder; what the hell just happened? Remain politicians were wrong to be blind to the rest of the country. Leave politicians were wrong to lie and commit fraud. At the root of it all, a self-interested government ignored parliament and ignored its people, topped with two ideological fantasies; a rosy 28-country-strong future as a united European power and a 1940s Blitz mindset that restores the UK to global relevance. I suspect that we all have a gut instinct taking us partially one way or the other. I have always been drawn towards Europe. I am not a patriot; I would not fight for 'British values' while they rely on surreptitiously selling arms and laundering fortunes. I am not especially a monarchist. I feel more German than English. I live in the 'London bubble' through an accident of birth, and much of Britain remains unknowable to me. We say we are multi-cultural but our instinct is to kick others out. We don't mix between classes or races. We can't even be consistent on any subject; For example, we theoretically use imperial measures but nobody in their right mind does because they're rubbish. In metric one millilitre of water occupies one cubic cm, equals one gram, and needs one calorie to heat up one degree. We've only recently stopped adding up in multiples of twelve. I love many English towns and coasts but had no experience of the countryside as a child and thus it remains invisible. Trudging in drizzle through a cow field before being ignored by locals in a Straw Dogs-style pub was my father's ninth circle of hell, and I suppose it was transmitted to his children. For kids of my generation and background, a European holiday was unthinkable. My first exposure to Europe was a day trip to Bologne. The second time, I paid for myself. Everything about the place felt magical, and much of it still does. I read more European history - grander, more exciting, always about shifting borders - than English history (for more on borders read Tim Marshall's 'Divided') but the more you study a country the more you see its fault-lines. Catalonia, for example, can't be granted autonomy because there are so many other regional claims lined up behind it. Paradoxically, most of the Londoners I know work, live and play in Europe. It's on our doorstep and we've spent decades building trade links. I live next to Eurostar and see the massive queues heading to France every morning. The result is a personal blow because we were planning to move to Barcelona, and now we won't be able to. All I can hope is that we come out of this remembering that Farage, Rees-Mogg and Johnson only had their own self-interests at heart. Why did it happen? One, chance - the referendum result could have varied by a couple of degrees on any given day. Two, voter complacency - for over two decades no-one was interested in who their politicians were. Three, Government arrogance - the idea that any day was 'a good day to bury bad news' (copyright Jo Moore). We can only hope that something better will grow from this. Although our track record on learning from the past doesn't suggest it will.  


Adam (not verified) Tue, 02/04/2019 - 09:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It's all utterly, utterly depressing. It seems that whether you voted leave or remain, you've been let down by a self-serving, weak, indecisive parliament. Pointless government, useless opposition and nowhere to turn. Wish I was a few years older as I'd book a world cruise and forget about it all for 4 months or so. At least I'm off to a quiet corner of Lanzarotte in a couple of weeks with a stack of good books...

Ken Mann (not verified) Tue, 02/04/2019 - 09:15

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I am reminded of the writer Bob Shaw's description of his first visit to France - "even the rubbish was in French"

Peter Dixon (not verified) Tue, 02/04/2019 - 10:33

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Its a terrible thing to know that as you walk down your (20% boarded up) high street, 50% of the people you pass don't agree with what you think or believe.

I think that voting should be compulsory to ensure that there is at least a semblance of democracy, not just an argument between those who can be bothered to demonstrate their convictions.

Without total inclusion its a bit like the dog food ads that state they are the best by declaring; 'preferred by 80% of dogs' then add in small text 'of those owners who expressed an interest'.

Sometimes these 'surveys' can be of as little as 40 people. They can ignore surveys of more people who show an opinion that has not been asked for by the manufacturer.

A democratic government should carefully tell its electorate about the pro's and con's of any major change before allowing a vote, not take a vote and then try to justify it for its own purposes.

The purpose of parliament was to stop this jingoistic hubris before it happened, or at least make it a question that was truly understood and properly balanced.

I'm staunchly European and hate what a small-minded bunch of public school politicos have served up to us.

Interestingly, lots of Brexiters seem to be members of golf clubs and are owners of Jaguar cars.

Brooke (not verified) Tue, 02/04/2019 - 12:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My sympathy and best wishes...

Peter Tromans (not verified) Tue, 02/04/2019 - 14:16

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Where to start? I agree with your big picture but not the details. I am staunchly a human, though not always proud of it. I have lived and worked in three countries apart from the UK (or should I say England?) and have spent a lot of time in others for work as well as holiday. My family is international. A basic observation is that people are far more the same than they are different, so much so that speaking of 'the French,' 'the Germans' etc is dangerous or meaningless. They are all people, not their countries nor their politicians.

I hate flag waving. Though by no means a football fan, I appreciate what club football has done in breaking racial and other barriers. Why is that all forgotten when the national teams are concerned and the flags come out. I'm not especially patriotic, though I prefer to support local production. I'm baffled by the total lack of economic patriotism of politicians. How can our government buy anything foreign made knowing they collect huge taxes on anything produced here?

Peter - I own a few Jaguar cars (or at least sufficient parts that in principle could be assembled into a few). I don't know anyone in the Enthusiast's Club who supports Brexit, certainly not a hard Brexit. Most Europeans and Americans seem to love Jaguars and the British tourists who travel on holiday in them. And please note that the patriot Rees-Mogg has a Lexus. Perhaps, it's good for maneuvering near hedges and around taxes. I thought the only 'British' cars driven by leavers were battered taxi cabs. Yikes, I forgot all the gentry with Land Rovers - sorry.

I'm an engineer and for engineering purposes the UK has used SI units since the end of the 1960s. Incidentally, Chris, cm and calories are not SI. I have worked with Americans and find old British/Imperial a nightmare. On the other hand, an inch and a foot are nice human size units and I'd not criticise a carpenter or dressmaker for using them.

Parliament: we have a parliamentary democracy. That means that Parliament should represent all the people - you might have noticed that we elect an opposition as well as government! One might imagine that new fangled ideas like referenda should be interpreted in that context. That is, government and parliament work to find a solution that represents a 52:48 split, not the just the 52 nor the 48. And when it identifies something, we all consider, in Parliament and possibly through more referenda, whether that solution is better than what we already have.

I too hope something better comes from all this, but I'll not hold my breath.

Allan Lloyd (not verified) Tue, 02/04/2019 - 16:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I live in one of the rural wastelands which admin finds so inhospitable, and I can reassure him that it not just Londoners who get the Straw Dogs style welcome in pubs. It is often anyone who is not "local".
I am a staunch European and cannot believe the anti-European sentiments of many of my neighbours, even the farmers, who have benefited so much from the CAP are overwhelmingly anti-EU. Our area went about 60% Brexit and whenever I felt brave enough to ask people why they voted to leave, most just said that they "wanted a change".
My daughters both work in London in arts-related occupations, and they just could not believe the results, even though I warned them that it was going to be close. The future belongs to the young, and I feel that people of my age have betrayed them.
As for where we go now, who knows. I have started to hide my head in the sand and stop reading papers.

Peter Dixon (not verified) Tue, 02/04/2019 - 18:59

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


I said 'lots of' , not enthusiasts, collectors or afficionados. I don't say that all Jaguar drivers are necessarily Brexiteers.

I'm just pointing out a kind of Arthur Daley mentality of Jag owners. Personally I've always hated Jags because the doors are too heavy for the body and drop horribly.

Yes, Discovery drivers are another indicator/signifier.

I'm just being mischievous.

Interestingly we don't seem to have many golfers on the panel.

Michael warden (not verified) Tue, 02/04/2019 - 19:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sorry but I do not think this is the right forum to discuss the pros or not of Brexit. Whatever way you voted the majority of our M.P.s have been a disgrace . What we need is a brexit free zone , please.

Peter Tromans (not verified) Tue, 02/04/2019 - 20:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've just come home from a talk by Bobby Duffy on his book 'The Perils of Perception' and related research. It's painfully relevant to this whole discussion. True facts seem to be pretty irrelevant to most people most of the time. In relation to Brexit, surveys of public knowledge made just before the referendum and in November last year gave identical results. Over two years of discussion and analysis had produced zero effect.

The only reassuring point is that apparently, it's not new. We've always been like this.

Peter, I was also being deliberately mischievous. On the subject of Jaguar door fit, there's an excellent discussion (modestly) in petersjaguarpages.wordpress.com

Richard Burton (not verified) Tue, 02/04/2019 - 22:51

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Kind of hard to ignore Brexit at the moment, I think admin's been very reserved in the subject.
On a more bookish subject, I've been cheering myself up imagining what history books and documentaries are going to say about it all in future. Any news on Cameron's autobiography release date?

Helen Martin (not verified) Wed, 03/04/2019 - 05:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I was wondering what effect all this would have on your Barcelona plans, Chris.
Heard an interview with a man who raises lambs for sale, largely on the Continent (funny that Africa and Asia are continents, too, but we all know what is meant here). He said that he would lose a lot of business with Brexit to he extent that he might have to shut down a long time business. He said he would probably vote Brexit again, though. That's what I don't get, people who couldn't even vote remain in their own personal interest.

On the bright side: Amazon.uk promised my Chris Fowler's latest by April 1st and there it was in my mail box.

Fabric can be bought by the meter but a quilting seam is still 1/4". Did you know that the decimal systems are all permitted in the American constitution? They don't have to change a thing in order to implement it. They'd still talk about a dozen eggs or beer though.

Christopher Fowler Wed, 03/04/2019 - 06:59

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've tried to stay away from Brexit here because we live in a democracy. But I'm angry that people were not told the truth, and thought they were sending a protest message rather than an economically destructive one.

Jo W (not verified) Wed, 03/04/2019 - 07:05

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Michael Warden,
I quite agree, please can we keep off the 'b' word here. It's tricky enough to avoid news bulletins, with 'im indoors wanting the tv on in the mornings. I have to try to read with my fingers in my ears! ;-)

Brooke (not verified) Wed, 03/04/2019 - 11:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Admin, Sweetie, people were told the lies they wanted to hear. That's what politicians, especially politicians of the stripe we have now elected, do.

Ian Luck (not verified) Thu, 04/04/2019 - 15:04

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

There's a brilliant quote in Tom Baker's first ever story, 'Robot', where his friend the Brigadier is explaining about keeping the parts and plans of a disintegrator gun secure:
BRIGADIER: Naturally enough, the only country that could be trusted with such a role was Great Britain.
THE DOCTOR (sarcastically) : Naturally. I mean the rest were all foreigners.

Ian Luck (not verified) Tue, 09/04/2019 - 01:24

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It should read: 'Doctor Who' between 'Ever' and 'Story'. Then it makes sense. It sometimes seems to me that my thoughts are trying out 'Xeno's Tortoise Paradox' with my fingers, charging onward, knowing that my writing fingers will never be able to catch up.

Helen Martin (not verified) Tue, 09/04/2019 - 18:15

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I actually had that figured, Ian.