My thoughts on Brexit

Posted: June 26, 2016 in berlin, common sense, Dieppe, economy, england, Europe, Family, france, government, parliament, Politicians, Population, Russia, shops

On the 8th May 1945 the war in Europe came to an end. VJ day was celebrated in August of that year. I have no first-hand knowledge of these events not being born until 1957. I was born three years after rationing ended in Britain although the effects of the war continued well into the 80’s so far as the dairy industry were concerned.Britain joined the European Community in 1973. At the time I was living at home with my parents and brother. We were a small family, living in a small home. Times were tough, there was little money to support the family even though both of my parents worked hard. But I felt loved and safe and cared for.

My memories of life, pre 1973, are smoky coal fires, a coke hot water boiler, the winter of 1962-63, shortages of everything, dark days, even in milder winters scraping ice from the inside of my bedroom window. Grey men in grey clothing happy but poor. Support from neighbours, even for the old and cantankerous Mrs White who lived next door.

Produce was scarce, fruit and veg poor quality unless it was home grown. Cheap cuts like Oxtail from the butcher. Local shops of questionable cleanliness selling bread, greengrocery, butchery and sweets. Sweets, but not as they would be recognised today.

Things did not improve overnight. But slowly, incrementally, my family’s lot improved. Wages rose, the family became better off. There was more to eat both in quantity and variety. Little luxuries became affordable. We were able to buy a car to go with the van my father used for work, we even got a telephone. We all learned to answer the telephone, ‘Horsham 61618’. As a family we had entered the modern era.

By 1975, the time of the referendum, I was a soldier. I was serving in Germany as part of the occupying British Army of the Rhine. I felt no animosity from our German cousins. I also served in Belgium and France with trips to Holland. Nothing from the population but friendly intercourse. Convivial sharing of food, wine, stories. Things seemed, to me at least, to be normal. Normal that is except for the ever present threat of annihilation from the Communist Block, which really meant the Soviet Union. We all lived under this threat. Some people chose to ignore what the potential was, this was not an option for me and my comrades.

When I returned home after my discharge, things were so much improved in these United Kingdoms. I accept that I am a soft Southerner. I have no links to t’North save by Marriage. I have no knowledge of the hardships of pit life, working in cotton mills, hill farming and the like. I do have experience of factory working, building work, small holding and small business life. It is true that our close connection caused ‘issues’. Increased paperwork blamed by the UK government on Europe. The disappearance of bent cucumbers and bananas. But life was good.

From a personal point of view, there was increased opportunity for me, if I was prepared to work I could be what I wanted to be. My father always saw this as a betrayal of his way of life I think. Certainly when I was born, when I left school, there could have been no thought of university. No thought of a gap year. No thought of travel. No thought of any kind of trade except building. There was no social mobility. I felt like Ronnie Corbett in the famous TW3 sketch with Ronnie Barker and John Cleese. Stuck in a rut. The only difference being I was not satisfied to accept my lot.

I have seen my parents and friends standard of living grow. Friends from school who stayed in trade, seized their opportunities and live a fulfilling life of a higher standard than any of us had any right to hope for. There were some who fell by the wayside. I met the brother of a boy I was at school with. ‘Paddy’ was always a person I shied away from. However, from living in the poorest part of town, coming from a troubled family, in his late 20’s he had done well for himself. Sadly Cancer took him but even weeks before his death he was fulfilling his stand up bookings. I saw him in an Indian restaurant he was joking and a pleasure to spend time with.

Paddy’s brother, that I was at school with, was a painter and decorator. He was less well off than Paddy, he made money but drank it away. My point is that people do have choices. Those people from my past that I remain in contact with have largely seized their opportunities. They have made a good life and have a standard of living that could not have been dreamed of in 1970. Some fell by the wayside but they were handicapped, not by their upbringing or their neighbours but by their own deficiencies.

My own immediate family, all working class people, born into a time of social stagnation, were released by the opportunities created by this country within a broader Europe. I have witnessed the breakdown of rigid social order which I admit began in the sixties, but was assisted greatly by the introduction of a more European way of thinking. Both of my children are successful in different ways. I am proud of my son, he chose not to indulge in further education and has made a good life for himself. My daughter is an academic, she is able to make her own choices. I honestly believe without the influence of Europe she would not be able to live the life she does.

I have always thought of myself as English first and European second. I have revelled in the company of a variety of people from a number of backgrounds. The cross pollination of ideas and beliefs is stimulating and enriching. My friend Salim said to me the day after the referendum, that he was scared. He said that our country is the only country where people are free to practice their own beliefs, religion and are able to express their sexuality without fear. He wondered if this would change.

I too have concerns. Concerns that this country may descend once more to the xenophobic land of the late sixties early seventies. Gangs of WASP’s rampaging the streets fighting anybody they thought might not be pure bred English. That in itself is an oxymoron. We are all out of Africa, by way of the Middle East and Europe.

I have always felt at home in Belgium and Germany. As this country plummets toward isolation my thoughts turn to whether a small flat in Berlin might be a nice place to spend my latter years. A little place in Brugge perhaps, or Dieppe or Lake Garda.

 

 

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