B-Day or Bidet?Nothing washes the soul like Brexit.

Brexit, Britain, British Isles, England, EU, europe, fate, future, humour, meditations, Politics, Society, Socioeconomics, thoughts, Travel, Uncategorized, United States

Brexit Day, or B-Day to those who cannot bring themselves to utter the shibboleth, is here, and predictably grey clouds are settled on the old England outside my porthole.

Well, here we are at the end of a 47-year marriage. My whole life, no more and no less. The EU is a polygamous arrangement of course, being that twenty-eight spouses took their vows to have and to hold from this day forth, albeit at different times. The European Union has become a kind of rolling nuptial. From the original six postwar players who signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957, to the swelled ranks of today’s fragile union, this political/cultural/economic/existential arrangement can be viewed as a flexible Mormon marriage, with the exception of there being more of the gender equal and less of the patrilineal in Brussels than in Salt Lake City.

Anyone who has not lived in solitary confinement for the past four years, which is nearly all of us (Jesus! Even Tibetan monks wield mobile phones these days!) will know that one of these spouses – the troublesome, quarrelsome old bag who thinks even in her dotage she can still bank on better marriage prospects – has called a divorce. For a long three and a half years, she’s been humming and ha-ing about delivering the death knell, a drama that played out in a frenzied Westminster, but seeing that she never really bothered to master the language of any of her spouses, the despedida, adieu, auf wiedersehen, and ci vediamo, has been a while in the coming. Awkward moments do tend to happen when you can’t be arsed learning at least a few phrases in the native language of your in-laws. Now Britannia is a ‘free woman’ (I’m not implying women are uniquely feckless here; Britannia, in this case could be equally be a feckless, whimsical man, except that Britannia has historically been depicted as a Athena-esque Greek Goddess with shield and trident in hand) she can galavant around, courting new paramours in the search for a new and improved polygamous arrangement. Or, if she’s strikes gold, an exclusive one.

Now you know and I know that unless you’ve already opened other arms to fall into, the prospect of leaving a marriage nearing its golden anniversary can be a calculated risk. Tomorrow, Britannia will sail off on a P&O Singles cruise around the world. First stop – and some say last – will be New York, where Britannia will court old Uncle Sam with an irresistible combo of knowing and coquettishness. To achieve this, she’ll have to get exceedingly drunk on Italian bubbly, which admittedly she’s already a dab hand at, having imported oodles of the stuff cheaply by virtue of being in existing marriage with Italy since 1973. But Prosecco will be off the menu ’cause we’re now in America, so she’ll be forced to quaff what the Americans are offering, which is either watery beer or rocket-fuelled cocktails. Once she’s woken up in her cabin after one too many Long Island ice teas the awful realisation will hit her hard that Uncle Sam is a selfish bastard who goes through girlfriends like a snivelling little git goes through Kleenex. He’s a tough, uncompromising type is old Sam, and won’t she know this before soon. He’s not a the callow youth she used to boss around two centuries ago when she was younger. He’s all grown up and this she’ll find hard to reconcile.

Dissatisfied, she’ll pick up the ship in L.A., after being feted by Hollywood’s liberatti who will plead she replaces the incumbent crooks in Washington as new sovereign of the American West (mainly on account of their weakness for British RSC-trained thespians/baddies with gritty authority in their voice). But that won’t wash with Washington, who’ll now treat her as a meddlesome strumpet keen to break up the chronically unhappy American family. Glancing north to faithful Canada, she’ll spot Meghan and Harry, who are even more shameless than her. There’ll be no chatting Canada up with those two fifth-columnists languishing there. There’ll be no more chatting up America either. Chastened by the threat of a nuclear arsenal whose each warhead you could slot into the bandolier of a mythical giant (or threatened by sanctions, the State Dept’s favourite tough love tactic), Britannia will sail on into that blue yonder where, contrary to the tub-thumping exhortations of the Brexiteer’s predecessors, the New Imperialists, the sun did eventually set forever on the British Empire.
Next up will be Oz and NZ. We can always rely on those two jilted lovers to come back for seconds. Except they are beholden nowadays to what’s going down in the Asia-Pacific bloc, ruled as it is by a giant even more selfish than America: China. So the ageing widow will need to rattle her jewellery hard to be heard amid all that eucalyptus smoke and barking Cantonese. Disillusioned by the tyranny of distance and the realpolitik of wanting to brazenly burst in on China’s well-defended patch, Britannia will sail onward to Hong Kong and Singapore. There’s she’ll find little Thumbelinas of herself in her prime. Oh to be Singapore on the silty Thames, she’ll sing. Noticing how disturbingly dystopian Singapore is, where a wad of chewing gum pinned under a park bench will inevitably result in a lengthy prison term, Britannia will graciously, if reluctantly, concede that we are not those men. That’s right, Britannia, we men are free to pin our concealed blades to the wad of chewing gum under the park bench, you know, just in case anyone fucks with us.

With potential paramours running out, P&O will propel us around the Malay Peninsula (yes, that was ours as well, but these days it’s showing a bit too much hijab for our liking) and onto India, the jewel in the crown. Where all others disappoint, India shall delight. She shall tantalise our senses, awaken our dormant soul with colours we can smell and smells that make our eyes water. The cruise liner will dock first in Chennai, which Britannia won’t even recognise, as it had its name changed by deed poll from Madras just so it could move on from an earlier, and some say skewed, marriage to Britannia. Then around beautiful Sri Lanka we shall sail and up past the Western Ghats to Mumbai, which also changed its name to erase the memory of us pre-1947. Mercifully, by now Britannia has gotten a bit more used to being jilted, so she can almost forgive the desecration of the name Bombay to a new ‘Hindu-ized’ moniker that sounds like saying farewell to the woman who birthed you, ironically enough.

The footsie playing out under the table between Modi’s new and assertive India and Britannia’s old and assertive Britain will give the media back home pause to consider. This could be the one, they’ll declare. A new old partnership forged the way we Brits like it, i.e. the bigger of the two defers to the smaller of the two – we know their size and they know their place. But you know and I know that this flirtation is bound to failure. Trying to resurrect old relationships in the mould of an old relationship is like trying to turn back the clock when all it wants to do is fly alongside time’s arrow. The Indians will do that irresistibly cute thing they do with the sideways nodding of the head. Benighted old Blighty will go mad wondering whether India is saying yes or no to her propositions. Exasperated, she’ll board the Cruise as is slides past Bombay’s Gateway to India monument while looking on wistfully from the prow at what might have been had we just not acceded to Gandhi’s wishes. I mean, come on, he wasn’t even armed at the time.

Ah well, at least there’s always the T-20. Consolation bobs nicely on the placid Indian Ocean. They can take our freedom but they can’t take our beloved cricket away from us.

Pulling into port in Cape Town, all eyes will be on the covetous prize of Africa. However, after being robbed at gunpoint at the ATM soon after disembarkation, Britannia will wonder whether Africa’s worth it. Upon closer inspection, she’ll baulk at the nightmarish statistics applied to a future Africa and say to herself, ‘How could Joy and George Adamson ever raise Elsa the Lion in these crowded, chaotic conditions?’ And she’d be right. Any anyway, China has got Africa all stitched up. While we’ve been squabbling with Brussels – but mainly among ourselves – the Chinese have been scrambling for Africa 2.0. But naturally, the Chinese are there out of the goodness of their Hubei hearts, just like the British and French were during their 19th century so-called ‘civilizing mission’. You want a brand new asphalt highway, no strings attached?? Sure! All we ask is that you take out a 100-year high-interest loan with the Chinese Communist Party (whose socialist principles are somewhat compromised by their partiality for usury, but hey that Capitalism, Chinese-style for ya!). Failing that, we’ll take a 999-year lease on your most prized ports. No 14-day cooling-off period here.

Wearily, the ship marches on, with lonely old Britannia still rattling her jewellery up on the prow, G&T in hand. Round NW Africa she sails, and past the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Right there, coming into view will be Gibraltar, a brave and solitary outpost of empire surrounded by a bruised but recovering European Union. By this time, Britannia will be so sunburnt and permanently pissed, she’ll stagger down the gangplank into the waiting arms of a Barbary ape, who’ll greet her with bare-toothed howls of ‘Welcome Home!’ It will occur precisely in that moment of utter deflation that the old girl will have an epiphany, the first one she’s had since sobering up. She realise, all these suitors are selfish arseholes. You know, it wasn’t so bad being in that polygamous marriage with Brussels after all. I sat back and got most of what I wanted. When they screamed ‘black!’, I yelled back ‘white!’. And still they tolerated me. When they wanted a shared bank account, i insisted on having my own, and still they tolerated me. When they wanted me to meet them even a quarter of the way, i snubbed them, ’cause that’s what you do, right, when folks ask for just enough but not too much?’ They even came around to my language, and quite possibly my way of thinking. Aw fuck it! What kind of pusillanimous pussy goes easy on the fool who is willing to offer so many concessions, anyhoo?

Hmm, maybe I was a little hasty. Maybe is not the same as definitely (unless you happen to be Oasis who did a record called Definitely Maybe). Just you remember that.

Steaming across the Bay of Biscay on the homeward leg, storms blight the passage. Around Britanny and the Cote D’Armour, Britannia stares out from her porthole. Her mood changes from one of defiance to one of remorse. She has seen the world many times that she has seen the world not at all. She does not like what she sees. She is elderly and alone and the world owes her no favours.

On the final day of her RTW cruise, the captain announces that home port is not where it was when they left. Where there was a wharf there is now only sea. The island, it would seem, has retreated into deeper Atlantic water. They sail on. Shorn of ideas, Britannia retires to the bar where a G&T will await her. Now this isn’t your average Gin & Tonic. She wants hers large. Very Large.

Ice & Lemon, Madame?

Yes, if there’s enough room in the glass.

He pours. She collects. ‘But it’s half empty,’ she complains.

‘If I may comment, Madame, that’s not what you were saying when you joined the cruise.’

On The First Day Of Brexit, My True Love Gave To Me…

Brexit, Uncategorized


….A heavy dose of despair and despondency.

By the seventh day, that feeling still lingered.

These chills rattled me to the bone such that I thought nothing could be as bad. And then the realisation struck me. It could be about to get a whole lot worse. Maybe what is needed is a tincture of the kind of optimism that the Brexiteers have been taking.

A week on from B-day and the aftermath has come. Bewilderment is hanging like a fog. No one really knows where to go from here. A power vacuum has emerged. The political class is convulsed in a human drama the likes of which has not been seen since the bad old days of union-breaking in 1984, or even the Suez debacle of 1956. With emotions running wild, an equilibrium has yet to settle. A consensus on what direction the country will take seems unlikely, even in the long term. One thing is for sure, the polls reveal a nation we all knew was riven apart by the forces of class, geography, age, education and outlook, but were too afraid to face up to the fact. Now it’s official and the whole world knows. Hairline fractures are opening up elsewhere with similar socioeconomic conditions, which means everywhere in some form or another.

Believers in the European project let their despondency form dark clouds overhead. They know the corrective measures Europe has taken since the Treaty of Rome in 1957 not to repeat her woeful history of one war after another is a 60 year-old lesson in harmony about to be unlearned. The five stages of grief will almost certainly ensue. Right now the those on the side of defeat hover between disbelief and denial. The disenchanted outcasts, who were never really enchanted with anything continental, think this divorce is going to be a panacea for all their ills. And it will feel that way until many find out to their own dismay that not much will change so long as money’s moving east to the Pacific and globalisation is still outsmarting mother nature, making fools of men and gods of monsters. The fundamentals of their life will not change for the better because they will not change the world any more than the world will change them.

Brexiteers see the shackles coming off. Unfortunately, these shackles not only silenced the liberty bell, they also kept in check the primitivist and atavistic instincts that kept Europeans at each others throats for centuries. Far from a revolutionary spirit having been released from the bottle these past few days, the miasma in the air is more reactionary than anything. The majority of the rejectors snubbed the only metonym of a faceless globalisation they knew – the EU – not for radical reasons, but for deeply conservative ones. Brussels became that byword for all that was wrong in large part because the daily diet of tabloid drivel had been peddling it through decades of sniping and badmouthing, which of course stoked the latent prejudices of the home guard readership.

Left behind on the dock of change, Dad’s Army, which is basically what the Brexiteer movement is, watched their ship sail. Few boarded it; fewer still could afford the ticket. Globalisation didn’t work for them. Yet beyond the EU, globalisation will continue unabated and it still won’t work for them. And by then it’ll be too late to act on the truth that, however unwieldy it was, the EU was ultimately a force for human decency and restraint. It tried to do the right thing at the wrong time. It brought the tide of war into its refuge not because it wanted to further put a strain on already strained and fragmented communities; it did it because it wanted to ameliorate their suffering. That’s the moral thing to do. When the alternative is a Trump-like unsympathizer who considers outsiders as vermin, then even the most egregious decision made at the supranational level in Strasbourg or Brussels will somehow seem mitigated by the immensely difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves presently. Closing in on ourselves, if it’s to have any ultimate benefit, will at least expose the true ringleaders whose failures landed so many people in such a cycle of despair. The outing of this homegrown elite might level the playing field for the little man. They’re going to be sorely disappointed when the rogues who stand by and let their towns decay turn out to be their own fellow countrymen, albeit a new tiny class of merchant with their eyes on the prize from new markets in far flung places among old Commonwealth allies.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as our former French political partners say.

Some of those who were quick to announce a long overdue divorce are already sullen with regret, unsure in the light of a new day whether it was right to storm out of the marital home. Emotion has stabbed an arrow into the eye of common sense. Even the blind are beginning to see that. The more egregious the mistake the sooner the realisation dawns on people.

To be quite honest, the British were already ambivalent about a club in which they considered themselves too good to play by the rules. Like a flaky lover who stays when the going is good and threatens to quit when the times are tough, the plebiscite who would seek set the nation adrift from the continent chose a perfect moment to deliver the death knell when the EU was down and reeling from a succession of blows. The rejection was cruel and humiliating in its untimeliness. When the very idea of Europe was under threat from agents both inside and outside its border, it needed its big guns to rally to its defence with new resolve. Instead its biggest military force and second largest economy, the UK, waited until the EU was under fire to desert and form its own faction. No wonder the moderates on the Continent are seething.

Perfidious Albion! The French coined that one, too. Maybe Napoleon was right, England is that nation of shopkeepers.

So after thirty years of getting chronically dissed by the British populist media, Brussels is now free to pursue a less persecuted agenda. The chickens have come home to roost on a British Government who have been itching for this moment. It was their spin doctors, backbenchers and press secretaries, after all, that fed the tabloids with a lifeline of meretricious slurs which they knew would be gobbled up by Saxon John Bull during his tea break, further reaffirming his lingering second world war suspicions about the intentions of politicians in far off Berlin and Paris, speaking funny tongues he doesn’t understand. That formula sold lots of newspapers. It also, ironically enough, ultimately sold the country up the river.

Onto what now will the tabloids heap ridicule? Now the most visible target has been riddled with bullshit buckshot, who now will come into the cross-hairs of English public opinion? Truth is, there’s nobody left for the popular press to pillory other than the real elites. Will John Bull turn his ire on his elders and betters with their posh accents and taste for black olive paste on ciabatta?

The shires have packed up and gone, in a direction not even they can tell, and Europe will be all the better for it.

Globalisation worked for those who were willing to get out there and seek. And one did not have to be an Oxbridge graduate to sign up for that adventure. For all but the most industrious and entrepreneurial who refused to budge, only the slim pickings from globalisation were left them – the wishbone instead of the breast, so to speak. It was their rejection of something that was always over a horizon they shunned that has set in train this decline of integration, across Europe and far beyond.
Those who agitate for a renaissance of their small town, postindustrial communities, many fail to appreciate that their now moribund surrounds were once gleaming products of nineteenth century globalisation and that their ancestors followed the new money trail there from the bleak prospects of country life in search of the opportunity that the rail and manufacturing revolution afforded them. They were migrant workers in search of a better life even then. In 2016 we head for the Middle East in search of a solvent future; in 1816 it was the Midlands.
Those who got left behind have little inclination to go forward. By voting for change many, in a paradoxical sense, want the world to change for them. Though, as we all know in our heart of hearts, it is we who shape the world. Middle England has spoken. But who among them will care to listen?


John Bull, You Know Nothing.


Which way will the wave break? Normandy beach or Chesil? Do modern British tribes have Spanish sangria flowing through their veins? A will of German steel? Fingers of Belgian chocolate and hearts of French St Gobain glass? A thirst for Athenian democracy and a taste for Italy? In short, yes. So what is this nonsense about calling the whole thing off with Europe?

‘But we’re different. We’re not like those continentals. Our historical destiny is not the same.’

Yes, it is and yes we are. Try mooring the British Isles in the Persian Gulf and then speak with narcissism of your minor differences vis-à-vis our European brethren. With Saudi Arabia and Iran as your new neighbours, the British naysayers will soon appreciate that what unites them with France, Portugal, Poland and Denmark, is far greater than what divides them.

Britain’s historical legacy is so wrapped up with the larger mass of land to the south to be ridiculous. The earliest trace of proto-Europeans from the Pleistocene epoch 800,000 y.a arrived in a drier, cooler Britain from, yes you guessed it, Europe. Cro-Magnons, the modern prototype of the European, crossed the dry seabed 40,000 y.a from, ja you guessed it, Europe. 2,500 y.a, Celts sailed the East Atlantic seaboard, to Britain, returning to resettle Brittany at the fall of the Roman empire. Let us think about this one, but not too taxingly. Oui, again Europe. The Celtic mystique we inherited from them was a gift from….drumroll… Europe. Ultimately…Ultimativ…En fin de compte…Por Ultimo…Ostatecznie. In however way you express it, from whichever angle you frame it, it all comes back to the same shit, the same progenitor.

Then came the next infusion of DNA into the increasingly fissiparous bloodline: the German tribes. That split things. Successive boatloads of prospectors as well as a few bona fide refugees from the post-Roman chaos added another European base metal into the British cast. Jutes, Angles, Frisians, Saxons, they all settled the fertile British Isles, pushing the previous incumbents, the tragic and heroic Romano-Celts into a brave last stand in the remote, rugged West under the mythic construct known by Monty Python as Arthur, King of the Britons. Arthur, was another gift from Europe, by the by, this time courtesy of that thoughtful, proto-European French minstrel, Chretien de Troyes. Don’t even mention the royal ascent. Catalysts of our great nation’s selfhood – from Richard the Lionheart to Electors of Hanover and even a young Queen Victoria – spoke the old lingo none too well, by all accounts.


My country is at this moment playing catch with a live hand grenade. You know that girl you lost and never quite got over? We called it the British empire. For a while the creeping of the fingers over the body of the world felt good. We were wanted. Playing the great game with some aplomb. But, to paraphrase Lord Palmerston, the no eternal allies and no perpetual enemies epoch is gone. Isolation is anything but splendid in 2016. Our distant past was with Europe, our recent empire was with everyone, our present is in Europe, our future is of Europe.

Lay your ghosts to rest and hear what the current crop of sages have to say. 90% are backing EU reform from within. They’ve been camping enough to know that it’s better to be inside the tent pissing out than outside pissng in. The smart money is on continuity and pan-Europeanism to counteract mutually destructive forces embedded in nationalism. Narrow-minded ruritarians with nothing to gain bark ‘out’. And do not be fooled by thirty miles of shallow, turbid water. A slip of a channel between us and them, geographically-speaking, is liable to dry to baked mud quicker than your eternity of lonesomeness and island-thinking. And then, when you’re walking home, south to Calais on a freezing day where icicles awaken from inter-glacial dormancy, you’ll remember where it was you came from all those geological days ago. So, we grow old together or we grow old apart. Whichever way the wave breaks, everything old enters a state of decline together. Grow old and fractious, or old and in harmony? That is the question.

John Bull didn’t want to drown when I saw him bathing in the Indian Ocean tonight. He washed the dust from his prodigious body and then headed for the homeland, the surface on which he may live unhindered, not the mid-Atlantic obscurity you tragically desire.

And by the way, if the majority opts out, the Scots will find themselves with new and abiding reasons to leave. Watch the north go. And then what? King’s Landing?

John Bull, you know nothing.






Image courtesy of trespasserine (copr. 2016 trespasserine)