Friday, 24 June 2016

On being European

I'm slowly trying to work through how I feel about the whole Brexit thing. I am never normally prone to anything very political, and even less so to speaking about it publicly (I come from a gene pool where political things were a private matter and my own mother chided me for asking how she would vote, back in the 70s - that might even have been for the 1975 referendum). But this has bowled me over, and something tells me I will feel better for getting it off my chest.

I don't think I realised until today just how European I really feel, deep inside. And now, today, I think I feel more European than British. It did always feel, although there's nothing foreign in my roots, that there was a little frisson about Europe and yet despite its excitement, it felt like home. I am old enough to just about remember going into the Common Market, and even at that tender age, it felt a thrilling thing to be part of. Back then it was all about 'going to the continent' for a really exotic holiday, and counting the bottles of wine to make sure you hadn't gone over the duty free limit. We would do trips to France or to Belgium, sometimes to Holland, and I remember the grey and the gloom descending on me as we reached the ferry to go home. We'd wait for hours to get through border control. It also always seemed to be raining when we got back to British shores.

Growing up keen on learning languages in the 80s meant that my education exposed me to an enormous buzz about Europe. The Single European Act in 1986, a six-year programme culminating in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, integrating Europe, was frequently something to be discussed. I embarked on A levels in languages and there was talk of how much work would be soon available to anyone multi-lingual. As a language student I had my year abroad: 3 months in Germany, 9 months in Belgium, very much the most European place you could imagine, and I felt the full force of the joy of Europe. Friends and I would nip over the borders, around an hour away, to buy cheaper CDs in Maastricht, and cheaper cigarettes in Aachen, and we would see countless people doing the opposite journeys for something that may have been better value in Belgium. It was the European dream.

I ignored it for a few years while other things took over, but my European passion has slowly and subconsciously been waving its little hand in my direction more and more in the last few years. And today, for the first time, I realise that when I sit here at home, taking apart pieces of foreign texts and trying to piece them back together again in my own language, making sure there are no holes for the water in the Channel to seep through, my head is actually in Europe, not in Short Lane at all.

We have a van that we got, more than anything, for bring back all the lovely things we find in Europe.  A few weeks ago we brought back cases and cases of wine, more cheese than any one family could need, jams, sweets, biscuits, chocolate... and we took a day trip over the border to Belgium so that I could indulge my passion for Kriek beer and Cuberdon sweets. On the day we went there, I left our passports behind in France but as usual, to my everlasting joy, we drove full pelt through a dilapidated unmanned border control, from circa 1990.

Maybe I have absorbed so much of this that I am Europe itself. Am I the perfect age to feel European? The worst of it is that today I can't help but feel a little bit broken.

It's ironic that the children's sports day at school has been blighted today by the same rain clouds that used to bring me that gloom coming back onto British soil in the 70s and 80s. Wonder how much longer we'll be needing that van for once we're back to the duty free limit days.