I have been deeply saddened and disillusioned by the whole Brexit affair. Part of my disappointment stems from the gullibility of many British people who allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by the all too blatant lies of the Leave campaign leaders. Some of those individuals did a rapid volte-face when they saw the alacrity with which their erstwhile heroes abandoned the sinking ship or realized that their vote had actually counted or simply bothered to research, albeit ex post facto, what it was they’d actually voted for. Whilst I may shake my head woefully at these people and damn them as idiots of the first water, I take some small measure of solace in knowing that they have, however belatedly, seen the error of their ways. We all of us make mistakes, after all – just some more egregious and unforgivable than others. Not all of the Leavers have recanted, alas. Some are still sticking to their guns, despite the predictions of experts (‘Pah, experts! I’m sick of experts telling us what’s best for our country!’) with regard to house prices, consumer spending, employment, trade, and the economy in general. My gut reaction is to shake my head more vigorously and mutter comforting old saws about there being none so blind as those who will not see. One can try and make these people wise up, but the wilfully obdurate aren’t going to cave in easily. As a friend says, I’m going to end up with a bruise on my forehead if I keep banging my head against this particular brick wall. I’m not going to stop being angry about this, though; I’m not going to ‘get over it and move on’ as the Leavers think I should; I’m not going to feel any less betrayed by the country of my birth.
And all that’s horrid and depressing and hurtful. But it’s not as bad as this.
I have, as I may have mentioned elsewhere, hardly any immediate family. My parents died twenty years ago; I’m an only child; I have an absolute plethora of cousins and half cousins and second cousins scattered about the globe – none of whom I see unless there’s a funeral, and only a couple of them then. The majority are probably nice enough people but we have nothing in common, and a few of them are distinctly unpleasant and best given a wide berth. My ‘family’ are the people I love and who love me, not a bunch of strangers with vaguely coinciding DNA patterns. With one notable exception. I have an aunt — my late, batshit crazy mother’s older sibling — whom I love very much. I have always considered her to be the sane, rational version of her li’l sis.
She’s 95 and not long for this world and I usually try and visit her as often as possible, but this time I’d delayed going because I knew it would be bad following a phone call I made to her towards the end of last month. She was so cock-a-hoop about the result of the referendum.
— Hi, Auntie, it’s me.
— Oh, hello. Have you been celebrating?
— Yes, the wonderful news about the referendum. I’ll be able to die happy now I know we’re no longer being bled dry by Brussels.
— Um… well, no… I wanted us to remain in Europe, remember?
— Oh, I know you said that, but you must be able to see that it’ll be better for all of us now. Your Uncle didn’t fight in the War just so we could give in to what Germany wants. We defeated them in 1945 and we’ve defeated them now. England is English once more.
— Err… umm…. Anyway, how’s your leg? Has the ulcer healed at all?
— Oh, do you know, it’s hardly bothered me at all. They do say that when you’re happy, you don’t feel pain so much. I’m just so relieved that we won’t have any more of those awful immigrants coming over here taking what’s ours.
— So… umm… tell me, has your new mattress arrived yet?
— Mattress? Oh, yes.
— And is it comfy?
— What? Why are you talking about mattresses when we’ve just been liberated from — from slavery. Oh, it’s like a weight’s been lifted from my shoulders. Surely you must be able to feel it too?
— Well, no, not really. I’m actually not at all happy about this result.
— Aren’t you?! Oh, it’s what I’ve been praying for. We’re finally getting our country and our self-respect back. It’s about time English people were given a chance in the job market and stopped having to come second to some foreign person just because of an EU directive. You’ll be able to get a teaching job again now there won’t all those Eastern Europeans competing with you.
— I’ve never lost out on a teaching job to anyone from Eastern Europe, Auntie. Besides, I don’t want to teach in this country.
— Oh but you might if you knew you’d be teaching English students and not so-called refugees and people from all over the world.
— I spent 20 years as a TEFL teacher: I like teaching people from all over the world.
She was just so happy. And I was so sad. It was all still too new and too raw for me. I couldn’t face explaining the facts to her or telling her about Farage and Hannan’s U-turns. So I took the cowardly way out and pretended to have a poor signal and said I’d call her another day.
So I waited until yesterday before going to see her, hoping against hope that she would at least have got over her jingoistic and xenophobic glee. We’d talked about these matters before and she always seemed to get it, only then to revert to her original position the next time I saw her. I knew that no amount of reasoning was going to make her see sense, but I had hoped she’d have lost some of her fervour and I’d have gained sufficient fortitude to shrug off her Daily Express-inspired ideas with equanimity.
I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of our conversation. I’m sure you can imagine the general tone of it. I’m just going to tell you the one point that epitomizes the whole encounter.
My aunt, my own flesh and blood, the relative I thought was the sane, rational version of my batshit crazy mother (who, incidentally, was uncrazy enough to be an ardent EU advocate) – my aunt’s only regret is that Nigel Farage hasn’t been made Prime Minister.
She loves him. She thinks he’s wonderful. He’s the only one who truly cares about and understands the needs of Britain and the British people. He didn’t lie about the £350 million to go to the NHS – he made a mistake and the NHS will still be better off if we don’t have to send ‘obscene amounts of money’ to the EU. But she’s not too saddened by his departure because ‘he’s left before, and then come back better and stronger than ever.’ She’s still holding out hope that he’ll be the next British PM.
I can just about come to terms with the country of my birth stabbing me (and the rest of the UK) in the back – but to be so heinously betrayed by my own aunt? That’s not something I find easy to accept. Moreover, I think she now believes I’m some kind of dangerous quisling who’ll sell British secrets (why we stay cool by drinking hot tea in warm weather? why ‘it’s bollocks’ is bad but ‘it’s the bollocks’ is good? why we not only eat, but also seem to enjoy, toast covered in salty, dark brown, yeast extract left over from brewing beer?) to the nearest passing foreigner. This Brexit malarkey has a lot to answer for.