Tag Archives: Brexit

#SaccageParis

Paris, so they say, is no longer the most beautiful city in the world. All her inhabitants are fleeing her ghastliness for the provinces. This is due, so they say, to the eco-socialist policies of Anne Hidalgo and her mayoral team. The city, so they say, is littered with concrete blocks, innocent trees are being cut down, bike lanes are unnavigable, and the privatisation of public space is rampant.

Despite being a long-term resident, I can neither confirm nor deny these allegations. But I was intrigued when I saw that the Telegraph ran with the story and deplored the ruin of Paris. I looked at the hashtag that gives the name to this piece and realised that, whether it is true or not what they say, it is a useful angle of attack for right-wingers. How many cities can boast the reputation of being the most beautiful in the world? And what more catchy rhetoric than environmentalists chopping down trees and socialists promoting capitalist expansion? It’s low hanging fruit.

I find amusing the idea of some bigoted couple in England who haven’t been to the Continent since Brexit, bemoaning the fate of Paris, over their morning cuppa and conservative broadsheet. However, I’m stilling getting over the big move 2000 years ago from the original settlement of Lutetia to where Paris is now. The invasion and sacking of the Huns in the 5th century of this era left wounds that are yet to be healed. And Haussmann’s renovations, excellently and despicably portrayed in Zola’s The Kill, miserably replaced the charming medieval cesspit that was Paris, with its occupy-able and barricade-able ginnels.  

I have a confession to make. And one that might have these city planning pearl-clutchers spitting out more than their over-brewed tea, or even some 16th arrondissement Pétainist fuming to his Lorette. Contrary to popular opinion, I believe that the worse thing that happened to Paris is that it wasn’t completely destroyed in the Second World War. Unlike cities that had to undergo major redevelopment paid for by the Marshall Plan, Paris kept its tiny bedsits and inadequate plumbing. The city centre is that of a large town, not of a global metropolis, and the traffic problems stem from streets laid-out for horse-drawn carriages.

Think about it. We could have working lifts, luminous living spaces, and a logical city map. If all of this 19th century beauty had been destroyed, who knows what the the 21st century would look like.

Instead, we’re stuck on some kind of aesthetic loop, having to endure the whining of sickly nostalgic plum-eaters who get offended when a bin isn’t emptied, but will probably celebrate deep down when a group of immigrants dies on their doorstep.

My European Country

I was asked to write down in words about growing up European. There are people who will read this and think I am exaggerating: the idea that Britain might once have been a European country is mad to them, insulting even. But I say it loudly and write it even more so: the country that I was raised in and which I love is European. Anyone who says that I am wrong does not see two sides of a story. Anyone who scorns at this idea does not see the ridicule we are currently in. Anyone who is offended does not see the hurt that I, like many others, feel at this decision for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union at midnight of 31st January, 2020. 

It pains me though to talk from the position I am in: one of privilege. I went to an excellent, free grammar school. My grandparents were insistent on the fact that if me or my brother wanted to go on a school trip, there would be money there for it. My parish had links to Germany; I’ve always loved the idea of twinned towns – what a brilliant initiative to make the geographical distance just a little smaller. The inter-rail  ticket made me see the world on my own for the first time and ultimately to see myself. I have gotten drunk in most countries in Europe, have sampled local cuisine, and often been welcomed into family homes with warmth and confidence. I have been moulded by Latin and Ancient Greek, which fuel a desire to know more about modern European languages and culture. That my country has once again arrogantly turned its back on international cooperation is a plight I would love to apologise for. But how can I? What can I do to make things better?

I have witnessed racism in the pubs of England. I have seen man do the most outrageous things and not even blink an eye. I have watched as they destroy their bodies through almost back-breaking work and their minds on drug-fuelled nights out. I have received threats from these people. I felt the desire to leave my country because of this sort of environment and now the lid has been taken off and all those foul vapours are floating about, worse than the epidemic of coronavirus. It is a toxic, poisonous energy and the Conservative party, having experimented with fracking to harness natural gas, turned to the media to control this crowd. 

Further to the point, it would appear that nationalist tendencies are spreading around the world, causing many societies to regress several decades in terms of gender equality, race relations and environmental policy. When they are tackled on their views, they turn to invective; when they are confronted with something alien, they bully; when they feel they are about to be beaten, they resort to violence. Take as an example the murder of Jo Cox, a mother, an MP, and a Remain supporter who was killed by a far-right sympathiser just one week before the 2016 referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union. Imagine that latent threat of physical violence as people went to the polls. 

As for what we can do, there are as many options as there are personalities, but none of them is ideal. The first is to wait it out – go and find the most remote place you can and wait for it all to blow over. The benefit is that you’ll be able to write the novel that speaks to your generation, but you might miss out on some of the fun to be had. The next suggestions is ‘to become the change you want to see in the world’. The idea being that if you want people to think more open-mindedly, then you too must have your mind as clear and porous as limestone. Next, you can always join the violence: shave your hair off, pick up some bricks at the next demonstration and beat up someone up, as you see fit. Another is to say, well, if I can’t beat them, I might as well join them: ’you don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.’ Sign up to the party that you think is going to win and be in power for the next few years. But just hope they don’t anything too drastic that might one day have you seeking for deniable plausibility. The list is exhaustive; see where your conscience will take you. 

It might seem overwhelming, this sense of duty. It is – it’s supposed to be. How you navigate it is up to you and you might just want to sail past the whole all together. My country men and women have forgotten this and will one day be brutally reminded. But until then, I’m going to stay on the Continent for as long as possible and remember that my country, the one I love, is a European one.