Broken Glass

I took a gamble, booking a flight to Barcelona on the day after Brexit was due to happen. Some people said I was mad, that I’d have lost my money, and that I might end up grounded. Some people said there was nothing to worry about. I chose to believe in the latter and did nothing, trusting that Project Fear would only cause a few minor disruptions at best.

And I got lucky. In over ten years of flying to and from Gatwick Airport, I swear I’ve never seen it so empty. Security took all of three minutes, queues, baggage check and the whole taking off and refastening one’s belt charade. In short, no queues at all. Well, none besides the giant queue for the cancelled Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong. I suppose you can’t blame Project Fear for that.

I managed to lose one of my lenses sometime between boarding and takeoff. Fortunately it wasn’t one of my camera lenses, but one of the eyeglasses from my shades. So now I have to spend the holidays looking like a low budget Terminator. Alternatively I could buy some new ones, but that would spoil the magic a little. Stories aren’t so interesting when everything gets mended all the time.

Well, here I am in Barcelona. This hostel doesn’t appear to hand out padlocks for its lockers like some of the ones I’ve stayed in over in western Spain, but no matter. I’m going on a nighttime stroll to take in the city a bit. Catch you later. BB x

Reaching Out

Dear World,

I remember a time when Brexit didn’t mean an awful lot to us. When it was just the latest in a string of buzzwords bandied about by the press. Before the year when the experts were all wrong. Before the referendum, President Trump and the sudden violence of world politics, like a particularly large and menacing dog woken from slumber by the rumble of a passing car.

I have tried to keep my mouth shut on Brexit since the beginning, suspecting that we could only have come to such a junction because of one failing or another in the system. Mutiny might breed in idleness, but anger, hatred and intolerance do not come from nowhere. The spark must have been glowing within the ashes, even if so few of us saw it smouldering there. And how could we, in the echo chamber of our comfortable social media bubbles, where everything hurtful and unorthodox is slammed before it is questioned, and the angry back down in silence to nurse their wounded pride and their encircling fear in the darkness. Certainly, we are not the architects of our own destruction, but we are not entirely blameless in bringing about the situation that so many are now quick to decry.

I was in Morocco when it all kicked off, now almost three years ago, when the referendum was as out of sight and mind as the essay I was supposed to be working on for my university. I was informed of the outcome by an American, who came rushing into the classroom to tell me, holding nothing back, that ‘your folks voted out’. Of course I was shocked, though perhaps not as much as I should have been – I confess to having forgotten entirely about the referendum that morning. Last night’s Arabic homework seemed more important at the time.

It was certainly not the result any of us had been expecting. But then, I did study languages at a British university, so almost all of my contemporaries were naturally predisposed to take an immediately dismissive view of anything akin to Brexit out of hand. I don’t think I ever saw anything other than rage against Brexit on my Facebook feed, and that in and of itself made me concerned from the start.

The eldest son of my Moroccan host family saw in it a cause for celebration, and he wasn’t the only one. I remember seeing fireworks from the balcony, set off from somewhere within the city outskirts. “It’s the best thing England could have done,” said the son. “Anything that weakens the EU is good for us.” I suppose being in a country that felt ostracised by the EU opened my eyes early on to the other side of the argument, in spite of my obvious leanings towards the remain camp, not entirely unconnected to being of Spanish blood myself. Without my grandfather to voice his European view on the matter, I had to find the answers myself. And as much as it hurt me to imagine where it all might lead, I had to listen. I had to know. Because there’s no use in complaining about the situation if you aren’t prepared to listen to the other side.

It seems strange to me that, in an age when even Disney’s recent heroes and villains have become various shades of grey, today’s politics should provide the black and white.

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It’s been a few years since then. The strange, almost unbelievable scenario I discussed at length with an American in the shade of a Tetouani hotel roof on a hot July afternoon has now shimmered into reality. In a matter of weeks it will be B-Day – unless something radical happens. The last few months have been nothing short of chaotic. Defeat after defeat in the House of Commons. An increasingly beleaguered Prime Minister who soldiers on, determined to defend the decision of the referendum in spite of those who call for a second referendum, claiming the British public was lied to by the Leave camp – as if the concept of politicians spreading lies were something revolutionary.

Would a second referendum help? I can only hope that it would do more good than harm. We have walked right into a bear trap. To say the first referendum was wrong would be to call into question the referendum process, nay, democracy itself. And though it would not be the first time the United Kingdom has changed its mind over its core values – see attitudes towards homosexuality in the former African colonies – it does us no favours, having sold, extolled and foisted democracy upon the world to then tamper with it. In the words of the Spanish philosopher Baltasar Gracian, “never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it”.

Tonight the MPs voted against a “No Deal” Brexit. Tomorrow there will be a vote on whether or not to delay Brexit altogether – if the EU will even allow such a thing. I have given up predicting politics, preferring instead to take after my namesake in Animal Farm and hold to the adage that things will go on as they have before, that is, badly.

It is, of course, entirely plausible that Brexit was all one big power play – a high risk, high return move in a long and complicated game of chess. Perhaps Farage, Johnson and the rest of the Brexiteers are simply riding the storm, and have done very well out of it, to the detriment of millions. It is also entirely plausible that I have spent too long looking into the abyss, trying to empathise with a point of view that is so alien to my heart. The Spaniard in me cries out and beats his chest, with true melodramatic flourish, for all the harm that will be and has already been done to our sense of European unity. The Englishman I am, contrite to a fault, pleads for patience and searches desperately for answers.

Time, the master of all things, will tell on the matter of Brexit. And if there is indeed a special place in Hell for those who led us to this junction, we may yet all see a window into the inferno on the night of the 29th. Or we may simply wake up to another unpredictably disappointing morning, where everything stands on its head. The era of topsy-turvy politics continues.

World of the future, when you look back on all of this… Be kind with your judgements. Remember those who fought tooth and nail for unity, remember those who fought for what they thought was right, and remember those caught in the middle who tried to listen.

BB x

British street artist Banksy takes on Brexit in Dover ...

PS. I confess to not having read enough on the subject before writing, and being informed only by my European family, the odd snippet on the BBC and my almost entirely Remain camp circle of friends. But I have tried to be honest about my stance on the subject.

Not the End of the World

If I let the events of the last few days go by without a word, I’d be failing as a writer.

The hysteria is real. Donald Trump is the next President of the United States. Social media has exploded. Race hate is on the rise. Politics has, after so many predictable years, suddenly got very interesting indeed. The UK’s decision to leave the EU is old news: there’s a larger finger on the big red button. The race for the White House may have split the States, but everybody would agree that America’s new president can mean only one thing: change.

In one of the strangest turns of events I’ve ever witnessed, the man widely heralded as the most laughable of all of the presidential candidates of the campaign has defied all expectations and, despite a slew of racial slurs, misogynistic remarks and just about anything and everything else that might have destroyed any other runner-up, Trump has surged into power and we must now accept the fact that, like it or not, the controversial tycoon is now one of the most most powerful men on Earth.

That is, as long as there is an Earth for him to police. There’s no denying it: so many of us believed that a Trump presidency would be the forerunner of the apocalypse.

But is it really?

Now bear with me, as I’m going to do something very radical and very out-of-character, and I’m going to suggest that a Donald Trump presidency may be exactly what the world needs right now.

Now, why on earth would I say something like that? How could a see-sawing, prejudiced, misogynistic, arch-capitalist with his hands on the nuclear codes ever be a good idea? Well, for starters, I never said it was a good idea, nor that it sat well with me at all. However, I’m slowly coming around to thinking that it might not be the travesty it first seemed (Or maybe I’m just disillusioned with reality after Brexit).

I’ll do my best to explain. Firstly, the mere fact that a firebrand like Trump managed to beat the system and defy all expectations means that the status quo has been given a serious shakedown. The slump of pendulum politics is officially over. Granted, Trump was no saint, but Clinton’s track record made it difficult for the Democrats from the very beginning. Bernie might have been our hero, and it’s easy to believe that he would have led the Democrats to victory, but something tells me that the United States would have sooner seen a certified bigot in the White House before electing a socialist. Old habits die hard. But it’s this desperate adherence to the status quo that has brought us to this. People are sick and tired of the ways things are, the way things have been for so long. Trump offered to give them that change. Clinton had a tried-and-true dustpan and brush, Trump was offering a Dyson. It’s as simple as that.

In that sense, the election of Donald Trump ought to be seen as a triumph, not just of prejudice, but of change. Maybe next time the Democrats will provide a more idealistic individual, one unmarred by scandal and unfettered by the chains of regularity. In the interests of good politics, let’s hope so.

So why now? Here’s the sticky bit. Think back to the last time there was ever all-out war between the world powers. I’m not talking Cold War meddling, I’m talking boots-on-the-ground assault. 1945. That’s over seventy years ago. Since then we’ve meddled with countries across the globe, but it’s been all quiet in the Western Front. And seventy years is a very long time to go without war by Western standards. Meanwhile the US, the UN, the EU, all of these ‘peace-keeping’ bodies have been policing the world, trying to resolve conflicts left, right and centre – and, in many cases, deliberately capitalizing on them. But the clock is ticking. If history tells us one thing, it’s that nothing ever stays the same forever.

I believe that we’ve been living through a Pax Romana, a necessary ceasefire. As long as everybody did as they were told, the peace would hold. But this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Humans are naturally belligerent, and we’d be fooling ourselves to believe otherwise. We have so much capacity for love and compassion, but instinct cannot be denied. Conflict is one of the most natural elements of existence and we’ve been stemming it for so long. It may not have looked like it until recently, but we’ve been sitting on a volcano for a long time now. The pressure is mounting and it’ll blow before too long, with dire consequences for us all.

How could that ever be good? Again, it’s not. It’s terrible, and when war comes, I will be just as distraught as the rest of us. But, sooner or later, it is necessary. Resolving conflict by removing it from the equation can only work so many times, just as taking painkillers is no substitute for a cure. In the end, perhaps the best thing to do is to fight it out, to let it all come to a head. The rise of terrorism, the refugee crisis, pitifully low voter turnouts and the wave of race hate that’s sweeping the West… These are all the signs of a world that’s bristling for a fight. Between who, I cannot say. But it’s in the air.

Previously, wars have not only brought long periods of hostility and dissatisfaction to a decisive end, but they’ve resulted in massive social upheaval, often with various positive side-effects. In that one instance, war may save us all. I dread to think what may happen to this world if things go on the way they are.

Trump might not be the one to start the War That Is To Come, but you could interpret his election as the first of many thrown stones. Of course, it could all be a storm in a teacup, and the Mexican Wall and the ‘complete shutdown on all Muslims entering the United States’ may be as likely to materialize as UKIP’s £350m pledge to the NHS, but if we’re due a decade of change, for good or ill, this seems like the obvious trigger.

So what can we do? For starters, we can try to learn from our mistakes. The Democrats lost because they believed their idea of democracy would work. It didn’t, and now the age-old system has failed. It’s time to search for a new way of doing things, before it’s too late. I don’t pretend to have even the first idea what the new way might entail, but I can see plainly enough that holding to the status quo is no longer a reliable option. 

We should also get learning languages. Now. Obviously as a linguist I have more than a touch of bias here, but I mean it. In the current climate where nations the world over are becoming more and more insular as ‘us and them’ politics take the floor, it is more important than ever that we learn to interact with the world outside our own. Whatever you think of Trump or his policies, blind, beer-touting isolationism is a one-way road to destruction in the long run. So the EU has failed? Don’t walk away from it. Work on it. Change it. I’ve met so many non-Europeans who fell foul of the EU and had little love for it, so – despite espousing the Remain camp myself – I can see why people think it has failed them. But we could do so much more by working together. It’s just a question of time. English may be the world language for now, but there’s no reason to believe that’s the way it will always be, nor should it.

When Trump takes office next year, it’s difficult to know exactly what will happen. The bookies have been wrong time and again this year, so it’s hardly worth consulting them anymore. But if war comes, in ten years or in twenty, don’t say I didn’t warn you. BB x

Exile

I’ve deliberately waited to pen this one. Being both out of the country and out of WiFi meant that I didn’t get the news until I got to class this morning, by which point I’d already forgotten yesterday’s referendum buzz. I had more important things on my mind, like how many men were really killed at Covadonga, and what kind of a world would Spain have been had Navas de Tolosa gone the other way. Stuff like that.

Waiting has also meant that you’ve been spared the knee-jerk, bloody-hell-it’s-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it attitude that I spent most of this morning suffering from. In fact I was so shocked by the news that I could hardly talk for the first twenty minutes or so of class. And whilst I was a little tongue-tied for the first two weeks, the last few days’ confidence boom has brought out the chatterbox in me, and therefore it felt quite odd being left with suddenly nothing to say.

I’m talking, of course, about Brexit. About my country’s decision to ignore sanity, common sense and all basic human emotions besides fear and to rally behind some of the most sinister British politicians in living memory.

It smacks of Weimar. It smacks of Trump. It smacks of the start of pretty much every slow run-up to fascist mind-control. I’m not going to start spouting nonsense about the end of the world – it’s really not – but it was a knock I was certainly not expecting this morning. 

And that’s the strangest thing of all. I simply never saw it coming. It always seemed so… laughable. Oh, I’d be the first to confess that I’ve barely looked into the consequences or the data. I got most of my updates from Have I Got News For You. In the end, if the truth be told, I simply let instinct and common sense decide my stance on the matter. Perhaps that makes me no better than anyone else. But if my Facebook page is anything to go by, the Brexit voter is a very rare beast indeed – at least, amongst my generation. I’m told it’s the fault of the older generation; they voted for Leave in their droves, apparently. Personally I have no idea. I have no grandparents, no great uncles or aunts, and therefore no contact with that generation whatsoever. I don’t have the foggiest how they live, or how they think. Therefore I refuse to buy into rumours or make claims about what I don’t know. If only some of my countrymen had done the same.

It still shocks me, though. How did it happen? It was just a joke, right? Everyone and their tabby cat was against it: Patrick Stewart, Alan Sugar, Ryanair, James Bond, David Attenborough, the Prime Minister… The list was endless. Who was supporting Leave? I mean, apart from Trump, Kim Jong Un and IS, who naturally all want what’s best for us, of course. I was baffled enough by the Trump campaign. How could a man faced with such a fierce backlash ever get to be the Republican candidate for the President of the United States? And yet he did. It was tempting to think ‘only in America’… and yet, here we are. Severed from the European Union by another silent majority who – if the rumours are true – won’t have to live with the results for even a breath of the time that we will. We, the generation who came out so strongly in defense of the Union… Ignored.

To say that it swayed my mind on moving abroad after university would be heresy. I’d already made that decision many months ago, and I’m proud to say that I made it out of love, not fear. My decision stands. Only, perhaps now there’s a sense of urgency, a feeling of Cortés landing in Mexico about it. My plans were laid, but somebody went and burned the boats. It may take all of ten years to obtain my Spanish citizenship, or – if that old Hispanic obsession with blood still stands – it may be less, but the way things are going, I’m bound for exile no matter what happens. BoJo and Farage and their silent worshippers have made it just that little bit harder now, as my road is now fraught with VISAs that had never been necessary before, but I won’t let that stop me. They can try, but they’re not treading on my dreams.

The way some of us Brits have reacted to this – myself included – you’d think that war had just been declared. That’s the worst part of it all: the fear. It’s fear that has got us in this state. Fear of what? The unknown? The migrant crisis? I would pay handsomely to send the average Leave supporter to one of the refugee camps in Jordan or Greece for a couple of months, if just to see if there really is a right answer. Familiarity: that’s the obvious solution. Once you know that which you’ve only seen and heard in the news, it’s suddenly a great deal more than a number on a piece of paper (Would Stalin have sent so many to their deaths if he’d had the chance to get to know them all?).

Of course, I’d go for the laughter route myself. Laugh at your fears, laugh at the world and especially laugh at yourself. I almost walked into the same lamppost twice today, and I had to count the hours between nine o’clock and twelve just to be sure there were three of them. And yes, I just did it again to confirm. Yours truly has some remarkably oafish tendencies. But I revel in my bouts of stupidity. It’s what made the Greek gods so much more interesting than the Abrahamic belief in perfection. None of us are perfect, nor ever could be. We’ve as much hope of being ‘perfect’ as a Jack Russell has of explaining quantum physics to a nursery group. But we try. And that’s kind of funny. We should laugh at that.

 J.K. Rowling had it down: laughter really is the best cure for fear, but familiarity is the next best thing.

Where am I going with this? I’ve literally just got home. My phone wouldn’t make the connection to my host family for some reason so I ended up sitting in the doorstep for an hour, as I’ve done in one way or another so often in my life. I’m quite used to it by now. Waiting is no bad thing. It gives you time to think, to muse, to watch the world go by. Life goes on. Britain may have decided to leave the European Union and we may or may not be headed for troubled times, but it’s business as usual in Tetouan.

I’ve been waiting my whole life in one way, shape or form: the right girl, the right moment, the right place, the right language. Patience: birdwatching taught me that. I can wait a little longer. One day, when of all of this fear and hostility has blown up and/or over, we’ll look back and have a good, long laugh. No matter how dark it gets. BB x