It’d been two years since I’d visited England. In the early years of me living in Germany, I’d been going there maybe twice a year. Once at Christmas and once in the summer. Christmas was always a given. With my folks living just a few stops from Heathrow on the Piccadilly line, that was easy… and cheap.
Over the years, the visits became less frequent. It dropped to about once a year. That was down to my kids growing to the age where a seat was required (rather than just sitting on our laps). Kids’ tickets are not really any cheaper than adult tickets, unlike on other forms of transport. And my folks moved away from London, making the journey far longer and more expensive.
But two years was a long time. That came about because of our plans and their collapse. We had been planning to return to the UK last year.
It was almost like Mr Fate was laughing at us, as my wife took her Visa supporting documents personally (by post is not an option) to our nearest office in Germany, on the 23rd of June 2016, (the day the UK went to the polls to vote on our membership of the EU). Long story short, things didn’t work out for the Visa, nor did it (in my opinion) in the referendum. So I missed my annual trip “home” (if you’ve read other bits I’ve written here, you’ll know I don’t really get on well with that word) that year.
I read the news daily. I watch what broadcasts I can on YouTube: BBC Question Time, Channel 4 News, BBC News, Sky News, ITV News, parliament, and various independent commentators. I listen to Radio 4 in the morning and LBC sporadically. What I got from all of these — especially Question Time and LBC — is that the country is angry, tearing itself to pieces, and overflowing with people hating each other. What I saw was very different.
Where I was seemed just like it did two years ago, before the last year happened. I don’t know if people were making a conscious effort to not talk about Brexit, but it just didn’t crop up, except as minor, pleasant asides in otherwise enjoyable conversations.
News reports indicated that hate crimes had spiked. I do not question the validity of this, but the picture I saw from Germany was that the minority of raging racists, who had kept their crap bottled up for years, had been let loose, freed from the societal shackles that deemed it unacceptable to abuse someone because of their national or ethnic origin. Yes, they are a small minority, but it takes only a single person in a thousand to make another’s life unpleasant. With my family being internationalist and racially mixed, this was something that scared me. I’ve lived my life as a member of a social minority. I faced taunts and jibes because of my hair, my clothes, my musical tastes, my weight, but it was because of things that I made a conscious choice about. I chose to not conform to what the majority wanted were. I chose to follow my own path, and found no enjoyment in mainstream mediocrity.
But people do not choose their national or ethnic origin. Children do not choose their parents. There is nothing that would devastate me more than my family having to deal with hatred and abuse.
As it stands, the country is still ticking over. Branston is still on the shelves, beer is still flavourful, pubs are still friendly, the chips are still amazing, the bus services are still terrible, train tickets are still eye-wateringly expensive, and the weather still changes significantly from one hour to the next. This nightmare vision of a starkly divided country didn’t present itself during the two weeks just gone. I just saw people going about their lives as they always did.
Maybe I shouldn’t watch Question Time quite so often…