Thursday 23 June, 2016 found Family D. on the hot grey rocks of Chiessa, a cove on the west coast of Elba. S. spent the morning looking for ‘nee nails’. (Sea snails, in case you’re not up with her lingo). P. spent the morning floating his boat in rock pools. H. was overcome by the sheer wonder of the underwater world she had just discovered is hers when she snorkels. ‘Literally, Mummy, you think it’s just the water and that’s it, but then you go under and there’s a whole other world.’ As Mamma D. I pulled my (T)trump card (no pun intended) and sunbathed as much as I could. It’s not every day as a British citizen that you get to celebrate your special day at midsummer in midsummer weather. I was definitely indulging in this birthday of birthdays in 32 degree heat, with aquamarine waters mine in which to cool off.
The day of treats included eating fish locally for lunch. As we paid at the end, the waiter said, ‘You know what today is?’ Reckoning he wouldn’t know that I was celebrating that day, I raised an eyebrow (ok, I didn’t raise an eyebrow, that’s hyperbole, I would have liked to have raised an eyebrow, but I’ve not mastered that yet). It could only be Brexit. I laughed – of course we’ve sent our postal votes in. Of course we voted Remain. Who wouldn’t? Not only would it be national economic suicide, but on a purely frivolous level, the delights and privileges such as that we were enjoying would be far harder to come by if we voted out, so surely The Masses wouldn’t be so foolish as to compromise their costa del sol experiences on the basis of a campaign of hate pedaled by the likes of Farage.
The children asked what he meant, and I realised that, while Tom and I had discussed It a great deal, cocooned on a Tuscan hill, the children knew nothing about this Day of Days. I explained the idea of the vote and tried to outline what it was about. P. started to cry, ‘But I don’t want to not be in Europe.’ It’s ok, I reassured him, it’s really very unlikely that will happen. It would cost everyone far too much….
I was confident mid afternoon when my friend called and told me that the markets were looking good, exit polls were looking good, the pound was looking good. I joked that I wouldn’t need to stay up to watch the result, 4 am BST equating more or less to my early morning wake up call from S.
I didn’t need S to wake me, however. I was twitching at 3.30 BST but managed not to break the peace. By 4 am BST I couldn’t put it off any longer. I lay in bed in silence for the next hour, literally watching the results roll in and the little diagram on the BBC website move in the wrong direction. In the silent heat I felt as though I were inching through history in the making. And it was the wrong kind of history.
Needless to say I’ve been in the same post-break-up grieving process in which everyone I know finds themselves….. Almost everyone I know.
But I know that people far more clever and more politically astute than I have written incisive articles on quite why this situation is so unfathomably appalling – economically, politically, socially. Social media is awash with accounts, many of which are from people in whom I would have far more faith running the country than the muppets we have potentially before us. No, I’m writing this simply to share some of my children’s observations since last Friday morning.
Initially, it was the same disbelief held by all of us. ‘What do you mean?’ they both asked, ‘People said to leave?’. ‘How can we leave?’ asked Hattie. ‘Do we pack our bags and go?’
‘But why do people want to leave Europe?’ asked Peter, ‘I love Europe. I love Italy.’
It’s absurdly simple, isn’t it, when it’s put like that. But somehow I think this is pertinent. It’s pertinent because these are the voices of the next generation. These are the voices of those for whom I was voting. As my brother said on Facebook on my birthday, (it’s ok, I’ve forgiven him that pretty much his only communication with me on my birthday and since has been via Brexit related posts on social media; he’s distracted; we all are), accompanying his post with a photo of his five year old daughter skipping through the English rain to the Polling Station, ‘A vote for her future’.
The thing is, ye older generation of over 65s, 60 per cent of whom voted Leave, (thank you, darling grandparents of ours for voting Remain) our children don’t remember ounces and pounds. They don’t remember inches and feet. They’re not worried about returning to ‘those good old days’ of a Britain clinging to the might of its Empire. Don’t get me wrong – I want my children to understand our history, I want them to be aware of what we did well and what we might have done better. But just as nineties children are digital natives, children born since the millennium are global citizens: these are children born into a world which is accessible digitally and physically. They are digitally savvy, even if economically poor, and that alone changes their outlook. They are globally aware, in some sense or another, whether through being privileged enough to enjoy exotic travel with parents or simply enjoying the benefits of cheap European flights, a strong-ish pound and the ease with which one can flit round one’s door step with the wave of a small maroon book. In the same way as they know about looking after their skin in the sun, recycling our waste and that we can look up answers to questions through an amazing portal called Google, our children are also aware of the world beyond the channel in a way which was almost unimaginable when Churchill wrote those words which have shouted out over social media since 24th June. It’s run of the mill for our children’s schools to organise trips over the border to Normandy, incidentally to remember what we should not forget, when borders meant so much more than they do today. Correction, than they did before 5 am on 24 June 2016.
Since last Friday, the children have continued to mull it over, no doubt picking up on our brooding discontent, our outbursts as we read yet another article, hear another piece on the news highlighting both how absurd and how unspeakably unnecessary is this gargantuan pickle in which we find ourselves. Thus it was that P. asked me the other morning, ‘Does that lady on TomTom (the SatNav we use) want to leave the EU?’ In the midst of my post Brexit depression, I couldn’t help but laugh, but he had a point, ‘Because she needs it for her work, doesn’t she?’ Yes, P, she does. Together with several million other real people.
Then later, in the car, the two of them were discussing it again. ‘But,’ H protested, ‘I just don’t understand HOW we’re going to leave. I mean, HOW, are we going to leave?’ I was about to launch into an explanation of geographical location being relatively fixed (relatively fixed), versus economic and political agreements, but P cut in. ‘Are they going to build a wall?’…. A wall, yes, I was just imagining that being something looming large in Farage’s racist vision, but the children were one step ahead as H said, ‘They did that in Germany. Mrs D.’s sister was there when it came down and she’s got a piece of it.’
Is it my – our – inability to comprehend Brexit, our sense of quite how recklessly inept and enormously futile is this situation in which we find ourselves. Or is it just so blindingly obvious that an eight year old and a six year old get it. As H. concluded this evening after dinner, ‘What will England have to move to? It can’t just be its own little thing… can it?’