The Oncoming Train
The massive bang came out of nowhere. I stood on the terrasse tolerating my morning yoghurt, and suddenly felt under attack. It took a few moments to gather myself and realise what the loud explosion was.
And what it was, was the end of the summer.
La Rentrée in France is like New Year everywhere else. It’s part of the national psyche; a new leaf, a new start. It’s a mental etch-a-sketch, give it all a shake and start again. It’s something of an international joke that France takes August off, but it’s true, it really does. One of our local hotel/restaurants is currently shut FOR THE HOLIDAYS! I’ve been trying to employ an accountant for the last four weeks. Now, either there’s a serial killer who hates financial auditing and is very successful, or the accounting profession takes their summer very seriously indeed. I’m sick of being ignored so frankly either would suit me.
The loud bang specifically meant that the hunting season would begin soon: it was the pheasant scatterer. Every year the brave hunting souls have new, young pheasants bred and then released into the surrounding fields for their gun-toting delight, and the scatterer helps spread them further; it adds to the ‘sport’. Hunting, like politics you see, is all about manipulation, loud bangs and false targets.
Of the many asinine, essentially hollow mantras that Theresa May has grated since she became Prime Minister, ‘Brexit Means Brexit’ has been the most successful. You just can’t argue with it. A meaningless, undefined term means a meaningless, undefined term. It smacks of no-nonsense strength though. An unarguable truism which you’d be a fool not to get behind. Where it’s started to fall apart is when people see what Brexit actually means, and the truth is, an awful lot of people don’t like it. They don’t like it at all. What do you mean Brexit is economic hardship, airport queues, unaffordable foreign holidays, low grade cancer treatments and chicken tasting of swimming pools?
And so, slowly, but very definitely, the tide has started to turn. The frothing voices screaming that ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’, are keen to report any kind of potential deal at all. The Brexit Bill, that can go and whistle, will, Boris admits quietly, be paid after all. Then of course he just injects himself with more patriotic buffoonery and says something else idiotic and self-aggrandising. David Davis, who said that the negotiation timetable itself would be ‘the fight of the summer’, caved in on the agenda before the first morning coffee had gone cold. And now, the final EU straw, the example of suppression by a ‘foreign’ autocracy, the Un-British, sovereign-taking ECJ, The European Court of Justice, that Theresa May ring-fenced as the absolute least that Brexit should dismantle will, in fact, ‘have a role to play’ in a post EU Britain.
Brexit Means Brexit will be replaced by Brexit? What Brexit? at some point. Assuming our negotiating team haven’t signed us up to the Euro in the meantime.
Even Labour have now announced a policy U-turn so dizzying it would make a pilot feel travel sick. We’re staying in the Single Market and the Custom’s Union under Labour, apparently, for as long as is sensible, transition-wise. Now, of course this is very welcome news indeed. The only sand in the suntan lotion being of course, that it’s come from Labour. Any recent Brexit announcement from Labour has taken a depressingly familiar turn.
Sunday: Announce Policy via Frontbench written article.
Monday: Gauge Reaction.
Tuesday: Corbyn distances himself from the new ‘stance’.
Wednesday: As you were.
I suspect Jeremy Corbyn’s political tactics come less from focus groups and more from Craig David songs. It’s difficult to trust this new development. It’s only a few weeks ago that Corbyn sacked three front benchers for suggesting this exact same policy, so while some people are getting the Labour bunting out, I’ll wait a bit if you don’t mind. I’ve got problems of my own.
You see, just when you suspect that no-one in France is actually working, up pops the previously very quiet ‘Office for Naturalisation’. And they, very clearly, are not happy to be in their stuffy office in the height of summer. Not happy at all, and like wasps trapped indoors, they’re spoiling for a fight. Don’t get me wrong, it’s encouraging to know that they’re still alive and not prey to the accountant slayer, but boy do they know how to put a crimp on an afternoon.
Natalie had been away for a week, and any joy at her impending return was tempered massively by the knowledge that as soon as she got out of the car, the inspection would begin. Were all 147 orchids still alive? Had the Hydrangea survived? Had I cleared the field of horse-poo? What breakages needed to be reported of her antique crockery collection? It’s a nervy time. And not helped by releasing a trapped swallow from the chimney breast who then, blinded by ash, flies from crockery display to orchid shelf, knocking things over and spreading ash like he was a crop-duster. Me charging about after him, screaming obscenities probably didn’t help but the thing was behaving like a Tasmanian Devil.
It was the least of my worries. Initially, seeing that the letter sitting in the post box was from the Plat-Forme de la Naturalisation was quite thrilling. Finally, after seven months, this is it. This will be the letter arranging my final ‘citizenship’ interview! I tore it open. I’m so desperate to get this thing out of the way. The whole process has taken well over a year, and this interview would be the end game.
It was not what I expected. ‘Thank you for your dossier’, it began, ‘which we received on August 18th’. Uh-Oh. That made me feel woozy. That drowning feeling you get when faced with stonewall bureaucratic incompetence. A dizzying, impotent rage. They had received the dossier in January! I had an email to say they had received the dossier in January? What do you mean August 18th? What fresh madness was this?
‘In order to proceed with your application, we need you to provide the following documents…’
I felt like howling. Actually, I felt like covering myself in ash and flying about the living room like a demented swallow. What could they possibly need now? A swimming certificate? A lock of my childhood hair? The Holy Grail? WHAT?!
What they need is a whole list of documents I HAVE ALREADY PROVIDED! Ah, but the letter says, the copies of these documents must be under three months old.
‘But they were under three months old when I sent them in January!’ My brain screamed.
‘Yes, that’s true.’ In my head I see an oily civil servant, stroking the head of a white cat. ‘But now it’s August, and they’re out of date.’
I have until September 15th to send them. That’s three weeks to track down documents that took months to source in the first place…
Oh, they’re good. Just when you think you have everything in place, the right docket, on the right day and with the right person, BANG! The explosion goes off somewhere, leaving you disorientated, flapping about, running hither and yon like a newly released pheasant. Panic, their aim all along, is your overriding emotion.
These are the people behind the EU negotiating team. Bureaucratic terrorists, highly trained paper shuffling ninjas who know how to hurt. I’ve said it before, and I suspect the British government have now realised this themselves, but I don’t hold out much hope for Davis’ negotiating team. No hope at all.
This is the 51st Full English Brexit blog, and – hopefully – will be part of the book. When that book comes out is difficult to say, it’s with a brilliant agent and the feedback is good… but, you know, Brexit innit?
My other best-selling books are available here IAN’S BOOKS.