You Can’t Always Get What You Want
We all do things we don’t want to sooner or later. You can start off with, even live by, the best of intentions but there will come a point where compromise is the only way forward. A compromise nobody expected of you and one that, far from making it look like you have the proverbial ‘broad back’, actually looks a little humiliating. A loss of character, rather than the added depth you’d hoped to show.
The last time I wandered around Tours my hernia/sciatica was so bad, my limp was almost like performance art. Like a slow-motion fractured, forward moonwalk or an effeminate Frankenstein’s monster, and despite being, as usual, dressed up to the nines, it’s very difficult to Peacock while you mince and wince. That was nothing however. I might have been at a low ebb but clothes maketh the shallow man, so in my mind at least I had dignity. Not this time. My first appointment with a kinéstérapeute (kiné for short, a physiotherapist) had induced a mild panic about what one wears to these kinds of situations and so I was now in Tours in trainers, a hoodie and jogging bottoms. All pristine too, making me look like it was my first day in prison and I have rarely felt more uncomfortably self-conscious. Tours is a very chic place, the archetypal French city of wealthy, look-at-me stereotype and here I was outdoors in leisurewear, beltless for the first time in thirty years and feeling just rotten. I’d have preferred the indignity of the limp.
And that’s the thing, you build up an image of who you are, what you are and, sometimes, what you represent. You play up to it to a certain extent, but it is you. I am the well-dressed Englishman, loving life in rural France, fiercely defensive of my right to be here but, defiantly almost, wearing my heritage sartorially like a protective shell. Monsieur So British as I never get tired of hearing. Only here I was, dressed like a tragic middle aged dad trying to be hip in elasticated trousers and too bouncy footwear. I had lost my identity and I felt exposed. My Britishness is what sets me apart from everyone else here, peel those trappings away and what have you got? Like Ray Liotta says at the end of GoodFellas, just another ‘ordinary snook’.
Commentator Alex Andreou wrote this week, beautifully and passionately, about why after nearly three decades in the UK, he will not apply for British citizenship. He arrived lawfully, has lived lawfully, contributed socially and financially so why should he now become British? The alternative may be, as the government proposes, to ‘register’ as an EU national. Be one of ‘us’ then or apply for some other piece of paper which in effect will give fewer rights than before. What a choice. Why in the 21st century is the United Kingdom adopting ‘put foreigners on a list’ policies anyway, and not only that, but ‘offering’ it as retrospective legislation? It’s a shameful situation, degrading and pernicious. Utterly destabilising, and the deliberate act of cowards, deflecting blame to hide their own faults.
The flipside is that while Alex has the right to refuse to play that game; the British in the EU are in a slightly different position. While he turns down the ‘opportunity’ to become British, many of us British migrants are scrambling about desperately trying to become ‘foreign’ while we still can. I have to apply for French citizenship so that whatever dubious practice the UK government adopts is not reciprocated across the EU. ‘So,’ EU governments will say after their nationals in the UK are rounded up and given a number, ‘you want to play it like that, do you? Two can play at that game.’
Alex still hopes for a better outcome though, ‘a simple, free, automatic process of our existing rights being recognised’ and tireless organisations like The 3 Million and The British in Europe are lobbying for exactly that. He’s hopeful, but not optimistic. I don’t know though. Along with retirement home clothing, I’ve also adopted a slightly more optimistic outlook. On the surface there’s still the drip-drip of lunacy. Labour’s Kate Hoey, who looks more and more like Zelda from 80s TV show Terrahawks, says that Ireland will have to ‘pay for a wall’ when I thought the whole idea of Brexit was that we would control our own borders? Hoey is a bit weird frankly, a Labour MP who cavorts with Nigel Farage on boats and bangs on about the will of the people despite her own constituency voting 70% Remain.
Also, there’s Michael Gove who has apparently won a Cabinet battle to move Britain, post-Brexit, away from the standards and regulations of our biggest trading partner and presumably lean more towards the United States and their hormone beef. That sounds, on the face of it, economic chaos and self-punching insanity, but within 12 hours of his victory Prince Harry had announced he was marrying an American, so things move quickly. Boris Johnson, in his blithe, utterly biodegradable way announces that it’s time to ‘get the ship off the rocks.’ As if he had absolutely no influence in putting the bloody ship there in the first place, while at the same time cutting funding for any life-saving lighthouse.
Johnson was referring to the £50 billion ‘Divorce bill’, which he told the EU could go ‘whistle’ at in the summer, but is now ‘worth paying’ apparently. No it isn’t. What the £50 billion ‘Divorce bill’ has achieved though, finally, is unifying the country. No-one thinks that’s a good deal. The Brits love a bargain and £50 billion to either achieve peak sovereignty or commit economic suicide (delete as appropriate) is way more than we were told.
But here’s where my new found optimism kicks in. We have a potential hero. Step forward David Davis. Yes, I know he looks like a man constantly hallucinating on the odours of his own self-satisfaction, but it does rather seem that, where negotiations are concerned, he has the opposite of The Midas Touch. Everything he has called a red-line issue he has caved in on so far, the timetable, the future role of the ECJ, transition and now the size of the payoff. At this rate, it’s entirely possible that by Christmas we’ll actually be in the Euro itself and by Easter, Ireland will be united, possibly under the German flag. The rank incompetence that has characterised Brexit since the vote may actually be its undoing. That it will be shown to have been handled in such a bad way that the idea itself is tainted, like orchestral versions of rock classics or most fusion food.
It’s a thin sliver of hope, I grant you, but you never know. And then, once Davis has negotiated us into changing our national language to French, we drive on the right and our borders are patrolled by people traffickers, Britain can do what it does best, laugh at itself and move on. And not, like it is now, shuffle around in sweatpants and leg-warmers looking like a dribbling mental patient.
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