Having spent the past week in sunny Seville with my choir, the Highgate Choral Society, singing in amazing churches and breathtaking Cathedrals, one thing became very clear: we were all thoroughly relieved to be away from the terrible tumult of UK life.
Over tapas we unwound, we relaxed. Streets were safe. People smiled. There was space to think, to be. There was no sinister undertone of ‘Are you a Leaver or Remainer’ 24/7. Life seemed, well, ‘normal’. Trains and buses bustled about, women flounced by in their beautiful Feria gear, and we began to breathe easy.
Over more delicious tapas and drinks we released how oppressed we had all become in poor old blighted Blighty. The political knot in the stomach since June 2016 had hardened into a permanent tangled lump – and we were all thoroughly sick of it. We felt exhausted, and even embarrassed.
Only at a distance, wandering through the complexities of Cordoba’s incredible streets and Cathedral, did it become clear that living in the UK is currently a miserable thing. We are lost. We are furious with each other. And we are not nice to know.
The Spaniards I met were incredulous at the mess we Brits have willingly and willfully got ourselves into. ‘Why you leaving us?’ They asked incredulously. Indeed, why? We had no coherent answers. We shrugged, smiled ‘that’s life’, and enjoyed seeing flamenco instead.
Psychologically, we Brits are, I think, having a complete identity crisis. Who are we? What are we for? What is our culture? After all, when you go to France, it’s French – all the way down. People eat French food, speak French, are French. No matter what your colour or origins. Same goes for Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy.
With our shameful Colonial past, we Brits typically pinch every culture going, so we eat pizza, tapas, baguettes, Chinese food, Indian food, Thai food… anything but ‘English’ food. You certainly don’t see steak and kidney or jellied eels on every street corner. So maybe we don’t know who we are anymore.
The saddest part is that the argument about who we are exactly has been rumbling for years and now has boiled over into an ugly, expensive, pointless war. No one will ‘win’ and most of us will ‘lose’ as we wave flags and out-slogan each other.
Change takes time, and far better for us to enjoy the multiplicity of culture and diversity of language and experiences we now house in these islands. I can only hope that the warming spring and summer weather will bring some fresh perspectives and healing compromises.
Meanwhile, we need to heal the rifts that the dreaded ‘B’ word has brought about, and remember we have more in common than we have differences. To lose sight of that is to lose sight of ourselves and to make poor old Blighty into Portcullis Hell: somewhere no-one in their right mind will want to live.