Thursday, June 16, 2016

In-Continent

We used to call it a Continental Quilt, back in the 1970s.

I can still remember the changeover from our very British blankets and eiderdown. My parents had one first: quilts were French, or maybe Swiss - anyway, they were going to make life easier. More modern. More Continental.

Since then we have learned to call them duvets. We have stopped calling every croissant we consume a 'Continental Breakfast' - it's just breakfast. We understand that cheese can be runny, that cream that tastes a bit off might be meant to be that way, and we wouldn't think for a minute that spaghetti grows on trees.

It's something daring, the Continental
A way of dancing that's really ultra-new...

And now we are one week away from the not-very-United Kingdom's referendum on whether to leave the European Union. One more week of vitriolic mud-slinging and quiet desperation; of each side having no idea why the other side feels as it does, despite the fact that we're all parroting the same old line, 'of course I understand your concerns, but...'; because we are arguing with very different approaches, not just different standpoints. The Leave / Brexit camp not only gets the coolest moniker; but it gets to display all the passion, the bravery, and the anger. And the Remain camp? We get scaremongering (however apt), the status quo, and a meek promise to do better.

So here's what I feel: from the moment that the merest possibility of a referendum was suggested, I have felt the nagging possibility that something that makes up part of my identity may be taken from me. I am European. I like the rag-bag of member states, each with its cultural norms and personalities. I like the way we all borrow ideas and nuggets of culture from each other, so much so that visiting any of these countries feels both different and homely. I love that we have a system that ensures that men and women from each nation have to sit down together and struggle to find common agreements - obviously because the picture before any of this was much bleaker, and given to murderyness; but also because it's a little bit funny, no? - trying to make sense of German pedantry and French stubbornness and British awkwardness and so on through the processes of committees that force some sort of uniformity whilst acknowledging our differences. An impossible circle to square. And in that there is a strange sort of hope that we can find ways to tackle some of the huge problems the world faces, and to enjoy each other, and to maybe bring about the next revolution in bedding whilst we're at it.

You'll find while you're dancin'
That there's a rhythm in your heart and soul
A certain rhythm that you can't control
And you will do the Continental all the time

I feel European; but I also feel British. God bless the Queen but it's not the sight of all that flag-waving on the Mall that does it for me. It's the way we slightly tut in the direction of downright antisocial behaviour. It's the belief that tea will always save the day. It's the misplaced annual faith we have in the summer weather that sees the supermarket shelves choc full with barbeque ingredients. It's our universal love of the underdog. It's our strong sense of the ridiculous, and the national sport of self-depracation. None of that is threatened by our involvement in the EU, nor by the Polish and Spanish people I work alongside. Vive la difference, as they say on the Continent.

And please stop with the posts asking me to 'like' if I'm proud to be British; my feelings are far too complex to reduce to that one single word. I love my country, despite. Despite its history, its colonialism, its racism, its belief that it is in some way reduced or fallen on hard times. Despite our inability to truly value and promote the learning of any other language. Despite our whitewashing of past glories and our failure to embrace the new ones - in art, sport, science, music and yes, in politics. Despite recent football thuggery. Despite Boris Johnson and even Nigel Farage.

But please, please don't take my membership of the EU away from me. Or my duvet, for that matter.



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