Over the last few weeks I have repeatedly heard people saying: ‘I want my country back’ in response to the question of why they are voting out in the referendum tomorrow.
I’ve already posted my thoughts on the decision making process, so it will come as no surprise to you to find me saying:
‘Back from where? Back from who? Back from what?’
So far, not a single person has been able to answer this question with anything that stands up to being fact checked. Not one. I will not even go into the frankly racist undertones and/or overtones that underpin the whole sentence. It makes me sick to my stomach.
Today I was told: ‘We were alright before. We will be fine now.’
Like the two things balance each other out like golden age bookends, and the intervening years have been the library of the unrelenting shit show.
This answer, to me, is frankly insane.
It harks back to something I said in my last post about this. ‘This is a referendum. Not a magic wand.’
But even if it were, was it really so wonderful back then? What is it that you think was so great about those days that makes you want to even attempt to go back there?
Now I’ve lived the entirety of my life in a Britain that has been in some kind of formal relationship with the EU. I have, as I am sure, many people will be desperate to point out, no idea personally of what life was like back then. I have however, read history books and talked to people who aren’t shrouded in the misty haze of fondness for an empire that is long gone and isn’t coming back. It wasn’t alright. It wasn’t alright at all. Not really.
Maybe you have fond memories of certain bits of it, maybe people you loved were still around then. Maybe you had a great bike for your tenth birthday. It doesn’t mean that we were all swanning around in pre-EU Britain living the life of Riley.
And I am absolutely capable of remembering what it was like growing up in Seventies Britain.
A lot of it was utter shit.
I wouldn’t take it back if you hog tied it and gave it to me on a plate with parsley in its mouth.
Here are some things I personally don’t want to go back to.
Riots. Not ones where people steal bits of kit from PC World, ones with burning cars and molotov cocktails and scenes that looked like the end of the world.
My dad having to work ridiculous hours to make ends meet so that I have very few significant childhood memories in which he features.
Endless bloody power cuts. If you ask someone of my age where they kept the emergency candles in their house, they will know without even having to think about it (in the potato rack).
I joke about my parents living like Tom and Barbara in The Good Life when I was a kid. In reality, a lot of that was not about principles. It was about making ends meet. It was about my mum making my clothes, school bags etc or shopping at jumble sales for stuff so that my brother and I didn’t go without. It was about free food we grew, meat we bartered for, making mince into forty million different food stuffs. It was about making a little stretch a long way, and it sounds lovely now, because a lot of us choose to live like that. It is a lifestyle choice, having an allotment, pickling, bottling, making jam, baking. Then, I don’t think my mum and dad had a lot of choice about it. It’s much less fun when it’s necessary.
Strikes. Constant strikes.
Sunday and half day closing and having to make our own entertainment. How many out of town furniture warehouses would you like me to take you to? I could do a tour.
Bigotry, racism and sexism as the normal operating procedure for lots of people on the street, on the telly, everywhere. I include institutions. I refer you to my mother wanting to change something to do with her bank account and not being allowed until the bank had permission from my dad, even though it was my mum’s own bank account.
School. I hated school. I have no words to describe how miserable school was for me until I got to sixth form and realised what an education could actually give you rather than what it could take away from you. I watch my kids go happily to school every day, look forward to going back to school after each holiday and marvel.
Mrs. Thatcher. (that goes double for the Eighties)
The food. No really. Much of it was hideous, and the things I love to eat today? Most of them I’d never even heard of, because they just weren’t available. When you consider that in 1978 I thought black cherry Ski yogurt was a luxury food stuff, you will get the picture.
Dole queues.They snaked into the Eighties too, mind you.
The lack of choice, in everything from the food you ate, to the clothes you wore, to the books you read, to what colour your kettle was going to be. It was like it, or lump it.
Football hooliganism that makes what you see today look like children playing tag.
Playing outside. We make it sound so wonderful, those halcyon days of childhood. Some of them were, but playing outside in all weathers day after day was not all it was cracked up to be. Sometimes it was utterly shite. I spent large parts of the late Seventies with chilblains so bad my mum had to cut the toe out of my shoes so I could still wear them.
Dentistry. (trust me. It’s come on in leaps and bounds)
Having one television between four of us and my dad always getting the veto because he paid for it.
National health glasses being available in only four colours and all of them hideous.
Coffee being considered some kind of luxury product, usually drunk only by foreign devils and therefore universally shit and expensive for the most part. And yes, I did drink coffee as a child, because you know, the Seventies, and my parents thought milky coffee helped you sleep better.
Dog shit everywhere.
People believing vegetables weren’t cooked unless you’d boiled them for at least four hours and all the wallpaper was peeling off the kitchen wall in great loops.
Classic British comedy like Dad’s Army and Hi De Hi and don’t even get me started on no telly at all for hours during the day and just a test card, or Songs of Fecking Praise on Sundays, topped only by the evil that was The Money Programme. Which we all watched, not because we all loved it, no matter how much you might think you did, but mostly out of desperation because it was too dark to play outside and there wasn’t anything else on.
Now you’re going to tell me that none of these things had to do with the EU. You are indeed correct, just like lots of things that you think are to do with the EU aren’t actually to do with the EU and you won’t get them back if we leave, because the EU didn’t take anything from you, or at least nothing that people keep telling me they’ve lost.
Or maybe you’re going to tell me that these things would have been better if we hadn’t been in the EU.
Except that I was talking about this with my mum, and she pretty much confirmed my suspicions that unless you were wealthy, the miseries of my Seventies childhood were luxuries compared to her Fifties one.
I don’t want this stuff back, thanks.
I am delighted that I can buy sushi from service stations, drink good coffee every day, buy hummus and croissants and brie at my local Tesco Metro. I am thrilled that I can choose what I want to do, pretty much when I want to do it. I am delighted that despite the best efforts of the British government (note the word British), I have better health care than I ever did (Don’t talk to me about TTIP and don’t force me to write a post about it, please. I know.) I am overjoyed that my children enjoy school.
I am thrilled that I have my own bank account and power over my own life, despite being a chattel of my husband. I am happy that tolerance is springing up all over, despite people’s best efforts to squash it. I like being a global citizen, an EU citizen, a citizen of 2016. I’m not saying it’s perfect. It’s pretty fucked, frankly. But for me, it’s a better place to be than the one I left behind, and the only better place I can see is in the future, not in the past.