It is raining and I have no inspiration to write. The news isn’t good, and I feel quite hopeless and totally frustrated as I watch us head irrevocably towards the now inevitable triggering of article 50. I am no politician, just an ordinary 66 year old who has had the great fortune to experience some of the wonders that membership of the EU has afforded us. I still can’t believe that it is going to end, and that our grandchildren will not have the freedom that our children enjoyed.
My daughter would say that I am as blinkered as those who blindly voted for Brexit; I can’t see the other point of view at all. Yes, she is probably right. I can’t.
I was always one of the lucky ones. I had, from a very early age, the opportunity to travel abroad. My parents were truly European, way before most British people discovered the joys of European holidays in the sun. Every summer, from 1956 onwards, we would set off with our caravan in tow, to discover hidden European treasures. Our first holiday was in the south of France, where I discovered the buoyancy of the salty Mediterranean sea, and learned how easy it was to swim in its warm, blue waters. I was hooked. I can’t remember the chronology of our journeys, but we went, each summer, to the Costa Brava, Lake Gardo, Venice, Switzerland, Austria, Trieste, Belgium, Germany, Yugoslavia (as it was then), Brittany, the Basque country, mainly in France but with day trips to Spain, and then, eventually, in about 1965, back to the French Riviera. Obviously some journeys encompassed several countries, as we always drove. Package holidays and cheap flights were not available in those days. The first time I flew was, alone, to Paris, then Casablanca, in 1967. Flights for the whole family would have been prohibitive.
By the time I was 14 I had begun to stay with my French penfriend in Nice, Paris, Casablanca, Bordeaux, and, at 18, after A levels, I worked for several weeks as an au pair in the Auvergne region of France. I also had a two week trip to Madrid in 1968. Then, as part of my degree course, I spent a term in Besançon, in 1970. We were also fortunate enough to have a steady flow of young French women saying with us, working as “au pair” girls. One stayed for so long and became so much a part of our family that she was virtually adopted by my parents, my brothers and me, becoming a much loved daughter and sister to us.
I mention all this because, of course, it was prior to the UK joining the Common Market, and it was all perfectly possible even though we were not members of the European Union. I think in those days our passports were stamped on every passage through customs, though we, as children, travelled on our parents’ passports. I do remember queues at borders, driving between the different European countries. How much simpler it is now. Are we about to return to those dark days?
After marrying we didn’t travel abroad as a family. For many years it was too expensive. The first time we took a flight together was in 1997, and even then it was only with our two youngest children. We couldn’t book flights online, even then. We had to go to the travel agency. I remember that we hesitated about making that first booking, and by the time we returned to the agency, the next day, the flight prices had leaped up by several hundred pounds. You certainly couldn’t buy a flight for less than a hundred pounds then, or even 200, never mind less than 20!
Then, in 1979, I was very fortunate to find work as a teacher of first French and then Spanish, allowing me the privilege of being able to share my passion for Europe with young people for over 30 years. The exchange visits to France and Spain were a huge joy for me, and an eye opener for many of the students. Will such visits become so much more difficult in the future? I sincerely hope not. The opportunity to stay with a European family and adapt to their way of life is, in my opinion, invaluable.
It is all so easy nowadays. We went to visit the Alcazaba in Almería last week. It is free for European visitors. Will we now have to start paying? We rarely use our EHIC card, but it is oh, so reassuring. As a teacher, organising exchange visits, it was an essential to ensure that all children had their E111, ithe EHIC’s predecessor. It was then so easy to get simple medical treatment for the many small complaints that affect children on their travels. How complicated will it be in the future, just to get minor treatment? I know that there is health insurance, and we certainly never travel without it, but the first £50 count as “excess”, so costs can mount up.
I don’t think it is even the bureaucratic obstacles that may be placed in our way that upset me. It is the feeling that we will no longer be welcomed with such open arms. Our decision is a snub to Europe, and although many of us did not vote to leave, we won’t be able to wear a badge that immediately identifies us as pro-European. To our neighbours we will all be lumped together as those narrow minded Brits who want their cake and to eat it too.
I feel so very angry, too, about the shameful way we are treating EU nationals who live in the UK. It is an absolute disgrace and I am ashamed of “our” government. They may claim to be representing “the will of the people”, but it isn’t, never was and never will be, my will.
I do know I should stop being so gloomy and try to see the positives, but I can’t. My only glimmer of hope is firstly, that we may be able to retain citizenship of Europe as individuals, and secondly, that a new generation of forward looking young people may, at some time in the future, may be able to reverse this gross betrayal.