It was warm on the plane so I peeled off my two thin jumpers, which I’d worn for the whole five days in Dorset, not having packed correctly for the British “summer”. Shoving them into my flight bag in the overhead locker I snagged it slightly on the safety pin. Apparently now in Britain we have to label ourselves to say to strangers “I’m not a complete pillock and it is safe to be near me without fear that I will randomly abuse or assault a complete stranger who isn’t bothering me”. I wore it, the safety pin, throughout my visit, with mixed feelings of solidarity for immigrants in the UK and an overwhelming sadness for the need.
I didn’t go on the march. And I didn’t sign the petition calling for a second referendum. I’m an unhappy loser, I’m not a sore loser. I spent Referendum Night in a British bar in a British enclave west of Málaga. Not my usual choice of venue (especially on the Pagan Night of San Juan, one of my favourite nights of the year in Spain). But I’d been asked to spend the evening with the ITV news crew reporting from Spain for the overnight results programme. We were upbeat. It had been a typical hot June day, there were fireworks on the beach for San Juan, ITV was paying for all our food and drink, we were representing UK immigrants abroad, and we were convinced all would be well.
Geraint Vincent, the ITV news reporter, popped over to our table to tell me I was on first, along with a nice chap called John, who runs a business helping Brits buy bars, shops, and other businesses along the Costa del Sol. As we were accompanied to the “hotseats” my mouth went dry and the ability to construct a sentence exited stage left. A quick shot of us flashed up on the producer’s screen, and it suddenly occurred to me that everybody in the UK would hate us. They had battled through storms and floods to vote. It was midnight, we were in skimpy t-shirts, sporting golden tans, seated on an open terrace with the sea, the stars, and the fireworks behind us. We represented smug retirement-by-the-sea, regardless of the reality. Mentally I did a quick re-write of my opening phrase.
“Well Geraint,” I forced out from a dry throat. “The important thing to say is that we British immigrants in Europe haven’t voted selfishly.” Behind me in the bar, a Sarf London voice said “We ain’t immigrants, we’re expats, innit”. I ploughed on. “I voted Remain because of the bigger issues – the role the EU has played in maintaining peace, and our nation’s ability to trade, plus of course I want the UK’s young people to benefit from the same freedom to study and work abroad, travel freely and choose where to live, that we have all benefited from.” There were nods around the bar. Geraint moved on to John, who spoke articulately about the impact a Leave vote would have not only on his relocation business but on the aspirations of all the families planning their futures in southern Europe.
It was still early, relatively speaking, and we were all confident of a Remain victory, but the producer had told us to look worried. The real worried faces began at around 2.00am Spanish time and turned from worried to astonished and aghast as the night went on. At 6.30am we slunk off to a journalist’s flat for two hours sleep before returning to the bar. ITV’s brief this session was to film devastated Brits frightened for their future. I was, but wasn’t going to do that role onscreen. I watched Cameron’s resignation speech, hugged the people who overnight had gone from strangers-in-paradise to friends-in-adversity, then went back to my car to head home, via a half-hour stop on a favourite wild beach to try to understand what had just happened.
It was the messages from Spanish friends that finally made me cry. “But you will be able to stay here, won’t you?” “Tamara you ARE Andaluza, you cannot leave us.” “The important thing is that you stay.” Just like the Brexit leaders, we didn’t have a plan. We hadn’t prepared for this result. I texted back “I think so. It’s fine. I’ll become Spanish.”
Then on the Sunday the Spanish had their elections. In the polling station in my village, I wished them better luck with their vote that we had had with ours. They grinned, optimistically. In the end their vote was inconclusive again, just as in December, and Spanish politicians continue to huddle in small rooms attempting to pact. My frustration in both my countries is at such a height that I have not only accepted but even begun to use the word “pact” as a verb.
My butcher seemed more apoplectic about the Brexit result than about Spain’s second indecisive election. “You had by far the best deal of any country in the EU” he said, waving his hands, a large campo chicken flailing wildly. “And now your little island is floating off even more isolated. Are they mad?” He summed up what my friends, neighbours, colleagues and the Spanish press have been saying.
So back for a few days in Dorset for a round of lunches and coffees with friends, a mate’s new band’s first gig, and Gold Hill Fair on the streets of Shaftesbury. A perfect example of the England of people’s fantasies. But even here, in the idyllic perfection of Dorset’s rolling countryside, the backlash had begun. The Big Issue seller had been asked when he was going “home”. Shoppers by the Polish shelf in the mini-supermarket at the garage had been told to leave – “Why are you still here? We voted for you to go.” Even here in Dorset, my little English paradise, the Little England mentality has reared its head. I wore the safety-pin, then got on the plane back to Málaga. Both countries have voted, and neither is happy.
How will the divisions heal? It’ll take more than a safety pin.
© Tamara Essex 2016 http://www.twocampos.com