Hey! It’s me. Laila. The author of this blog. The girl in the photo. The editor and the scribe. The immigrant’s daughter.
The classical musician, indebted to Venice, Prague, Salzburg, Vienna, Germany and Warsaw. The bassoonist, career forever changed by Paris 1913, and the pianist, who can never thank Poland enough. The vegan, cast out by British, French and Italian cuisine but welcome in Amsterdam, Berlin and Copenhagen. The awkward teenager raised on Portuguese boys, Italian fashion and German rock music.
It’s me, the Mixed Other, a background too large and diverse and wide-ranging for mere checkboxes and countries. I cannot even be contained by a continent; my heritage instead spanning an interwoven web, like railway tracks crisscrossing through fields and mountains. My veins running partially with the blood of Wales, France, Spain, Scotland and Italy. No trace of my DNA comes back to England, but here I am anyway: supposedly safe in a reluctant home where I feel increasingly unwanted and sidelined and afraid and confused.
People talk about the England of old: when Britain was Great. Blighty. The picture is some sort of Bisto-Hovis mash-up of kindly Grandad figures repotting in sheds; a childhood of Just William and Enid Blyton frivolity; The Archers; a decent roast dinner and Antiques Roadshow every Sunday; teenage years spent in stuffy education studying the three R’s and attending balls whilst a stern schoolmaster wafts a cane around. I don’t know who that applies to, but it’s nobody I know or have ever met, and I’ve spent my entire life in this country.
That’s not an England I’ve ever even seen to exist outside of “Last Of The Summer Wine”, a show I’ve never watched, and would never have even known about if it weren’t for those bloody comedy countdown type shows and that one clip of some old men in a bath. As far as I can tell, this picture of England is a fictionalised, embarrassing England that never really existed: the kind of thing that causes you to roll your eyes at and ask your Mum to change the channel. Why are people so nostalgic for something so awkward, inaccurate and irrelevant?
More importantly, who gives a shit? The things I listed above make me cringe. Organised, force-fed religion turned into twinkly TV; dated, racist books; weird men, beloved of society whilst fingering kids; The Sun; lashings of ginger beer; being really preoccupied with the weather; celebration china with the Queen’s face on. Yes it does rain, yes tea is nice, yes pints are really expensive now. Can we please widen our discussions? A lot of the crap people cling to about “Great Britain” is antiquated, erroneous, white-washed, stilted, damaging and quite frankly, boring as hell.
I don’t want a stiff upper lip or crippling manners or awkward politeness or to keep calm and carry on. I want to be alert and empathetic, I want to feel things, I want to be in touch with my emotions. I want to ask for help when I need it. I want to laugh out loud when I’m amused, to cry when I’m sad, to swear if something bad happens and then deal with the problem like a rational, productive adult. Why are people so proud of being able to queue?
My childhood was Moomins and Babar the Elephant. My Sundays were croissants and TinTin, summer holidays to Paris and Tenerife. Yes, there was Dickens and Turner and Elgar, but there was Kafka and Dali and Debussy too. There are many things I love about Britain; Blur, Luella Bartley, pantomimes, Michael Rosen, the underground, Alan Moore’s entire career, Led Zeppelin, Eastenders, Jimmy in Quadrophenia, those weird holiday programmes from the late 90s, Benjamin Zephaniah, The Specials, Philip Ridley, every bassoon solo Elgar shoved in his orchestral works (thanks mate). But these things take their place alongside the rest of my heroes from around the world. My life is not some British vacuum; it’s vast and huge and multi-faceted – like all the best bits of this country are. We need dialogue, and conversations, and pluralities, and diversity.
London is my birthright; my background; my canvas. My cast and crew, and my daily bread. The UK represents my career and education, my modus operandi. I’m indebted to this country and proud of the person I’ve become here. But Europe is my larger home. Europe is my extended family; my adventure; my heritage; my interrailing summer, the rite of passage for all self-respecting teens. I want Europe to be my basic right and my hand to play and my OTP. One day I’ll have kids and I want them to to have a claim to Europe; an emboldened relationship and not a bitter, divorced negotiation. Full visitation rights and a pat on the back, instead of every third weekend with a Visa background check. If my Dad had been turned away at the border thanks to some paperwork, or an invisible barrier, or a giant fucking wall, then he and my Mum would never have been two young medical students falling for each other and I literally wouldn’t exist.
I’ve spent so much time reading the arguments for and against, looking at the stats and looking at the figures and fact-checking, verifying. Separating the quotes into the true’s, the maybe’s and the so-false-BoJo-got-fired-in-’99 (seriously). Leaving is irreversible: all 27 countries have to agree to us returning tail between legs after we’ve ceremoniously fucked off. Why would they?? It’s overwhelming to read about, I get it. I’m tired too. But if I put facts and figures and propaganda and overtly racist bullshit to one side, and if I sit down and just ask myself honestly, how do I feel? – then this is it. This is how I feel and what I think and what I see. I’m in. I’m so in. I’d vote a hundred times in if I could. Remain.