Purposes Mistook

It's what he wanted.

Churchill wanted a united Europe.

It was a bright day with no hope, it was the March for Europe and it was the politest march I have ever been on and I’ve been on a few – even the teachers were more rowdy. There was the sense of Hamlet about it. The desperate need to do something about it, followed by the indecision that dogs the decent. It may be that betrayal “most foul” had taken place but how do the 48% sweep to their revenge? Do they even want to? Not really, the young people on the march in London this week, understood, perhaps better than anyone in this debate so far the damage of division, and yet for the second time in a few years this generation has been sold down the river, first tuition fees, now this.

The problem for the 48% is that they did not fall for the deceit by Leave and they understand that a call to violence will destroy more than it maintains, and yet Rome burns while leaders do little more than watch. In 1979 Margaret Thatcher came in on a wave of change and one of her catch phrases was that she did not want to listen to what she called the “chattering classes” people who wanted to discuss the implications of action before actions took place. Michael Gove perpetuated that opinion in the Leave campaign, by proclaiming that we were all fed up with “experts”, it was probably the only honest thing he did say. The push for direct action is understandable, the push against bureaucracy is also understandable, but thinking things through has its benefits.

Perhaps a little more thought about how to run a referendum, set a decent majority – a super majority as they have for referendums elsewhere might have given us the flexibility to manoeuvre in this situation without destabilising the country, the economy and the future. Perhaps there is a legal case for Parliament to vote this down, Professor Michael Dougan of Liverpool University is both vocal and dispassionate as he discusses the dismal decline of the UK into obscurity and decay.

Perhaps, as some suggested on the march yesterday,  perhaps Britain deserves this. The British Empire was cruel, our relationship with Europe was always obstreperous, the former Empire and the people of Europe will do a whole lot better without the interference of a self important country, that bases its authority on a history we all need to refute. Trevor Noah, now of The Daily Show, reminds us that we may overestimate our reputation.

On the March for Europe the conversation was about loss, about where to now, literally, in some cases, about where to? Out of the UK, find a job away from here, before it gets locked down, chivvy up that dual nationality and use it. The struggle for a path in this leaderless vacuum leads only one way for many of this generation, out of the country. Young people with their science degrees and doctorates, their creativity and entrepreneurship will leave in their droves because they can – and the people who voted them out will be left in poverty struggling to divide up ever smaller spoils. The 1% will indulge in some quick profiteering of the back of disaster and then ensure their assets are protected elsewhere.Lies Big Ben

Yesterday the speakers exhorted the crowd to be careful of stereotypes, to reach out to the Leave voters and try to persuade and to reconcile; to be aware that there is not the huge division between old and young that is perpetuated by the talk of division in the country; many in the crowd sported their years with pride. Clever placards and a wry sense of humour demonstrated above all that the Remain voters were quintessentially British along with their stiff upper lip. But the prospects are bleak, Hamlet’s call to “sweet revenge” ended in disaster. The poisoned chalice and the poisoned dagger (sword) made victims of all, including Hamlet and as Europe looks on the fallen politicians on all sides, they are met with the same dismal sight.

…….And, in this upshot, purposes mistook
Fall’n on the inventors’ heads. (Hamlet, by Shakespeare)

Spring Tide

In 1845 Hans Christian Anderson published The Little Match Girl; in 1876 Fyodor Dostoyevsky published The Heavenly Christmas Tree (A Little Boy at Christ’s Christmas Tree), both stories were hugely popular in their time. While The Little Match Girl has endured slightly better, both stories were preoccupied with the suffering that poverty inflicted on children. What follows is a tribute to those two stories, in the form of a reimagining for the modern age, of this sad, but all too pertinent story of our own age.

It was early in the morning and the air was still stacked with the chill of winter, but the people were on the move. They were on the move like they had been since forever, or so it felt to the little boy. Everyday they walked. Everyday his sister talked about how much she hated walking, every day his mother found them food. Every day his father paid someone some money for something, and then sat worried and anxious as they ate. Would they have enough? How much further was it? How much would they need when the got to Europe? Every day the little boy cried and said he wanted to go home. His mother told him that home wasn’t home any more, that there were bombs, and there was fire and cruel people who wanted to hurt each other, and sometimes they wanted to hurt them too. Then the little boy would remember. He would remember the noise and the way the earth shook, and the fires and how his home fell down. He would remember how his mother had to fight through queues of people for food. He remembered the bullets, the bullets that pinged around the walls, the bullets that seemed to know where he was, seemed to seek him out, like they had the young men on the street and the old lady with her shopping. He remembered that he had come to fear the sky and what fell from it. The sky dropped noise and fire and his sister’s school fell down, and their house fell down. But here, here in the cold of an early spring, in a strange country, where no one spoke his language, here was cold and hard. The sky was clear, nothing fell, but rain and cold were always in his bones. Why couldn’t they go home?

He sometimes wondered what the other people had seen, the ones with the different languages and the different clothes. The ones who came from further away than he had, the young men, sometimes funny and full of hope, sometimes angry and just as afraid as he was; where did they come from? Had bullets and sky fall driven them away? He would ask his mother who they were, but she didn’t know. He thought she did though, sometimes he heard his father talking with the others, in a different language that he knew a bit. The little boy knew those people had run away too, was the whole world on fire? Would this place they were going to be any better? His father said that it would be,  although it would always be cold. He promised, he promised, that as soon as it was safe, they would go home again. Whatever it was like, however hard it was, so long as it was safe they would go home again. The little boy liked that, home would be good, just no bombs, no bullets, it doesn’t have to be smart, doesn’t even have to have a TV, it just has to be home.

‘There’s chocolate’ his sister said. He liked chocolate, a nice man had given them some at a camp. ‘There will be chocolate eggs soon’ his sister went on.

He was confused. ‘Do chickens lay chocolate eggs in Europe?’ he asked. He wanted some chocolate now. ‘No silly’ she laughed. ‘They make great big eggs out of chocolate and sell them at Easter, in all the shops, we will be in our new home at Easter.’

Easter, he knew about Easter, that had something to do with God, but he wasn’t sure which one, or which one he was supposed to like, but he liked chocolate and the idea of chocolate eggs.

‘Here we go’ said his sister.

A man came and handed them something orange, his sister put it on over her head. ‘You’re too small. They haven’t got one for you, but I’ll look after you, just hold on to me, I’m a good swimmer.’

‘Are we going swimming?’

‘No’ said a stranger ‘We are definitely not going swimming.’ But now they got on a boat, sometimes that meant that you did go swimming.

It was fun at first, it had been a bit shouty when they got on the boat, some of the young men tried to push in, and the little boy’s father had had to pay some more money to get on, but now they were on the boat. There were lots of people on the boat, sitting on the planks, sitting on the edge. Then the boss man told the little boy’s father that he was to drive the boat and the little boy was very proud of his father, but his father did not look happy. The engine stuttered and started and they moved away. The waves rocked them, making them squeal and then laugh a little, but mainly people were quiet, waiting.

‘Look’ said his sister ‘there it is!’

‘What?’ said the little boy.

‘Europe.’

It looked just the same as where they had been. There were sandy cliffs rising out of the sea, a hint of beach; he could see people there waving to them, nice people. There were some white houses, some cars, a dog ran up and down by the shore, it barked. He could hear it, but there were no bombs, there didn’t seem to be any bombs. He snuggled closer to his sister, it was all going to be okay, there was going to be Europe and chocolate eggs, but it would be cold. And then the engine stopped, and then, because the boat slowed down, it rocked more wildly than before. Someone fell overboard, someone else screamed. Then everything got rocky, the big boys decided to swim for it, his father tried to stop them, but they jumped anyway. Then the boat tipped a bit and suddenly he felt cold, really cold. The water was on him, around him over him, in him. He heard his mother scream, he didn’t like that, and he heard splashes. He tried to reach out for his sister, but he didn’t know where she was. There was splashing, someone kicked him, he gasped and the water went up his nose and into his chest and he didn’t like it, but he couldn’t cry, it was all water.

Then he heard his sister’s voice ‘There’s chocolate’ she said ‘Eggs, chocolate eggs, it’s Easter.’ He looked around, he felt warm in his chest and he could see his sister was there, but she didn’t have her orange thing on, she was pointing. There was a house, it looked like their old house, it had a carpet and a television. ‘Europe’ he thought  ‘it must be the same.’ Then he saw it, on the table, a great big chocolate egg, ready and waiting to be eaten. ‘It’s for you’ said a voice ‘all for you.’ It may have been God, but he didn’t know which one.

A little later that day, a kind man, was walking along the shoreline, contemplating Easter. He saw the little boy, all cold and still and washed up on the beach. He went to the child, hoping for resurrection, but his hope was lost as soon as he touched the body. Even so, when he picked him up, he thought he caught the faintest scent of chocolate.

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