Over the years I have become more and more at home in France. What goes on in England or the wider UK often passes me by. Yes, I keep in close touch with family and friends, but events across the Channel have to vie for a position with news from everywhere else and now, high on my list, are events in France; anything from matters of state to an archaeological find in the village next door.
But there has been one area where exceptions have been the rule. Two years ago I wrote that I still had a strong patriotic streak when it came to sport [Cutting the Cord, 4 July 2014]. If asked which team I would support in an international match it would always be England or Team GB. This feeling remains undiminished and, in keeping with this fervour, when I have a chance to watch a match I do. When my compatriots win, it can make me happy for days.
Saturday lunchtimes recently have been taken up by visits to a bar nearby to watch the series of rugby internationals between England and Australia. The ‘Yacka’ boasts of having more television channels and more screens than anywhere else in the neighbourhood. There are certainly more screens there than at Willy’s, the rival round the corner [A bad case of le Willy’s, 26 August, 2014].
England won all three games handsomely and whether I watched them in the Yacka’s mini-cinema with its giant screen, or cramped up next to two ladies gambling in the main bar area, the pleasure was as great.
Ironically, the last two games served a second and most unexpected purpose – for around two hours, watching them allowed me to escape thoughts first about the murder of Jo Cox and second about the referendum result that will force the UK to leave the European Union. This man who thought he had lost his British roots had re-found them. So, with these two events, my beliefs about living in France changed my feelings of being distanced from the UK suddenly evaporated. The UK was again very much part of me, so the murder and the vote came to dominate almost everything I thought or did. I felt immense sadness and anger at Jo Cox’s murder, and despair at the outcome of the referendum.
Every day, news from all over the world tells us of horrible murders, with the deaths of children, families, worthy professionals and anonymous people in their hundreds, but while these are sad, they very rarely draw on my emotions. Jo Cox’s death, however, was of a different order as it touched on this shared heritage that I had almost forgotten. Suddenly I was identifying with an outspoken and brave compatriot whose views and beliefs echoed mine, and who, by all accounts, one day might well have led British politics. Her murder was senseless and shocking, and just as a sadness for her keeps returning, so too does anger towards the perpetrator.
But my patriotism, for that’s what it is, has actually been aroused more by the referendum. Our mad vote to leave is causing turmoil in the UK, in Europe, and in my head as it has unleashed a million problems and provided no solutions. We have been left facing a totally unnecessary period of uncertainty and instability, where, whatever happens, the final outcome looks gloomy. And with the impending gloom in mind, my wife and I have already spent time considering how, one day, we might once again become EU citizens. Perhaps I could become Austrian through my maternal grandfather or Irish through my paternal great grandfather, or Rohan could become Scottish through her father?
In some ways, my feeling about the referendum result is the same as I have when I hear that a close friend has been diagnosed with a terminal illness; a feeling of helplessness and inescapable waste.
As is usually the case, events like this make one reflect on one’s own position. Clearly, my belief that when living abroad I was seriously distancing myself from my heritage was a fallacy.