The archipelago of Middle England sits in a sea of other, more cosmopolitian values. Not only knock kneed Remoaners but hard edge members of various racial diasporas whose world view has no empire shading, at least not of the sambok wielding sort and no happy conviction that the natives are like children. Many of these hard edge people, entrepreneurs, are all for Brexit and not frightened about going over the cliff. They already live in the world. Sooner or later the two components will clash and the grisly racial fear will be plain to see.
Several thousand menopausal white men have decided to put the well, let’s just see what happens strategy to the test. They have chosen as England’s chief of men someone to whom, while hanging back themselves, they can say go on – I dare you. And he will. It is is not so much Johnson the Baltic baron cum wordsmith that makes me fear for a certain idea of England as those behind him pushing him on: Cox, IDS, Williamson and all the back of the bike shed willy-wavers not to speak of Crosby and dark elements of the Trump machine.
When I was a young man I kept my family by serving in the Fire Brigade. When we had to break in somewhere we would whistle up Harry and he’d tuck his head down and get on with it. He’d come out all dusty or muddy and even bloody sometimes with a smile on his face, his hair all over the shop and his helmet askew. Breaking and entering was what he was good at. Harry would break and enter for us but we wouldn’t leave him in charge of the dials and valves on the pump at the back of the fire engine. Nor would we have been to keen to have him comandeer the radio communications with the girls in the Control Room.
Johnson has been put up to break and enter on behalf of USA interests with the connivance of Middle England. No doubt after a short period of high journalistic drama … hey presto, me voila Prime Minister, write to the Captains in charge of the nuclear submarines? Quick, someone give me a pen, I’ve got a great idea… he will be replaced by a faceless impeccably mid-atlantic New Britain apparatchik. Underneath it all it seems that the English yearn for a King however foolish. History has been kind to Johnson since the present Royals, the Queen in her nonentity nineties, the eternally tragic and cowardly Charles and the rest of them doing people magazine stuff, leave a gap at the top. The George III of our times, his baroque imagination spilling out in every direction, the common clown the mob can identify with – all the world loves a toff who pratfalls. His domestic carelessness has the ring of truth, oh how we wish we could be so bold and messy and escape women’s dominion your nappy Boris your nappy... Reading the Politico interview with him you sense how comfortable he feels talking to intelligent journalists in a pub. He is in his natural surroundings, verbally splurging, fluent and imaginative.
When did Johnson last have a pint at lunch time, I wonder? “More recently than you’d think,” he chortles into his glass. “Don’t put that in.” He drinks half and leaves the rest.
What fairy wickedly kissed him and gave him the destiny bug, why couldn’t he just stay tucked comfortably inside the Telegraph? Wrong sort of women perhaps…
And nowwhile that goes on here in France what am I? Immigrant? Expat? Exile? Here is an extract from a spectacle I mounted, translated from the French:
An immigrant is a person who goes to another country to work knowing that in the most remote corners on the planet s/he will probably find compatriots. Those who have arrived on earlier boats, who will exploit he/r as much as the locals, in search of ever darker jobs.
The expatriate always keeps with them something from their homeland. They claim a space on a foreign territory and live there, by all possible means, as a mysterious conqueror, groping their way under financial obligations they can only fulfill thanks to the charity of those they left behind.
The skin of an exile has no shine. Gloomy, her heart is tired – he shows you pictures of herself younger, more vigorous, in another country, in the shade of other trees. He always has a misadventure to tell, drenched in her solipsism.
One thing is certain: her heart is decomposed, and yet s/he continues to cling to this poor organ with the icy opportunism of someone who carries a board in case s/he stumbles on a downward slope.
There are other, harder terms: refugee, invader, clandestine but it is hard to get those if your skin is white.
I must admit that my case was not so dramatic – a few obstacles here and there concerning housing, a certain perplexity in terms of administration, small problems of climate and health. But nothing compared to the experience of those I met, who had to fight literally to meet their daily needs amidst legitimate social resentment. Despite relative privilege I gave myself the right to feel a certain strangeness, an uprooting in my first years – the privilege of shuffling the pack which accompanies the change of country and culture. Change of culture? My wife looks at Brexit and says,
“Ah yes, les anglais with your rules of behaviour and your daily stabbings…”
She looks with wonder at an England retreating into its dormitory towns, into its drive to the railway station zones. An England of the last stand relying on dodgy businessmen to see it thru, to pay the mortgage and the kids school fees. Saxon pragmatism gone mad. The little people of England hustled into an enormous prison farm business in the hinterlands of the new free ports in the north east.
Ever since the marches of the unemployed in the nineteen thirties from Jarrow the north east has haunted the Tories. Macmillan, remembering his boys in the trenches had an aching heart for those slow parts of the country. They combine the most stolid quality of the Dane with the vicious drink habit of the Irish. Very soon they won’t even have to trudge to London and get themselves arrested, they can be locked up right where they are and put to work for Boss.co.
And now? As a consequence of the Referendum altho I remain English by blood (my departure not being turbulent or bloody enough to make me want to pretend to be French) I choose in all modesty to get hold of a French passport simply so that I can take part in the democratic process. Ultimately I choose Africa with all its faults and fractures over the smooth geared USA death machine.
Wanting to be Larkin’s shit in the shuttered chateau I’ve become the twat on the terrace a-tippling. Tho I’ve lived in France for fifteen years I still speak badly translated English. I fight a single handed battle against gendered nouns and my tenses decline into a space/time whirlwind. I can hardly answer my French friends’ questions about the English, there are so many exceptions and then comes the question of the inner world and its inordinate and uncontrolled whims. But I like it here: there is space, tolerance, absurdity – they may not be very good shopkeepers but they are willing to talk about ideas. They bear witness to another part of our nature as a species and some how or another there is always at their frequent gatherings as many loaves of bread and bottles of wine to go round as are needed. Fishes you ask? Well let the English have their sea if they want, France has the most extensive offshore holdings in the world with its cunningly preserved Pacific and Indian Ocean despotisms.
Bring out the flags, beat the drums – let us replay the eighteenth century.