I’ve always been a shambles at saying goodbye. If you know me, you’ve probably suffered one of my dreadful parting burble-athons. And probably one of my oops-nearly-kissed-you-on-the-mouth, oh-god-that’s-your-actual-bum farewell hugs.
I reckon that’s why I’m so often the last woman standing (ok, ok, leaning) on a night out. Let everyone else make their cheery, graceful farewells. I’ll just keep on dancing.
So of course I’m gutted that the UK has had one too many jaegerbombs, been sick all down itself, and has staggered off early from the EU party, shouting and swearing, into the dodgy minicab being driven by Farage. Now all of us Brits have to make abrupt, fumbled goodbyes to our continental cousins, whether we wanted to or not. #Awkward.
And this forced goodbye is more than embarrassing. It leaves me feeling out of place, at odds with my nation and my countrymen. ‘It is part of morality not to feel at home in one’s home,’ wrote German thinker Theodore Adorno. That’s something I’d become numb to, in the expectation of the obvious, that we’d choose to stay at the EU discotheque a little longer.
I’ve been sealed in my social media bubble of Remain voters, many of them London-based economic migrants like me, who’ve made their home here because of work they couldn’t find where they grew up. I hadn’t realised the anger and fear crippling other parts of the country, where a raw deal is pinned on immigration.
I can understand how it’s easier to resent the stranger, than to handle being made to feel strange in the place you were born. But people who leave their homes in other parts of the world don’t do so lightly. And we as a nation have traipsed merrily all over this globe for hundreds of years, nicking stuff from other people’s homes, to build the country we see today. We can’t simply winch up the drawbridge of our muddy little island and retreat inside our Englishman’s home-is-his-castle.
We Brits need to remember how it feels to be without a home, to have forces bigger than your own world pulling it apart. Something our grandparents’ generation knew all about.
At dawn on June 16th 1944, on the other side of London, my grandmother Grace Grearson was curled up with my three-year-old uncle. It had been a night of bombing. She’d taken little Quentin into bed with her, to soothe him to sleep. Downstairs, her father, my great-grandfather George, was making tea in the kitchen. He called up to ask if she’d like any. She heard him nattering to the next-door neighbour.
I can only imagine how she felt having to write to her husband, serving in the Navy, to tell him what happened next:
Suddenly, there was this terrific crash, the windows blew out, the ceiling all fell down, and as I went to carry Quentin downstairs, I found only the top 2 or 3 stairs of the top flight and the back of the house nothing but a pile of rubble. I climbed down as best as I could – and it was agonising knowing that Dad was beneath it all […] He was killed instantly, thank God.
Her home and father lost to a flying bomb, Grace had a long, bitter slog to piece back together her life. She and my little uncle spent weeks sleeping in a friend’s bomb shelter, wearing borrowed clothes, while Grace salvaged what she could from the wreckage, and single-handedly found herself a new home, moving herself and Quentin away from the bombing. I exist only because she didn’t lay herself down on the rubble and refuse to get up. Her drive to rebuild her family has meant that my little girl, George’s great-great-grandaughter, is growing like a weed on the other side of the city where he died. And here and now, we have life, peace, and laughter: more than enough to share.
Home is being safe. Being able to walk your children to school. Sleeping at night without the fear that death is droning overhead, or coming to knock down your door. Home is being able to have your family together. Home is hard work, and looking after each other, but it’s also the space to think, to create. Home is the freedom to disagree and still love each other. More than that, it’s something we carry inside ourselves. Fairness and kindness and fun.
Britain is our home. It’s one that can only get better if we can welcome others in to make it theirs too. And we all help each other to make it the fairest, safest place we can.
Now, we face huge uncertainties that will make that harder than it’s ever been. I have no faith in those cynical and manipulative goons scrambling to be in charge.
So it’s up to us. Time to get to work.