Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Bollocks to Brexit

Since this country narrowly voted to leave the European Union in 2016 I’ve felt more European, not less.

It’s reflected in the songs we play on the radio: French disco, Belgian techno, Krautrock and Italian house music. All of it. In fact, I think it’s one of the things that helped cement Neil and I’s friendship. This is a man who proudly states that the best thing anyone ever said about him was that he was “the most European person I know”.

Neil speaks French and has lived over there. He has aspirations to move to Italy, his kids have Italian names and he works for the uber-cool Swedish outdoor clothing brand, Haglofs.

For my part, I don’t speak any other languages but have consistently hoovered up the European ideal that this country has turned its back on.

Since 2016 I’ve had city breaks right across our continent. A train trek from London to Copenhagen via Brussels and Cologne. A twin city jaunt to Helsinki and Tallinn, where I seriously explored the possibility of taking out Estonian digital citizenship.

In Berlin, I purchased a notebook with the cover of the DDR passport on it - commie East Germany - which didn’t go down too well when I whipped it out of the wrong pocket at passport control.

Going a step further, my wife Rachel is going to take out the full analogue citizenship for Ireland the nation of her parent's birth - which might make queuing at certain airports relatively easier, among other benefits.  

I devour this outrageously trendy magazine called Monocle, which features cities all over the world and frequently rates them for their liveability and as a destination for a city break.

Taking their advice - and that of other Europhile friends - last week me and Rachel went to what I think was our favourite European city break yet - Porto, Portugal’s second city, famed for its wine and port. 

Last year Monocle rated Porto as the number one ‘small city’ to live, to start a business and to visit. It was superb, not too expensive, full of character, multicultural and safe. It has beaches, Fado music, an accessible modern airport, loads of Brazilians, and a really cool football team that have won as many European Cups as Nottingham Forest and two more than Manchester City.

It hurts me that this comfortable relationship with Europe has gone. I know there will be a Brexit supporter who will point out that the vote was to leave the European Union, not Europe, but that’s not how it’s played out culturally has it?

I don’t remember that on the side of a bus, just digs at foreigners, or the lies on posters about millions of Turks flooding over the border and controlling immigration. So actually I struggle to see what it is that Brexit has achieved. I remember asking people which law they were most looking forward to not having to obey. Now I ask, what’s been so ace about Brexit? The answer never comes. 

It also never comes in the tawdry clashes for the Tory leadership. Not one of the political minnows trying to succeed the worst Prime Minister this country has ever had mentioned the benefits of the Brexit they "got done" after the election platform they all were elected on.

As a country we haven’t soared, we have shrunk. In status, in pride and in our economic fortunes.

We cried as we left, because Porto was just so lovely. I cried too an hour after we touched down at Manchester Airport. Weary from the huge queue through passport control, tired from a delayed flight, unable to get out of a messy, badly designed, poorly served airport full of mean regulations. As proud as I am of our immense city, our Airport is an utterly shameful gateway, but maybe it’s a fitting monument to failing Brexit Britain.

All we are saying, is give kids a chance

A couple of weeks ago I volunteered to help out at Aquinas Sixth Form College with some interview training.

I sat across the table from eight different young people with all their hopes dreams and aspirations laid bare, and tried to give them a first experience of what it’s like to talk about themselves one-to-one with a complete stranger for 15 minutes or so.

These were students who the college has identified as having real potential and suggested to them that they should apply to top universities. 

Let me mention first why I did it.

Young people have had a rough ride. Most of these did their GCSE year in lockdown. They’ve bounced from one challenging time of life into a new educational setting. 

The future is full of volatility and economic uncertainty. Technology is changing so fast that it puts real pressure on what students can learn that will be useful to them.  

As I look back from my comfortable position in midlife, I’ve made a promise to myself to say yes to such requests for help. Each and every offer of a helpful word, or a guiding hand, that I had when I was young, wasn’t always grasped at. But when I did, it was valuable.

You know too that the posh kids at the top private schools will have pushy Dads coming in to talk about careers in the City and corporate life. 

But it’s also because I’m sick to the back teeth with employers complaining about the lack of skills of young people entering the workforce, but doing naff all about addressing it.

Most, if not all, of the students I spoke to had never had a job interview or been grilled by an admissions tutor at a university. But nearly all of them had part-time jobs in shops, pubs and restaurants. A couple had e-commerce microsites selling things they’ve made on platforms like Etsy and eBay. 

I think that’s amazing and is really something to shout about. So is building your resilience by talking to workmates and customers.

Each and every one of us has a story, a view of the world that is entirely unique to us.

I was keen to make them feel comfortable and establish common ground. A bit needy, I know, but I at least wanted to get them talking about what mattered to them.

As a part-time DJ I find that music is such a great unifier, whatever our personal likes.

It’s amazing how often music provides that bridge. One of the students told me her favourite artist at this year’s Parklife Festival was Joy Crookes, who burst onto the scene last year and who we played on our show a few times. I also had the conversation about Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill with the Stranger Things fans. 

Music ignites the passions, sport and literature and films do too. Sharing experiences won’t solve the world’s problems, but if it’s the simple act of listening and understanding the world from someone else’s perspective, then that’s got to be a good thing.

I don't know if it made any difference or not, but if I can leave you with one thought, it's this. Volunteer to help out with this kind of thing. Share your experience. As John Lennon sort of said, all we are saying, is give kids a chance.

(column in the Tameside Reporter and Glossop Chronicle, July 2022)