Some things are too big to shut up about. I need to say something about what happened in the United Kingdom on Friday. I am one of that 48% who think the result of the referendum was a dreadful thing - for the Kingdom that can no longer be called United, for the European Union and, actually, for the whole world.
I have always thought of myself as British and as a citizen of this world. Growing up in the East Anglian port of Felixstowe, I could see the cranes and ships from my bedroom window and it was a reminder – every time I opened my curtains – that there is far more out there than just the ground beneath my feet. My former hometown relied heavily – and still does rely – on the whole world. And top priority in that world must surely be your neighbours – whether times are good or bad, happy or sad etc.*
When I left university in the 1990s, there was a recession and I couldn’t find a job in the UK. So I effectively became an ‘economic migrant’ and went to work elsewhere. I enjoyed the freedom of working in France and Spain - without any kind of visa - and was made very welcome by the people I met there. I learned how difficult it is to learn another language and also what an enormous gesture of respect it is to even try. At the very least, you can call it polite. Another time, I arrived – with no plan and no job – in Belgium, and slept on the sofa of other 'economic migrant' friends until I finally found a job. Nobody made me feel like I shouldn’t be there. On the contrary, I had the time of my life.
These experiences are priceless to me. They made me who I am. I am sad beyond words that the young British people of today and tomorrow will not be able to float around Europe with the freedom that I did.
Now, I write books. Not all my readers are in Britain – many are in the European Union. Last I heard, my books have been translated into French, Castilian, Catalan, German, Italian, Romanian, Danish, Czech, Hungarian, Greek, Dutch and Portuguese. The publishers who buy the rights to translate my books and the readers who then buy those translated editions are helping me to just about survive as a writer, and I am enormously grateful to them for that.
I am wondering now what those readers, publishers and translators are thinking of the British, and of what that referendum has done to the European Union.
Please know that 48% of us are as horrified as you probably are.
I’ve always been proud to be British and – thanks to the wisdom of a Polish man called Lado – also extremely grateful. I worked with Lado, years ago, in France. He was very kind, very intelligent, spoke about seven languages fluently, and happened to be an old Etonian - so let’s not hastily condemn them all. Lado would never walk past a homeless person without giving them whatever he had in his pocket. When I commented, less than generously, upon this, I remember him saying these words to me: ‘Hayley, bach*, never ever forget that being British is like winning a top prize in the lottery of life - but with that comes some responsibility.’
Right now, I don’t feel like I’ve won a top prize. I feel devastated.
* Thanks Al Green.
** This means little. Yep, Lado even spoke some Welsh.