Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 21 Oct 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Wanting to be German

Knowledge of my great-granddad’s war service is sketchy. We know that he was probably under age when he joined up, we know that he served with the Royal Scots, despite not previously having left Nottingham and we know that he claimed to have seen an angel over the battlefield, despite not being a man gifted with an especially powerful imagination. We also know that he took part in a Christmas truce with the Germans, or though whether this was in 1914 or some smaller, localised truce, we neither know or are ever likely to know. But just over a hundred years later, I’d rather be one of those Germans. What happened?

In short, racism and xenophobia happened. Watching an excellent BBC Four documentary on the skinhead movement, I recognise that racism was probably always a part of most Western societies for a long, long time. As much as I love the works of Herge, I can recognise that his caricatures of Africans, drawn a long, long time ago, are clumsy and foolish and for all that I tell myself there’s no malice in them, if I was black, I may not be as indulgent. Equally, there are any number of clumsy stereotypes of black people in particular, from golliwogs to the Black And White Minstrel Show which I can scarcely believe ever existed. Going through this seems to have been a rite of passage for most societies, who then emerged on the other side, wondering what it had all been about.

The difference here is that Britain is now going backwards. I was born in 1973, just six years after homosexuality was decriminalised and yet now, and rightly so, it’s possible to be gay and get married to a person of the same sex. This is, by any metric, a victory for liberalism. But when it comes to Not Being White or Being Foreign, the country seems to have tried to get back to the fifties. Last night, I watched a video of a man on what I assume was the London Overground punching a man who looked Asian before running off. There are plenty of stories of shops owned by immigrants being attacked or people wearing a hijab being assaulted in the street, all of which can be verified. And these are just the incidents for which there is video evidence or people brave enough to report the incident to the police.

Brexit, then, has given the green light to a huge swathe of racists and xenophobes and told them that their particular brand of bigotry is not only fine but sanctioned at the highest level. Where they may have thought previously that theirs was a minority interest, now they have been told. however erroneously, that it is shared by at least 52% of the population. People who voted to leave may turn around and say that they could never have conceived of such a thing happening, to which I react with incredulity. If you vote for what it, at heart, a profoundly xenophobic piece of legislation which seeks to flee from Europe at the first opportunity, don’t be surprised when people feel emboldened to act on their prejudices. The vision these people have of Britain would appear to be of a white country where the only signs of ‘foreign’ influence are restaurants.

I dislike this on almost every level, but what are the available options? National prosperity is now yoked to people who somehow think that ‘innovative jams’ may be the way forward for the domestic economy and many of whom want to launch a new state yacht in the expectation that this will somehow overawe foreign dignitaries into signing a trade agreement. The simple minded idiocy of this is almost laughable until you realise that these people affect you, as well. Your income and immediate future are inextricably linked to these questions, such that if the millionaires in the Cabinet, for whom this is all fairly academic, get it wrong, then we’re all lastingly screwed. And the signs, at the time of writing, are not good. The economy is in free fall, multinationals are rightly thinking ‘bugger that’ and the signs are that Britain, in its present form, is doomed.

In the months since the referendum, I’ve been forced to admit that I do actually quite like this country in ways that defy explanation, although its sense of humour and endless self deprecation are first onto the list, but I don’t like it to the extent that I will endure any manner of hardship or privation in its name. I can’t eat sovereignty or live in the Union Jack, so my hand is being forced by fools. My applications for jobs in mainland Europe which, at first, were just desperate, are becoming more targeted and more knowing. Where I was once rejected out of hand, I’m starting to get to the interview stage, if not to the final job. At present, I’m talking to a German company about a copywriting role which I’m fairly excited about and my hopes are high that one of these applications will come off sooner rather than later.

Should I get a job in a European country, my intention is that I try my absolute level best to learn whatever language they speak and take out citizenship, as this seems like an appropriate way of saying ‘thank you’ to the country that rescued me. Moreover, I intend to take the next step and renounce my British citizenship, whatever it costs and return my passport, not as a gesture of protest but of resignation. Recent months have made it clear that there’s nothing here for anyone who is tolerant or humane: instead, I sat next to a lady in Costa yesterday who was cheerily reading her Daily Mail while reading about how evil immigrants are coming in and wanting to diddle her fifteen ways to Christmas. It felt like one of those moments in time when the world is trying to tell you something. And I listened.

I don’t know what my great granddad would make of all this. Presumably, if he fought for his country, he must have quite liked it, but while propaganda of the time made much of the Germans’ intolerance, I wonder whether similar intolerance coming from the British press would have upset him. We can’t know. He was a gentle old soul, my great granddad, presumably because there were years during which he was extremely violent towards other people and it was drained from him. My great grandma, who wasn’t so gentle and was barking mad once had to be stopped from assaulting him with a cabbage, but either way, I can’t see much of that gentleness in this country any more, which is why, with an epically heavy heart, I think that the time may have come to get out of the trench for me that the tabloids have dug. I want to make friends with the people who are supposed to be my enemy. I hope my great granddad understands.

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