I’ve written once before about ‘Brexit’ but having just returned from a cycling holiday in Belgium and The Netherlands, I’m unashamedly inspired to write again.
I should start by admitting I was horrified on the day following the referendum in June 2016 when it became clear that the Leave campaign, with their dubious promises, half-truths and attention diversions, had managed to persuade 51.89% of UK voters that to extract ourselves from the European Union was a good idea.
Of course, two years later, it is still unclear, to me at least, what the whole charade is going to mean for the ordinary person (i.e. me) what it’s going to mean for my employment, my ability to move easily between countries and the value of currency in my pocket.
But my holiday this year has reminded me of two things.
Our first stop was Belgium. We cycled a path, which I later discovered was locally known as ‘Death Street’, through the battlefields of the First World War. Cycling in the blazing sunshine surrounded by green fields, cattle, pretty villages and friendly fellow cyclists, it is hard to imagine the sheer horror of what took place there 100 years ago. Until you come to a reconstructed bunker, or an area that has been left with some archaeological description on an information board, or even, at one point an art installation of human skulls. Then it all becomes very real and moving.
Later the same day we visited the Menin Gate in Ypres to find the memorial of my Great Great Uncle who was killed at Passchendaele in 1917, three months before his second son was born.
I couldn’t stay long.
I wasn’t prepared for it to be so overwhelming to see the thousands of names of British Empire soldiers who were killed carved in stone. We found my ancestor among the 54,000. That’s not 54,000 who were killed. That’s 54,000 who don’t have a grave. It’s hard to describe the emotion but I felt like a shaken bottle of pop, the pressure built inside me and any small twist of the cap would have unleashed something that I was unprepared for.
We took a photograph, remembered and we moved quickly on into the Remembrance Garden and the huge city walls.
Following Belgium, we moved to Amsterdam to take in the sights of the city by bicycle. I hadn’t been aware that it was Pride weekend and the city was gearing for a major celebration. The vibe in the city was electric and it was the very definition of diversity. A wonderful smash of Dutch history and their modern acceptance of who you are, whoever you are.
T-shirt slogans said it all;
- Keep calm and love who you want
- We can be Heroes
- This is me
- Love is Love
and my personal favourite;
‘You look ridiculous if you dance. You look ridiculous if you don’t dance. So you might as well dance’ Gertrude Stein
The city, as you can imagine, was busy. Bicycles, trams, cars, trucks and pedestrians come at you from all directions. It is scary and probably dangerous, but hugely exhilarating. Everyone just gets on with it, goes about their business and aims for their destination. It’s relaxed, very friendly and a truly wonderful place to spend time.
So my holiday reminded me that Europe and us have been through a lot together. We’ve fought side by side. We remember our losses side by side. We don’t care about the ancestry or nationality of that name carved in stone, or who they loved, we remember them all for their sacrifice. One hundred years on, we continue to be grateful for the freedoms that they, and the next generation in World War 2, gave to us.
My holiday then went on to remind me that we are just all the same. We want to laugh, love, share and be with each other, without barriers, borders and limitations. We want to celebrate our differences and be treated equally whatever our culture, nationality, gender or sexuality.
So I’ll declare.
I don’t want ‘Brexit’. In fact I want the opposite. I want to embrace my neighbours and the wonderful differences that Europe gives us.
Thank you, J R Dunford for all that you gave me with your sacrifice and Thank you, Pride Amsterdam 2018 for being so wonderfully accepting of diversity.
We are one world. We need to live in it together.