When I swim with the English I can forgive those eejits for Brexit
Deep in Ukip territory in East Sussex, neighbours were puzzled by our upset
Anna Acciarini: ‘Casual racism was now the norm. It felt like it was catching. I was so hurt, and the sense of insecurity was ever present, as was my anger.’
I am an Irish woman who moved to England by accident in 2007. I was living in Tenerife and met a blacksmith from Luxembourg who convinced me to move to Lewes in East Sussex. I sold my little blue car to pay for six months rent, blagged my way into the final year of a university course in Brighton, and hey presto. I was here.
I had grown up reading Enid Blyton, was always enamoured of P G Wodehouse, and the Darling Buds of May was my go to blissful laconic read, with all that sunshine and picnics. At 39 years of age I found myself living among it all, marvelling at the fetes. The English give good fetes. Throwing the welly, endless cakes, the Lancaster bomber flying over as an old gent takes the mike on stage. And the bunting. So much bunting.
I would shout as we drove around endless leafy green lanes, “Jeez H, I am living in England”. This was never part of my grand plan, which had involved a boob reduction, owning a private island, and my own TV show, but here I was. I ditched my deluded aspirations and accepted my fate of living in East Sussex as a merry mild mannered, mumu-wearing Irish mum to two dogs and a cat. My girth increased as my dreams died.
Brexit was also a surprise. We live deep in Ukip territory, and it really did feel strange when the posters started to go up. We were sniggering and repulsed in equal measure, at the gurning awfulness of Nigel Farage, of the bus of lies that tricked a nation, of the comical antics of the politicians. And then the leave vote came in.
When the result was announced, a stone cold feeling settled in the pit of my stomach. My husband was deeply affected. He told me about the place close to where he grew up in Luxembourg, where the conception of the EU was marked by a plaque. He was really sad.
Gone was the jollity of living in the back pocket of Europe, the genteel place with silly names like Muddle Green, Rotten Row, or Foul Mile. When we said the result upset us, our neighbours were puzzled.
“Oh we just didn’t want all migrants coming. Oh not you. We like you. And the money, you know the €350 million a week goes to the EU, we could give that to the NHS. You know the bus, it said so.”
Happily, gone also was the obligation to placate other neighbours with Christmas biscuits and anniversary cards. I had decided a long time ago not to be upset about how racist they were, not to fume at how arrogant and ignorant they were. I ignored it. I was as pleasant as humanly possible, because we lived in such close proximity.
My husband was really good at explaining these people who supported Brexit to me, pointing out how their knowledge of the world was filtered through the Daily Mail. When I moved in they were concerned I would throw lavish parties in the garden with my wine drinking friends because I had long blonde hair (despite the fact that I neither drank nor had friends here then).
With the reality of Brexit, there was an odd frenzy of true colours amongst close friends. Some cried saying how sad they were. How we had enriched their lives. How awful it was. We knew folk in Brighton appalled at the outcome, who still rally and shake their heads.
Some confessed to voting leave because “I was wearing a different hat that day, it was a toss up and England, you know, came up on top. Time to pull together.”
Others were more worried what we might say to their friends. Our status as token Europeans was now in sharp relief. We were the amuse bouche. We were discouraged from debate or expressing our opinions at any gathering with nods of “Ooer, easy”.
Suffice to say, I remain friends with those that wept.
For a time at supermarket checkouts someone would sidle up to me, eyes narrowed, and ask, “Where are you from?” I would look wide-eyed back at them and beam. “Up the road, beyond the fruit farm”.
Casual racism was now the norm. It felt like it was catching. I was so hurt, and the sense of insecurity was ever present, as was my anger. Feck them, I’d say to myself. I would confide with a friend I had in the town who was originally from Glasnevin in Dublin; we’d bitch and shake our heads, wondering how on earth this came to pass.
What helps me immensely with these feelings is going to the local swimming pool. I swim. I swim with the English people. They stop being English, and are just people. Fat, thin, pasty, trim, dark, hard, soft, vulnerable people. Lumpy, bumpy, simply people. The heated pool feels a spring of compassion. Here I can forgive these eejits for Brexit. Here, I swim.
Anna Acciarini lives in East Sussex near Herstmonceux. She writes, paints, carves, sculpts, cartoons, makes little films and occasionally stands up for comedy.