Friday, June 24, 2016


Gibraltar has just declared. With overwhelming majority, they decided the UK should stay in the European Union. Why they would have a say in this matter is an interesting question, but not one for this post. I'm sitting in the bed of a hotel on the side of motorway north of Cambridge. What anyone would want to do north of Cambridge is another question that's not one for this post, but the drive up from town this evening took twice as long as predicted because of heavy traffic, so there must be something about it. What is also not a question for this post is why there has been no activity in this space in four and a half months because that answer is clear, not very surprising and utterly consuming.

Tapas celebrated her first birthday two days ago. In a scary development towards petite bourgeoisie, I used the occasion to install a sandbox in our recently revegetated backyard. Tapas took possession of it and started eating the sand almost immediately. And that was another evening when, in the past and in another life, I would have added a post to this blog to comment on what moves me but didn't.

There was also the aspiration, at some point in the past when all this was new, to keep the memory of business trips by writing about them in an oblique way. This fizzled out after half a year, but now there's a good moment to resuscitate that – though sadly not this blog.

While I'm sitting in the bed of this ambitious though ultimately dreary roadside hotel, the TV high up on the wall opposite is reporting on the first results of the British EU referendum. By a fortunate coincidence, I'm experiencing this momentous evening right here at the source. A pub would of course be better than the bed, but at this advanced hour and by the desolate motorway, the options are few. As Newcastle has just decided to remain, it's unclear to me how this referendum could be contested at all.

I've lived and worked in France for two years without being bothered by bureaucracy, visa requirements or the obligation to justify my residence, and I've subsequently done the same in England for more than six years. I couldn't have done this as easily without the EU – and was in fact asked to leave the US at some point in the distant past. As if it were a kind of geography trivia, the results keep trickling in. Orkney is in and Crickmannanshire is in. Sunderland is out, and the pound has tanked.

I'm probably not a good benchmark for the average Brit. I've worked long years for a good education, and I have a good job now. Polish plumbers don't threaten my economic comfort, nor do Romanian baristas at the coffee shop where I pick up overpriced caffeinated beverages, and not only because I rarely pick up overpriced caffeinated beverages.

It is probably the share of the population that doesn't pick up overpriced caffeinated beverages either that is concerned about the presence of foreign labor in Britain and particularly, maybe because that's closer to their frame of reference, the hypothetical presence of foreigners on benefits, sponging this country, and I'm paraphrasing here, of its hard-earned wealth.

Wealth often drives elections and referenda but this time the big story is power. The Prime Minister, despite a history of frustration with the EU, threw his weight behind the Remain campaign and all but staked his political future on its success. In a display of implausible opportunism, Boris the Clown, the ex-Mayor of London who presided for eight years over one of the world's most colorful cities, led the Leavers, risking parochialism in the hope of overthrowing the Prime Minister after a win. The London Borough of Lambeth, incidentally, voted to remain by 79%.

It is almost 2 o'clock now and, as the BBC doesn't tire of saying, still too early to call. Besides upending my retirement account, piled up during my seven years at Imperial and valued in pounds Sterling, the referendum should have minimal effect on my life. In all likelihood, I'll be able to leave the country tomorrow to return to Switzerland without needing an exit visa or official travel permit, and things will remain like this. Good night.

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