Growing up as I did during the Nineties and Noughties, there was in hindsight so much that I took completely for granted. We were (and always would be) members of the European Union. Antisemitism was confined to history lessons, together with Nazis. The Cold War was over. The Human Rights Act was brought into law. National minimum wage was brought in. The Good Friday Agreement paved the way for lasting peace and stability in Ireland. The equalising of the age of consent, civil partnerships and then equal marriage heralded a new era of legal equality for gay and bisexual people.
Now fast-forward to the other morning, with me (complete with a liberal elite champagne hangover) on the Tube sending forlorn messages to my friends about how I don’t really feel British any more. I had just seen that particularly vicious pronouncement from David Bannerman MEP calling for the application of treason law to those who are “undermining the UK through extreme EU loyalty”. Ever since the cadence of “Trump and Brexit”, it does sometimes feel as though we are caught in some kind of awful downward spiral, in which we are not only powerless observers, but unwilling participants.
We are, it seems, leaving the European Union. The Labour Party is mired in accusations of antisemitism. Russian actors have likely killed a British citizen on UK soil. Nigel Farage has his own bloody radio show, giving a platform to nauseating and dangerous people like Steve Bannon – an outspoken champion of Tommy Robinson. A wave of transphobia continues to be propounded by some of the most influential news outlets. Jacob Rees-Mogg is taken seriously. The government outs whistleblowers as gay and appears to endorse capital punishment. Oh, and Rod Liddle still has a column.
Respite this week, for me, came somewhat unexpectedly courtesy of Cher. Specifically in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. From the opening bars I was a man transfixed. The optimism was infectious – almost inevitably when people keep breaking out into song – and we luxuriated in two hours of simple pleasure and unapologetic buoyant good cheer. Even Pierce Brosnan’s singing took on a curiously uplifting quality – like a drunk older uncle at a wedding, who with plenty of wine for lubrication will grab a microphone, jump up onto the trestle tables and strut his stuff in all his dad-dancing glory.
There is a serious point here, somewhere, maybe. It’s right that we should be angry about the gradual but definite move towards the acceptability of far-right rhetoric, the deification of criminals like Robinson; it’s right that we should be doing our best to understand the various arguments around Brexit and engaging with a process which will irreversibly impact the direction of our country. We should continue to call out and deconstruct the positions of high-profile bigots. Through all this though, we should remember that the world is huge, we are tiny, and life is short; instead of spending a couple of hours retweeting #FBPE tweets, why not take the dog for a walk sometimes? Bake a cake. Watch a box set. Do some yoga. Whatever helps you unwind.
There may be no escape from Brexit, ultimately, but there’s definitely room for some escapism. From time to time I think now I am going to take a break from it all – crack open a bottle of wine, lock myself in a darkened room and watch musicals. Trump and Brexit will still be out there waiting for me, but I’ll feel a bit better, and that’s important too. We should savour these moments of light relief while we can; they will be harder to come by when we’re fighting over the last can of Spam and they’ve reintroduced hanging.
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