L. Half way to C in Roman times. The big 5 “O”. Oh.
The half-century is upon me, or I am upon it. Reflection at ages ending with a zero is inevitable I suppose but probably never more so given the “L” of a year that has been 2016/17. I am now an older man.
“Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die”, said Herbert Hoover.
The words of the 31st President of the US are particularly pertinent to me as I cross another nought with a backdrop of a war declared which does not endanger life per se but is an assault on lifestyle and culture. An attack garnered by Conservative Europhobes like Bill Cash (77), Peter Bone (64) and John Redwood (66); encouraged though by younger ideologues such as Tom Pursglove, Daniel Hannan and the money of Arron Banks.
A generational bridge between the two groups of assailants lies in Nigel Farage, born a couple of years before the World Cup win. This man who can seemingly appear to be everything to all men, whether you pick the produce in the fields of Lincolnshire or fly a St.George cross from your immaculately manicured lawn in Frinton-on-Sea. Whether younger or older than the 53 years of this political chameleon. One minute resigned, the next rescinding his letter of resignation.
Let it not be forgotten either that Donald Trump (71) described himself as Mr Brexit. The Grand Jury’s deliberations may allow other pieces of this 2016/17 jigsaw to be put in place.
In 1975 as the UK decided to ratify its government’s decision to join the European Economic Community I celebrated my eighth birthday. The following year I crossed the English Channel at night for the first time on a Sealink ferry en route to La Rochelle, Biarritz and Cap d’Agde. I can still recall the smells of the ship. The diesel fumes and exhaust vapours on the car deck; the Gauloises and Gitanes smoked by the lorry drivers. My stomach turning with the swell. The dingy lighting through the smoke.
I woke up in the sunshine at about 8 am in the back of the Austin 1800 with its sticky hot plastic seats, about to eat croissant for breakfast.
The following year I first took to the sky and on my 10th Birthday I had a group of Italian waiters singing “buon compleanno” to me on a wet evening in Cattolica.
Spending time in French and German families in my teens to assist my language studies had me helping out at a crazy golf course in Luc-sur-Mer and cycling along the banks of the Elbe, not to mention sneaking a visit to the Reeperbahn.
Bruges and the First World War cemeteries came also, as did a summer school stint in Bayeux.
Europe is in my blood. 41 years of it coursing through my veins. Decades of friendships, good times. Some bad times. Good weather, and bad. Good food. Not so good. New experiences, returns to good experiences. Lovely people, rude people. Planes, boats, trains, buses, taxis, bicycles. Too many drinks. Not enough. Handshakes, occasional arguments too.
Above all, I have been fortunate. Lucky enough to have been afforded the opportunity of allowing Europe into my blood and into my soul. The most diverse continent on earth. A stunning testimony to humanity having been infamous for its brutality in successive waves of slaughter.
Lucky too that I was born of parents who valued their own luck at having been just too young to avoid the horrors of global conflict. To have therefore acquired a piece of their pioneering and confident spirit born of the creation of a new European order of liberalism and unity.
My luck has extended into my own family life. Husband to a very much loved strong libertarian and compassionate British European for 23 years. I have tried to pass the good fortune on to our wonderful children. A trip to Mont St.Michel is meant to bestow luck to babies and if true, they are both eligible. Abbeville to Ajaccio, Berlin to Bari and Corfu to Caen they have been.
Older men have declared war on our membership of the world’s greatest club. Firing not bullets but prejudice, ideology and unreliable fiction.
They have been stacking the munitions up for decades. The barrels and firing mechanisms of the guns to which Hoover must have given thought are the right-wing press barons and their subordinates.
This is a club not just bestowing financial rewards but far more than that. Imparting diverse wisdom, knowledge and culture. Maintaining standards. I regret that youth must fight the declaration of cultural war but fight they must, for this is a membership worth saving. Of that political imperative I am more sure than any, even standing on the bridge, at 50.
Who’s looking at you now Mister Brexit President? #StopBrexit.