Mum used to make ends meet by opening our home up to English language students and providing accommodation during their study trips.
We'd all budge up and various European youngsters would fill our home with exotic stories, gifts from afar and new exciting fashions. I learnt from a young age to speak more clearly so they could understand me, and would delight in helping them with their homework and playing board games round the table.
I can honestly say that when we welcomed these teenage girls they were among the happiest times of my childhood. There was always someone to talk to, I'd spend hours in their company, and more importantly as the eldest child, I had 'big sister' role models to look up to, someone to plait my hair, take me to the park when Mum was busy. Home rules were laxer when they were around, and bedtimes invariably a smidge later.
I recall clearly
the purple-haired punk from Germany who showed me how to rip jeans and add decorative safety pins. She was one of the gentlest souls I'd ever met.
And the long-haired Austrian who ended up marrying a local lad she fell in love with.
I recall my mother's horror when a misfortunate Spanish girl spilt nail varnish remover on the dressing table.
There were others who cooked local dishes for us to sample and I recall learning to count to 20 in 4 different languages before I started school and learning, parrot-fashion, how to complete the Rubic's cube before starting secondary school. My teachers were our paying guests and their names were so wonderful: Monica, Astrid, Renata. Others I struggled to pronounce as a small child, but it didn't matter.
I still own the little red painted Swedish horse, a Norwegian troll and an Italian painted dish, all given a presents from tempting lands I had yet to visit at that tender age.
I remember being allowed to sit up late and place bets on the Eurovision Song Contest as our multi-cultural temporary extended family sat on 70s patterned sofas cheering on their faves. It didn't matter who won, we were having fun singing along and critiquing the acts. One day as an adult I was to realise a cheesy dream, and actually attend the contest live in Stockholm.
And I still have grainy snap shots taken of the family holiday to Rome when the parents of two sisters invited us all to stay as a thank you for looking after their girls so well. I tasted artichoke for the first time, shook hands with the Pope, walked through Roman ruins in the sun.
And this European influence was how I grew up. It must have seeped into my bones because my first boyfriend was a blonde mop-haired Swede. I went on to study modern European languages at university, lived for a year in France and taught EFL and French as my career before I had children. My former colleagues and I are still in touch and meet twice a year, jokingly dubbing ourselves the International Rescuers. Those were happy times.
I'm now married to a man who was born in the UK to an Italian Mother and a Polish father, both of whom were invited by our government to come and work in post war England.
So I guess I will always feel European in culture and mind, regardless of the way our citizens choose to be led. Perhaps that is what counts the most.
I am not a political animal
and always one to shy away from discussing such matters publicly, I had avoided talking about the EU referendum outside my home.
Which way you voted, in or out is a matter of personal choice. Private in many ways. This post is not about that.
But today I sit with a heavy heart, tears in my eyes and fear in my soul.
Why? Because, as the campaigns unfolded, scaremongery and hatred were used as tactics on both sides of the debate. That can never be right. Posters the likes of which haven't been seen since Nazi Germany were shared. Posters that turned my stomach. This post Remain from Sally Whittle explains.
So today I feel afraid and uncertain, not just because our pound is plummeting, not only because the rural communities such as Cornwall who receive funding from the EU for things like the Eden Project and community centres will have it removed, not because the majority have chosen to tread an unknown path alone.
I feel afraid because charismatic (in the jingoistic sense) characters are putting their egos first, telling lies to get the power they crave and stirring up hate amongst us.
I am ashamed that dear friends who live and work here, who are part of our community, our Britain, are today feeling less than welcome, many in tears, because they once hailed from another shore.
This referendum has cut wounds which will take a long time to heal, it has divided people, families, communities and pitched them against each other in a way no other poll has every done.
Jo Cox's precious life was even lost in the most brutal of ways. The ramifications of the hatred her attacker felt are unimaginable. Perhaps a bright, wise visionary such as she might have gone on to lead our country, bring us all together. Sadly many of us had not heard of her until her passing, her voice lost in the noise...
And it leaves me thinking, that perhaps we should never have been asked the question in the first place. It is a question that will inevitably leave a permanent scar.
I don't even know how this will impact on the rights and support of those with disabilities. That is another can of worms we have yet to open.
As journalist Steve Topple debates why a referendum was even set up at all, in his beautifully written and moving article My Father Would be Ashamed here, our eldest daughter returned from school this evening, from her class of 12 year old kids from a variety of backgrounds. End of Year 7 tests are over and she has a birthday party to go to tomorrow. She should have been jubilant and carefree, yet,
"Today," she informed us, eyes wide and upset, "we all had the very first big argument in class. None of us have fallen out with each other in a whole year of school and today everyone was really shouting at each other."
This is why my heart is heavy.
And I haven't even contemplated whether I'll ever get to wear my Eurovision Song Contest T shirt again yet.
Post a Comment
Thank you for joining in the conversation at Downs Side Up