There’s a first time for everything, right? I’ve enjoyed reading people’s Weekend Coffee Share posts for a while now, and with twenty minutes to go before the weekend is over (in the UK, anyway), I’ve decided to jump in and start writing, and sharing what I’ve been thinking about, doing, and reading.
First, I have to admit that even though I’ve drunk two cups of coffee today, right now I’m drinking a cup of tea. It’s a weak (light coloured with milk) tea, but with a strong flavour – a posh cup of tea courtesy of Marks and Spencer, in fact. A few weeks ago, I bought a pack of M&S’s Empress Grey – I first tried this a couple of years ago, when my Gran broke her hip and we spent a lot of time at her bungalow in Cambridge that summer.
It’s not like Lady Grey, which is a weaker version of Earl Grey, but it’s a beautiful flavour that is a lot like biting into a biscuit with lemon and orange zest in it. Mostly orange, to be honest. Not everyone is a fan of orange, but I love orange. To me, it’s an extremely comforting cup of tea, that reminds me of afternoons spent with my Mum, Gran, and sister in Cambridge. It’s also refreshing when you need a pick me up, but for some reason, I like to drink Earl Grey tea in the evening – as a sort of winding-down ritual.
Secondly, this week has been heartbreaking, for me personally, and for the UK. I’ve witnessed all kinds of opinions, dissent, and expressions of depression after the results of the EU referendum, and I’m still processing my own feelings. I’ll come right out and say that I voted to remain. There’s a number of reasons for why. I’m a committed Europhile – I’ve enjoyed the benefits of being a European citizen, with free movement across borders. When I was young, my parents (when travel was less expensive), made sure that my sister and I experienced European travel, and we would have camping holidays in France, Italy, and Spain. I have more of an appreciation for different cultures and ways of life, partly because of this experience.
I’m convinced that there are many positive things to come from being a member of the EU, not least the funding of services, small companies, schools, charities, research programs (such as cancer research), and regeneration initiatives. Yes, we have paid a lot of money to be a member of the EU, but we receive investments, security, and stability in return. There are incredible doctors, researchers, leaders, and workers from EU member countries who have contributed to our infrastructure and economy. I could give many more examples of why I feel we are stronger in the European Union, but far more knowledgeable people have rehashed the arguments and viewpoints across the media in the past few days.
Mostly, I’m saddened by how this referendum has drawn a sharp, divisive, bitter line between the citizens of the UK. I’ve seen some language directed at both leave and remain voters that, instead of mending the rift, has just widened the chasm, so there is little hope of understanding between people who have different points of view. For my own part, I’m disappointed and sad about the result because the campaign was executed poorly, with extreme misinformation, lies, and few concrete facts.
As a result, those of us who wanted to know the facts had to look for them carefully, and couldn’t rely on the reporting from any UK media outlets. So it was always hopeless that either side would know all (or even any of!) the facts about what the EU does, what it is, and the pros and cons of membership. I understand that many leave people considered this referendum to be a form of protest-voting against the establishment, because there has been little chance to affect change in a country that has major economic problems (created by the austerity measures of the Conservative government), but wish that it hadn’t been to the detriment of something so important to the UK.
I also want to take this moment to say that I’ve been more than a little ashamed of what has been happening since the result, where we have seen attacks, and verbal abuse hurled at people perceived as immigrants. It feels as if the result has basically validated the views of those voters (or even non-voters, perhaps), who have racist, xenophobic views of the world. This is definitely not to say that all leave voters are racist (I don’t believe that). Living in London, I see and come into contact with a varied melting pot of cultures and nationalities, and it isn’t uncommon to meet people who speak another language, or three.
I’m thankful for that because it expands your view of, and connects you to, the rest of the world. It’s a beautiful thing, even though there can be some cultural misunderstandings occasionally. In all this, I suppose I’m trying to say that xenophobia is something alien to me, something I can’t comprehend, because I have empathy for refugees, and can understand that people the world over may want to emigrate to different countries, for a variety of reasons. Of course I worry about national security, and terrorism, but refugees and immigrants are usually fleeing that violence. So it’s horrific that they are then exposed to violence in this country. It makes me deeply ashamed of being a UK citizen.
Quite apart from how worrying and difficult the past few days have been, there have also been some wonderful moments. I hosted a book group meeting in the studio for the first time on Saturday, complete with cake and bunting (it’s been going for about five or six years so far). Despite the subdued mood and the EU talk, it was reassuring to know that we are all in the same boat, and though we don’t know what will happen next, we are all able to support each other when it matters.
The book we briefly (!) discussed was Stuffocation by James Wallman, which I’ve read (and written a post about) before, and which I think is a must read, if only to get a few ideas about experientalism (an alternative to materialism, a focus on experiences, rather than things), and how to bring more experiences into your life. I finished reading All The Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders this week too, and will write a blog post about it this week. It was a beautiful book, and if you’re looking for something different, it’s a must read.
In the past two weeks, I’ve been experimenting with painting more often. I’ve produced two ‘quote’ paintings, with painted backgrounds and quotes written on with metallic Sharpie pens. It’s a different medium of creation, but has been therapeutic and has helped me to relax when I’ve felt emotionally burnt out or anxious. I used to do a lot of watercolour and acrylic painting, mostly just for fun, and so it has been good to go back to it and try different things. In fact, this year I’ve been more creative than I have been for many years. It’s a good sign, after the sadness of last year, that I am able to build myself up and start again.
I’ll end with a positive note – like my last post, which focused on hope, love, and compassion. I am still hopeful, and still feel that there are good people in the world, because I know so many of them. There are people who care about the world, and who have good ideas, make wonderful art, and who know how to listen to and learn from others. I’m grateful, more than ever, for people who know how to make others smile, who know the value of laughter and lightness in dark times. There are still beautiful, meaningful things in the world, and we have work to do, to help each other in the coming months.
‘Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.’ – Leo Buscaglia.