I am white, English, middle-class and 57 – a classic middle Englander, except that I am a passionate Remainer and I woke up on Friday morning feeling as if my soul had been ripped apart and I had lost my country. It is a visceral gut-wrenching grief that cannot be cured by rational thought. I simply need to work my way through it and I will. You see, unlike most of the 48% of Britains who voted to remain, I have been there before and this referendum ultimately wasn’t about economics or migrants or roaming charges. What it was actually about in our beloved fragmented jigsaw of a country is a sense of home and a sense of belonging. The Welsh have a word “hiraeth” which the Oxford dictionary defines as “homesickness for a home you cannot return to, or that never was”.
I grew up in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, during the dying days of empire, a child of Ian Smith’s UDI and the vicious local civil war during which I lost many friends. Mine was the generation which bore the brunt of the fighting. I never fitted there and saw the UK as my promised land. After all, I was English and had been brought up to think of this distant land, which I visited every few years as “home”. When I arrived, I realized I was different, an outsider, in spite of having been born in Croydon.
On 18 April 1980, I sat in the common room on the Exeter University campus on my own and watched the Zimbabwean independence celebrations. None of my university friends understood anything about it – I’d had to show them where my home was on a map. As I saw the new flag flying, I rejoiced with almost every fibre of my being – I believed in the cause, the war was finally over, but… deep inside was an unexpected visceral gut-wrenching pang. However flawed it may have been, the country of my childhood no longer existed. My roots had been ripped from the earth.
I understand that great howl of grief that led to Brexit “I want my country back!” I understand only too well people wanting to regain their sense of dignity and confidence, their sense of home and of belonging. But these are different to each of us and in voting to leave, we may have anchored some but cast adrift millions of others who identify themselves as Europeans and are now floundering angrily.
Whatever happens next, our national crisis is not going to be solved by economic arguments or bickering about the political leadership but by finding a way to make all Britain’s people feel at home.