(London) It’s my first trip back to Britain—or England as I now make a point of calling this parcel of the disunited island kingdom—since 2015 and since the Brexit vote of this past June.
As the early results filtered in from Sunderland on that fateful summer day and as tremors rippled through the world’s financial markets, I was monitoring the situation from Houston. Continually I sneak-peeked at my recently inherited iPhone, although it was rude and wrong to do so. But I couldn’t help myself: I was at an organ concert introduced by a weightless astronaut on a big screen rising above the altar of a gothic church made mostly of plastic. The orbital emcee was floating inside the international space station, strewing good tidings from above, even from God himself. Apparently our astronaut had no idea that God was at that moment otherwise occupied in letting his wrecking ball fall on the Tower of Babel that is—or was—the European Union.
Later that night, as the final tally became ever clearer and the cause of the “Remainers” had been declared statistically lost, I surveyed the sprawl of Houston from the infinity pool atop the downtown Hilton and tried to imagine how sweet a Texit would be. Since the days of Sam Houston there’s been a powerful separatist strain in the Lone Star state. Here’s hoping that the Brits bold example will fuel renewed secessionist impulses!
If you want to see it, the aftermath of June’s demolition job can be seen everywhere in London. In the aftermath of the referendum, the failing infrastructure and dire outlook that have been endemic to post-colonial Britain can readily be chalked-up to Brexit.
On my arrival last week there was switching failure on the track for the Heathrow Express that is supposed to get you in from the airport to London’s Paddington Station in fifteen minutes. The journey took three times as long. No refunds were offered for the outrageously overpriced tickets for a service predicated on avoiding just this kind of teeth-grinding delay. Clearly a portent of the post-Brexit future.
After leaving Paddington, I made a brisk walk down the Marylebone Road towards the British Library for some off-the-plane commando-style research. My forced march was interrupted a block or two beyond Madame Tussaud’s and the Royal Academy of Music by a dark-suited, ear-pieced guy, who stopped my progress and informed me that the sidewalk was closed. He directed me around the block because panes of glass had been falling from the gleaming glass tower he motioned to above his head. Here’s betting that these flying windows were kicked out by the fleeing rats of the financial services industry—driven out and downsized by Brexit, of course!
Thus detoured, I arrived still later at the plaza leading down into the entrance of the British Library. I couldn’t help but notice that steps were worn, the no-slip safety strips peeled from the stone: Brexit! Many lockers in the basement were broken: Brexit! Inside the Music and Rare Books Reading Room the numbers in the brass panels at the back of each sumptuous, pig-skinned fitted reader’s desk no longer lights up magically when the materials you’ve ordered are ready for pick up. Now you’ve got to wait 70 minutes and inquire yourself about the status of your orders. What inefficient, inelegant indignities! Brexit, again!
And then there’s the worn carpet: not likely to get a redo any time soon, especially when it’s all those foreigners who are tramping their foreign boots on British carpetdom.
Happily, the staff remains buoyant and helpful in the face of cuts and all these post-Brexit blues. After renewing my lapsed library card—still at no cost!—I smiled gratefully at the clerk who was helping me. “I love the British Library!” I cheered. He laughed ruefully. “Gotta be wary of these overenthusiastic Americans,” I admitted. “Better than the bloody Brits,” he replied.
The sheet music I examine from the library’s holding’s are bound volumes of Bach prints from around 1900. Now there’s the European spirit: the Brits of yore just kept on loving the great German even through two world wars fought against them. But then again the Brits have a German royal family and boasted the most vigorous Bach cult in the world from the beginning of the nineteenth century. Even Bach couldn’t haved stopped the Brexit.
Blasting out into the bright of an 80 degree September afternoon—Brexit squirts lighter fluid on the barbecue coals of Climate Change—I made my way into the outlandish Victorian-Gothic castle that is St. Pancras’s station. From the announcement speakers a litany of delays and closures of services and stations beat down on throngs heading to the various underground lines. More Brexit grit on the subway rails!
Fighting my way through this underground morass I emerged into the pergola-ed light of Victoria station. After getting my ticket—no credit cards accepted at the ticket machines, clearly another bit of Brexit wagon-circling—I stared for a long time up at the big board of departures and arrivals. I simply couldn’t find the name of my destination Pulborough in West Sussex. The announcement soon came: Industrial Action in the South of England. What with pensions halved by the referendum and worker’s rights under assault it’s no wonder that during this hot end of summer one can’t help but think of the Winter of Discontent. A recent study to be read in yesterday’s papers showed that many in Britain will have to postpone retirement till their mid-eighties if they hope to get by.
Eventually, I devised a way to get to my mother-in-law’s Sussex village. As the train exited the post-industrial, post-Brexit gloom of London and began to make its way through the countryside, the conductor came through the carriage. I asked him about the reasons for the strike. It seems that the station guards in this privatized patch of the former national rail system want to retain their duty of signaling to the driver that the train is safe to leave the station. The company—called Southern—claims that this old-fashioned practice is no longer necessary and its elimination will lead to cost-savings. Naturally, the union sees this “efficiency” as a prelude to laying-off more workers.
“It’s an odd strike,” I opined. “If there’s one thing the Brits are good at doing on their own these days, it’s shutting the door.”
(David Yearsley is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His recording of J. S. Bach’s organ trio sonatas is available from Musica Omnia. He can be reached at email@example.com.)