July 31, 2016

Hiatus

I haven't written in a while.

I went to Europe; principally the UK but also the Balearic island of Mallorca. I've been back in Bris for a couple of weeks, but went to Victoria for five days.

One of few advantages of long gaps between visits to the home country is that you look around with fresh eyes that provide pleasant surprises. I was struck by the grandiose Victoria and Albert Museum and the postcardy streets of Kent country towns. I admired commonplace red brick and hung tile house construction in Surrey; and marvelled at green-tunnelled narrow lanes near home.
It was almost seven years since I'd been to Mallorca, and I had forgotten how beautiful are the streets of Pollença hill town and the narrow ways through flowers and fincas (large inland properties) along the pretty route to the Pollença Bay and Puerto de Pollença.
Even London surprised. I had expected noise and dirt and overcrowding. Instead, I found the place invigorating. We revisited the familiar: from Waterloo Bridge my friend counted 42 cranes. We noticed that St Paul's is more lost then ever in a heavy towering skyline. In contrast, The Shard is barely there and at times almost ghostly. I explored some new. I met a dear friend I hadn't seen for five years one warm sunny day. We talked long and serious over a Greek lunch at Limonia on Regent's Park Road – where among individual shops was the best display of rosés I've ever seen – and then sat and stared from the top of Primrose Hill. It was as if I'd seen my pal only last week: that's what friends are for.
 
Despite my former employer, London's Evening Standard, declaring more than a year ago that the hipster was finally dead*, Gordon Ramsay's Union Street Cafe in Southwark still sported one or two. The food was far from awesome, and overpriced. I left hungry. Our waiter continually topped up the glasses – the oldest trick in the book – so that several bottles of equally extortionate wine made for a scarier bill than any of us intended. The next evening, Buenos Aires in Reigate seemed enormously good value by comparison. The carefully tailored Argentinian steaks, chubby chips and chimi churri sauce were delicious, filling and didn't break the bank. As we left, a beautifully Turneresque sky reminded me of what I probably miss most in Queensland – late light summer evenings. (Spot the passenger jet headed for London Gatwick.)
Another food experience I hadn't realised I missed so much was shopping in Waitrose (a supermarket, for the uninitiated). Oh, the joy of being able to buy wine or beers as well as food; sustainably sourced fish; fresh pasta shapes other than long thin or filled varieties; several options of Cheshire cheese; rich and chocolatey mini chocolate rolls; mini Melton Mowbray pork pies; delicious freshly made pastries; and generally high-quality stuff. Even cut-price Robert Harris novels. I looked for excuses to visit daily.

In Pollença, the Sunday morning market was just as ever it was.
Politically, these past weeks have been a nightmare. On 23 June, 17 million citizens of the so-called United Kingdom voted in a referendum for their country to leave the European Union: 16 million of us voted to remain a part of Europe. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say I was devastated. Dumbfounded. In shock. It took until the following day for anger to set in. It's still there. I cannot bear to go into the details of this extraordinarily selfish, short-sighted and stupid exercise, or explain why and how it came about, except to say that the complexity of the issue of whether to go or stay was way beyond the intellectual capacity of vast numbers of voters, and should never have been reduced to a one-liner on a referendum ballot paper. 

I am a European first and foremost: always have been; always will be. I will not now work towards or support a long, tedious and expensive process of extraction that will be detrimental to my children's and my children's children's future; not to mention my return.
Two days prior to this day of disaster, I went to Australia House to vote ahead the federal election on 2 July. Postal voting ballot papers had not been printed before I left Australia for London, and I was not going to rely on two directions of unreliable postal service, with time limits. It was a rather pleasant experience, and an education, it being the first federal election in which I was eligible to vote. In my youth, I remember Aussies I shared houses and work spaces with having to do this periodically. Never did I imagine I would be grappling with the concept of above- and below-the-line choices of candidates, and voting papers more than a metre long. I was surprised to see enthusiastic canvassers outside the 'polling station', handing out 'how to vote' leaflets just like they do here.
I wonder if such pamplets might have educated Brexiters so that they hesitated before picking up their pencils to cast my home country adrift after 42 years of EU membership. Of course, the results of the Australian election weren't good either. They trickled through painfully slowly, and even though it looked like a hung parliament for a while, too many Aussies voted for more of same-old Mr Smarm. But only by one seat, I have learned today, as the final recount saw Labor claim the former Liberal stomping ground of Herbert in Queensland. Mr Smarm therefore achieved nothing by calling a double dissolution election (for the House of Representatives and the whole of the Senate): he will have exactly the same problems getting unpopular policies through as he did before.

All that remains is for the US to vote Trump into the White House for the world to spin off its axis. This last week, Hillary Clinton has won the Democratic nomination. I dare to hope that an even greater catastrophe than Brexit can be averted in November.

It takes time to readjust to being back after weeks away. You miss family, friends, animals; and the unique characteristics of the place. This was a new friend I made while gardening. It's a good job Eric doesn't spend much time in the garden these days.



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