On the periphery the perspectives are more pronounced. Looking in means introspection of a fundamental kind- five drams and Glen Campbell on an ancient jukebox. Looking out means to dream of elsewhere, to exist in a place before you get there. Growing up I grew tired of looking in. I wanted Europe and beyond.
I’m reminded of that now as I listen to some furtive-eyed schoolboy-come-MP burble on about the EU. Brace yourself for the Mr Toads, honk honking their way through a town near you. I see the admonishing finger, how to conflate Europe with the EU is missing the point. Oui, monsieur le crapaud, je comprends. Thing is, the No campaign is a half-empty Cotswold pub on a Sunday afternoon and an overheard conversation about how we have sucked Poland dry. My recoil is near-physical.
Paris. My first Europe. 13 hours on the Citylink to London. 12 more from Victoria to Paris. 18 years old with Jack Kerouac’s Lonesome Traveller in my pocket and a gently crazed girlfriend with eyes like the North Sea as the dusk falls. I ate an omelette alone in a smart restaurant by the Opera. I refused to join the group of young women beckoning me from the next table and have berated myself ever since.
There’s the Europe I want. A social Europe. Shared wine in a Rambouillet campsite. A German at a Christmas market with an arm on my shoulder and a joke I still don’t understand about the Queen. Parties in Glasgow and Oxford and English the last language you’ll hear. A drunken night with Dutch bikers in a Highland pub. Back in Paris and another French girl and again I fled and what the hell is wrong with me. Solidarity. A celebration of commonality and difference. There’s an EU, reclaimed from the corporations. Can’t build it if you’re not in it.