Between the devil and the deep blue sea

JULY 30 ― I feel numbed by the last few weeks of human vileness concocted from a potent mix of the terrorist attacks in Europe, Brexit and just across the pond, the rise of Donald Trump.

A vileness that claws silently in the pits of the stomach and fills the mind with an aching fear of what darkness might lie ahead.  I haven’t been able to settle and write as my thoughts have been jumbled and discombobulated (a word used by a friend when describing her immediate reaction to the Brexit vote). I guess, like many others, I must be in shock.

It was Tuesday’s sacrilegious murder of an 85-year-old French priest while holding his morning mass in a church near Rouen that finally triggered an alignment, perhaps not full clarity, but a strong urge to say something. 

And the expression of being wedged “between the devil and the deep blue sea” springs to mind as I tap away in my house in Wales overlooking a rocky bay.

The devil takes the shape of the heinous terrorist attacks orchestrated by Daesh (the Arabic acronym for Isis) in France, our adopted country.  The French media rightly favour this term to emphasise that it’s a terrorist organization, not an Islamic state.

The Daesh goad through increasingly barbaric attacks — details of the sickening torture at the Bataclan massacre in Paris have just come to light — and lure their prey through the convenient vehicle of religion — the killing of a much loved Catholic priest, in a predominantly Catholic country. And after the Bastille Day attacks in Nice, which we passed through only days before — I admit to being fearful. Who wouldn’t be?

Earlier in the week, Pope Francis deemed the “world is at war”, but was careful to point out that religion was not its cause. ― Reuters pic
Earlier in the week, Pope Francis deemed the “world is at war”, but was careful to point out that religion was not its cause. ― Reuters pic

The deep blue sea separates the UK from the rest of Europe, and with the Brexit fiasco it goes beyond the physical. The UK voting out of the European Union could not have come at a worse time.

With France and now Germany battered by terrorism of an overwhelming nature, European solidarity is needed, not a fractured union. Losing Britain, an anchor of democracy and of security intelligence, serves only to weaken the defence of 508 million EU citizens spread over 28 (soon to be 27) countries.

My family is wedged between the two. Post Brexit, we hold little desire to be British, yet in theory, we are no longer European. We will soon have no legal right to continue living in France where all the usual roots have now been laid down: schools, work and a recent house purchase.

The driving force behind the EU was a compelling need to ensure a lasting peace in post World War II Europe, and so permit its economic reconstruction. Since 1951, and the signing of the Treaty of Paris, peace and stability have largely prevailed.

But “peace” rarely crops up in conversations about why votes were cast. Take my birthplace of Wales, part of the UK that voted to leave Europe, the thinking follows along the lines of:  farmers shouldn’t be dictated to by those in Brussels, the need to stick it to those rich Londoners, racial prejudice and being robbed of £350 million a week by the EU (that could be directed towards the struggling National Health Service), the latter now proven misleading. The Leave vote was cast for all the wrong reasons.

Given the anti-Europe and xenophobic sentiments peddled unashamedly by the British press, and by politicians Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, it is no wonder the Leave vote prevailed. Added to which, no-one, including myself, nor any of my friends working in the city of London, seem to understand the complexities of the EU, particularly the benefits of membership.

But the British will learn fast of its importance, and conversations in the pub and around dinner tables will flow like a scene straight out of the Monty Python film, The Life of Brian when John Cleese asks his ragtag co-conspirators the rhetorical question: “What did the Romans ever give us?” Only to be met sheepishly by a steady chorus of well the wheel, medicine, roads, the law!

Even in my remote village, there are three notices within a 30-minute walk that confirm EU “meddling” in everyday life. Our local beach sports an “Excellent” EU rated bathing waters poster, (and I remember signing up to the Surfers against Sewage campaign in my twenties, in disgust over the sea of floating faeces). Or the fishing notice, allowing one sea bass measuring more than 42cm, per person per day to avoid complete depletion of local bass stocks. The third notice is a clean public toilets EU initiative.

Come to think of it, no one here is talking about the EU funding in Wales such as the annual £200 million paid to 16,000 Welsh farmers to protect and enhance the countryside, nor the £957 million rural communities development programme that was earmarked for 2014-2020

My brother put it succinctly. He voted Remain and asked his mates who were considering voting to leave: “Do you like your life as it is? If you do, why vote to leave?” They promptly voted to stay.

And stay we will in France. French passports will be applied for the moment we meet the five-year residence requirement. For I’m not at all comfortable with our in-between status, even if that means facing the devil himself.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.