(Find part 1 here.)
No, I don’t have an update re: my application for Belgian nationality (despite sending a cheeky tweet asking Guy Verhofstadt to put in a good word for me) just a few more thoughts following my first trip back to the UK, post referendum – a somewhat hasty post (kindly forgive its lack of polish) before I head back to the UK again for a wedding this weekend .
I just spent five days in the heart of London supervising a group of international students on a theatre and visual arts trip, which took us to various galleries and shows. I don’t know what effect Brexit will have on educational trips like this one in the future, but I expect that they are likely to become more costly and complicated to organise for any school on mainland Europe, but maybe that is a post for the later on.
I don’t often think of London to be honest, even though I grew up not far from the city, at the end of the Met line. And when I do, I think of it as a place that would be fantastic to live in but probably completely unaffordable, and a place that is fairly unrepresentative of how most people in Britain experience life. My thoughts about Britain tend to focus more on Scotland, which is where I lived for ten years before I left the UK. This is particularly the case this week with the developments at the SNP conference and the headlines coming from that.
But as soon as I arrive at Kings Cross, I absolutely love it. I love the busy-ness of London, I live the iconic sights. I love watching how London life -as represented by its evolving skyline -negotiates the divide between its past and its shiny, modern present. I feel safe in central London -it canters along at such a pace, but I do not find the atmosphere tense or edgy. And this being a brief update, I do not have the space to wax lyrical about all of the culture on offer there, but we saw some world class exhibitions, including You Say You Want A Revolution at the V&A and Georgia O’ Keeffe at the Tate. Not cheap, but we also sat in Regent’s Park in the early autumn sunshine and enjoyed The Frieze Sculpture Park for free.
In London, you cannot walk more than a few steps without hearing another language. You will be helped in shops, stations and cafés by people of all different nationalities. You will see the influence of generations of immigration on the city in every part of it. You will look up at glossy buildings and ponder the trade and business which is happening between London and Europe, and the world. You will see groups of tourists from everywhere enjoying all of these things, alongside the traditionally British features of London which seem to be enhanced – not diminished – by the international influences jostling around them. I am not denying that London has any of the problems common to most big cities (it does) or that it is too expensive (it is) or that working towards a harmonious and hugely multi-cultural society does not present challenges (of course it does). But clichéd as it sounds -and I know I speak as a visitor, not as a resident – London has a buzz which to a massive degree is created by its internationalism. It is not possible to imagine a mono-cultural London, and the vision would be a grim and soulless one.
So to pace the streets enjoying art, food, sounds and smells from the city itself and from all over the world, and to simultaneously contemplate that London is -against the will of its people – being taken out of the what is both a part of that internationalism, and a gateway to further internationalism, was also simply very, very sad…
Info update: If you wish to apply for Belgian Nationality, you can now begin the process online: https://www.antwerpen.be/nl/info/52d5052239d8a6ec798b4901/nationaliteitsaanvraag