WHERE DID WE SEE OURSELVES IN FIVE, TEN?
A melancholic songwriter, when asked why his songs were dark, once replied 'Who'd sit in a room writing when they're happy?' The simplicity of his response has plagued me - you can't argue with it - and left a few unspoken suspicions that any creative act not clad in some kind of tristesse might be motivated by cynicism. On the basis that the roots of the issue is the actual sitting-in-a-room, I brought a notebook to Croatia with me, intending to draw some holiday exhuberance into ink. Twin reactions to going to Croatia ('the clubs are banging' and 'what sort of property you after?') had me eager to visit the place still ungutted and bring enough songwriters to clear Londons Byzantine rhythms from my head.
On a day when the shops and cafes were closed and the island excursions were on hold, I went to the docks to watch French, German and UK pensioners breast-stroking, wading and sunlounging on the shingle. A fortifying sight. But a double bind, earthly distraction. (The UK pensioners aren't as funny as they think they are but it doesn't seem to bother them. The French are insular and concerned and the most physically fit. The Germans travel en masse and therefore have the biggest laugh. Between them as couples, they seem to have scripted their own internal daftisms - like children playing mum and dad, even if they actually were a mum and dad thrice over and thirty years ago. Many have little to say to their spouses, and although silence isn't on the cards, the keeping-one-another company that comes in the winter of their lives resembles simple proximity, toleration of each others guff. All seem embarrassed by the waterbound lack of conversation between each national group but accept that the alternative to fifty pence swigs of rich, smoky plonk and a black bream by the seaside is a lot worse.)
Today was Independence Day, I was informed, with a purposeful Croat smile. (Croats have the ability to make even the wronged feel like the wrongdoer. Don't have the T-shirt in medium? This is your problem. Glazing eyes and baffled scowl. All we have left is the squid - why are you wasting my time? The intensity is followed by a beam as you begin your next hopeless question. And try as you might to reject notions of an inescapable national character-type you will wonder why these people seem so different to the Italians, just across the water, with comparable UV, diet and routes to deity - the Italians get macho in a girlish way, the Croats seem catty in a single-syllable, cranky butch way).
Independence Day came at the end of our holiday (the weeks holiday, like the relationship, seems to follow a well-known arc - almost a comforting potboiler these days - delirious hope, discovery and assessment, finding the boundaries where we balance the demands on us with what we can possibly supply, promise, pace, unbuckle and enjoy the short term. Rush-to-the-promised, relax, further hunger and tests, mid-term explorations seemingly accompany first glimpses of the end, the rush-to-live across an expanse of massively overdone expectations, the resignation and second relax, some hints of forward planning and get-out, reassessment in the shadow of mixed feelings, wrap-up and case-pack, truce and a curtains-down head-bender, a nasty cold and near multi-dimensional sense of regret), and I was curious as to what this Independence Day would entail.
'Speak English?' an old Croat passed me by on the docks. 'A .. leeetle?' I replied. 'Happy Independence Day', I added as he passed on his way.
WE ARE MADE OF HISTORY, AND HISTORY IS WAR
Nothing happens on Independence Day. It's been a decade since the civil war, since Croatias hard-beat oneness came to fruition, and perhaps it is a testament to them that they don't do parades, they know that no-one came out smelling of pine forest and it caused them more damage than they care to admit (Dubrovnik maps of mortar impact are more crossed than not). Right now the big hand says Let It Be.
Croat desire for independence sparked in the concentric grind of financing poorer regions and the tribal / religious (and linguistic - a 9th century ethnic schism followed the Croat adoption of Roman Catholicism, the Latin alphabet and occidental culture, opposing the Cyrillic/Byzantine Serbs), following a loss of a binding figure in Tito and a breathless split from the communist bloc. The Croatian extended family, like most, is defined by who they are not, who absolutely doesn't want to become them and who they have fought like a punched bag of pugs not to become. Despite successful periods of peaceful co-relation, mistrust will out. It seems that some things stay stronger than all the intermarriage in the world.
What? What people have in common may utterly dwarf our 'difference' (and it takes a leap of psychology to refuse to see difference as 'where I am me'), but the 'soft' cultural differences we traditionally enjoy mean little when there is a fixation on seeking out difference for its own sake. (Where I stayed, the interiors were preserved dark glass and geometric seventies swing incorporating its strong naval history - the whole thing looked like a funky longship. Manned by skinny feral kittens, laughing nuns and the Scissor Sisters.) But the grind they felt was real, or at least wholly convincable, to them. Growingly dependent on tourism, one hopes the golden promise of independence won't sour like screw top dingac. Anything but independence looked like insanity.
Although absolute independence is an absolute pipe dream, not least in isolation from all of ones immediate neighbours, it's a word manys a solar plexus says 'yes' to and we're still prepared to pipe bomb over the rainbow for it. And if the UK Independence Party could turn their pitch to levels of 'anything but is insanity', they might even proposition as the opposition party.
WE TRADE THE ARMOUR OF UNSPOKEN UNDERSTANDING
UKIPs stated fear is a 'balkanised' Britain. (Although the people of Norfolk have never had to conceptualise the threat of a boat back to Denmark as we have the unspoken understanding that they have been allowed to invest more into that area than it had initially.) Whether that's the button-push, a soft-neurotic urge not to feel bullied (relative stature - the split-Britain movement never found as much enthusiasm) or the implications of full EU withdrawal have been genuinely considered remain to be seen. (Although the two are never distinguishable, trading as many parties will on the implied motivation for their policies - the Trojan promise in the rhetoric - and independence, it hardly needs be said, means that The Other is the problem.) You can sum UKIP up in a sentence and they stand for something without compromise where the highwire of the Tory-Labour axis can't. (Soft leftisms, foxes, ward cleaners who don't). Their growing public appeal is possibly the part-appeal of the side-dog and yet, the number of people in the UK whose lives are genuinely sunk by ships of a European origin can't compare to the fire-on-board we hold our weiners over every day (thrice the price, half the net, trap effort in the amber of value, Gawd sink spongers.)
There is no basis for the argument that the UK constitution is intrinsically more flexible and appropriate to Norfolk or, say, Liverpool, than any EU framework. 'There have been no revolutions in Britain since 1688 and no extremist movement - right or left - has ever gained mass support.' Again, we are essentially our history. If we were to build a state today no-one would accept a monarchy, and even 'monarchists' are symbolists and halfway housers - they don't actually wish to abolish Parliament. In a similar way, one feels that the symbiotics of mutual authority are at the heart of UKIP rhetoric - who is 'answerable' to whom - and the inability to see more than one molar unit as wearing the slacks. Does the prefect and the naughty freshman share a certain unspoken understanding? Does All Authority have a friendly face? Wake up, Johnny, there's Zulu coming in the window. Leniency is paramount for we are all, at heart and eventually, naughty. Everyone is waiting to break the rules unless they're prevented from doing so. A furtive Hobbesian stare through the fishy thinktank of Euro humanism.
Without symbiosis, however, EU size and cultural weight will gradually overshadow us, no matter what trade laws we agree or disagree to but cannot shape. We'll only join the gang if we can be leader, but why we would not wish to control the leviathan of Europe must be sheer self-doubt. Even waste, red tape and removability. UKIP Independence will be a revolving walk out, the umbilical limbo, where the future is Ian Paisley, full of voice but lashing down his jimjams and, by blunderbuss, we negotiate only our level of loss.
WE HAVE TO DIE IN THE REAL WORLD, BUT INSIDE SOMETHING IS LIVING
Still, what is it that stays stronger than all the intermarriage in the world?
No-one ever asks people why they wish to have a family and children and maybe they should. As someone naturally more proud of passing my driving test and whatever I've personally achieved than any cultural box I've ever inherited, I'd rather give any offspring that I might have (Breville, Scromlette, Condoleeza etc) tabula rasa, culturally speaking, without being isolationist. Trying to enter other heads, I find a different sex, race, religion and orientation far easier to envisage than someone whose 'greater course' is greater than, well, here and now. If its a stength to feel part of some greater historical unit, its one I lack. Still, we become someones history when we become parents, and a great part of our hope is taken as it is made flesh. Perhaps we replace it with an offer of lineage, that they might only be measured and 'answerable' to that, in our absence.
Sizism and relative statures can result in the same person objecting to Bono appearing at the Labour Party conference ('what's it got to do with him? He can't even vote here') yet feel a personal interest in the US elections. The offer of lineage is the offer of armour. However, the effects of terrorism / budget struggle (EasyWar?) mean that, in essence, none of us are un'answerable' to any unit, large or small, sanctioned or nomad (and nomads were here first). When the human cost and financial drainage two pilots caused and keep causing pales to swathes of mid-lifers, mid-everythingers, subjects, who primary concern is UK Independence, one feels that who they are 'answerable' to is scale itself. The soft-paranoia of the mid-holiday, when the glance of the night porter turns from wavering meerkat to utter suspicion without ever actually changing. Should we even be here, Johnny? Johnny?
yearn for something one must somehow have tasted it. That or independence isn't
an end, it is a means to becoming and a sense of becoming is all we can ask
read the Dalmatian guide books about what independence means to Croatia and
concluded that it principally lay in what was in front of me - the freedom to
at least propose your own history. For there, if anywhere, our loves
lie, and our loves are another becoming. The golden promise of independence,
like symbiosis or gestures in a summer romance (or even a summer practical)
can be scuppered by the weight of cultural expectations no matter what any molar
unit says or does, fails to say. Life without the share is, let's face it, hell.
Living in the real world shouldn't mean giving up an ideal you're prepared to
work towards, but if the dependence is a one-way path one can't be surprised
at feet-drag, the mid-everythingers eternal hand-hold, and the pier-end ahead.