Ich bin ein Berliner: why I've left you, England

It's not me, it's you.

Matt Hanley
16 October 2015

BlueMars/public domain

Dear England

I ought to let you know that I am slipping away from this scene of nightmare.

Though I made the decision to leave in May, I've been gone for six weeks or so now. I don't imagine you noticed; likely, my leaving was a tiny blip on your radar, unseen, slipping by your seething, broiling obsession with those coming the other way. What's one more exile to you? I'm somebody else's immigrant now.

I'm leaving you, England. I think it's best to get that in first, then we can go from there. I'm leaving you for Berlin. But this isn't about Berlin, or Germany, or the EU.

It's about us.

I've been wondering for a while where it all went wrong, trying to remember the exact moment or moments that would see us come to loathe each other so terribly.

Because, in the early days, when we first met, I think I really did love you.

And for so many, many reasons.

Back then, in the first flushes of youth, to me you were a country of exquisite optimism, of rebirth, a kaleidoscope of communities living for each other, a stern matriarch but whose gentle maternalism coaxes the best of us, a duopolostic dream of aspiration, fairness and ambition.

You taught me in those early years to grow through kindness, empathy and compassion. You taught me, at a tender age, that the greatest love and care that you show for others is reflected right back. That it was never about escaping where you were from. It was about taking your community with you.

And I believed in it. I really did.

I believed it, because I thought the love was mutual – that by working hard at our relationship we would grow together.

Onwards and upwards, our kid.

You spent 36 years telling me to be kind, to believe that all people are equal, to look out for those less fortunate. 

But all the while, you were growing cynical and bitter.

You see, of late, there's something terribly mean about you.

You can disguise it, dress it fancy-like with on-message slogans and focus-grouped soundbites. You can make us look the other way. For a time, at least.

But like the dread stare of a cruel man, the eyes give it away.

And those courageous enough to look harder recognise the dark, freezing mist swirling across the land; something truly, deeply terrifying.

Our children, the most helpless and vulnerable, living in poverty and condemned so early; our new-born dying in hospital at scandalous rates; our wonderful old folk, who gave their all for us, forgotten

All work and no play makes us exhausted and beaten.

Rickets and gout, those most common of afflictions of the Victorian poor, are back

Food banks are not normal.

Food banks are not normal, but one day soon, if we're not very careful, they will be. 

None of this normal. None of this has to be this way. We have become social pariahs to our neighbours, weird outriders of Europe, where everything is back to front and upside down and many suffer the unsparing consequences.

But this isn't an accident, is it? 

You're using our corpulent riches to fund the poverty-as-policy war on the young, the disabled and the vulnerable. On all of us.

You are determined to rip apart the land beneath our feet and the streets we live and die on because the heartless whispered poison in your ear and it trickled down to your soul.

All this, driving your ungodly vans through our towns that are less white than others, to the cheers and applause of millions, causing the fine golden hairs on your neck stand to receive the ovation.

I see no further future here than a land of insecure, unstable jobs, of growing inequality, of declining wages, of laughing bosses, of richer rich and poorer poor, of odds stacked against us, victims to City spivs and thieves, scapegoats made of the powerless, differences exploited as a violent divide, a dirty future of ripped up land and deep scars...

And I can no more watch this destruction around me than I can stop the hurt. So I've made my choice, as difficult and cowardly and heart-breaking as it is.

I think it's best I just go now.

I wish our Celtic neighbours well in their quest to be rid of you. You don't deserve them.

So, in case you ever cared, for once and for all, I'm leaving you.

I'm leaving you for your lies and deceit, for your unsparing meanness, for cheering the war on those poorer than us, for the hearts that you are blackening, our friends that you are turning against friends, the blood for which you are baying with every selfish ballot tick, the pounds of flesh that you cut from each of us until you carve deep into the bone.

For the country that you keep telling us you are and maybe, perhaps, once dreamt of being...

'I ought to let you know that I am slipping away from this scene of nightmare. I can do no more good here.'

In sorrow

Berlin, 14 October, 2015

This piece first appeared on Matt's blog.

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