Category: Travel

Bye bye Europe

My first visit was to northern France on a posh camping trip with my parents. We drove down, got the ferry across (to St.Malo I think), and then head to southern Brittany to a pre-erected tent with beds, a fridge, cooking equipment, table and chairs. It was warm, but a different kind of heat than I’d ever experienced a dry, crisp heat, different from the muggy humid heat of a Scottish summer. I was 15.

The next year we did the same, visiting different camp sites (but always with everything ready and waiting for us when we got there), and I also went to Ibiza for a fortnight. What a summer that was, five weeks of holidays!

Then it was southern Spain for many years, with my in-laws owning property in Nerja, and latterly Torrox. Cheap flights and accommodation, guaranteed sunshine, we took as much benefit of those times as we could.

After that my next country was Hungary, a visit to Budapest with friends, then Denmark and Copenhagen for a work conference, and more recently I took myself to Germany to visit Berlin and last year we headed to Sweden for a wonderful long weekend in Gothenburg.

It’s been a few days since the UK officially left the European Union. Brexit was voted for by the majority (a few years ago), and we have a political party who drove it home knowing it would allow them to retain power for a few more years at least.

Europe still exists, of course, but it’s different now. Well, not now, the trade agreements, the laws, the ratification and debate will take some time to come to decisions on some things so for a while nothing will change. Until slowly, the change begins.

I don’t know what those changes will be, it seems likely that we will end up paying more for things than we have in the past. It may mean it becomes cheaper to visit non-European countries, or prices travel out of the reach for many people. It may mean some of the things we have grown used to having are no longer available to us, be they products, services, or just cultural experiences.

I did not vote for Brexit.

I do not know what the future will hold, maybe it will all be fine.

But my real fear isn’t in the cost to me (although that fear is real and valid) but that this is one more step towards a more nationalistic view, the return to the sovereign state, the continued focused on southern England as the ‘UK’, and the slow eradication of all the wonderful regional differences that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland currently enjoy.

Brexit might be the best thing that has ever happened to the UK, for all citizens of the UK. I doubt it but I’m trying to remain open-minded. However it’s very very hard to do so when we are now governed by a group of people who I do not trust, and have no faith in to act in anything other than their own best interests. They are more interested in being IN power and retaining that power, than any of the responsibilities that come with that.

As Douglas Adams wrote:

The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.

And here I falter. I am scared for the future. My future, your future; regardless of where you come from, where you now live, what you work as, what colour your skin is, what religion you follow, what people you are attracted to, what your disability is, how much money you earn.

And again I falter to find the words, and so I turn to others.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. —Abraham Lincoln

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. —Alice Walker

We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. —George Orwell

In Scotland, of course, there is a different discussion, one driven by the hope for Independence, one revived by the outcome of Brexit, one which calls for a step away from the increasingly blusterous and dismissive noise of Westminster. I’m not sure what the future holds there either.

I’m not sure 2020 is going to provide many answers and this has been my issue all along, it started with the first Scottish Independence Referendum and burbled along with no small measure of bamboozled amazement in the run up to the Brexit vote and beyond.

I woke in a field in Glastonbury to the Brexit news. It sent a shock-wave through the festival that day, dominating the conversation with random strangers bumped into in bars, at stages, whilst eating food. What on earth happened and, more pertinently, what happens next?

And there it is, the question no-one could answer back then, and the one that no-one can answer today; What’s Next? How will things sit by the end of 2020? By the end of 2021? By the year 2030??

It all feels so reactionary, so short-sighted and blinkered and badly considered. No-one on either side can do little more than provide a brief commentary of guesses and blundering nonsense, sound-bites to placate the masses.

Perhaps my real fear is the growing realisation that, despite having million dollar budgets, thousands of workers, and surely no shortage of intelligence (somewhere), the people running the country have little to no idea how any of this will pan out. The growing realisation that all my adult life I’ve presumed that that was their job, to look at the bigger picture, look beyond today and tomorrow, and that they might act with a sense to the greater good, seems to proving false.

How naive.

That was London

I have been and went to that London and it was good!

Mind you there was a small blip at first. I was primarily there to see the Foo Fighters perform at Wembley Stadium, so you can imagine my confusion when I realised, only a few days before heading down, that they were, in fact, performing at the Olympic Stadium. This rendered my ‘clever’ hotel location booking a bit redundant but that’s what I get for not checking the detail.

I’m calling this the ‘London effect’ as it’s not the first time I’ve gotten locations wrong …

A few years ago, I was down in London and on arriving at our hotel for the weekend I boldly marched up to the reception, stated my name and said I had a booking (does anyone else have that mild panic the minute you say that? what if you’ve screwed up?? Ahhh read on…). Blank looks ensued from behind the reception desk, my name was repeated back to me, and confirmed that yes, my name was McLean, but no, there is no booking with that name. I hurriedly retrieved my phone from the depths of a pocket to show that I did indeed have a booking, howverydareyou, and I was proven right! I did have a booking.. at one of the hotel chains other locations… Oops.

Oh well.

London is, as always, mind-boggingly big and awkward and messy and loud and diverse and a bit scary and wonderfully friendly, and continues to be all these things all at once. I love it. Even the touristy bits which I’ve seen plenty of have a certain appeal, and sure, maybe it didn’t matter where we were as the sun shone all weekend long, so sitting outside a pub in Shepherds Green was just the nicest way to spend a Thursday evening after getting the train down from Glasgow that afternoon.

Friday was Foo Fighters Day and we set out early to give us time to wander and enjoy the sunshine, walking from the hotel through the edge of Notting Hill, on towards Kensington Gardens then down into Hyde Park. It was all very lovely and very warm. From there we hopped on the Underground out to Stratford and located a small bar and sat there for a while before heading to the stadium.

Stadium gigs aren’t for everyone, but being part of 100,000 odd people dancing and singing and cheering to the same songs that you love is oddly uplifting and despite the volume of people I always come away from these things feeling more connected and positive via the joint experience, than in any way disconnected or de-personalised due to the sheer volume of people. It’s wonderful.

Also wonderful was bumping into the single other person who I knew was going, I mean what are the odds! (yeah yeah 100,000:1 I know).

The gig itself was every bit as rock n roll ridiculous as you might imagine, in the best possible way. I’m pretty sure the Foo Fighter amps all go to 11 and they are so unashamedly ‘hey we are doing a big rock stadium gig’ that it’s infectious… I mean an amazing 10 minute drum solo as the kit rises and rises up above the stage? C’MON!! They are virtually a parody of themselves but with enough of a knowing wink that it never feels false; this is not a band who take themselves seriously. They do, however, take their performances seriously and so, just over 2.30hrs later (and 15 mins beyond the curfew) we all bide our goodbyes and sang our way out of the stadium, the WHOAAAAA aaaaoooo chorus from Best of You on repeat.

Sidenote: Dave Grohl is a ridiculous man, as sweet as he is loud. Calling a good third of your audience assholes for not having attend a Foo Fighters gig before and GETTING AWAY WITH IT… can he do no wrong?

Needless to say Saturday rolled around in a bit of a haze – no YOU were drinking pints of Pimms – which is why we were lucky that we found a nice little bistro for brunch before setting off into the city to the hustle and bustle of Borough Market.

That afternoon I was lucky enough to catch up with some blogging friends for a few shandies. I think the last time I saw some of these lovely people was about six years ago (at yet another bloggers wedding), and in that lovely way that happens when you are in the company of ‘good people’, we all just picked up where we left off. Of course social media helps, but it was so lovely to spend time with them. Maybe an old skool bloggers meet up is overdue?

Another hazy start on Sunday (perhaps there were a few too many shandies?) and some time to myself found me wandering once more through the parks in the sunshine, pausing to meditate under a tree, then getting caught up in a massive Hari Krishna parade, before finding my way to the South Bank to spend the day with a lovely friend of mine.

We spent the day hiding from the crowds and the baking hot sunshine in the Hayward Gallery (the Lee Bul exhibition is well worth a look), and then exploring the new ‘wing’ of the Tate Modern which is vast and as always full of the usual mix of installations and art (the most impactful was a timelapse video from Suzanne Lacy – The Crystal Quilt).

The day was rounded off with more beer, even more great company (including a surprise visit which only added to the joy of the weekend), and the last underground train back to the hotel.

I must not leave it so long again. I spent most of the weekend with a smile on my face (for many different reasons) and as we travelled back to Glasgow, little memories kept floating into my head and I’d start smiling all over again. More blessings to be counted.

At one point during the weekend the topic of having a ‘tribe’ came up, and my weekend in London was a perfect example of this. When I first started blogging I had no sense of where it might lead. We were a small band, and on my first visit to London I tentatively suggested meeting up with some of them. It was a nervous wait but as more and more people turned up (15-20 of us) the more I relaxed I became because these were, in various little ways, all ‘my people’ in one form or another.

Fair to say that my weekend was full of highlights and wonderful new memories (even a hotel room that barely dipped below about 28C all weekend no matter what we tried had no impact on my mood). From the Foo Fighters, to friends, to lots of fun, I’m only really writing this post so that I don’t forget any of them.

And yes, I’m already making plans to go back again.