Anyone who has watched the news in the last five days will know what I am referring to in this post — BREXIT — the completely shocking vote by the United Kingdom to leave the EU and go it alone. Of the eligible voters, only 73% actually voted on such an important issue and the LEAVE segment won by less than 4%. There are countless media reports of how manipulated the elections were by outright lies and how, drummed up by a floundering economy and anti-immigrant sentiments, the people of Britain allowed their lives and futures to be highjacked by a cast of buffoons.
Here is our own small tale of how our lives have been impacted by this shocking event and a bit of discussion about emotions and stifled dreams.
We returned to Australia three years ago and almost immediately made a plan to return to Europe, this time permanently. After one fairly carefree year as apartment-dwelling renters in a trendy neighbourhood of Melbourne, we came slightly further north and purchased a run-down house in a good neighbourhood — a house to be polished, then listed for sale, then sold to fund our return to Europe. I had been very strict with our finances for that first year in Melbourne and that served us well when we moved into the Project House because the outlay for building supplies was going to be substantial.
For two solid years, we drastically altered the hideous old house with good bones — living amongst dust and rubble as one room after another was transformed. Mark and I moved packing boxes and furniture from room to room as each room was torn down to the studs, insulation was installed, new timber double-glazed windows went in, and then fresh new plasterboard went up. The kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, 3 bedrooms, a huge long hallway, and a really large living-room were all completely redone. Mark also repainted the entire exterior and added a slick new screened porch with a decking floor and a slatted exterior. We had a wood-burner insert installed into the old fireplace by a professional installer and we added stainless steel ceiling fans in several rooms along with really lovely and energy-efficient lighting fixtures. Our energy bills for both electricity and gas have been slashed by more than half in the months since the last of the insulation and double-glazed windows went in. That was a very satisfying result!
While Mark was doing 99% of the filthy and gritty work, I kept him ‘fed and watered’ as I waded through boxes and boxes of household goods that we had not seen for five years or more and began listing items for sale so that we could go back to Europe in a pared down state. I am still awash with a 3+ year backlog of paperwork that has to be sorted through, filed, or shredded — but I’m getting there. All was well and we were thrilled with the results and beginning to allow ourselves to feel the anticipation of our first work-assignment in Normandy, France.
The house was done last week, the real estate agent was chosen, and the contracts were ready to be signed. He was bringing them to us for our signatures on Saturday morning at 10 AM — but we awakened on Friday morning, 24 hours before the signing of the contracts, to find that BREXIT had happened and our dreams were in tatters.
Our ability to go back and work in Europe was all conditional upon Mark ALSO being a citizen of the EU since he has a UK passport. But if the UK had decided that they no longer wished to be a part of the EU, we no longer had the guaranteed right to work or live in all of those European countries or even to travel freely without visas as we crossed borders. Everything we had worked towards for three solid years had just gone up in a puff of smoke.
We’ve been trying to put a good face on it and we believed we could do that a few days ago. But then it all began to sink in and for the last two days we’ve both just felt black and blue — as if we’ve been mugged. Neither of us is sleeping and we’re wandering around like zombies during the day because we get up and down at night. I got up to go to the toilet last night and ended up sitting there sobbing.
Mark keeps going outside during the day if it is not bucketing down rain and he’s furiously trimming bushes and trees and chipping branches and ripping apart the old wood shed, etc. He doesn’t always talk about his emotions — he normally just gets on with it — but his heart is so broken that he came in to wake me up this morning and admitted that he is deeply, deeply depressed.
We’ve always had an agreement loosely in place that we are NOT allowed to both get down in the dumps or depressed at the same time. Well — that’s gone bye-bye because we are just staggering with grief. We went out for coffee on Sunday with a friend and she congratulated us on being sensible — so we can put a good face on it when we need to — but it’s just a tissue-thin facade.
We had a plan that was carefully nurtured like a young and newly planted tree. It grew and was fertilised by our input of dreams, Mark’s beautiful work on this house, my penny-pinching and diligent research and connection-making, and the follow-on volume of invitations in countries all over Europe. Then JUST as our beautiful tree was filled with leaves and ready to bear fruit — along came BREXIT with a chainsaw and cut it down in one violent movement.
My Facebook post to friends and family two days ago sounded upbeat and chipper and we had decided to apply the ‘fake it until you make it’ approach to moving on from our brutal shock. But that set of intentions didn’t even last for 24 hours before we were both feeling distinctly fragile and, to be truthful, rather lost. How can you spend three years of planning and two years of non-stop renovation, select your agent and be ready to sell, and then have your work of three years just evaporate overnight?
For now, we have no choice but to stay put until we see if there will be a reversal of BREXIT and we will be allowed to resume our planned return to Europe. It’s an either/or situation for us. We are either going to embrace the expense and inconvenience of moving half way around the world, back to Europe and starting over again because that is where our hearts sing — or we will be forced to accept Australia and just get on with it. That made me nauseous as I typed that.
Moving W-A-Y beyond our personal concerns, there are now generations of young people who may not have the same opportunities to live, work, and study between countries in Europe that we did due to the pull-up-the-drawbridge mentality of the BREXIT folks. I am heartbroken for all of those people with their whole lives ahead of them who have had their options diminished.
The social fabric of the United Kingdom is now torn. For half of the population to think, dream, and believe that the way ahead is in the completely opposite direction from the other half of the population is rather incomprehensible. How is that sort of division to be healed? How long will that take to manifest?
We are quite startled and frankly horrified by the daily reports of hundreds and hundreds of acts of aggression and verbal assaults on anyone who is not a WHITE and native-born British person. A collective madness seems to have been unleashed and some people believe that this referendum has given government-sanctioned permission to behave in a most uncivil manner. How can anyone think that it is appropriate to aim streams of bad language at people on the street because of their skin colour, the language they are chatting in to their friends, and how DARE anyone terrorise innocent children on the street or at the gates to their school and scream at them to f*ck off back to where they came from! This is shockingly racist and xenophobic behaviour and it isn’t the England that I once lived in and loved — the place where Mark and I met in London 22 and 1/2 years ago, got married in a medieval registry hall in Norfolk, and lived in a seaside flat overlooking the sea.
This post has gotten quite long — but you can expect updates in the weeks ahead as we sort out what to do next and how to proceed. We can’t just say that we are going to force ourselves to live in and love a place that neither of us loves or feels right in. Our bodies and spirits don’t resonate with Australia and we feel rather broken right now.
Having a pretty house isn’t a soothing balm on an open wound if we just want to scream in pain every time we leave the house.
It’s all very raw right now — very raw.
©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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