A Dark Day at the Beach

June 2016

And so we’re back where this blog began. I’ve tried to show the extent to which my life has been shaped by Europe (studying in France; living in Spain; friends from across the continent) and I’ve described some of the memorable experiences I’ve had in my continent since the idea of the EU referendum was first raised. 

Five days before the vote, I flew to Murcia San Javier airport in the south of Spain. (Don’t worry, I voted by post. And yes, I voted Remain). My girlfriend and I were to enjoy a week at the beach and – honestly – Brexit was not on our minds.

Yes, we were worried what would happen if the Leave vote were to win (note: the conditional). But it still seemed a remote possibility. It was an ugly, but ultimately futile, referendum.

We stayed in La Manga del Mar Menor, where my grandparents own a small apartment. I have been (so far) every summer since I was born. Before turning one, I went so brown in the sun there that my dad has called me peanut ever since.

We knew the Argentinian couple who ran a steak place before they moved back home where gay marriage was less stigmatised. The square across the street has played the same music since I was a child, laughing at my mum’s invented ‘translations’ of their lyrics. Having moved house a dozen times since I was born, La Manga has been a constant that I can call home. 

It is fitting then that I was there when my country denounced yet more of my life. (It seems to me that the ties to my motherland are fewer every year).

In the mornings, MDB and I had tostada con tomate at the Galactica Bar, where I knew the owners, their children and parents. We ate lunch out (in particular, at Los Faroles, where a Bulgarian-born Spaniard serves rich paella and carne with copious garlic, on a terrace with views of the beach for leisurely hours).

On the 21st June, two days before the vote, I first hesitated; suddenly panicking that I could have done more. Maybe I shouldn’t have shrugged off my step-dad’s xenophobia. Maybe I should have tried to change his mind. 

On the 22nd June, one day to go, I thought that I should have been more active. I should have posted on facebook. I should have joined a march, or started a march. Suddenly (and too late) I saw how much it mattered; I realised that the jingoistic stain on the UK wasn’t just a throwback.

On the 23rd June, I knew it was too late. I tried to push the vote out my mind. We had a bucket of beers on the beach and I tried not to mention the vote in front of MDB.

The 23rd of June was San Juan. The Spaniards drink on the beach, build a fire and at midnight they jump over the fire and run in to the sea. We were having a cocktail when a lot of wet Spaniards came in from the beach. And soon after, we headed back home.

When we got in, I put on the TV and votes were already coming in. Remain was ahead (marginally) and still were when MDB went to bed. But the margin was narrowing and I stayed up awhile.

Soon, Leave were ahead and I had knots in my stomach. What would happen to my (Italian) girlfriend? What would happen to us? Would we have to move? Would she be able to continue working? Would I? What would happen to my country?

About 6am I decided to go to bed. The vote had been in favour of Leave for four hours and it wasn’t about to change. I felt sick. I felt dizzy. The sky was becoming light when I got in to bed next to MDB and put my arm around her. When we woke up, I would need to tell her that my country and my family voted against her and hers. How could I tell the woman I love that she wasn’t welcome in the place we called home?


24th June 2016

MDB took the news surprisingly well. I did not.

We went to the Galactica Bar (later than usual) and I had a beer with lunch. I didn’t much feel like going to the beach so we went straight for lunch and had an apéritif. The barman said he was so sorry for me. A Spaniard pitying me, an Englishman! (What a time to feel national pride).

Back at the apartment, the portero was laughing with a friend and slapped me on the back saying “how nice not to be the shame of Europe!” Our flight left that day.

At the airport, I was ashamed to hand over my UK passport. (How long would that grant me passage theough Spain anyway?).

That was the day we set ourselves on the path to Brexit. Now four months later (to the day), it is still unclear what that entails. We’re Brexiting (now!) but it will be a long time before we finds out what that means.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Great post. So you’ve felt the brexit embarrassment too. I felt ashamed at the start but things have sort of smoothed over here in Sevilla, no one is mentioning it at the moment, but I expect that to change. What do you think will happen to travellers to Spain from the UK?


    1. mholland says:

      Thanks for your comment. It has calmed down a little here too, though very much still being talked about. I hope that we won’t end up with a deal vastly different from what we have now, that hopefully it won’t mean much more than a long queue at passport control. But I wonder how many of us there will be. There’s always been a sense of us-and-them with the rest of Europe and I worry that will be with us for a few generations longer than it ought to

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah I agree, there’s always a them and us attitude, but I guess there is no changing that. Let’s just hope it’s not to drastic for us and the rest of Europe as well.


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