For someone who is half-Italian, half-Swedish, I am incredibly anti-Europe. I am thoroughly English in a way that only foreigners really are. I drink my daily cup of tea from a teapot commemorating the Diamond Jubilee, my children are all educated on this island and I even have a silly double-barrelled name.
So when Boris announced he was going to encourage everyone to vote against staying in Europe I was thrilled. “Good old Boris!” I said to my husband. “We’ve all had enough of this euro-nonsense.” Like many others I think it’s time we regained our own sovereignty.
My husband, however, looked up from his copy of Proust and said: “That’s all very well, but where does that leave us? What happens when we want to go home to France? Do we have to queue up at borders?”
We have had a home in France since 2000. For eight years we lived there full-time, working and bringing up our children in the rural French idyll. Then we realised there was not enough money to be made to bring up the children in a rural French idyll and moved to Abu Dhabi. We now live between there, France and England, spending around five months a year in France.
Usually we take the Eurotunnel, with the car stuffed full of things that are cheaper in England or that you can’t get elsewhere. At Christmas, for example, we buy all the presents for our five children, the Christmas crackers, Bendicks Bittermints, mince pies and really useful things like J cloths, stuff them in the Land Rover and head south from Calais on blissfully empty motorways that, unlike ours, you’d never mistake for car parks.
I can’t help worrying, what will happen if there are suddenly border police everywhere, monitoring the contents of my car. Are you even allowed to bring Bendicks into France?
The French hate chocolate with mint.
I do remember travelling to the continent in the late Seventies and it feeling like a really big deal. My mother and I, in a purple Ford Cortina, queued for hours to get off a ferry in Dieppe as the authorities checked every single passport and pulled people over to search their cars (probably looking for J cloths). It felt as abroad to me then as Abu Dhabi did on arrival in 2008.
Now France feels like home. Of course it helps that I lived there for so long, but this sense of ease is not limited to France. After several years in the Middle East, anywhere in the EU feels familiar and safe.
Of course, leaving the EU doesn’t mean leaving Europe. But there’s no point pretending that this newfound British feeling of comfort and familiarity on the continent does not exist. It has emerged since our last referendum, in 1975. So although my knee-jerk reaction is to support Brexit, when I consider that link, I’m suddenly not so sure.
I mean, think about what England was actually like pre-Europe. The food was inedible, TV was unwatchable and even the weather seemed worse than it is now, bar one decent summer in 1976.
Our relationship with continental Europe has had a positive influence on our island. In France I learnt how to eat, dress, drink in moderation and live well.
Quite apart from the practical issues of border controls, do we want to go back to a Hogarthian existence with no civilising influences? Left to our own devices we’ll all be painting ourselves blue and drinking gin. Not a good look.