Because my mother was traumatically uprooted at 11 and taken to Benoni, where she was bullied by schoolmates and called a ‘bladdy immagrant’ by teachers (she even had to do a subject called ‘immigrant Afrikaans’), England became a weird nostalgic Utopia for her, and I was brought up to believe it was heavenly. The television was better, the comedy was funnier, the chocolate was tastier.
I went to the UK for the first time in my early 20s, visiting family in a small village called Nayland on the Stour River in Suffolk. I saw hedgehogs, badgers and swans, and spotted a pike on a boating trip. I only need a Great Auk to round off my Enid Blyton Big 5. The grass was soft and the bees were fluffy. People with cherry trees left brown bags of the fruit on tables outside their houses, and a little bowl for your coins. One long day of cycling and pub hopping, we were picked up in the car and left our bikes in a hedge overnight, a totally normal thing to do apparently.
My family are traditionally working class – including a line of old school thatchers going back to the Middle Ages – but thoughtful and smart. I felt at home.
It was when we went to Colchester, the nearest city, that I saw that the majority of English people are just like everyone else; either willfully ignorant or ignorant by unfortunate circumstances. After thinking of myself as English in South Africa all my life, I suddenly felt very South African in England.
People are stupid and awful everywhere. And that’s why I’m not surprised by Brexit.
1. Not by my dad though. He kept his strong Yorkshire accent but abandoned all jingoistic tendencies.