Beyond this place there be dragons- republished from May 2015

20150522_115350I first published this blog in May 2015. I’ve re-published it 6 days after the UK EU referendum.

I’m struggling  at the moment  to think of something to write, that’s purely about art and culture.    This is my personal blog, so I’m going to get a few things out of my system. To see if I can chart a route through the impending storm.

My head is full of thoughts of voting patterns, of people who have voted for austerity, but like free art galleries (Who are you? stand up and show yourselves!)

I’m also pondering the idea of the UK leaving the EU, of being stuck on this island with no easy escape.  It would be like the cruise from hell. Trapped next to Terry and June, droning on about the food.

So, about island mentalities.  We are heading towards uncertainty about our relationship with the European mainland and this forces us to question our own identity as an island of nations. Lets not forget the bit of another island, physically connected to the Eurozone. Now that’s going to be interesting.

It feels like the country I live in is trying to weigh anchor and detach itself, with the intention of floating into the north Atlantic. Up a creek without a paddle.

I don’t want to be in that boat. I’ll get sea sickness.

The physical limits of an island make us think differently about the world. Do island dwellers, take their “island mentalities” with them, and create them wherever they are?

Expats in Spain who only speak English (they are never economic migrants), come to mind. Having left the country, they cling onto an “England”of the dreams. I even heard  of a  UKIP staffer who lived in Portugal. Figure that one.

As John Donne said, “No man is an island” We are interdependent.

The League of Nations was formed after World War One to build peace across Europe. The EU was created in the aftermath of the Second World War. Countries who trade with one another become economically interdependent and so more likely to avoid conflict.

If you don’t live in a place where your neighbour across the river speaks a different language and your nearest big town might be in a different country; then it is hard to understand how important a common agreement on money, trade and laws could be.

Its easy for Great  Britain to think of itself as a singular unit- we can pretend that out there is “other “ and sit smugly on our own island.

There’s a corner of  the southern Netherlands which is very narrow. Its neighbours are Belgium and Germany. Its feasible to cycle through all three countries in one day. If you get up early and pedal very fast, you could even clip the top of Luxembourg.  I intend to do it, practising three languages and using one currency as I go.

A few years ago I cycled through Germany to Austria. The ”border” was a stream in a forest. Locals pedalling  past saw three daft Brits jumping backwards and forwards over the stream “now I’m in Germany, now I’m not”.  It’s hard to explain.

Our  English linguistic links with Northern Europe and Scandinavia exist in our place names and language structure. Milk, Melk, Miolk; Bread, Brot, Broed; House, Haus, Huis – and so on. That’s before we stick the French words in.

The academic David Lowenthal states that the image of an an islander is “to be insular, to be out of touch, narrowly prejudiced in feelings, ideas, or manners. “

Anyone who thinks we are different to “Europeans”, is in denial and trying to hide from the world.  A nation in fear is a nation that’s easy to manage. I mean nation deliberately. Scotland seems to have a different vision.

Now some arts relevance. What can the arts and cultural sector do to counteract this insularity? Should we throw our safety lines outwards to our neighbours and pull ourselves towards them?

You will have seen Rob’s recent blog, and our forthcoming big adventure. We’re going to  make bigger connections to the mainland, and find new paths to follow.

I’d like to find a way to steer this boat back to shore. Before it sinks.