The March to Leave is a sparsely attended, fortnight-long, 200-mile protest ramble, aimed at securing Brexit, a trembling parliament its final destination. I wanted to see it in the flesh so I could tell my grandchildren “I was there”, before taunting them with descriptions of toilet paper.
Nearly three years ago, during the week of 13 June 2016, I watched members of the public on live TV debates, bamboozled not only by funny Boris and those Leave lies, but also by how percentages work and what words mean. And I realised Remain would lose the referendum.
And so, as a Metropolitan Elitist Snowflake and Cultural Marxist, I was disappointed by the referendum result, but when the departure date of 29 March 2019 was confirmed, I knew how to weaponise my inconvenience. I would treat all my subsequent newspaper columns henceforth, until we left the EU, as interrelated episodes of a complete work, that would only make total sense when read as a whole, like my inferior literary forebear Charles Dickens would have done had he experienced a Brexit, instead of just Christmas and some misery.
I would make recurring novelistic characters of the likes of Michael Gove (the Vengeful Orphan), Sarah Vine (the Daily Mail hate funnel), and Boris Piccaninny Watermelon Letterbox Cake Disaster Weightloss Haircut Bullshit Wall-Spaffer Johnson; and I would gradually unravel the resolve and tolerance of the work’s defeated and unreliable narrator (me) as Brexit dragged on. And, finally, I’d use neurolinguistic programming to provoke the regular below-the-line comment providers and automated Kremlin bots on the paper’s website into performing as a predictable dramatic chorus. I would play you all like a pipe!
Finally, in a stroke of genius, I arranged to deliver the completed manuscript of March of the Lemmings (as the work was to be called) on the weekend we finally left the EU, creating the definitive, and most balanced, overview of the Brexit era, from the street-level point of view of a middle-class, middle-aged man, working in media, and living in a 78.5% Remain-voting constituency.
But the departure date is suddenly postponed, and among Brexit’s many unforeseen consequences is the fact tonight I have to complete the last chapter, a story that, like that other great European cliff-edge caper The Italian Job, has no convenient dramatic conclusion. Those cheeky chancers thought they’d get out of Europe with a fortune! But did they?
On Wednesday morning I woke early to drive to Towcester in Northamptonshire to intercept the March to Leave, in the hope that the pro-Brexit trek might provide me with the ending my story suddenly lacked. Perhaps I would die in a head-on collision with the Led By Donkeys van that shadows the ramblers showing film of Leave politicians’ lies, my death creating a final scene rich in dramatic irony.
I drove north-west, listening to the radio. Ranking Roger from Birmingham’s two-tone pioneers the Beat had died of cancer. I was sad. The days when popular culture closed ranks against racism and the far right seemed long distant. Meanwhile, news reports made it clear the last wheel on the fiction-festooned Brexit bus was finally falling off, desperate die-hard Brexiters expressing support for a deal they had already acknowledged was worse than being in the EU. No-deal reality bit. Driving through rural Buckinghamshire, past village green memorials and second world war airfields, it was easy to understand the nostalgic national fantasy that psychic vampires like Rees-Mogg and Farage fed off. I stopped to see the great 18th-century garden at Stowe, its vast follies suddenly remnants of a soon to be fallen civilisation, Mayan pyramids in waiting, crumbling and caked in guano.
In a layby on the A413, just south of Towcester, the 100 or so attendees of today’s leg of the March to Leave were assembling, the coach that carried their cases stowed nearby on the A43. I passed between them as they filled their mobile toilets with their micturations, tied their laces, and raised their flags. I wasn’t the droid they were looking for.
It’s Day 12 and, Farage long since vanished, today’s celebrity is Tim Wetherspoon, who moves among the faithful, raising morale with his scoutmaster charm, his chiselled calves like the carved legs of a decorative pew-end woodwose, his burly body an Albert Uderzo cartoon of a pirate. I waited on a bench to watch the protesters walk through Wood Burcote. No one had turned out to see them, apart from me and a bloke in a Human League T-shirt, and though there were occasional supportive car-horn toots, a pointedly positioned EU banner at the marchers’ next mobile toilet layby provided more editorial balance than any edition of the Today programme since Sarah Sands took over.
Farage’s friendly flag Wombles looked like any random group of affable English eccentrics, a flock of Fairport Convention fans or a gaggle of real-ale enthusiasts. It was just that these hale fellows had voted to leave after the unveiling of that Breaking Point poster, had assembled here in Buckinghamshire at the behest of a man busy building alliances with far-right leaders all across Europe, and were marching to a drum that inspired neo-Nazis worldwide, irrespective of Tim Wetherspoon’s landlordly bonhomie.
Events hadn’t offered me the definitive final paragraph I needed, so I fired up the humane punky reggae of the Beat’s 1980 debut, I Just Can’t Stop It, and drove south. “Two swords slashing at each other only sharpen one another. And in the long run even he’s your brudda. Even though that cunt’s a Nazi.”
This evening, as I write this, eight indicative votes, designed to give some direction to the country’s next Brexit move, have all been rejected by parliament. Michael Caine’s coach cantilevers on the cliff edge. The gold he coveted slides towards the doors. You shoulda killed me last year!! Save. Press send.
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