Brexit through the rift shock
Here’s what Britain voted to keep me away from
In June, 2016, Britain voted to leave the European Union. I grew up there, but I’ve never been a citizen: I was able to live in Oxford and Edinburgh because the EU gave my family freedom of movement. In many ways, the vote was against immigrants like me.
I moved away five years ago to be closer to my family, but in October, I went back to take stock. Here’s what Britain doesn’t want me to have access to.
When I was a kid, my family lived in these student apartments. I played with the kids of the other student families. The back led out to two meadows, which my friends and I would play in at will. They were spaceship landing strips, and alien worlds, and jungles.
When G&D’s opened when I was a teenager, it became the place to hang out. Honestly, the organic ice cream is better than most places in the world, but my memories are all of sitting and laughing with people I know.
For years this was my walk to work every day, through parks and over rivers. The rollers here are so that punts — long, flat boats you push with a pole — can pass through. Mostly the people who use those votes are the Oxford University students and tourists, but I’ve done it a few times.
I grew up in this house. I was a teenager here, wrote my first game, had a dog, did my homework, first logged onto the Internet. And then I moved back as an adult. It’s where I wrote most of the code for my first startup. My parents took a husk of a house and — honestly, despite my resentment that it was so rough that we occasionally had to pee in a bucket — made it their own. (They would never have added a satellite dish.)
The stonework at the base was corroded by the fake snow used in the 1985 Barry Levinson film Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear, which I saw being filmed but nonetheless gave me nightmares for a year. It also was the first use of an all-CGI character in a full-length motion picture.
Oxfam (Oxford Famine Relief) started as a regular meeting in a small room halfway up this church. As a kid, I used to do brass rubbings from cemetery stones in a room that is now used for an organic cafe.
This is the oldest ham in the world. It came to England in 1892 from Chicago, and was hung in Leeds until 1958, when its owner’s office was destroyed by fire. A note beside it reads: “It is possibly still edible, although not guaranteed.”
This isn’t a memory. But I cherish the idiosyncrasy.
My primary school. In the U.K., some state schools are co-run with the church. I don’t think you necessarily need to worry about indoctrination.
I was once asked to write a story about the mercy of Jesus. My family isn’t religious, but I did like the A-Team a bunch, so I wrote a story about AK47-wielding Jesus showing mercy by not killing his opponents immediately.
It was not as well-liked as I had hoped.
Port Meadow is the largest area of common land in Britain. Many people still have the right to keep their horses and cows here. I must have done this walk hundreds, or maybe thousands of times. The River Thames runs trough it, and I remember going swimming in it one cold, spring morning. Not recommended.
My sister was born in the top floor flat in this house. That morning, a family friend woke me up to take me to school. Just as we were leaving, she asked, “would you like to take a look?” She opened the door a little to a home birth in full swing; bodily fluids everywhere. And then I went to school, with the new knowledge that everyone was dead and I would have to take care of myself now.
These dinosaurs helped shape my imagination and my understanding of the world, perfectly set in a slightly-creepy old Victorian building.
The Martyr’s Memorial is not, in fact, a buried church, despite what they tell the tourists. It’s also where I met my first girlfriend (who is still one of my best friends) for the very first time, sitting around the steps on a summer day.
This Saxon tower in the city center was built around a thousand years ago. It’s opposite the KFC. I remember being so excited when it opened.
The Jericho Tavern is where Radiohead had their first gig. That same stage is where I spoke at Oxford Geek Night, multiple times.
This is my hometown. I grew up here. It shaped who I am more than any other place. It feels like home like nowhere else can.
The Regent is my favorite pub in Edinburgh. It’s a friendly place to meet friends.
Pubs are amazing: public living rooms where you can hang out and meet people. They serve an incredible social function, and when you find a really good one, you hold onto it and make it your “local”. I miss that: messaging people and basically saying, “let’s hang out for no reason”.
This is a photo of my friend’s kitchen table in October, 2016. Here is the same kitchen table in November, 2008:
Sometimes the simplest furniture, and the simplest rooms, can have the best memories.
And the people are through lines, too.
Edinburgh was my home for a decade. A tolerant, artful, anarchic, beautiful city with gothic buildings that loom against the sky and wind that runs through you like daggers. Pat Robertson once described it as a “dark land full of homosexuals”. Our only difference of opinion is that he thinks that’s a bad thing.
And that’s the kicker: the vote doesn’t separate people from their legal rights. It breaks up deep-rooted friends and networks of people. It splits people apart. It’s not the loss of legal privilege. It’s the loss of community and togetherness.
I’m still grieving for my hometown, and the place I went to school, and my friends, and all the memories I built up over a lifetime. They’re all still there when I go back. But at the same time, they’ll never be as close again.