I’m currently on a flight from Stuttgart to Amsterdam. Easy check-in, scan the boarding pass and onto the plane. Out of habit, I was ready to show my passport but of course this wasn’t necessary as Amsterdam is in the Schengen area. So easy! Lovely EU rules. It got me thinking…
I was genuinely 50/50 about Brexit. The EU is a bloated self-serving bureaucracy and the patronising and flippant behaviour of Jean-Claude Juncker during the run up to the Brexit vote all but guaranteed the result. The EU needed a kick up the arse and it still does. Dithering over Covid vaccines and Ukraine support was shameful, the common agricultural policy is still crazy and the excesses of the unelected officials in Brussels and Strasbourg remain unbelievable.
However, the benefits of free trade and free movement, even within a morally questionable protectionist trade group far outweigh the downside. Brexiteers claimed that we’d be trading with the rest of the world! Who needs the EU? We have now realised that a huge affluent market on our doorstep isn’t such a bad thing after all. This is being driven home now that the world’s other major trading partners (Russia, China, India) are all looking a bit dodgy. Great work with Australia – let’s just figure out how to reconcile the brutal strip-mining of resources with our green agenda. We still have the Commonwealth – but they’re not so keen any more either.
It’s time to admit that Brexit was a bad thing. Let’s sign up to a free trade agreement, pretend that some things are better outside the EU and get back to business. We could join the Schengen area – even Switzerland has.
When I land in Amsterdam, I’ll be flying on to Leeds to see my parents and some old friends. Every year a group of us meet and go walking in the Lake District for the now famous “Bridge Weekend”. We are officially 10 friends, but one of us works for a ski area in Canada, so can never make it. Still, usually 9 of us are there every year over the first weekend of December. That weekend was chosen because nobody ever plans anything in Northern England for the first weekend of December – so we all have time.
This year will be number 37 or 38, depending on who you talk to. Our accomodation is always the same – sleeping rough under a bridge in the Northern Lakes. We all have good sleeping bags so the cold isn’t a problem. You have to be careful not to sleep under the drip, but otherwise it’s dry under there. We are all still fairly fit so we do a proper walk up one of the fells on Saturday and a smaller one on Sunday. There is also a fair bit of pub-time involved.
It’s all a bit of a laugh – a bunch of middle-aged blokes reliving their youthful adventures over round after round of Lakeland beer. For me, it’s magic. I look forward to it all year. I’ve travelled around the world, had plenty of adrenaline moments and enjoyed some success in my work. But the warm feeling as we settle down over our first beer on the Friday night is unmatched for me. It may well kick off with my friend Graham bringing that first round with his unique carrying style (two pints in each hand, finger and thumb pinching the top of the glass and dipping in a bit). We instantly descend into old stories, current affairs, some silly banter. Rick will have seen something and will be making a deadpan remark about some absurd observation. Mark, a criminal lawyer by day and the blueprint for “a good bloke” by night will join in and lift the mood with his chuckle. I like us when we’re sober, but two pints in, we’re great.
After those two pints we drive to the town (carefully), park the car near the bridge and head into the next pub to wait for the rest. One of our number comes down from Glasgow and one comes up from London to be met at the station by the stragglers from Leeds. Rick, Graham, Mark and I are the early-doors crew. Leaving Leeds early, we will have usually fended off the locals and colonised a corner in the pub by the time the rest arrive. Magnus, Dr John, Mr Nige, Johnny and Tommo will be greeted with cheers and (in recent years) man-hugs. We were all fine with hand shakes or a mumbled Yorkshire greeting (“Reet?” “Appen”) until a few years ago. Now it’s slightly awkward but heartfelt hugs all round – times change.
I have lived abroad for 31 years now. The one thing I miss most about “home” (Yorkshire) is the pubs. A pub isn’t just a building. It’s a building, it’s people, it’s traditions and it’s banter. At face value, pubs aren’t great – you have to get the drinks yourself, there’s no music (in the good ones) and nothing to do except talk. And that’s the beauty of it. There’s also something magical about drinking “rounds”. This doesn’t happen anywhere else I know of in the world. It’s a nice social construct. Those who skip a round or time their round-buying so that it’s as small as possible think they get away with it…but they don’t. It’s a very socialist concept – and maybe the only one that works.
The Leeds nightlife in which I (and all my friends) grew up was fairly simple. Friday and Saturday night: pub. Maybe the occasional house-party or night club visit would ensue but it was mainly the pub. Here we learned about pub-banter. I still think it’s uniquely British and should be on the UNESCO protected list. It’s a quick-witted, good-natured to and fro. We were the classic inbetweeners and all waited our turn to blurt out something and raise a laugh at the table. The weak and easiest drinkable beer oiled the cogs in our heads and broke down the inhibitions. It was a great school, and dropping back into it nearly 40 years later is like slipping on a well-worn glove.
So now I look forward to seeing my old friends over the next couple of days. We’ll definitely be retelling the same classic stories, like we losten to the same old tunes. I love hearing the first few bars of AC/DC’s Back in Black. I’ve heard it a thousand times, and it’s a bit corny but I grew up with it and still love it. The endorphins start flowing in a similar manner when someone mentions the time we agreed to clear Julian’s Dad’s garden on the aisle of Wight for board and beer. We’d had a few pints on the ferry and in the harbour pub before starting our “work detail”. And then there was the time we thought we could smuggle 4 portions of fish n chips into the pub without the landlord noticing. Turns out that steaming hot deep-fried food doused in salt and vinegar is quite easy to smell. There are many more stories and I look forward to hearing them again, punctuated with some spectacular lakeland scenery and having nothing to do but walk and talk.
I’ll let you know how it went.