Beautiful Dreamers

We Couldn’t Become Adults, dir. Yoshihiro Mori, Netflix, 2021

“How many times have you seen ‘Beautiful Dreamer’?”

“Maybe twice.”

“That’s all? (…) I always played it while I was home.(…) Don’t you think the movie’s really nice? It’s always the day before the school festival. Could there be anything better?”

Urusei Yatsura 2: Beatiful Dreamer is probably my most watched anime of all times – alongside Takahata’s Omoide Poro Poro. One of Mamoru Oshii’s (he of Ghost in the Shell) earliest feature films, it takes the simple surrealist gag comedy setup of the original TV series and uses it to create a masterpiece of the genre, in the same way Groundhog Day took Bill Murray’s and Harold Ramis’s dead pan slapstick and transformed them into a buddhist essay on passing of time.

Much like in Groundhog Day, the characters of Beautiful Dreamer start off trapped in a single-day time loop within tight geographical confines of Shimo-Tomobiki. But unlike Groundhog Day, their situation is not altogether unpleasant, and once they realize their predicament, most of them accept that there’s little they can do but enjoy the eternity. Because the day they’re trapped in is the day before the school festival: arguably, the best day in the otherwise unenviable life of a Japanese student. Crucially, not the festival itself; the actual event, often little more than a wearisome chore for the organizers, can never match the anticipation, excitement, hard work and the sense of companionship of the days leading up to it. No wonder, then, that it’s this festival-eve that’s used to create what eventually turns out to be a beautiful dream, custom made for the beautiful dreamer, Lum.

But one cannot live in a dream forever. Not least because even the best dream eventually reveals its flaws. Characters that don’t fit the narrative are forcibly removed; the repeating drudgery threatens the very fabric of the oneiric reality; and eventually, those forced to relive the perfection day after day threaten a rebellion in the perpetual paradise. The beautiful dreamer must wake up – and grow up.

The few sentences in Yoshihiro Mori’s We Couldn’t Become Adults which open this post might seem just a throwaway scene, serving to show off the ‘quirkiness’ of the protagonist’s elusive love interest. But if you have seen Beatiful Dreamer as often as she – or I – have, you’ll know this scene encapsulates the entire movie, and through it, an experience of an entire lost generation. Mori’s protagonist, Sato, a 40-something late Gen-X ‘creative’, wasted his years in pursuit of something he was promised in his youth, but what could never be real. Stuck in the same repeating loop of anticipation as Lum’s classmates, never reaching a fulfilment, he withers away, as all around him the world moves on, for better or worse.

Foreshadowing the experience of Western Millennials, Japan’s late Gen-Xers grew up in the rubble of a better past and unfulfiled promises. There is a post-apocalyptic quality to the Lost Decade, something I find eerily familiar, having spent my childhood in similarly post-apocalyptic Eastern Europe of late 80s and early 90s. The promise made to Sato’s generation – and to so many after them, all over the world – was of finding something better, something more exciting than the salaryman-with-kids drudgery of their parents. A life that is ‘not ordinary’, to quote the movie’s often repeated line.

Unless you’re one of the very lucky very few who managed to build a succesful life out of their ‘not ordinariness’, the only other way out of this self-inflicted loop, like in the Beautiful Dreamer, is to wake up – and grow up. What counts as plot in Mori’s movie is book-ended by two realizations: the first – that even Sato’s oddball of an anime-watching girlfriend, Kaori, “dropped out” of the loop and moved on to have an ‘ordinary’ life. And the last – that this is fine. At the end, there is neither optimism or pessimism to be found in the movie’s ending – just an acceptance of reality as it is. A dream was only a dream. And, to break with another Gen X cliche, there is no Matrix to emerge into on the other side, just a little more of the same old.

It’s far from a perfect movie; if not for the mention of Beautiful Dreamer, I probably wouldn’t be moved to write about it to such an extent. But to me, it provided that rare moment in art, when two pieces compliment each other, each providing a commentary on another and helping to understand one another’s message, even if one of these is a movie I’ve seen literally countless times before.

Why is Kent?

(no, this isn’t about the politics 🙂 )

There’s Sussex, Essex, Wessex and Middlesex. There’s East Angles, split into Northern Folk and Southern Folk – and, once, there were even Middle Angles. There are counties and kingdoms with such undoubtedly English names as Surrey and Mercia. Why, then, in the middle of all this Germanic toponymy, is Kent not called something like “Jutland” or “East Jutia”?

Etymology will tell us that the name “Kent” comes from the Briton word for “edge” or “corner”, which in turn gave the name to the Iron Age tribe of Cantii. In Latin, it was variously rendered as Cantia, Cantium or Cantiacum. The Germanic settlers called it Centrige and Kentland. But etymology is not the same as explanation. After all, Sussex is not called “Reginland”. Essex is not “Trinovantia”. Norfolk is not “Ikenware”.

The Kingdoms of Angles, Saxons and… Kents?

Something happened in Cantium that was different from everywhere else. The myths and what little history we have written about the beginnings of “Anglo-Saxon” settlement in Britannia tell us that it all started there – with Hengist and Horsa, and his Jutes landing on the Isle of Thanet. It’s a convenient legend, but we know there is some truth in it. More, probably, than in the legends of Aella and his son Cissa conquering the southern provinces with his three ceol-fuls of Saxon warriors, or in the muddled origins of the Western Saxons, jumping about from the Welsh marches to Winchester and Salisbury with little regard to geography and chronology.

My books are a fiction, based on guesswork. Until we find some ancient copy of the lost Chronicles of the Kingdom of Kent, all we have to go on are those less precise tools of a Dark Age historian: myths, archaeology, toponymies and etymologies. After all, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was written in Wessex, hundreds of miles away and centuries after whatever events in Kent made it keep its Briton name when all the land around it took new names from the Saxons. It is a wonder that any rumour of what happened made it to the chronicle, even if only in form of a brief snippet of a legend of Wortigern and the two brothers.

Hengest and Horsa survey their muddy domain

That there was no “invasion” we know from archeological record. No great battles as described by the chroniclers, and no brutal conquest, wiping out entire native population. But I’d like to think there was something more to Kent’s good fortune. I’d like to think – and it is what I propose in my books – that Kent was a unique experiment in the early history of England. That in Kent, the Germanic settlers and the Briton natives not only lived side by side in peace, but dealt with the difficulties of that age of chaos together, that they shared the burden of the time of upheaval that ravaged the rest of Britannia, and the Empire beyond. That the reason why Christianity was welcomed first, and with such ease, in Kent – while other Anglian and Saxon kingdoms resisted and sometimes reverted to paganry – was because the Romano-Britons of Kent, the native Christian population, were not subdued and quashed by their new rulers, and did not turn to imitate them with the same eagerness as those under the Saxon rule. That they were allowed to live and rule in their towns even as the Jutes settled the countryside around them, allowed to keep their Latin names, with only small modifications to accomodate the Jute tongue: Dover for Dubris, Lympne for Leman, Rochester for (Du)Robrivae Castrum – and their capital, a Burgh of the Cants. Compare that with what little remained of the old names in the land of Saxons: gone is Noviomagus Reginorum (Chichester), no trace remains of Anderitum (Pevensey) – and we can barely guess whether their main harbour of Novus Portus was at Brighton or Shoreham. And, most importantly, unlike any other tribal pagus in southern Britannia, they were allowed to keep their ancient name: the Land of Cant.

It is, I repeat, only a guess; a neat setting for a work of fiction. But I feel like it’s as decent explanation as any for why, to this day, the most south-easterly county of England is called Kent, rather than, say, Jutrey. And at the very least, it makes for a good story.

Octa, son of Oisc, ponders his place in history

Power

There are two types of people in power.

Those who are there because they want to use power to help people without it; and those who want to use it to help only themselves.

The first kind are not afraid of protests. Sometimes they will even join them themselves. They know the truly powerful protests come from true grievances, grievances that need to be heard, and, if possible, addressed. They know that if the grievance happened on their watch, they screwed something up, and it’s up to them to fix whatever it is, not be angry or disappointed at those who feel their only resort is to turn to violence.

The second kind also know the protests come from true grievances, but they’re not interested in ever solving them. They’re only interested in keeping the power, and quashing any resistance. There is no effort of understanding, of hearing, of helping; the only effort is in subduing and pacifying.

The violence they use makes them seem strong and decisive – but in truth, they are terrified. They are afraid, because they know history is not on their side. Because they know you can’t keep the people subdued by fear alone forever, no matter how many tanks and guns you send against them.

Grudzień 1970 – Wikipedia, wolna encyklopedia

[1st image: Ferguson police officers take the knee in memory of George Floyd/AP]

[2nd image: 1970 riots in Gdansk]

#2016 – summary & playlist

(header image (c) Chris Barker)

Not exactly a New Year‘s Eve party playlist, but then again, it didn’t exactly feel like a party year, for all sorts of reason. Rather than celebrate its passing, we breathe a sigh of relief and hope that 2017 at least won’t get much worse…

gettyimages-591717242_custom-2b1934dac188b7266281132abf838e0c4c8aa8fcIt’s not going to surprise anyone reading this blog how I felt about the political developments since January, and frankly there’s little cause for optimism for the near future. But hey, at least we’re still here (well, most of us), and who knows, maybe 2017 will surprise us. At first, let’s see how long that ceasefire in Syria is going to hold…

KingFor me personally, it was a fairly mixed year. Artistically – very successful, considering I wrote and published two full novels which ended the Year of the Dragon saga, and even found the time for a collection of haiku. I hope to keep this pace up going into next year, although I’ll be starting my new novel from scratch – something I hadn’t done in over five years. AN ENTIRELY NEW BOOK! Every time I realize this, I get terrified at the very thought.

 
KamogawaIn the more mundane part of my life, very little happened. I stayed and worked in London all year, excepting the summer trip to the Hokuriku region of Japan, which was predictably awesome. I changed jobs in the summer, I started listening to comedy podcasts and… that’s about it. This is the first time in a long time that I’ll be spending two consecutive New Year’s Eves in the same place and circumstances. Feels weird!

Haiku2017, though – well, I don’t do New Year resolutions, I do New Year plans, and I have some big plans for this year. Definitely should be more interesting, but for now it’s all secret. I’ll let you know once it all comes to fruition.

wave_250Until then, here’s the playlist. As you’d probably have guessed, it’s a morbid one – a list of all those artists we said goodbye to this year (I include Lemmy, since I’ve learned of his death in the very beginning of 2016). Bowie, Prince and George Michael are the giants that loom large over the list, though as I’ve mentioned before, there are some lesser known names that have made an equally great impact on me – and some others which have been far less noticeable than they deserved in this year’s onslaught.

The passage of time is remorseless, and we are just at the beginning of the age of the dying celebrities. I expect 2017 list will be at least as full of famous names as this year, and 2018, and so on… but 2016 was definitely the first when the mortality of our childhood idols became such an integral part of reality. No matter who else will perish in the future, there will never again be a year like this – the first year of the mass idol death.

Oh well. Here’s to hope, tenacity and Keith Richard’s good health!

https://open.spotify.com/user/pradera/playlist/7jpwyDas6wAhDb7RfZSyEN

DOMÓWKA — Poland’s postapocalyptic answer to Hygge

Or, how to party like it’s 1984

By the end of this terrible year of 2016, the world is fully in the embrace of Hygge-mania. Books, blogs, youtube videos, newspaper articles, all espouse the virtues of the Danish concept of frilly cosiness, pillow-hugging friendliness and cake and cocoa by candlelight. And what’s not to like about the idea of cutting yourself from the all the evils of the outside, and shielding yourself with blankets and woollen jumpers from the encroaching darkness?

Except Hygge is an illusion. An aspirational lie. It only works if everything else works — if you live in a nice, well-organized country like Denmark, surrounded by beautiful Scandinavian people, your candle-lit life supported by a generous welfare state. This isn’t how most of us live — and, the way things are going, the Hygge concept will grow further and further away from reality, another unachievable ideal, made only to stress us out and feel miserable, like being thin or feeling good about the party you voted for.

There is another way. If you want to borrow a way of life from another people used to dealing with cold, dark winters, a way of life that is easier to achieve and more suitable to how things are in this post-Brexit, post-Trump, look no further than to the Slavs — in particular, the Poles.

In the coldest nights of serfdom, Partition, Communism, and post-Communist chaos, the Poles have developed ways to cope with both the harsh weather and the harsh political climate. In the centre of this way of life stands the concept of DOMÓWKA (pron. Domoovka) — literally “House Party”, but not the kind you would imagine. Here, in a few steps, is how you can try to replicate this concept at your own home, when everything goes to hell and the nuclear winter makes global warming a distant memory.

1) SETTING

 

It’s a house party, so of course everything happens in a house — but forget a three-bedroom villa in the suburbs. The closer your house is to a council estate flat, the better (an actual estate flat is ideal). And it doesn’t matter how big or small the flat is — all that matters is that you have a kitchen and a dining room, for this is where most of your Domówka will take place.

For reasons lost in the midst of time, the kitchen is the heart of Domówka. It could be the atavistic longing to be near the fireplace — replaced here by the four-hob oven — or it could be the vicinity of the fridge, but no matter where the guests are when the party starts, eventually all the conversation gravitates towards the kitchen. It makes sense when you think about it — the kitchen is cozy, easily heated, provides access to supplies and fresh water, and often has the best acoustics in the house outside bathroom.

Lighting should be subdued — a night-light is enough. Dimmer switch is decadence. Of course, candles are best — not only because they provide coziness, but also because when the power runs out in the middle of the party, due to the crumbling infrastructure unable to deal with the freezing cold, you won’t even notice.

2) DRINK

 

You probably guessed already that the drink of choice here is vodka — Polish or Russian only, none of that fake French stuff. Only the heat of vodka can truly stir the hearts, loosen the tongues, and beat the cold of a northern winter out of one’s bones. Vodka drank straight, ice-cold — so cold, preferably, that it oozes out of the bottle like oil. This can only be achieved with enough preparation, so only applies to the first batch (see Restocking).

Any other alcohol — beer or wine — is to be used only in the form of “liquid tapas” — variously known as Zapojka or Zapitka — to cleanse the palate between vodka shots.

Soft drinks are fine — the cheaper, the better, though Coca-Cola is still a classic stalwart from the days when it represented the “evil West” and an opposition to whatever regime ruled the country. Mixing vodka with the above is fine if you’re feeling fancy, though only when used as Zapojka/Zapitka.

The only acceptable hot drink is tea — strong, black, with a slice of lemon, drunk from a glass. Have plenty of it ready. Biscuits are optional — home-made cake is obligatory.

3) FOOD

 

Speaking of cake, the food is not to be forgotten. Zakaski or Zagryzki(Zakuski in Russian), which is a Slavic variety of mezze, is a culinary art in its own right. The prevalent taste sensation is sourness, and fattiness, both helping to beat the side-effects of all that vodka. So sour-pickled gherkins, of course, and pickled herrings in oil or sour cream, and pickled mushrooms… Then lots of mayo — on eggs, in vegetable salad, on cured meats. If you want a more Eastern experience, have some salo — cured pork fat. If you’re feeling adventurous, put things in aspic, though since that requires a lot of preparation it’s becoming less and less popular.

Pickled and fatty foods, cured meat and cheese, are all things that keep well, which is another plus in our dystopian future — you can even stock the leftovers from one Domówka to another.

4) CONVERSATION

 

We’ve secured the location, drink, and food — but what are we going to do at this strange party? Not dance, obviously. Talk — but what about?

The conversation topics at a Domówka are deep and tough — the deeper and tougher the better. You can’t be whimsical when you’re downing shots of vodka — this isn’t your auntie’s sherry soiree. Football scores is at light as it gets, at first — but then we’re moving on to the real stuff: politics, history, religion.

It used to be that in the West topics like politics and history were a taboo in polite company. This is a privilege the Poles, and most of their Slavic brethren, never had — and, in recent years, it’s become obvious that it’s the only conversation worth having, anywhere. What else can you talk about when Trump is president, when Putin marches through Syria, when Farage’s grin is plastered all over your TV screens? And politics is steeped in history — you have to understand the past to explain the present. Poles like to think of themselves as experts in every subject, but history is everyone’s true hobby. So as the vodka flows, the conversation will flow from recent elections, to the Communist era, to 19th century oppression, all the way to the arrival of first Christians on Polish soil who, depending on your worldview, are either to blame or to credit for everything that’s happening currently.

These conversations are such a crucial part of the Polish soul, that they are even mentioned in poetry — Poland’s chief poet, Adam Mickiewicz, coined the term “Polish Nightly Conversations” in 19th century, which had since entered the vernacular.

5) MUSIC

At any party, choice of music is important — at the Domówka, no less so. What music is best for vodka and pickles? The answer may not be obvious to you, but it’s obvious to any Pole: shanties, folk and poetry.

Here’s another old Polish term: “sung poetry”, also known as “gentle music” or “author song”. It’s a pan-slavic phenomenon, originating with Soviet Bards – a mixture of French chanson, Russian poetry, Celtic folk and scouting songs. Leonard Cohen, Vladimir Vysotski, Jacques Brel are the godfathers of this music genre. Sombre, serious, flowing, often, again, with political overtones. Born as a form of escapism back in the Communist era, the songs tell of a gentler, imaginary land, of nice, decent people, freedom and fresh, unpolluted air. Shanties and Celtic folk stem from the same need of escape — when all else around you is dreary, cold and dark, sometimes all you have left is to imagine yourself on a tallship off the coast of Ireland. (nb. the popularity of these songs goes a long way to explain why, after joining the EU, so many Poles flooded Ireland — it was as if suddenly Neverland turned out real.)

If your Domówka is going well, at some point in the proceedings, one of you might want to pick up a guitar and start making ready for a sing-along. This may be a good point to pause the party for Restocking.

6) RESTOCKING

 

A key moment in every Domówka is when the vodka runs out. It is considered bad form to have “enough” alcohol to last all night — it suggests you imagine your guests drunkards, which they most certainly are not.

This is not a moment to despair. On the contrary, a pause is necessary for the party to continue in peace. What you need to do is mount an expedition to restock the fridge. In the old days, this meant finding out a neighbour stocking a private stash of alcohol, often contraband or home-made, in a melina (private speak-easy). These days, you need to seek out a 24h off-licence or, even better, a petrol station.

The restocking expedition is an essential reset button. It’s a chance to cool heads heated up in the middle of a political argument; an opportunity to let the cold wind freeze the alcohol from your veins; a moment to appreciate the quiet of the winter night, look out to stars and realize the insignificance of our problems in comparison with the vastness of the universe. Without this pause, the guests at Domówka would soon degenerate into drunken, slurring stupor.

7) TRUST

What happens at Domówka, stays at Domówka.

Domówka is a one-night carnival, a place and time when established rules and relationships are suspended. There’s no other way. With the amounts of alcohol drunk, with the sea of existential despair that needs venting, nobody can be held responsible for their actions. Whether it’s an ideological argument gone sour, or a sneaky, desperate tryst in the bathroom, all is forgiven in the morning — or whenever the headache passes. The one thing that is not tolerated at the Domówka is violence: this is where the line is drawn. Violence is for the enemies, there’s no place for it among friends.

This concept of trust makes Domówka what it truly is — a way to survive the unsurvivable, to escape the unescapable.

8) ŁAPU-CAPU

 

(pron. Wapu-Tzapu) This is another important Polish concept, one that requires a whole separate article, or a book, and one which stands at the heart of Polish aesthetics, much as wabi-sabi stands at the heart of the Japanese one. Another similar word is “prowizorka”, or doing something as a shoddy, makeshift, temporary one-off: a concept crucial in a land through which foreign armies have marched for centuries, burning and pillaging everything in their path. Like the Japanese wood and paper houses, everything in Poland is made not to withstand the pressures of history, but to yield to them, and be easily replaced. The less attention to detail, the more make-shift the solution, the better. As the old Polish saying goes, “prowizorka holds out the longest”.

In Domówka terms, this means — don’t sweat it. Don’t prepare too hard. In the end, it’s the mood that matters, not how nice the mayo is spread on your eggs. As long as you have enough alcohol, and enough friends to drink it with, all else will come on its own. Life in our incoming dystopia will be hard enough without having to worry about things like precision and sturdiness. Embrace the Łapu-capu — it may be the only way to survive what’s coming.

Black Mirror series 3, ranked.

[spoilers ahead]

[subjective personal opinion ahead]

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6 (6). Hated in the Nation

Boring, predictable and overlong, this one feels like a one-sentence pitch forcibly extended into a 90 min episode. The foreshadowing is very on the nose, the twists are straighter than EU bananas. The main idea could have been executed in a number of better ways, and the inclusion of the ADIs felt somewhat silly. I’d have expected more of the episode spent on exploration of the social media-mob-like mentality, rather than hard sci-fi gimmickry and bad CGI. I can’t help but feel that this is one of those episodes than in the previous, 3-eps long series, would have stayed on the cutting room floor.

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5 (3). Shut Up and Dance

None of the reminding five are bad episodes – but some are better than others. In this one, a simple – a bit too simple – idea is made decent by good directing and acting (I’m a sucker for Jerome Flynn). A nice double twist at the end redeems its lack of substance. It’s got one other thing going for it – I’m sure it made thousands of people tape-over their laptop cameras!

4 (2). Playtest

A straightforward horror. Great acting from Wyatt Russell, overshadowing everyone else. What makes this episode falter is its length – paradoxically, it would’ve been much better as a feature-length movie, with plenty of time to explore the inner horrors of Cooper’s mind. As it is, it feels a bit rushed, but still good.

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3 (1). Nosedive

Classic Black Mirror, this one wouldn’t be out of place in any of the previous seasons. Let down slightly by the ending, but for 90% of its running this one is a nail-biting ride in the vein of Fifteen Million Merits or White Christmas. The design and special effects are pitch-perfect – from sleek phones that make the iPhone look like an old Nokia, to the run-down “retro-futuristic” “old” cars. And the message is one that affects everyone who’s ever done anything “rate-able” on the internet – which by now, is pretty much all of us.

 

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2 (5). Men Against Fire

Not so much a cutting edge of satire, as a bludgeoning sledge-hammer. This is the world won and ruled by the likes of Katie Hopkins and her followers – only with better AR technology… but the chilling realization here is that the AR is not really necessary in a world where a publicist can compare real people to cockroaches and keep the job. And while every episode of this season attempts to tackle several social and technological issues at once, only a few juggle all of them as successfully as this one.

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1 (4). San Junipero

A beauty of the episode, this is Brooker at his most poignant and life-affirming. You’d never guess there’s so much warmth in the man made famous for throwing insults at a TV screen. The 80s visuals are as perfect here as the future in Nosedive. And it’s a great reminder that, for all his warnings and pessimism, CB is not some tech-hating Luddite.

We’re doomed.

John Laurie actor from Dad's Army

Britain has never understood Europe.

We had made the continent the butt of our jokes, and the root of all our evils. Europe was Napoleon, Europe was Hitler, Europe was Agincourt, Pope, the Great Armada, Eurovision. Europe was humourless Germans, pompous French, cowardly Italians. We treated “Allo, Allo!” as a documentary. If we fought with Europe, rather than against it, it was only ever to defend our own little mercantile interests.

A nation of shop-keepers and petty merchants, we treated EU simply as a trade deal, as if a union of half a billion people from twenty-odd different cultures working together was nothing more than a big discount supermarket, rather than a wonder of history. We’ve joined while still nursing a hangover after the Empire, we fought hard for our privileges, rebates, pounds and vetoes, annoying everyone else. As a result, we were more “tolerated” than liked, because of our money and market. It’s a miracle we’ve even lasted that long. And now we’ve decided even that was too much.

There are still some politicians and pundits who think this may be easy. That we will negotiate some kind of “best of both worlds” deal, some sort of Norway Plus, that we still have some decent cards in our hand. I doubt it. Europe is fed up with us. Germany will gladly welcome the bankers from London; France will gladly welcome the manufacturing jobs; Sweden will take the steel contracts; Italy will take the car factories; they will be fine. We won’t be. We will be punished – not just for our arrogance and insolence, but as an example to others on the Continent who might get similar ideas. At best, we will be forced to accept a humiliating deal, reversing all our hard-won privileges in exchange for the right to trade with the EU. At worse, we’ll be cut off, with Scotland (and maybe Northern Ireland) gone, half of a lonely island drifting away into the ocean.

And Europe will tell us “Good riddance.”

 

Don’t be daft, vote Remain.

We interrupt our usual programming to bring you this political message.

On June 23rd the people of Britain will have a chance to answer the most important political question of their generation: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”

To which the unequivocal, only possible answer is: YES.

I could give you plenty of arguments why that is so, but others are doing a better job of it. Instead, I’ll just tell you some personal thoughts on the subject.

Here is the map of the world (in size-accurate projection):

World, Winkel projection

That little island in the middle is Great Britain. Doesn’t it look tiny? And a third of it is barely even inhabited… Now let that image sink in.

In a couple of days I’ll be flying back from a long trip. Cruising at 30,000 ft is the closest any of us can get to seeing the world the way the Apollo astronauts did – like a small blue marble, devoid of borders and countries:

the_earth_seen_from_apollo_17

As a sci-fi geek, I naturally gravitate towards a Unified Earth, a World Government, a Federation of Planets, or any such idea. The sooner we achieve unity as humanity, the better. But that is a distant dream, no more achievable right now than warp drive or time travel.

Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Because our world is already big, and vast swathes of it are already united under single governments. For more than two thirds of my journey I’ll be flying over just two enormous countries – China and Russia. But for the remainder, I’ll pass five or six countries, depending on the route, part of that bloody, tangled mess that is Europe. Five or six tiny nations, until recently each thinking itself separate and sovereign – now all part of one European Union.

Going alone as a country makes no sense in a world where our partners and rivals are the likes of China, India, US or Brazil. The Empire is no more – Britain controls nothing but a handful of islets. The Commonwealth? That’s just a ceremonial union, with more of its members looking for a deal with EU rather than just UK.

Another poignant image from my travels are the defunct border crossings between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, complete with barbed wire and guard towers. They, too, thought they needed to be separate, they too thought they can go it alone, despite each having less population than, say, Berlin or Paris, despite the fact that you can drive through all of them in one day. Try to explain that to somebody from China or India… Luckily, the border guards are there no more. They saw the reason, and joined the EU and then Schengen. They are still distinct nations, with distinct traditions, cultures, languages – but they are not separate anymore.

You might think UK is not exactly Latvia, but you’d be wrong. Compared to the billions that inhabit our planet, it doesn’t matter whether we’re 3 or 63 million people, whether we’re 50,000 or 250,000 sq km in size. Staying away from EU makes as much sense as one of these tiny German duchies staying away from the unified German Empire. Possible, at a stretch, but untenable in the long run.

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Here’s a map of this pre-unified Germany, a divided country. Depending on the time frame, similar maps could be drawn for France, Poland, Italy or even Saxon England. Unity is an ideal we’ve always strived for. “United we stand.” “All for one, and one for all”. “Where there’s unity, there’s victory”. When, exactly, did being united become bad? Boris Johnson moronically compared EU to Hitler’s Third Reich (forgetting Britain, at the time, still controlled a far greater and more diverse Empire than Hitler could have ever dreamt) – but his spokesman then compared it to Roman Empire, and I thought, wait, Roman Empire is now a bad thing to aspire to? And this coming from a classically educated Etonian? I mean, what have they ever done for us?

So there you have it. It’s not so much an argument, as some incoherent rambling on the subject – it won’t stand up to scrutiny if all you care about are trade deal percentages, or complex democratic procedures. It certainly won’t convince you if you’re afraid of immigrants – but then, you and I don’t have much to talk about anyway. But it’s what I believe in, and in a matter as important as this, saying what we believe in is the least any of us can do.