The fateful date. Britain has notified the EU of its intention to leave. Today, at a beach somewhere in southern England, Theresa May places her throne by the water and in the style of King Canute attempts to command back the tide of history. From this side of the water, today is about two parallel stories: hers and mine.

Theresa doesn’t actually have a throne. Or an empire like Canute did. She’s an elected representative not a monarch, chosen by the people and not by God. So she has to make do with a beach chair. And she has to carry it to the beach herself. So she gets up early to beat the traffic, packs the beach chair into the car and drives over to Margate. It’s still cold at the coast in March so he has a good chance of getting a prime spot by the water’s edge.

I also get up early and make the short bus journey to the edge of town to teach at a company making air conditioning units. Glamorous, I know.

Actually, they don’t make air conditioning units in Herne (pronounced Hair -nuh, unlike the English seaside town of Herne [Hör’n] Bay, which Theresa has just driven past). They design them here and build them in the Czech Republic, where wages are lower.

Manufacturing is still a big part of the German economy and it makes money. Just. Being competitive is everything. Margins are tight. Time is money and the clock is always running faster than you are. It’s a pressure cooker environment. Working in a German company is intense and complicated. The people I am teaching work for a former German blue-chip company owned by an American investor which has been merged with an Anglo-Swedish competitor. That’s why they need English. I think.

As Theresa takes her place on Margate beach in front of the cameras, I make the 12 mile bus ride to one of the region’s chemical plants. The firm I teach here is much simpler to understand. They make PVC, they’re German and they need English to talk to their owners in Mexico.

The site is two miles long, two miles wide and filled with reactors, giant cooking pots all boiling gently: provided you get the temperature right. The margin for error is zero. Safety is everything. To make PVC you need Vinyl Chloride Monomer (VCM): in its gas form one of the most explosive gasses on the planet. Get one thing wrong and…kaboom!

As I leave the plant, Theresa has told the sea to go back to Europe where it came from. She packs the chair back into the car. The water rolls back as the tide goes out. It has been a success, although she has lost a shoe in the waves.

I’m joking of course. In actual fact, the British ambassador in Brussels has delivered Theresa’s letter in person. He’s at home now, washing the tomato stains out of his shirt. Theresa gives us a speech about the “momentous journey” we are all now going on. You can tell that she never rides busses. When you make a journey on a bus, you rarely go all the way to the end of the line. You get off at the place you feel is right.

Will the United Kingdom go kaboom!? Probably not. But it won’t make anybody’s life easier. In Britain too, margins are tight and economic growth is measured in point somethings of percentages. It’s difficult to imagine the economy reaching its full potential while it plays poker with its partners like this.

Will I go kaboom! Well, I can’t deny that it makes me angry. But there are a lot of angry people around at the moment so who’s going to care? I remind myself that I can get off this bus at any time.

In the evening I make soup. It doesn’t boil over.

Some time during the middle of the night, the Dutch coastguard report that the Prime Minister’s shoe has been recovered on a beach close to Alkmaar.


7 thoughts on “Kaboom!

  1. T May hasn`t got an empire at the moment, but haven`t you heard that the British Empire is to be reborn as we are clear of the shackles of the EU. Of course the Danes will need to return Mrs M`s shoe so that she can traipse round Africa etc. flogging tanks, warships, mines etc.
    Dunno if it would help if we told the Danes to keep the shoe, and Mrs M rejoined it up the Skaggerak sine die.


  2. A solution is at hand. Britain will leave Europe and move to the South Atlantic.It will retain a token presence in Europe (Northern Ireland and Gibraltar) but be closer to the “Jewel in the Crown” that is the Falkland Islands. That way we can sell our weapons to our trusted partners in Africa without having to camel haul them across France and the Iberian Peninsula. Genius!


  3. At the risk of sounding optimistic, I am excited at the prospect of change for Britain and change for the EU. Although the latter is probably unlikely to happen any time soon. Given the hard line that we can expect from our European partners in the upcoming discussions I reckon it would be of great benefit if we could at least be seen to be kind of sticking together now the decision has been made, even if it were purely for tactical reasons. I appreciate that this isn’t likely to happen and of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the chances of getting a “good deal” would be so much better if we got behind the result and were seen to be in unison. Having said that Laird, I will continue to enjoy your blog and will gladly post every now and again until blocked or otherwise.


    1. All comments are welcome provided they don’t break the usual rules of good taste. Nobody’s allowed to use the kind of language I wouldn’t use -though admittedly that leaves plenty of room for manouevre. The purpose is to inform, entertain and record for posterity: I want to leave the debating to Mrs May, Mr Tusk and the trolls on Twitter 🙂


    2. Sadly, this correspondent has fallen into the same trap that many others in the UK have done following the events of last June. That is, to dignify referendum result as a “decision” of the `British people`. The truth is that it was a REACTION to the propaganda, promoted by both `leave ` and `remain` sides, complicated by the ambivalent stance of D Cameron`s government.You may recall that the official policy of the UK government was to remain in, but to improve the EU. Yet the same D Cameron allowed a significant proportion of the cabinet to push the `leave` message. What happened to collective responsibilty?

      So, no, it can`t be correct to swing in behind a misguided reaction by a minority of people living in England. Why a minority you ask? Simply that if the numbers of remainers, were taken together with the number who did not vote, and who by default were happy with the status quo, they would far outweigh the numbers of isolationsts/empire loyalists/dreamers/ rednecks etc.

      I like the Chas and Dave song – `Mustn`t Grumble`, but I don`t think it`s message applies here. If you haven`t heard it, give it a go.


      1. Rightly or wrongly, a decision has been made. The “democratic” phase of the process, however shambolic, is at an end. We now move into the executive phase, where politicians have to do what they are paid to do and act upon the mandate they believe they have.

        The point cannot be made strongly enough: any allusion to “pulling together to make a success of Brexit” cannot be applied to the public at large. The UK’s economic relationship with its neighbours lies entirely in the hands of the UK government, who are obliged to act in Britain’s interests -and the EU’s negotiating team, who are obliged to act in theirs. This is not 1942. There is no Home Front. “Digging for victory” will not help Britain’s cause. There is no 21st century equivalent of sawing off your garden railings to provide scrap metal for the war effort.

        I make the point because I see a risk that those who opposed this will become the scapegoats for any negative consequences which follow. This cannot -and must not- be allowed to happen.


  4. In the midst of all the enthusiasm for England-bashing, let us not lose sight of the fact that many European countries are only in the EU to milk the system….Or have the Poles taken in any refugees lately?


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