He’d booked a long-weekend in London. It would be lovely to escape from Italy’s stultifying summer heat and enjoy the roses in Regent’s Park and perhaps even attend an open-air Shakespeare play. Arriving at Pisa airport he started to queue up for passport control. ‘No, Siete nella fila sbagliata. Lei è ora un extracomunitario. Mi dispiace. Deve fare quella fila là per i paesi non membri dell’unione europea,’ commanded an airport official.
Jack joined the other queue which seemed so very long. It was filled with people from all over the world but mainly from the Far East and Africa so it seemed to him from their appearance. Jack thought he’d left enough time for the passport check. However, it was not to be. ‘But my flight leaves in twenty minutes’ he pleaded. ‘So does mine mate’, said another person with a Geordie accent. ‘We’re all in the same boat now.’
They both missed the flight. With no hotel booked and with, anyway, all local hostels filled to the hilt, Jack decided to try to sleep it out in the airport foyer until he could get another flight booked. No joy. At two o’clock in the morning a couple of carabinieri in their immaculately pressed uniforms with handcuffs dangling at their sides patrolled the airport concourse and asked him to go elsewhere until the airport reopened in early morning. ‘There is cleaning and maintenance to do,’ said one of the carabinieri in excellent English. ‘Why anyway are you here? Probably, you didn’t leave enough time for your passport control. You British had better realise that you’ve got to add a lot more time before checking into a European Union airport now.’
Jack left with his rucksack and luggage case and tried to find a corner into the nearby car park to wait until another muggy morning dawned. He woke to find his rucksack stolen. Fortunately, however, he’d kept his documents on him and his luggage case was miraculously still there.
Jack managed to book another flight to the UK. It did cost ten times as much as the one he’d lost out on but at least he was able to fly out and enjoy those roses in Regents’ park he’d so much looked forwards to.
As the plane flew over the English Channel the grey drizzly clouds opened out over Dover to reveal some strange new sights. Roads were being built over the white cliffs of Dover and a rectangular set of encampments appeared to be in course of construction. ‘O dear,’ thought Jack. ‘The French have really carried out their threat. They’re moving Camp Calais over to our side.’
Eventually, the plane landed on hallowed UK soil. ‘At least I’m in an independent UK,’ mused Jack, as he headed out of the airport into the East Anglian drizzle. Again, there was a delay with passport control. ‘Sorry, chief,’ said one officer. ‘Your passport is invalid for this country. It still shows EC on it and you’re actually classed as an illegal immigrant’.
Jack was taken to a small, stifling room and questioned for over two hours as to why his passport had not be exchanged for one befitting a country which was now out of Europe. ‘We can issue you with a new one so you can get in and see your rose garden but for a fast-track entry it’s going to cost you a pretty penny. At least we still have the pound here, though it may not be worth very much more than the euros you’ve been used to handle in your Tuscany dream home’.
Paying a substantial three-figure sum, Jack managed to get into the UK but then another sign loomed up. Customs control. Non-EU citizens here. Nothing to declare in green/something to declare in red. Jack thought he’d risk it although he had some nice Brunello di Montalcino bottles in his suitcase on him.
He went through the green sign only to be stopped by a burly Sikh officer. ‘May I inspect your suitcase?’ he politely asked. Jack had no option and seven bottles of the delectable vintage were discovered. ‘I’m sorry you will have to pay duty on this. Only six bottles are allowed. Furthermore, you may be subject to perjury as you lied about not declaring excise-due goods.’ At this stage Jack thought ‘thank goodness I gave up smoking a couple of years ago so no fags at least.’ He paid out more money as an instant fine and then realised he’d nothing left to get to London.
‘Perhaps I could hitch a lift’ he decided.
Picked up by the police almost immediately for trying to cadge a lift on the M11 he was issued with summons to appear at Bishops Stortford magistrate’s court the following month. ‘But I won’t be here,’ he implored. ‘You’d better be or else you’ll commit another offence according to the rules of the realm which you appear to have been out of for quite a number of years.’
‘But I did vote for leaving the EU,’ complained Jack, now almost in tears. ‘That’s inconsequential’, stated the sergeant. ‘Rules are rules and the law, at least in this country, is equal for everyone. At the minimum we could give you a lift to the nearest railway station and then you might even be able to get to see your blessed rose garden.’
Jack tried to phone one of his London friends but was just able to contact him when the money ran out because of the additional roaming charges he was now due as a non EU mobile contractual member.
The London sojourn was a mixed blessing. The Regent’s park roses were beautiful and wonderfully perfumed but the Shakespeare play was called off because for the whole day Jack was in London it rained cats and dogs.
‘At least I’m in an independent country’, he thought. He met his friend in the park and they decided to go to a pub and have a warm beer and a nice pork pie as a square meal to round things off and avoid that flat feeling which was affecting Jack even more as he hadn’t eaten for over ten hours. However he stiff-upper-lip thought: ‘there are some things that make you proud to be British’.
By this time Jack had very little money left. London was soooo expensive and he had been unable to qualify for his bus pass as he was no longer a London resident.
‘At least I’ve seen my lovely roses’ he pondered and managed with his last savings to get a flight back to his dream Tuscan home.
The return journey was equally fraught with additional time spent on controlling passports and with the luggage being given a thorough look-over. ‘What did they expect to find I’d brought back’ questioned Jack. ‘A load of frozen crumpets or a jar of Piccalilli pickle?’
Back at his dream home in Tuscany Jack found a whole lot of unexpected bills including a brontosaurian demand from the British income tax office which was almost greater than the amount demanded by the Polizia di Finanza Italiana. Double taxation agreements and all the rest of the Brussel sprout bureaucracy had truly gone to the dogs, inwardly moaned Jack.
He’d been renting his holiday home to Europeans from all over the continent and beyond but discovered that now they were somewhat retiring in staying in a home owned by an extra-communitario (i.e. a non-European immigrant). He’d put so much work in that place, called it his new home. It was his escape from the depressing greyness of Burkstall-under-Slime. He’d so much enjoyed pop concerts without the mud, the magic aperitivo hour, the delectable rinfreschi, the absolute fabulousness of the countryside and the openness of the inhabitants – such a change from the binge-drinking and Friday-night yobbishness of the British provincial centres.
The money eventually ran out. No-one would buy his house. Certainly not at the price he asked for it and for which price he stuck to his guns. Jack thought he’d better find a job somewhere – a tour guide or a handyman (but he was not much more knowledgeable than changing a light bulb for which he need two assistants – one to find a ladder and the other to hold it for him.)
Eventually, Jack decided to become work partners with his friend who’d escaped from extremists ravaging his remote central African location. Perhaps they could earn a fair survival by carting back trolleys with their euros stuck in them from customers at the local supermarket. Bills piled up and up. No-one now came to his dream home. He was starting to receive fines for illegal swimming-pool construction and unwarranted modifications to his mansion. His friend, however, knew a well-organised drugs ring with impeccable mafia protection.
Meanwhile, the local Italians saw their sons and daughters ejected from those centres of promise and excellence in the UK they had so happily gone to as eager young people. A daughter’s contract with an arts auction house in London’s west-end could not be renewed. A fantastic centre-forward from Turin had to leave his Midlands club which was immediately relegated. Fashionista statements in Mayfair became unbearably dowdy. Covent Garden singers returned to nineteen-fifties mediocrity. It was heart-breaking to hear these stories.
And Jack’s heart began to break too. First he took to the bottle. It was his favourite tipple – grappa mixed with that ginger drink. He couldn’t start the morning without it anymore. Locals to the supermarket were also beginning to suffer financially as they had their sons and daughters returning from a country which refused to renew their contracts. So few customers now returned their trolleys to him. The local Misericordie were up to their heads with requests from the thousands of refugees from war and famine. Jack, after all, was a true Englishman with a grammar school education. Surely he could fend for himself. He was an expat, not a refugee, he insisted.
One morning the manager opening the local supermarket found a stream of red liquid issuing from one corner of the entrance porch. She followed it and found the body of someone she’d vaguely known as un ‘inglese dalla perfide Albione’. The wrists were slashed with a Stanley knife, a British invention but now ‘made in China’. In the body’s rear trouser pocket, stained with blood, was a British passport with EC still imprinted on its scarlet cover on it. Written with his blood on were the words ‘I voted to leave.’ The supermarket manager, who’d bought some roses for her mother’s tomb, took one out of her immaculately presented bouquet and left it on the dead body’s breast.