Walk along any street, anywhere, and it won’t be long before you come across a message. Maybe light-hearted, like this one spotted in Liverpool …
… maybe political. You can’t go far in Catalonia, Spain without coming across messages and slogans demanding independence. These shots were all taken in Berga, where the mood of virtually the entire population there was not in doubt.
The next shots were all taken when thousands of us took to the streets, again and again, in 2018 and 2019 voicing our misgivings about the prospect of Brexit. It gives us no satisfaction whatever to see that our fears were entirely justified.
In India, I saw messages that were more like public service announcements ..
And in Edinburgh, in the National Museum of Scotland, this …
Inuksuk, by Peter Irniq, 1998, uses a traditional technique used by the Inuit to convey messages about good fishing grounds etc.
Let’s end though, as we began, with a message, this time in Thessaloniki, simply intended to bring good cheer …
News from Ukraine continues to be dismal. But book blogger, Clare from Word by Word wrote the other day about a daily diary she follows, written in Kyiv by Ukrainian author Yevgenia Belorusets. I too can recommend her very moving observations and pictures to you. Here’s an extract from yesterday’s entry:
In front of the ruins yesterday, among shattered glass, deformed scraps of metal, and pieces of the roof, I met a woman: an elderly lady who was looking for cigarettes. The kiosk where she bought them every day was so badly damaged that there were no windows or even doors anymore. The salesmen themselves were no longer around; the cigarettes lay unprotected in the shop window. The lady was asking everyone where to get a pack nearby. I suggested she leave the money in the shop window and take the pack, as a kind of self-service. Then I asked her why she decided to stay in Kyiv during these uncertain times.
She told me that her mother, who turned 100 three months ago, died this past week. In the war’s early days, it was unimaginable that she and her husband would leave the city. Now she was simply here. Maybe she would stay. Her eyes were shining; she even looked a little happy.
She was a mathematician, a scientist who came to Kyiv from Murmansk as a child. With many quips, she told me the tangled story of her family, saved time and again from war, hunger, and Stalin’s repressions. She spoke melodically and with a delicate touch, as if the words of the narrative had bound themselves together beforehand, only wanting for a listener. Despite her age, there was something young about her face, and she moved quickly and gracefully among stones and splinters. Our conversation didn’t last long, but I keep thinking back to it. Sometimes in war you have the feeling that you don’t want to lose other people, even after fleeting encounters. And now that I’ve described that meeting, I feel I did something to hold onto it.
The air-raid alarm doesn’t sound for the moment. We are safe. During the curfew, authorities recommend darkening the windows and turning on the lights as sparingly as possible. The streets are absolutely empty, and the houses look abandoned. It is a relief to think that at least these houses are not in danger right now as they try with all their might to mask the lives of their inhabitants, to make them invisible.
You can find her posts, and sign up for daily updates here.
We turned up early – though not half as early as some – to help get things ready and to join a short choir rehearsal.
This was January 31st, Britain’s last day in the EU, and the occasion for North Yorkshire for Europe’s ‘Thank EU for being here’ party: a celebration for EU citizens who’ve made their homes here.
There were tables and chairs in place, enough for about 120 people. There was Richard up a stepladder wrestling to get the home made (thank you Phil) banner up. And there were the cameras and reporters. BBC Look North were already busy interviewing and ITV News at Ten was due too. But look! Isn’t that Nick Robinson from the Today programme? Yes. He stayed and listened to the choir rehearse, and did a few short interviews, which were transmitted on Saturday’s programme at about 8.15.
Then it was 7.30. People started arriving – slowly at first, then in a busy queue. A Polish nurse who’d been part of the team when Malcolm was in hospital came, with two Spanish friends. As we sat down, we found ourselves with, apart from them, Italian and Ukranian guests. I chatted to a French woman. We heard German, Dutch. We puzzled over quiz sheets. Where ever in Europe had all these pictures been taken? There was music from our very own The Raisers.
Supper was only partly European. There were pizzas. But besides them were vats of Indian vegetarian curries, breads and sweetmeats. Feeding us all took quite a while, but gave the chance for lots of talking and getting to know one another.
Speeches of course. You’ve got to have speeches: but they were short, and though full of regret, positive and forward-looking.
And the choir sang. No longer the Remain Voice Choir, we’ve become the Reunion Chorus. Some of our old favourites have been brought up to date (‘Brexit is a form of Madness’ – you may know it as ‘Bread of Heaven’); and others are new (‘Europeans all are we..’ – ‘Bobby Shaftoe’).
The hands of the clock kept turning. It was getting late. We stopped out chatter. At exactly 11.00 o’clock, we stood up for a minute’s silence: reflective, saddened, angry. And then the choir and everyone in the room joined in singing Ode to Joy. After which, many of us turned to our neighbour for a comforting hug as we wept for what we had lost.
The evening was over. But not our movement. We’ve made new friendships in Yorkshire and beyond. One day, we’re sure, Britain will be part of the EU once more.
ITV News at Ten at work.
Richard Wilson, Chair of Leeds for Europe, and Vice Chair of the European Movement.
The evening’s over. Charlie and team tidy up.
The Raisers raise the roof.
Cameraman in action
A crowded hall.
Richard Wilson, Chair of Leeds for Europe, and Vice Chair of the European Movement.
Europeans in conversation.
Multi-tasking Arnold. Instrumental in organising the evening. Part of The Raisers. And crucially, our Choirmaster. Also known as the Messiah.
I thought I couldn’t let January end without a final entry for Becky’s Squares: January Light. So here we are at the car wash.
Frankly, though, I’m not really in the mood. Not the day that the UK leaves the EU. I’m looking forward to this evening though, when North Yorkshire for Europe is holding two parties, one in York, and one in Harrogate, where we’ll be. The group’s invited EU nationals who’ve made their home in Yorkshire, so we can say ‘Thank EU 4 being here‘. We’ve already been mentioned on the Today programme, and …. well, we’ll just have to see.
Last Friday night was the first real winter’s night. Temperature of minus four. Saturday morning saw intrepid members of North Yorkshire for Europe climb into every bit of warm clothing they could round up, and head for Harrogate …..
…. and the Big Red Bus for Remain. For one week only – this week – if you live in Yorkshire you’ve a chance of seeing this re-badged Routemaster bus parked up in a town square near you. Parking place secured, members of the Yorkshire Remain Choir, plus assorted brass instrument players (with a tuba, a euphonium, a saxophone to name but a few) and guitar-players clamber off the bus, secure a vantage post, and sing.
It’s the Christmas period now, so in addition to all our tried and tested favourites:
What shall we do with this Rotten Brexit? (What shall we do with a drunken sailor)
We’ve had quite enough of Brexit, it’s a con. (She’ll be coming round the mountain)
Glory, glory, what a helluva mess we’re in. (Battle hymn of the Republic)
and about thirty other numbers –
we have adapted seasonal fare:
Away in Westminster, where Johnson resides….
The Twelve days of Brexit.
Hark the Leavers shout and wail…
Goodness, we were cold as we sang in Harrogate. We were freezing in Richmond, 37 miles north. And by the time we reached Ripon at sunset, 26 miles south, we’d lost all sensation. Only singing warmed us a little. That and having raucous sing-songs on the bus between venues.
We were generally well received. Obviously we weren’t always appreciated. But in Ripon, a dyed-in-the-wool Leaver approached us with a huge box of shortbread: ‘I don’t agree with you at all.’ he said. ‘But that’s no reason why we shouldn’t be friends.’
Hardly any photos of course. 1. I was busy singing. 2. Nobody in their right mind would want to take gloves off, just to take a photo. Brrr.
At this late stage, most of us have difficulty in believing we’re making a difference. But it takes our minds off the prospect of being led into an uncertain future by a serial liar with no moral compass, or interest in anything beyond his own ambition.
Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, one night in 1961, Berlin became a divided city. At first there was merely barbed wire fencing, then a wall. It was all done in such a hurry that mistakes were made. One tiny part of Kreuzberg that belonged to the Eastern sector got isolated in the West. The Americans – for it was in their zone – could do nothing about this unremarkable patch. It became an unloved and unlovely rubbish dump.
Then along came Osman Kalin, an immigrant Turk. He wanted a vegetable patch. He cleared the land and started to plant seeds. As his patch became productive, he gave vegetables to schools, to the local church, to anyone in need. He cobbled together a rather ramshackle tree house. He became something of a local hero.
Initially, the East didn’t mind. But when East Berliners successfully started to tunnel under his patch and escape he came under suspicion. The authorities came to interrogate him, and he welcomed them in his usual hospitable way. They gave up and left him alone.
In 1989, the Wall fell. A newly united Berlin City Council began to see Osman’s ramshackle domain as an embarrassment. They gave him notice to quit. The local and wider community was horrified. 25,000 people signed a petition demanding he be allowed to go on growing his vegetables.
He stayed. He’s 95 now, and doesn’t work so much on his vegetable patch, though his son does. He lives in a flat nearby rather than in the tree house. He’s still a much-loved local hero.
An entry for Six Word Saturday. In her post, Debbie too has chosen to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall
On Saturday, about a million of us descended on London, all committed Remainers, demanding a Final Say on the Brexit Deal, which even as we marched was being debated in Parliament with as much dissent as usual.
Our own little patch of Yorkshire sent three coaches. Nineteen coaches from Yorkshire altogether. Everyone had their own important reasons for being there.
But the Yorkshire Remain Voice Choir had come to sing. We had permission to commandeer Wellington Place, right next to Trafalgar Square, and sing below the Duke of York Monument. And that’s what we did.
We’d come into being about two years ago in two ways. Over in York for Europe, Martin and Gill were crafting clever lyrics with a view to starting a Remainers’ choir. And in North Yorkshire we began to sing at our street stalls. Arnold conducted a few singers, a tuba, and a guitar. Small beginnings …. but now it’s county-wide, with members from Settle to Sheffield – almost 80 miles apart. Dozens play their parts. Composing lyrics; practising; arranging; securing singing spots; keeping song books up to date; booking coaches.
We have SODEM’s support in London, and an official photographer in Bedford-based Chiara Mc Call. We’ve sung all over Yorkshire, in London, even (thanks to Louise in South Yorkshire) in Brussels. Whenever the going’s got tough, we’ve had North Yorkshire’s Richard S’s boundless enthusiasm and hard work to keep us going. These days, apart from the original small team, we have a Yorkshire band’s worth of brass, and drums and various stringed instruments.
In London on Saturday, we had a large and pretty much captive audience. Slow-motion marchers inevitably listened – enthusiastically – as they passed. Many stopped off specially to listen, applaud and join in too. Demonic Cummings and Boris Johnson, those two splendid images fresh over from Germany, unsurprisingly pushed off towards Trafalgar Square as we began.
There are thirty eight songs in our repertoire – all, with one exception, pastiches of well-known numbers. Our signature number is of course:
‘We’ve come from Yorkshire just to say (just to say)
Your Brexit deal is naff…‘(to the tune of ‘On Ilkley Moor’, naturally).
But we can do other folk songs:
‘What shall we do with….‘, not a ‘Drunken Sailor’, but ‘this Rotten Brexit?’
…..drinking songs: ‘I’ve been a Remainer for many’s the year’ rather than the more traditional ‘Wild Rover’.
We can do Old Time Musical: ‘I’m forever European’ (‘I’m foreverBlowing Bubbles’).
Radio Two standards such as ‘Delilah’ ask:
‘Why why why deceive us?
More lies won’t appease us’.
We can reference American traditions:
‘We’ve had quite enough of Brexit it’s a con’. (‘She’ll be coming round the Mountain’)
While ‘The Battle Hymn to the Republic’ becomes ‘Our eyes have seen the threat to all the freedoms we hold dear’.
Hymns too …. ‘Bread of Heaven’, and the Last Night of the Proms (‘Land of Hopeless Tories ‘).
There’s one song in our repertoire that’s not original: ‘Ode to Joy’. It moves many of us to tears every time we sing it.
Brexit or no Brexit (no Brexit please!) we’d like to continue. A pro-Europe Choir and Band for Europe?
Photos and videos labelled ‘CM’ are by our wonderful friend and supporter Chiara McCall. Follow her on Instagram @chichi76.myreflection
It will come as no surprise to regular readers that we’ve been on another demo: a Flash Demo – one of the many that sprung up around the country as a direct and horrified response to Boris Johnson’s decision to ask the Queen to Prorogue Parliament: here’s an explanation.
If you’re reading this on Saturday, we’ll be in York, demonstrating again, alongside thousands of other in Leeds, and cities all over the country.
On Thursday, we heard from politicians from different parties, cooperating to fight together. We heard from campaigners. We heard from those from mainland Europe who’d chosen Britain as their home. We heard from individuals terrified of the effect of No Deal on their own health or that of a loved one, dependent on prescription drugs. And best of all we heard from children, some still in primary school: informed, passionate, articulate speeches. Those children, still a long way from voting age, are our future.
This time, these rallies aren’t about Brexit. Not really. They’re about our Democracy.
Here are photos.
Shaffaq Mohammed, Yorkshire & Humber MEP (LibDem)
Louise Houghton, South and West Yorkshire for Europe.
11 year old Laura.
A very impassioned 10 year old.
But I’ll leave you with this one, snapped through the window of a barbers’ shop in Leeds. You might not like the language. Gotta approve the sentiments.