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.
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.
We’re back from Brussels. ‘We’ were a 60 strong group whose members, between us, had birthdates representing every single decade from the 1930s to the 2000s. And we had indeed come from Yorkshire just to say- ‘We’re for ever European’…
…. to ask ‘What shall we do with this rotten Brexit?’….
.. and to assert…..
We were cheered and moved to be tooted supportively by passing cars, told by streetcleaners, policemen, ice-cream stallholders, bar staff, passport control staff, passers-by that people in mainland Europe want us to stay, welcomed our efforts.
Wednesday was the day when we marched round the European Parliament campus singing and waving our European, Yorkshire and Union flags. It was the day when we toured the parliament building, having a question and answer session with Henry Wasung, British multi-lingual member of staff, and in the absence of our own MEP Richard Corbett, who was in London, with Seb Dance, Labour MEP for London. All of which assured us in our knowledge that only staying in Europe makes sense.
In the afternoon we were centre stage. We were at the Schuman Roundabout, focal point of the buildings of many of the EU institutions. So were members of Brussels Light Opera, Women for Europe, EU super girl and Young European of the Year 2018 Madeleina Kay. And we sang (see above!). Madeleina sang. Various British MEPs came to support us and to speak. Our own Shaffaq Mohammed and Magid Magid made speeches too.
Then it was four o’clock and time to go. Time to load the flags, the posters, the banners into the coach and make our way back to the ship, and to England.
We feel energised, optimistic, ready to plan the next stage of our campaign. Whatever we do, we’ll continue to make it fun and uplifting. No sour faces here.
For a while now, Yorkshire for Europe groups have been getting down to London once a week to support Steve Bray of SODEM, and demonstrate peacefully outside Parliament. Week by week, the Great Yorkshire Songbook has evolved, featuring such memorable numbers as ‘We’re down from Yorkshire just to say…’ to the tune of -what else? ‘On Ilkley Moor baht ‘at’, and ‘Why, why why Theresa?’ to the tune of ‘Delilah’. Cornwall for Europe does much the same, but they have a great tradition of sea shanties to draw on for their songbook (‘What shall we do with this rotten Brexit?‘).
Adrian from North Yorkshire for Europe threw down the gauntlet to Cornwall. The Great Yorkshire/Cornwall sing-off. Challenge accepted.
On Monday, two coaches arrived in London. One from the north, stuffed not only with Remainers in good voice, but Yorkshire flags by the dozen, European flags, Union flags, placards, and Mark’s tuba. Oh, and seven students from Sheffield University, hitch-hiking to Transylvania for charity, via our demo. And a coach from the south-west, idem, except that they had black-and white Cornwall flags and placards, and a Cornish bagpipe instead of a tuba. And no students.
And outside Parliament, we sang. We soon learnt each other’s songs, and we sang, sang, sang. Alistair Campbell came for a while with his bagpipes. Our MEP Richard Corbett came and joined in, so did Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman, and Lib Dem Tom Brake, who brought chocolates too.
Alistair Campbell and bagpipes.
Steve Bray, that stalwart who protests all day and every day, whatever the weather joined in the fun, and was invited to judge the two choirs. ‘52% for one, and 48% for the other!’, suggested some wit in the crowd. Steve was far too polite, and suggested a draw. Team Yorkshire thought that Cornwall had the best tunes, and were more tuneful, but we were LOUDER.
And at 6 o’clock, we followed Steve’s daily tradition. We trooped after him and his mega-megaphone and bellowed People’s Vote slogans as loudly as possible across to the House where members were about their daily business. If you’d been watching the BBC 6 o’clock news at 6.11, you’d have seen us. And again at 10.00. A friend in Cardiff spotted us on the Welsh news.
During the day there were interviews with Norwegian radio and French TV (Arte is doing a full length documentary on Britain and Brexit, and have been filming in the area for 10 days).
Just one more job to do before the long journey home. Get along to the press hub, and be there while Channel Four does its daily interviews on its 7 o’clock news. More flag waving, shouting and singing, and a bit of trespass onto the lawns with a placard by Steve Bray.
We met Londoners, tourists, people from around Europe who’d made England their home and no longer feel as welcomed as they used to. We’ve had our photos taken, had discussions with dozens and dozens of passers-by. Does it make a difference? We don’t know. But we know we brought cheer to so many people who like us, hope that Brexit is not a Done Deal.