As well as carrying on with my work in Britain I am also currently pursuing my dream of cycling through all 27 remaining countries in the EU as my quixotic response to Brexit. For most of my life I have been head centric, by which I mean, most of my work, occupations and interests, have been concerned with exercising the mind, not the body. I felt disconnected from my body and as a result of Brexit disconnected from Europe and many of the ideas that Leave voters held.
In two years I went through three emotional break ups – from my partner, my job and from Europe. I was overweight, suffering from anxiety and feeling adrift from anything positive. I found the germ of an idea for a response as I watched a transgender performance in New York and this led me to the idea Take Bike Control, a direct and personal challenge to the Leave campaign’s assertion that we will lead more fulfilled lives after Brexit.
People voted to take back control but I question whether the new British politics, devoid of Europe, will give them any more control over their lives as they live them. In fact I think we will all have less control, because life will be harder and will come with greater challenges, we will have fewer freedoms and the rights we have will not be so fiercely guarded by the founding principles of the EU. Whilst major political players like Cameron, Osbourne and Farage have their wealth to fall back on those of us who do not have a cushion of privilege must weather the storm created by their own political ambitions.
As a remain voter who felt personally devastated by the Brexit vote, it has been up to me to find my own response, my own positive comeback, to keep strong and resilient in the face of this great rupture. The government did not prepare its citizens for the possibility of a leave vote, just as it is now not preparing its citizens for a ‘no deal Britain’. It has been clear that we all must make our own personal responses.
Some people I know have become Brefugees, leaving Britain because they felt they were no longer welcome. This is both a tragedy for them and an opportunity to maintain their European ideanties. I do not have any co-citizenship options. I am only British. My answer has been to gain strength through cycling, reconnect with my body and see Europe before we leave. The Grand Depart is me saying goodbye to my old life and seeing what will emerge in the new.
I am pro-freedom of movement. It is one of the greatest achievements of the European programme and I will continue to celebrate it, and wait for the charge of treason. I know that many people had honest reasons for voting Leave but many of the people I met whilst campaigning to Remain were openly racist and/or wanted to “get rid of all the immigrants”. This is one of many reasons why I would never vote Leave. It is a dangerous path for any country to single out, demonise and expel particular groupings of people. Why would I vote with the people who wanted this to happen?
But these conversations forced me to challenge my own cosy assumptions as well as my settled life in Wales. Since my mid-20’s (I’m 47 now) I have hardly travelled in Europe. A couple of trips to Paris, two trips to the Frankfurt Book Fair, three trips to Portugal. I’ve hardly been participating in the great European vision. I guess I took it all for granted. So with that admonishment of my own failings, and with freedom of movement coming to an end for British people, I’m determined to explore, learn and write about the experience. Find out more at The Grand Depart and follow on Instagram The_Grand_Depart.