I came across the title of this post in my Twitter feed; despair is the only word that can describe my feelings after the referendum vote on Thursday.

Today, in the Guardian, Blake Morrison captured the same mood in a poem, called ‘After Housman’:

Into my heart an air that kills
from Wales and England blows.
Who put the poison in the wells?
Whose razor wires are those?

Theirs is the land of lost content.
They see it shining plain.
The fortress-isle old lags lament
And hope to build again.

Something else in today’s Guardian is a preview of a forthcoming exhibition of the work of Winifred Knights – illustrated with a reproduction of her most familiar painting, ‘The Deluge’. Although the author of the article writes that ‘The Deluge remains the default option of any picture editor in need of an easy notation for any number of Very Bad Things from cultural despair to the Third World War’, I can’t resist appropriating the image once again for this new disaster of epic proportions.

Winifred Knights’ 6ft canvas is packed with 21 anguished, beseeching figures and a worried-looking dog. The nominal subject is the biblical story of Noah’s ark, but the timeless look of the clothes and the distant buildings suggests that the moment depicted is actually the unplaceable now. Strikingly absent from Knights’ landscape is the ark itself, and with it any hope of safety or salvation. Instead, terrified men, women and children scrabble up a mountain that is soon to be submerged by the rising tide. Anguish is bitten into their upturned faces, while desperation stiffens their imploring bodies into racked diagonals.

Winifred Knights,The Deluge,1920
Winifred Knights,The Deluge,1920

Is there any waking up from this nightmare, a glimmer of light?
– Polly Toynbee, Guardian

My only consolation is that I live in a city that bucked the national trend by voting for Remain. For Liverpool has benefited from £2.3bn of European Union investment in the shape of Objective One and Two Funding for local infrastructure improvements, as well as European Social Fund actions aimed at reducing inactivity among young people and the long-term unemployed which have benefited working class communities. Where such investment- that has also benefited most of the ‘left behind’ areas that voted for Remain – is likely to come from in the future is anyone’s guess.

See also


19 thoughts on “Brexit, pursued by despair

  1. Oh Gerry….I know what you mean. But you know what? 48% of us didn’t want this, and I suspect many people who did vote ‘Leave’ did it as a kind of inchoate protest vote. The fight for a more decent, united world isn’t over, it’s only just beginning, and it will need people like you, with your kind and generous spirit, to continue with your humane and inspiring blog. Never think that you don’t make a difference, because you do.

  2. ‘Like’ is not really it. Just, yes, seconded. The moment I felt real, visceral grief was when my beloved Sheffield was announced as having voted to leave the EU. My city, my home, suddenly felt less like home. I am still mulling it all over, and gathering my thoughts and my words to try to express some of what all of this means. Thanks for your piece, and for the links – I’m in tears again now. I wept at the General Election result but that was disappointment – this, as you say, is despair.

  3. To Bug Woman – yes, the 48% will regroup, and we will not shut up or give up. There are worrying reports coming in from across the country of a racism given an open voice, there are people who voted to leave who will suffer the consequences of this far more acutely than many of the Remainers will because they have so little now. Our voices are needed, and our generosity and courage too.

  4. I know it doesn’t matter how many in a particular area voted one way or another to the overall result but I’ve been looking at my neighbours in a different way since the ‘Leave’ posters started popping up all over and more so since I’ve seen the proportions for our area. It makes you feel differently about where you live.

    I feel as if the country has let down young people. I feel as if they have let down Scotland and N Ireland. I feel as if they have let down all of us. And, talking of which, what were the Welsh thinking!?!

    Thanks for voicing things for rest of us in despair, Gerry.

      1. I have two kids in their early 20s, one just about to graduate with a 1st (doesn’t take after me or her Dad, we never worked that hard) and one just about to return to Uni after a two year break. I was thinking that they had the whole of Europe as their job market. Now… maybe…
        And so much thrown out because people believed lies and what they wanted to believe. The money we ‘save’ on the EU will not be spent on new hospitals. We will not suddenly be able to keep out Johnny Foreigner. We have not won our independence from anything or anyone. We will have no say in the EU but will still have to abide by their rules if we want firm trade agreements.
        Jack(ie) In 48% despair.

  5. Yes, 48% of us – the nearly half – should really despair because the other half – the more than half – have voted for what I can most generously call clowns to govern us. This is not the prospect for old age that I would at all have envisaged during my optimistic hippy youth in the 60s.

    1. Trying to make some sense of it all,
      But I can see that it makes no sense at all,
      Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor,
      ‘Cause I don’t think that I can take anymore
      Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,
      Here I am, stuck in the middle with you…

  6. I’m an American, but love the intelligent voice of this blog – and happen to be in London. People yesterday looked stunned – we were stunned, and are terrified the same sort of “protest vote” will hand us a similar situation in November. I wonder if the leavers realize what they’ve done. I read the the biggest google searches yesterday were: what does it mean to leave the EU ?”and “what is the EU? And I’m embarrassed here in London to be the older generation. It really isn’t a decision for old people – so unfair. What a scary mess. Thank you Gerry, I’m glad your city voted to stay, you at least have your people around you.

    1. Thanks, Katy. ‘It really isn’t a decision for old people’ – see my reply above.I understand that as far as the US is concerned, the Trump campaign is imploding and he’s slipping in the opinion polls. Let’s hope so .. the thought of a Boris Johnson/Trump/Putin summit is laughable but so scary.

  7. Sad…just so sad….but LovelikeJo, as sentimental as that may sound is not dead and buried, all that has happened is that those who used devious propaganda to deceive the ignorant, those who are under the cosh of the times, and those whose bullying ways allies itself to a means of gaining fearful power, have shown themselves for who they are, they have crawled out the woodwork and now we see them for what they are………48% will not lie down like a dog and be whipped by erstwhile fascists.
    (by the way Gerry, have you read Timothy Snyders book ‘Black Earth’ which outlines his views on Hitlers policies and issues a warning for the future, he has numerous videos available on youtube too, also a curious film called The Wave, based on a true incident that happened in 1967 in Palo Alto under the control on a teacher called Ron Jones, quite terrifying really)

  8. No,we will not lie down like dogs, Les. Curious coincidence – I’ve just ordered Snyder’s book (and his Bloodlands) as a consequence of reading Grossman’s Life and Fate which is shaping up to be, for me, the best novel of the 20th century.

  9. Another stunned American…but look at the ignorance here in the States. Consider the US Congress…and that Trump has shown all the polls to be worthless. Of course, nothing to do but work to put things back together again. I’m guessing there will be a lot of second thoughts. (K)

  10. Strange to me that such an important change would be cast to a referendum, let alone decided by such a slender majority. Still Brits will just have to forge ahead as they have always done.
    Strange too that a story which implies the decision is short-sighted should state that a vessel is absent when it is so large that it is partially obscured by the foreground.
    I do hope the doomsayers are well off the mark, but I also hope the pushers of Brexit are too as the collapse of the EU is unlikely to be a good thing, even though it (EU) has brought nothing but difficulty to us in the antipodes.

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