Living in London, Aussie born and bred no longer the tourist. That means so much to most Aussie travellers from the days of Clive James, Barry Humphries or Barry Crocker.
Having relocated from sunny cosmopolitan Sydney (the leafy Liberal heartland north of the Bridge) because the boss got the job (I’m like Prince Phillip!) I get to observe upfront the UK of my upbringing, education, online observation and numerous visits.
Well here we are: an economy struggling to outdo Antartica for growth unless you count population; massive excitement over footbal and the weather; less excitement about the Referendum and even less about politicians, business leaders or trade union elites.
The buses work, the tube works, the overland mostly works. You can have lots of green space (but pressure on to develop) with a population that is growing, becoming even less British and more global whilst the patchwork of villages, towns and districts betray an inner provincialism. We live in South West London – pretty posh unless you have seen wealthy housing in places like the US, Canada or Melbourne. We commute to places that inspire tourists, writers, commentators and critics: Fleet Street, Trafalgar Square, Soho, Southbank, Chelsea or the railway stations of the monopoly board.
We have replaced 220 square metres of relative luxury with noisy Sydney traffic with 80 square metres of cosy flat overlooking the Tames (downstream from the locks and the tourists mostly). Think the outskirts of Hampton Court without a BBC costume drama team onsite. Think wall to wall retail and education hubs but around the corner quaint pubs and parks with obsolete monuments to Aldermen long dead and forgotten.
No car, no lawn mower, no barbie – the ultimate unAustralian existence.
Well what to report first – British voters incredibly polite but stand offish (street canvassing has all the hallmarks of a quiet Methodist service with no choir), you dont have to be enrolled and less so turn up. When we voted for the London Assembly (a big piece of paper with a little pencil) you had the perversity of tellers wanting your id number to mark you off the roll as voted (the parties need to know who to chase up in the afternon on a Thursday) and no queue at 0720. Not a sausage sizzle or lamington fund raiser in sight.
London: part of Britain but also so different in so many ways. Global, fast paced (unless you want furniture in less than 80 days) and multicultural in a “no one really cares mate” way which is good. The rest of Britain: a rail journey or twice a year take the car to Grandads experience (wait for the petrol shortages and the traffic snarls). But also the centre for much beauty: music every night of every description, history and culture that you stumble over, parks that beckon at lunchtime and at this time of year long dusks.
Where am I going this week (or where was I last week). Three priorities: Brexit (only game in town at the moment), policy land (more think tanks than dentists I can afford) and form filling (yes you need to fill out a form to cancel your bank’s direct debit which they made a mistake over twice …. your landlord loves you for paying only 10% of the rent).
Meetings, seminars, speeches, street stalls and actual debate over Remain or Leave. Not unlike the 1999 Aussie Referendum in that there is a majority of senior politicians pushing one side (with broad business and media reinforcement) which is to Remain whereas there is a broad church coalition of most Tories, some Labour, some but fewer Lib Dems and the two political extremes calling for Leave.
The polls say a small Remain majority but we are 3 weeks out. The big issue is whether more people get onto the roll (the young, the renters and the minorities) and where the 20% plus undecided go. Too close to call for most. I will stick my neck out and say 54/46 split in favour of Leave if the turnout is around 75%. London and Scotland to say Remain and the rest to say Leave.
Can’t destroy the Aussie accent so at every think tank or policy event I answer three questions: where are you from, oh Sydney, my nephew married his partner there in 2014; why did you ever leave that great weather (meaning to get there but it is so far); and London is not Britain, have you traveled much (no filling in forms and paying huge prices for rail tickets unless it is 28 days in advance).
This column or space will touch on the musings of a policy/political/people guy who is genuinely interested in pluralism, civil society and the Anglo-Australian relationship.
No we don’t intend to ever live in Earls Court, will not challenge Brits to any drinking challenges and insist that Australia is surprisingly only a little like the set of Neighbours.
Notes from a small island off the EU heartland.