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Por Fernando Gómez Herrero,

Some words by British people at the street level in between Brexit and COVID-19.

Hannah Bosbury runs Green and Wild ( on Smith Street in Warwick. Admitting to “not being a writer at all,” this is what she tells us:

As a florist in the UK even with local suppliers (if used) topping up through April-September/October time you still need to order from Holland as the quantities and variety are not available anywhere else. For weddings (which we usually are very busy with all year) the quantities needed are rarely available from our rural flower farmers unless they are happy with whatever is in bloom. With Brexit having initially had the worry of how it would affect my business due to importing flowers and wether it will affect the prices was my concern. Now with a coronavirus the stresses are shared by all other small businesses around the world. The flower suppliers have closed or slowed down to a few days a week ( a few collection only) and must be suffering due to businesses that have closed like mine following government guidelines. We just have to hope we can weather the storm and come back after the lockdown. For us at least people will always get married and celebrate or want to mark occasions with flowers, so I’m hopeful we will be ok, fingers crossed!

Trevor Davis, 70, is educational consultant mostly for primary and secondary schools. Based in the midlands, he may easily have driven 40.000 miles in the last three years going from school to school. Twelve years as head teacher, he has also been Ofsted inspector. Conservative and Remainer, his paper of choice, The Times. He supports Coventry City FC.

Of the past leaders, he would pick Cameron admitting to the ill judgment of the referendum that delivered Brexit. The impact of Brexit on the educational sector, he has seen “very little impact, to be honest.” Although he would quickly bring it austerity, “although there are two different things.”

Brexit has not kicked in yet and he was surprised Brexit won. “Everybody thought Remain would win and some did not even go vote.” He imagines “British values” will gain in importance in the following months, the emphasis on our people, our ideas, our nation going along with our jobs. The election of Johnson he watched with trepidation. He calls him “charismatic and good spokesperson for Britain,” yet he also mentions that he could well be “out of his depth” in the PM role. But “there is no middle ground with him.”

If educators are majority remainers, they represent “all positions across the Brexit debate.” The whole Brexit could have been sorted in some kind of highly representative think tank of eminent and expert people, two of this, two of that, dealing with the question whether Brexit is good for this country, instead of a “gun-ho” group of politicians selling a false promise. Which one?: that the country is too full of immigrants, too many Bulgarians, Romanians, etc. It is a selfish vote built on the anti-immigrant false premise. Trevor Davis sees a problem with this type of referendum for such a complex issue, particularly one built on the promotion of a false premise. As a middle-class educated person, he does not have all the answers and he wonders who out there has them. It was only last week that he went down to London in an empty train, no people in the streets, the school he visited was empty.

His prediction: we will be in school in September. Covid-19 will be out of the system as long as we observe social distancing. HS2 [the fast-train project], “we can’t afford it,” and perhaps even the “gun-ho ways” of Boris Johnson may go.

The impact of the double blow of Brexit and Covid-19? We don’t know. We do not know how we are going to be here or Spain, Italy and the rest of Europe. No idea.

He says he is “amazed how we are pulling together,” minus the panic buying. He mentions the construction of the Nightingale Hospital in East London. About his family, he says he “is lucky. We are secure, safe,” unlike the single parent with five children who is wondering how she is going to manage, as in the last school he visited. “It is going to be difficult and we are going to need each other.”

Mog and Pauline run Warwick Books. This is their account of things:

My name is Mog Giacomelli-Harris. I was born and educated in Warwick. I have lived and worked abroad in Rome and Paris before returning to my home town to buy a bookshop with my French wife Pauline.

We own an independent bookshop and we bought it 5 years ago as an existing business. The shop has been trading since 2004 and has weathered the storm of Amazon and is currently with other surviving bookshops around the country working hard to save the high street against fierce internet competition.

Our business has been in growth for 5 years. We work hard to create opportunities outside the four walls of our shop as footfall can be unreliable. We run author events throughout the year in the shop and at outside venues. We have a successful gift subscription service and thriving history and children sections.

I voted remain.

I am very angry about Brexit, I can't see how it will positively affect the country. The best I can hope for is that I'm wrong and economically things improve but I am also very concerned with our ongoing relationship with our neighbouring countries. We have enjoyed an unprecedented 70 years of peace across our borders and it's reckless to throw this away for lies that mask rich men getting richer.

If we're honest our business hasn't felt any effects from Brexit yet, and for the moment everything is working as before. The real difference will be from January 2021.

Michele and Stephen, both from Australia, run a café on Smith Street, Bread & Co and they recently expanded to green products. Michele tells me the following:

Stephen and I have always embraced change in both our business and personal lives, as we firmly believe that change leads to growth and opportunities that would never materialise without that impetus of change. There’s a lot of leaping bravely into the dark that happens within both our business and our personal lives, but only after serious conversations about our desired direction and goals. Things generally work out to the good, and you learn a lot about yourselves and your capabilities in the process. We firmly believe that Brexit will deliver many opportunities to those who look for them and embrace the change. We don’t for one moment believe it will come easily – there is still a lot of hard work to do, but that is part of the joy of life.

Two or three weeks later once covid-19 reached the isles, I inquired how they were doing.

This is the response:

Well, aren’t these interesting times!?! We are well and just as busy as before – shame! I was looking forward to a three month holiday! ;-)

Café has had to close, of course, but the bakery and greenbean are going ballistic as everyone discovers that there is nothing on the shelves at the supermarkets and as new opportunities come our way. We are being really creative so I think as long as we stay healthy and happy and can manage the financial pressures that the next three months will deliver, we should come out of this bigger and better and stronger as a business. You know us – always love an opportunity!

We are really looking at ways in which we can work together with all of our local community businesses as we all find ourselves in the same boat. That in itself is wonderful.

Philip Anderton 47 (Home maker), Lucie Anderton 42 ( Rail Sustainability Strategy Manager), Aoife 10 and Orla 5. As a mixed family of Irish and British citizens we were extremely disappointed by the referendum result but not shocked. David Cameron had three months after his visit to Brussels to convince the British public of the benefits of staying in the Union. The British media had thirty years to smear the European Union. We are strongly pro European. Freedom of Movement has allowed us to work all over the EU and actually without that freedom we wouldn’t have met. We both met in Santander in 1995. Lucie has just got a job in Paris and we will be moving there later this year during the transition period. This our last chance as a family to easily take up such an opportunity. Who knows if Brexit will work out? It seems like a real step backwards. The English especially seem to think that they are exceptional and that things happen for them just because they are English. Brexit may be a difficult awakening for them and people are just becoming aware of all the of the rights and benefits they are about to lose.

Paul, 60, from French Lebanon via France runs a French style café and restaurant in one of the best places in Warwick in front of St. Mary’s Church. He expanded the business about 3 years ago and he has been at the said corner for twelve years. He has 40 years’ experience in hospitality. Educated in France, he has lived 25 years in the U.K. His initial idea was to go to America and to think of Britain as a stopover, but his passport and wallet were stolen literally before the flight and had to turn to the immediate people he knew and continue working in London until the American idea disappeared. With the pandemic, business will go on as usual until government tells him to close down. There are grants and loans and the decent and good landlord has told him not to pay the rent, which he will still do and not to worry. I saw him still kissing a customer and his girlfriend is at home because she is high risk. He is not surprised about Brexit. England is a society very much compliant with rules and regulations unlike others in Europe finding ways around them. The English are very law-abiding citizens. They are very much “to the letter.” The insistence by the media and politicians has been that these rules are imposed by Europe and people have believe it. Still, there is no solidarity. About Brexit, he says it is “stupid, on the economic side of things. We are alive on imports, everything we need. Manufacturing is not our strength.” He is not surprised by the Brexit at all. The elderly do not matter in terms of productivity and yet they are reminiscing about the war [with the Brexit vote]. Brexit has not had an immediate impact on the business. It has been steady. He will take advantage of the lockdown to do some work in the café.

Bobbi, born in South Africa, holding the South African passport. She has lived in the U.K. for 7 years. She has been working as teaching assistant for a year at Holy Trinity Church of England Primary School in Stratford. “Brexit does not relate to me,” she says. It may relate more to her sister who lives in Germany also with an English husband. She is the one who has to apply for permanent residence. Brexit will affect her in so far as she will travel to Germany to see her, although this is now compromised by Covid-19. The Commonwealth is meaningful in so far as having a sense of belonging, although she does not expand on it. It means no benefit in relation to paperwork. South Africa has a colonial past in relation to the Dutch, the French, the English. Her own background is French Huguenot and German on her father’s side, but she knows that because she looked into it, otherwise she considers herself simply (white) South African. She migrated to the UK for work together with her husband, they met in South Africa, and he works now in Coventry. She did enjoy the victory of the Springboks in the world cup rugby final against England a few months ago. Sport helps unite an otherwise very fractured nation.

Pressed to say what she likes about South Africa and England, she says she likes both. She likes both ways of life. She has two children. Pressed to be more specific, she simply says that she misses some things from South Africa, but not others. Brexit “does not affect me. Is that selfish of me?” She says she has “no position” on it, that she is “not allowed to have an opinion on it, that she has no right to talk about it, having lived in England for six-seven years.” She almost feels she needs a permission to do so. She has not had enough time. She claims no understanding of the subject in question. Her English husband, does he have an opinion? Does she agree with him? Does she know what it is? Yes, she does, but they do not discuss it, no matter how much I call it the elephant in the room, and she does not want to divulge it. She insists that “she does not have an opinion on it.” It is not an issue for her, unlike her sister. I ask if they are close, if they are alike. She says that it is not “her business” to look into her sister’s life, that it is not something they discuss. This is not a conversation she enters, as in politics and religion in general terms. “I do not need to validate my opinion by having an argument or discussion with you,” is her general mindset or even life philosophy. Her religion, Christiand. Her denomination, Baptist in South Africa but here she goes to a Methodist Church, but she does not go to church every Sunday or anything like that (Holy Trinity is Church of England). She would want her children to make up her own belief system as well.

Covid-19: when did it kick into being in the world for her? She is it is “weird,” how a certain sense of normality and spending time at work or with people has been affected, how Sunday is the down time and how it is difficult to even have one hour without children. When South Africa went into lockdown last Thursday, Covid-19 “hit home,” it became real, and it was in relation to the townships, the informal settlements, sometimes in the suburbs of cities, but sometimes in city centres, the shack-and-tin houses, mostly for Black populations, often with no running water. How are they going to wash their hands? How are they going to practice social distancing? “It is really, really difficult.” Her mother is self-isolating in South Africa, also is the extended family around the world.

Veronica Allsop runs the Duncan M. & V. Allsop Bookshop: Antiquarian and Modern Books, Fine Bindings, Est. 1966, on Smith Street in Warwick. Duncan died 4 years ago next week. He started the business when he was 53 years old. They met in the midlands when she was 21 years old. This is the only independent bookseller in Warwickshire and she is carrying on now without his knowledge. Brexit does not have a significant impact yet on what she describes as a dying trade in our minimalist period. “We are literally throwing books away to get a new stock.” She trades via ABE website and PBFA, the provincial book society. Her regular customers are local and come from the Warwick area stretching out all the way to Birmingham, Stratford and London. She attends provincial and national book fairs, now interrupted because of the Covid-19. It is important to attend these fairs. Her customers are the older crowd, although you never know, sometimes “you see them coming and you think this will be a waste of time, but the smallest old man may give you good business, you never know what the trade is.” One selling point is now the interior design, for example for the Warwick Castle refurbished years ago. Such customers will buy metres of bookshelf space with books for ambiance. Her oldest book is a 1730 2nd edition of Warwickshire Dugdale Antiquities and a 3rd edition of 1765, the Antediluvian world of 1811, 1st edition, 3 vols., for 2,700 pounds. She reads “rubbish,” no Illiad, but modern novels and plays solitaire, collects A J Bates and also enjoys illustrated fashion books. Now Warwick is full of barbers, “ridiculous, too many. They aren’t making it easy for the proper ones.” In the good old days, there were fantastic Victorian fairs. Duncan was popular figure still fondly remembered by neighbours. ”He liked his drink, we all did.” The pub across the street had proper sandwiches and they would play spoof during Happy Hour. Veronica is ardent Brexiteer. She cannot remember when “we voted in.” They [the EU] are taking our independence. She does not hold back: “I don’t like our immigrants. They should not take on our esteem.” She voted for Brexit to manage “our own money and have our own regulations.” An old friend pops in and she asks him the same question. He does not hold back: “we had a war and we fought for it.” She corrects him: our parents. But still the feeling is clear: “we were left out for a lot.” Nigel Farage is her man and her facebook page has regular imagery of St. George and the Lion. She describes both Duncan and herself as staunch conservatives. “Boris [Johnson], looks like a clown, whatever you think, but he does his best. He is playing by ear. He is doing the best for all of us and it is not easy.” Wearing a mask in her shop before the lockdown, she says that “lots of people are going to go under [with this pandemic]. If it hits me, I’ll go tomorrow.” Veronica was seen clapping hands for the NHS and waving at the neighbours on Smith Street the other day.

Jo Milward, 54, is a primary school teacher at Holy Trinity Church of England at Stratford. She has been married 24 years, she has two children, 21 and 18 years old. She has been a teacher for 14 years. She is a Yorkshire girl. Remainer: Brexit makes her very sad. At a moment of greater communication and connectivity, she feels it is “counterintuitive to be separate.” She is for “Stronger Together and that sort of thing.” There has been a revival of a “Go home” to immigrants and one or two anti-immigrant incidents coming from children replicating their parents, but “overall not too often and it has settled down.” She is worried about the “impact on travels and how we see the world and how we do lots of things.” But “it will not stop us, it will be harder.” Her youngest has spoken of traveling around the world, but this is now obviously impossible with Covid-19. Her children have not expressed much about Brexit. Her oldest studies product design at Middlesex University, now at home doing online programmes, also due to strikes. Jo Milward is surprised at the strength of feeling, specially among Brexiteers in the school who wanted to have strong arguments. She agrees that the education sector is largely pro-Remain but it also cuts across different positions. The age divide holds, the elderly neighbours are more pro-Brexit than the younger ones. And “fear of foreigners” fostered by the press is definitely a factor. Pressed about such fear, she admits to being surprised at the level of “passion” and even “anger,” within the school too. How “we are supposed to be polite, middle-class, etc.” and the strident level of the debate sometimes. “To each their own:” the bar should have been at least 60%, the final one of 51.9 versus 48.1% was too low.

“They [the press] did a number: coming here, taking our jobs, whipping people up…” Pressed about that fear, she goes back to “press lies” whipping people up into a frenzy. And how we do not check sources, how we are fed our own personal preferences by social media, and how no one is checking sources anymore. Yes to the generational gap in information gathering in relation to her children. She said she had to “bully” her own youngest son to vote and how disengaged he was. “No one speaks to him. He does not do radio o tv, everything online.” And how he gave her a hug the day after the vote after realizing in conversation with his friends that “this was about his future.”

Covid-19 was fairly distant. It was scary, we read it in the papers, watched it on tv. It became real with the lockdown on Monday night when Boris Johnson made the announcement on tv and the decision to close schools. Holy Trinity must take care of the children of key workers and there is a rotation among the able colleagues. Her own mother, a 82-year-old widow, has dementia and is by herself. Her own son works at Morrison’s. Her husband works from home for an energy charity. Her eldest son conference calls his university. The current measure of the government is “a bit duplicitous.” She understands that it has to happen, “yes, but.” If a nurse has children, she cannot care for her own children and work long hours. Who would it if not schools? “We are exposing ourselves to it [the virus].” She almost thought she had it last Thursday but it was only anxiety. Unlike Italy and Spain with extended families, Britain cannot assume such plan for single-parenting.

About future prospects, “she does not look at it very day. It is scary. We are following the curve in Italy.” She makes a reference to a construction worker who films a selfie against the background of one of those long hospitals, 1-km-long, able to cope with 4.000 patients, being built to cope with the victims of the virus. “It does not hit us until we hit the shit storm,” is a paraphrase of the worker holding the selfie and taping his construction work.

When the government called it lockdown, no one was paying attention and there was a lot of movement. Her husband went to the post office feeling a bit apprehensive about what he was going to find and came back saying there were not social-distancing, the person behind the counter was not using gloves, etc. “People do not like to be told what to do.” It is not only the Brits. She gives me another reference: the environmental film, The Day the Earth Stood Still with Keanu Reeves and John Cleese, playing the scientist who wants to destroy the earth, that is when we learn things, the day-after-tomorrow on the nanotechnological brink of destruction, standing on “the precipice of disaster.”

Warwick, 2 de Abril del 2020 / FGH

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