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Europe Was Our Playground

July 2016

The EU Referendum: how could we have been so damn stupid?

It would be a question I will no doubt be asking for a long time to come. One of the chapters in my book, Man of the World, is called “Europe Is Our Playground” after the excellent B-side by British band Suede. I guess this blog entry is the counterpart to that chapter. Talking of my book, I was now in the final stages of putting my final draft together. This meant lots of early morning trips to Liverpool Central Library to GSD (Get Shit Done).

Lindsey would occasionally accompany me, it was like studying for our A-Levels all over again, but with laptops.

Happily, this was the month that Pokémon Go was released into the world. As a big fan of the original (yes yes I’m the elder statesman of Millennials) and lacking a girlfriend, I found myself insta-hooked.

I loved this stuff before it was(n't) cool.

I never really needed an excuse to wander around Liverpool’s quite frankly glorious city centre, but I really did need to Catch ‘Em All.

That’s not to say I spent the whole month tapping away on my laptop and flinging imaginary pokéballs around with gay abandon, I did make time to catch up with my family and friends.

Halfway through the month, I took a few days off from my book (but not Pokémon) to go visit my lovely friend Marina in her hometown of Vohenstrauß in Germany, not far from the border with The Czech Republic… a country that officially changed its name to Czechia that very week.

I first met Marina in Negombo, Sri Lanka during the summer of 2012. She was living there at the time, while I was waiting for a ship to take me to The Maldives. We shared a lot of Lion beers and a lot of laughs that summer. Great days.

I tried my best not to go on about the Brexit referendum too much, but everyone I spoke to regarded the UK’s “decision” to leave the EU with a mixture of pity and bewilderment. Why the hell we would willingly throw away our plum spot as one of the three senior partners in the biggest, most democratic and most successful trading bloc in human history was beyond them. I guess they hadn’t grown up with a constant stream of lies about the EU spewed without question or pause from their tabloid presses.

Marina and I hung out in Vohenstrauß, she took me to a gig, a medieval market, I met her family and we even popped over the border into this new “Czechia” place for an afternoon while I pushed her adorable baby Jonas around in a pram (while drinking beer and playing Pokémon… who says men can’t multitask eh?).

And they said I'd make a terrible parent! Who's laughing now eh?

All too soon, it was time to head home… my mum’s birthday was coming up and this book wasn’t going to write itself!

As the plane took off from Munich airport, I felt a profound sense of loss. As an EU citizen, I had certain rights I thought were inalienable: the right to move freely around my continent, the right to work, fall in love, buy a house, maybe one day retire.

If I ever have children myself, they won’t have those rights. They’ll never know them. They’ll have to ask permission to start a business, get married or build a home in any other country but our own.

“I like this place, can I stay?”

“Are you rich?”

“No, but I’m a good person.”

“Sorry. You have to be rich. Thems the rules. Bye.”

I travelled to every country in the world. I’ve done more in my short time on this planet than most do in a lifetime. I’ll probably be fine. But this generation coming up, the one that was denied a vote in their future? They won’t be. I hate how utterly helpless this makes me feel.

If only I had gone to a posh school eh?

Back in Liverpool, I spent the rest of the month beavering away on Man of the World. I took breaks to wish my mum a happy birthday…

And hang out with my gorgeous friends in the gorgeous sunshine for Liverpool Pride 2016.

I hoped to go back to Jinja in August, but as the cavalcade of shiteness that was 2016 kicked into high gear: my dad had been diagnosed with vascular dementia. I would be staying in the UK for another month at least, perhaps even longer.

Jinja would just have to wait.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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