Few people in The Greyhound appear to have voted remain. For a small northern pub, this is not unusual. I’ve been doing the quiz here every Sunday for about fifteen years. It’s an ingrained ritual, one shared by my mother, aunts and various cousins who also appear around the same time. Many of the patrons who come here have been doing so for decades. Older, gentler working class men and women, mostly retired or steadily prospering from lifetimes of careful budgeting. We begin the evening with a drink and then out come the reading glasses and quiz pens.
‘Well what do you think of the Brexit result?’ asks a man at the bar.
‘Excellent’ says another man and they nod.’They are trying to say we regret it now.’ They both roll their eyes.’Gerr’out of it, nobody regrets it.’
These are not chavs, or racists. These are the so-called little Englanders that the precious young graduates have been warned about; stupid old white people whose pie and gravy brains couldn’t possibly know anything about the wider world they imagine themselves to be so well-versed in. The little Englanders get ready to enjoy the Quiz. Well…perhaps enjoy isn’t the right word – it’s a bit too competitive for that.
‘Which river flows from the Lebanon through Syria and Turkey to the Med?’
Whispers simmer around the tables and pens scratch away. Glittering pens, brightly coloured pens, lucky pens, the little Englanders love trivial things like quizzes and pens and belonging.
‘Ceuta is a Spanish enclave sharing a border with which country?’
There is a young couple doing the quiz tonight. I haven’t seen them before. At the end of the round, they sheepishly hand their paper over to our team to be marked ‘Sorry, we were terrible!’ The girl says. Indeed they were, the greater part of their answers were guesses.
The quiz master sits on a stool at the bar, and reads out more questions.
‘In a 2006 newspaper article, John Prescott was famously photographed playing what sport?’
My aunt scribbles an answer and folds away her glasses. As a team of women, we sadly tend to fail on sport questions. The conversation drifts back to politics between rounds, and a few of the local men join our table to discuss the state of affairs. ‘You see this graph here,’ says one of the men pulling his phone out ‘Look at what we contribute to the EU -billions! – second only to Germany; and look at the new member states – they don’t give anything at all, they take!’ The men shake their heads. ‘You can cut it this way and that, but the bottom line is, if you’re putting in more than your getting out, there’s trouble further down the line.’
Various sentiments fly round the table to describe the EU, as they have done so for years: ‘Out of control’, ‘madness’, say some people,’too power hungry, too German, imploding under too much immigration’ the general feeling is that the EU has had its day. It has simply become too much of everything. Every day the EU does something that alarms ordinary people – lets in enormous numbers of migrants from the middle east, considers Turkish membership, fills the local hotel with young Sudanese men, cripples Greece, a spectre that is often reported by those returning from holidays there. Not everybody voted Leave of course, but in these small towns the Leave vote was upwards of 65, sometimes 70%.
People feel threatened by the swelling and increasingly powerful presence of the EU. They know they are not a part of its utopia, but in its way. Ordinary people and their habitual lives have been marked with a cross for demolition, like trees waiting to be cut down and concreted over. Brexit voters merely seized the opportunity to put up a cross of their own. They voted for self-preservation, as they have every right to do so.
‘How many cantons make up Switzerland?’
One of the men puts his pint down ‘Apparently just leaving the EU doesn’t mean we will stop the migration, anyway half of it comes from outside of Europe anyway’ he says. Everybody at the table shakes their heads and frowns. The statement is not met with any accusations of racism – the problems of mass immigration are accepted as a forgone conclusion by most present and rarely debated otherwise.
A week previously, I had spoken to a scaffolder in here, and he talked of profits driven down by groups of Europeans who could live 12 to a house and share all the costs, doing work at a fraction of the price. The English men who had mortgages to pay, and wives and children to feed were simply not able to compete. ‘Don’t get me wrong’ he felt urged to say, ‘I’ve got loads of Polish mates, but the system isn’t fair, and anyway, now the Polish are set to be replaced by even more desperate people now, they aren’t impressed with that either.’ The Quiz is almost over, it’s clear we haven’t won, we never beat the team of old men, though we jokingly pretend they’ve come to steal our answers as they pull up chairs around us to continue the EU discussion.
‘We buy half of their cars, what’s Germany going to do – threaten to cut us out and sell to Lithuania instead?’ We all laugh.
Watching the Brexit scuppering of the EU was like watching the cancellation of a huge unwanted building project due to the discovery of an underground river destabilising its foundations. Those of us who have been listening to the grumble of the underground river for years were not in the least bit surprised when it geysered out at the poll booth, spraying the ballot papers with aggressively scored crosses in the out box.
‘What name is given to the notorious tidal current in the Lofoten islands off northern Norway?’
The TV in the corner has no sound, but the news is on, showing celebrities with bewildered faces stood among young pouting Londoners, far removed from the feelings and conversations of little England. It fills me with a warm glow, the thought of so many celebrities living in their own self-made echo chambers, imagining the adoring public to be hanging off their every word. The reality is satisfyingly different; Pubs of men grunting ‘My arse’ and ‘bollocks’ to the likes of Eddie Izzards pink beret, and Geldof’s self-aggrandising speeches.The quiz results are handed in, the lucky pens zipped away in handbags until next week.
Our score is not spectacular, the sports round ruined our chances, but the old men, the ‘Codgers in the Corner’ get almost a full house. The young couple came last by a mile. They were no longer present to notice however, they left before the results were called, not out of shame of defeat, but simply because they hadn’t really engaged with the whole evening in the first place, and lost interest before the night was through.
‘Bloody hopeless’ says one of the men looking at the young couples Quiz answers. ‘Look at this – what’s the capital of Romania – Budapest!’ The men laugh.