Days After

As the reality of the UK’s vote to leave the EU sinks in, I’m left comparing my feelings on four very different ‘days after’…

Obama’s first victory in the US Presidentials: I walked a full foot taller. Proud of America. Looking at passers-by: smiling and feeling we all felt a foot taller because America had done this. For all its racism and inequality America had elected the most amazing man – who was also an amazing black man – as its president; and in so doing took the world to a new place. Everything is possible and we all have a say. PROUD

The riots of 2011: blazing buses and rioters at the end of my street; on one hot sticky evening it felt like we were all barrelling out of control. A ‘towering inferno’ that was just one blazing furniture shop, dominated the world news. Hardly Mogadishu, but a day when our society wobbled, people became frightened and frightening and entropy reigned over order. ASHAMED.

London 2012 Paralympics: a month on from the amazing 2012 Olympic opening ceremony our family day at the most amazing venues; beautifully, proudly and brilliantly British in design and execution. Exceeding anything I’d ever hoped or believed my country could do. Smiling volunteers, the kindly helpful lads of the British Army, fast transport, high spirits, even a McDonalds which hit a standard of service friendliness, warmth, welcome, inclusivity and diversity beyond our dreams. And then the ‘Superhumans’… Paralympians: recast as supremely able not disabled, all brought to life by our second great ‘for profit’ public service broadcaster: Channel 4. PROUD

Brexit: what have we done. How do I explain this to my children. How do I explain it to to people overseas I’ve lived among, cared for and kept in touch with; people who were yesterday fellow EU citizens and today feel we have made them foreigners. We used to share ‘Ode to joy’. Now I feel we on this island don’t deserve to feel a part of it. This ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ is a small minded place; divided among ourselves and no more a part of a great unifying European enlightenment ideal. I believed in the EU’s motto that we could be ‘united in diversity’; and we all should be. We are now where we were in the 1700s: a backward, self-absorbed and ruddy faced caricature of ourselves. ASHAMED.


Having just posted it on my other blog ‘Relevant Complexity‘, something about it felt to me like it deserved its place here too. Perhaps because the “Ode” brought joy to my day and lit up my week.

Beethoven’s 9th: Ode to Europe


As I find my bearings in the ‘classical repertoire‘, there can be few finer guides than Canada’s National Art Centre’s Marjolaine Fournier and Jean-Jacques van Vlasselaer’s “Explore the symphony” podcasts.


I stumbled upon this fabulous couple searching for the background to Prokofiev’s ‘Alexander Nevsky’; and in the process fell a little in love with Canada.

A country that has the imagination and culture to support, bring together and promote the French Canadian double bassist Fournier and the richly accented scholarship of van Vlasselaer, is a very fine country indeed.

And their podcast on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony reminds me what a fine continent Europe is too…

The 9th is Beethoven’s masterwork, and its “Ode to joy” is instantly familiar. But I was fascinated by van Vlasselaer’s story of who Beethoven was; and where he fits at the crossroads of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, bridging the Classical and Romantic periods. Beethoven with the “Ode” celebrates liberté, egalité and fraternité, at the dawn of artists as Artists – no longer paid retainers of aristocracy.

But what matters most is the music. As van Vlasselaer points out, a ‘masterwork’ is a masterwork, because for any age and any generation it is a source of wonder. We may all recognise, Beethoven’s 9th, but everyone should stop, marvel and listen to it again from time to time.

‘Ode to joy’ is also the anthem of the European Union – and was itself a direct product of the complex, interconnected peoples, borders, histories, ideals and culture which are ‘Europe’.

For all the challenges it faces in the 21st Century – and the bloody, brooding history it endured in the 20th – ‘Ode to joy’ reminds us of what Europe is; and can be, at its very best.

Beethoven – Symphony No 9, ‘Choral’ (LSO, Haitink)