Saturday 21st October
Auto Da Fe is either Latin or Italian for self-immolation, a deliberate act of self destruction.
It was 1968, the year after the Summer of Love. The year when all that optimism, that drippy-hippy flower power started to wilt. The Beatles were a bit lost after Brian Epstein died. They made the film Magical Mystery Tour, which was a bit of a piss-take on the whole hippy dream. They did manage to record their superb album, simply titled ‘The Beatles’, which became known as ‘The White Album’. But they were by now pretty separate figures, writing and often recording alone, the others merely adding overdubs later. I was 17, in the Lower Sixth and dreading my approaching Mock ‘A’ levels. I had opted for History, Economic History and English Literature. And because I just happened to have one more free period than anyone else I had to choose another subject. So I chose Art, which only had one compulsory lesson a week. But something strange happened. I fell in love with Art, and out of all interest in the other subjects. I had to attend the lessons, but would be scribbling away on a sketch pad, and barely heard the teachers at all. I was spending every free moment in the Art room, trying out new materials. Oil paint, which I had never tried before and Biro. I was covering sheets with monochrome faces and endless self-portraits in black and white oil paint.
The Mocks were approaching, and with them the realisation that I would fail all, except perhaps Art. I had a good friend Graham Took, who had the same rebellious nature as me. Or so I thought. We planned our escape in stolen moments; we would run away together to London. We even agreed the day – a Monday. The agreement was that I would phone him the Sunday evening before, from the phone box down our road, which I did. And he chickened out. He said it was a daft idea, which it probably was. But I already had my bag packed. And so, I left anyway. My very own Auto da Fe. I ran away from both school and home and probably University. And wild horses wouldn’t have dragged me back.
And now in 2017, almost fifty years later, my home country is galloping along the same road. Leaving the EU is Britain’s very own Auto da Fe. But like all fanatics it is pointless to try to point out the error of their ways. In fact, the more that evidence emerges; car factories closing, banks re-locating their head offices to Frankfurt or Paris, inflation rising, employers panicking because fewer immigrants are coming here – the deeper they burrow their heads in the sand. There is now a growing chorus in the Tory party inciting Mrs. May to walk away from the negotiations, to leave with no deal, with no more payments, with bitterness and chaos. And they still insist that the Europeans will come back begging for a trade deal. Our only hope is for Theresa May to hang on and try to rescue something out of the madness. Because if she goes, incompetent as she may be, she will undoubtedly be replaced by someone (Boris or Gove or Rees-Mogg) even worse.