Alan Bennett and Brexit

Every year the Yorkshire treasure – the writer and playwright – Alan Bennett reads his previous year’s diary for The London Review of Books podcast. Each diary entry is a gem and as I walked on this blissful February Sunday beneath a cloudless sky and inhaled the late winter pleasure of Umbria, I double-dipped listening to his inimitable master’s voice.

Umbria on a mid February morning

He began and ended his entries for 2018 with reflections on Brexit. By now I have heard many, including how is it that the Mother of Parliaments has been reduced to sounding like Italian politics (this from an Italian politician, no less)? But Alan Bennett has an ear that is so very particular. He likens the chief Brexiteers to the (BBC TV comedy series) Dad’s Army, the Home Guard who during the Second World War believed they defeat Germany with pitchforks and pompous hair-brained bravura. This delusional stuff would be funny but for the awful implications for ordinary citizens, he added in his unmistakeable Yorkshire intonation.

As I strode along, visiting all parts of England alongside Alan Bennett, I recalled sitting facing him on the London Underground 21 years ago exactly. I was on my way to resign my job, nervous and uncertain. He sat facing me as we sped along, a sphinx taking in my fellow travellers and our lives. I took his presence to be an omen that I was making the right decision and of course I tried hard not to interrupt his concentration.

Truly one of the great Britons of my lifetime, he made me nostalgic for my homeland and its looming plight on a spring-like Umbrian day.

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