How did we travel before 1992?

Nice, the Promenade des Anglais, so named in 1860 because no Englishmen were allowed to go there

Flashback: the year is 1990. Britain, still without a firm EU hand on the tiller, resembles a rudderless ship cast adrift in rough waters.

Here I am, my hands, still as firm as the EU’s hands are now, are on the steering wheel of our Audi (I think that’s what I drove then), achieving a feat few now believe would have been possible in the pre-EU days: motoring through Europe.

On that particular run I established a personal best, which I’m unlikely ever to repeat, much less better: driving through seven countries in one day.

Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland all flashed by… I almost said ‘without a stop’, but that’s not quite accurate. We did stop for lunch in France and for petrol in Luxembourg.

But no one stopped us at any of the border crossings. In fact, when we missed a ‘Welcome to [insert country name]’ sign, only the language of the road signs made us realise we were in a different country.

I remember us saying that the order to turn on the lights at the entrance to a tunnel sounded so much better in Italian than in German.

Comparing Accendere le luce with Achtung! Lichten! tells you all you need to know about the two national characters. The Italian version sounds like a line from a Donizetti opera, whereas the German equivalent evokes a film where a black-clad Gestapo man says: “Ve’ve got vays to make you talk.”

This fond recollection was brought on not by a pang of nostalgia, but by Sky News. This network, in common with its elder brother, the BBC, is committed to drawing in lurid strokes the macabre, dystopic future awaiting us all when (or if) Brexit comes into effect.

To that end the station keeps running snippets of young Britons expressing heart-felt concerns about life in that hopeless future. One such concern is repeated over and over: “How will we be able to travel in Europe a year from now?”

Now the important thing to understand about our young is that they live outside history.

History to them is what happened last Saturday when they went on that pub crawl; the dial is reset in every generation. “It was before my time” is seen as a sufficient excuse for boneheaded ignorance.

Hence they either don’t know or don’t care that British tourists somehow managed to crisscross Europe when the EU wasn’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye.

The twinkle was already sparkling in 1990, but we can go a bit further back, can’t we? For example, in 1860 a well-known thoroughfare in Nice was named the Promenade des Anglais. I don’t think this name suggests that les Anglais couldn’t travel there, do you?

Not just Nice, but also Biarritz. Not just France, but also Italy, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, Germany all heard their native languages spoken with English accents throughout history.

And what do you know? Britain didn’t have to belong to any supranational monstrosity for Britons to go to San-Sebastian or Paris.

And it’s not just tourists. In the pre-EU days we spent several holidays in Tuscany, not far from Arezzo. A mile down the road from us was the house where the British novelist Muriel Spark was spending her later years. How was that possible, I hear those youngsters ask.

And such areas as the Dordogne, Costa del Sol, Brittany, Algarve, Tuscany and Côte-d’Azur were colonised by British retirees long before John Major put his signature on that treasonous treaty.

But hold on a second, says Sky News. Only 20 per cent of Britons living on the continent are retired wrinklies. Most of the expats are young, thrusting people who earn their crust there. Surely they’ll get the dirty end of the stick?

In reply, please allow me to get personal again. My wife Penelope lived in France for 10 years, from age 17, when she entered the Paris Conservatoire, got her degree (like the French students, she paid no tuition fees) and then pursued her concert career from the Paris base. I don’t want to date her, but it was long before 1992.

Though Penelope preferred to live in a monoglot French environment, she regularly bumped into fellow expats working in France. My own recollections are more recent but, when I was still in the advertising business, many of my colleagues had done stints of several years in French, Italian and German agencies – when the EU still went by its maiden name, the EEC.

So my reply to all the inane questions asked by those historically challenged youngsters (“How will we be able to [insert activity]?) is simple. Exactly the way we always did it for centuries before this abominable Leviathan was born.

However, that reply isn’t proffered, nor even mooted, by Sky News, BBC and other mainstream TV channels. Their bias is by itself an answer to another question: “How come TV jobs are only ever advertised in The Guardian, our leftmost broadsheet?”

3 thoughts on “How did we travel before 1992?”

  1. “Not just Nice, but also Biarritz. Not just France, but also Italy, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, Germany all heard their native languages spoken with English accents throughout history.”

    A legacy of Victorian Age activities as pioneered by the English. Birding, winter sports, mountain climbing.

  2. I assume reason one never sees any Americans or Chinese in Florence or Venice is that their countries are not in the EU, the poor dears.

    Did I miss something?

    1. You certainly did. You missed the inner logic of the EU and its fans: everything is true if it suits them; everything is false if it doesn’t. The absence of Americans, Chinese, Japanese and Russians is why I’ve stopped going to Venice — and Florence too, come to think of that. I hate being jostled by herds of tourists who aren’t even there.

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