“Keep calm but remain outraged”, said one sign on the London protest march against Brexit. There was no shortage of witty and pungent sayings (read on for our top picks), but this one in particular epitomises Britons’ stance when faced with adversity.
The original version – “Keep calm and carry on” – has prompted thousands of variations (including the one below, a gift from Jules to help keep my composure while suffering on an indoor bicycle), but was never actually used. In 1939 close to 2.5 million posters with the original motto were made to boost the population’s morale ahead of the impeding Blitz, but only a handful were ever distributed. The saying quickly plunged into oblivion till the year 2000, when it was rediscovered in a second-hand bookshop.
Apparently pre-World War II Briton’s didn’t need any extra motivation to keep their composure, and neither do their great-grandchildren. The organisers of the Brexit protest politely postponed the march after public authorities warned they couldn’t guarantee the safety of the overwhelming number of attendees that vowed to participate.
Safety first, of course. After ensuring that everything was neat and proper, the protest went ahead. Luck would have it that both Jules and I were there to witness it: Jules was working for a few weeks in London, and I came from somewhere to spend the weekend with her.
After feeding the obese squirrels at St. James’ Park, we crossed paths with the protesters at Trafalgar’s Square on a bright sunny Saturday morning. The protest was unlike any other I have seen: calm, orderly, peaceful. Some would call it dispassionate, but for me it seemed like a particularly effective way of conveying a message.
And what a message it was! Instead of signs with dusty old clichés, marchers come up with a brilliant array of maxims. Choosing our top picks was no easy feat:
- “Keep calm but remain outraged” – A classic
- “Briton, European, Human” – Three uncomplicated words written on a simple piece of cardboard, carried by a smiling girl with the EU flag painted across her face
- “Never gonna give EU up, never gonna let EU down” – This was our favourite musically-inspired adage
- “BREXshIT” – See what they did there?
- “Brie-entry” – No shortage of witty word games
- “Fromage, not Farage” – French culinary was a popular topic. We also saw a protester holding a croissant and a loaf of bread
- “Farage licks goats” – Not sure what that means exactly, but it’s definately not a pleasantry towards Mr. Farage
- “Pulling out never works” – EU policy and birth control advice, all on the same sign
- “If negotiating access to the single market without accepting freedom of movement was easy, it would be your mum” – self-explanatory, really
Perhaps nowhere in the world were people so shocked with the results of the Brexit referendum as in London: less than 40% of Londoners voted to leave the EU, compared with 52% of the country overall. For a city where more than 35% of its residents were born outside of the UK and that today stands as the financial capital of Europe, leaving the EU is indeed – to put it as a polite British euphemism – a tad disappointing.
I’ll leave you with some of our mementos from London, likely our last ones from an EUnited Kingdom (see what I did there?).