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MURRAY CHALMERS: I used to leave work in England and catch a plane home to France – now ‘great’ Britain is a nation grounded

Murray Chalmers' idyllic life in France.
Murray Chalmers' idyllic life in France.

As Britain gets ready to be grounded by its biggest rail strikes in 30 years and our crippled airports cease to function, I remember when I caught the Ryanair flight to Bergerac so frequently it felt like catching a bus.

Every Friday I’d see many of the same people in the boarding queue at Stansted and we’d nod to each other, relaxing into le weekend with the easy camaraderie that only £10 budget flights and a house near a vineyard can bring.

It was often quicker to cross the Channel to France on a plane than to cross London by tube.

I’d leave my office in Kensington around 11am and be sitting in my beautiful French garden drinking a glass of rosé by our pool at 6pm.

If that sounds idyllic that’s because it was. Travel was cheap and easy.

The chaos we now see at UK airports, where thousands of holidaymakers have had their travel plans severely disrupted, would have seemed like a dystopian nightmare to me then.

Life in France seemed sweet

Staff at Bergerac airport knew me so well they’d greet me as I disembarked.

I’d breeze through border control with barely time to say ‘bonjour’ before being waved into la Belle France with nary a glance from the customs officer.

Life seemed sweet – but then it often does when we have freedom of movement, money, and the expanded horizons that new cultures and experiences bring.

Life can also seem sweet when we don’t dig beneath the surface of what’s going on around us. Something I was probably guilty of at the time.

I saw France as my land of milk and honey, of tradition and wonderful cliché, even if my own interpretations of these clichés were skewed by naive romanticism and privilege.

Murray’s swimming pool in France.

Nevertheless, two years later, I wonder if it was serendipity or foolhardiness that made me give it all up for life as a permanently disgruntled Brit.

Because make no mistake – this is what I am now.

There isn’t a week goes by that I don’t regret leaving France to return to the isolated, reactionary cesspit that little Britain has become.

I laugh when I hear people talk about the UK being a great country, just as I laugh when people say Scotland is better off being part of this increasingly corrupt dysfunctional family of nations.

The sick man who chose to leave Europe.

The eternal loners at the ball.

France is setting off warning bells

Of course, France isn’t perfect. They too have massive problems stemming from inequality, not least the seemingly inexorable rise of the far right.

This week saw Marine Le Pen’s repurposed National Rally party win a record 89 seats, denying President Macron a majority and proving that he presides over a deeply divided country.

President of the Rassemblement National far-right party Marine Le Pen. Photo: Ian Langsdon/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

What’s happening there should set off warning bells to anyone in the UK who still thinks a right-wing, xenophobic, totalitarian government can never sustain enough popularity to fracture society to an unimaginable degree.

Don’t say it couldn’t happen here, because it already is.

Fascism is creeping up on us covertly while our civil liberties are massively curtailed.

Meanwhile ‘Great’ Britain allows people to be shackled on special planes to Rwanda, a country where human rights have been violated on a massive scale.

What’s great about turning your back on your fellow man in their time of need?

‘Travel now seems like something other people do’

In France I often encountered the Gilets Jaunes (yellow vest activists) protesting, their banners sometimes laid down for a two-hour lunch, their anger seemingly assuaged by a saucisson-and-Sauvignon-induced siesta.

I make light of it now, but I’d been warned that some of their targets were people like me – Brits who had a second home in their country, even if my partner did live there full time.

Pathetically, I took to displaying a yellow vest in my car, as much out of fear as naïve, hypocritical solidarity with the global Left.

In a very real sense, I was a sham because I was part of the problem, getting the plane over to France weekly.

Murray would clock off on a Friday and get on a plane to his house in France.

My carbon footprint as conflicted as my genuine love for a country I would never truly be part of until I lived there permanently.

Brexit quickly put paid to that anyway.

With my relationship over, the French house sold, and my possessions stuck in French storage, the past now feels like a foreign country to me.

Travel now seems like something other people do.

It seems depressingly apposite that leaving the UK has become so difficult at a time when our government seems demonically obsessed with deterring people from arriving.

Train strikes, rising fuel costs, cancelled flights and an empty Rwanda plane costing £500,000 stuck on the tarmac: UK 2022.

Grounded. Stubborn. Pointless. Depressingly inevitable.

As a metaphor for the ineptitude of this UK Government, it doesn’t get more accurate than this.