You ever play ‘Risk’? It’s a game of world domination. You can’t play it by yourself. You have to play with others. You can’t play it above board. You have to play it in corridors of power (on the way to the toilet, in the kitchen, quickly on the veranda … ) And you never had those meetings. Your fellow players were mistaken. They never saw what ever they thought they saw. Allies are made and unmade in the space of minutes. It’s an all night, all weekend kind of game. It’s a lot of fun. Or not. Sometimes arguments are serious. People slam out the door, never to be seen again. But you can see the whole board at once. You get an idea of the big picture. And it changes. When it changes, it changes fast.
My father always told me I was a citizen of the world. Born in England to an Australian father and a mother who happened to be a New Zealander, I’m lucky enough to have been raised in those three places. I also lay claim to a bonus three years in Hong Kong as a child in the sixties. I may not have seen the whole world but I’ve seen the colonies. As I entered the last third of my life, I wanted to see a bit more of the board. I left Australia to travel to Spain in 2016.
Among the millions of people travelling the planet that year were people who were not playing above the board. As we now know, some meetings took place, which discussed alliances new and old. Some people swear they’ve forgotten all about them. Maybe they never happened. Or maybe they did. Or maybe you’re mistaken. Or maybe, what have you got to lose?
I was on the Camino de Santiago in Spain (Camino Primitivo, the first camino made effectively to keep the Moors down south) when the Brexit referendum result was announced. I walked up a Roman road with two Irish women. One was called Elizabeth and the other was called Mary. They both wore black leggings to mid skinny shin and only carried light bags because their husbands were carrying the big weights. They were staying in hotels along the way as opposed to my more humble albergue lodgings.
And so it was that Mary, Elizabeth and Victoria marched up a two-thousand-year-old road in the North of Spain arguing about Brexit. Invasion irony.
The Victoria (that’s ME!!) carried a British passport and therefore had the most to lose. The Mary and Elizabeth were from the Republic of Ireland so their country was like to benefit from Brexit. It was rumoured that everyone was searching for their own personal Irish granny to get a nice Irish passport. Ireland would be part of the UK for the foreseeable future. Mary and Elizabeth were adamant that Brits who voted for Brexit, who believed those ads on sides of buses that turned out to be out and out lies, should be able to control their own religion. Religion? What sort of financial logic was this?
I began to feel uneasy. What sort of media were these people named for English queens reading? What was the priest telling them from the pulpit? Who was paying the piper? Was I merely feeling unsettled because I was travelling?
Not long afterwards I enjoyed one of those ‘free’ walking tours in Munich. They’re pretty good fun – for the price of a movie ticket you get some historical gossip and an introduction to the lie of the land and major monuments. The tour guide, a personable young blond fellow really from Munich, was laughing about the fall of London. Laughing. No, really, he thought it was hilarious that British people had been so careless with their place in the hierarchy. He thought, well, he hoped, Munich was next in line to the financial throne – as a growing metropolis with get-up-and-go technology and German ingenuity – Munich should be the next King. Lots of new jobs, lots of new businesses; the centre of Europe has to be in Europe, right? (Paris is looking good, Madrid has been mentioned … )
Brexit meant checkmate. The king (and the current Queen Elizabeth II) was out of the game. Europe’s financial king was dead. If you were playing Risk, and countries had formed a strong alliance, you’d want to break their stranglehold on the markets, wouldn’t you? You would want to take that alliance by the back of the neck and give it a good shake. You’d shake it so hard you’d rip its bloody head off. You would utilise the oldest strategy in the military book. You’d divide and conquer. How hard could it be? Who was likely to benefit?
Had Europe become complacent? Would Europe be safe from attack? WWII was regarded as the Hot War. Then came the Cold War. When David Hasselhoff brought the Berlin Wall down with a song, it was the dawning of the age of the Internet and if you weren’t wanking you were chuckling over dancing kittens. Communication became so personal it was impersonal. Information exchange went so viral it evolved into anonymous, flung itself into trolling and then started mining for gold. Not just Warcraft gold. Everyone was muttering, ‘there’s got to be a way to monetize this new-fangled social media’. Guess you could sell ads?
And so came Trump. After Brexit I wasn’t even surprised. I’d suspected, after living through the desperate red-necked Australian male backlash against Gillard that a female Clinton would never get elected. Clearly there are some rich oligarchs who preferred an unpredictable buffoon to come out and dance madly on a strange glittery media minefield tweeting like a canary while they set about sucking the wealth from whatever backroom deals they could.
If you used to be the head of the KGB and you had amassed unimaginable wealth (think large dragon curled up on mountain of gold and jewels) why wouldn’t you want to disrupt the power balance of the world? Why wouldn’t you send a few Facebook messages out into the social media bubbles? What have you got to gain?
When Trump was elected I was living in a small town in Catalunya called Blanes. I used to go to Spanish lessons, which was silly really as most people in the small town spoke Catalan. The local lady in the bakery said, when I asked her if I should learn Spanish or Catalan, ‘There’s no point in learning Catalan. Catalan is a dead language.’ So I went to Spanish class. In our little group we had a Brit for a while and an Italian girl but mostly I had two slender young mums for company. The blonde was from the Ukraine. Her husband was a politician. She was a lawyer and lived in Lloret del Mar, a tinsel town disco dive the next stop up the Costa Brava. She had a couple of children who commuted to school to Girona. The darker woman had one son and she was from Russia. They lived near my favourite beach, Cala San Francesc. The area was crowded with houses owned by Russians who visited just once a year. There was a lot of Russian money in Blanes. I met Irina in the gym. She was from Russia and worked in reception at a Russian hotel nearby. I used to think it funny, the blonde from the Ukraine was the complete opposite to me. She never wore the same shade of lipstick twice, much less the same clothing. She loved shopping, preferably in Dubai. They had three houses, one in Lloret, one in the Ukraine and one in LA. She spent a few hours a day working online and then she was free to shop and go to the gym. What do you think she was doing online? I have no idea.
Girona was the first place I saw the giant banners that boldly stated ‘Si’ hanging next to the finger-drawn blood stripes in the yellow sand of the Catalan flag. There’s too much passion, blood, and dragons, in Catalan history.
Now I’m working in a primary school in Asturias, a place where locals are struggling to get their language, Asturian, recognised as an official language. Last week I watched a child leap from his desk, cross the classroom and attempt to strangle another child for merely looking at him. It’s just truth that some people believe they are more entitled than others. Some of us get jobs and others get sent to Manus Island. Snakes and ladders. But do you have to kick the ladder over as well?
If you were playing Risk, and you’d killed the financial king of Europe, why wouldn’t you want to destabilise the rest of Europe? You get Spain all stirred up, you might even break País Vasco – getting France hot and bothered for the price of one. And if the hot and bothered turns into war, why, just so happens you’re an arms dealer. And arms dealers are always open for business. Security Council rules.
Where did Napoleon come from? Where did Hitler come from? Where did Putin come from? How is Russia helping Venezuela? What’s China building in Africa? What are White Supremacists doing in America? Anywhere?
When change comes, it comes quickly. Can you feel the social media bubbles rising? What happens when we get to boiling?
What’s the price of peace? Vigilance.
And what, Prime Minister, can you do about it?