ESSAY Liz Jones

NWR Issue 113

The Price of Butter

It was the 1975 referendum on Europe and I was barely old enough to vote. I had landed a job as a polling clerk in Merthyr; a stream of old ladies would come in, shake the rain off their umbrellas (it poured all day) and announce that they had come out to vote against Europe. It was a terrible idea, they’d say, butter would go up to 50 pence a half pound. I smiled and nodded, but inside I was hugging myself. Butter or not, I felt certain that the mood, among young people at least, had shifted. Europe, which seemed almost as big as the world itself, was opening its arms and welcoming us to the party. It almost seemed that once we were there the weather itself would pick up. I’d never heard of the Treaty of Rome, had no idea of what joining Europe actually meant. That didn’t stop me loving the idea of it. I was besotted with all that it represented: youth; freedom; cooperation between nations; culture, along with less noble dreams of cheap wine, cheap holidays and olive-skinned French and Italian boys.

And so I became part of a generation that came of age with Europe; with the casual assumption that it would always be there, always be open to us.

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