Rip Van Winkle (Again)

A Tale of Brexit for another Brexit Day

(After Washington Irving)

Once again, he had drunk the liquor the old men had given him, and, under a tree in the woods on a hill overlooking the village, once again he had fallen into a sleep so deep that 20 more years passed before he woke. Once again, his hair and beard had grown long and matted; his fingernails, like talons, twisted and long; his clothes tattered.

Rip Van Winkle stretched and yawned. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked around him. The village looked the same – the same houses with smoke rising comfortingly from their chimneys. The same little shops – butcher, baker, off licence, pawnbroker, bookmakers. The same church, the same pub. Only his hair, nails and clothes told him that another 20 years had passed.

He was hungry and thirsty, so, getting up carefully, he set off unsteadily toward the village. Going down the hill he passed a farmer, driving two reluctant cows up the hill toward him.

“How do?” he said.

The farmer just scowled at him and continued on up the hill. Rip Van Winkle thought this was odd, for civility was a hallmark of the village.

At the edge of the village, by a turnstile, he came across two elderly crones, deep in conversation.

“How do?” he said.

“Get lost, foreign vagabond!” one of the crones replied. “We don’t need your sort here. There are just too many of you around these days!”

Stunned, Rip Van Winkle stumbled over the stile, and trudged off toward the shops and the pub. Soon he saw ahead of him two men, arguing loudly.

They looked vaguely familiar, like older versions of two youths he had known, famous for their close friendship since childhood. Eloi and Settle. They had been born on the same day, were inseparable as children, married the same weekend, and moved into adjacent houses.

As he got closer, the argument became louder. “Could this really be Eloi and Settle,” Rip thought, “who never exchanged a harsh word, and certainly never fought?”

As Rip Van Winkle came up to the two men, they came to blows, hitting and thumping each other, and both shouting that the one had betrayed the other. Rip tried to separate them, but they both turned on him, raining blows on his head and further ripping his clothes. He made a fast retreat.

And so it went as he walked along the high street, past sullen, unsmiling, grumpy men, women and children going about their business in a grim, distracted way.

He entered the pub, which was dark and cold and gloomy, not the bright place he remembered, with its roaring fire, bright lanterns, and cheery atmosphere. Two customers sat at opposite ends of the bar, ignoring each other. Both eyed him with suspicion.

“How do?” Rip Van Winkle said to the landlord. The landlord did not return the pleasantry, he just growled “What do ya’ want?”

“A pint and a pie, please.”

The landlord slowly and reluctantly pulled a pint of bitter ale, and shoved it sullenly toward Rip. He took a pie from the cabinet, and without warming it, placed it on a board in front of Rip.

As he drank his ale and ate the cold pie, Rip Van Winkle thouight deeply about all that had happened since he woke up. He thought about the unhappy people, the quarelling friends, the incivillity, the unwelcoming xenophobia.

“So,” he finally said to the landlord, “I see that we haven’t left yet!”

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