The loneliness of a sceptical lefty
Observations on the euro in Hampstead
Some years ago, the vocal group Cantabile recorded a song called "Don't Drop the Bomb on Hampstead." Although I had never been to Hampstead, I was aware, even as a teenager, that it was a place where middle-class liberals gathered to right the world's wrongs over civilised dinner parties. People like Michael Foot lived there. I knew that one day I wanted to live there, too. High on a hill, it called to me as surely as San Francisco did to Tony Bennett.
After circling the area in a series of rented flats, I finally gained my foothold in paradise and bought a studio just within the NW3 borders. Since then, I have attended many charming soirees at which one of our greatest pleasures is to agree with each other. We all nod when one of us inveighs against the Conservative Party, or hunting, or Big Brother, or the royal family. Although many of us have attended public schools, we denounce the principle of private education (apart from when it comes to our own offspring, naturally). Partaking in the effortless superiority of Hampstead person, we are a happy bunch. We may not actually buy Cafedirect, but we know we should, and we will get round to it one day.
Alas, for me, there is one fly hovering over the lentil salad (not polenta, darling, that's far too Islington). For I am that lonesome specimen, a north London Eurosceptic. I'm not supposed to be, I know, but in this key area a rogue gene forces me to depart from the manifesto. When this subject comes up, my views are greeted with the horror of a Bateman cartoon. "You're not? Surely you believe in Europe? You can't seriously agree with Iain Duncan Smith?" I don't, really. My scepticism owes nothing to xenophobia, Little Englander syndrome, or the time a Continental hornet stung me, aged seven. But by proclaiming my lack of sympathy for the single currency, I have cast myself into utter darkness, where I languish alongside Jim Davidson, Norman Tebbit and Carol Vorderman.
Realising that I was obviously conflicted in some deep and meaningful sense, I once took myself along to a doctor specialising in the treatment of this malady. Tristan Garel-Jones (for it was he) sat me down and gently, patiently, explained why I was wrong. I had nothing to fear from further European integration, said Tristan, the weather was beautiful in Tuscany this time of year, wouldn't you rather have Beethoven than Bax, and there's nothing quite like tarte au citron, is there? Actually, he didn't say any of those things apart from the first, but I left his company relieved, a warm feeling infusing my now thoroughly European soul. I was cured.
If only. Before long, the effects of my consultation with Dr Garel-Jones had worn off and I was back to my dour, Anglocentric euroscepticism. Like the idea of living in Macclesfield, there's something vaguely depressing about it. My friends have tried to be understanding. Some pretend not to notice it any more than they would draw attention to a disfiguring carbuncle. Others kindly regard it as an amusing eccentricity akin to keeping a framed photo of Dolly Parton next to the bed. At least when I draw the curtains on the Hampstead sky, I can thank my lucky stars that I do not suffer from my girlfriend's illness. She, poor girl, reads the Daily Telegraph.
Sholto Byrnes is a journalist with the Independent and Independent on Sunday