Sharing a BrexiTear (for the EU flag)

For the 5th anniversary of Poland accession to the EU, a group of the students of the Academy of Humanities and Economics in Lodz bring the biggest EU flag in the world, 20m x 30m, to the European Parliament in Brussels © European Parliament / Pietro Naj-Oleari
“EU flag in the Guinness Book of Records 14.04.2009” by European Parliament is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

We’re all very used to going into a shop and seeing products using the US and UK flags as motifs. After all, why not? Both flags have become design icons and recognisable the world over. But isn’t the EU flag also a design icon and doesn’t it deserve a place next to the others?

I’m sure designers are missing a trick. Why shouldn’t we be able to buy a cushion cover, waste bin or even a t-shirt with an EU Flag on it? And when we find something online, does it really have to be a political statement? After all, who really thinks about the reality of life in the US when buying a product using the Stars and Stripes as part of the design?

After watching a programme about food standards in the US, quickly followed by a report of yet another gun atrocity, it made me wonder why the American flag is still so iconic and features in so many designs. Does the average person really want to emulate life in the US? They’d certainly miss the healthcare, workers’ rights and freedoms most European citizens see as a right rather than a privilege. Yet the EU flag is absent from designs on the shelves. That’s quite strange, especially as it was designed to represent unity, solidarity and harmony among the peoples of Europe.

Contrary to popular belief, the stars don’t actually represent the countries (there were only six when the flag was designed in 1955), but I’m not going to tell anyone that and yes, with so many others, I’m very much hoping the remaining members of the EU will look after “our star” until we rejoin. No-one is taking that hope away from me.

I can’t recall ever seeing anything in a mainstream UK shop featuring the EU flag. I did once find a lovely EU flag umbrella in Strasbourg, some EU flag motif candles in Malta and a fridge magnet in Brussels. But not in the UK. That changed the other day when we visited Ross-On-Wye.

Ross on Wye – or should that be Ross on Why?

We’d never visited the pretty little market town as we usually thought it was more fun to go “abroad” to nearby Monmouth, just over the Welsh border. Mooching around, we saw the stunning Market Hall, now home to Made In Ross, a co-operative of local arts and crafts producers. When we climbed the stairs, nothing prepared us for what we found inside.

Over five years since the referendum on EU membership, my views on the subject haven’t changed. I’m still grieving and the new reality gives me less and less hope that the damage wrought by our leaving the EU can ever be put right. All we can now do is to look on in horror as our neighbours grapple with Poland’s infamous “LGBT-free zones” without us being able to apply pressure from the inside against these horrendous developments. Of course, the EU can only look on in horror at Dominic Raab’s chilling attempts to manipulate court rulings in the government’s favour.

Just what has all this got to do with seeing an EU flag in a shop, I hear you ask.

On entering Made In Ross, the first thing we noticed was the amazing architecture and some brilliant pieces of art – not to mention the stunning view of the town from the window. I then did a double take. My eyes were drawn to a little basket where some badges were on sale. As my eyes focused, I saw an image depicting exactly how I still feel. The BrexiTear image by Caz Holbrook, pictured below. There, in a real shop on the High Street, an EU flag!

BrexitTear by Caz Holbrook

In amongst all of the other wonderful art, the BrexiTear image featured on badges, greetings cards and a nice acrylic print. We then saw the BrexiTear image in all its full glory. A most stunning full size framed photo. In Ross on Wye of all places. After checking with my husband (this had to be a joint decision), we went to the till. With the framed artwork duly bought and wrapped, we carefully made our way back to the car. Of course I am still saddened by events, but overjoyed by our purchases (some badges and cards also found their way home). Discovering something like this for sale in a shop was simply magical. That’s the only word I can use. So different from an online experience.

Its creator, Caz, wasn’t in the shop that day, but we had a lovely chat with her colleague and got her details as I couldn’t resist getting in touch to say thank you. I was intrigued by how and why she created the image. The next day, we had a conversation on the phone and she told me how she got the idea back in January when “things became final, whilst sobbing” into her wine. She remembered when her son Finn, when he was around four or five, had an accident and started crying as he thought he had to go back to hospital. The photographer inside her captured the moment and she took a photo of him crying, a teardrop running down his face. On that fateful evening when we left the EU, she looked for the photo and once found, she used the magic of technology to put the EU flag into Finn’s eye. The next day, Finn, who had now turned eleven, suggested the Union Flag be put into the teardrop. At such a tender age, it was clear he understood the enormity of what had happened.

Caz went on to tell me that there had been very little resistance to putting such a “statement piece” in the shop – in fact most of her colleagues welcomed it with open arms. One particularly likes having it there as she uses it as a “Brexitometer”. Some tut as they pass. Like me, others are mesmerised, making it easy to open a conversation with them while they admire the art.

Like most gay households, we have a fair few rainbow items dotted around the house. They make us smile and give us a warm feeling. We also have quite a bit of Judaica as I’m culturally Jewish, although not religious in the slightest. All of these things give our house a flavour of our identities and we can now add this excellent piece of art.

Will it ever be a joyous thing rather than a political statement to have items dotted around the house with an EU flag motif? Will we have to wait to rejoin? Let’s hope that one day shops will be full of items decorated with EU flag designs, alongside the Union Flag, Stars and Stripes and yes, all the Buddhas we regularly see in gift shops. I’ll leave any debate about cultural appropriation to others.

Whether or not people see the flag as a symbol of peace between European peoples, or just a pretty pattern, discovering it featured in shops would surely make so many of us smile, perhaps while shedding a tear. Yes, a BrexiTear.

For anyone interested in Caz’s work, either as an artist or photographer, see her Facebook page. Her work is on show at the Made In Ross exhibition space.

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