Nationalism, as Albert Einstein once observed, is “the measles of humanity.” Of course, he was a crank beset by other illnesses like jaundice, stomach cramps and liver problems; he might’ve been projecting. But as an Englishman, I’m predisposed to agree, and as a soft liberal, I’m often encouraged to. Even saying “English” is odd. It rolls around my mouth like a granddad sweet, tart and pungent and almost impossible to digest. When you say you’re English, you really mean you’re from the UK, that stiff-trousered acronym veering from offense. “U” for “you all.” “K” for “okay.” The only time I discuss being a White Britain is when I’m filling in a diversity form on a job that’s so concerned with being fair that it demands your race, gender and pronouns before critiquing your work. This is occasionally sad. Everything that makes England wonderful, like steak bakes and post-punk and gin and the Lake District, is often nipped at the flank by the dark dogs of history. We were great once, and that greatness was awful. Our riches bore misery. They gave us the electrical kettle but came at a high cost. And we don’t know who we are anymore. Many Brits will confess that the sight of St. George’s Cross in a window tells you that the people inside are either racist or too old to remember cheese without pickle. It’s a shame. A flag is hardly ever the problem. If you choose to wrap it around more modern ideals — even as a country that welcomes others — that’s fine. You should. But we don’t. For good and ill, Britain has cornered patriotism to ranks of bullet-bald bastards while the rest of us convulse and try to figure out what we’re doing.
I was sick of my country too. A few months ago, my life fell apart along with the Post Office. I’ll spare you the particulars. The main thing is, I had to leave. To strip down. Perhaps I conflated this feeling with England’s collapse, because we’re crumbling and it hurts. Look around: NHS nurses are striking for the first time in history. Teachers are joining them. The railways are a mess. When you’re feeling shitty, it’s easy to see all of this as a coagulation, a rush of bad blood from other wounds. Everywhere I turned, people appeared more despondent, jaded and pissed off. They strode with hooded eyes or knocked ten bells out of one another in car parks. I know it will end. Like heartbreak, falling out of love with your country is never terminal. But I needed to go. So, I went to the one place that I could barely think about — Estonia.
Everyone asks you, “Why Estonia?” My friends did. They swirled pints in their hands, picking it over. “You’re gonna come back all Slav,” said Danny Shah from this very publication. “Like, head to toe tracksuit and shit. I’ll get your box Fiat ready.” I shooed them off, claiming that it’s exactly the kind of place you’re meant to go when you’re trying to abandon expectations of yourself. Unfortunately, that excuse doesn’t fly with Swedish security. “Why Estonia?” they asked with dead faces and proud lips. “Oh, well,” I said, “I’m over there, sort of staying a while, and I have enough money — look at my money here — so I won’t be a problem.”