As the dismal referendum campaign rolls tediously on - still a month to go! - it has been impossible to keep it entirely out of my head (or even out of this blog). The other day I was thinking about what Brexit might be like - how it would feel to be out of the EU - and at the same time I was musing idly on the joys of retirement. Suddenly I saw a connection between the two.
Last autumn I wrote a piece on retirement - and specifically how, in imagining it in prospect, I had 'made the elementary mistake of simply subtracting work from my everyday life', assuming that I'd be left standing there with a great hole where my work had been, wondering what to do next. In fact, I quickly realised, retirement is not 'life minus work, but rather a new kind of life'.
I suspect those in favour of remaining in the EU might be making the same mistake, imagining the shape of the future as being 'UK minus EU', with a shell-shocked nation standing gaping at the hole where 'Europe' used to be - whereas the post-Brexit future would be, of course, a new form of life, a new stage in our relations with the world. (And it needn't be a new isolationism, as our international ties are, and will remain, highly complex, and by no means all of our relationships even with European countries are related to EU membership. Not to mention that there's a big wide world outside Europe...)
The future is of course by definition unknowable - which is why a campaign fought largely on predictions has been so fatuous - but I do think this negative and static 'UK minus EU' model is flawed. As for what's going to happen when this referendum at last arrives, my own tentative prediction is that there will be a narrow vote in favour of Brexit, but that - the EU being what it is - we'll end up staying in the EU after it comes back with a raft of concessions to swing a second referendum in favour of staying in. A dismal prospect after all this...