Healing Brexit wounds, being an ‘Aunty’ and why my pandemic brain fog is a real struggle

Nimco Ali
·3-min read
 (Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)
(Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)

When I first moved to London, the one thing that stood out for me was how tribal this City was, yet people got on. The lines were very clear; for me there was the media set, the music industry set and the political set. I am sure there were other much cooler tribes but these were the ones that I hung out with in Central London.

This was the London of the Olympics, one with a Tory Mayor and a Labour Government but where we all got on. Annually we would gather at the Evening Standard awards and then party into the night under the guardianship of our tribal leaders. As an activist and a new Aunty to a child who is now the most iconic Londoner I know, this was amazing. Having come from Bristol where there is diversity but zero integration, I fell in love London and its festival-like gatherings. But this all changed in 2016 when Brexit came along, the seemingly invisible lines we all crossed daily became walls and no-go areas. We all defaulted to our comfort tribes — mine was a north London hybrid of original Mumsnet founder types and freelancers.

As I waited for the results of the referendum, I remember thinking the UK would remain and we would all be back to normal soon. Sadly this was not the case. The last few years have been ones full of division in a city that is, and has always been, open to new people, businesses and ideas. London, like its Tube, is complex but connected and for a moment we lost those connections. It was down to too many people in my tribe refusing to accept the results of a democratic vote. I, unlike many remainer friends, not only accepted the results but also met with those who voted leave and found that they, like me, care about this city.

In time, some of us found our way back but only just before the pandemic began. Pre-lockdowns, it was still hard to get people I would once have had dinner with in the same room. I remember running into someone who is a dear friend on her way to cheer on the DUP at yet another anti-Brexit march. “The DUP are anti choice and don’t support the equal marriage you are in. Why would you be doing this,” I asked her, confused. She did not have an answer then but when I went on a walk with her a few weeks ago, things had changed.

The people she wanted to have dinner with in a cold garden were the same people she thought were the devil a year ago. This shift in London, where people are ready to reconcile, was evident again as I sat with another friend in Soho this week. I saw people who had not spoken for two elections and a referendum run into each other and be genuinely happy to see one another. I am from the “things can only get better” generation and I believe in that sentiment. I believe post-Covid we will be back to having a pint with an old mate who last year we thought we would never speak to again.

My brain fog is a real struggle. I can’t remember the name of a girl I had a seven-minute chat with the other day. I have also sat at a dinner this week and totally lost track of what was going on. But I am not sure if this is due to long Covid or if its because I have spent the best part of a year alone. We humans are creatures of habit and when we lose the routines we know, our bodies and brains change. As we get back to seeing people and doing things, I believe the fog will lift but I also feel that research is needed so we don’t dismiss the experiences of many who might be suffering more than I am.

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