I have loved Britain since I was a child and I fell in love with bluebell woods, the rainy seaside, those lovely, uniform, elephant-grey squares of London’s pavements.
I loved it as a teenager: night swimming in the outdoor pools of North London, roaming the Heath, the back blocks of Kings Cross, the Camden canals with my friends, feeling as if the city belonged to us alone.
I loved it as a student in Brighton, where the rolling green of the South Downs meets the stone-coloured sea. But it wasn’t just the pretty bits. I loved it – seediness, ugliness and all.
I loved annual holidays in France and Greece, feeling a sense of belonging there too. A sense of being part of those countries, of being from the same place as the people who lived there.
I loved Britain as a grown up. I loved the Tube – yes I really did. I loved the beautiful, perfect chaos of London. I loved the Cornish sky. I even loved the seagulls.
I have missed Britain daily since moving to Australia nine years ago. A physical ache. There has not been one moment that I haven’t been happy, uplifted, to think of myself as British, and, by extension European.
I didn’t want Australian citizenship. I was happy to remain a permanent resident of Australia because I didn’t want another country to belong to. I had a good one. And I wanted to remain – above all else – part of Britain and Europe. It was important to me. It was who I am.
(What a gift, I thought to myself when I gave birth to my children, they get two continents.)
But on Friday, those feelings changed. I realised that although I had loved Britain, I had never really known it.
As a child of London and the south-east, I may as well have come from Mars, such was my total inability to fathom the choice of 52% of the population in the EU referendum. I still can’t. And the actual eventual outcome of the post-Brexit vote almost doesn’t matter. Leave or Remain, the damage is done.
As well as the wider sense of loss, I have felt more acute heartbreak. A long-time friend of mine, born and raised in Britain, was called “scum” by a taxi driver in London on Monday after she spoke to her children in Greek and Italian during their journey. For the first time, someone was trying to make her feel like an outsider in her own home.
So for me, Britain is no longer a bright point. It is no longer a place I recognise as mine. Someone else has moved in. And I am not talking about immigrants from Europe or elsewhere.
I wonder if other half-hearted ex-pats – those who dreamed of one day going home – feel the same.
It’s that cold feeling you get when you visit the house you grew up in, after years, and see it updated, changed, and you realise the place you remembered and cherished only exists in your memory.
The penny drops. There really is no going back.
So, painful as it is, I think the time has come to say goodbye to my beloved country.
Australian citizenship forms, here I come.