THE CONTAINER KIDS IN THE LAST DAYS OF THE JUNGLE. A sad end to a sad story.

lucetalk:

I visited what was left of the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais on Tuesday Nov 1st with friend Mitch, who has been making regular visits over the last year and a half with various volunteer groups. I accompanied him and others for a working weekend last May, when the camp was still in full swing. The difference was starkly depressing.

The entire site, once a huddled city of makeshift tens and shelters, a place of both hope and despair with a huge community spirit, was now an empty and desolate wasteland, dotted with piles of burnt wood and the remains of shelters, still blowing gusts of acrid smoke in the wintry air. Bulldozers rampaged over the area, clearing the rubble.

Calais town was eerily quiet, but we sensed unseen presences behind closed doors.  Although the camp has been evacuated and demolished, thousands of inhabitants bussed off to other parts of France, where they are probably not welcomed by right wing mayors, there are still refugees scattered all over the area. Many of them were unable to register because of the chaos and inefficiency of the registration system. Some have fled into the woods to set up makeshift camps and live rough. Some have gone into hiding with kind French people, (yes there are some in Calais) until they can sort themselves out. One Frenchwoman took in an Afghan family with young children. They were taken back to the camp and she was arrested and interrogated for four hours, and told she couldn’t offer shelter. Some are staying in the Salaam refuge, a Moslem centre which will take anyone from any religion. Some have been staying in a Catholic refuge centre. And many have gravitated to Paris, where they have been camping out in the open and treated brutally by French riot police.

All that was left of the camp itself was a collection of what I all the ‘Container Kids.’ 1500 unaccompanied minors who had been left behind after the main evacuation last week, to be temporarily sheltered in the containers at the edge of the camp. There was no running water or electricity and no provision to feed or care for them, so they have been relying on food brought to them by the charity organisations. During that last week, 200 of them were unable to get into the containers and were forced to sleep in the open, leaving them exposed and vulnerable to people traffickers.

Before going to the containers, we visited the Warehouse, the Auberge de Migrants, run by the main volunteer group Help Refugees. Despite the fact that the camp has been cleared, the warehouse is still alive with activity. Volunteers are working round the clock, sorting donations to be taken to refugee camps in Greece, Turkey and Syria, where they are now actively operating. At that point they were also busy preparing food for the container kids and taking it to them. We talked for awhile with some of the volunteers and heard some horrific stories about police brutality to the young refugees. We heard about arms being broken, police going into containers and pepper spraying young boys, a boy hit by a rubber bullet who has been in hospital and will probably never be the same again.  

The CRS, the French riot police, are pretty monstrous. As described in the previous blog entry, they look like the Storm troopers from Star Wars except in black, with big shoulder and knee pads. They frequently use water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets during protests and riots. These people are being treated like animals, they are angry, confused and frightened, and I think that anyone would lose the plot in that situation. It has been exacerbated by fascist thugs going into the camp to attack refugees, and violent people traffickers attacking lorries. 

The riot police were already gathering in force when we arrived at what was left of the camp. At around 2.00 in the afternoon, a phalanx of about 20 riot police vehicles swooped down the side road leading to the containers, blue lights flashing, and parked up.
Smirking police officers stood around, flexing for a fight.


At that point the area around the container camp seemed relatively calm. They were just a bunch of teenagers, larking about, riding donated bikes, playing football in a nearby field, groups of giggling teenage girls exchanging catcalls with the boys. There was mix of all ages and both sexes, contrary to popular perceptions. Many were as young as 8, but most were aged between 15 and 17. (Think about it - 8 year old kids on their own, no parents, no support.) There were several groups of white European volunteers dishing out food from makeshift soup kitchens. The kids were cheerful and friendly and I was amazed at their resilience and courage. There are Afghans, Syrians, Eritreans, Somalis, many different national groups, but most of them orphans whose parents have been killed in the conflicts they have fled from. Fights do break out among them, because resources are scarce and they are all fighting for survival. They are lonely, frightened and confused.

Most of them want to come to the UK because they have family here and they speak English. They don’t want to stay in a country alone where they don’t speak the language. We forget that English is the main language of the world because we had a big empire spanning the globe. Talk about own goal.

Many people also don’t realize that there are 15 conflicts going on around Africa and the Middle East. It’s not just about Syria. Last May I talked to many young boys and men and heard their stories. All of them heartbreaking, about families torn apart, young people forced to flee to apparent safety from conflict and persecution.

And here’s another reminder – only 4% of ALL refugees are trying to get to Britain. The rest are heading elsewhere. Yet the tabloid press seem to create the impression that all of them want to come only here.

We left at around 5pm to catch the ferry home and later learnt that another riot had broken out after we left. Apparently the youngsters were protesting about their inhumane treatment and not knowing what was to happen to them. The French riot police responded with their usual brutality.

The next day at 8am, on Wednesday 2nd November, coaches arrived to transport them to unknown destinations around France, where they await to hear about their fate, and whether they will be allowed to join their families here in the UK.

And that’s it – the end of the jungle. It’s gone. A sad end to a sad story, which will be continuing elsewhere. It’s not over yet.  

I can’t stop thinking about these kids. What will happen to them? Anyone who is a parent and knows the truth about what’s going on can’t fail to be concerned. No doubt the government will take a token few of them for appearances sake, to gain some bogus humanitarian credentials.

Most importantly, what has happened to our humanity? How can we turn our backs on people who are running away from terrible situations that our governments here in the West have helped create, with our arms dealing and foreign policy interference?

This is the biggest story of the century, the last test of humankind. As Angelina Jolie points out, this problem is not going to go away, and if we keep ignoring it and thinking it is not our problem, it is going to get worse and impact on us all.

Needless to say, the tabloid press have been doing their best to undermine public sympathy for these people. With de-humanising language like ‘hordes’ and ‘swathes’ and ‘migrants’ instead of refugees, which in my mind they all are. And of course, big emphasis on the fact that some of those newly arrived in the UK are older than 18, despite the fact that they have probably been refugees since before they were 18. Does being over 18 suddenly make people sub-human? This is typical tabloid sleight of hand, a distraction technique designed to brainwash the gullible public into dismissing these people as undeserving of compassion.

One paper has been giving balanced coverage of the refugee crisis and I attach the links below. Do please read if you have time. And spread the word if you feel inclined. The more people understand about this situation the better we can find a solution.

Wednesday 2nd Nov

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/02/calais-refugee-children-evacuated-as-camp-clearance-winds-up

Tuesday 1st Nov

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/01/calais-camp-hit-riots-refugees-teenagers

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/01/calais-camps-child-refugees-leave-wednesday-plan-bus-childrens-homes-france-application-uk

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/01/calais-camp-children-refugees

Sat 29th October

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/29/calais-camp-charities-attack-uk-and-france-over-unaccompanied-children

Friday 28th October

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/28/calais-french-british-officials-passing-buck-end

Thursday 27th October

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/27/theresa-may-policies-calais-rough-sleeping-children-camp-refugees-tories


https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/29/kindertransport-heros-daughter-urges-uk-to-welcome-calais-refugees

PEACE TO ALL 

Posted 33 weeks ago

THE CONTAINER KIDS IN THE LAST DAYS OF THE JUNGLE. A sad end to a sad story.

I visited what was left of the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais on Tuesday Nov 1st with friend Mitch, who has been making regular visits over the last year and a half with various volunteer groups. I accompanied him and others for a working weekend last May, when the camp was still in full swing. The difference was starkly depressing.

The entire site, once a huddled city of makeshift tens and shelters, a place of both hope and despair with a huge community spirit, was now an empty and desolate wasteland, dotted with piles of burnt wood and the remains of shelters, still blowing gusts of acrid smoke in the wintry air. Bulldozers rampaged over the area, clearing the rubble.

Calais town was eerily quiet, but we sensed unseen presences behind closed doors.  Although the camp has been evacuated and demolished, thousands of inhabitants bussed off to other parts of France, where they are probably not welcomed by right wing mayors, there are still refugees scattered all over the area. Many of them were unable to register because of the chaos and inefficiency of the registration system. Some have fled into the woods to set up makeshift camps and live rough. Some have gone into hiding with kind French people, (yes there are some in Calais) until they can sort themselves out. One Frenchwoman took in an Afghan family with young children. They were taken back to the camp and she was arrested and interrogated for four hours, and told she couldn’t offer shelter. Some are staying in the Salaam refuge, a Moslem centre which will take anyone from any religion. Some have been staying in a Catholic refuge centre. And many have gravitated to Paris, where they have been camping out in the open and treated brutally by French riot police.

All that was left of the camp itself was a collection of what I all the ‘Container Kids.’ 1500 unaccompanied minors who had been left behind after the main evacuation last week, to be temporarily sheltered in the containers at the edge of the camp. There was no running water or electricity and no provision to feed or care for them, so they have been relying on food brought to them by the charity organisations. During that last week, 200 of them were unable to get into the containers and were forced to sleep in the open, leaving them exposed and vulnerable to people traffickers.

Before going to the containers, we visited the Warehouse, the Auberge de Migrants, run by the main volunteer group Help Refugees. Despite the fact that the camp has been cleared, the warehouse is still alive with activity. Volunteers are working round the clock, sorting donations to be taken to refugee camps in Greece, Turkey and Syria, where they are now actively operating. At that point they were also busy preparing food for the container kids and taking it to them. We talked for awhile with some of the volunteers and heard some horrific stories about police brutality to the young refugees. We heard about arms being broken, police going into containers and pepper spraying young boys, a boy hit by a rubber bullet who has been in hospital and will probably never be the same again.  

The CRS, the French riot police, are pretty monstrous. As described in the previous blog entry, they look like the Storm troopers from Star Wars except in black, with big shoulder and knee pads. They frequently use water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets during protests and riots. These people are being treated like animals, they are angry, confused and frightened, and I think that anyone would lose the plot in that situation. It has been exacerbated by fascist thugs going into the camp to attack refugees, and violent people traffickers attacking lorries. 

The riot police were already gathering in force when we arrived at what was left of the camp. At around 2.00 in the afternoon, a phalanx of about 20 riot police vehicles swooped down the side road leading to the containers, blue lights flashing, and parked up.
Smirking police officers stood around, flexing for a fight.


At that point the area around the container camp seemed relatively calm. They were just a bunch of teenagers, larking about, riding donated bikes, playing football in a nearby field, groups of giggling teenage girls exchanging catcalls with the boys. There was mix of all ages and both sexes, contrary to popular perceptions. Many were as young as 8, but most were aged between 15 and 17. (Think about it - 8 year old kids on their own, no parents, no support.) There were several groups of white European volunteers dishing out food from makeshift soup kitchens. The kids were cheerful and friendly and I was amazed at their resilience and courage. There are Afghans, Syrians, Eritreans, Somalis, many different national groups, but most of them orphans whose parents have been killed in the conflicts they have fled from. Fights do break out among them, because resources are scarce and they are all fighting for survival. They are lonely, frightened and confused.

Most of them want to come to the UK because they have family here and they speak English. They don’t want to stay in a country alone where they don’t speak the language. We forget that English is the main language of the world because we had a big empire spanning the globe. Talk about own goal.

Many people also don’t realize that there are 15 conflicts going on around Africa and the Middle East. It’s not just about Syria. Last May I talked to many young boys and men and heard their stories. All of them heartbreaking, about families torn apart, young people forced to flee to apparent safety from conflict and persecution.

And here’s another reminder – only 4% of ALL refugees are trying to get to Britain. The rest are heading elsewhere. Yet the tabloid press seem to create the impression that all of them want to come only here.

We left at around 5pm to catch the ferry home and later learnt that another riot had broken out after we left. Apparently the youngsters were protesting about their inhumane treatment and not knowing what was to happen to them. The French riot police responded with their usual brutality.

The next day at 8am, on Wednesday 2nd November, coaches arrived to transport them to unknown destinations around France, where they await to hear about their fate, and whether they will be allowed to join their families here in the UK.

And that’s it – the end of the jungle. It’s gone. A sad end to a sad story, which will be continuing elsewhere. It’s not over yet.  

I can’t stop thinking about these kids. What will happen to them? Anyone who is a parent and knows the truth about what’s going on can’t fail to be concerned. No doubt the government will take a token few of them for appearances sake, to gain some bogus humanitarian credentials.

Most importantly, what has happened to our humanity? How can we turn our backs on people who are running away from terrible situations that our governments here in the West have helped create, with our arms dealing and foreign policy interference?

This is the biggest story of the century, the last test of humankind. As Angelina Jolie points out, this problem is not going to go away, and if we keep ignoring it and thinking it is not our problem, it is going to get worse and impact on us all.

Needless to say, the tabloid press have been doing their best to undermine public sympathy for these people. With de-humanising language like ‘hordes’ and ‘swathes’ and ‘migrants’ instead of refugees, which in my mind they all are. And of course, big emphasis on the fact that some of those newly arrived in the UK are older than 18, despite the fact that they have probably been refugees since before they were 18. Does being over 18 suddenly make people sub-human? This is typical tabloid sleight of hand, a distraction technique designed to brainwash the gullible public into dismissing these people as undeserving of compassion.

One paper has been giving balanced coverage of the refugee crisis and I attach the links below. Do please read if you have time. And spread the word if you feel inclined. The more people understand about this situation the better we can find a solution.

Wednesday 2nd Nov

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/02/calais-refugee-children-evacuated-as-camp-clearance-winds-up

Tuesday 1st Nov

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/01/calais-camp-hit-riots-refugees-teenagers

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/01/calais-camps-child-refugees-leave-wednesday-plan-bus-childrens-homes-france-application-uk

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/01/calais-camp-children-refugees

Sat 29th October

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/29/calais-camp-charities-attack-uk-and-france-over-unaccompanied-children

Friday 28th October

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/28/calais-french-british-officials-passing-buck-end

Thursday 27th October

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/27/theresa-may-policies-calais-rough-sleeping-children-camp-refugees-tories


https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/29/kindertransport-heros-daughter-urges-uk-to-welcome-calais-refugees

PEACE TO ALL 

Posted 33 weeks ago

POSTCARDS FROM THE JUNGLE  Random impressions from a weekend in the Calais Jungle

lucetalk:

Warning: This report/article is long, rambling and rather ranty. It does not contain nuts, or many jokes.

STOP PRESS: SINCE I STARTED WRITING THIS, THERE HAS BEEN A FIRE IN THE CAMP. THE CONFLICT WAS CAUSED BY LACK OF FOOD, CAUSING TENSIONS IN THE COMMUNITY. 250 SHELTERS HAVE BEEN DESTROYED AND 500 PEOPLE ARE WITHOUT SHELTER. LOOK OUT FOR A DONATION LINK AT THE END OF THIS POST AND NAMES OF VOLUNTEER GROUPS WHO ARE ALL HELPING WITH THIS NEW CRISIS.  

I went to the refugee camp at Calais known as ‘The Jungle’ with Help4Refugee Children, one of the many voluntary organisations trying to help these people who are trapped there through no fault of their own, and have been more or less abandoned to their fate. The main purpose of this weekend was a clean up of the camp after the gruelling winter. The place has been a quagmire of mud and with no running water or mains electricity, and poor sanitation, there are attendant health risks to the inhabitants.

We were a group of 7 (name checks later) meeting up with others down there who were part of other smaller volunteer organisations, all of us staying in a campsite near the refugee camp. The aid/volunteer status quo is complex, fragmented and unregulated by state mechanisms, a loose confederation of small organisations, the mainstream ones being Auberge des Migrants/Help Refugees and Care4Calais, both of whom have warehouses filled with donations of food, clothing, equipment and other supplies brought in from all over Europe, and who run daily task programmes for visiting and resident volunteers. 

Because the Jungle has not been given official refugee status by either the French State or the EU, there is no Red Cross or similar large international Aid Organisation out there to co-ordinate things, and the whole operation relies on crowd funding. It is ad hoc, but there is a logic to it and plenty of goodwill, energy, effort and organisation on all sides.

I tried to go in with an open mind, with the purpose of seeking the truth about the situation out there, as well as trying to do something to help. I wanted to see it with my own eyes, meet the people and hear their stories. Media reports always distort the picture and there is much suspicion, fear and loathing in the public mind. The tabloid rags are also helping to fan the flames of the xenophobic hysteria that seems to be sweeping the nation. I think you can’t really understand what it all means unless you’ve been there and witnessed it for yourself.

The Jungle is an experience that you don’t forget in a hurry. In fact most people go back on a regular basis, to do what they can to help. They are driven by their compassion for people living on the edge of existence, trapped in a Dante-esque situation of chaos, confusion, despair but also humanity, hope, camaraderie and kindness. It changes your whole perspective. It makes you ponder about the human condition, how this situation has come about and what has led up to it.

To get one thing absolutely clear; ONLY 4% of ALL refugees currently displaced and migrating across Europe are heading for Britain. Most of them are going to Norway and Germany and many are going to Canada, where they are being welcomed with open arms. The 4% heading for Britain are trying to get here to join existing family members. They are mainly in Calais, and some of them are also in Dunkerque, and the other smaller camps that have sprung up around Northern France. Many of the refugees in The Jungle are not heading for Britain at all, they are looking to gain asylum in France and some of them already have.

It is a constantly shifting situation, with people coming and going. Apparently, there are plans to carry out a proper census very soon. Since the whole situation is unregulated by state mechanisms, it is up to motivated individuals to take some sort of accountability. Voluntarily and with no official support.

I heard lots of stories. I can tell you some individual ones later on.  Almost all of those I heard were tales of families torn apart, people running away from violence, chaos, war and terror and unthinkable situations that we in the Western world can’t imagine.

Here is an interesting article in Huffpost about the current situation with rehoming refugees.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/refugees-welcome-index-amnesty-which-countries-have-taken-most_uk_573cc73fe4b0328a838bdb67

Of the Jungle population, 15% are families, women and children. The rest are young men, who have been separated from their families, looking for a  better life in a safe place. Some of them are unaccompanied minors, lone young boys under 18, wandering around at a loose end, with no family and no-one to look after them. Many of them are orphaned or have been separated from their parents, which happens in war zones. Or they have been sent off out of danger, only to find themselves in more danger. There is a woman there called Liz Clegg, a tough lady from what I hear, who lives in the camp. They started following her around like ducklings after a mother duck, so she stayed and took them under her wing, rather like Wendy and the Lost Boys. Legend. I didn’t see her, but she is there somewhere. Oh boy, do I feel a play coming on.

There are people in the Jungle from all over the 3rd world. Syrians, Afghans, Eritreans, Libyans, Pakistanis, Iranians, Iraquis, Darfurians, Lebanese, you name it. All of them what Daily Mail and Daily Express readers would call ‘bloody foreigners’. 

I digress. Anyway, here goes – an impression of the 2 days I spent there. On the Saturday morning at 8.30 we met up with a group of around 30 volunteers, connected to Help4Refugee Children, under the motorway bridge.

It was cold and windy. Dark clouds scudded across a glowering sky. On the other side of the motorway, toxic waste pumped out of tall chimneys and grim structures. Yes, the camp has been deliberately situated next to an industrial wasteland, an area considered unfit for any other human beings. Needless to say, respiratory problems are rife in the camp, as is dysentery and other illnesses common to unsanitary environments.

It is a bleak scene. Around the perimeter edge of the camp there is an implacable wire fence, curved at the top, with barbed wire, about 20 foot high, designed to stop the refugees who are trying to jump on lorries at night. Our government has spent £60 million on this fence, including policing and maintenance. That’s £60 million that could have been spent on aid.

The whole area is dotted with white police vans. Hanging around them are hatchet-faced, fully armed, black-clad French policemen who look like something out of Star Wars, or some Orwellian dystopian scenario, with large exo-skeleton shoulder pads and knee pads reminiscent of Ninja Turtles. They do not smile. The hostility comes off them in waves. They give you more than a shiver of unease.  They have been known to launch tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds. One of my party has been involved in an attack and you can imagine how scary and unpleasant that was. These gendarmes are racist thugs who don’t like the refugees and don’t like the people who are trying to help them, ie the volunteers. They make everything as difficult as possible.

The camp is relatively safe in daytime, especially if you stay in a group, and with an organisation, but it is best to get out at nightfall. The police begin their attacks and random gangs of racist, fascist thugs come into the camp and start beating people up. There are, inevitably, inter-racial tensions too within the camp, which can flare up at night. (And did, sadly, last week, when the fire broke out.) This is a Third World microcosm of displaced people, the huddled masses, plucked from all over the world and gathered in the middle of an alien landscape with an alien climate.

However, within this ramshackle sprawl of huts, tents and caravans lies a community with a heart to it. It makes you believe there might still be hope for us all. Although this picture says otherwise.

There is a large area to the South, which was bulldozed last November by the French authorities. The inhabitants of the shelters were given an hour’s warning and many were forced to leave without their important papers and belongings. They have been subsumed into the Northern side of the community, many of them in the container camp, but more of that later. A fearless young UK woman called Izzy apparently did a sit in on the South camp, right in front of the bulldozers. A few shacks remain but it is a wide, flat, desolate stretch of land, littered with tufts of grass and debris.

There were a lot of young men wandering along returning from their night’s attempt to jump a lorry. They looked sad and hopeless. But they were friendly and we all said hello. In fact everyone we met was friendly.  

We entered the camp and it was still quiet. We walked along the main street composed mainly of ramshackle makeshift shelters, which volunteers helped the refugees build with donated materials. Old sleeping bags, blankets and plastic sheeting are bodged together into structures which seem to work. The main street was deserted and we started picking litter, working our way up the street and down the sides. Every kind of refuse imaginable was there. I saw rats later on, scurrying around, but that’s not surprising.  

Gradually the community began to wake up and European volunteers began to filter in. There are many makeshift cafes and shops in the Jungle, resourceful people running businesses, trying to make the best of it. The most popular one apparently is the White Mountain. It’s all wooden benches and assorted plastic flowered tablecloths. I had some food in a lovely restaurant decorated with cuddly toys and half inflated balloons hanging from the ceiling and lots of fairy lights. There are flags and posters on the walls. All of it is donated by volunteers and visitors. I spotted a Teletubbie and resolved to take a Paddington Bear if I go again. He was a refugee from darkest Peru. The owner chatted to us, a good looking, intelligent, cheerful man. He is from Pakistan.

All the electricity is powered by generators. There are also dentists, barbers, a medical centre, the main big Calais kitchen, a school for adults, churches and mosques, a legal centre, a play bus where women and children can go for a bit of respite, and there are plans with another organisation called Children of Calais to build a proper school bus to provide education and resources. There is even a disco!

There are also a lot of caravans in amongst the shelters and many tents. At the edge of the camp is the new container camp, a cluster of white soulless square boxes. It is surrounded by a wire fence, with big stern gates guarded by big stern policemen, all armed. It has strict security. Inhabitants have to put their hands into a machine for ID to come and go. They have to agree to apply for French asylum if they want to go into the container camp. It is dismal and dehumanising, but I guess the families driven from the South camp when it was demolished were forced to sacrifice the freedom that others have for Winter refuge. It looked like a concentration camp and sent another shiver of unease down my spine.

Every day there is the distribution line, a long queue of men standing waiting for the food and other supplies brought in from the Auberge warehouse.

The Jungle is a compendium edition of the 3rd world, a limbo settlement, a shantytown of extraordinary diversity and heterogeneousness. It seems to go on forever. There is even a proper map of the place now. Many of the shelters have been decorated and painted. There are some lovely paintings and murals. There are also many messages around, which are heartbreaking.


‘We are all the flowers of one garden.’ That made me cry. I can’t remember the others, but all of them were about us all being members of the human race. And wanting to have some human dignity and safety.

As we cleared litter we put it all into plastic bin liners which we left on the side of the road for the lorry to pick up. H4RC were working with Acted, an educational charity. Lorries were coming in to empty the portaloos, which stank. It was like Glastonbury without the festival bit. But the place didn’t smell as bad as I expected.

As the day wore on the groups began to disperse. We ended up at the Ashram Café, a group of shacks in a central clearing. It felt like a village square. A small army of pretty young volunteer English girls and one or two guys run this place, the kind you see travelling in far-flung places. There are several structures, a round yurty thing, all decorated and painted with murals, a table by a stagnant stream, with makeshift plant pots and tins full of flowers and a little garden at the back with herbs growing. The food was free and the herbal tea was delicious.

The sun came out and the Jungle began to feel like a proper village community, or a town composed of smaller fragmented communities.  The Jungle has shaken down into ghetto quarters, as always happens in an urban community, each one representing the many nations who have gathered here. Everywhere I looked, people were greeting each other warmly, with a lot of genuine affection, back slapping and hugging. Volunteers and inhabitants all mixing in together, people who have obviously known each other for some time on repeated visits and have built lasting friendships.  

The volunteers are from many different European countries; Holland, France, Belgium, Germany, Scandinavia, Italy.  Apart from those doing general work,  there are builders, carpenters, doctors, midwives, lawyers, teachers, dentists, all of them giving their free time to come and help. Amazing people. 

We had coffee in Mohamed’s caravan, which is just to the side of the Ashram clearing. He is a lovely man with a kind warm face. Iranian I think, or Afghan. He’s a friend of Mitch, who has been many times to the Jungle. Mo is quiet and gentle. He went on a hunger strike in protest at the demolition, and had his mouth sewn up. They told him that he must eat, or he would die, and he said

‘I ve already died so many times.’  I can’t imagine his story.

Everywhere we went, people invited us into their shelters or caravans and offered us food and tea. The Jungle may be chaotic and sad and dangerous, but it is also warm, friendly and hospitable. The refugees want human interaction, they want to talk, to share their stories and connect with the world outside the camp.

They all keep themselves clean and tidy, with clothes and toiletries donated from the warehouse. They wash their clothes outside and hang them on the bushes. There are washrooms all over the camp. They take pride in their appearance. I didn’t see one tramp or vagrant.  

After our visit with Mo, we went into the family section, where the mothers and children are kept away from the main part. Ramshackle caravans are dotted around a clearing. Rats run across it occasionally. There is a small wooden play area , which volunteers must have helped to construct. As we appeared the kids came out and we began to play with them. They were thrilled to see us. There were babies, toddlers and older teenage kids. All of them Syrian and so sweet.  Their families are waiting for their asylum cases to come up. There are two pregnant women in this section who get regular visits from a volunteer midwife. One of our party is Gareth, a tall, gangly, wild haired, eccentric teaching assistant with amazing people skills and fantastic clowning skills. The kids loved him. He horsed around with them for what seemed like hours. We played tag and hide and seek with them, and swung them on the swings. A German family turned up with two blonde kids, and it was good to see them joining in the fun. Gareth the clown produced a load of blow up balls and random game of kickaround football began. A little girl called Saya drew a beautiful picture of herself on the ball, which I have pasted in below. I didn’t take a picture of her.

 IMPORTANT NOTE! I didn’t take many pictures. Not many people do. Although friendly and sociable, the inhabitants are very protective of their privacy for obvious reasons. They are in a precarious situation. It seems rude and disrespectful to go round gawping like tourists or voyeurs, taking snaps in a schadenfreude sort of way, so the general rule is to be discreet. 

H4RC do regular art workshop activities with these kids. There are also art and drumming and musical workshops as many of the inhabitants are musicians. I heard there was once a makeshift stage here, a lorry with the side cut out, and Jude Law came and did a Shakespeare performance. Good old Jude Law. That must have been awesome. However the stage was taken away. Isn’t that nice?

Perhaps it could be re-instated. A regular theatre lorry, like the mummers of old. These people need culture and music and art as well as practical help. Apparently the Dunkerque camp has a small cinema for the kids. 

After the break Gareth and I rejoined the litter picking group. The clean up was tough going. It was a gargantuan task. There was litter everywhere, rotting food, bags, clothes, mattresses, metal, pots, pans, etc, some of it all over the scrub and stuck in bushes, much of it lying around in running streams of dirty water and stagnant ponds, a real health hazard. Gareth was doing brilliantly, along with all the others. Their energy was amazing. By the end of the weekend they had devised a plan to help the refugees keep their camp tidier and cleaner. The refugees had begun to get the message about not chucking stuff away and began to join in the clean up, taking plastic bags and surgical gloves from the barrow. Plans were being made about laminated notices, more litter bins etc, setting up an ongoing refuse policy. The word education crept in. Unavoidable, You’re stuck here so keep the place healthy, it’s in your own interests, even if you’re going to get out soon.

This brings me to the whole ‘white western saviourism’ issue, which everyone is very aware of.  It was white supremacist saviourism that was used to justify the European nations’ big empires during the colonial era. It allowed the Victorians to conjure up their myth of imperialism with value added altruism, two mutually exclusive things. We the Brits lived in over 250 other people’s countries during our Empire reign, we owned and exploited a 3rd of the world, we plundered and oppressed them, but we pretended we were doing them a big favour by building roads and schools and hospitals. This myth still prevails today and is used as an excuse for four centuries of European colonialism, which I believe is part of the continuum that has led to where we are today. (Along with decades of interfering foreign policy, arms dealing and so on.)  So all the Europeans now going out to help refugees raises that spectre of white saviourism again. Except it’s very different this time. It’s a bit of a mind bender and requires much soul searching. Nobody wants to patronise them. They are educated people, many of them professionals with useful skills.

Many people came up to me and said how nice it was that all the volunteers were coming to help, but what about helping them get out to a better life? They don’t want to be where they are. We said that we couldn’t personally do anything, it was up to our governments, but we were constantly campaigning to change things. All we can do is help them deal with their current situation. I hope they understood. It was difficult to look them in the eyes.

As evening drew on Gareth and I wandered about and chatted to some volunteers from Hungary who had been working at the Dunkerque camp. It sounds very dangerous there. Apparently the Kurdish mafia have taken over. It’s not as well supervised as the Jungle. One of the girls was Hungarian, training to be a psychologist I think. So we learnt something about the refugee crisis out in central Europe. Last summer there were multitudes of displaced people out in the open, no shelter. Whole train stations full of refugees, platforms jammed with them. What a hellish scenario, like Apocalypse Now. She told us that despite the government’s merciless attitude, ordinary people were spending their entire holiday entitlements trying to help the refugees, taking them food and supplies and shelter. The heroism of ordinary people.  

We went to the supermarket to buy more supplies. Gas canisters seem to be the big currency in the jungle, everyone needs them for cooking, so Amy and Lauren and Monique bought a load of them from their crowd funded money. 

The next day we went to the Auberge des Migrants warehouse which was overwhelming in its enormity. The size of an aircraft hangar, it is filled with boxes and boxes of donations, all stacked up the walls. Clothing, toothpaste, toiletries, cooking implements, mattresses, everything that we use at home. All of it has to be properly labelled and if items are removed they have to be crossed off. There are chutes to dispense the donations to be taken and put into the right boxes. The atmosphere is amazing, with hundreds of volunteers rushing around. Most of them are there full time, they have devoted their lives to working for the refugees and live in caravans on the warehouse site. I heard an alarming rumour that the lease for the warehouse is running out. I hope it’s not true.

Then we went to the family quarter in the camp and distributed clothes we’d picked up from the warehouse to the pregnant ladies, who were expanding by the day and needed bigger tunics! The clearing was now a sorry sight, after the night’s rain, with puddles everywhere and the occasional rat skittering across.  Many people couldn’t get out of their caravans.  The clearing looked almost jolly the day before, with the sun shining and all the kids running around playing. No child should have to grow up in this kind of environment.

We sat with Abdul in his caravan and he made us tea and offered us lunch. We heard his story.  He needed to talk. Then we visited with more people and heard more stories. Which brings me to the individual stories, which are probably echoed all over the camp.

Abdul. Came to the UK as an unaccompanied minor refugee at 9, I think to join his elder brother. Because of his traumatic past he went off the rails and when he reached 18 he was deported back to Afghanistan, which was now considered ‘safe.’ He has since been back and forth to the UK 4 times, each time getting deported back. He spent 2 days in a lorry with no food, coming back into Europe. He showed us some of the scars he’d received from knife wounds in Afghanistan. There are some very dangerous people there and he was constantly attacked.

His friend, only 15 or so, was captured by a gang in Afghanistan who threatened to cut off his fingers. 

Aziz. An Afghan tailor. His father was murdered by the Taliban, his mother and younger brother and sisters fled to Pakistan. He had been looking for his brother in camps all over Europe and was now searching for him in the Jungle. He showed us a photo. His plan was now to try to get to the UK to find his older brother.

Ali – another Afghan. Also looking for his brother and had been all over camps in Europe, Belgium, Germany, Holland.

One of the volunteers told me about a Liverpudlian Afghan, a UK resident, who had come to camp to help and lost his passport. Probably stolen. (Yes it does happen, these people are desperate.) So he was stuck in Calais, a Brit, talking in a Liverpudlian accent. A sort of grim humour here.

A pregnant woman tried to jump a lorry and lost her baby.

A young boy, an unaccompanied minor, awaiting asylum, lost patience, wanting to be re-united with his family in the UK. He jumped a lorry and got killed.

These are just a sample of the kind of situations these people have been through. Many of those I spoke to want to return home to their countries and rebuild them. In the past 6 years 15 new conflicts have broken out. Refugees can expect 20 years in exile before their countries are stabilised. This means tackling the root source of the problem, which goes back a long way. Decades, centuries even. Arms dealing has a lot to answer for.

Finally we took our leave of our friends in the camp and drove to the ferry port.. Here are some of us on the ferry.

It was an experience of mixed emotions, harrowing and enlightening. I have met some amazing people, both refugees and volunteers, and made some like-minded new friends. It has made me realise the enormity of this humanitarian crisis. It has global, universal significance and we can’t ignore it. There are millions of desperate, misplaced people running away from desperate situations where their lives are in constant danger, situations which our governments in the West have helped create.

However, many people want to turn their backs on the people whose problems we’ve caused. Fortress Europe is making some efforts, but there is a need for proper, co-ordinated, international action that balances with the needs of existing communities where refugees are rehomed.  Many are being re-homed in European countries but it’s not enough. America doesn’t want to know and the Hungarian government is despicable. And yet, during WW2, thousands of Hungarian refugees were welcomed here, along with other refugees. It was all very okay then, everyone thought it a Good Thing to Do. So why not now? What’s the difference?

I am getting tired of hearing the continual excuses about there being other equally worthy causes, (yes of course there are), and ‘not enough room’ here. England is too crowded. And there are homeless people here too. I know I’ve met some of them at the shelters. The answer is you help all of them. There are a million empty houses in the UK, which would be enough to house the UK homeless and the 6,000 refugees in Calais who want to come to the UK, mostly to join their families, that 4% of all refugees displaced in Europe.

Oh of course, now we come to the EU immigration issue. More fear and loathing as the tabloids warn of hordes of Bulgarians, Albanians and Turks etc. Here are some facts about EU migration.

* Immigrants represent only 13% of the population. That’s not a lot.

* EU immigrants contribute £20billion a year into the UK economy in tax revenues. They come here to work. They help strengthen the economy and bring new energy in.

* 44% of the NHS workforce are EU immigrants. If they went, the NHS would fall apart. (Even faster than predicted, what with the public spending cuts and gradual privatisation and dismantlement this government is carrying out.)

* Only 7% of the welfare bill goes to immigrants. 50% goes on pensions, because people are living longer. And 20% goes to in work benefits because people can’t earn enough and are being exploited.

* There are currently 2 million Brits living in EU countries alone, 30% of whom are claiming benefits, which are much more generous than ours. The same number as EU immigrants living here. So the numbers coming in are balanced by the numbers going out.

* Welfare fraud (any welfare fraud) is a drop in the ocean compared to the billions we are being cheated out of by the super rich and global corporate tax avoidance. Tax avoidance is 4 times greater than benefit fraud, but there are 10 times more DSS employees chasing welfare fraud than HMRC people chasing tax avoidance. And the government is cutting jobs at HMRC. Hmmm.. wonder why? But hey, it’s so much easier to go for the smaller targets and hit the poor.

Oh, and FYI – the Foreign Aid budget is 0.7% of GDP. That’s 0.7%. Small price to pay, after what we’ve done to the 3rd world in the past.

So – immigrants can be good news to a country. They raise tax revenues, they help build the economy. And migration is a natural state of being for the human race. We’ve been doing it for millions of years. There is not one person on British soil who can call themselves a true Brit. Even the ancient Britons, the Celts, came from central Europe originally.

My catch all answer to xenophobic schools of thought is that we had a bloody great empire, we lived in other people’s countries. Empires come home to roost. We do not have a moral leg to stand on. And no, it’s not irrelevant because it’s in the past. The European empires collapsed less than 100 years ago, not long in the grand sweep of chronology. It’s all part of the continuum. What goes around comes around and the past creates the present.

SO – and it’s a big So. What are we going to do with these people? Does anyone really think that they would risk their lives in rickety boats, or jumping on lorries, if the alternative wasn’t even worse? It’s naïve to think that the problems in their countries can be sorted out any time soon. If we can’t find room for them, if we think they’re not our problem, where are they going to go? Will we just leave them in those camps in Europe, to rot? Or do some people think that Hitler had the right idea and gas chambers should be re-instated? The Far Right is mobilising right now. Be afraid.

What we need to remember most is that these people are HUMAN BEINGS. It can’t be re-iterated enough.  We need to stop using de-humanising language such as ‘hordes’ and ‘swarms’ and ‘overrun’.  We should call refugees refugees not migrants. We need to make the distinction, but we should remember that even economic migrants are running away from terrible deprivation.

I think Angelina Jolie said it succinctly when she spoke at the BBC World on the Move conference recently. (Link pasted in below) She said that this humanitarian crisis is the biggest test ever of our humanity. It’s global and it’s urgent. We can’t afford to ignore it and separate ourselves from it, or it will get worse and impact on all of us. We need to think in Panavision, not tunnel vision. I’m not religious, but maybe this is God giving us one last chance to get it right. Otherwise I’m afraid we’re all doomed. Even us comfy, middle class westerners in our comfy homes.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07d4cq1/world-on-the-move-angelina-jolie-pitt-in-conversation-with-mishal-husain 

So where do we start? By giving a fuck, that’s where. By understanding the global significance of this phenomenon. There are already hundreds of people who do care, volunteers working down in Calais full time, and groups going down to help. The volunteer situation is fragmented, and there is sadly some rivalry, but it’s saving lives. If a large Aid organisation with a big budget came in to support and oversee them, so much more could be achieved and the refugees would be living in more humane conditions.

Here is a list of organisations, most of whom have websites and facebook pages. If you haven’t already got involved and want to help, here are the avenues to explore.

Auberge des Migrants/Help Refugees. This is the main organisation. You register dates with them. They send full welcome packs and instructions and  advise on local accommodation etc. They have a huge warehouse. You go to a briefing every morning at 9am and are assigned tasks, either in the warehouse, the warehouse kitchen, or distributing donations in the camp, or doing activities with refugees.

Care4Calais – Claire Moseley. A similar organisation.

Help4Refugee Children – run by two amazingly dedicated young women, Isis Aurora Mera and Daniela Garcia, who work in the UK during the week and go down most weekends to do activities with the children in the family section.

Donation link:

 https://www.gofundme.com/4refugeechildren?mc_cid=257ded67d2&mc_eid=a75cdaca12

Children of Calais, managed by Ali Cersey, who is trying to set up a school bus project and fundraising.

London to Calais, Brighton to Calais, Bristol to Calais. They mostly organise donation collections and take them down to the camp.

Calaid – not sure if they’re still going.

Forest Row to the Jungle – on facebook

And many more. There are smaller local groups all over the country. Just google Calais refugee voluntary organisations and you will find them.

I can’t finish without mentioning the wonderful Mitch, Gareth, Amy, Monique and Lauren with whom I spent the weekend. Amazing people and fun to be with.  And of course Isis and Daniela from Help4RefugeeChildren. 

 

 

It’s time to take on the global leaders, warmongers, tax dodging corporate fatcats and arms dealers – not to mention the xenophobes, cynics and naysayers in our own society. Let’s hope and pray that one day we can solve the problems the human race has created for itself.

 

Best wishes to all and here’s to a better future.

Posted 55 weeks ago

POSTCARDS FROM THE JUNGLE  Random impressions from a weekend in the Calais Jungle

Warning: This report/article is long, rambling and rather ranty. It does not contain nuts, or many jokes.

STOP PRESS: SINCE I STARTED WRITING THIS, THERE HAS BEEN A FIRE IN THE CAMP. THE CONFLICT WAS CAUSED BY LACK OF FOOD, CAUSING TENSIONS IN THE COMMUNITY. 250 SHELTERS HAVE BEEN DESTROYED AND 500 PEOPLE ARE WITHOUT SHELTER. LOOK OUT FOR A DONATION LINK AT THE END OF THIS POST AND NAMES OF VOLUNTEER GROUPS WHO ARE ALL HELPING WITH THIS NEW CRISIS.  

I went to the refugee camp at Calais known as ‘The Jungle’ with Help4Refugee Children, one of the many voluntary organisations trying to help these people who are trapped there through no fault of their own, and have been more or less abandoned to their fate. The main purpose of this weekend was a clean up of the camp after the gruelling winter. The place has been a quagmire of mud and with no running water or mains electricity, and poor sanitation, there are attendant health risks to the inhabitants.

We were a group of 7 (name checks later) meeting up with others down there who were part of other smaller volunteer organisations, all of us staying in a campsite near the refugee camp. The aid/volunteer status quo is complex, fragmented and unregulated by state mechanisms, a loose confederation of small organisations, the mainstream ones being Auberge des Migrants/Help Refugees and Care4Calais, both of whom have warehouses filled with donations of food, clothing, equipment and other supplies brought in from all over Europe, and who run daily task programmes for visiting and resident volunteers. 

Because the Jungle has not been given official refugee status by either the French State or the EU, there is no Red Cross or similar large international Aid Organisation out there to co-ordinate things, and the whole operation relies on crowd funding. It is ad hoc, but there is a logic to it and plenty of goodwill, energy, effort and organisation on all sides.

I tried to go in with an open mind, with the purpose of seeking the truth about the situation out there, as well as trying to do something to help. I wanted to see it with my own eyes, meet the people and hear their stories. Media reports always distort the picture and there is much suspicion, fear and loathing in the public mind. The tabloid rags are also helping to fan the flames of the xenophobic hysteria that seems to be sweeping the nation. I think you can’t really understand what it all means unless you’ve been there and witnessed it for yourself.

The Jungle is an experience that you don’t forget in a hurry. In fact most people go back on a regular basis, to do what they can to help. They are driven by their compassion for people living on the edge of existence, trapped in a Dante-esque situation of chaos, confusion, despair but also humanity, hope, camaraderie and kindness. It changes your whole perspective. It makes you ponder about the human condition, how this situation has come about and what has led up to it.

To get one thing absolutely clear; ONLY 4% of ALL refugees currently displaced and migrating across Europe are heading for Britain. Most of them are going to Norway and Germany and many are going to Canada, where they are being welcomed with open arms. The 4% heading for Britain are trying to get here to join existing family members. They are mainly in Calais, and some of them are also in Dunkerque, and the other smaller camps that have sprung up around Northern France. Many of the refugees in The Jungle are not heading for Britain at all, they are looking to gain asylum in France and some of them already have.

It is a constantly shifting situation, with people coming and going. Apparently, there are plans to carry out a proper census very soon. Since the whole situation is unregulated by state mechanisms, it is up to motivated individuals to take some sort of accountability. Voluntarily and with no official support.

I heard lots of stories. I can tell you some individual ones later on.  Almost all of those I heard were tales of families torn apart, people running away from violence, chaos, war and terror and unthinkable situations that we in the Western world can’t imagine.

Here is an interesting article in Huffpost about the current situation with rehoming refugees.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/refugees-welcome-index-amnesty-which-countries-have-taken-most_uk_573cc73fe4b0328a838bdb67

Of the Jungle population, 15% are families, women and children. The rest are young men, who have been separated from their families, looking for a  better life in a safe place. Some of them are unaccompanied minors, lone young boys under 18, wandering around at a loose end, with no family and no-one to look after them. Many of them are orphaned or have been separated from their parents, which happens in war zones. Or they have been sent off out of danger, only to find themselves in more danger. There is a woman there called Liz Clegg, a tough lady from what I hear, who lives in the camp. They started following her around like ducklings after a mother duck, so she stayed and took them under her wing, rather like Wendy and the Lost Boys. Legend. I didn’t see her, but she is there somewhere. Oh boy, do I feel a play coming on.

There are people in the Jungle from all over the 3rd world. Syrians, Afghans, Eritreans, Libyans, Pakistanis, Iranians, Iraquis, Darfurians, Lebanese, you name it. All of them what Daily Mail and Daily Express readers would call ‘bloody foreigners’. 

I digress. Anyway, here goes – an impression of the 2 days I spent there. On the Saturday morning at 8.30 we met up with a group of around 30 volunteers, connected to Help4Refugee Children, under the motorway bridge.

It was cold and windy. Dark clouds scudded across a glowering sky. On the other side of the motorway, toxic waste pumped out of tall chimneys and grim structures. Yes, the camp has been deliberately situated next to an industrial wasteland, an area considered unfit for any other human beings. Needless to say, respiratory problems are rife in the camp, as is dysentery and other illnesses common to unsanitary environments.

It is a bleak scene. Around the perimeter edge of the camp there is an implacable wire fence, curved at the top, with barbed wire, about 20 foot high, designed to stop the refugees who are trying to jump on lorries at night. Our government has spent £60 million on this fence, including policing and maintenance. That’s £60 million that could have been spent on aid.

The whole area is dotted with white police vans. Hanging around them are hatchet-faced, fully armed, black-clad French policemen who look like something out of Star Wars, or some Orwellian dystopian scenario, with large exo-skeleton shoulder pads and knee pads reminiscent of Ninja Turtles. They do not smile. The hostility comes off them in waves. They give you more than a shiver of unease.  They have been known to launch tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds. One of my party has been involved in an attack and you can imagine how scary and unpleasant that was. These gendarmes are racist thugs who don’t like the refugees and don’t like the people who are trying to help them, ie the volunteers. They make everything as difficult as possible.

The camp is relatively safe in daytime, especially if you stay in a group, and with an organisation, but it is best to get out at nightfall. The police begin their attacks and random gangs of racist, fascist thugs come into the camp and start beating people up. There are, inevitably, inter-racial tensions too within the camp, which can flare up at night. (And did, sadly, last week, when the fire broke out.) This is a Third World microcosm of displaced people, the huddled masses, plucked from all over the world and gathered in the middle of an alien landscape with an alien climate.

However, within this ramshackle sprawl of huts, tents and caravans lies a community with a heart to it. It makes you believe there might still be hope for us all. Although this picture says otherwise.

There is a large area to the South, which was bulldozed last November by the French authorities. The inhabitants of the shelters were given an hour’s warning and many were forced to leave without their important papers and belongings. They have been subsumed into the Northern side of the community, many of them in the container camp, but more of that later. A fearless young UK woman called Izzy apparently did a sit in on the South camp, right in front of the bulldozers. A few shacks remain but it is a wide, flat, desolate stretch of land, littered with tufts of grass and debris.

There were a lot of young men wandering along returning from their night’s attempt to jump a lorry. They looked sad and hopeless. But they were friendly and we all said hello. In fact everyone we met was friendly.  

We entered the camp and it was still quiet. We walked along the main street composed mainly of ramshackle makeshift shelters, which volunteers helped the refugees build with donated materials. Old sleeping bags, blankets and plastic sheeting are bodged together into structures which seem to work. The main street was deserted and we started picking litter, working our way up the street and down the sides. Every kind of refuse imaginable was there. I saw rats later on, scurrying around, but that’s not surprising.  

Gradually the community began to wake up and European volunteers began to filter in. There are many makeshift cafes and shops in the Jungle, resourceful people running businesses, trying to make the best of it. The most popular one apparently is the White Mountain. It’s all wooden benches and assorted plastic flowered tablecloths. I had some food in a lovely restaurant decorated with cuddly toys and half inflated balloons hanging from the ceiling and lots of fairy lights. There are flags and posters on the walls. All of it is donated by volunteers and visitors. I spotted a Teletubbie and resolved to take a Paddington Bear if I go again. He was a refugee from darkest Peru. The owner chatted to us, a good looking, intelligent, cheerful man. He is from Pakistan.

All the electricity is powered by generators. There are also dentists, barbers, a medical centre, the main big Calais kitchen, a school for adults, churches and mosques, a legal centre, a play bus where women and children can go for a bit of respite, and there are plans with another organisation called Children of Calais to build a proper school bus to provide education and resources. There is even a disco!

There are also a lot of caravans in amongst the shelters and many tents. At the edge of the camp is the new container camp, a cluster of white soulless square boxes. It is surrounded by a wire fence, with big stern gates guarded by big stern policemen, all armed. It has strict security. Inhabitants have to put their hands into a machine for ID to come and go. They have to agree to apply for French asylum if they want to go into the container camp. It is dismal and dehumanising, but I guess the families driven from the South camp when it was demolished were forced to sacrifice the freedom that others have for Winter refuge. It looked like a concentration camp and sent another shiver of unease down my spine.

Every day there is the distribution line, a long queue of men standing waiting for the food and other supplies brought in from the Auberge warehouse.

The Jungle is a compendium edition of the 3rd world, a limbo settlement, a shantytown of extraordinary diversity and heterogeneousness. It seems to go on forever. There is even a proper map of the place now. Many of the shelters have been decorated and painted. There are some lovely paintings and murals. There are also many messages around, which are heartbreaking.


‘We are all the flowers of one garden.’ That made me cry. I can’t remember the others, but all of them were about us all being members of the human race. And wanting to have some human dignity and safety.

As we cleared litter we put it all into plastic bin liners which we left on the side of the road for the lorry to pick up. H4RC were working with Acted, an educational charity. Lorries were coming in to empty the portaloos, which stank. It was like Glastonbury without the festival bit. But the place didn’t smell as bad as I expected.

As the day wore on the groups began to disperse. We ended up at the Ashram Café, a group of shacks in a central clearing. It felt like a village square. A small army of pretty young volunteer English girls and one or two guys run this place, the kind you see travelling in far-flung places. There are several structures, a round yurty thing, all decorated and painted with murals, a table by a stagnant stream, with makeshift plant pots and tins full of flowers and a little garden at the back with herbs growing. The food was free and the herbal tea was delicious.

The sun came out and the Jungle began to feel like a proper village community, or a town composed of smaller fragmented communities.  The Jungle has shaken down into ghetto quarters, as always happens in an urban community, each one representing the many nations who have gathered here. Everywhere I looked, people were greeting each other warmly, with a lot of genuine affection, back slapping and hugging. Volunteers and inhabitants all mixing in together, people who have obviously known each other for some time on repeated visits and have built lasting friendships.  

The volunteers are from many different European countries; Holland, France, Belgium, Germany, Scandinavia, Italy.  Apart from those doing general work,  there are builders, carpenters, doctors, midwives, lawyers, teachers, dentists, all of them giving their free time to come and help. Amazing people. 

We had coffee in Mohamed’s caravan, which is just to the side of the Ashram clearing. He is a lovely man with a kind warm face. Iranian I think, or Afghan. He’s a friend of Mitch, who has been many times to the Jungle. Mo is quiet and gentle. He went on a hunger strike in protest at the demolition, and had his mouth sewn up. They told him that he must eat, or he would die, and he said

‘I ve already died so many times.’  I can’t imagine his story.

Everywhere we went, people invited us into their shelters or caravans and offered us food and tea. The Jungle may be chaotic and sad and dangerous, but it is also warm, friendly and hospitable. The refugees want human interaction, they want to talk, to share their stories and connect with the world outside the camp.

They all keep themselves clean and tidy, with clothes and toiletries donated from the warehouse. They wash their clothes outside and hang them on the bushes. There are washrooms all over the camp. They take pride in their appearance. I didn’t see one tramp or vagrant.  

After our visit with Mo, we went into the family section, where the mothers and children are kept away from the main part. Ramshackle caravans are dotted around a clearing. Rats run across it occasionally. There is a small wooden play area , which volunteers must have helped to construct. As we appeared the kids came out and we began to play with them. They were thrilled to see us. There were babies, toddlers and older teenage kids. All of them Syrian and so sweet.  Their families are waiting for their asylum cases to come up. There are two pregnant women in this section who get regular visits from a volunteer midwife. One of our party is Gareth, a tall, gangly, wild haired, eccentric teaching assistant with amazing people skills and fantastic clowning skills. The kids loved him. He horsed around with them for what seemed like hours. We played tag and hide and seek with them, and swung them on the swings. A German family turned up with two blonde kids, and it was good to see them joining in the fun. Gareth the clown produced a load of blow up balls and random game of kickaround football began. A little girl called Saya drew a beautiful picture of herself on the ball, which I have pasted in below. I didn’t take a picture of her.

 IMPORTANT NOTE! I didn’t take many pictures. Not many people do. Although friendly and sociable, the inhabitants are very protective of their privacy for obvious reasons. They are in a precarious situation. It seems rude and disrespectful to go round gawping like tourists or voyeurs, taking snaps in a schadenfreude sort of way, so the general rule is to be discreet. 

H4RC do regular art workshop activities with these kids. There are also art and drumming and musical workshops as many of the inhabitants are musicians. I heard there was once a makeshift stage here, a lorry with the side cut out, and Jude Law came and did a Shakespeare performance. Good old Jude Law. That must have been awesome. However the stage was taken away. Isn’t that nice?

Perhaps it could be re-instated. A regular theatre lorry, like the mummers of old. These people need culture and music and art as well as practical help. Apparently the Dunkerque camp has a small cinema for the kids. 

After the break Gareth and I rejoined the litter picking group. The clean up was tough going. It was a gargantuan task. There was litter everywhere, rotting food, bags, clothes, mattresses, metal, pots, pans, etc, some of it all over the scrub and stuck in bushes, much of it lying around in running streams of dirty water and stagnant ponds, a real health hazard. Gareth was doing brilliantly, along with all the others. Their energy was amazing. By the end of the weekend they had devised a plan to help the refugees keep their camp tidier and cleaner. The refugees had begun to get the message about not chucking stuff away and began to join in the clean up, taking plastic bags and surgical gloves from the barrow. Plans were being made about laminated notices, more litter bins etc, setting up an ongoing refuse policy. The word education crept in. Unavoidable, You’re stuck here so keep the place healthy, it’s in your own interests, even if you’re going to get out soon.

This brings me to the whole ‘white western saviourism’ issue, which everyone is very aware of.  It was white supremacist saviourism that was used to justify the European nations’ big empires during the colonial era. It allowed the Victorians to conjure up their myth of imperialism with value added altruism, two mutually exclusive things. We the Brits lived in over 250 other people’s countries during our Empire reign, we owned and exploited a 3rd of the world, we plundered and oppressed them, but we pretended we were doing them a big favour by building roads and schools and hospitals. This myth still prevails today and is used as an excuse for four centuries of European colonialism, which I believe is part of the continuum that has led to where we are today. (Along with decades of interfering foreign policy, arms dealing and so on.)  So all the Europeans now going out to help refugees raises that spectre of white saviourism again. Except it’s very different this time. It’s a bit of a mind bender and requires much soul searching. Nobody wants to patronise them. They are educated people, many of them professionals with useful skills.

Many people came up to me and said how nice it was that all the volunteers were coming to help, but what about helping them get out to a better life? They don’t want to be where they are. We said that we couldn’t personally do anything, it was up to our governments, but we were constantly campaigning to change things. All we can do is help them deal with their current situation. I hope they understood. It was difficult to look them in the eyes.

As evening drew on Gareth and I wandered about and chatted to some volunteers from Hungary who had been working at the Dunkerque camp. It sounds very dangerous there. Apparently the Kurdish mafia have taken over. It’s not as well supervised as the Jungle. One of the girls was Hungarian, training to be a psychologist I think. So we learnt something about the refugee crisis out in central Europe. Last summer there were multitudes of displaced people out in the open, no shelter. Whole train stations full of refugees, platforms jammed with them. What a hellish scenario, like Apocalypse Now. She told us that despite the government’s merciless attitude, ordinary people were spending their entire holiday entitlements trying to help the refugees, taking them food and supplies and shelter. The heroism of ordinary people.  

We went to the supermarket to buy more supplies. Gas canisters seem to be the big currency in the jungle, everyone needs them for cooking, so Amy and Lauren and Monique bought a load of them from their crowd funded money. 

The next day we went to the Auberge des Migrants warehouse which was overwhelming in its enormity. The size of an aircraft hangar, it is filled with boxes and boxes of donations, all stacked up the walls. Clothing, toothpaste, toiletries, cooking implements, mattresses, everything that we use at home. All of it has to be properly labelled and if items are removed they have to be crossed off. There are chutes to dispense the donations to be taken and put into the right boxes. The atmosphere is amazing, with hundreds of volunteers rushing around. Most of them are there full time, they have devoted their lives to working for the refugees and live in caravans on the warehouse site. I heard an alarming rumour that the lease for the warehouse is running out. I hope it’s not true.

Then we went to the family quarter in the camp and distributed clothes we’d picked up from the warehouse to the pregnant ladies, who were expanding by the day and needed bigger tunics! The clearing was now a sorry sight, after the night’s rain, with puddles everywhere and the occasional rat skittering across.  Many people couldn’t get out of their caravans.  The clearing looked almost jolly the day before, with the sun shining and all the kids running around playing. No child should have to grow up in this kind of environment.

We sat with Abdul in his caravan and he made us tea and offered us lunch. We heard his story.  He needed to talk. Then we visited with more people and heard more stories. Which brings me to the individual stories, which are probably echoed all over the camp.

Abdul. Came to the UK as an unaccompanied minor refugee at 9, I think to join his elder brother. Because of his traumatic past he went off the rails and when he reached 18 he was deported back to Afghanistan, which was now considered ‘safe.’ He has since been back and forth to the UK 4 times, each time getting deported back. He spent 2 days in a lorry with no food, coming back into Europe. He showed us some of the scars he’d received from knife wounds in Afghanistan. There are some very dangerous people there and he was constantly attacked.

His friend, only 15 or so, was captured by a gang in Afghanistan who threatened to cut off his fingers. 

Aziz. An Afghan tailor. His father was murdered by the Taliban, his mother and younger brother and sisters fled to Pakistan. He had been looking for his brother in camps all over Europe and was now searching for him in the Jungle. He showed us a photo. His plan was now to try to get to the UK to find his older brother.

Ali – another Afghan. Also looking for his brother and had been all over camps in Europe, Belgium, Germany, Holland.

One of the volunteers told me about a Liverpudlian Afghan, a UK resident, who had come to camp to help and lost his passport. Probably stolen. (Yes it does happen, these people are desperate.) So he was stuck in Calais, a Brit, talking in a Liverpudlian accent. A sort of grim humour here.

A pregnant woman tried to jump a lorry and lost her baby.

A young boy, an unaccompanied minor, awaiting asylum, lost patience, wanting to be re-united with his family in the UK. He jumped a lorry and got killed.

These are just a sample of the kind of situations these people have been through. Many of those I spoke to want to return home to their countries and rebuild them. In the past 6 years 15 new conflicts have broken out. Refugees can expect 20 years in exile before their countries are stabilised. This means tackling the root source of the problem, which goes back a long way. Decades, centuries even. Arms dealing has a lot to answer for.

Finally we took our leave of our friends in the camp and drove to the ferry port.. Here are some of us on the ferry.

It was an experience of mixed emotions, harrowing and enlightening. I have met some amazing people, both refugees and volunteers, and made some like-minded new friends. It has made me realise the enormity of this humanitarian crisis. It has global, universal significance and we can’t ignore it. There are millions of desperate, misplaced people running away from desperate situations where their lives are in constant danger, situations which our governments in the West have helped create.

However, many people want to turn their backs on the people whose problems we’ve caused. Fortress Europe is making some efforts, but there is a need for proper, co-ordinated, international action that balances with the needs of existing communities where refugees are rehomed.  Many are being re-homed in European countries but it’s not enough. America doesn’t want to know and the Hungarian government is despicable. And yet, during WW2, thousands of Hungarian refugees were welcomed here, along with other refugees. It was all very okay then, everyone thought it a Good Thing to Do. So why not now? What’s the difference?

I am getting tired of hearing the continual excuses about there being other equally worthy causes, (yes of course there are), and ‘not enough room’ here. England is too crowded. And there are homeless people here too. I know I’ve met some of them at the shelters. The answer is you help all of them. There are a million empty houses in the UK, which would be enough to house the UK homeless and the 6,000 refugees in Calais who want to come to the UK, mostly to join their families, that 4% of all refugees displaced in Europe.

Oh of course, now we come to the EU immigration issue. More fear and loathing as the tabloids warn of hordes of Bulgarians, Albanians and Turks etc. Here are some facts about EU migration.

* Immigrants represent only 13% of the population. That’s not a lot.

* EU immigrants contribute £20billion a year into the UK economy in tax revenues. They come here to work. They help strengthen the economy and bring new energy in.

* 44% of the NHS workforce are EU immigrants. If they went, the NHS would fall apart. (Even faster than predicted, what with the public spending cuts and gradual privatisation and dismantlement this government is carrying out.)

* Only 7% of the welfare bill goes to immigrants. 50% goes on pensions, because people are living longer. And 20% goes to in work benefits because people can’t earn enough and are being exploited.

* There are currently 2 million Brits living in EU countries alone, 30% of whom are claiming benefits, which are much more generous than ours. The same number as EU immigrants living here. So the numbers coming in are balanced by the numbers going out.

* Welfare fraud (any welfare fraud) is a drop in the ocean compared to the billions we are being cheated out of by the super rich and global corporate tax avoidance. Tax avoidance is 4 times greater than benefit fraud, but there are 10 times more DSS employees chasing welfare fraud than HMRC people chasing tax avoidance. And the government is cutting jobs at HMRC. Hmmm.. wonder why? But hey, it’s so much easier to go for the smaller targets and hit the poor.

Oh, and FYI – the Foreign Aid budget is 0.7% of GDP. That’s 0.7%. Small price to pay, after what we’ve done to the 3rd world in the past.

So – immigrants can be good news to a country. They raise tax revenues, they help build the economy. And migration is a natural state of being for the human race. We’ve been doing it for millions of years. There is not one person on British soil who can call themselves a true Brit. Even the ancient Britons, the Celts, came from central Europe originally.

My catch all answer to xenophobic schools of thought is that we had a bloody great empire, we lived in other people’s countries. Empires come home to roost. We do not have a moral leg to stand on. And no, it’s not irrelevant because it’s in the past. The European empires collapsed less than 100 years ago, not long in the grand sweep of chronology. It’s all part of the continuum. What goes around comes around and the past creates the present.

SO – and it’s a big So. What are we going to do with these people? Does anyone really think that they would risk their lives in rickety boats, or jumping on lorries, if the alternative wasn’t even worse? It’s naïve to think that the problems in their countries can be sorted out any time soon. If we can’t find room for them, if we think they’re not our problem, where are they going to go? Will we just leave them in those camps in Europe, to rot? Or do some people think that Hitler had the right idea and gas chambers should be re-instated? The Far Right is mobilising right now. Be afraid.

What we need to remember most is that these people are HUMAN BEINGS. It can’t be re-iterated enough.  We need to stop using de-humanising language such as ‘hordes’ and ‘swarms’ and ‘overrun’.  We should call refugees refugees not migrants. We need to make the distinction, but we should remember that even economic migrants are running away from terrible deprivation.

I think Angelina Jolie said it succinctly when she spoke at the BBC World on the Move conference recently. (Link pasted in below) She said that this humanitarian crisis is the biggest test ever of our humanity. It’s global and it’s urgent. We can’t afford to ignore it and separate ourselves from it, or it will get worse and impact on all of us. We need to think in Panavision, not tunnel vision. I’m not religious, but maybe this is God giving us one last chance to get it right. Otherwise I’m afraid we’re all doomed. Even us comfy, middle class westerners in our comfy homes.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07d4cq1/world-on-the-move-angelina-jolie-pitt-in-conversation-with-mishal-husain 

So where do we start? By giving a fuck, that’s where. By understanding the global significance of this phenomenon. There are already hundreds of people who do care, volunteers working down in Calais full time, and groups going down to help. The volunteer situation is fragmented, and there is sadly some rivalry, but it’s saving lives. If a large Aid organisation with a big budget came in to support and oversee them, so much more could be achieved and the refugees would be living in more humane conditions.

Here is a list of organisations, most of whom have websites and facebook pages. If you haven’t already got involved and want to help, here are the avenues to explore.

Auberge des Migrants/Help Refugees. This is the main organisation. You register dates with them. They send full welcome packs and instructions and  advise on local accommodation etc. They have a huge warehouse. You go to a briefing every morning at 9am and are assigned tasks, either in the warehouse, the warehouse kitchen, or distributing donations in the camp, or doing activities with refugees.

Care4Calais – Claire Moseley. A similar organisation.

Help4Refugee Children – run by two amazingly dedicated young women, Isis Aurora Mera and Daniela Garcia, who work in the UK during the week and go down most weekends to do activities with the children in the family section.

Donation link:

 https://www.gofundme.com/4refugeechildren?mc_cid=257ded67d2&mc_eid=a75cdaca12

Children of Calais, managed by Ali Cersey, who is trying to set up a school bus project and fundraising.

London to Calais, Brighton to Calais, Bristol to Calais. They mostly organise donation collections and take them down to the camp.

Calaid – not sure if they’re still going.

Forest Row to the Jungle – on facebook

And many more. There are smaller local groups all over the country. Just google Calais refugee voluntary organisations and you will find them.

I can’t finish without mentioning the wonderful Mitch, Gareth, Amy, Monique and Lauren with whom I spent the weekend. Amazing people and fun to be with.  And of course Isis and Daniela from Help4RefugeeChildren. 

 

 

It’s time to take on the global leaders, warmongers, tax dodging corporate fatcats and arms dealers – not to mention the xenophobes, cynics and naysayers in our own society. Let’s hope and pray that one day we can solve the problems the human race has created for itself.

 

Best wishes to all and here’s to a better future.

Posted 55 weeks ago

Riding an Elephant with Pierce and Emma

RIDING AN ELEPHANT WITH PIERCE AND EMMA 

Well, this summer has been most eventful. I’ve spent several weeks in an Indian jail, where I’ve had the inevitable shits and been beaten up with a bag of oranges by a huge gang leader bully. I am currently staying in the swankiest possible five star hotel in Pune, surrounded by unimaginable luxury. But this is not to last; shortly I will be setting off on a long and uncomfortable train ride to the middle of nowhere, where the journey will be continue by elephant, (although my supervisor is not sure about the elephant bit), and God knows what misfortunes will befall us on the way. Armed poachers? Monsoon floods? Tiger attack? A stampede of rogue elephants?

And all the while, I am travelling with Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan. Yes! They are charming company and I am really glad I cast them in the roles of my two main protagonists. They spark off against each other quite wittily. The chemistry is ‘there’ as they say. Although this time, they are not playing a divorced couple, only an estranged couple. Emma and Pierce do not know yet that they are playing the lead roles in the film version of my book, (called The Elephant Trail, if you’re remotely interested), but I am sure they will be delighted to take it on….

 … this is the point where I have to stop daydreaming and carry on with my dissertation. Silly woman! Seriously though, casting actors in your head this way is brilliant. ‘Such fun’, as Miranda’s Mum would say. Try it. It really helps you visualise your characters and brings it all alive. It’s a technique that Robert McKee advises screenwriters to use, but it works for any kind of storytelling. As the Great Guru says, stories are a metaphor for life, and characters are a metaphor for people. If you use an actor rather than a real person it will be more likely to resonate and stimulate.  

For those of you who don’t know, I am currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Kingston University, with a view to moving from children’s writing to writing for an older audience. I have reached the 25,000 words mark now and I’m wondering when and where to stop. Do I get on the train and go off into the blue yonder with Ems and Pi? Do I do a bit more research for the next bit of the story? Have already read loads of books and the internet has had a proper bashing, with pages of links for the bibliography. Sadly the trip to India is not an option, although I have travelled a bit there and can dredge up some memories. Or do I go back now and make all those changes and revisions that have occurred to me along the way, or been suggested by my fellow students and my supervisor?

At some point, all of us will have to select the 15,000 words chunk that will be our dissertation, under the guidance of our supervisors, and start refining it. Under normal circumstances, all of us would be thundering along to the end of our narrative, without even stopping for petrol, to complete a first draft, before going back to revise, rewrite and edit. Some of us may even have got right to the end. I certainly haven’t.

Either way, it’s been a fun ride so far. I wish all my fellow students at Kingston, an extremely talented bunch, the best of luck. And elephants are lucky, so I hope my luck stays with me too. 

BIO

Lucy Raby has earned her living as a writer for 25 years, (as Lucy Daniel Raby) with a background in children’s TV, a few books, and a couple of plays which have been performed. She is studying for the Creative Writing MA at Kingston University and is planning to move into writing for older readers.

Website; www.lucydanielraby.co.uk

Posted 151 weeks ago

THE SEVEN AGES OF MAN

Old age is a horrible thing. It’s dehumanizing. I went to see granny in the hospital and of course she is in the geriatric ward. Rows upon rows of little white heads on shrivelled little bird like bodies, barely raising the surface of the hospital blankets. It’s as though they are all slowly disappearing, dissolving into nothingness. I had genuine trouble recognizing which one of the tiny, wizened creatures was my mother in law. I found her eventually, in a nice bed by the window, with a spectacular view across Surrey towards Heathrow.  I commented that she had the best view in the ward and she agreed that she was very lucky. She could watch planes taking off instead of looking at the walls.

She seemed perky enough and when I asked her if she was in pain she said no. I can’t understand it, she has broken her hip and I couldn’t see any evidence of a morphine pump.  (Believe me I know about morphine pumps.) Maybe when you get to 100 you don’t feel pain any more. Or perhaps it’s because she comes from stoical stock dating back to World War 1.

She is very confused, reality is a fluid thing for her and time seems to have elipsed into a continuous ribbon that slides back and forth across her consciousness. Like;

Granny:  I left my glasses in my room. Can you go and get them for me?

Me: This is your room granny. 

Granny: No my room’s round the corner – you turn left and it’s three doors down.

Me: No this is your room. You’re not at the home in Kew. You’re in Kingston hospital. This is your bed and you’re in it. But I think you’re going back to the home soon.

It took some time convincing her but in the end she bought it, and at least didn’t claim that she was going back to her own home. 

Then came the filling in of the meal card for the next day. She insisted that there were two pieces of paper there, and tried to pull apart the menu sheet. ‘You won’t convince me!’ she declared. Then finally she accepted that it was indeed one piece of card.

When it came to filling in the pudding section she got arsey.

‘I want ice cream!’

‘It’s not on the list granny.’

‘But they’ll bring it to me if I ask them.’

‘I don’t think so. You can have Lemon Sponge pudding, fruit jelly or cheese and biscuits.’

‘But I want ice cream.’

‘It’s not on the list granny.’

‘But they’ll bring it to me. I want ice cream.’

Eventually I asked a passing nurse, who confirmed that yes, she could only have what was on the list. Well that kept us busy for a few minutes.

I became aware of a strange sound. At first I thought there was a child in the room. But it was a woman at the end, making this awful whining noise that sounded just like a 3 year old. Her poor be-knighted daughter, who was no Spring chicken herself, was trying to wheedle some sense into her.

Shakespeare was so right with his Seven Ages of Man. I hope you don’t mind me pasting it in here.

All the world’s a stage,


And all the men and women merely players,

They have their exits and entrances,


And one man in his time plays many parts,


His acts being seven ages.

At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.


Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school.

And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad


Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.

Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation


Even in the cannon’s mouth.

And then the justice

In fair round belly, with good capon lin’d,


With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,


Full of wise saws, and modern instances,


And so he plays his part.

The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,


With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side,


His youthful hose well sav’d, a world too wide,

For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,

Turning again towards childish treble, pipes


And whistles in his sound.

Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,


Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

I’m wondering what age I’m in. Have I reached the slippered pantaloons stage yet? I do wear comfy jogging bottoms with elasticated waists in the evening and I do wear slippers. I can’t see a thing without my specs and waste many hours looking for them.  

There are some funny moments with an elderly person though. When we went to celebrate her 100th birthday with her, she opened her first card.

‘Who’s Loo?’

A puzzled silence, then we realized that she was reading the big 100 figure on the card as Loo. We spent the next ten minutes on the floor, helpless. The telegram from the Queen was anxiously awaited, and did not arrive. So we took her out to lunch, with 100 year old balloons flailing around in the breeze from her wheelchair. We paraded her around Kew Gardens. It was like being with a celebrity. People kept rushing up and shaking her hand and taking pictures. She was papped wherever she went. It was quite moving.

When we returned to the home, someone had pinned a big notice on the door, wishing her a happy birthday. A stranger from the street who had heard the news. The sacred telegram was discovered stuffed down the side of her chair. The postman had delivered it to her by hand and she had promptly forgotten what it was. It was ooohed and ahhed over, our Beloved Monarch. Then came the special tea, with a spectacular cake baked by the home kitchen. The woman next door to her on the table kept trying to nick her wine.  She got really stroppy. We decided to take our leave and went home after a day like no other.

It’s quite extraordinary to think I personally know someone who has lived through two world wars and profound changes in the world.  She is stubborn and fiercely independent and you have to admire her spirit. When she goes it will be the end of an era. 

Posted 190 weeks ago
Posted 190 weeks ago
<p><a class="tumblr_blog" href="http://laetitiabocquet.tumblr.com/post/64343499826/i-just-really-like-treehouses">laetitiabocquet</a>:</p>
<blockquote>
<p>i just really like treehouses…</p>
</blockquote>
<p>Love this!</p>

laetitiabocquet:

i just really like treehouses…

Love this!

Posted 191 weeks ago

Mobile phone conversations, Russell Brand, and birthday cakes

I overheard a rather disturbing conversation last night on the train coming home from class. It was late, after 9pm and after dark. The train was crowded as usual. I was sitting and the man was standing right over me, talking into his mobile phone. He looked about fortyish, dark haired, well dressed, obviously in some executive job. His voice, the expression on his face, even his body language, said ‘impatient’ and ‘exasperated’.

‘Just tell it to go away,’ he kept saying, ‘just walk away from it, just go home…’ and a few other phrases I can’t remember.

The voice on the other end sounded young, female and distraught. His tone suggested that he was talking to his child, rather than an adult. He seemed dismissive, unconcerned, as though the person on the other end was making an unnecessary fuss. Normally I hate mobile phone conversations on trains, especially pompous, self important businessmen who talk like they’re captains of industry, or young women loudly sharing their intimate private lives or social arrangements with their fellow passengers. But this time I was straining to listen and work out what was happening at the other end, building a picture in my mind. Not just out of nosiness, but concern. The person at the other end was obviously out and about, walking somewhere, because the man kept saying ‘just go home.’  It might be a predatory male perhaps, who was following them, making them feel threatened, but the man kept referring to an ‘it’. The picture in my mind was a stray dog. But ‘it’ could also have been a car. A kerb crawler? Following his daughter home?

Now it could have been an elderly mother, perhaps with dementia, but why would an old person be out walking the streets at night? His impatient dismissive attitude could indicate perhaps an elderly confused person who repeatedly did silly things and went wandering off, like that awful scene in Iris, where Judy Dench goes walkabout. But my guess was that it was his teenage daughter.

I will never know, because he got off at the next stop, but it has been bothering me ever since. What upset me most was his evident lack of concern. If that had been my daughter, or my gaga old mum, or my wife, (it was definitely a female voice and sounded like a family member), out and about somewhere, in distress, being followed, I would have been beside myself with worry. I would have been in frantic tears, telling who ever it was to call the police, knock on someone’s door, whatever. He just didn’t seem worried. I still am.

For mothers in particular, that umbilical cord is never quite severed. Your offspring, however old they are, never stop being your babies. You never stop worrying about them. I now know what I must have put my parents through. And no doubt the same experience awaits my daughter later on. It’s scant comfort, when I have those moments of ‘this is what I remember my mother used to say to me and now I understand’ and ‘she will understand this later on when she has her own child.’

Last Monday we had a family outing, a birthday treat for Izzy and Dan, whose birthdays are a week apart. In the old days, a family outing would be a trip to Thorpe Park or Legoland, a picnic by a lake or a day at the beach. This time is was Russell Brand. And he was beyond brilliant. It was a philosophical dissertation laced with hilarious filth and biting satire, with a brilliant punch line. He reeled off complex, highly sophisticated sentences and every word was heard and followed. He quoted Nietszche and Wittgenstein and no-one felt patronized. He had a right old go at David Cameron and the Daily Mail, slaughtered globalised capitalism and patriarchal monotheism, all the things I hate. He worships the feminine divine! Women are goddesses. I’ll buy that. Never mind that it’s so he can get laid after the show, I forgive him his concupiscence. I can’t imagine being able to stand on a stage and spout your mouth off for two hours and remember everything I was going to say, and keep an audience of 3000 completely enthralled. He got a standing ovation at the end. The best thing was, a lot of it related to what I’ve been reading in my Critical theory module at Kingston uni. Not the filthy bits obviously.

We’re having a joint birthday party for Izzy and Dan next Saturday. It had to be done - I had a great idea for the cake…….When Izzy was young I would do these big themed birthday party events, usually based on the latest Disney release, complete with makeshift costumes, fairy grottos, castles, gypsy treasure hunts, teepees and visiting storytellers. The party bags were meticulously themed too. The cakes were not just cakes, they were three act movies with subplots. I had Pocohontas rafting down a waterfall, witches storming castles, mermaids beckoning to hapless sailors, fairytale princesses and a gypsy encampment with a fizzling fire. I made them myself, all bodged together fairly crudely, using a lot of food dye and hundreds and thousands of hundreds of thousands, but it got the idea across.

Maybe one day I will grow up. And by that time, Izzy will be doing the worrying

Posted 191 weeks ago
Posted 191 weeks ago

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