It has been heartening to see the reaction of ordinary people to the refugee crisis. Our government has been slow to recognise the will of their electorate, and is now patting itself on the back for agreeing to take a few thousand of the most vulnerable each year, and for diverting much of our overseas aid budget to supporting refugees who stay in the camps just across the border from Syria. These initiatives are very welcome, and will without a doubt save lives.
It was early in 1997 that my sister-in-law asked me whether, amidst raising four children, running a business with my husband, and tutoring in the evenings, I ever longed to indulge in something creative that was just for me. I opened my mouth to admit that yes, I’d love to go back to playing the piano regularly, but what came out was, “Yes! I want to write! There’s a story I want to tell, but I don’t know how!”
At her urging, I tried to get my idea down on paper. At first, I thought I was writing a short story; that expressing the tale that invaded my sleep and my memories would be enough. But, as I tried to find the words, as I haltingly described my characters and their world, it became clear that there were too many threads for a short story, and that weaving them all together would result in a novel. Read more
When my eldest child was born, my midwife, GP and health visitor all urged me to lay him down to sleep on his stomach, with his head turned to one side. Together with the baby care books of the time, they informed me that, if I placed him down on his back, he would choke if he brought back any of his feed. There was no doubt about it: any sleeping position other than flat on the stomach was dangerous, and I would be taking risks with his life if I didn’t pay enough attention to this.
Fast forward thirteen years, to the birth of my youngest child. I was told, by every doctor, midwife and nurse we met during routine appointments and at the baby clinic, that lying a baby down on their stomach was irresponsible, as research showed that this increased the risk of SIDS. I was urged to place my baby down on his back: this, they all agreed, was the safest position. Read more
I am fortunate to live in a most beautiful spot, on a ridge overlooking the Sussex Weald, and my writing desk has stunning views across our garden to a wooded valley, with Ashdown Forest in the background. Actually, I sit facing into the room, with the warm sunshine on my back, to avoid falling into view-contemplation every time I look up from my work! But nature is right behind me, nourishing and grounding me, and I appreciate this beauty every single day. Read more
There are many well-meaning people who are sure that we have learned enough from the terrible events of the 1930s that led to the holocaust not to let them happen again. Many of us are sure that, taken back to 1938, we would have petitioned our government to allow parents to accompany their children on the Kindertransport; that we would have shown that popular opinion wanted Britain to do more for these refugees; that we would have been prepared to give up one tiny slice of our secure, comfortable life to help support someone who had already lost everything but their life, and was soon to lose even that.
But we don’t. People die every day because there is no safe refuge. Instead of standing up for these people, our xenophobic nimbyism drives us to worry about the consequences for us – us personally. What if allowing refugees in takes away our jobs? What if it means a little bit less for me, if we save someone from a disease-ridden refugee camp and let them live?
Have we really bought into capitalism and the free market to this extent? Do we really measure qualities like love, compassion, and humanity as if they were a commodity, where the more you give to someone else, the less you have left? Well, let’s talk in those terms, then. When we invest something of ourselves in a relationship, a job, a situation, we tend to enhance rather than diminish our return. If we sit in a corner, hoarding our love, we are unlikely to get much back, whereas by going out into the community and caring about people, we end up with a fulfilling network of life-affirming interactions and friendships. If you walk down the street grouching to yourself, you’ll get little affection in return, but if you smile at people, meet their eyes, nod or say good afternoon, some people will reciprocate. Where love, compassion, and kindness are concerned, the more you give, the more you end up with.
But even if there was a cost, so what? The poorest of us has so much compared to these people – are our extras worth more than their lives? Some of us may really not be able to afford to give money or a slice of what they have – at least they could give their support and their compassion. I’m not wealthy, but if I knew it would make a difference to refugees being saved and to the welcome we gave them, I could afford to give two slices – one for my family, and one for another who couldn’t manage it.
Sometimes I am ashamed at how we treat people who are on the very edge of existence. I am ashamed of a climate in which politicians can accumulate easy votes by rabble-rousing about “them” and about what their need for safety is doing to “us”. I am ashamed to live in a society where a mainstream newspaper can believe that it’s acceptable to publish an article arguing that gunboats, rather than rescue boats, should welcome people desperate enough to give any possessions they may still have for the privilege of a tiny place on an overladen boat for a perilous journey to an uncertain future. I am in favour of free speech, of everyone being entitled to an opinion and to being able to voice it, but I do not support giving a national platform to someone with such sociopathic, murderous views.
Well, maybe the reason such things happen is that the more compassionate, more reasonable majority do not make a fuss. So I’m taking a stand. To the politicians who are afraid of losing my vote, to the neighbours who whinge about immigrants, to the papers who print xenophobic, inhumane invective, I’d like to say:-
NOT IN MY NAME.
I will not be part of a society that excludes those who have nothing. I will not let abuses of power over refugees’ lives pass unprotested. I will not lend tacit support by keeping quiet when they are denigrated. And I will let people know. I will write to or email all my local candidates, making it very clear that this issue is, for me, a test of our humanity, and will determine my vote. I will protest to every paper in which I read such vitriol, every politician I hear ranting against these people who can’t defend themselves. I will become as well-informed as I can, so that I can counter the unthinking assumptions of the ignorant who believe the rabble-rousers. I will give my support to organisations such as The White Helmets, The Syria Campaign, the Refugee Council. I will pledge money to help support refugees. I will work with others to devise and support viable initiatives for offering support to the most vulnerable.
It gives me hope, that there has been such a public outpouring of disgust in the wake of Katie Hopkins’ diatribe against refugees. There is so much compassion that remains unvoiced in a climate of greed, of nimbyism, of fear. I have a vision of a society where quiet compassion becomes louder than ignorant demagogues.
I will be one voice. I hope I will be one voice amongst many.
Since the Second World War ended, since the horror of the concentration camps and the full extent of Hitler’s genocidal aspirations became known throughout all sectors of society, there has been a determination that such atrocities should not be repeated. “Never again” has been an impulse that has influenced education, politics, and outreach initiatives throughout Europe for nearly seventy years. From the international friendship initiatives of the late forties, fostering cultural links and travel throughout Europe, to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, through programmes too numerous to mention, this determination has changed the way that we look at international relations and our fellow humans abroad.
There have always been issues where we have a great deal invested in our own point of view, and where we risk considering those who disagree with us as so different that we no longer see all that we have in common with them. This is never more so than when we become parents; this is a time when we are particularly vulnerable to other people’s opinions, because we are overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility, a desperate need to get it as right as possible. And other people are more than happy to offer an opinion! If we choose to bottle-feed our baby, for example, we are accused of denying our child the very best nutrition, whilst if we breast-feed we deny one parent the bonding opportunity presented by feeding the infant.
This wonderful life-affirming hot weather has lasted for nearly two weeks now, and opening doors and windows wide to catch any breeze, then watering the fruit and vegetable beds, have become part of my early-morning routine, as if these sweltering summer days had long been the norm.
Last night, my daughter phoned me to remind me that today was the first of May, and to ask me if I’d be going to watch the dancing up of the sun. I nearly didn’t go, but my daughter does a far more tiring job than I do, and works longer hours, so her enthusiasm for leaving her house at five o’clock in the morning ending up infecting me!
It has been an enormous privilege for me to have been involved with my father in writing his memoirs.