DAY 186. One year

August 27th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Facebook has been reminding me, as is its wont, of things I was posting a year ago. It’s more interesting than usual, because it was then (end of August) that I became aware -not that there were refugees all over Europe, I’d known that at least abstractly for some time – but that there were thousands of them in a particular camp outside Calais. Being someone who responds to writing rather than ‘the thing itself’, I think my first real understanding of the Calais jungle came from a piece posted (on Facebook, I suppose) about August 19th by Cassy Paris,13654118_1006901159427383_8740376686648782561_n perhaps one of the earliest visitors. (And yet the camp had been in place since the first of April.) The Quakers picked it up and reposted it a few days later; I read at some time after that. I still find it so moving, I can’t resist the temptation to quote:

I consider myself to be compassionate, I am not compassionate enough.
I consider myself to be informed, I am not informed enough.
I believe that I see everyone as equal, I realise it is not enough to just “believe” this.
I think I question everything I read in the media, I now know that I don’t even come close.
I always thought that my values rested firmly in equality. I know now that my version of equality is completely wrapped up in my own little bubble of experience.
I have proudly called myself fearless, yet I am yet to truly know what fear is.
I don’t think of myself as materialistic, yet the safety of my expensive car was predominant in my thoughts as I drove down the dirt road of Chemis Des Dunes.cehmindunes
I thought I was fairly worldy, yet I met people who had fled from countries that I didn’t know existed to escape genocides that I didn’t know were happening.
I thought so much and one by one my misconceptions and my pre conceived ideas got knocked down like toy soldiers.

I want to thank every single person who so willingly gave me money so that I could drive over to drop sanitary provisions to the women who are in need. I don’t want any of you to think it wasn’t worth it, it was worth it, I mean that fro the bottom of my heart. I am so grateful but I do not want or expect thanks from people who are there, they should not have to thank their equal who has so much more when they were not to blame for what has happened in their countries.’

Where a person is born is nothing but circumstance, luck, a roll of the dice.

For the first time in my life I truly know 11260519_10153076982526526_2310106455521471862_nthat we could be them and they could be us, it isn’t like watching band aid or children in need. Its a car crash of realisation that has left me feeling constantly nauseous at my own egocentric motivations and beliefs.

The 3 year old Sudanese girl with the big smile standing in a pile of rubbish who was hungry dirty and cold who still managed a massive grin at me. She could have been my daughter, how did she get here from Sudan? Why did they leave? How many of their friends and family died on the way? I watch video footage of little childrens bodies bobbing in the water childrenand I no longer feel like Im watching something that happened to someone else, with that air of removal from it. For a long time I have chosen not to watch the news because it makes me so sad. I realise how laughable it is as I write that, I chose to stay UNINFORMED because my lack of ACTION about something made me feel uncomfortable.

[Going back to this blog one year ago, I find I copied almost the identical passage in, which is surely a mistake. But I was remembering the impact.]

It wasn’t just Cassy’s article that changed my life: a lot of us had the same experience around the same time. Of course about a fortnight later came the amazing September 12th ‘No Borders’ demonstration (which many of us remember as a time of elation; as we started off on the march we heard that Jeremy Corbyn had decisively won the Labour leadership election, and at the end he addressed the meeting). It was clear that, while nothing had changed in the way the powerful act towards refugees, there were a very large number of us prepared to challenge them.

Where had we come from – and why? I know the usual left groups were involved; but I started the march with a dozen Quakers standing in silence (as is their wont) by a monument. I met people along the way who had never marched for anything before, but were outraged at the spectacle of governments allowing migrants, men, women and children to drown or die on border fences. (The worldwide circulation of the picture of the dead Alan Kurdikurdi made a contribution, too.)

And, during the weeks following, I (and not only I) felt impelled to do something. It was lucky that I could. Many others formed groups, collected provisions for Calais and drove down, sometimes from the far North; they met the migrants and the volunteers. Some came back, often several times; some decided to stay. I did a bit of ad hoc volunteering, sorting shoes (how many shoes have I sorted in the past year?) at Islington Town Hall with Calaid; and then I heard (how?) that there was to be a ‘solidarity march’ at Calais, bus leaving from Euston at 6 a.m.

Nothing easier, in those days. After a few minutes of doubt I located the inevitable lady with a clipboard, checking those who were booked on the bus. 6 a.m. on September 19th was warm, although the bus was still rather anonymous. And I saw it all for myself – the tents, the fencing,calais-france-19th-september-2015-refugees-at-the-jungle-camp-in-calais-f2j90m

the puddles, the posters, and above all the people.

I suppose this was the beginning of a new life for me – which was convenient, since the old life of meetings in London wasn’t so involving. I have to admit I’d been a Facebooker in a small way for at least three years; but in the next month I acquired about fifty more ‘friends’, twenty of whom I came to know well. On such small chances major changes in one’s individual life depend, it seems to me; and this past year has been a particularly significant one, with new involvements and new friendships. All that, of course, was before the referendum and the farcical developments which followed; and also before my illness and increasing loss of mobility. What I’d give to be scampering along the Chemin des Dunes again!


For those of you who are currently despairing of religion, I suggest that – like my friend Leonore – you investigate the Yazidis, who have come in for a lot of stick, not to say genocide, from Daesh. According to my sources:
‘The concept of Melek Taus (the Peacock Angel) is the most misunderstood part of the Yazidi religion, and is one of the reasons why their community has suffered such historical persecution. They believe that once God created Adam and Eve, he ordered the angels to bow to his creations. While the other angels did so, Melek Taus was the only one to refuse, because he believed that he should submit to no one but the Supreme God. He was then thrown into Hell, until his tears of remorse quenched the fires and he became reconciled to God. He now serves as an intermediary between God and humanity.’

I feel that many of us who subscribe to less sophisticated religions have much to learn from the Yazidis.

To stress the virtue of poverty of spirit (as opposed to what the members of the government have), here’s a catchy little number ‘Beati pauperes spiritu’ for string quartet by Franco Venturini, who I hadn’t heard of before, but expect more in the future.




DAY 185: Life

August 18th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve been spending my whole time, lately I see. writing about exotic places where I’m not, like Calais and Chios. Which is all very well, but as Heidegger said, Being is where I am; and right now that’s a small room in Islington where I carry on a more limited range of activities which I should describe.

For example, in the interest of getting myself back on the road, knee-workout_v2I’m undertaking a daily course of exercises (moi!), which involves doing things like ‘assisted squats’ and ‘leg raises’ which are punishing to the knees but might – I hope – pay off in the long run.

Secondly, of course, I’m not neglecting my political duty but this becomes more difficult as marches etc are temporarily off the menu.  Asking around, I’ve enlisted in a small group of online helpers to refugees, which sounds a completely admirable and straightforward thing to be doing. But, as Agamben (or someone) says, what is ever straightforward? I spoke a while back of the problems of being in an organization who believed that by taking tents, rice, t-shirts,12821621_530727783775569_7246660277707567474_n tins of chickpeas and such to Calais we were forwarding the progress of the revolution. I didn’t fully follow the argument, but the chickpeas went down OK. My new organization is in some ways the opposite, and more concerned with individuals – whether sick in a camp in Lebanon or in need of legal advice in Bolton – than revolution. But this has landed me (don’t ask how) in a Conradian world ruled by paranoia, false identities, multiple references and distrust. Facebook is ideal for such operations, since one can have one or even two Facebook names different from one’s so-called ‘real’ name. This is ideal for safeguarding privacy, but hopeless for the more mundane questions of finding out who did what when. It also leads to problems like having my account deleted when I revealed that I was friends with Isis, due to an understandable confusion of my Brixton Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 17.12.48Chilean friend of that name with the terror organisation which I know as Daesh.ShowImage.ashx I’m still working my way round the intricacies of living in such a world, finding lost or deleted files and communicating with people who have forgotten who I am or would rather not remember; and again it provides a welcome distraction from the daily boredom of what’s-for-dinner and what’s-on-netflix.

And then there’s the Arabic language! Truly one could spend a lifetime on that even if one stayed, as I plan to do, with the Palestinian colloquial form. A friend said it was difficult: nonsense, I replied, it’s like any other language with three tenses, two genders, three persons (singular, dual, plural), and so on; and, as everyone tells you ad nauseam, once you’ve learned one word you get thirty for free – four nouns, ten verbs, two or three adjectives, all from the same root. As anyone knows who has heard how you get from ‘katab’, write to ‘maktab’, desk to ‘maktabah’, office and so on.

What makes it even more rewarding is, as I learned from my teacher فرطون, the minefield you get into with different types of verbs. Gee whiz! I only just encountered those with doubled consonants like حبّ as in ‘حبيبتي’, my dear (f.). only to be told that they conjugate in totally weird ways, inserting a ي in odd places as حبّيت in the first person singular. It’s going to be a steep learning curve. Will it end up by my being able to discuss the occupation and the price of aubergines? Let’s hope so.

Arising from which,

Olympic News: how Team Palestine are overcoming the obstacles.

Israeli authorities have prevented the head of the Palestinian Olympic team from leaving the Gaza Strip to be with his team in Brazil, according to a senior Palestinian official.

“Israel did not give Issam Qishta a permit to leave Gaza and therefore he was not able to join the rest of the Olympic team in Brazil,” Munther Masalmeh, secretary-general of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, told the Dpa news agency on Tuesday.

Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, said his government was working on allowing Qishta to join RIOEC8605KWY5_768x432the rest of the Palestinian team.

“We do our best to let him leave as soon as possible,” he told Dpa.

Masalmeh said two others also from Gaza, a trainer and the deputy head of the committee, were given permits.

Gaza’s nearly two million residents are forced to apply for permits from Israel to travel to the West Bank in order to reach Jordan from where they can travel abroad.

The only other exit option for people in Gaza is through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, which is rarely open.

The Palestinian Olympic team comprises 22 people, including six athletes, coaches and administrators. It includes two swimmers, two track and field athletes, a judo player and one equestrian competitor.

All the athletes were camped abroad for weeks and therefore were able to reach Brazil without problems, Masalmeh said.

The 2016 Summer Olympics are due to take place in Rio de Janeiro from August 5 to August 21. The Palestinian team taking part in the Games had to buy equipment and other things in Brazil after Israel had prevented entry of their equipment into the Palestinian areas, Masalmeh said.

Products and goods destined for the West Bank are shipped through Israeli ports. The occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is landlocked and Israel controls all its borders.

The Olympic official said Israel had been holding the equipment, mostly donated to the Palestinians by foreign governments, demanding payment of taxes or entry fees and sometimes under claims of security.

“We got one shipment several months ago and we have not been able to bring it in,” he said.

“We were forced to travel without our equipment and to buy them instead in Brazil.”

And so, in the hope that these scattered reflections form part of a process of recovery, let’s think about hope in general:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Emily Dickinson

On the other hand, in a complete breakthrough, I’m going – rather than music – to offer you a masterpiece of modern silent cinema: Chantal Akerman (yes, her again!)’s 1972 10- minute ‘La Chambre‘. I hope you agree that it ties in with the themes outlined above.



DAY 184: Justice?

August 13th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

So, in the end, the Lille court rejected the demand to demolish the jungle shops, including the kids’ cafe (see two posts back). As my confrère Passeurs d’hospitalités says – it’s a fragile victory, and the state will appeal it, but it’s still a victory.

In my brief legal career, I’ve got used to reading judgments; the International Court of Justice on the Israeli Separation Wall comes to mind,tumblr_n7z2ea0GKk1sv4tu9o1_1280 and the case of the four refugees who were ordered to be reunited with their families on the 20th January.

13886974_10201751146778030_8026742957890945691_nMe and my mates welcoming the refugees at King’s Cross

There tends to be a good deal of preamble (what it’s about, background, and so on), and you have to jump to the bits which reveal the judges’ thinking. And in the good cases (as the ones I’ve mentioned), they’re worth reading. To quote:

’11. Considering that if it’s true that the state provides, via ‘La Vie Active’, at the Jules Ferry centre 2000 to 2500 breakfasts and 3000 t0 3400 lunches, the associations  point our that this is not enough to feed adequately the population on the site, which they estimated 7000 off whom 500 to 700 are children; and moreover the distribution takes place between 9.30 and 11.30; and if the prefect estimates the mean waiting time as eight minute in the morning and thirty minutes in the afternoon, these figures are seriously questioned by the associations and members of the audience; that, in a report dating from October 2015, the Défenseur des Droits revealed the uncertain conditions accompanying the distribution of meals, with a queue of more> on December 1, 2015 in Calais, France. than 500 metres, no shelter, and a possible waiting time of three hours; that so even the prefect’s representative suggested there should be a special queue for children, who are afraid of mixing with adults, and for the infirm, but despite this the situation has not changed; that the associations who were present submitted that as a result of the long waiting times and the tensions and arguments, both adults and children give up the queues; that it is difficult for them to get to the centre of Calais, a long way from the camp, to buy food, but also basic necessities; that the shops who are under attack in the case answer these needs; that they can sometimes, as has been mentioned by witnesses, feed people in difficulty free; that if, as the prefect  claimed, some shopkeepers make 1500 to 1800 euros a month, it’s not proved that these sums are used for the detriment of migrants;

12. Considering, in the third place, that these shops, cafés and restaurants have other purposes which have an equal importance for men, women and children who have arrived at Calais after long and miserable journeys and who, even when they are lodged in State buildings, live in extremely precarious and aimless conditions; that they are peaceful places for the migrants to meet the volunteers who are there at their disposition to help and inform them; that they allow some of them to shelter from bad weather in the day, to rest and relax; that they can charge their mobile phones, which is essential for them to keep in touch with families and friends; that they are also for new arrivals a free resting placer the first nights;

13. Considering, to sum up, that if we must recognise the nuisances, dangers and troubles linked to the presence of these shops, given that the state’s services have the means to put an end to those reprehensible activities, their complete disappearance which is not certainly by itself going to put an end to violence and illegal dealing in the first place, or to the dangers of explosion and fire which stem from the very nature of the site in the second place, would certainly be made to the detriment of the migrants and would surely result in the degradation of their already dubious conditions of life;


(Don’t you just love those semi-colons? How many of them are there?)

Article 2. The request of the prefect of Pas-de-Calais is rejected.

What is welcome here is that the Lille judges are repeating exactly the same points that the defenders of the camp have been making all along – see for example Nik Nak’s post which I reposted earlier.  Judges do sometimes see the light in this way, though not invariably; the same court at the end of February inexcusably allowed the demolition of the southern half of the jungle to go ahead, and it was accompanied by great violence.

susiya And recently the Israeli Supreme Court has placed the fate of Susiya village in the hands of far-right minister Lieberman.

What does law have to do with justice, then? Sometimes they seem to touch, my legal studies didn’t give me much help in determining when. I have to leave you with Auden’s confusing reflections:

Law Like Love

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I’ve told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.

Like love we don’t know where or why,
Like love we can’t compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.

Or Johnny Cash, if you find he gives you more help on being on being on this side of the law.


DAY 183: Clash of Civilisations

August 10th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

It’s a familiar phrase; but it’s increasingly making sense to me. Gandhi was famously asked what he thought of Western civilization, and replied: ‘I think it would be a good idea’.

The thought came to my mind particularly after reading Izzy Tomico Ellis’ 13600202_10205399735667015_3513019393025522990_nreport from the island of Chios yesterday.

‘Today on Chios we spotted a boat that was filled with refugees, trying to make the dangerous crossing from Turkey.

We soon realised it was in difficulty and followed it for four hours nearly to the end of the land, throughout this time the authorities were repeatedly called and asked to pick it up. They did not, despite being aware it was adrift and in severe danger.

There were 9 children onboard this boat.

Even worse, a team of rescuers were prevented from going to save them. After the boat was nearly away from land and13938566_10153855450958481_748493931533022194_n completely out to sea, they eventually went to collect the people.

When they were brought to the port the doctors were told they could not go to them and check their health, they were sopping wet, cold and shocked; our teams were not allowed to provide our small food parcels, dry clothes, information or simply reassure the people.

I watched thirty people board a bus after being stuck out to sea, scared for their lives (and rightly so) be refused medical checks, food, clothing, information or any kind of humanity.

Children who were almost to scared to walk properly, women who looked terrified and men in utter disbelief.

The Europe many of you imagine, with it’s democracy, it’s human rights is a farce; it’s not real it’s instead a complete disgrace. Your governments who condemn regimes abroad are willing to do anything to keep a totally illegal deal with Turkey, to let people drown and prevent people who are long-term victims of their disastrous foreign policy from even receiving healthcare, food or dry clothes.

The question is what will you do? Please, if you have humanity, you will ensure it is something.’

Indeed, as Gandhi implied, ‘Western civilisation’ is increasingly a sham – where a few profit while many starve, and the rulers are increasingly devoid of all humanity – even to the extent of denying help to drowning refugees.

Has this always been the case or has it crept up on us? After all, the Geneva convention which supposedly granted refugees rights was – largely – a product of Western thinking. And yet the same inhuman practices are visible in the determination of the French state (which I write about in the last post) to suppress shops, cafes, all social life from the refugee camp there and so expose children to dark and danger. What values are at work here? When Samuel Huntington wrote The Clash of Civilizations in the 1990s (bear with me: I’m pretty ignorant), he saw the primary clash as between Christian and Islamic values. In the vulgar version often promoted by our politicians, (was Huntington more sophisticated? I don’t know), the Christian values are liberal, the Islamic ones intolerant. How does this square with the determination of ‘Christian’ Europe to allow Muslim refugees to drown? As Izzy implies, any system of government which promotes such actions is not civilised by any definition. I wouldn’t even call it Christian, but my definition of Christianity is a rather narrow liberationist one – you are supposed to love your neighbour and so on. As with that of Islam, which is reflected in the quote: ‘O People! We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognise each other.’ (Qur’an 49:13). Currently, we have to recognise that in the clash between the European states and the (mostly Muslim) refugees, it’s the Europeans who hold the power.

A photograph which has had some publicity cultural-differences-olympic-games-lucy-nicholson-rio-de-jeneiroshows an Egyptian and a German competing, with the headline: ‘Cultural Differences at the Olympics’. This is, of course, a gross misunderstanding of what cultural difference is. The two women share the culture of their sport, and the differences in dress are not so important. It’s the cultures of the rulers (for whom sport is a mere means of earning more profit) which constrain the people and who may decide that some will live on shore and others will drown – they define the real clash of civilisations.

[At this point, I must perhaps rethink, having looked at Wikipedia’s definition of ‘civilisation’. This starts in ancient Babylon or thereabouts, and all it involves is a complex structure where the rulers extracting taxes from the ruled, and impose misery; and has nothing to to with ‘being nice’. When the common meaning of civilised behaviour emerged (not throwing defenceless people int the water) is unclear, although I think it’s what Gandhi had in mind – having seen British soldiers massacre defenceless Indians.]

The outlook for our civilisation – real civilisation, in Gandhi’s sense – may look bleak from our outpost of Fortress Europe. But I think we must believe that we shall overcome.

DAY 182: First they came…

August 8th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

for the shopkeepers?

For the past year or so, ‘Calais’ to me has been not just a place, but a people under extreme hardship; the spirit of resistance; and the oppression which increasingly confronts it and tries to suppress the resistance and, if possible, to do away with the people. Nothing could sum this up better than this eloquent appeal by ‘Nik Nak’ against the latest move which makes the jungle a place both of less independence and of more danger. The prefecture has lodged a complaint to the Lille administrative court for the destruction of the shops in the jungle; the hearing will take place on August 10. I’ve already ‘shared’ the piece, and I hardly suppose that by posting it here I’m giving it wider circulation. But anyway.

My testimony to the French judge on the possible closure of the restaurants, shops and hamams in the Jungle.

Sunday 7/8/16 Calais Jungle Unofficial Refugee Camp.

Each person (and I say person) who lives in the jungle would like to be able to cook their own food in their own shelter. Each person (and I repeat: person) who breathes in the jungle would like to be able to take a ‘shower’ when they want to, in the privacy of their own home. Each person (each human being: with a heart and a soul and hopes, fears and dreams) in the jungle would like to be able to charge their mobile next to their bed so they can contact their family, without fear of it being stolen.

But the truth is, there are over 7000 people living in the jungle and this is just not possible.

I am a 34 year old woman from Scotland. I am a qualified English teacher with 12 years experience teaching students from all over the world and have been volunteering in the jungle since December 2015. For the past four months I have been living in the Calais Jungle (unofficial refugee camp). I am the coordinator at Jungle Books Library and School and have taught English and French to the children at the restaurantJungle Books Kids Restaurant.

I see and know personally, by face and name, hundreds of people who live in the jungle. I see and know how important the restaurants, shops and hamams are to each and every person who lives in the jungle.

For those who are not lucky enough to have a cooker or gas to cook their own food in their own homes, they go to the restaurants to eat.

For those who are not lucky enough to have a wooden shelter, and only have a tent, they go to the restaurants or shops to keep warm and dry when it’s cold and raining.

For those who are new arrivals, or have had their tents or shelters burned down in a fire (because they only have a candle for light), they go to the shops and the restaurants to sleep.

For those who are not able to walk 45 minutes into town (the sick, the old, the women and children) to buy food or top-up their mobiles, they buy something to eat or phone credit in the shops.

For those who do not want to stand in a line for hours, being made to feel sub-human, at risk of finding themselves in the middle of an argument or fight due to too many people of different cultures, languages and ways of behaving getting tired and fed up of waiting for a lukewarm cardboard plate of food which is not from their country, or a 5 minute shower which is only available at 9am; they try to regain what little sense of dignity and normality they can by using the restaurants and shops and hamams.

These restaurants, shops and hamams are not simply businesses.
They are community spaces; where people of different nationalities come together. They provide a safe space where people from different communities and cultures can meet and develop friendships, learn about each other; finding similarities and becoming more tolerant and understanding of each others’ differences.

The owners of these restaurants, shops shopsand hamams are not simply businessmen looking to get rich quick and become millionaires. They welcome anyone to come and charge their mobiles for free (refugees and volunteers alike). They serve warm chai to freezing cold hands on rainy days (and in Calais there have been many!) very often for free. They offer a quiet, private space to wash and to pray (something that is so very important to so many Muslims in this camp; allowing the individual to cleanse their body and mind, and helping them to stay strong when they feel weak), for free. They offer a safe place for people of different cultures to sit, relax, watch the news, speak to friends, play games and make jokes, without buying anything…for free. If owners of these ‘businesses’ see that a person cannot afford to pay for food or chai, they give it to them with a smile and a warm handshake…for free.

Since the police came three weeks ago, many of the shops, restaurants and hamams have closed.

The main street is more deserted at night; meaning a fire or an altercation goes unnoticed. Before, people would have joined together to help put out the fire or stop the fight.

The lines for food are longer; meaning the Auberge has had to start rationing food in order to serve everyone and there are still those who go hungry. At Jungle Books School we have increased the number of meals we give, as many students tell us they have not eaten a meal all day.

The lines for the showers at Jules Ferry are longer; meaning people have to wait in line, possibly with people that have scabies or other poor hygiene problems, feeling tired and dirty. People become very irritable and conflict in the lines is increased.

The spaces for charging phones at Jules Ferry are fewer; people already have to wait 3 or 4 hours by their phones while they are charging, so with no restaurants or shops offering free electricity, the need for space to charge phones and power banks at JF is much greater.

THE CHILDREN. The unaccompanied children in the jungle now have nowhere safe to go. Before they could spend all day in the Jungle Books Kids Restaurant; where meals were served FOR FREE twice a day, every day, to more than 200 children. Unaccompanied children cafeas young as 5 could take French and English classes, play pool or musical instruments, watch magicians, learn circus tricks, do arts and crafts, or just have somewhere to go to feel safe in a jungle full of mainly adult men.

Since the police confiscated all the food from the Kids’ Restaurant three weeks ago, the number of children coming to the restaurant has decreased. This has not been helped by the repeated searches and disruptions by the police each time they do a fresh sweep of the camp. The children (who are already traumatised by the events that forced them to flee their homes; their long, dangerous journeys to Calais and anything that has happened to them since leaving their mother, father and family and arriving in the jungle) now feel even more unsafe, not properly fed and not cared for.

So, as one Scottish woman with a British passport, living and volunteering in an unofficial refugee camp in France, one of the leading European countries, in 2016, I beg you to think so very carefully before making a decision that could mean that more than 7000 people’s lives become even more difficult and bleak.

Thank you for your time.

There are so many important distinctions being made here between the life which is constructed by the Calais refugees, under conditions of extreme difficulty, and bare existence – usually under repression: it’s a model of how to think about what we need and must demand.

To quote (it often occurs to me):

Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as beast’s.

I’m leaving out the bit where Lear refers to being a poor old man etc, (my particular concern) : youth as well as age is vulnerable in the camp. And  I’m leaving for later my thoughts on the distinction between society and ‘bare life’ in Agamben’s sense. But, to make a point about the distinction, let’s hear the Calais women’s choir (whose church has been bulldozed, would you believe it? Of course you would) singing ‘Halleluyah

DAY 181: The quick brown fox

August 7th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Jumps, we are told, over a lazy dog. And having recently acquired a lazy dog, the old phrase has started me thinking about its sociological implications – about the way in which society seems inevitably to fall into two categories, the quick brown foxes and the lazy dogs; and once you’vefoxsorted that point out, you can probably skip reading the works of Hobbes, J. S. Mill, Rousseau and even Nietzsche. In this world, it’s jump or get jumped over: and the question for most if not all of us is, are you a quick brown fox or a lazy dog?

Which leads us naturally, from sociology to ethics: or, is it better to be quick and jump, or to be lazy and be jumped over? In a society where , as we see, the jumpers control everything from the policing of borders to the NHS, it’s obvious which gets you more mileage. To return to the ruminations of the last post, neither choice would have got you far under the emperor Commodus. The film Gladiator, which features Commodus in a starring role, makes (it would seem) few moral judgments but…

And while we’re on the subject of films, I don’t think I’ve yet got round to recommending Chantal Ackerman’s Je tu il elle a film with so many advantages that it’s jetuhard to start listing them. It’s free on Youtube; it involves a breakdown, a solitary woman in a room eating a vast amount of granulated sugar; it has much more nudity and indeed lesbian sex than you can normally find online without explicitly stating that that’s what you’re after. It has few of those boring conventions of plot and character which force you to concentrate, so you can pick it up and put it down anywhere. It doesn’t – to return to our original theme – tell you who’s a fox and who’s a dog, or what they are to do about it. But maybe that’s where cinema is, or should be heading? The simple values which separate John Wayne fromvalance

James Stewart are no longer to be trusted – Belgium is not Colorado. I could go on about the E.U. and intervention in Syria at this point, but – in the wake of the fall of Aleppo – it might be wiser to hold off. (Not to mention Brexit, where I should certainly not venture again. Who, as between Britain and Europe, is the quick brown fox, and who the lazy dog?)

It is indeed hard to make a choice of solutions to what – following my initial statement – one might formulate as the ‘jumping problem’. So let me take a completely different problem, always a good strategy, and leave you with Keats’ solution:

NO, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
  Wolfs-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss’d
  By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,         5
  Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
    Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;
  For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
    And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.         10



DAY 180: Reasons for optimism

August 4th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

One of my friends, probably drunk from reading too muchLeibniz Leibniz (see previous posts) suggests to me that though Trump, Daesh, Brexit, et al all add up to a pretty damning condemnation of the world right now, I should take the long view and consider how much worse off I might have been at other times and places. Aside from being miserable because my recovery from pneumonia is so slow I might be given leeches, bled, purged and still not recover. I might be living under one of the more colourful emperors (Caligula and Commodus come to mind) – when life itself, never mind recovery from illness, was pretty much a matter of chance; or have been a Native American in the time of the conquistadors, 0008976 (RM) TMH 08-29-2011with very little chance of survival. Or an African undergoing the Middle Passage. These arguments, at the very least, must introduce a note of relativism, making it possible to formulate a theorem:

[The ‘Comparative Misery Theorem’]: There is no bloody point comparing human misery in one place or time with that in another. Just deal with it.

And all the same, in our present dire circumstances, we might as well ask:

1. Do we have a ‘right’ to happiness? (As the US Constitution says we do and look at what it does about it.)

2. Who can we expect to ensure that we get it?

3. What do we do if we don’t get it? Or, as Chernyshevsky followed by Lenin put it: What is to be done?

The Communist Manifesto, that infallible guide, is clearest on the last question: We have to unite with all the other oppressed masses (women, people of colour, LGBTs, and particularly these days refugees) into a mass movement which will break the chains which bind us. We must, however opposed we are to violence on principle, if necessary be prepared to rush into the streets en masse and string up Theresa May and her like on theth-1 lamp posts, while restoring a republic based on the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. (Am I mixing slogans from too many eras here? Let a hundred flowers bloom together, say I.)

From which it follows, as the night the day, that I don’t want to be told that there could be worse people in control of the NHS (Daesh and Trump come to mind, but I’d need more evidence). I, like you, want a health service which does what it’s supposed to do. I want the impossible: and that’s at the root of all this rights stuff. As an old slogan goes: What do we want? Our future. When do we want it? NOW!

Take a break: and consider, if you have a moment, the relatively small suffering of those who have found themselves forced to look after the sick elderly relative (though Onegin is not doing it merely from altruistic motives):

(Pushkin has many translators of course, here’s one at random:


“My uncle, a most worthy gentleman,
When he fell seriously ill,
By snuffing it made us all respect him,
Couldn’t have done better if he tried.
His behaviour was a lesson to us all.
But, God above, what crushing boredom
To sit with the malingerer night and day
Not moving even one footstep away.
What demeaning hypocrisy
To amuse the half-dead codger,
To fluff up his pillows, and then,
Mournfully to bring him his medicine;
To think to oneself, and to sigh:
When the devil will the old rascal die?”

To return to the mournful (and having already, you might think, used up my allowance of ‘La Traviata’ quotes), here’s Anna Netrebko in ‘Addio del passato



DAY 179: And more…

August 2nd, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

I should begin by listing the positives, butThe_Scream from where I’m sitting right now, it’s a bit hard. I look back on the past year which as far as I can see began with the horrific settler arson attack on the Dawabsheh family – wiping out a family of four.  No one has been effectively punished of this, and no one will be. Justice in Israel, as here, operates on a racist basis.

I was briefly cheered, as many others were, by the size of the great and broadly based march in favour of the rights of refugees on September 12th. refsdemoIf you remember, by an astonishing coincidence, this was the day that Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party – and then went straight to address the rally in Trafalgar Square in favour of the same refugees. It was, of course, symbolic of a new type of politics – one which has been since then hated and resisted by all of the traditional Labour leadership. I didn’t notice, as I was becoming involved (you can hardly have missed it) in the existence of the Jungle camp at Calais, which I visited for the first time in a large ‘solidarity march’ on September 19th; where 5000 (now near 7000) refugees from many nations-jungle Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, and others do their best to forge a community. Under constant repression from the state – the municipal authorities, the police and the CRS.

I should interpose here the background to all this, so that you can see where I’m coming from. I’ve had a bad health setback – pneumonia seems to have been the basis, with complications. Old age certainly doesn’t help. So here I am in bed meditating and moaning, nursing my knees and taking my drugs, and wishing that my condition was anything other than what it is, and that I could be back sharing the life of activism which I had till recently. The news from the outside world (particularly in the last weird few weeks) has been uniquely discouraging, and the hopes which seemed to flood in from the self-organising activity of refugees at Calais and from our local organisations are more doubtful and weaker. I’d certainly welcome any encouragement from any quarter – which might then feed into my own improved morale, and hence physical well-being, if you believe that. (But why not?) The belief that I could get out there and change anything is pretty deluded, I must admit; but what else do I have to go on?

The physical presence of friends, company, conversation, and the common involvement in efforts to change an intolerably unjust state of affairs, has given me more happiness this last year than for a long time; and even now there’s the pleasure of the memory of teaching at the Jungle school with Leo and; or drinking tea with Isis in Bayan’s tent. And these memories make me the more convinced that I have to find my way (or be helped into a way) out of the slough where I am. I can’t change the world (some hope!); but I may be able to change my attitude to it, which is a beginning. And I count on you, my friends, as always,  to help me with this.

At a key point in the Dardenne brothers’ film ‘Rosetta’ (admittedly not the place to start looking for hope, but it’s what i’ve been watching), Rosetta is talking to herself in bed:

My name is Rosetta

Your name is Rosetta

I won’t fall into the pit

You won’t fall into the pit.

I’m carrying on some such hopeless interior monologue and hoping you’ll reinforce the voice I need, whichever that is.

Where am I?

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