Homeless in Hull! That was our fate, on my father’s return from his military duties with the Occupation Forces at the former Bergen Belsen concentration camp in 1948. In bombed and blitzed Britain, houses were in short supply, and along with many other homeless army families, we were parked in a former army camp which had housed Canadians during the war.
We had half a Nissan hut each, un-insulated, and freezing in winter, hot and stuffy in summer. We ate in a communal dining room a hundred yards away. Husbands and fathers were stationed at their new postings, often a long train journey away, and would visit at weekends when they could. We were miles away from shops and schools, and just had to eke out an existence until the distant father could find a rented house, or be granted an army quarter. I felt so bleak in the midst of all this lack of beauty, comfort, convenience, that I jammed my tennis racquet between my bed and the wall, spread a lace handkerchief over the strings, and put a small glass paste jar on the makeshift table and arranged daisies and buttercups in it. A small sop to my ten year old sanity.
These memories came back to me, when I read about riots and protests at the various army camps in the UK where refugees had been sent while they were processed. I thought of how they had come, often at great risk to themselves and their families, from far distant countries, from Afghanistan, and Somalia, Syria, Iran, and Africa. They had been convinced by television, film, social media and many other avenues of information that Europe, and especially Britain, was a promised land. They too wanted good housing, generous allowances, opportunities for education, and freedom from so many thing like war, violence, oppression, poverty, famine, terrorism. They wanted to feel safe.
But many of them don’t seem to realise that all these things have been achieved in western culture by the hard work and commitment of generations of past Europeans who fought and struggled themselves for freedom of speech, freedom from poverty, for free education and health care. So many immigrants don’t seem to realise that the original inhabitants of the countries they want to settle in are still paying for the privileges won by western culture, and that westerners are heavily taxed and still work long hours, often for little pay, to achieve a decent way of life. And now they are forced to pay for all the people who arrive uninvited on their shores… I notice the first thing that immigrants receive is warm clothing and in hot climates, bottles of water. Their physical needs seem to be taken care of straight away, just as they had probably hoped.
But someone has to pay for everything that is handed out free to immigrants, and many arrivals don’t seem to realise what a high price this has meant to the countries they arrive in. The cost to host countries has often not been counted. Sweden which was once a beacon to all countries, a haven of peace, democracy, plenty, equality, generous social services and a relaxed society, has now been ravaged by riots and rape and there are no-go places in their cities, as in many English cities, where native Swedes or Britons do not now dare to venture. A quick glance through the English tabloids, shows pictures of bearded immigrants who have molested women in their surgeries or during operations, groomed vulnerable teenagers, raped women, set up scams to defraud both charities and government agencies, have initiated gang fights and knifings, and disrupted normal activities with angry demonstrations over the politics of the countries they have come from.
These things are not reported in the ‘good’ newspapers; they are considered racist, and drawing attention to the race or religion of criminals is considered typical of prejudice, white privilege, or right wing conservative thinking. ( which is condemned by the intolerance of the left). I could be indicted for ‘hate crime’ in some countries for writing these facts, and the law is about to be changed in my own country to enable thought police to charge anyone who doesn’t think the ‘right’ way. (George Orwell’s predictions are terrifyingly accurate )
People can lose their jobs or find themselves cancelled when labelled as racist (whether or not they are), or prejudiced against different sexes, or religions. Yet as a Christian in a Christian country you may not wear a cross on a chain, though you may wear a hijab or a turban.
In his fascinating book ‘Cosmos and Psyche’, Richard Tarnas suggests that western man lost his way during the Enlightenment in Europe, when reason divorced mankind from the numinous, and from his connection with the intelligent world and universe, replacing that connection with a mechanistic view of a soul-less random universe. But the Enlightenment never reached the many cultures who are now invading Europe, and they are just as cut off from the intelligent universe, and the world around us.
These cultures from other parts of the globe often don’t have respect for animals or the ecology or with the living world. Many of them have no respect for women and children either, so that while western society is still evolving from sexist attitudes, much worse customs in the shape of ‘honour killings”, female genital mutilation, sharia law and repressive attitudes to women and their clothing are now taking hold in the once comparatively civilised societies of the west.
I have lived long enough to be able to look back on days when riots and protests were rare, not commonplace; when noise was not part of our life, with the only outside source of noise being the wireless, which people didn’t take to the beach. or play loudly all night or in their cars as they boom down the road. I can look back on days when littering was unheard of, and a real no-no; when people may have been more narrow minded, but when they were also polite and courteous to each other. I can remember when I could walk down any street anywhere as a child or adult, and feel safe.
I didn’t grow up, as my grandchildren have done, with the threat of climate change or terrorism or any of the other threats to society and to everyone’s peace of mind. Neither did I grow up to criticise my older family members and their views on life, which is the fate of many older people now, who walk on eggshells around their offspring, for fear of being ‘called out’ for outdated attitudes.
These are strange and apocalyptic times. There is no stopping the human tide of peoples who want a piece of the peace and plenty and prosperity of Europe. But perhaps they have to make some compromises in order to preserve that way of life. It is ironic that so called liberals have castigated and condemned the past, decrying the evils of colonialism, while ignoring the hospitals and schools, railways and roads, law and order that colonialism brought to so many corners of the globe; while at the same time too, so many people in deprived places around the world, want to be part of the very culture and society that western protesters of all kinds and colours and beliefs sneer at. Yet until much maligned colonialism arrived, tribes in Africa, for example, faced the same poverty and oppression, murder and mayhem from their own people, that so many refugees are fleeing now.
With so many challenges facing our societies, including the constant warfare, power struggles and tensions between tribes and states and governments, it would be easy to feel powerless to bring about change.. But there are still signs of hope in our world.
If we didn’t have hope, it would be easy to be overwhelmed by what is happening in the outside world. But as Gandalf replied when Frodo said he wished such dreadful things hadn’t happened in his time:
“So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” He also said: ” It is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps darkness at bay. Simple acts of love and kindness” .
Such small green shoots of love and kindness are what can give us all hope, like the work of industrial engineer Shubhendu Sharma. He was working at Toyota in India when he met Japanese forest expert Akira Miyawaki, who came to plant a forest at the factory, using a methodology he’d developed to make a forest grow ten times faster than normal. Fascinated, Sharma worked with Miyawaki, and grew his first successful forest on a small plot behind his house.
Today, his company promotes a method for seeding dense, fast-growing, native forests in barren lands, and Shubhendu is now using his car-manufacturing acumen to create a system allowing a multilayer forest of 300 trees to grow on an area as small as the parking spaces of six cars – for less than the price of a cell phone. He’s helped to grow forests at homes, schools and factories, something which we can all do on any scrap of land. Forests may save our lives and the planet.
Another green shoot of hope that the world is changing for good, and not always for worse, are the Parliamentary bills Boris Johnson’s government is bringing in, to improve the lot of animals, banning live animal exports or the importing of that cruel delicacy pate de foie gras ( geese force-fed until their livers are diseased), a ban on keeping monkeys and all primates as pets, and a raft of other animal friendly measures. These decisions recognise that animals have feelings and emotions, a view discredited by Descartes several hundred years ago – and which thus validated cruel experimentation on, and the exploitation of animals .
In this country there’s growing recognition of the need for humanity in farming, to the extent of experimenting with phasing out animals for meat, and creating tasty meat substitutes which don’t involve animals at all. Researchers in Denmark have created a way to replace plastic used in delivery food with grass fibres, which they say is ‘100 biodegradable.’ This project aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions hugely, as well as the use of plastic in supermarkets, since according to a statement from Aarhus University, more than 10,000 tons of packaging for take-away food are used each year in Denmark alone.
And when the pendulum swings back, and the excesses of the BLM movement, militant gender campaigns and woke cancelling have diminished, we will all be more tolerant and kinder, as these movements subconsciously influence our thinking to become more sensitive and more aware. The new vocabulary of wokeness, the definitions of binary and cis-gender, and all the other words with charged meanings will then no longer be used to bully the unwoke. (like me)
Events, movements, history, patterns of thought are all in a state of fluidity and flux. Facts and situations we once thought were permanent turn out to have different meanings for different people. The future has never looked more opaque, and the choices that face mankind have never been so urgent and so life-threatening. And yet as we look around us in our own little worlds, we can see small, simple good things, the smile from a stranger, the greeting from another, the warmth of a receptionist, the concern of a health worker, the dedication of so many people in so many ways, from the cheerful capable ambulance driver, to the expertise of the woman who cooks my fish and chips, the decency of the supermarket check-out ladies, and the friendliness of road workers holding up the stop/go signs.
These small human inter-actions are what in the end dwarf the huge problems that face our generations. We know that we are living on the cusp of huge changes in the history of the human race. We know that we are at a turning point in the long years of life on our planet. And we know we can’t roll back climate change and poverty and terrorism and all the other challenges, as we all long to.
But we can create our own world of goodness and human connection. The human connection is what in the end sustains us, and always will, whatever lies ahead. As we all take this unavoidable evolutionary leap into the void of the future, we have each other.
And as the poet Wordsworth said,” The best portion of a good man’s life is his little nameless, unencumbered acts of kindness and of love.”
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
I’m always looking for short cuts and small additions to deliciousness these days.
One of the best tips I learned from a Russian neighbour was about my breakfast pot of coffee. In a pot for one, grind one twist of salt, and three twists of black peppercorns into the coffee. In some indefinable way this improves the depth of taste to the coffee.
I also grind my own coffee beans these days, since I read a chef’s information that coffee manufacturers don’t bother to fish out cockroaches or other foreign bodies from the beans, and just grind everything up together. Ugh!
Another chef has improved my omelettes out of sight. He told us that by cooking the butter until it browns before tipping the egg into the pan, gives the omelette a better taste. And he’s so right, tomato omelettes, my fall back position, have never tasted so good.
And then there’s the hole in any dish being re-heated in the microwave. By hollowing out a little hole in the centre, the whole dish cooks through evenly and not just the edges.. this works for anything from cauliflower cheese, to cooking onions. Anyone else got some good life saving tips???