This was read out again last night at Letters Live, this time just as brilliantly by Tom Hollander.
My diary entry from my first day in the Moria Clothes Tent, Lesvos.
Today was superman pants.
They just arrived. The women and children queuing on one side the men on the other, startled, slow, shivering and in shock. I really wasn’t ready for it. The questions, Farsi, Arabic, the same questions again and again, some missing a shoe, many sopping sea-wet from the raft, wrapped in blankets and beach-given silver-gold survival foil, all ages, the babies with ice cold hands, the young studs, the mothers and the fathers and the toothless three score and ten, some grieving friends and family just lost, some texting their safe arrival, I couldn’t stop gawping, some signing again and again and again, for shoes, for socks, for hats, for cache-cache(scarves), for trousers, for “where next?”, for the doctor, the “I’m sorry, I don’t understand”s, the volunteers rushing past and my not remembering where soap was, or where toothpaste was, not knowing if we give out blankets, the “not him, his shoes will dry” advice, the “we don’t have enough size 42”s, the “gloves, are we out of gloves?”, the trying to understand why NGO’s hands were tied and it’s complicated and there are legal issues of course but are all these donations from independent people?, BARK – stepped on the dog – the texts, cold thumbed and slow on Greek phone to O “forgot to bring lunch”, J in charge, orderly, competent and patient, my bothering poor L “where’s this? where’s that?”, patting down shins and socks to see how wet, “remember to use hand sanitiser”, “Where’s Patrick? Have you called him?”, brought man in queue with in bare feet shivering uncontrollably to front of queue, “Patrick hates everyone” “But he’s in charge of the warehouse”, an 11-year old Brit kid calmly walking past and helping a stranger, J and “need you to manage the queue”, my wholly ineffectual please don’t push said in terribly polite tones, the please please slow down, please don’t all go at once!, “you can’t let them bunch like that”, one at a time, one at a time, one at a time, N coming to rescue, helping with queue, laughing and cheering and miming and dancing and making them smile, “don’t let too many through”, the long-stayers trying their luck – get rid of him please, patting trousers and shoes, “there’s scabies of course”, (what exactly is scabies?), bringing children forward as priority, I from Japan quiet and kind, the queue still growing, grey blankets, dark eyes just staring, curious, “tell them we have no more shoes”, socks inside survival-foil, check who has shoes in the queue, know that now, M noticing hadn’t had break and bringing out some water, “one at a time please”, “take them, it’s all we’ve got”, queue slowing down, 5 hours gone by, translator explaining “it’s not a shop”, “take the shoes”, “it’ not a shop”, “take the shoes”, what do they need after Athens?, “they’re the only shoes we have”, make sure only the desperate get them, we don’t have enough to go round, you can’t help everyone, taking old woman and her son to medical tent next door, on and on and on.
For 6 hours it was non-stop. And then it slowed. At about 2pm, finally, it started to slow. I tried to help an old man find some clothes. He was white-haired, polite, dignified and wet to the bone . He would have been waiting for 3 hours, quietly, and without complaint. We had no shoes in his size. I tried to show him how he could put dry socks inside the flimsy-feeling survival foil to keep his feet warm while his shoes dried out. I wished I knew what the Arabic for sorry was. He pointed to his trousers. The only pair that were close to fitting were too big, grey pinstripe and thin. We did not have a belt. I found him a hat, a big wooly pom-pom hat and then he asked me for pants. All I could find were superman pants. Bright royal blue with a big bold red and yellow S across the crotch. That was all that was left.
Superman pants. I handed them to the white-haired, polite, dignified and wet to the bone old man and he smiled, put his hand over his heart with a little bow and went off to the changing tent.. Felt mortified.
Reading If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, translated by Anne Carson back in the hotel.
Their heart grew cold,
they let their wings down …
That’s possibly the most striking thing about today. Nobody let their wings down. Despite all the chaos, the shivering, the uncertainty, and the fear, there is this wonderful warmth.
There is warmth among the refugees. They are astonishing: courageous, patient, grateful and ever-ready to smile, regardless of these ridiculous conditions.
There is warmth among the volunteers. They’re equally special in their own way. They’re from all over, Japan, US, Canada, Switzerland, Jersey, London, Norway and with no clear expertise (other than the doctors). They don’t really know each other, but they all just muck in, helping where they can, encouraging and coaxing and, well, being loving.
And there is warmth between refugees and volunteers. It is a lovely thing to see complete strangers hugging.
Nobody’s heart grew cold.
Nobody let their wings down.
And as far as I’m concerned, they all deserve superman pants.
Had a bit of a rush of blood to the head.
Am off to Lesvos after Christmas to help out with the refugees for a week. Tickets and hotel booked.
I’m not actually doing it to raise money. I’m paying for it myself and to be honest, I may well end up staying in my hotel bedroom trying to get the wifi to work and pretend things aren’t as grim as they are outside – but if you like the work the real aid-workers do, I’m sure they’d appreciate your support.
Outside the day job, I’ve been working away trying to repurpose an old project called MIST (Mentored Investigations into Science and Technology) and is essentially a set of videos and lesson ideas for maths and science at the primary level. I’ve also put up a number of “cheat sheets” for those teaching science over on TES.
Version one of the site is now live, and it’d be great to get any comments or suggestions for improvement.
Sorry to hear the news and good luck with the operation. I’m not a big fan of giving advice – I dread it actually – but I remember feeling lost, pretty much from diagnosis onwards. The below is an effort to at least give a badly drawn map as per Holub’s poem. It may not be a route to anywhere sensible but it is, at least, a route that has been taken.
And she’s 10.
Am seriously impressed!
Really enjoyed Doubt. This parable definitely going to be reused with students.
“A woman was gossiping with a friend about a man she hardly knew— I know none of you have ever done this—that night she had a dream. A great hand appeared over her and pointed down at her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt. The next day she went to confession.
She got the old parish priest, Father O’Rourke, and she told him the whole thing. “Is gossiping a sin?” she asked the old man. “Was that the hand of God Almighty pointing a finger at me? Should I be asking your absolution? Father, tell me, have I done something wrong?”
“Yes!” Father O’Rourke answered her. “Yes, you ignorant, badly brought-up female! You have borne false witness against your neighbor, you have played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed!”
So the woman said she was sorry and asked for forgiveness. “Not so fast!” says O’Rourke. “I want you to go home, take a pillow up on your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me!”
So the woman went home, took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to the roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed. “Did you gut the pillow with the knife?” he says.”Yes, Father.” “And what was the result?” “Feathers,” she said. A world of feathers.
“Feathers?” he repeated. “Feathers everywhere, Father!”
“Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out on the wind!”
“Well,” she said, “it can’t be done. I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.”
”And that,” said Father O’Rourke,“is gossip!”
via the indispensable Mr DuPlessis this video shows:
a) a large slice of my childhood
b) the same school I now teach in (the playground hasn’t changed)
I found out on Saturday that a friend of my mother’s is in hospital at the moment with numerous cracked ribs and a punctured lung. How she got there is, somehow, wonderfully “Oxford”.
Her husband has been very ill and is now in a wheelchair. He felt that a tree needed pruning in their back garden. Rather than ask in the tree surgeons she decided do do it herself (she is mid 60s). She put the chainsaw on a long extension and set about climbing up the tree. When she was 10 feet or so up, she began to cut but lost her footing and fell. The tree was overhanging the neighbouring garden and she bounced off the branches, landed heavily on the wall and then fell into her neighbour’s garden. At this point she feels she may have blacked out.
Now, the council own the house next door and they had recently taken the decision to turn it into a home for teenagers with very severe learning difficulties. To help these teenagers, the council had installed a large trampoline in the garden. When she came round, five of these children were bouncing up and down on the trampoline shouting “Angel from the sky! Angel from the sky!”
It took her some time to work out where she was. When she did she climbed back over the wall (no mean feat as it is 6 feet high) and dragged herself back to her ill husband. There, she made them both a cup of tea. He comfortingly said that it didn’t matter, she didn’t need to prune the tree all at once.
Yesterday, a little bit before being sent home, a reverend came round our ward. Two had gone to theatre so there were four of us: two cabbies called Pete and Rob, a thirty-something and me.
The reverend started with Pete and they had a long chat. Then he moved on to Rob, and again had a long chat. When he reached the thirty-something, there was less chat and more “Are you in pain? Is there anything I can do?”.
Next up was me. He walked to the end of my bed, looked at me sans smile and then wandered off.
Don’t know what to make of it … half of me relieved, half of me put out.
Perhaps it was my superhero shoes.