Beyond a Boundary

I am very sorry that this newsletter is a little bit late. It is partly because I have been somewhat overwhelmed by the horror that is unfolding in Afghanistan and the disgusting (lack of) response from the UK government. The Home Office’s offer of 5000 people a year for four years shows exactly why we should be so wary of lending our support to calls for safe passage. This is a country from which millions of people will be seeking safety and a better life. What can one say in the face of such horror?

If Full of Care

But it is not only being overwhelmed by the brutality of the UK government being made so starkly apparent that has retarded this newsletter, I am also very tired. I am very tired because I decided to take Thursday off to go to watch cricket with my brother in Leeds. It meant a 23 hour day. It was a joyous day and, for that, worth the tiredness. The cricket was fun enough. England were playing India, but India had thrown it away the day before and, after an intense couple of hours in the morning, all that was left was to admire the astonishing skill of England’s best bat, Joe Root. The day was made joyous not by the game, but by people, both those that I met and those that I shared the experience with by being part of the same crowd.

I met my brother in King’s Cross and whilst I was waiting for him rather anxiously, I met a lovely man called George. George approached me to see if I needed any help, which was sweet enough, although, in fact, I think that he really wanted to find out if life could be enjoyable when you are disabled. It turned out that his partner had just given birth to a child with a condition I had never heard of, spinal muscular atrophy. George was clearly anxious about what this meant about the future and was coming to terms with being thrown into the world of disability and disabled people. I would rather have talked about his job, which is managing big construction projects, because I love cranes. Still, I was happy to share my perhaps idiosyncratic view that being disabled merely reveals that which capitalism masks, namely that we are all dependent on each other. Of course, it’s far easier to have such a division of labour that most of us don’t have to think about the work and care that is required for something as fundamental as going to the toilet in the morning. Nevertheless, I quite like the fact that I cannot hide that stuff for myself. It seems more truthful.

Once we arrived at Leeds, the work done building platforms and designing doors not being sufficient to let me get off the train without interacting with another human being, brought about encounter two. I forget the man’s name, but the person with the ramp was from the Caribbean, although he had clearly been in the UK a long time. He was also a cricket fan and had been reading Michael Holding’s new book, Why We Kneel How We Rise, about racism in cricket and in sport more generally. There were some things he wanted to get off his chest, not least the fact that we still have to fight for his dignity as a human being to be recognised. He was pleased to discover that we were going to be displaying a placard in support of Azeem Rafiq, the latest British cricketer to have to fight against racism. Rafiq used to play for Yorkshire.

Two people hold up a placard reading "Justice for Rafiq!" outside of Headingley Stadium

What Cricket Is

On the way to the ground, we were met by an old friend, Andy. Andy would normally have come to the game with us, but his wife also just had a baby. Care trumped cricket. Still, Andy couldn’t countenance us having to make our own way to Headingley. He met us at the bus stop to make sure that we did not lose our way navigating towards a giant sports stadium. After the game, we sat in the alley outside of his house and had a proper catch up as well as meeting the new baby, Leila.

On the way home, we met a young lad from Worksop, Sam, who had been on a blind date through some app I have never heard of. He was extremely excited about the future, I think with some justification. His date had started with some sort of advanced version of crazy golf, progressed through lunch and finished with a two hour chat over some drinks in the Slug and Lettuce. They were planning to go to Manchester next week for a follow-up at some sort of adult soft play park. Not a traditional take on romance, but undeniably childish and joyful. We also met Sadia who was working on the train and was a fellow cricket and Pakistan fan. She wanted an update from the test match. I think, and hope, that her kindness towards us was more than professionalism.

On the midnight train back to Brighton, I met a radiographer from Beverley. She arrived out of breath having sprinted across to St Pancras because her train from Hull had been delayed. She was going down to Three Bridges to pick up her kids who had been staying with the grandparents. We chatted about this and that, gory x-rays, joint replacements, family tragedies and migration. It turned out that her husband’s parents lived opposite a Syrian family. The family had been moved to Hull by the Home Office but now Tarek, the father of the Syrian family, and her father-in-law were good friends.

What Cricket Is

It was perhaps a day unusually high on kindness. I don’t know though. At the centre of the day was a game of cricket. A big crowd had gathered to share the spectacle. Given the game and the opponents, there was a reasonably high concentration of men and of people or Indian origin. Given the ticket prices, the very poorest people in society were underrepresented (or, in fact, completely absent). It was, still, I think, a reasonable cross-section of society. People were there for all sorts of different reasons. Some came largely to be in the crowd. They dressed up as carrots or smurfs, sang, laughed and drank from 11 o’clock until close of play. Others were there to watch the cricket. Some people would have come for a social event. At least in our section of the ground, the crowd was incredibly good-natured. Although India were being batted out of the game, one fan near us, to the chagrin of his friends and the delight of those around him, would stand-up periodically to chant for his favourite bowler. When Bumrah (wicket taker, Bum-ra-ah) finally got his man, our fan took his bow, claiming the credit for the wicket. His joy was shared.

20,000 strangers (the same number of people the UK is proposing to relocate from Afghanistan over five years) found a way of being together, of sharing space, and creating joy. That is what humans are good at. Sure, it will never be the most equitable distribution of space. The loud drunken men in the Western Terrace were definitely dominant. The awkward, the damaged and the needy also often take up more than their fair share. If you throw us together, we don’t manage to find the ideal equilibrium, but we do well enough. If, as needs to happen, millions of Afghanis arrive on our shores, from Afghanistan, from the camps in Pakistan and Greece, we will manage. We will do what they did in Kent in 1914 when there were record numbers of people crossing the channel in small boats, 16,000 people in one day 250,000 overall, or what they did in Germany in 2015. We will find space in our homes, in municipal buildings, in churches and synagogues and mosques. We will rush into action and we will find space for people until they can find space for themselves. It won’t take long, just look at Germany today.

We have to be lobbying MPs and policymakers to open the border and let people come here. If we can afford to wage war on the country for 20 years, we can find space for those made homeless by that war. We also have to put our money where our mouths are. The lobbying will be effective because we are ready and we can do this. If we have spare rooms and can have people in our house, we can offer it through Room for Refugees.  If we are landlords, we can rent at prices that are affordable. And if we have spare change, we can pool it to make homes for those with nowhere else to go. It is what humans do. It is who we are. We make space for all.