I quite often write a blog about people watching and things I have observed. Usually these are humorous, or quirky. Not today.
Yesterday in town, I had a short conversation with a young woman who was selling the Big Issue. I was one of only two people who had bought a Big Issue from this pleasant, polite and half-frozen young woman yesterday. I paid for two copies, that’s £5. Which, quite frankly, means little to me. I spend as much on a coffee and a muffin, which lasts me maybe half an hour. She tried to give it back to me, to talk me out of it. The first thing she did when I left, was to go and buy some food. I watched her as she sat on a bench and ate. People walk past without even a glance, she is more or less invisible, even with her red tabard on. I feel quite angry. Why is this girl on the street all day like this? If one of my children got into difficulties in a foreign country, I’d like to think someone would have compassion. We are all human, all parents or children, and we all find ourselves in difficulties sometimes, and need help.
Now before you roll your eyes and go, ‘OMG not another illegal immigrant trying to sponge off our great nation,’ let me tell you a few things. These are actual human beings we’re talking about. People. Not things. Not disposable objects. But people, living, breathing human beings. With dreams. With grandmas. With kids to worry about. Who came to this country (often undergoing unspeakable danger and difficulty) in search of a better life. And not illegally – this woman is not one of those fly-by-night chancers who drive in from overseas, nick all our copper cables and sell them for a fortune, then drive back again. She—and most of the others—are here with permission. And, to be extra clear, not everyone who sells the Big Issue is here from overseas, plenty of them are home-grown and finding life just as tough.
You can probably tell, issues around immigration, homelessness and poverty are hugely important to me.
You know what? You do not own this land. We all pretend we do, so that estate agents and lawyers and government departments and even home owners can make money from house sales and land purchases. But actually, we all arrived in this country, on this continent as migrants. Scientists have proved that we all came from somewhere else. Yes, I know it all happened millennia ago. But actually the first person who claimed a nice little patch of land in the UK had no real right to do so, they just got there first. We were all migrants. So it’s ludicrous to say, ‘This is mine, you can’t come in.’ Especially when we have not had the same attitude to our own invasion of the lands of others.
Back in the mists of time, before cities were built, before the towns and the offices and the shopping centres, before ports were built to allow boats to dock, before anyone thought of issuing a passport or a visa, there were humans. People. Just people. They spoke all sorts of languages and didn’t always understand one another. Disputes were settled in a variety of ways. I might give you a goat or sheep from my flocks in reparation for any damage you received at my hands. Or I might whack you with a big rock, and possibly face the dire consequences if my actions were discovered and your people didn’t like it. Or I might marry one of your relatives and we would just get over it.
That is what people do. Have always done. Once upon a time, we didn’t understand about borders and governments and territorial rights. We followed the herds. The herds migrated, to find pasture that didn’t die back in winter or get covered by twenty feet of snow, or they migrated to reproduce in more favourable climates, or, who knows, maybe they just got bored.
But wherever the herds went, we went after them. The herds, of any kind of deer or any kind of cattle, or I don’t know, maybe gigantic sweeping herds of emu or ostrich, or chickens the size of buffalo, they were everything to us. They were our food, our tools, our clothing, our lighting, even, later, our status. So we always had to be near the herds, and when they migrated, so did we.
But migrating for both herds and humans took its toll. There was always the potential for disaster, for predators to take advantage of the migrants, for climactic events to cause disruption and problems. For humans, it meant people with children travelling huge distances and arriving in a maybe less fabulous place than expected. sometime there was a terrible storm or hurricane, or there might have been a wildfire, or flooding. The elderly sickened and died, babies were born on the trail, and babies and mothers alike struggled to deal with the demands of the journey.
So one day, a character who was probably a national hero, gifted with foresight, radical and willing to take a huge risk, embracing blue-sky, out-of-the-box thinking, looked at all his or her community members as they packed the moose ready for the journey, and he or she thought to themselves, ‘Stuff that, I’m not going through all that again. Remember last time, when Granny got sick and she almost died? And she was barely 35!’
Or maybe they thought, last year’s place was too far from fresh water, and although the herds were strong, they were hard to catch on that uneven land. This place is nice. The water’s right there a stone’s throw from the tent, I can see for miles over these lovely rolling hills, the hills protect the land, so that summer leaves late and spring arrives early. I’m staying right here.
So they used some of their animal sinews and their flax or plant stem ropes, and they whittled a bunch of stakes, and they roped in some of those herds, and there they stayed. And when everyone came back next spring, lo and behold, there they were still, fat and sleek and healthy, and not totally exhausted from the long journey. So the following year, a few more crazy people decided to follow suit. Their wives and children and old people flourished, their flocks and herds produced young, and numbers multiplied.
I’m not a historian – as you can no doubt tell – and yes, this is probably hopelessly idealised and unrealistic. But my point is this: territorial borders are man-made and arbitrary. We do not – contrary to what many believe – own the land on which we were born or where we live. We are just there. I don’t normally post a political message. And I don’t want to debate endlessly. I just want to point out that in my own view, we are all migrants. We are all nomads. So, please, let’s have some compassion.
A Big Issue costs around £2.50. Seriously, folks, my cappuccino costs more than that. And I probably buy four or five a week. Can we all not make an effort to buy a Big Issue and enable a homeless person in desperate need buy food and shelter for a night? There but for the grace of God…