If you read my last post, Ring Out the Old, you’ll know I have been planning a move to the UK. Well, it’s happened, mostly, in that we are here, even though we still don’t actually have a new place to live…
Yes, I know, but it’s a long story and there wasn’t any choice.
You could say this hasn’t been the easiest of times for us.* As any of you who have moved house will know, the process can be so frustrating. It all takes so much time to arrange, and the bureaucracy can leave you feeling powerless, as the costs and the stress mount up. The children, too, are feeling it. They have now left their French school but without a permanent address in the UK can’t yet get places at a new school here. They have no room of their own to put their suitcase in. Their books and toys are all in storage. No routine, and all their friends left behind in France. Walking out into the unknown for the first time in their lives.
Then there was the journey itself. The four of us, one dog, one cat and a couple of suitcases, squashed into a car for an 835 mile drive, on a one way ticket to uncertainty:
We emptied our house and left it behind, setting off towards a new life, but without actually having a new home to go to. We didn’t even have time to say goodbye to our friends and neighbours properly (although we do plan, once settled and organised, to go back and do that).
Five minutes into our journey a nasty smell filled the car. The (long-haired) cat had weed in his travel cage. And pooed. An ominous start to the two-day drive. We found somewhere to stop the car. We cleaned the cage. We cleaned the cat. We had ten hours drive ahead of us that day, as long as we didn’t have to stop every ten minutes to clean up poo.
Fortunately we didn’t. The first day’s drive went pretty smoothly, even through the heavy snow coming down over the Massif Central and eventually we got to the hotel near Paris that we had booked for the night and found something to eat. That night my younger daughter, who is eight, dreamt that when we got to England our new house was in a war zone, bombed to dust, but that our old one in France had already been sold to strangers. We had nowhere to go. We couldn’t go back. I felt bad that we were putting her through this. “It will all be fine,” I said. “Great, even. You’ll see.”
My older daughter, who is ten, woke up the next morning with a crippling stomach ache. She was nauseous. She didn’t want to start the journey again. She didn’t want to leave the bed or the hotel room, even though it was pretty crumby. I gave her water and a plastic bag for the car. “We have to keep going,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
Five minutes into the journey a nasty smell filled the car…We found somewhere to stop. Cleaned the cage. Cleaned the cat.
Four hours later we reached the Channel Tunnel. Our pets were checked, their pet passports and chips verified. Our passports were checked too. Everything was in order. We were so nearly there.
On the other side of the tunnel, as we headed up the motorway towards London – my husband, my kids, our aging pets and a few clothes and personal belongings – a car overtook us. It had got a few yards past us, doing about 80mph when one of its tyres blew. I watched in slow motion as it snaked out of control, crossed the carriageway, hit another car, spun away with bits of bodywork flying off it and hit the central reservation. Then it spun back into our lane. Right in front of us. My husband was driving. I couldn’t see if we had a clear lane to move into (we didn’t). I couldn’t see if the people behind us had managed to keep their distance or were going to hit us from behind (they had, they didn’t). I was sure we were going to be in the middle of a pile up. But it didn’t happen. My husband slowed the car and got us over to the hard shoulder where we called the police, checked that the people in the other cars were OK (they were) and trembled for a little while before pulling ourselves together and resuming our journey .
Two hours later, we were sitting on a sofa with cups of tea, telling this story.
*You could say that. But then when you think about it, it hasn’t been as bad as all that. We left one peacetime country behind and travelled to another. In our car. Men came and packed up our things into boxes and put them into safe storage. My daughter dreamt our house had been bombed, but it’s just anxiety and it will pass. My other daughter was ill en route, but she didn’t have to walk for miles in the cold, on an empty stomach. She curled up in a warm car under a blanket and slept as we drove. At the border people were polite and cheerful. We had family and friends waiting for us. It’s true we have no home to go to yet, but it should only be a matter of weeks and until then we have an abundance of offers of beds and meals and wine. Somewhere to stay as long as we need it. Because we are the kind of migrants that are welcome here. We have the right passports. The right faces.
Postscript: Please read this Amnesty blog post.