Here

I want to live in a world which isn’t real,

A life which can’t exist, never has.

I’m drawn and attracted to a vision of it.

Now, I just feel I’ve got the wrong deal.

 

Here, the sun always beats gently down,

Warming my cheek and back, a glow.

The light gives a tint to everything,

The trees tall and bright, golden splashed ground.

 

Here, the sun never sets.

It is always the twilight hours;

Magic moments of half-light, cool breeze blows

The tall grass, gentle bird song makes darkness cower.

 

Here, the timorous trickle of water over stone

Adds to the timid talk of birds,

Beating their small chests, in defiance they roam.

My short sighs of breath, here, are barely heard.

 

Here, grass and leaves are deep green

Spring sprouts life indefinitely.

Shoots shout their colour, desperate to be seen,

All beauty, raucously on display, happy to be.

 

Here, a grey mist does not shroud my eyes,

I see full resolution, unaltered reality.

Paranoia does not painfully birth lies,

Anxiety does not cripple my ability to see.

 

See things for what they are;

Encounters aren’t forced or false,

I laugh loudly, smile widely; happiness not far.

Thoughts not penned in a dark house.

 

Life is as honey in my veins, flowing slow and steady.

Slow and steady, a rhythm.

Swelling and falling, my being blending with all.

Here; this is where I would live and die

Bear out burdens, build bonds of family.

Simply safe.

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Mên-an-Tol

Here stands a monument to endurance.

Solidity within our transience.

Though wind screams in fury, it stands in glory.

 

Stone, carved from the earth, permanently still.

Resolute in its defiance, standing.

‘Rage, blow!’, its presence shouts, bold on the hill.

 

Subdued, I stare at the ancient headstones.

The essence of years’ swirls through my frailty.

Who will stare when time has eaten my bones?

 

Goings on twist and tumble, life shouts its noise;

Intrusive and obscene, sweet and tuneful.

Every day, scenes are acted on your stage.

 

With every solemn hand placed, picture

Taken, story told, you come back to life.

You bring the rush suddenly. To a halt.

 

Severed connection remade and switched on,

Madness broken, our spirits awoken.

You take us out of time, somewhere better.

 

Where is better? When flame and sulphur rise,

When we can’t tell the difference between

Madness and culture. Where will we retreat?

 

To fathers of fathers, far back in time?

Delve, dig. Find our roots, carved from the very earth.

Once found, plant them: stony strength straining but

 

Standing. Still, standing.

An Ode to Dorset

You. You are something simple, simple and clear. Yet untraceable.

You’re familiar, indistinct and overlooked. Yet unique.

Remain…endure…onwards.

 

You. Your green is richer than theirs, your value more rooted.

You. Your gentle speech is more powerful than theirs, less intrusive, more…intuitive.

Remain…endure…survive.

 

You. Hold the fleet-footed bounds, the gentle glides, the young leaps of innocence, the cries of the night, the crack of heat, the crunch of ice. You hold these in esteem, in your garden, you keep these.

Remain…endure…protect.

 

Now, you. You who watch the rise and fall of the sun, you who watch the native bound, watch that which is unaware of your foreign eyes, your machines, your success and failure, your light and dark…all that mere noise – a mixtape of worry, love, and pain. It cares not.

 

You who rail and rage, spit your fury and ambition, your reckless scream for more and faster, more and better – your demands are heard, answered. Listen, now.

 

Listen, now – to the bubble of the cool water over and through the green valleys. Listen, to the crescendo of the chorus, the rise and fall of sweet sounding song, borne on the wind. Listen, to the crunch of the ground underfoot.

 

See, now. See the white-haired hills of winter, glinting and glowing under the gentle sun. See the rows of trees, older than you and I, monuments of endurance.

 

Do not overlook these, these calls and pleas – quiet though they may be.

Listen…see…respond.

‘Reading Week’ in France

I was lucky enough to be given a week’s holiday for reading week by my parents (well I jumped in their holiday anyway), not a lot of reading was done I must say. We stayed in an area called ‘Suisse-Normandy’, a small patch of Normandy near Caen which sticks out from the rest of the region, it is a small area of hills and valleys, completely different to the flat expanses of farmland surrounding. It has a unique beauty.

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View from our drive

We woke up every day shrouded in mist and fog which rested heavily on the quietened land; it was as if this area had its own routine. 8-11am, a settled mist; 11-2pm, the sun climbed and broke through waking the land up; 2-4pm, there was a subdued presence of light and warmth, tempered by the autumn coolness; 4 onwards the day began to darken and grow crisp, pushing us inside to the fire. Almost every day we spent here, without fail, unfolded like this. There never seemed to be a huge change in temperature or light, instead a steady coolness persisted.

On the first day we drove through the wholly idyllic countryside, passing field upon field with reddening trees and strange piles of boulders, seemingly placed by giants. We climbed to the seat of Normandy, looking down on the vast space – this was where the beauty lay. All we could see were vast rooves of forest; red, yellow, orange and green – a painting conceived by nature, enjoyed by us. We heard nothing but water, wind and birds. The silence which faced us was exciting; no distant roar of a busy road – a rare occurrence today. Instead we heard only the thunder of our thoughts; momentarily allowed to wander through silent glades of imagination and thought, reclaiming reaches long forgotten. Our walk was short and unspectacular, which was where the charm lay. Every new view was a picture to be taken; the autumn sun glinting through golden leaves, the thin path disappearing through a carpet of colour, the field painted gold and yellow. I drank it all in, reluctant to try capture it as a photo lest I do an injustice to its majesty. The moment was all to delicious to try and tame for my memories sake.

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A glimpse out of the woods into the fields

Everything about this day felt familiar. The sharpness of the autumn air, the desperate sun, the natural and full pallet of colour. I had wandered through this wood a thousand times. I simply felt connected and fully at home. Some places seem to hold a piece of you, we all remember a holiday somewhere or a place which can only be thought of with a fond and nostalgic sigh, and a rooted longing. If you haven’t, get travelling and find somewhere. I have never been to this part of France yet I felt violently nostalgic when wandering through the natural beauty which was on display, it was as if the soul of the land was wafting into mine, gently blending and dancing in a sunny medley. Perhaps everyone who stumbles into this little patch thinks that, perhaps the golden-green rolls of hill speak to all passers-by, the wind in the trees whisper into all the cold ears that stop here, the subdued rays of sun warm all necks. The people who live here are visibly deeply connected, their roots drink deeper than the oaks themselves. When we passed by two older men fishing on a bridge, their browned and chiselled faces seemed as old as the granite cliffs towering above us. Their conversation flowed as freely as the water below us. Their presence was part of the landscape; they were not intruders in this country but extensions of it.

A few days later I found myself wandering (yet again) through the French countryside, I was undoubtedly where I wasn’t supposed to be (some Frenchman’s farm). I followed meandering and seldom used paths through regiment upon regiment of tall and beautiful trees. The hum of a tractor collecting apples from the orchards was ever present but strangely unobtrusive – my ears were tuned more to the melodious drip of rain water on leaves and the grand song of the birds, neither overpowering the other, only the occasional call from an owl was enough to rupture the serenity.

This ‘small-boyish’ adventure was like the last, but different. The feelings evoked from the beauty of the country were the same, I felt a longing to just be here, I had no idea what I wanted to do except that this felt like the place to do it. But it was different in the landscape which greeted my eyes, I was no longer in an ancient valley. I found myself amidst oak, pine and apple trees – until I clambered over a ramshackle fence into wide expanses of field. I found some old ruined barns, reclaimed by nature and the more picturesque for it. The fields were enclosed with golden banks of trees illuminated by the afternoon sun, rolling hills obscured areas of land, meaning every 100metres or so ventured opened new landscapes to gaze upon. I rested by a solitary oak, shaded from the sun momentarily. Now the tractors had faded and all I heard was my own steady breath and the chorus of birdsong, again I was left alone to think in quiet. This sounds like something silly and insignificant, perhaps it is, but try and remember the last time you were in silence outside, the library doesn’t count. When could you hear only your thoughts? We live in a world of noise which has little time for quiet, this isn’t something particularly profound – but sometimes we forget what nothing sounds like, we forget that there is a world about us which simply isn’t effected by what Trump says, or whether the pound is weak or strong. We visited some friends not far away this week, who are clearly effected by the implications of a weakened pound post-Brexit, they simply said ‘I can still sit out in my garden and hear the birds sing and enjoy a sunset’. When we reconnect to the wider world (not the ‘www’), it does put things in perspective. The shadows of fear and worry do withdraw for a time and all we can focus on is the sun which invades. It pays to disconnect, if only for 20 minutes, just to remember that the world will go on regardless of the changes we face, regardless of the hate which seems to be growing everywhere, there are patches which won’t be harmed or tainted. This seems like one of those places, time has stopped here for the visitor.

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The carpeted track through the local forest

The lifestyle is like moving back in time, a simple and agricultural region. It is poor here, and the deprivation is clear. However, the people don’t seem bitter about this (on the surface anyway), they are all friendly and warm. Perhaps they are aware of the rare beauty they live in. Either way, there is something in the air or the water which has a healing quality, a regenerative power (I’m not being mystic before you say). There is just ‘something’ that I’m struggling to articulate, that can’t be nailed down. Maybe if we could nail it down we would ruin it, it’s the magical and quiet atmosphere which is special, something we can’t put a price on or commercialise. Maybe that’s the key – we can’t buy or sell it, it is its own master. We can’t philosophise (that is a word apparently) it, as much as I’m trying to. We are just free to enjoy. So, find something which needs only be enjoyed, nothing more – simplicity is hard to come by today, but it has immense value in its power to silence a loud world.

A week in the Dales; mines and waterfalls!

My first day in the Dales was sweetly received; I  sat brooding on our bench in the little garden of our cottage (which has a public footpath going through it up the mountain) and drank in the scenery.  I cast my eye from rolling hills with bright green covering up to the stone capped dale with rocky ridge-lines jutting out proudly from the hillside. Small clusters of trees dotted the landscape down in the valley complemented by white flecks of sheep here and there, small fluffy lambs gaily stomping about, giving a wholly idyllic and Virgilian hillscape. The rolls and dives of hill are patterned and outlined with dry-stone walls, made from the hills themselves in beautiful craftsmanship. One’s spirit is renewed and finds rest in these hills and valleys, with every breath I felt lifted. This is perhaps a more rugged place than Tolkien’s shire, but with a folk festival in the ‘Green Dragon’ on our first night, you can’t help feel that goodness flows into the people and music from the heart of the earth, very shire like in its atmosphere; sleepy, friendly and happy.

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The pastoral walk homewards before the folk festical.

The folk festival at the ‘Green Dragon’ was a treat for ears and eyes, rugged faces with toothless smiles and drunk eyes greeted us as we entered the poorly lighted and ‘oldy worldy’ type pub. Music flowed from room to room, some rooms more sombre, others  had a quick tempo and Irish feel, but all held a unique sound and talent which was a joy and privilege to be a part of. It was surprising to see probably over 100 people tightly squeezed into this low ceiling’d pub, a quiet village was bustling with people because of the music. I found out that this is an eagerly awaited event, falling only thrice a year. How lucky we were!

But before the warmth of the pub could be enjoyed, a hike was fully necessary. From the lowland Shire-like valley to high peak I marched, up on Abbottside. High, flat, wind-bitten and isolated is the top. The long wail of the curlew and call of the sheep are the only noises that accompany the howl of the wind. No soul did I pass on that lonely height, but the isolation was part of the beauty, away from the intrusive noise of cars and towns, alone in the wild; sheer joy! Up here there is nothing except the wildlife and sheep. Height and distance are warped by the clarity and stillness of the air whilst the deep folds in the land make a long and hard climb up to the top seem like a short saunter through some heather. I was looked down upon only by the peaks which surround me, dwarfing everything in sight. Here it takes only a small amount of minutes for the skies to change and darken, with a stiff breeze the clouds rolled on from nowhere over Dodd’s fell and Great Shunner Fell, both disappear in the vastness of the weather as the air sharpens and the wind rises. ‘Here I come’ the storm gently announces.

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Track over the top of ‘Abbottside’.

On the second day it was the peak of Great Shunner Fell that was our aim, and great she was. We embarked upon four miles or so of climbing from drover’s road amidst pasture then up to moorland, with a view behind of how far we had come out of the valley and a view ahead of the vastness of this fell. The valley was wide, green and tame with the fields being bailed for winter feed of sheep and cattle. A race against the weather ensued; wet hay is no good and would be costly for the men and women who farm this changeable land. The comings and goings of folk far below were miniaturised, small specks slowly moving in the fields. On High Abbottside we were far from this panic, far from anything indeed. Behind us lay our worries and burdens, ahead rested a fleeting freedom from the madness of this world. For this four hours of hiking I was fresh and new in the world again. I was temporarily free from the filth and grime which one picks up in our lives, free from other peoples thoughts and perceptions of me, free from obligation and expectation. Out on these heights, I am who I am.

As we ascended the land became boggier, in winter it would have been more than treacherous with swathes of black peat laying in wait; leave the slabs at your peril. Small clumps of cotton grass and bog asphodel gave colour and life to the otherwise monotonous mass of common spike rush. Every now and then a steep rise leading to what looked like the top would emerge from nowhere, once climbed it would give way to more climbing and trekking, ever did this fell taunt us. But as we walked we were simply unaware of the difficulty of the climb, we were surrounded by beauty in all directions. To my left lay Cotterdale, empty of life it seemed with no village or croft in sight. My heart yearned to explore the untouched land. To my right lay the fell I climbed yesterday, somewhat dwarfed now by the might of Great Shunner. Yesterday I felt high up, today was immensely higher. Ahead was more climbing; deceptive were the rolls of hill and ever on and on the path went, winding through the grass and bog.

At the top we were greeted by strong winds and dramatic skyscapes, as well as a few friendly Geordies. We could see for miles, Pen y Ghent and Whernside (two of the ‘Three peaks’) loomed dark and mighty in the distance, whilst we could just make out the giants of the Lake District far and foreboding. Apart from these few monuments of nature we looked up at nothing, we had conquered the 2340ft (716m) fell of Great Shunner. The march down was wearisome and sad, we knew this moment was drawing to an end, as we saw less mountain we grew quiet, we were in the valley. Small once again; we had finished. Walking down a mountain is difficult, not in the traverse necessarily but in the reluctance of spirit to leave a height. It is hard to articulate, but that’s exactly why people climb to the heights of the world. Nothing else does them justice, a photo or a word falls short. Only when up there can you understand why you climb.

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At the top of ‘Great Shunner Fell’, 3rd highest in Yorkshire.

On the third morning there was a quiet air, as if land and sky were waiting for some unknown event. Fog rolled off Abbottside into our valley slowly and surely, enveloping the hillside. There was a silent grandeur about this mist, bound by no one and nothing save the wind. The cloud was heavy and refused to break, this dampened all sounds in the hills, but failed to dampen spirit. The air was fresh and clean, giving life to our weary bodies. Despite illness I walked along Mill Gill Foss, down to a tall waterfall among the trees. It was mighty, the water fell off the cliff between two precarious outcrops of rock, both barely supporting the boughs of trees. As I clambered to its foot and then up the side of the waterfall, the rush and boom drowned out all other noise. Perched on mossy crags I felt tiny below huge ceilings of rock and tree. The air was refreshing and felt as if I drew new life in every breath I took.

The fourth day came and I battled no illness or weariness; instead I endured the siege of rain, wind and cold. In search of adventure and history we fought our way up steep sided fells among tall grasses and sharp rock, far from the path. At an ancient kiln we rested from the climb, once our bearings were found we began an even steeper ascent. Any ground we made was made doubly by the menace of the cloud. Once we reached the top of a rocky ridge the malice and rage of the skies was unleashed. Wind howled about us seeming to wail and scream at us. The rain whipped our skin and soaked us through. On that high ridge we were mere prey for the weather, small intruders in this time old land. The wind grew stronger and the valley was obscured, along with the towering masses of the fells, by thick and heavy cloud; we were now both blind and cold. We were swiftly forced to take momentary shelter in a shallow shake hole, but cold lingered and rain persisted. Eventually we were forced off the hillside, without having found a mine, or even venturing to the top of the fell. We were defeated, and solemnly wound our way through pasture back to the hearth.

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On the edge of a kiln, looking down on my dad sheltering from the rising wind.

My penultimate day was one of waterfalls and rivers. First I begrudgingly paid £2.50 to see what was heralded as England’s ‘tallest unbroken waterfall’; although beautiful, (as all waterfalls are) I was heartily underwhelmed by its height. The ‘tallness’ was perhaps the most disappointing aspect! But the moisture thick in the air (which soaked me) was a fresh wakening for the day to begin with.

Next were Aysgarth falls, mighty after a night of storm. Water thundered over rock thundering as if a host of men sang a deep and rhythmic song borne out of the earth itself. The rust colour of the water caught rays of sunlight and was transformed to a brighter hue, giving off warmth even as we watched. Bitter cold was the water in reality, fierce the gallons seemed as the rolled by in swollen regiment. I felt tiny and weak next to the raw power which had nature today had on display, a mere speck among greater things. We watchers were transfixed by the fleeting, yet wholly permanent, tumble of water. I wondered how many ancient eyes in times gone by had sat and pondered aside these falls, similarly mesmerised. As darkness grows in the world today and change seems to race through our small country, wanted or unwanted, it is important to remember what won’t change, what we can hold onto; powers which are a part of us as we are of them. Shakespeare voiced these best, speaking of the ‘tongues in the trees, books in the running brooks and sermons in stones’.  Our land and its features are permanent. Tree and root will grow whilst river and beck flow, flowers will bloom and birds will groom and even as I yawn, the sun shall dawn. These things we must hold onto, where we’re from, who we are. This is what gives us humanity, and only with this steadfast humanity can we drown out the reckless clamour of hatred. Creation has permanence about it because of the creator; the rock amidst the falls.

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The might and power of ‘Aysgarth Falls’

My final trek in this land was long and for the most part slow. We wound our way up ‘Gunnerside gill’, over in Swaledale, my favourite dale. This Gill is heavy with history and was a heavily mined area. The wreckage is all that remains. Vast heaps of grey rock lay along the river, up the hillside and atop the fell. Ruins of the smelts, kilns, shops and other buildings lay as if part of the landscape, tucked into the mountainside. The land on both sides of the river, with steep cliffs, is utterly ruinous; scarred seemingly beyond repair. It is, however, difficult to picture how much worse this would have been. Spews of sulphur smoke, crunch of stone, shouts, furnaces, flues and shafts would have been noisy and polluting. Now this grey ravine holds a quietened sadness, an eerie feeling lingers as if the land is brooding over the almost fatal abuse it has endured.

The mine shafts are alluring with a mysterious presence drawing me into the dark and gloomy entrances. Despite the haunted silence, broken only by the drip of water, the long dark tunnels have a strong call. Only 10metres or so do I ever venture, but on and on to uncharted depths do the tunnels lead and the blackness calls you ever further. A strange, almost disturbed presence dwells in the unnatural quiet of the tunnels. Perhaps it is well I forget to bring a torch or boots, else I’d have no excuse to not delve further.

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About 10-15 metres into a disused shaft. Spooky!

For all the wasteland and scarred mountainside, somehow part of the beauty comes from the mines, the tips and the ruins. It gives the land a visible history, which allows travellers to attribute their own emotions at seeing these sights. It lends understanding to the hard life, now gone, which existed here. The history and the hills are one, and it is rare to see the life blood of a region so close to the surface.

I was extremely blessed to spend a week here, cut off from the wider world (we had no signal or wifi the whole trip). It was refreshing to be allowed out of the clutches of tech and connection. We were left to our own thoughts and musings. It was beautiful.

 

My visit to ‘The Jungle’

We were all laughs and smiles on the way, jokes flying, spirits high! We were excited. Excited to try and do our bit, to get to work and make a difference in the world. ‘Love the one in front of you’ is what we were preparing to do, nothing really prepared me for what I saw and felt. ‘The Jungle’ is in a way what I expected, a pit of human despair and anguish. Pain, poverty and chaos are some words you could use to try illustrate the feeling and reality there. However, it is almost impossible to convey how I feel, or rather how this short (far too short) trip has made me feel.

I’ve been asked so often since returning; ‘How was France?’, ‘How was Calais?’ and I always struggle with what to say. I usually hide behind the easy and comfortable response of ‘Yeah it was good thanks, really enjoyed it’. The conversation normally ends there, with a smile and a nod. I know it really needs to be more than that. When I arrived back in England I was almost drowned in my own feeling of uselessness  – what could I possibly do now, after this experience, that would remotely make a difference. But I understand that the only way to make any lasting change in this terrible and complex problem is to raise awareness, to try and somehow express the horror of The Jungle and the conditions which people have to live in.

With that in mind: winter is setting in and soon conditions will be wet and freezing. The Jungle has no foundation, it is built purely on mud, with small hills in the land all over. There is little or no drainage, most of the roads there are water logged already. Soon, peoples tents and shelters will simply fall apart as the mud is washed away. One of the main things I was lucky enough to help with was getting pallets to people. I can’t overstate the importance of pallets to them, they offer the only foundation to their houses they can realistically get. We could fit about 50 pallets in the back of a van each trip, they soon go though. To avoid any dangerous situations or any desperate grappling for the pallets we gave out tokens, which would later be exchanged for the pallets. The light in the faces when we asked ‘Do you want some pallets?’ told us just how important they were, the gratitude for something so simple helped put into perspective the reality that these pallets are a lifeline.

However, my first trip onto the camp wasn’t actually my first taste of the horror which perpetuates the surroundings. No, what was at first perhaps more discouraging or telling was when the first group got back from a distribution run, and their visible emotional turmoil displayed on their forlorn faces. No longer were laughs being shared, there was a quietened, inarticulate atmosphere among this small group. Some of these people had been to Haiti after the disasters there, and had witnessed human suffering on a horrendous scale. But when these same, brave, people got back from the Jungle, they were visibly holding back tears. Grown men and women could barely put into words what they saw, they were all very clearly shaken. Murmurs of tear gas having been used by police began to verbalise, along with short explanations of the horrible conditions in which men, woman and children had to live in.  I was no longer excited. I was scared and disquieted, unsure about what I was going to find. Whatever happened, I knew I would never be the same in one way or another.

All of you will have people you care about; whether it be families or friends. You probably have a father and mother, maybe a sister or two and perhaps even children of your own. Everyone probably has a job or goes to school and leads a ‘normal’ life. I was almost brought to tears by a very close friend of mine during the trip, when she explained the simplicity of the situation. That these people aren’t numbers, or just economic/conflict migrants, they aren’t just there so we can be charitable, and they aren’t a threat. They are like you and me, they led ‘normal’ lives, they have families like us, a large number also are doctors, lawyers, engineers and writers. They are exactly like us. The only difference is that we got lucky in where we were born, in a stable and safe country. We’re driven by the same things; to provide for our families, to ensure we have the best chances of success possible. So what makes it acceptable for 6000 people to live in poverty and squalor, in the mud of France? We are all too accustomed to seeing images of people suffering in faraway places, but we need to  wake up and recognise that there are thousands of people at our doors, desperate for safety and some semblance of compassion. Why does it seem so easy to express sentiments of sorrow and pity for people when they are distant, and probably can’t directly be helped by ourselves, but when there is a crisis so close to home we seem to almost ignore it?

There is one man I met who I believe has changed my life. I mentioned a pallet distribution I took part in above, it was my first time onto the camp and was extremely impactful. I jumped off the van into a puddle of muddy rubbish, this was the main highway in and out of the camp. There was a quiet, almost subdued atmosphere. On either side of the road were ‘buildings’ with ‘hotel’ or ‘restaurant’ and even ‘cafe’ painted on. To say buildings is probably slightly hyperbolic, there were some prefab type huts, a lot of wooden frames with tarpaulin as walls, the main structures people lived in were tents though.  Small shop windows with faces peering out fell under my sombre gaze. The smell of cooking surprised me with spices and exotic concoctions, but not nearly as much as the complete ease with which some of the more experienced volunteers we met exuded. They waved and joked with some people, hugged and made chit-chat with young boys and girls. This is what I tried to imitate, with little success. I walked off of the main highway of filth, up a mud embankment. There opened a view onto too many tents on too little land, ramshackle huts, dirt, rubbish and people. One bright eyed Eritrean with a cheeky smile told us how he had been clearing the area because it was dirty, so that they could make more shelters there. He was a tall, healthy looking man, probably in his 20s. I didn’t get a chance to speak to him properly, but it struck me that the people living here weren’t getting any real or substantial help from larger NGOs or even the governments. (The only governmental presence is the mass of armored police at all the entrances, coolly looking on – no help is provided).  But, instead of feeling sorry for themselves and just making do, they were being the help they needed. No one was paying this man, I doubt many were thanking him, but he was helping nonetheless and with a beautiful smile too which couldn’t help but raise your spirits in some small way.

After meeting this young man I noticed on the area he had cleared, a smaller and equally smiley man making a tent. By this time I was eager to speak to someone, so I approached him with a smile and a handshake. His name was David, he too was from Eritrea (as everyone in this corner of the camp was I subsequently discovered). He truly had a heart of hope; he had lived on this camp for two months, and was making shelters for four women whom had just arrived. He had the warmest, most welcoming smile and face I had ever encountered – I had no idea what to say to him. I was a world apart from him, having never needed to fend for myself, much less for a family. I went on to tell him how sorry I was for what was happening to him, he simply laughed and said ‘It’s just life’. Just life. He had nothing other than the clothes he was wearing and maybe some other things in his hut, yet he was more content or accepting than I, he was more joyful and warm than I. This is something which still challenges me every day. When I walk down streets here and look at cold, stony and distant faces I remember him. When I don’t smile at someone, or I don’t do my best to welcome someone I think of him. I went to Calais to help people, to give what I could – but I’ve taken more than I could ever give. If David can smile and be pragmatic about his situation, how much more should we be happy with our lot? I cringe when I complain about something now because I can’t forget his musical laughter at my meagre apology for his tragic and unjust situation.

After a few short minutes of chatting, he showed me into his house. It was locked from the inside, so he had to prise it open. When we entered there was a sprawl of different bits of clothes, blankets and a small bed. There were the four Eritrean women trying to recover from their long journey, one lady greeted me warmly and attempted to wake the others so that they could introduce themselves. I politely asked her to let them sleep, I felt like an intruder as it was. It’s still a struggle to process this, they had met me roughly five minutes ago and they showed me such hospitality and friendship that I was almost stunned into silence.

The thousands of refugees here aren’t just ‘existing’, they are living. There is a library, a theater and even a church here. They are trying to make the best of a horrendous situation, with innovation and hopefulness. To say they won’t contribute in our country is a lie, when they have already shown that they can do so much with nothing, imagine what they could do with the resources we have. They would make such a positive contribution to societies around the world.

These small experiences are what will stay with me forever. They probably seem inconsequential and maybe even boring, but they had such an impact on me. As we drove away from the camp on our last day it began to rain, and a silence pervaded the whole bus almost deafeningly. We knew what this meant for these beautiful and kindly men, women and children. Their shelters would be washed away or ruined, the mud foundations wouldn’t last long. But what really cut through me most of all was the fact I was going home, where we all have so much, maybe too much, yet I knew I would have a smaller sense of humanity or compassion here. I’d be surrounded by people who I should have a greater sense of belonging with, but somehow I knew I would feel a stranger, isolated. Yet in ‘The Jungle’ it was impossible to escape the sense of family, friendship and reality which drowns out the normal life.

We can’t all go to the refugee camps, and we can’t all give money or clothes. But there is something we can all do, and we all have a responsibility to do. We all need to understand that the 6000 and counting souls on our doorsteps are the same as us. They may have different beliefs, values, accents and languages – but they all have a heart and desire for a normal life again. We need to remember that they aren’t simply a statistic, or part of a ‘European crisis’, their just unlucky. Unlucky that they weren’t born in the west like us. If more people understand this tragedy to be about humanity and we take it away from which political party or popular opinion we support, then I think the 6000 human lives have a chance. Otherwise, nothing will happen and they will die in the mud, the squalor, the fear and injustice which are now unfortunately their lives.