Saturday, February 20, 2016


This week I have been watching events in my own country, and in Brussels as I was writing this last night, closely.  As a former state sector teacher, I can empathise with frustrated junior doctors in Britain as I know how hard it is when your profession becomes a political pawn. What I cannot imagine, however, is what it is like to become a political pawn simply because of your provenance or geographical situation and, as if that were not hard enough, to be unable to defend yourself because you do not have that right. I am thinking, of course, of migrants, whose position within the EU has become part of the British "in or out" [of the EU] debate.

Despite plenty pf posturing post- Brussels meeting, I have not heard one politician refer to the fact, tweeted by UNHCR yesterday, that on average two children a day have died crossing the Mediterranean since 15th September. In 2015 12,272 unaccompanied minors reached Italy - a country the world has once again forgotten in this crisis - on migrant boats.

Every time I see that look of anguish on the face of a migrant child being carried ashore by kind helpers, I wonder where I have seen it before and then I remember a boy I called "Winter" long ago. This is an edited version of a post I wrote about him in 2007 and I hope you will bear with me as I tell his story again: 


It is usually winter when I think of “Winter”. I don’t know why; I was too young for the time of year to have really registered in my mind; but I think it must have been winter when I knew him, as I remember him in long, woolly socks, short, dark trousers and a grey, rough-textured coat that would scratch my face as he hugged me in the playground.

Everyone wore drab clothes then, mostly grey or a very dull green. Some women used to try to brighten things up by wearing red lipstick and dead foxes round their necks [which used to terrify me] but mostly the dreariness was unrelieved. People of my parents’ generation were still in shock from the Second World War and certain items remained on ration. Interiors were dark, too [though people were shortly to rebel against this], there were still bombsites in Bristol and the streets seemed grey and cold. There was a lot of poverty and it was so normal for children to wear threadbare old clothes to school that no one remarked upon it.

I could only have been about five and school was St Gabriel’s Cof E, at the top of Twinnel Road in Bristol. [It was one of the roads leading off Stapleton Road, where our shop was.] I can’t remember a sunny day in that playground, though there must have been some! I can only visualise it as dark and dismal.

"Winter's" name was actually Gunther, but there was no way I could pronounce it. He used to spend ages trying to get me to say it properly, but his tuition was of no avail to the future linguist! I can hear him now: “My name is Gunther, not ‘Winter’. Say it: G-U-N-T-H-E-R”. “Winter”, I would diligently reply. [I honestly could not understand why he would laugh and I used to get quite upset about it!] Then he would kiss me and tell me that he loved me and I would feel a warm glow for the rest of the day. It was a lovely, all-enveloping feeling of knowing that you are loved and I’m not sure if I have ever recaptured it.

I don’t know what his nationality was or what tragedy his family had escaped; he always talked about his mother, never his father. There were so many families from Central and Eastern Europe pouring into the country then and there were a lot of Poles in Bristol; but obviously his name was not Polish.

“Winter” had ash-blond hair, worn with a long fringe flopping over his forehead, large, smiling blue eyes which I can picture even now and I don’t think I ever saw him without that overcoat on.

He must, I think, have been bullied because I can remember one day telling a teacher, “Winter’s crying”. Then I was pushed aside while Miss Adams [whom I hated with a vengeance from that moment] dealt with whatever it was that had upset him. [It was my job to comfort Winter, not hers!]

Breaks were the highlight of my little life, because I knew Winter would come and find me and we’d stand in a corner of the playground cuddling and exchanging chaste kisses while he told me that we were going to get married when we grew up. Winter had it all planned; he was going to buy the shop from Dad! I didn’t see him at lunchtimes; most women didn’t work then , so the majority of children went home for lunch. In fact the “dinner children” were regarded as something of an oddity. I couldn’t wait to get back to school in those days!

One day he just wasn’t there. “Gunther’s gone”, said Miss Adams when I enquired and that was that. Winter certainly hadn’t known about any move or he would have told me and I’m sure he would have cried! I suppose the family were suddenly rehoused in the efficient, unfeeling manner of the time; or perhaps he was taken out of school because of the bullying; or maybe his father reappeared; I just don’t know. The sense of loss was overwhelming and suddenly the world grew even colder.

We all need fantasies to keep us alive and one of mine is that one of these days I’ll be strolling along a street in Modica, Catania or Palermo, I’ll suddenly stop and there he’ll be – Winter!

"Winter" and his family did not endure the hardships that today's migrants do to reach what they hope will be safety but I have no idea what had had happened to them in their own country prior to their journey. What I do know is that every time my TV screen shows a frightened child looking, from the arms of a stranger, for the people who had always defended him and realising that they are not there, I see the face of Winter  - in a playground in  Bristol, UK, in 1955.


Sabine said...

It is appalling and embarrassing how these politicians talk about refugees as if they were irritating intruders that need to be kept as far away as possible and forgotten about.
Wealthy Europe has 500 million citizens. You cannot tell me we are overstretched when two million are asking for help.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I completely agre, Sabine.


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