So here I sit in the Port of Dover, toes poking out of multiple holes in my socks and a proper fruity stink on. A fat Chinese man is snoring; he's laid out in a strange position on the always uncomfortable seats and his round little son has just gently slapped him awake. There's something intrinsically Oriental about the slapping gesture, I'm not sure what parts of my brain are firing to tell me that. A couple are conversing quietly in an Eastern European language. They have the wan pallour and faded, forest coloured clothes of the sensibly middle aged.
I can't stop thinking about the 3 boys I met in Calais. Arriving at the ferry port in the centre of a clamour of delayed ferries, striking fishermen and cars bulging with distressed Brits and the many many possessions they needed for a 2 week continental holiday was too much. I left my suitcase and walked, determinedly in a straight line towards the edge of the sand dunes. The 8 or 10 figures on the edges of the clumps of brambles melted away as I approached and I had to wait a while, even wave once before 3 giggling men came towards me, pushing and nudging each other. They were boys not men, no more than 19. I expected them to be from Morocco or the African continent but they weren't. They were from Afghanistan and suddenly their faces jumped in front of me and reassembled into the wild eyes and wind rounded faces that I've only ever seen in shiny magazines.
I gave them food and tobacco and my wind up torch. One of the boys put the cigarette in his mouth the wrong way round, fortunately, when I unthinkingly reached out and corrected it, he smiled at me with his mistake. I showed them my wind up torch and when I lit it and flicked it round to point at them, an inch from cigarette boy's belly he jumped and put his hands up in shock. What did he think it was?
They answered my stupid, frustratingly functional questions - where are you from? How did you get here? I had no way to connect enough with them to be able to ask why. Why do you want to come to England so badly? What's it like where you come from? Do you know that most English people don't want you in their country? Why do you still say England is good when we do so much wrong in the world? Who are you? Why are you smiling?
I walked away, across the car park and back into the queues of uptight people in badly fitting clothing, complaining because they'd been waiting 4 hours and hadn't had any free sandwiches and they're sure those French counter ladies are lying to them about the wait and isn't it a disgrace that this is happening to them. Their whole holidays are ruined. Fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking IDIOTS.
I am left frustrated and unfulfilled by my brief encounter and I've been trying to understand why. I think it's because all the things I actually wanted to give them were intangible - my British passport, my ability to go anywhere in the world and speak my own language, the help that is just a phonecall away, my freedom.
This morning I woke up in a wood in the south of France, near Bordeaux. I didn't have a tent so I found a fallen tree and crawled beneath the drooping branches. I felt very open to the earth and thankful. I awoke to a beautiful sunrise, steam rising from a nearby lake and a light frost on the ground.
Now I'm sitting in a ferry terminal under florescent light. There's a plastic plant next to me with a label in it that says "Asset Verification 2007". I just touched the pebbles at the base of the plant. They're glued down.