H is for Hawk, B is for...

B is for Beaver

'H is for Hawk' is the winner of the Samuel Johnson non fiction prize and is apparently a story about a woman coming to terms with a tragic event in her life by working with a hawk. Not sure this method will help me and anyway I am not so sure about raptors. After all according to Jurassic Park they are the descendants of dinosaurs....

But B is for Beaver has grabbed my attention. Yesterday Natural England gave permission for an immigrant family of Eurasian Beavers to stay in their adopted home on the River Otter in Devon. I am assuming that the beavers are refugees from some Eurasian beaver cull and were attracted by the name of the River (perhaps hoping to get it changed to River Beaver) and the charmingly named town of 'Ottery St Mary'. Perhaps these refugees came across from Calais with the other desparate refugees clinging to Eurostar trains and lorries. Whats different of course is that the beavers have been welcomed and are now protected. They will have an impact on their environment like any immigrant and local anglers are worried about the fish in the river if the beavers start damming, but the local town is looking forward to an influx of beaver enthusiasts (oo er missus!). It all feels very like a metaphor for what's going on here in terms of the immigration debate. Perhaps if humans grew cute fur and became tourist attractions many in this country would feel more warmly towards them.

My mother's family were immigrants and I don't think we have been too much of a burden on society. Like the beavers they came here to find a better life - escaping Hilter's 'Lebensraum' greed. But shortly after they arrived they were classed as 'unfriendly aliens' as they heralded from Hungary originally which in 1939 was part of the Axis powers. Luckily they were not interred like so many Hungarians, Romanians and German refugees who came to England at that time. But when war broke out they couldn't have radios or cameras. Ironically my grandfather had been invited here as a civil engineer to work on a social housing project in Leeds (only demolished last year). He spoke German, French, Hungarian, English and was a devotee of Esperanto the language invented to be universally spoken so that there could be no more communication problems in the world. There are still people and scholars today who speak Esperanto - which seems to me to be a mixture of Spanish, Latin and German. 

My grandfather wanted to help the Allies and every single week for the entire duration of the war he wrote to the Home Office offering his skills as an engineer and his language skills. Typically he was never taken up on his offer and I still have some of those letters. They didn't become 'naturalised' Brits until the 50s and when I was thinking about becoming a spy during the dying days of the Cold War my mother's status as 'naturalised' was an issue. Even some 40 years after the end of WW2 suspicion about people from 'behind the Iron Curtain' was still prevelant.

My mother had two wonderful friends who had been children like her at the beginning of the war and who had been brought to England on the 'kinder transport' trains. They started new lives, integrated and had families and their stories and experiences like those of so many other refugees and immigrants have contributed ineffably to the culture of this country.

I mention all of this as it has been a week of memorials - Holocaust Memorial day and also the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I was amazed to hear and read that the survivors were so ashamed of what had happened to them that many never told their stories for decades. I was also surprised to hear that the actual liberation day was not documented and in fact wasn't ackowledged for days. The Soviet troops exhausted by their time on the gruelling Eastern front (and conscripted by Stalin) did not seem especially surprised to find a death camp with its emaciated prisoners. Clearly life under Stalin had innured them. But also the Germans had fled with the more able prisoners on the infamous Death March across Europe. The initial liberation seems to have been fairly low key and it wasn't until the Americans arrived and started documenting what and who was left that the camp's liberation became news. The Americans later liberated Buchenwald and documented the first person to walk through the open doors. 

I was fortunate enough to meet an extraordinary woman called Helen Bamber who only died last year. She spent 3 years of her life working to repatriate prisoners from Buchenwald. She told me that she couldn't bear the smell of dead Geranium leaves as it reminded her of the smell of Buchenwald. I found that one of the most evocative images as hardly a day passes when I don't see Geraniums and think of it and her. She was in her early twenties when she started her humanitarian work in Buchenwald and returned to Britain to help set up Amnesty International and continued until the day she died. She established a charity called The Helen Bamber Foundation which works tirelessly to help refugees.  Just take a look at the website. http://www.helenbamber.org

But what also struck me in listening to the Auschwitz survivors whose numbers are dwindling fast as most are in their 80s and 90s was them talking about the importance of culture. One poet would frequently forgo his meagre meal to watch a sunset that would transport him out of the horror of the camp. Musicians would compose and play so that their souls and cultural identity could not be taken from them. But above all a survivor who spoke at the celebration this week said something very important - Do not let our pasts become your children's futures. 

For me that says it all...oh and the fact the beavers have made Devon their home.

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Odilon Rocha | Reply 11.08.2015 19.43

Dear Clare, hope you're doing well. We're thinking of you. Lots of love, kiss and hugs. Odilon and Stephan

Paul Sandori | Reply 07.07.2015 20.20

Clare, I would like to send you a photo of you and Greg as children in Hull. Your mother is in it, as well as the Konrads and my children.

Manize Irani | Reply 22.06.2015 07.19

May your recovery go from strength to strength. You are as awe inspiring as always.

Alice Coelho | Reply 17.06.2015 16.22

Hello Clare. Sending you warmest wishes and a big healing hug. You were being remembered fondly in Cannes this year. Take care and God bless xox

Douglas McFarlane | Reply 14.05.2015 16.29

I'm also a BAFTA member and saw this. The last posts seem to suggest some challenges and I do hope your recovery, into some sort of normality, is speedy.

Tasha | Reply 22.04.2015 17.01

Oh my word, what an incredible woman you are. Clare, forgive me for clearly living on another planet and not knowing. Please will you email me so I can say hi.x

fiona jenkins | Reply 21.04.2015 10.56

Oh Clare, only just found out all that you have been through. Wow, as ever you are amazing! What a journey... I'd love to see you when I'm next in UK. Can we? x

Helen Ager | Reply 06.04.2015 00.10

Clare, it's Helen (used to be) Sedgwick. I didn't know about any of this until my brother found it. Wonderful writing. Absolute credit to you.

Jane Young | Reply 14.03.2015 15.33

I think you'd make a marvelous spy. I remember Emma in "Fortunes of War" which showed a side of WW2 that I never knew about! Not that she was a spy....

Nicky Babbage-Clark | Reply 30.01.2015 09.32

As Fen says, wise words, very wise words.

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Latest comments

11.08 | 19:43

Dear Clare, hope you're doing well. We're thinking of you. Lots of love, kiss and hugs. Odilon and Stephan

04.08 | 12:46

thinking of you and sending lots and lot of love and hugs x x x x x x x x x

29.07 | 19:20

don't know if you have the energy to open this page but if so, sending lots of love. Thinking of you xxx

24.07 | 09:28

darling hope you're feeling a little better today and that you have a fully charged ipad so that you can binge watch entire seasons of quality TV immediately x

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