Love On The Walk
Began with tea at Café Reykjavik
And BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour talk
Roll call, informing of Refugee walk
From Kent Canterbury to London Westminster
To reflect on Refugees perilous flee to peace
And end indefinite immigration detention
Faffing, booking, caught last flight out.
Scatty, breathless, finally arrived
Onyx smiling reassuring eyes
Took my bags, gave me water
A lovely surprise and welcome
To the Chaucer-inspired Refugee Tales walk.
Waiting around, learning names
“Tut-tut” sound was
No where to be found
Only patience abound; water bottles
Sturdy boots, sun cream and reliable feet.
Watt Tyler Hall to Forum call
Sun aiding our sunny passions
Single file on country lanes
Listening, laughing, telling tales
While camera lady Sarah snapped away
Budding Nepalese poet, aka ex Refugee
Shared his tale, educating
Pointing out country’s main export
Not oil and gas, like mine
But dedicated Ghurkhas soldiers
Fighting for mankind.
Besieged optimistic Forum faces
Of many races eager to buy Refugee Tales book of
Painstaking account of tellers and writer’s encounter
Modern day snapshot of our dire immigration laws
Ben Okri and patron Ali Smith, heading the talk
Dishing wisdom and encouraging words
Discussing Refugee shenanigans
To make some noise and make a change.
Following morn two strong men loading van
Cooks reinforcing with packed lunches
Like school children expedition
Distinguished by their Refugee blue uniform
Divided in groups of slow and fast
With or without walking sticks
Enthusiastically to Faversham we marched.
Eager to explore the Garden of England
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales pilgrim route
Reversed from Kent to central London
Guided by yellow-bibbed watchful volunteer eyes
We rested our bottoms at Blean Common with
Woodland, wildlife and ancient Salt Way history.
Traipsing through hop gardens
Fields of cows and horses galore
Beautiful orchards of apples and berries
Gorging juicy strawberries along the way
Ignoring pesticides and washing advise
Enjoying the views of the Swale estuary
Rural, picturesque Kent swept us away.
Long day walk, making friends, hearing tales
Scoffing scones and cakes at a quaint tea garden
Tired feet, glazed eyes conspiring to drift to sleep
Instead, the treat began after the dinner feast
At the Faversham Assembly Rooms
Linking Chaucer Canterbury Tales to Refugee Tales
With captivating Hindi music from River Ganges
Set an unexpected entertainment precedent.
Refugee Tales patchwork quilt hung imposingly with
Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group sewn across
Forming a symbolic backdrop to the talk
To depict journeys and Hand of Friendship to
Sanctuary seekers in the UK
Each picture stitched a dream
Of planes, birds, kites, boats and blue skies
Of suffering, sacrifice, freedom, hope and love
The true meaning behind the entertainment.
Sleeping in church floors, finding your space
Avoiding the pulpit or nestling under the cross
Unearthed some sacred and profane beliefs
Avoiding snorers, bathing and a good night kip
Was not guaranteed in this scout like trip
As time went by, we learnt to survive
Thanks to experienced hands leading the way
Thanks to church and village halls lending a hand.
Dickens country next on the map
Transport update for day three meant
Train to Rochester; crossing river Medway
Walking through rural country side via Strood
Chaucer would’ve approved
But not the insufferable plight of Refugees
Indefinitely detained without relief
Dignified hidden fears, they smiled
Walked, talked, remained proud and always kind.
Looking out for each other was the order of the day
As well as for nettles, wading birds and wildlife
Resting at historical St Mary’s Higham
For Immigration Asylum Act 2016 tea talks, including
“Dickens daughter married at this church…and
Great Expectations was based on these Gravesend marshes”
A lover of Dickens and nature I couldn’t compalin
I lapped it all and the Shore Way.
From rural Gravesend to Dartford Marshes
Navigating through urban industry, soaking in
The Spectacular Queen Elizabeth 11 Bridge
New faces, new feet joined in hope
Learning about ourselves, each other
And strange coincidences.
Reminiscing over their visits to Iceland
It turned out some knew my old school
The elderly ladies from Oxted were
Curious how I knew this remote village
“Blasted Chaucer A’ level English exams
Brought me to Oxted Place.”
Never forgot the angry Oxted dog barking
Who dares to trespass his master’s fields
Unlike the graceful Gravesend seal
Who popped up pleased to
Encourage us on our Refugee walk.
Walked with a playwright, remembered me not
Though spoke for hours long ago after his Soho show
Discussing divorce with a renowned poet
Suddenly his wife points out
“Look at those beautiful rows of
‘Wedding Special Just Married’ red buses”
Later found our children were birthed same
Hospital, consultant, same time
Even attended same university
Divine connectives sprouted everywhere
Question: “how did your mother make it out”
Answer: “She didn’t, she died in the church”
Flooded the lake with regrets and tears
Twinning forever these writer’s souls
Hence on the seals were never seen.
Debating with an Egyptian Adonis about
Multicultural existence and student finance
Too handsome too young, wondered why he cared
A magazine I read in Iceland had a clever exposé
I wanted to share. But the name escaped
“The magazine is called ‘Idea’. I model for them”
Gobsmacked: I realised I’d seen those eyes before
In the cover page, in Café Reykjavik.
Endless coincidences: How could this be?
That the quintessential English lady
I walked with, was Nigeria born like me
Or the Dutch lady’s and my favourite perfume
Was D&C no 3; brought us a smile
Another, a Buddhist, suffered matrimonially
Learning, trading secrets, laughing at our foreign
Past aches were cathartic indeed.
Evening entertainment not to be missed of
Hypnotising Ethiopian classical music
A dancer gliding like a water god with more
Refugee Tales readings from acclaimed journalist
Captivating his audience, including the Mayoress.
Meanwhile, refugee soldiers busy organising
Vetting venues, sleeping arrangements, meeting
Feeding the troops, packing, cleaning,
Loading, settling disputes including
Accommodating a confused stranger
Pub counselling football sessions with
Medicine, meditation, earplugs, tea, all at hand
Just in case of incasity.
With smiles, trust, and abundant gratitude
Expressed in deafening claps for
Our amazing catering team: Ahead of their game
Remembered always to put food away to
Break fast and celebrate Eid with a Muslim Refugee.
The inter-faith talk at ASDA Depot were just right
“What does it mean to be welcomed?”
Brought a reflective spiritual air to the walk
Not too long to sermonise
Not too short to trivialise
Moved by the panel of soft interfaith voices and kind eyes
We yearned for more.
Still on connectives, resting in Dartford
A detainee suddenly revealed over dinner and a drink
“I remember now: worked for your ex in Tanzania…”
Goose bumps, dried mouth, invasion attack
Thankfully, evening folk music and comedy performances
At Trinity Café eased away the shock and
Prepared us for the following morn.
Crayford to Erith for the Green Chain Walk
Through Lesnes Abbey Woods winding through
Oaks trees, sweet chestnuts, and silver birch
Sprawled on the hill, overlooking the ruined Abbey
Picnicking, to hear a talk on
“Slavery and The City of London”
From early Roman times to date.
Left no one in doubt of the ill-gotten gains
Foundation of our lauded royal Englishness
Refugees, Detainees hopefully can walk with pride
With knowledge they’ve paid the price
For the right to be on this side of the tide.
Passing Poet’s corner on a little allotment turf
Would be a sin not to take note and snap a pose
Enjoy the logic behind the names on route
With literary heavies named on side roads
Milton, Johnson, Dryden, Shakespeare to name a few
Chaucer, The Father of English Literature
Appropriately formed the long main road from which
The others humbly branched and took their cue.
From Shooters Hill to Blackheath, reached Greenwich
By foot and bus, pondering what Chaucer would’ve thought
Of cutting edge Cutty Sark, cutting transatlantic deals
Royal Conservatory with its enormous park took our breath away
Too long looking down at the spoils of The City of London
Swanky glittering Shard meant too late for the treat at
St Alfege Greenwich arranged by the priest
Drank water instead and learnt a Saxon Archbishop
Hostage in Canterbury was slaughtered here in 1012.
The evening performance a pleasant surprise with
ICE and FIRE theatricals and Saxophone delight
Meeting the gifted Nigerian Scottish Poet “Makar”
Listening to her reading; learning we’re both called
Ufuoma, meaning “Peace
Added to the magic and dinner treat.
Refugee T-Shirts gathering at Greenwich station for
Day six last momentous leg to Westminster
Increased walkers, increased pace and enthusiasm
Like Marabouts wandering through historical
Back streets of newly gentrified Deptford like a maze
Referenced “Depeford” in Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale
Former Royal Docks, turned unaffordable Docklands
Faces puzzled wondering where the locals now dwelled.
Breaking for time and talents in the park
Opposite St. Mary’s Church, Rotherhithe
Where pirates left their grimy marks with its
Thames Tunnel, Scandinavian Baltic trading ties
The scene of the 1620 Mayflower Epic voyage to America.
Up the River Thames, pass Tower of London
Holy Southwark Cathedral, iconic Millennium Bridge
Tate Modern, Globe Theatre decorating the Thames
To Christ Church Blackfriars, we strode
For the afternoon event of walker’s tales to
Hear Bishop of Croydon fare-well address and
Enjoy assistant Theo splendid reception spread.
Sitting in church to catch a breath
Figuring how to meet artist Jess request to
Capture our thoughts in picturesque
I drew a red square and a blue circle
To represent, “I came a square, leaving a circle!”
Recovering from my inartistic flair
A sudden tap from two Chaucerian Conference friends
Met in Iceland two years ago discussing The Blue Lagoon
Confirmed I was having an out of body walk experience
Or the connective gods were at it again.
Seeing our tired camera lady shed a tear
Leaving quietly with a heavy heart
Struggling with her weighty camera gear
Brought sadness, as she and the memories
Were so dear.
Crossing over Blackfriars Bridge to Queen’s Walk
South Bank Centre for the “pop-up” event
To see Jeremy Irons perform
Shakespeare’s last handwritten play
Imagining Sir Thomas More
Delivering a plea on behalf of the Refugees
To starry-eyed audience was a highlight indeed
Frankly, it couldn’t get better than this.
With Royal Festival Hall and London Eye in sight
Like a pied piper in Puss in Boots outfit, a hat and smile
With faithful sun, he led with Ali to Trafalgar Square
Impressed tourist looked on amused
Passed Big Ben, Horse Guards Parade to the ICA Mall
Mingling with the rest of diverse London crowd.
Snapping pictures with our “Triple Crown” acting star
Fond memories of past times fluttered in the air
“Do you remember the Bloomsbury Choir?”
Collecting his thoughts, smiled: “Oh yes I do” and
Reminisced about old friends; dead, sick and alive.
Arrived to a tumultuous welcome thanks to
Astrid pulling strings, arranging things
Relieved; finally outside the Contemporary Arts Theatre
I noted a lady similar to me, staring
Angry tramp anchored to the ICA entrance corner
Fiercely clutching her worldly plastic bags
Weary, disdainful with something to say.
Incensed, rebuked in Queen’s English
“Why do you want to know my name?
You’re all insane, doing nonsense. Take advise
Go back to your country to make a change
Otherwise things will remain exactly the same,”
And dismissed with a hiss.
Sad and ashamed, I understood but
Wondered how she ended parked out here
So polished, so shrewd. How bizarre
What tale; what journey did she undertake?
Ironically many did not notice this common tramp or
Forgotten Refugee who knew her place
A blot on the white ICA colonial landscape.
Inside a packed ICA listening to passionate
Humanitarians talk the talk and walk the walk
Host Shami Chakrabarti addressing, cameras snapping
Delightful Patience Agbabi, David Herd and Ali Smith reading
Tapping to Billy Brag’s waxing heartfelt lyrics
Scrolling his mobile, the shy Nepalese read
Marvelled us with his poetic flair
And the hidden talents of many humble Refugees.
Reflecting on our journey home meant
Triumph for many, grief for our Refugees
Unlike Mandela walking the long freedom road
Our detainees, were returning to detention mode
One with sorrow eyes resolved to stop the fight
And go back voluntarily on a flight
Concluding; better return home a man
Than die here a mouse.
Looking into his red eyes to search his heart
Encouraging with desperate hope to
Accept the things we cannot change
Perhaps new regime, new dreams
Perhaps new life in his motherland
And children to father and family to nurture
Leaving stronger, wiser; loved by many, means
All is not lost, as we hugged goodbye.
Remembering Portugal in the 80’s
With their Angolan Refugees dumped in Lisbon
Realised been down this road before in my teens
Not knowing anyone, to connecting to everyone
Through love, history, interests, mind and dreams
Inherited a new family of wonderful beings.
This project hope of many legs
The brainchild of many caring herding souls
Who know these tales must be told
And template the Refugee Tales walk globally
To create a noble Ubuntu freedom solidarity
And celebrate man’s humanity.
Homeward bound, reflecting at the bus stop
Met elegant lady in mother’s favourite azure blue
Frosty, frowning, did not acknowledge my “hello”
Sighting the Refugee Tales tagged case and T-shirt
Suddenly mellowed and asked
“How far have you got with freeing the Refugees?”
Invitation to speak continued on the bus
She listened; I spoke about our goals
Revealing, smiling angelically as she got off
“That was me in two thousand and three
A helpless Refugee with three young kids: Continue your work
God will bless you and your group.”
This shocking validation from an ex Refugee
Brought joy, encouragement and some peace
Converting from uber to walker in a week
My walking Icelandic family will be pleased
Losing calories, gaining valuable vitamin D
For an affordable fee; not to mention new friends
Exceeded what I expected in the walking deal.
Getting back in untold ways
Cannot thank enough the benevolent
Game changers who made it unfold
Especially our Refugees sharing their moving tales
Trusting us to hold them dear in our hearts
And share it in any way we can
As language changer Chaucer did in his Canterbury Tales.
I could write more but there’s no more to say
Except, striding with giants with hearts of gold
Going beyond where others are unwilling to go
I found a new carnival family and love on the walk.