The camp for refugees from the East that had grown up outside the French channel port of Calais was known as The Jungle. People who went there to see for themselves were either rather sardonic or were apt to find themselves going off on a parallel expedition in their mind. This journey around the outskirts of the Jungle went in a little and came out wondering, well that is not what I would have called a jungle. Then, of course, I have never really been in one; except maybe as a tourist in a Land Rover. And then I must say I do remember what seemed to be the extraordinary orderliness of jungle life; huge birds at the top of enormously tall trees, halfway down, lemurs and monkeys, smaller and then larger as one reaches the ground. At ground level everything seemed to be making its own way, finding its own home, not interfering with other species unless – I don’t know what. Both the fierce animals and the huge animals seem to find more room for themselves on the planes and so ‘jungle’ seems to describe a state of natural orderliness which is helped by the extent of undergrowth providing natural shelter. Richard’s description of the so-called ‘Jungle’ outside Calais, where refugees from Africa, as well as from Afghanistan and the Middle East, many of them having carried equipment and materials to make shelters for themselves when the possibility for this occurred, had set to achieving this orderliness, paying their respect to others doing the same with minimal intrusion. The Calais Jungle had no sense, of course, of the overwhelming dominance of nature, but rather with a striking sense of the rectitude of human instinct, if it was given a chance. That is, there were innumerable small tents and huts made from packing cases, or of wood; whatever waste matter might have been picked up on the way. The walls were either of material, or were intruding on each other physically, but it did appear, Richard insisted, to be in the natural order of events. The contact that humans had with one another, of all families, was a matter that existed, once accepted, without the necessity of further effort, least of all speech. Humans were there like the flowers or shrubs in a garden and only a quick nod of recognition was necessary if things went wrong. The beings who attracted most attention to themselves, even if still silently, seemed to be children; they would give notice that they liked being recognised and appreciated if that was all. At this first and indeed only visit to the Calais Jungle, Richard and Jenny spent a few days learning as much as they could, if their reaction were what they called real. In one sense they did not make any further friends, in another sense they became friends with the whole encampment.
In the evening of their first day’s visit to the camp outside Calais, Richard and Jenny and the child, who was now called Sophie, were walking back along a road which seemed to epitomise a traffic jam. Sophie or Sophocles as he was sometimes known said, ‘But then, if it suits them, why can’t they stay there forever?’ That’s the sort of question which does not contain its answer. They were walking, as they so usually did, side by side with Sophie in the middle. Sophie said, ‘People so often want to be alone and when they are, they want to be together, and so on and so on.’ Richard said, ‘So if that works, why do anything about it.’ Sophie said, ‘But it doesn’t. Unless they never really want to get what they want.’ Jenny said, ‘Well, they never really do, do they.’ Richard said, ‘They’ve got it wrong about sex.’ Sophie said, ‘What about sex?’ ‘When you’re getting it, it brings its own troubles.’ Sophie said, ‘I don’t know about sex.’ Jenny said, ‘You’re so lucky.’ Sophie said, ‘But I will do, won’t I.’ Richard said, ‘Yes.’
They walked on. In the packed cars and vans at the edges, and just off the road, there were people, often families, sitting with just their faces visible staring out of windows. Jenny said, ‘Sex was useful for animals, without it they would not have children.’ Sophie said, ‘Why did they want children?’ Richard said, ‘Because they wanted to have sex.’ Sophie said, ‘So there was a muzzle.’ The child said, ‘Sex was a bad thing because it caused trouble, but it was a good thing because it produced children.’ Richard said, ‘That’s right.’ The child said, ‘And the result is more and more people are sitting in bands not moving, but they are looking out of windows.’ Richard said, ‘And it’s a bad thing to talk too much about it.’ Sophie said, ‘Why?’ Jenny said, ‘Because then you seem to want it.’ The child said, ‘Otherwise the human race would die.’ Jenny said, ‘Which, for a time, seemed more and more likely.’ The child said, ‘Why?’ Richard said, ‘What’s wrong with looking out of windows.’ The child said, ‘Then you don’t have children.’ Richard said, ‘The way we got you was that we went hand in hand, into the wood.’ Jenny said, ‘We wanted to change the world. And we got you.’ They walked on. After a silence, the child said, ‘Then I wanted to jump off a cliff.’ Richard said, ‘Yes, why did you?’ The child said, ‘To do something for those people looking out of windows.’ Richard said, ‘What’s wrong with looking out of windows?’ Jenny said, ‘That’s all we do, anyway.’ The child said, ‘You mean, our eyes are windows.’ Richard said, ‘Or mirrors.’ The child said, ‘I don’t even know what I look like.’ Jenny said, ‘No. Other people do.’
As they were walking along between the two rows of jammed cars, tractors, and lorries, they came to a camper van, or sort of minibus, which had a row of three windows behind the driver’s compartment. At the windows, inside the van, there were three faces pressed close against them, looking out across the road on which Richard and Jenny and the child were walking. Richard thought – But I have seen those faces – that face – before, at the entrance or exit to the Holocaust Museum outside Jerusalem, where I had gone on my own, or was it with my father, Mark. I had thought then – how are they to be rescued.
In the space between the two jammed lines of cars outside Calais, Richard and Jenny and the child had stopped. The child had gone up to the minibus or camper van and was looking up at the faces of the three children pressed against the glass. The three faces looked down at him and seemed to be in some sort of communication with him. Richard and Jenny had stopped in the road and were watching the scene. Richard said, ‘What are they saying?’ Jenny said, ‘I don’t understand the language.’ Richard said, ‘What do you, did you, understand?’ Jenny said, ‘I was picked up and taken away.’ Richard said, ‘Who by?’ Jenny said, ‘That Joanna, who may or may not be your mother.’
The man and the woman in the driving compartment of the van had turned and were looking at Richard and Jenny. Richard walked briskly to the driver’s seat door and pulled it open. He said, ‘All right, get out.’ The man behind the driving wheel turned to the woman sitting beside him and without hesitation the woman said, ‘All right, get out.’ Jenny had gone to the back of the van and opened the door there: the three children who had been inside were climbing out. Richard said to the man who had been driving, ‘Have you got a gun.’ The man said, ‘Yes.’ The woman went back to the van and, from a space behind the driving seat, lifted out two old-fashioned rifles. She carried these back to where Richard and the child and three somewhat older children were standing. She handed the guns one to Richard and one to Jenny. Jenny said, ‘No you keep them.’ The woman handed them to the man from the van who had been beside her. The woman said to Jenny, ‘We want to get to England.’ Richard said, ‘You are under some sort of apprehension.’ Richard was thinking – so it wasn’t misapprehension all those years ago, but recognition had to be confirmed by the child. The child, who had so far not spoken during this encounter, said, as if to Jenny, ‘Will they get to where they want to go?’ Jenny said, ‘I suppose so, if all goes well.’ Richard said, ‘Now walk ahead of us; as if you are under enforcement.’ The man who had been driver of the van said, ‘But we are not.’ The woman who had been with them said, ‘Well it certainly looks like it.’
The seven of them began walking up the road to where the traffic jam ended and the camp began. Jenny said, as if to Richard, over the head of the child, ‘There’s the guardhouse ahead. They will sort things out.’ Richard said, ‘We will say we know them and we’ll vouch for them.’ The child began to run, and skip, slightly ahead of them, doing a strange dance of his own invention. At the barrier across the road there were armed soldiers in both French and English uniforms watching the child. Jenny went ahead and spoke to whoever was behind the open hatch of the guardhouse. One of the guards began half-heartedly, then with increased vigour, to emulate, or as if in partnership with the child in his dance, to lift the barrier. The child ducked under it and went through; and the guards lifted the barrier so that the others could follow.
Image © continent.