People

It happened again yesterday. Seeing the name in print, an article by the daughter about which school to send her daughter to. Seeing the name, seeing the blocks of print, the Darkness rose. The article remained unread. It will never be read. This depression has always taken the wind out of my sails. I went upstairs and fixed a roller blind, I rearranged some books. I lay down and went to sleep on the floor.
The black dog of the Broinowskis. Not the Hound of the Baskervilles, the Curse of the Broinowskis. The daughter barging into my house and walking to the spiral staircase. Going up the stairs and ordering my 11 year-old son to turn his radio off. Turn his radio off because they were filming next door. He didn’t tell me until much later. He knew how upset I was going to get.
How old is he now? 34. He was 11 then. It was 23 years ago.
Usually a film production company would make arrangements about filming.
‘We will be making a commercial about fertilizer and need to film your house and the house next door. In the Ad, one of the gardens is going to be made to look lush and blooming and the one next door is going to look like crap because the people there don’t use Auntie Rhinum’s ‘Jumbo Gro’ ™. So, we would like to hire your house for the filming and dress up your garden to look lush and blooming. You don’t have to move out or anything like that. We will need 3 days, one for preparation, one for the actual filming and one for returning things here to normal. This is what we are offering to pay.’
That kind of thing.
While I was at the central School of Art and Design, I worked as a Prop van driver and later as an Assistant Prop. I stopped driving the van when I realized that I had driven through an intersection against a red light. I would get up at 4 in the morning to travel to South London to pick up the van. By the end of a day’s driving, I was so tired that all the red lights looked like the brake lights of cars up ahead.
The last job doing props was dressing up a garden with plastic flowers. It was in the dead of Winter. The ground in the garden had to be softened up with water from a kettle so that the stems of the plastic flowers could be stuck in. The frost on the slate grey rooftops was melted by two industrial fan heaters. The cast and crew were numb with cold while faking a Summer’s day. This was the glamour of the Film Business in a time when it was still using film. This was the short-sightedness of Ad Agencies, who could have commissioned the film to be made during Summer. A time before computer trickery. A time of Film Magic. A time of woollen gloves and runny noses.
Nice.
It would have been ‘nice’ if the documentary makers had said that they would be filming next door, since they would be recording sound, would it be all right if we could be conscious of that for, say, 2 hours, and try not to make any noise?
But that is not the Broinowski way. Of documentary making. Of dealing with other people who do not happen to be Broinowski people. We shall refer to them as the Broinowskis do. We shall refer to them as ‘these people’.
It is, in case it has escaped you, a perjorative term.
Refugee is not a perjorative term. Refugee means someone who is seeking refuge.
In 1960, penguin books published a report in words and Drawings by Kaye Webb and Ronald Searle with the title ‘Refugees !960’. My father bought it. It cost two shillings and sixpence. Half a Crown.
‘On the day of the inauguration of World refugee Year in Britain on 1 june 1959, the United Kingdom Committee announced a target of two million pounds. Eight months later, after herculean efforts by the committee and its constituent refugee agencies, that sum had been exceeded. Encouraged by the success of the campaign they have now doubled the national target to four million pounds, but there are still 110,000 refugees left in Europe alone, of whom 22,000 under the mandate of the United nations High commissioner for Refugees are mouldering away in camps, as most of them have been for the last fifteen years. Believing that first-hand reporting might stir pity, open pocket-books, even relax restrictions more effectively than speeches or statistics, the office of the U.N.H.C.R. invited Ronald Searle and Kaye Webb to vid sit some of the camps in Austria, Italy, and Greece. In this book they submit their report.’
And here is a newspaper clipping about the book:
‘Refugees are people.
To experience an active and constructive sympathy with refugees one must think of them as persons. That is just the impact of a brilliant booklet, ‘Refugees 1960’, a ‘report in words and drawings’, by kaye Webb and Ronald Searle, published by Penguin Books (at 2s 6d; all proceeds will go to World Refugee year). This series of sharply drawn portraits of men, women and children living in the refugee camps of Europe – the book does not extend to China or Palestine – brings one face to face with highly individual persons, not all admirable or even likeable, but all intensely alive and full of v character, real people evoking a response of sympathetic interest and concern: whereas to speak in general terms of ‘the refugees’ may prompt only the image of a faceless indistinguishable horde, moving pity without hope or help. The booklet prescribes no remedies. It simply draws the people and their lives and their troubles. How can we escape letting them down? In two ways. First, of course, to send a contribution (or another contribution) to World refugee year (at 9 Grosvenor Crescent, Lndon S.W.1) before the year ends on may 31. The other is to press for the admission of still more of the refugees to Britain – and not only the n most presentable ones. To pick only those likely to ‘make good’ and pass by on the other side of the road from the halt and the blind is to treat the refugees as things, not people.’
In 1945, the Czech government in Exile returned to Czechoslovakia. Before leaving England they established a Czech Refugee Trust Fund. This fund purchased properties in London and made them available, for rent , to Czech Refugees. It was set up to last for 30 years – until 1975.


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