I am writing a story which has a donkey in it. Now, this is not the first time. Last year I wrote ‘Refuge’ which is the Christmas story, including the flight into Egypt, as told by the donkey who carried first the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem, and then Mary and baby Jesus into Egypt. It was illustrated by Sam Usher and published by Nosy Crow to raise awareness of and money for refugees. This year it is being re-issued in paperback format and Nosy Crow have arranged that it will still raise money for refugees, which is wonderful.
So I am writing another story about a donkey, and I decided I would really actually like to see one in real life. I have always loved donkeys, and I remember happy holidays in Ireland as a child, and Jenny, my Uncle’s donkey. But I haven’t seen one for AGES. I have been reading about donkey sanctuaries online and watching YouTube videos, but that’s not the same.
So I asked a question on Facebook as to whether any of my neighbours knew of any donkeys nearby, and my lovely neighbour Emma messaged me and invited me to tea at a local cidery and tea rooms with farm animals. She was sure there were donkeys.
We got there and had a delicious cream tea served by very friendly staff. We saw llamas and chickens and horses and big guinea pigs called maras, but no donkeys. We were told that the donkeys had been re-homed as apparently the horses in the field kept kicking them and there wasn’t enough room for them to have separate fields. When my friend and neighbour heard where they had been re-homed, she decided that we would drive there - the Lord Whisky Animal Sanctuary, where, amazingly, the very kind ladies let us meet Snowdrop and Primrose, whose ears were very soft and with whom I fell in love.
What is the point of this story, apart from sharing pictures of donkeys and confessing to my longing to have some?
Well, this time last week I had to go to London to get my and my husband’s passports urgently renewed. We are going away to Ireland for two nights soon as a special wedding anniversary trip, and having booked the trip I realised our passports would run out before we left. So I had to go up to London to get them fast- tracked. I felt very nervous and irrationally sure that for some reason they would refuse me a passport. My nervousness wasn’t helped by my handbag setting off the alarms as I went through security and the man shouting ‘she’s got a scissors!’.
But then suddenly everything was fine. The staff - who were white, asian and black, were a great example of multicultural Britain. They were quick to find and confiscate my nail scissors but were kind and understanding, whilst being reassuringly on top of security. When I went upstairs I saw people from all sorts of different cultural backgrounds waiting for British passports, and I suddenly felt really comforted that in spite of the many horrible headlines we read every day, that British people were still tolerant and kind. The man who processed my passport had a daughter at university where I live, and so we had a nice chat about his imminent visit to her.
That wasn’t the only nice thing which happened last Friday. A man working in the underground - a member of the station staff - complimented me on my coat and said it was very unusual, and when I said it was a Nomads fair trade coat he said ‘you’re speaking my language’. When I got the train home a man came and sat next to me eating cashew nuts, and very cheerfully offered me some. I told him that was very kind, and that lots of people had been lovely that day, and he said, ‘yes, you mustn't believe the headlines, people are much nicer than the papers say.’
I was so grateful to my kind neighbour today for taking me not only for a cream tea but for two trips to find donkeys. I was grateful to meet the kind people who look after the donkeys and other animals who need care, and the gentle animals themselves. I really needed that trip, as I have been feeling very depressed about the way our media have been talking about refugees. Today and last Friday reminded me that, like the family Sam Usher drew so beautifully at the end of ‘Refuge’ - we still have great capacity for welcome and kindness in big and little ways, and we need to tell and listen to stories which celebrate this and make our voices be heard above the vile headlines stirring up hate. I am glad that I am writing another story with a gentle donkey in - we can’t have too many of them in this world.