Tuesday, 24 July 2018

ARRIVALS, by Saviour Pirotta

I've just come back home from a short break, first a day in London to attend the Hachette summer party and then a a long weekend in Malta with my parents.

Getting off the plane in England always give me a frisson, even now that I must have done more than a hundred plane journeys to the old country and many other places around the world.

It's that notice above the bi-folding doors that gets me. ARRIVALS. It would remind me more of the 1976 Abba album where it not for that S at the end. As it is, it makes me think of the night I first landed in Manchester, on October 1, 1981. The night I moved to England. I wanted to go to London really, where I had a three-week job lined up adapting and directing a children's play.  But I only had enough money for a discounted one way ticket, and the only one available that night was on a plane bound for Manchester. I knew I had to get on the plane that night or fear might make me abandon my plans.

On the plane, someone told me there was a shuttle service to Heathrow. Great, I thought, I'll take that. I remember we landed just after midnight. It was raining heavily. The immigration officer gave me a steely grin as I shuffled towards her desk, bright green passport in hand.

'Where did you come from today?'
'Are you here on holiday?'
'No, I have a three month work visa.'
'What's your job?'
'I'm a writer.'
'What kind of stuff do you write?'
'Children's books. But I have a contract to write a play in London.'
The immigration officer looked up from my passport. 'How are you getting there?'
'Someone told me there's a shuttle.'
'Oh, the mini-plane. Have you got enough money for that?'
'I have £28 sterling.'
'I think it costs £56 to get the London shuttle. I'm on my tea break in a tick. Give me a moment to close the desk and I'll show you where to get the coach.'

I'm sure the immigration officer does not even remember that little conversation, one of thousands she must have had over the course of her career. But for me it was nothing short of a life-affirming moment. Immigration Officers where known to be not much kinder than daleks. I knew at least four people who'd been sent back to their country for one reason or another. But here was one of them who was reaching out to help me, to make me feel welcome in what would soon become my new home country.

It's a memory I hold on to in these Trump-worshipping, Farage-fawning, library-closing, Remainer-bashing days when kindness and empathy seem to be extremely thin on the ground. The world is full of kind people, doing random acts of kindness that never get in the papers. And everyone of those acts helps make the world a better place. My only wish is that one day, kindness, empathy and sharing will triumph over hate and self-interest. Does that make me 'a bleeding heart liberal'? I hope so. I'm proud to be one.


Anne Booth said...

That's a lovely post Saviour. Thank you for sharing such a good experience when we hear about so many awful ones. I share your hopes.

Saviour Pirotta said...

Thanks for your kind comment, Anne. I think we as children's authors are in a good position to influence and change things for the better.

Lynne Benton said...

What a lovely story, Saviour! And here's to your idea that children's authors are the people to influence the next generation and change things for the better. Good for you (from another bleeding heart liberal!)

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Yes... a marvellous story, Saviour! Thank you for sharing it. It put me in mind of Shaun Tan's book of the same name... well with an article in front, "The Arrival"... which is exactly what yours was... a slightly bizarre, foreign, surreal and strange experience but touched with kindness, empathy and humanity.. A moment when we feel at our most vulnerable and someone reaches out.

Sue Purkiss said...

Lovely. I'm glad you encountered one of the good people when you arrived!