My granddad fled Poland on the back of a chicken truck bound for Russia just weeks after World War Two broke out, he learned to drive as a teenager in Iraq and somehow, despite a large percentage of his family perishing, made it to England.
He settled near Stoke-On-Trent, got married, and worked whatever odd jobs he could land to support his wife and children.
My grandma ended up in Africa – she was just seven when Germany invaded Poland. Her younger sister died as they traveled through Czechoslovakia, and I found her name, not too long ago, on a passenger list from a boat that arrived in Southampton from Cape Town in 1947.
I won’t lie, I sobbed at my desk when I saw that scrawled document flash up at my computer. It proved her stories and her life, and I can only imagine the hope and the fear that would have surged through her veins at the prospect of a new life in a new country she did not know, as the coastline came into view.
She settled, along with her mum and two siblings, in a Polish camp formed on the side of a road I often drive down. They lived alongside other Polish families in abandoned aircraft hangars not far from Kelvedon in Essex.
I found a blog post on the internet crammed with black and white photos of children playing happily around the huts they called home, alongside all the surnames of the families that had lived at the camp – my nan’s included.
Both of their tales break my heart. Both of their tales remind me I know nothing about true suffering, true survival and true strength.
And on days when my world seems a grey place, I look to them, and the people they managed to become, despite it all, as my inspiration.
If they can do it, then I can sure as hell do it.
And then I think about what would have happened if England had said no, if every European country had said no. If we’d have said no siree, you Polish vermin, you can get out of our country, stop stealing our jobs and our houses and our land. Go back to where you came from.
I mean, I for one, wouldn’t have been born. (And hey, imagine your life without me. Lol JK).
Would they have survived? Would they have been happy? Would they have had a life worth living?
This blog isn’t a place to push political agenda. I don’t care how you voted. I am entirely certain there are those of you out there far more clued up than I am, who voted leave. And I applaud you and give you ALL the high fives for educating yourself and for making your voice count.
This is a post about kindness. About helping other human beings. About being nice. About not always putting yourself first. About thinking about others.
It is a post to say, regardless of whether you can *really* afford that ASOS dress you’re about to snap up from the sale, we are some of the richest and luckiest and safest people in the world. In the UK, we have a pretty fucking privileged life, but we’re too busy looking at the things we want, rather than the things we have, to notice it.
We’re too busy dwelling on the whats ifs and the could bes, and blaming our pitfalls on anyone but ourselves. We don’t embrace our own lives enough, or admit that actually, the things we feel sad or angered to not have, are probably down to our own faults and shortcomings. WE didn’t try hard enough or push ourselves the way we should have.
I’ve spent the last week, or five days or whatever, feeling, as I’m sure a lot of you have, that the UK has lost its way.
This uncertain fear of what comes next, combined with the humiliation that the world now sees us as this racist, selfish country with only eyes for its own success and rise to power.
I feel a bit like we’re that shit best mate, who when their friend rings them in puddles of tears like I’VE LOST MY JOB AND MY BOYFRIEND’S DUMPED ME AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO, I NEED YOU, PLEASE HELP ME is like ‘oh sorry Sarah, I said I’d see Paul tonight, hope you feel better, bye.’
We’re in a fuck load of debt and university fees are crippling and sometimes you can’t get a ruddy GP appointment for two weeks and yeah, it’s not all rosy.
But it’s certainly better than leaving your friends and family and home behind and fleeing with your children on a dingy boat with just the clothes on your back and as much cash as you could shove into your bra.
The news is full of horrible stories about how this country, that deems itself so ‘Great’, is turning on the people who need us most – by physically and verbally abusing them.
People that have either risked everything to get here, to get to safety, or people who have grown up with stories of how their grandparents grew up in war and poverty and wanted better for themselves and for their children.
How are either of those things so wrong?
And so, I’ve turned to kindness. I want to be a better person, even if my country does not. I’ve started smiling at strangers in the street, chatting to people at the airport or on the train and OMG so excited for the first person I hear to sneeze in public so I can say bless you.
I want to be better and nicer and friendlier. Because without each other, and without support and kind words and warmth, we have nothing. Not really.
So, no matter which way you voted, let’s just unite to be better people. To help each other when things feel gloomy, to push each other up and support each other – even if it just starts with a few smiles in the street.
As Hagrid once said: ‘There’s a storm coming, Harry. And we all best be ready when she does.’