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Another new desk and a letter

Today, I am sitting at another new desk.  It’s still in Toronto.  It’s even in the same building.  But it’s a new flat three floors up and five doors over from the last one.  The desk is much the same, so I’ll not trouble you with a picture.  It’s blonde wood instead of dark and it still has a fax machine, a lamp, and a pile of paperwork.  Still, it felt like moving, with all its associated upheaval.

We have been living out of suitcases since November.  So, what’s one more bout of packing?  It truly makes you realise how little you need.  Aside from my rather fetching new parka, the only things we buy here are groceries, so we packed those.  We have pretty much been wearing the same clothes since November as well – sorry, Toronto – so we packed those, too.  I stuffed the few books I’ve bought into my handbag and picked up the computer.  It was easy to go, easy to arrive.

I suppose I’m thinking about how little we need when we’re travelling, because I’m writing about people who are travelling.  But whereas we can choose our circumstances – at the risk of libel I will say we moved due to neighbours who were under the mistaken impression that we were all sharing student housing – they cannot.  The women interned during WW2 had one day’s notice, if they were listening to the radio at 1pm on 27 May 1940.  Some women did, so they had time to pack and to worry.  Others did not, particularly women who had been given a Class B in their Tribunal, which restricted their movements, placed a curfew on them, and dictated what they could not have in their possession, namely maps, cameras, and radios.  For these women, the news was sudden.  Pack one bag and bring your coat.  It was hot in May 1940.  Being asked to bring a coat had implications.

The bag could be no more than one hundred pounds.  As there were no porters for this move, I imagine women packed far more than they could carry.  I would.  They would then have to shed items, the further they had to walk.  What would I have done with my one case, jammed full of books and nothing to wear for a stay that would last months?  Years?  I don’t suppose I would cope any better than the women did who became the internees of Rushen Camp in the Isle of Man.

I interviewed several former internees while conducting research for a play about the Camp.  This was several years ago, and I asked very different questions than I would now.  I have piles of transcripts and recordings, and it is from these that I am picking my way through the story and creating my own, but there is no way to ask them questions, really.  To do that, you have to go to the source.  And years have passed.  The camp has been closed now for 66 years.  But sometimes, fate intervenes.

I recently had a letter from a former internee, now living in Hamburg.  Somehow, she found me, having moved away from London, having travelled since the end of last year.  I quickly wrote her back – by hand, as I have no printer – and have to trust that she can read my scrawl when it says that I would love to see her.  And so I would.  Perhaps a trip to Hamburg is in my future.  For there are many different questions I would ask her now.

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One Comment Post a comment
  1. I found this so thought-provoking and very moving, P – to hear you, sounding so free and to think of those women, not free.
    I think it moved me for two reasons. One, because of my work with refugees. I often think about the actual time when they have to flee, how terrifying, shocking yet necessary that must be.
    And two, because of my love for my posessions. I sometimes fantasise about giving them all away. How freeing that would be – when done by choice.
    I doubt I’ll ever be brave enough but thanks for making me think about that, the women – and you.

    February 23, 2011

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