As part of my ‘not writing’ drive, I went to the Imperial War Museum to see the ‘Outbreak’ exhibition. They had on display a copy of the small blue pamphlet, Helpful Advice and Friendly Guidance for Every Refugee, which inspired Jack to write his list. It always gives me a tingle when I see the original document. Telegrams, photographs and newspapers from the 30s, 40s or 50s have an aura that the reproductions don’t quite convey. They seem quite literally steeped in history.
I listened to a recording of a Jewish woman remembering the court case which assessed whether she was to be classified as a class ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘C’ ‘enemy alien’. It’s always hearing the voices that brings them back – I hear a German accent in an older person, a laugh, and then suddenly I’m back in my Grandfather’s house eating pickled herring and luncheon sausage, listening to him argue over stewed coffee with Edgar Hertzfelt. When Mr S and I stayed in L.A. a couple of years ago, there was an old man selling poppy-seed cake and beigels from a stall in the Farmers’ Market on 3rd Street. He was a refugee – from Hungary rather than Germany or Austria, but he had the voice and the wry shrug. I dragged Mr S there every day so I could buy mounds of poppy seed cake and challah, just to listen to the old man talk.
Walking round the ‘Outbreak’ exhibition, I heard the news reports and the accounts of refugees and listened to how language had changed. When did mother’s stop giving their children ‘a row’ and men stop being ‘chaps’ who sometimes felt ‘a trifle seedy’ after a late night?