Tuesday 6 September 2011


Here we were, in lovely woodland near Leicester last week-end, returned to caravanning after 20 years, beginning a calm and relaxing break after a difficult and stressful year. We both sighed with relief as we wound down the stays.  Just what we needed.  

The site owners were really helpful and we'd met some friendly people in their vans, smiling and going about their business.  Even the late August weather was behaving, dappled sunlight through leafy branches.  All seemed idyllic. Then, unexpectedly, we were faced with a dilemma… a difficult moral choice.  What would you have done in this situation? 

It was day three, we had just returned from a walk, with our two dogs, and had put the kettle on for a brew.  We sat outside in our chairs chatting quietly.  Then, we slowly became aware that, not far away, out of sight, a discussion was taking place between four of our caravanning neighbours.  One voice dominated but three more were chiming in.  All were in strong agreement and the volume increased.  We were now unwilling eavesdroppers on their hearty discussion. They clearly had no idea we could hear.   Their topic was immigration. From the need to rid the country of undesirables, through blowing up the channel tunnel, to  “What I’d do with Muslims if I were Prime Minister…”.  It got worse, then quieter, with occasional bursts of raucous laughter.  We sat through this, at first alarmed then aghast and finally deeply, deeply upset.  This whole experience was hurtful and, in a few minutes, it had ruined days away.  Two things stand out: that they had been so pleasant to us and that there was such agreement amongst them.  This was not a discussion, it was a group rant.  We discussed what to do.  What would you have done?

Well, in my professional life I write and argue for strong moral purpose and fairness.  I challenge racism, injustice and weak argument and often do so without hesitation and I do it calmly and confidently.  But here we were, deliberately away from “all that” to relax and enjoy some unstressed holiday time together.  So, in the end, to my shame, I did nothing.  I have had sleepless nights since.  Silence is not always golden.  

I could have said something, even politely, “Excuse me, do you know that your views can be heard across the site?”  I could have added if I’d felt bold, “and not all of us who hear you, agree with you?”  But I, we, were Silent Witnesses.

Rereading this 10 years later, I realise this was a spur to later, obsessive challenging of such views and an evangelical attack on #SilentWitnesses who see and hear things but say and do nothing.


q857 said...

Good points b-in-law! To keep quiet seems British - to interject on such occasions troublesome. There are bigots a-plenty. A dilemma certainly, and maybe your course of action with subsequent ventings as just read helps the situation? I just found being British was almost embarrassing after the events this summer. Brits abroad often make ones skin crawl at their attitudes. Brits on holiday likewise. Times have changed and maybe the root cause of such events and those involved have similar challenges with their true nationalities, loyalties, supposed rights and lack of moral knowledge? Who is right? What is right and justified? As I am an expat in a foreign country and I have to respect my hosts and their culture so should many of those involved in the dire antics have recognised and shown some better respect too - whatever their background and beliefs? Is this just too much communication, too fast and too ill informed?

John Pearce said...

Comments from FACEBOOK

MG: Maybe you could have said, 'I am the Headmaster of a large comprehensive school.....'

Leafman REPLY: Love it! They were bigger than me and thick too.... no point even trying... (but I should have)

JS: From afar I say confront the ignorance but in reality I know that we would have done what you did. It ain't easy!

TS: As you know, John, the only time one can influence other people's opinions is when the context is right. A context cannot be programmed: it just comes and the awareness is to use the situation when you recognise it - at home, in school and socially. Faced with an angry mob the context is not right - except for the Ghandis of this world - so he who intervenes is on to a beating to nothing. You move your caravan to another spot. P.S. It's nice reading your prose.

REPLY: Thanks Tony! By the way I have sent this as letter to Caravan Club Magazine... let's see if they publish!

TS: Just another thought, John. I've got a few classes to do this year with a small group of students training to be teachers. I thought of using your article, "What would you have done?" as a starter to a discussion on the citizen's role etc. What do you think? Is it copyright?

REPLY: I'd be delighted if it was used - feel free to use it! (It may help to assuage my guilt at not saying anything)

John Pearce said...

JS Emailed me and wrote:

Funny old world, even in the Leicester wilderness. To intervene or not? Not sure your intervention would not have achieved anything. There is a deep resentment about 'immigrants', probably was amongst the Brits when the Romans arrived and later amongst the 'Brits' when all the rest arrived (the Angles, Saxons, Normans etc). In fact any neanderthals who had been here objected to the bloody Homo sapiens foreigners who turned up on their shores. Not only foreigners but homosexual as well. Liked 'busts of raucous laughter' but not sure you meant it.... (Now corrected - editor...)