A refugee boat lands on Lesvos

by Bradley Middleton    

It’s dawn in early January on the Greek island of Lesvos. A brisk breeze sweeps in off the wintry Aegean Sea. Small waves break on the dark carpet of water, flaring and dying like liquid stars all across the surface of those freezing depths, a sea that expands from my view all the way to the beaches and rocks of Anatolia just under twenty kilometres to the east. There lies Turkey. Another country. Another continent. Its hills and mountains backlit by the barely risen sun. Pink and burnt orange unspun clouds hang above it in the magnificent deep blue sky. My friend Pawel has already seen the boat. He leans forwards squinting, almost pressing the binoculars to the windscreen of our hired van. He hands me the binoculars and points out to the edge of the horizon. ‘A small black dot. Look. It’s flat, very flat, down in the water.’ I see nothing. Why can’t I see it? I open the door and step into the freezing wind. Pawel is already in the back of the van checking on our supplies; gloves, socks, children’s clothes, emergency blankets. He’s a relative veteran on the island and has been part of the emergency team many times before, spotting and greeting refugee boats in this inhospitable and rocky part of the coast. A tall blonde blue-eyed Polish guy who’s spent time in Nepal and the West Bank and as such speaks pretty good Arabic, a much sought after skill in the camps and landing points of Lesvos. I still can’t see the boat. The other members of our team, Iker and Andrea, can see it. The Spanish Bomberos, volunteer firefighters from Castile and Leon can see it and are now preparing their equipment for landing. Where is it? I start to doubt myself. What’s wrong with my eyes? I ask someone to point to the boat. I follow their direction and eventually see a tiny, almost invisible shape very low in the water, too low. I see the flat line of the dinghy and tiny little orange dots that are the life vests worn by the people sitting up high on the sides of the vessel.

The port at Mytilene

The minutes pass. The sun brightens the sky. The boat comes slowly, battling the torrents in fits and starts, almost as if the motor is struggling to keep a straight course. I know that there’s anywhere between eighty to a hundred refugees crammed onto the tiny boat. A rickety barely sea-worthy dinghy. I look through the binoculars and see each wave crashing over the bow soaking the people on board with every hit. I also know that the refugees have organised themselves so the men are on the outside and the women are towards the middle huddled and cuddling the children and babies to protect them from the freezing water washing over the dinghy with every strike. I’m struck by an acute feeling of helplessness. I find myself talking out loud. ‘Come on…come on…slowly…easy…easy. Just keep it steady.’ The sea is too rough, and the boat looks so unstable under the weight of people. I know the pilot of the boat has never done this before. He’s a refugee who’s paid a little less than the thousand euros asking price to cross the sea, his reduced ‘ticket’ is reward for taking on the duty of driving. I do the sums quickly. A hundred people at a thousand euros each. That’s 100,000 euros per boat in the coffers of the Turkish people smugglers, no doubt cuts going to the mafia and the local government officials turning a blind eye to the operation. As I stand on the edge of the western world watching these people escaping the warring factions, the brutal regimes and the western bombs now littering their homeland, the helplessness ferments into anger. Anger at the unnecessary risks these people are forced to take. Anger at the inactive European Union. Anger at the dormant Greek and Turkish authorities. There is no reason why these people aren’t granted safe passage. No reason why they must make this perilous journey across these dangerous waters. The EU makes its rules. It grants asylum or not, but that’s not the point I’m making here. Safe passage should be a right granted to all refugees fleeing conflict in their own countries. Continue reading

Frozen Moment at the Etcetera Theatre, Camden Town

Up and coming writers show off their work at the annual Camden Fringe Festival this August and Bradley Middleton steals the show with ‘Katherine: a short life’, the story of a 20 something’s suicide and the reaction it generates.

Starting at the end with Katherine’s alcoholic demise, the fast-moving play captures the range and depth of responses to the life and death of a young woman.

The sharpness of Middleton’s writing is matched by the outstanding performance of Molly Harris as Katherine. With unpretentious subtlety neither the writer nor the lead actress allow the audience to fully grasp who Katherine is, instead her innocence and complexity give way to depression and confusion, most disturbingly expressed as a humiliating verbal and physical attack on her domineering boyfriend (Jack McNaught).

Middleton and Harris succeeded in creating an enigmatic Katherine in this short play, but it is the moments of levity that allow the script to flow, providing the necessary contrast to Katherine’s melancholy. Two materialistic and obnoxious former colleagues of Katherine’s (Kim Lyzba and Christina Canning) provide the comedy and are used to good effect as the other end of the spectrum, while Katherine’s mother and brother (Frida Emilie Moss and Sam Kozlowski) give the story balance and substantial depth to the main character.

Added to this are the appearance of Katherine’s long lost friend (Alicia Bloundele), the eerily effective use of a voice recording of Katherine’s therapist expertly exonorating herself for any failings in her own work, and the minimalist use of live musicians.

The success of ‘Katherine’ comes from its nonlinear script, which never confuses but instead grips the audience as the play flows through time, back and forth from hope to tragedy via the mundane reality of suburban office life.

The play ends with a younger Katherine, full of youthful enthusiasm and love, a final twist that leaves the audience feeling that they have witnessed the beginnings of significant careers for both the writer and lead actress.

Director: Alicia Bloundele.

Written by: Bradley Middleton.

On Friday 19th August at the Etcetera Theatre above The Oxford Arms, Camden Town, 4.30pm as part of Kingston University’s MA showcase.

Bradley Middleton’s next play, ‘Misery Tree’, will be on at the Rose in Kingston in November. Watch this space for more info…