19 JULY 1957, Page 9

Invasion 1957

By CHRISTOPHER DRIVER THE fashion noted by the authors of 1066 and All That for landing at Thanet and subduing England with fire and the sword has died out in re- cent centuries. The latest alien horde landed at Dover, subdued by the privations of flight, fired, some of them, by revolutionary enthusiasm. Since then they have been fed, clothed, accom- modated and forgotten. The large refugee camp Is something new to this country, and what the Hungarians lack, besides jobs, money and the ability to say `th,' is a status. Cartoonists do not make jokes about them—there is nothing to go on, while the models remain immured in camp and hostel, quarantined by the language problem, _ outlandish and rebarbative, like a prickly pear on a croquet lawn.

It would be different if when they landed they had been billeted on our homes and castles. Humorists would be pulling out the files marked 1939-40 and looking up the indexes under 'Evacuees.' Evacuees had the same queer speech, unfamiliar manners; they evoked the same pity, gradually turning to irritation, in their half- willing hosts., But, in comparison, they were lucky. Even now that the first, urgent mass of helpless people has curdled and separated into drunks, intellectuals, honest men, racketeers, en- gaged couples and problem families, they still have little chance of being liked, abominated and laughed at like ordinary human beings. That loathsome evacuee family in Put Out More Flags, the Connollys, at least had immediacy. They were recognisably the kind of children who were billeted on poor Mrs. Brown next door. The Hun- garians are alien still.

They are admittedly rather obviously un- English. It is true that their lives in camp look just like an extract from 'English Life and Leisure,' but then we have all been assuring our- selves for some time that Rowntree and Lavers's damaging sociological survey cannot possibly be true about the English. They have all the usual vices, brought to the surface by idleness and in- security. Many have been leaving camp with issue blankets strapped round their suitcases, and some of the more enterprising have even been selling them off down in the village, but, as the stores foreman remarked, 'It were no better when the RAF were here,' and 'they've got to get a bottom drawerful somehow.' The abortion rate is probably higher than the English average, but this is not uncommon in Catholic countries and, in fact, abortion is not illegal in Hungary. It has provided the sceptical with some amusement to see the way the ecclesiastical interests concerned have shielded the refugees from the horror of contraception, and the amusement was open when a lady doctor from outside somehow slipped through the incense curtain and delivered a lecture on family planning.

The tendency of couples to remain happy though unmarried has also led to some head- scratching among the orthodox. A determined attempt, only partially successful, was made to separate all such menages on arrival. But, though there is a brisk trade in marriages with the local registrar, it was still possible for a lady looking for a couple to lodge with the Bishop of L— to be found four and only to discover at the last moment that, though these were indeed couples, none had bothered with the tiresome formality of getting married. It seemed to worry her, though one would have thought that if any- one could put the wanderers back on the straight and narrow, the Bishop could.

It is interesting to speculate on the influence wielded over these people by ten years of Com- munist rule. Perhaps it has resulted in a certain coarsening and that in unexpected places. Few English Reformed clergymen, for example, ap- proached for advice by two women in love with the same man, would return the brief and Solomonian counsel, 'Draw lots.' But the Hun- garian pastor told us this tale with obvious satis- faction at his ingenious solution. One could multiply instances of marital insensitivity, but it might be difficult to hold Communism respon- sible. However, there is one noticeable quality which years of making-do must have nourished if not fathered, and that is their inventiveness. It takes a Hungarian, desperate for hard liquor, to think of using an emptied and scoured fire ex- tinguisher as a rudimentary distilling plant.

The running of a refugee camp, in these cir- cumstances, would tax the patience of a keeper of a monkey house. But the staff themselves ex- hibit many strangely zoological characteristics, scratching each other's backs one minute and stealing each other's peanuts the next. Charitable organisations, as thick on the ground as negro sects in Mississippi, work like angels during office hours and intrigue like the Medici when off duty. And then, of course, there are the interpreters. The interpreters are the real rulers of a camp, but it is above all important not to let them realise this. Themselves usually expatriate Hungarians of many years' standing, their attitude to their recently arrived countrymen is sometimes help- ful, sometimes sentimental and occasionally con- temptuous. It is not necessarily the particular attitude which you yourself are trying to convey in the remarks which they are translating—and it always seems to take so long to express in Hungarian the pithy, • definite remark with which you are trying to clinch a conversation. Indeed, with Hungarians, I have found, conver- sations are only clinched by walking away.

The powers of the interpreter are immense be- cause you are yourself in his power. An unsym- pathetic tolmacs, or one whose command of either language is less than perfect, can ruin the most carefully contrived plan. But the linguisti- cally incompetent do occasionally compensate, by an inspired boner, for the irritation they cause. The Hungarian paperhanger, for instance, who arrived at the Ministry of Labour, looking for a job must have been a little puzzled by the looks of fascination and disgust which were ac- corded him because the interpreter wrote him down as a hangman.

Some day perhaps—next month, next year— our camp will close and the invaders will have been assimilated, like the Saxons, the Jutes and the Angles before them, into the English blood- stream. We shall return to civilian life and Hun- garians for us will mean the people down the street, or the teacher, violin-maker or student whom we met up here and kept in touch with. It will be the best end to the revolution, if it happens, better than the hopes of glory per- severingly cherished by the Freedom Fighters Associations, because hopes of glory in the modern world are liable to turn to radioactive dust and ashes. It is better that they should be- come Englishmen, twentieth-century Huguenots, than remain distinct, a subject for sociologists' theses. But at the moment the Tower of Babel stands in the way and the prospect seems distant.