Just because my ears aren’t visible, doesn’t mean that the vestiges of my pinnae don’t prick up when I hear the word ‘tunnel’. Tunnels are my digging ground, burrowing is my metier, Sir Mole Brunel a distant ancestor. The walls of my little office are plastered with cuttings and photographs and plans of the St Gotthard, the Moscow Metro, the escape routes under Berlin, and Colditz, priests’ holes and smugglers’ routes. I made some small contribution to the lore of tunnels myself during the Siege of Toad Hall.
What I am about to tell you is absolutely true. Molecub’s honour. At the opening of the Channel Tunnel, the British presented the French with an illegal immigrant as a gesture of friendship and goodwill. I heard this while twiddling the dial on my wireless, and I thought at first they were talking about the ceremonial opening, the one with the Queen and Monsieur Mitterand. In that brief moment, I entertained the belief that an illegal immigrant had been selected as a gift, the greatest gift one country could offer another.
‘Illegal immigrant’ is what we call a refugee or asylum seeker in this country. When I say IN this country, I am misleading you; Australia does its damnedest to prevent their arrival. We treat them as we treat industrial waste. We offload living beings onto poor countries in need of cash.
It warms my little moleheart to imagine this handover with its implicit assumption that a soul is to be cherished and that the very existence of a stranger in their midst will enrich the lives of of the new hosts.
It was the British tunnellers who passed this refugee through to their French counterparts.
The refugee was a bear called Paddington, a stowaway from Peru.