The Voice of Victor

For a few years my daughter lived in England where she met lots of other young mothers, ordinary white middle class women with orderly lives, healthy babies and toddlers. They all had husbands with jobs, all were native English speakers in an English speaking country. They were all OK. Their babies got croup and cradle cap and they saw competent doctors in a timely way and had access to suitable, safe and effective medicines, and soon their babies were OK again; and they were all OK. 

But one day, one of my daughter’s friends saw the papers, watched the TV news and she stopped being OK. The friend’s name is Ros. And although Ros – a person in London with an ordinary life, who abandoned her day job and roused herself and roused one hundred thousand other ordinary English mothers and fathers and children to demonstrate and campaign for refugees, and this led to David Cameron rousing himself and his government, and this roused Britain to admit many whom they previously would have turned away – this story is not about ordinary Ros.
My daughter left England and returned home to Australia. She and Ros remain in touch. Ros sent a photo that broke my daughter’s heart. She wrote me a letter that included the image below:

My daughter’s friend Ros sent her this photo in a letter she came across in a camp on the Greek Island of Thessaloniki. In shrinking lettering near the foot of the letter the writer signed his name, “victor”.

My daughter says Victor’s is the despairing voice of one refugee so desperate to be heard he writes on the wall of his tent. He knows no-one hears. She says the world has turned its back. My daughter turns to her writer father with a plea of her own: “Maybe your writing could give Victor a voice. I’m just saying it made me think of you. Do with that what you will.”
I read my daughter’s letter. I read Victor’s letter.
Do with that what you will, she says, then adds, “Going to sleep with a heavy heart.”
Days pass and I don’t do anything.
Every time I switch on my computer, my daughter’s letter asks me, what will I do to make Victor’s voice heard? Something indistinct echoes, something about the unheard voice. It is a voice from a cattle car.

here in this carload 

i am eve 

with abel my son 

if you see my other son 

cain son of man 

tell him I


What can I do? What can any of us do? We can try to emulate ordinary Ros. We can write to our local Member of Parliament, write to our faith leaders, speak to our friends. We can do as an ordinary friend of mine does – she organises aid packages. (That friend – a lapsed fundamentalist Christian – writes annually to this Jewish friend, seeking donations of Christmas gifts for Muslim refugees.) We can adopt a Victor – there are so, so many – and write to him. We can send him books. We can remind him he is not alone, not forgotten.


What good will these ordinary acts do? In the case of Ros they led to the saving of thousands. In Australia, our ordinary voices were raised enough to encourage our very ordinary leaders to find our captives place of safety in the USA. Our leaders are timid. It is for us to lead them.
(You can find out how to emulate ordinary Ros if you visit )

4 thoughts on “The Voice of Victor

  1. This makes me weep too, because the things we do (send money, donate suitcases, blankets etc to Calais camp) probably don’t reach Victor, though we hope they reach someone who needs them. I have signed on with swruk – so your email has added at least one more person to the cause.


    • Hilary

      I thought of you as I wrote, knowing you met the daughter in question

      And reflecting that naomi
      Was not the sole member of our family to acquire a friend in the U.K.

      How is the book going?

      Publication date?




  2. What I think dear Howard is that you rehabilitate my faith in the goodness of language to inspire, motivate, move, and name with courageous truth. It is in the kind small ways we humans touch and respond to each other. The business end of what must be done is in the seeing, in the noticing, in the telling, in the willingness to touch and be touched by our times.
    For me your writings remind me that not all of the masculine that I see in this world is insane. I say thanks.


    • Eve

      You have written an encomium

      There can be no adequate response

      You write of ‘faith in language…’ to work to worthy ends. I think I must have been raised in that faith by parents who embodied it – in story , in song, in prayer, in poetry and in precept.

      I suppose I have been serving that faith – and abusing it – ever since

      I fear for the power of language to set off fires, to rouse a mob

      There resides deep in language codes that speak to our passions, for I’ll as for good

      You close with a unexpected remarks about the insane masculine

      While I cannot recognise my writings in the way you do, your remark comes at precisely the time I am wrestling with a subject that nags and eludes me

      The matter might be headed, ‘how the republican candidate finally shifted my attitudes towards women’

      And that title, I realise , is far too clumsy for the story I am groping to tell

      Watch this space, dear eve, but patiently


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