I’m trying to remember when I met Sebastian. It was before I had been to the Azores, which was in 2006, so I’m going to say 2005. I would have been 19.
Sebastian was a Polish medical student and like many Poles at the time (Poland had recently joined the European Union and Britain had opened its labour market to them), he had come to Britain for a few months to earn some money.
He was staying in my boss’s old static caravan in the field whilst we were working at a plant nursery. He was a quiet man, one or two years older than me at the most, but we became friends over those months. I have always liked to make people of a quiet nature feel welcome, as I am very much of that camp myself when in a new group of people.
There isn’t a huge amount to say about our friendship during those months. We would talk during tea breaks and lunch. My boss would for some reason keep him away from us during most of the day. I understand if I remember rightly that he was going to get married soon after returning to Poland.
A couple of occasions occurred when Sebastian had accidentally flooded the mower or broke a tool (something which is not uncommon due to the general cheapness of all the tools we have at work) but on these occasions my boss had threatened to take money out of Sebastian’s salary to pay for their repair or replacement and I had told Sebastian on both occasions that if my boss does do this I would help him out. There was, however, an largely unspoken but evident displeasure amongst the work team at this, and fortunately he never did get his wages docked.
When his time at the nursery came to an end we threw a party for him in the garden of one of the ladies who used to work at the nursery. He was going to spend a few days in London with some friends before going back to Poland and I gave him an envelope with £50 in it as a gift to spend in London. I remember how grateful he was and also him returning my Rizla packet which I had somehow accidentally dropped into the envelope.
A few months later, a Polish girl, Agatha, was working with us. She had met Sebastian once and handed me a bottle of Polish bison grass vodka that Sebastian had bought for me.
He had left an email address for me to contact him but unfortunately I never could get it to work. I haven’t spoken to or seen Sebastian since, but I hope he is well.
Thinking about Sebastian it makes me sad that the Government should take the regressive attitude it does to migration, and equally as sad that Jack Straw, the former Labour Home Secretary, regrets opening our borders when we did. Friendships such as that with Sebastian can be short. In most cases hopefully they last longer. They don’t happen at all if we’re insular and closed off from the rest of the world.
The Government should do a lot more to promote the virtues of migration. As Hein de Haas of Oxford’s International Migration Institute said, “Migration is a testimony to people’s imagination, creativity, and determination to make things happen, against all the odds.”