Tuesday, 24 October 2006
Owen Powell - October 24th 2006
After the awful adventure in the futuristic simulator in the Trocadero, I was quite keen for our second "find" to be an altogether more tranquil affair. I could barely hold onto my 'World In One City' action pack as I staggered from the mechanical prison, visions of lurching spaceships mixing queasily with the red wine still sloshing about somewhere inside me. "Fresh air," I gasped, and we wandered slowly back to Charing Cross.
The rush hour long gone, the interior of Charing Cross railway station was fairly placid. A Sock Shop here, a small queue at the ticket office there, and over on the eastern wall, a flower seller cutting ribbons of various lengths. Apart from the ludicrous prices (clearly aimed at the 'forgetful businessman' market) something caught my eye – 'Dutch tulips', one sign read. In my hungover state, I think I may have tried to jump to a conclusion too far – that if she was selling Dutch flowers, the chances of her being Dutch were inherently higher. Disregarding logic completely, we marched up to her. But now what? What do I say? In a sly attempt to hear her accent, we asked her a series of questions.
"Are you here every day?"
"Yes." (Not very helpful).
"Uh … even weekends?"
"Yes." (She's getting suspicious, this isn't working).
"And … what time do you close?"
Bingo! That "eight-thirty" was distinctly eastern European. But I panicked. I stalled. I was nervous. I was still feeling sick. We thanked her and went for a little stroll around the station to consider our tactics. Alex, it should be pointed out, was a little smug at this point. He'd already approached Carl, done most of the talking there, and had arrived on time, an hour and a half before me. I had a lot of ground to make up. But I'd never felt so English before in my life. "I can't just go up to her, can I?" I asked myself. "Go up and start asking her questions?" Then I realised that if I didn't, then there was little point in doing the project at all – a project that mostly involved, after all, going up to people and asking them a lot of impertinent and potentially awkward questions.
Once again, I'm standing in front of the flower stall. I smile weakly. She smiles back. It's fine, I tell myself, she looks friendly. I hurriedly and embarrassedly explain the project. When I mention that we're writers she begins to look interested, by the time I've got the folder out to show her Carl's entry under 'Philippines' she's getting a pen out to write her own in. Success! Iwona is 24, lives in Shepherd's Bush, and is Polish. She's been in London for three years, and before selling flowers she worked as a nanny. I have a brainwave, and ask her who else works on the stall, and where they're from. Although I realise I sound a bit like a keen immigration official, she happily tells me that her work colleague is from South Africa, but isn't in today. That's one to remember if we get stuck later.
We buy some bamboo from her stall, the cheapest thing she sells. As Alex hands over the two pound coins, one gets dropped and rolls under the flower stall. Iwona says that it's fine, that she'd find it later, but by this stage I felt that we'd bonded so I handed over another quid.
She wants to go to Canada next. She thinks it would be better than London, although she can't say why.