Friday, 20 October 2006
Pre-project Plans Part 1
Alex Horne - 20th October 2006
During this summer's predictably anti-climactic World Cup it was virtually impossible to leave home without seeing a car, house or chest adorned with a St George's cross. A summer blossom of white and red swept the country as we all rushed to show off our national pride and optimism before the team's usual failure forced us to meekly pack our hopes away for another four years.
But amid the swathes of England flags, you could also catch glimpses of other nations' colours – the unabashed orange of Holland, the celebrated green and yellow of Brazil or the G.C.S.E. French tricolour which proved to have far more stamina than our own sickly three lions. For all over the country communities were coming together to watch their respective teams and Britain's cosmopolitan society was more tangibly apparent than ever.
Several London-based publications presented guides to where each nation's fans were based and after one of England's typically lacklustre performances I headed down to The Larrik, a Swedish pub on Crawford Street, where the Scandinavians' clash with Paraguay was apparently being screened. Sure enough, the pub was heaving with yellow and blue shirted Swedes, all singing Swedish songs and swilling Swedish beer. So many, in fact, that I could only admire from the street before retiring to an English pub where the match was analysed in characteristic British silence.
Every country had a cranny of London devoted to it and as the tournament progressed I discovered that my flat in Kensal Green was virtually the epicentre of London's Italian community. My neighbours above me and to my left are both Italian and on match days I could feel the tension straining through the walls before pressure was finally released by the final whistle and blue-shirted fans could pour onto the street to celebrate another hard-fought victory (the day after the 'head-butt challenge final' I was even congratulated on the street by passers-by who had noticed the red, white and green flags draped all over the building from which I'd emerged. I nodded and said 'grazie' as convincingly as possible).
Of course football is just one of many stimuli that prompt people to write about our increasingly diverse society. A brief dig in the muddy mines of the Sunday papers will inevitably uncover some sort of article exploring multiculturalism and using the phrase 'melting pot' in relation to cooking, clothing or crime. Some papers like the Independent have recently featured schools where ethnically diverse classmates chatter away in more than twenty six different languages while an exasperated school teacher looks proudly on. Others, like the Daily Mail, treat immigration in a slightly less jaunty way.
But I haven't yet read an article in which the journalist truly gets his or her hands dirty. Most of the articles seem to just scrape the surface of a hugely complicated issue, offering tantalising nuggets of information but never providing the full story. And so two months ago, Owen Powell and I decided to embark on our own more conclusive quest – to find someone from every country in the world living in London and ask them to tell us their story. It was a big idea. We didn't even know if was actually possible. Would we be able to find a Lesotho national living within the boundaries of Greater London? We'll soon find out. Amongst our many initial worries was the idea of approaching people whom we didn't think 'looked British' in order to ask them where they are from without looking or actually being racist. Is it offensive to ask someone what nationality they are if you don't think they look like they come from round here? Again, we'll soon find out.
To compound this, like most British men, we are both socially inept. We are not good at approaching strangers and will usually go to great lengths to avoid any awkward human contact with the result that we are often walked over by bigger bolder boys and don't necessarily do all the things we'd like to do. So why on earth had we put this enormous interactive weight on our pathetically narrow shoulders?
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. That's all I can say really.
For me it's not a political project. It's about adventure, excitement and panini sticker albums. It's about starting something big and trying to finish it. It's about meeting people I'd never have met and discovering human stories that wouldn't normally warrant a write up in Sunday's glossy magazines. It's about meeting my first Egyptian. And mostly it's about always having someone to watch the World Cup with when England get knocked not out.