Friday, 9 March 2007
Owen Powell – 9th March 2007
Just round the corner from the Bole Café is another food outlet, the cheerily-named ‘Grab A Bite’. Like many of the Caribbean takeaways we had tried (and failed) to find people in before, it had a fridge stacked with ginger beer, a wooden map of Jamaica on the wall, and reggae music issuing from a tinny speaker somewhere in the kitchen out back.
The lady behind the counter eyed us worriedly as we made our approach – perhaps she could sense our nervousness or pessimism. But as soon as we had explained ourselves, and bought our by-now traditional can of ginger beer, she shuffled the menus in front of her and said, “You’ll be wanting Conrad, then.”
After a brief discussion in the kitchen, Conrad popped his head round the door, flashed us a smile, and we got chatting. He asked us to guess his age – we always go deliberately, politely, too low – but still, 50 was a surprise. He’d been in London since he was 18, moving here with his sister after he finished high school in Jamaica, and rejoining his parents who had come with the Windrush generation in the 50s. We asked how he thought London had changed since he arrived – was it better now? “Oh you know, it’s better but worse, if you know what I mean.” We nodded. “One way I will say it’s got better is that when I arrived, there were no shops open at the weekend, you know? Now, it’s a 24-hour city. Much more convenient.”
Conrad was a chef now, but hadn’t always been. “Oh man, since I’ve been in London I’ve moved around in jobs and places. All over, really. And I know a lot of other islanders. You go from here to Harlesden, you’ll meet twelve, fifteen people I know. You want to watch the World Cup with Caribbean people? Most of them watch it in their homes, but you could try the West Indian People’s Association in Willesden. You’ll meet a lot of people there.”
That trip would have to be reserved for another day, however, as Alex and I were off to meet our agents in Ladbroke Grove. We arrived a little early and, feeling in good West Indian optimistic spirits, thought we’d make some inquiries in the even-better-named Yum Yum Caribbean Take Away. Most of the staff, interestingly, were Polish, and the owner Jamaican – she was disappointed to have been gazumped by Conrad only half an hour before. We chatted, and were persuaded into a spicy lamb patty each. As we took our first bites, she called out to a man walking past, “Trotter! Where you from?” Trotter popped in. “I’m a Lucian.” We explained the project to Trotter, and how we’d already found a Lucian. “Ah, man, I only know Jamaicans and Lucians. Still, good luck.”
Patties in hand, we said farewell to Yum Yum and headed outside, just in time to see Trotter disappear into the barbershop next door, called (probably the day’s best name) Mo’ Betta Cutz. Alas, there was no time for a hair cut. But I can’t help thinking it will be a shame if we get to the end of the year without at least one of us having our hair cut by someone from abroad. Given the respective lengths of our hair, I suppose I should be the first volunteer. Watch this space.