Thursday, 24 May 2007
Back to School
Alex Horne – 24th May 2007
One of the most Frequently Asked Questions so far has been; ‘Have you encountered much hostility to what you’re doing?’ implying, I think, that a lot of people aren’t particularly happy with immigration at the moment and wouldn’t be all that keen on celebrating the fact that the capital is indeed home to someone from every single country in the world.
The Frequently Given Answer to that is; ‘No. People have been almost entirely positive and encouraging. Yes, we had that man in a carpet shop in Kensal Green who was quite keen to stress that he was ‘the only one left’, but apart from that people have consistently expressed their excitement about the idea and encouraged us to press on with the project’ – or something along those lines. In fact, the only real negativity we’ve come across so far has been from Mrs Moores, of Guyana, whose feelings against immigration stem from a slightly different angle.
She arrived in the UK in 1963 at the age of 14. Her mother was already here; ‘she was summoned by Enoch Powell’, snapped Mrs Moores, contempt entirely undisguised. ‘I hated it when I came here. The kids weren’t nice, it was cold, our house was horrible. There were signs up everywhere saying ‘no coloureds, no Irish’, it was miserable.’
But things have changed, haven’t they? I ask tentatively. ‘To some extent, yes, but I don’t think we’ll ever be accepted completely. I mean, the banks wouldn’t even lend us money – we were second class citizens’.
This exchange took place in Mrs Moores’ office in Bellenden Primary School near Peckham. I’d been taken there by Becky, sister of Debbie and wife of Nathan from Ghana, who’d promised me a memorable encounter. She used to work there before A.J. came along. Mrs Moores is the school’s headmistress. Throughout our meeting she sat at her large and busy desk while I hovered like a soon-to-be-punished child in the doorway. She’s a formidable lady. And she was clearly still angry that her life had been turned upside down by the British forty years ago.
She did soften after a while, asking me more about the project and even offering to lend a hand. ‘We’ve got kids from all over at the school - Albania, Syria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, all over’, she volunteered. We’d actually popped in earlier that day and while Mrs Moores herself had been out, we’d seen these cosmopolitan classes first hand, meeting pupils from Afghanistan, Barbados, Ireland, Bangladesh and India in the space of about five minutes. I told her that I thought it was nice to see such integration amongst the kids nowadays. ‘Yes’, she said, ‘but it wasn’t like that when we were brought here’.
Perhaps it’s not surprising Mrs Moores is still so bitter about the empire. When still a child, she was snatched away to a cold, damp, racist island, a thousand miles from her own warm home. She says she’s going to move eventually. Back to Guyana? I ask. ‘Oh no – it’s too late for that’, she replies. ‘Atlanta, that’s where I want to go, the people are good there’. And then the familiar but incongruous theme tune of The Archers on Radio 4 pipes out of an old radio on Mrs Moores’ desk and I’m told it’s time to go. ‘She has to listen to it everyday’, explained Becky when we’re outside and I realise just how fundamentally Mrs Moores’ life has been changed by her move to England.