George Alagiah interviews us on the BBC
Tuesday 31 October 2006
Alex Horne - 31st October 2006
The UK is the best place in the world for stand up comedy. Not, unfortunately, because of our superior sense of humour, but because the size of our country, fertility of our land, universality of our language and greed of our ancestors means that a lot of people now live very close together on a tiny little island. It's is a comedian's paradise.
In Canada or Australia comics have to fly for a day to get to the next city. Here a two hour drive from London to Bristol is considered a schlep. Each town is a stone's throw from the next (tested most Friday nights) and few are without their very own comedy club. In this golden age of stand up an experienced comic can gig virtually every night of the year in a different town before starting another lap in front of brand new or forgetful crowds the following January. This doesn't necessarily aid creativity but it does mean you don't need to get on TV to make a living making people laugh.
And because of all this work, international acts have flocked to the circuit, increasing the quality and giving audiences much more varied bills. Now, punters can see people from all five continents talking about how nobody in London talks on the tube.
If I've counted correctly, I know comedians from sixteen different countries around the world who are currently living in the capital. That's one in twelve of the world's nations sending a comic here to represent their national sense of humour in front of people who, in more than half the cases, speak an entirely different language. So either humour can travel or the Brits will laugh at anything.
The first 'foreign' comic alphabetically (we are always grouped by our first names – it's a fairly informal job) is a funny and kind man called Al Pitcher who I happened to be driving back from a gig in Norwich (that genuinely is a far-flung town) to his home near London Bridge on October 31st. He's from New Zealand and over the course of a relaxed journey home I explained the project and asked him to be my London Kiwi. He said yes.
We went on to discuss a subject very close to Al's heart – identity. As a New Zealander living over here he's had the chance to look at himself and his background from a very different perspective. He's an outsider here. It's all fascinating stuff. I got very excited.
"So, do you support England when they play football?" I asked incisively. "Well, yeah, I've always supported England cos, you know, I moved to New Zealand from Huddersfield when I was about seven so I was English there, even though now I'm a kiwi here…"By now I had stopped listening. I can't do three things at once (drive, pay attention and realize that something was amiss.
"…I remember when Graham Taylor took an England team to New Zealand in 1991 and Gary Lineker scored an injury-time goal in the first match so England won one-nil. Pearce and Hirst scored in the other game, or was it John Salako – no, I'm not sure – anyway, the second game was two-nil but I think I was supporting England…"
I had to stop him.
"So you actually went to New Zealand from England when you were seven. You do have a New Zealand passport don't you?"Of course he would. Wouldn't he?
"No, that's the funny thing, I've always had a British passport. I thought I should mention it at some point…"
And that was it. Al Pitcher is a Brit. He's also in the unique position of being a devout Kiwi Huddersfield fan (there's a Huddersfield supporters club in Australia with about nine members) – but he's not strictly from New Zealand.
The search continues.
COUNTRIES CURRENTLY REPRESENTED ON THE LONDON COMEDY CIRCUIT:
Monday 30 October 2006
Alex Horne - 30th October 2006
It was never going to be hard to find an Italian living in London. My next door neighbours on two of the three sides (I live in a ground floor flat) are from Italy and there's a Mr Pizza by Kensal Rise Station – they're bound to be Italian. In fact one of my neighbours told me recently that Italians are like parsley – they grow everywhere. I think it was parsley anyway. Does that grow anywhere? Either way, you get the point; it's easy to locate an Italian.
Especially when they work in a café called Il Pronto 'A Mangia on Buckingham Palace Road where the only fizzy drinks you can buy are made by a company called Sanpellegrino. We'd only actually gone in for a coffee to celebrate a Syrian but it seemed churlish to miss such an obvious opportunity.
It was my turn. I waited till it was quiet and uncertainly asked one of the two men (real men, over forty years old – not young childlike men like us) behind the counter if I could talk to them. They didn't see why not so I explained the project. "Ah!" one of them exclaimed as if this happened every day. "You'll be wanting to talk to Piedro!"
He was right. I did want to talk to Piedro. He's a 68 year old Italian chef who has lived just off the Edgware Road since 1967. "I have a famous Italian name!" he said, beaming, and wrote it in block capitals in our Panini-sticker-style funpack: Piedro Magnavacca. Literally translated – Peter, the Great Cow.
Unfortunately, we were quickly interrupted by customers demanding things other than stories from Piedro Magnavacca. I did manage to find out that his Great Great Great Great Great Great (Cow) Grandfather was the Count of Genoa in the 14th Century. He cooks full English breakfasts and likes fish and chips but thinks it's hard to find good ones any more. He also likes Yorkshire puddings.
But that was pretty much all we had time for. Italian chefs are busy people. But I'd got what I came for. And you never want too much parsley on your pasta, do you?
Palaces and Pens
Owen Powell – 30th October 2006
Alex and I met at the gates of Buckingham Palace, and watched the soldiers march up and down. We discussed the possibility of gaining access to the palace to speak to the Queen's husband, a Greek gentleman called Philip, but there were lots of guns being toted and we thought better of it. However, on the assumption that he probably wasn't the only foreign national in the area at the moment, we hit the gift shops in to continue our quest.
There was a disappointing interlude in the official Buckingham Palace shop.
[Alex here: the disappointing interlude was on my watch, it was my turn to ask someone if they were a foreigner and it was me that went reddest when it all went a bit wrong. First, the shop was the wierdest shop I'd ever been to. It sells tea from the colonies, small packs of Turkish delight for £3 and luxury bathroom accessories with a royal theme - it's a silly shop. So after breaking the silence of the silly shop with our own nervous giggles I had to go up to the patient shop attendant (whose name badge said her name was Hirani) and ask if anybody who worked here might possibly have been born overseas. Now, I thought she was probably British but the way I asked and the way she replied I can't help but think she thought I thought she was definitely Indian. I really wasn't presuming she wasn't British just because her surname wasn't Smith and she didn't have freckles but I couldn't really explain all that in a nonsense shop that sells Prince William jigsaws. I just felt very low and smiled and left.]
We had more luck just down the road in the aptly-named 'London Souvenirs', a shop that sold anything from a Charles and Camilla teapot, to a Lady Diana plate. At last, crockery that doesn't take sides in that old wife/mistress debate. Alex began looking at the Big Ben pens, while I introduced myself to the manager.
I began with the usual preamble, got the folder out, and asked, rather awkwardly, "So … are you … from London … I mean, originally?" The man behind the counter, smiling slightly, replied that he wasn't. With the prize nearly within my grasp, I stumbled a little too quickly into the next question. I could have asked a number of things, or found a number of ways to structure the sentence. What I actually found myself saying, to my own bafflement, let alone anyone else's, was, "Great! So … do you know where you're from?" Luckily, he did. He was from Syria.
In his 2002 State of the Union Address, George W Bush introduced a new phrase into the English language. Describing Iran, Iraq and North Korea as potentially rogue states that could at any time unleash untold destruction on anyone they fancied, he referred to them as an "Axis of Evil". This was tremendously exciting. For James Bond fans such as myself, this suddenly took world affairs out of the mundane spheres of economics and geopolitics, and into the realm of SPECTRE, with physically deformed villains stroking cats and pressing big red buttons. For a while, the idea of an "Axis" became very fashionable in international relations. Not long after the original, hardcore, axis had been defined, John Bolton (now US ambassador to the UN) got in on the act as well, pointing out that there were a further three countries who formed a second-string axis, the Championship to the Premiership sides controlled by Khamenei, Hussain and Kim Jong-il. In this new Axis (The Axis Of Quite Bad? The Axis Of Nearly Evil?) were to be found long-time American bugbear Cuba, odd north African state Libya (the only country in the world with a single-colour flag), and, you've guessed it, Syria.
Firas is 32, and has been in London for 5 years. This immediately makes him both the oldest and the longest domiciled of any of the people we've found so far. He was also the first person to be wearing a tie – are these facts connected? More interestingly, and a real plus as far as London's cosmopolitanism is concerned, he's married to a German woman he met in London, and they have kids here, half Syrian, half German, but mainly British. [Brief satire intermission: So, he's someone from a country near the Mediterranean with a German wife, working on Buckingham Palace Road – what are the chances of that?]
I asked him how he found London, whether or not he liked living here. He shrugged, and said, "Less now. It was better five years ago." My brain started racing. This could be fascinating. Just think of what's happened in the last five years – the invasion of Iraq, a growing anti-Muslim sentiment in some parts of the media, the tube bombings in London last July – and here's our first guy from the Middle East, confirming that life has got tougher in London over that time. So what was it in particular, I asked him. Has anything happened that has made things worse? He shrugged again (I was beginning to enjoy his shrugs), and said, "Well, you know, I got married."
London, he went on ruefully, is great for single people, but not when you're married. He doesn't go to clubs any more, he just stays at home in Richmond. In fact, his life is now getting so domesticated he's considering making the big move – to somewhere outside London completely. It looks like we caught him just in time.
Sunday 29 October 2006
My Friend Darion
Alex Horne - October 29th 2006
Some people (like Milco from Macedonia and Carl from the Philippines) think we'll easily find our 192 different people. Others, like myself and Owen, are much less optimistic. That's largely because we're the ones who have to leave our homes, go out and talk to strangers again and again and we probably know more about our levels of laziness and fear than Carl or Milco.
For that reason I'm particularly interested to find out how many different nationalities I'll meet in the course of my normal London life this year without even trying - as opposed to the ones we'll have to actively seek out in various inappropriate and potentially embarrassing ways. I think of myself as fairly cosmopolitan and multicultural, if a little socially reticent, but how often do I actually bump into people that aren't British? Every week? Every day? Every hour? (I could go on, but I don't think there's any need).
One thing I already know is that I don't have many foreign friends. However liberal I may or may not be the fact is that I very rarely hang out with people whose skin is a different colour to mine.
Now that sounds bad but statistically it's not actually that shocking. I also very rarely hang out with people who aren't Owen (my collaborator on this project) or Tim (my collaborator on other projects). Comedy is a kind of lonely job. I meet people from all over the world every night and many of my colleagues (some of them I might even call friends – not mates or buddies but friends) are from all sorts of backgrounds (and by backgrounds, I do mean physical backgrounds like skyscrapers, beaches or canyons).
I am, of course, friends with an Australian. Well, technically he's my wife's best friend's husband but I think that counts. We might not meet up regularly on our own but we get on pretty well and I'm sure we like each other and if that's not grounds for calling each other friends I don't know what is.
(friend/fr?nd/Pronunciation Key - [frend]
1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
2. a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter: friends of the Boston Symphony.
3. a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile: Who goes there? Friend or foe?
4. a member of the same nation, party, etc.)
So on October 29th, when my wife and I were meant to be spending a relaxing Sunday evening in a pub with a few mates including this antipodean, I seized my opportunity and cornered Darion. Would he mind representing his country here in London? Of course not. He'd be proud to. He's Australian.
In fact Darion Pohl, my 34 year old FRIEND from Oz, is a particularly interesting Australian because his job, technically speaking, is "in cross border finance for people emigrating between the UK and Australia". In other apparently simpler but actually more complicated words, he's the bloke who helps people, like himself, to settle in London, and British people, like myself, to settle over there, if that's what I wanted.
So I decided to formally interview him. I'm fairly sure that's what friends do:
So, how hard actually is it for Australians to come and live over here?
In reality, very easy if they are under 30. They can then get a
visa to stay for two years in the UK and work for one of these 'working
holiday visa'. If they are over 30, they need to get a UK Highly Skilled
Migrant Visa or a Work Sponsorship visa, which is not too hard to get if
you have a degree qualification and over three years work experience in
a certain area. After five years, on the right visa, you can get a UK
That sounds like a lot of admin. Fine, if you like admin. Less fine
if you don't. Why put yourself through all that admin? Why come to London?
To create havoc, win sporting contests and take the piss
out of the Poms!!
That's fighting talk.
In reality it's the ability to earn sterling (much more
valuable than the Aussie Dollar), travel and experience history.
That's sensible talk.
Australia is so bloomin' far away from everywhere and
'white oz' is only 200 years old. London has more buzz, lots to see and do,
and closeness for travel. Australia has the lifestyle - more relaxed, more
outdoor activities, better beaches, more sun, better beer and fresher food,
in my opinion. London is very expensive in comparison, but not too bad if
you're earning pounds. It's also more 'international'…
I sincerely hope so.
…which is both good and bad, as you can experience the
cultures, which is great, but you can also get lost in the swarm of people
on the tube! Australia is more personal and 'community' spirited – although
maybe that's just because it has much less people.
And maybe that's because you're all over here.
Interview over. It's good to find out what you're friend actually does for a living. I know several people fairly well who do things that I've never really understood so it's good to have a reason to finally ask them what it is they do.
I guess I take Australians for granted. They seem very similar to us (for obvious historical reasons) just with that extra confidence I wish I possessed. But when I asked Darion if he thinks of London as home he replied, "Yes, and no. A tricky one, with an English wife and the rest of my family in Oz… We'll see what happens over time". Perhaps even brave, strong Aussies sometimes get homesick. They do live an awful long way away.
Wednesday 25 October 2006
Alex Horne – 25th October 2006
I've got a washing machine that not only washes my clothes but also dries them. I think it's called a Washerdryer but that sounds like a name made up by a four year old, not a moniker suitable for something that can take the place of scrubbing, rinsing, and draping.
But my washing machine that also dries is also broken.
So on the second day of the World In One City Project I was forced to stay in between the hours of noon and 6pm so that I could let an engineer into my house and pay him to look at my machine and tell me it was broken. Not what you need when you're trying to find someone from every country in the world living in Greater London.
Except that my contraption that makes clothes as good as new had also broken the week before and if the wash-doctor was the same man again, I was fairly sure that I was in luck. Because this man, called Ronny, was almost definitely from India. What's more, we'd got on fairly well the previous Wednesday because I'd given him a parking permit and then we'd joked about how bad I was at DIY.
And so I didn't even care that I'd wasted four and a half hours of my life when the doorbell rang during Deal Or No Deal and it was indeed a smiling Ronny who'd made the noise. "It's broken again?" Yes Ronny, it is, but I really don't mind because you could be my Indian Representative.
First, of course, we went through the rigmarole of getting out the bulky white cube, opening it up then digging around inside like robot surgeons. Ronny muttered and tutted, I scratched my head and tried to judge when best to bring up the project.
At last, Ronny smiled and the machine was fixed (a fan had come loose so it kept getting even hotter than is necessary to dry clothes so the clothes started to burn so the machine automatically killed itself) and we both had to sit and wait while the ten minute test took place. And at last, I brought out my World In One City Folder (with FIVE nationalities now in place) and explained my quest.
Ronny smiled again. I think it's his face's natural resting state – mine's more of a worried expression with mouth very slightly open. "That's a good project", he said, smiling. "I'm from India". Yes! For once my preconceptions were correct. But then the killer blow. "However, I now live in Stevenage".
You what, Ronny? You live in Stevenage? How could you? The strict rules of the game clearly state that representatives found must live within the borders of the city and, try as I might, I can't bend the boundary rules as far as Stevenage. What's worse, Ronny moved from Colindale – well within Greater London – just a few weeks previously and now has to commute for three hours every day of the week. Poor Ronny. And poor me.
I could barely hold myself together as we watched the 'test trousers' getting just warm enough to remove any excess moisture as they tumbled round the drum.
Later that night I had to do a gig in a lovely club called the Comedy Bunker in the less than promising sounding Ruislip Golf Centre. It's been going for ten years and is just what a comedy club should be – well run, well attended and in a golf club (except for the golf club bit). In the first minute I told a joke about seeing a cowboy in the carpark (he was driving a german car, I said Audi, not a truly great joke but you've got to say something). An old man in the third row with a clear voice shouted "it's not the cowboys that are the problem, it's the F***ing Indians".
Thankfully, the only reaction in the room was one of shock and silence. I'm ashamed to say that although I did highlight the blatant and disgusting racism so boldly uttered I didn't do what the brilliant Adam Bloom did after me and call the man a c***.
Tuesday 24 October 2006
Owen Powell - 24th October 2006
For lunch on the first day, we thought we'd combine eating with meeting. London has one of the most cosmopolitan cuisines in the world, and we thought that restaurants, cafes and food shops would be ideal places to find people and chat about their lives, cultures and experiences of London. However, I was still feeling a little bit sick. The idea of going inside, away from the relative fresh air of central London, and having to eat a randomly chosen international dish made me start to sweat. So we did the next best thing. We walked to London's very own Chinatown to order a takeaway.
On the way there, I called Rachel, my girlfriend, to let her know how our day was going. She used to work for a refugee and asylum seeker charity, and is currently doing an MA on the politics of detention centres for asylum in the UK, so she had a few worries that what we were attempting to do might come across as slightly demeaning to the people we were 'collecting'. In fact, the most academic text message I've ever received from anyone was from her after I had called, excitedly, to explain the idea Alex and I had just come up with. It read: "Nationality can be viewed as a colonial construct, which makes this new project an example of the continuing neo-colonial obsession with classification." I felt chastened for a while, until I realised it was (at least partly) tongue in cheek.
She was wryly amused to note that everyone we had found so far was doing reasonably badly-paid work. I reiterated my desire to find a whole range of people, professors, doctors, stunt-men, professional footballers. But then I had to admit that our next stop was Chinatown where we hoped to speak to a waitress. Thierry Henry would have to wait until after lunch.
'Top Of The Town' Chinese Restaurant is on Gerrard Street, south of Soho and the heart of Chinatown. Interestingly, the original Chinatown in London was out east in Westferry, near to where I live now. Characters in Sherlock Holmes books and in Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' hang about in Westferry and Limehouse, scoring opium off Chinese men who lurk near the docks. Now all that's left is a large dragon sculpture near the railway station.
Inside the restaurant, Alex ordered Special Fried Rice, and I went for a Chicken Chow Mein. While we waited for the food to come, we had a little chat with the lady welcoming customers in. The restaurant was very busy, and particularly popular with toddlers (they'd brought their parents with them), so our stilted conversation never really got going. However, as people came in and out, and a few dozen two-year-olds wandered about, banging into glass doors, we managed to explain the project to Wo Yi Sum. She is 25 and had been living in London for only six months, with a cousin of hers in Chinatown, not far from the restaurant. Before that, she'd been in her home country, Malaysia. She's still getting used to London life.
We wandered off with our boxes of Chinese food, to sit amongst the pigeons and people in Piccadilly Circus and reflect on a reasonably successful first day. Then, at 4pm, I went to bed.
Alex Horne – 24th October 2006
When we first came up with this idea we thought about filming the whole experience and making video diaries of our international quest. We also considered recording every moment on Minidisc and editing the highlights together to make some sort of ground-breaking radio series. But in the end we decided that approaching strangers with all sorts of recording paraphernalia would be just too off-putting. And we couldn't afford it.
As the first day of the experiment wore on, however, I was relieved we were the only ones able to witness our efforts for another much more profound reason. Owen and I were being pathetic.
Well, pathetic is maybe slightly too strong. We were reserved. Bashful. Inhibited. We weren't like those people you get on post-pub Friday night TV who run up to strangers on the street and get them to swear or take their clothes off. We were polite. This, we're led to believe, does not make good television.
But we were also cunning. In an attempt to avoid too many awkward confrontations with tricky or disinterested customers we very quickly devised ways to maximise our meeting potential and minimise our possible embarrassment. We took turns in approaching people. We only accosted people who looked like they had time on their hands. And we stopped very soon after lunch.
So after Carl from the Philippines and Iwona from Poland it was my turn again to waylay a foreigner. It was then that we came up with a particularly ingenious plan – we would find those people who have to carry those signs advertising, amongst other things, golf sales. These were people who were mostly from abroad and who would surely be glad to talk to someone through any medium other than a medium density fibreboard rectangle above their head.
Unfortunately, however, the plan was not perfect. The first guy we found was listening to headphones. This was an obstacle way too large for these two trepid explorers. We moved on. The next sign (for Subway – the American sandwich chain attempting successfully to overhaul our more simple bread culture) was being held up by a metal post – surely a demeaning sight for other professional and more human signboard carriers.
Finally we found a genuine person with ears unplugged, proudly telling men where they could have their hair cut for just ten pounds. It was my turn. I advanced. We got talking. And yes, he was interested, he would like to chat, he'd be happy to help. But no, would you believe it, the third stranger we'd been brave enough to tackle and the second person from Poland. To be honest, I think Darrick was just as disappointed as me and to really rub it in, it was Owen's go next and he immediately met a very nice man from Bangladesh carrying an arrow pointing to Pizza Hut.
There is a definite quality over quantity ethos to this project. Yes, we want to beat the Americans but not to the point of only approaching people holding signboards. So once Owen had got cricket-loving Rana's details I was back to my own board of the drawing variety.
It was a difficult hour. In between several failures, I asked the man eating lunch next to me in Leicester Square if I could ask him a question. He just stared at me, which I took as a yes. I asked him if he lived in London. He said no, which I took as a no. We also wandered round the so-bizarre-that-no-one-even-mentions-it Switzerland centre at the bottom of Wardour Street but were told by a very English builder that the Swiss had all moved. Why? Where? How? He didn't know.Finally, on our desperate way to the National Portrait Gallery, where we hoped to snag a bored security guard, I set eyes on the perfect candidate: an overly friendly young man handing out free career-advice magazines with such aplomb that he was out-flyering the entire herd of free London newspaper distributors next to him.
"I'll just get rid of these", he said in a distinctly exotic accent, pointing to his last three hundred copies of Londoncareersnet ("the magazine for those who work and play in London"). And twenty seconds later we were chatting.
Diego, a 21 year old Law student resident (I think that counts) is from Belgium – not quite as exotic as his voice or name suggested but a country outside Britain nevertheless. He was our fourth find and by far the most suspicious, unwilling to tell us his surname and only parting with his email address after our sheer incompetence convinced him that we can't have had any sort of authority.
What he was worried about being accused of I don't know. Tax avoidance? Perhaps. Murder? Unlikely. He has to work hard to pay for his Erasmus course and accommodation in London Bridge (in a flat, not under it, like a troll). As well as his studies and magazine dispersal job he also works in Exmouth Market on Saturdays, where he could well have sold me some cheese on a previous occasion. It all points to something to do with tax. And definitely not murder.
After a very pleasant chat about Brussels' fast food restaurants (I got engaged in the administrative capital of Europe a couple of years ago and while we did celebrate with some posh nosh, we still appreciated the culinary delight that is a Quick burger) we said goodbye to Diego and headed off in search of number five. I was relieved, not only that it was Owen's turn again, but because in the course of our conversation Diego had taught me his most valuable circulation secret: people don't mind random strangers talking to you in the street - as long as you're polite.
Pizza and Cricket
Owen Powell - 24th October 2006
Rana (the short version of his name) was holding a Pizza Hut advertising board in Leicester Square. He's from Bangladesh. He holds it for eight hours a day, and on days like today it can be a bit cold. But he does get a free meal. (Initially, I thought that sounded quite good, until Alex pointed out later that it would mean eating pizza every day). Before Rana, we'd seen two other men holding boards, but they both had earphones in so we didn't approach them. The third man we found, advertising £10 haircuts, was happy to speak to us. We explained the project to him, but he then explained that he was Polish. He seemed a bit let down that we already had our Polish person, and shrugged as if to say, good luck boys, but you're going to find a lot more Poles before this project is out.
Rana is a cricket fan. He was particularly pleased that Bangladesh is now a permanent member of the International Cricket Council, and that they beat Australia recently. We swapped some cricket banter. I told him I was at the Oval last year when England won the Ashes. He didn't look too impressed, and I suddenly felt that I was boasting. He misses his family.
There are plaques on the floor in Leicester Square that tell you how far away (and in what direction) certain countries are. Bangladesh is 8000km, or 4971 miles away.
I had the impression that Rana had enjoyed our little conversation, awkward as it was, and formulated a new tactic, thus: people whose job it is to stand somewhere, not really doing a great deal, probably appreciate a bit of a chat. With this in mind, we headed to the National Portrait Gallery. Some of the staff there looked reasonably busy, so we headed further in, to the Twentieth Century galleries where the public thin out and the portraits get a bit less realistically representative. We spotted a member of staff that we thought could be a candidate, and discussed in hushed tones whether to approach her or not. It didn't feel right. It was, perhaps, our first potentially racist assumption. By "could be a candidate", did we simply mean "black"? Is it appropriate to go up to someone doing their job in central London and ask them where they come from? Well, I'd done it twice already today, but for some reason this felt different. Maybe it was a class issue, instead. Did I subconsciously think that the question, "Where are you from?" would be more offensive to someone who works in an art gallery than to someone who sells flowers or holds a board up in the cold for eight hours? What was going on? My hangover didn't help, either. We didn't ask her.
There was an elaborate portrait of Olympic hero Sir Steven Redgrave on the way out. Someone had painstakingly copied a photo of him, pencil on paper, 25 times. It was a metaphor for Redgrave's dedication. The metaphor for Redgrave's dedication felt like a metaphor for the kind of persistence we'd need. 3 down. 189 to go. Game on.
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.
United Nations Day
Alex Horne - 24th October 2006
After three months' procrastination we finally set off in search of every nationality in the world now living within Greater London. Our meeting place: Charing Cross, the epicentre of the capital, from which all distances to and from London are measured. Our meeting time: 10am. Early.
I arrived full of nervous energy, still not quite believing that we were about to approach a lot of complete strangers and ask them where they've come from and why. Central London was wearing its usual matching grey outfit of drizzle and puddles. We were ready to start.
Then Owen called to say he was still in bed, hungover, but would be there as soon as possible. The procrastination lingered a little longer.
Luckily I had one more job to do before getting started. I realised on the tube down that we would probably need business cards to give to each person found to at least try to convince them that we were genuine writers/investigators/visionaries and so I headed optimistically back into Charing Cross station, searching for one of those Business Card Printing Machines that I've never seen anyone use and have always wondered for whom they are meant.
Typically, now that I was that whom, I couldn't find a machine anywhere. I wandered round London's unhealthy heart, passing the Canadian Embassy (like all embassies, out of bounds for the course of this project) and feeling the rain draw steadily up my trousers.
Eventually I gave up, finding myself instead in London's true hub, the awful awful Trocadero centre, where for the first time I entered a London Tourist Shop, bought ten London postcards (well, the sign did say 10p each or 10 for a pound), and sat on some steps near some truant teens scribbling our details unconvincingly under ironic slogans like 'Brilliant Big Ben' and 'The Glittering West End'.
At last Owen arrived and we were ready to start. I'd even lined up our first target, a young and (crucially) approachable looking man working (well, standing in a uniform) near the basketball game machines. We stuck a quid in the contraption and hatched a plan whilst failing to score enough hoops to impress the crowd of two that had gathered behind us to watch a sporting encounter for free.
Finally, at 11.45am, on the 24th October, United Nations Day 2006, we advanced towards Carl Sisson, blurted out our story and just about persuaded him to tell us his: he's a 20 year old customer service worker in charge of a motion simulator in the basement of the Trocadero. He's been living in Tottenham for the last three and a half years and is now doing a numeracy and literacy course in the hope of finding a better paid job. He likes London. And most importantly of all, he's from the Philippines!
Our total was One! And it had all been much easier than we'd led ourselves to believe over the past 100 odd days. Yes, we felt like we were giving him some sort of right-wing Nationality Test; yes, we barely asked him anything about his own country; and no, he didn't give us his email address. But he did pose for a photo and he does think we can achieve our goal ("London is a very multicultural society" he said encouragingly but slightly as if we'd forced it out of him). All in all, a shy and awkward encounter on all three sides but ultimately we'd set our international ball rolling.
As a sign of gratitude we paid three pounds fifty for a go in Carl's Space Race Simulation Machine. The jubilation at having broken our duck got me through the five painful minutes of clumsy juddering. To my right, however, Owen felt sick. Served him right. I wouldn't even let him press the emergency red button to let us out early. There would be no stopping us now.
The Philippines (Filipino: Pilipinas), officially the Republic of the Philippines (Republika ng Pilipinas), is an island nation located in the Malay Archipelago in Southwest Pacific, with ManilaModern day Filipinos are mostly of Austronesian stock, although there are a number of Filipinos with Spanish, Chinese, American, and Arab ancestry.
The country was named "Las Islas Filipinas" by Ruy López de Villalobos after King Philip II of Spain. A Spanish colonial rule began in 1565 and lasted for about three centuries until the Philippine Revolutionof 1896. The United States gained possession of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War in 1898 and ruled the country for about five decades. Philippine culture has many affinities with the West. Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion, and Filipino is an official language, along with English.
The most commonly played sport in the Philippines is basketball.
Monday 23 October 2006
London, the global city
Here are two snapshots of London life. On Sunday 11th March 2007, Chelsea played Tottenham Hotspur in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. It was a repeat of the famous ‘Cockney Cup Final’ of 1967, the first all-London affair, when the teams were exclusively British. On Sunday, the 28 players who made it onto the pitch were from 14 different nations. The goals were scored by a Bulgarian, a Ghanaian, an Egyptian, and an Ivorian, with two from the British (or, in football terms, English) Frank Lampard.
Two years ago, four suicide bombers attacked the London transport system. 52 people were killed, on three tube trains and a bus. Everyone killed was a Londoner, but the people that died that day had been born in 18 different countries. The details painted an even more disparate picture. One man had been born in Vietnam with a Japanese surname, and had spent most of his life in New York. There was an Italian woman who was engaged to a Muslim of Pakistani background, an Afghani who escaped from the Taliban, and an Israeli fleeing the suicide bombs in her homeland. From Turkey, Mauritius, and Iran, from Poland, Ghana and Sri Lanka, they had all come to London for a new life.
London is a global city. For some, this is a contentious statement, a reference to ‘creeping multiculturalism’. For others it’s a welcome recognition of how life really is – something to promote and celebrate. Over three hundred languages are spoken in London and a third of its current inhabitants were born overseas, but just how cosmopolitan is London? For centuries it was the hub of an Empire but, as globalisation gathers force, do the inhabitants of London represent a microcosm of the whole planet? Would we be able to find a representative from every country living and working in London? Could we find the world in one city?
It seemed like an immense challenge. To give ourselves some boundaries, we set some ground rules.
1. We were not allowed to find anyone who was an employee of a country's government (for example, no ambassadors, Kings or Queens).
2. The people we found had to be living and working in London, so we couldn’t count people who were solely here to study.
3. Tourists, holidaymakers, people who were lost – none of these counted either.
4. We acknowledged that it might be impractical for the subject to produce a passport as proof of nationality. We were happy to accept their testimony, sometimes backed up with a brief quiz about their country. It’s fine, we’re not policemen.
5. We're going to attempt to complete the project within a year - that way, we can get a picture of the kind of city London was during a defined period of time.
6. By ‘London’, we mean within 'Greater London', (the City of London plus the 32 London Boroughs).
7. By ‘all the countries of the world’, we mean the 192 countries recognised by the UN as its members.
This last rule seemed initially the simplest of the lot, but any cursory examination of what is meant by a ‘country’, ‘nation’ or ‘state’ leads you into the dark backwaters of Wikipedia and worse, where pedants battle over semantic definitions. In the real world as well, of course, there are ongoing struggles over who lives where, who has the right to name their own land, and who has the right to rule over it. On the relatively facile end of the spectrum are helpful friends who ‘know someone who is Welsh and lives in Hammersmith’, on the more volatile end are refugees from places such as Palestine, Taiwan, Kashmir and Kosovo who (under our UN-based terminology) are from a ‘country’ they do not recognise as home.
And so, armed with little more than a map, a notebook, and some very un-British plans to speak to strangers in the street, we headed out to try to meet 192 people. Who would we find? What would their stories tell us about the world today? And what did they think of this massive, stinking, exciting, expensive, historic and turbulent metropolis that we all call home?
Saturday 21 October 2006
An Assessment Of My General Level Of Ignorance Regarding The World
Owen Powell - 21st October 2006
Places I had heard of, but wasn't sure were countries 
Andorra; Antigua and Barbuda; Bahamas; Barbados; Costa Rica; Cyprus [I thought someone else owned it – sorry, Cyprus!]; Djibouti [I thought it might be a city]; Fiji; Grenada [it's becoming clear that I thought 'The West Indies', as in international cricket, represented a single country]; Haiti; Lesotho; Madagascar [I didn't know it was actually a separate country ,although I could probably have placed it on a map]; Maldives; Malta [see Madagascar]; Mauritius; Seychelles [all these sort of "holiday destination" type places]; Singapore [not just a city, like Hong Kong?]; Suriname; Swaziland [thought it was the old name for somewhere else].
Places I hadn't even heard of 
Cape Verde; Comoros; Gabon; Guinea-Bissau; Kiribati; Kyrgyzstan [although I'm in good company here – neither has Microsoft Word 2000's spell-checker]; Laos; Marshall Islands; Mauritania; Micronesia; Nauru; Palau; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Sao Tome and Principe; Solomon Islands; Tajikistan; Timor-Leste; Tonga; Turkmenistan; Tuvalu; Vanuatu.
Places I knew were countries, but wouldn't have been able to write in the correct place on a blank map of the world (I'm worried this is going to be most of Africa) 
Angola; Armenia; Azerbaijan; Bahrain; Belarus; Belize [would have guessed Africa]; Benin; Bhutan; Bolivia; Botswana; Brunei; Bulgaria [sorry, Europe]; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cambodia; Cameroon; Central African Republic [although I'd obviously have a pretty good guess]; Chad; Colombia; Congo; Cote d'Ivoire; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; Equatorial Guinea [again, worth a guess, although it's a slight misnomer]; Eritrea; Estonia; Gambia; Georgia; Ghana; Guatemala; Guinea; Guyana [see Belize]; Honduras; Jamaica [so, there's one Caribbean country I did know about (although not where it was, obviously)]; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Latvia; Lebanon [embarrassing, given all the news]; Liberia; Lithuania; Malawi; Malaysia; Mali; Mozambique; Myanmar [but I know it's the new name for Burma]; Namibia; Nepal; Nicaragua; Niger; Nigeria; Oman; Panama [who knew the canal was that far south?]; Papua New Guinea; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Qatar; Republic of Moldova; Romania [see Bulgaria]; Rwanda; Samoa; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Slovenia [borders Italy? I've been to Italy …]; Somalia; Sudan; Syria [see Lebanon]; The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Togo; Trinidad and Tobago; Uganda; United Arab Emirates; United Republic of Tanzania; Uruguay; Uzbekistan; Venezuela; Yemen; Zambia; Zimbabwe.
Countries that just squeaked in, if I'm being quite generous with myself 
Bosnia and Herzegovina; Croatia; Indonesia; Jordan; Libya; Liechtenstein; San Marino; Thailand; Tunisia; Ukraine; Vietnam.
Places I may have assumed were countries, even though they're officially not (this may get political)
Greenland; Palestine; Taiwan; Vatican City.
How offensive is all of this? I like to think I'm fairly well-read, and know a bit about world affairs, so is it a problem that given a blank map of the world I could have identified only 70 countries and given their precise location? And that would include two places (Malta and Madagascar) that I didn't even think were countries, so I guess it's only 68. That's 35 per cent.
In Africa, I seem able to identify all the countries that touch the Mediterranean, all five of them, plus South Africa (well done) and Ethiopia (I grew up in the 80s). In South America, I could only place the two big football nations of Brazil and Argentina, and Chile, because it's phenomenally thin and long and my brother went there seven years ago.
I have blind spots ranging from the Middle East to the Caribbean, from south east Asia to eastern Europe, and I thought that Greenland might be its own nation, whereas Cyprus might not. In three days' time, I fully intend to march out into the streets of London to find some people, although most of them come from countries that I wouldn't be able to find. Twenty-three of them come from places I hadn't even heard of.
It seems a bit trite to say that this project might be a learning experience for me. A shaming experience, possibly. If London does contain representatives from all 192 nations, and we find them all, I'm not sure what to say to the person we find from, say, Comoros. Welcome, I suppose. And sorry.
Friday 20 October 2006
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.