George Alagiah interviews us on the BBC
Tuesday 24 October 2006
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.