George Alagiah interviews us on the BBC
Thursday 11 January 2007
A Bird in the Hand
Alex Horne - 11th January 2007
Halfway through our third month and we’re still seemingly stuck on twenty four nationalities. We need to find the same amount again in the next two weeks if we want to stay on target. The odds are stacked against us even at this early stage.
Owen and I met, as usual, at the Breakfast Club on D’Arblay Street, to assess our situation. We always spend slightly too much honk there but the freshly-magi-mixed juice makes us feel healthy and the free internet economical so we can just about convince ourselves that it’s a sensible base.
We agreed that we need to put at least one foot on the accelerator to even get close to our 192 target. Yes, we’d got plenty of leads but with our Chinese girl disappearing into thin air and a worrying amount of Jamaicans turning us down, we knew we had to get a whole load of nationalities nailed right now.
After pencilling in dates for the forthcoming Russian Winter Festival, Islamic New Year and the American Super Bowl, we therefore set off with a plan: we’d interview every single flyerer (there are loads) outside every single English Language School (there are loads) on Oxford Street (it’s quite long). We’d be sure to tick off at least five countries. Of course, we’re not allowed actual students in this project but if Colombian Ligia still studied at a college like this, surely other London residents would be lining up to answer our questions?
Eight minutes later and we’d abandoned our plan. It was raining so heavily that, for perhaps the first time ever, we weren’t handed a single flyer between Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Circus. Disgruntled, I jumped on the first bus West while Owen went back to retrieve his bike and we aimed to meet ten minutes later at Marble Arch.
Twenty minutes later we met, sodden, at the cinema on Edgware Road.
Thankfully the residents of ‘the street that never sleeps’ were soon to give us a boost that would warm our legs, hearts and hopes in the space of just sixty momentous minutes. After a small setback in a Herbal Remedy shop where the two assistants listened to our story, told us they were from China then had a good look at Owen’s fluorescent yellow cycling anorak and said they were prepared to take no further part in the project, we entered the first of many Lebanese restaurants at the southern end of the street.
At half eleven in the morning, Arabian eateries like Café Al Tanoor are pretty much empty. Twelve hours later, they’re full of people, chatting, laughing and enjoying late-night kebabs not in the British post-pub ‘I’m drunk and need meat’ style but in the ‘this is a very nice dish and goes very well with my fruit juice and flavoured tobacco hookah pipe’ sort of way. They’re good places.
We were greeted at the door by Rasoul who was amused by our dripping garments and immediately keen to help our cause, telling us with glee that he wasn’t in fact Lebanese, but he did like Lebanese food: “I like all countries’ food”, he grinned.
Now as this project progresses I’m beginning to realise just how poor my geographical and political knowledge actually is, especially compared to Owen who sometimes claims ignorance but actually seems to know the current leader, conflict and enemy of every nationality we meet.
On this occasion, when Rasoul told us “I’m from Persia!” I had to use my stock phrase; “Forgive me, I’m an idiot, but…” yet again, finishing it this time with “is that Iran?”
Miraculously, I’d got it right (later, however, when interviewing our Iraqi lady, this lucky guess would come back and kick me in my stupid face).
Rasoul had come to London six years ago in a bid to escape what he drily described as ‘problems with the Iranian government’. He says he loves it here. In fact, I was slightly unprepared for his emotional attachment to a place I tend to take for granted, especially when my legs and feet are still soaked from an eight minute walk, and when he described London as ‘beautiful’ I’m afraid to say I came back with a slightly sneery, ‘Well, it’s not beautiful’. ‘It is beautiful’, replied Rasoul. ‘There’s no killing, no fighting, the people are mixed and there’s great enjoyment’. I see. Yes. You’re right. It’s just my limbs are a bit soggy and I got distracted...
Unlike most of London’s Iranian community who tend to congregate in High Street Kensington (‘it’s beautiful’), Rasoul and his family live in Hammersmith. He’s worked on Edgware Road for the last few years having got to know the area whilst learning the language at one of those English Schools we’d hurried past earlier that morning.
Any more weighty details, however, had to wait for another day as by now our time was nearly up with lunch and hordes of Middle Eastern businessmen rapidly approaching. I hadn’t got to ask him any more pertinent questions about religion, war or politics, focussing instead on some very basic culinary queries but maybe that was a good thing. Forgive me, I’m an idiot.